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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lebanon Debates Online Olympian’s Racy Photo Shoot

A report from LBC in Beirut on the threat to ban one of Lebanon’s two Olympians, the skier Jackie Chamoun, from future games for her semi-nude modeling work.

Lebanon’s fractured sense of national identity was on full display this week, as bloggers rallied online to defend the honor of a female Olympian, the skier Jackie Chamoun, accused by the country’s sports minister of tarnishing the nation’s image by posing for seminude photographs on the slopes outside Beirut.

As the blogger Abir Ghattas explained, the photographs of the young skier and a colleague, and a risqué promotional video for the calendar they were used in, were unknown in Lebanon until a television channel, Al Jadeed, published them on Monday under the headline, “Scandal â€" Lebanese Skiing Champions Are Nude Starlets!”

The next day, a Beirut night life magazine on the opposite end of the cultural spectrum posted a copy of the R-rated promotional video on its website, where it drew hundreds of thousands of views.

After Lebanon’s acting sports minister, Faisal Karami, responded to the reports by calling on the nation’s Olympic committee to investigate Ms. Chamoun for bringing Lebanon’s reputation into low regard, liberals in Beirut and elsewhere rushed to defend the skier, suggesting that the country faced far more serious threats to its image.

Messages attacking Ms. Chamoun, including some that included death threats, were also posted online, but most of what was written by Lebanon’s English-speaking elite was supportive.

Although Ms. Chamoun tried to defuse the controversy with an apology posted on Facebook from Sochi, the debate over the issues exposed by the fracas â€" including anger at the local media’s role in creating the scandal and the relative lack of attention paid to more serious issues, like terrorism and the physical abuse of women â€" ensured that it continued.

Post by Jackie Chamoun.

As Nadine Kanaan observed in a column for the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar on Wednesday, it occurred to many Lebanese women that the plethora of local media reports damning, but showing, topless images of the young skier contrasted sharply with the relative silence in the some outlets over the case of another woman, Manal al-Assi, who was beaten to death recently in a domestic violence assault.

The media’s approach to Jackie’s story, the winds of chastity that suddenly blew and the frequent use of phrases like “tarnishing Lebanon’s image” reveal one thing. Jackie did not undress herself, she undressed a troubled society that slept undisturbed after the scandal of Manal al-Assi - who was beaten to death by her husband last week - but suddenly woke up to cast stones at Jackie.

What began as a series of outraged, sardonic reactions to the news online soon morphed into a social media campaign urging supporters of the skier to post seminude images of themselves on Twitter and Facebook, tagged #StripForJackie.

An Arabic-language video report on the social media campaign in support of the Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun from LBC in Beirut.

As that subject began to trend locally, it even led a Lebanese beer company to spot an opportunity for some viral marketing, by posting an image of its product with its label removed.

Political opponents of the sport minister, including Samy Gemayel, who represents the Maronite Christian Phalange party, Kataeb, in Parliament, joined the bandwagon on Wednesday, posting messages of support for Ms. Chamoun on social networks.

In an interview with NBC just two weeks ago, Ms. Chamoun was clearly unaware of just what she had let herself in for when she agreed to pose for the photographer Hubertus von Hohenlohe â€" a Mexican-born scion of German royals who is also skiing in this year’s Olympics.

She said the photo shoot, on a slope in Faraya, outside Beirut, was a little “weird:” “I knew everybody at the ski resort. I knew all the skiers who were passing. I could see other skiers. I could see the parents of other skiers. I could see my coaches, everyone.” But she said she was happy with the result: “I don’t really care, though. I really enjoyed it and I don’t regret it. I like these photos. I have no problem with it.”

She also explained that not everyone in her home country would have been so understanding:

If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shot us. But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, and also the jet-set of Lebanon, so it wasn’t a problem there. It’s really open there, like in Europe. In other places we could have been in really big trouble.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Report Details Atrocities in Central African Republic

On Jan. 8, a man named Soba Tibati was sitting on a straw mat under a tree outside of his family’s hut in a small town called Boyali in the Central African Republic.

Suddenly, Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, showed up and attacked. They decapitated Soba Tibati and killed 12 members of his family, among them a baby girl.

Those events were recounted to Amnesty International field staff by a family member, Dairu Soba, who was shot in the leg while running away, escaping death that day after he saw Soba Tibati, his father, killed right before his eyes.

In a report released on Tuesday, Amnesty International laid out the results of weeks of investigation and more than 100 firsthand testimonies of large-scale anti-balaka attacks, such as those described by the survivor in Boyali.

The results show a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic that has wiped out the northwest towns of Bouali, Boyali, Bossembele, Bossemptele and Baoro. International troops failed to deploy to these towns, leaving civilian communities without protection, the report said.

