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 11 
 on: Today at 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Libyan Islamist militiamen take possession of evacuated US embassy

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 31, 2014 13:53 EDT

Islamist militiamen have moved in to the American embassy compound in the Libyan capital after it was evacuated last month, an AFP photographer said on Sunday.

Members of the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) group said they had gone in to secure the complex of several villas in southern Tripoli to prevent it from being looted.

“Diplomatic missions have been invited to return to Tripoli, and in the meantime we are here to secure the area,” one militiaman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington evacuated its embassy staff on July 27, with Secretary of State John Kerry warning the mission had faced a “real risk” from fierce fighting between armed groups for control of Tripoli’s international airport.

Fajr Libya won the battle for the airport, seizing it on August 23 from nationalist fighters from Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who had held it since the overthrow of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

 12 
 on: Today at 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Egypt's rights groups get temporary reprieve

Activists fear that they will still be affected by crackdown on dissent by Egyptian government

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Sunday 31 August 2014 19.40 BST      

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui says 'the deadline sounds very much like a death sentence for independent Egyptian NGOs'.

The Egyptian government has delayed plans to shut down dozen of rights groups if they refuse to accept restrictive regulations.

Rights defenders had until Tuesday to agree to government interference or face closure. But after a fierce international backlash the deadline was delayed on Sunday until November.

The temporary reprieve is of scant comfort to the threatened parties, who fear it merely delays the inevitable. Local and international human rights defenders, including Amnesty International, say the ultimatum is the finishing touch to a year-long crackdown on dissent and an attempt to silence Egypt's remaining opposition voices.

"This is still a declaration of war against the independent human rights organisations," said Mohamed Zaree, programme director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), one of the groups under threat. "The aim of the government is to shut down the public sphere and the horizons that were opened by the revolution in 2011. They want to shut down the last voices calling for accountability for human rights violations, and the last critics of the narrative the government puts forward about Egypt to the international community."

Since 2002, non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Egypt have been regulated by a law that gives the government the right to oversee and veto each project that an NGO carries out, and to block any overseas donation or grant. Critics say the law exists to obstruct the work of rights groups, whose work is often unfavourable to the government, and which are largely funded by international organisations. To circumvent the legislation, many would-be NGOs register as law firms or research groups, to give themselves more freedom.

In July, the government moved to end the loophole and ordered groups whose work was in any way connected to NGO-type activity to re-register under the 2002 law within 45 days.

"The looming deadline sounds very much like a death sentence for independent Egyptian NGOs," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa, in a statement. "The authorities' ultimatum is not about enabling NGOs to operate and instead paves the way for the closure of those that are critical of the government."

The Egyptian government denies it is trying to curb dissent, and says it is trying to end a legal ambiguity. "This doesn't have anything to do with [cracking down on] the opposition," said Ayman Abdelmawgud, from the ministry for social solidarity, the state body that issued the order. "Any entity practising the work of NGOs should be registered as one. I don't know why they have concerns about registering."

But the rights groups say their concerns are obvious: by registering under the 2002 law, they are submitting to the whim of a ministry that could freeze their programmes, or reject their application.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) is one group that has already applied to re-register. But its executive director, Mohamed Lotfy, fears the ministry will unnecessarily prolong its assessment of the ECRF's application, and ban it from working in the interim period. "They could actually come and stop our activities and say that we're doing work that should be monitored by the ministry, and therefore we should stop working until our application is processed," said Lotfy. "That's a real threat."

Once the deadline finally passes, some threatened groups may ask their employees to work from home, fearing a repeat of the raids on NGO offices that took place in December 2011. Those raids resulted in the arrest and conviction of 43 democracy advocates, and were the start of a counter-revolutionary attempt to undermine an emergent civil society that had been strengthened by the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 did little to stem the tide, as the group attempted to force through a new NGO law that was even more restrictive than the 2002 version. The Brotherhood's efforts were thwarted by their overthrow last summer, but their military-installed successors have continued along a similar track, drafting yet another harsh NGO law that could be enacted as soon as a new parliament is elected.

Rights groups are the last significant source of opposition to the current government, which has muted dissent by banning street protests, arresting journalists killing more than a thousand protesters, and jailing tens of thousands of political prisoners.

"The only people exposing the violations right now in Egypt are the rights organisations," said Mohamed Zaree, the CIHRS campaigner. "And the government does not welcome that criticism."

 13 
 on: Today at 06:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

'Screaming' cat saves man from fire that gutted house in Melbourne

Craig Jeeves was woken up by his tabby, Sally, and managed to escape with only smoke inhalation injuries

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 04.59 BST      

    Plucky pet cat saves his owner from his burning #Melbourne home - http://t.co/Ndoo4pa7sF #7NewsMelb pic.twitter.com/xvt1lzHTxA
    — 7NewsMelbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) September 1, 2014

A Melbourne man owes his life to his cat, Sally, after she woke him up as his house was burning down.

Thanks to the quick-thinking tabby, 49-year-old Craig Jeeves was alerted to the early morning fire in his Melbourne home and managed to escape.

“She jumped on my head and was screaming at me,” he told the Nine network.

A Country Fire Authority captain, Paul Spinks, said the owner was lucky to be alive. “The cat woke him up and he found the fire and proceeded to get outside,” Spinks said.

Fire crews found Jeeves in the bushes outside his Wandin North home.

He was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and will be staying with neighbours until he is able to rebuild the property.

The home was gutted by the fire and Jeeves lost everything. “I’m happy to be alive but you can’t replace the memories,” he said.

 14 
 on: Today at 06:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land Near Bethlehem

By ISABEL KERSHNER
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Israel laid claim on Sunday to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.

Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.

Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.

The land, which is near the small Jewish settlement of Gvaot in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.

But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families. He told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli Army forces and personnel posted orders early Sunday announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin.

Interested parties have 45 days in which to register objections.

The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation.”

Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement bloc under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.

A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the United States urged Israel to reverse its decision, calling it “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

The last round of American-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israel suspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favor of a new diplomatic process, told reporters on Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said.

But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation.

“Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.

***************

US urges Israel to reverse appropriation of land for West Bank settlement

Israel has claimed almost 1,000 acres near Bethlehem, in a move Palestinians say will only increase tension

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 00.43 BST

The United States has criticised Israel’s announcement of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts, and urged the Israeli government to reverse the decision.

Israel laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas militants in the area in June, one of the sparks for the seven-week war in Gaza that left more than 2,000 people dead.

The notice published on Sunday by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as Gevaot, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

The Obama administration has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009.

After the collapse of the last round of US-brokered peace talks, US officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Jewish state captured in the 1967 war.

***************** 

Israeli leaders are rarely popular once the fighting ends. Binyamin Netanyahu is no exception

The aftermath of a conflict often cuts the careers of prime ministers short. In Netanyahu’s case, though, there is no alternative

Anshel Pfeffer   
theguardian.com, Thursday 28 August 2014 16.33 BST   
       
At the height of Israel’s first Lebanon war in 1982, Amiram Nir, the Israeli officer and journalist who went on to serve as the prime minister’s counter-terrorism adviser and later died in a mysterious plane crash, coined the phrase: “Quiet, we’re shooting.” Nearly all of Israel’s normally feisty and irreverent media observe this rule at times of war or during a major military operation. While soldiers are falling on the battlefield, criticism of the government is largely muted. Public opinion likewise falls in line and the prime minister and other civilian and military leaders receive levels of approval in the polls they could only dream of during peacetime.

It all ends come the ceasefire or when an operation gets bogged down into a lengthy war of attrition. Israelis have extremely high expectations, bordering on the unrealistic, from their army and intelligence services and for more than four decades have punished the politicians for any perceived shortcomings – as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is learning now. He has taken a nose dive in the latest polls and received a bashing from the Israeli media over the past couple of days.

Only three weeks ago, 77% of Israelis responded to a poll commissioned by Haaretz saying they were satisfied with the way Netanyahu was conducting the Gaza offensive. A day after Tuesday night’s ceasefire he had already lost a third of that and was down to 50%. In another poll carried out for Channel 2 Netanyahu’s fall was even more dramatic, his approval rating descending in the space of a month from a high of 82% to only 32% this week. He is not the first Israeli leader to suffer such a reversal.

Israel successfully fought off a surprise attack on two fronts from Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but public anger over the intelligence failure forced both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to resign and set the scene for the end of the labour movement’s 29 years in power. In 1982 the army dislodged the Palestine Liberation Organisation from its bases but the continued blood-letting led to Menachem Begin’s resignation and total withdrawal from public life, as well as an end to the first period of the Likud party’s dominance in Israeli politics. During both these wars the leadership enjoyed wide support from media and public, only to plunge into a trough in the aftermath.

Military setbacks were never the sole reason for changes in political fortunes; financial crises and corruption scandals played a major part as well. But the anticlimax, following the euphorically high ratings while the guns are blazing, sets in motion an immediate and steep decline. Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was ultimately brought down by allegations of bribe-taking, but it was the second Lebanon war, perceived by most Israelis as ending in a stalemate with Hezbollah, which cast a permanent pall over the rest of his term.

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to Israel. Winston Churchill’s landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, less than two months after VE Day remains the prime historical example of the way a wartime leader can swiftly lose public support. George Bush also failed to win a second term in 1992 despite the success of the first Gulf war. In Israel, however, with its frequent bouts of warfare, it has become a pattern.

In addition to the dire polls, the Israeli media, largely supportive of Netanyahu throughout the 50-day military operation, have also piled in, with commentators on just about every channel and newspaper (with the exception of the Israel Hayom freesheet owned by Netanyahu’s American backer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson) excoriating the prime minister for having lost the initiative throughout, allowing Hamas to dictate nearly every stage of the crisis and finally accepting a ceasefire agreement which contains no assurances against future rocket launches from Gaza or mention of a demilitarisation of the Palestinian organisations – a demand repeatedly raised by Netanyahu throughout the crisis.

Westerners viewing the conflict through the prism of international media may be surprised that the heavy toll in Palestinian casualties and destruction of thousands of buildings in Gaza barely features in local criticism of the government. Many observers have also noted quite correctly that if any side has come off worse in the confrontation, it was Hamas, which for all the devastation in Gaza has achieved none of its demands save for a return to the agreements achieved in 2012 and a vague commitment to address its demands in a further round of talks next month. But that is not the Israeli perspective.

The majority of Israelis feel their army acted with restraint and that the blame for civilian casualties lies squarely with Hamas which launched its rockets from heavily built-up areas. They do blame Netanyahu, however, for not using the military might at his disposal to achieve either the toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza or extracting firm commitments to dismantle its rocket arsenal. As Israelis see it, life in much of their country was brought to a standstill for seven weeks, residents of the kibbutzim around Gaza were forced to flee and 71 soldiers and civilians were killed for no gain. Now they’re back where it all started, with no guarantee that another round won’t take place very soon. They see no one else to blame for that except the prime minister. He had their support while the fighting was ongoing – now that he failed to deliver any tangible result, he has lost it.

