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The best photos of 2011 from around the globe. Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. Some images contain dead bodies, graphic content and tragic events. We consider these images an important part of human history.

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The Caspian Sea is bordered by five countries, Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. The Caspian Sea is what remains of the ancient ocean. Around 60 million years ago the this ancient ocean connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Due to shifting of continents it lost its connection with the Pacific Ocean and then with the Atlantic Ocean. Chloe Dewe Mathews’ work on the Caspian Sea recently won the British Journal of Photography’s International Photography Award and will be exhibited in London at the Foto8 Gallery from Nov 22nd until Dec 5th. David Land of f2 Magazine caught up with Mathews as she hitchhiked her way back to Britain from China.

Mathews:

“.. I was mostly shooting in Central Asia (Xinjiang China, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) but now I´m only weeks away from home. My boyfriend (who is also an artist) and I, wanted to do a substantial journey from Asia to Europe without flying, to get a sense of the gradual changes that occur as you move from East to West. We’ve been primarily hitchhiking, and crossing the seas by boat, to get a more immediate sense of the places we are traveling through. Although I did preliminary research, I didn’t want preconceived projects to dictate the way I worked. Rather I wanted to respond to whatever situations we found ourselves in, and once an idea had struck, I could go deeper from there. It´s been a real reconnaissance trip for a lifetime’s work ahead and an education, of course.

One of the biggest challenges has been knowing when to take photographs and when not to. There were periods when I didn’t take out my camera at all, which made me worry that I was wasting opportunities. I had to remind myself that sitting, listening, talking, watching, gathering is as important a part of being a photographer as shooting. Besides, sometimes if you are too busy taking pictures within the boundaries of a certain project, you are blind to what is happening right in front of you. I didn’t want that to happen during this trip.”

All images courtesy Chloe Dewe Mathews/Panos


A woman bathes in a bath of oil at the Naftalan sanatorium. Each session, patients bathe for ten minutes in a tub of crude oil. The oil is heated to 37 degrees for optimum effectiveness, Azerbaijan.


The SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) oil fields in Ramana on the Absheron Peninsula. Wells in the Caspian were being hand-dug in the region as early as the 10th century and the world’s first offshore and machine drilled wells were built on the Absheron Peninsula during the 1870′s, Azerbaijan.


Boys splash in the Caspian Sea, in the shadow of oil rigs at Sixov beach in Baku, Azerbaijan.


A mother and daughter sit on the artificial sea wall in Astara, near the border with Iran. The Caspian Sea borders are still unresolved between these two countries, almost twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Both countries claim ownership of lucrative oil fields in the southern waters, which has led to a series of confrontations, as each side has forged exploratory missions to profit from the region, Azerbaijan.


Two sisters run down to the underground mosque in Beket-Ata near the Caspian Sea. They have come on a pilgrimage with their family from Aktau, to pray for the recovery of their uncle, Kazakhstan.


In a coastal cemetery, Uzbek migrant workers wear makeshift masks and sunglasses to protect themselves from the sun’s glare, reflecting off the mussel-chalk they work with. They are building elaborate mausoleums for the newly rich middle class. These grave builders work from dawn til dusk, sleeping on site for months at a time, Kazakhstan.


An Uzbek migrant worker pastes plaster into the cracks of a mausoleum. When the Koshkar-Ata cemetery was first established mausoleums were reserved for local saints, a status that was obtained through wisdom and benevolence, through contributions to the well being of the community. Today the splendid tombs belong to the local oil barons. These grave builders work from dawn til dusk, sleeping on site for months at a time, Kazakstan.

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Sri Lankan prisoners prepare to perform a traditional dance at the main Welikada prison in Colombo November 17, 2011. The cultural event is organized by the prisons department as part of the rehabilitation program for convicts, according to officials. Occupy Los Angeles protesters march through downtown during a rally Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Occupy Wall [...]

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SONEPUR, INDIA — An Indian mahout watches as seven-year old female elephant Laxmi reaches with her trunk to touch her daughter 13-month old baby elephant Rani at the Sonepur Fair, in Sonepur, Bihar, near Patna, India. The Sonepur Mela cattle fair, held annually in the Indian state of Bihar, has its origins during ancient times, [...]

