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 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:15 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Ebola ‘may have reached turning point’

Dr Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust says international community is belatedly taking actions necessary to stem tide of disease

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 17.17 GMT   
The Ebola epidemic in west Africa may have reached a turning point, according to the director of the Wellcome Trust, which is funding an unprecedented series of fast-tracked trials of vaccines and drugs against the disease.

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Data appears to show that the number of burials and lab tests requested for the virus are down and the numbers of empty beds in treatment centres are up - there have been reports of as many as a hundred. Aylward said huge efforts to educate and inform the community on the risks of Ebola and how to avoid infection and bringing in safe burial practices may have made the difference.

But infections could shoot up again, as they did in Guinea. “The danger is that instead of a trend that takes us down to zero, we end up with an oscillating pattern,” he said. Getting to zero will involve grindingly hard work, identifying every Ebola case and tracing all the contacts. Without that effort, Ebola will remain at a lower but still dangerous level.

There have now been 13,703 cases, said Aylward, and he expected there would have been over 5,000 officially recorded deaths, although that number is not yet confirmed. Many cases and deaths are unrecorded. The death rate is 70%, although slightly better in treatment centres.

The Wellcome Trust announced it was funding the first human trials of a third vaccine, to start imminently, so that it can be tested in health workers and burial teams in west Africa in December, alongside two others.

The vaccine, called rVSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. So far it has been tested only in monkeys, but in the hope it could prove effective, 800 vials have been donated by the Canadian government. The safety trials – in which people at no risk of catching Ebola are vaccinated to ensure there are no serious side-effects – will start in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya. The Wellcome Trust is donating £3.1m to enable the collection of safety data, overseen by the World Health Organisation.

The Wellcome Trust’s experts describe the VSV vaccine candidate as one of the most promising. There are two others that are more advanced in clinical trials - one made by the British pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline and the other by Johnson & Johnson in the US. Both will move into trials in west Africa in December.

Farrar says the grounds for hope rest on three developments. “The first advance has been a step change in urgency from the rich world, which is finally starting to commit resources and people on the scale required,” he says. The EU has now nearly doubled its funding to €1bn (£790m) and large UK and US investments “mean that money should no longer be a barrier”. The WHO, initially so slow to respond, is now showing leadership.

“Finally and potentially most significantly, vaccine development has changed up a gear,” Farrar says. A safe and effective vaccine could transform the situation.

But he concludes that the huge effort must continue.

“The pressure must not let up. The constructive diplomacy of recent days has not saved a single life, nor protected anybody from infection. The epidemic’s exponential curve means it will get worse before it gets better. We have not yet begun to control Ebola, and the new interventions could yet fail. But if the world lives up to its promises, the past week may come to be seen as the turning point.”


Third possible Ebola vaccine to be sped through human safety trials

Vaccine has so far been tested only in monkeys, but human trials set to start in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 15.41 GMT   

A third potential Ebola vaccine could be tested on healthworkers in west Africa in December following the announcement of funding to speed it through its first-ever human safety trials.

The vaccine, called rVSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. So far it has been tested only in monkeys, but in the hope that it could prove effective, 800 vials have been donated by the Canadian government. The safety trials – in which people at no risk of catching Ebola are vaccinated to ensure there are no serious side-effects – will start imminently in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya.

The Wellcome Trust is donating £3.1m to enable the collection of safety data, overseen by the World Health Organisation.

“Several crucial pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place in terms of the global leadership and action required to turn this epidemic around,” said Prof Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust. “Communities in west Africa continue to suffer from the crisis with remarkable fortitude and finally the rich world has committed significant finance and resources to support critical public health measures, and progress in the search for treatments is encouraging.

“Now, accelerated vaccine development is being properly prioritised too, so we have the best possible chance of a safe and effective vaccine in time to transform our prospects of containing Ebola.”

The Wellcome Trust’s experts describe the VSV vaccine candidate as one of the most promising. There are two others that are more advanced in clinical trials – one made by the British pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline and the other by Johnson & Johnson in the US. Both will move into trials in west Africa, probably in health workers and burial teams, in December.

The Canadian vaccine uses a weakened form of live vesicular stomatitis virus, a pathogen found in livestock that has been used in other vaccines and elicits a strong response from the body’s immune system. It will have been modified so that the gene for the outer protein of VSV is replaced with a segment of the gene for the outer protein of the Zaire Ebola virus species.

