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« Reply #10050 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Russia's foreign minister talks up Iran nuclear deal

Sergei Lavrov says there is a very good chance that Tehran and group of six global powers will agree preliminary deal in Geneva

Reuters in Moscow, Saturday 16 November 2013 21.39 GMT   

Global powers and Iran are close to a preliminary deal to rein in Tehran's nuclear programme and should not pass up a "very good chance" to clinch it, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in remarks broadcast on Saturday.

His upbeat comments in a television interview came a day after a senior US official said it was possible a deal could be reached when negotiators meet in Geneva from 20 November.

Six nations negotiating with Iran hope the talks can produce an agreement that would be the first step towards a comprehensive deal to end a decade-long standoff with Tehran and provide assurances it will not build nuclear weapons.

"Our common impression is that there is a very good chance that must not be passed up," Lavrov said of a recent discussion with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, when asked whether the Geneva talks could be successful.

"The steps that must be taken to defuse the situation and create conditions for a final resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem are clear to both the six nations and Iran," he said in the interview with Moscow-based TV Tsentr.

"It is a matter of putting this on paper correctly, accurately and in a mutually respectful way."

Ashton represents the six global powers seeking to curb Iran's nuclear programme – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – in negotiations with Tehran.

Talks earlier this month produced no deal but "confirmed that for the first time in many years both the six nations and Tehran are ready not just to present positions that in most cases do not intersect, but to find points of intersection," Lavrov said.

"These points have been determined, and now there are no fundamental disagreements on which issues need to be resolved in practice," he said, according to a foreign ministry transcript of the interview.

He gave no details. Iran wants relief from US, EU and UN sanctions imposed for violating UN resolutions demanding it halt uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons.

Iran denies it wants to develop atomic weapons capability and insists its nuclear programme is dedicated exclusively to the peaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.

Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant and has much warmer ties with Tehran than the United States does, backs Iran's desire for recognition of its right to enrich uranium and opposes any additional sanctions.

Iran has slowed down the expansion its uranium enrichment capacity under President Hassan Rouhani, who replaced hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August, an International Atomic Energy Agency report showed on Thursday.


Iran slows expansion of nuclear programme

Atomic watchdog IAEA says Tehran has installed no new major parts in its heavy water reactor in three months

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Thursday 14 November 2013 19.28 GMT   

Iran's new government has significantly slowed down expansion of its nuclear programme in an apparent attempt to give more time for negotiations.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency says over the past three months Iran has installed no new major parts in its heavy water reactor in Arak, whose construction is one of the major remaining sticking points in multilateral talks which adjourned in Geneva early on Sunday.

The Iranian stockpile of medium-enriched uranium crept up by about 10kg to 196kg. The stockpile, enriched to 20% purity, is an another leading proliferation concern, but it remains well below the estimated 250kg that would be required, with further enrichment, to make a nuclear weapon.

Just as significantly, Iran has virtually stopped the growth of its enrichment capacity. It installed no new-model centrifuges at its enrichment plant in Natanz over the past quarter, which is important as the new centrifuges, the IR-2M, can enrich uranium up to five times faster than the old model, the IR-1

Only four more IR-1 centrifuges have been added bringing the total to 15,240. None of the IR-2M are being fed with uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich, and overall the number of centrifuges being used for enrichment has stayed roughly the same since the beginning of the last year.

The slowdown in the growth of the Iranian programme comes amid the most intensive diplomacy over Iran's nuclear programme for a decade. Foreign ministers from Iran and six major powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – came close last week to a stopgap deal that would have rolled back elements of the programme and lifted some sanctions.

The talks stalled because of insistence, led by France, that any deal should not grant Iran the long-term right to enrich uranium and should halt work on the Arak reactor. The IAEA inspectors found that although the reactor vessel had been connected up to piping, "no other major components, such as the control room equipment, the refuelling machine and reactor cooling pumps, had been installed."

Most experts think the reactor is very unlikely to be completed on schedule by early next year.

The talks are due to resume next week in Geneva.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who has lobbied hard against an interim deal with Iran, said last night he was not impressed by the slowdown in the Iranian programme.

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« Reply #10051 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:21 AM »

Sri Lanka defiant after Cameron calls for war crimes investigation

President Mahinda Rajapaksa says country will 'take its own time' to probe alleged abuses

The Brothers Shaikh: a man searches for answers after his brother's murder in Sri Lanka – video documentary

Rowena Mason in Colombo
The Observer, Sunday 17 November 2013      

David Cameron has set a four-month deadline for Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of war crimes, in a parting shot at the host country as he left the Commonwealth summit early.

The British prime minister left Colombo having failed to secure any concessions from President Mahinda Rajapaksa or persuade fellow leaders to criticise Sri Lanka's record in a communique.

Before he left Cameron gave Sri Lanka until March to order an independent inquiry into alleged brutality against civilians or face an international UN-backed investigation.

However, Rajapaksa reacted defiantly to the UK's call, saying "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", adding that Sri Lanka would "take its own time" in probing alleged abuses.
Link to video: David Cameron bats against Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan- video

Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan also claimed the prime minister must have been misled about human rights abuses in the north of his country following its bloody 25-year civil war.

The world record-holding bowler, a Tamil, challenged his understanding of the situation in the north. Before playing cricket with Cameron, the sportsman, known as Murali, said: "I can't say the prime minister was wrong or not because he's from England, he hasn't seen the site, he hasn't gone and visited these places, yesterday only he has gone."

Cameron said he had given a balanced account of what he saw in Jaffna after visiting newspaper journalists whose six colleagues were killed and a refugee camp where hundreds of people have been living since 1990.

After attacking the country's human rights failings, the prime minister headed to the Gulf Air Show in an attempt to help British businesses sell Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets and arms to the United Arab Emirates, which also has a controversial record on allowing dissent.

He was due to have a one-on-one dinner at the palace of Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, to press the case for the Emirates to choose Typhoons, built by a consortium including BAE Systems, over France's rival Rafale fighter. Saudi Arabia and Oman have ordered Typhoons but last year India chose the Rafale as its preferred option, in a blow for Cameron's foreign trade drive.

Speaking in Dubai, the prime minister said: "I continue to support Typhoon around the world, which is doing extremely well and is clearly in the running here as well, so there's a lot of jobs, a lot of investment to be garnered from visits like this."

It is the last leg of Cameron's controversial tour of India, Sri Lanka and the Gulf, which led Labour to criticise his decision to attend the biennial Commonwealth gathering.
Link to video: The Brothers Shaikh: a man searches for answers after his brother's murder in Sri Lanka

India, Canada and Mauritius have all boycotted the summit in protest at the Sri Lankan regime's alleged brutality against some Tamils but Cameron decided to go in order to visit the troubled north of the country.

Among other attendees, he appears to have found muted support for his critical public stance towards Sri Lanka. Asked about claims that opponents of the government are routinely tortured, Tony Abbott, the new Australian prime minister, backed the Sri Lankan government, saying he deplores the use of torture but "sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen".

The official Commonwealth communique will not mention allegations against the Sri Lankan government and military, although it is understood it will contain pointed references to the need for members to uphold human rights. According to well-placed sources, a draft of the communique refers to the key role of a free media in maintaining peace and democracy.

In public, Sri Lanka has firmly rebuffed calls for fresh inquiries. Nima Siripala de Silva, a cabinet minister, told reporters Sri Lanka does not need to do any more to investigate what happened in its civil war and he was fully confident the country could convince any UN panel of this.

On Friday, Cameron challenged Rajapaksa in an animated one-on-one meeting at the summit in which the president warned him to not to turn the Commonwealth into a punitive body and suggested his trip was a ploy to win votes among the Tamil diaspora in the UK.

However, Downing Street sources said Rajapaksa summoned Cameron for a second meeting on Saturday morning at which he sounded more conciliatory.


November 17, 2013

Commonwealth Nations to Help Postwar Sri Lanka


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Leaders including South Africa's president said Sunday that they are ready to help Sri Lanka achieve postwar healing, as the island nation closed a Commonwealth summit held amid international outcry over its human rights record.

The summit was dogged by constant attention to Sri Lanka's refusal to allow international inquiries into alleged atrocities committed during and after its 27-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said his troops committed no abuses during or since the country's brutal civil war against ethnic Tamils fighting for a homeland in the island's north. Rajapaksa has also said his country's institutions are actively processing mounting abuse complaints that include reports of missing people, attacks against journalists and harassment of government critics.

"It will take time," he said during a news conference closing the summit. "We have to change the minds and thinking of the people, not only in the north, but in the south, too."

Rajapaksa's government has staunchly refused international calls for an independent inquiry, seeing it as an invasion into domestic matters.

"You must respect our views also, without trying to put us in the corner," he said.

On Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave Sri Lanka a March deadline for showing progress on postwar reconciliation, after which he said he would press the issue with the United Nations.

"You can't say do it in one week or four months. That's very unfair," Rajapaksa said.

The leaders of Canada and Mauritius boycotted the summit over Sri Lanka's human rights record. India's prime minister sent his foreign minister in his place, with Indian Tamil voters demanding a boycott.

But Cameron and other leaders who defied calls to boycott the summit argued that engaging Sri Lanka was a better plan.

South African President Jacob Zuma, whose country is still working on reconciling its minority white and majority black populations after abolishing apartheid in 1990, said he shared lessons on reconciliation with the Sri Lankan government.

"We have some experience to offer," Zuma said, adding that his country was ready to help further "if there's a need for South Africa to play a role."

Rights groups questioned Sri Lanka's resolve in addressing the rights issues, noting a deterioration in the rule of law in recent years and ongoing media harassment. Since Rajapaksa became president in 2005, more than 80 journalists have fled — 26 of them in the last five years.

Leaders who attended described the summit as a success and emphasized the importance of keeping the group of Britain and its former territories together in order to lobby in other international forums as one unit that shares linguistic and judicial colonial residues, while representing a third of the world's population and a fifth of its economy.

"We should not be divided," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, adding that the 27 leaders who attended out of 53 Commonwealth nations expressed a "sense of wanting to stay together."

"We can benefit from sitting down and learning from each other," he said.

The Commonwealth leaders produced a final document committing once more to the group's core values, including democracy and human rights, as well as outlining plans to push for changes to international lending that would help small nations access loans and financing for projects to help cope with the effects of climate change.

The next Commonwealth summit will be in Malta in 2015.

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« Reply #10052 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:23 AM »

Abdulla Yameen wins Maldives election

Mohamed Nasheed, forced to resign from presidency in 2012, concedes defeat in poll that brings old guard back to power

Jason Burke, south Asia correspondent, and agencies, Sunday 17 November 2013 04.35 GMT   
Mohammed Nasheed, the veteran human rights campaigner and climate change activist, has narrowly lost the Maldives presidential poll to a conservative linked to the former autocratic leader of the Indian Ocean nation.

During a bitter election campaign spread over three months, Abdulla Yameen, the eventual winner, and his backers had repeatedly accused Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic party (MDP) of being too secular and close to the west.

The Maldives have suffered political turmoil since 2008 when Nasheed became the country's first democratically elected president in 30 years by defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country's veteran leader.

The political battle in the strategically situated archipelago has pitched Nasheed and his MDP, with their progressive centre-left economic policies and desire for greater ties with Europe and the US, against more conservative, pro-business actors who see their country's natural allies as within the Islamic world, particularly the Gulf.

It has been closely watched overseas with repeated calls from the Commonwealth, European Union and the US for democratic process to be observed.

The new president will face manifold problems in the luxury tourist destination. Unemployment is high and there are widespread social problems including high levels of drug abuse and increasing gang violence.

The religious identity of the almost 100% Sunni Muslim nation has been a key issue. There are concerns about rising conservatism and increasing support for political Islam locally.

Three previous attempts to hold the election were annulled or delayed in as many months and although Nasheed led the first round a week ago, Yameen garnered the support of the resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who was eliminated in that ballot. Nasheed had appeared to be a favourite in the first two attempts to hold the election but his campaign's momentum flagged as the campaign turned into a political and legal battle of attrition.

Yameen's win, with a preliminary 51.6% of votes cast, is a victory for the old guard. He is a half-brother of former ruler Gayoom, who is considered a dictator by rights groups and opponents.

Gasim, who was also Gayoom's finance minister, said the outcome would reinforce the role of Islam in the Muslim island state. "We joined you [Yameen] to save this country, to maintain Islam in the country and I thank Allah for the success."

He also pledged "development".

Nasheed countered that his opponents had used religion unfairly as a weapon. After the ballot a defiant Nasheed addressed hundreds of MDP supporters and later told reporters he would carry on in opposition. "We have the opportunity to show citizens how an opposition party that is loyal to the state works. One thing we should not contemplate [is] to overthrow the government by street action or by direct action.

"We must adhere to democratic principles. We have repeatedly said, when you fall get up and run. When you lose be courageous, and in victory be magnanimous."

The election eommission has yet to confirm the final vote count from an electorate of around 240,000 people and may not do so until Sunday. But local observer group Transparency Maldives said the election was "credible, transparent, and extremely well administered." Turnout was more than 91%, it was reported.

Some Maldivians viewed the ballot as a choice between dictatorship and democracy. "This is the end of democracy in the Maldives," said Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a human rights activist and blogger who has been living in exile since he was stabbed by an Islamist last year.

Others focused on Yameen's earlier success in charge of several state-run firms – experience that could help him win back the confidence of investors and boost slowing growth. High levels of debt and a lack of foreign currency reserves make the idyllic archipelago vulnerable to external economic shocks.

"Yameen has experience running companies so he will know how to run the country better," said voter Ahmed Abu Bakr, 27. "Nasheed's better as an activist so he can be the opposition."

