TIME Iraq

Report: U.S. Kept Mum After Finding Old Chemical Weapons in Iraq

US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003.
Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003.

Based on 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents after 2003

American and Iraqi troops came across and, in some cases, were wounded by aged or abandoned chemical weapons between 2004 and 2011, according to a New York Times investigation published late Tuesday.

The report, which is based on redacted intelligence records and dozens of interviews with American and Iraqi officials — and, notably, 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents — analyzes how the U.S. apparently suppressed information about the discoveries and barred the injured from receiving proper recognition and medical care.

The investigation also notes that militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the past year, controls a former production site that Iraq told the United Nations over the summer still held about 2,500 corroded munitions.

[New York Times]

TIME Ukraine

Crimea’s Gay Community Moves Out as Russian Homophobia Sets In

Yegor Guskov and Bogdan Zinchenko, who owned a gay bar in Sevastopol, feared for their business — and their family

The Qbar was always an awkward fit in the nightlife of Sevastopol. It was the only place in the Ukrainian city to host the occasional drag show, and certainly the only place where the all-male waitstaff wore booty shorts beneath their aprons. In other parts of Europe, and even many cities in mainland Ukraine, the camp décor would have raised few eyebrows. But Sevastopol is a macho place. It houses the Russian Black Sea naval fleet, and its streets are studded with the homes and memorials of veterans from Russian wars going back to the 18th century. So even before Russia decided in March of this year to annex the city from Ukraine along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, the locals, both Russian and Ukrainian, looked at the Qbar with a bit of suspicion.

“For a long time they were afraid,” says Yegor Guskov, who ran the bar along with his partner, Bogdan Zinchenko, since it opened in 2007. Mostly out of a fear of the unfamiliar, the Ukrainian officials who worked next door at City Hall were “worried at first that someone would fondle them if they came inside,” he says. “But then they realized it was safe, and the food is really good. So they started coming to eat.” By day the bar would be full of dowdy bureaucrats on their lunch breaks; by night it was packed with lithe young men and women taking Sambuca shots and dancing to Britney Spears. It filled a niche, and business prospered.

But like a lot of things about life in Sevastopol, all of that changed after the Russian annexation. In response to this year’s pro-Western revolution in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to occupy the region of Crimea, many of them fanning out from the Russian naval base in Sevastopol. The invasion quickly helped install a new set of leaders in the region, who organized a slipshod referendum to call for Crimea to secede from Ukraine. When the vote passed with an overwhelming majority – most of Crimea’s residents are ethnic Russians – Putin signed a decree absorbing the peninsula into the Russian Federation. Its two million citizens thus found themselves living under Russian law.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. The head of the regional government, Sergei Aksyonov, said that the West’s liberal attitude toward gay rights would be “intolerable and unacceptable” on his peninsula during a meeting with his ministers last month. “In Crimea we don’t welcome such people, we don’t need them,” he said, referring to homosexuals. If they ever try to stage a pride parade or any other public events, Aksyonov warned that the local police and paramilitary forces would “take three minutes to clarify what [sexual] orientation is right.”

That sort of discrimination began to hit home for the Qbar in April, after Moscow appointed a retired officer of the Black Sea fleet to serve as the acting head of Sevastopol. Through their patrons from City Hall, the bar’s owners learned that “someone had whispered to the new leadership that they have a gay bar sitting right underneath them,” says Guskov. A series of fire and tax inspections followed, hitting the bar with fines and official reprimands that made its managers understand they weren’t welcome anymore.

At first they tried some cosmetic remedies. They removed the Ukrainian-language sign from their door and made the waiters put on trousers instead of their trademark denim shorts. They even took the letter Q out of the name of the bar, Guskov says, because the local officials said it looked like a symbol for sodomy. “We changed the format,” he says. “We tried to make it into a normal eatery.”

But none of that made them feel safe in the city they call home. Not only are the pair among the most open of Sevastopol’s chronically closeted gays, but Guskov and Zinchenko have a two-year-old son, Timur, from a surrogate mother. The chance that some technocrat could question their custody of Timur, plus their desire to have more children, convinced them that it was time to leave Crimea behind.

