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 51 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In a Final Act, Karzai Orders Execution of 5 Men in Rape Case

By ROD NORDLAND
SEPT. 27, 2014
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Hamid Karzai’s last major act as president of Afghanistan may well be his order on Saturday to execute five men who were convicted of rape after a trial that the United Nations’ top human rights official has denounced as unfair.

The convictions were based entirely on the defendants’ confessions, which all five men testified during the appeals process were obtained by torture at the hands of the police. One of the five men said he was beaten so badly that he would have confessed to incest with his mother.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, called on Mr. Karzai and his successor, Ashraf Ghani, who will be inaugurated on Monday, not to carry out the death penalty “and to refer the case back to courts given the due process concerns,” according to a statement issued by his spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani.

Mr. Zeid’s appeal may well come too late, because there were indications that the executions would be carried out speedily. Mr. Karzai has already promised to see the men executed once the Supreme Court upholds their convictions, which it now has done.

The police chief of Kabul, Gen. Zaher Zaher, said on Afghan television on Saturday night that the five men would be hanged on the grounds of the main Pul-i-Charkhi prison, with the victims present as witnesses. He did not say when, but since Mr. Karzai is president for only one more day, it was likely that the order would be carried out on Sunday.

The five men were among seven convicted of the rape and robbery of four women who were stopped by assailants in police uniforms as they returned from a wedding party just outside of Kabul on Aug. 23.

All seven were convicted after a hurried trial on Sept. 7, but an appeals court reduced the death sentences of two of them to 20 years in prison. The two claimed they were burglars arrested in an unrelated crime. One suspect said the police forcibly put a police uniform on him and then photographed him in it. The accused were confronted by their victims in a lineup at which they were the only ones present, and one of the victims initially picked out a detective and a police cook as her assailants, until police officers corrected her and indicated the “correct” suspects, according to testimony at their appeals.

In addition, the three defense lawyers for the men said they had received death threats. One quit in the middle of the proceedings, while another said the lawyers were too frightened to mount any sort of defense. The public reacted angrily to the rapes, with many people complaining that the culprits — who come from an area well known for its many prominent gangsters and shady politicians — would just buy their way out of justice.

“No judiciary, anywhere in the world, is so robust that it can guarantee that innocent life will not be taken, and there is an alarming body of evidence to indicate that even well-functioning legal systems have sentenced to death men and women who were subsequently proven innocent,” Mr. Zeid said.

Even before the trial of the seven men took place, Mr. Karzai had publicly promised that they would be executed when found guilty, arousing criticism from human rights groups — mostly outside Afghanistan.

The president’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, announced on Twitter that the execution order had been signed.

One of the defense lawyers, Najibullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said that the execution order was invalid because Mr. Karzai’s term in office expired constitutionally during the long delay in announcing the winner of the presidential elections.

“From the day they were arrested, all the actions against them were contrary to the laws,” Najibullah said. “For example, the right to keep silent, the right to have a defense lawyer present, the right to have sufficient time to prepare a defense.”

Patti Gossman, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Whoever is pushing for this kind of vigilante justice does not have the interests of Afghan women, or civil society in general, in mind. It’s been a show trial, and unfortunately many Afghans see it as justice — which speaks volumes for how little judicial reform has happened under Karzai.”

In its statement, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “While this was a horrible crime, we have been concerned about the lack of due process and the failure to comply with national and international fair trial standards in the proceedings.”

The United States has spent more than $900 million in an effort to improve the judiciary system and other aspects of the rule of law in Afghanistan in the past decade. The country’s legal system has also received heavy investment from other Western donors, including the United Nations.

 52 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:32 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Turkey Inching Toward Alliance With U.S. in Syria Conflict

By ANNE BARNARD and MARK LANDLER
SEPT. 27, 2014
IHT

KARACA, Turkey — No American ally is closer to the threat of the Islamic State than Turkey, and no country could play a more important role in a coalition that President Obama is assembling to combat the extremist Sunni militants. Yet Turkey has been reluctant to enlist, in part because of the desperate conflict playing out on its border with Syria.

On hilltops within sight of frontier outposts like this one, black-clad Islamic State fighters have been battling for the last week with Kurdish militants defending Kobani, a besieged Kurdish area that has become the prize in a fierce struggle between Syria’s embattled Kurds and the rampaging Islamic State militants. Turkish fighters have watched from behind the border fence.

It is a violent, murky situation, with the Turkish authorities preventing Kurds from crossing into Syria to help their Kurdish brethren fight, while Syrian Kurds are fleeing into Turkey to escape the militants. The chaos on the border, and Turkey’s ambivalent reaction, is a reflection of Turkey’s complex role in the Syrian civil war raging to its south. Turkey is caught between conflicting interests: defeating Islamic militants across its border while not enhancing the power of its own Kurdish separatists.

The dilemma played out on Saturday here as outgunned Kurdish fighters battled the militants at close range, within several hundred yards of the border fence. At the same time, the United States conducted its first strikes against the Islamic State moving into Kobani villages from another direction.

Mr. Obama wants Turkey to stop the flow of foreign fighters traveling through the country to join the Islamic State. As a NATO ally, Turkey could also take part in military operations and provide bases from which to carry out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Turkish leaders have condemned the brutality of the Islamic State, but they worry that the American-led campaign against the militants will strengthen the Syrian Kurds, whose fighters maintain ties to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Adding to that pressure is the fact that the United States is allied with Kurds in Iraq.

After intense lobbying by the Obama administration at the United Nations General Assembly last week, Turkey finally appears ready to take a more active role in the fight.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday, returned home to declare that Turkey would no longer be a bystander. “Our religion does not allow the killing of innocent people,” he said. But on Saturday, in comments published in the newspaper Hurriyet, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey would defend its frontier pending authorization of military action in Syria expected at a special meeting of the Turkish Parliament on Thursday.

But the recruitment has been arduous, and Turkey’s military role is likely to be constrained by its complex interests in Syria. In a statement, the Obama administration said Mr. Biden and Mr. Erdogan had discussed the urgency of building a broad-based coalition to defeat the Islamic State “through a variety of means, including military actions.”

Mr. Obama did not meet Mr. Erdogan in New York, but called him from Air Force One to thank Turkey for taking care of “the massive influx of refugees flowing into Turkey, including tens of thousands this week alone.”

Turkey was initially reluctant to take an openly aggressive stance toward the Islamic State, because the militants had taken 46 Turkish citizens and three Iraqis hostage in Mosul, Iraq. On Sept. 20, Turkey obtained the release of the hostages in a covert intelligence operation. The circumstances of the release were murky — there were reports that Turkey had swapped prisoners for the hostages — but the return of the Turkish captives nevertheless stirred hopes that Turkey would feel less constrained in acting against the group.

Turkey’s most immediate concern, however, is the rise of tensions on its border. The United States and its Arab allies have carried out numerous airstrikes in eastern Syria, but until Saturday there had been no attacks around Kobani, a collection of mostly Kurdish farming villages, also known as Ayn al-Arab. Kurdish fighters had issued urgent calls for help, saying they had only light weapons and were struggling to hold off the extremists, whose fighters are armed with tanks and artillery.

Kurds on both sides of the border were angry that the United States did not do more earlier to protect Kobani, especially since an assault on Kurds from the minority Yazidi religious sect in Sinjar, Iraq, last month triggered the first American airstrikes against the Islamic State. Some Kurds suspected that the United States was ignoring Kobani to mollify Turkey.

A Turkish political analyst said the scenes at the border raised the possibility that Turkey sees the Kurds, and the semiautonomous zone they have carved out around Kobani during three years of civil war in Syria, as “a greater threat” than the Islamic State, which has seized parts of Iraq and Syria, imposing harsh rule in areas under its control.

Those competing priorities, said the analyst, Soli Ozel, a newspaper columnist and a lecturer at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, were likely among the remaining “sticking points” with the United States.

“Turkey will do something militarily,” he said, citing Mr. Erdogan’s comments to Hurriyet that he would consider using Turkish ground forces to set up a secure zone inside Syria. But one of Turkey’s goals, Mr. Ozel said, might be “to crush or dissolve the Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone” or to dilute its Kurdish identity by resettling the 1.5 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey — the vast majority of them Arabs — in the area. Several male residents of Kobani said in recent days that they had brought their families to safety in Turkey and planned to head back to fight. Some, presenting themselves as civilians, were allowed into Turkey after checks at a border post.

“If they need to locate them, I can insert a smart chip in my heart and go to the Islamic State fighters,” said Hajjar Sheikh Mohammad, 22, a Syrian Kurd trying to return to Syria to fight, suggesting that he would sacrifice himself to spot Islamic State targets.

