Turkish Parliament Expands Police Powers and Cracks Down on Demonstrations
By CEYLAN YEGINSU
MARCH 27, 2015
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s Parliament passed one of its most contested pieces of legislation on Friday, a bill that broadens police powers and increases penalties for people participating in unauthorized demonstrations.
Approval came after a monthlong debate in which cups and glasses were flung across the assembly floor and lawmakers on opposing sides brawled with their fists over the bill. Supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party, which holds the majority of seats, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Under the bill, the police will be permitted to use firearms against demonstrators who are armed with firebombs or other “injurious or similar weapons.” They will also be able to detain people for up to 48 hours to uphold public order. Protesters wearing masks or partly covering their faces will face up to five years in prison if they are deemed to be spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
The bill will also allow the police to pursue some investigations without authorization from prosecutors and judges, raising fears of the arbitrary use of power without judicial oversight.
Opponents say that the bill breaches the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches and that it could create the basis for turning Turkey into a police state. The government has described the bill as a reform that increases the security of its citizens while keeping within the European Union’s standards for freedoms and security regulations.
The bill was proposed by the ruling party after thousands of Kurds took to the streets last October to protest Turkey’s lack of support for Kurdish fighters battling militants of the Islamic State, the extremist group, in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani. At least 40 people died in the demonstrations.
International human rights organizations have criticized the bill for its vague terminology that could lead to preventive detentions to crack down on dissent.
“The government’s legitimate concern about violent protest should not be a blank check for police powers,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, a Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Others said Turkey’s history of abusive policing operations made the bill even more unsettling.
“There is a clear record of impunity where police go beyond their legitimate powers without being punished for it,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University in New York. “To extend their powers is crazy.”
The main problem, Mr. Eissenstat said, is that these powers would be increased without judicial oversight.
Opponents view the bill as part of a broader pattern of actions by Mr. Erdogan to secure public order and suppress views he does not like. His signing of the bill would strengthen police powers ahead of June’s parliamentary elections.
Massive underground city discovered in Turkey
March 27, 2015
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In 2013, workers in Turkey looking to demolish low-income housing near a Byzantine-era hilltop castle stumbled upon something extraordinary: an expansive underground city that may have housed 20,000 people or more.
We think they actually found a huge Diglett sanctuary.
Located in the middle of the country near the provincial capital of in Nevşehir, the underground network has yet to be extensively explored by researchers. Archaeologists and geophysicists do have resources for their explorations in the form of a 300-year-old paper trail stretching all the way back to the Ottoman Empire.
“We found documents stating that there were close to 30 major water tunnels in this region,” Nevşehir mayor Hasan Ünver told National Geographic.
In 2014, those documents led researchers to a multi-level underground village of living areas, wineries, chapels, and bezirhane-linseed presses for generating lamp oil. The research team was able to find numerous small artifacts, including stone crosses and ceramics. The artifacts reveal that the settlement was used from the Byzantine era all the way up to the Ottoman conquest, researchers said.
The team said that the newly discovered site appears to be similar to a nearby underground settlement called Derinkuyu, with airshafts and water channels designed to sustain life. The scientists said that residents probably retreated underground when attacked by marauders, blocking access to tunnels with round stone doors. There were then able to sustain themselves with livestock and supplies for some time, allowing them to wait out the threat.
In addition to archeological investigations, geophysicists from Nevşehir University executed an organized survey of the surrounding area using two different techniques. From the 33 separate measurements they took, they determined that the total size of the archeological site is almost 5 million square feet.
The team of archeologists investigating the site plans to continue clearing rubble from tunnels and move deeper underground. It’s a risky move, as the team needs to be wary of the tunnels collapsing.
In addition to the scientific importance of the find, Turkish Mayor Ünver was delighted to say that the ancient underground system will be incorporated into the cultural tourism of the entire area.
“This new discovery will be added as a new pearl, a new diamond, a new gold” to the area, Ünver said, noting plans for “the world’s largest antique park” in the area. Ünver said the park would include boutique hotels and art galleries aboveground, and a museum below.
“We even plan to reopen the underground churches,” he said. “All of this makes us very excited.”
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:56 AM
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on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:51 AM
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Iranians hold their breath for a nuclear deal with the west
As Iranians celebrate the most important holiday in the Persian calendar, citizens and businesses hope a nuclear agreement with the west will boost their sanctions-hit economy
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Friday 27 March 2015 13.32 GMT Last modified on Saturday 28 March 2015 00.07 GMT
As millions in Iran are in the midst of celebrating the most important holiday in the Persian calendar, which brings the country to a standstill for 13 days, 2,000 miles away on another continent a group of Iranian diplomats are intensely engaged in high-level nuclear talks.
The ancient Zoroastrian festival marking the spring equinox, Nowruz, which started on Saturday, encompasses the revered tradition of Eid-Didani, or visiting one another. So extensive are the festivities that some people visit as many as seven or eight families a day. Sometimes they are host to the very same people they visited that morning.
