Harry Pot­ter’s train sta­tion ren­o­vated

The Washington Times Daily - - World -

LONDON | Harry Pot­ter fans should now find it a bit eas­ier to find plat­form 93/

King’s Cross sta­tion, the London train ter­mi­nal made fa­mous by J.K. Rowl­ing’s se­ries on the boy wizard, has un­der­gone a $875 mil­lion makeover.

The sta­tion is the set­ting of the fic­tional plat­form 93/ where Harry and his friends went through a wall to find the train to Hog­warts, their school.

The 45 mil­lion real-life com­muters who strug­gle through the clut­tered sta­tion ev­ery year of­ten found the ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing short of mag­i­cal.

On Mon­day a spec­tac­u­lar new glass-and-steel en­trance opened to the public in a bid to cut the crowd­ing.

As part of the sta­tion’s ren­o­va­tion, there is now a photo-op ver­sion of plat­form 93/ — right next to plat­form 9.

On Mon­day, deadly clashes rocked a neigh­bor­hood in the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus, as in­ter­na­tional ef­forts picked up pace to ini­ti­ate a daily hu­man­i­tar­ian truce and for mon­i­tors to be de­ployed across the coun­try.

Rus­sia, a Syr­ian ally, added its voice to calls for a daily truce so that aid can be de­liv­ered to af­fected cities. In Moscow, For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov joined Jakob Kel­len­berger, chief of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, to de­mand that Mr. As­sad al­low in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Syr­ian se­cu­rity forces, mean­while, launched at­tacks in sev­eral regions, op­po­si­tion ac­tivists said. Pre-dawn fight­ing in a heav­ily guarded area of Da­m­as­cus erupted as res­i­dents reeled from deadly week­end bomb­ings. A car-bomb ex­plo­sion was re­ported in Syria’s sec­ond-largest city, Aleppo, on Sun­day, one day af­ter three bomb­ings at se­cu­rity build­ings killed dozens in Da­m­as­cus.

Since the be­gin­ning of the con­flict, Rus­sia and China have twice blocked U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions con­demn­ing the Syr­ian regime.

“It is not so much that Syria re­mains their strong­est ally in the re­gion,” Rose­mary Hol­lis, pro­fes­sor of Mid­dle East pol­icy stud­ies at London’s City Univer­sity, said about Moscow and Bei­jing.

“It’s very clear that they don’t like the idea that on the grounds of re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect [the pop­u­la­tion] or hu­man­i­tar­ian atroc­i­ties, Western gov­ern­ments can go in and change regimes or can in­ter­fere and help the lo­cals over­throw their gov­ern­ments. This is some­thing they can’t tol­er­ate on prin­ci­ple be­cause it could come and get them at some point.”

Rus­sia has ex­pe­ri­enced its own protests af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion this month in which Vladimir Putin won by a land­slide, but Moscow re­mains one of the Syr­ian regime’s clos­est al­lies and has called for Mr. As­sad to agree to a num­ber of re­forms even while Rus­sia sup­ports keep­ing him in power.

Is­lamists worry Rus­sia, China

An­a­lysts say Moscow is con­cerned that power gained by Is­lamists in the Mid­dle East could res­onate with Rus­sia’s Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

“I think [Rus­sia] will stick to their po­si­tion for the near term, es­pe­cially if the Syr­ian regime rel­a­tively suc­ceeds and scores a cou­ple of vic­to­ries,” said Paul Salem, di­rec­tor of the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­ter in Beirut.

“How­ever, if the sit­u­a­tion in Syria takes a dive for the worse and the mas­sacres be­come dra­mat­i­cally more ex­tended, and if the regime seems to be de­clin­ing and fail­ing, Rus­sia is not go­ing to stick with them to the end,” he said.

In China, the gov­ern­ment has sought to play down dis­sent in towns and vil­lages. In De­cem­ber, cen­sors blocked In­ter­net searches re­lat­ing to Wukan, where pro­test­ers were in­volved in clashes with se­cu­rity forces over the death of a vil­lager in po­lice cus­tody.

“They fear most that the essence of the Arab Spring will reach their pop­u­la­tions,” Mr. Salem said. “From the very be­gin­ning, China was very pan­icked about the Arab Spring, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that they con­tinue to op­pose it.”

Although many an­a­lysts have said Mr. As­sad’s days are num­bered with the coun­try’s econ­omy in sham­bles and con­tin­u­ing sanc­tions by Western gov­ern­ments, oth­ers say the regime has done well in com­par­i­son with gov­ern­ments top­pled by the Arab Spring up­ris­ings such as those in Egypt, Libya and Tu­nisia. They note that Mr. As­sad is not look­ing for an exit strat­egy.

“There are many places he could go — Doha, Iran, Rus­sia, and other coun­tries might of­fer as well — but that’s not where we are,” Mr. Salem said.

“The regime is fight­ing for vic­tory, and they haven’t been de­feated. They’ve lost con­trol of many ar­eas, but com­pared to other regimes in the re­gion, they’ve done re­mark­ably quite well, and they feel they could ride this out and come out more or less vic­to­ri­ous at the end.”

Other an­a­lysts said there have been some top de­fec­tions to the op­po­si­tion, which is be­gin­ning to arm it­self.

“So far, As­sad’s regime has stayed rel­a­tively co­he­sive, although we have started to see a few high-level de­fec­tions,” said Jane Kin­nin­mont of the Lon­don­based think tank Chatham House.

Many an­a­lysts say Mr. As­sad will have to re­sign even­tu­ally.

“The regime is very strong and can­not be de­feated, but their time has passed,” Mr. Salem said. “Their le­git­i­macy is largely gone, and they don’t rep­re­sent a so­lu­tion for the fu­ture.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pro­test­ers burn por­traits of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad dur­ing a Feb. 26 demon­stra­tion in north­ern Syria. A year af­ter protests be­gan, the United Na­tions says more than 8,000 peo­ple have been killed in the crack­down.

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