[News] All Around The World

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A posting place for news from places around the globe, outside of the US/Europe.

Since this is a English-speaking North American website, most of the focus on news here is on the United States, with occasional jaunts to Canada and the United Kingdom.

I just wanted to create a space for news posts from the rest of the world (South America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa) that wouldn't get lost in the mix of other threads more specifically focused on the English-speaking western world. Because there's some interesting stuff going on.

Olympic Dreams of a United Korea? Many in South Say, ‘No, Thanks’

SEOUL, South Korea — The last time South Korea hosted an Olympics, in 1988, the North not only refused to take part, it blew up a South Korean airliner 10 months before the Games. Yet South Koreans at the time expressed hope that the two Koreas, divided by the Cold War, could one day become a single nation again.

Now, as the South prepares to host its second Games next month, the Koreas are cooperating in unheard-of ways, including their first joint Olympic team, in women’s ice hockey. But South Koreans, especially younger ones, are far less interested in reconciliation, to say nothing of reunification.

Experts and recent surveys describe a profound shift in attitudes in South Korea, where reuniting the peninsula, and the Korean people, was long held as a sacrosanct goal. These days, younger South Koreans in particular are far more likely to see the idea of reintegrating their prosperous capitalist democracy with the impoverished, totalitarian North as unrealistic and undesirable.

“I personally wouldn’t welcome reunification because it would create a burden for us, as we would have to help rebuild the North Korean economy,” said Park Min-cheol, 22, a college student.

Young Koreans say they are more concerned about pressing domestic issues — like unemployment, and whether they can live as well as their parents did — than the enormously costly, complex and hypothetical task of reunifying with the North. The reunification of Germany in 1990 serves to some as an example of how arduous, and expensive, rejoining two very different societies can be, and the economic gap between the two Koreas today is much wider than it was between East and West Germany.

The Devastating Paradox of Pakistan

Two months after the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Vice President–elect Joe Biden sat with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, in the Arg Palace, an 83-acre compound in Kabul that had become a gilded cage for the mercurial and isolated leader. The discussion was already tense as Karzai urged Washington to help root out Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, implying that more pressure needed to be exerted on Pakistani leaders. Biden’s answer stunned Karzai into silence. Biden let Karzai know how Barack Obama’s incoming administration saw its priorities. “Mr. President,” Biden said, “Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.”

It was an undiplomatic moment for sure, but also a frank expression of the devastating paradox at the heart of the longest war in American history. In 16 years, the United States has spent billions of dollars fighting a war that has killed thousands of soldiers and an untold number of civilians in a country that Washington considers insignificant to its strategic interests in the region. Meanwhile, the country it has viewed as a linchpin, Pakistan—a nuclear-armed cauldron of volatile politics and long America’s closest military ally in South Asia—has pursued a covert campaign in Afghanistan designed to ensure that the money and the lives have been spent in vain. The stakes in Pakistan have been considered too high to break ties with Islamabad or take other steps that would risk destabilizing the country. The stakes in Afghanistan have been deemed low enough that careening from one failed strategy to another has been acceptable.

Even so, the post-9/11 years have seen the slow dissolution of the shotgun marriage arranged between the U.S. and Pakistan in the quest to rout al-Qaeda. As Steve Coll recounts in Directorate S—which picks up the narrative where his Pulitzer Prize–winning 2004 volume, Ghost Wars, left off—the seeds of mistrust were planted early, and mutual recriminations steadily accumulated. Weeks after the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a demoralized Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of Pakistan’s army, likened his “helpless” country to a mortgaged house, with the United States playing the role of banker. For American officials who dealt with Pakistan, another domestic analogy might have seemed more apt: Pakistan was the spouse who had drained the family bank account and then slept with the sketchy neighbor.

The anger on the American side was fueled by the gradual realization that Washington had, since the very beginning of the war, allowed Pakistan to wield too much influence over U.S. strategy. As the Taliban retreated from Kabul and Kandahar in late 2001, the CIA station chief in Islamabad wrote cables channeling the Pakistani military’s perspective. A Northern Alliance takeover of the country, the message went, could lead to a bloodbath for Afghanistan’s Pashtuns (Pakistan’s traditional allies) and undermine Pakistan’s readiness to broker a political settlement there. What Pakistan wanted most of all, of course, was its own favored groups, and not its rival India’s, in power.

George W. Bush’s war cabinet was already jittery about the “nightmare scenario” of the new conflict: violence spilling over into Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf’s government collapsing, and the country’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Pakistani generals with Taliban sympathies. Musharraf himself spent years masterfully stoking these fears. He often warned American officials that the more he acceded to Washington’s demands, the more his support inside the military would erode and the better the chances would become of the nightmare scenario playing out.

Dangerously Low on Water, Cape Town Now Faces ‘Day Zero’

CAPE TOWN — It sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Day Zero” is coming to Cape Town this April. Everyone, be warned.

The government cautions that the Day Zero threat will surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept. 11 attacks. Talks are underway with South Africa’s police because “normal policing will be entirely inadequate.” Residents, their nerves increasingly frayed, speak in whispers of impending chaos.

The reason for the alarm is simple: The city’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry.

If water levels keep falling, Cape Town will declare Day Zero in less than three months. Taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points. The city is bracing for the impact on public health and social order.

“When Day Zero comes, they’ll have to call in the army,” said Phaldie Ranqueste, who was filling his white S.U.V. with big containers of water at a natural spring where people waited in a long, anxious line.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Cape Town. This city is known for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water in an increasingly dry corner of the world.

But after a three-year drought, considered the worst in over a century, South African officials say Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses.

Hospitals, schools and other vital institutions will still get water, officials say, but the scale of the shut-off will be severe.

Cape Town’s problems embody one of the big dangers of climate change: the growing risk of powerful, recurrent droughts. In Africa, a continent particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, those problems serve as a particularly potent warning to other governments, which typically don’t have this city’s resources and have done little to adapt.

For now, political leaders here talk of coming together to “defeat Day Zero.” As water levels in the dams supplying the city continue to drop, the city is scrambling to finish desalination plants and increase groundwater production. Starting in February, residents will face harsher fines if they exceed their new daily limit, which will go down to 50 liters (13.2 gallons) a day per person from 87 liters now.