This year, the nuclear negotiations in the Swiss city of Lausanne, which are entering a critical phase ahead of a major deadline, are being debated over dried fruits, pistachio nuts and watermelon seeds.
“People are running out of patience, how long is this going to last?” said Jalal, a Tehrani citizen, who mentioned that the issue of the nuclear talks has come up in a number of his Nowruz visits. “We’re in limbo, we want to have an answer, whether it’s positive or negative.”
Amir, a construction worker, echoed Jalal, saying that many Iranians are holding their breath to see how the negotiations will affect the country’s sanctions-hit economy. “Our business is stagnant,” he said. “But we’re sure that we will hear good news. The situation will improve in the coming year and people will finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
On Saturday, within a few minutes after 2:15am, the exact time when the year changed, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters including the country’s nuclear dossier, appeared on national TV, declaring the new year one of “harmony and solidarity with the government”.
It was widely seen as an indication that he was throwing his support behind the administration of the president, Hassan Rouhani, at this important juncture. Later that day, the 75-year-old ayatollah delivered his first major speech of the year, which usually has a great political significance.
In the speech, which took place at the religious city of Mashhad, Khamenei dismissed claims by western officials that there are people in Iran who are opposed to a diplomatic solution to the current stalemate over the country’s nuclear programme. “This is a lie,” he said. “There is no one in Iran who doesn’t want the nuclear issue to be resolved, and resolved through negotiations. What the Iranian people don’t want is imposition and bullying from America.”
The outcome of the current negotiations is tightly linked to the life of many in Iran. The value of Iran’s national currency, the rial, has dropped dramatically in recent years as the result of western sanctions, which have compounded the country’s economic woes. Since taking office, Rouhani has managed to curb inflation and bring some stability, but much is at stake depending on how the talks conclude.
Morteza, a taxi driver working along Tehran’s historic and tree-lined Vali-e-Asr street, said people are confused about why the negotiations are taking so long to bear fruit. “We want to get out of this situation and hopefully the relations between Iran and the US will be normalised,” he said. “Maybe one day soon we’ll be able to fly directly from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport to that of John F. Kennedy.”
Hamed, a young shopkeeper from Tehran’s Moghaddas-Ardebili street, said: “We’re tired, we’re so tired and we want these negotiations to finish soon but every time we think we are going to hear something good, we hear that the negotiations have adjourned with no results.”
But not everyone is convinced that the negotiations are serious, or that they are going to bring Iran out of the cold in the event of an agreement. “It’s not going to move a thing,” said Mohammad-Javad, a 24-year-old who works at a clothes shop in Tehran’s Satarkhan street. “No matter what happens in the negotiations, whether they reach a deal or not, it’s not going to impact our business. Our business is bad and it’s not going to get better overnight.”
In Tehran’s Andisheh shopping centre, Mohammad has a small boutique selling scarves and women’s clothing. Negotiations will succeed, he said, “because both Iran and the US need it”. He added: “If they reach a deal, it won’t change my business, but if they fail, it will be a huge shock for every businessman in this country.”
Mohammad, who sells jewellery in Hafthoz square, disagrees. In his opinion, the ongoing talks are doomed to fail because Iran will never put up with the US. “America will never lift sanctions on Iran. They are our enemy.” he said. “Our people have endured very difficult times in the past years, I’m not optimistic that the situation will get better but I hope at least that it doesn’t get worse.”
Mojdeh’s cosmetics shop in Gha’em shopping centre in Tajrish, north of Tehran, boasts international brands, everything from L’Oréal to Garnier. “Our politicians know how to handle the situation so that we won’t have war,” the 40-year-old said. “But if the talks fail, the dollar will get more expensive to buy and people like me will have serious problems in importing original products from abroad,” she added.
Any news from the diplomatic rooms particularly creates volatility in Iran’s currency market. Goudarzi, who has a foreign currency exchange near Tehran’s Istanbul junction, said an agreement in Lausanne will have a knock-on effect on the country’s currency market. “Iran’s currency will benefit from an agreement almost immediately,” he said.
But there is one place where the current mood is perhaps felt more than anywhere else: Tehran’s grand bazaar, the heartbeat of the Iranian capital. “The fluctuations in the currency market affect us directly,” said Ehsan, who sells mobile phones there. “People don’t buy now because prices keep going up and down, but if the negotiations succeed, we will finally have some stability.”
An Iranian journalist based in Tehran contributed to this report. Some names have been changed in order to protect people’s identities.
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:49 AM
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Greece submits reform proposals to eurozone creditors – with a warning
As the EU, ECB and IMF pore over Athens’s latest attempt to unlock financial aid, minister says country is prepared to go it alone ‘if things do not go well’
Helena Smith in Athens
Friday 27 March 2015 18.42 GMT Last modified on Saturday 28 March 2015 00.39 GMT
Greece submitted a long-awaited list of structural reforms to its creditors on Friday as its leftist-led government warned it would stop meeting debt obligations if negotiations failed and aid was not forthcoming.
