AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.
Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.
Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration. All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.
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Cameroon's Olympic delegation has confirmed that seven of the African nation's 37 athletes have disappeared from the Olympic Village. Drusille Ngako, a reserve goalkeeper for the women's soccer team, is believed to have been the first to disappear in July, escaping the compound while her teammates travelled to Coventry for a final training match against New Zealand. Swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue, scheduled to compete in the men's 50-meter freestyle, disappeared with his personal belongings next, followed by five eliminated members of the men's boxing team: Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Mewoli Abdon, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo. The news comes after the Ethiopian team's 15-year-old torch bearer Natnael Yemane, a member of the London Organizing Committee's International Inspiration program, disappeared in Nottingham on June 27.
The Guardian speculates that the athletes were motivated to escape the Olympic Village for economic reasons and aim to remain within the European Union. Such disappearances are unfortunately not unusual at international sporting events. After 26 athletes sought asylum during the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne, Australia, nine athletes from Sierra Leon, Tanzania and Bangladesh disappeared from the 2009 tournament. Not all seek legal residence, however, and in 2011, 15 Ethiopian athletes disappeared from the All African Games in Mozambique, a regional hub for illegal immigration. They were rumored to have fled to South Africa in search of employment.
The Olympic games are also known for numerous political defections. Deutsche Welle tracks the first incident to 1948, when Marie Provaznikova, then president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return to her native Czechoslovakia. In a similiar protest against the Soviet Union, nearly half of Hungary's Olympic delegation defected in 1956 after the failed revolution. The small island of Cuba, however, gets the gold for most defections as low wages and political oppression pushes many talented athletes to seek new teams abroad. Though Cuban coaches have attempted to prevent player-loss by forcing teams to leave competitions early, a national soccer team member managed to file for political asylum as recently as April 2012. Making news for his bronze medal in the men's all-around, U.S. gymnast Danell Leyva is the son of two Cuban athlete defectors
Whether foul play or a transnational job search is at fault, the International Olympic Committee remains in the dark. When asked about the disappearances, IOC spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters: "We are unaware of it."
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After trouble in the South and East China Seas, Chinese fisherman have caused new waves in the Indian Ocean. On Aug. 5, Sri Lanka's Navy captured two Chinese fishing trawlers off the eastern coast of Arugambay in the Indian Ocean on charges of illegally entering sovereign waters. The 37 crew members, including two Sri Lankan nationals, were escorted by the Eastern Naval Command to Trincomalee Harbor where they were turned over to local police "for legal action."
China Daily's initial coverage of the arrests has been noticeably less dramatic than its typical response to maritime disputes. Early reports cited the Chinese embassy's urging of "Sri Lankan authorities to handle the issue in accordance with the law, sort out the truth and release the Chinese fisherman as soon as possible."
In a bizarre twist, Chinese state news service Xinhua later announced the fisherman's release, blaming the disturbance on a miscommunication and claiming locals had confused "Sri Lankan vessels as Chinese ones, due to the old Chinese logo on the body of the ship." Sri Lankan Navy officials initially denied that report, telling Reuters, that the fishermen would "appear in court tomorrow," but Xinhua seems to have predicted the inevitable and the crew was released to Chinese Embassy early this morning.
The incident comes as China looks to improve relations with the island nation. Strategically located in the northern Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has been courted by the United States, India and China as a commercial and military foothold since the government defeated rebel group Tamil Tigers in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war and restoring the island as a viable trade partner. The Chinese government has funneled hundreds of millions into infrastructure projects in recent years, financing a variety of projects including a new airport and a heavily flawed power station. Though China watchers have speculated that Beijing intends to transform Sri Lanka's Hambantota port into a naval base, President Mahinda Rajapaksa laughed off the rumors and insists he remains committed to the nation's historical non-alignment.
The Chinese government has ordered restrictions on Ramadan observances in the northern province of Xinjiang, home to the majority of China's Muslim Uighur minority, leading Uighur leaders to warn of the potential for new violence in the restive region. Al Jazeera reports that party officials and students under the age of 18 have been banned from fasting during the Holy Month while government websites have urged local Communist Party leaders to impose further restrictions on religious activity.
Citing the need to "maint[ain] social stability during the Ramadan period" the Zonglang township in the Kashgar district issued a statement reminding citizens that "It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities." Others local governments have urged party leaders to enforce the ban by bringing "gifts" of food to local leaders.
Though mosques remain open for prayers, new restrictions have limited services. Foreigners have been banned from entering mosques and Muslims wishing to attend services must first display a national identity card as confirmation of their local residence. Public congregation after the services is prohibited and students are encouraged to avoid public prayer.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress attributed the crackdown to recent ethnic violence in the cities of Kashgar and Hotan but warned the restrictions will incite "the Uighur people to resist [Chinese rule] even further."