Although it is expected to produce a good immune response against the Ebola virus, there are questions over the possible side-effects, which could include fever – one of the earliest symptoms of Ebola and also malaria.

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Israel’s closure of Al-Aqsa mosque a ‘declaration of war,’ Palestinian president says

Agence France-Presse
30 Oct 2014 at 06:34 ET                   

Israel’s closure of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors following the shooting of a Jewish hardliner is tantamount to a “declaration of war,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Thursday.

“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque this morning,” he told AFP.

The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the most sacred spot for Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.

Although non-Muslims can visit the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could disturb the fragile status quo.

“This decision is a dangerous act and a blatant challenge that will lead to more tension and instability and will create a negative and dangerous atmosphere,” he said.

“The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks.”

Israel ordered the compound closed to all visitors, both Jewish and Muslim, early on Thursday after an overnight shooting incident in which a man on a motorbike tried to gun down an ultranationalist Jewish activist who has long worked to secure Jewish prayer rights at the Al-Aqsa plaza.

Several hours later, police stormed the house of the suspected Palestinian gunman, sparking a gunfight in which he was killed.

Arab east Jerusalem, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized internationally, has been wracked by violence since early July, with clashes erupting between stone throwers and police on an almost daily basis.

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

UAE's leading role against Isis reveals its wider ambitions

Emiratis, who have played a role in US-led attacks on Islamic State, are increasingly assertive in fightback against jihadism

Ian Black in Abu Dhabi
The Guardian, Thursday 30 October 2014   

Major Mariam al-Mansouri, a female pilot with the UAE air force, played the starring role in a publicity stunt last month when she was photographed in the cockpit of the F16 fighter she had flown in the first wave of US-led attacks on targets of the Islamic State in Syria (Isis).

Thumbs up and beaming for the camera, it was a striking image that combined empowered Muslim women, the Arab fightback against jihadi extremism – and the pride of the small but wealthy Gulf state that is flaunting a new-found assertiveness and promoting its political agenda in a region in profound turmoil.

Operating from the al-Dhafrah airbase in the desert south of Abu Dhabi, Mansouri and other Emirati pilots have flown more combat sorties than any of the other four Arab participants in Barack Obama’s campaign to destroy Isis. Precise figures remain secret and the communiques issued by US central command, which initially mentioned individual contributions by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, now only refer collectively to “partner nations” in Operation Inherent Resolve. Diplomats also hint that only a handful of Arab aircraft are involved and that the number of missions is already declining. The symbolism, in any event, probably counts for far more than any military impact.

Still, the UAE’s leading role in the war on Isis is of a piece with its wider ambitions in a Middle East transformed by the Arab spring. Egypt has been weakened by turmoil since the overthrow first of Hosni Mubarak and then of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. Turkey is disliked by conservatives for backing Islamists, while Syria and Iraq are ravaged by bloodshed and sectarianism. Saudi Arabia, the autocratic Sunni giant of the Gulf, is slow, cautious and led by ageing royals.

The Emiratis, by contrast, are dynamic, confident and unapologetic – adding plans to send an unmanned space probe to Mars to accomplishments that include the world’s tallest building and largest indoor ski resort. “Now they are sticking their heads above the parapet,” said a western diplomat. “They are highlighting their successful model and they want to counter the Muslim Brotherhood line that the Islamists are the solution.”

Emiratis have deftly woven themselves into the fabric of US defence strategy. UAE forces serve in Afghanistan – the only Arab state to do so. But they operate independently too. In August UAE aircraft based in Egypt bombed Islamist targets in Libya – though the operation was never officially avowed, a practice borrowed from the Israelis (with whom they are said to maintain discreet contact). Its F-16E/F Desert Falcons are even more advanced than those in service with the US – in part because the UAE invested millions in R&D. It wins praise from American officials who note the recent introduction of conscription and have nicknamed it the “Sparta” of the Gulf – a catchy if reductionist label.

“Whether one agrees with it or not, the UAE’s policy is the most coherent of all the Gulf states,” argues Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “This small country has gained a seat at the table by developing serious military capabilities. Compared to others in the Gulf, there is unity of purpose and effort in the Emirati national security system. It helps that the big domestic issues, notably succession, have been sorted out.”

Fighting Islamists at home and abroad – and thus supporting fellow autocrats – is the centrepiece of the official Emirati world view as laid down by Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince, and articulated by Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs. “Instead of being moderated through engagement, so-called moderate Islamists are increasingly being drafted into the ranks of radical groups,” Gargash declared at the inaugural session of the recent Abu Dhabi Strategic Dialogue – an event that attested to the country’s agenda-setting ambition.

