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 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Construction workers in Bolivia uncover mass grave containing hundreds of skeletons

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 26, 2014 17:59 EDT

Construction workers in Bolivia have stumbled upon a mass grave with the remains of hundreds of likely indigenous miners during the Spanish colonial era, a researcher said Saturday.

The workers found the remains this week as they started construction on a new building in the “El Minero” district of Potosi, located high up in the Andes.

“We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet), and the human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” said Sergio Fidel, a researcher at a museum belonging to Tomas Frias University.

In the Spanish colonial era, Potosi became famous for its massive silver and tin reserves, which started to be mined in the 16th century.

Local indigenous people, mainly ethnic Aymara, were commonly put to work as both slaves and indentured servants, especially at the famed Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) mountain.

The construction workers, who have had no specialized excavation training, say they found the remains of 400 to 500 people and that there may be many more.

The university got involved when its staff learned the workers were piling the bones in a massive heap, fully exposed as construction continued.

One hypothesis is that they happened on an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants who would have worked at the mine in precarious conditions, said Jose Antonio Fuertes, a historian at the national mint.

Another possibility is the remains could be linked to the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s, which killed some 2,000 people.

The Andean city, once among the world’s biggest cities, now has a population of 200,000.

Last month, UNESCO placed the city and the increasingly unstable Cerro Rico on its World Heritage in Danger list due to “uncontrolled mining operations.”

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Jihadists swarm Syria army base, post photos of beheaded soldiers

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 26, 2014 18:11 EDT

Islamic State fighters have seized a Syrian army base in the northern province of Raqa, killing scores of troops and beheading some of them, a monitoring group said Saturday.

But in the central Homs region, government forces recaptured Al-Shaar gas field, seized by IS a week before, the monitor and Syria’s army said.

The jihadist takeover of the base of Division 17 came as the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said IS fighters accused of atrocities would be added to a list of war crimes indictees.

In the two-day assault on the base in Raqa province, an IS bastion, the jihadists killed at least 85 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

More than 50 troops were summarily executed, 19 others were killed in a double suicide bombing and at least 16 more died in the assault launched early Thursday.

Hundreds of troops “withdrew on Friday to safe places — either to nearby villages whose residents oppose IS or to nearby Brigade 93 — but the fate of some 200 remains unknown,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“Some of the executed troops were beheaded, and their bodies and severed heads put on display in Raqa city,” an IS stronghold, he told AFP.

Video taken by jihadists and distributed on YouTube showed IS fighters apparently inside Division 17 living quarters burning a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The jihadists also posted photographs online of the bodies of decapitated soldiers strewn across the ground.

- Headless bodies -

In one, six bloodied heads were lined up together on the ground, and other pictures showed headless bodies, mostly wearing combat fatigues.

Abdel Rahman said IS intended the display as “a message to the people of Raqa, to tell them it is strong, that it isn’t going anywhere, and to terrify” opponents.

But government forces retook the key Shaar gas field in Homs province, nearly a week after it fell to IS, who killed some 270 government troops in the attack, the Observatory said.

“The army has succeeded in ejecting the jihadists, and it now controls the site,” Abdel Rahman said.

The Syrian army also said its forces and regime paramilitaries “took total control of Al-Shaar mountain and its gas field”.

It “killed many terrorists from the so-called Islamic State,” the statement carried by state news agency SANA said.

In the northeastern province of Hasakeh, the Observatory reported heavy fighting between jihadists and government forces in an area where IS killed at least 50 soldiers on Friday.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, 30 troops and pro-regime paramilitaries were killed in an overnight ambush in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.

IS, which first emerged in Syria’s war in spring 2013, has since imposed near-total control in Raqa province and Deir Ezzor on the Iraq border.

In June, the group proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.

Despite opposition by poorly armed rebels fighting both the army and IS, the jihadists have advanced in several areas of Syria, whose three-year war has killed more than 170,000 people.

“For IS, fighting the regime is not about bringing down Assad. It is about expanding its control,” said Abdel Rahman.

- US suicide bomber -

IS was emboldened by a June offensive in Iraq when swathes of the north and west fell out of Baghdad’s control.

Syrian rebels say IS transported heavy weapons captured from fleeing Iraqi troops into Syria.

On Friday, Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, who heads the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told reporters in New York IS “are good candidates for the list” of possible war crime indictees and he was looking into “perpetrators from all sides”.

Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front meanwhile released a video of a young suicide bomber from Florida who blew himself up at an army post in the northwest on May 25.

Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, alias Abu Hurayra al-Amriki, was believed to be the first American to carry out such an attack in Syria’s war.

The Observatory also said six children and three women were among 15 civilians killed on Friday in rebel mortar fire on army-held areas of Aleppo city.

Once Syria’s commercial capital, the northern metropolis has been divided into regime and rebel-held areas since July 2012.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

US evacuates Tripoli embassy as rival militias push Libya towards war

Memories revived of Benghazi assault in which American ambassador died as last-minute ceasefire talks collapse

Chris Stephen in Tripoli
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 18.04 BST   

The US embassy in Tripoli staged a dramatic evacuation in the early hours of Saturday, with other embassies debating whether to follow suit as Libya hovers on the brink of full-scale war. Efforts by diplomats and prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni to engineer a last-minute ceasefire between warring militias have collapsed and the capital echoes to the sound of artillery and rockets.