On Friday, as the Islamic State fighters came closer, large crowds gathered on both sides of the border fence and broke it down. Hundreds of people streamed across. Entering Turkey were women, children and older men, one leading a cow. Entering Syria were hundreds of men, some carrying backpacks, one riding a motorcycle.

At first, the police and army forces withdrew, and the atmosphere was almost jovial, with people singing and standing on the fence. But then security forces returned, firing tear-gas canisters. A crowd of perhaps 1,000 people scattered in panic, and the security forces continued firing tear gas as the crowd fled on foot and in cars.

On Saturday, Syrian and Turkish Kurds cheered from hilltops dotted with fig and olive trees and foxholes as Kurdish fighters scaled a ridge and fired a heavy machine gun mounted on a pickup truck. Muzzle flashes could be seen as Islamic State fighters returned fire and zipped toward the front line in cars and on motorcycles.

Kurds argued with a Turkish officer who refused to let them cross.

“We are fighting on your behalf,” the soldier said. “You are not fighting,” one man said. “Aren’t we all Turkish, from the same nation?”

Complicating the geopolitical issues is the fact that the Kurdish militants defending Kobani, the People’s Protection Units, are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., the Turkey-based Kurdish militia that Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist group.

But the Kurdish militants in Kobani and Afrin further west have been among the more effective groups in Syria at carving out safe areas where Christians and Muslims have lived in relative safety and harmony.

Mr. Obama’s top military adviser, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, has suggested that the Kurds could be a ground force partner in Syria much as they have been in Iraq.

Though that prospect unsettles the Turks, some longtime experts say that Turkey’s interest in defeating the Islamic State is ultimately no different than that of the United States and its allies, even if it avoids military action.

“Perhaps Turkey will come to judge that they should participate or overtly support other allies in the airstrikes,” said Francis J. Ricciardone, who recently retired as the American ambassador to Turkey, “but less visible forms of support also can be important.”

 53 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
A Rare Arctic Land Sale Stirs Concerns in Norway

By ANDREW HIGGINS
SEPT. 27, 2014
IHT

LONGYEARBYEN, Norway — For anyone in the market for a majestic waterfront property with easy access to the North Pole, Ole Einar Gjerde has a deal. “We will throw in the polar bears for free,” said Mr. Gjerde, pitching the attractions of a huge tract of Arctic land two and half times bigger than Manhattan but considerably less noisy. It has a human population of zero.

But the sale of the property, across a frigid fjord from Longyearbyen, the capital of Norway’s northernmost territory, has kicked up a noisy storm fed by alarm over the Arctic ambitions of a Chinese real estate tycoon with deep pockets, a yen for ice and a murky past working for the Chinese Communist Party.

The tycoon, Huang Nubo, was rebuffed last year in an attempt to buy a tract of frozen wilderness in Iceland and has turned his attentions to Norway. This summer he reached a preliminary deal to buy a large waterfront plot for about $4 million near the northern city of Tromso and, according to Norway’s state-owned broadcaster, is also eyeing a much bigger and even more northerly property here on Spitsbergen, the main island in the Svalbard archipelago.

Mr. Huang’s company, Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group, denied reports in the Norwegian news media that it wants to buy land here in the high Arctic, and said it is focusing instead on plans for a luxury resort complex in Lyngen, a mountainous area on the Norwegian mainland near Tromso. That project, though centered on land much farther south than Svalbard, still puts Mr. Huang’s company inside the Arctic Circle and has set off a heated debate about his intentions.

“No need to doubt that billionaire Huang Nubo is a straw man for the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s authorities,” warned a commentary in Nordlys, northern Norway’s largest newspaper.

Ola Giaever, the seller of the property near Tromso, said he had “100 percent confidence” that Mr. Huang was a straight-up businessman with no hidden agenda. “This is a business deal. Nothing else is going on,” Mr. Giaever said in a telephone interview.

Such assurances, however, have done little to calm a frenzy of speculation about China seeking a permanent foothold in the Arctic, a region of growing geopolitical and economic significance as global warming opens new and cheaper shipping routes from Asia and also expands the prospects for exploiting the Arctic’s abundant natural resources.

“For anyone interested in geopolitics, this is the region to follow in years to come,” said Willy Ostreng, the president of the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research. Mr. Huang, he added, “might be just another smiling businessman” genuinely interested in simply developing tourism, but “we are talking about perceptions here.”

“And the perception is that China wants a foothold in the Arctic.”

Hungry for energy, China has “openly declared its Arctic ambitions,” said Mr. Ostreng, noting that Beijing had invested in an icebreaker, the Snow Dragon; sent scientists to Svalbard to join teams of international researchers; and successfully lobbied to become an observer at the Arctic Council, a grouping of nations with Arctic land, including Norway, Russia and the United States. It has also tried, so far without success, to get permission to build a large radar antenna on Svalbard.

China has even declared itself a “near Arctic state,” a big stretch as even its northernmost region lies more than 1,000 miles from the Arctic Circle. But, Mr. Ostreng said, “When you are a big country, you can claim to be whatever you want, and people believe you.”

Wariness of China’s intentions have been fueled in part by the widespread bewilderment here over China’s relentless efforts to punish Norway over the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to honor Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese dissident, with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Furious at the award, China has been on a four-year diplomatic tantrum, repeatedly snubbing Norwegian officials, slashing imports of Norwegian salmon and hectoring Norway for showing insufficient contrition for an award over which the government had no control.

Mr. Huang first attracted attention and suspicion in 2012 when he tried to buy a desolate, 100-square-mile tract of land in northern Iceland, saying he wanted to build a golf course and a high-end hotel for Chinese tourists. The project fell apart after baffled Icelandic officials invoked laws restricting foreign ownership of land.

In the case of Svalbard, however, Norway is barred by the 1920 Svalbard Treaty from imposing any such restrictions. The treaty granted Norway “absolute sovereignty” over the Arctic Archipelago, but also committed it to grant “complete equality” in the purchase and development of Svalbard land to the nationals of all the countries that signed the original treaty, or, like China, joined it later.

When the treaty was signed as part of the Versailles negotiations after World War I, the main economic activities on Svalbard were coal mining and fur trapping. Global warming and new technologies, however, mean that Svalbard now sits in the middle of what, in coming decades, is expected to be an Arctic gold rush.

The Arctic region, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, holds around 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its natural gas, reserves that have been untouched because of the difficulty and high cost of their development.

Russia, which recently announced plans to invest $400 billion on extracting Arctic resources over the next 20 years, believes the region has even more promise, though these plans could be disrupted by Western sanctions imposed over Ukraine.

Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, has said the Arctic holds over 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. He also indicated that Russia, despite its increasingly warm relations with China, was uneasy about Beijing’s push into the Arctic, warning that Russia faced “plenty of competition,” not only from nations with well-established Arctic claims like Canada, Norway and the United States, but also “countries which seem to be far from the Arctic,” including China and “even Singapore,” a tropical nation 4,500 miles from the Arctic. “The struggle for resources is getting tougher,” Mr. Sechin said.

The land now up for sale, owned by the descendants of a Norwegian shipper who acquired it in 1937, is the first property on Svalbard to go on the market since 1952, and is the only privately held territory left. All the rest is owned by the Norwegian state; a Norwegian state coal company, Store Norske; and a Russian state-owned coal company, the Arctic Coal Trust.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is unique,” said Mr. Gjerde (pronounced gyer-DA), a friend of the family that owns the land and a board member of Austre Adventfjord AS, a company set up last year to manage the property. Henning Horn, a Norwegian industrialist and farmer who owns the property along with other descendants of the original purchaser, is the chairman. Mr. Horn declined, through his lawyer, to be interviewed.

When Norwegian news media first reported the planned sale in April and then named Mr. Huang as a possible buyer, the government immediately came under pressure in Parliament and in the news media to make sure the land did not fall into foreign hands.

“Norway cannot take this risk. This is a matter of strategic importance for us,” Liv Signe Navarsete, a former minister and member of the Norwegian Parliament said in an interview. Norway, she added, is open to foreign investment, but after being browbeaten by Beijing for so long over the Nobel Peace Prize, it has no reason to roll out the welcome mat for a Chinese investor in the Arctic.

Norwegian officials, she said, have bent over backward to calm Chinese fury over the prize, accepting China as an observer in the Arctic Council, a position denied to the European Union, and refusing to meet Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, during a visit to the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in May. But China has still kept Norway in the deep freeze “to show the world that if you don’t do what they want, you will suffer,” Ms. Navarsete said.

