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 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:22 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Myanmar Sets Provisional Date for Key 2015 Polls

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 October 2014, 11:38

Landmark elections in Myanmar that could propel opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party into office have been provisionally scheduled for late next year, electoral officials said Tuesday.

The 2015 general election, seen as a key test of Myanmar's democratic reforms, is due to be held in the final week of October or the first week of November, Union Election Commission chairman Tin Aye said at a meeting with political parties in Yangon.

He said the election “needs to be free and fair” so that “smart and good people” would be installed in parliament, adding that the exact date would be confirmed next August.

Myanmar authorities have promised the vote will be the freest in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

President Thein Sein's government has been lauded by the international community for a range of dramatic reforms that have seen most Western sanctions lifted.

But rights groups have raised concerns that a number of prosecutions of journalists and activists this year are a sign that the country could be backsliding.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote.

The party won almost every seat available in 2012 by-elections that saw the democracy veteran become an MP for the first time.

Parliament will select a president following the vote.

But 69-year-old Suu Kyi, who spent more than a decade under house arrest, is currently barred from taking the top job by the constitution.

Under the charter, anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals cannot become president -- the Nobel laureate's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

Many believe the clause was crafted specifically to thwart her political rise.

Tin Aye, a former military general, said authorities were running trials to computerize voter lists to help avoid fraud.

The previous general election in 2010 was marred by accusations of widespread cheating, as well as by the absence of the NLD which boycotted the poll. Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest just days after the vote.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Thailand's Junta-picked Council Starts Work on Reforms

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 October 2014, 08:32

A council selected by Thailand's ruling junta Tuesday started work on reforms to close the nation's festering political divide, a task critics dismiss as aimed at diluting the influence of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who led a military coup in May, has said reforms to rid the kingdom of corruption are necessary before new elections can take place.

The first meeting of the 250-strong National Reform Council (NRC), tasked with recommending initiatives including a new constitution, began with members taking an oath in parliament.

NRC member Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator and frontman of a group that staged months-long protests preceding the coup, said the new body would help restore power to voters.

"We have to decrease the power of parties and increase the power of people... People should have the power to monitor MPs," he told Agence France Presse ahead of the meeting.

But critics say the new council is stacked with anti-Thaksin figures and designed to rid the kingdom of his influence.

The new constitution is expected to include clauses preventing those convicted of corruption from entering politics, a move which appears to target Thaksin who fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a graft conviction.

Prayut seized power from an elected government in a bloodless coup on May 22, shortly after Yingluck Shinawatra was dismissed as prime minister in a controversial court ruling.

It was the latest crisis in a country which has been riven by political divisions since Yingluck's elder brother Thaksin was toppled as prime minister in an earlier military takeover in 2006.

Thaksin, whose parties have won every election since 2001, is reviled by much of Thailand's Bangkok-based royalist elite but draws deep loyalty from the poorer northern portion of the country.

Analysts expect the new constitution to target Thaksin’s political network as well as his enduring electoral popularity in the north by either redrawing constitutional boundaries, culling the number of lawmakers in parliament or part-appointing the lower house.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Pakistani Government Suspends License of ARY News

OCT. 20, 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government on Monday suspended the license of ARY News, a broadcast network that has been sharply critical of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a move that was widely criticized by rights groups and journalists.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said the 15-day suspension was effective immediately. It also imposed a fine of 10 million rupees, or about $97,000.

The regulatory body said in a statement that ARY had maligned the country’s judiciary in an episode of the talk show “Khara Sach,” which was critical of the court system and senior judges.

However, analysts said that the suspension seemed aimed at curtailing coverage by ARY that had been increasingly critical of Mr. Sharif and his government and party, particularly by the host of “Khara Sach,” Mubashar Lucman, and other hosts on the network. Mr. Lucman has been on a professed campaign against Mr. Sharif’s government, and in one TV appearance distributed candy after a politician allied with the government lost a by-election in central Pakistan.

“ARY TV must be immediately allowed back on air,” said Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. “There is simply no justification for the Pakistani authorities to silence sections of the media solely because of their political leanings.”

“The ban on ARY is a sobering reminder of the threat of criminal prosecution on the basis of overly broad contempt of court or anti-state provisions,” Mr. Qadri said. “Journalists in Pakistan are under attack from all sides, facing harassment, even abduction and killings for carrying out their work.”

Monday’s suspension is the second time this year that a major television news network has been silenced by a government order.

In June, the media regulatory authority suspended the license of Geo TV, the country’s leading news network, after it aired accusations that the head of the country’s powerful spy organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, was behind an attempt to kill Hamid Mir, a popular Geo talk show host.

Even though Mr. Sharif publicly expressed support for Mr. Mir and his channel, the government did little when the country’s powerful military establishment pushed to have the channel taken off the air.

Geo has now been restored, but its management says that its distribution has greatly decreased. The channel has been muted in its criticism of the military ever since it returned to the air.

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:17 AM 
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Arrests Follow Acid Attacks on Iranian Women

OCT. 20, 2014

TEHRAN — The police arrested several men Monday in connection with at least four acid attacks on women that appear part of a violent campaign in support of new rules that aim to punish women deemed “badly veiled.”

The attacks spread panic around Iran’s old capital, Isfahan, which is also the country’s main tourist destination. The semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that men on motorcycles had splashed acid on women through open car windows.

The episodes were widely discussed on social media in Iran as people in Isfahan said there had been more than a dozen attacks, a number not confirmed by the police but enough to prompt many women to stay indoors.

