on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:27 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Maduro Wants South America to Meet on Venezuela Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 March 2014, 20:12
President Nicolas Maduro called Thursday for a meeting of South American leaders on the turmoil in Venezuela after more than a month of anti-government street protests.
Maduro made the request to visiting Suriname President Desi Bouterse, the current head of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).
The move came a day after the Venezuelan leader broke off relations with Panama following its call for a meeting of the rival Washington-based Organization of American States on the crisis.
Maduro said he wanted a Unasur meeting convened so he could to explain "the attacks, the violence, the small groups that have tried to undermine social life and impose a political situation that our country is overcoming."
In a speech Wednesday, Maduro angrily rejected OAS involvement, saying Venezuela would turn to other regional organizations that do not include the United States.
The OAS scheduled a closed door meeting for later Thursday to consider a request by Panama for a foreign ministers' meeting on Venezuela.
In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced the "attempts at interference" by the OAS and Washington.
"Venezuela has every right to defend its independence and sovereignty," he said, pledging Cuba's unyielding support for the Maduro government in the face of attempts to overthrow it.
Cuba, Venezuela's closest ally, depends on Caracas for half its energy needs at preferential prices and provides it with 40,000 advisers and health care workers.
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, another Maduro ally, said "one or two" Unasur presidents did not want to convene an emergency summit, creating an obstacle because the group's bylaws require that all 12 of the group's member states agree.
Street protests erupted in Venezuela on February 4 and have continued every day since in the biggest challenge yet to Maduro's nearly year-old government.
At least 18 people had already been killed when Maduro spoke, and shortly afterward officials said a policeman and a motorcyclist had died in a street battle.
Public anger over violent crime, shortages and arrests of demonstrators have fueled the protests.
But Maduro charges they are part of a U.S.-backed plot by "fascists" to destabilize his socialist-inspired government.
Death Toll from Venezuela Demos Rises to 20
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 March 2014, 21:50
A police officer and a civilian died Thursday during clashes in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, bringing to 20 the toll from a month of anti-government demonstrations in the divided country.
The member of the National Guard succumbed in hospital to a gun shot wound to the chest while a man on a motorbike also died, State Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz told local television.
Authorities said the incident happened when a group of men on motorbikes tried to break through a barricade in the east of Caracas, where improvised blockades have multiplied in recent days.
Witnesses said the shots came from a crowd of protesters. But the president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello blamed "snipers" positioned on top of a building.
Street protests erupted in Venezuela on February 4 and have continued every day since in the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro's nearly year-old, socialist-inspired government.
Public anger over rampant crime, shortages of basic goods and arrests of protesters have fueled the unrest, which Maduro charges is part of a U.S.-backed plot by "fascists" to destabilize his regime.
Venezuela Expels Panama Ambassador, Three Others
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 07:08
The Venezuelan government ordered Panama's ambassador and three other diplomats at the mission to leave the country within 48 hours, a Panamanian official said Thursday, a day after Caracas broke ties with Panama City.
"We received a note from the foreign ministry of Venezuela that was delivered to our embassy in which it declared four diplomats working in our embassy as 'persona non grata,'" Panama's Deputy Foreign Minister Mayra Arosemena told reporters.
The diplomats are Ambassador Pedro Pereira, charge d'affaires Jaime Serrano and two other embassy officials.
"We have recalled our staff today and they are traveling (to Panama) tomorrow," Arosemena said.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Wednesday he was breaking diplomatic ties with Panama after the country called a meeting of North and Latin American nations over weeks of sometimes violent protests in Caracas.
Maduro also said he was freezing all trade and economic ties with the Central American nation.
"Nobody will conspire with impunity to ask for an intervention against our fatherland. Enough!" Maduro said after Panama requested a private meeting of the Washington-based Organization of American States to be held to seek solutions to resolve tensions in Venezuela.
At least 20 people have died in anti-government protests in Venezuela since they first erupted on February 4. Nearly 300 were injured and there are also dozens of allegations of human rights violations.
Arosemena said that despite Venezuela's measures against the diplomats, Panama "has every intention of maintaining the best relations with Venezuela."
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:22 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Rival Militia Leaders in C.Africa Vow to Work for Peace
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 06:48
Leaders of rival militias responsible for a brutal cycle of death and revenge killings in the Central African Republic have vowed to work for peace in an unprecedented meeting, state radio reported Thursday.
The chiefs of the country's former Seleka rebel force that grabbed power in March 2013 and the anti-balaka militias that have opposed them in recent months made the promise in a gathering late Wednesday organized in the capital by the country's interim prime minister, Andre Nzapayeke.
It was the first time the transitional authorities now running Central Africa have brought the two sides to the table.
The Seleka ex-rebels, a force largely drawn from the country's Muslim minority, were countered by a December deployment of French troops after Paris became concerned at the number of deaths occurring in the poor but resource-rich country.
The anti-balaka, whose name means "anti-machete" and mostly counts Christian vigilantes, also posed a problem when they rampaged against Muslim civilians.
"The prime minister received us to see ... how to definitively lift our country out of this cycle of violence," said Herbert Gontran Djono Ahaba, minister of public works who is also a prominent Seleka figure and the brother of Michel Djotodia, who was briefly president but was forced to resign this year.