Fighting is also continuing in the eastern city of Benghazi, part of a nation-wide struggle between an Islamist-led alliance and fragmented opposition.

In Tripoli, thousands are fleeing their homes under a rain of rocket, tank and mortar fire. "They phoned us to tell us to get out," said Huda, a resident in the south-western Tripoli district of Seraj. "They told us: you have seen how the airport looks, this will be your district too."

There are no accurate casualty figures because different militias take their wounded to their own hospitals, but estimates claim that more than 100 have died in two weeks of fighting. The health ministry said it had lost contact with its hospitals.

Tripoli's airport is a smashed ruin after two weeks of attacks on it by a militia from Misrata against another from Zintan, which has held it since the 2011 Arab spring uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. In that uprising, Misrata, 120 miles west of Tripoli and Zintan, 90 miles south, were allies, forming the two most powerful militias which liberated the capital, backed by Nato bombing. Now they are at war.

Misratan brigades are determined to capture the airport, a valuable strategic asset. But the bombardment has reduced much of it to rubble. The main building is wrecked, the control tower holed and on the scorched tarmac are the remains of 21 planes – much of Libya's small commercial fleet. Three volunteer pilots flew surviving jets to Malta last week.

They may not be back for a long time. International authorities have ordered Libyan airspace to be closed on Monday and there is a last-minute scramble by foreigners and Libyans to get out. Many are streaming towards the Tunisian border crossing, with Egypt having already closed its own frontier after 21 of its border guards were killed in an ambush.

The US embassy found itself in the middle of the battle, its position close to the airport road marking the frontline between the two sides. For two weeks its staff hunkered down in concrete bunkers, protected by 90 heavily armed marines. Two rockets landed outside the walls, but the embassy compound itself took no hits. Each night drones and an Orion surveillance aircraft flew low over the city.

Ambassador Deborah Jones tweeted that there were no armed drones. But armed jets linger off the coast, with an aircraft carrier stationedover the horizon and back-up Marines deployed in Sicily.

On Friday, after consultations with Washington, the order was given to pull out. Through the early hours, the sky echoed with the sounds of planes leaving. Memories are still fresh of the fate of the last ambassador, Chris Stevens, who died along with three staff when the US consulate in Benghazi was stormed by a militia two years ago. London has said nonessential staff have been evacuated and a final decision is expected to be taken by EU embassies on whether to evacuate over the next few days.

The Americans leave a city on edge. Petrol shortages have left the streets mostly empty, but on Friday night thousands gathered for a peace rally in the central Algiers Square. Amid elegant Italian-era buildings and palm trees, they chanted "Libya Hoara!" (Libya Free!) and called for all sides to stop fighting.

"This is not what I fought the revolution for," said Mohammed, a student who joined the rebels during the 2011 uprising. "We fought for peace, and instead we get this."

In truth, the fighting never went away. The former general national congress, instead of disarming the revolutionary militias funded them and gave them official status. In June a new parliament, the House of Representatives, was elected and is due to start work next month in Benghazi, triggering a jostling for position among the militias that threatens all-out war.

"I have been saying it all along: it has to get worse before it gets better," said Sami Zaptia, editor of the Libya Herald newspaper. The question all Libyans are asking is how much worse it will get.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Ugandans begin to question the high price of the growing China-Africa pact

The televised broadcast in Africa of a father's last call to his family before he was put to death for drug trafficking offences has sparked calls to review the imbalance in relations with Beijing, reports Patience Akumu in Kampala

Patience Akumu in Kampala
The Observer, Sunday 27 July 2014   
The last words Ham Andrew Ngobi spoke to his wife, Mariam Nabanja, were intended to be reassuring. "Be firm. I am OK," he said, unaware that this was to be his last call to his family. Ngobi was one of two Ugandans put to death in Guandong province, China, in June after they were found guilty of drug trafficking. His last communication with home before he was executed was broadcast on Ugandan television, sparking outcry and demands that the country review its relationship with China.

In the recording, Ngobi reassures his wife that the appeal court will set him free and let him return home. Then comes a chilling second clip, a call from Uganda's deputy ambassador to China, Paul Makubuya, informing Nabanja: "It is not good. They have taken him. He did not understand what was happening, but I eventually told him in Luganda [his local dialect] that he was going to be killed."

Ngobi had provided a decent life for his family. His wife describes him as a loving husband and a man "who had everything he needed. He had built other houses in addition to the family house," she said. "Why, then, would he go into drugs?"

His is part of the wider story of China in Africa, and specifically in Uganda. In 2009 China overtook US and Britain to become Africa's leading trading partner. It is involved in virtually every sector of Uganda's economy.

Africa's growing relationship with China and other non-traditional allies has led to predictions that its long-awaited rise out of extreme poverty, disease and destitution to become an economic giant is near. Unlike the relationship with western countries such as Britain, Africa's relationship with China is untainted by colonialism.

