TIME Turkey

Turkey Says It Helps Kurdish Fighters Enter Syria

Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014.
Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

(SURUC, Turkey) — Turkey said it was helping Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to support their brethren fighting Islamic State militants in a key border town, although activists inside embattled Kobani said no forces had arrived by Monday evening, raising questions about whether the mission was really underway.

The statement by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came hours after the U.S. airdropped weapons and ammunition to resupply Kurdish fighters for the first time. Those airdrops Sunday followed weeks of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in and near Kobani.

After a relative calm, heavy fighting erupted in the town as dusk fell, with the clatter of small arms and tracer fire, as well as the thud of mortar rounds and big explosions of two airstrikes that resounded across the frontier.

“We are helping peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani to give support,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference, referring to the security forces of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Kurdish government there is known to be friendly to the Turkish government.

A peshmerga spokesman said he had not been ordered to move units to Syria.

“They have not given us any orders to move our units,” said the spokesman, Halgurd Hekmat. “But we are waiting, and we are ready.”

The Kurdish activists in Kobani said there was no sign of any peshmerga forces.

Still, it was unprecedented for Turkey to promise to give Kurds passage to fight in Syria. That, combined with the U.S. airdrops, reflected the importance assigned to protecting Kobani from the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across Iraq and Syria in recent months.

It also underscored the enormity of the challenge in battling militants who have been trying to seize Kobani since last month to spread their rule along the mountainous spine of the Syria-Turkey border, an area dominated by ethnic Kurds.

Ankara views Kurdish fighters in Syria as loyal to what Turkish officials regard as an extension of the group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

The government is under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants — not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and inside Turkey who accuse Ankara of standing by while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, there were widespread protests that threatened to derail promising talks to end the PKK insurgency.

Although a significant departure from previous positions, Turkey’s announcement to allow fighters to cross its territory is not a complete policy reversal, since it involves peshmerga fighters from Iraq and not those from the PKK.

It remains uncertain whether Ankara would allow heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to make the journey in large numbers. It is also unclear if many of those peshmerga troops would even do so, given that the IS militants still threaten their areas in Iraq.

Cavusoglu did not give details of where and how Turkey would allow the Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called Turkey a “close NATO ally and partner,” and said the U.S. has a “very close relationship” with Ankara. She said the Obama administration is still discussing ways Turkey can play a larger role in the coalition, and praised steps Ankara already has taken to stem foreign fighters and funding from moving to the militants across Turkey’s borders.

However, Harf also indicated the U.S. did not seek approval from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before dropping weapons and aid to Kurdish fighters. She said the Kurdish fighters and the PKK are not legally linked.

“It’s not about consent,” Harf said Monday. She said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry separately notified Turkish leaders “our intent to do this and had discussions with them about why we believe this is an important thing to do in this fight against ISIL around Kobani.”

“It did become clear recently that the forces on the ground were running low on supplies necessary to continue this fight, that’s why we decided now to authorize this,” Harf said. “And our support will continue to help them repel ISIL,” she said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Kerry said it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support the Kurds in their fight against IS.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect the PKK,” Kerry said.

“But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani,” he told reporters in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Iraqi Kurds provided the weapons and aid for the Kurdish fighters in Syria. But both sides relied on U.S. pilots to fly the supplies between the two nations and drop where they could be accessed by the Kurds in Syria.

Harf also said “it’s possible” that the weapons being given to the Syrian Kurds were initially U.S. munitions that were either sold or otherwise transferred to Iraqi Kurdish security forces from American authorities. She did not immediately know for sure if that was the case.

Barzan Iso, a journalist based in Kobani, said he saw the airdrop, which included anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles, large amounts of artillery shells and medicine.

The Americans dropped the bundles amid heavy wind, he said. Two bundles landed in IS-held areas, and Kurdish fighters were able to retrieve one, while the other was blown up by the U.S. from the air, Isso said.

The U.S. Central Command said the coalition conducted six airstrikes near Kobani in the past 24 hours, targeting IS fighting and mortar positions and a vehicle. It confirmed that one airstrike targeted a stray resupply bundle. U.S. cargo planes also dropped arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, the Central Command said.

Idris Nassan, a senior Kurdish official from Kobani who is now in the Turkish town of Mursitpinar, confirmed the Kurdish fighters received the airdrop and asked for more weapons.

“We are not in need of fighters. We are able to defeat the terrorists of ISIS if we have weaponry — enough weaponry and enough ammunition,” he told The Associated Press.