The UAE, the UK’s second biggest trading partner in the Arab world, was instrumental in persuading the British government to conduct a controversial review of Brotherhood activities – apparently hoping it would lead to proscription.

Emirati opinion-formers sing the same tune on this issue – dismissing the argument that outlawing Islamists who embrace parliamentary democracy and shun violence risks leaving a vacuum that will be filled by jihadis such as al-Qaida and Isis. “It is true that the Brotherhood is not the same as Isis,” concedes Mohamed al-Otaibi, editor of the National, Abu Dhabi’s government-owned English language daily. ”But the concern is that if the MB came to power you would get a larger Isis element. And in the end the MB does not deliver. People in the UAE are happy with the way things are.”

Emirati citizens – officially 18% of the country’s total population – enjoy the fruits of high economic growth, free education, generous scholarships and health care. Sheikhs can be petitioned and a federal national council has limited powers. But political parties are banned. The Brotherhood was purged in the 1990s and the conviction of 69 Islamists and others on charges of seeking to overthrow the government was criticised harshly by human rights groups, though not by western allies. Social media is closely monitored and dissidents are routinely detained. Treatment of migrant labour attracts regular censure from NGOs.

The UAE’s assertiveness, suggests Mishaal Gergawi, who runs the Delma Institute thinktank from high up in one of Abu Dhabi’s many glittering towers, is driven by its new-found capacity to participate in global as well as regional affairs. The other factor is its no-holds-barred competition with Qatar – the maverick neighbour that has done so much to champion the Brotherhood. Both countries helped rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in 2011, but Qatar backed Islamist militias while the Emiratis supported rival nationalists. The mysterious air strikes on Tripoli in August took their hostility to a new level.

Emirati involvement in Egypt has also been driven by rivalry with Qatar, whose al-Jazeera TV became an outspoken cheerleader for Morsi and the Brotherhood and continues to highlight the crackdown by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – who is lionised in Abu Dhabi. UAE media and PR firms focus intensely on exposing and countering Doha’s influence. The ugly diplomatic row that turned the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council against Qatar has cooled, but it is far from over.

With the Saudis, the Emiratis have given billions of dollars to bail out the Egyptian economy and promote reforms.

“Jobs and growth are the most effective safeguards against radical ideologies and sectarian hatred,” said Gargash. Gergawi goes further: “If the UAE succeeds in turning Egypt around the multiplier effect will be enormous,” he said. “It’s THE bet. We’re going all in.”

Aversion to Islamism in all forms has meant that UAE policies towards the war in Syria have differed from those of its neighbours. The Qataris and Saudis, individuals and governments, both spent vast amounts funding Islamist groups, some of which morphed into Isis over time. The Emiratis want Bashar al-Assad to go – but not at any price; they have backed only moderate opposition fighters approved by the US and other western countries.

Emiratis are more trusting of the US than the Saudis. But an undercurrent of concern about Obama’s determination, the limitations of his strategy, the risk of a Sunni backlash and his bid for US rapprochement with Iran is clearly audible – even as Mansouri and her fellow pilots are bombing the jihadis.

“You look at the Americans and you do wonder what they are going to do next,” said Gergawi. “Two hundred thousand people have already been killed in Syria and then four westerners are beheaded and they start to fight Isis. The difference between Bashar and Isis is that he doesn’t upload YouTube videos. It’s incredibly upsetting for the UAE to have to attack Arabs. It’s a little bit challenging. But what else are we going to do?”

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Tunisia election results: Nida Tunis wins most seats, sidelining Islamists

Secularists rule out unity government with Ennahda party after winning 85 seats and the right to form government

Associated Press, Thursday 30 October 2014 05.51 GMT      

A liberal party with ties to the deposed regime has taken the most seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections, leaving the once-dominant Islamists running a close second, the country’s election commission has announced after the completion of final counting.

The Nida Tunis (Tunis Calls) party, running on an explicitly anti-Islamist platform, won 85 of the 217 seats in parliament, giving it the right to name a prime minister and lead a coalition government.

The Ennahda party, which had previously dominated the parliament on a platform of moderate Islamism, won 69 seats.

Since overthrowing its dictator in 2011 and kicking off the Arab Spring pro-democracy wave Tunisia has been buffeted by economic turmoil and terrorist attacks.