Just a couple of years ago, the situation could not have looked more different here. In 2014, the dams stood full after years of good rain. The following year, C40, a collection of cities focused on climate change worldwide, awarded Cape Town its “adaptation implementation” prize for its management of water.

Cape Town was described as one of the world’s top “green” cities, and the Democratic Alliance — the opposition party that has controlled Cape Town since 2006 — took pride in its emphasis on sustainability and the environment.

The accolades recognized the city’s undeniable success in conserving water. Though the city’s population had swelled by 30 percent since the early 2000s, overall water consumption had remained flat. Many of the new arrivals settled in the city’s poor areas, which consume less water, and actually helped bring down per capita use.

But the city’s water conservation measures — fixing leaks and old pipes; installing meters and adjusting tariffs — had a powerful impact. Maybe too powerful.

The city conserved so much water that it postponed looking for new sources.

For years, Cape Town had been warned that it needed to increase and diversify its water supply. Almost all of its water still comes from six dams dependent on rainfall, a risky situation in an arid region with a changing climate. The dams, which were full only a few years ago, are now down to about 26 percent of capacity, officials say.

Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds

Taliban fighters, whom US-led forces spent billions of dollars trying to defeat, are now openly active in 70% of Afghanistan, a BBC study has found.

Months of research across the country show how areas the Taliban threaten or control have surged since foreign combat troops left in 2014.

The Afghan government played down the report, saying it controls most areas.

But recent attacks claimed by Taliban and Islamic State militants have killed scores in Kabul and elsewhere.

Afghan officials and US President Donald Trump responded by ruling out any talks with the Taliban. Last year Mr Trump announced the US military would stay in the country indefinitely.

Watchdog Report Shows Gaps In Information About Afghanistan War

As the U.S. sends thousands more troops to Afghanistan and ratchets up airstrikes, a new report from a U.S. military auditor suggests that the war is still at a stalemate, with signs of continued decline in Afghan government control.

And the amount of basic information available to the public about the war is getting smaller, making it more difficult for the U.S. taxpayer to understand how U.S.-supported forces are faring in their fight against the Taliban.

"The information that's being withheld the last three months is information we have reported on sometimes going back to 10 years," John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan Reconstruction, tells Morning Edition. "So for 10 years this information was O.K. to tell the American people, the American taxpayer. But for some reason, the last two quarters ... we have been unable to report it to the American people."

The Pentagon continues to withhold facts such as the number of Afghan troops that have died and the number of the Afghan forces that have received training. This information was also not included in the report last quarter from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — which was set up by Congress to audit U.S. spending in the country's longest-running war.

Congress has authorized these Afghan forces to receive $4.9 billion this fiscal year, and has appropriated $120.8 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002.

The report also does not include perhaps the most concrete indicator of the war's progress – a breakdown of which districts and populations the Afghan government controls compared to insurgents.

Thanks for these, and the thread.

Tales from the new Silk Road

China calls it the project of the century - a massive roll-out of Chinese-built infrastructure to remake the map of the global economy with China at its heart.

Some see this new Silk Road as an opportunity, others as a power grab. I travelled from China to Europe to hear the stories of the people in its path.

It can be both!

'His death kills me each day': Mosul residents return home – to what?

Overwhelmed with grief and anger, families have been returning to what is left of their homes in the Old City of Mosul, following its liberation from Isis.

In a set of interviews conducted over more than two months, people haunted by the memories of their loved ones gradually opened up about the traumatic experiences they survived, and the uncertain future they now face.

They reveal the most chilling images of the horror of war, the extraordinary hardship of marching to a safe haven under ferocious shelling, the trauma of constant contact with death and the terrible struggle to survive in a ruined city.

The Guardian's Cities at War series has been rather engrossing so far.

wordsmythe wrote:

Thanks for these, and the thread.

Agreed!

A 13th Child Is Raped And Murdered — And A Pakistani City Is Up In Arms

In January, 7-year-old Zainab Amin's parents were on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia when their relatives from home in Pakistan called with the news: Their daughter didn't make it to her evening Qur'an lesson, and they were searching frantically for her.

"Stay where you are," the father, Amin Ansari, recalls a relative telling him. "Your prayers are answered there."

Her mother, Nusrat, says she sat in the Prophet Mohammed's mosque in Medina, praying: "Oh God, keep Zainab safe and protected. Oh God, I have come to your door like a beggar. Oh God, please do not send me away empty- handed."

Once famed for its Sufi shrines, Kasur, Pakistan, is now synonymous with darkness. During a period of two years, at least 13 children have been raped and killed in this city of less than a million people in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous state.

Residents' anger finally exploded when Zainab went missing — snowballing into a political crisis that forced officials to act.

Most of the children who had disappeared in Kasur before Zainab were from poor families with little influence. But Zainab's family was different. They are conservative, middle-class Muslims. Zainab's father is a bearded, neatly-attired civil servant. Her mother is a schoolteacher.

Zainab's cousin, who's about her age, was meant to keep an eye on her as they walked to class. But he lost sight of her in a crowd of kids. Her relatives frantically searched for her. A nearby shop gave them CCTV footage showing her walking with a young adult male. They tweeted it out, asking for help, alongside an image of Zainab: a green-eyed little girl wearing a pink jacket.

Horrified Pakistanis followed her disappearance on social media. News organizations rushed in, following every development. Audiences identified with "that sweet little child's face," says Amber Rahim Shamsi, host of a local television program, Newswise, that followed the case. "People could relate to her, and feel it — feel the pain."

The pressure of Kasur's citizens may move Pakistan's institutions closer to protecting its children. And residents have also put police and politicians on notice that Pakistanis appear increasingly willing, and able, to demand change.

"They got encouragement," says Waqas Abid, a lawyer who leads a human rights group, the Good Thinkers Organization. "People are hopeful now the situation will change."

Residents found Zainab's body on January 9. They immediately began tweeting two contrasting images: her smiling face alongside her crumpled body dumped on the trash heap where she was found.

