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 61 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iraqi Campaign to Drive ISIS From Tikrit Reveals Tensions With U.S.

By ANNE BARNARD
MARCH 3, 2015
NYT

BAGHDAD — Tensions between Iraq and the United States over how to battle the Islamic State broke into the open on Tuesday, as Iraqi officials declared that they would fight on their own timetable with or without American help, and as United States warplanes conspicuously sat out the biggest Iraqi counteroffensive yet amid concerns over Iran’s prominent role.

On Monday, Iraq launched a politically sensitive operation to oust Islamic State militants from Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, without seeking American approval, officials said. Even as Iraq was taking a first step into a bigger battle to oust the Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, it was also signaling that its alliance with the United States might be more fraught than officials had let on.

American officials, for their part, voiced unease with the prominent role of Iran and its allied Shiite militias in the Tikrit operation. Shiite militia leaders said that their fighters made up more than two-thirds of the pro-government force of 30,000, and that the Iranian spymaster Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was helping to lead from near the front lines.

Alongside them were advisers and troops from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, operating artillery, rocket launchers and surveillance drones, according to American officials, who said that the Iranian forces’ participation in the assault in Iraq’s Sunni heartland could inflame the sectarian divide that the Islamic State has exploited.

The operation comes against the backdrop of Iraqi irritation with American officials after they declared that the assault against the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, would begin in April and then backpedaled, saying Iraqi forces would not be ready until fall, if then.

Ali al-Alaa, a close aide to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, expressed frustration with what he described as a sluggish American pace and pessimistic American estimates of how long it would take to drive the Islamic State from Mosul and the western province of Anbar.

“The Americans continue procrastinating about the time it will take to liberate the country,” he said in an interview. “Iraq will liberate Mosul and Anbar without them.”

Abbas al-Moussawi, the spokesman for Mr. Abadi’s predecessor and rival, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said that there was “a crisis of trust” between the Americans and the Iraqis, and that “if they will not resolve this problem, we’ll have a big problem in Mosul.”

Still, the United States-led coalition continued to bombard Islamic State militants in other parts of Iraq. And a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Gen. Tahseen al-Sheikhly, insisted in an interview that Iraq’s military cooperation with the United States was in fine shape, adding that American officials regularly participated in joint operation meetings in Baghdad that include representatives of Shiite militias.

American and Iraqi officials alike said that the Iraqis had not asked for American help in Tikrit, but some Iraqi officials suggested that was because they knew it would not be forthcoming. And while both sides said that the Americans had been warned of the operation, the defense spokesman, General Sheikhly, said that the “zero hour” — the start time of the assault — was known only to Mr. Abadi.

“We still welcome the international alliance’s support,” said Mr. Alaa, the prime minister’s aide. “But if they won’t be supporting us, we have no problem.”

But progress appeared slow in the push against Tikrit on Tuesday, with no breakthrough in the Iraqi coalition’s efforts to enter the city. Iraqi military officials said they had reached the outskirts of Al Dour, just south of the city, and were advancing slowly after freeing 13 police officers held there by the Islamic State.

Mohammad al-Turkomani, a leader in the militias known as the “popular mobilization” forces, said that with American participation in Tikrit, “we would have moved twice as fast.”

Since the Islamic State swept into Iraq in June, Iran and the United States, longtime enemies that both support the Iraqi government, have maintained an uneasy de facto alliance against the group, with the United States-led coalition unleashing airstrikes, and Shiite militias aligned with Iran fighting alongside army and Kurdish forces on the ground. There have also been growing reports of Iranian forces’ directly joining the fight within Iraq.

The Americans’ discomfort has grown as Mr. Abadi’s government has been unable to mobilize significant Sunni forces to join the fight, something that American officials consider crucial to breaking the Islamic State’s hold on many heavily Sunni areas.

For their part, Iraqi officials increasingly complain that American support has not been as robust as Iran’s. Many Iraqis resent what they see as American squeamishness about the militias, which by all accounts have been crucial to holding back the Islamic State after regular army units fled its assault.

“Americans consider us a militia that does not represent the government, while we are defending the country and helping the government,” said Mueen al-Kadhimy, a leader in the Badr Organization, a prominent militia. “We are the people of Iraq.”

The Tikrit offensive could prove to be a first step toward driving back the Islamic State, or it could deepen longstanding sectarian and political divides that the militants have exploited to win support from some Iraqi Sunnis and acquiescence from others. The group has also used brutal intimidation tactics against Sunnis who reject it or support the government in Baghdad.

But at the same time, Shiite militias have been accused of reprisals against the Sunni population, many of whom regard them with suspicion and fear.

The Tikrit operation is the Iraqis’ first attempt to seize the area since June, when Islamic State militants massacred more than 1,000 Iraqi Shiite soldiers as they fled a nearby military base, Camp Speicher. There have been fears that Shiite militia members from the same areas many of the soldiers hailed from could take revenge on local Sunnis if they enter Tikrit, and some militia leaders have openly called the assault a revenge operation.

“There’s a risk there,” said one senior American military official, expressing concern that the Iraqi operations might not pay sufficient attention to the risks of civilian casualties from indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire.

But the American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing battle, acknowledged that if the Iraqis and their Iranian advisers maintained strict controls on their targeting and the operation resulted in “fewer ISIS fighters and chasing them from Tikrit, that’s not unhelpful.”

