TIME Ukraine

Ukrainian Rebels Claim Huge Victory in Self-Rule Referendum

Ukraine
Members of an election committee empty a ballot box after voting closes at a polling station in Donetsk, Ukraine, Sunday, May 11, 2014. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern provinces of Donetsk, which proclaimed itself a republic last month, and Luhansk say voters resoundingly approved secession from Ukraine on Sunday in a referendum called illegitimate by Kiev and the U.S.

Separatists in eastern Ukraine say people there have voted overwhelmingly to secede from the state, following a Sunday referendum that Kiev and its Western supporters decried as illegitimate.

Approximately 89% of voters in the province of Donetsk — which already proclaimed itself a republic in April — have voted in favor of secession, organizers say. They also claim that 96% of voters in the neighboring province of Luhansk voted for independence. Donetsk is Ukraine’s most populous province, home to a tenth of the population.

“Counting the ballots proved to be surprisingly easy,” said Roman Lyagin, head of the separatist electoral commission in Donetsk, according to Russia Today.

“The number of people who said no was relatively small and there appeared to be only a tiny proportion of spoiled ballots, so we managed to carry out counting quite fast.”

The U.S. State Department earlier slammed the controversial referendum, warning that it stood in clear violation of international law.

“If these referenda go forward, they will violate international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” said spokesperson Jen Psaki in a statement released on Saturday.

“The United States will not recognize the results of these illegal referenda.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin had also called for the referendum to be delayed; however, his spokesman Dmitri Pesko said residents in eastern Ukraine would not follow Putin’s advice because of an increase in fighting in the region against Kiev-backed forces.

While Sunday’s voting was largely a peaceful affair, Ukrainian national guardsmen reportedly fired their weapons as they tried to close a polling station in Krasnoarmeisk, killing an unspecified number of people.

TIME China

China Cracks Down on ‘Terrorist Videos,’ Arrests More Than 200

Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack on Wednesday, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, on May 1, 2014. Petar Kujundzic—Reuters

Beijing arrested 232 people who "circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices" as the nation continues to reel from a series of knife attacks at rail stations that have been blamed on the autonomy-seeking Uighur minority

Police in China’s restive northwest have arrested more than 200 people for “dissemination of violent or terrorist videos,” state media said Monday.

The six-week security operation in Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority group, comes after a spate of bombings and knife attacks at train stations across the country.

A total of 232 people who “circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices” have been detained, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, citing a Legal Daily report.

In late March, Xinjiang’s regional government announced a ban on possessing “terror-related” videos or spreading them via the Internet.

The crackdown was introduced after the March 1 slaughter of 29 people at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming by at least 10 knife-wielding attackers. Some 143 others were wounded in the incident, which was blamed on Uighur separatists.

On April 30, a knife-and-bomb attack struck a rail station in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi just as Chinese President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a tour of the northwestern region. The raid left 79 wounded and three dead, including two attackers.

Then on May 6, six people were injured by at least one knife-wielding assailant at a train station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. One suspect was shot and detained by security officials.

Relations between China’s majority Han population and the Uighur minority are tense, especially in Xinjiang, where many Uighurs demand greater autonomy and say they are being overwhelmed by a flood of Han migrants. Beijing counters that its policies have brought higher living standards and prosperity to the resource-rich region.

TIME Nigeria

Nigerians Critical of Government’s Slow Kidnappings Response

London Protest Against The  Kidnapping Of More Than 200 Nigerian Girls
A man holds a sign that reads "Bring Back Our Girls" during a protest outside Nigeria House in London on May 9, 2014 Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

The government's inaction and sluggish response to the kidnapping of around 279 girls by Boko Haram has left many Nigerians frustrated and critical of it

With the U.S., Britain and France now involved in the search for hundreds of girls abducted by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, Nigerians have begun to wonder whether a slow response by their own government could ignite an explosion inside the country. Their dissatisfaction is rooted in a sense that Nigeria’s missteps are a sign of greater disregard for the public good.

“It took the self-immolation of a Tunisian street trader to spark off the Arab Spring,” blogger Chris Ngwodo wrote in the Lagos newspaper ThisDay on Sunday, referring to the death in 2011 by Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the Tunisian revolution, followed by revolutions in Egypt and Libya. In a similar way, he wrote, “the debacle [of the kidnapped schoolgirls] might yet unleash seismic repercussions.”