Uganda's relationship with China dates back to 1962, when Uganda won independence from the British. Like most new African states eager to fortify their independence, Uganda looked for alternative development partnerships. China was one of the first countries to recognise Uganda's independence and the two countries built a relationship based on non-interference with each other's internal affairs. The anti-gay law in Uganda this year, and continued western criticism of President Yoweri Museveni's 28-year-old regime, only served to bind the two countries closer.

Ngobi, 39, sought to make the best of the opportunities which the China-Uganda relationship presented. According to his wife, he regularly travelled to China to buy clothes that he would sell in Uganda.

It's not only Ngobi who got caught up in the fallout from growing links between the two countries. Five more Ugandans in China are set to be executed amid warnings from the Ugandan foreign minister about the dangers of getting involved in the drugs trade.

The Ugandan government has said there is nothing it can do to help those on China's death row and that the executions will not affect China's relationship with Uganda. Its inability to save its citizens' lives, despite its close relationship with China, has angered Ugandans, with one journalist, Simon Musasizi, writing in the Ugandan Observer that "illegal traders in ivory also deserve death" – a reference to China's involvement in the illicit ivory trade in Africa.

In Uganda, one of the world's poorest countries, three quarters of the population are under the age of 30. Most are unemployed and unable to resist the lure of money from the illegal drug trade. Uganda's ambassador to China, Charles Wagidoso, said these young people were mostly "victims of economic circumstances" – mere carriers for big drug dealers. The economic circumstances have been worsened by drastic aid cuts, after corruption scandals and the passing of a harsh anti-gay law. Uganda heavily depends on external funding to supplement its budget and to directly support its population with basics such as food, health services and education.

Though China has reduced its number of capital offences, it has the highest number of executions in the world (Uganda retains the death penalty for some crimes). Human Rights Watch has warned that China's legal system does not provide enough safeguards for administering the death penalty. Ugandan human rights activists and MPs blame the government for not doing enough for Ugandans held under arrest in China. "This is a relationship in which China has the upper hand," says Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, an NGO that successfully campaigned for ending mandatory death penalties in Uganda. "China's interest in Africa is trade and not human rights, and Uganda badly needs China."

When big donors such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands slashed aid because of the anti-gay law, the government, in addition to levying new taxes, turned to China, making more investment deals with Beijing. Given the human rights records of both China and Africa, civil society organisations have cautioned that this relationship be monitored lest it becomes one no different from colonialism, with China siphoning off resources, indifferent to Africa's poverty.

Africans are now starting to question the nature of Chinese investment. In the New York Times in May, Howard French, a senior foreign correspondent and author of China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, wrote: "China has peppered the continent with newly built stadiums, airports, hospitals, highways and dams, but as Africans are beginning to fully recognise, these projects have also left many countries saddled with heavy debts and other problems, from environmental conflict to labour strife. As a consequence, China's relationship with the continent is entering a new and much more sceptical phase."

French points out: "The doubts aren't coming from any soured feelings from African leaders themselves, most of whom still welcome (and profit from) China's embrace." Rather, the doubts are coming from an increasingly vibrant civil society that wants to know how ordinary Africans benefit from China's dollars, infrastructure building and mineral extraction.

In Uganda the Chinese presence is everywhere. From owning shops and hawking merchandise to running hospitals and managing multibillion-dollar projects on which the entire future of Uganda rests, China's presence is conspicuous. China National Oil Shore Corporation won the right to develop Uganda's Kingfisher Field for $2bn. The Chinese have further invested in Uganda's $2.5bn oil refinery and a $1.4bn rail construction project across East Africa.

China is also financing the construction of two dams and a highway from Kampala, Uganda's capital, to Entebbe airport. Major government buildings, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President's Office, were constructed by the Chinese. By 2011, China had invested $14bn in Africa and offered £75bn in aid. A big chunk of this money comes to Uganda and by 2013 bilateral trade between Uganda and China reached more than $500m.

It is the sheer volume and importance of these projects that convinces activists that the government can do more for Ugandans facing execution in China. "What China is doing is prohibited by international human rights law and diplomacy," said MP Betty Namboze. "We welcome them into our country, and this is how they repay us?"

Sewanyana points out that the two countries do not have an extradition agreement. In addition, he said: "Uganda needs to first review its human rights record before it reviews its relationship with China. Maybe if we strike out the death penalty completely, then we can ask that China does not administer the death penalty to our citizens."

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

A pause in the bombing by Israeli forces – and the ruins of Gaza are laid bare

Repeated shelling has inflicted a terrible reality on Palestinians as they try to salvage something from shattered homes and lives

Peter Beaumont in Gaza   
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 18.46 BST   

In the dangerous streets around the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the buildings were, by and large, still standing on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, after a day of intense Israeli bombing and shellfire, the hospital in the northern Gaza town was standing in a sea of rubble, its walls pockmarked with gunfire and torn by shrapnel.

The skyline, until so recently regular and neat, had been transformed into something torn and ragged. The tops of a pair of minarets had been blown off, and the graves in a cemetery smashed to pieces. Houses, offices, apartment blocks and shops were collapsed or collapsing.

The bombs that hit these streets in the time between the Observer's two visits were visible, and sometimes audible, across the city as huge explosions sent up eruptions of grey smoke into the sky.

