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 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:17 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
China Arrests Nearly 1,000 'Cult' Members

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 August 2014, 14:39

China has since June arrested nearly 1,000 members of a Christian sect which Beijing refers to as a "cult", state media said on Tuesday.

Those arrested are members of "Almighty God", a Christian group which has found followers in some parts of the Chinese countryside for more than a decade.

They include "high-level organisers and backbone members" of the group, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing officials.

It did not give details of what crimes the suspects, said to come from more than six provinces, are accused of.

China has previously cracked down harshly on groups it labels as "cults", most notably the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which was banned in the late 1990s.

Falun Gong members insist they were targeted because the ruling Communist party saw the group as a threat, detaining and allegedly torturing thousands of its followers.

Beijing has for years struggled to suppress the Almighty God group, with state media reporting the arrest of "nearly 1,000" followers in 2012, when the organisation was under the spotlight for predicting an apocalypse.

Almighty God told members at the time that a "female Jesus" had arrived, and called on members to overthrow the Communist Party, which it refers to as "the big red dragon", the state-run Global Times reported.

State media says the group brainwashes its members and encourages them to isolate themselves from family and friends.

This year's crackdown follows the May murder of a woman at a McDonalds in the eastern province of Shandong, which police blamed on members of Almighty God.

The movement's founder is reported to have fled to the United States.

China keeps tight controls over religion, permitting worship at government-controlled Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic establishments but banning other religious organisations.

Beijing often says that it grants citizens wide-ranging religious freedoms.


Deng Xiaoping TV thriller serves Chinese president's agenda

Deng Xiaoping at History's Crossroad celebrates life of former leader whose reforms transformed China into economic giant

Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Friday 15 August 2014 13.16 BST   

It is not exactly House of Cards, despite one state newspaper's breathless claim that the first episode "resembles a typical Hollywood political thriller".

But China's latest television drama depicts a turbulent time. Launched to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping, who emerged as China's paramount leader in the years after Mao Zedong's death, it follows his return from the political wilderness and pursuit of the reform that transformed his country into an economic giant.

Deng Xiaoping at History's Crossroad spans 48 episodes, took three years to write and cost 120m yuan (£11.7m), a lavish sum by the state broadcaster's standards. Party bodies oversaw the production.

Lest anyone miss the possible contemporary parallel with the story of a bold leader pursuing economic changes while maintaining the party's political grip, state media have carried a commentary stressing president Xi Jinping's veneration of Deng.

Deng Xiaoping at History's Crossroad. Source: YouTube

"This is the anniversary year and of course they will give Deng Xiaoping status as the architect of reforms; it's on the agenda anyway. Then, there is whatever Xi can do to put his ideas into this programme and highlight some aspects [of Deng] or obscure others to serve his agenda," said Feng Chongyi, associate professor in China Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney.

For Chinese authorities, dramas are about education as much as entertainment. In addition to the Deng series, broadcasting authorities have ordered channels to devote primetime to screening "anti-fascist" shows - about battling the Japanese occupation - and "patriotic" programmes, such as those which focus on military life and model officials. They are to run from early September to the end of October, before and after National Day.

While early Communist history has been covered, Chinese television dramas rarely tackle the party's more recent history.

"In the past, if we wanted to make a TV series like this, I fear that it would have been almost impossible. And even if we could have made it then, the show would not be as rich as it is now," director Wu Ziniu told state news agency Xinhua.

An editorial in the state-run Global Times described the new show as "significant progress", although the paper conceded: "Some issues still remain sensitive, which the TV series [doesn't] touch upon." Others are referred to only briefly or obliquely.

That such a sedate show should become a talking point reflects how neutered political dramas usually are in China. The series sidesteps the two purges Deng endured in the Cultural Revolution and the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square's pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 by covering only late 1976 to 1984. He died in 1997.

Chief scriptwriter Long Pingping, of the party's Literature Research Centre, told Xinhua that "the history after 1984 is too difficult to be written" and that some events "could be written in books but would be very difficult to dramatise".

But Chinese media said it was the first time a TV drama had included Hua Guofeng, who initially succeeded Mao, and Hu Yaobang, the reformist general secretary of the party who was later ousted.

Hua, who would be outmanoeuvred by Deng, is seen announcing the Gang of Four's arrest, marking the end of the Cultural Revolution. But his comment that Mao had planned the Gang's downfall came as a surprise to viewers and historians.

With some of the heaviest-handed meteorological symbolism since the story of Noah, his announcement is preceded by cataracts of rain, crashing thunder and flashing lightning but followed by a rosy new day.

"China saw the dawn after the fall of the Gang of Four," explained the director.

Ratings have been boosted not just by extensive coverage in state media but the efforts of officials in Deng's native province of Sichuan.

The Sichuan News Online website said propaganda officials in Guang'an, where Deng grew up, sent text messages to officials and party members urging them to watch the drama and organise discussion sessions. The websites of other cities said authorities had asked party members, the public and schools to schedule viewing and discussion sessions.

State media articles have spelt out the connection between Deng's anniversary commemorations and the party's plans for reform.

Thursday's commentary, in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, said: "Some people say, in the past it was 'If there is hardship along the road, just think about Deng Xiaoping'; now it's 'If there is hardship along the road, just look to Xi Jinping'.

"This proves that for the general public, Xi Jinping, who's ambitious about furthering reform, has much in common with Deng Xiaoping, who decided to take the road of reform and opening a few decades ago."

The speed with which Xi has consolidated power since becoming general secretary of the party has taken many by surprise, and prompted comparisons to both Deng and Mao.

