TIME Egypt

Egypt’s Al-Sisi Leaves Military To Run for President

Egypt's Military Chief Visits Moscow
Egypt's Minister of Defense, First Deputy Prime Minister and likely presidential candidate, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) in Novo-Ogaryovo residence on Feb. 13, 2014 near Moscow. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who announced the military ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi last July, has resigned from the army to make a long-awaited bid for the country's presidency

Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi formally resigned from the military Wednesday, paving the way for his long-anticipated run for the presidency.

Al-Sisi announced the decision in a TV broadcast, the BBC reports.

The Egyptian army deposed president Mohamed Morsi last year in the midst of mass protests against Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian rule, killing over a thousand of the former president’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters in widespread unrest. Broadly supported by Egyptians who opposed Mohammed Morsi’s presidency, al-Sisi is likely to win presidential elections expected later this year.

[BBC]

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Fires German ‘Bling Bishop’

An inquiry into Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's $43 million residence has ended with the Vatican demanding his resignation

Pope Francis has replaced a German bishop whose $43 million new residence complex sparked outrage among Catholics.

The so-called ‘Bishop of Bling,’ Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg was temporarily expelled during a church inquiry in October, the Associated Press reports. Tebartz-van Elst spent lavishly renovating his residence, including a reported $20,000 on a bathtub and $620,000 on artwork.

That inquiry has now found him incapable of holding his diocese and demanded his resignation, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Tebartz-van Elst will be replaced by Monsignor Manfred Grothe. Tebartz-van Elst will get a new job, said the Vatican, adding that the pope hoped that residents of Limburg would accept the decision with “docility and willingness to rediscover a climate of charity and reconciliation.”

Pope Francis has emphasized charity and addressing social inequality since taking his seat in the Vatican last March. He is due to meet with President Obama Wednesday.

[AP]

TIME Turkey

Turkish Court Overturns Twitter Ban

Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014.
Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014. Tolga Bozoglu—EPA

The temporary injunction demands the government-controlled telecommunications authority allow citizens access again to the microblogging site, as Twitter files its own petitions for lawsuits challenging the ban

Updated 11:15 a.m. ET

A Turkish court declared a temporary injunction Wednesday demanding the government-controlled telecoms authority lift the ban on Twitter imposed by the Turkish government five days ago, according to a news agency there.

Lawyers and opposition politicians in Turkey have asked the court to overturn the moratorium on the social network, claiming it was unconstitutional and not legal, reports AP.

Twitter also filed petitions for lawsuits that would challenge the ban on its website in Turkey, the company said in blog post Wednesday. “The millions of people in Turkey who turn to Twitter to make their voices heard are being kept from doing just that,” Twitter said.

Turkey’s telecoms authority had accused Twitter of defying court orders that certain content be removed. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of Twitter last week after it hosted content posted by users showing evidence of possible government corruption. However many online users in Turkey swiftly found ways around the ban.

[AP]

With additional reporting by Sam Frizell

TIME

Pakistan Begins Peace Talks With Taliban

The meeting will be the first direct contact between the militants and government since they began inching toward negotiations in February; the government is aiming for a ceasefire but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has indicated military action may be used if talks fail

Pakistani government representatives arrived in the volatile area of North Waziristan on Wednesday to begin peace talks with the Taliban.

The meeting will be the first direct contact the two sides have had since a move toward peace negotiations began in February, reports the BBC. The government team arrived by helicopter and are set to meet with representatives from the Taliban in an unidentified location.

The talks were announced earlier this year by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a series of violent attacks in North Waziristan. Militant rebels from the group Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTP) have been conducting a violent insurgency in the area since 2007, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

The group’s aim is to extend their deeply conservative interpretation of Sharia law across the country. Although the government has said it aims to negotiate a one-month ceasefire, outside observers predict they will be unsuccessful. Sharif has indicated that military action might be used if the talks fail.

[BBC]

TIME India

India’s Congress Party’s Election Manifesto Is Ode to Common Man

Ruling party releases populist manifesto after gathering feedback from electorate over five months

India’s ruling Congress party has released its manifesto — five months in the making — for general elections starting next month.

