TIME India

Modi Gets a Bollywood Boost

Bollywood actor Khan flies a kite as Hindu nationalist Modi watches during a kite flying festival in Ahmedabad
Bollywood actor Salman Khan (R) flies a kite as Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi (C), prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gujarat's chief minister, watches during a kite flying festival in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad January 14, 2014. Amit Dave—Reuters

And not just Bollywood but a Muslim one too. Two of India's best-known Muslim celebrities have come out in support of a prime-ministerial candidate that many of their co-religionists view with hostility and suspicion

In Indian politics, star power matters as much as manifestos — if not more. Political parties have long relied on celebrities, especially Hindi film stars, to swell their vote banks, and despite talk of the electorate’s greater political maturity, 2014 doesn’t seem to be an exception.

Last week, Bharatiya Janata Party prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi got a helping hand from Bollywood. Legendary scriptwriter Salim Khan and his son, the actor Salman Khan, both Muslims, launched a version of Modi’s official website in Urdu.

The decision is noteworthy because Urdu is the mother tongue of many of India’s Muslims, whose attitude to Modi ranges from outright hostility to, at best, ambivalence. The reason is the religious violence that broke out in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, while Modi was chief minister (a post he still holds today). Though Modi has been cleared by courts of any complicity in the bloodshed that left over 1,000 people dead — mostly Muslims — criticisms that he did not do enough to stop the riots continue to haunt him.

The senior Khan has asked his fellow Muslims to move on. “When my mother died, I felt I wouldn’t be able to live, but I am alive today,” he said to reporters in Mumbai, India’s film capital, last week. “No one can justify the riots. I am sure Mr. Modi has learnt the lesson and that no one will die [under] his regime.”

However, the backlash from the Muslim community has been quick, with many of the younger Khan’s Muslim fans feeling betrayed by an actor whose career took off during the 1990s, when Muslim viewers, feeling marginalized by the Hindu majority, identified with him and made him an icon of their community.

According to pop-culture critic and media academic Shohini Ghosh, Salman Khan’s reputation already took a beating in January, when he performed at a government-organized festival in Saifai, the ancestral village of Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav. Yadav has been accused of abetting the violence that broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the Muzaffarnagar district last September. Thousands of Muslims who fled their villages are still in relief camps and some Muslim clerics have called for boycotts of Salman Khan’s films.

At the same time, the political sway that celebrities like the Khans hold over voters remains. “I will vote for anyone Salman bhai [brother] supports,” says Waseem Ahmed, 22, a voter from northwest Mumbai. “I am not educated enough to understand manifestos.” And that is exactly what India’s politicians are counting on when they hitch their platforms to a Bollywood star.

TIME Military

As the Wars End, Changes Come in Training Troops to Notify Families of Military Deaths

Army photo

Battlefield deaths decline, but military still has to bring grim news

The wars are nearly over. So it is time for the U.S. military to reboot for one of its most somber tasks: Telling next-of-kin their loved one has died in the service of his or her country.

Over the past 13 years, casualty-notification officers have had to take that long walk up to a family’s front door, and make that dreaded knock that changes everything, 6,803 times.

But with battlefield deaths down to a trickle, the Marines are seeking a new video to help train its Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (each service has its own title for the job) for a future where more will die in peacetime accidents than combat. “The current scenario is 100% war-related,” the corps says in a notice posted Tuesday. “A more current version is required to meet today’s situations.”

The Marines say they want their new training video to include cases involving:

  • Marine’s death due to a training incident
  • Dual active-duty spouse with complicated marital issues
  • Divorced Parents
  • Dealing with children
  • Updated grief/trauma awareness
  • Self-care for CACOs

That last one is critical. This is a tough mission, where raw human emotions run the gamut.

“I’ve picked family members off the floor,” Army chaplain Captain Gregory Broderick said in an Army News Service story last month. “I’ve sat and held them as they’ve rocked and cried… I did one recently where they kicked us out of the house. They were so mad, not at us but at their son,” he confided. “I’ve been spit on as well.”

