TIME Hong Kong

TV Face-Off Dramatizes Gulf Between Hong Kong Protesters and Officials

In perhaps the first TV debate of its kind on Chinese soil, young trumps old

Huge numbers of Hong Kong people were transfixed by their televisions and devices Tuesday night local time, as they followed the live broadcast of a historic, two-hour meeting between black-clad rebel students and suited officials.

More than any other event in the three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have rocked China’s most international city, the dialog—the government hesitated to call it a negotiation—dramatized the gulf between the generations. It was also a microcosm of the political tension at work within all of China, between a rising, educated generation groping after its political rights, and an older one insistent on withholding them.

On screens and live audio streams, five representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) represented the sort of young people any nation would be proud to call its own: intelligent, informed and impassioned.

In talks with them were five senior government officials. Two officials remained mute throughout the 120 minutes and were widely mocked on social media for their silence. The others—headed by the government’s number two Carrie Lam—spoke mostly to utter legal sophistries and to tell the students what they have been saying for months: give up your fight and do as Beijing asks, because the decisions that have been made about Hong Kong’s political future cannot be changed.

To the thousands that had gathered at protest sites across the city to watch the talks on big screens, the government looked hopelessly out of touch. While the students addressed the officials formally, the officials called the students by their first names—in a move that Lam defended as friendliness, but which the Twitterverse found highly condescending.

It also didn’t help that the officials were speaking the day after Hong Kong’s patrician leader, Leung Chun-ying, made an appalling gaffe in front of foreign media, when he said that free elections in Hong Kong would allow those from lower-income groups to dominate the polls. (He later released a statement attempting to qualify his comments as springing from concern for social minorities, which probably made things worse.)

The central government says that it will allow Hong Kong’s 3.5 million voters to elect Leung’s successor in 2017 but insists that voters choose from a field of no more than three candidates, all screened by a pro-establishment committee. To the students, this is a nonstarter and it is the reason that thousands of them and their supporters have been occupying key areas of downtown Hong Kong for the past 24 days. Their protest has seen dozens injured, perhaps hundreds, in clashes with police and shady groups of thugs, and has become the most politically consequential movement on Chinese soil since the 1989 occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“What do we want?” asked HKFS deputy Lester Shum during the talks. “The right to vote; the right to be voted and voter, equally. Now the government is only telling us to pack up and go home.”

The officials, visibly uncomfortable at being brought to the table by a group of articulate twenty-somethings fresh from the barricades, offered modest concessions—more time to work out nomination procedures, more time to take soundings on Hong Kong’s long term constitutional development. Perhaps the submission of another report to Beijing.

“The 2017 [election] is not the destination,” said Chief Secretary Lam in conciliatory fashion. “We can still improve the system for [the next election in] 2022. If all the public opinion being expressed can be recorded and reflected to the central government, it will be good for democratic development.”

But it sounded like the administration was buying time and they were called on it at several points. “It is the Hong Kong government who is giving up its responsibility,” said HKFS delegate Yvonne Leung. “It has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong.”

Large numbers of police officers were deployed on the streets in case trouble flared following the debate. But while the rest of the night appeared to pass peacefully, there is a fear that greater unrest in the coming weeks is all but a certainty, now that the chasm between the protesters’ position and the government’s is so woefully apparent. Lam’s concluding remarks bore the faint augury of difficulties ahead.

“I hope you have the courage and wisdom to think of a way out of the current situation,” she said, sounding unintentionally ominous. “I hope you share the responsibility with us.”

Out on the street, Ivan Tsang, 23, an office assistant, spoke for many when he urged protesters to ramp up their campaign. “Overall [the students] represented me and I respect that,” he said. “But I believe we need to make our actions more aggressive so the government will listen.”

Nick Lee, 24, a cook living in the blue-collar district of Mong Kok, where some of the worst clashes have taken place, said: “[Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying] thinks he cannot give more power to the people, but I should have the power, not him.”

Michael Davis, professor of law at Hong Kong University, said that the government had given the protesters no reason to leave the streets. “The government doesn’t seem committed to do anything,” he said. “They only hinted they might file this supplementary report.”