Analysts described Sunday’s election as a referendum on the Islamist-led coalition’s stormy two years in office and punishment for a poor economic performance and unfulfilled expectations of the revolution.

Nida Tunis is led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran politician who previously served as foreign minister in the 1980s and parliament speaker in the early 1990s under later deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The party, which includes businessmen, trade unionists and politicians from the old regime, has all but ruled out forming a coalition with the Islamists, describing it as “against their nature”, and will turn to a collection of smaller parties to garner the necessary 109-seat majority.

Running a distant third was the Free Patriotic Union of Slim Rihai, a millionaire football club owner and political neophyte, with 16 seats.

In fourth place came the leftwing coalition of parties known as the Popular Front, which had two of its members assassinated by extremists in 2013.

The liberal Afek Tounes came in fifth place with eight seats. The remaining 24 seats were split among another dozen small parties.

Election Commission head Chafik Sarsar said Nida Tunis lost one seat in the southern city of Kasserine following reports of widespread election violations by its partisans in that city.

Tunisia’s transition to democracy has remained broadly on track while Libya and Syria have descended into civil war and Egypt’s military overthrew the elected post-revolution president.

Despite three years of political wrangling, economic turmoil and a rising number of terrorist attacks, Tunisian politicians from different parties managed to work together to pass a new constitution and hold elections for a permanent government.


The Tunisian election result isn’t simply a victory for secularism over Islamism

The battle between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda is more complex than enlightened secularists versus backwards Islamists

Monica Marks, Wednesday 29 October 2014 11.27 GMT   

A self-styled, secular, modernist party called Nidaa Tounes won against the Islamist Ennahda party in the Tunisian election this week. For many, the subsequent headline – “Secularist party wins Tunisia elections” – will seem more impressive than the fact Tunisia just completed its second genuinely competitive, peaceful elections since 2011.

Indeed, in a region wracked by extremism and civil war, the secularists’ victory will strike many as further proof that Tunisia is moving forward and is the sole bright spot in a gloomy region. Some may prematurely celebrate, yet again, the death of political Islam, arguing that Tunisians achieved through the ballot box what Egyptians achieved through a popular coup, rejecting the Brotherhood and its cousin-like movements once and for all. We should exercise caution, however, in labelling Nidaa Tounes’s victory part of a seamless sweep of democratic achievements, or seeing Sunday’s vote as a clear referendum against all varieties of political Islam.

Despite feeling kinship with the party because of its secular label, westerners understand surprisingly little about Nidaa Tounes, mainly because they’ve tended to hold the magnifying glass of critical inquiry up to Islamists but not secularists over the past three years. Counter-intuitively, Nidaa Tounes’s internal structure is noticeably more authoritarian than Ennahda, which boasts representative decision-making structures from its grassroots to national leadership.

Nidaa Tounes, founded in mid-2012 by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran of both the Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes, is described, even by members of its executive bureau, as a patchwork of political tendencies – an electoral front comprised primarily of leftists and individuals associated with Ben Ali’s now-dismembered RCD party and organised around its one charismatic leader, Beji Caid Essebsi. Parties are united almost exclusively by opposition to Ennahda, which they caricature as retrogressive, uncultured and uncompromising.

Leftist fears that the RCDists would be over-represented in internal elections prevented Nidaa Tounes from holding a party congress. Instead the party has made key decisions – including nominating Essebsi as presidential candidate and selecting its parliamentary lists – in a top-down fashion, prompting a series of resignations this summer. Party insiders have also raised concern about the prominent role of Essebi’s son, Hafedh, and say Nidaa Tounes might unravel if Essebsi either fails to be elected in the 26 November presidential vote or dies while Nidaa is in power. Such concerns raise important questions about the party’s sustainability and whether it will be able to overcome its own lack of internal democracy to consolidate Tunisia’s newborn democratic structures.

Critics of Nidaa Tounes fear the party may resurrect Tunisia’s traditional model of one-man paternalistic politics along with Ben Ali-era security practices, potentially ostracising Islamists and anti-RCD activists from political life under the banner of combatting terrorism. Such prospects particularly concern Ennahda activists, an estimated 30,000 of whom endured politically motivated detention and abuses including torture during the early 1990s. Already, under the technocratic government of the current prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, more than 155 non-governmental organisations were arbitrarily closed this summer and youths, some of whom identify as Salafists, have complained of arbitrary police round-ups justified by reference to the terrorist threat, which Tunisian media emphasises ceaselessly. Some Ennahda members, who decried their leadership’s opposition to a law that would have excluded ex-RCD figures, including Essebsi himself from competing in elections, now fear Essebsi’s predicted presidential victory could pave the way for a securitised crackdown not just against Salafists, but against Islamists in general.

