Joe Biden challenges China over 'curtailed' freedom of press during visit
US vice-president expresses 'profound disagreements', while Xi Jinping reportedly says journalists are treated according to law
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 18.52 GMT
Joe Biden pressed China publicly and privately on its treatment of US journalists who fear losing their visas, as he wrapped up his visit to Beijing on Thursday.
Speaking to American business people in the capital, the US vice-president spoke of "profound disagreements" with China over its treatment of US journalists.
"Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences," he said.
Later on Thursday he flew to South Korea where he completes a week-long Asia tour that has been dominated by tensions over China's new air-defence identification zone over the East China sea.
While in Beijing he met Bloomberg and New York Times journalists who have experienced unusual delays in renewals of their mandatory annual visas following the organisations running sensitive stories on the family wealth of leaders. Their websites have been blocked since the reports appeared and neither company has been given visas for new recruits.
Biden also raised the issue in his meetings with the president, Xi Jinping. According to the New York Times, Biden reported that Xi said China treated reporters according to the law.
China's foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the media were treated in accordance with the country's laws and regulations. "Over the past few years, we have provided a very convenient environment for foreign journalists reporting in China," he told reporters."Everybody can see the progress we made."
The full foreign reporting staff of both media organisations are understood to have experienced delays. If accreditation is not issued to the journalists soon they will have to leave China as their visas expire.
Last year China refused to renew the credentials of the US citizen Melissa Chan, a correspondent for al-Jazeera English in what is thought to be the first such case since the late 90s – but other individuals have received new visas following delays.
Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, said in a statement: "Unfettered coverage of China is a crucial issue at a time when it is such an important and compelling story. We have made a major commitment to covering China and are eager that our staff can continue to work there normally."
A Bloomberg journalist travelling with David Cameron was excluded from a Beijing event this week, prompting the prime minister to complain directly to Xi.
Hong, the foreign ministry spokesman, said they had sought to ensure there were sufficient spaces for Chinese and British media.
Bloomberg denied a New York Times report saying it killed a sensitive story involving leaders' families through fearing its ability to report from China would be jeopardised.
In November, the American journalist Paul Mooney, who has reported from China for many years, was denied a visa to work for Reuters. The Chinese language websites of the news agency and of the Wall Street Journal have been blocked since last month.
Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, pressed home the message and raised concern about the treatment of academics, saying: "We are deeply concerned that foreign journalists in China face restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs, including extended delays in processing their journalist visas, restrictions on access to 'sensitive' locations and individuals, pressure on their local staff, blocked websites, and reports of cyber-hacking of media organisations.".
"We call upon the Chinese authorities to respect media and academic freedoms. Chinese and foreign journalists and academics should be allowed to operate freely in China."
Perry Link, a sinologist at the University of California at Riverside, who has been denied visas to China since 1996, warned: "The whole US public suffers in its understanding of China because of the problem. Self censorship by academics – and hence a less than accurate impression of Chinese realities for the western public – will continue until the institution of using blacklists for this purpose is abolished."
Andrew Nathan, a historian at Columbia University, who has been unable to visit since he co-edited a book of leaked documents on the 1989 pro-democracy protests that began in Tiananmen Square, said he had been approached by many younger academics and students who wanted advice on whether a particular piece or kind of research would affect their visa access.
China seems to be winning its arguments with the West over Tibet and human rights
Dec 7th 2013
HYPOCRISY does not make you wrong, but it hands your critics a convenient weapon. When David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, visited Sri Lanka for the recent Commonwealth summit, he was right to insist loudly and publicly on the need for a proper investigation into the carnage at the end of its civil war in 2009. But this week, on his next trip to Asia, that robust riling of his hosts laid him open to charges of double standards, as he indulged in three days of conciliatory schmoozing in China.
Neither Sri Lanka’s nor China’s government would be surprised that the passion for truth and justice aired so volubly in Colombo was buried far deeper in Mr Cameron’s luggage in Beijing. Neither accepts that Western “meddling” in their internal affairs on issues such as human rights flows from a genuine belief in universal principles. Rather, they see it as a self-serving diplomatic optional extra, to be discarded as soon as it jeopardises other interests. And China, unlike Sri Lanka, is powerful enough to make Western leaders hold their tongues.
Of course Western governments would deny this stoutly. Discussion of human rights, Britain says, is an integral part of its relationship with China. The two countries have held 20 rounds of a bilateral dialogue on the issue and British leaders raise it at every opportunity. But the 20th round was two years ago; and there is little evidence that Chinese leaders see the harping on human rights in private exchanges as more than an irritating quirk, like the British fondness for talking about the weather.
So the version of Mr Cameron’s visit to China believed by many observers is one in which he has swallowed a big chunk of humble pie. After he met Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in London last year, an incensed China froze him and his country out. British business complained it was losing out to European competitors. Mr Cameron had to reconfirm that Britain does not advocate Tibetan independence and say that he had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama again.
Only then did China welcome him back, at the head of the biggest British trade mission ever to go there. In the circumstances, he could not risk making provocative public statements about China’s “internal affairs”. It seems unlikely that the leader of any big European country will receive the Dalai Lama again. This week Global Times, a Communist Party paper, crowed that Britain, France and Germany dare not jointly provoke China “over the Dalai Lama issue”. Even America’s Barack Obama delayed meeting the Dalai Lama until after his first visit to China in 2009, tacitly conceding China’s point that the meeting was not a matter of principle, but a bargaining chip.
If China is getting its way diplomatically on Tibet, it is not because repression there has eased. Over the past two years, more than 120 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest. This week, exiles reported the sentencing of nine Tibetans for alleged separatist activity. Similarly, although freedoms for the majority in China have expanded, dissidents are still persecuted. The most famous of them, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel peace prize, remains in jail for no more than advocating peaceful, incremental political reform.
China has succeeded in shifting human rights and Tibet far down the agenda of its international relations for three reasons. One, of course, is its enormous and still fast-growing commercial clout. Not only is it an important market for sluggish Western economies. It is also a big potential investor—in high-speed rail and nuclear projects in Britain, for example.
Second, alarm at China’s expanding military capacity and its assertive approach to territorial disputes is also demanding foreign attention. Joe Biden, the American vice-president, arrived in Beijing from Tokyo on December 4th. Liu Xiaobo and Tibet may have been among his talking-points, but a long way below China’s declaration last month of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over islands disputed with Japan, and the economic issues on which he had hoped to concentrate.
A third factor is China’s tactic of linking foreign criticism to economic and strategic issues. Global Times, not satisfied with Mr Cameron’s contrition, used his visit to chide Britain for the support it has shown Japan over the ADIZ, and for its alleged fomenting of trouble in Hong Kong. China might argue that linkage is something it learned from the West, and the days when its normal trading ties with America were hostage to human-rights concerns. But now China itself seems happy to use commercial pressure to bully Japan or Britain, for example.
