Global News Blog
The teenaged son of a Chinese Army general and prominent singer has gone on trial for gang rape in Beijing, focusing further attention on the credibility of China’s legal system and sparking calls on the Internet for China's political elite to follow the rule of law.
Li Tianyi, who is accused of raping a girl along with four other men at a hotel in the Chinese capital in February, has denied the charge and reportedly says he was drunk during the incident.
China’s official media has lambasted the heavy attention given to the case, saying it bears no similarity to the corruption trail of former Party heavyweight Bo Xilai, his murderous wife, or henchman Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.
Because of his parents’ powerful positions, the younger Li has access to the wealth and privilege that has allowed the criminal behavior of many other young offenders to be swept under the rug. The bad, and often dangerously criminal, behavior of some of China’s “second-generation rich” has become a tremendous sore spot for the government, which is undergoing a makeover of sorts to distance the Communist Party from the type of corruption endemic here.
“In contrast to the Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun cases, which are closely connected with China's anti-corruption efforts, Li's case, by its very nature, is an ordinary criminal case,” the conservative Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial referencing two ongoing high profile corruption cases against political elites. “What's more, considering that some of the suspects are minors, reports should remain low key.”
But for many Chinese, the cases are part of the same problem.
Mr. Li is the son of People’s Liberation Army General Li Shuangjiang and well known People's Liberation Army singer Meng Ge. And this is not his first brush with the law. The teen stoked anger two years ago when he and a friend reportedly attacked a Beijing couple in a road rage incident.
The criminal case against Li could offer some evidence that this new generation of Chinese leaders intends to toughen up on its progeny.
Liu Renwen, the director of criminal law research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says scrutiny is important in cases like this. While many are quick to assume guilt when it comes to wealthy and powerful people accused of wrongdoing, he says people need to demand the legal system treat everyone the same.
“We should be careful to avoid people’s resentment of the rich and the powerful to cause another type of injustice,” says Mr. Liu. “Both celebrities and ordinary people should be treated the same under law; everyone is equal under law.”
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Indian security forces announced Thursday that they had captured one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, militant Yasin Bhatkal, near the porous Nepal border, marking what they call a “major breakthrough” in their campaign against his Indian Mujahideen (IM) organization.
The group is believed to be responsible for recent bombings in several Indian cities, including a 2010 blast at a popular expat café in the western city of Pune that killed 17 people. Altogether police say Mr. Bhatkal participated in some 11 bombings and was responsible for dozens of deaths, reports The New York Daily News.
The arrest comes less than two weeks after Indian police announced the capture of another highly sought terror suspect, Abdul Karim Tunda, a bomb maker from the powerful Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The US State Department said in 2011 that IM and Lashkar-e-Taiba had “significant links” to one another, and the men were apprehended in the same region of the country, although police have not yet commented on if or how the two arrests were connected.
Indian Mujahideen was co-founded by Bhatkhal five years ago in response to what he perceived as widespread oppression of Muslims in India, reports The Wall Street Journal. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote at the time, IM was part of a growing trend of homegrown terrorism in India, which had long laid blame for such attacks on spillover from Pakistani militant groups. The notion that India itself could have produced such religious extremism was "a bitterly controversial idea in the Hindu-majority nation sensitive to claims of intolerance," the Monitor wrote.
The BBC describes Bhatkal as a “hands on” militant who participated directly in several of the IM's bombings. In Pune, for instance, CCTV captured him planting a device at the cafe shortly before the explosion. Among law enforcement he was known by the foreboding nickname “the ghost who bombs,” reports the Hindustan Times.
The high profile nature of Bhatkal’s participation in public acts of terror spurred wide public interest in his capture, and at the time of his arrest there was a 1 million rupee ($15,000) reward offered for information that could lead to his apprehension.
Police received a tip on Bhatkal’s movements six months ago, reports the Hindustan Times, and have been tailing him ever since. The paper reports that at the time of his purported arrest he was on his way to Bangladesh “as part of his terror activities and to meet some contacts there.”
As the Monitor reported earlier this year, many Indians have grown frustrated with what they perceive as the slow pace and many false starts of government investigations into acts of terror in the country.
As one man paralyzed in a 2007 attack complained, the state’s terrorism investigations were often full of fanfare, with little to show for the effort. As he predicted after a recent attack, “the conspiracy theories, the arrests, the acquittals will all take place and there will be more blasts again in a few years.”
