Abducted Ukraine protest leader found, tells friends he was crucified

January 31, 2014

MOSCOW — Ukrainian protest leaders learned Friday that one of their number, missing for more than a week, had turned up in the woods outside Kiev, his ear and cheek deeply slashed, the blood caked on his face. He had puncture wounds in his hands and told friends that his abductors had crucified him.

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Assad’s hopes thwarted at Syria talks

January 31, 2014

GENEVA — The Syrian government’s expectation that attending peace talks with its foes would serve to affirm President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power appeared to have backfired Friday, as the first round of talks concluded with little progress to report.

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The hotels Brazil needs for the World Cup never got built

January 31, 2014

The Gavea Tourist is an empty shell of a hotel, a 14-story modernist monument of disintegrating concrete and decaying beauty that has been abandoned for four decades. It is one of three huge, architecturally stunning ghost hotels in Rio de Janeiro, all of which are vacant in a city facing a shortage of rooms for June’s World Cup soccer tournament.

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After billions in U.S. investment, Afghan roads are falling apart

January 31, 2014

SAYEDABAD, Afghanistan — They look like victims of an insurgent attack — their limbs in need of amputation, their skulls cracked — but the patients who pour daily into the Ghazni Provincial Hospital are casualties of another Afghan crisis.

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Peace plan would allow 75 percent of Jewish settlers to remain in West Bank, envoy says

January 31, 2014

Roughly three-quarters of Jewish settlers in the West Bank would be included in redrawn Israeli borders envisioned under U.S.-backed peace negotiations, the lead U.S. envoy told American Jewish leaders on Thursday.

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Russian TV channel takes flak just for asking: ‘Should Leningrad have surrendered?’

January 30, 2014

MOSCOW — A lesson for Russian media: Be careful what you ask for.

Someone at Dozhd TV, a popular, independent television channel, thought that the 70th anniversary this week of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad would be a good time to get its viewers’ opinions on a simple question.

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WorldViews: Before-and-after satellite photos show destruction of Syrian neighborhoods

January 30, 2014

Entire neighborhoods in Syria have been demolished during the country’s war. A new report by Human Rights Watch accuses the Syrian government of, in some cases, carrying out this destruction deliberately, which it says violates international laws of war. The organization says the Syrian government claims that buildings were knocked down with explosives and bulldozers for legitimate urban-planning purposes, but it notes that that the demolition often followed outbreaks of violence in those areas.

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WorldViews: How Scarlett Johansson got mired in one of the Middle East’s touchiest controversies

January 30, 2014

Scarlett Johansson faced a dilemma this week, and that dilemma has become an international political controversy. On the surface, it seemed like a choice between her volunteer gig and a paid sponsorship deal. But she ended up getting mired in one of the touchiest, most sensitive and most controversial political issues in the Middle East.

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China forces New York Times reporter to leave country

January 30, 2014

BEIJING — China forced a New York Times reporter to leave the country Thursday, the latest in a series of government actions targeting journalists.

Austin Ramzy, who previously worked for six years in China for Time magazine, has not been given a journalist visa since he moved to the newspaper last year.With his temporary visa expiring, he boarded a flight to Taipei, Taiwan, on Thursday afternoon.

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SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson and a rift with Oxfam

January 30, 2014

In an ad for SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson says, “If only I could make this message go viral.” She then takes off her robe, revealing a black dress, and drinks sultrily from a straw.

But the ad, described on YouTube as “the uncensored version of SodaStream’s commercial” for Sunday’s Super Bowl, isn’t what’s drawing attention right now. On Thursday, the international aid organization Oxfam accepted the actress’s resignation as a global ambassador after criticism over her role as a spokeswoman (or “global brand ambassador”) for SodaStream, which makes machines that let you carbonate beverages at home.

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WorldViews: 9 questions about Ukraine you were too embarrassed to ask

January 30, 2014

Ukrainians have been protesting since Nov. 21, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for closer integration with the European Union, instead drawing the country closer to Russia. They are still in the streets in huge numbers and have seized regional government buildings in several parts of the country. In Kiev, the capital, clashes between protesters and security forces have become violent, killing several people. On Tuesday, the prime minister resigned. No one is quite sure what will happen next.

