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 on: May 29, 2015, 06:20 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Chile Students, Police Clash at New Protest over Reforms

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 09:07

Chilean police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse stone-throwing students protesting Thursday against what they call inadequate education reforms and heavy-handed crackdowns on recent demonstrations.

Thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago to condemn President Michelle Bachelet's reforms, claiming they fall short of overhauling an unequal education system inherited from the 1973-1990 dictatorship of late ruler Augusto Pinochet.

The protest began in the early morning hours as students dragged piles of rubbish into the streets and set them on fire, blocking traffic.

Demonstrators then massed outside the education ministry and state television network.

After being dispersed by police, thousands of protesters again took to the streets Thursday night. Hooded protesters gathered around a government building where they erected barricades and attempted to loot shops, police said.

Police reported four officers were hurt in the demonstrations.

"We're still a very long way from achieving our dreams. The reforms are very inadequate," student leader Claudia Arevalo told Agence France Presse.

The students, who have been protesting against the education system since 2011, also accused police of using excessive force to break up recent demonstrations.

An art student from Catholic University is currently in critical condition after being knocked to the ground and badly injured by a police water cannon during a protest in the port city of Valparaiso last week.

Police again used water cannons as well as tear gas Thursday as masked protesters attacked them with sticks and stones during an unauthorized march through the center of the capital.

Bachelet won a second term in 2013 with promises to launch an ambitious reform of the education system.

In January, she signed the first reform bill, opening university education to all students and banning for-profit activities at state-funded schools.

Last week, she announced a bill to provide free university education to 60 percent of the poorest students starting next year, reaching 70 percent in 2018 and 100 percent in 2020.

But her reform push has slowed amid a series of damaging corruption scandals, including one involving her son, that have dented her popularity -- currently at 29 percent, her lowest rating ever.

Source: Agence France Presse


'Abortion video tutorial' ads shock Chile amid debate on easing ban

Video by campaign group shows a pregnant woman throwing herself down stairs in a bid to terminate her pregnancy

Associated Press
Friday 29 May 2015 02.07 BST

The video shows a woman climbing a stairwell, her belly visibly pregnant, as she offers suggestions: make sure there are no security cameras. Be careful not to look down or you might regret it.

She tumbles backward and the screen goes black. “When you reach the bottom everything will be OK,” she says.

Abortion rights around the world – interactive

The video is one of a series of mock abortion tutorials, part of a public campaign urging Chile to allow women to end pregnancies in cases of rape or medical complications. It would be a radical change for Chile, one of only four countries that prohibit all abortion, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, though a handful of others are so restrictive that they have de facto bans.

The videos are deliberately dark and disturbing, appearing to show pregnant women throwing themselves into traffic or thrusting their stomachs onto fire hydrants. Released in April, the videos organised by Miles, a non-governmental group, aim to rally support for an attempt by the president, Michelle Bachelet, to ease the abortion ban.

Miles director Claudia Dides said: “Clandestine abortions are carried out in Chile and abortions will continue with or without politicians or a law.

“What we want is for abortions to be safe.”

The debate comes as Chile, one of Latin America’s most socially conservative countries, grapples with shifting views on once-taboo issues. The mostly Roman Catholic country began to allow divorce in 2004. This year, Congress recognised civil unions for gay couples and, recently, a pilot program in Santiago harvested the country’s first legal medical marijuana.

The changing attitudes mark a generational shift, as young people born after the 1973-1990 military dictatorship come of age. The trend has accelerated since a wave of student protests demanding educational reform began in 2011 and in the wake of Catholic priest sex-abuse scandals that have provoked questioning of church doctrine.

In 2013, then-president Sebastián Piñera came under fire when he praised a pregnant 11-year-old girl for her “depth and maturity” after she said in a TV interview that she wanted to keep the baby, the product of a rape by her mother’s partner.

A recent discussion on abortion at Santiago’s Diego Portales University drew a packed audience, with many students forced to sit on the floor.

“As a country, we are behind,” said Fernanda Saavedra, a student who attended. “We need to evolve and think more about women.”

Chile legalised abortion for medical reasons in 1931, 18 years before it allowed women to vote. But during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, abortion was banned under all circumstances.

Today, women found guilty of having abortions face prison terms of up to five years.

Still, an estimated 120,000 illegal abortions are performed every year, according to the Miles group. Most women use the drug misoprostol, buying it on the black market, to end first-trimester pregnancies. Others undergo conventional abortions in secret. Those who can afford to travel seek abortions in neighbouring Argentina or beyond.

Nelly Milad flew to Cuba in 2004 to end an unviable pregnancy. “I’ve felt so much impotence, frustration and anger. You feel so left behind by a medical team that can’t help you even when they morally want to, because they fear they’ll be thrown into jail,” Milad said.

Andrea Quiroga, an accountant, was newly married in 2010 when she learned her 11-week-old foetus would not survive. Nevertheless, the law required her to continue the pregnancy until the unborn girl died at 26 weeks and doctors were allowed to induce delivery.

“It was so brutal,” she said. “I had to give birth to my daughter and see her bleeding in my arms. I don’t think anyone should have to go through that because it stays with you the rest of your life.”

Bachelet – a physician and former head of UN Women, the agency for gender equality – was scolded by conservative politicians and even some allies in 2006 when, during her first term, she legalised distribution of the morning-after pill.

Her new proposal would allow abortion for cases of rape, a pregnancy that endangers a woman and situations when a foetus is unviable. It is expected to go before lawmakers in the next few months and is likely to face strong opposition even though Bachelet supporters control Congress.

Jorge Sabag, a lawmaker for the opposition Christian Democratic party, said: “The reasons to interrupt a pregnancy keep expanding and we’re going to reach an abortion a la carte.”

The Catholic archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, has urged Chileans to protect the unborn. In a recent statement, Chilean bishops said there was no justification for so-called “therapeutic” abortions when a woman’s health was at risk and that “in no instance does it help heal traumatic moments”.

