12 June 2014
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released
commemorative postage stamps on the 2014 FIFA World Cup that gets underway in Brazil Thursday night.
Modi said the sport brings about a spirit of amity and belongingness among nations of the world. Modi hoped that the FIFA World Cup become a bridge for connecting nations together.
Modi said that India is preparing to host the under-17 FIFA World Cup and also recalled the glorious history of football in India. He also urged the Department of Posts to also develop a website on the history of Indian football.
The Prime Minister observed that commentary, especially radio commentary, probably played a key role in enhancing the popularity of cricket, and the art of commentary should be developed in other sports as well.
The function was attended by several prominent sporting icons including K. Malleswari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Sunil Chhetri, Sushil Kumar, Ajit Pal Singh, Chunni Goswami, Subrata Bhattacharya, and Kirti Azad.
Brazil's day has finally arrived.
The sun rose Thursday on a tropical nation hosting its first World Cup in 64 years. Nearly half the world's population, well over 3 billion spectators, is expected to watch soccer's premier event and get a glimpse of the country that in two years will host the Summer Olympics.
But just hours before play begins, it still isn't clear which Brazil we'll see.
Will it be the irreverent nation known for its festive, freewheeling spirit? Or the country that for the past year has been a hotbed of fury over poor public services, discontent over a political system widely viewed as corrupt, and deep anger over the $11.5 billion spent on hosting the World Cup?
By mid-morning, it looked like it would be both. Small protests broke out in Sao Paulo and Rio, but the streets were overwhelmingly filled with fans ready for festivities.
"The world is going to see multitudes cheering for soccer — but also demanding that our country change," Helen Santos, a school teacher, said as she walked home in Rio de Janeiro. "The world needs to see that we're a serious country. We're not just a nation of soccer, but a country striving and demanding the government provide better education and health care. The world needs to see the reality of Brazil, not just the sport."
Soccer will take the spotlight when play begins with Brazil and Croatia meeting in Sao Paulo on Thursday. Brazilians are hungry to see their soccer juggernaut deliver a record sixth World Cup crown to a nation desiring something — anything — to celebrate after enduring a year of grueling protests and strikes.
Police in Sao Paulo used tear gas to disperse a small group of anti-World Cup protesters who tried to march on a main roadway. Striking airport workers in Rio de Janeiro temporarily blocked the main highway leading from the airport into the city. More protests are called or in both Rio and Sao Paulo, along with at least five other cities. It wasn't clear how large the demonstrations might be.
Street protests have lessened in size since last year when Brazilians staged raucous rallies against the government, overshadowing the Confederations Cup soccer tournament. On one night, about a million people spontaneously spilled into the streets of various cities. For two weeks, dozens of places were roiled by unrest.
Whether Brazilians have moved past such mass disruption is uncertain.
"I hope the soccer outshines the protests, but I also know there remains a climate of anger," said Edson Carvalho, an office assistant watching 10 barefoot young men play a pick-up soccer match in Rio's Botafogo neighborhood. "What will the world see? I'm waiting to find out myself."
In 2007, when FIFA named Brazil as the host nation for the 2014 World Cup, the country's folksy and immensely popular president at the time, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, told a celebratory gathering in Zurich he would return home filled with joy — but also feeling the burden that comes with hosting the world's biggest sporting event.
"At the heart of the matter, we're here assuming as a nation, as the Brazilian state, to prove to the world ... that we're one of those nations that has achieved stability," Silva said then. "Yes, we're a country that has many problems, but we're a nation with men determined to resolve those problems."
Silva added that he "wanted to assure FIFA officials" that Brazil would prove able to put on a great Cup.
Seven years on, as the global spotlight finally shines on Brazil, the world will see a great sporting event, with soccer returning to one of its most passionate cores, on a continent that relishes the game.
But the glare also will glow on those problems Silva referred to, the lingering ills that have not gone away
By BRADLEY BROOKS
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The problem-plagued preparations have been well chronicled, with critics condemning the range of issues from budget blowouts to construction delays.