As officials from the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) prepared to pore over Athens’s latest proposals, the country’s international economic affairs minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, raised the stakes, saying while Greece wanted an agreement it was prepared to go its own way “in the event of a bad scenario”.
He told the Guardian: “We are working in the spirit of compromise, we want a solution, but if things don’t go well you have to bear the bad scenario in mind as well. That is the nature of negotiations.”
The government, dominated by the anti-austerity Syriza party, had assembled a package of 18 reforms in the hope of unlocking £7.2bn in financial assistance.
The desire was for a positive outcome, Tsakalotos said, but Athens’s new administration was not willing to abandon its anti-austerity philosophy. Two months after assuming office, the government’s priority remained to alleviate the plight of those worst affected by Greece’s catastrophic five-year-long crisis, he said.
The British-trained economist said: “Our top priority remains payment of salaries and pensions. If they demand a 30% cut in pensions, for example, they do not want a compromise.”
The reform-for-cash deal, the latest twist in Greece’s battle to keep bankruptcy at bay, did not – and would not – include any recessionary measures, a government official said, adding it was hoped the proposals would bolster state coffers with €3bn (£2.2bn) in badly needed revenues.
“The actions proposed though the reforms list foresee revenues of €3bn for 2015, which under no circumstances will come from wage or pension cuts,” Tsakalotos said. “The list does not include recessionary measures.”
Lenders have insisted that recessionary measures are unavoidable if the economy of Europe’s most indebted state is to be put on a sustainable path.
The 18 proposals – three times as many as put forward and dismissed by prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last month – foresaw GDP growth of 1.4% this year. The package also endorsed finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s argument that the primary surplus demanded of Greece would have to be reduced. As such, the primary surplus was estimated to hit 1.5% in 2015 – half that in the country’s existing bailout programme.
With the country shut out of international capital markets, economists and officials have warned Athens could run out of money by 9 April, when it must pay €450m to the IMF.
“The government is not going to continue servicing public debt with its own funds if lenders do not immediately proceed with the disbursement of funds which have been put on hold since 2014,” said government aides. “The country has not taken receipt of an aid instalment from the EU or IMF since August 2014 even though it has habitually fulfilled its obligations.”
Following a precipitous decline in tax revenues, the Tsipras administration has been scrambling to raise funds, sequestering the cash reserves of state entities, raiding pension funds and postponing payments for supplies.
As negotiations between Athens and lender organisations enter a particularly fractious phase, Varoufakis responded to speculation of his imminent sacking from the government as “amusing”.
“Every time the negotiations heat up, some new rumour of my resignation, demise, etc. springs up. Somewhat amusing …” he tweeted.
A government insider said the flamboyant finance minister’s enforced departure from office would be tantamount to “a self-inflicted wound”. “If he goes, it will be only when things have calmed down,” he said.
A euro working group is expected to respond to the Greek reform proposals on Monday.
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:46 AM
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Poland Charges Russian Air Traffic Controllers in Crash
By JOANNA BERENDT
MARCH 27, 2015
WARSAW — Polish military prosecutors charged two Russian air traffic controllers on Friday in a 2010 plane crash in western Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 top-ranking officials traveling with him. The charges are likely to strain already tense relations between Poland and Russia.
After an almost five-year investigation, a prosecutor, Col. Ireneusz Szelag, said at a news briefing that the flight controllers from the Smolensk airport, where the presidential aircraft tried to land in poor weather conditions, were being charged with contributing to the crash.
“One of the controllers has been charged with direct responsibility for the crash and one with indirect responsibility,” Colonel Szelag said, adding that he could not reveal further details.
The Russian traffic controllers could face up to eight years in prison.
However, Colonel Szelag said that the most immediate cause of the crash had been the Polish crew’s poor training and negligent behavior, which resulted in the plane’s descending too far below a layer of fog and failing to heed an automated warning to pull up. The crew also did not have the required permission to fly the presidential aircraft.
Relatives of the crash victims intend to ask Russia for compensation of about 250,000 Polish zloty, or about $67,000 each, said Roman Giertych, who represents some of the families.
The revelations by the military prosecutors were immediately seized upon by the conservative Law and Justice party, the biggest opposition party in Poland, founded by Mr. Kaczynski and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, a former prime minister who has long claimed that the president was assassinated, possibly by the Russians.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski also believes that the Polish government led by Donald Tusk, who has since resigned to become president of the European Council, was involved in a cover-up.
Antoni Macierewicz, a senior member of Law and Justice, accused the investigators of “leading the public astray” and said the crash had been caused by a mysterious explosion on board that ripped the aircraft apart.
Russia still has not returned the aircraft wreckage, despite repeated requests by Polish officials.