Most Chileans appear to think otherwise. A poll released in 2014 said 70% supported abortion in cases of rape and slightly more for unviable pregnancies or when a woman’s health was at risk. The survey by Centro de Estudios Públicos questioned 1,442 people between July and August and had an error margin of three percentage points.

One young woman, who used misoprostol to terminate an unplanned pregnancy in January, said such decisions should be left to women. She insisted on not being quoted by name to keep her family from learning of her abortion.

“I’d tell every woman who wants to abort or has aborted in Chile that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to feel guilty about. Our bodies belong to us and it’s our decision,” she said.

“Most politicians and priests are men. So why should they get to say anything about this?”

Click to watch:

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
HRW Says Mexico Must Probe Possible 'Extrajudicial Police Executions'

by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 May 2015, 22:17

A U.S.-based human rights group urged Mexican prosecutors Thursday to investigate whether police committed extrajudicial executions after a "shootout" left 42 suspects dead, raising questions about the lopsided death toll.

Human Rights Watch joined security experts and relatives of the drug cartel suspects in questioning the official account because only one officer was killed and three people were detained in the gun battle.

"Given Mexican security forces' poor human rights record, a rigorous and transparent investigation is critically important to determine if indeed there was proportionate use of force during a shootout, and if there were extrajudicial executions," said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch.

Top federal police officials have rejected suggestions of a massacre, saying forensic tests proved that all the suspects fired their weapons after refusing to surrender during the gun battle on a ranch in the western state of Michoacan.

Authorities believe the suspects belong to the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, which has killed at least 28 police and soldiers since March in the neighboring state of Jalisco.

Mexico's governmental National Human Rights Commission opened an investigation and demanded detailed reports from the authorities to "find out the truth" about what happened.


Mexico Nabs New Generation Cartel Honcho

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 07:04

Mexican authorities have detained a senior operative of a drug cartel that has clashed with security forces in the western state of Jalisco in recent weeks, officials said Thursday.

Victor Manuel Garcia Orozco, 47, is suspected of running criminal activities of the Jalisco New Generation cartel in the Cienega region, including drug smuggling, fuel theft and extortion, the interior ministry said.

He is also accused of involvement in "various attacks" against security forces, including the kidnapping and murder of two federal police officials in November 2013 in the neighboring state of Michoacan, the ministry said in a statement.

The investigation into their disappearance led to the discovery of 37 clandestine graves containing 75 bodies in the Jalisco municipality of La Barca, which borders Michoacan, the statement said.

Soldiers and federal police arrested Garcia Orozco on Wednesday in Tlajomulco de Zuniga, Jalisco, "without a shot fired" as he drove, the ministry said.

His arrest came days after federal police killed 42 New Generation suspects in what authorities described as an intense gunfight on a ranch at the Michoacan-Jalisco border on May 22. One officer was killed.

Between March and May, the cartel posed a major challenge to President Enrique Pena Nieto's security forces, killing around 30 police and troops, and downing a military helicopter.

Source: Agence France Presse

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
U.N.: Conflicts Displace 3.5 Million People in Africa's Sahel Region

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 06:48

The number of people displaced by conflicts in Africa's Sahel has more than doubled in just over a year to a staggering 3.5 million, the United Nations said Thursday.

At the beginning of 2014, the U.N. humanitarian agency had reported that around 1.6 million people were displaced across the nine Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.

The region is home to some of the world's poorest countries that have long been plagued by food insecurity, malnutrition and epidemics.

But U.N. Assistant Secretary General Robert Piper, who coordinates the U.N.'s humanitarian work in the Sahel, warned that on top of those chronic crises the region was facing a "very troubling dynamic" in which displacement linked to conflicts was "really escalating dramatically."

Across the region, he told reporters in Geneva, "there is a very big increase in the number of people affected by conflict, who have been pushed from their homes and from their livelihoods as a result."

The violence by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria, and spilling over into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has spurred much of the displacement.

The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed at least 15,000 lives and forced some 1.5 million people to flee their homes since 2009.

Also fuelling displacement is the continued unrest in northern Mali, which has been dogged by violence from jihadists groups that seized control from Tuareg rebels before being routed by a French-led international intervention in 2013.

Around 150,000 Malians had fled to neighbouring countries by the middle of last year, while an equal number were displaced inside the country.

Despite peaceful elections after the French operation, the country remains divided and the north has seen a recent upsurge in attacks that has forced some 31,000 people from their homes in the past two weeks alone, the World Food Programme said Tuesday.

- 'Severe protection crisis' -

Conflicts outside the Sahel are also contributing to the displacement in the region, with violence in places like Darfur and the Central African Republic sending refugees fleeing into Sahel countries, Piper said.

The widespread displacement is taking a heavy toll on host communities which are themselves often poor and "extraordinarily vulnerable", he added.

In the southern Niger Diffa region, for instance, where more than half of inhabitants are already food insecure, a flood of Nigerian refugees has doubled the population, putting "tremendous pressure" on food, water and other resources, Piper said.

The violence forcing so many people to flee is also hampering aid organisations' ability to reach and protect the most vulnerable, he said.

On top of this "very, very severe protection crisis," U.N. operations in Sahel are facing a significant funding shortfall, having so far received only 22 percent of the $2.0 billion they have appealed for in the region this year.

"This has very practical consequences in terms of what we can and can't do in terms of the numbers of people that we can and can't reach," Piper said, urging donor countries to step up.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Khorasan: are Syria's mysterious 'strangers with horses' a threat to the west?

The US says the group is plotting, amid the civil war, to attack the west, while Islamist groups deny it even exists. What is it and what is it up to?

Martin Chulov
Thursday 28 May 2015 20.18 BST
In Idlib province, they are known as “the strangers with the horses”. Among the senior ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra, they are referred to as “our friends”. In Europe and the US, the small band of jihadis is known by the contentious name “Khorasan” and blamed for hatching plots to attack the west.