"We told him we were ready to act to bring back peace," Djono Ahaba said.
"Every day we live scenes of violence. But we can't stay in that situation forever. It is time all that ceases so that we can rebuild our country."
Joachim Kokate, the military chief of the anti-balaka who was recently named an adviser to the prime minister, said: "We have responded to the prime minister's appeal and told him of our wish to cooperate to end the violence."
He added: "We are ready to work so that peace returns to our country, so that machetes are no longer used by anti-balaka to kill Muslims, and that Muslims no longer use weapons to fire on their compatriots."
France maintains 2,000 soldiers already on the ground in the Central African Republic, alongside a 6,000-strong African Union force.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has proposed taking over control of the African Union force as part of a UN peacekeeping mission that would have a recommended strength of 10,000 soldiers and nearly 2,000 police officers.
U.N. Says C.Africa 'in Dire Need' of Peacekeepers
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 March 2014, 20:17
Top U.N. officials said Thursday a peacekeeping mission is essential for stabilizing Central African Republic and aiding civilians -- but there will be no "quick fix" there.
The nearly 12,000 peacekeepers the United Nations hopes to deploy by September will be operating in "a particularly challenging environment," U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said at the Security Council.
The council was holding its first discussions on a proposal to send some 10,000 soldiers and 1,820 police to help restore order in Central African Republic, a country that has descended into chaos and sectarian killing over the past year.
The council is expected to approve the deployment -- backed by a report by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- in a vote sponsored by France by the end of the month.
The operation "will be costly, but waiting to respond could be even more so," urged Ladsous, citing the conflict's "potential negative impact on regional stability," including splitting the country and creating a breeding ground for extremists.
And given the approximately six months required to get a U.N. force ready, Ladsous called for urgently sending "rapid and generous financial support" to MISCA -- the 6,000-strong African Union force already in Central Africa.
There are also some 2,000 French soldiers there. Most of the future U.N. force is expected to come from the current ranks of MISCA.
Ladsous said the current deployment of international security forces is not sufficient and lacks the civilian component," which would help the transitional government in Bangui rebuild and help organize elections.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos also emphasized that the Central African government "has no capacity to stop the spiral of violence."
And in order to effectively deliver aid, particularly for the 640,000 people displaced by the fighting, security must be restored, she said.
Currently, for instance, the road between Douala, in neighboring Cameroon, and Bangui, is unsafe, meaning aid must be delivered by airplane -- at nearly eight times the cost.
Aid efforts are also dramatically underfunded, officials said, with just 16 percent of the $551 million the U.N. has requested.
Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres -- who, like Amos recently traveled to Central Africa -- told the council he does "not remember any visit in my eight year tenure that caused me more anguish."
"I was deeply shocked by the barbarity, brutality and inhumanity that have characterized the violence in this country," he said.
Guterres also called for more financial support for neighboring countries which have taken in some 290,000 refugees -- including 130,000 in Cameroon alone.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:20 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
ICC Says DR Congo Warlord Katanga Complicit in War Crimes
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 12:26
The International Criminal Court on Friday convicted Congolese ex-militia boss Germain Katanga of being an accessory to war crimes and crimes against humanity for a 2003 village massacre.
"The chamber by majority finds Germain Katanga guilty... of complicity in the crimes committed on February 24, 2003," said judge Bruno Cotte.
Katanga was convicted of murder and pillaging but cleared of rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers in the attack.
The court will sentence Katanga, the one-time commander of the ethnic-based Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri (FRPI) operating in the DR Congo's mineral-rich northeast, at another hearing.
The verdict was only the ICC's third since opening its doors more than a decade ago, and the first involving sexual violence charges.
Katanga, 35, went on trial more than four years ago facing seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery and rape for his alleged role in the attack on the small village of Bogoro in 2003.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:18 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Four men whipped in Nigeria court after being convicted of gay sex
Men, aged between 20 and 22, face imprisonment if they fail to pay fine meted out by Islamic court, human rights activist says
Associated Press in Lagos
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 March 2014 15.31 GMT
Four young men have been convicted of gay sex and whipped publicly as punishment in an Islamic court in northern Nigeria, a human rights activist said.
The four were among dozens caught in a wave of arrests after Nigeria strengthened its criminal penalties for homosexuality with the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in January.
Dorothy Aken'Ova, of the Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights Network, said the men could face further violence in prison if human rights organisations do not come up with a fine of 20,000 naira (£72) each meted out on Thursday by a judge in Bauchi city.
The four were sentenced to 15 strokes plus a year's imprisonment if they cannot pay the fine.
Aken'Ova said the men, aged between 20 and 22, should not have been convicted because their confessions had been forced by law agents who beat them.
She said they had to prostrate themselves on the floor of the court to be whipped on their backsides.
The men's families, mainly subsistence farmers in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, refused legal representation because they preferred to negotiate with the judge, said Aken'Ova. She said the families were embarrassed by the stigma attached to homosexuality, which many highly religious Nigerians consider an evil imported from the west.
The hearings in Bauchi city, capital of the state of the same name, had been delayed from January, when a crowd tried to stone the accused men outside the court and demanded the judge pass the death sentence. Security officials had to fire into the air to save the men and disperse the crowd.