What is certain is that the students came out best from the talks, shoring up their popularity before a large television audience that doubtless, until tonight, contained many undecided viewers.

“I don’t know what the next plan is” said Dora Ngan, 19, who watched the debate on a large screen at the teeming Causeway Bay shopping district. “But I will follow the student leaders.”

—With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Charlie Campbell, Rishi Iyengar, Per Liljas and David Stout. Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME isis

IS Fighters Seize Weapons Airdrop Meant for Kurds

(BEIRUT) — Islamic State group fighters seized at least one cache of weapons airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces that were meant to suppy Kurdish militiamen battling the extremist group in a border town, activists said Tuesday.

The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to a video uploaded by a media group loyal to the Islamic State. The video appeared authentic and corresponded to The Associated Press’ reporting of the event. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants had seized at least once cache, but may have seized more.

The Observatory, which bases its information on a network of activists on the ground, said the caches were airdropped early Monday to Kurds in the embattled Syrian town of Kobani that lies near the Turkish border. The militant group has been trying to seize the town for over a month now, causing the exodus of some 200,000 people from the area into Turkey. While Kurds are battling on the ground, a U.S.-led coalition is also targeting the militants from the air.

On Tuesday, Islamic State loyalists on social media posted sarcastic thank you notes to the United States, including one image that said, “Team USA.”

But the badly-aimed weapons drop was more an embarrassment than a great strategic loss. The Islamic State militants already possess millions of dollars-worth of U.S. weaponry that they captured from fleeing Iraqi soldiers when the group seized swaths of Iraq in a sudden sweep in June.

Also Tuesday, Syrian government airstrikes hit a rebel-held town along the country’s southern border with Jordan, killing at least eight people on Tuesday.

Activists with the Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Observatory said the number of those killed was likely to rise as there are more victims under the rubble.

The LCC said Syrian government planes dropped crude explosives-laden canisters on the town of Nasib on the Syria-Jordan border.

The airstrikes are part of battles between Syrian government forces and Islamic rebel groups for control of the area.

Syrian government forces have been heavily bombing rebel areas in recent weeks, while the U.S-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants elsewhere in Syria.

TIME Rwanda

Rwanda Now Screening Travelers From The U.S. And Spain for Ebola

A New Jersey elementary school recently barred entry to two transfer students from the Ebola-free country

As mass panic over Ebola sweeps over the globe, resulting in widespread stigmatization of travelers to and from Africa, one Ebola-free East African nation is stepping up its precautionary approach toward people traveling to or from America and Europe.

Rwanda Tuesday began screening people who have been in the U.S. or Spain in the last two weeks. A handful of patients have been diagnosed with Ebola in both countries. Rwanda is already denying entry to visitors who have been in Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone in the last 22 days.

Coincidence or not, Rwanda’s new policy clips on the heels of a New Jersey elementary school that barred entry to two transfer students from Rwanda, even though the country is 2,600 miles from the closest Ebola-afflicted country.

Rwanda’s protocol is laid out on the U.S. Embassy’s website.

TIME France

Oil Exec Who Charmed Kings and Dictators Killed in Plane Crash

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie Dies in Plane Crash
Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, reacts during a Bloomberg Television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tributes For Total CEO Killed When His Jet Hit a Snowplow On Russian Runway

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO and chairman of the French energy giant Total who was killed in a private plane accident in Moscow on Monday night, was fond of saying that one couldn’t drill for oil in pleasant, peaceful places — a riposte to environmentalists and human-right activists who have railed against oil companies for cutting lucrative deals with repressive leaders. “I’d be more than delighted to go find energy in Club Med,” he told TIME back in December 2009, seated on a private plane during an overnight flight from Paris to the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain. “But we’ve tried, and did not find it.”

It was a characteristically blunt statement in an industry that is famous for its opaque leadership rather than plain-talking executives. Unlike his peers, De Margerie, 63, seemed unconcerned about what he said publicly. Rather, he appeared to relish his image as an outsized personality whose common touch — despite his wealthy family background — won him friends, as well as some detractors, in difficult, even hostile, places. Explaining his personality, he told TIME that his lifelong shyness (“I hate going on stage, I’m really scared,” he said) had compelled him from childhood to become a keen observer of people, and that he had learned to “listen to people, from the hotel doorman to the King of Saudi Arabia.”

