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 71 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Sex claim shows desperation of Malaysia's rulers, says top opponent

Ten years after being jailed, Anwar Ibrahim faces renewed charges of sodomy as regime clamps down on opponents

Kate Hodal   
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 21.24 BST      

The last time Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's opposition leader, was sent to prison, he read the complete works of Shakespeare, (five times), wrote essays and treatises, gave interviews and strategised about how best to lead the opposition party to victory against the ruling party, which has governed this south-east Asian nation for nearly 60 years.

Ten years later, he once again faces imprisonment on sodomy charges, which he claims are politically motivated.

His case has gripped Malaysia in its range from the absurd to the bizarre. Charged in 2008 with sodomising a former male aide, Anwar was cleared in 2012 on lack of evidence. But an appeals court overturned the acquittal last month on the eve of a byelection in Malaysia's richest state, Selangor, where he was tipped to become chief minister.

Not only did the conviction rely on a witness of doubtful testimony, the appeal was led by the government and the lead prosecutor suddenly did an about-face and switched to Anwar's defence team.

"It's a sign of desperation on the part of the government," said Anwar of his conviction, in an interview in London, where he is visiting his friend and former American vice-president Al Gore, after being granted a stay of sentence. "They think because the [next general] elections are four years away they can literally get away with murder."

Anwar, 66, is Malaysia's longest-suffering political opponent and greatest threat to the incumbent Umno government, led by the prime minister Najib Razak, whose Barisan Nasional (National Front) alliance has ruled the country since independence.

Anwar is a polarising figure in a conservative nation of 30 million, where his political career has spanned formidable highs and lows: once serving as the deputy prime minister and finance minister, he was courted by international media and graced the cover of Newsweek, then fell out spectacularly with the premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar has long contended that all the charges against him were politically motivated, with the sodomy convictions based on an archaic colonial law rendering sex between men a punishable offence, even if consensual. Very few sodomy cases ever make it to court and Anwar and his supporters believe his charges to be a political ploy to keep him out of politics in a conservative nation built on family values. He first spent six years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, until his release in 2004.

This second sodomy charge followed a stellar performance by Anwar's three-party opposition coalition in the 2008 general elections, at which the opposition made huge gains against the Barisan Nasional – and was overturned in 2012 by Malaysia's high court.

Analysts believe there was "no coincidence" regarding the overturning of that acquittal last month, with human rights groups, the US state department and UN all questioning the legality of the court decision.

"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple," said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch. "The Malaysia judiciary … has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are at play."

Yet it is not just Anwar the government seems to be targeting, say civil rights groups, who point to the arrest and conviction of other prominent opposition MPs, such as Karpal Singh, who was convicted of sedition, under another ill-used colonial-era law, as a means to thwart an opposition that has had big gains in the last two general elections, as well as in the byelections last month.

"What's alarming is the extent to which this government, which is supposed to have won the election, is going to undermine the opposition," said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and former chair of Bersih, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections. "This is really without a doubt a clear-cut case of selective – I'm going to call it persecution – not prosecution."

Anwar's conviction could once again be overturned, pending a federal court hearing expected within the next month. But in a nation where the definition of justice depends on "what the government of the day feels like doing", said Ambiga, it was unclear just how far Malaysia would go to silence its opposition.

As for Anwar, who could well choose to never return to Malaysia, life in his home country, whether behind bars or atop rally stages, seems the only option for fighting for a democracy that he says will one day prevail.

"There is no benefit to going back to Malaysia," he said. "[But] I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go back because it is my conviction, it is my firm belief, that Malaysia has to mature as a vibrant democracy that has no corruption, abuse of power or leadership that has been squandering billions of dollars.

"It's tough when you consider my wife and children suffer, but they know, and I discussed it with them, they support me even though they are not happy for me to endure this again. But we have to weather the storm. I am always optimistic."

A mass rally backing Anwar is planned for 1 May in Kuala Lumpur, where other rallies in support of Bersih, calling for clean and fair elections, have attracted hundreds of thousands of Malaysians to take to the streets in recent years.

"Tyrants, authoritarian leaders, are not permanent features. They are racing against time. Over the temporary setbacks, the clamour for reform or democracy is irreversible," Anwar said.

 72 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Myanmar Army Says 22 Dead in Clashes with Rebels

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 11:05

Fighting between the military and ethnic minority rebels in northern Myanmar has left at least 22 people dead this month, the army said Sunday, dimming hopes of a nationwide peace deal.

Bloodshed in the state of Kachin, the scene of the last major active civil war in the former junta-ruled country, has uprooted tens of thousands of people and tempered optimism about sweeping political reforms.

Eight government soldiers, including one officer, have been killed in clashes this month, according to a military statement carried by the army-owned Myawaddy newspaper.

The military also retrieved the bodies of 14 Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters along with weapons, it added.

There was no immediate comment from the KIA, one of the country's largest rebel armies.

Kachin sources said thousands of villagers were taking refuge along the border with China.

According to the U.N., about 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich area since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

The total death toll from the conflict is unknown.

The military said fighting flared up earlier this month after one of its officers was killed in an ambush by the KIA, prompting it to deploy troops to clear areas along supply lines.

President Thein Sein's reformist government has struck a series of tentative peace deals with major rebel groups in the country, which has been wracked by civil conflict since independence from Britain in 1948.

After numerous rounds of talks, the government and Kachin rebels signed a seven-point plan in May 2013 aimed at ending hostilities.

At the time the agreement was hailed as a breakthrough by the government, which is now seeking to ink a nationwide ceasefire with a coalition of rebel groups to burnish its reform credentials as it woos foreign donors and investors.

Another round of peace talks is scheduled for early May although it could be delayed because of the fresh unrest, according to a person close to the talks who did not want to be named.

Since decades of outright military rule ended three years ago, former general Thein Sein has won international praise by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and letting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.

But optimism has been marred by the Kachin conflict, several outbreaks of deadly Buddhist-Muslim strife around the country and concerns about continued repressive laws.

 73 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 06:03 AM 
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Being Muslim Under Narendra Modi

By BASHARAT PEER
APRIL 21, 2014
IHT
 
AHMEDABAD, India — Late last month I bought an Indian comic book online. I hadn’t bought one since the mid-80s, when I was a boy and would walk to the bookstore in my hometown in Kashmir to pick up copies of D.C. and Marvel Comics, or Amar Chitra Katha, a series based on the lives of major contemporary, historical and mythological figures in India. My latest purchase, “Bal Narendra” (“Boy Narendra”), was styled after Amar Chitra Katha.