This doesn’t spell political demise for him quite yet. The ray of light for Netanyahu in the polls is that there is still no alternative on the horizon to his premiership. In the Haaretz poll 42% of Israelis still see him as the most suitable candidate for the job. His closest rival, Labor’s lacklustre leader Yitzhak Herzog, polled only 12%, while his challengers from the far-right, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, each received 11% and are deemed as too extreme by three-quarters of the electorate.

Most Israelis don’t love or revere Netanyahu and are deeply disappointed with the outcome of his war. If there was on the horizon a leader they felt was competent enough to replace him, he or she would have a good chance in the next elections. But for now there is no one.

 15 
 on: Today at 06:45 AM 
Started by Sunyata - Last post by Rad
Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land Near Bethlehem

By ISABEL KERSHNER
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Israel laid claim on Sunday to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.

Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.

Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.

The land, which is near the small Jewish settlement of Gvaot in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.

But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families. He told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli Army forces and personnel posted orders early Sunday announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin.

Interested parties have 45 days in which to register objections.

The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation.”

Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement bloc under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.

A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the United States urged Israel to reverse its decision, calling it “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

The last round of American-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israel suspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favor of a new diplomatic process, told reporters on Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said.

But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation.

“Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.

***************

US urges Israel to reverse appropriation of land for West Bank settlement

Israel has claimed almost 1,000 acres near Bethlehem, in a move Palestinians say will only increase tension

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 00.43 BST

The United States has criticised Israel’s announcement of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts, and urged the Israeli government to reverse the decision.

Israel laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas militants in the area in June, one of the sparks for the seven-week war in Gaza that left more than 2,000 people dead.

The notice published on Sunday by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as Gevaot, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

The Obama administration has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009.

After the collapse of the last round of US-brokered peace talks, US officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Jewish state captured in the 1967 war.

***************** 

Israeli leaders are rarely popular once the fighting ends. Binyamin Netanyahu is no exception

The aftermath of a conflict often cuts the careers of prime ministers short. In Netanyahu’s case, though, there is no alternative

Anshel Pfeffer   
theguardian.com, Thursday 28 August 2014 16.33 BST   
       
At the height of Israel’s first Lebanon war in 1982, Amiram Nir, the Israeli officer and journalist who went on to serve as the prime minister’s counter-terrorism adviser and later died in a mysterious plane crash, coined the phrase: “Quiet, we’re shooting.” Nearly all of Israel’s normally feisty and irreverent media observe this rule at times of war or during a major military operation. While soldiers are falling on the battlefield, criticism of the government is largely muted. Public opinion likewise falls in line and the prime minister and other civilian and military leaders receive levels of approval in the polls they could only dream of during peacetime.

It all ends come the ceasefire or when an operation gets bogged down into a lengthy war of attrition. Israelis have extremely high expectations, bordering on the unrealistic, from their army and intelligence services and for more than four decades have punished the politicians for any perceived shortcomings – as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is learning now. He has taken a nose dive in the latest polls and received a bashing from the Israeli media over the past couple of days.

Only three weeks ago, 77% of Israelis responded to a poll commissioned by Haaretz saying they were satisfied with the way Netanyahu was conducting the Gaza offensive. A day after Tuesday night’s ceasefire he had already lost a third of that and was down to 50%. In another poll carried out for Channel 2 Netanyahu’s fall was even more dramatic, his approval rating descending in the space of a month from a high of 82% to only 32% this week. He is not the first Israeli leader to suffer such a reversal.

Israel successfully fought off a surprise attack on two fronts from Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but public anger over the intelligence failure forced both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to resign and set the scene for the end of the labour movement’s 29 years in power. In 1982 the army dislodged the Palestine Liberation Organisation from its bases but the continued blood-letting led to Menachem Begin’s resignation and total withdrawal from public life, as well as an end to the first period of the Likud party’s dominance in Israeli politics. During both these wars the leadership enjoyed wide support from media and public, only to plunge into a trough in the aftermath.

Military setbacks were never the sole reason for changes in political fortunes; financial crises and corruption scandals played a major part as well. But the anticlimax, following the euphorically high ratings while the guns are blazing, sets in motion an immediate and steep decline. Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was ultimately brought down by allegations of bribe-taking, but it was the second Lebanon war, perceived by most Israelis as ending in a stalemate with Hezbollah, which cast a permanent pall over the rest of his term.

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to Israel. Winston Churchill’s landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, less than two months after VE Day remains the prime historical example of the way a wartime leader can swiftly lose public support. George Bush also failed to win a second term in 1992 despite the success of the first Gulf war. In Israel, however, with its frequent bouts of warfare, it has become a pattern.

In addition to the dire polls, the Israeli media, largely supportive of Netanyahu throughout the 50-day military operation, have also piled in, with commentators on just about every channel and newspaper (with the exception of the Israel Hayom freesheet owned by Netanyahu’s American backer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson) excoriating the prime minister for having lost the initiative throughout, allowing Hamas to dictate nearly every stage of the crisis and finally accepting a ceasefire agreement which contains no assurances against future rocket launches from Gaza or mention of a demilitarisation of the Palestinian organisations – a demand repeatedly raised by Netanyahu throughout the crisis.

Westerners viewing the conflict through the prism of international media may be surprised that the heavy toll in Palestinian casualties and destruction of thousands of buildings in Gaza barely features in local criticism of the government. Many observers have also noted quite correctly that if any side has come off worse in the confrontation, it was Hamas, which for all the devastation in Gaza has achieved none of its demands save for a return to the agreements achieved in 2012 and a vague commitment to address its demands in a further round of talks next month. But that is not the Israeli perspective.

