Ahmed Elbatrawy

Zuma art polarizes South Africa


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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) — A lawyer breaks down sobbing in court. The president’s children sit in the public gallery. The secretary general of the ruling party, the African National Congress, sits behind them. Outside, military veterans and riot police hold back crowds dancing in support of the president. This is no normal high court case hearing.

At issue is “The Spear,” a piece of artwork depicting the President of South Africa as a Lenin figure with his genitals exposed, accused of offending the dignity of Jacob Zuma.

The painting has pitched culture and tradition against constitutional rights. It has polarized a nation: Those who believe it is offensive to depict the President — and in fact any black person — in this way against those who believe in the freedom of expression.

South Africa is the custodian of one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, held up as a model state when it comes to protecting freedoms and rights.

The furor began nearly two weeks ago when an exhibition entitled “Hail to the Thief” went up in a small suburban gallery in Johannesburg. It was the artist Brett Murray‘s interpretation of what has become of South Africa’s young democracy. And it was not kind. Through his art he portrayed the ruling party, the ANC, as corrupt, selfish and full of broken promises.

But it was the one painting of Zuma that got the nation hot under the collar. For a few days it sat there largely unnoticed, quietly minding its own business, until the ANC woke up and saw the picture in a Sunday newspaper. The party demanded it be taken down. The gallery refused. And so the legal battle ensued.

Then, this week, along came the protesters, one white, one black, both working independently of each other, who calmly walked into the gallery and smeared the painting with red and black paint. Both claimed the painting was an insult to the honor of the president. The two were arrested, the painting was taken down and the gallery closed. The image of the painting, however, remains on City Press‘ website. The defacing of the painting was not going to stop this battle.


Vandals deface risqué Zuma painting

Today was the first day of the hearing in the High Court of Johannesburg. Outside, the ANC had erected a stage and struggle songs burst out into the streets. Throngs of people gathered with posters demanding Zuma’s dignity be restored and the painting destroyed. Former ANC armed-wing veterans dressed in full military uniform held the crowds back from the court. Riot police looked on. Reporters filmed their pieces to camera.


Explicit Zuma painting shocks S. Africa

Inside the court an air of calm reigned despite being full to capacity. Rows of journalists tweeted incessantly, ANC bigwigs greeted each other fondly, and a handful of the President’s 21 children looked on.


Zuma penis portrait artist faces death threats

Sitting on the bench were three highly respected judges, one white Afrikaaner male, one Indian female and one black female: A true reflection of this country’s diversity and equality.

The leading lawyer, Gcina Malindi, began by arguing for the removal of the painting and the image on the basis that no one deserves such indignity whoever they are.

The judges retorted that it was an impossible feat to take it out of public circulation. The image is everywhere: On social networks, Twitter and the internet — it even has its own Wikipedia page.

One judge then asked how dignity could be restored by removing the picture from websites. The senior lawyer began his answer. He took the court back to South Africa’s fight for freedom and human rights. They were now free and had been vindicated. His last line was, “The struggle was a just struggle.”

It was then that the sobs rang out across the courtroom.

The lawyer had broken down crying. As he began to talk of the struggle, he held back the tears, trying desperately to contain himself, but it was no use.

The impact of his breakdown was made all the worse by the fact that he was hooked up to the microphones. His sobs were loud and clear for all to hear. With his head in his hands he fell to the desk.

The judges looked awkward, adjourned the case and scuttled off into their chambers leaving a stunned courtroom to work out exactly what had just happened.

Malindi had been imprisoned and tortured on Robben Island during apartheid. He was a freedom fighter and is now a highly-regarded lawyer. He simply could not contain his emotions when talking about the freedom that he and many other black people in South Africa had fought for.

He later said his line of argument had brought up many emotions that he had felt 25 years ago. He added that he should have had more self-control, but “unfortunately I did not’.

When the court returned, Malindi calmly walked back into the courtroom and requested a postponement. Both the complainants and respondents agreed as did the judges. It was not to be a cut-and-dried case. Three days have been set aside to hear the case in full at a date yet to be decided.

The judges looked awkward and left for their chambers leaving a stunned courtroom to work out exactly what had just happened.

So the nation awaits the final verdict as the court balances the President’s dignity against freedom of expression

And in the meantime, the ANC has called for further protests and the boycotting of City Press. The battle rages on.






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China cracks down on illegal visitors


Foreigners may be asked to provide identity papers during the 100-day crackdown on illegal visitors.

