Developing stories to watch for

Winter Youth Olympic Games

The first Youth Winter Olympic Games (YOG) are scheduled to begin in Jan. 2012 in Innsbruck, Austria. The Youth Olympic Games started in the summer of 2010 in Singapore. Featuring athletes aged 14 to 18, they are expected to occur once every four years while staggering both Winter and Summer Games according to the current Olympic Games design. Innsbruck was shortlisted among Kuopio, Finland, Harbin, China and Lillehammer Norway before winning the bid with 84 votes. The 2012 Winter YOG will feature 63 medal events taking place over nine days of competition in two major venues located in Innsbruck and Seefield. Innsbruck was host to the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and is currently operating a budget of USD$22 million. While the future site of the next Winter Olympic Games has yet to be determined, Nanjing, China will be hosting the 2nd Summer YOG in 2014.

—Alexandros Mitsiopoulos

Basic human rights

Human rights have always been a matter of controversy in the People’s Republic of China. Many international bodies including Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department have often blamed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the suppression of civil liberties and personal freedoms of its citizens. Following the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the CCP has experienced heightened criticism from the international community. Succumbing to political pressures, the CCP released the National Human Rights Action Plan; a 52 page document promising legal and social reform to protect basic civil rights. Outlining a two year program scheduled to be completed in April of 2011, the action plan has been widely criticised, providing very few benefits to Chinese citizens and simply reiterating pre-existing constitutional commitments. While Chinese domestic politics has always been shrouded from view, the international community has insisted on tangible reform.

—Alexandros Mitsiopoulos

The last great spiritual leader

On Mar. 14, the Dalai Lama submitted his formal resignation as the political leader of the Tibetan Parliament. Currently operating from Dharamsala, India, the Tibetan government has been in exile following a long struggle for sovereignty with China. In his resignation, the Dalai Lama stated that he intends on establishing a self-reliant system of governance while he is still healthy. Serious constitutional reform is set to begin in the coming months as anxieties over succession sweep through. A source of significant confusion has always been the distinction between the Dalai Lama’s political and religious roles as they appear to be harmonized. Many argue that regardless of his resignation, the Dalai Lama will continue to retain significant political authority. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry has expressed concerns that the resignation is a hoax and warned international leaders from meeting him. Regardless of political motives, the battle for self determination continues in Tibet.

—Alexandros Mitsiopoulos


Whispers of revolution have turned into mass protests and upheaval in nearly 20 countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Protests have escalated quickly in Syria, marking it as one of many potential sites for political restructuring. Over the past ten day, 61 people have died as Syrian security staff and military forces struggle to neutralize protestors. The international community has condemned a government crackdown on rioters for using disproportionate force. Just yesterday, the Syrian cabinet resigned as President Bashar al-Assad is expected to lift emergency laws over the next 24 hour period. Similar events are taking place in Kuwait where thirty were injured in protests this past Friday and in Iran in which hundreds of arrests have been made including opposition leaders. Given the range of events over the past three months, the fate of many countries has been impossible to predict. The greater question however remains whether future governments will heed the call for greater personal freedoms, true democratization and an end to corruption.

—Alexandros Mitsiopoulos


Following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devasted Japan, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility remains in critical condition. While officials initially dismissed widespread concern, Japanese prime minister has stated that his government is on maximum alert. In reactor two, radiation levels have been found to be nearly 100,000 times the normal level. Small levels of plutonium have been found around the site while in Tokyo, 210 kilometres from the Fukushima facility, irradiated drinking water has been found as concern increases for the wider health and environmental impact. Radiation has been detected in the air in provinces in China, South Korea, Vietnam, the U.S. western seaboard and in the rainwater in the north-east. While these traces are too low for warrant a health hazard, a ban on certain Japanese goods is still in place. Officials have been working tirelessly to prevent further contaminations from occurring. The primary focus for now is to prevent irradiated water from leaking into the sea.

—Alexandros Mitsiopoulos

Near Earth Objects

433 Eros is the name of an asteroid that is predicted to pass within 27 million kilometers of Earth on Jan. 31, 2012. That distance is equal to almost three quarters of the way to Venus, and while that might not sound very close, astronomy begs to differ. Any celestial body with an orbit that brings it closer than 150 million kilometers to Earth, the same distance between Earth and the sun, is designated as a Near Earth Object (NEO). There are approximately 200 NEOs currently being monitored by astronomers all around the world. It’s important to keep track of them all, because even though the paths of NEOs can be predicted, a number of factors can alter their orbit on the next pass. That means when the NEO returns decades or even centuries later, the buffer zone may not be so comfortable.

—David Goldberg