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:43 AM
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Judge Looks to Build 'New Society' in Ukraine Rebel Bastion
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2015, 07:13
Even as he breaks down in tears, judge Alexander Klyanoshkin admits no regrets about ending a decade on the bench in his government-held hometown in eastern Ukraine to serve in the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Donetsk.
Along with his wife and children, Klyanoshkin made the 50 kilometers (30 miles) journey south to sign up as a judge in the fledgling court system being established by rebels in their war-scarred capital.
Now his dream is to help build what he hopes will be a "new society" in the self-proclaimed separatist statelet.
Klyanoshkin says he left Kiev-held territory to cross over to the legally unrecognised would-be country after becoming "disgusted" by the Ukrainian authorities, whom he views as illegitimate.
"That country (Ukraine) has no future," he says, sitting in a leather chair in his new office.
Pro-European President Petro Poroshenko, voted in last May after the ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych, "took power by unconstitutional means", the judge insists.
"A president must be elected according to the constitution and not by revolution," he says, with the flag of the enclave the rebels have carved out through a brutal uprising on his desk.
After almost a year of fighting that has cost the lives of more than 6,000 people, the legal system in the rebel republic is still in its infancy.
The basis of it -- and everything that Klyanoshkin believes to "the bottom of his soul" -- is bound up in a new "Criminal Code", published by the separatist leaders.
- 'Respect power!' -
The little book -- with a cover depicting a Russian eagle on top of the separatist flag -- replaces the Ukrainian code that rules in the rest of the country.
The new criminal code is "more humane" than its Ukrainian counterpart, the judge says, citing its reduced reliance on custodial sentences.
A new civil code should follow, but not without a lot of debate over its contents, he adds.
"People should respect power! And if they want to fight against it, they must do so through democratic means," he argues.
"I do not see democracy in Ukraine. I was attracted by the Donetsk People's Republic because this 'state' respects the fundamental principles of law: respect for the individual, religion and cultural diversity."
According to the judge, the refusal of the international community, notably France and Germany, to recognise DPR's legitimacy "does not matter".
"It may take a year, 10 years, but the international community will recognise the People's Republic," he predicts.
"We will convince them by promoting democratic principles. And because we are creating a new society."
Klyanoshkin served in the judicial system for 10 years in his home city of Artemivsk, but claims decisions there were made "not by law but by politics".
After a decade of resentment, he says, "it is very hard to be disappointed here".
"There will certainly be challenges, but I'm ready to do anything so that the judicial powers will be respected," added the stocky judge, but stressed that it must be "without violence".
He suddenly breaks down in tears when asked if his eight-year-old daughter blames him for taking the family from their old life, away from the bombs and fear.
"No, I think she understands. But when she watches a film about the war on television, she cries," he admits, rushing to the window to hide his tears.
"During the bombing, we hid in our bedrooms," he recalls, looking down on the street.
Meanwhile, his 20-year-old son is following his father's footsteps, and just now completing his law studies.
Source: Agence France Presse
How do you solve a problem like Ukraine?
Analysis: Kiev should stop banning Russian films and TV programmes and start talking to Russophone Ukrainians, says Nicolai Petro
Nicolai Petro is professor of politics at University of Rhode Island. In 2013-4 he was a US Fulbright scholar in Ukraine
Friday 27 March 2015 07.00 GMT
Not long ago, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko gave a wide ranging interview in which he offered the man who now sits in that seat some advice.
President Petro Poroshenko must understand, the ex-leader said, that half the country is against the imposition of the Ukrainian language, opposes the idea of a single national church, and does not want to join any military alliance.
With a candour that only a former politician can afford, Yushchenko acknowledged that Ukrainians live in two distinct countries. There are parts of Ukraine today where, he said, “our language practically does not exist, our memory is nonexistent, our church is absent, our culture is absent.”
His solution? To impose “spiritual unity” on the country. During his time in office Yushchenko insists he did just that, which might explain why his initially high popularity rating fell to under 5% by the end of his term.
Perhaps this is the consequence of the approach that politicians such as Yushchenko have taken towards those Ukrainian citizens they consider “utterly foreign”. It is a strategy that intellectuals such as Elena Styazhkina, professor of history at Donetsk National University, euphemistically term “positive, peaceful colonisation”.
At a TEDx conference in Kiev last year Styazhkina clarified her meaning, adding: “the Donbass will not return to Ukraine because the Donbass does not exist. It will be either Ukraine, or nothing at all”.
The most recent example of this colonisation is the introduction of a law, about to come into effect, which bans the showing of “any Russian films, documentaries, serials, or cartoons” made since January 2014 or any productions portraying “the aggressor country” (Russia) in a favourable light made after August 1991 (the time of the Soviet coup).
The current war effort has certainly succeeded in rallying popular support behind the government in Kiev, and the censorship imposed on Russian media and cultural outlets no doubt also helps.
