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Today, only a day after issuing his “final” warning to Taksim Square’s protesters, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan softened his tone, telling them that he has received their message and will at least temporarily halt plans for redeveloping Gezi Park.
After a night of meetings with protest representatives, Mr. Erdogan announced in a speech that the future of Gezi Park, the issue that sparked two-week long anti-government demonstrations, will be decided by the courts, reports the Guardian.
Although tensions across the country have eased since reaching a fever pitch earlier this week, many believe that Erdogan’s bid to defuse the unrest won’t be enough to end the demonstrations. For many, the protests are about something much bigger than the issue of Gezi Park: the direction Turkey will take in the future.
Protests began two weeks ago, when a group of peaceful protesters staged a demonstration to attempt to stop the destruction of Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last green spaces, to make way for a mall and housing complex. After police violently broke up the sit-in, thousands more took to the streets to protest what they see has the increasingly authoritarian style of Erdogan’s rule and the gradual erosion of secular values by his Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), says the Los Angeles Times.
Protesters accuse Erdogan, who won 50 percent of the vote in his last election, of behaving like an autocrat and only representing those who voted for him. Much of the country feels increasingly alienated by controversial policies, such as limiting the sale of alcohol and birth control.
Though at first defiant, even going so far as to label the protesters as "terrorists," Erdogan came under increasing pressure after several brutal police crackdowns which resulted in injuries to some 5,000 people. Yesterday the European Parliament voted to condemn Turkey for its use of violence against the demonstrators. And according to Today’s Zaman, Germany is seeking to suspend Turkey’s EU accession talks.
Should the court rule in favor of the government, a referendum will be held over the fate of Gezi Park. But many protesters told The Christian Science Monitor this is not enough.
Demonstrators and others at odds with the government say they are skeptical of its commitment to conducting a free and fair referendum about the park. Many point out that Erdogan could have held such a vote long before the situation escalated to clashes between protesters and police.
“We don’t trust the results of these elections. Maybe they’ll change the results,” says Yasin Arslan, an aeronautical engineer now in Gezi Park.”
What’s more, it is not clear that Erdogan's concessions will end the demonstrations. According to Al-Monitor, the Taksim Platform – a coalition of 80 NGOs leading the protests – have stated that they will neither honor a referendum nor vacate the park.
This weekend, as protestors remain at their camps, the AKP will be holding mass rallies in Istanbul and Ankara, reports Today’s Zaman. Widely believed to be displays of force to counter the anti-government protests, AKP officials claim that the rallies are simply a part of their campaign for 2014 municipal elections.
But as Bloomberg points out, opposition parties have called for their cancellation, fearing that the rallies will only stoke tensions.
The question of a two-track Europe, or one that becomes a union of insiders and outsiders, of winners and losers, has loomed as the continent struggles out of its debt crisis.
The notion has been rejected by a host of European leaders and thinkers. But this week’s news in Europe already shows how well underway it already is.
Take the Europe page of the BBC’s website this morning.
One photo featured Greeks congregating for a strike, after their state broadcaster was unexpectedly shut down in a cost-savings measure. Another captured Germans congregating, but this time it is dignitaries in Berlin inaugurating the reconstruction of King Frederick the Great’s palace.
Greeks were caught off-guard after their public broadcaster ERT went black around midnight on Tuesday. The new anchor’s last words: “The riot police are moving toward the transmitters to switch them off.... This is official information we have.”
The move is the first of a series of planned closures this year in Greek institutions to reduce national debt and secure bailout funds from the EU.
ERT was founded in 1938 with an educational, non-commercial mission, writes our correspondent in Athens. For many rural Greeks, it’s the only channel they can access. But Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called ERT "the symbol of waste and lack of transparency.”
On the same day that Greeks woke up to find their state channel black, Germany’s President Joachim Gauck laid the first stone for the reconstruction project of what was once, as the BBC puts it, one of the world’s grandest buildings.
The rebuilding of King Frederick the Great's palace, which housed the kings of Prussia from 1701, will cost about 600 million euros funded largely by taxpayer money.
