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 81 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 07:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Fiji election: Bainimarama headed for outright majority

Military ruler’s Fiji First party ahead as Pacific country moves back towards democracy after eight years under junta

Associated Press in Suva
theguardian.com, Thursday 18 September 2014 07.42 BST      

Fiji’s military ruler for the past eight years appeared to be headed to a decisive victory on Thursday to become the south Pacific nation’s elected leader.

With votes from three-fifths of polling stations counted, Voreqe Bainimarama’s Fiji First party was winning 60% of the vote, while its closest rival, the Sodelpa party, was trailing with 27%. The margin will ensure Fiji First will be able to rule outright in the parliament under the country’s proportional system.

A day earlier there was excitement among thousands of voters and relief from the international community as Fijians cast ballots in the landmark election they hope will end more than a quarter-century of political turmoil.

Bainimarama, who has ruled since seizing control in a 2006 coup, is popular in Fiji thanks in part to his focus on social programmes, increased infrastructure spending and careful cultivation of his image through media controls.

After casting his ballot, Bainimarama was asked whether he would accept the outcome if he lost. “I’m not going to lose. I will win. You ask that question to the other party,” he said. Then he added: “Of course we will accept the election results. That is what the democratic process is all about.”

The 100 or so international election observers did not report any immediate problems by the time voting closed. A little more than half a million of the nation’s 900,000 citizens registered to vote.

The international community is prepared to drop remaining sanctions once Fiji officially restores democracy, including returning it to full membership among the Commonwealth group of nations.

Supporters say Bainimarama’s popularity reflects a job well done, while detractors say he is seeking to legitimise his treasonous power grab and years of human rights abuses.

Ro Teimumu Kepa, leader of Sodelpa, said after voting that she and her candidates had done the best job they could: “We leave it to the people to decide.”

An indigenous Fijian, Bainimarama is paradoxically most popular with the large minority of the population whose ancestors come from India – mainly because he has ended preferential indigenous representation in the parliament and abolished the Great Council of Chiefs, a group of powerful indigenous Fijians who enjoyed a privileged status in island life.

Human rights groups say Bainimarama has tortured prisoners and repressed opponents, while carefully cultivated his own image by at first censoring and then controlling the nation’s media, as well as tampering with the constitution to ensure he and other coup leaders are immune from prosecution.

 82 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 07:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kim Dotcom, Online Renegade, Shakes Up New Zealand Election

By JONATHAN HUTCHISON
SEPT. 18, 2014
IHT

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — It was not an ordinary political rally, but this has been anything but an ordinary election.

The hundreds of people who packed Auckland Town Hall on a recent evening were regaled with speeches by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the former N.S.A. contractor Edward Snowden, the last two appearing by Internet video link. Mr. Greenwald and Mr. Snowden said the New Zealand government had carried out, or at least participated in, mass domestic surveillance.

But at the center of the show was the event’s organizer, Kim Dotcom, the online entrepreneur accused of mass copyright theft whose fledgling Internet Party stands a chance at winning seats in Parliament in the national elections on Saturday.

“We are going to work really, really hard to stop this country from participating in mass surveillance,” Mr. Dotcom told the crowd. “And we’ll close one of the Five Eyes,” he added, referring to the intelligence alliance that includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The crowd erupted in cheers.

In this remote Pacific island country, where elections usually turn on such bread-and-butter issues as jobs and personal financial security, this election campaign has been rocked by a scandal involving the hacked emails of a right-wing blogger that led to the resignation of a senior minister, a campaign finance scandal that forced the resignation of a member of Parliament, and a lawsuit brought by the publishers of the American rapper Eminem accusing the governing National Party of illegally using his song “Lose Yourself” in a campaign ad. (The party denies the allegation.)

The issue that has drawn international attention, however, has been Mr. Dotcom himself, who, since he moved here several years ago, has become an outspoken character and a significant player in New Zealand politics.

Born Kim Schmitz in Germany before legally changing his name, Mr. Dotcom, 40, is fighting extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on racketeering charges stemming from his now defunct file-sharing site Megaupload.

While out on bail as he appeals the case, he has introduced a new online storage company, Mega, confronted the prime minister in Parliament, released an album and founded the Internet Party.

The party advocates a wide range of policies, including decriminalizing marijuana for personal use, setting a national goal of 100 percent sustainable energy generation by 2025, repealing surveillance legislation and amending copyright laws to, among other changes, protect Internet companies from “civil liability arising from the action of their users,” a fix that could shield hosting services such as Mega.

There is widespread suspicion, as well, that should his party win a place in the government, it would try to block his extradition.

Analysts say that a spot in a coalition government is not out of the question.

The Internet Party, though relatively tiny, has formed an alliance with the small, left-leaning Mana Movement, which already has one member of Parliament. The 3 News poll suggests that if the current Mana leader retains his seat, the combined Internet-MANA coalition could take three seats in Parliament.

If no party wins a majority, smaller parties could wield significant negotiating power and potential influence in a coalition government, which would have final say over an extradition.

Mr. Dotcom, who is not a New Zealand citizen and cannot run for office himself, has campaigned publicly and spoken on his party’s behalf, acting as its founder, figurehead and financier.

“He’s still sort of seen as being outside the parliamentary political process, but kind of throwing some sort of hand grenades into it,” said Dr. Bryce Edwards, a lecturer in the politics department at the University of Otago. “His whole position is quite unprecedented, really, in so many different ways.”

Mr. Dotcom has sunk at least 3.5 million New Zealand dollars, or $2.9 million, into the Internet Party, the largest personal contribution to a political party on record in New Zealand, according to the Electoral Commission. Dr. Edwards said the donation “overshadows everything else that’s gone before in New Zealand politics.”

While it is not known how much Mr. Dotcom is worth, when he was arrested in 2012 in a dramatic helicopter raid on his compound, he was living in New Zealand’s most expensive mansion, worth $24 million. The police seized 18 luxury vehicles worth $6 million — including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé and a 1959 pink Cadillac — computers, and as much as $11 million in cash. He has said Mega was worth $210 million.

In politics, he has said one of his main goals was to help to defeat the National Party-led government, which he has accused of colluding with the American film industry. With the film industry cited as one of the main victims of Megaupload’s alleged copyright piracy, Mr. Dotcom sees the government’s cooperation with his extradition as doing the industry’s bidding.

Despite the scandals this year, the center-right National Party remains the most popular, with support from about 45 percent of voters, according to a poll conducted by 3 News on Sept. 9-15, still far ahead of its nearest rival, the left-leaning Labour Party, with just 26 percent.

Still, Mr. Dotcom has been able to rattle both parties.

On the campaign trail, the usually calm and composed prime minister, John Key, has lashed out on occasion, calling Mr. Greenwald a “loser” and a “henchman” of Mr. Dotcom.