AP Investigation Details Shocking Massacre, Mass Graves Of Myanmar Rohingya

The Associated Press on Wednesday published a report detailing the existence of several previously undisclosed mass graves of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar along with shocking details of the systematic execution of victims and attempts to hide evidence of the crime.

The lengthy report by the AP's Foster Klug relied on interviews with more than two dozen refugees who managed to escape from soldiers and flee to neighboring Bangladesh at the start of a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya in August. Some of the survivors provided the news agency with time-stamped cellphone videos supporting their claims.

The AP uncovered evidence of at least five mass graves at one location, Gu Dar Pyin, that bolster charges leveled by the U.S. and United Nations of ethnic cleansing in the country's northern Rakhine state.

About 200 soldiers, known as Tatmadaw, swept into the area on Aug. 27, according to witnesses. One of them, Mohammad Sha, 37, a shop owner and farmer, told the news agency that he "hid in a grove of coconut trees near a river with more than 100 others. They watched as the military searched Muslim homes and dozens of Buddhist neighbors, their faces partly covered with scarves, loaded the possessions they found into about 10 pushcarts. Then the soldiers burned down the homes, shooting anyone who couldn't flee, Sha said."

Oh, and:

India unveils 'world's largest' public healthcare scheme

India has announced an ambitious health insurance scheme, which is designed to be a safety net for millions of people who struggle to afford medical care.

It's thought to be one of the largest such schemes in the world, and is likely to be popular with rural voters.

India presently spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public healthcare, one of the lowest in the world.

The announcement came in the annual budget, aimed at boosting growth ahead of a general election next year.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also allocated billions of dollars for health, education, social security and rural infrastructure.

He said the flagship health insurance scheme would cover more than 100 million poor families and provide 500,000 rupees ($7,825;£5,520) in medical coverage for each family annually.

"This will be the world's largest government-funded healthcare programme," Mr Jaitley told parliament in his speech.

"The government is steadily but surely progressing towards a goal of universal health coverage."

The BBC's Soutik Biswas says although it is laudable to give medical coverage to the poor in a country where quality healthcare costs are prohibitive, what is not clear is how this programme is going to be designed to protect the poor from being exploited by private hospitals.

India's private healthcare system is largely unregulated, opaque and often unscrupulous. It also overcharges patients with impunity, our correspondent adds.

"Private hospitals also have a long history of being hostile towards the poor, and not allocating enough mandated cheap beds for them," he says.

"It is not clear how the government will be able to get around this problem - and where the funds from the scheme will come from."

Did NOT have this one.

Trinidad's jihadis: how tiny nation became Isis recruiting ground

Five years ago, Tariq Abdul Haqq was one of a Trinidad and Tobago’s most promising young boxers, a Commonwealth Games medallist with Olympic dreams.

Now he lies dead somewhere in Iraq or Syria, buried in the ruins of the self-declared caliphate, along with dozens of his countrymen. Together they formed one of the most unlikely, and most underreported groups of fighters drawn to Isis.

The tiny Caribbean nation, with a population of just 1.3 million, lies about 10,000km from the former Isis capital in Raqqa. Yet at the bloody peak of the group’s power, Trinidad and Tobago had one of the highest recruitment rates in the world.

More than 100 of its citizens left to join Islamic State, including about 70 men who planned to fight and die. They were joined by dozens of children and women, the latter including both willing and unwilling companions, security officials say.

By way of comparison: Canada and the US, with populations many times larger, are each thought to have produced fewer than 300 recruits who made the journey east.

The power of this story – the flight from a balmy Caribbean island state rich in oil and gas to the frontlines of a desert war – was not lost on the propagandists of Isis.

Their Dabiq magazine, aimed at potential recruits and sympathisers, featured a long interview with fighter Abu Sa’d al-Trinidadi – formerly Shane Crawford – in the summer of 2016. He detailed his conversion, his trip to Syria and ended threatening death to Christians and bloodshed in the streets of his former home.

An unnerved Trinidad government raced to introduce new controls on travel and finance that would make the journey to any new jihadi project harder, and would track anyone attempting to return.

There has never been a terror attack on the islands, a plot uncovered, or even any formal Isis threat against Trinidad and Tobago.

But the country now faces the possibility that citizens trained by Isis could return to radicalise a younger generation – or that would-be recruits no longer able to make that dark pilgrimage will seek other targets for extremism.

Drug trade flourishes in Afghanistan as Taliban's reach grows

Opium poppy production is at an all-time high in Afghanistan, increasing 87% — from 4,800 to 9,000 tons — over the past year, according to a U.S. government report. This is providing a crucial revenue stream for the Taliban, which has been gaining territory in the 16th year since the U.S. invasion.

The War in Yemen and the Making of a Chaos State

A strange and worrisome silence settled over over Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa after Houthi rebels seized power in broad daylight one September day in 2014. For weeks, rumors had been floating that something of this sort would occur. But most everyone thought a genuine coup d'état would be much more dramatic.

“I was actually wandering around the city and there was this eerie quiet,” said Iona Craig, an independent journalist who was living in Sanaa the day the rebels officially seized power, taking government buildings, even the military headquarters. “I remember I was very close to the Ministry of Defense and somebody called me and said, ‘The Houthis have taken the Ministry of Defense.’ And I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, because there’s not a single shot being fired. I’m standing 150 meters away from it.’”

And so hardly anyone noticed much of this outside of Yemen. That wasn’t unusual for the Arab region’s poorest country, which rests quietly across from Somalia on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, astride the world’s fourth-busiest petroleum-shipping choke point.

Once it had become clear that Houthis had seized Sanaa, and were resolutely marching south to the port city of Aden, the fate of a struggling nation’s 26 million people—8 million of whom were already facing famine conditions — began a dark turn for the worse. Basic government functions, already shoddy, ceased almost entirely. In the eastern seaport of Mukalla, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula briefly ran its own de facto state, largely because it was willing to clean the trash off the streets.

