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 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Riot Police, Protesters Clash in Venezuela

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 08:59

Fresh clashes erupted in Venezuela's capital on Sunday, with hooded anti-government protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police who returned fire with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.

Four people were reported injured in the unrest that erupted in Caracas's upscale Chacao neighborhood, a hotbed of anti-government opposition.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been rocked by two months of deadly protests, with at least 41 people killed since a wave of demonstrations against the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro broke out in early February.

Some 600 people have also been injured in the protests, and around 100 have been detained.

Maduro, the hand-picked successor to the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez, was narrowly elected to office in a controversial election one year ago.

A former bus driver and union leader and the self-proclaimed "son" of Chavez, Maduro was elected after Chavez died from cancer and was sworn in April 19, 2013, pledging to carry on his mentor's socialist legacy.

- Easter 'resurrection of democracy'-

Hundreds of anti-government activists marked Easter Sunday in Chacao by holding a peaceful march calling for the "resurrection of democracy."

With Venezuelan flags fluttering in the wind, the crowd marched to the offices of the United Nations in Venezuela, where more than a month ago students set up some 120 tents and began to camp out seeking support against the Maduro administration.

The Sunday demo was organized by Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), an anti-government group whose outspoken leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has been jailed since February 18.

Also attending the protest were opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado and former mayor Antonio Ledezma, both of whom, along with Lopez, support a strategy known as "The Exit," which aims to push Maduro from office through continuous protests.

At the end of the peaceful march hooded activists blocked a main Chacao thoroughfare and nearby streets with debris that included an uprooted bus stop shelter and sewer grates.

Some were protected by gas masks and construction helmets. Others hid their identity with scarves and Guy Fawkes masks.

After police and rioters clashed, Chacao Mayor Ramon Muchacho said in a Twitter message that there were no bullet injuries.

- Burning of Judas -

In a separate Easter tradition, effigies of Maduro and top government officials were set ablaze, a Venezuelan tradition known as the burning of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ.

"I'm tired of the abuses of the government," said Genesis Reveron, a 20 year-old student who was dragging along a Maduro effigy to burn.

She blamed Maduro for the country's high inflation and soaring crime rate.

Inflation now flirts with 60 percent, there is an acute shortage of foreign currency reserves, and basic goods ranging from meat to toilet paper are seeing recurrent shortages.

Most economic analysts blame the country's problems on a decade of rigid currency and price controls, as well rising dependence on imports and debt costs -- a lackluster record for a country that hosts the world's largest oil reserves.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Growing up behind bars: 1,500 children being raised by parents in Bolivian jails

Inmates keep children inside with them fearing they will fall victim to abuse in homes on the outside

Sara Shahriari in La Paz, Sunday 20 April 2014 19.24 BST      

Rosy is a young working mother who drops her two daughters off at school each morning before scouring the markets for ingredients to make the meals she cooks and sells later in the day. Every afternoon she picks her daughters up from school and they head home to San Pedro, Bolivia's most notorious prison.

"In the beginning I was afraid. I thought that anything could happen here, but the days went by," Rosy says, of raising her children behind bars. "Everything depends on the parents, how we organise to protect and take care of the children. Outside it's the  same."

According to official figures, 1,500 Bolivian children live with a parent behind bars, but the total could be much higher – especially during school holidays when children visit incarcerated parents.

Hundreds of women and children living alongside prisoners, pass out through the metal gates every day for work or school.

According to national law, children must leave prison by the time they turn six, but many stay much longer with parents who do not want to let them go. They fear their children will be abused in homes and do not trust extended-family members, many of whom are extremely poor, to provide for them. That leaves some parents feeling that growing up in prison is a child's best – or only – option.

International organisations, including the UN, have criticised the presence of children in Bolivian prisons. Although its jails are relatively less violent than those in other Latin American countries, terrible things do happen.
Marina Quispi lives in a cell with her husband and children Marina Quispi lives in a cell with her husband and their five children, including the two-week-old on her back, in the San Pedro men's prison.

Last year, a girl was raped by several men in a family in San Pedro and a child died in Palmasola jail, Santa Cruz, as fighting inmates ignited a fire that killed dozens. Those events prompted renewed efforts to remove children from prison, especially those aged 11 and over.

"No matter how good the family is, no prison is favourable for the positive development of a child," said Lidia Rodriguez, of Bolivia's human rights office.

Rodriguez said it could be difficult to find relatives outside jails willing to take care of a child, but some incarcerated parents were not motivated by their children's wellbeing. Instead, she said, they kept children with them because they hoped it would lead to early release.

San Pedro sits in the heart of the city of La Paz. Past the crumbling adobe exterior and through a barred iron gate is a patio boiling with activity, as men call to their lawyers and receive papers and packages passed through the door. There are well-dressed men in collared shirts with slick hair, and men with bleary eyes wearing stained sweatpants. There are murderers and petty thieves, people sentenced to 30 years and many more who have yet to see trial.

The prison is a world unto itself, a citadel of rickety stairs and passageways that police rarely enter, where inmates buy small cells that they enter and leave at will, and a council elected by the prisonersgoverns almost all aspects of life.

It's also a place where hundreds of women and children live alongside prisoners, passing out through the metal gate every day for work or school.

Rosy says that when her husband was jailed for assault four years ago she could not pay rent and utilities on her own. Though she admits it is not an ideal place to raise a child, she moved her family to prison.

"Necessity obligated us, because outside there are so many expenses, and it's not possible to get by alone," she says.

Rosy's husband, Juan, purchased a small cell for about £600. Prisoners are not charged for electricity and water, and receive one meal a day. Food is also provided for children under six. With those basics covered, the £60 a month Rosy can earn selling food to inmates and visitors while her husband cares for the children are enough to get by.

Many of the men inside San Pedro, however, say that the children are a big part of their parents' rehabilitation, and that staying connected to family is what makes prisoners want to get out and carry on with life.

For Rosy's daughter Nancy, five, prison is the only home she's ever known. Nancy said she liked living in San Pedro because she spent lots of time with her father, had plenty of friends and it was "fun".

Across town from San Pedro is the Obrajes women's prison, an overcrowded maze of rooms set around two small patios.

Andrea first passed through its doors as a child with her convicted mother and now, at 31, is serving time for dealing drugs. Two of her five children live with her, while the oldest are with relatives or in children's homes. Her family members cannot take on more children and she fears letting the youngest, who are five and nine, go. "We've seen on the news that children have been raped in the homes," Andrea said.

Indeed, while there are some excellent facilities across the country, dozens of accusations of sexual abuse in homes have hit the press in recent years, fuelling parents' fears.

Rodriguez, of the human rights office, said efforts would continue this year to remove children, particularly from men's prisons such as San Pedro. But how to assure that those children find significantly safer lives and better opportunities outside remained a problem.

"Anywhere that you might trust, anything can happen, even within a family," Rosy says. "It would be better with even more help inside, not outside – because outside you don't know what will happen."

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

France backs claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons recently

François Hollande says France has 'information' that toxic gases have been used against opposition in recent attacks

Martin Chulov in Beirut, Sunday 20 April 2014 16.25 BST   

Allegations that Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons in recent attacks gained traction on Sunday when France said it had "information" of toxic gases being used against opposition targets.

The claim, by the French president, François Hollande, follows accusations by the exiled Syrian opposition and rebel groups in the west and south of the country that gas has been used nine times in the past two months, killing more than 10 people and affecting hundreds more.

Hollande was not specific about the basis for his claims, which he said had not been proved. However, France has remained in close contact with opposition leaders and previously used its own government laboratories to verify that sarin had been used in a mass attack near Damascus last August.

The French leader told Europe Radio 1 that whatever had taken place was "much less significant than those in Damascus … but very deadly".

France, the US and Britain vehemently blamed the Syrian regime for that attack, which killed between 355 and 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of the capital and led Barack Obama to threaten a military strike against Assad.

At the time, each government based its assessments on signals intelligence, which tracked rocket launches on the night of the attack, as well as intercepts of frantic conversations between field commanders and senior officials in the immediate aftermath.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was tasked with removing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, which Assad surrendered in a deal brokered by Russia to avoid being bombed. It later found that samples taken from where the rockets landed matched those of the regime's supply of sarin.

The OPCW last week said 80% of Syria's chemical weapons had so far been handed over for destruction. The organisation told the Guardian recently that it would not investigate the new claims unless they were referred to it by a signatory state.

Syria has acknowledged that casualties in at least two recent attacks showed symptoms of being gassed. However, as was the case in the mass chemical strike, it blamed the al-Qaida-aligned rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Syrian National Coalition called for an international investigation after the most recent incident. It said samples of blood and clothing from people reporting symptoms of gassing had been transferred to Turkey for analysis. It also said it had passed on information to the United Nations and the OPCW.

Before the mass chemical weapons strike, opposition groups in frontline areas of Damascus had regularly alleged that fighters and citizens were dying of gas-like symptoms. The precise substance was never identified. However, British and US officials believed a diluted form of sarin, or industrial strength pesticides and chemicals such as chlorine, were likely culprits.

Residents of areas struck in recent months have reported a strong smell of a chlorine-like substance. In two cases they recorded video of a large bomb dropped from a helicopter exploding as it hit the ground and emitting a large grey cloud that was deemed to be unusual. Residents reported symptoms of nausea and respiratory distress in the hours afterwards.

Israeli defence officials also said this month they believed chemicals had been used in a recent attack near Damascus. However, they offered no details.

Pressed on what he could add, Hollande said: "What I do know is what we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition."

Assad made a rare public appearance on Sunday in the Christian town of Maaloula, which was captured from rebels last week. One returning resident told Reuters the village had been destroyed in the fighting. "The houses are totally destroyed, the whole village was destroyed. I can't describe the amount of damage to the village," said the villager, who gave her name as Lorain.


Besieged and terrified … and the food is about to run out for Damascus refugees

Syrian blockade of Yarmouk refugee camp raises fears for 18,000 people left starving inside, with some already resorting to eating leaves and animal feed

Martin Chulov in Kilis on the Turkey-Syria border
The Observer, Saturday 19 April 2014 20.54 BST   
The desperate residents of a besieged district of Damascus are expected to run out of food on Sunday, leaving 18,000 people facing starvation and leading relief agencies to declare the crisis "unprecedented in living memory".

Food packages have not been delivered to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp for 10 days, and Syrian authorities are not expected to allow food trucks in over the Easter weekend. Residents have resorted to eating leaves and animal feed. Some say they cannot get access even to scraps, as a desperate blockade by government forces, in place for nearly 18 months, continues to cut off supplies.

Syrian officials have allowed only sporadic access to Yarmouk, to relief groups led by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), since the first pleas for help from residents early last year.

"It is unprecedented in living memory for a UNRWA-assisted population to be subject to abject desperation in this way and the sheer humanitarian facts cry out for a response," organisation spokesman Chris Gunness told the Observer. "Without that, the humanity of all of us must be seriously questioned.

"It is an affront to all of us that in a capital city of a member state, women are dying in childbirth for lack of medical care, there are incidents of malnutrition among infants and people are resorting to eating animal feed."

Once the biggest Palestinian camp in Syria, and held up as a beacon of the regime's support for the Palestinian cause, Yarmouk is now a husk, its bombed-out buildings home to an ever-decreasing number of desperate residents and opposition fighters. Several thousand Syrian citizens are also living among the Palestinians. They also remain without access to food supplies.

To keep the remaining residents from starving, UNRWA says it needs to deliver at least 700 food parcels per day, each of which feeds five to eight people. It has only managed to get in 100 per day on average since the start of the year. However, conditions have drastically worsened in recent weeks, with all supplies stopped amid regime demands that rebel groups inside surrender.

An agreement to allow unfettered access to Yarmouk, brokered in January between all sides including a Palestinian faction that supports the Syrian government, broke down last month. Ever since, Syrian troops have been on the offensive near the camp, which weaves into the south-western suburbs of Damascus.

"We've got nothing," said Abu Issa, 60, a resident of Yarmouk. "No food, no money. We are sharing the animals' food by living on grass we get from the gardens. The Syrian army do not allow anything to get in unless the rebels leave the camp and the rebels refuse to leave and we are stuck between. I have three sons, they were desperate to leave the camp by any means. A smuggler promised to take them out and then outside of Syria, but they were arrested at the first checkpoint and I know nothing about them, if they're dead or alive."

The crisis in Yarmouk is unfolding as new UN documents appear to support a widespread opposition claim that the regime of President Assad is using starvation tactics as a weapon of war. The documents, obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, track the success of the UN's world food programme in the two months since the UN security council passed a resolution demanding immediate humanitarian access to aid workers.

The documents show that more food parcels have reached those in need than before the resolution was passed, but that was due to families fleeing to regime-controlled areas where food is more readily available. Food has also remained critically short in other opposition-held parts of the country, including the Old City area of Homs, which has been under an unrelenting attack for six months.

Before the war, food and water were abundant in all parts of the country. However, areas far from the Turkish, Jordanian and Lebanese borders – which are still enjoying some cross-frontier trade – are now reporting increasing scarcity in places that rely solely on regime supply lines, including Homs. Indicators of malnutrition have risen substantially in recent months.

The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, has told the security council that 240,000 people remain besieged across Syria. Most have little access to essentials.

Staggering numbers continue to define the Syrian violence, which is now into its fourth year and shows little sign of abating. More than 9 million people are in need of constant humanitarian assistance, a similar number have been internally displaced, and more than 2 million have fled across borders. In addition, more than 150,000 people have been killed and large parts of the country destroyed.

The UN has made a series of strident statements, but the security council has remained largely unable to shape events, with Syrian allies Russia and China opposing measures to limit the regime's influence.

"Hundreds of people are killed with chemical weapons and the security council is able to adopt a robust approach," said Gunness. "Let us hope that when thousands are facing the threat of malnutrition and worse that the security council can be equally robust."


Syria's starving civilians struggle to survive in bombarded cities

Relentless bombardment has destroyed opposition strongholds. For those trapped inside, the choice from Assad is stark: submit or die

Martin Chulov in Kilis, Turkish-Syrian border
The Observer, Saturday 19 April 2014 20.54 BST   

The routine has become familiar. An approaching whump of rotor blades, then the piercing plummet of a giant bomb as it shreds the sky above.

The few who have stayed behind in east Aleppo know exactly what to do. "We run to the basement and we stay still, very still," said Mahmoud al-Duri, a resident of the city's ancient heart. "Then we wait." For the past three months, large rudimentary explosives have rained down on the battered city's eastern half day and night, destroying much of what lay beneath and forcing most remaining residents to flee with their families.

The bombing campaign, the most brutal and relentless to have been launched anywhere in the country since the war began, has laid waste to the opposition stronghold in Syria's largest city. Activists and military officials say that 60% of the eastern half has been destroyed in recent months. Damage until then had been sparse.

From just across the frontline it would be difficult to know. Held by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, west Aleppo has neither the look nor feel of a city at war, its residents say. Life goes on there without deprivation or destruction from above. Food and water is plentiful and electricity, which for more than one year in the east has been a fleeting gift, is nearly always on.

More than three years into Syria's civil war, the country is split into the "haves and the have nots". Those who live in areas controlled by the state are not going without. Residents of opposition areas, however, are in an increasingly desperate battle for survival.

In opposition-controlled areas of Homs, more than 200km (124 miles) to the south, and in Damascus the scourge is not bombs but starvation. Food, which is not in short supply in most areas of the country, is desperately needed, especially in districts where rebel groups and anti-regime communities hold out.

The Old City of Homs and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the capital are two such areas that are close to being starved into submission. The United Nations Relief Works Agency says its efforts to feed the 18,000 Palestinians who have stayed in the camp, which 18 months ago was home to more than 250,000 people, are close to failing catastrophically. Residents already eating leaves and animal fodder to survive have for the past 10 days been denied access to essential food supplies. If they are not delivered by today, there will be no food in Yarmouk.

Implicit in their suffering is a choice: those who want to eat can leave for the government-held side, but to do so involves the risk of detention. "I have three sons, they were desperate to leave the camp by any means," Abu Issa, 60, told the Observer. "But they were arrested at the first checkpoint and I know nothing about them, if they're dead or alive."

A new UN report has chronicled efforts to get food to those in need since a security council resolution passed in February demanded humanitarian access to suffering communities. The report, obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, found that, while those able to be reached had risen from 3.7 million to 4.1 million, the increase was caused by more people crossing to regime-controlled areas where the Syrian authorities allowed delivery.

In opposition districts of Homs, which have been under relentless attack since the start of the year, activists and aid officials report a similar story of food in return for submission. In Damascus and Hama, locally brokered ceasefires have at times taken on the feel of surrender. Food has been allowed into areas that have agreed to hand over weapons and raise the Syrian flag. Tired, desperate and war-weary communities have complied, their will to fight having ebbed by constantly going without.

On battlefields across the country, the regime's tactics are working. Turning eastern Aleppo into Leningrad has allowed its forces, led by Iraqi paramilitaries and Hezbollah, to advance around the city's eastern edge. This while the opposition had been battling the enemy within – a virulent, al-Qaida-inspired group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), which has tried to turn the fight to oust Assad into a push to re-establish a caliphate.

In recent weeks the opposition groups have managed to remove Isis from the Idlib and Aleppo countryside. But the price has been immense, with more than 2,000 fighters killed and a power vacuum left behind that local warlords, bandits and opportunists are filling. Looting is now rampant in eastern Aleppo, and the under-equipped local police can do little about it.

"What can we do? We are military police," said one officer on Saturday. "We can't save the whole city. The people in Aleppo don't come to us when they see a house being robbed. Only if it is theirs. We just don't have the numbers to chase them."

Ahmed Fatoul, 30, from the Myessa suburb on the eastern edges, said he was trapped in his house by a constant barrage of high-explosive bombs and the menace of lawlessness.

"I can't leave for Turkey because I don't have enough money," he said. "I cannot make money there. I have three children, how can I provide for them? The best thing for me is to stay in my home. We will die here.

"Yes, I am scared, but there are lots of gangsters in the street. They rob the houses at night."

Mohammed al-Ahmed, 65, said: "My son was killed by an airplane three days ago. He was a taxi driver. He was killed and the car was destroyed. He had 20,000 lira in his pocket. I can't leave his seven children. I can't leave my country. We are in God's hands. And that has been the way since this started."

Those who remain in eastern Aleppo hunker down under candlelight, drawing water from a mosque well. The war is slowly picking them off. "Every day I have 30 to 40 people injured and so many bodies," said a doctor at a nearby hospital. "We do what we can here and we send the rest to Turkey. We don't have enough doctors or staff."

Many of those now fighting the war in Aleppo and Homs say they are travelling to the frontlines with a sense of resignation. "The war isn't yet lost," said a commander of the Liwa al-Tawheed militia, which was battered during the fight with Isis. "But it is on life support."

Once a power player in the north's most powerful opposition unit, the commander is now wary of roads weaving through rural Aleppo that can no longer offer safe passage. Morale among his men has slipped with his authority, as an already fractured opposition splinters under new strains. "But while it is difficult, the regime can't win either," he said. "This is the tragedy. Any victory by either side from here will be a false one. The price is too high."

Farther to the east on the Mediterranean coast, Syria's political opposition leader, Ahmed Jabbar, made a rare foray into a battle zone last week to laud advances made by opposition groups towards Latakia. The groups seized the Armenian Christian town of Kasab. Those responsible included Jabhat al-Nusra and unaligned foreign fighters, Syrians were few among them. Days later, many seem to be questioning the strategy of taking a town that does little to advance the opposition's interest.

"They are claiming any victory they can," said a member of the Syrian Martyrs battalion, comprised only of Syrian nationals. "This is what the war has become."

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Nigeria Gunmen Raze Teachers Residence at Girls School

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 21:07

Gunmen in northern Nigeria set fire to a staff residential building at a girls' secondary school on Sunday but the 195 students sleeping in their nearby dormitories were unharmed, police and a teacher said.

The attack in Bauchi state came less than a week after Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped 129 teenage schoolgirls from the Chibok area of Borno state in the northeast. Forty-four of those girls have since escaped.

"At about 2:30 am (0130 GMT), unknown gunmen carried out coordinated attacks in Yana town," Bauchi's police spokesman Haruna Mohammed said.

They burnt "several buildings including a staff quarters of a girls' secondary school, an eight-block police quarters, a sharia (Islamic law) court and the local government secretariat," he told Agence France Presse.

Mohammed said it was not clear who carried out the attack and provided no details on casualties.

Boko Haram, an extremist group fighting to create a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has attacked Bauchi many times in an insurgency that has killed thousands since 2009.

A teacher at the school who requested anonymity said the attackers appeared to have deliberately avoided the student residential buildings.

"The gunmen only attacked the teachers' quarters but did not go near the girls' hostels," he said.

"We have 195 students staying at the hostels who are writing their (end-of-term) exams, but none of them were affected," he continued.

"It is a great relief, considering what happened in Chibok."

The Monday attack in Chibok, unprecedented in Boko Haram’s uprising, has sparked global outrage.

With 85 girls still missing, locals have urged the military to launch a more robust rescue mission, claiming that the effort made so far is inadequate.

Parents have scoured the bushlands surrounding Chibok in a desperate attempt to rescue their daughters.

Locals have also urged Boko Haram to show compassion and release the girls who are likely being held in a forest area where the Islamists are known to have well fortified camps.

Boko Haram translates as "Western education is forbidden," and school attacks have featured prominently in its five-year uprising.

In a report released this month, the International Crisis Group described the Islamists as more divided than ever, with various factions pursuing different interests.

The attackers in Bauchi may have been members of a less hardline Boko Haram cell, one not prepared to commit a mass abduction like in Chibok.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack ever in Nigeria's capital, a bomb blast that killed at least 75 people on the outskirts of the city during morning rush hour on Monday.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Central African Republic on 'Brink of Genocide', Warns Tutu

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 19:38

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu warned Sunday that the Central African Republic was "on the brink of genocide," as he urged warring sides to reconcile their differences and "re-learn to live together."

"Over the past 13 months, the nation's seemingly incessant struggles for political power and resources have degenerated into anarchy, hatred and ethnic cleansing -- the country stands on the brink of genocide; some would say it has already commenced," Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said in a statement released by his peace foundation.

The former French colony, one of the poorest countries in the world, plunged into a crisis after a coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels in March last year.

After seizing power, some of the rebels went rogue and embarked on a campaign of killing, raping and looting.

The abuses prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilante groups, unleashing a wave of brutal tit-for-tat killings, leaving thousands dead and close to a million displaced.

In his message, Tutu called on people on all sides of the conflict -- Christian, Muslim and Atheist -- to "rekindle the spirit of tolerance."

"When we forgive we liberate ourselves and sow a seed for a new beginning; it has a powerful multiplier effect," he said.

"It is the people of the Central African Republic who hold the key to sustainable peace. It is the people who must re-learn to live together," he said.

With the humanitarian crisis in the country spiraling, he said the deployment of a new U.N. peacekeeping force -- which will see 12,000 troops on the ground --  was a "massive relief" and would help "protect the people from themselves".

"They will assist to restore broken systems, including policing and justice," he said.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:15 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Report: Thousands in China Protest after Officials Beat Vendor, Passer-by

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 17:24

Thousands took to the streets of a Chinese city to protest at the beating of a vendor and of a passer-by who took photos of the incident, reports said Sunday.

The incident at Lingxi city in Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang is the latest instance of public outrage triggered by the behavior of China's "chengguan," quasi-police officials who enforce local regulations and have a reputation for brutality.

Five chengguan were injured in the protest, with two in critical condition, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported Sunday. The passer-by, a man surnamed Huang, was in stable condition.

According to an account posted by the Cangnan government on its official microblog Saturday night, the incident began when several chengguan in Lingxi demanded that a vendor stop "illegally" selling gas stoves and other items, which they said were blocking the sidewalk.

Huang, who happened to be passing by, began taking photos, and "after the officers demanded he stop, to no avail, both sides clashed," the official report said.

Huang was injured in the altercation and taken to hospital, the Cangnan government said.

The official account stated that Internet rumors about "urban management workers beating a man to death" began circulating in the afternoon, triggering a mass gathering of onlookers during which five officers were "besieged and beaten."

A report in the Southern Metropolis Daily on Sunday quoted several eyewitnesses who said Huang, 36, was beaten by more than a dozen officers, some uniformed and others in plainclothes.

One local resident told the paper that the vendor who triggered the incident was a young woman and that her stoves "were not blocking the road; she just placed them in front of the store."

After Huang declined to hand over his phone, the officers punched him to the ground, then kicked him for more than a minute until he was vomiting blood, eyewitnesses said.

The uniformed officers fled after the incident, while the plainclothes men got inside a yellow van but were soon surrounded by angry onlookers, some of whom burst the vehicle's tires to prevent an escape, the paper reported.

It said some protesters smashed the vehicle's windows with bricks and others overturned an ambulance.

The incident follows reports earlier this month that urban management officers in the eastern city of Fuzhou beat an old man to death, an episode that triggered national outrage online.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Obama on Mission to Quiet Asia Skeptics

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 07:14

Five years after refashioning U.S. foreign policy to emphasize Asia, President Barack Obama will face questions over his strategy's content and staying power in the region this week.

Obama will counter the impression that events, including carnage in Syria and the East-West showdown over Ukraine have dragged his administration’s attention elsewhere.

He will argue in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines that the "rebalancing" policy -- of withdrawing U.S. military, economic and human resources from Middle East wars and deploying them to emerging Asia -- remains on track.

Obama will embark on his fifth visit as president to Asia when he lands in Japan on Wednesday.

This journey, the first of two to the region this year, will make up for the embarrassment of skipping regional summits in November because of domestic political battles.

He seeks progress in tough talks with Japan over the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, hung up over auto and agricultural market access. The TPP would cement Obama’s legacy in Asia, but talks on the 12-nation pact lost momentum last year.

Obama must also walk a fine line, bolstering alliances with nations which see the United States as a counterweight to powerful China, while avoiding angering Beijing.

He will also press on with efforts to ease the dispute between U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, insist North Korea will get no reward for belligerence and complete a revival of U.S. relations with Malaysia.

- Can Obama deliver? -

U.S. officials now prefer the term "rebalancing" of U.S.-Asia policy rather than the previous buzzword "pivot," which implies a departure and caused consternation among U.S. allies in Europe.

But some wonder if the policy has been stronger on rhetoric than on delivery since Obama, born in Hawaii and raised for four years in Indonesia, declared himself America's "first Pacific president" in Japan in 2009.

"Unfortunately, the White House has not been able to make the notion of 'rebalance' stick and give it operational coherence," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a Clinton administration Asia policy specialist.

"Countries on this visit will be looking for evidence of President Obama's security commitments and his related tactical skill, the ability to judge and manage issues in a way that establishes reachable goals and a good strategy to get there," said Lieberthal, of the Brookings Institution.

The administration insists the strategy has had tangible results and revitalized American alliances.

A small U.S. Marine detachment is already in Darwin, Australia, building up to a permanent rotation of around 2,500 troops.

With an eye on North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent two more destroyers to Japan. Several Littoral Combat Ships have been based in Singapore and the U.S. Navy eventually envisages a 60-40 split between assets in the Pacific and elsewhere.

Washington was also prominent in luring Myanmar out of isolation, though the country’s reform drive is beset by challenges.

But uncertainty lingers over U.S. intentions.

"The U.S. needs to first and foremost clearly define what 'pivoting' or 'rebalancing' exactly means, especially in the current high-tension environment in East Asia,” said Oh Ei Sun, an international relations specialist at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

"Is pivoting just a military and security issue, in which case it may be gaining traction regionally due to China's increasingly strident posture, or is it something more, entailing an economic dimension as well?"

- U.S. politics a factor -

Obama’s no-show in Brunei and Bali last year led some in Asia to conclude Washington lacks energy for Asia.

Sequester spending cuts and talk of reducing the size of the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet meanwhile posed the question: Can America even afford the pivot?

Some Asian governments doubt Obama has the political leverage to pilot a TPP through Congress, especially in a mid-term election year when protectionist fever runs high.

Obama’s last-minute decision to abort strikes on Syria last year to punish chemical weapons use meanwhile sparked debate on whether U.S. red lines in Asia would also get blurred.

Some critics question whether U.S. strategy is too reliant on military and economic tools and lacks sustained engagement once Air Force One takes off for home.

"The pivot is like a stool that has two legs and is missing one," said Bridget Welsh, of Singapore Management University.

"The rebalancing is without balance."

Welsh also raised the idea, heard often in Washington and in Asia, that Secretary of State John Kerry is less consumed by Asia than his predecessor Hillary Clinton, as he chases a Middle East peace deal and locks horns with Russia.

The White House denies any loss of commitment.

"There should be no question that where we have alliance commitments and treaty obligations in the Asia Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, we will uphold those obligations willingly and definitively," said National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

"I've not heard unease expressed."

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Japan risks angering China with military expansion

Planned construction of radar station near Taiwan is latest twist in row over disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

Reuters, Saturday 19 April 2014 15.01 BST   

Japan began its first military expansion in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan to resist China's claims of ownership of nearby islands.

The move risks angering China, which in dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands – known in China as the Diaoyu islands – which they both claim.

The Japanese defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas south-west of Japan's main islands.

"This is the first deployment since the US returned Okinawa in 1972 and calls for us to be more on guard are growing," Onodera said. "I want to build an operation able to properly defend islands that are part of Japan's territory."

The military radar station on Yonaguni, part of a longstanding plan to improve defence and surveillance, gives Japan a lookout just 93 miles from the Japanese-held islands claimed by China.

Building the base could extend Japanese monitoring to the Chinese mainland and track Chinese ships and aircraft circling the disputed crags.

The decision by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to put troops on Yonanguni shows Japan's concerns about the vulnerability of its thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.

The new base "should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland," said Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the National Institute for Defence Studies. "It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements."

Japan does not specify an exact enemy when discussing its defence strategy but it makes no secret it perceives China generally as a threat as it becomes an Asian power that could one day rival Japan's ally in the region, the United States.

Japan, in its national defence programme guidelines issued in December, expressed "great concern" over China's military buildup and "attempts to change the status quo by coercion" in the sea and air.

China's decision last year to establish an air-defence identification zone in the East China Sea, including the skies above the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets, further rattled Tokyo.

Japanese and Chinese navy and coastguard ships have played cat-and-mouse around the uninhabited islands since Japan nationalised the territory in 2012. Japanese warplanes scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, the defence ministry said last week.

The United States, which under its security pact with Tokyo has pledged to defend Japanese territory, has warned China about taking any action over the disputed islets, but has not formally recognised Japan's claim of sovereignty over the territory.


Japan Warns over China Ship Seizure

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 09:57

Tokyo on Monday warned that the seizure of a Japanese ship in Shanghai over pre-wartime debts threatened ties with China and could undermine the basis of their post-war diplomatic relationship.

Authorities in Shanghai seized the large freight vessel in a dispute over what the Chinese side says is unpaid bills relating to the 1930s, when Japan occupied swathes of China.

The move is the latest to illustrate the bitter enmity at the heart of Tokyo-Beijing ties, with the two sides embroiled in a spat over the ownership of a small archipelago and snapping at each other over differing interpretations of history.

Shanghai Maritime Court said Saturday it had seized "the vessel 'Baosteel Emotion' owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines... for enforcement of an effective judgement" made in December 2007.

"The arrested vessel will be dealt with by the law if Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. still refuses to perform its obligations," the Maritime Court said.

Chinese and Hong Kong media said the seizure was related to a verdict by a court in Shanghai that said Mitsui had to pay about 2.9 billion yen ($28 million) in relation to the leasing of two ships nearly 80 years ago.

Reports said in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co. rented two ships on a one-year contract from Zhongwei Shipping Co.

However, the ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy and were sunk during World War II, reports said.

A compensation suit was brought against Mitsui by the descendants of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping Co., and in 2007, a Shanghai court ordered Mitsui to pay about 2.9 billion yen in compensation.

Mitsui appealed against the court's decision, but in December 2010, the Supreme People's Court turned down their petition for the case to be retried.

Mitsui has argued that it is not liable for paying compensation given that the ships that Daido rented were requisitioned by the Japanese military during the war, Kyodo said.

On Monday, Japan's chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga said the seizure undermined the 1972 joint communique that normalised ties between Japan and China, in which Beijing agreed to renounce "its demand for war reparation from Japan."

"It could also intimidate Japanese companies doing business in China as a whole and hence Japan is deeply worried and strongly expects China to take appropriate measures," he said.

The case appears to be the first time the assets of a Japanese company have been confiscated in a lawsuit relating to wartime or occupation compensation, Japan's Kyodo News reported.

But it comes as a set of lawsuits related to wartime forced labour in Japan have been filed in China against Japanese corporations.

China has long maintained a policy of not accepting such civil lawsuits. But a Beijing court for the first time has agreed to hear a lawsuit by Chinese citizens demanding compensation from Japanese firms over forced labour, their lawyer said last month.

"Including this incident, China's set of policies on this issue could shake up in a profound way the spirit of normalising diplomatic ties between Japan and China, that is inscribed in the 1972 joint communique," Suga said Monday.

The value of Japanese companies' investment in China dropped by half in the first quarter of this year from a year earlier to about $1.21 billion, Chinese government data said.


Japan PM Makes Offering to War Shrine, but Skips Visit

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 07:25

Japan's Shinzo Abe offered a gift to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine Monday, but reportedly plans to stay away during the spring festival, in an apparent compromise between not angering Asian neighbors and playing to his nationalist base.

The unapologetically nationalist Abe donated a sacred "masakaki" tree to coincide with the start of a three-day festival, a shrine official said, two days ahead of the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The sending of a gift has been seen as a sign that Abe does not intend to visit, as he did on December 26, sparking fury in Asia and earning him a diplomatic slap on the wrist from the United States, which said it was "disappointed".

Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan's war dead, including some senior military and political figures convicted of serious crimes in the wake of the country's World War II defeat.

That, and the accompanying museum -- which paints Japan as a frustrated liberator of Asia and victim of WWII -- makes it controversial, especially in China and South Korea, where it is seen as a symbol of Japan's lack of penitence.

Abe and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers. They compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

- Abe cautious ahead of Obama visit -

Masaru Ikei, an expert on Japanese diplomacy and professor emeritus at Keio University, said with Obama due to arrive on Wednesday for a state visit, Abe was always likely to stay away.

"The prime minister does not want to worsen ties with China and South Korea before President Obama's visit, but he does want to maintain his creed that he should pray for the war dead," he told Agence France Presse.

Ikei said Washington's very public and slightly unexpected rebuke after his last visit meant Abe "will not be able to visit the shrine again for a while".

Japan's chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday sought to play down Abe's shrine gift.

"I'm aware that the prime minister offered Masakaki (sacred tree)," he told reporters.

"The offering was made in his capacity as a private person, and so the government should not comment on such an act by him."

Asked about possible ramifications on the upcoming meeting between Abe and Obama, Suga said: "It won't affect the summit at all."

Many conservative lawmakers are expected to go to the shrine to mark the spring festival on Tuesday.

Two of Abe's cabinet ministers have already visited, saying they did not want the visits to interrupt their official duties.

Ties with South Korea have shown slight signs of improvement recently, following a three-way summit between Abe, Obama and President Park Geun-Hye and the visit to Seoul last week of a senior Japanese diplomat.

But relations with China remain sour.

In a further sign of their parlous state, Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines said China had seized one of its ships in a row over what Beijing says are unpaid damages relating to events in the 1930s.

That came after Japan began building a military installation in the far southwest of its long island chain, near the disputed Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.

The facility will bolster its ability to surveil China and is likely to further irritate Beijing, which regularly warns that Japan is re-militarizing, while ramping up its own military spending and capacity.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Sex claim shows desperation of Malaysia's rulers, says top opponent

Ten years after being jailed, Anwar Ibrahim faces renewed charges of sodomy as regime clamps down on opponents

Kate Hodal, Sunday 20 April 2014 21.24 BST      

The last time Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's opposition leader, was sent to prison, he read the complete works of Shakespeare, (five times), wrote essays and treatises, gave interviews and strategised about how best to lead the opposition party to victory against the ruling party, which has governed this south-east Asian nation for nearly 60 years.

Ten years later, he once again faces imprisonment on sodomy charges, which he claims are politically motivated.

His case has gripped Malaysia in its range from the absurd to the bizarre. Charged in 2008 with sodomising a former male aide, Anwar was cleared in 2012 on lack of evidence. But an appeals court overturned the acquittal last month on the eve of a byelection in Malaysia's richest state, Selangor, where he was tipped to become chief minister.

Not only did the conviction rely on a witness of doubtful testimony, the appeal was led by the government and the lead prosecutor suddenly did an about-face and switched to Anwar's defence team.

"It's a sign of desperation on the part of the government," said Anwar of his conviction, in an interview in London, where he is visiting his friend and former American vice-president Al Gore, after being granted a stay of sentence. "They think because the [next general] elections are four years away they can literally get away with murder."

Anwar, 66, is Malaysia's longest-suffering political opponent and greatest threat to the incumbent Umno government, led by the prime minister Najib Razak, whose Barisan Nasional (National Front) alliance has ruled the country since independence.

Anwar is a polarising figure in a conservative nation of 30 million, where his political career has spanned formidable highs and lows: once serving as the deputy prime minister and finance minister, he was courted by international media and graced the cover of Newsweek, then fell out spectacularly with the premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar has long contended that all the charges against him were politically motivated, with the sodomy convictions based on an archaic colonial law rendering sex between men a punishable offence, even if consensual. Very few sodomy cases ever make it to court and Anwar and his supporters believe his charges to be a political ploy to keep him out of politics in a conservative nation built on family values. He first spent six years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, until his release in 2004.

This second sodomy charge followed a stellar performance by Anwar's three-party opposition coalition in the 2008 general elections, at which the opposition made huge gains against the Barisan Nasional – and was overturned in 2012 by Malaysia's high court.

Analysts believe there was "no coincidence" regarding the overturning of that acquittal last month, with human rights groups, the US state department and UN all questioning the legality of the court decision.

"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple," said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch. "The Malaysia judiciary … has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are at play."

Yet it is not just Anwar the government seems to be targeting, say civil rights groups, who point to the arrest and conviction of other prominent opposition MPs, such as Karpal Singh, who was convicted of sedition, under another ill-used colonial-era law, as a means to thwart an opposition that has had big gains in the last two general elections, as well as in the byelections last month.

"What's alarming is the extent to which this government, which is supposed to have won the election, is going to undermine the opposition," said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and former chair of Bersih, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections. "This is really without a doubt a clear-cut case of selective – I'm going to call it persecution – not prosecution."

Anwar's conviction could once again be overturned, pending a federal court hearing expected within the next month. But in a nation where the definition of justice depends on "what the government of the day feels like doing", said Ambiga, it was unclear just how far Malaysia would go to silence its opposition.

As for Anwar, who could well choose to never return to Malaysia, life in his home country, whether behind bars or atop rally stages, seems the only option for fighting for a democracy that he says will one day prevail.

"There is no benefit to going back to Malaysia," he said. "[But] I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go back because it is my conviction, it is my firm belief, that Malaysia has to mature as a vibrant democracy that has no corruption, abuse of power or leadership that has been squandering billions of dollars.

"It's tough when you consider my wife and children suffer, but they know, and I discussed it with them, they support me even though they are not happy for me to endure this again. But we have to weather the storm. I am always optimistic."

A mass rally backing Anwar is planned for 1 May in Kuala Lumpur, where other rallies in support of Bersih, calling for clean and fair elections, have attracted hundreds of thousands of Malaysians to take to the streets in recent years.

"Tyrants, authoritarian leaders, are not permanent features. They are racing against time. Over the temporary setbacks, the clamour for reform or democracy is irreversible," Anwar said.

 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Myanmar Army Says 22 Dead in Clashes with Rebels

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 11:05

Fighting between the military and ethnic minority rebels in northern Myanmar has left at least 22 people dead this month, the army said Sunday, dimming hopes of a nationwide peace deal.

Bloodshed in the state of Kachin, the scene of the last major active civil war in the former junta-ruled country, has uprooted tens of thousands of people and tempered optimism about sweeping political reforms.

Eight government soldiers, including one officer, have been killed in clashes this month, according to a military statement carried by the army-owned Myawaddy newspaper.

The military also retrieved the bodies of 14 Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters along with weapons, it added.

There was no immediate comment from the KIA, one of the country's largest rebel armies.

Kachin sources said thousands of villagers were taking refuge along the border with China.

According to the U.N., about 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich area since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

The total death toll from the conflict is unknown.

The military said fighting flared up earlier this month after one of its officers was killed in an ambush by the KIA, prompting it to deploy troops to clear areas along supply lines.

President Thein Sein's reformist government has struck a series of tentative peace deals with major rebel groups in the country, which has been wracked by civil conflict since independence from Britain in 1948.

After numerous rounds of talks, the government and Kachin rebels signed a seven-point plan in May 2013 aimed at ending hostilities.

At the time the agreement was hailed as a breakthrough by the government, which is now seeking to ink a nationwide ceasefire with a coalition of rebel groups to burnish its reform credentials as it woos foreign donors and investors.

Another round of peace talks is scheduled for early May although it could be delayed because of the fresh unrest, according to a person close to the talks who did not want to be named.

Since decades of outright military rule ended three years ago, former general Thein Sein has won international praise by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and letting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.

But optimism has been marred by the Kachin conflict, several outbreaks of deadly Buddhist-Muslim strife around the country and concerns about continued repressive laws.

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