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Swedes rise in 'hijab outcry'

By Staff writer / 08.20.13

Women across Sweden are donning headscarves in protest. 

But these are not Muslim immigrants fighting to protect their cultural norms. Rather, they are politicians and TV personalities staging a “hijab outcry” to show solidarity with Muslim women across the country, reports the BBC.

The protest comes after a pregnant woman wearing a veil was assaulted over the weekend in Sweden. An attacker reportedly tore off her head scarf and slammed her head against a car, shouting racial insults. The solidarity protest comes at an important moment – for both Sweden and Europe at large.

In May, the suburbs of Stockholm were rocked by days of youth riots, after a fatal police shooting in the suburb of Husby, which has a large proportion of first and second generation immigrants. As The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, “Sweden's international image as a bastion of egalitarianism, harmony, and prosperity took a shocking hit as youths rioted in the suburbs of Stockholm.”

“The riots laid bare the social isolation growing in some of Stockholm's suburbs," our correspondent noted. "But Swedes are divided over the root cause of the riots, with some insisting they are a result of failed integration of immigrants and others pointing to socio-economic marginalization.”

In France, issues over the veil continue to cause tensions. Riots broke out in Trappes, outside of Paris, in July after a routine police check on a woman who was asked to remove her face veil (as is required under French law).

The riots were brought under control in three days, but, as the Economist notes, “the French are keenly aware that a toxic mix of Islamism, joblessness and grievance can ignite copycat violence in the heavily immigrant banlieues. In 2005 weeks of rioting and car burning spread across the country’s banlieues, or outer-city housing estates, after the accidental deaths of two youths. The protests ended only after the government imposed a state of emergency."

In France, officials of all political stripes defend France’s secular law – called the burqa ban – which prohibits women from covering their entire face in public spaces. After the incident in Trappes, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that the 2010 law “must be enforced everywhere,” according to the Economist because it’s in the "interests of women.”

Conflict over race, religion, and socio-economic divides extend beyond Europe’s Muslim populations.

Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black government minister, has undertaken her job amid racial slurs. This summer a lawmaker from Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League provoked outrage in a comment comparing Ms. Kyenge to an orangutan. He said he loves "tigers, bears, monkeys, all of them, but when I see pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of the features of an orangutan." Later, at a political rally held by Kyenge, a spectator threw bananas at the stage.

Kyenge, who originally came to Italy from Congo on a student visa, told NPR that she believes Italians have not been prepared to accept the immigrants who entering the country in increasing numbers.

"There has been a failure of education. Italians were not helped in learning about others, people with different skin color and facial characteristics," she says. "Migrants are not seen as diversity that can enrich but diversity which instills fear."

Even Oprah Winfrey has been the subject of racial tension in Europe. She said recently that on a trip in Switzerland, a clerk at a boutique refused to show her a $38,000 handbag, saying she wouldn’t be able to afford it. The incident elicited a response from Swiss tourism officials.

"We are very sorry for what happened to her, of course, because we think all of our guests and clients should be treated respectfully, in a professional way," Daniela Baer, a spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism office, told the Associated Press.

But in Sweden, many women worry that Muslim women are not being treated respectfully and fairly – and say they want to stop the "march of fascism." So women there have posted photos of themselves in hijabs across Twitter and other outlets. Campaigners include lawmakers Asa Romson and Veronica Palm, and TV host Gina Dirawi, reports the BBC

The campaigners said they wanted to draw attention to the "discrimination that affects Muslim women" in Sweden. "We believe that's reason enough in a country where the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims is on the rise – and where women tie their headscarves extra tight so that it won't get ripped off – for the prime minister and other politicians to take action to stop the march of fascism," they wrote in the Aftonbladet newspaper.  

Sweden's justice minister has agreed to meet with the campaigners Tuesday.

Britain's Prince William speaks to members of the public at the Anglesey Show, in Gwalchmai, North Wales August 14, 2013. (Andrew Yates/REUTERS)

Prince William dishes about his first month as a dad

By Correspondent / 08.19.13

Calling his newborn royal son “a little bit of a rascal” and “a little fighter,” Prince William recapped his first month of fatherhood in an interview with CNN released Monday.