 62 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Germany to Bolster Investment in Cities and Towns

By ALISON SMALE
MARCH 3, 2015
IHT

BERLIN — Germany announced on Tuesday that it would commit an additional 5 billion euros to helping the country’s needy municipalities, sweetening a €10 billion, or $11.2 billion, investment plan announced last fall.

The announcement comes amid calls from Germany’s partners in the eurozone to do more to stimulate the country’s domestic demand, rather than focus primarily on the German export economy.

The stimulus plan also followed a speech on Monday in which Chancellor Angela Merkel, often seen as the stern enforcer of austerity, reaffirmed her view that budget discipline was essential to economic growth.

The investment in towns and cities will be financed from rising tax revenue and will not affect the government’s pledge to stick to a balanced budget, a status it achieved last year for the first time since 1969.

A statement from the Finance Ministry said Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister, and Sigmar Gabriel, the vice chancellor and economics minister, along with other ministers and parliamentary leaders of Ms. Merkel’s grand coalition government, had all agreed “that the goal of a balanced federal budget with no new borrowing may not be challenged by the federal initiative to invest.”

The extra investment will be submitted for cabinet approval on March 18, the Finance Ministry said.

Of the new money, €1.5 billion is to be made available through a supplementary budget this year, and the remaining €3.5 billion from a special fund that struggling municipalities can use through 2018, Finance Ministry officials said.

Most of the target municipalities are in states in western Germany: North Rhine-Westphalia, which is the most populous; Saarland; and Rhineland Palatinate.

Mr. Gabriel, who represents a center-left constituency, said the decision to assist the municipalities was a response to calls for more investment in infrastructure and for strengthening of Germany’s social fabric.

“In times of globalization, people need solid ground under their feet, and that comes from solid communities,” Mr. Gabriel said.

European allies and the United States have repeatedly urged Germany, which has Europe’s largest economy, to stimulate domestic demand. Mr. Schäuble announced last fall that Germany would earmark €10 billion through 2018 for public investment, saying that the money was Germany’s contribution to a plan announced by the European Union in Brussels for an extra €300 billion in investment across the bloc.

 63 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Western Leaders Want 'Strong Reaction' if Major Violation of Ukraine Truce

by Naharnet Newsdesk 03 March 2015, 22:01

Western leaders on Tuesday called for a "strong reaction" from the international community if a major violation of a truce in Ukraine occurs, the French presidency said after video conference talks.

The leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Italy as well as EU head Donald Tusk held video talks on the Ukraine conflict on Tuesday.

The leaders agreed that a "strong reaction from the international community would be necessary in the case of a major violation in the implementation" of a peace deal agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk on February 12, a statement said.

They all underscored their backing for the Minsk agreement and the link between current sanctions and the implementation of the Minsk deal.

Washington and its European allies have accused Russia of fueling the conflict by sending troops and weapons across the border and propping up pro-Moscow separatists. Russia denies the charges.

A series of internationally brokered truces have largely been ignored. The Ukraine conflict has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Source: Agence France Presse

 64 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Russian Bombers Disrupted Planes in Irish Airspace

by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 March 2015, 06:59

One plane was diverted and another delayed to avoid two Russian bombers that flew through Irish-controlled airspace without warning in February, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday.

The disruption is believed to have occurred during the same February 18 incident in which British RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled to escort two Russian bear bombers identified flying close to British airspace.

The move was seen as a show of strength by Russia amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine, where Prime Minister David Cameron has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of challenging the territorial integrity of Kiev.

The Irish authority said that the two Russian aircraft were flying with their transponders switched off -- devices that help aircraft to be identified by air traffic control radars.

"One aircraft's departure from Dublin was delayed due to the activity of the Russian military aircraft in UK controlled airspace," the IAA said in a statement.

"The routing of one en route aircraft was changed to ensure that its track was sufficiently separated from the track of the two Russian military aircraft," it added.

The diverted and delayed planes were commercial jets "carrying hundreds of people", newspaper the Irish Examiner reported.

However, the IAA sad there had been "no safety impact to civilian traffic in Irish controlled airspace".

The aircraft did not enter Irish sovereign airspace, but flew in Irish controlled airspace within 25 nautical miles (46.3 km) of the Irish coast between 1500 GMT and 1900 GMT, according to the authority.

British Defence Minister Michael Fallon warned that NATO need to be ready for "any kind of aggression from Russia" following the incident, which came after London summoned the Russian ambassador over a similar episode in January.

On Tuesday, leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and EU head Donald Tusk called for a "strong reaction" from the international community to any major violation of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine in a bid to increase pressure on Russia.

Both Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels accuse the other of continuing to mount attacks in defiance of a deal forged in a bid to end 11 months of bloodshed that has killed over 6,000 people, according to the UN.

Nevertheless, violence has abated over the past week, increasing hopes the agreement could hold.

Source: Agence France Presse

 65 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In Putin's Russia, West Blamed for Nemtsov Murder

by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 March 2015, 11:41

Kremlin opponent Boris Nemtsov's blood was barely dry on the Moscow sidewalk before powerful Russians came up with a startlingly clear conclusion: that the West was to blame.

The West stands accused of an increasing number of outrages in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

All-powerful state television networks, cowed newspapers and a tame parliament mean the Kremlin has no lack of mouthpieces for a campaign to persuade Russians that they are under attack -- by a Cold War-style enemy beyond their borders and by what the media regularly calls "traitors" and "fifth columnists" within.

