Sri Lanka: Cameron pushes for international war crimes inquiry
British prime minister say he will look to UN to investigate claims of civil war abuses if Sri Lanka does not act within four months
Conal Urquhart and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 16 November 2013 10.47 GMT
David Cameron has said he will push for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka if its own government does not conduct an investigations within four months.
The British prime minister has been the most vocal critic of Sri Lanka's record on human rights at the end of its 26-year civil war, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (Chogm) being held in the capital, Colombo.
Cameron said on Saturday: "Let me be very clear. If an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the United Nations human rights council to work with the UN human rights commission and call for a full credible and independent international inquiry."
March is when the commission next meets to assess Sri Lanka's progress on addressing human rights abuses, including allegations of war crimes. In the past the country has refused to allow the UN unrestricted access to the former war zones.
The Sri Lankan army crushed Tamil Tiger separatists in the final battle of a long civil war in 2009, in a strategy partly drawn up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, the defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
About 300,000 civilians were trapped on a narrow beach during the onslaught and a UN panel has estimated that 40,000 non-combatants died. Both sides committed atrocities, but army shelling killed most victims, it concluded.
Since the end of the war, harassment of government critics, including attacks on journalists and human rights workers have continued. A heavy army presence in the former Tamil Tiger strongholds in the north of the country angers some local ethnic Tamils who feel they are treated as enemies of the state.
"Ultimately all of this is about reconciliation," Cameron said at a press conference. "It is about bringing justice and closure and healing to this country which now has a chance of a much brighter future. That will only happen by dealing with these issues and not ignoring them."
The government, run by Rajapaksa and several of his family members, disputes the civilian death toll and says casualties were far lower. It says criticism of its rights record amounts to foreign interference in domestic affairs.
Asked about the possibility of an international inquiry, another of the president's brothers, the economic development minister, Basil Rajapaksa, said: "We are not going to allow, definitely we will object it".
At the Chogm opening ceremony on Friday, the president said he had saved lives by ending the war and that the Commonwealth should not be a punitive organisation dominated by "bilateral agendas".
The Commonwealth includes 53 nations, mostly former British colonies, and is headed by Queen Elizabeth.
Sri Lanka had predicted 37 of the Commonwealth's member nations would attend the summit. In the end, just 26 showed up. The leaders of Canada and Mauritius publicly boycotted the event because of concerns about human rights. India's prime minister stayed away because of pressure from Indian ethnic Tamils.
There have been calls, including from Britain's Labour party, to block Rajapaksa from assuming the chair of the Commonwealth, a largely ceremonial position that Sri Lanka is entitled to hold as the host of the summit. Labour fears the role will allow the president to be involved in the Commonwealth Games to be hosted in Glasgow in 2014.
Government supporters protesting on Colombo's streets accused Britain of neo-colonialism for telling the Rajapaksa government how to behave. The lead editorial in the pro-government newspaper The Island asked whether the hostile diplomacy was not "war by other means".
Since the civil war ended, the government has made rapid progress on rebuilding the war-torn north, especially roads. Elections in the northern province in September resulted in a landslide victory for a Tamil opposition party formerly linked to the Tigers.
In a meeting on Friday, Rajapaksa told Cameron that it was only four years since the war had ended and the country needed more time to overcome its problems.
Sri Lanka's celebrated spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan, who played cricket with Cameron, said the prime minister had been misled about the situation in the north of Sri Lanka.
Muralitharan, a Tamil, said Cameron was underestimating the improvements already made. "My opinion is, there were problems in the last 30 years in those areas. Nobody could move there. In wartime I went with the UN, I saw the place, how it was," he said. "Now I regularly go and I see the place and it is about a 1,000% improvement in facilities.
"Cricket is the main game to narrow the bridge between the people. But facilities-wise, schools are built, roads are built, businesses are started. So many things have happened. It is improving."
Tamils hail David Cameron as 'god' but Sri Lankan president is not a believer
British prime minister meets refugees in first visit by a world leader to Tamil-dominated north since independence in 1948
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 22.12 GMT
The refugees of Sabapathy Pillai believed David Cameron had been sent by God to help them get their land back. A swarm of Jaffna women stormed through a line of military police to plead for his help in finding their missing loved ones.
Yet only a few hours later, the prime minister left a meeting with Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa no closer to securing an investigation into alleged war crimes, or an admission that many Tamils continue to be persecuted.
The prime minister arrived at the Commonwealth summit in Colombo on Thursday night, promising to use his trip to highlight human rights abuses in the host country, following fierce criticism of his decision to attend.
But as world leaders and royalty, including the Prince of Wales, gathered in the capital for their biennial meeting, Cameron first headed to meet victims of Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war and those suffering continuing violence.
An extraordinary 12 hours followed, as the prime minister became the first world leader to travel to the Tamil-dominated north since independence in 1948, before returning to the capital for a planned showdown with Rajapaksa.
According to the UN, as many as 40,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the final months of the regime's conflict with Tamil Tiger separatists. In the four years since then, the Sri Lankan government stands accused of allowing kidnappings, torture and intimidation, leading Canada and India to boycott the summit in protest.
Despite fears within Downing Street that Sri Lanka would find a reason to prevent his trip to the north, a red carpet was rolled out for Cameron as his private plane, operated by a commercial arm of the military, arrived in Jaffna.
The official welcome was shortlived, however, amid a heavy army presence and pro-government protesters bearing placards calling for an inquiry into Britain's colonial crimes.
His first stop was a meeting with CV Vigneswaran, the new Tamil first minister of the northern province, at Jaffna's symbolic library, which was torn down and rebuilt after the civil war.
As he left the building, his car was surrounded by hundreds of Tamil protesters, held back by the military, as they tried to hand him pictures of their missing loved ones. Several were thrown to the ground as they broke through a security cordon to reach him.
The prime minister then travelled to the offices of the newspaper Uthayan, to meet journalists who blame the deaths of six of their colleagues on masked paramilitary gangs sent by the government. One is still missing.
The paper's editor has lived in his office for seven years after attempts on his life, and there have been six attacks on his premises and staff this year.
Cameron toured a printing press destroyed by an arson attack which has left the office with bullet holes in the walls.
He saw the desk where a staff member was murdered in 2006, and was given a copy of a fake propaganda newspaper distributed during recent elections.
Anuraj Sivarajah, online editor of the newspaper, said he was very clear who was to blame for the attacks and arson that has brought the newspaper near financial ruin.
"Those responsible are the government," he said. "It's the paramilitary. The military is still ruling here. The Tamil chief minister has no powers, no land, no control of the police."
He supported Cameron's visit, saying it had helped highlight intimidation of the media, and said the biggest issue for journalists was covert surveillance by the military, often in civilian clothes.
"It's a very big gift for us, his coming," he said. "There are two sides of it. After that they will be afraid to touch us.
"Or the other way around – they just will think, 'We'll show who we are.' Maybe tomorrow they will come."
The prime minister also visited the Sabapathy Pillai refugee camp, described by the government as a "welfare village", where around 150 families have lived in makeshift accommodation since they were displaced in 1990.
Members of the military police were present outside the newspaper and throughout the village, hovering in the background.
Inside the camp, residents were optimistic that Cameron's visit could improve their chances of returning to the fishing settlements they left behind 20 years ago, which have been turned into a military zone.
Suharsha Uthayaswriyan, deputy leader of the site, repeatedly said his people were not angry with the government, but they lived in "bad conditions" and "just want to go back to their lands".
"We do not want to live in a welfare centre, we want to live in our own lands," the 30-year-old said.
"For the past 23 years, people have come to see us but have not taken any action.
"We believe in David Cameron as a god coming down to this part of the land so we believe he can make a difference. He is God and sent by God to us."
However, such high expectations are likely to be disappointed. Downing Street sources conceded that Cameron made little headway with Rajapaksa during an hour-long meeting on Friday evening.
They described the exchange as robust and animated, with Rajapaksa acknowledging problems in his country but arguing that they needed time to be sorted out.
During the encounter, Cameron quoted Winston Churchill, urging the president to show "in victory, magnanimity", and compared the path of reconciliation to the Northern Ireland peace process.
He brought up attacks on Christians and Muslims, the murder of British national Khuram Shaikh, the killing of journalists and seizure of land.
Cameron also mentioned a Channel 4 documentary about atrocities allegedly committed by state forces in the last months of the war, containing images verified by the UN.
However, the president batted away the allegations and suggested that Cameron was using the visit to win favour with the Tamil community in the UK.
Earlier, a Sri Lankan media minister had warned the prime minister he could not treat the country like a colony.
Following his visits, Cameron told television reporters he believed the visit had been worthwhile to highlight the plight of many people suffering in Jaffna.
"The pictures of journalists, shot and killed, on the walls, and hearing stories of journalists who have disappeared long after the war has ended – that will stay with me," he said.
"And the image, in this camp, of talking to a young woman who came here when she was very young – a child in this camp – and wants nothing more than to go to her own home."
Cameron also argued that the Commonwealth had helped bring about elections in the provinces and suggested that he would raise concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka in international forums including the G20 and EU.
This could include pushing for an international investigation into human rights abuses, amid few signs the government will agree to hold an inquiry of its own that would satisfy observers as credible.
He added: "These issues aren't settled in one day or one visit."
China's one-child policy to be relaxed as part of reforms package
'Re-education through labour' policy and increased mobility for rural population also among new Communist party plans
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 17.55 GMT
China has revealed a range of substantial reforms that will affect tens of millions of people, including loosening its one-child policy and abolishing its controversial labour camps.
Chinese state media revealed the reforms on Friday night in a 22,000-word report detailing the results of the third plenum, a closed-door annual meeting of about 400 top party leaders, that has historically been used as a launching pad for substantial reforms. Plenums in 1978 and 1993 laid the foundations for China's current economic model, a combination of market capitalism and tight political control.
Couples in which one member is an only child will be allowed to have two children, China's state newswire Xinhua reported , citing the results of the plenumwhich ended in Beijing on Tuesday. While most people in China are still only allowed to have one child, some groups, including ethnic minorities, disabled people, and couples in which both members are only children, are allowed to have two.
According to the document, the Communist party also plans to scrap its extrajudicial "re-education through labour" detention system, improve social welfare programs, and ease migration restrictions for the tens of millions of rural residents attempting to put down roots in cities. Details of the reforms and timelines for their implementation are still unclear.
The party established its re-education through labour system in 1957 at the height of Maoist fervour to expediently dispatch "counter-revolutionaries". More recently, local authorities have used it to clear their streets of petty criminals, such as thieves and prostitutes, without the burden of due process. Other common targets include political dissidents and members of banned religious groups.
Sentences may last up to four years, and conditions in prison are often described as brutal – prisoners are crammed into tiny cells, deprived of adequate sustenance, and sometimes tortured. Despite an absence of official statistics, human rights groups say that the number of detainees could range from nearly 200,000 to millions.
"Because re-education through labour was so closely associated with political persecution, because conditions in the camps are so horrific, and because there have been decades of pressure for China to abandon this system, we should take this as a positive step," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"But I think the caveat is that we don't know whether or not China intends to establish a new system of administrative detention – that is, a system of deprivation of liberty without the benefits of a trial."
The report also pledged to "accelerate" reform of the hukou system, essentially a bureaucratic knot tying hundreds of millions of migrant workers to their rural hometowns. "The country will relax overall control over farmers settling in towns and small cities, and relax restrictions on settling in medium-sized cities in an orderly manner," Xinhua reported.
Critics have called the controversial one-child policy, introduced in 1979 to keep population growth in check, outdated and cruel. In the cities, it has created a demographic crunch, catching second-generation only-children in a financial bind as they struggle to support two parents and four grandparents. In the countryside, it has fuelled a rise in sex-selective abortions, as many rural families prefer boys to girls, and a host of human rights violations – abductions, forced abortions, extralegal detentions – as family planning authorities use extreme measures to keep birth rates low.
Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said that the government's unwillingness to abolish the policy altogether suggests that it is most concerned with its economic costs. "Until now, the growth of the Chinese economy has been propelled by a demographic surplus, and that has been turning into a demographic deficit," he said. "The only way you can address the human rights abuses is to end the system entirely."
