TIME europe

Latvia Watches Nervously as Putin Seeks to Exert Power

The Baltic state's large Russian population could make it an attractive target for Russian President Vladimir Putin to further broaden his authority in the increasingly tense region, but he's unlikely to make an overt military move toward Latvia

Many residents of Riga, Latvia, will say their nation of a little more than 2 million people, nestled on the east coast of the Baltic Sea between Estonia and Lithuania, is not a particularly diverse one. Most everyone within the country has white skin and Caucasian ancestry. By the standards of old European capital cities, it’s far from cosmopolitan.

Yet in this small nation there is at least some increasingly notable heterogeneity. Latvia has a sizable Russian minority, more than a quarter of its population and far larger than the Russian contingents of neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.

That large Russian-speaking population could make Latvia an attractive target for ever acquisitive Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose ongoing actions in Ukraine — where Russians make up 17.3% of the population — have demonstrated what can happen if he covets a nation that has a strong, pro-Russian contingent.

And although Putin’s actions have caused tension through the entire Baltic region, there are indications the President does have a particular interest in Latvia. A Ukrainian scholar of the region says Putin plans on occupying Latvia in hopes of establishing Russian dominance over a part of the world that hasn’t experienced it in years.

Putin is unlikely to make an overt military move toward Latvia, though, as the consequences would be far greater than Russia’s incursion into Crimea. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of NATO — meaning that, under Article 5 of the treaty, member countries would be obligated to treat any Russian aggression against Latvia as aggression against themselves, and they would need to respond in kind.

But there are ways to destabilize a country without sending tanks across the border. Putin has exerted power in eastern Ukraine with a covert campaign to foment unrest: Russian intelligence officials or special-ops soldiers with unmarked uniforms aiding or encouraging separatist groups and criminal gangs in regions where support for the motherland runs deep.

The fear now is that Latvia would be ripe for a similar kind of shadow incursion. The country’s Defense Minister told Reuters last week that Russia has already deployed “specially trained, professional provocateurs” in hopes of destabilizing the nation.

Artis Pabriks, a Member of Parliament who was Latvia’s Minister of Defense from 2010 until January, tells TIME there should be cause for concern. “I’m sorry to sound so hawkish, but the Baltics are a litmus test. Putin will have crushed NATO if our eastern borders are not the redline.”

Latvia presents a compelling target for Putin to broaden his authority, beyond its demographics. Riga, for example, has plenty of Western trappings — the E.U. has named the city a Capital of Culture for 2014, and an esplanade has gone up in the park to showcase the designation — but odd Soviet-era eyesores stick out among the city’s renowned collection of Art Nouveau buildings. Latvia adopted the euro only at the start of this year. The Russian culture and media still have a strong foothold there.

And the Russian media’s prominence in Latvia gives it a shot at outmaneuvering the West, according to a handful of citizens TIME spoke to in a park in Riga this week. Vitaly Parshin, a 26-year-old ethnic Russian student, says most of his friends have been convinced by Russian TV that Putin is a force for good. “They think Putin is trying to free us from the Latvians who hate us.” This belief is particularly widespread in Russified eastern Latvia, close to the border, where a petition recently circulated on Facebook in favor of returning Daugavpils, a city of 100,000, to Russia.

The strife may be generational. The youngest Latvian adults, who have learned both Russian and Latvian in school and have enjoyed the benefits of E.U. membership, have little appreciation for Putin, says Alexander Puziy, a 24-year-old wedding photographer. Besides, he adds, this generation is just barely old enough to remember the unpleasantness of living in the Soviet Union, under Russia’s thumb.

And many Russians, despite their heritage, are predisposed to oppose Putin. According to Pabriks, Russians came to Latvia in four waves in the past five centuries. The first three came to escape Russia after religious persecution, military aggression and the Bolshevik Revolution. But the last wave — Soviet citizens who arrived in Latvia on business or military obligations — came to perpetuate Russia.

This last group, Pabriks says, are the ones Russia might enchant today. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, they had no experience with an independent Latvia. They don’t know what Latvia is. It’s not easy to explain to them that we had our own lives.” Pabriks estimates that 60% of this last class, which never learned to speak Latvian, might appreciate a Russian return.

Yet latent Latvian support for Putin has not yet manifested itself in the kind of widespread unrest now being seen in Ukraine. Pabriks thinks it wouldn’t happen unless the region was further destabilized, owing to the presently strong governments in the Baltic states. The people TIME spoke to in the park generally agreed, believing the country to be safe from regional turbulence for now.

But Pabriks says a stable Ukraine is crucial to what happens in Latvia. “Ukraine is burning, and we need firemen there. The Baltics are the nearby houses, and the wind might start blowing the wrong way.”

