The New York Times 2024-05-16 16:11:41

Suspect Is Charged in Attempted Killing of Slovakia’s Leader


Here are the latest developments.

A suspect in the shooting of Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, has been charged, the country’s interior minister said on Thursday, describing him as a “lone wolf” who was radicalized after last month’s presidential election.

Mr. Fico’s condition had stabilized after what his government called a politically motivated assassination attempt, but he was “not out of a life-threatening situation,” the deputy prime minister told a news conference. He said Mr. Fico had only a “limited” ability to communicate and faced a “difficult” recovery.

The authorities have not named the suspect, who Slovakian news media outlets described as a 71-year-old amateur poet. But the shooting on Wednesday immediately raised political tempers in the Central European nation, which was already sharply divided between supporters of Mr. Fico (pronounced FEET-soh), who back his right-wing nationalist and anti-immigration policies, and opponents who accuse him of destroying democracy.

As the prime minister’s allies accused opponents of having “blood on their hands,” officials were urging political parties and the public to reject escalatory rhetoric and hatred. Echoing other politicians, the president-elect, Peter Pellegrini — an ally of Mr. Fico’s who was elected last month — said that “Slovakia must walk on the path of peace, not reply to hatred with hatred.”

Mr. Pellegrini called on all Slovak political parties to temporarily pause their campaigns for next month’s European Parliament elections.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Mr. Fico, a combative, shape-shifting veteran politician widely loathed by Bratislava liberals but popular outside the capital, was shot multiple times on Wednesday, taking at least one bullet in his abdomen. The shooting occurred after meetings with local officials and supporters in Handlova, a town in central Slovakia that voted heavily for his party in a September parliamentary election.

  • Slovakia’s political temperature has risen to fever pitch in recent months as Mr. Fico’s government, in power since a tight September election, has pushed for an overhaul of the country’s state broadcasting system to purge what it sees as liberal bias. Critics have accused Mr. Fico of trying to take Slovakia back to the repression of the country’s communist past before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

  • Amid criticism of how Mr. Fico’s security detail responded to the assassination attempt, the police said they had opened an inquiry into the response of security officials at the scene.

Sara Cincurova contributed reporting.

Slovak officials call the shooting suspect a ‘lone wolf’ who had recently been radicalized.

The Slovak authorities said on Thursday that the suspect in the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico was a “lone wolf” with no ties to radical organizations.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj-Estok said at a news conference that the suspect has been charged with attempted premeditated murder for what he called a “politically motivated” attack on Mr. Fico. He did not name the suspect, who Slovak news outlets have described as a 71-year-old amateur poet.

“The perpetrator was not a member of any radicalized group,” Mr. Estok said. “The only group he was a member of was the association of Slovak writers. He was not left or right — he was interested in politics, that’s all.”

Mr. Estok said that the suspect had expressed antigovernment sentiments, including attending protests over the last year, but had been “radicalized recently, after the presidential election.”

Voters in April chose Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Mr. Fico who opposes providing military and financial aid to Ukraine, in a runoff vote for the presidency. Despite the presidency’s limited powers in Slovakia, the election was widely watched as a test of strength between political camps with starkly different views on Russia.

The suspect did not “agree with current politics,” Mr. Estok said.

Sara Cincurova contributed reporting.



Calls to pause Slovakia’s E.U. election campaigning raise questions about how that could affect voting.

Calls are growing in Slovakia for political parties to suspend campaigning for the European Union elections, just three weeks away, in the wake of the assassination attempt on the prime minister in the sharply polarized country.

The president-elect of Slovakia, Peter Pellegrini, and others say the step is necessary to avoid further inflammatory political discourse, which has escalated further since the shooting that left Prime Minister Robert Fico badly wounded. At least one party, the opposition Progress Slovakia party, said it would immediately suspend its campaign, to help “end the spiral of attacks and blame.”

The local news media reported that another party, the Christian Democratic Movement, had also paused campaigning.

It is not clear how long such suspensions would last or what that would mean for Slovakia’s participation in the E.U. elections, which happen every five years. Voters across the European Union will elect 720 European Parliament representatives, with polling scheduled to take place in all 27 of the bloc’s members from June 6 to 9. Slovak voters are set to cast their ballots on June 8.

Candidates for E.U. elections come mostly from established national parties, so voters tend to be familiar with their agendas. A temporary suspension in campaigning would therefore not necessarily affect Slovakian voters’ ability to decide whom they support, provided that campaigning does resume and that elections are held as planned.

Officials at the European Parliament and the European Commission did not respond to requests for comment on the calls to suspend campaigning and whether it could have an impact on the bloc’s voting.

National electoral authorities are responsible for handling the voting, and the results are managed locally. The number of members of the European Parliament each country gets to elect depends on the country’s population size. The largest, Germany, gets the most lawmakers — 96 in total. Slovakia, significantly smaller, will elect 15 members of the European Parliament.

Slovakia’s president-elect, Peter Pellegrini, said he had been able to briefly visit the prime minister in the hospital where he is being treated. The two men were able to speak for only a few minutes, Pellegrini told a news conference outside the hospital.

“I have to say that his health state is very serious,” he said, adding that the state of Fico’s health “requires calm and peace.”

Slovakia’s officials appeal for calm in a deeply polarized country.

Officials in Slovakia were urging restraint on Thursday after an assassination attempt on the country’s prime minister, Robert Fico, calling on political parties and the public to urgently reduce tensions in the deeply polarized country.

Slovakia was already sharply divided between supporters of Mr. Fico, who back his right-wing nationalist and anti-immigration policies, and opponents who accuse him of eroding democracy.