"I think this is good news – one child is too lonely. I have a brother and I was happy as a little girl even though our family was poor," said Hu Hongling, a 33-year-old woman from the rural Anhui province who lives in Beijing with her husband. "My husband is an only child and he sometimes feels lonely. It's difficult for him to make friends." Hu is currently planning to have her first child; she hopes someday to have two.
However, the policy's relaxation is unlikely to lead to a population boom. Many urbanites, already burdened by rocketing education and housing costs, consider multiple children an exclusive province of the rich. Zhang Xin, a 39-year-old media worker in Beijing, is newly eligible to have two children – he is an only child, his wife has siblings, and they already have a seven-year-old son. Yet "the new policy doesn't make a big difference for me," he said. "I don't think we could afford another child, in terms of time and financial pressure."
The plenum report detailed a number of less dramatic reforms, including promises to explore ways of setting up an intellectual property court, reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, and "build a more impartial, sustainable social security system, with an improved housing guarantee mechanism".
It was also laced with a number of contradictions. While officials promised to ensure "independent, fair use of judicial authority" and uphold the country's constitution – which promises freedom of assembly and freedom of speech – they also pledged to "strengthen public opinion guidance and crack down on internet crimes," suggesting that media and internet censorship policies will remain in place.
"We do know that rule of law has become more of a rhetorical constant in Chinese language, and speaks to things that China finds important, for example, internationalisation," said Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese studies at Oxford University. "If you can show genuine progress in fields such as criminal law, that will give you more credibility in other areas, such as international finance."
He added: "It's obvious but worth saying that this is, yet again, the party making it clear that it is in no way going to relax its grip on power. It doesn't suggest the greater liberalisation or pluralisation of politics."
Additional reporting by Cecily Huang
Japan under fire for scaling back plans to cut greenhouse gases
UN climate talks in Warsaw face setback as U-turn on emissions angers developing countries in shadow of typhoon Haiyan
John Vidal in Warsaw and Terry Macalister
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 12.05 GMT
The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, were faced with a new crisis on Friday, after Japan, the world's fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, slashed its plans to reduce emissions from 25% to just 3.8% on 2005 figures.
The move was immediately criticised as "irresponsible" and "unambitious" by developing countries and climate groups at the talks.
In a statement, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 44 low-lying island and coastal nations that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, said: "[We] are extremely concerned that the announcement represents a huge step backwards in the global effort to hold warming below the essential 1.5-2 degrees celsius threshold, and puts our populations at great risk.
"This is neither the time nor the place to be backtracking on commitments. Developed countries have committed to taking the lead and must do so as we work to peak global emissions this decade and ink a new global agreement in 2015.
"We are also aware that the crisis now unfolding in the Philippines in the wake of typhoon Haiyan, which has also caused significant damage for our members in Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, is just the latest in a series of climate-related extreme weather catastrophes."
Britain's energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, called the decision "deeply disappointing" and at odds with the need to tackle global warming.
He was still hopeful that the UK and other members of the G8 leading economies could encourage Tokyo to change its mind.
"It is deeply disappointing that the Japanese government has taken this decision to significantly revise down its 2020 emissions target. This announcement runs counter to the broader political commitment to tackle climate change, recently reaffirmed by G8, as well as the enhanced ambition we have seen from the world's major emitters," he argued in unusually robust terms.
"Yet I believe we can persuade Japan to change her mind again, to resume her leadership role in the world on climate change. Despite the challenges, if the public backs the government it can invest in low carbon electricity," he added.
However, Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC exective secretary, said she "understood" the problems that Japan faced following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which had forced the country to close 50 nuclear power plants.
"I do have some understanding that Japan has been hit by several catstrophes in the past few years. My hope is that Japan understands that investment in renewable energies galvanises investments and creates new jobs," Figueres said.
"This move by Japan could have a devastating impact on the tone of discussion here in Warsaw," said Naoyuki Yamagishi, WWF Japan's climate ands enrgy group leader at the talks. "This decision is a gross negligence of its responsibility and should be revised in line with the level that science and justice requires."
As compensation, Japan said that its public and private sectors intended to raise $16bn (£9.9bn) by 2015 to help developing countries reduce their emissions, with the intention of helping others to reduce the emissions that it could not.
The aid package is thought to include supplying developing countries with "green" technologies developed by Japanese firms, including offshore wind turbines, fuel-cell vehicles and high-tech housing insulation. No figures were given on the scale of the emission cuts that the package might achieve.
"The new target is based on zero nuclear power in the future. We have to lower our ambition level," said Hiroshi Minami, Japan's chief negotiator.
The talks in Poland, at which 190 countries are meeting to try to agree additional action to put the world on course to avoid dangerous climate change, have been overshadowed by typhoon Haiyan, which has increased the determination of developing countries to negotiate compensation for climate damage done in the past.
The Japanese announcement follows open criticism by Australia and Canada of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their countries, and reluctance from the US and Europe to aim for more ambitious emissions cuts.
Oxfam's climate change spokesperson, Kelly Dent, said: "Japan's dramatic U-turn on its emissions target commitments is a slap in the face for poor countries who are right now struggling to cope with changes to their climate, and who will face yet more extreme and unpredictable weather in the future."
She added: "As one of the world's largest Co2 emitters, Japan has a responsibility to help lead the world in reducing emissions to ensure temperatures are kept at a safe level below 1.5 degrees celsius. Instead, their actions may well further erode trust in current negotiations which must deliver a global climate deal in 2015."
November 15, 2013
Death After the Typhoon: ‘It Was Preventable’
By KEITH BRADSHER
TACLOBAN, the Philippines — Richard Pulga lay on a hard steel gurney for five days with only a saline drip after being seriously injured in the typhoon that devastated his country.
On Friday, Mr. Pulga, 27, died — essentially of a broken leg.
Doctors said the father of two small children could have been saved. Instead, he became a victim of the incompetence and inaction that have plagued relief efforts here for the hundreds of thousands left injured, or homeless or hungry, and sometimes all three, since the typhoon hit.
By the time Dr. Rodel Flores, a surgeon with a team of visiting doctors, found Mr. Pulga on Thursday, he had received no antibiotics or antiseptic and his leg was badly infected. The doctor ordered an emergency amputation to try to save his life. But the surgery was too late, and death soon followed.
“In short,” Dr. Flores said, “it was preventable.”
Mr. Pulga was one of the first victims of Typhoon Haiyan to be brought to the top government hospital in the city. He was there because he had tried to protect his home, sending his family to a safer place as some of the highest typhoon winds ever recorded slammed into his island. Those winds sent a coconut rocketing through the darkness into his leg, shattering it.
His death is one of the clearest signs yet of the human toll taken by a slow and troubled relief effort since the typhoon swept ashore on Nov. 8. Like much-needed water and food, medicine — including antibiotics — was held up for days as rescue teams struggled to operate amid the chaos of a city with too few military or police officers to provide security and too little government control.
Aid workers huddled for days at the airport, unable to obtain vehicles or fuel and fearful of venturing out amid reports of sporadic gunfire as desperate people nearly hijacked one convoy approaching Tacloban, which turned back. Some of those workers have since said the inadequate government response has made this disaster more difficult in some ways than such historic catastrophes as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
By Friday, a full week into the disaster, aid had finally begun to flow more smoothly, in part because of help from better-equipped foreign militaries. Field hospitals had begun to be set up, but as with the Indian Ocean disaster, aid workers worried that infections from lacerations would claim many more lives.
For Mr. Pulga’s family, the loss is catastrophic. A farmer, Mr. Pulga was one of the few men in his extended family able to earn money. In his final days, as he spoke with a reporter from The New York Times, it was that thought that consumed him.
On Friday, his widow, Marycris, wept next to his covered corpse in a hallway at St. Paul’s Hospital here, a private hospital the surgeons transferred him to in the last-ditch effort to save him.
After initially being too traumatized to visit, she had arrived in time for his surgery.
“I want to bring him home,” she said Friday, “but we have no home left.”
Mr. Pulga arrived at the first hospital, Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, shortly after the storm swept through.
The hospital had been partly swamped with seawater, losing electricity and most of its medical supplies. In his time there, Mr. Pulga received virtually no care.
When his wound began leaking blood during the interview on Wednesday, two workers in orange Philippines Department of Health vests removed the blood-caked, four-day-old bandage, showed the wound briefly to a government doctor, then secured the same bandage with gauze to stop the bleeding.
The hospital was running low on antiseptics, antibiotics and painkillers; Mr. Pulga received none. It was unclear why the hospital’s triage team did not make him a higher priority.
Luminada Florendo, Mr. Pulga’s aunt, said on Wednesday that a doctor had suggested she take him home because she had no money for the treatment he would need; the doctor left before he could be interviewed.
When the visiting medical team from Davao in the southern Philippines showed up a day later, the doctors concluded that Mr. Pulga was the sickest person in the hospital and ordered that he be transferred to St. Paul’s. Dr. Mauri Bravo III, one of the surgeons who performed the amputation, said the wound had a distinctive fruity smell of infection. Mr. Pulga’s eyes were turning yellow, and his abdomen was distended. Doctors found no sign of lower-back injury, another possible cause of abdominal pain.
Virginia Ausa, a nurse at Eastern Visayas Regional, said that no one there had been aware that Mr. Pulga had been interviewed by an international news organization and that he had not been singled out for special treatment for this reason by the Davao team. Dr. Flores said the same.
As the doctors prepared Mr. Pulga for surgery on Thursday, it became clear that he was suffering from septicemia and that his body’s ability to produce red blood cells was dwindling.
But on Friday his body began to shut down, partly because the hospital’s blood bank had been destroyed, so he could not receive a needed transfusion before surgery. By late morning, he was dead.
Dr. Flores said the bill for his care would most likely be covered by the Philippines Department of Health.
When told the story of Mr. Pulga’s final days, Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez — who has been widely accused by residents of mounting an insufficient relief response — was quick to deflect criticism, saying Eastern Visayas Regional has long been “a problem.”
Dr. Albert de Leon, the hospital’s chief administrator, said malnutrition and other unsuspected weaknesses in people like Mr. Pulga sometimes made them hard to save. “There is a supreme being who decides the fate of every one of us,” he said.
When told of Mr. Romualdez’s criticisms, Dr. de Leon launched into such an angry outburst that another doctor rushed over to calm him. Dr. de Leon said that his hospital was an excellent teaching and research institution and that the mayor should do much more to organize typhoon relief.
“We are in his city, and yet he is not doing that — even the garbage disposal, he doesn’t do anything,” Dr. de Leon raged in a hospital corridor that was growing dark at sunset and still had no electricity.
At St. Paul’s Hospital, a security guard told Mr. Pulga’s wife that her husband’s body would have to be buried in a mass grave if she could not remove it. She had no vehicle to transport it and sobbed for more than an hour, refusing to make a decision.
Dr. Flores and Dr. Bravo gave a lengthy interview in the hospital parking lot about Mr. Pulga’s last days. Dr. Bravo then went upstairs to the steel bed where Mr. Pulga’s body had been.
It was empty. No one seemed to know where the corpse or the bereaved had gone.
November 15, 2013
Relief Proceeds Slowly in Philippines, Where a Death Toll Remains Unclear
By KEITH BRADSHER and AUSTIN RAMZY
TANAUAN, the Philippines — For Teoderico Canales and her family, survival after Typhoon Haiyan has literally meant living in a pigsty. Their only water comes from a pump next to a small river where many people drowned.
Fast-moving walls of seawater gutted the ground floors of houses here as the storm surge reached the ceilings. Powerful winds shattered practically every upstairs window and tore away roofs, sending them flying through the night.
With no better options, Mrs. Canales has covered the pigsty with a large blue and red tarpaulin. The pigsty, a rectangular area about nine feet by five feet and ringed with crude concrete walls about three feet high, is the temporary home for Mrs. Canales, her husband and her five children.
“It is so shameful: It is only for one pig normally, and now it is occupied by seven people — it is so difficult,” she said, cradling her youngest, a 17-month-old girl named Hanna.
While the typhoon’s one-two punch of wind and storm surge hit outlying towns like Tanauan with as much force as it did Tacloban, some of the smaller communities seem to be faring better, at least here to the south of the city. Tacloban descended into violence for nearly a week after the typhoon, but in other towns here in the east-central Philippines, people seemed more likely to band together than point guns at one another.