The façade of the opulent building, some of which dated to the 15th century, will be recreated, while inside the modern remake will preserve Germany’s cultural identity with pieces of art and other historic gems.
The building was damaged in World War II and then completely dynamited in 1950 by communists, who then rebuilt the Palace of the Republic.
The diverging fates of the continent have dismayed some. Greeks have angrily compared the rise of Germany today to the imbalances that grew in the 1930s. Many consider that unfair and historically wrong.
But as Germany is able in a positive way to recapture lost history from the 20th century, what Greeks are experiencing now is a more unfortunate echo of that era, at least in one way: It's the first time ERT has been off the air since World War II, points out the AP.
When Nazi troops marched into Greece's nearly deserted capital on April 27, 1941, radio announcer Costas Stavropoulos of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. announced the grim news. He urged his countrymen and women not to listen to future Nazi radio transmissions and signed off with the Greek national anthem. It was the only time the state broadcaster — also known as ERT — had ceased to operate from its birth three years earlier. That is, until Tuesday, when Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' government shut ERT down and fired its 2,500 employees to prove to Greece's international lenders that he was serious about cutting the country's bloated public sector. Its TV and radio signals went dead early Wednesday.
- A local, slice-of-life story from a monitor correspondent
After almost a decade in the Middle East and Central Asia, I’ve found local street vendors to be among the most responsive businessmen I’ve ever encountered. When I got off the plane in Istanbul today, it started to rain. By the time I took a cab into the city, street vendors were out selling Chinese umbrellas for about $3.20 a piece.
While most people in Turkey will tell you that they were taken completely off guard by the protests, within days street vendors were out selling swimming goggles and disposable face masks for about $2.67 each as protection against tear gas. They also had masks popularized by the movie "V is for Vendetta" and the "Anonymous" hacker group, which have been adopted by many Turkish demonstrators.
The speed at which they were able to offer these items is astonishing when you think that before the protests, most of these people were probably selling toys and products that generally had nothing to do with protection from tear gas or revolutionary symbolism. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they have boxes of pro-government paraphernalia ready in case the protests are permanently squashed.
Of course, the quality of their wares is always questionable. On my first day covering the protests, I didn’t have a gas mask so I purchased a pair of swimming goggles and a face mask, the sort of thing you’d wear to hang dry wall in your basement. When I hit a cloud of tear gas the goggles provided some protection for my eyes, but immediately fogged, blinding me more than the tear gas. As for the mask? I would have been better off trying to hold my breath.
Coming back to Istanbul after yesterday's fierce clashes, I decided that I needed a real gas mask, and sought out a vendor with a brick and mortar storefront. I found an industrial safety shop where the clerk told me that in the past 10 days he’d sold more gas masks than he normally sells in three months.
Normally, Turkish people couldn't care less about industrial safety and breathing toxic fumes, especially if it means spending money, he told me, but now he has people coming in to buy masks as gifts for their friends. Still, committed to selling quality products, he lacks a street merchant’s adaptability. He told me he worried he would burn through his inventory shortly if the demand continued.
If I’m ever in an end-of-days scenario, I hope there’s a Middle Eastern street vendor around. I’m sure he’ll have something to sell me for $5 or less that will protect me (at least psychologically) from anything ranging from a Biblical plague to a zombie apocalypse. In fact, whatever I’d need to weather either of those scenarios is probably already in a box wherever street vendors store their wares.
President Vladimir Putin has given his second exclusive interview in less than a year to the state funded English-language satellite network Russia Today, which prefers to be called RT, in a clear sign that the Kremlin views the broadcaster as a key medium for getting its opinions across to the world.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Putin praised RT, which he said had been created to "end the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon media" in the world. There appears little doubt that Putin believes the network really does reach over 630-million people in over 100 countries – as it claims to do – and that such exclusive chats with the Russian president will help further boost its reach.
Over an almost two hour chat, with most of RT's top staff seated around a long table, he went on to paint the Kremlin's alternative view of global affairs, in which a beleaguered Russia wages a lonely battle for principle and common sense against a cynical and hypocritical West.