And although Mr. Dotcom has tried to ally himself with other left-leaning parties, they have not always welcomed the attention.

“Frankly, people have had about enough of Kim Dotcom,” the Labour leader, David Cunliffe, grumbled Wednesday. “I detest the influence of big money in New Zealand politics, wherever it comes from.”

In response to Mr. Dotcom’s spying allegations, Mr. Key has denied repeatedly that the Government Communications Security Bureau, New Zealand’s equivalent of the National Security Agency in the United States, conducts mass domestic surveillance. But he has refused to comment on whether it shares N.S.A. data that may have been collected from New Zealanders.

Mr. Key said he believed Mr. Dotcom was toying with politics simply to advance his own interests.

“We’ve got an election, which is about New Zealanders, being heavily influenced by a guy who cares about himself and not being extradited to the United States,” Mr. Key said in a video interview posted on The New Zealand Herald’s website on Monday.

Mr. Dotcom, who declined to be interviewed for this article, denies his political aspirations are selfish.

“This party has nothing to do with my extradition,” Mr. Dotcom told reporters in June. “Anyone you have asked in your interviews within the last couple of months has confirmed to you that I have not brought up the topic of extradition once, because this is not what the Internet Party is all about.”

Regardless of his intentions, he seems to have stirred interest in the election. As of Wednesday, more than 434,000 people had already cast ballots in early voting, more than double the number who had voted by this time in the previous election.

Dr. Edwards said he predicted an increase in turnout on Saturday “because this has been such a colorful election campaign.”

“There would hardly be anyone that doesn’t know the election is taking place,” he said. “And people have become more polarized and excited — or maybe even repulsed — by some of the major players.

 83 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 07:07 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Terrorism raids: Isis 'urging followers to behead Australians', says PM

Bridie Jabour   
theguardian.com, Thursday 18 September 2014 09.47 BST   

A senior member of Islamic State was urging a network in Australia to carry out public beheadings, prime minister Tony Abbott said after the largest counter-terrorism raids in the country’s history.

More than 800 police officers were involved in raids in Sydney’s north-west on Thursday morning with 15 people detained.

Two men were charged and nine people released. Under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws, those detained could be held for two weeks without charge.

One man, Omarjan Azari, 22, appeared in Sydney central court on Thursday afternoon to face charges of preparing to commit a terrorist act.

It is alleged he conspired to commit the act with another man, Mohammad Baryalei, a former Sydney bouncer and actor of Afghan origin, reportedly an Islamic State leader.

On Thursday night a 24-year-old man from Merrylands in western Sydney was charged with the possession of an unauthorised weapon and possessing ammunition without a licence.

The attorney general, George Brandis, said an operation had been under way since May and he understood the raids had taken on a sense of urgency. Brandis told the ABC that he believed the atrocities would have gone ahead, had it not been for the intervention of the security services, the Australian federal police and forces from Queensland and New South Wales. “If ASIO and the AFP and the Queensland and NSW police had not acted today there is a likelihood this would have happened,” Brandis said.

The prosecution said Azari planned to “shock, horrify and potentially terrify” the public with public killings. He was refused bail.

Defence lawyers have argued the case against Azari is based on one intercepted phone call, which the prosecution said was what triggered the operation. When asked about reports that there were plans to conduct a public beheading in Australia, Abbott replied: “That’s the intelligence we received.”

“The exhortations, quite direct exhortations, were coming from an Australian, who is apparently quite senior in Isil, to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country.

“So this is not just suspicion, this is intent and that’s why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have,” he told reporters in Arnhem Land.

Abbott played down the possibility that Australia’s renewed involvement in Iraq would increase the chance of terror plots against Australian targets. He said Australia was targeted in Bali in 2002 before any involvement in the previous Iraq war.

“These people, I regret to say, do not hate us for what we do, they hate us for who we are and how we live. That’s what makes us a target, the fact that we are different from their view of what an ideal society should look like, the fact that we are free, we are pluralist, we are tolerant, we are welcoming, we are accepting,” he said.

“All of these, in their eyes, are wrong and that’s what makes us a target and that’s something that should never change about us. We should always be a free, fair, open and tolerant country.”

Abbott said he had not received warnings Australia was more likely to be the subject of a homegrown terrorist attack than other countries, but it was important security agencies were one step ahead of groups who wanted to do Australians harm.

Australian federal police Acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said a violent attack had been planned for “the streets of New South Wales”.

There were reports the plan was to kidnap someone from the street and behead them while filming it.

The pre-dawn raids in Sydney were conducted at the same time as, but not directly related to, raids in Queensland with police saying the raids south of Brisbane were in relation to a counter-terrorism raid last week where two people were arrested and charged. About 70 officers were involved in Thursday’s raids in Queensland.

The New South Wales police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said there was no need to “whip” up the raids and that the operation reflected the strength and capability of Australia’s counter-terrorism forces.

“Our police will continue to work tirelessly to prevent any such attacks but certainly can I stress that right now, is a time for calm. We don’t need to whip this up.”

He said it would become apparent through the courts what was going to happen.

Some of those arrested have had their passports cancelled because they were planning to travel to Syria or Iraq.

Twenty-five search warrants were executed in the Sydney raids which were in the suburbs of Beecroft, Bellavista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park.

Colvin said the officers included investigators, forensic experts, tactical officers and surveillance officers.

“This is the largest operation of its type undertaken in Australia’s history,” he said.

“I think the message that we need to make clear here is that police are working very hard across this country and are very well coordinated and the community should have absolute confidence in the work of their law enforcement security agencies to work together.

“While the raids in Queensland are not directly related to what has happened here today in NSW, as I said before, the investigations continue and we are looking at the linkages between the two.”

Police would not say if the targets of the operation had any links to Islamic State.

NSW premier Mike Baird delivered warned would-be terrorists that there would be no escape from the authorities.

“We will hunt you down,” he said on Thursday. “If you have any intent to bring overseas conflicts here, if you have any intent to threaten the security of this community, we will hunt you down.”

The raids come after the terror alert level in Australia was raised from medium to high last week.

Police say the threat level was not raised because of the intelligence that led to Thursday’s raids. Colvin said it had been raised because of a range of factors.

When asked if the prime minister was aware of the alleged planned attacks, Colvin responded: “Clearly you would understand that all levels of government need to understand what the national security threat in this country is. We have regular and ongoing briefings with all levels of government including the prime minister on the generic aspects of the national counter-terrorism threat, the national security threat.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone would be surprised it’s in the interests that the PM and political leaders have an understanding of what is going on.”

Two men aged 31 and 21 were arrested in last week’s raids in Queensland in a joint operation involving about 180 federal police and Queensland police.

It is alleged the men were involved in recruiting, facilitating and funding people to travel to Syria to engage in hostile activities.

The 31-year-old, Omar Succarieh, was charged with providing funds to the terrorist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra.

