TIME India

Men, Women and ‘Hijras': India Recognizes Third Gender

In the next frontier of the LGBT civil rights movement, being labeled as 'other' may offer unprecedented legal rights

Transgender people in India have always had to define themselves on government forms as either a “male” or “female.” But that is about to change.

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court has recognized a third gender option to be created for transgender people, or “Hijras,” as they are often referred to in South Asia.

“The spirit of the [Indian] Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender,” the court said in its order, which is expected to alleviate the conditions of transgender people in India, through access to welfare programs, employment opportunities and education.

India’s Election Commission allowed a third gender of “other” on voter registration forms for this year’s election. Nearly 30,000 people designated themselves as “other” and there are an estimated 2 million transgender individuals in India, the Associated Press reported.

India is not the first country to recognize a third gender, as Nepal and Bangladesh have also passed similar legislation.

 

TIME Ukraine

White House Backs Ukraine’s Eastern Offensive

Barack Obama
Frank Franklin II—AP

The White House says it supports the offensive against separatists in the country's eastern provinces, which began Tuesday 25 miles north of Slovyansk and could expand to 10 cities throughout the region

The White House said Tuesday it supports military action taken on Tuesday by the interim government of Ukraine against separatist militants across the eastern part of the country.

“The Ukrainian government has repeatedly sought to negotiate with the armed groups that have seized public buildings and established unauthorized roadblocks in Eastern Ukrainian in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “That said, the Ukrainian government has a responsibility to provide law and order, and these provocations in Eastern Ukraine are creating a situation in which the government has to respond.”

Tuesday’s military offensive began with an assault on an airport 25 miles north of Slovyansk that had been seized by pro-Russian separatist militants Sunday. Ukrainian military clashed with a pro-Russian crowd in the area throughout the afternoon, and Russian news media, citing pro-Russian militants at the scene, claims there were injuries and deaths in the vicinity of the airport, according to The New York Times. Ukraine planned to extend its offensive to separatist-controlled buildings in as many as 10 cities throughout the country’s east.

U.S. officials say there are no current plans to provide weapons to Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reports. Officials estimate there are roughly 50,000 Russian forces deployed to the country’s border with eastern Ukraine.

 

TIME Ukraine

Not Even the Threat of War in Europe Can Unite the E.U.

An elderly woman wrapped with an European Union flag attends a pro-Ukraine rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 15, 2014.
An elderly woman wrapped with an European Union flag attends a pro-Ukraine rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 15, 2014. Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images

European countries with strong trade ties to Russia remain reluctant to impose stiffer sanctions even as the conflict in eastern Ukraine worsens

When it comes to assigning blame for the volatile situation in eastern Ukraine, European politicians are united: it is all Russia’s fault. That’s about where the unity ends, as became clear after a meeting of foreign ministers from European Union member states on Monday. When they shuffled out of their meeting, their joint communiqué was as familiar as it was inconclusive. A few Russian names would be added to a list of people with their assets frozen, ever so slightly expanding the mild sanctions that Russia has so far mocked and ignored. Then came more threats of deep economic sanctions at an unspecified time and with no clear trigger for such measures.

This may seem like a rather restrained response to the specter of a military Russian assault on Ukraine – German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said at an event in Berlin on Monday that Russia “was clearly prepared to allow tanks to roll across European borders” – but the E.U.’s 28 member nations are struggling to get past their widely differing political and economic concerns. Hitting the E.U.’s €400bn annual trade with Russia would require serious economic sacrifices at home, and the bloc has so far been hoping that its cocktail of threats, mild sanctions and a few diplomatic snubs would be enough to contain Russia’s possible territorial ambitions.

The problem, says Stefan Wolff, a professor of international security at the University of Birmingham, is that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not “reason and rationalize in the same way,” and has proved ready to jump on any public splits and timidity.

Ever since the E.U. provoked Moscow’s ire with plans to sign a trade pact with Ukraine in November, Russia has always seemed one step ahead. Putin persuaded then-President Viktor Yanukovich to jettison the deal; when Yanukovich was ousted by protests a few months later, Russia took advantage of the chaos and seized Crimea. Now Russia is accused of orchestrating the unrest in eastern Ukraine – claims Russian officials strongly deny.