That democracy thing
It is also an advantage for China that the country is not much of an issue in the internal politics of its Western partners. No Western government faces a threat from an anti-government Chinese diaspora, let alone a Tibet lobby. By contrast, Sri Lankan politicians like to point out that their fiercest foreign critics are in countries, such as Britain and Canada, where governments seek the votes of ethnic-Tamil Sri Lankan émigrés, some of whom sympathise with the Tamil Tiger rebels routed in 2009. Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, boycotted the Commonwealth summit. So did Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, where the Tamil vote is of even greater importance. Neither Mr Singh nor Mr Harper has any qualms about courting China’s leaders.
Moreover, with domestic economies in the doldrums, Western voters seem not to want their leaders grandstanding on issues of moral principle abroad. In America, for example, for the first time in nearly 40 years of surveys, one just published by Pew Research found more than half (52%) of respondents agreeing that America should “mind its own business internationally”. So Western leaders have few incentives to act tough in China, and plenty of reasons to tone down their criticisms of its government. But hypocrisy does not make you right, either.
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Iran's Revolutionary Guards arrest internet activists
Contributors to pro-opposition social networking websites accused of acting against national security
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 18.12 GMT
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have carried out a new wave of arrests of cyber activists and members of pro-opposition social networking websites.
Kaleme, a leading opposition website, reported on Thursday that at least five Iranians who had shared news about the situation of political prisoners on Facebook have recently been held by the security apparatus of the country's elite forces. They were identified as Amir Golestani, Masoud Ghasemkhani, Fariborz Kardar, Seyed Masoud Seyed Talebi and Roya Irani.
According to Kaleme, some of the five Iranians were administrators of popular cultural and social pages on Facebook but had occasionally shared or published posts about the opposition Green movement and its members behind bars in Iranian prisons. The activists are being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Iran's English-language state newspaper, Tehran Times, also said on Wednesday that 16 people that officials have linked to "foreign agents" were arrested in the southern province of Kerman for crimes related to cyber offences.
"These individuals … are accused of acting against national security through co-operation with foreign networks and designing websites and developing content for counter-revolutionary websites with the aim of overthrowing the Islamic Republic system," said Ahmad Qorbani, Kerman's deputy prosecutor general, reported Tehran Times.
It was not clear if the five cyber activists were linked to the arrests made in Kerman.
Earlier in the week, a popular Iranian technology website, Narenji, said that seven of its employees, including journalists and technical staff, had been arrested by Revoultionary Guards. They are Aliasghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nasim Nikmehr, Malihe Nakhaie, Mohammadhossein Mousavizadeh and Sara Sadjadpour.
Another opposition website, Sahamnews, also reported that Samad Khatibi, a film-maker and designer, who had been involved in the campaign supporting Hassan Rouhani for the presidential office, was arrested 10 days ago upon arriving in Tehran from the Netherlands. Sahamnews said Khatibi's family had been warned by the authorities not to speak to the media, adding that he still remains in custody.
It was not clear whether Khatibi or any of the 16 cyber activists arrested separately have had access to proper legal representation but political prisoners in Iran are often denied immediate access to their lawyers and their family members.
Rouhani ran for office on promises of bringing moderation back to the forefront of Iranian politics and pledged improvement in the situation of press freedom and social liberties in the Islamic republic. As the president assumed power, judicial authorities released a number of prominent political prisoners, including the acclaimed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and gave others leave from prison.
But a large number of political prisoners are still being held in prison and the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi remain under house arrests although they have never been put on trial.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the judiciary, controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are independent of the Iranian government under Rouhani as well as the intelligence ministry. Many of the arrests in recent years of activists and politicians have been carried out independently by the revolutionary guards.
The arrests do not necessarily have the support of the government but the moderate president has so far kept muted over the new crackdown campaign.
December 5, 2013
New Emotion, Hope, Sweeps Across Iran in Aftermath of Temporary Nuclear Pact
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — For years, the workers at the Iranian printing house spewed out posters with state propaganda calling for “Death to America” and resistance to the West.
Now, in the aftermath of the temporary nuclear agreement reached last month between Iran and the world powers — and the lifting of some of the economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy — they have their eye on a new market: Christmas cards for Iranian companies that want to reach out once again to their international contacts.
“We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ali Sabzevari, one of the company’s employees, who said the company was flooded with orders for greeting cards after the deal. “We all want to be part of the world again.”
Increasingly isolated in recent years as the sanctions noose tightened, Iran’s window to the world has opened a tiny bit as the nuclear agreement promises to ease some sanctions on petrochemical exports and spare parts for Iranian cars and airplanes, as well as releasing $7 billion in funds frozen from oil sales.
While the most debilitating sanctions remain in effect, including those on oil sales and banking transactions, Iran has been swept in recent weeks with an unaccustomed emotion — hope. It has spread among private investors, companies and state-run factories that have begun to plan for a future in which all measures against the country will be lifted.
Even the most cynical say that, if nothing else, something is better than nothing.
“My company was on the verge of bankruptcy,” said Mr. Sabzevari, who added that he had felt humiliated for the years he had to resort to printing anti-American propaganda. “At least this is a first step toward a more humane life. Let’s just say that printing Christmas greetings makes me feel a whole lot happier. I guess that’s a start.”
President Hassan Rouhani, who was surprisingly elected in June promising to end the nuclear crisis, improve the economy and restore the “dignity of Iranians in the world,” has together with his administration gone out on a limb to try to convince his people that good times are underway.
They point to a 14 percent gain in Tehran’s stock market since the signing of the deal, the stabilization of the national currency and a drop in the inflation rate.
Mr. Rouhani has promised that the agreement is a first step to “the collapse of the sanctions regime.” Western companies, such as the French oil giant Total and Anglo-Dutch Shell, have said they are eager to return to the Iranian market, as have the French automakers Renault and Peugeot.
“Following our victories in domestic and foreign policy, now people have got their eyes on the economy,” the minister of the economy, Ali Tayyebnia, told a semiofficial news agency last week.
In front of Tehran’s stock exchange, Hassan Zarif said he had noticed a positive change since the nuclear deal was reached. After 10 dry years, business had picked up for the Persian-language translations of American books for investors that he sells.
“This one sells pretty good,” Mr. Zarif said, holding up a copy of “Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets,” by John J. Murphy. “But people also love books with Warren Buffett on them.”
Mr. Zarif, who said he was not related to Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he himself had bought some shares in a petrochemical company, making a profit of about $400 in recent months. “Not bad for someone like me,” he said, laughing while pointing at his torn clothes.
Inside the exchange people stared at monitors showing various indexes, under a portrait of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that also had the words, “Be a supporter of the leader, so the country will be good.” Noticing an uptick in the shares of cement factories and petrochemical companies, most semi-state owned, two middle-class women carrying designer bags said they had come to start trading.
“I’m taking a bet,” said Shirin Askari of Tehran, who was ready to invest $1,200 she had saved. “But it might just work out, maybe this is the right moment to step in and hope for growth.”
