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 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Human rights abuses ‘leave a third of Libyans with mental health problems’

Research reveals human consequences of violence and lawlessness in north African country since fall of Gaddafi
Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 November 2014 11.09 GMT      

“Widespread and gross” human rights violations in Libya, including disappearances, arrests, torture and deaths, have left nearly a third of the population suffering from mental health problems as violence and lawlessness continues, according to a new report.

Research by Dignity – the Danish Institute against Torture – shared with the Guardian, paints a devastating picture of the human consequences of the regionalism, tribalism and factionalism that have wracked the north African country since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi three-and-a-half years ago.

A fifth of households (20%) had a family member who had disappeared, 11% reported having a household member arrested and 5% reported that one had been killed, researchers found. Of those arrested, 46% reported beatings, 20% positional torture or suspensions and 16% suffocation. Between 3% and 5% reported having suffered sexual, thermal or electrical torture.

“Our data supports the allegations that widespread … and gross human rights violations have taken place in Libya,” says the report, which seeks to assess Libya’s mental health needs and was co-authored with Benghazi University. The survey is based on 2,692 household interviews and was completed in October 2013. The situation may have got worse since then, it concludes.

Data revealed that 29% of individuals reported anxiety and 30% depression. Stress levels showed a preoccupation with political instability (63.6%) followed by the collapse of the country (61.2%), insecurity about “life right now” (56.6%) and insecurity about the future (46.4%). Nearly 30% reported being exposed to violence during demonstrations.

Despite the ongoing crisis, respondents have had almost no access to international humanitarian assistance. Only 2% reported that NGOs had helped them. Libyans have overwhelmingly resorted to local resources for social support: 72% used family networks, 48% friends, 43% doctors, 24% religious leaders and 18% traditional healers.

“Libya has a practice of not seeking help for psychological problems, and the few trained psychologists and psychiatrists have very limited experience of treating trauma and consequences of torture and war,” the report said.

“In addition, severe social stigma exists regarding those affected by mental illness. Psychiatric symptoms are attributed to the act of pagan symbols like the evil eye, magic or sorcery.”

Ahlam Chemlali, one of the Dignity field workers, recalled how “videos of rape and torture were so widespread and popular that people would name characters from the videos, like the ‘butcher from Misrata’ or the ‘rapist from Brega’ as if they were actors playing in a horror snuff movie. Filmed torture seems to have been a consistent way of spreading or exposing fear.”

Internal displacement was also a major concern: 18% of respondents reported being displaced during the conflict and 16% remained so at the time of the interview. An estimated 35,000 people from Tawergha, accused by militias from Misrata of fighting with the Gaddafi regime, remain displaced.

The report recalls the exhilaration in Benghazi when the Libyan revolution began in February 2011 but concludes that both the short-term consequences of the internal conflict and the long-term legacy of 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule remain unaddressed.

Lack of trust, out of an ingrained fear of regime agents and informers, remains a powerful barrier to building a functional state based on democratic institutions and the rule of law.

“Nobody could be trusted so you kept silent,” Morten Koch Andersen, another of the report’s authors, told the Guardian.

“This also impacted our work for torture survivors. It was extremely difficult to get people to talk together, not to mention to work and plan for the future. They did not trust each other – even professionals on the same side of the conflict.”

Gaddafi’s overthrow by rebels supported by Nato, some Gulf states and Turkey, was seen by many as an early success story of the Arab spring, but it soured quickly in the absence of strong national institutions and the mushrooming of rival militias.

Strikingly, however, the report notes, almost a third of respondents experienced an improvement in their life situation after the Gaddafi’’s removal, despite political instability and parliament’s failure to agree on leadership and legal foundations for the nation, including a constitution.

“The dream of a united, peaceful and democratic Libya, which dominated people’s hopes and political discourse in the wake of the downfall of Gaddafi’s regime, have given way to a vocabulary and practice of violence, fragmentation, fear and hostility,” the report says.

“The future of Libya is uncertain, but as the results of the study show, the effects and consequences of violent conflict [are] deep and will influence Libyan society in the years to come, regardless of political system and rule.

“Any future government of Libya faces massive challenges in alleviating human suffering and improving mental health. However, as the internal conflict continues, more and more people are affected by human rights violations, aggravating mental health afflictions, straining the social fabric and the capacity of the Libyan state.”


Libyan PM says Tripoli bombing will stop when extremists surrender

Abdullah al-Thinni refuses UN call to end air strikes on rebel-held positions in the capital, seized by Libya Dawn in August

Chris Stephen in Tunis
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 November 2014 11.57 GMT   

Libya’s prime minister has refused a UN call to halt two days of air strikes against rebel-held positions in Tripoli as the country’s civil war escalates.

The bombing has seen the city’s Mitiga airport shut down, worsening a conflict that has already torn the country apart, displaced 400,000 people and threatened involvement by outside powers.

The prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, head of the internationally recognised government, told UN envoy Bernadino Leon that Tripoli is held by extremists and the bombing will stop only when they surrender.

In turn, Omar al-Hasi, leader of Libya Dawn, whose militias control the capital, has accused the elected government of being led by devotees of Muammar Gaddafi, overthrown in the 2011 revolution.

Damage from the air strikes, concentrated on the airport, has been light, with one bomb striking homes on the perimeter, but the psychological effect has been profound, with the few international flights still operating suspended.

Fighting has wracked the country since Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August, obliging the newly elected parliament to flee to the eastern city of Tobruk.

Since then, pro-government forces have fought two separate but interconnected campaigns against rebels in both Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s second city, which had been held by Islamist forces.

