The Overflow for August 12th

International Edition

Venezuela to Colombia

The Venezuela-Colombia border will be reopened gradually, the presidents of the two countries announced on Thursday, speaking in Venezuela's southeastern state of Bolivar. The news signalled a warming of relations between the neighbouring countries after Venezuela's President Maduro formally closed the border at this time a year ago in what he called a crackdown on smugglers and paramilitary groups.

"We're interested in a new beginning in economic and commercial relations with all of Colombia's productive sectors," said Maduro, seated next to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in front of a picture of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar, who dreamed of integrating the region.

The porous border has long been a haven for smuggling of everything from Venezuela's price-controlled toothpaste and pasta to illegal drugs and weapons. Santos said bilateral talks in preparation for opening the border had gone on for months and that both countries would guarantee security and help curb smuggling.

The border will be opened at five crossing points during the day from Saturday.


Protests in Ethiopia

Mass street protests that saw dozens shot by Ethiopian security forces over the weekend could spill into civil war if the government fails to reform land use policies, a veteran Ethiopian opposition politician has warned. Merera Gudina, leader of the Oromo People's Congress, said the East African country was at a "crossroads". "People are demanding their rights," he said. "People are fed up with what the regime has been doing for a quarter of a century. They're protesting against land grabs, reparations, stolen elections, the rising cost of living, many things. "If the government continue to repress while the people are demanding their rights in the millions that (civil war) is one of the likely scenarios," Gudina said in an interview from Washington DC.

More than 90 people were shot dead by security forces in protests across Ethiopia's central-western Oromiya and northern Amhara regions at the weekend, according to opposition officials and residents.

Gudina said thousands of people were arrested in Addis Ababa, after the government used "massive and excessive force" to shut down demonstrations that had spread there. Other activists estimated that 3,000 protesters had been detained. "There have been no attempts at negotiation from the government, no engagement with the opposition or the people. So far, their only response is bullets," Gudina said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged Ethiopia on Wednesday to allow international observers into Oromiya and Amhara. He also said allegations of excessive use of force across the two restive regions must be investigated and that his office was in discussions with Ethiopian authorities.


Russia Flexing Its Muscles

Vladimir Putin summoned his security council and the Russian Navy announced war games in the Black Sea a day after the Russian president accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict over Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014. The posture heightens worries in Ukraine that Russia may plan to ramp up fighting in a war between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists that had been de-escalated by a shaky peace process.

Using some of his most aggressive rhetoric against Kiev since the height of the war two years ago, Putin has pledged to take counter-measures against Ukraine, which he accused of sending saboteurs into Crimea to carry out terrorist acts.

Ukraine has called the accusations false and says they look like a pretext for Russia to escalate hostilities. Such an escalation could be used by Putin to demand better terms in the Ukraine peace process, or to inflame nationalist passions at home ahead of Russian parliamentary elections next month.

The Russian leader met his top military and intelligence service brass on Thursday and reviewed "scenarios for counter-terrorism security measures along the land border, offshore and in Crimean air space," the Kremlin said.

Ukrainian UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko warned that Russia had amassed more than 40,000 troops in the region and said the build-up could reflect "very bad intentions."

The Russian Defence Ministry said its navy - whose Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea - would start to hold exercises in the area to practice repelling underwater attacks by saboteurs.

UK News

The Falklands

British Prime Minister Theresa May has written to Argentina's President Macri calling for restrictions on oil exploration in the Falklands Islands to be lifted and for more flights to the British-run islands. Argentina claims sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands, and relations between Buenos Aires and London have been strained for decades over the issue, culminating in a war in 1982 which Britain won.

May called for "more productive" relations between the two countries in her letter to the pro-business Macri, who took office in December as Argentina's first non-Peronist president in more than a decade. "Since the election of President Macri, we have been working towards improved relations with Argentina because we think that is in the interests of both our countries and the Falkland Islanders too," May's office said in a statement.

In her letter, May said she hoped that where the two countries had differences, "these can be acknowledged in an atmosphere of mutual respect".

She called for progress towards new flights between the islands, which are located about 435 miles off the coast of Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina, and third countries in the region.

As things stand, a Chilean airline flies from Santiago to the Falklands every Saturday via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, according to the Falklands Tourist Board. Once a month, the flight also stops in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, in both directions.


Privatisation Hurting Royal Mail

A labour union representing the majority of Royal Mail's 140,000-strong workforce said that it would fight any move by the British company to end its defined benefit pension scheme. Royal Mail said in June that it would increase workers' base salary, but told staff it might not be able to keep the pension scheme running beyond 2018.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) had in March overwhelmingly rejected Royal Mail's plans to end the scheme, the union said in a statement on Thursday. "The CWU do not accept that closure of the Royal Mail Pension Plan is inevitable and will explore every avenue to defend it," said Terry Pullinger, the union's deputy general secretary.

Olympics Recap

Michael Phelps has now made a daily habit of breaking his own record, and has set a new bar of 22 gold medals, over five Olympic Games. And yet, he still managed to be outshone by the tiny island nation of Fiji, who yesterday claimed their first Olympic medal - and a gold one at that. With the introduction of Rugby Sevens into the Olympics, Fiji knew there was a chance at a medal, and once the competition started there seemed to be no doubt about their path.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced a further day of public holiday for the Pacific island nation on Thursday after its rugby sevens team won the country's first Olympic medal. Bainimarama attended every day of the three-day competition, shunning the VIP area to sit with Fijian fans in the stands. Speaking after his country claimed gold, the prime minister said there would be at least one more day of public holiday after three this week. "They're all celebrating (back home), they've been celebrating for the last three days," he told reporters. "We've got celebrations programmed for when (the team) return ... We are all proud to be Fijians right now."


Long Read

For today's long read, something we don't cover too often: the Mongolian postal system. In one of the world's most sparsely populated countries, a traditional number/street organisation simply doesn't work. So from this September, they'll be implementing a new system.

Man fixed his expectations on the frowns or smiles or words of men, not on the strength of his own soul, or the sunrise, or the warming south wind, or the song of the warbler.
— William O. Douglas