When Nemtsov, one of the last outspoken opponents to Putin in public life, was assassinated while strolling with his girlfriend right next to Red Square on Friday night, Putin quickly announced a "provocation".

That set the tone for what followed.

The investigative committee assigned to Nemtsov's case quickly issued a list of possible motives.

Not surprisingly, the list did not include the fear expressed by Nemtsov's friends and opposition colleagues that allies, or at least followers, of Putin had ordered him killed.

In fact, the top option offered by the authorities was that Russia's beleaguered and poorly supported opposition had itself killed Nemtsov in order to create a scandal.

From there, Putin's allies plunged into ever more detailed theories.

The Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov -- a man repeatedly accused of overseeing torture and extrajudicial executions -- announced "there was no doubt" about Nemtsov's murder.

It "was organised by Western secret services to provoke an internal conflict in Russia," said Kadyrov, one of Putin's most ardent supporters.

"First they take someone under their wing, call that person 'a friend of the United States and Europe' and then sacrifice him to blame the local authorities," he said.

The conspiracy theories recalled the reaction to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

As allegations mounted that Moscow-backed rebels had shot down the plane by mistake, Russian state media pushed back with elaborate alternatives about how Ukraine destroyed the plane -- again, in order to embarrass Russia.

One theory even suggested the airliner was shot down because its logo resembled the Russian flag and that Ukrainians thought they were shooting at Putin's presidential jet.

Another theory was that the crash was faked with bodies of people killed elsewhere -- as always, to mount a provocation against Russia.

- 'Information war' -

Communist lawmaker Ivan Melnikov drew a specific parallel between Nemtsov and MH17.

"If you look at the timing, all this looks like a bloody provocation organised with the same goal as the downing of the Boeing," he said.

The aim was "to invite unrest in the country and unleash an anti-Russia hysteria abroad," he said.

That was a message repeated by a string of personalities on state news channel Rossiya 24.

"This is an operation in which we can see the hand of the Western secret services," said the former speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, Gennady Seleznev.

Political analyst Alexei Martynov said: "I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Americans reacted (to Nemtsov's murder) with suspicious promptness."

A similar pattern of conspiracy theories emerged when Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading journalist who exposed the horrors of Chechnya, was shot dead at the entrance of her home in central Moscow in 2006.

And, as with the deaths of numerous other opposition-minded figures, her killing has never been fully solved.

- 'Darkest instincts' -

The way the conspiracy theories emerge and take over resembles an organised effort.

Former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul tweeted that he had received "hundreds, if not thousands of tweets" with the same wording: the "USA killed Nemtsov", in what he called an obvious "paid campaign".

But the reaction to Nemtsov's death is only part of a wider web of anti-Western sentiment that the authorities encouraged against Nemtsov and other opposition figures.

State-controlled NTV television had been on the point of broadcasting a new documentary denouncing opposition leaders including Nemtsov, but pulled the show after his murder.

It's not just on the airwaves, either. A big pro-Kremlin rally a week before Nemtsov was killed featured placards reading: "Let's finish off the fifth column."

For some, the atmosphere makes violence inevitable, whoever actually pulled the trigger.

"The murder of Nemtsov is on the conscience of the authorities, which have let loose the darkest instincts of the pogrom," prominent Russian lawyer Genrikh Reznik wrote on Twitter.

Source: Agence France Presse

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

Russian Bombers Disrupted Planes in Irish Airspace

by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 March 2015, 06:59

One plane was diverted and another delayed to avoid two Russian bombers that flew through Irish-controlled airspace without warning in February, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday.

The disruption is believed to have occurred during the same February 18 incident in which British RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled to escort two Russian bear bombers identified flying close to British airspace.

The move was seen as a show of strength by Russia amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine, where Prime Minister David Cameron has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of challenging the territorial integrity of Kiev.

The Irish authority said that the two Russian aircraft were flying with their transponders switched off -- devices that help aircraft to be identified by air traffic control radars.

"One aircraft's departure from Dublin was delayed due to the activity of the Russian military aircraft in UK controlled airspace," the IAA said in a statement.

"The routing of one en route aircraft was changed to ensure that its track was sufficiently separated from the track of the two Russian military aircraft," it added.

The diverted and delayed planes were commercial jets "carrying hundreds of people", newspaper the Irish Examiner reported.

However, the IAA sad there had been "no safety impact to civilian traffic in Irish controlled airspace".

The aircraft did not enter Irish sovereign airspace, but flew in Irish controlled airspace within 25 nautical miles (46.3 km) of the Irish coast between 1500 GMT and 1900 GMT, according to the authority.

British Defence Minister Michael Fallon warned that NATO need to be ready for "any kind of aggression from Russia" following the incident, which came after London summoned the Russian ambassador over a similar episode in January.

On Tuesday, leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and EU head Donald Tusk called for a "strong reaction" from the international community to any major violation of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine in a bid to increase pressure on Russia.

Both Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels accuse the other of continuing to mount attacks in defiance of a deal forged in a bid to end 11 months of bloodshed that has killed over 6,000 people, according to the UN.

Nevertheless, violence has abated over the past week, increasing hopes the agreement could hold.

Source: Agence France Presse

 66 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
In Putin's Russia, West Blamed for Nemtsov Murder

by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 March 2015, 11:41

Kremlin opponent Boris Nemtsov's blood was barely dry on the Moscow sidewalk before powerful Russians came up with a startlingly clear conclusion: that the West was to blame.

