TIME Gay Rights

England Set to Hold First Same-Sex Wedding

Gay couples in England and Wales will be allowed to tie the knot at the stroke of midnight, about eight months after the government legalized same-sex marriages last July, with Neil Allard and Andrew Wale becoming the first duo to exchange vows

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Saturday will be the first day gay couples will be allowed to tie the knot in England and Wales, after the government legalized same-sex marriage last July.

For the historic event, the British government has ordered rainbow-colored flags, international symbols of the gay movement, flown over prominent government buildings, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday.

Despite shifting public attitudes in England in favor of same-sex marriage, gay marriage has faced opposition from religious groups, including the Church of England. One in five British adults would turn down an invitation to a gay wedding, the BBC reports. Since 2005, gay couples in England have been allowed to enter “civil partnerships,” conferring the same legal rights as marriage.

Despite the criticism, midnight will barely have struck before gay Britons across the country will be celebrating their new status as newlyweds.

In Brighton, England, Neil Allard and Andrew Wale will be the first couple to exchange vows this weekend. They won a contest to be the first ones to be married in the Royal Pavilion.

“They’ve had all sorts of requests for people to come and take part.” Wade said, ahead of the nuptials. “I do feel terribly privileged well to be getting married here.”

[BBC]

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: March 21 — March 28

From President Obama’s first meeting with Pope Francis to the massive mudslide in Washington, to credible evidence in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 and Sochi’s stray dogs arriving in America, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME europe

Salman Rushdie and Other Authors Urge Turkey to Lift Twitter Ban

The Cinema Society And Links Of London Host A Screening Of Fox Searchlight Pictures' "Dom Hemingway" - Outside Arrivals
Salman Rushdie is among dozens of writers urging Turkey to lift its social media ban Jim Spellman -- WireImage

Dozens of famous writers have signed a letter protesting the country's moves to block Internet sites

Dozens of notable authors have signed a joint letter from PEN International and English PEN that urges Turkey to reverse its nationwide ban on Twitter. The social media site was blocked last week after audio recordings suggesting corruption among the country’s officials were leaked. Earlier in March, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had stated that he would not “leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” and on Thursday Turkish media outlets reported that YouTube had also been blocked in the country as well.

The letter, which champions “the freedom of words,” was signed by illustrious writers from Turkey and around the world, including Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Atwood and Karl Ove Knausgård, among others.

The open letter begins:

We, the signatories named below, are writers from around the world who love, live and breathe words. We are united in our belief that freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right. We hereby express our grave concern with regard to “the freedom of words” in Turkey today.

As human beings we connect both within and across borders through words, written and spoken. A free exchange of ideas is essential for democracy, as well as for creativity, empathy and tolerance. As shown in a recent PEN report on last year’s protests,Turkey has a wide range of free expression issues, from criminal defamation to self-censorship within the mainstream media and from police violence against journalists to a narrowing sphere for freedom of expression on the internet.

Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. To this day, translators, editors, publishers, poets and writers face criminal proceedings and even imprisonment for legitimate expression under a variety of legislative fetters.

The letter goes on to urge Turkish authorities “to remember that this beautiful country will be stronger and happier when, and if, it appreciates pluralism, diversity and the freedom of words.”

[Guardian]

TIME europe

Russia Dismisses U.N. Resolution on Crimea as ‘Counterproductive’

Moscow says it won't change course of United Nations vote

Russia on Friday dismissed as “counterproductive” the United Nations resolution calling Moscow’s annexation of the breakaway Crimea region from Ukraine illegal.

“The counterproductive initiative with the General Assembly’s resolution only complicates efforts to stabilize the internal political crisis in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

The U.N. vote a day earlier had declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal and invalid, but Russia said that won’t make it change course. The annexation has been widely criticized by western countries, and has prompted growing concerns that Russia may try to seize a larger part of Ukraine. American officials are watching Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border with an increasingly wary eye.

TIME europe

Russian Forces Double Along Ukraine Border

Russian forces storm a Ukrainian military base in the village of Belbek, Crimea.
Russian forces storm a Ukrainian military base in the village of Belbek, Crimea, March 22, 2014. Mauricio Lima—The New York Times/Redux

American officials are worried that 50,000 Russian troops being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea, the pro-Russian peninsula recently annexed by President Vladimir Putin, aren't there for just a training exercise

Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim.

