TIME Courts

U.S. Accuses Pair of Trying To Overthrow Gambian Government

US-AFRICA-SUMMIT
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images Gambia's President, Yahya Jammeh, attends the "Session 1- Investing in Africas Future" of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC on Aug. 6, 2014.

'The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies'

Two men who allegedly tried to overthrow the Gambian government in December have been charged with conspiracy to violate the centuries-old Neutrality Act, according to a Department of Justice complaint filed in Federal court.

“The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies,” United States Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions.”

The Neutrality Act prohibits U.S. citizens from attempting to incite war with a country that is at peace with the U.S.

Cherno Njie, 57, and Papa Faal, 46, traveled to the Gambia with an arsenal of firearms that included semi-automatic rifles, according to the complaint. Faal and others met near the home of the country’s president and prepared an assault against government buildings. The effort was quickly stopped in its track.

Njie, stayed on the sidelines of the operation, reportedly planned to serve as the leader of the country once the leader had been deposed.

TIME energy

Top Five Factors Affecting Oil Prices in 2015

The big question is when they will rise, and by how much

As we ring in the New Year, let’s take stock of where we are at with the oil markets. 2014 proved to be a momentous one for the oil markets, having seen prices cut in half in just six months.

The big question is what oil prices will do in 2015. Oil prices are unsustainably low right now – many high-cost oil producers and oil-producing regions are currently operating in the red. That may work in the short-term, but over the medium and long-term, companies will be forced out of the market, precipitating a price rise. The big question is when they will rise, and by how much.

So, what does that mean for oil prices in 2015? It is anybody’s guess, but here are the top five variables that will determine the trajectory of oil prices over the next 12 months, in no particular order.

1. China’s Economy. China is the second largest consumer of oil in the world and surpassed the United States as the largest importer of liquid fuels in late 2013. More importantly for oil prices is how much China’s consumption will increase in the coming years. According to the EIA, China is expected burn through 3 million more barrels per day in 2020 compared to 2012, accounting for about one-quarter of global demand growth over that timeframe. Although there is much uncertainty, China just wrapped up a disappointing fourth quarter, capping off its slowest annual growth in over a quarter century. It is not at all obvious that China will be able to halt its sliding growth rate, but the trajectory of China’s economy will significantly impact oil prices in 2015.

2. American shale. By the end of 2014, the U.S. was producing more than 9 million barrels of oil per day, an 80 percent increase from 2007. That output went a long way to creating a glut of oil, which helped send oil prices to the dumps in 2014. Having collectively shot themselves in the foot, the big question is how affected U.S. drillers will be by sub-$60 WTI. Rig counts continue to fall, spending is being slashed, but output has so far been stable. Whether the industry can maintain output given today’s prices or production begins to fall will have an enormous impact on international supplies, and as a result, prices.

3. Elasticity of Demand. The cure for low prices is low prices. That cliché can be applied to both the supply and demand side of the equation. Will oil selling at fire sale prices spur renewed demand? In some countries where oil is more regulated, low prices may not trickle down to the retail level. Countries like Indonesia are scrapping subsidies, which will be a boon to state coffers but will diminish the benefits to consumers. However, in the U.S., gasoline prices are now below $2.40 per gallon, more than 35 percent down from mid-2014. That has led to an uptick in gasoline consumption. In the waning days of 2014, the U.S. consumed gasoline at the highest daily rate since 2007. Low prices could spark higher demand, which in turn could send oil prices back up.

4. OPEC’s Next Move. OPEC deserves a lot of credit (or blame) for the remarkable downturn in oil prices last year. While many pundits have declared OPEC irrelevant after their decision to leave output unchanged, the mere fact that oil prices crashed after the cartel’s November meeting demonstrates just how influential they are over price swings. For now OPEC – or, more accurately, Saudi Arabia – has stood firm in its insistence not to cut production quotas. Whether that remains true through 2015 is up in the air.

