This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. The war in and around Syria grows more horrific and more dangerous day by day: tens of thousands dead, many more injured, over a million refugees in neighboring countries and who knows how many millions displaced inside Syria itself.
It's almost hard to remember the early days of what's now grown into a civil war. More than two years ago, NPR's Deborah Amos reported on activists hopeful that Syria would be changed by the Arab spring.
A new gastronomic guide to Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns — for a cool $35 — has just been published. A new boutique hotel perched on top of one of Rio's previously most dangerous favelas is about to open. And yes, there is a jazz club and yoga, too.
These are new services catering to a new kind of favela resident.
It's too early to tell whether North Korea's offer on Thursday of talks with the South — potentially the first such dialogue in years — is more than just another negotiating tactic.
But Seoul readily accepted the offer, and though Pyongyang said the agenda should be discussing the reopening of the jointly run Kaesong factory complex inside North Korea, it left the door open for the possibility of broader negotiations.
Like the U.S. and many other Western countries, Spain's building boom in the previous decade was a major factor in its economic implosion. And now a trio of civil engineers in Spain has created a website that offers a dramatic before-and-after view of the country's construction bubble.
After years of distrust, China's government says it wants a new type of great power relationship with the United States. Chinese President Xi Jinping will begin trying to lay the groundwork Friday at a summit with President Obama in California, but just what kind of relationship does Xi want?
"He wants to challenge the Cold War mentality, which believes that the existing power and also the emerging power cannot have a relationship other than conflictual," says Cheng Li, a specialist in Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Kidnappings and other crime have infiltrated every aspect of daily life in Venezuela, especially the capital, Caracas, which was recently ranked the world's third most violent city.
Credit Jasmine Garsd / NPR
German Garcia-Velutini, a banker, was kidnapped in Caracas and held for 11 months in 2009. Now, he says, he is imprisoned by his bodyguards and feels free only when he is out of the country.
Credit Fernando Llano / AP
Two men participate in a kidnapping drill in an intensive self-defense course at the School of Personal Protection in Caracas. In 2011, there were 1,150 reported kidnappings in Caracas alone. It's widely believed that the vast majority of kidnappings aren't reported at all — in large part because many victims believe their kidnappers are police.
German Garcia-Velutini got into his car and left work one day. It took him 11 months to get home.
Kidnappers had nabbed the Venezuelan banker. His abduction is part of a problem that's been getting worse every year for the past decade in Venezuela, which belongs to a region riddled with crime and the most violent cities in the world.
Gracia-Velutini tells his story at an outdoor table at a hotel in Caracas, the capital, with a view of a mountainside that climbs into the clouds.
Fire officers walk past the fire-damaged Al-Rahma Islamic Centre in Muswell Hill in London Wednesday. Counter-terrorism officers have been called in amid suspicions that it was a racially motivated attack.
Two weeks after the brutal murder of a British soldier that brought a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K., a fire devastated an Islamic community center in London Wednesday. Scotland Yard says the cause of the blaze is being treated as suspicious.
"Graffiti was found amid the charred ruins, including an abbreviation for a far right anti-Muslim fringe group," NPR's Philip Reeves reports for our Newscast unit. "Detectives are trying to figure out when it was written."
The International Monetary Fund has admitted "notable failures" in the Greek bailout, saying in a report Thursday that despite the steps Greece's recession and unemployment problem were more severe than anticipated.
The report said the program had succeeded in keeping Greece within the eurozone and mostly prevented the country's economic troubles from spilling over to the rest of the region. "However," it said:
As President Obama meets his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, many experts hope this will be the start of something new: regular high-level contacts. History shows it is always dangerous when established powers face rising powers.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under fire for working with the government on a number of issues. Here, she meets in March with protesters who oppose a copper mine backed by Chinese investors. She supports the mining project.
To her many admirers in the international community, Aung San Suu Kyi remains one of the world's best known democracy icons.
But in Myanmar, also known as Burma, she is now very much a politician who is being criticized for trying to cooperate with the former military rulers who kept her under house arrest for nearly two decades.
If you want to see the old, iconic Aung San Suu Kyi, just head to the bustling headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD, in Yangon, the country's largest city and former capital.
Mayor Michael Bell hopes Chinese investment will help revive his blue-collar city. He helped broker a deal to sell a chunk of Toledo's waterfront to Chinese investors. Host Michel Martin and Mayor Bell discuss investments with China and what he thinks President Obama and China President Xi Jinping can accomplish during their U.S. visit.
Born to Chinese parents in what is now Thailand, Eng and Chang Bunker became famous throughout the world as "Siamese twins." The brothers were joined at the base of their chests. After years of being displayed at exhibitions, they settled in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1830s. They married two local North Carolina sisters and had a total of 21 children.
Syrian soldiers stand in the main square of the western city of Qusair. Government troops recaptured the town on Wednesday after rebels had held it for more than a year. It's seen as a significant victory for President Bashar Assad's government.
Qusair is a sleepy farming town not far from my hometown. I passed through it many times as a child and never imagined it would one day make international headlines as the focal point of Syria's civil war.
I wish it had remained a quiet place defined by the many agricultural fields of wheat and barley, along with apricot and apple trees, all of them well-watered by the Orontes River.
Less than 10 miles from the Lebanese border, Qusair was a mixed town of Christians, Sunnis and Shiites. Not anymore.
Renee Montagne talks to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated about the second week of the French Open tennis tournament. In quarterfinal action Tuesday, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated veteran champ Roger Federer in straight sets.
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Today will be a dramatic one at the Lewis-McChord military base in Washington state. That is where Sergeant Robert Bales will stand before an Army judge and confess to killing 16 Afghan villagers in a late-night rampage last year. His confession is part of a plea deal that could save Bales from the death penalty.
Sectarian violence has flared in Iraq a year and a half after the departure of American forces. The U.N. reported that more than 1,000 people were killed there in May, the deadliest violence since the height of the insurgency during the U.S. occupation. For more on what's causing the chaos, Linda Wertheimer talks with Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group.
The Obama administration is expressing deep concern about guilty verdicts in Egypt against 43 people who were working on democracy programs in the country. Sixteen of them are Americans, though most left Egypt when the charges were brought against them. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that issue is one of many complicating Washington's relations with Cairo.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Charles Dunne wasn't even in Egypt when he first heard about the charges against him and he never received anything official from the court.
In Syria, the battle for Qusair is over with the government saying it is in full control of that strategic town, which has been in rebel hands for two years. Qusair sits along a key supply route in and out of Lebanon. And one Syrian general, a government general, told Lebanon's Mayadeen TV that whoever controls Qusair controls the country.
NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Beirut. She joins us now for an update. Good morning.
Spain's King Juan Carlos, his daughter Infanta Cristina and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are seen together on May 22, 2006. A corruption scandal involving Urdangarin, as well as the royal family's lifestyle is contributing to the public's diminishing respect for the monarchy.
With Spain's economy in shreds, the country is doing a lot of finger-pointing about who was at fault and where all the money has gone. The latest suspects: the Spanish royal family.
The reputation of the current Spanish king, Juan Carlos, was seemingly cemented one day 32 years ago when armed civil guard officers stormed the Spanish Parliament, holding lawmakers hostage in an attempted coup.
The king went on live TV, denouncing the officers.
"The crown cannot tolerate any action that interrupts the strength of the democratic process," he said.
Faced with reports of a "black spot" that interfered with the mobile network in several neighborhoods, technicians at Australian cellphone provider Telstra say they recently found the source of the problem: a man's beer fridge in his garage. The refrigerator was tracked by "software robots" and workers wielding special antennas.
Forms of tuberculosis are emerging that are costly, difficult and at times, nearly impossible to treat. This new, worldwide threat is called multidrug-resistant TB, and it occurs when the bacteria no longer respond to the most common TB medications. Doctors have to turn, instead, to older, less effective drugs that can have devastating side effects such as hearing loss, blindness, aches and severe depression.
The civil war in Syria is attracting fighters from all over, increasing sectarian tensions in other Muslim countries, threatening the region's tenuous stability, bringing the threat of Russian missiles, and leaving the U.S with few good options.
More than 80,000 people have been killed so far in Syria's civil war, and 4 million of Syria's 20 million people have been displaced. Robert Malley, the program director for Middle East and North Africa for the International Crisis Group, calls it "one of the most catastrophic humanitarian disasters we're facing."
Sixty years on, this retro dish is still a favorite with Her Majesty.
Cheers For The Queen ... And The Chicken: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, greet supporters from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, following her coronation, June 2, 1953.
If you want to eat like a queen, maybe it's time to break out the cold chicken, curry and cream sauce.
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 60th anniversary of her coronation in a ceremony Tuesday at Westminster Abbey. But the event also marks the anniversary of a dish as resilient as the British monarch herself: Coronation Chicken.
Palestinian gunmen drag a man from a motorcycle in Gaza City on Nov. 20. He was one of six men killed that day on suspicion of collaborating with Israel. The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip denied responsibility, though it has executed others judged to be working with Israel's security forces.
Life was already grim in the Gaza Strip when fighting raged between Israel and Hamas last November. Then Khulud Badawi got unexpected bad news about her husband.
"I was at home when my son came in and said, 'Mom, they killed Dad.' I said, 'Who?' He said, 'Hamas.' I asked him, 'Where?' He said, 'Next to the gas station,'" she recalls.
Badawi's husband, Ribhi Badawi, was in prison in Gaza City. He was supposed to go to court that day for a final appeal of charges that he had collaborated with Israel against Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.
The French weren't the first to make wine? Mon dieu! But as anyone who has sipped a Bordeaux, Champagne or Burgundy can tell you, the French got pretty good at it once they learned how. And thanks to some molecular archaeology, researchers can now confirm they picked up these skills as early as 425 B.C.
So who taught the French the art of viniculture? Probably the ancient Italians, says the man with perhaps the coolest nickname in science research — the "Indiana Jones of alcohol," Patrick McGovern.