Heading into the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there were many predictions of trouble — possible terrorism, incomplete construction, unsold tickets and not enough snow. Well, you can take that last item off the list.
Skiers zip by on a practice run at the Rosa Khutor alpine ski course in Russia with not a cloud in the sky above them. You can't hear the skis, though, because there's a snow-making machine blasting water into the cool, dry air. It mists down onto the ground below in fine ice particles: man-made snow.
Thousands of athletes and journalists have already converged on the city along the coast of the Black Sea, and spectators will be streaming in this week. But ahead of the games, the real race is to see if all the last-minute preparations can be completed in time.
The U.S. and other major powers will hold talks with Iran later this month. The goal is turn an interim deal, limiting that nation's nuclear program, into a more lasting agreement. President Obama has asked that Congress give diplomats some room to maneuver and not pass any new sanctions bill. That he says could derail the entire process.
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, this threat of sanctions is just one symptom of a deeper problem that makes these negotiations hard for both sides.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) speaks during a joint press conference with his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt in Tehran on Tuesday. Bildt is visiting to try to bolster the temporary nuclear deal on Iran's nuclear program.
The next round of Iranian nuclear talks with world powers is fast approaching, and there's still a lot of skepticism in the air over the prospects for a comprehensive deal.
Iran will sit down with the U.S. and five other major powers in Vienna on Feb. 18 as they try to hammer out a long-term agreement on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. By most every estimate, it won't be easy to build on the success of a temporary deal drawn up last November given the lingering, visceral mistrust between the United States and Iran.
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're a month into a new year, but we want to start the program today talking through some of the old issues that are bubbling back up in Washington. The political parties are doing that, too. In fact, House Republicans just finished a three-day retreat in Maryland to plan their strategy for the year. And one of the issues they focused on was immigration.
A Sikh devotee takes a holy dip in the sacred pond at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, on Jan. 1. The British government acknowledged Tuesday it advised India before the deadly 1984 raid on Sikhism's holiest shrine.
Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 9:33 am
We told you last month about revelations that Britain had aided India three decades ago in a deadly raid on the Golden Temple to remove separatist militants holed up in Sikhisim's holiest shrine. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that British military advice had "limited impact" on the operation.
Here's what Hague told Parliament about the June 1984 raid in Amritsar, India:
Red Guards — high school and university students — wave copies of Chairman Mao Zedong's <em>Little Red Book</em> during a parade in June 1966 in Beijing's streets at the beginning of China's Cultural Revolution. More than 1 million people are believed to have died during the decade-long upheaval.
Credit Jean Vincent / AFP/Getty Images
Mao Zedong reviews the army forces of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" at Tiananmen Square in August 1966.
Credit STR / AFP/Getty Images
A propaganda poster from Beijing in late 1966 features Red Guards and an "enemy of the people."
Credit Jean Vincent / AFP/Getty Images
Chen Xiaolu is one of the most high-profile former Red Guards to publicly apologize for the attacks against his teachers. "Looking back on it, I believe their human rights and dignity were trampled upon," says Chen, shown here in the courtyard of his Beijing residence.
Credit Anthony Kuhn / NPR
Miss Cho, a 15-year-old high school student and Red Guard leader, exhorts her fellow students during a rally held in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1966.
Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 9:17 am
It's a question that's been vexing American diplomats for months:
Why won't Afghan President Hamid Karzai sign a security agreement with the U.S. — a deal that President Obama and his aides say needs Karzai's signature if any American troops are going to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year?
As Sean Carberry, NPR's Kabul correspondent, has said:
It's the kind of international crisis that is numbingly familiar: a coup, followed by a steep descent into sectarian bloodshed and revenge killings. This is what's happening now in the Central African Republic.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The coup happened last year. It was led by a rebel group call Seleka, drawn from the minority Muslim community in this largely Christian country. After the coup, many of the Muslim rebels targeted Christian neighborhoods, plundering and killing. And then came a moment of hope.
The eruption of an Indonesian volcano has claimed its first fatalities. It happened in recent days. Mount Sinabung has been erupting for about three months after 400 years of quiet. Nobody knows how bad this could get, but already the volcano is sending scalding ash a mile into the sky and it killed 14 people last weekend. Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Otto is on the line in Jakarta. Welcome to the program, sir.
BEN OTTO: Hi. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: What does the erupting volcano look like?
A young girl receives a polio vaccine at the Isteqlal hospital in Kabul on Sept.19, 2011.
Credit Adek Berry / AFP/Getty Images
Eid Mohammed who suffers from from chronic malnutrition, lies on a bed at Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital, in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2011. In 2001, one of every four children born in Afghanistan died by the age of five. Today, one in 10 children dies by age 5.
One of the most dramatic changes in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban is the increase in average life expectancy from 45 to 62 years. That gain is almost entirely a function of reductions in child mortality due to the spread of basic health services.
Yet Afghanistan still has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, and there could be significant backsliding as the international community reduces aid after NATO troops withdraw at the end of this year.
The pillars for the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, commonly known as the "Third Bridge" rise from the Anatolian and European sides of the Bosphorus, above the fishing harbor of Poyrazkoy. When completed, the bridge will be over two kilometers in length, making it the longest combination railway/highway bridge in the world.
Credit Jodi Hilton for NPR
The fishing harbor of Poyrazkoy is across the Bosphorus from Garipce and will also be traversed by the Third Bosphorus Bridge.
Credit Jodi Hilton for NPR
Fishermen in a tea house that overlooks the Bosphorus and has a view of The Third Bosphorus Bridge, currently under construction. It will span the Istanbul fishing village of Garipce.
Credit Jodi Hilton for NPR
The center of Istanbul municipality Arnavutkoy, a fast-growing residential area of Istanbul miles away from the city center. Investors hope the planned Istanbul Canal project would generate huge profits. Environmentalists warn it would be a disaster for water quality in the Bosphorus and adjoining Marmara Sea.
Credit Jodi Hilton for NPR
Bekir Memis, a realtor in Arnavutkoy, shows the plan for the planned Istanbul Canal that realtors and speculators are confident will bring huge profits, despite the fact that that the residential area is many miles outside of Istanbul's urban core.
Istanbul has long been a city of historical layers and sharp contrasts: ancient monuments share the skyline none too comfortably with modern skyscrapers, and charming cobbled streets run alongside massive highway traffic snarls.
Those contrasts have multiplied under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his love of giant building projects hasn't abated after more than a decade in power.
This cable car line in London, shown on Jan. 27, was built in time for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in the city. It is taking 35 percent fewer visitors than predicted.
Credit Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images
Britain's Mo Farah jumps in the air after winning in the men's 3000 meters at International Association of Athletics Federations championships at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2013. Major Olympic venues continue to be used in London.
Ronald Reagan once joked that the game Trivial Pursuit had a special economists' edition: It came with 100 questions and 3,000 answers. Economists are notorious for being unable to agree on anything. So it's striking that on the finances of the Olympics, they almost all agree.
"Investing in the Olympics is not worth the investment," says Andy Zimbalist of Smith College.
"You build all these facilities that are perfect for the Olympics, that are not really as desirable once the circus leaves town," says Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago.
Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 12:27 pm
Twenty-seven bodies have been recovered from the ruins of a home for senior citizens in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, and authorities believe that bone fragments found in the burned-out building will help them identify five more victims.
The search is over at the site, which was consumed by a fire on Jan. 23. It took 10 days to search the wreckage because water used to fight the flames had frozen. In some spots, ice was more than a foot thick.
In January, this Free Syrian Army fighter stood in front of graffiti in Aleppo that read, roughly, "down with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." On Monday, al-Qaida's leadership said it has no ties with that jihadist group.
Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 9:17 am
In a statement posted Monday on websites where other messages from the terrorist network have appeared, al-Qaida's leadership reportedly denies it has any ties with one of the Islamist fighting groups that has joined the battle for control in Syria.