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« Reply #10053 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:24 AM »

Jimmy Carter in Nepal to observe polls in long-awaited election

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 16, 2013 9:45 EST

Former US president Jimmy Carter said Saturday he was confident Nepal’s long-awaited elections next week would proceed peacefully, despite threats of violence from anti-poll protesters.

Carter, 89, is in Kathmandu to lead a 50-person team from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, who will monitor Tuesday’s crucial vote, only the second such polls since a 10-year civil war launched by Maoist rebels ended in 2006.

“We have been very pleased at the preparations for the election,” he told reporters in the capital.

“We have great confidence… that the people of Nepal will orchestrate a very successful and honest and fair and a peaceful election,” he added.

Carter’s NGO monitored Nepal’s landmark 2008 constituent assembly polls, which ended royal rule and transformed the country into a secular republic.

Since then, political infighting has confounded efforts to draft a constitution and conclude the peace process, leading to the collapse of Nepal’s first constituent assembly in May 2012.

Carter said he planned to meet with political leaders and with the chief justice of the supreme court, who is heading Nepal’s interim administration, before the November 19 vote.

A hardline faction of the Maoist party that swept the 2008 polls has threatened to disrupt the elections, with anti-poll protesters torching buses and hurling explosives at vehicles this week.

Carter, a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, met with the hardliners during a visit to Nepal last April and asked them to renounce violence in the run-up to the polls.

The 33-party alliance, headed by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), says elections cannot be carried out under the interim administration and want the polls to be postponed until a cross-party government is put in place.

In a statement late Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the hardliners to allow the vote to take place “in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation”.

“The secretary general appeals to all stakeholders to conclude these elections peacefully, and to redouble their efforts in the urgent task of constitution-making”, the statement said.

Meanwhile, a prominent Maoist party leader, Ram Karki, along with a Maoist election candidate, Keshav Rai, suffered serious injuries in a bus accident Saturday east of Kathmandu that left a total of 30 people hurt, police told AFP.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones — the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — are fielding candidates for the 601-seat constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

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« Reply #10054 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:28 AM »

November 16, 2013

Success of Chinese Leader’s Ambitious Economic Plan May Rest on Rural Regions


HONG KONG — China’s Communist Party has burnished President Xi Jinping’s plans for an economic overhaul with exultant propaganda about a historic turning point. But the success of his proposals, and the long-term health of the Chinese economy, could rest on policy battles reaching down into thousands of towns and villages over land, money and a misshapen fiscal system that has bred public discontent and financial hazards.

The Communist Party Central Committee under Mr. Xi endorsed a package of 6o overhaul goals, released to the public on Friday, that the government said would propel China closer to becoming a secure, powerful and well-off country by the end of this decade. The economic goals include expanding the role of markets in energy and natural resources, encouraging private investment in finance and easing state controls on interest rates.

“If the implementation of these reforms is successful, the structures of the Chinese economy and society will change in profound ways,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor of economics at Cornell University who was previously in charge of the China division of the International Monetary Fund. “The timeline for accomplishing them is ambitious.”

But the Central Committee’s decision and Mr. Xi’s accompanying statement also dwelled on another set of problems, far from bank headquarters, that could matter just as much for China’s economic health: farmland rights and revenues, local government taxes and finances, and chronic shortfalls between many local governments’ outlays and the money they receive from the central government.

Mr. Xi spent part of his career as a county official, becoming familiar with the countryside; he said in a statement accompanying the overhaul goals that the barriers to rural development were among China’s biggest worries.

“There has been not-fundamental reversal of the constantly growing disparity between urban and rural development,” he said in the statement, which was issued through the official news agency, Xinhua.

In many ways, China’s rural problems are a knot of issues about land and revenues. Local governments have grown dependent on taking farmers’ land for relatively little compensation and selling it to developers for a profit. They have been encouraged to do so because the central government takes the bulk of revenues, while assigning many tasks to local governments that require expenditures. In China, farmland is, by law, owned by the village collectively, but in practice, the land is controlled by the state, giving officials a powerful voice over when to develop land and on what terms.

The central government transfers revenues to local governments, but many town and county officials say the amount is not enough to meet ambitions set by central leaders, economists who study China said. Officials in county and city governments, eager to secure jobs for their constituents and to advance their careers, have also gone into dangerous debt to pay for building and business projects that often use that land as collateral for loans, or as a lure for investors.

“Some acute problems in our country’s economic and social development are also related to the inadequacies of the fiscal and taxation system,” Mr. Xi said.

The national audit office last made an estimate of local government debt in 2010, when it reached a figure of 10.72 trillion yuan, or about $1.7 trillion. Many economists expect that a recent audit, using broader criteria, will produce a much higher estimate.

Solving these problems is all the more pressing for Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang because absorbing tens of millions of rural residents into cities is a crucial part of their policy.

Unless China’s leadership finds a way to unravel this knot of land and finance problems, many farmers will remain too poorly compensated to make a safe passage to life in cities, said Hua Sheng, an economist at Southeast University in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Chinese cities also impose household registration restrictions that exclude rural newcomers from services, such as clinics and schools.

“Without making changes in land policy, the household registration system and government finances, it will be very difficult to advance urbanization of the population,” Professor Hua said. “China’s future growth also depends on solving these grass-roots problems.”

The plan endorsed by the Central Committee last week showed that the government is exploring how to defuse problems by shoring up the finances of local governments, clearing up their dangerous debts and giving farmers more secure legal rights over their land, economists said. The government intends to build on policies that allow farmers to lease out land, encouraging the aggregation of fragmented plots into larger, modern family farms.

“The government is signaling a desire to blunt local government opposition to land reforms,” said Professor Prasad of Cornell, noting language in an earlier statement from the Central Committee meeting. “Loss of revenue for local governments as a result of land reforms will presumably be partially compensated by changes to the tax and expenditure systems.”

But many local officials will still resist or try to evade policies that reduce land revenues, said Tao Ran, the director of the China Center for Public Economics and Governance at Renmin University in Beijing. The officials do not believe that the new transfers from the central government will be enough to compensate for their loss of those revenues, he said.

“There will be strong opposition in terms of implementation,” said Professor Tao in a telephone interview. “The local governments often have such big debts that they don’t want to give up their monopoly control of farmland. A lot of their borrowing is mortgaged by land.”

The Chinese government could also try to ease fiscal imbalances by giving more power to local governments to set their own spending and tax policies, partly reversing centralizing changes made 20 years ago. But the central leadership is reluctant to give local officials a great deal of leeway, said Arthur R. Kroeber, the managing director at GaveKal Dragonomics, an economic research firm.

“If you give local governments more power, they’re less accountable, and the central government has less ability to control the behavior of local governments,” Mr. Kroeber said. “But the problem with centralization is that it’s a gigantic country.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting from Beijing.


Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
November 15, 2013, 12:40 am

Xi, in ‘Godfather’ Mold, Looks Assertive and Even Imperial


The president of China, Xi Jinping, has admitted to watching “The Godfather,” and this week he proved he could be a shrewd student of one of that film’s themes: the art of amassing and applying power in a small, secretive circle of men.

Mr. Xi emerged from a four-day meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee stronger. He won endorsement for a new national security commission that is likely to enhance his influence, as well as for a leadership group on reform that could give him a more direct say in economic policy, which has tended to be the prime minister’s domain.

One year after taking leadership of the party, Mr. Xi is looking like an assertive, even imperial president, who sits well above his six colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee. By contrast, his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a vocation of serving as a colorless executor of elite consensus.

“Xi sees power in very personal terms and seems ready to act on that understanding,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at Boston University who specializes in Chinese elite politics. “Whether that is good for China is another question.”

Xiao Gongqin, one of China’s most prominent proponents of “neo-authoritarianism,” thinks Mr. Xi is very a good thing: a new incarnation of his idea of a model leader, Deng Xiaoping.

Professor Xiao, who teaches history at Shanghai Normal University, attracted fame, and controversy, in the late 1980s for arguing that China needed a pro-market strongman to extinguish political opposition while shepherding the country into economic modernity. Mr. Xi absorbed that “neo-authoritarian” idea by consciously imitating Mr. Deng, the party patriarch who oversaw the economic reforms of the 1980s, Professor Xiao said in a telephone interview.

“Xi Jinping marks the arrival of a golden age for Chinese neo-authoritarianism,” the professor said.

“It’s essential to concentrate power now,” he said. “This period requires a strong man, a very powerful leader, and this powerful leader must have both prestige and also institutionally guaranteed powers.”

But advocates of democratic liberalization see many perils in Mr. Xi’s potential amassing of power, as well as the formation of the new, possibly powerful security committee. Rong Jian, an outspoken opponent of neo-authoritarian thought in the 1980s, said he was alarmed by the outcome of the Central Committee meeting.

“He wants to be Putin,” said Mr. Rong, a political commentator who formerly made a living from selling art. Mr. Xi has potentially far greater national economic power in his hands than Mr. Deng had, Mr. Rong said.

“Now these resources are tremendous, almost on par with the United States,” he said. “So if they perform well, they could make a big difference. But if not, they could cause immense harm.”

During a visit to the United States last year, Mr. Xi recalled watching “The Godfather” as a young man. The other Hollywood film he recalled watching was “The Deer Hunter,” the 1978 drama about the harrowing experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Another Hollywood film that Mr. Xi has cited is a thriller: “Mission Impossible.”

Mr. Xi’s leadership style reflects his background, and what appears to be agreement among many senior officials that they need a more agile and forceful leader to cope with difficult economic restructuring, foreign policy pressures, and domestic challenges to one-party rule, said watchers of Chinese politics. Mr. Xi seems to agree and has repeatedly said change is urgently needed.

During the Central Committee meeting, he told officials that they had to accept the “necessity and urgency” of change, according to a report in one Chinese newspaper. “This comprehensive deepening of reform will certainly encounter ideological and conceptual obstructions, and impediments from entrenched interests,” he said.

Mr. Xi appears to be a multilayered matryoshka doll, with each layer of his political persona left by a successive phase of his life — under Mao Zedong, Mr. Deng and then his successors.

Although he and his family suffered harshly under Mao — who purged Mr. Xi’s father from the party elite — Mr. Xi has shown careful respect for him, and has revived and reworked some of Mao’s methods of rousing political mobilization for his own ends.

“I think Xi has been very clear that he is looking back to some mythology of a disciplined party working on behalf of the people that his father served,” Professor Fewsmith said.

But soon after he came to power, Mr. Xi also paid homage to Mr. Deng, by mimicking his early 1992 journey to southern China. Mr. Deng used that visit to reaffirm publicly his political dominance and unleash a rapid expansion of markets after the chill of the 1989 crackdown on student protesters. Mr. Xi apparently hopes to achieve a similar fusion of one-party control and capitalist dynamism, several experts said.

“He has adopted Leninist ideology not to return to the old Leninist path, but to suppress an explosion in political participation, and create a healthy, stable political environment for reform,” said Professor Xiao, the proponent of neo-authoritarianism.

Mr. Xi’s inner circle includes another past proponent of such ideas: Wang Huning, who also served as an aide to the two previous presidents. As a political science professor in the 1980s, Mr. Wang was an ally of neo-authoritarianism. He is now a member of the Politburo and constantly accompanies Mr. Xi, as he did the two previous presidents. And he is a plausible candidate to serve on, and even run, the national security committee.

“Wherever there is no central authority, or where central authority has deteriorated, the state will fall into schism and chaos,” Mr. Wang said in an interview published in 1995. “A robust central authority is the fundamental guarantee of achieving steady growth for a relatively low cost during the course of modernization.”

Many economists and political analysts say that Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, failed to provide that authority, perhaps because the party’s top echelons were crowded with officials who disdained him. Mr. Xi has been polite but muted in his comments on Mr. Hu’s record. He has, however, mocked the former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, as a coward.

But by no means are all watchers of Chinese politics sure that Mr. Xi can avoid misusing his expanded powers, or squandering them on broken promises that breed more social discontent.

“He has to put all of these sprawling agencies, for external and domestic affairs, into his own hands,” said Hu Jia, a human rights advocate in Beijing. “That makes him even more dangerous than Hu Jintao. As well, Xi Jinping personally has a sense of crisis. He doesn’t want to become like the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting from Beijing.

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« Reply #10055 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:48 AM »

The Impossible Refugee Boat Lift to Christmas Island

November 16, 2013

More than a thousand refugees have died trying to reach Christmas Island. But faced with unbearable conditions at home, they keep coming.

                                                 THE DREAM BOAT

It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, normally, from Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, to the southern coast of Java. In one of the many trucks that make the trip each month, loaded with asylum seekers from the Middle East and Central Asia, it takes a little longer. From the bed of the truck, the view is limited to a night sky punctuated by fleeting glimpses of high-rise buildings, overpasses, traffic signs and tollbooths. It is difficult to make out, among the human cargo, much more than the vague shapes of bodies, the floating tips of cigarettes. When you pass beneath a street lamp, though, or an illuminated billboard, the faces thrown into relief are all alive with expectation. Eventually, the urban pulse subsides; the commotion of the freeway fades. The drooping wires give way to darkly looming palms. You begin to notice birds, and you can smell the sea.

In September, in one of these trucks, I sat across from a recently married couple in their 20s, from Tehran. The wife, who was seven months pregnant, wore a red blouse stretched over her stomach; the husband a tank top, thick-rimmed glasses and a faux hawk that revealed a jagged scar (courtesy, he said, of the Iranian police). Two months had passed since they flew to Jakarta; this was their fourth attempt to leave. Twice, en route to the boat that would bring them to Australia, they were intercepted, detained and paid bribes for their release. Another time, the boat foundered shortly after starting out. All the same, they were confident this trip would be different. Like everyone else’s in the truck, theirs was a desperate kind of faith. “Tonight we will succeed,” the husband assured me. They were determined that the child be born “there.”

