TIME Afghanistan

Afghan President: We Will Rebuild After Landslide

President Hamid Karzai visited the site of last week's deadly landslide to calm tensions over a tepid government response to the disaster, which left an estimated 2,100 dead

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledged Wednesday to rebuild homes of victims displaced in the deadly landslide in Badakhsan province Wednesday, after his government received widespread criticism for its handling of the disaster.

Karzai visited people in tents relocated from the destroyed Abay Baryek village and promised aid to victims, including rebuilding lost homes and providing food and water. An estimated 2,100 people lost their lives in landslides over the weekend, after rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of equipment and poor weather.

“My minister of rural development will remain here and will build you new shelters, provide you with food and water and won’t leave until it is all done,” he told hundreds of victims in a dusty open area near the camp, Reuters reports.

The Afghan government has received criticism for not sufficiently providing shelter and food to the more than 4,000 displaced villagers and helping recover the remains of hundreds of people buried under the earth. Scuffles have broken out between security forces and needy villagers, hindering aid distribution.

Supplies from nearby Tajikistan remain in the provincial capital as local officials wait for improved security measures.


Of Course China Has a Plan for North Korea Collapse

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a shelling drill of an artillery sub-unit under Korean People's Army Unit 681 at undisclosed place in North Korea, in undated picture released on April 26, 2014.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a shelling drill of an artillery sub-unit under Korean People's Army Unit 681 at undisclosed place in North Korea, in undated picture released on April 26, 2014. KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

Leaked documents in Japanese media purportedly show a contingency plan drawn up by Chinese officials should the North Korean regime collapse, but no one should be surprised Beijing isn't taking any chances with its Communist neighbor

It sounded like big news. On Saturday, Japan’s Kyodo News published a story about China’s plans should North Korea collapse. The piece was based on documents reportedly leaked to them by an unnamed source in the People’s Liberation Army and sketch a scenario in which “foreign forces” bring down the regime, sending North Koreans streaming north.

The Kyodo report sparked a frenzy of headlines in the English-language press. We are hungry for any information about North Korea and this story offered the tantalizing prospect of something both clandestine and Chinese. “China’s secret plans for North Korea’s collapse, revealed,” read the Vox headline. The U.K.’s Telegraph took it a step further, claiming that Beijing’s “lack of faith” in the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un had been “exposed.”

Sounds rather exciting, but some skepticism is in order. Let’s start with sourcing. Kyodo is a respected news agency and the documents may well be genuine. They certainly seem to be in line with Chinese policy. But the fact is that their existence, and origin, have yet to be independently verified. The agency did not publish them online, nor did they name, or list the rank, of the Chinese military source who reportedly vouched for their authenticity. Headlines should reflect this.

Assuming the files are real, though, it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that China has a plan. As North Korea’s neighbor and last remaining ally, Beijing will be directly affected by what happens there. Over the last few decades, thousands of North Koreans have already fled across the border. And it is no secret that Chinese officials are worried about an influx of refugees (see, for instance, this 2008 United States Institute for Peace report).

The news value is further diminished by the fact that contingency planning is, by its very nature, about multiple scenarios. “In every military in the world, soldiers train for war and officers plan for contingencies, that’s just what they do,” says John Delury, a Korea and China scholar at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “The Chinese process would certainly involve a whole bunch of contingencies, not just collapse.”

North Korea watchers are dead split on the question of regime stability, with some arguing Kim Jong Un has consolidated power and others that he is weak. What’s so striking is how information from the unverified Kyodo documents was used to bolster the theory that North Korea is finally, somehow, on the verge of collapse. “Could it all be over for the world’s most bizarre government?” read the Daily Mail’s over-the-top teaser.

The handling of the story “really raises questions about the whole issue of reporting on North Korea,” says Delury. “To go from this little piece, to saying that China thinks North Korea isn’t going to last long, it is a bounding leap from one to the other.”

Indeed, there is so far little evidence that Beijing’s posture has changed, or that they are readying for collapse. Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese history at the University of Leeds, just returned from a research trip to several border cities. If China was preparing for an exodus, it certainly was not evident, he says. He cautioned against reading too much into the small amounts of text Kyodo quoted from the Chinese: “We are dealing with sentence fragments here, basically.”