5. Geopolitical flashpoints. In the not too distant past, a small supply disruption would send oil prices skyward. In early 2014, for example, violence in Libya blocked oil exports, contributing to a rise in oil prices. In Iraq, ISIS overran parts of the country and oil prices shot up on fears of supply outages. But since then, geopolitical flashpoints have had much less of an effect on the price of crude. During the last few weeks of 2014, violence flared up again in Libya. But after a brief increase in prices, the markets shrugged off the event. Nevertheless, history has demonstrated time and again that geopolitical crises are some of the most powerful short-term movers of oil prices.

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

Read more from Oilprice.com:

TIME Military

U.S. Army Aims to Build a Better Bullet

U.S. Army Sensors crammed into the tip of the grenade trigger the round's detonation once it passes over a wall or other obstacle.

Pentagon's new airburst round designed to take away enemy hiding places

In the olden days, soldiers killed when they fired a bullet at an enemy they could see. Then came indirect fire—lobbing mortars from afar, hoping for a lucky hit.

Now the Army is working on a new round, combining the best of both, by reducing the bad guy’s ability to hide.

Troops on the battlefield like to be “in defilade”—protected from enemy fire by physical obstacles. The Army’s new Small Arms Grenade Munition (SAGM) round is designed to remove the advantage offered by such cover: it explodes in midair after it has cleared whatever shield the enemy is hiding behind.

“It has a sensor that will sense defilade or walls or anything that somebody will be hiding behind,” SAGM chief Steven Gilbert says in a Pentagon release. “And basically detects it without the need of a laser range finder.” He has estimated the new round would more than double the lethality of existing grenade rounds at ranges of up to 500 meters.

Such a capability would have come in handy in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where anti-U.S. forces routinely sought shelter in walled compounds. “Warfighter lacks ability to engage combatants in defilade,” a 2012 briefing slide grumbled. “Grenade overshoots the target.”

The new round would give U.S. troops “a higher probability of achieving a first-shot kill against enemy personnel,” Gilbert adds, and could “defeat personnel targets in defilade positions at increased ranges with greater accuracy and lethality.”

Chris Boston / U.S. ArmyArmy engineers have spent three years mating sensors to explosives to ensure the round explodes at a “sweet spot” designed to increase the chances of a kill.

The Army’s Joint Service Small Arms Program, part of the service’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (known to friends as JSSAP-ARDEC) at New Jersey’s Picatinny Arsenal, has been developing the thumb-shaped, four-inch round for the past three years.

It’s the ultimate fire-and-forget weapon: the soldier doesn’t need to do anything before firing, other than point it toward whatever obstacle the enemy is using for defensive cover. “All the soldier would need to do is aim the weapon and fire it,” Gilbert told the Army’s C. Todd Lopez. “He’d have to have good aim…or the round won’t detect the wall. You have to have some sort of accuracy.”

Among Pentagon wags, “close enough” has long been deemed good enough for nuclear weapons. It could also end up being good enough for the Small Arms Grenade Munition if a formal Pentagon evaluation, set to begin in July, pans out.

TIME Markets

IPOs Raise $249 Billion in 2014 Amid Funding Frenzy

Dow Rises Over 400 Points Day After Fed Signals No Rise In Interest Rates
Andrew Burton—Getty Images A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City during the afternoon of Dec. 18, 2014.

Last year was a busy one for public offerings, even without Alibaba’s record-breaking listing

A company looking to raise money in 2014 didn’t have to look too far. Last year was the busiest for initial public offerings since 2010.

From Alibaba Group’s $25 billion IPO to much-hyped smaller listings, such as GoPro and Ally Financial, companies listing on the stock markets raised $249 billion worldwide, according to data collected by Thompson Reuters. Even without Alibaba’s record-breaking offering, last year was a standout period for IPOs.

