There was calm on the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday, a day after the Senate rejected a controversial bill that would have provided amnesty for political offenses in Thailand stretching back almost a decade. The bill, proposed by the governing Pheu Thai party, was intended to bring about reconciliation after years of political turmoil. Instead it prompted weeks of mass protests by tens of thousands of Thais across the political spectrum. The protesters said it would exonerate politicians, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006, as well as soldiers and political leaders who oversaw a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in 2010. More »Thai political amnesty bill defeat: An end to protests?
A blame game has erupted between the US and Iran over who is responsible for the failure to reach an initial deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, despite days of unprecedented high-level diplomacy. Mr. Fabius said France would insist in the initial deal that Iran halt work on its Arak heavy water reactor and shrink its stockpile of enriched uranium – issues that other nations expected to feature in the final stages, months from now. More »With Iran nuclear deal missed, world powers rush back to talks
The words “UN climate talks” can make the eyes of the most optimistic environmentalist glaze over. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres talked of the "devastating impact" of the typhoon in her opening speech, according to the AP, as she asked the participants to “go that extra mile" in their negotiations. More »Will Typhoon Haiyan spur progress at UN climate talks?
Last month, the Pakistani government quietly let seven captured Taliban combatants walk out of prison, ostensibly to breathe new life into peace talks. This was the second such release of Taliban prisoners in two months and one of many that has occurred over the past year. In total, Islamabad has reportedly released almost 40 Taliban combatants at the request of Afghan officials – including a senior Taliban commander, Mansoor Dadullah, and one of the Taliban’s founding members, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. While these prisoner releases have gone largely unnoticed in the United States, they are important reminders of broader problems with ongoing attempts to negotiate with the Taliban. More »Pakistan's release of Taliban prisoners – an empty deal
“A lot of the problem is that you have good preparation, good laws, a lot of good intentions, but it kind of falls apart when the rubber hits the road,” says Leonard Doyle, Philippine-based head of online communication for the International Organization for Migration The Philippines has over 1,000 miles of coast on its eastern shores, and the absence of any meaningful land masses to protect the country to the east leaves it vulnerable to the typhoons that come storming out of the Western Pacific in the second half of most years. More »Did Philippines underestimate typhoon's strength?
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Thai troops would not be withdrawn from a disputed square-kilometer region surrounding the temple – and which the International Court of Justice ruled was Cambodian territory – until Thai and Cambodian officials could meet to discuss implementation. Radio Free Asia reports that the ruling caused no tensions between the Thai and Cambodian forces around Preah Vihear, which has been a flashpoint in recent years between the two nations. Both countries have laid claim to a few square miles of scrubland around the temple since the ICJ ruled Preah Vihear was Cambodian in 1962. But the ICJ ruled on Monday that "Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear," referring to a subregion of the disputed territory currently held by Thai forces, reports Agence France-Presse. More »Preah Vihear ruling hailed as 'win-win' for Thailand, Cambodia
Secretary of State John Kerry sets out this week to convince Congress that it should not place new roadblocks in the way of a two-step plan that world powers are trying to conclude with Iran over its nuclear program. But Secretary Kerry’s task is not an easy one: France, one of the parties to the negotiations with Iran, has called the plan “a fool’s game” that leaves Iran too much leeway to pursue its nuclear ambitions. And Israel has exhorted American Jewish groups to pressure Congress to do what it can to discourage US support for an interim agreement. The first step of this plan would basically curtail some of Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for some reversible relief from harsh economic sanctions – but would leave the building blocks of both Iran’s nuclear program and the international sanctions in place. More »Potential Iran nuclear deal: what John Kerry faces in convincing Congress
A senior leader of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was killed in Pakistan this week, raising concern over rifts in militant groups and implications for the governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, and who served as the head fundraiser for the network, was shot on the outskirts of Islamabad, according to Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence unit, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). More »What Haqqani leader's killing means for Afghanistan and Pakistan
"Tonight I'm eating FRENCH fries," read a tweet this weekend from Rick Grenell, the US's spokesperson at the UN when France opposed an invasion of Iraq in 2003, and who gave rise to the American term “Freedom fries.” His comments over the weekend were in response to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who went on air saying a deal with Iran flopped because France will not accept a “sucker's deal.” It's unclear what actually went on in Geneva, as the "P5+1" group that includes France, Russia, China, the US, Britain, and Germany seemed close to an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program but then failed. In fact US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was actually Iran that didn't accept the terms. More »French or Freedom fries: What's behind France's move on Iranian nuclear deal?