The West stands accused of an increasing number of outrages in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

All-powerful state television networks, cowed newspapers and a tame parliament mean the Kremlin has no lack of mouthpieces for a campaign to persuade Russians that they are under attack -- by a Cold War-style enemy beyond their borders and by what the media regularly calls "traitors" and "fifth columnists" within.

When Nemtsov, one of the last outspoken opponents to Putin in public life, was assassinated while strolling with his girlfriend right next to Red Square on Friday night, Putin quickly announced a "provocation".

That set the tone for what followed.

The investigative committee assigned to Nemtsov's case quickly issued a list of possible motives.

Not surprisingly, the list did not include the fear expressed by Nemtsov's friends and opposition colleagues that allies, or at least followers, of Putin had ordered him killed.

In fact, the top option offered by the authorities was that Russia's beleaguered and poorly supported opposition had itself killed Nemtsov in order to create a scandal.

From there, Putin's allies plunged into ever more detailed theories.

The Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov -- a man repeatedly accused of overseeing torture and extrajudicial executions -- announced "there was no doubt" about Nemtsov's murder.

It "was organised by Western secret services to provoke an internal conflict in Russia," said Kadyrov, one of Putin's most ardent supporters.

"First they take someone under their wing, call that person 'a friend of the United States and Europe' and then sacrifice him to blame the local authorities," he said.

The conspiracy theories recalled the reaction to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

As allegations mounted that Moscow-backed rebels had shot down the plane by mistake, Russian state media pushed back with elaborate alternatives about how Ukraine destroyed the plane -- again, in order to embarrass Russia.

One theory even suggested the airliner was shot down because its logo resembled the Russian flag and that Ukrainians thought they were shooting at Putin's presidential jet.

Another theory was that the crash was faked with bodies of people killed elsewhere -- as always, to mount a provocation against Russia.

- 'Information war' -

Communist lawmaker Ivan Melnikov drew a specific parallel between Nemtsov and MH17.

"If you look at the timing, all this looks like a bloody provocation organised with the same goal as the downing of the Boeing," he said.

The aim was "to invite unrest in the country and unleash an anti-Russia hysteria abroad," he said.

That was a message repeated by a string of personalities on state news channel Rossiya 24.

"This is an operation in which we can see the hand of the Western secret services," said the former speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, Gennady Seleznev.

Political analyst Alexei Martynov said: "I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Americans reacted (to Nemtsov's murder) with suspicious promptness."

A similar pattern of conspiracy theories emerged when Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading journalist who exposed the horrors of Chechnya, was shot dead at the entrance of her home in central Moscow in 2006.

And, as with the deaths of numerous other opposition-minded figures, her killing has never been fully solved.

- 'Darkest instincts' -

The way the conspiracy theories emerge and take over resembles an organised effort.

Former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul tweeted that he had received "hundreds, if not thousands of tweets" with the same wording: the "USA killed Nemtsov", in what he called an obvious "paid campaign".

But the reaction to Nemtsov's death is only part of a wider web of anti-Western sentiment that the authorities encouraged against Nemtsov and other opposition figures.

State-controlled NTV television had been on the point of broadcasting a new documentary denouncing opposition leaders including Nemtsov, but pulled the show after his murder.

It's not just on the airwaves, either. A big pro-Kremlin rally a week before Nemtsov was killed featured placards reading: "Let's finish off the fifth column."

For some, the atmosphere makes violence inevitable, whoever actually pulled the trigger.

"The murder of Nemtsov is on the conscience of the authorities, which have let loose the darkest instincts of the pogrom," prominent Russian lawyer Genrikh Reznik wrote on Twitter.

Source: Agence France Presse

 67 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mapping the global battle to protect our planet

A new project maps environmental protest across the world, powerfully visualising a growing movement
EJAtlas

Leah Temper in Barcelona
Tuesday 3 March 2015 15.08 GMT
Guardian

In 2012 protests erupted in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina over the demolition of a much beloved local park to build a business complex. A movement under the slogan “This Park is Ours” aimed originally at protecting the green space soon broadened into a collective movement aimed against corruption, lack of transparency, economic inequality and dwindling social services. Hundreds of protesters from all social classes and religions gathered daily in the endangered park, becoming part of a Bosnian spring that came to represent a struggle for human dignity and accountability under most articulated civic movement since the 1992-1995 war.

From Banja Luka to Gezi Park, Turkey to Rosia Montana, Romania to the land wars across India, social conflicts are increasingly playing out through battles around environmental resources and in defence of common land.

These struggles have sometimes toppled governments, such as the coup in Madagascar in 2008 that brought “land-grabbing” to global attention when Daewoo was given a lease to grow food and biofuels for export on half the country’s land. But most of the time, the evictions, forced relocations and the violent repression of those impacted by contamination from gold mines, oil extraction, plantations and agribusiness operations are rarely covered in the press. Ecological violence inflicted upon the poor is often not news but simply considered to be part of the costs of “business as usual”.

While statistics on strike action have been collected since the late 19th century for many countries and now globally by the International Labour Organisation, there is no one body that tracks the occurrence and frequency of mobilisations and protests related to the environment. It was this need to better understand and to track such contentious activity that motivated the Atlas of Environmental Justice project, an online interactive map that catalogues localised stories of resistance against damaging projects: from toxic waste sites to oil refining operations to areas of deforestation.

EJatlas aims to make ecological conflicts more visible and to highlight the structural impacts of economic activities on the most vulnerable populations. It serves as a reference for scientists, journalists, teachers and a virtual space for information, networking and knowledge sharing among activists, communities and concerned citizens.

The EJatlas was inspired by the work of participating Environmental Justice Organisations, such as Grain, the World Rainforest Movement and Oilwatch International, OCMAL, the Latin American Observatory of Mining Conflicts, whose work fighting and supporting impacted communities for 20-30 years now has helped articulate a global movement for environmental justice. The global atlas of environmental justice is an initiative of Ejolt, a European supported research project that brings together 23 organisations to catalogue and analyse ecological conflicts. The conflicts are entered by collaborating activists and researchers and moderated by a team at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

At the moment the atlas documents 1,400 conflicts, with the ability to filter across over 100 fields describing the actors, the forms of mobilisation from blockades to referendums, impacts and outcomes. It resembles in many ways a medieval world map – while some regions have been mapped, others remain “blank spots” still to be filled. While much work remains to be done, the work so far offers several insights into the nature and shape of environmental resistance today.

Brazil drought: water rationing alone won't save Sao Paulo

Firstly, it highlights how those on the frontlines of these struggles are often not environmentalists – they are communities defending their livelihoods, the right to participate in decision-making and recognition of their life projects. Nor it this, as governments and companies try to paint it, about a balance between development and conservation. It is rather about the meaning of development itself, who is sacrificed in the name of development and who decides. Pollution is not democratic, nor is it colour blind.

Secondly, it shows how the globalisation of the economy and material and financial flows is being followed by the globalisation of resistance. Mobilisations are increasingly interlinked across locations: anti-incineration activists make alliances with waste-picker movements to argue how through recycling they “cool down the earth”. Foil Vedanta, a group of activists fighting a bauxite mine on a sacred mountain in India, follow the company’s supply chain to Zambia, where they reveal Vedanta is evading tax and spark street protests there. Trans-nationally, new points of convergence unite movements working on issues from food sovereignty to land-grabbing, biofuels and climate justice.

From land grabs to anti union behaviour, businesses are increasingly being held accountable

This globalising of concerns has led to more civil society participation in multi-lateral governance, but the outcomes are often based on voluntary guidelines. While investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms such as those embedded in trade agreements such as the proposed TTIP EU-US trade agreement can allow corporations to sue states, there is no way to hold corporate abusers to account. The Chevron case, where the company has managed to evade a 9.5 billion euro fine imposed by the top Ecuadorean courts for devastating the Amazon is only one example of this challenge.

The evidence shows that “corporate social responsibility” is not a panacea and that until corporate accountability can be enforced, successful “cost-shifting” will remain a defining feature of doing business.

Shedding light on human rights: do businesses stand up to scrutiny?

Thirdly, the diversity of conflicts demonstrate that technical innovations and the greening of capitalism through “pricing nature” will not solve the environmental crisis. Biofuels, off-setting projects and even geo-engineering of the climate are leading to new conflicts as northern consumers occupy even more environmental space in the south – this time to absorb their atmospheric emissions. Naomi Klein has powerfully pointed out how looming climate chaos can only be addressed through a restructuring of the global economy, calling attention to inter-generational justice and the world we are leaving behind us. But the thousands of actually existing and localised struggles of environmental dispossession in the EJatlas are an even more potent call for the need for systemic change that addresses the unequal distribution of power and lack of democratic participation that are at the root of both social injustice and environmental degradation.

The danger such movements represent to powerful vested interests is attested to by the intensity of the violence and backlash wielded to repress them, with over 30% of cases shown on the map entailing arrests, killings, abuses and other forms of repression against activists. It is not an exaggeration in many countries to speak of a veritable “war against environmental defenders”.

Furthermore the number of violent conflicts is set to increase because the world’s remaining natural capital currently lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous and subsistence peoples. Communities who have nothing left to lose are willing to use increasingly contentious tactics to defend their way of life.

Beyond stories of disaster and degradation, the struggles documented in the atlas highlight how impacted communities are not helpless victims. These are not only defensive and reactionary battles but proactive struggles for common land, for energy and food sovereignty, for Buen Vivir, indigenous ways of life and for justice. The environment is increasingly a conduit for frustrations over the shape of capitalist development. Tracking these spaces of ecological resistance through the Environmental Justice Atlas highlights both the urgency and the potential of these movements to trigger broader transcendental movements that can confront asymmetrical power relations and move towards truly sustainable economic systems.

The up-to-date version of the atlas will be presented at the closing meeting of the Ejolt project in Brussels today where the project brings attention to the increasing persecution of environmental defenders and calls on European Union policymakers and parliamentarians to integrate environmental justice concerns into their policy agenda and move towards reducing the current atmosphere of impunity for environmental crimes.

 68 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:39 AM 
Started by Romana - Last post by Rad
Hi Romana

I found this article today that might be interesting for all to read.

God Bless, Rad

India's transgender mayor – is the country finally overcoming prejudice?