I turned the pages with a mixture of anticipation and foreboding. The book purports to tell stories from the childhood of Narendra Modi, the longtime chief minister of Gujarat, one of the richest states in India, and the polarizing Hindu nationalist candidate for prime minister in the ongoing election. The tales are part of Mr. Modi’s high-octane campaign effort to present himself as a bearer of good governance, growth and efficiency.

Bal Narendra, the son of a tea-seller in a small town of Gujarat, embodies many virtues: courage, wit, diligence, fairness, compassion. He sells tea at a village fair to raise money for flood victims. In devotion to the religious tradition of his village, he swims across a lake full of crocodiles and hoists a flag on top of a temple on an island. When some bullies rough up a weaker child at school, he marks them by throwing ink from his fountain pen on their shirts and denounces them to the principal.

The publishers of the comic book — available exclusively from Infibeam, an Amazon-like online retailer run by a Gujarati entrepreneur close to Mr. Modi — would have you believe that now that he is all grown up, Bal Narendra is just as brave, clever and just. If anything, however, Mr. Modi’s public record paints the picture of a leader unapologetically divisive and sectarian.

It was on his watch as chief minister that more than 1,000 people, many of them Muslims, were killed throughout Gujarat in 2002, when rioting erupted after some 60 Hindus died in a burning train in Godhra. A Human Rights Watch report that year asserted that the state government and local police officials were complicit in the carnage.

Mr. Modi has not visited the camps of the Muslims displaced by the violence or apologized for his government’s failure to protect a minority. Instead, he has described the reprisal killings of Muslims that year as a simple “reaction” to an “action,” namely the deaths of the Hindu train passengers — and has said he felt as sad about them as would a passenger in a car that accidentally ran over a puppy. His only regret, he once told a reporter for this paper, was failing to manage the media fallout.

Even as candidate for prime minister, Mr. Modi has not given up his sectarian ways. Nor has his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Of the 449 B.J.P. candidates now running for seats in the lower house of Parliament, all but eight are Hindu. The party’s latest election manifesto reintroduces a proposal to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a medieval mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya, even though the destruction of that mosque by Hindu extremists and B.J.P. supporters in 1992 devolved into violence that killed several thousand people.

Amit Shah, a former Gujarat minister and Mr. Modi’s closest aide, is awaiting trial for the murder of three people the police suspect of plotting to assassinate Mr. Modi. (Mr. Shah calls the charges a political conspiracy.) He has made speeches inciting anti-Muslim sentiment among Hindu voters, including in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, despite an outbreak of sectarian violence there last September.

The problem isn’t just about rhetoric. Judging by the evidence in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi has been chief minister since 2001, a B.J.P. victory in the general election would increase marginalization and vulnerability among India’s 165 million Muslims.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, has become a wealthy metropolis of about six million people and three million private vehicles. Office complexes, high-rise apartments, busy markets and shopping malls have replaced the poor villages that once dotted the land. The city has a mass transit system called People’s Path, with corridors reserved for buses.

But Ahmedabad ceases to swagger in Juhapura, a southwestern neighborhood and the city’s largest Muslim ghetto, with about 400,000 people. I rode around there last week on the back of a friend’s scooter. On the dusty main street was a smattering of white and beige apartment blocks and shopping centers. A multistory building announced itself in neon signs as a community hall; a restaurant boasted of having air-conditioning. The deeper we went into the neighborhood, the narrower the streets, the shabbier the buildings, the thicker the crowds.

The edge of the ghetto came abruptly. Just behind us was a row of tiny, single-story houses with peeling paint. Up ahead, in an empty space the size of a soccer field, children chased one another, jumping over heaps of broken bricks. “This is The Border,” my friend said. Beyond the field was a massive concrete wall topped with barbed wire and oval surveillance cameras. On the other side, we could see a neat row of beige apartment blocks with air conditioners securely attached to the windows — housing for middle-class Hindu families.

Mr. Modi’s engines of growth seem to have stalled on The Border. His acclaimed bus network ends a few miles before Juhapura. The route of a planned metro rail line also stops short of the neighborhood. The same goes for the city’s gas pipelines, which are operated by a company belonging to a billionaire businessman close to Mr. Modi.

“The sun is allowed into Juhapura. The rain is allowed into Juhapura. The wind is allowed into Juhapura,” Asif Pathan, a 41-year-old resident, said with sarcasm. “I get a bill for water tax and pay it, but we don’t get piped water here.” The locals rely on bore wells, which cough up salty, insalubrious water.

Mr. Pathan has been living in Juhapura since 1988, when his father, a retired district judge, bought a house here from a Hindu man. “My father said, ‘When the storm comes, you don’t get more than 10 minutes to run,"’ Mr. Pathan explained, referring to the threat of sectarian violence. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Juhapura was a mixed Hindu-Muslim neighborhood, but with the string of sectarian clashes in Gujarat — in 1985, 1992 and 2002 — more Muslims began to move here, seeking relative safety among people like themselves. Prejudice begets riots, and riots only exacerbate prejudice, and so the population of Juhapura has almost doubled since 2002.

After the 2002 riots, Mr. Pathan, a teacher, began tutoring children in Juhapura. Then he quit his job and, with his father’s support, bought a large patch of land by the highway that runs through Juhapura. In 2008 he started his own school. Now, around 1,300 children there attend classes in both Gujarati and English in airy classrooms. “We simply have to help ourselves,” Mr. Pathan said.

But self-help only goes so far, in Juhapura, and elsewhere. A large chunk of Narol, an area on the southern edge of Ahmedabad, was once a patch of uninhabited brushland that belonged to a wealthy political family. After Mr. Modi’s government refused to help relocate victims of the 2002 riots, several secular and Islamic organizations and small-time Muslims developers got involved. They bought land, cleared it, and built tenement houses, asbestos-lined roofs and all. About 120 homes were assigned by lottery to Muslims displaced from Naroda Patia, in northeast Ahmedabad. The cluster is called Citizens’ Nagar, or Citizens’ City, and wherever you stand in the self-made neighborhood you can see, half a mile away, a big brown mountain: the largest garbage dump in Mr. Modi’s boom city.

When I walked around Citizens’ Nagar last week, the brown mountain was burning into thick gray clouds under a harsh afternoon sun. The wind pushed pungent fumes toward the tenements. I struggled to breathe and feared I would vomit.