Officials have not identified the assailant, but they said the attack appeared to be politically motivated. The suspect, who was identified as a “lone wolf,” has been charged with premeditated murder.

On Thursday, Zuzana Caputova, the country’s departing president, stressed that the attack was an “individual act” and said she would invite leaders from Slovakia’s main political parties to meet in order to “calm down the situation.”

“We have difference of opinions, but let’s not spread hatred,” she said in a statement alongside the president-elect, Peter Pellegrini.

Mr. Pellegrini echoed her appeal to tone down escalatory rhetoric while also calling on the country’s political parties to temporarily pause or “calm down” their campaigns for next month’s European Parliament elections. Campaigns, he told a news conference, naturally involve confrontations and “strong opinions.”

“We do not need more confrontation,” he said, adding that “civilized discussion” was critical before the polls.

Amid questions about the response of Slovak security forces to the shooting, Michal Simecka, the chair of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, expressed confidence that the authorities would carry out “a thorough investigation of their actions.”

“Instead of blaming each other, today we especially need to reduce tension and polarization in society, create space for the investigation of this terrible act,” he wrote on social media.

He later welcomed Mr. Pellegrini’s suggestion of pausing campaigning for the European Parliament elections, saying that his party had done so and would do everything it can to help “calm the situation” in Slovakia.

The police, who had asked news outlets and social media users to turn off comments on articles and posts about the attack, said they were monitoring online activity. Some comments have condoned the violence against Mr. Fico, the police said on Facebook on Thursday, adding that if police action were needed, it would be taken.

Slovakia’s often venomous divisions have been fed by its particularly noxious online ecosphere, where politicians have gained large followings with intemperate attacks on domestic critics and Western leaders.

Mr. Fico returned to the premiership last year, defying expectations after his Smer party narrowly won a bitterly contested legislative election.

After the shooting, politicians across the political spectrum pointed fingers at one another. Lubos Blaha, the vice chairman of Smer, said the opposition and what he called “the liberal media” had “built a gallows” for the prime minister by “spreading so much hatred.” Rudolf Huliak, an ally of the government from the far-right Slovak National Party, said progressives and journalists “have Robert Fico’s blood on their hands.”

Slovakia’s political temperature has risen to fever pitch in recent months as Mr. Fico’s government has pushed for an overhaul of the country’s state broadcasting system to purge what it sees as liberal bias and crack down on nongovernmental organizations it views as agents of foreign meddling.



The prime minister’s condition has stabilized, but he is “not out of a life-threatening situation,” Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak told a news conference. He said that doctors were doing everything they could to help him, but that “the recovery will be difficult.”

When asked whether Fico was conscious, Kalinak said that the prime minister remained in serious condition and had a “limited” ability to communicate.

The suspect has been charged with attempted premeditated murder, according to Interior Minister Matus Sutaj-Estok, who is briefing the news media right now. He did not identify the suspect, but said he was a “lone wolf” who was “radicalized recently, after the presidential election” last month and had expressed antigovernment sentiment.

E.U. elections will take place across the bloc of 27 countries from June 6 to 9; Slovakia is set to vote June 8. The call to tone down or even temporarily pause campaigning in Slovakia so close to the election puts the E.U. in unknown territory: Who will decide when campaigning resumes? Will voting go ahead as scheduled, and what does that mean for the E.U.-wide elections?

The Slovak authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the attack and an inquiry into the response of security officials at the scene, according to Andrea Dobiasova, a spokeswoman for the country’s Inspection Service Office, which is part of the police force.



Slovakia’s security council is meeting in Bratislava. One thing on the agenda, according to local news media reports, is who will lead the country while Fico recovers.

Zuzana Caputova, the country’s departing president, is giving a statement alongside Peter Pellegrini, the president-elect. Stressing that the attack was an “individual act,” she urges the leaders of all political parties to appeal for calm and reject violence.

Pellegrini echoed that sentiment, saying, “Slovakia must walk on the path of peace, not reply to hatred with hatred.” “We do not need more confrontation,” he said, adding that “civilized discussion” was critical, especially given the looming European Union elections.

Michal Simecka, the chair of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, acknowledged criticism of how security forces responded to the assassination attempt but expressed confidence that the authorities would carry out “a thorough investigation of their actions.” “Instead of blaming each other, today we especially need to reduce tension and polarization in society, create space for the investigation of this terrible act,” he wrote on social media.

Miriam Lapunikova, the director of the hospital where Fico is being treated, said he had undergone five hours of surgery for multiple gunshot wounds, work that required two operating teams. She said that the prime minister’s condition remained “truly very serious” and that he remained in the intensive-care unit.



An extraordinary meeting of Slovakia’s Security Council will take place in about 20 minutes, according to the government, and the cabinet will also convene.

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.

Slovakia — a landlocked country of around 5 million people — 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. That year, the Berlin Wall fell, Communist power in much of Eastern Europe collapsed and the Cold War in effect ended.

Mr. Fico, who had been a Communist Party member while it was in power, founded the Smer party in the late 1990s. He 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. 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.

The Smer party started out on the political left but has increasingly embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues. 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. Like Mr. Orban, Mr. Fico has been a staunch critic of the European Union.

After a parliamentary election last fall, Mr. Fico began his third term as prime minister, then had heart surgery the next month. He emerged to form 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, Giorgia 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.

Mr. Fico was born on Sept. 15, 1964, into a working-class family in the city of Topolcany in the Nitra Region of what is now Slovakia. He graduated in 1986 from Comenius University Bratislava, where he received a law degree, according to the Slovak government’s website. He earned a doctorate at the Institute of State and Law at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and served in the military from 1986 to 1987.

