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 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Thousands of African child migrants feared in thrall to Italian traffickers

More than 3,000 minors may have fallen victim to forced labour and sexual exploitation after vanishing from homes and shelters

Luca Muzi in Catania and Rome
The Guardian, Friday 17 October 2014 08.00 BST   

Thousands of migrant children are disappearing after arriving in mainland Europe, triggering concerns that they are falling prey to a new and thriving market for child trafficking and forced labour.

Of some 12,164 unaccompanied minors who arrived in Italy from north Africa this year, about one-third have vanished from foster homes and government shelters (pdf), with the authorities warning they are likely to face sexual and labour exploitation if left unprotected.

Hundreds of children, mainly from Egypt, Eritrea and Somalia, are arriving on Italy’s shores every month. In Catania, on the eastern coast of Sicily, local NGOs say that Eritrean children have begun to be kidnapped from parks and train stations.

“Most of the Eritrean children refuse to be identified by the authorities on arrival in the country because the Dublin Convention doesn’t allow them to claim asylum in other countries if they have been registered in Italy,” says Elvira Iovino, director of Centro Astalli, a migrants shelter in Catania.

“While they are sleeping at the train station they are intercepted by networks of traffickers who promise to give them shelter and get them jobs. But then they are locked up in houses and, if the family can’t pay for them to be released, they have to work for them selling drugs, through prostitution or working in the Sicilian agriculture. These are all high-income activities for these networks.”

Children who are registered as unaccompanied minors upon arrival in Italy are also vulnerable to exploitation. Under Italian law, children arriving in the country without their family should automatically come under the care of the state; they should first be housed in emergency shelters, then moved to foster homes and into integration and education programmes. Yet, as authorities in Sicily buckle under the weight of the influx of migrants, children are being left in overcrowded and decaying emergency shelters for months, with little protection.

In the Sicilian town of Augusta, which has been the landing point for more than 4,000 of the 12,164 migrant children who have arrived in Italy so far this year, local authorities say they simply can’t cope with the numbers of children for whom they are becoming responsible.

“Recently we had 1,500 people arriving at our port in one night – 250 of these were children,” says Francesco Puglisi, the commissioner in Augusta responsible for immigration. “Here we just don’t have the structures to give the right protection to such large numbers.”

Conditions at the Scuola Verde first aid centre, Augusta’s only emergency shelter for migrant children, are increasingly grim, with overcrowded dormitories and rubbish-strewn hallways. The centre has the facilities to support 20 children, but there are as many as 150 currently housed there. Many minors who were supposed to be relocated after 48 hours are still at the centre four or five months later.

According to migrant rights activists, many children who escape, or are lured out of emergency shelters or foster homes by the promise of employment, end up working in conditions of forced labour, packing boxes of tomatoes in basements or greenhouses in Sicily.

Others head for cities and towns across Italy. The Guardian followed the trail of migrant children from Sicily to Rome, where young Egyptian teenagers were found working for a few euros an hour at the train station and fruit and vegetable markets. Some said they were told by their traffickers where to find work to pay off their debts before they left for Europe; others received instructions on their arrival in Sicily.

“I said ‘Bye bye, Sicily,’ as nobody was helping us in the centres over there,” says Hamdi, a 17-year-old from Kafr Ikhsha in Egypt. “There are guys who help you with the tickets. When I arrived in Rome, an Egyptian man told me to go to Ponte Mammolo bus terminal and find the bus with all the other Egyptians, which would take me to the market. You only earn between two to 10 euros for a day of work, but my family have to pay back the 2,500 euro trip to Italy we paid.”

Ahmed, who claims he is 17 but looks years younger, says he is under huge pressure to find a way of repaying the 3,500 euro debt he incurred on his journey to Europe. He is scared about a contract his family signed with the smugglers who brought him across to Sicily. “Even five euros a day would be something,” he says. “I have to send money home, my family only have five months to repay the debt.”

Mariella Chiaramonte, chief of the police station in Tivoli, near Rome, says that Guidonia’s 140-hectare (350-acre) market, 15 miles from Rome, has become a hub of child labour in the past few years. In the past month there have been efforts to clamp down on the exploitation of migrant children working as porters at the market, but the problem persists.

“Until about a month ago, all the porter work at the market was done by Egyptian children, because their labour is so cheap,” she says. “Their employers give them two pennies and take advantage. The situation is out of control. Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and those who employ them at the markets, so we are planning an investigation to establish these links.”