IPOs picked up pace from 2013: about 40% more companies listed on public markets in 2014 compared to the year prior. They also raised more money. Leaving out Alibaba’s offering, which many agree is a once-in-a-generation kind of IPO, companies raised almost 36% more money year-over-year, according to the New York Times.

The booming market has led some analysts to speculate that it is inflated past realistic valuations, pumped up by overly optimistic investors. For instance, Lending Club’s December IPO valued the online lender at 35 times estimated revenue for 2017, which would put it on par with tech companies such as Facebook.

The public markets weren’t the only place to raise big bucks. The private market also saw big number sums, including Uber’s $1.8 billion fundraising round that valued it at $40 billion. Chinese smart phone maker Xiaomi and online home rental service Airbnb also raised huge sums that valued the startups at $10 billion or more.

Fundraising in both the public and private markets have been driven by a confluence of factors, including low interest rates that have pushed investors toward higher-growth opportunities and a skyrocketing stock market.

While no mega-IPO like Alibaba is set for the year ahead, there are some big-name companies that are scheduled to go public, including file-sharing startup Box and “fine casual” dining chain Shake Shack.

Other potential IPOs remain the subject of much speculation. Investors are watching startups such as Uber, Pinterest and Fitbit carefully, though none have yet indicated when or if they will list on public markets.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Economy

Euro Falls to a 9-Year Low on Greek Fears

Euro Money Greece
Getty Images

The euro fell to its lowest level against the dollar in nine years Monday, driven by fears of political turmoil in Greece and hopes for more monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank.

By lunchtime in Europe, the single currency had fallen to $1.1914 and has now fallen over 2c against the dollar since the start of the year.

It had already lurched lower on Friday, the first trading session of 2015, on the back of comments by ECB President Mario Draghi in an interview with a German newspaper saying that the risks of it undershooting its inflation target had increased. That added to speculation that the ECB will announce a bigger program of bond-buying, or so-called quantitative easing, at its first policy meeting of the year on Jan. 22.

The ECB is keen to play up that fact that its policy is getting easier even as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy in the U.S.. That outlook will keep the euro cheap on foreign exchange markets, helping the area to boost growth through the export channel.

Hopes for QE, coupled with pessimism over the Eurozone’s growth outlook, have already driven bond yields to unprecedented lows. Yields on German bonds are negative all the way out to 2019, while even Italy’s 10-year bonds yield only 1.79%.

The other factor weighing on the euro is the fear that the radical left-wing Syriza party will win Greece’s parliamentary elections at the end of January, starting a process that may lead to Greece leaving the Eurozone. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported at the weekend that Chancellor Angela Merkel was confident that the Eurozone could cope with a Greek exit.

That confidence is far from being universally shared by financial markets. Marc Ostwald, a strategist with ADM ISI in London, called a Greek exit “the ultimate example bar none of why the Euro project is doomed to failure if no progress on moving to some form of fiscal transfer union is made.”

The euro’s decline is only side of a general rally in the dollar. The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basked of major world currencies (although, importantly, not China’s), is also at a nine-year high, after rising over 12% last year.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME World

These Are the Top 10 Geopolitical Risks of 2015

Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens.
Milos Bicanski—Getty Images Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens.

TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer provides a guide to the global storylines of the year, beginning with an unstable Europe

International stories rise and fall so quickly in today’s media. On Monday, it’s civil conflict in Ukraine. On Tuesday, it’s the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). By Wednesday, the headlines are on to something else. Amid the global whiplash, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger picture. So as the new year begins, it’s useful to take a broader look at where these stories are headed—and to track the next wave of market-moving surprises in international politics.

Every January Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy I founded and oversee today, publishes Top Risks, a roundup of the geopolitical trends we consider most likely to change our world in the coming year. This ranking reflects our forecast of which global storylines are most likely to play out over the next 12 months, which will have biggest impact on the markets and politics—and where we can expect surprises.