Organizers need Brazil to kick off the tournament with a win over Croatia on Thursday to shift the focus back to what the host nation really cares about: winning a sixth World Cup. Brazil hasn't hosted the tournament since 1950, when it lost to Uruguay in the title match, and that only adds to local expectations.
"We have to do everything possible to win this World Cup," Brazil midfielder Ramires said. "We know everybody is expecting us to do it."
With that in mind, let the games begin.
Here are some things to look for Thursday:
NEYMAR'S MOMENT: Carrying the hopes of a nation is something that gives the 22-year-old Brazil striker goose bumps.
"The time everybody has been waiting for has arrived," said Neymar, who will direct the attack for a team that is aiming to "fulfill the dream of every Brazilian by winning the title."
The Barcelona forward has scored 31 goals in 49 matches for Brazil, but he says it's not a one-man show.
"I don't play by myself," Neymar said. "There are 11 players on the field, and everybody knows their role and what they need to do to try to help our team make it far in the tournament."
SPOILERS: Croatia will shock the host nation and the world if they come away with even a draw, particularly without Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic, who was suspended following a red card in a playoff to qualify.
Croatia, which surprisingly finished third in 1998, features Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Sevilla captain Ivan Rakitic, who is moving to Barcelona and will be Neymar's teammate.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac said his team can deliver a "historic result" in Sao Paulo.
EDGE OF THEIR SEATS: With hundreds of millions of people watching on TV, organizers at Itaquerao stadium have extra cause to be edgy about preparations.
The Sao Paulo venue is set to hold a capacity crowd for the first time in the opening match of the World Cup.
The 61,600 spectators will certainly test the facility and put a strain on safety plans and equipment, which was still receiving finishing touches Wednesday after chronic delays, worker deaths and other problems during construction.
Just two matches — and none with more than 37,000 fans — were held at the Itaquerao to test its readiness.
WE ARE ONE: J.Lo is likely to perform at the World Cup after all. Jennifer Lopez told The Associated Press earlier this week that she would be flying to Brazil in time to perform during Thursday's opening ceremony.
"We always were going," she said. "I think people get anxious, especially with me and my schedule ... but we are definitely going."
FIFA officials had announced earlier this week that the singer wouldn't perform the official tune "We Are One (Ole Ola)" alongside Pitbull and Claudia Leitte.
UPSET WATCH: Brazil has won 15 of its last 16 games and heads into the World Cup as a favorite to win the title, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad is aware that there's no easy opener at the sport's marquee event.
The World Cup has produced its share of shockers on opening day. Until 2006, the first game usually involved the defending champion, not the host. Two of the biggest: Cameroon upset defending champion Argentina 1-0 in 1990, and defending champion France lost 1-0 to Senegal in 2002.
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Mariam Saleh avoids malls and outdoor markets on the weekends because the low-cut tops, sheer dresses and miniskirts that foreign women wear reveal much more than she would like her impressionable young children to see.
Saleh is part of a campaign in Qatar that was spurred by locals who are fed up with the way many tourists and visitors dress, especially as temperatures soar in the Gulf Arab nation. The campaigners say Qatar is, after all, their country, and they should not be the ones feeling uncomfortable because visitors want to show some skin or dress like they would back home.
The campaign is aimed at encouraging foreign women to dress more conservatively. However, it is not spearheaded by religious hard-liners, but by moderate locals who are concerned that a steady influx of foreigners is threatening to uproot their customs and traditions, which are intertwined with 1,400 years of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula.
The campaigners say they are mothers and wives, but also gatekeepers of Qatar's Islamic society. Most Qatari women cover their hair and wear long, loose black robes. Many also cover their faces as is common in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where morality police enforce the region's strictest dress code on locals and foreigners alike.
The campaigners began handing out flyers this week. They will set up booths on June 20 throughout the capital, Doha, and plan to pass out more than 200,000 flyers to raise awareness about local sensitivities with slogans such as: "Leggings are not pants" and "If you are in Qatar, you are one of us."
Children will be wearing the slogans on T-shirts, and men and women will be passing out traditional coffee, chocolates and roses along with the brochures.