• Additional research by Luna Lin

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Earth sliding into ecological debt ‘earlier and earlier’

World has already exhausted a year’s supply of natural resources in less than eight months, campaigners say

Press Association, Tuesday 19 August 2014 12.10 BST   
Humans have used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year in less than eight months, campaigners have warned.

The world has now reached “Earth overshoot day”, the point in the year when humans have exhausted supplies such as land, trees and fish and outstripped the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products including carbon dioxide.

The problem is worsening, with the planet sliding into “ecological debt” earlier and earlier, so that the day on which the world has used up all the natural resources available for the year has shifted from early October in 2000 to August 19 in 2014.

In 1961, humans used only around three-quarters of the capacity Earth has for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases, with most countries having more resources than they consumed.

But now 86% of the world’s population lives in countries where the demands made on nature - the nation’s “ecological footprint” - outstrip what that country’s resources can cope with.

The Global Footprint Network, which calculates earth overshoot day, said it would currently take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable natural resources needed to support human requirements.

The network warned that governments that ignore resource limits in decision-making are putting long-term economic security at risk.

Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, said: “Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and economic problem.

“Countries with resource deficits and low incomes are exceptionally vulnerable.

“Even high-income countries that have had a financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realise that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress.”

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sri Lanka to Refuse Entry to U.N. Investigators

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 August 2014, 10:40

Sri Lanka will not grant visas to U.N. investigators probing war crimes allegedly committed during the island's decades-long separatist conflict, President Mahinda Rajapakse said Tuesday.

"We will not allow them into the country," said Rajapakse, who is under international pressure to cooperate with the U.N.-mandated investigation.

Sri Lanka has refused to accept the authority of the U.N. Human Rights Council which voted in March to probe allegations that the military killed 40,000 civilians in the final months of the separatist war, which ended in 2009.

But it is the first time that Rajapakse has said U.N. investigators will not be allowed into the country, effectively barring them from face-to-face access to Sri Lankans wanting to testify in the probe.

Rajapakse said however that his government was cooperating with all other U.N. agencies.

"We are saying that we do not accept it (the probe). We are against it," he told Colombo-based foreign correspondents at his official residence.

"But when it comes to other UN agencies, we are always ready to fully cooperate and fully engage with them," he said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders have urged Colombo to cooperate with the UNHRC after ending a prolonged separatist war that pitted ethnic minority Tamil rebels and the largely Sinhalese army in a drawn out ethnic war.

Outgoing U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay earlier this month suggested that her investigators looking into allegations of mass killings may not have to travel to Sri Lanka at all.

She said there was a "wealth of information" outside the country.

Her remarks prompted allegations from Sri Lanka's foreign ministry that her probe was on a "preconceived trajectory" and that her "prejudice and lack of objectivity" were unfortunate.

Colombo insists that its troops did not commit war crimes while crushing the Tamil Tiger rebel movement at the end of a conflict which stretched for more than three decades and claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Pillay, who visited Sri Lanka last year, has previously accused Rajapakse's government of becoming authoritarian and warned that rights defenders and journalists were at risk in the country.

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:06 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Says He Wants to Visit China

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 August 2014, 21:34

Pope Francis said Monday that he wants to visit China and called for the Catholic Church in the country to be allowed to do its "job".

"You ask me if I want to go to China? Certainly, even tomorrow," he told reporters on board the papal plane as he returned from a visit to South Korea.

"But the church asks for the freedom to do its job in China, there is no other condition," he said.

During the five-day visit to the divided Korean peninsula -- his first to Asia -- the pope called for countries like China and Vietnam that do not have formal ties with the Vatican to accept a "dialogue" with Rome, insisting that Catholics did not view Asia with the mentality of "conquerors".

Speaking on Monday as the Korean Airlines plane he was travelling in flew over China, he said the Vatican is "always open to contact" and that he has a "high regard" for the Chinese people.


Pope Francis mentions early retirement, jokes he has ‘two or three years’ left

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 18, 2014 21:10 EDT

Aboard the papal plane (AFP) – Pope Francis on Monday publicly broached the prospect of his own death for the first time, giving himself “two or three years” but not ruling out retirement before then.

Talking to reporters on a flight back to the Vatican from South Korea, the 77-year-old pontiff, who seemed in good spirits, was asked about his global popularity, which was evident again during his five-day visit.

“I see it as the generosity of the people of God. I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, not to become proud. Because I know it will last only a short time. Two or three years and then I’ll be off to the Father’s House,” he replied light-heartedly.

The Argentine pope said he could handle the popularity “more naturally” these days, though at first it had “scared me a little”.

While the pope has not spoken publicly before about when he might meet his maker, a Vatican source said he had previously told those close to him that he thought he only had a few years left.

Pope Francis also mentioned the possibility of retiring from the Papacy, as his predecessor Benedict XVI did last year, if he felt he could no longer adequately perform his duties.

Resigning the papacy was a possibility “even if it does not appeal to some theologians”, he told reporters.

He added that 60 years ago it was practically unheard of for Catholic bishops to retire, but nowadays it was common.

“Benedict XVI opened a door,” he said.

Francis admitted that he had “some nerve problems”, which required treatment.

“Must treat them well, these nerves, give them mate (an Argentine stimulant tea) every day,” he joked.