They’ve been insulted, forced into prostitution and discriminated against for decades, but now India’s hijra transgender community has one of their own in power. Eesha Patkar meets Madhu, the mayor of Raigarh

Eesha Patkar in Raigarh
Tuesday 3 March 2015 06.00 GMT
The Guardian

Dayanand Anglo Vedic Convent School is normally a nondescript institution, hidden in the labyrinthine alleys of Chandmari, Chhattisgarh. But last month the school’s courtyard was transformed with a bright, multi-coloured marquee, and the students were whispering excitably.

When the special guest finally arrived, her presence was imposing. Six feet tall and clad in a stiff Nehru jacket over a yellow silk sari, Madhu Kinnar brought a grand, ceremonious air. The school’s director introduced her to the students, honoured her with garlands and then ushered her to a set of hurriedly placed plastic chairs to observe the school dance competition. Every few minutes, a young boy or girl would turn around to stare at her in fascination.

It’s clear why: Madhu is a hijra (or kinnar as they’re known in parts of Chhattisgarh and north India), a transgender woman. The hijra community is largely discriminated against throughout the country. In Raigarh, however, Madhu occupies celebrity status (and like Madonna, goes by one name). On 5 January, the voters of Raigarh – population 137,097 – elected the 35-year-old Madhu as India’s only transgender mayor.

    It was on the streets she became acutely aware of what she still considers her city’s biggest urban problem: sanitation

Most hijras are transgender women born male but who identify as women or “in-between”. Usually shunned by their families or mistaken for eunuchs, transgender Indians often join the hijra community – a relatively organised, hierarchical system in which new members follow their reet (tradition) of becoming a chela (disciple) to an elder hijra guru to learn the ways of navigating society on the fringes. These customs include begging for alms and singing and dancing at weddings and births for luck.

Only a year ago, Madhu was singing and dancing on the streets of Raigarh as a means of earning her living, a habitual form of livelihood among hijra communities across India. It was on those streets that she became acutely aware of what she still considers her city’s biggest urban problem: sanitation.

“There were no proper sidewalks,” she recalls . “The alleys were dirty and piled high with garbage. Poor people, abandoned in their old age, slept in the streets with nothing to keep them warm. We decided to do something – by running for this election.”

The initial signs were not encouraging. Not only did Madhu have no particular qualifications or experience, but India’s two previous transgender municipal leaders – Kamla Jaan of Katni, elected in 1999, and Kamala Kinnar of Sagar in 2009 – were pejoratively termed “eunuchs” by the media and, within two years, asked to step down by their town courts who declared their candidacy “null and void” for contesting in the female category.

    Most of the young men in Madhu’s camp are dissatisfied former members of Congress or the BJP who’ve since defected

But a couple of things were in Madhu’s favour. First, last April, the Supreme Court of India declared the transgender community as a legal third gender, granting them minority rights and privileges to education, employment and health benefits.

Second, and perhaps Madhu’s biggest advantage, was that she decided to run as an independent candidate. Like most of India, Raigarh’s seats of power have chiefly been controlled by two main political parties – the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress Party – both of which have earned the Raigarh public’s ire for their inability to achieve progress.

“Neither BJP or Congress have managed to get any work done in Raigarh in the last 15 years,” said Ramesh Singh, a party aide in Madhu’s team.

Singh, originally a member of the local Congress party, first noticed Madhu when she was campaigning door-to-door with some of her kinnar brethren. He resigned from his party to join her. In fact, most of the young men in Madhu’s camp are dissatisfied former members of Congress or the BJP who’ve since defected.

When Madhu defeated the BJP’s Mahaveer Guruji by 4,537 votes, a Congress party member snidely called it the “BJP’s loss, not Madhu’s win”. Madhu herself was unperturbed. She says the people of Raigarh were just happy to see her come forward.

“I was born in this city and almost everyone here knows me,” she says.

Born Naresh Chauhan, she dropped out of school in her mid-teens and left her family to join the local transgender community. Calling herself “Madhu” – the last name “Kinnar” derives from her community – was a step in disassociating herself from her given male name. As expected, she faced prejudice. “We’ve been made fun of, bullied and called names because we’re nothing more than kinnar to them,” she says. “If we danced somewhere, people thought we were bad luck.”

She expected a similar reaction after gaining public office. “I was apprehensive at first,” she says of her inauguration day. “I had never appeared before such a huge crowd – all those powerful councillors, officers, and deputies.”

But she says she didn’t experience any problems, and believes she has seen a change in behaviour across Raigarh, with everyday citizens treating not only her but her fellow kinnars with more respect, calling her Mausi (“aunty”) or Didi (“sister”). She also quickly made a name for herself as a down-to-earth politician, riding to city hall on a borrowed scooter or by rickshaw, or getting a lift from anyone willing to give one. (She did, however, ask for a bodyguard, just in case.)

    In reality, Raigarh has bigger hygiene problems than dirty ponds

That down-to-earth approach is literally evident in her daily management of local affairs. Every morning at 7am, Madhu and a small team do the rounds of the local wards to tackle her main foe: sanitation. She spends much of her time harassing city workers to fix clogged wells, pipes and unhygienic gutters. Problems like these tend to remain ignored in India if someone higher up isn’t pressing the issue, and Madhu’s politically savvy staff – familiar with the years of bad governance – have insisted on overseeing it themselves.

She has also trained her gaze on the Sanjay Complex vegetable market, which supplies produce to all of Raigarh’s 48 wards. “The conditions of this market are really unhygienic, and the traffic makes things worse,” she says. “We want to clean everything first, give it a structure, each vendor a proper stall, and take care of all the drainage problems.”