Xinjiang province has long history of rebellion against the communist government. Peaceful protests against the closure of independent religious schools and the ban of meshreps broke into violence in February 1997 when security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. Security forces conducted house to house searches, arresting and, human rights activists warned, torturing some prisoners to death. Similar violence broke out in July 2009, killing 197 and injuring more that 1,600. The crackdown was severe, as police brutality, home searches, and mass detentions resulted in at least 43 disappearances.
In a press release issued last month, Amnesty International Asia Pacific Director Catherine Baber warned that "The general trend toward repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in [Xinjian]." The organization's report on the situation concluded" The ethnic identity of Uighurs is being systematically eroded."
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News of a new "seal flu" has many fearing a repeat of the 2009 swine flu outbreak that infected more than 5.7 million in the United States before peaking as a level 5 on the WHO's 6-point pandemic alert. The H3N8 flu virus was discovered after the mysterious death of nearly 200 harbor seals off the United States' northeastern coast. Describing it as "a combination we haven't seen in disease before," researchers warned that the new strain of influenza A could have severe repercussions for human health.
The real shock of the story may be the public realization that such doe-eyed creatures could cause harm. While mosquitoes and ticks, those pesky harbingers of West Nile, dengue fever, cholera, Lyme disease, and Kyasanur fever (among other assorted viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens) are universally hated, it's hard to believe the Earth's more cuddly creatures could breed evil. Here's another 13 to ruin your next trip to the petting zoo:
Peacocks are dying in droves in Pakistan's Thar Desert region in an outbreak scientists believe is linked to Newcastle disease. Highly contagious in birds, the viral infection is currently rare in humans. Its unique replication properties make it a potential candidate for agroterrorism, but more positive headway been made in its use as a human cancer treatment.
Found primarily in Latin America, armadillos are better known for their unique defense mechanism than their role as a global disease vector. Beneath their shell, however, these mammals shield leprosy, a rare bacterial infection that attacks the skin and nervous system. Though associated more with the bible than modern medicine, the disease remains active throughout the world -- with armadillos responsible for more than a third of infections in the United States.
The world's largest mammal offers plenty of real estate for influenza A, a viral flu strain with the most potential for interspecies transmission. Luckily, the chances for accidental contact remain slim -- just another reason to skip the whale meat.
Monkeys and apes
Described by malaria researchers as a "reservoir for human disease," monkeys and apes are widely known for harboring emerging zoonotic diseases. The HIV virus originated in African monkeys and strains of malaria, Ebola, and monkeypox virus continue to be created or transmitted by monkey and ape populations -- not to mention the cases of measles, rabies, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, shigellosis, amebiasis, balatidiasis, herpes B, giardiasis and helminthes believed to have appeared first in man's closest relative.
Dogs and cats
While many a dog-lover cheered reports of a feline parasite's negative impact on human dopamine production, man's best friend carries its own risks. Though undulant fever is more commonly associated with other species, human cases of the leptospirosis bacteria, an infection whose effect ranges from flu-like symptoms to liver and kidney failure, encephalitis, and pulmonary involvement, have been reported to originate in dogs.
More commonly associated with rats, plague seems to have chosen prairie dogs as its modern rodent host. One leg of a complex threesome that includes mice and fleas, prairie dog coteries across North America have been struck by a mass outbreak of bubonic and sylvatic plague. In an effort to cull the epidemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented a mass fumigation campaign.
While flying foxes are their natural reservoir, the Hendra and Nipah viruses have adapted to survive within horses where they take residence alongside anthrax. Worse, equine encephalitis virus, a pathogen listed as a global priority by the Global Early Warning System for Major Animal Diseases, Including Zoonoses, has spread globally. Transmitted by mosquitos, the virus can be fatal in both horses and humans.
Rabbits and hares
Guinea pigs and hamsters
However popular with the preschool set, guinea pigs and hamsters are still rodents. Next time your kid asks to bring one home remember - these furry beasts are disease vectors of lymphocytic choriomeningitis, leptospirosis, yersiniosis and salmonellosis. Handle with gloves.
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U.S. and Pakistani officials signed a memorandum of understanding today, finally reopening supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month blockade. In a statement to the press, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan assured that public that the decision to restore supply lines was made "without any financial benefit."
That may be true for Pakistan, but not everyone is coming out of this empty-handed. The Associated Press reports:
"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."
The U.S. military estimates that theft, bribery and mismanagement put $360 million in the hands of the Taliban, regional war lords and criminals in 2010 alone -- with more than half that amount pinched from convoys along the supply routes.
Citing evidence "rang[ing] from sobering to shocking," a 2010 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled Warlord, Inc illustrated the extent of extortion and corruption along the Afghanistan supply routes and called for increased efforts to cut losses. Efforts to protect supply routes and diminish the influence of local power brokers have gained little traction and convoys remain a target for attack and theft.
Though today's MOU banned the transport of arms and ammunition, the Taliban's glee remains unabated. "We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again," cheered one commander, "Now work is back to normal."