Beijing (CNN) — At just after midnight on Saturday, in a bar down an old lane in Beijing, the band suddenly stops playing. Grabbing the microphone, the manager tells everyone to remain in the venue; the police are outside threatening to escort to the nearest police station any foreigner not carrying valid documents. The atmosphere instantly sours.

This is just one of many incidents that have occurred in Beijing over the weekend following last week’s launch of a 100-day campaign to “clean out” non-Chinese living or working illegally in the city. Until the end of August, all foreigners are expected to always have on them a valid passport, visa and resident permit, as stipulated by an announcement on Peaceful Beijing, the official Beijing Public Security Bureau account on popular Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo.

If not, they will face repercussions, which range from fines to police detention and deportation.

A number for a hotline locals can call to report suspicious foreigners was also included in the announcement. Since then, the police presence in the main expat and student areas of the city has noticeably increased, households and companies have been spot checked, and queues at local police stations to register residency are large.

Lin Song, media officer of the Exit-Entry Administration Department under the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, was not available to immediately comment when asked about the crackdown. However, last week in an editorial in the Global Times, he remarked: “Some foreigners do not know Chinese laws well, and they might feel strange being randomly questioned by the police, but it is necessary to improve their legal awareness and make sure they stick to Chinese regulations.”

Beijing police announced on Thursday that the city’s friendly attitude toward foreigners has not changed. “Beijing will stick to the policy of reform and opening up, and we sincerely welcome foreign friends to work and live in Beijing,” a spokesman told the state-run Xinhua news agency, adding that foreigners’ legitimate rights will be protected. 

But the crackdown has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, not least those who have resided in the city for years and see it as home. Media worker Jacob Trent was pulled off his bike by the police on Saturday and demanded to produce his papers. “I have been living here for a decade and yet I still get treated like — and sometimes called — a foreign barbarian,” lamented the American, who speaks perfect Mandarin and is engaged to a Chinese girl.

Another longtime expat, David Park, was equally distressed. “I have noticed a change in how I am treated. It has gone from curiosity to hostility,” commented Park. The 27-year-old, an employee at a renewable energy firm, has been contemplating a move back to England. These events will make his decision easier, he said.

Park was not the only person expressing a desire to leave in the wake of tensions. Mia Bate, an African-American doing an internship, has no intention to renew her visa once it expires in September. “I never used to notice people looking at me on the streets,” she said. “Now I do and it makes me feel really uncomfortable.”

The campaign comes amid a heated online debate about the behavior of foreigners in China. The most noticeable example has been the uploading of a video onto the Chinese video sharing site Youku of a foreign man sexually assaulting a Chinese woman in Beijing. The video attracted more than 11 million views and 80,000 comments to date. Beijing police revealed the foreigner in the video to be a Briton on a tourist visa.

Police deny the incidents are related, but in the minds of both foreigners and Chinese they are. Prominent host on Chinese Central Television, Yang Rui, posted on Sina Weibo that Beijing must clean out its “foreign trash” to “protect innocent girls.” According to Yang, they must “cut off the foreign snake heads.”

Similar rhetoric has been voiced by locals offline. When Beijing resident Mandy Zhang’s mother caught wind of the video, she called her 26-year-old daughter and asked her not to visit places that foreigners frequent. For both mother and daughter, the visa crackdown might not be an ideal solution, but it is necessary.

“Police cannot tell who is good or not. Some foreign men come here with the wrong intentions,” Zhang said, adding: “We treat Westerners too well and this needs to change.”

According to statistics provided by the city government, Beijing is home to about 120,000 foreigners. Most have arrived during the past decade, attracted by a booming economy and a visa policy that has been relatively relaxed. Crackdowns on this scale are very rare, with the last noticeable one being in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Lars Laaman, a professor of Chinese history at London’s SOAS, who has lived in the capital on and off since the 1980s, says these incidents only occur when the government is feeling uneasy,” he commented, alluding to events that have gripped the nation over the past few months such as the dramatic fall from power of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai.

Whatever the cause, as China’s economy continues to grow, its foreign population will likely rise too. Finding a workable solution to the visa situation will become increasingly important.






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Doctor in bin Laden raid gets 33 years


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Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — A Pakistani doctor accused of helping the CIA track down Osama bin Laden was sentenced Wednesday to 33 years in prison for treason, officials told CNN.

Shakeel Afridi was also fined $3,500 for spying for the United States, said Nasir Khan, a Khyber Agency official, and Fazal Mehmood, an official from the tribal court that handed down the sentence.

