TIME Italy

Disgraced Costa Concordia Captain Insists He Saved Lives

Costa Concordia Trial
Laura Lezza—Getty Images Captain of Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino stands during the hearing in the court for his trial, where he gave evidence for the first time, on December 3, 2014 in Grosseto, Italy.

He tells the court that the evacuation was delayed in order to reach shallower waters

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino claims that his decision to delay evacuation of the cruise ship saved lives.

“Had I sounded the nautical signal for abandon ship — seven long whistles and one short one — people would have thrown themselves into the water,” he said Wednesday in court, reports Sky News.

Schettino is being tried for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy in January 2012, killing 32 of its 4,299 passengers.

After hitting rocks near the island of Giglio, Schettino says he believed the ship would drift into shallower waters, which would facilitate an evacuation. He claimed to be in full control of the situation, stating that: “I was number one on the ship after God,” but also seemed to spread the blame: “It’s not like the captain is alone on a ship, it’s not like I’m a truck driver.”

Earlier in the day, a video emerged showing Schettino prepared to abandon ship, apparently contradicting his claims that he “tripped and stumbled into a lifeboat.”

During his first day on the stand on Tuesday, the former captain admitted that he had tried to impress passengers by navigating the ship closer to the coast than usual.

TIME ebola

Top U.S. Commander in Africa Is Optimistic on Liberia’s Battle With Ebola

David M. Rodriguez
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images United States Army General David M. Rodriguez serving as the Commander for United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) meets with Ali Laarayedh (Not seen), the Tunisian PM, on Nov. 21 in Tunisia.

“The trend lines are all moving in the right direction,” says Gen. David M. Rodriguez

The top American military commander for Africa on Wednesday gave a vote of confidence to the international effort to halt Ebola, saying that the U.S. mission against the virus might be able to scale back its operations in Liberia by next month.

Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters at the Pentagon that U.S. troops deployed in Liberia might be shifted to other hard-hit countries in the region, or even sent back home, if progress reports continue to encourage optimism. The latest status report from the World Health Organization (WHO), released on Wednesday, said that cases in Liberia are “stable or declining,” but was cautious in its assessments for Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“The majority of the big engineering and logistic things in Liberia will probably start to tail off at the end of the year or January,” Rodriguez said. “The trend lines are all moving in the right direction.”

Some 2,900 U.S. troops have been deployed to West Africa to help contain the Ebola virus, which has killed 6,070 people and infected 17,145. The WHO says that while its goals for the region – treating 70 percent of all infected people and safely burying 70 percent of all people killed by the virus – have been met in “most districts” of the three worst-hit countries, “serious shortfalls” persist in other parts of the region.

In its most recent update, the WHO said that transmission of the virus is “slightly increasing in Guinea” and “remains persistent and intense” in Sierra Leone, where 202 new cases have been reported in the capital, Freetown, since Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, Liberia reported just 43 new cases nationwide over a five-day period, down from 78 cases the previous week, the WHO says. The country still overall has the highest number of Ebola-related deaths out of the three countries, with more than 3,000 killed by the virus.

The U.S. mission began in September and is expected to include up to 4,000 U.S. troops and last at least a year.

TIME India

Indian State Bans Mass Sterilization After Surgeon Uses Bicycle Pump in Operations

Surgeon claims he never faced “a mishap or complication” during the dangerous procedure

A state in India issued a ban on mass sterilizations on Tuesday, a few days after it was revealed that a surgeon had used a bicycle pump in 56 operations last week.

Women undergoing tubectomies for sterilization are required to have their abdomens inflated, but this is generally done through the introduction of carbon dioxide rather than outside air.

Officials from the East Indian state of Odisha said using a pump for the procedure can be extremely risky, the BBC reports.

Dr. Mahesh Chandra Rout, the surgeon accused of breaking protocol, told the BBC that pumps are routinely used in Odisha during such procedures and that he had never faced “a mishap or complication.”

Tuesday’s ban is another addition to the controversy surrounding India’s mass sterilization drives, which are conducted widely and frequently to curb the country’s rapidly growing population.

Over a dozen women died during a sterilization drive in the state of Chattisgarh last month, a tragedy that was later blamed on substandard drugs.

