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TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Apr 15

Headlines

Ukraine Crackdown on Pro-Moscow Separatists Gets Off to Apparently Slow Start
(Reuters) Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war on Tuesday as Kiev said an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Moscow separatists was underway, though the crackdown appeared to get off to a slow start, if at all.

Nigeria Pledges Massive Security for World Economic Forum Event
(Reuters) Nigeria will go ahead with the hosting of a World Economic Forum on Africa in its capital Abuja next month, despite a bomb attack on the city’s outskirts on Monday that killed 71 people, the Nigerian hosts of the high-profile event said.

Jordan’s Ambassador to Libya Kidnapped After Gunmen Attack His Car
(Reuters) Jordan’s ambassador to Libya was kidnapped on Tuesday morning after masked gunmen attacked his car and shot his driver, a spokesman for Libya’s foreign ministry said.

After 50-Year Wait, Sydney to Get Second Airport
(Reuters) Australia has approved a $2.4 billion project to build a long-awaited second airport for Sydney, likely boosting near-term investment and jobs in a bet that the city’s air travel demand will grow enough to justify a surge in terminal capacity.

India’s Sonia Gandhi in TV Appeal to Stop ‘Divisive’ BJP
(Reuters) Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s ruling Congress party, has issued a rare direct appeal to the nation not to return an opposition she said was motivated by “hatred and falsehood” in the country’s general election.

Iran Asks for U.N. Committee Meeting on U.S. Ban on Envoy
(Reuters) Iran requested on Monday a special meeting of a U.N. committee on the United States’ refusal to grant a visa to Tehran’s new U.N. ambassador appointee, describing the decision as a dangerous precedent that could harm international diplomacy.

Undersea Drone Hunt for Malaysian Plane Foiled by Depth
(Reuters) A U.S. Navy underwater drone sent to search for a missing Malaysian jetliner on the floor of the Indian Ocean had its first mission cut short after exceeding its 4.5 km (2.8 mile) depth limit, Australian search authorities said on Tuesday.

Obama Blasts Russia, Tells Putin U.S. Wants Diplomatic Solution in Ukraine
(Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that the United States preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine but blasted Russia for taking actions that were not “conducive” to such a path.

Putin, Obama in Phone Call on Ukraine Crisis
(Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone call with U.S. President Barack Obama, denied the Kremlin was interfering in Ukraine and urged the United States to use its influence to prevent bloodshed there, the Kremlin said.

Guardian, Washington Post Win Pulitzers for U.S. Spying Coverage
(Reuters) The Guardian US and Washington Post were awarded the most prestigious Pulitzer prize on Monday for coverage of secret surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency that sparked wide debate over government spying.


Thought of the Day

"Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part."—Andrew Murray


The Secret to Taking Criticism Seriously—Not Personally

By Adrian Granzella Larssen, The Daily Muse, April 11, 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Hillary Clinton speak at the annual Women in the World Summit. One of my favorite moments of the talk was her biggest piece of advice to young professionals: “It’s important to take criticism seriously—not personally.”

In other words, dealing with the tough feedback you’ll inevitably receive from bosses, clients, co-workers, and, in Hillary’s case, the American public, is a fine line. On one hand, knowing where you’re not meeting expectations and understanding the negative perceptions others have of you is the only way you’ll learn and grow as a professional.

On the other, letting every harsh word or critique hit you in the gut is a fast way to make your confidence—and ability to do what you know you’re best at—crumble.

I know that’s often easier said than done. So I’ve pulled together my all-time favorite tips that help the dealing-with-feedback process be a bit less painful.

First, consider this advice from Barking Up the Wrong Tree about how to approach and process any piece of criticism you receive:

So, make two lists: One is things they’re wrong about. And one is things that, well, they might be right about.

Next time you get feedback, make three columns:
1. What they said
2. What’s ‘wrong’ with the feedback
3. What might be right

This lets you vent your frustration in column 2 but column 3 makes sure you don’t lose the value of what they’re saying.

The next step? Get into problem solving mode. Look at column three, and ask yourself: If this feedback was 100% true, what would I need to do with it? or, alternatively, If someone I knew received this feedback, what would I tell him or her to do?

Using this “if” language is a simple mind trick that lets you process the criticism seriously while removing some of the emotion out of the equation. You allow your mind to shift from beating yourself up about what you did wrong to brainstorming about what you can do to get ahead in the future.


Novice runners should take it slow this spring, experts say

Reuters, April 14, 2014

As the days lengthen and the weather warms and novice runners cast an eye outdoors, fitness experts suggest they take a slow start to find their outdoor rhythm and pace to avoid injuries.

Jen Van Allen, a certified running coach and co-author of “The Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners” said the first time outdoors everyone else seems like a real runner. And new runners often fear getting hurt, or that they will find running unpleasant or boring.

“Certainly when someone pushes body and mind farther there is going to be some discomfort,” said Van Allen, who has completed 48 marathons. “But a lot of people make the mistake of running as fast as they can and they get hurt.”

She suggests that even if the goal is to run, newbies should walk and use the first four to six weeks to establish the habit.

“If you’re just starting out, focus on rhythm, on finding the most convenient times and the safest routes, and deciding if you’d rather work out alone or with others,” Van Allen said.

She added that the correct form for most people means eyes on the horizon, arms moving alongside, not crossing, the torso, shoulders and brows relaxed.

“Starting at the top of your head, periodically check in with your body to release areas of tension,” she advised.

David Siik, a Los Angeles-based running coach for Equinox, the national chain of upscale fitness centers, said when running for fitness the first goal is consistency.

“It’s actually one of the hardest goals, and more immediately important than mileage and calories,” he said. “People fall out of the habit, often afraid that it’s too difficult or too hard on their body.”

If running is physically very demanding, Siik said, the benefits can be extraordinary.

“A great indicator of how fit running can actually make you is that you can lose it so quickly,” he said. “People who take long periods of time off from running see their aerobic strength go away very quickly.”

Running takes time, so he suggests taking it slow, keeping a log, and seeing how it goes.

“You’ll learn something new about yourself every time you run,” he added.

Siik said much improper form is a lack of strength that sometimes, but not always, auto-corrects with practice.

“Run with the runner’s tilt, making sure your weight is barely over your hips, never back on your hips, except during a decline,” he said. “That slight tilt forward engages your back muscles.”