The majority of Israelis feel their army acted with restraint and that the blame for civilian casualties lies squarely with Hamas which launched its rockets from heavily built-up areas. They do blame Netanyahu, however, for not using the military might at his disposal to achieve either the toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza or extracting firm commitments to dismantle its rocket arsenal. As Israelis see it, life in much of their country was brought to a standstill for seven weeks, residents of the kibbutzim around Gaza were forced to flee and 71 soldiers and civilians were killed for no gain. Now they’re back where it all started, with no guarantee that another round won’t take place very soon. They see no one else to blame for that except the prime minister. He had their support while the fighting was ongoing – now that he failed to deliver any tangible result, he has lost it.

This doesn’t spell political demise for him quite yet. The ray of light for Netanyahu in the polls is that there is still no alternative on the horizon to his premiership. In the Haaretz poll 42% of Israelis still see him as the most suitable candidate for the job. His closest rival, Labor’s lacklustre leader Yitzhak Herzog, polled only 12%, while his challengers from the far-right, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, each received 11% and are deemed as too extreme by three-quarters of the electorate.

Most Israelis don’t love or revere Netanyahu and are deeply disappointed with the outcome of his war. If there was on the horizon a leader they felt was competent enough to replace him, he or she would have a good chance in the next elections. But for now there is no one.

 16 
 on: Today at 06:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
China Restricts Voting Reforms for Hong Kong

By CHRIS BUCKLEY and MICHAEL FORSYTHE
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

HONG KONG — China’s legislature laid down strict limits on Sunday to proposed voting reforms in Hong Kong, pushing back against months of rallies calling for free, democratic elections.

The decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee drew battle lines in what pro-democracy groups warned would be a deepening confrontation over the political future of the city and of China. The committee demanded procedural barriers for candidates for the city’s leader that would ensure Beijing remained the gatekeeper to that position — and to political power over the city.

Li Fei, a deputy secretary general of the committee, told a news conference in Beijing that the nominating guidelines — including a requirement that candidates “love the country, and love Hong Kong” — would “protect the broad stability of Hong Kong now and in the future.”

The move closes one of the few avenues left for gradual political liberalization in China after a sustained campaign against dissent on the mainland this year under President Xi Jinping. In pressing its offensive in Hong Kong, Beijing has chosen a showdown with a protest movement unlike any it has ever faced on the mainland.

Hong Kong’s opposition forces enjoy civil liberties denied in the rest of China and, capitalizing on those freedoms, have taken a more confrontational approach than seen before in Hong Kong.

They said the limits set by Beijing for selection of the city’s leader, the chief executive, made a mockery of the “one person, one vote” principle that had been promised to Hong Kong.

“After having lied to Hong Kong people for so many years, it finally revealed itself today,” said Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator. “Hong Kong people are right to feel betrayed. It’s certain now that the central government will be effectively appointing Hong Kong’s chief executive.”

Occupy Central, the main Hong Kong group advocating open elections, said it was planning civil disobedience protests in the city’s commercial heart. Several thousand people turned out for a rally opposing Beijing’s plan on Sunday night.

“We are no longer willing to be docile subjects,” Benny Tai, a co-founder of Occupy Central and an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, told the crowd. “Our hope is that people gathered here will be dauntless civil resisters. What is our hope? Our hope is that today Hong Kong has entered a new era, an era of civil disobedience, an era of resistance.”

Other groups were also preparing to protest, and the Hong Kong Federation of Students urged university students to boycott classes.

Beyond their consequences for this former British colony of 7.2 million people, the tight reins on Hong Kong politics reflect a fear among leaders in Beijing that political concessions here would ignite demands for liberalization on the mainland, a quarter-century after such hopes were extinguished at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“They are afraid that caving in to Hong Kong would show weakness,” Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, said in a telephone interview. “They believe that political weakness will encourage Hong Kong to demand more and will give opponents of the party’s rule in China great confidence to challenge the party.”

Since taking leadership of the Communist Party almost two years ago, President Xi has orchestrated intense campaigns in China against political dissent and demands for competitive democracy, civil society and a legal system beyond party control. But Hong Kong presents special challenges.

Advocates and opponents of political liberalization alike have seen Hong Kong as a potential incubator for change in China since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Since then, the territory has had considerable autonomy and retained a wealth of Western-style freedoms under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.”

The struggle over electoral change here pits the Chinese authorities and their allies in Hong Kong against an opposition that claims robust middle-class support, protections by the city’s independent judiciary and a voice in an independent, though beleaguered, news media.

“China’s two most important cities are Beijing and Hong Kong,” Hu Jia, a prominent dissident in Beijing, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. He said he had been placed under house arrest, like other dissidents, before the National People’s Congress announcement.

“In the territory controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, only Hong Kong has some space for free speech, some judicial independence, so it is a mirror for people on the mainland,” he said. “The outcome of this battle for democracy will also determine future battles for democracy for all of China.”

Chinese officials have accused Hong Kong’s democracy groups of serving as tools for subversion by Western forces seeking to chip away at party control.

Mr. Li, the legislative official, on Sunday accused them of “sowing confusion” and “misleading society” by arguing that elections for the chief executive should follow international standards. “Each country’s historical, cultural, economic, social and political conditions and circumstances are different, and so the rules formulated for elections naturally also differ,” he said.

Under current law, the chief executive is chosen by an Election Committee, whose approximately 1,200 members are selected by constituencies generally loyal to Beijing and the city’s business elite.

