on: May 22, 2013, 07:07 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
North Korea sends special envoy to patch up relations with China
Choe Ryong-hae, a close aide to Kim Jong-un, arrives in Beijing as tensions with South Korea appear to ebb
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 10.27 BST
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, has dispatched a special envoy to China, its state media announced on Wednesday, as Pyongyang seeks to improve its strained relations with its main ally and lifeline.
Choe Ryong-hae, a senior Workers' party official and a vice-chairman of the top military body, arrived in Beijing with a political and military delegation. A close aide of the youthful leader, he is the first senior North Korean to visit China since last summer and the first special envoy since Kim took power in 2011.
China provides North Korea with the vast majority of its fuel and trade – reportedly accounting for almost nine-tenths of its imports and exports in 2011 – and its support has become even more important as Pyongyang's relations with Seoul have deteriorated.
But it has shown increasing signs of frustration with the regime over its weapons programmes and angry rhetoric.
"Since North Korea had the third nuclear test [in February], the relationship between China and North Korea has been pretty tense. To ease the relationship, the visit is very normal and necessary. It helps to stop the bilateral relationship deteriorating," said Cai Jian of the Centre for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "This visit shows China is also willing to improve the relationship with North Korea."
China's state news agency, Xinhua, said Choe, 63, met Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of the Communist party. It gave no further details.
Analysts say Beijing rebuffed earlier proposals of high-level exchanges because it wanted to demonstrate its displeasure and was not guaranteed a meeting with Kim if it sent an envoy to Pyongyang.
Major Chinese banks recently suspended financial dealings with the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea – Pyongyang's main conduit for international transactions.
Kim Jong-un has not visited Beijing since he took power following his father's death in late 2011, though his uncle Jang Song-thaek visited in August last year. Chinese politburo member Li Jianguo went to Pyongyang with a letter from Xi Jinping, who had just become the Communist party leader, in November.
John Delury of Yonsei University suggested that Chinese leaders might also be looking ahead to South Korean president Park Geun-hye's visit next month.
"China wants to have good relations with both Koreas … They don't want to go too far with a great splashy meeting [with the South] while things are still off-kilter in the North Korean relationship. For its part, North Korea may want to recalibrate; they wanted a bit of distance from Beijing, but they don't want to push it too far," he said.
The North Korean news agency story on Choe's trip also revealed that General Kim Kyok-sik has become military chief again – a post he held before 2009 – replacing Hyon Yong-chul.
General Kim was recently replaced as defence minister – a lower ranking position – by Jang Jong-nam.
North Korea tested short range missiles over the weekend, but tensions have ebbed on the peninsula and there are signs of diplomatic engagement again.
Last week the Japanese prime minister sent a close aide to Pyongyang to hold talks over abducted Japanese citizens – a move greeted with dismay by South Korea, which described the trip as unhelpful.
On Tuesday, a Chinese fishing boat owner said his vessel had been released, two weeks after it was taken captive by gunmen in North Korean military uniforms. He said the captain was beaten and fuel stolen.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:02 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Karachi's king over the water: Altaf Hussain of the MQM
From an unassuming office in Edgware, the Pakistani metropolis is ruled by a party Imran Khan accuses of murdering his Movement for Justice colleague Zhara Shahid Hussain
Luke Harding and Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 May 2013 19.15 BST
Its neighbours are an Afghan restaurant, a cafe selling fried chicken and a boarded-up, Tudor-style pub. But it is from this first-floor office in north-west London that the Pakistani megacity of Karachi, 4,000 miles away, is remotely governed by a flamboyant and controversial British citizen.
The office is the headquarters-in-exile of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi's most powerful political party. Its leader, Altaf Hussain, has lived in the UK since 1991. These days, he rarely visits his headquarters, but his portrait hangs on the wall next to coloured maps of Pakistan's provinces, a list of MQM candidates who recently took part in Pakistan's general election, and a silver statue of a fist.
On Saturday Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, accused the London-based MQM leader of being "directly responsible" for the murder of Zhara Shahid Hussain, a senior female member of Khan's Movement for Justice party (PTI). Hussain was shot dead outside her house in Karachi's upmarket Defence neighbourhood. Her driver, who witnessed her murder, is now under police protection.The sequence of events was this: after Hussain emerged from her car, a man sitting on a moped with an accomplice rushed towards her. Assuming she was being mugged, she threw down her handbag and mobile phone. The man pointed his gun at her forehead. She tried to defend herself, pushing the gun away, only for it to fire into her jaw. The man shot her again, in the back. Her handbag was taken but the wallet from inside it was discarded. "If this was a mugging incident, why did he [the assassin] leave the wallet?" Ahmed Chinoy, head of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee, asked.
A furious Khan also berated Britain. He suggested that Downing Street had failed to heed his claim that Altaf Hussain was responsible for numerous incidents of torture and murder in Pakistan.
In 2007, Khan presented a dossier to No 10, urging the government to have the MQM leader arrested and prosecuted using anti-terrorism laws.
On Saturday, Khan tweeted: "I also hold the British Govt responsible as I had warned them abt Br citizen Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers."
The dispute marks a new low in the already bitter rivalry between Khan's party and the MQM. The PTI accuses the MQM of preventing its supporters from voting during the elections, 10 days ago. (The poll was rerun last Saturday in 43 Karachi polling stations; the PTI cruised to victory after the MQM and others boycotted it.) More broadly, Khan alleges that Britain has ignored the MQM's violent record. The UK's liberal traditions have in this case enabled cold-blooded murder on Karachi's already febrile streets, he says.
Following Khan's complaints, the Metropolitan police is investigating a controversial speech made by Altaf Hussain from London last week. The investigation is in its early stages. The British Foreign Office said on Saturday that it "strongly condemned" all acts of violence in Karachi. It added: "We are deeply saddened by the recent violence in the city, including violence murderously directed against democratic political figures."
