The New York Times 2024-05-16 01:11:53


Middle East Crisis: Blinken Says Rafah Fighting Threatens Aid Gains in Gaza

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Gaza aid gains may be lost as fighting rages in Rafah, the U.S. secretary of state says.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned on Wednesday that recent gains in getting desperately needed humanitarian aid to people in the Gaza Strip risked being undone by the fighting in southern Gaza.

For over a week, since Israel began what it describes as a limited military operation against Hamas in the southern city of Rafah, one border crossing vital to the transit of the aid has been closed, and another severely restricted.

“At the very time when Israel was taking important and much needed steps to improve the provision of humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Blinken said, “we’ve seen a negative impact on the fact that we have this active, very active conflict in the in the Rafah area.”

He noted that “we also seen Hamas firing at the crossings themselves, making it also more difficult.”

Mr. Blinken’s comments came as Israel and Egypt traded blame over the continued closure of the crossing between Egypt and Gaza nearly 10 days after the Israeli army took over the Gazan side.

Hundreds of trucks in Egypt have been blocked from reaching Gaza, and wounded and ill people in Gaza who need medical care outside the territory, as well as families trying to escape the war, have been unable to leave.

Humanitarian officials say the closure of the entry point has exacerbated an already devastating aid situation, with prices for many food items surging and fuel becoming scarce.

Israeli forces seized the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing at the Egyptian border as part of what they have described as a limited military operation against Hamas. The raid effectively closed the crossing, though Israeli officials have signaled they are willing to reopen it.

Israel had shut down another crossing — Kerem Shalom — after a Hamas rocket attack nearby killed four Israeli soldiers. It has since reopened, but the aid getting through is still very limited. Egypt, where most of the aid for Gaza is collected and loaded, has resisted sending trucks toward Kerem Shalom, according to multiple officials. American and Israeli officials believe that Egypt is trying to put pressure on Israel to pull back from the Rafah operation.

Israel has accused Egypt of holding up the delivery of aid. Egypt has blamed Israel for the fighting around the border that has created dangerous conditions for aid deliveries to take place. There has been intense bombardment and fighting around Rafah since last week.

Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, said on Tuesday that he had spoken to European foreign ministers about the “need to persuade Egypt” to allow the “continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

“The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” he said. He said that Israel would not return the crossing to what he described as Hamas’s control.

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, quickly pushed back, saying that the crossing was still closed because of Israel’s control over it, and because its military operations were putting truck drivers and aid workers in danger. In a statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Mr. Shoukry rejected what he described as “the policy of twisting facts.”

Israeli officials rarely make public criticisms of Egypt, with which Israel maintains a decades-old peace treaty and sensitive security cooperation.

Defying international pressure, Israel launched a limited invasion of Rafah on May 6, taking over areas in the east. Even if trucks were allowed to pass through the Rafah crossing, it was not clear if they could safely navigate through eastern Rafah, where Israeli forces have been fighting Hamas militants.

Israel recently opened two new routes for aid trucks to enter northern Gaza directly.

“We’re also seeing real progress in the north, where more is coming through,” Mr. Blinken said. “But what we don’t want to see is a situation where we basically reverse what’s happened in recent months.”

Palestinians workers evacuated the Kerem Shalom crossing before the arrival of Israeli forces, according to Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian side of the crossing. Israel has asked the Palestinian Authority to send its employees to help run the crossing, but not in their official capacity, said two Palestinian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss messages exchanged between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

The authority’s leadership swiftly rejected the proposal, said the officials.

Mahmoud al-Habbash, a religious affairs adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the authority, said that Israel needed to withdraw from the crossing before Palestinian Authority employees would take responsibility for operating it.

“How can we work with Israeli tanks there?” he asked in an interview. “In terms of principle, that’s unacceptable, not to mention the fact that would be dangerous for Palestinians.”

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, Mr. al-Habbash said, would also need to be reassured that the return of the authority to the Rafah crossing was part of a broader effort to reintegrate the governing body back into Gaza.

“We don’t reject steps being taken one after another, but it must be known that the Rafah crossing is part of Gaza, and a solution for the Rafah crossing is part of the solution for Gaza, and the solution for Gaza is part of the solution for all parts of the Palestinian state,” he said.

In public statements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has all but ruled out the authority returning to Gaza, a prospect supported by the United States.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

Key Developments

Israel’s defense minister chided the Netanyahu government for lacking a postwar Gaza plan, and other news.

  • Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, warned on Wednesday that Israel could slide toward establishing military rule over Gaza unless an alternative government is set up. Seven months into the war, Israel has yet to settle on a proper civilian alternative to Hamas’s administration, Mr. Gallant told reporters, saying that he had submitted his own plan for different “Palestinian entities” to take charge. He called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to explicitly rule out setting up “military governance” in Gaza. “Since October, I have been raising this issue consistently in the cabinet and have received no response,” said Mr. Gallant. “The end of the military campaign must come with political action.”

  • Palestinians on Wednesday marked the mass displacement of the hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the wars surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948. Palestinians call that period the Nakba — the disaster — and generally hold rallies on May 15, the date Israel declared its independence. This year, the commemoration of the historical trauma falls as war once again forces Palestinians to flee their homes. An estimated 1.7 million Gazans have been displaced by the Israeli assault.

  • Israel will “significantly increase” its quota of foreign workers to help address a labor shortage stemming from the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday. More than 300,000 workers, up to 3.3 percent of Israel’s population, will be allowed to work in the country under new measures, according to a statement. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks, Palestinians, who had made up a sizable portion of Israel’s labor force, have mostly been barred from the country, leading to shortages of workers in construction, agriculture and other sectors.

  • Deadly gunfire that hit a United Nations-marked car in Rafah came from a tank, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday. The spokesman, Farhan Haq, said the United Nations had yet to determine who was responsible for the incident on Monday, but added that the Israeli military is the only force known to have deployed tanks in Gaza. The gunfire killed a U.N. staff member who was identified as Col. Waibhav Anil Kale, an Indian citizen who worked for the U.N. Department of Safety and Security, Mr. Haq said. A Jordanian woman working for the same agency was injured in the gunfire and is recovering, he said

Israel says it is intensifying operations in northern Gaza, where Hamas has returned.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that its forces were escalating military operations in parts of northern Gaza where they have recently returned, prompting concerns over the country’s longer-term strategy as it tries to crack down on a renewed Hamas insurgency there.

Over 100,000 Palestinians have fled parts of northern Gaza since Israel ordered a mass evacuation on Saturday, according to the United Nations. Israeli forces have repeatedly gone back to sweep areas in the north during their seven-month war with Hamas, unable to decisively end the presence of armed fighters there.

Israeli forces were homing in on the Jabaliya refugee camp, according to the Israeli military and Palestinian residents. The camp is a built-up urban area largely populated by Palestinians who were displaced during the wars surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948, as well as their descendants.

Israeli forces were advancing into the neighborhood under heavy airstrikes and shelling, said Raafat Nasr, a resident of downtown Jabaliya. Hamas’s armed wing said on the Telegram social messaging app that its fighters were engaging Israeli troops in Jabaliya refugee camp, firing on soldiers and armored vehicles.

Mr. Nasr, 50, decided to remain in his home with his wife and two children amid “terrifying explosions,” he said. They are rationing what little food and water they have.

His family is scattered: Two of his children, along with his grandchildren, are trying to flee Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, in the face of an Israeli incursion there.

“Nowhere in Gaza is safe, and we don’t have anywhere left to go,” Mr. Nasr said.

Israeli forces concluded a separate operation in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood on Wednesday, the military said. At least five soldiers were killed during that incursion, according to military statistics.

The military’s return to areas like Jabaliya and Zeitoun heightened fears that the country was bogged down in a long-term conflict in Gaza without any exit strategy. Former Israeli officials have argued that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal of fully toppling Hamas’s rule in Gaza is unrealistic as long as his government fails to present any alternative to the Palestinian armed group to govern the territory.

On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu sought to bat away the criticism, saying there was “no substitute for military victory” against Hamas. “Discussions about ‘the day after’ as long as Hamas remains is just empty talk,” he said in a statement.

Anas al-Tayeb, another Jabaliya resident, fled with his family on Saturday morning, hours after receiving the evacuation order. Reached by phone in Gaza City, Mr. al-Tayeb said he could still hear the blasts and feared for his home, which had been mostly undamaged since the start of the war.

The renewed fighting in northern Gaza followed several weeks in which a tense wartime calm had settled into the area, Mr. al-Tayeb said. Food prices had dropped sharply as more aid entered, reducing fears of widespread famine, while airstrikes were less frequent, he recalled.

“After we had a shred of stability — it feels like we’re back to square one, the same terror and anxiety and emotional pressure,” Mr. al-Tayeb said.

The Biden administration advances a $1 billion arms sale to Israel, trying to walk a fine line with a longtime ally.

The Biden administration has told Congress that it intends to move forward with a plan for the United States to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel, according to three congressional aides familiar with the deal.

The notification of the sale, which would include new tactical vehicles and ammunition, comes as President Biden has withheld a shipment of bombs to Israel, hoping to prevent U.S.-made weapons from being used in a potential invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Last week, Mr. Biden said he would block the delivery of weapons such as bombs and missiles that could be fired into the densely populated area where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

The potential arms transfer illustrated the narrow path the Biden administration is walking with Israel, trying to prevent an assault on Rafah and limit civilian casualties in Gaza but continuing to supply a longtime ally that the president has said has a right to defend itself. One congressional aide said Congress had been aware of the arms deal for months, and suggested that the administration had simply waited for a foreign aid package with more aid for Israel to pass before moving forward with the required congressional notification process.

When asked about the package, which was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, the State Department referred to recent comments from Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, citing a continued commitment to supply Israel with military assistance to defend itself from threats in the region.

