TIME Egypt

Egyptian Families Plead for Help for the Forgotten ISIS Hostages

Coptic Christian men whose relatives were abducted in Libya hold their photos in front of the foreign ministry in Cairo, Jan. 19, 2015.
Hassan Ammar—AP Coptic Christian men whose relatives were abducted in Libya, hold their photos in front of the foreign ministry in Cairo, Jan. 19, 2015.

At least 21 Egyptian Christians are being held by ISIS in Libya

The seven Egyptian men headed east by car from the Libyan city of Sirte on Dec. 29, starting the long drive back to Egypt. On the outskirts of the city, located on the Mediterranean coast, armed men stopped the vehicle. Several of the men called their families back home. “We’re kidnapped,” one told his uncle.

“The call lasted just 10 seconds,” said Bebawi Elham Welson, whose brother Samail Elham Welson was among those abducted. Samail had spent 18 months working as a plumber in Libya. For three months he had hoped to return to Egypt, but he feared the journey. “He told us, ‘the road is dangerous. When I know the road is in good condition I’ll come back,’” his brother said in an interview in Cairo.

Welson believes Samail is among a group of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians whose abduction was claimed by the Libya branch of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which controls much of eastern Syria and overran much of northwestern Iraq last year. ISIS’ Libya branch released the hostages’ photos, along with a claim of responsibility for their abduction, earlier this month. The family, which lives 150 miles south of Cairo in Minya, says it has not been contacted by the kidnappers.

Unlike ISIS’ foreign hostages in Iraq and Syria, the captured Egyptians have not been paraded on television in orange jumpsuits. Their ordeal has received only a small fraction of the media attention given to the two Japanese captives who ISIS is currently threatening with death. Their abduction underscores Libya’s unpredictable conflict that threatens to draw in nearby states.

The kidnapping of Egyptians in two separate incidents in December and January adds to an escalating crisis in Egypt’s relationship with its fragile neighbor, which last year descended into an internal conflict between two rival governments and their allied militias. For Egypt, the abductions represent another dilemma resulting from the disintegration of the Libyan state three and a half years after an armed uprising toppled the regime of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The recent kidnappings took place in two separate incidents. After the seven men were abducted on the road on Dec. 29, another 13 Egyptians were grabbed by armed, masked men from their house in Sirte. An Egyptian man who survived the raid, Aziz Hanna, said the attackers examined the Egyptians’ identification papers, then seized the Christians, while the Muslims went free. Hanna told journalists at a news conference in Cairoon Monday that while one of his nephews was kidnapped, he avoided abduction by hiding in his room during the attack and later fleeing Libya with the help of local acquaintances.

Egyptian citizens and interests have been targeted repeatedly in the chaotic fighting between factions in Libya. In January 2014, five Egyptian embassy staffers were snatched in the capital Tripoli following Egypt’s arrest of a Libyan militia leader. They were later released, the militia leader freed. Last November, a car bomb exploded at the Egyptian embassy in the city. Egyptian Coptic Christians have especially suffered. In December, gunmen killed two Coptic doctors and their teenage daughter in Sirte. In 2012, a Coptic church in the city of Benghazi was set on fire.

Libya’s internationally-recognized government, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, is locked in conflict with a rival government in Tripoli. Militias allied to the Tripoli government accuse Egypt of supporting the Tobruk side. The Egyptian government denies military involvement, but Western officials and experts have confirmed Egypt has allowed its air bases to be used for air strikes over the border.

Amid the chaos, a militia in Libya’s eastern city of Derna proclaimed allegiance to ISIS last year. The declaration prompted international concern about the collapse of the country’s central authority, but unlike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the group does not control significant chunks of territory.

Complicating the issue for Egyptian authorities is the number of their citizens living in Libya: as many as 1.5 million, according to recent figures reported by the International Organization for Migration. Many of those have sought to escape the violence. In one period of two weeks in March 2011, the agency reported that 135,000 Egyptians left Libya.

The families of the abducted men say they have received little information from both the kidnappers and authorities. “It came suddenly. The evidence was that the area was safe and there was no danger,” said Mina Ramsis Najib, 27, whose two nephews were among the group of seven taken from the vehicle leaving Sirte. Laga, 27, and Samir, 23, had been working as painters and planned to return to Libya after spending time in Egypt. “There have been no new developments,” he said.

Relatives of the abducted are unhappy with what they say is an inadequate response from the Egyptian government. At a news conference in Cairo, loved ones said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had confirmed that the men were alive and pledged to help the victims, but offered few specifics. One family said it had been told not to speak to the media.

“We have a lack of information from our side, from the government,” said Mina Thabet a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a local rights group, who interviewed several of the families and survivors of past kidnappings. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs just makes statements. They say ‘We’re trying to do our best. We’re communicating with the Libyan authorities.’ They never give us solutions.”

A ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelatty, did not return calls and messages seeking comment on the abductions. Abdelatty previously confirmed to journalists that 20 Egyptians had been kidnapped in Libya in two separate incidents.