The court heard the case against Afridi for two months. The doctor was not afforded a chance to defend himself, which is in accordance with the laws of the tribal justice system, the two officials said.

Pakistan fires doctor who helped CIA hunt bin Laden

Afridi was present at the sentencing and was sent to the central jail in nearby Peshawar.

Afridi helped the CIA use a vaccination campaign in an attempt to collect DNA samples from residents of bin Laden’s compound in the city of Abbottabad to verify the al Qaeda leader’s presence there.

Bin Laden was killed in the subsequent U.S. raid on the compound in May of last year.


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At least one legal analyst said Afridi’s sentence was a sham.

Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar said the punishment was handed down by a tribal court in Khyber even though the alleged offense occurred in Abbottabad, which raises questions about the legitimacy of the proceedings.

Tweeting Osama’s death: The accidental citizen journalist

“This judgment won’t last,” Akbar told CNN. “If this punishment is challenged by Dr. Afridi’s family in the Superior Court of Pakistan, there is a good possibility that the sentence will be turned around.”

Human rights groups have often accused tribal courts of violating the fair trial process guaranteed under Pakistan’s constitution.

Akbar said the Afridi ruling could be a move by the government to save face without making a spectacle out of a sensitive situation.

In a federal court, the government would have had to produce evidence, and Afridi would have the right to defend himself.

“There is ample case law that says this process is cheating against the laws and constitution of Pakistan,” Akbar said.

Afridi can appeal the sentence, said Tariq Hayat Khan, a senior official in the tribal region.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened on behalf of Afridi when he was first arrested, a senior U.S. official told CNN. Clinton argued that Afridi should be released and “will keep doing so,” the official said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged Afridi’s role in bin Laden’s discovery, saying he was extremely helpful in the operation against the al Qaeda leader.

Bin Laden letters released — a terrorist losing control

A statement from U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who both sit on the Armed Services Committee, also said that Afridi’s actions were far from treason and that the sentence was “shocking and outrageous.”

“Dr. Afridi set an example that we wish others in Pakistan had followed long ago,” the lawmakers said, “He should be praised and rewarded for his actions, not punished and slandered.”

Afridi was charged under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, British-era laws that govern Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region and do not carry the death penalty.

In October, a Pakistani commission recommended treason charges be filed against Afridi. A federal investigation is ongoing, according to a government official close to the investigation who is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official was not clear on how Wednesday’s sentencing would affect the federal case.

CNN’s Elise Labott contributed to this report.






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122 girls poisoned at Afghan school


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Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — More than 120 girls and three teachers were admitted to an Afghanistan hospital Wednesday after being poisoned in their classes with a type of spray, a Takhar provincial official said.

The incident occurred in the provincial capital of Talokhan, in the Bibi Hajera girls school, said Dr. Hafizullah Safi, director of public health for the northern Afghanistan province.

Forty of the 122 girls were still hospitalized, he said, with symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, headaches and loss of consciousness.

Blood samples have been sent to Kabul in an effort to determine the substance used, he said.

“A number of girls from 15 to 18 were brought from a school to hospital today,” said hospital director Dr. Habibullah Rostaqi.


Girls hospitalized after poison attack


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“Generally they are not in a critical condition. We are looking after them, but let’s see what happens later. We understand so far from the situation … they are more traumatized.”

“The Afghan people know that the terrorists and the Taliban are doing these things to threaten girls and stop them going to school,” said Khalilullah Aseer, spokesman for Takhar police. “That’s something we and the people believe. Now we are implementing democracy in Afghanistan and we want girls to be educated, but the government’s enemies don’t want this.”

Taliban tightens grip on Afghan schools

There have been several instances of girls being poisoned in schools in recent years. In April, also in Takhar province, more than 170 women and girls were hospitalized after drinking apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women’s education.

While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned.

The Taliban is struggling with the country’s government over Afghan schools. It recently demanded the closure of schools in two eastern provinces. In Ghazni province, the school closure was in retaliation for the government’s ban on motorbikes often used by insurgents. Locals in Wardak province said the Taliban has been a little more lenient and has allowed schools to open late after making changes to the curriculum.

Tortured Afghan teen on attackers: ‘The same should be done to them’

The battle indicates broader fears about Afghanistan’s future amid the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country. NATO leaders on Monday signed off on U.S. President Barack Obama’s exit strategy from Afghanistan, which calls for an end to combat operations next year and the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international military force by the end of 2014.