TIME Nigeria

‘I Abducted Your Girls,’ Nigerian Extremist Leader Admits

Extremist group Boko Haram's leader owned up to the April kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria and vowed to "sell them on the market." He also warned that his group plans to attack more schools and abduct more girls

A leader of the extremist group Boko Haram takes responsibility in a newly disclosed video for the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls last month.

“I abducted your girls,” Abubakar Shekau said in the video, obtained by Agence France-Presse. “I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”

Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” has been terrorizing northern Nigeria for years, but the kidnapping was its biggest attack yet. Shekau said in the video that the abduction had caused outrage because “because we are holding people [as] slaves.”

(MORE: How We Failed the Lost Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram)

The girls were kidnapped in mid-April, but the government had not yet mounted an aggressive response until President Goodluck Jonathan promised Sunday to find and return the girls. “Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out,” he said in a live TV broadcast. But a protest leader said Monday that Nigeria’s First Lady had ordered her arrest and expressed doubts that the kidnapping even happened, the Associated Press reports.

[AFP]

TIME Retail

Target CEO Resigns Amid Fallout From Data Breach

Gregg Steinhafel holds himself "personally accountable" for the massive breach last year that exposed tens of millions of credit cards, but Target's board credited him with steering the retail giant through the crisis and said he'll remain in an advisory role during the transition

Target president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel will step down, the retail giant said Monday, five months a massive data breach over the holidays compromised the credit card information of more than 40 million customers.

Target said that Steinhafel held himself “personally accountable” for the 2013 data breach, but “pledged that Target would emerge a better company.”

“We are grateful to him for his tireless leadership and will always consider him a member of the Target family,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement.

Chief financial officer John Mulligan will serve as interim president and CEO, while Roxanne S. Austin, who currently serves on the board of directors, will be the interim non-executive chair of the board. Steinhafel will stay on in an advisory capacity during the transition.

The shakeup comes just weeks after Target acknowledged that its computers alerted them to the data breach, but that company officials ignored warnings of suspicious activity.

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius’ Murder Trial Has Resumed in Pretoria

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria May 5, 2014.
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria May 5, 2014. Ihsaan Haffejee—Reuters

Prosecutors will try to prove the 'Blade Runner' fired four shots through a bathroom door slowly, knowing that his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was cowering inside. The defense intends to show the shots were fired rapidly because Pistorius thought he was confronting an intruder

The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius resumed after a two-week break on Monday and entered a crucial phase, with the Olympian’s defense team attempting to convince Judge Thokozile Masipa that Pistorius’ fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Feb. 14, 2013, was an accident because he mistook her for an intruder.

Testimony regarding the intervals between the firing of four rounds will likely have a huge impact on the eventual outcome of the case. The defense maintains that a panic-stricken Pistorius fired in rapid succession through the toilet door, while the prosecution will seek to demonstrate that he fired slowly and mindfully, in clear control of his actions.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux has insisted from the outset that Pistorius’ actions were governed by an overriding fear of violent crime because of the high prevalence of home invasions in South Africa. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has sought to present the Blade Runner — so called for his trademark prosthetic limbs — as a controlling, gun-totting bully.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with premeditated murder, culpable homicide, discharging firearms in public and illegal possession of ammunition. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges. He denies any wrongdoing.

TIME Asia

11 Missing as Cargo Ship Sinks Off Hong Kong

Yoga
In this file photo from July 31, 2013, hundreds of people participate in a lunch-hour yoga session in Vancouver as the container ship MOL Motivator leaves port via the Burrard Inlet Darryl Dyck—The Canadian Press

Eleven people are missing after a Chinese cargo ship sank off the coast of Hong Kong. The Zhong Xing 2 collided with a container ship, and only one crew member has so far been rescued

The search is on for 11 people missing after a Chinese cargo vessel sank off the southeastern extremities of Hong Kong early on Monday morning following a collision with a large container ship.

A 47-year-old crew member was rescued by fishing boats nearby and is being treated for minor injuries, according to a police spokeswoman.

The Zhong Xing 2 was apparently sailing from Hebei province with a dozen crew and a cargo of cement. The 300-m container ship MOL Motivator, which is registered in the Marshall Islands, was departing Hong Kong for Yantian in Guangdong at the time of the crash.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest ports, and visibility is frequently poor at this time of year because of fog. According to the city’s Marine Department, 171 people were injured or killed in shipping accidents around the territory last year, down from 232 in 2012 but up from 78 people in 2010.

In 2008, the Ukrainian tugboat Naftogaz-67 collided with a Chinese cargo vessel, the Yao Hai, in local waters with a total loss of 18 lives.