The MQM vehemently rejects Khan's allegations. It is suing him for defamation in Pakistan's high court, and says it will do the same this week in Britain. In a statement on the party's website, Hussain says he had nothing to do with Zhara Shahid Hussain's brutal death. Expressing his condolences to her family, he urged Pakistan's government to find the killers and administer "exemplary punishment".
Hussain has not given an interview for some years. His aides in London say he is "unwell". YouTube footage of his British press conferences show him as a larger-than-life figure prone to wild verbal performances characterised by finger-wagging and odd gestures.
His campaign speeches are broadcast from chilly, overcast London to the Karachi faithful, many of them women who hold portraits of their tubby, moustachioed leader.
Speaking from the MQM's office, in Edgware, Mohamad Anwar, one of Hussain's advisers, said the party was a legitimate democratic movement.
Hussain founded the MQM in the 1980s to defend the interests of the Muhajirs, the Urdu-speaking descendants of Muslims who moved from India to Pakistan during partition, in 1947. They arrived in a city then dominated by native Sindhis and Baloch. The MQM's political strongholds are urban Karachi and Hyderabad, in Sindh province; it is at odds with Pakistan's Punjabi-dominated elite, Anwar says.
But critics say that from its earliest days the party showed a readiness to use violence to fight for power.In the 1980s, when Hussain felt newspapers were giving him insufficient coverage, MQM supporters began burning all the city's papers before they could be distributed. "He forced all the media owners to come to the 90 [the party's headquarters] and beg his pardon," said Muhammad Ziauddin, managing editor of the Express Tribune. One paper protested by refusing to publish for one day.
Over the last five years, the MQM has proved to be an extremely troublesome coalition partner, temporarily walking out of the government several times and threatening to bring it down when it didn't get what it wanted. Critics say that when political blackmail fails, it turns to street violence.
"MQM has the ability to dial up and dial down violence when certain political objectives are threatened," said Shamila Chaudhary, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group. "It's not new, but now they are feeling particularly threatened in their historic domain."
After successfully asserting its authority over Karachi in the 1980s and 1990s, when the military launched operations against the party, the MQM's power base is now under attack. One problem is profound demographic change: the city is filling up with Pashtuns fleeing Taliban violence in the north-west of the country. One informal estimate puts their numbers as high as 25%.
More of a surprise to the MQM is the rise of the PTI. Imran Khan's party had a disappointing result nationally, winning 28 seats, fewer than it had hoped. But in Karachi it managed to snatch nearly 20% of the vote.
Undoubtedly, however, Khan wrested votes from the MQM's core of middle-class supporters. Nusrat Javed, a prominent journalist, said: "The PTI is giving voice to the accumulated rage of middle-class, upwardly-mobile professionals who think the MQM got stuck in the 1980s."Hussain's followers dismiss claims of MQM wrongdoing. Of Khan's murder accusation, Anwar replied: "It's a madman's rant. Khan is a man who has utterly failed, having lost the elections."
Anwar said the MQM was itself a victim of political violence because of its secular beliefs and refusal to compromise with radical Islamists. The Pakistani Taliban frequently targeted and killed MQM party workers, he said. He denied claims that the party engages in extortion, land theft and other mafia-style activities, or that it has a shadowy armed wing.
Leaked diplomatic cables, meanwhile, show the US was impressed with the MQM's municipal record after it won control of Karachi city council in 2005. Its young mayor improved tax collection rates, built roads and devised water schemes in an overcrowded metropolis and port city of 16 million people. "The MQM based in Karachi appears to be transforming itself from a group of thugs to a service-based, grassroots political party," one diplomat wrote in 2008.
Hussain continues to fight for Karachi from self-imposed exile in Britain. Why doesn't he go back? "Look at what happened to Benazir Bhutto," Anwar said. "Would the Taliban spare him? They didn't spare Benazir."
He added: "Benazir lived in London for many years; Nawaz Sharif was in Saudi Arabia. Mr Hussain is no exception." Anwar predicted that Pakistan's ex-president Pervez Musharraf, who was in London and is now under house arrest in Pakistan, would soon be coming back.
The bookshelf at Hussain's London HQ contains some unexpected reading: Imran Khan's autobiography, as well as books on Churchill and India's constitution. According to Anwar, they are justified in their worries. Scotland Yard is so concerned the MQM's office, on Edgware High Street, could be the subject of an attack that a police sergeant calls round twice a day.
These concerns may not be exaggerated: in 2010, Hussain's senior London-based ally Dr Imran Farooq was stabbed to death outside his Edgware home.Why did the MQM have a copy of its arch-enemy's book, Pakistan: A Personal History? Anwar explained: "Of course we can read his autobiography. But Khan is an arrogant and immature man."
on: May 22, 2013, 07:00 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Iran election: Rafsanjani blocked from running for president
List of eight candidates allowed to run in race to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad excludes two leading figures
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 May 2013 20.00 BST
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leading opposition-backed candidate in Iran's presidential election, was disqualified on Tuesday from standing in a blow to those hoping for significant change when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office.
Iranian state-run television broadcast a statement by the interior ministry on Tuesday night announcing the final list of candidates. It did not include Rafsanjani or President Ahmadinejad's close ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Eight men were allowed to enter the race for the election on 14 June, including Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili; the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf; and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Hassan Rouhani, a reformist who is seen as having little chance of victory, was also allowed to run. Jalili is widely seen as the favourite candidate of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
More than 680 people, among them some 40 prominent figures, registered as potential candidates this month in the hope of succeeding Ahmadinejad, but the six clergymen and six jurists of the Guardian Council allowed only a handful to stand.
The council's spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said on Tuesday the vetting process had ended and the final list of candidates had been sent to the interior ministry but did not name those qualified, the semi-official Isna news agency reported. The candidates were then announced on national TV.