“One of these neuroses, is that I’m too much of a homebody,” he added, recalling that the last time he’d taken a holiday outside of his native Argentina was “with the Jesuit community in 1975″.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

India calls off Pakistan talks after envoy invites Kashmiri separatist to tea

Meeting of foreign secretaries in Islamabad next week would have been the first in 18 months

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi and Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Monday 18 August 2014 18.39 BST      

India has abruptly called off high-level talks with Pakistan after the Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi invited a Kashmiri separatist leader to tea.

The meeting of the two quarrelsome neighbours' foreign secretaries in Islamabad next week would have been the first in 18 months.

It was scheduled after Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, accepted an invitation to attend the swearing-in ceremony of his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in Delhi three months ago.

The first signs of a relapse came during a visit by Modi to the Buddhist Ladakh region of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir province, when the Indian leader accused Pakistan of conducting a "proxy war of terrorists" and said it had "lost the strength to fight a conventional war".

But Modi did not criticise Pakistan in his independence day address last Friday, raising hopes for the talks.

For several years, meetings between Kashmiri Muslim separatist leaders and Pakistani envoys in Delhi were a regular prelude to any major India-Pakistan dialogue. The last one took place in April.

But this time India's foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, told the Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit: "You can have a dialogue with India or with separatists."

Basit ignored the warning, and shortly after the Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah drove out of the high commission, Delhi declared the talks were off.

Yasin Malik, a Kashmiri leader, said: "This shows India does not want to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, only trade. They are pushing the new generation of Kashmiris on to the violent path."

Aziz Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner, defended Basit's meeting with Shah. "You have to consult these people regularly because they are part of Indian-held Kashmir and they have to be kept on board in order to find an amicable solution that is acceptable to everyone," he said.

Ahmed said India needed to recognise that Pakistan had considerably softened its stance over the years.

But India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party said: "This time it was the last straw on the camel's back. This time we're telling Pakistan: you'll have to walk the extra mile if you want to improve relations."


Indian court orders release of woman on hunger strike for 14 years

Irom Sharmila has been force-fed in prison hospital since beginning hunger strike in protest at human rights abuses

Agence France-Presse in New Delhi, Tuesday 19 August 2014 12.06 BST   

An Indian court has ordered the release of a woman who has staged a 14-year hunger strike in protest at human rights abuses in the country's remote north-east, her lawyer has said.

"The court has set her free," said Mani Khaidem of Irom Sharmila, who was arrested shortly after beginning her protest.

Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and non-violent protest, has refused food and water for almost 14 years to draw attention to abuses allegedly committed by the military.

She began her fast in November 2000 after witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home in north-eastern Manipur, which is subject to the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

She was arrested on charges of attempted suicide and was sent to a prison hospital where she was force-fed via a nasal drip several times a day.

Babloo Loitangbam, a human rights activist in the north-east who is close to Sharmila, said the court had accepted that the charge was not sustainable.

"There has been a consistent position where activists have been saying that Sharmila is not taking her life, she is making a political point which is to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act," he told the NDTV network.

Sharmila also faces similar charges in the capital New Delhi where she has staged a hunger strike in the past.

The act, which covers large parts of north-eastern India and the restive state of Kashmir, gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight and is seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses.


Indian protests planned around release of Indira Gandhi assassination film

India’s intelligence agency has warned of violence if Kaum De Heere, which tells the story of Indira Gandhi’s killers, is released

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Tuesday 19 August 2014 10.26 BST   
India’s intelligence agency has warned of potential violence around the release of Kaum De Heere, a Punjabi film which portrays the assassination of India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The film tells the story of her assassins, Sikh bodyguards who turned against Gandhi following Operation Blue Star, a military operation to quell revolution in Amritsar in 1984 which left hundreds of Sikhs dead. One of the bodyguards, Beant Singh, was killed by police shortly after, while the other, Satwant Singh, was later hanged.

Click to view the trailer:

Director Ravinder Ravi claims that the film is not biased, and that it merely tells the story as drawn from the trial of Kehar Singh, one of the plotters, as well as the confessions of the assassins themselves. “Allegations that we want to create a law and order problem by showing what happened 30 years ago are meaningless,” Ravi told the Times of India. “We are just reproducing what has been documented. What’s wrong in bringing historical incidents before the public after 30 years?”

Protests are nevertheless being planned by the Punjab Youth Congress, a youth political organisation who claim the film glorifies the assassins. “The movie not only justifies the killing of the former PM, but is also an attempt to revive terrorism in Punjab,” said congress president Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary. “We hope the [current] PM [Narendra Modi] will intervene in the issue. Otherwise, we would not allow the film to be released in Punjab ... the government shall be responsible for any law and order issue that may crop up.”

The son of one of the killers, Sarabjit Singh Khalsa, has championed the film, saying: “The movie brings to fore the pain which Indira’s bodyguards felt during their visit to the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star.”

The chief minister of the Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, has said that he would ask India’s home secretary to look into the situation. Kaum De Heere is set for release on Friday.


Indian women on death row for killing children launch last-ditch appeal

Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit are set to become first women executed in post-independence India

Agence France-Presse in Mumbai, Tuesday 19 August 2014 11.05 BST   
Two Indian women on death row for murdering five children have lodged a last-ditch appeal after the president rejected their mercy plea, clearing the way for them to become the first women executed in post-independence India.

Renuka Shinde and her step-sister Seema Gavit were convicted in 2001 of kidnapping 13 children, forcing them to join a gang of thieves and murdering at least five of them.

They were reportedly recruited into a life of petty crime as teenagers by their late mother, and used the children to distract their victims while the sisters robbed them.

Shinde, 45, and Gavit, 39, were found guilty of kidnapping the 13 children in the western state of Maharashtra. They were initially accused of murdering nine of their victims, but prosecutors were only able to prove that they killed five.