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As the war in Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, the security outlook still looks bleak. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has just asked the Pentagon for initial recommendations for the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan in 2014 -- the first step in planning the final U.S. withdrawal. According to the Associated Press, as of yesterday, November 1, 2011, at least 1,704 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats are now asking Afghanistan's neighbors to sign on to an ambitious plan for the future of Central Asia -- ambitiously being called the "New Silk Road" -- that would link the infrastructure of surrounding countries from Kazakhstan to India. Gathered here are images from there over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [41 photos]

A severely wounded US Marine hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is carried by his comrades to a medevac helicopter of U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation Regiment to be airlifted in Helmand province, on October 31, 2011. The Marine was hit by an IED, lost both his legs and fights for his life. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

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Chloe Dewe Mathews

Caspian

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When viewed from space, the Caspian has a distinct outline, like an upside down map of the British Isles, and roughly the same size. But the Caspian is no lake, nor is it an ordinary sea; surrounded by vast tracts of desert, hovering half way between Asia and Europe – though belonging to neither, the Caspian is a sea almost lost in the land. I set out to capture the spirit of the illusive region; picking out unusual, poetic and often humorous aspects of everyday lives.
Over the centuries, nearby Empires have come and gone, each leaving its mark: first the Ottomans, then Persians, Mongols and finally, the Russians.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993, an oil boom brought fresh prosperity to the area. Ports such as Aktau sprang up on the coast of Kazakhstan, where in the cemetery migrant workers now construct elaborate tombs for a new oil-rich middle class.

Across the water in the semi-desert of Azerbaijan, in a sanatorium town called Naftalan, people bathe in unique, chocolate-brown oil, which is believed to have therapeutic properties. It was startling to see an industrial substance so associated with international politics, power and wealth, being used for health and relaxation.

While the economic relationships between Europe and Asia change and ecological conditions on our planet mutate, so do the fortunes sift of the disparate communities who live around this strange sea. Even today, the lives of these people are tied to the landscape as never before.

Bio

My work is a hunt for moments of potency; when the clutter of day-to-day existence falls away to reveal something uncomplicated, something essential.
After a degree in Fine Art at Oxford University, I worked in the feature film industry for four years. Although it was an exciting world to be part of, I found myself questioning its extravagance. I wanted to work on something quieter, more economical, where I had room for spontaneity and intimacy with my subject.

In 2010 I traveled overland from China to Britain, hitchhiking and camping, in an attempt to experience and capture the cultural shift that takes place as one moves from Asia to Europe. During that time I shot projects on the Uighur minority in Western China, the returning waters of the Aral Sea, and the Caspian.
My work has been published in the Sunday Times Magazine, the Independent, Foto8, Vision China and Dazed and Confused magazine, and exhibited in London, Birmingham, Buenos Aires and Berlin.

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Chloe Dewe Mathews

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David Goldman / AP

Staff Sgt. Rulberto Qjendismiranda, 20, of Seaside, Calif, with the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment based in Hawaii, looks at a photo of his son Marziano, 11 months, on his mobile phone aboard a military transport flight Monday, July 11, out of Forward Operating Base Fenty in Kunar province, Afghanistan.

Jim Seida writes

I wonder how long it's been since Staff Sgt. Qjendismiranda has seen his son.

More South and Central Asia coverage here.

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

William Daniels

Faded Tulips

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Since late 2007 I have traveled several times to Kyrgyzstan to work on an ongoing project entitled Faded Tulips, a long term social portrait of the former Soviet republic, two decades after its independence, undermined by poverty, corruption and chronic political instability: an explosive mixture.
The “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 brought hope and a promise of democracy to Kyrgyzstan. However, within a few years the situation had worsened, democracy was regressing and the economic situation dire. 40% of the population now live below the poverty line and some studies say nearly half of the population regret the passing of the communist era. Unsurprisingly, a bloody revolution in 2010 plunged the country into a new wave of violence. Two months later, in Osh, the southern capital, the ethnic confrontations between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks ended in an anti-Uzbek pogrom. Up to 2,000 people were killed and 400,000 displaced.

I reached Osh a few days following the clashes. I was deeply moved by the atrocity of the evidence I witnessed, and the scale of the drama. These sudden and violent tragic events cast further light on the ethnic tensions that exist in south Kyrgyzstan, which in turn led me to understand that my long term work on the republic should be completed by an investigation of these tensions, many of which resulted from the original borders of the USSR, drawn up by Lenin decades earlier.