TIME sweden

Sweden Is Holding Snap Elections for the First Time Since 1958

Sweden Government Defeat
Pontus Lundahl—AP Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven talks at a press conference at Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday Dec. 2, 2014.

Extraordinary measure comes after anti-immigrant party derails the Prime Minister's budget proposal

Sweden’s new Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has called for snap elections, the country’s first in nearly 60 years, after a populist anti-immigration party trashed his attempt to build support for his first budget proposal.

The decision was announced Wednesday, a day after the Sweden Democrat party chose to back the opposition’s alternative budget, a move almost unheard of in a country long known to seek broad, political consensus, Wall Street Journal reports.

Lofven’s minority government, formed between his Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Green Party after the election on Sept. 14, was weak from the start. He has since reached out to center-right parties to find support for his budget, but the Sweden Democrats, who placed third in the election, were systematically shut out of the discussions.

This week, the Sweden Democrats said they planned to derail future budget proposals that continue current spending on immigration.

The snap election will be held on March 22.

[WSJ]

TIME Lebanon

The ISIS Leader’s Wife May Not Have Been Arrested After All

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
AP This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.

Some say the woman has no relation to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The identity of Saja al-Dulaimi, the purported wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being disputed.

The woman tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago, accompanied by a 4-year-old boy. She was arrested in a coordinated operation involving agencies from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, an unidentified intelligence source told CNN.

Her detention was widely reported, but different sources now claim that the woman is actually al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, or a powerful figure within ISIS, or even unrelated.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry says that al-Baghdadi’s wives are called Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal Al-Qaisi and that the detained woman is neither of these.

The Lebanese authorities have made no official comment, and the CIA has not responded to claims that it was involved in the capture. ISIS members on social media deny that al-Baghdadi’s wife has been arrested.

Read more at CNN

TIME migration

Nearly 5,000 Refugees Were Killed in 2014, Data Shows

Syrian Refugees' Hunger Strike Outside Greek Parliament
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Syrian refugees wait in tents during a hunger strike outside the parliamentary building in Athens on Nov. 30, 2014

The majority died attempting to cross the Mediterranean

The number of refugees killed while fleeing their home countries more than doubled in the past year, according to data released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which said the toll for 2014 was nearly 5,000

According to the New York Times, citing IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle, about 3,000 of those people drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, up from 707 out of 2,376 last year.

Doyle added that a majority of the refugees were from Iraq, Syria and Palestine, killed in the process of escaping escalating conflicts.

[NYT]

TIME

Mourners Gather in Germany for Funeral of Slain ‘Hero’ Tugce Albayrak

Student teacher praised for intervening in harassment of two girls in a fast food restaurant

Hundreds of mourners in Germany paid their respects on Wednesday to the student-teacher hailed as a martyr after succumbing to injuries she had sustained after standing up for two girls who were being harassed in a fast food restaurant.

Some 1,500 people, including politicians and religious leaders, gathered to recall Tugce Albayrak with a communal prayer at a mosque east of Frankfurt, the Guardian reports. “Her warmhearted and generous nature set a worthy example for others to follow,” Volker Bouffier, the prime minister of Hesse state, said. Friends and family then took part in a funeral service in Bad Soden-Salmünster, her birthplace.

Albayrak had been in a coma for two weeks after the Nov. 15 attack when her parents took her off life support on Friday, her 23rd birthday. Germany’s president has been deluged with requests to posthumously honor the woman with a national medal of honor.

[The Guardian]

TIME

U.K. to Levy ‘Google Tax’ in Move to Squeeze Tech Giants

U.K. Chancellor Of The Exchequer George Osborne Delivers Autumn Budget Statement
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images George Osborne U.K. chancellor of the exchequer leaves the HM Treasury building before heading to the Houses of Parliament to deliver his Autumn statement in London on Dec. 3, 2014.

British move is largely symbolic, but is typical of the growing pressure on U.S. tech giants in Europe

In the time-honored tradition of governments facing elections, the U.K.’s ruling coalition Wednesday raised taxes on two roundly-hated categories of evil-doers to finance some eye-catching give-aways to prospective voters and distract from its failure to cut the budget deficit as much as it had promised.

