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Afganistan on Edge

Afghanistan Tests Out New Civil-Service Hiring System

October 17th 2012

Civil service applicants

If you were appointed a district governor in Afghanistan, how would you tackle security challenges?

For that matter, how would you provide equal rights for women in a deeply conservative society? And how would you implement government policies in an area where there is not much trust or support for government?

Those are the types of questions currently being posed to hundreds of job candidates as Afghanistan tests out revamped hiring procedures for civil-service positions. The effort is part of the country's larger effort to fight corruption, and is aimed at changing a firmly entrenched culture of favoritism when filling government positions ranging from lofty gubernatorial posts to more modest secretarial roles. Read more ..


The Women's Edge

Initiative Empowers Rural Women

October 16th 2012

West Africa Domestic Violence

October 15th is International Day of Rural Women. The United Nations says rural women play a critical role in development, food security and eradicating poverty.

Four U.N. agencies recently launched a five year initiative to speed economic empowerment and gender equality of rural women. Initially, the program will be implemented in seven countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, Guatemala, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan.

“When women are empowered, things change, not only for her, but also for the other members of the household and then also for the economy,” said Clare Bishop Sambrook, senior advisor on gender for IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Sambrook described a typical day for a rural woman in East Africa.

“Basically, she’d be getting up in the dark and going to bed in the dark. And she’d start off by cleaning the compound; doing a little bit of cooking of a snack that she and her husband would take to the fields. And then she and her husband would take the agricultural tools, perhaps a hoe, perhaps some draft animals and a plough off to the fields, which might be half an hour away, an hour away. Work there for two or three hours, but then on the way back she’s collecting bits of vegetation and things she could use for adding to the basic diet for lunch,” she said. But that’s only half the day.

“When she gets home then she’d be bathing the children and preparing the food. And then in the afternoon perhaps spending two or three hours going off collecting the water and coming back and collecting firewood on the way. So she’d be carrying the water on her head and the firewood on her back. And perhaps accompanied by one or two little children. Then she gets home and then does more food preparation, which might be by hand, using a local means of crushing the maize. And then cooking the food and then perhaps caring for other household members. And then, eventually, retiring to bed at about nine o’clock,” she said. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Gold Feeds - And Poisons - Nigerian Children

October 16th 2012

Children gather water

About 20 miles from the nearest paved road or light switch, the village of Bagega, Nigeria is the epicenter of the worst lead poisoning outbreak that anyone can remember. The government has promised millions of dollars for a massive life-saving cleanup, but small children continue to play in toxic dirt, and activists say time is running out.

At a gold-processing site, men hammered away at rocks. As he worked, Ismail explained how it’s done. He said that first they crush the rocks, then they feed the pebbles into an electric flour mill, powered by a small generator. Gold is then extracted from the sand. As they worked, an unusual kind of dust billows from the hammers and machines, covering Ismail’s body and clothes. It’s dust that is laden with lead. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Doctor Sets Out To Divorce Infertility From Tajik Cultural Taboos

October 15th 2012

Tajik Wedding

"It seemed everyone around me, all my friends, were having children," Sharif Halimov recalls, "but my wife couldn't get pregnant." Traditionally, the solution to the Tajik man's fatherhood dilemma has been a simple one -- find a new wife.

But while the truth was tough to handle -- the 36-year-old military officer admits "his masculinity was hurt" when it was first suggested that he, not his wife, was likely responsible for the couple's infertility -- Halimov is glad he listened to the doctor. Thanks in part to medical treatment, Halimov and his wife now have plenty of mouths to feed: Nargis, their biological 1-year-old daughter; and 5-year-old Nafisa, whom the couple adopted from a Dushanbe orphanage. "I think no one here has my patience. I went to many doctors, I tried traditional medicine, and I also prayed to god," he says. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Prays for Recovery of Teenage Human Rights Advocate felled by Taliban

October 15th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan's military says the 14-year-old schoolgirl who was recently shot by the Taliban has been sent to Britain for medical treatment.

The military said Monday that a panel of doctors recommended Malala Yousafzai's transfer to a British facility "which has the capability to provide integrated care to children who have sustained severe injury." The teenager was being treated in military hospitals in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Rawalpindi.

Taliban gunmen shot Yousafzai in the neck and head on October 9 as she left school in the northwestern area of Swat Valley. The Taliban said it targeted the girl because she spoke out against the militant group. Read more ..