Agim Kruezi, the 21-year-old, is accused of recruiting another person to become a member of Islamic State and obtaining funds in preparation for incursions into a foreign state.

The previous largest counter-terrorism operation in Australia was Operation Pendennis in 2005 when 13 men were arrested over planned bomb attacks in Sydney and Melbourne.

 84 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 07:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
With Much at Stake, Chinese Leader Visits India

By ELLEN BARRY
SEPT. 17, 2014
IHT

NEW DELHI — India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, celebrated his 64th birthday on Wednesday by hosting President Xi Jinping of China in his home state, Gujarat, as the leaders of Asia’s two giants laid the foundation for a relationship that will carry huge stakes for both countries.

The visit is the first by a Chinese president to India in eight years. China has the ability to channel billions of dollars into Indian infrastructure and manufacturing projects, allowing Mr. Modi to pursue the jobs-creation agenda that was at the heart of his campaign. China needs calm on its southwestern border to offset tense relationships with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States. State-run Chinese newspapers have lavished praise on Mr. Modi, implying that he has the potential to set India on a trajectory of economic growth similar to the one that China has followed. But those interests are balanced by deep mistrust on security matters.

Even as India prepared an opulent riverfront dinner for Mr. Xi in Gujarat this week, troops and slogan-chanting civilians were facing off along the disputed border between China and India, where the two countries fought a brief war in 1962. India has discussed improving maritime cooperation with Australia and Japan and proposed tighter defense and energy ties with Vietnam — all moves that could be seen as a challenge to China. Meanwhile, China is building ports and other facilities throughout South Asia, carrying out a strategy called the “string of pearls,” which India views warily.

M. J. Akbar, a spokesman for Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said the new government would assert India’s role as a leading power in the region without fear of irritating China.

“I think that China doesn’t respect you unless you respect yourself,” Mr. Akbar said, adding, “I think China is very clear that no element of confrontation should escalate to the point of hostility, because it knows that its economic project is still far from complete.”

In a departure from custom, the Chinese leader’s three-day visit began not in the Indian capital, but in Ahmedabad, the financial hub of Gujarat, where Mr. Modi was the chief minister. Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi, both wearing traditional Indian vests, visited Mohandas K. Gandhi’s ashram. They then wandered along the Sabarmati Riverfront, a project championed by Mr. Modi that involved bulldozing sprawling slums and replacing them with a modernist concrete promenade.

On Thursday in New Delhi, the two are expected to sign pacts pledging Chinese investment in Indian projects. Officials have suggested that the investments could amount to about $100 billion, nearly three times the amount pledged by Japan this month.

In a commentary published on Wednesday in The Hindu, a daily newspaper, Mr. Xi argued for closer economic cooperation between China and India, which he described as “the world’s factory” and the “world’s back office.” He said China could help India improve its infrastructure and manufacturing base and open Chinese markets to Indian pharmaceuticals and Internet technology — a move that could narrow a $30 billion trade imbalance between the two countries.

In an editorial in Global Times, a pro-government newspaper published in Beijing, a Chinese policy analyst said Indian support was essential because three-quarters of China’s imported oil passes through the Indian Ocean.

“For a long time, South Asia has been a weak link in China’s peripheral diplomacy,” wrote the analyst, Zhao Minghao, an adjunct fellow with the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. Warm relations between South Asian governments and Washington and Tokyo “sound an alarm for Beijing,” he wrote.

“Compared with the U.S. and Japan, China shows more understanding of the urgent needs of South Asian countries for an economic boost,” he wrote.

Since taking office in May, Mr. Modi has surprised many by making foreign policy a major focus, often taking unexpected risks, like inviting Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to attend his swearing-in. After early visits to neighboring Bhutan and Nepal, he spent five days as the guest of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.

Mr. Modi’s diplomatic campaign will culminate with a visit to the United States at the end of this month. The United States has had little opportunity to build a relationship with Mr. Modi, largely because it revoked his visa after sectarian riots broke out in Gujarat under his administration in 2002, leading to more than 1,000 deaths. The United States also lacks the economic leverage of China and Japan, which can deliver major investments to India. The United States can, however, support projects that matter to Mr. Modi, like the development of so-called smart cities and the manufacture of American-designed weapons in India. Also, the United States is closely allied with Japan and can play a balancing role in maritime security disputes with China, a subject that is clearly on Mr. Modi’s mind.

Mr. Modi gave a hint of his thinking in an address to business leaders in Tokyo earlier this month. He did not specifically mention China, but his remarks were widely interpreted as commentary on Beijing’s military and economic muscle-flexing.

“The world is divided in two camps,” Mr. Modi said. “One camp believes in expansionist policies while the other believes in development. We have to decide whether the world should get caught in the grip of expansionist policies or we should lead it on the path of development and create opportunities that take it to greater heights.”

 85 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani: Islamic State jihadists are killing humanity

Reuters
17 Sep 2014                   

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denounced Islamic State’s beheading of innocent people, saying the militant group’s shameful actions violate Islamic principles, NBC News said in excerpts of an interview released on Wednesday.

“From the viewpoint of the Islamic tenets and culture, killing an innocent people equals the killing of the whole humanity,” Rouhani told the television network, according to NBC. “And therefore, the killing and beheading of innocent people in fact is a matter of shame for them and it’s the matter of concern and sorrow for all the human and all the mankind.”

Rouhani’s comments follow the recent beheadings of captured U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Last week, a video purporting to show the beheading of British hostage David Haines also emerged. Other hostages also have been purportedly killed by the Islamic militant group.

The interview of Rouhani at his palace in Tehran comes ahead of his visit next week to the United Nations in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, where much of the discussion is expected to center on how to counter the Islamic State.

The United States has been trying to build an international coalition to fight the militant group but Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, this week said he had rejected Washington’s offer for talks on the issue.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said so far 40 nations have pledged to help. Obama is expected to meet with his national security team on Wednesday to discuss the UN meeting on Islamic State, the White House said.

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

Iran Slams U.S. for Being 'Obsessed' with Sanctions as Talks Resume

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 September 2014, 07:02

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday accused Washington of being "obsessed" with sanctions as a new round of high-stakes bilateral nuclear negotiations opened in New York.

"We are committed to resolving this issue," Zarif told a U.S. think-tank, as a State Department official confirmed to Agence France Presse that the two sides had resumed talks here late Wednesday.

But Zarif argued part of the problem blocking a deal was the U.S. "infatuation" with sanctions.

"This deal would require the United States to lift the sanctions, and the reason Congress is objecting to this is that it wants to keep these sanctions," Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Sanctions have become an end in themselves. Sanctions do not serve any purpose," he argued, saying during the time that the Iranian economy has been slapped with Western measures the number of the country's centrifuges has soared from 200 to 20,000.

