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 31 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Christians Face 'Growing Harassment' in Post-Breakup Sudan

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 11:23

Church properties have been bulldozed and seized in a climate of growing harassment of minority Christians in Islamist-run Sudan since the south's 2011 independence, its council of churches said.

Kori Elramla Kori Kuku, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, told AFP that harassment has been on the rise ever since the separation three years ago of South Sudan, whose population follow mainly Christian and traditional beliefs.

A death sentence issued in May to a pregnant Sudanese Christian woman convicted of apostasy from Islam drew worldwide attention to the issue of religious freedom in Sudan.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag took refuge at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum after a higher court annulled her conviction. On Thursday, the Italian government flew her and her family out to Rome.

Away from the limelight, Kuku said in an interview Wednesday, churches have faced numerous challenges and threats from Sudanese authorities.

"The situation is very bad," he said.

"After separation, everything changed completely. The freedom we used to have now is denied."

He said the Council is concerned after a Sudanese newspaper report that the religious affairs ministry will no longer allow the building of new churches, since most Christians were Southerners who had left.

But a senior ruling party official, Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, told AFP he was unaware of any such decision.

In practice, churches have already faced obstacles, according to Kuku.

The Sudan Church of Christ in North Khartoum was "bulldozed" because, according to officials, it lacked legal title to the land, he said.

Authorities have also confiscated a building housing the Sudan Interior Church in the central Khartoum Two district, Kuku said at his office.

And state security agents last week halted a workshop organized by ALARM, the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Kuku said.

The peace-building group had invited Muslims and Christians from Sudan's war zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Kuku said security agents intervened shortly after the workshop opened with readings from both the Koran and the Bible.

"We are not forcing anybody," he said. "What is wrong if we read the Bible?"

Deportations, confiscation and destruction of church property, and other anti-Christian actions have increased since December 2012, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group, said in May.

A dozen denominations including Catholic and Coptic Orthodox officially belong to his Council, but Kuku says he also has a responsibility toward more than 12 other denominations.

"We feel our rights are not respected even though the constitution is good," guaranteeing religious freedom, said Kuku, interviewed at the Council's headquarters in a low-rise building which carries no sign, only a small cross in the metal grillwork above an open door.

He agreed, however, that worship itself takes place unhindered, although security agents monitor the services.

Ebaid of the ruling National Congress Party said that even if something is constitutionally guaranteed, "you have to follow the procedures and the steps" laid down in associated laws.

There is no clear data on how many Christians remain in Sudan, but Ebaid said "they have economic weight, they have intellectual weight and even their opinion is respected".

They were not "in the margin" of society.

At a breaking of a fast event organized by the Coptic church during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Omar al-Bashir said Sudan was a "model in boosting values of religious tolerance", according to official media.

However, Western governments and rights activists expressed alarm over the case of Ishag, who had been sentenced to hang for apostasy under Islamic sharia law which outlaws conversions on pain of death.

"I know we are a minority. But we have a right as Sudanese citizens to worship, to build the churches, to exercise our religious freedom," Kuku said.

"We are not hindering them to worship God. Why are they hindering us, the minority?"

 32 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:56 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

Sudanese woman spared death for apostasy meets Pope Francis

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death for apostasy in May, sparking an international campaign to save her life

Mark Tran and Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 13.43 BST    

Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian Sudanese woman spared a death sentence for apostasy after an international outcry, has met Pope Francis after arriving in Italy.

The 27-year-old and her family were received at the pontiff's guesthouse for 30 minutes and she was thanked by the head of the Catholic church for her "witness to faith" and "perseverance", Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists.

According to the Italian news agency Ansa, Lombardi added: "It's a gesture that goes beyond the meeting and becomes a symbol", saying Francis, 77, wanted the meeting to be a "sign of closeness to all those who suffer due to their faith and practice of their faith."

Earlier on Thursday, Italian television showed Ibrahim leaving the aircraft at Ciampino airport in Rome accompanied by her husband, two children and Italy's vice-minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli.

Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy in May, sparking an international campaign to lift the death sentence. More than a million people backed an Amnesty International campaign to get her released, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, and the US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson among world leaders who clamoured for her release.

While on death row, Ibrahim, a graduate of Sudan University's school of medicine, gave birth in shackles in May. It was a difficult birth as her legs were in chains and Ibrahim is worried that the girl may need support to walk.

Ibrahim was told that her death sentence would be deferred for two years to allow her to nurse the baby.

Under the Sudanese penal code, Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men.

During her trial in Khartoum, she told the court that she had been brought up as a Christian, and refused to renounce her faith. She and Daniel Wani – an American citizen – married in 2011. The court ruled that the union was invalid and that Ibrahim was guilty of adultery.

Her convictions, sentences and detention in Omdurman women's prison while heavily pregnant and with her toddler son incarcerated alongside her caused international outrage. After an appeal court overturned the death sentence, Ibrahim, Wani, and their two children tried to leave last month, but were turned back. The Sudanese government accused her of trying to leave the country with false papers, preventing her departure for the US.

Her lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, said he had not been told of her departure on Thursday.

"I don't know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Meriam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled," Mostafa told Reuters.

Ibrahim and her family had been staying at the US embassy in Khartoum. 

 33 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
42 Are Killed in Bombings Aimed at Nigerian Figures

By ADAM NOSSITER
JULY 23, 2014
IHT

DAKAR, Senegal — Bombs targeting two prominent Nigerians, a cleric and a leading politician, exploded in the northern city of Kaduna on Wednesday, killing at least 42 people but missing the intended victims, officials said.

Both Sheik Dahiru Bauchi and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria, have recently been critical of the violent Islamist sect Boko Haram and suspicion immediately fell on that group.

Boko Haram’s bloody five-year insurgency has been gathering in intensity — significant portions of the country’s far northeast are now effectively under its control — but Wednesday’s bombings represented something of a departure in the sect’s campaign to undermine the Nigerian state.

Kaduna is a major city of more than one million people. And Mr. Buhari, the leading figure in the main opposition party, and Mr. Bauchi each have millions of followers in the populous north. If either had been killed, the shock and anger likely to have followed would have been a major challenge for the already shaky government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

“The fact that these two personalities survived, it could have been much worse,” said Shehu Sani, a resident of Kaduna who is also a leading Nigerian social critic, writer and activist. “If they had been killed, it would have resulted in serious civil unrest,” Mr. Sani added. As it was, the bombs killed many innocent bystanders — street vendors and passers-by.

