TIME Pakistan

After Sunday’s Siege of Karachi Airport, Pakistani Militants Strike Again

No deaths were reported and flights have now resumed

Militants ambushed the campus of a training academy belonging to Pakistan’s Airport Security Force (ASF) on Tuesday afternoon and exchanged fire with security forces.

No one is believed to have died in the attack, although local media is reporting several wounded.

Pakistan’s Geo TV says the situation is now under control and security forces are conducting a door-to-door search of the area to apprehend the assailants.

The academy lies near Karachi’s international airport, which was under siege by Pakistani Taliban militants on Sunday night. Some 36 people died in that attack, including 10 Taliban gunmen

The Associated Press quoted Ghulam Abbas Memon, a spokesman for the ASF, saying Tuesday’s assault involved gunmen trying to enter the campus from two different entrances but who were repelled by security forces.

An AFP report had earlier quoted an ASF official spokesman as saying gunmen exchanged fire with security personnel at a checkpoint half a kilometer from the airport.

The assault is believed to be in retaliation for Pakistani military air strikes on a tribal district earlier Tuesday that killed 15 militants. Those strikes were, in turn, apparently in response to Monday’s airport attack.

All flights from Karachi’s international airport were briefly suspended but have now apparently resumed.

TIME China

China’s Real Estate Downturn Spells Trouble for Global Economy

A sales assistant talks to visitors in front of models of apartments at a real estate exhibition in Shenyang
A sales assistant talks to visitors in front of models of apartments at a real estate exhibition in Shenyang, Liaoning province April 17, 2014. Sheng Li—Reuters

The world's largest trading nation's economic growth remains heavily dependent on property, meaning a sharp downturn in that sector would be felt across Asia and beyond

“Will the government save the market if housing prices fall?” That was the question being asked in China this week — not by stressed-out mortgage holders, but by the country’s most famous (and wealthy) property mogul, Pan Shiyi.

Pan, the chairman of giant real estate developer SOHO China, has made a series of pronouncements in recent weeks that reflect an increasingly bearish long-term outlook for China’s property sector.

At an industry forum in late May, Pan compared the nation’s real estate prospects to the Titanic. “It [the real estate industry] will soon hit the iceberg in front of it,” he declared.

Pan’s outlook may be bleak, but is borne out by statistics. According to Standard & Poor’s, residential housing prices in China will drop by 5% this year — a dramatic reversal from last year’s rise of 11.5%.

That’s bad news for China’s property holders, but potentially also a worrying sign for global investors. With Chinese economic growth heavily dependent on the real estate sector, which accounts for 20% of GDP by some estimates, a sharp slowdown in the property market would be felt far beyond China’s borders. (China is, after all, the world’s largest trading nation.)

After more than a decade of sizzling double-digit growth, the government is targeting 7% growth this year. But the potential for a real estate correction means that the actual number could be much lower.

There are already some signs that imports are being affected as consumer confidence weakens. The General Administration of Customs announced Sunday that imports in May declined 1.6% year on year — a drop that surprised industry analysts. That compared to an increase of 0.9% year on year in April.

With prices trending sharply downward, the president of the country’s largest residential real estate developer, Vanke, has declared that the “golden age” for property is over. “The period when everyone made money from property is gone,” Yu Liang was quoted as saying recently.

A conflagration of factors is driving the decrease in prices, not least repressive market policies that restrict the number of properties city dwellers can own. Markets in larger cities are also being flooded with knockdown properties being dumped by overextended investors or government officials looking to rid themselves of any undeclared assets in light of a recent and severe government crackdown on corruption.

Chinese media reported Monday that one coal-mining magnate was attempting to offload 100 apartments in a coveted location along Beijing’s Second Ring Road.

Little wonder, then, that the property mogul Pan is on the lookout for the visible hand of the government. But, for now at least, state intervention seems unlikely. In a report late last month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development declared that it would stay on the sidelines and “respect the adjustment role of the laws of the market in the real estate sector.”

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta’s ‘Happiness’ Song Is a Hit! (But Who’d Dare Say Otherwise?)

Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives to give a news conference at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives to give a news conference at the Army Club in Bangkok on May 20, 2014 Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters

With more than 150,000 YouTube views of his song since Friday, Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s career could go from tyranny to Tin Pan Alley

Having seized absolute power in a May 22 coup d’état, Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has turned to promoting harmony through harmonies — penning a ballad to foster reconciliation in the embittered Southeast Asian nation.