Conservative websites and semi-official agencies had earlier reported that Rafsanjani, 78, who has won the support of the country's reformers, had been disqualified because he is seen as too feeble to govern the country. His supporters said the reports amounted to no more than rumours spread by rival camps.
"If an individual who wants to take up a high post can only perform a few hours of work each day, naturally that person cannot be confirmed," Kadkhodaei said earlierthis week, boosting speculation that Rafsanjani would be blocked. Two of the Guardian Council's 12 members are older than Rafsanjani.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose director is appointed by Khamenei, ran an editorial on Tuesday calling on the Guardian Council to disqualify Rafsanjani, saying he had become the favourite candidate of the country's enemies and opposition.
"A divine and serious responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Guardian Council. It is to rescue Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani from a dangerous bait that has been set for him by foreign enemies and their domestic associates," wrote Kayhan's Hossein Shariatmadari. Rafsanjani's office fought back by issuing a statement saying his opponents had resorted to fabricating news in order to distort the old man's image.
Rafsanjani's disqualification would come as a surprise to many of his supporters, who thought it unlikely the Guardian Council would reject him, given his crucial role in founding the Islamic republic and his position as one of the country's great political survivors.
Ali Motahari, an influential MP who was appointed on Tuesday as head of a major campaign group supporting Rafsanjani, predicted that Khamenei might intervene to reinstate Rafsanjani.
"Rafsanjani played a significant role in founding the Islamic republic … His disqualification will call into question the very principles of our revolution and the principles of the ruling system of the Islamic republic," he told the semi-official Isna news agency. Rafsanjani is head of Iran's expediency council, which mediates between the parliament and the Guardian Council.
Mashaei, who is seen as a nationalist figure, was widely expected to be barred despite Ahmadinejad's unwavering support. Supporters of Khamenei have accused Mashaei of putting Iran ahead of Islam and not showing enough loyalty to the supreme leader.
The Iran News Network, a pro-Ahmadinejad website, reported on Monday that a group of activists and campaigners sympathetic to Mashaei had been arrested and some summoned for questioning. Access to at least four pro-Mashaei websites was blocked last week. Analysts fear that Ahmadinejad might go out with all guns firing following Mashaei's disqualification. The president was reported to have cancelled three of his provincial visits this week to stay in the capital, Tehran.
Meanwhile, the Fars news agency, which is affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a series of interviews with some leading clerics who called on people to respect the Guardian Council's decision.
Rafsanjani was a close confidant of Khamenei for much of the 1980s and 1990s but the pair fell out when the former lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential vote. The rift between the two widened when Rafsanjani voiced moderate support for Iran's Green movement in 2009 while Khamenei stood firm by Ahmadinejad and denied any allegations of vote rigging.
Rafsanjani's last-minute entry in Iran's presidential race had revived hopes among the country's reformers for a change in the country's trajectory and infuriated hardliners who believed his candidacy would challenge Khamenei's authority.
on: May 22, 2013, 06:57 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
May 21, 2013
Aide Charged With Abuse of Power in Georgia
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — The Georgian authorities charged one of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s top political partners with embezzlement and abuse of power on Tuesday, in the new government’s most decisive move yet against Mr. Saakashvili’s pro-Western team, which came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution and dominated Georgian politics for nine years.
The official, Vano Merabishvili, is head of Mr. Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement, and for years wielded great power as the head of Georgia’s police and security services and then as prime minister. But he saw his influence dwindle quickly when an opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, won parliamentary elections in 2012.
Among the campaign promises that swept Georgia’s new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, into office was a pledge to prosecute Saakashvili officials for offenses including corruption and police brutality. Dozens of officials have been charged with crimes since Mr. Ivanishvili’s election, but Western diplomats have urged restraint, especially in cases that involved political rivals like Mr. Merabishvili.
If convicted on the abuse-of-power charges, Mr. Merabishvili could face a prison term of seven to 12 years, prosecutors said. His lawyer, Giorgi Chiviashvili, told Georgian television that he would plead not guilty.
Mr. Saakasvhili, whose presidential term will end this year, said Mr. Ivanishvili had chosen the repressive path of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who after winning the presidency in 2011 jailed his political rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko. The move, he said, would threaten Georgia’s longtime aspiration to enter NATO and the European Union.
“Even Ukraine, which is so much needed by America and Europe, managed to become internationally isolated because of the political arrest of its former prime minister,” he said Tuesday at a news conference.
Mr. Ivanishivili, who has pledged to maintain Georgia’s path toward European integration, said he was confident that Western governments would not view the arrest as politically motivated.
Prosecutors say Mr. Merabishvili misused a government employment program, using 5.2 million lari, or about $3 million, to pay 22,000 people to campaign for the United National Movement. He may also face additional charges, including excessive use of force against demonstrators at a rally in May 2011 and obstruction of justice in a 2006 homicide investigation. A second Saakashvili official, Zurab Chiaberashvili, the governor of the eastern region of Kakheti, was also detained on charges relating to the employment program.
The crowd-fueled euphoria of the Rose Revolution put Mr. Saakashvili and Mr. Merabishvili, then in their mid-30s, in control of a country plagued by corruption, crumbling infrastructure and electricity shortages. They pushed through risky reforms, overhauling the police force and imposing a zero-tolerance policy that all but obliterated everyday bribery.
But the United National Movement lost its luster in recent years. Unemployment was high, and the police were increasingly seen as heavy-handed. Just before the fall election, Mr. Saakashvili was badly damaged by the release of video clips showing brutal abuse in a Georgian prison. A poll released in April by the National Democratic Institute found that Mr. Saakashvili’s party had an approval rating of 10 percent, versus 60 percent for Mr. Ivanishvili’s coalition, Georgian Dream.