Mr. Fico studied in the United States, Britain, Finland, Belgium and France, specializing in human rights and criminal law, according to the government website. He married Svetlana Ficova, a lawyer and professor, and they have a son. News reports in Slovakia say the couple is separated.

A correction was made on 

May 16, 2024

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of Italy’s leader. She is Giorgia Meloni, not Georgia.

When we learn of a mistake, we acknowledge it with a correction. If you spot an error, please let us know at more

Zelensky Visits Embattled North as Russia Presses Broad Assaults

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine traveled to the embattled region of Kharkiv on Thursday, meeting with top commanders as their forces fought to slow a new offensive push in the northeast while facing fierce assaults elsewhere on the front line.

The Ukrainian military reported late on Wednesday that it had repelled four ground attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russian forces surged across the border last week and quickly captured a dozen or so villages and about 50 square miles of territory. Russia’s defense ministry did not report any new gains in the Kharkiv region over the past day.

“The situation in the Kharkiv region is generally under control,” President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on social media on Thursday after meeting in Kharkiv with Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, and other top military commanders. He also visited wounded soldiers in a hospital in the city of Kharkiv.

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Middle East Crisis: Israel Says It Will Send More Troops to Rafah, Defying International Pressure

The announcement suggests that Israel plans to push deeper into Rafah.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said on Thursday that the Israeli army would send more troops to Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza that has become the focal point in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The announcement signaled that Israel intends to press deeper into Rafah despite international concerns about its ground invasion of the city, where more than a million displaced people had been sheltering.

“Hundreds of targets have already been attacked,” Mr. Gallant said after meeting with commanders in the Rafah area. “This operation will continue.”

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled the city in recent days, many of whom have had to move repeatedly over seven months of an unrelenting war, U.N. officials say.

Until now, Israeli troops and tanks have made only a limited incursion into eastern Rafah, and on May 7 they seized the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, a vital entry point for aid. The crossing remains shuttered, leaving wounded and ill people who need treatment abroad with no way out, and hundreds of aid trucks piling up in Egypt.

Diplomats and Palestinian officials have said the army’s operations in and around the crossing and nearby clashes between soldiers and Hamas fighters have created a dangerous environment for humanitarian workers.

Mr. Gallant, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, also said Israeli troops had destroyed tunnels in Rafah. Two Israeli officials said a key objective of the operation was to demolish tunnels between Egypt and Gaza that have allowed Hamas to replenish its weapons supply over the years.

Egypt and Israel maintain a decades-old peace treaty and close security cooperation, but Israel’s invasion of Rafah has tested the sensitive relationship.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly spoken of the need to destroy Hamas’s battalions in Rafah. In recent days, some Hamas militants have fled the city, according to four Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

The fighters have headed northward alongside civilians, the officials said. While it was unclear how many militants escaped, their flight underscored that at least some would be left unscathed by Israel’s invasion of the city.

Natan Odenheimer contributed reporting for this article.

Families who fled Israel’s offensive find refuge but little else in Khan Younis.

Ra’fat Abu Tueima, 62, and his family were displaced last week for the sixth time since the war in Gaza began, after Israel launched an offensive in parts of the southern city of Rafah that forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee.

Mr. Abu Tueima, a taxi driver before the war, is staying in a tent inside the courtyard of a United Nations-run school in the city of Khan Younis with his wife, their young son and eight children from his late first wife. Outside the school on Thursday, a few trucks carrying humanitarian aid drove down the street while children tried to grab whatever they could, a few making off with bags of sugar.

Few other relief supplies, including food or tents, are available for the thousands of Palestinians who have fled to Khan Younis over the past week and a half, since the Rafah operation began.

“No one here helped us with anything,” Mr. Abu Tueima said, beginning to break down in tears.

“Life here is not fair at all for us; we want to live in peace like others,” he said. “In Rafah, people and charities offered us a little money, but here, not one single person asked about us. No one even cares about all of those children and women here.”

Israel’s offensive in Rafah has stopped nearly all aid from getting through the two main border crossings in southern Gaza. The United Nations’ World Food Program warned on Wednesday that its food and fuel stocks would run out in a matter of days, saying in a statement that “the threat of famine in Gaza never loomed larger.”

The agency also said it had difficulty reaching its main warehouse in Rafah because of the Israeli offensive and fighting in the area.

Fuel in Gaza has been in short supply ever since Israel announced a “complete siege” of the territory on Oct. 9, two days after the Hamas-led attack. The lack of fuel has threatened the operation of trucks, hospitals, generators, sewage pumping plants, desalination systems and other basic services for 2.2 million people.

At least 600,000 people have fled Rafah in just the last week, according to the main U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, known as UNRWA. Another 100,000 have been displaced from their homes and shelters in northern Gaza amid renewed evacuation orders from the Israeli military, which said it was engaged in intense fighting with Hamas fighters who had returned to the area.

In Khan Younis, “no one is distributing anything, no one is helping, nothing enters to help the people,” said Mohammed Aborjela, who arrived from Rafah days ago. The few goods arriving in the city on commercial trucks are being sold at high prices, he said.

The 27-year-old, a project coordinator with a development organization, said that Palestinians fleeing Rafah and other areas were paying hundreds of dollars for transportation on the backs of trucks and donkey carts, leaving them little money to pay for food or tents, which sell for at least 1,000 shekels (about $270) and as much as twice that.

“People don’t have this money,” he said. “People are sleeping in the streets waiting for aid groups to come and help them build a tent.”

The Tueima family fled Rafah a week ago and managed to bring only blankets and clothes. They had to pay 250 shekels for a van to transport them from the embattled city to the U.N. school in Khan Younis where they are now sheltering.