Ngwodo’s is just one voice in a rising chorus of Nigerians frustrated over their government’s seeming inaction and slow response. The girls vanished almost one month ago, on April 15, when Boko Haram invaded a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok. They forced an estimated 279 girls into trucks, and drove them into the forest; eight more were kidnapped days later.

On Friday, Amnesty International said its researchers had proof that local officials had been alerted about four hours before the April 15 attack, after people in neighboring villages said they witnessed Boko Haram gunmen moving toward Chibok, where the girls were writing their final high school exams. Though the alarm was raised, Amnesty reported, officials failed both to send military reinforcements and to attempt to move the girls to safety.

Amnesty said it had “multiple interviews with credible sources,” and called the government’s inaction “a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians.”

Seemingly unaware of the incident’s potential to set off an emotional chain reaction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waited two weeks before speaking publicly about the attack. He also rebuffed immediate offers of help from the U.S. and U.K., according to the Associated Press on Sunday. Jonathan — who is also Commander in Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces — finally broke his silence on May 1, calling the incident “horrific” and asking for foreign help.

But by then, it seemed too late. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a chilling video on May 4 saying he intended to sell the girls, some as young as 9 years old, perhaps by trading them in Chad and Cameroon.

That fueled a global campaign, with #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter across the world. On Wednesday, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama posted a photo of herself holding a sign with the slogan, and on Saturday she made her first-ever address from the White House, saying she and President Barack Obama were “outraged and heartbroken” by the girls’ situation. Pope Francis too tweeted about the campaign:

With four weeks having passed since their abduction, finding the girls will now be immensely difficult, especially given Shekau’s warning about selling them off.

Jonathan has recently suggested that Boko Haram’s days are numbered, as it now faces international military action. A Nigerian presidential adviser Reuben Abati told TIME on Friday afternoon that U.S. military advisers had already last week and that British advisers would arrive on Monday.

Yet it is unclear what Western military help might accomplish at this point. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the U.S. is sending only military advisers, not soldiers. He warned that finding the girls “will be very difficult. It is a vast country.”

“This is not going to be an easy task,” Hagel said.

Still, in Lagos’ upscale neighborhoods — hundreds of miles and a world away from Boko Haram’s stronghold — several wealthy young people displayed red wristbands this weekend, part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Other residents hammered posters to the railing of a traffic circle, each with the silhouette of a face and the name of one of the missing girls.

Boko Haram’s bloody campaign, which started in 2009, has accelerated sharply in recent months. Of the 4,000 or so people killed in the past four years, about 1,500 of them have died this year alone. The insurgency has barely let up since the girls disappeared last month, and it could well increase with the arrival of foreign advisers. The AP reported this weekend that insurgents had blown up a bridge in the area near the kidnappings, killing several people, and that they kidnapped the wife and two children of a retired police officer.

Boko Haram’s violence isn’t isolated to the far-flung areas of the country either. The group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed about 75 people on April 19 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. A second bomb exploded close to the first site on May 2, and the Nigerian government blames Boko Haram for it too. That attack killed at least 12 more people, just days before the beginning of the World Economic Forum on Africa, hosted this year in Abuja.

President Jonathan and his government had planned for months to use the forum to show off Nigeria’s booming economy, Africa’s biggest since last month. Instead, the kidnappings dogged most conversations at the forum, and hundreds of heavily armed military and police surrounded the conference hotel and escorted visitors on transport buses. And rather than trumpeting his country’s success, Jonathan spent much of the three-day event defending his actions. On Friday afternoon, he told a small group of reporters — including TIME — that aircraft had been dispatched “immediately” after the kidnapping.

“If people give you the impression that the government is slow, that is not true,” he said. “That is not correct.”

Many Nigerians are unconvinced, however, and are now questioning whether the government has simply lost touch with its people. Blogger Ngwodo also stated in his article on Sunday that, beyond bringing back the girls, the government would need to work to “instill a culture of accountability.”

Easier said than done, perhaps. “Nigerians have never taken the regime very seriously. The government has never been proactive on any issues,” Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a political-science professor at Lagos State University, told TIME on Sunday. “That is the general perception.”

TIME russia

Watch Putin Play Hockey and Score a Suspicious Number of Goals

Russia's president hits the ice in a video showcasing his amateur hockey skills

Vladimir Putin can add unlikely hockey star to his list of accomplishments, alongside being the President of Russia and an oft-shirtless friend to the animal kingdom.

Putin scored six goals and got five assists during an exhibition amateur hockey game in Sochi on Saturday, helping his team claim victory with a ludicrous final score of 21-4. As The Wire notes, it doesn’t look like the other team was trying very hard to keep Putin from tearing up the ice.