China and America

Number of Chinese Students in US Dramatically Expands

October 14th 2012

Chinese Students

The number of students from China studying at universities across the United States has increased dramatically. According to some statistics, the number of undergraduate students from China in the U.S. has doubled in the last two years.  Economists say the trend is due, in large part, to a growing middle class in China. Los Angeles county has one of the largest Chinese student populations in the U.S. - totaling more than 4000 students.

At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, it is not difficult to spot students from China. They gather regularly for social events, such as this Mid-Autumn festival. Environmental engineering student Sun Wei said he has not met many Americans because there are so many students from his home country. But he said there is a positive side to this. “The benefit is when I arrived it doesn't take much adjusting," Wei said. "It's all Chinese.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Smartphone App Lets Russians Call Out Bribes

October 14th 2012

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Have you ever wanted to see an interactive map of all the bribes that change hands in Russia?  Well soon you may be able to thanks to a new smartphone application released for free download by a group of entrepreneur activists.

Bribr, a smartphone app designed by a team of 20 volunteer Muscovites, allows users to register bribes they have had to pay on their mobile phones and then automatically pinpoints them on an interactive map online. The idea is that the map -- depending on its popularity -- will portray an entire constellation of payoffs frenziedly passing hands across Russia's nine time zones.

Yevgenia Kuida, 25, who founded Bribr, hopes it will raise awareness and contribute to a public movement against corruption. "The main idea is basically to raise more attention to bribes, to provoke more interest," Kuida says. "We really believe that if you send the same message all the time to people and they see it, then potentially their attitude might change." Since it went active last week, the app has logged 1.55 million rubles (almost $50,000) in bribes. Corruption in Russia has been estimated to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Read more ..


Asia on Edge

Asia's Aging Populations Pose New Challenges for Region's Economies

October 14th 2012

Elderly man

Researchers in Asia are warning that aging populations pose challenges for governments, as economic productivity falls and more people need financial and medical support. Governments are beginning to heed the warning, pursuing a range of policies to try to address the problem.

In Singapore this year, the government unveiled a catchy song to address a topic that usually does not have dedicated state-sponsored jingles: the island state's young couples need to produce more children to help reverse declining fertility rates. The song is light-hearted, but the problem is serious. By 2030, the population will halve within a generation as the elderly are set to triple in number.  As an incentive, Singapore is offering bonuses of up to $3,250 for each of the first two children, rising to nearly $5,000 for the third and fourth offspring.

Through the 1980s and on, Asia's young working age population was a driving force for the region's economic success. But the trend in Singapore is symptomatic of broader shifts across Asia Asian Development Bank (ADB), said economist Donghyum Park. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Worst Sounds and Why we Dislike Them

October 13th 2012

Boy in pain

Heightened activity between the emotional and auditory parts of the brain explains why the sound of chalk on a blackboard or a knife on a bottle is so unpleasant. In a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience and funded by the Wellcome Trust, Newcastle University scientists reveal the interaction between the region of the brain that processes sound, the auditory cortex, and the amygdala, which is active in the processing of negative emotions when we hear unpleasant sounds. Brain imaging has shown that when we hear an unpleasant noise the amygdala modulates the response of the auditory cortex heightening activity and provoking our negative reaction.
 
"It appears there is something very primitive kicking in," says Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, the paper’s author from Newcastle University. "It’s a possible distress signal from the amygdala to the auditory cortex." Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL and Newcastle University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how the brains of 13 volunteers responded to a range of sounds. Listening to the noises inside the scanner they rated them from the most unpleasant - the sound of knife on a bottle – to pleasing - bubbling water. Researchers were then able to study the brain response to each type of sound.
Read more ..

Inside Mexico

Green Roofing Counters Food Insecurity and Climate Change in Mexico

October 13th 2012

Xochimilco Mexico school gardening
School garden in Xochimilco, Mexico.

In Mexico City, a form of urban agriculture known as green roofing has gained widespread popularity due to the significant role it has played in reducing air pollution and securing adequate food supplies. These gardens are constructed on elevated building surfaces such as parking lots or residential terraces. Although green roofing dates back to the Mesopotamia era, it has become widely popular to counter global warming, and also has the potential to provide food security. Mexico is infamously known for its poor environmental conditions and a high poverty rate, making it a prime country to promote environmental improvements as it addresses its food insecurity.

Air Pollution & Regional Development

A majority of climatologists agree that there is a strong correlation between rising temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions. Warmer temperatures have altered global climate patterns. Urban areas, such as Mexico City, are major emitters of carbon dioxide because of high-energy consumption and regional development. In the ten-year period between 1990 and 2000, Mexico City had an annual average of more than 300 days of poor air quality. In addition to air pollution, agricultural lands in the Valley of Mexico, also known as the Greenbelt, have been rapidly decreasing due to regional development and pollution. Read more ..