His wife, Najah Abu Tueima, 42, miscarried with twins days into the war after the family was forced under bombardment to flee its home near the Israeli border.

“We are here on our own,” Ms. Abu Tueima said. “I’m fed up and over-exhausted with the repeated evacuation journeys and suffering.”

Satellite images show widening destruction as Israeli forces push closer to central Rafah.

Gaza War Live Updates: Israel Says It Will Send More Troops to Rafah – The New York Times

Israeli forces appear to be pushing closer to the center of the city of Rafah, according to satellite imagery, which shows military vehicles and widespread destruction of neighborhoods more than two and a half miles into Gaza from the Israeli border, as well as Palestinians fleeing the city even outside of areas the Israeli military has said to evacuate.

Israeli troops are still on the eastern side of the city in southern Gaza, according to the imagery, captured on Wednesday by the commercial satellite company Planet Labs. But they have continued to move toward central Rafah in recent days, passing the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Salah al-Din road, Gaza’s main artery.

Collapsed buildings and debris are seen throughout this neighborhood, where only limited damage was visible before Israel started its incursion last week.

Gaza War Live Updates: Israel Says It Will Send More Troops to Rafah – The New York Times

While it is not possible to know exactly what caused the damage in areas throughout Rafah, much of what is seen is consistent with the aftermath of Israeli bombardment and ground operations elsewhere in Gaza since the war began last October.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’s last stronghold, and a critical gateway for arms shipments smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. It says it is determined to make sure the militants who were behind the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel no longer pose a threat.

But Rafah has also been a refuge for more than a million Palestinians who fled Israeli bombardment in other parts of Gaza. The United Nations says that hundreds of thousands of people have fled Rafah in recent days, and the imagery indicates that large numbers of people are leaving the center of Rafah, even in areas outside of evacuation orders the Israeli military has issued for the city.

Areas of Rafah that were full of tents and vehicles just a week ago appeared empty on Wednesday.

Christoph Koettl contributed reporting.

The U.S. military installs a temporary pier in Gaza for humanitarian aid.

The U.S. military anchored a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast on Thursday, creating a point of entry for humanitarian aid for the enclave, where the flow of supplies through land borders has largely come to a halt since Israel began its incursion into Rafah last week.

The aid will be loaded onto trucks that will begin moving ashore “in the coming days,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement Thursday morning. U.S. officials had said last week that the floating pier and causeway had been completed, but that weather conditions had delayed their installation.

Israel has long opposed a seaport for Gaza, saying it would pose a security threat. As the humanitarian crisis in the territory has spiraled in recent months, with severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic needs, the U.S. military in March announced a plan to build a temporary pier to enable aid shipments via the Mediterranean Sea.

An American ship loaded with humanitarian aid, the Sagamore, set off for Gaza from Cyprus last week, and the aid was loaded onto a smaller vessel that had been waiting for the pier to be installed. The United Nations will receive the aid and oversee its distribution in Gaza, according to Central Command, which said no U.S. troops would set foot in the territory.

Over the next two days, the U.S. military and humanitarian groups will aim to load three to five trucks from the pier and send them into Gaza as a test of the process laid out by the Pentagon, said General Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’ll probably take another 24 hours to make sure everything is set up,” he told reporters on Thursday aboard a flight to Brussels, where he was attending a NATO meeting. “We have our force protection that’s been put in place, we have contract truck drivers on the other side, and there’s fuel for those truck drivers as well.”

The Pentagon hopes the pier operation will bring in enough aid for around 90 trucks a day, a number that will increase to 150 trucks when the system reaches full operating capacity, officials say.

In a briefing on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, said supporting the temporary pier project was a “top priority.” He said the Israeli Navy and the 99th Division were supporting the effort by sea and by land, respectively.

Aid groups say the devastation in Gaza after seven months of Israeli bombardment, strict Israeli inspections and restrictions on crossing points are limiting the amount of aid that can enter Gaza. Israel has maintained that the restrictions are necessary to ensure that neither weapons nor supplies fall into the hands of Hamas.

The United Nations’ World Food Program said on Wednesday that it had not received any aid through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel in southern Gaza since May 6, as Israeli troops began a military operation in the area near the city of Rafah. The agency said in a statement that access to its warehouse in Rafah had been cut off because of the fighting, and that its stock of food and fuel would run out “in a matter of days.”

“The threat of famine in Gaza never loomed larger,” the agency said, adding that Israel’s operations in Rafah had significantly set back efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis for the enclave’s 2.2 million people.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Dan Dieckhaus, a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development, stressed that the maritime aid corridor was meant to supplement deliveries through land crossings, not replace them.

The Pentagon has said that the pier could help deliver as many as two million meals a day.

An aid group, World Central Kitchen, built a makeshift jetty in mid-March to deliver aid by sea to Gaza for the first time in nearly two decades. But those efforts came to an abrupt stop in early April after seven of the group’s workers were killed in an Israeli strike.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

The top U.N. court hears new arguments from South Africa on Israel’s actions in Gaza.

South Africa on Thursday urged the judges of the United Nations’ top court to order Israel to end its ground assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, saying it put Palestinians in the enclave at imminent risk of destruction.

The hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague came after South Africa requested last week that the court issue further constraints on Israel in its military campaign in Gaza. In filings disclosed by the court, South Africa cited the “irreparable harm” posed by Israel’s incursion into Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza where half of the territory’s population had sought refuge.

“It has become increasingly clear that Israel’s actions in Rafah are part of the end game in which Gaza is utterly destroyed as an area capable of human habitation,” Vaughan Lowe, a British lawyer, told the court. “This is the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.”