Lost amid the fuss is what might be a more interesting and important angle: the leak. Who gave the documents to Kyodo, and how? Was it sanctioned? Why now? Right now, we know none of this. But that really would be big news.

TIME cities

Beverly Hills Joins Celebrities in Condemning Brunei’s Anti-Gay Laws

The city council joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in calling for the boycott of the iconic Beverly Hills hotel owned by the anti-gay sultanate of Brunei

The Beverly Hills council has joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in condemning the government of Southeast Asian sultanate Brunei, which owns the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel and has passed new laws targeting gays and woman.

Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced harsh anti-gay penalties last week that will eventually include death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. The government owns the Beverly Hills hotel, which has seen the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Cruise and Ozzy Osbourne and is a celebrated part of Los Angeles life.

The Beverly Hills City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night urging the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties in the area, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The council was divided, however, on whether to boycott the hotel, the BBC reports, which employs 600 people, and pays about $7 million in bed taxes and $4 million in city taxes annually.

“They won’t stop the implementation of the new laws,” Christopher Cowdray, the hotel group’s chief executive said of the boycotts and protest but rather would “only hurt the [hotel’s] employees.” Cowdray added that Brunei had no plans to sell the hotels.

[L.A. Times]

TIME Syria

Assad Poised to Take Over Former Rebel Stronghold

Syrian opposition fighters have begun to evacuate the old city center of Homs, under siege for two years, back into the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, in return for safe passage out for 2,200 rebel fighters and their families

Nearly two years into a choking siege, weakened rebel fighters in the central Syrian city of Homs have capitulated to regime forces, delivering the last remaining rebel enclaves of the old city center into the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government in exchange for the safe passage out of the city of some 2,200 rebel fighters and their families. Preparations for the the United Nations-brokered agreement went into effect Wednesday morning, a day after government forces had started the process of clearing opposition-planted landmines to prepare for the fighters’ evacuation to rebel-controlled areas in Syria’s north, according to the Lebanon-based, pro Syrian government news channel Al-Mayadeen.

As part of the deal, an opposition brigade in the northern city of Aleppo has reportedly agreed to release dozens of pro-regime Iranian hostages and to allow aid convoys to reach two Shiite villages that have been under siege by rebel forces for a little over a year. Control of Homs does not portend an immediate government victory in the brutal civil war, but may be a harbinger of things to come for a deeply divided opposition that does not appear to have a broader military strategy in place.

Rebels are attempting to portray the deal less as a military defeat and more as a strategic compromise. Anti-regime activists say that besieged residents have been so weakened by the siege, which has caused chronic shortages of food there. “Revolutionaries inside have nothing at all. You would think it’s impossible for them to survive, but they did for two years,” says Samer al-Homsi, a 27-year-old activist in Homs who goes by a pseudonym to protect his identity. “At this point, they are facing sure death so it’s best for them to leave and maybe resume the fight later. For them it does feel like a victory that they’ve managed to survive.”

In practical terms, the deal appears to offer the best possible outcome for the rebels considering their position, says Syria analyst Noah Bonsey of the International Crisis Group. “Given that rebels lacked the means to gain ground within the city or to secure their exit militarily, this safe passage holds clear value.” Still, says al-Homsi, the capitulation will be a permanent “lump lodged in the rebels’ throats. Homs was known as the capital of the revolution.”

For Assad, just a month away from a presidential election he is expected to win, Homs’ defeat has great symbolic value, says Bonsey. “Homs was central to the growth and spread of the uprising in 2011, and the regime’s return to the old quarter will surely feature prominently in its propaganda as Assad’s ‘reelection’ approaches.” Even Syria’s Ministry of Tourism is getting ahead of itself. The state news agency quoted minister Bashir Yazigi as he discussed plans to revive the tourism sector in Homs and predicted “a prosperous tourist season.”

Twenty-one-year-old Homs activist Bebars al-Talawy says residents are devastated that they have been forced to cede to an army that has destroyed their neighborhoods. Many, he says, feel the international community is largely to blame. “The U.N. delegation has turned from a defender of human rights to a tool used to cover up the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the regime,” he says, speaking via Skype. “Their complicity is what led us to give up.”