Our drive coincided with a violent tropical downpour that seemed to surge, under pressure, more than fall. Each asylum seeker had brought a small bag with spare clothes and provisions. Those who packed slickers dug them out. The storm was amusing at first, then just cold and miserable. The children, who earlier delighted in our clandestine exit from the city, now clung to their parents. An old man, sitting cross-legged beside me with a plastic garbage bag on his head, shivered uncontrollably, muttering prayers.

Around 3 in the morning, the truck braked and reversed down a rutted dirt road. The rain had stopped as abruptly as it started. No one spoke. We knew we had arrived. The rear hatch swung open, and we piled out. A second truck was parked behind us; people were emerging from it as well. We were in a dense jungle whose tangled canopy obstructed the moon. Several Indonesians corralled the crowd and whispered fiercely to keep moving. “Go! Go!” they urged in English. The road led down a steep hill and ended at a narrow footpath. As people stumbled in the dark, the Indonesians prodded them along. At the bottom of the footpath was a beach. It appeared as a pale hue through the trees, its white sand giving off a glow. The asylum seekers, 57 of them, huddled at the jungle’s edge.

Asylum seekers return to Jakarta after a failed attempt to reach a boat.

We were in the shelter of a wide bay, its arcing headlands, dotted with lights, repulsing the windward waves. Two open-hull skiffs with outboard motors idled offshore, bobbing gently in the swells. Behind us, the clamor of the truck grew distant and was gone. Suddenly, the Indonesians began pushing people toward the sea.

“You, you. Go!”

Two at a time, the asylum seekers raised their bags above their heads and waded out. The cool water rose to waists and armpits. It was a struggle to climb aboard. Whenever someone had to be hauled up, the skiff pitched steeply, threatening to tip.

We were ferried to a wooden fishing boat: a more substantial vessel than the skiffs, though not much. About 30 feet long, with open decks, a covered bow, a one-man cockpit and a bamboo tiller, it was clearly not designed for passengers. Noting the absence of cabin, bridge, bulkheads and benches, I wondered whether anyone else shared my deluded hope: that there was another, larger ship anchored somewhere farther out, and that this sad boat was merely to convey us there.

With frantic miming, the two-man Indonesian crew directed us to crowd together on the deck and crouch beneath the bulwarks. They stretched a tarp above our heads and nailed its edges to the gunwales. Packed close in the ripe air beneath the tarp, hugging knees to chests, we heard the engine start and felt the boat begin to dip and rise.

Our destination was an Australian territory, more than 200 miles across the Indian Ocean, called Christmas Island. If the weather is amenable, if the boat holds up, the trip typically lasts three days. Often, however, the weather is tempestuous, and the boat sinks. Over the past decade, it is believed that more than a thousand asylum seekers have drowned. The unseaworthy vessels are swamped through leaky hulls, capsize in heavy swells, splinter on the rocks. Survivors sometimes drift for days. Children have watched their parents drown, and parents their children. Entire families have been lost. Since June, several boats went down, claiming the lives of more than a hundred people.

I first heard about the passage from Indonesia to Australia in Afghanistan, where I live and where one litmus test for the success of the U.S.-led war now drawing to a close is the current exodus of civilians from the country. (The first “boat people” to seek asylum in Australia were Vietnamese, in the mid-1970s, driven to the ocean by the fallout from that American withdrawal.) Last year, nearly 37,000 Afghans applied for asylum abroad, the most since 2001. Afghans who can afford to will pay as much as $24,000 for European travel documents and up to $40,000 for Canadian. (Visas to the United States, generally, cannot be bought.) Others employ smugglers for arduous overland treks from Iran to Turkey to Greece, or from Russia to Belarus to Poland.

The Indonesia-Australia route first became popular in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, mostly among Hazaras, a predominantly Shiite ethnic minority that was systematically brutalized by the Taliban. After the Taliban were overthrown, many refugees, anticipating an enduring peace, returned to Afghanistan, and for a while the number of Afghans willing to risk their lives at sea declined. But by late 2009 — with Afghans, disabused of their optimism, fleeing once more — migration to Australia escalated. At the same time, Hazaras living across the border in Pakistan, many of whom moved there from Afghanistan, have also found relocation necessary. In a sectarian crusade of murder and terror being waged against them by Sunni extremists, Hazara civilians in the Pakistani city of Quetta are shot in the streets, executed en masse and indiscriminately massacred by rockets and bombs.

I wondered whether anyone else shared my deluded hope: that there was another, larger ship anchored somewhere farther out, and that this sad boat was merely to convey us there.

In 2010, a suicide attacker killed more than 70 people at a Shiite rally in Quetta. Looming directly above the carnage was a large billboard paid for by the Australian government. In Dari, next to an image of a distressed Indonesian fishing boat carrying Hazara asylum seekers, read the words: “All illegal routes to Australia are closed to Afghans.” The billboard was part of a wide-ranging effort by Australia to discourage refugees from trying to get to Christmas Island. In Afghanistan, a recent Australian-funded TV ad featured a Hazara actor rubbing his eyes before a black background. “Please don’t go,” the man gloomily implores over melancholic music. “Many years of my life were wasted there [in detention] until my application for asylum was rejected.” In addition to the messaging campaign (and the hard-line policies it alludes to), Australia has worked to disrupt smuggling networks by collaborating with Pakistan’s notorious intelligence services, embedding undercover agents in Indonesia and offering up to $180,000 for information resulting in a smuggler’s arrest. The most drastic deterrence measure was introduced this July, when the Australian prime minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, announced that henceforth no refugee who reaches Australia by boat would be settled there. Instead, refugees would be detained, and eventually resettled, in impoverished Papua New Guinea. Several weeks later, the resettlement policy was extended to a tiny island state in Micronesia called the Republic of Nauru.

Since then, there have been more boats, more drownings. In late September, a vessel came apart shortly after leaving Indonesia, and dozens of asylum seekers — from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq — drowned. That people are willing to hazard death at sea despite Australia’s vow to send them to places like Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru would seem illogical — or just plain crazy. The Australian government ascribes their persistence partly to misinformation propagated by the smugglers. But every asylum seeker who believes those lies believes them because he chooses to. Their doing so, and continuing to brave the Indian Ocean, and continuing to die, only illustrates their desperation in a new, disturbing kind of light. This is the subtext to the plight of every refugee: Whatever hardship he endures, he endures because it beats the hardship he escaped. Every story of exile implies the sadder story of a homeland.

It’s surprisingly simple, from Kabul, to enlist the services of the smugglers Australian authorities are so keen to apprehend. The problem was that every Afghan I spoke to who had been to Indonesia insisted that no Western journalist would ever be allowed onto a boat: Paranoia over agents was too high. Consequently, the photographer Joel van Houdt and I decided to pose as refugees. Because we are both white, we thought it prudent to devise a cover. We would say we were Georgian (other options in the region were rejected for fear of running into Russian speakers), had sensitive information about our government’s activities during the 2008 war (hence, in the event of a search, our cameras and recorders), traveled to Kabul in search of a smuggler and learned some Dari during our stay. An Afghan colleague of mine, Hakim (whose name has been changed to protect his identity), would pretend to be a local schemer angling for a foothold in the trade. It was all overly elaborate and highly implausible.

When we were ready, Hakim phoned an elderly Afghan man, living in Jakarta, who goes by the honorific Hajji Sahib. Hajji Sahib is a well-known smuggler in Indonesia; his cellphone number, among Afghans, is relatively easy to obtain. Hakim explained that he had two Georgians — “Levan” and “Mikheil” — whom he wished to send Hajji Sahib’s way. Hajji Sahib, never questioning our story, agreed to get Joel and me from Jakarta to Christmas Island for $4,000 each. This represents a slightly discounted rate, for which Hakim, aspiring middleman, promised more business down the road.

Many brokers at Sarai Shahzada, a currency market in Kabul, are part of a money-transfer system known as hawala, which is often used in the refugee-smuggling business.

A few days later, we visited Sarai Shahzada, Kabul’s bustling currency market. Tucked behind an outdoor bazaar on the banks of a polluted river that bends through the Old City, the entrance to Sarai Shahzada is a narrow corridor mobbed with traders presiding over stacks of Pakistani rupees, Iranian rials, American dollars and Afghan afghanis. The enclosed courtyard to which the corridor leads, the exterior stairwells ascending the surrounding buildings, the balconies that run the length of every floor — no piece of real estate is spared a hard-nosed dealer hawking bundled bricks of cash. The more illustrious operators occupy cramped offices and offer a variety of services in addition to exchange. Most of them are brokers of the money-transfer system, known as hawala, used throughout the Muslim world. Under the hawala system, if someone in Kabul wishes to send money to a relative in Pakistan, say, he will pay the amount, plus a small commission, to a broker in Sarai Shahzada, and in return receive a code. The recipient uses this code to collect the funds from a broker in Peshawar, who is then owed the transferred sum by the broker in Sarai Shahzada (a debt that can be settled with future transactions flowing in reverse).

In Afghanistan, where many people have family living abroad and lack bank accounts, the hawala system mostly facilitates legitimate remittances. It also, however, offers an appealing space for illicit dealings. In 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted one of Sarai Shahzada’s main businesses for laundering millions on behalf of Afghan narcotics traffickers. The Taliban, as well, are thought to get the bulk of their donations, from Persian Gulf and Pakistani patrons, via hawala transfers.

The refugee-smuggling business is conducted almost entirely through hawala. Hajji Sahib’s man, Mohammad, keeps a third-story office overlooking the courtyard in Sarai Shahzada. When we got there, we found Mohammad sitting behind a desk papered with receipts pinned down against a squeaky fan by half-drunk glasses of tea. With long unkempt hair, bad posture and acne, Mohammad looked as if he could still be in his teens. Other young men lined the walls, hunched in plastic chairs, working cellphones and calculators. When Hakim introduced himself as an intermediary for Hajji Sahib, they all glanced up from their computations, stiffening a little.

Mohammad immediately gave a spirited endorsement of Hajji Sahib’s integrity, as well as of his own. He was eager to assure us that we were in capable hands. “We represent lots of smugglers,” Mohammad boasted. “For Australia and also for Europe. Every month, dozens of people give us their money.” He picked up a black ledger and waved it in the air. “Look at this notebook! I write every customer’s details in here.”

We gave him our fake names and origins. (“Gorjestan?” we were asked for the first but by no means the last time.) Then, a bit reluctantly, I counted out $8,000 in cash. In return, Mohammad handed me a scrap of paper with our hawala codes scribbled in pen. Levan: 105. Mikheil: 106. Mohammad would withhold the money from his counterpart in Jakarta until we reached Christmas Island. This, theoretically, would preclude Hajji Sahib from retrieving it prematurely. It would also ensure he would not get paid if our boat sank or if we drowned.

Most asylum seekers bound for Australia arrive in Jakarta by air. The day after we landed in the sprawling capital, I called Hajji Sahib and arranged to be picked up the next morning at a 7-Eleven on a busy intersection. Joel and I were sitting outside the 7-Eleven when an Indonesian man in a Hawaiian shirt appeared at the appointed time. He eyed us doubtfully, then handed me a cellphone.

“You will go in a taxi with this guy,” Hajji Sahib told me. “He will bring you to a safe place.”

We drove in silence, for about an hour, to the northern edge of the city, where gated communities vied for waterfront with ramshackle slums on the garbage-heaped banks of Jakarta Bay. We pulled into the parking lot of a massive tower-block apartment complex and took an elevator to the 23rd floor. Midway down a poorly lit hallway, our escort knocked on a metal security door. A young girl in a dress decorated with images of Barbie let us in. An Iranian man sat at a glass table, tapping ash from a cigarette into a water-bottle cap. A small boy lay on a bare mattress, watching cartoons. “O.K.?” asked the Indonesian, and before anyone could answer, he was gone.

Anoush and Shahla, two young refugees from Iran, in a safe house in Jakarta.

The man, Youssef, had been living in the apartment for a couple of weeks with his 8-year-old son, Anoush, and 6-year-old daughter, Shahla. (All the names of the asylum seekers in this story have been changed for their protection.) Youssef had been a laborer in Tehran, refurbishing building exteriors. In order to pay Hajji Sahib, he had sold all his possessions and gave up the house he was renting. He left his wife with her parents, planning to bring her to Australia legally once he and the children were settled there. “In Iran, there is no work, no life, no future for these children,” Youssef told me, nodding at Anoush and Shahla. “I want them to go to school so that they can get a position.”

We were sitting at the table, in one of the apartment’s three rooms. A TV and refrigerator stood against the far wall, opposite a sink and counter, with a two-burner camping stove. Whereas Youssef, plainly, was less than thrilled to have new roommates (there were only two beds, one of them a narrow twin), Anoush and Shahla were competing to one-up each other with hospitality. After Shahla complimented Joel and me on our “beautiful beards,” Anoush set about preparing us a lunch of chicken-flavored instant noodles.

Shahla said, “People become thieves there, in Iran.”

“In Australia, I want to be a policeman,” Anoush announced. “I want to arrest thieves, and say, ‘Hands up!’ ”

Youssef seemed to disapprove. “They will study,” he said.

“Our smuggler told us we were leaving tomorrow,” I said. Rashid laughed. “Yes, they say that.”

On different floors throughout the tower block, other apartments housed about 30 more asylum seekers. Some were Hajji Sahib’s; some belonged to rival smugglers. A majority, I was surprised to discover, were not Afghan but Iranian. Most were from cities and the lower middle class. They were builders, drivers, shopkeepers, barbers. One man claimed to be a mullah; another, an accomplished engineer. Their reasons for leaving varied. They all complained about the government and its chokehold on their freedoms. A few said they had been targeted for political persecution. They bemoaned the economy. International sanctions — imposed on Iran for refusing to abandon its nuclear program in 2006 and later tightened — had crippled their ability to support their families. They were fathers who despaired of their children’s futures, or they wanted children but refused to have them in Iran. The most common word they used to describe their lives back home was na-aomid — hopeless.