The supreme court upheld their sentence in 2006 and last month the president, Pranab Mukherjee, who has the power to commute a death sentence, rejected their appeal.

Legally the sisters have now exhausted all avenues to appeal against their sentence.

But their lawyer told AFP he would lodge a petition with the high court in Mumbai, where they were originally convicted, on the grounds that the 13-year delay in carrying out the sentence was excessive.

"There has been an inordinate delay in carrying out the death sentence. So I will pray to the courts to commute the same into life behind bars," said Sudeep Jaiswal, who has represented the two sisters since 2010.

"I will file the writ petition today."

In a landmark ruling this year, the supreme court said "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carring out executions were grounds for commuting death sentences.

Indian courts use the principle of "rarest of rare case" to classify the crime before pronouncing the death sentence.

Earlier this year a Mumbai court ordered three men to hang for their involvement in two gang-rape cases, the first death sentences to be handed down for multiple sex attacks since the law was toughened last year.

Their sentences must be confirmed by the supreme court.

The last person to be executed in India was a local Kashmiri man last year over a deadly 2001 attack on the national parliament in New Delhi.


In India, Human Pyramids Draw Crowds, and Protests

AUG. 19, 2014

MUMBAI, India — On a recent evening in south Mumbai, a group of men in matching jerseys had arranged themselves in concentric circles and were hoisting smaller boys up and up, until their bare feet balanced precariously on the rounded shoulders below.

Finally, the smallest of them — he said he was 13, but he was as skinny as a 10-year-old — scrambled up to the top of the pyramid, looking ahead in tense concentration. Five tiers of human bodies now separated him from the ground, some 30 feet down, grassy but strewn with gravel and small stones. A hush fell; this was the most dangerous part.

The Hindu festival of Dahi Handi, which was on Monday, reaches its climax with the heart-stopping sight of young boys — often aged 4 to 10 — hoisted to the tops of wobbly human pyramids, where they smash jugs of buttermilk suspended in midair in homage to the god Krishna. And every year, boys and men are hurt in falls.

On Monday, there were 202 injuries among participants, according to The Indian Express, a daily newspaper. A 14-year-old died after falling from the top of a five-tier pyramid during a practice earlier this month.

In recent years, political parties and large corporations have jumped in as sponsors, and the pyramids have reached improbable heights, with the current record being a nine-tier pyramid, just over 40 feet high. Prize money for the tallest pyramids can go up to 10 million rupees, or $164,000.

This year, Mumbai’s High Court attempted for the first time to impose some restrictions on the pyramids, setting a minimum age of 18 for participants, limiting the height of pyramids to 20 feet, and requiring the use of helmets, safety belts and layers of cushions. Local politicians and team organizers protested passionately, some threatening to cancel their competitions.

“Dahi Handi has gone from being only a religious festival to an adventure sport,” said Mangesh Belose, who organizes the Young Umerkhadi Dahi Handi troupe. “In an adventure sport, there are risks involved, but that does not mean that the sport should be shut down.”

He said it was “unfortunate” that children participating in the event had died but said they were a “statistical minority” of the nearly 500,000 people who participated each year.

The festival, which commemorates stories of Krishna’s trying to steal buttermilk as a child, was beset with controversy this year.

It was after the death of the 14-year-old boy that the High Court imposed its first safety regulation the pyramids, which set off the roar of protest. Jeetendra Awhad, a state legislator, then petitioned the Supreme Court, which removed the height restriction for the pyramids and lowered the minimum age of participation to 12.

Politicians and organizers argued that the people criticizing the festival could not possibly understand the poor men and boys who take part.

The critics “are sitting in their air-conditioned houses,” said Mr. Awhad, whose Dahi Handi competition is among the biggest in the city. “They are not on the ground, and they have never been a part of this festival. They are watching it on television, and they come out with some suggestions.”

Organizers say they prefer young boys to ascend to the top of the pyramid because they are lighter and more nimble and because they generate good will for the team. Ganesh Chavan, 42, who coaches Tadwadi Mitra Mandal, a troupe famous for its nine-tier human pyramid, said boys are best when they are younger than 12.

“By then they understand fear, and once they develop a fear of the height in their minds, then they cannot attempt to do it,” he said. “Younger children do not have that fear inside them.”

In recent years, insurance companies have begun to offer special packages for Dahi Handi participants, charging about 50 rupees per participant and providing coverage of up to about 150,000 rupees as compensation. Activists argue that the amount is far too little.

“The government and the organizers will pay the family some meager compensation, but the rest of that child’s life is ruined,” said Minaxi Jaiswal, former chairwoman of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a government body that has long advocated for the safety of child participants in the festival.

Rehearsals culminated in a day of feverish celebration on Monday, as boys and men converged to the raucous sounds of Bollywood songs on loudspeakers. Some 1,200 teams participated in a series of competitions over the course of the day, each trying to erect the highest pyramid. Prize money is given to the organizers, who use it to arrange other events. Participants receive T-shirts, transportation and food for the day.

In the neighborhood of Worli, the crowd seemed at once anxious, exhilarated and deliriously happy. The pot was dangling at a height of about 35 feet, and crowds at the base of the pyramid offered up their hands in support to the younger men at the top as the smallest among them clambered up.

Ishwar Prabhakar Bhandari, who said he was 13, has twice served as the top of the Young Umarkhadi Dahi Handi group’s pyramid. This year, he said, it would have nine tiers.