Two-thirds of Yemenis were already what the UN called “food insecure” before the Houthis advanced south, but in the nearly three years since then, Yemen and the wider Middle East have plunged into dangerous instability. Never known as an international tourist draw, the country has recently made headlines for outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria—and ballistic missiles that travel hundreds of miles toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh. With the war on isis slowing down in Syria and Iraq, Yemen is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Great idea! Thanks for starting this. I don't have any news to contribute today, but I'll keep an eye out and try to look outside my geographic filter bubble.

Over at Deadspin, one of their writers does a weekly NFL Preview during the season, which features a section entitled "Fire This Asshole!"

That is related to the following story:

Jacob Zuma: ANC leaders hold emergency meeting

Jacob Zuma's future as South Africa's president is under threat as senior politicians hold an emergency meeting in Johannesburg.

Twenty of the African National Congress' (ANC) leaders are discussing Mr Zuma's tenure, a day after he reportedly refused to step down.

Pressure is now growing for Mr Zuma, who is facing corruption allegations, to go ahead of this week's State of the Nation address.

His term is due to expire in 2019.

Mr Zuma, who spent time in prison for his part in the fight against apartheid, met the ANC's top six on Sunday, who are said to have failed to convince him to stand aside.

He is most of the way through his second - and last - term as president, and was replaced as ANC leader last December.

Julius Malema, an opposition leader and former ANC member, said on Twitter that Mr Zuma had refused to go early.

Other unconfirmed reports from Sunday's meeting say that Mr Zuma asked for protection from prosecution for himself and his family.

Sweet Lord, fire this asshole.

How South Korea Left the North Behind

In 1988, the last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North and South Korea were more alike than different, separated by an arbitrary line yet joined by history, language and the bonds of family.

Both Koreas had come a long way, emerging from colonial rule and rebuilding their economies after a devastating civil war.

But the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 ended up being a turning point. Over the past 30 years, the two countries have diverged sharply — economically, politically and culturally.

In Seoul, A Plastic Surgery Capital, Residents Frown On Ads For Cosmetic Procedure

In Gangnam, the upscale Seoul district south of the Han River bisecting the city, one of the area's biggest industries is evident on people's faces: On the streets, patients are wearing nose guards and bandages, fresh from facial fix-ups. High-rises soar with a cosmetic surgery clinic on every floor, and in the subway stations, floor-to-ceiling advertisements feature images of women's uniformly wide-eyed, youthful faces — all with the message that you, too, can look this way if you go to the right clinic.

South Korea has the highest per capita rate of cosmetic surgery in the world, by one key industry estimate. Gallup Korea found about one in three South Korean women between the ages of 19 and 29 said they've gone under the knife, though some counts put the number even higher. Most of the surgeries are eyelid procedures and the vast majority of plastic surgery patients are women.

Cosmetic surgery "is not even a question, a moral question — is it good, is it bad? It simply is," says Heather Willoughby, a professor of women's and cultural studies at Seoul's Ewha Womans University.

Brazil’s Anything-Goes Election Now Includes Impeached Ex-President

Among the many possible contenders for Brazil’s next president are an ex-army captain, a TV presenter and a former head of state who may be in jail by the time of the election.

Now, another eye-catching candidate has thrown his hat into the ring: Fernando Collor de Mello, Brazil’s president from 1990-1992, when he resigned shortly before being impeached on corruption charges.

In a speech to the Senate on Tuesday, Collor announced his pre-candidacy, positioning himself as a politically-experienced centrist. "It would be cowardly on my part to reject the truth and to diverge from one more challenge that destiny has imposed on me," said the senator from the Christian Worker Party.

Brazil’s presidential race is wide open. The front-runner, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is likely to be barred from running after his criminal conviction was upheld on appeal. Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman and former army captain, is currently in distant second place.

In a Datafolha opinion poll published on Jan. 31, before he announced his candidacy, Collor attracted the voter intentions of 2 percent of Brazilians, level-pegging with the Brazilian Communist Party candidate, Manuela D’Avila.

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, who is also mulling a run for the presidency, had his candidacy publicly questioned on Tuesday by two senior legislators from his own party, the Social Democratic Party.

"I believe, and this is the feeling of most in the party, that there needs to be more of a dialogue with the rank and file and legislators of the party for this candidacy to be embraced by the PSD," said Lower House Deputy Thiago Peixoto.

A Way Forward for the Balkans? — Europe's New Plan Is Promising But Not Tough Enough

Over the past year, a number of incidents in the western Balkans have raised concerns that the region might be in for renewed conflict. In January 2017, in a provocative stunt orchestrated by the Serbian government, a train set to run from Belgrade to North Mitrovica in Kosovo was plastered with signs in more than a dozen languages controversially declaring that “Kosovo is Serbia.” The Serbian government halted the train’s journey only after Kosovo authorities threatened to do so themselves—and by force, if necessary. A few months later in Macedonia, a group of thugs, let in by members of the ruling nationalist party, VMRO-DPMNE, stormed the Parliament, beating up and threatening the lives of opposition deputies and seeking to prevent the formation of a new government. Just a few weeks ago, a leading Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic, was shot and killed in broad daylight in Mitrovica by unidentified gunmen.

These and a dozen other small incidents have driven home the message for the United States and the European Union that leaving the Balkans outside of Euro-Atlantic structures carries significant risks. In response, there has been a flurry of renewed activity, beginning with the completion of Montenegro’s NATO membership in June 2017 and the EU’s recent reengagement in the Balkans. The EU has offered an updated and considerably more robust strategy for the region, including a new approach for joining the union, the details of which it released this Tuesday. The question remains, however, whether the new strategy will do enough to change the dynamics in the region.

The new EU strategy rightly recognizes that the problems the Balkans face are rooted in the way the region is governed and in its general democratic decline: state capture, serious political interference in the media, and a number of bilateral disputes stemming from the legacies of the wars in the 1990s, for example. State capture became openly visible in Macedonia under the previous government when wiretaps revealed that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his entourage had not only put pressure on judges and newspapers by threatening or bribing them but had also bused in ethnic Macedonians during the 2013 local elections to vote multiple times using fake IDs. In other countries, such as Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro, there are widespread reports of vote buying; and the hiring and firing in public administration is often based on party membership.