Mayor Matin Petilla of Palo said that after the typhoon, she ordered the establishment of police checkpoints with the town’s three neighbors — Tacloban to the north, Tanauan to the south and Santa Fe to the west. She told the police to focus on preventing the looting in Tacloban from spreading into her town.
Tacloban might have been hit hardest by the typhoon. But mile after mile of homes and businesses in towns and villages up and down the east-central coast of the Philippines were destroyed as well.
Cross the city line from Tacloban to Palo and the difference is quickly apparent. Bloated, discolored corpses still lie along the sides of the road in Tacloban, but are nowhere to be seen in Palo or in the next town to the south, Tanauan.
Both have confirmed typhoon-related death rates, as a share of their population, higher than Tacloban’s. But they have been able to bury at least the visible corpses, although more remain under huge piles of building debris. Sporadic looting, residents and officials said, has been limited more to grocery stores and pharmacies than in Tacloban, where appliance and furniture stores and the homes of the affluent were targeted.
The relief effort in Tacloban proceeded slowly, as did the effort to collect and identify bodies. The mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, said Friday that the city had 801 confirmed dead. He apologized for repeated errors in Tacloban fatalities reported earlier. On Thursday the city’s official notice board said 2,000 deaths had been confirmed, which was doubled to 4,000 early Friday, and the mayor said both figures were wrong.
The United Nations has also had trouble reporting on the total death toll, with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting 3,600 deaths on Friday, a day after saying there had been 4,460. John Ging, the office’s operations director, apologized Friday for the discrepancy, saying the higher number had been an estimate, not a count of actual confirmed deaths.
At a news briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York, Mr. Ging and Ted Chaiban, the director of emergency programs at Unicef, said 13 million people had been affected by the typhoon, including five million children. They said the pace of emergency aid arrival was steadily improving.
“Over all, it’s clear that much more needs to be done,” Mr. Chaiban said. “But it’s also clear that we’re starting to open up the logjam. And I think we can say we’re beginning to turn the corner.”
In Tacloban, the dead are being taken to a mass grave in a public cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Romualdez said just 10 percent to 15 percent of the dead had been identified.
He said the delivery of the first cycle of food packets, which are supposed to be six pounds of rice and some canned goods for each family, was expected to be completed Friday.
Some stalls have begun to sell fresh meat, and two or three gas stations have opened in Tacloban, which had a population of 235,000 before the storm. Mr. Romualdez estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent of the population had since left.
Mr. Romualdez reacted sharply at a news conference Friday to a question portraying the rescue effort as chaotic. “There’s no disarray in the coordination,” he said. “There are problems in resources. We lack resources. There’s no problem in coordination.”
In Tanauan, there are already 1,200 confirmed dead and almost 2,000 missing out of a population of almost 50,000, Tita Cavite, the municipal treasurer, said as she directed relief operations at City Hall. Fewer than 100 missing people have been found in the past week, raising fears about the fate of the rest, she said.
A visibly poorer town than Palo or Tacloban even before the typhoon, Tanauan had been able to send emergency food rations to 22 of its 54 neighborhoods.
“Our priority need is to create shelter” because so many are homeless, Mrs. Cavite said. “We want an engineering brigade to clear the roads.”
In Palo, there are 815 dead out of 62,727 people. Reliable figures for the missing are still being compiled, but they appear to be much lower than those for the dead. Ms. Petilla, the mayor, said the death toll would rise as marshy areas where bodies were washed in by the storm surge gradually drained or dried out, and as destroyed homes were removed.
The town looks as if a tornado hit it, with trees snapped off a dozen feet above the ground and the tops of buildings torn away.
Ms. Petilla said that quick local government action, like the deployment of police officers to warehouses and stores as well as to the border with Tacloban, had helped stabilize the town. “We were isolated,” she said. “No people could come in or out of town, so we were on our own.”
But in the days that followed, Palo may have benefited from a personal connection at the national level: Ms. Petilla’s son, Jericho, is the secretary of energy for the Philippines. “Palo is well taken care of,” Ms. Petilla said. “I can get more aid; I have a direct line to the center.”
By contrast, Mr. Romualdez is a nephew of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, and the Marcos and Romualdez clans are clearly in the national political opposition.
In destitute Tanauan, conditions are somewhat grimmer than in Palo, although still more peaceful than in Tacloban. Mrs. Canales said the pigsty was to some extent washed out by the storm surge, but still had to be scrubbed. She said that she had received only a single family food ration consisting of 4.4 pounds of rice and canned sardines.
She was nervous about her family’s drinking water from the nearby pump, but said there was no clean water. “We’re forced to drink it or we would die of thirst,” she said.
The family survived the storm by going to an evacuation center in a gym and holding the younger children up in the deep water to save their lives. “I was so scared, and I don’t know how to swim,” said Madelyn Canales, 6, who has developed a low-grade fever. “Now, whenever I hear the sound of rain, I get scared.”
Keith Bradsher reported from Tanauan and Palo, the Philippines, and Austin Ramzy from Tacloban, the Philippines. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 15, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a southern island in the Philippines. It is Mindanao, not Mindano.
Libyan militiamen kill protesters in Tripoli
People demonstrating against militia shot at while approaching headquarters of group in country's capital
Associated Press in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 21.19 GMT
Libyan militia attacked white-flag-carrying protesters demanding the disbanding of the country's rampant armed groups on Friday, killing at least 31 people as they opened fire on the march with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan blamed the protesters and the militia alike for the violence, though witnesses said they saw no protesters carrying weapons before the shooting on Friday afternoon. By Friday night, however, some protesters joined by other militias had armed themselves and heavy gunfire rang out in the Tripoli neighbourhood where the attack happened.
The march in the capital by thousands of protesters was the biggest show of public anger at militias in months. Since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi, hundreds of militias – many of them on government payroll – have run out of control in Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks.
The protesters marched from a central mosque to the headquarters of a militia originally from the city of Misrata that has a powerful presence in Tripoli. They waved Libyan and white flags and chanted, "We want an army, we want police," referring to demands that the country's weak security forces take the place of militias.
When they neared the building, militiamen in civilian clothes and military uniforms came out of the headquarters, opening fire at the protesters with automatic weapons, RPGs and anti-aircraft guns. Protesters ran from gunfire while carrying others covered in blood.
Libya's state television put the death toll at 31, with 235 people wounded.
Witnesses all said the protesters carried no weapons. Al-Taher Basha Agha, commander of Misrata-based militia, told Libya's private al-Ahrar television station that the protesters were armed and opened fire first.
Asked if he would leave Tripoli, the commander said that his men will leave only "dead bodies".
"Tripoli has not seen a war yet, it will see it soon," he said.
Zeidan also blamed both protesters and the militiamen for the violence in a televised news conference.
"You can't open fire at people who are exchanging fire," Zeidan said.
Protesters said they were shocked by the prime minister's comments, pointing to an image of a bleeding elderly man shared on social media.
"This is delusional," protester Abdel-Karim al-Beriki said. "The first martyr was a man in his seventies. How could he be carrying a weapon?"
Libya's militias grew out of the informally created local brigades of rebels who battled Gaddafi's military. Since his fall and death, the militias have mushroomed in number, size and power. With the army and police still weak, the government has turned to militias to keep security, giving them tasks guarding facilities or districts. But the government pay has not put them under state control, and the armed groups – some of which include Islamic militants – act on their own agendas. Many of them were engaged in kidnappings, torture, assassinations and taking the law into their own hands.
The government has put a December deadline on groups to join state security forces or face losing their government paychecks though it is not clear if the government will carry out the threat, since it could spark a powerful backlash. It has made similar threats in the past.
Many militias have turned villas and residential compounds of former Gaddafi-era officials into camps where they stash weapons and impose control over certain areas. Eastern militias also have seized control of oil exporting terminals, sending production plunging from 1.4m barrels a day to around few hundred thousand, robbing the country of its main revenue source.
Friday's march was prompted by a string of incidents involving militias most recently, street clashes between the Misrata militia and one from Tripoli. The fight was sparked by the killing of one of the Misrata group's commanders, and the gun battles in the street panicked residents.
Al-Sadat al-Badri, the head of Tripoli's city council, called for three-day mourning in the capital while urging residents for "self-restraint."
The reaction was reminiscent of a similar scene last year in the eastern city of Benghazi, where thousands of protesters besieged headquarters of Islamic militias, forcing them to flee and clashed with others where dozens were killed. The protests came days after the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in a deadly attack on an American mission in Benghazi.
On Friday, the US state department said it had been quietly offering rewards since January of up to $10m for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any person involved in the Benghazi attack.
US publicises $10m reward over Benghazi attack
State department reveals reward for information on killing of ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Libya
theguardian.com, Saturday 16 November 2013 11.45 GMT
The US government has offered a $10m (£6.2m) reward for information on the death in Libya last year of its ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The state department said the reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone involved in the terrorist attack in Benghazi had been on offer since January but had not been publicised.
The men died on 11 September when militants, believed to have ties to al-Qaida affiliates, attacked a US diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex in the eastern city of Benghazi on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.
The deaths triggered political warfare on Capitol Hill, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama's administration of telling shifting stories about who was behind the attacks. Democrats accused Republicans of politicising a tragedy.
The state department said the secretary of state, John Kerry, had confirmed that the US government had offered the reward – part of the department's "rewards for justice" programme – in a letter to legislators on Friday.
Kerry disclosed the reward in a letter to Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican who chairs the House of Representatives homeland security committee and who had written to the secretary of state asking why the state department had not offered one.
The state department said in a statement that the reward had not been publicly advertised due to "security issues and sensitivities surrounding the investigation".
Gambia severs diplomatic ties with Taiwan
Surprise move comes amid inexorable rise of China's influence in Africa, and leaves only 22 countries recognising Taiwan
David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 14.12 GMT
Gambia has become the latest African country to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in what appears to be a sign of China's irresistible influence on the continent.
The decision means that only 22 countries in the world now recognise Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory. They are mostly small and struggling economies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the south Pacific.
Gambia's surprise move was apparently a personal decision by President Yahya Jammeh, one of Africa's most autocratic and idiosyncratic rulers, who last month also announced that Gambia had quit the Commonwealth.
Jammeh's office said: "This decision has been taken in our strategic national interest. We are proud that we have been a very strong and reliable partner of the Republic of China [Taiwan] for the past 18 years, the results of which are there for every Taiwanese to see."
The statement added: "Despite the end of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, we will still remain friends with the people of Taiwan."
Taiwan expressed dismay at the announcement. "Our government express shock and regret that Gambian president Yahya Jammeh sent a letter to our embassy in Gambia on 14 November to inform us [of] the immediate termination of ties," THE vice-foreign minister, Simon Ko, said in Taipei. "We think this is Jammeh's personal decision."
China's foreign ministry said it had no contact with authorities in Gambia and declined to say if it had now established formal ties with the west African state. Spokesman Hong Lei told a press conference: "We learned about this from the foreign media. China has had no contact with Gambia ahead of this."
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the communists won China's civil war in 1949. The nationalists fled across a 110 mile-wide strait to Taiwan. The two sides then competed hard to win diplomatic allies, frequently offering monetary incentives. China still insists that Taiwan has no right to recognition but there has been an unofficial diplomatic truce since the signing of trade and economic agreements in 2008.
Most African countries recognised the Taipei government initially but their number has steadily shrunk and the continent has seen massive Chinese investment. Five years ago, Malawi announced that it had switched allegiance to Beijing, reportedly after being offered several billions dollars in aid as an incentive. Since then Chinese contractors have built Malawi's parliament building, national conference centre, presidential villas, school and university buildings, a five-star hotel and miles of road.
Swaziland, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Burkina Faso are Taiwan's only remaining diplomatic allies in Africa. But São Tomé and Príncipe announced this week that China planned to open a trade mission to promote projects there, though they did not indicate whether this would affect diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Swaziland, however, continues to hold out despite the potential cost to its desperately weak economy. A recent report by the UK's Chatham House commented: "Swaziland's long-standing ties with Taiwan are likely to continue, preventing the emergence of closer relations with China and the investment this could bring."
Other countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan include the tiny Pacific island states of Nauru and Palau, as well as the Vatican City, Paraguay, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua and Belize.
Zhang Zhexin, who studies Taiwan policy at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Beijing would deal with Gambia in a low-key way to avoid upsetting Taiwan. "We won't take the initiative to spread this news around," he told Reuters. "This has nothing to do with cross-strait ties. Gambia has its own development needs."