The rise of the stock exchange also has to do with investors selling their gold and currency, said one trader, Mohammad Hassannejad. “It seems our currency will be stable for now, so those with money are coming here,” he said.
Mr. Zarif, standing outside next to his books, said he hoped good times were finally coming.
If it turned out differently, that would not be a real problem. “In Iran even in difficult times, some people are capable of making money,” he said.
Some experts on the economy cautioned that the euphoria could be short-lived. “It shows people are desperate for good news,” said Kevan Harris, a Princeton University sociologist who conducts research on Iran’s economy and travels regularly to the country. “Bad news can prick that bubble.”
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Denmark's collaborative culture makes it a breeding ground for sustainability
Proactive government, social responsibility and a willingness to collaborate have put Denmark ahead on sustainability
Guardian Professional, Friday 6 December 2013 11.44 GMT
"Welcome to Denmark", reads a large bottle-green billboard at Copenhagen's international airport. "That deserves a Carlsberg" the strapline continues, it proves that the Danes like their beer. In fact, they like it so much that they want everyone to have a taste. So in 1883, when Carlsberg scientist Emil Christian Hansen hit on a process for propagating pure yeast, the emblematic Danish brewer declined to patent the discovery. As a result, most larger beers in the world today can be dated back to Hansen's breakthrough.
The story behind Hansen's yeast, catchily titled Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis, says a lot about Denmark. For one, the small Scandinavian country holds few things in higher esteem than good science. Just look at a list of the country's largest companies. Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, shipping and oil/gas giant Maersk, renewable energy provider Dong, thermostat manufacturer Danfoss, and so forth: lab coats reign.
Second, they're happy – or happier than most – to co-operate. That's partly down to size: with a population of less than 5.6 million people, clubbing together makes sense. History plays its part too. In the early industrial period, when Denmark's economy was still predominantly rural, its farmers formed some of Europe's earliest and most significant agricultural co-operatives. Bundle that up with a strong Protestant work ethic, and you have a culture that understands the merits both of industriousness and interdependence.
Sustainability wise, that puts Denmark pretty far down the track from the off. Notions of participation, dialogue, collaboration, societal responsibility and wealth distribution (or shared value, to give it its contemporary moniker) – all the themes around which the modern sustainability movement is built – come relatively naturally to Danes. The country's generous (and expensive) welfare system and progressive labour laws are objects of national pride, not ideological division.
Not that Denmark is some kind of green, ethical haven. A quick glance at the campaign website DanWatch highlights the kinds of corporate misdemeanours common the world over. In fact, with an upsurge in the outsourcing of manufacturing in recent years, Danish brands are more in the firing line now than ever. IC Companys, Bestseller, PWT Group and DK Company, for example, were among the Denmark-based retailers embroiled in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year.
Nor is all well at home. Economic growth is hobbling along, as is Denmark's aging population, both of which are putting the country's much-prized welfare model under strain. Unemployment benefit for those out of work for more than two years was recently cut by 40%, for example.
Neither does a natural affinity for matters sustainable necessarily translate into effective practice. Danish firms may implicitly understand the importance of social and environmental issues, says Copenhagen-based sustainability consultant Tania Ellis, but few think about it strategically. Outside Denmark's small coterie of huge companies, most firms lack formal systems for managing their impacts or internal structures for developing sustainable innovation. It's time they got explicit, argues Ellis.
What distinguishes Denmark from almost all its European peers, however, is the proactive approach of successive governments to sustainability issues. The country's environmentalists point out that Denmark was the first in the continent to establish an official environment ministry (back in 1971, almost three decades before the UK).
Early regulatory crackdowns on industrial waste and pollution have since expanded into tax incentives for low-carbon technologies (Denmark boasts some of the most cutting edge wind turbine manufacturers in the world today) and renewable energy generation. The country's bias towards science and knowledge-based industries has helped smooth the way, according to Peder Holk Nielsen, chief executive of industrial biotech firm Novozymes: "It's been easier in Denmark than it has been in some of our neighbouring countries where there are massive [heavy] industries that need to be defended."
Another unprecedented step came in 2005, when the government bankrolled a national sustainability campaign offering free conferences and materials to small business managers and employees. This three-year People and Profit project was followed in 2008 by an Action Plan for Social Responsibility (PDF).
Pitched as the first of its kind by a national government anywhere in the world, the plan included a pledge (which came into force in 2010) to make Denmark's largest 1,100 companies report their non-financial performance on an annual basis. It also envisioned a suite of public-funded resources for businesses of all sizes, from information on sustainability standards through to practical management tools, such as the CSR Compass and Climate Compass. In 2012, the current government updated the initial Action Plan with a new three-year framework, reasserting its belief in sustainable business "as an integral part of the agenda for growth".
Although Denmark's business leaders sometimes grumble about excessive government intervention, most broadly welcome the stimulus and direction offered by policymakers in recent years. "It [the national Action Plan] is very useful in signalling that this is a government priority", says Lise Kingo, executive vice president at Novo Nordisk. Kingo also wears the hat of chair of the Danish Council for Corporate Social Responsibility, a cross-sector group set up by the government to push forward sustainability in the private sector.
The fruits of so much official support are slowly beginning to show, as innovative enterprises like ethical furniture designer Mater and the green clothing brand Katvig illustrate. Praise is rarely met out to legislators and policymakers these days. When it comes to Denmark's journey towards sustainability, however, they deserve it more than most.
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Black Pete: Dutch relic of Christmas past prompts racism row
Criticism of Santa Claus's sidekick, known locally as Zwarte Piet and usually portrayed by white person in blackface, reaches UN
Leo Cendrowicz in Breda
The Guardian, Friday 6 December 2013
As the Netherlands gears up for its annual Saint Nicholas celebration on Friday, the festivities are in danger of being overshadowed by a growing row over his helper and clown, "Black Pete".
While families exchange presents and eat cakes to welcome Santa Claus's slimmer and more sober ancestor, criticism of the crude depictions of his sidekick, known locally as Zwarte Piet, has reached the United Nations.
The clown is usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, who goes around offering sweets to good children and, according to legend, threatens to collect naughty ones in a sack to be taken to Zwarte Piet's home in Spain. But he is increasingly reviled by critics as a racist relic of Christmases past.
Momentum has been growing against the custom, in part thanks to campaigners such as Quinsy Gario, a poet and activist born in the former Dutch colony of Curaçao who was arrested two years ago for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Black Pete is racism" at a Saint Nicholas parade in the city of Dordrecht. Gario's message is that the tradition perpetuates crude stereotypes.
In October a United Nations adviser on minority rights described Black Pete as "a throwback to slavery". Verene Shepherd, a Jamaican academic who chairs the UN working group of experts on people of African descent, said on Dutch TV: "As a black person, I feel that if I were living in the Netherlands, I would object to it."