And yet, although Europe has identified the region’s problems with great clarity, the proposed responses lack teeth. A new framework and greater scrutiny for the rule of law, for example, offer little direction on whether or how governments that fail to live up to EU standards will be named and shamed. If there is state capture, those involved must be identified. As a diplomatic document, the strategy fails to mention those who have been entangled in corrupt practices, and it is not clear that the EU will be able and willing to confront such individuals more frankly and directly. It promises more ad hoc missions that will identify shortcomings in the rule of law, such as the one it had successfully conducted in Macedonia. Whether the EU will make these reports public, and thus allow for civil society to use them to pressure their governments, remains unclear. The EU, because it is not a single actor, must consider the different and at times divergent positions of its members and is thus often forced to moderate its tone when it comes to the Balkans. In addition, for the sake of not losing a potential future member, the EU tends to trod carefully on delicate issues affecting the region.

In fact, the democratic decline in the Balkans has been complicated by the formal commitments the governments have made to EU accession and their promise to maintain stability. In March 2016, for example, at the request of the Austrian government, Macedonia closed its borders to prevent refugees from heading into Europe. In exchange, the Macedonian ruling party, despite being involved in what the EU described as state capture, secured public support from Sebastian Kurz, then Austria’s foreign minister and currently its chancellor. Similarly, the Serbian government led by President Aleksandar Vucic, who has overseen the erosion of independent institutions and curtailed press freedoms, has enjoyed public support from key EU members. Vucic, for example, met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel less than a week before his election as president in April 2017, after promising to improve relations with Kosovo and turn his back on Russia.

The renewed rivalry between Russia and the EU and the United States has also become intertwined with rising authoritarianism in the Balkans. Russia has played the role of spoiler by launching anti-EU disinformation campaigns and by supporting political allies and thuggish nationalist groups, as well as by engaging in limited economic partnerships in the region. That said, Russia has not been the cause of the recent crises. It has merely opportunistically used the disinterest of the EU and the United States to its own advantage.

Stunning new pictures show the scope of Chinese building in the South China Sea

BEIJING — Sometimes you’ve got to see it to truly believe it. That is certainly true of a remarkable set of pictures published by a Philippine newspaper this week.

For years now, we’ve read about Chinese land reclamation and building in the contested waters of the South China Sea — construction that has put Beijing at odds with many of its Asian neighbors, as well as the United States.

In 2016, an international tribunal ruled that China’s expansive maritime claims had no legal basis. But Beijing kept building, insisting repeatedly that it was all for civilian, not military, purposes.

Few outside China buy that. Foreign experts, most notably the people at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, were left to scour grainy satellite images for proof. Finally, we have better pictures.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer this week published a set of exclusive photographs that show what China is up to in three dimensions and vivid color.

The images, which were given to the paper by an unknown individual, were reportedly shot between June and December 2017, from an estimated height of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).

IMAGE(https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/files/2018/02/south-china-sea-photos-artificial-islands-01-1024x640.jpg&w=1484)

IMAGE(https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/files/2018/02/south-china-sea-photos-artificial-islands-03-1024x640.jpg&w=1484)

Inside A Kenyan Courtroom, A Deepening Political Crisis Is On Display

Close to midnight on Tuesday, attorney Miguna Miguna found himself on the tarmac of Nairobi's international airport. He had been driven there by Kenyan security forces after spending five days in different jail cells, without being able to talk to anyone.

Miguna Miguna, 55, is a constant government critic on Kenyan TV — dramatic, funny, caustic and instantly identifiable by the kofia hat he always wears. But since disputed presidential elections last fall, he's taken on a prominent role in the country's politics. Miguna publicly pushed the losing candidate, Raila Odinga, to declare himself president, despite threats from President Uhuru Kenyatta that they would be charged with treason.

When opposition leader Odinga took an oath in front of tens of thousands of his supporters, last week, Miguna stood by his side with a wide smile. When the government started arresting opposition figures and shut down four television stations, the lawyer spoke defiantly at a press conference on Thursday. He ordered members of the opposition to take down official portraits of Kenyatta and replace them with a portrait of Odinga.

"So [Cabinet Secretary for the Interior Fred] Matiang'i, if you are looking for me to arrest me, to cook up charges, I am ready," Miguna said.

The morning after that press conference, security forces detonated explosives to enter his house and arrested him. For five days, police ignored court orders to release Miguna. And on Wednesday, Miguna found himself on a plane en route to Toronto. The opposition said he'd been exiled; the government said the Kenyan-born political activist wasn't a legal Kenyan citizen.

Miguna's case has become a symbol of an executive branch testing the limits of a country's young constitution.

A ‘dramatic deterioration’ in Syria as the war intensifies and suffering spikes

BEIRUT — The United Nations appealed for an immediate cease-fire in Syria on Tuesday as spiraling violence pushed the country to the brink of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the seven-year war.

A halt to the fighting for at least a month is vital to allow urgently needed aid to reach 2.9 million stricken people living around the front lines of the latest fighting, the U.N. mission in Damascus said, warning of “dire consequences” if the current levels of violence are sustained.

The appeal coincides with the collapse in recent weeks of a year-old Russian effort to tamp down the violence through “de-escalation zones,” which had helped contribute to a perception that the war in Syria finally was winding down.

Instead, the first weeks of 2018 have turned into one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict yet, with hundreds killed in ­airstrikes, nearly 300,000 displaced in northwestern Syria and 400,000 at risk of starvation in a besieged area east of Damascus that has not received food since November.

“The war is far from over,” Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said at a briefing for journalists in Beirut. “This is a really critical stage. The humanitarian situation has dramatically deteriorated, and that’s why we are ringing alarm bells.”

The Quiet Diplomacy to Save the Olympics in a Nuclear Standoff

BEIJING — In late December, a group of teenagers from North Korea traveled to the Chinese city of Kunming to play in an obscure under-15 soccer tournament. On the field, under a wintry sun, they faced teams from China and South Korea. Off the field, there was an unusual spectator: Choi Moon-soon, the governor of the province in South Korea hosting the Winter Olympics.