In August, they joined the quiet stream of émigrés – thousands of them, even by conservative estimates – who have left the peninsula and moved to mainland Ukraine since the annexation. The largest groups have been from Crimea’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslim Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, who have both raised alarms over repression and discrimination since their towns and cities became a part of Russia. But the region’s gay men and women have also been moving away, as much out of protest at the annexation as out of a fear of becoming the targets of a state-backed campaign of homophobia.

Guskov believes that campaign won’t be long in coming. “When it became clear that Russia needs to prepare for isolation from Europe, it needed to smear the Europeans somehow, and the simplest is to spread this idea of perverted, decadent Gayropeans,” he says, using the derogatory term for Europeans—”Gayropeytsy”—that has entered the Russian vernacular. “So this witch hunt at home is needed as a tool to smear opponents abroad,” he says.

In Crimea, adds Zinchenko, the warning signs are easy to see. If elderly neighbors were happy before to coddle Timur and offer his parents advice on how to raise him, now the Soviet tradition of the “donos” – denouncing an acquaintance to the police – has started to return, he says. “People are writing these accusations against their neighbors just to show how patriotic they are, how loyal,” he says. “These are all signals for us. They show that we can become a target.”

That suspicion is what forced Guskov and Zinchenko to give up their business in Sevastopol, pack up their things and moved to Kiev. Along the way, the New York City-based photographer Misha Friedman joined them to document their journey, which he felt was emblematic of the transformation that Crimea, and the rest of Ukraine, have undergone since the annexation. “They just struck me as a normal happy family,” the photographer says. “They just got caught up in the politics of bigotry.” As they make their new home in the capital, they’re thinking of opening up a new Qbar, which will have to deal with a lot more competition in Kiev’s vibrant gay scene. But this seems like a minor worry compared to the risks they faced in the new Sevastopol.

Read next: What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

TIME Hong Kong

Claims of Police Brutality Threaten to Escalate the Hong Kong Protests

Police have been caught on video beating up a political activist

In a case that has shocked Hong Kong and inflamed tensions in a city now in its third week of mass pro-democracy protests, six police officers have been caught on video kicking and beating a prominent political activist.

The man allegedly assaulted was Civic Party member and social worker Ken Tsang, who was one of 45 people arrested early Wednesday as demonstrators attempted to throw up fresh barricades across a major thoroughfare leading to the main financial district.

(PHOTOS: See Inside Hong Kong’s Protests)

In the video, Tsang offers no resistance to police.

Mabel Au, local director at Amnesty International, said there was little doubt of “excessive force” after Tsang was filmed being “taken to a dark corner” and “kicked and beaten up by the police for four minutes” with hands secured behind his back. “We are very shocked and disappointed by such behavior,” she said.

Video of the attack has been repeatedly broadcast on local television news and the officers involved have been assigned to other duties.

A spokesman for Tsang told TIME the police’s actions were “clearly criminal” and reassignment was not enough. “They should be arrested,” he said.

A police statement early Wednesday expressed “concern” over the video and promised that the police would conduct an investigation “impartially.”

Trouble sparked shortly before 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when several dozen demonstrators stopped traffic at the Lung Wo Road tunnel, a key artery that runs by Hong Kong’s government headquarters and parallel to the main protest site.

After attempting to intervene, some 30 police officers became trapped in the tunnel, hemmed in by protesters on either side. Scuffles broke out and the police retreated.

Protesters then set about reinforcing defenses. Hollow median dividers were filled with water and steel railings intertwined with cable ties, car tires and plastic wrap. Concrete blocks were hauled out of the tunnel’s gutter and secured by steel wire to block the roadway. Meanwhile, hundreds gathered on the lawns of Tamar Park, beside the shimmering waters of Victoria Harbour.

Demonstrators also built a symbolic grave for the head of the city’s government, Chief Executive (CE) Leung Chun-ying, also known as “C.Y.” Protesters are demanding the 60-year-old resigns and his successor chosen by free elections in 2017. The central government in Beijing insists that it must screen all candidates first.

