TIME Uighurs

Thailand Arrests More Than 200 Uighurs Fleeing China

Daily Life In Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
A Uighur construction worker takes a break on July 16, 2013 in Kashgar, China. Kevin Zen—Getty Images

Group was reportedly trying to sneak into Malaysia

Thai authorities have detained more than 200 ethnic Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang region after officials raided a secret camp on a plantation in Songkhla province, where the group was waiting to be trafficked to Malaysia.

Following the raid, Thai officials notified the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok, who is in the process of intervening in the case, reports Radio Free Asia.

Members from the group apparently claimed they were Turkish in order to prevent being deported back to Xinjiang, and have refused to cooperate with Chinese officials. According to RFA, they were headed to Malaysia where they hoped to apply for political asylum.

The Uighurs are a Muslim, Turkic people living mostly in China’s far western Xinjiang autonomous region, where they number some 10 million.

The group has long maintained that they have faced decades of political and cultural oppression since falling under Chinese governance following the advent of Communist rule in 1949.

One of the longest-held grievances in Xinjiang among Uighurs has been the large-scale migration of Han settlers into the region. According to official statistics, indigenous Uighurs represent 45% of the province’s total population, making them a minority in their own land.

Many of the Han living in Xinjiang work in construction or state-owned extraction industries in the resource-rich region and hold a large majority of the official positions.

Earlier this month, extremist Uighur separatists were accused of orchestrating a savage attack on bystanders at Kunming railway station in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, which killed 29 people and left more than 130 injured.

[RFA]

TIME Syria

Report: More Than 146,000 People Killed in Syrian Civil War

Syrians look at the destruction following an airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 5, 2014.
Syrians look at the destruction following an airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 5, 2014. Baraa Al-Halabi—AFP/Getty Images

The latest figure from the U.K.-based anti-government group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, helps quantify the massive toll of Syria's three-year civil war, with about half of those reported deaths consisting of civilians

More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year civil war, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.

The report from the Observatory, an anti-government group that tracks violence across Syria, offers an updated death toll since the United Nations said in July that at least 100,000 people had been killed.

The UN said in January that it would stop updating the figure, and it is impossible to verify the Observatory’s figure, collected from a network of sources in Syria.

Roughly half of the 146,065 deaths were civilians, including 7,796 children.

UNICEF said in a report this month that 1.2 million children have fled the country and 5.5 million Syrian children in and outside the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

TIME Syria

Ordeal of a Dying Child Captures the Tragedy of Syria

Feryal Delly, a Syrian refugee, gives water to her 4-year-old son Zacharia on March 9. Zacharia, who suffers from a brain tumor, lives with his family in a rented apartment in Halt, north of Beirut.
Feryal Delly, a Syrian refugee, gives water to her 4-year-old son Zacharia on March 9. Zacharia, who has a brain tumor, lives with his family in a rented apartment in Halat, north of Beirut. Lynsey Addario—UNHCR

The ongoing conflict in Syria is about to enter its fourth year and has led to a fragmented health care system, where even manageable diseases become death sentences, as it has for one 4-year-old Syrian boy

In a partially completed apartment complex not far from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, 4-year-old Zacharia Delly, the son of Syrian refugees, lies semi-comatose on a tattered foam mat surrounded by his mother and four siblings. His head is swollen to twice normal size, lashed with angry purple veins made visible by his baldness. One eye, open but unseeing, protrudes grotesquely from a crust of dried blood and pus, displaced by a tumor that startled his family with the rapidity and maliciousness of its growth.

His twin sister Sidra gently pulls aside a wool blanket felted with age to expose his skeletal limbs. She strokes his foot and worriedly examines a new gray stain creeping up his shin, the latest manifestation of a vicious cancer that is consuming her brother from the inside out. With her short brown curls, dimpled cheeks and giggles, she is a constant reminder of what Zacharia once was: a bright-eyed toddler who loved hugs more than toys and never left his mother’s side. That is, before war and disease intersected to cut down a life far before its time.