TIME Aviation

The Missing Jet Hunt Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Leading Seaman, Boatswain's Mate, William Sharkey searches for debris at sea in the Southern Indian Ocean on April 6, 2014.
Leading Seaman, Boatswain's Mate, William Sharkey searches for debris at sea in the Southern Indian Ocean on April 6, 2014. Australian Defence Department/EPA

The team investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished with 239 people aboard on March 8, plans to re-examine its data and meet this week to discuss acquiring more sophisticated underwater search equipment

All data gathered in the nearly two-month hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be re-examined to ensure investigators are looking in the jet’s most likely resting place, officials said on Monday.

A trilateral meeting between Malaysian, Chinese and Australian representatives convened to discuss how best to proceed with finding the Boeing 777, which vanished shortly after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Pioneering analysis of maintenance data transmissions by British satellite firm Inmarsat indicate the 200-ton, twin-engine aircraft crashed about 1,000 miles northeast of Perth, Western Australia. But after 334 air missions to scour 1.8 million sq. mi. (4.6 million sq km) of ocean, combined with a combing of 121 sq. mi. (314 sq km) of the seabed by underwater drone, not a single trace of the missing plane has been discovered.

“Unfortunately all of that effort has found nothing,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Canberra. “The operation must now enter a new phase.”

Operations will now be expanded to examine 23,000 sq. mi. (60,000 sq km) of ocean floor using more assets—most likely both towed side-scan sonar and unmanned submersibles—the acquiring of which will be discussed on Wednesday, but will likely be from private contractors.

“We will continue to search in accordance with the consensus reached at this meeting. We are sure that the search will not be interrupted, not be suspended, not be given up, and not [slacken],” said Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang. About two-thirds of the passengers on board the missing jet were Chinese citizens.

Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein praised the “unprecedented” cooperation and “sense of urgency.” The operation was “structured and focused, and I believe we are on the right track,” he said.

Officials admitted last week that the new phase could take up to a year to complete.

TIME India

In Gandhi Family Bastion, Locals Prefer Priyanka Over Rahul

Priyanka Vadra, daughter of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, receives a giant garland during an election campaign in her motherís constituency of Rae Bareli, India, on April 22, 2014.
Priyanka Vadra, daughter of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, receives a giant garland during an election campaign in her motherís constituency of Rae Bareli, India, on April 22, 2014. AP

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of the Gandhi dynasty seems to be more popular among the locals of Amethi, than her brother Rahul. Her personal touch, willingness to tackle political rivals and an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi has brought her into the limelight

Ramkishan sits cross-legged at his small stall in Amethi. He’s a seller of paan — the narcotic blend of areca nut and betel leaf chewed across much of South Asia — and as such sees all sorts of people go by from his stall. One of them, recently, was Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, here in this small town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to campaign for her brother Rahul Gandhi, who is contesting the seat in the nation’s legislative elections.

“I would vote for Rahul only because I know Priyanka is behind him,” Ramkishan says. “We will ensure Rahul wins because he has a sister who is deeply concerned about our issues.”

For the past two weeks, Priyanka, 42, has stationed herself in Amethi, and the neighboring constituency of Raebareli, to help whip up votes for her brother, who is Congress Party vice president, and their mother, the party’s president Sonia Gandhi. Both are defending their seats in India’s lower house of Parliament while the party they lead fights for its life against the rising popularity of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

Priyanka has not been shy, however, to step out of her supporting role and challenge Modi head-on, making national headlines as the Gandhi who has breathed life into an inert Congress campaign. Her articulate and tactful retorts to the BJP’s attempts to provoke her, largely by questioning the business practices of her husband Robert Vadra, have prompted some analysts to say that the final stage of the five-week Indian election cycle has actually evolved into a battle between Modi and Priyanka.

“By taking her on, Modi is secretly acknowledging that she might be a tougher adversary than her meek brother,” says a Congress worker in Amethi, who declined to give his name.

Priyanka’s informal campaigning style, as well as personal touch when talking to voters, has won over many Amethi residents in recent weeks — and also inadvertently underscored her brother’s shortcomings. Though Rahul has been Amethi’s MP for the past 10 years, for example, many residents here are still waiting for basic facilities. In her campaign speeches, Priyanka has not shied away from addressing the issues of frequent power cuts, substandard health care facilities, unemployment and poor infrastructure.

“I wish I could directly vote for Priyanka,” says Ram Kishore, 31, another shop owner in town. “Now, I have to vote for Priyanka by voting for Rahul.”

The comparisons raise the larger questions of why the popular Priyanka wasn’t employed earlier in such a tough campaign for Congress. Priyanka herself has never publicly committed to any future political responsibility or role in Congress, but has campaigned for both her brother and mother before. Several Congress leaders have admitted that she reminds Indians of her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Priyanka’s conversational way of speaking to crowds, her presence and her cotton saris all conjure up images of the former PM, who was assassinated in 1984.

Priyanka may have jumped into the fray too late to save the Congress Party’s sinking electoral fortunes this year. But her charisma and political astuteness have many in Amethi — and New Delhi — asking why she was not chosen to take the Gandhi legacy forward. To that, even some senior Congress leaders have no clear answers.