According to the Chinese legislature’s proposal, the leader would be chosen by popular vote starting in 2017, as promised, but candidates would first have to win an endorsement from at least half the members of a nominating committee. The composition of that committee would be based on that of the current Election Committee, according to the decision, announced at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Mr. Li said that the existing committee was already “broadly representative” of the Hong Kong electorate, and so would furnish the right basis for a nominating committee in future elections, an assertion that Hong Kong democrats have roundly rejected. Democracy advocates expect that the new committee, like the existing one, will exclude candidates seen as unfavorable by Beijing.

Its composition would ensure “that democrats have no chance of getting nominated,” said Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. In fact, he said, it would raise the bar. Candidates have to win only one-eighth of the support of the current committee but would have to win 50 percent under the new guidelines. “As far as I can see, the government has no capacity to offer a deal the democrats will take in this,” he said.

The Chinese government fears that direct nominations would allow candidates hostile to Beijing, and it has said direct nominations would also contravene the Basic Law, the document governing Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. The People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on Monday that “nobody who is antagonistic” to the central government should ever be allowed to become chief executive.

The Hong Kong government will use the Chinese legislature’s proposal as a framework for an electoral reform bill. That bill then must win approval from the city’s 70-member Legislative Council, where the 27 democratic members could still block its passage by the required two-thirds majority. Emily Lau, chairwoman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, said they would. “We will veto this revolting proposal,” she said Sunday.

But C. Y. Leung, Hong Kong’s current, pro-Beijing chief executive, said killing the bill would also kill universal suffrage.

“Five million Hong Kong people would be deprived of the voting right that they would be otherwise entitled to,” he said. “We cannot afford a standstill in our constitutional development or else the prosperity, or stability, of Hong Kong will be at stake.”

The clash in Hong Kong will be more about winning over public opinion than winning control of the crowded streets. Opinion polls show that most Hong Kong citizens support the demand for “unfiltered” electoral choice, but also that many have qualms about possible disruption from protests.

On the main campus of the University of Hong Kong on Monday, there were mixed views about the wisdom of a student strike, but considerable support for the idea.

“Going on strike would be a sensible way to show our concern,” said Echo Lo, an architecture student. “ If we don’t do anything, they’ll say that we don’t care.”

But others were warier. “The decision of the central government was a bit tight, with no negotiation,” said Terrence Tang, a masters student in economics. “But I also agree that any country must take care of its security. It’s difficult because Hong Kong is so special.”

The Chinese government and the Hong Kong political establishment have accused Occupy Central and allied groups of recklessly imperiling the city’s reputation for political stability and support for business. And many ordinary Hong Kong residents have voiced worry about any political conflict that could hurt their livelihoods.

Occupy Central says it will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to avoid major disruption. Its organizers have said that they do not plan to plunge into mass protests immediately.

“We’re not making threats, we’re just sending warning signals,” said Mr. Tai, the group’s co-founder. “The house is on fire, something has to be done.”

***************

China struggles with children ‘left behind’ by government’s one-child policy

By Tania Branigan, The Guardian
Sunday, August 31, 2014 9:19 EDT

Yes, it is just a simple stuffed toy. But put it into a child’s arms and watch as he pretends to feed it, talks to it, even crowns it as a monarch. First, it gives him security; then it allows him to role-play and develop social skills.

Chinese authorities hope tips like these, included in a book for parents and nursery teachers, will help to stem mental health problems among the country’s young. While budgets for child and adolescent mental health services are being frozen or cut in the UK, China is seeking to expand provision, promote psychotherapeutic approaches and adopt preventative measures.

Since 2012 Beijing nurseries and schools have promoted mental health as well as physical fitness. Last year China passed its first mental health law and told paediatricians to screen patients for warning signs: Do the three-month-old baby’s eyes follow moving objects? At 18 months, can she make eye contact? Officials have also enlisted foreign psychotherapists to help train specialists and increase awareness.

“The government is paying a lot of attention to psychological health,” said Dr Zheng Yi, president of the Chinese Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and deputy director of Beijing Anding Hospital at Capital Medical University.

The preliminary results of research he has overseen, to be released later this year, suggest around 15% of Chinese children have mental health problems. He said that compared favourably with a rate of around 20% elsewhere, but noted that some problems, such as anxiety disorders, appear to be on the increase.

Rising living standards have allowed more parents to focus on their children’s emotional wellbeing, but development has also brought new problems, including dramatic changes in family structures and increased educational and social pressure. “For a lot of children, economics are not a problem. The problem is that opportunities to play are fewer,” said Zheng.

Others cite the impact of the generation gap created by China’s transformation and the impact of the “one child” policy. Only children may enjoy better care but can become over-indulged “little emperors”, or suffer loneliness because they lack company their own age.

Viviane Green of the department of psychosocial studies at Birkbeck College, one of the international experts developing the training programme, said cases were often similar to those in the UK, with “acting out teenagers; early attachment issues”.

But she added: “What probably is slightly different is how emotions are expressed, because the culture is different and filial piety is very strong. People do have conflicts – but the sense of self is not an individualised model as we have here – [the idea] that good mental health is about separating and moving away. It’s much more about duty to the family of origin and the links you keep with them.”

Psychotherapy is growing fast in China, but the country’s specialists must “help these new ideas to relate to other kinds of experience they have got from local culture, as well as people like psychiatrists,” said Dr Wang Qian, who has organised the international training as director of the executive office of the national psychoanalytical unit.

Dr Sverre Varvin, who chairs the China committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association and has trained Chinese professionals for years, added: “China is a really metaphorical culture and you have to spend some time to discover what the metaphors are.”

Serious problems remain in the provision of services. There is a dearth of child psychiatrists in China, which Zheng said would be addressed by training paediatricians and general doctors in early diagnosis and basic treatment.