Most civilians left three months ago under an earlier U.N.-brokered truce. The few who chose to stay behind describe an emaciated and demoralized populace subsisting on little more than seeds, spices and herbs. Their daily struggle has even inspired a humorous Facebook page called “Siege Recipes”, which chronicles the starving residents’ culinary adventures and experimentation with unlikely ingredients. Insects, grilled to perfection, and broiled turtle meat are a mainstay of several dishes that are photographed and uploaded to the page.

The truce, which was expected to go into effect at the weekend, had been repeatedly postponed until today’s breakthrough. Complications are rife; armed hardline regime supporters might shoot at the buses transporting rebels to the countryside, worries one activist. Al-Homsi has another concern. “Yes, rebels have been granted safe passage to the countryside, but they are simply going from one area of death to another. The regime will just finish them off with airstrikes,” he says.

TIME South Africa

South Africa Goes to the Polls Amid Protests and Unemployment

Voters queue to cast their ballots in Bekkersdal near Johannesburg
Voters queue to cast their ballots in the election in Bekkersdal near Johannesburg on May 7, 2014. Mike Hutchings—Reuters

The governing ANC party is expected to maintain its two-thirds majority, but dissatisfaction with the jobless rate and recent corruption scandals may cause it to lose ground, especially among young voters

Voting has begun in South Africa’s fifth general election since apartheid ended two decades ago, and the first in which the generation born after the end of apartheid casts its ballots.

Though the governing African National Congress is expected to maintain its nearly two-thirds majority and grant Jacob Zuma another five years as President, the party is also expected to lose voters, BBC reports.

Polls have shown that many South Africans are dissatisfied with the government over a series of corruption scandals and ongoing high unemployment, which is currently about 25%.

Protests over the failure of local officials to deliver on basic services are also steadily worsening. A University of Johannesburg report recorded 470 such demonstrations in 2012, compared with just 13 in 2004.

Results of the voting are expected on May 10.


TIME Thailand

After Six Months of Fighting, Thai PM Yingluck Is Finally Ousted by Court

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is seen on a TV during her statement at the Constitutional Court on May 6, 2014, in Bangkok Sanchez Trillo—Getty Images

Thailand has plunged deeper into political chaos after the country’s highest court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for abuse of power, but the 46-year-old remains popular with much of the country and tens of thousands of followers are due to protest the ruling

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office by the nation’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday, in the culmination of six months of antigovernment protests.

Thailand’s first female Premier was convicted of abusing power by transferring the National Security Council chief to another position in 2011. Several other malfeasance cases are also pending against her.

Yingluck has denied any wrongdoing, telling a hearing Tuesday, “I am entitled to carry out responsibilities I have toward the people.”

While Yingluck’s opponents say transferring the civil servant was unconstitutional and an attempt to consolidate power for her Pheu Thai Party, critics have called the court’s decision a staggering overreach by the judicial arm of government.

“[The decision] shows you how politicized and compromised the Thai judicial system has become over the last decade,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, tells TIME. “In most other countries the sitting government has authority to make transfers of officials.”

In addition, the country’s highest court decreed that nine current Cabinet members who were all serving with Yingluck in 2011 must also leave their posts.

Thailand has teetered on the brink of meltdown for almost half a year now. Antigovernment protests first erupted in November, sparked by opposition to an amnesty bill that would have allowed Yingluck’s brother — former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — home from exile.

The billionaire telecoms mogul is a divisive figure. He is credited with enfranchising the rural poor, but offended traditional elites and was eventually ousted in a coup in 2006. He was then convicted of corruption in absentia, charges he insists were politically motivated.

Despite shelving the amnesty bill, Yingluck faced ongoing demonstrations and accusations that she was merely a proxy for Thaksin. In response, she called elections for Feb. 2 to reassert her mandate, but these were boycotted by the main opposition Democrat Party, all too aware that Thaksin-backed parties had won every election since 2001. Activists from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which leads opposition to the Shinawatra clan, also disrupted polling stations so that a quorum of 95% of constituencies returning lawmakers could not be fulfilled.

The PDRC, generally made up of royalists and urban-based elites, wants to suspend democracy and give power to an unelected “people’s council,” which the PDRC sees as taking over government while reforms are put in place to permanently purge the country of the Shinawatra family’s influence.