The fear of their families facing the wrath of the traffickers is driving some to find quicker ways of repaying their debt. Khaled, another Egyptian teenager, who is earning 50 euros a week at a petrol station, says many young Egyptian children are recruited by drugs and prostitution gangs upon their arrival in Rome.

“Other guys accept selling drugs or prostituting themselves to pay off their debt. It is much quicker and not difficult to find this kind of job. It’s enough to just wait at the Termini bus station and somebody will come to you,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes they are Egyptians and sometimes Tunisians, but I don’t want to do these things. All I want to do is pay off my debt and send money home.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:20 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Sweden searches for suspected Russian submarine off Stockholm

Helicopters, minesweepers and 200 service personnel mobilised in search after tipoff about ‘foreign underwater activity’

Peter Walker   
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 12.43 BST      

Swedish ships, helicopters and troops are scouring the waters off Stockholm for what was officially described as “foreign underwater activity”, amid reports that a Russian submarine might have had mechanical problems while on a secret mission in the archipelago.

In scenes reminiscent of the cold war when neutral Sweden regularly swept the island-strewn Baltic Sea coastline around the capital for Soviet spy submarines, more than 200 service personnel were mobilised along with helicopters, minesweepers and an anti-submarine corvette fitted with stealth-type anti-radar masking.

The operation began late on Friday following what Sweden’s ministry said was a reliable tipoff about “foreign underwater activity” in the archipelago. The officer leading the operation declined to give more details, saying only that there had been no armed contact.

“We still consider the information we received as very trustworthy,” Captain Jonas Wikstrom told reporters. “I, as head of operations, have therefore decided to increase the number of units in the area.”

The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper said it was believed the intruder was a Russian submarine or mini-submarine that may be damaged. It said the operation was launched on Friday after a visual sighting of a “human-made object” in the waters. The day before, Swedish intelligence operators intercepted a radio conversation in Russian on a frequency usually reserved for emergencies, the paper said.

Another signal was intercepted on Friday night, but this time the content was encrypted. However, the report said, Swedish intelligence was able to pinpoint the locations of the participants. One was in the waters off Stockholm, while the other could be traced to Kaliningrad, the port that is the home of Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet.

The military sources would not confirm that a Russian craft was in distress, Svenska Dagbladet reported, but Russia does have mini-submarines based at Kaliningrad, it added.

Defence analysts cited in other reports speculated that a submarine might be have been replacing old spy equipment or monitoring a Swedish naval exercise.

Sweden is among a series of Nordic and Baltic nations on increased alert over growing tensions with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. In September two Russian Su-24 attack jets reportedly violated Swedish airspace over the Baltic, prompting Sweden’s air force to scramble its own fighters.

Last week Finland complained that the Russian navy had twice harassed one of its environmental research ships in international waters, ordering it to change course and later sending a helicopter and submarine to pass close by.

The submarine hunt is an early political test for Stefan Lofven, the new prime minister, whose centre-left minority government took office this month. Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister, told Svenska Dagbladet that the government hoped to be more open than its predecessor about military activity.

“What’s been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation,” he said. “Russia has made enormous military investments … with their increased strength they are training more, and that influences the security environment.”

Alerts were not uncommon during the cold war. The most famous incident took place in 1981 when a Soviet submarine hit rocks near Karlskrona, the main Swedish naval base, in the south of the country. The Russian captain claimed that the submarine had strayed off course and got lost.

After a tense standoff in which a Russian recovery convoy turned back after Swedish coastal artillery and warships trained their guns on it, Sweden interrogated the captain and inspected the submarine, before towing the craft off the rocks into international waters.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution

Dutch team is pioneering development of crops fed by sea water

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Saturday 18 October 2014 13.50 BST   
In a small army field-hut Dr Arjen de Vos shows off his irrigation machine with pride. Pipes lead out to several acres of muddy field, where only a few stragglers from the autumn harvest of potatoes, salads, carrots and onions are left. The tubes are lined with copper to stop corrosion because – in a move that defies everything we think we know about farming – de Vos is watering his plants with diluted sea water.

Last week the project beat 560 competitors from 90 countries to win the prestigious USAid grand challenge award for its salt-tolerant potato. “It’s a game changer,” said de Vos. “We don’t see salination as a problem, we see it as an opportunity.”