The 60-year-old career soldier, a notorious curmudgeon, has displayed his softer side by writing the lyrics to “Return Happiness to Thailand,” which features lines such as “we offer to guard and protect you with our hearts” and “we are asking for a little more time,” set to music by the Royal Thai Army band.

Whether or not Thais are convinced by this ploy is unclear — they risk arbitrary detention for the merest murmur of criticism, artistic or otherwise — but they are certainly listening. The YouTube clip has clocked up more than 150,000 views since it was posted on Friday.

“[Prayuth] called me to see him for an hour. He wrote it with his own handwriting,” Colonel Krisada Sarika, head of the Royal Thai Army band, told reporters on Friday. “He wants a song which expresses his feeling for the people … he wants a song which Thai people listen to and then begin to love each other again.”

Since last month’s putsch — Thailand’s 12th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 — both government supporters and opponents have been rounded up, journalists threatened, academics bullied and peaceful protesters dragged off the street just for flashing a three-fingered protest salute inspired by The Hunger Games. On Sunday, civil servants were urged to betray colleagues voicing dissent, and on Monday Thais were even warned against liking Facebook posts that criticized the military intervention.

But at the same time, the repression has been leavened with a tawdry PR campaign. Last Wednesday, a free concert at Bangkok’s Victory Monument featured music, free medical checkups and pretty young women in skimpy camouflage gear.

Of course, not everyone is impressed by the military’s attempts to distract from the suspension of human rights. “Thailand in 2014 is George Orwell’s 1984,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, tells TIME. “It is ridiculous to believe [the song] is going to convince anyone.”

Pavin was one of scores of prominent academics summoned by the junta, although he lives abroad and has repeatedly refused to acquiesce, despite the threat of two years’ imprisonment.

“I don’t think this offers happiness for the many Thai people who want to see elections more than anything else,” he adds. “It may look good in paper, but in reality they continue to hunt, arrest, harass and detain critics of the coup.”

“Returning Happiness to the People”

Lyrics by General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Melody by Wichian Tantipimolpan

(Translation by Khaosod English)

The day the nation, the King, and the mass of people live without danger
We offer to guard and protect you with our hearts
This is our promise
Today the nation is facing menacing danger
The flames are rising
Let us be the ones who step in, before it is too late
To bring back love, how long will it take?
Please, will you wait? We will move beyond disputes
We will do what we promised. We are asking for a little more time.
And the beautiful land will return
We will do with sincerity
All we ask of you is to trust and have faith in us
The land will be good soon
Let us return happiness to you, the people
Today, we will be tired [because of our mission], we know
We offer to fight the danger
Lives of soldiers will not surrender
This is our promise
Today the nation is facing menacing danger.
The flames are rising
Let us be the ones who step in, before it is too late
The land will be good soon
Happiness will return to Thailand

TIME Football

A Subway Strike Threatens to Paralyze São Paulo on World Cup Opening Day

Policemen in riot gear stand inside Ana Rosa subway station during the fifth day of metro worker's protest in Sao Paulo on June 9, 2014.
Policemen in riot gear stand inside Ana Rosa subway station during the fifth day of metro worker's protest in Sao Paulo on June 9, 2014. Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

The first game of the World Cup, Brazil vs. Croatia, may take place in crippling traffic chaos on Thursday, if São Paulo's subway employees make good on a threat to strike if sacked comrades are not reinstated

Subway workers in São Paulo ended a five-day strike late Monday, but threatened to walk out again on Thursday, the day of the World Cup opening game, if their demands aren’t met, potentially causing chaos and embarrassment to Brazil’s largest city, which is currently teeming with soccer fans from around the world.

The strike started as a fight over salary, but has turned into a struggle to reinstate 42 subway workers who were fired over allegations of vandalism and misconduct.

“The other demands aren’t a priority anymore,” said the metro workers’ union president Altino de Melo Prazeres Júnior, adding that the union members going back to work was showing “good faith in wanting to negotiate.”

However, State Transportation Secretary Jurandir Fernandes said the government would not budge on its position that the sacked workers shouldn’t be rehired and a wage hike should be limited to 8.7%, as opposed to the workers’ demand of 12.2%.

“This shows [the striking subway workers’] disregard not only for the people of São Paulo, but for the people of Brazil and the foreign visitors,” he said.

A labor judge ruled the strike illegal over the weekend, imposing a $222,000 fine on the union for each day workers fail to show up on duty. Still, the strike spilled over into Monday, when police clashed with protesting workers outside a metro station in São Paulo, using tear gas and arresting 13 people.

The opening game of the World Cup will be played in São Paulo between Brazil and Croatia. Union leaders said a Wednesday vote would decide whether the workers should go back on strike or not.

[WSJ]

TIME Spain

After Four Centuries, Don Quixote Writer’s Remains May Be Found

Specialists use ground-penetrating radar to penetrate into the sub-soil in central Madrid
Specialists use ground-penetrating radar to peer into the subsoil beneath a Trinitarian convent in a quest to find the remains of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes in Madrid on April 28, 2014. Sergio Perez—Reuters

A team of researchers will spend several months excavating a Madrid church in search of Miguel de Cervantes' bones

When Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish writer best known for penning Don Quixote, died in April 1616, he was buried at a Trinitarian convent in Madrid.

For centuries, that’s all we really knew. The exact location of his remains was poorly documented and thus forgotten; it was long assumed that what was left of one of modern literature’s first great writers had been lost for good.

On Monday, however, researchers said they had identified a handful of locations in a Madrid church where Cervantes may have been buried — although they were quick to rein in their optimism.

“We don’t want to generate false hopes,” forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria, the project’s leader, said at a news conference, according to an AFP report. “I don’t know if we are going to find him … We are talking about a universal figure, we want to do things without any rush, seriously.”

The Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, where Cervantes’ bones are suspected to lie, has been renovated several times over the centuries, meaning any remains once buried there may have been misplaced. The excavation process, BBC reports, will require several months of effort.

The city of Madrid will fund the next phase of the project, which first began in April, Mayor Ana Botella told reporters at the news conference.

TIME world cup 2014

1 Worker Dead, 2 Injured After Brazil Monorail Construction Failure

The accident is the latest bump in the road for the 2014 World Cup host country's preparations

A structure collapsed during monorail construction in Sao Paolo, Brazil, on Monday, killing one worker and injuring two others.

The monorail is intended to connect the city’s Congonhas Airport to three metro lines, ahead of the start of the FIFA World Cup on June 12, but the crew is already working way past deadline, the BBC reported.

A concrete support beam fell and dealt a deadly blow to one person laboring below, the Associated Press says. Officials are investigating the cause of its collapse.

The accident marks the latest in a series of stumbles as the country prepares to host the international soccer tournament, which will bring millions of tourist to the area. Sao Paolo is set to host the opening game. During the construction of Brazil’s 12 World Cup arenas, eight have reportedly died.

[BBC]

TIME

Bergdahl: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

President Obama Makes A Statement On Release Of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
President Obama announces the release of Bowe Bergdahl, with the sergeant's parents by his side, in the White House Rose Garden May 31. J.H. Owen / Getty Images

Misinformation clouds the debate over the soldier-Taliban swap

Monday marked the first time in a week that the controversy swirling around the deal to win Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release wasn’t on the front pages of the nation’s three most influential newspapers.

A clear bottom line seems to be emerging, both among the military and the public: President Obama was right to make a deal to bring him home. But two tough questions remain: did Obama give too much to win Bergdahl’s release? And will Bergdahl be held accountable for any malfeasance that may have contributed to his nearly five years in captivity?

Statements made rashly often don’t hold up in hindsight. Sure, talking heads on cable TV continue to foam at the mouth, but the fact that the dust is beginning to settle following Bergdahl’s exchange for five senior Taliban leaders on May 31 offers a chance to ponder where the story now stands.

Here’s an accounting, based on interviews with current and former military troops, including some who served with Bergdahl, as well as family members who believe the hunt for the missing soldier led to the deaths of their loved ones:

  • With the U.S. troop presence shrinking in Afghanistan, the Taliban feared Bergdahl was a depreciating asset. If his value shrunk too much, the Administration fears that the Taliban might have come to believe that keeping him alive wasn’t worth the effort.
  • Bergdahl was sick and getting sicker. According to U.S. military officials, he was brutalized and confined to a cage, often in the dark, following escape attempts. “It was a proof-of-life video” that convinced the Administration to act, a senior Pentagon official says of a December 2013 recording that U.S. officials didn’t see until January. “Just showed him talking and referring to recent events. Though difficult to make precise medical diagnoses from such, it was evident to experts who watched it that he was not in good health.” The Administration’s line might have more credibility if the recovery had happened more quickly after seeing the video. There are also suspicions that the Taliban began treating Bergdahl better as negotiations for his release looked like they might succeed.
  • The White House plainly erred in having the President hold a Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, to announce his release. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the choice of the garden to make the announcement signaled the President’s commitment to leave no soldier behind. “We didn’t have to do it at the Rose Garden, but that is a very important principle,” he added. “So standing in the Rose Garden to make that assessment or make that commitment clear is exactly what the President chose to do.”
  • Retired four-star Marine general Anthony Zinni, who once headed U.S. Central Command, said the Pentagon may have stumbled by not telling the White House that military should handle the return announcement. “It was the right thing to do to bring him home, but I think it was handled miserably and I think the fault lies with the Pentagon,” Zinni says. He recalls when Vietnam-era U.S. troops held as prisoners came home, and the strict orders from commanders to avoid saying anything too laudatory about those suspected of less-than-stellar actions while imprisoned. “I distinctly remember the generals getting cautioned about not going overboard,” Zinni says. Of course, he acknowledges, the White House could have ignored such warnings from the Pentagon.
  • The White House compounded the problem by sending Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., on television the following day to declare that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” That really set off the troops who served alongside Bergdahl and say he deserted. The White House’s counter has been weak. “The point that I would make to you is that any American who puts on the uniform and volunteers to fight for this country overseas is doing something honorable,” Earnest said Monday.
  • Perhaps a half-dozen U.S. troops died hunting for Bergdahl after he allegedly left his post in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. “Bergdahl’s walking away was a large factor contributing to my son’s death,” Andy Andrews of Cameron, Texas, said Monday. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed by an RPG September 4, 2009, while protecting a fellow soldier. They had been on a routine patrol near where Bergdahl vanished, and had been asking locals about him when they were attacked. “Sergeant Bergdahl is not a hero, and my son—who sacrificed himself to save others—was a hero,” Andrews says. This is the most inflammatory charge, and quickly surfaced, once Bergdahl was out of enemy hands, from soldiers who served with him. That tells us two things: the soldiers kept quiet (they had also signed non-disclosure agreements concerning Bergdahl’s disappearance) until he was safe. But once safe, they felt their sense of duty required them to tell the truth as they saw it. But direct links between the deaths and the hunt for Bergdahl remain elusive.
  • Some fringe elements have posted anonymously—absent proof and without hearing Bergdahl’s side of the story—that he is a traitor. They contend Bergdahl is a deserter and deserves to be shot. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho, feeling the ire, cancelled a welcome-home celebration slated for June 28. While this is beyond vile, it’s something that today’s polarized politics nurtures. “They say we’re kind of a disgrace, or what a shame it is to have a celebration for a traitor,” Kristy Heitzman of the local Chamber of Commerce said. “They say they had planned on coming to the area to go fishing or camping, but now they won’t be coming to Idaho.”
  • The deal makes U.S. troops more vulnerable to kidnapping now that the Taliban know they can be swapped for high-value comrades. While some military officers agree, they also note that a U.S. POW has now been shown to be more valuable that a U.S. KIA.
  • Critics of the deal maintain the five senior Taliban released for Bergdahl will, in all probability, return to the fight after spending the coming year in high-walled villas in Doha, Qatar, 1,200 miles from Kabul. Military officers say that’s likely.
  • There is concern that the swap seems to have been a one-off deal, with no larger bargain—one that might help end the war—in the offing. “The goal of this recent effort was to secure the release of Sergeant Bergdahl,” Earnest said. “We did not want to reduce the likelihood of our success in securing his release by injecting a rather complicated variable into it.”
  • There will be plenty of time to probe just how Bergdahl came to be missing in the coming months. If an investigation determines that he should face charges of desertion or other counts, he could plead guilty in exchange for reduced punishment. There is a sense in some military quarters that five years imprisoned by the Taliban is punishment enough.

The true bottom line, after all the acrimony—and sanctimony—is pretty straightforward. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of -a-bitch,” James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, said Monday. “So let’s get him back, let the Army investigate, and we’ll sort it out.”

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected of Kidnapping Another 20 Women

The extremist group reportedly abducted women from a nomadic settlement near Chibok, Nigeria, last week

Members of the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram are suspected to have kidnapped 20 women near the Nigerian town where nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted in April.

The Associated Press reports a vigilante-group member said armed men abducted the women by gunpoint on Thursday, also kidnapping three men who made an effort to thwart the attack. The women reportedly lived in a nomadic settlement near the Nigerian town of Chibok.

The extremist group has remained in international headlines since the April abduction of around 275 girls, many of whom remain missing, inspired a global movement to return them entitled #BringbBackOurGirls.

Last week, Boko Haram militants reportedly also killed hundreds in attacks in northeastern Nigeria.

[AP]

TIME Egypt

Sisi Inauguration Marred By Video Showing Apparent Sexual Assault In Crowd

Cellphone video went viral on social media, shortly after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vowed to crack down on sexual violence

A horrific video of a nearly naked woman being attacked in a crowd at Tahrir Square, Cairo during the inauguration festivities for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Sunday has created a scandal in the wake of celebrations for the new leader.