In 2015, political conflict among the world’s great powers is in play more than at any time since the end of the Cold War. U.S. relations with Russia are now fully broken. China’s powerful President Xi Jinping is creating a new economy, and the effects will be felt across East Asia and the rest of the world. Geopolitical uncertainty has Turkey, the Gulf Arab states, Brazil and India hedging their bets.

But the year’s top risk is found in once placid Europe, where an increasingly fractured political environment is generating new sources of conflict.

1. The politics of Europe

European economics aren’t as bad as they were at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2012, but the politics of the continent are now much worse. Within key countries like Britain and Germany, anti-EU political parties continue to gain popularity, undermining the ability of governments to deliver on painful but needed reforms. Friction is growing among European states, as peripheral governments come to increasingly resent the influence of a strong Germany unchecked by weak France or absent Britain. Finally, a resentful Russia and an aggressive ISIS will add to Europe’s security worries.

2. Russia

Sanctions and lower oil prices have weakened Russia enough to infuriate President Vladimir Putin, but not enough to restrain his actions. Moscow will continue to put pressure on Ukraine, and as a result, U.S. and European sanctions will tighten. As Russia’s economy sags, Putin’s approval ratings will depend increasingly on his willingness to confront the West. Western companies and investors are likely targets—on the ground and in cyberspace.

3. The effects of China slowdown

China’s economic growth will slow in 2015, but it’s all part of Xi’s plan. His historically ambitious economic reform efforts depend on transitioning his country to a consumer-driven economic model that will demand levels of growth that are lower, but more sustainable. The continuing slowdown should have little impact inside China. But countries like Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand, whose economies have come to depend on booming trade with a commodity-hungry China, will feel the pain.

4. The weaponization of finance

For the moment, the American public has had enough of wars and occupations, but the Obama administration still wants to exert significant influence around the globe. That’s why Washington is weaponizing finance on a new scale. The U.S. is using carrots (access to capital markets) and sticks (varied types of sanctions) as tools of coercive diplomacy. The advantages are considerable, but there is a risk that this strategy will damage U.S. companies caught in the crossfire between Washington and targeted states. Transatlantic relations could suffer for the same reason.

5. ISIS, beyond Iraq and Syria

ISIS faces military setbacks in Iraq and Syria, but its ideological reach will spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2015. It will grow organically by setting up new units in Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and it will inspire other jihadist organizations to join its ranks—Ansar Bayt al Maqdas in Egypt and Islamists in Libya have already pledged allegiance to ISIS. As the militant group’s influence grows, the risk to Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will rise.

6. Weak incumbents

Feeble political leaders, many of whom barely won reelection last year, will become a major theme in 2015. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will each face determined opposition and formidable obstacles as they try to enact their political agendas.

7. The rise of strategic sectors

Global businesses in 2015 will increasingly depend on risk-averse governments that are more focused on political stability than on economic growth, supporting companies that operate in harmony with their political goals and punishing those that don’t. We’ll see this trend in emerging markets, where the state already plays a more significant role in the economy, as well as in rogue states searching for weapons to fight more powerful governments. But we’ll also see it in the U.S., where national security priorities have inflated the military industrial complex, which now includes technology, telecommunications and financial companies.

8. Saudi Arabia vs Iran

The rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia is the engine of conflict in the Middle East. Given the growing reluctance of Washington and other outside powers to intervene in the region, increasingly complex domestic politics within these two countries and rising anxiety about the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, we can expect Tehran and Riyadh to use proxies to fuel trouble in more Middle Eastern countries than ever in 2015.

9. Taiwan/China

Relations between China and Taiwan will deteriorate sharply in 2015 following the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s landslide victory over the ruling Nationalist Party in local elections this past November. If China decides that its strategy of economic engagement with Taiwan has failed to advance its ultimate goal of reunification, Beijing might well backtrack on existing trade and investment deals and significantly harden its rhetoric. The move would surely provoke public hostility in Taiwan and inject even more anti-mainland sentiment into the island’s politics. Any U.S. comment on relations between China and Taiwan would quickly increase resentment between Beijing and Washington.