Shortly after we settled into the apartment, an Iranian named Rashid stopped by for a visit. Rashid had the sickly, anemic look that I would soon come to associate with asylum seekers who languished in that place for two months or more — a combination of malnourishment and psychological fatigue. As he collapsed into a chair, elbows propped on knees, chin propped on palm, he seemed to lack even the most basic gravity-resisting vigor. After a month in Jakarta, Rashid told me, he got aboard a boat bound for Christmas Island. The engine promptly failed, leaving them adrift for days. In lieu of a bilge pump, Rashid and the other men had to use buckets to bail out the water splashing into the hull and seeping through its wooden planks. They ran out of food and water. People might have begun succumbing to dehydration if the tide hadn’t carried them to a remote island. There they were arrested and obliged to pay the Indonesian police before they could be freed.

“We came back to this place,” Rashid said. “The smuggler said, ‘Don’t worry, we will take you again soon.’ ”

I glanced at Joel. Over the phone, while we were in Kabul, Hajji Sahib urged us to get to Jakarta as soon as possible, saying the next boat was ready to depart.

“Our smuggler told us we were leaving tomorrow,” I said.

Rashid laughed. “Yes, they say that.”

The waiting was brutal: doing nothing became the most onerous of chores. The fact that your smuggler could call at any time, day or night, meant that you were forever suspended in a state of high alert. It also meant you couldn’t venture far. Most of the asylum seekers, additionally fearful of police, never left the building. Generally, they spent their days sleeping as much as possible, smoking cigarettes and rotating through one another’s rooms — for a change of scenery, presumably, though they were all identical. Everyone was broke, and meals, in our apartment anyway, consisted of instant noodles, once or twice a day, on occasion served with bread. To sleep, Youssef, Anoush and Shahla shared one of the two beds, while Joel and I alternated between the other and a thin mattress on the floor. Mattress nights were coveted, because it lay at the foot of the refrigerator, which you could open for a brief but glorious breath of cool air when you woke drenched in sweat, and because, compared with the bed, it was relatively free of fleas.

Fifty-seven asylum seekers and two Indonesian crew members made the three-day trip aboard a 30-foot vessel.

Although many of the asylum seekers in the building had children, only Youssef had brought his with him. (The others expected to be reunited with their families in Australia.) It’s difficult to imagine how Anoush and Shahla processed the whole experience. My sense was that the thrill of the adventure eclipsed its hardships and hassles. With nothing and no one, except each other, to play with, they kept themselves remarkably well entertained. A feather duster found beneath the sink made for a superb tickling instrument; plastic grocery bags were turned into balloons; the hot-sauce packets, included in every ration of instant noodles, could be squirted on the tabletop to create interesting designs. There was also much to explore. The tower block was a kind of self-sufficient microcity, its four lofty wings flanking a private courtyard with shops and fish fries servicing outdoor tables clustered around a concrete bandstand. Every night, wizened Indonesian men belted out karaoke covers of John Denver and Johnny Cash. There was a Muslim mosque, a Christian church, a Buddhist temple. There were giant roaches and tailless cats to chase. And most delightfully, there was a pool.

As neither of the kids had swimming trunks or a spare pair of clothes, underwear had to suffice. Applying their talents for improvisation, Shahla found a used dish rag they could both share for a towel, while Anoush, with a kitchen knife, removed a length of flexible tubing from the back of our air-conditioner (which was broken anyway), repurposing it as a snorkel. Their resourcefulness continued at the pool itself: each day, they seemed to come into possession of some new equipment — a pair of goggles, a bar of soap, an inflatable flotation ring.

While Youssef made the rounds of the rooms, Joel and I would end up watching them at the pool. We were both distressed to see that neither Anoush nor Shahla could really swim.

When I asked Anoush, who had never been on a boat before, whether he was nervous about the journey, he clucked his tongue. “I have no fear,” he said. “I’ll be smiling.”

Their father was less carefree. Not long after we joined them, it became clear that Youssef had no money, and if Joel and I didn’t buy food and water, they would simply go without. Whenever the fleas or heat would wake me in the night, I would find Youssef sitting by the window, staring out at the fires — bright islands of flame and eerily colored smoke — where the slum dwellers were burning trash. Everyone was stressed; the strain of two kids and no cash, however, rendered Youssef especially edgy. He was given to fits of anger and with the slightest provocation could fly into rages at Anoush, as well as at the other asylum seekers, many of whom avoided him.

Then one day Youssef’s family wired money. I was sitting with him in the apartment, smoking, when he got the call. The news transformed him. Beaming with joy, Youssef leapt into the air and began to sing and dance.

That night Joel and I found him in the courtyard drinking with Rashid. Anoush and Shahla ran from shop to shop, swinging bags of candy. When he saw us, Youssef insisted we sit down, then shouted loudly, at no one in particular, for more beer. A group of elderly Indonesian men, playing dominoes nearby, regarded him impatiently. Youssef didn’t notice. He was slumped over the table, doodling on its surface with a permanent marker.

Rashid seemed embarrassed for his friend. “His head is messed up,” he explained. “Waiting here, with his kids, not knowing when we’ll go. It’s hard.”

Youssef nodded glumly.

“My head is messed up, too,” Rashid said. “I’m going crazy. I have two sons in Iran. I haven’t seen them or my wife in a year.”

Rashid said that before Australia, he tried to get to Europe via Greece. He made it from Turkey to Athens, where he was fleeced by a smuggler. Rather than return to Iran, he came to Indonesia. “Every day, they tell us, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow,’ ” Rashid said. “But tomorrow never arrives.”

Anoush and Shahla appeared and asked Youssef for money. They wanted chips. Youssef pulled out a wad of bills and threw some in their direction. Several fluttered to the ground.

“Beer!” Youssef yelled at a woman passing by. Then he looked guiltily at Rashid, and added: “Please! Thank you!”

In the early morning hours on the first day of their journey, the asylum seekers crowded together under a tarp.

Australia’s decision to send all boat people to Papua New Guinea or the Republic of Nauru only compounded everyone’s anxiety. Although no one allowed himself to take it seriously (if he did, he would have no option but to do the unthinkable — give up, go home), the news was never decisively explained away. “It’s a lie to scare people so that they don’t come,” Youssef told me when I brought it up. Another man became agitated when I asked him what he thought. “How can they turn you away?” he demanded. “You put yourself in danger, you take your life in your hand? They can’t.” A third asylum seeker dismissed the policy with a shrug. “It’s a political game,” he told me.

In many ways, he was right. It’s hard to overstate how contentious an issue boat people are in Australian politics. From an American perspective, zealousness on the subject of immigration is nothing unfamiliar. But what makes Australia unique is the disconnect between how prominently boat people feature in the national dialogue, on the one hand, and the actual scale of the problem, on the other. Over the past four years, most European countries have absorbed more asylum seekers, per capita, than Australia — some of them, like Sweden and Liechtenstein, seven times as many. All the same, for more than a decade now, successive Australian governments have fixated on boat people, making them a centerpiece of their agendas.

In the summer of 2001, a Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, rescued 433 asylum seekers, almost all of them Afghan, from a stranded fishing boat. Rather than return them to Indonesia, the captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, consented to their demands to be taken to Christmas Island. Australia forbade the ship to enter its territory, and the standoff that ensued led to Australia’s threatening to prosecute Rinnan and Norway’s complaining to the United Nations. John Howard, a conservative prime minister, who, in the midst of a re-election campaign, was trailing his opponent in most of the polls, declared, “It remains our very strong determination not to allow this vessel or its occupants to land in Australia.” When Rinnan, concerned over the welfare of the asylum seekers on his ship, proceeded toward the island anyway, Howard dispatched Australian commandos to board the Tampa and stop it from continuing. The impasse was resolved only when New Zealand and Nauru agreed to accept the asylum seekers instead. Howard’s action was widely popular with voters, and two months later he was re-elected.

“How can they turn you away? You put yourself in danger, you take your life in your hand? They can't.”

Diverting boat people to third countries for processing — albeit with the possibility of someday being resettled in Australia — was subsequently adopted as an official strategy. Under an arrangement popularly known as the Pacific Solution, asylum seekers trying to get to Christmas Island were interdicted by the navy and taken to detention centers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea (both of which rely heavily on Australian aid). The Pacific Solution was denounced by refugee and human rights advocates, who criticized the harsh conditions of the centers and the prolonged periods of time — many years, in some cases — that asylum seekers had to spend in them while their applications were considered. Depression and other mental disorders proliferated; incidents of self-harm were common. In 2003, detainees on Nauru protested with a weekslong hunger strike, during which some of them sewed their lips together. Last September, Arne Rinnan, the captain of the Tampa, told an interviewer that he had recently received a letter from Nauru, written by one of the Afghans he had rescued. According to Rinnan, the man said that “I should have let him die in the Indian Ocean, instead of picking him up.”

After the Labor Party regained control of Parliament in 2007, and the new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, abolished the Pacific Solution — his immigration minister condemning it as “neither humane nor fair” — the U.N. and just about every other organization involved with refugees lauded the move. Rudd lost his leadership of the Labor Party in 2010, and his successor, Julia Gillard, resurrected the offshore-processing strategy. When Rudd returned to power in 2013, apparently having learned his lesson, he kept Gillard’s policies in place. It was in the context of another re-election bid in July that Rudd eliminated the possibility of any boat person ever settling in Australia. “I understand that this is a very hard-line decision,” he acknowledged in a national address. He seemed anxious to make sure that voters understood it too.

Asylum seekers, including a pregnant woman, during the second day of their journey.

Rudd’s conservative opponent, Tony Abbott, would not be outdone. One of the two rallying cries that had come to define Abbott’s campaign was “Stop the boats!” (The other, referring to carbon-emissions penalties, was “Axe the tax!”) Proclaiming the influx of boat people a “national emergency,” Abbott proposed an even tougher scheme than Rudd’s, dubbed “Operation Sovereign Borders.” Among other proactive measures, this militaristic plan called for deploying warships to turn asylum seekers back at sea, before they reached Australian shores.

The elections were scheduled to be held less than a week after the night I found Youssef and Rashid drinking in the courtyard. Whichever candidate prevailed, one thing was certain: neither Youssef nor Rashid, nor Anoush nor Shahla, were going to get to the place they believed they were going. Rashid would never be reunited with his wife and sons in some quaint Australian suburb; Youssef would never see his children “get a position” there; Anoush would never become an Australian policeman; Shahla would never benefit from a secular, Western education. What they had to look forward to instead — after the perilous voyage, and after months, maybe years, locked up in an isolated detention center — was resettlement on the barren carcass of a defunct strip mine, more than 70 percent of which is uninhabitable (Nauru), or resettlement on a destitute and crime-ridden island nation known for its high rates of murder and sexual violence (Papua New Guinea).

How do you tell that to someone who has severed himself utterly from his country, in order to reach another? It was impossible. They wouldn’t believe it.

Joel and I were walking along the bay, where dozens of residents from the slums had gathered to watch backhoes on floating barges scoop refuse out of the shallows and deposit it onto the banks, when Youssef called my cellphone and shouted at us to get back to the tower — we were leaving. In the apartment, we found two young Iranian women, Farah and Rima, sitting at the table with large backpacks, while Youssef hurriedly shoved dates and lemons — thought to alleviate seasickness — into a canvas messenger bag. I noticed, too, that he was bringing the inflatable flotation ring Anoush and Shahla had found at the pool.

An Iranian man named Ayoub appeared and told us our car was waiting. By the deferential way Youssef and the women treated him — and by his assertive self-possession, in contrast to our rather panicky excitement — I gathered that Ayoub was a smuggler. He wore a military haircut and a handlebar mustache, and his sleeveless shirt displayed the words “Life is hard” tattooed in English across an impressively sculptured left deltoid.

The asylum seekers braced against strong wind and waves.

We all crammed into a new car with tinted windows, driven by a squat Indonesian man with long rapier-like pinkie nails that tapered into points, who belched every couple of minutes and chain-smoked flavored cigarettes. Anoush and Shahla were elated. As we pulled onto the highway, they could not stop talking about the boat and the sea. The women adored them instantly. Farah hauled Anoush onto her lap, while Rima set to braiding Shahla’s wild hair. The kids received this affection like sustenance, with a kind of delirious gratitude and appetite. It made me remember that since arriving in Jakarta, they had not only been without their mother but without any mother.

We stopped at three gas stations along the way and linked up with other drivers. By the time we made it out of the city, several hours later, we led a convoy of six identical cars, all packed with asylum seekers. It seemed a bit conspicuous, and sure enough, as we climbed a narrow, winding road up a densely forested mountain, people came out to watch whenever we passed a shop or village. It was maybe 8 or 9 at night when our driver got a call that caused him to accelerate abruptly and career down a side road that led into the woods. The other cars followed. Pulling to a stop, shutting off the lights and engine, our driver spun around and hissed: “Shh! Police.”

He got out to confer with his colleagues, and when he returned, it was in a hurry. Recklessly whipping around blind turns, we retreated down the mountain in the direction from which we came. Emerging from one sharp bend, we encountered a dark S.U.V. blocking the way. A siren whined; blue lights flashed. We slammed to a halt. A police officer in civilian clothes and a black baseball cap approached the driver’s side. He peered in through the open window, registering the women and children. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he reeled back and smacked our driver hard and square in the face.

