India or eastern Europe? Cameron's immigration dilemma
The lifting of travel restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants is putting pressure on David Cameron to harden his immigration rhetoric. However, that risks dampening diplomatic links with countries further afield
theguardian.com, Thursday 14 November 2013 14.06 GMT
David Cameron has had to perform even more of a juggling act than is usual with immigration policy in recent days.
Firstly, he has had to respond to comments from the former home secretary David Blunkett that increased migration from Roma communities may lead to riots.
Statistics released on Wednesday showed that the number of Bulgarian and Romanian workers in the UK had increased by 19% since 2012 to reach 121,438. Restrictions on workers from these countries travelling to the UK will be lifted early next year.
At the same time, his attempts to build diplomatic links in India were undermined by criticisms that the UK was becoming increasingly hostile to migrants from that country. How should Cameron move forward and which of these issues is more important to address?
Immigration: the numbers and the challenges
The latest statistics for the year to December 2012 showed net migration to the UK dropped by 39,000 on the previous year to 176,000.
David Cameron has said that he wants to see net migration fall to the tens of thousands by the end of this parilaiement, which looks unlikely given the rate of the drop and the fact that net migration actually rose slightly on the previous quarter.
The total number of people migrating into the UK last year was about 497,000 with 179,000 coming to work and 180,000 coming for formal study. That compared to 536,000 on the previous year with much of that fall due to a drop of 43,000 in the number coming to study in the UK.
Bulgarians and Romanians: How many are coming over?
In his weekly column for the Lancashire Telegraph, another former home secretary Jack Straw said one of his big mistakes was "lifting the transitional restrictions on the Eastern European states like Poland and Hungary which joined the EU in mid-2004."
Thorough research by the Home Office suggested that the impact of this benevolence would in any event be 'relatively small, at between 5,000 and 13,000 immigrants per year up to 2010'.
Events proved these forecasts worthless. Net migration reached close to a quarter of a million at its peak in 2010. Lots of red faces, mine included
The number of people coming in from the eight new member states did in 2005 come in at several times those projections, although there are a number of reasons why that should not be overstated.
The worry is that when travel restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals is lifted early next year then a similar influx will occur.
Straw is quoting from the long term international migration statistics but those numbers are not broken down by state so the best guide are llabour market statistics, which showed a 19% rise up to 121,438 in the number of Bulgarians and Romanian nationals working in the UK over the past year.
But how big of an effect is it having on the UK job market?
According to these figures, Bulgarians and Romanian nationals make up about 8% of EU workers in the UK and 0.4% of the overall UK labour market - not much really. The 666,000 workers from the eastern European and central European states that Straw mentioned represent about 2% of the market altogether.
It's also worth pointing out that the employment rate of Bulgarians and Romanians aged 16 and over is 75%, which is higher than the rate of UK nationals of 72%. This means they are proportionately less likely to be claiming unemployment benefits than UK citizens.
This leads into the second half of Straw's column, which has received slightly less coverage:
Research published this week by University College London says that immigrants who arrived after 1999 were 45 per cent less likely to claim state benefits or tax credits than UK natives in the period 2000-2011, and that those from the EU 'put in considerably more in taxes and contributions than they received in benefits and transfers'.
Even those from outside the EU area contributed two per cent more in taxes than they received, compared with indigenous Brits who paid 11 per cent less in tax than they got back.
India: diplomatic issues
There is twice the amount of long term net migration from outside the EU than there is from inside it, which is why hardline rhetoric on immigration can have wider effects than might be imagined.
David Cameron was forced to defend the coalition's immigration policy in an interview with the Times of India this week. In particular a now-abandoned plan to say that Indian migrants would have to pay for £3000 bonds to be issued a visa.
Indian nationals get the most visas issued by the UK by quite a long way. In 2012, there were 48,000 issued to Indians, which was more than three times the amount given to Australians who got the second most.
However, the number of Indians coming over to study in the UK has fallen from 61,000 in 2009 to 16,000 last year. The fall in Indian students combined with an 8,454 drop in Pakistani students - halving the number issued in 2011 - contributed to a 5% drop in the number of visas issued to all foreign students last year.
There was also a 7.5% drop on the number of Indian nationals in the labour market in September 2013 from the previous year, leaving 194,000.
This creates a two-fold problem for the UK economy. Firstly, it loses the investment that those 45,000 Indian students lost since 2009 would have brought and it risks offending a country that the UK is trying to build trade links with.
Measures on dealing with EU migration are completely separate to those dealing with that from those outside of the EU. However, the Indian reaction to the increasingly hardline approach of the coalition government has shown that those policies do not exist inside a bubble. Ministers will have to decide what they are risking by upping-the-ante on their approach to immigration.
Krakow's story: a Unesco City of Literature built out of books
Home to two literary festivals, busy book fairs, clubs and writer after writer – this is a town where people queue for poetry
theguardian.com, Thursday 14 November 2013 12.51 GMT
To mark Krakow's appointment as Unesco City of Literature, a set of super-sized, multi-coloured letters were placed in the iconic medieval Marketlplace ("Rynek"), spelling out "Krakow, City of Literature" in Polish ("Miasto literatury"). Overnight, the citizens demonstrated their creative spirit by rearranging the letters to form messages of their own (some not fit to be printed).
Krakow lives and breathes literature. No city could be more eminently qualified for the Unesco title, which is now in its seventh year, with Edinburgh and Norwich among previous recipients. It's hard to imagine how it can add to its existing plethora of literary events: it hosts two annual international literary festivals, a book fair, and any number of poetry readings; it is home to the Polish Book Institute – a superb public organisation which exists to promote Polish literature at home and abroad. It's also home to several publishing houses, from old and traditional to young and ground-breaking.
Krakow's literary residents have included the Nobel prize-winning poets Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, science fiction writer Stanisław Lem and satirical playwright Sławomir Mrożek. Its living, internationally acclaimed poets include Adam Zagajewski and Ewa Lipska.
Literary Krakow has much to offer foreign visitors as well as Poles. The Conrad festival, and the Miłosz festival, held in October and May respectively, regularly present authors from all over the world, with past heavyweights including Seamus Heaney (who had many close friends here), Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Robert Hass and Adonis. The city has many ideal venues for cultural events – theatres, museums, medieval churches, restored synagogues, and atmospheric cafes, all within walking distance of the Rynek. Whenever a festival is in full swing, the whole city reverberates with poetry and music – they even project poems onto the 700-year-old town hall tower.
There are plenty of less official ways to enjoy literature in Krakow all year round, whether you know Polish or not. It is the best place to indulge in a bookshop crawl – even the passageway under the station platforms is lined with secondhand book stalls – and the English-language Massolit bookshop, café and venue is a book-lover's dream. Enter one of the cafes in the little streets off the Rynek or a bar in the old Jewish district of Kazimierz, and you're likely to see somebody sitting over a laptop writing a poem or a novel. Stay until evening and you might hear them reading it out – not least at the monthly "Talking Dog", where writers and performers are invited to talk about anything they like for a maximum of five minutes, as five red light bulbs go off in turn to mark the end of each minute. An English-language edition is being launched on 21 November at the Piękny Pies – "Beautiful Dog" – night club.
This event comes out of a Krakow tradition of combining literature and performance, which has always been encouraged by the many writers who have lived there. Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska – who referred to her award as "the Stockholm Tragedy" and retained the irreverent spirit of a schoolgirl until her death at 88 – was a regular instigator of unusual creative activities such as rude limerick competitions and lotteries offering bizarre jumble-sale prizes. In her youth she lived in the Writers' House on Krupnicza Street, set up after the war as a refuge for authors displaced from ruined Warsaw and elsewhere; just about every successful Polish writer stayed there at some time.
One important fixture was the Piwnica Pod Baranami cabaret, where scientists mixed with artists. In its heyday, the eminent physician and essayist Andrzej Szczeklik regularly played the piano there, while historian Norman Davies (a part-time resident of Krakow) played his accordion, and the great philosopher Leszek Kołakowski sang arias from famous operas. Rather than dampen Krakow's performing spirit, the constraints of communism fanned its flames; in the days of censorship, a banned literary journal was defiantly read aloud in a church each month. The genius behind it was the poet Bronisław Maj, whose post-communist contributions to Krakow literary life include dressing in a headscarf and pinny to deliver the inimitable monologues of Pani Lola, the cloakroom attendant at the Writers' Union, who revealed all the great writers' most intimate secrets, and her own crucial, Muse-like role in their literary success.