Nidaa Tounes’s win on Sunday, however, suggests that many Tunisians find its discourse of statesmanship and experience an attractive alternative to the disappointments of an Ennahda-led government. Broken promises, paired with a struggling economy and media accusations that Ennahda was single-handedly responsible for extremist violence has fuelled cynicism and regime nostalgia. Everyday issues such as poor rubbish collection and widespread joblessness prompt some to say things were better under Ben Ali, and that Nidaa Tounes – a party whose leadership hails from Tunisia’s traditional, coastal political elite – could offer much-needed know-how.

Though neither Ennahda nor Nidaa Tounes managed to communicate clear policy platforms to address Tunisia’s thorniest challenges – namely economic growth, security sector reform, and judicial reform – Nidaa benefited from disappointment in Ennahda’s post-revolutionary governance, reviving a Bourguibist model of enlightened technocratic management. That model feels familiar here in Tunisia, a country used to its leaders hailing from prominent coastal families – a decidedly different demographic than comprises the leadership of Ennahda and its main secular ally, CPR, many of whose leaders also come from Tunisia’s long-marginalised interior and south.

Significantly lower voter turnout than 2011, combined with victory for Nidaa, suggests multiple dynamics are at play: increased voter cynicism regarding the ability of political elites to solve important local problems, hope that Nidaa Tounes might represent the best alternative to three years of disappointing governance, and the beginnings of old regime nostalgia – a phenomenon common to countries undergoing early transition from authoritarian rule. rule. Especially anemic turnout amongst young people – many of whom say Tunisian politics is a battle between aged dinosaurs from an outdated era – indicates parties are still struggling to craft vibrant political visions that speak across the generational divide.

Whether Nidaa Tounes crafts an inclusive coalition or drifts toward authoritarian models of decades past remains to be seen. For now, observers should applaud Tunisia for successfully holding another election, and resist the simplistic tendency to frame Tunisia’s transition as a conflict between enlightened “democratic” secularists and backwards Islamists. The reality is far more complex.

Presidential elections featuring dozens of candidates are set for 23 November.

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Burkina Parliament Set Ablaze in Protests over President

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 12:24

Angry demonstrators went on the rampage in Burkina Faso on Thursday, setting parliament ablaze in a surge of violence that forced the government to scrap a vote on controversial plans to allow President Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year rule.

Hundreds of people broke through a heavy security cordon and stormed the National Assembly building in the capital Ouagadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars, before attacking the national television headquarters.

One man was killed in the chaos that erupted in the poor west African nation shortly before lawmakers were due to vote on the controversial legislation, AFP correspondents said.

The government, facing its worst crisis since a wave of mutinies shook the country in 2011, later announced it was calling off the vote but it was not immediately clear if this was a temporary move.

Black smoke billowed out of smashed windows at the parliament building, where several offices were ravaged by flames, including the speaker's office, although the main chamber so far appeared to be unscathed.

Several hundred protesters also broke into the headquarters of the national television station RTB, pillaging equipment and smashing cars, the correspondents said.

The ruling party headquarters in Burkina Faso's second city of Bobo Dioulasso and city hall was also torched by protesters, witnesses said.

"The president must deal with the consequences," said Benewende Sankara, one of the leaders of the opposition which had called for the people to march on parliament over the Compaore law.

The country has been tense for days in the run-up to Thursday's vote over the constitutional changes, which the European Union had warned could jeopardize stability.

Police were out in force around the parliament after mass rallies called by the opposition earlier this week but failed to stop the onslaught despite using tear gas against the protesters.

The European Union has urged the government to scrap the legislation, warning that it could "jeopardize... stability, equitable development and democratic progress", and had called for all sides to refrain from violence.

Several thousand protesters had marched through the capital on Wednesday, the day after street battles erupted during a mass rally by hundreds of thousands of people against what they see as a constitutional coup by supporters of Compaore.

The legislature had been due to examine a proposed amendment that would allow Compaore, who took power in a coup in 1987, to run for re-election in November next year.

"October 30 is Burkina Faso's Black Spring, like the Arab Spring," said Emile Pargui Pare, an official from the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), a young and influential opposition party.