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Among other things, he chided the US over the current National Security Agency scandal, apparently under the impression that the key controversy is about the letter of the law rather than the extent and scope of state secrecy. "If this [surveillance] is made within the framework of the law, by which the special services’ rules of conduct are guided, this is normal. If this is made illegally, it's bad," he said.
He reiterated a suggestion made by his press secretary that Russia might be open to granting asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Putin spent a good deal of time on the US, which he reminded RT viewers was founded on the "ethnic cleansing" of its native population, and used the atomic bomb on Japanese civilians at the end of WWII – something he averred Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin would never do. "[Stalin] was a dictator and a tyrant, but I very much doubt that in the spring of 1945, if he had been in possession of an atomic bomb, he would have used it against Germany," Putin said.
He was asked one single question about domestic Russian politics, by RT's American talk show host Peter Lavelle. "Opinion polls show that the opposition in Russia is very small. What kind of opposition would you like to see?" was Mr. Lavelle's query.
Putin replied that opposition is fine, as long as it acts within the law. When protesters break the law, they should be answerable under the legal system. "This is what's happening both in the United States and Russia. But when we do that [put protesters on trial] we are criticized, but when the United States does this, it is considered as a norm. These are the so-called double standards," he said.
Moreover, "[Russia’s] diplomatic service doesn’t cooperate actively with the Occupy Wall Street activists, yet your diplomatic service actively cooperates [with Russia’s opposition] and supports them," Putin added.
Putin might have been defining the current mission of RT, which was started – along with quite a few other media and PR platforms – 8 years ago and tasked with improving Russia's image in the world through journalism that showed the country through the eyes of its own people. According to Russian media, the Kremlin funds RT to the tune of about $300-million annually, and Putin last year personally forbade the government to slash its funding.
The network's focus has migrated, especially since Putin returned to power last year amid widespread disapproval around the world. Now RT runs wall-to-wall coverage of protest rallies everywhere except in Russia, invites commentary from critics of almost every government except Russia's, and produces talk shows that slam Wall Street, attack US imperialism, and find the decline of the West lurking in almost every daily headline.
RT now maintains a full time cable station in the US, RT-America, which broadcasts mostly US-generated content around the clock. Last year, RT signed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to do a series of in-depth interview programs that explored the corruptions of power and the rise of authoritarianism (in the West). Last month it did a deal with retired TV legend Larry King, that apparently involves RT picking up Mr. King's existing online talk show and also produce an all-new political talk show specially for RT. King subsequently appeared to deny that but RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan insists that King is contracted to do the show.
The network's programming, along with its relentless Kremlin-inspired focus, is all perfectly fair commentary, of course. Indeed, RT seems deliberately designed to survey the West in the same arbitrary and hectoring tone that the Kremlin feels Western – particularly US – journalists cover Russia.
A recent satirical article in the Global Post, which garnered massive attention, aimed to show how US journalists would cover the NSA revelations if it were a foreign country: "Inside the United States," is the headline. "GlobalPost goes inside the United States to uncover the regime’s dramatic descent into authoritarian rule and how the opposition plans to fight back."
Anyone who finds that thought provoking – and they should – is welcome to tune in to RT. It's the real deal.
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Fading enthusiasm for Facebook
Teenagers hate Facebook, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. They also can’t get enough of it. The report found that 94 percent of American teens are on Facebook, more than on any other social network. But many of the young respondents have lost enthusiasm for the site, complaining about “the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful ‘drama.’” Despite these frustrations, teens say they keep using Facebook because it has become a key part of socializing.
“I think Facebook can be fun, but also it’s drama central,” one girl told a Pew researcher. Another said: “Honestly, I’m on it constantly but I hate it so much.”
While these findings might seem troubling, they also sound a lot like young people’s feelings about high school in general. The big difference is how the social network follows teens home. Pew found a significant rise in the kind of material that students share on Facebook compared with what was shared in 2006: 92 percent now reveal their real names, 91 percent post personal photos, 24 percent upload videos of themselves, 20 percent publish their phone numbers.
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What was your first job?
