Last week marked another low-point in the Syrian civil war. A unidentified gunman assassinated a Dutch priest in the city of Homs. Father Frans van der Lugt had lived in Syria for nearly five decades.
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Strong currents and rain are hampering rescuers in the search for more than 200 passengers missing after a ferry flipped onto its side and filled with water off the southern coast of South Korea.
Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva to meet with his diplomatic counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. They are trying to find a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.
Nearly 300 people were still missing Wednesday several hours after a ferry carrying 459, most of them high school students, sank in cold waters off South Korea’s southern coast, killing at least two and injuring seven, officials said.
There were fears, however, of a big jump in the death toll, as dozens of boats, helicopters and divers scrambled to rescue passengers who had been on the ferry traveling to the southern tourist island of Jeju. One passenger said he believed that many people were trapped inside the ferry when it sank.
The ferry sent a distress call at about 9 a.m. local time Wednesday after it began leaning to one side, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. The government said about 95 percent of the ferry, whose passengers included 325 high school students on a school trip to the popular tourist island, was submerged.
Coast guard officers, speaking on condition of anonymity citing department rules, said at least two people died and 293 were unaccounted for, but gave no further details, including what might have caused the ferry to sink. Official estimates of the missing, dead and even the number of passengers on the ship varied wildly as the search went on. A government official had earlier said that more than 100 people were unaccounted for, but officials later boosted the number to 295 missing and then changed it to 293.
Media photos showed wet students, some without shoes, some wrapped in blankets, tended to by emergency workers. One student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN from a gym on a nearby island that he and other students jumped into the ocean wearing life jackets and then swam to a nearby rescue boat.
“As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another,” Lim said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the ocean “was so cold. … I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live.”
The water temperature in the area was about 54 Fahrenheit, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes or 2 hours, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules. Officials said mud on the ocean floor made underwater search operations difficult. The ship sank in waters several miles north of Byeongpung Island, which is near the mainland and about 290 miles from Seoul, according to the coast guard.
Local media earlier showed the mostly submerged ferry tilting dramatically as helicopters flew overhead and rescue vessels floated nearby.
Passenger Kim Seong-mok, speaking from a nearby island after his rescue, told YTN that he was “certain” that many people were trapped inside the ferry as water quickly rushed in and the severe tilt of the vessel kept them from reaching the exits. Some people urged those who couldn’t get out of the ferry to break windows.
Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he didn’t hear any announcement telling passengers to escape.
The students are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul and were on their way to Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi Province, which governs the city. The ferry left Incheon port, just west of Seoul, on Tuesday evening, according to the state-run Busan Regional Maritime Affairs Port Administration. The trip from Incheon to Jeju is usually about 14 hours, so the ferry was about three hours from its destination when it made the distress call.
At the high school, students were sent home and parents gathered for news about the ferry.
Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying at the school entrance and many cars and taxis gathered at the gate as she left in the morning.
She said some students in her classroom began to cry as they saw the news on their handsets. Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the ferry would be fine.
Officials said dozens of navy and coast guard divers, more than eight government boats, 11 helicopters and eight private fishing boats were helping with rescue efforts.
Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea’s Public Administration and Security Ministry, had earlier said 14 were injured, but officials later changed the number to seven without elaborating.
Dozens of boats, helicopters and divers scrambled Wednesday to rescue more than 470 people after a ferry sank off South Korea’s southern coast. Among those on the boat, 325 high school students.
Schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria Tuesday. The suspects are believed to be with a radical group blamed for a bombing Monday. Kelly McEvers talks to Michelle Faul of The Associated Press.
hide captionThe world media captured the 1989 protests and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But across China, similar protests were taking place. Students in the southwest city of Chengdu began their own hunger strike in Tianfu Square several days after their Beijing counterparts. The photographer of this image — and several below — asked not to be identified because of current ties with China.
Courtesy of the owner via Louisa Lim
Courtesy of the owner via Louisa Lim
Twenty-five years ago, on April 15, 1989, Chinese students were mourning the death of a reformist leader. But what began as mourning evolved into mass protests demanding democracy. Demonstrators remained in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, day after day, until their protests were brutally suppressed by the Chinese army — on June 4. Hundreds died; to this day, no one knows how many.
The media captured some of the story of the massacre in Beijing. But Louisa Lim, NPR’s longtime China correspondent, says the country’s government has done all it can in the intervening 25 years to erase the memory of the uprising. Lim’s forthcoming book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, relates how 1989 changed China and how China rewrote what happened in 1989 in its official version of events. Her story includes an investigation into a forgotten crackdown in the southwestern city of Chengdu — which, to this day, has never been reported.