10. Turkey

Lower oil prices have helped, but President Erdogan has used election victories in 2014 to try to sideline his political enemies—of which there are many—while remaking the country’s political system to tighten his hold on power. But he’s unlikely to win the authority he wants this year, creating more disputes with his prime minister, weakening policy coherence and worsening political unpredictability. Given the instability near Turkey’s borders, where the war against ISIS rages, that’s bad news. Refugees from Syria and Iraq are bringing more radicalism into the country and adding to economic hardship.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Seizes Indian Fishing Boats as Doubts Intensify Over Terrorist Claims

New Delhi's critics call for explanations

Pakistani authorities reportedly seized two Indian fishing boats on Saturday — a not uncommon occurrence, but one that has prompted greater controversy following a tense week in the waters between the two countries.

The boats, containing 12 Indian fishermen, were apprehended by Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency (MSA) three days after the Indian Coast Guard intercepted an alleged terrorist boat off the Gujarat coast, the Times of India reported.

The Indian authorities claim that intercepted wireless communications show the Pakistani boat, which sank about 365 km away from India’s west coast on Jan. 1, to be working with an unidentified vessel nearby and coordinating with a contact in Pakistan as well as the MSA.

A statement from India’s Defense Ministry then stated that the four people on board the boat attempted to outrun the coast guard for over an hour, following which they hid under the deck and set fire to the boat, resulting in an explosion.

However, naval officers told the Indian Express that it was not possible for a typical Pakistani fishing vessel to outrun the powerful coast guard boats, and local fishermen said they did not see a fire. Moreover, photographs released to the media of the burning boat do not show damage consistent with the detonation of explosives.

Pakistan has rubbished claims that the Jan. 1 incident could be linked to terrorism, and there are reportedly no boats unaccounted for in Keti Bandar, the Karachi port where India claims the “suspicious” boat originated from.

“No fishing crews or boats are missing from Keti Bandar,” the head of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Saeed Baloch, told the Express.

India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar stuck to his guns Monday morning, telling reporters that people smuggling drugs or other contraband would have surrendered rather than martyr themselves.

“Why would smugglers keep in touch with Pakistani maritime authorities?” he asked, adding that he would categorize them as “suspected terrorists.”

But that was not enough to placate opposition parties like the Indian National Congress, who urged the government on Monday to make the evidence public.

No material evidence from the Pakistani boat or bodies of its crew has been recovered so far because of reported bad weather, but a leading coast-guard official said he was hopeful that more clues would be forthcoming. The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has ordered a full internal review of the intercepted communications and other evidence.

TIME Foreign Relations

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron Boasts That Obama Calls Him ‘Bro’

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama watch a fly-past by the Red Arrows during the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor resort, near Newport
Andrew Winning—Reuters U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama watch a flypast by the Red Arrows during the NATO summit in Wales on Sept. 5, 2014

But which definition of "bro" is he referring to?

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron says he’s so chummy with U.S. President Barack Obama that he’s often referred to as “bro” by his American counterpart.

The British leader told the Daily Mail in an interview that Obama sometimes calls him “bro” on the phone, adding that the relationship between 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is “stronger than it has ever been, privately and in public.”

The “bro” comment set off some confusion in the British press regarding whether Obama was rather rudely calling Cameron a “bro” — that is, a member of a beer-pounding, usually shirtless tribe of “young white Americans, often fellow members of a university fraternity, who emulate black rap culture,” according to the Telegraph’s consultation with Urban Dictionary; or “an alpha-male idiot,” as the American term is alternatively translated, according to the Independent’s perusal of the same source.

Or, perhaps Obama was simply referring to his British comrade as his “bro,” meaning he feels a warm relationship with Cameron.