With the S.U.V. behind us, we returned to the turnoff for the side road. The other five cars were there, surrounded by several police vehicles and a four-wheel-drive truck. A crowd had gathered. It was hard to tell what was happening. Some of the officers were taking pictures of the license plates and asylum seekers, others appeared to be joking affably with the drivers. Everyone was making calls on cellphones. At one point, our driver stuck his head in the window and rubbed his thumb and fingers together. “Money, money,” he said. But the next instant he disappeared again.

The tremendous racket of the engine belied its less-than-tremendous horsepower. Like the rest of the vessel, it was built neither for such a heavy load nor for such high seas.

Eventually, with a police car ahead of us and the truck bringing up the rear, we continued along the road. It was useless to try to get an explanation from our driver, who, in a torpor of self-pity, only muttered to himself and stroked a red mark on his cheek. When Rima got hold of Ayoub, he said not to worry, Hajji Sahib was taking care of it.

We were taken to a police station, in the city of Sukabumi. There, an older, bespectacled man in army fatigues and a beret seemed to be in charge. Once more, all the drivers were pulled out of their cars, pictures were taken, phone calls were made. After about an hour, with the same escort in front and behind, our convoy was on the move again. It’s hard to say for how long we drove or where we finally stopped: all I could make out were a couple of shuttered storefronts on an otherwise empty road. Curiously, when I looked out the rear window, every police vehicle save one was turning around and heading back toward Sukabumi.

The sole remaining officer, a young man in a tan uniform, leaned against a chain-link fence, smoking a cigarette, apparently uninterested in us. Soon the asylum seekers began getting out of their cars. After the officer watched with indifference as a group of Afghan teenagers briskly walked away, everyone started flagging down trucks and hopping into communal passenger vans. When a large commuter bus happened by, the officer signaled for it to stop. Those of us who hadn’t yet absconded piled on.

I found myself sitting toward the front of the bus with an Iraqi family from Baghdad — a young woman in a hijab, her husband, father-in-law and three children.

Passengers atop the engine room contended with cold seawater and hot vertical pipes spewing smoke and sparks.

“Where are we going?” the Iraqi woman said in English.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Someone asked the driver.

“Bogor,” he said.

“Where’s Bogor?” the Iraqi woman said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

It turned out to be the end of the line. When the bus stopped, about 30 asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan got out. No one quite knew what to do. It was nearly dawn, and everything in Bogor was closed. We all walked to the highway — a motley, exhausted crew, carrying backpacks and plastic bags with food and clothes — and started hailing taxis. Youssef, the children, Rima, Farah, Joel and I managed to persuade a commuter with a minivan to take us back to the tower block for $20. The sun was coming up by the time we got there. The apartment was still filthy. It still stunk. It was still hot. Youssef lit a pot of water for the noodles.

A few days later, Joel and I were on our way to one of the shops downstairs when a young Middle Eastern man we had never seen before approached us. “Come with me,” he said.

We followed him to the courtyard, where we found Ayoub sitting at one of the tables, absorbed in a hearty lunch.

“Get your bags and the apartment key,” Ayoub told me, dropping a chicken bone onto his plate and loudly sucking the grease off his fingers, one at a time, from thumb to pinkie.

When we got up to the apartment and I told Youssef the news, he only nodded. The reaction was not what I expected. “Ayoub is here,” I repeated. “We’re leaving.”

“Did he say us too?” Youssef asked. “Or just you?”

I didn’t understand. “We’re all going together, of course.”

Youssef seemed unconvinced and made no move to pack. A few minutes later, Hajji Sahib called me. I stepped into the hall.

“Are you with the Iranian family?” he said.

“Yes. We’re almost ready.”

“Ayoub is already gone,” Hajji Sahib said. “You have to take a taxi to another place. And you have to leave the Iranians there. They can’t come. There is a problem with their money.”

Back in the apartment, I found Youssef at the stove. He had put Shahla in the shower. Anoush was watching cartoons.

“What’s going on?” I said.

Nearing Christmas Island, the boat was met by sailors from the Australian Navy. The asylum seekers pleaded with Australian sailors to take a suffering passenger aboard.

Youssef shook his head. When I told him Joel and I had to go alone, without them, there was no objection or rebuke; however miserable, Youssef was reconciled to what was happening, and I realized he must have seen it coming. He lit a cigarette and lay down on the mattress. Shahla was still in the shower. Anoush, I could tell, hadn’t missed a thing. His eyes, though, stayed fastened on the TV.

We took a taxi to a much nicer building on the opposite side of Jakarta. A tall, skinny Iranian in his early 20s met us in the lobby and took us to the top floor. In the apartment, we found Farah and Rima sitting with three Iranian men around a coffee table with a row of cellphones on it. The women greeted us warmly and introduced one of the men, Siya, as the “boss.” Muscular and shirtless, with intricate tattoos of feathered wings spread across his chest, Siya was busy fashioning a sheath for a long wood-handled knife out of folded magazine pages and rubber bands.

Noticing me notice the knife, Farah said, “For security.”

Siya told us to put our cellphones on the table and informed us that we would no longer be allowed to use them.

“Who told you to come here?” he asked.

“Hajji Sahib,” I said.

“Who introduced you to Hajji Sahib?”

“Hakim. From Kabul.”

“Hakim from Kabul?” Siya nodded knowingly. “O.K., good.”

After a while, a middle-aged man and his son joined us. Siya embraced each of them for a minute or more. The father, Amir, was a shop owner from the Iranian side of the border with Iraq. He and Sami, a pudgy 9-year-old with glasses, were two of the friendliest people I met in Jakarta. Although he was older than Siya, Amir’s meek nature relegated him definitely subordinate: a somewhat awkward dynamic that Amir, loath to make anyone uncomfortable, deflated by clicking his heels and saluting the boss (who, in turn, ordered him to execute a series of squats and lunges, counting out the sets in a mock drill-sergeant voice). Later, when Siya asked to inspect his weapon, Amir reached into his pocket and produced a flimsy steak knife.

It was around midnight when Siya got the call. He gave us back our phones, and we took the elevator to an underground parking garage, where another caravan of new cars with tinted windows was waiting. Every vehicle was already packed beyond capacity. We were all greatly relieved when, a few miles down the highway, our driver pulled into an alley, stopped behind the truck and told us to get out.

After the hard rain on the way to the beach, and wading out chest-deep to the skiffs, everyone was drenched. It was still dark out when the two Indonesian crew members pulled back the tarp they had nailed over our heads. The coast was a vague shadow growing vaguer. The Indonesians distributed life vests: ridiculous things, made from thin fabric and a bit of foam. The youngest children, including a girl in a pink poncho who appeared no older than 4 or 5, were directed with their parents to a small square of open deck in the stern. The reason for this was that the farther aft you went, the less violent was the bucking as we plowed into the swells.

As the sun broke, we got our first good look at one another. Rashid had made it, as well as several other men from the tower block. There were nine children and more than a dozen women. Aside from one Afghan man, from Kunduz Province, everyone was Iranian. Most of the elderly crowded into the covered bow or leaned against the bulwarks. The rest fit where they could on the open deck. The sea was choppy enough so that each time the boat crashed from a peak into a trough or hit a wave head-on, large amounts of water splashed against us.

The first person to become sick was Siya. It was still early morning when he started throwing up. He was a natural leader, that man, and almost everyone soon followed suit. By late afternoon, we’d lost sight of land completely, and the swells grew to a size that blocked out the horizon when they loomed above us. Some people bent over the gunwales, some vomited into plastic bags. It quickly became apparent that there were not enough bags to go around: rather than toss them overboard, full ones had to be emptied, rinsed and reused.

The sailors passed out new life vests, fresh water and some food before returning to their ship.

Siya would not be cowed. Peeling off his soaking tank top, revealing his tattooed wings — seeming to unfold them, actually, as he threw back his shoulders — he began to sing. Others joined in, breaking now and then to retch.

It was slow going. The Indonesians took turns manning the tiller and hand-pumping water from the bilge. One was older and taciturn and wore a permanent scowl; the other looked to be in his teens, smiled enough for the both of them and called everybody “brother.” The tremendous racket of the engine belied its less-than-tremendous horsepower. Like the rest of the vessel, it was built for neither such a heavy load nor such high seas. Our typical speed was four to five knots, less than six miles per hour, and at times we seemed to make no headway whatsoever against the strong southeasterly trade winds, which whipped up white caps on the waves and kept us all alert with stinging gusts of spray. Depending on the direction of the swells, the Indonesians would signal the men to consolidate themselves on the starboard or port side of the deck and thereby mitigate our listing — which, now and then, felt alarming.

The sea was still big when the sun went down, taking with it the warmth. Those of us who had spent the day on our feet now began staking claims on places to try to sleep. The deck became a claustrophobic scrum of tangled limbs. Few could recline or stretch their legs. Each time someone tried to reposition a foot or knee, say, to restore some circulation, the movement would ripple out in a cascade of shifting and grumbling as the surrounding bodies adjusted to the new configuration.

The tarp was unfurled. There was not enough of it to cover everyone. If you found yourself on an edge or corner, someone from the opposite side would invariably pull it away the moment you relaxed your grip. In any case, it was too worn and porous to do much. The water ran down its folds and creases, streaming through the many tears along the way.

In the morning, everyone looked different. Sallow. Haggard. Reduced. Amir and Sami slouched limply against each other, passing between them a bulging plastic bag. The man with the faux-hawk was curled up in a fetal ball: he stayed that way the rest of the trip. His pregnant wife sat cross-legged near the bow, pale and wet and trembling. Rima was clutching Siya’s arm, as if it were a lifeline. Their eyes were squeezed tightly shut, but they were too ill to sleep.

Another problem arose. There was no toilet, and absent any railing to hold on to, going over the side was too risky. The men urinated on the hull, the women in their pants.

After a moment's hesitation, the police officer reeled back and smacked our driver hard and square in the face.

The Indonesians had brought a box of sealed plastic cups of water, but hardly anyone could hold them down. Siya continued to sing and puke. Although a couple of the children had begun to cry, none complained. In the afternoon, two dolphins appeared and spent the better part of an hour playfully showing off. As they darted under the boat, and launched into the air, the spectacle cheered up everyone, adults and kids alike. Even Amir and Sami rallied from their stupor to watch. A few grown men became positively gleeful, vying to be the first to spot the gray shadows flitting from the deep.

That night, several of us tried to sleep atop the engine room, trading the shelter of the hull for a little extra space. It was a poor call. Every 10 minutes or so, a bucket’s worth of cold water took your breath away or you were pitched against a hot pair of vertical pipes spewing noxious smoke and sparks. There was nothing to do but lie there, bracing for one or the other, admiring the magnificent array of stars and the phosphorescence glowing in the wake.

With first light, despite the sleep deprivation, dehydration, seasickness and filth, the asylum seekers were energized by the fact that, according to the Indonesians, we would likely reach Australian territory before nightfall. Although there was still no land in sight, the arrival of birds circling overhead was unanimously interpreted as a sign that we were getting close. The sea had also calmed: no more waves crashed upon the deck. Initially, this was an enormous relief. For the first time, the sun dried us out. As it crept higher, however, it proved to be far more powerful than during the past two days, and soon, without a single cloud in the sky to blunt the blistering rays, everyone was longing for the same frigid breakers we previously cursed.

The tarp was brought back out. While blocking the sun’s glare, it also trapped its heat. A couple of people, desperate for fresh air, cut up the box of water cups, which was almost empty, and made visors from the cardboard. One of the fathers in the stern, wearing a Qatar Airways sleeping mask to protect his face, found a length of string and rigged up some sheets and scarves for shade. The bow — the only covered part of the boat — reeked dizzyingly of vomit and urine. None of the dozen Iranians who rushed to fill the space when we embarked had since dared to leave it. Now they were suffering. An argument arose between them and their comrades on the open deck. The tarp was obstructing the entrance to the bow, it seemed, and smothering its already rank and humid air.

“Please,” one woman begged. “We can’t breathe in here.”

There was little desire among the deck dwellers, however, to endure direct exposure to the sun for the comfort of those who had thus far enjoyed comparatively plush accommodations.

Presently, the heat finished off anyone who might have been bearing up. The pregnant woman’s condition bordered on critical. She was flushed and drenched in sweat and heaved dryly, with nothing left to give. Sami was weeping. Amir lay supine. His eyes drooped catatonically, and when I tried to make him drink some water, he weakly gripped my ankle.

“I need help,” he said. “Call for help.”

The asylum seekers signaled to a smaller Australian patrol boat as they neared Christmas Island.

That decision seemed to be up to Siya. There was a satellite phone onboard: Siya said the plan was to contact the Australian authorities once we were well within their waters. The navy would then bring us ashore. In the past, asylum boats often made it all the way — but the landing can be treacherous (when one boat smashed on the cliffs in 2010, 50 people drowned), and now it’s standard practice to request a “rescue” before reaching Christmas Island. Although Australian rescuers, when responding to distress calls, venture much farther north than where we currently were, Siya wanted to be sure. I think it was Amir’s pitiful entreaties that finally persuaded him to make the call.

An Iranian man who knew some English — the one who in Jakarta told me he was an engineer — spoke to the dispatch. The Indonesians had brought a hand-held G.P.S. device; neither they nor the asylum seekers, however, knew how to work it. Eventually, someone offered his iPhone, and the engineer read out our coordinates.

While we waited to be rescued, the Iranians set about destroying their passports. “So they can’t deport you,” Farah told me. Clearly, though, the task also carried some symbolic weight. Rather than simply jettisoning them, the asylum seekers painstakingly ripped out each individual page, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it to the wind. A pair of scissors was passed around. The burgundy covers, emblazoned with the Iranian coat of arms, were cut into tiny pieces. The work was accomplished with flair and relish. Only one man seemed hesitant. Moving closer, I saw that the passport he was disposing of was his son’s. When the scissors came his way, he carefully cut out the photo on the first page and slipped it in his wallet.