All seem to agree on one thing: just what the highly secretive group is up to in northern Syria remains one of the civil war’s enduring mysteries. This week, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra claimed there was no such group as Khorasan and said he had been directed by al-Qaida’s central leadership to concentrate his group’s energies on Syria.

Abu Mohamed al-Jolani’s remarks, in an interview with al-Jazeera, were the first time that al-Nusra – a jihadi organisation with links to al-Qaida and a formidable player in the Syrian war – had addressed the issue of Khorasan, which the US accuses of collaborating with al-Nusra to target western interests outside of Syria.

The remarks were immediately rejected by western officials and residents of Idlib. Two senior Islamists with close links to al-Nusra have also outlined to the Guardian in recent weeks their understanding of Khorasan’s intent and its close ties to homegrown jihadi groups.

“Until recently they wanted nothing to do with the Syrian war,” said one ranking official. “They only wanted to use Syria as a stadium for whatever they were up to elsewhere.

“But that’s different now. In the attack on Idlib city they played a direct role. They co-ordinated most of the dangerous attacks. Without them, Idlib would not have fallen.”

Syria not a launching pad for attacks on west says al-Nusra chief in TV interview

The claim that Khorasan had played a direct role in helping jihadi and mainstream elements of the Syrian opposition seize a major city marks the first time that any official has been prepared to acknowledge working alongside the group. “They are a very big secret, you know,” the official said. “They work directly for [al-Qaida leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri.”

Until recently, all residents and jihadis interviewed by the Guardian had painted a picture of a remote and impenetrable outfit that kept entirely to itself and whose members regularly moved to avoid US air strikes.

On the first night of a US-led air campaign, ostensibly to attack the Islamic State group last September, three bases for Jabhat al-Nusra and a second jihadi group, Ahrar al-Sham, were bombed in the opening salvoes.

The attacks killed more than 70 militants and Washington claimed to have struck cells of leaders who had been seconded to Khorasan and tasked with scoping for targets outside of Syria.

Both groups quickly denied any connection to Khorasan, and vowed vengeance against the US. Al-Nusra officials claimed they had not heard of Khorasan, leading the US to claim it had been monitoring its growth for more than two years as the opposition landscape had splintered and radicalised in parts of Syria’s north. Two local residents say the people they referred to as “the strangers with horses” first moved into the Idlib countryside early in 2013.

“They were from all the places that end in ‘stans’,” said one man. “Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, places like that. “They dressed like Osama bin Laden’s mujahideen and they slept in the forests with their horses next to them. Big, beautiful stallions. They wanted nothing to do with us, or any of the opposition groups.”

A second resident said that the group was known locally as Khorasan by the end of 2013. “Although it became difficult to know who was directly with them and who was with [al-Nusra]. They started to become similar.

“But until the Americans bombed them, we didn’t know what they were up to. And we still don’t.”

One senior jihadi confirmed to the Guardian that the group’s leader was Muhsin al-Fadhli, a veteran of al-Qaida who had travelled to Syria at the beginning of 2013 along with a small number of other members of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s inner circle.

The US government claims that al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti, was one of the few Bin Laden confidantes who knew about the 9/11 attacks ahead of them being carried out.

The Pentagon claimed to have killed al-Fadhli during an air strike on 22 September, but later said he had survived the strike. A French jihadi, David Drugeon, was believed to have been badly wounded.

Critics of the US decision to fight Isis in Syria and Iraq point to Khorasan’s complete lack of profile before the air strikes and claim its emergence was a convenient pretext to justify intervention.

Local officials, though, say the group was gathering strength throughout 2014. One official said Khorasan leaders now remained on the move to avoid air strikes. “Everywhere they go, the Americans are looking for them,” he said. “Their houses get blown up all the time.

“I don’t doubt that they are planning something outside Syria. But it is impossible to know. There are no Syrians working directly for them. Only big men from al-Qaida. To be honest, when they worked with Nusra in Idlib, it was the first time.”

In denying Khorasan’s existence, or being linked to any plan to attack targets outside of Syria, Jolani appeared to be positioning al-Nusra as a more palatable jihadi current, distinct from the unchecked savagery of Isis.

However, western officials say Khorasan remain near the top of the list of potential threats to the US, the UK and Europe, with no sign that any order from Zawahiri had eased the threat.

“They are more prominent than before,” said the second Nusra-aligned leader. “The one thing that hasn’t changed though is that no one wants to speak about them.”

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Fractious handover of power as Buhari takes office in Nigeria

New president elect to be sworn in today amid accusations Goodluck Jonathan’s outgoing government have created atmosphere of ‘contrived chaos’

Friday 29 May 2015 10.15 BST

In his final week in office Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan offered up a prayer for the success of Muhammadu Buhari, the former military ruler who takes the helm of Africa’s biggest economy on Friday.

However, if Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) is to be believed, that goodwill did not stretch far.

Citing weeks of strike action by fuel distributors that crippled the economy, the APC accused outgoing officials of creating an “atmosphere of contrived chaos” to sully 72-year-old Buhari’s moment of political triumph.

Nigeria's election of Muhammadu Buhari is truly revolutionary

“The whole scenario reeks of sabotage,” APC spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement that laid bare the party’s frustrations with the behaviour of Jonathan’s outgoing administration.

Although the strike by fuel distributors, who said they were owed $1bn by the government, ended this week, it caused massive disruption to Nigeria’s 170 million people, grounding flights, forcing banks to close and cutting phone signals.

It also served as a reminder to Buhari of the challenges he will face in Africa’s top crude producer, including a weakening currency and an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamist militants that has claimed thousands of lives.

On Thursday, Jonathan took Buhari on a short tour of the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja, at the end of which he urged unity to “build a stronger and more prosperous nation”.

Buhari responded by thanking Jonathan for swiftly conceding defeat in the 28 March election, rather than challenging or disputing the result – an outcome that could have unleashed political violence.

“You could had made things difficult, but you choose the path of peace and honour,” he said. “Thank you very much”.

‘Asking too much’

Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) disputed the accusations from the APC that they were hindering the transfer of power, saying their political foes were being too demanding – especially given that the constitution says outgoing officials need not hand over anything other than simple notes.

“The APC transition committee were asking for too much, more than was appropriate,” said PDP spokesman and former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode.

However, APC insiders said they did not receive handover notes from the various ministries until Monday – just five days before Buhari’s inauguration.

“The outgoing government is not committed to handing over information of significance,” one APC source said. “Nobody is putting a lot of value in what is being handed over.”

The confusion and bad blood is casting a shadow over the return to high office of Buhari, who first came to power after a military coup in 1983.

Reports that Buhari, a Muslim ascetic who has pledged to fight corruption, might look into allegations of wrongdoing during Jonathan’s tenure are also unlikely to have helped relations between APC and PDP grandees.

However, analysts said end-of-administration apathy and malaise has not been uncommon in Nigeria.

“The ‘end of term’ feel that has characterised the last few weeks is a familiar part of the political culture,” said Anthony Goldman of Nigeria-focused PM Consulting.

“Often neither outgoing nor incoming governments have reliable data to work with. Sometimes it’s systemic, sometimes deliberate,” he added.
Corruption claims

Many Nigerians believe that already widespread corruption became rampant under Jonathan, further undermining an economic system that sees Africa’s top oil producer import most of the 40 million litres consumed every day at heavily subsidised prices.

“There is nothing to handover [to the APC] because there was nothing really being run. No accountability,” said a source who declined to be named.

Jonathan’s efforts to revamp the dilapidated power grid won praise from economists and investors, but the renovations have yet to bear fruit, leaving the economy reliant on expensive diesel generators for electricity.

Repairing Nigeria’s decrepit refineries after decades of neglect will be high on Buhari’s list of priorities.

The nationwide impact of the fuel strike crystallised some of the problems Buhari will have to confront, said Rolake Akinkugbe, head of energy and natural resources at FBN Capital.

How Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian election

“The current low global oil price trend, and past consensus on the need to prioritise long-term investment in infrastructure should set the scene for a phasing out of subsidies,” said Akinkugbe. “Government finances are strained and Nigeria is clearly at an economic crossroads.”

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Palestinian Football Association to push ahead for Israel's suspension from Fifa

Issue on agenda at Fifa’s congress in Zurich after Israel refuses to budge on Palestinian demand to suspend Israeli teams based in the occupied territories

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
Friday 29 May 2015 06.38 BST

The Palestinian Football Association will push ahead Friday for a vote calling for the suspension of Israel from the world football organisation at Fifa’s scandal-riven congress in Zurich.

Despite last-ditch attempts at mediation by world football officials, the Palestinian delegation insisted it would push for a vote unless Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league.

The five teams are Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bik’at Hayarden and Givat Ze’ev – which play in Israel’s lower divisions.

“Compromise is possible on issues like movement of [Palestinian] players and equipment, if a mechanism can be agreed,” a member of the Palestinian delegation told the Guardian. “But no compromise is possible on the settlement teams continued playing in Israel’s league.”

The comments came as it appeared that the Palestinian vote might require less than the widely reported 75% of the 209 member delegations to back Israel’s suspension.

Palestinian officials believe that – in the first instance – they require only a straight majority under Fifa rules with 75% being required to ratify and renew a suspension. If the vote does takes place it will be in a secret ballot.

There has been confusion over what precise numbers are required to suspend Israel, with Fifa officials previously insisting that a 75% majority was required.

Both Palestinian and Israeli delegations in Zurich have been working around the clock since arriving in the midst of the biggest scandal to hit the world football organisation.

Twin Swiss and US investigations focussing on a far-reaching culture of kickbacks in Fifa have thrown the congress in Zurich into chaos, including both the re-election bid of Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other business on the agenda including the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended.

Israel has sought the support of the European regional grouping UEFA of which it is a member to vote against the proposed suspension.

Its efforts to avoid a vote – which some see as damaging in itself as a vote for suspension – have seen it enlist Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs as well as the lobbying of key Fifa officials.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Thursday, telling reporters that if Israel is suspended “it would be a blatant politicisation of sport and the result will be Fifa’s collapse”.

Mediation efforts led by Blatter, who visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories last week, has made progress on some issues.

According to Blatter, he reached agreement with Netanyahu on several key areas, including providing laissez passer documents to Palestinian athletes, referees and sports officials; an exemption from customs on all sports equipment to the Palestinian Football Association and the establishment of a committee to hear disagreements.

Israel is however refusing to budge on a final critical issue – the Palestinian demand to suspend Israeli teams based in the occupied territories.

At a meeting on Thursday, Blatter reportedly suggested to Israel that on the issue of the five settlement teams Fifa could approach the UN which would be asked to determine if they were on Israeli territory – an offer declined by Ofer Eini, the Israeli Football Association chairman.

Commenting on the continued push for a vote, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, said: “For years, I talked to anyone I could so that Israel would change its policy and be fair in how it treated Palestinian athletes. It was in vain.

“In the end, there was no choice but to go to Fifa and ask it to protect the Palestinian athletes. And now, either there will be a solution that will make it possible for us to practice sports, or reach a situation that I don’t wish on anyone, and that is suspension. But who is responsible for this? I think it is the Israeli government.”

Israeli analysts were torn over the impact the Fifa corruption scandal might have on an eventual vote, with some predicting that delegates might want to avoid further controversy in an already fraught congress.

Speaking to the Israeli website Walla, Rotem Kamer, chief executive of the Israeli Football Association, said the combination of the corruption scandal and Blatter’s bid for re-election had complicated issues.

“There is no way of knowing which way the vote will go when Blatter is seeking re-election. There is no doubt that [Blatter] can be pressured, also because of the affair that has just exploded. He needs the Arab votes and it could be that to this end, Israel will have to be sacrificed.”