“The president was clear he would not supply certain offensive weapons for such an operation, were it to occur,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It has not yet occurred. And we are still working with Israel on a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah.”

The administration has been pushing for a cease-fire deal in which Hamas would release at least some of the hostages it took on Oct. 7, when it attacked Israel and began the war. But the prime minister of Qatar, a key player in the talks, said on Tuesday that they were at “almost a stalemate.”

Mr. Biden initially embraced Israel after the Oct. 7 attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, but has increasingly found himself at odds with its conduct of the war, which has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, according to the health authorities there.

Still, even as he issued his threat to withhold additional weapons last week, he made clear that the United States would supply arms to ensure its ally’s security, including for its Iron Dome missile defense system and for its “ability to respond to attacks” like the one Iran launched in April.

The State Department’s informal notification of the arms transfer to the required congressional committees begins a multistep process for top foreign affairs lawmakers to informally consider the terms of the weapons transfer and deliberate with the department in private. Congress as a whole will then consider the package.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

Live Updates: Slovakia’s Leader Survives Surgery After Shooting, Deputy Says

Pinned

Cassandra VinogradAndrew Higgins and

Here’s the latest.

Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, a fixture in the country’s politics and known for defying his fellow leaders in the European Union, underwent hours of emergency surgery on Wednesday after being shot five times and critically wounded in a town in central Slovakia, in what officials said appeared to be a politically motivated assassination attempt.

His deputy, Tomas Taraba, told the BBC that the operation appeared to have gone well. “I guess in the end he will survive,” he said.

The shooting was the most serious attack on a European leader in decades, drawing shock and condemnation from Slovak officials and other European leaders and stoking fears that Europe’s increasingly polarized and venomous political debates had tipped into violence.

The events were captured on videos, which showed Mr. Fico, 59, approaching a small group of people behind a waist-high metal barrier on a public square in the town of Handlova, when a man stepped forward and fired a pistol from just a few feet away. Five bangs could be heard.

With the first bang, Mr. Fico doubled over at the waist and fell backward onto a bench as more reports ring out. Security officers then hustled him into a black Audi several feet away, half-carrying him to the car’s rear door. He was taken to a local hospital and airlifted to another for surgery.

Security officers at the scene of the shooting wrestled a suspect to the ground, and officials said that initial evidence pointed to political motivations. The authorities did not identify the suspect, whom Slovak news outlets described as a 71-year-old poet. The country’s interior minister, Matus Sutaj Estok, said more information would be made public “in the coming days.”

The president of Slovakia, Zuzana Caputova, whose position is largely ceremonial, said in a statement, “The shooting of the prime minister is first and foremost an attack on a human being, but it’s also an attack on democracy.”

The shooting also drew a chorus of condemnation from world leaders, including President Biden, who called it a “horrific act of violence,” and Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, who lauded Mr. Fico as a “courageous and strong-minded man.”

Mr. Fico began his three-decade political career as a leftist but over the years shifted to the right, as did the party he founded, Smer. He served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018, before returning to power in elections last year. After being ousted amid street protests in 2018, he was re-elected on a platform of social conservatism, nationalism and promises of generous welfare programs.

Mr. Fico presented himself as a pugnacious fighter for the common man and an enemy of liberal elites and immigration from outside Europe, and he aligned with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, in opposing aid to Ukraine and challenging mainstream opinions within the European Union.

Domestically, his critics accused him of undermining the independence of the news media, opposed his efforts to restrict foreign funding of civic organizations and called him a threat to democracy. They also accused Mr. Fico of seeking to take Slovakia back to the repressive days of the Soviet bloc.

Here is what else to know:

  • Mr. Fico was in Handlova to hold a governmental meeting, which he followed with a nearly hourlong news conference. He had just emerged from those events when he was attacked.

  • The Parliament of Slovakia suspended its meetings and said it was “significantly” bolstering its security measures. Some of Mr. Fico’s parliamentary allies suggested that his liberal opponents had created the atmosphere for the shooting.

  • Michal Simecka, the chair of the opposition party Progressive Slovakia, said he shared in the “horror” of the attack and stressed that the attacker was not a member of his movement or connected to his party in any way.

Pavol Strba and Gaya Gupta contributed reporting.

Slovakia has largely charted its own course since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Slovakia, which was left reeling on Wednesday after an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico, is a relatively young country whose history is closely intertwined with that of its central European neighbors.

Slovakia is one of two nations born out of the former Czechoslovakia amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the waning years of the 20th century.

Czechoslovakia was a multiethnic nation established at the end of World War I that endured dismemberment by the Nazis and more than four decades of Communist rule. But during the fall of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when independence movements gained strength throughout the Soviet Union, a series of largely peaceful protests called the Velvet Revolution led Czechoslovakia first to independence and then to a split, often referred to as the Velvet Divorce, that left two nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

After several years of economic and political upheaval following its independence, Slovakia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, and adopted the euro in 2009. As the country navigated the establishment of its national identity, some tensions remained with the Czech Republic, its richer and larger neighbor, which has roughly twice Slovakia’s population of five million.

Like much of the Europe, Slovakia has been deeply polarized over the past decade. Mr. Fico, who has been a leading politician in the country since its independence, was forced to resign from office in 2018 amid sweeping protests over the murder of a journalist who was investigating government corruption.

He was re-elected last fall, after taking a pro-Russian campaign stance that capitalized on Slovakia’s historical Russian sympathies.

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Slovakia’s deputy prime minister, Tomas Taraba, told the BBC late on Wednesday that Fico’s emergency surgery appeared to have gone well.

“He’s not in a life-threatening situation at this moment,” Taraba said.

When asked about the identity of the attacker, the interior minister, Matus Sutaj Estok, declined to provide further detail. “Not today,” he said, adding that officials would provide more information in the “coming days.”

The interior minister also told reporters that Fico was still in surgery and remains in critical condition.

The prime minister was shot five times, he said.

Slovakia’s interior minister, Matus Sutaj Estok, said in a news conference that an investigation into the attack against Mr. Fico is ongoing, and initial evidence “clearly points to a political motivation.”

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Hours after the attack, the police in Slovakia have not offered any details or issued a statement on the assassination attempt. They asked the media and the public to disable comments on social media posts and articles about the attack.

Fico campaigned on ending support for Ukraine, alarming many in the West.

Robert Fico, the Slovakian prime minister whose life was in danger after being shot on Wednesday, was elected in 2023, completing an unlikely political comeback after resigning from the position in 2018 after major street protests over the killing of an investigative journalist.

Mr. Fico won in part on a message of social conservatism, nationalism, anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric and promises of generous welfare programs. But it was another key plank of his campaign that alarmed many countries in the West: His unsparing support for Russia in its war against Ukraine.

A public opinion poll in March 2023 found that 51 percent of Slovaks believed that either the West or Ukraine were “primarily responsible” for the war. Mr. Fico capitalized on the sentiment, campaigning on stopping all arms shipments to Ukraine while blaming Russia and Ukraine equally for the war.

In October, Mr. Fico said he was halting all military aid to Ukraine, though he said nonmilitary aid would continue. The decision was met with outrage among other E.U. members and supporters of Ukraine.

Mr. Fico, who was prime minister for a decade before resigning in 2018, has aligned himself rhetorically with Viktor Orban, the pro-Russian leader of neighboring Hungary.

“Fico was inspired by Orban, but does not have the same deep ideological roots, and is more of a pragmatist,” Ludek Sekyra, a Czech businessman who chairs the Sekyra Foundation, a supporter of liberal causes, said in October. “He has been adept in exploiting unease over the vast influx of Ukrainian refugees, small-country resentment of the European Union and Russian sympathies that do not exist in the Czech Republic.”

Though he won the election, he remains reviled by many voters outside his party’s loyal base. His party, Smer, is nominally leftist but has moved to the right on immigration and cultural issues.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called Mr. Fico a “courageous and strong-minded man,” adding that this “monstrous crime cannot have any justification.”

Videos from the scene indicate that the attacker shot the prime minister, Robert Fico, in Banikov Square, in the center of the town of Handlova. The attacker is seen standing with other people behind a barrier before shooting Mr. Fico when he came to greet them. Mr. Fico had been at an event in Handlova’s House of Culture, according to Slovakian media.


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The parliament of Slovakia has suspended its meetings and said it was “significantly” bolstering its security measures in response to the attack on Fico.

President Biden said he was “alarmed to hear” about the attack on Fico and condemned the “horrific act of violence.”

“Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia,” he said in a statement, adding that the U.S. Embassy was in “close touch” with Slovakia’s government and stood ready to assist.

Who is Robert Fico?

Robert Fico, 59, has played a pivotal role in Slovakian politics in the years since it gained independence in 1993 and has served as prime minister longer than any other leader.

The country gained independence after the so-called Velvet Revolution, a series of popular and nonviolent protests in 1989 against the Communist Party in what was at that time still Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Fico, who had been a Communist Party member while it was in power, founded the Smer party in the late 1990s and began the first of his three terms as prime minister in 2006, serving for four years before going into opposition after his coalition lost an election. Slovakia is a landlocked country of around 5 million people.

The Smer party, which started out on the political left but has increasingly embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues, has governed as part of a coalition. Much of the international discussion of Mr. Fico’s leadership in recent years has focused on his ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, Slovakia’s southern neighbor.

Mr. Fico returned to power in 2012 but resigned as prime minister in July 2018 following mass demonstrations over the murder of a journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, who had been uncovering government corruption. The protests, which rocked the country, were the largest seen since the Velvet Revolution; demonstrators demanded the resignation of the government and new elections.

Slovakia ranks high in independent assessments of press freedom, but the protesters had also sought deeper changes in the country Mr. Fico had overseen.