Soon, on the horizon, a ship appeared. A government airplane buzzed above us, swooped low and made a second pass. The asylum seekers waved shirts in the air, crying out in jubilation. The younger Indonesian performed a dance atop the engine room; he seemed amazed we had made it. Some of the men emptied their pockets, thrusting on him all the cash they had. The Indonesian beamed. “Thank you, brothers!”

Two skiffs broke off from the battleship and motored our way. Each carried six Australians in gray fatigues, riot helmets and sidearms holstered on their thighs. The Indonesians cut the engine (and after three days of its unrelenting clamor, the silence that replaced it was startling). The skiffs maneuvered abreast of us, one on each side.

“Does anyone onboard require medical assistance?” When the engineer translated this, nearly everyone raised his hand.

The Australian sailors all looked like fresh recruits. One of them held a manual of some kind. He read from it in a loud voice. “Are there any English speakers?”

The engineer stepped forward.

“Does anyone onboard require medical assistance?”

When the engineer translated this, nearly everyone raised his hand. The pregnant woman was helped to her feet and presented. Her head hung heavily. She was almost too weak to stand.

While the Australian with the manual recited more questions — including some in Indonesian addressed to the crew, who shook their heads dumbly, refusing to answer — his fellow sailors passed to the asylum seekers new life vests, a couple jerrycans of fresh water, some bags of frozen tortillas, bottles of honey and a tub of strawberry jam. “We’re going back to the ship now,” one of them told the engineer. “You have to turn the engine back on and keep going. We’ll be behind you.”

This information was met with disbelief. Once again the pregnant woman was raised up and displayed. “Can you take her with you at least?” asked the engineer. The sailors exchanged embarrassed looks. Plainly, they wished they could.

We still couldn’t see land — and not long after the skiffs left us for the battleship, it, too, was lost from view. The return of the empty and limitless ocean, not to mention the incessantly pounding sun, was incredibly demoralizing. To make matters worse, we no longer had any means of communication. When they first glimpsed the plane and ship, all the asylum seekers, following Siya’s example, threw their cellphones overboard. For some reason, amid the exultation, the satellite phone and G.P.S. system had also gone into the water.

There was nothing to do but heed the Australian’s command and “keep going.” It was four or five hours after we made contact with the first ship when a second, smaller patrol boat materialized. Two more skiffs of sailors came out to meet us. This time they immediately boarded the boat, moving people aside, herding everyone forward. The officer in charge announced that he was taking control of the vessel.

Australian sailors boarded the ship and commandeered the vessel.

After the officer spotted Joel’s camera, we were both summoned to the stern, at which point we identified ourselves as journalists. While a big Australian with a bushy beard worked the tiller, the officer went through a list of prewritten questions with the crew, each of whom either couldn’t read or declined to. (Unless it’s their second offense, or someone dies, the Indonesian fishermen who bring asylum boats across are often not prosecuted.) The officer was polite to Joel and me. He said we had been lucky with the weather. If we had left a few days earlier, the boat would have capsized.

It inspires a unique kind of joy, that first glimpse of land. The sun was low, and you could almost mistake it for some play of light and shadow. As rousing as it was to see, the presence of a fixed object against which to mark our progress also made you realize just how slowly we had been going. It was late at night by the time we reached Christmas Island. The Australians guided our boat into the shelter of a shallow cove, beneath sheer cliffs draped in vegetation. After tying up on a mooring, the officer revealed that we would stay the night here and disembark tomorrow. When the engineer relayed the complaints of the asylum seekers — who, consolidated in the bow, had even less space now than before — the officer responded: “Are you safe? Are your lives in danger anymore?” He seemed to be losing patience, and, noticing a wrapper floating by the stern, angrily reproached the Iranians: “You’re in a nice country now.”

It rained fitfully throughout the night. The next day, we were all ferried by a push-barge from the mooring to a jetty around the point. The jetty was swarmed with customs and immigration officials, federal police and employees of a private company that runs the island’s detention centers. Joel and I were welcomed to Australia, given water, coffee and a ride to a surprisingly luxurious hotel. Everyone else was interned. Later that afternoon, while walking into town, I saw our little boat being towed out to sea. There, the officer had told me, it would be lit on fire.

The families and minors were taken to a relatively comfortable facility, with access to an outdoor soccer field and recreational area. The single men went to a place resembling a maximum-security prison. None of the asylum seekers would stay at either location for long. While I was on the island, flights full of detainees were leaving almost every night for Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. By now, most if not all of the people from our boat have been transferred to one of the two island nations. If they were sent to the detention center on Papua New Guinea, they are probably living in the tent city that was erected there as part of its expansion. If they were sent to the detention center on Nauru, they are probably living in the tent city that was erected there after rioting asylum seekers in July burned the buildings down.

Because the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea lack the capability to process refugee claims — Australian officials are still training them to do so — the asylum seekers have a long wait ahead of them. Some might not be able to hold out: already, dozens of Iranians, after seeing the conditions at the Papua New Guinea facility, have asked to be sent back to their country. Among those who decide to tough it out, it’s most likely that few will be found to have valid cases. Moreover, unlike with Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, no agreement exists between Iran and Australia allowing for the forcible repatriation of asylum seekers whose applications are unsuccessful. This means that the Iranians who are denied asylum by Nauru or Papua New Guinea, and who decline to voluntarily return to Iran, will enter a kind of limbo, in which they can neither be resettled on those islands nor sent to the Australian mainland nor sent home. Absent another solution, these people could be flown back to Christmas Island and detained indefinitely.

We reached Australia one day after Tony Abbott was elected prime minister. In keeping with his Operation Sovereign Borders policy, Abbott has since directed the navy to send back to Indonesia, whenever possible, asylum boats intercepted at sea. So far this has happened twice, in late September, when two boatloads of asylum seekers were turned over, offshore, to Indonesian authorities. The second transfer took place the same day that a boat full of Lebanese asylum seekers broke apart less than a hundred yards off the Java coast near Sukabumi, the Indonesian city whose police station Joel and I briefly visited. More than 20 bodies, many of them children, washed ashore, and more remained missing.

I saw our little boat being towed out to sea. There, the officer had told me, it would be lit on fire.

According to a Lebanese community leader interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, most of the dead came from a small village near the border with Syria. One asylum seeker, who managed to swim to safety, lost his sister-in-law, his brother-in-law, three of their children, his wife and all eight of his children. The community leader said there were many more Lebanese fleeing the Syrian border who had already paid smugglers and were on their way to Indonesia.

When I got back to Afghanistan, I met with several men preparing to go to Australia. One of them, Qais Khan, opened a small auto-parts shop in Kabul in 2005. Qais told me that for years, while Afghans from the provinces came regularly into the city, he did very well. Since 2010, however, the deteriorating security situation in the rural areas adjacent to the capital had stultified commerce and ruined many retailers. Last year, Qais’s shop went out of business; now he was struggling to feed his wife and two children.

A couple of months ago, 15 of Qais’s friends paid a smuggler at Sarai Shahzada and left for Indonesia. Among them was Qais’s next door neighbor, a driver for a member of Parliament, who decided to flee after receiving three letters from the Taliban threatening to kill him. Qais told me he was waiting to hear whether his friends were successful — in which case, he would go as well.

“And if they’re not?” I asked. “If they’re sent to Papua New Guinea or the Republic of Nauru?”

Qais thought for a moment and then admitted he would probably go anyway. In fact, he had already taken out the necessary loans to pay the smuggler. “At least there you have a chance,” he said. “At least there is a possibility.”

I felt obligated to tell him he was wrong. “You won’t get to Australia,” I said.

Qais didn’t seem to hear. The words simply didn’t register. “Australia, Europe, America,” he said. “They’re not like here. You have a chance.”

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer for the magazine. He last wrote about the Afghan National Army. Joel Van Houdt is a Dutch photographer based in Afghanistan. He was recently embedded with the Afghan Army on assignment for the magazine.

Editor: Joel Lovell


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« Reply #10056 on: Nov 17, 2013, 08:54 AM »

November 16, 2013

Relief Supplies Pour Into Philippines, but Remote Areas Still Suffer


QUINAPONDAN, the Philippines — Day after day, the mayor of this storm-shattered town makes the two-hour drive past flattened villages and splintered palm groves to the nearest functioning airport, where he begs for provisions from those who run the relief supply staging area for eastern Samar Island.

“My people are starving,” he tells the government workers, whose requisition notebooks do not favor this rural flyspeck, population 16,525. “Yesterday someone died of hunger.”

After days of logistical logjams and transportation paralysis, relief supplies have begun pouring into the ravaged midsection of this island nation, with American Osprey aircraft and C-130 cargo planes delivering pallets of rice and water to the airports in Tacloban, on Leyte Island to the west, and Guiuan, also here on Samar Island. International relief organizations have been fanning out in earnest across the disaster zone.

But while hard-hit urban areas are finally getting adequate supplies to stave off hunger and thirst, the region’s rural hinterland has been largely left to fend for itself in the week since Typhoon Haiyan barreled through with winds up to 190 miles per hour. According to Unicef, 13 million people have been affected.

The United States Navy said Saturday that aircraft from the carrier George Washington had flown 77 sorties and delivered 11 tons of water and medical supplies since it arrived off the eastern coast of Samar on Thursday. Once on the ground, most of the aid is distributed by Philippine officials to cities across Leyte and Samar Islands, mostly by helicopter.

On Saturday afternoon, the air traffic was so thick that the American naval commanders who have taken control of the Guiuan airport had to turn away at least two Philippine planes carrying supplies, forcing them to return to Manila.

Rural areas, however, are still neglected. Perhaps most desperate are the far-flung islets whose residents, isolated from the country’s main islands, already live from hand to mouth. On Saturday, members of an American medical team touched down in Homonhon, a fishing island of 1,500 that was the first to bear the brunt of Haiyan as it swept west.

Margaret Aguirre, communications director for the team, from the International Medical Corps, said it was the first help the residents had received since the storm struck. “They were in desperate shape,” she said, describing a range of untreated injuries and diseases, mostly advanced infections and ailments from a week of living unsheltered in the elements. Medics, she said, treated about a tenth of the residents.

Among the throng of anxious people staring at the Guiuan airport’s busy runway on Saturday was Henry M. Afable, the mayor of Maydolong, a coastal town about 40 miles north. In the past week, he said, he secured enough food for only 400 of the town’s 13,000 people. “We have run out of everything, so we just divide everything up into small amounts,” he said, adding that the lone delivery, by a United States Navy helicopter, turned into a debacle after the aircraft touched down unannounced in a field next to the local high school. The result was a brutal free-for-all that favored the strong. “It was pandemonium,” he said.

Here in Quinapondan, most people have been surviving on coconuts and camote, a Philippine sweet potato that residents have been digging up from their waterlogged fields. “Camote is very nutritious but it’s not enough,” the vice mayor, Rosula Sablo Mambulao, 58, said with a weak smile.

Compared with Tacloban, a city of 220,000 where at least 800 died, Quinapondan is faring reasonably well. There were just 10 deaths here, with 170 people injured, according to the meticulously maintained white board propped up on the steps of City Hall.

Still, the town has been leveled, with 80 percent of the buildings badly damaged or destroyed, including the hospital, all the schools and the two-year-old civic auditorium, its remains lying in a tangled heap near the town basketball court.

After days of returning empty-handed, a municipal truck sent to Guiuan came back to Quinapondan on Friday with just 15 sacks of food, enough to feed a few hundred families. But on Saturday, after waiting an entire day amid the nonstop roar of Seahawk helicopters and cargo planes, Mayor Nedito A. Campo had better luck. He secured 40 sacks of free supplies from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and then bought 400 more bags of rice, at $30 apiece, from a government warehouse in Guiuan.

The warehouse still had about 6,000 sacks of good rice left — 14,000 were drenched when the roof blew away and the rice has since spoiled — but Rosendo Verdaflor, 58, the manager, said that he was not allowed to give the rest away, and that no one from the provincial government had told him otherwise. “It’s hard because people are hungry, but I have to follow orders,” he said with evident discomfort as a lone armed guard stood at the front gate.

After the warehouse workers had filled up the Quinapondan town truck, it lumbered through a landscape of utter devastation, passing countless signs that said “Help Us” or “We Need Food” spelled out in plastic debris or painted on the few intact rooftops.

Shortly before dusk, a cheer went up as the truck pulled up to City Hall, where scores of people were waiting for food or a chance to make a free two-minute call on a recently arrived satellite phone powered by a generator. The conversations followed a similar script: we are fine but please send money and food.

Mayor Campo, bedraggled from the past week, smiled as volunteers carried the provisions into the lobby, where days earlier 250 people sought shelter as water sloshed in from shattered windows. He spoke with pride about how his town had escaped the looting and chaos that afflicted places like Tacloban, but said he was worried about the future, when international sympathy turns elsewhere and the town’s residents are left to fend for themselves. “I think we’ll be O.K. for the moment,” he said. “I just don’t know if people will be so civilized a month from now.”

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« Reply #10057 on: Nov 17, 2013, 09:00 AM »

Militia attack on Tripoli protesters raises fear of fresh conflict in Libya

At least 37 people killed and hundreds hurt after Misrata unit opens fire on crowd of demonstrators

Chris Stephen in Tripoli
The Observer, Saturday 16 November 2013 20.26 GMT   

Libyan capital was braced for fresh violence on Saturday night after a day in which at least 37 were killed and more than 400 wounded in a confrontation outside a militia headquarters.