Jacque Ratliff, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, said cardiovascular activity (such as running) increases the strength and efficiency of the heart muscle, which is important in warding off heart disease, lowering blood pressure and improving HDL (good) cholesterol.

But she said any fitness regime should include strength, flexibility and mind-body components as well.

“If somebody is just running all the time, that’s when injuries can occur,” Ratliff cautioned.

Whether the goal is marathon glory or losing love handles, Van Allen urges new runners to start at their current level of fitness, not where they were in high school.

“Get good shoes, start slow, find your pace,” she said. “It’s great to have dreams but in order to get there you have to start where you are.”


A year without sugar

By Sadie Whitelocks, Daily Mail, 11 April 2014

A mother-of-two convinced her family to go sugar-free for an entire year and reveals the outcome of the diet experiment in a new book.

Eve Schaub, 43, from Vermont, writes in her upcoming tome, Year Of No Sugar, that one of the first things she noticed was that she ‘pooped like freaking Swiss watch’—a sign that her body was ‘working better than before’.

Meanwhile shopping trips with her husband Stephen and two young daughters, Greta and Ilsa, proved a nightmare as they discovered ‘the white stuff’ was pumped into everything’ from sausages to crackers and even out of 200 varieties of bread only two were unsweetened.

Mrs Schaub told MailOnline that she became an expert in reading food labels and discovered that there were ‘50 hidden names’ for sugar including ‘diastatic malt’, ‘refiners syrup’ and ‘mannitol’.

Surprisingly over the course of the 12 months, she did not lose any weight.

She also did not notice any difference in her sex drive, sleep patterns or mood—not that these were issues before.

However, her energy levels and health improved as did the rest of her family’s.

Her nine-year-old daughter Ilsa missed up to 20 days of school in 2010 but only three in 2011—the years the Schaubs went sugar-free.

Meanwhile Isla’s older sister Greta, aged 13, saw her absence rate drop from 15 to two days.

“I hope [my children] learned that healthy eating is a choice and that lots of things in life are bad for us—sugar, alcohol, reality television—but that often the key is awareness and moderation.”

The health factor was what inspired Mrs Schaub to get her family eating more cleanly in the first place.

She had come across the work of the pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, who compares fructose to a poison, particularly for children.

Judged to be responsible for an increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes, excess sugar consumption has also been linked to certain kinds of cancer and heart disease, Mrs Schaub learned.

Although many assume eating healthy ‘breaks the bank’, Mrs Schaub recently managed buy a week’s worth of sugar-free groceries for her family with just $143.

She bought many ingredients in bulk and homemade goods such as bread and mayonnaise which are almost impossible to find without sugar.

One of her favorite recipes is for coconut cake.

‘Whenever we had an event to go to I would always bake one,’ she said.

‘I would never tell people that it didn’t contain sugar and it was always one of the first things to disappear off the table.’

They ruled out the following sugars from their diet: white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, molasses, maple syrup, honey, evaporated cane syrup, agave, artificial sweeteners, fruit juice.

Natural occurring sugars in fruits were allowed.

At the grocery store they checked all labels on products to check for ‘hidden names’ for sugar—they found 50 in total including ‘diastatic malt’, ‘refiners syrup’ and ‘mannitol’

At restaurants they would also ask for a full breakdown of ingredients before selecting dishes

Mrs Schaub started making up her own sugar-free recipes for bread, mayonnaise and cakes

The Schaubs marked their one-year sugar-free anniversary on New Year’s Eve in 2011.

Each chose a sweet to celebrate with. Isla and Greta opted for a ‘fancy cookie’ each while Mrs Schaub snapped up her favorite chocolate: a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Recounting how it tasted she said: It was way sweeter than I remembered and kind of anti-climactic.’

Now the Schuabs stick to a low sugar diet. Luckily Greta and Ilsa were never ‘junk food addicts’ and were supportive of their mother’s experiment.

Year Of No Sugar also includes excerpts from Greta’s diary, revealing how she was continually offered sweet treats at school and learned how to diplomatically say ‘no’.

Mrs Schaub concludes: ‘We need more information about what we are putting into our bodies. A range of health problems from heart disease to cancer can be correlated to an excess intake of sugar.

‘Manufacturers use it because it improves the taste of products, is an effective preservative and cheap but we have a right to know if we’re poisoning ourselves.’


Evangelicals admit struggling to find time for daily Bible reading and prayer

By Cath Martin, Christian Today, April 14, 2014

New research has shed light on the difficulties evangelicals have in making time for their spiritual life.

In particular, the Evangelical Alliance’s study found that evangelicals struggle to find the time for both reading the Bible and praying each day.

Of the over 1,500 surveyed, nearly all (90 per cent) said they read the Bible regularly, but only 31 per cent said they set aside a substantial period of time each day to pray.

Although 87 per cent agreed that every Christian needs to spend time alone with God on a daily basis, and that without that their faith will suffer, 42 per cent said that they find it difficult to find time on a regular disciplined basis to pray and read the Bible.

Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) said they do not have a fixed pattern of prayer but rather pray when the chance or need arises. This figure rises to 29 per cent among those born after 1980.

Over half of those surveyed (60 per cent) said they prayed “on the move”, while walking or using transport. When they do find the time to pray, evangelicals are most likely to be asking God to bless their family (49 per cent).

“Older people (those born before 1960) are significantly more disciplined and structured in their prayer patterns,” the Alliance noted.

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) admitted to being easily distracted when spending time with God and while most (88 per cent) agreed it was important for a Christian to read or study the Bible on a daily basis, in practice only half are managing to do this. Another 40 per cent said they read the Bible several times each week.

There was a substantial difference in Bible engagement between older and younger Christians, with 60 per cent of those born before 1960 managing to read their Bible daily, compared to just 31 per cent of younger Christians.

Tellingly, busy Martha was the Bible character evangelicals were most likely to say they identified with (43 per cent).

“She was selected almost three times more than her contemplative sister Mary, indicating that busy lifestyles are a widespread feature of contemporary discipleship,” the Alliance said.

In the face of busy lives, many evangelicals are doing faith “on the go” and utilising digital media to help them maintain their spiritual life. A third use Bible apps, with daily devotional apps and the Book of Common Prayer app among the popular choices.

Kim Knappett, a teacher from London, told the Alliance about the difference new technology has made to her faith.

“Thank to Bible apps, I have read more of the Bible in the past three years than for most of my life before. Using new technology has definitely helped to strengthen my relationship with God,” she said.

