Meet the U.S.-educated businessman running against Assad in Syria’s elections

May 31, 2014

DAMASCUS, Syria —Hassan al-Nouri admits he has little chance of winning the Syrian presidential election this week. But he appears to be enjoying the attention that comes with trying.

The 54-year-old U.S.-educated businessman is one of the first two candidates ever to run, ostensibly at least, against President Bashar al-Assad. There is little doubt that Assad has had his opponents carefully vetted, and it is a foregone conclusion that the vote on Tuesday will deliver him a third seven-year term.

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Russia threatens already embattled Ukraine with cutoff of natural gas over unpaid bills

May 31, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — A new front is swiftly opening in the war over embattled Ukraine’s future: energy, with Russia threatening to cut off natural gas to the country as early as Tuesday.

Russian leaders are prepared to stop crucial gas flows and squeeze their struggling neighbor economically even as Russian citizens take an increasingly open role in the violent conflict in Ukraine’s east.

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Investors are betting on the continued growth of booming Indonesia

May 31, 2014

Viewed with 347 years of hindsight, it was possibly history’s most one-sided trade. In 1667, when spices were worth more than gold, England and Holland agreed to divvy up two islands over which both claimed sovereignty.

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China has tried to erase the Tiananmen crackdown, but in the work of dissident artists, it lives on

May 31, 2014

BEIJING — Rows of faces painted in a funereal palette of black, white and gray stare from the canvas. In the middle of them lies a scene of tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square.

Liu Yi has never tried to exhibit the painting, nor has he shown it to anyone besides his wife and a handful of friends, for fear of punishment by Communist Party authorities. He keeps it in his studio with other works on forbidden topics as a reminder of what he believes is his responsibility as an artist.

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Freed prisoners were battle-hardened Taliban commanders

May 31, 2014

KABUL — They were among the Taliban’s most influential commanders — five men whom the United States succeeded in removing from the battlefield.

But on Saturday, they were released from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — a deeply controversial decision that raised concerns in Kabul and Washington even as Bergdahl’s homecoming was celebrated.

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China reacts sharply to Hagel’s criticisms of its ‘destabilizing’ actions against neighbors

May 31, 2014

SINGAPORE — China accused Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel of using threatening and unexpected language in a speech earlier Saturday in which he criticized Chinese aggression in maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors.

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In drug war hot spot, Mexicans desperate for help

May 31, 2014

TAMPICO, Mexico — With unfailing punctuality, the grocer receives text messages from his extortionist on the last day of each month. The medical students leave their lab coats at school, to avoid roaming gangsters who need surgery. The oil man mutters on his two-way radio as he drives behind tinted glass.

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American who killed himself in Syria suicide attack was from South Florida

May 31, 2014

The Obama administration confirmed Friday that a U.S. citizen took part in a suicide bombing in Syria, the first time that an American is believed to have done so in the three-year conflict there.

The American was identified as Moner Mohammad Abusalha, 22, of South Florida and of Middle Eastern descent. U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation, said that Abusalha appears to have traveled to Syria more than once and that law enforcement had been aware of his trips to the region before he killed himself.

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Chuck Hagel in his comfort zone as U.S. shifts attention to Asia-Pacific region

May 31, 2014

SINGAPORE — While much of the Obama administration’s foreign policy remains focused on what the president this week called emerging threats “from South Asia to the Sahel,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has laid claim to this corner of the world.

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WorldViews: The alarming rhetoric of China’s war on terror

May 31, 2014

In a speech this week, China’s President Xi Jinping addressed the challenges Beijing faces in its own war on terror. A grisly May 22 attack in Urumqi, capital of the far-western region of Xinjiang, had led to 39 dead and nearly 100 injured. It was the worst terrorist attack in the restive region in recent memory and the bloodiest single day since ethnic riots between Han Chinese and local Muslim Uighurs rocked Urumqi five years ago. (The Post explained the root causes of the violence here and here.)

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Russian troop withdrawal brings no relief in eastern Ukraine

May 30, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — For more than a month, Donetsk has braced for invasion from the east, with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed just over the border and seemingly prepared to overrun this breakaway region of Ukraine.

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WorldViews: This Chilean World Cup ad is the best you will see

May 30, 2014

Every four years, myriad companies and multinational corporations flood the global airwaves with advertisements related to the World Cup, the world’s biggest single sporting event. Some of the commercials are great; some are sort of weird.