“Everyone wants C.Y. to step down, but if that’s all that happens the next [CE] will be just the same and nothing will change without first changing the political system,” says Angel, a 30-year-old protester.

An uneasy calm held over Lung Wo Road until around 3 a.m., when hundreds of police brandishing batons and pepper spray bore down to clear the area. Davis Matthews, 27, showed TIME video footage of an officer firing pepper spray into his face.

“I wasn’t protesting anything, or shouting, but just documenting what was going on,” he said. “It was like a military action. We made eye contact just before he sprayed me and he didn’t seem happy.”

Police and legislators insist the demonstrations are an issue of law and order, and that officers are simply reclaiming public roads. Supporters of the democracy movement insist the conflict—now the most politically significant protest in China since the Tiananmen occupation of 1989—can only be solved by dialogue.

“We are eager, we are happy to engage in dialogue, but they turn us down,” pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau told a Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club luncheon Tuesday. “The way out is for the government to have talks.”

However, the potential for meaningful negotiation is hindered by a lack of leadership. The democracy movement is comprised of a disparate collection of students, liberal politicians and activist groups—and protest actions, such as last night’s attempt to barricade Lung Wo Road, are happening spontaneously.

Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Students’ Federation, admitted Wednesday that the previous evening’s foray “wasn’t the students” at all. “It was an action launched by people discussing it online … launched by the citizens,” he said.

Fred Choi, 35, a radio engineer speaking by the westernmost barricades on Lung Wo Road, told TIME “We are not [from any of the main political groups] but independents who care about democracy.”

On Thursday, Chief-Executive Leung—whose approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 42%—is due to address the Legislative Council, but students have pledged to block his path, giving renewed potential for clashes with police.

Many ordinary citizens are becoming frustrated by the continued disruption caused by the protests. The city’s subway is at breaking point, as commuters try to find alternatives to taking motor transport through the protest areas. Retail businesses near the protests are also hard hit.

However, the video of police officers apparently assaulting a peaceful demonstrator will galvanize support for the protesters, who have planned a large demonstration outside the city’s police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon.

Kai Ming Wong, a 43-year-old engineer, tells TIME he couldn’t focus on work after hearing about the police violence. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “How are we going to trust the police in the future? It’s never been like this in Hong Kong before.”

—With reporting by Per Liljas, David Stout, Elizabeth Barber and Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Australia

These Are Some of the Most Australian Political Sound Bites Ever

Prime Minister Holds Joint Press Conference In Sydney
Mark Metcalfe—Getty Images Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks to the media at Sydney Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices on September 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has threatened to knock Vladimir Putin to the ground. Hey, that's just another day in Aussie political discourse

“Look, I’m going to shirt-front Mr. Putin … You bet I am. I am going to be saying to Mr. Putin, ‘Australians were murdered. They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this.’”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott isn’t exactly known for his oratory. But Russian President Vladimir Putin – and most Australians – were left scratching their heads over what exactly Abbott, who enjoyed a brief but successful stint as a heavyweight boxer, plans to do to the Russian leader’s shirt when he visits Australia for the G-20 meeting in Brisbane next month.

According to slangdictionary.org, shirt-fronting is a term from the Australian rules football code, and it happens when a player executes a “head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground.” AFlrules.com.au adds that a shirt-front is “quite aggressive” and “illegal.”

Abbott’s comments were made in the context of increasingly loud calls to ban Putin from visiting Australia because of Russia’s apparent indifference to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July. Of the 298 passenger and crew who lost their lives in the disaster, 36 were Australian residents — making them the third largest group of nationals killed after the Dutch and Malaysians.

As a ninth-degree black-belt in taekwondo who could probably hold his own against Abbott, Putin did not dignify the Australian Prime Minister with a response.

While Abbott has since toned down his rhetoric, saying he simply plans to have a “robust conversation” with Putin, he is by no means the first Australian politician to put his foot in his mouth on the international stage. Products of a culture in which frankness is placed on a pedestal, spin-doctoring is despised and politics is sport, their propensity for speaking their mind is a large part of what endears them to the Australian public.

Here are some other famous gaffes uttered by Australian politicians over the years.

1. “The Chinese bastards”

“They’re communists, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country. I don’t mind standing up against the Chinese bastards and stopping them from doing it.” —Mining magnate and MP Clive Palmer during a live debate aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in September.

2. “Swamped by Asians”

“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40% of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist, but if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.” —Former MP Pauline Hanson delivering her maiden speech to parliament in 1996.

3. “Islam as a country”

“I don’t oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia.” —Stephanie Banister, a candidate for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, during a interview with Channel 7 in the lead up to Australia’s 2013 federal election.

4. “Put him down”

“The Leader of the Opposition is more to be pitied than despised, the poor old thing. The Liberal Party of Australia ought to put him down like a faithful old dog because he is of no use to it and of no use to the nation.” —Treasurer Paul Keating to Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, 1984

5. “Walk to Bourke”

“I would walk to [the New South Wales town of] Bourke backwards if the gay population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001%.” —MP Bob Katter in 1989. Katter’s half brother Carl later came out as gay.

6. “A bum”

“Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” —Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, following Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup.

TIME LGBT

U.S. Marine Suspected in Killing of Transgender Woman in Philippines

Friends and relatives of Filipino transgender resident Jeffrey Laude look on alongside his coffin and photograph in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 14, 2014.
Jay Directo—AFP/Getty Images Friends and relatives of Jeffrey Laude, a Filipino transgender woman who went by Jennifer, look at her coffin in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 14, 2014.

He's being held on a warship pending the investigation

A United States Marine suspected of killing a Filipina transgender woman he met in a local bar will remain in U.S. custody, officials said Tuesday.

The suspect, whom the military has not named because formal charges have not been filed, is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is being held on the USS Peleliu warship while the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Philippine National Police conduct a joint investigation. Three other marines considered possible witnesses are also being held on the ship.

The strangled body of Jennifer Laude, 26, a Filipino national whose birth name is Jeffrey, was found shortly before midnight on Saturday, Oct. 11 at a hotel in Olongapo City, according to the Marine Corps Times. Her head had reportedly been pushed into the toilet and two used condoms were found in a trash can in the room. ABS CBN News, a Philippine news outlet, reported that Laude’s body was found less than an hour after she checked into the hotel with a male “foreigner” with “close-cropped” hair.

The suspect was in the Philippines for a longstanding joint military exercise between U.S. Marines and their Filipino counterparts that ended Oct. 10. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has ordered that the five ships and the marines to remain in port in the Philippines while the investigation is ongoing, according to spokesman Chuck Little. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday said the U.S. “will continue to cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspesect of the investigation.”

The case has provoked outrage among transgender activists in the Philippines and the U.S. and renewed criticism over a 1998 pact between the two nations that requires American service members to be held in U.S. custody during criminal proceedings. In 2006, an American soldier convicted of raping a Filipino woman by a local court stoked similar anger.

“The U.S. Navy says they are going to cooperate with national law, but they haven’t turned him over to the Philippine authorities,” says Geena Rocero, a Philippines native who founded the trans advocacy organization Gender Proud. “He is still inside the ship.”

TIME Soccer

Drone Invasion Halts Serbia-Albania Soccer Game

Mini drone carrying flag depicting so-called Greater Albania is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade
Marko Djurica—Reuters A mini drone carrying a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania, an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live, is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade on Oct. 14, 2014.

The two countries historically have had political tensions

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 15

Officials abandoned a soccer match between Serbia and Albania Tuesday after a drone carrying an Albanian banner was flown into the stadium, sparking brawls among players and fans.

The flag flown over the Euro 2016 qualifier game depicted Greater Albania, a conceptual state formed from all territories where ethnic Albanians live, according to Reuters. Yet many Serbs believe the region should still be united as Yugoslavia.

The banner, which was flown into the stadium near the end of the match’s first half, was soon pulled down by Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic as punches were exchanged between players. Some fans started throwing garbage at the Albanian players.

Serbian officials on Wednesday accused Olsi Rama, the brother of Albania’s Prime Minister, of flying the drone above the field and causing the disruption, and authorities in Belgrade have arrested him, RTS reports. However, AFP reports that a source close to Rama said he had not been arrested in Belgrade.

The atmosphere was politically charged even before the match began, Fox Sports reports. The two countries have had a tense relationship since the conflict around Kosovo, the predominantly ethnically Albanian province of Serbia that was declared independent in 2008.

Serbia did not acknowledge the independence, and mediations under the European Union in 2013 led to Serbia abolishing nearly all of its political institutions in Kosovo. The game, held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, was also Albania’s first match in the country since 1967, according to the Union of European Football Associations.

The game was abandoned after 45 minutes of unrest. The score was 0-0.

[Fox Sports]

TIME Turkey

Turkey Decides to Hit Kurdish Rebels Instead of ISIS

Kurdish people wave Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flags while attending a funeral ceremony for YPG (People's Protection Units) fighters in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 14, 2014.
Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images Kurdish people wave Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flags while attending a funeral ceremony for YPG (People's Protection Units) fighters in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 14, 2014.

Airstrikes target the Kurdistan Workers' Party and not the Islamist militants fighting for control of Kobani, a Kurdish city in Syria near the Turkish border

Turkish fighter jets pounded positions held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the country’s southeast Monday, according to Turkish media reports, adding to the deadly fallout from the war raging in neighboring Syria and bringing a 2-year-long peace process to the verge of collapse.

The airstrikes by F-4 and F-16 jets took place after a military outpost near the Iraqi border came under PKK fire for three consecutive days, local news sources said. “In an immediate response, the terrorists were silenced through the military means available,” said a statement posted on the Turkish Armed Forces website.

The airstrikes were the first since a ceasefire took hold in March 2013, the result of peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdish rebels. The PKK and the Turkish army have waged war for thirty years over Kurdish demands for greater autonomy, at a cost of more than 30,000 lives.

Tensions between the two sides have simmered over the past few months as the peace process appeared to stall, but came to a head last week after Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) forces tightened their stranglehold over Kobani, a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria within sight of Turkish troops massed on the other side of the border.

Kurdish protesters, enraged by Turkey’s refusal to provide military assistance to the besieged city, clashed with police, nationalists, and Islamist radicals in several Turkish cities last week, leaving at least 30 dead.

In the wake of the violence, the PKK’s leadership announced that its militant forces, who partially withdrew from Turkey under the terms of the 2013 ceasefire, were now poised to return. “Because Turkey has continued to pursue its policies without any changes, we have sent back all our fighters that were pulled out of Turkey,” Cemil Bayik, a senior PKK commander, told a German news channel in an interview aired Friday. The group’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, warned earlier that the peace process would be as good as dead if Kobani was to fall to ISIS.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the outgunned PKK offshoot defending the city, has repeatedly asked the Ankara government to open the border with Kobani to Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, as well as to heavy weapons needed to destroy the jihadists’ Humvees and tanks.

Turkish officials have allowed more than 180,000 refugees from Kobani to cross into Turkey, but insist on preventing volunteers from going in the other direction. “Turkey cannot actually give weapons [to] civilians and ask [them] to go back to fight with terrorist groups,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview Saturday. “Sending civilians to the war is a crime.”

Turkey has also refused to consider pleas to take armed action against ISIS in Syria. “Turkey will not embark on an adventure at the insistence of some countries unless the international community does what is necessary and introduces an integrated strategy,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday. Before ousting ISIS, he said, the U.S. and its allies ought to commit themselves to removing Bashar al Assad’s regime in Damascus.

Officials in Ankara denied reports that they had allowed the U.S. to use Turkish air bases, including Incirlik, a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, to launch attacks against ISIS. “We are holding intense negotiations with our allies. But there are not any new developments about Incirlik,” Bulent Arinc, the deputy minister said Monday.

Turkey appears yet to decide which of its enemies, the Kurdish militants or the jihadists, might be the lesser of two evils. “For Turkey, the PKK and ISIS are the same,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week. “We need to deal with them jointly.”

But the airstrikes seem to give a more definitive answer. The bombardment of Kurdish rebels, says Cengiz Candar, a veteran columnist with Turkish newspaper Radikal, can be considered a “political statement” as the peace process begins to fall apart.