“Everyone in the neighborhood knows me,” he said. “I make my mother and father so proud.”

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 05:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Karzai Calls for End of Afghan Election Impasse

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 August 2014, 11:23

Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed Tuesday for the two men vying to succeed him to end their dispute over election results and save the country from further violence and economic decline.

Afghanistan has been paralyzed for months after the first round of the presidential election failed to produce a clear winner and the second round of voting in June triggered allegations of massive fraud.

As fears grew of a return to civil war, the United States brokered an emergency deal designed to end the impasse between Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, and former anti-Taliban fighter Abdullah Abdullah.

But neither candidate appears willing to back down, and the dispute looks set to erupt again as results emerge from an anti-fraud audit of all eight million votes and pressure builds for the new president to be in place within weeks.

"I hope we stay united... so that our country is led toward peace and prosperity," Karzai said in a speech in Kabul to mark Independence Day.

"I hope that Afghanistan's election has a result soon. The people are waiting impatiently for the result.

"I hope both of our brothers... reach an agreement so that Afghanistan soon has an inclusive government in which nobody is left out."

The political stalemate has revived ethnic divisions that lay behind the 1990s civil war in Afghanistan.

Many of Ghani's supporters are Pashtuns in the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks and other northern groups.

The uncertainty has hit the fragile economy, which is dependent on aid funding that is declining as the 13-year international effort to develop Afghanistan winds down.

The U.S. has been pushing for the next president to be inaugurated by the end of the month, ahead of a NATO summit that should sign off on follow-up support after NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year.

The audit has checked nearly 50 percent of the ballot boxes, and the next stage of invalidating fraudulent votes will likely raise tensions between the candidates -- who are also meant to be in talks over a post-election unity government.

Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, has stayed publicly neutral in the election, though Abdullah has accused him of being involved in the alleged fraud.

Preliminary results from the run-off vote in June showed Ghani well ahead of Abdullah -- a sharp turn-around of the first round when Abdullah came top of a field of eight candidates.


Afghan Special Forces Brace for Exit of U.S. Elite Troops

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 August 2014, 07:12

If Afghanistan is to avoid the chaotic breakdown seen in Iraq, U.S.-trained special forces undergoing instruction at a drill camp outside Kabul must play a key part in imposing security -- and building public confidence.

The huge base, surrounded by barren hills, is the scene of an all-round education for commandos who have been hand-picked from the regular army to replace U.S. elite units now withdrawing from Afghanistan.

On the curriculum is every aspect of planning and executing military operations: from urban warfare exercises and patrolling villages to shooting practice with M4 assault rifles and classroom lessons.

At "Camp Commando", near the village of Rish Khor, a line of Humvees topped with machine guns is one sign that the force has been carefully modelled on the U.S. Army Rangers.

As the NATO combat mission packs up after 13 years of fighting the Taliban, attention is focusing on the local security forces that will be responsible for battling nationwide instability.

"We have good planning, good equipment and good weapons, so we never think about when NATO is not a partner with us any more," said General Syed Abdul Karim, a bullish special forces commander, sitting in a leather office chair.

"Maybe we'll have some problems, but we've already tested our soldiers and they have very high morale.

"Our role is to conduct operations everywhere we are facing risks of insurgents," he said, reeling off a list of recent successes he claims in the provinces of Ghazni, Badakhshan, Wardak and elsewhere.

But, despite the confidence, serious concerns surround the 11,500-strong commando force -- particularly over a lack of air support which severely limits their mobility, and in their reputation for thuggish tactics.

- U.S. military legacy -

"The Afghan special forces are followers of the U.S. special forces, who are seen as having their hands stained in blood from infamous night raids on homes," said Atiqullah Amarkhil, an analyst and former army officer.

"They are supposed to be picked from the best, but there have been cases of warlords putting their fighters into the special forces, so it is also possible that their loyalties are not with the government."

Amarkhil added that a shortage of helicopters severely restricted the commandos' ability to deploy rapidly when the army and police need them.

"They completely lack the effective air support that the U.S. special forces rely on, as well surveillance, intelligence gathering and medevac resources," he said.

"The Afghan air force is nascent and inadequate."

General Karim admits that the commando camp has no helicopter, but insists one will be delivered soon and that air support for the special forces is improving fast.

He avoids discussion of the commandos' alleged bad reputation, instead stressing that all the men have been trained to respect civilians.

"We never use air power or firepower in the residential areas where civilians live," he said. "We look for targets which are outside residential areas.

"During the last six months we didn't have any civilian casualties, so it shows that we have more experience in the latest operations."

All NATO combat troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, though some US special forces are set to stay on to conduct discreet strikes against al-Qaida remnants.

For locals living near the camp, the presence of commandos is a welcome guarantee of security.

"We cooperate well with them," said carpenter Abdul Bashir, 35. "There is no problem with house searches, and it is always good to see them out on patrol."

The years ahead may prove tough for the commandos, but the young men training in the summer heat are upbeat and certain that they are learning skills to enable them to keep Afghanistan from civil war.

"There is a difference between the special operations that we do and what the police and army can," said Fazel Rahman, a 22-year-old sergeant.

"Whatever province we went to, we came out successfully.

"It will be good if the foreigners continue their presence, but if they leave it will not affect our will."

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 05:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Bengal slow loris flies to UK safety

It is hoped the rare primate will live at the Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon and befriend another slow loris called Doris

Press Association, Monday 18 August 2014 23.40 BST   
A vulnerable primate has been flown more than 5,000 miles from the Maldives to start a new life in Britain.