Though the ordeal of the hostages’ ordeal is ongoing, and their families are to urging the authorities to pay more attention to their plight. Welson said, “I want the officials to realize they’re wrong. They’re wrong. One minute they’re with us. The next minute they turn their backs on us.”

TIME China

Watch This Haunting Seven-Minute Film About China’s Insane Air Pollution

It's haunting and eerily beautiful

Greenpeace East Asia today released a seven-minute film by director Jia Zhangke about China’s toxic air. The impressionistic piece, Smog Journeys, follows two families — one rural, one urban — as they live, play, and work in the country’s polluted northeast.

“When it comes to smog, no matter what jobs we do, it is still a problem we all face,” says Jia in an interview released online.

Jia is one of China’s most renowned filmmakers. His work is famously gritty, filled with tales of alienation and strife, and shot in shades of brown and gray. His last feature, A Touch of Sin (2013), was a critical hit abroad, but was considered too politically sensitive to be shown on the Chinese mainland.

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Chor Sokunthea—Reuters Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

TIME North Korea

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un May Visit Moscow, Russia Says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address
KCNA—Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address in this January 1, 2015 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

Kim hasn't made an official foreign visit before

Kim Jong Un could visit Moscow this May in his first foreign visit as North Korea’s leader, according to statements from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said on Wednesday that an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany received a “positive” response from North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports.

He would not elaborate further, however, and the North Korean government has not yet commented on the proposed trip.

Kim, who had sent an envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin in November, has not made an official foreign trip since assuming power in 2011.

[WSJ]

TIME Ukraine

John Kerry Slams Rebels as Fighting in Ukraine Spirals Further Out of Control

US-EU-KERRY-MOGHERINI
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press after a working lunch with E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on Jan. 21, 2015

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Moscow rebels have rapidly escalated this week

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned pro-Russian rebels battling the Ukrainian military for participating in a “landgrab” after occupying new territory in clear violation of a September peace accord.

After a brief lull in hostilities, fighting between forces loyal to Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels spiked drastically this week along several fronts. Insurgents appear to be seizing larger swaths of land thanks to heavy weaponry and the alleged presence of Russian regular forces.

“This is a very blatant landgrab, and it is in direct contravention to the Minsk agreements which they signed up to,” Kerry told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

The Minsk Protocol, which was signed by representatives from rebel militias along with Ukrainian and Russian officials, called for the orderly withdrawal of foreign fighters and heavy weaponry from the battlefields in southeastern Ukraine. However, the plan continues to be consistently ignored, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of combatants amid renewed fighting.

Earlier on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated claims that Russia continues to supply men and military hardware to insurgent militias battling the Ukrainian military.

“For several months, we have seen the presence of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. We are also seeing a substantial increase in the number of Russian heavy equipment in eastern Ukraine,” said Stoltenberg during a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg this week. “This does not contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict.

Following a meeting at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power lambasted the Kremlin via Twitter for their alleged role in backing the separatists and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for overseeing an “occupation plan” rather than backing the peace accords.

During a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Moscow of sending an estimated 9,000 troops across the border into his nation’s conflict-riven Donbas region.

“The country is facing the aggression not only regarding Crimea, but also regarding the significant part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. About 9,000 Russian [troops] are in the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told the assembled heads of state and economists.

However, Russia continues to deny that it is providing direct support to separatist fighters and balked at Washington’s efforts to contain the country through myriad sanctions.

“Only the people of Ukraine without any foreign interference must determine their future,” Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday. “For its part, Russia will continue to assist the creation of favorable conditions to settle Ukraine’s formidable problems in this spirit.”

TIME United Kingdom

British Tabloid the Sun Puts Topless Models Back on Page Three

Picture shows an arrangement of copies o
LEON NEAL—AFP/Getty Images Picture shows an arrangement of copies of The Sun newspaper front pages on February 13, 2012.

Days after many celebrated the end of the decades-old tradition

British tabloid the Sun has angered campaigners by reinstating photos of topless female models on its page three.

In its Thursday issue, the best-selling paper published a photo of a bare breasted woman and the header “Clarifications and Corrections” with the announcement, “We’ve had a mammory lapse,” the Guardian reports.

The 44-year-old tradition has long been deemed sexist and outdated by campaigners, many of whom were dismayed by the move.

Labour MP Stella Creasy offered her rather humorous opinion.

But the head of PR at the Sun blasted news outlets for jumping the gun.

[The Guardian]

TIME Germany

The Leader of Germany’s Anti-Islam Group Quits After His Hitler Photo Goes Viral

Hitler-picture of PEGIDA-head causes trouble
Marcus Brandt—EPA Front pages of German daily newspapers including Hamburger Morgenpost and Bild show pictures of the PEGIDA chief Lutz Bachmann sporting a Hitler moustache on Jan. 21 2015

Police are investigating whether to charge PEGIDA chief Lutz Bachmann

The head of Germany’s anti-immigration movement PEGIDA stepped down Wednesday after a photo showing him dressed as Adolf Hitler emerged online.