Residents enjoy a meal at the Quilombo Sacopa in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. Brazil has some 3,000 <em>quilombo</em> communities, which were formed by runaway slaves, dating to the 19th century. Residents have been promised ownership of their land but say the legal process has moved slowly.
Credit Victor R. Caivano / AP
Slave Anastacia, a figure venerated by many as a saint in Brazil, decorates a public space in the Quilombo Sacopa in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil was the last country in the Americas to outlaw slavery, and it imported more slaves than any other country in the region. Some 4 million Africans were enslaved in Brazil.
Some ran away from the brutal treatment, forming hidden communities all over the country known as quilombos. Their descendants — called the quilombolas — were granted land rights in 1988. That was exactly a century after slavery was outlawed. But to this day, very few have actually gotten legal ownership of the land where their families have lived for generations.
The stage is set for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russia resort town on the Black Sea. With only a few days to go, the scene is still looking raw — from unfinished landscaping to unready hotels.
Many of the world's top diplomats met over the weekend along with defense officials for an annual security conference in Munich, Germany. Top of the agenda were two countries in particular: Ukraine and Iran.
Central African Republic has a new interim president, and she is pledging to reunite her divided nation. It won't be easy to end months of interreligious violence and anarchy. The Senegalese singing superstar Youssou N'Dour hopes things work out. He's teamed up with an artist from CAR to record a song for peace. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
YOUSSOU N'DOUR AND IDYLLE MAMBA: (Singing in foreign language)
Graffiti covers a vent adjacent to the Athens Olympic Stadium in this photo from Feb. 18, 2012. Expenditures on the 2004 Athens Summer Games contributed to the country's debt load, which sparked the current economic crisis.
Credit Oli Scarff / Getty Images
A worker walks past the Olympic torch and the Bolshoy Ice Dome in the Olympic Park as preparations continue Thursday ahead of the Sochi Winter Games. Russia has spent $50 billion on the 2014 games — the most expensive in history.
Credit Pavel Golovkin / AP
Visitors walk through Westfield Shopping Centre, near London's Olympic Park, on Aug. 1, 2012. The area continues to thrive economically — at least for now.
Credit AFP/Getty Images
Cranes sit idle at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Stadium in London on Nov. 11, 2013. Weather delayed work to transform it into a year-round multi-use venue, the home of West Ham United Football Club and the new national competition stadium for UK Athletics.
Credit Nick Ansell / PA Photos/Landov
The canoe and kayak stadium used during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens (shown here on June 11, 2012) has fallen into disrepair.
With the campaign for Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election officially underway, three questions are commonly asked around Kabul: Do you think the presidential election will be held on April 5? Will the election be held at all this year? Who do you think will win?
Right now, 11 men are vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who is term-limited. If the election goes well, it would mark the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych says he will return to work on Monday after a brief sick leave, likely setting the stage for a new round of anti-government unrest.
As many as 30,000 protesters gathered in the capital, Kiev, on Sunday, renewing calls for Yanukovych to step down.
The president had announced his sick leave on Thursday, prompting concern that, as The Associated Press writes, "he may have been taking himself out of action in preparation for declaring a state of emergency."
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. When you hear us say Karachi, Pakistan, you might assume we're going to bring you're a story about terrorism or a bombing or a kidnapping - and you would often be right. It is the most violent city in all of Pakistan. But NPR's Philip Reeves found that isn't all there is to the city. In fact, there's often a gap between Karachi's reputation and the reality of the place, as he explains in this letter from Pakistan.
That was NPR's Steve Inskeep reporting last summer. And that piece he referenced still feels very far off to the people of Homs. The city has now been under siege for nearly 600 days. In that time, tens of thousands of people have fled or been displaced from their homes.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul is the president of the Syrian-American Medical Society. He's originally from Homs. He described what the situation is like now.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
Talks in Geneva have ended without any concrete action on Syria. In fact, even without a concrete promise from the Assad government that it will show up for another round of talks next week. The two sides had lengthy discussions about sending aid into the Syrian city of Homs, Syria's third-largest city. But they couldn't agree on passage for an aid convoy. And that means hundreds are still stranded without food or medicine.