In Bhatkal’s case, experts have suggested that, for now anyway, the public should take the news of the arrest with a grain of salt. As the BBC notes:
Ajit Kumar Singh of the Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi urged caution saying the arrest would be a "big catch" but the police had a history of bungled operations, reports AFP.
"The intelligence agencies deserve a huge pat on their backs if they have indeed arrested the right man," he said.
The world’s most famous tomato fight, La Tomatina, in Spain’s tiny Mediterranean city of Buñol charged an entry fee this year for the first time in history: 10 euros ($13).
For over half a century, thousands have congregated every year on the last Wednesday in August in the eastern town of about 10,000 people. It's been called the biggest anger-management exercise in the world.
The Tomatina is Spain’s second most internationally known event after Pamplona’s running of the bulls, and it's part of Buñol’s week-long summer festival. The tradition is intensely fun and messy, and is a liberating experience in which targeting strangers with tomatoes, or being targeted, is part of a mass catharsis.
But that fun, at least for outsiders, will no longer be free. The cash-strapped municipality began charging an entry fee this year, and hired a private company to organize ticket sales. The decision has drawn the ire of many Spaniards who criticize this as “the privatization of popular festivities” that for centuries have been part of Spanish culture.
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Local officials said the municipality needs more resources to finance the hour-long fight, which incidentally is a great way to clean the cobblestone streets and even the skin, courtesy of tomato’s acidity. But revenue from the giant food fight will generously exceed the 140,000 euro cost of hosting the event, critics say.
This year, more than 20,000 people registered for the event. A privileged few got to throw 130,000 kilos of tomatoes from trucks, and paid 750 euros each to toss their bright-red ammunition from above street level. Those on the street reuse what has already been thrown.
A quarter of the tickets were reserved for residents, and the remaining 15,000 were sold off to visitors from 60 countries, the majority from Australia, Japan, the UK, and the US.
Buñol actually had a net income of 300,000 euros in 2012 from the tourism brought in by Tomatina, and this year’s event is expected to generate more, despite limiting the number of participants and, of course, the tomatoes.
The origin of the tomato tradition is disputed, but some say in the 1940s a group of residents got into a tomato fight, broken up by the police. The next year, more villagers brought their own tomatoes to repeat the fight, until again the police ended the party.
In 1950 authorities allowed the fight to take place, only to go on and ban it again the following year. But the numbers just kept growing, even after police jailed several people. Eventually in 1957 it was institutionalized as part of Buñol’s official festival.
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As world powers appear to be moving closer to military action in Syria, The Hague is celebrating 100 years since its Peace Palace was officially opened on August 28, 1913.
The centenary kick-off comes at an awkward time, as a military strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – accused by the US, Britain, France, and others of having authorized a chemical weapons attack on his own citizens last week – looks increasingly inevitable.
Speaking from The Hague today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint, saying that a UN team investigating the claims needs time to establish the facts. The group has already collected samples and interviewed witnesses in the alleged chemical attack, which Syrian officials deny, outside of Damascus. He said the images were “unlike any we have seen in the 21st century” but urged a peaceful, diplomatic solution and called upon the divided UN Security Council not to go “missing in action."
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"Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking," Mr. Ban said.
His words echo the theme of the centenary celebration launched today. “Since its inauguration," the website reads, "the Peace Palace has become a worldwide icon of Peace and Justice. Inside this monument and in its vicinity, thousands of people, employed by 160 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), strive every day towards a safer and more just world."
The first Hague Peace Conference in 1899 took place in an era of military expansion, when Europe was modernizing fleets and developing bigger weapons. “The modern age of large-scale, fear-inspiring weaponry was dawning,” according to the site’s history pages.
Leaders at that first conference in The Hague, chosen at the request of Russian Czar Nicolas II in part because it was accessible from many countries, decided to build a “temple of peace."
"About a hundred delegates from the 26 countries came to The Hague to discuss peace and disarmament at this first Peace Conference. The countries represented ultimately decided to establish the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which governments could ask to resolve international disputes.
Later, it was decided that the Court of Arbitration should be housed in a suitable building: the Peace Palace. Because the first Hague Peace Conference had been held in The Hague, the decision was made to build the planned ‘temple of peace’ here as well."
One hundred years later, The Hague is launching conferences on peace building, drawing on lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, as well as musicals and art exhibitions exploring peace. A running stream of messages on the official website capture a hopeful mood: “worldpeace 4 all”; another: “Be kind! Promote Dialogue with Non Violent Communication :) ...”; and another: “I love Peace!!!”