Though cleanliness and hygiene are the cornerstones of Madhu’s agenda, she is also looking into some of her constituents’ suggestions about cleaning and filling up some of the lakes and ponds that have fallen dry, and “creating gardens or small park spaces for old people to walk and children to play.”

In reality, Raigarh has bigger hygiene problems than dirty ponds. The district is a major coal mining centre, and home to Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, one of the biggest industrial firms in India. Trucks pass through Raigarh all the time, polluting it with coal dust that has plagued the city’s inhabitants for decades. Madhu’s solution smacks of nimbyism: “We want to reroute the truck traffic to the outer roads of the city, so that Raigarh’s citizens are not affected by the powder and dust flying off the trucks.”

Madhu – who has never left Raigarh – also seems sanguine about the status of the transgender community in general. She says she’s not looking to make any big efforts to improve their impoverished lifestyle. “Our true roots lie in this tradition of naach-gaana (song and dance), not politics,” she said. “But it was something carried on mostly by our elders, our gurus. For the younger, educated kinnars, I wish for them to be a part of society and find jobs – but only if they desire it.” (Madhu’s personal assistant Kunti is a kinnar too.)

In general, she paints a rose-tinted picture of the place of transgender Indians in the city. “I don’t think there’s any discrimination [in Raigarh] any more. Sab mit gaya hai [It has all vanished].”

    The Supreme Court decision didn't have anything to do with my winning. It was God’s grace and the love of my people
    Madhu

Given the circumstances that the transgender community in India continues to face, Madhu’s blithe declaration is rather a surprise. Historically, India’s “third sex” has been excluded from all social, cultural, political and economic spaces, leaving them vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, and poverty. In 1871, the British Raj enacted the Criminal Tribes Act, under which certain tribes and communities were considered criminal by birth – including “eunuchs” or those who “dressed or ornamented like a woman in a public street”. Only in 1952, five years after independence, did prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru repeal the act, calling it a “blot on the law book of free India”. Although India’s transgender citizens finally won suffrage in 1994, they had to wait until 2012 for the Election Commission of India to add a new category to the electoral roll, “Other” (activists have demanded it be changed to “Transgender”; the Commission has so far refused). As of 2014, only 28,314 voters were registered as “Other” – a far cry from the 2011 census count of 490,000 transgender Indians.

More broadly, Indians are often ignorant about the nuances of gender identity and sexual orientation, mistaking all transgender women for hijras. According to a UN Development Programme report in 2010, HIV programmes in India until recently grouped all transgender women into the category “Men who have sex with men”. There’s a high prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases among gay men and hijra alike, and almost half report being forced into prostitution. Many more turn to begging.

Madhu claims Raigarh has transcended all this. She points out that she is also a member of the Dalit (“Untouchables”) caste, but says she doesn’t give much weight to either label, and considers her victory a matter of “luck and fate”: “I don’t think the Supreme Court decision had anything to do with my winning. It was God’s grace and the love of my people.”

As she tried to quietly slip away from the school dance, her departure predictably turned into a fanfare. Some people came forward to touch her feet and seek her blessing, others requested photos. In India, touching an elder’s feet is a sign of respect, but more so among hijras: most Indian still believe in the superstition that their blessings or curses can come true. Perhaps a hijra politician is not such a wild idea after all.

 69 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
When the rats are away, Galapagos tortoises can play

Conservationists report the exciting recovery of the Pinzón tortoise in the Galapagos
A giant tortoise on the Galapagos island of Pinzon

Henry Nicholls
3/4/ 2015 13.56 GMT
Guardian

In 2012, a helicopter could be seen zipping back and forth over Pinzón, one of the world famous Galapagos islands. Its mission: to cover the 18-km2 volcano with poisoned rat bait, thereby eradicating its population of invasive rodents for good.

Now, just two years later, the benefits of this initiative are starting to be seen. “We found 10 tiny, newly hatched saddleback tortoises on the island early last month,” report conservationists in correspondence to Nature this week.

Owing to rat predation, it’s thought that no tortoises have hatched out on Pinzón in 150 years or more. But baby giant tortoises are notoriously difficult to spot, often concealed beneath loose lumps of lava so there were probably very many more. “I suspect there were 100 to 300,” says James Gibbs, who has written a lovely piece for the Galapagos Conservancy blog about his recent survey of Pinzón.

    By the end of our trip, the team had encountered over 300 tortoises, resulting in an overall population estimate well over 500, a near tripling of the population from the 100-200 very old individuals encountered on Pinzón when the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959. [James Gibbs, Galapagos Conservancy blog]

“They are breeding again in situ,” he says.

Gibbs and others on the survey looked very hard for signs of live rats, but found none. “As a biologist I have had a time comprehending that every rat was killed,” he says. “But they seem to have done it.”

The challenge now, in an archipelago with 30,000 residents and 200,000 visitors every year, will be to prevent rats from finding their way back to Pinzón.

For more details of the rat eradication initiative (codenamed Project Pinzón), take a look at this feature I wrote for Nature back in 2013. I also covered Project Pinzón in my book, The Galápagos: A Natural History (Profile, 2014).

NB [ADDED 18.1.15]: I should really have mentioned the Galapagos National Park in this piece because they were responsible for pushing ahead with Project Pinzón and for carrying out all the subsequent surveys on the island. This success story is really down to their tireless work over the last 50+ years.

