Looters ransacking one of the deserted homes of former Central African Republic President François Bozizé apparently made an extremely unpleasant discovery last month after rebels overthrew the government: two human skeletons stashed in two holes beneath the ousted leader's garage floor (see the picture above). AFP has more:
At the house in Sassara, on the outskirts of the capital Bangui, Colonel Ali Garba -- one of the Seleka rebels whose coalition toppled Bozize from power last month -- gives a tour....
He indicates the spot where the bodies were found, at the back of the garage, stowed in two-metre deep recesses underneath square tiles. All that now remains in the space is a scrap of coloured fabric.
"I saw them. They were bones with no flesh. The people had been dead for a while, at least several months, maybe more," he says....
As he scoured the completely ransacked house, Garba says he also found the dead body of a presidential guard, apparently killed during clashes between Bozize's supporters and rebels.
"The Red Cross collected the body of the guard and the skeletons," Garba says, a claim backed up by near neighbours.
The Red Cross could not however be contacted to find out where the skeletons were taken.
AFP says authorities have yet to identify the bodies or determine whether the victims were opponents of Bozizé, who fled to Cameroon in late March. But the news agency floats one other possibility about the remains:
Ritual killings are a known phenomenon in Central Africa, designed to empower or bring good fortune to whoever orders the murder. Bones belonging to those killed are sometimes also trafficked for use in witchcraft.
If it was good fortune the deposed leader was seeking, he seems to have come up short.
PATRICK FORT/AFP/Getty Images
We'll have more soon on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's death Monday from a stroke. But for now it's worth highlighting one indelible moment from the Iron Lady's momentous and controversial political career -- her arrival at the prime minister's residence and office for the first time in 1979. Quoting St. Francis of Assisi, Britain's first female prime minister declared, "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." Thatcher would call the place home for more than a decade.
Thatcher, who died at age 87, later returned to Number 10 during David Cameron's premiership:
Fidel Castro, who knows a thing or two about being a young, anti-American leader engaged in nuclear brinkmanship with the United States, weighed in Thursday on the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula -- in his first "Fidel's Reflections" column for state media since June 2012. The op-ed serves up equal parts affection and stern warning for Cuba's ally in Pyongyang, and admonishes Barack Obama that he will be remembered as the "most sinister character in U.S. history" if he fails to defuse the crisis:
This is one of the gravest risks of nuclear war since the October Crisis in 1962 around Cuba, 50 years ago....
I had the honor of knowing Kim Il Sung, an historic figure, notably valiant and revolutionary.
If a war erupts there, the people of both parts of the peninsula will be terribly slaughtered, with no benefit to any of them. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has always been friendly with Cuba, as Cuba has always been and will continue to be with it.
Now that [North Korea] has demonstrated its technological and scientific advances, we remind it of its duties to the countries that have been its greatest friends, and it would be unfair to forget that such a war would affect in an exceptional way more than 70 percent of the planet's population.
If a conflict such as this erupts there, Barack Obama's government in its second term would be buried by a deluge of images that would present him as the most sinister character in U.S. history. The duty to avoid [war] is also his and the American people's.
When Peter Wilson wrote in Foreign Policy that Hugo Chávez is still casting a shadow over Venezuela's upcoming presidential election, he wasn't kidding. Annointed successor Nicolás Maduro has already suggested that the deceased comandante persuaded Jesus Christ to tap a South American pope, and that the country's Election Day in April will be the "Sunday of a resurrection."
Now the state-run television network ViVe is running an animated spot showing a downtrodden Chávez walking through a Venezuelan savanna in his trademark Venezuelan-flag sweatsuit, and then breaking into a smile when he spots a phalanx of fellow revolutionaries and Latin American icons who influenced his Bolivarian Revolution. Here's the commercial, which is entitled, "Goodbye Forever Commander":
The group includes Cuban Revolution leader Che Guevara, Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, Argentine first lady Eva Perón, Chilean President Salvador Allende, Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, and indigenous Venezuelan chief Guaicaipuro, according to Venezuela's Agencia Venezolana de Noticias. But the most high-profile role goes to someone less famous: Chávez's grandmother Rosa Inés, who beckons the Venezuelan leader closer. According to the news agency, she helped inspire Chávez's "humanitarian values."
h/t: Miami Herald
In his forceful speech before a youthful, applause-happy crowd in Jerusalem on Thursday, President Obama directed his remarks on the moribund peace process at young Israelis. "You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future," he declared, in calling for an "independent and viable Palestine" alongside a "Jewish and democratic state." Obama continued:
I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at the young people who've not yet learned a reason to mistrust, or those young people who've learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents, because they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart. Your voices must be louder than those who would drown out hope. Your hopes must light the way forward.
But here's the catch: Many surveys show that young Israelis are actually more cynical and conservative about the peace process -- and particularly Obama's preferred two-state solution -- than their elders. Ahead of the president's visit this week, for example, the Israel Democracy Institute released a poll showing that a staggering 71 percent of Israeli Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 do not believe in Obama's ability to achieve a breakthrough in peace talks -- a percentage that steadily decreased as the respondents got older.
A Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll in December found that only 42 percent of Israeli Jews aged 18 to 29 supported a two-state solution, compared with 63 percent of those aged 30 to 49 and 69 percent of those aged 50 and over. In analyzing another survey around the same time, the Israeli organization Blue White Future highlighted the "more right-leading tendencies amongst younger voters" -- who, for example, were much more likely than older generations to support Israel annexing the West Bank (a position championed by rising star Naftali Bennett in Israel's recent elections) without offering its Arab residents civil rights. It's a trend that has been taking shape for several years now.