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An odd and difficult-to-confirm story that keeps popping back onto news cycles, almost zombie-like, describes an alleged attempt by Saudi Arabia to bribe Russia into dumping its Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, with a huge $15 billion arms deal and lucrative oil-and-gas concessions.
The news reports, though many of them are dated today, actually refer to a four-hour July 31 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, at Mr. Putin's Novo Ogaryovo dacha outside of Moscow.
The meeting was widely reported by Arab media within days, along with the version, apparently leaked by the Saudi side, that Prince Bandar had offered Putin generous Saudi contracts to buy Russian tanks, attack helicopters, and other weaponry in return for Russia's agreement to scale down its support for Mr. Assad and not to veto any more UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Syria.
That story was flatly contradicted by the Kremlin on Aug. 9. Putin's foreign policy architect, Yury Ushakov, admitted that the meeting with the Saudi intelligence chief had taken place, but insisted that only "philosophical" matters had come up.
"No specific military collaboration issues were discussed," although a mutual concern was expressed regarding the Syrian civil war, the official RIA-Novosti agency quoted Mr. Ushakov as saying. "It was a very intense and interesting conversation of a philosophical nature."
Russia and Saudi Arabia have plenty of issues to talk about, in principle, and some sources suggest that secret meetings like this have been going on regularly for quite a few years.
The two countries are the world's No. 1 and No. 2 oil producers – they alternate in first place from year to year – yet Russia does not cooperate with the Saudi-led Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel that seeks to maintain balance between global oil supply and demand in order to keep prices buoyant.
One report of the Bandar-Putin meeting quotes the Saudi official as offering not to "contest" Russia's gas market in Europe and other forms of cooperation that could prove profitable for Russia.
"Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets," one media report quotes Bandar as telling Putin.
Besides a common – if often clashing – interest in Middle Eastern affairs, Russia accuses Saudi Arabia of exporting a militant brand of "Wahabbi" Islam that Moscow claims is fueling extremist activity in its mainly Muslim regions of the north Caucasus and the Volga republic of Tatarstan.
Some versions of the story about Bandar's meeting with Putin suggest that the Saudi intelligence chief went so far as to offer Russia its help in containing potential terrorist threats to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, and suggesting that the Games could be in danger if Moscow fails to come to an agreement about Syria.
Some Russian experts say the accounts of what Bandar proposed to Putin may be accurate, but say they doubt Putin – who is able to splash out over $50 billion of Russia's own oil money to host the Olympic Games – would renege on his own strongly expressed and oft-repeated policies on Syria in exchange for a few billion dollars in dubious arms contracts.
"Yes, it seems Saudi Arabia made a proposal to buy $15 billion worth of Russian arms, but the Kremlin made clear that it wasn't making any behind-the-scenes deals. And that was the end of it," says Vladimir Sotnikov, a Middle East expert with the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.
"It was probably some kind of trial balloon. But Saudi Arabia is no friend of Russia's, and it really wouldn't suit Putin to do deals behind Assad's back. Russia is standing on principles of international law regarding Syria, and it has enough points in favor of its position that it sees no reason to risk all its credibility with some move like that. Even if it were an offer to join an oil price-fixing cartel, even then Russia wouldn't go along. No bargain like that is going to happen," says Mr. Sotnikov.
Russian leaders, increasingly convinced that the West is preparing for imminent military action in Syria, kept up a barrage of criticism Tuesday over what they claim will be an "illegal" and potentially "catastrophic" intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state.
A frustrated and increasingly despondent Moscow has already made clear that it can and will do nothing to stand in the way of Western military action against Syria, leaving it with few options beyond diplomatic sniping and rhetorical appeals to global public opinion. Russia has argued that Western nations are stampeding to judgement before all the facts are in about last week's alleged nerve gas attack in a Damascus suburb that may have killed more than 1,000 people.
Russia is also stressing that, absent a UN Security Council resolution authorizing force, any attack on Syria will be a violation of international law and a slippery slope that could lead to greater chaos in the region.
"Attempts to bypass the Security Council, to once again create artificial, unproven excuses for an armed intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement posted on the ministry's website Tuesday.
In another sign that military strikes could be just days away, the US cancelled a bilateral meeting scheduled for Wednesday at which mid-level US and Russian officials were to have discussed plans for the projected September Geneva-2 peace conference, at which Russia still hopes representatives of the Bashar al-Assad regime – brought to the table by Moscow – will sit down and hammer out a negotiated settlement with Syrian rebels sponsored by Washington.