Fresh elections have been called for July 20, but once again the Democrat Party is threatening a boycott. “We’ve seen a concerted effort by the street protesters, the PDRC, the Democrat Party and independent agencies working in the same direction in different ways to oust Yingluck,” says Thitinan.

Those forces have now been given a huge boost from the judiciary, which is widely perceived as an elitist institution aligned with the monarchy and military and is thus seen, by extension, as favoring the PDRC and Democrat Party.

This is not the first time a Thaksin proxy government has been brought down by the Constitutional Court on a flimsy pretense. In 2008 the same body ousted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for hosting several episodes of a commercial TV cooking show. “This court has a tradition for making ridiculous decisions,” says Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. “Thailand has become a juristocracy.”

Many lament the unwillingness of the Thai opposition to compete at the ballot box. “Thaksin and Yingluck have serious shortcomings on corruption, on conflict of interest,” says Thitinan. “Yingluck’s popularity is dropping, and the way forward in Thailand is to beat Thaksin but through the polls.”

For now, it appears likely that another show of popular force is set for Thailand’s streets. Already a rally of tens of thousands of Yingluck supporters has been planned in the capital for Sunday. In the most recent antigovernment protests, around 20 people were killed in shootings, bombings and violent skirmishes. In 2010 some 90 people died and 2,000 were injured during a government crackdown on a Red Shirt demonstration in central Bangkok.

Certainly, says Chambers, Wednesday’s decision “brings the entire castle of cards down on the Pheu Thai–led government.” And a country blighted by wanton disorder over the past decade braces for more of the same.

TIME Australia

How Australia Beats the U.S. for Graduating Low-Income College Students

Forty percent of Australians ages 25 to 34 whose parents did not earn a degree have themselves graduated from college. In the U.S., the figure is just 14%. Here’s how the Lucky Country became a leader for social mobility among developed nations

Students in polos and plaids streamed into the auditorium at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) as Lorde’s “Royals” blasted on repeat. While she sang about having “no post-code envy,” hundreds of low-income high school seniors and students who would be the first in their families to go to college took their seats. Ahead of them was a day of panels and information sessions on college and careers put on by Fast Forward, a UWS program that reaches out to economically disadvantaged groups.

They listened as the keynote speaker, UWS professor James Arvanitakis, told them about attending his first class — bringing a Tupperware container full of lamb so he could make friends and a passport in case he needed identification. No one in his family had ever attended university and no one knew what he should take with him.

Thanks to Fast Forward, a federally funded program started in 2004, the students at the conference will be more prepared. In 2013 half of participating high school seniors went straight on to a bachelor’s-degree program at a university. At least another 20% had plans to get into the schools through nontraditional routes such as technical education programs or preparation courses.

“Fast Forward opens up doors,” said Jaqueline Bowring, a senior-year adviser from Elizabeth Macarthur High School, who had brought more than a dozen students to the conference. “It provides information to students that they would not otherwise have access to.”

The Australian government has invested hundreds of millions into programs like Fast Forward to reach low-income, first-generation and rural students and their parents. Essentially anyone who wants to go to university can do so through a number of alternative pathways — even if he or she has done poorly in high school or dropped out. Universities have been required to increase supports for these students — to get them in and then to graduate them.

The result is that Australia does a better job than the U.S. at graduating first-generation and low-income students. In fact, Australia is one of the leaders among developed countries in social mobility, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Of adults ages 25 to 34, 40% of Australians whose parents did not earn a college degree have one themselves. Although the numbers are slightly inflated because of how international students are measured (and Australia has many of them), that’s double the OECD average. In the U.S., according to the OECD, just 14% of those comparable first-generation students graduate from college.

Australia also has more success with low-income students. About 30% of Australian students who are in the lowest socio-economic quintile (as defined by a variety of factors, including where they live) enroll in a university, according to the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth. Based on historical graduation rates, nearly a fifth of this quintile will earn a degree, according to estimates from the government-funded National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. By contrast, just 20% of low-income students who start college in the U.S. will stick with it through graduation — or 8% of all those in the bottom income quartile, according to research by Iowa-based Postsecondary Education Opportunity.

In all, Australia enrolls about 630,000 students in its 37 universities. Only three of those universities are private, which means the government can play a major hand in shaping policy.

