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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Students Use Twitter to Remember American Teacher Killed in Libya

After an American chemistry teacher at a school in Benghazi, Libya, was gunned down while jogging Thursday, his students turned to Twitter to share memories of a man they said inspired and motivated them, often with online banter and humor.

They used the hashtag #ThankYouSmith.

Ronnie Smith, 33, who was from Austin, Tex., taught at the International School in Libya for more than a year, as our colleagues Suliman Ali Zway and Kareem Fahim report. He was scheduled to return to the United States next week after midterms to join his family for the Christmas holidays. His wife and 2-year-old son had recently left Benghazi to return home ahead of him.

On his Twitter profile, Mr. Smith described himself as “Libya’s Best Friend.”

Several students at the International School, an English-language school in Benghazi, described him as a friend, as well as a teacher, who often used easy banter on Twitter to engage them.

“Mr. Smith was more than just a teacher,” said an 18-year-old student who asked not to be identified. “He was our inspiration. He motivated us to work harder no matter what was happening in the country. After everything that happened in Libya, we were in a state of depression. He was like a light at the end of a very bad tunnel.”

Students shared a variety of tweets.

When Mr. Smith arrived in Libya, the student said in an interview, he took to Twitter after students told him that was their preferred platform to communicate and have fun. Mr. Smith would often address students directly online. In one post, he warned a student she risked becoming a Libyan housewife if she did not complete her college applications. In another, he explained the concept of “cool kids.”

In a post on Nov. 25, he joked about the danger of living in Benghazi, noting to students that “your grades have been securely recorded.” He also made references about bathroom habits and encouraged students to save for ransom in case he was kidnapped by a Muslim militia group.

When a student was using his iPhone in class, Mr. Smith took it away and then used Twitter as a game, sharing multiple playful photos of the iPhone over several days. He shared photos of the phone, which he nicknamed Voldy, in the shower and tucked under sheets. He also made a reference to the phone’s being “locked in a closet” in a post about sharing Thanksgiving with friends.

Mr. Smith also made comments on Twitter that could have offended Muslims. But his student said in the interview that Mr. Smith was very supportive of their religion and culture and never intended any harm.

In an exchange that was one of the very last before he was killed, Mr. Smith joked about anti-American sentiment. He also shared a post on how he missed his family.

Latest Updates on Global Reaction to the Death of Nelson Mandela

The Lede is following global reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela on Thursday.

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5:24 P.M. Live Video of President Obama’s Statement

President Obama is expected to speak shortly on the death of Nelson Mandela and the White House website is providing a live video stream.

5:19 P.M. Full Text of President Jacob Zuma’s Statement

Here, from the website of the South African presidency, is Jacob Zuma’s address to the nation on Thursday, announcing the death of Nelson Mandela.

My Fellow South Africans,

Our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding President of our democratic nation has departed.

He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20h50 on the 5th of December 2013.

He is now resting. He is now at peace.

Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.

Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.

His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.

His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude.

They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free.

Our thoughts are with his wife Mrs Graca Machel, his former wife Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with his children, his grand-children, his great grand-children and the entire family.

Our thoughts are with his friends, comrades and colleagues who fought alongside Madiba over the course of a lifetime of struggle.

Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who, more than any other, came to embody their sense of a common nationhood.

Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own, and who saw his cause as their cause.

This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.

Our nation has lost its greatest son.

Yet, what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.

And in him we saw so much of ourselves.

Fellow South Africans,

Nelson Mandela brought us together, and it is together that we will bid him farewell.

Our beloved Madiba will be accorded a State Funeral.

I have ordered that all flags of the Republic of South Africa be lowered to half-mast from tomorrow, 6 December, and to remain at half-mast until after the funeral.

As we gather to pay our last respects, let us conduct ourselves with the dignity and respect that Madiba personified.

Let us be mindful of his wishes and the wishes of his family.

As we gather, wherever we are in the country and wherever we are in the world, let us recall the values for which Madiba fought.

Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.

Let us commit ourselves to strive together - sparing neither strength nor courage - to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

Let us express, each in our own way, the deep gratitude we feel for a life spent in service of the people of this country and in the cause of humanity.

This is indeed the moment of our deepest sorrow.

Yet it must also be the moment of our greatest determination.

A determination to live as Madiba has lived, to strive as Madiba has strived and to not rest until we have realised his vision of a truly united South Africa, a peaceful and prosperous Africa, and a better world.

We will always love you Madiba!

May your soul rest in peace.

God Bless Africa.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Awaiting Worst Storm Surge in 60 Years, Britain Closes Thames Barrier

A boat passing through the Thames Barrier.Patrick Ward/Corbis A boat passing through the Thames Barrier.

As Britain braced for the worst tidal surge in more than half a century, the massive steel barriers that protect London were being shut to save the capital from the possibility of deadly and damaging floods.