But if colonisation of Russophone Ukraine were a realistic possibility, would we not have seen more progress on national consensus since independence, especially during the Yushchenko era?
Pro-Russian militants stand guard at a polling station in eastern Ukrainian during controversial leadership elections that Kiev and the west have refused to recognise. Pro-Russian militants guard a polling station in eastern Ukrainian during controversial leadership elections that Kiev and the west refused to recognise. Photograph: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
A poll conducted last December by the Ukrainian news website Zerkalo Nedeli highlights the fact that the government’s efforts, instead of healing Ukraine’s wounds, are creating new rifts.
Recent events are already being mythologised very differently in different parts of Ukraine
Asked what had been the three most significant developments in their country over the past year, it found little consensus between respondents in western Ukraine and those in Donbass:
71% of those in western Ukraine included the deaths of the “heavenly 100” during protests in Kiev that overthrew the previous government, compared with just 15% of those living in Donbass.
Fewer than 3% of western Ukrainians but more than 30% of those in Donbass rated the self-declaration of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in their top three.
More than 31% of western Ukrainians and fewer than 13% of those in Donbass included the invasion of Russian troops into Donbass.
In western Ukraine, 18% rated the signing of an agreement with the EU among their top three, compared with just 1.5% of those in Donbass.
The Russian occupation of Crimea appeared in the top three of more than 35% of those living in western Ukraine and less than 20% of those living in Donbass.
There was somewhat more agreement on the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians during the war: 44% of respondents in the west versus 56% of those in Donbass rated this among their top three.
From this survey, it is apparent that recent events are already being mythologised very differently in different parts of Ukraine.
“Peaceful colonisation” is therefore likely to run into serious difficulties. The most obvious is resentment arising from the implication that any Ukrainian who feels a kinship for Russian culture or prefers to speak Russian is somehow disloyal. This would surely transform the current conflict into a conflict over Ukrainian identity.
A second problem will be increasing western frustration at the restriction of minority cultural and religious rights. Some European politicians are already on record as saying they cannot understand why federalism, used by many multi-ethnic states to preserve national unity, is rejected out of hand by Poroshenko. Moving further from cultural equality for minorities to some form of ethnic democracy would invariably be seen in the west as a step away from European values.
[There's an] implication that Ukrainians who feel a kinship for Russian culture or prefer to speak Russian are disloyal
Finally, there is the unavoidable fact that Russia will continue to have a tremendous cultural impact in Ukrainian society, where nearly everyone speaks Russian. Short of shutting down the internet and isolating itself from the world, there is little that Ukraine can do about this.
A better solution than colonisation would therefore be to establish a cultural dialogue with Russophone Ukrainians. A true dialogue of equal citizens might lead to the development of what Ukraine currently so obviously lacks – a unifying civic culture that encompasses both the Russian and Ukrainian speaking communities.
This is where Ukrainian elites have a fateful choice to make. They can try to resolve the problem of national unity by adopting nationalistic symbols, rallying people around an “eternal enemy” (Russia) and making the new national identity a litmus test of loyalty. Or, they can forge unity through the incorporation of Russian speakers into a new civic patriotism in which Ukrainian identity is defined by its civic virtues rather than by culture or ethnicity. Simply put, the choice is between nationalism and liberalism.
Both are quintessential European values, but they lead to very different political systems.
Moreover, given Russia’s overwhelming cultural presence in Ukraine, building a national identity at the expense of Russian identity would prove especially difficult, like trying to build Canadian identity around anti-Americanism and a refusal to speak English.
Finally, there is the issue of the heritage of Ukrainian liberalism. As philosopher Myroslav Popovych points out, the country’s liberal intellectual tradition rests on illustrious names such as Mykhailo Drahomanov, Maksym Kovalevsky, Bohdan Kistiakivsky, Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky, Mykola Vasylenko and Volodymyr Vernadsky. But there is precious little that is distinctively Ukrainian about this tradition. It is, in fact, the liberal intellectual tradition of the Russian empire at the end of the 19th century, a heritage shared by both Russians and Ukrainians alike.
There is no alternative to a national dialogue that sees Ukraine’s bicultural identity as a strength not a weakness
I regard this common heritage as a distinct advantage for modern day Ukraine. First, because it promotes a rule of law that is based on individual rather than collective rights. Second, because it counters the cultural isolation from Russia being sought by the most virulent Ukrainian nationalists. Finally, because it can rebuild ties with today’s Russian intelligentsia on the basis of shared values.
So far Poroshenko seems bent on repeating Yushchenko’s mistakes. But while his nationalistic rhetoric may help the war effort, what happens after the conflict ends? In the long-run integral nationalism runs counter to Ukrainian national unity, stable democracy, and even EU and Nato membership. Ultimately, there is no alternative to a national dialogue that sees Ukraine’s bicultural and bilingual identity as a strength, rather than as a weakness.