“You’ve caught them at their worst day,” added Army Major Mark East, the top chaplain at the service’s Human Resources Command.

With the war in Iraq over for more than two years, and with the shrinking number of U.S. combat troops still in Afghanistan slated to leave by year’s end (a total of 33,000 remain), the number of those killed in battle, thankfully, is way down (17 so far this year). March marked the first month without war casualties in 11 years (unfortunately, April won’t be the second).

When casualties spiked in Iraq in 2006, some families criticized the way the military informed them of their relatives’ deaths. That led Congress to demand additional training for those making the notifications, and detailed Pentagon regulations on how it is to be done.

Army Major Brent Fogleman did casualty notifications around that time, after a stint in Afghanistan. The notification job was “by far, yes” his toughest assignment. “There were some guys that couldn’t do it… if they couldn’t do it we didn’t want them to do it,” he said. “That’s not something you cannot do well.”

Families used to learn of their loved one’s fate in terse “regret to inform you” telegrams. That changed in Vietnam, when the Army began dispatching casualty-notification officers and chaplains to deliver the sad news personally.

The service now gives its casualty-notification teams four hours to get to that front door after the Army’s personnel shop has received word of a death. These days, they’re in a race to that door with Facebook and Twitter. They usually, but not always, win.

TIME europe

U.S. Plans Military Exercises Near Russia

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks past the barricades on Mykhailivska Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 22, 2014 Sergei Chuzavkov—AP

The U.S. will deploy about 600 troops for training exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to reassure NATO and regional allies adjacent to Russia

The U.S. will send hundreds of troops to East Europe for training exercises, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, as the Americans look to reassure nervous allies near Russia.

The U.S. will deploy roughly 600 troops already stationed in Europe to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Tuesday. The troops will be replaced with new units within about a month, and the U.S. expects to maintain a presence for at least the remainder of the year, he said.

“The message is to the people of Poland and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia that the United States takes seriously our obligations,” Kirby said.

The U.S. is aiming to reassure allies in the region amid tensions on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has amassed thousands of troops since it annexed the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Vice President Joe Biden met with the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev on Tuesday, where he threatened new sanctions against Russia if it does not pull back its troops. He also said Russia should “stop talking and start acting,” days after international parties agreed on a joint roadmap to diffuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied towns and cities. The separatists have so far defied the agreement’s stipulation that they disarm, and on Tuesday acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov called for police to resume “counterterrorism” operations in the region after the body of a recently abducted local politician with suspected torture marks was found.

TIME South Korea

Yes, It’s Illegal for a Captain to Abandon Ship in South Korea

Journalists ask Lee Joon-seok, captain of South Korean ferry Sewol which sank at sea off Jindo, questions as Lee walked out of court after an investigation in Mokpo April 19, 2014.
Lee Joon-seok, captain of South Korean ferry Sewol, which sank at sea off Jindo, walks out of court in Mokpo, South Korea, on April 19, 2014 Yonhap—Reuters

South Korean law differs from international maritime standards regarding a captain abandoning ship, but that's the least of the charges facing Captain Lee Joon-seok, who allegedly decided to flee to safety as his passengers were left to die below

As the death toll rises from the sinking of South Korea’s Sewol ferry, which left 300 dead or missing, blame has been placed on the captain accused of abandoning ship as his passengers were left to die below — reportedly told by the crew to stay put inside the boat.

Captain Lee Joon-seok’s actions have not only been derided as the “evil of Sewol” by the public and “akin to murder” by the country’s President, but they also led to his arrest on suspicions of negligence and abandonment. Crew members are facing charges as well. This has led to a widespread discussion as to whether a civilian captain abandoning his ship is not just a cowardly act but also a criminal one.

In spite of a historic precedence of valor — the Titanic’s captain is an iconic example of honorably going down with the ship — there aren’t international laws that require a captain to remain on board. “There is nothing in any [international maritime agreement] to specifically require a captain to stay on board the vessel in the event of an incident such as this, however he or she does retain full responsibility for the safety of the vessel and those on board,” International Maritime Organization spokesman Lee Adamson told ABC News.