Mr. Choi had flown more than 1,000 miles to meet the North Korean officials accompanying the young players — and to make the case for North Korea to attend the Olympics. “We were looking for any contact with North Korea, and the youth soccer teams were the only inter-Korean exchange still going on,” he later recalled.

Even before Mr. Choi returned to South Korea, his government sent another signal: In a television interview, the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, said he favored postponing annual joint military exercises with the United States — an unmistakable overture to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who had long condemned the exercises.

Mr. Kim soon reciprocated, declaring at the start of the year that he was sending his athletes to the Olympics. There, they will march in the opening ceremony on Friday under a unified Korean flag with the South Koreans — a historic moment for the divided Korean Peninsula.

The 11th-hour accommodation was the culmination of months of quiet discussions and behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at persuading North Korea to attend the Olympics, much of which unfolded even as the isolated nation tested its first intercontinental ballistic missiles and detonated its most powerful nuclear device yet.

With President Trump threatening to respond to the North with “fire and fury,” the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula overshadowed Olympic preparations, frightening fans and athletes alike, and prompting some nations to consider skipping the Games altogether.

But the International Olympic Committee and South Korea pressed ahead. It was too late to move the Games, and cancellation was unthinkable.

The best hope for success, organizers concluded, was to persuade North Korea to participate. If the North came to the Games, it seemed more likely to exercise restraint and refrain from the missile launches and nuclear tests that had rattled the world. Some, including Mr. Moon, argued that the Olympics could even be the start of talks to resolve the nuclear crisis.

In significantly more harrowing news....

Here’s what war with North Korea would look like

The Atlantic covered this in August of last year but Vox goes into more detail on specifics.

I covered the Iraq War from Baghdad. I saw the aftermath of a conflict built atop sunny scenarios and rosy thinking. I’ve seen the cost of wars that the American people were not prepared for and did not fully understand. The rhetoric around North Korea is raising those same alarm bells for me. For all the talk of nuclear exchanges and giant buttons, there has been little realistic discussion of what a war on the Korean Peninsula might mean, how it could escalate, what commitments would be required, and what sacrifices would be demanded.

So I’ve spent the past month posing those questions to more than a dozen former Pentagon officials, CIA analysts, US military officers, and think tank experts, as well as to a retired South Korean general who spent his entire professional life preparing to fight the North. They’ve all said variants of the same thing: There is a genuine risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula that would involve the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Several estimated that millions — plural — would die.

Even more frightening, most of the people I spoke to said they believed Kim would use nuclear weapons against South Korea in the initial stages of the fighting — not just as a desperate last resort.

Big trouble: all of Japan's sumo wrestlers to be questioned as sport lurches into crisis

Every one of Japan’s sumo wrestlers is to face questioning by outside investigators after a series of incidents tipped the sport into crisis.

The Japan Sumo Association has setup an external panel to question 900 members, including wrestlers and elders of the sport. Former members will also be invited to submit details of old incidents that may have gone unreported.

The move follows a the most high-profile case of sumo grand champion Harumafuji, 33, who was forced into retirement and later fined for attacking a junior-ranked wrestler during a drinking session while on tour of regional Japan late last year.

Another wrestler hit the headlines for allegedly crashing a car while driving unlicensed, while a senior referee became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal.

The panel is to be led by a former prosecutor general, Keiichi Tadaki. “Our goal is the preservation of sumo,” Tadaki said at a press conference, according to Kyodo News. “It is important to grasp the reality.”

The scandal involving Harumafuji, who carried the highest rank of “yokozuna”, received wall-to-wall coverage in Japan in November. It attracted the attention of the sports minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, who called for the eradication of violence among athletes.

In January, the association announced the resignation of the sport’s highest-ranked referee, Shikimori Inosuke, 58, over sexual harassment allegations. He was accused of repeatedly kissing a teenage referee and touching him on the chest after becoming drunk during a regional tournament.

Aware of the sport’s worsening image problems, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko did not attend the flagship new year sumo tournament in Tokyo for the first time in four years.

Also in January, a former sumo apprentice reportedly launched legal action against a retired wrestler and stablemaster seeking damages over a previously unreported assault.

Early in February, prosecutors received a referral from police over allegations that sumo wrestler Osunaarashi, 25, was driving without a licence when his car was involved in a collision.

Door Opens for Women to Run for Office. But Will They Be Allowed In?

KOTTE, Sri Lanka — Madhu Hettiarachchi has no time right now for the brain surgery her doctors have recommended. She’s busy trying to take advantage of an unprecedented chance to get women elected in Sri Lanka.

After more than a generation of struggle by women’s rights activists, Sri Lanka’s patriarchal political scheme has, reluctantly, opened up a bit to require that 25 percent of candidates in local elections be women. Their representation in this island nation, still reeling from a protracted civil war, remains at a miserable 2 percent of local government posts, though women make up more than 51 percent of registered voters.

When the country goes to the polls on Saturday, a quarter of the 56,000 candidates will be women. In the process of running, many have faced abuse that includes sexual assault, intimidation and character assassination. Religious leaders have openly urged their congregations not to vote for women. But for Ms. Hettiarachchi and other political activists, there is no going back.

“We have fought for this for two or three decades,” Ms. Hettiarachchi said, her eyes gleaming with excitement. “It’s not an easy thing. But this is a turning point.”

Ms. Hettiarachchi, 49, runs a horticulture export business and volunteers at Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, a coalition of women’s organizations. But the work that has driven her to put off surgery for a dangerous leak of cerebrospinal fluid has been helping 11 candidates, mostly around the Kotte suburb of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

Only half of them belong to her United National Party. The rest are all independent candidates, joined with Ms. Hettiarachchi in the cause of seeing more female leaders in a society where some developmental indicators have been improving but where opportunity for women has changed little.

Prederick wrote:

Over at Deadspin, one of their writers does a weekly NFL Preview during the season, which features a section entitled "Fire This Asshole!"

That is related to the following story:

Jacob Zuma: ANC leaders hold emergency meeting

Jacob Zuma's future as South Africa's president is under threat as senior politicians hold an emergency meeting in Johannesburg.

