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Good morning. Condemnations for Myanmar, fascination for Richard Liu and a looming cataclysm in Syria. Here’s what you need to know:
• “A new low for press freedom.”
Rights activists, diplomats and news organizations around the world are condemning a verdict against two Reuters reporters in Myanmar. A judge convicted U Wa Lone, above being taken from the court, and U Kyaw Soe Oo of violating the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced them to seven years in prison.
Myanmar is cracking down on the press, seeking to deny or obscure atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. The two reporters were investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya men.
During the trial, evidence emerged that the government had set them up. A police witness who testified to that has also been jailed, for a year.
• “This photo … is called a mugshot.”
Chinese netizens gave one another a crash course in the American legal system after Richard Liu, the billionaire tech mogul and founder of the online retail giant JD.com, was arrested in the U.S. on suspicion of criminal sexual misconduct.
He has returned to China — where he is now public focus No. 1.
Australians may remember Mr. Liu — he recently lost a fight to suppress his name in connection with the sexual assault conviction of a businessman who attended a sex party he hosted in Sydney.
• A devastating Syrian finale looms.
The Syrian government is massing forces near Idlib Province for what could be the last big battle in the country’s long, horrific civil war. Russian naval forces are conducting exercises just a few hundred miles away, in place to offer backup.
Western leaders, neighboring Turkey and the remaining opposition warn of apocalyptic violence. The province is believed to have about 30,000 rebel fighters, including Turkish-backed units like the one above, as well as radical Islamic groups. But there are also three million civilians, many of them displaced by violence elsewhere in the country.
Turkey has appealed for more time to coax the rebels toward a peace agreement. The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meet on Friday for possibly their last discussion on Syria before an offensive.
• A new commander in Afghanistan.
Gen. John Nicholson Jr., above center, handed over command of American and NATO forces in the country over the weekend to Gen. Austin Miller, above right, formerly of the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command.
General Nicholson offered a somber analysis of the 17-year war, advocating for immediate peace negotiations and alluding to regional players who encourage the Taliban to fight.
The U.S., citing in part Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, is moving to cut $300 million in military aid, raising tensions ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad on Wednesday.
And there’s a surprise candidate for president in Afghanistan’s spring elections: Asadullah Khalid. A moneyman for the ’80s mujahedeen, later a feared spy chief, he had to learn to walk again after a suicide bomber tried to kill him six years ago.
• A panopticon of peeping Toms.
Disguised as smoke detectors, hidden in pens or at the lips of trash cans, spy cameras are epidemic in South Korea. The images they record often end up on pornographic websites.
A protest attended by as many as 70,000 people last month demanded the government do more to punish sex criminals and protect women from a practice many say is fed by a national boys’-club culture.
So 8,000 workers are being assigned to check Seoul’s more than 20,000 public toilets — daily — to find and remove spy cameras.
• Fringe subcultures otherwise shunned from social media have found a refuge: the private Facebook group. And India is resisting the dominance of companies like Facebook — derided as “tech colonization” — with coming tough regulations.
• WPP, the global marketing colossus, named Mark Read as chief executive. The company is trying to rebound from the abrupt departure of its founder in April.
• Home prices in Australia are continuing to fall, led by Melbourne.
• Here’s a snapshot of global markets. Trading resumes in the U.S. and Canada after the Labor Day holiday.
In the News
• The National Museum of Brazil, already in disrepair, was engulfed in roaring flames. Inside were more than 20 million items, including Egyptian mummies and dinosaur fossils. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost,” said Brazil’s president, Michel Temer. [The New York Times]
• ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, has been blocked in China. Exactly why is unclear. [ABC]
• Peter Dutton’s help securing an au pair’s visa raised the broader question of Australian ministerial interventions — and revealed a data blackout begun under Scott Morrison. [Crikey, paywall-free for Times readers]
• “Back to the Dark Ages”: Rights activists condemned the caning of two Malaysian women convicted in a Muslim court of having same-sex relations. [The New York Times]
• Honey scandal: Lab tests on honey from Australia’s supermarket shelves — including Capilano’s Mixed Blossom brand — showed that, in about half the samples, the honey was mixed with something else. [ABC]
• One Washington lawyer is representing witnesses in the special counsel investigation, while also filtering the release of documents ahead of confirmation hearings on Tuesday for the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. [The New York Times]
• Almost 90 elephants were killed by poachers near a major wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, according to conservationists. [BBC]
• A kindergarten teacher in southern China thought it would be a good idea to welcome students to a new school year with performances that included a pole dancer. It wasn’t. [The New York Times]
Tips for a more fulfilling life.
• Rei Kawakubo, the founder of the avant-garde Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons, is notorious for her gnomic pronouncements (“The void is important”). She sat for an interview with T, our style magazine.
• In memoriam: Krishna Reddy, a master printmaker, sculptor and teacher who helped shape Modernist art in India, died at 93 in New York, which he had made his home.
• “The Other Side of the Wind,” a film directed by Orson Welles that was left unfinished on his death in 1985, finally premiered. It includes, among many, many other things, a giant phallus made from chicken wire, on a sand dune.
As the country mourns the loss of Senator John McCain, there’s a curious story from his past worth mentioning.
A sensationalist Russian tabloid published a report in 2008 that purported to explain Mr. McCain’s antipathy to Russia.
A government-funded Russian newspaper helped disseminate the story, in which Yuri Trushechkin, a former Soviet lieutenant colonel, said he had shot down Mr. McCain’s plane in North Vietnam in 1967. Mr. McCain, pictured above, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war.
Mr. Trushechkin came forward, according to the report, after recognizing Mr. McCain during coverage of his presidential campaign.
“He always hated the Russians,” Mr. Trushechkin said. “He knew that it was our rocket that downed his plane.” (Watch the video coverage.)
Just two months later, Russian newspapers reported that Mr. Trushechkin had died of cancer.
He was said to have just one question for Mr. McCain: whether he ever finished reading the works of Karl Marx.
Alisha Haridasani Gupta wrote today’s Back Story.
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