“I can’t understand why she is not our candidate,” says a Congress leader, who requested anonymity. “She has all the right ingredients to be a great political leader. She is truly Indira-ji’s granddaughter.”

TIME Africa

Nigeria’s President Vows to Find Abducted Girls Amid Mounting Pressure

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013 in New York City Andrew Burton—Getty Images

President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to rescue over 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram three weeks ago after being blasted for failing to respond

After weeks of silence, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged during a nationally broadcast speech on Sunday to find an estimated 276 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school by insurgent group Boko Haram in mid-April.

“Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out,” said President Jonathan on live television Sunday.

However, he accused some of the victims’ parents of withholding information about their daughters and called for “maximum cooperation” from parents.

Jonathan’s speech comes in the wake of heavy criticism both internationally and domestically of his government’s fumbled response to the kidnapping and of the failure to quash Boko Haram’s increasingly brazen campaign of violence across the country, which has seen more than 1,500 people killed during the first four months of 2014.

Following a successful media campaign featuring the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, thousands of people rallied across the world over the weekend demanding action from the Nigerian government.

“I think it’s so important that the Nigerian government do a lot more in finding these women,” Matilda Egere-Cooper, a demonstrator of Nigerian origin in London, told CNN during a protest on Sunday.

Last Friday the President met with his top advisers and called for the creation of a “fact-finding committee” to investigate the April 14 mass kidnapping in Chibok, Borno state. He also promised to beef up security measures in the nation following a string of bombings in Abuja last month.

“[The] government strongly believes that the people of Nigeria, standing together, will overcome the current security challenges,” said the country’s Minister of Information Labaran Maku, according to a press release published after the meeting.

“The President assures Nigerians that ‘wherever the girls are in the world, we will get them back, apprehend and punish the culprits.’”

While the U.S. has been hesitant to provide security assistance to Nigeria because of ongoing human-rights concerns in the country, Secretary of State John Kerry promised to provide support to the beleaguered administration during a speech over the weekend.

“The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime,” said Kerry during a press conference in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa on Saturday.

“We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.”

TIME South Korea

The Doomed South Korean Ferry Was Often Heavily Overloaded

A dinghy involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry Sewol in the sea off Jindo, South Korea, on April 17, 2014 Kim Kyung-Hoon—Reuters

Shoddy implementation of safety regulations is in the spotlight after documents confirm that the ill-fated Sewol ferry made hundreds of voyages overladen with cargo. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has vowed to “punish those responsible” for the tragedy

The South Korean ferry that sank April 16 exceeded its cargo limit on 246 trips during the previous 13 months, according to official documents, as the death toll from the tragedy reaches 259 with 43 passengers still missing.

The revelation has cast a spotlight on safety regulations in South Korea, one of the world’s most developed nations. The Associated Press reports that while one industry body recorded the weight of freight, another set limits, but neither communicated with each other, resulting in a blind spot that allowed nearly every voyage to be conducted while dangerously overladen.

The Sewol was examined early 2012 by the Korean Register of Shipping after it had been modified to accommodate more passenger cabins on its third, fourth and fifth decks. The agency slashed the ship’s cargo capacity by more than half, to 987 tons, and decreed that it must carry more than 2,000 tons of ballast water to maintain stability.

But only the firm owning the ship, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., received the register’s report, meaning neither the coast guard nor the watchdog Korea Shipping Association had any knowledge of the new limit before the disaster.

All 15 of the ship’s crew responsible for navigation have been arrested, and the offices of Chonghaejin Marine and homes of key staff have been raided. Those deemed most responsible stand to receive life jail terms.

South Korea President Park Geun-hye expressed sympathy for victims of the disaster during her second meeting with bereaved families over the weekend.

“I’ll punish those responsible for the accident and any who committed crimes,” she told around 50 relatives of those on board the doomed ferry in comments republished on a presidential-office website. “I feel boundless responsibility.”

The 62-year-old’s approval rate has slid to a four-month low amid public anger over the tragedy.

The Sewol sank in calm waters en route from Incheon to the vacation island of Jeju. Most of the 476 people on board were teens on a high school outing.

TIME Japan

Strong Quake Rattles Tokyo but Few Injuries Reported

Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013.
Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013. Kimimasa Mayama—EPA

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake centered 100 miles south of Tokyo shook the Japanese capital early on Monday; however, no deaths or major damage have been reported in the tremor’s wake

A powerful earthquake rattled the nerves of Tokyo residents in the early hours of Monday morning, but failed to cause any substantial damage.

Local authorities reported that at least 17 people were injured as a result of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to the Associated Press.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK reported that Monday’s quake was the strongest seismic convulsion to shake the capital since powerful aftershocks hit Tokyo in the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake that struck off the country’s northeast coast.

[AP]

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