Services are scarcest of all in the countryside, where they may be most needed. Many migrant workers leave their offspring at home when they move, because China’s “household registration” system means they struggle to get services such as education in the cities. Most are reunited once a year at best.

Almost 50% of these “left-behind” children suffer depression and anxiety, compared with 30% of their urban peers, according to a new study funded by the Heilongjiang provincial government. They are also more likely to suffer from mood swings and stress. The lead researcher, Yang Yanjie of Harbin Medical University, said their psychological problems tended to be more complex: “Left-behind children usually have inferiority complexes, lower self-esteem and lower confidence. Many appear to lack security and are too afraid or feel too much anxiety to interact with other people,” she said.

Some are effectively raised by single parents; in other cases, both parents work, and they are reared by grandparents who may lack the time and energy to nurture them. Guardians were often focused on material support and ignored children’s emotional needs, said Yang.While there is little funding for programmes targeting vulnerable groups at present, the appetite for them is striking. Save The Children initially provided “psychological first aid” in emergencies such as natural disasters, offering basic support and identifying those who need further assistance. But Pia MacRae, its China director, said staff and partners then requested it extend training to workers at centres for street children.

Zheng believes attention must be focused on prevention as well as cure. Social changes need not be damaging if people adapt appropriately: making sure only children spend time with other boys and girls their own age; perhaps alternating stints as migrant workers so that there is always one parent at home.

But the first big challenge, he said, was to tackle perceptions so that mental health problems no longer carried a stigma for children. “If we can get rid of that, seeing a psychiatrist will be like seeing a doctor if you have a fever,” he said.

 17 
 on: Today at 06:33 AM 
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Japan and India host trade and security talks

Five-day visit to Japan highlights growing economic and diplomatic ties between Shinzo Abe and Nahendra Modi

Agence France-Presse in Tokyo
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 08.40 BST   

Nahendra Modi and Shinzo Abe are holding formal talks in Tokyo to cement a blossoming relationship between India and Japan cemented with a shared conservative agenda.

Modi, who hopes his market-focused policies will boost India's floundering economy, could walk away with almost half a billion dollars' worth of loans for much-needed infrastructure projects, reports said.

The five-day visit – that began with a bear hug and a tour of Kyoto – is Modi's first trip outside the subcontinent and is intended to showcase the warming ties between Asia's second- and third-largest economies.

As well as a gamut of business deals that could lead to a doubling of Japanese direct investment, and the ¥50bn (£280m) in low-interest loans for new railways, highways and industrial parks, the summit will also strengthen diplomatic and defence ties.

Japanese media reported that the premiers are likely to agree on launching a "two-plus-two" security consultative framework involving their foreign and defence ministers. Japan has such arrangements with the US, Australia, Russia and France.

Both countries are wary of China's growing ambition to be seen as the regional keystone and are keen to curb its activity in the East and South China Seas and in the Indian Ocean. Tokyo and Delhi have long-running territorial disputes with Beijing, which is widely viewed as having more aggressively pushed its claims in recent years.

Underlining the point, Chinese coastguard ships sailed into waters off the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands – China calls the islands the Diaoyus – on Monday, officials said.

Modi, in an address to Japanese business leaders, said Japan and India must choose a path of peaceful development, not "18th-century-style" expansionism.

"There are 18th-century-style ways and thinking that involve expanding (geographically) by taking away land of another nation and going into seas," he said through a translator, without making any specific reference to China.

"If Asia is to become the leader in the 21st century, Japan and India should lead" and promote a path of peaceful development, he said.

In Delhi, the Indian premier told Japanese media last week that the two states could upgrade their defence and security relations.

Abe and Modi are expected to agree to hold regular joint naval drills as well as exercises involving the US, the Nikkei said on Monday.

Washington is eager for the two countries, which geographically bookend rival China, to step up their cooperation, at a time its own military commitment around the world is being questioned.

Under Abe, Japan has taken a more robust attitude to defence, massaging the self-imposed restrictions banning it from acting in defence of allies under attack and loosening restrictions on the export of military kit.

Despite huge trade volumes, Japan and China have an uneasy relationship, and Tokyo is keen to reduce its dependence on Beijing for imports such as rare earths, metals vital for hi-tech manufacture. That effort is expected to receive a boost on Monday with an agreement for the joint production of rare earths that could be exported to Japan.

India and Japan will also try to conclude talks on a civilian nuclear agreement that would allow Tokyo to export nuclear-related technology to Delhi, reports have said.

Modi arrived on Saturday at Kansai international airport near the western city of Osaka then headed to nearby Kyoto. He was greeted in Kyoto by Abe, with the men dispensing with the formal handshake that starts most head of governments' greetings in favour of a full body hug.

The pair have met on several occasions, and are thought to enjoy a chemistry that is notably absent in Abe's dealings with the US president, Barack Obama.

On Sunday, Abe accompanied Modi on his tour of the ancient city of Kyoto where the two strolled through the grounds of a temple more than a thousand years old.

 18 
 on: Today at 06:32 AM 
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Redrawing a State in India Drives Land Prices to the Sky

By NIDA NAJAR
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

AGIRIPALLI, India — In this belt of villages near the fertile Krishna River delta, much is as it has been for generations: The cotton soil is as black, the mango trees as heavy with fruit, the tobacco fields as fragrant and deeply green as ever.

But there have been curious changes in recent months. An old temple has received an expensive renovation, complete with a new banquet hall, courtesy of community donors. Some plots once tilled by small farmers lie untended, nothing more than overgrown grazing fields for cattle. Locals say “For Sale” signs have been replaced by “No Sale” signs as farmers try to fend off a rush of buyers who seem to have appeared overnight.