What happened here in Beit Hanoun, and in other neighbourhoods of Gaza hardest hit by the Israeli assault, will inevitably demand an explanation: whether the extremity of violence unleashed in these residential areas in recent days was proportionate, or if the destruction amounts to a war crime.

Those are questions for the days ahead. On Saturday, however, in the midst of a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire, the concerns were more immediate ones, as thousands of Palestinian residents flocked back to their ruined neighbourhoods to see what remained.

As they came on foot and in cars, they were accompanied by fire engines, bulldozers and ambulances of the Red Crescent, whose crews by mid-afternoon had recovered 85 bodies, many of them partially decomposed, buried under the rubble of Gaza's most damaged neighbourhoods. Officials said the death toll among Palestinians had passed 1,000.

If evidence were needed of the failure of diplomacy, the truce that allowed Palestinians to return safely for the first time in days was the only apparent outcome from the mediation mission by US secretary of state John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. Indeed, last night the week-long ceasefire they had hoped to negotiate as a precursor to a wider deal appeared in peril after the Israeli military said rockets had been fired into Israel, while Hamas appeared to reject an extension of the truce.

In some places visited by the Observer whole blocks had been flattened, dozens of buildings at a time reduced to a moonscape from which the smell of death at times wafted. We came across Mohammad Shaweish at the entrance to Beit Hanoun, sitting on a cane chair in a pink ground-floor room that had been ripped open to the street, an electricity pylon lying black and smouldering outside where it had been felled. His family occupied four homes on this corner, all severely damaged by the air strike that ripped off the outside walls.

"We escaped a week ago. We came back at just after eight when the truce started. We took refuge in one of the UN schools," he said as he climbed into the house of one of his relatives to retrieve pots and pans from the kitchen.

"My house, my house," said another man, hitting his head with his hand. Nothing, it seems, had escaped the flying pieces of white-hot metal thrown out by the bombs – not electricity cables, or cars left behind, not windows or doors.

Where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have been there are sandy roads pushed through gardens, parks and farmland, banks of dirt thrown up from where the tanks fired from.

Near the hospital a man leads a horse out of the ruins, a long streak of blood staining its hindquarters where it was struck by shrapnel. Elsewhere, we come across donkeys and cattle killed where they were left tied up in the street, scorched, stomachs swelling with gas.

A group of men show us the home of the Shabat family, seven of whom died when it was flattened by a bomb.

As people search through the debris for their belongings, packing what they can in to taxis, trucks, rickshaws and donkey carts before fleeing the town, Israeli tanks stand by, their crews invisible inside. When one tank rumbles into life and changes its position, it triggers a panic in the crowded streets ahead of us, as cars attempt to reverse or make turns in the rubble.

But in this 12 hours of temporary truce, the Israeli tanks move only on the perimeter of the ruins, visible in the clouds of dust and exhaust they throw up, or as green moving shapes in the far distance.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who did not flee could have survived the attack, but a few did.

"We lived through a night of horror. The shelling was all around our house," says Hanan al-Zaanin, standing with four of her children outside their home.

In Quds Street, close to the hospital, a body is dug out of the rubble and carried past a row of demolished houses. Someone says it is a fighter. We drive on to Sikka Street, close to the Erez crossing, making frequent diversions for roads blocked by broken buildings. Here the sand berm of the Israeli border is visible to one side, and the concrete border wall ahead. Here there are more families sitting in the ruins of their homes or digging for what is left.

Zoheir Hamad is with his wife Umm Fadi next to a home that is little more than a few barely standing walls; the water pumping station next to them is also badly damaged.

A short distance away a damaged Israeli anti-mine vehicle sits in the road, bent and torn by an explosion. As we speak, a man passes, cradling the shape of a machine gun wrapped in a blanket, like an infant.

"We left at the beginning of the war," says Zoheir.

"It is the first time that we have managed to come back." Umm Fadi adds: "We're staying in the UN school in Jabaliya. We came to get clothes for the children. But there is nothing left."

It is the phrase we hear throughout a long day: "Nothing left." And it is true. Whole areas that were once inhabited have been reduced to a landscape of earth and dust and broken shapes.

Although in places there is evidence fighting has taken place, what is hard to comprehend is the Israeli justification for the scale of the destruction, save destruction for its own sake in pursuit of a policy of collective punishment.

Ahead of probable international criticism over the scale of the destruction, some Israeli political figures were trying to deny the scale of the attacks was in any way disproportionate.

"There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted," said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. He added that Israeli troops were "fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there … those are the consequences of such a fight".

Despite the truce, not everywhere was reachable. In two border areas, ambulances were unable to approach because tanks fired warning shots at the vehicles, the Red Crescent said.

And if Beit Hanoun is largely destroyed, Shujai'iya, an eastern neighbourhood of Gaza that has been shelled and bombed for a week, is incomparably worse. The destruction appears to be concentrated on three areas – Mansoura Street, Baltaji Street and Nazaz Street.

In the midst of an area of rubble the size of two football pitches in the last of these areas, we meet three brothers standing on what was once the four-storey building in which their families lived in four apartments. Next to them is a bomb crater measuring 10 metres across and six metres deep.