“Every year we have lived here I feel weaker,” said Mohsin Syed, a wiry 25-year-old from Naroda Patia who now works as a carpenter in a factory nearby. “I can’t run like I used to. I don’t eat like I used to.” He complained of pain in his joints, said he needed surgery for kidney stones, and added, “This place, this pollution, takes a decade off one’s life.”

His father, Najeebudin Syed, a large man with a short beard, told me that the many petitions he has sent to local authorities describing living conditions in the area have been ignored. “Once a week, they bring garbage from the Ahmedabad hospitals — bandages, medicine, refuse of all kinds. The smell is so foul, so bitter, that we know in a minute it is from the hospitals,” he said.

Some days, the carcasses of dead animals are brought to the dump.

That evening, back in my hotel room, I read another story from the comic book “Bal Narendra.” The boy is at a camp of the National Cadet Corps — the Indian version of the Eagle Scouts — when he notices a pigeon in a tree entangled in the strings of a kite. Holding a razor blade between his teeth, he climbs up, cuts the lines and frees the injured bird. I remembered Juhapura’s putrid water and the carcasses on the brown mountain, and wondered how a Prime Minister Narendra would wield that blade.

Basharat Peer is the author of “Curfewed Night,” a memoir of the conflict in Kashmir.

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

Another member of Gandhi dynasty weighs into bitter Indian election battle

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, seen as more charismatic than brother Rahul, gives speech calling for power 'in the hands of the people'

Jason Burke in Delhi
theguardian.com, Monday 21 April 2014 17.01 BST   

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the youngest adult member of south Asia's most powerful political dynasty, weighed into India's increasingly bitter election campaign on Wednesday with a speech in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Gandhi Vadra, 42, is the sister of Rahul Gandhi, the public face of the incumbent Congress party's bid to retain power for a third term, and the daughter of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party's president.

"You have to decide whether you want politics where strength and power lies in the hands of the people or is vested in just one man," Gandhi Vadra told a crowd in the impoverished rural seat of Rae Bareli.

A series of opinion surveys have put the opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by a controversial Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, far ahead of the Congress party. A poll earlier this week indicated that the BJP may even achieve a majority, which would be a crushing defeat for the centre-left party led by the Gandhis.

Critics say Modi, who is chief minister of Gujarat, has authoritarian tendencies and is prejudiced along sectarian lines. Modi rejects both charges.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947 but is increasingly unpopular even in its heartlands. A series of corruption scandals, flagging economic growth and rising food prices have sapped support for the Congress party after a decade in power.

A Congress minister said, on condition of anonymity, that Gandhi Vadra, who is not standing for parliament, was not seeking to upstage her elder brother but was simply "lending a hand".

"She has a formidable intellect and is working hard and loyally because her brother is travelling so much he cannot attend to every and all things at once," the minister said.

There have been reports that Congress is planning a more public role for Gandhi Vadra, with suggestions that she might even stand as a Congress candidate against Modi, 63, in the hugely significant seat of Varanasi, the northern holy city. The party eventually picked a "local" candidate.

In contrast to her older brother Rahul, Gandhi Vadra is seen as charismatic, decisive and a good orator. But she has repeatedly said she will only campaign in the constituencies of her mother, Sonia, and her brother.

"The media is trying to make a big issue of it," said a Congress party spokesman, Shakeel Ahmed. "She has said so many times her role is limited to the two constituencies. We should respect that decision."

Gandhi Vadra is often compared to her grandmother, the immensely powerful and polarising prime minister Indira Gandhi, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 and her son, Rajiv, who was Gandhi Vadra's father, was killed in a suicide bombing in 1991.

Political analysts say Gandhi Vadra is mediating between an "old guard" within the Congress party that is resisting reforms pushed by 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, and a younger generation of parliamentarians and unelected officials who believe the party must change radically if it is to regain power.

Rasheed Kidwai, a journalist who has written a biography of Sonia Gandhi, said portrayals of the two siblings as rivals were wrong. "It's not a question of Rahul or Priyanka. It will probably be Rahul and Priyanka, given the scale of the challenge that the Congress faces in the election and beyond," he told Reuters.

The BJP has dismissed Gandhi Vadra's efforts, saying the Congress party's faith in one dynasty was its undoing. "The family charisma has faded away ... The real solution to the problem is to make Congress a more structured party. The Congress party solution is [that] if one incumbent in the family fails, the alternative can only be another member of the family," Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the party, wrote in a blog.

 74 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:58 AM 
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A Lead Grows, but Runoff Is Likely in Afghan Race

By ROD NORDLAND and AZAM AHMED
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — With half the votes counted in the Afghan presidential race, the candidate Abdullah Abdullah widened his lead, but a runoff seemed likely between the top two contenders, according to data released Sunday by the Independent Election Commission.

Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, had received 44.4 percent of the vote so far, followed by Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, with 33.2 percent. Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government, was a distant third, with 10.4 percent of the vote, followed by Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a traditionalist Pashtun candidate and warlord, with 7 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining 5 percent.

If that trend continues, neither Mr. Abdullah nor Mr. Ghani is likely to win more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election.

The slow process of counting Afghanistan’s paper ballots, gathered from 34 provinces that are plagued by poor roads and communications, has been going on since the April 5 vote. But the election commission said the tally was expected to be completed by Thursday, when preliminary final results would be released.

Those results will be subject to review by the election complaints commission, which has registered close to 1,000 complaints serious enough to affect the vote count. The election commission said, however, that the numbers released Sunday excluded any votes considered suspect; those ballots have been quarantined while being audited for signs of fraud.

“We’ll be able to let you know in a couple days if it’s going to a second round,” said Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the election commission. “It’s too early to tell.”

Mr. Ghani, the economist with 33 percent of the vote, insisted in a television interview that the results might change when all the votes are counted and allegations of fraud are addressed.

The election authorities have not specified how many votes have been quarantined, but even if the number reaches a million out of the roughly seven million cast, the results are not likely to change enough to avoid a runoff election or to declare one candidate the outright winner, analysts say.

“It will not invalidate the election itself,” said Nader Mohseni, the spokesman for the election complaints commission. “That will not happen. In 2009, we had more serious complaints. If that one was not canceled, this will not be.”

Mr. Abdullah’s campaign has reportedly been in talks with Mr. Rassoul’s third-place campaign to form a coalition for the runoff. Mr. Rassoul had initially been thought to have the president’s support, but Mr. Karzai stayed aloof from the campaign — at least in public — angering some of Mr. Rassoul’s supporters, who had expected more help.