This year, the ruling party asked for feedback from the electorate before compiling what has essentially been dubbed a people’s manifesto.

“We decided to go to the people for the first time,” campaign chief Rahul Gandhi said at the release, the Times of India reported.

Published Wednesday afternoon, the document promises inclusive development, action against graft and good governance.

TIME MH370

Family Member Files Lawsuit Over Missing Jet as Frustrating Search Continues

A model of a Boeing 777 aircraft is displayed as Monica Kelly of U.S. law firm Ribbeck Law attends a media briefing organized by the company at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on March 26, 2014 Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

112 objects possibly related to Flight MH370 have been spotted by a French satellite, though searchers haven't seen anything in the water yet

A U.S. firm has initiated a lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing over the Beijing-bound Flight 370 that disappeared over 19 days ago and is presumed to have crashed in the south Indian Ocean, killing all 239 on board.

Chicago-based Ribbeck Law, which also represents 115 passengers aboard the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed in San Francisco in July, has filed a petition on behalf of Januari Siregar, whose son was on the Malaysia Airlines flight.

“We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370,” said Monica Kelly, lead lawyer on the case.

The petition is seeking to obtain the identity of manufacturers of various plane components and the company or person who last inspected the fuselage and provided maintenance. Kelly said additional pleadings will be filed against other potential defendants in the days to come.

Meanwhile, analysts are continuing to disseminate satellite data in order to pinpoint the wreckage. Based on signals sent out by the aircraft, officials reached the conclusion that the crash site was in the Indian Ocean. Now, a final partial signal from the aircraft is also being looked at for possible additional clues.

Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat, the U.K. company that operates the satellite that picked up the signals, told the Wall Street Journal that this last transmission originated “with the aircraft for reasons not understood.”

At a Wednesday press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said French satellite images, taken on March 23, were showing 122 objects possibly connected to the missing plane. While some objects were small, one was about 23 m long.

The search recommenced on Wednesday, after gale-force winds and heavy rain halted operations the day before. Twelve aircraft and two ships are currently deployed. While Australian authorities, who are coordinating the search effort, have vowed to “throw everything we have” at the operation, experts have acknowledged the extreme difficulty in spotting and verifying pieces of the plane.

“Any search-and-rescue attempt will be hampered by untold quantities of debris,” an expert in flotsam at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif., told the New York Times.

None of the objects that have been discovered in recent days have so far been retrieved or identified, and searches are being hampered by some of the harshest wind and wave conditions in the world. The current search area is also located in an area with great underwater volcanic activity, making the seafloor extremely rugged.

“It’s very unfortunate if that debris has landed on the active crest area,” Robin Beaman, an underwater-geology expert at Queensland’s James Cook University, told AFP. “It will make life more challenging.”

[Reuters, WSJ, BBC, NYT]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Launches Missile Test As U.S. Meets Asia To Discuss Threat

South Korea Reacts To North Korean Missile Launch
Commuters pause to watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at Seoul Railway Station on March 26, 2014. Chung Sung-Jun—Getty Images

The latest missile test features medium-range weapons capable of striking most of Japan as well as Russia and China

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched two medium-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, just hours after South Korea, Japan and the U.S. met in The Hague partly to discuss the security threat Pyongyang is posing.

According to a spokesperson from the South Korean Foreign Ministry, two Nodong missiles were fired from a mobile launcher north of Pyongyang and flew for about 650km before falling into the sea off the Korean Peninsula’s eastern coast.

The U.S. and South Korea called the missile test a troubling and provocative escalation, pointing out that the mid-range missiles were a step up from the short-range missiles North Korea has been firing in recent weeks.

“This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

It’s the first time since 2009 that North Korea has launched Nodong missiles.

The missile test also marks the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which a team of international investigators found was caused by a North Korean torpedo. North Korea has denied any responsibility for the incident.