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WorldViews: Proposed ‘bikini ban’ prompts political standoff in Kuwait

May 30, 2014

There seems to be a backlash against showing too much skin in the Middle East at the moment. A campaign in Qatar telling tourists in the country to dress modestly and avoid shorts and leggings made headlines recently.  Now Kuwait is stepping into the mix, with a proposed “bikini ban” prompting a possible political standoff.

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Japan’s Abe pledges greater role in Asia-Pacific security, as Chinese power grows

May 30, 2014

SINGAPORE — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that his country was ready to take a stronger role in collective defense in the Asia-Pacific area and beyond, and made clear that he views China as the most immediate threat to regional stability.

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Palestinian wearing ‘suicide belt’ is detained, Israeli officials say

May 30, 2014

JERUSALEM — Israeli security officials said their border police at a military checkpoint in the West Bank detained a young Palestinian man wearing a “suicide belt” packed with explosives. The man was arrested and did not activate the device, they said.

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WorldViews: Obama says the U.S. will lead the world for the next 100 years. China disagrees.

May 30, 2014

This week, President  Obama said that the U.S. will remain the one indispensable nation in the century to come. One country who has its own dreams of leadership wasn’t quite so sure, however.

On Thursday, at a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang commented with sarcasm. “It seems that the U.S. really enjoys being the leader of the world,” he said, before casting doubt on Obama’s prediction by making reference to a World Cup-predicting sea creature. “However, in the field of international relations, I wonder if there exists a ‘Paul the Octopus‘ who can predict the future.”

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Russia has withdrawn most troops from Ukraine border, Hagel says

May 30, 2014

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — Russia has withdrawn thousands of its troops massed on the border with Ukraine, even as violence escalated inside that country between government troops and pro-Russian separatists, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

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Colombia peace accords hinge on June 15 presidential runoff

May 30, 2014

BOGOTA, Colombia — The two sides meet in a drab Havana conference room, lifelong adversaries who are responsible — directly or indirectly — for the deaths of each other’s comrades, friends, even family members.

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Rebels down Ukrainian chopper as internal tensions ignite

May 30, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-
Russian separatists on Thursday dealt a heavy blow to Ukrainian military efforts to win back the rebellious east, even as tensions between insurgent factions spilled into the open in this anxious regional capital’s downtown.

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WorldViews: Husband of Pakistani ‘honor killing’ victim killed his first wife, police say

May 29, 2014

This is how a terrible story gets worse. On Tuesday, Farzana Iqbal, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, was confronted by a mob of 20 or so of her family members near the steps of the top court in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city. They proceeded to beat her to death with sticks and bricks, while police nearby looked on and did little.

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WorldViews: #ICYMI: Mandela’s life, as told through Legos

May 29, 2014

In Brazil, indigenous groups clashed with police, forcing the cancellation of a pre-World Cup event. The groups — who are protesting legislation that could shrink the size of land reserves — joined with activists opposing the billions Brazil has spent to host the World Cup. One police officer was shot in the leg with an arrow.

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WorldViews: Why would Somaly Mam quit her own sex-trafficking foundation?

May 29, 2014

Somaly Mam’s story is incredible. Her autobiography, “The World of Lost Innocence,” detailed how she was born in a village in the Cambodian rain forest and sold into sexual slavery as a child by her “grandfather.” She was stuck in Southeast Asia’s sex industry for 10 years until she finally escaped in her early 20s (her exact age isn’t clear as she has no birth documents).

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Despite joint search for missing girls, Nigeria and United States are wary partners

May 29, 2014

ABUJA, Nigeria — When Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced early this month that the Obama administration was rushing a team of experts to help Nigerian officials rescue 276 abducted schoolgirls, the hope in Washington was that Nigerians would react with gratitude and energetic cooperation.

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Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus form Eurasian Economic Union

May 29, 2014

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin moved Thursday to further bolster his nation’s ties to former Soviet republics, as Russia’s relationships with the United States and Europe continue to fray over the conflict in Ukraine.

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WorldViews: How Egypt’s election turned to farce

May 29, 2014

The result of Egypt’s presidential election was never in doubt, but the bungling of state authorities brought a fitting, farcical gloss to proceedings.

Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the longtime front-runner, won the election handily, getting some 93 percent of the vote. But his victory was dampened by a low turnout, made all the more conspicuous after officials decided to extend the vote by an extra day so more Egyptians could go to the polls.

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WorldViews: Chinese woman beheads kitten, posts pictures online, stirs outrage

May 29, 2014

A Chinese woman sparked online fury after beheading a kitten last week and posting pictures of its bloody remains online. According to reports, the woman, identified as Li Pingping, decapitated a cat in her bathroom Friday. The animal had been in her possession for only two weeks. That same night, Li, who lives in a city in China’s southern Guangdong province, posted pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

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WorldViews: The not-very-nice things U.S. officials used to say about Ukraine’s new president

May 29, 2014

On Sunday, Ukraine voted in Petro Poro­shenko as its new president by a very convincing margin. Poroshenko, a “chocolate tycoon” with an estimated $1.3 billion fortune, is known as a soft spoken politician who had allied himself with protesters against ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. The hope is that he can lead Ukraine out of the chaos it has been suffering in recent months.

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Search for missing Malaysian plane goes cold in area where ‘pings’ were heard

May 29, 2014

The months-long hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner has hit an impasse, with investigators determining Thursday that the jet is not in an area of the Indian Ocean previously deemed its most likely crash site.

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WorldViews: 5 harsh truths about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

May 29, 2014

With this week’s news that U.S. military will scale down its operations in Afghanistan and eventually withdraw in 2016, a lot of people are wondering what this will actually mean. Here, The Post’s Kabul bureau chief Kevin Sieff spells out five things you need to know.

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Amid war, Syria prepares for an election Assad is sure to win

May 29, 2014

DAMASCUS, Syria — Shoppers milled under a huge poster of the president in the Syrian capital’s ancient central market, its bustling streets newly crisscrossed with miniature flags ahead of an election. A few yards away in the majestic central Umayyad Mosque, where bands of protesters once chanted for freedom, the tone at Friday prayers was triumphant.

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WorldViews: These are America’s 9 longest foreign wars

May 29, 2014

President Obama announced Tuesday that 9,800 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan after the end of combat operations this year. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and finally reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military operation tied to the U.S. Embassy.

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At Kiev’s Maidan, Klitschko says protesters should leave

May 29, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — Behind the reefs of old tires and cobblestones that protected Ukraine’s protest movement against the now-
disbanded riot police, those still camped in the city’s Independence Square face some fundamental questions: Is their revolution over? And is it time to go home?

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WorldViews: Abkhazia: Protests flare in post-Soviet ‘gray area’ near Ukraine

May 28, 2014

It’s beginning to look a little like the Maidan in the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia, where thousands of protesters forced the president to flee.

According to the BBC, President Alexander Ankvab escaped the capital city Sukhumi on Tuesday and returned to his home town of Gudauta after his offices were stormed. The angry protests are reportedly being led by Raul Khadzhimba, a former prime minister and vice-president, who accuses Ankvab of corruption and economic mismanagement.

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WorldViews: MAP: Where offending a religion could get you executed

May 28, 2014

A shocking case in Sudan has returned the anachronistic charge of “apostasy” to the front pages. A Sudanese woman gave birth to her child this week in prison. She has been sentenced to death by hanging under sharia law for having married a Christian man and converted to his religion. The sharia court refused to recognize her marriage so it also convicted her of adultery, with an additional sentence of 100 lashes before her execution. The U.S. and rights groups have condemned the court’s verdict and lawyers are still petitioning for clemency.

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Hezbollah operative wanted by FBI dies in fighting in Syria

May 28, 2014

A senior commander in Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement who was on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list has been killed in fighting in Syria, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Faouzi Mohamad Ayoub, 47, apparently died last week while fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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Monkey Cage: Hey Media! Central and East European countries voted in the European Parliamentary Elections too…

May 28, 2014

Joshua Tucker: Continuing our series of Monkey Cage Election Reports, the following is a guest post from King’s College London political scientist Lee Savage on the European Parliamentary Elections.  Stunningly, it turns out that the post-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 also participated in these elections, yielding what turned out to be a different — and less earth shattering — set of results than those that were widely reported from Western Europe.