It was in Chengdu, which is now a bustling mega-city with a population of 14 million, that Lim met Tang Deying.
hide captionChengdu resident Tang Deying, who is now in her 70s, has spent the past 25 years seeking answers about her son’s disappearance. The 17-year-old was beaten to death in police custody in June 1989; police later gave her a photograph showing his battered corpse.
Tang Deying holds her determination in the stubborn set of her jaw. This diminutive, disheveled, elderly woman shuffling into the room in her pink plastic flip-flops is one of the few living links to the crackdown in Chengdu during the summer of 1989.
When martial law troops opened fire on civilians in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the violence was beamed immediately into living rooms around the world. Yet it has taken a quarter-century for details to emerge of the deadly events in Chengdu that cost Tang’s 17-year-old son his life.
For 25 years, a single aim has driven Tang’s existence: seeking restitution and accountability for the death of her son, Zhou Guocong, who was fatally beaten in police custody after disappearing in the 1989 Chengdu crackdown.
“Right is right. Wrong is wrong,” she told me firmly.
That simple mantra became the starting point for me to pursue a trail of evidence sprawling over three continents, including eyewitness accounts, old photographs, hastily scribbled, anguished journal entries, U.S. diplomatic cables and the Chinese government records laying out the official version of events. These disparate threads entwine to illustrate Chengdu’s forgotten tragedy, which has been almost entirely wiped from the collective memory.
hide captionPolice initially used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters to try to disperse the crowds thronging Chengdu’s main square on June 4.
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
Protests in Chengdu mirrored those in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with students mourning the sudden death from a heart attack of reformist party leader Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989. This soon morphed into mass protests, followed by a hunger strike beginning in mid-May.
Students occupied Chengdu’s Tianfu Square, camping at the base of its 100-foot-tall Chairman Mao statue and proudly proclaiming it to be a “Little Tiananmen.” The initial move by police to clear protesters from Tianfu Square on the morning of June 4 went ahead relatively peacefully.
But on hearing the news that troops had opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, the citizens of Chengdu took to the streets once more. This time they knew the risk; they carried banners denouncing the “June 4th massacre” and mourning wreaths with the message: “We Are Not Afraid To Die.”
Soon the police moved in with tear gas. Pitched battles broke out in Tianfu Square. Protesters threw paving stones at the police; the police retaliated by beating protesters with batons.
At a nearby medical clinic, the bloodied victims of police brutality lay in rows on the floor. Kim Nygaard, an American resident of Chengdu, recalled that they begged her: “Tell the world! Tell the world!”
A row of patients sat on a bench, their cracked skulls swathed in bandages, their shirts stained scarlet near the collar, visceral evidence of the police strategy of targeting protesters’ heads.
But the violence went both ways: Dennis Rea, an American then teaching at a local university, watched, horrified, as the crowd viciously attacked a man they believed to be a policeman. The crowd pulled at his arms and legs, then dropped him on the ground and began stomping on his body and face, crushing it.
Eight people were killed that day, including two students, according to the local government’s official account. It said the fighting left 1,800 people injured — of them, it said, 1,100 were policemen — though it described most of the injuries as light.
But U.S. diplomats at the time told The New York Times they believed as many as 100 seriously wounded people had been carried from the square that day.
Protests continued into the next evening, and as June 5 turned into June 6, a crowd broke into one of the city’s smartest hotels, the Jinjiang. It was there, under the gaze of foreign guests, that one of the most brutal — and largely forgotten — episodes of the Chengdu crackdown played out after a crowd attacked the hotel.
More than a dozen Western guests initially took shelter in the quarters of the U.S. consul general. But in the early hours of the morning while returning to her room, Nygaard saw what looked like sandbags piled in the courtyard. As she wondered what they would be used for, she spotted a flicker of movement and realized with a chill of horror that the sandbags were actually people lying face-down on the ground, their hands secured behind their backs.
“I remember so well, because I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, they’re breaking their arms when they’re doing that,’ ” she told me.
hide captionAfter People’s Armed Police were deployed to clear the square on June 4, pitched battles broke out between police and angry crowds throwing stones.
Eventually, two trucks pulled up. Nygaard remembers that moment vividly: “They piled bodies into the truck, and we were, like, ‘There’s no way you could survive that.’ Certainly the people on the bottom would have suffocated. They picked them up like sandbags, and they threw them into the back of the truck. They threw them like garbage.”
Five separate witnesses described the same scene, which was also mentioned in a U.S. diplomatic cable. The witnesses estimated they had seen 30 to 100 bodies thrown into the trucks.
hide captionThose injured in the clashes wait to receive treatment. The prevalence of head wounds is indicative of the police strategy of beating protesters around the head. The injured begged the Western photographer to “tell the world!”