"So sanctions have produced, just in normal calculus, 18,800 centrifuges," he said, joking it was "simple maths."

- 'Safer world' -

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers the aim was to reach a deal under which "any pathway to a bomb will be eliminated" and "we have the ability to come to you and say the world is safer, our allies in the region are safer."

"That’s the goal. We’re not there yet. I don’t know if we can get there," said Kerry, who has insisted that military action against Iran's suspect nuclear facilities has not been ruled out.

The two sides missed a July target date for a deal following an interim deal under which Iran agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment in return for access to some about $7 billion in oil revenues frozen in bank accounts around the world.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany -- known as the  P5+1 -- are returning to the negotiating table with Iran seeking to reach a deal to scale back Tehran's nuclear activities by a new November 24 deadline.

In return, Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, wants U.N. and Western sanctions lifted, and is pushing for the right to enrich uranium, a process which can produce material for a bomb.

Zarif, who met Wednesday for a working lunch with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, argued: "Iran has shown that we will live up to every agreement that we have."

A senior State Department official said the bilateral Iranian-U.S. talks would resume again Thursday in New York before the full P5+1 plenary session on Friday.

The talks are expected to last throughout next week on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly, and will be joined at some point by foreign ministers.

Defending the interim deal, Kerry said Iran's program "has been halted where it was when we began and they have reduced their stockpile of 20 percent going down to zero. That’s an extraordinary thing."

U.S. officials have stressed the November deadline will not be extended, and U.S. lawmakers are already drawing up new legislation to impose even greater sanctions should the talks fail.

- Deep mistrust -

A new poll released Wednesday found 79 percent of over 1,000 Iranians surveyed said they would back a deal which even included Iranian assurances never to produce an atomic bomb, but a large majority admitted demands such as dismantling half of Iran's centrifuges and limiting its nuclear research would be unacceptable.

The poll also revealed deep Iranian skepticism that the West will keep promises to lift the sanctions.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they believed the U.S. would find some other excuse to impose sanctions, fearing the United States is out to dominate Iran or block its development.

"While the Iranian public is ready to accept taking some confidence building steps, there are obviously some clear limits," said Ebrahim Mohseni, a senior analyst at the University of Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani "is likely to face a political backlash if he goes farther than the public is ready to support," he warned.

Source: Agence France Presse

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

U.S. Urges Iran to Cooperate in U.N. Nuke Probe

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 September 2014, 15:15

Washington urged Iran Thursday to engage with a stalled U.N. nuclear probe, saying it was crucial to a major accord under discussion between Iran and world powers this week in New York.

Laura Kennedy, the U.S. representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Washington was "concerned... by the pace of progress" in the Vienna body's investigation.

"Concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program must be addressed as part of any comprehensive" deal between Iran and world powers, Kennedy said.

"Only when this happens will it be possible to have confidence that Iran's nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful," she told reporters at a meeting of the IAEA.

The IAEA regularly inspects Iran's nuclear facilities, but it also suspects that Tehran's program had "possible military dimensions" before 2003 and possibly since.

Iran denies this, telling the IAEA in a letter in August that "most of the issues" in its probe are "mere allegations and do not merit consideration", according to the agency.

Iran agreed in May to provide information on two out of 12 suspect areas but it failed to do so by a mutually-agreed deadline of August 25. It also stopped short of proposing new measures by September 2 as requested, the IAEA says.

The comments by Kennedy came a day before the resumption of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany in New York.

Under their mooted agreement, the powers want Tehran to scale down its nuclear program to ease fears it might get the bomb after 12 years of rising tensions.

The Islamic republic, which says its nuclear program is to generate electricity and treat cancer patients, wants relief from painful sanctions. The deadline is November 24.

Source: Agence France Presse

 86 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Azerbaijani Forces Kill Karabakh Ssoldier

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 September 2014, 12:49

Azerbaijani troops killed an ethnic Armenian soldier in fresh clashes on Thursday with fighters from the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, the rebel defence ministry said.

"Private Mger Akopian, 24, was fatally wounded on September 18 while on duty" on the volatile frontline that divides Azerbaijani and Karabakh forces, the separatist defence ministry said in a statement.

Last month simmering tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorny Karabakh boiled over, killing more than 20 troops -- the fiercest clashes since a ceasefire was agreed in 1994.

The August skirmishes sparked fears that one of the bloodiest post-Soviet wars could reignite, although the violence has since subsided.

Azerbaijani and rebel troops regularly exchange fire across the flashpoint frontier and both sides repeatedly accuse each other of tit-for-tat raids.

Armenia-backed separatists seized Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a 1990s war that killed 30,000 people. Despite years of negotiations since the 1994 ceasefire, the two sides have yet to sign a peace deal.

Azerbaijan has threatened to take back the disputed region by force if negotiations do not yield results, while Armenia has vowed to retaliate against any military action.

Source: Agence France Presse

 87 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Scotland Heads to the Polls for Independence Vote

By ALAN COWELL
SEPT. 18, 2014
IHT

EDINBURGH — After a passionate campaign that spanned two years of mounting intensity but reached back into centuries of history, Scottish voters headed for the polling booths on Thursday to choose whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or to secede.

If the “yes” campaign seeking independence for Scotland secures a majority, it will herald the most dramatic constitutional change in Britain since the two countries united in 1707. The repercussions would be momentous, creating the world’s newest state and ending a union that once oversaw an empire and triumphed in two world wars.

In Edinburgh, a steady stream of early voters filed into polling stations under murky skies and fog that swathed the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. Others said they would vote later in the day, after working hours. Electoral officials have said they are expecting record numbers.

If “no” voters prevail, the outcome will leave Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, facing challenges from his own Conservative Party over promises of greater autonomy for Scotland that he made in an effort to head off the pro-independence campaign led by the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond.

Almost 4.3 million people — 97 percent of the electorate — have registered to vote, including 16- and 17-year-olds, enfranchised for the first time. Analysts have forecast a turnout in excess of 80 percent at about 2,600 polling places stretching from urban centers to remote and sparsely populated islands and far-flung settlements in the Scottish Highlands. Voting began at 7 a.m. and the polling stations were set to close at 10 p.m.

A full result is expected by breakfast time on Friday, when Scots will learn whether their land is to embark on a era of restored sovereignty that, only a matter of years ago, seemed unlikely. The English — who form the overwhelming majority of the 60-million-plus population of the United Kingdom — have no vote in the referendum, whose result could send political and economic shock waves across the nation, which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland.

Opinion polls before the vote left the result on a knife edge, too close to call. Despite the intensity of the debate, some key issues remain unresolved, such as the currency to be used by an independent Scotland if there is a “yes” vote.

Equally, Scottish secession could raise profound questions over Mr. Cameron’s political future. Mr. Salmond, Scotland’s highest-ranking official, has indicated that he will not step down if his side loses the referendum. One big issue if the “yes” campaign wins is the future of British nuclear submarines based in Scotland, which Mr. Salmond’s Scottish National Party wants to evict.