But according to Rod Sullivan, a professor specializing in maritime law at Florida Coastal School of Law, these laws do exist on a country-by-country basis — and South Korea is an exception to the general rule.

“Specifically under Article 10 of the Korean Seaman’s Act, it makes it a crime to go ahead and depart the vessels ahead of the passengers,” Sullivan, who has also taught in South Korea, tells TIME. “I know of no other country besides South Korea that has this specific provision requiring the captain to stay on board. There is no counterpart in U.S. law or an international law that would apply.”

Violating Article 10 would result in a maximum fine of $5,000. But Lee, the Sewol captain, stands accused of far greater crimes, under various maritime laws that are applicable both in South Korea and internationally. Sullivan tells TIME that Article 11 of Korea’s Seaman’s Act mandates the “captain has a duty to take all necessary measures to save the lives” of those aboard a ship, and breaches of these duties could lead to a maximum of five years in prison.

“Clearly there was a major mistake on behalf of the captain,” Sullivan says. “I think that the thing up for question is whether this constitutes negligent homicide or manslaughter. If it was gross negligence or negligence it could be up to a life imprisonment.”

There are comparable laws in the U.S. and internationally. U.S. Code Title 46 Section 2303 lays out a captain’s duties relating to marine casualties and assistance, which amounts to getting everyone on board out of danger to the best of the captain’s abilities, or face a $1,000 fine and/or up to two years in jail. Lee apparently failed one of the first tests of being a captain, the way some sailors see it. “That guy’s an embarrassment to anybody who’s ever had command at sea,” John Padgett, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and former submarine captain, told the New York Times.

Sullivan says his gut reaction would be similarly negative, but he wonders if he might feel different six months from now. While both Joseph Hazelwood, captain of Exxon Valdez, and John Lerro, captain in the Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster that killed 35, faced public scrutiny for their role in deadly accidents, Hazelwood was acquitted of all felony charges (he was convicted of misdemeanor negligence) and Lerro was cleared of all wrongdoing by the Coast Guard and a grand jury.

“The lesson to be learned here is that in times when we are passionate about ship collisions, we tend to think everything that is done wrong is a crime,” Sullivan says. “But with the passage of time and before a neutral decision make like a judge and jury [is involved], more often than not they are not criminal convictions.”

TIME Saudi Arabia

Fears Rise Over MERS Outbreak While Saudis Fumble

The deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has neither no definitive origin, nor a known cure, so global public health officials are becoming increasingly concerned by the Saudi government's sluggish response as the number of human cases continues to rise

The sudden spike in cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, in Saudi Arabia came soon after camel-racing events at the Jenadriyah Festival in Riyadh. That suggested the surge in the incurable coronavirus, which resembles pneumonia but is fatal to 1 in 3 who contract it, confirmed what scientists already knew of the disease: that camels seem to be reservoirs for the virus, and transmit it to humans more easily than humans do to one another.

But with the number of cases picking up, there are worries that may be changing. And if the virus has mutated to increased person-to-person contagion, it has potentially catastrophic implications for another annual festival: the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina known as hajj. More than a million Muslims from around the globe gather in the western Saudi cities during the first week of October, then return to their home countries, which last year numbered 188. In an age when international travel has dramatically exacerbated the spread of new viruses like SARS, virologists say the mounting concern is only too clear.

The worries are aggravated by the performance of the Saudi government, which has failed to confirm whether the virus is, in fact, mutating. The Saudis have either not performed tests that would reveal the changes, or have not shared them with international authorities, virologists complain. On Monday, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah was fired amid mounting criticism of the kingdom’s handling of the budding crisis.

“It’s frustrating,” says Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, who compared the Saudi handling of MERS with China’s response to the 2013 outbreak of bird flu. “With the H7N9 virus, China provided almost too much information. You worried about the privacy of some of the patients, given the level of detail that China was providing.

