TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Denies Taking Pre-Trial Acting Lessons

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius exits the courtroom after his murder trial was postponed at the high court in Pretoria on March 28, 2014.
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius exits the courtroom after his murder trial was postponed at the high court in Pretoria on March 28, 2014. Werner Beukes—AFP/Getty Images

A South African columnist claims a "reliable source" told her that the accused took acting lessons before his day in court, an allegation the athlete's legal team has categorically denied

A spokesperson for Oscar Pistorius has denied accusations that the athlete had taken acting lessons before taking the stand to defend himself from charges he murdered his girlfriend.

A South African newspaper columnist alleged that the Olympic athlete’s emotional testimony—during which he has repeatedly wept uncontrollably—wasn’t genuine. “I have it from a reliable source that you are taking acting lessons for your days in court,” Jani Allan wrote in an open letter to Pistorius on her website. “Your coach has an impossible task… Oscar, you are the latest in a long line of faux heroes.”

Pistorius, 27, testified that he mistakenly shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door, thinking that she was a home invader.

A statement by Anneliese Burgess, the media manager for the Pistorius family, said Tuesday that the allegation was not just “totally devoid of any truth” but that it “makes a mockery of the enormous human tragedy involving the Steenkamp family and our client and his family.”

Pistorius’ trial will resume May 5.

TIME Venezuela

Venezuelan Capital Hit By Fresh Wave of Riots

Anti-government demonstrators marked Easter Sunday by burning effigies of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

A fresh bout of violence broke out on Sunday in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the BBC reports.

Demonstrators opposed to the government of President Nicolas Maduro were beaten back by police with water cannons and tear gas after launching petrol bombs in the district of Chacao. Other masked protestors burned effigies of the president in a day of demonstrations entitled “Rally for Democracy.”

The demonstrations began in February when protestors demanded action against Venezuela’s high rates of crime and food shortages, and spiraling inflation rate. Over 40 people have died in the continuing violence, with hundreds arrested. Supporters of the president have also been protesting, with tens of thousands of people dressed in red taking to the streets. But many within the opposition movement have vowed to keep demonstrating until Maduro leaves power.

“We’re staying in the street until we get our country back,” 22-year-old student leader Djamil Jassir told the BBC.

[BBC]

 

TIME Nepal

Nepal Agrees to Relief Fund for Sherpas to Keep Climbing Season Open

A Nepalese porter walks with his load from Everest base camp in Nepal
A Nepalese porter walks with his load from Everest base camp in Nepal on May 3, 2011 Laurence Tan—Reuters

Authorities in Nepal have offered to meet with Sherpas working in the Himalayas to negotiate better compensation for those killed or injured while helping mainly foreign climbers conquer the world's highest peaks

The Nepalese government has agreed in principle to meet the demands of the Sherpas set forth Monday, including setting up a relief fund for those injured or killed climbing in the Himalayas.

A government official told the New York Times that a relief fund would be financed by profits the Nepalese government makes from expeditions to Mount Everest. However, he did not specify the precise amount or functioning of the fund.

On Monday, hundreds of Sherpas threatened to cancel the spring climbing season if a list of 12 demands weren’t met by the government within one week.

They are demanding better compensation for the families of the 13 people confirmed killed in an avalanche on the world’s highest mountain last week. Three others are still missing and are unlikely to have survived.

The standard payment by the government is 40,000 rupees, or about $413, to each family, although they also receive around $10,000 from mandatory life-insurance policies. Sherpas also want improved working conditions, such as better pensions and educational assistance.

Tensions are also heating up on Mount Everest, where about 400 foreign climbers and an equal number of guides, as well as many more support staff, have been left in limbo pending the outcome of negotiations.

According to Tim Rippel, one of the expedition leaders currently on the mountain, “things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it’s growing.”

“The Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild and demands are being made to the government to share the wealth with the Sherpa people,” he wrote in a blog post from base camp.

The Nepalese government has said it will negotiate the demands with Sherpa representatives in meetings Tuesday. However, it remains unclear if original demands for around $100,000 per individual killed or disabled could be met by the impoverished nation’s government.

TIME North Korea

Seoul Warns of Possible North Korea Nuke Test as Obama Flies to East Asia

South Korea says Pyongyang may be preparing to test a nuclear weapon just as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to land in Asia, further raising tensions as Seoul and Washington seek to strengthen their bilateral alliance

North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test, South Korean officials warned Tuesday. Citing evidence of increased activity at its rival’s nuclear test site, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test, South Korean officials warned Tuesday. Citing evidence of increased activity at its rival’s nuclear test site said South Korea is “keeping in mind the possibility that North Korea may suddenly conduct a nuclear test in a short period of time.” Alternately, he said, the North may trying to “deceive us with what appears to be a nuclear test” — in other words, bluff.