Alaa Helou, 35, a carpenter, points to what is no longer there. "That was a two-storey house. There was three storeys and over there was four storeys high. We came to see our house. We thought it might have been damaged by a shell. But there is nothing left of it."

"We spent 20 years making our place nice," says his older brother. "We spent all of our money on our homes."

If there is something worse than the scenes of destruction, it is what is visible in the faces in Beit Hanoun and Shujai'iya. A man is led away down one street in Shujai'iya; staggering and blind with grief he his held up by two others. Women sit in the dust, crying.

We find 33-year-old Rifaat Suqr sitting outside his gutted house, a stunned look on his face. "It is like an earthquake hit this street," he says. "An earthquake."

Except that this was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.


Protest is latest casualty in Israel as despair and hopelessness set in

The mass protests of past decades have not been repeated this time around, say activists

Harriet Sherwood   
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 23.05 BST

One evening last week a group of people set out to walk along a disused railway in Jerusalem, now a pleasant path through the south of the city. They were mostly families, some with their dogs, some pushing strollers. Among them was David Broza, one of Israel's best-loved musicians.

They carried no banners and chanted no slogans, but the message of their small demonstration – their fourth in recent weeks – was clear from their T-shirts. In black lettering on white cloth, the words in both Hebrew and Arabic read: "We march together, hand in hand." Most of the group of about 200 were connected to a school at the starting point of their walk. The Hand in Hand school is unique in Jerusalem for being a mixed bilingual establishment of Jewish and Palestinian children and staff, with a strong ethos of coexistence and peace. It is one of just five such schools in Israel; all others are segregated.

Maya Frankforter, a Jewish parent, said the school community had decided to march to protest at the violence that erupted in Jerusalem following the murders of three Jewish youths and a Palestinian teenager last month and the ensuing horror in Gaza. She said the demonstrations were "like an island of strength, because I've been feeling suffocated, hopeless and helpless. This empowers me."

Palestinian teacher Widad Naoum said she, too, drew comfort from the protests. "People see me as the enemy. Every day, they point the finger at me. They judge me because I am Arab, no matter what I think or do."

The demonstrators soon encountered opposition from a handful of youths, who shouted "traitors" and "go back to Gaza". On previous marches, women protesters have had the words "bitch" and "whore" screamed in their faces. The parents do their best to shield the children from the abuse.

The picture has been repeated in many cities in Israel in recent weeks. Protests against the bloodshed in Gaza have attracted much smaller numbers than in previous conflicts, in a reflection of the diminishing weight of the "peace camp" in Israeli society.

Last weekend protesters in the northern city of Haifa were assaulted by rightwing activists, who beat up the Arab deputy mayor and his son. Police have been forced to protect a series of peace marches in Tel Aviv, including one last week that was pelted with eggs and plastic bottles. A public reading of ex-soldiers' testimonies about their role in previous conflicts in Gaza, organised by Breaking the Silence, a group of veteran combatants dedicated to exposing military injustices, was barracked by up to 100 extremists.

It is a big contrast with the 400,000 people – then almost a tenth of the country's population – who took to the streets in 1986 to protest about Israel's war in Lebanon. In 1995, 100,000 people attended the rally in support of the Oslo accords at which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. And in 2009 several thousand people joined peace marches during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week assault on Gaza.

Since the start of the current conflict, protests have generally attracted a few hundred, with last Saturday's march in Tel Aviv mustering around 1,000. After another week of carnage, activists were hoping for a bigger demonstration in the city on Saturday night.

The reasons for the decline of Israel's peace movement are, inevitably, complex and interrelated. They include the failures of the Oslo accords and of successive attempts to forge a peace deal; the growing voice of the extreme right in Israeli politics; the "normalisation" of the 47-year-long occupation; and the relative marginalisation of the Palestinian cause both in Israel and internationally.

Added to that mix is weariness and hopelessness. "I think the peace movement became frustrated that nothing changes," said Maayan Dak of the Women's Coalition for Peace. "Things just repeat. People feel there is no point."

According to Tamar Hermann, author of The Israeli Peace Movement: A Shattered Dream, the decline of the Israeli peace camp began in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords.

"Most people felt the government was now taking care of the matter: they could do other things," she said. "And when they realised Oslo wasn't working, they still didn't want to protest for fear they would inadvertently be joining forces with the [anti-Oslo] rightwing."

Other factors she identifies as contributing to the peace camp's contraction include the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising – "when buses are exploding in the street, it's hard to call for peace" – and the shifts in Israeli politics over recent years. People on the left or centre moved to the centre or the right, and people on the far left became more radicalised, supporting a binational state or the boycott movement, she said. "They lost contact with the mainstream."

Uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East, and the increasing focus on the Iranian nuclear threat, pushed the Palestinian cause to the margins.

"The Palestinians were not perceived as a strategic threat to Israel's national security," said Hermann. "People started to believe that they could go on living this for many years. The peace camp was looked on as anachronistic."

