On Thursday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that a small aircraft piloted by democracy activists had violated Belarusian airspace in July when it crossed over from Lithuania. The aircraft was carrying a cargo of teddy bears, which parachuted into the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on July 4.
Lukashenko was peeved at his military commanders and air traffic control had failed to stop the plane's raid into Belarus. Government officials have been trying to sort out how the activists planned the attack and why national security operatives failed to stop the small planes raid into controlled air space.
According to Al Jazeera's news report:
"[Press Secretary ]Andrei Savinykh told Al Jazeera that the aircraft was detected, "but the air defence did nothing. They didn't consider the aircraft as a military threat because it was a small aircraft and usually the air defence system is focusing on high-speed heavy crafts." However, Savinykh said their failure to act was a "violation of instructions" and that the responsible personnel will be punished."
The plane was piloted by the cofounder of a Swedish ad agency on behalf of Charter 97, a Belarussian democracy advocacy group. The group has since organized other teddy bear assaults, including staging of teddy bears in front of the Belarusian Embassy in London-which caused embassy officials to call the police-- to protest Lukashenko's repression. Protestors have adopted the teddy bears as a symbol of resistance against Lukashenko.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
On Saturday, as Ramadan began, a new Egyptian satellite television channel was launched, catering to and run by women. Maria TV is an all-woman Islamic channel -- the first of its kind -- in which women work the cameras, determine content, and appear as presenters and actresses, providing programming directed at a female audience. No men will be featured in any of Maria's programming.
Shows on Maria TV will include daily news, talk-show-style programs on topics such as the first year of marriage and make up tips, as well as investigative reports on subjects like women who cheat on their husbands. There will also be a satirical news show starring a female puppet.
Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai will head the programming. The channel is the newest creation of Ahmed Abdallah, a Cario-based producer of Islamic television, who is also the founder of Ummah TV, a religious satellite station targeting Muslim audiences throughout the Middle East.
Hosni Mubarak's regime had targeted several security raids against Ummah TV , but since Mubarak's fall, Egyptian media has seen some relaxation of restrictions. Earlier in the summer, Egyptian broadcasting also began featuring its first political humorist and satirist, Bassem Yousef, on the air.
Maria TV, which will for now consist of six hours of programming on Ummah TV, will show only fully veiled women. Guests who choose not to wear the Niqab will have their features blurred out.
AMR NABIL/AFP/Getty Images
On Tuesday, indigenous residents of El Berlin, a small rural town in southwestern Colombia, forced the Colombian military off its mountaintop base. Members of the Nasa indigenous community surrounded several soldiers, picked them up, and dragged them away from their posts. The military eventually retook the facility using tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Tuesdays' confrontation started after government forces ignored an ultimatum from indigenous authorities demanding an end to what they saw as government occupation of tribal lands, according to La Semana. Over 1000 members of the indigenous community had been staging a sit-in at the base for nearly a week in preparation for the showdown with the government forces. The soldiers were at the outpost protecting an antenna but the community claims that the military outpost was built on a sacred mountain.
The clashes have caused at least 30 injuries and one death, and confusion remains about how events are unfolding. The scene is further complicated by the suspected presence of FARC soldiers on the outskirts of the town who fired shots in the air amidst the clashes.
President Juan Manuel Santos has demanded an end to the violence, asserting "we will not tolerate attacks against those who defend us." Last week, Santos had promised, "we will not cede a single centimeter of land of El Cauca or of the nation's territory."
The ongoing crisis has seized national attention and touched off a flurry of debate in Colombia about indigenous rights, the military's human rights record and the stability of the state. Some discussion boards are suggesting that the images from this debacle could cost Santos his reelection. Others are lauding the soldiers' restraint in not firing on the crowd during the kerfuffle, and images of a soldier crying after being carried down the mountain by protestors has elicited sympathy for the military.
Government supporters have revived the standard charge that the indigenous groups must be tied to the FARC. Santos himself claimed that there were "links" between the indigenous tribe and guerrilla groups. Other critics claim the indigenous tribes are seeking to return to highly profitable coca cultivation that the military is trying to eradicate.
El Berlin is located in southwest Colombia in El Cauca department (state), which was once host to the late FARC commander, Alfonso Cano, who was killed by government forces in 2011. Indigenous communities in Colombia have suffered the most during the protracted armed conflict of the past six decades. Their national representation has strengthened in recent years and has increased their appeals for various levels of autonomy from the government.
Indigenous leaders have called for both the military and the illegal armed groups to quit the area and let the local communities live in peace after six decades of suffering FARC, paramilitary and military clashes that left hundreds dead and thousands displaced.
Santos says that they will negotiate with the Nasa community only if they end the attacks on the soldiers. Several national leaders, including former president Ernesto Samper, suggested solutions to the crisis ranging from the creation of a humanitarian zone to international intervention.
Tension remains high after protestors captured 30 military guards, since released, and four FARC combatants. As of Thursday morning, the military retained control of the mountaintop base. The local civilian police force is charged with responding to protestors.
Early this morning, Hungarian law enforcement detained accused Nazi war criminal Laszlo Csatary. The judge in the case ordered him placed under house arrest.
Csatary was a commander for the Royal Hungarian police force in Kassa, in modern-day Slovakia, where he served as commander of the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. While in this capacity he was allegedly responsible for the deportation of 15,000 Jews to concentration camps. Csatary is also accused of assaulting prisoners.
In 1948, Csatary was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in Czechoslovakia, but fled to Canada where he obtained citizenship. He remained there until 1997 when he escaped back to Hungary after his Canadian citizenship was revoked for providing false information to immigration authorities and deportation hearings were underway.
Csatary was identified and located by Hungarian authorities almost a year ago using information provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but further investigation was required to make the arrest possible. Csatary had been living in Budapest under his real name for 15 year.
The attention his identification drew forced Csatary to move apartments in the past year, according to his attorney, but authorities worried this might be an effort to evade capture. During questioning, Csatary, who is now 97 years old, claimed innocence and insisted that he had only been carrying out orders.
In 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that there are over 800 investigations underway and 21 new indictments filed against suspected Nazi war criminals in 2010. Csatary was one of the top-ten most wanted. Last year, Hungary arrested the top name on the most-wanted list, Sandor Kapiro, for his role in a massacre in Serbia during the War, but later acquitted him of all charges shortly before his death in September.
If he is indicted, Csatary's trial would take place in Hungary and could involve testimony from survivors, if they can be located.
Spain's King Juan Carlos is showing solidarity with his financially-distressed country by announcing salary cuts for the royal family today. As civil servants protest pay cuts and the government struggles to stabilize the precarious economy, the royals have decided that the king and prince will take a 7-percent reduction in their salary, according to Spanish news sources. This year, King Juan Carlos and his son Prince Felipe will have to live on approximately $350,000 and $160,000 respectively.
With nearly one-quarter of the workforce currently unemployed, Spain's austerity measures are hitting the public hard. But while Madrid burned (figuratively, thankfully) under peril of financial collapse, the royal family drew ire this spring when the King was injured on an elephant hunt in Botswana.
Calls for the end of the monarchy and return of the republic ensued. Of course, with an annual budget of only $10 million, doing away with the entire monarchy would amount to savings of about .008 percent of the cost of the deal to bail out Spain's banks.
According to El Pais, the cuts to the royal budget, which were decided upon in April, will affect only the protocol budget and 11 senior officials of the monarchy. Frustration with the royals had already compelled the government to release information about the King's finances in December of 2011.
The royal family's self-imposed austerity measure will also include a 7-percent cut to protocol funds, which cover the royal party costs, for the entire royal family. How the news will play among the financially distressed Spanish public remains unclear.
PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.
The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008. The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.
The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.
This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.
However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum. Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category. Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy. The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.
*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government has decided to ban shark fin soup at official receptions, the New York Times reports. For decades, environmentalists have lobbied to end the practice of eating shark fin soup, popular in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, because of the toll it takes on endangered shark species.
However, the decision, lauded by shark protection groups, was not driven by conservation concerns but by concern about the appearance of state-sponsored opulence, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese GSA announced on Tuesday the decision to ban the delicacy in order to avoid the appearance of government waste.
Of course, the move is more gesture than substance: party officials continue to enjoy the spoils of office in the form of privatization deals for family members and closed bids for government contracts. This latest announcement follows a series of moves in a broader campaign to reduce perceptions of inequality, including a 2011 ban on the use of the word "luxury" in advertising.
The impact the ban will have on government balance sheet remains unclear; Although China is known to be the largest consumer of shark fin soup, no figures were released on government-specific soup expenditure.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images)
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.