The Obama Administration has called for the U.S. to lead the world college-graduate rates by 2020 but has not specified how that should occur or how to ensure the inclusion of low-income students. Right now the country enrolls about 11 million students in thousands of universities. Some states are tying funding to performance at public universities and colleges, but there is no systematic way learning institutions are held accountable for national enrollment or graduation goals.

In Australia, each university was required to sign a compact with the government detailing how its own targets and plans contribute to the government’s goals on higher education. In 2011 each school was given nearly $95 million to try to meet these goals and up to $32.5 million more for doing so. All universities were also promised a share of $946 million over five years — from the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program — to create programs catering to disadvantaged students.

In 2012 the government lifted enrollment caps on universities, meaning they could take as many students as they could handle. “They opened up the gates,” said Sue Trinidad, director of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. “They wanted that social equity.” According to the center, low-income-student enrollment in higher education has risen nearly 28% since 2007, while total enrollment has increased only 20%.

Without outreach programs like Fast Forward, attending a university seems out of reach to many disadvantaged students and their parents, educators said. Take the students at the Fast Forward conference; their peers who had not been chosen to take part in the program are exposed to universities only if they attend an open house.

To be nominated to take part in the program, students either had to be from a low-income or single-parent family, be the first in their family to enter a higher-education program, have at least one unemployed parent or be in foster care. All 450 attending the conference started with Fast Forward in ninth grade and over the next three years learned about study skills and how to apply to college. They went on campus visits and were introduced to scholarship opportunities.

In February, a week into their final year of school, the students were spending a day going to sessions like “Thinking About a Career in Law?” and “How to Build an Effective Résumé.” In “Everything You Need to Know About University,” they learned about studying abroad and scholarships. A session on “Applying to Uni” attempted to debunk some myths about applying to college.

The traditional determining factor in university admissions is the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, or ATAR, which is given to students based primarily on how well they do on a series of tests during their final year of high school. All universities have cut-off scores. If you score higher than the cut-off, you’re in. That can make the end of high school stressful, students said. But Fast Forward also had shown them there were many other ways to reach the same goal.

Salina Buk, a student at Emmaus Catholic College, always knew she wanted to go to university, but estimated that only half of her high school classmates felt the same way before their Fast Forward experience. Part of the reason they were convinced they could go is because they learned how to take advantage of other ways into university. “If we don’t get the ATAR, we can make it happen,” she said. “If we all work hard [it will] be O.K.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME South Africa

The Trailblazing Judge Who Will Decide Oscar Pistorius’ Fate

Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria High Court on May 6, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Alon Skuy—The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The fact that High Court Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa is overseeing the trial of paralympian Oscar Pistorius, who stands accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, is a source of pride for many South Africans

It took balls for Martha Mbhele to say she wanted to be a lawyer. Growing up in apartheid South Africa on a white-owned farm in Lindley, a rural town in the country’s agricultural heartland, the practicing attorney and acting high court judge said black women in the legal system were unheard of. “If there was a lawyer it would be a white male,” the 40-year-old said, “there weren’t many role models one could look up to.”

Today, it couldn’t be more different. Over the next two weeks, High Court Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, a 66-year-old woman from an impoverished township, will hear the final arguments from the Oscar Pistorius defense team, as the Olympian stands trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Between the gore and sensationalism of the Pistorius trial, the fact that Masipa is judging the case has been celebrated in a country where the law has traditionally been use to subjugate and disenfranchise the black majority. “That she has ascended and been placed in that role is symbolically powerful, it is a mark of how far we have come as a society in battling oppression,” says University of Pretoria political scientist Mzukisi Qobo. “It is confidence building imagery for many black people in South Africa.”

But Masipa’s high-profile position as a high court judge is not only significant for South Africans, but to countries around the world who struggle to achieve diversity on the bench. In the United States, for example, only four of the 112 justices to serve on the country’s highest court have been women. Meanwhile, in England, women hold just 22 percent of 3,575 judicial positions, according to 2012 Judicial Diversity statistics. That Masipa could reach the upper echelons of the legal profession in racially divided South Africa, however, is all the more remarkable given her background.