Others cite the new threat they feel from rockets threatening major population centres, and from militants using tunnels to infiltrate Israeli communities, possibly to grab hostages and smuggle them back into Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israeli right has become ever more strident. A political culture of antagonism towards and antagonism towards Israeli-Arabs, who make up 20% of the population has fuelled extremism, according to activists on the left. "Politicians have given legitimacy to extremism. Rightwing violence does not come out of nowhere," said Dak.

One activist, who asked not to be named, said: "It's never been like this before, we've never seen this atmosphere of fear and attacks on protests."

Frankforter echoed his view: "The atmosphere in Jerusalem, and Israel as a whole, is very scary. I never felt fear before. I felt frustrated and isolated in previous wars, but never physical fear. People are frightened to speak out. Something is broken in Israel."

Some say the lack of a broader context to the current violence in Gaza is part of the problem in winning support for the peace movement. "Lots of people are appalled at the killing of children and the level of destruction. But they don't connect that to the occupation: they don't see it as part of a bigger pattern," said the activist.

Peace, said Yehuda Shaul of Breaking The Silence, "is a word that has lost its meaning. [Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, [hard right politician Naftali] Bennett, [Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas, even Hamas – they all say they want peace. The real question is: are you willing to end the occupation? Most Israelis don't understand the context of the occupation, that's why people are so silent."

If current efforts to forge a ceasefire deal fail, and the violence in Gaza worsens, protests may grow. Back at the Hand in Hand school, Jewish and Palestinian parents and staff are meeting regularly, despite being in the midst of the long summer vacation, to seek ways to hold their community together and spread a message of peace. "We're together, and that's the way it should be," said Frankforter. "The most important thing is we try to build a life together. But it's getting harder."


Gaza violence sparks global protests - in pictures

As Palestinians are granted a 12-hour ceasefire, people in Tehran, London, Paris, Islamabad and other cities around the world have been protesting against the Israeli attacks on Gaza

please click here to view these pictures:

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Philippines Welcomes 100 Millionth Baby

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 08:25

A baby girl born early Sunday has officially pushed the population of the Philippines to 100 million, highlighting the challenge of providing for more people in the already-impoverished nation.

The child, Jennalyn Sentino, was one of 100 babies born in state hospitals all over the archipelago who received the symbolic designation of "100,000,000th baby".

"This is both an opportunity and a challenge... an opportunity we should take advantage of and a challenge we recognize," Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the official Commission on Population, told Agence France Presse.

While a growing population means a larger workforce, it also means more dependents in a country where about 25 percent of people are living in poverty, he said.

He said the Philippines had to find a way to bring services to the poorest families while also lowering the average number of children that fertile women will bear in their lifetimes.

"We'd like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman's) lifetime," from the current level of an average of three per woman, he said.

While celebrating the birth of the babies with cake and gifts of clothing and blankets, the government will also monitor each of the designated 100 children over the coming years to see if they are receiving the required health services, Perez added.

Jennalyn's father, 45-year-old van driver Clemente Sentino, said he was grateful for the government aid, but expressed confidence he could support his child and his partner.

He and the child's mother, Dailin Cabigayan, 27, are not yet married. "She just happened to get pregnant. But we do have plans to get married," he told AFP.

"I make just enough to get by but at least my job pays regularly. We will find a way to make it fit," he said.

Efforts to control the Philippines' population growth have long been hampered by the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which counts about 80 percent of Filipinos as followers and which disapproves of all forms of artificial birth control.

It was only in April that the government finally overcame over a decade of Church opposition to implement a reproductive health law providing the poor with birth control services.

Perez said with the law's implementation, about two to three million women who previously did not have access to family planning now do.

Meanwhile, Father Melvin Castro, head of the commission on family and life of the country's Catholic bishops, was quoted by a church-run radio station as praising the ballooning population, as there would be more "young workers" to power the economy.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
N. Korea Defies U.N. Censure to Fire Missile into Sea

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 07:08

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un guided the military's latest rocket-firing drill, state media said Sunday, confirming the missile launch which was conducted in defiance of U.N. censure.   

Saturday's launch was the first since the U.N. Security Council on July 17 officially condemned Pyongyang for its recent series of ballistic missile tests, in violation of U.N. resolutions.

The North's state news agency KCNA described the missile launch by the army as a "rocket-firing drill" to simulate a strike on military bases in South Korea where 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed.

"(Kim) examined a firing plan mapped out in consideration of the present location of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces' bases... and under the simulated conditions of the battle to strike and destroy them before guiding the drill," it said.

The launch was intended to mark the July 27 anniversary of the ceasefire agreement at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, KCNA said.

It did not say where the drill took place.

Seoul's army said earlier the North had fired a short-range missile into the sea Saturday night -- the latest in a recent series of launches that heightened tension on the peninsula. 

The North often fires missiles and rockets as a show of force or to express anger at perceived provocations, but the frequency of the recent tests -- six in the past month -- is unusual.

"The North fired... a short-range ballistic missile into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 9:40 pm (12:40 GMT)," a spokesman for Seoul's defense ministry told Agence France Presse.

- Close to border -

The missile, with an estimated range of 500 kilometer (300 miles), was fired in the northeastern direction from Jangsan Cape in the North's western coast -- only 12 miles away from the tense sea border with the South, he said.