“I saw a big crowd and heard that another attack had taken place,” Morvarid Moshtahgian, 19, said in a phone interview of an attack on Wednesday. “Now when I go on the streets my body aches of fear, and when I hear a motorcycle approaching I grab my bag so I can be ready to at least protect my face.”

The attacks coincided with a law passed in Parliament on Sunday protecting those citizens who feel compelled to correct women and men who in their view do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws. Under the Islamic obligation of “propagating virtue and preventing vice,” Parliament has officially empowered the government and private citizens to give verbal or written statements on social issues.

While such rules on dress are not new, the Interior Ministry has opposed the new law on citizens’ policing of them and is trying to alter it, the state Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Monday.

Graphic pictures provided by the Iranian Students’ News Agency show one of the victims, Soheila Jorkesh, in a hospital with her face badly burned.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary has announced that the “most serious punishment” — usually a reference to execution — awaits the perpetrators, a spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said Monday. He also stressed that the attacks “have nothing to do” with improper veiling.

The list of official vices in Iran is long and in many ways reflects a growing disconnect between the lifestyles of many Iranians and Iran’s Islamic laws. In addition to the strictly enforced dress codes, alcohol is banned, as are bars and clubs, sex before marriage, Western pop music and the showing of female hands in advertisements, even for soap. In reality many of these rules are widely flouted. In recent years, some clerics who have tried to correct people have been beaten up on the streets of Tehran.

Acid attacks are not as common in Iran as in India and Pakistan. In 2011, a victim of an acid attack, Ameneh Bahrami, forgave her attacker, a spurned lover, right before she was allowed under Islamic law to blind him as a result of an eye-for-an-eye ruling. Activists welcomed her decision, but now some say that laws must be tougher.

“Overall violence against women has increased because the punishments are not tough enough,” said Mojgan Faraji, a journalist. On social media, there have been calls for a protest on Wednesday in Isfahan.

Women and their families there say they are terrified. “I wear a face mask when I go on the streets,” said Niloofar Abdolhasani, 22, an architecture student. “My friends usually wear a lot of makeup, but when I saw them yesterday they were unrecognizable. We can all be victims. I hope this will be over soon.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
40 Are Killed in Attacks Targeting Shiites in Iraq

OCT. 20, 2014

BAGHDAD — Militants unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Shiite targets in Iraq on Monday, including a quadruple car bombing near two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam and a suicide attack inside a mosque, officials said.

The four car bombs were detonated in Karbala on the periphery of a pedestrian-only area encircling the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas, killing 22 and wounding 51, officials said.

Those attacks roughly coincided with a symbolically important meeting in Najaf, another holy Shiite city in southern Iraq, between Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. The meeting was widely viewed as a demonstration of support for Mr. Abadi. Ayatollah Sistani had not met with Mr. Abadi’s predecessor, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, for the last few years, which was interpreted by many as a sign of dissatisfaction with the administration.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Karbala, but suspicion fell most heavily on the Sunni-led Islamic State, which has deployed car bombs and suicide bombers with increasing frequency in recent weeks, most often targeting Shiite neighborhoods.

Two of the cars were in parking lots where worshipers leave their vehicles before walking to the shrines, officials said. The other two were detonated along busy commercial streets, officials said.

Nusaif Jassim, head of the Karbala provincial council, said the attacks were “a response to the progress” of Iraqi security forces in pushing back the Islamic State in the area around Jurf al-Sakhr, a town strategically located on a corridor between Karbala and militant strongholds in Anbar Province.

The Islamic State has been able to gather support among some Sunnis in part by playing on widespread Sunni mistrust of the Shiite-led government. Mr. Abadi took office last month on the promise that he would reach out to disaffected Sunni populations.

Mr. Abadi said at a news conference after his meeting with Ayatollah Sistani that the cleric spoke about “being more open to others, national unity, and chasing corruption and the corrupted as well as providing the best services to the Iraqi people.”

In Baghdad, a man shot and killed a guard standing outside a small Shiite mosque crowded with worshipers during midday prayer, forced his way through the door and shot and killed the imam and a worshiper, witnesses and the authorities said. Then the man detonated an explosives belt concealed beneath his oversize shirt, killing another 15 and wounding 33, the authorizes said.

Haider Ali Hussein, a porter at a nearby utilities shop, said that for security reasons, the mosque was reserved for people from the neighborhood, Sinak. The guard had tried to block the bomber’s entry because he did not recognize him.

“Very good friends of mine, gone in this explosion,” Mr. Hussein said.

The attack was the second against a Shiite mosque in Baghdad this week. On Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest outside a Shiite mosque in the Harthiya neighborhood of western Baghdad, killing 18 people and wounding 35, the authorities said. Two roadside bombs in the capital on Sunday killed another 8 and wounded 12, officials said.

As the Islamic State has tried to press closer to Baghdad, Iraqi and American officials have insisted that the capital is well protected from a siege and that the most the militants could hope to do was sow fear and death with bombings.

But on Monday, residents of the capital were reminded that mortal threats abound in the city beyond those posed by the Islamic State, especially amid the growth of government-supported militias and the proliferation of weapons.

Shortly after midnight, a protracted firefight between a federal police unit and another armed group erupted along a darkened and otherwise empty boulevard of the Karrada neighborhood, Interior Ministry officials said. The shootout, involving assault rifles and heavy machine guns, lasted at least 20 minutes though remarkably, officials said, only two police officers were wounded.

Saad Maan, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in an interview that the police had converged on a hotel where “a gang” was holding a kidnap victim. The woman, the relative of a prominent Kurdish politician, had been kidnapped in Basra about two weeks ago and her captors were demanding a $2.5 million ransom, officials said.