In Benghazi, air power has proved the decisive weapon in the government arsenal, wearing down Islamist brigades including Ansar al-Sharia, which was blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the UN last week.

Al-Thinni hopes bombing will give his forces the same advantage in the battle for Tripoli, demanding Libya Dawn disarm and hand over “perpetrators of criminal acts”.

Meanwhile, Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist brigades and militias from western coastal towns including Misrata, is fighting government forces on a jagged front south and west of Tripoli.

The international community has been content to remain largely on the sidelines, but some diplomats worry the war may spill over the country’s borders. Libya’s government accuses Qatar and Turkey of aiding Libya Dawn, while Dawn accuses Egypt and the United Arab Emirates of arming government forces.

Leon, appointed to mediate a peace deal, said he fears the bombing of Tripoli will “undermine efforts to resolve the crisis through peaceful means”.

He hopes to mediate a ceasefire coupled with agreement to form a unity government, but prospects for a deal appear slight with both sides confident they can win the war.

Al-Thinni’s government thinks its monopoly of Libya’s all-important oil revenues gives it economic power to match the growing strength of its army and, lately, air force. This week pro-government forces from Zintan captured the strategically important town of Kikla, south of Tripoli, saying they will move on the capital.

Dawn is equally defiant, promising reinforcements from Misrata to turn the tide at Kikla. Hasi announced that the air strikes have ended the possibility of negotiations, saying there would now be “a policy of war and confrontation, and we are the ones who will win, God willing”.

In Tripoli, many fear being caught in the coming storm. One student said: “The bombing is making everyone nervous, there are checkpoints everywhere, people are leaving their homes near the airport.”

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Israeli president opposes proposed law to give ‘national rights’ to Jews only

Critics say ‘Jewish nation-state’ bill would diminish freedoms of minorities and give ammunition to enemies abroad

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 November 2014 12.40 GMT   

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, has voiced his strong opposition to a controversial proposed new law that would define “national rights” in Israel as reserved for Jews only.

The “Jewish nation-state” bill would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and possibly delist Arabic as a second official language. It is being promoted vigorously by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday, but has attracted fierce criticism from opponents inside Israel as well as from the US and the EU.

Critics contend that the law – whose final form of words has yet to be settled and whose language seems likely to be softened – threatens to undermine Israel’s declaration of independence, which gives equal rights to the country’s minorities, including Israeli Arabs, by promoting the idea of Israel as a “Jewish state” above one that is “democratic”.

In an emotional critique of the proposed new legislation, which would become part of Israel’s basic laws , Rivlin said those who had drawn up Israel’s declaration of independence “in their great wisdom, insist that the Arab public in Israel not feel like the Jews felt in the diaspora.”

Speaking at a conference in the southern city of Eilat, Rivlin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, asked: “What is the point of this bill?”

“Does this bill not in fact play into the hands of those who seek to slander us? Into the very hands of those who wish to show that even among us, there are those who see contradiction between our being a free people in our land, and the freedoms of the non-Jewish communities in our midst?

“The declaration of independence, in its depth and greatness, bound together two components of the state as Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish.”

For his part, Netanyahu has argued that individual civil rights would be guaranteed under existing laws for all, but that “national rights” should be reserved for Jews.

Rivlin’s comments came as the bill becomes mired in the fractious politics of Netanyahu’s increasingly divided coalition, with centrist parties threatening to vote against it when it comes before parliament next week.

It has also drawn the opposition of some on the right – like Rivlin, as well as commentators – who argue it is an unnecessary law that gives ammunition to Israel’s critics internationally.

On Wednesday, former defence and foreign minister Moshe Arens condemned the new legislation in a comment piece for Haaretz.

“We don’t need legislation to make Israel a Jewish state, and you cannot make it a Jewish state by legislation,” he writes.

“It is a Jewish state because the majority of the population is Jewish, because the dominant language spoken is Hebrew, because most of the books published here are Hebrew books, and most of the songs sung here are Hebrew songs … But most important, because of the Law of Return which enables any Jew, anywhere in the world, seeking refuge or desiring to live in Israel, to come here and become a citizen of the country.

“But not only is the proposed law unnecessary, it is harmful. A quarter of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and probably the most important item on the nation’s agenda should be their integration into the fabric of Israeli society and their participation in the Israeli economy. Giving them the feeling of being at home, of being equal citizens.”

Other critics of the new law include Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, who has said it will make the state “less democratic and more racist”. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has described the law as a potential impediment to the peace process.

Rivlin’s intervention follows international warnings from the US and the EU.

A US state department spokesman said on Monday that it expected Israel to “continue [its] commitment to democratic principles”.

“The United States position, which is unchanged, has been clear for years – and the president and the secretary [of state] have also reiterated it – is that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights.”

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Tesco director facing questions about lobbying government over dirty chicken report

Exclusive: Former FSA chief Tim Smith understood to have warned Department of Health that revealing food poisoning contamination rates could provoke a food scare and damage the industry

• Campylobacter: costly problem producers don’t want to tackle

Felicity Lawrence
Tuesday 25 November 2014 18.43 GMT

The former head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), who went straight from his job as regulator to a lucrative role as technical director of Tesco, lobbied the government this summer about its plans to publish the official food poisoning contamination rates for supermarket chicken, the Guardian has been told.

Tim Smith is understood to have warned the Department of Health in June that FSA proposals for publishing results, which included naming and shaming individual supermarkets, could provoke a food scare and damage the industry.

The lobbying has raised questions over whether Smith has abided by terms set by David Cameron for his appointment. His move straight from the regulator to a supermarket group he had been regulating in October 2012 was approved by the prime minister, following advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, on the condition that he did not lobby civil servants or ministers on behalf of Tesco for two years.