Government spokesman Alain Edouard Traore issued a statement Wednesday hailing the "vitality" of Burkina Faso's democracy despite what he termed anti-government "misbehavior".

Compaore's bid to cling to power has angered the opposition and much of the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of the population of almost 17 million is under 25.

Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and -- with the poor former French colony stagnating at 183rd out of 186 countries on the U.N. human development index -- many have had enough.

The situation is being closely watched across Africa where at least four heads of state are preparing or considering similar changes to stay in power, from Burundi to Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in the coup in which his former friend and one of Africa's most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.

The 63-year-old has remained in power since then, re-elected president four times since 1991 -- to two seven-year and two five-year terms.

In 2005, constitutional limits were introduced and Compaore is coming to the end of his second five-year term.

The opposition fears the planned new rules would enable Compaore to seek re-election not just once, but three more times, paving the way for up to 15 more years in power.

The third largest party in parliament had said at the weekend it would back the amendment, which would have given the ruling party the two-thirds majority needed to make the change without resorting to a referendum as first promised.

Protesters have erected barricades and burned tyres in the capital since the proposal was announced on October 21.

Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the landlocked country became independent from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso ("the land of upright men") in 1984.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Australia Outlaws Travel to Terror Hotspots

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 07:08

Australia on Thursday passed a law criminalizing travel to terror hotspots, a tough counter-terrorism measure aimed at stopping jihadists from going to Iraq and Syria to fight.

The Australian government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of foreign fighters to the Middle East to join militant groups such as Islamic State, with 70 Australians believed to have already made the journey.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) includes measures that make it an offense to enter a "declared area" where a terrorist organization is engaging in hostile activity, without a valid reason.

The offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

"The foreign fighters bill that has passed the parliament today will mean, first of all, that it is easier to secure convictions against Australians who have been fighting with terrorist groups overseas," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament Thursday.

"It will mean that it is easier to monitor potential terrorists here, and it will also mean... that it is easier to prosecute the preachers of hate who create the potential terrorists."

Abbott told parliament about 100 Australians were supporting jihadists who had traveled to the Middle East to fight with recruitment and funding from home.

Some 20 jihadists who fought with terrorist groups in the region had also returned to Australia, Abbott added.

"The best way to deal with returning foreign fighters is to stop them leaving in the first place... and I'm able to inform the House that some 70 Australian passports have been canceled to stop terrorists or potential terrorists from traveling."

The new law, which was passed by the lower House of Representatives on Thursday with bipartisan support, came as the Labor opposition raised concerns that another national security measure passed in September could see journalists jailed for up to 10 years.

Attorney-General George Brandis refuted the concerns, saying that the legislation was instead "intended to deal with a Snowden-type situation".

Documents leaked by U.S. intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden included reports in November that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle, damaging relations between the two countries.

Source: Agence France Presse


Abbott government agrees to delay data retention bill until next year

Parliament will not vote on the bill to force telcos to store Australians’ metadata until a bipartisan committee reports

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent, Thursday 30 October 2014 09.21 GMT   

The Abbott government has agreed to delay a parliamentary vote on mandatory data retention until next year, while digital rights groups warned the scheme would create “enormous honeypots” of sensitive information about millions of Australians.

The government presented a bill to parliament on Thursday that would require Australian telcos and internet service providers to store data about their customers’ activities for two years, but it will not be subject to a vote until after a bipartisan committee completes an inquiry.

The law will allow the storage of internet protocol (IP) addresses assigned to customers and who they emailed, but not their web-browsing history or the content of their emails.

It will allow the storage of details about phone customers’ calls, including the numbers contacted and the time, date, duration.

The communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the attorney general, George Brandis, argued such “metadata” was a crucial investigative tool for law-enforcement agencies, and vowed to negotiate with Labor on the timeframes for the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security.

It is understood the government has agreed that the reporting date should be next year, but negotiations on the date are continuing. The government has suggested a three-month inquiry.

Labor’s communications spokesman, Jason Clare, said the bill was “complex and controversial and broader than national security”.

“It involves privacy concerns from everyone that’s got a mobile phone or access to the internet, and potential cost concerns,” he told the ABC.

“Our view is it needs to be subject to serious scrutiny, and we’ve made that point to the government today. We’ve said this shouldn’t be passed through the parliament in the next few weeks, it needs a couple of months of consideration by the parliamentary committee, and the government’s agreed to that.”