Amid a rising clamor against any foreign sale, the government announced in May that it would work to ensure that the Svalbard property remained in Norwegian hands. “The government has decided to work for a solution involving a state takeover,” the trade minister, Monica Maeland, said in a statement. “It is entirely natural and right that the state is committed to taking over the property.”

Efforts to secure state control have yet to bear fruit.

Christin Kristoffersen, the mayor of Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s administrative center, said she supported a purchase by the Norwegian state to make sure the region’s fragile wilderness areas do not get swept up in a chaotic rush to exploit Arctic resources. “This is not an area for a new Klondike. We have to tread carefully,” the mayor said. “We should own this island. This is not anti-Chinese, but pro-Norwegian.”

Svalbard’s governor, Odd Olsen Ingero, also wants the state to step in, but stressed that even a private buyer would have to abide by strict zoning and environmental regulations. “Starting a hotel over there is unthinkable,” the governor said.

Representatives for the owners say the state is welcome to submit a bid but must follow market rules. “We are not in politics or geopolitics. We are in business. We will sell to the highest bidder,” said Arnstein Martin Skaare, a board member of the company managing the sale. “If Norway thinks this land is important for Norway, then it will buy it for a fair market price.”

What this price might be is a mystery, with estimates ranging from a few million dollars to over a billion.

“You can’t put a price on something that is unique,” said Mr. Ostreng, the polar research expert, noting that property came for sale so rarely in the high Arctic that there was no functioning market to establish even its approximate worth. The property’s immediate economic value, he said, is minimal, as its principal asset, coal, has only lost money for those mining elsewhere on Svalbard.

“But if you add in strategic value,” he said, “the price of this land is incalculable.”

 54 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Madrid plans city centre car ban

City links: We explore Madrid’s radical anti-car initiative, the world’s largest urban park in Athens and the future of crowded metropolises in this week’s roundup of the best city stories

Francesca Perry   
theguardian.com, Friday 26 September 2014 18.43 BST      

This week’s best city stories welcome a car-free Madrid, explore the empty urban landscape of Masdar, reflect on the world’s largest urban park in Athens and find out which cities will be the most densely populated in 2025.

We’d love to hear your responses to these stories and any others you’ve read recently, both at Guardian Cities and elsewhere: share your thoughts in the comments below.
Madrid goes car-free

Londoners may complain about the congestion charge, but drivers entering the city centre in Madrid may soon be fined 90 euros as part of a plan to rid the core city streets of cars. As CityLab explains, while part of the car-free zone is already in place, it is due to expand in 2015 to comprise most of Madrid’s central area. There are also aspirations to fully pedestrianise more streets and increase bus lanes, which adds to the city’s existing commitment to sustainable transport, including their new electric bike share system.

Earlier this year we asked if cars should be banned from city centres; now that cities like Madrid and Helsinki have taken a step in this direction, do you think others will follow suit?
The vacant city of tomorrow

On the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City was planned to be a model of urban sustainability as the world’s first carbon neutral, zero-waste city and the home to an alternative energies research centre. It ultimately aims to attract over 50,000 residents and a similar number of commuters – but as this video on Fast Co Exist shows us, the emerging city is a long way from that goal. Despite several businesses moving in – and around a hundred students – Masdar is revealed in the film to be an eerily vacant city in a perpetual state of “opening soon”.
The future is crowded

According to Bloomberg (as reported by CityMetric), the world’s most crowded city in 2025 will be Hong Kong, with a population density of almost 77,000 people per square mile. Latin American centres make up 7 of the 10 most crowded cities of the future: Mexico City’s population is estimated to rise beyond 24 million by 2025. This is exceeded only by the metropolitan region of Tokyo-Yokohama, which may swell to accommodate over 38 million people. Meanwhile, the rapidly expanding city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia is predicted to have the highest urban population growth in one generation, of a whopping 166%. What will life really be like for citizens of these largest and most crowded cities?
This overpass is over

Brussels, one of the most congested cities in Europe, has made the decision to demolish the Reyers overpass, part of the “Greater Ring” of the city’s road network. As explained on the Sustainable Cities Collective site, Brussels’ minister of public works announced that the removal of the overpass would enhance the liveability of the local area, transforming Reyers into “an urban boulevard where space will be given to cyclists and pedestrians next to the space reserved for cars.”
Athens goes green

Athens may not be known for its luscious green spaces, but that could change with its plans to create the world’s largest city park. As discussed in This City Life, one of our global network of urban bloggers, the development aims to take place on the deserted Hellinikon Airport site which was used as a hub for Olympic venues in 2004. At the moment, both sports stadiums and airport hangars lie vacant and overgrown – but could this soon turn into a 2 million square metres urban park for the citizens of Athens? Some are not so positive about the plans, believing them to be profit-driven.

This week we’re asking readers to share their photos and stories of abandoned sports stadiums like those in Athens – and suggest how they could be transformed.

 55 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Catalonia leader calls referendum on independence from Spain

President of region announces vote for November but Madrid government hopes court will deem it illegal

Agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 27 September 2014 10.56 BST   

The president of Spain’s north-eastern region of Catalonia has called an independence referendum in the latest secession push in Europe, and one of the most serious challenges to the state government in recent years.

The conservative Madrid -administration insists the referendum, planned for 9 November, is illegal and will not take place.

The Catalan leader, Artur Mas, called the referendum on Saturday. An emergency cabinet meeting is to be held on Saturday afternoon to address the issue.

It plans to challenge a recently-passed Catalan law permitting the referendum before the constitutional court, which it hopes will suspend the motion and halt the vote.

The announcement comes a week after Scotland voted against breaking away from the UK.

A long-standing pro-independence movement in Catalonia has gathered momentum during recent years of economic hardship.

Spain’s constitution doesn’t allow referendums on sovereignty that don’t include all Spaniards, and experts say the constitutional court would rule the vote illegal.

Mas has said he will not do anything illegal but insists the vote will be held. He has suggested that if a referendum can’t be held he may call early elections, which could be turned into a yes or no vote on independence. “We are open to negotiating the conditions of the referendum until the last moment,” he said.

Pro-independence sentiment in the economically strong region has surged in recent years, fuelled by a sense that the region deserves better fiscal and political treatment from Madrid.

While Mas called the referendum, hundreds of pro-independence supporters gathered in the square in front of the Catalan government building in the centre of Barcelona, with many wearing or waving pro-independence flags and chanting “independence.”

Polls indicate most Catalans favor holding the referendum but are roughly evenly split on independence.

 56 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Russia Says Relations with U.S. Need New 'Reset'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 September 2014, 12:42

Russian Foreign Minister Stooge Lavrov thinks relations between Moscow and Washington need a new "reset", he says in an interview to be aired Sunday, blaming the freeze on the United States.

"Now what's needed is something that the Americans will call a 'reset'," Lavrov told Russia's Channel 5 television, according to a transcript published on the foreign ministry's website.

He was referring to the drive to improve strained ties launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, when Lavrov's then U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton handed him a red button with the word "reset" misspelled in Russian.

"Today the present administration is destroying in large part the structures for cooperation that it itself created jointly with us," Lavrov lamented in the interview set to air late Sunday.

"Probably they will think up something else: Reset No. 2 or Reset 2.0," he joked.

He blamed the United States for the worsening relations as Washington has imposed harsh sanctions on Russian banks and companies and individuals close to the evil malignant tumor Pig Putin over Moscow's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"The main problem is that we absolutely have an interest in normalizing these relations, but it was not us who destroyed them," Lavrov said.

He said he talked frequently with Secretary of State John Kerry and there "are other channels of communication," but complained that: "We can't force the Americans to be friends with us, or even to hear us."

Bilateral dialogue continues, but in a "very reduced and truncated form", Lavrov said.

He said joint projects between Russia and the United States in areas such as drugs control and fighting terrorism were now all frozen "on the initiative of the American side".

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

Stooge Lavrov Slams U.S. 'Military Interference'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 September 2014, 22:09

Russian Foreign Minister Stooge Lavrov on Saturday accused the United States of resorting to "military interference" to defend its interests, in a veiled reference to the air campaign in Syria.

"Washington has openly declared its right to unilateral use of force anywhere to uphold its own interests," Lavrov told the U.N. General Assembly.

"Military interference has become a norm -- even despite the dismal outcome of all power operations that the U.S. has carried out over the recent years."

Lavrov cited the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia, the Iraq war, the Libya campaign and the Afghanistan mission as examples of U.S.-led military actions that he said had led to "chaos and instability."