Oddly, as Adam Zagajewski points out in a short film made to coincide with Krakow's new role, there is no great novel about Krakow (yet), though it has inspired numerous short stories and poems by Poles and others. More than anything, it's a city that prompts unforgettable shared moments. When, after many years in exile, Czesław Miłosz came to live in Krakow in the 1990s, his presence prompted a unique gathering of 18 poets from east and west, including Paul Muldoon, Tomas Transtromer, Tomas Venclova, K Williams and Natalia Gorbanevskaya. After several well received readings, the poets went to a café in the marketplace, where each occupied a separate table to sign books and chat to their readers. To the organisers' amazement, a huge queue formed. "What are you queuing for?" asked curious passers-by. "For the poets," they heard, and joined the queue.
November 14, 2013
Turkey Moves to Silence Dissenters, but With One Eye on Its Image Abroad
By TIM ARANGO and CEYLAN YEGINSU
ISTANBUL — Late one night last summer, at the height of antigovernment demonstrations sweeping Turkey, a group of protest leaders rushed to the home of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, the capital, to negotiate a solution to the growing crisis.
They came away with a tentative agreement, but it was never accepted by the rank-and-file protesters, and so the movement was later crushed by the water cannons and tear gas of Mr. Erdogan’s police force.
Then last month, one of those leaders, Eyup Muhcu, was summoned by a local prosecutor and interrogated as part of a spreading investigation of those who led the protests. “There is no concrete charge, yet we were called in to give official statements,” said Mr. Muhcu, an architect and a member of the Taksim Solidarity Platform, a group of activists that played a central role in the demonstrations.
For the government, the answer seems clear, Mr. Muhcu said: to silence the opposition.
“It has come to a point where members can’t even tweet without fear of being investigated for their thoughts,” said Mr. Muhcu, one of the few activists still willing to offer a public critique of the government.
As the memory begins to fade of those sweeping protests, which began to save Gezi Park in central Istanbul from being razed and became the most serious challenge to Mr. Erdogan’s decade in power, the government has moved aggressively against its perceived adversaries. More than a thousand students, teachers, doctors and activists — even mosque imams — have been hauled in for questioning for their role in the civic unrest.
Dozens of journalists have lost their jobs for reporting on the demonstrations, and one of Turkey’s wealthiest families now has an army of tax inspectors digging through its accounts, apparently for giving refuge in a fancy hotel it owns to demonstrators escaping clouds of tear gas last summer.
But in a country with a long history of military coups, police brutality, torture and disappearances, many Turks and outside experts said they were actually expecting a more brutal crackdown after the protests. They note that while many people have been questioned for their participation, comparatively few have been charged with crimes, although a prosecutor in Ankara has threatened to charge nearly 500 people in a single court case.
“It is not a witch hunt, but definitely the government has tightened the screws,” said Saban Kardas, a professor at the University of Economics and Technology in Ankara. “It’s a preventive move, so these protests don’t happen again.”
The government, it seems, has mounted a delicate balancing act, analysts say: crack down just hard enough to keep critics of the government off the streets, especially as Turkey prepares for three elections over the next 18 months, but not so hard that Turkey’s international image is further damaged, especially in financial circles crucial to sustaining the economy.
Turkey has also been chastened by the failure of its Middle East policy, once seen as a reorientation away from the West toward the Arab world, and has recently restarted long-stalled negotiations to join the European Union.
“This is Turkey, a candidate for the E.U. and a NATO member,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the head of the Ankara office for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research organization. “Some things that may be normal in Belarus won’t be acceptable here.” Still, he added, “What is happening in Turkey is not suitable for a civilized, democratic country.”
Turkey’s secular opposition, the Republican People’s Party, recently circulated a document titled, “Turkish government’s retaliation to Gezi,” in which it equated Mr. Erdogan to Machiavelli, and wrote, “the one-man government has initiated a ruthless campaign for retaliation against the persons involved in the Gezi movement.” Inside is a list of 77 journalists who were either fired or forced to resign, including Yavuz Baydar, who had been the ombudsman for the pro-government newspaper Sabah.
After being fired for criticizing his newspaper’s coverage of the protests, Mr. Baydar wrote in The Guardian, “the country’s journalists are enslaved in newsrooms run by greedy and ruthless media proprietors, whose economic interests make them submissive to Erdogan.”
While the greatest political consequence of the protests may be that Mr. Erdogan has, for now, been forced to abandon plans to establish a more powerful presidency — which he would run for in an election next year — then analysts say the greatest impact on the culture has been an even greater intolerance by the authorities for dissent, and a coarsening of the political discourse.
Some critics and analysts say they have seen something more sinister: a rise in anti-Semitism, in a country with strained relations with Israel. In his fiery speeches during the protests, Mr. Erdogan blamed an assortment of foreign actors for the unrest, including the “interest rate lobby” — what many regarded as code for Jews — and “Zionists.” Some of Turkey’s Jews, a community of roughly 15,000, are emigrating because, according to a recent report in an English-language Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet Daily News, of “anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government.”
Steven A. Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime commentator on Turkish affairs, recently wrote, “Turkish political discourse is darker and the attacks on foreign observers of Turkish politics have become relentless.”
11/14/2013 01:25 PM
Iran Talks: Stiffer Sanctions Could Torpedo Nuclear Deal
An Analysis By Sebastian Fischer
Should sanctions against Tehran be tightened? US Senators believe Iran's nuclear activities can only be halted by ratcheting up the pressure. But Secretary of State John Kerry fears this hawkish stance will scuttle talks between world powers and Iran.
They brought out the big guns in Washington this week, and all because of Iran: First, Vice President Joe Biden addressed Congress, followed by Secretary of State John Kerry. Earlier, President Barack Obama had his spokesperson Jay Carney stress that "the American public does not want a march to war." There was no mistaking how seriously the administration is taking the Iran question.
The gist of its message is that Congress should not press ahead with harsher sanctions against Tehran. Kerry had only just returned from Geneva, where the P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany -- had been in talks with Iranian negotiators about the country's nuclear détente. "We were very, very close actually, extremely close," Kerry told the BBC in an interview on Monday. But the talks concluded without a deal, resulting merely in a decision to resume negotiations at a lower level in Geneva next week. This left the White House in a tight spot back home.
Had Kerry unexpectedly returned with a deal, Congress would have been unlikely to torpedo it. But the break in talks now affords its cross-party detractors amongst members of Congress and the Senate an opportunity to stall Obama's Iran strategy.
In late July, the House of Representatives voted 400 to 20 to impose tighter sanctions. Now the ball is in the Senate's court. On Wednesday, Kerry appealed to the Senate Banking Committee not to forge ahead with a new sanctions push before the resumption of talks. "The risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith in those negotiations, and actually stop them and break them apart," he said. "We put these (existing Iran) sanctions in place in order to be able to put us in the strongest position possible to be able to negotiate. We now are negotiating," Kerry said before entering the closed-door meeting.
Many beg to differ. "We cannot substitute wild-eyed hope for clear-eyed pragmatism given Iran's historical record of deception," argued Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "While the new Iranian president appears to support constructive engagement, Iran's centrifuges spin and its nuclear program expands," he wrote in the New York Times. Menendez is confident that tighter sanctions will prompt Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons program, and he also points out that they would only become effective in several months time, leaving Iranian President Hassan Rohani ample time to demonstrate his sincerity.
It remains to be seen if Kerry's efforts to convince senators to hold back will pay off. Republican Senator Bob Corker deemed his briefing "disappointing" while his colleague Mark Kirk accused Obama's administration of appeasing Iran like Britain did Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Their main criticism is of the finer points of the deal Kerry negotiated in Geneva last week and hopes can still be reached. In their opinion, it doesn't go far enough. The international community will relax sanctions and Iran will limit its uranium enrichment capacity and stop work on a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Iran would only be pressured to suspend its nuclear weapons production at a later stage.
All this amounts to is a delaying tactic, argue the skeptics. "Why should we pause our sanctions efforts as the administration is pressuring Congress to do?" railed Ed Royce, a Republican and the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. Why indeed? Isn't Senator Menendez right to question Iran's reliability?
Translating Words into Deeds
Perhaps he is. But it is also true to say that tougher sanctions would do nothing to improve the situation. They would in fact allow the Mullahs to cast themselves as victims, thwarted in their willingness to compromise. If the US wants to end its Cold War with Iran and persuade it to relinquish the nuclear production program it can hardly deny it is pursuing, it will have to offer some kind of incentive. It cannot expect Tehran to capitulate without a fight.