Shepherd's intervention prompted an indignant reaction on Facebook from Black Pete's defenders. A Facebook "Pietitie" (Pete-ition) defending the custom earned more than two million likes, a startling number for a country of just 17 million. The populist anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders said it would be better to scrap the UN than Black Pete. Both the prime minister, Mark Rutte, and the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, offered carefully worded statements of support.
The criticisms have provoked debate about identity and image within the Netherlands, which prides itself on tolerance and social harmony. Peter Jan Margry, a researcher at the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, said: "For too long, we have seen ourselves as a less racist society, and never thought that the comical Black Pete figure could be offensive."
Most Dutch remain stubbornly attached to the custom. An October opinion poll revealed that 91% of Dutch did not want to change the tradition to placate the country's ethnic minorities.
In Breda, just north of the Belgian border, Black Pete features as dolls in shop windows, as gingerbread cakes, and in parades alongside Saint Nicholas. Most of the locals say it is an innocent family tradition, hammered by political correctness. "I don't see why this is offensive: he's friendly and fun," says Dirk Bakker, a taxi driver. Sophie de Vries, a café barrista, claims the criticism misses the point: "Some say he is a black man, but I was always told that his face was simply dirty because he climbed down the chimney," she says. Even Edgar Pelkmans, a student from the former Dutch colony of Surinam, said the practice was harmless: "I'm not that offended: he's like one of Santa's elves."
However, the tone appears to have changed. In the recent Amsterdam parade for Saint Nicholas, Black Pete's big hoop earrings were deliberately sacrificed, and there were even portrayals of him in colours other than black. "There is a more pronounced sense of cultural embarrassment now," says James Kennedy, an American historian at the University of Amsterdam, who sees this as a turning point. "Although many Dutch see themselves as beyond racism, and insist no offence is intended, there is a definite trend against Black Pete. While he may still be here in 10 years, I don't think he will still be around 20 years from now."
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PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ....
Pussy Riot members not expected to be freed in Russian amnesty
President implies punk band members and Mikhail Khodorkovsky will not be among those released
Associated Press in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 11.57 GMT
The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has hinted that members of the punk band Pussy Riot, the former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and others widely referred to as political prisoners will not be freed in an forthcoming amnesty.
The bill granting long-awaited amnesty for thousands of Russian prisoners is expected to be sent to the Russian parliament in the coming days.
Human rights organisations describe dozens of Russians including members of Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky and 28 people charged with violent rioting at last year's opposition protest on Bolotnaya Square as political prisoners.
Medvedev said in a television interview on Friday that Russians were "not inclined" to grant amnesty to those who had committed violent crimes and "crimes against society including hooliganism", an obvious reference to the Bolotnaya protesters and Pussy Riot.
Medvedev insisted Russia had no political prisoners.
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France will increase penalties for ivory traders
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 5, 2013 21:00 EST
President Francois Hollande said Thursday France would increase fines for illegal trading in ivory and endangered animal species.
Speaking at a round table on poaching that gathered French and African leaders, Hollande said he had asked Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to ramp up action against trafficking in imperilled species and animal parts.
Police and customs officials will be directed to step up surveillance, he said.
Purchasing illegal ivory “has to be an act that is clearly punishable,” Hollande said.
“The profitability of poaching (must) be placed under threat through heavy fines.”
According to presidential aides, fines will be increased tenfold.
Hollande called for better cooperation between national customs authorities, as well as standardised penalties, to close loopholes.
France will put forward proposals next February for giving the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) more powers in fighting the trade in endangered species, Hollande added.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the global trade in wildlife is worth between $15-20 billion (11.02-14.7 billion euros) annually.
The round table was held on the eve of a two-day summit on peace and security in Africa, expected to be attended by about 40 leaders from the continent.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
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Ukraine protesters branded 'Nazis and criminals' but refuse to leave streets
Tension rises in Kiev as police chief pledges 'harsh' action against demonstrators ignoring court order to disperse
Reuters in Kiev
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 09.36 GMT
Ukrainian pro-Europe demonstrators vowed to stay on the streets and continue their blockade of government buildings, despite a police threat to crack down "harshly" to enforce a court order that they disperse.
Kiev's decision on 21 November to abandon a trade and integration deal with the EU and pursue closer economic ties with Moscow brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets over the weekend. Protesters have since blockaded the main government headquarters and occupied Kiev's city hall.
The government ratcheted up its rhetoric on Thursday, with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov branding opponents "Nazis and criminals". Kiev's police chief, Valery Mazan, threatened to "act decisively, harshly" if the protesters defy the court order to end their blockade and occupation of government buildings.
But the protesters showed no sign of retreating, with thousands remaining steadfastly camped out in the streets deep into the night.
"Let them come; we will stay," Igor Vorkuta, 47, said of the police. "This is a peaceful revolution, there are no guns here," he said, warming his hands on a brazier in the winter cold near midnight in the square.
The crisis has exposed a gulf between Ukrainians, many from the west of the country, who hope to move rapidly into the European mainstream, and those mainly from the east who look to the former Soviet master Moscow as a guarantor of stability.
President Viktor Yanukovich had long promised to integrate with Europe while still maintaining friendly ties with Russia. His opponents, and some former supporters, considered his sudden eastward lurch a betrayal.
It has also reignited Cold War-era antagonism between Russia and western Europe, even as foreign ministers gathered in Ukraine for a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a body that includes both Nato members and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
European foreign ministers used their visits to Kiev to show open solidarity with the demonstrators, beginning with Germany's Guido Westerwelle who trekked to the square to meet opposition leaders on Wednesday. He was followed by others on Thursday.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, countered by accusing the Europeans of "hysteria".
Tension could rise even further on Friday with new court proceedings against jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Brussels considers her a political prisoner and had campaigned in vain for her release before Kiev broke off negotiations.
Azarov spoke sharply to Westerwelle on Thursday about the opposition, which includes far-right nationalist groups as well as pro-European liberals.
"Nazis, extremists and criminals cannot be, in any way, our partners in 'Eurointegration'," the government website quoted Azarov as telling the German foreign minister.
Westerwelle expressed concern about police behaviour at the weekend's protests, when dozens of people were severely beaten.
"Recent events, in particular the violence against peaceful demonstrators last Saturday in Kiev worry me greatly," said Westerwelle. "The way Ukraine responds to the pro-European rallies is a yardstick for how seriously Ukraine takes the shared values of the OSCE."
Ukraine protests: mediator flies in as paralysing standoff continues
Council of Europe's secretary general calls on Ukrainian authorities to launch independent inquiry into police violence
Shaun Walker in Kiev
theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 December 2013 17.12 GMT
A European mediator flew into Kiev to meet with the Ukrainian government and opposition on Wednesday, but there was no sign of an end to the standoff that has paralysed the centre of the city and the work of the government for days.
Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, was sober about the possibility of progress after meeting with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and said he had impressed upon the Ukrainian authorities the need to launch an independent investigation into police violence against peaceful protesters over the weekend.