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has criticized U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamist fighters in Syria as illegal and argued that the West should cooperate with Damascus in confronting the jihadists.

Lavrov charged that the United States and its western allies were portraying themselves as champions of democracy when in fact they were "trying to decide for everyone what is good or evil."

Russia has sent "large supplies of weapons and military equipment" to Iraq, Syria and other Middle East countries and will continue the military support, he said.

The diplomatic clash over military action in Syria has unfolded against the backdrop of East-West tensions over Ukraine, where pro-Moscow rebels in the east are fighting the pro-European government in Kiev.

Lavrov said Ukraine had "fallen victim" to Washington's "arrogant policy," asserting that the United States and the European Union supported a "coup d'etat" in Ukraine that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Speaking at the podium of the 193-nation Assembly, Lavrov called for restoring "global priorities" and "avoid making them hostages of a unilateral agenda."

Source: Agence France Presse

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

It Pays to Be The Malignant Tumor Pig Putin’s Friend

By STEVEN LEE MYERS, JO BECKER and JIM YARDLEY
SEPT. 27, 2014
IHT

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Weeks after President, the malignant tumor Pig V. Putin annexed Crimea in March, an obscure regulatory board in Moscow known as the Market Council convened inside an office tower not far from the Kremlin to discuss the country’s wholesale electricity market. It is a colossal business, worth 2 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, and a rich source of fees for the bank that had long held the exclusive right to service it.

With no advance notice or public debate, though, the board voted that day in April to shift that business to Bank Rossiya, a smaller institution that lacked the ability to immediately absorb the work. For Bank Rossiya, it was a tidy coup set to yield an estimated $100 million or more in annual commissions, yet it was hardly the only new business coming in. State corporations, local governments and even the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea were suddenly shifting their accounts to the bank, too.

In a matter of days, Bank Rossiya had received an enormous windfall, nearly all from different branches of the Russian state, which was delivering a pointed message. In late March, the United States had made Bank Rossiya a primary target of sanctions, effectively ostracizing it from the global financial system. Now the Kremlin was pushing back, steering lucrative accounts its way to reduce the pain.

The Malignant Tumor Pig Putin’s Way

Articles in this series are examining how  the malignant tumor Pig V. Putin’s system of personalized state-sponsored capitalism allows him to wield power at home and abroad.

The reason the Kremlin rushed to prop up Bank Rossiya is the same reason that the United States, and later its European allies, placed it on the sanctions list: its privileged status as what the Obama administration calls the “personal bank” of the  the malignant tumor inner circle. Built and run by some of the president’s closest friends and colleagues from his early days in St. Petersburg, Bank Rossiya is emblematic of the way  the malignant tumor’s brand of crony capitalism has turned loyalists into billionaires whose influence over strategic sectors of the economy has in turn helped him maintain his iron-fisted grip on power.

Now the sanctions are testing the resilience of his economic and political system. Even as President Obama argues that the measures aimed at  the malignant tumor’s inner circle are pinching Russia’s economy and squeezing the tycoons who dominate it, many of them have mocked the sanctions as a mere nuisance, the economic equivalent of a shaving cut, while the Kremlin has moved rapidly to insulate them.

Woven deeply into the malignant tumor Pig Putin system is Bank Rossiya. Founded as the tiniest of banks in the twilight of the Soviet era, Bank Rossiya, through staggering, stealthy expansion backed by the largess of the state, now has nearly $11 billion in assets. It controls a vast financial empire with tentacles across the economy, including a large stake in the country’s most powerful private media conglomerate, a key instrument of the Kremlin’s power to shape public opinion. How well the bank survives in a time of sanctions may ultimately be a barometer of whether economic pressure is enough to make  the malignant tumor stand down at a time when neighboring countries, especially in the Baltics, are increasingly anxious about a newly aggressive Russia.

The malignant tumor  came to power vowing to eliminate “as a class” the oligarchs who had amassed fortunes — and, to the new president’s mind, a dangerous quotient of political sway — under his predecessor, Boris N. Yeltsin, in the post-Communist chaos of the 1990s. Instead, a new class of tycoons have emerged, men of humble Soviet origins who owe their vast wealth to Mr. Putin, and offer unquestioning political fealty to him in return.

“These guys emerged from scratch and became billionaires under  the malignant tumor,” Sergei Aleksashenko, a former deputy finance minister and central banker, said in a recent interview.

If the modern Russian state is Kremlin Inc.,  the malignant tumor is its chief executive officer, rewarding his friends with control of state-owned companies and doling out lucrative government contracts in deals that provoke accusations of corruption but have the veneer of legality under the Putin system.

“He has given and he has taken away,” said Mikhail M. Kasyanov, who served as prime minister during  the malignant tumor's first term. “They depend on him, and he depends on them.”

This inner circle coalesced around  the malignant tumor as he began his unobtrusive rise, from a middling career as a K.G.B. intelligence officer to a midlevel functionary in the office of St. Petersburg’s mayor.

One of these loyalists is Bank Rossiya’s chairman and largest shareholder, Yuri V. Kovalchuk, a physicist by training, sometimes called the Rupert Murdoch of Russia for his role as architect of the bank’s media interests. Other Bank Rossiya shareholders include several of the country’s wealthiest men, the son of  the malignant tumor’s cousin and even an old St. Petersburg friend of his, a cellist who was formerly first chair at the fabled Mariinsky Theater.

The Kremlin has long denied giving  the malignant tumor’s friends preferential treatment. But in acquiring many of its holdings, the privately held Bank Rossiya benefited from Kremlin directives that allowed it to purchase prize state-owned assets at what critics have called cut-rate prices. Meanwhile the true extent of its holdings is obscured by shadowy corporate shell structures that nest like matryoshka dolls, one inside the next.

Records show that the ownership of one powerful television advertising company linked to Bank Rossiya, for example, is buried in offshore companies in Panama, in the British Virgin Islands and even at a simple concrete house on Karpathou Street in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, whose owner had no idea of the company registered there.

In the early days of the conflict over Ukraine, several European leaders expressed deep ambivalence about alienating a Russia that under  the malignant tumor’s rule has become immeasurably wealthier than it ever was under the Soviet system. Russia has been a sought-after partner in the globalized economy, a source of cheap natural gas for Europe, where wealthy Russians have also purchased billions of dollars in real estate in places like the Cote d’Azur and the Belgravia district of London.

But that resistance has to some extent eroded, especially since the downing of a commercial airliner over eastern Ukraine in July that killed 298 people. This month, despite an edgy truce between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in Ukraine, the West announced a new round of sanctions aimed not just at  the malignant tumor’s powerful cronies but at the Russian economy more broadly. Some argue, however, that this punitive strategy fundamentally misunderstands the way the Putin system works.

Gennady N. Timchenko, an oil trader and Bank Rossiya investor whose own holding company is also under sanctions, admitted in a recent interview with Itar-Tass to a measure of annoyance. He was unhappy that his Learjet had been grounded because of sanctions, and that he could not vacation in France with his family and dog, Romi, which happens to be the offspring of  the malignant tumor beloved black Labrador, Koni.

And yet, he said, he would never presume to question the Russian president’s policies in Ukraine, whatever the cost to companies like his. “That would be impossible,” he said, going on to refer to  the malignant tumor formally by his first name and patronymic. “Vladimir Vladimirovich acts in the interest of Russia in any situation, period. No compromises. It would not even enter our minds to discuss that.”

‘A Bouquet of Friends’

In the Kolomna district of St. Petersburg, near the shipyards, is a 19th-century palace that belonged to Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich, a son of Czar Aleksandr II. Lately its elegant halls — this one in Baroque style, this one English, this one Chinese — have been repurposed as the House of Music, a training academy for classical musicians.

The academy’s artistic director, Sergei P. Roldugin, has his own singular back story. He is an accomplished cellist and musical director. He is certainly not a businessman, he explained at the palace the other day. “I don’t have millions,” he said. And yet, on paper at least, he has a fortune that could be worth $350 million. That is because, years ago, he said, he acquired shares in a small bank run by men close to his old friend of the malignant tumor.

He had met  the malignant tumor in the 1970s, and is godfather to his eldest daughter, Maria. He opened the House of Music with Mr. Putin’s patronage. Last year, he recalled, the president asked him for a favor: would he organize a private concert?

So Mr. Roldugin traveled to the president’s official residence west of Moscow, Novo-Ogaryovo, with three young musicians: a violinist, a pianist and a clarinetist. They played Mozart, Weber and Tchaikovsky — so well, he said, that  the malignant tumor invited them to play again the next night for the same small group of friends who had gathered there.

They were “of course, very famous people,” Mr. Roldugin said, without revealing any names. “Quite all,” he said, “are under sanctions.”

The concerts are a glimpse into the small, remarkably cohesive group of men who came together around  the malignant tumor as the old order was crumbling and a new, post-Soviet Russia was taking form.

When the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, began to allow the first experiments in private enterprise in the 1980s, St. Petersburg was still Leningrad, an impoverished shadow of the czarist capital it had been.

An early adapter was Mr. Kovalchuk, a physicist at the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute, who founded an enterprise to turn its scientific work into commercially viable products. Another was Mr. Timchenko, a former Soviet trade official, who formed a cooperative to export products from an oil refinery on the Baltic Sea.

What brought  the malignant tumor into their orbit was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After five years as a K.G.B. officer in East Germany,  the malignant tumor was part of a wave of embittered military and intelligence officers who withdrew from the Soviet satellites and returned with few prospects to a changing homeland.

Still with the K.G.B., the malignant tumor came into contact with one of his former law professors: Anatoly A. Sobchak, a reformer who had just become chairman of the Leningrad legislature (and would later become mayor of the renamed St. Petersburg). He asked  the malignant tumor to become an adviser, to smooth relations with the still-powerful security services. And when the Soviet Union collapsed,  the malignant tumor joined Mr. Sobchak full time, overseeing a new committee on foreign economic relations.

The committee worked closely with Russia’s emerging entrepreneurs, regulating imports and exports and distributing city contracts. Some of the deals became controversial, notably one during the hungry winter of 1991-92, of a deal to barter oil, metal and other products for food. Virtually none of the food ever materialized, and a City Council committee unsuccessfully sought to have Mr. Putin fired for incompetence.

For all that, the malignant tumor was considered an efficient, unprepossessing administrator, helping businessmen cut through the bureaucracy. His fluency in German was useful with the many Germans seeking a foothold in the city. Among them was Matthias Warnig, formerly of the East German secret police, the Stasi, who opened one of the city’s first foreign banks, Dresdner.

The malignant tumor was, in short, both collecting new friends and laying the foundation for what would evolve into the system of personalized, state-sponsored capitalism now at the heart of his power.

“It was a favorable environment for such a bouquet of friends to appear,” explained Mikhail I. Amosov, who served on the City Council at the time.

In many cases, contracts and property were distributed through insider deals, often without open or transparent bidding. “Everything was decided through personal connections,” Mr. Amosov said. “We didn’t like it.”

One enterprise that received an infusion of municipal aid was Bank Rossiya.

The bank had been founded in 1990 at the initiative of the city’s branch of the Communist Party, with party funds as capital. It was also believed to handle the banking needs of the K.G.B. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was all but bust.

Mr. Kovalchuk stepped in. In December 1991, he and a group of friends secured a small loan from a local shoe manufacturer and bought the foundering bank. The investors included three other alumni of the Ioffe Technical Institute — the physicists Victor Y. Myachin and Andrei A. Fursenko, and Vladimir I. Yakunin, the institute’s former head of international relations.

The reconstituted Bank Rossiya quickly became a favored city institution. At the mayor’s instruction, according to news reports, the city opened several large accounts there, fattening the bank’s coffers and setting it on its way.

Business connections became deeply personal connections.

In 1996,  the malignant tumor joined seven businessmen, most of them Bank Rossiya shareholders, in forming a cooperative of summer homes, or dachas, called Ozero, or “lake,” in the northeast of St. Petersburg. The group has come to have an outsize influence on Russia’s political and economic life. The cooperative included the homes of Mr. Putin, Mr. Yakunin, Mr. Kovalchuk, Mr. Fursenko and his brother Sergei, Mr. Myachin, and Nikolai T. Shamalov, who headed the St. Petersburg office of the German manufacturer Siemens and would also acquire a major stake in Bank Rossiya. Vladimir A. Smirnov, a St. Petersburg businessman with an exclusive contract to supply the city’s gasoline retailers, served as Ozero’s director.

Mr. Timchenko, the oil trader, entered the Bank Rossiya circle as an investor; according to the bank, his stake is owned by a company he controls. Mr. Warnig, the German banker, would later join Bank Rossiya’s board. (When  the malignant tumor’s wife was badly injured in a car accident, Mr. Warnig’s bank arranged to pay for her medical care in Germany.)

And there was Mr. Roldugin, the cellist. “The issue was that I needed to have some money,” he said, adding, “There was no money for art anywhere.” His investment, he said, involved “a lot of manipulations” and required him to take out a loan. Today the bank lists him as owner of 3.2 percent of its shares.

The malignant tumor's stint in St. Petersburg ended in 1996, when his boss lost his bid for re-election. Soon Mr. Putin had a new boss, President Yeltsin. And after Mr. Yeltsin unexpectedly elevated him to prime minister and then acting president on New Year’s Eve in 1999, the fortunes of many of his friends — and their little bank — began to be transformed.

‘Bank Rossiya, That’s It’

He had arrived in Moscow as a midlevel apparatchik in ill-fitting suits, had ascended to power as a thoroughly unexpected president and won his first presidential election in 2000 on the crest of war to suppress separatists in Chechnya. By 2004, the malignant tumor had become the paramount figure in Russia, winning a second term with 72 percent of the vote, in a race tainted by allegations of strong-arm tactics and vote rigging. Yet  the malignant tumor probably would have won a fair election easily, too. The Russian economy, buoyed by high oil prices, was booming, creating huge fortunes and also lifting the middle class. The long era of post-Soviet gloom seemed done.

Not many people yet understood that in the middle of Russia’s prosperity, the men in the tight circle close to the malignant tumor were becoming fabulously wealthy, and increasingly powerful, in what critics now consider a case study in legalized kleptocracy.

Bank Rossiya, which reported less than $1 million in profits the year before Mr. Putin became president, had grown steadily, but figures like Mr. Kovalchuk and Mr. Timchenko remained in the shadows.

“I didn’t even know such names — Timchenko, Kovalchuk,” said Mr. Kasyanov, whom the malignant tumor dismissed as prime minister shortly before the elections.

 57 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Russia Says Relations with U.S. Need New 'Reset'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 September 2014, 12:42

Russian Foreign Minister Stooge Lavrov thinks relations between Moscow and Washington need a new "reset", he says in an interview to be aired Sunday, blaming the freeze on the United States.

"Now what's needed is something that the Americans will call a 'reset'," Lavrov told Russia's Channel 5 television, according to a transcript published on the foreign ministry's website.

He was referring to the drive to improve strained ties launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, when Lavrov's then U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton handed him a red button with the word "reset" misspelled in Russian.

"Today the present administration is destroying in large part the structures for cooperation that it itself created jointly with us," Lavrov lamented in the interview set to air late Sunday.

"Probably they will think up something else: Reset No. 2 or Reset 2.0," he joked.

He blamed the United States for the worsening relations as Washington has imposed harsh sanctions on Russian banks and companies and individuals close to the evil malignant tumor Pig Putin over Moscow's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"The main problem is that we absolutely have an interest in normalizing these relations, but it was not us who destroyed them," Lavrov said.

He said he talked frequently with Secretary of State John Kerry and there "are other channels of communication," but complained that: "We can't force the Americans to be friends with us, or even to hear us."

Bilateral dialogue continues, but in a "very reduced and truncated form", Lavrov said.

He said joint projects between Russia and the United States in areas such as drugs control and fighting terrorism were now all frozen "on the initiative of the American side".

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

Stooge Lavrov Slams U.S. 'Military Interference'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 September 2014, 22:09

Russian Foreign Minister Stooge Lavrov on Saturday accused the United States of resorting to "military interference" to defend its interests, in a veiled reference to the air campaign in Syria.

"Washington has openly declared its right to unilateral use of force anywhere to uphold its own interests," Lavrov told the U.N. General Assembly.

"Military interference has become a norm -- even despite the dismal outcome of all power operations that the U.S. has carried out over the recent years."

Lavrov cited the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia, the Iraq war, the Libya campaign and the Afghanistan mission as examples of U.S.-led military actions that he said had led to "chaos and instability."

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has criticized U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamist fighters in Syria as illegal and argued that the West should cooperate with Damascus in confronting the jihadists.

Lavrov charged that the United States and its western allies were portraying themselves as champions of democracy when in fact they were "trying to decide for everyone what is good or evil."

Russia has sent "large supplies of weapons and military equipment" to Iraq, Syria and other Middle East countries and will continue the military support, he said.

The diplomatic clash over military action in Syria has unfolded against the backdrop of East-West tensions over Ukraine, where pro-Moscow rebels in the east are fighting the pro-European government in Kiev.

Lavrov said Ukraine had "fallen victim" to Washington's "arrogant policy," asserting that the United States and the European Union supported a "coup d'etat" in Ukraine that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Speaking at the podium of the 193-nation Assembly, Lavrov called for restoring "global priorities" and "avoid making them hostages of a unilateral agenda."

Source: Agence France Presse

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

It Pays to Be The Malignant Tumor Pig Putin’s Friend

By STEVEN LEE MYERS, JO BECKER and JIM YARDLEY
SEPT. 27, 2014
IHT

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Weeks after President, the malignant tumor Pig V. Putin annexed Crimea in March, an obscure regulatory board in Moscow known as the Market Council convened inside an office tower not far from the Kremlin to discuss the country’s wholesale electricity market. It is a colossal business, worth 2 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, and a rich source of fees for the bank that had long held the exclusive right to service it.

With no advance notice or public debate, though, the board voted that day in April to shift that business to Bank Rossiya, a smaller institution that lacked the ability to immediately absorb the work. For Bank Rossiya, it was a tidy coup set to yield an estimated $100 million or more in annual commissions, yet it was hardly the only new business coming in. State corporations, local governments and even the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea were suddenly shifting their accounts to the bank, too.

In a matter of days, Bank Rossiya had received an enormous windfall, nearly all from different branches of the Russian state, which was delivering a pointed message. In late March, the United States had made Bank Rossiya a primary target of sanctions, effectively ostracizing it from the global financial system. Now the Kremlin was pushing back, steering lucrative accounts its way to reduce the pain.

The Malignant Tumor Pig Putin’s Way

Articles in this series are examining how  the malignant tumor Pig V. Putin’s system of personalized state-sponsored capitalism allows him to wield power at home and abroad.

The reason the Kremlin rushed to prop up Bank Rossiya is the same reason that the United States, and later its European allies, placed it on the sanctions list: its privileged status as what the Obama administration calls the “personal bank” of the  the malignant tumor inner circle. Built and run by some of the president’s closest friends and colleagues from his early days in St. Petersburg, Bank Rossiya is emblematic of the way  the malignant tumor’s brand of crony capitalism has turned loyalists into billionaires whose influence over strategic sectors of the economy has in turn helped him maintain his iron-fisted grip on power.

Now the sanctions are testing the resilience of his economic and political system. Even as President Obama argues that the measures aimed at  the malignant tumor’s inner circle are pinching Russia’s economy and squeezing the tycoons who dominate it, many of them have mocked the sanctions as a mere nuisance, the economic equivalent of a shaving cut, while the Kremlin has moved rapidly to insulate them.

Woven deeply into the malignant tumor Pig Putin system is Bank Rossiya. Founded as the tiniest of banks in the twilight of the Soviet era, Bank Rossiya, through staggering, stealthy expansion backed by the largess of the state, now has nearly $11 billion in assets. It controls a vast financial empire with tentacles across the economy, including a large stake in the country’s most powerful private media conglomerate, a key instrument of the Kremlin’s power to shape public opinion. How well the bank survives in a time of sanctions may ultimately be a barometer of whether economic pressure is enough to make  the malignant tumor stand down at a time when neighboring countries, especially in the Baltics, are increasingly anxious about a newly aggressive Russia.

The malignant tumor  came to power vowing to eliminate “as a class” the oligarchs who had amassed fortunes — and, to the new president’s mind, a dangerous quotient of political sway — under his predecessor, Boris N. Yeltsin, in the post-Communist chaos of the 1990s. Instead, a new class of tycoons have emerged, men of humble Soviet origins who owe their vast wealth to Mr. Putin, and offer unquestioning political fealty to him in return.

“These guys emerged from scratch and became billionaires under  the malignant tumor,” Sergei Aleksashenko, a former deputy finance minister and central banker, said in a recent interview.

If the modern Russian state is Kremlin Inc.,  the malignant tumor is its chief executive officer, rewarding his friends with control of state-owned companies and doling out lucrative government contracts in deals that provoke accusations of corruption but have the veneer of legality under the Putin system.

“He has given and he has taken away,” said Mikhail M. Kasyanov, who served as prime minister during  the malignant tumor's first term. “They depend on him, and he depends on them.”

This inner circle coalesced around  the malignant tumor as he began his unobtrusive rise, from a middling career as a K.G.B. intelligence officer to a midlevel functionary in the office of St. Petersburg’s mayor.

One of these loyalists is Bank Rossiya’s chairman and largest shareholder, Yuri V. Kovalchuk, a physicist by training, sometimes called the Rupert Murdoch of Russia for his role as architect of the bank’s media interests. Other Bank Rossiya shareholders include several of the country’s wealthiest men, the son of  the malignant tumor’s cousin and even an old St. Petersburg friend of his, a cellist who was formerly first chair at the fabled Mariinsky Theater.

The Kremlin has long denied giving  the malignant tumor’s friends preferential treatment. But in acquiring many of its holdings, the privately held Bank Rossiya benefited from Kremlin directives that allowed it to purchase prize state-owned assets at what critics have called cut-rate prices. Meanwhile the true extent of its holdings is obscured by shadowy corporate shell structures that nest like matryoshka dolls, one inside the next.

Records show that the ownership of one powerful television advertising company linked to Bank Rossiya, for example, is buried in offshore companies in Panama, in the British Virgin Islands and even at a simple concrete house on Karpathou Street in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, whose owner had no idea of the company registered there.

In the early days of the conflict over Ukraine, several European leaders expressed deep ambivalence about alienating a Russia that under  the malignant tumor’s rule has become immeasurably wealthier than it ever was under the Soviet system. Russia has been a sought-after partner in the globalized economy, a source of cheap natural gas for Europe, where wealthy Russians have also purchased billions of dollars in real estate in places like the Cote d’Azur and the Belgravia district of London.

But that resistance has to some extent eroded, especially since the downing of a commercial airliner over eastern Ukraine in July that killed 298 people. This month, despite an edgy truce between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in Ukraine, the West announced a new round of sanctions aimed not just at  the malignant tumor’s powerful cronies but at the Russian economy more broadly. Some argue, however, that this punitive strategy fundamentally misunderstands the way the Putin system works.

Gennady N. Timchenko, an oil trader and Bank Rossiya investor whose own holding company is also under sanctions, admitted in a recent interview with Itar-Tass to a measure of annoyance. He was unhappy that his Learjet had been grounded because of sanctions, and that he could not vacation in France with his family and dog, Romi, which happens to be the offspring of  the malignant tumor beloved black Labrador, Koni.

And yet, he said, he would never presume to question the Russian president’s policies in Ukraine, whatever the cost to companies like his. “That would be impossible,” he said, going on to refer to  the malignant tumor formally by his first name and patronymic. “Vladimir Vladimirovich acts in the interest of Russia in any situation, period. No compromises. It would not even enter our minds to discuss that.”

‘A Bouquet of Friends’

In the Kolomna district of St. Petersburg, near the shipyards, is a 19th-century palace that belonged to Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich, a son of Czar Aleksandr II. Lately its elegant halls — this one in Baroque style, this one English, this one Chinese — have been repurposed as the House of Music, a training academy for classical musicians.

The academy’s artistic director, Sergei P. Roldugin, has his own singular back story. He is an accomplished cellist and musical director. He is certainly not a businessman, he explained at the palace the other day. “I don’t have millions,” he said. And yet, on paper at least, he has a fortune that could be worth $350 million. That is because, years ago, he said, he acquired shares in a small bank run by men close to his old friend of the malignant tumor.

He had met  the malignant tumor in the 1970s, and is godfather to his eldest daughter, Maria. He opened the House of Music with Mr. Putin’s patronage. Last year, he recalled, the president asked him for a favor: would he organize a private concert?

So Mr. Roldugin traveled to the president’s official residence west of Moscow, Novo-Ogaryovo, with three young musicians: a violinist, a pianist and a clarinetist. They played Mozart, Weber and Tchaikovsky — so well, he said, that  the malignant tumor invited them to play again the next night for the same small group of friends who had gathered there.

They were “of course, very famous people,” Mr. Roldugin said, without revealing any names. “Quite all,” he said, “are under sanctions.”

The concerts are a glimpse into the small, remarkably cohesive group of men who came together around  the malignant tumor as the old order was crumbling and a new, post-Soviet Russia was taking form.

When the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, began to allow the first experiments in private enterprise in the 1980s, St. Petersburg was still Leningrad, an impoverished shadow of the czarist capital it had been.

An early adapter was Mr. Kovalchuk, a physicist at the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute, who founded an enterprise to turn its scientific work into commercially viable products. Another was Mr. Timchenko, a former Soviet trade official, who formed a cooperative to export products from an oil refinery on the Baltic Sea.

What brought  the malignant tumor into their orbit was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After five years as a K.G.B. officer in East Germany,  the malignant tumor was part of a wave of embittered military and intelligence officers who withdrew from the Soviet satellites and returned with few prospects to a changing homeland.

Still with the K.G.B., the malignant tumor came into contact with one of his former law professors: Anatoly A. Sobchak, a reformer who had just become chairman of the Leningrad legislature (and would later become mayor of the renamed St. Petersburg). He asked  the malignant tumor to become an adviser, to smooth relations with the still-powerful security services. And when the Soviet Union collapsed,  the malignant tumor joined Mr. Sobchak full time, overseeing a new committee on foreign economic relations.

The committee worked closely with Russia’s emerging entrepreneurs, regulating imports and exports and distributing city contracts. Some of the deals became controversial, notably one during the hungry winter of 1991-92, of a deal to barter oil, metal and other products for food. Virtually none of the food ever materialized, and a City Council committee unsuccessfully sought to have Mr. Putin fired for incompetence.

For all that, the malignant tumor was considered an efficient, unprepossessing administrator, helping businessmen cut through the bureaucracy. His fluency in German was useful with the many Germans seeking a foothold in the city. Among them was Matthias Warnig, formerly of the East German secret police, the Stasi, who opened one of the city’s first foreign banks, Dresdner.

The malignant tumor was, in short, both collecting new friends and laying the foundation for what would evolve into the system of personalized, state-sponsored capitalism now at the heart of his power.

“It was a favorable environment for such a bouquet of friends to appear,” explained Mikhail I. Amosov, who served on the City Council at the time.

In many cases, contracts and property were distributed through insider deals, often without open or transparent bidding. “Everything was decided through personal connections,” Mr. Amosov said. “We didn’t like it.”

One enterprise that received an infusion of municipal aid was Bank Rossiya.

The bank had been founded in 1990 at the initiative of the city’s branch of the Communist Party, with party funds as capital. It was also believed to handle the banking needs of the K.G.B. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was all but bust.

Mr. Kovalchuk stepped in. In December 1991, he and a group of friends secured a small loan from a local shoe manufacturer and bought the foundering bank. The investors included three other alumni of the Ioffe Technical Institute — the physicists Victor Y. Myachin and Andrei A. Fursenko, and Vladimir I. Yakunin, the institute’s former head of international relations.

The reconstituted Bank Rossiya quickly became a favored city institution. At the mayor’s instruction, according to news reports, the city opened several large accounts there, fattening the bank’s coffers and setting it on its way.

Business connections became deeply personal connections.

In 1996,  the malignant tumor joined seven businessmen, most of them Bank Rossiya shareholders, in forming a cooperative of summer homes, or dachas, called Ozero, or “lake,” in the northeast of St. Petersburg. The group has come to have an outsize influence on Russia’s political and economic life. The cooperative included the homes of Mr. Putin, Mr. Yakunin, Mr. Kovalchuk, Mr. Fursenko and his brother Sergei, Mr. Myachin, and Nikolai T. Shamalov, who headed the St. Petersburg office of the German manufacturer Siemens and would also acquire a major stake in Bank Rossiya. Vladimir A. Smirnov, a St. Petersburg businessman with an exclusive contract to supply the city’s gasoline retailers, served as Ozero’s director.

Mr. Timchenko, the oil trader, entered the Bank Rossiya circle as an investor; according to the bank, his stake is owned by a company he controls. Mr. Warnig, the German banker, would later join Bank Rossiya’s board. (When  the malignant tumor’s wife was badly injured in a car accident, Mr. Warnig’s bank arranged to pay for her medical care in Germany.)

And there was Mr. Roldugin, the cellist. “The issue was that I needed to have some money,” he said, adding, “There was no money for art anywhere.” His investment, he said, involved “a lot of manipulations” and required him to take out a loan. Today the bank lists him as owner of 3.2 percent of its shares.

The malignant tumor's stint in St. Petersburg ended in 1996, when his boss lost his bid for re-election. Soon Mr. Putin had a new boss, President Yeltsin. And after Mr. Yeltsin unexpectedly elevated him to prime minister and then acting president on New Year’s Eve in 1999, the fortunes of many of his friends — and their little bank — began to be transformed.

‘Bank Rossiya, That’s It’

He had arrived in Moscow as a midlevel apparatchik in ill-fitting suits, had ascended to power as a thoroughly unexpected president and won his first presidential election in 2000 on the crest of war to suppress separatists in Chechnya. By 2004, the malignant tumor had become the paramount figure in Russia, winning a second term with 72 percent of the vote, in a race tainted by allegations of strong-arm tactics and vote rigging. Yet  the malignant tumor probably would have won a fair election easily, too. The Russian economy, buoyed by high oil prices, was booming, creating huge fortunes and also lifting the middle class. The long era of post-Soviet gloom seemed done.

Not many people yet understood that in the middle of Russia’s prosperity, the men in the tight circle close to the malignant tumor were becoming fabulously wealthy, and increasingly powerful, in what critics now consider a case study in legalized kleptocracy.

Bank Rossiya, which reported less than $1 million in profits the year before Mr. Putin became president, had grown steadily, but figures like Mr. Kovalchuk and Mr. Timchenko remained in the shadows.

“I didn’t even know such names — Timchenko, Kovalchuk,” said Mr. Kasyanov, whom the malignant tumor dismissed as prime minister shortly before the elections.

 58 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 05:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Leery Ukraine, Pro-Russia Rebels Eye Troop Pullback

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 September 2014, 13:39

Ukraine held back to see whether a Russian-backed truce would hold through the day before beginning its own withdrawal of forces from the frontline stretching across the war-torn country's separatist east.

The military reported suffering no casualties but more than a dozen overnight attacks overnight by pro-Russian insurgents who refuse to accept the new Kiev leaders' decision to seek a closer alliance with the West.

Their unilateral claim of independence sparked five months of bloodshed that has killed 3,200 people and threatened the very survival of the ex-Soviet state.

But biting Western sanctions on Russia and the drain of ceaseless warfare on Ukraine's economy and morale brought the sides together for negotiations in early September that have since produced a broad truce and political settlement plan.

At its heart lies an agreement to establish a buffer zone 30 kilometers (18 miles) wide between rebel and government forces across the economically vital but shattered rustbelt nestled near Ukraine's Russian frontier.

The guerrillas would then be granted temporary control of land from which they repelled Ukraine's outdated armed forces with Russia's alleged help.

The ceasefire was meant to take effect last weekend as a prerequisite of any global deal. Yet low-scale clashes continued and the mooted pullback was not enforced.

A ray of hope glimmered Friday when top Russian and Ukrainian commanders met for the first time near the rebel stronghold Donetsk to pore over maps and set terms under which both sides could trust each other enough to order a retreat.

Russia's state media -- long viewed as the mouthpiece of the Kremlin -- portrayed the meeting as Kiev's first recognition of an actual international border being established across the industrialized Lugansk and Donetsk provinces.

Ukraine in turn stressed that the Russians promised to impress on the militias the need to respect the truce -- a rare recognition by Moscow of its sway over the separatists.

"We are going to convince (the rebels) -- use reason with them. That is the most important thing," Russia's ground forces deputy commander Aleksander Lentsov told Ukrainian television after the meeting.

The Ukrainian defense ministry said at least 24 hours of uninterrupted calm across the war zone could prompt the launch of a gradual withdrawal from the front on Sunday night.

But the self-proclaimed heads of Lugansk and Donetsk have remained conspicuously silent. The insurgency's political leaders were unable to force warlords to respect a ceasefire that Kiev revoked after just 10 days in June.

The prospects of calm returning to Ukrainian battlefields have been dimmed by Russia's refusal to soften its Cold War-style diplomatic standoff with the West over the geopolitical future of former Soviet holdings.

"Attempts to put pressure on Russia, to force it to renounce its values, the truth and justice are completely futile," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Saturday.

Lavrov accused his European and U.S. counterparts in the audience of legalizing a criminal regime in Kiev that was waging war on ethnic Russians after staging the violent overthrow of a Kremlin-backed leadership.

"The United States and the European Union supported a state coup in Ukraine, deciding to blindly justify any actions taken by the self-proclaimed authorities in Kiev," Lavrov said in prepared remarks.

Ukraine's worst crisis since its 1991 independence began with the ouster under the pressure of deadly street protests in February of an unpopular president who rejected a historic EU agreement in favor of a closer alliance Moscow.

The Kremlin's subsequent annexation of Crimea and demands for decentralization of power from Kiev helped encourage bands of militias to overthrow local governments across the east and invite Russian forces into the region.

Source: Agence France Presse

 59 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 05:51 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

Pope revisits 'punishing' rules on Catholic divorce

Millions of devotees remain banned from receiving communion – but meeting of bishops raises hopes of ban being loosened

Lizzy Davies   
The Observer, Saturday 27 September 2014 20.15 BST   
   
Elio Cirimbelli, a 66-year-old family counsellor from Bolzano in north-eastern Italy, goes to church most Sundays. He is a devout Roman Catholic but when he attends mass he cannot receive holy communion and must stay in the pew while the rest of the congregation goes up to receive the sacramental bread and wine. "It's very hard, let's put it that way," Cirimbelli says. "We have a church that can be a mother, but sometimes it is a mother which not does embrace but which punishes."

Millions of Catholics around the world are similarly affected by the church's ban on communion for those who have divorced – as Cirimbelli did in 1987 – and then remarried.

In a global community divided by headline-grabbing issues such as abortion, contraception and gay sex, divorce is far from the most inflammatory topic of conversation. But for a huge number of ordinary people it is a regular and painful reminder that their church considers them ineligible for a right it grants to almost all other Catholics – murderers included.

True to his image as the pontiff who listens to the people and wants to build a less hectoring and more inclusive church, Pope Francis now wants to start talking about it.

Before a meeting of international bishops in Rome next Sunday, hopes are high that the pope might decide to set in motion a loosening of the ban which would finally allow Cirimbelli, who married his second wife in 1991, to take holy communion after 23 long years.

"I met Pope Francis in 2013 and I said, 'We are what the Catholic church considers an irregular family, but we entrust our sufferings – and the sufferings of many people I meet as part of my work – to your hands'," said Cirimbelli, a father of three. "But we hope and believe in a merciful church.' The pope embraced me and said, 'No, the church will not abandon you'."

As the director of a support centre for separated and divorced people in Bolzano, this year Cirimbelli also met Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod of bishops. "I can't tell you everything he said, but I can say that they believe the pope this time – unlike other times when he was not pope – does not want the discussion to become solely academic. The pope believes, and they believe, that the time has come for concrete responses."

What Cirimbelli would like to see is the adoption of an idea put forward most prominently by a German cardinal, Walter Kasper, according to which Rome would look to the Eastern Orthodox church for a way forward and allow some people who had remarried civilly to do a period of penance that would eventually lift their ban on holy communion. He is keen to stress that his proposed reform would leave the indissolubility of marriage intact and would merely involve taking a more accepting, tolerant attitude towards the person's second – civil – marriage.

A theologian whose views used to bring him into conflict with Vatican hierarchy, Kasper is a man whose time has, perhaps, now come: praised for his pragmatic and merciful approach by Francis in his first Sunday blessing last year, he was chosen by the pope to make the introductory address to the synod in February this year and, while the pope is being careful about what he says, many believe they are on the same page.

Tina Beattie, a liberal Catholic theologian, believes that the stage has been set for a change, but also for "an epochal, defining struggle".

"The ground has been well-prepared for a shift on the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments," she said. "I don't think this will involve any change in doctrine. It will be a pragmatic shift which will put pastoral practice before doctrinal rigidity."

But not everyone wants this, and opponents of the proposal are not willing to go down without a fight. In the weeks leading up to the extraordinary synod on the family, due to run from 5-19 October, the conservative chorus has been growing louder among the so-called princes of the church, with six cardinals coming out publicly against Kasper and a collection of "anti" essays being published in five different countries on Wednesday. Among the critics are Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and George Pell, the Australian picked by Francis to run the Vatican's new secretariat for the economy.

Robert Dodaro, Rome-based professor of theology and editor of the essays, said the Kasper model advocates a form of "pseudo-mercy" which would, in effect, lead the church to treat remarried divorcees as though they were in a "second-class marriage".

"How would you feel if you were told: well, your second marriage – we're tolerating it but we're not accepting it?" he said. "The Catholic church doesn't recognise divorce, so those individuals are still married … in the eyes of Christ. They are still married to their original spouses." The second marriage is a contradiction in terms because as long as that original spouse remains alive that bond is still in effect."

At least one of the cardinals writing in the book advocates the hiring of more canon lawyers to marriage tribunals to enable the streamlining of the marriage annulment process.

And some observers believe that, rather than Kasper's suggestion, this could be the area of eventual compromise. Last Saturday, the Vatican announced a new commission that seemed to be heading in that direction. A statement said its aim would be to reform the annulment-granting process, "with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony".

But for a reformist who has built his papacy on reaching out to the margins and who constantly repeats the need for the church to be less obsessed with rules and more concerned with real people, the stakes in the coming months – big decisions are not expected to be made until another synod next year – are high. "This is in my view an epochal-defining struggle," says Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University. "Will the church emerge from this as a church more in the image of Vatican II and Francis, or will Francis be defeated by very powerful conservative forces so that we might see the emergence of an even more doctrinally rigid and unyielding ethos?"

For Cirimbelli, the stakes are also high, and the conservatives clearly make him angry. "I can say that it [their book] made me come out in a rash," he says. "The thing that hurts me is that these illustrious cardinals, these illustrious eminencies, talk too much theory. If you'll allow me a provocation, they should maybe spend a bit less time behind their desks and more time among the people. Which is what the pope has done. Francis is not a pope, priest, bishop, cardinal of the curial palaces. He is the pope, priest, bishop and cardinal of the streets."

Only time will tell whether the people's pope will disappoint him or give him reason to cheer.

 60 
 on: Sep 28, 2014, 05:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

New controversy over Malta's bird slaughter

Island MP Karmenu Vella nominated as European commissioner to head green policies, including wildlife protection

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Saturday 27 September 2014 20.31 BST   
 
Karmenu Vella has unusual credentials for a man selected to be the next European commissioner for the environment. The 64-year-old politician is a long-serving member of Malta's Labour government, which is accused of direct involvement in the widespread slaughter of birdlife on the island – including many endangered species.

Every spring and autumn, thousands of migratory birds – including quails, song thrushes and brood eagles – pass over Malta as they fly between northern Europe and Africa, only to be greeted by thousands of local hunters who gather in trucks bearing slogans like "If it flies it dies". They duly open fire on the birds.

"Turtle doves have suffered a catastrophic decline in western Europe, including Britain. Yet the Maltese government continues to allow them to be shot in their thousands every year," said Andre Farrar of the RSPB. "This slaughter has widespread implications and involves dozens of rare species, many of them regular visitors to the British Isles."

Campaigners say Malta's bird culls, which have intensified over the last two years, have been specifically encouraged by its Labour government. For example, new rules have extended shooting curfews, which previously limited the hours when hunters are permitted to fire at birds each day. Such moves have helped make Malta the ecological pariah of Europe.

The prospect of Vella – a leading member of the Labour party – being put in charge of the European commission's environment portfolio, which has specific responsibility for birdlife and its habitats, has horrified green groups, campaigners and wildlife protection organisations.

Vella's candidacy has also alarmed MEPs, who will subject him to intense cross-examination over his involvement in the bird culls on Monday. Many also fear that the newly elected commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, is planning to weaken the powers of Europe's environment directorate and that Vella has been selected specifically to implement these changes.

"To give the nature brief to a politician from Malta, where such wildlife abuses occur, has a very suspicious smell, particularly against a background in which Europe seems to be contemplating a weakening of its environmental controls, despite their great success in the past," said Farrar.

This point is backed by Steve Micklewright, head of Birdlife Malta. "Twenty years ago, there were quite a number of places in Europe where the slaughters of migratory birdlife took place," he told the Observer. "They were held in parts of France, Spain and Italy. Thanks to Europe's bird directive, that situation has improved greatly. We still have the slaughter in Malta and there are also problems in Cyprus, but things are undoubtedly better. However, by putting Vella in charge of an environment directorate that is threatened with reduced powers, a very worrying message is being sent to the rest of Europe."

The Maltese government has said it will hold a referendum on whether it should continue to allow the annual bird shoots. The current autumn cull has been suspended following outbreaks of violence between bird watchers and hunters. "It would have looked very bad if these battles were going on while Vella was being grilled by MEPs," said Micklewright. "So there has been a temporary suspension. It won't last long."

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