"Moscow perceives Washington’s decision to postpone this meeting literally on the eve of the agreed-upon date with serious disappointment," Mr. Lukashevich said.
Georgy Mirsky, an expert with the Center for Development and Modernization with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations, says that Russia fully expects even limited Western military action will produce unexpected complications, such as civilian casualties, and that will provide Moscow with an opening to take the lead in restarting diplomacy.
"There's nothing Russia can or should do to stop Western military intervention in Syria," he says.
"Syria isn't Libya. Battles are going on everywhere, and it will prove impossible to set up a secure zone. There is zero chance that Western forces will launch a ground war. So, it will be limited cruise missile attacks from ships; that might weaken Assad, but will not likely be decisive," he says.
"Russia can sit and watch. A propaganda war will rage, and Moscow will be able to say that we wanted peace, we were working for the Geneva-2 conference, but it didn't happen because they opted for military force instead.... As things stand, developments will play into Moscow's hands. The US will compromise itself with another war in another Arab country, and look more than ever like a neo-colonialist power. Why would Obama want this?" he says.
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the odyssey of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is how he ended up trapped in the no-man's-land of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for six weeks instead of catching the flight to Havana, Cuba that he had booked on the Russian national airline Aeroflot before he left Hong Kong on June 23?
On Monday, the pro-business Moscow daily Kommersant offered an explanation that, if true, answers that question and also raises a good many more about the role Russia may have played in the fugitive former CIA employee's flight from Hong Kong.
The newspaper's story, which it said was based on the accounts of unnamed Russian officials and other "informed sources," says that Mr. Snowden approached the Russian consulate in Hong Kong with a request for help, and even spent two days there before boarding the Aeroflot flight to Moscow with a US passport the Russians knew had already been cancelled by US officials.
Snowden failed to board an onward flight to Cuba the next day, the paper says, again citing Russian officials, because the US put intense pressure on Cuba, warning of "adverse consequences" if Snowden were allowed to board the plane. The Cubans subsequently informed Moscow that the regular Aeroflot flight would not be permitted to land in Havana if Snowden was aboard.
"A Kommersant source who is close to the US State Department confirmed that Cuba was one of the countries whose authorities had been warned by the US that any assistance provided to Snowden will lead to 'adverse consequences.' Later Vladimir Putin said that the United States 'in fact, blocked [Snowden's] further flight' to Latin America," leaving him stuck in Russia.
There seems little doubt that the US put on mega-pressure to convince nations not to help Snowden and were even apparently successful in convincing at least three European countries to deny their airspace to the official aircraft of Bolivian President Evo Morales as it left Moscow in early July, because US intelligence thought Snowden might be on board.
But news that Cuba may have also succumbed to US warnings, though it has been suggested, has never before been confirmed.
The paper offers little detail about Snowden's alleged sojourn in the Russian Hong Kong consulate, where he apparently even marked his 30th birthday.
"A Kommersant source in Russian state agencies admitted that Snowden was in the Russian diplomatic mission in Hong Kong before the flight to Moscow," the paper says.
"But our source stressed that he spent only two days there. [The official] says the consulate did not reach out to Snowden, but rather Snowden himself appealed to the Russian Consulate-General stating that he intended to request asylum in a Latin American country, and showed a valid ticket on Aeroflot's flight to Havana, via Moscow, for June 23."
According to the source, "the fugitive said that due to his human rights activities his life was in serious danger, and he requested help, referring to the international convention on the rights of refugees."
Russian experts say they believe the Kommersant story is substantially accurate.
"It's pretty clear that Snowden planned his own actions, and knew what he was doing," says Viktor Baranets, a columnist on security issues for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"On the other hand, I never thought Snowden's trip was a complete surprise for Russia. I believe our special services were watching him from the beginning. If Russian leaders say they know nothing, well, what would American leaders say if some Russian intelligence officer turned up in a US airport with secrets? I suspect everything happening around Snowden since he came here has been the result of political games," Mr. Baranets says.
Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Stategic Assessments in Moscow, says the Snowden saga shows that all the nations involved, including Russia, were reacting to moves made by a very smart fugitive who represents a cause that is new – and probably unwelcome – to all big governments.
"I see a fair bit of sense in the Kommersant story," Mr. Konovalov says.
"Until now I couldn't see how Russia walked smack into this Snowden affair. It struck me as very unprofessional," on the part of Russian authorities, he says.
"After all, Snowden spilled his secrets to the Guardian, not to us. He wasn't looking to work with our special services at all, but to inform the world public about a threat he perceives...