The executive officer of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Jon Lawrence, said laws forcing telcos and internet service providers to retain of data of all Australians were “unnecessary and disproportionate”, likening it to “speculative surveillance”.

“We’re not opposed to targeted surveillance,” he said. “We are opposed to indiscriminate society-wide capturing of huge honeypots of valuable data in case it’s needed later.”

Lawrence said it was inevitable that there would be data breaches, whether by hacking or a disgruntled system administrator. “The only secure data is data that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Lawrence also raised concerns about the costs of forcing telcos and internet service providers to store data that they may not have a commercial need to retain. “As taxpayers or consumers, we’re going to pay for it one way or another,” he said.

The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the government would “impose a surveillance tax on the entire Australian population” and could expect “a very serious campaign” against the plans.

Turnbull said he expected “to make a substantial contribution” to the companies’ implementation and operational costs, but the government did “not have a final figure at this point”.

“We’re asking these companies to do things that they don’t have a business need to do and there is an expense,” he said. “There are ballpark figures being thrown around but they are at this stage not of sufficient accuracy for me to be citing.”

Turnbull said securing the data safely was “the responsibility of the telcos and of course they’re very alert to data security already and very sophisticated in that regard”. He indicated the government was preparing separate legislation to strengthen telecommunications security.

Brandis said law enforcement agencies already could access metadata, but this depended on telecommunications providers storing the information of their own volition.

He said changing business practices and technology meant some metadata was no longer being stored, or would no longer be stored. Brandis said a mandatory scheme was required to prevent “a very significant degradation of Australia’s counter-terrorism and general crime-fighting capabilities”.

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 07:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Myanmar President Calls Unprecedented Talks with Parties, Army

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 10:28

Myanmar's president has called an unprecedented summit of army top brass and political rivals including Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, political figures said Thursday, a year ahead of crucial elections.

The talks, scheduled for Friday in the capital Naypyidaw, are the first of their kind in the country that is attempting to emerge from the shadow of decades of outright military rule.

Experts say the meeting comes at a critical time, with Myanmar searching for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions as it heads towards elections in a year's time.

Those polls are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government.

Confirming the talks, Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force party, said the meeting will cover "democratic reforms, peace and (the) transition period."

The talks come just days after Myanmar's election authorities announced that the upcoming poll would be held in the last week of October or the first week of November 2015.

Myanmar authorities have promised the vote will be the freest in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

The meeting also follows heated parliamentary debates over constitutional and electoral reform, as well as pervasive jitters that the government, which is dominated by former junta generals, may find a reason to delay next year's poll.

"I think it's really significant, this is the first time he (Thein Sein) has had this kind of meeting," said one Western expert, who asked to remain unnamed.

There is "potential for tension to build up -- this is a very important time for everyone to get on the same page."

Suu Kyi's party is expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote, and parliament will select a president following the poll.

But the 69-year-old veteran activist, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the junta years, is currently barred from taking the top job by the constitution.

Khin Maung Swe said the meeting would include the two vice presidents, the influential parliamentary speakers, the election commission and six main political parties.

The NLD said it was unable to confirm details of the meeting when contacted by AFP Thursday.

Sai Aik Paung, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, hailed the meeting as an "important" step, but said more parties should have been invited.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Clashes in Bangladesh as Islamists Protest Leader's Death Order

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 10:44

Islamists clashed with police in several Bangladesh cities on Thursday as part of a nationwide strike to protest against their leader being sentenced to death for war crimes, police said.

Officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at rock-throwing protesters who tried to block several key highways in the northwestern cities of Bogra and Rajshahi, police officers told AFP.

Protesters exploded cocktail bombs in Bogra, a stronghold of the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, local police chief Saifuzzaman Faruqui said.

"At least 140 Jamaat activists have been arrested from the city to prevent violence," he said. Nearly 100 Jamaat activists were also arrested from Rangpur region, police said.

Demonstrations and sporadic clashes also erupted in about a dozen other towns and cities, local media reported, as Jamaat supporters took to the streets to enforce the three-day strike starting on Thursday.

The clashes came one day after a court convicted Motiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of Jamaat since 2000, of mass murder, rape and looting during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

The war crimes tribunal sentenced Nizami to death for his role as head of a notorious pro-Pakistani militia blamed for killing some of the country's top intellectuals, doctors and journalists.

Similar verdicts against some of Nizami's top lieutenants plunged the nation into one of its worst crises last year as tens of thousands of Jamaat activists clashed with police, leaving hundreds dead.