Born to a homemaker and a travelling salesman, Masipa was brought up in some of the poorest places in South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world. In 1966 — the year the “architect of apartheid” Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated — she graduated from high school in Alexandra, a Johannesburg township. She worked as a social worker, then as a journalist, covering violent protests against the apartheid regime. She earned her law degree in 1990, four years before Nelson Mandela was elected to serve as the country’s first democratic President, and was soon called to the bar. “[To appoint] a black man in itself would have been astonishing, but a black woman, that’s mind-blowing,” says Susan Abro, a Durban-based attorney who worked with Masipa on the Electoral Court in the mid-2000s. “It just shows you exactly how highly she is regarded.”

Masipa was appointed to the high court in 1998, the second black woman in the country to sit on the court, which deals with serious crimes and high profile civil crimes. She believes the appointment of a diverse judiciary has helped the reputation of the courts. “In the past, people would stay away from court, they would rather sort things out themselves,” said Masipa in a 2008 documentary titled Courting Justice. “Now they see there are black people and women on the bench, they say well, maybe, if you want justice, the high court is where you go.”

That hasn’t always been the case. South Africa’s legal system, a hybrid of Dutch-Roman and English law, was adapted by the apartheid government to uphold whites-only rule. Though the jury system was in place at in the early 1900’s, juries — which were exclusively white — fell into disuse and were abolished in 1969 in favor of a judge-only trial. They were not reintroduced when apartheid fell: the country’s courts, stretched at the best of times, were unable to handle the financial and logistical changes necessary to operate a jury trial.

The decline of the jury gave rise to “assessors,” officials appointed by the judge to help adjudicate. For the Pistorius trial, Masipa appointed advocate Janette Henzen-Du Toit, an experienced assessor, and Themba Mazibuko, a recent law graduate. The assessors, like the judge, have been hands-off in the Pistorius trial. “[Masipa] really only interferes where she feels it’s necessary and she’s not playing for cameras,” says Annette Van der Merwe, associate law professor at the University of Pretoria. “She’s regarded as the ideal judge one would like to appear.”

Masipa’s past decisions show she is cautious and careful, but resolute in her judgements — especially when it comes to criminal cases. In 2000, she found Mokete Joseph Marobane guilty of murdering his wife, dismissing his claim he shot her in the head by mistake. That is “absurd,” she said, reported the South African Press Association. In 2009, Masipa convicted police inspector Freddy Mashamba for murdering his wife. “No one is above the law,” she said, “you deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector, you are a killer.” Last year, she sentenced a serial rapist and robber known as the “Axeman” to over 250 years in prison, saying “the worst in my view is that he attacked and raped the victims in the sanctity of their own homes where they thought they were safe.”

But Masipa remains an outlier even after sixteen years on the high court, as practising law in South Africa remains an uphill battle for most black women. “In this environment, the only way you can prove yourself is when you perform 200 per cent more than the other guys,” says Mbele, a practising attorney in Welkom and now an acting judge in the Free State High Court, in Bloemfontein. But, she says, “it helps that they have provided a person of Masipa’s calibre. Now we have a female judge that all of us can look up to.”

TIME Pakistan

FBI Agent Arrested and Detained in Pakistan

The agent was carrying a magazine from a 9 mm pistol and 15 bullets when he was arrested while trying to board a plane in Karachi

An FBI agent was arrested and held on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan after allegedly trying to bring weapons and ammunition onto a plane, Pakistani officials announced Tuesday.

Airport police in Karachi detained the agent on Monday after he attempted to board a Pakistan International Airlines flight traveling from Karachi to Islamabad, the Washington Post reports. He was reportedly carrying a 9mm pistol magazine and 15 bullets. Anti-terrorism laws outlaw carrying ammunition or weapons on commercial flights.

In court on Tuesday, a judge ordered the agent be detained until Saturday at the earliest in order to allow officials to investigate the incident. U.S. officials said the agent was temporarily assigned to duty in Pakistan but requested the Post withhold his name.

