The Overflow for August 11th

International News

Ceasefire, for three hours

Russia said on Wednesday there would be daily three-hour ceasefires in Syria's Aleppo starting toda, in order to allow humanitarian convoys to enter the city safely, a proposal the United Nations said it would consider. Aleppo is currently split into rebel- and government-held. The rebel-held east, where about 250,000 people are still living, came under siege in early July after government forces cut the Castello Road, the main supply route into the district.

On Friday rebels staged a major assault southwest of Aleppo to break through this siege. Fighters did manage to pierce the ring of government-controlled territory, but a safe corridor for civilians and aid has not yet been established as fierce fighting continues.

Speaking at a televised briefing, Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian Defence Ministry official, said the Russian plan was a pause in fighting which would run from 10am to 1pm local time. Rudskoi said the question of joint control over delivery of humanitarian aid via Castello Road was being discussed with the United Nations and the United States.

He said "all military action, air and artillery strikes" would be halted for the three-hour periods.


South Sudan

South Sudan said on Wednesday it opposed a proposal to station extra foreign troops in the country under UN command, something the United States, Western nations and regional countries want in order to prevent a slide back into civil war. The government said last week it would allow a deployment of African troops to Juba, after fighting between President Kiir's forces and fighters loyal to his rival, former vice president Riek Machar, killed dozens of people and drove tens of thousands from the capital last month. But on Wednesday, the Information Minister said the force should be independent rather than under UN command. He said US moves to compel the government to accept such a force smacked of imperialism.

"We do not want the protection force to be under UNMISS," Makuei said, accusing the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, which currently has 12,000 troops, of failing to protect civilians. 

"There is a clear split in the Security Council between those who insist on sovereignty above all else and those who want to make sure there is a robust protection force," said a senior Security Council diplomat, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.



Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Wednesday of using terrorist tactics to try to provoke a new conflict and destabilise Crimea after Russia said it had thwarted two armed Ukrainian attempts to get saboteurs into the contested peninsula. Russia's security service said two people were killed in clashes and its forces had dismantled a Ukrainian spy network inside Crimea. Kiev denied the assertions, calling them an attempt by Moscow to create an excuse to escalate toward a war.

The Russian president accused Kiev of playing a dangerous game and said he saw no point in holding a new round of talks about the troubled peace process in eastern Ukraine on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China next month.

"The people who seized power in Kiev ... have switched to terror tactics instead of searching for ways for a peaceful settlement," Putin told a news conference, saying Russia would not let such actions pass without a response. "The attempt to provoke an outbreak of violence, to provoke a conflict is nothing other than a desire to distract (Ukrainian) society from its problems," he added, calling Ukraine's actions "criminal."

Putin's comments will stir fears that Russia, which has been steadily reinforcing Crimea militarily, may be considering new military action.

"Putin wants more war. Russia escalates, desperately looks for a casus belli against Ukraine, tests the West's reaction," a spokesman for Ukraine's foreign ministry, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted.

The Russian allegations follow an uptick in Russian military activity in northern Crimea and heavier fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian government troops are battling pro-Russian separatists.

UK News

EU Directives

A complex legal dispute involving a transgender woman's pension rights over a period when her gender had not been officially recognised has divided Britain's Supreme Court, which referred the issue on Wednesday to the European Union's top court. The Supreme Court made it clear it required EU guidance to resolve the case of a woman, named only as "MB" in court documents, who was registered as a boy at birth but has lived as a woman since 1991 and had gender reassignment surgery in 1995.

MB turned 60 in 2008 and applied for a state pension, which under British law women born before 1950 are entitled to from that age. Men born before 1953 become entitled at the age of 65. MB was turned down because she did not have a full gender recognition certificate, an official document she could not obtain because she remained married to a woman. At the time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Britain.

In Britain, the laws affecting MB's circumstances have since changed. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2014 and a full gender recognition certificate can now be given to a married transgender applicant with the consent of their spouse. But that did not change MB's situation and she was told she could not be treated as a woman for state pension purposes and would only become eligible when she turned 65.

MB took legal action against the government, arguing that its approach to her case breached an EU directive on the equal treatment of men and women in matters of social security.

Article 4 of that directive says there must be no discrimination on ground of gender either directly, or indirectly by reference to marital or family status.


Hinkley point

French firms Bouygues and Vallourec denied that members of their boards who are also on the board of EDF had a conflict of interest when they voted in favour of the French utility's Hinkley Point nuclear project in Britain. EDF's board narrowly approved the controversial £18 billion project in a 10-7 vote. EDF unions argue the project should be delayed because of its financial risk and said on Monday that conflicts of interest in EDF's board might have impacted the vote.

They say three EDF board members are also on the boards of other firms that are EDF customers, which could benefit from Hinkley Point, and should therefore have abstained.

Hours after the EDF board's decision, the British government announced a surprise decision to review the project, delaying its verdict until early autumn.

EDF board member Colette Lewiner is also on the board of construction firm Bouygues, set to be one of the main contractors for Hinkley Point. "There was no conflict of interest with regard to Mme. Lewiner," a Bouygues spokesman said on Wednesday. He said Lewiner is an independent Bouygues board member with whom management cannot interfere. He added that Bouygues decisions about Hinkley Point are not taken at board level.

Olympics Recap

Swiss Fabian Cancellara rode off into a golden retirement with a second Olympic time trial title. Australia's Kyle Chalmers won the gold medal on Wednesday in the men's 100 meters freestyle, the blue riband event in the pool. Top-seeded Mashu Baker (pictured) won the men's under 90-kg judo competition on Wednesday in a night of double golds for the sport's birthplace of Japan, when Haruka Tachimoto also won a gold medal in the women's event. Japan has now won three gold medals in judo, of five overall.

Long Read

Elon Musk is now one of the world's leading lights in innovation, founding and funding Tesla, and Space X. But how does such a thing happen? Where did it all come from? In a candid interview with Forbes, Musk's father divulges parts of his relationship with Elon, and gives us a glimpse into what makes him the man he is today.

Well, all information looks like noise until you break the code.
— Neal Stephenson