I plan to visit Uzbek and Tadjik enclaves: Sokh, Chakhimardan, Voroukh, and would return to Osh where the situation remains tense. I will also spend some time in the eastern mountain villages, epicenter of Kyrgyz nationalism, and from where many young men came to participate in the massacres.
I will also take a further look into the presence of this radical Islam in which the Uzbeks may take refuge. In Osh, an Uzbek told me “we have been in contact with the Islamists. They will come and defend us. It will be the Jihad. It’s not what we want but we don’t have the choice.”

Bio

William’s work revolves around social issues and humanitarian concerns mostly focusing on isolated or weakened communities. He has worked on many global issues such as the 3 main pandemics -Malaria, Aids and Tuberculosis- the Tsunami aftermaths in Asia, Haiti earthquake aftermaths, and he has been working on Kyrgyzstan since late 2007, among others issues. Recently he covered the Libyan conflict on assignment for Polka magazine.

His long-term work on malaria was exhibited in partnership with the Global Fund on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, in London, at the European parliament in Brussels, and he published it in the book Mauvais Air. His images appear regularly in French and international press: Time, Newsweek, Le Monde, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Polka and he was Awarded once at world press photo, 3 times at Picture of the year and shortlisted in many international awards such as Anthropographia and Sony Awards.

He is represented by Panos Pictures.

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William Daniels

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Weather around the world was the story of the past week. Flooding and major storms around the world caused problems for many. A neighborhood is submerged by flood water from the Souris River Thursday, June 23, 2011 in Minot, N.D. Officials in North Dakota’s fourth-largest city said Thursday they had done all they could to protect critical infrastructure from the rising Souris River as it headed toward a record flood.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) sits with former South African President Nelson Mandela at his home June 21, 2011 in Houghton, South Africa. The first lady, along with her daughters and mother, will be traveling in Africa from June 21 to the 26.

Rebel fighters fire a Grad rocket at the front line west of Misrata, Libya, Monday, June 20, 2011. Libya’s government said a NATO airstrike west of Tripoli early Monday destroyed a large family compound belonging to a close associate of Moammar Gadhafi, killing at least 15 people, including three children. The alliance said the strike hit a “command and control” center.

 June 24, 2011

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A musician of Panama's Big Band orchestra, practices before a reenactment of a 1950 salsa hall as a tribute to famous late Puerto Rican musician Tito Puente in Panama City, Thursday, June 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco) #

 June 24, 2011

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Christian Riguccini of Australia competes during the Shark Island Challenge at Shark Island, near Cronulla on June 17, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) #

 June 24, 2011

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Belarusian school boys hold torches as they stand in front of one of the most important Soviet WWII war monuments marking the heroic resistance of the Red Army against the surprise German attack during a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of Nazi invasion in the town of Brest, 360 kilometers (223 miles) southwest of Minsk, Belarus, early Wednesday, June 22, 2011. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Brest Fortress defenders contained Nazi troops for a month. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) #

 June 24, 2011

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This combination of 10 pictures put together in photoshop and taken on June 15, 2011 in the National Park of the volcano Teide (3718m of altitude) shows the moon during a total lunar eclipse, on the Spanish canary island of Tenerife. Astronomers in parts of Europe, Africa, Central Asia and Australia were hoping for clear skies on Wednesday to enjoy a total lunar eclipse, the first of 2011 and the longest in nearly 11 years. A total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth casts its shadow over the Moon. The lunar face can sometimes turn reddish, coppery-brown or orange, tinged by light from the Sun that refracts as it passes through our atmosphere. AFP PHOTO/ DESIREE MARTIN #

 June 24, 2011

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Children jump over concrete slabs of the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin, Germany, Friday, June 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) #

 June 24, 2011

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A rickshaw puller wades through a water-logged street due to heavy rain in Dimapur in northeastern Indian state of Nagaland, Friday, June 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Sorei Mahong) #

 June 24, 2011

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People play in the sea against the backdrop of merchant ship MV Wisdom which ran aground at Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, India, Friday, June 17, 2011. The ship went adrift after breaking loose while being towed from Colombo to Alang in Gujarat, for being broken as scrap. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade) #

 June 24, 2011

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David Gaviria (700) runs over Tomas Puerta (12) on the first lap of the Motorcycle Superstore.com SuperSport R1 race at Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/The Birmingham News, Bernard Troncale) #