In his first television interview since the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis last month, William described the intricacies of royal fatherhood in the 21st century, from learning to change a diaper to deciding that he would drive his wife and son home from the hospital rather than having their chauffeur take the wheel.  

“We’ve all grown up differently to other generations [of royals],” he told CNN’s Max Foster. “And I very much feel if I can do it myself: I want to do it myself.”

In excerpts from the interview – which will be broadcast in full on Sept. 15 – William described the ways that fatherhood had already unsettled his views on the world, saying it had been “just a very different emotional experience, something I never thought I would feel myself.… it's only been a short period, but a lot of things affect me differently now."

Of course, the challenges of fatherhood are magnified when the entire world seems to be watching your every move. William, his wife, Kate Middleton, and their son have been the subjects of intense public fascination since Kate became pregnant last year, and when Prince George was born on July 22, London erupted in celebration.

But in the weeks since, the royal couple has largely kept a low profile. After all, as William explained in the CNN interview, they have had their hands full.

“He kind of, he wriggles around quite a lot,” William said. “And he doesn’t want to go to sleep that much, which is a little bit of a problem.”

He also described being given the job of changing the young prince’s first diaper – with his wife and the royal midwives hovering nearby to make sure he was up to the task.

But although he espoused a new and hands-on style of royal fatherhood, William also admitted in the interview that he was eager to return to work as Royal Air Force helicopter pilot after two weeks of paternity leave.

“As a few fathers might know, I’m actually quite looking forward to going back to work [to] get some sleep,” he said.  “I’m just hoping the first few shifts I go back on don’t have any night jobs.”

When asked by Mr. Foster if he was getting up at night with the fussy baby, William said that wasn’t really his job.

“‘A little bit,” he said. “Not as much as Catherine.  But you know, she’s doing a fantastic job [she’s doing] very well.”

Ships ride at anchors at a naval dockyard where a submarine caught fire and sank after an explosion early Wednesday in Mumbai, India. India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony confirmed loss of lives in the explosion, but gave no details. Eighteen sailors were trapped aboard the submarine, the Indian navy said. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Explosion at Mumbai port sinks Indian submarine

By Correspondent / 08.14.13

Only days after the Indian Navy celebrated one of its proudest achievements, it is now mourning one of its greatest losses.

Last night, an explosion took place aboard an Indian submarine docked at port in Mumbai, killing 18 crew members. The blast occurred shortly after the launch of India’s first ever domestically-built aircraft carrier, widely hailed as one of the Navy’s greatest accomplishments. However, the submarine’s loss has had a sobering effect, drawing attention to the country’s aging fleet in dire need of modernization.

"It's a great loss to us.... it's the greatest tragedy of recent times," said Defense Minister A.K. Antony, reports the BBC.

Firefighters rushed to the scene of the explosion to put out the fire, which took two hours to extinguish. According to the Associated Press, all 18 sailors trapped aboard the INS Sindhurakshak have been confirmed dead.

The explosion, which occurred early Wednesday morning, took place in the submarine’s torpedo compartment, reports Reuters.

"Lot of things are in very close proximity, there is fuel, there is hydrogen, there is oxygen, there are weapons with high explosives on board," said retired Indian navy chief Arun Prakash.

"So a slightest mistake or slightest accident can trigger off a huge accident. The question of sabotage – I mean, all possibilities have to be considered –  but sabotage is probably the last possibility."

The INS Sindhurakshak, built by and purchased from Russia in 1997, has had a turbulent history, according to the BBC. In February 2010, a fire broke out on board, killing one crew member. India subsequently sent it to Russia for a refit, which was only completed in June 2012, and which cost $80 million.

Nor is the submarine the Navy’s only vessel to experience accidents, writes the Hindu. In 2008, another submarine barreled into a merchant vessel during naval exercises. And in 2011, a warship collided with yet another merchant boat, causing a fire to break out. 

The tragedy aboard the INS Sindhurakshak has damped the convivial mood among India’s Navy after the launch of its first domestically built aircraft carrier. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the launch of the INS Vikrant was a watershed moment for India, a demonstration of its success and influence both regionally and globally.

By enabling countries to deploy air power far from their own shores, carriers have become the unit by which modern navies are measured. Only a handful of countries have them and can build them, with the majority of such vessels in the hands of the US Navy.