During the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, many Afghan girls were not allowed to attend school. The schools began reopening after the regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. However, observers say abuse of women remains common in the post-Taliban era and is often accepted in conservative and traditional families, where women are barred from school and sometimes subjected to domestic violence.

Afghan Education Minister Dr. Farooq Wardak told the Education World Forum in London in January 2011 that the Taliban had abandoned its opposition to education for girls, but the group has never confirmed that.

Saving Face: The struggle and survival of Afghan women






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Suu Kyi to visit Thailand


Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the opening of a National League for Democracy office in Yangon Monday

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will make her first trip outside the country in more than two decades when she visits Thailand next week to attend a regional conference, a spokesman for her party said Thursday.

Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy campaigner who endured years of house arrest under Myanmar’s military rulers, will travel to the Thai capital of Bangkok on Monday where she will participate in the World Economic Forum on East Asia, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy.

The visit to Bangkok comes ahead of a longer trip to Europe next month during which Suu Kyi will make a series of key addresses, including the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize that she was prevented from collecting in 1991 because she was in detention.

Nyan Win and the organizers of the World Economic Forum declined to give more information about what part Suu Kyi would play at the Bangkok conference.

President Thein Sein of Myanmar, the former military official whose civilian government has instituted many of the country’s recent political reforms, is also scheduled to attend the forum.


Aung San Suu Kyi takes oath of office


Suu Kyi victory in Myanmar celebrated

Suu Kyi and 33 other newly elected members of her party took up their seats in the Myanmar parliament at the start of this month, a historic step for the country’s progress toward democracy.

In the past 12 months, Thein Sein’s government has pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, secured a cease-fire with Karen rebels and agreed to negotiate with other ethnic rebel groups.

Those steps, as well as the by-elections last month where the NLD won nearly every seat it contested, have been applauded by the United States, European Union and other governments. They have responded by easing sanctions on Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

Suu Kyi’s first speaking engagement in Europe next month is an address at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, organized by the International Labor Organization on June 14.

Then on June 16, she will deliver her long delayed Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway.

After that, she will travel to Britain, the former colonial ruler of Myanmar and the country where Suu Kyi received her university education.

While there, she will address both houses of the British parliament on June 21, a rare honor for foreign dignitaries.

The relatively successful elections and Suu Kyi’s freedom to travel contrast starkly with the situation in the country at the start of the 1990s.

Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide victory in 1990, the previous time Myanmar had held multiparty elections. But the military junta ignored the results and kept her under house arrest.

Myanmar’s economy stagnated and its people lived under repressive rule until the military began to allow the fledgling reforms of the past two years.

The progress the country has experienced recently in nonetheless qualified by ongoing violence between government forces and some ethnic rebels, reports of voting irregularities in the by-elections last month and the military-backed ruling group’s overwhelming control of parliament.

The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, noted ahead of a visit to the country last month that Myanmar’s “fresh start is still fragile.”

CNN’s Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.






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Australian has Indonesian jail time cut


Convicted Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby as seen on April 22, 2008, at Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Indonesia.

(CNN) — Schapelle Corby, the Australian serving time in a Bali, Indonesia, prison on a conviction of drug smuggling, has had her jail term cut by five years.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s decree to reduce the former beauty therapist’s 20-year jail sentence to 15 years arrived in a letter on Monday, according to Amzer Simanjuntak, a spokesman of Denpasar District Court.

The decree was dated May 15 and also stipulated that the original 100 million Indonesian rupiah (US$10,700) fine still had to be paid, the spokesman added.

Before entering Kerobokan prison to visit her on Wednesday, Corby’s sister, Mercedes, expressed gratitude for the decision. “Our family would like to say, ‘Thank you,’ to the Indonesian president,” she said. “We now hope to get more information about possible parole for Schapelle, and we hope to get positive news on that. She is very happy.’

The appeal for clemency, which Corby filed on the basis of a medical examination that diagnosed her as suffering from acute depression with psychotic symptoms, comes nearly seven years to the day of her sentencing.

Corby, now 34, was convicted in May 2005 for smuggling nine pounds (4.1 kilograms) of marijuana in a bag while arriving at Bali’s Denpasar International Airport the previous October. She has always maintained her innocence, saying that she was the victim of a drug smuggling operation.

Aside from whether Corby will be eligible for parole — and if so, where she would serve it — the timeframe for her release remains unclear because of remissions granted for good behavior.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, “Should Ms. Corby’s legal team apply for parole, the Australian Government would support it.”