“But we’re seeing the complete opposite extreme in Saudi Arabia, where you can’t even get the sex of the patient in some cases,” Mackay tells TIME. “And the WHO doesn’t seem to be getting that information either.”

Indeed, the World Health Organization as good as confirmed it did not have the latest information from Riyadh in declining to comment on the outbreak on Tuesday afternoon. “Kindly be advised that we cannot comment on latest MERS figures since we do not have the latest case count,” the WHO’s media office says in an emailed reply to questions from TIME. “And we can only communicate and comment on the cases that we have been officially notified of by a member state, namely Saudi Arabia.”

Concerns that the virus may have mutated are focused on two clusters of cases among health care workers: one cluster is in Jeddah, the western Saudi city through which pilgrims pass en route to nearby Mecca. The other cluster is among paramedics in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Mackay, who noted the clusters in his blog, says he can see two possible explanations: “One is a fairly bad but widespread breakdown of infection control and prevention protocols” among the health care workers — that is, nurses or doctors failing to use gloves, surgical masks or other standard measures designed to prevent infection while working with a MERS patient. Such a breakdown would be possible even in a well-equipped and prosperous Gulf nation, Mackay noted, but for both outbreaks to take place at the same time “would be fairly coincidental.”

The other, more alarming possibility? “The other avenue is the virus has changed and become more easily transmitted between humans,” Mackay said.

That is cause for concern way beyond the Middle East. “When humans readily transmit to humans, that’s what will cause a worldwide outbreak,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told National Public Radio. “We are very concerned that … with what we’ve seen over the last two weeks … we may be at that point now.”

Whether the virus has, in fact, mutated dangerously cannot be known until the Saudis examine the genome of the latest samples of the virus and share the results. The WHO has said it is “working closely” with the kingdom, but has not issued any conclusions. Another way to find out if the virus has mutated would be if the number of cases were to skyrocket. But with only 344 cases worldwide so far — a decade ago, SARS infected at least 8,000, and killed 775 — the count remains low, and awareness is growing.

In 2013, concerns over MERS kept many as a million people away from hajj, an obligation that the Koran imposes upon any Muslim who can afford the trip. Saudi authorities discouraged attendance by the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people already suffering from chronic illness, a major risk factor for the virus. Still, more than 3 million people circulated at the holy sites for five days, at close quarters. With the risk of mass contagion in the air this year, the world may be hoping for a better reaction from Saudi Arabia than it has got so far.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the institution that scientist Ian Mackay belongs to. He works for the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Leader Orders Forces To Resume Operations in Restive East

A pro-Russian activist walks in front a barricade set up outside the regional administrative building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 21, 2014.
A pro-Russian activist walks in front a barricade set up outside the regional administrative building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 21, 2014. Anatoliy Stepanov—AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine's acting president Oleksander Turchinov ordered security forces to resume "counter-terrorism operations" after two bodies with suspected torture marks were found in eastern Ukraine, where separatists are occupying towns and cities

Ukraine’s acting president called Tuesday for security forces to resume “counter-terrorism” operations in eastern Ukraine after two bodies, including one of a local politician, were reportedly found in the region with signs of torture.

“The terrorists who effectively took the whole Donetsk region hostage have now gone too far, by starting to torture and murder Ukrainian patriots,” Oleksander Turchinov said in a statement.

The deceased politician, Volodymyr Ryback, was a member of a Turchinov’s party who had recently been kidnapped, BBC reports.

Ukraine had suspended the “active stage” of operations that began last week against pro-Russian separatists who have occupied towns and cities in the region, after international parties agreed Thursday to a joint roadmap to end the crisis near the Ukraine-Russia border. But the separatists have so far defied the agreement’s stipulation that they disarm. Vice President Joe Biden, on a visit to Kiev Tuesday, called on Russia to “stop talking and start acting,” Reuters reports.