Gambia quits the Commonwealth
Announcement on west African nation's state television channel does not explain reason for decision
Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013
Gambia has withdrawn from the Commonwealth, a collection of 54 nations made up largely of former British colonies, saying it will "never be a member of any neo-colonial institution".
In an unexpected announcement broadcast by the west African nation on state television on Wednesday it was not immediately clear what prompted the decision to leave the Commonwealth, which is headed by the Queen.
"The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism," the statement said.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret the Gambia or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth."
The Gambia joined the Commonwealth in 1965, when it gained independence from Britain. Although it remains a major tourist destination for British and other foreign holidaymakers, it has long had a troubled political relationship with its former colonial master.
The UK condemned the decision by the Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh – who seized power in a 1994 coup and who is one of Africa's longest-running and least democratic rulers – to execute nine death row prisoners, including one woman, without warning.
"I am deeply concerned over reports that nine prisoners on death row in The Gambia have been executed following comments by President Jammeh that all death row prisoners would now be executed," said foreign office minister Alistair Burt in a statement at the time.
The Gambia's decision to leave the traditionally English-speaking Commonwealth comes as Francophone African nations have expressed interest in joining the grouping. Former Belgian colony Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009, while Gabon, a former French colony and key ally to France in Africa, sparked rumours it could follow suit when it announced it would introduce English as its second language.
The Gambian government did not give a reason for the decision to leave the Commonwealth. However, it comes amid a greater emphasis by Britain on human rights and increasing pressure to promote equality based on sexuality.
Jammeh on the other hand has been highly vocal in his condemnation of homosexuality, and last week gave a speech at the United Nations calling it a threat to human existence.
The UK ceased bilateral aid to the Gambia in 2011, but still gives roughly £8m per year to the country through multilateral donations to agencies.
Venezuelans muse on economic woes that make milk scarce but fridges a steal
Only high oil prices keep currency and price controls going but black market and corruption are raising pressure on Maduro
Virginia López in Caracas
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 20.21 GMT
A man moves a fridge he bought in Caracas after President Maduro took over shops to ease shortages
A Venezuelan moves a fridge he has just bought in Caracas after President Nicolas Maduro took over shops to ease shortages of goods. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP
On the long commute home, Andrea Becerra often gets held up. Long tailbacks in the Venezuelan capital can quickly be aggravated by protesters angry about pensions or security. But this week there was a different kind of delay: dozens of illegally parked cars jammed the traffic outside an electronics shop. Inside, people were buying knockdown goods as if their lives depended on it.
"Living here is like a cartoon," Becerra says. "Most of us can't find milk to drink, let alone to produce, and the president's best plan is to lower the prices of TVs."
She was referring to president Nicolás Maduro's recent moves to get shopkeepers to slash their prices. Maduro has spoken of jailing retailers, criticising the "speculation and usury" that he blames for Venezuela's economic woes.
But concerns are mounting that his actions are just treating the symptoms, not the causes of Venezuela's sudden financial lurch, and that although it might give his citizens a nice cheap early Christmas, the new year hangover threatens to be painful.
"It's a slap in the face to be told this is socialism and to see the government hand out electronics while most of us struggle to find food. There is no long-term plan," said Becerra.
Venezuela's economic wobble stems from strict currency and price controls imposed by the former president Hugo Chávez. Despite years of high oil prices, the distortions that these have caused in the economy have led to shortages, difficulties for local industries that are not oil-related and a flourishing black market laced with corruption.
The tell-tale signs of distress are multiplying. Queues outside grocery stores proliferate. Absurdly, the shops lack local staples – sugar, milk, flour – but are well stocked with subsidised imports such as single-malt whisky and Italian panettone. The black market rate for dollars has soared to 10 times the official rate. Inflation has rocketed to 54%, an all-time high. Capital continues to flee the country. More and more Venezuelans are watching their salary and life savings eroded. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, warned last month that Venezuela was undergoing economic stress and would have to make some difficult policy decisions soon because it was running down its currency reserves.
"This is a balance-of-payments crisis in slow motion," said Alejandro Grisanti, a Barclays economist. "It's impossible for hard currency to flow to the productive sector of the economy. He added that most went on dummy companies and state-subsidised imports.
President Maduro has blamed the country's economic disaster on "economic warfare" waged by an opposition seeking to destabilise his government. For now, his populist move to bring prices down has found favour. For many people, buying a refrigerator or a wide-screen TV was a distant dream that Maduro has now made possible.
"This was long overdue," said Ivonne Mendoza, 37, a teacher. "Importers get cheap dollars but charge as if they didn't. I don't get it, but I also don't get why after 10 years of abuse the government kept giving them money."
For Maduro, the decision to increase controls, which comes a month before municipal elections that could amount to a referendum on his presidency, is a counter-offensive to his enemies' attempts to oust him. Maduro has insisted he will remain in power despite the efforts of a "parasitic bourgeoisie" to bleed the country dry.
According to some analysts, these price-busting efforts might help Maduro politically but will do little to solve the economy's structural problems.
"These have been politically motivated moves. [Among supporters] the common perception has been that Maduro is finally governing. That somehow, he is punishing the evil speculators and accompanying the people in their plight," said Luís Vicente León, a pollster and director of Datanalisis. "But the effects for the economy, come January, will be dire. No one will restock inventories."
One liquor-shop owner who preferred to be named simply as David explained the problem for businesspeople, retailers, importers – anyone who is uncertain whether they will be able to get dollars at the cheap official rate from the state Cadivi agency, or the prohibitively costly black market rate.
"If you bring in a bottle of Grey Goose vodka at the official rate you can sell the cheapest vodka in the world, but if you are having to pay black market rate you get the most expensive," David said.
"I buy from distributors who haven't gotten [central bank] dollars in four years. They are in debt with their providers and have logically lost their line of credit." A bottle of high-end vodka in his shop sells for approximately $222 (£134) at the official rate, or $21 on the black market. The same bottle sells for $28 in the US.
Maduro has acknowledged that there is corruption behind the currency controls. He has declared war on the parallel market, which includes shutting down 70 web pages that report the daily rates, but has failed to outline any plan to lift the controls.
On Thursday, Maduro announced the arrest of more than 100 "bourgeois" businessmen in the crackdown on alleged price-gouging. "They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!" Maduro said in a televised speech. "We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment."
"It's time to deepen the offensive, go to the bone in this economic war," he said.
Maduro said the forced price cuts should lead to negative inflation of 15% in November and 50% in December – forecasts that brought immediate mockery from critics on Twitter.
A decade of ever-increasing margins between the two currencies has meant that those with access to state dollars have made large fortunes. For many this has discouraged local production and has bred rampant corruption, from importers who overprice, to government officials getting a cut of the approved quota, and even one unnamed motorcar racer who got more than $60m for "sports activities" abroad.
"Cadivi is the best business in town. I have made up to $35,000 a month on a $250,000 transaction", says a small-time black market dealer of the margins in his line of work. "People – and companies – here make a lot of money but they want to take it out [to offshore accounts].If the government doesn't approve your quota, you go to the black market. You lose some money but at least you got it out."
For the pollster Luís Vicente León, a terminal crisis or a social explosion is unlikely as long as oil prices remain high, but the hard-hit economy will continue to keep Becerra and many more up at night. "We might see an economy of war with few shops opened and more people buying food off trucks instead of stores."
In the USA...United Surveillance Amercia
Health insurers bemoan Obamacare 'fix' as adding confusion to rollout
President meets top insurers a day after announcing they could continue offering policies that fall short of new standards
Dominic Rushe and Amanda Holpuch in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 18.06 GMT
President Barack Obama was meeting top health insurers on Friday amid mounting concerns that the “fix” for his landmark health insurance plan had succeeded only in sowing more confusion.
The chief executives of insurance giants including Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Wellpoint met Obama and senior aides a day after the president responded to a backlash over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by announcing that insurers could continue offering policies that fall short of new standards for coverage.
After millions of people with sub-standard plans started receiving cancellation notices, Obama admitted on Thursday he had “fumbled” the rollout of the healthcare reforms. The White House said insurers would be able to offer policyholders an extra year on plans that did not meet the ACA’s minimum standards. Previously people had until 15 December to find new policies that would cover them from the start of next year.
Insurers and state regulators are split on the move but all seem to agree that Obama’s volte face has further complicated the already troubled rollout. In a statement Aetna said: “We support efforts to allow people to keep what they have. However, we will need co-operation and expedited approval from state regulators to remove barriers that would make it difficult to make this change in such a short period of time. State regulators will need to allow us to update our policies and secure appropriate rates so we can get these plans back in the market.”
Insurers and some state officials are worried that the latest changes will further destabilise the implementation of Obamacare. In particular they worry that young people, who were the most likely to buy the cheap policies that do not meet the ACA’s standards, will have even less incentive to join the healthcare exchanges which are the centrepiece of the ACA.
The healthcare exchanges are an online marketplace where consumers can shop for health insurance. All 50 states will have their own marketplaces, some of which will be run by the federal government and some by individual states. If young, healthy people do not join the exchanges do not join, the pooled “risk” insured by the exchanges will rise and so will premiums.
“The entire underlying premise of the ACA – balancing costs of the young, old, sick and healthy – has been left adrift with this announcement,” said California Association of Health Plans president and CEO Patrick Johnston.
Jim Donelon, Louisiana’s insurance regulator and the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said: “This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond.”
Donelon said he was particularly concerned about the way the reforms would impact premiums, the solvency of insurance companies, and the overall health of the marketplace. Allowing insurers to have different rules for different policies would be “detrimental to the overall market and result in higher premiums”, he said.
In addition he said it was unclear how the changes proposed by Obama could even be implemented. “In many states, cancellation notices have already gone out to policyholders and rates and plans have already been approved for 2014. Changing the rules through administrative action at this late date creates uncertainty and may not address the underlying issues,” he said.
Carl McDonald, insurance company analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note to investors: “Extending all of the cancelled individual policies through 2014 may sound good in theory, but we believe it creates an enormous administrative burden for insurers. If this were happening back in June, it could theoretically be workable. However, the complexity of trying to un-cancel millions of cancelled individual policies with only six weeks left in the year is staggering. Insurers don’t have to extend the existing policies, but they now have the option. We suspect many insurers will choose not to avail themselves of this ‘opportunity’.”
McDonald said the cancellation had left insurers with a lengthy “to-do list” and little time to do it. Among the issues insurers face they will now have to resubmit plans that were being cancelled for approval to state regulators. Before they can do that the insurers have to go back and calculate 2014 premium rates. In addition, insurers will have to reprogram computer systems in order to bring the cancelled policies back online.
Obama’s announcement had little impact on the states that have already issued directives that allowed people to extend their existing insurance plans into 2014, including Arkansas and Utah.
But in other states the reaction has been more negative. California has the most successful state scheme. In November nearly 2,000 people a day enrolled for new coverage. “California needs to stay the course and transition people into the more comprehensive policies that meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act,” said Johnston. The state has, however, allowed one million people who lost their insurance as a result of the implementation of the ACA to extend their policies into 2014.
Others are taking a harder line, including Washington state. Shortly after Obama announced his amnesty proposal, Washington state insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler said he would not allow insurance companies to extend policies in the state.
“I understand that many people are upset by the notices they have recently received from their health plans and they may not need the new benefits today,” he said in a statement. “But I have serious concerns about how President Obama’s proposal would be implemented and more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market.”
Are Obama’s approval ratings sinking past the point of no return?
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 15, 2013 8:29 EST
Barack Obama’s second term fumbles have pitched him to record low poll ratings and splintered his credibility with the American people.
But has his presidency reached the point of no return?
History and opinion poll data suggest that when reelected presidents slump in the ratings, it is tough, if not impossible to bounce back.
Obama, stung by the amateurish debut of his health care plan, which has sent fellow Democrats into revolt, is beginning to sense the depth of his woes.
“I do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months,” he said at a Thursday press conference, punctuated by uncharacteristic mea culpas.
“Am I going to have to do some work to rebuild confidence around some of our initiatives? Yes.”
He had better act fast.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey two weeks ago had the president’s approval rating down to 42 percent. A week later, Pew Research put Obama at 41 percent. By Wednesday, Quinnipiac University had him at 39 percent, a new low.
