Morocco’s Movie ‘Mecca’ Seeks a Comeback

The region of Ouarzazate once attracted big-budget historic epics with large casts. Now, authorities hope a combination of low-budget productions and renewed Hollywood projects will save the scenic location

At the foot of the scenic High Atlas Mountains, lies the region of Ouarzazate in southern Morocco, once dubbed the “Mecca” of the film industry for its studio facilities and the stark beauty of its locations.

Many feature scenes of Hollywood blockbusters were shot there, from 1962’s Laurence of Arabia to Gladiator in 1999.

But as the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, and the global economic crisis put many projects on hold, the renowned region lost its appeal to international film-makers.

“For the past three or four years there’s no longer been a rush by producers to get their films shot,” Larbi Agrou, who filmed Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra there in 2000, told the AFP.

“Most people who work in films here also have other trades to keep them going — farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters. But without tourism and the cinema, Ouarzazate would be dead,” he said.

Agrou said that the first encouraging signs of a revival appeared last year, when movie stars like Nicole Kidman visited the site, along with more film productions from Morocco’s own movie industry. Just recently, a French director of Moroccan origin, Nabil Ayouch, chose Southern Morocco for scenes of his latest film, God’s Horses, which won a prize at Cannes in 2012.

Watch the video above for a sneak peek of Ouarzazate’s stunning movie locations.



TIME North Korea

North Korea’s ‘Drones’ Are Basically Toy Planes

Two unmanned aircraft that crashed in South Korea were found to be drones from the neighboring North, but experts say that by Western standards, the models are antiques.

TIME Foreign Policy

Jonathan Pollard’s Cellmates: 8 Other Americans Who Spied on the U.S.

In recent days hopes have been raised that Jonathan Pollard, an American who stole U.S. Secrets and gave them to Israel, could be pardoned to push along the Middle East peace process. He is not the only American currently serving time for spying on his own country


It’s Raining Saharan Sand In The U.K.

The skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf business district in London are shrouded in smog, April 2, 2014.
The skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf business district in London are shrouded in smog, April 2, 2014. Matt Dunham—AP

The hills and dales of England and Wales were covered in a fine layer of red dust, thanks to a continental air flow containing dust and sand blown up by storms in the African desert. The unusual conditions are expected to cause record pollution in the U.K.

Although Brits are used to unpleasant weather, Saharan sand is a new one.

Motorists in parts of England and Wales found their cars covered in a layer of fine red dust last weekend, The Daily Telegraph reports, which environmental experts say was blown over from the Sahara desert.

The government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the pollution was caused by south-easterly winds meeting with a continental air flow containing dust and sand blown up by storms in the African desert. Those parts of the U.K. who have noticed the change in air quality will therefore experience abnormally high levels of pollution in the next few days.

Environmental experts warned on Wednesday that it will exceed the U.K. government’s official scale for measuring pollution, and that anyone with pervasive heart and lung problems should avoid intensive activity. When pollution reaches 7 or 8 on the scale older people, children with lung problems and those with asthma are warned not to exert themselves physically. However when it reaches 10, the highest point on the scale, the general population in the affected areas is told to “reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors.”

Although the pollution is expected to reach very high levels on Wednesday, it is predicted to ebb away by Friday.



Kabul Blast Kills 6 As Taliban Aims To Disrupt Elections

Afghan police men block the street after a suicide bomber wearing a military uniform struck the entrance gate of the Interior Ministry compound in Kabul, April 2, 2014.
Afghan police men block the street after a suicide bomber wearing a military uniform struck the entrance gate of the Interior Ministry compound in Kabul, April 2, 2014. Massoud Hossaini—AP

An attack at the Interior Ministry compound on Tuesday by a suicide bomber, who wore a military uniform to avoid security checks, was claimed by the Taliban hours after it warned Afghans not to vote in Saturday's presidential ballot

Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET

A suicide bomber attacked Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry compound in Kabul Wednesday, killing six police officers ahead of crucial presidential elections Saturday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack just hours after warning Afghans not to participate in Saturday’s vote, the Associated Press Reports. The attack on the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for securing the elections, is part of the Taliban’s campaign to intimidate voters and target polling centers in Saturday’s elections. Eight candidates are hoping to succeed Hamid Karzai as the country’s president.

The attacker wore a military uniform, allowing him to avoid security checks, said the Interior Ministry.

An Afghan official reported that earlier on Wednesday the Taliban killed nine people abducted several days before, including a candidate running for a seat in the provincial council.


TIME France

Hollande’s Former Partner Ségolène Royal Appointed to French Cabinet

Segolene Royal gives a speech in Paris in 2011.
Segolene Royal gives a speech in Paris in 2011. Edouard Bernau—Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal is set to join the new "combat government" as environment minister, working closely with newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls, after major defeats this week for the Socialist party

A major re-shuffle by France’s ruling Socialist party has seen Ségolène Royal, a former French presidential candidate and the ex-partner of President François Hollande, join the government.

It was announced on Wednesday that Royal would hold the post of environment minister in the cabinet of newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls, reports the BBC.

The decision to appoint Royal, who ran for the French presidency against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, came in the wake of speculations over whether she would return from the political wilderness after a long period of absence. Royal is the mother of Hollande’s four children, but has been separated from him since 2007. The president lived with Valerie Trierweiler after the separation, but that relationship ended after revelations of an affair between Hollande and actress Julie Gayet.