Under sharia law in some north Nigerian states, homosexual people can be sentenced to death by stoning or lethal injection, though that sentence has never been enforced.
On Thursday, the judge said he had been lenient because the men had promised that the homosexual acts occurred in the past and that they had since changed their ways, Aken'Ova said.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:16 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
China Anger at Dalai Lama's U.S. Congress Meeting
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 11:26
China expressed anger Friday over the Dalai Lama's meeting with U.S. congressional leaders, urging Washington to "stop conniving" with the man it brands a separatist working under the "cloak of religion.”
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader on Thursday delivered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session, after meeting President Barack Obama at the White House last month, a move that raised the ire of Beijing.
The Nobel laureate, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959, labeled the U.S. the "champion of democracy" and called on it to show "self-confidence".
He met congressional leaders and told them one of his main goals was the "preservation of Tibetan culture".
Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China expressed "strong opposition and firm opposition" to the meeting and had "launched solemn representations with the U.S.”
"He is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-Chinese separatist activities under the cloak of religion," the spokesman told reporters at a regular briefing.
"China urges the U.S. Congress to abide by its commitment of recognizing Tibet as a part of China, not supporting Tibetan independence, stop interfering in China's domestic affairs with Tibet-related affairs, stop conniving and supporting the anti-China separatist activities by Tibetan independence forces."
Obama called for the protection of Tibetans' rights in a statement after his meeting with the Dalai Lama.
More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in recent years to protest against what they describe as stifling Chinese control over their religious, cultural and political freedoms.
Beijing condemns the acts and blames them on the exiled Tibetan leader, saying he uses them to further a separatist agenda.
Dalai Lama Encourages 'Self-Confident' U.S. Global Role
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 March 2014, 19:10
The Dalai Lama on Thursday encouraged the United States to show self-confidence in defending democracy as top lawmakers rallied behind his calls to preserve Tibetan culture.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whose meeting on February 21 with President Barack Obama was condemned by China, returned to Washington where -- for the first time -- he delivered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session.
The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959, later met congressional leaders and told them one of his main goals was "preservation of Tibetan culture."
Offering advice as a "longtime friend" of the United States, the Dalai Lama said that he considered the nation to be "really a champion of democracy, freedom."
"These traditional values are, I think, very, very relevant in today's world. After all, you are the leading nation in the free world, So, (show) self-confidence," the Dalai Lama said.
The Dalai Lama sat between House Speaker John Boehner, who said he wanted to show bipartisan support for the Buddhist monk, and the Republican leader's often bitter rival Nancy Pelosi, a longtime activist on the Tibetan cause.
"What is happening in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world," said Pelosi, the leader of Obama's Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.
More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in recent years to protest what they describe as a stifling Chinese control over their religious, cultural and political freedoms. Obama called for the protection of Tibetans' rights in a statement after his meeting with the Dalai Lama.
In contrast to his meeting with Obama, which the White House took pains to portray as private, the Dalai Lama was accompanied in his talks at Congress by Lobsang Sangay, who was elected in 2011 as the prime minister of Tibetans in exile.
The Dalai Lama told the lawmakers that he had transferred his political role to the elected leader.
While the globe-trotting monk has been instrumental in throwing a worldwide spotlight on Tibet, the 78-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has increasingly been looking ahead to the future of the movement without him.
The Dalai Lama appeared to reflect on his own mortality as he served as the guest Senate chaplain, offering what he described as "my favorite prayer" which he recites daily.
"This gives me inner strength," the Dalai Lama said in Tibetan. "I am asking to serve humanity. As long as space remains and as long as beings remain, until then may I, too, remain and help dispel the misery of the world."
But the Dalai Lama told the lawmakers he was in good health, counseling Boehner, Pelosi and assembled reporters on the importance of maintaining happy thoughts.
"I think you can judge. Although I'm now nearly 79 years old, it seems okay. This is not special medicine, but medicine of the mind," he said with his trademark laugh.
Despite his age, the Dalai Lama maintains a schedule that would be rigorous even for younger people. After meeting Obama, the Dalai Lama flew to California to deliver spiritual lectures and then visited Minnesota to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan new year, with the Tibetan community in the Midwestern state.
With European nations increasingly under pressure not to see him, the Dalai Lama has taken pains to reach out across the U.S. political spectrum to ensure support. He spoke last month at a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat often seen as a gruff tactician, welcomed the Dalai Lama's message that all sides need to talk through differences.
"It is advice that those of us fortunate enough to serve our country and our constituents in the United States Senate should take to heart and follow more often," Reid said.
Chinese police arrest 45 for 'spreading rumours' online after knife attack
Suspects are accused of deliberately creating panicked mood after attack, which left 33 people dead at Kunming train station
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 March 2014 17.03 GMT
Chinese police have arrested 45 people for "spreading rumours" online in the wake of Saturday's horrific knife attack at a Chinese train station.
The suspects have been arrested for "deliberately creating a panicked mood and disturbing social order, and will be dealt with according to the law and punished by public security", a branch of the country's public security bureau posted to its official microblog on Thursday, without providing further details.
The announcement underscores the sensitivity with which Chinese officials have handled the attack, which left at least 33 people dead and 144 wounded in the peaceful south-western city of Kunming. Witnesses said a handful of black-clad men and women hacked furiously at pedestrians with foot-long knives. State media reported that out of eight assailants, four were shot dead at the scene, and four have been captured.