The government, which allows alcohol in hotels to accommodate foreigners, is not involved in the campaign, which is being funded by volunteers, as well as a women's business club in Qatar. The campaigners say it is a grassroots effort aimed at spreading information to foreigners rather than pressing for new laws or reforms. Political activism of any kind is heavily restricted by Qatar's ruling monarchy.
Similar efforts to curb Westernization are underway in other Gulf countries. In Kuwait, a lawmaker is calling for a ban on public "nudity" — a reference to bikinis on the beach and at hotel poolside. In Bahrain, lawmakers frequently call for banning alcohol in hotels, and in the United Arab Emirates, locals launched a similar dress code campaign in 2012.
While some malls in the UAE ticketed women for showing shoulders and knees, the government did not move to create any specific laws against immodest dress. Qatar's pro-Western government, which benefits from tourism and foreign investment, is also not expected to enact any such laws.
The tiny nation is home to the world's third-largest gas reserves. A rush of petrodollars transformed its capital in just a few decades from a coastal fishing town into a center for global investment. The speed of the transformation has stunned Qatar's conservative, tight-knit population.
A subway strike in Sao Paulo that threatened to disrupt the opening of the World Cup was averted Wednesday night even as airport workers in Rio de Janeiro declared a 24-hour work stoppage in the main destination for soccer fans traveling to Brazil.
Some 1,500 subway workers in Sao Paulo voted against going back on strike in a pay dispute. They had suspended the walkout Monday amid a popular backlash and government pressure to end the transportation chaos in Brazil’s biggest city.
"We thought that right now it’s better to wait," union president Altino Prazeres said, but added that he wouldn’t rule out resuming the strike sometime during the monthlong soccer tournament. "We get the feeling that maybe we aren’t as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts."
The union said its members would hold a march Thursday morning demanding that 42 workers fired during the five-day work stoppage are rehired.
World Cup organizers are counting on Sao Paulo’s subway system to carry tens of thousands of fans Thursday to Itaquerao stadium, where Brazil will play Croatia in the tournament’s first game far from the hotel areas where most tourists are staying.
Even as tensions eased in Sao Paulo, labor conflicts heated up in Rio, where fans were arriving ahead of Sunday’s match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
On Wednesday, check-in counter clerks, baggage handlers and janitorial staff who have been demanding raises of at least 5.6 percent for several months voted to strike starting at midnight. The work stoppage will affect the city’s Galeao international airport as well as the Santos Dumont airport that connects Rio to other Brazilian destinations
A union representative said only 20 percent of workers would stay off the job for 24 hours, abiding by a labor court order that threatened to fine unions more than $22,000 if staffing fell below 80 percent of normal levels. The official agreed to discuss specifics of the walkout only if not quoted by name because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
The airport workers’ strike is the latest unrest to hit Brazil as workers battered by several years of high inflation take advantage of the spotlight from the World Cup to pressure for pay raises from employers and the government.
In the northern city of Natal, where the United States plays its first game Monday against Ghana, bus drivers will stay home Thursday for at least 24 hours to press their demands for a 16 percent pay increase.
Teachers remain on strike in Rio and routinely block streets with rallies, and subway workers in that city briefly threatened a walkout. Police in several cities have also gone on strike in recent weeks, but are back at work now.
There also has been a steady drumbeat of anti-government protests across Brazil criticizing the billions spent on hosting the World Cup and demanding improvements in public services. The protests that began last year have diminished in size but not in frequency, and they also have disrupted traffic at times.
By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
The Associated Press
By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
The Associated Press
An al-Qaida splinter group that has seized a huge chunk of northern Iraq commands as many as 10,000 fighters and has steadily been consolidating its hold on much of northeastern Syria across the border.
Its pursuit of an Islamic state that would straddle the two countries has thrown it into bloody conflict with both governments, Kurdish militias and Syrian rebels of all stripes. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has employed a calculated strategy to achieve its aims, using everything from beheadings to terrify opponents to ice cream socials for children to curry favor with local populations under its control.
But it is the group's military prowess that has brought under its sway a swath of territory that stretches from the Syrian-Turkish frontier in the north down the Euphrates River all the way to the Iraqi city of Fallujah just 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.