In the end, Mr. Rassoul was winning in only two provinces, Kandahar and Oruzgan, in southern Afghanistan.

Despite the talk of runoff alliances, Mr. Abdullah seemed confident enough on Sunday to reject the notion of a coalition with one of the losing candidates in a second round.

“I expect to avoid a runoff,” he said in an interview, “but if there is a second round, we don’t want to build a coalition, we want someone to win decisively. The Afghan people want to have a clear picture.”

The results released Sunday comprised 50 percent of the vote, and came from all 34 provinces. Most of those provinces were evenly represented, suggesting there was little likelihood that updated numbers would change the overall outcome — barring the disqualification of huge numbers of ballots because of fraud.

The results expected to be released Thursday would not be final until complaints of fraud were adjudicated, a process expected to be completed by May 14. A runoff election would take place no sooner than May 28, and possibly weeks later.

 75 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:57 AM 
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Fractured State of Pakistani Taliban Calls Peace Deal Into Question

By DECLAN WALSH
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

LONDON — When the Pakistani Taliban said they were willing to make peace, many Pakistanis were skeptical that the militants had truly abandoned their dream of transforming the country into an Islamic caliphate.

But since talks with government negotiators officially started last month, the question is not just whether the Taliban wish to deliver a deal, but whether they even can.

An eruption of violent rivalries and internal disputes in the past month has strained the militants’ cohesion, cast doubt on their ability to make peace, and raised the prospect of a militant surge into Afghanistan.

Most immediately, an outbreak of infighting between rival Taliban commanders in the hills of Waziristan left at least 40 militants dead and exposed a violent rift in the movement’s operational heartland, according to Taliban members and locals.

That fight stemmed from a leadership crisis that started with an American drone strike in November that killed the group’s commander and inflamed internal arguments — including a debate over whether to prioritize the fight against Pakistan’s army, or to send more fighters into Afghanistan as American troops are leaving.

And a series of bomb attacks during a supposed six-week cease-fire has raised the possibility that the very idea of making peace has divided the Taliban, with militant cells splintering off rather than speaking with the government.

“We will know where the Taliban stand when they put their demands on the table, but I’m not hopeful,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier and former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency’s Peshawar office. “There are so many complications. Ultimately, I don’t think these talks can succeed.”

Despite their ferocity, the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, have never been a very united fighting force.

Since its formal emergence in 2007, the group has been an umbrella organization for Islamist militants — estimates run from 15 to 30 organizations — scattered across the tribal belt along the Afghan border. The unruly coalition was held together by the steely grip of leaders from the Mehsud tribe and anchored in the jihadi havens of North and South Waziristan where a wide variety of Pakistani and international militant groups hold sway.

But the American drone campaign loosened the Mehsud dominance, with missile strikes that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban founder, in 2009; his deputy, Wali ur-Rehman, in May of last year; and the second leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in November. Now the Taliban is led by a lame-duck figure, Maulana Fazlullah, who has struggled to keep his commanders in line.

Mr. Fazlullah came to power in November with solid hard-liner credentials — his supporters had flogged criminals and attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist — but a less impressive military record. He was driven from his native Swat Valley, 200 miles northwest of Waziristan, by a Pakistani military operation in 2009. Now, according to Pakistani and Afghan officials, he is sheltering in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar.

“Fazlullah is not a strong leader because he was defeated, he left Pakistan and he remains across the border,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who helped the government make initial peace overtures to the Taliban.

The Taliban chose Mr. Fazlullah, many believe, to quell feuding between rival factions of the Mehsud tribe. But the violence hardly abated after Mr. Fazlullah’s nomination, and it began looking like an all-out turf war in Waziristan this month.

Taliban fighters ambushed each other’s camps, bombed convoys, and took prisoners over six days of tit-for-tat bloodletting in the same remote, forested valleys where C.I.A. drones have attacked militant compounds. By the time tribal elders brokered a hasty truce earlier this month, 40 to 60 people had been killed according to most estimates.

Ostensibly the fighting stemmed from a simmering rivalry between two hotheaded commanders — Khan Sayed Sajna, a onetime contender for the Taliban leadership, and Shehryar Mehsud — who are battling for dominance of the Mehsud wing of the Taliban. Mr. Sajna, considered the stronger of the two, sent a message to his rival that “there cannot be two swords in a single sheath,” according to a senior Taliban commander.

But the fight was about more than clashing egos. According to militant and Western officials, the Sajna group is partly funded by the Haqqani network, a notorious militant group that uses its base in the Pakistani tribal areas to mount audacious attacks on civilian and military targets in Afghanistan. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, wants to draw more Mehsud fighters into his fight against the Afghan government; as a result, he is pushing the Taliban to make peace in Pakistan.

As ever in tribal politics, money is a deciding factor: The Haqqani network draws on the proceeds of a vast criminal and fund-raising empire that spans Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states. The Haqqanis also enjoy a close relationship with the ISI intelligence agency, which has cultivated ties for decades, although the extent of the Pakistani influence remains an open question among experts.

Mehsud tribal elders also favor negotiations. Weary of years of war, including Pakistani military bombardment and the displacement of tens of thousands of villagers, community leaders are pressing the Taliban to talk to the government, said government officials and Waziristan residents.

The Taliban’s fractious nature also leaves it vulnerable to other, mutually hostile influences. Foreign jihadists from Al Qaeda and Uzbekistan, who live among its members in North and South Waziristan offer money and a fanatical ideology. And recently, Afghan intelligence has gotten in on the act, hoping to steer the Taliban away from Afghanistan.

In Kabul, former and serving government officials described a policy of sanctuary and limited financial assistance to Taliban factions that wish to resume fighting inside Pakistan. “It is about convincing these guys about who they should be bothering,” said one former official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they want to cause problems in Pakistan, that is something that is not going to be discouraged.”

The Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, has penetrated the Taliban most successfully at the eastern end of the border with Pakistan, where Mr. Fazlullah and his supporters are hiding. Afghan officials said Mr. Fazlullah has received sanctuary and some money; one of his spokesmen is frequently found outside nearby Jalalabad.

Another Pakistan Taliban operative lives under the spy agency’s protection in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, where he produces militant propaganda videos.

The embryonic Afghan attempt to cultivate proxies within the Pakistani Taliban is a response to a widespread perception that the ISI intelligence agency is trying to push the war from Waziristan into southern Afghanistan as American troops withdraw. “They want to move all the vipers and snakes on to the Afghan side and let them fight it out here,” said the former Afghan official.