The data suggest Obama can no longer count on the solid floor of support that has sustained his crisis-strewn presidency.
“For the first time it appears that 40 percent floor is cracking,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
But do polls matter for a man who will never again be on the ballot?
Second term presidents enjoy some freedom from the tyranny of their job ratings — and become more obsessed with staving off dreaded lame duck status.
But Obama’s deteriorating image threatens to shred his remaining authority on Capitol Hill — where key priorities, including immigration reform are on life support.
He is also pleading with sanctions-wielding senators for more time to do a nuclear deal with Iran.
And Obama’s unpopularity is spooking Democrats with tough races in next year’s mid-term elections, which may doom his long-shot hopes of seeing his party recapture the House of Representatives.
Already, Obama is getting the cold shoulder from vulnerable Democrats, including Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu who is brandishing her own bill to clean up the Obamacare mess.
Charlie Cook, a renowned political analyst, suggests Obama’s presidency is suffering a “classic case of second term fatigue.”
Bill Clinton saw his second term consumed by a sex scandal, George W. Bush was brought low by Iraq and Ronald Reagan struggled through the Iran-Contra scandal.
Obama’s self-inflicted wound is the jammed Affordable Care Act website and his discredited promise that if Americans liked the health insurance they already had, they could keep it.
The damage is obvious: Quinnipiac found that by 52-44 percent, people thought their president was not honest.
“Any elected official with an eight point deficit is in serious trouble,” Malloy said.
Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney offered the timeworn politician’s trope that his boss did not “spend a lot of time, worrying about ups and downs in polls.”
But no president in the last 60 years who has got into deep polling trouble in their second term has been able to bounce back
Only Dwight Eisenhower and Clinton bettered their approval ratings after one year of their second term before leaving town — and they were popular to start with.
Worryingly for Obama, the president whose polling track he most resembles at this point is George W. Bush, who slunk out of Washington with a pitiful 34 percent approval.
Still, Obama is lucky in his enemies: Republicans are down at 30 percent approval after a government shutdown and debt ceiling debacle last month.
Obama has also defied political logic before — historical portents had suggested that saddled with a sluggish economy and approval ratings of under 50 percent for much of his first term he would not get a second.
After better than expected jobs data last week, some believe if fixes to Obamacare that the president unveiled on Thursday work — a big if — he could be spared long term political damage.
“The question now, is whether he will continue to go down, as Bush did,” said Carroll Doherty, an associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
“A lot depends on what happens with the health care law and a lot depends on the economy.”
Golden Dawn shootings: group claims responsibility
Militant People's Revolutionary Forces says killing of far-right Greek party's supporters was retaliation for stabbing of rapper
Reuters in Athens
theguardian.com, Sunday 17 November 2013 00.00 GMT
A Greek anti-establishment group has claimed responsibility for a drive-by shooting this month that killed two supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn party and raised fears of an escalation of political violence.
The previously unknown group, the Militant People's Revolutionary Forces, said the attack had been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of anti-fascism rapper Pavlos Fissas, to which a Golden Dawn sympathiser has confessed.
Police could not confirm the authenticity of the claim, which came on the eve of rallies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a bloody student uprising against the military junta that ruled Greece at the time.
"The brazen murder of Pavlos Fissas was the drop of blood that made the glass overflow," the group wrote in an 18-page letter filled with anti-establishment invective published on a news website. It called the rapper's killing a turning point.
"The armed attack-response ... is the starting point of the people's campaign to send the neo-Nazi scum of Golden Dawn where they belong, to the dustbin of history," it said.
The shooting of the two young Golden Dawn supporters outside the party's offices in Athens on 1 November came at a time of growing public anger against a party widely regarded as neo-Nazi and accused of attacks against migrants and leftists.
Golden Dawn denies accusations of violence, rejects the neo-Nazi label and says it had no involvement in Fissas's killing.
An opinion poll released on Saturday indicated that support for Golden Dawn had grown since the two men were gunned down.
The party, Greece's third most popular in recent surveys, shed almost a third of its support after Fissas's death in September. A poll by Alcofor Sunday's Proto Thema newspaper, conducted on 12-15 November, put support for Golden Dawn at 8.8%, up 2.2 points in a month but still below the 10.8% it enjoyed in June.
A government crackdown on Golden Dawn after evidence linking it to Fissas's killing has led to party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and five more of its politicians being charged with belonging to a criminal group. Mihaloliakos and two of the politicians have been remanded in custody until their trial.
Setback for Silvio Berlusconi as former loyalist leads breakaway group
Future of Italy's political centre-right in question as Angelino Alfano, seen as Berlusconi's heir, supports coalition government
Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Observer, Saturday 16 November 2013 23.28 GMT
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister, was scrambling to retain influence over the fractured landscape of the country's centre-right on Saturday, after the man who was once considered his political heir broke with him in a damaging personal and political snub.
At times appearing weak and tired, the 77-year-old billionaire told supporters at a party congress that he had not slept on Friday night following the "very painful" decision by his former loyalist Angelino Alfano to lead a breakaway group that would support Italy's fragile grand coalition government.
As Berlusconi formalised the rebirth of Forza Italia (FI) – the party named after a football chant with which he won his first election in 1994 – he said it was "very difficult" to envisage continued support for the prime minister, Enrico Letta's, grand coalition in the event of a vote to oust him from parliament later this month.
The leader of the now-defunct People of Freedom (PdL) party, who is likely to be ousted from the Italian parliament within weeks due to his conviction in August for tax fraud, accused the centre-left – of which Letta is a member – of wanting to "politically kill" him.
But the three-times prime minister, who was dealt a humiliating blow last month when he tried and failed to pull the plug on the government, acknowledged that he did not have the numbers to bring down the coalition.
In a markedly more conciliatory tone than some of his supporters, who yelled "traitors" from the back rows of the congress, Berlusconi appeared to hold out an olive branch to Alfano and his breakaway faction, the New Centre-Right, by instructing his MPs to avoid picking fights with the rebels.
"This group, even if it appears to be supporting the left, will have to necessarily be part of the centre-right coalition," he said. Speaking later, Alfano, deputy prime minister in the Letta government, said the NC had already received the support of 30 senators and 27 deputies.
On Friday night, he had formalised a split that had been anticipated since he led a parliamentary rebellion against Berlusconi's "hawks" in a government confidence vote.
A front-page article in the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said the split had fundamentally altered the dynamics of the centre-right and raised many questions about its future.
"Where there was the People of Freedom there is now a 'ground zero', and who knows in what form the centre-right will be reborn, how much time it will take to rebuild it and who will assign themselves the new project," said the newspaper, adding it was equally unclear whether "the architect who for 20 years designed it in his own image still has the strength to create another".
Naples families protest over toxic waste
Leakage from waste dumped by Camorra crime syndicate for decades has contaminated some water supplies
Associated Press in Rome
theguardian.com, Sunday 17 November 2013 11.06 GMT
Thousands of families have marched in Naples to demand a quick cleanup of toxic waste that has been dumped by the local Camorra crime syndicate for decades.
Recent tests have found that waste leakage has contaminated some water supplies, including in farm areas outside Naples and Caserta.
A former Camorra member has said the mobsters essentially poisoned their own neighbourhoods by illegally dumping and burying toxic waste. Dumping proved to be a lucrative business for the Camorra, which also runs drug trafficking operations and extortion rackets.
At Saturday's rally, parents held posters with photos of children who died of cancer that they blame on the poisoned soil.
Deflation could drag Ireland back into the eurozone crisis
Just as Enda Kenny announces his nation's break with its creditors, the threat of another meltdown rears its ugly head
The Observer, Sunday 17 November 2013
For Ireland, it reads like a happy ending. Enda Kenny announced on Thursday that Dublin would make a clean break with its creditors next month, after a gruelling three-year economic fitness programme of tax rises, spending cuts and reforms.
Instead of requesting a precautionary credit line from the International Monetary Fund, to be triggered in the event of a future crisis – as most investors had expected – Ireland will kick out the hated "troika" of the IMF, the ECB and Brussels, and go it alone.
With Spain, too, signalling last week that it wouldn't need any more money from its eurozone partners to bail out its crippled banks, and Cyprus pledging to lift restrictions on cross-border capital flows that have been in place since its fumbled bailout last March, it would be tempting to think that the worst of the turmoil that has gripped the eurozone over recent years had come to a neat and tidy close, and that "normalcy", as Irish finance minister Michael Noonan calls it, had been restored.
Yet while Noonan was right to say that the eurozone currently looks quite tranquil – making it a good moment for Ireland to dip its toe back into the public debt markets, instead of relying on the troika to fund its deficits – last week brought a host of reminders that there may still be trouble ahead.
For one thing, the economic weather across the 17-member single currency bloc is deteriorating. While the 18-month eurozone recession came to an end in the second quarter of 2013, the latest data, published last week, showed GDP expanding by a paltry 0.1% in the third quarter, with the French economy recording a contraction.
Alongside that sluggish growth performance, there is an increasingly credible threat that the eurozone could slip into deflation: indeed, some of the hardest-hit peripheral economies are already there.
Across the eurozone as a whole, prices rose by a negligible 0.7% in the year to October. In Greece, they fell by almost 2%.
It was undoubtedly the fear of deflation that prompted Mario Draghi to cut European Central Bank interest rates to a record low earlier this month: it is most central bankers' worst nightmare.
If falling prices become entrenched, it can be extremely difficult to escape from a vicious cycle of declining profits, wages and growth – and unlike US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Draghi won't just be able to turn on the money taps and implement quantitative easing, as it's not clear the ECB even has the authority to do so – QE is certainly taboo in Germany, still haunted by memories of Weimar-era hyperinflation.
For debtors, of which there are many across the eurozone – households, companies and governments – deflation is particularly pernicious, as liabilities tend to be fixed, unlike the incomes from which they must somehow be paid. And when debtors get into trouble, so do banks – still the weakest link in the eurozone recovery story.
Meanwhile, the ECB is preparing to shine a light on banks' balance sheets through its asset quality review – and with negotiations about a eurozone-wide banking union still ongoing, no one quite knows what will happen if they find a black hole. Oh, and with the Federal Reserve contemplating withdrawing the $85bn-a-month of cheap money it has been pumping into world markets through QE, government bond yields worldwide – and thus their borrowing costs – are expected to drift higher over the next 12 months.
And just in case all that wasn't enough to fret about, Friday saw Brussels deliver its sinisterly named "fiscal surveillance package", part of the new co-ordination regime put in place in the wake of the crisis, which doled out homework to a whole list of countries. Spain and Italy were urged to revise their budgets or risk missing stringent debt targets; France was told to get its act together on structural reforms; and even Germany, which likes to see itself as a shining example to its eurozone neighbours, was criticised for ignoring the commission's calls for reform.
In other words, even if Dublin's politicians have made the right judgment and Ireland is fit enough to stand on its own, it could yet be sucked back into the mire by a eurozone-wide crisis not of its own making.
From On the Buses to on your bike
Forty-five years have passed since Reg Varney – aka Stan Butler in On the Buses – became the first person to withdraw cash from a hole-in-the-wall machine. It heralded a revolution in banking. No longer was cash accessible only from a teller sporting a rubber thimble between 9am and 3pm on weekdays and for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. It was available 24/7. There have been other revolutions since – debit cards, telephone banking, call centres, which have all resulted in fewer high street banks and tellers. And now another is under way.
The proliferation and popularity of online banking means that an average customer now visits a branch just twice a month, while mobile banking services are used more than once every two days. A survey out on Friday showed that one in six of 18-to-30-year-olds had never stepped inside a bank branch.
So it is not exactly a shock that last week Barclays said it wanted 1,700 of its 33,600 branch staff to put their hands up for voluntary redundancy. That is just over one job going from every branch in the Barclays network. People are being replaced by iPads and smartphones: customers can sort out their bills and standing orders from their sofas. And even those who still venture inside branches are being encouraged to think digital, with iPads available for use there too. The labour and other costs of offering a retail banking service are, basically, being transferred to the customer.
There are other huge changes under way: customers can transfer cash directly to their friends in bars and restaurants with the Pingit app. The UK's three largest mobile phone networks, EE, Vodafone and O2, have joined forces to turn smartphones into virtual wallets. Shoppers will walk into a store, pick out a purchase, scan the barcode, and pay by tapping their phone on an Oyster-card-style reader, rather than at the till. There are even safety deposit boxes in the cloud.