What explains the younger generation's skepticism? The Los Angeles Times provided some helpful background earlier this week:
Reared on suicide bombings, failed peace initiatives and segregation from Palestinians, Israel's younger generation is generally more conservative, more religious, less tolerant and less supportive of a two-state plan than their parents or grandparents.
That stands in marked contrast to the United States, where young people tend to be relatively liberal and where Obama enjoys his strongest support among those younger than 30.
"In comparison to their American counterparts, they are, by and large, older by several years - some would say, several lifetimes," Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote on Thursday, in reference to Israel's "world-weary," post-Oslo, post-Rabin generation. "They enter college after years in the military, often followed by the escape-valve rehab of a marathon trek to remote continents."
Still, Burston argued that Obama's address this week -- one that "radically redefined centrism in Israel" -- could change minds. "This was the speech that these young Israelis not only needed but wanted to hear," he maintained.
To his credit, Obama made a glancing reference to young Israelis' disillusionment on Thursday, noting that he understood "why too many Israelis -- maybe an increasing number, maybe a lot of young people here today -- are skeptical that [peace] can be achieved." But he insisted that "as we face the twilight of Israel's founding generation, you -- the young people of Israel -- must now claim its future."
The question is: Did the president make any progress this week in persuading young Israelis to buy into the future he envisions?
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
I've written before about the linguistic contortions U.S. leaders go through to express the depths of their bonds with close allies -- be it Australia, Britain, Canada, or Japan -- without elevating any one country above the others. There's the "the United States has no stronger ally than ____" model, which places the referenced nation in a good-natured tie for first place with several other special relationships, and the "one of our strongest allies" approach. On Wednesday, Obama took a particularly ingenious tack upon arriving in Israel. Before characterizing the alliance between the two countries as "unbreakable" and "eternal," he declared:
Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages -- to be "masters of their own fate" in "their own sovereign state." And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.
See what he did there? Change "your" to "our" and a host of furious no-stronger-allies would be knocking on Washington's door. But, as Obama's speechwriters are well aware, it's probably fair to say that Israel received a visit from its closest partner today.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
In a move that is sure to rile grammarians the world over, the Mid Devon District Council is planning a ban on apostrophes in street names to avoid "potential confusion," according to the BBC (the official pronouncement is largely symbolic, since only three streets in the district currently have apostrophes). Already, Britons like proofreader Mary de Vere Taylor of Ashburton are speaking out against the proposed prohibition:
"It's almost as though somebody with a giant eraser is literally trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness," she told BBC News.
She said there was something "terribly British and terribly reassuring" about well-written and well-punctuated writing.
The North Devon Journal adds that the North Devon Council and Torridge District Council have implemented bans as well:
While Torridge has an official policy against the use of apostrophes North Devon's assistant chief executive Anne Cowley said although it was not a council policy it is historic practice not to use apostrophes in street names.
"When the council names a new street the details are entered onto the Local Street Gazetteer," she said.
"This feeds into the National Street Gazetteer and there are no street names on the Local Street Gazetteer for North Devon containing an apostrophe followed by a letter S."
The debate about apostrophes in public signage is actually not new in Britain. In 2009, for instance, the Daily Mail profiled a "punctuation hero" who was accused of being a vandal after he pained a missing apostrophe on a sign near his home (the man also refused to get in the 'five items or less' line at the supermarket because the notice should read, 'five items or fewer').
That same year, the Birmingham City Council got in a feud with the U.K.'s Apostrophe Protection Society -- yes, the Apostrophe Protection Society -- after authorities refused to add apostrophes to the city's road signs. "I have done my own research into the use of the possessive apostrophe in place names," one council member declared in defending the decision.
As for the latest punctuation dustup, the Mid Devon District Council's statement declares that "our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names." Careful readers will notice that the statement does not include a single apostrophe.
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Argentina, home to more than 30 million Catholics (out of a population of over 40 million), is now also home to the first pope from Latin America -- or from the Southern Hemisphere, for that matter. How is the Argentine press reacting to the historic election of Pope Francis I?
All outlets, of course, are leading with Jorge Mario Bergoglio's nationality. Here's Cronica, which simply lets the headline "the pope is Argentine" sink in before declaring today an "historic moment for our country."
The popular daily Clarín, which has clashed repeatedly with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has been highlighting the "acrimonious relationship" between Bergoglio and the country's leaders in recent years. The paper points out that Kirchner's husband, Néstor, once called Bergoglio the "true representative of the opposition" when he was president, adding that his wife has had a more "cordial" relationship with the new pope, albeit with "ups and downs" (despite the rancor, Bergoglio still officiated at a mass to mark Néstor's death). One of those downs came in 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Bergoglio denounced the legislation as a "destructive attack on God's plan."
The Argentine newspaper La Nación has also highlighted the "tense relationship" between the Kirchners and Bergoglio, in addition to profiling the "man who made a cult out of keeping a low profile" (in the picture below he's drinking Argentina's iconic yerba mate):
Clarín has two other fascinating bits of coverage. It notes that when the papal news broke today, a heated dispute erupted in Argentina's Chamber of Deputies between the opposition, which wanted to interrupt a ceremony for the late Hugo Chávez to listen to the new pope give his first address, and the ruling party, which wanted to continue the tribute to the Venezuelan leader (the ruling party won out).
The paper is also running a biting article about how Argentina's president was complaining on Twitter about minutia -- specifically how newspapers weren't paying attention to her local infrastructure projects -- while the Vatican was announcing Bergoglio's momentous appointment.
A su Santidad Francisco I twitter.com/CFKArgentina/s…— Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) March 13, 2013
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