In his ‘Autumn Statement’ to parliament on taxation, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the introduction of what’s commonly known as a “Google Tax” to force multinationals into paying more taxes locally on the profits they earn.

The 25% tax is aimed squarely at tech companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. that have mastered the art of shifting their profits away from the higher-tax markets where they are actually made (such as Britain or Germany) to lower-tax jurisdictions in the E.U. or Caribbean. Such maneuvers generally exploit loopholes in international tax treaties to stay within the letter of the law.

Google notoriously generated more than $18 billion in revenue from the U.K. between 2006-2011, but paid only $16 million in profit taxes, according to Reuters’ analysis of its statutory filings. France’s tax authorities, meanwhile, are currently trying to squeeze up €1 billion ($1.24 billion) in back taxes out of the Mountain View, Ca.-based giant.

Cracking down on tax evasion has become an obsession with European governments since the recession that followed the financial crisis, with treasuries desperate to plug holes in their budgets by any means possible.

They’ve had some success with individuals using tax havens such as Switzerland, but efforts to squeeze more out of companies have been frustrated by the vast scope of the sweetheart deals given by countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland.

Osborne gave no details as to how companies’ liability for the tax would be measured, but said the tax should raise 300 million pounds ($475 million) a year.

That’s still peanuts relative to the scale of the targeted companies’ operations, and it will barely make a dent in the U.K.’s budget deficit which, at 91.6 billion pounds and 5.2% of gross domestic product, is badly overshooting, despite the U.K. having the strongest growth of all the world’s major advanced economies, including the U.S.. The main reason for that, analysts say, is that low productivity and wage growth has damped income tax receipts.

Against that background, Osborne had little room for tax giveaways, and raided that other national bogyeman, the banking sector, to pay for such handouts as were going. Osborne halved the amount of tax relief that banks will be able to claim against their future profits in respect of losses made during the financial crisis, a move that will raise some 4 billion pounds over the next five years.

This article originally appeared on FORTUNE.com

TIME ebola

WATCH: Emotional Videos of Idris Elba and Soccer Players On Ebola

Africa United

"Our fans treat us like heroes, but I am no hero"

As part of a new Ebola campaign, the nonprofit arm of the CDC—the Centers for Disease Control Foundation—as well as soccer stars, celebrities and international health organizations created moving PSAs about Ebola to spread through West Africa.

The first video, “We’ve Got Your Back,” made by the newly formed Ebola education group Africa United, features well-known soccer players, many from or playing for African countries. “Our fans treat us like heroes, but I am no hero,” says Yaya Touré who plays for Manchester City. He’s followed by several other soccer players like Patrick Viera and Kei Kamara, all acknowledging they are not heroes. “The health workers fighting Ebola are the real heroes,” the video says, highlighting several West Africans fighting the Ebola virus. The players wear the health care workers’ names on the back of their jerseys, in hopes of spreading awareness that health care workers are heroes and should be treated as such.

Actor Idris Elba, perhaps best known for playing Stringer Bell on The Wire, stars in the second video, where he gives a rallying speech about Ebola to a locker room of soccer players. “For me the battle against Ebola is a personal one. To see those amazing countries in West Africa where my father grew up and my parents married being ravaged by this disease is painful and horrific,” said Elba in a statement.

The campaign is using #wevegotyourback to show support for the people fighting the disease.

TIME U.K.

Prince William and Kate Will Cross the Atlantic but They Can’t Bridge the U.S.-U.K. Divide

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge leave the The Royal Variety Performance at London Palladium on Nov.13, 2014 in London.
Danny Martindale—WireImage/Getty Images Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge leave the The Royal Variety Performance at London Palladium on Nov.13, 2014 in London.

The couple's U.S. visit shines a light on the differences between British and American culture and national attitudes to royalty

To-mah-to, to-may-to, Princess Diana, Lady Di: Britain and the U.S. have long been nations divided by a common language and no more so than in America’s joyous mangling of royal names and titles. “Kate Middleton” ceased to exist on April 29, 2011, yet still she bestrides the U.S. press when not erroneously promoted to Princess.