Traditional Bible resources are still used more frequently by evangelicals though, with half saying they use Bible commentaries or other books, and 43 per cent saying they use printed Bible notes.

The average length of time spent studying the Bible was between 10 and 20 minutes per session, and over half (57 per cent) said they spent time reflecting on what preachers or speakers have said.

The findings are laid out in the Alliance’s new report, Time for discipleship?, which also reveals the concerns evangelicals have about the nurturing of faith.

While most respondents (90 per cent) were positive about the benefits of attending church and small groups, and festivals (70 per cent), only four in 10 said their church did very well at discipling new Christians.

Just a quarter (26 per cent) felt they had been equipped by their church to share their faith with others.

Over half (55 per cent) said they found it difficult at least sometimes to understand what the Bible says, but confidence in the Bible remains high.

Most (93 per cent) said they never or only rarely find it hard to accept that the Bible is reliable and true, and only 30 per cent said they find it hard to see how the Bible relates to their life today.

The vast majority (82 per cent) admitted they find it hard to live up to the commandments and challenges found in the Bible.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said that the findings could help churches to recognise the challenges their congregations are facing and the need to support Christians in today’s busy culture.

“It’s encouraging to see that the majority of evangelical Christians are determined not to let the daily pressures of time get between them and God,” he said.


Tax returns go from post office to digital

Hadley Malcolm, USA TODAY, April 13, 2014

April 15 will mark a digital first for Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. It will be the first year ever he won’t be heading to the post office to drop off his tax return.

“I remember you just didn’t want to be at the post office on the 14th or 15th,” says Koskinen, 74, who took over as head of the IRS in December. “Now, whenever you’re ready to file, you just file.”

Koskinen has plenty of company. Electronic filing has overwhelmingly become the preferred method of completing tax returns. And so instead of receiving a hefty manila envelope from his tax preparer and heading to a downtown Washington, D.C., post office, Koskinen will complete the once arduous and stressful process in seconds with the click of a button.

Three decades ago, April 15 was like a marathon national block party. As millions of Americans swarmed post offices to file their tax returns at the eleventh hour, vendors handed out free coffee, IRS representatives were on hand to provide advice, and jazz bands sometimes set the mood. Lines lingered for hours, and branches stayed open past midnight to accommodate the overflow crowds.

But those days have faded into the realm of archaic, pre-Internet traditions; the yearly ritual of fingering through rumpled receipts and W2s has gradually experienced its digital awakening. This year, electronic filings are expected to reach 85% of total tax returns, “a new American record,” Koskinen says.

At the start of the millennium, e-filing made up 23.5% of total tax returns, a little more than 30 million. By the end of 2014, the IRS expects that number to reach more than 125 million.

Even though electronic filing became available for the first time, though to a limited number of professionals, in 1986, it was 16 years before the process became entirely paperless. The transition since then has turned the cumbersome task into one that can be accomplished with the click, or tap, of a button. And it’s significantly cheaper. In 2011, the most recent year for which the IRS has data, e-filing cost the agency 15 cents to process; paper returns cost $3.50. Plus, e-file has cut down on mistakes, the IRS says. The error rate associated with e-filed returns is 1%, compared with a nearly 20% error rate for paper returns.

Paying the government in taxes you owe no longer requires sending a check either—although it’s still an option. The IRS offers several online payment systems.

But when the Internet was first gaining traction, “it was almost as if you were kind of going rogue if you filed electronically,” says Sue Brennan, a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service and head of operations. She remembers when many Americans were skeptical of Internet security and would never have trusted it with something as important, and personal, as the documents involved in filing taxes.

So what changed? “It became easy,” Brennan says. Eventually, as with most things in the Internet age, convenience won. And technology became sophisticated enough to ensure security.

Refunds now come within weeks, not months—the IRS tries to issue them within 21 days. And manila envelopes full of tax documents no longer travel through the postal service, often making multiple trips, between individuals and their tax preparers; instead they’re electronically dropped onto cyber portals in a matter of minutes.

Brennan personally filed online for the first time in 2002. But as a clerk at the Merrifield, Va., post office and sorting facility in the Washington suburbs in the early 1990s, she remembers lines of cars forming on the streets while postal service employees walked around with large bins on April 15, creating a makeshift tax return drive-through. At other locations across the country, vendors sold food and coffee, bands played and IRS officials were on hand to help people finish their forms.

“It was very festive,” Brennan says. “April 15 used to be a major postal event across the country. At least in the last 10 years for sure, it’s all but gone away.”

Overall, yearly single-piece first-class mail volume, which includes tax returns, has declined nearly 60% since 1999, according to USPS data. This year, the Merrifield office will close at its normal time, 8 p.m., on tax day—though some larger offices across the country still stay open until midnight.

Don Mingo, a 57-year-old pastor from Grand Rapids, Minn., will wake up to another regular Tuesday; he and his wife filed their return weeks ago and already received their refund. They’re using it to go on a vacation to visit their grandchildren. Michael Brooke-Gay, a high school chemistry teacher, did his and his wife’s taxes on his iPad two months ago in the span of about four hours.

Mingo remembers spending months mailing tax forms back and forth to his tax preparer in the 1990s. If something was missing or needed clarification, his tax preparer would send the forms back. Mingo would have to identify the correct form or furnish the missing information and put the packet back in the mail.

“It was a nightmare,” he says. “More than once we needed an extension because we ran out of time.”

For the past two years, Brooke-Gay, who turns 30 on Monday and lives in Hilton, N.Y., has used his iPad to file his taxes with the TurboTax app. He even calls the experience enjoyable.

“I actually almost trusted the iPad experience more because it was all self-contained in the app,” he says. “The website gets kind of cluttered because there’s different advertisements.”

H&R Block and TurboTax both provide smartphone apps that allow users to file by taking pictures of their W2s. The tax forms automatically fill in based on the image. Tablets have also become an increasingly popular way of completing at least some of the filing process.

Last year, H&R Block noticed a significant increase in the number of people using a combination of phones, tablets and desktop computers to prepare their returns. So this year the company overhauled all 6,000 pages of its website so that the content could shrink or grow to fit the screen of any device.

“We’re seeing explosive growth in the number of people who use their tablet as an extension of the experience,” says Jason Houseworth, president of global digital tax software at H&R Block.

The one thing the move to digital filing hasn’t changed: the need for professional tax help. Thanks to a tax code that only seems to grow in complexity, the split between those who seek help and those who file on their own has remained around 60/40 for the past decade, Houseworth says.