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To retake cities, Iraq turns to Sunni tribes

January 30, 2014

BAGHDAD — In his battle against an al-Qaeda-led insurgency in western Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is providing arms and funds to unnatural bedfellows — Sunni tribesmen who complain of being neglected by his Shiite-dominated government.

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Europeans are flocking to the war in Syria. What happens when they come home?

January 30, 2014

LONDON — Word spread quickly last autumn in the rapidly gentrifying north London neighborhood where the Sebah brothers were raised: Mohamed and Akram had died in a car crash.

The news was devastating for friends and neighbors who had watched the brothers grow from affable and popular boys into promising young adults.

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With peace talks, Syrian stalemate is relocated to Geneva

January 29, 2014

GENEVA — The rival delegations enter and leave the room through separate doors. They don’t shake hands. They avoid eye contact and address one another only through their U.N. mediator to avoid replicating the bitterness of the battlefield in this first-ever effort to negotiate an end to Syria’s war.

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Israeli leaders engage in war of words amid worries about what peace might bring

January 29, 2014

JERUSALEM — A nasty little war of words this week between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a senior minister in his government exposed the deep anxiety permeating Israeli politics over the prospect of peace with the Palestinians — and for a few hours on Wednesday threatened to break up Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

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North American monarch butterfly migration falls to record lows, report says

January 29, 2014

MEXICO CITY — One of North America’s most dazzling natural phenomena, the annual winter migration to central Mexico by millions of monarch butterflies from the northern United States and Canada, has shrunk to record lows and is in danger of ending, environmentalists from across the continent said Wednesday.

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WorldViews: Obama’s six big foreign policy points in the State of the Union

January 29, 2014

President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night did not dwell extensively on foreign policy. Obama offered no new proposals and seemed to talk around some of the toughest challenges. But he did discuss the United States’ role in the world, particularly in the Middle East. Here are the big quotes from his speech, what they mean and what they left out.

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‘Walk of Shame:’ No flag for Indian athletes at Winter Olympics

January 29, 2014

NEW DELHI — Shiva Keshavan, India’s most prominent Winter Olympics athlete, has no personal coach, funds his training largely with private donations and built his luge sled in his garage. Because India has no luge track, he often trains on wheels, shooting down winding Himalayan roads dodging goats and noisy trucks.

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Siege tactics in Syria come under scrutiny

January 29, 2014

BEIRUT — Residents of rebel-held Syrian neighborhoods under siege say the message from the government is clear: Surrender or starve.

Peace talks in Geneva, the first of the three-year conflict, have thrown a spotlight on the plight of cut-off civilians in the central city of Homs, as participants focus on the issue of humanitarian access before turning to the tougher political questions. However, confidence is ebbing that relief will materialize.

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Aide to Egypt’s interior minister killed; ousted president Morsi appears in court

January 28, 2014

CAIRO — Gunmen shot and killed a senior police official outside his home in a suburb of Egypt’s capital Tuesday in the latest insurgent attack on a law enforcement target.

Also Tuesday, deposed president Mohamed Morsi appeared in a Cairo court to face charges of conspiring with Palestinian and Lebanese militants to break out of prison during Egypt’s 2011 uprising.

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WorldViews: A worrying map of the countries most likely to have a coup in 2014

January 28, 2014

Coups are bad news for any country. They weaken the rule of law, throw governments into chaos, undermine or outright jettison democratic norms and institutions, and can lead to violence, oppression or worse. They can also be tough to see coming, particularly since the people looking for them tend to focus on a single country, which can lead them to overemphasize local events and understate the broader dynamics that make coups happen, or not.

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In concession to opposition, Ukraine repeals anti-protest laws; prime minister resigns

January 28, 2014

MOSCOW — Ukraine’s opposition movement gained ground Tuesday in its efforts to remake the country, with the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet and the repeal of harsh new laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly.

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WorldViews: ‘Return to Homs’: the Syria documentary that just won big at Sundance

January 28, 2014

Syrian director Talal Derki began filming in the city of Homs in August 2011, when there was still a glimmer of hope. He followed a small group of young men for two years, as the cycle of demonstrations and crackdowns spiraled into civil war and Derki’s subjects — and so many Syrians like them — morphed from protesters to revolutionaries to rebels.