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In Egypt election, low turnout undercuts Sissi’s goal of sweeping mandate

May 28, 2014

CAIRO — Many polling stations were nearly deserted Wednesday on the third day of voting in Egypt’s presidential election, highlighting front-runner Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s lack of a formalized political base and threatening the overwhelming mandate sought by his campaign.

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The Fix: Why Mexico is the new Germany, in 1 map

May 28, 2014

One hundred years ago, almost one in every five immigrants in the United States hailed from Germany — by far the largest of any immigrant group. Today, roughly three in every 10 immigrants hail from Mexico.  This is not your grandparents’ United States.

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Syrians in Lebanon throng embassy to vote in presidential election

May 28, 2014

YARZE, Lebanon — Syrians thronged their embassy in Lebanon on Wednesday to cast ballots for President Bashar al-Assad, offering a forceful affirmation of his tightening grip on power after three years of conflict.

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WorldViews: Would this ‘Game of Thrones’ character make a better president than Egypt’s Sissi?

May 28, 2014

The Wall Street Journal has a good round-up of an entertaining social media trend that emerged as Egyptians went to the polls to elect their next president. Some voters, loathe to rubber-stamp the long-time front runner, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, chose to spoil their ballots. Instead of opting for Sissi or his challenger, Hamdeen Sabahi, some offered congratulations to actress Emma Watson on her graduation from Brown University or hailed the recent success of Real Madrid football club in the European Champions league final.

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Ukrainian government vows more military action against separatists

May 28, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government continued efforts to put down a separatist rebellion in eastern reaches of the country on Wednesday, as military forces battled rebel holdouts near the airport here and the newly elected president was quoted as saying he would seek U.S. military aid to help end the crisis.

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Pakistani Taliban splits into two amid infighting

May 28, 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban, riven by infighting, splintered into two major groups Wednesday as the leader of its dominant faction announced that it was severing ties with chief Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

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WorldViews: This is what the Syrian election looks like in Lebanon

May 28, 2014

While it’s tempting to casually dismiss the upcoming Syrian election as a pointless exercise in legitimizing Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the scenes today in Lebanon are a clear reminder that a lot of people feel very strongly about it.

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Afghans anxious over Obama plan to end troop presence by 2016

May 28, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — For Americans, President Obama’s announcement of a rapid military drawdown in Afghanistan, due to conclude in 2016, means an end to the United States’ longest war.

For Afghans, including those fighting the Taliban, it means they will soon lose their greatest asset: a U.S. military that has poured money and manpower into a war that is far from over. They knew that the support would fade but not that it would happen so quickly.

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U.S. investors begin to imagine a return to Iran

May 28, 2014

TEHRAN — For the first time in decades, business people from the United States are visiting Iran in significant numbers, exploring the possibility of future partnerships as Iranian and American entrepreneurs begin to envision a reopening of long-closed commercial channels.

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WorldViews: Why scrapping 6 million cars is not going to end China’s pollution problem

May 28, 2014

On Monday, China published a new policy document that revealed plans to take more than 6 million older vehicles off the roads in a bid to fight the country’s notorious air pollution problem. The scale of the plan is certainly impressive: That’s more than the total number of registered vehicles in the entire country of Switzerland, for example.

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After a long freeze-out, U.S. reaches out to India’s new prime minister

May 27, 2014

NEW DELHI — What a difference a landslide victory makes.

In 2005, India’s Narendra Modi was denied a U.S. visitor’s visa because of concerns that he violated religious freedoms as a political leader. But since his party’s resounding win in national elections this month, the U.S. government has rushed to repair the breach.

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Obama to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan

May 27, 2014

President Obama revealed his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan on Tuesday, announcing that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain there for one year following the end of combat operations in December. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy.

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White House to investigate inadvertent naming of CIA officer

May 27, 2014

The Obama administration said Tuesday it will seek to determine how the identity of the CIA’s top spy in Afghanistan was exposed in an embarrassing slip by the White House press office during President Obama’s surprise visit to the country on Sunday.

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Nigerians appear more confident about rescuing missing girls

May 27, 2014

ABUJA, Nigeria — A Nigerian military official’s terse assertion Monday that the armed forces know the whereabouts of 276 abducted schoolgirls drew surprisingly little public reaction in the capital Tuesday, but it added a mysterious twist to a string of contradictory official narratives about efforts to find the missing girls.

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