The event — which began with a moment of silence for pro-Russian insurgents killed the day before in Ukraine — was part of Russia’s Night Hockey League, a group that helps get ice time for players who have to work during the day.

[The Wire]

TIME europe

Ukraine Guardsmen Opened Fire Amid Referendum Vote, Rebels Say

Ukraine
A woman reacts after Ukrainian national guardsmen opened fire on a crowd outside a town hall in Krasnoarmeisk, a Ukrainian city about 30 km from the regional capital, Donetsk, on May 11, 2014 Manu Brabo—AP

As violence broke out in the town of Krasnoarmeisk after guardsmen shut down voting in a referendum on the region's sovereignty on Sunday, there were reports of an unspecified number of deaths

Ukrainian national guardsmen shot at a crowd and killed an unspecified number of people in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, officials for the area’s insurgency told the Associated Press.

The violence occurred in the town of Krasnoarmeisk after guardsmen tried to stop a referendum on the region’s sovereignty, the AP reports. Shots went off after a fight broke out between the guardsmen and locals who were gathered outside the building where the vote was taking place.

An AP photographer reported seeing two bodies in the streets, while insurgent leader Denis Pushilin told a local news agency there had been a number of deaths, though he did not provide a specific figure.

The twin referendums in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions are meant to decide whether or not the regions would become “sovereign people’s republics.” Leaders of the movement say a decision to become independent, stay a part of Ukraine or formally join Russia would follow the vote. Ukraine’s national government and many Western powers consider the referendums illegitimate.

[AP]

TIME Japan

Best-Selling Author Feels the Heat in Japan’s History Wars

People mourn the of Nanking Massacre on August 15, 2012 in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China TPG/Getty Images

Just when you thought the battle over Japan’s wartime history couldn’t get any weirder, a best-selling author was forced to issue a denial about a previous denial — in his own book – that Japanese troops had committed one of the worst atrocities of World War II. That is, he said, they didn’t.

Henry Scott Stokes, a leading Western journalist and longtime defender of Japan’s right wing, told Kyodo News Service last week that he was unaware that the Japanese-language version of his book includes an assertion that the infamous 1937 “Nanking Massacre” had never occurred.

He called that assertion “straightforward right-wing propaganda.”

The book, whose title translates as “Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist,” has sold more than 100,000 copies since it went on sale in December.

It comes amid a boom in publications that cater to right-wing views in Japan as well as nasty historical disputes with Asian neighbors. It was released only in Japanese.

Stokes, 75, is a former correspondent and Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times, Financial Times and Times of London.

Although the book presents a largely – if not overwhelmingly — sanitized view of Japan’s wartime conduct, Stokes, who said in recent interviews he does not read or write Japanese, told Kyodo that the Nanking denial had been inserted in the translated version of his book without his knowledge.

Late Friday, he sharply reversed course.

In a carefully worded joint statement with publisher Shodensha, Stokes, who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease, said there is no disagreement.

“The author’s opinion is: The so-called ‘Nanking Massacre’ never took place. The word ‘Massacre’ is not right to indicate what happened,” the statement said.

In an interview last month, Stokes had said “ghastly events” had occurred at Nanking, but that the Japanese were not alone responsible.

Stokes has long been a darling of Japan’s right wing. He moved to Tokyo from London in 1964 and served as bureau chief for major U.S. and British newspapers in the 1960s and ‘70s. He published a well-received biography of nationalist icon Yukio Mishima in 1974 and remains on friendly terms with conservative leaders and activists.

Because his illness makes it difficult to write or type, his “Falsehoods” book was based on more than 170 hours of taped interviews. Written essay-style, the book was assembled from those interviews by Hiroyuki Fujita, a translator closely associated with conservative causes.

Stokes said in a recent interview that he had not read the finished book. He told Kyodo that he was unaware of the apparent turbulence concerning Nanking until Kyodo brought to his attention.

Fujita said the controversy centered around just two lines in the 250-page book. Fujita said that after discussions with Stokes and Shodensha officials it was jointly decided that no changes were necessary.

“What Henry has in mind and what is written in Japanese in his best-seller book have the common implication behind them: We should not say ‘Nanking Massacre’ to understand what really happened in Nanking,” Fujita said in a written statement.

Still, not everyone is convinced that the book accurately portrays Stokes’ views.

A Tokyo journalist hired to transcribe the taped interviews for a potential English-language edition said she quit in protest. She said she became convinced that the interviews had been taken out of context.