The E.U.’s strongest reaction so far – visa-bans and asset-freezes on 33 Russian and Ukrainian individuals – came after the annexation of Crimea. Now the problem is getting the member states to agree at what stage the Kremlin’s alleged engineering of events in eastern Ukraine warrants the most serious sanctions against key economic sectors that include energy, arms and financial services.

Such sanctions would have a widely different impact across Europe. In the east, nations like Hungary and Bulgaria, which are heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas, would suffer if Moscow responded to any sanctions by halting supplies. Cyprus, Greece and Spain, still struggling from the euro zone crisis, have a lot of Russian money in their banks. German industry has firm business relations with Russian companies.

The result is a diverse bloc arguing for diplomacy to be given more time. The more bullish nations are also acting with a degree of self-interest: Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia and fear designs on their own territory. The United Kingdom – leading the calls for more sanctions – has its reputation as a forceful world player to maintain.

Russia has shown a willingness to exploit these splits, last week sending a letter to 18 E.U. nations reliant on its energy and making veiled threats to the supplies. Officials in Washington have urged their partners in Europe to stay united and have pushed them toward imposing deeper sanctions. But the United States has both less to lose, and less sway.

“From an economic perspective the U.S. cannot impose strong sanctions on Russia,” says Georg Zachmann, a research fellow at the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank, citing the U.S.’s modest trading relationship. In 2012, Russian exports to the U.S. totalled $13 billion. The same year Russia sent goods worth €213 billion ($294 billion) to the E.U. The sale of oil and gas accounts for 50% of Russia’s federal budget reserves, and most of that goes to Europe. So the E.U. does have a hefty weapon in its toolbox.

The next few days will be crucial. Ministers from Russia, the E.U., the U.S. and Ukraine will meet in Geneva on Thursday. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that unless they get an acceptable response from Russia, the E.U. heads of state could call an emergency meeting in Brussels next week.

The threat of holding yet another meeting may seem a typical example of the E.U. meeting aggression with bureaucracy. But if they use that opportunity to make good on their threats and approve the next phase of sanctions, Russia finally might start paying attention.

TIME Syria

Assad Claims a ‘Turning Point’ in Syria As Military Makes Gains

Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gesture from their tank, as they pass Mar Bacchus Sarkis monastery, in Maloula village, northeast of Damascus, after taking control of the village from rebel fighters April 14, 2014.
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad gesture from their tank, as they pass Mar Bacchus Sarkis monastery, in Maaloula village, northeast of Damascus, after taking control of the village from rebel fighters, April 14, 2014. Khaled al-Hariri—Reuters

The Syrian president claimed the military's capture of three rebel-held towns is a "turning point" in the bloody conflict. But an all-out victory for the regime is still far from guaranteed, as rebels make gains in other parts of the war-torn country

Syrian troops reclaimed the ancient Christian town of Maaloula on Monday, the crowning jewel in a series of significant military gains that had the regime of President Bashar al-Assad crowing over its pending triumph even before the smoke cleared.

The army’s swift capture of Maaloula came less than 24 hours after an Assad speech in which he claimed that the war, now in its fourth year, was going in the regime’s favor. “This is a turning point in the crisis,” President Assad told crowds gathered at Damascus University Sunday afternoon, lauding the “army’s achievements in the war against terror.”

Not long after the conclusion of his speech, Syrian government troops, accompanied by fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hizballah, moved into the few remaining towns along the Lebanese border still in rebel hands. The towns fell like dominoes, depriving opposition fighters of vital supply lines and cutting off access to the rebel-dominated suburbs around the capital, Damascus. The rebel defeat was undeniable.

Still, state TV overstepped in its enthusiasm, claiming military victory over neighboring towns like Jibbeh and Jbaadin that had never been in rebel hands in the first place, according to volunteer observers for the UK-based, anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. It appears that regime forces may have taken them pre-emptively, concerned that they might provide refuge for rebels fleeing other areas.