Mr. Merabishvili has had months to contemplate the possibility that he would be prosecuted, and in November said that he would stay in Georgia and run for office again, even if it meant serving a 15- or 20-year sentence.
“Georgian society, like any other society, thinks that pressure against the opposition is not democratic,” he said. “I am the main opponent of Ivanishvili, yes, because I was the candidate for prime minister. So they are arresting his main opponent.”
Olesya Vartanyan contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.
on: May 22, 2013, 06:55 AM
|Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad|
May 21, 2013
Exorcist Says Pope Helped ‘Liberate’ Man
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
VATICAN CITY — A dispute over whether Pope Francis performed an exorcism intensified on Tuesday, with a well-known exorcist insisting that Francis helped “liberate” a Mexican man possessed by four different demons despite the Vatican’s insistence that no such papal exorcism took place.
The case concerns a 43-year-old husband and father who traveled to Rome from Mexico to attend Francis’ Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. At the end of the Mass, Francis blessed several wheelchair-bound faithful as he always does, including a man described by the priest who brought him as being possessed by the devil.
Francis laid his hands on the man’s head and recited a prayer. The man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair.
The images, broadcast worldwide, prompted the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference to declare that according to several exorcists, there was “no doubt” that Francis either performed an exorcism or a simpler prayer to free the man from the devil.
The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him.”
The Rev. Gabriele Amorth, a leading exorcist for the diocese of Rome, said he performed a lengthy exorcism of his own on the man Tuesday morning and ascertained that he was possessed by four separate demons. Rvenerand Amorth told RAI state radio that even a short prayer, without the full rite of exorcism being performed, is in itself a type of exorcism.
“That was a true exorcism,” he said of Francis’ prayer. “Exorcisms aren’t just done according to the rules of the ritual.”
The Rev. Juan Rivas, the priest who brought the man, took the Vatican line, saying it was no exorcism but that Francis merely said a prayer to free the man from the devil.
on: May 22, 2013, 06:50 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Conservatives in Britain call for rejection of same-sex marriage bill
By Nicholas Watt, The Guardian
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 21:23 EDT
Conservative opponents of gay marriage have invited the House of Lords to reject the bill after 133 Tory MPs, including two cabinet ministers, defied David Cameron to vote against the measure.
As a Tory grassroots organisation warned of a “civil war in conservatism”, prompted in part by the legislation, more than half of the Conservative parliamentary party voted against the bill after one ministerial aide complained of a “sham consultation” process.
Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, David Jones, the Wales secretary, and the prime minister’s “envoy” to the right, John Hayes, led a group of ministers who formed a 133-strong bloc of Tory MPs who voted against the bill. A further two Tories acted as tellers for the opponents, whose numbers fell from the 135 no votes at the second reading in February. But the opponents were more numerous than the 126 Tory MPs who voted in favour of the bill, which was given a third reading by 366 to 161, a majority of 205.
The vote came after David Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, who is Paterson’s parliamentary private secretary, said that peers had every right to oppose the bill because it was not included in the coalition agreement and was not promoted clearly in any of the party election manifestos.
His comments came after Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: “The unusual position we have is none of the political parties put this in their manifesto. Would [you] agree that [the House of Lords] has the complete legitimacy to reject this bill because there is no Salisbury Convention?” This says that peers cannot reject legislation pledged in a winning election manifesto.
Burrowes said: “I am grateful. Certainly the other place is looking in great detail at the way we have handled this bill.” He added: “We are in an extraordinary position on the third reading of a bill which redefines marriage, one that I never thought our government would have done, one where there was no clear manifesto commitment, no coalition agreement, no green paper – just a sham consultation.”
The MP said he feared for people who feel uncomfortable about the bill. “Intolerant reaction to our belief in marriage runs the risk of becoming fomented by the state orthodoxy in this bill about this new gender neutral meaning of marriage. Those who disagree risk vilification and discrimination and they won’t get the protection they deserve under the equality act.”
But other Tories spoke in favour of the bill. Charles Walker, the MP for Broxtowe, said: “I didn’t come into politics to be defined by what I am against. I want to be defined by what I am for. And tonight is a good night.”
The bill moved to a third reading after a final threat was removed when Labour withdrew its support for an amendment to allow humanist wedding ceremonies to be included in the bill’s provisions. The government had warned this could over-complicate the bill and threaten its parliamentary journey. It was a similar warning that prompted Labour on Monday to drop its support for an amendment that would have extended civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
In her concluding remarks the equalities minister, Maria Miller, pleaded with MPs to support the bill. She said: “I accept that for some colleagues their beliefs mean that the principle of this issue is an insurmountable barrier to supporting this change. But to other colleagues I say, now is the time.
“Let us not be side-tracked nor distracted. Let us not expand the remit of this bill beyond its original intention. Let us make equal marriage possible because it is the right thing to do and then let us move on.”
But Tory divisions were highlighted as it emerged that the arch-Eurosceptic John Redwood is to be given a formal role in helping to formulate the prime minister’s economic policy. Downing Street has decided that a series of policy groups run by the backbench 1922 committee should report to the prime minister’s policy board. This means that Redwood, who chairs the 1922 economic committee and who unsuccessfully challenged John Major for the Tory leadership in 2005 over Europe, will have a formal input into the prime minister’s policy board on economics.
One rightwinger praised Downing Street for deciding to include the 1922 policy groups in its work. The MP said: “Credit where credit is due. Downing Street is trying hard to reach out. It really is time to end the Tory civil wars. We can’t stop gay marriage, we have got a referendum on the EU so we should just get on with it and support the prime minister.”
But the Conservative Grassroots organisation warned that Cameron would pay a high price for pressing ahead with gay marriage and for refusing to launch an investigation into the remarks by the Tory co-chairman, Lord Feldman, who was alleged to have called party activists “mad swivel-eyed loons”.