“I felt that what you said in the transcripts was completely different on important points from what is written in your book,” transcriber Angela Erika Kubo wrote in a May 4 email to Stokes.

Although estimates vary for the number of victims, mainstream historians agree that many tens of thousands of civilians were killed by marauding Japanese troops in Nanking over a six-week period beginning in December 1937.

Stokes’ association with leading Western news organizations – he is now a freelance writer — undoubtedly appealed to his publishers and helped give the book mass-market appeal, said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian Studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo.

“They knew that he bestowed a credibility that they would never have on their own. They would be dismissed as right-wing crackpots, while Henry Scott Stokes has a rich pedigree,” Kingston said.

Sven Saaler, an associate professor of Japanese history at Tokyo’s Sophia University, said the controversy is not surprising. Nor do the brisk sales necessarily mean that right-wing views have broad appeal in Japan.

“These kind of publications have always been around, and always have been selling a few ten-thousand copies to a certain audience. But the revisionist views of history have yet to reach a broader segment of society. The revisionist views are deeply rooted in parts of the Japanese elite, particularly in the political class, so there is a gap between historical views,” Saaler said.

Lucy Birmingham, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, said the foreign press corps in Japan has come under increasing attack from conservative news media for alleged anti-Japanese bias in recent years, and pressure to toe the line is likely to continue.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what Henry Scott Stokes’ views are. He has been quoted as saying diametrically different things in different publications,” says Birmingham, a freelance writer who has written for TIME and other publications.

“Foreign journalists in Japan are in the crossfire. It’s coming from a small, but loud minority of right-wing writers and publishers who are testing the media waters on their extreme views … It’s the attitude, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.'”

TIME

Austria’s Conchita Wurst Wins Eurovision Song Contest

Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst was named winner of the Eurovision song competition Saturday — a victory that took on extra political meaning amid Russia's incursion into Crimea and anti-gay sentiment in Russia and Eastern Europe

Was there ever a more perfect Eurovision winner than Conchita Wurst? Possessor of long, brunette locks that undulate down her shimmering gown, an alto that sounds straight out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical circa Jesus Christ Superstar, and a beard that a Brooklyn bartender would envy, the Austrian contestant took the top honors last night in Copenhagen. It was a victory that thrilled the 11,000-strong audience, and not only because her winning song, “Rise Like a Phoenix,” was so very … very. To many gathered for what is often called the Gay World Cup, Wurst’s victory was also a victory against homophobia. And, not incidentally, Russia.

An annual competition that pits three dozen or so European nations against one another in a glitter-spangled maelstrom of wind machines, detachable clothing and the cheesiest tunes in pop music, the Eurovision Song Contest is exactly what it says. Held in the homeland of the previous year’s winner, the competition, in which each nation’s contestant performs a song written specially for the occasion, is broadcast live throughout the continent (and in Australia, for reasons best understood by the Australians themselves). The winner, who in the past has included pop luminaries like ABBA (Sweden) and Celine Dion (Switzerland), is decided partly by a jury made up of professionals and partly by viewers, who vote for their favorites via text message or app. Which is precisely where things get interesting. Though any geeked-out aficionado will tell you that Eurovision is all about the music, politics has a way of slipping in. This year was no exception.

“We love her!” gushed David Christley, of Wurst, in the minutes before the competition started. Though British-born and living in Holland, Christley and his partner were wearing postcards of the Austrian candidate tucked into their neon orange top hats. “It would be such a slap in the face to Russia if she won.”

Indeed, when Austria announced its candidate, several Russian organizations called for a boycott of Eurovision 2014. St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov — the same one who said that gay athletes could be subject to arrest at the Sochi Olympics if they “promoted” homosexuality to minors — referred to Wurst as a “pervert” whose presence at what he disapprovingly called “Europe’s gay parade” would “insult millions of Russians.” Thousands of Belarusians also protested, signing a petition for block her from the Belarusian broadcast of the competition.

If anything, those objections only increased support for Wurst, whose fans at last night’s competition took to wearing crocheted chinstraps meant, apparently, to simulate beards. But they were not the only reason why anti-Russian sentiment was running high in Copenhagen. The country’s recent incursions into Ukraine also played a role. Weeks before, Eurovision organizers decided that, for purposes of the competition, Crimea still counted as Ukraine. It was unclear however, which nation that helped, since the rules of the competition prevent voters from casting a ballot for their own country. So although Crimea might not, in the Eurovision universe, be Russian, it could now vote for Russia.