 June 24, 2011

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Heavy storm clouds darken the sky as rain and wind gusts blow over downtown Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver) #

 June 24, 2011

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In this June 20, 2011 photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, people transfer livestocks in Nubu township of Lanxi city, east China's Zhejiang Province. More than 40 miles (70 kilometers) of dikes are in danger of overflowing in an eastern Chinese province where floods have caused $1.2 billion in losses, authorities said Monday as the country neared a critical point in battling seasonal rains. Heavy rains pounded Zhejiang province over the weekend, and the level of a river that passes through Lanxi city has risen sharply, said Zhao Fayuan, deputy director of the provincial flood control headquarters. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liang Zhen) #

 June 24, 2011

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In this handout from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) sits with former South African President Nelson Mandela at his home June 21, 2011 in Houghton, South Africa. The first lady, along with her daughters and mother, will be traveling in Africa from June 21 to the 26. (Photo by Debbie Yazbek/Nelson Mandela Foundation via Getty Images) #

 June 24, 2011

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The sun illuminates clouds early Thursday morning June 16, 2011, behind a barn east of Salina, Kansas. Later in the morning thunder storms dropped heavy rain in the area. (AP Photo/Salina Journal, Tom Dorsey) #

 June 24, 2011

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In this photo taken Monday, June 20, 2011, children play on a swing n Haldia, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Allahabad, India. Young women and children rejoice the monsoon season by tying temporary rope swings on tree branches across many parts of India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh) #

 June 24, 2011

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People light candles near a church in memory of WW II victims, early morning, at the time the Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union 70 years ago, outside St.Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

 June 24, 2011

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Thai "Red Shirt" demonstrators gather during a "cursing" ceremony against the government and the rival party Wednesday June, 22, 2011 at the Erwan Shrine in downtown Bangkok, Thailand. The "Red Shirts" also gathered to remember those killed in last year's massive street protests against the government. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) #

 June 24, 2011

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An opponent to gay marriage holds a sign outside the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, June 23, 2011. Dozens of gay couples are planning to converge on Albany Thursday to witness what would be a historic vote to legalize gay marriage in New York (AP Photo/Mike Groll) #

 June 24, 2011

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Hundreds of people take part in a synchronized mass exercise during a ceremony of a government campaign to promote physical exercises at Beijing's Olympic Forest Park in China, Thursday, June 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan) #

 June 24, 2011

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A neighborhood is submerged by flood water from the Souris River Thursday, June 23, 2011 in Minot, N.D. Officials in North Dakota's fourth-largest city said Thursday they had done all they could to protect critical infrastructure from the rising Souris River as it headed toward a record flood. (AP Photo/The Grand Forks Herald, Christian Randolph) #

 June 24, 2011

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Indian weaver K. Saritha makes thread from silk yarn in a small scale factory at Gattuppal village, 65 kilometers (40 miles) from Hyderabad, in southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. India faces a shortage of 10,000 tons of silk per year, as a result it imports more than 8,000 tons from China every year recently, while it domestically produces around 22,000 tons of the staple, according to local newspapers and textile industry. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.) #

 June 24, 2011

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A Filipino boy stands behind a vehicle to keep from the cold wind in a heavy downpour in Manila, Philippines on Thursday June 23, 2011. Tropical Storm Meari will be set to make its presence known as it strengthens into a Category 1 typhoon sometime between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. It will continue on its northwestward to the northeast of the Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) #

 June 24, 2011

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Flood affected people queue up to collect relief material at a distribution center in Ghatal, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north west of Kolkata, India, Thursday, June 23, 2011. Monsoon storms in eastern India have damaged homes and flooded parts of Kolkata, killing at least seven people.(AP Photo/Bikas Das) #

 June 24, 2011

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A model wears a creation by Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck as part of his Spring/Summer 2012 fashion collection presented in Paris, Friday June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) #

 June 24, 2011

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An Egyptian and Japanese team of scientists use a pulley system to lift the first of 41 16-ton limestone slabs to reveal fragments of the ancient ship of King Khufu next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, Thursday, June 23, 2011. Archaeologists have begun the excavation process of a 4,500-year old wooden boat encased underground next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptologists announced Thursday.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) #