The question on the ballot is brief and simple: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” But the ramifications of a “yes” vote in particular are potentially far-reaching, raising questions about the international roles to be played by a diminished Britain and a newly independent Scotland. Opinion is closely divided and deeply felt.

Brian Cox, a Dundee-born actor who lives in New York and cannot vote in the referendum, returned to campaign for independence. He was impressed by the exercise of democracy here.
Photo
A supporter of the "Yes" campaign outside a polling station in Strichen, Scotland, on Thursday. Credit Dylan Martinez/Reuters

“This is democracy at work as you rarely see it,” he said. “No or yes, people are going out to vote for something they deeply believe in.” He stopped, then said, “It’s moving.”

The impetus for a referendum began when Mr. Salmond’s party — once on the political fringes and with little electoral clout — won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, leading to negotiations with Mr. Cameron in 2012. Those talks set the date and terms of the referendum taking place on Thursday. Initially, the British leader seemed confident of victory, with opinion surveys showing Scots overwhelmingly in favor of remaining in the United Kingdom. But as the vote approached, the gap narrowed to the smallest of margins.

The two sides have sought to enlist the support of celebrities to back their rival causes. The newest apparent social media coup came in the early hours of Thursday when a Twitter post attributed to the Scottish tennis star Andy Murray castigated the “no” campaign. “Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!” the message read.

Mr. Murray, 27, is not a Scottish resident and therefore cannot participate directly in the referendum.

As the ballot approached, both camps scrambled to lure hundreds of thousands of undecided voters whose ballots could swing the outcome.

At a rally in Perth late on Wednesday, Mr. Salmond told his followers that the vote is “our opportunity of a lifetime and we must seize it with both hands.

“There are men and women all over Scotland looking in the mirror knowing that the moment has come. It’s our choice and our opportunity and our time,” he said, reflecting the upbeat and optimistic tone that the"yes” campaign has sought to project, in the face of dire warnings from the “no” campaign of the economic and social consequences of independence.

In his own final public word on the vote, Gordon Brown, a former prime minister from the opposition Labour Party who has emerged as a leading spokesman of the anti-independence campaign, said in Glasgow on Wednesday that “the silent majority will be silent no more.”

“We will build the future together,” he said. “What we have built together, by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder ever.”

The run-up to the vote has sharpened the lines between those who yearn for greater freedom from London’s control and those who believe that a break would create unacceptable uncertainty.

Ryan Johnstone, a 22-year-old student in Dundee, spoke to a reporter outside the polling office where he had cast his ballot for independence, he said, because “Scots keep on voting for Labour or the Liberal Democrats but getting Conservative governments.”

He was referring to the electoral arithmetic that enabled Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives to take office in coalition with the Liberal Democrats to govern all of Britain, even though his party won only one parliamentary seat in Scotland.

“It would be nice to have our own country,” Mr. Johnstone said.

But in the drizzle outside the polling station, Mani Raj, a retired medical practitioner, said he had voted against independence “because of the uncertainty about the economics of the whole situation.”

“Independence is for people who are enslaved — and we are not,” said Mr. Raj, 70, who was born in India and came to Britain in the 1970s. “India was colonized, they fought for independence and got it. But being a colony is totally different from being part of a union.”

 88 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/18/2014 12:57 PM

Germany's Ailing Infrastructure: A Nation Slowly Crumbles

By SPIEGEL Staff

Germany has long had a reputation for excellent infrastructure. But in recent years, both public and private investment has dwindled dramatically, and officials are increasingly concerned about how to solve the problem. They have good reason to be worried.

Despite its shiny façade, the German economy is crumbling at its core. That, at least, is how Marcel Fratzscher sees it. With the country's infrastructure becoming obsolete and companies preferring to invest abroad, the government advisor argues that German prosperity is faltering.

When Fratzscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research, gives a talk these days, he likes to pose a question to his audience: "Which country is this?" He then describes a place that has seen less growth than the average among euro-zone countries since the turn of the millenium, where productivity has only increased slightly and where two out of three employees earn less today than they did in 2000.

Fratzscher usually doesn't have to wait long before people begin raising their hands. "Portugal," one person offers; "Italy," says another; "France," exclaims a third. The economist allows his audience to continue searching for the right answer, until, with a triumphant smile, he announces the answer. The country he is looking for, the one with the weak economic results, is Germany.

Perhaps it takes someone with Fratzscher's background to be so scathingly critical of own country. The Bonn economist worked as a government adviser in Jakarta in the mid-1990s during the Asian financial crisis. He conducted research at the renowned Peterson Institute in Washington when the dot-com bubble burst and wrote analyses for the European Central Bank in the darkest hours of the euro crisis. He has always observed developments in Germany "with a certain amount of distance," he says.

Fratzscher has headed the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) for more than a year now, and it is clear that this newfound proximity has sharpened his view of the contradictions in the world's fourth-largest economy. German industry sells high-quality automobiles and machines around the world, but when the plaster begins to crumble in an elementary school, parents have to raise money to hire a painter. Companies and private households are sitting on trillions in assets, but half of all autobahn bridges are urgently in need of repair. Germany derives more benefits from Europe than most other countries, and yet its citizens feel taken advantage of by Brussels.

Grand Delusion

Fratzscher calls it "Die Deutschland Illusion" ("The Germany Illusion"), the title of his new book which German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel will introduce on Friday. Last year, he asked his staff at DIW, one of the most important think tanks in the country, to address the underpinnings of the German economy. Fratzscher has condensed the results into an unvarnished reckoning with the country's economic grand delusions.

Germans see their country as an engine of employment and model of reform for all of Europe, Fratzscher claims, and yet Germany has barely made up for its own economic slump triggered by the financial crisis. Fratzscher's Germany looks like a giant from a distance but gets smaller and smaller the closer you get. The country is "on a downward path," writes the DIW president, and it's living "from its reserves."

Strong labor market figures still conceal Germany's most dangerous weakness: Hardly any other industrialized nation is so negligent and tight-fisted about its future. While the government and the economy were investing 25 percent of total economic output in new roads, telephone lines, university buildings and factories in the early 1990s, the number declined to only 19.7 percent in 2013, according to recent figures from the Federal Statistical Office.

That is more than just a statistical triviality. The future of the country and the everyday lives of its citizens depend on how each euro is used today. If a euro is spent immediately, it has no use for the future. It can also be saved for future consumption. Or it can be invested in companies, education and infrastructure, so that it becomes the basis for future prosperity, technical progress and additional jobs.