Like all brothers, the playful pair have been scolded together, especially after the two world leaders snapped a “selfie” at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013. Cameron has also been criticized for behaving a bit like a younger sibling to Obama, a point bolstered when the American President upstaged the British Prime Minister while shaking hands with NATO delegates September last year (leaving his “bro” without a hand to shake). But older bro Obama looked decidedly more sprightly playing ping-pong than Cameron (five years his junior) did in 2011, to the amusement of the U.K. press.

TIME Aviation

Divers Struggle to Find Bodies and Black Boxes From AirAsia Crash

The body of an AirAsia QZ8501 passenger is carried to an ambulance after being transported from a ship by a U.S. Navy helicopter from the USS Sampson at the airbase in Pangkalan Bun
Darren Whiteside—Reuters The body of an AirAsia QZ 8501 passenger is carried to an ambulance after being transported from a ship by a U.S. Navy helicopter from the U.S.S. Sampson at the air base in Pangkalan Bun, in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan, on Jan. 4, 2015

Only 37 bodies have been found and investigators believe most of the dead are still underwater strapped into their seats

The AirAsia salvage operation shifted Monday to focus on recovering the aircraft’s flight-data recorders, otherwise known as black boxes, but blustery weather continues to undermine search efforts in the Java Sea.

Only 37 bodies have so far been recovered from the 155 passengers and seven crew aboard Flight QZ 8501, which vanished from radar 42 minutes after departing Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya bound for Singapore early Dec. 28.

According to Suryadi B. Supriyadi, director of operations at Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (known by its Bahasa Indonesia acronym Basarnas), at least five ships with black-box pinger locators have been dispatched to where four large objects, believed to be wreckage from the plane, were spotted by sonar.

Once triangulation of black-box signals has been achieved, and conditions sufficiently improve, a team of more than 80 deep-sea divers will be deployed to get visual confirmation. On Sunday, divers had to abandon their forays after being confronted with near-zero visibility in the murky depths.

“If it cannot be done by divers, we will use sophisticated equipment with capabilities of tracking underwater objects and then will lift them up,” Supriyadi told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

Locating the black boxes is crucial to determining what made the twin-engine Airbus A320-200 crash, though severe weather is still presumed to be key factor.

“The most probable weather phenomenon was icing, which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process,” said a preliminary report on the website of Indonesia’s meteorological agency.

However, Mike Daniel, a Singapore-based aviation expert with more than three decades experience with the U.S. Federation Aviation Administration, thinks this is only one of “two different and distinct scenarios.”

“If they find the flight data recorders, it would show if icing is a factor,” he tells TIME. “But my sense is that with the strong storm cell updrafts reported by the meteorological folks that there may be more focus on high-altitude flight upset, as opposed to unreliable airspeed indications due to icing.”

The last cockpit contact between Captain Iriyanto and Indonesian Air Traffic Control occurred when the highly experienced former Indonesian air-force pilot requested permission to change direction and climb from a cruising altitude of 32,000 ft. to 38,000 ft. in order to avoid severe weather. The first request was granted, but the aircraft was only permitted to ascend to 34,000 ft. as there was traffic above.

On Sunday, Basarnas recovered four more bodies as well as more debris believed to be from the aircraft, including the emergency-exit window, some luggage, passenger seats and survival kits, AirAsia said in a statement.

AirAsia has still not responded to claims by Indonesian officials that Flight QZ 8501 did not have permission to fly on the Surabaya to Singapore route on the Sunday it crashed.

“The regulator requires further evaluation on the route, and AirAsia will be fully cooperative throughout the process,” AirAsia spokeswoman Malinda Yasmin said via email.

Indonesian aviation authorities have postponed all Surabaya-to-Singapore AirAsia flights in the meantime, although their Singaporean peers told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that the route was approved at the Singapore end.

Thirteen of the 37 bodies recovered to date have been identified. The remains of flight attendant Wismoyo Ari Prambudi, 24; passengers Jie Stevie Gunawan, 10; and Juanita Limantara, 30, were returned to their families Sunday.