In some of the bloodiest fighting since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, a Misrata militia unit opened fire on protesters who had massed outside their Tripoli base, demanding they leave the city.

Hospitals were overwhelmed with the dead and wounded and prime minister Ali Zeidan appealed for calm, declaring three days of national mourning.

The UN and European Union evacuated non-essential staff from Libya on Saturday, with foreign embassies going into security lockdown.

Witnesses said that anti-aircraft weapons were fired at the protesters outside the base in the city's Gharghur district, amid conflicting reports of who fired first. The demonstrators, including women and teenagers, many carrying white placards and flags, fled the firing seeking the shelter of nearby houses.

Witness Majdi Elnakua, a photographer, said that he watched as a woman pleaded with her sister to run from the doorway of a nearby house where she was sheltering from the firing. "She was shouting for her sister to come out and run," he said. "Her sister came out, she ran some steps, then a bullet hit her. The force pushed her against the wall and she fell down. She was dead, her blood was on the wall, it was unbelievable."

TV footage showed militiamen deployed around the base firing heavy machine guns from the flatbeds of pick-up trucks. A spokesman for the Misrata militia unit, Taha Basha Agha, insisted that some protesters had been armed and had fired first, shooting from nearby rooftops. He said his unit would stay in its base, telling a TV station: "We will leave in our coffins."

fresh Misratan militia units arrived to bolster its force in the city, taking up positions in the eastern Tajora district. Opposing Tripoli militias, police and army units blocked roads across the capital, deploying tanks on the coastal highway. Skirmishes broke out as night fell, with lines of red tracer fire darting through the sky.

The violence underscores the inability of Libya's government to rein in the powerful militias, who formed during the revolution but have since become a law unto themselves, with the government weak and national congress divided. "I don't see how it can get better. The cause of the violence is always the same, its these militias, all of them, I don't put the finger to a particular one," said Hassan El Amin, a former Libyan dissident who fled back to Britain last year after receiving militia death threats. "Congress is disabled. I don't expect anything from congress."

Elsewhere in Libya, tribal militias and striking army units continued their five-month blockade of the bulk of the country's oil ports, depriving the country of its main source of income. The prime minister was himself kidnapped by a militia force in Tripoli last month and held for six hours before being released by local residents.

On Saturday thousands converged on Tripoli's central Martyrs' Square for an emotional protest, praying for peace, and funerals took place across the city.

Mediation efforts between Tripoli and Misrata leaders were under way but few in the capital expect success.

Britain will join Italy, Turkey and the United States in training recruits for a fledgling Libyan army beginning in January, with diplomats saying that the government forces are currently too weak to oppose the militias.

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« Reply #10058 on: Nov 17, 2013, 09:05 AM »

November 16, 2013

New Syrian Refugees Descend on Lebanon


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Refugees poured into Arsal, a Lebanese town in the Bekaa Valley near Syria, on Saturday amid reports that a battle was beginning along the mountainous border, a sign that the government was broadening its offensive against rebel strongholds.

Heavy clashes were reported along the main highway from Damascus to Homs between the towns of Nabak and Qara, a corridor that is vital to both sides. It serves as a conduit for rebel fighters and arms from Lebanon and links Damascus to solidly government-held territory to the north along the Syrian coast.

Fighting in the area, known as Qalamoun, has long been expected, since the government took Qusayr, another border town, in May. There were indications that government forces and their allies from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah were massing in the area, as were rebels from the Nusra Front and other groups, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment monitoring organization in Britain that tracks the violence in Syria.

The fighting threatens an area that until now had enjoyed a measure of autonomy under local rebels and opposition activists. In the town of Yabroud, people of various sects and political views were living together, residents say. The area was also a haven for refugees from Qusayr.

An informal local agreement had persisted for months, overseen by an officer in the Republican Guards, an elite military unit, who accepted money to keep the situation quiet, residents said, but he was recently replaced by a more hard-line officer.

“A week ago, top figures from Qara visited him, trying to convince him not to bomb Qara, but he refused,” said a man who gave his name as Abu Said. He is a refugee from Qusayr who fled to Arsal a few months ago and has relatives in Qara.

He said in a telephone interview that hundreds of new arrivals were straining the resources of Arsal, which has already absorbed thousands of Syrian refugees and become a hub for rebels near the porous border.

“We don’t have enough space,” he said. “They’re hosted by people who are refugees themselves.”

He said dozens were waiting to register with local authorities outside the municipal building, where a tent had been erected to shelter them from a chilly rain. Many were sleeping in mosques or in the streets, Abu Said added.

Lebanon, a country of four million people, is already struggling to absorb about a million Syrian refugees. Tensions have run high in the Bekaa Valley for months. Last week, Syrian forces bombarded Arsal, and rockets were fired at areas believed to be Hezbollah strongholds; residents blamed rebels.

Government forces have pushed into rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest cities, in recent days.


November 16, 2013

Syrian Government’s Forces Gain, but a Siege War Goes On


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian government forces have recently ousted rebels from a string of suburbs outside Damascus, threatening their yearlong control of territory south of the capital city, cutting supply lines and surrounding strongholds that one fighter called their “last castle” in the area.

Around the northern city of Aleppo, rebels are also newly on the defensive. They are demanding that all fighters mobilize against a government offensive or face consequences in Islamic courts.

These recent battlefield successes — allowing the government to threaten rebel strongholds in and around Syria’s two main cities — prompted Syria’s prime minister, Wael al-Halqi, to declare on Thursday that the government was heading for an “astounding victory,” just as President Bashar al-Assad prepares for peace talks that the United States and Russia hope to convene by year’s end.

Yet early declarations of victory may be premature, as has been the case many times with both sides in this two-and-a-half-year-old civil war.

Still, Mr. Assad has made gains, and the momentum has tipped, at least for now, in his direction even while the nation remains badly fractured. He has kept rebels from advancing into a partially encircled Damascus and has now retaken crucial suburbs that rebels relied on to keep pressure on the capital. He forestalled a United States attack with a chemical weapons deal that solidified his global position. And the rise of extremist Islamists among the rebels has kept the West at bay and demoralized supporters of the rebellion.

The coming weeks will show whether the government can make lasting gains and move battle lines that have shifted only marginally in the past year. Until recently, escalating tactics have yielded little but mounting civilian suffering, with neither side advancing even as the government was accused of using siege and starvation as well as chemical and incendiary weapons, and rebels shelled civilian areas to chip away at the comfort zone inside central Damascus.

In recent days, rebels say, the government has come close to encircling rebels in the southern suburb of Hajar al-Aswad and neighboring Yarmouk Camp, a district once home to both Syrians and Palestinian refugees that has been a battle zone for more than a year and is now fiercely contested by pro- and antigovernment Palestinian fighters.

But just one neighborhood away, in Tadamon, on the southern edge of Damascus, pro-government militias remain dug in, facing rebels along long-static front lines. On a recent visit, officers there — surveying deserted, rubble-strewn streets as rebel automatic rifle fire smacked into nearby buildings — said it took them weeks last November to push invading rebels back just a few hundred yards in fighting that shattered blocks of apartment houses.

They said they viewed the opposing fighters as their equals in skill and equipment, and that they had no plans to try to advance, to avoid military and civilian casualties that would further stress hospitals and fighters already stretching their capacity.

“We don’t need more mortars or injuries,” said an officer who asked to be identified as Abu Salim. He said his mission was simply not to let the enemy advance, “whatever it costs.”

Pro-government militias like his have been left to guard such areas while better trained and equipped army units fight more crucial battles, sometimes alongside the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias, whose fighters have long been gathered around Sayeda Zeinab, home to a revered Shiite shrine southeast of Damascus.

Part of the failure of Syrian forces to capitalize fully on their gains, according to government fighters and supporters, stems from conflicting strategies within the government. Some officials are trying to moderate the fighting and seek local cease-fires, especially after the threat of an American strike and the government’s effort to portray itself as seeking peace on the international stage. Others are advocating a more aggressive strategy.

And while the government has sought to project itself as in control of Syria, the crisis has only deepened: The number of refugees has increased more than fourfold. The death toll has doubled, Shiite militiamen have flooded the country to aid the government, Kurds have declared an autonomous zone in the northeast, and Sunni jihadist groups have wrested some areas from rival rebels in attempts to establish religious rule.

Even if government advances stick, no quick military resolution is in sight, experts said. When the government aided by Hezbollah took the city of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, in May, supporters said it would soon go on to sweep rebels from pockets in and around Homs and Aleppo to the north. But despite some advances around those cities, the government has yet to repeat a wholesale takeover of a rebel population center, nor has it been able even to normalize the small city of Qusayr, which remains a military zone bereft of residents and patrolled by the government and its Hezbollah allies.

In September, after the chemical deal, government officials declared that broad segments of rebel-held Damascus suburbs from the southwest to the northeast would be retaken within weeks. Two months later, the current advance is just beginning to gather force.

For weeks, government opponents and supporters have said they expect the next major battle to be over Qalamoun, north of Damascus, an area that has replaced Qusayr as the rebels’ main conduit from Lebanon. On Friday, people from the town of Qara began fleeing across the border, saying the government was fiercely shelling the area, according to a rebel fighter in the Lebanese border town of Aarsal. But residents and analysts say the battle for Qalamoun’s mountain towns and villages could be a harder slog than taking over lowland Qusayr, especially in winter.

Farther north, the government solidly holds the coastal cities of Tartous and Latakia but has been unable to push rebels from the mountains north of Latakia near the Turkish border — nor have insurgents there been able to hold southward advances, instead squabbling and sometimes killing one another in disputes over authority and weapons.

Along the border with Turkey, neither rebels nor the government can control the flow of the jihadists who are increasingly seen as enemies of both. Abu Mohammed, a smuggler, said in an interview in the border town of Azaz that he had brought in many foreign fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe for $3,000 a head, easily bringing them as far south as Homs by bribing government troops at checkpoints for as little as a carton of cigarettes.

Near Aleppo, the government took Base 80, important for its location near the airport, on Nov. 9, along with nearby towns that it could use to threaten rebel control of half of the city, and killed and wounded top rebel leaders in an airstrike. Rebels say they are still fighting for the base. And while around Damascus it is the government that blockades rebel areas, in Aleppo rebels control the flow of food in and out of a government enclave, whose residents wait hours to cross checkpoints to the rebel side to buy cheaper food.

A shopkeeper in Damascus, who identified himself as Abu Subhi, 55, said he tuned out the news and watched religious videos on a small television in his shop in the Rukineddine district.

“If Bashar stays or goes, I don’t care,” he said of the president. “But I’m sure if he stays in power, there will be no stability and security in Syria for years.”

Both sides, he said, talk of “big victories” but fail to deliver. “I don’t see any change,” he said. “Every day there are mortars, checkpoints, no fuel, long blackouts, no cooking gas and inflation.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Karam Shoumali from Istanbul, and an employee of The New York Times from Syria.

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« Reply #10059 on: Nov 17, 2013, 09:06 AM »

Camila Vallejo, student leader, gets ready for a seat in Chilean congress

In 2011 she was the face of an uprising. Today, with Chile in a 'new era', she and fellow activists are poised to become MPs

Jonathan Franklin in Santiago
The Observer, Sunday 17 November 2013      

If someone had told Camila Vallejo during the student uprisings in 2011 that she and her fellow student leaders would end up as elected members of congress, she would have emphatically disagreed. "I would have said you are crazy!" she told the Observer last week.

But polls show that three former student activists are poised to win congressional seats on Sunday, as Chileans head to vote in presidential and congressional elections.

The former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, a socialist paediatrician and former political prisoner who was tortured during the Pinochet dictatorship, heads the New Majority coalition and is expected to easily win the presidential race. Even if Bachelet receives less than 50% in the crowded nine-candidate field, she will be the overwhelming favourite to triumph in the 15 December runoff. Bachelet's main opponent, Evelyn Matthei, is the daughter of a pro-Pinochet military leader and her extreme-right views are finding little resonance with Chile's increasingly progressive electorate.

"The rightwing is in intensive care. You can see it in the polls and in the streets," said Vallejo, the 25-year-old former student leader. "They are unleashing pure propaganda. It's an attempt to salvage the low turnout they maintain. It's sad … they could have taken the high road and had a serious debate and a discussion about political platforms."

Inspired by the 2011 student uprising, social movements in Chile have poured into the streets, formed hundreds of community organisations and used social networks including Facebook and Twitter to organise strikes and upend Chile's traditionally conservative political agenda.

Vallejo said the student movement was key in breaking "the cultural hegemony of the neoliberal model imposed on Chile during the military dictatorship".

Though the Pinochet dictatorship ended 23 years ago, many of the institutional pillars of Chilean politics – including the 1980 constitution – maintain key tenets of Pinochet's radical free-market "Chicago Boys" strategy. While economic growth in Chile over the past quarter century has been phenomenally stable – often topping 5% a year – key social institutions including public health, education and prisons are widely seen as failures. An invigorated populace is now demanding a radical overhaul of Chile's market-oriented ideology.

Karol Cariola, a 26-year-old nurse who organised student protests in 2011, said: "Our country has started to live a new [political] era … As youth and student leaders we were the protagonists. We are part of this social movement that shook up and awoke this country. It is necessary that we arrive in congress to shake up a congress that has been tremendously hermetic and conservative."

Asked about the agenda for the young leaders, Cariola cited free university education, tax reform, a full overhaul of the Pinochet-era constitution and reform of election laws that are tailored to protect pro-Pinochet rightwing political parties. A recent change in election procedures allows all adult Chileans to vote rather than the system in which only registered adults were eligible.