Every tragedy has its if-only moments. Those split-second decisions, looked upon in hindsight that, if taken differently, may have had the power to save a life. For Feryal Delly, a housewife from Homs, Syria, that moment came one day last summer when she was scheduled to take her son Zacharia to his second chemotherapy appointment in Damascus. Zacharia had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, but the hospital in Homs had been destroyed, so she had to take him to one in Damascus, a two-hour bus ride away. His doctor there was pleased with the first round of chemo and prescribed seven more sessions, two weeks apart. But war stalked Syria, and the road to Damascus was treacherous with checkpoints, both rebel-run and regime. The route was often rocketed, and civilians were frequently detained. Delly’s parents urged her to stay home. It would be 20 days before the fighting calmed enough for her to risk the journey again. By then Zacharia had missed two appointments, and the cancer, which started near his kidneys, had begun to spread. Delly is convinced that it was her decision to stay home that day that made all the difference. “I wanted to take him to the hospital, but I was afraid,” she says, sobbing. “I failed him.”

The three-year war in Syria has taken more than 140,000 lives and driven nearly 9 million from their homes. It has destroyed schools, orphanages and places of worship. But perhaps most egregiously, it has ravaged a government-funded health care system that was once the envy of the Arab world. According to a new report by Save the Children, some 60% of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and half its doctors have fled. Lifesaving medicine is in short supply, and in some cases patients have asked to be knocked out by metal bars rather than go through surgery without anesthesia. The few hospitals still operating in Damascus are all but inaccessible. Once manageable chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer have turned into death sentences. Since the start of the conflict, says the report, 200,000 Syrians have died from chronic illnesses because of a lack of access to treatment and drugs.

As a result, thousands of families, including Zacharia’s, have fled to Lebanon for the care they could not receive at home. When it became clear that fighting would derail yet another chemotherapy appointment, his family packed for a short trip to Beirut, where they hoped treatment would be easier to find. But the crossing was arduous, and by the time they made it, they had missed the treatment window and tumorous lesions had sprouted on Zacharia’s head. Lebanon was hardly the refuge they had anticipated. While the country boasts some of the finest medical institutes in the Middle East, nearly 90% are privately run, and most of those are for profit. One hospital, known for its children’s cancer ward, turned Zacharia away because the family couldn’t afford the fees. The last photo Delly has of Zacharia standing shows him in front of the hospital’s gaily decorated Christmas tree with his arm around his sister. A few days later he collapsed: tumors had invaded his spinal column. He would never walk again.

Days of frantic searching brought Zacharia’s case to the attention of Dr. Elie Bechara, a children’s cancer specialist at Beirut’s Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui. But the deferred chemotherapy treatments had taken their toll. “There is one golden rule in treating these kinds of cancer: delay is not good,” he says. “Even a small delay can make a big difference.” When Bechara examined Zacharia, his heart nearly broke. His body was so riddled with tumors that only a bone-marrow transplant and experimental immunotherapy, now being tested in the U.S., could make a difference. But the treatment is prohibitively expensive, and the chances of success dismally low. “The only thing we could offer at that point was palliative care” — making him as comfortable as possible as cancer wins the war — says Bechara.

Bechara estimates that Syrians currently occupy 75% of the beds in his hospital. Many can, and do, pay. But Lebanon is likely to play host to hundreds and perhaps thousands more cases like Zacharia’s as Syria’s health care system nears total collapse. The U.N. body that looks after refugees, UNHCR, has spent tens of millions of dollars treating the Syrian refugees that have already crossed the border. But funds are limited, and as the numbers of refugees flowing into Lebanon increase — 1.5 million, more than a third of the Lebanese population, are expected to have registered by the end of the year — costs will rise. With such limited resources, UNHCR is forced to choose between funding preventative care that can save thousands of lives and spending thousands of dollars to save one life. “Lebanon is the size of Connecticut,” says Ninette Kelley, UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon. “Now just imagine what the priorities would be if a million refugees came to Connecticut and needed to use the health care system.”