The town of Maaloula, which has changed hands three times since the start of the war, is an important symbol for a regime that has attempted to gain legitimacy by claiming to protect the country’s Christian minority from the threat of radical jihadists. Residents still speak Aramaic, a language dating back to the time of Jesus Christ, and the town was known for its stunning church and monastery carved out of cracks in the surrounding cliff face.

In December, rebel groups affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front kidnapped 12 nuns from the monastery. In March, the nuns were released unharmed in exchange for scores of government detainees. As they left the nuns praised their former captors, and blessed them in their endeavors in TV appearances — an indication, perhaps, that the rebels were not quite the devils that the regime made them out to be.

Maaloula may have fallen, but all-out victory for the regime is still not guaranteed. Government forces have all but secured a vital corridor linking Damascus to Latakia province on the coast, a stronghold of the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs, but rebel brigades have made inroads in the province’s north, threatening a refuge once thought impregnable. Last month rebels captured the sole remaining government-controlled border post with Turkey, cementing their control of Syria’s entire northern border.

But Assad remains defiant. His comments at Damascus University on Sunday, combined with the regime’s assertions that presidential elections will be announced shortly, make it clear that he will not budge, despite repeated international calls to stand down and reconcile with his opposition. Even if the regime does manage to reclaim significant parts of the country, victory will be hollow. According to a UN report, the Syrian economy is likely to take 30 years to recover to pre-war levels, and that is only if the war ends now. The country’s health system has collapsed, according to Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union’s commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, and a looming drought threatens to deprive a further 2 million Syrians of food this year, according to the World Food Program.

With more than 150,000 dead, thousands missing, nine million displaced and al Qaeda digging deep roots in the country’s northeast, staying in power may take a worse toll on Assad’s government than letting go.

TIME Infectious Disease

Guinea Says Ebola Outbreak Almost Under Control

A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou April 3, 2014.
A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou, April 3, 2014. Misha Hussain—Reuters

Health experts in the west African country say there are fewer new cases of the virus, which has no cure and which is fatal for a significant portion of those who contract it, suggesting the outbreak that has killed over 100 people there may be close to being contained

Guinea’s health ministry says deaths from its recent Ebola outbreak have slowed, and the latest flare-up of the virus is close to being under control.

The disease has already killed 106 in Guinea and spread to neighboring countries in Western Africa, but Rafi Diallo, a spokesman for Guinea’s health ministry, told Reuters that the number of new cases have fallen dramatically. Once there are no more new cases, the outbreak can be considered under control. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it could take two to four months for the outbreak to be entirely contained, Reuters reports.

There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola, which is known to kill up to 90 percent of the people who contract it. The virus spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, including blood, feces or sweat. The disease can spread via sexual contact or unprotected interaction with contaminated corpses.

Although the virus remains a significant concern, the WHO is confident it will be contained. Since the majority of people who get the disease will die from it, there’s not too much time for it to spread, as long as health workers can quickly identify who has come in contact with a sick person. WHO’s media spokesperson in Guinea, Tarik Jasarevic, told TIME last month: “We know this disease. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it so we know the measures we can take. It’s not a new disease.”

[Reuters]

TIME Nigeria

Report: 100 Schoolgirls Abducted In Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri.
Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri. Quentin Leboucher—AFP/Getty Images

The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is suspected of kidnapping about 100 girls from a school in Chibok, a town in the country's northeastern Borno state, on Monday night just hours after a large blast in the capital, Abuja, killed at least 71 people

Updated Tuesday 1:42 p.m. ET

Terrorists reportedly attacked a school in Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted about 100 schoolgirls Monday night.

A government official from Borno state told the BBC that around 100 girls had been taken from a local school school to the east of the country. The BBC had previously reported that 200 girls were abducted based on reports from parents, but they have since revised their count. The AP also reported that 100 girls were taken, although some were able to escape from the back of the open truck after grabbing onto low hanging branches to swing out of the slow moving vehicle.

The attackers are thought to be from the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.