“To [PKK leader] Ocalan, it says that nothing is for certain when it comes to the future of the peace process, so keep on board, behave, and don’t raise the bar too high,” he says. “And to the U.S. and other coalition members, it says that the PKK is still a priority for us, and not ISIS, as much as you’d want it to be otherwise.”

TIME ebola

WHO: Nigeria, Senegal Days Away From Being ‘Ebola Free’

Ebola in Nigeria's main agenda
Mohammed Elshamy — Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Ebola Virus news are the top stories on Nigeria's agenda on August 7, 2014.

WHO officials tout a rare bit of "welcome news" in the battle to contain the virus

Nigeria and Senegal are days away from being declared Ebola-free, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, highlighting a rare patch of good news amid a sharp rise of new cases in nearby West African countries.

WHO officials said that Nigeria and Senegal have nearly reached 42 days without detecting any new Ebola cases, at which point both countries would be officially declared free of the disease. Senegal could reach that designation by Friday, and Nigeria by Monday. Both countries would then be relieved from active surveillance.

The WHO credited “a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work” in which officials traced 100% of the people known to have contact with an infected patient in Nigeria and 98% of the people known to have contact with Ebola patients in Senegal.

“The anticipated declaration by WHO that the outbreaks in these two countries are over will give the world some welcome news in an epidemic that elsewhere remains out of control in three West African nations,” read an official statement from the United Nations health agency.

Nonetheless, a surge of new cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra had officials warning that the virus could rapidly spread across the worst-hit countries. “WHO epidemiologists see no signs that the outbreaks in any of these three countries are coming under control.”

TIME ebola

Blocked From Pope’s Synod By Ebola, Liberia’s Bishop Tells His Nation’s Story

Gbarnga ebola
John Moore—Getty Images Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victim outside an Ebola treatment center in Gbarnga, Liberia on Oct. 7, 2014.

“As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” says Bishop Anthony Borwah

One bishop is absent from Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the family. He was invited, he wanted to come, his name is on the participant list, but he is not in Rome. He is some 4,000 miles away. And few—if any—people outside the synod hall even know he is not there.

His name is Bishop Anthony Borwah, 48, and he leads the Catholic Diocese of GBarnga in central Liberia, where Ebola is wreaking havoc. Tony, as he is called, learned he could not travel to the Synod in late August, when the Ivory Coast closed its borders due to the Ebola outbreak and restricted the one airline that could have taken him to Abidjan, where he needed to apply in person for a Schengen visa to travel to the European Union.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Borwah may not be at the Synod, nor is he able to participate remotely due to technological limits, but the gathering’s focus on the family is vital to his Liberian families. Ebola is their most urgent challenge, but it is not the only one, he explained to TIME in this exclusive interview. Borwah submitted an essay to the Synod—an “intervention” in Vatican-speak—about the situations facing Liberian families. Borwah’s essay is not being read aloud at the Synod but will be entered into the written record and considered in any final documents that the Synod produces.

“Enormous are the pastoral challenges of the family in Liberia today,” his essay begins, before continuing to describe the challenges including Ebola, polygamy, migration, unemployment, the lack of a father-figures, domestic violence, child trafficking, and sexual tourism. “Existential questions from the poor, prevalently during the Civil war, are been asked again: Where is God? What wrong have we (Liberians) done again? How come we have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth?”

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

The past few months since Ebola outbreak have been brutal for Liberia, where about 69% of the population is Christian, according to Pew Research Center. Borwah has lost dear friends to the virus, including his spiritual director, Father Miguel from Spain, his mentor and medical doctor Abraham Borbor, and his prayer partner Tidi Dogba. While the Catholic community as a whole has not had many deaths in Gbarnga, he says, those who are dying are relatives and friends. “As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” he says.

The Liberian Catholic community is doing what it can to combat the virus. Borwah has called on all Catholics in his diocese to gather in prayer against Ebola from 5 to 6 p.m. every day from September 1 through November 30. The church uses the first ten minutes for education and updates about Ebola, and then for the last 50 minutes they pray with the Holy Rosary. They are observing strict medical rules about what kind of interaction they can have while together for prayer. No touching, no handshakes, and entrances of churches, homes, and offices have buckets of chlorinated water for hand washing.