These divisions are set to be highlighted in the coming days as “Princess Kate” a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, the Duke (also correctly known as Prince William), arrive Stateside on Dec. 7 for a three-day trip to New York City. William will nip to Washington, D.C., too, to attend an anticorruption conference at the World Bank, as part of his campaign to protect endangered species. This will be the couple’s first U.S. trip since they dazzled California as newlyweds in 2011 and for both offers a first-ever taste of New York City.

Media nostrils both sides of the Atlantic are already quivering. It’s not just that the visit offers a potential break from a bleak news cycle, though it will certainly do that. In a world of declining circulations, Kate has the power to sell print. She can break the Internet fully clothed and even — perhaps especially — while pregnant. Her second child — the soon-to-be fourth in line to the throne — is due in April, apparently sharpening public interest rather than diminishing it. Her neat silhouette routinely makes headlines. Kate is frequently said to be “flaunting” or “showcasing” her “bump”, as if she has the power to detach it when she leaves home.

In their fascination with Kate and the odd institution she represents, the U.K. and U.S. media are closely aligned. Nevertheless coverage of the trip will differ markedly either side of the pond because the nature of the relationship with royalty differs markedly in each country, as does media culture. The two nations are divided not only by a common language, but by their shared history.

In Britain, William and Kate, together with Harry, are the most popular royals after the Queen; support for the monarchy has risen while trust in most public institutions has fallen. Still you’d be hard-pressed in London and other sophisticated cities such as Manchester and Glasgow to find many people who openly enthuse about royalty the way some Americans and other foreigners do. Overseas journalists who flocked to London in the summer of 2013 to cover the birth of baby George came with instructions from their editors to cover the spontaneous celebrations they imagined would break out across the capital to welcome the Windsor offspring. Some canny publicans did spot a marketing opportunity to sell cut-price beer, but most Londoners went about their business as usual.

The British media reflects and reinforces this duality, covering most everything the royals do but often with an edge — of humor, skepticism, sometimes anger. That’s partly because U.K. mainstream media outlets, for all they are ringed by more legal restrictions than their U.S. equivalents, are notably less inclined to reverence. That, in turn, is not unrelated to the strange reality of British life that still sees “subjects,” not citizens, bending the knee to a monarch. Britain and the U.S. have in common the lowest social mobility in the Western world, but the American Dream, though mostly exactly that, a dream, has created a nation of optimists.

By contrast, the notion that some people are born superior to others is hardwired into the British system, sparking the resentment that often animates the British media and the wider population. British people are uncomfortable at being seen to celebrate the royal family, the premier symbols of inequality, despite the polls that show a majority of Britons harbor a soft spot for them. Add to that another facet of Britishness that the Windsors perfectly embody — an impulse to reticence that stands in sharp contrast to the American facility for delighted gush — and you begin to understand the scale of the chasm that separates the two cultures.

A pivotal moment of divergence took place in New York in 1783. The Cambridges are set to arrive in the city 231 years after British troops finally abandoned their foothold there. It had taken a long and bloody war before the Westminster Parliament — and Britain’s then monarch, “mad” King George III — acknowledged the loss of their former colony. The intervening centuries of American independence from the Crown have redrawn American attitudes to many things, including to the Crown itself.

In an age of rapid-cycling, disposable celebrity, royals — and especially glamorous royals like Kate and, before her, Diana — slot neatly into the dwindling ranks of true A-listers, the globally and enduringly famous. The Cambridges’ planned Dec. 8 excursion to take in a basketball match between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers is expected to place the couple in ringside seats alongside showbiz royalty including Beyoncé and Jay-Z. To U.S. observers, such a juxtaposition is pure entertainment. To Britons, it represents a more complex brew.

William and Kate will be acting as standard-bearers for the U.K., emissaries for the government’s “Britain is GREAT” campaign, helping to promote tourism, British goods and services and inward investment. There’s little about the shiny young couple with one small child and another on the way to dislike. As the Cambridges bask in unfettered American admiration, their compatriots back home will feel a corresponding warmth. For some this will be pride, for others something closer to a blush.

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