By Thursday evening in Scotland and across the North Sea to Scandinavia and Germany, high winds and increasingly inclement weather were already being blamed for several deaths and disruptions to travel and transportation. The eight-kilometer-long (five-mile) bridge between Denmark and Sweden was closed.

An emergency rescue service worker walking through floodwater in Rhyl, North Wales,  on Thursday.Phil Noble/Reuters An emergency rescue service worker walking through floodwater in Rhyl, North Wales,  on Thursday.

British authorities evacuated coastal towns in eastern England, and airlines canceled flights into airports in the Netherlands and Germany.

The BBC was live-blogging the weather and posted videos on YouTube showing the damage the storm had wrought so far.

BBC video of the coming storm.

The Environment Agency, the British government department responsible for maintaining public safety against floods, announced earlier in the day that it would close the Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, according to the agency, which maintains the Thames Barrier as well as London’s other flood defenses.

The barrier spans 520 meters, or nearly a third of a mile, across the River Thames near Woolwich, Greenwich. It protects nearly 50 square miles of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges, according to the agency.

“It became operational in 1982 and has 10 steel gates that can be raised into position across the River Thames,” the agency said. “When raised, the main gates stand as high as a five-story building and as wide as the opening of Tower Bridge.” Each main gate weighs 3,300 tons, it said.

By Thursday evening, the storm was flooding parts of the port of Hamburg, Germany. The storm has been called Xaver in Germany, where markets across the country were being shut down. In Holland, the Dutch tied down boats in harbors. And Euronews showed video of the storm as North Germany and Belgium prepared for its impact.

Euronews report on YouTube about Storm Xaver.

The storm was packing gusts of up to 228 kilometers per hour (142 miles per hour). The hurricane-force winds caused power cuts in Scotland and threatened costal flooding in England as they closed on northern Europe in what meteorologists said could be one of the most powerful storms to hit the continent in years.

A police vehicle driving on the beachfront in Westerland auf Sylt in northern Germany on Thursday.Axel Heimken/DPA, via Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A police vehicle driving on the beachfront in Westerland auf Sylt in northern Germany on Thursday.

At least one death in Scotland was blamed on the storm after a truck driver was reportedly killed when his vehicle was blown onto cars near Edinburgh. Scotland suspended train service, and Glasgow’s central train station was evacuated after debris smashed through parts of the roof.

Reports From the Central African Republic’s ‘Darkest Days’

The civilian toll of the violence raging in the Central African Republic was highlighted on Thursday with multiple reports of hospitals overwhelmed by the wounded and people trying to flee to safety. The latest bout of fighting flared just before the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize African Union and French military forces to deploy to protect civilians.

Even in a country synonymous with disorder, the current situation stands out. As Jerome Delay, The Associated Press’s chief photographer in Africa â€" who has worked in conflict zones for decades â€" wrote on twitter:

MSF refers to Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. A team of medical personnel from the organization who returned recently to the United States said in a webcast this week that the harm to civilians in the Central African Republic had become the worst they have seen in about a decade. Asked whether these were “darker days than they have even known” for civilians there, a nurse, Michelle Mays, said:

“I would say that this is worse. I think people definitely talk about it, they are really scared, and they talk about it comparing it to previous insecurity and instability. Prior to this current conflict there hadn’t been so much sectarian violence, where you see different groups being pitted against each other and atrocities being committed on all sides. There was some of that before but not to the extent that we see now.”

A doctor, Yolaine Civil, said there was also an increase in localized violence, meaning her team was handling an increase in violence-related injuries and wound care.

From Bangui, Tristan Redman, a producer for Al Jazeera English, posted a series of images on his Twitter account @tristanaje.

My colleague Adam Nossiter reported gunfire in the capital Bangui. He wrote that the fighting was a sign of the heightened instability in the country since Seleka rebels seized power in March and the president was replaced.

Seleka, a mostly Muslim grouping in a largely Christian country, has exerted little authority over its own forces, which have subjected the population to well-documented killings, arbitrary arrests and kidnappings. Militias have sprung up to oppose the group.

Also from Bangui, Alex Thomson, the chief presenter for Channel 4 news, the United Kingdom’s public service broadcaster, reported on inadequate hospitals struggling to take care of the injured and of the scene in the capital.

Peter Bouckaert, who has written extensively about the Central African Republic as the emergency coordinator for Human Rights Watch, reported on fighting in Bossangoa, a city north of the capital. He shared a stream of updates on the fighting from the base of FOMUC, the acronym for a multinational force there.

In an article last month in Foreign Policy magazine that was posted on the rights group’s website, Mr. Bouckaert warned that if nothing was done in the Central African Republic, the country “could descend into a deep, inter-communal religious conflict â€" with much greater bloodshed than even what we’ve seen thus far.”

Video of Pilot Whales Stranded in Everglades National Park

Rescue workers try to save dozens of pilot whales caught in a remote part of the Everglades in Florida.