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Those hoping for an Iran-Israel Judo showdown will be disappointed after a "critical digestive system infection" prevented Jahvaad Majoob -- the only Iranian athlete scheduled to compete alongside an Israeli -- from boarding the plane to London. Yet, from the North Korean flag mix up to the ongoing controversy over a Saudi Arabian judo fighter's headscarf, those itching for some geopolitical proxy battles will have their fill. Here are another seven matches to watch:
Table Tennis: North Korea vs. South Korea
August 3, 2:00 pm EST
For big tension on a very small court, viewers should tune in to the first found of men's team table tennis where North Korea will face off against its archenemy South Korea. The nations remain technically at war despite a July 27, 1953 armistice, and the demilitarized zone remains one of the most dangerous borders in the world with Pyongyang threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of flames." In this match at least, paddles are certain to fly.
Lightweight Double Sculls: South China smackdown
July 29 5:40 am EST
Poor Germany is stuck in the middle of China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea in the women's lightweight double sculls. As the Asian nations squabble over islands in the East and South China Seas and the potential for naval war looms, the title of best rower may mean more than just a medal.
Handball: Britain vs. Argentina
August 2, 11:15 am EST
Despite insisting in February that her country would not boycott the games, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced this week she will not attend the opening ceremony. Her absence is a protest against Britain's claims to the Falklands, which Argentine maintains at their rightful territory despite their military defeat in 1982. As the island nears a referendum to determine its political status, Argentinean and British Olympic teams will have the chance to fight it out on men's handball court. If the losing country isn't satisfied, it will get another chance -- they're scheduled to play in field hockey too.
Pair Rowing: Greece vs. Germany
July 28, 7:00 am EST
Blood pressure will be high as Greece's Nikolaos Gkountoulas and Apostolos Gkountoulas race Germany's Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta in the men's pair rowing race. As debtor faces creditor, viewers should hope it'll be a repeat of the 2012 Euro Cup. Team loyalty got political when creative German fans mocked the Greeks "Without Angie, you wouldn't be here." Not to be beat, the Greeks struck low: "We'll never pay you back. We'll never pay you back." The question remains-if Greece wins, who gets the gold?
Soccer: U.S. vs. North Korea
July 31, 12:15 pm EST
Opponents on every issue ranging from human rights to nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea will face off in match 15 of the women's group G. Though the United States won the FIFA 2008 Championship title after defeating North Korea in the final round, their 2010 quarterfinal losses prevented a rematch. It remains to be seen if young leader Kim Jong Un is as harsh as his dad when it comes to international soccer failure.
Fencing: China vs. Japan
August 5, 5:30 am EST
While Beijing and Tokyo diplomats have so far limited themselves to lobbing rhetorical barbs over the latest territorial row, fencers Kenta Chida, Ryo Miyake, Lei Sheng and Jianfei Ma will face off in the men's team foil. Though fencing is lauded as a game of strategy, not force, the fighters' long history is certainly bloody.
Basketball: U.S. vs. China
August 5, 11:45 am EST
The U.S. women's basketball team faces China in game 52. U.S. - Sino relations have begun to sour as the United States pivots its forces to Asia and populist rhetoric has entered the U.S. presidential race. Bruised by an embarrassing 62-100 loss to the U.S. in May, seventh-ranked China is thirsty for revenge.
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North Korea's women's soccer team walked off the pitch yesterday after players' faces were mistakenly projected next to the South Korean flag. The angered team refused to return until the image had been corrected, delaying the game substantially before returning to defeat Colombia 2-0. North Korea's coach Sin Ui Gun defended his teams decision, telling BBC news "If this matter had not been solved, continuing would have been a nonsense."
The incident is just another on the growing list of Olympic gaffes. The Council for British-Arab Understanding has mocked new Arabic security posters as "gibberish," noting that the posters had been printed in the wrong alphabet and individual characters reversed. As the Passport reported earlier, confusion over athlete's birthplaces led to several independent states being listed as Russian in an accidental return to Soviet geography. Olympic officials proved they did not, however, discriminate, and in a slew of mistakes struck closer to home. The Great Britain team program incorrectly listed Swansea City's Welsh midfielder, Joe Allen, as English -- just a day after a press release congratulated the British women's team under the banner "England women on their way."
For their part, Scottish officials have pointed the finger to London over the North Korea episode, claiming that the Glasgow stadium was displaying a video produced by a capital organizer and highlighting that the correct flag was flown from the stadium's top tier. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters "This was an honest mistake, honestly made" before pleading: "We shouldn't over-inflate this episode -- it was unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened and I think we can leave it at that."
The North Korean team accepted the official apology before retreating to hotel seclusion. Though state media carefully avoided mention of the flag dispute, Coach Sin Ui Gun warned "winning the game can't compensate for the mistake." We'll see if the upcoming men's table tennis match between South Korea and North Korea changes his mind.
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