The woman escaped her captors during the shootout, Mr. Maan said, yet there were no arrests in the case and it still remained unclear late Monday which group was responsible.

Some government officials initially suspected the kidnapping was the work of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Iranian-backed militia that is fighting the Islamic State alongside government forces. But investigators now believe the kidnappers were a gang of ordinary criminals, Mr. Maan said. Leaders of the militia did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“From now on we will have more discipline on the street,” Mr. Maan said. The new interior minister, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, has vowed “to control the street,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, military officials reported clashes between government forces and the Islamic State around the country. In northern Iraq, a militant driving a truck loaded with explosives drew close to a Kurdish pesh merga building in a village near the Mosul Dam and detonated his cargo, killing 15 soldiers and wounding more than 25, said a high-ranking pesh merga officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to provide information on the record.

It was the single deadliest suicide attack ever against the pesh merga, the official said.

In the Qara Taba district in Diyala Province, pesh merga forces were fighting on Monday alongside Iraqi government forces, the authorities said. Six militants died in those clashes, as well as one Iraqi police officer and two pesh merga fighters, officials said.

There was also fighting reported outside Tikrit, including in the village of Al Hajaj, north of the city, where government security forces supported by Iraqi aircraft were attacking jihadist militants, officials said.

The Pentagon reported that warplanes from the United States, France and Britain conducted six airstrikes in Iraq on Monday

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Turkey to allow Kurdish peshmerga across its territory to fight in Kobani

Dramatic shift in the Turkish position due to internal protests on government inaction and support for regional fight against Isis

Martin Chulov in Beirut, Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 18.33 BST   

Turkey will allow Kurdish peshmerga forces from northern Iraq across its territory to defend Kurds in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani, in a move that fighters say could tip a month-long battle against Islamic State (Isis) insurgents in their favour.

The announcement marked an abrupt shift from Ankara’s position of refusing to militarily help the Kurds of Kobani and came hours after the US military dropped 24 tonnes of weapons and medicines in the first supply run it had made to the besieged town in nearly five weeks of fighting.

Both developments followed a substantial increase in the number of air strikes against Isis forces, which Kurdish militia members inside Syria and exiled residents of Kobani say are steadily turning the tide of the battle.

Guided in by special forces and by Kurdish spotters operating deep inside the war-ravaged town just south of the Turkish border, the air strikes are believed to have decimated the Isis command in recent days, forcing it to use an increasing number of untested cadres who are struggling to hold ground.

The jihadi group has paid an increasingly heavy price in the fight for Kobani, losing an estimated 400 men and many of the heavy weapons it had brought to the battle from a stockpile it had looted in northern Iraq.

“It is being much more difficult for them,” said a western diplomat based in the region. “If what has been delivered can make a measurable difference then they can’t win. They will need to recalibrate their commitment.”

The state of the battlefield is now markedly different than late last week, before the increase in strikes, when Isis forces were advancing despite the presence of US and coalition jets and seemed poised to overrun Kobani, the fourth-largest Kurdish town in Syria.

Such a victory would have been a significant boost for Isis, proving it could prevail over the US and its Arab partners as it continued on its rampage through the centre of the region.

The jihadis’ gains had been made while Turkey refused to support the fighters inside Kobani, because of their links to the PKK, which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish government for nearly 40 years.

Kurdish fighters contacted by the Guardian say the weapons drops have boosted morale and, if continued, will help them hold back the Isis onslaught.

“The weapons aren’t enough to change the game in one night,” said Sores Hassan, a spokesman for the YPG militia, which is fighting in Kobani. “But if the aid is continued, it will help us a lot. This support is helping us morally and lifting our spirits more than really helping us on the ground. We are talking to the coalition through different channels to continue the support and we hope it will happen more often.”

Another fighter, who identified himself as Ameen, said: “The game has changed now. After the Americans provided us with weapons, we turned from defending the city to attacking Isis. Now we are no longer playing the defensive in this war. I believe the next couple of days will bring us victory.

“In the first week of the air strikes, the Americans were bombing empty Isis headquarters. Now, it is different. They are more accurate and they know the right places to bomb.”

Mahmoud Haji Omar, a member of the peshmerga committee in the Kurdistan parliament, confirmed that peshmerga troops were preparing to deploy to Kobani: “We are planning to send a number of peshmerga forces to go and fight in Kobani against (Isis). We are currently selecting the fighters that will be going to Kobani. Turkey has agreed to give passage as long as the peshmerga fighters bring back the weapons that they take in to Kobani.”

Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry said the Obama administration decided to airdrop weapons and ammunitions to “valiant” Kurds because it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support them.

Kerry told reporters in the Indonesian capital Jakarta that the US administration understood Turkey’s concerns about supplying the Kurds, but said the situation is such in Kobani that the resupplies were deemed absolutely necessary in a “crisis moment”.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect [to] the PKK,” Kerry said. “But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy Isil [Isis], and it is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani.”

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu said that the decision to allow the peshmerga to pass through its territory was in line with a wider regional effort to fend off Isis.

“We want the region to be cleared of all threats. We assess the military and medical materials aid provided by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all forces defending Kobani in this framework,” he said. “There are seven or eight groups that are fighting together with the PYD [the Democratic Union party] [in Syria].”

Some observers pointed out that the perceived policy shift in Ankara was no surprise and pointed to a string of violent protests that shook Turkey two weeks ago in response to the government’s perceived inaction over the crisis in Kobani.

Nevertheless, it underscores a bewildering array of allegiances: Turkey last week bombed PKK positions inside its borders, and is days later preparing to aid the PYD, which it says is a direct PKK ally.

Mesut Yegen, a historian of the Kurdish issue, said that Turkey could not risk the fall of Kobani: “The events from two weeks ago clearly showed that if Kobani should fall, the peace process would end. The Turkish government wanted to test how people would react, and they saw what would have happened. Turkey can no longer be seen as watching the drama in Kobani unfold without doing anything.”

Additional reporting: Mais al-Bayaa


Who will help Turkey help Kobani?

We can no longer continue to act like the UN. A global response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq is imperative
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu   
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 21.21 BST          

The plight of the small town of Kobani has become the focus of the world’s attention amid the devastation and misery of Syria. With each day the reign of terror of Islamic State (Isis) has been moving too close for comfort.

It’s worth remembering that Kobani was not Isis’s first target – the extremists have overrun a vast terrain from Azzaz in Syria to Kirkuk in Iraq. Just as they have been driving the Kurds out of Kobani they have killed, intimidated and driven Turkomans out of Çobanbey on the Turkish border; Arabs in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Mosul; Yazidis in Sinjar; and Christians in Aleppo. The tales of horror there are just as atrocious.

With a 1,295km border with Syria and Iraq, this is a danger felt far more acutely by Turkey than any other country. It is a matter of the greatest national security to see the threat of extremism disappear from our neighbourhoods. We are ready, able and willing to do our part to this end – after all, we know only too well the toll of terrorism. Turkey will always be on the frontline in combating terror, including this new menace.

We have opened up our borders and embraced all those from Kobani who wish take refuge in Turkey. We have provided Kobani with all the humanitarian aid possible. We have acted in full cooperation with the international coalition. We are also facilitating the passage of Kurdish peshmerga forces to Kobani. We will continue our contribution to saving the town so its residents can go back to their homes.

Beyond Kobani, effective action requires a clear strategy and endgame. Everyone has to be prepared to play their part, and nobody should be left to bear the consequences alone. Isis is the product of a bigger evil. Not only the fertile ground offered by instability in Syria, but also the ardent support of the regime has helped terrorist groups grow. The regime was Isis’s patron, with the intention that it would eradicate the Syrian opposition, together with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. But Bashar al-Assad’s plan backfired. Isis grew out of control, fed by the territory and weapons it seized in Iraq.

In Kobani, nearly 400 people have died in the past three weeks. In Syria, more than 200,000 people have died since the regime chose to wage war against its own people, more than three years ago. The regime has not hesitated to use heavy artillery against civilian neighbourhoods or fire ballistic missiles. Airborne attacks and barrel bombs have become a daily routine. It even used chemical weapons. As long as this regime remains, Syria will not be stable and secure: violence, particularly terrorism, will continue to emerge – the regime has no qualms about using any method that will keep it in power. The root causes must be tackled.

Resolute and comprehensive action is required to achieve this, involving the establishment of a no-fly zone with safe areas in Syria to protect its citizens. Without it, any operation will be insufficient to eradicate the current threats.

Our past warnings of likely outcomes both in Iraq and Syria regrettably fell on deaf ears. In Syria, the objective must be to make the regime understand that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The regime must engage in serious negotiations for a genuine and inclusive political transition that will lead to a real political change as envisaged by the Geneva conference of 2012.

In Iraq, the aim must be to ensure the mistakes of the previous government are not repeated. Isis has been able to make such a rapid advance due to the environment created by the sectarian and oppressive policies of the past decade. As the new administration takes office, we have the chance to end that sectarianism and reason to be optimistic.

In the meantime we will remain attentive to the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi people. Turkey’s assistance is unprecedented. The number of Syrians from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who have fled and found refuge in Turkey continues to rise, and is now approaching 2 million people. Over the past couple of weeks 200,000 Syrians have arrived from Kobani.

This burden has been appreciated in words but not in deeds. The costs so far have reached $4bn (£2.5bn), and Turkey cannot continue to act as if it were the United Nations. A collective responsibility to address Syria’s plight, including a no-fly zone, becomes imperative.

This is a serious challenge facing the entire world. The callous indifference should end. We should deal head-on with the international peace and security threats posed by Syria and Iraq. The world should no longer allow the Syrian regime to make a mockery of international law and order.

History is made over such events. Good can always prevail over evil. We only need to help it happen.


Humiliation replaces fear for the women kidnapped by Isis

Widow with child sold for marriage after raiding Isis militants shot her husband and took them into captivity

Annabell Van den Berghe in Duhok
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 18.32 BST   

Human Rights Watch believes hundreds of women, many of them Yazidi, are being sold into forced marriages by Isis.

Click to watch:

They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

“A 50-year-old man with a dark beard came to buy me,” she recalls. “From that day on, I didn’t want to live any more.”

Amsha is one of hundreds of Yazidi women from northern Iraq captured during Islamic State’s rapid advance this year. Interviews with women who escaped reveal that Isis corralled the women into halls and other detention centres and gradually sold them off to fighters as the spoils of war.

Isis said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children.

For Amsha, the only mercy is that she managed to retain her son, who is 21 months old. He sits on her lap, holding on tightly, as she recounts the story of the past three months.

The fighters attacked her town in early August, around sunset. Thousands fled to nearby mount Sinjar, but those who weren’t fast enough faced a fate that was sudden and savage.

“When we heard that [Isis] was approaching, we left everything behind and started running,” Amsha says. She and her husband joined a group of tens of other families before they found themselves face to face with Isis.