Does your first job define you? Kate Rockwood, writing for Fast Company, asked several major names in business and entertainment about where they began. The consensus: You can start from anywhere.
Among our favorite first jobs in the illustrated slide show: Doug McMillon, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart International, started off unloading boxes in a Wal-Mart warehouse. Before directing the highest-grossing movie of all time (and then breaking his own record), James Cameron was a truck driver. Martha Stewart began as a $50-an-hour model for Chanel and others. Actress and writer Tina Fey kicked off her professional life answering phones at a suburban YMCA. And Liu Chuanzhi, cofounder of computer giant Lenovo, was a laborer in the rice fields during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
A sushi chef’s memory of the ‘Dear Leader’
The world knows little about North Korea. As Adam Johnson writes in GQ magazine, “We didn’t even know the age of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, until Kenji Fujimoto revealed his birth date. (January 8, 1983.)”
Who is Kenji Fujimoto? For 11 years, he was personal chef, confidant, and court jester to the supreme leader’s father, Kim Jong-il, and at times played nanny to a young Kim Jong-un. Now, after escaping North Korea and taking on an alias, Mr. Fujimoto is the “Japanese intelligence community’s single greatest asset on the Kim family.”
In 1982, Fujimoto signed a one-year contract, agreeing to move from Japan to North Korea and to teach chefs there how to make sushi. One night, he served dinner to a group of generals, party officials, and high-level bureaucrats. Everyone wore military uniforms except a curious fellow in a tracksuit. The mysterious man, whom he did not recognize as Kim Jong-il (“no one ever called him by his real name,” Fujimoto said, “never”), took a liking to him and insisted that the sushi chef join the entourage.
Soon, Fujimoto was tasked with flying around the world, procuring odd ingredients to satisfy his new boss’s culinary whims. Caviar from Iran. Fish from Tokyo. Beer from Denmark. And sometimes fresh Big Macs from the McDonald’s in Beijing.
Palaces for the kingdoms of tech
Amazon, Facebook, and Apple battle one another across more than just the tech market. These industry titans seem locked in a new fight over which has the most innovative, striking, and wild-looking corporate headquarters, report Bill Rigby and Alistair Barr for Reuters. In May, Amazon unveiled plans to bring a taste of the Amazon forest to Seattle. The blueprints show a shining tower standing over three bubble-like terrariums, each large enough to house “mature trees.”
Apple’s upcoming HQ pulls in the company’s favorite adjectives: sleek and smooth. The 2.8-million-square-foot ring looks like a mix between the Pentagon and an iPod click wheel. From the air, the upcoming Facebook expansion resembles a geometric golf course, thanks to its sprawling green roof. Computer-chip maker Nvidia will build two sci-fi-style triangular buildings, each apparently reminiscent of components in its graphics chips.
Fastest cellphone on the planet
While many Americans are still on their first 4G cellphone, Korean tech giant Samsung recently showed off early trials for its lightning-fast 5G mobile service, reports David Talbot for MIT Technology Review. To recap, 3G (or third generation) service ratcheted up mobile-data speeds to a point at which people could feasibly stream video to their phones. Over the past few years, phone companies raced to cover the country in 4G service, which is many times faster than 3G. Now, Samsung tells Technology Review that it can beam information to phones at 512 megabits per second. (Comcast’s fastest cable package advertises just 105 megabits per second.)
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In the last election in France, the leader of the far right rose in polls on an anti-immigration platform, which included promises to restrict the number of refugees that the country allows into the country.
Now she is calling for France to roll out the welcome mat: for Edward Snowden, the American defense contractor who leaked classified documents concerning US government surveillance and is being both hailed a hero or condemned as a traitor.
In a statement on her party’s webpage, Ms. Le Pen appeals to French President François Hollande to, “in the name of France, give asylum to this young man, who had the courage… to reveal to humanity a very grave threat to democracy and public liberties.”
Ms. Le Pen landed in third place in 2012 elections, on an anti-immigration platform that promised to resist the “Islamization” of France.