The Bengal slow loris, a species no larger than a bag of sugar, had been living in the capital Male after police officers confiscated it during a drugs raid.

Officers housed the nocturnal creature in a birdcage on Dhoonidhoo, also known as "prison island", for eight months, feeding it baby food and bananas, while they searched the globe for a suitable new home. Officers named the loris, believed to be male, Kalo, which translates as "Buddy".

Alison Cronin, who runs the Ape Rescue Centre at Monkey World in Dorset, embarked on a complex mission to rehouse the primate in the south-west of England.

With other countries unable to help transport the animal, which is one of only a few thousand in existence, she brought the case to the attention of the British authorities and requested permission for it to be brought to the UK.

She said: "It would have been a huge loss if a healthy, vulnerable animal had to be destroyed, but it was also really important for us to support the Maldivian authorities, and to send a message to other countries around the world that vulnerable creatures don't need to be put down – organisations like ours will provide support and assistance to ensure that endangered species aren't allowed to die off."

British Airways captain Will Rennie, who flew the animal from Male to Gatwick airport, said: "Travelling at more than 500mph with us, our special little guest was for once not such a slow loris!"

The animal will spend the next four months in quarantine at Monkey World. It is then expected to begin a new life at the Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon, with a new friend, a slow loris called Doris, who has been without a companion since she arrived in the UK 15 years ago.

• This article was amended on 19 August 2014. The original stated the slow loris was a monkey. This has been corrected.

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 05:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iraqi Kurds mount attack against Islamic State as Obama vows support

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 18, 2014 19:25 EDT

Baqufa (Iraq) (AFP) – Kurdish fighters, backed by Iraqi forces and a new wave of U.S. air strikes, pressed their offensive against jihadist rebels Monday as President Barack Obama urged a joint counterterrorism effort.

Obama hailed the Kurds’ recapture of a major dam outside Mosul but warned Baghdad that “the wolf is at the door” and said it must move quickly to build an inclusive government.

Securing the dam was the biggest prize yet clawed back from the so-called “Islamic State” since it launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in June, sweeping aside Iraqi security forces.

“Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination,” Obama said, warning that the dam would have devastated cities downstream had it been breached.

“So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together and taking the fight to ISIL.

“If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America,” he promised, in his clearest signal yet that the 10-day-old US air campaign against IS is far from over.

Obama said that Iraq’s new premier Haidar al-Abadi should rush to build an inclusive government to undercut support for extremists and underpin international action against the Islamic State.

“We will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region,” he said.

U.S. Central Command, meanwhile, confirmed that US jets and drones had carried out 15 air strikes in support of the Kurdish-led offensive to retake the dam and push on into IS territory.

The jihadists, who have declared a “caliphate” in a region straddling the Iraq-Syria border, also came under attack in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa by Syria’s air force for a second straight day.

In Iraq, “the planes are striking and the peshmerga are advancing,” a Kurdish fighter told AFP near the shore of the lake formed by the vast Mosul dam.

- Dam ‘entirely liberated’ -

Jets flew overhead, as smoke rose from the site of a strike that a peshmerga member said targeted an entrance to the dam.

“In the beginning, they surprised us with their offensive. But now, we know their tactics, and they can’t take another yard from us,” Major General Sardar Kamal said at the frontline.

Fighting also broke out in an area to the south as engineering teams worked to clear booby traps and bombs left by jihadists, said Kawa Khatari, an official from Iraq’s main Kurdish party.

A senior peshmerga officer told AFP there was sporadic fighting in the town of Tal Kayf southeast of the dam, and that only a “small number” of jihadists remain in the dam area.

Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta said the dam was entirely liberated in a joint operation by Iraqi “anti-terrorism forces and peshmerga forces with aerial support.”

While Washington and London hailed the breakthrough and promised more support, Pope Francis sounded a note of caution, calling for collective action through the United Nations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called the IS fighters that have been sweeping across Syria and Iraq a direct threat to Britain, and said all available tools must be used to halt their advance.

His Defence Minister Michael Fallon said Britain’s Iraq involvement now goes beyond a humanitarian mission and is set to last for months.

- Kidnap threat -

“We and other countries in Europe are determined to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism,” he was quoted as saying.

Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers are relieved by the departure of divisive premier Nuri al-Maliki, hoping his successor will be a unifying figure

In the north, members of minority groups including Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, remain under threat of kidnap or death at the hands of the jihadists, rights groups say.

Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says IS fighters have kidnapped thousands of Yazidis in this month’s offensive.


08/18/2014 04:16 PM

The Drama of Sinjar: Escaping the Islamic State in Iraq

By Christoph Reuter

Last week, thousands of Yazidis were evacuated from the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq, where they had fled due to marauding fighters from the Islamic State. Kurdish fighters from the PKK helped them escape, but it remains unclear if anyone can stop the IS jihadists.

On the eighth day up on the mountain, Bagisa gave birth to her first child, a girl. She named her Khudaida.

Bagisa and her husband Hadi had fled from the village of Sumari. The couple was lucky; they had left alone, allowing them to avoid the groups that came under fire from attackers. But being alone also meant that when they finally stopped running, in the shade of a cliff wall, they knew none of the others who likewise found shelter there. There was no one willing to share their valuable water with Bagisa. The couple now had a daughter, but they didn't have anything to drink.

Other families with infants joined together in order to provide a modicum of shade for mothers and babies and they saved a few drops from the spartan amounts of water rationed out each day. Or they divided up the few sips of water they spent hours each day collecting from the hollows of dried out mountain streams.

