Jessica Wohl & Nivedita Bhattacharjee | Reuters
A trans-Atlantic divide between European and U.S. retailers over how best to respond to fatal disasters in Bangladesh textile factories split wide open on Wednesday, with U.S. retailers claiming their European counterparts are giving labour unions too much control over ensuring workplace safety.
Some U.S. retailers, including Gap Inc, had said they would not join the European pact without changes to the way conflicts are resolved in the courts. The rhetoric sharpened considerably when a U.S. trade group, the National Retail Federation, after calls with member companies and other groups, issued a stinging rebuke of the European-led safety accord.
The U.S. solidarity did show one high-profile crack late Wednesday when Abercrombie & Fitch Co announced it had verbally agreed to join the accord.
Jonathan Soble | The Financial Times
The architects of Japan’s assault on the yen could be forgiven for thinking Osamu Suzuki, the grand old man of the country’s automobile industry, a tad ungrateful.
At an earnings briefing last week, the outspoken 83-year-old chief executive of Suzuki Motor questioned the very currency depreciation that helped his company expand its net profit by half in the latest fiscal year.
“The yen has fallen enough to make you want to ask, ‘Hey, is this safe?’” he said, before delivering a mini-lecture on the economics of Japanese manufacturing that seemed aimed straight at Shinzo Abe, the prime minister and yen-buster-in-chief.
“We’ve been investing in India, Thailand and Indonesia, and we won’t suddenly bring production back to Japan just because the yen is cheaper,” he said. “Taking a long-term view, we will accelerate overseas production, no question about it.”
A Rohingya Muslim child wearing traditional makeup outside a tent at a camp for people displaced by violence, near Sittwe, Burma. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters
Ukrainian opposition deputies hold a large flag with the portrait of jailed former prime minister and the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko as they shout the slogan ‘Freedom for Yulia!’ during a speech by the Ukrainian President in the parliament in Kiev. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian boys march as they take part in a rally to mark Nakba Day in the West Bank city of Ramallah to mark 65 years of ‘Nakba’ (Catastrophe) that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
David Pilling | The Financial Times
Vietnam has had its own political soap opera. In its case, the focus was Nguyen Tan Dung, the prime minister, who had become the country’s most powerful figure. As in China, the battle was mostly fought by proxy, starting with the unmasking of Vinashin, a state-owned shipbuilding company that had amassed hulking debts of $4.4bn. Mr Dung had thrown his weight behind the supposed champion of national industry, which proved better at siphoning off state funds for party hacks than at making ships. Vinashin’s chairman was the fall guy. He got 20 years.
There were other casualties of the proxy war, including one of the country’s best-connected tycoons, the co-founder of Asia Commercial Bank, which was backed by Standard Chartered. Though the raw politicking was sometimes dressed up as an ideological struggle over the country’s future, it looked suspiciously like fighting over spoils.
At times, it was touch-and-go for the prime minister. He survived but was forced to eat humble pie when, last October, he apologised to the National Assembly for his mishandling of state coffers.
The government has also made gestures designed to show it has learnt its lesson. Not for the first time, it promised to overhaul the state sector. It has even opened a consultative process on constitutional reform, entertaining ideas from the public on everything from land reform to equal rights for gays and lesbians. Neither democracy nor party supremacy is up for discussion.
Jamil Anderlini | The Financial Times
On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a surprise visit to a job fair in the eastern city of Tianjin while Premier Li Keqiang warned the country faces an unprecedented challenge in finding jobs for a record number of university graduates.
In a nationwide teleconference on Monday that was widely reported in state media on Wednesday, Mr Li said that nearly 7m tertiary students would enter the job market in July in China, the largest number in the country’s history. He said it was an “important task” to find jobs for all these graduates, who make up a demographic considered potentially threatening to Communist Party rule if they become disaffected in large numbers.
Carlos Barria | Reuters | The Atlantic
Last weekend, Reuters photographer Carlos Barria traveled to Zheijiang Province, China, to photograph some of the 1,000 Harley Davidson enthusiasts who attended China’s 5th annual Harley Davidson National Rally, part of the company’s 110-year anniversary. Harley Davidson only began official sales in China in 2005, and its bikes are considered to be luxury items by Chinese tax authorities, so they are taxed at extremely high rates — a 2013 motorcycle might sell for 200,000 yuan ($32,500), approximately four times the average annual salary in Beijing. Transportation authorities have also placed Harleys in the same category as electric bikes, horses and bicycles, so they cannot be ridden on highways and major avenues.
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Maurice Lévy | The Financial Times
As for France, despite an economy that is objectively in better shape than that of neighbouring Latin countries, it is a northern iceberg drifting south in terms of its attitude. The French are the most pessimistic people in Europe – no mean feat when only one European out of every four or five still has confidence in their elites. Petrified by the fear of losing their rank – both individually and as a nation – the French are troubled by the absence of real reforms that might light a path out of economic gloom.
Our economy is cumbersome, with archaic and incomprehensible administrative structures piled one on top of another, and a welfare system that simply costs far too much. My fellow citizens clearly know this. Our surveys find that the stated views of ordinary French people are much more lucid than the unrealistic promises of our political class. The French left still cherishes the fantasy that it can redistribute wealth that the nation no longer produces. Suspicious of business, successive Socialist governments have repeatedly made bad decisions, including the 35-hour working week and a taxation regime far beyond what the country’s gaping budget requires – amounting, in fact, to a punitive confiscation. Meanwhile, the right closeted itself in demi-reforms, not daring to voice the reality of our economic prospects.
Haroon Siddique | The Guardian
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has expressed confidence that the capital could gain powers to raise property and other new taxes while he remains in office.
Backing a report, published on Wednesday, that calls for greater financial freedom for London in order to improve the city’s infrastructure, the mayor suggested that no reasonable person would be able to refuse the demands. It recommends that London should be given complete control over property taxes, including council tax, stamp duty and business rates, as well as the ability to levy new taxes such as a tourist tax.
Johnson said what he was asking for was “not a revolution, not an attempt to create a city state out of London. It’s a sensible and moderate attempt to face the challenges London has.”
Demonstrators hold placards protesting against government changes to the welfare system and the proposed ‘bedroom tax’ outside the high court in London, England. The tax is being challenged at the high court by a group of families who care for disabled people, claiming discrimination as spare rooms used in coping with disability have resulted in welfare benefit cuts. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Sibylla Brodzinsky | The Guardian
No matter the time of day or night, morticians stand guard by the gate of the city morgue, waiting for the next body to be released so they can offer their services to grieving families. In the most violent city in the most violent country in the world, they never have to wait for long.
“Satan himself lives here in San Pedro,” says one nervous mortician who asks to be identified only as Lucas. “People here kill people like they’re nothing more than chickens.”
Last year, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a country of just 8 million inhabitants, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (NAUH). That’s a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with 56 in Venezuela, 4.78 in the US and 1.2 in the UK.
In San Pedro Sula, the rate is 173, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone. The city is the country’s manufacturing and commercial hub. Dozens of maquiladoras – export assembly plants – churn out New Balance T-shirts and Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts for markets abroad. It should be a bustling place, but there is little movement on the streets and the air is tense. At newsstands, headlines cry out details of the previous day’s grisly crimes. Few cars have number plates; most have black-tinted windows.
Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi | India Ink | The New York Times
Yogesh Chile is the real face of India’s new middle class. Mr. Chile, 30, earns the equivalent of $500 a month supplying sand to construction sites in Mumbai, and after decades of urban poverty and living in the slums, his family has finally broken into the lower end of India’s middle class.
Their modest apartment building has sprung up between Mumbai’s clichéd but real extremes – squalid shanties and helipad-topped luxury skyscrapers in Parel, a fast-growing neighborhood in central Mumbai. Having moved out of the slums, Mr. Chile now dreams of living in the “towers” someday.
Mr. Chile is a politically crucial character – he is urban India’s median voter in age and income, whose views often reflect the middle-class policy consensus, where most votes are likely to be won.
India Ink | The New York Times
Demonstrators wearing masks of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a protest in Guwahati, Assam. Mr. Singh represents the state in the upper house of Parliament, or Rajya Sabha.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Sophie Butcher | Lightbox | Time
Oil-driven development has propelled cities and suburbs through drastic change. Foreigners now make up 85% of the population, people come and go, and with them come radical cultural shifts. Philipe Cheung’s approach is interesting and unusual, focusing on rather anonymous objects in sparse environments. Ultimately, his photographs show the strange and beautiful result of two very different cultures — the local Bedouin culture and the international business-oriented culture — as they try to co-exist in one space.
Cheung explains that the absence of men, women and cultural reference points was deliberate, so that he may push the boundaries of the kinds of photos he wanted to make, and take a closer look at the environment and its awkward subtleties. “My focus for the project is space — as a holding environment for human interaction or the remnants of it. People, especially the expatriates, are present in many of the images indirectly as the foreign influence on this evolving space.”
Today, when one searches for ‘Abu Dhabi’ online, there are pages and pages of links detailing countless tourist attractions and activities. Cheung’s series of photographs are an interesting documentation of this change, but also act as a personal reminder of Cheung’s experience there. “Taking these photos was like writing in a journal,” he says. Now, back in Toronto and starting to re-build a home for himself, he looks back on his five year journey.
“Just like all those people coming in and out of the city, it felt like my time to go through the revolving door and head home.”
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Philip Cheung: A cleaning person at the Ice Land Water Park in Ras-Al Khaimah, an Emirate in northern UAE.
Andrew Finkel | Latitude | The New York Times
ISTANBUL — The first request of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, when he visits the White House on Thursday, will surely be that his hosts stop dragging their feet on Syria. Turkey wants the United States to show the same muscle there that it displayed in Libya in order to bring down Bashar al-Assad.
This is quite an about-face for a persistent critic of Washington’s repeated blunders in the Middle East, especially its 2003 intervention in Iraq. It is also a loss of face for a government that has claimed it understands the complexities of the area like no one else. It is, in effect, an admission that despite Turkey’s recent ambitions to be a major player in the region, its actual reach is limited.
The reasons for Turkey’s impatience are obvious. There are already some 300,000 Syrian refugees on its soil, and that number may triple by the end of the year. Last Saturday the mayhem that grips Syria spilled over the border: Two separate blasts killed more than 50 Turks in the border town of Reyhanli.
Christophe Deloire & Joel Simon | Foreign Policy
. . . when Erdogan visits Washington on May 16, Obama needs to deliver a different message: Turkey’s failure to address its press freedom crisis is undermining the country strategic relationship with the United States and hindering its regional aspirations.
Turkey’s record on press freedom is deeply troubling. With 47 journalists imprisoned for their work, the country is the world’s leading jailer of journalists — ahead of Iran and China. Most of those imprisoned were employed by media outlets that support Kurdish autonomy; others are accused of supporting an ultra-nationalist conspiracy to topple the government. Thousands more journalists are battling punitive lawsuits for reporting on a wide range of sensitive issues, exposing corruption or simply criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan has continuously lashed out at the media, forcing top reporters and editors from their jobs. After columnist and television host Nuray Mert challenged the government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority, for example, Erdogan implied that she was a traitor, prompting her politically sensitive employers to canceled her television show and newspaper column. A similar fate befell Hasan Cemal, a columnist at the daily Milliyet, after he published the minutes from a secret government meeting with jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.
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