Reuters brings us today's reminder that the world is a confusing, intricately interconnected place:
Disgruntled Bulgarian truck drivers blocked traffic at two major border checkpoints with neighboring Turkey on Friday to protest against what they said were Turkish restrictions to their operations.
Among those caught up in the blockade, now in its second day, was British band Depeche Mode, which was forced to cancel its concert in Istanbul on Friday because trucks carrying equipment from Bulgaria could not get through.
Depeche Mode, for its part, has apologized to Turkish fans on its website:
We regret to inform ticket holders for tonight's show in Istanbul at KüçükÇiftlik Park that, due to circumstances beyond the control of Depeche Mode and Purple Concerts, tonight's show will not be taking place. The Bulgarian trucking blockade at the Bulgaria-Turkey border has prevented Depeche Mode's production trucks from crossing the border into Turkey, forcing this situation.
As if ticket holders couldn't have seen the Bulgarian trucking blockade coming.
VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
In much of the Middle East, Wednesday was Nakba Day, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the exodus of Palestinian refugees in the war that resulted in the establishment of Israel in 1948 -- an event known in Arabic as "al-Nakba," or "the catastrophe."
Predictably, the largest demonstrations were held by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank; the Associated Press estimates the total number of protesters in the tens of thousands, some of whom skirmished with Israeli police and military forces. But neighboring countries, despite having large Palestinian refugee populations and politicians who pay frequent lip service to the rights of Palestinians, remained quiet.
In the heyday of the pan-Arab movement, May 15, the day after the declaration of the state of Israel, was an annual rallying point for expressing solidarity with the plight of displaced Palestinians, Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut, told FP by email. Palestinian groups "tied resurging Arab nationalism in the early 1950s to the Nakba, which became its legitimizing cause. The Baath party and other pan-Arab parties ... observed it, as well as [refugee] camp residents, on an annual basis." But that waned with the pan-Arab movement and, after 1967, "Arabs forgot about the Nakba Day and focused, instead, on seeking to recover the lands Israel occupied in that war."
The anniversary this year was barely acknowledged outside of the protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were, for instance, only a handful of events in Lebanon. Iran's PressTV struggled to find a Nakba event to cover in Egypt, settling on a half-empty Nakba Day press conference hosted by the Building and Development Party. A handful of protesters posted signs outside of diplomatic buildings in Cairo, but for its article on the commemorations, Ahram Online chose to run pictures of larger protests in 2011. Tunisia's governing Ennahda Party released a statement on its Facebook page for the occasion, but Tunisian news sites didn't report any significant protests. The same in Jordan, home to the largest population of Palestinian expatriates. Meanwhile, approximately 350 people in Sydney, Australia shut down a thoroughfare, and a couple hundred university students in Karachi, Pakistan gathered for a protest.
The most notable Nakba Day protests outside of Israel in recent memory took place in 2011, after years of relative indifference to the occasion in the region, when protesters in Syria and Lebanon rushed the border and several were killed as Israeli forces responded. A month later, though, Michael Weiss reported in the Telegraph that the incident was orchestrated by the Syrian government in an attempt to distract from the country's growing domestic protests. A Google Trends analysis of "nakba" shows a spike of searches for the word in 2011 and a precipitous decline in interest over the past two years.
Unless an Arab government tries to revive Nakba Day as a distraction again, that trend's unlikely to change soon. "Arabs are currently preoccupied with their internal strife," Khashan told FP, "and the Palestinians are divided between the PLO and Hamas. In this period of uncertain transition, the Nakba Day has retreated to insignificance."
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
British consular officials are completely fed up with fielding stupid requests for assistance from Britons abroad. Or, at the very least, that's the clear subtext of a ridiculous press release by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that lists the most bizarre requests British diplomatic posts have received in 2012 and 2013 (it also makes the U.S. State Department's press releases look incredibly boring).
The release describes the requests as "often good natured" but notes that they "can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress." To put it less politely: "Dear Britons, we are far too busy dealing with real problems to help you pick out a perfect tattoo during your debauched romp through the Mediterranean."
Here, in all its glory, is the full list:
So, Britain, please stop bothering your country's harried diplomats with your inane requests. They don't care about your tattoo.
BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like FP collected Ramzan Kadyrov's 11 weirdest Instagrams just in time. Today brought news that the Chechen president is threatening to close his popular account.
According to Radio Free Europe, the threat comes after Kadyrov posted a photograph of himself standing next to Bekkhan Ibragimov, a Chechen who everyone thought was serving jail time for his part in the 2010 killing of a Russian soccer fan.
In the photo's caption, Kadyrov wrote that he was helping Ibragimov combat local corruption that had prevented him from receiving registration documents.
Kadyrov apparently thought his Instagram followers would be pleased with his hard line on corruption, but instead the Chechen leader was immediately barraged with angry comments criticizing him for his support of such a controversial figure. (The 2010 killing of Yuri Volkov, the Russian soccer fan, sparked protests in Moscow.)
In comments cited by Russian media and reported by Radio Free Europe, a peeved Kadyrov responded to the criticism on LiveJournal:
I no longer understand my subscribers at all. One minute you say we need to fight corruption and punish bribe-takers, but when you see real action in this direction you start discussing and condemning the person that exposed illegal action by a bureaucrat.... Your comments are worth absolutely nothing. It is just empty chatter. That's why I think it's probably better for me to delete [my] Instagram [account] and work without taking an interest in your opinions on this or that issue.