Antony Jenkins, the Barclays boss, has been talking about automation ever since he took the top job a little over a year ago. Analysts believe he could slice 40,000 off the 140,000 workforce. It will be brutal. And it will be universal. Tellers could soon be history.
PPI scourge could do with a bank job
There was a bit of moaning when Natalie Ceeney was named chief financial ombudsman four years ago. What does this former director of the British Library know about the financial services industry, was the cry. She went on to treble the size of the Financial Ombudsman Service so it could tackle 500,000 cases a year – up from 150,000 – as it was swamped by complaints about mis-sold payment protection insurance. "The biggest clean-up in financial services history," is how she has described the scandal, refusing to heed the banks' whines that claims management firms are to blame for the high level of complaints. The banks are still cleaning up the PPI mess – and, knowing how the industry operates, we are no doubt not far away from another scandal. Now Ceeney has quit, those same banks might consider giving her a job sorting out their customer service operations.
11/17/2013 08:09 AM
'Royal Concierge': GCHQ Monitors Hotel Reservations to Track Diplomats
By Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark
Britain's GCHQ intelligence service monitors diplomats' travels using a sophisticated automated system that tracks hotel bookings. Once a room has been identified, it opens the door to a variety of spying options.
When diplomats travel to international summits, consultations and negotiations on behalf of governments, they generally tend to spend the night at high-end hotels. When they check-in, in addition to a comfortable room, they sometimes get a very unique form of room service that they did not order: a thorough monitoring by the British Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ in short.
Intelligence service documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that, for more than three years, GCHQ has had a system to automatically monitor hotel bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world in order to target, search and analyze reservations to detect diplomats and government officials.
The top secret program carries the codename "Royal Concierge," and has a logo showing a penguin wearing a crown, a purple cape and holding a wand. The penguin is apparently meant to symbolize the black and white uniform worn by staff at luxury hotels.
The aim of the program is to inform GCHQ, at the time of the booking, of the city and hotel a foreign diplomat intends to visit. This enables the "technical operations community" to make the necessary preparations in a timely manner, the secret documents state. The documents cast doubt on the truthfulness of claims made last week to a committee in parliament by the heads of the three British intelligence agencies: Namely that the exclusive reason and purpose behind their efforts is the battle against terrorism, and to make sure they can monitor the latest postings by al-Qaida and similar entities.
The documents show that the prototype of "Royal Concierge" was first tested in 2010. The much-touted program, referred to internally as an "innovation," was apparently so successful that further development continued.
The documents provide details on how the British program for tracking international diplomats functioned. Whenever a reservation confirmation is emailed to a conspicuous address inside a government domain (like gov.xx) from any of the 350 hotels around the world being monitored, a daily alert "tip-off" is sent to the appropriate GCHQ analysts. The documents seen by SPIEGEL do not include hotel names, but they do cite anonymized hotels in Zurich and Singapore as examples.
A further document states that this advance knowledge of which foreign diplomats will be staying in what hotels provides GCHQ with a whole palette of intelligence capabilities and options. The documents reveal an impressive listing of capabilities for monitoring a hotel room and its temporary resident that seem to exhaust the creative potential of modern spying. Among the possibilities, of course, are wiretapping the room telephone and fax machine as well as the monitoring of computers hooked up to the hotel network ("computer network exploitation").
It also states that a "Technical Attack" is deployed by the British "TECA" team for guests of high interest. The documents state that these elite units develop a range of "specialist technologies" that are "designed to bridge the gaps to communications that our conventional accesses cannot reach." These "Active Approach Teams" are small, but possess advanced technical skill that allow them to work within "often unique requirements."
The guests, of course, have no clue about these advanced technical preparations that are made for their visits. In cases of "governmental hard targets," the information obtained through "Royal Concierge" can also involve "Humint" operations. The abbreviation is short for "human intelligence" -- in other words, the deployment of human spies who might then be listening in on a diplomat's conversations at the hotel bar.
'Wild, Wild West'
The documents seen by SPIEGEL do not state how often the program has been used, but they do indicate that it continued to be developed and that it captured the imagination of the intelligence agency's workers, including the GCHQ unit responsible for "effects." Given the access they had to hotel bookings through "Royal Concierge," one document pondered: "Can we influence the hotel choice?" And: Did they have the ability to cancel visits entirely? Another slide lists "car hire" as one of the possible extensions to the program.
Contacted by SPIEGEL, GCHQ said that it "neither confirms nor denies the allegation."
Her Royal Majesty's agents appear to be very conscious of the fact that the automated monitoring of diplomats' travel by the British intelligence service crosses into controversial terrain. One of the presentations describing "Royal Concierge" is titled "Tales from the Wild, Wild West of GCHQ Operational Datamining."
11/17/2013 09:12 AM
Interview with a Phantom: Cornelius Gurlitt Shares the Secrets of His Pictures
By Õzlem Gezer
Cornelius Gurlitt hoarded art treasures his father obtained under dubious circumstances in the Nazi era. The reclusive 80-year-old has given SPIEGEL the first interview since news of their discovery broke two weeks ago. He says the pictures are the love of his life and must be returned.
No one had ever seen Cornelius Gurlitt in his nightshirt before, until a day in February 2012, when they broke the lock and marched in -- the strangers, as he calls them -- the customs investigators and officials with the Augsburg public prosecutor's office.
His apartment was his world. But now these strangers had entered. There were many of them, perhaps 30, and they didn't go away. Instead, they spent four days wrapping up his life in blankets, packing it into cardboard boxes and carrying it away -- well over 1,000 works of art.
Meanwhile, Gurlitt was expected to sit in a corner and remain quiet. He complied with their wishes, watching as they removed Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach" from the wall, a work that had hung there for decades, and took the Chagall from the locked wooden cabinet.
They left nothing behind, not even the small suitcase containing his favorite pictures, a collection of works on paper. For decades, Gurlitt had unpacked the drawings each evening to admire them. Now they were gone and Gurlitt was alone.
The only other person who came to see him was a woman from a counseling service who had been sent by the strangers. He uses words like "gruesome" and "horrible" to describe this visit, in which he was expected to talk about his feelings. He assured her that he had no intention of killing himself and asked her to leave.
Since that day, Gurlitt has been alone in his bare apartment, in a white-painted building in Munich, a city he calls a prison. And ever since the German newsweekly Focus uncovered the confiscation of his collection two weeks ago, the world's press has been gathering downstairs, outside the front door of his apartment block. Whenever he leaves the building, he is inundated with camera flashes, as if he were a war criminal. Strangers are constantly knocking on his door and sliding letters through the mail slot.
The works are a sensational treasure trove, including paintings by Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Franz Marc, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The mysterious collection stems from the estate of his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art critic, museum director and art dealer who died in 1956, one of the men who established modern art in Germany and, after 1933, did business with the Nazis.
One of the issues the discovery raises is whether Hildebrand Gurlitt wrongfully obtained the paintings. At this point no one, from the public prosecutor's office to art experts to politicians, knows how many of the works rightfully belong to the son. Cornelius Gurlitt, who just wants to get away from this place, where he now feels like a hunted person, doesn't know either.
So many pictures, so many mysteries. Is it stolen art? Degenerate art? Who owns them? What brought them to the apartment in Munich's Schwabing neighborhood? And how should authorities handle all the issues related to the discovery? What about the heirs who want the works of art returned to them? And how does one address the injustices committed at the time, or the injustice that could be committed today against Gurlitt, the heir of a collection with dubious origins?
'What Do These People Want From Me?'
He spoke to his paintings. They were his friends, the loyal companions that didn't exist in his real life. He considered it is his life's mission to protect his father's treasure, and over the decades he lost touch with reality.
It is last Tuesday, and Gurlitt is sitting on a German ICE high-speed train, in a compartment designed for people with children. This is the second time he has left his apartment since the revelations in Focus. The first time, he went shopping and was hounded by photographers. After that, he spent 10 days in his near-dark living room and did nothing. He says that he could hardly sleep, and when he did, he was plagued by nightmares. Sometimes he would switch the radio on and then off again. The only thing they had left him was the broken lock to his apartment door.
Gurlitt is traveling to see his doctor in a small southern German city. He is drinking tea from a coffee cup. Occasionally he runs his hand over his white hair. The trip -- a sad journey -- takes three days.
"I'm not Boris Becker," he says. "What do these people want from me? I'm just a very quiet person. All I wanted to do was live with my pictures. Why are they photographing me for these newspapers, which normally only feature photos of shady characters?"
Gurlitt doesn't understand why people are so interested in what he calls his personal property. He mentions the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet. His face is pale and there are tears in his blue eyes. He takes a cloth handkerchief from his right coat pocket and blows his nose.
"I simply didn't expect them," he says. He means the strangers. Still, Gurlitt says he also bears some of the blame for this "fatal misfortune," having to say goodbye to his father's legacy. He should have protected it the way his father did, he says, against being burned by the Nazis, against the bombs, against the Russians and against the Americans. For Cornelius Gurlitt, his father was a hero, and he now feels like a failure.
Gurlitt spent a lifetime being a son and an heir, making it his mission to preserve his father's legacy. He says it never occurred to him that the art he kept in his 100-square-meter (1,076-square-foot) apartment, art that perhaps wasn't entirely his, could be used to help make amends for what the Nazis had done.
"If I had lived somewhere else, all of this simply wouldn't have happened," he says -- somewhere far away from the Swiss border, where customs inspectors noticed him on a train in 2010; and far away from the people of Munich, who he had never really trusted. The current mess is his mother's fault, he says, because she was the one who had wanted to move to Schwabing after his father died.
She had dreamed of a Bohemian lifestyle, and of affluent people who weren't interested in other people's money. Cornelius was 27 at the time, a young man who didn't like making decisions, and unlike his father, he wasn't a man of action, not a leader but someone who liked to be led. He trusted his mother, who bought two apartments on Artur Kutscher Platz. Today, 53 years later, Gurlitt says: "She was wrong."
Munich is the "source of all evil," says Gurlitt. "This is where the movement was founded," he says, referring to Hitler's Nazi movement. He keeps repeating the same sentence, and when he does his quivering voice becomes louder. He lifts his right index finger, holds onto the table on the ICE train with his other hand and raises his eyebrows. Gurlitt talks about the beginnings of the Nazi Party in 1920, and about the speech Adolf Hitler gave in the Munich Hofbräuhaus, in which he announced the party's manifesto. In Gurlitt's opinion, evil still appears to reside in the city.
Gurlitt seems trapped in another time. He stopped watching television when Germany's second public television network was launched, the "new station" with its trademark Mainzelmännchen cartoon characters. That was in 1963. He books his hotel rooms months in advance by post, with letters written on a typewriter and signed with a fountain pen, which include the request to send a taxi to pick him up from the train station. His world is slow and quiet.
'There Is Nothing I Have Loved More'
He is amazed by telephones that display the caller's phone number. He knows that it's possible to search for things on the Internet, but he has never done it. He has spent his life living with his pictures. He lacks interaction with other people, and he has gathered his life experiences from books.
He talks about Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," a short story about an explorer who witnesses condemned prisoners, who don't know what crime they have committed, being tortured and killed on a remote island. He says that the emptying of his apartment was similarly tragic.
The ICE crosses the Munich city line. "Now it's a little quieter," he says. "Finally." He hasn't felt well in the last 10 days. Gurlitt, who turns 81 at the end of December, says that he always dreamed of living until he was 90. "There are people who are still climbing mountains at 97, but I won't live to be that old," he says. "At least they could have waited until I was dead to take away the pictures."
He doesn't understand what people want from him. He says the public prosecutor's office has the pictures now, so people should go there if they want to see the works or find out something about them. He knows a lot about their origins, he says, but he prefers to keep that to himself -- like a love affair that needs to be guarded. "And there is nothing I have loved more in my life than my pictures."
When asked whether he has ever been in love with a human being, he giggles and says: "Oh, no."
Childhood in Nazi Germany
Gurlitt has experienced many goodbyes in his lifetime: his father's death in a car accident, his mother's death, his sister's cancer. "Saying goodbye to my pictures was the most painful of all," he says. "I hope everything will be cleared up quickly, so I can finally have my pictures back." It's another sentence he repeats often during the three-day trip.