China's official newswire Xinhua has called the attackers "separatists" from the ethnically riven north-west region Xinjiang. Although the region is frequently racked by violent clashes between its native Uighurs – a predominantly Muslim group numbering 8.4 million – and local police, such incidents beyond its borders are vanishingly rare.
Uighur groups abroad say the group has long chafed at Beijing's religious and cultural constraints. Beijing maintains that it grants Uighurs significant religious freedom, and blames the violence on interference from abroad.
At the National People's Congress, an important political conclave in Beijing, the region's top-ranked party official Zhang Chunxian blamed the internet – specifically VPNs, software that allows users to evade internet controls – for the surge in violence.
"90% of terrorism in Xinjiang comes from jumping the [firewall]," he told reporters after an open delegation meeting on Thursday afternoon. "Violence and terrorism continue to happen due to videos on the internet."
While Xinhua identified the attackers' ringleader as a man named Abdurehim Kurban, it has remained vague about their backgrounds and motivations. Officials have suggested that they wish to play down the attack's ethnic and religious dimensions, possibly to avoid fanning further unrest.
Rumours have proliferated to fill the information vacuum. Some conjecture about the attack – including photos of a black T-shirt ostensibly worn by one of the attackers – has been scrubbed from Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog.
On Monday, the Communist party mouthpiece People's Daily posted a graphic warning against spreading seven specific rumours. One claimed that authorities had arrested more Uighur "terrorists" at a provincial airport; another recounted a slashing spree by "three attackers with ethnic accents" at a music conservatory in nearby Sichuan province.
Xinjiang officials at Thursday's delegation meeting barely touched on the attacks, focusing instead on the region's economic development, education system and agriculture.
In fleeting remarks about the violence, Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur governor Nur Bekr said: "What I especially want to emphasise is that violent terrorists cannot represent any ethnicity, and they can't represent any religion … the people of Xinjiang strongly condemn any kind of terrorist behaviour or terrorist attack."
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:10 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar's Sodomy Acquittal Overturned
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 12:28
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had his acquittal for sodomy overturned Friday, in a fresh threat to the remarkable career of a charismatic politician who helped turn around the country's once-hapless opposition.
A Court of Appeals panel upheld a government bid challenging the 2012 ruling which acquitted him on charges he sodomized a male former aide, saying a lower court had misjudged evidence.
Anwar, 66, was sentenced to five years in jail, but freed pending appeal.
Once a rising star in Malaysia's long-ruling party until his spectacular ouster in the late 1990s, Anwar has alleged a long-running campaign by the ruling regime to destroy his political career with false charges.
He bitterly chastised the judges after the ruling.
"It is a travesty of justice. I would have thought you would have some courage," he said to the panel.
Friday's ruling sparked an uproar in a courtroom filled with Anwar's opposition colleagues and supporters, as his wife and three daughters burst into tears.
Dozens of Anwar supporters demonstrated outside the appeals court in the administrative capital of Putrajaya after the announcement, chanting "Reformasi" (Reform), as a heavy police presence ringed the building.
Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Anwar plans to appeal to the Federal Court, Malaysia's highest. If that fails, he would also be stripped of his parliament seat, effectively dumping him as leader of the opposition.
"All over again, after 15 years, they want to put me in the lockup and that is why they are rushing," Anwar said.
A charismatic campaigner and speaker, Anwar reached the pinnacle of the powerful United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysia's ruling party, in the 1990s.
As deputy prime minister, he was in line to take power but was felled in a 1998, power struggle with then-ruler Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar was ousted, beaten and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges widely viewed as trumped-up.
The stunning fall from grace was widely seen both at home and abroad as politically motivated and triggered massive protests in a country where dissent is suppressed.
He spent six years in prison until his 2004 release.
The latest charges were first brought by the government after Anwar united a disparate opposition and led it to what was then its best-ever showing in 2008 polls.
The opposition alliance did even better last year, shockingly winning the popular vote in general elections, though failing to gain control of parliament due to decades of gerrymandering by UMNO.
Anwar has called the drawn-out sodomy trial and subsequent appeal an attempt by a fearful ruling regime to halt the opposition's advance.
He was acquitted in January 2012, but the three-man appeals bench said the lower court failed to properly handle evidence.
"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics and the government was prepared to do whatever it took to make that happen," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has previously denied such allegations.
The ruling triggered condemnation on social media by supporters of Anwar's party, many of whom called for street protests.
The timing of the long-delayed appeal decision has raised eyebrows, coming just as Anwar plans to contest a by-election in the key central state of Selangor surrounding the capital on March 23.
He was expected to win and subsequently be made boss of the state, Malaysia's richest, in a bid to further boost his and the opposition's clout.
But the conviction disqualifies him from contesting.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:07 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Pakistan Ready for Military Operation if Taliban Talks Fail
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 13:33
Pakistan's defense minister said Friday the government was committed to bringing peace through dialogue with the Taliban but warned a military operation could be launched if talks failed.
The government announced on Thursday it was setting up a new committee to hold direct talks with the Taliban in a bid to accelerate the peace process.