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
The local government made no secret of the detentions. The Whole Story of the Chengdu Riots, a Chinese-language book recounting the official version of events, notes that “70 ruffians” had been caught at the Jinjiang hotel.
As to what happened to those detainees and how many — if any — of them died, it is impossible to know.
The Chengdu protests were immediately labeled “political turmoil” on a par with Beijing, with the protesters seen as “rioters,” stigmatizing all who took part. This instant rewriting of history was the first step toward lowering a blanket of state-sponsored amnesia over the events of 1989.
Why does it even matter 25 years later? It matters because of Tang Deying, who has been punished for her refusal to forget. Her son, who was detained riding his bike home on June 6, never emerged from police custody. She was told by another detainee that he’d been beaten to death. On her quest for an explanation of his death, she has visited Beijing five times to lodge official complaints. Each time she was intercepted and sent back. She has been detained by police, beaten, placed under surveillance and twice locked in an iron cage.
But her stubbornness paid out hard-won dividends. In 2000, she was presented with a photograph of her son’s corpse, which confirmed the painful knowledge of how he died. Blood was congealed around his nostrils and on one side of his mouth. There was a large bruise across his nose, and his face appeared swollen and uneven. One of his eyes was slightly open. On seeing it, she fainted. In death, her son was still watching her.
In 2006, she accepted a “hardship allowance” of almost $9,000, becoming the first and only person to be given a government payout in connection with a 1989 death. The authorities expected her to stop her activities — but she hasn’t. She says those responsible still need to admit their culpability.
hide captionOn June 4, a badly injured man is carried into a Chengdu hospital. Witnesses described scenes of police brutality, where people were beaten unconscious simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
Courtesy of Kim Nygaard
What happened in Chengdu 25 years ago matters enough that the local government continues to devote financial and human resources to muzzling Tang. Her treatment shows how scared the Chinese authorities are of their own recent history.
A quarter-century ago, the government used guns and batons to suppress its own people. Now it is deploying more sophisticated tools of control — censorship of the media and the falsification of its own history — to build patriotism and create a national identity.
Though China’s citizens have become undeniably richer and freer in the post-Tiananmen era, Tang Deying’s experience shows the limits to that freedom. Simply by keeping alive a memory that others have suppressed or simply forgotten, Tang has become seen as a threat to social stability.
What happened in Chengdu matters because it shows the success of the Chinese government in not just controlling its people, but also in controlling their memories. In the China of today, that most personal space of all — memory — has become a political tool.
hide captionWorkers assemble Android-based tablets from imported components at the Surtab factory in the Sonapi Industrial Park of Port-au-Prince.
Marie Arago/Reuters /Landov
Marie Arago/Reuters /Landov
Haiti has struggled to rebuild since a devastating earthquake more than four years ago. Most of the population lives on less than $2 a day and there are few open jobs for the millions of unemployed.
But there’s a bright spot: The Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is getting into the high-tech race thanks to Surtab, a Port-au-Prince-based company that makes Android tablets.
“Last month we [produced] 2,500. This month, as soon as we get components, we’re now going to have a run rate of about 3,000-3,500,” says Maarten Boute, Surtab’s CEO. “So we’re gradually ramping up.”
Before the tablet business, the Belgian-born and Kenyan-raised Boute headed up Haiti’s largest mobile company, Digicel. He says the combination of a booming population and the country’s decent 3G network make Haiti a prime market.
“It wouldn’t make sense in the smaller Caribbean islands, where your local market is not that big and where your diaspora is not that big either. One of our key next growth factors is that we’ll start exporting from Haiti, fulfilled … directly in Haiti … to the diaspora,” Boute says. “A lot of demand has come from there because people want to show that ‘Hey, Haiti can do this.’ “
Boute says Surtab, founded last year, won’t make a dent in the global tablet industry. He’s honing in on the developing world. One of his first orders was for 600 tablets for a Kenyan law school. About 90 percent of Surtab’s sales have been in Haiti thus far.
Smartphones do exist in Haiti, but you’re much more likely to see a stripped down mobile unit on the street. Tablets exist here, too, though they’re prohibitively expensive.
Surtab offers three models: a low-level Wi-Fi version that retails for about $85. A step above is a 3G model that Boute likens to an iPad Mini in both look and function. It retails for about $150, and it’s been the best seller. At the top of the chain is a 3G model with an HD screen, which sells for about $285.
The initial investment in the company was bolstered by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. government. And the Haitian government gave the company a five-year reprieve from duty taxes.