So it's no small thing that India today launched its first domestically built carrier. With the first-phase launch of what will eventually be named the INS Vikrant, India joins an elite club of countries that have built their own carriers: Only the United States, Russia, France, and Britain have done the same.

But the destruction of INS Sindhurkshak has gravely handicapped the Navy’s fleet, which is already old and needs to be upgraded to modern standards, according to Reuters. Efforts to refurbish the Indian fleet have been held back by corruption scandals.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, retired Rear Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva explained the impact the submarine explosion has on the Navy:

The fleet is far more aged then we would have liked. The number of submarines that are operational, because of those that are undergoing repairs, is less than was planned. There is a rolling plan for re-stocking the fleet and this hasn’t been met because production of new vessels has been deferred. And because the fleet is already small if one or two are out of action, that makes a big difference. It’s like having a fleet of 10 cars and six are very old, so your operational capacity is reduced.

Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki-woong (l.) and his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-su pose as they exchange written agreements at the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee in Kaesong August 14. (Reuters)

North Korea agrees to restart Kaesong Industrial Complex

By Staff writer / 08.14.13

After months of negotiations, North Korea has agreed to reopen a jointly-run industrial park that has been a bellwether for North-South relations.

In the middle of North Korea’s bluster this year, Pyongyang threatened that it was readying its military for war and issued warnings about how unhappy it was with South Korea and the US, even going so far as to cut a critical Korea-Korea phone line.

Still, analysts pointed out that we’d been there before.

The move to watch for, many said, was any sudden closure of a jointly run industrial complex just across the border in North Korea. The Kaesong industrial park is staffed by both North and South Koreans and is an economic boon to both and the biggest symbol of cooperation between them. Since it was opened in 2004, the North had never shut it down, despite tensions.

So as long as Kaesong was running, the thinking went, all of North Korea’s rhetoric could be considered just that.  

But when North Korea barred South Korean workers from coming across the border to work and then eventually shut down the industrial park in April, it took many analysts by surprise and ratcheted tensions to a new high. One analyst the Monitor spoke with said North Korea’s young leader was trying to make a point, and predicted the factory would only be temporarily shut.

“I think it has something to do with comments by Western and South Korean observers who say that North Korea wouldn’t give up the Kaesong Complex no matter what, that North Korea needs the business too much. They took that as kind of insulting to their leadership,” says Moon Chung-in, a professor at Yonsei University, in Seoul.

More from Reuters: 

SEOUL, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Rivals North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to restart their troubled joint industrial park after a series of talks on the fate of the last symbol of economic cooperation, raising hopes of possible improvement in political ties.

A joint statement said the two sides had agreed to work together to get the Kaesong industrial zone, inside North Korea and just a few miles from the heavily armed border, up and running again and prevent another shutdown.

It did not give a date.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye welcomed the decision, saying she hoped "today's talks will be the beginning of a new start of South and North Korea relations," media said.

North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers out of the park at the height of tensions between the two sides in April, with the North threatening the United States and the South with nuclear attack.

Reclusive North Korea, for which Kaesong has been a rare source of hard currency, and the South, one of the richest countries in the world, are technically still at war as their 1950-53 civil conflict ended not in a treaty but a mere truce.

"South and North guarantee the industrial zone's normal operation ... without influence of any kind from the political situation," the statement said, noting that they would jointly hold an overseas investors' event.

Since it opened in 2004, the Kaesong complex has generated roughly $90 million annually in wages paid directly to the North's state agency that manages the zone.

The companies had no oversight on how much was paid to the workers, most of whom were women on assembly lines.

Earlier this year, North Korea threatened nuclear strikes against the South and the United States after the United Nations tightened sanctions against it for conducting its third nuclear test in February.

The reopening of Kaesong is seen as addressing the political interests of the democratic South and the economic interests of the North that is so poor it can't feed its people.

 (Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Nick Macfie)

People sleep on the floor of the Qiaosi subway station to escape the summer heat in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province August 12, 2013. The highest temperature in the city reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday. China's top meteorological authority on Tuesday continued to warn of prolonged heat that has afflicted central and eastern China since July. (REUTERS)

China heat wave: Beware of 'spontaneously' combusting trees and billboards

By Staff writer / 08.14.13

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Now I remember why I normally take my summer vacation long before mid-August.