But nobody helped Bagisa, Hadi and their baby. They had to withstand the heat on their own -- until, on the day following Khudaida's birth, three Kurdish fighters, members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), finally appeared and brought them to the Newroz camp across the border in Syria.

Those who managed to find shelter in the Newroz camp have vivid stories to tell of the horrors they left behind. They describe how men from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) announced via loudspeaker in the village of Garzarik, "Put down your weapons and we won't harm you," and then turned around and shot at all those who sought to flee.

They talk about the sheep that desperate refugees beat to death with a stone so as to drink its blood. And about the elderly who they were forced to leave behind. They speak of the corpses of men on the streets and of the women who pleaded with their families to kill them so that they wouldn't fall into the hands of the IS.

Overnight Return

But they also have stories of neighbors who suddenly became turned into their enemies, becoming accomplices to the IS. This attack, it appears, followed a pattern established in previous offenses. First, a discrete network of informants was established over a long period of time, including Arabs from surrounding villages, Turkmens and even some Kurds. The informants then directed the Islamist fighters to the houses full of valuables and showed them where Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis lived. The result was that the IS knew how strong their opponent was and who they should kill first. It's the same blueprint the group followed in their attacks on cities and villages in northern Syria and on the Iraqi city of Mosul at the beginning of June.

For almost two months, the people here thought they were safe, believing that the jihadist hordes would stay in the Arab regions. And initially, there seemed to be grounds for that belief. Having plundered materiel from the Iraqi army, the IS first took their new equipment to victory parades in Raqqa and continued to focus on the battle in Syria. But then, overnight, they returned.

On the morning of August 3, the first IS convoys attacked villages surrounding Sinjar. Some units belonging to the Kurdish peshmerga militia initially sought to slow the attacks. "But at dawn, one of the commanders suddenly said he had received an order to retreat," recalls one village resident, the elderly Blindkas Khalaf.

All of them, more than 7,000 men from the cities and villages in the region, were pulled out and they took their weapons with them as they headed north. They had confiscated many of the arms from the Yazidis in June.

"There were about 1,600 soldiers from Sinjar in Maliki's army," says Khalaf. "When it disbanded following the fall of Mosul and the peshmerga arrived here, they confiscated all our weapons and promised to protect us."


But then, on that Sunday morning, the peshmerga moved out of Sinjar. The Yazidis wanted to at least have their Kalashnikovs back so that they could protect themselves and they initially blocked the peshmerga convoy. But Khalaf says the Kurdish fighters turned their weapons on the Yazidis and fought their way free.

Brigadier General Holgard Heckmat, spokesman of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in Erbil, denies that an order was issued to retreat. "Our soldiers simply ran away. It's shameful, which is why they apparently invented the order. But we are investigating the incident and those who allegedly issued the order," Heckmat says.

The peshmerga appear to have left the Yazidis to themselves -- later, their fate proved useful to push America and the world to finally intervene. That the peshmerga were unable to stop the jihadists -- even had they wanted to -- became apparent with the fall of Makhmour, a city in the Kurdish heartland that was held for several days by IS fighters.

It was a small unit of the Kurdish rebel group PKK, combined with US air strikes, that was decisive in retaking the city a few days later. But residents who returned to Makhmour for the first time last Tuesday didn't come to stay. They just wanted to get the rest of their furniture.

"Everyone is afraid that the crazies will return," said one man as he was unscrewing an air conditioning unit from the wall of his home. "If the Americans hadn't bombed, they would already be in Erbil. Our peshmerga can't protect us."

The IS advance has shattered the peshmerga's self-confidence. It has also, at least for the moment, brought together erstwhile adversaries. The PKK, which originally formed in Turkey, and the Kurdish leadership in Iraq have mistrusted each other for years, but now they have joined forces out of necessity. Kurdish President Massoud Barsani even traveled to Makhmour to personally thank the PKK commander there.

Indeed, it is largely thanks to the guerilla fighters of PKK -- a group that had recently seemed stuck in the past -- that up to 50,000 people could be evacuated from the Sinjar Mountains within a week. Prior to the Sinjar operation, the PKK had seemed exclusively focused on continuing their training for a war against Turkey -- a conflict which hasn't seemed likely for years.

'Everything That Could Drive'

But it was the PKK fighters who controlled the region on the Syrian side of the border and who liberated the road to Sinjar, establishing a series of camps for the refugees along the way. They reached the thirsty mountain refugees by foot, carrying down older women and children on their backs before loading them into small trucks and pick-ups for the rest of the journey.

"We used everything that could drive," says Alvar Khalil, head of the Newroz camp, which provides Yazidis shelter as they wait for transportation to continue their journeys. Most only remain for a few days before they are taken onwards into Iraq. Every day, huge numbers of people arrive at the camp while equal numbers leave. At the end of last week, estimates for the number of people being cared for by the PKK there ranged from 3,000 to 6,000, with exact numbers being hard to come by.

At the same time, the US Pentagon was considering ways to rescue the Yazidis from the ridge by way of an airlift. But when US Special Forces landed there last Wednesday for a closer look at the situation, they were surprised that the number stranded there was much lower than expected. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that a US rescue mission was less likely as a result. It says something about the chaos in Kurdistan that even the US military appears to have been largely unaware of the systematic evacuation of those stranded in the mountains.

Last Wednesday evening, what were thought to be the final groups of refugees arrived in Newroz. Most of the trucks returning from the Sinjar Mountains were empty; one of them had loaded up nothing but a few lost sheep. Mabada, the first intermediary camp located just behind the border, had been instrumental in previous days in providing water and first aid to the fleeing refugees, but it too was largely empty.