The FSA has been fighting a decade-long campaign to get supermarkets and the poultry industry to clean up their meat. A Guardian investigation into industry hygiene lapses earlier this year revealed that the majority of fresh supermarket chicken remains contaminated with the potentially lethal food poisoning bug campylobacter. Six in ten chickens were contaminated in anonymised FSA tests results released after a delay in August. The industry is now poised to receive the results of further tests covering peak season for the bug, due to be published on Thursday. These are likely to show even higher rates of contamination and will identify individual supermarkets and their scores.

The policy of naming and shaming the dirtiest companies for their campylobacter rates has been a key part of the FSA’s strategy to deal with industry’s failure to tackle what is the commonest form of food poisoning in the UK – it kills around 100 people and makes an estimated 280,000 sick each year.

However the agency backed down in July from its public promise to name individual retailers in the first batch of contamination results. It had come under intense pressure from other government departments, and according to sources, Number 10 had raised concerns that the communication of results could provoke a food scare similar to that triggered when former conservative minister Edwina Currie warned that most British eggs were contaminated with salmonella in 1988.

The FSA said in the summer when it decided to back down from naming supermarkets that “other government departments have reflected to us concerns which are the same as those we’ve heard directly from retailers and producers”.

Now it is alleged that the FSA’s own former boss appeared to undermine its campylobacter strategy. Labour’s food and farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies wrote earlier this month to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt asking for “unequivocal assurance” that Smith did not lobby his department inappropriately over campylobacter and in breach of his conditions of appointment, but has not yet received a reply.

Despite the conditions attached to his appointment, The Guardian has been told that Smith approached the senior civil servant responsible for the Department of Health’s public health division for a discussion about the publication of the campylobacter results. During the conversation he is said to have raised concerns that it would provoke a food scare.

The Guardian put in Freedom of Information requests to the department last month, asking which companies lobbied over campylobacter and what had passed between the departments. The department refused to give any information and that decision is now being appealed.

The Guardian also asked the department last week if its public health team had been lobbied by Smith. A spokeswoman said it could not comment because of the FoI appeal.

Both Tesco and Smith declined to say whether he had lobbied on the supermarket’s behalf in apparent breach of the conditions of his appointment. In a statement, Tesco said that it is “committed to the reduction of the industry-wide issue of campylobacter in poultry”.

“We work in close collaboration with our suppliers, other retailers and relevant food and health authorities to address the issue at all stages of the supply chain.”

Asked whether it had been made aware by DH of any views expressed by Smith on campylobacter results, the FSA said it could not comment as the content of exchanges between departments on campylobacter strategy was part of a separate FoI request by the Guardian which had been refused.

The agency is still being lobbied by industry in a last-ditch attempt to stop it naming and shaming individual companies in this week’s results.

The current FSA chief executive, Catherine Brown, noted in board papers this month: “It is disappointing that the British Retail Consortium, which speaks on behalf of retailers, has written to us again pressing us not to release the results of the retail survey and seeking to call in to question the validity of the sampling plan, which they were consulted about before the survey commenced.”

Irranca-Davies said; “To tackle campylobacter we need transparency on the extent of the problem. We also need transparency whether there has been any inappropriate lobbying to delay or dilute publication of the campylobacter rates.

“After the horsemeat scandal and the allegations of hygiene failings in the poultry industry the government must restore confidence in the food sector and ensure that the FSA puts the interests of the consumer first.”

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd, said: “It’s scandalous that so much chicken with high levels of campylobacter ends up on our supermarket shelves.

“The supermarkets, watchdog and industry need to clean up their act and immediately publish the data they’ve been keeping from the public and tell consumers what action they’re taking to make sure that chicken is safe.”

Campylobacter: at a glance

    Campylobacter thrives in the gut and faeces of poultry, and can easily be spread from bird to bird on farms or in abattoirs. The bug is killed by cooking but it is also easily spread when raw meat contaminates surfaces and utensils in the kitchen. It is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, making around 280,000 people ill each year and leading to around 100 deaths. In rare cases it can cause serious disability. Since many people do not report food poisoning, the real figure for campylobacter illness are probably much higher. This year the Food Standards Agency reported that 59% of raw chicken on sale in the UK is contaminated with campylobacter. The FSA reveals new tests this week detailing the rates at different supermarkets.

    To clean up the system would cost money. Intensive farming, cramped transport conditions, the mechanised processes in modern abattoirs have all contributed to higher rates of campylobacter. With constant pressure from supermarkets to keep the price of chicken low, and the industry working on high volumes but low margins, experts say the campylobacter problem has been left unsolved for years.

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Tony Abbott a backward-looking failure adrift on world stage, says Bill Shorten

Labor opposition leader issues a fiery denunciation of Australian prime minister and his government

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent, Wednesday 26 November 2014 06.55 GMT   
Bill Shorten has launched a scathing critique of Tony Abbott, casting the Australian prime minister as a backward-looking failure at home and “adrift” on the world stage.

The opposition leader said the government had “no prospect” of getting its higher education changes through the Senate, had lost the argument for other contentious budget proposals, and should drop the measures before next month’s economic update.

In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Shorten also accused Abbott of squandering “a once in a generation” foreign policy opportunity by using the G20 summit in Brisbane to pursue domestic political complaints rather than a future-focused vision.

Abbott returned fire during parliamentary question time, describing Shorten’s Labor team as “fiscal saboteurs” and the “worst lot of wreckers and vandals in Australian history”. Labor represented “a menace to our country’s future”, the prime minister said.