The problem in Germany is that money is currently being used primarily for the first two purposes. According to DIW calculations, the investment shortfall between 1999 and 2012 amounted to about 3 percent of gross domestic product, the largest "investment gap" of any European country. If one looks only at the years from 2010 to 2012, the gap, at 3.7 percent, is even bigger. Just to maintain the status quo and achieve reasonable growth, the government and business world would have to spend €103 billion ($133 billion) more each year than they do today.

Growing Concern

This is Fratzscher's key diagnosis -- and now the onus is on him to find the treatment. Since Economics Minister Gabriel appointed him as his investment commissioner at the end of last month, he has been at the center of a spending reform debate potentially as important as the one over the Agenda 2010 reforms to the labor market and social welfare system.

The current economic downturn makes the problem all the more urgent. Now that industry has seen a decline in order volume and scaled back production, the government must decide whether to offset the decline with an investment program.

What was recently nothing more than a theoretical possibility could soon become a central sticking point for Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government. While Merkel and Finance Wolfgang Schäuble remain determined to adhere to their plans to present a balanced federal budget next year, Fratzscher advocates preparing for a worst-case scenario. "If the crisis worsens once again," he said in a conversation with SPIEGEL, "more spending will be needed to bolster the economy."

If that happens, Fratzscher's book could offer a blueprint for how to proceed. In his study, the DIW president meticulously lists Germany's biggest investment problems from companies to the transportation network, and from education to the Energiewende, the federal government's shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy. Supporting evidence for his theories can be found all over the country.

A vanishing loyalty to Germany

Rainer Hundsdörfer is about to make what is perhaps the most difficult decision of his professional life. His company plans to invest €50 million soon, but he is unsure if it's still worth spending that money in his homeland.

Hundsdörfer is the chief executive of fan manufacturer Ebm-Pabst. The industrial fans the company produces in the southern German town of Mulfingen are installed in supermarket refrigeration systems, hotel air-conditioners and computer servers worldwide. Overseas markets already account for about 70 percent of the company's sales.

Ebm-Pabst has long been producing some of its products in India and China, but thus far its objective when investing in foreign countries was simply to be closer to new customers. The company remained fiercely loyal to its native Franconia region in Germany. But that loyalty could evaporate with the next investment decision. "It would be the first time we decide against the German site," says Hundsdörfer.

The company wants to expand a plant in Mulfingen and build a new logistics center. This could create hundreds of jobs, but what is missing is "a decent road infrastructure to make our investment worthwhile," says Hundsdörfer. His trucks are forced to use Hollenbacher Steige, a crumbling road urgently in need of repaving. Often, trucks coming from opposite directions can't pass each other on the narrow road.

The road construction project would cost €3.48 million, but state and local governments have been hesitant to move forward for years, citing costs. For Hundsdörfer, the numbers simply don't add up. "We pay more in commercial tax each year than the road would cost to build." Now Hundsdörfer is considering the previously unthinkable: Why not build the logistics center abroad? Hundsdörfer wouldn't be alone in making that choice.

Decreased Industrial Investment

The German economy has shied away from investment for years. Companies have almost €500 billion stashed in savings, according to the DIW president's estimates, and yet the investment ratio in the German private economy fell from just under 21 percent in 2000 to a little more than 17 percent in 2013.

Many economists conclude that companies are anxious because they are worried not just about crumbling roads, but about the lack of qualified workers, the state of the euro zone and rising energy costs. And this fear, in turn, is stymying the planning for Germany's future.

The consequences are dramatic. When adjusted for inflation, many businesses have actually decreased their spending on machinery and computers in the last decades, according to the figures from the Federal Statistical Office. This is especially true of the chemical industry, but industrial infrastructure is also crumbling in, for example, the mechanical engineering and electronics sectors.

But companies haven't stopped investing altogether -- they are simply no longer investing in Germany. Bavarian carmaker BMW is currently spending $1 billion on turning its Spartanburg, South Carolina plant into its largest worldwide. Daimler now assembles the new C class for the American market in the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And painting equipment manufacturer Dürr expanded its factory building in Shanghai last year so that it matches the size of its headquarters in Bietigheim-Bissingen, near Stuttgart.

Since the fracking boom has lowered energy prices, the United States in particular has blossomed as a preferred site for German companies. In May, BASF CEO Kurt Bock announced a new €1 billion investment, the largest in company history, on the American Gulf Coast. In explaining the decision, the executive noted that natural gas in the United States costs only a third of what it does in Germany. Technology giant Siemens even went a step further, announcing that it will run its entire business from offices in the United States in the future.

Infrastructure -- A Herculean Task
The Sauerland route between Dortmund and Giessen in western Germany, one of Germany's most beautiful highways, is deservedly nicknamed the "Queen of the Autobahns," traversing a picturesque landscape of hills and valleys. ut it is set to become one of Germany's most expensive autobahns in the coming years.

The stretch of the highway passing through the state of Hesse includes 22 large bridges that were built in the 1960s, and all but two of them will have to be refurbished in the next few years. The need has arisen "well ahead of the lifespan calculated at the time of construction," says Tarek Al-Wazir, transportation minister in Hesse.

Three weeks ago, he visited a major construction site at the Lützelbachtal bridge near Dillenburg. Wearing a helmet and a safety vest, he was suspended above the valley in a steel cage, which enabled him to see how the concrete is cracking, steel rods are rusting and seals are crumbling.

The bridge was not planned for current loads -- the maximum allowable weight of a truck used to be 24 tons, but today it's 44 tons. A single tractor-trailer now exerts as much stress on the material as 40,000 cars.

There is a lot to do in Hesse -- and much to pay for. The state and federal governments are spending €207 million to renovate bridges in 2014. The costs will continue to rise in the coming years, says Al-Wazir, who claims this will be nothing short of "a Herculean task" for his state.

Autobahn bridges are the most visible sign that a significant portion of Germany's infrastructure is ailing. Autobahns and federal highways, bridges and locks, railway networks and shipping routes -- much of this infrastructure has gotten old. In the last two decades, federal, state and local governments have neglected to properly maintain these kinds of structures, and their investments in maintenance and repairs have steadily declined since the early 1990s.

In 2008, Germany was ranked third on a list -- prepared annually by the Global Economic Forum in Davos -- of countries with the best infrastructure. But now Germany has slipped to seventh place. For decades, the world envied Germany for its network or roads and railways. Today this capital is crumbling.

The trend could be stopped, even reversed, but to do so, Germany would have to invest at least an additional €10 billion a year according to DIW calculations. That includes roughly €3.8 billion to preserve crumbling structures. Another €2.65 billion would be needed to undertake renovations that were neglected in the past. Some €3.5 billion is needed to expand the existing infrastructure. The federal government, however, only plans to spend €1.25 billion a year -- an eighth of what the economists believe is necessary.

Private-Sector Help?