The Catholic Church is also collaborating with the government on the national Ebola Task Force Team, Borwah says. The National Catholic Health Team is training nurses in three Catholic dioceses in Liberia, and Catholic clinics remain open. “Our Human Rights Department is also actively involved in violations issue[s] that may occur under such a crisis situation and the state of emergency when rights are restricted,” Borwah adds. “We hope to soon begin the distribution of food to mainly quarantined communities and other affected areas.”

The Ebola devastation extends beyond just a health crisis for Liberian families. The virus’ highly contagious nature means that family members are kept at a great distance from infected loved ones. Ignoring the restriction, on the other hand, can lead to death, but Liberian families are very affectionate especially in difficult times, Borwah explains, and the inability to show real human kindness is wounding morale.

Poverty is also increasing, he says. Already more than 80% of families in Liberia live below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Now the price of rice and other essential commodities has spiked since the ebola outbreak due to port and border closures, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Labor shortages due to migration restrictions are also putting the fall’s rice and maize harvests at risk. Women, the FAO has noted, are particularly hard hit as many are the primary caregivers and can’t repay their small business loans. Schools are closed while the virus is present, and so students stay home and teachers do not get paid. “The Ebola situation has badly crippled the economy resulting in rife impoverishment and hunger,” Borwah says.

Increased poverty means increased desperation over the loss of family members to Ebola, he continues. That frustration is compounded when the government buries or cremates loved ones, often without family members present. “These new wounds are a tragic addition to festering wounds that families here experienced as a result of a more than 15 years of fratricidal civil war that officially ended a decade ago,” he says.

Borwah is grateful for global aid groups and donors like Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, but more support is needed, especially when it comes to supporting survivors. “Recently one of the survivors—my kinsman—committed suicide when people avoided him and he felt that he was unworthy of love anymore,” Borwah says. “We need more support to feed the thousand whom are hungry and angry and to care and counsel the Ebola survivors who carry the stigma.”

There is a dimension to the Ebola outbreak that also concerns him—the idea that Ebola’s spread could have a man-made and not just a natural source. “I believe that the causes of Ebola are not just physical but spiritual,” he says. “I like calling it the ‘Ebola phenomenon’ because it’s existence raises more questions than answers.”

Then there are Liberia’s non-Ebola-related challenges. Infidelity in marriages is common, with the causes ranging from poverty (mostly on the part of the women) and cultural permissiveness (on the part of the men), he says. “Generally the economy of the nation is in the pocket of few men, hence there is a lot of women prostitution,” he says. “I often say that these prostitutes are prophets and friends of Jesus as they signify the inequality, marginalization and injustice meted out against the poor and nobodies of our society especially women.”

Women, he adds, are generally subject to men culturally, and are often subjected to brutal domestic violence and impoverishment. The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a lot to raise the dignity of womanhood in beloved Liberia, he continues, but “the walk is still too long.”

Families are navigating questions of shifting identity. Western technological and cultural shifts mean that young people often have different value systems from their parents, and that is dividing families. “Parents can no longer control their children in the face of this new ethics, something, which brings a lot of pain and worries about the future of the family,” he says.

Borwah has a message for the world: “The friends of Jesus Christ—the nobodies, the poor, women and the innocents, the caretakers of others—need both the spiritual and material help. They are losing faith, hope and love. They are poorer, hungrier and very desperate. God has not and will not abandon us, so please do not abandon us to the onslaught of Ebola.”

And, in the midst of it all, Pope Francis, Borwah says, has not forgotten the Liberian people. “The Holy Father prays for Ebola stricken people everyday, even as the Synod goes on,” Borwah says. “He is very close to our suffering.”

His final words: “Please pray for us.”

TIME Israel

Israel Grapples With British Vote to Recognize Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014.
Menahem Kahana—EPA Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014.