Equally, though, Afghan officials recognize that Taliban factions are highly unreliable allies. And a Western analyst cautioned that it would be a mistake to see the Taliban purely as puppets of the various spy agencies in the region. “They’ll take money from whoever is handing it out, as long as it suits them,” the analyst said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But they’ve very much got their own mind.”

As ever, though, militant alliances are constantly shifting and reliable information is hard to obtain. Ascertaining the exact motivation of competing factions can be akin to Soviet-era Kremlinology. Mr. Fazlullah’s weakness is just one factor in decision making. Unlike the rigidly hierarchical Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s insurgency has a decentralized, almost acephalous quality in which most power rests with the ruling shura, or leadership council.

And the tribal strife comes against a background of unprecedented Taliban expansion in the rest of Pakistan. In the past year, the movement has expanded its reach in Karachi, strengthened ties to like-minded militant groups, and increased fund-raising through extortion and kidnapping.

That complexity is what makes striking a peace deal such a challenge for the Pakistani government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

His government has staked much hope on the peace talks, betting that the Taliban can be persuaded to lay down their arms. Officials said they saw the Taliban’s announcement of the cease-fire’s end on Wednesday as a negotiating ploy, not the collapse of the whole process. The Taliban, too, insist that talks will continue.

To win the Taliban’s confidence, the government has agreed to free at least 12 low-level Taliban prisoners and is considering demands for several hundred more. But the crunch will come when the Taliban make a formal list of demands. The omens are not promising. Already, one hard-line commander with links to Al Qaeda, Omar Khalid Khorasani, has announced that he will not settle for anything less than the imposition of Shariah law across Pakistan.

Such statements greatly worry Pakistanis who say that the Sharif government has already conceded too much to Taliban militants who may be using the talks to build legitimacy among ordinary Pakistanis — all the while priming their weapons for the next round of fighting.

 76 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:50 AM 
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Conservationists and marksmen of Malta battle over annual bird hunt

Hunters try to block referendum on traditional spring shoot, while British volunteers help patrol countryside to protect birds

Patrick Barkham in Malta   
The Guardian, Sunday 20 April 2014 17.41 BST   
  
As dawn breaks over the sea and ancient stone churches turn pink, the morning's stillness is broken by volleys of gunfire. Tucked behind walls, sitting on armchairs in specially built turrets or else popping up from old stone sheds, Malta's marksmen open fire as migrating birds flap desperately for cover.

When it comes to bird hunts, this is one of Europe's more uneven contests. Birds flying over the islands of Malta on their annual migration to northern Europe must evade 31 licensed marksmen per square kilometre – 15 times more than in shooting-friendly France. On one day in 2013, more than 9,000 shots were logged by a conservation charity's observers.

Spring hunting is banned by the EU but the Maltese authorities obtain a exemption each year, enabling its 9,798 hunters to shoot 5,000 quail and 11,000 turtle doves, the latter a migratory bird whose British population has slumped by 95% since 1970.

But now a backlash is being felt. More than 44,000 Maltese citizens have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the traditional spring shoot.

And a flock of celebrity naturalists including Brian May, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie have swooped in, joining mostly British and Dutch volunteers patrolling the countryside at 5am each morning to monitor illegal shooting for the charity BirdLife Malta.

Packham will broadcast his confrontations with hunters on YouTube every day this week.

Steve Micklewright, executive director of BirdLife Malta, said: "The birds flying from Africa to northern Europe in the spring are the strong birds. They've survived the winter. If we don't allow these birds to breed, their populations stand no chance of recovery."

As a roosting marsh harrier rises from a field of barley displaying wings tattered from shotgun pellets, Nimrod Mifsud, a Maltese volunteer for the charity, says local birdwatchers take little pleasure in seeing a rare bird. "The first birds I've seen – my first stork, my first peregrine, my first glossy ibis – they all fell out of the sky, shot," said Mifsud. "That affects you. There's only so much you can take."

Last year, the Maltese army was deployed during the spring shoot after recent years in which naturalists had their cars set alight and a BirdLife Malta warden was shot in the face.

But Joseph Perici Calascione, head of the Maltese Federation for Hunting & Conservation (FKNK), said hunters felt bullied by foreign activists monitoring illegal shooting in Malta's countryside.

"I would like to see some Maltese lads going to the UK to try to stop one of their traditions. It's not nice to be treated as a third-world country. You [the British] shoot lots of migratory birds such as ducks and geese but it's only bad when the Maltese do it," he said.

Sergei Golovkin, head of the Maltese government's wild-bird regulation unit, said there was "an element of hypocrisy" in international criticism. "Unfortunately, some NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have chosen very aggressive confrontational tactics that are not based on science or law or enforcement."

Golovkin admitted that shooting protected species was commonplace 20 years ago, but said the government had recently introduced an automatic €5,000 (£4,100) fine and up to a year in prison for the crime.

It is deploying two drones and 70 enforcement officers to check hunters' licences and bags, he said. "It shows that we are prepared to really demonstrate that our system of checks and balances is sustainable and credible," he said.

Malta's government and its hunters argue that the main cause of the turtle dove's decline in Britain is industrial farming and there is no evidence that British populations of the bird fly over Malta. However, BirdLife Malta says Malta's turtle dove quotas are too high for a species in decline across Europe.

But the Maltese people are set to decide the species' fate on the islands after 13 Maltese charities obtained the signatures of the 10% of registered voters required to trigger a referendum. After every signature is checked by the electoral commission, the vote will be challenged in the country's constitutional court by the hunters, who claim it oppresses a cherished minority right – to shoot migrating birds. "If the referendum does take place, we would create a dangerous precedent on a small island where tolerance is of the essence," said Perici Calascione.

An opinion poll found that 60% of Maltese people favoured a ban on spring shooting. But if a referendum does not end this tradition, then dwindling turtle dove numbers might. So far this year hardly any have arrived.

Perici Calascione admitted the season had been a disappointment: he had fired just one shot in a week – and missed. "If there were turtle doves, each one would have at least 15 shots to bring it down because people are excited."

After a morning when more than 200 gunshots rang out on one tiny headland, a hunter opened his shooting bag to reveal only sandwiches and a drink. "The referendum is for nothing. There's no need to press down on the hunting in Malta because little by little it's finishing," said the 67-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous.

