The Overflow for July 26th

International News

Japan In Mourning

At least 19 people were killed and about 20 wounded in a knife attack at a facility for the handicapped just outside Tokyo, in the worst mass killing in generations in Japan. Police said they responded to a call at about 2:30 am from an employee saying something horrible was happening at the facility in the city of Sagamihara, 30 miles west of Tokyo.

A man turned himself in at a police station about two hours later, police in Sagamihara said. He left the knife in his car when he entered the station, and has now been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and trespassing. 

Officials in Kanagawa prefecture, which borders Tokyo, identified the suspect as Satoshi Uematsu, and said he had worked at the facility until February. He entered the building about 2:10 a.m. by breaking a glass window on the first floor of a residential building at the facility, Shinya Sakuma, head of prefectural health and welfare division, said at a news conference.

The facility, called the Tsukui Yamayuri-en, is home to about 150 adult residents who have mental disabilities, Japan's Kyodo News service said.

The death toll could make this the worst mass killing in Japan in the post-World War II era. Mass killings are relatively rare in Japan, which has extremely strict gun-control laws. In 2008, seven people were killed by a man who slammed a truck into a crowd of people in central Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district and then stabbed passers-by. In 2001, a man killed eight children and injured 13 others in a knife attack at an elementary school in the city of Osaka. The incident shocked Japan and led to increased security at schools.

A man who lives near the site of the latest attack said he was shocked such an attack happened in the quiet, semi-rural area near Mount Takao, a mountain popular with hikers.
"I never imagined such a horrible thing happening," said Chikara Inabayashi, who was tending his watermelon patch. "I was astonished, that's the only thing I can say."


Azerbaijan's Changing Constitution

Azerbaijan's highest court on Monday approved an initiative by President Ilham Aliyev to extend the head of state's term of office to seven years from five, a step his critics see as illegal and undemocratic. Ratifying an extension in the presidential term in the ex-Soviet republic will now require constitutional amendments and a referendum, the constitutional court said in a statement.

These changes would allow Aliyev, in power since 2003, to further tighten his grip on power after his third term ends in 2018. A 2009 referendum scrapped Azerbaijan's two-term presidential limit, effectively enabling Aliyev to rule for life, provided he keeps being re-elected.

"In Azerbaijan, three years in every five are dedicated to elections (presidential, parliamentary and local), and every poll needs a year of preparations," Syavush Novruzov, executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party. "That's why we think the president's proposal must be approved."

Critics see this move as a ploy to perpetuate Aliyev's rule, which has been marked by crackdowns on the political opposition, now small and disparate, and independent media. "This amendment is illegal and undemocratic, and is an attempt to strengthen rule in an unconstitutional way," Ali Kerimli, an opposition Popular Front leader, told reporters.


Turkey's not ready

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker questioned Ankara's long-standing aspiration to join the EU. "I believe that Turkey, in its current state, is not in a position to become a member any time soon and not even over a longer period," Juncker said on French television France 2.

Juncker also said that if Turkey reintroduces the death penalty - something the government has said it must consider, responding to calls from supporters at public rallies for the coup leaders to be executed - it would stop the EU accession process immediately.

Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, allowing it to open EU accession talks the following year, but the negotiations have made scant progress since then. The country plays an pivotal role in the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State and in containing the flow of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Erdogan reiterated his government's stance on the possible restoration of capital punishment in an interview with German television station ARD broadcast on Monday. "What do the (Turkish) people say today?" Erdogan asked in the interview. "They want the death penalty reintroduced. And we as the government must listen to what the people say. We can't say 'no, that doesn't interest us.'"

Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, which allows him to sign new laws without prior parliamentary approval and limit rights as he deems necessary. The government has said these steps are needed to root out supporters of the coup and will not infringe on the rights of ordinary Turks.


Fire Blights California

A deadly California wildfire that has destroyed more than a dozen properties drove thousands more residents from their homes on Monday as flames raged for a fourth day through the drought-parched foothills north of Los Angeles.

Near Los Angeles, a beefed-up force of nearly 3,000 firefighters battled to outflank the blaze there, which has charred at least 50 square miles on the northwestern fringes of Los Angeles National Forest.

The so-called Sand Fire, which erupted on Friday, remained just 10% contained on Monday morning, as crews backed by bulldozers laboured to hack buffer lines around the blaze's perimeter. Fed by dense brush left desiccated during five years of drought, flames were initially stoked by triple-digit heat and extremely low humidity. Slightly cooler, moister weather and diminished winds were expected to assist firefighters on Monday.

"We have very little wind, we have an increase in relative humidity, and so it's favourable for us to get out and to put out hot spots and work on line construction," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Greg Hisel said. He said calmer winds were helping to keep the fire stationary.

By Monday morning, evacuation orders had been expanded to about 10,000 homes, encompassing an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people, fire officials said. Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Joey Marron said some 200 commercial buildings were also in harm's way.

UK News

Borders Of The Past

Britain does not want a return to border controls in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday on her first visit to the country following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union. The vote has raised a number of questions for Northern Ireland, from its impact on 18 years of peace, to billions of pounds of EU funding and the open border with the Irish Republic, which will be Britain's only land border with the bloc.

"We had a common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union. Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past," May said, referring to the freedom of movement that has existed between the countries since the 1920s. "What we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work, deliver a practical solution for everybody to ensure that we come out of this with a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom."

Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, with 56% voting 'Remain', putting it at odds with the United Kingdom's result in favour of leaving.

The border issue has arisen because those in favour of leaving the EU were adamant that Britain must be able to control its borders - and hence immigration - more closely. Any new arrangements must also be agreed by all EU member states.


"Several Months"

Britain will need months of preparation before Brexit talks can start, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday, chiding the government in London for not preparing better for the possibility of a 'Leave' vote. Juncker also confirmed Britain would lose unrestricted access to the internal European Union market if it did not accept free movement of workers, and said his preference would have been for talks to start as soon as possible.

"(But) this is not the case. The British government needs several months to fine-tune its position," Juncker told France 2 television.

He said there was no deadline, since article 50 of the EU treaty, which specifies the exit procedures, could only be activated by Britain. "I would have preferred the UK presents us its letter of resignation, so to speak, as soon as possible, as I had thought that the British, especially those who wanted to leave the EU, would have prepared for this possibility," Juncker said.

He said the EU would not grant tariff-free access to the internal market for UK goods and services if Britain did not accept free movement of workers from within the EU. "There will be no access to the internal market for those who do not accept the rules - without exception or nuance - that make up the very nature of the internal market system," Juncker said.

Long Read

We often think that asking questions is easy: after all, if a child can be so good at asking questions, it can't be too hard. However, question-asking reaches its peak at age 5, and declines through childhood and adolescence. In a society and in workplaces that values answers far more than anything else, this New York Times piece discusses those who are trying to bring back the art of asking a question.

It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings happiness to him.
— Max Planck