And if the west is truly interested in the success of Ukraine, then it should recognise that it too has a vital stake in expanding liberal discourse in Ukraine, and in overcoming the nationalistic rhetoric that can only further divide the nation.
Nicolai Petro is an academic specialising in Russian and Ukrainian affairs, currently professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:20 AM
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Olive the Oiled Otter meets tragic death by shark after surviving a tar soaking
The otter, whose miraculous recovery earned her 5,000 Facebook followers, was found on California beach after a bite ended her life
Friday 27 March 2015 15.22 GMT Last modified on Friday 27 March 2015 15.30 GMT
A sea otter who became an ambassador for her species after a remarkable recovery from an oil tar soaking off the coast of northern California has been killed by a shark.
Olive the Oiled Otter made headlines in 2009 when she was found covered in oil and near death on Santa Cruz beach. Olive fully recovered and went on to deliver a healthy pup years later.
The California department of fish and wildlife says Olive was found dead by a beachgoer on Sunday.
The department says wildlife biologists found wounds consistent with a shark bite on the 7-year-old marine mammal’s body.
It said Olive’s wounds showed no signs of healing, indicating that she died quickly after the fatal bite.
Olive had more than 5,000 Facebook followers, in an account set up by wildlife officials. Hundreds of followers expressed sadness after reading about her passing.
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:18 AM
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The week in wildlife
The pick of this week's best flora and fauna shots from around the world: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/series/weekinwildlife
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:14 AM
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Mexico deadline to ban circus animals looms but doubt shrouds creatures' fate
Circus owners claim the ban will put non-human performers in danger as zoos and sanctuaries look unprepared to provide homes
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Friday 27 March 2015 19.16 GMT Last modified on Friday 27 March 2015 20.18 GMT
With animal acts about to be banned from all circuses in Mexico, the fate of the non-human performers has become mired in acrimony and doubts over whether the legislation will actually lead to an improvement in animal protections.
Rather than bring relief to the elephants, lions, tigers and other animals they currentlytransport around the country in cages, circus owners claim the ban in fact puts the animals in danger.
Bolivia bans all circus animals
“A lot of owners don’t want to give the government the animals that are their livelihoods, and which they look after well,” said Armando Cedeño, president of the national association of circus owners. “Some are looking to sell them, and you don’t always know who is buying. Others are so desperate they are thinking of putting them to sleep.”
But the government of Enrique Peña Nieto has brushed aside such warnings with promises of a bright future for Mexico’s four-legged circus performers. The implementation of the ban is just three months away.
“We will ensure that all the animals have top-level destinies that attend to their comfort and wellbeing,” the chief environmental prosecutor, Guillermo Haro, told reporters earlier this month.
Such optimism sounds a little glib given the vagueness of the legislation, the state’s limited capacity to provide sanctuary and a long history of a black market trade in exotic species. All within the context of wildly varying estimates of how many circus animals there are.
The ban explicitly gives Mexican zoos first pick of the animals. The rest, the legislation says, can be handed over to the authorities, though this is not obligatory.
So far, the big public zoos have expressed little interest in the animals, given their tight budgets, and other state-owned sanctuaries do not have the infrastructure to receive more than a small number. Expansions have been promised, as have arrangements with privately run sanctuaries, but how this will be arranged or funded remains a mystery.
Doubts over numbers
Although authorities have said that the owners could face legal action if they put their animals down, there has been almost no comment on the prospect of mass sales of old circus animals. A thriving black market in exotic species already feeds unregulated private collections – such as the tigers found in drug traffickers’s mansions – as well as the trade in pelts.
“It’s very difficult to get a handle on what is going on,” said Dilce Winders of the international animal rights group Peta that lobbied energetically in support of the Mexican ban. “And the deadline is looming.”
Winders stresses that there is still very little solid information about the animals that will be needing a new home. This should come, theoretically, when the owners provide a census immediately after the ban comes into force in early July, but they currently claim it is about 4,000. The authorities say their existing registers suggest the number is closer to 2,500.
Tim Phillips of Animal Defense International, a group which has been at the forefront of campaigns to ban circus animals across the world, has dismissed the larger figure as “circus propaganda”, and the warnings of deaths and mass sales as “outrageous threats” designed to force some kind of compensation deal.
Still, Phillips, who said ADI had been involved with the Mexican case from the start, added that the Mexican authorities seemed “a bit overwhelmed” in recent meetings and suggested they may soon announce a delay in implementation.
ADI, Phillips said, had already “emptied Bolivia” of old circus animals with a number of “rescues” in the wake of its ban in 2010. The group is currently finishing a similar operation in Peru, preparing to airlift 33 lions and a bear to sanctuaries in California and Colorado.
Phillips expects ADI will be invited by Mexico to help place the animals and, perhaps, even to help enforce the ban.
“Often the countries most in need of animal protection laws are the ones with the least resources to enforce them,” he said. “We are getting a taste of that in Mexico.”
Phillips said that he expected the numbers to fall dramatically as the most common species, such as llamas and horses, were sold off easily. He said some of the exotic ones might also “disappear”, though he insisted that feeding the black market is a longstanding practice among circus owners and should not be blamed on the ban.
“We have to be realistic,” he said. “If this is the last generation to suffer in circuses in Mexico it is a very positive thing.”
‘They are killing the industry’
The ban is already partially in action, thanks to local-level legislation in about a third of Mexico’s states.
Circus owner spokesman Cedeño said this has had a major impact on audiences for the family-based companies that set up their big tops in small towns and poor barrios across the country, forcing some to close down altogether.
“They are killing the industry,” he said.
Cedeño insists the ban goes beyond concern for animal welfare and is – at least partially – a cover for powerfully connected people seeking a cut from selling off valuable animals appropriated from the circuses.
Circuses to be banned from using wild animals
The evidence is suspect, but such stories gain some traction in Mexico thanks to the dubious reputation of the Green party, which has been the ban’s main promoter and whose leadership is mired in allegations of corruption.
They have also previously used publicity campaigns that have had little to do with environmental issues. One candidate used an elephant to launch his campaign in 2012, and the Green party governor of the state of Chiapas gave a key position to a businessman who boasted of his exploits hunting elephants in Botswana.
But animal rights activists insist that none of this is relevant to the task at hand.
“No political party has a good reputation in Mexico,” said Leonora Esquivel of the group AnimaNaturalis that has worked closely with the Green party on the ban. “Our responsibility is to ensure that this opportunity results in the end to the exploitation and mistreatment of animals in circuses.”
on: Mar 28, 2015, 05:11 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Ancient humans came in many shapes and sizes
March 27, 2015
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – @ParkstBrett
One of the predominant theories of our evolution says our genus, Homo, came from small-bodied early humans to become the taller, heavier Homo erectus, who went on to dominate the face of the Earth. What the theory doesn’t explain, though, is the timing and geographic source of the larger body size associated with modern humans.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution has found that the primary increase in body size took place tens of thousands of years after Homo erectus departed Africa, and mostly in the Koobi Fora region of Kenya.
“The evolution of larger bodies and longer legs can thus no longer be assumed to be the main driving factor behind the earliest excursions of our genus to Eurasia,” said study author Manuel Will, from the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
This is West Turkana, Kenya, where the Nariokotome boy skeleton was discovered. (Credit: Manuel Will)
Bigger bodies, massive diversity
The study team said the results can through the use of a new method using small fragments of fossil to determine our earliest ancestors’ height and body mass. The novel technique also indicates the massive diversity in body size seen in humans today appearing much earlier than earlier thought.
STORY: Fossil jaw pushes human origins back 400,000 years: http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113347098/fossil-jaw-human-origins-030515/
“What we’re seeing is perhaps the beginning of a unique characteristic of our own species – the origins of diversity,” said co-author Jay Stock, a human evolution expert from the University of Cambridge. “It’s possible to interpret our findings as showing that there were either multiple species of early human, such as Homo habilis, Homo ergaster and Homo rudolfensis, or one highly diverse species.”
“If someone asked you ‘Are modern humans 6 foot tall and 70 kg (150 pounds)?’ you’d say ‘Well some are, but many people aren’t,’ and what we’re starting to show is that this diversification happened really early in human evolution,” said Stock.
The study is the first in two decades to check the body size of the humans who lived between 2.5 and 1.5 million years ago. It is also the first use of fragmentary fossils to produce body size estimates. The fossils showed considerable local variation in the size of early humans during the Pleistocene. Some groups, such as those who lived in South African caves, were typically 4.8 feet tall. Some of those discovered in Kenya’s Koobi Fora region would have stood nearly 6 feet tall, the size of the average male today.
“Basically every textbook on human evolution gives the perspective that one lineage of humans evolved larger bodies before spreading beyond Africa. But the evidence for this story about our origins and the dispersal out of Africa just no longer really fits,” Stock said. “We tend to simplify our interpretations because the fossil record is patchy and we have to explain it in some way. But revealing the diversity that exists is just as important as those broad, sweeping explanations.”
on: Mar 27, 2015, 07:56 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Numbats at risk from proposed Western Australia rubbish tip – conservationists
Numbat-spotters are appealing an Environmental Protection Authority decision not to assess a plan to build a rubbish tip near the Dryandra woodlands
Friday 27 March 2015 06.37 GMT
Numbat conservationists in Western Australia are appealing against an Environmental Protection Authority decision not to assess a proposal to build a large rubbish tip just 6km from the Dryandra woodlands.
The area is home to one of only two populations of the endangered marsupial to have survived colonisation.
The proposed 65-hectare waste disposal site is a consolidation of 11 rubbish tips from seven local government areas and is expected to bring in 5,000 tonnes of rubbish a year.