Twenty of the African National Congress' (ANC) leaders are discussing Mr Zuma's tenure, a day after he reportedly refused to step down.

Pressure is now growing for Mr Zuma, who is facing corruption allegations, to go ahead of this week's State of the Nation address.

His term is due to expire in 2019.

Mr Zuma, who spent time in prison for his part in the fight against apartheid, met the ANC's top six on Sunday, who are said to have failed to convince him to stand aside.

He is most of the way through his second - and last - term as president, and was replaced as ANC leader last December.

Julius Malema, an opposition leader and former ANC member, said on Twitter that Mr Zuma had refused to go early.

Other unconfirmed reports from Sunday's meeting say that Mr Zuma asked for protection from prosecution for himself and his family.

Sweet Lord, fire this asshole.

Hey-hey! Sometimes, assholes get fired!

Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, is expected to leave office within days, parliamentarians from the ruling African National Congress party have said.

Zuma, who is facing multiple charges of corruption, has been negotiating the terms of his departure with Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC leader.

Ramaphosa pulled out of public events to focus on “pressing matters” on Friday, fuelling speculation that he was making a final push to convince Zuma, 75, to step down as South Africa’s head of state before a major ANC rally on Sunday.

The party, in power since the end of the repressive, racist apartheid regime in 1994, has been thrown into crisis by an increasingly chaotic transfer of power from the incumbent president to his deputy and rival.

Ramaphosa told parliamentarians on Thursday he hoped to conclude talks with the president over a transition of power “in coming days ... in the interests of the country”.

An MP told the Guardian on condition of anonymity: “He said [the negotiations] would not drag on and that we should basically expect news any moment. No one wants this to go into next week and go on and on.”

A second MP said Ramaphosa had indicated the negotiations were about “small practical things, not a big argument”.

BBC: Syria war: Israeli fighter jet crashes under Syria fire, military says

An Israeli fighter jet has crashed amid Syrian anti-aircraft fire after an offensive against Iranian targets in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots ejected and parachuted to safety after the crash in northern Israel. They were taken to hospital.

Israel said its aircraft, an F-16 jet, was carrying out strikes in response to the launch of an Iranian drone into Israel. The drone was intercepted.

Syria opened fire after an Israeli act of "aggression", state media said.

AJ: Maduro to pitch oil-backed cryptocurrency petro to OPEC

Nicolas Maduro has proposed an oil-backed "joint cryptocurrency mechanism" within OPEC to support Venezuela's new, state-backed virtual currency - the "petro".

The Venezuelan president is expected to encourage members and non-member states of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to back the cryptocurrency, Venezuelan state radio reported on Tuesday.

"I am going to officially propose to all OPEC and non-OPEC producing countries that we adopt a joint cryptocurrency mechanism backed by oil," Maduro said.

In December, Maduro announced the launch of the petro, a cryptocurrency system backed by Venezuela's oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves.

AJ: Colombia and Brazil tighten Venezuela border control

Colombia and Brazil have tightened border controls with Venezuela as both nations deal with a big influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants from their neighbour.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday his government would implement stricter migratory measures and suspend new daily entry cards for Venezuelans, as well as deploy 3,000 new security personnel, including 2,120 more soldiers, along the frontier.

Chicago Tribune: Airliner crashes near Moscow after takeoff; 71 presumed dead

A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed Sunday near Moscow, killing everyone aboard shortly after the jet took off from one of the city's airports.

The Saratov Airlines regional jet disappeared from radar screens a few minutes after departing from Domodedovo Airport en route to Orsk, a city some 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow.

With Gaza in Financial Crisis, Fears That ‘an Explosion’s Coming’

GAZA CITY — The payday line at a downtown A.T.M. here in Gaza City was dozens deep with government clerks and pensioners, waiting to get what cash they could.

Muhammad Abu Shaaban, 45, forced into retirement two months ago, stood six hours to withdraw a $285 monthly check — a steep reduction from his $1,320 salary as a member of the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guard.

“Life has become completely different,” Mr. Abu Shaaban said, his eyes welling up. He has stopped paying a son’s college tuition. He buys his wife vegetables to cook for their six children, not meat.

And the pay he had just collected was almost entirely spoken for to pay off last month’s grocery bills. “At most, I’ll have no money left in five days,” he said.

Across Gaza, the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, daily life, long a struggle, is unraveling before people’s eyes.

At the heart of the crisis — and its most immediate cause — is a crushing financial squeeze, the result of a tense standoff between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the secular party entrenched on the West Bank. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority but was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007.

At grocery stores, beggars jostle with middle-class shoppers, who sheepishly ask to put their purchases on credit. The newly destitute scrounge for spoiled produce they can get for little or nothing.

“We are dead, but we have breath,” said Zakia Abu Ajwa, 57, who now cooks greens normally fed to donkeys for her three small grandchildren.

The jails are filling with shopkeepers arrested for unpaid debts; the talk on the streets is of homes being burglarized. The boys who skip school to hawk fresh mint or wipe car windshields face brutal competition. At open-air markets, shelves remain mostly full, but vendors sit around reading the Quran.

There are no buyers, the sellers say. There is no money.

United Nations officials warn that Gaza is nearing total collapse, with medical supplies dwindling, clinics closing and 12-hour power failures threatening hospitals. The water is almost entirely undrinkable, and raw sewage is befouling beaches and fishing grounds. Israeli officials and aid workers are bracing for a cholera outbreak any day.

Netanyahu: Israeli police recommend indicting prime minister

Israeli police have recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust, in an embarrassing blow that has thrown the prime minister’s political future in doubt.

Following a 14-month investigation into two cases of alleged corruption, the country’s attorney general will examine the evidence and then – possibly in several months’ time – decide whether to indict.

The country has been anxiously waiting for the prosecutor’s recommendation, which local media has speculated could force the prime minister to resign.

A police statement late on Tuesday said that enough evidence had been gathered against the prime minister for committing the crimes of “bribery, fraud, and breach of trust”.