For the past few weeks Beijing has been either a furnace or a sauna, depending on the rain, as China endures its hottest summer in more than half a century.

The press is full of the most alarming stories as the country sweats through its second major heat wave this year. In the southern city of Wuhan, witnesses last weekend reported seeing a willow tree spontaneously burst into flames, “which rarely happens under normal circumstances,” according to a local forestry expert.

In the eastern province of Zhejiang the same thing happened to a billboard, which presumably is equally unusual.

I myself have sometimes felt I was about to go up in flames recently, and I am not alone. The Chinese National Meteorological Center announced on Monday that temperatures had exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit in eight provinces on more than 25 of the previous 41 days.

It hasn’t been that hot here since 1961. For the first time ever the government has declared the heat to be a level two weather emergency – a warning normally reserved for typhoons and floods – amid reports that more than 40 people have died from the high temperatures.

There is not much to be done about it, of course, except stay indoors as much as possible if you have air conditioning, which most city-dwellers do nowadays. Those that don’t have been flocking to malls – not for the shopping but for their cool air.

Some brave entrepreneurs have been profiting from the soaring temperatures. Near the city of Turpan in the far-western desert province of Xinjiang, a stall holder at a popular tourist spot at the foot of Flaming Mountain has been baking eggs in the 108 degree Fahrenheit heat and selling them for 90 cents a pop.

Farmers, of course, are taking a different view of the record-breaking heat, especially in southern provinces where drought is taking its toll. They have suffered losses of $760 million, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as their crops have shriveled.

In the meantime I have been staying as close to home as possible, cycling in slow motion so as not to melt into a pool of sweat, and checking the temperature in Scotland, where I shall be going on vacation this weekend.

At the moment it is a refreshing 61 degrees. This year, that sounds like ideal holiday weather

A truck drives past a sign reading 'You are entering southern France highways, Have a good journey,' near Bayonne, France, in Aug. 2005. Though united under a visaless travel scheme, Europe's nations have a variety of methods for paying for their roads' upkeep. (Bob Edme/AP/File)

A European Union united by road, but divided by tolls

By Peter TefferCorrespondent / 08.13.13

In Europe, it is possible to have an 11-day holiday during which you visit eight countries – and never show your passport once.

I just came back from a road trip through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Belgium, and since all the countries are part of the Schengen Agreement, crossing border after border was no problem.

But despite Europe's single-border area, you will still notice nationally distinctive driving styles and differences in road qualities. And one key thing we noticed in our travels is how we pay for using the roads.

RECOMMENDED: Car logos quiz

Car owners in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium pay for the maintenance of the roads indirectly, through taxes. So as long as I stayed in those countries, I didn't have to pay extra to use the roads.

Most major highways in France and Italy, however, are toll roads. In France, you receive a ticket at the beginning of the toll road and pay when you exit, depending on how many kilometers you drove. In Italy, you pay a set amount for each toll booth.

I encountered a third option in two Alpine countries. Switzerland and Austria are among the nations that require foreigners to buy a "vignette" – a kind of road pass – the revenues from which are invested in infrastructure quality. Austria has a 10-day vignette available for €11.25 ($15), while driving any number of days through Switzerland requires the driver to buy a vignette for €35.95 ($48), valid for an entire year.

A leading German politician announced last Sunday that he also wants such a system. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Horst Seehofer declared that foreigners should start contributing to the German infrastructure by buying vignettes.

And Mr. Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian party Christian Social Union (CSU), made clear how important an introduction of vignettes is to his party: He said that the CSU will refuse to sign any coalition agreement after Germany's September elections if it does not include vignettes. Considering that the CSU is the traditional sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a critical part of her coalition government, Seehofer's demand for vignettes – which neither the CDU or its junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, support – is not to be taken lightly.

On Sept. 15, elections will be held for the parliament in the German state Bavaria, and a week later for the federal German parliament. A breach between the two would impede Chancellor Merkel's chances of continuing her reign.

