Croatia enters the European Union: The European Union now has 28 member states. Croatia officially joined on Monday after a process that lasted almost a decade. Thousands of people attended a special event in the capital Zagreb to mark the occasion. But the new era has been greeted cautiously by both locals and foreign officials.
1 July 2013
As the clock struck midnight, the anthem of the European Union rang out across Zagreb’s main square and at last Croatia completed its journey from combat zone of the former Yugoslavia to member of Europe’s biggest club.
But this was not entirely an ode to joy. Zagreb’s main square was hardly packed for most of the coming-out party. And that reflects the ambivalence many people here now feel about membership. After the prolonged economic crisis, the EU no longer looks like the promised land Croatia applied to join a decade ago.
Likewise, the new member’s own economic troubles have caused concern among the other 27 states. Visiting foreign ministers stressed the EU’s role as a builder of peace rather than prosperity. A good point, bearing in mind Croatia’s recent past. But also, perhaps, a diplomatic fig-leaf.
Chile school protests: The police in Chile have arrested 122 people, many of them children, in raids on 28 secondary schools that had been taken over by their pupils. The schools are due to be used as polling stations in primary elections this weekend.
28 June 2013
The police launched the raids in the early hours of the morning, clearing away chairs and tables that the pupils had used to barricade themselves inside. The students took over the schools earlier this month as part of their two-year campaign for education reform.
But on Sunday, they’ll be used as polling stations. Chileans are due to elect candidates for November’s presidential election. Many of those arrested in the pre-dawn raids are children and are unlikely to be charged.
The police action followed a day and night of violence in Santiago, centred around a student march. More than 100 people were arrested when the march ended in clashes between youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. Ten police officers were injured.
The clashes continued overnight. Protesters set fire to a bus, gutting it completely. The violence was among the worst in Chile in two years of protests against the centre-right government of President Sebastian Piñera.
North Korean town gets World Heritage status: The United Nations has placed the North Korean city of Kaesong on its list of World Heritage sites. The UN’s cultural and educational organisation specifically named 12 sites in the city, which was established in the 10th Century, including a palace, a school and defensive walls.
24 June 2013
Kaesong is one of the few historical sites open to tourists that’s not specifically linked to the Kim family that has ruled North Korea since independence. The city is held up in the North as a symbol of national reunification as it was the capital of the 10th Century Koryo dynasty that united the entire peninsula.
North Korean officials attending the UNESCO ceremony stood and clapped the decision to give the sites World Heritage status. The North has always used its interpretation of history to boost its case in the struggle for national sovereignty against South Korea.
The South maintains that an earlier southern-based dynasty was the first to unify the country. But even the legacy of Kaesong is a sensitive one for the North’s historians. The dynasty marked a high water mark for Buddhism on the peninsula – a culture that was all but eradicated, along with other religions, after independence.
The city was initially in South Korea after the division of the peninsula in 1945 but was conquered by northern forces during the Korean War. It later came to be seen as a symbol of reconciliation – being near the site of a joint industrial zone established by the two sides after the year 2000. But the southern-owned factories currently lie idle – closed by the North Koreans during a recent bout of tension over its rocket and nuclear tests.
Smoke chokes Singapore: Smog continues to affect people living in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore’s air pollution hit its worst ever level this Friday and officials say the haze could last for several months. The main cause of the pollution is thought to be forest fires caused by the illegal clearing of land on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
21 June 2013
Singapore says its citizens should remain indoors if they can – cautioning that the thick smog that has blanketed the island could go on until the dry season ends in Sumatra in September.
The smog has strained diplomatic ties between Singapore and Indonesia – two countries that usually share good relations. Singapore says it is up to Indonesia to stop the fires, while Indonesia says it is doing all it can and its own citizens are suffering too.
The haze is an annual problem for this part of the world, caused by smouldering forest fires in Sumatra. Strong winds carry the smoke from the fires to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.
This year though, the levels of air pollution are particularly hazardous. The last time this region was so badly affected was in 1997 when the South East Asian haze lasted for months, and reportedly made 20 million people ill.
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