Lonnie Gary, a partner at the CPA firm Young, Craig & Co., in Mountain View, Calif., says the firm has gained clients at a rate of 1% to 2% a year in the past five years, chalking it up to a tax code that’s “too complicated.” Even so, the process has been stripped of many of its time-consuming moments.

When Gary needed to fill out an uncommon tax form for a client while working for H&R Block in the late 1980s, he had to Xerox it from a massive book of forms, then fill it out by hand with a pencil. Now, he has clients submit documents through a cyber portal and e-files with the IRS through his company’s tax software.

Still, it seems no amount of technological ease can alleviate the dread of tax season for the majority of Americans.

“It doesn’t change the need of the assisted filer,” Houseworth says. “Regardless of the amount of technology, they still are frightened by taxes and have no interest in doing them.”


Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto slumps in polls despite policy wins

By Nick Miroff, Washington Post, April 13, 2014

MEXICO CITY—Plenty of world leaders would be thrilled to have the kind of executive hot streak blazed by Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto during his first 16 months in office.

In that short span, he and his administration have steered more than a dozen major new laws through congress, overhauling the country’s energy, banking and education sectors, among others.

Peña Nieto has stood up to powerful interests from Mexico’s business world and underworld. He has locked up drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted trafficker, quieting doubters in the United States who questioned his crime-fighting mettle.

Yet for all the praise he has won in Washington and elsewhere in the world, Peña Nieto’s opening act is getting panned in the only place it really counts: Mexico.

After Time magazine put him on the cover of its international edition recently with the headline “Saving Mexico,” a flood of ridicule and derision followed.

Peña Nieto’s approval ratings have fallen fairly steadily since he took office in December 2012, dropping to 37 percent in one recent poll, with other surveys rating him in the mid-40s.

The biggest problem, analysts say, has been Mexico’s feeble growth. Last year, the country’s economy expanded at just 1.1 percent, far below the goal of 5 percent growth Peña Nieto set when he ran for president.

His most widely touted move, a constitutional amendment opening Mexico’s state-controlled energy sector to private and foreign investment, was advertised as a catalyst for faster growth. But it may take years for the benefits to materialize.

According to Mexican economist Luis de la Calle, a bold legislative agenda doesn’t tend to favor short-term success.

“By concentrating on reforms, it’s tougher to pay attention to important development projects. So there’s an economic cost as well as a political one,” de la Calle said. “And an ambitious reform agenda is something that introduces uncertainty into the economy.”

De la Calle and others say Peña Nieto and his team have made a strategic calculation to spend political capital and lose popularity at the outset of his term in hopes of reaping rewards later, in time for next year’s midterm congressional elections.

Peña Nieto’s attempts at overhauling Mexico’s institutions have made him powerful enemies. He has challenged mega-billionaire Carlos Slim’s near- monopoly on Mexican telecom and tossed the once-feared teachers union boss, Elba Ester Gordillo, in jail on corruption charges.

Such moves won’t result in immediate, tangible benefits for ordinary Mexicans.

They have, however, made a splash in foreign capitals, where Peña Nieto has spent a lot of time trying to turn around negative perceptions of Mexico as chaotic, corrupt and dominated by drug traffickers. He has traveled to China and other Asian countries to drum up business, sought to repair strained relations with France and met frequently with President Obama, promoting his “reform” agenda at every stop.

Yet the changes that earn Peña Nieto applause at global policy forums are getting booed back home.

“Peña Nieto is taking on the big issues that most economists would agree have been holding Mexico back, so the view of Mexico has been quite positive,” said Shannon O’Neil, a Mexico expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At the same time, O’Neil said, “the reforms have yet to make life better for the average Mexican.”

On the contrary, middle-class Mexicans have seen their property taxes rise under Peña Nieto. Gasoline is more expensive and so are soft drinks, hit with higher taxes. Nearly half the country remains in poverty and consumer confidence is falling, with other indicators showing the poorest Mexicans doing worse under Peña Nieto than under his predecessor, Felipe Calderón.

Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, came from the National Action Party, and their legislative plans were frequently blocked by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of Peña Nieto.

But because the PRI now controls the largest number of seats in congress, Peña Nieto can’t blame Mexico’s troubles on his opponents.

He also faces higher expectations, having crafted his political identity as a measured, disciplined leader who delivers results, pollster Jorge Buendia said.

“He ran for president as someone who keeps his word, and emphasizes his record of getting things done,” Buendia said.

Buendia said the president got a modest, fleeting bump in the polls after Guzmán’s arrest. But while Calderón put Mexico’s fight against drug cartels at the center of his presidency, Peña Nieto has sought to shift attention to trade, energy and other themes. So for him, analysts say, the political rewards for taking down big drug bosses have been somewhat diminished.

If Mexico’s economy does not return to a growth rate above 3 percent this year, Buendia said, Peña Nieto’s PRI is likely to suffer compounded losses in July 2015 midterm elections, when the party in power often loses seats, as happens in the United States.

The most likely beneficiary would be the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party and the breakaway party Morena, headed by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been leading street protests since Peña Nieto defeated him in 2012. Those parties could make it tougher for Peña Nieto to get subsequent legislation approved.

And while Peña Nieto’s low-key style hasn’t made him many personal enemies, he represents a political party with a spotty past from the 72 years it controlled the Mexican government prior to Fox’s win in 2000.

Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister under Fox and one of its most prominent columnists, said Peña Nieto’s popularity will always be limited because the PRI is widely disliked.

“This guy was elected with 38 percent of the vote, and his party hasn’t gotten anywhere beyond that during the past 20 years,” Castañeda said.

“They have a glass ceiling they can’t crack through, and they probably never will,” he said. “The country just doesn’t like these guys.”


Deep in Brazil’s jungle, host city poses wild challenge for World Cup

By Vincent Bevins, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2014

MANAUS, Brazil—In the 1960s, Brazil’s military rulers decided they had to populate the Amazon or risk losing control over the vast, isolated region. So they granted special tax breaks to Manaus, reviving a faded rubber-baron town in the middle of the jungle.

Manaus is still governed by special rules that keep it alive as a manufacturing center, though it remains connected to the rest of Brazil only by boat or plane. The city, which could easily retreat back into the jungle if not for government support, got another boost when it was selected as the only Amazonian site to be a host for the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament.