"It's important to have an investigation into this that everyone can trust," said Jagland, adding that he hoped to facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition parties. "I don't know whether it is possible to have this dialogue," he admitted.
Azarov, who was carried through an emotional no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday by the support of President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, criticised the protest movement during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
"We must decide all this in a calm environment," he said. "Not in the streets, but in a responsible dialogue." However, opposition politicians, including heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, have called for the government to resign and for snap presidential elections. They say they will continue to blockade government buildings until their demands are met.
Demonstrations began after Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the EU, citing the importance of ties with Russia. The unrest appeared to be dying down, until riot police cleared Independence square of protesters on Saturday, in violent scenes which provoked a mass protest on Sunday.
The square, hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution, remains barricaded and filled with protesters, and the three main opposition parties insist that there can be no negotiations until Yanukovych calls snap elections. Yanukovych himself has left the country for a long-planned visit to China, where he took time out to view the terracotta army on Wednesday, apparently unconcerned by events at home.
"The big question is whether the opposition can keep people coming to the square, and keep the pressure on, or whether people will get bored," said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. "The next week will show us who the winner is."
Russia and the west have accused each other of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs, with the EU furious that the trade deal, years in the making, was scuppered after apparent pressure from Moscow.
Meanwhile Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Brussels, lashed out at Nato for its criticism of the Ukrainian authorities' violent response to protests. "I don't understand why Nato adopts such statements," said Lavrov. "I hope that Ukrainian politicians will be able to bring the situation into a peaceful vein. We encourage everybody not to interfere."
12/05/2013 06:21 PM
Rebel Broadcast: Web Channel a Key Source Amid Ukraine Protests
The online station Hromadske.TV has become the go-to site for Ukrainians critical of the Yanukovych regime. As protests heat up, its journalists and volunteers cover the news that state-backed stations will not.
The office of the online TV channel Hromadske.TV ("open TV") is located on the fourth floor of an office building in an outer neighborhood of Kiev, Ukraine. At 100 square meters, with squeaky linoleum, a pitched roof and stale air, this is the unassuming headquarters of the main news organ of the protests against President Viktor Yanukovych.
When hundreds of thousands of people went into the streets on Sunday, over 1.5 million viewers watched the event on Hromadske.TV. The station was started by a group of journalists, most of whom used to work for the country's large TV stations, but left because of patronizing censorship by the government and the stations' owners, the powerful oligarchs. Hromadske.TV's strategy: What it lacks in money it makes up for in know-how.
The studio is a table in the corner, with a handful of monitors for the technicians next to it. They use them to cut to the large demonstrations on Independence Square, or to the chains of police officers around the parliament building. Journalists report live from the site of the protests -- the station has bought a few iPhones which, thanks to an app, they use to film events themselves and send recordings directly to the studio.
Ambitious News for Little Money
The station pays $2,000 (€1,470) in rent for the studio, which is located in the Vector business center. In one corner, Tatjana Danilenko, a 30-year-old news anchor from Channel 5, is speaking with guests about an attack on the president's office in which a bulldozer was used. The guests all agree the attack was caused by provocateurs the government paid to make the demonstrators look violent.
When the station went on the air for the first time, a few weeks ago, the plan was to do one show per week. About two dozen employees were involved in the launch, but now the station employs over 100 people, including many volunteers. Since the start of the protests, the station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station has locations set up everywhere in the city to report the movements of protesters and police units.
Are people going into the streets because, contrary to Yanukovych's recent decisions, they want to be brought closer to the European Union? "It's a combination of reasons," says Lyudmila Yankina. "Anger at the police because they treat citizens like criminals, anger about bad streets and corruption, and, of course, the hope for Europe."
Yankina is no journalist. Her day job is as an adviser at a company in Kiev. Her boss gave her time off so she could coordinate the army of volunteers at the rebel station. "The people watch us because they trust us," she says. Every bit of news is checked. When unrest spread among the demonstrators because there were rumors tanks were being moved to Kiev with trains, the station's volunteers swarmed out. They went to train stations and train tracks around Kiev and gave the all-clear: No sign of tanks, Hromadske.TV reported.
Rebels from Others Stations
The only man in the room with a shirt and jacket introduces himself: Sergei Andrushko, the parliamentary correspondent. Like most of the people at Hromadske.TV, he comes from an established Ukrainian station with a large scope, big budget and little freedom.
He recently worked for TVi, a channel which was founded by a Russian oligarch, but was, for a long time, dedicated to independent journalism and criticizing the government. In April, the channel was taken over by a businessman close to the energy minister. Sergei Andrushko and 30 other reporters resigned shortly thereafter, in protest of attempts to influence the station's reporting. They now form the core of the Hromadske team.
TVi is an exception. The large TV stations in the country have long been the playthings of the government and opaque businesspeople. The most popular channel, Inter, belongs to the oligarch Dmytro Firtash and Yanukovych's chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin. Inter had previously been run by the head of the secret service. Channel 5 belongs to the billionaire and former finance minister Petro Poroshenko. "I know the heads of the channels are regularly brought in by the government," says Sergei Andrushko.
Hromadske.TV's problem is money. In order to be independent from the oligarchs, it doesn't carry any advertising. The station is financed by donations from inside and outside of the country. The US consulate and the Netherlands provided the start-up funds and viewers have donated €30,000. It's enough for the rent, the iPhones and a few cameras.
So far no journalist has received a wage. Most of them keep afloat with other jobs. Andrushko writes articles on the side for, among others, the web portal Ukrayinska Pravda.
He hopes the station enjoys success that goes beyond the anti-Yanukovych protests, and becomes the nucleus of a new kind of TV journalism in Ukraine. He wants to challenge the channels of the billionaires. "The viewers love us," Andrushko says. "We are starting it, the downfall of the oligarchs' TV monster."
on: Today at 06:35 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
12/05/2013 03:10 PM
Taking Charge: How African Women Are Making Major Gains
By Bartholomäus Grill
Women in Africa are making great strides in politics and business, and are considered more reliable partners for international aid projects than their male counterparts. Welcome to what the African Union calls the "African Women's Decade."
The skirt? Much too short! And those loud colors! Two older women at a table in the back of the room begin to whisper to each other. A stout woman is standing at the front of the room. She is wearing a tomato-red dress and a knit bolero jacket in cobalt blue.
The woman places her hands on her hips and smiles at the crowd. Then she begins speaking. She attacks the president, rattles off the latest corruption scandals and sharply criticizes the new Protection of Information bill that curbs press freedoms. "We must be alert, so that South Africa doesn't become a police state," she says.
The audience -- primarily older and white -- seems bowled over by this clever and eloquent young black South African woman.
Wherever she speaks in public, the nation takes notice. Her name is Lindiwe Mazibuko, and, at 33, she is the opposition leader in South Africa's National Assembly. She is the first black woman to hold that office in the history of country's overwhelmingly male-dominated parliament.