He returned to power in an election last fall, forming a coalition government after securing around 23 percent of the vote, having campaigned against sanctions that were imposed on Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Not one round of the country’s ammunition should be sent to Ukraine, he had told voters.

That stance, in a country where pro-Russian sentiment had historically been significant, worried E.U. leaders in Brussels, who said they feared that Slovakia could form a pro-Russian alliance with Mr. Orban and, potentially, Italy’s leader, Georgia Meloni, that would impede support for Ukraine in the European Union. At the time, it was also seen as a sign of the apparent erosion of the pro-Ukrainian bloc that Europe had formed after the invasion.

Slovakia’s military contributions to Ukraine were negligible compared with countries such as the United States and Britain. But last year it became one of several European Union countries on Ukraine’s borders to block imports of its grain, fearing that it could undermine Slovakia’s farmers.

In April, an ally of Mr. Fico, Peter Pellegrini, won a vote to become Slovakia’s president. The position is largely ceremonial, but analysts said the victory strengthened the grip of political forces friendly to Russia in Central Europe, given that Mr. Pellegrini opposed providing military and financial aid to Ukraine.

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Slovakia’s president, Zuzana Caputova, said at a news conference in Bratislava that the police had arrested the suspected perpetrator at the scene. She again expressed her shock over the attack, calling it an “attack on democracy.”

Peter Pellegrini, who will soon assume the Slovak presidency, echoed that sentiment. “An assassination attempt on one of the highest constitutional officials is an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy,” he wrote on social media. “If we express different political opinions with guns in the squares, and not in polling stations, we endanger everything we have built together in 31 years of Slovak sovereignty.”

Slovakia’s interior minister, Matus Sutaj Estok, said that the assassination attempt would be investigated “as quickly as possible.” “Slovakia is experiencing the worst day of its democracy,” he wrote on Facebook. “For the first time in the 31 years of our democratic sovereign republic, it happened that someone decided to express a political opinion not in an election, but with a gun on the street.”

Fico was airlifted to the F.D. Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, a city near Handlova, according to Slovak officials.

He was taken there because it would have taken too long to get to the capital, Bratislava, according to his official Facebook page.

World leaders express shock at an assassination attempt against Robert Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister.

Leaders from the European Union and beyond expressed shock at the assassination attempt against Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, on Wednesday, even as the details of the shooting incident outside Bratislava, the capital, remained unclear.

Mr. Fico remains in the hospital in “life-threatening condition,” according to his staff.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called the attack “vile” on social media. “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good,” she added.

Charles Michel of the European Council, the other major European Union institution, expressed shock on social media and wrote, “Nothing can ever justify violence or such attacks.”

Mr. Fico has had a testy relationship with European Union partners, expressing pro-Russian views and at times siding with Hungary, the bloc’s closest Russian ally. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and Mr. Fico’s personal ally, said he was “deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico.”

But such conflicts were put firmly aside as European leaders grappled with the attack against Mr. Fico, which has come just weeks before a major European Union-wide election is to be held between June 6 and 9.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said that he was “shocked” by the shooting. “I strongly condemn this attack,” he wrote on X. “My thoughts and solidarity are with him, his family and the Slovak people.”

António Guterres, the U. N. secretary general, strongly condemned the “shocking attack” against Mr. Fico, according to a statement from his spokesperson’s office, adding that his thoughts were with the prime minister and his loved ones.

Violent attacks, especially shootings, against elected officials have been extremely rare in recent European history.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine also took to social media to voice shock at the assassination attempt against Mr. Fico. While Slovakia’s support for Ukraine has waned recently, it was the first country to deliver fighter jets there when its war began.

“We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring partner state’s head of government,” wrote Mr. Zelensky. “Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere,” he said.

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Images from the scene published by the Reuters news agency showed what appeared to be members of Fico’s security detail running around a black sedan. Other photographs and video showed a person handcuffed on the ground at the scene.

Attacks against elected officials are virtually unheard of in recent European Union history, contributing to the deep shock over the attempt on Robert Fico’s life.

Rafah Operation Pushes Gazans Into Areas With Scarce Aid and Medical Care


Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled the southern region of Rafah over the past week, after Israel has expanded its evacuation orders amid continued bombardment and fierce fighting there. Many Gazans, already displaced multiple times, are packing up makeshift tents and moving out of the area.

Many Palestinians have been directed to an area along the coast designated by the Israelis as a “humanitarian zone.” Maps and analysis of satellite imagery show that the zone is already overcrowded, frequently damaged by strikes, and lacking sufficient medical services.

For months, Israel has threatened a full-scale invasion of Rafah to target Hamas, despite warnings from humanitarian officials, as well as its own allies, about the potential catastrophic toll on civilians. Israel has been conducting military operations in eastern Rafah since last week, describing them as “limited, though it has stepped up pressure in recent days.

Health officials have said that dozens of Gazans have been killed by Israeli strikes in Rafah since May 6, and the United Nations reported that one of its workers had also died, the first international U.N. staff member killed since the war began.

The United Nations estimated on Tuesday that some 450,000 people had fled Rafah.

Before the war, Rafah was home to fewer than 300,000 people. After the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks, Israel launched an offensive aimed at dismantling the group. The fighting forced more than two million Gazans to flee their homes, with many eventually ending up in Rafah.

Now, however, Rafah has become a focal point of Israel’s campaign. Its military has often struck areas in Rafah, killing people and damaging buildings.

Israel has said that Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas, with several battalions holed up in tunnels below the city.

Last week, Israel seized the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after Hamas fired rockets from the area and killed four Israeli soldiers.

Satellite imagery taken after the May 6 incursion shows extensive new damage to eastern parts of Rafah. From May 5 to May 7 alone, more than 400 structures were destroyed in the evacuation area, an analysis of satellite imagery by The New York Times found. Humanitarian workers say these areas also likely contain unexploded ordnances from the war.

The Israeli incursion has had devastating consequences for medical workers and patients, doctors and humanitarian groups say. The Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, which is in eastern Rafah, has entirely shut down.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians must now rely on just two other major hospitals in Rafah that are still partially functioning, as well as a scattering of smaller clinics and temporary field hospitals. Israel has said it is also operating some field hospitals in what it has designated a humanitarian zone along the Gaza coast.

The seizure of the Rafah crossing and limited access to the Kerem Shalom crossing has also exacerbated shortages of fuel, putting humanitarian operations, including hospitals, at imminent risk of collapse, according to international aid groups.

Little or no aid, and only limited amounts of fuel, have made it into southern Gaza over the past week, according to U.N. officials. Small amounts of aid have entered Gaza at the Erez crossing in the north, though fighting continues in Jabaliya and on the outskirts of Gaza City this week.

Putin Is Selling Victory, and Many Russians Are Buying It

Reporting from Moscow

The word “victory” is everywhere in Moscow these days.

It is being projected from gargantuan LED screens alongside major intersections and highways and written on red flags whipping in the wind. It’s prominent at an exhibit of Western weapons destroyed on Ukrainian battlefields and lugged back to Moscow as war trophies on display in — where else? — Victory Park.

Victory is precisely the message that President Vladimir V. Putin, 71, has sought to project as he has been feted with pomp and pageantry after another electoral success, while his army sweeps through Ukrainian villages in a stunning new offensive in the northeast.

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Who Is Robert Fico, the Slovakian Prime Minister?

Who Is Robert Fico, the Slovakian Prime Minister?

Much of the discussion of Mr. Fico’s leadership has focused on his ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Robert Fico, 59, has played a pivotal role in Slovakian politics in the years since it gained independence in 1993 and has served as prime minister longer than any other leader.

The country gained independence after the so-called Velvet Revolution, a series of popular and nonviolent protests in 1989 against the Communist Party in what was at that time still Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Fico, who had been a Communist Party member while it was in power, founded the Smer party in the late 1990s and began the first of his three terms as prime minister in 2006, serving for four years before going into opposition after his coalition lost an election. Slovakia is a landlocked country of around 5 million people.

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Too Red, Too Vampiric, Too Sexy: A Brief History of Polarizing Royal Portraits

Royal family members sit for portraits a lot. And even when they don’t, artists paint them anyway. Some of these portraits have drawn near-unanimous praise and stood the test of time, captivating viewers generations later. Others have attracted mixed reactions, scandal or controversy.

With some artworks, critics objected royals were too gloomy, too naked, or, in the case of King Charles III’s latest portrait, too red.

In the painting unveiled on Tuesday, Charles is enveloped in a cloud of crimson, hot pink and fuchsia.

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Wildfire Approaches Canada’s Largest Oil-Producing Area. Again.

A wildfire near Canada’s largest oil producing region prompted the evacuation of about 6,600 people from Fort McMurray, Alberta. Several thousand other residents of the city were told to prepared to leave at any moment.

The evacuation on Tuesday has evoked fearful memories of a major fire in 2016 that destroyed roughly 2,400 homes and businesses, forced 90,000 people to flee and became the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.

“I know that this will bring back difficult memories from the devastating fires of 2016,” Danielle Smith, the premier of Alberta, said during a news conference on Wednesday. “And I’m sure these memories will create fear and uncertainty.”

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Dutch Right-Wing Parties Reach Preliminary Deal to Form a Government

Four right-wing parties in the Netherlands said on Wednesday that they had reached a preliminary agreement to form a government that would exclude Geert Wilders, a populist politician, from becoming prime minister.

The agreement came after nearly six months of negotiations, and the leaders of the four parties now have to take it to their party’s members in the House of Representatives, who could still suggest amendments. But the chances of forming a government were high, and the parties’ leaders expressed optimism.

“This won’t go wrong,” Caroline van der Plas, the leader of the Farmer Citizen Movement, a populist pro-farmer party, told reporters on Wednesday. In response, Mr. Wilders posted two prayer hands and a sun emoji on the social media platform X.