The weapons drop for the Kurdish forces was a stunning diplomatic success. Syrian Kurdish officials have been lobbying Western governments for support.

They have argued that their fighters are the kind the West would want to support in Syria: secular, relatively moderate and well-disciplined. They have pointed to their opposition to the Islamic State group: most notably in August, when their forces fought to create a safe passage in northern Iraq to evacuate tens of thousands of Yazidis — a persecuted religious minority who fled an onslaught by the extremists.

“We (asked) the international community from the beginning of these clashes for help, for more effective weaponry and for more ammunition,” Nassan said. “This is the first step.”

Iso, the journalist in Kobani, said by telephone that he had not seen any peshmerga — he called out to a group of Kurdish fighters with him if they had seen any, and they could be heard answering “No!” over the line.

Echoing the views of many Kurds, who are deeply suspicious of Turkey, Iso said the foreign minister’s statements had “nothing to do with reality.”

The two top U.S. envoys to the global coalition, retired Marine Gen. John Allen and Ambassador Brett McGurk, will travel to Britain, France and across the Mideast in the next 10 days to meet with allies. There were no immediate plans for them to go to Turkey.

Turkey has not allowed the U.S. and its allies to use its airspace or air bases to strike inside Syria.

In recent days, many of the airstrikes have focused around Kobani, which IS militants have been trying to seize for a month. Turkey has given sanctuary to about 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani and dozens of nearby villages captured by the IS group.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Istanbul; Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut; Matthew Lee in Jakarta, Indonesia; Robert Burns, Lara Jakes and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

TIME Nepal

Nepal Vows New Rules After Worst Trekking Disaster

(KATMANDU, Nepal) — Nepal on Tuesday said it will introduce new rules, improve weather forecasts and better monitor the movement of trekkers after the Himalayan country’s worst hiking disaster left dozens dead last week.

Tourism Department official Tulasi Gautam said trekkers venturing to mountain trails will be required to take trained local guides, and will have to rent a GPS tracking unit to help authorities trace them in case of an emergency.

Gautam said the government plans to announce the new rules nationwide before the next trekking season in the spring.

“The main reason for the high number of casualties is that those trekkers without proper guides were prompted to continue with their trek in attempts to beat the storm. So we plan to strictly enforce new rules of no trekking without porters or proper guides,” Gautam said.

At least 41 people were killed last week when a blizzard and avalanches swept the mountains of the Annapurna region in northern Nepal. Of those, 21 were foreign trekkers and mountaineers from countries including India, Israel, Canada, Poland, Japan, China and Slovakia. Twenty were Nepalese guides, porters and villagers.

Many of the trekkers around the Annapurna Circuit trekking route are independent hikers generally called backpackers who do not hire guides. The route is also dotted with lodges and tea stalls that sell food, snacks and lodging.

Authorities also plan to improve the weather forecasting system and make it easier to deliver information to remote trekking routes.

The government also said all trekkers must now register at check posts while entering and exiting the trekking areas. Previously, foreign trekkers were required to buy permits or at least register before entering trekking areas, but Nepalese nationals were not. And no one was required to check out when they left.

Home Ministry Secretary Surya Prasad Silwal said rescuers were able to fly 518 stranded trekkers, including 310 foreigners, to safety before the search operation ended Monday.

“It was the biggest rescue operation in Nepal that included hundreds of soldiers, policemen and local officials. Swift response saved many lives,” Silwal said. He added that every available helicopter was used in the effort.

TIME China

Anyone Expecting a Rebound in Chinese Growth Won’t Like the New GDP Figures

Construction sites and vacant streets in Xiangluo Bay.
Construction sites and vacant streets in Tianjin, China. The new central business district, under construction in Tianjin, was touted as another Manhattan, but is now a ghost city. The nation's slowing economy is putting the project into jeopardy Zhang Peng—LightRocket/Getty Images

Say hello to China’s new normal

Those who remain hopeful about the future of the Chinese economy got some extra evidence to bolster their case today. On Tuesday, the government announced that GDP in the third quarter rose by a slightly better-than-expected 7.3%.

But don’t get too excited. That 7.3% is the slowest quarterly pace in five years — since the depths of the recession after the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis. And it was pushed higher likely by exports. In other words, external demand, not investment or consumption in the domestic economy.