But Manaus’ special problems will also be on full display during the games. After controversial and even fatal preparations here, residents are nervously hoping their city of nearly 2 million can pull off the event while taking advantage of the global spotlight.

“We’ll have more tourists at one time than Manaus has ever seen,” said Roberio Braga, secretary of culture for the state of Amazonas. “So we’re planning 1,200 special events.”

Most of the action will be on the field. And in the run-up to a World Cup dominated by nationwide scandals and protests, Manaus gained unwanted attention late last year when British media and the England football team manager questioned the wisdom of holding games here. England will take on Italy in the city on June 14, and the United States plays Portugal on June 22.

England manager Roy Hodgson initially said he would like to avoid playing in Manaus because of the heat and humidity. The Daily Mirror called it a “crime-ridden hellhole” and complained of the cost and difficulty of getting to the city, more than 700 miles inland from the Atlantic.

The proud Amazonian citizens were offended, and Mayor Arthur Virgilio said England was not welcome.

“Those were unfortunate comments and prejudiced,” said Sandro Queiroz, a student and human resources manager at construction company JB Andaimes in Manaus, sitting in front of the 19th century Teatro Amazonas, a belle epoque relic of the rubber boom years. “Perhaps we spent too much on our stadium, but tourists will probably be well received.”

In the last few months, Virgilio and Hodgson have patched up their differences. But their spat fed the debate over whether Brazil went too far to try to use the World Cup as an economic booster, insisting on 12 host cities instead of eight and erecting towering, glittering stadiums in places with little football culture or transportation infrastructure.

Manaus’ new Arena da Amazonia, match-ready but still being worked on, is probably the most impressive structure in the region. Its 42,000 seats rise high above the flat city, its reds and yellows a tribute to the surrounding jungle.

But the stadium came at a price. In addition to the more than $275 million paid out, three workers died during construction.

Residents say they are anxious to see which way things go in June and July, as Manaus offers ample opportunities both for logistical disasters and for the world to become enchanted with their culture and exotic natural surroundings.

More than most of the host cities, Manaus is gearing up to showcase its cuisine—often considered the best in Brazil—as well as dance, opera, music and indigenous culture.

However, the city is nestled so tightly into the jungle that the heavy daily rains can knock out electricity and Internet service in places, sometimes for hours. It can be intensely hot and humid. There is little public transportation, and even under normal conditions traffic can grind to a halt. Crime is a problem, though the homicide rate is not one of Brazil’s highest.

But the main problem is Manaus’ location and infrastructure, a messy consequence of the tax breaks that started in the 1960s, experts say.

“Manaus is a perfect example of the lack of strategic planning. You have an industrial base but no logistical connections for the goods, and the heritage of the tax system has to be kept in place politically to safeguard the jobs and people that moved there because of the policy,” said Paulo Resende, an infrastructure specialist at the Fundacao Dom Cabral business school. “The reasoning for this type of development in Manaus was not economic, it was entirely geopolitical, with the aim that Brazil would remain the guardian of the jungle.”

Since there are no highways to the city, those who aren’t willing to spend days traveling up the Amazon by boat will rely on Brazil’s overstretched air transportation system, taking a four-hour flight that costs about $400 from Rio de Janeiro. One recent trip by air from Manaus to the coastal city of Natal, another World Cup city, required three stops and took more than 10 hours.

But development based on manufacturing has helped to conserve the natural environment around the city, since it provides jobs that don’t involve deforesting—for wood, agriculture or meat production—as happens in most of the jungle regions in Brazil where roads have arrived, said Alex Rivas, a professor at the Federal University of Amazonas.

That has made Manaus a site for eco-tourism, a sector the government wants to boost with the spotlight of the World Cup. Alligators scurry into the Rio Negro near private roads to the houses of the elite, and visitors and residents take small boats to nearby reserves run by indigenous tribes.


Beaming Good Cheer to a Norwegian Town’s Dark Days

By Suzanne Daley, NY Times, April 13, 2014

RJUKAN, Norway—Yearning for sunlight has been a part of life in this quaint old factory town in central Norway for as long as anyone can remember. Here, the sun disappears behind a mountain for six months of the year.

It is worse for newcomers, of course, like Martin Andersen, a conceptual artist who arrived here 12 years ago and would find himself walking and walking, searching for any last puddle of sunshine to stand in. It was on one of these walks that he had the idea of slapping some huge mirrors up against the mountain to the north of town and bouncing some rays down on Rjukan.

The town eventually agreed to try, and last fall, three solar- and wind-powered mirrors that move in concert with the sun started training a beam of sunlight into the town square. Thousands of people turned out for the opening event, wearing sunglasses and dragging out their beach chairs. And afterward, many residents say, life changed.

The town became more social. Leaving church on Sundays, people would linger in the square, talking, laughing and drinking in the sun, trying not to look up directly into the mountain mirrors. On a recent morning, Anette Oien had taken a seat on newly installed benches in the square, her eyes closed, her face turned up. She was waiting for her partner to run an errand, and sitting in the light seemed much nicer than sitting in a car. “It’s been a great contribution to life here,” she said.

But the sun, pale and weak, did not last long. In fact, during the almost three months from Dec. 25 to March 15, the skies were so cloudy that the mirrors produced just 17 hours of sunlight on the square, bolstering the arguments of those who call the project a waste of money.

Most days, in fact, the square just looks like the parking lot it once was. A bone-chilling wind sweeps through it, and there is often the sting of swirling sand that was once put down on snowy roads, but which now drifts over the dreary blacktop.

There has been so little sunlight, in fact, that the solar mechanisms that power the mirror stopped working and the beam disappeared completely for a while. A generator and fuel had to be hauled up the mountain by snowmobile to get things going again.

But most residents do not seem to dwell on such setbacks. Certainly, the mayor, Steinar Bergsland, is not much concerned. Refusing to accept life in the shadows, he said, has brought all kinds of attention to Rjukan, a town built by an industrialist who opened the world’s first large-scale fertilizer plant here between 1905 and 1916.

In the decades that followed, the industrialist, Samuel Eyde, known here as Uncle Sam, built just about everything that stands in Rjukan today. Managers got the houses with the most sunlight. Workers got apartments deeper in the valley. But all the housing was cutting edge for its day. There was indoor plumbing for everyone.