Last year UNHCR covered medical treatment for 41,500 refugees in Lebanon, but each of those cases was judged on specific criteria: the cost of the intervention against the chances of a positive outcome. Open-heart surgery, hip replacements and emergency dialysis might make the cut. But Zacharia, with his advanced state of cancer, did not meet the threshold. “People’s lives are being saved every day from the treatments we are able to provide. It’s just that the need has greatly outstripped the resources,” says Kelley. “That is what makes the situation we are in today so difficult.” Zacharia, she adds, is the face of a much bigger issue: the toll Syria’s war is taking on the health care system. “It is tragic that this child, who, but for violence in Syria, would have been able to continue treatment at home and live a long and prosperous life, is cut down at the age of 4. Now his family, who has just lost their home, has to cope with the loss of this tiny child. How brutal is that?”

Back in her UNHCR-funded apartment, Delly, the mother, looks on helplessly as Zacharia struggles to breathe. His teeth have been hurting him, and he gnaws his thumb in his sleep. “The doctor in Damascus warned me not to miss an appointment,” she says as she attempts to control her sobs. “He said anything might happen to Zacharia — he could lose his hearing, his sight, his ability to walk. But what could I do? The road was unsafe, and I could have been taken. What would have happened to my other children then?” Sidra, Zacharia’s twin, springs from her brother’s side to wipe the tears from her mother’s face. Delly’s sister Manal attempts to stop a downward spiral of guilt that she appears to have seen a few times before. “Zacharia isn’t sick because of you. He is sick because of this horrible war. If there hadn’t been war, he wouldn’t have missed his treatments and maybe he would have lived another 10 years.” Delly nods reluctantly and looks over at Zacharia’s heaving chest. As guilty as it makes her feel, as long as she can imagine the scenario where Zacharia got to his chemotherapy in time, she can imagine him alive. Letting go of blaming herself means accepting that he is about to die. “I just want to see him play with his sister one more time,” she says.

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Search Widens for Vanished Jet

Malaysia Airline
Vietnamese Air Force Col. Pham Minh Tuan uses binoculars on board an aircraft during a mission to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Gulf of Thailand, on March 13, 2014. AP

Authorities acknowledged the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft may have flown off course for several hours after it lost contact

Authorities from both Asia and the U.S. appeared to expand their hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 all the way to the Indian Ocean on Thursday, as one possible clue of its whereabouts was discounted and the Malaysian government faced growing anger over its handling of the disappearance.

Malaysian authorities expanded their search westward toward India, the Associated Press reports, acknowledging that the plane carrying 239 people may have flown for hours after it lost contact with air-traffic controllers on Saturday and disappeared without a trace. Meanwhile, multiple reports indicated the U.S. was also moving its search in that direction. The New York Times, citing Pentagon officials, reported that an American destroyer was being redeployed to the Strait of Malacca, which is west of Malaysia and the area where search efforts have been largely focused.

“We’re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working … within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday. “And it is my understanding that one possible piece of information or collection of pieces of information has led to the possibility that a new … search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean.”

But six days after its disappearance, authorities were no closer to finding the Boeing 777. Malaysian authorities followed up on satellite images that China had said might show a crash site, but found nothing, the AP reports. “There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing,” acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Meanwhile, there was a rising tide of anger from other Asian nations over how Malaysia has handled information about the search. Carney declined to join that pile-on when he spoke Thursday. “I can’t evaluate this process until it comes to an end,” he said.

TIME Religion

Boehner and Pelosi Invite Pope Francis to Congress

Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City.
Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City. Andreas Solara—AFP/Getty Images

Congressional leaders used the occasion of Francis' first anniversary as Pope to invite him to Washington. President Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27

Happy one-year anniversary, Pope Francis: You are invited to come to Congress.

Almost one year to the minute after Pope Francis was named Benedict XVI’s successor, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday afternoon that they were formally inviting the popular Holy Father to address Congress. President Barack Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27, and the Holy See has not announced formal plans to visit the United States. Pope Francis has made it clear that his priorities for international visits are the Holy Land, Asia, and then Africa.

Congress could use some peace-building right about now. Leaders appear divided even on inviting the Pope: Boehner and Pelosi, both Catholics, issued the invitation, but Boehner did not include Pelosi’s name in his announcement of the invitation.

Pelosi’s statement:

“As we approach the first anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis, I am pleased to join Speaker Boehner in inviting His Holiness to address a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress.

“I had the privilege of attending His Holiness’ inauguration at the Vatican and was inspired by his message of peace, compassion, and brotherhood.