[BBC]

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan’s Desert Solar Park Will Help Fight Energy Crisis

The Pakistani government hopes to turn a desolate stretch of sand into a state-of-the-art solar energy park, in a bid to tackle the country's chronic power shortages

Crippling power cuts are a frequent and frustrating occurrence in Pakistan, but a new ambitious solar project promises to harness the sun’s heat to tackle the country’s growing energy crisis.

The government has spent $5 million to put in place a solar park in the desolate, desert area near Bahawalpur to benefit the entire Punjab province – the largest and most populous in the country, the AFP reported.

The government says the QuaideAzam Solar Energy Park, capable one day of generating up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity, will be one of the largest of its kind in the world.

In addition to the local government, private entrepeuners are taking interest in turning the scorched earth into a sea of solar panels.

“You see in my country we have a lot of sunshine, here we have long days of sun,” said Raja Waqar of Islamabad-based Safe Solar Power. Waqar’s company plans to invest $10 million to build a 10 MW project in this area. “It’s cheap and that’s why a lot of people believe in it.”

Pakistan is going through one of the worst energy crises in its history. At a time when a World Bank report suggested that around 44 per cent of Pakistan’s households are not connected to the grid, the country still falls short by providing only 13,000 megawatts of electricity out of the 16,000 needed to cater to daily demand, the state-owned Pakistan Electric Power Company said.

The project is due to be completed by the end of this year.

TIME Military

Our Carrier Video Is Way Cooler Than Yours

China touts its new toy

Ever since 1986’s Top Gun, music and the carefully-choreographed mayhem that happens on a carrier’s flight deck have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate.

But if you thought such confections are limited to the U.S. Navy, you’d be wrong. Not only does China have a new carrier, with another on the way, it now has a video showing off some of what its existing flattop, the Liaoning, and its J-15 fighters can do.

The video celebrates the 65th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. It was produced by AVIC—the Aviation Industry Corporation of China—a state-owned aerospace and defense company. There are no English subtitles, but the pounding music and great photography get the message across.

In contrast, the U.S. Navy’s “Royal Maces”—an F-18 squadron aboard the USS George Washington—have just released a video, below, featuring their own carrier-based antics. No words are necessary.

[ht—http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/]

TIME Pakistan

Gun, Bomb Attacks in Northwest Pakistan Kill 9

Dozens more were injured in two attacks a week after the Taliban ended a ceasefire with Pakistan's government

Two separate gun and bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan left nine people dead Tuesday, Reuters reports.

A rush-hour car bombing in the Charsadda district killed three and left 33 others wounded; another six died and three more were injured in an attack on a police patrol in Peshawar.

The attacks come a week after the Taliban ended a 40-day ceasefire with Pakistan’s government. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier promised to negotiate an end to hostilities with the Taliban. However, peace talks that began in February have yielded few results.

[Reuters]

TIME

Syrian Rebels Cling to Homs as Assad Launches New Assault

Opposition forces in Syria's third-largest city are struggling to stand their ground as government forces launch one of the harshest assaults yet to undo rebel gains ahead of the June elections

Opposition activists in Homs say anti-government forces were forced onto the defensive in Syria’s third-largest city Tuesday, as fighters under President Bashar Assad launched their latest brutal assault to expel the rebels who remain.

Some of the hundreds of rebels there have mentioned surrender, activists told the Associated Press, but others have ramped up retaliations against Assad loyalists by staging attacks like suicide car bombings in areas under government control. “We expect Homs to fall,” one activist using the name Thaer Khalidiya said. “In the next few days, it could be under the regime’s control.”

Assad’s forces are thought to be emboldened by victories against the rebels in areas between Damascus and the Lebanese border, where attempts at forcing the opposition out resulted in their supply lines being cut. Government blockades in towns around Damascus, which bred hunger among rebels, have also weakened their resistance.

Opposition factions still control large swaths of countryside and have bases near the Jordanian and Turkish borders. But the fight for Homs, a strategic area for its link between Damascus and Syria’s largest city Aleppo, underscores Assad’s aim to bat down rebel gains before the elections now scheduled for June 3.

[AP]

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