[WSJ]

 

 

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Tamils Are Still Facing Torture and Sexual Attacks

Tamil demonstrators protest outside Downing Street in  London
Tamil demonstratorsprotest Sri Lanka's human rights record outside Downing Street in London in November 2013. © Luke MacGregor / Reuters—REUTERS

Years after the civil war's end, Tamil survivors say they are subject to systematic violence from security forces

A damning new report alleges that Sri Lanka’s security forces continue to persecute the country’s Tamils minority five years after the ending of the country’s bloody civil war. It claims that the policy is “approved by the highest levels of government.”

The report, produced by South African human rights lawyer and U.N. adviser Yasmin Sooka, the Bar Human Rights Committee, England and Wales, and the International Truth & Justice Project, Sri Lanka, is based on the testimony of 40 survivors who fled to the U.K. seeking refuge. Nearly half tried to commit suicide.

The authors compiled harrowing tales of severe torture and sexual abuse in custody, almost all of which took took place after the war ended, some as recently as Feb. 2014.

“The cases of torture, rape and sexual violence described in this report are just a small sample of those crimes likely to have been committed against Tamils,” said Sooka in a statement. “The international community must act now otherwise such atrocities will continue to define post-conflict Sri Lanka.”

The United Nation’s Human Rights Council will vote today on whether to launch an international probe into Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes during the three-decades-long ethnic conflict that ended in 2009.

 

TIME Emerging Markets

New Leaders Aren’t Going to Solve India’s and Indonesia’s Problems

General Election Campaign Begins In Indonesia
Indonesian presidential candidate and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, center, shakes hands with his supporters after making a speech in Jakarta as the election campaign kicks off on March 16, 2014 The Asahi Shimbun

Hope that economic reform in the two sprawling democracies will be jump-started when new administrations are in power might be misplaced

Rarely has the mere announcement of a candidacy been met by such investor relief. On the day, earlier this month, when Joko Widodo was nominated for President of Indonesia by a major political party, the stock market surged and the currency strengthened. The country had been battered in recent months by nervous investors, but the mere hope that Jokowi, as he is commonly called in Indonesia, will triumph in July’s presidential election gave hope to the business community that much needed reform would progress in the world’s fourth most populous nation.

The situation is similar in India. After years of lackluster reform, the business community is abuzz that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will likely win general elections starting in April and install the controversial Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. The hope in the world’s second most populous nation is that Modi, a proven economic reformer, will tackle the problems that have caused the economy to stumble.

But is the hope justified? Both Asian giants are badly in need of a jolt of new reforms, and perhaps fresh leadership will spur the effort forward. Yet even if Jokowi and Modi manage to win their elections, there is no guarantee of progress. Both could get entangled in political conflicts that could thwart any attempts at rapid change.

That could be a problem. India and Indonesia are two of the “fragile five” — the emerging economies deemed most vulnerable to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s tapering of its unorthodox stimulus program — and beginning in the summer of 2013, both countries’ currencies have experienced periods of dramatic decline as investors fled.

India is probably in worse shape than before. A do-nothing, Congress-led administration allowed political disagreements to stymie the promarket reform that sparked India’s rapid growth. As a result, the GDP growth rate has shrunk to half what it was just a few years ago. Most desperately, the country needs to cut red tape to prevent the overbearing bureaucracy from smothering investment projects.

The story is similar in Indonesia. After a burst of reform early in his presidency, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s effort got strangled in politics within his coalition. Much like India, Indonesia needs to clear up confusing regulation and improve infrastructure to boost investment and growth.

Can Modi and Jokowi deliver? Jokowi, as the governor of the capital, Jakarta, is known as a man of the people, taking regular jaunts onto the streets to talk with voters and instituting improvements to welfare programs. But running a city — even one as large and unwieldy as Jakarta — and governing the nation are two very different things. As President, Jokowi would have to push reforms through parliament, the members of which will be elected in April. Whatever happens, Indonesia’s parliament will likely be a messy place filled with contending political movements. Also, on national policies, Jokowi has said little, so we just don’t know much about what his policy platform will be.

“We believe that his overall policy bias is likely to be market-friendly, supporting investor confidence,” was the best economists at Barclays could say about him in a recent report.