"I used to go shooting with my father and say: 'Look Dad, a flock of turtle doves! Look, another one.' My father shot with a musket. The more time passes, the less we're seeing of even small birds. The trouble is outside Malta – all the pesticides in the rest of Europe.

"If the referendum is passed, it will make no difference."

 77 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia

By ANDREW HIGGINS, MICHAEL R. GORDON and ANDREW E. KRAMER
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

KIEV, Ukraine — For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.

“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.

The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.

The Ukrainian government provided these photographs last week to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna. Ukraine says the photographs document that the armed men who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine are Russian combatants. The State Department, which has also alleged Russian interference, says that the Ukrainian evidence is convincing.

The equipment, including the helmets, used by the Donbass self-defense forces appears similar to that of the Russian special operations forces.

The Kremlin insists that Russian forces are in no way involved, and that Mr. Strelkov does not even exist, at least not as a Russian operative sent to Ukraine with orders to stir up trouble. “It’s all nonsense,” President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday during a four-hour question-and-answer session on Russian television. “There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine.” Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in at least 10 towns across eastern Ukraine also deny getting help from professional Russian soldiers or intelligence agents.

But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.

John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

And one country, Mr. Schindler noted in an article last year in which he coined the term, that particularly excels at special war is Russia, which carried out its first post-Soviet war to regain control of rebellious Chechnya back in 1994 by sending in a column of armored vehicles filled with Russian soldiers masquerading as pro-Moscow Chechens.

Russia’s flair for “maskirovka” — disguised warfare — has become even more evident under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer whose closest advisers are mostly from that same Soviet intelligence agency.

For nearly two months now, the shaky new Ukrainian government has been left to battle phantoms, first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine, where previously fringe pro-Russian political activists have had their fortunes lifted by small but heavily armed groups of masked men.

In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.

A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.

But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”

When a Ukrainian armored column approached the town last Wednesday and then swiftly surrendered, a group of disciplined green men suddenly appeared on the scene and stood guard. Over the course of several hours, several of them told bystanders in the sympathetic crowd that they were Russians. They allowed themselves to be photographed with local girls, and drove an armored personnel carrier in circles to please the crowd.

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

His evidence, however, was mostly circumstantial: Pro-Russian gunmen “exhibit telltale military training and equipment”; they handle weapons like professional soldiers, not new recruits to a pickup “self-defense” force; they carry weapons and equipment that are primarily Russian Army issue, not gear “that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.” General Breedlove conceded that such points, taken alone, might not prove much, “but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.”

Heightening skepticism of Russia’s denials is also the fact that Mr. Putin, after denyingany Russian link to the masked gunmen who seized government buildings in Crimea and blockaded Ukrainian military bases there, last week changed his story and said, “Of course, Russian servicemen did back the Crimean self-defense forces.”

More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.  

One set of photographs shows what appears to be the same gunman in pictures taken in the Crimean annexation and more recently in Slovyansk. Another features a portly bearded man photographed in Slovyansk on April 14, wearing a camouflage uniform without insignia, but six years earlier, had been photographed during Russia’s invasion of Georgia with a Russian special forces patch on his left arm.

Another character in Ukraine’s case against Russia is Mr. Strelkov, the alleged military intelligence officer who Kiev says took part in a furtive Russian operation to prepare for the annexation of Crimea and, more recently, in insurgent action in Slovyansk.

No photographs have yet emerged of Mr. Strelkov, but the Security Service of Ukraine, the successor organization to what used to be Ukraine’s local branch of the K.G.B., has released a sketch of what it says is his face.

The security agency, known by its Ukrainian abbreviation S.B.U., first identified him publicly early last week after releasing an audio recording of what it said was a recording of an intercepted communication between Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine and their controller back in Russia.

In the recording, a man nicknamed “Strelok” — who the Ukrainian agency says is Mr. Strelkov — and others can be heard discussing weapons, roadblocks and how to hold on to captured positions in and near Slovyansk with a superior in Russia.

The superior, clearly anxious to keep Russia’s role hidden, can be heard ordering his men on the ground in Ukraine not to identify themselves and to find someone with a Ukrainian accent who can give an interview to a Russian television channel. It was very important, he added, to say on air that all the pro-Russian insurgents want is “federalization,” or constitutional changes to give eastern Ukraine more autonomy.

Military analysts say the Russian tactics show a disturbing amount of finesse that speak to long-term planning.

“The Russians have used very specialized, very effective forces,” said Jacob W. Kipp, an expert on the Russian military and the former deputy director of the United States Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“They don’t assume that civilians are cluttering up the battlefield; they assume they are going to be there,” he said. “They are trained to operate in these kind of environments.”

***********


Ukraine PM asks US for 'real support' to prevent further Russian hostility

Arseniy Yatsenyuk calls on US to honour promises to protect Ukrainian territory and asks for 'financial and economic support'

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 17.41 BST    

Ukraine's interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Ukraine's interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: 'The world has a reason to be concerned about Putin's intentions.' Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media

The prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has urged the US to provide greater support against Russian aggression amid signs that a peace deal reached in Geneva last week is already under strain.

Speaking on Sunday in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press, Yatsenyuk called on the west to honour promises to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and appeared to suggest he did not think Moscow would relent in its attempts to grow influence in the east of his country.

Asked what he would be pressing the Obama administration for during a visit to Kiev by vice-president Joe Biden this week, Yatsenyuk replied: “We need a strong and solid state. We need financial and economic support. We need to overhaul the Ukrainian military. We need to modernise our security and military forces. We need real support.”

His comments, which were filmed earlier, aired on Sunday as a tentative deal to resolve the crisis was hanging by a thread. As many as five people were killed in a gun battle near the volatile eastern town of Slavyansk.

But the US ambassador to Kiev used a rival Sunday morning talk show to pour cold water on the notion that Washington could help Ukraine resist Russia militarily, insisting that a diplomatic solution remained the only option.

“The geography and balance of power is such, there is no military solution to this crisis,” Geoffrey Pyatt told CNN's State of the Union. “The fact is that, militarily, as Crimea showed, Ukraine is outgunned.”

Nato is expected to increase training exercises in Poland and Estonia over the next two weeks, with the deployment of 150 US soldiers.

Asked whether such countries should be worried by events in Ukraine, Yatsenyuk, said: “The world has a reason to be concerned about Pig's intentions … he has a dream to restore the Soviet Union and every day he goes further and further.”