“The men were then separated from their families and we were forced to follow orders from these men who had just captured the village,” she recalls. “They were told to lie down and face the ground. My husband and brother-in-law laid there shoulder to shoulder.”

Amsha’s voice cracks as she resurrects a terrible memory. “I thought they would rob them. Steal their phones or something like that.”

For a brief moment, Amsha looks up from under her headscarf. It is covering a face full of tears. She plays with the tips of the scarf between her fingers.

“But they killed them. They shot them in the head, one by one.”

After Amsha witnessed her husband’s death, she was forced alongside other women and girls into one of several minibuses that brought them to Mosul, the Iraqi stronghold of the self-proclaimed caliphate.

“I was held prisoner in a dark hall together with hundreds of other women, and girls. Some of them children who were not more than five years old.”

For Amsha, it was not the killing of her husband nor the imprisonment that broke her, but the marriage she would be forced to succumb to.

“Nobody was allowed to leave the prison, unless they were sold,” she says. “On a daily basis, men entered the room to pick out a girl. First the most beautiful girls, the young ones.”

Amsha remembers how mostly Iraqis, but frequently foreigners as well, entered the room to choose themselves a treat. “One day, a 10-year-old got separated from her mother, because a group of men decided to buy the girl. I am constantly worrying for that girl, and all the other girls that are still stuck in that prison.

“When the young girls were sold, I knew my time had come,” Amsha says. Her 50-year-old husband, a man called Zaid, was rough with her. “When I didn’t obey, he’d hit me. You can still see the scars on my back,” she says, pointing at her shoulder blades. “He humiliated me to the bone.

“I was forced to call my mother to tell her I was married. A shame for our family,” she says.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said the precise number of women being enslaved and sold into marriage was unknown. But it cited several escaped women saying they had personally seen hundreds in captivity.

The principal centres for the trade appear to be the main cities under Isis control – Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch, said his group had heard of forced religious conversions, forced marriage, sexual assault and slavery, with some of the victims being children. “The Islamic State’s litany of horrific crimes against the Yazidis in Iraq only keeps growing,” he said.

Dozens of women have escaped and are in hiding. Amsha is one of them.

“Muhanned was thirsty and didn’t stop crying,” she says. “I was banging the door but nobody answered. When I opened the door, I found the guards sleeping,” Amsha says. “I ran away with my son, as fast as I could.”

Without knowing which direction to go, she kept running until she met a man who offered his help. “I wasn’t convinced, but what could I do?” Amsha asks rhetorically. “I decided to put my fate in his hands, and he kept his word.”

The man smuggled her out of Mosul that week, using his daughter’s papers. But, for Amsha, the ordeal isn’t over.

“My parents are happy that I’m here. But I don’t have the courage to continue. At this moment, I only wish to die.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:05 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sinn Fein Leader Is Accused of Covering Up Rape by I.R.A. Member

OCT. 20, 2014

DUBLIN — Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, is at the center of a new controversy over his handling of rape allegations against a senior member of the Irish Republican Army.

A Belfast woman with a strong Republican family pedigree has claimed that she was raped repeatedly by Martin Morris, a senior I.R.A. member, in 1997 when she was 16, and that Mr. Adams was complicit in a cover-up. Mr. Morris has denied the charges.

In recent years, Mr. Adams’s party has weathered several storms arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland. They included his questioning in April by the police in the North over the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who was abducted and shot by the I.R.A. in 1972.

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the I.R.A., has surged in popularity in the Republic of Ireland, where a recent poll showed it was as popular as Fine Gael, the major government party. With an election due in 18 months at the latest, analysts have suggested that Sinn Fein’s political baggage, personified by Mr. Adams, might prove a major stumbling block.

The woman in the rape controversy, Mairia Cahill, now 33, said that after she had confided in some members of the I.R.A., she was summoned to a series of “kangaroo courts” where she was interrogated by the group’s top members and warned not to go to the police or even tell her parents.

Ms. Cahill’s great-uncle, Joe Cahill, was a founding member of the modern-day I.R.A. and a close ally of Mr. Adams. In a BBC Spotlight documentary that was shown last week, Ms. Cahill gave details of meetings she said she had with Mr. Adams, who was considered a family friend, about the rape allegations. Ms. Cahill said Mr. Adams had apologized to her on behalf of the Republican movement; Mr. Adams said the subject of her abuse had not even come up.

Since the program aired on Oct. 14, Ms. Cahill has continued to put pressure on Sinn Fein, and on Mr. Adams in particular, through interviews with news media in Northern Ireland and Ireland. She met with First Minister Peter Robinson of Northern Ireland on Monday and was expected to meet with Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland later in the week.

She said she knew many more women who had similar experiences and were now prepared to come forward.

Mr. Adams told the BBC program that he had cooperated fully with the police on the matter.

After the documentary was shown, Mr. Adams issued a statement denying he had ever made the comments attributed to him by Ms. Cahill and said he had taken legal proceedings against the BBC over the remarks.

Last year, Mr. Adams was accused of covering up the rape and sexual abuse of his niece by her father, Mr. Adams’s brother, Liam. Mr. Adams has said that he was made aware of the allegations in 1987 and that in 2000 he confronted his brother, who admitted they were true. However, he failed to make a statement to the police until 2009, when his niece went public about the abuse. Liam Adams was found guilty and last November was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In her case, Ms. Cahill’s credibility has forced Sinn Fein — and Mr. Adams in particular — into a defensive position, attempting to contextualize I.R.A. involvement in the policing of such matters during the three decades of the Northern Ireland conflict, known as The Troubles.

This culminated on Sunday in a lengthy statement on Mr. Adams’s blog, in which he admitted that the I.R.A. had shot sex offenders and other criminals such as car thieves, burglars and drug dealers.

The I.R.A. often took on this role reluctantly, he said, and only because it had no choice at a time when Northern Ireland nationalists had a deep distrust of the police. That distrust extended to other state agents, like social workers, he said.

“Despite the high standards and decency of the vast majority of I.R.A. volunteers, I.R.A. personnel were singularly ill equipped to deal with these matters,” he said. “This included very sensitive areas, such as responding to demands to take action against rapists and child abusers. The I.R.A. on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.”

Mr. Adams did not comment specifically on Ms. Cahill’s case.

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
U.S. Denial of Visas for 6 in Hungary Strains Ties

OCT. 20, 2014

BUDAPEST — A move by the United States government to declare six unnamed Hungarian public officials suspected of corruption ineligible for visas has blown up into a diplomatic incident that has transfixed Hungarian political circles and provided fresh evidence of growing tension between the two nations.

American diplomats, who have been monitoring public corruption in Hungary for more than a decade, detected “a deterioration of the situation, an overall downward trend,” according to M. Andre Goodfriend, chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy here.

“The situation, if it continues in this way, it will be impossible to work together as allies,” said Mr. Goodfriend, who has been running the embassy in the absence of a permanent ambassador. “That is what we want to avoid.”

Indeed, there has long been friction between Washington and the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Mr. Orban’s election victories have cemented his position as Hungary’s undisputed boss, and his steps to centralize power, stymie opponents, and alter laws in ways that benefit his party and his allies have led to fears of creeping authoritarianism.

The latest diplomatic fracas broke open late last week when a pro-government news site in Budapest posted an article saying that Hungary was investigating some American companies and that the United States, in response, had taken several Hungarians off its approved visa list. That occurred after some companies reported to the American Embassy that they had been solicited for bribes.

The embassy, which said it had told Hungarian officials “as a courtesy” of the excisions from the list and had not intended to make them public, was caught by surprise. It issued a statement saying that it knew of no investigations against American companies but that, indeed, it had declared some Hungarians ineligible to enter the United States “as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.”

By the weekend, speculation mounted over which Hungarian officials had been dropped from the list — the embassy refused to disclose their names, saying it never does so in such visa cases — and which American companies said they had been solicited.

The Hungarian government has demanded that Washington turn over any evidence of corruption. “This issue, in the coming weeks or months, could poison, ruin the Hungarian-American friendship,” said Janos Lazar, Mr. Orban’s chief of staff.

Mr. Goodfriend declined to turn over any evidence, but said an open discussion about public corruption in Hungary was much needed.

American officials insisted it was only a coincidence that the visa episode erupted just before a meeting in Washington on Tuesday between Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister. That meeting is to take place on the same day the European Parliament plans to hold hearings in Strasbourg, France, on the political situation in Budapest.

It also comes less than a month after President Obama, in a speech before the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, pointedly included Hungary among a list of countries where repressive governments silence dissent and “increasingly target civil society.” By Monday, some officials in the Orban government seemed eager to move beyond the scandal. “We are not trying to sweep this under the rug,” Mr. Lazar said.

Orban critics and watchdog groups were pleased to hear a harsher tone from Washington.

Balint Magyar, a former education minister and strong critic of what he calls Hungary’s “post-Communist Mafia state,” said Mr. Orban and his associates appeared to have ignored signals from Washington that it would no longer keep silent about Hungary’s governance.

“I think they thought they could bluff their way out,” Mr. Magyar said. “And now, they have lost already.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:01 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Denmark's plan to offset transport emissions sparks EU row

Green champion’s push to funnel car emissions into the emissions trading system seen as attempt to bend rules

Arthur Neslen, Monday 20 October 2014 18.34 BST   
A Danish bid to expand carbon offsetting to the transport sector has triggered uproar among NGOs and academics, with one new analysis saying it would devastate efforts to reign in fuel emissions.

Transport is responsible for a quarter of Europe’s CO2 pollution and, unlike most sectors, its contribution is rising fast – up 36% since 1990. About half of Europe’s transport emissions come from cars and the EU has ordered car-makers to slash their fuel emissions by 2021.

But the latest draft of the EU’s 2030 climate and energy package, due to be agreed later this week, suggests counting transport emissions within the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS). The document, seen by the Guardian, calls for concrete proposals allowing states to achieve their climate goals with “a new flexibility”.

“We want that flexibility,” said Martin Lidegaard, the foreign minister of Denmark, which has championed the proposal. “All countries of Europe could benefit from this flexible approach. That’s why we’re pressing for it as a solution.”

Denmark is implementing some of Europe’s most ambitious greenhouse gas-cutting plans and aims to meet the EU’s likely 2030 goal of a 40% emissions cut by the end of this decade. But environmentalists say that Copenhagen has also fallen foul of EU obligations which measure emissions cuts in sectors outside the ETS, such as transport and agriculture.

Greg Archer, the clean vehicles manager for the Transport and Environment thinktank told the Guardian that Denmark was now trying to bend the rules in a way that would hurt the rest of the continents carbon-cutting plans.

“The effect of this proposal would be to undermine progress in improving the efficiency of vehicles and cutting transport emissions,” he said. “It would be more expensive for drivers, and it would mean that transport doesn’t have to substantially reduce its emissions, just buy allowances from other sectors as that will be the cheaper way of offsetting their emissions. The net effect would be to put back the point at which transport has to bring down its emissions and decarbonise.”

A new report by Cambridge Econometrics, which the Guardian has seen, backs these concerns, finding that it would take a carbon price of €271 between 2020-2030 to achieve the same fuel economy standards as with a legally-binding target like the 2021 one. The carbon price is currently around €6 a tonne.

Without the 2021 target for new cars, the ETS alone would deliver a mere 1% efficiency improvement by 2030, it says. “This would be insufficient for the road transport sector to contribute proportionately to the EU’s stated goals for decarbonisation,” it says.

German car-makers such as BMW and Daimler, which lobbied hard against the 2021 target, have long preferred a looser regulatory framework, and a €6 per tonne price on emissions levied against fuel suppliers would offer that.

At a panel meeting in Stuttgart last year, Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler reportedly described the development of CO2 fuel standards as “carpet trading” and suggested moving transport emissions into the ETS instead.

Compared to fuel regulations, a BMW briefing paper describes emissions trading as “the more suitable instrument.” The document says: “Emissions trading enables economically efficient attainment of a given emissions budget,” specifying that any regulations should be aimed at upstream fuel refineries, rather than car manufacturers.

“The beauty of the [emission trading] system is that it is cost-effective for society,” a car manufacturers’ representative told a recent EU stakeholders meeting.

Lidegaard though insists that the counting of transport in the ETS is already permitted under current market rules, and need not give rise to complaints from the car industry that they are being ‘double-taxed’ for their emissions.

“I don’t think we should give up binding targets for the car industry,” Lidegaard told the Guardian. “More flexibility in my book doesn’t amount to no efficiency targets for vehicles. This is a very important point. It doesn’t make sense to have country-based targets for the car industry. It only makes sense to have one binding EU-level target.”

Archer though called the minister’s position “naive”. He said: “There is a reason why certain members of the German car industry are lobbying very hard for this proposal. It is because they see an opportunity to either stop, delay or weaken a future efficiency standards for vehicles.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Russian artist cuts off earlobe in protest at use of forced psychiatry on dissidents

Pyotr Pavlensky, who once nailed his scrotum to Red Square’s cobblestones, says protest is over return to Soviet-era methods

Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 16.26 BST      

A controversial Russian artist who once nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square has been taken to hospital after cutting off his earlobe to protest at the forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents.

Pyotr Pavlensky, a St Petersburg-based performance artist, climbed naked on to the roof of the Serbsky psychiatric centre in Moscow on Sunday and cut off his right earlobe with a large kitchen knife.

Covered in blood, he was removed from the roof by police and taken to a Moscow hospital. Doctors thought he might also have contracted pneumonia, his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said on Monday.

But later on Monday, Dinze told the Guardian that Pavlensky did not have pneumonia or lasting problems from the severed earlobe and would probably be discharged from the hospital soon.

In a statement on his wife’s Facebook page on Sunday, Pavlensky said that cutting off his earlobe was meant to represent the damage resulting from police “returning to the use of psychiatry for political goals”.

Pavlensky wrote: “Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white lab coat cuts off from society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate of a single, mandatory norm for everyone.”

The Serbsky centre is infamous for giving questionable diagnoses to many of the dissidents who were confined to psychiatric wards in the USSR. In April, a protester in a demonstration in Bolotnaya Square, Mikhail Kosenko, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky centre declared him insane, a decision that Amnesty International condemned as a return to that Soviet-era practice.

Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was captured by pro-Russia separatists, is being tried for complicity in the deaths of two Russian war correspondents on charges that human rights groups have called politically motivated. She has been undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at the centre since last week.

Prosecutors have been seeking to have Pavlensky undergo a psychiatric evaluation as part of a vandalism case brought against him after he burned tyres on a St Petersburg bridge in February in support of the Kiev protests that toppled the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Last week, a St Petersburg district court turned down for a second time a request to have Pavlensky committed to a psychiatric institution. However, on Monday the artist underwent a psychiatric evaluation at the Moscow hospital and was declared sane, Dinze said.

Pavlensky, who has a long history of self-mutilating protests in Russia, gained international attention in November 2013 when he undressed and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square as “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society”.

He has also wrapped himself naked in barbed wire in front of the St Petersburg legislative assembly and sewn his lips shut to protest at the prosecution of the punk-rock activists Pussy Riot.


Petr Pavlensky: why I nailed my scrotum to Red Square

He has wrapped himself in barbed wire, sewn his lips shut and caused the world to wince with his now-infamous stunt in Moscow. As the Russian authorities circle around Petr Pavlensky, the protest artist explains why he's not afraid

Shaun Walker   
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 February 2014 15.58 GMT     

On a snowless but chilly afternoon early in the Moscow winter, a 29-year-old man with a gaunt, emaciated face stepped on to the vast expanse of Red Square. He made his way to a spot on the cobblestones not far from the marble mausoleum housing the waxy corpse of Vladimir Lenin, and began to undress. In less than a minute, he was naked.

A video taken using a handheld camera and posted online moments later shows tourists gawping as he sits on the ground. A police car arrives, and an officer orders the man to get up. But the man cannot get up – because he is attached to the icy cobbles with a single, long nail that is driven through his scrotum and into the stones below.

This was only the third piece of protest art in the oeuvre of St Petersburg native Petr Pavlensky, but he has already made a name for himself as one of the most intriguing figures on the contemporary Russian art scene. Tapping into the instincts that drove Pussy Riot, and their progenitors, the Voina art collective, Pavlensky fuses risque performance with a deep disdain for the current political environment in Russia. Having previously wrapped himself naked in a coil of barbed wire, and sewn his lips together, this third wince-inducing stunt attracted international attention.