Mr. Lowe was part of the South African legal team that was given two hours on Thursday to present its case.

South Africa’s filings said the rights of Palestinians in Gaza were under threat, adding that Israel’s control over two major border crossings in southern Gaza — at Rafah and at Kerem Shalom — put at extreme risk the flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza and the ability for hospitals there to function.

“It is difficult to imagine such a situation could get worse, but, unfortunately, it has,” John Dugard, another member of the South African team, told the court.

Several members of the team addressed the court in an attempt to build their case, quoting frequently from warnings by senior United Nations officials that an assault on Rafah would worsen conditions for civilians and the enclave’s hunger crisis.

One of the lawyers, Adila Hassim, showed the court a photo of shattered buildings in Khan Younis, a city north of Rafah, to illustrate the devastation caused by Israel’s military in Gaza as a whole. Ms. Hassim appeared to be on the verge of tears as she described the deaths of children in the military campaign.

Israel has vehemently denied South Africa’s claims, repeating that it has placed no restrictions on the amount of aid entering the enclave. Israel has also said that its latest assault on eastern Rafah was a “precise operation” targeting only members of Hamas, the terrorist group that led the Oct. 7 attacks, which Israeli authorities say killed more than 1,200 Israelis and led to the capture of about 250 others.

Israel is expected to make its defense before the court on Friday. Gilad Noam, Israel’s deputy attorney general for international law, is among the officials in the Israeli delegation who are expected to address the court. It was not clear when the court would issue a decision.

The hearings are part of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide, which it filed in December. In late January, the court ordered Israel to do more to prevent acts of genocide, but it stopped short of calling for a cease-fire. The main case, dealing with the accusation of genocide, is not expected to start until next year.

The court, established by the founding charter of the United Nations in 1945, was created to settle disputes between member states. It has no means of enforcing its orders, but the South Africa case has contributed to the international pressure on Israel to rein in its campaign in Gaza.

Marlise Simons and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

The Israeli military says 5 soldiers were killed in friendly fire.

Israeli tank fire killed five of Israel’s own soldiers in Gaza, a military spokesman said on Thursday, in the latest incident of so-called friendly fire since Israel invaded the enclave in October.

Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said at a news briefing that the men had been killed by tank fire on Wednesday as they were fighting in a densely populated area of the territory.

“There was an incident of friendly fire — five soldiers were killed,” he said, adding, “The incident is under review.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that the men had been killed in Gaza City in the north of the territory, and that seven soldiers had also been wounded when two tanks opened fire. The Israeli military later named the five, who were from the Paratroopers Brigade, on its website.

The bulk of Israeli forces began a withdrawal from northern Gaza earlier this year, with Israel saying it had defeated Hamas battalions in the area. But in recent weeks Israeli troops have returned to the north, including Gaza City, to battle fighters from Hamas they said have regrouped.

About 278 Israeli soldiers have died in Gaza since the start of the military offensive more than seven months ago, the military has said. It said in December that one-fifth of the 105 soldiers who had been killed to that point had died in accidents and that, of those deaths, 13 were the result of friendly fire.

What to Know About the Summit Between Putin and Xi in China

When China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, hosts President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this week, the two leaders are expected to present a united front. But they have different agendas.

Mr. Putin is trying to escalate his war in Ukraine before Ukrainian forces can receive a replenishment of arms from the United States, and probably wants to know he can rely on China. Mr. Xi will seek to bolster his strategic partner and “old friend,” but he is also under pressure to avoid further alienating the West over his support for Russia.

Those priorities are the backdrop of Mr. Putin’s two-day state visit, which began in Beijing on Thursday and will include a trip to the northeastern city of Harbin, where a China-Russia trade fair is being held.

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Venezuela’s 2024 Presidential Vote: What to Know

  • Why is this election important?

  • Will the election be free and fair?

  • Does Maduro face any serious challengers?

  • What are the main issues?

  • When will the results be known?

  • Where can I find out more information?

The outcome of Venezuela’s presidential election, which will take place on July 28, will be consequential for the future of the country’s democracy, as well as for the more than seven million Venezuelans who have abandoned the country and have contributed to a migrant surge in the United States.

For the past 25 years Venezuela’s government has been controlled by Chavismo, the socialist movement that began with the democratic election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and has since grown more authoritarian. When Mr. Chávez died in 2013 his protégé Nicolás Maduro narrowly won the presidency.

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The Unpunished: How Extremists Took Over Israel

Ronen Bergman and

This story is told in three parts. The first documents the unequal system of justice that grew around Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. The second shows how extremists targeted not only Palestinians but also Israeli officials trying to make peace. The third explores how this movement gained control of the state itself. Taken together, they tell the story of how a radical ideology moved from the fringes to the heart of Israeli political power.

By the end of October, it was clear that no one was going to help the villagers of Khirbet Zanuta. A tiny Palestinian community, some 150 people perched on a windswept hill in the West Bank near Hebron, it had long faced threats from the Jewish settlers who had steadily encircled it. But occasional harassment and vandalism, in the days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, escalated into beatings and murder threats. The villagers made appeal after appeal to the Israeli police and to the ever-present Israeli military, but their calls for protection went largely unheeded, and the attacks continued with no consequences. So one day the villagers packed what they could, loaded their families into trucks and disappeared.

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Calls to Pause Slovakia’s E.U. Election Campaigning Raise Questions

Calls to Pause Slovakia’s E.U. Election Campaigning Raise Questions

At least one party, the opposition Progress Slovakia, said it would suspend its campaign, in a move to help “end the spiral of attacks and blame.”

Reporting from Brussels

Calls are growing in Slovakia for political parties to suspend campaigning for the European Union elections, just three weeks away, in the wake of the assassination attempt on the prime minister in the sharply polarized country.