In Copenhagen, however, the Russian contestants (twin sisters named Anastasiya and Maria Tolmachevy) were booed during the semifinals. Inexplicably dressed in a wolf suit, Anders Lundsten of Gothenburg, Sweden, said he felt sorry for the girls. “But I also feel sorry for the Ukrainians. No one should be taken over by another country.”

Mariya Yaremchuk, the Ukrainian contestant, didn’t want anybody’s sympathy vote. In an interview with TIME, she said that getting to the final was “like getting all your happy birthdays in one day,” and she was convinced she had arrived there solely on the merits of her peppy “Tick Tock,” which she screeched sang onstage in front of a man running in an outsize hamster wheel. “Of course, as a Ukrainian girl, I am very nervous about what is going on at home. But as a singer, my main goal is to express my wish of happiness to all people. For me, it is all about the music.”

Ah yes, the music. Looking like an extra from Fiddler on the Roof, Swiss candidate Sebalter warbled lyrics no lover could resist — “I am the hunter, you are the prey/ Tonight I’m going to eat you up” — to a Mumford and Sons–esque tune, complete with Swiss banjo. Despite a hairdo that towered a good 12 in. from his scalp, the lead singer of the French boy band Twin Twin pranced around the stage, singing insistently about his desire for a “moostash,” while images of facial hair flashed behind him. Poland surpassed even that display of good taste. Sounding vaguely like a Japanese hip-hop band but dressed in cleavage-baring bodices and traditional skirts, Donatan and Cleo belted out their song, “We Are Slavic.” When they reached the stirring chorus — “We are Slavic, we know how it is/ We like to shake what mama in the genes gave us/ This is the hot blood, this is our Slavic call” — one well-endowed band member sat on the corner of the stage and simulated, shall we say, a particularly enjoyable butter-churning session.

In comparison, the Tolmachevy twins, who began their performance conjoined by their blond ponytails before separating to opposite ends of a giant seesaw, seemed downright musical. But when the votes started coming in, and a few countries — most of them former Soviet bloc — gave their points to Russia, the booing began again. At one point, the sounds of displeasure were loud enough that the presenter — Pilou Asbæk, better known to viewers of Borgen as “spin doctor” Kasper Juul — had to interrupt his shamelessly pandering jokes about well-muscled men to remind the audience, “It’s all about music and love.”

Alina and Vitaly knew better. Ukrainian agriculture students from Kharkov, they didn’t want to give their last names but weren’t afraid to say whom they were voting for. “Ukrainian contestant not so good,” said Alina. “But we love the Russians! We will vote for them.”

In the end, that love wasn’t enough for the Barbie-like Tolmachevy twins, who came in seventh. The girls had declined all requests to speak with foreign media, preferring, as one of their handlers said, “to focus on the music.” Still, it was hard not to see something more than a catchy ditty between the lines of their entry, “Shine”:

Living on the edge
closer to the crime
cross the line a step at a time

Now maybe there’s a place
maybe there’s a time
maybe there’s a day you’ll be mine

 

TIME Family

Here’s How 9 Other Countries Celebrate Mother’s Day

The holiday has roots in America, but it's celebrated around the world

Sons, daughters and husbands across the U.S. were picking up their last-minute gifts this week ahead of the annual ritual to honor mothers. Like every year since it became a national holiday a century ago, moms will be showered with cards, chocolates and flowers on Sunday.

But Mother’s Day, unlike those All-American dates of Thanksgiving and July 4, is not exceptional to the U.S. In many countries, religious or cultural holidays revolving around women and families have evolved into the their own celebrations of motherhood. In other countries, the Hallmark-card-giving American holiday has merely been imported. And in still others, it’s something of a mix.

Here’s a look at how nine countries around the world honor their moms.

France

A 1950 law in France establishes the “fetes des meres” on the fourth Sunday in May (May 25 this year), except when it overlaps with Pentecost, in which case it’s pushed back a week. But beyond the date, Mother’s Day in France looks very similar to in the U.S.—cards and flowers are bestowed and family dinners are had.

China

While relatively new to the country, the imported holiday of Mother’s Day aligned with traditions of filial piety in China, as it has in countries the world-over. On the second Sunday of May, an increasing number of Chinese celebrate the day with gifts and festivities.

U.K.

As early as the 16th century, the U.K. observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent a day called Mothering Sunday, when families came together to attend church. In the early 20th century, Mothering Sunday—which had evolved into a tradition of spending family time at home—was fused with the Hallmark-card-giving American holiday, but it has retained its traditional name and date (March 15 this year).