He has a heart condition. After walking a short distance, he has to sit down and rest for five minutes. He doesn't have his father's strong heart. Instead, his heart is a constant source of worry, keeping him awake at night until his next doctor's appointment.
His doctor, an internist, is hundreds of kilometers away from Munich. He's an amiable man who tries to convince him to move into a nursing home. Gurlitt's descriptions paint a picture of an important senior physician in a private hospital. In fact, the doctor has an ordinary practice on a side street in a small city, nondescript, "and yet with the best equipment in Germany," says Gurlitt, as if to explain why he would take a trip that must be utterly exhausting for someone who has to take a taxi to go grocery shopping at home.
But the train journey is also a little like a vacation. Every three months, he buys a 2nd-class ticket on the ICE for €102 ($138), without a reserved seat. Gurlitt normally sits in the open coach car, to avoid being put in the embarrassing situation of having to look into other people's eyes. On this afternoon, however, there are no seats available in the open coach car, and Gurlitt has to sit in a compartment, which makes him anxious. He sits next to the glass door, so that the compartment looks full. He keeps his suitcase right next to him. It contains his red-and-white checked nightshirt, bread, cold cuts and his favorite carbonated drink. He needs the food for evenings in the hotel.
Gurlitt is always on time, which is important to him. He doesn't like things that are unplanned. The doctor's appointment is on a Thursday, but Gurlitt leaves Munich on Tuesday. He is wearing a black-and-white plaid sports jacket with three buttons. The jacket is far too big for him. He says he used be heavier, but that he can't find anything he likes in department stores these days.
He hopes that the public will soon lose interest. Until then, when he goes out on cold winter days he plans to hide behind a scarf, which he wraps around his face. He already senses that this might not work, and he hopes something else, something big will happen soon to divert attention from him -- perhaps some kind of newsworthy attack somewhere, but with no casualties, of course. He doesn't like violence and he doesn't like to see evil prevail, but if something does happen, he says, maybe it'll make the mob disappear from outside his building.
He says he doesn't understand why the public prosecutor's office is making such a fuss about an old issue. The raid and the assault on his world happened a year and a half ago. "Now the pictures are in a basement somewhere, and I'm alone. Why didn't they leave the pictures there and just pick up the ones they wanted to check? Then it wouldn't be so empty now."
He talks a lot about the old days during the three-day trip, the days when he had no responsibility and no decisions to make. In those days, his father was still in control of the situation, a man who fought for modern art and promoted art as a whole, but who then did business with the Nazis, selling so-called degenerate art abroad, which probably included stolen art. Apparently his father kept some of that art for himself.
Gurlitt recalls his childhood on Alte Rabenstrasse in Hamburg, a street located only steps away from the city's Alster lake. He talks about the camouflage structures for the lakeside anti-aircraft guns to protect Hamburg from bombing raids. He wants to go back to Hamburg to get his baptism certificate, for his private archive. It's important to be part of something and have roots, he says. People need that.
The family moved around a lot, always following a father who didn't have an easy time because he "wasn't racially flawless," Gurlitt notes. But he always fought and was very clever, he adds. In Hamburg his father registered the art gallery at Klopstockstrasse 35 in his wife's name, with the art dealer himself listed as an employee. Later, in Dresden, Gurlitt says his father didn't register his business at all. Instead, he kept the works of art at home and ran his business from there. "My father was often driven out, he often fell but he always got back up on his feet again."
Each time it was a new beginning for his son. Cornelius was a shy boy who attended elementary school in Hamburg, then went to high school in Dresden, where he saw Hitler wave from a train. After the Nazi era, he attended the Odenwaldschule -- a famous private rural boarding school in southwestern Germany -- from 1946 to 1948. From time to time, he was tutored by priests. He graduated from high school in Düsseldorf. Cornelius Gurlitt was always the new kid. The last to arrive, the first to go. The stranger who never really belonged. A loner who never had to decide things for himself because he had this strong father who posed for photographs with celebrities in the art museum in Düsseldorf, like German author Thomas Mann and postwar Germany's first president, Theodor Heuss. His father also spoke fluent French and English. "I only speak English, but slowly," says Gurlitt.
Growing Up with Paintings
He wanted to please his father. After high school, he studied art history at the University of Cologne. He also attended lectures on philosophy and music theory. Then he broke off his studies; he doesn't remember when and he prefers not to talk about it. He says he once traveled to Paris with his sister. He didn't want to make the trip alone.
Cornelius Gurlitt first lived with his parents, then with his sister, and finally with his mother. Yet no matter where Cornelius lived, he remained a phantom. He is a polite man, but when workmen came to his door to lay fiber optic cables, they had to fight to get inside his apartment. He says he only wanted to protect his pictures from the prying eyes of strangers.
He remembers playing among paintings by Liebermann, Beckmann and Chagall when he was a child. They moved with him from city to city, and hung in the living rooms and hallways. His father sorted them and loved them -- and they all bear his mark. He hung the green face by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner on the wall above young Cornelius' bed. "Hitler didn't like green faces," says Gurlitt. In the privacy of their home, the family didn't speak well of the Führer, Gurlitt recalls. His father resisted the dictator, but so surreptitiously that no one noticed it, he adds.
Hildebrand Gurlitt never bought anything from a private individual, Cornelius insists. Anything else would have been unimaginable for him. The pictures came from German museums or art dealers, Gurlitt says, adding that his father only cooperated with the Nazis because he wanted to save the paintings from being burned. And then he says: "It's possible that my father may have been offered something privately, but he certainly didn't accept it. He would have found that unsavory."
'I've Never Committed a Crime'
Now the anonymous son is in the limelight. This story is about coming to terms with German history, but it is also about Cornelius Gurlitt. After all, he's the son who inherited a treasure, yet never questioned where it came from. He had to take responsibility, but that's a difficult position to be in for someone who finds it hard to take responsibility. "I'm sure the public prosecutor will figure out what I'm going to get back," he says. "I've never committed a crime, and even if I had, it would fall under the statute of limitations. If I were guilty, they would put me in prison."
He just wants to have his pictures back. But when? And which ones? And what about his favorite pictures?
Gurlitt needs friends, family and, above all, lawyers. But he can't make up his mind: "I've never needed one before."
He is also a little disappointed with his sister Benita, who died of cancer last year. She left him alone with this burden. "She was two years younger than me and married. She should have outlived me." He gazes at his hands that he has splayed on the table. "Then she would have inherited everything, and she would have known how to deal with this. Now, everything is so miserable."
'What Kind of State Puts My Private Property on Display?'
Gurlitt has to answer so many questions for which he has no answers. "I never had anything to do with acquiring the pictures, only with saving them," he says. He helped his father back in Dresden when they saved the works of art from the Russians. People should be thankful to him, he says. "My father knew the Russians were getting closer and closer."
His father quickly organized a vehicle from the carpool in Dresden, he recalls, and father and son loaded the artwork into the car. His father then brought everything to a farmer near Dresden, and later to a castle in southern Germany. He says that his father knew people everywhere in Germany.
"People only see banknotes between these papers with paint -- unfortunately," he says.
"I'm not as courageous as my father," he says. "He loved art and fought for it. The state prosecutor has to restore my father's reputation."
The Swiss Incident
The life of Cornelius Gurlitt has become an infinite loop of remorse and coincidence. It was pure chance that he was the one who survived everything. It was also pure chance that he boarded a train with €9,000 in his pocket and attracted the attention of customs agents -- and that he first lied and then was caught red-handed when they searched him in the toilet. The Swiss incident annoys him terribly. He says he sold a painting there over 20 years ago and deposited the money on a Swiss bank account. The art dealer took care of the transport -- he had nothing to do with that, he contends. "I have never illegally taken anything not cleared by customs over the Swiss border," he says.
He claims he has never had income in Switzerland, and never received interest payments. "They should just ask in Switzerland, and then they would realize that I don't have anything there," he says. German railway operator Deutsche Bahn could have given him a note, he insists -- one that says that customs officials also look for money on the trains, not just for goods. Then he never would have boarded that train.
The ICE enters Augsburg station. "The public prosecutor I sent all the documents to is here in Augsburg," says Gurlitt. "I don't understand why he hasn't contacted me."
He says he sent the public prosecutor a photo of his parents' burnt-down house in Dresden. He included old newspaper articles to document the smear campaign against Hildebrand Gurlitt that led to "his father's downfall." Gurlitt doesn't understand why all of this has become public. Courts and judges have to decide on this, and he only has to justify himself to them, he argues. The public prosecutor told him that he would eventually receive an indictment, but nothing has come so far, except for the paparazzi at his front door. "I'm not a murderer, so why are they chasing me?"
He has received a letter informing him that a number of works of art are going to be returned to him. He doesn't know which ones. But he doesn't believe the public prosecutor. "I have never wanted anything from the state." He says he never claimed a penny in benefits. He talks about Hartz IV, Germany's program of benefits for the long-term unemployed, as if it were an unknown disease. He always promptly pays his property tax. Otherwise he says he has had nothing to do with German authorities. Gurlitt receives no pension and has never had health insurance. He has always had his German passport renewed at the consulate in Salzburg, but it expired nearly two years ago.
Sales to Help Pay for Medical Treatment
The last time he was in Austria, at his house in Salzburg, he was taken to hospital because he couldn't walk anymore. It was heart trouble. He had to stay in a clinic for an entire month where an alarm sounded if he got out of bed. "As if I were a criminal," says Gurlitt.
But his health has deteriorated in recent years. He has had additional hospital stays and suffered from cataracts. Gurlitt always paid the doctors in cash. In the fall of 2011, he delivered the "Lion Tamer" by expressionist Max Beckmann to the Lempertz auction house in the western German city of Cologne. He says their lawyer was very nice -- and everything was straightened out with the heirs. The painting was sold for €725,000 ($978,000) and Gurlitt received nearly €400,000, with the rest going to the heirs.
Actually he wanted to part with the Liebermann, but he couldn't get it off the wall. "So I took the Beckmann," he says, noting that it was "solidly" packed. A beautiful painting, typical of Beckmann, and a key work, but Gurlitt urgently needed money. Even back then, he was constantly traveling to see his doctor in the small town.
We arrive at a hotel -- a white three-story building. There is no one at the reception. He always stays here. He rings from the reception to find out his room number, and the golden keychain is hanging for him on the door. There are no people and it's quiet. The room has plastic curtains decorated with tulips and gerberas, fluorescent lights and pictures on the wall that look like they come from a mail order catalogue. "Very nice," says Gurlitt.
He has index cards with the sentences that he wants to read out to the doctor to make a good impression. Gurlitt doesn't often speak with people. On the night before his doctor's appointment, he decides to go to bed at 6 p.m. so he can get up again at 2 o'clock in the morning. His appointment isn't until 8:40 a.m., but he needs time to prepare himself. He's had a bleeding wound on his foot for months, and he wants to wrap it with a new bandage.
'I've Really Missed The Paintings'
The next morning he calls a taxi to travel the 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the doctor's office. When we arrive, there is €3.40 on the meter, but he gives the driver €20 -- after all, it has to be worth the cabbie's while. The doctor tells Gurlitt that morning that his heart is weaker than usual, but that's due to all the excitement.
Back at the hotel room, he sits on his bed. Gurlitt is wearing his dressing gown under a long gray coat. He seems relieved. The nightlight is on.
Gurlitt sees his paintings in the newspapers. He's appalled. "What kind of state is this that puts my private property on display?" he asks. Gurlitt has tears in his eyes. He whispers: "They have to come back to me."
The next morning, Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback is quoted in the newspaper as saying that the authorities should definitely speak with Gurlitt.
It's painful to see Gurlitt being slowly consumed by despair. "They have it all wrong," he says. "I won't speak with them, and I won't voluntarily give back anything, no, no. The public prosecutor has enough that exonerates me."
Gurlitt hopes the paintings that are rightfully his will soon be returned. He would still like to sell one work, though, perhaps the Liebermann -- if he is entitled to it, as he puts it -- to pay his hospital bills. The remaining paintings should be returned to his apartment, he says. The Chagall will then be put back into the cupboard, and the painting of the woman playing the piano will go in the hallway, where his mother always hung it.
"I've really missed the paintings -- I notice that now." He says there has been enough public exposure -- of him and his paintings -- and he won't give them to any museum in the world. They have enough other things that they can exhibit, he contends.