 70 
 on: Mar 04, 2015, 06:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Florida Python Patrol wrestles with Everglades' giant snake problem

Burmese pythons started out as released or escaped pets. Now volunteers are being trained to catch the exotic species unbalancing the Everglades ecosystem

Richard Luscombe in Miami
3/4/ 2015 13.00 GMT
Guardian   

As an airboat captain in the Florida Everglades, Ozzie Gonzalez loves to show tourists the state’s natural beauty and native wildlife, especially the alligators that inhabit every swamp and canal west of Miami.

Lately, however, he has become increasingly concerned by a species that just shouldn’t be there. Gonzalez says that almost every time he takes his boat out he encounters a giant Burmese python, the predatory giant snake that is slowly but surely taking over the waterways of the national park and threatening the survival of its ecosystem.

The pythons devour wading birds, endangered small mammals and rodents, Florida deer and even alligators, and some estimates say there are up to 150,000 of them swimming their way through the 1.5 million acres of the state’s great wilderness.

“They are everywhere you look,” says Gonzalez, an outdoorsman for more than four decades. “It’s become a real problem in just the last few years. The conditions are perfect for them to reproduce, and they eat anything they can.”

Fuelled by his “disgust” at the ease with which the all-consuming, non-native snakes are becoming the king predator of the Everglades, Gonzalez is one of the latest enthusiastic volunteers to an army of private citizens recruited by state wildlife officials to help counter the python menace.

The Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission’s Python Patrol is a series of workshops around the state’s southern counties, in which members of the public are trained to recognise and capture the invaders. They do this by wrestling the creatures into submission using a snake stick and then securing them inside canvas bags and plastic crates for collection and ultimately euthanasia by FWC rangers.

It can be dangerous work, given that fully grown pythons often exceed 8ft – the record for one captured in Florida is almost 19ft. Critics of the programme say it is “ridiculous” to expect the public to tangle with such animals during casual encounters.
Python Patrol Jake Stoltz, 15, gets to grips with the unique demands of Python Patrol. Photograph: Richard Luscombe

But FWC biologist Jenny Novak, who has taught the classes to more than a hundred eager volunteers already this year, says Python Patrol, which was set up and run by the Nature Conservancy until the state assumed control in 2013, is an early detection programme that teaches participants to correctly identify and properly report Burmese pythons and other exotic constrictors.

“People can apply for a permit to remove pythons from several FWC-managed areas in south Florida if they wish, and the Python Patrol training does satisfy the experience requirement for this,” she said.

“Mostly, we want people to be aware of invasive species issues in Florida, to be able to recognise these species and report the data to FWC. We have an exotic species hotline that people can call if they see a live non-native snake, and we can respond to those calls.

“People often confuse native snakes such as corn snakes and water snakes with pythons. In addition to training people to identify, report and safely catch pythons, we’re also teaching them to recognise and thus help protect our native snakes.”

Novak acknowledges that the massive growth in python numbers in the Everglades since the first one was found in 1997 now make eradication an impossible task. Experts say the first such snakes were household pets that escaped or were released when they got too big. Years of breeding followed, with pregnant adult females carrying more than 100 eggs at a time.

“We get well-intentioned people offering solutions such as chaining mice to trees as bait, but the truth is there is no easy answer,” Novak said. “Python Patrol is just one tool in our box.”

In one of its more ambitious ventures, 10 years ago, the FWC trained a beagle puppy known as Python Pete to sniff out snakes in the wild, in return for rewards of fried liver. But Pete found the scorching heat and humidity of the Everglades too much, and he was quietly retired from duty.

These days, wildlife officials say educational programmes, exotic pet amnesties and the Python Patrol are more effective ways of fighting back. Alongside the public instruction, the workshops have been presented to thousands of law enforcement officers, first responders and utility workers whose jobs frequently take them into or across the Everglades.

Three years ago, soon after the release of an eight-year scientific study which revealed that many threatened and endangered native species such as bobcats, deer, foxes and raccoons had all but disappeared from the Everglades, the US enacted laws prohibiting the import and transportation of certain types of constrictor snakes, including pythons.

“There is no single solution to this conservation challenge but this is a critical step,” Ken Salazar, head of the US Department of the Interior, said at the time.

The key to a successful capture, according to FWC snake expert Jeff Fobb, who leads the hands-on portion of Python Patrol, is learning “the humane and safe way to catch a python, not the sexy TV way”. He teaches volunteers how to pin a snake behind its head with the stick, before it can be handled safely and encouraged to slide into a bag.

Several attendees of a recent workshop in Miami saw their pythons slipping out of the bag again or wrapping in coils around legs and arms. One who had no trouble was teenager Jake Stoltz, who has been handling snakes for more than three years, including as a volunteer at a native village, and who intends to become a herpetologist when he leaves school.

At 15, Stoltz is too young to get a snake-hunting licence or a permit to transport them, but is exactly the kind of recruit the FWC is looking for. After taking care of a 6ft snake with ease, the teenager asked for a bigger challenge and promptly captured and trapped a 12ft python – more than twice his height – that Fobb brought out for him.

“The snakes are beautiful creatures, they just don’t belong in the Everglades,” he said.

Gonzalez, the airboat captain, said his new knowledge would allow him to start capturing the pythons he sees out on his trips.

“We’re never going to get rid of them, but perhaps with more people learning about them and going in, maybe we can make a dent,” he said.

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