Feldman has strenuously denied making the remarks.
Miles Windsor, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, said: “This week has begun a civil war in conservatism, it may rumble on for years – but as things stand, Nigel Farage is winning it at a stride.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
on: May 22, 2013, 06:46 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Wagner anniversary revives German debate over controversial composer
New productions, statues and books commemorate Richard Wagner, who still divides Germany 200 years after his birth
Kate Connolly in Berlin
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 May 2013 17.46 BST
To some he will never be more than a narcissist, an antisemite and a misogynist. To others he is an undisputed musical genius and towering intellect.
Richard Wagner, often described as one of the most controversial Germans of all time, will be commemorated – warts and all – on the 200th anniversary of his birth on Wednesday with an exuberant lineup of events including new productions, statues, stamps, coins and books.
Across the musical world and especially in his native land, a deluge of tributes is being paid to the man who still divides as much as he delights Germany.
"Only Jesus, Napoleon and Hitler have had more written about them," said Manuel Brug, cultural commentator with Die Welt, in an appraisal of the mountain of books published to mark the event.
The book that has attracted the most publicity and done much to upset the Wagner aficionados is by none other than the composer's 66-year-old musicologist great-grandson.
Gottfried Wagner has been accused of "fouling his own nest" after condemning his ancestor as a deeply unpleasant character. In his book, You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me, Gottfried claims that the composer's deep-seated antisemitism and misogyny are to be found throughout his works and that it is time to lay bare his unpleasantness.
"He has been idealised and whitewashed for too long, but has been considered untouchable, which is a mistake," he said in a recent interview.
Gottfried, who lives in Italy, has called on his estranged family to end their long-standing dominium of the Bayreuth festival, the southern German pilgrimage site to which Wagner fans from around the world are drawn each summer. It is currently run by Wagner's great-granddaughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.
He claims it is still deeply contaminated by the family's connection to the Nazi party – not least due to Wagner's British-born daughter-in-law Winifred, who fostered close relations with Adolf Hitler – and will remain so until the family reveals the extent of its connection with the dictator. He has urged it to finally make public the large amount of private correspondence between Hitler and the Wagner clan, as well as dozens of rolls of private film footage.
Hitler considered Wagner, who died in 1883, to be his favourite composer and had plans to turn Bayreuth into a huge temple to the musician and his music. He took much of his inspiration for his antisemitic thinking from Wagner, who wrote a hate-filled treatise called Jewishness in Music and variously referred to Jews as worms, rats, warts and trichinae (an intestinal parasitic worm).
Modern-day Wagner enthusiasts are adamant that it is possible – and desirable – to separate the man and his music. Christian Thielemann, one of Germany's leading conductors, admitted that Wagner could be extremely unpalatable but argued that the music was untainted by his politics. "C-Major remains C-Major," he insisted.
Thielemann prefers to concentrate instead on the power of the music. "Wagner's music is like a drug, which moves people in a fundamental way," he said.
Those who are moved include much of Germany's political elite, headed by Angela Merkel and her Wagner-enthusiast husband Joachim Sauer, who appear at the festival every year.
Wagner's birthplace, Leipzig, will unveil a life-sized statue of the composer, which many have described as unflattering, reflecting as it does his short stature (5ft 4ins), high forehead, large nose and prominent chin. Its creators say the representation is an attempt not to idolise such a flawed man.
As well as staging a Wagner festival, Leipzig will also play host to a group of international musicologists who are descending on the city to discuss his legacy.
Among the more talked-about Wagner books are one outlining how doctors once considered him to be bad for people's physical and mental wellbeing, another examining Wagner the comic, and one by Joachim Köhler exploring not only Wagner's antisemitism – attributed to the fact that his main musical rivals, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn, were Jewish – but also some of his lesser-known penchants, including his love of performing somersaults and headstands.
Köhler also refers to Wagner's little-known "transvestite-like obsession" with women's clothing, including wearing negligees and silk underwear that he purchased in Paris and stored in a secret room in his house. "There is much about Wagner that remains very little known," Köhler said in an interview.
A disease called Richard? Wagner as mental health menace
In his time the composer's 'dangerously stimulating' music was blamed for melancholy, hysteria, hypnosis and even triggering orgasm
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 11.54 BST
Reports may seem far-fetched that a German production of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, feted as a highlight of the 200th-anniversary celebrations of his birth this month, have taken such a heavy psychological toll on members of the Düsseldorf audience that some have needed medical attention.
But in his day, the German composer was held responsible for a lot more than fainting and heart palpitations: his works were viewed as a threat not only to the health of musicians and listeners but also to any society that was trying to uphold order.
"No musician's music was seen as such a potentially dangerous stimulant as Wagner's," says James Kennaway, a historian specialising in music and medicine. "While the Nazis famously saw him as a model of musical health, at no time before or since the 1800s has one figure so dominated the debate on music as a pathogen as Wagner."
His music was seen not just as a symptom of the physical and sexual pathologies associated with a nervous modernity – everything from neurasthenia [nervous exhaustion] and degeneration to perversion and fatigue – but also as the direct cause of these.
Respected doctors blamed him for much mental illness, with the Dutch psychiatrist Jacob van Deventer concluding in 1891 that "a large number of the mentally ill are passionate lovers of Wagnerian music".
The medical profession put this down partly to the sheer length of his operas, partly to the "pathological lack of rhythm" in Wagner's music, which led the late-19th-century author of popular science Grant Allen to conclude that the "gathered energy has to dissipate itself by other channels, which involves a certain amount of conflict and waste, leading to fatigue". This was also a time when the medical profession widely believed that disease was "unrhythmical" while health was "rhythmical".