Here, on one of the Netherlands’ northernmost islands, windswept Texel (pronounced Tessel) surrounded by encroaching ocean and salt marshes that seep sea water under its dykes and into ditches and canals, an enterprising farmer has taken the radical step of embracing salt water instead of fighting to keep it out. And now he thinks he might just help feed the world.

Inspired by sea cabbage, 59-year-old Marc van Rijsselberghe set up Salt Farm Texel and teamed up with the Free University in Amsterdam, which sent him de Vos to look at the possibility of growing food using non-fresh water. Their non-GM, non-laboratory-based experiments had help from an elderly Dutch farmer who has a geekish knowledge of thousands of different potato varieties.

“The world’s water is 89% salinated, 50% of agricultural land is threatened by salt water, and there are millions of people living in salt-contaminated areas. So it’s not hard to see we have a slight problem,” said van Rijsselberghe. “Up until now everyone has been concentrating on how to turn the salt water into fresh water; we are looking at what nature has already provided us with.”

The scarcity of fresh water has been labelled as the planet’s most drastic problem by the World Bank, NGOs, governments and environmentalists. A fifth of the world’s population already lives in areas of drought, and climate change is only going to exacerbate the problem. Poor farming practices, along with road and pavement building, is raising water tables and increasing the salination of rivers and lakes – in the Western Australian wheat-belt alone, salinity has caused a 50% fall in the numbers of wetland bird species, and threatened 450 plant species with extinction.

Attempts to desalinate sea water are going on around the globe – the UK has a £270m plant on the river Thames and Saudi Arabia produces 70% of its drinking water through desalination. But removing the dissolved minerals is expensive, requires much energy and the leftover concentrated brine has to be disposed of. The process is far too expensive to be used for irrigation in poorer countries. But thanks to a partnership with Dutch development consultants MetaMeta, several tonnes of the Texel seed potatoes are now on their way to Pakistan where thousands of hectares of what until now had been unproductive land because of sea water encroachment have been set aside for them.

If the experiment works and the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, it could transform the lives of not only small farmers in Pakistan and Bangladesh,, where floods and sea water intrusion wipe out crops with increasing regularity, but also worldwide the 250 million people who live on salt-afflicted soil.

Van Rijsselberghe is happy to be seen as an entrepreneur whose interest was to grow a “value added” food crop that would tolerate Holland’s problems with water. He says he used a trial and error approach in development. “We’re not a scientific institution, we’re a bunch of lunatics with an idea that we can change things and we are interested in getting partnerships together with normal farmers, not people who want to write doctorates.” As a pioneer of organic farming in the 1990s, he faced heavy opposition, while a project to grow sea aster – a salt marsh-grown salad popular in high-end restaurants – ended in disaster when 3,000 migrating ducks made an unexpected stop and ate the entire crop in three hours. ”

He says the Netherlands needs to rethink its approach to food: “A third of the country is sensitive to salination. We put up dykes and pump away the water; we feel safe. We believe that outside the dykes is for the fishermen and inside the dikes is for the farmers. I think we have to stop that and talk to each other. What can be grown on the salt marshes and in the sea? Can we grow prawns in the lakes? We need to have these conversations and rethink the way we produce food.”

But where does all that salt go? Aren’t we in danger of overdosing on salt if we eat the Salt Farm Texel crops? “What we find is that, if you tease a plant with salt, it compensates with more sugar,” said de Vos. “The strawberries we grow, for example, are very sweet. So nine times out of ten the salt is retained in the leaves of the plant, so you’d have to eat many many kilos of potatoes before you’d exceed your recommended salt intake. But some of the salads are heavy with salt, you wouldn’t eat them by the bucketful.

“And there are other potentials, too – if we could find a grass that was salt tolerant, then it would make a big difference to all those golf courses built in developing countries that are using up all the locals’ fresh water. Nature has already laid out some helping hands for us. Mankind just hasn’t realised it.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:15 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

As cracks in its economy widen, is Germany’s miracle about to fade?

As the markets tumbled last week, Germany, hailed only months ago for its resilience in the European crisis, came under fresh scrutiny. What lies ahead for the European powerhouse?

Philip Oltermann   
The Observer, Sunday 19 October 2014      

Locals call the cantilever truss bridge that connects the Dresden suburbs of Blasewitz and Loschwitz the “blue miracle”. Built in 1893 without the support of river piers, it is the kind of German engineering tour de force that could rightly claim a place in the British Museum’s current Memories of a Nation exhibition, were it not impossible to transport.