Pyongyang's recent missile launches were carried out at locations increasingly close to the border with the South -- a move analysts say is aimed at stepping up threats against Seoul. 

The flashpoint maritime border on the Yellow Sea was a scene of several bloody naval clashes and the North's shelling of a border island in 2010 that left four South Koreans including two civilians dead. 

The Japanese prime minister's crisis management center said the launch was "extremely problematic" for aircraft and shipping lines, adding on its Twitter account that it would lodge a protest with North Korea.

U.N. resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

The U.N.'s latest criticism on the North met with angry response from the North, which called it "absolutely intolerable" and defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war maneuvers" by the U.S.. 

The launch came at a time when Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent weeks, mixing its tests with peace gestures that have been largely dismissed by Seoul.

The two Koreas are currently trying to sort out logistics for the North's participation in the Asian Games, which begin in September in the South Korean city of Incheon.

"Our military sees the launch by North Korea, conducted while expressing its will to participate in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games, as part of its traditional dual strategy of engagement and pressure," Seoul's military spokesman said.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Indonesia President-Elect Faces Huge Reform Challenge

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 15:24

After his resounding victory in Indonesia's presidential race, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo now faces the daunting task of taking the world's third-biggest democracy forward as resistance to reform lingers.

The softly-spoken former furniture exporter was declared Indonesia's next president by election officials Tuesday, and although his rival, Prabowo Subianto, is contesting the result in court, Widodo is widely expected to prevail.

He is the country's first president to come from outside the political and military elite, and millions are eager to see him deliver on promised reform.

The challenges are enormous: Indonesia's public service is dogged by corruption and tangled in a web of bureaucracy. Around half the population of 250 million people are poor, while persistent weaknesses in the economy threaten growth.

"I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it will be a really difficult job," Indonesian Defense University's Yohanes Sulaiman told Agence France Presse.

"He will have to cut fuel subsidies and red tape -- a lot of people have financially benefited from red tape for a long time."

Widodo has pledged to eventually scrap energy subsidies that eat 20 percent of the state budget. Cutting subsidies is politically sensitive, and has met with fierce resistance from the masses and opportunistic opposition parties.

Prabowo's coalition has more seats in parliament than Widodo's, and even though some parties may jump ship in coming weeks, pushing legislation through will be an ongoing challenge.

Parliament is one of the most corrupt public institutions, attendance by lawmakers is dismal and just a small fraction of bills are made into laws each year.

"The parliament is very hostile –- if Jokowi wants good government, he would have to imprison half the lawmakers. He could easily be blocked by them," Sulaiman said, referring to Widodo by his widely used nickname.

Resistance could also come from within Widodo's own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), known to be split down several lines.

Legions of PDI-P members are loyal to Puan Maharani, daughter of former president and party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and granddaughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno.

Some have painted Megawati as Widodo's puppet master, raising fears among those who remember her 2001-04 presidency as aloof and indecisive as militancy and corruption flourished.

- Managing expectations -

Indonesia's economy has begun to bounce back after a woeful 2013 -- when the rupiah dived, inflation soared and the current account hit a record deficit -- but fundamental weaknesses are still hampering growth, economists say.

"It's a huge challenge because of two things. First we're too dependent on commodity exports, we need to ramp up our non-commodity export base," Kenny Soejatman, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management Indonesia, told AFP.

"Second, we're facing competition from other emerging countries. We're facing a weakening global economy and wage pressures. We need to improve our human capital and infrastructure to improve competitiveness."

To make good on some of his economic policies, Widodo will have to better engage the labor unions, according to University of Sydney's Michele Ford.

In the campaign period, Prabowo had the support of major unions that have been able to mobilise millions of protestors and last year spearheaded the huge wage hikes that hurt Indonesia's competitiveness in manufacturing.

"If Widodo can bring unions into the fold, he has a much better chance of being able implement the reform agenda," Ford said.

"Take his plan to cut the fuel subsidy. This will be deeply unpopular with workers," she said, adding he would need to work out trade-offs with unions to avoid massive protests.

But what tens of millions of poor Indonesians are hoping for is a sturdier social safety net.

Widodo has promised to upscale his popular Jakarta health and education card programme to the national level. In the capital, residents received cards that guaranteed free medical treatment and schooling.

Widodo was commended for the smooth distribution of the cards, but many complained of bed shortages and long waits in hospitals that were overwhelmed with patients.

Giving all children an education will also require more than cards. Schools around the country are grossly underfunded. Buildings have collapsed and even killed students in recent years, while teachers often refuse to work, complaining of unpaid wages.

But his first challenge may be keeping the people's hopes in check -- millions are betting on Widodo's fresh man-of-the-people approach to work wonders.

"Managing those expectations in the early weeks and months will be vital for Widodo if he is to bring the country with him," Ford said.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
U.N. Envoy Warns of 'Permanent Segregation' in Unrest-Hit West Myanmar

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 July 2014, 18:55

Myanmar's plans for the future of a western region torn apart by Buddhist-Muslim unrest could result in "permanent segregation" of the two religious groups, a U.N. expert warned Saturday.