Modi has a more developed track record. As chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he is credited with engineering an economic “miracle” there with probusiness reforms like streamlining bureaucracy and improving infrastructure. (For more, see my colleague Krista Mahr’s analysis of Modi’s record.) Yet achieving similar results at a national level will be much harder. It is likely that even if the BJP garners the most parliamentary seats in the election, the party may still have to govern in a coalition, raising the possibility that squabbles between its members will block reform as they have done in the current Congress-led government. Nor is it clear that the BJP is any more proreform than Congress, especially when it comes to politically sensitive issues. According to a recent report by Capital Economics, no BJP-governed state — including Modi’s — approved a controversial Congress reform opening up the retail market to multibrand stores. “The BJP’s recent record suggests that it is less committed to progrowth reform than many assume,” the research firm noted.

So in the end, whatever the intentions of Jokowi and Modi, they could get trapped in the same political problems that consumed their predecessors. What it will take to press reform in these two big democracies is some serious political will. We’ll have to wait and see if these two men have it.

TIME The Vatican

President Obama Prepares to Meet the People’s Pope

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis in Vatican City and, with his poll numbers, probably hopes some of the pontiff's popularity will rub off on him before he leaves. "I'm a great admirer," Obama tells Francis

The focus of the conversation when President Barack Obama meets Pope Francis on Thursday is expected to be the gap between the rich and the poor. Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” and Pope Francis has made the plight of the poor the centerpiece of his papacy. “One of the things that the Pope has done globally is put the issue of poverty back on the list,” says Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

For Obama, whose job-approval rating slipped to a lowly 41% earlier this month, the meeting is a rare chance to share a common platform — both physically and in terms of policy — with a Pontiff who enjoys the popularity of a media superstar. “It would be terrific for any politician on the planet to have his picture taken next to Pope Francis right now,” says Schneck, who served during the last election as national co-chair of Catholics for Obama. “Here in the United States, politicians like Paul Ryan are talking about poverty almost every day, and I think we have to credit the Pope with that.”

In the first year of his papacy, Francis has shifted the Catholic conversation toward Obama’s side of the court, lowering the heat on culture-war battles like gay marriage in favor of an emphasis on the least fortunate. But the two men may find that they also have plenty on which to disagree. The meeting comes two days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, on grounds that it violated religious freedom by requiring for-profit corporations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. It’s an issue repeatedly stressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and which Francis is likely to raise.

The visit will be the second Obama has made to the Vatican, and his previous appearance, along with a meeting in January between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart Pietro Parolin, offer hints of what the President can expect. In 2009, Obama met with Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The two talked for a little less than half an hour, nearly double the 15 minutes that had been allotted. In a conversation that seemed to be a search for common ground, the two discussed immigration, the global economic crisis and the peace process in the Middle East. Benedict raised the issue of abortion, and Obama pledged to do everything in his power to reduce their numbers.

During Kerry’s visit, emphasis was on the Middle East, with special attention paid to Syria, according to a statement released by the Vatican after the meeting. The focus of the encounter had been announced ahead of time to be on international affairs, but Parolin also took the opportunity to raise his concern for the requirement that contraception be covered under the Affordable Care Act. “There’s a little bit of a precedent for getting into unforeseen issues,” says John Wauck, a priest of the Opus Dei and a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Indeed, Francis has not shied away from confrontation. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he clashed repeatedly with Argentine President Christina Kirchner over gay marriage, abortion and contraception. And during discussions in 2013 over whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria, Francis’ was one of the loudest voices in opposition to a proposed bombing campaign. “This Pope is coming from a southern-hemisphere perspective,” says Schneck. “American exceptionalism in international affairs isn’t something that’s automatically going to be accepted.”

Other issues that could come up during the meeting include climate change, workers’ rights and immigration. While Obama favors immigration reform, his Administration has been unyielding when it comes to deportations. Francis, by contrast, has emphasized the plight of migrants. In July, he visited the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa to call attention to those who have died crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. At the end of this month, a group of U.S. bishops is planning to follow the Pope’s example and perform a mass on the U.S.-Mexico border to draw attention to the immigration debate. “The Pope is full of surprises,” says Wauck. “All bets are off about what he might want to talk about to the President of the United States. He’s broken with convention so often in the past.”

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