Dialogue aimed at ending the Islamists' seven-year insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives, resumed on Wednesday following a two-week suspension after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
Continued militant violence, including a gun and suicide attack on an Islamabad court complex that killed 11 on Monday, has threatened to derail the process.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied that attack, insisting the ceasefire it announced last weekend still held, and defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said dialogue remained the government's preferred option.
"Talks are top priority even today to bring peace in the country," he said on Geo television news channel.
"But if there is no advancement in talks and they fail to fulfil the objective, we can go for a military operation."
The peace talks, which began in February, were a key campaign pledge for Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
But many analysts are skeptical about their chances for success, given the Taliban's demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
More than 110 people have been killed in militant violence since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named a team for talks in late January.
The announcement came at a time when many had been expecting a full military offensive in North Waziristan, the tribal area that is a stronghold for militants.
The U.S. has long pushed Pakistan to do more to eradicate militant sanctuaries in its seven tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
Asif warned that the government would launch a military operation if there was no let up in the violence.
"We want to give space to the dialogue process. Our aim is peace and not the bloodshed," he said.
"But there is violation (of ceasefire) from the other side. If they prolong the talks and the (militant) activities continue alongside, we will have no other option."
Many regional deals between the military and the Taliban have failed in the past.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:06 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Iran Says Expert Nuclear Talks with World Powers 'Useful'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 March 2014, 11:37
An Iranian negotiator said Friday that expert-level nuclear talks with world powers this week have been "useful," as the two sides pursue a final accord on Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
"All the involved parties view the sessions as useful," Hamid Baeedinejad, who heads the Iranian delegation of experts, told the official IRNA news agency, adding that the negotiations are "serious and substantive."
Experts from Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany -- have been holding closed-door technical talks in Vienna since Wednesday.
Baeedinejad had said earlier that the talks, due to wrap up Friday, would focus on advanced centrifuges and the unfinished Arak heavy water reactor.
Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran is covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian program, charges denied by Tehran.
The unfinished Arak reactor is of concern to the West because Tehran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from its spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility, giving it a second possible route to a nuclear bomb.
A landmark interim deal reached last year requires that Iran freeze or curb its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for some sanctions relief while the two sides try to reach a comprehensive agreement.
Negotiators hope to reach a final accord by July 20, when the interim agreement is due to expire.
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:04 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Turkey may ban Facebook and YouTube if Erdoğan wins elections
Prime minister blames political enemies for abusing social network sites with stream of fabricated internet postings
Reuters in Istanbul
theguardian.com, Friday 7 March 2014 09.32 GMT
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Facebook and YouTube could be banned following local elections in March after leaked tapes of an alleged phone call between him and his son went viral, prompting calls for his resignation.
Erdoğan claims social media sites have been abused by his political enemies, in particular his former ally US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who, he says, is behind a stream of "fabricated" audio recordings posted on the internet purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle.
"We are determined on this subject. We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook," Erdoğan said in an interview late on Thursday with the Turkish broadcaster ATV. "We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way."
Asked if the possible barring of these sites was included in planned measures, he said: "Included."
Erdoğan says the release of his purported conversations is part of a campaign to discredit him and wreck his government, which has presided over more than a decade of strong economic growth and rising living standards in Turkey.
Gülen denies any involvement in the recordings and rejects allegations that he is using a network of proteges to try to influence politics in Turkey.
Five more recordings have appeared on YouTube this week, part of what Erdoğan sees as a campaign to sully his ruling centre-right AK Party before the 30 March municipal elections and a presidential poll due later this year.
In the latest recording, released on YouTube late on Thursday, Erdoğan is purportedly heard suggesting the proprietor of Milliyet newspaper sack two journalists responsible for a front-page story about Kurdish peace talk efforts.
Erdoğan has signalled that a criminal investigation could be launched against Gülen's Hizmet movement.
Asked on Thursday night whether Turkey could seek an Interpol red notice for the extradition of Gülen from the US, Erdoğan said: "Why not?"
on: Mar 07, 2014, 07:02 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
03/05/2014 05:02 PM
Right-Wing Extremism: Germany's New Islamophobia Boom
By SPIEGEL Staff
Across Germany, right-wing organizations are using anti-Islam rhetoric to further their ideas -- and finding a receptive audience. Now legal experts are debating whether it's time for a new kind of hate-crime legislation.
Stachus is one of Munich's nicest squares. It is rich in tradition and filled with pedestrians -- and perfect for Michael Stürzenberger's purposes. Hand balled into a fist, he paces back and forth and screams, "The Koran is the most dangerous book in the world." Because a couple dozen people have come to demonstrate against Stürzenberger, police officers in bullet-proof vests are watching over the area.
A decade ago, Stürzenberger, 49, was the spokesperson for the Munich office of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. But since 2012 he has been active in a splinter party called Die Freiheit ("The Freedom"), of which he was elected federal chairman three months ago. He preaches hate against Islam and compares the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf." For two years now, he's been collecting signatures opposing the planned construction of an Islamic center in Munich. He has already held over one hundred anti-Islam rallies.
The Freiheit leader isn't alone. Several supporters, have joined him on Stachus, some carrying signs such as "No mosque on Stachus," or "Stop the enemies of democracy." Stürzenberger screams that Sharia instructs men to hit women. His voice cracks. "We don't want that in Bavaria!" A retiree asks where he can sign "against Islam."