Read next: For the AirAsia Bereaved, the New Year Brings Nothing but Grief

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME China

Shanghai Authorities Try to Stifle Criticism After New Year’s Eve Stampede

Policemen stand in formation as they guard on the bund where people were killed in a stampede incident during a new year's celebration, in Shanghai
China Stringer Network/Reuters Policemen stand in formation as they guard on the bund where people were killed in a stampede incident during a new year's celebration, in Shanghai on Jan. 3, 2015.

Critics are being interrogated and families harassed

Shanghai authorities are seeking to control discussion of the New Year’s Eve stampede that caused the deaths of 36 people and raised questions about the ability of police to manage large-scale events in the world’s most populous nation.

Relatives of those asphyxiated and trampled to death during Dec. 31 celebrations say they are being closely monitored by authorities for what they say, and to whom, about the disaster, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports.

Family members of the victims also say that authorities are preventing them from taking home the bodies of their loved ones.

Local reporters have been barred from speaking with family members of the deceased, as well as from running non-government-approved photos, especially photos that depict people grieving, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

Chinese censors are also going after online commentators who blame the Shanghai government and police for the disaster, deleting the posts, tracking down the writers and summoning them for interrogation.

The crackdown comes as the public seeks answers into what went wrong on what was supposed to be a night of merrymaking at the Bund, the historic riverfront area that looks across the water to the city’s financial district.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping on New Year’s Day called for an investigation into the disaster, state-run media also carried stinging criticism of Shanghai authorities for the holiday tragedy, whose victims included one 12-year-old boy but were mostly women in their early 20s.

The President demanded that lessons be learned before the city staged some of the nation’s largest celebrations during Lunar New Year festivities next month.

“It was a lack of vigilance from the government, a sloppiness,” said state news agency Xinhua, in an editorial (according to a Reuters translation). The news agency continued to say in an English-language editorial that the tragedy was a “wake-up call,” underscoring China’s status as “a developing country which has fragile social management.”

But despite the central government’s pledges of an investigation — as well as the state-run media’s flagellation of Shanghai authorities — locals say they are encountering intimidation from local officials as they seek answers to the many questions the stampede raised: Why, if the annual laser-light show at the Bund was canceled for safety reasons this New Year’s Eve, were hundreds of thousands of revelers allowed to show up regardless? And, could police have done more before and at the critical moment, around 11:30 p.m., when congestion turned lethal on a set of stairs?

The SCMP, citing an unnamed officer, reports that dozens of people who discussed those questions and others online have been interrogated by Shanghai authorities. The officer described the interrogations as “a warning to those unfriendly Internet users.”

Local media have also been barred from interviewing relatives of the victims or the attendees of memorial services, and have been instructed to downplay the disaster, the FT reports. The homepage for Xinhua’s English website carried no mention of the Shanghai disaster by Monday afternoon local time.

The FT adds that Chinese news outlets have been told remove from their own coverage “all information about attacking the party and government and attacking the social system of our country.”

Access for nonmainland media reporting on the disaster has also been hampered. One SCMP reporter was interrupted several times while trying to conduct interviews with victims’ families by people who identified themselves as hospital volunteers, the Hong Kong–based newspaper says.

One father whose daughter was killed in the stampede, and who rebuked police for poor crowd control, declined to give his name to the Associated Press, citing a “fear of offending the authorities,” as the news agency puts it.

Meanwhile, families of the victims held protests on Sunday outside a municipal building in Shanghai, demanding to take home the bodies of their relatives. It was unclear why the bodies of the 34 Chinese citizens killed in the pandemonium are being held, even after the remains of the two foreigners killed in the disaster, a Malaysian and a Taiwanese, were returned to their home countries.

Under the close scrutiny of police, people laid flowers at the scene of the stampede over the weekend and waited for news on the condition of the 49 people injured in the chaos. Xinhua reports that 24 people have been discharged from the hospital, while 25 are still under medical observation, including seven people with serious injuries and one in critical condition.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com