The girls were reportedly ordered into trucks and driven away. Local media is reporting that two members of the school’s security were killed and there were many other properties that were burned down during the attack, the BBC reports. It’s at least the second major attack on a school in Nigeria this year.

On Monday, bombings in Abuja, Nigeria that killed 70 people were also blamed on Boko Haram. The extremist group is opposed to Western education, and wants to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. Over 1,500 deaths this year are blamed on the group.

[BBC]

This post was updated to reflect the revised number of girls who were abducted as well as new information from government officials.

MORE: Another Deadly Blast in Nigeria As Country’s Stability Erodes

TIME Italy

Berlusconi Sentenced To Year of Community Service

Leader of Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi at the end of the consultations with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Quirinale Palace in Rome on Feb. 15, 2014.
Leader of Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi at the end of the consultations with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Quirinale Palace in Rome on Feb. 15, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to a year of community service on Tuesday for his tax fraud conviction last year. The 77-year-old will reportedly spend at least one half-day per week in an elderly care center in Milan

An Italian court sentenced the country’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to a year of community service on Tuesday, the BBC reports.

The sentence was a result of his conviction in 2013 for tax fraud linked to TV rights brought by his firm Mediaset. The case had been ongoing since the 1990s, and the alternative for the 77-year-old would have been house arrest. He avoided a prison sentence thanks to laws in Italy allowing for lenient sentences for people over the age of 70.

Berlusconi had denied the charges, accusing the judges of left-wing bias and of trying to neutralize his political stance. His conviction for a previous offence of paying for sex with an underage prostitute had already led to his expulsion from the Italian parliament and a six-year ban from standing for election.

The former Prime Minister will reportedly spend at least one half-day per week in a center for elderly and disabled people near his home in Milan as part of his community service. But his movements will be heavily restricted, including the requirements that he adhere to a curfew and that he not spend time with anyone else carrying a criminal conviction.

[BBC]

TIME France

French Auction House Cancels Nazi Memorabilia Sale Amid Outrage

Jewish groups objected to the proposed sale of items owned by Hitler and Goering, calling it 'obscene'

An auction of Nazi memorabilia including a chest carved with swastikas owned by Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering’s passport was canceled in Paris, France on Monday, reports the BBC.

The event was scrapped after it faced strong objections by Jewish organizations. An influential French association of Jewish groups, the CRIF, described the event as “harming the memory of victims of Nazi barbarity.” French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti joined them in calling for the items to be withdrawn from sale, saying it was “necessary in the light of history and morality.”

The sale had been scheduled to take place on April 26, featuring 40 items seized from Hitler’s former home in Bavaria in May 1945 during the last days of the Third Reich. They included a 17th century manuscript belonging to Goering and a napkin bearing Hitler’s initials.

Laudine de Pas, the co-manager of the auction house Vermot de Pas, said the sale had not been intended to cause any controversy. “We were pitching this as part of the responsibility to remember – but in no way to shock or create a polemic,” she told the BBC.

[BBC]

 

 

 

TIME South Africa

Pistorius Prosecutor: Your Story Cannot Possibly Be True

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius, leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 14, 2014. Themba Hadebe—AP

Gerrie Nel insists on the fifth and final day of cross-examination that athlete Oscar Pistorius’ version of events the night he shot and killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is false, saying, "You’re tailoring more and more of the evidence as we go along"

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel was unrelenting on Tuesday, as he ended his cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius by painstakingly examining details from the night when the sprinter shot and killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

On the fifth and final day of cross-examination in Pretoria, South Africa, Nel insisted that the Olympian’s version of events last Feb. 14 — that he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder — was false, and insisted that the couple had argued before Pistorius shot her through the bathroom door.

“I put it to you that your version [of events] is so improbable, that it cannot be possibly reasonably true,” said Nel.

“I disagree,” replied the defendant.

Pistorius maintains that Steenkamp was in bed when he woke in the night and went to fetch a fan from the balcony. He then claims to have heard a noise from the bathroom — apparently the opening of a window. Presuming it was an intruder, he grabbed his gun and shot through the toilet door, killing his girlfriend, he says, by mistake.