For most Munich residents, Stürzenberger's verbal assaults are an embarrassment. CSU city councilwoman Marian Hoffman compares his incitements to the "droning speeches of the Nazis." The city government of Mayor Christian Ude, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, is worried about possible conflict during the upcoming local elections. Munich, he says, has become the focus of "experimentation" by radical anti-Islamists with the right-wing populists from Die Freiheit testing whether or not their attacks on the Muslim minority have majority appeal. If Stürzenberger gathers enough signatures for a citizens' initiative against the mosque, it would send a signal across Bavaria and beyond that Muslims are not welcome.
Growing Anti-Islam Movement
There have been plenty of movements such as Stürzenberger's in Germany in recent years. They generally begin in response to the construction of a mosque: Reluctance turns into resistance, then hate and violence. Over the last two years, there have been arson attacks against Muslim prayer houses in Berlin, Hanau and Hannover. Politically Incorrect, the most prominent German-speaking anti-Islam website, has up to 120,000 visitors per day.
In addition to Die Freiheit, radical anti-Islamists have founded the political party Pro Deutschland ("Pro Germany") and the citizens' movement Pax Europa. They are currently attempting to gain influence over the euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) -- the former federal chairman of Die Freiheit has called for his followers to support the AfD in this May's European elections.
According to a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 56 percent of Germans consider Islam to be an "archaic religion, incapable of fitting into modern life" and many believe religious freedom for Muslims should be "substantially restricted."
There are several potential explanations for the rising skepticism of Islam in Germany. For one, many third-generation Muslim immigrants are living more strictly than their parents did, making them more conspicuous. Also, in some neighborhoods in large German cities, Muslim girls are afraid of going outside without wearing a headscarf. There have also been several reports in the German media recently of ethnic-German men converting to Islam, radicalizing and going to Pakistan for terror training. Just this past week, the Minister of the Interior warned that a total of 300 German Jihadists have left Germany to fight in Syria.
Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, sees a "correlation" between the activities of the radical Salafists and far-right agitation.
There are about four million Muslims in Germany, almost half of which have a German passport. The BfV estimates that about 42,000 (or 1 percent) of them are fundamentalists and 1,000 are potentially violent.
Anti-Islamists generally don't differentiate between Sunnis, Shiites and Alevi, or between militant Islamists and peaceful believers. In their imagination, Islam isn't a religion but a political ideology that must be fought. Muslims are accused of trying to take over the world, undermining the sovereignty of democratic states, infiltrating their legal systems. The Politically Incorrect internet platform reads: "The spread of Islam means that our descendants -- and probably us too -- will live in an Islam-dominated social order oriented towards the Sharia and the Koran and no longer towards the constitution and human rights."
The website of the "Nürnberg 2.0" project shows wanted posters of supposed Muslim supporters -- judges, journalists, politicians -- who are to be brought to justice for the "Islamification of Germany" in the vein of "the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1945."
In the summer of 2013, a video by a self-described "Anti Islam Faction" made the rounds via Politically Incorrect. It showed a Koran being burned on a tree stump followed by the appearance of three men in aluminum foil masks who then burn another Koran and address Muslims in a distorted voice: "You are the most fascist and hate-filled religion in existence." Then the video shows images of decapitations, blood-smeared fanatics, mutilated women's bodies and faces that have been eaten away. It ends with the words: "Don't give Islam a chance!" The Munich State Prosecutor has begun proceedings against the video's creators.
Politically Incorrect (PI for short) was founded by Stefan Herre, a teacher from Cologne. Herre's influence stretches beyond the Internet: He's acquainted with right-wing populists like the Geert Wilders in Holland and Islamophobes such as the American pastor Terry Jones. Local PI groups have formed in many German cities, as well as in Austria and Switzerland; the Munich PI branch is being monitored by Bavarian state intelligence officials.
When Matthias Rohe, a Bavarian Islam scholar who argues for a more nuanced understanding of the religion, gives a talk, he is often booed and insulted by anti-Islamists. One PI comment reads: "In the future, people attending Mr. Rohe's speeches should make sure to bring the appropriate equipment: a mop and a bucket, a camera, a nice big cross … and a nice sharp knife."
In mid-November, the Leipzig fire department was called to the property of the Muslim Ahmadiyya congregation, where a garbage can was on fire. Next to it, emergency responders found five bloody pig heads impaled on wooden stakes. The floor had been covered with a blood-red liquid. The police suspects radical right-wingers were responsible.
The Ahmadiyya congregation is planning a mosque with two decorative minarets and prayer rooms for about one-hundred worshippers in the Gohlis quarter of Leipzig. Two weeks before the attack, the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) had held a demonstration. By the end of last week, over 10,000 citizens had signed a petition called "Gohlis Says No!". A CDU politician was instrumental in launching the signature drive; organizers insist that a mosque would "destroy" the quarter's character.
Increased Visibility Spurring Hate
There's no doubt that Islam has become more visible in Germany in recent years. Muslims now have risen to higher positions in politics and the economy. Mosques are no longer just being built in industrial areas on the edges of cities, but, as in Leipzig, downtown. But according to Yasemin Shooman from the Academy of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, this continuing Muslim integration is, paradoxically, one of the reasons anti-Muslim prejudice has become stronger.