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Ukraine Fights to Hold Off Fierce Russian Assaults in Northeast

Ukrainian forces on Wednesday were putting up a fierce defense in Vovchansk, a village in northeastern Ukraine about five miles from the Russian border, engaging in what appeared to be street fighting as they tried to contain the Russian advance in the area.

In a sign of heightened concern over Ukraine’s deteriorating military situation, President Volodymyr Zelensky canceled his participation in all international events for the coming days, including a visit on Friday to Spain where he was expected to sign a bilateral security agreement.

Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement that its forces had “partially pushed the enemy” out of Vovchansk. A few hours earlier, it had acknowledged that its troops had withdrawn from positions in two villages, including Vovchansk, allowing Russian forces to gain a foothold.

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Swiss Court Convicts Ex-Gambian Minister of Crimes Against Humanity

A former interior minister and enforcer for a violent and autocratic Gambian president was convicted of crimes against humanity on Wednesday for the torture and executions of civilians and sentenced to 20 years in prison by Switzerland’s federal court.

The verdict, which one plaintiff called a “milestone” for victims, came after a landmark trial that was followed closely by victims of the government’s repression.

The former minister, Ousman Sonko, 55, was found guilty of multiple counts of intentional homicide, torture and false imprisonment that were committed, the court said, as “part of a systematic attack on the civilian population” of the West African country.

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A France in Shock Confronts the Violence in Its Midst

If France is a country of illusions — a beautiful and seductive land offering many of life’s greatest pleasures that sits atop and conceals a crime-ridden, drug-plagued world of violence — then the past week offered a rude awakening to this dual reality.

The Olympic flame arrived on French soil last week in the ancient port city of Marseille as a joyous crowd thronged the beautiful harbor. The chatter was of peace ahead of the Games, which begin in July. But the flame also arrived in a city whose northern districts are the epicenter of the French drug trade, where 49 people were killed last year and 123 injured in drug-related shootings.

The coldblooded killing on Tuesday of two prison guards on a major highway in an ambush that freed Mohamed Amra, a midlevel prisoner being investigated in Marseille for possible ties to a drug-related homicide case, shook France. This, just 85 miles from the capital, was a methodical execution in broad daylight on the main road from Paris to Normandy. Its methods were consistent with the brutality of a booming narcotics market.

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Mapping Russia’s Sudden Push Across Ukrainian Lines


All of a sudden, Russian forces are making progress in many directions at once.

In recent days, Russian troops have surged across the border from the north and opened a new line of attack near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, capturing settlements and villages and forcing thousands of civilians to flee.

It may be a feint. The real goal may be to divert already-weakened Ukrainian forces from critical battles elsewhere. But one thing is clear: The map of battle in Ukraine looks a lot different today than it did only a week ago.

Ukraine is more vulnerable than at any time since the harrowing first weeks of the 2022 invasion, a range of soldiers and commanders have said in interviews.

It is too soon to know if the war in Ukraine has hit a turning point. But Russia’s progress isn’t just in the northeast.

Russia has been making small but geographically broad gains across the eastern front. And what started as a modest Russian advance near Avdiivka has grown in recent weeks into a roughly 15-square-mile bulge that is complicating the defense of the Donetsk region.

Months of delays in American assistance, a spiraling number of casualties and severe shortages of ammunition have taken a deep toll, evident in the exhausted expressions and weary voices of soldiers engaged in daily combat.

Whether Russia will succeed in weakening Ukraine’s defenses in other parts of the front line remains to be seen.

A big objective, according to Franz-Stefan Gady, a Vienna-based military analyst, appears to be to draw Ukrainian forces away from Chasiv Yar, a town on strategic high ground where Ukrainians have fought for weeks to stave off an attack.

Russia’s broad range of attacks appears to be stretching Ukrainian forces thin. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, said in an interview from a bunker in Kharkiv this week that it has been difficult to find the personnel to shore up defenses in the northeast.

“All of our forces are either here or in Chasiv Yar,” he said. “I’ve used everything we have. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else in the reserves.”

First, He Conquered Paris. Now, a Japanese Chef Wants to Become a Brand.

In cooking, timing is everything. So much so that if the chef Kei Kobayashi spots diners heading to the restroom as he sends a dish out from the kitchen, he stops them. Nature’s call can wait; his culinary offerings should be tasted at peak flavor.

Such imperiousness and exactitude align with what Mr. Kobayashi, the first Japanese chef to earn three Michelin stars for a restaurant in Paris, said he had learned from one of his earliest mentors in France: The chef is king.

“Unless you commit to your worldview to this extent, you won’t be able to be a chef,” Mr. Kobayashi, 46, said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

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Singapore’s Riches Grew Under Its Leader. So Did Discontent.

Singapore was once known as an affluent and strait-laced city-state. Today, it’s a glitzy international destination. It has hosted Taylor Swift concerts and Formula One night races. And it is substantially richer, per capita, than the United States.

That transformation happened under Lee Hsien Loong, the Southeast Asian country’s third prime minister. He made Singapore even more prosperous by largely following the semi-authoritarian and free-market model pioneered by his father, Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s first leader.

On Wednesday, Singapore gets a new leader for the first time in nearly 20 years. Mr. Lee, 72, is handing the office to his deputy, Lawrence Wong, 51. Their People’s Action Party has governed Singapore continuously for over six decades, and has had astounding successes. But there are concerns that the vaunted “Singapore model” is failing more and more people.

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Noisy, Gaudy and Spiritual: Young Pilgrims Embrace an Ancient Goddess

Chris Buckley and

Chris Buckley, Amy Chang Chien and Lam Yik Fei spent four days walking parts of two pilgrimages in central and southern Taiwan. On the journey, they interviewed around 20 pilgrims.

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In a din of firecrackers, cymbals and horns, a team of devotees carried the shrouded wooden statue of a serene-faced woman, holding her aloft on a brightly decorated litter as they navigated through tens of thousands of onlookers.

As the carriers nudged forward, hundreds of people were lined up ahead of them, kneeling on the road and waiting for the moment when the statue would pass over their heads.

Some wept after it did; many smiled and snapped selfies. “I love Mazu, and Mazu loves me,” the crowd shouted.


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In Western Ukraine, a Community Wrestles With Patriotism or Survival

It was sunset when Maj. Kyrylo Vyshyvany of the Ukrainian Army stepped into the yard of his childhood home in Duliby, a village in western Ukraine, just after his younger brother, also a soldier, had been buried. Their mother was still crying in the living room.

“I can already see that she’ll be coming to visit him every day,” he said that day.

He was right, but he would not be by her side. A few days after the funeral, in March 2022, he was killed in a Russian missile strike on a Ukrainian military base and buried next to his brother, Vasyl.

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A Gen Z Resistance, Cut Off From Data Plans

In the night, the mountain air not quite chill enough to still the insects, young people gathered around a glow. The light attracting them was not a phone screen, that electric lure for people almost everywhere, but a bonfire.

From around the blaze, music radiated. Fingers strummed a guitar. Voices layered lyrics about love, democracy and, most of all, revolution. Moths courted the flame, sparking when they veered too close, then swooning to their deaths.

For months now, these hills of Karenni State in eastern Myanmar have been severed from modern communications. The military junta that seized power in a coup three years ago, plunging the country into civil war, has cut off the populations most opposed to its brutal rule. In these resistance strongholds, where people from around the nation have congregated, there is almost no internet, cell service or even electricity.

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War or No War, Ukrainians Aren’t Giving Up Their Coffee

When Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine more than two years ago, Artem Vradii was sure his business was bound to suffer.

“Who would think about coffee in this situation?” thought Mr. Vradii, the co-founder of a Kyiv coffee roastery named Mad Heads. “Nobody would care.”

But over the next few days after the invasion began, he started receiving messages from Ukrainian soldiers. One asked for bags of ground coffee because he could not stand the energy drinks supplied by the army. Another simply requested beans: He had taken his own grinder to the front.

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5-Star Bird Houses for Picky but Precious Guests: Nesting Swiftlets

With no windows, the gloomy, gray building looming four stories above the rice fields in a remote village in Indonesian Borneo resembles nothing more than a prison.

Hundreds of similar concrete structures, riddled with small holes for ventilation, tower over village shops and homes all along Borneo’s northwestern coast.

But these buildings are not for people. They are for the birds. Specifically, the swiftlet, which builds its nests inside.


Map shows the location of Perapakan in the Sambas Regency on Borneo, Indonesia.

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After Her Sister Wed at 11, a Girl Began Fighting Child Marriage at 13

When they were children, Memory Banda and her younger sister were inseparable, just a year apart in age and often mistaken for twins. They shared not only clothes and shoes, but also many of the same dreams and aspirations.

Then, one afternoon in 2009, that close relationship shattered when Ms. Banda’s sister, at age 11, was forced to wed a man in his 30s who had impregnated her.

“She became a different person then,” Ms. Banda recalled. “We never played together anymore because she was now ‘older’ than me. I felt like I lost my best friend.”

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A Portrait Artist Fit for a King (but Not a President)

Update: The portrait of King Charles III was unveiled on Tuesday.

Few famous Britons, it seems, can resist the chance to be painted by Jonathan Yeo. David Attenborough, the 97-year-old broadcasting legend, is among those who have recently climbed the spiral stairs to his snug studio, hidden at the end of a lane in West London, to pose for Mr. Yeo, one of Britain’s most recognized portrait artists.

Yet when it came to painting his latest portrait, of King Charles III, the artist had to go to the subject.

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A Novelist Who Finds Inspiration in Germany’s Tortured History

She became a writer because her country vanished overnight.

Jenny Erpenbeck, now 57, was 22 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall cracked by accident, then collapsed. She was having a “girls’ evening out,” she said, so she had no idea what had happened until the next morning. When a professor discussed it in class, she said, it became real to her.