Jamaat called the strike in protest, accusing the secular government of ordering the trials against its leaders as part of a witch-hunt against opposition figures.

On Thursday schools, colleges and private businesses were shut across the country as the strike took hold.

Highways were deserted as inter-city bus and lorry services ground to a halt, while deliveries from ports were suspended.

Police also fired rubber bullets at protesters in Rajshahi and the northern town of Mithapukur after they tried to block roads, police officials told AFP, adding that the Rajshahi head of Jamaat was arrested on charges of planning subversive activities.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Modi Fails, So Far, to Return Illicit Funds to India

OCT. 30, 2014

NEW DELHI — Thousands of years ago in India, “a plastic surgeon, perhaps,” fixed an elephant’s head on a boy who had lost his, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed on Saturday in a Mumbai hospital, which does not offer such a service yet. He was not saying that ancient Indians were negligent when choosing head donors, but that Indians were once so great that the things they did were like magic.

The prime minister need not have searched so far.

Millions of modern Indians have the ability to make money invisible. A large part of the Indian economy, though nobody is sure just how large, officially does not exist, but it exerts an unmistakable influence on the visible world. Illicit money, which is income that has been earned through illegal means or evaded taxes, has a dual life in general Indian perceptions.

Most of India’s middle class, especially entrepreneurs, deal in it in some form and view it as a practical necessity to make a profit in a country where the cost of doing business is high. But they view larger, more organized hoarders of illicit cash as criminals. There is a perception that the big fish smuggle the money out of India.

There is no evidence to suggest that most of India’s illicit money is outside India rather than within, but Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party exploited that perception when it campaigned on the promise that it would bring back all the money that Indians had squirrelled abroad as a part of its war against corruption.

The party claimed that trillions of rupees were lying in foreign banks and that it would get the money back to India within 100 days of assuming power.

More than 150 days have gone by, but Mr. Modi has yet to show Indians the money. What his government has instead is a list of Indians with foreign bank accounts, not all of them dubious. On Monday, it released the names of a few account holders whom it accused of hoarding illicit money abroad.

The list was a disappointment, at least to those who had assumed that Mr. Modi was serious about his war on what Indians call “black money.”

Mr. Modi and his party during campaigning had Indians believe that several prominent politicians, especially from the rival Indian National Congress party, had money stashed away in foreign banks. But the names that were released on Monday were of little-known businesspeople. Two of them had made donations to both the B.J.P. and the Congress party.

The government indicated that it could not reveal all the names as it was constrained by the legal arrangements it has with the countries that shared the information. But, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court rebuked the government for protecting the shady, and gave it one day to submit the list of names to it in a sealed envelope, which the government has now done.

This is the new government’s first fiasco, because it has come across as an ally of the big players in the shadow economy, exactly what it had accused the previous government of.

If it is true that the government wants to protect some powerful Indians, then the Supreme Court intervention, though embarrassing, is in fact very convenient. The government has been relieved of the responsibility of revealing the names itself.

Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, who ran for office against Mr. Modi in the general elections, implied in a written statement that the government was shielding those who had financed its expensive election campaigns while unleashing tax raids on the less useful.

Two years ago, Mr. Kejriwal released a list of Indians who he claimed had suspect foreign bank accounts. The list included Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, who is believed to be very close to Mr. Modi.

In fact, it was in a hospital run by Mr. Ambani that the prime minister fondly remembered the ancient plastic surgeon who had fixed an elephant’s head on a boy.

 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iran Wants Sanctions Lifted before Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 07:00

Iran wants all Western sanctions to be lifted before striking a deal on its contested nuclear program by a November deadline, a top official said Wednesday.

The announcement came amid intensifying efforts to conclude a definitive pact. The six powers in the talks with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany, known as the P5+1 -- have set November 24 as the deadline.

The chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said the U.S. proposal of a gradual lifting of sanctions was "unacceptable."

"If we want a definitive accord on November 24, there must be an immediate lifting of sanctions," he told a news conference in Paris.

A Western diplomat close to the negotiations with Iran on Monday said a firm deal by the deadline was highly unlikely, saying Tehran would have to make "significant gestures."

The aim is to close avenues towards Tehran ever developing an atomic bomb, by cutting back its enrichment programme, shutting down suspect facilities and imposing tough international inspections.

In return, the global community would suspend and then gradually lift crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.

But the two sides, despite long-running talks, remain far apart on how to reconcile their objectives.

Source: Agence France Presse

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