In the runup to the vote both Palestinian and Israelis were trying to voice optimism about the outcome, with Israel suggesting it had assurances from some 70% of delegations. For its part Palestinian officials were equally confidant about the vote.

“It is not a question of how many vote for us,” said one, “but at this stage how many actually vote against the motion.”

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:07 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The art of North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship

A string of recent missile launches may have been faked, but the country is a nuclear power that requires diplomatic engagement argues Robert E McCoy

Robert E McCoy for NK News, part of the North Korea network
Friday 29 May 2015 05.00 BST

North Korea’s press office announced earlier this month that Kim Jong-un had personally supervised the firing of a new submarine-based missile.

The news was soon followed by more footage from state media claiming to evidence another ballistic missile launch, but experts have since voiced doubts over the authenticity of the images.

But these stories are just the latest steps in a routine North Korea has long been playing with the west.

Despite often engaging in deals and agreements with western powers hoping to halt its nuclear proliferation, this “dance” of negotiations has so far failed to halt the DPRK’s military development.

North Korea submarine missile launch photos may be fake, say experts

For 25 years, the pariah state has been intent on developing a formidable arsenal, and the recent “missile launches” are just manoeuvres in a well worn routine the country has developed to get what it wants.

Recent attempts to negotiate with the secretive country have been made by Japan and South Korea, but the leading western power trying to bring about a resolution is the US, which doesn’t have a good history of dealing with the North.

In fact, the record is of one failure after another. There has been little success in getting Kim Jong-un or his father before him to give up their nuclear weapons – or to stop the country’s ballistic missile development.

Perhaps it’s time for diplomacy to try a different tack?
The routine begins

Troubles with North Korea began in 1989 when it was first suspected of developing a nuclear bomb, despite having signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty just three years earlier.

Continually denying entry to weapons inspectors, when observers were finally permitted to visit in 1992 they found discrepancies between what North Korea had previously declared – in terms of plutonium and the disposal of nuclear waste – and what the limited inspections revealed. Two further inspections were blocked, and no further information was provided by the North.

However in 1994, the US and North Korea signed an agreement in which Kim Jong-il – the current leader’s father – agreed to cease plutonium production, an important by-product in the working of a nuclear reactor.

In return, the North were promised petroleum and the construction of two light water reactors – which they claimed would be used for civilian electricity production. In fact the water reactor fuel rods could be salvaged for uranium enrichment purposes, and sure enough, not long after signing the US discovered that the DPRK was doing just that.

The US responded by halting all petroleum shipments, and the light water reactors were never finished.

Despite this, in 2003 the US agreed to participate in the Six-Party talks hosted by China, aimed at resolving the DPRK nuclear impasse, alongside Japan, Russia and South Korea. Characterised by fits and starts over the following six years, the talks were finally abandoned in 2009 with no substantive progress on the North Korean nuclear issue.

In 2012, yet another agreement – the Leap Day Deal – was signed in which the DPRK agreed to a moratorium on its nuclear and missile programs and entry for weapons inspectors, in exchange for food imports.

    These ​events suggest that North Korea has ​outmanoeuvred western powers for over 25 years

A mere 16 days later, the country announced a ballistic missile test under the guise of putting a satellite into orbit.

These events reveal a pattern, and suggests that North Korea has developed a tried-and-tested formula to outwit western powers for over 25 years.

It has done so using a modus operandi we’ll call “the dance”, which follows these eight steps:

Step 1: North Korea wants or needs something, most often food or petroleum.

Step 2: North Korea generates tension and gains international attention.

Step 3: Countries initially ignore the activity and attribute it to North Korea merely “acting up”.

Step 4: North Korea increases tension through increasingly violent acts or extreme rhetoric.

Step 5: The world finally pays attention and agrees to discuss a resolution.

Step 6: North Korea agrees to stop its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for what it needs or wants: food, petroleum or other aid.

Step 7: Once the aid is received, North Korea soon finds – or invents – a way to justify breaking its commitment.

Step 8: Repeat

During the protracted efforts to denuclearise North Korea, another threat was developing.

Intelligence reports amassed throughout the years of negotiations indicated a massive build up of conventional weapons in the demilitarised zone along the South Korean border targeting the capital Seoul, but nothing was done.

    Perhaps it’s time to ​admit that North Korea is indeed a nuclear power?

As a consequence of allowing these military installations, any opportunity for a preemptive strike against the North’s nuclear sites has been lost, for fear it would prompt an attack on Seoul and other parts of the South. Now, the threat of destruction raining down on the northern parts of South Korea is too high a price. Consequently, the only option remaining is diplomacy.

The facts are that the DPRK has a small nuclear arsenal, a crude but effective delivery system, and enough conventional rockets and short-range missiles aimed at densely populated areas of South Korea to make residents there nervous.

Of course, there are no guarantees that talking with North Korea will produce change. For one thing, it is highly improbable that the country would agree to give up its weapons: for Kim Jong-un, these programs are seen as vital to ensure his, and North Korea’s, survival.

But beyond the nuclear issue, there are a host of other pressing questions that would benefit greatly from discussion with the North: reunions for families separated by the Korean War, for example, or food and nutritional aid for children and nursing mothers, and medical assistance in combating tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, for starters.

It’s diplomacy that can bring about these much-needed conversations between the North and the rest of the world.

A version of this article first appeared in NK News, part of the North Korea network

Robert E McCoy is a retired US Air Force North Korea analyst who lived in Asia for 14 years, including over four years in Korea

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sri Lanka accused of waging 'silent war' as Tamil land is appropriated by army

US thinktank claims post-conflict harmony undermined by military occupation in north and east, combined with land grabs that have marginalised Tamil people

Sam Jones
Thursday 28 May 2015 16.09 BST

Six years after the end of Sri Lanka’s long and bloody civil war, a “silent” conflict is being waged across the island, with tens of thousands of government troops continuing to occupy the north and east and the army expanding its property developments on land belonging to displaced Tamils, a new report claims.

Although the 26-year-long conflict between the majority Sinhalese government and Tamil separatists finally ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), the study by the US-based thinktank the Oakland Institute finds little meaningful evidence of reconciliation.

'We even need permission to bury our dead': Sri Lanka's war legacy lingers | Libby Powell

It says hopes of peaceful coexistence are being thwarted by the enduring displacement of Tamils, the appropriation of their land by the military, the new government’s refusal to take the country off its war footing, and the delay in investigating allegations of war crimes committed by both state forces and the Tamil Tigers.

“Six years later, a silent war continues under a different guise,” says the report, The Long Shadow of War: the Struggle for Justice in Postwar Sri Lanka. “One major issue is the continued displacement of people from their lands and homes as a result of persistent military occupation of the northern and eastern provinces.”

The study says thousands of Tamils are still internally displaced and without homes and livelihoods, adding that those who have been “resettled” through government schemes have often been moved involuntarily to areas that lack proper infrastructure.

Equally disruptive is the Sri Lankan army’s ongoing occupation of what the government terms “high security zones” in the north and east of the country. The reports estimates that in 2014, there were at least 160,000 almost entirely Sinhalese soldiers stationed in the north. With the area’s population standing at a little more than 1 million people, the occupation means there is one soldier for every six civilians.

One woman, whose husband was arrested by the army in 1990 and has not been seen since, told the report’s authors that she and her family had been forced from their home by the army the same year and were still unable to return.

“Today, my home is still occupied by the army, which pays LKR 300 [$2.25; £1.60] a month for the land,” she said. “I went to the human rights commission … and to the district officer to protest the continued occupation of my home. The army says, ‘If the government asks us to move, we will vacate the lands.’ But there is no legal procedure to obtain my land back.”

Having lived in a camp for internally displaced people and then a village that was destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, the woman now relies on a charity to put a roof over her head.

“I have no hope of my husband returning – I hear there are mass graves of the missing – nor that the government will return my land,” she said. “I hear that the UN is investigating. I want the UN to know and investigate what I have gone through.”

The report argues that the military occupation has long ceased to be about ensuring security.

    The army officially runs luxury resorts that have been erected on land seized from now–internally displaced peoples
    Oakland Institute report

“The army has expanded non-military activities and is engaged in large-scale property development, construction projects, and business ventures such as travel agencies, farming, holiday resorts, restaurants, and innumerable cafes that dot the highways in the northern and eastern provinces,” it says. “The army officially runs luxury resorts and golf courses that have been erected on land seized from now–internally displaced peoples.”

It says tourists can book holidays at luxury beach resorts by calling numbers at the ministry of defence, adding: “These resorts and businesses are located on lands that were previously home to the local Tamil population, who were displaced by the war. They see no sign of return, despite numerous demands and petitions.”

The study says the recent land grabs fall into an old and familiar pattern that has resulted in the marginalisation of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population through violence, pogroms, repressive laws and a “government-orchestrated colonisation of the northern and eastern parts” of the island, traditionally the Tamils’ homeland.

Despite the optimism that greeted Maithripala Sirisena’s surprise victory over Mahinda Rajapaksa in January’s presidential election, the report says the new administration has shown little sign so far of abandoning the battlefield mentality that was the hallmark of Rajapaksa’s regime. In February, President Sirisena extended an order made by his predecessor that transferred police powers to the armed forces.

“The notification … calling out the armed forces to exercise police powers under the pretext of public security does not bode well for a return to civilian administration,” says the report. “Instead, the notification suggests concerns around public security and the inadequacy of the police to deal with the situation.”

It also noted that Sirisena’s administration had succeeded in persuading the UN to delay the publication of its report on war crimes and human rights abuses, which were alleged to have been committed by both sides in the final stages of the civil war. The government said the six-month postponement would “give space for the domestic investigation process”.

The report concludes that it remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka’s new government will deliver on all the promises it has made the international community.

“The determination and willingness of the international community to ensure justice for the minorities in Sri Lanka, especially the Tamils, is also an open question,” it says. “One thing is clear: the human rights situation in Sri Lanka will not improve until the culture of impunity is replaced with a culture of responsibility, accountability, and fulfilment of full rights of the Tamil community and all other minorities in the country.”

The Sri Lanka High Commission in London rejected several of the report’s assertions, saying the Oakland Institute had overestimated both the number of troops in the northern province and the extent of the military’s property development programme.

It said the number of soldiers deployed in the north was “much less” than 160,000, adding that troops were deployed in different provinces of Sri Lanka according to local security assessments.

The high commission went on: “The reference to the army being engaged in ‘large- scale’ property development, construction projects and business ventures is an exaggeration. However, it may be noted that the new government has pledged to ensure that the military does not engage in civilian areas such as commercial activities – which was permitted by the previous government – and steps are being taken in this regard.”

As a first step, it said, 1,000 acres of land in the Palali high-security zone in the far north of the island were released in March from the control of the army and air force to allow the resettlement of families displaced by the conflict. Similar releases were under way elsewhere in Sir Lanka, it added.

The high commission said that while the armed forces had operated some “welfare shops” in resettlement areas where there was no commercial activity, the shops had now been closed.

On the president’s decision to extend policing powers to the military, it said: “The public security ordinance which confers police powers to armed forces had been in place for many decades … President Maithripala Sirisena only extended it.”

 on: May 29, 2015, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kyrgyzstan strives to make inroads on poor maternal health record

The country has the highest maternal mortality rates among eastern European countries, but a three-year $11m programme aims to improve quality of care

Liz Ford in Bishkek
Thursday 28 May 2015 14.38 BST
Aiperi Isaeva, 23, travelled to Bishkek from her village in Issyk-Kul to give birth to her second child. The distance to the Kyrgyzstan capital is about 400km, but there is no maternity hospital in her village.

Isaeva, a primary school teacher, experienced no complications during labour and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. “The birth went well, everything was good, and I had very experienced doctors,” she says, speaking through a translator in a small, warm, three-bedded room in maternity hospital no 2.

What are the millennium development goals on child mortality and maternal health all about?

In the room next door, Elvira Dairbek, 24, is recovering from the birth of her son, who arrived the same day. It’s her third child, and the birth went without a hitch. Dairbek, who is in the final year of a finance degree, says she will be leaving hospital the next day. Her grandmother has arrived to help take care of her and her two other young sons. Her husband and parents live and work in Moscow.

“The service here is very good,” she says, cuddling her newborn son.

Both women’s experiences are testament to the work being done in Kyrgyzstan to improve health services over the past decade, and in particular to decrease maternal and child deaths.

The country has successfully reduced under-five mortality from more than 40 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 1990 to 23 in 2012. But lowering the maternal mortality rate is proving considerably harder.

Kyrgyzstan has the highest maternal mortality rates among eastern European and central Asian countries, and is way off track to meet the 2015 deadline for the millennium development goal (MDG) on maternal mortality, which aimed to reduce by three-quarters the number of women dying as a result of childbirth.

Figures vary, but the latest data from the World Bank estimates that the number of women dying in childbirth for every 100,000 live births in Kyrgyzstan is 75, down only slightly from about 85 in 1990. The country’s MDG target is 15.

A 2013 report from the UN development programme found that most maternal fatalities were avoidable, with deaths from haemorraghing, acute sepsis, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia remaining stubbornly high.

Previous health programmes, including free healthcare for pregnant women and improvements to obstetric and gynaecological services, have made some inroads. But positive change has been largely dependent on where you live and whether you have money.

Women’s lack of economic independence – particularly in rural parts of the country, where two-thirds of the population live – has a significant bearing on maternal health. In poorer, rural areas, women were less likely to receive adequate prenatal care. Fear of being sacked from their jobs made them less inclined to take maternity leave, and they also had difficulty affording drugs, such as iron tablets for anaemia (which can lead to premature births if left untreated). According to the country’s national statistics committee, 64% of women in Kyrgyzstan have anaemia, more than twice the number in 1990.

Funding for maternal health services has increased, largely thanks to donor funding. Between 2004 and 2011, funding rose from 213.5m soms (more than $3.6m, or £2.35m) to 761.1 million soms. But as a percentage of the entire health budget, the amount is small, and has fallen over that period from 9.9% to 7.9%.

But a three-year, $11m programme between the World Bank and the ministry of health, launched last year, aims to address the disparities and accelerate progress on cutting maternal deaths. Bishkek’s maternity hospital no 2 is one of more than 40 health centres around the country involved in a pilot, a key part of which will involve training to improve staff skills.

“90% [of maternal deaths] were found to be preventable, the result of the levels of skills of the staff and the speed of getting medicine to people,” says Arsen Askerov, president of the Kyrgyz Association of Obstetricians, Gynaecologists and Neonatologists. “We need more skills than resources.”

While international guidelines on antenatal care – which stipulate that women should receive at least four visits – are widely adhered to in the country, the quality of that care is poor, adds Askerov.

“There are not enough competent specialists,” he says. “We have young specialists who don’t have a high level of skills. In rural areas there is a lack of specialists.”

    90% of maternal deaths were found to be preventable
    Arsen Askerov, president, KOAGN

Although the programme is still in its early stages – it ends in 2017 – Askerov is optimistic it will produce results. “We hope that improved services will reduce deaths. We will be trying over the next three years as much as possible to strengthen these services.”

But another element that needs attention is raising awareness around reproductive health, not least by ensuring that women know the danger signs of pregnancy and, crucially, have access to decent family planning services that – as well as reducing the number of teen births and decreasing the number of abortions – would allow them to space pregnancies.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the 69 priority countries under the Family Planning 2020 global partnership, which is working to increase access to modern forms of contraception for 120 million more women and girls globally by 2020. The percentage of women of reproductive age using a modern form of contraception in Kyrgyzstan is about 24%.

Sitting on her bed in the maternity hospital, Dairbek, who was married at 18, says she didn’t use contraception. “We’re not allowed to take contraceptives in our family,” she says. “My mother didn’t use it.” It was not in her plans to have children so quickly after marriage – her eldest son is four – and although she says she’s “very happy” to have three sons, she adds: “For the next five years, no babies.”

 on: May 29, 2015, 05:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Suu Kyi Sidesteps Rohingya Migrant Crisis for Political Pragmatism

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 07:04

Aung San Suu Kyi was once an unassailable champion of Myanmar's powerless. But the opposition leader's refusal to speak up for a persecuted Muslim minority at the heart of a migrant crisis has cast doubt over her moral force -- and even earned a gentle rebuke from fellow Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama.

Images of hungry migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh hauled from vessels to Southeast Asian shores after months at sea have spurred calls for immediate humanitarian action to be matched by moves to address the root causes of the crisis.

Regional nations are gathering in Bangkok Friday to discuss both issues.

Attention has swung to one of the key departure points for the migrants, strife-torn Rakhine state in western Myanmar, where tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims live in dire displacement camps desperate to leave.

But as Myanmar's government wavers between offering some assistance to stricken migrants and denying any responsibility for their exodus, international rights groups looking for a moral beacon have found little support from Suu Kyi.

Her absence from the discussion has been so conspicuous that the Dalai Lama this week urged Suu Kyi to throw her weight behind the Rohingya.

"It's very sad. In the Burmese (Myanmar) case I hope Aung San Suu Kyi, as a Nobel laureate, can do something," he told Thursday's edition of The Australian newspaper.

The Buddhist spiritual leader said he recognised the difficulty of her position in a nation where expressing sympathy for the Muslim group brings ready condemnation.

"But in spite of that I feel she can do something," he added.

Suu Kyi spent more than 15 years locked up by the former junta for her tireless campaign for democracy in Myanmar.

Her personal sacrifice, which tore her from her young children and dying British husband, and eloquent pleas that the nation's long-suffering population should have "freedom from fear" won her a place among the world's most lauded peacemakers.

Yet since her release from house arrest in 2010, Suu Kyi's role has been recast from a defiant human rights defender to a hard-nosed political actor preparing to lead her opposition party into elections later this year.

The Nobel laureate "has been a huge disappointment in her continuous failure to stand up for human rights" in Myanmar, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

While Myanmar's government carries the main responsibility for the plight of the Rohingya in the country, Robertson lamented the veteran activist's failure to use her "moral authority" to press for a better deal for them.

- 'Speaking up not an option' -

But just months away from the best chance of electoral victory of her political career, Suu Kyi faces pressure in the opposite direction, as public opinion inside Buddhist-majority Myanmar hardens against a Muslim minority widely viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Her hardest task is to secure the amendment of a junta-scripted constitution from within an army-dominated legislature that currently bars her from the presidency.

Championing the Rohingya "would probably be the only situation where (Suu Kyi's party) would run the risk of not winning the elections ... speaking up is not an option for her at the moment," said Myanmar analyst Mael Raynaud.

The plight of the Rohingya, one of the world's most persecuted minorities, has worsened dramatically since 2012 when communal bloodshed left scores dead and some 140,000 people confined in miserable camps.

The violence triggered a wave of deadly anti-Muslim unrest in Myanmar and coincided with rising Buddhist nationalism that has further entrenched animosity towards the minority.

Hardline monks have promoted legislation seen as targeting Muslims including plans to introduce local family planning regulations and a move to withdraw "white card" identity documents mainly held by the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy says it is firmly against the controversial religious bills, which are seen as discriminatory to women and minorities.

Encircled by a hostile Buddhist majority, which also restricts their travel and work, the Rohingya have taken to boats in increasing numbers headed for Malaysia.

On May 19 Suu Kyi said Myanmar's "government has to solve the issue" in her only direct public comments on a crisis that has seen more than 3,500 migrants -- Rohingya and Bangladeshi  -- arrive in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

However her spokesman was more forthcoming, telling Agence France Presse last week that the Rohingya were "entitled to human rights".

Against a backdrop of visceral hatred towards the Rohingya and looming polls, Suu Kyi must play an "intricate game of political chess", says Peter Popham, author of a biography of the opposition leader.

Caution and compromise have dominated her time in parliament, following a landslide win for her opposition in 2012 by-elections, as she waded into treacly domestic politics in a country struggling to rebuild after nearly half a century of neglect under the military.

But Popham said the implication in foreign media that she had failed to speak out was "to some extent unfair" citing speeches during international trips that highlighted problems in Rakhine "very prominently."

Source: Agence France Presse


Myanmar Rejects Being 'Singled Out' by U.N. at Migrant Crisis Talks

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 08:33

Myanmar's delegate to talks in Bangkok on Southeast Asia's migrant crisis on Friday rebuked the U.N.'s refugee agency for calling on the country to recognize the Muslim Rohingya minority as citizens to stem their exodus from its shores.

On "this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country," Myanmar delegate Foreign Ministry Director-General Htin Lynn said in stern response to a UNHCR plea to address the root causes of the ongoing migration crisis including the statelessness issue.

In his opening remarks to a meeting with 17 countries and other agencies, Volker Turk, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection, urged Myanmar to tackle the flow of Rohingya southwards, where they have arrived in thousands on the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

To address the root causes of the exodus "will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar to all its people," he said.

"Granting of citizenship is the ultimate goal."

Myanmar denies citizenship to the majority of its 1.3 million Rohingya and does not accept them as one of its official ethnic minorities, instead calling them "Bengalis" -- shorthand for foreigners from neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar rejects any internationalization of the issue of the status of the Muslim minority, since communal violence in 2012 between Rohingya and the Buddhist majority in western Rakhine State brought their plight to the fore.

The Myanmar delegate called Volker's comments a "politicization" of the migrant subject, adding that "some issues" are internal.

Around 3,500 starving migrants, mainly Rohingya as well as poor Bangladeshis, have made shore in Southeast Asia since the start of the month, when a Thai crackdown on people smuggling disrupted a well-worn route southwards from the Bay of Bengal.

Source: Agence France Presse


Myanmar's Navy Finds 727 Migrants Packed in a boat

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 May 2015, 14:20

Myanmar's navy found 727 people crammed on a fishing boat in its waters, the Ministry of Information said in a Facebook post Friday, adding the would-be "Bengali" migrants had been towed to an island.

"Altogether 727 people -- 608 Bengali men, 74 women and 45 children -- in a fishing boat have been arrested as a Myanmar Navy ship found them this morning in the delta," the statement said.

The discovery comes as a Myanmar delegation joins an international conference in Bangkok to address a migrant crisis that has erupted since the start of May, leaving around 3,500 people on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesia soil and an estimated 2,500 more stranded at sea.

The majority of the migrants are persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar's western Rakhine State or people fleeing poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Photographs on the ministry's Facebook page published on Friday afternoon showed bare-chested men on the stern deck of an old fishing boat packed tightly in rows, while women appeared to be kept below deck. 

It was unclear where the migrants were from and where they were headed.

Record numbers of people from the region are believed to have made the journey south so far this year ahead of the looming monsoon.

The Navy towed the "Bengali boat people" to a nearby Myanmar island, the ministry said, without giving further details.

More than 200 migrants were found adrift last week near waters off the Rakhine State in western Myanmar where the 1.3 million Rohingya live in dire conditions.

The majority were taken to the Bangladesh border to be repatriated, although it is not clear if they have been allowed to cross or if Rohingya from Myanmar were among the group.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group and officials routinely refer to them as "Bengalis" from across the border.

Source: Agence France Presse

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