She provoked controversy in 2011 when she visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, where some 8,500 migrants had landed since the revolution in Tunisia. On that visit, she was quoted as telling two immigrants at a detention center: "I have a lot of compassion for you but Europe can't welcome you," she said. "We don't have the financial means."
But it apparently does have such means for Mr. Snowden, who leaked information about National Security Agency surveillance because, he said, he didn’t want to live in a world in which no email or phone conversation is private. "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under," he told the Guardian newspaper.
Snowden sought refuge in Hong Kong, apparently to avoid extradition to the US if it requested it. He has since, reportedly, checked out of his hotel there, and it is unclear whether he is still in Hong Kong or attempted to leave for another country where he could seek asylum.
While Ms. Le Pen’s offer may seem out of line with her general stance on asylum, the choice of France perhaps is not. As a Slate article points out in an “explainer” about where Snowden would have his best shot at avoiding extradition to the US:
Consider France. Although France does have an extradition treaty with the United States, it also has a history of reluctance to send people into the US criminal justice system. France has refused to extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski, a French citizen, back to the United States, where he faces charges for the 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl. More recently, a French court decided not to extradite Michael and Linda Mastro, who were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering, unless American authorities would promise not to imprison them. If France can be a sanctuary for them, perhaps there would be some hope for a whistle-blower (and, according to some, a human rights hero) such as Snowden.
Four teens were arrested yesterday evening in relation to a fire that broke out at an Islamic boarding school late Saturday evening in the southeast London suburb of Chislehurst. The fire was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Britain’s Muslim community following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby.
Though no major damage was done to the Darul Uloom School, 128 students and staff members were evacuated due to the fire, while two students were treated for smoke inhalation, reports CNN. Students were allowed to return to school Sunday.
The suspects, a group of 17- and 18-year-olds, are being held at a police station in south London.
The incident comes on the heels of another fire at an Islamic center in the north London municipality of Muswell Hill. According to the Guardian, graffiti was found at the scene that linked the incident to the English Defense League (EDL), an ultra-right anti-Muslim group. The EDL, however, has denied any connections to the fire.
The two fires appear to be part of a Britainwide flare-up in anti-Muslim sentiments following Mr. Rigby's murder on May 22 in Woolwich, another London suburb.
"These are difficult times for London's communities. The Met is now investigating suspicious fires at two locations within the Islamic community which have happened in the past few days,” said Bernard Hogan-Howe, London’s police commissioner, in a statement to the press.
"We should not allow the murder of Lee Rigby to come between Londoners. The unified response we have seen to his death across all communities will triumph over those who seek to divide us."
Rigby, a military drummer, was killed by two men wielding a cleaver and a machete. The men claimed that they attacked Rigby because he had served in Afghanistan.
According to Bloomberg, the frequency of anti-Muslim incidents in Britain has multiplied at an alarming rate since Rigby’s death, jumping from an average of four to six to as high as 26 per day. In that time, 12 mosques have been attacked.
And the Rigby murder appears to have given new life to Britain's right-wing groups, which had previously been in decline. The British National Party (BNP), long-standing far-right party, failed to find support outside the political fringes and has been mired by inner turmoil for several years now. The EDL, which has focused on street activism rather than fielding political candidates, was also on the decline.
But as The Christian Science Monitor wrote last week, the Woolwich incident has reinvigorated anti-Muslim sentiment and brought new attention to the EDL:
The [EDL] – a street protest movement which has drawn its support from the ranks of veteran far right activists, football hooligans, and others – has held protests around the country, including one that descended into clashes with riot police on the night of the May 22 killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, as well as a demonstration that mustered more than 1,000 close to the gates of Downing Street the following week.
Ghe EDL's recent surge in support, however, appears unlikely to last. Though the group claims to have 34,000 members on its website, it has not been able to mobilize the number of supporters as it could at the peak of its popularity. As Daniel Trilling, an expert on the British far-right, told The Christian Science Monitor:
“[The EDL’s] strength – a narrow focus on Islam, loose organizing via football hooligan networks and social media, which allows it to assemble numbers at short notice – is also its weakness. The various political tendencies – neo-Nazis, hardcore racists, conspiracy theorists, angry young men and women – frequently fall out and fight with one another.”