Indonesia’s Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin on Wednesday linked Corby’s case to that of “hundreds of” Indonesian inmates in Australia held in trafficking cases and said he hoped they would get similar attention. “Especially the underage children, whose number are quite many,” he said.

In addition to those cases, Amir cited Corby’s illness during imprisonment and lighter sentences imposed by other nations on marijuana possession convictions as factors that the government weighed in granting Corby clemency.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said there is no link between the Corby case and the release of convicted Indonesian human traffickers, including three from a Western Australian prison last Friday amid concerns they were minors.

“If there were no Schapelle Corby in a Balinese prison we’d still be releasing minors, kids on fishing boats who’d been collected through people smuggling,” he said to reporters Wednesday in a video broadcast by Australia’s ABC News.

“We’d be releasing them because it is plainly indecent to have in Australian adult jails kids from Indonesia who have been picked up on fishing boats being misused for people smuggling.

“At no stage has the Government sat down with our Indonesian counterparts and said, ‘We’ll release minors from our jails, if you consider a clemency application by Ms. Corby.’”

Journalist Rudy Madanir contributed to this report.






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Afghanistan: 5 aid workers kidnapped

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Two women and three men that were working for an aid group were kidnapped in a remote area of Afghanistan this week, authorities said.

The women and their three Afghan colleagues worked for Medair, a non-governmental organization, said Abdul Marouf Rasekh, a spokesman for the governor of northeastern Badakhshan province.

The aid workers were helping to bring food to children and pregnant women in the remote and mountainous area when they were kidnapped Tuesday, Rasekh said.

The victims had not informed Afghan security forces about their trip to the area, Rasekh said


Afghanistan, good enough?

“Our initial reports from the area show that they were taken to a nearby district called Shahr Buzurg, but our investigation is going on,” Rasekh said.

The kidnappers have not contacted the government or the aid group to to say why they kidnapped the aid workers, Rasekh added.






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N. Korea: We’ll ‘expand’ nuclear program


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Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea has said it will press on with its nuclear program as a response to what it described as hostility from the United States after an analysis of satellite images indicated increased activity at its nuclear test site.

“We had access to nuclear deterrence for self-defense because of the hostile policy of the U.S. to stifle the DPRK by force and we will expand and bolster it nonstop as long as this hostile policy goes on,” an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a report Tuesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

DPRK is short for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The top U.S. envoy for North Korea, Glyn Davies, warned Pyongyang on Monday that a possible third nuclear test would be “a serious miscalculation and mistake.”


Is North Korea about to test a nuke?


North Korea’s Kim Jong Un speaks


North Korean parade shows off missile


North Korea: The power and the suffering

The North Korean official suggested Tuesday that a nuclear test had not originally been part of the regime’s plans.

“We did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” he said.

But the statement concluded with a vague threat: “If the U.S. persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure upon us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense.”

North Korea launched a rocket on April 13, which failed less than two minutes into the flight. It said the launch was to put a satellite into orbit, but much of the international community saw it as a cover up for testing its ballistic missile technology.

The move torpedoed a deal reached in February under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid shipments from the United States.

Many analysts assume an atomic test by North Korea is just a matter of time following the failure of the rocket launch last month. Two previous rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed weeks or months later by nuclear tests.

And activity is being ramped up at North Korea’s nuclear test site, a sign that the country is preparing for a test, according to an analysis of new satellite images by the defense publication IHS Janes.

Mining carts and excavation equipment at Punggye-ri’s tunneling area can be seen in satellite images taken by Digital Globe and GeoEye in the past month.

Earth and debris are being removed from the tunnel in the largest quantities seen so far, according to the Janes assessment.

An image from mid-April shows a full mining train, including an engine and several carts, outside of the tunnel. And a more recent shot on May 9 reveals new road networks at the site along with carts and a vehicle at the facility.

In the statement Tuesday, North Korea denounced as “absolutely intolerable” a declaration from the Group of 8 leaders over the weekend, which stated that Pyongyang faces more isolation if it continues its pursuit of a nuclear program.

CNN’s Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report






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India longing for a U.S. election?


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Ask India's youth who they'd like to see as the next U.S. president, says Manu Joseph, and the answer is Barack Obama. Ask Delhi's academic class, however, and they'll tell you Republican presidents are a better fit for India's interests.Ask India’s youth who they’d like to see as the next U.S. president, says Manu Joseph, and the answer is Barack Obama. Ask Delhi’s academic class, however, and they’ll tell you Republican presidents are a better fit for India’s interests.