Probably the first acknowledged victim of the nervous strain caused by what Kennaway calls Wagner's "lush timbres and radical harmonies" was Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the first singer of Tristan und Isolde, who died in 1859 in a "Tristan" delirium at the age of 29 shortly after his debut performance, muttering: "Farewell, Siegfried; console me, Richard!" In a letter, a distraught Wagner admitted his music had "driven the singer to the abyss".
Women were considered to be particularly susceptible to the "disease" of musical nervousness that was often referred to as Wagnerianism. The music was inextricably linked to eroticism (take the incest in Die Walküre and the adultery in Tristan), and was believed to nurture dangerous sexual feelings among young, unmarried women. Wagner was blamed not only for the premature onset of menstruation but also infertility, melancholy, hysteria and hypnosis.
The Gestalt psychologist Christian von Ehrenfels went so far as to claim that he could literally "point to the bars" of Tristan that triggered orgasms. Kennaway points out: "This was also an era when women were dissuaded from playing the piano because the effects were said to be as dangerous as those of strong alcohol on men."
Just as men of a nervous disposition were encouraged to stay away from whisky, love affairs and cigars, so women were urged to avoid piano-tuning and Wagner.
In one recorded case, a psychiatric patient was said to have been haunted by Wagnerian auditory hallucinations, while Wagner's very own patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, passed out during a performance of Tristan because of nervous strain. Aloys Ander, who played Tristan in a Vienna production, died insane in an asylum in 1865.
"The idea of music being a potentially unhealthy form of stimulation, similar to drugs or electricity, had been commonplace during the 19th century," says Kennaway. "But with Wagner, the danger became specifically associated with modern music and modern urban lifestyles in diagnosing the fashionable disease of the time, neurasthenia."
Critics even suggested that Wagner's music was sickly and feminine, a suspicion that prompted a popular link to be made between Wagner and homosexuality – viewed then as a medical condition – which was said to be connected to the erotic power of music.
Wagner himself was seen as effeminate – he was very partial to silks and satins, which he ordered in huge quantities from Paris – in marked contrast to the macho image of him that the Nazis projected, which survives to this day.
Kennaway attributes the widespread and well-documented illnesses attached to Wagner's music in part to the fact that people rarely had the opportunity to listen to live performances.
"Even if you were living in a city, you'd be lucky to see Tristan and Isolde even three times in your lifetime, so the impact of it on many may well have been overwhelming," he says.
Added to which, Wagner made early use of such innovative techniques as stage curtains, smoke and steam machines, and the dimming of lights in his theatres – a new practice that in itself led to the rise of a new craze of "theatre groping".
The other novelties he employed in his Bayreuth theatre included hiding the orchestra in a pit – which was said to increase the music's potency – and first-class acoustics. These were interpreted as devices, says Kennaway, to "bypass the conscious mind and influence the audience via the nerves".
It was, in fact, Friedrich Nietzsche, one of Wagner's erstwhile most passionate friends and supporters, who delivered the most damning verdict on the medical dangers posed by his fellow German: in his 1888 book The Case of Wagner, he unleashed a diatribe, asking: "Is Wagner actually a man? Is he not rather a disease?"
on: May 22, 2013, 06:40 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Young and dynamic: social entrepreneurship in Austria
Austria's social enterprise sector is growing – and is now looking for talented young people to help shape its future
22 May 2013 07.15 BST
Social entrepreneurship in Austria is still a young sector – 75% of all initiatives are not older than four years. But they are growing constantly – as is the awareness about what social entrepreneurship is and how social innovation can contribute to societal development.
According to a recent study by the Vienna University of Economics and Business, there are around 270 social entrepreneurs to be found in Austria. An infrastructure to support them is slowly emerging, providing co-working spaces, consulting, training or access to networks of supporters.
Many individuals do not yet realise that they are in fact social entrepreneurs and that there is a new career pathway unfolding, which receives increasing public acknowledgement. That is why raising awareness about this new type of work and business model, entrepreneurial culture and new career opportunities is still on the forefront of the efforts of organisations such as The Hub Vienna and my own organisation, Ashoka. Both have helped the term "social entrepreneurship" become mainstream in Austria.
Generating income on their own as well as gaining more financial independence is a major issue for Austrian social entrepreneurs. According to the Vienna university study, more than half (52%) of social entrepreneurs' budget comes from private funding, one-third comes from their own earnings, while roughly 10% come from federal sources.
Specific social venture funds do not yet exist in Austria. The financial sector, as well as the social entrepreneurs themselves, still need to capture the opportunities of social financing. One pioneer is Good.Bee, which is providing financing for social enterprises and works in the field of micro-finance in central and eastern Europe. Crowd-funding is also a source for funding: online platforms such as respekt.net help to connect promising projects with investors.
Countering the brain-drain
The social entrepreneurs in Austria tackle a wide range of different issues. In the field of regional development, Ashoka fellow Martin Hollinetz founded Otelo, which counters the brain drain in rural areas by establishing regional innovation centres, giving people the necessary infrastructure to be innovative and creative and the possibility to start their own enterprises.
Inclusion of marginalised groups in mainstream society is a major focus of Austrian social entrepreneurs – Career Moves, for instance, connects people with disabilities with potential employers. Gregor Demblin, the founder, sees huge potential in people with disabilities, as they can be top performers, whose potential is not used due to societal prejudice. Exit, an NGO, helps victims of human trafficking by giving not only legal and psychological advice but also by helping these victims to set up a new life in Austria, and not fall back into prostitution, where they ended up after coming to Austria.
A new career path
Many young people in Austria do not yet realise that there is a new career path that combines entrepreneurial spirit with solving major social challenges. But several social entrepreneurship support-organisations such as The HUB Vienna, awards such as The Social Impact Award or training programmes like Pioneers of Change in Vienna especially attract young social entrepreneurs.