“In his famous Munich speech, Pig snorted the worst disaster of the last century was the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Yatsenyuk added. “I consider the biggest disaster of this century would be the restoring of the Soviet Union under the auspices of the Pig.”

Although the White House hopes its deal with Russia in Geneva will avoid the need for further intervention, there are growing calls among Republicans for a more forthright US response.

“We are going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are going,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, on Sunday. “Our foreign policy is always a day late and a dollar short."

Speaking on Meet the Press after the Yatsenyuk interview, Corker called for further sanctions against Russian energy companies and banks, claiming the US had a moral responsibility to assist Ukraine after encouraging it to stand up to Moscow.

“I don't think Pig really believes we are going to punish them,” said Corker. “We have helped create the problem and to leave them alone is unconscionable.”

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

Lavrov Says Kiev Authorities Violating Geneva Accord

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 12:36

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the government in Kiev of breaching an international accord reached last week aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

"The Geneva accord is not only not being fulfilled, but steps are being taken, primarily by those who seized power in Kiev, that are grossly breaching the agreements reached in Geneva," Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow.

He spoke after a warning from Washington that time was running out for implementing the agreement hammered out last Thursday in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

U.S. President Barack Obama had warned Russia that it would face additional sanctions if progress was not made within days.

But Lavrov dismissed the risk of Russia falling into greater international isolation.

"Attempts to isolate Russia have absolutely no future because isolating Russia from the rest of the world is impossible," he said.

He said Kiev authorities had not granted an amnesty to arrested protesters, as required by the Geneva deal.

"Instead of freeing those already arrested, particularly the 'people's governor of Donetsk', Pavel Gubarev, the authorities in Kiev are continuing to arrest political figures from the southeast," Lavrov said.

He also said calls by Ukrainian MPs to preserve a protest camp on Kiev's central Independence Square, known as the Maidan, were "absolutely unacceptable", saying "even under Ukrainian law, such things cannot be done."

He acknowledged the complaint from the Kiev authorities that pro-Russian forces were not fulfilling their part of the agreement, but accused the government of taking no action to end the conflict.

"They are complaining about the southeastern regions, saying that they are not freeing buildings and removing roadblocks, but the authorities are doing nothing, they haven't lifted a finger to get rid of the reasons that lie at the basis of the current deep crisis inside Ukraine," he said.

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

Kremlin Calls Claims of U.S. Sanctions against the Pig 'Absurd'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 18:10

A Kremlin spokesman on Sunday dismissed as "absurd" claims that Washington could target President Pig Putin directly if it imposes further sanctions against Russia.

Quoting anonymous sources, The Times said in an article published Friday that the United States was looking at imposing sanctions on Pig, who is estimated to hold some $40 billion in Swiss accounts.

But Pig's spokesman rubbished the claim.

"That's obviously a hoax, an absurd one," Dmitry Peskov told Moscow's Echo radio station.

When pressed by the journalist if that meant Pig had "nothing to fear", Peskov replied: "In any case, not from the Times newspaper. Why should he be afraid of sanctions, especially such absurd ones? We can only laugh at such absurd sanctions."

According to the Times report, Washington could seek Swiss support in the action.

The United States has already imposed sanctions targeting the Pig's inner circle, but it has threatened wider action if no progress is made on implementing a deal reached last week in Geneva with Kiev, Moscow and Brussels on easing the crisis in Ukraine.

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

4 Killed in E. Ukraine as Separatists Declare Curfew, Urge Moscow to Send Troops
by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 April 2014, 10:34

Pro-Kremlin rebels in east Ukraine appealed Sunday for Russian "peacekeepers" to sweep in after a deadly gunfight killed at least two of their militants, shattering an Easter truce and sparking "outrage" in Moscow.

But the Western-backed authorities in Kiev claimed the violence was a set-up by Russia to create a pretext for it to send troops in.

The attack, near the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, undermined an accord worked out in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine and Western powers on Thursday under which "illegal armed groups" were to surrender their weapons.

The deal, aimed at easing what has become the worst crisis between Washington and Moscow since the end of the Cold War, now appears to have stalled.

Russia has an estimated 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's border in what NATO says is a state of readiness to invade, while the United States, according to The Washington Post, is preparing to send ground troops to neighboring Poland.

Sunday's gun battle occurred in a village 18 kilometers (11 miles) west of Slavyansk.

Vladimir, a masked 20-year-old pro-Russian rebel who said he was at the scene of the shootout, told Agence France Presse: "Four cars pulled up to our roadblock around 1:00am (2200 GMT Saturday). We wanted to conduct a check, and then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons."

He said three of the militants were killed.

An Agence France Presse photographer saw the bodies of two militants laid out in a truck near the scene.

The identity of the assailants, who escaped before militant reinforcements arrived, was not known.

The leader of the separatist rebels in Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, said he believed two of the attackers were also killed.

He declared a midnight-to-6:00 am (2100 GMT to 0300 GMT) curfew in Slavyansk -- and appealed for Russian President Vladimir Putin to send in Russian troops as "peacekeepers to defend the population against the fascists."

Later, he said: "If you can't send peacekeeping forces, send us weapons."

Putin has said he "very much hopes" he will not have to send his forces into Ukraine, but asserts he has a "right" to do so.

On Sunday, Russia's foreign ministry declared its "outrage" at the deadly attack.

It blamed the deaths of the "innocent civilians" on ultra-nationalists who were at the vanguard of the street protests that forced the February ouster of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych.

The ministry said locals had found the attackers' cars containing weapons, satellite maps and business cards belonging to the ultra-nationalist group Right Sector. It demanded that Kiev abide by the Geneva accord.

But a Right Sector spokesman told AFP that Russia's claims were "lies" and "propaganda" designed to portray the east as ungovernable for Kiev.

Ukraine's government, confirming three people were killed, described the latest violence as a "cynical provocation" by Russian-armed separatists.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who traveled to the east Sunday to inspect troops in the region, said investigations were ongoing into the shootout.

The gunfight ended days of relative calm underpinned by a promise by the Western-backed authorities in Kiev to suspend military operations to oust the rebels over Easter.

The last deadly clash was last Thursday, when three pro-Russian militants were killed by Ukrainian soldiers when they tried to attack a military base in the southeast port city of Mariupol.

But with the pro-Kremlin rebels refusing to comply with the Geneva accord, Washington has been ratcheting up pressure on Moscow, which it sees as pulling the strings in the Ukrainian insurgency.

U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to impose more sanctions on Moscow if no progress is made on the ground.