The national media has been preoccupied with India's ongoing corruption scandal and protests, and the race to the White House has yet to capture widespread attention in the world's largest democracy.The national media has been preoccupied with India’s ongoing corruption scandal and protests, and the race to the White House has yet to capture widespread attention in the world’s largest democracy.

Obama and his wife were warmly received during their visit to India in 2010.Obama and his wife were warmly received during their visit to India in 2010.

In the lead-up to his visit, Indian officials even had coconuts removed from their trees to protect Obama from the falling fruit, acccording to the BBC.
In the lead-up to his visit, Indian officials even had coconuts removed from their trees to protect Obama from the falling fruit, acccording to the BBC.

While India-U.S. ties continue to deepen -- Obama (shown with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010) has supported India's quest for a permanent Security Council seat -- some believe a Republican president is better for India.While India-U.S. ties continue to deepen — Obama (shown with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010) has supported India’s quest for a permanent Security Council seat — some believe a Republican president is better for India.

An April editorial in The Times of India declared: The Republican leadership doesn't care overly much about kid stuff like school grades - their business is with business, so a Mitt in the White House might mean more dollars for Delhi.An April editorial in The Times of India declared: “The Republican leadership doesn’t care overly much about kid stuff like school grades – their business is with business, so a Mitt in the White House might mean more dollars for Delhi.”

Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush got along famously -- Bush called Singh one of the true gentlemen in the international arena, and Singh told Bush the people of India deeply love you, according to the New York Times.Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush got along famously — Bush called Singh “one of the true gentlemen in the international arena,” and Singh told Bush “the people of India deeply love you,” according to the New York Times.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2012 election, Joseph says India looks at the U.S. two-party system with envy. Hundreds of candidates from dozens of parties campaign, and their supporters ride through cities on motorbikes to lobby voters. Regardless of the outcome of the 2012 election, Joseph says India looks at the U.S. two-party system with envy. Hundreds of candidates from dozens of parties campaign, and their supporters ride through cities on motorbikes to lobby voters.

Joseph also says that the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the subsequent fallout between the Obama administration and Pakistan's leadership, is viewed in Delhi as a good thing for India's security.Joseph also says that the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the subsequent fallout between the Obama administration and Pakistan’s leadership, is viewed in Delhi as a good thing for India’s security.


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Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of dispatches exploring how the U.S. election is seen in cities around the world. Manu Joseph is editor of India’s Open and a columnist for International Herald Tribune. His novel “Serious Men” won the PEN/Open Book Award 2011 and the Hindu Literary Prize. His second novel, “The Illicit Happiness of Other People,” will be released in August.

Delhi, India (CNN) — There are more elephants in India than Mormons. Five of the rare Mormons are in a Bible class in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which occupies a portion of a red residential building in south Delhi.

The class has just been disrupted by me with a weird question. All the five Mormons are adolescent girls, almost modern at first glance in jeans and skirts and t-shirts. For some reason the question has made them burst into giggles and to make eyes at each other.

Only one of the girls knows the answer. “Mitt Romney is a presidential candidate,” she says in a mumble. Others nod to indicate that the name is now familiar. But they look surprised when they are told he is a Mormon.

Manu Joseph

In this church, as in the rest of Delhi, there has been very little interest in the American presidential primaries. In the last several months, the Indian media has been joyously preoccupied with substantial domestic scams, scandals and political tremors. Even after Romney emerged as Barack Obama’s challenger, the Indian media has viewed the presidential battle as peripheral news.

Tokyo postcard: Enjoying the U.S. political “matsuri”

No doubt, as the campaign escalates, the U.S. election will become the predominant news in India but for now it is not a popular topic of discussion.

In Sheraton Hotel’s Pan Asian restaurant, an upper middle-class family of about 30 people has arrived to consume the buffet and celebrate the birthday of a woman who is a doctor trained in both Western medicine and homeopathy. (Almost every Delhi family has at least one loveable homeopath, usually a woman, who will diagnose the ailing relative over the phone and home-deliver the sugar pills.) An elder lights up a cigarette even though it is against the law to smoke in any of Delhi’s restaurants. The waiter pretends that he has not seen it because he knows he will be abused if he tried to stop.

The young, many of whom have studied in America, flock together and chat about an impending wedding in the family. They are very aware of American politics, and they admire Obama, but the elections do not interest them yet, probably because the media is yet to show them the way.