[Washington Post]


Ukraine’s Battleground Blurs the Lines Between Civilian and Fighter

Kramatorsk, Ukraine. May 5, 2014. A funeral of a young girl age 21, Yulia Izotova in the central square in Kramatorsk. Witnesses say she was killed by shots from a Ukrainian military column on the road from Slaviansk to Kramatorsk, Kramatorsk, Maxim Dondyuk for TIME
Parents and relatives mourn a pro-Russian medical worker, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on May 5, 2014 Maxim Dondyuk for TIME

The conflict in the restive region seems black and white to governments in Kiev and Moscow, but on the ground the boundaries separating peaceful citizens from terrorists and violent thugs is murky—as TIME's correspondent found this week after a clash with separatists

The conflict in Ukraine hinges on a war over the meaning of words. So far, all sides have been able to agree on two things: the central government in Kiev has lost control over several towns in its eastern regions, and last week, it sent its armed forces to take them back. But there is a lot of confusion on the question of whom they’re fighting. Kiev has called the people in command of these towns “terrorists.” Moscow has called them “peaceful citizens” rebelling against the “junta” government in Kiev. But neither of these parallel realities is anywhere close to the picture on the ground.

Both Moscow and Kiev are partly correct. The Ukrainian military has now encircled both peaceful citizens in the eastern region of Donetsk and fiercely aggressive militant groups. But the question lies in how its troops will tell these groups apart. More than any other factor, this will determine whether Kiev’s campaign results in a massacre of its own people, a restoration of its authority, a Russian “peacekeeping” invasion, or some combination of all three. But the closer one gets to the actual fighting, the harder it becomes to delineate the many shades of grey between the warring definitions of the conflict.

On Monday night, my car was stopped at a barricade made of tires and trash near Konstantinovka, one of the last hamlets to slip from the government’s control, about a week ago. The checkpoint was manned by about a dozen local men in civilian clothes, nearly all unarmed and extremely jumpy from news of the nearby battles between their pro-Russian comrades and the Ukrainian troops. The only armed man at the checkpoint was dressed in a black Adidas tracksuit and sneakers, and without saying a word to me, he pulled me from the car and cracked me on the head with the butt of his pistol. It wasn’t clear then, and it’s not clear in hindsight, whether he counts as a terrorist, a freedom fighter or just an average thug.

About half of his buddies got nervous, even sympathetic, when they saw the blood running down my face, and a few even ran to bring me some tissues. Maybe these were meant to be the peaceful citizens struggling for their rights. For a while, they bickered about what to do with me before calling their commander, a lanky man in camouflage named Vanya, who soon drove up with a long-barrel shotgun and a bandolier of red shells across his chest. “You’re screwed now,” one of his men whispered at me.

But on the ride back to his headquarters in the town of Kramatorsk, inside the occupied city hall, Vanya apologized for the beating. “We’re at war here,” he offered as an explanation. “We’re in a military situation.” And even though he holds Ukrainian citizenship, he said his enemy is the nation of Ukraine. So does that make this a civil war? Or just an insurrection?

The town hall was crawling with well-armed men in camouflage uniforms when we arrived. Some women in the basement had set up a modest buffet of pickled vegetables and cold cuts on a counter, right across the hall from the infirmary, whose walls were upholstered in red velvet. Most of its space was taken up with boxes of gauze, medicine, bandages and random surgical equipment, leaving little room for Tatyana Tsepina, the chief nurse, who spoke with the rasp of a dedicated smoker.

Two weeks ago, she said, she had taken time away from her job driving a taxi in order to do first aid for “our resistance,” a term that she meant to encompass the entire population of the town. “We’re not animals here,” Tsepina cooed while applying antiseptics to my head. From time to time, gunmen from upstairs came down to ask for a dose of Valerian root or something for a toothache. “See, we’re decent people,” Tsepina said after one of them had gone. But was she a terrorist in Kiev’s eyes? Or was she as much a hostage in this place as I was?

So far, the Ukrainian troops have tried hard to tell the difference. Four days into their battle around Kramatorsk, they have done their best to engage the enemy fighters and avoid civilian casualties whenever possible. Under the circumstances, their record has been remarkable. On May 2, the first day of the military assault on the rebel territory, a government sniper managed to infiltrate the separatist stronghold of Slavyansk, just north of Kramatorsk, and assassinate one of its key commanders, who went by the nickname Romashka, sources on both sides of the conflict confirmed. That was the first targeted strike against the top of the rebel hierarchy, and no noncombatants were injured.