“Whether inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God’s creation, or by St. Joseph, protector of the church, Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations.”

Boehner’s statement:

“It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service.

“His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn—has awakened hearts on every continent.

“His social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel,’ have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice.

“These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good. Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by ‘crony capitalism’ and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity. They have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.

“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.

“It is with deep gratitude that I have asked Pope Francis to consider this open invitation on behalf of the Congress and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve.”

TIME Aviation

Malaysian Plane’s Unprecedented Disappearance Deepens Asian Tensions

Crew members from the Royal Malaysian Air Force look through windows of a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a Search and Rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in the Straits of Malacca, March 13, 2014.
Crew members from the Royal Malaysian Air Force look through windows of an aircraft during an operation to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Strait of Malacca on March 13, 2014 Samsul Said—Reuters

Officials in several Asian countries are frustrated with Malaysia's handling of the hunt, with questions of why there’s so much contradictory information

Frustration at the sluggish rate at which the Malaysian government is releasing updates on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has rapidly turned into suspicion — with China, echoed by voices in Vietnam and even inside Malaysia, demanding explanations as to why so much of the information released from Kuala Lumpur has been vague and contradictory.

It has been six days now since MH370, carrying 239 passengers, vanished over the ocean en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The absence of solid information released by Malaysia, which is leading the search, has been filled with bursts of wild conjecture from officials and media that have compounded the anxiety, confusion and grief of relatives and friends of those missing.

Air-force chief General Rodzali Daud was quoted in local media on Tuesday saying that the plane had changed course toward the Strait of Malacca, sparking rumors that it may not have crashed. Later, however, he denied making the statement, despite a high-ranking official confirming the report. Then on Wednesday, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said officials had detected radar signals that they thought might be from MH370, but that it had taken them four days to release the data.

Vietnam, one of the first countries to join the hunt for the plane, is among those growing increasingly frustrated by Malaysia’s messaging. Local and international media have spent the past three days lingering in airless rooms at the air-traffic-command center on Phu Quoc Island, southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, awaiting updates. But they have gleaned little. Vietnam has deployed planes and ships to aid the operation, and on Thursday morning scrambled four aircraft following the release of Chinese satellite images that appeared to show large chunks of debris floating in the South China Sea. Pilots returned having spotted nothing.

China’s subsequent admission that the images were released “by mistake” has added further strain to a search operation unprecedented in both size and its extent of multiparty cooperation. Beijing itself berated the Malaysian government over Kuala Lumpur’s perceived stalling, with China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang stressing on March 10 that Malaysian authorities should “step up their efforts and speed up their investigation.”

The Malaysian government has defended itself, with Defense Minister Hussein telling reporters on Wednesday that “it’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion.” But it is receiving growing domestic flak. “Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” prominent lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan told the New York Times yesterday. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

Pre-existing territorial disputes have added to the tension, with key parties in the search operation — including China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia — already embroiled in hotly contested claims over the South China Sea. Moreover, the fact that 154 of the 239 passengers were from either China or Taiwan presents an added urgency for Beijing. An editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times said of Malaysia’s failure to issue regular and clear details: “Malaysia’s grave inconsistencies on this vital information cannot but be a devastating blow to the outside world’s confidence in its core role in search and rescue.”

For Vietnam, which has no nationals aboard the missing MH370, the question of cooperation with Malaysia appears a sensitive one. When TIME tried to approach a senior Vietnamese official involved in the search to ask about Malaysia’s sharing of information, an English-speaking member of staff stepped in and said, “It’s not a question we will answer.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, however, a junior official from Ho Chi Minh City’s air-traffic-control department dispatched to Phu Quoc to aid the effort later expressed bewilderment at Kuala Lumpur’s methods.

“I asked [Malaysian officials] for information about the flight path two days ago, and the information only arrived this morning,” he said today. “It’s all very slow, and I don’t know why. Six days without finding something is too long. It’s very strange.”

