On The Ground

Ground zero in Homs

A plastic chair and a few plastic flowers in the yard of the jesuit monastery in Homs: this is where the Dutch father Frans van der Lugt was murdered in cold blood on April 7th. A bullet in the head, and he was gone: just a few days before an Iranian-brokered deal ended the worst battle of the Syrian war. After months of negotiations more then 2,000 jihadist gunmen were…

Just another coup in Bangkok

Bangkok, May 24th, 2014. Soldiers in the streets, schools and universities closed, 10 pm-5 am curfew imposed, BBC and CNN off air, censorship on media, ex prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 135 other politicians arrested, $ 3.5m military US aid (temporarily) suspended, the Senate dissolved. So goes the 18th coup (11 of them successful) since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It’s a familiar pattern. But this time…

PK5 (5 km from downtown Bangui)

The sound of machine guns and RPGs cracks in the air at the break of noon and goes on no stop well into the pitch-black night. It looks like Mogadishu at the high of the civil war, with barricades of burning tires and charred vehicles cutting the roads, mad-max militiamen hunting down people in the streets with machetes and AK47s, congolese and burundese soldiers firing at random, choppers flying overhead,…

Meltdown in kiev

After the carnage it all came down in less than 24 hours. Friday was the reckoning day. At sunset, as the crowd paraded the dead through the streets, hundreds of masked robocop-youngs surged from the blood-stained pavement of Maidan square and once more climbed the barricades, vowing to fight to the end. Priests mourned and waved their crosses, activists filled Molotov bottles, students brought helmets, stones and metal bars, doctors…

Sahel’s shifting sands

A new baby boy is born under a tent in the Tabareybarey refugee camp in northern Niger. The young Tuareg mother lays silent on the delivery bed, still bleeding but in good health: she will soon walk back to her wood and plastic shack in the windblown desert wasteland which is now home to 8,000 destitute people who crossed the border last year, having lost everything in the Malian war….

Burma days

Travelling to the restive northeastern Shan state is somehow easier these days if you don’t ask for official permits and use alternative ways. I went to Hsipaw by car, then arranged a trip to the Shan mountain villages: a reckless six hours motorbike ride in the backseat (“Mr. Bike” was at the wheel, he’s from the place) up on narrow swirling stony bumping steep tracks. We never bumped into military…

Another carbomb in Damascus

The mosque in Tadamun was empty, badly damaged by the fighting, and we had to run across the street to avoid the snipers’ fire and reach the blood stained prayer’s hall. Copies of the holy Koran, some riddled with bullets, were scattered on the marble floor. And I was told by a security guy from the local defence unit that the salafi insurgents had set up a sharia court in…

Down by the Nile

Gone are the roaring days of rage on the Nile’s banks. Now it’s the time of fear and frustration for the Brotherhood supporters. Today their call for a “martyrs’ Friday” brought only few thousands demonstrators in the streets of Cairo, mainly in the popular suburbs of Giza and Helwan. There were clashes in the Delta and a stronger turnout in Asyut, but nothing compared to the millions who propelled the…

Copts under attack

I met only two check points on the desert road to Suez where I went to meet father Bishay in his torched and ravaged churches. He showed me the burned books, the broken crucifixes, the smashed windows and altars, the charred remnants of the orphanage and the looted monastery. In the early morning of Wednesday, August 14th, hundreds of Islamists (and possibly some thugs on the government’s side) stormed and…

Crackdown in Cairo

Two days after the bloodshed the army has conquered the city. Tanks and armored vehicles surround the mosques and the public buildings, line up in the streets, roll down the Nile corniche. Mobile check points appear and vanish. Soldiers in combat gear watch from the rooftops while plaincloth policemen manning pistols and machine guns check documents and keep the press at bay. A curfew is enforced at 7 pm. The…