Open Mic: New Delhi

But one of them, who is an executive with a healthcare firm, is interested. “I can’t stand Indian news channels anymore,” he says, “they have no news. They just scream all the time. So I have started watching CNN and BBC. So I can’t help it, I follow the American elections.”

Paris postcard: Marvelling at Obama’s “coolitude”

You ask a crowd of this type, the young especially, who they would like to see as the next American president, and their answer will be unambiguous — Obama. For them, the American presidential election is somehow a war between good and evil. Democrats are good, liberal and very New York and California. Republicans are evil, too Christian and Texas.

But the scholarly view in Delhi has long been different: Democrats may be handsome and clever, but Republican presidents suit India better. Not surprisingly, last month, an editorial comment in the largest English newspaper in India, The Times of India, announced:

“Barack’s got a bee in his bonnet about India – the current president does go on a bit about India being, ahem, a threat to American professionals, Indian children studying maths earnestly while the Yankees doodle their days away, the US getting ‘Bangalored’, supposedly losing jobs to harder-working Indians. To charge his people into action Barack’s not above reviving the Injun spectre once again, targeting this time the Punjabi rather than the Shoshone. In contrast, Romney doesn’t say much anyway – and when he does speak, it’s not about India. Surely that’s a blessing. Traditionally too, the Republican leadership doesn’t care overly much about kid stuff like school grades – their business is with business, so a Mitt in the White House might mean more dollars for Delhi. But then, there’s a flip side – we may need to learn robot language.”

For Indians, the elimination of Osama bin Laden last year by U.S. Navy SEALs was as significant as where he was found — in a mansion in the heart of Pakistan, in the happy company of his large family, including a wife who has been frequently described as “young.”

The subsequent collapse of the arranged marriage between Obama’s administration and Pakistan’s military leadership, is viewed in Delhi as a good development for India’s security. Yet the general perception in the capital is that Republicans will be tougher on Pakistan than the Democrats.

It is a view that will be repeated many times this year by political experts in the newspapers, on chat shows and in the nocturnal congregations of journalists and think-tank scholars, of whom there are many in Delhi. But even they will find it hard to deny their love for Obama, the articulate non-white from Harvard. It is an affection they share with the capital’s powerful, including politicians.

When Obama visited India for the very first time, in 2010, a senior politician personally supervised the design of the new uniform that the Parliament’s security officers were to wear, and she also briefed the members of the parliament how they should behave in Obama’s presence so that they looked elegant. (There was a near stampede when Bill Clinton had visited in 2000 and it was all very embarrassing.)

Cairo postcard: A cynical eye on the U.S. election

Indians look at the two-party system of America with the ache of longing. Indian national elections, which are due in 2014, unless the government lead by the Indian National Congress falls before its time, is a festive circus of dozens of parties, most of which are actually family businesses which will be transferred by the elders to their children.

There is probably not a single political journalist in the country who can name, without looking at reference material, all the political parties that contest in the national elections.

But there are some similarities between the American system and the two major political rivals of India. The Indian National Congress has overt and covert socialist tendencies. It is willing to help the poor at the expense of the middleclass. The party is, in theory, liberal. In fact, it has interpreted secularism to mean equal opportunity for thugs from all religions.

The other major party, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, is largely a conservative, capitalist, middle-class force that is often baffled over why it is so hard for people to accept that India is fundamentally a Hindu country.

There must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.






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World’s oceans are ‘plasticized’


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Expeditions to ocean gyres sometimes encounter 'ghost nets' - discarded fishing equipment that can tangle into a hazard for marine organisms.Expeditions to ocean gyres sometimes encounter ‘ghost nets’ – discarded fishing equipment that can tangle into a hazard for marine organisms.

A rainbow runner caught in the Pacific with a gut full of plastic particles. Our consumption does have a life after our use that we have to take responsibility for, Eriksen says.A rainbow runner caught in the Pacific with a gut full of plastic particles. “Our consumption does have a life after our use that we have to take responsibility for,” Eriksen says.

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation and 5 Gyres' 2012 expedition is aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72-feet oceangoing yacht.The Algalita Marine Research Foundation and 5 Gyres’ 2012 expedition is aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72-feet oceangoing yacht.

Ocean 'garbage patches' are not visible by satellite and aren't floating islands. Rather, they are small bits of broken down plastic, spread across thousands of miles of open ocean.Ocean ‘garbage patches’ are not visible by satellite and aren’t floating islands. Rather, they are small bits of broken down plastic, spread across thousands of miles of open ocean.