“Some of those killed were traders selling fruits who patronized the neighborhood,” Mr. Sani said. His own house, in a leafy neighborhood where many prominent citizens live, was shaken by the first blast, which was aimed at Mr. Bauchi, the cleric.

Supporters were gathering in a central square to hear him preach a sermon marking the end of Ramadan when the bomb, which officials said had been planted, exploded. Mr. Bauchi had not yet arrived, but at least 25 people were killed and dozens more injured. He had recently described Boko Haram as un-Islamic; an attempt on his life was also made at his home some three weeks ago. “He was highly critical of the group,” Mr. Sani said. “He even said their acts were not Islamic.”

Mr. Buhari, who ruled Nigeria with an iron hand in the early 1980s and was later deposed in a coup, has since made a comeback as the leading opponent to Mr. Jonathan and is likely to be a candidate against him in next year’s election. He was passing through Kaduna when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into his convoy. Mr. Buhari survived, but at least 17 were killed in that attack. Mr. Buhari has recently published writings critical of Boko Haram, and the sect has issued threats against him.

By striking at two leading figures in Nigerian public life, Boko Haram has shown its capacity to reach beyond its narrow base in the northeast and inject itself — violently — into the center of the country’s national discourse. Yet until now, a series of random bombings in Abuja, the capital, have been virtually the only examples of that sort of escalation.

The kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, near Boko Haram’s northeastern base, unexpectedly became a national, then an international issue. Initially, though, in April, it was treated by both the country’s news media and politicians as just one more in an endless string of cruel depredations by the group in the country’s remote and battered north.

In a statement on Wednesday night, Mr. Jonathan denounced “the dastardly targeting of the prominent political and religious leaders by terrorists and enemies of the nation in an odious attempt to inflame passions.”

 34 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:49 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

UN issues Gaza war crimes warning as flights to Israel resume

US lifts airline ban, while human rights council in Geneva votes to investigate offensive and Hamas calls for humanitarian truce

Harriet Sherwood   
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 06.47 BST   

The UN has said Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in two weeks. In Geneva the UN human rights council voted to launch an international inquiry, with the US opposing the move and 17 countries abstaining.

"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in the debate.

Early on Thursday the US Federal Aviation Authority lifted its ban on US airlines flying in and out of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. The ban had been in place since Tuesday amid security concerns sparked by Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza . Thousands of tourists and other travellers had been stranded by the ban. El Al, the Israeli national carrier, which continued to fly, hiked fares up to 150% amid a scramble for seats, according to Haaretz.

In permitting the resumption of flights, the FAA said it had "carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation”. But it warned it would "continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion airport and will take additional actions as necessary”.

Hamas's leader-in-exile, Khaled Mishal, said the organisation would consider a humanitarian truce in the 16-day conflict in Gaza if Israel agreed to lift its blockade.

But in a restatement of the Hamas position set out more than a week ago, Mishal told a news conference in Doha on Wednesday night that he would not agree to a full ceasefire until terms had been negotiated. Hamas wants crossings from Gaza to Egypt and Israel opened and Palestinian prisoners released.

The Egyptian government has proposed both sides halt fighting first and then negotiate. "Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights. We reject this and we reject it again today," Mishal said. But he added that Hamas "will not close the door" to a humanitarian truce if Israel ended its siege of Gaza.

Mishal's statement came after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN leaders in an urgent quest for a deal to end the fighting. "We have certainly made small steps forward," he said between meetings, but added: "There is still work to be done."

Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, was also in the region for talks about a possible ceasefire.

Israel has continued to pound the Gaza Strip with hundreds of people trapped in the village of Khuzaar, near Khan Younis, unable to escape the bombardment. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) negotiated a brief pause on Wednesday to allow a convoy of ambulances to evacuate the wounded. Similar lightning evacuations were undertaken in Shujai'iya, scene of a bloody battle on Sunday, and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

Aid agencies said a child had been killed every hour on average in the past two days and there had been a sharp spike in premature births. Gaza officials said more than 3,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged and 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had been hit. Israel claims that militants fire rockets from and store weapons in civilian buildings. Hamas and other militant organisations have continued to fire rockets at Israel.

As the death toll on the 16th day of conflict topped 700 – more than 690 Palestinians and 34 Israelis plus one Thai agricultural worker – Pillay told an emergency debate at the UN human rights council (UNHRC) in Geneva that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians, citing air strikes and the shelling of homes and hospitals.

Pilay also condemned Hamas and other militant groups for "indiscriminate attacks" on Israel. Her comments were seen as a warning to Israel about its obligations under international law. She also called for an end to the blockade of Gaza – the underlying reason for the conflict and an issue that would have to be tackled if any ceasefire were to endure.

The UNHRC backed a resolution calling for the urgent dispatch of "an independent, international commission of inquiry" to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Israel would be highly unlikely to co-operate with any such inquiry. Its envoy to the council, Eviatar Manor, accused Hamas of committing war crimes and said Israel was acting as any other state would in seeking to defending its citizens. "There can be no moral symmetry between a terrorist aggressor and a democracy defending itself," he said. Hamas was a terrorist organisation, not the Salvation Army, he said, adding that it was responsible for civilian casualties because it was using people as human shields.

Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, appealed to the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions in Gaza. "How many martyrs must die before Israel puts an end to its aggression?" he asked.

In Washington a state department official said Kerry was expected to remain in the Middle East for the next few days, possibly moving around the region. Kerry has indicated privately that he does not want to return to the US without securing a ceasefire. US officials rejected the suggestion that his high-profile failure to hold together peace negotiations had reduced his leverage in the region or led to a diplomatic vacuum that allowed the current conflict to escalate.

They pointed out that the current conflict has also escalated beyond hostilities in 2012, when Israel stopped short of launching a ground invasion. While Kerry believes Egypt, which controls border crossings into Gaza, will be central to any negotiated ceasefire, he has acknowledged that the country's president, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, has nowhere near the leverage with Hamas that helped his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, convince the Palestinian side to pause the conflict.