Mr. Eyde understood the yearning for sun, too. Back in 1913, one of his bookkeepers wrote to the local paper suggesting that a giant mirror might work. But instead, Mr. Eyde, who settled here because a waterfall nearby provided an easy means of generating electricity, built a cable car so his employees could go up the mountain to get some sunshine in the winter. The cable car still exists.

But the mirror enthusiasts wanted more. “We were a high-tech town 100 years ago,” Mr. Bergsland said, “and now we are using high tech to get some sun into our valley.

“Of course there were people here who said this is crazy,” he continued, “but a lot of people really liked the idea.”

And tourists have begun to trickle in, including from Oslo, about a three-hour drive away. Many of the businesses here report an uptick in income. If Rjukan becomes one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites next year, as it hopes, that should help, too.

Still, not everyone has embraced the mirrors. In this town of about 6,000 people, some 1,300 signed a petition to block the project. Some opponents, like Robert Jenbergsen, who is studying to become a teacher, have changed their minds. “I thought it would be a waste because we have a lot of bad weather here,” he said. “But when we got the sun, you could see the happiness it brought. We had never seen anything like that before. So, now I think it is great.”

Others, however, have not been impressed. Annar Torresvold, 77, and his wife, Anne-Lise Odegaard, 70, still think that the 5 million kroner, or roughly $840,000, spent on the mirrors might have been better spent elsewhere. They worry about a possible closing of the hospital, the quality of the schools and health care for seniors.

When they want sunshine, they drive to the next town. Or up the mountain to the ski resorts.

“It’s a very costly little spot of sun,” said Mr. Torresvold, who moved to Rjukan after he retired from working in a paper producing plant. “It was very clear what common people thought, and they thought it was a waste of money.”

And Mr. Torresvold thinks the town will end up spending more to keep the mirrors working. “I can’t see this having a long-term effect on things here,” he said. “It’s just a flash in the pan.”

It took nearly a decade for the mirrors to go up. Mr. Andersen began the project, researching the technical aspects and drawing up projects that included rounded mirrors. But once he assured town officials that it could be done, they turned it over to engineers.

Eventually, the mirrors, each measuring 17 square meters, or about 183 square feet, were flown in by helicopter and installed 450 meters, or about 492 yards, above the town square, where their movements are controlled by computers.

These days Rjukan is focused on fixing up the town square. Perhaps a fountain is needed. “You can’t just have a sun mirror shinning on a parking lot,” said Mr. Bergsland, the mayor.


Why Munich Set Up ‘Urban Naked Zones’

Feargus O’Sullivan, The Atlantic Cities, APR 11, 2014

Is it OK to walk around naked in the middle of a major city? The idea of seriously debating this question might seem bizarre, but that’s just what the city of Munich has been doing for much of this year. Statewide laws controlling nude sunbathing in Bavaria expired last autumn, and Germany’s third largest city has had to decide for itself whether or not to allow sun-seekers to strip off in public.

The answer they came up with is a qualified yes. People in Munich are now officially welcome to go naked provided they restrict themselves to six designated areas across the city. While these areas’ locations in parkland gives them a degree of seclusion, none of them are fenced off or hidden away. One spot is barely ten minutes from Munich’s main square, located along a stream to which tourists flock.

In officially allowing nude sunbathing in these six places, Munich is in many ways only acknowledging a practice that has gone on for years. It’s long been common to see people hanging out in the buff in the city’s beautiful Englischer Garten and in spots along the meandering, island-filled Isar River. Indeed, the practice is common across Germany, where the first naturist beach was set up back in 1920. In the former East Germany, the activity is more popular still, possibly because the longtime absence of strong religious influence there made people less anxious about it.

Plenty of Germans are tanning obsessives, but it’s all about far more than avoiding tan lines. Public saunas, a standard part of many people’s weekly routine in the country, are generally naked-only and mixed sex (though single sex days happen once or twice a week). Indeed, you can actually be asked to take your bathing suit off if you turn up with one. This is—I think—in case the sweat it collects ends up on the sauna’s wooden benches, or to assure you don’t make other people feel uncomfortable in their nakedness.

Given that so many Western countries have taboos around public nudity, how does Germany manage this insouciance? It would be going too far to claim that Germans accept no link between sexuality and the naked body—German pornography is not noticeably full of people in floor length gowns and chunky turtlenecks. What Germany does have, nonetheless, is a strong cultural tradition that seeks to escape artifice and the pressures of city life to return to something supposedly more natural. Seen in this light, stripping off in public is the voluntary removal of a heavy mask, a return to unvarnished honesty rather than some titter-worthy peek-a-boo. Places where this is allowed to happen are spaces of truce, where there is a generally observed agreement that people will spare each other physical scrutiny and appraisal.

Thus even a place with a fairly buttoned-up reputation like Munich sees allowing naked sunbathing as a public good. It’s a reminder that, even in the midst of a big city, nature and peace are still there to be enjoyed in what many like to consider, accurately or not, a natural state.


Yet another building seized in east Ukraine

By Peter Leonard, AP, Apr 14, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP)—A pro-Russian mob on Monday seized a police building in yet another city in Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine, defying government warnings that it was preparing to act against the insurgents.

Dozens of angry men hurled rocks, smashed the windows and broke into a police station in the city of Horlivka not far from the border with Russia, while hundreds of onlookers cheered them on. Thick white smoke rose from the entrance to the building, from which the insurgents hoisted the Russian flag.

The events in Horlivka were the latest sign of trouble in Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, in which pro-Russian gunmen have seized or blocked government buildings in at least nine cities demanding more autonomy from the central government and closer ties with Russia.

Oleksandr Sapunov, one of the men who took part in storming the police building in Horlivka, said the insurgents were fighting against appointees of the Kiev government, including the local police chief, and wanted to appoint a leadership of their own.

“The people came to tell him that he is a puppet of the Kiev junta and they won’t accept him,” Sapunov said.

One of the insurgents later announced that some of the police have switched over to their side, retained their weapons and will continue serving on the police force.

Hundreds of onlookers outside chanted “Referendum!” and “Russia!”

One man climbed on the roof of the porch to put up a Russian flag. A policeman came through a window to chase him, and the man fell off the roof. Several minutes later the policeman, his head bloodied, was carried out of the police station to an ambulance.

Acting Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velichkovych acknowledged Monday that some police officers in eastern regions were switching sides. “In the east we have seen numerous facts of sabotage from the side of police,” Velichkovych told reporters.