"There is a struggle in Tehran today between those who want Iran to behave as a nation, looking out for its interests, and those who want it to continue behaving as a permanent revolution in a permanent struggle with America and its allies," wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman this week. Why not reach out to these supposed moderates who support Rohani? Obviously, they are neither moderate nor democratic -- they too see themselves as holy warriors, as does Rohani. But at least they are not as irrational as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
With its diplomatic charm offensive -- as seen at the UN in September, for example -- Tehran is showing that it would like to see a thaw in its relations with the US. But now the Mullahs have to translate words into deeds. They must also be allowed to do so. The wheels of the negotiations in Geneva need greasing. At this stage, no one should lost sight of the bigger picture: to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
November 14, 2013
In Iraq, a Day of Religious Observance, and of Blood
By YASIR GHAZI
BAGHDAD — A wave of attacks against Shiite Muslims in Iraq killed at least 47 people and wounded dozens on Thursday, security officials said, as they were marking the holy day of Ashura, which commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, 1,300 years ago.
In the worst violence, 35 people were killed and 75 wounded in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an arena where a crowd had gathered to watch a play about the death of Imam Hussein. Women, children and actors in the play were among the dead.
One witness, Mohammed Saadoun, 40, said the explosion took place at the end of the death scene. “I saw those who were acting out the death had died in reality,” he said in an interview. “They were on the ground covered with blood.”
He added, “We have no trust in the government or the security forces to protect our lives from terrorism.”
The governor of Diyala Province, Omar Humairi, said in a statement that Diyala would publicly mourn the victims for three days, and called the attack an “evil scheme to hit the national unity.”
Ashura has become an almost annual day of violence and sectarian attacks in Iraq. Dozens of Iraqis were killed in attacks on the holy day in 2007, up to 39 in 2005, and at least 23 in 2011.
In Kut Province, southeast of Baghdad, two roadside bombs exploded near a tent set up to serve pilgrims heading toward Karbala, the site of a shrine to Imam Hussein. Ten people were killed and more than 25 wounded.
Haider Fadhel, 25, said by telephone from a hospital where he was attending his injured brother: “We were preparing the breakfast when a bomb exploded behind the tents. Everyone was running. I saw my brother injured and lying on the ground.
“We didn’t think that we would be a target,” he continued. “All we do is feed people and provide water for them. Is this enough reason to kill us?”
In the city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, a bomb planted on the side of a road exploded, and as people rushed in to help the injured, a second bomb exploded nearby, killing two and wounding eight.
Adoring fans serenade Sachin Tendulkar's's parting shots
Dileep Premachandran in Mumbai sees the impatient faithful get what they wanted: the Little Master batting in his final Test
Dileep Premachandran in Mumbai
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 01.04 GMT
Even before television replays confirmed that Murali Vijay, India's opening batsman, was out, the primal scream had begun. "Sachin, Sachin," came the chant, the staccato soundtrack that has been such an integral part of Indian cricket for nearly 25 years. Then, at 3.32pm, the man the thousands were serenading walked down the pavilion steps, as hordes of fans tried to reach across the railing to touch him.
The West Indies team and the umpires had already arranged themselves in two lines, a guard of honour for the 40-year-old as he became the first cricketer to play 200 Tests in his farewell game before retirement. Sachin Tendulkar's helmeted face betrayed almost no sign of emotion. After breaking nearly every record in international cricket, scoring more runs and more centuries than any other player, Tendulkar seemed the calmest person in the Wankhede Stadium.
As he got to the pitch, he reached down to touch the ground and then his forehead in a gesture of obeisance, the Hindu equivalent of the sign of the cross. He patted down tufts of grass and lumps of red Mumbai clay before settling at the crease. As he marked his guard and looked up, he could see the stand bearing his name. No one there was sitting down.
Most of them had been on their feet at the crack of dawn, aware of the stringent security measures in place at the 32,000-capacity stadium. It took some fans almost 90 minutes to get in, as they were subjected to at least three levels of body frisking and bag checking. Many of them came in their India limited-overs shirt, with "Tendulkar 10" emblazoned on the back. A few carried banners and posters, one that said "Legend" could be seen later in the day draped over a railing in the Sachin Tendulkar stand. If you gazed up at the stadium roof, it was ringed by blown-up pictures, one for each of Tendulkar's 51 Test centuries. Before the toss, the crowd were beside themselves in anticipation of India batting. So there was a general air of bemusement when MS Dhoni, India's captain, won it and decided to send West Indies in to bat. Even the coin that he flipped had been specially made for the occasion. Crafted in gold, it had Tendulkar's image on one side, and the Maharashtra Cricket Association logo – a lion – on the other. When Chris Gayle played the first ball of the match towards midwicket and Tendulkar ran across to gather it, the roar was akin to that greeting a goal in a cup final.
For the thousands in the stadium and millions watching outside, it was so much more than just a game of cricket or a celebration. Many between the ages of 20 and 35 can scarcely recall the sport without Tendulkar at its heart. Tendulkar's international career that will reach 24 years on Friday – he made his debut against Pakistan in Karachi on 15 November, six days after the Berlin Wall came down.
India is as much a melting pot as mainland Europe. Even before Tendulkar's debut, the cricket team was one of the few true unifying forces. After Mahatma Gandhi, who lived only four months after Indian independence in 1947, there have been few leaders whose charisma radiated north, south, east and west. And Tendulkar, like Gandhi, has been venerated across the land. Whether you watched a match in Mohali in Punjab or Kochi in Kerala, the adulation would be the same. Even in times of strife, no one rallied Indians behind the flag as he did. It seemed appropriate when he came out on Thursday with a bat handle modified to reflect the Indian flag, with its saffron, white and green. Before play began, in one of many ceremonies that have been part of this two-Test farewell series, a special Tendulkar stamp was released. He is only the second Indian – after Mother Teresa – to be so honoured in their lifetime.
India's team took to the field wearing shirts designed for the match that featured the words "Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar 200th Test" below the crest.There were still thousands who had not turned up, mistakenly assuming that West Indies would bat all day. But Bollywood stars were out in force, with Aamir Khan – whose Lagaan was the most popular cricket-themed movie ever – even doing a stint in the commentators' box.
West Indies's innings did not even last until tea, and then the wishes of those who had spent most of the first two sessions chanting "We want Sachin" had them duly granted. When Tendulkar ran a single after miscuing a sweep to deep square leg off the third ball he faced, it was the cue for bedlam. The flag-waving was frenzied, with ululations and chants accompanied by the booming bass of fans banging hoardings in front of them.
When, on 18, a flick off the pads just evaded the leg-gully fielder, the collective sigh of relief could be heard hundreds of yards away. The giant electronic screen kept showing messages from players, past and present. One was a tweet from England's Joe Root. "Sachin made his debut for India before I was born," it said. "Then played in my test debut #ThankYouSachin".
With the day winding to a close, Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, bowled a full delivery. Tendulkar rolled back the years with an immaculate on-drive that had fans jumping from their seats as if an electric current had passed through them. Then as the final over began, the cameras cut across to one of the hospitality boxes and an elderly lady wrapped in a shawl. Rajni Tendulkar was watching her son play live for the very first time, in his 664th and final international appearance. The crowd rose to applaud her.
Her son was undefeated on 38 at stumps and walked off chatting with Cheteshwar Pujara, one of the hugely promising batsmen poised to take over his mantle. The people will be back on Friday, when the serpentine queues will once again weave back along Marine Drive, the boulevard by the sea that leads to the stadium, hoping for another glimpse of the master.
Owing to a dispute between media organisations and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the Guardian is unable to provide full coverage, including images of the India v West Indies TestTest
November 15, 2013
With 'Loving Kindness', Myanmar Frees 69 Political Prisoners
YANGON — Myanmar released 69 political prisoners on Friday in an amnesty the government described as an act of "loving kindness" in line with President Thein Sein's promise to free all prisoners of conscience by year-end.
The amnesty was one of at least a dozen the reformist, quasi-civilian government has granted since taking over in March 2011 from a military leadership.
It also cuts by almost half the number of prisoners that non-governmental group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar (AAPP) estimates were held in Myanmar.
A statement from Thein Sein's office said the amnesty was decided to enable prisoners to "contribute in nation-building after realizing the loving kindness and goodwill of the state".
A panel appointed by Thein Sein is also working to release all political prisoners jailed by the junta by year-end, the statement added.
Ko Talkie of the AAPP told Reuters the freed prisoners included Aye Ne Win and Kyaw Ne Win, grandsons of former dictator and general Ne Win, who seized power in a 1962 coup and ruled until 1988, when he was deposed by other generals.
Aye Ne Win and Kyaw Ne Win were imprisoned in 2002 for attempting to overthrow the junta along with Sayalay Aung Pwint Khaung, a sorcerer accused of performing black magic rituals to ensure the coup's success.
Sayalay Aung Pwint Khaung was among those released Friday, said a prison official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Naw Ohn Hla, a well-known activist, was also freed, said Ko Talkie. She was jailed earlier this year for leading protests against the Letpadaung copper mine near Monywa, 760 km (472 miles) north of the commercial capital Yangon.
Earlier, Nyan Win, a member of the state-appointed panel said the list of those still in detention had been obtained from different sources "so we have to check if they are real political prisoners or not".
Nyan Win is a senior aide to National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader and veteran democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained, mostly under house arrest, for 15 years. The NLD estimates about 80 political prisoners are still incarcerated, Nyan Win said.
PLEDGE TO FREE PRISONERS
Thein Sein, a former general and heavyweight in the army regime, had pledged during a visit to Britain in July that he would free all political prisoners by the end of this year.
Friday's release, like many of the amnesties that have been announced in the past two years, coincided with the visit of a high-profile foreign delegation, this time, the European Union.
The EU, United States and other Western countries have increased aid and investment and suspended most sanctions, partly in response to Myanmar freeing of hundreds of political prisoners and other liberal reforms unimaginable under the juntas that ruled for 49 unbroken years.
During the military's final years in power, as many as 2,500 people, including activists, journalists, politicians and even comedians, were under detention. Many were subjected to torture.
Rights activists and the United Nations say the Myanmar government needs to end all political detentions. According to AAPP research, some 230 people still face charges over their political activities.
"We continue to receive reports of peaceful activists and human rights defenders being harassed and at risk of imprisonment for nothing but expressing their opinion," Amnesty International said in a statement following Friday's release.
"This has to end immediately, otherwise releases like the one today will be meaningless."
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun and Jared Ferrie; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Ron Popeski)
Cameron rounds on Labour as he shuns Commonwealth opening in Sri Lanka
PM goes to meet Tamils in north on first day of CHOGM and slams 'rank hypocrisy' of Miliband in calling for boycott of summit
Rowena Mason in Colombo
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 06.48 GMT
David Cameron has attacked Labour's "rank hypocrisy" in calling for him to boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka as he claimed his visit to the country's war-torn north will help give a voice to the dispossessed.
While dozens of world leaders have gathered in Colombo for the Commonwealth opening ceremony, Cameron is planning to fly to Jaffna, a Tamil-dominated city in the north that suffered heavily during Sri Lanka's 25-year conflict. He will visit a "welfare village", which are often equated to refugee camps, and meet newspaper editors who have suffered intimidation.
After that he will return to Colombo to shake hands with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the controversial Sri Lankan president, in an effort to persuade him to investigate allegations of war crimes, torture and kidnappings.
Speaking on Friday morning Cameron said he would quote Winston Churchill to the Sri Lankan leader on the idea that there should be "in victory, magnanimity" after the war that ended in 2009.
"Rajapaksa has an opportunity, having won the war, to show real generosity and reconciliation to build a cohesive country where everyone feels they have a say. He is able to do that," he said.
Labour has called for Cameron to shun the summit of 54 countries like the Indian and Canadian leaders and press for Rajapaksa to be suspended from his two-year chairmanship of the Commonwealth.
However the prime minister condemned this as "extraordinary behaviour".
"I think there is rank hypocrisy really from Labour to call for non-attendance at a Commonwealth heads of government meeting that they helped fix when they were in government.
"So I think it is absolutely extraordinary behaviour – in 2009 they effectively agreed the meeting should be held in Sri Lanka and they're just playing politics and it's completely cynical."
Cameron said the Commonwealth was "imperfect" but it was necessary to attend to argue for its good values.He said going to Jaffna "helps the people in the north of the island have a voice", although he acknowledged there was a danger those he spoke to could later face problems with the authorities.Asked about whether anyone he would speak to would be in fear of reprisal, he said: "I am sure there will be difficulties. But that, in a way, will tell its own story. If that's the case that will be a demonstration of the difficulties in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and the key freedoms that we value."
He admitted that he may not be able to "speak to as many people as you would like".
On Thursday in India Cameron condemned Sri Lanka's failure to investigate allegations of "chilling and appalling" war crimes and promised a diplomatic showdown with the host country over continuing allegations of human rights abuses and the need for an independent inquiry into historic war crimes.
During a meeting with Rajapaksa he will also raise concerns about attacks on Christians and Muslims, intimidation of journalists and discrimination against Tamils.
However the encounter is likely to provoke a diplomatic battle after the Sri Lankan president insisted his country has "nothing to hide" and resisted calls for further inquiries.
Cameron used his strongest language to criticise Sri Lanka's human rights record after watching a Channel 4 documentary about atrocities allegedly committed by state forces in the last months of the war.
After speaking to the UN the prime minister said images of war crimes had been independently verified. "The images in that film are completely chilling. It's an appalling set of allegations and of course these allegations have been backed up by the work of the UN special rapporteur who has had them verified. There are legitimate accusations of war crimes that need to be properly investigated. That is actually what the Sri Lankan government itself found ... but it hasn't effectively answered them, they need to be answered."
The UK Tamil community is also pressing Cameron to tackle Rajapaksa on allegations of torture, the disappearance of government opponents and intimidation of the media since the end of the war. It is understood Cameron is likely to shake Rajapaksa's hand when they meet.
Cameron agreed there were "some very serious questions that need to be answered, questions about human rights violations today in Sri Lanka, the fact that there are so many people who have disappeared, there aren't proper rules for a free press".
A No 10 source said Cameron would push for specific goals including "quick wins" such as lifting a bar on singing the national anthem in the Tamil language.
Going into the meeting he will have five goals, including a political settlement with the National Tamil Alliance. He will also raise concerns about the impeachment of the chief justice, indefinite detention and the failure to bring to justice the murderer of the British national Khuram Shaika. The source said Cameron also had worries about "increasing attacks on Christians and Muslims and the signs that extremist Buddhist nationalists acting with impunity".
However Rajapaksa has hit back at international criticism, saying his country is very open about its past and has a good legal system to deal with allegations. "We have a legal system in Sri Lanka," Rajapaksa said in a Colombo news conference. "If anyone wants to complain about the human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether it is torture, whether it is rape ... we have a system."
He confirmed he has agreed to meet Cameron and suggested his response will be combative. "I will be meeting him and we will see what, I will also have to ask some questions," he said.
Sri Lanka's media minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, warned Cameron could not make demands of the county like it was a colony. He told the BBC: "We are a sovereign nation. You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka. It can be a cordial request. We are not a colony. We are an independent state."
Writing in the Tamil Guardian, Ed Miliband has urged Cameron to push for Rajapaksa to be stripped of his automatic two-year chairmanship of the Commonwealth after hosting the summit.
It is understood Cameron has not ruled out pushing for this sanction but considers the international inquiry a greater priority. Whitehall sources also pointed out the removal would have to be agreed by a consensus of Commonwealth leaders.
Ahead of the summit some Tamil media outlets have reported that campaigners have been prevented from travelling to Colombo to protest about relatives who have disappeared.
A Channel 4 crew said it was blocked from reaching a former war zone in the north for filming as pro-government protesters stood in the way of their train. Among the journalists on board was Callum Macrae, whose documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka was released ahead of the summit.
The Freedom From Torture human rights group said the "burning question" Cameron must put to Rajapaksa was "why certain categories of ethnic Tamils travelling back to Sri Lanka from the UK are being tracked down and subjected to branding, rape and other forms of torture".
The group, one of the UK's largest torture rehabilitation centres, said it had received at least 50 referrals for individuals detained and interrogated about the activities of Tamils in the UK after returning to Sri Lanka.
North Korea denies sending military aid to Syria
Pyongyang attacks 'misinformation' after claims it has sent advisers and helicopter pilots to support Assad regime
Reuters in Seoul
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 09.37 GMT
North Korea has denied it is sending military aid to the Syrian government, one of its few close allies, in its battle against rebel forces after media reports said Pyongyang had sent advisers and helicopter pilots.
"Some foreign media are floating misinformation that the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) supplied war equipment to Syria, its airmen are directly involved in air-raids on insurgent troops in Syria," the North's state-run KCNA news agency said on Thursday.
The Jerusalem Post reported in October that 15 North Korean helicopter pilots were operating in Syria "on behalf of President Bashar Assad's regime" and said the report had been confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Other reports have identified North Korean artillery officers as being in Syria, although they were said not to be directing fire.
North Korea has long-standing ties with Syria and constructed a plutonium reactor there that was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007. It also has links with Syria's chemical weapons programme.
Under a deal brokered by Russia and the US Assad agreed to destroy all Syria's chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people on 21 August.
Japanese media reports in August said Turkey had intercepted a shipment of gas masks and small arms from North Korea to Syria.
The North is under United Nations sanctions for its nuclear weapons and missile programme and its role in proliferating nuclear and missile technology.
Typhoon Haiyan: China gives less aid to Philippines than Ikea
World's second largest economy pledges less than $2m to help relief effort, compared to furniture store's $2.7m
theguardian.com, Thursday 14 November 2013 13.49 GMT
The Swedish furniture chain Ikea is giving more financial aid to the Philippines than China following the category 5 typhoon that hit the country last week.
The world's second-largest economy has pledged less than $2m in cash and materials, compared to $20m provided by the United States, which also launched a massive military-driven rescue operation that includes an aircraft carrier.
Another Chinese rival, Japan, has pledged $10m and offered to send troops, ships and planes. Australia is giving $28m, and even Ikea's offer of $2.7m through its charitable foundation beats that of China.
China's reluctance to give more, driven by a row with Manila over overlapping claims in the South China Sea, dents its global image at a time when it is vying with Washington for regional influence.
"China has missed an excellent opportunity to show itself as a responsible power and to generate goodwill," said Zheng Yongnian, a China politics expert at the National University of Singapore. "They still lack strategic thinking."
The decline of American influence in Asia, with China filling the vacuum, has been predicted for years. Asian nations have become increasingly dependent on China's booming economy to purchase their exports, and Chinese companies are increasingly providers of investment and employment.
Yet China lags far behind the US in soft power, the winning of hearts and minds through culture, education and other non-traditional forms of diplomacy, of which emergency assistance is a major component.
Despite Chinese academics' frequent promotion of soft power, Chinese leaders don't really get it, said Zheng. Instead, they continue to rely on the levers of old-fashioned major-nation diplomacy based on economic and military might. "They still think they can get their way through coercion," Zheng said.
China's donations to Philippines include $100,000 each from the government and the Chinese Red Cross, and it is sending an additional $1.64m worth of tents, blankets and other goods.
Though Beijing's territorial claims overlap with Vietnam and others, it has singled out the Philippines, apparently because of Manila's energetic assertions of its own claims. Beijing was enraged by Manila's decision to send the dispute to international arbitration and constantly rails against its close military alliance with the US.
China's generosity with the Philippines hasn't entirely dried up. It pledged $80,000 to the Philippines last month following a major earthquake there, in addition to this week's pledges. And the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, expressed his sympathy to his Philippine counterpart, Benigno Aquino, in the latest disaster, although a five full days later and without mentioning assistance.
Zhu Feng, an international relations expert at Peking University, said the amount donated "reflects the political deadlock, if not outright hostility, between the two countries. The political atmosphere is the biggest influence."
An additional factor could be that China is a relative newcomer to overseas disaster relief. The country sent tents and a medical mission to the hardest-hit Aceh province in Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and government and public donations were in the millions of dollars.
Since then, China's participation has been mainly limited to assisting its close ally Pakistan with flood and earthquake relief and some help to foreign nationals fleeing Libya during an unprecedented mission to evacuate 30,000 of its citizens from the war-torn nation.
Typhoon Haiyan: frustration at slow pace of relief effort
Officials post death toll of 4,000 in Tacloban city alone, with UN confirming some of worst-hit areas have received no aid
Tania Branigan and Kate Hodal in Cebu
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013
The painfully slow pace of relief efforts after the typhoon in the Philippines has let people down, the United Nations aid chief has said, admitting that teams have yet to reach areas with people in desperate need.
Valerie Amos's assessment from the devastated city of Tacloban came as the aid effort rapidly gathered pace, with the US aircraft carrier George Washington and its escort of two cruisers arriving in the disaster zone amid fresh promises of help from other nations. David Cameron said the UK would send its own carrier, HMS Illustrious.
The official death toll from typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, stood at 2,357 on Thursday night. But in Tacloban city hall a notice was posted saying 4,000 people had been killed in that city alone, double the previous day's estimate of 2,000, the Reuters news agency reported, while the UN was putting the overall body count for the disaster at 4,460.
On Friday morning the BBC quoted the Philippines interior secretary, Mar Roxas, as saying the official government death toll was 3,422. News emerged that a regional police chief had been removed for giving an initial figure of 10,000 in the typhoon's immediate aftermath – infuriating President Benigno Aquino III, who has played down casualty figures and the desperate, chaotic state of affected communities.
Aid workers estimate the final total will be considerably higher, citing the lack of information from remote areas.
Amos said conditions for survivors were dismal. Many had gone days without food and some were drinking from polluted wells or standing water because they were left with no alternative.
"I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly," Amos told reporters.
Of the newly increased flow of aid she said: "It would have been better if it had happened three days ago. We are getting there but it's far too slow." While the delivery of supplies from Cebu and Manila to the disaster zone has improved, many of the goods still appear to be stuck at the three major relief bases in Tacloban, Ormoc and Guiuan.
By late afternoon on Thursday the Philippines navy and air force had transported relief goods across the Visayas island group, which includes the areas of Leyte, Samar and Cebu, officials said.
A young Filipino girl and her brother receive food aid at a centre in Tacloban A young Filipino girl and her brother receive food aid at a centre in Tacloban. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
But further rain has hampered distribution and the refusal of petrol station owners to reopen facilities has led to transport problems and a stark dilemma, according to the mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez. "The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies," Romualdez said.
The city's administrator, Tecson Lim, estimated that only a fifth of residents were receiving aid.
Security concerns also prompted some aid organisations to evacuate teams.
Plan International has withdrawn all 15 of its employees – normally permanently based in Tacloban – until security is restored, said a spokesman. A memo was circulating among relief workers advising them not to move around in the city as some UN staff had already been pulled out for security reasons.
On Wednesday stories of heightened violence and tension circulated as eight were killed after stampeding a rice warehouse looking for food.
A Philippine Red Cross convoy was allegedly hijacked by armed men who were reportedly later shot dead by police, and a 13-year-old boy was reportedly knifed in the neck and stomach by unknown men.
Amid unconfirmed stories ranging from the seizure of aid to traffickers targeting women and children by posing as relief workers, officials urged people to stay calm and not believe everything they heard.
"There have been so many reports of looting and rape which have turned out not to be correct," Ricky Caradang, a spokesman for President Aquino, told the local ABS-CBN TV channel.
Father Anton Pascual, who is leading a team for the catholic charity Caritas, said that its religious status had helped it deliver aid to families in remote villages: "We wear our priest collars and we are able to go through," he said.
Officials have pointed to an increased presence of police and military, and the influx of supplies, as a turning point for Tacloban. Roads are gradually being cleared of fallen trees and debris.
Some residents have blamed sheer inefficiency for the relief delays, arguing that a country that suffers an average of 20 typhoons a year should have proper contingency plans.
"I don't think we could have prepared for this," budget secretary Florencio Abad told Reuters, adding that the authorities' response this time was faster than previous disasters.
Even in Tacloban city, supplies had yet to reach the Astrodome, where thousands are sheltering in squalid conditions.
"I wonder when they will bring food here," said Erlinda Rosales, 72. Her family received rations for the first time on Thursday – 3kg of rice and three cans of sardines – but only because her granddaughter had walked to their village council every day.
Some residents have complained of favouritism, suggesting that those with connections to authorities were getting better treatment.
At Tacloban's airport, where thousands waited in their desperation to flee the city, there was also suspicion being voiced by many at the official explanations that airlifts for children, the sick and elderly people came first.
"If you have a friend or relative in the military, you get priority," complained Violeta Duzar, 57. She and eight relatives, including children, had been waiting there since Sunday.
Around 6,000 people have been evacuated by the Philippines armed forces, a spokesman said, with 4,000 leaving by air and the rest by sea.
11/14/2013 04:16 PM
A Pacifist at War: An Unlikely Leader's Success in Congo
By Juliane von Mittelstaedt
In the embattled region of eastern Congo, the United Nations is deploying a real combat brigade for the first time. It's being led by a German pacifist who believes peacekeeping sometimes requires the use of military force. His approach appears to be working.
On a Monday morning in late October, Martin Kobler is sitting in an armored personnel carrier, bumping along National Road No. 2 from Kiwanja to Rutshuru, which is more of a path than a main road. It leads through the eastern part of Congo, a country the size of Western Europe. In recent years, more people have been murdered, tortured and raped in Congo than anywhere else in the world. And now Kobler, a German, has come here to bring about peace by armed force.
He opens the vehicle's hatch and pushes his upper body through the opening to behold a breathtaking landscape of volcanoes, rain forest and fertile fields. "What a beautiful country this is," he says, "or rather, could be."
He waves to children by the roadside and gazes with satisfaction at the first refugees returning to their abandoned villages, carrying mattresses and water cans on their backs.
For the first time in one-and-a-half years, it is possible to walk along this road without the fear of being attacked, raped or killed. That's how long the M23, a militia consisting primarily of members of the Tutsi ethnic group and supported with arms and money from neighboring Rwanda, controlled the region. But now the Congolese army has managed to drive the M23 out of the region in less than a week. It's a success for Congo -- and for Kobler.
Since August, he has been leading the world's largest and most expensive United Nations peace mission, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). Until recently, it was also the UN's least successful mission. Since it was created 14 years ago, it has mainly been known for having peacekeepers in blue helmets who played volleyball with mass murderers or locked the gates of their military camps when persecuted civilians sought protection.
Kobler's job is to transform MONUSCO into an effective force. If he succeeds, it will not only change Congo, but the United Nations as a whole.
The UN's First True Combat Force
A year ago, 2,000 M23 rebel fighters managed to capture the major Congolese city of Goma without UN peacekeepers putting up a fight. As a reaction to this humiliating incident, the UN Security Council became more combative and, in March, passed Resolution 2098. Under the resolution, MONUSCO was provided with a 3,000-man intervention brigade, in addition to its 17,000 regular peacekeepers. It was the organization's first true combat force.
Some other UN peacekeepers are permitted to engage in combat operations, but they almost never do. And none of them has such a robust mandate or is as well armed as the new intervention brigade. MONUSCO now has combat helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery, and reconnaissance drones will soon be added to its arsenal.
Though Resolution 2098 is primarily a symbolic milestone on the path to a UN army, this doesn't make it any less significant. That's because the international community has recognized that peacekeeping troops alone are often insufficient, since it is difficult to keep the peace when there is none to be kept. Instead, it is sometimes necessary to forcibly bring about peace by military means. But in the end, everything depends on how Resolution 2098 is applied, and whether the people using it really want to take risks to protect civilians.
Kobler, a 60-year-old career diplomat who has represented Germany in the Palestinian territories, Cairo, Baghdad and New Delhi, was appointed to head the mission. A pacifist and a Green Party supporter, he was former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's chief of staff when the German military, the Bundeswehr, entered its first two wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Since then, Kobler has been convinced that it is sometimes necessary to fight for a more peaceful world. "Traditional peacekeeping, where you're simply there and you react more than you act, isn't working anymore," he says.
Courage and Pride
Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, a Brazilian general, was appointed commander of the troops. He had fought against street gangs in Haiti while on a UN mission there from 2007 to 2009, and he came with a tough reputation. Cruz was joined by James Mwakibolwa, a Tanzanian general, who now leads the intervention brigade mainly made up of Tanzanian, South African and Malawi soldiers.
Kobler and Cruz began their service in early August. Two weeks later, the German gave the order to deploy combat helicopters for the first time in his life. MONUSCO bombed M23 positions near Goma, from which the rebels had launched rockets and mortars against the city of a million people on the shore of Lake Kivu. At the same time, the Congolese army attacked the rebels on the ground. Hundreds died on both sides, including two soldiers from the intervention brigade. Then there was calm for more than two months, during which a peace treaty was negotiated, though neither side was willing to make any real compromises.
Then the army attacked the M23 positions again on Oct. 25. Kobler was furious, fearing that the fighting could thwart a political agreement. But the army achieved one victory after the next, and Kobler had no choice but to send his intervention brigade to the front to protect the residents of Kiwanja. The peacekeepers were now fighting for a second time.
The same morning, Kobler attended the funeral of a fallen peacekeeper from Tanzania and said: "I thank all of you for your courage." Despite the bloody fighting, he added, it was time to be proud "that we have protected the population." Courage and pride: In recent weeks, Kobler has often used these two words, which are part of a new vocabulary for MONUSCO.
A Balancing Act
The armored vehicle containing the UN delegation stops in the middle of a refugee camp. Outside there are makeshift huts made of twigs and leaves, and inside the vehicle Kobler presses his cellphone to his ear. He has just received a call from General Cruz, who tells him that the rebels have left Mount Hehu, and that the Congolese army now wants to secure the weapons they've left behind. But the mountain is on the border with Rwanda, and in recent weeks the country has repeatedly claimed that shots were being fired into its territory from Congo -- and has threatened to fire back. Kobler must now prevent Rwanda from attacking the Congolese troops.
"What do we have to decide?" Kobler shouts into the phone. "Okay, then I'll tell the Rwandans, and you go ahead." He dials a few numbers, but no one answers. "Then I'll just call the defense minister. What's his name again?" He searches in the address book on his phone and finds the name: "Kabarebe." When he calls the number, someone does answer, but it's only Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe's assistant.
There are beads of sweat on Kobler's forehead. It's oppressively hot in the armored vehicle. Since he can't reach Kabarebe, he writes him a text message: "M23 has left Mount Hehu. We would like to secure the weapons. It's on the border." The Rwandan defense minister calls back soon afterwards. "The army won't shoot at you if we're there," Kobler promises. The crisis has been defused. The trip continues.
The incident is an example of the balancing act Kobler must perform. He knows that M23 gets funding from Rwanda, and that it also receives orders from precisely the man with whom he just spoke on the phone: James Kabarebe.
'MONUSCO Will Protect You'
A little later, the UN convoy stops in the town of Rutshuru. When Kobler gets out of the vehicle, he is joined by a young man in a leather jacket who has been sitting quietly next to him for most of the trip. He is Julien Paluku, the governor of North Kivu Province.
The governor's presence is intended to demonstrate that the government is returning to the area, and that police officers, judges and civil servants will also return. But the governor is also there so that people don't direct their expectations solely at MONUSCO, because the blue helmets lack the resources to do all the things that are now needed. An entire region needs to be rebuilt, and Kobler has neither the money nor the mandate to do so. This is the dilemma UN peacekeeping missions face: They are called into action when a country is weak, and yet they are also dependent on the state becoming strong enough to make their mission a success.
Congo, however, is one of the world's weakest nations. The central government has lost control over large parts of the country. The fact that dozens of militias are wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country is not as much a cause as it is a symptom of this weakness.
Hundreds of people have gathered on the town square, and some have even climbed up into the trees. The governor, who speaks first, promises that the government will be there for the people again soon. Then it's Kobler's turn. He has an orange dot on his forehead, put there by an Indian peacekeeper in a Hindu shrine at the MONUSCO base. Kobler did not wipe it away as the others did, saying quietly that having many patron deities couldn't be a bad thing.
"This is a day of liberation," he tells the people of Rutshuru. "I promise you one thing: MONUSCO is with you. MONUSCO will protect you." These are big words, especially in light of the peacekeepers' miserable image in the region. During one of his first visits to Goma, someone threw a rock at the windshield of Kobler's car.
Conditions Improve for Congolese Soldiers
He and the governor get back into the armored vehicle and are driven back to Kiwanja, where they both give similar speeches, this time to thousands of people. After that, Kobler decides to walk back to the military base. The crowd follows him, but despite the jostling and turmoil, Kobler keeps stopping to shake hands with soldiers and UN peacekeepers. "Great work," he says. The soldiers smile, a little taken aback by this man who is so different from the previous heads of the mission. His predecessor was stiff and statesmanlike, and he avoided contact with the local population. Kobler, on the other hand, values personal encounters.
While serving as Germany's ambassador to Cairo from 2003 to 2006, he traveled through Africa with his son, going from north to south via public transportation. It taught him how to be patient. Now he is almost always on the road, even on weekends, as if he were trying to make up for the MONUSCO mission's lost years in his first 100 days in office.
White UN tanks are positioned demonstratively on the streets of many towns in eastern Congo, though they remain behind those of the Congolese army. MONUSCO helps the Congolese primarily with fuel, satellite reconnaissance and air support. The peacekeepers only appear on the scene once the Congolese have liberated a town. But their liaison officer is constantly there when Congolese General Lucien Bahuma makes decisions. The two men have consulted with each other almost constantly in recent weeks.
Without MONUSCO's support, the army probably wouldn't be able to move from one victory to the next. Still, the Congolese are the ones winning the battles.
MONUSCO is thus cooperating with an army that, until recently, was even guiltier of looting, rape and murder than any of the militias. For instance, before the soldiers left Goma to the rebels, they looted the city. And during their retreat, they descended upon the small town of Minova, where they raped women and girls.
But much has improved since then. The soldiers are now being paid in full, they are given food, and responsible commanders have been appointed who keep order and try to prevent crimes from occurring. All of this has noticeably increased discipline. When the soldiers pass through villages today, the villagers cheer and dance. In the past, they would have run away.
An Uncertain Future
Kobler points to a few soldiers on the side of the road. "They're all green," he says. MONUSCO has compiled a database in which the regular army units are divided into three groups. Units that have not committed any crimes yet are described as "green," and those are the units with which MONUSCO cooperates. Then there are the yellow units, with which Kobler only works in exceptional cases. He steers clear of red units.
Despite all this, the war the army is waging in eastern Congo still looks like a 19th-century conflict. Thousands of infantrymen march to the frontlines in long columns. Very few soldiers wear complete uniforms. Some wear flip-flops and carry their belongings in plastic bags, with amulets made of animal paws hanging around their necks.
Can this succeed in the long term, a high-tech army fighting alongside a contingent of barefoot soldiers?
And what happens when MONUSCO, after dealing with the hated M23, decides to take action against other armed groups? One of these might be the FDLR, a Hutu militia group that is fighting the Rwandan government and receives support from Congo. Another is the ADF, which is waging war against Uganda from Congolese territory. Will Congolese President Joseph Kabila support Kobler if he decides to attack these groups, which have been useful to the Congolese government until now? And what are the moral repercussions of fighting on behalf of this government, which secured its power with the help of rigged elections? What if MONUSCO, in carrying out its mission, is propping up an undemocratic president?
Kobler is too diplomatic to answer these questions directly. He says the UN isn't fighting on any one side -- it is here to protect the civilians. In doing so, he says it is possible it would act against any of these groups if it had to.
Establishing Islands of Peace
Kobler is facing a different dilemma at the moment anyway: success. M23 is being worn down so quickly that the political process hasn't been able to catch up. Put differently, Congo isn't prepared for peace.
"Military operations make no sense if the same militias return after we're gone," says Kobler. That's why he doesn't want to try to pacify large parts of the country at once, but to establish islands of stability instead. Once an area is safe, commerce and jobs return. This enables the men to earn a living and reduces the appeal of joining one of the many local militias, which are usually nothing more than armed gangs of thieves. That's Kobler's hope.
He now wants Kiwanja and Rutshuru to become one of those islands, an area of 30 square kilometers that would be under government control once again, protected by the army and the UN peacekeepers. The aim is to gradually expand these islands until all of them merge and become one country once again.
One reason this approach is so special is that it is MONUSCO's first real concept, and a pragmatic one as well. Because so far, the UN has failed too often to make good on its grand promise: namely that it can protect people through its presence alone. And then there were the situations in which UN peacekeepers merely looked on as mass murder was being committed in places like Srebrenica, Rwanda and in eastern Congo.
Kobler wants the region around Pinga to become his second island. He hardly talks about anything but Cheka, the terrible one, the head of a Mai-Mai militia that has been terrorizing Pinga, drowning children and beheading adults, tossing their heads in front of the MONUSCO base in Pinga. The peacekeepers haven't intervened yet.
Kobler wants to put an end to this peaceful coexistence between MONUSCO and murderers. But first he has to continue dealing with M23. In recent days, the army bombed the rebels' last safe haven in Chanzu with heavy artillery. Kobler's helicopters are also attacking, and the peacekeepers are now fighting the rebels a third time.
Last Tuesday, the M23 commanders finally gave up. When Kobler walked through liberated Chanzu on Thursday, he saw torched cars and refugees returning to the town. The offensive was over, and Kobler, the pacifist, had won his first battle.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Jihadists call for reinforcements as Syrian regime advances on Aleppo
Al-Qaida-linked groups are straining to hold off regime push that could threaten their supply lines to Turkey
Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Thursday 14 November 2013 17.46 GMT
Jihadist groups near Aleppo have called for reinforcements to fight the largest regime advance on the city in a 16-month siege, in a looming confrontation likely to test the rebel hardliners who dictate terms in Syria's far north.
Clashes have taken place in the south-eastern sector of the city, which has remained firmly in opposition hands since rebel groups stormed into eastern Aleppo in mid-July 2012. While the showdown is not yet thought to be the start of a decisive push, it has sharpened focus on the prevalence of extremist groups and how they found their way to the battlefield.
The two main al-Qaida-linked groups – the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra – are straining to hold off a regime push past the Aleppo airport to a military base, known as Base 80. A successful advance beyond this point would threaten rebel supply lines to Turkey, which for more than a year have funnelled militants, weapons, ammunition and food into the far north, in effect turning the area into an emirate within a crumbling nation state.
Now, the first significant regime counterattack is taking shape. Jihadists have allied with mainstream opposition units to battle Syrian troops whose ranks are bolstered with large numbers of militants from a militia comprised mainly of Iraqi militants, called Abu Fadl al-Abbas.
The clashes around Aleppo mark one of the few times in the two-and-a-half-year civil war that major sectarian protagonists have squared up to one another; the rebel-allied al-Qaida groups adopt an extremist Sunni ideology, while the Iraqis are fighting for Assad in the name of Shia Islam.
Al-Qaida's two proxies in the Syrian conflict are comprised mostly of foreigners. Many have journeyed from Iraq, buoyed by the sectarian insurgency again raging there, while others have chosen a simpler path through the Turkish border only 40 miles (60km) to the north. Jihadists, in particular, have taken advantage of the relatively easy passage from Turkey to Syria. The ease of access continues to fuel a view in the rebel-held north that Ankara is easing the passage of al-Qaida groups, who they have identified as the most potent arm of the opposition and most likely to threaten regime power bases.
"How else can you explain it?" said a rebel leader in northern Syria, Haji Abu-Abdullah. "It is an open gate for all-comers. We are losing, not winning, the war because of Turkey."
A second rebel leader in the Aleppo countryside agreed: "With every month that passes we are losing this war. There is clearly a policy to help al-Qaida make gains, and to make it difficult for us to hold on to what we have."
Ankara hotly denies this claim. A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry said: "We do not support or tolerate any radical terrorist groups. It is inconceivable that a country that has suffered from terrorism as much and for as long as we have could do such a thing. We view these radical groups as a betrayal of the revolution."
Turkey says it receives around 30 million visitors annually. Several years ago, it adopted a no-visa policy for most Arab states, and gives visas on arrival to most European visitors. It says it cannot stop visitors with valid passports unless there is a legal reason to do so.
"We need co-operation from third countries," the government spokesman said. "If there is no alert, no Interpol notice, or basis to stop them, then we won't. There is a lack of co-operation among the international community and we are at the end of the process."
The high volume of jihadists in Syria has been thrown into sharp relief in recent months as governments across the world have told Turkey's national intelligence agency the numbers of their nationals thought to have travelled there. The high number of overstayers from Arab states that emerged from these figures – many of whom have crossed to Syria and not returned – has confirmed the scale of the problem.
Over the past year, flights from Istanbul to southern Turkey have been noticeably full of men on their way to jihad in Syria. The border towns of Antakya, Reyhanli and Killis are openly used as recreation bases or staging points.
"The Turks say they are putting renewed effort into gripping this," said one senior western official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It is not clear whether this is in response to an event or a cumulative thing."
While the Syrian regime faces strategic defeat in the north, the opposition groups that Turkey has resolutely backed face an equally bleak future should hardline rebel groups hold firm. Many communities – from Idlib in the west to Deir Azzor in the eastern deserts – are now under the rule of extremists, whose goals have little in common with the spirit of the uprising.
"The growing threat from extremists in Syria is underlying international dialogue on finding a political solution," said the western official. "What we don't want is a complete collapse of the state. Preventing a security vacuum should be a key element of the national dialogue around Geneva 2 – and should be at the heart of any deal."
Hezbollah will carry on backing Bashar al-Assad, says leader Nasrallah
Head of Islamic movement in Lebanon justifies troops' presence in Syria as resistance against extremists and Israel
Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, has vowed to keep his forces in Syria as long as necessary to support of the president, Bashar al-Assad.
In a rare public appearance in Beirut's southern suburbs, Nasrallah told supporters on Thursday that Hezbollah was defending Syria which in turn supported "the resistance" against Israel.
"Our presence there is justified," he said as hundreds of thousands of people marked the Shia festival of Ashoura.
Nasrallah usually speaks only via video link for fear of assassination by Israel, but for a second day running he appeared in public flanked by armed bodyguards – likely testimony to the importance of the occasion and to his defiant message.
"We have said on several occasions that the presence of our soldiers on Syrian soil is to defend … Syria, which supports the resistance [against Israel]," AFP quoted him as saying. Hezbollah was defending Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, he said.
Hezbollah has helped turn the tide of the war in Assad's favour this year, leading the recapture of the strategic town of Qusair and fighting alongside government forces south of Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.
Nasrallah flatly rejected the notion that Hezbollah should withdraw from Syria as a condition of forming a new government in Beirut. "We won't bargain our presence in Lebanon, Syria, and the axis of resistance for some ministerial portfolios," Hezbollah's al-Manar TV channel quoted him as saying.
Lebanon has been without a government for seven months because of divisions between Hezbollah and its opponents. The country's former prime minister, the Future Movement leader, Saad Hariri, has refused to drop his demand that the Shia militia withdraws from Syria. Nasrallah called that demand "crippling".