But it’s not a flawless record: the following day, a gunfight at a checkpoint that lies between these two towns led to the death of a 21-year-old woman named Yulia Izotova, who had been working as a nurse for the separatists in Kramatorsk. The gunfight began before noon on Saturday, as recounted by one eyewitness and two separatist fighters familiar with the shootout. A column of Ukrainian military vehicles advanced on a rebel checkpoint leading into Kramatorsk. The men guarding it ignited their barricades of tires to create a smokescreen, as they opened fire on advancing soldiers who fired back into the blaze. Izotova was on the other side of it, working as a field nurse for the separatist fighters, and was fatally wounded, says Vika Yanchenko, a friend who witnessed Izotova’s death. “The bullet went right through her,” she said between sobs during her funeral on May 5.

Though the clash that killed Izotova was among the most tragic, the one that lasted all of the previous day was more typical of this muddled little war. Before dawn on May 2, about a dozen Ukrainian army vehicles came to a halt on a bridge outside of Kramatorsk, where the separatists had set up another one of their ramshackle barricades. The “guards,” who always wore civilian clothing and were seldom armed, liked to invite girls over for picnics to pass the time.

Within an hour of the Ukrainian soldiers’ arrival, the men on the graveyard shift that night called a crowd of locals to the scene, and women and elderly people soon surrounded the military vehicles, demanding that the troops go back to where they came from. “If I had a gun, I’d have shot them myself,” says Irina Smolina, 47, who arrived soon after sunrise from her home in Kramatorsk. According to four civilians who were there, the soldiers stood their ground for the next 12 to 14 hours, using a mix of appeasement, deception, coercion and finally force to make the locals go away.

“What did they say? They said, ‘Please leave,’” Smolina recalls. “Their officer came out and told us that they’re just here to protect us, that they won’t shoot us or harm us in any way.” At one point, the soldiers apparently agreed to empty their magazines into the air to prove that they had come in peace. “It was pretty cool,” says Smolina’s 20-year-old son, Artur Smolin, who arrived on the bridge a few hours after his mother. A heavy rain was falling at the time, he recalls, “and all their Kalashnikovs were firing into the air at once, with bullet casings flying everywhere.”

Closer to dusk, the scene grew tense. The commanding officer told the crowd that one of his men had been wounded, apparently by a sniper, and his troops began aggressively pushing the crowd back away from their armored vehicles, resorting to the use of stun grenades to disperse them. At that point, “one of our guys threw a Molotov cocktail at them,” says Smolin. At least two other petrol bombs went flying, and the troops, having apparently reloaded their weapons, responded by firing at the ground, the witnesses said. This seems consistent with the resulting injuries, mostly leg wounds from ricocheting bullets or chunks of asphalt. Smolin, who works at a local machine plant in Kramatorsk, was wounded in his right calf and rushed to a local hospital, where I went to interview him three days later.

The ongoing clashes had the effect of hardening minds on both sides. The Ukrainian military had managed on May 2 to take back control of the local TV tower, which had been under rebel control throughout the second half of April. Two days later, the Ukrainian officer in charge of guarding it, a paratrooper judging by his uniform’s insignia, said their patience with the locals had already run out. “After the way they greeted us, we have no trust for anyone here,” he said near the base of the tower, declining to give his name or rank.

That animosity was mutual. As the death toll among the separatist fighters climbed into the dozens this week, their supporters in the local population began to believe horrific rumors about Kiev’s intentions in eastern Ukraine. “I heard they’re already building gas chambers for us,” Yanchenko told me at the nurse’s funeral. “We just want them gone. We don’t want to live in the same country as those monsters.”

Outside town hall in Kramatorsk, local residents have been holding a constant vigil since the military assault began last week. Many of them say they would gladly stand in front of the Ukrainian tanks if they enter the town to retake control, and the soldiers have already seen from experience that this is not a bluff. So as they push ahead with Kiev’s “antiterrorist operation,” they will have to understand the varied ranks of their opponents.

Many if not most of them would be hard to classify as anything other than misguided civilians, driven by an exaggerated fear of their own government to put themselves in harm’s way. But others are clearly angling for a fight. As he prepared to release me on Monday night from his headquarters in Kramatorsk, Vanya, the bandolier-wearing commander, extended his hand to shake mine. It was still caked in a bit of blood, I warned him. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Pretty soon ours will be too.”

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