Kadyrov has yet to make good on his threat, but he did express similar grievances on Instagram. Of course, he accompanied those comments with yet another picture.
Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram account
The shocking video of a Syrian rebel eating the lung of a pro-Assad fighter spread like wildfire across the Internet earlier this week. The rebel, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, has filmed a YouTube video explaining his actions.
"I am willing to face trial for my actions if Bashar and his shabeeha [militiamen] stand trial for their atrocities," he says. "My message to the world is if the bloodshed in Syria doesn't stop, all of Syria will become like Abu Sakkar."
The Syrian rebel, whose real name is Khalid al-Hamad, goes on to explain that he did what he did because of atrocities committed by pro-Assad fighters. He said that evidence taken from their cell phones showed how they raped women, killed children, and tortured men. In an article published this week by TIME magazine, the rebel fighter explained that he had a sectarian hatred of Alawites, and that he had made another video where he cuts up a pro-Assad fighter's body with a saw.
Abu Sakkar's actions not only created controversy among observers of the conflict, but also prompted the Syrian rebel leadership to take action. The Free Syrian Army's Military Council released a statement condemning Abu Sakkar's "monstrous act," and instructed field commanders to being an investigation "in which the perpetrator will be brought to justice."
So far, however, Abu Sakkar appears to still be on the battlefield. At the end of the video, the cameraman asks him whether he will continue fighting after this controversy. "Victory or martyrdom, I will fight to the death," he replies, then walks off down the road.
In the latest development in the showdown between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the hands of the Philippine coast guard, Taiwan is holding military drills near Philippine waters. The Philippines -- its apology having been rejected by Taiwan -- is also standing firm, saying it won't "appease" the Taiwanese, while the United States is urging cooler heads to prevail. The standoff is just the latest in a string of geopolitical showdowns in which fishermen have served -- sometimes unwittingly and sometimes wittingly -- as lightning rods in East and Southeast Asian maritime territorial disputes.
The humble fishing boat, in fact, has been at the center of incidents between China and Russia; between China and Vietnam; between Japan and Taiwan; between China and South Korea; between North Korea and South Korea; between North Korea and China; between China and the Philippines; and between South Korea and Japan. And then, of course, there was the 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which set relations between the two Asian superpowers on edge for months.
How has the fisherman -- a seemingly unassuming practitioner of his ancient craft -- come to play this vital role on the international stage? There are a number of factors at play. For starters, Asian waters are running out of fish -- which means more fishing boats are straying into foreign waters in search of good hauls. Then there's the growing nationalism in many of these countries, which raises the stakes in these disputes and allows one arrested fisherman to take on national significance.
In addition, there's the suspicion that some countries -- notably China -- really do use fishermen as proxies in their ongoing disputes with other countries -- that these fishing boats are not the innocent bystanders caught up in forces greater than themselves that they seem. At the height of last year's tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it was reported that China was sending an "armada" of 1,000 fishing boats to the islands with the goal of overwhelming the Japanese coast guard -- though the reports later proved false.
Hung Shih-cheng, the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman at the center of the current row between Taiwan and the Philippines, appears to have ventured into disputed territory with the simple aim of fishing; the Philippine coast guard has said the crew believed he was trying to ram one of their ships and opened fire.
Venture astray, and face the chance of catching fire from a military vessel as a result of international border disputes? That's quite an occupational hazard.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin has finally decided to make a concession to his critics. But he isn't exactly bending over backwards. Instead, he's having a helipad installed at the Kremlin.
Sure, it may not be the most meaningful reform. But it does cater to widespread anger at the Russian leader. Muscovites have in recent months grown furious about the delays caused by the president's motorcades, which often stop traffic and clear the streets for hours on end. Now, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin may commute to work more often by Mi8 helicopter.
According to a report by the GPS manufacturer TomTom, the traffic in Moscow is the world's worst. And drivers in the Russian capital deeply resent that Putin and a cadre of senior officials have taken to closing roads to get around congestion. In an act of protest, drivers in Moscow have begun honking at the presidential motorcade while they sit at a stand-still and watch Putin speed by. Thanks to Russia's ubiquitous dashboard cameras, the phenomenon is well-documented:
But Putin isn't the only one trying to circumvent Moscow's gridlock. Lower-level officials are allowed to place blue lights on the roofs of their cars and use them to skirt traffic laws, including driving on the opposite side of the road. That system has been widely abused, and self-important Muscovites have taken to placing blue lights on their vehicles regardless of whether they possess a permit to do so (the abuse inspired drivers in the capital to place blue buckets on the roofs of their cars to object to the practice). Last year, Putin vowed to drastically reduced the number of officials granted the right to use the blue lights.
When Putin was asked about these very issues in an interview back in October, he was apologetic but didn't exactly seem overly concerned. "I truly feel bad about it," he said. But when asked about French President François Hollande's decision to stop at all the red lights en route to his inauguration in Paris, Putin bristled at the suggestion he could do more to alleviate the problem. "He’s a good guy, but I don’t engage in populism," Putin said. "There’s work to be done."
For kicks (and contrasts), here's RIA Novosti's unbelievably patriotic video of Putin's motorcade arriving for his inauguration ceremony last year. Note the utter lack of either red lights or human beings of any kind along the parade route:
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