The NPD has recognized how to transform skepticism and hatred of Islam into political capital. In their party newspaper, Deutsche Stimme ("German Voice"), an article describes how anti-Muslim campaigns can be used to "open doors for much broader anti-immigration sentiments": "The Muslims -- with their foreign origins, customs and religiosity -- create unease, fear and resistance among most Germans. The NPD is therefore well-advised from an electoral tactical perspective to focus the immigrant question on the Muslim question and to offer up Muslims as a space on which to project everything the average German doesn't like about immigrants."
Maren Brandenburger, the head of the Lower-Saxony intelligence service, confirms that neo-Nazis are increasingly stirring up hatred against Muslims, a phenomenon she sees as a "strategic reorientation of organized right-wing extremism." Anti-Islamic sentiment now comes in the guise of the average German man or woman.
'Let That Melt in Your Mouth'
In the civic center of Bonn-Bad Godesberg, about 50 older men and women are listening to a talk by Marie-Luise Hoffmann-Polzoni, the chairperson of the Womenforfreedom association. Her subject: "Sharia vs. Human Rights." On a table there are German books with titles like "The Jihad System" and "Endangered Freedom." On the wall there's a photo of a man whose back is covered in cuts, supposedly having been flogged because he converted from Islam to Christianity.
Hoffmann-Polzoni wears a black frilled dress and speaks with a tempered voice. The vision of Islam she paints is a grim one: stonings, crucifixions and decapitations are expected by Muslims as penalties for purported crimes like adultery. "Just imagine that," she whispers.
Anti-Muslim speech has found its way into the center of society, stoked by politicians like Hans-Jürgen Irmer, the deputy floor leader for the CDU in Hesse. He warned state parliament that "Islam is set on global domination," and that "we don't need more Muslims, we need fewer." Muslim groups, he said, could not be trusted -- because deceiving non-Muslims is a central part of Islam.
Merely the expression of an opinion? From a legal standpoint, Islam can be criticized just as harshly as Christianity in Germany, says Maassen. In the case of Politically Incorrect, authorities are unsure whether to consider it a digital platform or an organization with leaders. Monitoring a blog for its opinions is considered legally questionable. Intelligence officials speak of a "gray area."
Solution: American-Style Hate-Crimes Laws?
But perhaps gray areas can be eliminated. Last Tuesday, the anti-racism commission of the Council of Europe rebuked the German government for not following through on an initiative to include a provision in the penal code that "makes racist motivations an aggravating factor" in crimes. Countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are further along on this path: They have laws against so-called hate crimes largely to protect immigrants.
Ender Çetin, 37, is a victim of hate and racism. The head of Berlin's Sehitlik Mosque Association has been attacked several times in the past three years. In addition, there have been four arson attacks against the mosque, balloons filled with paint were flung against the walls, tombstones were covered in swastikas and, one time, there was a pig's head in front of the door. In April, Cetin received a letter: If he doesn't immediately leave Germany, he will be shot.
Çetin asked for police protection, but the authorities played down the issue. Many members of his congregation are afraid, he says, particularly after murder spree undertaken by the neo-Nazi trio NSU. Now he has installed security cameras, paid for with private donations, at the entrance of the mosque.
BY HUBERT GUDE, MAXIMILIAN POPP, JÖRG SCHINDLER and FIDELIUS SCHMID
03/06/2014 03:47 PM
Going Bats: German Reunification Memorials Hit the Wall
By Stefan Berg and Steffen Winter
Two monuments to East Germany's peaceful revolution of 1989 were supposed to be unveiled in time for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this autumn. But due to a raft of obstacles, from roosting bats to technical challenges, neither project will be ready on time.
The air feels damp and cold, and it smells a little musty. But the way Ulrike Jacobi's eyes are shining at the sight of walls over four meters (13 feet) thick and thousands of wooden stakes, you'd think she was in Shangri-la.
"Quite a work of art," gushes project leader Jacobi, from the German Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning. Then she leads the way into another undergound vault and points out a hole in the wall. "Bats fly through there," she says into the darkness, explaining that these chambers are known as "nursery roosts" because they provide a quiet refuge from male bats for roosting females.
Right now, those bats -- and their home in central Berlin -- are a major topic of conversation in Monika Grütters' office on the eighth floor of the Chancellery. The new government commissioner for culture and the media, Grütters has realized to her dismay that they're impeding one of the main projects she'll be overseeing during her years in office: The site where they've taken up residence, once occupied by a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm, is now earmarked for Germany's new monument to freedom and unity, a memorial to the country's 1990 reunification.
The 25th anniversary the fall of the Berlin Wall is approaching this autumn, and the anniversary is set to be marked by the unveiling of two major memorials in central Leipzig and Berlin. But their ceremonial inauguration is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future -- there are just too many problems with the schedules and the budgets of both. Indeed, the Leipzig project is hanging in the balance.
Experts at the Chancellery and at the agencies responsible for oversight recently referred to the "rising costs" of the Berlin project and the unpredictable outcomes of applications for various permits. Construction is proving "extremely difficult," says Grütters.