On its second leg from Tokyo to Maui, the AMRF/5 Gyres expedition expects to encounter debris from the Japanese tsunami.On its second leg from Tokyo to Maui, the AMRF/5 Gyres expedition expects to encounter debris from the Japanese tsunami.

Miriam Goldstein, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher has studied plastic debris in the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre, and is concerned about its potential impact on biodiversity.Miriam Goldstein, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher has studied plastic debris in the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre, and is concerned about its potential impact on biodiversity.

Research Expedition leader Marcus Eriksen has now travelled to all five gyres and found plastic debris in every one.Research Expedition leader Marcus Eriksen has now travelled to all five gyres and found plastic debris in every one.


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(CNN) — A marine expedition of environmentalists has confirmed the bad news it feared — the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” extends even further than previously known.

Organized by two non-profit groups — the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and the 5 Gyres Institute — the expedition is sailing from the Marshall Islands to Japan through a “synthetic soup” of plastic in the North Pacific Ocean on a 72-feet yacht called the Sea Dragon, provided by Pangaea Exploration.

The area is part of one of the ocean’s five tropical gyres — regions where bodies of water converge, with currents delivering high concentrations of plastic debris. The Sea Dragon is visiting the previously unexplored western half of the North Pacific gyre — situated below the 35th parallel, and home to a massive expanse of plastic particles known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — to look for plastic pollution and study its effect on marine life.

Leading the expedition is Marcus Eriksen, a former U.S. marine and Ph.D student from University of Southern California.

“We’ve been finding lots of micro plastics, all the size of a grain of rice or a small marble,” Eriksen said via satellite phone. “We drag our nets and come up with a small handful, like confetti — 10, 20, 30 fragments at a time. That’s how it’s been, every trawl we’ve done for the last thousand miles.”

Eriksen, who has sailed through all five gyres, said this confirmed for him “that the world’s oceans are ‘plasticized.’ Everywhere you go in the ocean, you’re going to find this plastic waste.”

Growing glaciers smother climate debate


First wave of tsunami debris hits U.S.


Quake, tsunami debris threaten coastlines


Japan quake debris moving toward Hawaii

Besides documenting the existence of plastic pollution, the expedition intends to study how long it takes for communities of barnacles, crabs and molluscs to establish, whether the plastic can serve as a raft for species to cross continents, and the prevalence of chemical pollutants.

On a second leg from Tokyo to Hawaii departing May 30, the team expect to encounter material dislodged by the Japanese tsunami.

“We’ll be looking for debris that’s sub-surface: overturned boats, refrigerators, things that wind is not affecting,” Eriksen said. “We’ll get an idea of how much is out there, what’s going on and what it’s carrying with it, in terms of toxins.”

Scripps Institute graduate Miriam Goldstein was chief scientist on a similar expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2009. According to her research, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage in the last 40 years, most of it broken down into tiny crumbs to form a concentrated soup.

The particles are so small and profuse that they can’t be dredged out. “You need a net with very fine mesh and then you’re catching baby fish, baby squid — everything,” Goldstein says. “For every gram of plastic you’re taking out, you probably take out more or less the equivalent of sea life.”

Scientists are worried that the marine organisms that adapt to the plastic could displace existing species. Goldstein said this was a major concern, as organisms that grow on hard surfaces tend to monopolize already scarce food, to the detriment of other species.

“Things that can grow on the plastic are kind of weedy and low diversity — a parallel of the things that grow on the sides of docks,” she says. “We don’t necessarily want an ocean stuffed with barnacles.”

Sea-level rise: Impacts and mitigation measures around the world

Eriksen says the mood on the Sea Dragon has been upbeat, with crew members playing a ukulele and doing yoga, “but the sobering reality is that we’re trawling through a synthetic soup.”

Also on board is Valerie Lecoeur, founder of a company that makes eco-friendly baby and children’s products, including biodegradable beach toys made from corn, and Michael Brown from Packaging 2.0, a packaging consultancy.

Eriksen says they have been discussing the concept of “extended producer responsibility”.

“As the manufacturer of any good in the world today, you really can’t make your product without a plan for its entire use, because you could eventually have 7 billion customers buy your product,” he said.

“If one little button has no plan, the world now has a mountain of buttons to deal with. There is no room for waste, as a concept or a place — there’s just no place to put it anymore. That’s the reality we need to face. We’ve got this plastic everywhere.”






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Ahmed Elbatrawy