The political positioning comes as the government struggles to get billions of dollars of budget savings through a hostile Senate before parliament rises next week for the Christmas break.

Abbott specifically referenced his difficulties legislating a proposed $7 co-payment on GP visits and the deregulation of university fees in a speech to world leaders at the Australian-hosted G20 meeting the weekend before last.

Shorten said it was “a weird, cringe-worthy, ‘little Australia’ lecture to the global community” and called on the government to abandon both policies before the treasurer, Joe Hockey, delivers the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook next month.

“The G20 was an unqualified failure when it should have been an unqualified success,” Shorten said. “Imagine telling the prime minister of Turkey that you’ve got problems with a GP tax when they’ve got two million refugees.”

The opposition leader vowed to stand firm against the deregulation of university fees, saying he was “not for turning” and the government had failed to muster adequate crossbench support.

He said the university bill contained “short-sighted and unfair class war changes” and the proposed 20% cut to course funding would be “the greatest act of vandalism” to higher education. The government had “a snowflake’s chance in that hot place where bad people go” of increasing interest rates on student loans.

Shorten would not specifically commit a future Labor government to unwind the Coalition’s higher education changes. “There’s a big hypothetical in that – if the government gets their changes through. At this stage there is no prospect of that,” he said.

“We believe the best thing we can do for our universities is defeat these rotten changes and we start again the process, so we are not contemplating failure on our defence of higher education.”

Shorten, who has spent the past six months campaigning against Abbott and Hockey’s “rotten” and “unfair” first budget, said the government’s problem was not the sales job but the product.

The Labor leader used his speech to lay out some markers on the importance of confronting the long-term challenges of climate change and demographic shifts, saying Australia’s future depended on a highly skilled, highly educated workforce.

Australians were concerned about where the jobs of the future would come from, Shorten said, but the nation should aim to be an innovative “services hub in the Asian century” and a “clean energy powerhouse”.

In an apparent response to Abbott’s criticism of the opposition’s blocking tactics in the Senate, Shorten said the year had been “defined by force of Labor’s resistance” but next year he would shift focus to laying out policy ideas.

Shorten said he accepted that Labor had to rebuild public trust and develop a positive plan before the 2016 election.

“We will not ask the Australian people to vote for us just because we are not the Abbott government,” he said. “At the next election Labor will offer the nation more than a list of Tony Abbott’s lies.”

Shorten is yet to spell out a detailed alternative plan for repairing the budget. He said the budget faced “pressures” and the challenge was to ensure that revenue matched spending in the medium term while not forcing the bottom half of income earners to do the heavy lifting.

Shorten pointed the finger at the Coalition for worsening the deficit shortly after it came to office last year.

He said it was still “early days” for Labor in developing its economic policies for the 2016 election, but repeated his previous suggestions that the government should “dump its Rolls-Royce paid parental leave scheme”, pursue multinational tax evaders and rethink superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy.

Shorten said if the government was having budget problems it should “stop paying polluters to pollute and introduce a market-based system” to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Abbott did not confirm reports that he was planning to dump the yet-to-be-legislated GP co-payment, but said the government was “calmly and methodically addressing the problems that our nation faces”.

“The truth is Labor gave us a debt and deficit disaster, a fiscal deterioration unprecedented in our history,” the prime minister said during question time.

“Having created the problem, they are now trying to sabotage the solution … They are the greatest fiscal vandals in Australia’s history … They are a menace to our country’s future.”

The education minister, Christopher Pyne, said Shorten was “more concerned with cringe-worthy cliches and hysterical scare campaigns intended to turn people off university rather than engaging in a conversation about reform”.

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:33 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Hong Kong Police Clear Protest Camp, Arrest Movement Leaders

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 07:16

Hong Kong police arrested Joshua Wong and another student protest leader Wednesday as authorities forcibly cleared part of a main road blocked for two months by a pro-democracy sit-in.

Scuffles broke out as police wearing helmets and brandishing batons moved in to protect workmen, when crowds surged forward to try to stop them tearing down road barricades in Mongkok district.

The operation went ahead a day after more than 100 demonstrators were arrested as authorities cleared another section of the Mongkok protest camp.

Hundreds of police quickly pushed protesters back, and removed wooden and metal barricades, tents and other obstructions along a 500-meter stretch of Nathan Road.

Around two hours after the operation started, only a handful of protesters remained at the edge of the former protest site.

The movement's student leaders Wong and Lester Shum were arrested at the scene, according to a group called Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

It was not immediately clear why they were detained.

Tensions were running high after scuffles the previous day when police used pepper spray on protesters at the site, the scene of some of the most violent clashes since the sit-ins began at three separate locations in the city on September 28.

"If we lose here, we won't lose heart. We can go somewhere else (to occupy). It doesn't need to be here," Kelvin Ng, 21, told AFP.

Demonstrators are demanding fully free elections for the leadership of the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city in 2017.

Police said they arrested 116 people, including a 14-year-old boy, after Tuesday's clashes and 20 police officers were injured.

They also detained a television news crew member who was covering the operation, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said, condemning the arrest.

- Waning public support -Wednesday's clearance was the third since Hong Kong's high court, responding to petitions from a building owner and public transport operators, granted injunctions ordering the operations.

"Please obey the injunction, leave immediately," a court bailiff told the crowd before the operation began.

Civilian workers wearing "I love HK" T-shirts and red baseball caps then began removing barricades blocking the road but protesters remained defiant.

"I won't leave. It's (the sit-in) been illegal from day one with or without the court order," said one demonstrator, wearing a yellow helmet and a mask, who refused to give his name.