But when public funds are insufficient, there is another way to pay for bridges and tunnels -- so-called public-private partnerships, known by the German acronym ÖPP. In these partnerships, an investor funds projects with private capital or borrowed money and, in return, receives a fee from users or from the government. A standard life-span of such deals is 30 years.

One example is that of the A1 autobahn extension between Bremen and Hamburg to a length of 73 kilometers (45 miles). A consortium including engineering and services group Bilfinger financed the construction and will receive a monthly payment from the government until 2038. Those payments come from truck tolls that have been collected since 2005 -- the exact amount the consortium receives depends on the volume of truck traffic along the stretch of highway.

It sounds logical enough. The argument in favor of ÖPP projects is that they make it faster and cheaper to preserve and improve infrastructure. Indeed, many such projects -- including the extension of the A1 autobahn, were finished ahead of schedule.

Few Other Options

But a study by the Federal Audit Office has found that costs may actually be higher for ÖPP project than they are for conventionally funded enterprises. The auditors examined seven large, privately financed road-construction projects. They found that five of them would have been cheaper had they been paid for in the usual manner -- that is, with taxpayer money. The total savings were estimated at €1.9 billion. In the A1 expansion project, the Transportation Ministry had assumed that the public-private partnership would be 40 percent cheaper than tax financing, but the final cost was a third higher.

ÖPP projects "did not achieve significant goals" and projects conducted to date have been "uneconomical," the auditors concluded.

The private consortiums are more expensive because they must pay an average of 6 percent interest on their loans, which is about four percentage points higher than the federal government pays in interest on long-term borrowing. In a sample calculation, Berlin infrastructure economist Thorsten Beckers concludes that the capital costs of such projects amount to almost 28 percent of construction costs. Therefore, Beckers argues, the supposed financial advantages of ÖPP autobahn expansion projects are "extremely implausible."

But lawmakers are not passing on the funding of public projects to private investors for business reasons, but because of a sheer lack of funds. As the German Schuldenbremse -- or "debt brake," a 2009 provision that limits the ability of German governments to run a deficit -- comes fully into effect in the next few years, it will prohibit unlimited borrowing.

The Federal Audit Office warns that this could provide additional incentive to turn over the construction of roads and building to private investors, even though the conventional approach would be more affordable. And given that investors are naturally most interested in projects that promise the greatest return -- which hardly includes bridge renovation in rural areas -- private financing collides with the government's mission to offer adequate public services to all citizens.

The Botched Energiewende

The new bituminous coal unit of the Rheinhafen power plant in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe is the most modern coal-fired power plant in Germany. It operates at a record efficiency level of more than 46 percent. The smokestack juts more than 200 meters (656 feet) into the sky and, on clear days, the 80-meter cooling tower next to it offers a view of the Vosges Mountains from its rim. The plant was built to fulfill an important task for the Energiewende: It's designed to operate whenever there is too little wind or not enough sun to offer a reliable supply of renewable energies..

The plant cost €1.3 billion to build, but it will probably never make any money. It was generating losses for its operator, EnBW, even before it was put into service this summer. The reason can be found in another, much larger investment. German electricity customers are paying more than €23 billion this year via an allocation charge for renewable energy.

There are consequences. Wholesale electricity prices are so low that the latest generation of conventional power plants is no longer economically viable. The Rheinhafen power plant, as modern as it is, has thus become a symbol of the botched Energiewende.

Fratzscher sees Germany's shift to renewables as "one of the biggest challenges of our generation" -- and also sees it as a hurdle for investment. If the Energiewende succeeds, it will create a new, nuclear-free infrastructure worth hundreds of billions of euros. But if the project ends in chaos, it could lead to losses on a similar scale.

Differing Approaches to Energy

The problem is aggravated by the fact that there is no consensus on the right approach to the Energiewende. Fratzscher, for example, advocates a radical departure from traditional fossil fuels. He wants the country to enter the wind and solar age as quickly as possible, as well as impose substantial energy conservation goals on companies and real estate owners.

Other experts recommend a softer transition to avoid putting too much strain on the economy. But as long as the direction of the Energiewende is unclear, it is difficult for investors to determine whether they have invested their money wisely.

Many investors already view the Energiewende as an example of waste and bad planning. Solar and wind farms were built at a cost of billions even though the necessary electricity grids are not available yet. New high-voltage lines are planned, but no one knows whether builders will prevail over citizens' objections. Conventional power plants are needed, but because of the Energiewende they are no longer profitable.

The phase-out of nuclear energy offers enormous opportunities and risks. If politicians do not manage the investment project properly, it could turn into a huge debacle. As Fratzscher concedes, the Energiewende is "an experiment," for which there are "no economic policy experiences."

Education: Outsmarting demographics

Meanwhile, a demographic crisis is rearing its head across Germany -- and it has attracted the attention of the world's largest chemical company, BASF. If the company had its way, it would see children go from daycare to school to the laboratory. As one of its slogans -- "From Little Ones to Einsteins" -- reflects, the company wants to children to interact with scientific phenomena at a very early age in order to increase their future interest in working in the industry.

As part of this aim, BASF and other companies established the "Knowledge Factory." Some 122 companies and foundations are now members of the association, which seeks to combat the shortage of skilled professionals with education in early childhood, thus outsmarting demographic changes and solving its own recruitment problems.

The industry is unwilling to rely on the government, which it argues lacks both the necessary funding and the political will. Germany spends only 5.3 percent of its economic output on daycare centers, schools and universities, compared with the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) average of 6.3 percent.

For Fratzscher, it is clear that Germany "lags significantly behind other countries." He believes that ensuring Germans' legal right to daycare services for all children one year or older -- which was enshrined by the German government in 2013 -- is a first step at best. The next step is to address quality and provide special, targeted training for skilled workers.

Everybody Loves Children

Even trade associations, traditionally dominated by gray-haired men, have now developed a concern for the welfare of young children. The Federal Society of German Employer Associations (BDA) recommends expanding all daycare centers into educational facilities and implementing nationwide quality standards. This is not entirely altruistic, because the more satisfied mothers are with their child's daycare, the more likely they are to work longer hours. In this sense, the billions being spent on daycare centers already pay off in the short term, because they bring many mothers back into the working world.

The research community is already convinced of the long-term benefits. According to Nobel laureate James Heckman, the earlier a society invests money in educating its young people, the more profitable it is. Children who are nurtured at an early age are less likely to drop out of school or university, and have a lower risk of poverty. If they are from immigrant families, they learn German more quickly and come into contact with knowledge at an earlier age and in a more playful manner.

Still, the level of early-childhood education in Germany is "in the poor-to-moderate range," says Yvonne Anders, a professor of early childhood education at the Free University of Berlin. But a daycare quality law that would establish minimum nationwide standards will not materialize in this legislative period -- Family Minister Manuela Schwesig was unable to prevail against the center-right Christian Democratic Union and the German state governments, which fear high costs. The economy is now looking to the EU for solutions. Brussels is developing a quality guideline that could also apply to kindergartens.