Reporting for National Geographic, James Verini paints a grisly picture of how Boko Haram – an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group – has wreaked havoc in northern Nigeria, a region already struggling with ethnic and religious violence. Mr. Verini says that Boko Haram’s gravest toll on Nigeria is existential: “Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed,” he writes. Almost one-quarter of the $5.3 trillion in global trade that moves through the South China Sea reaches US ports. With several countries – the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China, among others – claiming ownership of the water, islands, reefs, or shoals in the area, the United States walks a fine diplomatic line. More »Good Reads: From innovation, to Nigeria’s terrorist struggle, to hot peppers
As representatives of the 700,000 Filipinos living in the United Arab Emirates prepared for a typhoon fundraising brunch this weekend, the UAE president promised to organize assistance programs worth 37 million dirhams ($10 million) to help the Philippines recover from Typhoon Haiyan, Arab News has reported. “It’s so heart-warming to know that other nationalities are also willing to help our compatriots back home,” said Matilyn Bagunu, the president of Filcom, which represents Filipino community groups in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. Meanwhile, Saudi Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz pledged $100,000 on behalf of the regional Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND), and the Israeli government as well as the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID have sent preliminary teams to help with medical care and search and rescue missions. With an estimated 2 million Filipinos living in the Middle East, these countries all have a very human link to the Philippines. More »Why Arab presidents and princes are pledging millions to Philippines in Typhoon Haiyan aid
The failure of three days of the most intensive, high-level negotiations yet between Iran and six world powers to reach a preliminary deal on Iran’s nuclear program has exposed the delicate process to the wrath of hardliners on all sides. Their sights were set on a deal that would have frozen Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work for perhaps six months until a final deal could be reached, in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Though diplomats on all sides tried to put a brave face, failure to strike a deal – reportedly due to objections led publicly by France – will give more room for hardliners in Israel, the US Congress, and in Tehran, whose maximalist demands could wreck prospects of a diplomatic solution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pre-rejected any possible nuclear agreement with Iran on Saturday, claiming – as if a deal were already concluded – that the Jewish state “utterly rejects” the “deal of the century for Iran,” which he declared had got everything it wanted, and gave up nothing in return. More »Failure to reach Iran nuclear deal may fortify hardline opponents
A captivating mountain scene, perhaps just before a storm, it’s just one of several art pieces that lend an elegance to his modest home, located in a quiet Palestinian village outside Bethlehem. He cultivated that talent while surrounded by very different walls – those of an Israeli prison. Arrested in 2002 during the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, Al-Wahsh – then 20 years old – decided to use his abundant spare time to hone his artistic skills. More »Palestinian artist resists Israeli occupation – with his paintbrush
Still, to be new in Paris, with some of the world's best museums, designer clothes shops, and gallery exhibitions all around me, at least I can partake in a buzzing cultural vibe. In fact, for all of the rivalry in Europe between London and Paris as the hubs of culture, both would do well to be looking at Stockholm instead. Despite being home to world-famed museums like the Louvre or Musee D'Orsay, only 39 percent of the French visited a museum in the last year, compared to 52 percent in the UK. Only 21 percent of the French had gone to the theater, compared to 39 percent of Britons in the past year. More »Think the French are Europe's most cultured? Think again.
When outspoken economics professor Xia Yeliang was dismissed by Peking University (PKU) last month, 136 faculty members at Wellesley College, an elite all-women's school outside Boston, took it personally. They had reason to believe Professor Xia had been fired for his political opinions. And since Wellesley had recently signed a partnership with PKU, the latest in a flood of US universities to set up bridgeheads in China, they figured that made Xia a colleague of theirs. Xia's dismissal, they wrote in an open letter to PKU's president, was "such a fundamental violation of academic freedom" that they "would find it very difficult to engage in scholarly exchanges with Peking University." More »US universities target foreign markets. Can core values survive?