These young aspiring talents have a very unique and fresh approach to deal with a multitude of social problems: whatchado is helping young people to find out what career paths exist and how to get there. They interview people of different backgrounds and sectors and feature them in short films to explain how they became what they are today. Dachgold is convincing companies to use solar energy to cover their energy needs, because they use most of their energy during the day (unlike many private households). Since solar energy storage is very inefficient, using the energy right away during the day is a very sustainable solution.
It is not just a lack of knowledge and access which inhibit young social entrepreneurs from starting their own initiative – they are often just afraid to take the risks of founding their own projects. Ashoka fellow Johannes Lindner responded to this by starting Entrepreneurship Education in many Austrian schools and helps students become more entrepreneurial, self-dependent and lose the fear of taking initiative. Johannes's business plan competitions encourage young people to combine their entrepreneurial thinking with self-driven action. Each year, 2,500 students participate in these competitions, and two-thirds of the projects are actually implemented. In Austrian secondary schools, 20,000 students benefit weekly from the teaching and learning content developed by him.
Social entrepreneurship in Austria is still too young for us to grasp its scale and impact. Nevertheless, this movement has a lot of potential to bring about social change. One of the main challenges is the lack of support infrastructure outside the urban,densely populated areas. Focus should also be given to initiatives that encourage youth to become more involved and engaged in solving social problems. Competitions for young social entrepreneurs such as the Social Impact Award or the Join our Core competition clearly show that there is lot of potential among Austrian youth.
Young people no longer want to adapt to often rigid and uninspired structures in established organisations and companies. Instead, they would prefer to set up their own enterprises where they can live their values, be creative and shape the impact they want to have on society. Without doubt, Austrians will have to take more risks to solve social problems. As Melinda Gates, wife of Bill, the Microsoft billionaire, says "We believe in taking risks, because that's how you move things along."
on: May 22, 2013, 06:37 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Animal astronauts return from space mission – video
A Russian space capsule containing mice, geckos, gerbils, snails and fish returns to Earth after a month-long mission in space. The Bion-M craft orbited at a height of 575km (360 miles). Scientists hope the mission will allow them to study the effect of microgravity on animals' bodies. Half of the mice died in space, as did eight gerbils
on: May 22, 2013, 06:35 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
05/21/2013 03:55 PM
Corporate Tricks: EU Faces Tough Battle to Close Tax Loopholes
By Christoph Pauly and Christoph Schult
Wealthy businesspeople shift millions of euros abroad while profitable companies use accounting tricks to minimize their taxable earnings and assets. The EU finally wants to create effective policies to curb these practices, but faces strong opposition from member states.
BASF, the world's largest chemical group, is primarily known for its paints, state-of-the-art plastics and perhaps its natural gas dealings with Russia. The down-to-earth managers at the company's headquarters in Germany's Palatinate region have occasionally criticized the greedy banking sector, but otherwise have quietly gone about their business of generating billions in profits. But innovation isn't the only source of BASF's profitability.
The chemical group, based in Ludwigshafen in southwestern Germany, has a large tax department, whose work consists partly in moving money around between continents. But now the company has discovered a tax haven right at home in Europe.
In addition to a large plant, the company operates the BASF Belgium Coordination Center in Antwerp. Some 160 employees at the center spend a portion of their time searching for legal ways to reduce BASF's tax bill. In 2011, the company paid taxes on its many millions in profits at a rate of only 2.6 percent.
BASF is by far not the only company to take advantage of favorable tax conditions in a neighboring EU country to improve its bottom line. Volkswagen, currently the most profitable company in Germany, was even greedier. In 2012, Belgian subsidiary Volkswagen Group Services paid no taxes at all on profits of €153 million, and in the previous year it raked in €141 million in tax-free profits -- and it was all completely legal.
Profitable Tax Carousel
Again and again, major European multinationals manage to take advantage of loopholes in national tax laws. They outwit the tax authorities in different EU countries by moving around their capital and profits, and not just to faraway tax havens in the Caribbean, but to nearby countries like Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Many EU governments are tired of watching this tax carousel and want to do something about it. With Europe in the grip of a recession, government debt is limiting many governments' options while aid packages for crisis-stricken countries are straining euro-zone budgets.
When European Council President Herman Van Rompuy hosts a summit in Brussels next week, the subject of fair taxation will be at the top of the agenda. Many European leaders now realize that EU countries will have to coordinate their tax policies more tightly if they hope to put an end to tax flight.
There has never been a more favorable time for tax reform. Europeans are outraged over several cases of high-profile tax fugitives, including that of FC Bayern President Uli Hoeness in Germany, who stashed away millions in Switzerland, and French actor Gérard Depardieu, who acquired houses in Belgium and Mordovia, as well as Russian citizenship, to avoid paying taxes in France.
Nevertheless, there are strong national forces resisting change, as was evident at a meeting of EU finance ministers last Tuesday. Their goal was to adopt a guideline on the taxation of interest income, but Luxembourg and Austria refused to play along. As a result, tax flight is still possible with the help of anonymous foundations, life insurance policies and other income from capital.
The two countries did agree to EU negotiations over a tax treaty with Switzerland, San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco. But they are still unwilling to give up their banking secrecy laws, and they also voted against the automatic exchange of data with other EU countries.
After the meeting, EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta said he was "very disappointed." He is now pinning his hopes on Europe's heads of state and government. But even if a breakthrough is achieved at the EU summit on the issue of prosecution of individual tax offenders, Europe's leaders will do little more than pay lip service to the issue of corporate taxation.
1 Trillion Euros Lost Through Tax Evasion and Avoidance
And yet action is urgently needed on this front. According to European Commission estimates, EU countries lose €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) a year to tax evasion and avoidance. The German treasury alone is deprived of €160 billion in this way, says Norbert Walter-Borjans, finance minister in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The majority of the money is lost as a result of manipulation by international corporations, "which deliberately take advantage of loopholes in the law," says Borjans.
There was great outrage when Cyprus choked on its oversized banking sector, with German Finance Wolfgang Schäuble declaring the island's "business model" a failure. In reality, tax dumping is part of the core business of some EU countries.
Tough competition over the most favorable business tax has been raging for years. The average rate in the EU has dropped from 35.3 percent in the mid-1990s to 23.0 percent today, according to a recently released joint report by Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, and the European Commission. Bulgaria has the most attractive business tax rate, 10 percent, while Ireland and Cyprus both have a rate of 12.5 percent. With a 15-percent business tax, Latvia and Lithuania also offer attractive investment conditions.
But official rates often say little about the true scope for tax trickery. In theory, companies pay a 35-percent tax in Malta, but a large number of discounts and rebates bring the real rate down to 5 percent.
Belgium has come up with a special instrument to attract companies. It allows countries to claim something on their tax returns that doesn't actually exist: interest on a company's equity capital.
This creates a large incentive for companies, including German businesses, to legally move large amounts of capital across the border to Belgium, because declaring the capital there reduces their tax burden. The tax-free money can later be moved back to Germany.
German Firms Dive Into Belgian Loophole
Companies are predictably keen to exploit that loophole. In 2011, pharmaceutical company Bayer, based in Leverkusen near Cologne, doubled the equity capital of its Belgian subsidiary, bringing it to more than €8 billion. The effort paid off. According to a figure released by the Belgian central bank, the Bayer subsidiary paid only €10.8 million in taxes on pre-tax profit of €254.8 million.
The pharmaceutical giant managed to bring down its tax rate to 4.25 percent. Even the company admits: "Bayer, like other companies, takes advantage of the favorable macroeconomic climate in Belgium created by the withdrawal of risk capital."
Other flagship German companies, like Henkel, Südzucker and fertilizer manufacturer K+S use different options to cash in their profits in Belgium while paying minimal taxes.
But BASF remains the champion among German companies using Belgium to save on taxes. The chemical group furnished its coordination center in Antwerp with €14 billion in capital so that it could fund international corporate activities in the United States, for example. The purpose of the detour through Belgium is that the country allows companies to declare high, fictitious interest payments.
In 2011, the coordination center was able to transfer a large dividend of €116 million to the BASF Antwerp subsidiary. Under Belgian law, 94% of that dividend is now tax-free. And the €488 million in profits earned by the Belgian BASF subsidiary through the sale of a subsidiary remain completely tax-free.
Although the company confirms all of these figures, it also cites its own calculation, stating: "If we eliminate the tax-free dividend and the capital gain, the €455 million in remaining profits on BASF Antwerpen's operational business in 2011 are taxed at more than 30 percent." What this really means is that once all possible deductions are taken into account, the tax rate is perfectly normal.
"Big companies are engaging in international tax-hopping," says Belgian author Marco van Hees, who has written several books on the subject.
The Netherlands is also especially popular among German companies. The system there works like this: A company's main office establishes a Dutch offshore company. The main office then pays the Dutch company license fees, which are tax-exempt in the Netherlands. In this manner, the parent company reduces its profits in its home country and pays fewer taxes.
The Netherlands' attractions for foreign capital are reflected in the level of direct investment. In late 2012, the kingdom posted, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) figures, $3.5 trillion in foreign investments, of which only $573 billion flowed into the real economy, while the rest went to shell companies. There are an estimated 23,000 of these firms in the Netherlands.
BASF has five production facilities, with more than 1,000 employees, and 21 holding companies in the Netherlands, many of which have no staff. According to BASF, the holding companies manage its international holdings. Volkswagen, too, isn't just in the Netherlands to sell cars.
Resistance to Tax Harmonization
There have been many attempts in the euro zone to structure business taxes fairly and uniformly. In 1998, the Austrian government placed the issue on the agenda of a meeting of EU finance ministers. "The differences in the tax systems of the member states are becoming increasingly important for investment decisions," an official noted at the time.
The introduction of the euro intensified this conflict. In the past, governments could improve competitiveness by devaluing their national currencies. Because this is no longer an option in the monetary union, the easiest way to improve a national economy's standing is by cutting taxes on companies.
At the time, experts proposed imposing lower and upper limits on corporate income tax rates. "What sort of socialism is that?" Germany's Economics Minister at the time, Günter Rexrodt, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), said angrily on the sidelines of a European Council meeting.
There are different politicians in office now, but the arguments haven't changed. "There can be no lower limit or upper limit," says Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden. "Each country must decide for itself how much tax a company should pay. A certain amount of tax competition is necessary."
"I'm opposed to harmonization at a high level," says Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter. "I support tax competition. It's in the national interest to structure the tax system in such a way as to make a country more attractive to businesses."
And so the tax carousel keeps on turning. Even a crisis-ridden country like Portugal, which has €78 billion in bailout loans to repay, has reduced its business tax. A few weeks ago, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the country's Corporation Tax is being reduced to 20 percent, which would be the lowest rate among all G-20 countries.
The British intend to address the aggressive financial optimization of companies and the super-rich with international treaties. They have placed the issue on the agenda of the G-8 summit in mid-June, which US President Barack Obama is expected to attend.
The British and the Americans advocate a system involving the automatic exchange of data between tax authorities. Switzerland has bowed to intense pressure and made that concession to the Americans. The British have convinced tax havens in the Caribbean, like the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, to agree to similar programs.
The idea of a large-scale exchange of data is also gaining traction in the EU. Last week, 17 EU countries, including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, announced their willingness to exchange tax-related data on private individuals and companies in the future.
There probably will be more transparency in the end, but there are no signs that aggressive tax competition among the member states will end. The draft of the conclusions for the EU summit includes the promising statement that the "Code of Conduct" task force will be asked to submit proposals. But it's been doing that for a long time -- for more than 15 years, to be precise.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan