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 91 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:26 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Afghanistan car bomb leaves at least 89 civilians dead

Suicide attacker detonates car packed with explosives in crowded Urgun bazaar, in bloodiest attack on civilians for years

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 July 2014 19.13 BST   

A car bomber has killed at least 89 people in an Afghan bazaar in probably the deadliest suicide attack of a war that is getting ever bloodier for civilians.

Western forces are heading home this year as the US seeks a "responsible end" to more than a decade of fighting, but Taliban fighters are using the summer to test Afghan forces still struggling in areas from logistics to intelligence.

Among the biggest tests has been a wave of attacks by hundreds of insurgents in northern Helmand, where several checkpoints have fallen. Roads cleared at great cost by UK and US forces are once again laced with hundreds of homemade bombs.

For civilians, the first six months of this year were the most dangerous since the Taliban's fall, the United Nations said last week. Nearly 5,000 were killed or injured, with women and children particularly vulnerable as ground fighting escalates.

Tuesday's bombing in Urgun, eastern Paktika province, was particularly vicious, striking ordinary shoppers in the holy month of Ramadan.

Two years ago, the Taliban bombed shoppers collecting food to break the daily fast in western Nimroz province and northern Kunduz, but did not kill as many people as Tuesday's attack.

At around 10am, police spotted the suicide attacker as he drove into their dusty town near the Pakistan border. They chased him down a main street lined with shops built from mud and wood that eventually gives way to a modest mosque – but he didn't make it that far.

"I was in the bazaar when I saw a police ranger driving after a Toyota Surf, shouting 'stop' through their radio speaker and shooting at it. Close to the bazaar, the Surf exploded," said Nasar Khan, an Urgun resident who was collecting supplies.

"I helped to pull eight bodies out from under the ruins of the shops," he said, adding that at least 20 stalls were destroyed and several families had been killed. "One man who sells car tyres was killed with four sons."

The town has little more than a clinic, so the army sent helicopters and ambulances to evacuate the injured, who were so numerous they overwhelmed the provincial hospital. By the afternoon, the toll was at least 89 dead and 42 injured, according to the defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi.

The bombing was the first major attack since Afghan powerbrokers agreed a deal to rescue the country's stalled and fraud-ridden presidential election process, which the Taliban had denounced.

It seemed far removed from Kabul politics, however, with no government or military target among the dead, apart from the two policemen who tried to stop the bomber.

A Taliban spokesman said the group had no hand in the explosion. However, they have previously denied a role in killings that provoked popular disgust, including a recent suicide assault on a hotel in Kabul. A journalist, his wife and two children were gunned down at close range, and though the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, they denied shooting the young family.

"The Taliban rarely claim attacks which cause mass civilian casualties, even when they are responsible," said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "I would take this denial with a pinch of salt. They are the likeliest culprits."

The explosion was so big that it shocked even residents of a volatile area which sees frequent bloodshed – two Taliban bombs in Urgun and a neighbouring district killed 11 people earlier in the week.

"Some people pulled me out from the rubble," said shopkeeper Sharifuddin Aurfan, who was wounded. "The car was maybe 200 metres away, but I thought it was next to us because the blast was so loud. Four people from our village including the imam of the mosque have been killed. They are all ordinary people, no officials or commanders. I saw a mother with a toddler among the dead."

The deadliest previous suicide attack was at a dog fight in southern Kandahar province in 2008, when at least 80 people were killed. Spectators were so closely packed that emergency services had to gather up a macabre jumble of body parts, and the final toll was never confirmed.

The deadliest single bomb attacks have been Nato air strikes that targeted civilians by mistake, such as the German strike on stranded fuel tankers which killed more than 100 people who had gathered to siphon off their contents.

Since then, the alliance has tightened rules on bombings and cut civilian deaths and injuries dramatically. Although air strikes do still sometimes hit people's homes, the UN report found that insurgents caused three-quarters of civilian deaths and injuries.

Among the practices it condemned was indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, including bazaars, and the targeting of government employees. The Taliban says they are legitimate targets, in defiance of international law.

Hours before the attack in Urgun, another bombing in Kabul killed two men who worked in the media office of President Hamid Karzai. A remotely detonated bomb hit the minibus that carried them to work, although they were far from their offices at the time. Five other peoples on board were injured.

 92 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:22 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Pakistanis Detail Gains Against Militants

By SALMAN MASOOD
JULY 15, 2014
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — One month into a military offensive to seize control of the tribal district of North Waziristan, the Pakistani military said Tuesday that it had extended its operation to the militant stronghold of Mir Ali, resulting in gunfights between soldiers and Islamist fighters that left casualties on both sides.

In a briefing to reporters in the eastern city of Lahore, Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, a military spokesman, said that at least five soldiers, including an army captain, and 11 militants had been killed in battles around Mir Ali, the second-largest town in North Waziristan.

Separately, a security official in Peshawar speaking on the condition of anonymity said that five soldiers and several militants were killed in fighting in Boya, 20 miles west of Mir Ali. “The militants’ bodies are still lying there,” he said. It was not clear whether he was referring to the same episode as the military spokesman.

General Bajwa said the military had moved ground forces toward the town after establishing complete control over Miram Shah, the district capital. “Right now, the process of clearing explosives and I.E.D.’s from the town is going on,” he said, referring to improvised explosive devices.

The capture of Miram Shah, now a deserted town, is a boost for the military operation in North Waziristan, which started June 15. Miram Shah had become a headquarters for the global jihadist movement, where militants commanders could train suicide bombers, run extortion and kidnapping rings, and plot attacks in Pakistan and the West. Mir Ali is the next largest hub of jihadist activity in the district, and has hosted many fighters from Uzbekistan, who have allied with the Pakistani Taliban.

But military experts warned that most militants appeared to have fled North Waziristan’s urban areas in advance of the army assault by hiding among the flood of civilians who have left for neighboring districts. Pakistani officials said the number of displaced residents had exceeded 900,000, making it Pakistan’s biggest conflict-induced crisis in years.

And experts warned that the army might face heavier fighting if it pursued the militants into the surrounding mountains.

The military says that 447 militants and 28 soldiers have been killed so far in the operation, but its claims are difficult to verify given that journalists are barred from the zone of operations.

Separately, the local news media reported Tuesday that the military had captured Adnan Rashid, a senior Taliban commander who, they said, had been arrested from a hide-out in the Shakai district of South Waziristan.

No immediate official confirmation of the arrest was available. If confirmed, Mr. Rashid would be the first high-ranking Taliban commander apprehended in the operation. He was initially jailed for his apparent role in an assassination attempt against the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

In 2012, he was freed alongside dozens of other militants when the Taliban orchestrated a jailbreak, and later that year made headlines when he wrote a letter to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and women’s education activist, accusing her of provoking the Taliban attack that nearly killed her.

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

Extremists Make Inroads in Pakistan’s Diverse South

By SABA IMTIAZ and DECLAN WALSH
JULY 15, 2014
IHT

MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan — In a country roiled by violent strife, the southern province of Sindh, celebrated as the “land of Sufis,” has long prized its reputation as a Pakistani bastion of tolerance and diversity.

Glittering Sufi shrines dot the banks of the river Indus as it wends through the province. The faithful sing and dance at exuberant religious festivals. Hindu traders, members of a sizable minority, thrive in the major towns.

But as Islamist groups have expanded across Pakistan in tandem with the growing strength of the Taliban insurgency, so, too, are they making deep inroads into Sindh. Although banned by the state, such groups are systematically exploiting weaknesses in Pakistan’s education system and legal code as part of a campaign to persecute minorities and spread their radical brand of Sunni Islam.

The growth of the fundamentalist groups, many with links to armed factions, has been alarmingly rapid in Sindh and has brought violence in its wake, according to police officials, politicians and activists. In recent months, Hindu temples have been defaced, Shiite Muslims have been assaulted and Christians have been charged with blasphemy.

A central factor in the expansion of such groups is a network of religious seminaries, often with funding from opaque sources, that provides them with a toehold in poor communities. “If there were three seminaries in a city before, now there are tens of seminaries in just one neighborhood,” said Asad Chandio, news editor of the Sindhi-language newspaper Awami Awaz.

In May, a threatening crowd in Mirpurkhas, a small city in central Sindh, surrounded four members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had set up a stall near the railway station. The mob accused the four of blasphemy because they were selling books that contained images of God and Moses. The crowd’s leader was a member of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a sectarian group that is ostensibly banned by the government, but that is now openly operating, and growing, across Sindh.

Fearing crowd violence, police officers led the four to a nearby police station where they were charged with blasphemy — potentially a capital offense. They were taken away in an armored vehicle, and are now in hiding as they await trial.

Locals said they were struggling to understand how, or why, the incident had taken place. “There are so many communities here, and we have all lived peacefully,” said Francis Khokhar, the lawyer for the four accused.

The Sunni supremacist ideology propagated by Pakistani sectarian groups is similar to the one that is proving so potent in the Middle East, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is flourishing. In Pakistan, such groups do not pose a direct threat to the state yet. But their growth in Sindh is a sobering reminder that a future threat to Pakistani stability could stem from the provincial towns as much as the distant tribal belt, where the Pakistani military is trying to disrupt havens for the Taliban and other militants.

The provincial government in Sindh, concerned about what one government official called the “mushroom growth” of extremist seminaries, is trying to decide what to do.

“Our seminaries have become a source of trouble,” Niaz Abbasi, the home secretary of Sindh, said in an interview.

Despite its open-minded image, Sindhi society has always had a fringe of Islamist extremists, particularly within Karachi, the provincial capital, which has seen an increase in violent attacks in recent years. What has alarmed experts, however, is the spread of fundamentalist groups deep inside the province.

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the group behind the blasphemy charges in Mirpurkhas, sprang from a small town in Punjab Province about 30 years ago, capitalizing on local sectarian and political divides. Once known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, it has grown into Pakistan’s dominant vehicle for Sunni sectarianism, trafficking in hatred against Shiites to win popular and political support.

It has been banned several times — first, in its incarnation as Sipah-e-Sahaba, and in 2012 in its present guise. Still, that did not stop its leader, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, from running for Parliament last year. This year, an election tribunal disqualified the winner and gave the seat to Mr. Ludhianvi. The case is in litigation now.

The group also has longstanding ties to the ruthless militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose militants have killed hundreds of Shiites in Baluchistan and Karachi in the past two years. Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar, is also a vice president of Ahle Sunnat.

Now Ahle Sunnat is on a recruitment drive in Sindh. While it was traditionally centered in Karachi and Khairpur district, about 200 miles to the north, it now has signed up 50,000 members across Sindh, about half of them outside Karachi, said a spokesman, Umar Muavia. A key to its success is an expanding network of 4,000 religious seminaries that offer free classes and food to students from impoverished families.

“We give them a religious education,” said Hammad Muavia, a spokesman for the group in the Khairpur district. “We feed and house them, and provide them a bursary that goes to their families. We even pay for their medical expenses. We take better care of the students than even their own parents.”

In part, Ahle Sunnat is exploiting the chronic weakness of Pakistan’s education system: Over 3,000 state-run schools in Sindh are not functioning, and those in operation frequently offer a dismal quality of schooling. Less clear are its sources of income. The group says it raises funds from local businessmen and the community, but critics say it is principally funded by Saudi Arabia.

“Yes, sometimes if there are clerics from Saudi Arabia visiting Pakistan, they contribute to us,” said Mr. Muavia, the Khairpur spokesman. “But there is no relationship with the Saudi government.”

The link between madrasas and militancy is often debated by experts; some point out that Pakistan’s most famous jihadi commanders have been educated not at madrasas but at state-run schools. What is clear, though, is that the madrasas offer groups like Ahle Sunnat a toehold from which to project themselves into the community and expose more Pakistanis to sermons that sometimes veer explicitly into incitement of violence against Shiites and other minorities.

The group is also using the contentious blasphemy law to cow its enemies. Mr. Chandio, the newspaper editor, said his newspaper received threats from Ahle Sunnat after he published photos of the group’s activists attacking a police van during a blasphemy case.

Mr. Muavia, the Ahle Sunnat spokesman in Khairpur, said he had filed several blasphemy cases, but, to his disappointment, the police had rejected them. “The Pakistani government is outraged when blasphemous acts against Prophet Muhammad take place abroad, but does nothing when they happen at home,” he complained.

Other Sunni groups are also expanding in Sindh. Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity that the United States recently designated as a front for the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, has a network of seminaries and carries out relief work during natural disasters. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, regularly tours Karachi and other major cities in Sindh, evidently unbothered by a $10 million American bounty for his arrest.

Also expanding is Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a conservative politician from northwestern Pakistan. The group held two of the largest political rallies in the province in recent years.

Since March, the police have recorded 12 attacks on Hindu and Sikh temples across the province, said Iqbal Mehmood, who until recently served as the provincial police chief. Separately, Hindu leaders have accused Muslim groups of trying to forcibly convert Hindu girls to Islam.

Across Pakistan, Shiites have been subjected to “an alarming and unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence,” Human Rights Watch recently noted in a report on attacks on ethnic Hazara Shiites in western Baluchistan Province, which adjoins Sindh.

Some officials say the groups have flourished in part thanks to the turning of a blind eye by provincial politicians — mostly from the Pakistan Peoples Party that has dominated Sindh’s politics for decades — and the tacit support of the military and its powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

During the 1990s, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi “enjoyed a close relationship” with the military and ISI because it was assisting with the fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir, said the recent Human Rights Watch report. For its part, the military denies that it is supporting militant groups.

“These groups don’t come up naturally; they are provided backing by the state,” said Mr. Chandio, the newspaper editor. “They can protest anywhere, and close down a city if they want. But when they hold rallies in support of the army and the ISI, they’ve proven who supports them.”

 93 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kerry Cites ‘Progress’ in Iran Talks but Says ‘Very Real Gaps’ Remain

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and DAVID E. SANGER
JULY 15, 2014
IHT

VIENNA — After three days of intensive talks with his Iranian counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that “tangible progress” had been made in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and that he would return to Washington to consult with President Obama over whether to extend a Sunday deadline for a final agreement.

Mr. Kerry said that “very real gaps” remained, but his tone — and his acknowledgment that Iran had complied with all of its commitments under a temporary agreement that took effect in January — left little doubt he wanted to extend the talks by weeks or months. “That’s where we’re headed, I think,” one of his top advisers said.

At his own news conference, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, embraced the idea of extending talks beyond the deadline. “As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing,” he said. “This is my recommendation. I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation.”

When the talks began six months ago, it was generally assumed that if an accord to roll back Iran’s nuclear program was to be reached, the compromises would be negotiated at the 11th hour.

But as the July 20 deadline approaches, an accord is not yet in hand. The temporary agreement allows for an extension of the talks for up to six months, but some in Mr. Obama’s negotiating team have suggested that a shorter extension might be more fruitful.

At a brief news conference here, Mr. Kerry said, “I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted.”

It was an indication of the complexity of the talks and Mr. Kerry’s negotiating style that immediately after the news conference he met with Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, followed by another meeting with Mr. Zarif, his fourth in three days.

Mr. Kerry declined to comment on the proposal that Mr. Zarif outlined in an interview with The New York Times for what would amount to an extension of the current short-term agreement for a number of years. Under Mr. Zarif’s proposal, Iran would not have to dismantle any of its existing centrifuges, but would use a combination of technologies and inspection to provide assurances they could not produce weapons-grade material.

American officials were clearly annoyed that Mr. Zarif had discussed details of his proposals, and Mr. Kerry said that he would not negotiate in public.

“The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye,” he said. “These are tough negotiations.”

American officials are concerned about several major elements of Mr. Zarif’s proposal. While it would essentially freeze Iran’s capacity to produce enriched uranium for several years, Iran would be free to keep up research and development of highly sophisticated centrifuges, and put them in place after the agreement would expire. Mr. Zarif wants a short agreement of three to seven years. The United States and its allies insist on limitations on Iran for at least a decade, preferably longer.

There has been some speculation that Mr. Zarif’s hints of flexibility, and the progress Mr. Kerry reported on Tuesday, will be enough to provide a basis for continuing the nuclear talks past July 20, which can be done if both sides agree.

The Iranian proposal, however, runs counter to the goal that Mr. Kerry and others laid out last year: a lasting solution that would eliminate the possibility that Iran could have a “threshold” nuclear capability, one it could exercise with one last push for a bomb. The whole negotiation is about adding substantially to the time it would take Iran to produce a nuclear device if it reneged on the agreement.

Gary Samore, a former senior official on the staff of Mr. Obama’s National Security Council, and president of an advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran, said that Mr. Zarif’s proposal was “not enough for a deal but enough for an extension of the negotiations.”

Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear monitor, said in an interview that Mr. Zarif’s proposal would not add to the time Iran would need to break out of an accord and produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

“What Zarif suggests is actually to maintain a status quo,” Mr. Heinonen said. “Thus I do not see that this proposal opens any avenues for a deal.”

David Albright, a nuclear expert who has been highly critical of Iran, also said that the proposal indicated that broad gaps remained between the two sides. The interview with Mr. Zarif, Mr. Albright said, indicated that “the Iranians have returned to earth but are not yet in the ballpark of reasonable offers.”

 94 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:09 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Francis: Children Who Migrate Alone Must Be 'Welcomed And Protected'

By John Amato
CrooksAndLiars
July 15, 2014 10:54 am

Pope Francis jumped into the migrant children debate the US is having and demanded that these children are welcomed and protected instead of being immediately sent back home.

Pope Francis: Children Who Migrate Alone Must Be 'Welcomed And Protected'

Pope Francis jumped into the migrant children debate the US is having and demanded that these children are welcomed and protected instead of being immediately sent back home. There are many Catholic politicians and pundits like Bill O'Reilly who not only want to turn the children away, but are demanding a military response and presence to be included in controlling the border.

Jack Jenkins:

    Pope Francis directly addressed the growing crisis surrounding unaccompanied children on the U.S. border this morning, speaking up on behalf of the young immigrants and calling on the international community to do more to care for their needs.

    In a message sent to the Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development, the first Argentinian pope called for an immediate humanitarian response for the roughly 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S. border this year.

    “I would also like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence: This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain,” he said. “They are increasing day by day. This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

    Francis also noted that, in addition to a robust relief effort by those on the U.S. side of the border, the international community should also move to address the vicious cycles of violence and poverty that are spurring the children to flee their countries of origin.

    “These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin,” he said. “Finally, this challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted.”

 95 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Good samaritans launch mission to save migrants in the Mediterranean

Couple will fund search and rescue project, including using drones, with 65,000 migrants making perilous crossing this year

John Hooper, southern Europe editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 16 July 2014      

Two philanthropists are in the final stages of preparing what is thought to be the first privately-funded search and rescue operation for migrants in the Mediterranean.

Regina Catrambone, a Malta-based businesswoman, told the Guardian she and her American husband were planning to launch their inaugural mission next month using drone technology and a boat once used for search and rescue in the United States.

"These people are desperate," she said. "We just want to make sure that they do not die in desperation."

Catrambone said they had engaged a retired head of the Maltese armed forces to take charge of the operation. They are awaiting delivery of two Schiebel S-100 camcopters that would enable them to get a sighting of migrants in distress long before they could be reached by conventional search and rescue services.

She said their Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) would not try to compete with Maltese or Italian rescuers. "We want to help them. We want to support them," she said.

But Italian-born Catrambone acknowledged that "until they see the value of our work, they may have doubts".

Asylum seekers and other migrants have been setting off across the central Mediterranean in unprecedented numbers this year. More than 65,000 people have landed in Italy and Malta. On Tuesday, the Italian navy said it had saved more than 1,700 migrants in the Mediterranean in the past three days and found one person dead on a half-submerged raft.

How many have perished at sea is unknown, but humanitarian organisations have in the past put the chances of dying on the crossing from Libya or Tunisia at one in 40 or higher.

Catrambone said she and her husband, who own an insurance business based in Malta, first encountered the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean after chartering a skippered yacht to take them on a cruise to Tunisia.

She said: "I was out on the deck enjoying the fresh air when I saw a winter jacket in the water. I told the captain and saw his face transform. He said it could be that the jacket belonged to someone who was not with us anymore."

But the turning point, Catrambone said, came when she and her husband were back in Malta, watching a television broadcast of Pope Francis: "Looking directly into the camera, he said that all those who had the possibility to help the migrants should do so."

The couple, both Roman Catholics, found a suitable boat, the 40-metre Phoenix, in Norfolk, Virginia. Renamed the Phoenix 1, it has been equipped with a flight deck and two rigid-hulled inflatable boats ). Last year, following the deaths of more than 360 people off the Italian island of Lampedusa, the Rome government committed almost 1,000 naval and other personnel to a more elaborate search and rescue effort under the code name of Operation Mare Nostrum.

But, said Catrambone, the Italians and Maltese still depended largely on commercial vessels to alert them to migrant vessels in distress. And it often took several hours to get a rescue boat to the location they had been given.

MOAS could fly its drones to the area in far less time and quickly assess the gravity of the migrants' situation, she said. The camcopters can fly at speeds of up to 240km per hour and remain in the air for six hours or more.

"We are offering [the rescue services] eyes," Catrambone said.

Brigadier Martin Xuereb, overseeing the operation, said: "We could send the [camcopters] and determine that some people on a particular boat need life jackets, blankets or water. We will provide them with that."

Catrambone said she and her husband, Christopher, had plans to seek other funding in future, perhaps through online crowdfunding. "But we feel that if we ask people for money now it will take too much time and we feel we are already too late."

She added: "A lot of people are saying to me that I am throwing my money into a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

"But I think it's more like the parable of the sower. We want to inspire other people, especially in this time of [economic] crisis when people care more about money than human life."

 96 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed as European commission president

Former Luxembourg prime minister wins 422 votes from 751-seat parliament as focus moves to filling other top EU roles

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 July 2014 13.51 BST      

Jean-Claude Juncker, the controversial choice to head the EU executive for the next five years, has been confirmed as next president of the European commission by a comfortable majority of MEPs in the new European parliament.

Vehemently opposed by David Cameron – who was joined only by Hungary in opposing Juncker's appointment 10 days ago – the former Luxembourg prime minister was supported by the EU's 26 other national leaders. His endorsement is followed by a special EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday at which government chiefs will seek to fill a clutch of top jobs becoming vacant later this year.

In a 47-minute speech before a secret ballot – which he won with 422 votes in the 751-seat chamber, 46 more than the absolute majority needed – Juncker made overtures to Christian and social democrats, the two biggest blocs in the Strasbourg chamber, as well as to liberals and greens.

Heckled by the strong Eurosceptic contingent in the parliament, Juncker strongly defended the euro, arguing that through years of crisis that nearly tore the union apart, the single currency had prevented the big member states from going to "monetary war" with one another.

Pledging to promote economic growth and kick Europe out of an unemployment crisis, Juncker called for "the reindustrialisation" of Europe and vowed to find €300bn for investment in infrastructure and jobs over his five-year term.

He made no mention of his previously stated intentions to pursue a new deal with Britain and Cameron, aimed at keeping the UK in the EU.

Mainstream parliamentary leaders lauded the former Luxembourg prime minister, dubbing Tuesday a "historic day" in Europe because for the first time the parliament rather than the EU's national leaders had called the shots in deciding who should lead the commission.

The focus will now turn to Wednesday's summit of national leaders which will wrestle over who will fill the top jobs in running the EU.

The summit is certain to name a successor to Britain's Lady Ashton as Europe's foreign policy chief. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is energetically pushing his foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, for the job. The Italian is the frontrunner and ticks two boxes by being a woman and a social democrat, but has little foreign policy experience.

On one of the biggest issues facing Europe – policy towards Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia – she and Italy are seen as being overly pro-Russian, raising hackles, especially in eastern Europe where Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, would also like the job. The two may cancel each other out, leaving the way clear for Kristalina Georgiyeva of Bulgaria, the well-regarded development commissioner, to take the job. The choice will say much about Europe's foreign policy ambitions.

"Signs are that EU member states are again focusing more on a potential nominee's gender, political orientation and geographical origin, than on qualifications for the job," said Michael Leigh, a former senior commission official.

"EU leaders must set aside their habitual politicking and summon the courage to appoint an experienced senior foreign policy practitioner," he told the EurActiv website on Monday. "The appointment of a convincing European figure as foreign policy chief will help to confound the image of a continent turned in on itself with declining influence in the world."

That imperative, however, may fall victim to the primacy of national horse-trading and attempts to square several concentric circles.

The summit may struggle to agree quickly on the other far-reaching changes; Juncker's new team at the commission and who should succeed Belgium's Herman Van Rompuy as European council president, chairing the summits and mediating between EU capitals.

The Juncker confirmation marked two firsts in the EU: the first time the national leader of a big member state, such as Britain, had been ignored in the choice of commission president; and the first time the parliament, following elections in May, effectively dictated the nomination to Berlin, Paris, London and other EU capitals.

The bigger issues turn on the nature of the new commission, the changes Juncker might engineer, how many women he is able to install in top jobs, and on the other posts being vacated in October by Van Rompuy and Ashton, as well as establishing a new permanent president of the eurogroup, the committee of the 18 finance ministers of the single currency countries. The latter post is expected to go to Spain's finance minister, Luis de Guindos.

The key criteria for the jobs are not meritocratic, but revolve around a fragile political balance between right and left, male and female candidates, east and west Europeans, big and small countries.

Juncker is struggling to get enough women in his commission team. If he does not manage to appoint at least 10 women in a commission of 28 the parliament could reject his team in September. He was not helped on Tuesday when Cameron named Lord Hill as the UK's commissioner designate.

The German and French nominees for the new commission are the incumbent energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, and Pierre Moscovici, France's former finance minister.

The British want to secure an important economics portfolio in the commission, such as the single market. Given the uncertainty over Britain's future in the EU and the tough negotiations likely to consume much of the next three years, Cameron's choice of Hill is potentially fateful. He is seen as a conciliatory figure rather than a Conservative party Eurosceptic, keen to work with Juncker and build alliances on Cameron's EU reform agenda, according to British diplomats.

The summit may shelve naming a Van Rompuy successor until after the summer break as that person does not need to go before parliamentary confirmation hearings in September. The frontrunner is the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a social democrat. Paradoxically, she enjoys greater support on the right – from Cameron and Angela Merkel of Germany – than on the left, where the French president, François Hollande, only gave up blocking her last week as part of a deal that assumes Moscovici gets the plum commission post in charge of economic and monetary affairs.

Senior diplomats say Cameron and Merkel have also been trying to coax Mark Rutte, the liberal Dutch prime minister, into replacing Van Rompuy. But he is said not to want to switch to Brussels. He is seen as a Eurosceptic and lacking in diplomatic subtlety.

 97 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Germany pledges $1bn to UN climate change fund

Green Climate Fund, designed to help poorer countries deal with global warming, receives boost from Angela Merkel, reports AlertNet

Megan Rowling for AlertNet
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 16.34 BST   
   
Aid group Oxfam has called on other rich nations to follow the example of Germany, which has promised €750m ($1bn) for the UN's fledgling Green Climate Fund.

"This announcement ends the deafening silence we've had so far around the empty Green Climate Fund that is supposed to support poor countries in the battle against climate change. Now others must follow suit," Oxfam Germany's Jan Kowalzig said.

"If rich countries such as the US, France, the UK, Japan and others manage to collect at least $15 billion in pledges ahead of the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Lima at the end of the year, this could give the talks a significant boost," he added in a statement.

The announcement by Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, where some 35 ministers from around the world are meeting to discuss international climate action, is the only large pledge of money for the Green Climate Fund so far.

The fund was agreed at UN climate talks in 2010 but has been hampered by wrangling over its design. Now its operating rules have been settled, it will hold a first pledging conference for potential donors in the second half of November, before the UN climate conference in Peru.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende told Reuters earlier this month that Oslo will unveil its preliminary pledge for the fund - a "substantial contribution" - at a summit on climate change organised by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on 23 September.

The fund aims to help poor nations pursue clean development and adapt to climate change impacts, including more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels. It is regarded as a key part of the puzzle in securing a new global deal to tackle climate change due to be agreed in Paris in late 2015.

The fund so far has $55m, mainly for its own administration and to help countries plan to receive the climate finance it will distribute, including $10m from Seoul.

After a recent meeting in Oslo of senior officials from 24 developed and developing countries interested in contributing to the fund, Brende said the process of securing the fund's first capitalisation had "got off to a good start".

"Important progress was made in paving the way for pledges this year. I believe we are on the right track towards making the Fund a game changer in the response to climate change,” he said in a statement.

Developing nations say they want $15 billion in pledges from the rich this year to fund projects like solar power, geothermal energy or ensuring water supplies. The UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, has called for "at least an initial $10bn" for the Green Climate Fund.

The fund is expected to channel a large portion of the $100bn a year wealthy countries have promised to mobilise by 2020 to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth.

Oxfam's Kowalzig said rich countries must ensure that money pledged to the Green Climate Fund contributes to rising overall levels of climate finance. At last November's UN climate talks in Warsaw, governments adopted a decision urging developed countries continuously to boost climate finance through to 2020, he noted.

"So far rich countries have failed to confirm that such increases are actually happening or (are) planned for the future," he said.

Wealthy governments have provided climate aid worth roughly $10bn a year since 2010, but there are fears that amount may be on the decline at a time of budget austerity.

 98 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 05:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Brics countries create $100bn bank to ease western grip on global finances

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa set up bank and currency pool to push for bigger say in global financial order

Reuters in Fortaleza
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 July 2014 11.44 BST   
 
The leaders of the Brics emerging market countries have launched a $100bn (£58.3bn) development bank and an emergency reserve fund in their first major step towards reshaping the western-dominated international financial system.

The Brics group comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bank, aimed at funding infrastructure projects in developing nations, will be based in Shanghai, and India will preside over its operations for the first five years, followed by Brazil and then Russia, leaders of the five-country group announced at a summit. They also set up a currency reserves pool to help countries forestall short-term liquidity pressures.

The long-awaited bank is the first major achievement of the Brics countries since they joined forces in 2009 to press for a bigger say in the global financial order created by western powers after the second world war, which centres on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The Brics were prompted to seek coordinated action after an exodus of capital from emerging markets last year, triggered by the scaling back of US monetary stimulus. The new bank reflects the growing influence of the Brics, which account for almost half the world's population and about a fifth of global economic output.

The bank will begin with a subscribed capital of $50bn divided equally between its five founders, with an initial total of $10bn in cash put in over seven years and $40bn in guarantees. It is scheduled to start lending in 2016 and be open to membership by other countries, but the capital share of the Brics cannot drop below 55%.

The contingency currency pool will be held in the reserves of each Brics country and can be shifted to another member to cushion balance-of-payments difficulties. This initiative gathered momentum after the reverse in the flows of cheap dollars that fuelled a boom in emerging markets for a decade.

"It will help contain the volatility faced by diverse economies as a result of the tapering of the United States' policy of monetary expansion," said the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. "It is a sign of the times, which demand reform of the IMF."

China, holder of the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, will contribute the bulk of the contingency currency pool, or $41bn. Brazil, India and Russia will contribute $18bn each and South Africa $5bn. If a need arises, China will be eligible to ask for half of its contribution, South Africa for double and the remaining countries the amount they put in.

Negotiations over the headquarters and first presidency were reached at the 11th hour due to differences between India and China. The impasse reflected the trouble Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have had in reconciling stark economic and political differences that made it difficult for the group to turn rhetoric into action. "We pulled it off 10 minutes before the end of the game. We reached a balanced package that is satisfactory to all," said a Brazilian diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Negotiations to create the bank dragged on for more than two years as Brazil and India fought China's attempts to get a bigger share in the lender than the others. Brazil and India prevailed in keeping equal equity at its launch, but fears linger that China, the world's second-largest economy, could try to assert greater influence over the bank to expand its political clout abroad. China, however, will not preside over the bank for two decades.

The NGO ActionAid International said that while it was pleased that plans for the new development bank were gathering pace, more needed to be done to ensure it was inclusive. "There are still no clear indications of how other stakeholders, including civil society, can have input into the bank's policies," said its advocacy coordinator, Sameer Dossani. "This is crucial to avoid the mistakes of the World Bank and others in the past."

 99 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 05:55 AM 
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Swedish Court to Decide on WikiLeaks Founder's Fate

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 July 2014, 09:41

A Swedish court will hold a public hearing Wednesday to determine if an arrest warrant against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for alleged sexual assault should be dropped.

A decision to cancel the warrant would be a step towards enabling the 43-year-old Australian to walk out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has been holed up for the past two years in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden.

The Stockholm District Court will open at 11:00 GMT to review the arrest warrant, issued in late 2010, for incidents of rape and sexual molestation that allegedly took place that year -- claims Assange denies.

Assange sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy in Britain in June 2012 after having exhausted all legal options at British courts to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

He has said he fears that being sent to Sweden would be a pretext for transferring him to the United States, where WikiLeaks sparked an uproar with its publication of thousands of secret documents.

WikiLeaks repeatedly drove the global news agenda with startling revelations of the behind-the-scenes activities of governments around the world.

From confidential assessments by U.S. diplomats of Chinese leaders to revised body counts in Iraq, the WikiLeaks documents provided the public with an unprecedented look under the hood of international politics.

Assange's legal team has argued that Swedish prosecutors have dragged out the case unreasonably long by not interviewing him at the embassy.

"We are confident about the hearing," Assange's lawyer Thomas Olsson told Agence France Presse. "We think we have very strong arguments for the court to overrule the original decision."

Camilla Murray, chief administrator at the court, said a decision in favour of Assange would mean that a European arrest warrant against him will be immediately cancelled.

"The charges will not be dropped just because the court cancels the arrest warrant. But I cannot answer for the prosecutors and what they will do. They are the ones leading the investigation," she told AFP.

Assange has acknowledged that even if the Swedish prosecutors decide to drop the case, it is only one part of the legal battle that keeps him marooned at the embassy.

"I still have the larger problem, which is that of the United States and its pending prosecution, and perhaps extradition warrant," he told reporters in a conference call in June.

Olsson, his lawyer, was also cautious about stating what will happen if the Stockholm district court drops the arrest warrant Wednesday.

"What he will do when that occurs is up to Julian Assange. We're going to have a hearing... and we hope to get a decision overruling (the arrest warrant) and then we will take it from there."

 100 
 on: Jul 16, 2014, 05:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Report: Russia Agrees to Reopen Spy Base on Cuba

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 July 2014, 11:23

Russia has provisionally agreed to reopen a major Cold War listening post on Cuba that was used to spy on the United States, a Russian daily reported Wednesday after President Pig Putin visited the island last week.

Kommersant reported that Russia and Cuba had agreed "in principle" to reopen the Lourdes base, mothballed since 2001, citing several sources within Russian authorities.

"The agreements were finalized while the Pig visited Havana last Friday," the respected daily wrote.

Russia had closed the Lourdes spy base south of Havana on the Pig's snorted orders to save money and due to a rapprochement with the United States after the September 11 attacks.

But Moscow has since shown a new interest in Latin America and its Cold War ally Cuba and relations with the West have deteriorated amid the Ukraine crisis.

The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis to spy on the United States. Just 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the U.S. coast, it was the Soviet Union's largest covert military outpost abroad with up to 3,000 staff.

It was used to listen in to radio signals including those from submarines and ships and satellite communications.

"All I can say is -- finally!" one Russian source told Kommersant of the reported reopening.

The defense ministry and military high command declined to comment on the report to Kommersant.

Ahead of the Pig's visit to Cuba last week as part of a Latin American tour, Russia agreed to write off 90 percent of Cuba's debt dating back to the Soviet era, totalling around $32 billion.

Russia paid Cuba rent of $200 million per year to use the base in the last few years it was open.

A former head of Russia's foreign intelligence service, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, told the newspaper the base would strengthen Russia's international position.

"Lourdes gave the Soviet Union eyes in the whole of the western hemisphere," he said. "For Russia, which is fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community, it would be no less valuable than for the USSR."

The Pig's spokesman Dmitry Peskov was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

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