Seehofer pointed out that three countries near the southeastern German state of Bavaria – the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland – all have a system of vignettes. According to the German newspaper Die Welt, Seehofer called it incomprehensible that the Bavarians have to pay for using the neighboring countries' roads, but those countries' citizens can drive the Bavarian (and German) roads at no extra cost.

Germany is not the only country where a debate has flared on foreign contributions for the use of infrastructure. Political negotiators in Belgium had planned to introduce such a vignette for foreign drivers. But the Belgian government decided to withdraw the plan last month, following protests from the Netherlands and the European Commission. A uniform European system for an electronic toll service has been proposed, but the road to such a common policy, as with other European measures, is long.

In this Aug. 6, 2013, photo, reporters inspect an observation well, which is dug to take underground water samples near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Unit 1 of Tokyo Electric Power Co., in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (Kyodo News/AP)

Fukushima nuclear emergency stands, 2 years after quake

By Correspondent / 08.13.13

• A summary of global news reports.

After alarming reports last month revealed that hundreds of tons of contaminated water were being released into the ocean every day, more problems have arisen at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Ten workers at the disaster-ridden plant were exposed to radioactive material after being sprayed by contaminated mist. How the mist, which is used to cool some of the building, became contaminated is still a mystery.

Tokyo Electric Power Compnay (TEPCO), the company that operates Fukushima, announced that it believed the misting system was contaminated after detecting traces of radioactive material on some of its workers Monday, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The contamination was detected on Monday, after an alarm from a radiation monitor in front of the command center went off. Routine scans of workers after they finished their shifts at the plant Monday also found some traces of radioactive contamination – the largest amount was 19 becquerels per square centimeter – on the surface of the hands and faces of 10 people, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said. 

That amount of contamination is five times the maximum level Tepco has set as its limit, but none of the workers appear to have inhaled radioactive particles, or reported any illness, the NRA said.

Though the level of radioactive exposure is low enough so as not to cause grave concern, TEPCO still has not been able to identify the source of the water’s contamination.

This is only the latest in a string of debacles that has plagued the Fukushima plant and TEPCO since March 2011, when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused system shutdowns at the plant, resulting in a nuclear meltdown. The radioactive materials released by the meltdown forced the evacuation of the surrounding area in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Since then, the Fukushima site has remained unstable.

Last month, it was made public that ground water, contaminated by the reactors, had breached its barrier and was spilling into the ocean, according to Reuters. TEPCO had denied that the contaminated water was flowing into the sea, but after reports of spiraling levels of radioactive materials in the ocean, the company finally came clean.

The Guardian reports that 300 tons of radioactive water spills into the ocean every day, and that the leaks probably began soon after the disaster in 2011.

According to The Japan News, the water leakage has prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to have the government take a much more active role in the clean up and maintenance of the Fukushima site, rather than leaving it to TEPCO.

In the mean time, the environmental fallout has already taken its toll on fishing communities, whose livelihoods are at risk of being destroyed by the heavy amounts of contamination at sea, according to The Guardian.

"It's like there's an allergy to the name Fukushima," said Takashi Niitsuma, head of sales at the Iwaki fisheries co-operative….

"Even if we could catch fish for sale, no one would buy them. We're talking about the Pacific Ocean, so it's not just Fukushima that's affected by the contamination. If Tepco allows more water to leak into the sea, the criticism will be worldwide. For us as fishermen, it's not a question of whether we can revive the Fukushima brand – we have no choice. We have to at least try."

Terri Chung holds a notice of a prayer vigil for her brother, Kenneth Bae, Aug. 7, in Lynnwood, Wash. Bae, an American tour operator and Christian missionary, has been detained in North Korea since being arrested in November 2012, and Chung and her family are renewing calls for his release as concerns about his health increase. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Family of American held in North Korea asks US to step up efforts to free him

By Staff writer / 08.12.13

The family of Kenneth Bae, the American who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea in May, is appealing to the United States to step up efforts to bring him home.

Mr. Bae’s mother, sister, and brother received letters and a video from him and were informed that he had been transferred from a labor camp to a hospital and that his health was deteriorating after nine months of incarceration. 

"I don't see any action. I want to ask them, send an envoy or do something. As a mother, I am really getting angry, really getting angry. What do they do?" Bae's mother, Myung-Hee, told CBS News.