But conservationists say the feral animals attracted by the tip – namely cats and foxes – would have a devastating impact on native animals in nearby Dryandra, especially the West Australian state emblem, the numbat.
That’s of particular concern to a group of four men who call themselves the Numbat Task Force.
Once a fortnight, the men pile into two cars, reset their odometers and head into Dryandra woodland, 170km south east of Perth, driving at what the group’s unofficial founder, Sean van Alphen, described as “numbat speed” – about 10km an hour.
Talking over CB radios, the convoy slows down when they reach a likely patch of vegetation and scan for the tiny marsupials. Spotting a numbat is always worth the hours in the car.
“Your next numbat is always the best,” the Task Force’s newest member, Robert MacLean, told Guardian Australia.
MacLean and van Alphen give the same answer when asked why they devote hours of their spare time to searching for numbats, carefully cataloguing and photographing every one they find and posting the results on their Facebook page.
“Have you seen a numbat in the wild?” MacLean asks. “As soon as you do you will be doing the same thing. It’s a bit of an addiction.”
For the uninitiated, he explains that, “Numbats are like meerkats but better.”
“You get runners and sitters. Runners just keep on running and that’s all you see, then you get a little sitter and it’s always special because you get to spend a bit of time with them. It’s the sitters that make you the addict.”
The task force know the area so well that they have named popular numbat hangouts, as well as most of the numbats themselves.
“We have got the Sheriff, because there’s a little place in Dryandra that we call log city so we have got the Sheriff of Log City, and we can recognise her by sight,” MacLean said.
None of the men are conservationists by trade. MacLean drives a meat truck. Van Alphen works for an airline. John Lawson, the only one of the four to live locally, is caretaker of the Dryandra Woodland Village accommodation site.
But they have kept detailed records since 1999, and what those records show isn’t good.
A sharp decline in the numbat population last decade means days spent driving without success far outweigh the good days. In 2010 they didn’t see a single numbat. So far this year they have had six sightings, but MacLean says four of those were of the same numbat.
When Van Alphen started visiting Dryandra in 1992, there were 11.3 numbats per 100km. Last year, the Department of Parks and Wildlife survey found just 0.27 numbats per 100km – or one every 400km. The population has shrunk from 800 to just 50.
Van Alphen said feral cats caused the population crash. With the numbers at such a critical level, anything that attracts more cats to the area – like the proposed rubbish tip – could have a devastating effect.
“You could lose 10 of these animals on a bad day,” Van Alphen said. “I think that if something is not down very quickly we are not going to have any numbats left in Dryandra.”
Numbats once existed across Australia but were wiped out everywhere bar Dryandra and Perup, which lies 260km south. They are slowly being reintroduced to other areas but Dryandra, as a remnant population, is as valuable as it is vulnerable.
Van Alphen said the risk of increased cat predation from the proposed waste disposal centre, which is just 6km from the woodland, was too high.
Rubbish tips are known attractors of feral cats, who feed on rodents in the rubbish as well as the rubbish itself. A 2005 University of Sydney study described them as “biological attraction points around which free-living cats congregate in high densities.”
The study said the abundance of food made it difficult to conduct population control as cats, fussy about poison at the best of times, passed up baits for other options.
Van Alphen said he was concerned that even the much-touted new Eradicat baits, which have had success in sparser areas of the Wheatbelt during the hungry dry months, would not be as effective in an area so rich in live food.
And cats aren’t the only problem. Black rats, previously unrecorded in Dryandra woodland, could be brought in along with rubbish from other tips. Ravens, which mob native animals, are also expected to come.
The impact on native animals like numbats and woolies , which have recently been re-listed as endangered, was the key concern raised in public submissions to the development proposal. The Shire of Cuballing has jurisdiction over the proposal. In a meeting on 19 March, it said 56 of the 70 submissions it received raised concerns or objections to the proposal. Just five showed support.
Cuballing’s shire president, Mark Conley, said the council has requested further information from the Great Southern Regional Waste Group about how it proposes to manage environmental risks like feral animals and is yet to vote on the proposal.
Conley said they were unlikely to receive that information until May.
“We are very concerned about the numbat habitat; we have got to get more information about what the impact will be,” he said. “However something that’s overlooked by some people concerned about this is we will be closing two tips that are closer to Dryandra than the proposed waste site.”
An EPA notice published last week said the environmental impact of the proposed tip was “not so significant as to require assessment”. The Numbat Task Force and Greens MP Lynn MacLaren are both appealing against that decision.
“It is very surprising that the Environmental Protection Authority did not reject, or at least properly assess this tip proposal, which will increase rodent numbers and thus the number of feral predators, especially cats, in Dryandra, and Australian ravens, which prey on numbats,” MacLaren said.
MacLean urged the council to consider moving the waste centre, even if the EPA rejects the appeals.
“If we’re wrong about the impact of the tip, there’s no harm done,” he said. But if they are wrong, and the numbats go, it’s a massive price to pay.”