Tributes flooded in on Tuesday after news broke that De Margerie had died on his way back from Moscow where he had attended a gathering of foreign investors and met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Medvedev’s country residence near the capital. The private plane in which De Margerie was traveling collided with a snowplow at Moscow’s Vnukovo International airport shortly before midnight, killing him and three French crew members on board. Russian investigators quickly blamed the operator of the plow (who survived unscathed), saying that the man was drunk, and adding that air traffic controllers might also have made errors. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov voiced President Vladimir Putin’s condolences, saying that the Russian leader “has long known De Margerie [and] had a close working relationship with him.” In Paris, President François Hollande said De Margerie had “brilliantly defended the level of excellence and success of French technology,” and praised his “independent character” and “originality.”

Indeed, it seemed hundreds of people across the world knew De Margerie — if only as the man with the abundant gray whiskers framing his corpulent cheeks, which had earned him the nickname of “Monsieur Moustache” among his employees.

De Margerie joined the company in 1974 fresh out of university, largely, he told TIME, because it was a 10-minute walk from his family home in western Paris, and because his youthful dream of becoming a motorcycle policeman had come to naught. He rose to head its crucial exploration and production department, helping to expand hugely Total’s operations across the world. He became CEO in 2007 and chairman in 2010. During his career the company faced several serious accusations of wrongdoing. He and other Total executives faced charges in France of helping then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein skirt the U.N.’s oil-for-food sanctions during the 1990s and although they were cleared, the company paid a fine in the U.S. And after an oil tanker broke apart and sank off the Brittany coast in 1999, spewing thousands of tons of oil into the sea and killing an estimated 150,000 sea birds, a Paris court ordered Total to pay more than $250 million in damages.

Apparently unaffected by these controversies, De Margerie steadily built Total into a giant company, opening new fields across the world — including in places from which other energy companies steered clear, like Burma and Yemen. Total is now the fourth biggest Western oil company, after ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, with nearly 100,000 employees in 130 countries and revenues of nearly $240 billion last year.

But De Margerie will likely be remembered most of all for his insistence that governments should as much as possible leave it to oil companies to decide where to operate. And it is that insistence that led him most regularly into fiery debates with activists, who accused Total of cozying up to dictators in order to win concessions that were worth billions.

De Margerie, unlike other oil executives, never shied away from the argument, telling journalists that the world could face a serious oil shortage — an argument that seems less urgent these days, with declining growth in demand for oil and sinking prices on the world oil markets. “Where is electricity coming from? Flowers?” he told TIME during the flight from Paris to Bahrain in late 2009. “Maybe some day. But what’s available now is from oil and gas,” he said.

De Margerie defended his decision to extract natural gas in Burma and pipe it across the country at a time when U.S. sanctions prevented most American business links with the military government, telling an audience of Columbia University students in 2009, “Who is telling us who are the cowboys and who are the Indians? People who have never been in those countries.” As such, De Margerie nurtured relationships even under sanctions — including in Russia, where Total has a $27-billion deal to produce liquefied natural gas in Siberia.

Gregarious, with a love of fine dining — his grandfather Pierre Taittinger founded the famed Champagne house of that name — De Margerie was known to be excellent company, no matter one’s views. During the all-night flight on the rented private plane he slept little, preferring to talk for hours about everything from politics to the latest celebrity gossip, and to debate which Bordeaux wine on offer in the plane was best. Back then, Total executive Jacques de Boisseson, who heads the company’s exploration and production operations in Russia, told TIME that his boss had a knack for breaking the ice even in formal meetings with heads of state — and even after arriving late, as he frequently did. “He changes a meeting with his personal touch,” de Boisseson said. “He can get very close to very different people.”

TIME ebola

Why Ebola Isn’t Really a Threat to the U.S.