**************

Kerry Claims Progress Toward Gaza Truce, but Hamas Leader Is Defiant

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and RICK GLADSTONE
JULY 23, 2014
IHT

TEL AVIV — During a whirlwind round of diplomacy on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that progress had been made on forging a cease-fire to halt the bitter fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants there led by Hamas.

“We will continue to push for this cease-fire,” Mr. Kerry said. “We have in the last 24 hours made some progress in moving towards that goal.”

But even as Mr. Kerry pressed his case with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, a defiant note was struck by one figure whom the secretary of state has conspicuously not talked with: Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas.

“Everyone wanted us to accept a cease-fire and then negotiate for our rights,” Mr. Meshal said at a news conference in Qatar, his home in exile, taking aim at the very approach Mr. Kerry has sought to nurture. “We reject this, and we reject it again today.”   

Mr. Kerry has emphasized that his immediate goal is to obtain a cease-fire, after 16 days of fighting that has killed nearly 700 Palestinians, 32 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians.

In comments after his meeting with Mr. Abbas in Ramallah and a meeting in Jerusalem with Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, Mr. Kerry also stressed that he hoped to lay the ground for a “sustainable” way forward after an end to the fighting.

That seemed to be a way to assure the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza that the United States was prepared to address some of their long-term economic and political grievances without making their solution a condition for a cease-fire and to similarly acknowledge Mr. Netanyahu’s argument that any lasting political settlement should also reduce the ability of Hamas and its affiliates to attack Israel.

Mr. Kerry’s decision, however, to relegate many of these issues to a subsequent phase of the negotiations — after a cease-fire is established — also appeared to be an implicit recognition of the difficulties in resolving these issues.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how we can get to the point where the violence can stop and these bigger key issues can be addressed over the longer term,” said a senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified in keeping with the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.

Israel’s position remained difficult. While the Israeli public has strongly supported the military’s attacks in Gaza to quell the thousands of rockets fired into Israeli territory, the government faced economic pressures on Wednesday to negotiate a halt to the war.

Because of fears of Palestinian rocket fire, the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington had extended a suspension of all United States flights to and from Israel. One rocket landed earlier in the week near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main gateway. The F.A.A. lifted the restrictions effective around 11:45 Wednesday night, but said in a statement that it would “continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Mr. Kerry, whose United States Air Force plane was exempt from the F.A.A. directive, flew into the airport earlier on Wednesday.

While Israel’s national carrier, El Al, added larger planes and more flights to its schedule that day to accommodate passengers stranded by cancellations, El Al was already bracing for tens of millions of dollars in losses from an enormous drop in tourist traffic this summer.

Israeli news reports indicated that only seven foreign carriers continued their flights on Wednesday. Calcalist, an Israeli business newspaper, estimated the hit to the tourism industry could reach $200 million.

The fighting has exerted no significant impact yet on Israel’s vibrant stock market, and its currency, the shekel, has been stable throughout the latest upsurge in the conflict.

Still, some of Israel’s strongest supporters acknowledged that the suspension of the flights had been, as Hamas claimed, a “great victory” in its struggle with Israel.

“I probably don’t agree with very many things Hamas says, but that is clearly true,” Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, told CNN. Mr. Bloomberg, who flew to Israel on El Al to express his strong objection to the F.A.A. suspension, said he thought the agency’s officials had made a mistake.

“They are well-meaning,” he told CNN. “It’s a great organization. They make airlines and airports safe in America, but not as safe as Ben Gurion and El-Al are.”

“And the fact that one rocket falls far away from this airport, a mile away,” he said, “doesn’t mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze the country.”

Despite the economic dislocation, stopping Hamas’s ability to infiltrate Israel through its network of tunnels — which the Israelis now say is far more developed than they had thought — remained their paramount concern.

In a briefing for reporters, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, gave the impression that the army was in a rush to seal as many of the tunnels as it could before a cease-fire might be reached. “We continue to attack our targets, there are many left, many more tunnels to destroy,” General Almoz said.

Yitzhak Aharonovich, the public security minister, also told Army Radio that in Israel’s view, it was vital to neutralize the tunnels.

“We cannot go to a cease-fire without resolving the tunnels,” Mr. Aharonovich said. “We can have a cease-fire while dealing with the tunnels, but we cannot accept a situation where the tunnels are used by the terrorists as an entrance into Israel.”

After his meeting in Ramallah, Mr. Kerry heaped praise on Mr. Abbas, whose influence among Palestinians has been increasingly eclipsed by Hamas as the Gaza conflict has intensified.

“Sometimes it is very satisfying to see the immediate impact of the violence, but it doesn’t take you to a solution,” Mr. Kerry said. “President Abbas understands the road to the solution. And that is what we are working for. “

After his meeting in Israel, Mr. Kerry flew back to Cairo, which he has been using as his main hub for his current round of diplomacy, and consulted by phone with President Obama.

While Mr. Kerry had spoken by phone to his Qatari counterpart, he has yet to visit Qatar during his current diplomatic push.

The willingness of Qatar, an important Arab ally of the United States, to provide financial support to Hamas — which both the United States and Israel classify as a terrorist organization — may emerge as an element of any cease-fire agreement.

But Qatar also has a tense relationship with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose cease-fire proposal, Mr. Kerry says, has provided the framework for the current negotiations.

In Doha, Qatar’s capital, Mr. Meshal outlined his own demands. While Mr. Meshal said that Hamas would not “close the door” for a brief truce to evacuate the wounded and deliver humanitarian aid, he stressed a more lasting agreement would not come until some of the group’s demands were met.

“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” he said.

******************

Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza

Human rights group B'Tselem will petition Israel's supreme court after advert was deemed to be 'politically controversial'

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 08.24 BST   

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority has banned a radio advertisement from a human rights organisation which listed the names of some of the scores of children killed in Gaza since the conflict began 17 days ago.

B'Tselem's appeal against the decision was rejected on Wednesday. It intends to petition Israel's supreme court on Sunday in an effort to get the ban overturned.

The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial". The broadcast refers to child deaths in Gaza and reads out some of the victims' names.

In its appeal, B'Tselem demanded to know what was controversial about the item. "Is it controversial that the children [aren't] alive? That they're children? That those are their names? These are facts that we wish to bring to the public's knowledge."