Sectarian tensions have risen in Lebanon as violence has spilled over the border in recent months. Nasrallah's speech on Thursday was made close to the scene of a car bombing that killed 24 people mid-August.
Hezbollah, a long-standing ally of both Iran and Syria, says it is supporting Assad against Takfiris (Sunni extremists) who are targeting Syria's Alawite and Christian minorities. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states have armed and financed both Syrians and foreigners fighting Assad.
In a similar appearance, on Wednesday, Nasrallah accused Israel of being in league with Arab countries to torpedo a possible deal over Iran's nuclear programme.
He said: "Israel does not want any accord that would avert war in the region. It is regrettable that some Arab countries take the Israeli side in its murderous choices. It is regrettable that [the Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is the spokesman for some Arab countries.
"These countries reject any political solution that would stop the bloodbath and destruction in Syria. They also strongly oppose any accord between Iran and the countries of the world. We have two allies – Iran and Syria. We are sure of that alliance."
Early on Friday another of Syria's allies, North Korea, denied claims it was sending military aid including helicopter pilots, advisers and artillery crews to fight for the Assad regime.
The Jerusalem Post reported in October that 15 North Korean helicopter pilots were operating in Syria, citing confirmation by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; while Japanese media reported in August that Turkey had intercepted a shipment of gas masks and small arms from North Korea to Syria.
"Some foreign media are floating misinformation that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] supplied war equipment to Syria, its airmen are directly involved in air raids on insurgent troops in Syria," the North's state-run KCNA news agency said on Thursday.
North Korea has been accused of helping Syria build a suspected plutonium reactor that was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007, and of aiding Syria's chemical weapons programme. The North counts Syria among its few allies.
Indigenous Games in Brazil: 'competition is a thing for the west'
Amazon hosts cultural and athletic event seen as alternative to upcoming sporting extravaganzas of World Cup and Olympics
Felipe Dana of Associated Press in Cuiaba
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 08.36 GMT
Body paint in place of branded sportswear, bare feet instead of hi-tech shoes, and a loose notion of competition that assigns little value to winning: welcome to the 12th Indigenous Games being held in Brazil's Amazon region.
A cultural as much as athletic event, many are calling the games a holistic alternative to the big sporting extravaganzas coming up on Brazil's calendar – the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
"We're not looking to crown champions or find great athletes," said Carlos Terena, the organiser of the games, who, like many indigenous Brazilians, uses his ethnic group's name as his surname. "This isn't about competition, it's about celebration. Competition is more a thing for the western world anyway."
This week, more than 1,500 participants from 48 Brazilian ethnic groups, as well as from more than a dozen other nations, have descended on Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso state, for the games that end on Saturday. All participants will earn medals carved from wood, seeds and other natural items.
The more traditional sports are carried out as exhibitions rather than competitions.
A crowd favourite is the wild tree-trunk relay race, with nine or more stout runners sprinting about 500 metres around a red-dirt arena, taking turns carrying a 100kg chunk of tree on their shoulders. Just getting to the finish line is considered a victory.
Another sport, called xikunahity, resembles football, but with players crawling along the ground, only permitted to use their heads to push the ball forward.
Several groups have exhibited their own forms of fighting, most resembling wrestling or judo. Other events test the real-life skills of indigenous peoples, such as archery, with bare-chested participants confidently carrying simple long bows, putting their toes along a line of palm leaves laid on the ground. About 40 metres away sits their target, the large drawn figure of a smiling fish leaping from the water, with the most points scored for drilling the arrow right into its eye.
"This is the fourth time I'm participating in these games and for me they represent a cultural revival more than anything," said Yakari Kuikuro, who lives on the Xingu river in the Amazon and is part of his ethnic group's tug-of-war team. "Many of my family members stopped painting their bodies, they no longer dance in the villages. When I come here, I see pure Indians, with body paint, dancing together. It's important for others to see this and take it back to their villages."
Chief Willie Littlechild, of the Cree nation and a former member of Canada's parliament, said attending the games was "truly a blessing, to see that such a rich culture exists with indigenous peoples around the world".
For the non-indigenous people there, Littlechild said he hoped the games allowed them "to join us in a celebration of life, to join us in our holistic approach to wellness, to the physical, the mental, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of humans".
The games are held on a 7-hectare park, with large, white, plastic tents dotting the area, each holding tables full of crafts, such as small pottery figures, wooden bowls, woven cloth and delicately carved musical instruments meant to mimic the songs of jungle birds.
Other tables hold the seeds of dozens of types of edible plants. Food security is one of the main themes of this year's event, with ethnic groups from throughout Brazil encouraged to trade seeds and take unknown varieties back to their villages.
Amelia Reina Montero, from the Nahua ethnic group of Mexico who was making her first trip to Brazil, summed up the prevailing mood of the gathering, saying it offered the rare chance for ethnic groups from the Americas, often with limited contact to the outside world, to interact and learn from one another.
"Despite that fact that our languages are different, that our skin varies, we're uniting here with one heart," she said. "That's the Indian way."
Indigenous women in Latin America remain invisible to society, warns UN
Urgent action needed to close 'unacceptable gaps' in access to work and education across Latin America and Caribbean
Dan Collyns in Lima
theguardian.com, Friday 1 November 2013 15.37 GMT
Indigenous women in Latin America continue to face great gaps in access to higher education, health services and employment, although there have been significant educational advances, according to a report by the UN's Economic Commission f or Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac).
The findings were published this week at a conference in Lima, Peru, which brought together more than 180 indigenous women from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australasia, the Pacific and Russia in an array of colourful traditional costumes.
A lack of economic and academic opportunities at home, coupled with growing damage to the environment from mining and other extractive industries, have led women to leave their ancestral territories for urban centres, where they face new struggles, the report said. In Peru, more than half the estimated 3.2 million indigenous women live in cities.
"There are improvements," said the report's author, Fabiana Del Popolo. "In urban centres, for example, the infant mortality is lower, and they have greater access to education and clean water. But the discrimination they face in the cities remains great, and the jobs they obtain are menial and often provide no social protections."
Access to education has improved dramatically for indigenous girls, adolescents and young women in Latin America, the report showed, with data indicating more than 90% of indigenous boys and girls are getting some schooling. In 2000 about half of the girls aged between 12 and 17 were not in the educational system at all.
However, higher education remained out of reach for many, with only Costa Rica making significant advances, doubling the proportion of indigenous women between 18 and 22 in school or university. Years in education was seen to cut the number of children had by indigenous women by up to half.
Despite advances in maternal healthcare in Latin America, data suggested that indigenous women were much more likely to die in childbirth or pregnancy complications. In Peru, where 23% of women are indigenous, the maternal mortality rate in 2009 was 103 per 100,000 births. But the rate in Puno, where the population is mostly indigenous Aymara and Quechua, maternal mortality rose by an additional 45% in 2011.
"The bottom line is indigenous women remain invisible to society," Del Popolo said. "Guaranteeing and respecting the rights of indigenous women and their communities is a prerequisite for addressing these unacceptable gaps in access to health, security, education and rights to land for millions of indigenous women throughout Latin America."
Del Popolo said when indigenous women leave their home territories they risk losing their ethnic identity. Wider society loses out, she added, as the women cannot fulfil their role as protectors of crop diversity.
Myrna Cunningham, a member of the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues at the conference, said: "The analysis covers only Latin America, but we know from accounts of women at this event, as well as from recent surveys, that the problems identified here are universal."
In a declaration, the conference participants called for indigenous women to be a priority at the UN's world conference on indigenous peoples next year.
The declaration also called for nation states to respect "our rights to lands, territories and resources as enshrined … in the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples", adding that "indigenous women are active human rights defenders of all individual and collective human rights of our peoples".
Agnes Williams, clan mother of the Nation of Seneca Indians, part of the Iriquois confederacy in both the US and Canada, told the Guardian that the pollution from extractive industries was the principal threat to their "cultural integrity and sacred relationship with the earth".
Amid the challenges posed by climate change, pollution and loss of territory, many of the women leaders showed they were well-versed with the modern world while maintaining their traditional lifestyles.
The Sami in Norway have three-hour broadcasts in their language on state television, said Gudrun Lindi, maintaining their cultural identity in Europe's wealthiest nation.
Wearing a traditional red hat and blue dress, Lindi said the women in Sami communities were often better educated than the men and had found new ways to deal with problems. "The women have to do it because they are giving birth and they have to protect life and see that there are future generations in our communities," she said.
Ana Samante, a Masai from Kajiado county, Kenya, said she was tackling the issue of women being left out of the decision-making process in village politics through intense lobbying.
The only woman in western Kajiado county with a masters degree, Samante, 32, said educating girls was the best tool to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, which is still common in Masai societies.