Minutes after the news of the police report spread across Israeli media, Netanyahu held a press conference in Jerusalem, vehemently denying any wrongdoing and dismissing rumours that he would step down.

He said the development was the latest in a long list of endeavours to remove him from government. “All these attempts end up with nothing because I know the truth. I tell you, also this time, things will end up with nothing.

“I will continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully,” he said, adding he plans to run in elections that must be held by the end of next year.

Saudi Arabia Has Turned Sports Into A Public Relations Machine

In November 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to start investing in sports. Its government ordered the General Authority of Sports to create a Sports Development Fund, which bolstered sports activity in the country and provided financial assistance to clubs across the nation. The objectives of the fund included an infusion of capital to build new facilities, contributions to the privatization of sports clubs, and efforts to attract and promote international sports events. All told, the gambit was expected to add 40,000 new jobs to the economy.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has played a limited role in international sports. Apart from the attention paid towards Saudi soccer clubs, there was minimal investment in Olympic sports or in female participation in such activities. Given that Saudi Arabia has historically opposed such advancements in athletics, these recent developments seemed to represent a significant change in the ultra-conservative Islamic nation’s policies and a pivot away from the kingdom’s longstanding limitations on all forms of entertainment.

The man behind the country’s newfound interest in sports is Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who had yet to be elevated to Crown Prince when he commenced these changes in 2016. At the time, Bin Salman, who is just 31 years old, was deputy crown prince, defense minister, and president of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, a role he had maintained since April 2015. Prior to his decision to begin investing in Saudi sports, the young politician had unveiled “Vision 2030,” a development proposal written by an American consulting agency that laid out a modern, technocratic future for Saudi Arabia in which the country would be free of its heavy reliance on oil.

Vision 2030 was unveiled in April of 2016, and by November Bin Salman had turned his attention toward strengthening the education system, expanding participation in the workforce, and investing in the entertainment sector. As a result, the Saudi Arabian government has begun to play host to major sporting events previously unseen in the Gulf state.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia hosted its first international motorsport event, the two-day Race of Champions (ROC). The event took place at the King Fahd international stadium in Riyadh, which has a capacity of 75,000 seats. ROC President Fredrik Johnsson explained the decision to host the event in Saudi Arabia by claiming the “forward-thinking” ROC is “an event perfectly suited to Saudi Arabia, which is emerging as a modern sports market on the global stage.”

Less than three months following the ROC, Saudi Arabia will host its first international boxing event when the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) Cruiserweight Final will take place in Jeddah. The event, which will be held in May 2018, will serve as the conclusion of the first season of the WBSS and the winner will be presented with the inaugural Muhammad Ali trophy.

Saudi Arabia’s sudden interest in sports fits into the broader Vision 2030 campaign, which seeks to present the country as a quickly modernizing one. It also provides Bin Salman and those in power with a convenient way to divert the average citizen’s attention away from their abuses of power. Vision 2030 was revealed just three months after the Saudi royal family executed 47 dissidents on charges of terrorism; the new investment in sports comes as Saudi Arabia wages a costly and brutal war with Yemen. Even the decision to allow women to attend sports events in particular stadiums, which has been celebrated by Western mainstream media, is designed to present a superficial image of progressive Islam.

Huzzah!

South Africa's embattled President Jacob Zuma has resigned his office with immediate effect.

He made the announcement in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday evening.

Earlier, Mr Zuma's governing ANC party told him to resign or face a vote of no confidence in parliament on Thursday.

The 75-year-old has been under increasing pressure to give way to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's new leader.

Mr Zuma, who has been in power since 2009, faces numerous allegations of corruption.

His resignation came at the end of a long speech in which he said he disagreed with the way the ANC had acted towards him.

He said he did not fear a motion of no-confidence, adding: "I have served the people of South Africa to the best of my ability."

Good f-ing riddance.

Yep. Beat me to that news. He resigned before facing a no confidence vote in Parliament, brought by the opposition, that he'd have lost. About 7 years too late, but here's hoping.

Brazilian army to take control of security in Rio as violence rises

Brazilian president Michel Temer has signed a decree putting the military in charge of security in Rio de Janeiro, following a rise in street crime and drug gang violence.

Massed robberies and gunfights during carnival, followed by a storm that killed four and caused chaos, have heightened a sense that the city is slipping out of control.

“I am taking this extreme measure because the circumstances demand it,” Temer said after signing the decree on Friday. “Enough.”

The army has operated in Rio during the last year and did so during the Olympics and the World Cup.

But Temer’s decree will also put the army in charge of the city’s police force – the first time Brazil has taken such a decision since it introduced a new constitution in 1988 following two decades of military dictatorship.

It takes immediate effect, though a Congress vote could overturn it, and lasts until the end of the year.

Kosovo Finds Little to Celebrate After 10 Years of Independence

PRISTINA, Kosovo — I first arrived in Kosovo nearly 20 years ago. In 1999, NATO intervened on the side of ethnic Albanian rebels against the forces of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia. I came to cover the war.

As NATO bombs fell, Serbian forces opened a campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove almost a million Kosovar Albanians, predominantly Muslims, from their homes. Serbia, mostly Orthodox Christian, soon capitulated and withdrew its forces. Afterward, Kosovo spent nine years under United Nations control, an internationally supervised limbo.

Tens years ago on Feb. 17, the mountainous, landlocked region of less than two million people declared independence from Serbia. Yet far from ending Kosovo’s troubles, independence seems to have brought a new set of problems.

I have visited Kosovo frequently since arriving for the first time in late 1998 for a two-week trip. I returned in February 1999 and based myself in Pristina, the capital, until 2005. In the years since, I usually visit Kosovo at least once a year, often more.

Having covered the conflict, I can’t help but view the people and the landscape through the wartime prism even now. Driving through the countryside, I remember the position of checkpoints, the lines of refugees, the displaced people searching for safety, the columns of thick black smoke that curled up from burning villages.

Much has changed for the land and its people. Returning this winter, I was struck by how the relentless optimism of Kosovars had yielded to disillusionment. The people seemed weighed down by resignation, as well as widespread disgust at perceived government corruption.

Why is the news in here always bad?

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