The country she knew, the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, remains a crucial setting for most of her striking, precise fiction. Her work, which has grown in acuity and emotional power, combines the complications of German and Soviet history with the lives of her characters, including those of her own family members, whose experiences echo with the past like contrapuntal music.

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Forbidden to Watch Films as a Child, He Now Directs Somalia’s Top Shows

At the shout of “action,” two actors, costumed in black blazers and sunglasses, erupted into a spirited shouting match, gesticulating wildly as one demanded that the other convince his daughter to marry him.

A cameraman and a boom operator, sweaty under a scorching sun, moved in to capture the altercation in close-up.

Then the director, Abshir Rageh, seated in a foldable chair, removed his headphones and called: “Cut.”

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Even Before the Olympics, a Victory Lap for a Fast-Moving French Mayor

Reporting from St.-Ouen, France

The mayor grew up in a building so decrepit — filthy hallways, no private toilets, no showers — that his friends in nearby concrete towers pitied him.

Five decades later, that building — in St.-Ouen, a Paris suburb — is a distant memory, and in its place rises France’s Olympic pride: the athletes’ village, with its architectural-showcase buildings that are outfitted with solar panels, deep-sinking pipes for cooling and heating, and graceful balconies from which to look down on the forest planted below. One-quarter will become public housing after the Games.

“All of a sudden, we have the same feeling of pride as people living in the hypercenter,” said the mayor of St.-Ouen, Karim Bouamrane, 51, using his personal shorthand for the glamorous downtown playgrounds of the elites. “There was Los Angeles, Barcelona, Beijing, London, Sydney and, now, there is St.-Ouen.”

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A Race the Whole World Is Watching

Taiwo Aina for The New York Times

The race to decide this year’s English soccer champion has captivated fans. But it’s not just an English story.

The Premier League is the world’s most global league, with a reach that carries its games, its teams and its stars to almost every country.

That means a sizable portion of the world’s population is deeply invested in its best title race in a decade.

And for lifelong fans in far-flung places, every moment matters.

A Race the Whole World Is Watching

Muktita SuhartonoElian PeltierShawna Richer and

Elian Peltier tracked Arsenal in West Africa, Muktita Suhartono watched Liverpool in Bangkok and Shawna Richer was with Manchester City fans in Toronto.

The teams might bear the names of English towns, the stadiums might sit on English soil and the stands might still be primarily filled with English fans, but the Premier League slipped its borders long ago. The world’s most popular sports league has, for some time, been a global soccer competition that just happens to be staged in England.

This season has crystallized that perfectly.

For the first time in a decade, three teams — Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City — remained in contention to win the championship as the season entered its final weeks. The fates of those teams have not simply had an impact on anxious, ardent fans in London, Liverpool or Manchester. Their results have been followed just as avidly in North America, Africa, Asia and countless other places, where fans rise early, stay up late and seek out any screen they can to follow their teams.

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WADA Appoints Special Prosecutor in Chinese Doping Case

The World Anti-Doping Agency on Thursday appointed a special prosecutor to review how 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug were allowed to avoid public scrutiny and compete at the 2021 Olympics, where they won gold medals and set records.

The decision to appoint the special prosecutor, Eric Cottier of Switzerland, came amid an outcry from top government officials, antidoping experts and authorities, and athletes over the way Chinese antidoping officials and the global regulator, known as WADA, handled the positives.

WADA cast the move as one it had to make in response to “the damaging and baseless allegations that are being leveled” against the agency since The New York Times on Saturday revealed how the Chinese antidoping agency, known as Chinada, and WADA declined to discipline or identify the 23 swimmers.

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This Town Had a Reputation Problem. Premier League Soccer Changed Things.

As the announcement trilled out over Kenilworth Road, the jumble of rusted metal and peeling paint that Luton Town F.C. calls home, the tone started to shift. At the start of the sentence, it was little more than the traditional polite welcome to the stadium for that evening’s visiting team, Manchester City.

By the end, though, the voice of the announcer seemed overcome by what sounded a little like awe. Luton, the fans in the stands and the players on the field were reminded, was about to face “the champions of the F.A. Cup, the champions of England and the champions of Europe.” Luton seems to be having a hard time believing the company it now keeps.

There is a reason for that. Fifteen years ago, Luton Town had been relegated to the fifth tier of English soccer, a world away from the power and the prestige of the Premier League. There was, for a time, a genuine risk that the club, founded in 1885, several years before the invention of the zipper, might fold altogether. For years afterward, money remained tight, ambitions modest.

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Top Biden Official Calls for Inquiry Into Chinese Doping Case

The Biden administration’s top drug official called on Monday for an independent investigation into how Chinese and global antidoping authorities decided to clear 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug months before the Summer Olympics in 2021.

The official, Rahul Gupta, who is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that he planned to bring up the handling of the positive tests during a two-day meeting of sports ministers in Washington. Top members of the World Anti-Doping Agency are scheduled to attend the event, which starts Thursday.

“The United States stands by its commitment to ensure that every American athlete and those across the globe are provided a level playing field and a fair shot in international athletic competitions,” Dr. Gupta said in response to questions from The New York Times. “There must be rigorous, independent investigations to look into any incident of potential wrongdoing.”

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A Soccer Team Stopped Charging for Tickets. Should Others Do the Same?

Neither Paris F.C. nor St.-Étienne will have much reason to remember the game fondly. There was, really, precious little to remember at all: no goals, few shots, little drama — a drab, rain-sodden stalemate between the French capital’s third-most successful soccer team and the country’s sleepiest giant.

That was on the field. Off it, the 17,000 or so fans in attendance can consider themselves part of a philosophical exercise that might play a role in shaping the future of the world’s most popular sport.

Last November, Paris F.C. became home to an unlikely revolution by announcing that it was doing away with ticket prices for the rest of the season. There were a couple of exceptions: a nominal fee for fans supporting the visiting team, and market rates for those using hospitality suites.

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Cataluña votó por el socialismo en unos comicios dominados por la amnistía a los separatistas

El partido socialista, que gobierna en España, el domingo se alzó con la victoria en las elecciones regionales de Cataluña que son consideradas como una prueba de fuego para la polarizadora medida del presidente del Gobierno, Pedro Sánchez, de brindar amnistía a los separatistas.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

Los socialistas celebran lo que consideran como una victoria trascendental, aunque no ganaron los escaños necesarios para gobernar en solitario. Lo más probable es que se enfrenten a semanas de negociaciones y, posiblemente, a la repetición de las elecciones si no se llega a un acuerdo. Pero, por primera vez en más de una década, podrían formar un gobierno regional dirigido por un partido que se opone a la independencia.

Salvador Illa, el líder catalán del partido, se dirigió a sus partidarios a última hora de la noche del domingo en la sede socialista de Barcelona donde declaró: “Tras 45 años de historia, por primera vez hemos ganado las elecciones al Parlamento de Cataluña en votos y en escaños. Los catalanes han decidido abrir una nueva época”.

Sin embargo, Illa, que ha prometido mejoras en los servicios sociales, la educación y la gestión de la sequía, necesitará 68 de los 135 escaños del Parlamento catalán para poder formar gobierno. El domingo, su partido solo obtuvo 42, lo que significa que tendrá que buscar el apoyo del partido independentista Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Izquierda Republicana de Cataluña) y de Comuns, un movimiento de izquierda.

“Ganar no significa gobernar”, dijo antes de que se dieran a conocer los resultados Toni Rodón, profesor de Ciencias políticas de la Universidad Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona. Rodón dijo que, aunque Esquerra ha apoyado a Sánchez en el Parlamento español, no se espera que las negociaciones en Cataluña sean fáciles.

El principal rival de los socialistas fue el partido independentista Junts per Catalunya (Juntos por Cataluña), liderado por Carles Puigdemont, quien hizo campaña desde el exilio en Francia. Junts quedó en segundo lugar, pero con 35 escaños no podría formar gobierno con otros partidos independentistas, que obtuvieron malos resultados.

El líder de Esquerra, Pere Aragonès, quien también es el presidente saliente del gobierno catalán, convocó las elecciones anticipadas tras no conseguir los apoyos suficientes para aprobar un presupuesto regional. Tras obtener solo 20 escaños el domingo, su partido se enfrenta ahora a un periodo de reflexión.

El domingo por la noche, Aragonés atribuyó los malos resultados de Esquerra a la política del partido de pactar con los socialistas que, según dijo, “no ha sido valorado por la ciudadanía”. A partir de ahora, “Esquerra estará en la oposición”, afirmó.

Fue una clara indicación de que no está dispuesto a negociar con Illa, y sin el apoyo de Esquerra, Cataluña podría estar “ante unas nuevas elecciones en octubre”, dijo Rodón.

Según Ignacio Lago, profesor de Ciencias Políticas de la Universidad Pompeu Fabra, aunque no se llegue a un acuerdo y haya que repetir las elecciones, “por primera vez en años, los partidos independentistas no tienen la mayoría.“

Durante años, el tema de la amnistía para los separatistas ha sido motivo de división.

Cuando Sánchez asumió por primera vez al poder en 2019, dijo que no abandonaría las acciones legales pendientes contra Puigdemont u otras figuras acusadas de actividad separatista.

Pero Sánchez dio marcha atrás después de las elecciones generales de España en julio pasado, cuando su única oportunidad para lograr un segundo mandato le exigía acceder a las demandas del partido de Puigdemont, que de la noche a la mañana había adquirido enorme influencia al ganar siete escaños parlamentarios. Sánchez, quien tiene fama de superviviente político, negoció un acuerdo de amnistía con Junts, calificándolo como la mejor manera de avanzar hacia la coexistencia pacífica en Cataluña.

La propuesta de amnistía fue muy impopular en España. Dos partidos rivales organizaron una inmensa manifestación contra el acuerdo el pasado noviembre en ciudades de todo el país, y otras protestas no apoyadas oficialmente por los partidos surgieron durante noches enteras ante la sede socialista en Madrid.