Mazibuko is liberal, pragmatic and courageous, and embodies a new type of female African politician. She is a role model for all African women who desire a voice in shaping the future of their continent.
Speaking to the People
"Africa has millions of young, talented women," says Mazibuko, as she walks to the nearby parliament building in Cape Town. "But most of them don't want to go into politics, because they are marginalized there." Men -- old, power-hungry "big men," as she calls them -- dominate the political sphere in Africa to a far greater extent than in Europe.
"Many African presidents are older than 70, while the average age in Africa is about 19," says Mazibuko. "These men know nothing about the realities of life for young men and women."
The opposition leader has taken over the office space of the former white prime minister. Room 208 has mahogany paneling, massive leather armchairs, a fireplace, an English table clock and a view of the original neoclassical wing of the National Assembly complex. "This office was not meant for women," says Mazibuko. "I had to give it my female touch." She is referring to the white orchids she has placed into the two urinals in the men's room.
The alpha males in her own party, the Democratic Alliance, grumbled when Mazibuko was chosen to be the party's parliamentary leader in a crucial vote in October 2011. Things couldn't go well, they thought, because she was young, black, inexperienced and, most of all, a woman.
Lawmakers with the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), derided her as a "coconut" -- brown on the outside and white on the inside -- who had sold her soul to a party dominated by whites. She was berated as a "house Negro" in social networks.
President Jacob Zuma dismissively referred to her as a "ntombazana," a derogatory term in the Zulu language which means "young girl." And because Mazibuko speaks English without an accent, she was even accused of not being a real African.
"Those are the usual sexist and racist insults coming from men who perceive a threat to their dominant position," says Mazibuko. "But it isn't something that can shock a feminist."
She comes from the black middle class, attended good private schools, studied music, French and politics in Cape Town and England, and then returned home and quickly embarked on a career within her party. Today even her political rivals admire Mazibuko, so much so that elderly male politicians with the ANC sometimes send her flowers.
She has prevailed, and she has even greater ambitions. She says she wants to be president because, "Africa is in the midst of an economic boom. If this development is to be stable, we need new ideas and a younger elite. And, of course, we need far more women in positions of leadership."
The Democratic Alliance is a case in point. A trio of women already shapes the party's agenda today. The party's leader is Helen Zille, the combative premier of South Africa's Western Cape province. And then there are Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town, and opposition leader Mazibuko. One of the women is white, one is of mixed race and one is black -- three strong women who are putting the fear of God into the autocratic contingent of male politicians in the ANC.
Challenging the Status Quo
Bastions of power that were firmly in male hands until not too long ago are toppling all across Africa. Female South African politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma heads the African Union Commission. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first female president in the continent's post-colonial history. In Kenya, a female foreign minister and female defense minister were sworn in for the first time since independence. Some 64 percent of the members of Rwanda's lower house of parliament are women, which gives the body the distinction of having the highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world.
When two African women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2011, women celebrated across Africa. Liberian President Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, a civil rights and peace activist, accepted the honor on behalf of all African women who brave the adverse conditions in their part of the world, including poverty, disease, the overexploitation of natural resources, lawlessness and violence, and the chaotic forces of war.
In April 2012, Joyce Banda, a former market woman, was sworn in as Malawi's president. Her most important objective is to fight poverty, which is especially prevalent among women and children. Her first official acts showed that she means business: Banda sold her predecessor's jet and the luxury limousines used by senior government officials.
Africa's women are on the move. They are establishing law firms, Internet companies and fashion labels. They are managing banks, securing seats on corporate boards and running their own farms.
In Tanzania, Masai women are fighting back against land grabbing and the forced displacement of their nomadic ethnic group. In Mali, Muslim mothers are rejecting the barbaric rituals of female circumcision that mutilate their daughters. In South Africa, tens of thousands of female activists are involved in an anti-rape campaign. All of these women are taking advantage of the faster communication offered by cellphones, text messaging and social networks.
More and more women are no longer willing to be treated like house slaves and unpaid workers. And more and more are rebelling against their husbands -- the abusers, rapists, drinkers and good-for-nothings who exploit their families instead of providing for them.
Mao said that women hold up half the sky. In Africa, they hold up at least three-quarters of it. The Washington-based International Center for Research on Women estimates that women in sub-Saharan Africa produce about 80 of all food products, and yet they own only 1 percent of arable land.
In chronic crisis and war zones, like eastern Congo, it is primarily women who fight for peace and, with their reconciliation programs, attempt to heal the wounds of conflict. International aid organizations prefer to employ women, because they are more reliable and less susceptible to corruption. Women-run projects are generally more sustainable. Microloans are more effective when entrusted to women, with a repayment rate of 95 to 98 percent. Development experts agree that the continent would be in far worse shape if it weren't for women.
Challenges for Women in Business
In the United Nations Millennium Project, which aims to cut global poverty in half by 2015, fostering women's efforts in health and education is given top priority. When the education level among mothers increases, infant and child mortality decline. And girls who stay in school longer are likely to have fewer children later on. The African Union declared the period from 2010 to 2020 the "African Women's Decade," and vowed to strengthen its support of women-led efforts.
"Most African women have never heard anything about this," says Dr. Nondumiso Mzizana, as she checks the instruments she will use with her next patient. "But it's all the same to them, because such declarations of intent are ineffective."
Mzizana, 41, is a dentist. She can tell many stories about what can happen to African women as they seek to improve their lot, and about how many obstacles they must overcome. When she was developing her practice in downtown Pretoria, the South African capital, she was derided at first. The bank rejected her business plan and refused to grant her a loan, and even the landlord didn't trust her. When she finally opened the practice, the patients failed to materialize.
White people only seek treatment from black dentists when they are in terrible pain, says Mzizana. "But even more affluent blacks prefer to go to white dentists," she says. "They simply don't believe that a black woman is capable of doing professional work."
Bottom of the Social Ladder
She also encountered resentment from the health authorities, even from black officials. "They are shaped by the patriarchal notion that women belong in the kitchen and should be good mothers," Mzizana says. "Even our president feels that way." President Jacob Zuma is a staunch polygamist whose six wives have had 14 children. He also has several children out of wedlock.
Black women are at the bottom of the social ladder in South Africa. According to official statistics, only about 30 percent are employed. Their average hourly wage is the equivalent of €1.68 ($2.28), while white men earn an average of €6.68 an hour.
Africa is still miles away from gender equality, says Mzizana. "If fathers value their daughters at all, it's mostly for their market value," she says. "They choose their daughters' husbands, and they collect the bride price. And husbands view their wives as private property, with which they can do as they please."
The head of the South African intelligence service offered a vivid example recently, when he beat his wife for refusing to cook and iron on command -- and he insisted that he was entitled to do so. "If the mentality of African men doesn't change radically, we won't be able to make any progress," fears Mzizana.