Mexico

Mexico takes very Mother’s Day very seriously. In fact, Manuel Gutierrez, president of the national association of restaurateurs, told the Washington Post in 2012 that May 10—whatever the day of the week—is the busiest day of the year for Mexican restaurants. Flowers are a must, but the day is also filled with music, food, celebrations, and often a morning serenade of the song “Las Mananitas” from mariachi singers:

“Awaken, my dear, awaken/ and see that the day has dawned/ now the little birds are singing/ and the moon has set.”

India

Mother’s Day is a rather new phenomenon in India, but the imported holiday is making up for lost time. On the second Sunday of May (May 11 this year, just like in the U.S.), mothers are showered with flowers, cards and gifts.

Japan

Japan initially aligned Haha no Hi with the birthday of Empress Koujun, whose tenure spanned most of the 20th century. But Mother’s Day has since been moved to the second Sunday in May, when the Japanese load their mothers with gifts—primarily flowers. A recent poll of 1,000 adult men found that 87% planned to give something to their moms.

Russia

In the former Soviet Union, mothers were celebrated on International Women’s Day on March 8, a celebratory date that has since become an internationally-observed day to honor women and reflect on the goal for gender equality. In 1998, post-Soviet Russia introduced Mother’s Day on the last Sunday in November, but most of the gift giving still happens in March.

Egypt

Mother’s Day in Egypt and several other Arab countries falls on March 21, the first day of spring. The widely observed unofficial national holiday is a day of gift-giving and celebration.

Thailand

The holiday is observed on Aug. 12 to mark the birthday of the revered Queen Sirikit. Ceremonies and parades celebrate the dual intentions of the holiday, with jasmine the go-to gift.

TIME Yemen

State Department: U.S. Officers Killed 2 Yemeni Civilians in Shootout

YEMEN-UNREST
Yemenis gather at the site of a bomb explosion that targeted an army troop vehicle on its way to man a checkpoint on a street leading to two western embassies on May 9, 2014 in the capital Sanaa. Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images

Two U.S. officers shot and killed two Yemeni civilians during a botched kidnapping attempt, the State Department said Saturday. The incident raises tensions at a time when the Yemeni government is unpopular with the local population for allowing American drone strikes

Two American embassy officers shot and killed two Yemeni civilians trying to kidnap the Americans in Yemen’s capital last month, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to the New York Times Saturday. The pair of Americans involved in the incident have since left the country, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told the Times.

The Times first reported the incident Friday, citing unnamed American officials. The original Times report claimed the attempted kidnapping and subsequent shootout involved a U.S. Special Operations commando and a Central Intelligence Agency officer attached to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and took place at a Sanaa barber shop.

The incident comes at a tumultuous time for Yemen’s embattled government. Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi has lost popularity among many Yemenis by allowing American drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda members. The strikes, which sometimes result in civilian deaths, are fiercely unpopular among Yemenis, and militants have stepped up their attacks against the government in response to the drone strikes.

Yemeni officials have remained largely silent about the shootings, though a spokesman for Yemen’s Interior Ministry said Saturday that two non-Yemeni foreigners targeted for abduction fired on their Yemini would-be abductors. Yemeni media did not report at the time that the shooters were American.

The episode could further damage the Yemeni government’s domestic reputation if it is perceived that it covered up the identities of the American officers.

[NYT]

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Sends Army to Find Missing Schoolgirls

NIGERIA-UNREST-KIDNAPPING
Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade speaks during a media briefing in Abuja on May 9, 2014. Pius Utomi Ekpei—AFP/Getty Images

The government of Nigeria has assigned two army divisions to find the girls abducted by extremist group Boko Haram. Some of the girls escaped after the April 14 kidnapping, but more than 200 remain in captivity

Nigeria has assigned two army divisions to find more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by extremist Islamist rebel group Boko Haram, following an international outcry over the kidnappings.

The soldiers, based near Chad, Cameroon and Niger, will work with other security agencies, said a spokesman for the Nigerian military, Reuters reports. The Nigerian air force and local police are already working to locate the girls.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized at home and abroad for his slow response to the girls’ April 14 kidnapping from a school in the country’s north. Some of the girls have escaped, but more than 200 remain in captivity.

Jonathan said Friday he believes the girls are in Nigeria, despite rumors that they’ve been trafficked across the border to Cameroon or possibly sold as sex slaves.

Michelle Obama condemned the kidnapping in a video address Saturday. “Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night,” Obama said.

[Reuters]

 

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