There is really nothing surprising about these figures. This is China’s new normal. The double-digit pace the global business community has come to expect is very likely a thing of the past. More and more economists are predicting that China’s growth rates will continue to slow over time. The International Monetary Fund, for instance, sees growth dropping from 7.4% this year to 6.8% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2019.

There are too many factors at work slowing down the Chinese growth machine. First of all, no economy can grow 10% a year forever, not even China’s. The country is no longer the impoverished backwater it was in the early 1980s, when Beijing’s market reforms first sparked its growth miracle. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and the bigger China gets, the harder it becomes to post such large annual GDP increases. There are also structural forces at work. China’s population of more than 1.3 billion is aging rapidly, thanks in part to Beijing’s restrictive one-child policy, and that will act as a long-term drag on growth. The workforce is already shrinking.

The only question is: How slow will China go? The answer depends on how optimistic you are that China’s current leaders can fix the very serious problems plaguing the economy.

Aspects of the growth model that have driven China’s exceptional performance — state-directed investment, easy credit — have now come to spawn all sorts of new risks. Debt levels at Chinese companies have risen precipitously, money has been wasted on excess capacity and unnecessary construction, and bad loans at Chinese banks have been rising as a result. The economy is paying the price.

A big reason behind the country’s slowdown today is the deteriorating property market, brought low by irrational exuberance and excessive building. Official data shows that the amount of unsold real estate has doubled over the past two years, and that has caused prices to fall and investment in new developments to dry up. The central bank recently loosened restrictions on mortgage lending to boost sluggish demand, but most economists don’t expect such moves will stimulate a rebound anytime soon. There are even concerns that China is following a pattern similar to Japan’s when the latter Asian giant had its financial crisis in the early 1990s.

The long-term solution to these problems requires nothing less than overhauling the way in which the economy works. The country’s leaders realize this, too, and have pledged to undertake a thorough reshaping of the economy to give the private sector more influence. Policymakers intend to make the economy more market-oriented by liberalizing finance and capital flows and withdrawing the control of the state. Such steps would probably lead to enhanced productivity, better allocation of finance and stronger innovation — all things China needs badly as its costs rise with its wealth.

So far, though, there has been little progress. A free-trade zone in Shanghai, launched a year ago to experiment with freer capital flows in and out of the country, has never got off the ground. A series of investigations into the business practices of multinationals operating in China has raised questions about Beijing’s willingness to open up the economy further to foreign competition.

Of course, the liberalization Beijing has promised will take a long time to implement. But if the effort doesn’t progress, growth will likely suffer. The Conference Board in a recent report predicted that growth would slow to 4% a year after 2020, in part because its economists believe China’s leaders won’t go far enough in reforming the economy.

What this all means for businessmen and investors around the world is that China may not play the same role in upholding global growth in coming years as it has in the past. The new normal may not lift the gloomy spirits dominating global markets these days, either. But we’ll all have to get used to it.

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria Oct. 21, 2014 Herman Verwey—Reuters

The Paralympic gold medalist was acquitted of murder last month

Athlete Oscar Pistorius was sentenced Tuesday to five years imprisonment for the Valentine’s Day killing of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old double-amputee was found guilty of culpable homicide after shooting Steenkamp through the toilet door of his home in Pretoria on Feb. 14, 2013.

The “Blade Runner,” as Pistorius is known due to his trademark prosthetic limbs, claims he thought an intruder lurked inside, but the state maintained that he shot four times with the intention of killing Steenkamp after the couple had argued.

The South African was acquitted of murder by Judge Thokozile Masipa last month after a high-profile trial that was televised around the world.

In sentencing Pistorius, Masipa said she weighed, “The personal circumstances of the accused and interests of society.”

She added: “A non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community, but a long sentence would also not be appropriate.”

Pistorius made history as the first Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics. He has apparently been suffering from depression since Steenkamp’s death.

A separate firearms charge received three years imprisonment, suspended for five years.

Read next: Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

TIME Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Protests Are Creating a More Ethnically Unified City

Members from Hong Kong's South Asian community take part in a protest for democracy on October 9, 2014 in the Central district of Hong Kong. Holing Yip

Many members of Hong Kong's non-Chinese community have been swept up in the Umbrella Revolution

Jeffrey Andrews, a 29-year-old social worker of Indian origin, got a call from a Pakistani friend on the night of Sept. 28, when thousands of Hong Kong people, many of them students, had begun to occupy the streets to demand greater democracy. “What are we doing?” his friend said. “We should be out there with the students, this is our city.”