 June 24, 2011

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Riot police huddle together after firing tear gas, as a lone man continues to hold up a sign protesting proposed constitutional changes, outside the National Assembly in central Dakar, Senegal Thursday, June 23, 2011. Senegalese police lobbed tear gas at thousands of protesters who amassed in the capital Thursday to oppose proposed changes to the constitution that critics said would benefit longtime president Abdoulaye Wade and his family. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #

 June 24, 2011

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Flames are seen over homes in Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Thursday June 16, 2011. The elements are coming together to create dangerous fire conditions in southern and southeastern Arizona. The biggest wildfire in state history is closing in on a half million acres burned. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Greg Bryan) #

 June 24, 2011

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An Arab boy jumps into the Mediterranean sea from the ancient wall surrounding the old city of Acre, northern Israel, Sunday, June 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) #

 June 24, 2011

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Relatives of inmates of El Rodeo I and II penitentiaries cry outside the prisons compounds in Guatire, outskirts of Caracas, June 17, 2011. At least seven people were injured in a vast police operation aimed at taking control of El Rodeo I and II prisons, where in recent days, there were at least 22 killed in a gunbattle, government sources said. AFP Photo/Leo RAMIREZ #

 June 24, 2011

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Flood waters cover highway 159, Wednesday June 22, 2011, in Big Lake, Mo. near Rulo Neb. Missouri river flooding forced residents from Big lake earlier in the week. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver) #

 June 24, 2011

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U.S. first lady Michelle Obama is seen in silhouette as she speaks at Regina Mundi Church and addresses the Young African Women Leaders Forum in a Soweto township, Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool) #

 June 24, 2011

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People ride bicycles on the banks of river Ganges as monsoon clouds dot the sky in Allahabad, India, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Monsoon rains that hits India usually from June to September are crucial for farmers whose crops feed hundreds of millions of people. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh) #

 June 24, 2011

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Lightning streaks across the sky above a home Tuesday, June 21, 2011, in Saukville, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) #

 June 24, 2011

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A reveler carries a woman on his back as she reacts while he walks on the burning embers during the night of San Juan in San Pedro Manrique, Spain, Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) #

 June 24, 2011

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Rebel fighters fire a Grad rocket at the front line west of Misrata, Libya, Monday, June 20, 2011. Libya's government said a NATO airstrike west of Tripoli early Monday destroyed a large family compound belonging to a close associate of Moammar Gadhafi, killing at least 15 people, including three children. The alliance said the strike hit a "command and control" center. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) #

 June 24, 2011

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A Eurofighter Typhoon performs its demonstration flight, on the first day of the Paris air show, at Le Bourget airport, Monday June 20, 2011.(AP Photo/Francois Mori) #

 June 24, 2011

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A reveler takes part in the Gay Pride Parade in Lisbon Saturday, June 18, 2011. (AP Photo/ Francisco Seco) #

 June 24, 2011

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Some 140 creations by Japanese hat artist Akio Hirata are displayed by designer Oki Sato during a hat exhibition at a Tokyo hall Saturday, June 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye) #

 June 24, 2011

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The pier of Puerto Arauco at Nahuel Huapi Lake is seen covered by sand and volcanic ash from the Chilean Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in Villa La Angostura, southern Argentina, Friday, June 17, 2011. The volcano started erupting on June 4 after remaining dormant for decades. (AP Photo/Federico Grosso) #

 June 24, 2011

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Armed tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, guard inside the destroyed house of al-Ahmar in Sanaa, Yemen Thursday, June 16, 2011. Yemen's leader of nearly 33 years Ali Abdullah Saleh has held onto power in the face of massive protests demanding his ouster since February, though some of his top aides, military commanders, Cabinet ministers and diplomats have defected to the protesters' side in recent months. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed) #

 June 24, 2011

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A tree stands in a field as rain clouds pass by near the eastern German city of Dresden on June 20.2011. Germany is experiencing very changeable weather of wet and sunny spells at the moment. AFP PHOTO / ARNO BURGI #

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[Video Link] Raw Opium is a journey around the world and through time, where conflicting forces do battle over the narcotic sap of the opium poppy. From an opium master in southeast Asia to a UN drug enforcement officer on the border of Afghanistan hunting down the smugglers of central Asia; from a former Indian government Drug Czar and opium farmer to a crusading Vancouver doctor and Portuguese street worker who daily confront the realities of drug addiction.

Raw Opium: A feature documentary about a commodity that has tremendous power - both to ease pain and to destroy lives

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