Lutz Bachmann was pictured on his Facebook page sporting a toothbrush mustache and with his dark hair combed straight into a side parting to resemble the Nazi leader, the New York Times reports.

Bachmann, 41, is also quoted as referring to immigrants as “scumbags,” “stupid cows” and “trash” on social media.

Dresden police are investigating whether there are sufficient grounds to prosecute Bachmann. (Germany has strict laws governing Nazi symbolism and paraphernalia.)

On Wednesday, supporters of PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, gathered in Leipzig for an anti-immigration rally.

[NYT]

TIME Chile

Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda Could Have Been Poisoned

Chile Pablo Neruda
Laurent Rebours—AP Pablo Neruda in 1971.

A fresh probe is to be conducted into his death in 1973

Chile announced Wednesday that the death of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda will be reinvestigated to ascertain if the poet was poisoned in 1973 during the first days of the South American nation’s military dictatorship.

Neruda, a staunch communist whose love poems some consider to be among the most romantic ever written, was presumed to have died of prostate cancer following a U.S.-backed coup that led to the merciless rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet. However, many suspect that he was murdered, reports Reuters.

“There is initial evidence that he was poisoned and in that sense the signs point to the intervention of specific agents … that could constitute a crime against humanity,” said Francisco Ugas, the head of Chile’s humans rights department.

Neruda was a loyal follower of ousted President Salvadore Allende, leading to suspicions he was murdered to silence a potential powerful dissenting voice against the new military dictatorship.

Neruda’s chauffeur claims Pinochet’s operatives injected the poet’s stomach with poison while he was bed-ridden by illness.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

U.S. Lawyers Seek to Interview Prince Andrew About Sex-Crime Claims

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, visits Georg August University in Goettingen, Germany on June 3, 2014.
Swen Pförtner—AP Prince Andrew, Duke of York, visits Georg August University in Göttingen, Germany, on June 3, 2014

Lawyers move forward with legal discovery in a sex scandal that spans the Atlantic Ocean

American lawyers for a woman who claims to have been trafficked for sex with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, have asked Queen Elizabeth’s second son to answer the charges in an interview under oath.

Lawyers Paul Cassell and Bradley Edwards, who represent a woman who alleges she was kept as an underage “sex slave” by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, sent the formal request on Jan. 14 through their own attorney. In it, they ask to discuss what happened “at the time … and shortly thereafter” a widely circulated photo from 2001 was taken. The photograph shows Prince Andrew with his arm wrapped around the bare midriff of Virginia Roberts, the self-described “sex slave,” who is identified in court documents as Jane Doe No. 3.

Epstein, a financier who has recently split his time between New York and Palm Beach, Fla., settled the criminal case against him in 2008 by cutting a deal with federal prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to two Florida state crimes, registered as a sex offender, served a short jail term and agreed to assist financially his alleged victims in filing civil lawsuits against him. The case has been kept alive since then through those civil cases, and through a federal lawsuit by Cassell and Edwards that alleges the prosecutors violated the victims’ rights in their handling of the case.

The newest documents, filed Wednesday in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, reveal further details about the allegations in the tangled legal case. In one new filing, Roberts says that she has not disclosed all the information that she has about sexual encounters she claims to have had with other powerful men, including politicians, because she is “very fearful of these men.” But she adds, “If a judge wants me to present my information in more detail, including more specific descriptions of the sexual activities with the men Epstein sent me to, I could do so.”

At a separate point in the document, Roberts clarifies past statements about her alleged encounters with former President Bill Clinton at a Caribbean retreat owned by Epstein. “Bill Clinton was present on the island at the time I was also present on the island, but I have never had sexual relations with Clinton, nor have I ever claimed to have had such relations,” she says in the document. “I have never seen him have sexual relations with anyone.”

Edwards, one of the attorneys for Roberts, says in another filing that he previously sought to depose Clinton about his knowledge of illegal activity by Epstein and his accomplices. “The flight logs showed Clinton traveling on Epstein’s plane on numerous occasions between 2002 and 2005,” Edwards writes.

In her own sworn statement, Roberts repeats the claim that she was forced into sexual encounters with both Prince Andrew and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a friend and attorney for Epstein. Buckingham Palace has denied that Prince Andrew had “any form of sexual contact or relationship” with the woman, saying in a previously released statement that her claims are “categorically untrue.” Dershowitz also denied the claims, and has filed legal actions against Cassell and Edwards for allowing the accusations to show up in legal filings, prompting Cassell and Edwards to countersue Dershowitz for defamation. A representative for Epstein has dismissed Roberts’ claims as old and discredited.

“I had sex with him three times, including one orgy,” Roberts says in the affidavit, describing her alleged encounters with Prince Andrew. “I knew he was a member of the British Royal Family, but I just called him ‘Andy.’”

In her affidavit, Roberts says, “I have seen Buckingham Palace’s recent ’emphatic’ denial that Prince Andrew had sexual contact with me. That denial is false and hurtful to me. I did have sexual contact with him as I have described here — under oath.”

She asked that the Prince “simply voluntarily tell the truth about everything” and agree to be interviewed by her lawyers under oath.

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