"When I'm dead, they can do with them what they want." But until then, he wants to have them for himself. Then he'll finally have a bit of "peace and quiet" again.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan and Paul Cohen
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA....
Bolshoi dancer: police know I'm innocent of acid attack
Pavel Dmitrichenko's detention cell letters tell of beatings and pressure to make confession
Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Observer, Saturday 16 November 2013 22.12 GMT
The Bolshoi ballet soloist accused of organising an acid attack on the theatre's artistic director has complained of beatings, police pressure and false accusations in a series of letters from his prison cell.
Pavel Dmitrichenko, who specialised in dancing villainous roles at the theatre, is on trial in Moscow and faces 12 years in jail if he is convicted of masterminding the attack. Sergei Filin was splashed in the face with sulphuric acid outside his Moscow flat in January and has undergone 23 operations in an attempt to save his sight. Also on trial are Yury Zarutsky, who is accused of throwing the acid, and Andrei Lipatov, the alleged getaway driver.
Dmitrichenko said in court that he admits "moral responsibility" for what happened, but denied either suggesting or sanctioning an acid attack. He is due to give his version of events to the court in the coming weeks, but the Observer has seen several letters written by Dmitrichenko to a dancer at another Moscow theatre, who has been corresponding with the suspect since he was detained in March.
The handwritten letters, written in blue ballpoint pen from Dmitrichenko's pre-trial detention cell, have several passages scrubbed out in black ink by the prison censor, but include passages in which the dancer speaks of police pressure on him to confess to the crime. In one letter, he claims that investigators have admitted they believe his version of events but are powerless to act.
It reads: "The investigator himself says to me, 'I know that you wanted F [Filin] to be hit once, because he insulted women, but you have to understand, Pasha [Pavel], this is a high-profile case, and we will be forced to give you at least some kind of sentence. If we don't, everyone will be removed from their posts for keeping you in prison for half a year.'"
In a Russian television documentary aired in recent days, Dmitrichenko also spoke publicly for the first time about the circumstances of the attack. He said Zarutsky wanted help getting his young daughter enrolled in the Bolshoi school and, when he heard of Dmitrichenko's annoyance with Filin's management style and supposed sexual indiscretions, offered to "have words" with the artistic director as a favour.
"He [Zarutsky] said, 'I am going to talk to him [Filin], and if he doesn't listen, then I hit him once, and he'll have a bruise,'" said Dmitrichenko in the interview, filmed inside his detention centre. "I agreed, and that was my mistake."
Dmitrichenko said that when he heard of the acid attack he realised what had happened and started shaking. He claims he confronted Zarutsky in horror and suggested that they both went to the police to explain everything, but Zarutsky cut him off: "He grabbed me by the neck and said, 'If you go to the police, I'll do the same thing to your girl.' "
Filin appeared in court earlier this month, when he was questioned for more than three hours, including by Dmitrichenko himself. At one point Filin broke down in tears. Dmitrichenko told him he was sorry for what had happened, but insisted that he was only "morally" responsible. He also accused Filin of carrying on a number of affairs with Bolshoi ballerinas and of handing out prime roles "through his bedsheets" or for bribes.
Filin strenuously denied these accusations and painted a picture of Dmitrichenko as a petty, vindictive man who was obsessed with the fact that he and his partner, Anzhelina Vorontsova, were not given due recognition. Vorontsova, also a dancer at the theatre until she left during the summer, was obsessed with dancing in Swan Lake, but Filin thought she was not ready, the court heard. Filin has now gone to Germany for another major eye operation.
In one of the letters, Dmitrichenko claims he was assaulted by policemen before one of the preliminary hearings and describes the extent of the alleged ill-treatment: "Of course it isn't nice when you are put with your face against the wall, with your hands handcuffed behind you and big guys in masks, three policemen, start to beat you, on your kidneys, liver, head … When I got back after the court case I felt sick for two days. I had strong concussion, my hands were bruised from the handcuffs. I had a bruise under my eye. It was painful to walk and to breathe."
The police have denied using physical force against Dmitrichenko, stating recently: "Dmitrichenko more than once provoked police officers, behaved aggressively, was confrontational and did not carry out the lawful demands of police officers."
The acid attack is one of a number of scandals to hit the Bolshoi, Russia's premier theatre, in recent years. Over the summer, the theatre's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, was fired and the new head has tried to draw a line under the scandal-hit past.
Last week there was further bad news for the Bolshoi as an American dancer in the corps de ballet told a Russian newspaper she had been asked for $10,000 (£6,200) if she wanted to dance solo roles. The theatre denied the allegations.
More of the Bolshoi's dirty laundry looks set to be aired as Dmitrichenko's trial continues. Future witnesses expected to take the stand include Vorontsova, Iksanov and Nikolai Tsiskaridze, an outspoken former premier dancer who is a vocal critic of the theatre's management and was asked to leave over the summer. Finally, it will also involve cross-examination of Dmitrichenko himself.
"It is impossible to scare or morally break me, let them kill me even," he writes in one of his most recent letters. "I am going to tell the truth nevertheless, and I don't intend to admit to the charges that they are trying to put on me."
The trial continues on Monday.
November 16, 2013
Russian Manhunt Ends as Bus Bomber’s Husband Is Killed
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MOSCOW — Ending a nearly monthlong manhunt, security forces killed the husband of a suicide bomber who blew up a public bus last month in the city of Volgograd, Russian officials said Saturday.
Officials said the husband, Dmitri Sokolov, 21, was killed, along with four others identified as rebels, by security forces in Dagestan, a violence-plagued republic in the North Caucasus.
The bus bombing in Volgograd, which is about 900 kilometers (559 miles) south of Moscow, had unnerved the authorities because of its randomness and because instances of Muslim insurgent violence outside the Caucasus are relatively rare.
The bomber, Naida Asiyalova, blew herself up on a crowded No. 29 bus in the center of the city, killing six other passengers in a fiery blast that was recorded by the dashboard camera of a car traveling behind.
Ms. Asiyalova, who was four days shy of her 31st birthday, had been suffering from a grave, perhaps terminal, illness. After the bombing, investigators said they were searching for Mr. Sokolov, her common-law husband, whom they had identified as a demolition and explosives specialist for a rebel group based in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.
Russian officials said that antiterrorism forces found Mr. Sokolov and the four others just outside Makhachkala, where they engaged in a standoff. During a prolonged negotiation, investigators put Mr. Sokolov on the phone with his mother, who apparently pleaded with him to surrender, according to local news agencies.
Officials told news agencies that during the negotiations Mr. Sokolov admitted to making the explosive belt used on the bus in Volgograd, though there was no way to verify the claim.
The men refused to surrender, and all five were shot and killed, officials said. A woman and child in the house where the men had been blockaded were rescued unharmed, officials said, and a stash of weapons and ammunition was discovered.
Russian security forces have been aggressively trying to suppress Muslim separatists ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be early next year in Sochi, and the bombing in Volgograd was seen as demonstration of the ability of rebel fighters in the Caucasus to carry out attacks despite the crackdown.
November 16, 2013
A Russian GPS Using U.S. Soil Stirs Spy Fears
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — In the view of America’s spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may not come from a nefarious cyberweapon or secrets gleaned from the files of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now in Moscow.
Instead, this menace may come in the form of a seemingly innocuous dome-topped antenna perched atop an electronics-packed building surrounded by a security fence somewhere in the United States.
In recent months, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil, several American officials said.
They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said. These monitor stations, the Russians contend, would significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of Moscow’s version of the Global Positioning System, the American satellite network that steers guided missiles to their targets and thirsty smartphone users to the nearest Starbucks.
“They don’t want to be reliant on the American system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” said a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. “They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships.”
The Russian effort is part of a larger global race by several countries — including China and European Union nations — to perfect their own global positioning systems and challenge the dominance of the American GPS.
For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
But the C.I.A. and other American spy agencies, as well as the Pentagon, suspect that the monitor stations would give the Russians a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow’s satellite-steered weapons. The stations, they believe, could also give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders.
The squabble is serious enough that administration officials have delayed a final decision until the Russians provide more information and until the American agencies sort out their differences, State Department and White House officials said.
Russia’s efforts have also stirred concerns on Capitol Hill, where members of the intelligence and armed services committees view Moscow’s global positioning network — known as Glonass, for Global Navigation Satellite System — with deep suspicion and are demanding answers from the administration.
“I would like to understand why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian Glonass, when the world’s reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels,” said Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee.
Mr. Rogers last week asked the Pentagon to provide an assessment of the proposal’s impact on national security. The request was made in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.
The monitor stations have been a high priority of Mr. Putin for several years as a means to improve Glonass not only to benefit the Russian military and civilian sectors but also to compete globally with GPS.
Earlier this year, Russia positioned a station in Brazil, and agreements with Spain, Indonesia and Australia are expected soon, according to Russian news reports. The United States has stations around the world, but none in Russia.
Russian and American negotiators last met on April 25 to weigh “general requirements for possible Glonass monitoring stations in U.S. territory and the scope of planned future discussions,” said a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, who said no final decision had been made.
Ms. Harf and other administration officials declined to provide additional information. The C.I.A. declined to comment.
The Russian government offered few details about the program. In a statement, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, Yevgeniy Khorishko, said that the stations were deployed “only to ensure calibration and precision of signals for the Glonass system.” Mr. Khorishko referred all questions to Roscosmos, which did not respond to a request for comment last week.
Although the Cold War is long over, the Russians do not want to rely on the American GPS infrastructure because they remain suspicious of the United States’ military capabilities, security analysts say. That is why they have insisted on pressing ahead with their own system despite the high costs.
Accepting the dominance of GPS, Russians fear, would give the United States some serious strategic advantages militarily. In Russians’ worst fears, analysts said, Americans could potentially manipulate signals and send erroneous information to Russian armed forces.
Monitor stations are essential to maintaining the accuracy of a global positioning system, according to Bradford W. Parkinson, a professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, who was the original chief architect of GPS. As a satellite’s orbit slowly diverges from its earlier prediction, these small deviations are measured by the reference stations on the ground and sent to a central control station for updating, he said. That prediction is sent to the satellite every 12 hours for subsequent broadcast to users. Having monitor stations all around the earth yields improved accuracy over having them only in one hemisphere.
Washington and Moscow have been discussing for nearly a decade how and when to cooperate on civilian satellite-based navigation signals, particularly to ensure that the systems do not interfere with each other. Indeed, many smartphones and other consumer navigation systems sold in the United States today use data from both countries’ satellites.
In May 2012, Moscow requested that the United States allow the ground-monitoring stations on American soil. American technical and diplomatic officials have met several times to discuss the issue and have asked Russian officials for more information, said Ms. Harf, the State Department spokeswoman.
In the meantime, C.I.A. analysts reviewed the proposal and concluded in a classified report this fall that allowing the Russian monitor stations here would raise counterintelligence and other security issues.
The State Department does not think that is a strong argument, said an administration official. “It doesn’t see them as a threat.”
David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Protests held at UK petrol stations in support of Greenpeace activists
Arctic 30 face criminal charges in Russia following protest against oil giant Gazprom drilling off Arctic shore
theguardian.com, Saturday 16 November 2013 14.23 GMT
Greenpeace protesters gathered at petrol stations across the country on Saturday to plead for the release of 28 activists and two journalists from a prison in Russia.
The Arctic 30 were arrested after protesting at an oil rig in international waters off the coast of Russia in September and face criminal charges.
Greenpeace is protesting at Shell outlets in the UK following reports that the company is to join with Russian oil giant Gazprom in drilling off the Arctic shore.
In a letter handed out by activists to managers at each Shell station, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, wrote: "28 activists and two journalists remain in detention after the seizure of our ship Arctic Sunrise by armed Russian Federal Security Bureau agents.
"(They) now face exceptionally serious charges of hooliganism and piracy, accusations with no merit in either Russian or international law. Greenpeace believes that the extraction of oil and gas resources of the Arctic is incompatible with catastrophic climate change. Perhaps more pertinently for Shell, however, is that your new partnership with Gazprom could well become a corporate millstone."
A spokesman for Shell said: "Our view is that any individual organisation has the right to protest as long as that protest is peaceful and safe and does not interfere with our staff or our customers. We have not had any reports of anything like that so far. We will not comment on the reasons for their protests."