Bishops support Mexican vigilantes in fight against vicious Knights Templar gang
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 5, 2013 12:16 EST
Bells tolled from the red cathedral tower in the western Mexico town of Apatzingan, calling the faithful to hear a bishop who backs a growing vigilante movement against a cult-like drug cartel.
As people headed to church, soldiers patrolled the main square, banks and a supermarket in this bastion of the fearsome Knights Templar gang, which has brought mayhem to the southwestern state of Michoacan.
“We cannot deny that we are living through difficult times. Our towns are experiencing an atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion,” Bishop Miguel Patino Velazquez told his flock, reading a message signed by Michoacan’s bishops.
East of Apatzingan, troops check cars and scan luggage in X-ray machines to look for illegal weapons.
On the western outskirts, the farmers who formed self-defense militia to combat the Templars earlier this year man their own checkpoints behind walls of sandbags.
The vigilantes say they have “liberated” more towns near Apatzingan in recent weeks and vow to spread, ignoring federal government warnings that their expansion will not be tolerated.
“Where there are kidnappings and executions, we will take all of them,” said Jose Manuel Mireles, a tall 55-year-old doctor with a thick mustache who led one of the first revolts in Tepalcatepec on February 24.
“If (authorities) say they won’t allow us to advance but they do nothing, then they can’t stop us. Our people are ready to die, including against the state government if necessary, because they are infested with criminals,” Mireles said as he hunted doves in a remote ranch.
The vigilantes appeared in a handful of towns on February 24, fed up with the municipal police’s inability or unwillingness to stop the Templars, who have killed, kidnapped, fixed lime prices and extorted everyone from butchers to tortilla makers.
Underscoring the complexity of Michoacan, officials and the Templars have accused the self-defense forces of being proxies of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, a charge they deny.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose promise to curb violence in Mexico is challenged by Michoacan’s troubles, deployed thousands of soldiers to the state in May to tame the situation.
Troops and federal police patrol sunbaked roads and towns in Tierra Caliente, or Hot Country, an agricultural region that exports limes and avocados to the United States as well as methamphetamine produced in makeshift labs.
Last week, unidentified gunmen hiding in the woods fired on four busloads of federal police on a road near Apatzingan, killing two and wounding nine officers.
The chaos prompted Bishop Patino to send a missive in October accusing local officials of colluding with criminals, warning that Michoacan had “all the characteristics of a failed state.”
Last month, authorities hid the 75-year-old prelate in another town over an unspecified threat against him.
But Patino, who is retiring, returned to preach in Apatzingan, using his pulpit to give support to the vigilantes.
“If I want to attack you, you have the obligation to defend yourself, no? It’s the same with society,” the diminutive clergyman with dark circles under his eyes told AFP after Sunday service, smiling to men, women and children who lined up to shake his hand.
But the Templars, whose symbol is the red cross of the medieval Catholic crusaders and claim to be pious defenders of Michoacan, enjoy some support in Apatzingan.
“They’re the ones who bring in the money for the town to function,” said Antonio, 19, a watch salesman in a street stand outside the cathedral who declined to give his last name.
But some residents said they no longer venture out at night and stores close early out of fear.
“People are fleeing town. You don’t know who’s good or bad anymore,” said Eusebia Lopez Barbosa, 51, who prayed in the back of the cathedral. “The bishop simply tells the truth.”
‘Outside the law’
The vigilantes say they are now in 19 towns and are eyeing other communities, including Apatzingan, which lies on a key transport route they can no longer use for their fruits.
Hundreds of vigilantes tried to oust the Templars from Apatzingan in October, but the army barred them from entering with weapons and they were met with gunfire in the main square.
“I admit that we are outside the law. But we had to do this,” said Hipolito Mora, a bespectacled 58-year-old lime grower and vigilante leader in La Ruana, where his men drive cars emblazoned with the words “citizen self-defense.”
Few had weapons when AFP reporters visited the region though one was spotted with an AR-15 assault rifle and their leaders carried handguns in their belts.
But they deny getting their weapons and bulletproof vests from the Jalisco cartel, saying they took them from fleeing Templars. One vigilante said they rejected an offer from suspected Jalisco cartel members.
The self-defense units have critics within Michoacan.
A group of 400 businessmen formed the Michoacan Peace and Dignity Association, organizing protests against the vigilantes and the state’s militarization.
But some were accused by a senator of being Templar emissaries when they visited the Senate in Mexico City in October, a charge they denied.
“We are speaking out against all armed groups that are in Michoacan,” said association president Tito Fernandez. “We see the (vigilantes) as an armed civilian group that is violating the rule of law.”
on: Dec 06, 2013, 07:09 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
on: Dec 06, 2013, 07:07 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
North Korean regime aide flees to seek asylum in South
Man who managed funds for Kim Jong-un's uncle is said to be being protected by South Korean officials in China
Reuters in Seoul
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 09.39 GMT
A man who managed funds for the uncle of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has fled the isolated country and is seeking asylum in South Korea, local media say.
The aide is being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, the cable news network YTN said, citing a source familiar with the matter.
If true, the defection would be the first instance in years of a significant insider from the Pyongyang regime switching sides.
Jang Song-thaek, whose marriage to Kim's aunt and proximity to the young leader made him one of the most powerful men in North Korea, was reportedly relieved of his posts last month, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) has said.
His aide requested asylum about two months ago and is currently in China under the protection of South Korean officials, said YTN, adding that the man had knowledge of funds held by the Kim family.
A spokesman for South Korea's unification ministry, Kim Eui-do, said the defection report could not be confirmed.
The NIS said two of Jang's close associates had been executed last month, but these reports have not been confirmed either.
YTN said Jang's aide had fled to China some time in late September or early October and that Jang could have been sacked because of this.
"A source familiar with the matter said the aide immediately requested asylum from the South Korean government and South Korean officials are currently protecting him at a secret place in China," it said.
China, which is allied to Pyongyang, usually resists allowing defectors from North Korea to seek asylum elsewhere.
YTN said the aide had tried to escape to Laos, a route favoured by other defectors, but Chinese authorities had prevented him from leaving.
US officials have also sought custody of the aide, the television station said.
The last major defection was Hwang Jang Yop, a high-level Worker's party ideologue and the architect of the Juche (self-reliance) ideology of North Korea, who sought asylum in the South in 1997.
on: Dec 06, 2013, 07:05 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
WTO trade deal 'very close' as India continues to hold out on food subsidies
World Trade Organisation officials optimistic as ministers from 160 countries enter final day of negotiations in Bali
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 08.44 GMT
Ministers from nearly 160 member countries of the World Trade Organisation entered a final day of negotiations on Friday with officials sounding optimistic over chances of salvaging a deal that would save the trade body from sliding into irrelevance.
"We are very close," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the meeting on Bali. "As things stand now, the prospects are promising."
Just a day earlier, a deal that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy by some estimates teetered on the brink of collapse.
In an organisation based on consensus among all of its members, attention focused squarely on India as the main stumbling block to the WTO's first global trade deal in two decades.
India has insisted it would not compromise on a policy of subsidising food for hundreds of millions of poor, putting it at odds with the US and other developed countries.
The WTO director-general, Roberto Azevedo, a former Brazilian trade negotiator, told delegates at the start of the last day of talks that there was more work to be done, but sounded upbeat on prospects for success.
"He told members they were now very close to something that has eluded us for many years and that the decisions over the next few hours would have great significance beyond this day," the spokesman said.
It is 12 years since the WTO launched the Doha Round, but the negotiations have yet to yield any concrete results. Diplomats have warned that failure in Bali would wreck the WTO's credibility as developed nations turn towards regional and bilateral trade arrangements.
A Bali trade deal, which is far less ambitious than the Doha Round had aimed for up until two years ago, would open the way to much wider trade reforms and enable the WTO to modernise its rules for the internet era.
The "all-or-nothing" agreement covers several areas, the largest of which is trade facilitation – a global standardisation and simplification of customs procedures that would tear down barriers to cross-border movement of goods.
Another part of the deal – and the one proving to be the most contentious – is focused on agriculture. Members seem largely in agreement over reducing export subsidies and opening borders to the least developed countries. The main obstacle to a deal is food subsidy policy.
India, whose government faces the risk of losing elections next year, says that its tough stance has drawn support from developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America, though the meeting's host, Indonesia, has pressed for it to soften its stand.
"We are trying to get justice for the poor people," India's trade minister, Anand Sharma, told reporters as he entered the final day of the meeting.
Thursday's talks had stretched into the early hours of Friday without reaching any agreement.
Asked if there was a deal on the table, Sharma replied: "We are talking."
The meeting was set to end at 3pm local time (7am GMT) but can be extended.
India will next year fully implement a welfare programme to provide cheap food to 800 million people that it fears will contravene WTO rules curbing farm subsidies to 10% of production.
The programme, which relies on large-scale stockpiling and purchases at minimum prices, is a central plank of the government's bid to win a third term in office next year.
A proposal led by the US offered to waive the 10% rule until 2017. But India has rejected it, demanding the exemptions continue indefinitely until a solution is found.
If talks were to fail, the WTO may see its role eroded by regional trade pacts now being negotiated, such as the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and a US-EU tie-up known as the TTP.
Ministers in the TPP are expected to meet in Singapore shortly after the WTO meeting in the hopes of reaching a free trade pact by the end of this year.
on: Dec 06, 2013, 07:03 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Joe Biden challenges China over 'curtailed' freedom of press during visit
US vice-president expresses 'profound disagreements', while Xi Jinping reportedly says journalists are treated according to law
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 18.52 GMT
Joe Biden pressed China publicly and privately on its treatment of US journalists who fear losing their visas, as he wrapped up his visit to Beijing on Thursday.
Speaking to American business people in the capital, the US vice-president spoke of "profound disagreements" with China over its treatment of US journalists.
"Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences," he said.
Later on Thursday he flew to South Korea where he completes a week-long Asia tour that has been dominated by tensions over China's new air-defence identification zone over the East China sea.
While in Beijing he met Bloomberg and New York Times journalists who have experienced unusual delays in renewals of their mandatory annual visas following the organisations running sensitive stories on the family wealth of leaders. Their websites have been blocked since the reports appeared and neither company has been given visas for new recruits.
Biden also raised the issue in his meetings with the president, Xi Jinping. According to the New York Times, Biden reported that Xi said China treated reporters according to the law.
China's foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the media were treated in accordance with the country's laws and regulations. "Over the past few years, we have provided a very convenient environment for foreign journalists reporting in China," he told reporters."Everybody can see the progress we made."
The full foreign reporting staff of both media organisations are understood to have experienced delays. If accreditation is not issued to the journalists soon they will have to leave China as their visas expire.
Last year China refused to renew the credentials of the US citizen Melissa Chan, a correspondent for al-Jazeera English in what is thought to be the first such case since the late 90s – but other individuals have received new visas following delays.
Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, said in a statement: "Unfettered coverage of China is a crucial issue at a time when it is such an important and compelling story. We have made a major commitment to covering China and are eager that our staff can continue to work there normally."
A Bloomberg journalist travelling with David Cameron was excluded from a Beijing event this week, prompting the prime minister to complain directly to Xi.
Hong, the foreign ministry spokesman, said they had sought to ensure there were sufficient spaces for Chinese and British media.
Bloomberg denied a New York Times report saying it killed a sensitive story involving leaders' families through fearing its ability to report from China would be jeopardised.
In November, the American journalist Paul Mooney, who has reported from China for many years, was denied a visa to work for Reuters. The Chinese language websites of the news agency and of the Wall Street Journal have been blocked since last month.
Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, pressed home the message and raised concern about the treatment of academics, saying: "We are deeply concerned that foreign journalists in China face restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs, including extended delays in processing their journalist visas, restrictions on access to 'sensitive' locations and individuals, pressure on their local staff, blocked websites, and reports of cyber-hacking of media organisations.".
"We call upon the Chinese authorities to respect media and academic freedoms. Chinese and foreign journalists and academics should be allowed to operate freely in China."
Perry Link, a sinologist at the University of California at Riverside, who has been denied visas to China since 1996, warned: "The whole US public suffers in its understanding of China because of the problem. Self censorship by academics – and hence a less than accurate impression of Chinese realities for the western public – will continue until the institution of using blacklists for this purpose is abolished."
Andrew Nathan, a historian at Columbia University, who has been unable to visit since he co-edited a book of leaked documents on the 1989 pro-democracy protests that began in Tiananmen Square, said he had been approached by many younger academics and students who wanted advice on whether a particular piece or kind of research would affect their visa access.
China seems to be winning its arguments with the West over Tibet and human rights
Dec 7th 2013
HYPOCRISY does not make you wrong, but it hands your critics a convenient weapon. When David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, visited Sri Lanka for the recent Commonwealth summit, he was right to insist loudly and publicly on the need for a proper investigation into the carnage at the end of its civil war in 2009. But this week, on his next trip to Asia, that robust riling of his hosts laid him open to charges of double standards, as he indulged in three days of conciliatory schmoozing in China.
Neither Sri Lanka’s nor China’s government would be surprised that the passion for truth and justice aired so volubly in Colombo was buried far deeper in Mr Cameron’s luggage in Beijing. Neither accepts that Western “meddling” in their internal affairs on issues such as human rights flows from a genuine belief in universal principles. Rather, they see it as a self-serving diplomatic optional extra, to be discarded as soon as it jeopardises other interests. And China, unlike Sri Lanka, is powerful enough to make Western leaders hold their tongues.
Of course Western governments would deny this stoutly. Discussion of human rights, Britain says, is an integral part of its relationship with China. The two countries have held 20 rounds of a bilateral dialogue on the issue and British leaders raise it at every opportunity. But the 20th round was two years ago; and there is little evidence that Chinese leaders see the harping on human rights in private exchanges as more than an irritating quirk, like the British fondness for talking about the weather.
So the version of Mr Cameron’s visit to China believed by many observers is one in which he has swallowed a big chunk of humble pie. After he met Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in London last year, an incensed China froze him and his country out. British business complained it was losing out to European competitors. Mr Cameron had to reconfirm that Britain does not advocate Tibetan independence and say that he had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama again.
Only then did China welcome him back, at the head of the biggest British trade mission ever to go there. In the circumstances, he could not risk making provocative public statements about China’s “internal affairs”. It seems unlikely that the leader of any big European country will receive the Dalai Lama again. This week Global Times, a Communist Party paper, crowed that Britain, France and Germany dare not jointly provoke China “over the Dalai Lama issue”. Even America’s Barack Obama delayed meeting the Dalai Lama until after his first visit to China in 2009, tacitly conceding China’s point that the meeting was not a matter of principle, but a bargaining chip.
If China is getting its way diplomatically on Tibet, it is not because repression there has eased. Over the past two years, more than 120 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest. This week, exiles reported the sentencing of nine Tibetans for alleged separatist activity. Similarly, although freedoms for the majority in China have expanded, dissidents are still persecuted. The most famous of them, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel peace prize, remains in jail for no more than advocating peaceful, incremental political reform.
China has succeeded in shifting human rights and Tibet far down the agenda of its international relations for three reasons. One, of course, is its enormous and still fast-growing commercial clout. Not only is it an important market for sluggish Western economies. It is also a big potential investor—in high-speed rail and nuclear projects in Britain, for example.
Second, alarm at China’s expanding military capacity and its assertive approach to territorial disputes is also demanding foreign attention. Joe Biden, the American vice-president, arrived in Beijing from Tokyo on December 4th. Liu Xiaobo and Tibet may have been among his talking-points, but a long way below China’s declaration last month of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over islands disputed with Japan, and the economic issues on which he had hoped to concentrate.
A third factor is China’s tactic of linking foreign criticism to economic and strategic issues. Global Times, not satisfied with Mr Cameron’s contrition, used his visit to chide Britain for the support it has shown Japan over the ADIZ, and for its alleged fomenting of trouble in Hong Kong. China might argue that linkage is something it learned from the West, and the days when its normal trading ties with America were hostage to human-rights concerns. But now China itself seems happy to use commercial pressure to bully Japan or Britain, for example.
That democracy thing
It is also an advantage for China that the country is not much of an issue in the internal politics of its Western partners. No Western government faces a threat from an anti-government Chinese diaspora, let alone a Tibet lobby. By contrast, Sri Lankan politicians like to point out that their fiercest foreign critics are in countries, such as Britain and Canada, where governments seek the votes of ethnic-Tamil Sri Lankan émigrés, some of whom sympathise with the Tamil Tiger rebels routed in 2009. Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, boycotted the Commonwealth summit. So did Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, where the Tamil vote is of even greater importance. Neither Mr Singh nor Mr Harper has any qualms about courting China’s leaders.
Moreover, with domestic economies in the doldrums, Western voters seem not to want their leaders grandstanding on issues of moral principle abroad. In America, for example, for the first time in nearly 40 years of surveys, one just published by Pew Research found more than half (52%) of respondents agreeing that America should “mind its own business internationally”. So Western leaders have few incentives to act tough in China, and plenty of reasons to tone down their criticisms of its government. But hypocrisy does not make you right, either.
on: Dec 06, 2013, 07:00 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Iran's Revolutionary Guards arrest internet activists
Contributors to pro-opposition social networking websites accused of acting against national security
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 18.12 GMT
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have carried out a new wave of arrests of cyber activists and members of pro-opposition social networking websites.
Kaleme, a leading opposition website, reported on Thursday that at least five Iranians who had shared news about the situation of political prisoners on Facebook have recently been held by the security apparatus of the country's elite forces. They were identified as Amir Golestani, Masoud Ghasemkhani, Fariborz Kardar, Seyed Masoud Seyed Talebi and Roya Irani.
According to Kaleme, some of the five Iranians were administrators of popular cultural and social pages on Facebook but had occasionally shared or published posts about the opposition Green movement and its members behind bars in Iranian prisons. The activists are being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Iran's English-language state newspaper, Tehran Times, also said on Wednesday that 16 people that officials have linked to "foreign agents" were arrested in the southern province of Kerman for crimes related to cyber offences.
"These individuals … are accused of acting against national security through co-operation with foreign networks and designing websites and developing content for counter-revolutionary websites with the aim of overthrowing the Islamic Republic system," said Ahmad Qorbani, Kerman's deputy prosecutor general, reported Tehran Times.
It was not clear if the five cyber activists were linked to the arrests made in Kerman.
Earlier in the week, a popular Iranian technology website, Narenji, said that seven of its employees, including journalists and technical staff, had been arrested by Revoultionary Guards. They are Aliasghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nasim Nikmehr, Malihe Nakhaie, Mohammadhossein Mousavizadeh and Sara Sadjadpour.
Another opposition website, Sahamnews, also reported that Samad Khatibi, a film-maker and designer, who had been involved in the campaign supporting Hassan Rouhani for the presidential office, was arrested 10 days ago upon arriving in Tehran from the Netherlands. Sahamnews said Khatibi's family had been warned by the authorities not to speak to the media, adding that he still remains in custody.
It was not clear whether Khatibi or any of the 16 cyber activists arrested separately have had access to proper legal representation but political prisoners in Iran are often denied immediate access to their lawyers and their family members.
Rouhani ran for office on promises of bringing moderation back to the forefront of Iranian politics and pledged improvement in the situation of press freedom and social liberties in the Islamic republic. As the president assumed power, judicial authorities released a number of prominent political prisoners, including the acclaimed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and gave others leave from prison.
But a large number of political prisoners are still being held in prison and the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi remain under house arrests although they have never been put on trial.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the judiciary, controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are independent of the Iranian government under Rouhani as well as the intelligence ministry. Many of the arrests in recent years of activists and politicians have been carried out independently by the revolutionary guards.
The arrests do not necessarily have the support of the government but the moderate president has so far kept muted over the new crackdown campaign.
December 5, 2013
New Emotion, Hope, Sweeps Across Iran in Aftermath of Temporary Nuclear Pact
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — For years, the workers at the Iranian printing house spewed out posters with state propaganda calling for “Death to America” and resistance to the West.
Now, in the aftermath of the temporary nuclear agreement reached last month between Iran and the world powers — and the lifting of some of the economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy — they have their eye on a new market: Christmas cards for Iranian companies that want to reach out once again to their international contacts.
“We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ali Sabzevari, one of the company’s employees, who said the company was flooded with orders for greeting cards after the deal. “We all want to be part of the world again.”
Increasingly isolated in recent years as the sanctions noose tightened, Iran’s window to the world has opened a tiny bit as the nuclear agreement promises to ease some sanctions on petrochemical exports and spare parts for Iranian cars and airplanes, as well as releasing $7 billion in funds frozen from oil sales.
While the most debilitating sanctions remain in effect, including those on oil sales and banking transactions, Iran has been swept in recent weeks with an unaccustomed emotion — hope. It has spread among private investors, companies and state-run factories that have begun to plan for a future in which all measures against the country will be lifted.
Even the most cynical say that, if nothing else, something is better than nothing.
“My company was on the verge of bankruptcy,” said Mr. Sabzevari, who added that he had felt humiliated for the years he had to resort to printing anti-American propaganda. “At least this is a first step toward a more humane life. Let’s just say that printing Christmas greetings makes me feel a whole lot happier. I guess that’s a start.”
President Hassan Rouhani, who was surprisingly elected in June promising to end the nuclear crisis, improve the economy and restore the “dignity of Iranians in the world,” has together with his administration gone out on a limb to try to convince his people that good times are underway.
They point to a 14 percent gain in Tehran’s stock market since the signing of the deal, the stabilization of the national currency and a drop in the inflation rate.
Mr. Rouhani has promised that the agreement is a first step to “the collapse of the sanctions regime.” Western companies, such as the French oil giant Total and Anglo-Dutch Shell, have said they are eager to return to the Iranian market, as have the French automakers Renault and Peugeot.
“Following our victories in domestic and foreign policy, now people have got their eyes on the economy,” the minister of the economy, Ali Tayyebnia, told a semiofficial news agency last week.
In front of Tehran’s stock exchange, Hassan Zarif said he had noticed a positive change since the nuclear deal was reached. After 10 dry years, business had picked up for the Persian-language translations of American books for investors that he sells.
“This one sells pretty good,” Mr. Zarif said, holding up a copy of “Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets,” by John J. Murphy. “But people also love books with Warren Buffett on them.”
Mr. Zarif, who said he was not related to Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he himself had bought some shares in a petrochemical company, making a profit of about $400 in recent months. “Not bad for someone like me,” he said, laughing while pointing at his torn clothes.
Inside the exchange people stared at monitors showing various indexes, under a portrait of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that also had the words, “Be a supporter of the leader, so the country will be good.” Noticing an uptick in the shares of cement factories and petrochemical companies, most semi-state owned, two middle-class women carrying designer bags said they had come to start trading.
“I’m taking a bet,” said Shirin Askari of Tehran, who was ready to invest $1,200 she had saved. “But it might just work out, maybe this is the right moment to step in and hope for growth.”
The rise of the stock exchange also has to do with investors selling their gold and currency, said one trader, Mohammad Hassannejad. “It seems our currency will be stable for now, so those with money are coming here,” he said.
Mr. Zarif, standing outside next to his books, said he hoped good times were finally coming.
If it turned out differently, that would not be a real problem. “In Iran even in difficult times, some people are capable of making money,” he said.
Some experts on the economy cautioned that the euphoria could be short-lived. “It shows people are desperate for good news,” said Kevan Harris, a Princeton University sociologist who conducts research on Iran’s economy and travels regularly to the country. “Bad news can prick that bubble.”
on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:56 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Denmark's collaborative culture makes it a breeding ground for sustainability
Proactive government, social responsibility and a willingness to collaborate have put Denmark ahead on sustainability
Guardian Professional, Friday 6 December 2013 11.44 GMT
"Welcome to Denmark", reads a large bottle-green billboard at Copenhagen's international airport. "That deserves a Carlsberg" the strapline continues, it proves that the Danes like their beer. In fact, they like it so much that they want everyone to have a taste. So in 1883, when Carlsberg scientist Emil Christian Hansen hit on a process for propagating pure yeast, the emblematic Danish brewer declined to patent the discovery. As a result, most larger beers in the world today can be dated back to Hansen's breakthrough.
The story behind Hansen's yeast, catchily titled Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis, says a lot about Denmark. For one, the small Scandinavian country holds few things in higher esteem than good science. Just look at a list of the country's largest companies. Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, shipping and oil/gas giant Maersk, renewable energy provider Dong, thermostat manufacturer Danfoss, and so forth: lab coats reign.
Second, they're happy – or happier than most – to co-operate. That's partly down to size: with a population of less than 5.6 million people, clubbing together makes sense. History plays its part too. In the early industrial period, when Denmark's economy was still predominantly rural, its farmers formed some of Europe's earliest and most significant agricultural co-operatives. Bundle that up with a strong Protestant work ethic, and you have a culture that understands the merits both of industriousness and interdependence.
Sustainability wise, that puts Denmark pretty far down the track from the off. Notions of participation, dialogue, collaboration, societal responsibility and wealth distribution (or shared value, to give it its contemporary moniker) – all the themes around which the modern sustainability movement is built – come relatively naturally to Danes. The country's generous (and expensive) welfare system and progressive labour laws are objects of national pride, not ideological division.
Not that Denmark is some kind of green, ethical haven. A quick glance at the campaign website DanWatch highlights the kinds of corporate misdemeanours common the world over. In fact, with an upsurge in the outsourcing of manufacturing in recent years, Danish brands are more in the firing line now than ever. IC Companys, Bestseller, PWT Group and DK Company, for example, were among the Denmark-based retailers embroiled in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year.
Nor is all well at home. Economic growth is hobbling along, as is Denmark's aging population, both of which are putting the country's much-prized welfare model under strain. Unemployment benefit for those out of work for more than two years was recently cut by 40%, for example.
Neither does a natural affinity for matters sustainable necessarily translate into effective practice. Danish firms may implicitly understand the importance of social and environmental issues, says Copenhagen-based sustainability consultant Tania Ellis, but few think about it strategically. Outside Denmark's small coterie of huge companies, most firms lack formal systems for managing their impacts or internal structures for developing sustainable innovation. It's time they got explicit, argues Ellis.
What distinguishes Denmark from almost all its European peers, however, is the proactive approach of successive governments to sustainability issues. The country's environmentalists point out that Denmark was the first in the continent to establish an official environment ministry (back in 1971, almost three decades before the UK).
Early regulatory crackdowns on industrial waste and pollution have since expanded into tax incentives for low-carbon technologies (Denmark boasts some of the most cutting edge wind turbine manufacturers in the world today) and renewable energy generation. The country's bias towards science and knowledge-based industries has helped smooth the way, according to Peder Holk Nielsen, chief executive of industrial biotech firm Novozymes: "It's been easier in Denmark than it has been in some of our neighbouring countries where there are massive [heavy] industries that need to be defended."
Another unprecedented step came in 2005, when the government bankrolled a national sustainability campaign offering free conferences and materials to small business managers and employees. This three-year People and Profit project was followed in 2008 by an Action Plan for Social Responsibility (PDF).
Pitched as the first of its kind by a national government anywhere in the world, the plan included a pledge (which came into force in 2010) to make Denmark's largest 1,100 companies report their non-financial performance on an annual basis. It also envisioned a suite of public-funded resources for businesses of all sizes, from information on sustainability standards through to practical management tools, such as the CSR Compass and Climate Compass. In 2012, the current government updated the initial Action Plan with a new three-year framework, reasserting its belief in sustainable business "as an integral part of the agenda for growth".
Although Denmark's business leaders sometimes grumble about excessive government intervention, most broadly welcome the stimulus and direction offered by policymakers in recent years. "It [the national Action Plan] is very useful in signalling that this is a government priority", says Lise Kingo, executive vice president at Novo Nordisk. Kingo also wears the hat of chair of the Danish Council for Corporate Social Responsibility, a cross-sector group set up by the government to push forward sustainability in the private sector.
The fruits of so much official support are slowly beginning to show, as innovative enterprises like ethical furniture designer Mater and the green clothing brand Katvig illustrate. Praise is rarely met out to legislators and policymakers these days. When it comes to Denmark's journey towards sustainability, however, they deserve it more than most.
on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:54 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Black Pete: Dutch relic of Christmas past prompts racism row
Criticism of Santa Claus's sidekick, known locally as Zwarte Piet and usually portrayed by white person in blackface, reaches UN
Leo Cendrowicz in Breda
The Guardian, Friday 6 December 2013
As the Netherlands gears up for its annual Saint Nicholas celebration on Friday, the festivities are in danger of being overshadowed by a growing row over his helper and clown, "Black Pete".
While families exchange presents and eat cakes to welcome Santa Claus's slimmer and more sober ancestor, criticism of the crude depictions of his sidekick, known locally as Zwarte Piet, has reached the United Nations.
The clown is usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, who goes around offering sweets to good children and, according to legend, threatens to collect naughty ones in a sack to be taken to Zwarte Piet's home in Spain. But he is increasingly reviled by critics as a racist relic of Christmases past.
Momentum has been growing against the custom, in part thanks to campaigners such as Quinsy Gario, a poet and activist born in the former Dutch colony of Curaçao who was arrested two years ago for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Black Pete is racism" at a Saint Nicholas parade in the city of Dordrecht. Gario's message is that the tradition perpetuates crude stereotypes.
In October a United Nations adviser on minority rights described Black Pete as "a throwback to slavery". Verene Shepherd, a Jamaican academic who chairs the UN working group of experts on people of African descent, said on Dutch TV: "As a black person, I feel that if I were living in the Netherlands, I would object to it."
Shepherd's intervention prompted an indignant reaction on Facebook from Black Pete's defenders. A Facebook "Pietitie" (Pete-ition) defending the custom earned more than two million likes, a startling number for a country of just 17 million. The populist anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders said it would be better to scrap the UN than Black Pete. Both the prime minister, Mark Rutte, and the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, offered carefully worded statements of support.
The criticisms have provoked debate about identity and image within the Netherlands, which prides itself on tolerance and social harmony. Peter Jan Margry, a researcher at the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, said: "For too long, we have seen ourselves as a less racist society, and never thought that the comical Black Pete figure could be offensive."
Most Dutch remain stubbornly attached to the custom. An October opinion poll revealed that 91% of Dutch did not want to change the tradition to placate the country's ethnic minorities.
In Breda, just north of the Belgian border, Black Pete features as dolls in shop windows, as gingerbread cakes, and in parades alongside Saint Nicholas. Most of the locals say it is an innocent family tradition, hammered by political correctness. "I don't see why this is offensive: he's friendly and fun," says Dirk Bakker, a taxi driver. Sophie de Vries, a café barrista, claims the criticism misses the point: "Some say he is a black man, but I was always told that his face was simply dirty because he climbed down the chimney," she says. Even Edgar Pelkmans, a student from the former Dutch colony of Surinam, said the practice was harmless: "I'm not that offended: he's like one of Santa's elves."
However, the tone appears to have changed. In the recent Amsterdam parade for Saint Nicholas, Black Pete's big hoop earrings were deliberately sacrificed, and there were even portrayals of him in colours other than black. "There is a more pronounced sense of cultural embarrassment now," says James Kennedy, an American historian at the University of Amsterdam, who sees this as a turning point. "Although many Dutch see themselves as beyond racism, and insist no offence is intended, there is a definite trend against Black Pete. While he may still be here in 10 years, I don't think he will still be around 20 years from now."
on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:48 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ....
Pussy Riot members not expected to be freed in Russian amnesty
President implies punk band members and Mikhail Khodorkovsky will not be among those released
Associated Press in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 11.57 GMT
The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has hinted that members of the punk band Pussy Riot, the former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and others widely referred to as political prisoners will not be freed in an forthcoming amnesty.
The bill granting long-awaited amnesty for thousands of Russian prisoners is expected to be sent to the Russian parliament in the coming days.
Human rights organisations describe dozens of Russians including members of Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky and 28 people charged with violent rioting at last year's opposition protest on Bolotnaya Square as political prisoners.
Medvedev said in a television interview on Friday that Russians were "not inclined" to grant amnesty to those who had committed violent crimes and "crimes against society including hooliganism", an obvious reference to the Bolotnaya protesters and Pussy Riot.
Medvedev insisted Russia had no political prisoners.
on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:43 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
France will increase penalties for ivory traders
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 5, 2013 21:00 EST
President Francois Hollande said Thursday France would increase fines for illegal trading in ivory and endangered animal species.
Speaking at a round table on poaching that gathered French and African leaders, Hollande said he had asked Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to ramp up action against trafficking in imperilled species and animal parts.
Police and customs officials will be directed to step up surveillance, he said.
Purchasing illegal ivory “has to be an act that is clearly punishable,” Hollande said.
“The profitability of poaching (must) be placed under threat through heavy fines.”
According to presidential aides, fines will be increased tenfold.
Hollande called for better cooperation between national customs authorities, as well as standardised penalties, to close loopholes.
France will put forward proposals next February for giving the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) more powers in fighting the trade in endangered species, Hollande added.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the global trade in wildlife is worth between $15-20 billion (11.02-14.7 billion euros) annually.
The round table was held on the eve of a two-day summit on peace and security in Africa, expected to be attended by about 40 leaders from the continent.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:40 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Ukraine protesters branded 'Nazis and criminals' but refuse to leave streets
Tension rises in Kiev as police chief pledges 'harsh' action against demonstrators ignoring court order to disperse
Reuters in Kiev
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 09.36 GMT
Ukrainian pro-Europe demonstrators vowed to stay on the streets and continue their blockade of government buildings, despite a police threat to crack down "harshly" to enforce a court order that they disperse.
Kiev's decision on 21 November to abandon a trade and integration deal with the EU and pursue closer economic ties with Moscow brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets over the weekend. Protesters have since blockaded the main government headquarters and occupied Kiev's city hall.
The government ratcheted up its rhetoric on Thursday, with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov branding opponents "Nazis and criminals". Kiev's police chief, Valery Mazan, threatened to "act decisively, harshly" if the protesters defy the court order to end their blockade and occupation of government buildings.
But the protesters showed no sign of retreating, with thousands remaining steadfastly camped out in the streets deep into the night.
"Let them come; we will stay," Igor Vorkuta, 47, said of the police. "This is a peaceful revolution, there are no guns here," he said, warming his hands on a brazier in the winter cold near midnight in the square.
The crisis has exposed a gulf between Ukrainians, many from the west of the country, who hope to move rapidly into the European mainstream, and those mainly from the east who look to the former Soviet master Moscow as a guarantor of stability.
President Viktor Yanukovich had long promised to integrate with Europe while still maintaining friendly ties with Russia. His opponents, and some former supporters, considered his sudden eastward lurch a betrayal.
It has also reignited Cold War-era antagonism between Russia and western Europe, even as foreign ministers gathered in Ukraine for a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a body that includes both Nato members and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
European foreign ministers used their visits to Kiev to show open solidarity with the demonstrators, beginning with Germany's Guido Westerwelle who trekked to the square to meet opposition leaders on Wednesday. He was followed by others on Thursday.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, countered by accusing the Europeans of "hysteria".
Tension could rise even further on Friday with new court proceedings against jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Brussels considers her a political prisoner and had campaigned in vain for her release before Kiev broke off negotiations.
Azarov spoke sharply to Westerwelle on Thursday about the opposition, which includes far-right nationalist groups as well as pro-European liberals.
"Nazis, extremists and criminals cannot be, in any way, our partners in 'Eurointegration'," the government website quoted Azarov as telling the German foreign minister.
Westerwelle expressed concern about police behaviour at the weekend's protests, when dozens of people were severely beaten.
"Recent events, in particular the violence against peaceful demonstrators last Saturday in Kiev worry me greatly," said Westerwelle. "The way Ukraine responds to the pro-European rallies is a yardstick for how seriously Ukraine takes the shared values of the OSCE."
Ukraine protests: mediator flies in as paralysing standoff continues
Council of Europe's secretary general calls on Ukrainian authorities to launch independent inquiry into police violence
Shaun Walker in Kiev
theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 December 2013 17.12 GMT
A European mediator flew into Kiev to meet with the Ukrainian government and opposition on Wednesday, but there was no sign of an end to the standoff that has paralysed the centre of the city and the work of the government for days.
Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, was sober about the possibility of progress after meeting with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and said he had impressed upon the Ukrainian authorities the need to launch an independent investigation into police violence against peaceful protesters over the weekend.
"It's important to have an investigation into this that everyone can trust," said Jagland, adding that he hoped to facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition parties. "I don't know whether it is possible to have this dialogue," he admitted.
Azarov, who was carried through an emotional no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday by the support of President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, criticised the protest movement during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
"We must decide all this in a calm environment," he said. "Not in the streets, but in a responsible dialogue." However, opposition politicians, including heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, have called for the government to resign and for snap presidential elections. They say they will continue to blockade government buildings until their demands are met.
Demonstrations began after Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the EU, citing the importance of ties with Russia. The unrest appeared to be dying down, until riot police cleared Independence square of protesters on Saturday, in violent scenes which provoked a mass protest on Sunday.
The square, hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution, remains barricaded and filled with protesters, and the three main opposition parties insist that there can be no negotiations until Yanukovych calls snap elections. Yanukovych himself has left the country for a long-planned visit to China, where he took time out to view the terracotta army on Wednesday, apparently unconcerned by events at home.
"The big question is whether the opposition can keep people coming to the square, and keep the pressure on, or whether people will get bored," said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. "The next week will show us who the winner is."
Russia and the west have accused each other of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs, with the EU furious that the trade deal, years in the making, was scuppered after apparent pressure from Moscow.
Meanwhile Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Brussels, lashed out at Nato for its criticism of the Ukrainian authorities' violent response to protests. "I don't understand why Nato adopts such statements," said Lavrov. "I hope that Ukrainian politicians will be able to bring the situation into a peaceful vein. We encourage everybody not to interfere."
12/05/2013 06:21 PM
Rebel Broadcast: Web Channel a Key Source Amid Ukraine Protests
The online station Hromadske.TV has become the go-to site for Ukrainians critical of the Yanukovych regime. As protests heat up, its journalists and volunteers cover the news that state-backed stations will not.
The office of the online TV channel Hromadske.TV ("open TV") is located on the fourth floor of an office building in an outer neighborhood of Kiev, Ukraine. At 100 square meters, with squeaky linoleum, a pitched roof and stale air, this is the unassuming headquarters of the main news organ of the protests against President Viktor Yanukovych.
When hundreds of thousands of people went into the streets on Sunday, over 1.5 million viewers watched the event on Hromadske.TV. The station was started by a group of journalists, most of whom used to work for the country's large TV stations, but left because of patronizing censorship by the government and the stations' owners, the powerful oligarchs. Hromadske.TV's strategy: What it lacks in money it makes up for in know-how.
The studio is a table in the corner, with a handful of monitors for the technicians next to it. They use them to cut to the large demonstrations on Independence Square, or to the chains of police officers around the parliament building. Journalists report live from the site of the protests -- the station has bought a few iPhones which, thanks to an app, they use to film events themselves and send recordings directly to the studio.
Ambitious News for Little Money
The station pays $2,000 (€1,470) in rent for the studio, which is located in the Vector business center. In one corner, Tatjana Danilenko, a 30-year-old news anchor from Channel 5, is speaking with guests about an attack on the president's office in which a bulldozer was used. The guests all agree the attack was caused by provocateurs the government paid to make the demonstrators look violent.
When the station went on the air for the first time, a few weeks ago, the plan was to do one show per week. About two dozen employees were involved in the launch, but now the station employs over 100 people, including many volunteers. Since the start of the protests, the station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station has locations set up everywhere in the city to report the movements of protesters and police units.
Are people going into the streets because, contrary to Yanukovych's recent decisions, they want to be brought closer to the European Union? "It's a combination of reasons," says Lyudmila Yankina. "Anger at the police because they treat citizens like criminals, anger about bad streets and corruption, and, of course, the hope for Europe."
Yankina is no journalist. Her day job is as an adviser at a company in Kiev. Her boss gave her time off so she could coordinate the army of volunteers at the rebel station. "The people watch us because they trust us," she says. Every bit of news is checked. When unrest spread among the demonstrators because there were rumors tanks were being moved to Kiev with trains, the station's volunteers swarmed out. They went to train stations and train tracks around Kiev and gave the all-clear: No sign of tanks, Hromadske.TV reported.
Rebels from Others Stations
The only man in the room with a shirt and jacket introduces himself: Sergei Andrushko, the parliamentary correspondent. Like most of the people at Hromadske.TV, he comes from an established Ukrainian station with a large scope, big budget and little freedom.
He recently worked for TVi, a channel which was founded by a Russian oligarch, but was, for a long time, dedicated to independent journalism and criticizing the government. In April, the channel was taken over by a businessman close to the energy minister. Sergei Andrushko and 30 other reporters resigned shortly thereafter, in protest of attempts to influence the station's reporting. They now form the core of the Hromadske team.
TVi is an exception. The large TV stations in the country have long been the playthings of the government and opaque businesspeople. The most popular channel, Inter, belongs to the oligarch Dmytro Firtash and Yanukovych's chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin. Inter had previously been run by the head of the secret service. Channel 5 belongs to the billionaire and former finance minister Petro Poroshenko. "I know the heads of the channels are regularly brought in by the government," says Sergei Andrushko.
Hromadske.TV's problem is money. In order to be independent from the oligarchs, it doesn't carry any advertising. The station is financed by donations from inside and outside of the country. The US consulate and the Netherlands provided the start-up funds and viewers have donated €30,000. It's enough for the rent, the iPhones and a few cameras.
So far no journalist has received a wage. Most of them keep afloat with other jobs. Andrushko writes articles on the side for, among others, the web portal Ukrayinska Pravda.
He hopes the station enjoys success that goes beyond the anti-Yanukovych protests, and becomes the nucleus of a new kind of TV journalism in Ukraine. He wants to challenge the channels of the billionaires. "The viewers love us," Andrushko says. "We are starting it, the downfall of the oligarchs' TV monster."