The demonstrators are protesting against China's restrictions on who will be allowed to stand in the 2017 election for the city's chief executive.

Critics say this will guarantee the election of a pro-Beijing candidate.

The protests on a few occasions drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets.

But the crowds have dwindled markedly in recent weeks as the movement has struggled to maintain momentum and commuters have grown weary of transport disruptions.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, which has led the protests, said it was considering the next step.

"The path of communication has run its course. If the government continues to resort to collusion with the police, unscrupulously going against the tide, then we can only take the next step of action," it said on its Facebook page without elaborating.

Demonstrators clashed with police in Mongkok last month after protesters tried to reclaim part of a camp which had been cleared by authorities.

Officers at that time used batons and pepper spray against protesters who shielded themselves with umbrellas, but police were eventually forced into a partial retreat.

Source: Agence France Presse


China’s first anti-domestic violence law hailed as a step forward

Draft law defines term for first time and streamlines process for getting restraining orders, although activists say it falls short

Agence France-Presse in Beijing
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 November 2014 12.21 GMT   

China has drafted its first national law against domestic violence, with activists hailing it as a step forward in a country where abuse has long been sidelined as a private matter.

The new law formally defines domestic violence for the first time and streamlines the process for obtaining restraining orders – measures long advocated by anti-domestic abuse groups.

“Over the years, we’ve many times felt powerless ourselves to help victims,” said Hou Zhiming, a veteran women’s rights advocate who heads the Maple Women’s Psychological Counselling Centre in Beijing.

“If this law is actually enacted – because the issuing of a draft means it will now enter the law-making process – we will be very pleased,” said Hou, whose centre is one of China’s longest-running anti-domestic violence organisations.

“At the very least, there’s finally movement on this law,” she said on Wednesday.

But advocates also say the draft law, released by the Legislative Affairs Office of China’s State Council on Tuesday, excludes unmarried and divorced couples and falls short in some other areas.

Julia Broussard, country programme manager for UN Women, said that UN agencies were “thrilled” to see the law made public after more than a decade of efforts by Chinese advocates, “but we did note right away that it doesn’t extend to any non-family relations”.

“We know that domestic violence is also occurring in the context of other relationships not defined as family relationships” including dating, cohabiting and same-sex couples, Broussard said.

“And so, our concern is that some of the violence is not going to be addressed by the law,” she added.

Less than two decades ago, physical abuse was not even acceptable as grounds for divorce in China. In 2001 the marriage law was amended to explicitly ban domestic violence for the first time.

But without a legal definition of the term, many victims – if they report abuse at all – have been shuffled from police to women’s federation to neighbourhood committee, with authorities reluctant to intervene unless serious injury is involved.

“It’s very important for China to have some kind of nationwide, targeted domestic violence legislation on the books, because it has not had it, and it’s been a real legal barrier for a lot of women seeking to extricate themselves from very abusive relationships,” said Leta Hong-Fincher, author of Leftover Women: the Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.

“Despite the shortcomings we need to acknowledge that this is important legislation and a very important first step towards tackling this epidemic of domestic violence in China,” she said.

Currently little protection is available if a partner threatens violence against a victim who tries to leave, activists note, as restraining orders are rarely issued in China and shelters are nearly non-existent.

Courts must rule on restraining order requests within 48 hours, according to the draft law – but if one is granted, the victim must start a lawsuit within 30 days or it would lapse.

Experts say it is rare for domestic violence laws to require victims to undertake a lawsuit in order to obtain or maintain a restraining order.

“This is a bit problematic,” Broussard said. “We know from experience that many victims are not necessarily at that point of seeking divorce or some other kind of legal action that would be required to maintain the legal protection ruling.”

Nearly 40% of Chinese women who are married or in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing figures from the All China Women’s Federation.

The group, which is linked to the ruling Communist party, has previously reported that abuse takes place in nearly a quarter of Chinese families.

“Domestic violence is illegal and affects family members physically and psychologically,” Tan Lin, head of the federation, told the China Daily. “It is not a private issue but a social problem.”

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:30 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Malaysia Plans Anti-terror Law amid IS Fears

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 10:15

Muslim-majority Malaysia will soon introduce a new anti-terrorism law to counter a potential security threat from supporters of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Wednesday.

Najib told parliament his government also would strengthen existing security-related laws as authorities express mounting concern that Malaysians who have joined the IS jihad in Syria and Iraq will return home to spread militant Islam.

"Looking at the potential threat from this group, we fear the return of Malaysians from the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq will be detrimental to national security," Najib said.

He expressed concern that returnees will come back with battlefield expertise and could carry out "lone wolf" attacks, but did not elaborate on what the new terror legislation would entail.

Najib made the announcement as he introduced a government white paper on the terrorism threat that said 39 Malaysians had gone to join the fighting in Syria, and that five had been killed.

The document also said that as of November 13, authorities had arrested 40 Malaysians at home for suspected IS links.

Twenty-one had been charged with various offences, while the rest were released due to lack of evidence but remain under police surveillance.

In August, police said they had foiled an IS-inspired plot to bomb pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer producer Carlsberg, arresting more than one dozen people.

Malaysia, which has traditionally observed a moderate brand of Islam, has long kept a lid on extremists.

But conservative Muslim views have gained increasing traction in recent years as the long-ruling government's controls have loosened.

Last month, Malaysia's defense minister labelled efforts by the U.S.-led coalition to push back IS fighters in Iraq and Syria as "ineffective", and called for regional cooperation to prevent jihadists gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.