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In Ukraine, death and protest come with a history

January 28, 2014

In the gray light of falling snow, hundreds of protesters left the encampment on Independence Square, trudged uphill and, after a brief halt in front of the Ministry of Interior, went on to the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine.

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Egyptian military backs Sissi for presidency, as insurgency becomes more sophisticated

January 28, 2014

CAIRO — A powerful council of Egypt’s top military commanders announced Monday that it is backing Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sissi for president, a move likely to entrench the military’s political power and intensify its battle with an increasingly sophisticated Islamist insurgency.

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Karzai suspects U.S. is behind insurgent-style attacks, Afghan officials say

January 27, 2014

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai has frequently lashed out at the U.S. military for causing civilian casualties in its raids. But behind the scenes, he has been building a far broader case against the Americans, suggesting that they may have aided or conducted shadowy insurgent-style attacks to undermine his government, according to senior Afghan officials.

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Syrian rebels claim government holds young children in jails; regime denies allegation

January 27, 2014

BEIRUT — The Syrian opposition on Monday said children as young as 2 remain missing in the country’s jails and state security buildings, disputing government claims that they hold no minors and casting doubt on the safety of civilians who take up an offer to flee the central city of Homs.

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Syrian government backs away from U.N. plan on humanitarian relief for Homs

January 27, 2014

GENEVA — Hopes faded Monday for a quick win at peace talks between Syria’s warring factions after the Syrian government declined to authorize a convoy of food to enter a besieged neighborhood in the center of the city of Homs under the terms of an agreement brokered by the United Nations.

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WorldViews: The papal peace doves are the perfect metaphor for Pope Francis’s first year

January 27, 2014

Pope Francis called for peaceful dialogue in Ukraine on Sunday, concluding his remarks by having adorable Italian children release two white doves from the window of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The magical and touching symbol was quickly attacked by the harsh reality of bird-on-bird violence, with one seagull and one black crow attacking the doves. The crowd, inspired and blessed only moments earlier, watched in helpless horror as the crow and gull pecked and pulled at the doves.

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WorldViews: From Field Marshals Montgomery to Sissi, a history of the military’s most misleading rank

January 27, 2014

Three years and two days after the start of the Egyptian revolution, Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sissi had two major breaks in his burgeoning career as Egypt’s de facto military ruler. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which runs the military, voted unanimously to endorse Sissi for the presidency. And interim President Adly Mansour promoted Sissi, until now a general, to the rank of field marshal.

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Members of the Elders visit Tehran to promote accord with world powers

January 27, 2014

TEHRAN — Members of the Elders, a group of former statesman and high-profile peace mediators promoted by the late Nelson Mandela, are visiting Tehran to push for compromises on disagreements between Iran and world powers.

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WorldViews: Envious of Ukraine, Russians are circulating this satirical map of Russia

January 27, 2014

MOSCOW — Since Ukraine’s protests began, with various constituencies struggling for the country’s future, maps offering to explain the crisis have been flashing through the Web. One shows where local citizens have risen up to seize government offices; another depicts where the dominant Party of Regions, affiliated with President Viktor Yanukovych, has been banned; a third points out the division between Russian speakers in the east and Ukrainian speakers in the west.

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Latin America’s leaders: Who’s who

January 27, 2014

Here, ahead of a regional summit in Havana this week, are some of the region’s most influential leaders on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.

Cuba: Raúl Castro

Born: June 3, 1931

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Snowden says he might face U.S. retaliation for his disclosures, but he is not worried

January 27, 2014

BERLIN — Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said in an interview broadcast Sunday that U.S. officials might take deadly revenge against him for disclosing American surveillance secrets.

Snowden told the German public TV broadcaster ARD that he had not faced any direct threats or intimidation since seeking asylum in Russia last summer. But he cited an article from the Web site Buzzfeed that quoted anonymous officials from the U.S. military and National Security Agency as saying they wished they could kill him.

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Iraqi airstrikes, artillery target militants in Fallujah; at least 7 dead in city

January 27, 2014

BAGHDAD — Iraqi government forces battling al-Qaeda-linked militants intensified airstrikes and artillery fire on the rebel-held city of Fallujah on Sunday, and at least seven people were killed there, according to hospital officials and tribal leaders.

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The minimum wage is set to rise in Britain. And Conservatives are all for it.