The United Nations' human rights envoy to the country, Yanghee Lee, said there was a "deplorable" situation in displacement camps in Rakhine state, where deadly clashes two years ago have left some 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims.

Speaking as she wrapped up her first official visit to Myanmar, Lee warned that the government's plan "for long-term peaceful coexistence may likely result in a permanent segregation of the two communities".

"As an immediate priority, more must be done to reduce tensions and hostility, and promote reconciliation between the two communities," she added.

Lee welcomed a move by the authorities this week to invite Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to resume its work in Rakhine, where it provided healthcare to over half a million people.

But she underscored that security for personnel was a priority if the group was to return.

Rakhine is gripped by a severe health crisis nearly five months after the medical aid group was ejected from the region by the government.

It is as yet unclear to what extent MSF, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and has operated in Myanmar for 22 years, would be able to return.

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims exploded in Rakhine in 2012, leaving around 200 people dead.

The state has since been almost completely divided on religious grounds, with Muslim communities trapped in camps or isolated communities and subject to a range of restrictions limiting their movements and access to basic services and employment.

Myanmar's government has long considered the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Attacks against Muslims have spread to other parts of the country, raising concerns that they could destabilize Myanmar's transition from military rule.

Lee also traveled to Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, where recent religious unrest left two dead.

She warned of a "growing polarization between Muslim and Buddhist communities" in the country.

"In this regard, I am concerned by the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the Internet, which have fueled and triggered further violence," she said.

The envoy, who met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and held meetings with government officials in the capital Naypyidaw during her visit, called for new measures to combat incitement.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan

JULY 26, 2014

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

“They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Asked for figures on the latest security force casualties this year, both ministries refused to provide data or confirm accounts from local officials. But there are signs that the casualty rate is already likely to be at least as bad as it was last year.

In one important indicator, the United Nations reported a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first half of this year compared with a similar period from 2013, hitting a new peak since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking the data in 2009. More significantly, for the first time, the highest number of those casualties came from ground fighting between the Afghan forces and insurgents rather than from roadside bombs.

The United Nations found that more fighting was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.

One important effect of those gains, particularly where police forces are being driven away, is that the Taliban are establishing larger sections of lawless territory where they can intimidate local populations. They become safe havens, and staging grounds for more ambitious attacks against Kabul and other major cities, like the militant assault on Kabul’s airport on July 17.

In the immediate vicinity of the country’s main cities, the Afghan military was still holding up well, according to American and Afghan commanders. But as more marginal districts have come under unexpectedly heavy attack, the military planners’ expectations have been tested.

One widely accepted prediction was that soon after 2014, the Taliban would gain in rural areas and traditional strongholds, as the government made tough decisions about what to fight for and what to let go. Places of no strategic value in remote areas of the south and east, some officials said, could afford to be forgotten.

But heavy attacks, and some territorial losses, are already happening in those places, earlier than predicted.

On July 9, the Taliban overran a district center in Ghor Province, a rugged and violent area close to the center of the country, which left Afghan forces scrambling to reclaim it and smarting from the embarrassment. On Saturday, militants stormed Registan District in Kandahar, killing five police officers, including the district police chief, in a battle that continued into the evening.

The heavy fighting earlier this summer in northern Helmand Province, long a Taliban stronghold and a center of opium poppy production, was mostly expected. But the breadth of the Taliban assault, which is now said by locals to extend to four districts, has surprised many, and foreshadowed a more ambitious reach for the insurgents.

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,” said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.

Bati Kot District, too, has become more dangerous. Outside the district center, residents say, the Taliban dominate a crucial swath of territory that straddles the main highway leading from Kabul to the eastern border with Pakistan. Villagers living in the district say the Taliban force them to feed and house insurgents, and threaten to kill them if they refuse.

Much like Nangarhar, Kapisa is connected directly to Kabul, presenting a troubling threat for the government as it struggles to safeguard the security corridor around the capital. Trouble in three districts has been the focus of a concerted American Special Forces campaign to ferret out the insurgents, who many say appear more trained and disciplined than the average Taliban.

“The command and control is incredible,” said one American Special Forces officer who has fought with his men in insurgent-controlled valleys in Kapisa. “They have found an awesome safe haven.”

The biggest fear for the province stems from Tagab and Alasay districts. Though there is an entire battalion of Afghan soldiers in the area, the vast majority of the fighting and dying are done by the police forces.

Two weeks ago, in the Askin Valley area of Alasay, insurgents surrounded a village where the local and national police had only recently taken root. Tribal and interpersonal rivalries fueled the animosity toward the police, but the consequence was clear: The government was not welcome.

An estimated 60 insurgents surrounded Askin Valley and engaged in a gunfight with about 35 local and 10 national police officers in the area, according to police officials. The two sides fought for more than a week, with coalition aircraft entering the area to offer support for the beleaguered security forces. Eventually, the police were forced to retreat, along with hundreds of villagers.

Two police officials in the area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, relayed the account. One, a local police officer, said the Taliban’s reach permeated the entire district, and the security forces were consigned to their bases, trying to stay alive.

“The Afghan security forces are controlling the bazaar for one in every 24 hours,” the commander said. “From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., the police, army and local police come out of their outposts and buy what they need, then they go back to their bases.”

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