Data automatically downloaded from the engine of MH370 has led U.S. analysts to claim that the plane may have continued flying for four hours after the radar went blank. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the new finding on Thursday morning, said investigators were exploring the possibility that someone aboard diverted the plane, “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”

Malaysia’s Hussein dismissed the claims at a press conference this afternoon, saying that the government, as well as Boeing and Rolls-Royce, which designed engines for the Boeing 777 aircraft, believed the Journal’s report was inaccurate. That response is likely to be contested by U.S. analysts, who believe the new findings warrant an expansion of the search operation beyond the South China Sea. The U.S. dispatched a naval vessel to the Indian Ocean under the assumption the plane crashed somewhere there.

In the brain room of the Vietnamese operation, analysts huddle over a laptop, updating on a map the shifting demarcation of the search area. Two enlarged maps hang on the wall behind them, one showing flight paths of various airlines over southwest Vietnam, another marking in white the blocks of sea that were explored today, and in green those that will be explored tomorrow. The pencil lines change regularly, but new information on the plane’s whereabouts is scant.

On the nearby runway sits a small seaplane readied for Friday’s search. Vietnam has sent craft from airports across its southern provinces, while China has assigned 10 satellites to survey the seas and deployed nine ships and four helicopters. “As long as there is a glimmer of hope,” said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a press conference on Thursday, “we will not stop searching for the plane.”

TIME Google

Google Will Start Encrypting Your Searches

Google privacy concerns
A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on Jan. 30, 2014 in Mountain View, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The tech behemoth plans to make users' searches more private as part of the company's broader campaign to push back against hackers and government surveillance. They've already started in China as a show of defiance against the country's infamous censors

Google is making users’ searches more private as part of the company’s larger efforts to improve information security in light of last year’s revelations regarding government surveillance in the U.S.

Google will introduce encrypted search results globally on a yet-unannounced release schedule. However, Google has already started encrypting searches of Chinese users in defiance of that country’s tight censorship regime, The Washington Post reports. The move represents a shot at Beijing in Google’s standoff with Chinese authorities over unmet demands that the company send Chinese users to government-approved sites. In 2010, Google moved its Chinese operation to semi-autonomous Hong Kong and now accounts for only five percent of China’s search market.

Google’s steps to encrypt search results follow a decision to encrypt Internet traffic between its data centers after Edward Snowden, working with journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and others, revealed last year the extent of National Security Agency surveillance of web traffic in the U.S.

“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” a Google spokesperson told the Post. “This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards.”

[The Washington Post]

TIME

Egyptian Soldier Killed in Cairo

The military has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for an attack on an army vehicle

Masked gunmen in Cairo shot dead a soldier Thursday after opening fire on an army bus.

Gunmen attacked the bus in the eastern district of Cairo, reportedly the first attack on Egyptian military in the country’s capital. Three journalists were also injured in the attack.

Although no militant group has claimed responsibility, the Egyptian military blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, reports the BBC. The army posted a message on its Facebook page accusing “armed men belonging to the terrorist Brotherhood group of targeting an armed forces company.”

It is the most recent in a series of attacks on the Egyptian military. The government is attempting to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, denouncing it as a terrorist group and arresting many of its members since the imprisonment of President Mohamed Morsi last year.

 

[BBC]

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Establishes National Guard Ahead of Crimea Vote

As many as 60,000 national guardsmen will bolster country's defenses ahead of Sunday's referendum in Crimea

Ukraine’s parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to establish a National Guard of 60,000 military personnel in order to boost the country’s defenses.

The vote happened ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on whether it should leave Ukraine to reunite with Russia, reports the BBC.

Russian forces occupied Crimea in late February after violent demonstrations led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and the installation of a new, interim parliament in Ukraine.

Both Europe and the U.S. have threatened sanctions and other actions if Russia does not pull its troops out of the Crimea. President Barack Obama welcomed interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the White House on Tuesday, and said the U.S. would “stand with Ukraine.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday that “if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine.”

[BBC]

TIME Vatican

Pope Asks Twitter Flock To Pray For Him

The pontiff

As Pope Francis wraps up his first year as head of the Catholic Church, the social media-savvy pontiff tweeted out to his 3.7 million followers for religious support:

The Pope, named TIME’s Person of the Year, is celebrating his first anniversary on the job by spending the day in a prayer retreat outside Rome to mark Lent.

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