Ten pilot whales died as rescuers struggled to lead more than 40 others back to the Gulf of Mexico from the shallow waters of a remote part of Everglades National Park.

Some whales had beached when they were first spotted Tuesday afternoon. Six died on the sand, including several that were euthanized. Rescuers had tried to coax the whales back into the water.

The Coast Guard and members of the Miami-Dade Police Department joined rescue crews Thursday morning, hoping to get the pod to swim several miles through the shallow waters into the gulf. But there is concern the whales may not make it. In addition to the challenge of swimming through waters with treacherous sand banks, pilot whales are reluctant to leave behind members of their pod, including the dead, scientists say.

“Pilot whales are a particularly cohesive species, which is why they tend to mass-strand,” Blair Mase, the Southeast region marine stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told The Miami Herald. “There may be members of their group that are ill and beach themselves, and the other whales stick with the pod and remain in the area.”

It is not known how long the pilot whales, a deep water species, have been out of the natural habitat and they may be suffering from a lack of food and dehydration. The long, thin whales weigh about three tons and measure about 12 feet to 20 feet long.

Marine scientists are trying to manage expectations about what could be a sad outcome.

The last mass stranding of pilot whales took place in 2012 in Fort Pierce, Fla., when 21 whales beached. Five were saved.

Iran’s State TV Attacks Jon Stewart, and Emulates Him

IranWire, a website run by the Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, reports the unsurprising news that some officials in Tehran are not looking forward to seeing Jon Stewart’s new film, “Rosewater,” which was adapted from Mr. Bahari’s memoir about living through Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

That much is clear because Iran’s state broadcaster recently devoted nearly six minutes to attacking Mr. Stewart for “directing an ultra-formulaic movie commissioned by his masters” in “the Zionist lobby” telling “the story of the American-Israel sedition of 2009.”

A recent report from Iran’s state broadcaster on Jon Stewart’s film about the disputed 2009 election, subtitled and posted on YouTube by IranWire.

As longtime readers of The Lede might recall, one of the strangest parts of Mr. Bahari’s account of the 118 days he spent in an Iranian jail after the election was that he was asked by his interrogator â€" a man he called Mr. Rosewater because of the cologne he wore â€" to explain his appearance in a fake news report filmed in Iran by a crew from Mr. Stewart’s “Daily Show” in the run-up to the disputed election. The interrogator, Mr. Bahari said, simply could not understand what was funny about Mr. Stewart’s cast members pretending to be real journalists in order to mock the absurdities of television news.

Even so, the “Daily Show” crew did discover during its visit in 2009 that Mr. Stewart had fans in Tehran, who watched the program on illicit satellite dishes and could even recite favorite bits from it.

It now appears that some of those fans may have finally infiltrated Iran’s state broadcaster. The evidence of that is a video report broadcast recently on a state television program designed to appeal to young viewers. The report openly mocked the same network’s main news channel for the clumsy way it had censored images of Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, hugging male counterparts in Geneva last month at the conclusion of talks over Iran’s nuclear program.

A YouTube copy of the mocking report was posted online this week, with English subtitles added, by @MeetIran, a Twitter feed generally devoted to promoting the country’s new administration, which appears to be run from the circle around Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

According to the BBC Persian correspondent Bahman Kalbasi, the clip was taken from “8:30 P.M.,” a program broadcast at that time on the government-run Channel 2 that “has a reputation for taking more liberties in style.” The brief example of in-house media criticism from state television drew attention to how producers of the network’s Channel 1 reacted when, during its live broadcast from Geneva, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, leaned in to kiss Ms. Ashton’s cheek. Before Mr. Fabius’s lips made contact, however, a sudden blur appeared on the screen, obscuring the kiss.

The footage of the broadcast preserved on YouTube shows that the blur around Ms. Ashton remained in place as first Secretary of State John Kerry and then Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia followed suit. The picture cleared only when Iran’s foreign minister, Mr. Zarif, stepped forward to congratulate Ms. Ashton from a safe distance, with his hands chastely clasped in front of him.

That there are fissures within Iran’s government may come as a surprise to some casual observers, but as my colleague Thomas Erdbrink reported this week, while many Iranians welcomed the new opening to the outside world, hard-line conservatives who are unhappy about the interim nuclear deal, “pretend as if nothing has happened, taking to the friendly airwaves of state-run news media to reiterate their rigid anti-Western ideology and assure the public that nothing will come of the negotiations.”

It was perhaps another sign of an Iranian glasnost that the video clip was not just broadcast on state television but was then also posted on a Twitter feed that appears to be run by associates of the foreign minister with the editorial comment “Funny Stuff.”

Hours later, the link to the video was even retweeted by Ali Araghchi, a nephew of Iran’s deputy foreign minister, who added the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud.”

Mr. Araghchi’s Twitter timeline showed that he is close enough to his uncle to have accompanied him, the same day, to a meeting with the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, at The Hague.