Neither would be a surprise. After a successful round of North-South family reunions in February, relations have taken a turn for the worse, with the two sides exchanging fire across a disputed maritime border and the North vowing to conduct a “new form” of nuclear test. Pyongyang has conducted three prior tests — in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

For South Korea, the timing could hardly be worse. Six days after a ferry capsized off the country’s coast, the nation is in mourning. The vessel was traveling from the port city of Incheon to the resort island of Jeju last week when it went down. As of Tuesday, local time, more than 100 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage. Almost two hundred are still missing, and scenes of grief-stricken families are dominating the news.

To complicate the picture, U.S. President Barack Obama will be in Asia this week visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. His visit is being pitched as evidence of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and is supposed to signal the country’s commitment to its regional military allies. The North vehemently opposes the American armed forces’ presence in South Korea, and considers annual U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises a sort of dress-rehearsal for war.

If the test goes ahead — a that is a big if right now — it will likely be sold differently at home and abroad. Domestically, North Korea’s hard-working propagandists will package it as a testament to the country’s development under young despot Kim Jong Un and a warning to would-be aggressors (real or imagined).

Internationally, it is a different game: The North has a history of using its nuclear weapons program as a bargaining chip. A bold strategy, but one that may backfire if Seoul and Washington are not in the mood to play.

TIME europe

Biden Urges Ukraine to Fight ‘Cancer of Corruption’

President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the State Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, on April 21, 2014.
President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the State Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, on April 21, 2014. Alexey Druzhinin—RIA-NOVOSTI/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden urges Ukraine to become a partner for peace while on visit to Kiev, as the White House issues heavy threats of imposing further sanctions against Moscow if the Kremlin does not do more to bring pro-Russian forces to heel

Updated at 7:15 a.m. EST

Vice President Joe Biden in a visit to Kiev urged policymakers Tuesday to remove the “cancer of corruption” from Ukrainian society as the White House warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that time is running short for Moscow to rein in pro-Russian separatists in accordance with an agreement struck last week.

“The opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp. And we want to be your partner and friend in the project. We want to assist,” Biden said. “You have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now,” Biden said in a meeting with nine members of the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. He urged the legislators to enact meaningful constitutional reforms and offered Washington’s assistance as the country prepares for national elections on May 25. Biden met earlier in the day with Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov to discuss economic and technical assistance amid the ongoing crisis sparked by last month’s occupation and annexation of Crimea. He landed in Kiev on Monday.

In a briefing in Washington on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Moscow could face further sanctions if it doesn’t pull back Kremlin-backed insurgents occupying government buildings throughout the country’s restive east. “If there is not progress within days, we remain prepared, along with our European and G-7 partners, to impose additional costs on Russia for its destabilizing actions,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session on Twitter, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki appeared to up the ante when she conceded that the U.S. government would consider levying further sanctions against the Russian leadership, including measures targeting Putin personally, if efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine failed.

“Yes. [Important] to lay out consequences. U.S. able to sanction people, companies, and sectors. Goal not sanctions. Goal de-escalation,” tweeted Psaki. “Range of officials under consideration. Plenty to sanction before we would discuss President #Putin.”

According to the deal reached in Switzerland on Friday between the U.S., Russia, the E.U. and Ukraine, “all illegal armed groups must be disarmed, all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners.”

In the four days since, pro-Russian forces have shown few signs of acknowledging the Geneva agreement.

While many of the protesters camped out at government buildings throughout eastern Ukraine are locals, analysts and the U.S. government increasingly agree they are being supported by Russian special forces.

In Moscow on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the use of ultimatums by U.S. officials and accused Washington of colluding with fascist elements in Ukraine.

“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov, according to Russia Today.

Tensions in eastern Ukraine remain high in the wake of a deadly shoot-out in Slavyansk on Sunday night between progovernment and separatist forces. Reports also surfaced that separatist groups had detained at least three foreign journalists in the city on Monday.

This article was updated with comments from Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev.

TIME East Asia

War-Shrine Visit by Japanese MPs May Cloud Obama’s Tokyo Visit

Japanese lawmakers follow a Shinto priest during a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine to honor war dead during a spring festival in Tokyo on April 22, 2014 Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images

Some 147 Japanese legislators visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors its fallen during World War II, including some convicted of appalling atrocities, a day before President Obama arrives in Tokyo to reaffirm security ties

A day before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Tokyo, 147 Japanese legislators visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including top war criminals convicted of orchestrating imperial Japan’s appalling Asia campaigns. Japan’s polarizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not among the worshippers. Instead, he sent a traditional tree offering the day before.

Tuesday’s Yasukuni pilgrimage took place during a spring festival of the Shinto faith and included one Cabinet-level official. In December, when Abe became the first of Japan’s last seven leaders to worship at Yasukuni, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo expressed its disappointment. Reaction in China and South Korea, two nations most ravaged by imperial Japan’s excesses, was far angrier.

Since Abe took office in December 2012 — after a campaign in which he talked tough on China and called for a potential revision to a Japanese apology to wartime Asian sex slaves — Japan’s relations with Beijing have cooled. Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and historical grievances over Japan’s attitude toward its wartime past have even affected the two nations’ trade ties. (On April 21, more than 270 activists, including descendants of Japanese war dead, filed a suit at a Tokyo court, alleging that Abe’s December visit to Yasukuni Shrine contravened Japan’s postwar constitution, which was written by the Americans to ensure the country’s commitment to peace.)

Obama is to spend two nights in Tokyo, underscoring the long-standing security alliance between the two nations and pushing for a trade pact that is facing domestic opposition in both countries. As part of an Asia trip that was postponed last year because of the American government shutdown, the Commander in Chief will also visit South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. (He will not make a stop in China.) Obama will be arriving in a region noticeably tenser than when he last visited. Last year, after years of Chinese double-digit military-budget hikes, Japan upped its defense budget for the first time in more than a decade. Tokyo’s defense commitments also increased this year as well, and Abe has made clear his ambitions of normalizing a Japanese military that is precluded by the postwar constitution from many military maneuvers.

On April 19, Japan broke ground on a radar facility near islands that both Tokyo and Beijing claim; it is the first new deployment of Japanese armed forces in four decades. Since 2012, when Japan nationalized some of the disputed islands, China and Japan’s military movements in and above these contested waters have markedly increased, although they appear to have dropped over the past six months.

The same day as the ceremony for the future radar station on Japan’s Yonaguni Island, a maritime court in Shanghai seized a Japanese-owned ship docked at a nearby port in order to fulfill a 1930s-era contract. The ship was impounded as payment for two Chinese-owned ships leased long ago by a Japanese firm; those two carriers were commandeered by the imperial Japanese government during the Sino-Japanese war and were lost at sea.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the court decision “has nothing to do with Chinese-Japanese war compensation.” But Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed “deep concern,” saying the impounding of the container ship — which is owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the company that is the successor to the original Japanese lessee — could have an “intimidating effect on Japanese companies doing business in China.” Was the timing of the Shanghai court’s decision, which derived from a 1988 lawsuit filed by descendants of the lost Chinese ships’ owners, a coincidence? Perhaps. But when it comes to relations between Asia’s two biggest powers, history has a way of forcing itself into the present.

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Detains British Tourist for Having a Buddha Tattoo

A Buddha statue at Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 26, 2013 Dinuka Liyanawatte—Reuters

Arrest is the latest in a series of cases against foreign nationals based on perceived threats to Buddhism

A female British tourist in Sri Lanka has been detained and faces deportation for having a Buddha tattoo on her arm.

The woman was arrested at Colombo’s international airport on Monday upon arrival from India, Agence France-Presse reports.

“She was taken before the Negombo magistrate who ordered her to be detained prior to deportation,” read a police statement.

The charges against the woman were not specified, but in a series of previous cases, Sri Lanka has shown a high sensitivity to perceived threats to Buddhism, the nation’s majority religion.

In March, a British tourist was barred from entering the country for showing “disrespect” by having a Buddha tattooed on his arm; in August 2013, three French tourists received a suspended prison sentence for kissing a Buddha statue; and in 2010, American rap star Akon was prevented from visiting Sri Lanka after featuring skimpily clad women in front of a Buddha statue in one of his music videos.

[AFP]

TIME East Asia

South Korean Ferry Investigation Broadens as Death Toll Tops 150

More than 100 people remain missing after the Sewol sank off South Korea last week, prompting the arrest of at least seven crew members

Updated: April 22, 2014, 6:45 p.m. E.T.

A series of funerals were held on Tuesday morning for victims of the ill-fated ferry that sank off South Korea’s coast six days earlier, as the death toll surpassed 150.

The number of deaths from the Sewol has rapidly increased since divers found additional paths to enter the submerged vessel and took advantage of the neap tide, with dozens of bodies recovered on Tuesday and 28 the day before. The majority of the 376 passengers on board were high school students going on a field trip to the resort island of Jeju. Over a hundred passengers remain missing.

“The conditions are so bad, my heart aches,” rescue diver Bard Yoon told CNN. “We’re going in thinking there may be survivors. When we have to come back with nothing, we can’t even face the families.”

The incident is the worst maritime disaster in the country since 1993 and has stirred outrage among relatives, who have lashed out against the government for not managing to rescue more than 174 people.

South Korean authorities broadened their investigation on Monday as they arrested four additional crew members and barred the family who owns the ferry’s operating company from leaving the country.

“The measure is to question them and hold them responsible for the poor management of the vessel,” a prosecution official told the nation’s Yonhap News Agency.

An extra deck was added to the 20-year-old ferry after the company acquired it in 2012, raising questions about how well balanced the modifications made it.

The ferry’s captain and two crew members have already been charged with negligence of duty and violating maritime law after abandoning the ship without efficiently helping passengers, an act labeled “unforgivable” and “murderous” by President Park Geun-hye on Monday.

According to the Korea Herald, the captain is likely to face a life sentence in prison. On Monday a chief engineer on board attempted suicide but is reportedly in stable condition and will soon be summoned for further questioning.

Not all crew members are accused of wrongdoing, though. Some reportedly gave their life jackets to passengers, and one woman refused to leave before helping students off the ship. She was later found dead, becoming one of at least seven crew members who lost their lives or are still missing.

TIME India

Alleged Anti-Muslim Comments Stir Controversy in Midst of Indian Parliamentary Elections

INDIA-POLITICS-RSS
Vishva Hindu Parishad president Pravin Togadia Sam Panthaky—AFP/Getty Images

A video clip appears to show Pravin Togadia, head of a right-wing Hindu organization, telling an audience that Muslims should be barred from buying property in Hindu areas. A lawyer for Togadia called reports of the incident "false"

A video purporting to show the head of a right-wing Hindu organization making anti-Muslim comments has sparked controversy in the midst of a highly contested national election.

The clip appears to show Pravin Togadia, head of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, telling an audience in the northwest state of Gujarat that Muslims should be blocked from buying property in Hindu areas.

The ruling Congress Party and other political parties quickly condemned Togadia, with the controversy coming more than halfway through the staggered parliamentary elections that began on April 7 and end on May 12. The Election Commission has directed local authorities to file a police report and sought a copy of the recording of the video before deciding on a course of action, the Times of India reports.

A lawyer for Togadia said in a legal notice sent to the media on Monday that “the report about a misinformed incident in Gujarat as appeared in an English newspaper … is false, malafide and mischievous.”

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leading opposition party, echoed his denial, according to the Times of India.

“I talked to Togadiaji. He said he did not make such a statement,” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar told journalists on Monday.

The BJP, projected to win a narrow majority in this month’s elections behind prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, is riding high amid concerns about a slowdown in the economy. Modi has gained support by promising to revive growth, but critics worry about his record. They point to Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims, under his watch as chief minister. He continues to face questions about the riots, though Indian courts have never found him criminally culpable and have cleared him of any wrongdoing.

[Times of India]

TIME Ukraine

Russia Accuses Ukraine of Violating Agreement

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gestures during a news conference, after a meeting with his counterpart from Mozambique Oldemiro Baloi, in Moscow April 21, 2014.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gestures during a news conference, after a meeting with his counterpart from Mozambique Oldemiro Baloi, in Moscow April 21, 2014. Sergei Karpukhin—Reuters

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claims Ukraine isn't strictly following the deal, brokered last week in Geneva, to reduce tension in the eastern region, and denied accusations that Russia used the conflict as a justification to annex the Crimean Peninsula

Russia’s top diplomat accused Ukraine’s interim government Monday of violating the international agreement struck last week to ratchet down tensions between the two bordering countries.

“[The agreement] is not only not being fulfilled, but steps are being taken, primarily by those who seized power in Kiev, that are grossly breaching the agreement reached in Geneva,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday, the New York Times reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal Thursday between Ukraine and Russia in Geneva that called for the disarmament of pro-Russia militia groups in eastern Ukraine and an end to violence and intimidation.

Lavrov denied accusations that Russia, which currently has an estimated 40,000 troops near the Ukraine-Russia border, used the conflict in Ukraine as a justification to annex its Crimean Peninsula. He also responded to warnings from the Obama Administration that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Russia if the country did not try to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine.

“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” Lavrov said.

[NYT]

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