January 26, 2014

LONDON — The Great Recession has not been good to Rochelle Monte.

A home health aide, the 38-year-old mother of three has been squeezed by ever-rising food and transportation costs, even as her minimum-wage salary has barely budged.

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Syria agrees to allow women, children to leave Homs, but peace talks yield slow progress

January 26, 2014

GENEVA — Syrian peace talks produced a small sign of progress Sunday, with an apparent agreement from Syria’s government to allow women and children to leave the besieged heart of the central city of Homs.

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Shulamit Aloni, Israeli legislator critical of country’s treatment of Palestinians, dies at 85

January 26, 2014

Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli legislator and cabinet officer who championed civil rights and was fiercely critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, died Jan. 24 at her home in a suburb of Tel Aviv. She was 85, according to reports in the Israeli media.

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In Latin America, right in retreat as left wins more elections

January 26, 2014

BOGOTA, Colombia — More than two decades after the Cold War, during which the United States backed anti-communist military rulers and pushed free-market policies in Latin America, conservative governments have virtually disappeared from the region.

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Ukraine president says he’ll name rival as prime minister, but opposition demands more

January 26, 2014

MOSCOW — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych offered Saturday night to make two of his adversaries prime minister and deputy prime minister, pledged to support amending harsh new laws against protest and proposed changing the constitution to give more power to the parliament.

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China’s air pollution prompts creative, sometimes wacky, solutions

January 26, 2014

This is how bad the smog has gotten in China.

Officials are looking at washing away air pollution with artificial rain or sucking it up with giant vacuum cleaners. Shanghai has given its cops mini-filters to put in their noses.

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Chinese activist Xu Zhiyong sentenced to four years in prison

January 26, 2014

BEIJING — Leading Chinese lawyer and activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison on Sunday for gathering crowds to disturb public order, his attorney said, in a case human rights groups said made a mockery of China’s professed commitment to the rule of law and to fighting corruption.

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Ruble weakens as emerging markets get hit, making Russians wary of costly food, phones

January 26, 2014

MOSCOW — The city’s middle class has been seized by a collective anxiety attack. All it takes to set the heart pounding is a walk down the street, where red-pulsing­ electronic signs remind everyone that the ruble is falling.

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Egyptians mark anniversary of uprising with show of support for army-backed government

January 25, 2014

CAIRO — On the third anniversary of the uprising that promised to free Egypt from autocratic rule, thousands of demonstrators rallied in the capital Saturday to show support for the military figure who overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president.

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Syria’s warring factions meet directly for first time, sidestep toughest issue

January 25, 2014

GENEVA — Representatives of Syria’s warring factions met for talks in the same room at the United Nations on Saturday, signaling the start of the first serious effort to bring peace to Syria since Arab Spring protests three years ago propelled the country into a devastating civil war.

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Jordan Valley emerges as core issue in Mideast peace talks

January 25, 2014

MASUA, West Bank — An Israeli general in wrap-around sunglasses climbed a rocky cliff and surveyed the Jordan Valley below. The river crawled like a lazy green serpent across a khaki desert, the valley floor dotted with Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements, and their fish ponds, mint greenhouses and plantations of date palm.

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For some in Brazil, World Cup means evictions

January 25, 2014

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Where there was once a soccer field in this city in southern Brazil, there is a highway.

And where there were once shanty homes, there are piles of timber, bricks and the debris of those who used to live there.

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Congress cuts U.S. military and development aid for Afghanistan

January 25, 2014

With no perceptible opposition from the Obama administration, Congress has quietly downscaled Washington’s ambitions for the final year of the Afghan war, substantially curtailing development aid and military assistance plans ahead of the U.S. troop pullout.

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Building pressure, Ukraine protesters enlarge territory, strike at other cities

January 25, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — Opposition protesters unhappy about the outcome of negotiations with Ukraine’s government cranked up the pressure Friday, moving on several fronts to expand the areas they control, both in the capital and in other cities.

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Syrian officials, opposition groups to meet Saturday in Geneva, U.N. envoy says

January 24, 2014

GENEVA — United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi appeared to have averted the collapse of peace talks Friday between Syria’s government and opposition after a fraught day, telling reporters in the late afternoon that the two sides have agreed to meet in the same room on Saturday.

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