This week, the group's fighters, many of them in fast-moving pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, captured Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, before barreling south to take the city of Tikrit — two urban centers in the heartland of northern Iraq's oil industry.
The Islamic State is the latest and most powerful incarnation of what began as an al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. American forces spent years and enormous resources to bring the group largely to heel before U.S. troops pulled out of the country in December of 2011.
Since then, the region has been convulsed in political turmoil and sectarian hatreds. The Islamic State has seized on those Sunni-Shiite tensions to help whip up its Sunni extremist followers.
The group is led by an ambitious Iraqi militant known by his nom de guerre of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. After taking the reins in 2010, al-Baghdadi successfully transformed what had been an umbrella organization focused mainly on Iraq into a transnational military force.
The Syrian uprising, which began in 2011 against President Bashar Assad, opened the door to his greater ambitions. Al-Baghdadi dispatched trusted militants to Syria to set up a group called the Nusra Front while he personally remained in Iraq, according to an audio recording later released by the Nusra Front's commander.
In the spring of 2013, al-Baghdadi's fighters moved from Iraq into northern and eastern Syria. He proclaimed that his group would lead the jihadi cause in both countries. Al-Baghdadi reportedly moved to Syria to manage affairs.
Initially, more moderate Syrian rebels welcomed the group's experienced fighters. But the Islamic State alienated many rebels and Syrian civilians alike with its brutality and attempts to impose its strict interpretation of Islam.
It also drew the ire of many opposition fighters by focusing not on the fight against Assad, but rather on restoring a medieval Islamic state, or caliphate, in Iraq and Greater Syria, also known as the Levant — traditional names that refer to a region stretching from southern Turkey to Egypt on the eastern Mediterranean. The group is also referred to sometimes as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Eventually, the Islamic State's presence in Syria proved so destabilizing that it fell out with its sister group, the Nusra Front. Their mutual patron at the time, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, formally disavowed the Islamic State in February.
At the same time, other Syrian rebel factions were waging an offensive against the extremist group. Activists say that fighting, which is still going on, has killed more than 6,000 people.
But al-Baghdadi's refusal to bow won him the loyalty of many of the most hard-line fighters in Syria, particularly foreigners, and his group has proven resilient. It now controls much of northern and eastern Syria from its stronghold of Raqqa, and has routed the Iraqi security forces across the border as well.
The Islamic State commands between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters, according to U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief the media.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on militant factions in Syria and Iraq, also put the group's fighting force at about 10,000, including veteran jihadi fighters from Iraq, the Gulf, North Africa and Europe. The Islamic State also relies on thousands of supporters to provide the public services expected of a "state," he said.
The foreigners' roles vary. Some, including Germans and Frenchmen, have carried out suicide bombings. Others, however, hold leadership positions. One of the most prominent commanders in Syria is an imposing ethnic Chechen with a flowing red beard who goes by the name of Omar al-Shishani.
The Islamic State has crafted its tactics and message to best meet local considerations.
"In Iraq, they portray themselves as the protectors of the Sunni community," al-Tamimi said. "In Syria, they are much more open about their ideology and project."
In the Syrian city of Raqqa, their strict brand of Islamic law holds sway. Activists and residents say music has been banned, Christians have to pay an Islamic tax for protection and people are executed in the main square.
In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, however, residents say the group has so far taken a more moderate approach, choosing to overlook some practices it considers forbidden.
The makeup of its forces also varies to a degree. In Syria, foreigners play a larger role than in Iraq, where locals tend to dominate.
The group has been able to do this, in part, because of the simmering anger in Iraq's Sunni minority community toward Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They accuse al-Maliki of treating them as second-class citizens.
Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said the Islamic State has counted on an informal coalition in Iraq of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, tribal fighters and its own militants, "which is why this poses such a difficult challenge to Maliki and his U.S.-trained forces."
"As long as they're focused on Maliki and that goal rather than broader sort of Islamic goals or on taking on the local communities, they'll continue probably to thrive," Shaikh said. "If they start to lose the support of the local community, then they'll be in trouble."