The most lethal attack documented by Amnesty International took place in Bossemptele, where at least 100 Muslims, including women and the elderly, were killed.

But Boyali, which lies about 22 miles from the capital, Bangui, was one of the first towns to be taken over by the anti-balaka militia, which has sought revenge for the brutal reign of the Seleka, the Muslim group that seized power in the country last year and was driven out last month.

In Boyali, the revenge against Muslim civilians started immediately after Seleka forces left on Jan. 8. The anti-balaka fighters killed some 30 civilians there, including the 13 members of Dairu Soba’s family, as he recounted in this excerpt:

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk because of bad rheumatism and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village last Wednesday. They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut. Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack: among them were three of my father’s brothers, four sons of one of my uncles, my aunt, and three of my little cousins. The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.

The Amnesty report contains a compilation of the findings documented day after day by the group’s employees, as well as other dedicated human rights workers and journalists, who are traveling the country and disseminating firsthand interviews, images and observations on Twitter, Facebook and in other forms of online or social media communication.

Joanne Mariner, who works on crisis response for Amnesty, has been tracking the crisis daily on her Twitter account, @jgmariner:

The story of what happened in Boyali was one example of the type of revenge killings that prevailed after Jan. 8.

“Later the same day, Seleka forces and armed Muslim civilians returned to Boyali to exact revenge for the attack, killing several Christian civilians and burning hundreds of homes belonging to the Christian community,” said the report.

“Six days later, on 14 January, anti-balaka militias again attacked Muslim civilians in Boyali, this time targeting people who were trying to flee to safety. Six members of a single Muslim family, the Yamsas, were killed, all of them women and children.”

The emergency director of Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, has also recorded the ethnic cleansing on his Twitter account, @bouckap, including these entries that reflected the work contained in Amnesty’s report, the first an apparent reference to the Yamsa family:

In addition to the killings by organized groups, individual vigilante mobs carried out retaliatory lynchings, Amnesty said in its report.

At the top of the two pages of recommendations Amnesty proposed, most addressed to the country’s transitional government, was this one:

Make it a priority, despite the precarious state of the country’s security forces, to demobilise and disarm anti-balaka and Seleka fighters and to prevent de facto anti-balaka and Seleka control of cities, towns and villages, ensuring that anti-balaka militias and Seleka forces currently occupying military bases across the country are ejected from those bases.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Scenes from the Historic Ice Storm in the South

Photos shared on Twitter and other social media platforms show significant damage from a historic ice storm in the South that has left more than 250,000 utility customers without power in Georgia and the Carolinas on Wednesday.

As my colleague Kim Severson, reports, most people in the Atlanta metropolitan area heeded warnings to remain home this morning after a couple of inches of snow paralyzed the city two weeks ago.

But many found themselves in their homes in the dark with sub-freezing temperatures outside. The images of fallen tree branches, snapped utility poles and downed power lines around the region shared on Twitter illustrated the challenge utility crews have faced in getting electricity restored.

By 12:30 p.m., 145,000 customers reported power failures in South Carolina. The photos of downed trees that people were sending to local television stations via Twitter explain why.

Georgia Power charted on its online map scattered outages affecting more than 140,000 customers. “We do expect an increasing number of outages as the freezing rain continues,” utility officials said. More than 6,000 workers, including crew members from around the country, were working to repair downed lines.

Another 22,000 customers were reporting the loss of electricity in South Carolina, officials said, as ice coated the trees and roads there. In North Carolina, officials in Raleigh were preparing for more than eight inches of snow.

Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vowed that the state was prepared for this storm after he apologized for its inadequate response to the snow two weeks ago. During that emergency, hundreds of children were trapped in their schools, sleeping overnight on gym mats. Other people, unable to get home, abandoned their cars on ice-covered, clogged roadways and slept in the aisles of supermarkets and other stores, including a Home Depot.

This week, classes were canceled ahead of time. More than 50 shelters were set up. Georgia National Guard troops prepared to assist if power failures forced evacuations at hospitals or nursing homes.

And people emptied grocery store shelves ahead of the storm.

More than 2,800 flights were canceled into and out of the United States, according to FlightAware, with the largest numbers being reported from the airport in Atlanta as well as those in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.

Amtrak also suspended rail operations on some trains from New York to south of Washington.

On Thursday, the storm is expected to move north into the mid-Atlantic, where weather forecasters warn of significant accumulation in the Philadelphia area and in parts of New Jersey and New York.

Meanwhile, officials from PECO, the utility company in Pennsylvania, said power was restored just yesterday to 2,000 customers outside of Philadelphia who were among the 700,000 who lost power during last week’s ice storm. One customer remained without power today, officials said, and is expected to be brought on line this afternoon.

Some people who made it to the supermarket, and still had power, were able to enjoy the “snow day.”