Germany's parliament voted to erect the two memorials in 2007 and 2008. But so far, both still only exist on paper. In Leipzig, the only evidence of the plan are a few signposts dotted around a vacant lot on the edges of central Leipzig. The design by Munich architects Marc Weiss and Martin de Mattia, which won an international competition in July 2012, envisions 70,000 blocks in seven different colors forming a vast quilt -- representing the 70,000 demonstrators who participated in the first mass protests against the East German leadership on October 8, 1989.
But the very people who overcame their fears to take to the streets 25 years ago and vent their anger -- aware that the police or the army could launch a bloody crackdown at any time -- are unimpressed by the design.
"It does not in any way acknowledge the courage of the people who took part in those peaceful demonstrations," wrote one user in an online forum that city of Leipzig set up in response to the outcry. Should the winning design ever come to fruition, wrote another user, "it would have to be seen as an invitation to tourists from all over the world to come here and trample, literally, all over the memory of the brave people of Leipzig in 1989!"
A Means to an End
Many activists feel even the choice of the site is offensive. The memorial will be constructed on Wilhelm Leuschner Platz, a run-down square that played no role in the historic demonstrations in 1989. Many harbor the suspicion that the city of Leipzig is using the €5 million in federal money allotted to the project to revitalize a neglected part of town. The memorial is simply a means to an end.
City officials eventually bowed to the public pressure, to some extent at least, and allowed the competition entries to be reworked in what proved to be a highly controversial move. As a result, the design that had originally placed third was bumped up to first place. But after the higher regional court in Dresden ruled against the process, the colorful carpet could still have a chance.
But will this monument to civil courage be erected against the will of the people? Heading up the whole project is Burkhard Jung, Leipzig's mayor. He's in a quandary. Influential regional politicians such as Michael Kretschmer, general secretary Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in the state of Saxony, are eager to see the winning design carried out, as is the Chancellery, which is bankrolling it. "History will show if the people like the monument or not!" says Kretschmer.
But former Leipzig Mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee, a Social Democrat, not only objects to the carpet design, he also disapproves of the entries that came second and third. "What we need is a monument that even outsiders can grasp," he argues. "It must be able to speak for itself." He has therefore called for a brand new competition as well as a veto right for the people of Leipzig. He's hoping to get a chance to discuss the matter personally with Monika Grütters.
Were his demands to be heard, the city would have to pay back the €500,000 to €600,000 it has spent on planning and on the design competition so far. The architects behind the top three entries might also end up demanding compensation, all of which would spell the end of the whole project and wreak the worst possible political damage -- as Grütter's predecessor Bernd Neumann told Leipzig's mayor last year.
In Berlin, meanwhile, there might be less protest, but the project on the government's own doorstep is severely hampered by technical challenges. The design in the capital envisages a 50-meter-long bowl-like construction that will seesaw when visitors climb onto it, the idea being that this will represent the "citizens in motion." Initiator Günter Nooke has described it as a "joyous monument" located "in the front row of German history."
But the response has been tepid. The vast construction is fraught with practical problems that threaten to spiral out of control. For now, the "budgetary framework" is being fleshed out and a permit for the project has yet to be issued. Blame cannot be exclusively assigned to the bats, whose tenacity has earned them the right to species-appropriate relocation. The authorities in charge have some tricky structural questions to answer: how can the monument be made accessible to people with disabilities? How can its surface be weather-proofed to withstand the cold Berlin winter?
Offices for historical preservation are also weighing into the debate. As it happens, intact historical mosaics have been uncovered on the site set to house the new monument. Kaiser Wilhelm might have looked good next to them, but they hardly match the monument to freedom and unity. A compromise will therefore need to be hammered out between the conservation experts and Milla & Partner, the team that won the competition. And they're already riled by the way the Chancellery is interfering with their project.
A number of slogans from the heady days of autumn 1989 were to be inscribed on the outside of the bowl, reflecting the dreams of the peaceful protestors, from "visa-free vacations in Hawaii" to "send the Stasi down the mines." But Grütters' predecessor Neumann, who grew up in Bremen, thought this was going a bit overboard. Who would get to choose which slogans made the cut? A committee of historians -- or former grassroots activists?
He suggested inscribing the bowl with the words "unity and justice and freedom" from the German national anthem instead, and secured the blessing of various members of the Bundestag. Grassroots activists are unlikely to appreciate his revision. So far, there has been no debate about the reference to the national anthem and Neumann's proposal remains classified.
Should the Berlin monument ever get the go-ahead, plenty additional challenges lie ahead. The costs of regular maintenance as well as round-the-clock security are expected to amount to some €130,000 a year. But who exactly will foot the bill?
The Chancellery is willing to fund the immediate costs of the undertaking, but argues that since the plinth of the damaged Kaiser memorial and the site itself belong to the city of Berlin, the local government should pay for the upkeep. None too happy about this arrangement, Berlin has generously offered the federal government the chance to take over the site.
In the meantime, the restoration work is forging ahead. Project leader Ulrike Jacobi is proud of the various finds the excavations have turned up, now stored under a tarpaulin -- including parts of the original monument found by divers scouring the floor of a trench for old munitions.
Work like this always has a few surprises in store, says Jacobi. She's worried by what vast supports will do to her lovely vault when they're installed to secure the new monument, assuming it's ever built.
And the deadlines? Back in the fresh air, Jacobi takes a deep breath, and says nothing.
Translated from the German by Jane Paulick