Ebola will not likely spread within the United States

Give us this—when Americans overreact, we do it all the way. Over the past week, in response to fears of Ebola, parents in Mississippi pulled their children out of a middle school after finding out that its principal had traveled to Zambia—a nation that is in Africa, but one that hasn’t recorded a single Ebola case. A college sent rejection notices to some applicants from Nigeria because the school wouldn’t accept “international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases”—even though Nigeria has had less than 20 confirmed cases and the outbreak is effectively over.

The American public is following its leaders, who’ve come down with a bad case of Ebola hysteria. That’s how you get even-tempered politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo musing that the U.S. should “seriously consider” a travel ban on West African countries hit by Ebola, while some of his less restrained colleagues raise the incredibly far-fetched possibility of a terrorist group intentionally sending Ebola-infected refugees into the U.S. It’s little surprise that a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

They shouldn’t be—and two events that happened on Monday show why. WHO officials declared Nigeria officially “Ebola-free.” And in Dallas, the first wave of people being monitored because they had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., were declared free of the diseases.

Nigeria matters because the nation’s is Africa’s most populous, with 160 million people. Its main city, Lagos, is a sprawling, densely populated metropolis of more than 20 million. Nigeria’s public health system is far from the best in the world. Epidemiologists have nightmares about Ebola spreading unchecked in a city like Lagos, where there’s enough human tinder to burn indefinitely.

Yet after a few cases connected to Sawyer, Nigeria managed to stop Ebola’s spread thanks to solid preparation before the first case, a quick move to declare an emergency, and good management of public anxiety. A country with a per-capita GDP of $2,700—19 times less than the U.S.—proved it could handle Ebola. As Dr. Faisal Shuaib of Nigeria’s Ebola Emergency Operation Center told TIME: “There is no alternative to preparedness.”

But Nigeria’s success was also a reminder of this basic fact: If caught in time, Ebola is not that difficult to control, largely because it remains very difficult to transmit outside a hospital. For all the panic in the U.S. over Ebola, there has yet to be a case transmitted in the community. The fact that two health workers who cared for Duncan contracted the disease demonstrates that something was wrong with the treatment protocol put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—something CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has essentially admitted—and may indicate that the way an Ebola patient is cared for in a developed world hospital may actually put doctors and nurses at greater risk.

“You do things that are much more aggressive with patients: intubation, hemodialysis,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “The exposure level is a bit different, particularly because you’re keeping patients alive longer.” But now that U.S. health officials understand that additional threat, there should be less risk of further infection from the two nurses who contracted Ebola from Duncan—both of whom are being treated in specialized hospitals.

Even the risk of another Duncan doesn’t seem high. For all the demand to ban commercial travel to and from Ebola-hit West Africa, this region is barely connected to the U.S. in any case. Only about 150 people from that area of Africa come to the U.S. every day—less than a single full Boeing 757—and many airlines have already stopped flying. But there have been relatively few spillover cases even in African countries that are much more closer and more connected to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Besides Nigeria, only Senegal has had cases connected to the West African outbreak—and that nation was declared Ebola-free today as well. (There have been cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that’s considered a separate outbreak.) The worst Ebola outbreak ever is raging in three very poor nations—but it seems unable to establish itself anywhere else.

None of this is to deny the scale of the challenge facing Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the Ebola has fully taken hold and the disease is still outpacing our efforts to stop it. But West Africa is where our fear and our efforts should be focused—not at home, where Ebola is one thing most of us really don’t have to worry about.

TIME South Africa

Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Herman Verwey—Getty Images

The six-time Paralympic medal-winning athlete is sentenced to five years in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, eliciting charges of injustice in his native South Africa

When the judge sentenced Oscar Pistorius to five years in jail for killing his girlfriend, his reaction was muted. The response elsewhere in South Africa was not. “Five years for murder?” screeched one angry caller to a local radio talkshow. Twitter lit up with angry condemnations of the judge, some commentators going so far as to suggest that all murderers would be so lucky to have her presiding over their case.

After all the drama of a trial that evoked Hollywood theatrics and a blockbuster viewership over the course of its seven-month-run, Judge Thokozile Masipa finally delivered her sentence Tuesday morning in the courtroom in Pretoria, condemning Pistorius to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp in what he described as a tragic mistake. Pistorius wiped his eyes upon hearing his sentence and reached for the hands of family members gathered behind him.

Pistorius, 27, killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, shooting her four times through a closed bathroom door in his home. He testified that he had mistaken her for a nighttime intruder. Immediately following his sentencing he was escorted out of the packed court, down a flight of stairs and into the court’s detention center to await transport to the prison.

On Sept. 12 Masipa convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, a crime similar to manslaughter, but acquitted him of murder at the conclusion of a trial that had become an international spectacle. Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed the “Bladerunner” for his athletic prowess on blade-shaped prosthetic limbs, alternately wept, vomited and collapsed at various points of the trial as the prosecutor presented graphic evidence taken from the scene of the crime and asked Pistorius to recount, in agonizing detail, the events of the night his girlfriend was shot. The prosecution accused Pistorius of murdering Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

In sentencing Pistorius to five years imprisonment, Masipa split the difference between the prosecution’s argument for 10 years and the defense’s case that any jail term would be an unjust punishment for a double-amputee in a violent prison system where Pistorius could be subjected to abuse because of his disability. His lawyers had argued for a three-year probation period of house arrest and community service.

The Steenkamp family appeared to be satisfied, with family lawyer Dup De Bruyn saying that it was “the right sentence,” and that “justice was served,” according to Reuters, suggesting that an appeal is unlikely. Public reaction has been much more heated. Radio talk shows were inundated with angry callers lambasting the judge. “Lady justice just had her legs amputated,” shouted one irate caller. Another cursed Masipa on air, prompting a flurry of Twitter comments over the inappropriateness of denigrating a judge, no matter the reason.

It is likely that Pistorius will be paroled after serving at least one sixth of his sentence — 10 months — according to legal analysts, prompting sarcasm from one math-impaired Twitter commentator: “Three women are killed by their partners every day in [South Africa]. I guess an 8-month sentence will help fight this,” tweeted@ justicemalala.

Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee, which has awarded Pistorius six medals throughout his career, says that he will be banned from competing for five years, even if he is paroled early. Given the high profile nature of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, it was a given that no matter the sentence, people would be angry. Twitter commentator @ZuBeFly summed it up best: “Only way I’d feel 100% satisfied is if any type of sentence the judge passed would bring Reeva back. No winners here either way.”

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME Companies

Total CEO Dead in Runway Crash; Plow Driver Drunk

(MOSCOW) — Christophe de Margerie, the charismatic CEO of Total SA who dedicated his career to the multinational oil company, was killed at a Moscow airport when his private jet collided with a snowplow whose driver was drunk, Russian investigators said Tuesday.

Three French crew members also died when the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 burst into flames after it hit the snowplow during takeoff from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 11:57 p.m. Monday local time.

Tatyana Morozova, an official with the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, said investigators are questioning the snowplow driver, who was not hurt, as well as air traffic controllers and witnesses.

“At the current time, it has been established that the driver of the snowplow was in a state of alcoholic intoxication,” Morozova said.

De Margerie, 63, was a regular fixture at international economic gatherings and one of the French business community’s most outspoken and recognizable figures. His trademark silver handlebar earned him the nickname “Big Mustache.”

A critic of sanctions against Russia, he argued that isolating Russia was bad for the global economy. He traveled regularly to Russia and recently dined in Paris with a Putin ally who is facing EU sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the crisis in Ukraine.

According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to his French counterpart Francois Hollande, lauding de Margerie for being at the “origins of the many major joint projects that have laid the basis for the fruitful cooperation between Russia and France in the energy sphere for many years.”

Hollande expressed his “stupor and sadness” at the news. In a statement, he praised de Margerie for defending French industry on the global stage, and for his “independent character and original personality.”

De Margerie started working for Total in 1974 after receiving his degree because it was close to home. It was a difficult time to join the firm as the oil embargo, which led to a fourfold increase in prices, was coming to an end.

“I was told ‘You have made the absolute worst choice. Total will disappear in a few months,'” he said in a 2007 interview with Le Monde newspaper.

De Margerie rose through the ranks, serving in several positions in the finance department and the exploration and production division before becoming president of Total’s Middle East operations in 1995. He became a member of Total’s policy-making executive committee in 1999, CEO in 2007, before adding the post of chairman in 2010.

He was a central figure in Total’s role in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq in the 1990s. Total paid a fine in the U.S., though de Margerie was acquitted in France of corruption charges.

Under his leadership, Paris-based Total claims it became the fifth-largest publicly traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with exploration and production operations in more than 50 countries.

On Monday, de Margerie took part in a meeting of Russia’s Foreign Investment Advisory Council with members of Russia’s government and other international business executives.

Jean-Jacques Guilbaud, Total’s secretary general, said the group would continue on its current path and that the board would meet in coming days to discuss who will succeed de Margerie. Total planned a minute of silence in its offices worldwide at 2 p.m. Paris time.

After dipping slightly early Tuesday, Total’s share price was trading 2 percent higher, in line with the broader rally in French stocks.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Says It Helps Kurdish Fighters Enter Syria

Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014.
Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

(SURUC, Turkey) — Turkey said it was helping Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to support their brethren fighting Islamic State militants in a key border town, although activists inside embattled Kobani said no forces had arrived by Monday evening, raising questions about whether the mission was really underway.

The statement by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came hours after the U.S. airdropped weapons and ammunition to resupply Kurdish fighters for the first time. Those airdrops Sunday followed weeks of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in and near Kobani.

After a relative calm, heavy fighting erupted in the town as dusk fell, with the clatter of small arms and tracer fire, as well as the thud of mortar rounds and big explosions of two airstrikes that resounded across the frontier.

“We are helping peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani to give support,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference, referring to the security forces of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Kurdish government there is known to be friendly to the Turkish government.

A peshmerga spokesman said he had not been ordered to move units to Syria.

“They have not given us any orders to move our units,” said the spokesman, Halgurd Hekmat. “But we are waiting, and we are ready.”

The Kurdish activists in Kobani said there was no sign of any peshmerga forces.

Still, it was unprecedented for Turkey to promise to give Kurds passage to fight in Syria. That, combined with the U.S. airdrops, reflected the importance assigned to protecting Kobani from the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across Iraq and Syria in recent months.

It also underscored the enormity of the challenge in battling militants who have been trying to seize Kobani since last month to spread their rule along the mountainous spine of the Syria-Turkey border, an area dominated by ethnic Kurds.

Ankara views Kurdish fighters in Syria as loyal to what Turkish officials regard as an extension of the group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

The government is under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants — not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and inside Turkey who accuse Ankara of standing by while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, there were widespread protests that threatened to derail promising talks to end the PKK insurgency.

Although a significant departure from previous positions, Turkey’s announcement to allow fighters to cross its territory is not a complete policy reversal, since it involves peshmerga fighters from Iraq and not those from the PKK.

It remains uncertain whether Ankara would allow heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to make the journey in large numbers. It is also unclear if many of those peshmerga troops would even do so, given that the IS militants still threaten their areas in Iraq.

Cavusoglu did not give details of where and how Turkey would allow the Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called Turkey a “close NATO ally and partner,” and said the U.S. has a “very close relationship” with Ankara. She said the Obama administration is still discussing ways Turkey can play a larger role in the coalition, and praised steps Ankara already has taken to stem foreign fighters and funding from moving to the militants across Turkey’s borders.

However, Harf also indicated the U.S. did not seek approval from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before dropping weapons and aid to Kurdish fighters. She said the Kurdish fighters and the PKK are not legally linked.

“It’s not about consent,” Harf said Monday. She said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry separately notified Turkish leaders “our intent to do this and had discussions with them about why we believe this is an important thing to do in this fight against ISIL around Kobani.”

“It did become clear recently that the forces on the ground were running low on supplies necessary to continue this fight, that’s why we decided now to authorize this,” Harf said. “And our support will continue to help them repel ISIL,” she said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Kerry said it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support the Kurds in their fight against IS.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect the PKK,” Kerry said.

“But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani,” he told reporters in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Iraqi Kurds provided the weapons and aid for the Kurdish fighters in Syria. But both sides relied on U.S. pilots to fly the supplies between the two nations and drop where they could be accessed by the Kurds in Syria.

Harf also said “it’s possible” that the weapons being given to the Syrian Kurds were initially U.S. munitions that were either sold or otherwise transferred to Iraqi Kurdish security forces from American authorities. She did not immediately know for sure if that was the case.

Barzan Iso, a journalist based in Kobani, said he saw the airdrop, which included anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles, large amounts of artillery shells and medicine.

The Americans dropped the bundles amid heavy wind, he said. Two bundles landed in IS-held areas, and Kurdish fighters were able to retrieve one, while the other was blown up by the U.S. from the air, Isso said.

The U.S. Central Command said the coalition conducted six airstrikes near Kobani in the past 24 hours, targeting IS fighting and mortar positions and a vehicle. It confirmed that one airstrike targeted a stray resupply bundle. U.S. cargo planes also dropped arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, the Central Command said.

Idris Nassan, a senior Kurdish official from Kobani who is now in the Turkish town of Mursitpinar, confirmed the Kurdish fighters received the airdrop and asked for more weapons.

“We are not in need of fighters. We are able to defeat the terrorists of ISIS if we have weaponry — enough weaponry and enough ammunition,” he told The Associated Press.

The weapons drop for the Kurdish forces was a stunning diplomatic success. Syrian Kurdish officials have been lobbying Western governments for support.

They have argued that their fighters are the kind the West would want to support in Syria: secular, relatively moderate and well-disciplined. They have pointed to their opposition to the Islamic State group: most notably in August, when their forces fought to create a safe passage in northern Iraq to evacuate tens of thousands of Yazidis — a persecuted religious minority who fled an onslaught by the extremists.

“We (asked) the international community from the beginning of these clashes for help, for more effective weaponry and for more ammunition,” Nassan said. “This is the first step.”

Iso, the journalist in Kobani, said by telephone that he had not seen any peshmerga — he called out to a group of Kurdish fighters with him if they had seen any, and they could be heard answering “No!” over the line.

Echoing the views of many Kurds, who are deeply suspicious of Turkey, Iso said the foreign minister’s statements had “nothing to do with reality.”

The two top U.S. envoys to the global coalition, retired Marine Gen. John Allen and Ambassador Brett McGurk, will travel to Britain, France and across the Mideast in the next 10 days to meet with allies. There were no immediate plans for them to go to Turkey.

Turkey has not allowed the U.S. and its allies to use its airspace or air bases to strike inside Syria.

In recent days, many of the airstrikes have focused around Kobani, which IS militants have been trying to seize for a month. Turkey has given sanctuary to about 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani and dozens of nearby villages captured by the IS group.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Istanbul; Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut; Matthew Lee in Jakarta, Indonesia; Robert Burns, Lara Jakes and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

TIME Nepal

Nepal Vows New Rules After Worst Trekking Disaster

(KATMANDU, Nepal) — Nepal on Tuesday said it will introduce new rules, improve weather forecasts and better monitor the movement of trekkers after the Himalayan country’s worst hiking disaster left dozens dead last week.

Tourism Department official Tulasi Gautam said trekkers venturing to mountain trails will be required to take trained local guides, and will have to rent a GPS tracking unit to help authorities trace them in case of an emergency.

Gautam said the government plans to announce the new rules nationwide before the next trekking season in the spring.

“The main reason for the high number of casualties is that those trekkers without proper guides were prompted to continue with their trek in attempts to beat the storm. So we plan to strictly enforce new rules of no trekking without porters or proper guides,” Gautam said.

At least 41 people were killed last week when a blizzard and avalanches swept the mountains of the Annapurna region in northern Nepal. Of those, 21 were foreign trekkers and mountaineers from countries including India, Israel, Canada, Poland, Japan, China and Slovakia. Twenty were Nepalese guides, porters and villagers.

Many of the trekkers around the Annapurna Circuit trekking route are independent hikers generally called backpackers who do not hire guides. The route is also dotted with lodges and tea stalls that sell food, snacks and lodging.

Authorities also plan to improve the weather forecasting system and make it easier to deliver information to remote trekking routes.

The government also said all trekkers must now register at check posts while entering and exiting the trekking areas. Previously, foreign trekkers were required to buy permits or at least register before entering trekking areas, but Nepalese nationals were not. And no one was required to check out when they left.

Home Ministry Secretary Surya Prasad Silwal said rescuers were able to fly 518 stranded trekkers, including 310 foreigners, to safety before the search operation ended Monday.

“It was the biggest rescue operation in Nepal that included hundreds of soldiers, policemen and local officials. Swift response saved many lives,” Silwal said. He added that every available helicopter was used in the effort.

TIME China

Anyone Expecting a Rebound in Chinese Growth Won’t Like the New GDP Figures

Construction sites and vacant streets in Xiangluo Bay.
Construction sites and vacant streets in Tianjin, China. The new central business district, under construction in Tianjin, was touted as another Manhattan, but is now a ghost city. The nation's slowing economy is putting the project into jeopardy Zhang Peng—LightRocket/Getty Images

Say hello to China’s new normal

Those who remain hopeful about the future of the Chinese economy got some extra evidence to bolster their case today. On Tuesday, the government announced that GDP in the third quarter rose by a slightly better-than-expected 7.3%.

But don’t get too excited. That 7.3% is the slowest quarterly pace in five years — since the depths of the recession after the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis. And it was pushed higher likely by exports. In other words, external demand, not investment or consumption in the domestic economy.

There is really nothing surprising about these figures. This is China’s new normal. The double-digit pace the global business community has come to expect is very likely a thing of the past. More and more economists are predicting that China’s growth rates will continue to slow over time. The International Monetary Fund, for instance, sees growth dropping from 7.4% this year to 6.8% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2019.

There are too many factors at work slowing down the Chinese growth machine. First of all, no economy can grow 10% a year forever, not even China’s. The country is no longer the impoverished backwater it was in the early 1980s, when Beijing’s market reforms first sparked its growth miracle. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and the bigger China gets, the harder it becomes to post such large annual GDP increases. There are also structural forces at work. China’s population of more than 1.3 billion is aging rapidly, thanks in part to Beijing’s restrictive one-child policy, and that will act as a long-term drag on growth. The workforce is already shrinking.

The only question is: How slow will China go? The answer depends on how optimistic you are that China’s current leaders can fix the very serious problems plaguing the economy.

Aspects of the growth model that have driven China’s exceptional performance — state-directed investment, easy credit — have now come to spawn all sorts of new risks. Debt levels at Chinese companies have risen precipitously, money has been wasted on excess capacity and unnecessary construction, and bad loans at Chinese banks have been rising as a result. The economy is paying the price.

A big reason behind the country’s slowdown today is the deteriorating property market, brought low by irrational exuberance and excessive building. Official data shows that the amount of unsold real estate has doubled over the past two years, and that has caused prices to fall and investment in new developments to dry up. The central bank recently loosened restrictions on mortgage lending to boost sluggish demand, but most economists don’t expect such moves will stimulate a rebound anytime soon. There are even concerns that China is following a pattern similar to Japan’s when the latter Asian giant had its financial crisis in the early 1990s.

The long-term solution to these problems requires nothing less than overhauling the way in which the economy works. The country’s leaders realize this, too, and have pledged to undertake a thorough reshaping of the economy to give the private sector more influence. Policymakers intend to make the economy more market-oriented by liberalizing finance and capital flows and withdrawing the control of the state. Such steps would probably lead to enhanced productivity, better allocation of finance and stronger innovation — all things China needs badly as its costs rise with its wealth.

So far, though, there has been little progress. A free-trade zone in Shanghai, launched a year ago to experiment with freer capital flows in and out of the country, has never got off the ground. A series of investigations into the business practices of multinationals operating in China has raised questions about Beijing’s willingness to open up the economy further to foreign competition.

Of course, the liberalization Beijing has promised will take a long time to implement. But if the effort doesn’t progress, growth will likely suffer. The Conference Board in a recent report predicted that growth would slow to 4% a year after 2020, in part because its economists believe China’s leaders won’t go far enough in reforming the economy.

What this all means for businessmen and investors around the world is that China may not play the same role in upholding global growth in coming years as it has in the past. The new normal may not lift the gloomy spirits dominating global markets these days, either. But we’ll all have to get used to it.

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