North Korea has previously used detained Americans as bargaining chips with the United States, which wants Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. Analysts say that North Korea may be holding out for a high-profile visitor from the US to discuss six-party talks before allowing Bae’s release. Such a visit, analysts also say, could help bolster leader Kim Jong-un’s image at home.

Although there have been some signs of warming, tensions are still high on the Korean Peninsula after a spring that saw Pyongyang unleash a torrent of bombastic threats in response to tightened UN sanctions over a nuclear test by the North in February.

The US has called for the release of Bae, on humanitarian grounds, but to no apparent effect. Analysts say North Korea may want to use Bae to get a top-level visit from the US. At least five other Americans have been detained in North Korea since 2009. Each was permitted to leave without serving out his or her prison time after visits by prominent Americans. Former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in 2009 just before the release of two US journalists. And former President Jimmy Carter made a trip in 2010 ahead of the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes

Former US pro basketball star Dennis Rodman visited North Korea in February and made a call to Mr. Kim over Twitter to release Bae, and has offered to visit Pyongyang again, but US officials have said they are pursuing quieter clemency efforts.

Last month reports emerged that Mr. Carter was set to visit North Korea to negotiate for Bae, but those were denied as false recently, reports Reuters.

An ambassador from Sweden met with Bae at the hospital last week, according to Bae’s sister. Sweden represents US interests in North Korea. 

In May, The Christian Science Monitor reported that North Korea released details of the crimes for which Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last week, painting the American as a subversive who was plotting to overthrow the government. 

Bae, a Korean-American from Washington state, had been leading a group of businessmen from China on a tour of the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea when he was arrested in November. Bae is a naturalized US citizen who was born in South Korea and moved to the US with his family in 1985. He has spent much of the past seven years in China, where he started a business leading tour groups into North Korea. He was also a Christian missionary.

Bae’s son, Jonathan, has called for his father’s release on His petition has received more than 10,000 signatures.

“Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” Bae said in a videotaped interview from prison broadcast on CNN last month. “And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon.”

The Indian aircraft carrier is docked at a shipyard after its launch in Kochi, India, Aug. 12. India has launched its first home-built aircraft carrier, marking another milestone in its efforts to bolster its maritime presence. (AP)

India aircraft carrier: New Delhi launches first home-built carrier (+video)

By Staff writer / 08.12.13

Since the Battle of Midway in World War II, the weapon that has most defined naval power is the aircraft carrier.

By enabling countries to deploy air power far from their own shores, carriers have become the unit by which modern navies are measured. Only a handful of countries have them and can build them, with the majority of such vessels in the hands of the US Navy.

So it's no small thing that India today launched its first domestically built carrier. With the first-phase launch of what will eventually be named the INS Vikrant, India joins an elite club of countries that have built their own carriers: Only the United States, Russia, France, and Britain have done the same.

The Vikrant weighs in at 37,500 tons, and will carry as many as 36 aircraft, reports The Times of India. Though small compared with the world's largest, the US Nimitz class carrier, which is two-and-a-half times heavier and carries 85 aircraft, the Vikrant marks a major milestone for India's military capabilities.

Building an aircraft carrier is a rare feat, and as the BBC notes in a May 2012 article, "Nuclear weapons give a nation 'cachet' ... [b]ut carriers give a nation 'capability'."

[C]arriers are still as relevant as ever, says Lewis Page, a former naval officer and author of Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs: Waste and Blundering in the Military. The drone might be all the rage but you still need somewhere to launch it from.

Nuclear submarines are "excellent" at many things. Their Tomahawk cruise missiles flew hundreds of miles to knock out Colonel Gaddafi's air force.

"But a submarine can't tell you where the targets are. And they can't be easily rearmed apart from at a naval base."

The Times adds that the Vikrant's successful float-out – taking it out of drydock – is expected to spur the Indian Navy to soon green-light construction of a second domestic carrier. India already has a smaller carrier, the Viraat, which it acquired from the British in 1987, and plans to commission a carrier it bought from Russia in 2004, the INS Vikramaditya, later this year.