However, in recent years the blue miracle has lost some its sheen. The blue paint has faded to a dull turquoise (“the grey misery” is a common jibe), and a 2013 inspection revealed a persistent problem with rust and erosion due to the 25,000 cars that pass over the bridge every day. Local author Uwe Tellkamp, a winner of the German Book Prize, has even called for cars to be banished altogether, as on Venice’s Rialto bridge.

Dresden city council is aware of the problem, but it is under financial pressure. Twenty-one million euros are being spent on overhauling the Albert bridge in the city centre, which was crumbling away so badly that bits of concrete were falling on the heads of cyclists passing underneath. The Augustus bridge, the jewel in Dresden’s eight-bridge crown, will have to come next after it was damaged by floods last year.

“Busy roads and bridges have a 70-year cycle. Sometimes they all come up for renovation at the same time,” says Jörn Marx, Dresden’s mayor for development, walking through the building site on the Albert bridge. “I know politicians across the country who are really struggling to find the money at the moment.”

Crumbling bridges and potholed roads are a politically sensitive issue in Germany these days. Forty per cent of all bridges and a fifth of the motorway network are said to be in a “critical state”, causing traffic jams and delays up and down the country. Worse still, a growing choir of economists and politicians warn that such cracks in the country’s infrastructure are only the beginning of a much bigger problem. Germany, Europe’s model austerian, they say, is saving itself to death.

Only months ago, the German economy was widely championed for its dynamism and resilience; its industry had weathered the eurozone crisis surprisingly well and looked like the only engine capable of pulling the rest of the continent out of the mire. Newspapers announced a repeat of the “economic miracle” of the postwar period; books predicted that the country was in for a “bright future”.

But in October 2014 it is the pessimists who are setting the tone: the German economy is looking about as rusty as the blue miracle in Dresden. In his book, The Germany Bubble, Olaf Gersemann describes the current boom as the “last hurrah” of a nation that faces almost certain decline after six successive generations of rising living standards, while economist Marcel Fratzscher’s The Germany Illusion argues that the country needs to shed itself of the fantasy that it can thrive while the rest of the continent continues to struggle.

Both identify a lack of investment in infrastructure as symptomatic of a wider malaise. Cliche may forever have Germany as the country of efficient autobahns and trains that run on time, but in reality it has invested less in maintaining its roads and bridges than other European state. Its investment rate in 2013 was the fourth lowest in the EU; only Austria, Spain and Portugal spent less. Fratzscher, who is head of the German Institute for Economic Research, calculates there is an “investment gap” of €80bn (£63bn).

But at least potholes can be spotted and filled. Missed investment in education, research and industry, on the other hand, might only be felt once it is too late. Gersemann, a journalist for the centre-right daily Die Welt, points out that official statistics show negative net investment in seven of the eight largest manufacturing industries since 2000, with the car industry the only exception. “The government needs to think urgently about how it can convince businesses to stay in Germany,” he said.

Fratzscher points out that Germany only invests 5.3% of its overall economic performance back into education, 0.9% less than the average Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country, the equivalent of €25bn. “Among western European countries, only Italy spends less money on its education sector than Germany,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her allies are increasingly struggling to dismiss such warnings, with her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, coming under attack from Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats. Schäuble’s plans for the next budget see Germany taking on no new sovereign debt for the first time since 1969, a historic achievement in the eyes of many German conservatives and an important demonstration of fiscal discipline to the rest of the eurozone.

However, many on the left say the obsession with a balanced budget – colloquially known as the “black zero” – is starving Germany and the rest of Europe of much-needed investment. “The black zero is a fatal signal,” said Fratzscher. Balancing the budget has become a “holy grail” for a succession of German finance ministers, wrote Jakob Augstein in Der Spiegel, the stuff of mystery and folklore, not genuine economic policy.

Die Zeit likened Schäuble’s team to mountaineers who were so focused on reaching the summit that they had become blind to the storm gathering around them. When Social Democrat deputy chairman Ralf Stegner pointed out that “the black zero is not a Social Democratic zero”, the Christian Democrats’ Peter Tauber retorted tetchily by calling Stegner a “red zero”.

To add to Merkel’s woes, she is facing dissent from her own ranks within the CDU for the first time in years. Last week 50 young Christian Democrats signed a manifesto urging their party leader to push for an “Agenda 2020”. While Germany had been urging other states in Europe to reform their labour markets, they said, it had been slow to implement reforms in its own backyard.

“While we have been enjoying our success, we’ve been falling behind in key areas such as the digital economy,” said Jens Spahn, one of the initiators. “Today people across the world may be buying BMWs and Mercedes cars because of their quality engineering, but tomorrow we may be choosing one car over the next because it has superior software.”

The government, he said, needed to do far more to support startup companies, teach IT skills at schools and actively attract qualified immigrants: “Do we really need to wait until we are the ‘sick man of Europe’ again until we have the strength to change?”

Assessments of the gravity and inevitability of Germany’s downturn differ. The government may have been forced to downgrade its growth forecast for 2015 from 2% to 1.2%, yet the economy minister and vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, refused to sound too pessimistic. Compared with 0.7% growth in 2012, Germany was still on a path to prosperity, he said last Tuesday: “Employment is still rising; unemployment is still decreasing.”

China’s slowdown and the impact of Russian sanctions were always bound to have a knock-on effect on the German economy, say others. Some, such as Kiel university’s Rolf Langhammer, go as far as arguing that the latest growth figures aren’t bad news at all, but encouraging signs that Europe may be rebalancing. By keeping down workers’ wages, Langhammer said, Germany had for years profited from rising labour costs in southern Europe. Now there were signs that the trend had been bucked: German workers were not only spending more thanks to low interest rates, but the introduction of a minimum wage in 2015 was also set to make German unit labour costs more expensive.

“What we’re seeing is precisely what we’ve been asking for from economies in southern Europe: they are exporting more, starting to kill their deficits and becoming more competitive,” he said. “Yet somehow some German politicians didn’t realise that this would also have an impact on our own economy.” Germany, he maintained, wasn’t doing as well as people said during the boom years – but it wasn’t headed for quite the disaster some were making out now either.

Economist Fratzscher remains positive that strategic investments and sufficient “political will” would allow Germany to avert the looming crisis – which is hardly surprising given that he is currently advising the government on its investment plans.

Gersemann is much more pessimistic: “The current success of the German economy is built on a much less stable foundation than the government pretends. Consumers have been stabilising the economy, but that’s partly because the central bank’s base rate is being kept artificially low – people are effectively forced to spend rather than save. That’s hardly a stable footing.”

Current demographic trends, he said, painted a bleak picture for the German economy in the long run. UN forecasts see ageing Germany losing its status as Europe’s most populous nation to both Britain and France some time after 2040.

“We’ve been talking about the pending demographic crisis for years, but we’ll only start to feel its impact in the next few years,” said Gersemann. “The baby boomer generation of the 50s and 60s will slowly start to disappear from the labour market. Total hours’ work will start to fall within a couple of years, depressing Germany’s growth potential.

“Germany in 10 years’ time will feel so different that we will look back on today as the good old days.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Thousands to March on London over Wages

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 October 2014, 13:19

Tens of thousands of people were set to descend on London on Saturday to march against falling real wages, which organizers claim have slumped by £50 ($80, 63 euros) a week since 2008.

Metropolitan Police are expecting protesters from across Britain to congregate at Victoria Embankment at 11:00 am local time (1000GMT) before marching through central London to Hyde Park.

The event is organised by The Trades Union Congress (TUC), a federation of the country's main trade unions.

"Our message is that after the longest and deepest pay squeeze in recorded history, it's time to end the lock-out that has kept the vast majority from sharing in the economic recovery," explained TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady.

"If politicians wonder why so many feel excluded from the democratic process, they should start with bread and butter living standards.

"An economy that finds money for tax cuts for the rich and boardroom greed, while the rest face a pay squeeze and big cuts to the welfare system - that any of us might need - is no longer working for the many."

Organizers are calling for an "economic recovery that works for all Britons, not just those right at the top."

Despite enviable growth figures, Britain's economic recovery has yet to deliver significant wage rises.

A recent study by the New Economics Foundation found that households had suffered a 15 percent decline in their real incomes over the last year, while the Institute for Policy Research reported that wages had failed to keep pace with inflation since 2008.

The "Britain Needs a Pay Rise" march comes after health workers went on strike on Monday over the government's offer of a one percent pay rise and a walkout by civil servants on Wednesday.

Other protests will be held in Glasgow and Belfast.

On the eve of the London march, some 200 anti-government campaigners rallied in front of the British parliament, saying that they were planning to set up an "Occupy Democracy" camp without official permission.

"We are here in front of Westminster to say we want real democracy, and we want it now," said activist John Sinha, one of the organizers, as he addressed the crowd.

The demonstrators said they planned to stay on the square for nine days, but police told them they were not allowed to have sleeping bags or tents on the square.

By Saturday morning, the crowd had dwindled to about 50 people sitting on the pavement wrapped in blankets and drinking tea, watched by a number of police officers.

A police spokesman said there had been "no incidents of note" during the evening.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sweden Intensifies Search for Suspected Submarine near Stockholm

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 October 2014, 21:24

The Swedish armed forces stepped up a military operation off the coast of Stockholm on Saturday where they were investigating a report of "foreign underwater activity."

More than 200 men, Swedish stealth ships, minesweepers and helicopters have been searching an area of the Baltic Sea about 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the Swedish capital since Friday evening, following a tip-off from what the military called a "credible source."

"I have decided to increase the number of units in the area -- units with specialized sensors," Commander Jonas Wikstroem told reporters at a press conference in Stockholm.

"We still judge that the information we received yesterday was very trustworthy," he added, but declined to comment on what the military had discovered after more than 24 hours sweeping the sea around islands in Stockholm's archipelago.

Swedish defense analysts cited by local media speculated that a foreign submarine may have been in the area to replace old spy equipment or to monitor a Swedish naval exercise.

Wikstroem declined to give details of the reinforcements to the "intelligence gathering" operation as they could provide information to "a potential opponent on how and where we are working" if there is ongoing "underwater activity."

Sweden's new Social Democrat Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist -- who took office just a fortnight ago -- refused to comment on the military operation but told the daily Svenska Dagbladet that his government would be more open about military incursions in the Baltic than its center-right predecessor.

"What's been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation," he told the newspaper.

"Russia has made enormous military investments... with their increased strength they are training more, and that influences the security environment."

In recent months, Sweden has seen an uptick in Baltic Sea maneuvers by the Russian air force. In one incident in September, two SU-24 fighter-bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what Foreign Minister Carl Bildt at the time called "the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians" in almost a decade.

During the 1980s and early 90s the then-neutral -- and now non-aligned -- Nordic country was regularly on alert following Russian submarine sightings, including one notable case in 1981 when a Soviet U-boat ran aground several miles from one of Sweden's largest naval base.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:05 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Vatican and Vietnam Edge Closer to Restoring Diplomatic Ties

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 October 2014, 22:46

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Pope Francis in Rome Saturday with both saying they were committed to restoring diplomatic relations.

The country's communist regime broke off diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1975, but both sides have been working on warming relations since 2007.

The meeting marked "an important step in the process of reinforcing relations between the Holy See and Vietnam," a Vatican statement said after the meeting.

The Vatican said it welcomed the support of the Vietnamese authorities for the Catholic community, which makes up around seven per cent of the country's population of 89 million.

During his five-day visit to South Korea in August -- his first trip to Asia -- the pope called for communist countries Vietnam and China, which 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."

The Vatican had earlier hailed the "positive developments" from talks between the two sides held in Hanoi on September 10 and 11.

The papal nuncio in Singapore, Leopoldo Girelli, has been the Vatican's "non-resident pontifical representative" to Hanoi since 2011.

The pope is keen for the Church to tap into Asia, a continent where the number of Catholics, currently just 3.2 percent of the population, is rocketing.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ukraine Set to Cement Shift West in Wartime Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 13:19

War-weary Ukrainians pick a powerful new parliament next Sunday set to be dominated by pro-Western and nationalist forces who will determine if President Petro Poroshenko can make peace with the Kremlin while holding on to the separatist east.

But it will be a vote held on a war footing in which millions of ethnic Russians in Ukraine will not be able to cast ballots because their lands have been either annexed by the Kremlin or seized by pro-Moscow militants.

And it will be quickly followed by another poll called by insurgents in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern rustbelt whose battle against government forces has killed 3,700 people and left Ukraine in economic ruins.

"The main issue of this election is war and peace," said Volodymyr Fesenko of Kiev's Penta political research institute.

The rival elections are the latest act in a historic and bloody drama played out at warp speed across the culturally splintered nation on the European Union's outer frontier.

Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a deal with the European Union last November sparked months of street unrest that culminated in the shooting of nearly 100 people and the ousting of the ruling elite.

- Mandate for peace -

But the Kremlin's subsequent seizure of Crimea and alleged backing of the eastern revolt triggered a Cold War-style confrontation between Moscow and the West.

Poroshenko hopes the October 26 vote will give him the mandate to follow through on a hotly disputed peace plan he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September after a string of catastrophic battlefield defeats.

The pro-Western chocolate baron is hoping the truce deal will enable vital industries that have stood shuttered amid the daily shellings to resume production and help stir Ukraine's imploding economy back to life.

But fears that Poroshenko was effectively caving into the Kremlin by offering rebels limited self-rule in return for peace have spurred the hopes of nationalist parties which reject talks with Russia.

Poroshenko "faces significant scepticism over the peace process from the public and centre-right parties," the Eurasia Group political risk consultancy warned.

- First pro-European majority -

A dizzying 29 parties -- none formally representing the ousted regime -- will be contesting seats in the 450-seat chamber whose powers will include the right to name the prime minister and most of the cabinet.

"For the first time since independence, a pro-European majority has emerged in the electorate," said Vadym Karasyov of Kiev's Institute of Global Strategies.

The president's eponymous Petro Poroshenko Bloc is leading opinion polls but lacks the majority needed to form a government.

This makes the performance of parties that share a more militant approach towards Russia and round out the top five of most voter surveys into crucial players who may determine the fate of the current uneasy truce.

Poroshenko would probably need to compromise less if he could form a ruling coalition with the help of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's newly-formed People's Front.

Yatsenyuk led Ukraine's negotiations with Western lenders and can be relied on to back unpopular belt-tightening measures demanded by the IMF under a global $27 billion bailout.

But a poor performance by him could force Poroshenko to seek an alliance with former premier and strident Putin critic Yulia Tymoshenko -- a longstanding rival -- or the Radical Party of the unpredictable populist Oleg Lyashko.

What remains of the Russian voters with Kremlin sympathies will face the choice of an enfeebled Communist Party or a hastily-arranged Opposition Bloc -- a small band of tycoons and politicians who once backed Yanukovych and now promote a more socialist cause.

"The absolute majority of political parties and candidates are trying to hide their sympathies toward Russia," Penta's Fesenko said.

- Rival election in east -

Insurgents who control parts of the coal and steel producing heartland of Ukraine intend to ignore the October 26 ballot and open polling stations one week later for a leadership vote denounced by Kiev as illegitimate.

The rebels' ultimate aim is to form a new entity called Novorossiya (New Russia) that could follow Crimea's example and be incorporated by the Kremlin.

The uncertainty this creates threatens to turn the east into a "frozen conflict" similar to those that have allowed Moscow to destabilise the pro-Western governments in former Soviet states such as Georgia and Moldova.

"Western governments will likely expect action by Russia to dissuade the separatists from proceeding (with their own vote), something Moscow has not indicated it will do," Eurasia Group said.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 05:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Tasmanian devil killed at US zoo had skull crushed by asphalt block

Police investigating case believe the marsupial was killed either by workers or visitors at zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Australian Associated Press, Sunday 19 October 2014 01.41 BST   
A Tasmanian devil at a US zoo has had its skull crushed by a block of asphalt and police are trying to determine whether a zoo employee or a member of the public was responsible.

Jasper was one of four Tasmanian devils shipped from Australia to the Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo in New Mexico last December.

It appeared he did not die instantly, with evidence from an examination by the zoo’s head veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman suggesting the injured devil crawled to a log in the enclosure before dying.

“The first suspicion of how the devil died was that it was possibly killed by another devil,” the police report states.

“After the necropsy was completed and veterinarian Zimmerman found a small piece of the devil’s skull fractured, staff went back into the enclosure.”

A chunk of asphalt 10cm thick and the size of a dessert plate was located.

It appears the killer threw it at Jasper.

The devil’s body was found on Wednesday morning, and zoo staff and visitors are the focus of the investigation.

Surveillance cameras are located on the zoo’s walkways, but do not cover the enclosure.

About 4.30pm on Tuesday two young boys and an adult male can be seen on footage walking away from the enclosure area.

The zoo is one of only two in the US with Tasmanian devils and hopes to breed them.

“It looks like there was malicious intent and essentially our poor Tasmanian devil was killed, intentionally, by what seems to be blunt force trauma to the head,” the Albuquerque mayor’s chief-of-staff, Gilbert Montano, told TV station KRQE.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 05:55 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

Catholic bishops veto gay-friendly statements leaving Pope Francis the loser

Final report of Roman Catholic extraordinary synod on the family removes talk of ‘welcoming’ gay people

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Observer, Sunday 19 October 2014   

Pope Francis appeared on Saturday night to have lost out to powerful conservatives in the Roman Catholic church after bishops scrapped language that had been hailed as a historic warming of attitudes towards gay people.

In the final report of an extraordinary synod on the family which has exposed deep divides in the church hierarchy, there is no mention – as there had been in a draft version – of the “gifts and qualities” gay people can offer. Nor is there any recognition of the “precious support” same-sex partners can give each other.

A paragraph entitled “pastoral attention to people of homosexual orientation” – itself a distinctly cooler tone than “welcoming homosexual persons” – refers to church teaching, saying there can be “not even a remote” comparison between gay unions and heterosexual marriage.

“Nevertheless,” it adds, “men and women of homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity.” They should not suffer from discrimination, it adds. But the shift in tone is clear. And, in a potentially stark sign of the discomfort provoked among many bishop, even this watered-down passage failed to pass the two-thirds majority needed for it to be approved.

One hundred and eighteen bishops voted for the text and 62 against. A Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said the voting numbers had been released at the behest of Francis, who wanted the process to be transparent.

Because the names of the bishops were not released, however, it was unclear whether the paragraph’s failure to pass was due to a protest vote by progressive bishops who had wanted to keep more of the original wording.

At any rate, in a speech to the bishops which received a four-minute standing ovation, Francis showed no sign of disappointment, insisting that disagreement and debate was an intrinsic part of the synod process. “Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these … animated discussions … if everyone had agreed with one another or had kept silent in a false and acquiescent peace,” he said.

It was the synod’s other highly controversial subject – considering whether Catholics who have divorced and remarried should be allowed to take holy communion – that included the only other sections to fail to muster the necessary two-thirds majority. Walter Kasper, a German cardinal known in media circles as “the pope’s theologian” because of his closeness to Francis, has been the key backer of a move to allow more people access to the sacraments. But, in an indication of how far his proposal was from gaining a consensus among his global peers, the sections dealing with the thorny issue were guarded and merely noted that there was a clear clash of views. “The question will be further explored,” said the report.

Thomas Rosica, Lombardi’s English language assistant, said the sections without two-thirds majorities had not been “completely rejected”. He stressed that it was “not a magisterial document” but “a work in progress” that provided the basis for another synod next autumn.

The final report will come as a blow to those in and outside the church who had hoped a corner might have been turned in the way Catholic leaders discussed and dealt with homosexuality – even if not even the most optimistic of followers had been expecting a change in doctrine, according to which “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically disordered”.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group in the United States, said it was “very disappointing that the synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included”.

“Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples,” he told Reuters.

The draft released last Monday had been hailed by some church observers and gay rights groups as “a stunning change” in how the Catholic hierarchy talked about gay people. It had been written with a voice that seemed to echo closely Francis’s own, pragmatically pastoral phrase: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Exploring the idea of extending mercy to people considered to be in “irregular” situations, it asked whether the church was capable of offering gay Catholics “a welcoming home” and “fraternal space”, admitting that despite “moral problems” associated with them, “homosexual unions” provided “precious support” to each other.

No sooner had it been released, however, than leading conservatives began to speak out against the text. One, American cardinal Raymond Burke, criticised a lack of transparency, saying the mid-point report had not reflected the diverse views of the whole synod.

“A great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” he said in an interview.

Burke, a leading doctrinal rigorist in the church who had vocally opposed any move to ease the ban on remarried divorcees taking communion, is currently prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court. But he said on Friday he was to be demoted to a lesser post. Asked by the National Catholic Reporter who had made that decision, he reportedly responded: “Who do you think?”

Vatican observers say that, by calling the first extraordinary synod in nearly three decades and encouraging the nearly 200 bishops taking part to speak their minds during the fortnight-long gathering, Francis, 77, has embraced a radically more collegiate style of church governance than has been seen for decades. But although the Argentinian wanted to listen to what the bishops had to say, he may not always have liked what he heard.

Ever since his election last March, he has made clear his belief that the church needs to become more inclusive and understanding of real people’s lives if it is to survive, let alone grow.

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