Haiti After the Quake

Islam Gains Ground in Devastated Haiti

October 13th 2012

Haitian mosque
Haitian mosque untouched by 2010 earthquake.

Various forms of Christianity and Afro-Caribbean religions are dominant in Haiti, but Islam has shown a noticeable increase in followers since the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left more than 1 million others homeless. Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is now home to at least five mosques. Islam has also shown noticeable growth elsewhere in the Americas, especially in Brazil and Paraguay.

School teacher Darlene Derosier, a mother of two, helped build one of the mosques in her neighborhood. She said she converted to Islam after losing her home in the earthquake and the death of her husband a month later. "For me the victory is that you lived, but you did not think you would," she said.

People of many religions arrived in Haiti following the earthquake to lend assistance. But Muslim convert Kishner Billy, who hosts a nightly TV program, said that Muslims appear to have had the most lingering impact. " Read more ..


Inside Iran

Iranian Jews Fear Their Phones Are Tapped

October 12th 2012

Jews in Iran

M., a Jewish man in his fifties from Tehran, celebrated the festival of Simhat Torah this week. He did not build a sukkah in his yard or invite his Muslim friends and neighbors in, but he attended the special Simhat Torah service. As an observant Jew, he goes to the nearby synagogue three times a day for morning, afternoon and evening prayers.

“It’s a small synagogue in downtown Tehran,” he tells us from Iran over Skype. “In the middle of the week, about 15 Jews who live in the area worship there. This week, like on any other holiday, there were more people than usual. The members of Tehran’s Jewish community attend the synagogue, pray in Hebrew and celebrate the festivals — but other than that, we’re just like all the Iranians.”

M. speaks with us in English. “I don’t speak Hebrew because I went to public school, where we studied with Muslims. But you can learn Hebrew in Jewish private schools. There is a large Jewish community in Iran. Tehran has a large synagogue that serves the community, but I go to a small synagogue that’s close to my home. I eat kosher food, which can be bought at the synagogue. There are also people who help me buy medications and take care of me.” Read more ..


Spain on Edge

Homeless Families in Spain Are Squatting After Eviction

October 12th 2012

Spainish squatters

Protest groups in Spain have helped families that were kicked out of their homes by banks find shelter in repossessed, empty apartment buildings. Police moved in quickly in most cases, but in Seville about 30 families are going on six months of illegal occupation.

Fifty-four-year old Mercedes Lladanosa showed us around the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. It has hardwood floors and a fancy faucet in the bathroom. But bare light bulbs hang uselessly from the ceiling. The electricity was shut off months ago. And the washing machine is only for show, as the city cut off the building’s access to running water last week. They cook with a gas camping stove. What little furniture Lladanosa has was donated or found in the trash. It is not much - a couch, a bed and a crib. 

Squatting for survival

She and more than 100 others have been living like this since May, in this five-story building that was completed three years ago and left empty when the developer went bankrupt.  Nearly 40 families moved in with help of members from the 15M activist group, like Antonio Moreno Rosana. “Right now in Spain we have something like 517 evictions a day. The thing is, just in Andalucía I think, there are 116,000 empty houses. It is outrageous that you have got empty houses when people are getting thrown out into the street,” said Rosana. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Modest September Job Gains Controversial but Not Unprecedented

October 12th 2012

The hullabaloo surrounding last week's release of the nation's employment numbers was a bit overblown, says a University of Michigan economist.

While U.S. employers posted modest job gains in September, the unemployment rate fell sharply from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent—the lowest point in nearly four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"There is some controversy over the legitimacy of the BLS household employment measure and the unemployment rate that is derived from the same survey, but the numbers seem statistically reasonable," said Donald Grimes of the U-M Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranians Manage to Have Sense of Humor Despite Travails

October 11th 2012

Iranian women with mobile

Anxiety, fear, and hopelessness are becoming part of the daily lives of many Iranians as the country confronts a deepening economic crisis. The value of the national currency, the rial, has lost some 40 percent of its value.

But despite the difficult times, Iranians have apparently not lost their sense of humor, finding fodder for jokes in the sliding currency and their own misery.

As one Tehran-based businessman said “We share jokes [and] we try to laugh at these dark days. What else are we supposed to do?”

We’ve compiled several of the jokes that are making the rounds on the streets of the capital and other cities.

Here's one that refers to comments made by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on the eve of his 2005 election victory, when he said the country's real problems are unemployment and housing shortages -- not young people's appearances. That comment has now become infamous, as Ahmadinejad is blamed for the economic free-fall:

The day when Ahmadinejad said, "Are the hairstyles of the youth our problem? Let’s instead fix the economy," we were really lucky that he didn’t want to fix our hair -- because by now, we would all be bald! Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Southern Israel: Living on Rockets, Miracles, and the Iron Dome

October 11th 2012

Hamas troops w/rocket

Days and nights in southern Israel have been punctuated by a growing number of sirens and rocket explosions, with over 60 rockets striking Israeli cities and communities this past week. On Monday morning alone, 55 Qassam and mortar shells were fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. The rocket strikes damaged buildings, properties and a kibbutz petting zoo that is usually filled with children, but was empty because of the early morning hour. For residents in Netivot, Sderot and the Gaza-border communities, the rocket routine is not a new one.

On Tuesday night, three rockets were fired, with one towards the city of Netivot and the others landing near Sderot, which has been the target of rocket attacks for nearly 12 years. Speaking with Tazpit News Agency on Wednesday, Netivot resident, Elisheva Ratzon described the panic she experienced the previous night.

“I was on the computer, reading on the news that a rocket had struck Sderot earlier, when all of the sudden, the rocket siren for Netivot went off,” said Ratzon. “It was about 10:30 at night and the rocket struck just as I ran into the shelter in my apartment. There was an extremely loud boom.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

Depressed People Have Difficulty Detecting Others' Emotions

October 11th 2012

Emotional woman's faces

Clinically depressed people have a hard time telling the difference between negative emotions such as anger and guilt, a new University of Michigan study found. “It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," said Emre Demiralp, a researcher at the University of Michigan Department of Psychology. The lead author of a study recently published in Psychological Science added that the ability to distinguish between various emotional experiences affects how individuals deal with life stressors.

Being unable to differentiate certain emotions from each other might lead to a person choosing an action that is not appropriate, thus exacerbating the problem, she said.

"It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," Demiralp said. "For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car. It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

As Syria Economy Falters, Damascus Somewhat Spared

October 10th 2012

pro-Assad Rally Damascus

The Spice Market of Old Damascus is a strange sight in a country ravaged by civil war. The military pounds pro-rebel towns ringing the capital, but here at its heart, business is brisk. Naiem Bezraa stood in the shop once owned by his father and grandfather, topping off neat pyramids of cumin and dried peppers, pine nuts and almonds. Bezraa said work carries on, but prices have gone up, affecting both customers and  business.  But he said, "Thank God," his supplies are still coming in.

Syria's economy has suffered severely from 18 months of conflict. Bezraa conceded that people are cutting back, sticking mainly to buying essentials. Customers on this ancient, bustling alleyway complain that foreign products are especially expensive.

Sense of normalcy
Still, a certain normalcy prevails.  Goods are more expensive, but available. A man who declined to give his name carried several full shopping bags, noting the price of imported goods is high. 
Read more ..


India on Edge

Indian Girls Rise Up Against Child Marriage

October 10th 2012

Typical Indian Child Bride
Typical Indian Child Bride

Child marriage is an ancient practice in India, and despite being illegal, it continues today in mostly rural areas. Nearly half of women in India are married before the age of 18 and many of those become brides much younger. But one group in eastern India is looking to change this trend.
 
Bithika Das is concentrating on her school work. The 16-year-old girl from a small village in West Bengal state knows this opportunity to study is one that was nearly lost two years ago when her parents arranged her marriage to a young man.
 
“If I got married then, my education would have stopped at ninth grade. I could have achieved nothing in the future with an incomplete education. In my husband’s family, I was not going to get good respect,” she said.

Foundation fights back

After her parents' refusal to cancel the marriage arrangement, Bithika contacted the Murshidabad office of the Childline India Foundation. The group runs a 24-hour hotline, providing counseling and other help to children in crisis. Childline activist Debika Ghoshal led the team that helped stall the marriage of then-14-year-old Bithika. The group works with local police to lodge criminal complaints against parents who do not comply with the law banning child marriage. Activists then focus on ensuring that a young girl is able to continue with her education. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

Egypt's Christians - Distraught and Displaced

October 9th 2012

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

Reuters reported last week that "Most Christians living near Egypt's border with Israel [in the town of Rafah in Sinai] are fleeing their homes after Islamist militants made death threats and gunmen attacked a Coptic-owned shop." Photos of desecrated churches and Christian property show Arabic graffiti saying things like "don't come back" and "Islam is the truth."

All media reports describe the same sequence of events: 1) Christians were threatened with leaflets warning them to evacuate or die; 2) an armed attack with automatic rifles was made on a Christian-owned shop; 3) Christians abandoned everything and fled their homes. Anyone following events in Egypt knows that these three points-threatening leaflets, attacks on Christian property, followed by the displacement of Christians-are happening throughout Egypt, and not just peripheral Sinai, even if the latter is the only area to make it to the Western mainstream media. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan: Teenaged Human Rights Advocate Survives Assassination Attempt

October 9th 2012

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

A Pakistani school girl who gained international fame for writing diaries about Taliban atrocities and attending school despite death threats, Malala Yousafzai, has been injured when one or more attackers opened fire on her school van. Because of the dangers posed to the young human rights advocate, she had been provided with a special car and unarmed security personnel.

Essa Khankhel, a local journalist, told RFE/RL Radio Mashaal that Yousafzai was targeted on October 9 while returning home from school in Saidu Sharif, the capital of the northwestern Swat district. Reports suggest one assailant asked which child was Yousafzai before opening fire. Yousafzai was struck in the head and the neck, Swat district coordination officer, Kaman Rahman, told Radio Mashaal. Another student was shot in her hand. Rahman suggested she was "out of danger." Read more ..


America on Edge

Slowed Progress in Gender Equity for High School Sports

October 9th 2012

female sprinter

While opportunities for girls to participate in high school sports increased during the 1990s, progress toward gender equity slowed and, perhaps, even reversed direction during the 2000s, according to a new report.

The report, released today by the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls (SHARP)—a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Women's Sports Foundation—provides insight into the state of high school athletics and the inequalities in the U.S. public school system, despite the passing of the landmark legislation, Title IX, 40 years ago.

"The Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports," co-authored by SHARP director Don Sabo and U-M postdoctoral fellow Philip Veliz, analyzes data from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Data Collection on girls' and boys' high school athletic opportunities between the 1999-2000 and 2009-10 school years.

Key findings from the report include:

Athletic participation opportunities expanded across the decade, but boys' allotment grew more than girls. By 2009-10, 53 athletic opportunities were offered for every 100 boys, compared with 41 opportunities for every 100 girls. Despite the level of economic resources, the opportunity gap between girls and boys continued to increase. By 2010, girls participated in greater numbers than in the beginning of the decade, but their share of total athletic opportunities decreased across the decade compared to boys. During a decade of expanding athletic participation opportunities across U.S. high schools, boys received more opportunities than girls, and boys' opportunities grew faster than those of girls. Read more ..


Rwanda on Edge

Amnesty Reports Unlawful Detentions in Rwanda

October 8th 2012

Rwanda Genocide

Amnesty International is accusing Rwandan military intelligence of torture, unlawful detention and forced disappearance of civilians in their custody.  Rwandan officials are questioning the credibility of the rights group report.

In its report, Amnesty says researchers in Rwanda documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture at Rwandan military prisons between March 2010 and June of this year. The abuses took place as the military intelligence service, known as J2, investigated a series of grenade attacks in the country before the August 2010 presidential election.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s Acting Deputy Africa Director said civilians were rounded up, detained for months without access to lawyers or doctors and, in some cases, tortured. “They reported that they were subject to serious beatings, to electric shocks and to sensory deprivation, bags placed over their heads, water poured over them, to force confessions during interrogations,” Jackson said. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghanistan Headed For 2014 Crisis--Report

October 8th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

A new report is warning that Afghanistan is moving toward a potentially devastating political crisis as NATO-led combat forces withdraw and the Afghan government prepares to take control of security responsibilities in 2014. The report -- titled “Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition” -- was prepared by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which describes itself as an independent nongovernmental organization committed to preventing deadly conflicts.

Candace Rondeaux, senior Afghanistan analyst for the organization, is quoted as saying there is “a real risk” that the U.S.-backed Afghan government “could collapse upon NATO's withdrawal in 2014.” Rondeaux added: “The Afghan army and police are overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition.” The report says Afghan stability is further threatened by the government’s failure so far to prepare for fair elections in the future. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrians Take Refuge in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

October 7th 2012

Syrian Refugees

As refugees continue streaming out of Syria to escape the violence of the civil war, tens of thousands of them are taking shelter in Lebanon, many in towns like this one near the frontier in the Bekaa Valley.

On a recent day, lines of laundry are draped across the school playground and aid workers mingle with children and their parents in the hallways of nearby buildings. The main topic of conversation for most is where their next meal is coming from and where they might be living in the coming weeks.

The latest United Nations figures estimate the overall number of Syrian refugees at more than 250,000, and of those, more than 70,000 are believed to be living in Lebanon. The number here is uncertain because many are afraid to register with official agencies out of fear of retribution due to the close ties between the governments in Damascus and Beirut. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigerians Skeptical of Rail Revival Plans

October 6th 2012

Nigeria train

Nigerian leaders have championed the revival of the nation’s rail lines for years. And with a recent boost in infrastructure funding, the leaders say new trains will create jobs and revitalize the economy.  But some analysts say train projects are one of the Nigerian government’s biggest scams and they note that money for rail transportation in the past has disappeared.

This town is only about 30 kilometers outside of Abuja’s posh city center, but it feels like another country.  A few generators rumble in the marketplace because city power hasn’t been on in weeks.  Most stores are unlit, and shopkeepers say they have never had power in their homes. Osa sells bright purses and shoes in a store owned with her fiancé, Kenny.  They’ve heard of the city’s latest rail plan, a project that’s expected to get 500,000 commuters from other parts of the Federal Capital Territory surrounding Abuja into the city center for work everyday by 2015. Read more ..


Caucasus on Edge

Armenian President Says Azerbaijan Preparing For War

October 6th 2012

Azerbaijani Tank

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has accused Azerbaijan of preparing for war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-controlled separatist territory inside Azerbaijan. In an interview in Yerevan with the Reuters news agency, Sarkisian said Azerbaijan’s government has been acquiring what he called a “horrendous quantity” of arms to prepare for new fighting. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, with a fragile cease-fire in place since 1994.

"Now, 18 years after the signing of this cease-fire agreement, Azerbaijan threatens us with a new war," Sarkisian said. Sarkisian accused Azerbaijanis of having hatred toward Armenians and a “general xenophobia.” He said, however, that Armenia still hopes for a negotiated settlement that would end the conflict between the neighboring Caucasus states peacefully. Read more ..


Serbia on Edge

Tensions Mount over Restoration of WWII Serbian Chetnik Leader

October 6th 2012

Draza Mihalovic

Amid mounting public tension driven by months of delay, the Municipal Court in Belgrade has declared an official date of death for Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic. The commander of the Serb-nationalist, royalist Chetnik movement during World War II, Mihailovic led forces against Josip Broz Tito's Communist Partisans -- as fighting against the Axis Powers gave way to a bitter civil war. With the conflict raging, Chetnik forces hunted and killed not only their opponents, but Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and others on Yugoslav territory. Historians say tens of thousands were murdered by the Chetniks because of their ethnicity.

In 1946, with Tito at the helm of post-war Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was captured and tried. He was found guilty of war crimes, collaborating with the Axis Powers, and agreeing a ceasefire with the Nazis. He was reportedly shot on Belgrade's Ada Island. A protracted search for his grave in recent years has yielded nothing definitive. Nevertheless, the court said it had determined July 31, 1946 to be the day Mihailovic's died, based on an examination of official record.. Read more ..


Inside France

Femen's Topless Protest Tactics Hit Paris

October 5th 2012

Feminists

The Ukrainian feminist movement Femen, best known for its topless protests, is opening its first international training camp in Paris. New recruits are expected to start classes this month - learning how to apply warpaint and jump, run and fight against exploitation.

It is downtime for a group of young feminists, veterans of in-your-face manifestos. Sunlight slants into the first-story loft where they prepare signs for future battles. Signs with slogans like "Muslim Women: Let's Get Naked!"

Inna Shevchenko, 22, is painting slogans on a black punching bag. She's a long way from her native Ukraine. But in Paris and Kiev, she says, women share a common cause. "We are fighting against the same thing, for the same reason; we are fighting against patriarchy, all manifestations of it - church, religion, sex industry and dictatorship," she said. Shevchenko is in Paris to open the first international office of Femen - the Ukrainian feminist group whose topless protests capture headlines and rile the establishment. Read more ..


The Battle for Jordan

Jordan’s Election Law: Reform or Perish?

October 5th 2012

Jordan Protest

Since early January 2011, Jordan has witnessed the rise of a reform movement that has demanded political and social change. While the movement has not requested regime change, it seeks profound constitutional reforms that would strip the King of Jordan of his executive and legislative authorities. Above all, the movement seeks to immunize the parliament (the National Council) from being dissolved by the King, in addition to parliamentary control over the formation of the government (instead of being appointed by the King), and a direct election of the upper house (currently, it is appointed by the King). Thus, the ongoing debate in Jordan over electoral reform lies at the heart of the power struggle between the government and the opposition, and contributes to a poisonous political environment as Jordan approaches parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place by the end of this year.

For its part, the government insists on leaving in place the one-man-one-vote electoral law, which has been in effect since 1993. In late June of this year, the parliament passed the old electoral law with two amendments. First, it adopted a mixed electoral system that allows Jordanians to vote for the first time for a closed national list of 27 seats (18 percent of the total seats), in addition to the 108 seats reserved for Jordan’s 12 governorates. Second, it increased the women’s quota from 12 seats to 15 seats. The three additional seats have been reserved for women from Bedouin areas. In total, the size of Parliament increased from 120 seats in the last election to 150 seats. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Latin America’s Growing Social Network

October 4th 2012

LectureTools student user

In 2000 only 8 million Latin Americans were active online. Today that number has ballooned to 129 million regular users—more than a 1000 percent increase—with almost all (127 million) signing in to their social media accounts at least once a month. The number of absolute and relative users differs by country, but the upward trend has been steady across the region, led in sheer number by Brazilians and in time dedicated by Argentineans and Chileans (10 hours and 8.7 hours a month respectively).

Facebook dominates for most of the region, with 114 million unique Latin American visitors monthly, spending over a billion combined hours on status updates, wall posts, and photo browsing. Twitter comes in a (distant) second place, with some 27 million Latin Americans expressing their thoughts in 140 characters or less (here #Mexicans and #Brazilians outpace their neighbors). Millions more in the region access sites such as Orkut, Slideshare, Tumblr, and the more professionally oriented LinkedIn. Read more ..


Amazon on Edge

Tribal Body Counts among Amazonian Peoples has Bearing on Modern Violence

October 3rd 2012

Brazilian Amazonian people

In the tribal societies of the Amazon forest, violent conflict accounted for 30 percent of all deaths before contact with Europeans, according to a recent study by University of Missouri anthropologist Robert Walker. Understanding the reasons behind those altercations in the Amazon sheds light on the instinctual motivations that continue to drive human groups to violence, as well as the ways culture influences the intensity and frequency of violence.

“The same reasons – revenge, honor, territory and jealousy over women – that fueled deadly conflicts in the Amazon continue to drive violence in today’s world,” said Walker, lead author and assistant professor of anthropology in MU’s College of Arts and Science. “Humans’ evolutionary history of violent conflict among rival groups goes back to our primate ancestors. It takes a great deal of social training and institutional control to resist our instincts and solve disputes with words instead of weapons. Fortunately, people have developed ways to channel those instincts away from actual deadly conflict. For example, sports and video games often involve the same impulses to defeat a rival group.” Read more ..


South Sudan Rising

Israel Builds a Model Farm in South Sudan

October 3rd 2012

Soybeans

Israel is planning to build a model agricultural village in the new nation of South Sudan, aimed at teaching local farmers how Israel’s breakthrough agricultural methods and technologies can help the fledgling African nation survive and thrive. The idea took shape when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon got to talking with South Sudan’s Minister of Agriculture, Betty Ogwaro, at the Agritech 2012 expo in Tel Aviv last May.

“Betty met not only people from our ministry but also our minister of agriculture, and the discussion became very productive,” Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan Haim Koren tells ISRAEL21c. “We suggested to her that we have plenty of experts in agriculture and irrigation who can give a hand, but since she knows better than we do what the needs are, we asked her to prioritize the issues.” Ogwaro recently told Koren, who travels to the year-old country frequently, that she wants the demonstration farm set up in Eastern Equatoria, one of the 10 states comprising South Sudan. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Plunging Currency Adds to Iran's Woes

October 3rd 2012

100,000 Rials

The long, steady decline of the Iranian rial took a precipitous turn Monday, with the currency falling more than 17 percent in trading. At one of the lowest points, it took 35,000 rials to buy one U.S. dollar. Less than a year ago, it took only 13,000 rials.

The drop was so steep that popular Iranian currency data websites were no longer providing information about the dollar exchange rate. On Mazanex.com, the dollar rate for the rial was blanked out, and Mesghal.ir was replaced with a message reading, “Account Suspended.”

Alex Vatanka, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the rial’s fall was due to a combination of economic sanctions imposed by Western countries and internal attempts at economic reform. “It has resulted in an interesting and painful cocktail that Iranians are seeing when they go out and buy groceries,” he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Eels on Slippery Slope in East Asia

October 2nd 2012

eel

Japan is poised to declare an eel emergency, anxiously waiting to see if the popular seafood delicacies soon are placed on a “red list” of threatened species. That move would not, though, restrict eel catches. The United States is considering pushing international restrictions, however, on several types of eel and that could affect the global eel trade.

It's feeding time at the Gochang eel farm in South Korea. These fish are headed for kitchens across northeast Asia, where Japanese and South Koreans devour the vast majority of the global catch. Eels, served fresh or processed, are rich in vitamins, calcium and protein. They are popular, especially in the warmer months, to combat fatigue and boost stamina.

The species preferred by Asian diners is Anguilla japonica - the Japanese eel. The eel’s larvae migrate from the Philippines Sea to rivers around China, Japan, and South Korea, where the species is overfished. The owner of a chain of gourmet eel restaurants in Japan, Hiroshi Suzuki, said no substitute is as appetizing. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Numbers Imprinted on a New Generation

October 2nd 2012

Holocaust survivor

As the last survivors of the Holocaust begin to pass into history, some of their descendants have chosen to continue their legacy in an unusual way: tattooing concentration camp number of grandparents onto their bodies. The New York Times profiles one such second-generation survivor, Eli Sagir, who had her grandfather's number—tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz—tattooed on her own arm.

"All my generation knows nothing about the Holocaust," she said, "You talk with people and they think it’s like the Exodus from Egypt, ancient history. I decided to do it to remind my generation: I want to tell them my grandfather’s story and the Holocaust story." The phenomenon is unsurprisingly rare, but it nonetheless represents a real, if shocking, attempt to grapple with the imminent disappearance of the Holocaust from living memory. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Voters in Georgia face a Crucial Election

September 30th 2012

Georgia election

On Monday, Georgian voters are to elect a new parliament. In turn, that parliament is to choose a prime minister with new presidential powers. In a rarity for much of the former Soviet Union, this is an election in which the result is not known in advance. President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing the strongest challenge since he was first elected eight years ago. His challenger is Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man. Long known as a reclusive philanthropist, Ivanishvili is suddenly the new face in politics here.

Monday’s parliamentary elections will test whether Ivanishvili can convert his billions of dollars into millions of votes for his Georgia Dream coalition. Keti Tsiptauri, a Tblisi primary school teacher, says she is impressed by Ivanishvili's charitable donations in Georgia. “The first block of our university was reconstructed by Ivanishvili,” she said. “And we are grateful to him, and I want to thank to him for this.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Police and Russian Muslims Clash

September 28th 2012

Muslims Russian police

Shermamat Suyarov says he will think twice before returning to pray at Moscow's largest mosque. Suyarov, a 52-year-old Russian citizen of Kyrgyz origin, says he was sitting in a parked car waiting to attend prayers on September 17 when police ordered him out and detained him.

He was hauled into a police bus with scores of other would-be worshippers. Later, at a police station he claims he was beaten so severely after he complained about the rough treatment that he had to be hospitalized: "They beat me with their fists, batons and feet," he says. "There were five or six of them beating me and there were some others there too. I wasn't counting. I lost consciousness. I was in shock and broke a rib." Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Tunisians Fear Democracy Transition is Stalling

September 28th 2012

New Tunisian Assembly

Almost a year after Tunisia held its first free elections, many fear the North African country's transition to a vibrant democracy has stalled. The economy is struggling, the government is divided, and Tunisians are locked in intensive debates about their future.

After a tumultuous 2011, things are getting back to normal. As the evening falls, Tunis residents gather in cafes to drink tea and maybe smoke a water pipe. On the main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, coils of barbed wire and the occasional tank spark memories of last year's revolution - a revolution that triggered the wider Arab uprising.

Many here are worried about the future. Among them: architecture student Miriam Kricha, 19, who is strolling down Habib Bourguiba with her boyfriend. Kricha says she's worried about finding work, even with a university diploma. She believes it will be especially difficult as a woman. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Tunisian Women Fear Rights Curbs

September 27th 2012

Women protest Tunisia

For decades, women in Tunisia have enjoyed some of the most far-reaching rights in the Arab world. But a clause in Tunisia's draft constitution describing women as complementary - not equal - to men has sparked uproar and concerns over women's rights.

At her factory outside Tunis, owner Salma Rekik talks about the origins of her family-run business. The group, Cofat, specializes in automobile cables and food processing and Rekik says she feels comfortable operating in sectors traditionally dominated by men.

Rekik says there may be some wariness when she starts a new project. But that changes as soon as she asserts herself and proves she's efficient. Rekik's views are also shaped by her environment. Tunisia is a leader in the Arab world when it comes to women's rights. Past Tunisian presidents championed them - although they stifled other human liberties. Read more ..



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