In a statement, the human rights group said: "So far more than 600 people have been killed in bombings in Gaza, more than 150 of them children. But apart from a brief report on the number of fatalities, the Israeli media refrains from covering them." By Thursday morning, the death toll in Gaza had exceeded 700.

B'Tselem went on: "IBA says broadcasting the children's names is politically controversial. But refusing to do so is in itself a far-reaching statement – it says the huge price being paid by civilians in Gaza, many of them children, must be censored."

Aid agencies said on Wednesday that a child had been killed in Gaza on average every hour for the preceding two days, and more than 70,000 children had been forced to flee their homes. There has also been a spike in the number of premature births.

"The shocking number of children being killed, injured, or displaced in Gaza demands an unequivocal international response to stop the bloodshed," Save the Children said. "Entire families are being wiped out in seconds as a result of the targeting of homes."

Dr Yousif al Swaiti, director of al-Awda hospital, said: "We have witnessed many premature births as a result of the fear and psychological disorders caused by the military offensive. The number of cases of premature births per day has doubled, compared to the average daily rate before the escalation."

***************

Foreign Correspondents in Israel Complain of Intimidation

JULY 23, 2014
By ROBERT MACKEY
IHT   

As the death toll mounts and passions spike, the Foreign Press Association in Israel condemned on Wednesday what it called “deliberate official and unofficial incitement against journalists” who are reporting on the fighting in Gaza. That includes “forcible attempts to prevent journalists and TV crews from carrying out their news assignments,” the association said.

The statement was released as some Israelis, apparently incensed by what they see as reporting on the Israeli offensive in Gaza that is overly sympathetic to Palestinians, have started to take their frustration out directly on foreign correspondents.

One example cited by the press association was an assault Tuesday on a reporter for BBC Arabic, Firas Khatib, who was shoved during a live report from the city of Ashkelon, a frequent target of rockets fired from Gaza.

The irate Israeli man who burst into the live shot called Mr. Khatib a “son of a whore” during the assault. A BBC spokesman said in an email, “Firas was unharmed and will continue reporting as normal.”

Last week, as Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza, the CNN correspondent Diana Magnay reported live from a hilltop in Sderot where residents have gathered day after day to cheer Israeli strikes on their Palestinian neighbors.

 35 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
China's red furniture craze fuelling illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau

Appetite for African rosewood has driven a surge in illegal deforestation that threatens to destabilise local communities

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.48 BST   

Between March and May, during the cashew harvesting season, it is typical to see trucks line Amílcar Cabral Avenue in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau's capital, waiting to offload their cargo on to ships. But when they line up all year long, suspicion is raised, especially as demand for the nut has plummeted.

From interior regions of Guinea-Bissau, the trucks openly haul tree trunks, said Constantino Correia, an agro-engineer and former director of the country's forest management agency. The cargo, mainly African rosewood, is destined for China, according to Abílio Rachid Said of the government Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (Ibap).

Environmental activists have been denouncing illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau for years, but now it may be too late, "as we risk not having [the African rosewood] in the coming years", Said warned. "It is a type of wood in extremely high demand in the Chinese market."

Worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bissau-Guinean rosewood is used, among other things, to make hongmu furniture, red luxury Chinese pieces replicating the styles of the Qing period.

Reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicate that China's craze for rosewood has driven dramatic increases in illegal logging elsewhere in the world.

After the April 2012 military coup, rule of law deteriorated in Guinea-Bissau, heightening corruption and fanning illegal and wanton deforestation. "There has always been illegal cutting of trees," Fodé Mané, president of Human Rights Network in Guinea-Bissau, said. "The difference is that it wasn't as abusive as it is now."

He said protests by communities worried about the loss of the forests and source of their livelihood have resulted in intimidation and abuse by the National Guard and military.

The crisis has piled pressure on the country's mainly rural population, as donors froze funds, while the prices of its main export commodity, cashew nuts, plunged due to falling demand. About 80% of the country's 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production.

The falling price has led the terms of trade for cashew to deteriorate sharply for the local population, with 1kg of rice being exchanged for 3kg of cashew nuts in 2013, up from a 1:1 ratio the previous year, according to an assessment by the World Food Programme in 2013.

To access their forests, loggers may typically pay impoverished communities about $500; young villagers may be paid just $2-6 to cut a tree. The average price per kilogramme of cashew nuts was about two US cents in 2013, though prices have improved to about 50 US cents.

While tree felling provides communities with quick money, many are worse off as they are deprived of their source of survival.

"It is from the forests that the people obtain wood, which is their primary domestic source of energy," Correia said. "It is to the forests that the population goes to get its medicine … [and] meagre sources of protein though hunting animals. At this pace, deforestation is going to destroy the animals' natural habitats and cause their disappearance."

On the other hand, a container of wood fetches between $6,000-10,000, while the price of a container of rosewood can reach $18,000, sources say. Rosewood can take almost 50 years to mature.

Lassana Seidi, the country's former corruption chief, describes the illegal logging as barbarism that epitomises Guinea-Bissau's decline. Nearly 70% of citizens of the west African country, which has been jolted by coups and instability, live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

It appears that the illegal loggers have obtained licences to harvest and export logs without requisite conditions, such as setting up sawmills, wood shelters and subjecting themselves to the supervision of the general directorate of forests and wildlife to ensure compliance with regulations, according to environmental activists. "Now, anyone who owns a saw can have a licence," Said said.

According to the forestry regulations, only processed timber can be exported. But local newspapers have reported that containers of unprocessed logs are being shipped out of the country. Recently, Ação Cidadã, or Citizen Action, said logging concessions were being given for wood harvesting in protected areas and in forests held sacred by local communities.

In a petition, the group said extensive logging was ongoing under the eyes of the military in Dulombi national park in western Guinea-Bissau and Lagoas de Cufada park near the Atlantic Ocean.

Correia said that despite certain weaknesses, strict application of the regulations could significantly improve forest conservation. "The problem," he said, "is the inexistence of the state."

In April, Guinea-Bissau elected a new government to end the post-coup transition, and the country hopes to reverse its international isolation and economic decline.

Local populations have continued to decry the extensive wood harvesting, but their efforts have have been hampered by harassment and repression. "The locals, poor as they are, cannot resist the bribes offered. Sometimes even if they want to resist, they don't have the strength to do so. Against the military, there is no possible resistance," Correia said.

As criticism against illegal logging increases, the Chinese operators, to avoid further exposure, have started offering higher prices for the wood at Bissau's port, Mané said. "The trafficking chain now involves a lot of nationals," he added.

There are suspicions that the trafficking involves the police, forest guards as well as high-level government and military officials, which makes law enforcement difficult.

A source, who requested anonymity, said army or police officers allow the logs to reach the port for a $200 bribe.

There may be irreversible losses resulting from the deforestation, warns Said, who has called for immediate implementation of reforestation plans and suspension of wood-harvesting concessions.

Activists and experts agree that, above all, the law must be enforced. The end of the two-year transition period is bringing hope for a new beginning. The council of ministers recently announced a temporary suspension of timber exports and prioritised cashew exports.

Mané said the election of a new civilian government was starting to be a deterrent to deforestation. However, not all share the optimism. Much of the illegal logging benefits a few military officials who are unlikely to easily give up huge profits. According to some activists, illegal logging will continue but under more subtle guises.

 36 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Food Safety in China Still Faces Big Hurdles

By MICHAEL MOSS and NEIL GOUGH
JULY 23, 2014
IHT

China has been scrambling to right its gargantuan processed-food ship ever since six infants died and thousands more were hospitalized with kidney damage in 2008 from milk adulterated with an industrial chemical.

But as the latest scandal involving spoiled meat in fast-food shows, the attempted transformation over the last six years has run up against the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain.

From factory inspections to product recalls, laboratory testing to prosecutions, China’s emergent food-quality apparatus has turned into reform on the fly, with ever-changing threats and setbacks. Now, the growing presence of big American brands means that the country’s oversight efforts — and its most glaring lapses — are playing out on a global stage.

Earlier this year, fox meat was found in packages sold by Walmart as “Five Spice” donkey meat, prompting a recall and the company’s pledge to triple its spending on food safety in China. Excessive amounts of antibiotics and hormones discovered in some chicken products sold by KFC in late 2012 led to calls for a consumer boycott; the company’s troubles deepened last year when nine deaths from avian flu raised public concern about chicken generally and depressed its sales.

“The way I keep explaining China to people is that it’s kind of like the U.S. in the time of Upton Sinclair and ‘The Jungle,’ ” said Don Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University and president of the International Association for Food Protection, referring to the 1906 novel that described unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry and inspired reform. “There is tremendous desire by the Chinese to get it right, but they have a long way to go.”

The meat episode that started garnering widespread attention on Sunday ensnared a roster of American fast-food giants. It stemmed from a hidden-camera broadcast by Shanghai-based Dragon TV showing processing plant workers using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products. Meat that had dropped onto the floor was scooped up and tossed back into the processing machine, the news report showed.

Government investigators have since found that workers at the plant, Shanghai Husi Food, used expired or rotten meat to make Chicken McNuggets, beef patties and other food products totaling more than 5,000 boxes, the official news agency Xinhua reported. One hundred tons of meat products were seized, and on Wednesday police detained five people as part of their inquiry. The factory supplied McDonald’s, KFC and other fast-food restaurants in China, and is a subsidiary of the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill.

Along with McDonald’s and KFC, the restaurants that have stopped obtaining supplies from Shanghai Husi include Burger King, Starbucks and the Papa John’s pizza chain. The factory had customers in Japan as well, including McDonald’s Holdings Japan, which said it had sourced about a fifth of its Chicken McNuggets from Shanghai Husi and stopped selling the product on Monday.

As of Wednesday, regulators in Shanghai said they had conducted 875 inspection visits to 581 companies using products from Shanghai Husi.

“Company management was appalled by the report and is dealing with the issue directly and quickly” through internal inquiry and cooperation with government investigators, OSI said in a statement. A company spokeswoman declined to answer questions.

China is not alone in facing food-safety dangers. In the past week alone, a nationwide recall was issued for fruit from a California packing plant over concerns of possible contamination by the pathogen listeria, though with no illnesses as yet reported; the food company Sysco agreed to a $19.4 million settlement in California in connection with the storage of perishable food in unrefrigerated sheds; and Minnesota health officials investigated 13 cases of illness from the food-borne bacteria E coli.

Globally, millions of people fall ill every year from eating unsafe food, and the World Health Organization estimates that food- and waterborne diseases lead to about 2.2 million deaths annually.

But the oversight efforts are mixed in China. The country has banned or limited sales of imported American foods including pork, citing concerns about feed additives, even as it grapples with recent safety concerns over contaminants in an array of its domestically produced rice, bottled water and soy sauce.

It is difficult to gauge just how much progress China is making given its still-nascent efforts to create a system of public health epidemiology that can trace food-borne illnesses back to their source, food safety experts said. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States is viewed as having perhaps the world’s most vigorous food-borne illness detection system, which may account for much of the continuing product recalls and alerts involving American products.

The varied and often-stomach-turning episodes in China, along with the growing number of American food companies operating there, have made it a focus of world attention and expert support in the efforts to build its food-quality protections. Events like the government-sponsored China International Food Safety and Quality Conference, which began eight years ago, have been drawing top American experts, from regulators to litigators, who say the challenge China faces is staggering.

“Although China is by outward appearance an incredibly modern and vibrant society, it just doesn’t have a long history of regulatory control, of checks and balances, where somebody is making the decision, ‘If the meat falls on the floor, should I put it back in?’ ” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based consumer lawyer who has attended the food safety conferences.

Mr. Marler, a leading filer of food-borne illness lawsuits in the United States, cites the lack of a vigorous civil torts system in China as a major hindrance to its food-safety overhaul, arguing that big-dollar cases cause companies to change their ways. But the failings in China’s system range widely, observers said, and persist despite the 2009 update of its Food Hygiene Act with the far-more vigorous Food Safety Law.

There may prove to be a benefit as more American food companies enter the Chinese market. While they are raising public alarm about episodes like this week’s meat scandal, they may also come bearing the expertise to help set things right, Professor Schaffner said.

“They’re not perfect,” he said. “But when companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands come in, they are bringing high food-safety standards to China, which is good for Chinese suppliers.”

****************

China's red furniture craze fuelling illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau

Appetite for African rosewood has driven a surge in illegal deforestation that threatens to destabilise local communities

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.48 BST   

Between March and May, during the cashew harvesting season, it is typical to see trucks line Amílcar Cabral Avenue in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau's capital, waiting to offload their cargo on to ships. But when they line up all year long, suspicion is raised, especially as demand for the nut has plummeted.

From interior regions of Guinea-Bissau, the trucks openly haul tree trunks, said Constantino Correia, an agro-engineer and former director of the country's forest management agency. The cargo, mainly African rosewood, is destined for China, according to Abílio Rachid Said of the government Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (Ibap).

Environmental activists have been denouncing illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau for years, but now it may be too late, "as we risk not having [the African rosewood] in the coming years", Said warned. "It is a type of wood in extremely high demand in the Chinese market."

Worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bissau-Guinean rosewood is used, among other things, to make hongmu furniture, red luxury Chinese pieces replicating the styles of the Qing period.

Reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicate that China's craze for rosewood has driven dramatic increases in illegal logging elsewhere in the world.

After the April 2012 military coup, rule of law deteriorated in Guinea-Bissau, heightening corruption and fanning illegal and wanton deforestation. "There has always been illegal cutting of trees," Fodé Mané, president of Human Rights Network in Guinea-Bissau, said. "The difference is that it wasn't as abusive as it is now."

He said protests by communities worried about the loss of the forests and source of their livelihood have resulted in intimidation and abuse by the National Guard and military.

The crisis has piled pressure on the country's mainly rural population, as donors froze funds, while the prices of its main export commodity, cashew nuts, plunged due to falling demand. About 80% of the country's 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production.

The falling price has led the terms of trade for cashew to deteriorate sharply for the local population, with 1kg of rice being exchanged for 3kg of cashew nuts in 2013, up from a 1:1 ratio the previous year, according to an assessment by the World Food Programme in 2013.

To access their forests, loggers may typically pay impoverished communities about $500; young villagers may be paid just $2-6 to cut a tree. The average price per kilogramme of cashew nuts was about two US cents in 2013, though prices have improved to about 50 US cents.

While tree felling provides communities with quick money, many are worse off as they are deprived of their source of survival.

"It is from the forests that the people obtain wood, which is their primary domestic source of energy," Correia said. "It is to the forests that the population goes to get its medicine … [and] meagre sources of protein though hunting animals. At this pace, deforestation is going to destroy the animals' natural habitats and cause their disappearance."

On the other hand, a container of wood fetches between $6,000-10,000, while the price of a container of rosewood can reach $18,000, sources say. Rosewood can take almost 50 years to mature.

Lassana Seidi, the country's former corruption chief, describes the illegal logging as barbarism that epitomises Guinea-Bissau's decline. Nearly 70% of citizens of the west African country, which has been jolted by coups and instability, live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

It appears that the illegal loggers have obtained licences to harvest and export logs without requisite conditions, such as setting up sawmills, wood shelters and subjecting themselves to the supervision of the general directorate of forests and wildlife to ensure compliance with regulations, according to environmental activists. "Now, anyone who owns a saw can have a licence," Said said.

According to the forestry regulations, only processed timber can be exported. But local newspapers have reported that containers of unprocessed logs are being shipped out of the country. Recently, Ação Cidadã, or Citizen Action, said logging concessions were being given for wood harvesting in protected areas and in forests held sacred by local communities.

In a petition, the group said extensive logging was ongoing under the eyes of the military in Dulombi national park in western Guinea-Bissau and Lagoas de Cufada park near the Atlantic Ocean.

Correia said that despite certain weaknesses, strict application of the regulations could significantly improve forest conservation. "The problem," he said, "is the inexistence of the state."

In April, Guinea-Bissau elected a new government to end the post-coup transition, and the country hopes to reverse its international isolation and economic decline.

Local populations have continued to decry the extensive wood harvesting, but their efforts have have been hampered by harassment and repression. "The locals, poor as they are, cannot resist the bribes offered. Sometimes even if they want to resist, they don't have the strength to do so. Against the military, there is no possible resistance," Correia said.

As criticism against illegal logging increases, the Chinese operators, to avoid further exposure, have started offering higher prices for the wood at Bissau's port, Mané said. "The trafficking chain now involves a lot of nationals," he added.

There are suspicions that the trafficking involves the police, forest guards as well as high-level government and military officials, which makes law enforcement difficult.

A source, who requested anonymity, said army or police officers allow the logs to reach the port for a $200 bribe.

There may be irreversible losses resulting from the deforestation, warns Said, who has called for immediate implementation of reforestation plans and suspension of wood-harvesting concessions.

Activists and experts agree that, above all, the law must be enforced. The end of the two-year transition period is bringing hope for a new beginning. The council of ministers recently announced a temporary suspension of timber exports and prioritised cashew exports.

Mané said the election of a new civilian government was starting to be a deterrent to deforestation. However, not all share the optimism. Much of the illegal logging benefits a few military officials who are unlikely to easily give up huge profits. According to some activists, illegal logging will continue but under more subtle guises.

 37 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:34 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ex-General in Indonesia to Challenge Election Results, Citing Irregularities

By JOE COCHRANE
JULY 23, 2014
IHT

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Prabowo Subianto, the former army general who was declared the loser in Indonesia’s emotionally charged presidential election, will appeal the results to the country’s Constitutional Court, saying that there were widespread voting irregularities, senior advisers to his campaign said Wednesday.

Indonesia’s General Elections Commission said Tuesday night that Joko Widodo, the populist governor of Jakarta, had beaten Mr. Prabowo in the July 9 election by more than eight million votes, with 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Prabowo’s 47 percent.

Mr. Prabowo rejected the results hours before they were even announced and briefly threatened to withdraw his candidacy. His campaign said irregularities at 52,000 polling places, in the casting of ballots and in the counting process, had called 21 million votes into question.

Mr. Prabowo’s decision to appeal the results had been widely expected, but election and constitutional law experts said it was doubtful that the Constitutional Court would rule in his favor.

The court, which has the sole authority to order recounts or new voting at the provincial level and below, has rejected every legal challenge to a presidential election result since the country began holding direct polls for president in 2004.

At a news conference on Wednesday in Jakarta, Mr. Prabowo’s advisers said elections commission officials had dismissed their requests to investigate claims that the number of people who voted at tens of thousands of polling places far exceeded the number of names on the voter rolls. They also contended that Mr. Joko had mysteriously garnered an additional 490,000 votes in West Java Province, an election battleground, during the vote-counting process.

Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Mr. Prabowo’s brother and chief adviser, said Mr. Prabowo would ask the Constitutional Court to order the elections commission to conduct recounts or new voting at the 52,000 polling places identified by his campaign. “I think that’s the only way we would accept the result,” Mr. Hashim said.

Mr. Hashim said the campaign did not know whether the 21 million ballots it considered suspect tended to benefit one candidate or the other.

Officials with the elections commission could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, but they had previously rejected assertions by the Prabowo campaign that there were widespread irregularities in the election.

“I don’t think he could present any compelling proof that would trigger revoting at 52,000 polling stations,” said Muhammad Qodari, executive director of Indo Barometer, a polling firm. “I’m very skeptical that he has any strong evidence.”

Mr. Joko, 53, is scheduled to be sworn in on Oct. 20, completing a political rise from modest beginnings to the presidency of the world’s fourth most populous nation. Mr. Prabowo, 62, was a son-in-law of Suharto, the authoritarian president forced to resign in 1998 after 32 years in power.

 38 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:30 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Bangladeshi factory safety group needs extra £4m from retailers for inspections

Accord on Fire and Building Safety, set up after Rana Plaza garment factory deaths, aims to frontload spending this year

Sarah Butler   
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 18.10 BST   

Retailers and clothing brands are being asked to pay an extra $6.8m (£4m) towards factory inspections and worker education following the collapse last year of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh.

In its first annual report, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in Bangladesh, the body set up in the wake of the disaster to ensure higher factory standards through a legally binding agreement, said it was supported now by more than 180 brands and retailers, including H&M, Primark, Puma, and Marks & Spencer.

The organisation said it had carried out inspections of 800 out of the 1,500 factories used by its members and that 16 factory buildings had been temporarily closed. Seven of these had reopened after new safety measures were put in place.

The organisation aims to have inspected all the factories by the end of September, and to have developed action plans to improve fire and structural safety within a year.

The group, which was set up soon after the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka collapsed causing the deaths of 1,129 people in April 2013, said it still expected to spend up to $48m over five years on the project but needed to frontload expenditure to complete the inspections, instead of spending in equal amounts over five years.

So retailers and brands are being asked to contribute $16m this year, up from $9.2m last year towards completion of the programme, amounting to an increase of $6.8m.

Those contributions will not cover the work to improve the factories; this will be paid for by the factory owners, though the group's retailers and brands are ensuring that sufficient funds are available for the work and for worker compensation if a factory closes.

Some factory owners have threatened legal action to demand compensation because the group is not providing direct funding to help support workers who have been laid off temporarily.

Anger mounted after a rival scheme, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, set aside $5m to help pay workers.

On Tuesday the alliance released its annual report, in which it estimated that the cost of fixing up the 600 factories its members used would cost $150m. Again those funds were to be supplied by factory owners. Signatories to the alliance, such as Walmart and Gap, are being asked to assist with soft loans or promises of orders to help factory owners comply with improvements.

 39 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Afghanistan’s Election Result Hinges on a Squabble-Prone Audit

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
JULY 23, 2014
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seemingly endless squabbles are interrupted by full-scale shouting matches. Campaign aides mutter suspiciously about what foreign visitors might be up to. And ballot boxes are piling up, waiting to be cracked open and examined for signs of fraud.

In two spartan, stifling warehouses on the edge of Kabul, hundreds of Afghans, Americans and Europeans are engaged in a last-ditch attempt to salvage an acceptably democratic result from an election dispute that has been tumbling toward a street fight, or worse.

They are auditing all of the roughly eight million ballots cast in last month’s presidential runoff, trying to separate fraud from fact. But a week into the process, the audit has engendered little confidence, and is already desperately behind schedule.
Continue reading the main story
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Only 4.5 percent of the roughly 22,000 ballot boxes had been examined by Wednesday. Each day has seemed to yield some new dispute or confusion that has put on the brakes. Does writing “insh’allah” — God willing — next to the name of a candidate on a ballot constitute a legitimate vote? Is it proper for campaign representatives to move between tables, urging colleagues to argue harder? And who was that tall, bearded foreigner with no badge?

On Wednesday, the audit was suspended outright for the second time in seven days so that Afghan and Western officials and representatives of the rival campaigns could hash out the rules under which the auditing is supposed to be conducted — rules that were supposed to have been established a week ago. Western and Afghan officials said this should allow the audit to resume Thursday at a speedier pace.

In the balance is an election that opened almost four months ago with the encouraging sight of millions of Afghans turning out to vote despite bad weather and the threat of Taliban violence.

With the American troop withdrawal looming, and worries about Afghanistan’s long-term stability, international officials had hoped for a widely accepted result that would give democracy a boost and help cement a positive legacy for the long and costly Western involvement here.

But the election went badly off the rails after the June 14 runoff. One candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, almost immediately began accusing his rival, Ashraf Ghani, of widespread fraud, and then presented what he called evidence of collusion with election officials to rig the vote.

By the start of last week, some of Mr. Abdullah’s most powerful and well-armed supporters were preparing to install their man as president by force, if necessary.

Fearing Afghanistan was on the verge of fracturing, President Obama called both candidates, and Secretary of State John Kerry made an emergency trip here to broker a deal between Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani. They both agreed to an audit of all the votes, and pledged that the winner would form a national unity government.

The two candidates hugged for the television cameras at a late night news conference to announce the deal, and they have since met privately.

But substantive talks on the political side of the deal have not yet begun, leaving many powerful Afghans who had been promised jobs by one side or the other to anxiously obsess over their fates.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah, in the meantime, have refused to publicly release the details of what precisely they agreed to. They instead have been spinning the deal in the terms most palatable to their respective supporters, renewing concerns about whether the results of the audit would be accepted by the losing side’s supporters.

But first there must be a winner, and the focus right now is the audit.

“Chaotic” seems to have emerged as the description of choice among Western observers who are trying to be diplomatic about the audit. Among those with less discretion, the word “mess,” coupled with various adjectives, has been more common.