Some fear a domino effect while others hope it will aid the push for peace

Israel was bracing for a diplomatic tidal wave this week after lawmakers in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a recognizing Palestine as a state on Monday. Israel is largely trying to weather the storm by downplaying it, emphasizing that the 274-to-12 vote doesn’t force any binding changes in British foreign policy and should not be treated as sea change in the conflict.

But coming on the heels of a decision by Sweden to recognize Palestine as a state, a move that was much easier for Jerusalem to dismiss as marginal or anti-Israeli in nature, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking increasingly likely to face a new and unprecedented wave of international pressure to move toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Although Netanyahu has voiced a theoretical endorsement of a negotiated settlement to the conflict that would lead to two states, his critics say he has consistently stalled progress in peace talks while continuing robust settlement growth in the West Bank.

Palestinians widely celebrated the vote in London, saying it was a move whose time had come – or was perhaps overdue: “Palestinians see this vote as the first step in righting the wrong of the Balfour Declaration,” Kamel Hawwash, a British-Palestinian academic, told TIME, referring to the 1917 decree in which Britain said it supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Almost a century later, the Jewish people have had a state for 66 years. But Palestinian statelessness was put back into the international spotlight this summer during the devastating war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, making it clear how untenable the status quo is.

Some Israelis view these moves in the U.K. and Sweden with great concern. While government officials have been measured in their remarks—so as not to blow wind into the sails of the “victory” the vote presents for Palestinian statehood, or to do damage to the friendly British-Israeli relationship—they have been vocal about their disappointment with the parliamentary move, saying it was not helpful to peace efforts.

“We have no question that the British people are interested in conflict resolution,” said Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry. “The undercurrent of this is saying, ‘we want to drive peace forward.’ We just think they’re not going about it the right way.

“This kind of step discourages Palestinians from coming back to the negotiating table in the first place, or getting them to compromise,” Hirschson added. “But this is only going to be resolved around the negotiating table.” Trying to force Palestinian statehood on Israel via international bodies, he said, will never bear fruit and only lead to frustration.

“The stated policy of the Israeli government is already in support of a Palestinian state,” Hirschson said. “So there’s no big deal here on substance, the question is process.”

But other Israelis said there is substance at stake. Although Netanyahu stated in a landmark 2009 speech that he supports a two-state solution to the conflict, his critics say he has done little to advance that agenda, and has been undermining it in day-to-day settlement growth and in severe criticism of his would-be peace partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

One of the leading voices among these critics is Dr. Alon Liel, the former Director General of Israeli foreign ministry and a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa. On the eve of the vote, Liel organized a public letter urging the British parliament to pass the motion, and had it signed by 363 former Israeli diplomats, government ministers and prominent peace advocates.

“What happened Monday in Cairo was the world pledged $5.4 billion for Gaza—after we physically destroyed the Gaza Strip. We also destroyed the peace process and without the outside world, it cannot recover,” Liel told TIME. “I see this decision by Sweden and Britain as a recovery process for the diplomatic chaos we’ve made. Israelis who have worked for two states side by side for many years, as I have, have to be part of this effort.”

Liel said he was surprised by how many prominent former Israeli officials who support a two-state solution were willing to sign the letter in the 24 hours during which he and other partners organized the campaign. And the Israeli embassy in London, in turn, was surprised to find that he was behind it.

“They sent me an email saying, ‘did you really sign this?’ I said I did. I think it’s good for Israel. They didn’t send a reply email,” Liel said. He blamed both Israeli and Palestinians leaders for making the grim atmosphere seem that much more hopeless during their speeches at the U.N. last month—Abbas accused Israel of genocide, and a week later Netanyahu said Abbas collaborates with ISIS-style terrorists in Hamas by allowing them in his unity government. And Liel said only an outside push will lodge the parties from their stalemate.

“It’s not as if we can say, ‘OK, let’s have the status quo for 10 or even two years and then come back to it later,’” Liel said. “Even after another two years of what’s happening on the ground in terms of settlement expansion, we will lose the opportunity for a two-state solution. Many people like me feel the change must come, if not from within, from without.”

Read next: U.K. Parliament Votes to Recognize Palestinian State

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