Kiev authorities and Western officials have accused Moscow of instigating the protests, saying the events echoed those in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month. Ever since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February, Russia has demanded constitutional reforms that would turn Ukraine into a loose federal state.

After refusing demands for a referendum by separatists in the east, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov indicated Monday that holding a nation-wide referendum on the nation’s status was a possibility and that such a vote could be conducted on May 25, along with presidential elections. Turchynov expressed confidence that Ukrainians would vote against turning the country into a federation and against its break-up.

Meanwhile, a deadline set by the Ukrainian government for pro-Russian gunmen to leave government buildings in eastern Ukraine and surrender weapons passed early Monday, with no immediate sign of any action to force the insurgents out.


As pro-Russian militants ignore deadline, Ukraine vows to continue operation

By Kathy Lally and Will Englund, Washington Post, April 14, 2014

MOSCOW—Pro-Russian militants ignored a deadline set by the Ukrainian government and remained ensconced Monday morning in buildings they have occupied in strategic towns throughout the eastern part of the country.

Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, said Monday that a major “anti-terrorist” operation announced the night before would get underway. But he also declared that he would be open to a referendum next month on a decentralization of authority to Ukraine’s regions.

The occupiers have claimed that a referendum is what they are seeking. But they are unlikely to credit Turchynov’s intentions. Since the appearance over the weekend of heavily armed pro-Russian squads in a handful of towns, accompanied by sporadic gunfights that have left at least nine injured and one dead, the prospects for a negotiated settlement have dimmed considerably.

In Luhansk, close by the Russian border, workers were evacuated from the local administration building Monday morning, the Interfax news agency reported, without being told why. In Horlivka, about 150 separatists stormed the local police headquarters, according to the unian.net news service.

Authorities in Kiev accuse Russia of stirring up trouble in an attempt to disrupt Ukraine and destabilize the government.

The armed assaults on government buildings in the eastern Donetsk region, close to the Russian border, have alarmed not only leaders in Kiev but also those in the West. The attacks, officials said, were reminiscent of the shadowy invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, which resulted in its annexation by Russia last month.

“Well, it has all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “It’s professional. It’s coordinated. There’s nothing grass-roots-seeming about it.”

If the attacks continue, she warned, the United States would intensify its sanctions against Russia. As for the Kiev government, it lost Crimea without firing a shot and has vowed not to repeat that scenario in eastern Ukraine.

“We do not interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine; it is contrary to our interests,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference Monday morning. He denied that Russia has intelligence officers in eastern Ukraine.

The West has been cautioning Ukraine against starting a shooting war with the separatists for fear that it would offer Russia, which has thousands of troops gathered across the border, a pretext for invasion. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said, however, that he had no alternative but to begin an “anti-terrorist” campaign Sunday after days of urging the separatists to go home peacefully.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday night calling Ukraine’s actions “criminal” and adding that “it is now the West’s responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine.”

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday night, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned of “extremely significant consequences” if Ukraine’s government follows through with orders to use military force.

“In just a few hours’ time, things might take an irreversible turn for the worse,” he said. He also indicated that Russia had agreed only “in principle” to attend a meeting on the crisis scheduled to take place Thursday among Secretary of State John F. Kerry and counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.

“What do you think?” Churkin said. “Tomorrow, there’s going to be the use of armed force and hostilities … and we’re going to sign off on that meeting? That is going to be fundamentally undermined if military operations are commenced in the southeastern region of Ukraine.”

Power responded sharply, saying, “It is not the United States that has escalated this situation. It is the Russian Federation.”

In Washington, President Obama’s national security team discussed whether to move forward with additional sanctions against Russia. Although the administration has frozen assets and banned visas of individual Russians said to be “cronies” of the Russian president, Obama indicated that more serious measures would be implemented if Russian troops entered eastern Ukraine, including sanctions against economic sectors such as energy and mining.

Turchynov gave the separatists a deadline of 9 a.m. local time Monday to vacate the buildings and leave under an amnesty. Last week, they were given a deadline of Friday to do the same. The offer was ignored.

On Sunday night, there was little evidence that Russian supporters had any inclination to retreat. Last Monday, they overran the Donetsk regional administration building and have held it ever since. On Saturday, they took the Donetsk regional police headquarters, while men in camouflage overwhelmed the police department in Slavyansk, a town 55 miles from the city of Donetsk. By Sunday, they had stormed other towns in the region.

The annexation of Crimea has been wildly popular in Russia. Russian flags hang from many balconies in Moscow, and President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings are higher than ever. Even so, there are objections in some quarters to the invasion and the Russian news media’s coverage, which has portrayed Ukraine’s Russian speakers as under threat and in need of protection. Moscow considers the Kiev government illegitimate, and the Russian news media routinely call it a “fascist junta” in the pay of the United States.

Turchynov’s announcement that the army would be used to tamp down the revolt comes amid reports of significant defections from the ranks of local police to the pro-Russian side. The army is also seen as a more appropriate force to use against a potential invasion.

The Ukrainian army, however, is poorly equipped, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that it was time for the United States to do something about it.

“We ought to at least, for God’s sake, give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”


Anxious China Emerges as Diplomatic Player in Afghanistan

Reuters, April 14, 2014

KABUL/BEIJING—China is quietly preparing for a more robust role in the future of Afghanistan, concerned that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.

The two countries are connected by a narrow mountainous corridor that is almost impassable, which meant Beijing could focus on mining and mineral deals in Afghanistan as Western forces battled Taliban insurgents. But officials say that China is emerging as a key strategic player.

In August it will host a “Heart of Asia” conference on Afghanistan, which may have a newly elected president by then, inviting leaders from regional nations including India and Pakistan. A Western diplomat said China has already held discreet trilateral talks with Afghanistan and other countries.

One of its chief worries is that Uighur militants who want a separate state in western China’s Xinjiang region will exploit the security vacuum left after the bulk of NATO forces withdraw by the end of the year to step up their fight.

Hundreds of Uighur fighters are believed to be holed up in rugged, lawless tribal areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a rare interview from an undisclosed location last month, their leader told Reuters that China would be made to pay for its crackdown on separatists in Xinjiang.

“In the past we said: ‘The Americans are there, and the Americans don’t want anyone else, especially not another great power, taking their place’,” said Hu Shisheng, a South Asia expert at a government-backed think tank, the China Institute of International Relations in Beijing.

“Now with the U.S. strategic focus shifting, neighbouring countries cannot just let Afghanistan descend into chaos.