As for who the buyers are, theories abound. At markets and at stalls, people rattle off the names of politicians who reportedly visit late at night to survey a property undetected. They wonder if the recently retired cricket hero Sachin Tendulkar really bought 100 acres in a nearby town, as the newspapers say.

At first glance, these mango groves in the middle of nowhere seem an unlikely spot for a speculation boom. But in June, after years of impassioned debate, India split Andhra Pradesh, a large state in southern India, in two, creating India’s 29th state, Telangana. The new state will keep the ancient city of Hyderabad as its capital, so what is now Andhra Pradesh will eventually need a new capital, and these tiny villages could end up on the outskirts of what might be a sprawling new city.

In India, the politically connected seem to have a knack for buying land at just the right moment. Privy to government decisions about zoning or development, they are often accused of acquiring land near a planned development or using clout to get land rezoned, ending up with a windfall.

In Andhra Pradesh, the location of the new capital has become an opportunity, especially in and around the roughly 25-mile stretch between two towns: the trading town of Vijayawada and the tobacco fields near Guntur, each strongholds of politically connected castes.

Agiripalli and the villages surrounding it have the advantage of being just outside Vijayawada, where land holdings are dominated by the caste to which the business-friendly chief minister Chandrababu Naidu belongs. Mr. Naidu — who has earned global fame through pro-market policies, which are credited with building Hyderabad into the information technology metropolis it is today — has hinted to local media that the capital will be somewhere in the stretch of Vijayawada and Guntur. Opposition to this plan emerged last week when an advisory committee recommended several alternative locations to the central government, according to local reports.

Ram Babu Nardala, 31, a mango and rice farmer, has positioned himself as the village real estate broker in recent months, an intermediary between farmers and shadowy buyers from town.

Mr. Nardala does not know if this expanse of fields will become the new capital, but he does know that business is good. He spends his mornings managing his crop, then drives his new sport utility vehicle, with the chief minister’s party flag on the hood, to a small pillared shack nestled among banyan trees that line the main road. This unassuming space is the spot where many real estate deals in the village are negotiated.

“I have a circle of people in Vijayawada,” he said, periodically reaching into his jeans pocket to quiet his ringing cellphone, “and I keep getting offers.”

He recently oversaw the sale of an acre of farmland belonging to his brother-in-law and said the deal brought in nearly $180,000 from a Vijayawada buyer he would describe only as a businessman.

“If you’re farming on it,” he said, “you won’t even earn 50,000 rupees,” or around $800.

The documents he drew up to register the sale show a price that is much lower, he acknowledged. He has arranged eight deals in recent months, he said, some to buyers who have told him to help them flip the land for a higher price. Many say that the beneficiaries of the speculation are not likely to be the farmers, who sell for relatively low prices. Nor will the government benefit, since it misses out on crucial tax revenue by turning a blind eye to off-the-book sales and illegal construction of housing and apartments on land zoned for agriculture.

For years, emotions dominated the debate over whether to split Andhra Pradesh. It was a battle of haves and have-nots that drove activists from the poorer Telangana region to set themselves on fire, politicians to fast for days and poets to write verses in favor of a separate state. Politicians from the relatively prosperous coastal area of Andhra Pradesh opposed the split — in anticipation, some have suggested, of the loss of hefty revenues from Hyderabad — and literally came to blows in Parliament in February with those backing the bill for the split.

For Andhra Pradesh, which will need an influx of industry after losing Hyderabad, the Vijayawada-Guntur corridor represents an imperfect opportunity.

“I know for a fact that politicians are buying land there,” said Anant Maringanti, the director of Hyderabad Urban Lab, an urban research program. “They’ll build real estate or high-value apartments. I don’t know if that’s really going to jump-start the economy.”

And despite the optimism, a bubble is a bubble, even for locals unfamiliar with the term. One resident compared the astronomically rising land prices to a pot of milk on the burner: quick to boil up, and, once the heat dies down, just as quick to vanish into nothing.

“There has been no government announcement,” said Ponnaiah Krupam, a mango farmer with 10 acres of land and a small store near the main road. “I don’t understand what’s happening. I’m too afraid to sell.”

Naveen Surya, an infrastructure developer based in Hyderabad, tried to buy half an acre near Vijayawada and quickly abandoned the enterprise, daunted by the competition which he believes comes from politicians and the politically connected. By his calculation, the prices offered for this agricultural land in an undeveloped area are exorbitant.

“It’s mafia land — they’re buying, not registering the land, paying advances, and they want to trade it,” he said. “Everyone is running behind easy money. That’s what real estate is.”

Land prices just outside the district’s bustling headquarters, Vijayawada, are rising more dramatically still. Lagadapati Rajagopal, a former Congress Party parliamentarian from Vijayawada who earned his fortune through construction and his notoriety through using pepper spray during a particularly contentious parliamentary hearing on the split, views its aftermath with something akin to amusement.

His company’s name is emblazoned on billboards and roundabouts throughout Vijayawada. As a member of Parliament in 2007, he oversaw the development and plotting of 150 acres of farmland near town. The land value was around $5 million, he said. A year ago, he could imagine its value at close to $100 million. Today, with the speculation over the capital, he cannot imagine its price.

“It’s good for farmers, and it’s good for the government,” said Mr. Rajagopal. “You can sell part of your land and still make a killing.”

How good rampant speculation will be for farmers in Agiripalli and for the development of the state remains to be seen.