But Nel cast doubt whether Steenkamp could have opened the bathroom window, entered the adjoining toilet cubicle and voided her bladder during those moments.

“Mr Pistorius, on my understanding there would not have been enough time for her to have done that,” said Nel.

“I disagree,” replied the defendant.

Nel also asked why somebody as neat as Steenkamp would have left her jeans inside out, as they were pictured in police photographs, unless she was in a frantic hurry.

“It indicates that fact that she had to take it off quickly and did not have time,” he said

“When I got home Reeva was in her pajamas, she had just arrived minutes before me from the gates,” replied Pistorius. “I don’t know why she left her jeans inside out.”

“I put it to you that it was because of your argument,” said Nel. “She wanted to leave, there was an argument, she had to get undressed quickly.”

Nel asked Pistorius to demonstrate the breaking down of the toilet door in court and explain the moments after he found Steenkamp critically injured.

“I got the cricket bat and ran back to the toilet and tried to hit the door. I remember the first time I hit the door I was screaming,” said Pistorius. “I was overcome with terror and despair.”

“You weren’t screaming at Reeva because she was hiding in the toilet, were you?” challenged Nel.

Having gained access to the toilet, Pistorius described cradling his blood-soaking girlfriend during her last moments.

“I sat over her, I crouched down over her and I put my arm underneath her and I checked to see if she was breathing or had a pulse,” he said, voice quivering.

“I pulled her around onto me and then I heard her breathing and immediately tried to pick her up and bring her out of the toilet. I wasn’t able to pick her up.”

Nel summed up by saying that Pistorius had fired four shots through the toilet door knowing Steenkamp was inside, and that he had armed himself solely for the purpose or hurting her, but afterwards became overwhelmed after realizing what he had done.

“It’s more getting more and more improbable and you’re tailoring more and more of the evidence as we go along,” said Nel.

Pistorius stands charged with murder, first-degree murder and culpable homicide. He denies all charges but faces a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted.

The case continues.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Sends Troops to Curb Unrest in the East

An Ukrainian soldier aims his weapon at pro-Russia protesters gathered in front of an Ukrainian airbase in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, April 15, 2014.
An Ukrainian soldier aims his weapon at pro-Russia protesters gathered in front of an Ukrainian airbase in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, April 15, 2014. Marko Djurica—Reuters

Ukraine has launched a military operation to regain control of sites in one of its eastern regions and traded fire with armed pro-Russian separatists who have overrun the area. Officials say the military has captured a key airbase in the region

Updated: 11.50am

Ukrainian officials claimed to have recaptured a key airfield in eastern Ukraine after trading fire with pro-Russia militants Tuesday, hours after launching a military operation in the northern Donetsk region to regain control of eastern sites that have been taken over by armed protestors and militants.

Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said the airbase at Kramatorsk had been “liberated” from “terrorists,” the BBC reports. Turchynov earlier announced to parliament that the military had begun an “antiterrorist operation.”

“It will be phased, responsible and balanced,” he said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. “The purpose of the actions, I stress once again, is to protect the citizens of Ukraine.”

The separatists have ignored several ultimatums to surrender from the Ukrainian government, which has to play a delicate game. A full armed crackdown could prompt the invasion of Russian troops, which are gathered along the border in their tens of thousands, and greatly outnumber Ukraine’s forces.

Speaking on Tuesday from Beijing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed an armed resolution to the crisis as “unacceptable.” He added that claims of Russian involvement were “the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard.”

Ukraine has increasingly lost grip of the situation in the east, where thousands of officials have gone over to separatist forces. Defying the latest ultimatum on Monday, occupiers in Donetsk, who have declared an independent republic, vowed to take control of the rest of the province.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said Ukraine was “on the brink of civil war.”

On Tuesday, a U.N. human-rights report was released on the crisis, citing the urgent need to counter “misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred” in order to avoid further escalation.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the European Union decided Monday to freeze the assets of more Russian officials and prominent citizens, and extend visa bans.

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