The president-elect of Slovakia, Peter Pellegrini, and others say the step is necessary to avoid further inflammatory political discourse, which has escalated further since the shooting that left Prime Minister Robert Fico badly wounded. At least one party, the opposition Progress Slovakia party, said it would immediately suspend its campaign, to help “end the spiral of attacks and blame.”

The local news media reported that another party, the Christian Democratic Movement, had also paused campaigning.

It is not clear how long such suspensions would last or what that would mean for Slovakia’s participation in the E.U. elections, which happen every five years. Voters across the European Union will elect 720 European Parliament representatives, with polling scheduled to take place in all 27 of the bloc’s members from June 6 to 9. Slovak voters are set to cast their ballots on June 8.

Candidates for E.U. elections come mostly from established national parties, so voters tend to be familiar with their agendas. A temporary suspension in campaigning would therefore not necessarily affect Slovakian voters’ ability to decide whom they support, provided that campaigning does resume and that elections are held as planned.

Officials at the European Parliament and the European Commission did not respond to requests for comment on the calls to suspend campaigning and whether it could have an impact on the bloc’s voting.

National electoral authorities are responsible for handling the voting, and the results are managed locally. The number of members of the European Parliament each country gets to elect depends on the country’s population size. The largest, Germany, gets the most lawmakers — 96 in total. Slovakia, significantly smaller, will elect 15 members of the European Parliament.

What to Know About the Shooting of Slovakia’s Prime Minister

Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia was shot five times on Wednesday, in the most serious attack on a European leader in decades. Officials said the act was a politically motivated assassination attempt, stoking fears that Europe’s increasingly polarized and vitriolic politics could tip into violence.

Mr. Fico, a veteran politician, underwent hours of emergency surgery after being critically wounded in a town in central Slovakia. Hospital and government officials said Thursday that Mr. Fico’s condition had stabilized overnight but remained serious.

Here is what we know about the shooting.

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Dancing Past the Venus de Milo


Reporting from Paris and dancing through the Louvre

I fell in love with the Louvre one morning while doing disco moves to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” in the Salle des Cariatides.

The museum, a former medieval fortress and then royal palace, had not yet opened, and I was following instructions to catwalk and hip bump and point in the grand room where Louis XIV once held plays and balls.

The sun cast warm light through long windows, striping the pink-and-white checkered floor and bathing the marble arms, heads and wings of the ancient Grecian statues around me.

“Point, and point, and point,” shouted Salim Bagayoko, a dance instructor. So I struck my best John Travolta poses and pointed around the room, my eyes landing on the delicate sandaled foot of Artemus, the wings of a Niobid and the stone penis of Apollo.

The woman beside me caught my eye. We giggled.

Over the years, I have felt many things in the world’s most-visited, and arguably most-famous, museum — irritation, exhaustion and some wonder, too.

This time, I felt joy.

With the Summer Olympics coming to Paris in a few months, museums and galleries across the country have been competing to put on Olympics-themed shows. One of the Louvre’s offerings is an hourlong dance-and-exercise circuit through the building, which museum officials call “Courez au Louvre” — meaning both run to and run in the Louvre.

The museum seemed a natural training gym, explained its performing arts director, Luc Bouniol-Laffont. It is so big that the staff wear running shoes to cover its 400 rooms, which, when stretched together, extend more than nine miles. And exercise would offer a different connection to some of the 33,000 works.

“It’s not the spirit looking,” he explained. “It’s the body.”

He offered Mehdi Kerkouche, a local choreographer, a tour with curators and gave him carte blanche to design the sessions — with one small request.

“Forget the Mona Lisa, for once,” Mr. Bouniol-Laffont said. “There are so many other things to see.”

The classes, priced at 38 euros, about $41, for adults, sold out within an hour of going live online. They last through the end of this month.

The biggest draw is the timing. The dancing begins an hour before the museum opens. Each morning, some 60 lucky people — divided into two groups of 30 — get to experience a private viewing normally enjoyed only by the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

No giant lines, no pressing crowds, no selfie-sticks: We had the Louvre to ourselves.

Here’s a secret: While the French are passionate gallery-goers, they aren’t huge into the Louvre. Some nine million people crowd its halls each year, but the vast majority aren’t French. The place is just too big and crowded. The experience of viewing the Mona Lisa is similar to squeezing into the subway at rush hour; some 30,000 people press before it each day. Why suffer through that when there are more than 100 less-packed museums, full of marvelous things, scattered around the city?

Even Mr. Kerkouche admitted he hadn’t been inside the building since he was a child. “All the Parisians are the same,” he said. “I bike every day in front of it to go from one place to another in the city. But I just don’t look at it anymore.”

Arriving at the Louvre alone, before the crowds, gave me the space to really look at it. And boy, is it breathtaking.

In the center of the outer courtyard, I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid glowed purple-blue in the morning light. I stepped inside it and floated down the escalator into the museum’s modern foyer, the reflection of the building’s ornate stone facades, with its columns and statues, scattered around me.

I felt like a character in a Disney cartoon. It was magical.

Mr. Kerkouche’s idea was to have a four-part session, in four different rooms, tucked close to one another in two of the Louvre’s three wings. Otherwise, he said, the hour would be eaten up by commuting.

He asked four collaborators — three dancers and his gym coach — to help design a 15-minute class for each space. Each one was inspired, energetically, by the room.

Disco in the Salle des Cariatides, which once had held royal balls, was obvious — to him, disco was the modern version of ballroom dancing. “We have to give back the first purpose of this room,” he said.