The subject of security laws is controversial in Malaysia, whose government is frequently accused of trampling civil liberties and abusing security-related legislation to silence dissent.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Nepal Arrests Treason Row Protesters near Summit Venue

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 13:28

Police in Kathmandu Wednesday arrested a group of protesters demonstrating near the venue of a regional summit to demand that authorities drop a treason case against a prominent Nepalese activist.

Authorities last month charged Chandra Kant Raut, a former scientist with a doctorate from Britain's Cambridge University, with treason over his calls for a separate homeland for Nepal's marginalised Madhesi community who live in the southern plains.

Around 15 protesters gathered around a kilometre from the venue hosting meetings between leaders of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations.

Police said they defied orders to keep the area clear.

"We arrested 15 people protesting near the SAARC venue today, because we could not allow crowds to block the area," a spokesman for the Kathmandu metropolitan police told Agence France Presse.

"We told them to move and hold the protest somewhere else but they refused."

Binay Panjiyar, one of those arrested, said it was a peaceful sit-down protest and there was no justification for their detention.

"We were far enough from the venue and were not blocking any traffic," Panjiyar told AFP by mobile phone from police custody.

The arrests come two days after Raut's release on bail. Police originally detained him in September and held him for weeks while preparing charges.

The Madhesis, who live in the Himalayan nation's fertile Terai plains bordering India, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of high-caste highland communities and have sought greater political autonomy for the region.

But lawmakers in Kathmandu have struggled for years to agree on a draft constitution that would address their demands by dividing the country into new federal states.

Nepal has endured prolonged political limbo since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2006.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Suu Kyi Party Expects New Myanmar Constitution Talks in Days

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 13:12

Aung San Suu Kyi's party Wednesday said Myanmar is expected to hold high-level political talks within days aimed at amending a controversial junta-drafted constitution that bars the opposition leader from becoming president.

The summit -- the second and potentially most important meeting of top officials since the end of army rule -- was approved by parliament Tuesday as Myanmar debates charter change ahead of crucial 2015 elections.

"We heard that they are going to meet on coming November 28," said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, but was unable to confirm an exact schedule.

"It's not just us -- the whole country is watching this development with great interest," he said.

The six-party talks will include President Thein Sein, two parliament speakers, Suu Kyi, the army commander in chief and a representative from ethnic parties.

Suu Kyi earlier welcomed the talks, which are a more streamlined version of unprecedented discussions held in late October between Myanmar's president, army chief and top political figures.

"I have no reason to refuse (to attend)," Suu Kyi told reporters Tuesday after the parliament session, adding that the summit was a positive step.

The NLD gained five million signatures -- around 10 percent of the population -- earlier this year in support of its bid to change the constitutional provision that enshrines the military's effective veto on amendments.

But last week the party admitted that this veto meant it could not win parliamentary votes to change key aspects of the charter, as military representatives in parliament lined up to speak out against significant change.

Suu Kyi has solicited support from U.S. president Barack Obama in her campaign to change the constitution, which she has described as "unjust" and written specifically to keep her out of power.

The charter prohibits those with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president. Suu Kyi's late husband and two children are British.

Last week the country's powerful parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann said there would be a referendum on proposed amendments in May 2015, but ruled out enacting any significant changes before the November election.

Parliament will select a president after the poll, which is seen as a key test of Myanmar's emergence from outright military rule, a process which began in 2011.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:26 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sri Lanka Opposition Candidate Offers Unity Government

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 13:16

Sri Lanka's main opposition presidential candidate expressed hope Wednesday of forming a unity government and ushering in constitutional reforms if he defeats the incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse in January's election.

Maithripala Sirisena, who was sacked as health minister after defecting from Rajapakse's party last week, said he would welcome former cabinet colleagues into a coalition if he triumphs in the January 8 contest.

"I am inviting my former colleagues and all parties represented in the current parliament to join a national government," Sirisena said after his first visit to the opposition United National Party (UNP) headquarters in the capital.

Sirisena's shock announcement last week has sparked an exodus from the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Another SLFP legislator jumped ship to the UNP on Wednesday, bringing the total to 10.

Sirisena, who was also the SLFP's general secretary, vowed to scrap many of the powers that Rajapakse has transferred to the presidency since coming to power in 2005.

He says he will return to the former British colony's status as a parliamentary democracy that existed until 1978.

Sirisena said he wanted to bring about a peaceful constitutional revolution, citing India's independence icon Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa's anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela as his inspirations.

"I am a poor farmer's son, I am not rich... but I am an admirer of both Gandhi and Mandela and will follow their example in leading the country to establish a new political culture," he said.

Private election monitors said more violence was reported overnight, with ruling party loyalists attacking homes of those who had defected to the opposition.

Shots had been fired into the homes of rivals in the central region, but there were no casualties.

Rajapakse, the longest serving leader in South Asia, called the election two years ahead of schedule in an apparent bid to seek a fresh mandate before his party's popularity tumbles further after dropping over 21 percent in September local elections.

While Rajapakse remains generally popular with voters from the Sinhalese majority after he oversaw the end of a 37-year war against Tamil separatists in 2009, critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Nov 26, 2014, 07:25 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
India Marks Six Years since Mumbai Attacks

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 November 2014, 14:10

India on Wednesday marked six years since militants stormed Mumbai in three days of horror that left 166 people dead, as survivors said they would never be "beaten back by terror".

Families of victims and politicians laid flowers and wreaths at sites around the city to remember those slain in 2008 when Islamist gunmen stalked luxury hotels, a popular cafe, a train station and a Jewish center.

"Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech at a regional summit in Kathmandu.

"Let us work together to fulfill the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and transnational crimes."