Polls have shown Hollande to be one of France’s most unpopular presidents in recent history, after failing to restore the country’s ailing economy. His party was dealt a crushing defeat in municipal elections earlier this week, forcing prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to quit. Hollande appointed Valls and a new selection of ministers described as a “government of combat.”


TIME Middle East

Watchdog: Israel Moving Forward with East Jerusalem Construction

Anti-settlement watchdog fears the move will be a further setback to the already foundering peace talks

Israel is set to build more than 700 homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a watchdog group said Wednesday, potentially complicating peace talks with Palestinians leaders that are already on life support.

The group Peace Now said Israel renwed a call for contractor bids in the area of Gilo, the Associated Press reports. A spokesman for Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the timing was unrelated to the ongoing talks with the Palestinians. But the negotiations are currently at an extremely sensitive point, with the latest settlement news prompting fears the talks will veer off course. The report also came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that he would pursue a campaign for greater recognition of a Palestinian state, despite earlier promises that he would not do so.

Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now spokeswoman, said the Israeli government’s move was designed to “make problems” in the negotiations.


TIME Cartography

Maybe Heads of State Shouldn’t Give Maps as Presents

Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel presents Chinese President Xi Jinping with a a map of China from the 18th century at the Chancellor's Office on March 28, 2014, in Berlin BPA/Getty Images

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an antique map of his country as a gift during his recent visit to Berlin, she couldn’t have known what a stir it would cause

Chancellor Angela Merkel probably meant well. In Berlin last week, she gave her guest, Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 1735 map of China made by esteemed French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697–1782). The map, part of a series by d’Anville, was based in part on information gleaned by Jesuit missionaries. It was well regarded at the time and republished for decades to come.

A perfect gift for a visiting dignitary, right? You would think so. But ever since the exchange, China’s Internet has been buzzing about the gift. Why did Merkel choose this particular item? What was the message in the map?

For students of Chinese history, the date jumps out. This was the height of the great Qing dynasty, specifically the year when the Qianlong Emperor ascended to power. He presided over a military expansion west and north, but his death, in 1799, is associated with the period of decline that followed.

And then there are the boundaries. The 1735 d’Anville map shows “China proper” as a landmass separate from areas like Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria. The island of Hainan is drawn in a different color, as is Taiwan. This depiction is utterly at odds with how history is taught here.

Chinese students learn that these areas are inalienable parts of China, and that they have been for a long, long time. One netizen described the map as a “slap” from Merkel. “We always say some regions are inalienable parts of China since ancient times, but Merkel told us that even in 18th century those regions still did not belong to China.”

Another reasoned that it was the mapmakers, not Chancellor Merkel, who messed things up. “Merkel has no special connotation,” they wrote. “At that time German priests [sic] were not allowed to travel in such areas.”

To complicate the matter, at least two different versions of the map have been circulating online. State news wire Xinhua seems to have published an entirely different version of the map, prompting an entirely different set of theories.

Tibetan activist and blogger Tsering Woeser spotted the difference and pointed it out on her Facebook page. To express her dismay at the deception, she used a Chinese idiom that might be translated as “they are so good at perpetrating fraud!” More literally, the phrase means “to steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber.”

The lesson: maps mean different things to different people. And history is made of shaky stuff.


Japan’s Biggest Crime Syndicate Has Its Own Website

In an effort to recruit new members and regain some mystique, the Yamaguchi-gumi has launched a website that shows just how neighborly it is—and there's a catchy tune to be enjoyed as well

The biggest organized crime syndicate in Japan has launched its own website and theme song, says yakuza expert Jake Adelstein in a VICE News report.

The group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, is seeking to rebrand the yakuza syndicates, which are famed and feared for their involvement in activities ranging from sex trafficking and murder to white-collar crime.

In recent years, their mystique has waned and membership has shrunk following a crackdown by the police. The Yamaguchi-gumi is now looking to counter these trends.

The website seeks to convince people that the yakuza are not an “anti-social force.” Throughout the site, there are pictures and descriptions of members visiting shrines, having fun with their neighbors and providing emergency relief after the tsunami in 2011.

The site, which says it is the online home of the “Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League,” looks decidedly old-school. It has a strong anti-drug message and features this stirring song.

[VICE News]

TIME North Korea

The North Korean ‘Drone’ Is More Like a ‘Toy’

South Korea Koreas Tension
The unmanned aircraft that crashed in South Korea Monday looks like a model airplane, experts say after this picture was released April 2, 2014. South Korea Defense Ministry—Associated Press

The simplicity of the unmanned aircraft that crashed on a South Korean island Monday highlights how antiquated much of North Korea's military equipment is, experts say.

The “drone” that crashed on a South Korean island on Monday was described by experts Wednesday as actually something that’s “toy-like,” “poorly designed,” and “antiquated.”

Seoul suspected that the unmanned aircraft was a spy drone from North Korea, Reuters reports. As the images of the wrecked drone began circulating on the Internet, several people noted that it looked more like the model airplanes of their childhood than an advanced drone.

“It is like a toy,” Kim Hyoung-joong, a cyber defense professor at Korea University in Seoul, told Reuters. “But for surveillance purposes, it doesn’t have to be a high-tech, top-notch military product like Predators or Global Hawk drones.

“This type of toy-like equipment can find a blind spot,” Hyoung-joong said.

The simplicity of the drone highlights how antiquated much of North Korea’s military equipment is, experts told NBC.

“Much of their military force is pretty decrepit, with a lot of World War II stuff,” said Dr. James Hoare of the Centre of Korean Studies at SOAS, University of London. “They put a lot of emphasis of their fighting spirit because they have not got much else.”


Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser