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

Buenos Aires's citizens take to the courts to save the 'Paris of South America' from bulldozers

The city's historic architecture is poorly protected. But as activists succeed in blocking demolitions, tensions are rising

Uki Goni   
The Observer, Saturday 27 September 2014 23.00 BST          

A century ago, bountiful grain and beef exports made Argentina the eighth wealthiest nation on Earth. Its per capita income exceeded by 50% that of various European countries, including Italy, and more than tripled that of Japan. An unstoppable wave of emigrants crossed the Atlantic to its main port and capital, Buenos Aires, where work was abundant and living conditions good. They arrived in their millions from Italy and Spain and in their hundreds of thousands from France, Germany, Austria and Poland.

The hope of becoming "as rich as an Argentinian" acted as such a powerful magnet that by 1914 half of the 1.6 million inhabitants of Buenos Aires had been born outside Argentina, most of them in Europe. Buenos Aires thus embarked on an architectural overhaul that turned it from a faraway former colonial outpost of the Spanish empire into a bustling, modern metropolis – a legacy that is now the subject of an increasingly bitter struggle.

"Buenos Aires was so rich that it was comparable to today's Abu Dhabi," says Teresa Anchorena, a former city legislator and a current member of Argentina's national heritage commission. "It could afford to hire the best architects in the world to design buildings fit for a leading nation."

Those European architects soon made Buenos Aires internationally known as the Paris of South America, a multicultural city with wide elegant avenues that rivalled the planet's major capitals in cultural refinement and modern conveniences. New inventions, such as telephone lines, electric street lighting and underground railway lines, came to Buenos Aires simultaneously with major cities in the US and Europe, much of them built by British companies.

But Argentina sadly failed to live up to its early promise. Whether through inadequate economic decisions or because the wind direction of international markets turned against its export commodities, by the 1950s the country had crashed into the railings. It has since sunk to 55th position globally in per capita income, racked by decades of chronic inflation and a series of economic crises.

Turmoil hit again last month when Argentina was declared in default by international credit rating agencies after a US court ruled the nation must pay $1.3bn to foreign debt holders who refused to take a "haircut" on bonds they hold from the previous default in 2001. "When that old glory faded, the city was left with remarkable landmarks such as the Colón opera house [the third best in the world, according to National Geographic] that no longer correspond to the city's ranking," says Anchorena. "But at the same time that contrast is part of what makes Buenos Aires such a unique and complex, super-attractive, pulsating city today, so we should try our hardest to preserve what remains of that formidable past."

Buenos Aires has not traditionally been concerned about preservation. Only a handful of buildings remain from the colonial years after the city's founding in 1536 in what is now the old San Telmo tourist district. The Parisian architecture of the early 20th century has also been shrinking because of the property boom that accompanied a renewed spurt of economic growth in the last decade until 2013.

"The ideology has always been: this is America, everything needs to be new," says Sergio Kiernan, a journalist who writes a weekly column in the daily Página/12 that chronicles the razing of old buildings. "That attitude is still prevalent in sectors of government today." But recently a combination of specialists such as Anchorena and grassroots groups alarmed at the rapid pace of destruction have become a major headache for developers, as well as for the city's authorities.

The unlikely hero of the heritage cause is mild-mannered music teacher Santiago Pusso. A devout Catholic, Pusso, when not teaching at the city conservatory, can be found giving music classes to deprived children at the Caacupé church in the Villa 21 slum.

In 2007 Pusso set up the tiny group Basta de Demoler (Stop the Demolition) with like-minded neighbours. They discovered the quickest way to stop demolitions was through the legal system. "We decided to go to the courts," says Pusso. "This David and Goliath fight would be impossible otherwise."

Among the major projects stopped by Pusso was an 18-storey hotel approved by city planners next to the church of Santa Catalina, built in 1745, whose gardens, open to the public, are an oasis of peace in the downtown area. Probably the best remaining example of Buenos Aires's colonial-era architecture, Santa Catalina was briefly occupied by British forces during the second failed "British invasion" of Buenos Aires, led by John Whitelocke in 1807.

"Pusso is using a highly unusual tactic, by which an uninvolved third party steps in and blocks a major construction project through the courts," says Kiernan. "Since Basta de Demoler first stopped a demolition in 2007 that way, the method has been applied by other NGOs and private citizens in a growing number of cases."

Pusso's already brittle relationship with city hall snapped last week when he was handed a lawsuit claiming 24m pesos (£1.7m) in damages for blocking the construction of a new subway station underneath Plaza Alvear, a landscaped 19th-century park in the upscale neighbourhood of Recoleta. The park is a main tourist attraction because of its weekend "hippie fair" and its proximity to the Recoleta church built in 1732.

Pusso had gone to the courts to protect the park. The judge ordered the city to stop the digging for the station (ancient trees were removed with the idea of replanting them once it was finished) while the court decided if the station was being built in accordance with the city's subway legislation, which stated that it should be built on Plaza Francia, across the avenue from Plaza Alvear. The city argued that Plaza Alvear was also colloquially referred to as "Plaza Francia" while critics said the city was twisting the wording of the law to favour a shopping mall on the hill behind Plaza Alvear.

Finally the city stopped digging and announced it was moving the subway station to the nearby Buenos Aires University law school, itself a monumental city landmark built in the 1940s in a Greco-Roman pastiche style reminiscent of European fascist architecture of the period.

That appeared to be the end of the story, until the city announced it was suing Pusso. "The NGO made an abusive use of its right to seek protection through the courts," says Buenos Aires's attorney general, Julio Conte Grand, who filed the claim. "Its objective was political, to cause economic and political damage to the city's government. We are suing to recover the financial loss incurred because of the delay in completing the subway station."

The allegation of Pusso's "political" motives is included in the legal claim, sending chills down the spine of heritage campaigners. "This is revenge. You can't accuse Basta de Demoler of stopping the subway station: it was stopped by the judge," says Kiernan. "It is barbaric," agrees Anchorena. "The authorities are completely insensitive to heritage issues. They are nowhere even close to other Latin American nations such as Colombia or Mexico when it comes to preservation."

The city government dismisses such criticism. "We have catalogued more historical buildings for preservation than any previous administration," says Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, cabinet chief of Buenos Aires (equivalent to deputy mayor). He points to major undertakings such as the painstaking renovation of the Colón opera house (first opened in 1908) and the new Usina del Arte, an eyecatching renovation that turned an abandoned electrical works built in 1912 into a stunning arts complex in the district of La Boca.

The mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri of the centre-right PRO party, who is narrowly leading opinion polls in the runup to next year's presidential elections, can claim other positive advances on the heritage front. "We have turned traffic-jammed downtown streets in the historical district into pedestrian walks, breathing new life into that area," says Rodríguez Larreta. The city has also been working hand in hand with owners of landmark buildings such as the once British-owned 1912 Gath & Chávez department store in Florida Street to restore their facades.

Whatever the courts decide in the city's lawsuit against Pusso and his group, one thing is clear. The issue of the city's architectural heritage, long neglected by both the public and authorities, has arrived in Buenos Aires to stay.

 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Al-Qaida splinter group claims rocket attack on US embassy in Yemen   
Reuters in Sana'a, Saturday 27 September 2014 21.45 BST   
US embassy Yemen Sanaa A file picture dated 03 August 2013 shows security barriers blocking the access to the US Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

An al-Qaida splinter group said it launched a rocket towards the US embassy in Sana’a on Saturday, wounding several guards, to retaliate for a purported US drone strike in a northern province of Yemen the day before.

The State Department said it had no indication that the embassy was the target of the attack and that none of its staff were wounded.

The rocket landed 200 metres from the heavily fortified embassy, hitting members of the Yemeni special police force who guard the site. At least two were wounded, police said. The attacker fired the rocket from a car, using a M72 light anti-tank weapon before speeding away, a police source told Reuters.

Several hours after the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, an affiliate of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), said on its Twitter account it had targeted the embassy with a rocket, injuring several guards and damaging a vehicle.

The group said the attack was revenge for a drone strike on Friday that had seriously wounded children in the northern al Jawf province.

Tribal sources confirmed that a drone strike killed two al-Qaida members and wounded two more in al Jawf on Friday, and that there were reports of some children having been wounded.

The US regularly uses drones to attack Islamist militants in countries such as Yemen as part of a strategy to combat al-Qaida militants without committing troops on the ground.

Washington acknowledges using drones in Yemen but does not comment publicly on the practice. Al-Qaida and its affiliates in Yemen are among the most active wings of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.

Sanaa is already in turmoil after Shia Muslim rebels seized control of much of the capital last week, hours before an accord was signed providing for the creation of a new government.

Earlier on Saturday, Houthi rebels attacked the home of Yemen’s intelligence chief in Sana’a, in a sign of the fragility the power-sharing accord.

The takeover of the capital has given the Houthis unprecedented political power in Yemen, a US-allied country whose political, tribal and sectarian unrest poses risks to the world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, next door.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has said Yemen may be heading for civil war.

The attempted attack on the embassy came a day after the US told its citizens to leave Yemen and said it was reducing the number of US government staff there due to political unrest and fears of a possible military escalation.

The US embassy has been the target of several attacks in recent years, including one in 2008 by al-Qaida affiliated militants in which 18 people died.

In 2012, demonstrators angry at US-made film they considered blasphemous attempted to storm the compound; in May this year, the embassy said armed individuals had attempted to kidnap two of its officers at a small commercial business in Sanaa.

 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Arab nations join Syria strikes as Nusra front threatens retaliation   

Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies, Saturday 27 September 2014 20.55 BST      

As British jets took off from Cyprus to carry out strikes on Islamic State (Isis) targets in Iraq on Saturday, and US-led strikes continued in Syria and Iraq, President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say American leadership was “the one constant in an uncertain world”.

Later on Saturday an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria, the Nusra Front, vowed to retaliate against countries taking part in the air strikes.

Obama said “America is leading the world in the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group” known as Isis, and aded: “I made it clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition, and we were joined in this action by friends and partners, including Arab nations.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Department of Defence released a statement regarding the participants in and targets of the latest strikes, which said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had participated in strikes on Syria.

The statement said: “US and partner nation military forces continued to attack ‪Isis terrorists in‪ Syria‬ Friday and today, using fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct seven airstrikes. Separately, US military forces used attack aircraft to conduct three airstrikes against Isis in Iraq.”

Obama worked to build the coalition and gain backing for the strikes in Syria at the United Nations in New York this week, chairing a special meeting of the security council. In a speech to the general assembly, he vowed to tackle “the cancer of violent extremism”.

A number of Nusra Front militants were killed in the first strikes on Syria, on Tuesday. More than 200 strikes have been carried out in Iraq since 8 August.

In an audio message posted on the group’s social-media network on Saturday a spokesman, Abu Firas al-Suri, said: “We are in a long war. This war will not end in months nor years, this war could last for decades. It’s not a war against Nusra Front, it’s a war against Islam.

“These countries have done a despicable act that will put them on the list of those targeted by jihadist forces all over the world.”

Isis fighters have created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border, killing thousands; militants have also beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker, provoking widespread revulsion.

On Saturday, international activists and local sources said the US-led coalition attacking Isis in Syria had launched strikes on militants attacking Kobani, a town near the Turkish border, and on positions including wheat silos in the east of the country.

The Department of Defence statement detailed the targets of the strikes. In Syria, it said, “an Isis vehicle was destroyed south of Al-Hasakah. Also near Al-Hasakah several buildings that were part of an Isis garrison were destroyed. An Isis command and control facility near Manbij was damaged. An Isis building and two armed vehicles at the Kobani border crossing were destroyed.

“An Isis-held airfield, an Isis garrison and an Isis training camp near Ar Raqqah were damaged.”

Regarding Iraq, the statement said: “Three airstrikes south-west of Irbil destroyed four Isis armed vehicles and destroyed an Isis fighting position.”

Syria’s foreign minister, meanwhile, told a Lebanon-based television channel that air strikes alone “will not be able wipe out” Isis. Speaking from New York, where he is attending the UN General Assembly, Walid al-Moallem said the US should work with Damascus if it wants to win the war.

“They must know the importance of coordination with the people of this country because they know what goes on there,” al-Moallem said.

The US has ruled out any coordination with President Bashar Assad’s government, which is at war with Isis as well as western-backed rebels.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, told the Associated Press some of the strikes on Saturday had targeted for the first time Isis positions near the northern town of Kobani, which has been under attack for days. Khalil said the strikes destroyed two tanks and added that the town was later shelled by Isis, wounding several civilians.

A Kurdish fighter, Majid Goran, told the AP by telephone from Kobani that two bombs were dropped over the village of Ali Shan, nearby, at 6am. Goran said the strikes were ineffective and that the positions hit “were empty”.

A Turkish news agency, Dogan, reported that heavy fighting could be heard from the Turkish border village of Karaca.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some strikes targeted Isis compounds in the central province of Homs and the northern region of Raqqa. The group said 31 explosions were heard in the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and its suburbs.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the strikes hit the eastern province of Deir el-Zour as well as Raqqa, and also said the coalition targeted wheat silos west of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.

Saturday’s strikes came after two days of strikes by the US and its Arab allies on makeshift oil-producing facilities in Deir el-Zour, trying to cripple black-market oil sales the US says produce up to $2m a day.

The activists had no immediate word on casualties. The Observatory reported on Friday that 13 civilians have been killed by the strikes since they began.

In his address, Obama also said America was leading the world in its response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the increasing threat of climate change.

“The people of the world look to us to lead,” he said. “And we welcome that responsibility.”

 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Tear Gas Fired at Chaotic Hong Kong Democracy Protests

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 September 2014, 07:44

Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill Sunday, in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days.

There were chaotic scenes, with protesters screaming "Shame!" at police as they tried to shield themselves from the clouds of gas, AFP reporters said.

Several scuffles broke out between police in riot gear and demonstrators angered by the use of tear gas, which is rare in Hong Kong. An elderly woman was seen being carried away by protesters.

Police had earlier used hand-held pepper spray on demonstrators who had spilt onto a major multi-lane highway after breaking through barricades set up to stop people swelling the crowds camped outside Hong Kong's government headquarters since Friday.

Traffic had ground to a halt on busy Connaught Road, with police forced to retreat as the protesters rushed towards the crowds outside government headquarters on the other side. They cheered and embraced each other in the middle of the road, a major city artery usually filled with whizzing taxis and buses.

China, which stations a military garrison in Hong Kong, said it was confident the city's administration could handle the protest.

The extraordinary scenes came at the climax of a week of student-led action against China's refusal to grant full democracy to the former British colony.

Beijing said that while it would allow elections for Hong Kong's leader in 2017, it would insist on vetting the candidates.

Students have boycotted classes in the past week, while the increasingly tense protests have also seen them mob the city's leader and storm into the complex housing government headquarters.

Prominent pro-democracy group Occupy Central threw its weight behind the protests on Sunday, saying they were bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign that had been due to start on October 1.

"Occupy Central starts now," Tai told the crowds outside government headquarters.

The group had sparked months of heated debate in the city of seven million over its plan to bring Hong Kong's financial district to a standstill with a mass sit-in. On Sunday they appeared to have come close to reaching that goal.

Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, told a press conference his administration was "resolute in opposing the unlawful occupation actions by Occupy Central", branding its activities illegal as they were designed to paralyze the city.

He said his government would hold more public consultations on the planned political changes -- a move already scheduled before the protests.

Traffic on the busy Connaught Road had already been heavily slowed by a man who had climbed onto the outside of a bridge and threatened to jump unless protesters were allowed through police lines. Firefighters were forced to place a large inflatable mat on the road below.

He surrendered shortly after the protesters broke through.

Ryan Chung, a 19-year old student watching events unfold, said: "We have the right to stay here and to protest. The world needs to know what is happening in Hong Kong. They need to know we want democracy but don't have it."

The crowds of protesters camped outside the city's government headquarters had swelled on Saturday night to more than 10,000, with scuffles with police overnight as lines of officers pushed back surges of people with riot shields.

Political analyst Sonny Lo said the protests marked a turning point in the city's long campaign for democracy.

"From now on there will be more confrontation, possibly violent ones between citizens and police," he told AFP.

But he added that with Beijing maintaining a hardline stance, it was difficult to see a way out of the standoff.

"The government needs to handle the students very carefully -- any mishandling will spark larger acts of civil disobedience," he said.

Former colonial power Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" deal that guarantees liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

But tensions have been growing in the southern Chinese city over fears that these freedoms are being eroded, as well as perceived political interference from Beijing.

China's government is confident Hong Kong authorities can handle demonstrations in line with the law, state media in Beijing reported Sunday.

Paraphrasing a spokesperson with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China's State Council, the Xinhua news agency report also said Beijing "firmly opposes all illegal activities that could undermine rule of law and jeopardize 'social tranquility' and it offers its strong backing" to the Hong Kong government.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Top Tajik Cleric Issues Fatwa against Government Critics

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 September 2014, 20:01

Tajikistan's top Muslim cleric has issued a fatwa against criticizing the isolated ex-Soviet country's hardline regime, telling reporters Saturday it would be considered a "great sin."

"The Islamic center of Tajikistan has passed a new special fatwa according to which criticism of the ruling powers will be judged a 'great sin'," said chief mufti Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda.

"Criticism undermines trust in the authorities," he warned.

The chief mufti issued the fatwa or religious edict during his Friday sermon at the main mosque in the capital Dushanbe.

Tajik religious experts said the fatwa was agreed with the Central Asian country's authorities and that most moderate Muslims would not obey it.

Tajikistan's moderate opposition Islamic Revival Party also said the fatwa was "dictated by the authorities" in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country of 8.5 million, which is officially secular.

A journalist from an opposition newspaper who asked not to be named said: "Now even official religious leaders want to sew up the mouths of journalists and those who want to express themselves freely in a democratic, secular country."

"Now it's dangerous to tell the truth. What are we coming to?" he told Agence France-Presse.

The chief mufti also warned Muslims against making contact with international organizations or media, which he said would "threaten stability in the country and the world."

"Those who call for and engage in incitement and set the people against the current authorities will suffer God's punishment," he said.

The Tajik authorities are alarmed at what they see as the radicalization of young Muslim men amid widespread unemployment in the poorest ex-Soviet country.

Last year around 100 people were arrested, of whom six were jailed, after taking part in training abroad in radical groups. In the last three months alone, 10 Tajiks have been killed fighting on the side of the opposition in Syria.

Tajikistan has been led since 1992 by President Emomali Rakhmon, who came to power amid the chaos of a civil war between the Moscow-backed communist government and the Islamic opposition.

A peace accord was signed in 1997 but authorities of the country bordering Afghanistan are still deeply concerned with the security threat posed by Islamist insurgents.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Sep 28, 2014, 06:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Indian Leader Narendra Modi, Once Unwelcome in U.S., Gets Rock Star Reception


The Indians who draw crowds of adoring fans are usually tall and sultry, with washboard abs and elaborate outfits, Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan — described by some as the Brad Pitt of India — or Priyanka Chopra, the bombshell actress, singer and model.

But this time it is a teetotaler and bachelor who has boasted of his 56-inch chest and wears a simple cotton shirt.

Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, will receive a rally fit for a rock star at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. His rags-to-riches story mirrors the rise of Gujarat, the Indian state that he governed and that gave him and his Bharatiya Janata Party a landslide victory in India’s general election in May. His new profile has also allowed him to return to the United States for the first time in more than two decades; the State Department had revoked his visa in 2005 over his alleged role in deadly religious riots in Gujarat three years earlier.

For Mr. Modi and his supporters, the visit, which includes a speech before the United Nations General Assembly and a meeting with President Obama, is also a moment to connect with members of the broad Indian diaspora in the United States, many of whom watched with embarrassment from afar as India’s economic engine sputtered and corruption scandals plagued Mr. Modi’s rivals in the Indian National Congress party, which has governed India for most of its postcolonial history.

Tapping into a level of interest they never expected, Dr. Barai and the group organizing the $1.5 million event, the Indian American Community Foundation, have mobilized more than 400 organizations and individuals. Bollywood stars offered their talents, but organizers wanted to keep the focus on Indian-Americans. The hosts will be last year’s Miss America winner, Nina Davuluri, and a PBS anchor, Hari Sreenivasan. Anjali Ranadivé, the daughter of Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, will sing the American national anthem, while L. Subramaniam, a violinist, and Kavita Krishnamurthy, a classical singer, will perform the Indian anthem.

The prime minister’s office told Dr. Barai and the other organizers, “Just don’t have a Bollywood night there.”

The event will include an acrobatic and laser show, a speed-painted portrait of Mr. Modi and a hologram re-creating the seminal speech of Mr. Modi’s guru, Swami Vivekananda, who became the ambassador of Hinduism to the United States when he spoke at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. Mr. Modi was honoring him when he visited the United States in 1993, and Dr. Barai recalled how embarrassed Mr. Modi was by his meager possessions during that visit. “I know you only do laundry in America once a week,” Mr. Modi said. “But I only have two pairs of clothes.” Now, his shirts are a fashion symbol.

Only about half of the 30,000 people who applied for free tickets will get to see Mr. Modi. Free lunches will be provided around the corner for guests, though Mr. Modi himself will be observing a nine-day religious fast. A majority of those attending are from the Northeast.

“I am die-hard fan of Narendra Modiji and have been following him since last 12 years,” a software engineer from Atlanta wrote in an email to Dr. Barai, using a term of respect for the prime minister. He said he had bought a plane ticket to New York before learning that he had not got a ticket to the Modi event.

The Indian diaspora is as complex as India itself: a kaleidoscope of religious and ethnic groups, a growing middle class, skilled laborers, poor migrants and pockets of the wealthy elite. The Indian government estimates the diaspora, including immigrants and their descendants, at 20 million, with large concentrations in 22 countries.

India has the largest number of people living outside its borders of any nation, according to the Pew Research Center. Indian-Americans make up the third-largest Asian-American group in the United States, and lead these groups in terms of income and education.

“India has defense and economic ties with other countries,” said Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution, but the large number of Indians living in the United States “is what makes the relationship different.”

By the mid-1990s, the Indian community in the United States was fairly large and rich, made up of skilled migrants of the 1960s and '70s and young men seeking higher education in the mid-1980s, according to Ashutosh Varshney, a political scientist at Brown University.

“This diaspora was embarrassed about India’s poverty and economic performance,” he said. “There’s a diasporic desire to see India economically rise again, which also drives the fascination with Mr. Modi.”

After India’s economy was overhauled in the 1990s, its technology sector began to boom and it began approaching China’s double-digit growth rates. But the global downturn of 2008-09 laid bare its chronic problems, including antiquated infrastructure, wasteful spending and rising food prices.

“The trip provides a great opportunity to resurrect the India growth story in the West,” Soumyadeep Ghosh, a computer scientist from Princeton, wrote in his response to the Times questionnaire. “Something that would lead to better opportunities for India and its people.”

Respondents to The Times also raised concerns about resurfacing tensions with Pakistan and China’s growing might. Some also said they felt a greater connection to India because of Mr. Modi‘s election. A. Chaturvedi, 23, of Chicago wrote that it “has renewed my pride in being Indian and made me consider moving back home once again.”

Had Mr. Modi not been elected, it is unlikely that he would be able to even set foot in America. Many Western countries besides the United States revoked his visas over his handling of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots, which left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. A United States federal court issued a summons on Thursday in a lawsuit over the riots, but it is not likely to affect Mr. Modi’s visit, as he enjoys immunity as a head of state.

Mr. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has been a divisive figure in India, and although he has not made inflammatory statements since his election, some respondents raised concerns about his religious tolerance.

Zahir Janmohamed, who was among those who worked to deny Mr. Modi a visa, said, “Questions about Modi’s failure to protect his own citizens are still relevant.”

And Kayhan Irank of Jackson Heights, Queens, said Mr. Modi’s ascendance “definitely strains my relationships with some elders and relatives who are less interested in justice for those who were killed and displaced over the facade of India as a major economic player.”


Narendra Modi, in U.N. Speech, Inserts India Into Terrorism Fight 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India reminded the world on Saturday of his country’s abiding battle against extremist groups, and took a swipe at countries that give them shelter before capping his speech with a call for an International Yoga Day.

In his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Modi, without naming names, hinted at India’s longstanding contention that its rival, Pakistan, backs groups that have carried out terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Twenty years ago, world leaders used to call it a “law and order problem,” he said, suggesting that only now had they had come around to understanding India’s concerns. “Some countries are giving refuge to international terrorists,” he said. “They consider terrorism to be a tool of their policy.”

Mr. Modi signaled his support for the United States’ renewed focus on fighting terrorism, and showed that he clearly understands the value of political symbolism. Even before he arrived at the United Nations, he paid a visit to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan. In his meetings at the White House scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, security and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries is certain to be on the agenda, including a discussion of the American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, administration officials said.

Mr. Modi arrived early Saturday for his meeting with the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. He toured a section of the second floor corridor of the United Nations complex to see several works of art, including an 11th century stone sculpture that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India presented to the world body in 1982.

As expected, he said not a word about a decade-long visa ban by the United States government that had prevented him from coming to the United States since the deadly religious violence in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, which he then led.

India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, offers himself as a metaphor for the India he wants to build — ambitious, confident and impatient with slackness of any kind.

On climate change, India is under scrutiny for how it will commit to cutting its future emissions. On this issue, Mr. Modi did not show his hand. He spoke about “shouldering our responsibilities,” and reminded rich countries that they have promised to help pay.

Earlier this week, his environment minister, Prakash Javdekar, flatly said India’s emissions would necessarily grow through new coal-powered electricity and transportation in the coming years as the country seeks to alleviate poverty and create industry.

Mr. Modi offered yoga as one of India’s contributions to global efforts. It is not just exercise, he said. “By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change,” he said. “Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

In his speech, Mr. Modi rebuked India’s neighbor and rival Pakistan, a day after its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, raised the issue of a referendum for disputed Kashmir province – long a sore spot for India. Mr. Modi said talks with Pakistan were possible in a “peaceful atmosphere without the shadow of terrorism.”

“However, Pakistan must also take its responsibility seriously to create an appropriate environment,” he said. “Raising issues in this forum is not the way to make progress towards resolving issues between our two countries.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan spoke at the United Nations on Friday.

He began his remarks in an unusually understated way, speaking from prepared notes, which is rare for him, before picking up rhetorical steam and force. He repeatedly invoked India’s Vedic traditions. Mr. Modi spoke in Hindi, as expected, with a generous sprinkling of English words like “prosperity,” “cyber,” and “blue helmets.” India is among the largest contributors of soldiers to United Nations peacekeeping efforts, and Mr. Modi sharply nudged the Security Council to include nations like his when making decisions about what peacekeepers are expected to do. His comments hinted at the tensions that arise between countries that contribute troops and the world powers on the Security Council that fund them, and set their mandates.

Mr. Modi renewed India’s call for a permanent seat on the Security Council, pointedly reminding the audience that the Council’s permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – represent a bygone era. “Institutions that reflect the imperatives of 20th century won’t be effective in the 21st,” he said.

The day before his arrival in New York, a federal court issued a summons for Mr. Modi to respond to a lawsuit that accuses him of human rights abuses in connection with religious riots in 2002 that tore through Gujarat. Mr. Modi, who was the chief minister of the state at the time of the riots, has been accused of acting too slowly to stop the violence.

Mr. Modi did not refer to the summons, and it is likely to have no effect. As an administration official pointed out Friday, “as a general legal principle, sitting heads of government enjoy immunity from suits in American courts.” The protection applies to sitting heads of national delegations to the General Assembly, the official added.

 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

SEPT. 27, 2014

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.

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

SEPT. 27, 2014

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.”

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

SEPT. 27, 2014

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.”

 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, 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.

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