The video shows a woman wearing only a black shirt, surrounded by a group of men who appear to be ripping off her clothes and beating her. She has enormous bruises on the lower half of her body, which is completely naked. At the end of the two-minute video she is carried, bloody and bruised, to apparent safety in a vehicle. The video went viral on Facebook and Twitter, prompting anguished debate on the sites of activists against sexual harassment and violence in Egypt.

The brutal attack is especially embarrassing considering Sisi’s recent promise to end the the pattern of sexual assaults that have occurred in the crowds that have been gathering in Tahrir Square since the mass protests there three years ago. Sisi vowed during his campaign to “restore the sense of shame” to the perpetrators of sexual crimes, and his government recently announced it would toughen up the laws on sexual harassers.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement Monday that seven men had been arrested for harassment during the inauguration festivities, but could not link the arrests directly to the men in the video. “The celebrations included large crowds that reached thousands and millions in some cases, and harassment happens in these crowds,” Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif told the New York Times, saying the attacks were difficult to prevent but that “the police confront it in a vigorous way.”

 

TIME Ukraine

Exclusive: Ukraine’s President Seeks ‘Understanding’ With Russia

Merkel Meets With New Ukrainian President Poroshenko
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko Carsten Koall—Getty Images

In his first interview as President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko tells TIME that he has no choice but to keep Russia at the negotiating table, as no country is prepared to guarantee his country's security from further attack

Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko wants to see Russia punished for what he calls the “tragedy” that befell his country this year. But even as Russia has annexed one region of Ukraine and encouraged a violent rebellion in two others, Ukraine does not have the option of breaking off ties with the Kremlin, Poroshenko told TIME in his first interview since taking office. His government has no choice but to seek “an understanding” with Russia, he says, even if for no other reason than the hard reality of Ukraine’s geography.

“Maybe some Ukrainians would like to have Sweden or Canada for a neighbor, but we have Russia,” he said on Monday inside the Presidential Administration Building in Kiev, fidgeting with a set of rosary beads throughout the interview. “So we can’t talk about a firm sense of security without a dialogue and an understanding with Russia.” That is why Poroshenko spent the first full day of his tenure on Sunday in marathon talks with the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov. Their positions remain miles apart, at best leaving Poroshenko room for “cautious optimism” for restoring civil relations with Russia, he said.

But whatever progress they will make toward a cease-fire between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Poroshenko has no intention of making nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “To be honest, I’m not very interested in what Citizen Putin thinks of my state,” he said. If the Russian leader doubts Ukraine’s right to exist within its current borders, the best way to convince him otherwise is to build a powerful army and a thriving economy, Poroshenko said. “No one would allow himself to doubt the existence of small countries like Singapore,” the Ukrainian President said, “because when a country is strong, effective, comfortable, monolithic, such doubts would never enter anyone’s minds.”

Achieving that will require support from the West, he told TIME, not least of all the kind of military aid that he has been requesting. “We’re talking about assistance that will be able to stop this aggression” from Russia, he said of his discussions last week and this weekend with U.S. and European leaders. “The help can take all kinds of forms, from intelligence to military technology, from blocking our airspace to enforcing a maritime blockade” in case of attack.

Poroshenko said he discussed these kinds of support last week with U.S. President Barack Obama, and brought it up again with Vice President Joe Biden, who attended Poroshenko’s inauguration on Saturday. But no Western nation has agreed to provide any security guarantees to Ukraine, nor have they made any firm pledges to renew the so-called Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement between the U.S., Russia and the U.K. that was supposed to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

With the annexation of Crimea in March, Russia violated that agreement, and Poroshenko has since become convinced that even the U.N. Security Council is no longer capable of preventing conflict between major powers. “When one of the veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council has in effect become an aggressor, that shows that the old system isn’t working,” he said. This argument came up in his talks with Western leaders last weekend in France, and he said they agreed “without question” about the need for the “global security architecture” to be revised. “The struggle for Crimea is a struggle to prevent such precedents from repeating themselves in the future,” he said. “We can’t allow unpunished aggression.”

But punishing Russia is not an option for Poroshenko at this point. The best he can do is to build a military that can prevent a future Russian attack and, at the same time, stay at the negotiating table with the country he calls an aggressor. His goals are modest. Apart from stopping the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, he wants Russia to offer a new “model of behavior, a model of guarantees” that would restore a sense of stability. So far, he doesn’t have anything close.

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