Hari Babu Matcha, a farmer near Agiripalli, has invested in a change. He is now in the business of plotting land. He and a group of partners have bought 13 acres of paddy in Agiripalli, planted grass in its place, installed a paved road and a gate, distinguishing it from the surrounding rice fields. He hopes to see it become a gated community of 300 houses for government employees, teachers and a professional class he is betting will flock to the area. More than half of the plots have been sold, but so far, the frame of just one house has been built, little more than a roof supported by wooden beams in a vast field of numbered, empty plots.

Mr. Matcha expressed ambivalence about a sweeping change in the region, as do many other farmers, even though he expects to benefit from it.

“First they developed Hyderabad, and Telangana farmers were totally corrupted,” he said, citing an influx of five-star hotels and a wave of farmers buying new cars, drinking away their days. “Now, this disease will affect our soil,” he said, then added, after a pause, “but it depends on the capital.”

 19 
 on: Today at 06:30 AM 
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Pakistan Anti-PM Protesters Storm State TV

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 September 2014, 07:11

Hundreds of protesters trying to topple Pakistan's government stormed the state broadcaster on Monday, intensifying the political crisis gripping the nuclear-armed nation.

Transmissions of the main Pakistani Television (PTV) news channel were cut for around half an hour before security forces cleared demonstrators from the building in Islamabad's high-security "red zone".

The brief seizing of PTV by protesters armed with clubs came after fresh street clashes in which police were pelted with rocks and responded with teargas.

Late on Sunday the powerful army called for a peaceful settlement of the political crisis that has shaken Pakistan and weakened the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Opposition groups marched to the capital on August 15 to try to oust Sharif over alleged election fraud, triggering a crisis that has raised the spectre of military intervention in a country ruled for half its history by the army.

The military urged the government and protesters to settle their differences peacefully, but warned it was "committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state" after clashes left three dead and hundreds injured.

Violence began on Saturday night when followers of opposition party leader and former cricketer Imran Khan and of populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri tried to storm Sharif's official residence.

Fresh clashes erupted on Monday morning as heavy rain fell on the capital, when more than 3,000 demonstrators again tried to march on the building, an Agence France Presse journalist at the scene said.

Protesters pelted riot police with stones and some smashed up motorbikes with wooden clubs. Police tried to respond with tear gas but the heavy rain appeared to make it ineffective.

Some managed to breach the perimeter fences of some official buildings, but paramilitary security forces stopped them at the entrance to the PM's house.

Both Khan and Qadri appeared on the shipping containers they have used as stages to urge their supporters not to resort to violence.

An AFP reporter saw more than 300 protesters, many armed with wooden clubs, enter the PTV building shouting anti-government slogans.

Television footage showed some of them beating a photo of Sharif with sticks and spitting on it.

After the PTV building was cleared and transmission restarted, both Khan and Qadri tried to distance themselves from the incident, saying their activists were not involved.

 

- Khaki spectre -

 

After an emergency meeting of top brass in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Sunday the army voiced support for democracy -- but also stressed its own role in maintaining security.

"While reaffirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives," the military said in a statement.

"It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means."

They added: "(The) army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations."

The statement opened with backing for the government but ended on a hawkish note -- which a senior government official said reflected differing views within the army's top brass.

Pakistan's last period of military rule ended in 2008. But the official said another coup remained "less likely".

"We have travelled this road for seven to eight years, so things have been tested -- the institutions are much stronger," he said on condition of anonymity.

"I hope and pray the system survives. There will be some losses but they will be recovered," he added, referring to the significant concessions that observers say the government will need to make to the army if it is to survive.

The protest leaders claim that the 2013 general election which swept Sharif to power was rigged, even though local and foreign observers rated the polls as relatively fair and credible.

Speaking from the roof of a shipping container Sunday, Khan vowed to continue his protest "until our last breath", adding he would file murder charges against the prime minister over the violence.

The weekend clashes left nearly 500 people injured, including some children and nearly 100 police officers.

The protest leaders have drawn thousands to the streets of Islamabad, but their call has not mobilised mass support in a country of 180 million people.

 20 
 on: Today at 06:22 AM 
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Charlie Sheen says Danish authorities are complicit in pilot whale ‘slaughter’

Actor had donated boat used by activists who were arrested after trying to save pod of 33 pilot whales in Denmark’s Faroe Islands

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 03.58 BST      

Hollywood star Charlie Sheen has criticised Danish authorities over the arrests of 14 anti-whaling activists in the North Atlantic.

Sheen donated one of three inflatable boats used by Sea Shepherd members to try to save a pod of 33 pilot whales being driven toward hunters on the Faroe island of Sandoy.

Eight activists on the water and six more on land were arrested and detained by Danish officials.

The boats were seized by the Danish navy.

Sheen accused the Danish authorities of being complicit in the “brutal slaughter”.

“I am proud that a vessel bearing my name was there and did all it could to try to stop this atrocity,” the Anger Management star said.

“The 40-foot Zodiac called the BS SHEEN that I donated to Mr [Sea Shepherd leader Paul] Watson’s tireless and heroic efforts, has been shamefully seized. This level of insidious and vicious corruption must be dealt with swiftly and harshly.”

Sea Shepherd claims one of the activists, Spaniard Sergio Toribio, was pulled from a car and assaulted while monitoring the hunt from land, suffering a broken finger.

Large numbers of the mammals are slaughtered each year on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark. The method involves the mammals being forced into a bay by flotillas of small boats before being hacked to death with hooks and knives.

Many locals defend the hunt as a cultural right, but animal rights campaigners have denounced it as a “brutal and archaic mass slaughter”.

Eight French citizens, two South Africans, one Australian, one Italian and a second Spaniard were arrested.

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