A mother of three children, she carved out her career against all odds. Today she only occasionally works in her practice, "so I don't forget my trade." Otherwise, she represents a Dutch electronics company in South Africa and is the founder and CEO of a company that supplies high-tech medical equipment to hospitals, with annual sales of €20 million. The South African Businesswomen's Association named her businesswoman of the year in 2011.
When she goes to the bank today, the director asks her how many millions in loans she needs to buy new equipment. "My success presumably comes from my entrepreneurial gene," Mzizana says. "I was already selling oranges in the schoolyard as a little girl."
Her company is called Sikelela, or "hope." Of its 25 employees, 23 are women from the townships. Most of them had no proper education and had to be painstakingly trained. "Africa lacks qualified specialists," she says. "In our businesses, we are making up for the failures of our school system."
During trips abroad, she often wonders how Africans, with their massive deficits in education, can prevail in global competition. She gives seminars to encourage black girls to run their own businesses when they grow up. "If more women were active in corporate management, we would have much higher growth levels," she says. "Africa needs businesswomen to overcome underdevelopment!"
So are Africa's problems male and the solutions female? Liberian President Sirleaf has no doubt that this is the case. Sirleaf proclaimed that women are better politicians before her reelection to a second term. She also said women are more honest, committed and sensitive, and benefit from maternal intuition.
'Nothing But Bling-Bling'
But even a role model like Sirleaf is not immune to the temptations of power. When the Liberian president appointed three of her sons to key positions in politics and business, she was accused of nepotism and corruption. Activist Leymah Gbowee resigned in protest from her position as chair of the National Peace and Reconciliation Initiative.
"Women can be just as greedy and brutal as men," says Pharie Sefali. "In my neighborhood, there are even gangs led by girls." The 24-year-old student lives in Khayelitsha, an enormous township on the outskirts of Cape Town, a sea of tin shacks and wooden huts with a population of 700,000, unemployment of 60 to 70 percent, an extremely high incidence of AIDS and a high crime rate.
"There are plenty of girls running around in Khayelitsha who have nothing but bling-bling on their minds: money, fashion and glamor," says Sefali. "They want to get out of poverty, so they become kept women for sugar daddies, rich old geezers."
Sefali isn't one of those girls. She is wearing a threadbare tracksuit top, cheap jeans and sneakers full of holes. She wants to become a journalist and write about conditions in the slums. She experienced firsthand what can happen to a vulnerable girl in a township.
Her parents died when she was young, and a neighbor sexually abused her for years. She dropped out of school, struggled while living on the streets, became an alcoholic and drug addict, became a prostitute and was raped several times.
"Not a minute goes by in Khayelitsha in which some girl or woman isn't being beaten, mistreated or raped," says Sefali. South Africa has the world's highest incidence of rape, with most sex offenses occurring in the black slums.
A caring aunt rescued Sefali, who sometimes feels as if it were a miracle that her nightmare is over. Today she helps others who are trying to escape from the poverty trap. She works with Equal Education, a nationwide grassroots movement fighting for better schools.
Supporting Their Families
The offices of Equal Education are located on Capital Drive in Washington Square, which sounds like an upscale address. In fact, the building sits next to a trash-strewn empty lot in Khayelitsha. The people who work there are almost all women, young, self-confident activists like Sefali. They document the miserable condition of schools, establish libraries, collect subsidies for teaching materials, write petitions to the education ministries and organize protest marches to the parliament building.
"The government has failed miserably in education policy. But we are no longer willing to accept this predicament," says Sefali, as she sticks a stack of documents under her arm and heads for Thembelihle High School, where she works as a tutor on Saturdays.
Young men are hanging around in front of a bar, their faces still flushed from drinking the night before. The sight of them infuriates Sefali. "You can't expect much from the men," she says. "They drink and fight and complain. Most of them are lazy and useless."
Like in many parts of Africa, in Khayelitsha it is mainly the women who do what they can to support their large families. They sell roast corn on the cob on the side of the road, gather firewood and balance water cans and sacks of flour on their heads. They make sure that their families have food, they raise the children, care for the old and the sick, repair the leaky metal roofs on their huts and tend small vegetable gardens.
In many cases, they also slave away as maids so that they can pay school tuition with their meager earnings. Women spend 90 percent of their income on their families, compared with only 30 to 40 percent for men.
'Africa's Future is Female'
Student and activist Sefali admires Lindiwe Mazibuko, the outspoken politician. Another one of her role models is Mamphela Ramphele, a doctor, business executive and former anti-Apartheid activist who formed a new opposition party to challenge the inept ANC government. "But the true heroines of Africa," says Sefali, "are ordinary women."
They include women who fight battles on several fronts with limited means: for sexual self-determination, for the abolition of patriarchal property rights, for access to investment loans, to give their children a good education, for a decent healthcare system, for a voice in politics and opportunities for professional advancement.
A dozen students, mostly girls, are waiting for Sefali at the Thembelihle School. She hands out worksheets for a math test. The final examinations for the school year are about to begin, and Sefali's students want to improve their grades so that they'll be able to attend universities in the future. The girls are sitting on broken chairs, the classroom is drafty, there is garbage in the corners of the room and rain drips through holes in the plastic roof. The history test will cover the Kenyan struggle for independence, the Vietnam War and the Soweto Uprising, which was led by high school students. It's quiet in the room, as the teenagers concentrate on their work.
"We're catching up on emancipation now," says Sefali. "We will force the men out of power in the next 20 years."
But according to ONE, a campaign and lobbying group, more than two-thirds of adult illiterates in Africa today are women, while 12 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa have never gone to school.
This translates into the loss of tremendous development opportunities, since limited education and employment opportunities reduce annual per capita growth by 0.8 percent. "Had this growth taken place, Africa's economies would have doubled over the past 30 years," the ONE study concludes.
"Africa's future is female," the organization predicts, noting that it is time to finally unleash the dormant potential of 430 million girls and women.
"We're working on it," says Pharie Sefali.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
on: Today at 06:30 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Palestinian negotiator calls for summit of great powers to resolve conflict
Mohammed Shtayyeh says international conference similar to Iranian nuclear talks in Geneva is needed
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 10.28 GMT
An international conference of the world's great powers could help to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the face of the impasse in the current bilateral talks, according to a senior Palestinian negotiator who walked out of the peace process last month.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, who had led the Palestinian negotiating team along with Saeb Erekat since talks resumed in July, said a summit along the lines of the recent Geneva talks on the Iranian nuclear programme was needed to avoid another failure in the quest to end the decades-long conflict.
His proposal came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, visited the region in a fresh effort to bring movement to the stagnating talks. Kerry was due to meet the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for a third time on Friday morning, following two meetings on Thursday as well as a session with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry and John Allen, a retired US general who is advising the secretary of state, presented both sides with proposals for security arrangements in the Jordan valley, a strip of land in the West Bank abutting the border with Jordan. Israel wants to keep a military presence there following any peace deal. The US believes progress on this issue could persuade Netanyahu to discuss borders.