Still, the recent attacks have prompted pleas for people to push back against such violence.
“We are part of the British community and are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place and urge the community to stay firm and united in bringing the people responsible to justice,” Saiyed Mahmood, an adviser to the Darul Uloom School, told the Guardian. “The community at large have to come together for a safe a[nd] peaceful life in Britain."
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen today pushed through legislation that makes it illegal to deny the Khmer Rouge genocide, but his critics say it has little to do with promoting atonement for his country's tragic past.
Passed unanimously in a special session of the country’s National Assembly, the new law mandates a jail term of up to two years and fines of $1,000 for anyone convicted of denying the 1975-1979 genocide, during which Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge slaughtered some 1.7 million people.
Though formally said to be a gesture of support for the ongoing trials of leading Khmer Rouge leaders, analysts say the law is far more about political advantage for Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge official who has been the unchallenged leader of Cambodia since 1998.
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The new law comes quickly on the heels of controversial comments allegedly made by Kem Sokha, president of the main opposition party. In May the government released an audio clip purportedly of the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party saying that Vietnamese soldiers who reported the aftermath of an an infamous atrocity at a Khmer Rouge prison had imagined what they saw, according to The Phnom Pehn Post.
Kem Sokha said that the audio clip was edited to take his words out of context, according to The Phnom Penh Post. But the mere suggestion that Kem Sokha denied the atrocities could taint his image. Nearly 20,000 people were tortured and murdered at the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 prison in Phnom Penh during a four-year long nightmare for Cambodia that has not faded from the national consciousness.
Opposition party members note that they had for years been pressing for such a law, but also point out that the prime minister had only made moves toward such a law when politically convenient, according to a separate Post article. The opposition objects to the fact that the law was passed with no debate, arguing that a law that has the potential to be abused should be thoughtfully drafted and subjected to careful scrutiny.
"It is a shame that the law should be passed in a rushed way in response to political comments," wrote Phuong Pham, a researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, where she is studying the Cambodian public's attitude toward the Khmer Rouge trials, in an e-mail. "Kem Sokha, the opposition leader, is not a genocide denier, and any charges would be clearly politically motivated."
No opposition party members were present at the session that unanimously approved the bill on Friday morning. The prime minister's ruling party elected to remove all 27 members from their posts on Wednesday, amid election controversy. The ruling party was upset that two different opposition parties had merged to challenge it in July's elections.
On Thursday, the opposition parties sent a letter to the National Assembly president asking that the vote on the law be postponed. The letter also proposed a tongue-in-cheek amendment to the law banning former leading members of the Khmer Rouge from holding public office. That would include the prime minister, Hun Sen, as well as several other leading members of his government. Hun Sen belonged to the Khmer Rouge before defecting to Vietnam and later rolling back into Cambodia, eventually claiming the post of prime minister.
A member of the unofficial "10,000 Days in Office" dictator’s club, Hun Sen has profited enormously from the genocide more than three decades ago, cobbling together a dubious narrative in which he rescued the troubled country from Pol Pot’s agrarian "Year Zero" and crafted it into a emergent economic center in Southeast Asia. Last month, he told reporters that Cambodia would have been “a coconut plantation” without his leadership, according to The Cambodia Daily.
Trials for 2 out of 4 Khmer Rouge leaders – the first and only Khmer Rouge leaders to be tried for the genocide – are currently ongoing in Cambodia, reported The Christian Science Monitor, racing against the failing health of the aging defendants. One defendant died in prison of heart failure in February. The only defendant to have been sentenced so far, Kaing Guek Eav, the former head of the S-21 prison, was transported to a prison in Cambodia’s Kandal Provincial Prison yesterday, where he will serve a life sentence, The Cambodia Daily reported.
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When I called a consultancy company in France specializing in sustainable business practices for a recent story on the Bangladesh garment factory tragedy, the office manager who picked up the phone said afterwards, “Are you looking to perfect your French?”