Andrews agreed, and the next day they mobilized a group of about 35 of their peers, printed banners that read “Hong Kong is our home, we ethnic minorities strive for democracy” and headed to Admiralty, the main protest site. Andrews admits that he was unsure what kind of reception and acceptance they would get from the ethnically Chinese crowd.

“As soon as we got out with out banners people just applauded, and we were so encouraged,” he said. And they’ve been going back there every night since then.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have flooded the streets since the end of September, defying Beijing in a protest that is widely seen as the most politically significant movement in China in more than two decades. Among the crowds are many non-Chinese, who insist that they too belong to the Umbrella Revolution, as the protests are being called, and that it belongs to them.

“Of course it is our movement,” says 19-year-old Kenny Omar, born and brought up in Hong Kong but Somali by origin. “We’re born here, we’re citizens, we support them.”

“This is just as much my city as it is anyone else’s,” says Nick, 23, a filmmaker of Indian origin who did not wish to give his last name. “I think the movement is way past race and ethnicity, it’s deep down in the core of humanity.”

His friend Kamal Mirwani, a travel writer who proudly sports the iconic Hong Kong skyline as a tattoo down his right leg, says the drive for full political rights has real urgency. “This is our chance — this is the only chance we get,” he says.

According to the 2011 census, Hong Kong is home to over 450,000 people of non-Chinese ethnicity, making up 6.4% of its total population. Some, like the Indians and Parsis, trace their roots back to the founding of modern Hong Kong as a British colony in 1841, when they were drawn by the fledgling settlement’s possibilities for trade. Others, like the Pakistanis and the Nepalese, came to provide the policing and military muscle of what was then an outpost of the Raj. Still later communities — like the Indonesians, Thais and Filipinos — came in large numbers to do domestic work as Hong Kong prospered into a global financial hub.

A few non-Chinese, particularly from the South Asian community, have become fabulously wealthy. But in general, Hong Kong’s minorities often face various problems, particularly in the fields of education and employment. According to government statistics, nearly two-thirds of the ethnic minority population earns less than $500 a month, in a city where the median income is more than three times that.

For several of them, supporting Hong Kong’s democracy campaign takes precedence over their pocketbook woes. “I think with this movement right now, it’s so important that we’re focused on the development of democracy, that we’re not really talking explicitly about other issues,” said Holing Yip, research officer for ethnic minority advocacy group Hong Kong Unison. “People are noticing ethnic minorities being a part of Hong Kong, being participants.”

Yip points out that ethnic minorities have always been involved in protest movements in Hong Kong, but says that she has seen an overwhelming sense of solidarity that sets the Umbrella Revolution apart.

“They really see this as a movement that they need to be a part of,” Yip said.

Or at least most do. Others prefer to adopt a neutral stance. “It’s not my job to keep track of what’s happening,” said Mohammad Noor, a 63-year-old Bangladeshi who has lived in Hong Kong for nine years and sells snacks, dates and prayer caps outside the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre. “I think it is injustice to spoil this country,” he said. “It’s giving us a place to stay and work.”

Andrews says his group has faced some opposition of this nature, especially from older members of the community. “All of them say they’ve worked so hard to establish their businesses, and ask why we’re going against the flow of things,” he says. “Many of the Pakistanis even say their country has a great diplomatic relationship with China, that we’re going out and ruining it.” But he also says that negative comments make up only a sliver of the reaction they have encountered.

Unison’s Yip also detects a degree of fatalism. “One of the retorts would be ‘Even if the majority Chinese come out and they can’t do anything, what makes us feel like we can?’” she says. “But the others will say, ‘We are a part of this, if they are helpless, we are helpless too.’”

Nick, for his part, admits that he may not entirely subscribe to the ideology of the movement. But he says that’s irrelevant. “It’s less about whether I believe exactly in what’s going on, but I would be out there because I feel like it would affect the people of my city in the right way,” he says. “That’s why I’d be out there, to support them asking for what they believe is the right thing.”

“I think we’re finally being accepted as locals, we’re finally just like one of them,” says Andrews. “No matter what the result is going to be, at the end of the day I think we’re a much more unified Hong Kong than ever before.”

As the movement enters its fourth week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that — regardless of ethnicity — anyone who wants to get beneath the umbrella is welcome.