En un momento dado, una multitud hizo añicos una efigie de Sánchez con una larga nariz al estilo de Pinocho.

El proyecto de ley de amnistía se ha estancado en el Senado del Parlamento español tras haber sido aprobado por el Congreso de los Diputados en marzo. Las impugnaciones judiciales también podrían retrasar la medida.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, jefa del gobierno regional de Madrid y miembro del Partido Popular de centroderecha, ha calificado la amnistía como “la ley más corrupta de la historia de la democracia”.

Históricamente, el apoyo a la independencia de Cataluña no superaba el 20 por ciento, según un informe publicado por el Real Instituto Elcano, un grupo de investigación sobre asuntos internacionales con sede en Madrid. Eso cambió en 2010, después de que la crisis financiera en la eurozona y las políticas de austeridad impuestas a España por la Unión Europea alentaran “mensajes populistas de rebelión fiscal” en Cataluña, según el informe. La decisión del gobierno británico en 2012 de permitir un referendo independentista en Escocia dio impulso a los separatistas en España.

Las tensiones en Cataluña llegaron a un punto crítico en 2017, cuando el gobierno separatista liderado por Puigdemont ignoró a los tribunales españoles y siguió adelante con un referendo de independencia ilegal. Siguió una declaración de independencia, así como una ofensiva contra los separatistas por parte del gobierno español, que cesó a las autoridades regionales catalanas e impuso un control directo. Nueve líderes políticos fueron encarcelados por delitos como sedición, mientras que Puigdemont huyó a Francia, evitando por poco ser detenido.

Los sucesivos líderes españoles, incluido Sánchez en su primer mandato, han intentado y fracasado en su intento de extraditar a Puigdemont.

En 2021, el gobierno de Sánchez adoptó un enfoque más conciliador con los aliados de Puigdemont que aún siguen en España, indultando a los nueve presos.

La cuestión clave hoy, según Cristina Monge, profesora de Ciencias políticas y Sociología de la Universidad de Zaragoza, es si “el espíritu” del movimiento independentista catalán sigue vivo.

Los resultados electorales positivos para los socialistas en Cataluña el domingo sugerirían que la apuesta riesgosa del presidente del Gobierno de conceder la amnistía ha dado sus frutos, reduciendo las tensiones separatistas en la región y ayudando a normalizar las relaciones hispano-catalanas.

“Hemos pasado página del movimiento independentista de 2017”, dijo Lago.

Un estudio realizado por el Centro de Estudios de Opinión del Gobierno regional muestra que una proporción creciente de catalanes —el 51,1 por ciento en febrero, frente al 44,1 por ciento en marzo de 2019— apoya permanecer en España.

La independencia ya no es “una prioridad principal para muchos votantes”, dijo Rodón, y agregó que el cambio puede reflejar un desencanto general con los partidos independentistas en vez de un interés menguante en el separatismo.

¿Dónde posó la ‘Mona Lisa’? Tal vez en Lecco

Ha sido embadurnada con pastel y rociada con ácido. Vigilantes la han robado y manifestantes le han lanzado sopa. La han iluminado con láser y la han pinchado, la han exhibido para las masas y la han relegado a su propia galería en el sótano. Más recientemente, miles de personas han instado al multimillonario Jeff Bezos a comprarla y luego comérsela.

Parece que los misterios de la Mona Lisa —el cuadro de Leonardo da Vinci que ha cautivado durante siglos a los amantes del arte, a los buitres de la cultura y al resto de nosotros— no tienen fin. ¿Quién es? (Probablemente Lisa Gherardini, esposa de un noble italiano). ¿Está sonriendo? (La respuesta breve: más o menos.) ¿Pretendía Da Vinci originalmente pintarla de otro modo, con el pelo recogido o en una bata de enfermera?

Aunque muchas cosas sobre el asunto más enigmático del mundo del arte han quedado relegadas al reino de lo insondable, ahora, en un extraño cruce de arte y geología, puede que haya un misterio menos: dónde estaba cuando Da Vinci la pintó.

Según Ann Pizzorusso, geóloga y estudiosa del arte del Renacimiento, el personaje de Da Vinci posa en Lecco, Italia, una idílica ciudad a orillas del lago de Como. La conclusión, según Pizzorusso, es obvia; ella se dio cuenta hace años, pero nunca se percató de su importancia.

“Vi la topografía cercana a Lecco y me di cuenta de que era el lugar”, dijo.

El anodino fondo tiene algunas características importantes; entre ellas, un puente medieval que la mayoría de los estudiosos han considerado la clave del escenario de Da Vinci. Pero, según Pizzorusso, son más bien la forma del lago y la piedra caliza gris blanquecina las que delatan a Lecco como el hogar espiritual del cuadro.

“Un puente es fungible”, dijo Pizzorusso. “Hay que combinar el puente con un lugar en el que estuvo Leonardo y la geología”.

Esas características eran tan claras para Pizzorusso que hace años, en un viaje a Lecco, llegó a la conclusión de que el pintoresco pueblo a orillas de un lago era el escenario de la obra maestra de Da Vinci. Supuso que esos hechos eran evidentes, según digo. No fue hasta que un colega se dirigió a ella en busca de información sobre los posibles escenarios de la Mona Lisa cuando Pizzorusso se dio cuenta de que sus conclusiones tenían mérito académico.

“Se lo decía a la gente, pero nunca hice nada al respecto”, comentó. Ahora, sin embargo, la tecnología cartográfica ha hecho que su tesis sea más aceptable.

“Todo ha conspirado para que mi idea sea mucho más demostrable”, dijo desde Lecco, donde presentará formalmente sus conclusiones en un evento sobre geología.

Sin embargo, estos secretos son inherentes a la intriga que rodea al venerado lienzo. Durante siglos, la Mona Lisa ha confundido, deleitado, decepcionado y desconcertado a artistas y amantes del arte. A medida que sus famosos bordes suaves se vuelven existencialmente más afilados, quizá debamos preguntarnos: ¿Amamos al cuadro o a sus misterios?

“En Lecco llevan años hablando de esto”, dijo Donald Sassoon, profesor de Historia europea comparada. Señaló un artículo de 2016 en un sitio de noticias local italiano de un erudito de Lecco que identificó características geográficas similares a las señaladas por Pizzorusso.

“Yo no me molestaría”, en hacerlo dijo Sassoon cuando se le preguntó acerca de informar sobre el hallazgo de Pizzorusso. “Identificar la ubicación no tendría ninguna repercusión”.

Para Pizzorusso, sin embargo, la conclusión tiene menos que ver con el arte que con la humanidad. En las discretas pistas de la Mona Lisa, Da Vinci se revela no solo como un hábil pintor, dijo, sino también como un estudiante tediosamente cuidadoso de la ciencia y la geología.

“Cada vez que pinta una roca”, dijo Pizzorusso, “es preciso”.

Ali Watkins es reportera de la sección Metropolitana; cubre temas relacionados con la delincuencia y la aplicación de la ley en Nueva York. Antes fue reportera de seguridad nacional en el buró de Washington para el Times, BuzzFeed y McClatchy Newspapers. Más de Ali Watkins

Elecciones en Venezuela: estos son los escenarios de cara a las votaciones

Reportando desde Bogotá

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Lo que está en juego no podría ser más crucial.

Este julio, por primera vez en más de una década, los venezolanos votarán en unas elecciones presidenciales en las que participa un candidato de la oposición que tiene una oportunidad de ganar, por reducida e improbable que sea.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En medio de crisis económicas y democráticas que han ocasionado que más de siete millones de venezolanos abandonen el país en el que se considera uno de los mayores desplazamientos humanos del mundo, Nicolás Maduro, el presidente autoritario del país, ha hecho algo que pocos creyeron que haría: permitió que aparezca en la tarjeta electoral un candidato opositor que cuenta con un amplio apoyo.

Si bien es en gran medida un desconocido, el contendiente lidera en varias encuestas, lo que pone de relieve cuántos ciudadanos ansían un cambio.

No obstante, pocos se hacen ilusiones de que la elección será democrática o justa. E incluso si una mayoría de los electores vota en contra de Maduro, hay dudas generalizadas de que esté dispuesto a que los resultados se difundan, o incluso a aceptarlos si es así.

Venezuela se prepara para votar en un momento en que el país enfrenta asuntos importantes que tendrán impacto mucho más allá de sus fronteras.

Entre ellos están la supervisión del futuro de las vastas reservas petroleras nacionales, las mayores del mundo; el restablecimiento —o no— de las maltrechas relaciones con Estados Unidos; la decisión de permitir que Irán, China y Rusia sigan apoyándose en Venezuela como aliado clave en el hemisferio occidental y el manejo de la crisis humanitaria interna que ha llevado al país, que había sido una nación próspera, a un sufrimiento inmenso.

Una victoria de Maduro podría impulsar a Venezuela aún más a la órbita de los adversarios de Estados Unidos, intensificar la pobreza y la represión y ocasionar que un éxodo humano aún mayor se dirija al norte, a la frontera estadounidense, donde el aumento del flujo migratorio se ha convertido en tema central de las elecciones presidenciales de noviembre.

El candidato que se enfrenta al presidente de Venezuela es Edmundo González, un exdiplomático que sorpresivamente pasó a ser el candidato opositor luego de que María Corina Machado, popular líder de la oposición, fue inhabilitada por el gobierno de Maduro.

Sus seguidores esperan que ayude al país a superar 25 años de chavismo, el movimiento socialista que inició con las elecciones democráticas que llevaron a Hugo Chávez al poder en 1998 y que desde entonces se ha vuelto más autoritario.

Previo a la votación del 28 de julio, Maduro, de 61 años, controla la legislatura, el ejército, a la policía, el sistema de justicia, el consejo nacional de elecciones, el presupuesto nacional y gran parte de los medios, por no hablar de los grupos paramilitares violentos conocidos como colectivos.