On Tuesday, for instance, two staff members from rival campaigns almost came to blows, shouting and pointing in each other’s face only moments before Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the American special envoy here, James F. Dobbins, arrived for a tour of the audit warehouses.

Down the middle of each building is a wide walkway separating two parallel rows of plastic tables and chairs. At each table, Afghan election officials, international observers and agents from both campaigns are tasked with opening ballot boxes and looking for signs of fraud.

It is laborious work that is made even harder by the suffocating heat inside the warehouses, which are little more than bare aluminum sheets wrapped over frames anchored to concrete floors. There is no air-conditioning, there are precious few fans, and drinking water is taboo for everyone — it is Ramadan, and the foreigners do not want to risk offending their Afghan colleagues, who are fasting all through the day.

For those seeking a sip of water or a cigarette, the bathrooms have proved an invaluable haven.

The boxes that do not pass muster are supposed to be flagged so that senior Afghan electoral officials can decide whether to invalidate the votes. But that would require an agreement on what kind of fraud should result in disqualification, and such an accord has not yet been worked out.

Until Wednesday’s suspension, there were also disputes about what constitutes evidence of fraud, and the confusion was the source of much of the disorder that has reigned since the audit began.

Western and Afghan officials said that the audit was to restart on Thursday, and that they believed all sides had reached an understanding of how it would proceed, with limits placed on how many campaign representatives could be at any given table at the same time.

“Are we all in agreement?” said a Western official who took part in the meetings. “I don’t know if anyone is ever entirely in agreement — we have seen no evidence of that at any point. But we are close enough, it appears.”

To be fair, the audit is an enormous undertaking, and no one had any idea it would be needed until it was announced, at which point it was given just two days to start. It took four.

Hundreds of foreign observers are being brought in to help, each of whom requires housing and security. Western embassies have all been pressing staff into the effort.

The delays already appear to be upsetting President Hamid Karzai, who is said to be increasingly agitated by the growing international role in the election.

“President Karzai never asked for U.S. involvement, nor have we welcomed it,” said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president, in an electronic message sent late Tuesday.

“The president accepted it as a ‘bitter pill’ in order to avoid more complications for Afghans as they have been waiting impatiently for months for their new president.”

 40 
 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

EU agrees to improve energy efficiency 30% by 2030

EU climate chief says energy-saving deal is not good news for Putin, but others hoping for 40% target are disappointed

Fiona Harvey   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.55 BST    

European Union member states will have to improve their energy efficiency by nearly a third in the next 15 years, under new proposals unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission.

The target – to improve efficiency by 30% by 2030 – had been the subject of dispute, as some industries wanted to avoid setting a firm goal and instead rely on the market and the EU’s carbon price to provide an economic incentive to cut energy waste. But others had been pushing for a tougher target, of 40% energy savings by 2030, and were disappointed.

Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for energy, said: “Our proposal is the basis to drive the EU towards increased security of supply, innovation and sustainability, all in an affordable way. It is ambitious and at the same time it is realistic. Our aim is to give the right signal to the market and encourage further investments in energy-saving technologies to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the environment.”

He said that the goal would result in cost savings for consumers, as infrastructure and appliances from buildings to fridges would all have to be made more efficient to comply with the new rules.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, was more outspoken, pointing out that the move could cut Europe’s reliance on imports of gas and other fossil fuels from states such as Russia.

Currently, the EU spends more than €400bn (£315bn) a year on imports of fossil fuels, a large proportion of which come from Russia through gas pipelines. The commission has calculated that for every 1% in energy savings, EU gas imports could be expected to fall by 2.6%.

“Today the commission is sending a strong message on energy efficiency: a 30% energy savings target for 2030,” said Hedegaard. “This is of course very good news for the climate. It’s also good news for investors, and it’s very good news for Europe’s energy security and independence. Meaning no such good news for Putin.”

However, it is not clear whether the new target will be translated into individual legally binding targets for each member state. The 2030 renewable energy target, after pressure from the UK government, is an EU-wide target and is not to be broken down into targets for member states, an omission which many green campaigners have said will render it much less effective.

Energy efficiency experts and green campaigners were critical of the new efficiency target, which some said was inadequate to the challenge of tackling climate change and saving on imports.

Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy, said: “The European commission appears to have lost credibility. Its supposedly leading role aiming to build a low carbon economy around an energy efficiency target, shows an obvious lack of ambition in the final proposal. The proposal is clearly not based on a real scientific assessment and a serious cost-benefit analysis, otherwise a target between 35% and 40% would have been proposed.”

She called the move the route of least resistance and regressive, based on narrow politics and a lack of vision. A more stringent target could have produced economic benefits in the form of cost savings and more jobs, she said.

Frederic Thoma, energy policy adviser at Greenpeace, was scathing of the deal, and also invoked the EU’s reliance on Russian gas. “In its dying days, the outgoing commission has tabled another gutless plan on energy that is a gift to the oligarchs of this world. An ambitious efficiency target would drastically cut the need for expensive imports of fossil fuels from Russia and elsewhere and help Europe stand up to bullies like Putin.

"The commission’s own research shows efficiency could also create three-and-a-half million jobs, while helping tackle climate change. It’s a no-brainer that EU leaders cannot ignore. They must put Europe’s energy policy back on track.”

Separately, the commission also said it would not challenge the UK’s move to create a “capacity market” for electricity, which is a key plank of the coalition government’s electricity market reforms.

The news was greeted with dismay by some green campaigners, who argued that the capacity market – which rewards electricity generators for keeping their power stations open, in order to protect the grid against surges in demand – would end up giving excess profits to coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants. Coal-fired power stations could receive special payments until 2033 under the scheme.

Jenny Banks, energy and climate change specialist at WWF-UK, said: “The capacity market risks pushing up bills and holding up progress towards a decarbonised power sector by throwing money at the UK’s old, dirty coal plants. It’s hard to believe that a country which has just reaffirmed its commitment to tackling climate change by choosing not to amend the fourth carbon budget is about to introduce a policy which could lock in vast payments to its oldest and dirtiest power stations until the 2030s.”

She said the capacity market was “skewed in favour of large existing generators while sidelining valuable sources of flexible capacity such as interconnection, demand reduction and response and electricity storage. Allowing these technologies to compete on a level playing field could push down prices and help integrate renewables into the UK electricity mix.”

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