Live television footage was beamed around the world as commandos battled the gunmen, who arrived by sea on the evening of November 26. It took authorities three days to regain full control of the city.

India blames the attacks on Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Tense relations between the rival neighbors hit a fresh low as New Delhi pressed Islamabad to bring the alleged masterminds to justice.

Sourav Mishra remembers enjoying a beer with two friends at Leopold Cafe, a popular haunt for foreign tourists, when a grenade exploded at the next table and the militants opened fire.

"Something went off with a flash close to my table and the guy there crumpled," Mishra told Agence France Presse.

"I was sipping beer one moment and then death had become a very real possibility as blood soaked my clothes," said Mishra, who suffered shrapnel and a bullet wound.

At the Chabad House Jewish center, another high-profile target where six people were killed, an official said its reopening in August showed its community would "never be beaten back by terror".

"Followers of the movement passing through here have been lighting a single candle for the past week in remembrance of the people slain in this disaster," Naftali Charter, head of security at the center, told AFP.

A memorial for all of the victims of the Mumbai attacks is being built on the center's roof and will be "finished shortly", Charter said.

Source: Agence France Presse


Terror threat to India rising again six years after Mumbai attacks

Drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan, weakness of Pakistani government and surge of Islamic State mean risk of attack is highest in years, officials and analysts say

Jason Burke in Mumbai
The Guardian
Wednesday 26 November 2014 04.29 GMT   

India is facing a period of heightened terrorist threat due to internal, regional and global factors, security officials say. Six years on from the bloody attack on luxury hotels and other targets in the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, local and international officials say a pause in spectacular attacks in India could be broken at any moment.

“There are storm clouds gathering,” one western official told the Guardian, echoing warnings from others based in the US and the UK this year.

The forthcoming drawdown of US combat troops in Afghanistan, the weakness of the elected government in neighbouring Pakistan, the radicalising effect of the surge of Islamic State in the Middle East, as well as competition between local groups including al-Qaida, have all combined to raise the risk of a new strike to its highest for many years, the officials said. “There is a pause [but] this is a more challenging situation now,” one senior police officer in Mumbai told the Guardian.

One new trend is sympathy for Islamic State among a small segment of local Muslim youth. Estimates of how many Indians have travelled to join the Isis vary from around 50 to 200. “There are a growing number of youngsters who want to join jihad. It was there before but they went only to Pakistan. Now there is a global element,” the Mumbai-based officer said.

This year four men from the northern Mumbai suburb of Kalyan travelled to Iraq to join Isis. The total number of Indians who have tried to travel to the Middle East to fight is unclear as many local police forces prefer not to officially register cases against individuals but to rely on family pressure to “dissuade and deradicalise” them, a senior Mumbai policeman said.

The policy of avoiding criminalising prospective Isis volunteers is opposed by national-level intelligence agencies who believe it may encourage extremism by allowing aspirant militants to avoid any sanction. Supporters of the policy say it avoids further radicalisation and involves communities in the fight against radical influence.

In one recent case, a young man was stopped from boarding a flight to the Middle East at Mumbai airport and returned to his family without legal proceedings being initiated, police officers in Mumbai said. “His father worried that if he was charged his sisters could never get married due to the social stigma, so we are using family pressure to make sure he is kept in line,” one involved in the case explained.

In Hyderabad two weeks ago a software engineer suspected of planning to join Isis was detained and then “asked to desist from such things,” according to the local PTI news agency.

Some aspirant militants are believed to have avoided surveillance by Indian authorities. Many are thought to have travelled from countries in the Gulf, where large numbers of Indians are working on temporary contracts.

MK Narayan, a former national security adviser, recently claimed that up to 150 Indians were fighting with Isis, though security officials in Delhi said this was exaggerated. They said claims by Isis leaders that there were large numbers of Indians in their ranks were also untrue.

All interviewees stressed that the numbers attracted by extremist ideologies remained negligible compared to India’s Muslim population of 180 million, around 14% of the country’s overall population of 1.26 billion. “It’s a wake-up call but in a larger perspective it doesn’t indicate that a lot of radicalisation has taken place,” a senior police officer in Mumbai said.

However, there are other factors combining to raise fears. Many officials are concerned that existing militant groups, mostly based in Pakistan, who have been active against international troops in Afghanistan over the 13 years of the conflict there may turn their attention to India once most of the international forces have left. Only about 12,500 troops, comprising mostly US trainers and advisers, will remain next year. “There is a huge trained manpower that they will not know what to do with and this will unleash acts of terror and we are a good target,” the officer said.

Groups active in Afghanistan include Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based organisation behind the 2008 attacks on Mumbai. Michael Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said the Afghan factor was “the big one”. “You have all these militants who are anti-Indian at root in search of a new target. That’s the obvious threat,” Kugelman said.

Another concern is the handful of Indians who have travelled to Pakistan to join or establish new factions in recent years. These include the remnants of the Indian mujahideen, a series of linked groups that emerged around a decade ago. The network has now fractured under intense pressure from Indian security services. Both the two main remaining factions are based in Pakistan: one is reported to be based in the southern port city of Karachi and under the supervision of Pakistani security services there, and the other is increasingly close to al-Qaida, officials in Delhi believe.

Al-Qaida, under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, recently announced the foundation of a new affiliate in the Asian subcontinent. An attempt by militants to take over a Pakistani navy frigate in port in Karachi shortly after that announcement failed – but only just, western officials in Delhi said.

The extremists’ exact plan is unknown but one suggestion is that the warship’s missiles would have been turned on US or other shipping – civilian and military – in the Arabian Sea. The plot involved navy servicemen who hid in a storeroom that is usually left locked at the end of a day, with the aim of taking charge of the warship during the night, officials told the Guardian. They were discovered by chance and killed in a firefight. “It was pure luck that they were found. Otherwise it could have been much worse,” one of the officials said.

As Islamic State, a rival to al-Qaida within the broad movement of Sunni Muslim extremism, continues to build its influence and recognition in the south Asian region, experts say it is likely that al-Qaida will make increasing efforts to prove its contemporary credentials through spectacular attacks. Asim Umar, the leader of the new al-Qaida affiliate on the sub-continent, has repeatedly indicated an interest in attacking India, leading some to suggest he is of Indian origin.

Kugelman said: “With [the announcement] of al-Qaida in south Asia, India is definitely in the cross-hairs although it is unclear if they have the capacity to strike.”

Most previous al-Qaida affiliates have involved existing groups, often with proven records of violence and deep roots in a particular region. In India this has not happened. As a result, any capability would depend on establishing networks themselves, which would be difficult, using what is left of the Indian mujahideen or other similar local groups or working with groups in Pakistan. Another possibility, highlighted by Indian intelligence services in recent months, is a linkup with groups based in Bangladesh, the populous and poverty-hit state to the east, which has suffered intermittent bouts of extremist violence over the last decade.

Legal documents and an Indian intelligence dossier on Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, also known as Abu Jindal, a key figure in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, give a glimpse of how overseas groups and internal militants collaborate. Born in 1981 in a remote part of Maharashtra, the central India state which includes Mumbai, Ansari was recruited into LeT in 2005 by a local man in the city of Aurangabad.

“They discussed about atrocities on Muslims in India and also about the future plans against such atrocities. They discussed that jihad is the correct way to be adopted in this regard,” the dossier says. The men travelled to Nepal where they met other operatives of LeT, who gave Ansari explosives training and money.

A police crackdown following a bombing orchestrated by Ansari in 2006 forced Ansari to flee to Pakistan via Bangladesh. He went on to play a key role in the Mumbai attacks two years later before eventually travelling to Saudi Arabia to recruit for LeT among Indian workers there. Detained by the kingdom’s security services, he was deported to India last summer.

Other legal documents seen by the Guardian underline the importance of Pakistan-based groups in providing critical expertise and resources to otherwise amateur Indian networks. Veteran Indian militants who have found a safe haven in the neighbouring country are implicated in some attacks as well.

However, many cases within India show how homegrown extremists carry out acts of violence without overseas assistance. Police documents show that a series of bombings in the northern city of Patna that killed six and injured 89 in October last year was the work of two new recruits to an extensive network based in north and central India that has been present for more than a decade.

The network is also behind an earlier attack on the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodh Gaya, close to Patna, the documents say. The police investigation in each case uncovered an ad hoc system of local activists who could provide direction, logistical support and safehouses and run basic training camps. Militants were arrested in towns and cities across the north of India, including the capital, Delhi.

The documents also reveal how a belief that the Muslim community in India is the victim of discrimination and worse can fuel extremism in the emerging economic power. The dossier on Ansari describes how his decision to join LeT was prompted in part by violence in Gujarat in 2002 in which 1,000 people, largely Muslims, died. Following the incident “he felt insecure about Muslims,” it says.

The Patna bombings targeted campaign rallies by Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which went on to win a landslide victory in elections this May. Many Muslims in India blame Modi, who was chief minister of the state at the time, for the violence in Gujarat.

Reports filed by the police about the attack describe the confession of one leading member of the network responsible that he had instructed recruits to “take revenge against a series of rightwing figures, including Narendra Modi, or their [prayers] will not be accepted,” the document says.

A further factor was an outbreak of sectarian violence in northern India shortly before the attacks. “The communal violence of Muzaffarnagar [a village in northern India that saw extensive sectarian clashes last year] was also discussed [by network leaders]. They decided to plan and take revenge,” the document states.

Kugelman, the Washington-based analyst, said sectarian tensions were separate from jihadist militancy. “If you have increased tensions it doesn’t suggest you will have a new generation of jihadis. Since Modi took office there are more communal tensions but that’s a long way off another Mumbai,” he said.

Few in the Indian commercial capital have forgotten the events of 26 November 2008 when a team of gunmen landed by sea in a hijacked fishing boat and launched attacks on luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, commuters at the main railway station and a cafe favoured by tourists. In all, 164 people died and hundreds more were injured in four days of fighting.

Fears of communal tensions in the aftermath of the attack proved baseless and security officials and Muslim leaders in Mumbai say relations between faith communities remain good despite the unexpected success of a vocal political party representing Muslims at recent state elections.

“We are all getting on very well, better than ever in 20 years, even better after the attacks [of 2008]. We feel that in the Hindu community the majority are secular and only a handful of mischievous people are trying to create a rift,” said Gulzar Ahmed Azmi, of the Jamiat Ulama e Maharashtra, a Muslim political association in the city.

Police in Mumbai have made efforts to improve relations with the Muslim community. On Saturday, senior officers joined community leaders for an event held at the Gateway of India, yards from the Taj Hotel that was a principal target of the 2008 attacks.

However, Azmi and others said that a series of terrorist cases in recent years in which Muslims had been suspected, investigated and often incarcerated for long periods before being acquitted had damaged trust in the police and, more broadly, the government.

Ejaz Abbas Naqvi, a Mumbai lawyer who has represented men accused of terrorism, said that though “the majority of Muslims believe that anyone arrested is innocent”, there was still 100% faith in the judiciary.

He agreed with the broad consensus among experts and officials. “The blasts are down [in number] but the reality is the threats are existing … Everyone is on [the] alert,” he said.

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