González, de 74 años, y Machado, de 56, han dejado claro que son una fórmula. Machado ha estado animando a los votantes en eventos por todo el país, donde se le recibe como estrella de rock y llena cuadras enteras de ciudades en las que las personas le piden encarecidamente que salve a Venezuela. González ha hecho campaña más cerca de Caracas, donde sostiene reuniones y participa en entrevistas televisivas.

En una entrevista en conjunto, González dijo que le había tomado por sorpresa cuando Maduro le permitió registrarse como candidato y que aún no se explicaba el motivo.

Si bien Maduro ha llevado a cabo comicios en años recientes, una táctica clave ha sido la de inhabilitar a contendientes legítimos.

Las últimas elecciones presidenciales competitivas sucedieron en 2013, cuando Maduro derrotó por poco margen a Henrique Capriles, una figura conocida de la oposición. En la siguiente votación, en 2018, el gobierno evitó que líderes de la oposición populares se postularan, y Estados Unidos, la Unión Europea y decenas de países más se negaron a reconocer los resultados.

Pero en meses recientes, a decir de Machado, el país ha sido testigo de acontecimientos que pocos creyeron posibles: el gobierno de Maduro permitió que se realizara una elección primaria en la que hubo una enorme participación y Machado surgió como la clara vencedora; la oposición —conocida por sus luchas internas— logró unirse en torno a Machado; y, cuando ella no pudo competir, los líderes opositores coincidieron en apoyar a González como sustituto.

“Nunca en 25 años hemos pasado a un proceso electoral en una posición tan sólida”, dijo Machado.

(Ninguno de los dos quiso indicar si es que Machado desempeñaría un papel en un gobierno liderado por González ni, de ser así, en qué consistiría).

Tres encuestas realizadas en el país mostraron que una mayoría de los encuestados planeaban votar por González.

En decenas de entrevistas en distintos puntos del país en el mes de mayo, los votantes expresaron amplio apoyo a la oposición.

“Va a ganar”, dijo Elena Rodríguez, de 62 años, enfermera retirada en el estado de Sucre. Rodríguez dijo que 11 de sus familiares habían salido del país para escapar de la pobreza.

Maduro conserva cierto apoyo dentro de Venezuela y puede motivar a que la gente acuda a las urnas con la promesa de alimentos y otros incentivos.

Un seguidor de Maduro, Jesús Meza Díaz, de 59 años, dijo que votaría por el actual presidente porque confiaba en que llevaría al país a sortear dificultades económicas que atribuyó a las sanciones estadounidenses.

Pero tal vez la duda más importante no es si González logrará atraer suficientes votos para ganar, sino si Maduro está listo y dispuesto a ceder el poder.

El gobierno de Maduro ha sido afectado por las sanciones impuestas por EE. UU. a la industria del petróleo, clave en el país, y algunos analistas afirmaron que a González se le permitió contender solo porque podría ayudarle a persuadir a Washington a flexibilizar su postura.

“La negociación con Estados Unidos es lo que creo que está marcando la posibilidad de que en Venezuela haya un proceso electoral”, dijo Luz Mely Reyes, una destacada periodista venezolana.

Maduro apenas ha dado visos de estar listo para dejar el cargo. En febrero prometió a una gran muchedumbre de seguidores que ganaría las elecciones “por las buenas o por las malas”.

Desde enero, su gobierno ha detenido o encarcelado a 10 integrantes del equipo político de Machado. Otros cinco tienen órdenes de aprehensión vigentes y se encuentran en la embajada argentina en Caracas.

Avi Roa, esposa de Emill Brandt, un líder del partido de Machado que ha estado detenido desde marzo, calificó la captura de su esposo como “un terror de horribles”. Irama Macías, esposa de Luis Camacaro, esposa de un aliado de Machado que fue encarcelado, dijo que su detención era “una cosa muy cruel”, y que “no debería pasar en ninguna parte del mundo”.

Una propuesta en el legislativo, conocida como la Ley contra el Fascismo, podría permitir al gobierno suspender la campaña de González en cualquier momento, explicó Laura Dib, experta en Venezuela de la Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos. “Ese es un riesgo constante”, añadió.

Si Maduro en efecto cede el poder, sería casi con certeza como resultado de un acuerdo negociado de salida con la oposición.

Machado ha argumentado con frecuencia que su principal desafío es hacer ver a Maduro que mantenerse en el poder es insostenible: que su gobierno se está quedando sin dinero, que demasiados venezolanos desean su salida y que el chavismo se desmorona desde adentro.

“La mejor opción es una salida negociada”, dijo en la entrevista, “y entre más demore, peor va a ser”.

La situación económica es grave, gran parte de la base de Maduro se ha puesto en su contra y hay indicios de que Maduro teme una ruptura interna: hace poco encarceló por corrupción a un aliado de alto rango, el ministro del Petróleo, Tareck El Aissami.

La decisión fue considerada como una advertencia para quien pudiera desafiarlo desde su propio entorno.

Pero pocos consideran que Maduro sea suficientemente débil como para que se le obligue a marcharse. Y Maduro tiene un fuerte incentivo para resistir: él y otros funcionarios de su gobierno están siendo investigados por la Corte Internacional de Justicia por crímenes de lesa humanidad. También lo busca el gobierno de EE. UU., que ha ofrecido 15 millones de dólares cambio de información que resulte en su detención.

Si Maduro llegara a dejar la presidencia, es casi seguro que busque que se le blinde contra proceso judicial, algo que podría ser difícil de garantizar.

Aun así, en la entrevista conjunta, tanto Machado como González indicaron tener disposición a negociar una transición pacífica con el gobierno de Maduro previo a las elecciones.

“Estamos absolutamente dispuestos a seguir adelante para poner sobre la mesa todos los términos y garantías necesarias”, dijo Machado, “de tal forma que todas las partes sientan que se trata de un proceso justo”.

Un alto funcionario estadounidense dijo que no había indicios de que en este momento se estuvieran produciendo conversaciones sobre la salida de Maduro.

Pero, añadió el funcionario, el gobierno de Maduro seguía en comunicación con autoridades de EE. UU. y con la oposición, seña de que el presidente seguía en busca de legitimidad internacional y que se flexibilicen las sanciones. Eso podría hacerlo cambiar de postura, dijo el funcionario, brindando un atisbo de optimismo para el futuro del país.

Colaboraron con la reportería de Isayen Herrera en Caracas, Nayrobis Rodríguez en Cumaná, Venezuela, y Genevieve Glatsky en Bogotá.

Julie Turkewitz es jefa del buró de los Andes, ubicado en Bogotá, Colombia. Cubre Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador y Perú. Más de Julie Turkewitz

En China, un país gobernado por hombres, las mujeres encuentran una voz poderosa

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En bares escondidos en callejones, y en salones y librerías de Shanghái, las mujeres debaten su lugar en un país donde los hombres hacen las leyes.

Algunas llevaban vestidos de novia para comprometerse públicamente consigo mismas. Otras se reunieron para ver películas hechas por mujeres sobre mujeres. Las bibliófilas acudieron en masa a librerías femeninas para leer títulos como La mujer rota y Vivir una vida feminista.

Las mujeres de Shanghái, y de otras grandes ciudades chinas, están negociando los frágiles términos de la expresión pública en un momento políticamente precario. El Partido Comunista, que gobierna China, ha identificado el feminismo como una amenaza para su autoridad. Han encarcelado a activistas defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres. Las denuncias de acoso y violencia contra las mujeres son ignoradas o directamente silenciadas.

El líder chino, Xi Jinping, ha reducido el papel de la mujer en el trabajo y en los cargos públicos. No hay mujeres en el círculo íntimo de Xi ni en el politburó, el órgano ejecutivo de formulación de políticas. Ha invocado los roles más tradicionales de la mujer, como cuidadora y madre, en la planificación de una nueva “cultura de la maternidad” para hacer frente a la disminución de la población.

Sin embargo, varios grupos de mujeres de toda China reclaman en silencio su propia identidad. Muchas pertenecen a una generación que creció con más libertad que sus madres. Las mujeres de Shanghái, profundamente remecidas por un encierro de dos meses en 2022 debido a la pandemia de COVID-19, se sienten impulsadas por la necesidad de construir una comunidad.

“Creo que todos los que viven en esta ciudad parecen haber llegado a esta etapa en la que quieren explorar más sobre el poder de las mujeres”, dijo Du Wen, fundadora de Her, un bar que acoge debates de salón.

Frustrada por la visión cada vez más limitada que el público tiene de la mujer, Nong He, estudiante de cine y teatro, organizó una proyección de tres documentales sobre mujeres realizados por directoras chinas.

“Creo que deberíamos tener un espacio más amplio para que las mujeres puedan crear”, señaló. “Esperamos organizar un acto así para que la gente sepa cómo es nuestra vida, cómo es la vida de otras mujeres, y con esa comprensión podamos conectar y ayudarnos mutuamente”.

En estos eventos que se anuncian sin mucho ruido, las mujeres cuestionan las recurrentes metáforas misóginas de la cultura china. “¿Por qué los fantasmas solitarios son siempre femeninos?”, preguntó hace poco una mujer, refiriéndose a la representación que hace la literatura china de las mujeres sin hogar después de la muerte. Comparten consejos para iniciarse en el feminismo. Empecemos por la historia, dijo Tang Shuang, propietaria de Paper Moon, que vende libros de autoras. “Esto es como la base de la estructura”.

Hay pocas estadísticas confiables sobre la violencia de género y el acoso sexual en China, pero los incidentes de violencia contra las mujeres se han producido con mayor frecuencia, según investigadores y trabajadores sociales. Han circulado ampliamente por internet historias de mujeres mutiladas o asesinadas con brutalidad por intentar abandonar a sus maridos, o que son golpeadas salvajemente por resistirse a la atención no deseada de los hombres. El descubrimiento de una mujer encadenada dentro de una choza sin puerta en la provincia oriental de Jiangsu se convirtió en uno de los temas más debatidos en internet desde hace años.

En cada caso, las reacciones han sido muy divididas. Muchos denunciaron a los agresores y condenaron el sexismo en la sociedad. Muchos otros culparon a las víctimas.

La manera en que estos debates polarizan a la sociedad inquietó a Tang, empresaria y antigua subdirectora de Vogue China. Los acontecimientos de su propia vida también la inquietaron. Mientras sus amigas compartían sentimientos de vergüenza e inutilidad por no casarse, Tang buscó un contexto para articular lo que sentía.

“Entonces descubrí que ni siquiera yo tengo las ideas muy claras sobre estas cosas”, aseguró. “La gente tiene ganas de hablar, pero no sabe de qué está hablando”. Tang decidió abrir Paper Moon, una tienda para lectores intelectualmente curiosos como ella.

La librería está dividida en una sección académica que ofrece historia feminista y estudios sociales, así como literatura y poesía. También hay una zona para biografías. “Es necesario tener historias reales para empoderar a las mujeres”, dijo Tang.

La preocupación por atraer la atención equivocada siempre está presente.

Cuando Tang abrió su tienda, colocó un cartel en la puerta que la describía como una librería feminista que daba la bienvenida a todos los géneros, así como a las mascotas. “Pero mi amiga me advirtió que lo quitara porque, ya sabes, podría causar problemas el usar la palabra feminismo”.

Wang Xia, propietaria de la librería Xin Chao, ha optado por mantenerse totalmente alejada de la palabra que inicia con “F”. En su lugar, describió su librería como de “temática femenina”. Cuando abrió en 2020, la tienda era un espacio amplio con rincones para fomentar las conversaciones privadas y seis salas de estudio con nombres de autoras famosas, como Simone de Beauvoir.

Wang explicó que la librería Xin Chao atendía a más de 50.000 personas a través de eventos, talleres y conferencias en línea. Tenía más de 20.000 libros sobre arte, literatura y superación personal, libros sobre mujeres y libros para mujeres. La librería se hizo tan famosa que los medios de comunicación estatales escribieron sobre ella y el gobierno de Shanghái publicó el artículo en su sitio web.

Sin embargo, Wang tuvo cuidado de no hacer ninguna declaración política. “Mi ambición no es desarrollar el feminismo”, señaló.

Hace poco, Wang trasladó la librería Xin Chao a la Ciudad del Libro de Shanghái, una famosa tienda con grandes atrios y largas columnas de estanterías. Una colección de cuatro volúmenes de los escritos de Xi ocupa un lugar destacado en varios idiomas.

La Ciudad del Libro es enorme. El espacio para la librería Xin Chao no lo es, según Wang, con varias estanterías en el interior y alrededor de una pequeña sala que, con el tiempo, solo podrá albergar unos 3000 libros.

“Es una pequeña célula de la ciudad, una célula cultural”, comentó Wang.

Aun así, destaca en China.

“No todas las ciudades tienen una librería para mujeres”, dijo. “Hay muchas ciudades que no tienen ese tipo de terreno cultural”.

Li You colaboró con la reportería.

Alexandra Stevenson es la jefa del buró del Times de Shanghái, desde donde reporta sobre la economía y la sociedad de China. Más de Alexandra Stevenson


Las mujeres están logrando avances laborales lentos pero importantes en Japón

En 1987, cuando la futura emperatriz de Japón ingresó en el cuerpo diplomático de élite del país, un año después de que entró en vigor una importante ley de igualdad en el empleo, fue una de las tres únicas mujeres contratadas. Conocida en aquel entonces como Masako Owada, trabajó muchas horas y tuvo una carrera ascendente como negociadora comercial. Sin embargo, duró poco menos de seis años en el cargo, el cual dejó para casarse con el príncipe heredero —y actual emperador— Naruhito.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En las tres décadas transcurridas desde entonces, han cambiado muchas cosas para el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Japón y, de cierta manera, para las mujeres japonesas en general.

Desde el año 2020, las mujeres han conformado casi la mitad de cada nueva generación de diplomáticos y muchas continúan su carrera después de casarse. Estos avances, en un país donde en la década de 1980 las mujeres eran contratadas en su mayor parte solo para puestos de oficina, muestran cómo el simple poder de los números puede empezar, aunque sea poco a poco, a rehacer las culturas laborales y crear un canal para el liderazgo.

Durante años, Japón ha ascendido a las mujeres en el trabajo para auxiliar su tambaleante economía nacional. Los empleadores del sector privado han tomado algunas medidas, como animar a los empleados hombres a hacer más labores del hogar o poner límites a las salidas después del trabajo que puedan complicar el cuidado de los hijos. No obstante, muchas mujeres todavía tienen dificultades para equilibrar su carrera profesional con las obligaciones domésticas.

El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, el cual está a cargo de una mujer, Yoko Kamikawa, supera a otras agencias gubernamentales y a nombres corporativos reconocidos como Mitsubishi, Panasonic y SoftBank en una importante señal de progreso: la inserción de mujeres en puestos que ofrezcan crecimiento profesional.

Según la diplomática Kotono Hara, con más mujeres en las filas del ministerio, “la manera de trabajar está cambiando drásticamente”, con horarios más flexibles y la opción de trabajar a distancia.

Hara fue una de apenas seis mujeres que se sumaron al ministerio en 2005. El año pasado, fue la organizadora de una reunión de líderes mundiales de la que Japón, específicamente Hiroshima, fue sede.

En vísperas de la cumbre del Grupo de los Siete, Hara trabajaba en la oficina hasta las 6:30 p. m. y luego se iba a casa a alimentar y bañar a su hijo de edad preescolar, antes de ponerse en contacto con su equipo en línea más tarde por la noche. Al inicio de su carrera, asumió que un trabajo así no era el “tipo de puesto que realizaría una mamá”.

En 2021, el último año con estadísticas gubernamentales disponibles, las mujeres trabajadoras casadas con hijos se encargaban de más de tres cuartas partes de las labores domésticas. A esa carga se le suma el hecho de que los empleados japoneses, en promedio, trabajan casi 22 horas extra al mes, según una encuesta que realizó el año pasado Doda, un sitio web de búsqueda de empleo.

En muchas profesiones, la cantidad de horas adicionales es mucho mayor, una realidad que hace poco motivó al gobierno a limitar las horas extras a 45 horas al mes.

Antes de que entrara en vigor la Ley de Igualdad de Oportunidades en el Empleo en 1986, las mujeres eran contratadas sobre todo para trabajos de ochakumi o “servidoras de té”. Los empleadores casi no contrataban a mujeres para puestos que pudieran llevar a cargos ejecutivos, directivos o de ventas.

En la actualidad, Japón recurre a las mujeres para hacer frente a la grave escasez de trabajadores. Sin embargo, aunque más del 80 por ciento de las mujeres de entre 25 y 54 años trabajan, apenas representan poco más de una cuarta parte de los empleados permanentes de tiempo completo. Tan solo uno de cada ocho gerentes son mujeres, según datos del gobierno.

Según algunos ejecutivos, las mujeres simplemente deciden limitar sus carreras. Las japonesas “no son tan ambiciosas en comparación con las mujeres del mercado mundial”, opinó Tetsu Yamaguchi, director de recursos humanos globales de Fast Retailing, el gigante de la ropa que es dueño de Uniqlo. “Su prioridad es cuidar de sus hijos en vez de desarrollar su carrera profesional”.

A nivel mundial, el 45 por ciento de los gerentes de empresas son mujeres. En Japón, esa proporción es apenas superior a la cuarta parte.

Según expertos, es responsabilidad de los empleadores facilitar que las mujeres combinen el éxito profesional y la maternidad. Los obstáculos profesionales para las mujeres podrían perjudicar la economía a nivel general y, conforme disminuye la tasa de natalidad del país, las expectativas devastadoras en el trabajo y el hogar pueden desalentar a las mujeres ambiciosas de tener hijos.

En Sony, tan solo una de cada nueve de sus gerentes en Japón es mujer. La empresa está tomando medidas pequeñas para apoyar a las madres trabajadoras, como ofrecer cursos para futuros padres en los que se les enseña a los hombres a cambiar pañales y alimentar a los bebés.

Durante una clase reciente en la sede de la empresa en Tokio, Satoko Sasaki, de 35 años y con siete meses de embarazo, observó cómo su marido, Yudai, de 29 años e ingeniero de software de Sony, se amarraba una barriga prostética para simular las sensaciones físicas del embarazo.

Satoko Sasaki, quien trabaja como administradora en otra empresa de Tokio, comentó que le conmovía que el empleador de su marido intentara ayudar a los hombres a “comprender mi situación”.

Mencionó entre lágrimas que, en su propia empresa, “no tengo mucho apoyo” de sus colegas hombres en puestos directivos.

Takayuki Kosaka, el instructor del curso, mostró una gráfica en la que aparecía el tiempo que invertían una madre y un padre típicos en el hogar durante los primeros 100 días de vida de un bebé.

“¡El papá no hace nada!”, comentó Kosaka, mientras señalaba una barra azul que representaba el tiempo que trabajaba el padre, de 07:00 a. m. a 11:00 p. m. “Si regresa a casa a las 11 de la noche, ¿no significa que también se fue a beber?”, agregó.


Motoko Rich es reportera en Tokio y dirige la cobertura de Japón para el Times. Más de Motoko Rich

Hisako Ueno es reportera e investigadora en Tokio, escribe sobre política, negocios, género, trabajo y cultura en Japón. Más de Hisako Ueno

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