The reasons for which Xia Yeliang, an outspoken government critic, was dismissed in October from his job teaching economics at China's most prestigious seat of learning, Peking University, are disputed. He says he was sacked on political grounds, that he is being punished for his public criticism of senior figures in the ruling Communist Party. Professor Xia is a well-known liberal economist who has been in trouble with the authorities before – especially since he put his signature to Charter 08, a public call for democracy, whose main author, Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, is serving an 11-year jail sentence for his pains. Faculty at Peking University's School of Economics voted 30 to 3 not to renew his contract at the end of this year at a meeting Oct. 11. More »Beijing critic ousted by Peking University
On Oct. 28, an SUV plowed through crowds in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, crashed, and burst into flames. Police say the car's occupants, who were killed, were extremist Muslim Uighurs. 1: Who are the Uighurs? The estimated 12 million Uighurs (pronounced "WEE-ghers") are Muslims, living in China's far-western province of Xinjiang. More »China's Uighurs: Who are they, and why are they unhappy?
And even many Yemenis who treat their firearm as an element of their daily wardrobe harbor a deep ambivalence regarding their weapons. Two years later, Yemenis say that more than ever, they’ve been forced to take such matters into their own hands. More »Gun-toting Yemenis wish they could lay down their arms
The team, which included the Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, ran a battery of tests on the samples to conclude: “the results moderately support the proposition that the death [of Yasser Arafat] was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210.” This tentative conclusion adds credence to the long-percolating claims of Arafat’s family and allies that he had died of radioactive poisoning. Radioactive poisoning occurs through eating or drinking contaminated food or through an open wound. More »Polonium 101: What is it, and why is it so dangerous?
China has transformed beyond all recognition since Deng Xiaoping launched “reform and opening” 35 years ago. Rather than imposing a radical nationwide blueprint from the start, “China has adopted reform through trial and error,” says Xue Lan, dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Deng had a famous phrase for it: “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” And that’s still how central government works today, allowing cities and provinces remarkable latitude to experiment and test different policies in different circumstances. A stocky crane operator at the port in Qingdao, on China’s east coast, Mr. Li comes from a village 175 miles away. More »How Chinese leaders really launch reforms
The defeat of one of the most notorious rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo by a beefed-up United Nations force and a rejuvenated national Army has raised hopes that other militias ravaging the country’s east could also be brought to heel. Among the celebrations of the defeat of the M23, “we must not lose sight of the fact that there are many other armed groups still operating in this region,” said Tariq Riebl, humanitarian coordinator for Congo for Oxfam. More »Can defeat of M23 rebels foster sustained peace in Congo?
They were given a boost by Prime Minister David Cameron last month when he announced plans to issue the country’s first sovereign Islamic bond, or sukuk. He unveiled the scheme, along with plans to set up an Islamic index at the London Stock Exchange, at the World Islamic Economic Forum, which was held in London – the first time a non-Muslim country had hosted the event. “It’s a very important step,” says Masjid Dawood, chief executive of Yasaar, an Islamic financial consultancy in London. “It shows there is a commitment at the highest level to Islamic finance. More »Will Britain's no-interest Islamic bond generate much interest?
That sudden development – after nearly two years of fruitless talks to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions – also prompted opponents as varied as Israel’s prime minister and Iran’s hard-line Friday prayer leader to raise loud voices of complaint. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The Christian Science Monitor today that a joint text was being prepared, but that “a very difficult task” lay ahead. More »Iran foreign minister says initial nuclear deal could be struck today: interview
The Pakistan Taliban – after electing a hardline leader yesterday – has issued new threats against the Pakistani government and denounced peace talks in the latest domestic snarl to emerge after a US drone strike killed the previous Pakistan Taliban leader last week. A spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) said they would launch revenge attacks against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government in retaliation for the death of former leader Hakimullah Mehsud. “All areas will come under attack, but Punjab [Pakistan’s most populous province] will come first,” TTP member Asmatullah Shaheen told CNN. Mr. Shaheen also told the broadcaster that Mr. Sharif had turned Pakistan into a “colony” of the United States. More »New boss, new rules: Taliban says talks are off in Pakistan
All four identify strongly with the character of Brooks Hatlen in the 1994 movie "The Shawshank Redemption": a man who is paroled after more than three decades behind bars and is so disoriented by the prospect of starting a new life in a world he no longer understands that he commits suicide. And all four credit a woman sitting on the wide porch alongside them, Sister Mary Sean Hodges, for why they won't follow in Brooks's footsteps. "If it weren't for Sister Mary Sean, I wouldn't be here," says Tom (not his real name). Tom heard about Sister Hodges when she visited Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, where he was serving a sentence for shooting a man in a bar in 1981. More »Sister Mary Sean Hodges gives ex-convicts a second chance