“The Pakistan and the Afghanistan Taliban are sympathetic towards the Uighurs. So we absolutely have to pay attention to this, in a way that perhaps we did not before,” he said.

So far, China’s commitment to Afghan reconstruction since the ouster of a hardline Islamist Taliban regime in 2001 has been around $250 million and its security support has been mostly limited to counter-narcotics training.

China has a $700 million agreement to drill for oil in the Amu Darya Basin and a $3 billion deal to develop the Aynak copper mining project. But insiders say security concerns, not investment, are the primary driver of China’s new focus.

“They were focused on economics, not reconciliation or peace. But recently they have expressed their willingness to get more involved in the peace process,” said a member of the High Peace Council, an Afghan government body overseeing negotiations with the Taliban.

The Chinese and U.S. embassies in Kabul declined to comment.

It is highly unlikely that China will follow the U.S. lead and send soldiers into Afghanistan.

Officials believe, however, that, with the West’s attention on the region set to fade, Beijing has an opportunity to flex its diplomatic muscle, using warm relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan to ease suspicion between the two neighbours.

Kabul has long accused Islamabad of providing havens for militants and sponsoring attacks inside Afghanistan, and now Pakistan believes Afghanistan is doing the same. A decade of U.S. diplomacy has failed to reconcile the two sides.

China’s push for a bigger role in Afghanistan is seen by some diplomats as an attempt to show it is a responsible global actor after rattling its own neighbours by asserting claims in the South China Sea.

But Andrew Small, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and author of an upcoming book on Chinese-Pakistan relations, said it is driven by a realisation that its own security is at stake.

“At the end of 2011, the Chinese realised America was leaving and they were getting this dumped on their lap,” he said. “Until then, China had sat completely on the sidelines. They just used to send people to read out statements in meetings.”

A Beijing-based Asian diplomat cautioned, however, that Beijing’s new enthusiasm for engagement with Kabul might run into trouble, especially as its officially atheist Communist leaders have limited experience dealing with Muslim countries.

“Afghanistan is highly factional, and it’s not like any other Islamic country,” he said. “China is going to have a very difficult time.”


Palestinian doctors caught in fight over Jerusalem

By Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press, April 13, 2014

ABU DIS, West Bank (AP)—Since graduating from a local medical school nine years ago, Basel Nassar has been barred from serving his community in east Jerusalem, despite a shortage of doctors there.

Like dozens of other Palestinian doctors, Nassar has been caught in the political battle between Israel and the Palestinians over east Jerusalem. Israel captured and annexed the traditionally Arab sector in 1967, a step not recognized by most of the world, while the Palestinians seek it as a capital.

Palestinians long have held that Israel’s attempt to impose its sovereignty over east Jerusalem—the emotional core of the Mideast conflict and home to major religious shrines—has violated basic rights and disrupted the lives of many of the city’s Arab residents. Yet Israel’s policy of banning dozens of Jerusalem residents from working in the city as doctors increasingly is being criticized by Israelis, including leading physicians who say politics must not trump the right to health care.

Earlier this month, an Israeli court overturned the Health Ministry’s ban after Nassar and others sued, ostensibly clearing the way for him and 54 other doctors—who are graduates of the Palestinians’ Al-Quds University—to apply for Israeli medical licenses. But it’s not clear if the government has dropped the legal battle.

Critics say the issue is rooted in politics, not medical standards. Many of the doctors have passed medical examination tests elsewhere, including the U.S. and western Europe. But since all graduated from Al-Quds, a university with a foothold in east Jerusalem, Israeli recognition of their degrees could be seen as acknowledgment of Palestinian claims to the eastern sector of the city.

The Health Ministry applied a similar ruling several years ago to a small group of graduates on a one-time basis. It hasn’t ruled out appealing the latest court decision.

Nassar, 34, had planned to emigrate to the U.S. because he could no longer support his family on a monthly salary of $1,300 at a West Bank clinic. He could earn about triple at Israeli hospitals. Following the court decision, he says he will stay, seeking training as a cardiologist in Israel and then work in east Jerusalem, where heart specialists are scarce.

“Eventually it’s a simple equation,” he said. “People in need. Good physicians and qualified physicians. These shall serve these.”

Nassar and the other doctors who took the Israeli government to court graduated from Al Quds, named after the Arabic word for Jerusalem—”the holy one.”

The university’s main campus is located in Abu Dis, a West Bank suburb that straddles Jerusalem’s municipal boundary, but the university also has several satellite campuses, including three in east Jerusalem. The medical school—the first established in the Palestinian territories in 1994—is in Abu Dis.

While pledging its commitment to academic freedom, Al Quds also views itself as a defender of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem. In its brochure, it describes itself as “an embodiment of Palestinian perseverance in Jerusalem.”

Because of the east Jerusalem branches, Israeli authorities have refused to recognize Al Quds as a foreign university, a status conferred on other West Bank institutions of higher learning. The Council of Higher Education in Israel, meanwhile, hasn’t ruled on the university’s repeated requests to put the east Jerusalem campuses of Al Quds under Israeli oversight, university officials said.

As a result, the Israel Health Ministry prevented the Al Quds medical school graduates from taking the Israeli licensing exams that are open to graduates of foreign universities.

In 2009, after legal action, the ministry permitted 15 graduates to take the Israeli exam, but refused to turn this into policy. In 2011, Nassar and other graduates went to court.

Israeli attorney Shlomo Lecker, who represented the young doctors, said Israel was holding his clients “hostage” to pressure Al Quds to close its academic institutions in east Jerusalem.

In early April, Jerusalem’s District Court ruled in favor of the Palestinian doctors, all residents of the city, and said the ministry must let them take the Israeli exams.

Asked if this would now become policy, the ministry said in a written response that “the ruling does not only apply to the petitioners,” but that “we cannot commit to every future case.” It said it would soon “enable those among the Al Quds graduates who are eligible” to take the exams, but “on condition that no appeal will be filed by the state concerning this ruling.”

Dr. Hani Abdeen, the dean of the medical school, said Israel’s refusal to accredit his graduates, particularly the Jerusalem residents, has exacerbated a brain drain. About 75 medical students graduate from Al Quds each year, and of those about 30 to 40 percent move to the U.S., Europe and Arab countries seeking higher pay and advancement opportunities, he said. Some would likely stay if allowed to enter the Israeli system, he said.


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