President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”

Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“We continue to see the Russian military reinforce units on their side of the border with Ukraine to the south and to the east of Ukraine,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. “They continue to reinforce and it continues to be unclear exactly what the intent there is.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the notion that there are as many as 100,000 Russian troops now bordering Ukraine, as Olexander Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said Thursday on Capitol Hill. “I hadn’t actually seen the hundred-thousand number,” Harf said. “There are huge numbers of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. … We are concerned about Russia taking further escalatory steps with whatever number of tens of thousands of troops they have there, and have called on them not to do so.”

Washington got those assurances that the Russian troop buildup was only an exercise from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu a week ago. But no one in the U.S. government knows if Putin agrees—or if the Russian leader has changed his mind as the West has debated what level of economic and political sanctions might be imposed if Moscow takes an additional chunk of Ukraine beyond Crimea. “They made it clear that their intent was to do exercises and not to cross the border,” Kirby said. “Our expectation is they’re going to live up to that word.”

There is no plan to involve the U.S. military in what is happening in Ukraine, even if Russia takes more territory. Ukraine borders Russia, and Ukraine does not belong to NATO, where an attack on one member is deemed to be an attack on all.

“Should the Russians continue to move aggressively in that region and in the Ukraine, what does that mean—and NATO would have to respond, for example—what would that mean for the United States Army?” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, asked the Army’s top officer Thursday.

“My responsibility is to make sure that the U.S. Army is prepared to respond as part of a joint force, as part of NATO,” General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, responded. “So what I’m focused on is improving our readiness in combat, combat service support and combat aviation capabilities to make sure we’re ready to respond whether it’s from a humanitarian assistance aspect or any other aspect.”

How many of the 67,000 U.S. troops in Europe might be involved? “I simply don’t know,” Odierno said. “And I would just remind people that, actually, some of the soldiers that are assigned to Europe actually right now are in Afghanistan.”

Lawmakers suggested that the world is abandoning Ukraine. “It appears to me Ukraine was left defenseless over the last two decades,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.

“Ukraine has stood with us both in Iraq and Afghanistan,” added Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. “We’re highly appreciative and recognize their sacrifice.”

The U.S. has made plain it is not rushing military aid of any kind to Ukraine, despite Kiev’s requests. Ukraine has sought lethal military aid—small arms and ammunition—but that is off the table. “The rations, the Meals Ready to Eat, they are on the way,” Kirby said. “We expect them to arrive in Ukraine probably by the weekend is the best estimate. They’re going over land.”

Obama stressed Thursday that economic and political sanctions would be the primary weapons the international community would be brandishing to curb Russian aggression against Ukraine. “I’ve been very clear in saying that we are going to do everything we can to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he said in Rome. “But I think that it’s also important for us not to promise and then not be able to deliver.”

TIME animals

10 Stray Sochi Pups Arrive in U.S.

Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Animal rescuers say 10 stray dogs rescued from the Winter Olympics host city, amid reports that Russian authorities were killing them before the Games, have arrived in Washington D.C., where the Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption

Americans brought home 28 medals from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but animal rescuers from U.S. couldn’t help bringing home a bundle of four-legged friends, too.

Ten dogs rescued from the streets landed safely in the U.S. on Thursday, Humane Society International said. The dogs landed at Dulles Airport and were brought to Washington D.C., where Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption. The dogs are expected to be ready for adoption within weeks. Animal rights activists sprung into action earlier this year after widespread reports that Russian authorities were killing stray dogs before the Winter Olympics got underway.

“We are excited to make the connection for homeless Sochi dogs with loving homes in the United States, with our focus on helping street dogs in Russia and around the world,” Kelly O’Meara of the Humane Society said in a statement. “Our goal is to protect street dogs from cruel and unnecessary killing programs—like the one employed by Sochi officials to ‘clean up’ in advance of the Olympics—by working with governments to create humane and effective dog population management programs.”

“They’re the sweetest, most interactive, very friendly dogs, very adoptable that just happen to be unfortunate enough to be living on the street,” O’Meara told CNN of the dogs up for adoption.