Details of the US plan were not disclosed, but the Palestinians rejected the proposals as "prolonging and maintaining the occupation", Reuters reported.
The Jordan valley has huge strategic and economic importance to Israel. The Palestinians insist it is an integral part of a future Palestinian state, which must control its own borders and entry points.
After meeting Abbas, Kerry told reporters in Ramallah that the pair had discussed "issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine".
He added: "I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all."
The US-sponsored peace talks are around halfway through their allotted nine-month timespan, and there is mounting concern at the marked lack of progress and Israel's continued settlement expansion plans.
Writing in Haaretz, Shtayyeh said he had quit the negotiations because of the absence of "a serious Israeli partner".
He went on: "It's time to officially accept the reality: a nuclear occupying power like Israel is comfortable in the current setting of negotiations. The Israeli government is not pushed to move because of the huge disparity in power between Israel and Palestine, and the Israeli lobby's strength with the majority of the US Congress that fully backs the Israeli position."
An international Geneva-style summit "could set and implement requirements and obligations for peace rather than granting impunity to the stronger party so it can violate agreements without any sort of arbitration mechanism", he said.
Kerry is expected to return to the region in around two weeks.
Israeli military closes investigation into death of Palestinian stone-thrower
Israeli human rights group says decision sends message that soldiers will not be held accountable for Palestinian deaths
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 10.50 GMT
The Israeli military says it has closed its investigation into the death of a Palestinian stone-thrower who was killed by a teargas canister fired to his head from close range by a soldier.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the decision sends a message that soldiers will not be held accountable if they kill Palestinians.
Mustafa Tamimi was killed in a West Bank village in December 2011.
Tamimi was hurling rocks at a jeep when the soldier fired the teargas canister from it. Activists produced video appearing to show that Tamimi was shot at point blank range in the eye. An Associated Press photograph of the incident shows Tamimi crumpled on the ground near the jeep.
The military said late on Thursday that the soldier could not have seen Tamimi. B'Tselem says this does not explain why firing from a jeep with limited vision could be considered legal.
on: Today at 06:27 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Central African Republic: French military operations launched
Defence minister says streets of capital Bangui are calm after bloodshed in hours before UN vote on French mission
• UN authorises French intervention
Associated Press in Paris
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 08.41 GMT
France's defence minister says military operations have begun in the Central African Republic (CAR), with patrols and a helicopter detachment arriving to quell violence in the streets of the capital.
Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale that the streets of Bangui were calm on Friday, after a spasm of bloodshed that began before dawn on Thursday and left nearly 100 people dead.
The ambush by armed Christian fighters on Muslim neighbourhoods of Bangui came hours before the United Nations voted to send French troops to stabilise CAR.
Le Drian said the immediate goal was to keep the streets safe.
"You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits and the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles," he said.
France in the Central African Republic is latest use of 'Hollande doctrine'
The country is using military intervention in Africa for humanitarian means – but also to boost its leader's polls
The Guardian, Thursday 5 December 2013 19.12 GMT
Escalating French military involvement in the Central African Republic represents the latest application of what might be termed the Hollande doctrine, a self-consciously benign form of armed interventionism based on international authority and local consent. In sum, France's president François Hollande has developed a new formula for invading other people's countries, by doing it nicely.
Since taking office in May last year, Hollande has ordered, or perpetuated, French military operations in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Mali and now the CAR. He was also a keen backer of western military intervention in Syria. These engagements were preceded by the Anglo-French intervention in Libya in 2011, under Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
For France's happy interventionists, each expedition has had a primary humanitarian focus. But they have also served to bolster fading French international prestige, especially in its former African colonies, and to boost Hollande's low approval ratings. Oppressed by economic woes, the French appear to enjoy incisive military action abroad (as long at it works). As Napoleon, another pint-sized French leader knew, la gloire makes little men feel grand.
The Hollande doctrine promotes a broader agenda, about how to "do" international security. It is a reply to the perceived US retreat from historical responsibilities in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. It is about the advance of China in Africa, wielding power but scant responsibility. It is about showing European leadership (the contrast with perceived British apathy is marked and savoured).
As much as anything, the doctrine is about stemming the tide of Islamist extremism and sectarianism that threatens swaths of territory from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and Maghreb – and potentially, the soft European underbelly of which France forms a vulnerable part.
But more than that, the new approach is Hollande's answer to a more infamous justification of armed humanitarian intervention, promulgated by Tony Blair in Chicago in 1999, and known as the "Blair doctrine". The then British PM was responding to the crisis in Kosovo that year, and later rehearsed his theories in Sierra Leone.
But the interventions in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), which had less to do with humanitarianism and more to do with global power politics, ruined Blair's case and in the eyes of many, his reputation. The "unilateralist" Iraq war was fiercely opposed by France. Hollande is now in the process of perfecting France's antidote.
The Hollande doctrine, as applied in Africa at least, aims specifically to supply humanitarian security assistance in states where law and order has broken down. Secondly, it only operates with UN backing or acquiescence, and preferably the support of the African Union and, in west Africa, Ecowas.
Thirdly, it seeks the prior consent of local parties, namely those who most closely share western values and interests. In Ivory Coast, for example, this was the election winner, Alassane Ouattara, whose opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down. Finally, the objectives of any intervention are defined and limited, with the aim of handing over to regional peacekeepers, as is happening slowly in Mali.
In the case of the CAR, Hollande has secured UN security council authorisation, the backing of the AU, the EU and the US, and an enthusiastic invitation from local factions loyal to the deposed president, François Bozizé, which launched a new effort on Thursday to regain power. The additional French troop deployment will, in theory, be limited in scope and time.
This new approach promises considerable longer-term benefits for Hollande and France, assuming it does not go horribly wrong, which it certainly could. As Hollande has admitted, no such operation is without risk.
"[The CAR] has become the newest focus of an effort by Hollande to recast and revive his nation's influence on a continent where its erstwhile clout has been challenged by the growing ascendancy of China," said the New York Times. "Far from unilateral action the new approach draws on the twin notions of international approval and the rapid embrace of African forces to take over the kind of French deployment seen in Mali."
Hollande's doctrine has the additional advantage of avoiding past mistakes, when France forcibly intervened in Rwanda and elsewhere in favour of favoured leaders, or simply to maintain control (as in Algeria), with often disastrous results.
"This humanitarian security intervention is a far cry from the self-interested military meddling of the immediate post-colonial era," said regional analyst Paul Melly. "Hollande has argued that the relationship between France and Africa must be a partnership of respect, even when there are disagreements. And he has gone out of his way to consult African leaders before launching military action."
Hollande, following a re-evaluation set in motion by former prime minister Alain Juppé and reinforced by Sarkozy, is bent on a judicious and measured revival of French interest and influence in a region which Paris once dominated but had appeared to let slip. For France's happy interventionists, the prize is La Francophonie redux.