The Vikrant's initial launch doesn't change the global balance of power. It still has to undergo several years of outfitting, and is not expected to be commissioned for duty until 2018, reports the Times. And even when it does enter service, the US will likely still retain the huge edge in carrier might that it currently enjoys. According to IHS Jane's figures from last year, the US has 20 plane-carrying ships, 10 of which are the huge Nimitz class, while the rest of the world combined has only 13.

But it does underscore India's increasing military influence in the region, and puts it in deeper competition with Asia's other emerging naval power: China. Last year, China launched its first aircraft carrier, which it purchased from Ukraine and refitted, and it is reportedly constructing a new carrier at a facility near Shanghai, according to IHS Jane's.

According to the Times, Zhang Junshe, the vice president of China's Naval Research Institute, told Chinese state media that the Vikrant, "along with reinforced naval strength, will further disrupt the military balance in South Asia."

Still, as the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported in June, to have an effective aircraft carrier, a navy needs a large fleet of support ships to assist it. And China – like India – has a way to go before it has that fleet.

The PLA Navy may soon be comparable in strength to the Spanish or Italian fleets, but launching an aircraft carrier isn’t enough to make it competitive with the top powers, [Ralph Cossa of the Pacific Forum in Hawaii] said.

“You need to be able to support it [an aircraft carrier] with missile boats and submarines, and all this looks like it is years away for China,” he said.

Drivers wait in line on a hot summer day to enter to Spain at its border with the British territory of Gibraltar in front of the Rock (rear) at Winston Churchill Avenue in Gibraltar, south of Spain August 9, 2013. (Jon Nazca/REUTERS)

Britain threatens Spain with legal action on Gibraltar

By Correspondent / 08.12.13

A roundup of global reports

Tensions are escalating between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar – the tiny, British-controlled sliver of land at the southern-most edge of the Iberian Peninsula – and the water that surrounds it.

Arguments between the two countries started with Gibraltar’s attempts to create an artificial reef by sinking massive concrete blocks off its coast in July. Spain’s government was infuriated, claiming the artificial reef prevented Spanish ships from fishing and demanding that the blocks be removed. This month Spain imposed harsh custom-border controls in what analysts say may have been a retaliatory move. 

Now, a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that Britain may seek legal action against its fellow European Union member, reports Reuters. 

Cameron's spokesman said Britain thinks the tighter border controls are "politically motivated and totally disproportionate" and should be stopped.

"The prime minister is disappointed by the failure of the Spanish to remove the additional border checks this weekend and we are now considering what legal action is open to us," the spokesman said.

Taking legal action against Spain would be “unprecedented,” said the spokesman. Britain could lodge a complaint with the European Commission, arguing that Spain is in breach of EU law by blocking free movement, according to the BBC’s James Robbins.

However, as Britain is not part of the group of 26 European countries who have abolished passport and immigration controls across common borders called the Schengen Area, inspections at the border between Spain and Gibraltar are legal. 

Spain has heightened border checks, resulting in very long queues that have disrupted not only tourists but also locals who commute in and out of Gibraltar for work, reports Reuters.

The government in Madrid claims that the increased customs measures are needed to prevent smuggling, writes the Financial Times. 

Gibraltar has been a point of contention between Britain and Spain for centuries. The territory was officially ceded to Britain in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht that ended the Spanish War of Succession. Since then, Spain has challenged Britain’s sovereignty several times, though Gibraltarians have voted overwhelmingly against even shared sovereignty, most recently in a 2002 referendum.

Spain announced that it has considered appealing to the United Nations over the spat. They are also considering reaching out to Argentina, whose dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands led the two countries to war in 1982, reports FT. 

An official from Spain’s official foreign ministry said that Madrid was considering using a planned trip to Buenos Aires by Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo in September to establish a joint front over Gibraltar and the disputed Falkland Islands off the coast of the South American country.

“We are analyzing this possibility among several others, such as appealing to the United Nations,” the official said. “There is nothing defined yet, but there are several options being considered.” The official declined to comment on whether any approach had already been made to the Argentine government.

Meanwhile, several British naval vessels set sail for the Mediterranean today, with one ship set to dock at Gibraltar, reports Agence-France Press. Though reports in the Spanish media have called this an effort to spook Spanish authorities, British officials claim the naval exercises have been planned for months. 

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