Humane Society International, in partnership with animal rescue organizations in Sochi, led the effort to take in wandering mutts during the Games. American skier and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy also adopted four dogs during the games, bringing more attention to the doomed fate of many pups on the streets of Sochi. More dogs are expected to arrive from Russia in the coming weeks.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Parents Are Photoshopping Their Babies’ Photos to Help Them Get Into Kindergarten

Students, who live in Shenzhen, leave their school at a public housing estate in Hong Kong, before crossing the border back to mainland China
Parents in Hong Kong are often eager to get their kids into certain schools. Bobby Yip—Reuters

The pressure on Hong Kong children to be achievers now starts before their first birthday

In the fight to get their kids accepted into the best play groups, kindergartens and schools in Hong Kong, some parents are having their offspring photographed at professional studios, and having the images photoshopped to make the kids look “perfect,” the South China Morning Post reports.

The kids, often toddlers so young that they cannot walk, are being photographed in settings to convey different personality traits that will appeal to the principals deciding on admissions — qualities such as “maturity,” or having an “outgoing nature.”

Some of the children are not even a year old.

Parents are also having their children photographed next to certificates and awards. One professional photographer, Yim Chi-lung, said he was asked to take photos of a five-year-old standing in front of 25 trophies and medals.

Admission documents, even for preschool, can consist of 30 to 40 pages of photographs and documents.

According to Dr. Doris Cheng Pui-wah, director of Centre for Childhood Research and Innovation at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the photoshopping trend reflects a growing inequality in Hong Kong.

“It demonstrates that the standards vary very much between schools, and that there is a growing inequality among the schools. If there wasn’t such a big difference in quality, the parent’s wouldn’t have to worry about getting their kid into the right school”.

[South China Morning Post]

 

 

TIME pistorius trial

Pistorius Trial Delayed as Judge’s Aide Hospitalized

Pistorius arrives ahead of  his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius was expected to testify for the first time Friday © Siphiwe Sibeko – Reuters

Oscar Pistorius, the 27-year-old Paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013, was expected to take the stand on Friday but will wait until the trial reconvenes on April 7

The judge in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has delayed proceedings until April 7, as one of his two accessors is ill in hospital, AP reports.

The athlete, known as “blade runner” because of his trademark prosthetic limbs, was expected to take the stand Friday as his defense lawyers begin their case. The last four weeks have been taken up by the prosecution.

Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last February and faces a 25-year sentence if convicted of her murder. The 27-year-old South African maintains that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home and shot her through the bathroom door by accident.

[AP]

 

TIME Crime

Gangs of ‘Powerfully Built’ Women Are Mugging Tourists on the Streets of Hong Kong

To match feature HONGKONG-ANNIVERSARY/BRITISH
Expatriate men have been targeted by female thieves in bars in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong Bobby Yip—Reuters

One luckless expatriate was picked up and thrown into a trash can by brawny muggers after trying to put up a fight

Groups of black female thieves are prowling Lockhart Road, Hong Kong’s lively red-light strip, looking for expatriate men to rob, the South China Morning Post reports.

The area’s streets are particularly busy this week, thronged with fans from all over the world attending the city’s famous Rugby Sevens tournament. A party atmosphere prevails and binge drinking is the norm during “Sevens week.”

The women, hailing from an unspecified African country, are described as “powerfully built” and standing about 1.8 m tall. They pretend to be customers at bars, where they strike up conversations with their victims. They then flirt or offer sex, get the men drunk and subsequently mug them either on the street or in their hotel rooms.

One unfortunate man was thrown into a trash can by the women when he started struggling after realizing he was getting mugged. Another man, an Australian, had about $1,300 stolen when he took three African women to his hotel room after getting drunk with them in a bar.

The police say many cases are going unreported because the victims are ashamed or because they are only in the city for a few days. Rugby Sevens visitors have been warned to be on their guard.

[South China Morning Post]

TIME Saudi Arabia

Obama Goes to Riyadh to Reassure the Saudis on Security

U.S. President  Obama leaves the Marine One helicopter as he arrives at the Rijksmuseum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam
U.S. President Barack is on a week-long trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia. © Paul Vreeker – Reuters

But the U.S. President should not expect an easy ride

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits Riyadh Friday, one of the main goals is to convey to the Saudis that the American commitment to their security remains iron-clad, the New York Times reports.

The strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been a stabilizing force in the Middle East for decades, but recently the allies have faced disagreements over policies toward Iran, Syria and Egypt.

“Their view of Mr. Obama is that his entire understanding is wrong. The trust in him is not very high, so he will not have an easy ride, and a lot of hard questions will be put on the table,” Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, told the Times.

Negotiations with Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, and the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran, have especially worried and angered the Saudis.

[The New York Times]

 

 

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