Embarrassing, yes, but she wasn’t being unkind. In fact, she was offering to connect me with a colleague who wanted to practice his English. She added, “If you need extra help, you can call me for ten minutes per day.”
I didn’t really take the offer seriously, until a few days later – and after my story was written – I thought, “Why not?” I called her, somewhat hesitantly, and asked if it was a good time. It was awkward at first, but it came easily once we realized we both have toddlers the same age. And there it is: my first French friend, a woman I’ve never met, who talks to me on the phone each day, patiently listening to me prattle on and correcting my butchering of French expressions in Email messages. It might be the nicest thing anyone has done for me unsolicited in a long time.
Apart from being where the news is, in contact with the people living through it and shaping it, I believe another crucial thing that foreign correspondents can offer is the tools to dispelling stereotypes. Before I moved here, I wrote a “farewell” letter to Mexico, about my fears that my French neighbors would be nowhere as warm as my Mexican ones. Those ideas were shaped from media coverage, movies, and even French people I know who warned me about everything from the French hating Americans to hating one another.
I’ve only been here for two months. I have a lot more to learn about the people before anecdotes become opinions. But already I can see how my initial notions can be very wrong. And it’s not in the major events or episodes, but the daily living over time.
Take yesterday. I was sizing up the people outside of a new gym class I was about to try: "body attack." I made note that all the women around me, without exception (and I did look at them all), were wearing make-up. Not heavy make-up, but they were made up.
Like some people need coffee in the morning (I need that too) or a nap in the afternoon, I need to belong to a gym. I’d been disappointed by several lame classes previously in France. I tried to withhold judgment until I gave it more time, but inside I was thinking, “Do the French not work out as hard as Americans or the amazing athletes in Mexico with whom I did yoga, cycling, Pilates, and lifting over the past seven years?”
I didn’t have high hopes today.
And then we started warming up, and then we started jumping in the air, and doing planks and pushups, and army exercises – and people were whooping and hollering, and breaking out in dance. There was an obvious camaraderie in the class. And the exuberance was unmatched by any Latino zumba or body combat class I attended (with perhaps the exception of an extraordinarily energetic spin class I once attended in Brazil).
I would have never expected that, judging from the reserve one sees on the streets of Paris. I would have never expected a French mother, working full-time, to talk to a stranger (a journalist, no less, asking invasive questions) every day on the phone. These surprises are sure to stack up over time, until I realize that what I came here thinking is in large part no longer even true.
President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping will meet for at least six hours this weekend in a rare, informal tête-a-tête that some say could reshape the relationship between the two world powers.
Not since 1972, when Nixon went to China, have leaders from China and the US sat down for more than a carefully scripted visit lasting more than an hour or so. And Asia-watchers are hoping this unscripted, two-day Sino-US summit ( allowing for an extended six-hour meeting) will have equally dramatic consequences.
“A second great breakthrough in the relationship has become a Holy Grail,” Orville Schell, head of the Asia Society’s Center for US-China Relations in New York, told the Monitor''s Beijing bureau chief, “Of course it’s hard to do, but that’s their aspiration.”
The Monitor's Peter Ford points out that the second meeting for the two leaders (when Xi was still China's vice president he met with Obama briefly) comes at key time for the US and China:
Strategic trust between the world’s top two economies is at a dangerously low level, worn away recently in a number of ways: Washington has accused Beijing of massive commercial cyberespionage; China is suspicious that President Obama’s military and diplomatic “pivot to Asia” is a bid to contain the Asian giant’s rise; China has pressed territorial claims and clashed with US allies such as Japan and the Philippines.
Still, writes the Monitor's Howard LeFranchi in Washington, not everyone is expecting immediate change, particularly if such urgent issues as cybersecurity are not substantially addressed:
Even though the two leaders are expected to discuss everything from military and corporate cybersecurity to North Korea, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and US-China trade, the summit’s emphasis on building their personal relationship leaves doubters unimpressed.
“If we actually saw a substantial agreement on countering cyberthreats … or saw the Chinese throttle back on territorial claims, that would be significant,” says Dean Cheng, a research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
For the rest of the story on the "great new power relationship" between China and the US, click here.