From there, my group stepped into the next room for some quick stretching beside the Venus de Milo and then ran down to the basement to the oldest part of the building. There, we did warrior training — lunges, squats and jumping jacks to the beats of the AC/DC song “Highway to Hell.”

The activity befit the Louvre’s origins as a fortress built around 1200 to protect the medieval city from the Normans while King Philippe Auguste was on a crusade. Over the centuries, it was converted into a royal palace and greatly expanded. In 1984, while doing a huge renovation of the building, archaeologists unearthed the base of the original rough limestone walls.

We did running races up and down the steps toward the Great Sphynx of Tanis, which guards the entrance to the Egyptian antiquities collection. I imagined its pouting lips smiling just slightly, and its huge stone tail flicking in mild feline amusement.

We whooped and hollered as we ran up the stairwell to the next class, the echoes washing over my body. The instructors played hide-and-seek during their first walk-through together, I was told. They maintained that sense of playfulness.

It was all so otherworldly and silly. I felt the sense of exhilaration and freedom I remember from summer camp when I was a kid.

We were instructed to dance into our next class, through a tunnel made of the massive bodies of two stone bulls with eagle wings and the heads of bearded men. Inside, we were greeted by a reconstructed 2,700-year-old courtyard of Khorsabad, a palace of King Sargon II, leader of the Assyrian empire. Abandoned soon after his death, the palace was unearthed in 1843 in modern-day Iraq by the French vice consul to Mosul. Parts were sent to the Louvre soon after for display.

The giant statues inspired Mr. Kerkouche to offer a class in dancehall, the Jamaican urban dance in which moves are rooted, powerful and sensual.

“We are living statues,” said Queensy Blazin’, the dance instructor who led us through rounds of twerking, stomping while scooping our arms and bouncing forward into squats while barking “ha” to the deep beats of Sean Paul’s “Get Busy.”

The joy was infectious and irresistible.

Even the security guard was dancing at her post. She had never seen anything like it in her 34 years working here, she confided.

Beauty shouldn’t just be stared at, I realized. It should be enjoyed and celebrated.

Our last stop was in the part of the Louvre that was once a parking lot for the Ministry of Finance, which, for more than a century, had its offices in one wing of the building. As part of the 1984 renovation, the museum directors converted the space into a peaceful courtyard with potted trees, benches and Carrara marble statues from the royal gardens of the Marly palace. That was a former getaway spot for Louis XIV, where he’d come to relax in the stunning gardens, resplendent with waterfalls, groves and pools.

And so there we did yoga. The teacher led us through downward dogs and pigeon poses before giant statues of rearing horses and hunters — a homage to the king’s favorite pastimes.

I noticed sea gulls wheeling above the giant glass roof.

“Normally, yoga is very introspective,” Laure Dary, the instructor, explained to me later. “But this is a setting like no other. I have to tell them to open their eyes.”

She directed us to focus on one statue, and take it as a mental memento. I gazed into the stone eye of a marble boar being speared by a hunter in a tunic.

At the end, my fellow rosy-cheeked participants crowded around the teachers to thank them profusely. We were all high on endorphins.

“This was a life highlight,” beamed Benny Nemer, 50, a Canadian artist who has lived in Paris for four years.

My only criticism: 15 minutes was not enough time in each room. I need to go back and examine them all intimately, plus see some other ones I glimpsed while running by. Which was exactly the point, according to Mr. Bouniol-Laffont of the Louvre — to lure Parisians back into the building, and remind them of the place’s majesty.

Because once you fall in love with a place, you don’t want to be parted from it.

In Talks With Putin, Xi Hails ‘Powerful Driving Force’ of Cooperation

With his army making advances in Ukraine and his political grip tightened at home after securing an unprecedented fifth term as president, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Beijing on Thursday in search of another win: more support from his “dear friend,” Xi Jinping.

Mr. Putin, whose economy is isolated from the West because of sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine, relies on Mr. Xi, China’s leader, for diplomatic cover and a financial lifeline, including huge purchases of Russian oil. But Mr. Putin will need more help to sustain his war machine, especially now as his military makes a push near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, before billions of dollars’ worth of arms arrives from the United States to shore up Ukraine’s depleted forces.

In Beijing, Mr. Putin sought to show that Moscow was deepening its ties with Beijing as a bulwark against Western attempts to contain their countries. “We are working in solidarity on the formulation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order,” he said.

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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.”

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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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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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.


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.

The return to a pre-modern age carries awful consequences for people’s lives. When a baby’s fever spikes, there is no way to call a doctor. Rebel fighters, who have overrun dozens of Myanmar military bases in recent offensives, cannot contact battle commanders from frontline outposts. Students cannot attend online classes, which in some places in Myanmar are the only educational option.

News — who survived an airstrike, whose village was burned, whose daughter has fled the country for work abroad — travels at a pedestrian’s pace or, if expensive fuel can be found, by motorcycles bumping along jungle paths.

Yet the communications blackout has brought one unexpected benefit. Without the distraction of hand-held devices, people talk to each other, in person, with eye contact. They joke. They sing. They dance. They play the guitar.

Only a war, it seems, can break the engrossing command of a tiny screen.

In what people in Karenni call the B.C. years — that’s Before Coup — nearly everyone was on Facebook. Then, in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 1, 2021, the junta pulled the plug on telecommunications. That was the first sign of trouble. By the morning, most of the nation’s elected leadership had been arrested. They remain imprisoned today.

Since the coup, internet and cell services have been restored in most other parts of the country, but Facebook and other social media are banned. In regions where militias have repelled the junta’s forces — like parts of Karenni State (also known as Kayah State) in the east, Rakhine State in the west, and the Sagaing Region and Chin State in the northwest — entire townships are still in the dark.