Searching for Solutions

When Sigmar Gabriel's investment advisory council met for the first time late last month, he told them there should be "no restrictions on free thought." That's something politicians like to say when they ask experts for advice.

But Gabriel's appeal was justified, and perhaps it was also directed at his chief adviser, Fratzscher. With his book, the DIW president offers a detailed picture of the plight of German investment, and illustrates the sectors with the most serious problems, but he provides very few solutions.

The government, for example, has hardly any room to make additional investments because most of its spending is earmarked for the long term. Companies are also difficult to mobilize -- their willingness to invest depends on hard-to-influence factors, like the overall economic situation, expected profits and interest rates.

Not surprisingly, Fratzscher's committee wants to place its emphasis elsewhere and is now searching for ways to convince Germans to invest their enormous combined personal assets in domestic infrastructure. Insurance giant Allianz, for example -- which is also a member of the advisory council -- prefers to invest its customers' money in the expansion of Belgian highways. As a result, the council is considering whether an agency, funded with private investment and managed by the government, should be established to address traffic infrastructure.

The country's capital streams are also to be guided into other segments of the infrastructure, such as energy grids and wind farms. But financial market rules prevent pension funds, for example, from investing unconditionally in these sectors.

Most of all, Gabriel hopes to convince major investors to invest private money in the construction of public roads, bridges and buildings in Germany. The funds are to be raised in the capital markets, from pension funds or insurance companies.

UK and Canada as Examples

The minister is preaching to the choir in one respect. Alexander Erdland, president of the German Insurance Association, recently said that his industry is ready. So far, the insurance sector has invested less than 1 percent of its total capital investments of close to €1.4 trillion in infrastructure and renewable energy. Companies would be only too pleased to become more involved, especially in an era of low interest rates and few alternatives.

In Great Britain and Canada, so-called project bonds are issued to finance infrastructure projects that are, to some extent, traded in capital markets. The European Commission also advocates this approach and has established the "Europe 2020 Project Bond" initiative.

Whatever the Commission ultimately proposes, it is already clear that its work is of critical importance to the country's economic future. Germany will only be able to maintain its position in the global economic competition if it once again focuses on its future. To do so, it needs to renovate its factories, transportation arteries and data networks, educate its young people more effectively and devise new ways to use the vast savings capital of its citizens in economically meaningful ways. As the DIW president puts it, "the key to Europe's long-term economic success lies in the strength of the German economy."

By Alexander Jung, Ann-Katrin Müller, Michael Sauga, Cornelia Schmergal, Gerald Traufetter and Kathrin Witsch

 89 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Cyprus leaders agree to speed up peace talks

Talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders will now be twice-monthly 'structured negotiations', UN envoy says

Reuters in Nicosia
theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 14.36 BST

Rival leaders of ethnically-split Cyprus have agreed to try to speed up slow-moving peace talks to resolve outstanding issues in the decades-old conflict, a UN official has said.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders launched a fresh round of peace talks in February to end more than 40 years of division but have multiple disagreements to resolve, from future governance to territory handovers.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a brief Greek-inspired coup, but the seeds of division were sown a decade earlier when a power-sharing government crumbled amid violence.

The latest talks, which had until now focused on submitting proposals, would now move into "structured negotiations", United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide said on Wednesday.

"They [the leaders] have instructed their negotiators to enter into active negotiations with a view to bridging the gap through real negotiation on unresolved core issues," said Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister appointed UN special adviser for Cyprus last month.

The process would involve placing all unresolved differences on the table to be addressed in a "negotiating format", Eide told reporters after meeting the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, at a UN compound straddling a buffer zone in Nicosia, the island's capital.

The United Nations would be ready to assist in coming up with ideas to bridge any gaps. There were, Eide said, "clear differences of opinion" on some issues.

Turkish Cypriots run a breakaway administration in northern Cyprus, buffered by thousands of mainland Turkish troops, while the southern Greek Cypriot-populated area is run by an internationally-recognised government representing the whole island in the European Union.

Anastasiades and Eroglu agreed to increase the pace of meetings to at least twice a month, Eide said.

 90 
 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

China refuses to explain whereabouts of envoy to Iceland

Ambassador Ma Jisheng reportedly taken away by Chinese state security amid spy claims

Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Wednesday 17 September 2014 13.14 BST   

China's foreign ministry has refused to address the whereabouts of its ambassador to Iceland after reports he has been detained for giving secrets to Japan.

Ma Jisheng left Reykjavik for China in January this year but did not return in March as expected. A New York-based Chinese language site reported on Tuesday that he and his wife had been seized by state security on suspicion of espionage.

Ma served in China's embassy in Tokyo twice, finishing his last posting in 2008. The allegations are particularly sensitive given the marked deterioration in relations between China and Japan in recent years, and especially since the election of prime minister Shinzō Abe.

The two countries are locked in a long-running territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and Senkakus to the Japanese, and China complains Japan has failed to fully atone for its brutality in the second world war.

Ma's lengthy absence from Reykjavik was first highlighted by an Icelandic newspaper this month. He has been ambassador only since December 2012 – meaning that if he is not returning his posting has been cut unusually short.

Mingjing News then reported the espionage claims, with Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper picking up the story. Some mainland Chinese news sites carried the reports but subsequently deleted them.

Asked whether the reports were true, Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said: "I have no information on this." He gave the same answer when asked for Ma's current whereabouts and to clarify who was the Chinese ambassador to Iceland.

A spokeswoman for Iceland's foreign ministry, Urdur Gunnarsdóttir, confirmed that Ma was to have returned in March. She said the Chinese embassy in Reykjavik had stated in May that he would not return to his post for personal reasons. There has been a caretaker ambassador since then, Gunnarsdóttir said.

Ma's CV has been deleted from the website of the Chinese embassy in Iceland and it has a blank where his name would normally appear in a welcoming address. The last reference to him in the news section dates from September last year. Older articles about him were still visible there and on the foreign ministry website.

Ma was a secretary at the Chinese embassy in Japan between 1991 and 1995, and a minister counsellor between 2004 and 2008. Prior to becoming ambassador to Iceland, he worked as deputy director of information in the foreign ministry. A Japanese government official told Reuters: "We are aware of the media report. But it's basically China's domestic issue and therefore the Japanese government would like to refrain from commenting."

In 2012 there were reports that a Chinese state security official, working as an aide to a vice-minister, had been arrested on suspicion of spying for the US.

The best-known spying scandal involved Yu Qiangsheng, a senior intelligence official who defected to the US in 1985 and told the Americans that a retired CIA analyst had been spying for China. The man he named killed himself days before he was due to be sentenced by a US court.

Yu's brother Yu Zhengsheng prospered politically despite the family connection and is now a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. It has not been possible to contact Ma.

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