"Snowden, [Chelsea] Manning, [Julian] Assange are all a new type of people that nobody appears ready to deal with. In the past, people defected for ideological or more venal reasons, but these people are children of the new information society and believers in total freedom. Snowden probably frightens Putin as much as he scared the US establishment. Hence all the official confusion. But these people have followers in Russia, and around the world, and we probably need to expect more of this in future," he adds.
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Every time I travel for work in Indonesia, I'm tempted to describe the journey. The road to (insert destination) was smooth or twisting or pockmarked and broken. I passed roadside stands selling fruit and fried snacks. The traffic was horrendous, more stop than go, or people passed us like maniacs, swerving at 75 miles an hour on snaking back roads.
Such details give a sense of place and remoteness. They also convey the vastness and contradiction that is Indonesia, the world's largest island country by population, and the dysfunctional state of its infrastructure.
They are not always essential to the story, which varies from the battle to cope with rising maternal mortality to deforestation to improvements in rural education – or lack thereof. But I like to think they paint a picture of a country that people tend to see from either the vantage of Jakarta's malls and high rises or its sweeping rice fields and volcanic vistas.
In reality, the scenery is neither one or the other. In the poorest villages a gaudy concrete structure (usually a government office or seldom-used health clinic), often stands as a tribute to economic and social development.
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I have traveled far and wide to see the nature of this “progress,” to talk to people and learn what they think, how they live and how their lives are changing as the country does.
While I don’t often talk about how warm and friendly the Indonesian people are, I often think it. When Indonesians ask me why I like it here, I don’t wax on about the culture (vibrant!), the climate (tropical) or how far I can stretch my American dollar. I simply say it’s fascinating – and that’s as true today as it was four years ago when I first arrived here.
I feel lucky Indonesia has let me stay this long and tell its stories. I have loved and hated it, but my feelings have never been lukewarm. I’ve been terrified, joyous, overwhelmed, frustrated, and scintillated. I have rarely been bored.
When I arrived in August 2009, Indonesians were still cheering the re-election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president. Now, as he prepares to leave office under 10-year term limits, pundits are calling him a lame duck who not only failed to meet a key campaign promise to curb corruption, but has let it infiltrate the Democrat Party he founded.
Civil society groups have also lashed out at him for standing by silently while sectarian violence ticked upward.
In 2009 counter-terrorism police were still hunting for the militants behind twin bombings that rocked the luxury JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta, killing nine and injuring dozens of others. Today, after fracturing the country’s biggest terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, police are fighting a war against militants targeting them rather than Western influences.
Four years ago the anti-corruption commission was boldly going after high-level politicians (it still is) and political analysts worried about attempts by parliamentarians to defang it (they haven’t given up). Bali had trash on its beaches, but less of it. There were more orangutans, tigers, and elephants in rainforests that have since been clear cut. 7-Eleven had not entered the market, shaking up the country’s convenience store craze, and Joko Widodo, the populist governor of Jakarta who has transformed Indonesian perceptions of good governance and is, observers speculate, preparing a run for the presidency, was still a country bumpkin mayor in a mid-sized city called Solo.
At small shops, vendors handed back candies when they were short on change. The exchange rate was averaging Rp10,000 to the dollar. Today, after years of more than six percent growth and an economy often called an emerging market “darling” by investors, the rupiah has weakened to its lowest level since 2008.
On Friday President Yudhoyono announced a fiscal stimulus package aimed at restoring confidence in the sputtering economy. During a late night coffee meeting, the country’s leading financial officials talked about how its rising wages and low productivity were driving investors away.
Brash young finance minister Chatib Basri, sprinkling his speech with slang, called Indonesia a victim of its own successes, while Hatta Rajasa, the coordinating minister for the economy, hammered home the need to preserve local industries and stem imports to rebalance a trade deficit that is to blame for the sickening currency.
None of that seemed to matter much by Sunday, as I zipped down a palm oil plantation-lined road from Medan to Lake Toba, where I’m on a reporting trip for The Christian Science Monitor. At one point my driver swerved onto the shoulder to avoid a collision with a van passing in the oncoming lane (our mirrors still clipped.) When we stopped for lunch an hour later I chatted with two well-mannered kids. They asked me what I wanted to buy (mau beli apa?). I asked them where they lived. Just typical Indonesian probing.
Another common question, which Saritua, the taxi driver asked me shortly after we met:
“Are you married.”
“Not yet,” I said.
“You should find an Indonesian man,” he replied.
And when I thought about what to say to that, I thought about how much time I’d spent these past years looking for a story, for sources, for a way to tell the world about a country that is neither failing nor soaring and I realized I had the appropriate answer to encompass it all: “I’m still searching.”
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A young photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai on Friday, prompting protests and outrage after a series of high-profile rapes has put threats to women’s safety in the spotlight this year.
The latest attack has especially rocked Mumbai, India’s most populous city, which has a reputation as a place where women can travel much more safely than in New Delhi. The young journalist’s rape has been eliciting comparison to the gang-rape last December of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus that became the catalyst for nationwide protests. She and her male friend were beaten and left for dead on a road near Delhi. The woman later died, and public outcry led to legal changes, including the ability to expedite rape cases and tougher punishment for sexual violence.
The news came as a blow to what progress has been made, and speaks to how far India has yet to go on creating a safe place for women, many say.
“Sad validation of the fact that NO city in India is safe for women,” tweeted actress Gul Panag, a former Miss India. Another blogger known as Samar Khan tweeted 'The safest city in the country for women' ... This badge of honour has been stripped from Mumbai.”
The woman, an intern at an English-language magazine, was on assignment with a 20-something male companion, taking photographs of an old mill building, Mumbai Police Chief Satyapal Singh said at a news conference Friday. The man was tied up and the journalist – who cannot be named according to Indian law – was gang-raped.
She was admitted to a hospital on Thursday night and is in serious but stable condition, and is able to talk, according to the hospital. The Mumbai Police say they have arrested one suspect and are still looking for four other suspects, reports Reuters.
There were 233 rapes reported in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Recorded crimes against women have risen in recent decades, according to Monitor correspondent Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, writing after the rape in December: “Rapes have doubled since 1991, with police registering 24,206 cases in 2011. Dowry-related deaths (women killed for bringing inadequate dowries to their husbands' families) and molestation have also increased, with almost 43,000 cases of molestation registered in 2011.”
The increase may be due to improved documentation, reports the Monitor, but sexual crimes are also vastly underreported in India. (The United States recorded 80,000 rapes in 2008.)
There have been a number of rape cases reported this year, including some high profile rapes of tourists and young children.
A travel industry survey found that the number of foreign female tourists coming to India during the first three months of 2013 fell by 35 percent after the December rape, reports the Los Angeles Times.
About a thousand people gathered Friday evening in Mumbai to protest the gang-rape. Some wore black armbands, while others carried placards reading "Stop rape" and "City of shame," reported The Associated Press.
Russia sought Friday to dispel the widespread impression that it had "watered down" a United Nations Security Council statement calling for an urgent probe into reports that a chemical weapons attack killed a thousand or more people in a Damascus suburb early Wednesday morning.
In a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website Friday, spokesman Alexander Lukashevich insisted that Russia is urging Syrian authorities to allow a UN team of chemical weapons investigators that is already in Damascus to travel to the suburb of Ghouta, where the attack allegedly took place.
The statement also calls upon Syrian rebels – whom Moscow has loudly accused of fabricating evidence of the attack – to ensure safe passage for the UN delegation through territory which they control.
"We urge all those who have any influence with the opposition to take the necessary steps in order to ensure that the international experts can fully carry out its tasks," the statement says.
In a separate note, the ministry said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talked Thursday by phone with US Secretary of State John Kerry and agreed there must be "an objective investigation into the reported information on possible use of chemical weapons in a suburb of Damascus.... [Mr. Lavrov] emphasized that immediately after [those reports were received in Moscow] the Russian side called on the Government of Syria to cooperate with the experts of the United Nations. Now the ball is in the rebels' court; they must provide safe access for the mission to the alleged site of the incident," it said.
Some Russian experts say that Moscow is growing weary of being blamed for allegedly throwing obstacles in the path of international action on Syria, when they claim to be merely taking a skeptical view of any information that emerges from the turbulence of Syria's multi-sided civil war.
"Russia isn't ready to jump to conclusions. It seems to us that the West is far too eager to apportion blame before all the facts are in," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "may not be a nice guy, but that doesn't mean he's guilty of this exact allegation," he says. "Russia is skeptical of these reports, with good reasons. How convenient is it that this supposed attack happened just as a UN chemical weapons team was visiting Damascus? And another thing, why would anyone trust the rebels?"
"We perceive that there are dozens of rebel groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and backed by the intelligence services of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have an obvious interest in goading the US into intervening on their side. Why Americans seem so ready to believe any stories these people report is totally beyond us," he adds.