A Kremlin spokesman shrugged off as "absurd" claims that Washington could sanction Putin directly, after an article in Britain's The Times newspaper cited anonymous sources saying the United States could target Swiss bank accounts belonging to the leader that allegedly hold some $40 billion (29 billion euros).

Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, told Fox News that sanctions represented a return to the "Cold War mentality" but said Moscow could "withstand pressures."

The sudden spike in tensions put paid to attempts by some ordinary Ukrainians to embrace Easter as a time of peace across their country.

Pope Francis also pleaded for peace in his Sunday Easter prayer. "We ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine," he prayed.

But efforts to that end were undermined overnight when the Orthodox leaders in Kiev and Moscow traded barbs.

Kiev's Patriarch Filaret thundered that Russia was an "enemy" whose "attack" on Ukraine was doomed to failure because it was evil and contrary to God's will.

In Moscow, the patriarch of the Russian Church, Kirill, led a prayer calling on God to put "an end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia" and pleading for Ukraine to soon have "legitimately elected" leaders.

In comments broadcast on U.S. television Sunday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lashed out at Putin for having a "dream to restore the Soviet Union."

Washington has warned Moscow that Ukraine is in a "pivotal period" and that progress was needed on the Geneva accord "within days."

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to make a visit to Kiev on Tuesday.

 78 
 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia

By ANDREW HIGGINS, MICHAEL R. GORDON and ANDREW E. KRAMER
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

KIEV, Ukraine — For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.

“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.

The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.

The Ukrainian government provided these photographs last week to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna. Ukraine says the photographs document that the armed men who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine are Russian combatants. The State Department, which has also alleged Russian interference, says that the Ukrainian evidence is convincing.

The equipment, including the helmets, used by the Donbass self-defense forces appears similar to that of the Russian special operations forces.

The Kremlin insists that Russian forces are in no way involved, and that Mr. Strelkov does not even exist, at least not as a Russian operative sent to Ukraine with orders to stir up trouble. “It’s all nonsense,” President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday during a four-hour question-and-answer session on Russian television. “There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine.” Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in at least 10 towns across eastern Ukraine also deny getting help from professional Russian soldiers or intelligence agents.

But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.

John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

And one country, Mr. Schindler noted in an article last year in which he coined the term, that particularly excels at special war is Russia, which carried out its first post-Soviet war to regain control of rebellious Chechnya back in 1994 by sending in a column of armored vehicles filled with Russian soldiers masquerading as pro-Moscow Chechens.

Russia’s flair for “maskirovka” — disguised warfare — has become even more evident under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer whose closest advisers are mostly from that same Soviet intelligence agency.

For nearly two months now, the shaky new Ukrainian government has been left to battle phantoms, first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine, where previously fringe pro-Russian political activists have had their fortunes lifted by small but heavily armed groups of masked men.

In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.

A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.

But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”

When a Ukrainian armored column approached the town last Wednesday and then swiftly surrendered, a group of disciplined green men suddenly appeared on the scene and stood guard. Over the course of several hours, several of them told bystanders in the sympathetic crowd that they were Russians. They allowed themselves to be photographed with local girls, and drove an armored personnel carrier in circles to please the crowd.

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

His evidence, however, was mostly circumstantial: Pro-Russian gunmen “exhibit telltale military training and equipment”; they handle weapons like professional soldiers, not new recruits to a pickup “self-defense” force; they carry weapons and equipment that are primarily Russian Army issue, not gear “that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.” General Breedlove conceded that such points, taken alone, might not prove much, “but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.”

Heightening skepticism of Russia’s denials is also the fact that Mr. Putin, after denyingany Russian link to the masked gunmen who seized government buildings in Crimea and blockaded Ukrainian military bases there, last week changed his story and said, “Of course, Russian servicemen did back the Crimean self-defense forces.”

More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia. 

One set of photographs shows what appears to be the same gunman in pictures taken in the Crimean annexation and more recently in Slovyansk. Another features a portly bearded man photographed in Slovyansk on April 14, wearing a camouflage uniform without insignia, but six years earlier, had been photographed during Russia’s invasion of Georgia with a Russian special forces patch on his left arm.

Another character in Ukraine’s case against Russia is Mr. Strelkov, the alleged military intelligence officer who Kiev says took part in a furtive Russian operation to prepare for the annexation of Crimea and, more recently, in insurgent action in Slovyansk.

No photographs have yet emerged of Mr. Strelkov, but the Security Service of Ukraine, the successor organization to what used to be Ukraine’s local branch of the K.G.B., has released a sketch of what it says is his face.

The security agency, known by its Ukrainian abbreviation S.B.U., first identified him publicly early last week after releasing an audio recording of what it said was a recording of an intercepted communication between Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine and their controller back in Russia.

In the recording, a man nicknamed “Strelok” — who the Ukrainian agency says is Mr. Strelkov — and others can be heard discussing weapons, roadblocks and how to hold on to captured positions in and near Slovyansk with a superior in Russia.

The superior, clearly anxious to keep Russia’s role hidden, can be heard ordering his men on the ground in Ukraine not to identify themselves and to find someone with a Ukrainian accent who can give an interview to a Russian television channel. It was very important, he added, to say on air that all the pro-Russian insurgents want is “federalization,” or constitutional changes to give eastern Ukraine more autonomy.

Military analysts say the Russian tactics show a disturbing amount of finesse that speak to long-term planning.

“The Russians have used very specialized, very effective forces,” said Jacob W. Kipp, an expert on the Russian military and the former deputy director of the United States Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“They don’t assume that civilians are cluttering up the battlefield; they assume they are going to be there,” he said. “They are trained to operate in these kind of environments.”

 79 
 on: Apr 20, 2014, 05:43 PM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Linda
Hi Steve,

Thank you for your explanation.

In terms of EA, both Evolution and Involution (and birth and death) correlate to Pluto/Scorpio, the bottom line. 

If "action" or birth correlates to Aries, then the inconjunct to Scorpio would describe the crisis of death.

If an equal and opposite reaction to an action takes place, would that then not refer to Libra (opposite of Mars) in some way?

I'm just trying to understand all of this in terms of astrology.

Love,

Linda


 80 
 on: Apr 20, 2014, 05:21 PM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Linda
Hi Rad,

Yes, thanks so much... it does make sense now.

Could we also say that each "separating" desire is followed eventually by a "returning" desire?

Is that the same Natural Law (or Universal Law) in action?

Love,

Linda

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