TIME China

Risen Again: China’s Underground Churches

Millions find their faith, away from the prying eyes of the state

The pastor places a palm on the man’s head. As he closes his eyes, gentle hands tilt the man backward, below the surface, then guide him up. He emerges cleansed of sin and spiritually committed to Jesus Christ.

It’s a scene that plays out every Sunday, somewhere. This time the rite took place below a makeshift altar, in an unmarked building, on the outskirts of Beijing. When the man rose from the makeshift baptismal tub he joined a community tens of millions strong and growing by the year: Chinese Christians.

Though Christianity has deep roots in China — it dates as far back as the 7th century — it is hard, in the present day, to get a clear picture of the community. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is wary of organized religion, and has alternately tried to crush, discourage, or co-opt Christian groups. But having survived the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, the faith is now flourishing: a 2010 study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated there are 23 million Christians in China. In 2011, Pew Research put the figure closer to 67 million, or 5% of the population.

The numbers mask great variety — so much so that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what “Chinese Christian” means. Consider the country’s Catholics: the Holy See and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, and the Pope is not welcome on Chinese soil. Yet Pew estimates there are 10 million Catholics in China. Of these, just over half are affiliated with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which does not recognize the Vatican. Millions of others worship in secret churches.

So it is with Protestants. The government-approved Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement is 23 million strong, according to Pew, while as many 35 million others are unregistered, practicing their faith in underground or “house” churches. But the line between “permitted” and “forbidden” is always shifting. The southern city of Wenzhou, known as China’s Jerusalem, was last spring rocked by the destruction of ostensibly state-approved spires. Elsewhere, underground churches thrive in plain sight.

It was this ambiguity that drew photographer Kevin Frayer to an unmarked church outside Beijing on Sunday, Oct. 12. The people there worship quietly, but not covertly. The authorities know they exist, but seem content, for now, to look the other way. “Christianity is tolerated sometimes, to some extent,” says Frayer, “as long as it is controlled and behind closed doors.”

Though CCP cadres remain suspicious of what they consider “Western” dogma, their biggest fear is not the doctrine itself, but its popularity — they worry that Christianity could grow more popular than the party. At the church outside Beijing, at least, the service was steeped in the rituals of worship, not the language of politics. A Chinese flag hanging near the pulpit was the only reference to the state.

After sharing a snack of fried bread and cabbage, about 80 men and women gathered for the service. There was prayer and song and sleeping babies. A woman wept. “It was very emotional,” Frayer says.

When he lived in Jerusalem, Frayer witnessed baptisms in the Jordan River. This time, it was a wooden tub — different, but just as deeply felt.

TIME Mexico

Mexican Federal Police Take Over Towns After Students’ Disappearance

MEXICO-CRIME-STUDENTS-MISSING
Members of the Mexican federal police are seen in a street in Teloloapan, Mexico, on Oct. 19, 2014 Ronaldo Schemidt—AFP/Getty Images

A security official alleges there are links between gangs and local law enforcement

Federal police in Mexico have taken over 12 towns in the state of Guerrero after authorities learned of possible connections between local law enforcement and organized crime.

National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said at a Sunday press conference that the links were uncovered during an investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in the town of Iguala last month, Bloomberg News reports.

Earlier this month, Guerrero prosecutor Iñaky Blanco said that the gang Guerreros Unidos had worked with area police and killed 17 of the missing students. Mass graves were discovered in the area in early October, but remains in the first grave didn’t belong to any of the missing students.

More than four dozen people, including members of Iguala police and various alleged gang members, have been detained on suspicion of kidnapping the missing students.

[Bloomberg News]

TIME Turkey

Why Turkey Changed Course on Kobani

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 19, 2014.
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 19, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

The NATO ally announced on Monday that it would let Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border with Syria to join the fight against ISIS

Turkey’s announcement on Monday that it will help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border to fight jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appeared to signal a major shift in Ankara’s attitude towards the fight against ISIS. Until then, Turkey had refused to allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to travel across its border to join the fight taking place in the besieged town of Kobani, just a few kilometers to the south. It has now dipped its toe, albeit indirectly, into the battle – and analysts believe pressure from the United States is likely behind the move.

“Turkey has been resisting pressure to cooperate more closely with the U.S.-led coalition, but at the end of the day, the realities do assert themselves,” says Fadi Hakura, head of the Turkey project at London think-tank Chatham House. Turkey’s reluctance to assist Kurdish fighters in the battle in Kobani – which has been going on for over a month – is rooted in its fraught relationship with the country’s own Kurdish political movement. The Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., NATO and the European Union, waged a 30-year campaign against the Turkish state to try to secure political rights and self-determination for Kurds in Turkey. Ankara’s view is that the Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS across the border under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are little more than an extension of the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted on Sunday as saying “the PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization.” Hakura says close links between the two groups help explain Ankara’s refusal to help Syrian Kurds push back ISIS advances, since Turkey fears the potential creation of a powerful Kurdish fighting force that would straddle the Turkish-Syrian border.

Though a peace process between Turkey and the PKK began to develop in 2013, it has come increasingly under threat in recent weeks. Hakura says one major reason for Turkey’s “abrupt reversal” to allow fighters into Kobani is that “the Turkish government does not want its peace negotiations with the PKK to falter due to the developments in Kobani.” But Aaron Stein, associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, says that Turkey’s announcement on Monday should not be seen as a change in policy at all, since Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated the apparent threat the PYD poses to the region. He said that like ISIS, the PYD “aim to have control over a certain part of Syria” and as long as it holds these ambitions, Turkey would not support them.

“This recent decision is more an outcome of Turkish isolation, rather than Turkish inclusion,” says Stein, who believes Turkey was “terrified” of international isolation and “left with no choice” by the actions of the U.S.-led coalition. Turkey had opposed U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters in Kobani, but the U.S. went ahead on Sunday night and air-dropped weapons and ammunition to soldiers in the area. According to Stein, “the U.S. is now firmly driving this aspect of policy. Whether you agree with the policy or not, we’re seeing definitive outcomes” of the continued air strikes and the overnight air drops, which seem to have pushed ISIS onto the defensive. Hakura also highlighted the impact of mounting pressure on Turkey, saying that since Turkey is a member of NATO and the U.S. is its main source of arms, it could no longer try to block U.S. plans in Syria and Iraq. As the U.S. began to coordinate more closely with the Syrian PYD fighters on the ground, “Turkey felt a strong desire to intervene to balance the dynamics and not be isolated.”

The strategic impact of Turkey’s decision remains to be seen, since it is not yet clear how many Iraqi Kurdish fighters will end up crossing the border to help the fight in Kobani. In any case, officials say the ultimate outcome of the besieged town is unlikely to change the course of what will be a long, protracted war against ISIS, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stating on Oct. 12, “Kobani does not define the strategy of the coalition.” But as Hakura points out “the fall of Kobani could be seen as a psychological setback” for those who have been fighting ISIS in past weeks. And as the U.S.-led coalition has no doubt been hoping, Turkey’s new position may well make it easier to secure Kobani, a town which holds – at the very least – considerable symbolic value in the fight against ISIS.

Read next: Turkey Will Help Iraqi Kurds Join Fight Against ISIS in Syria

TIME Japan

The Resignation of Two Ministers Spells Trouble for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan minister resigns
Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi resigned on Oct. 20 amid allegations of misusing election funds Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

More ministers could fall as Japan faces political instability at the worst time

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed five women to his Cabinet last month in a major shakeup designed to show support for female empowerment and help smooth the way for an unpopular political agenda. But all that unraveled Monday with the abrupt resignation of two of those appointees—Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima—for campaign spending violations.

The controversies could not have come at a worse time for Abe. His economic policies are faltering and his Cabinet approval ratings had dropped below 50 percent even before the spending scandal broke last week. Abe faces tough decisions within the next few months on policy issues ranging from restarting nuclear reactors to imposing a second round of tax hikes. He’s also struggling to repair relations with China and South Korea over historical issues and territorial disputes, even as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing next month looms.

“Abe no longer seems the invincible Superman that some had imagined, and that weakens him both domestically and in Japan’s diplomatic dealings,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. “On all of his signature policies — ranging from nuclear reactor re-starts to arms exports, collective self defense and state secrecy legislation—a majority of the public is opposed.”

Trade Minister Obuchi and Justice Minister Matsushima submitted their resignations Monday. They were the first Cabinet members to step down since Abe took office in December 2012—a remarkable period of stability in Japanese politics, where ministers not infrequently are called upon to fall on their sword. It was also a reminder of Abe’s scandal-plagued and inefficient first term in 2006-7, which ended after barely a year. A pension records scandal and the suicide of his agriculture minister during an expense-spending probe, along with poor health for the Prime Minister himself, helped doom Abe’s first go-around.

Obuchi, 40, was accused of funneling campaign money to her sister and brother-in-law and to improperly subsidizing entertainment junkets for supporters. Matsushima stepped down for improperly distributing more than $100,000 worth of paper fans to constituents. Obuchi’s resignation in particular could be a major loss for Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. A telegenic mother of two, Obuchi had been expected to help Abe with the controversial restart of Japan’s nuclear power plants—a wide majority of the public remains opposed to atomic energy—shut down since the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Obuchi’s portfolio includes authority over the nation’s nuclear power plants and her softer image—a young mother, after all—was expected to soothe public anxiety over plans to restart the reactors. Obuchi is the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who ran Japan from July 1998 to April 2000, and had even been touted as a possible successor to Abe somewhere down the road. But the close scrutiny that comes with a Cabinet appointment exposed her as a political lightweight and a product of the LDP machine, says Michael Cucek, a researcher and author of a respected political blog in Tokyo. “She represents someone who vaulted into prominence by the death of a sitting prime minister, taking over the family business without ever knowing much about how the whole machine works,” he said.

And that may not be the end of it. The remaining three female appointees have drawn heavy criticism, or worse, for alleged connections to neo-Nazi or right-wing fringe organizations, or for visiting the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. A 2011 photo of Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi posing with the leader of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party was discovered on the group’s website shortly after Takaichi’s appointment last month. Postings on Yamada’s blog seem to profess admiration for Adolf Hitler, and videos posted on the website show Yamada and group members wearing stylized swastikas. Takaichi said she was unaware of Yamada’s affiliation when the photo was taken and that it had been posted to the group’s website without her knowledge. She said she asked for the photo to be removed as soon as she learned of it, and that the group complied.

Similarly, a 2009 photo of National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani posing with the members of the far- as Zaitokukai group, which has mounted virulent street demonstrations and hate speeches against ethnic Koreans and other foreigners living in Japan. Yamatani also said she was unaware that her photo had been taken with members of the group or that it had been posted online. She said it was taken down at her request after she learned of it.

On Saturday, all the three of the remaining female Cabinet appointees made formal visits to Yasukuni, where 14 convicted “Class A” war criminals—leaders of wartime Japan—are enshrined. That drew a rebuke from China, which remains deeply skeptical of Abe’s revisionist views of history. That visit will complicate Abe’s efforts to repair relations with Japan’s neighbors—and maybe its citizens, says Kingston. “I think there is a great wave of schadenfreude sweeping across East Asia as Abe’s gathering woes weaken his political standing. The Japanese public, too, are happy to see the Abe juggernaut sputtering as Abenomics fizzles and his culture war to redefine national identity backfires.”

Read next: Japan Court Orders Google to Remove Search Results

TIME isis

How to Financially Starve ISIS

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

Air strikes will help but to ruin the extremist organization the U.S.-led coalition will have to cut off ISIS's sources of funding

The U.S.-led air assault in Iraq and Syria on the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria(ISIS) is just one front in the battle being waged against ISIS. The U.S. Treasury recently confirmed plans to try to bankrupt the militant group by targeting its oil businesses and imposing sanctions on those financing them. But how easy will it be to financially ruin a group now considered by analysts to be the best-funded terrorist organization in recent history?

“Like all organizations, money matters to ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges, the Emirates chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics. “Napoleon once said ‘An army marches on its stomach’ and even ISIS needs to feed and arm its soldiers, to provide for their families. If you follow the trail of money and starve ISIS financially, you begin the process of degrading and ultimately paralyzing it.”

Yet following this trail of money is difficult. Experts speaking to TIME say hard figures are difficult to come by, partly because of a lack of independent researchers and journalists in the area. ISIS also deals mainly in cash and operates outside the legitimate channels that can be traced by the Treasury, says Valérie Marcel, a Middle East energy and resources expert at London-based think-tank Chatham House. As a result, estimates of ISIS’s daily revenue vary between $1 million and $3 million a day. Gerges says that ISIS has estimated funds of tens of millions of dollars, and that in the last few months the group has reportedly tried to limit its spending as much as possible to counter the coalition’s efforts to cut off its funding.

As ISIS has grown in size and taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, its sources of income have also shifted. Justin Dargin, a Middle East energy specialist based at the University of Oxford, says that “while funding from wealthy Gulf patrons assisted the group’s early rise, currently individual donations are not of major importance” since ISIS has developed more independent sources of income. David Butter, a Chatham House expert in the politics and economy of the Middle East, agrees, noting that ISIS benefits from being far less reliant on funds from abroad than other Islamist and Salafist jihadist groups, who made themselves overly dependent on the one-off nature of such fundraising. In fact, experts say one major difference between ISIS and other jihadist groups is ISIS’s more pragmatic outlook. Whereas al-Qaeda was more focused on setting up cells to finance anti-Western terrorist operations, ISIS has concentrated on expanding its area of control, taking hold of natural resources and commercial centers, as well as tens of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition.

In June of this year, ISIS seized more territory in Northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. It declared itself the “Islamic State” and developed revenue streams more typically associated with a government than a jihadist group. Though it’s difficult to establish how well ISIS is running the areas under its control, Paul Rogers, a global security consultant to Oxford Research Group, says that information from social media suggests that “ISIS seem quite competent to run things in Syria” and most areas seem to be functioning reasonably well. Since ISIS has continued to provide services like water and electricity, Gerges says the group has been able to impose taxes on farmers, retail businesses and even fuel. He adds that we should not underestimate the importance of this “social income” in both Iraq and Syria, since ISIS “have been able to generate sources of income to run the provinces under their control and also to generate extra income to wage their battles.”

Yet while ISIS might attempt to act like a state, much of its money is brought in by criminal tactics, including extortion, theft and plundering. For instance, senior U.S. government official Brett McGurk told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July that even before ISIS took control of Mosul, he and other U.S. diplomatic and military officials who had visited the city shortly before it fell to ISIS had been concerned about Mosul “as it had become the primary financial hub” for ISIS, “generating nearly $12 million per month in revenues through extortion and smuggling rackets.” Hostage-taking has also played a part in filling ISIS coffers. According to an investigative report from The New York Times, kidnapping Europeans has earned al-Qaeda and its affiliates at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone. Although ISIS formally split from al-Qaeda in February, the group has continued the practice and both Gerges and Marcel have sources confirming that ISIS has received large sums of money from citizens of Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Syria in exchange for hostages. As well as Western hostages, the “kidnapping of locals is a big business”, says Gerges, and has generated tens of millions of dollars for ISIS and other militant groups like al-Nusra front, the branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria.

But the majority of ISIS’s revenue appears to come from the territory it controls, much of which is “very rich agriculturally”, says Rogers. For instance, the United Nations estimates that land in Iraq under ISIS control accounts for up to 40 percent of the country’s annual production of wheat. Crucially, the militant group also holds a number of oil fields in both Iraq and Syria and analysts speaking to TIME estimate that the daily revenue from ISIS oil production lies between $1 and $3 million a day. Though this is barely a fraction of the global oil trade, the income is very useful in funding ISIS’s soldiers, who number between 20,000 and 31,500 according to the CIA. As ISIS took hold of more territory in Iraq and Syria in June, it gained more opportunities to sell both crude oil and refined products through well-established smuggling networks. “There are a lot of grey market buyers of crude in the region and a large network of individuals that benefit financially. It’s harder to dismantle because – whether it’s in the KRG [Kurdish Regional Government], in Turkey or in Iran – border guards and municipal authorities have to be paid well enough and given incentives to crack down,” says Marcel.

If the U.S. and its allies continue to bomb ISIS’s oil facilities, however, the group will begin struggling to fund itself. The Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a report released Tuesday that the aerial campaign has brought ISIS oil production down to around 20,000 barrels per day, from a high of around 70,000 a couple of months ago. If oil installations continue to be hit, ISIS will not be able to use its own military vehicles that run on the diesel and gas produced by small, local refineries. Yet it is the civilian population – between 6 and 8 million people in ISIS-controlled territory – that will most acutely feel the effects of the air strikes as winter approaches. The local population relies heavily on diesel for heating, agricultural machinery, bakeries and generators. The U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has already reported that the air strikes have led to an increase in the price of diesel and petrol. Butter says that if the ISIS economy is “degraded” by the bombings, there is likely to be a nationwide fuel and electricity crisis, as well as agricultural shortages exacerbated by the lighter than normal rainfall in 2013. In addition, Marcel points out that ISIS “depends to a large extent on the willingness of the population to have them there. In the battle to win hearts and minds, you do have to provide heating fuel and petrol.”

But if the group is to lose this battle any time soon, the coalition will have to succeed in cutting all the strands of ISIS’s vast financial web. Until then, ISIS will likely remain a threat to the region and beyond.

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