Without online games to play or videos to stream on phones, the shadowed space at night is filled most often by homegrown music.

On the front lines, when the thud of artillery recedes for the day, or the hour, resistance soldiers trade AK rifles for guitars. A rebel army commander slaps a beat on a cajón, the Afro-Peruvian instrument. At a hospital, emergency supplies are lined up against a wall made of leaves: bandages, rubber gloves, rubbing alcohol — and a ukulele.

After serving rebel soldiers a meal of spicy noodles with foraged herbs, Emily Oo picked up a guitar resting on the dirt floor of a security outpost captured last year by opposition forces. A few years ago, she was a middle school student in Loikaw, the state capital of Karenni, studying English and TikTok dance moves.

Last year, she and her family fled home as fighting between resistance soldiers and the junta’s forces engulfed her neighborhood. Most people in Karenni are now displaced, living with a few bundles of their most valuable possessions, including, surprisingly often, a guitar.

“History is written with our blood,” she sang. “The heroes who lost their lives in the battle for democracy.”

The lyrics, part of a well-known revolutionary anthem, were written by candlelight in 1988 when Myanmar was consumed by another national uprising against an earlier military dictatorship. After that protest movement was violently crushed, Myanmar seemed to slip further back in time, while most of Asia urbanized and prospered.

A dozen years ago, the junta then ruling Myanmar priced SIM cards at roughly four times the country’s average annual income, preventing all but the richest from connecting with the world.

So most people’s source of news — or an amalgamation of fact, rumor and rhetorical flourish — was the local tea shop, as it had been for decades. People sat on plastic stools around plastic tables, leaning in close to avoid military intelligence spies who might be listening in. The tea, either milky sweet or bracingly bitter, grew cold. The gossip was hot.

As political reforms brought in a quasi-civilian administration in 2016, internet access became cheaper. Facebook accounts proliferated. So did online disinformation. Falsehoods about sexual violence fanned the flames of genocide against a Muslim minority.

Today, in Karenni, Myanmar’s smallest state and one of the least developed even before the online blackout, innuendo again stands in for truth. Conspiracy theories multiply. But amid the uncertainty and paranoia, music acts as a salve.

“Every day I heard the sounds of bombs, airplanes and gunshots,” said Maw Hpray Myar, 23, who fled a junta-controlled city and started a music school in the forests of Karenni. “When we hear the sounds of music, our fears go away a little bit.”

When there is the uncommon chance to access the internet, the appeal of getting online can pose its own dangers.

In January, members of the resistance assembled at a secret command post in Loikaw. They were not there for battle strategy but for access to Wi-Fi, courtesy of Starlink, a satellite internet service used in conflict zones worldwide.

The resistance forces binged on Facebook. They hearted photos of newborn babies and images of other rebel recruits posing, young and resolute, in their camouflage uniforms. Some were so absorbed by their online forays that they didn’t notice the whirring nearby, one soldier who was there recalled.

He and others escaped the armed drone dispatched by the junta’s forces. But three people too tethered to the internet did not and were injured in the attack, one seriously.

On the night of the third anniversary of the coup, opposition soldiers gathered in the rebel-controlled town of Demoso to celebrate the marriage of Augustine and Josephine, whose names were proclaimed on a sign at the venue. Augustine was heading to the front soon, and many of the other militia members were enjoying a couple days’ respite from battle. Generators lit up the tent, and soldiers occasionally glanced at the sky to ensure no fighter jet was targeting the bright festivities.

As the partygoers knocked back shots of whiskey before crowding the dance floor, Ko Yan Naing Htoo sat on a plastic stool, smoking. In the B.C. years, he had been an accountant. Then he joined a rebel army. A land mine claimed his leg.

“I feel very sorry that I cannot fight alongside my comrades anymore,” he said.

A commander boogied over to Mr. Yan Naing Htoo and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. They nodded to the music, the lyrics about missing home for a people displaced from theirs. Then a wave of song carried the commander back to the dance floor.

Marooned on his plastic stool, Mr. Yan Naing Htoo sucked on his cigarette. His hand went to his pocket and pulled out a phone, a vestigial motion from another era. He swiped the device. It was dead. He put it away and watched as men swayed and sang, so near but just out of reach.

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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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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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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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Scandal Brought Reforms to Soccer. Its Leaders Are Rolling Them Back.

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The 12-page report was intended to save soccer’s governing body, FIFA, in its moment of existential crisis.

Filled with reform proposals and drawn up by more than a dozen soccer insiders in December 2015, the report was FIFA’s best chance to show business partners, U.S. investigators and billions of fans that it could be trusted again after one of the biggest corruption scandals in sports history.

In bullet points and numbered sections, the report championed high-minded ideas like accountability and humility. It also proposed concrete and, for FIFA, revolutionary changes: transparency in how major decisions were reached; term limits for top leaders and new limits on presidential power; and the abolition of well-funded committees widely viewed as a system of institutional graft.

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Ahead of Olympics, World Anti-Doping Agency Faces a Trust Crisis

Two months before the Olympics are scheduled to begin in Paris, the global agency tasked with policing doping in sports is facing a growing crisis as it fends off allegations it helped cover up the positive tests of elite Chinese swimmers who went on to compete — and win medals — at the last Summer Games.

The allegations are particularly vexing for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has long billed itself as the gold standard in the worldwide movement for clean sports, because they raise the specter that the agency — and by extension the entire system set up to try to keep the Olympics clean — cannot be trusted.

Athletes are openly questioning whether WADA can be relied upon to do its core job of ensuring there will be a level playing field in Paris, where some of the same Chinese swimmers are favorites to win more medals.

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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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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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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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