Despite the sweeteners, Boute says operating in Haiti still has its setbacks. There are slowdowns at the port, for example, a problem because the company imports its components from Asia.
hide captionHaitian artist Richard Josue uses a Surtab tablet.
“There can be times [things] get stuck for three or four days because a system goes down or a person isn’t there to sign a document,” Boute says.
Haiti once had a thriving assembly sector, says economist Kesner Pharel. In fact, Haitians sewed official MLB baseballs for Rawlings, but the company pulled out because of political instability. Pharel says Surtab won’t create a tech boom, but still, he’s excited about diversifying exports beyond garments.
Haiti’s annual exports total about $800 million, while imports top $3 billion, he says.
Pharel says Haiti needs more jobs like the ones at Surtab to grow a middle class. With weekly competitive bonuses, the company pays between $10 and $15 a day, two to three times the minimum wage.
At Surtab’s assembly facility at a warehouse near the Port-au-Prince airport, there are no assembly lines; each person is responsible for the assembly from start to finish. Workers wear white nylon jumpsuits over their clothes to prevent dust from getting into the air.
Senecharles Mardy is using what looks like a Dremel tool to heat and remove a cracked screen. She hadn’t even heard of tablets before she heard about the company. Now she owns one of the devices, purchased with an employee discount. In a way, she’s become an ad hoc sales associate, answering all the questions of curious friends.
“They ask me about the tablet — what it is and where I got it. I tell them where I’m working, and they say they’d like to have one, too,” Mardy says.
Online orders are now being fulfilled in Haiti. Boute says his long-term goal is a 50/50 split between exports and local sales.
Pro-Moscow militants have taken over more government buildings in eastern Ukraine, ignoring a government deadline for them to lay down their weapons.
Search crews will for the first time send a robotic submarine deep into the Indian Ocean on Monday to try to determine whether underwater signals detected by sound-locating equipment are from the missing Malaysian jet’s black boxes, the leader of the search effort said.
The crew on board the Australian navy’s Ocean Shield will launch the unmanned underwater vehicle Monday evening, said Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search off Australia’s west coast. The Bluefin 21 autonomous sub can create a three-dimensional sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the seafloor.
The move comes after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with an aircraft’s black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings. The devices have beacons that emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the beacons’ batteries last only about a month, and it has been more than a month since the plane vanished.
“We haven’t had a single detection in six days, so I guess it’s time to go under water,” Houston said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were “very confident” the four underwater signals that have been detected are coming from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
But Houston warned that while the signals are a promising lead, the public needs to be realistic about the challenges facing search crews, who are contending with an extremely remote, deep patch of ocean — an area he dubbed “new to man.”
“I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not,” Houston said. “However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasize that this will be a slow and painstaking process.”
The Ocean Shield has been dragging a U.S. Navy device called a towed pinger locator through the water to listen for any sounds from the black boxes’ beacons. Over the past 10 days, the equipment has picked up four separate signals.
The Bluefin sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and the two devices can’t be used at the same time. Crews were hoping to detect additional signals before sending down the sub, so they could triangulate the source and zero in on where exactly the black boxes may be.
But it has been 38 days since the plane disappeared, and search crews haven’t picked up any new sounds since Tuesday, suggesting that the devices’ batteries may now be dead. That is why officials will now begin using the Bluefin, Houston said.
The submarine will take 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the seafloor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download the data, Houston said. In its first deployment, it will search a 15-square-mile section of seafloor.
The black boxes could contain the key to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370 after it disappeared with 239 people on board. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don’t know why.
Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick not far from the area where the underwater sounds were detected, Houston said. Crews have collected a sample of the oil and are sending it back to Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days.
The oil does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but Houston cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.
A visual search for debris on the ocean surface was continuing on Monday over 18,400 square miles of water about 1,400 miles northwest of the west coast city of Perth. A total of 12 planes and 15 ships would join the two searches.
But Houston said that the visual search operation would be ending in the next two to three days. Officials haven’t found a single piece of debris linked to the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be have “greatly diminished.”
“We’ve got no visual objects,” he said. “The only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity, so we will investigate those to their conclusion.”
Complicating matters further is the depth of the ocean in the search area. The seafloor is about 15,000 feet below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. Officials are looking for other vehicles that could help to retrieve any wreckage, should the Bluefin find any.
Searchers are also contending with a thick layer of silt on the bottom that is tens of meters deep in places, which could hide debris that has sunk.
U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said the silt may not have hidden everything, however.
“Our experience shows that there will be some debris on top of the silt and you should be able to see indications of a debris field,” Matthews said. “But every search is different.”
A British vessel, the HMS Echo, has equipment on board that can help to map the seafloor, which is more flat than mountainous, Houston said.