In a statement released to coincide with the performance, Pavlensky said his action, titled Fixation and timed to coincide with Russia's annual Police Day, was "a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society". Pavlensky had a blanket thrown over him by the confused police officers and was eventually detached from the stones and taken to hospital. He was discharged that evening, and released by the police without charge – only for them to open a case of "hooliganism motivated by hatred of a particular social, ethnic or religious group" a few days later. It is the same article of the law that was used against Pussy Riot and can carry a jail sentence of several years.

A fortnight later, Pavlensky is at the railway station in St Petersburg, about to take the night train back to the capital, where he has been summoned by police for questioning the next day. There are rumours in the media that he may be arrested. We meet just before midnight, before he boards his train, and it is hard not to notice the rather forlorn canvas rucksack slung over his shoulder. He appears to have surprisingly few possessions with him for someone who could end up spending months behind bars.

"What do you mean?" he says, matter-of-factly. "I've got socks, pants, everything. I'm ready for anything."

He sounds relaxed and confident, although there is a nervous intensity in his eyes. Escaping the long arm of Russian justice by going on the run was never an option for Pavlensky. "I think that would have discredited everything I'd done before, if at the first sign of danger I'd gone into hiding. So I decided to take a position of strength, because there is nothing to be afraid of. You can be afraid if you feel you are guilty of something and I don't. Anything the authorities do against me means discrediting themselves. The more they do with me, the worse they make it for themselves."

He says the same impulse informs his art: "Whenever I do a performance like this, I never leave the place. It's important for me that I stay there. The authorities are in a dead-end situation and don't know what to do. They can't ask the person to leave a square, because he's nailed to the square. And they can't do anything with a man inside barbed wire."

The influential gallery owner and critic Marat Guelman called Pavlensky's act "the artistic equivalent of setting yourself on fire" and said it was a gesture of hopelessness and desperation. "It was a message to society," he told the Calvert Journal. "We all more or less share his position. People have been forced into a corner – the choice is between leaving, going to prison, or joining up with those in power."

But, in Pavlensky's mind, his action was less a helpless cry of anguish than an aggressive statement of defiance. His performances are not only a protest against the system, but also a protest against people's apathy. "When I did the Carcass piece with the barbed wire, I was not just saying how wonderful our legal system is – people are inside this wire, which torments them, stops them from moving, and they feel pain from every movement. I was also saying people themselves are this barbed wire and create the wire for themselves."

Pavlensky was born in St Petersburg and studied at art college, which he describes as a "disciplinary institution that aims to make servants out of artists". He left in 2012, without completing the course. He says he has a broad range of artistic influences. "I am very interested in Caravaggio, even though he worked with canvas and oils. He had a very serious life project, though: he made works with the theme of self-harm, where he translates real events on to the bodies of his subjects. He isn't a decorative artist. I am very critical of any decorative art as an idea, the idea of ornamentalism and concealment. Everything that does the opposite, that brings things out and reveals how things actually are, this is what interests me."

Pavlensky takes inspiration from a long line of Russian protests, particularly the "Moscow activism" school of the 1990s, and most recently the protest group Voina, who were noted for their outrageous activist art. Voina's performances included staging a mass orgy inside Moscow's biological museum the day before the election of Dmitry Medvedev as president in 2008, under a banner that read: "Fuck for the teddy bear heir."

Later, they painted a giant penis on a St Petersburg bridge, just before it was raised at night for ships to pass, causing the penis to "erect" and point at the FSB security services building on the embankment. The group won a major art prize for the stunt (the Innovatzia, the equivalent of the Turner prize), though they were also pursued by Russian authorities on criminal charges.

Two of the original Voina artists went on to form the punk collective Pussy Riot, who with their mix of music, art and activism also chose Red Square for one of the first performances, in 2011. Later, they would stage their fateful action in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which would see three of them stand trial for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Pavlensky says it was during the Pussy Riot trial that he first began to understand the need for a more radical approach to art. "Their trial affected me more than many things in my own life. I started looking at other people and wondering why they were not doing anything. And that is when I had the important realisation that you should not wait for things from other people. You need to do things yourself."
Link to video: Russian artist nails scrotum to Red Square cobbles

The idea for his most recent performance came when he was briefly held in a cell after the Carcass stunt. A fellow prisoner regaled him with stories of the Gulag, where prisoners had sometimes nailed their scrotums to trees in an act of protest at the inhumane conditions and miserable existence. "I didn't think much of it at first but then, when I began thinking that the whole country is becoming a prison system, that Russia is turning into a big prison and a police state, it seemed perfect."

Some suggested that the act may not have been as gruesome as it seemed, with a piercing having been made prior to the event and the nail simply pushed through, but as we walk along the freezing platform for him to board the Moscow train, Pavlensky insists that he actually drove the nail through that afternoon. "I have the medical report to prove it," he says. "I was careful not to rupture a vein but it was very bloody and sore. They wanted to give me antibiotics and other medications, but I refused."

In the end, Pavlensky was not arrested at his questioning the following day in Moscow, but the charges against him still stand, and he remains under investigation. In late January, officers arrived at the cable channel TV Rain and demanded to be given a recording of an interview Pavlensky had given them, saying they needed to examine it as part of a "psychological-linguistic expert analysis" that was being carried out as part of the case against him.

Despite the real threat of a jail term, Pavlensky does not plan to stop, and says his unusually painful brand of art comes from an imperative impulse towards radicalism: "It was a very important step for me – to understand what happens when a person becomes an artist, when a person becomes stronger than their indifference and overcomes their inertia. I don't think an artist can exist without this and just be isolated and contemplative. An artist has no right not to take a stand."

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