"Nobody knows if more people will come down from the mountain," says one doctor. "The ridge covers an area of 100 square kilometers and nobody can search all of it. But we will stay here a few more days to wait and see."

Despite the PKK's success, the precision air strikes launched by American F-18 fighter jets have not stopped the IS. To be sure, the partial recapture of the Mosul dam, which was taken by IS on August 7, was possible only with the help of massive concentrated US air strikes on IS positions there. But a Peshmerga commander at the site warned that "without heavy weaponry we will not be able to hold the dam." Furthermore, assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades have proven ineffective in stopping the jihadist fighters, equipped as they are with armored Humvees, rocket launchers and artillery captured from the Iraqi army. It is weaponry that was initially delivered to the Iraqi military by the United States.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama announced that the siege of Sinjar had been broken. But at almost exactly the same time as he made his statement, IS fighters once again closed the circle around the town for several hours.

Burying Khudaida

A SPIEGEL team was on the road into the Sinjar Mountains at the time and suddenly mortar rounds struck near the street, kicking up large clouds of dust that were then carried off by the wind. Truck drivers swerved across the road and shouted at oncoming vehicles: "They're shooting!"

On the morning of August 14, the tiny daughter of Bagisa and Hadi stopped breathing. Khudaida was four days old.

The exact cause of her death was impossible to determine, says the doctor who treated Khudaida in the Newroz camp. "Everything," is his diagnosis. The heat in the mountains, thirst, wind full of dust and excrement, hunger. She was already too weak when she arrived at the camp, the doctor says.

Hadi used a piece of plastic to dig a grave a few meters behind the tents of the camp. A Syrian medic saw him there with the small bundle in his arms. Wanting to help at least provide them with a measure of dignity, the medic asked at the village cemetery nearby if there was room for little Khudaida. Just a small grave.

As the refugees in the camp climbed onto trucks heading for Iraq, Hadi and his wife Bagisa were sent back-and-forth for a half a day between the cemetery management, the PKK security service and the camp leadership. Nobody wanted to be responsible for a dead Yazidi child from Iraq in Syria.

But finally, in the late afternoon, the cemetery gave in. And allowed Hadi and Bagisa to bury their daughter.

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 05:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
German Search for non-EU Skilled Migrants Nets Just 170

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 August 2014, 18:58

A German program to attract specially qualified workers from non-EU countries has netted just 170 successful candidates in its first year, official data showed Monday, sparking complaints from an employers group.

The group cited a number of obstacles to recruitment including difficulty in learning German; hurdles to the acceptance of foreign qualifications; inadequate marketing of the program; and shortcomings in Germany's drive to welcome foreigners.

Europe's biggest economy, with a low birth rate and ageing population, has sought to attract specialized workers to fill labor market gaps, from multi-skilled engineers to plumbers and geriatric nurse.

The offer, designed to draw workers from as far afield as Russia, Thailand and South Africa, was meant to help companies facing acute shortages of qualified applicants by getting rid of red tape.

However, since the program was launched in June last year, just 170 candidates have qualified, according to Federal Employment Agency figures.

The Federation of German Employers' Associations said that the effort fell far short of fulfilling current needs.

"Especially jobs that require dual (workplace and academic) training -- such as in the metal and electronics industries or in elderly care -- there is still often a lack of qualified professionals," it said.

The group blamed a lack of German language skills and problems with measuring foreign qualifications, but it also urged the government to "do more for the establishment of a genuine culture of welcoming" people from abroad.

 on: Aug 19, 2014, 05:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Iceland volcano eruption risk level raised to orange for aviation

Intense seismic activity at the Bardarbunga volcano indicates the potential for a disruptive ash event similar to 2010

The Guardian, Monday 18 August 2014 16.53 BST   

Iceland's meteorological office has raised its risk level to the aviation industry for an eruption at its Bardarbunga volcano to orange, which is the fourth level on a five-grade scale.

Ash from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days, affecting more than 10 million people and costing $1.7 billion.

There has been intense seismic activity at Bardarbunga since August 16, although there are no signs of eruption yet.

Iceland met office seismologist Martin Hensch said the risk of any disruptive ash cloud similar to the one in 2010 would depend on how high any ash would be thrown, how much there would be and how fine-grained it would be.

Bardarbunga is Iceland's largest volcanic system, located under the ice cap of the Vatnajokull glacier in the southeast of Iceland. It is in a different range to Eyjafjallajokull.

The met office said in a statement it measured the strongest earthquake in the region since 1996 early on Monday and it now had strong indications of ongoing magma movement.

"As evidence of magma movement shallower than 10km implies increased potential of a volcanic eruption, the Bardarbunga aviation colour code has been changed to orange," it said.

"Presently there are no signs of eruption, but it cannot be excluded that the current activity will result in an explosive subglacial eruption, leading to an outburst flood and ash emission."

The colour codes, which are in accordance with recommended International Civil Aviation Organisation procedures, are intended to inform the aviation sector about a volcano's status.

Hensch said the biggest risk in Iceland itself was from flood waves from any eruption under the glacier. He said the area of Iceland mainly at risk of flooding was mostly uninhabited but that roads in the area had been closed.

Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency responsible for co-ordinating European airspace, said in a statement it was aware the Icelandic Met Office had revised the status of the volcano and it was following the situation closely.

• This article was amended on 19 August 2014. An earlier version referred to the Vatnajokull glacier in the southwest, rather than southeast, of Iceland.

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