While polls show apathy among younger Chileans, the presence of former student leaders on the ballot has ignited a wave of enthusiasm in certain districts that is expected to bring at least three, possibly five, former student leaders into power. Vallejo, Cariola [both supported by the Chilean Communist party] and independent student leader Giorgio Jackson are all expected to take seats in congress. Union activists and community organisers are also campaigning to convert their street leadership roles into seats in the Chilean congress.

Chilean senator Víctor Pérez, of the rightwing UDI party, is opposed to these political forces. Pérez called on party loyalists to defend what he called the "Christian values" that have allowed Chile to develop "a moral and ethical model which has allowed us to have an orderly society … and that are at risk by a leftist government that promotes abortion and same-sex marriages".

Pérez argued that the priority of the Chilean state was "the protection and promotion of the family, which is formed when a man and a woman opt for a common life and have children, that is not possible with same-sex couples". He described marriage as "an institution designed to form families".

Despite Pérez's call to protect traditional "Christian" values, Chile's most traditional group known as La Familiar Militar (The Military Family) feels betrayed by the rightwing and has organised a boycott of the elections. "You have abandoned us, handed us over to the stateless vengeance of defeated leftists," said Lisandro Contreras, national co-ordinator for Plan Now, an organisation of pro-Pinochet military supporters. "It is no longer possible to support the political/judicial persecution. We can no longer stupidly believe in the [current government] of [Sebastián] Piñera."

The former Pinochet officials are incensed that the current centre-right government of Pinera did not issue pardons for human rights crimes and by Piñera's decision to shut down special "country club" prisons for military officials charged with murder, kidnapping and torture during the 17-year military dictatorship. The Plan Now webpage now opens with a call for Chilean military members and their families to punish rightwing parties. "Don't vote this 17 November," the red-lettered message states. "Show the politicians that betrayal has a price."

Bachelet, who supports gay marriage and abortion and has promised free daycare centres nationwide, is expected to win easily. Governing the now-enervated Chilean electorate, however, requires both acknowledging the need for change and tempering the pace of reform. "There is this very successful country that we see in the news, but that is not always what we see in our own homes," said Bachelet during her final campaign rally last Thursday.

She called on supporters to "confront the inequality" and vote for the New Majority coalition that she heads. "We have to vote for a new constitution that is much more than a text," said Bachelet, who recognised the difficulties of pushing her agenda through a congressional system still ruled by arcane procedures from the Pinochet dictatorship. "Some changes we can complete, others we will launch," she said.

She called on citizens to vote for those "who measure up to the challenges" now facing Chile's political leaders.

Those challenges were starkly outlined by the results of Chilean student elections held last week, that brought forth a notably more radical student leadership. "I don't vote," said Melissa Sepúlveda, the newly elected president of the politically powerful University of Chile student union.

Sepúlveda, a fourth-year medical student, said she would not vote for Bachelet or the former student leaders and declared: "I identify with the history of the anarchist movement", which she described as dedicated not to violence but to "direct democracy".

"The bloc or coalition in power continues to be those – who since the dictatorship – have consolidated the neoliberal model in Chile," said Sepúlveda. "I think the possibilities for change are based in organisations and the force that they can exert."

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« Reply #10060 on: Nov 17, 2013, 09:12 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Who killed JFK? Fifty years on, slew of new books add fuel to conspiracy fire

Kennedy conspiracy theories in overdrive as 50th anniversary approaches, with John Kerry the latest to voice his suspicions

Rory Carroll   
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 17.38 GMT   
When John Kerry fuels doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone just as publishers unleash a torrent of JFK assassination books you have to ask yourself: conspiracy?

Did the the secretary of state pull the trigger on a clandestine publishing industry marketing plan? Are bookstores in on it? Is Hollywood connected? Or did Kerry act alone? We may never know.

We do know that Kennedy nostalgia and scrutiny are in overdrive on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his murder, with dozens of new books advancing theories novel and dusty over who fired the fatal shots at the motorcade in Dallas.

Options include Fidel Castro, the mafia, the CIA, J Edgar Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, the secret service or, on the far outer fringes of speculation, Joe DiMaggio.

Kerry caused astonishment when he waded into the debate by telling NBC that he suspected Oswald had external help or inspiration, possibly from Cuba or Russia. "To this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone."

The comments added unexpected spice to the latest revelations and claims of revelations about the most parsed, analysed and disputed moment in US history.

Major US publishing houses have produced dozens of titles pegged to the November 22 anniversary, swelling a bulging oeuvre of more than a thousand Kennedy-related books dating back half a century.

The independent house Skyhorse Publishing alone is publishing 25 assassination-related titles this year, including Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK, by Barr McClellan, and Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case, by James DiEugenio.

"Every publisher wants to have a book out," said Jim Milliot, co-editorial director at Publishers Weekly, the industry bible. "Baby boomers are big book buyers and JFK was the baby boomers' president."

Fascination will wane as Kennedy becomes more a historical than mythical figure, he predicted, but for now publishers were mining every conceivable angle. "There are so many out there, consumers have a lot to choose from. Maybe that's why none in particular has jumped to the top of the bestsellers."

Polls tend to show that most Americans reject the Warren commission's finding that Oswald, acting alone, fired all three shots from the Texas book depository's sixth floor.

That's a view long shared by senior government officials, said Jeff Morley, an author and former Washington Post reporter who moderates the site JFK Facts. "John Kerry is part of a long tradition of insiders who have questioned the official version."

Morley's 2011 book, Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, plumbed the agency's dealings with Oswald before the assassination. He thinks it implausible that "one guy with no motive" singlehandedly did it but says truth remains elusive. "Chunks of the story we don't know."

Morley accused major organisations of being "asleep at the wheel" in neglecting available documentation and not demanding access to still-sealed archives. Another problem was that ludicrous and discredited theories competed for attention alongside serious investigations. "The bad information obscures debate."

One version posits that DiMaggio (a duck hunter in his spare time) was seeking revenge for JFK allegedly romancing his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe.

Another says a man with a black umbrella filmed along the route fired a poison dart. Another points the finger at a secret service agent whose regicide was edited out of the Zapruder footage. To guide readers through the conspiracy maze here is a list of five new books, each representing, with varying credibility, a popular theory.

1. The mob did it

• The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination, by Lamar Waldron (Counterpoint)

Thesis: Godfathers Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante took out the president to neutralise his anti-mafia crusade. They framed Oswald and his supposed Cuban puppet-masters, a ruse which deceived LBJ and, to this day, Kerry.

"They got away with it because they planted the evidence against Castro," said Waldron. A cover-up endures. "We know the FBI had Marcello's confession in 1985 and basically suppressed it."

A Warner Brothers film due out next year, based on this and a previous book co-authored by Waldron, will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. "We hope the movie will bring attention to the fact hundreds of (government) files haven't been released."

2. The CIA did it

• CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and Why US Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK, by Patrick Nolan (Skyhorse)

Thesis: Top spooks Richard Helms and James Jesus Angleto hired mafia hitmen to murder Kennedy to derail his planned disengagement from Vietnam and rapprochement with Cuba and the Soviet Union. "Their motive was power, self-preservation."

Nolan cites research by "world-famous forensic scientist Dr Henry Lee", who writes the book's foreword, to argue there was more than one gunman. Nolan's website says he "utilizes the mosaic method of intelligence, analyzing each piece that is obtained and determining its relationship to other pieces to arrive at the solution".

3. Lyndon Johnson did it

• The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The case against LBJ, by Roger Stone (Skyhorse)

Thesis: The vice-president orchestrated an elaborate plot involving elements in the mob, CIA, White House and Cuban exile community to eliminate his boss. The motive: JFK planned to dump LBJ from the ticket in 1964, leaving him exposed to corruption probes.

The Texan Johnson's control over Dallas police facilitated the cover-up of evidence such as a fingerprint in the book depository's sniper's nest which matched his personal hitman, Mac Wallace.

The truth, says Stone's Amazon entry, was hiding in plain sight all this time. "LBJ was not just shooting his way into the White House, he was avoiding political ruin and prosecution and jail for corruption at the hands of the Kennedy's (sic)."

4. Oswald did it with Cuban help, or inspiration

• A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, by Philip Shenon (Henry Holt and Co)

The thesis: Oswald flirted with Cuban officials in Mexico City shortly before the assassination and possibly had help setting it up. At the very least, he hoped to impress the Castro government. The CIA, FBI and others in Washington sabotaged the Warren commission by withholding evidence to protect reputations and cover up their own missteps in dealing with Oswald before the murder. Reviewers have praised the former New York Times investigative reporter's tome as a sober, balanced account.
5. Oswald acted alone

• History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F Kennedy, by Howard Willens, (Overlook)

The thesis: A loner with a rifle and a grudge did it alone.
Willens, one of the commission's few living staff members, gives a behind-the-scenes take on the investigation, its personalities and methodology. One by one he discards alternatives to the lone gunman theory.

Willens admits mistakes in the investigation, but says these did not affect the veracity of its ultimate conclusion. He defends chief justice Earl Warren's prediction that "history will prove that we are right".

For sceptics this is the greatest conspiracy theory of all, a brazen lie to whitewash the crime and aftermath.

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« Reply #10061 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:41 AM »

2014 is not 1914, but Europe is getting increasingly angry and nationalist

While Germany focuses on forging a government, populist anti-EU parties look set to do well at next year's elections

Timothy Garton Ash   
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013   
Now the German elections are over, Germany and France will launch a great initiative to save the European project. Marking the centennial of 1914, this will contrast favourably with the weak and confused leadership under which Europe stumbled into the first world war. Before next May's elections to the European parliament, the Franco-German couple's decisive action and inspiring oratory will drive back the anti-EU parties that are gaining ground in so many European countries.

In your dreams, Mr and Ms Pro-European, in your dreams. Now for the reality. We will not even have a new German government until just before Christmas. In the German coalition negotiations, which are meant to be concluded next week, European affairs are being handled in – wait for it – a sub-group of the working group on finance. That sub-group is called "Bank regulation, Europe, Euro". For all the three participating parties, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the Bavarian Christian Social Union and the opposition Social Democrats, the hot-button issues are domestic. The introduction of a minimum wage, energy policy, dual citizenship, a proposed motorway toll – all count for more than the future of the continent.

Germany's politicians know what really matters for selling their parties to voters in future elections. As ordinary Germans get into the swing of their Christmas shopping, most are not feeling the pinch of the euro crisis. Youth unemployment is around 8% in Germany, compared with 56% in Spain. It is hard to convey just how far away, and how un-urgent, the crisis of Europe feels to the man on the Berlin U-bahn. Unlike his counterpart in Madrid, he does not emerge from the underground to find stinking garbage piling up on the streets.

Once the German government is formed, its European policy will be the product of compromises between three departments of state – the dominant federal chancellery, the finance ministry, and the foreign ministry – which will themselves be divided politically between Christian and Social Democrats.

Europe's reluctant leading power will have to make further compromises with France, which has different views on several key issues. France also has a weak president, François Hollande, who is failing to reform his own country, let alone helping anyone else's. The ageing and increasingly unequal German-French couple – which in January marked a rather downbeat golden wedding anniversary, with the German wife now definitely wearing the trousers – will have to take account of the concerns of valued partners such as Poland, as well as proposals coming from European institutions.

And from this dysfunctional orchestra is to emerge a clarion call that will knock the sceptics of all countries back on their heels and mobilise Europeans to vote for Europe? Ha, ha, ha.

Partly as a result, this will be the most interesting European election campaign since direct elections to the European parliament began in 1979 – for all across Europe there is the most amazing array of national protest parties. "Populists" is the blanket term lazily draped over them all, but it does not capture their diversity. With all due disrespect to the UK Independence party and Germany's anti-euro Allianz für Deutschland, it is quite wrong to tar them with the same brush as Greece's neo-fascist Golden Dawn, Hungary's Jobbik or France's Front National. That's even more true of, say, Catalan nationalists, let alone Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement in Italy – which could not be farther from the far right. Closer to the xenophobic politics of the French Front National – but with multiple national and sub-national variations – are groupings such as the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Finland's The Finns party (until recently, True Finns), the Danish People's party, and so-called Freedom parties in Austria and Holland.

Two of their most skilful leaders, Marine Le Pen of the French Front National and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom party, have started trying to pull them together. After wooing in spring, over lunch at the elegant La Grande Cascade restaurant in Paris's Bois de Boulogne, this odd couple last week performed the political equivalent of a wedding dance in The Hague.

"Today is the beginning of the liberation from the European elite, the monster in Brussels," cried Wilders. "Patriotic parties", added Le Pen, want "to give freedom back to our people", rather than being "forced to submit their budget to the headmistress". In Vienna on Friday, four others – Austria's Freedom party, Sweden's Democrats, Italy's Northern League and Vlaams Belang – joined a wary waltz with Le Pen.

I will be amazed if these parties do not do well in the European elections. I see nothing at all coming from the current leadership in Berlin, Paris or Brussels (forget London) that is likely to reverse an electoral grande cascade. Behind these parties' typically 10% to 25% standing in opinion polls is a wider popular discontent with unemployment, austerity and a Brussels bureaucracy that goes on spewing out regulations about the specifications of your vacuum cleaner and how much water you can use in the lavatory flush. A German Christian Democrat candidate for the European elections tells me that the anti-euro and anti-Brussels arguments of the Allianz für Deutschland resonate with quite a few of his local activists.

I am now taking a couple of months off from regular commentary to finish the book I'm writing about free speech (a vital right, anchored in the European convention on human rights, which these parties enjoy and exploit to its limits). When I come back, I'll be up for the good fight against Le Pen, Wilders, Jobbik and their ilk. Yet, with this divided, slow-moving and uninspiring European leadership, I have no illusions that we'll succeed in stopping the cascade. And if my guess is right, what happens then?

Since the one thing most of these parties have in common is that they are nationalists, they may have difficulty agreeing on much beyond their shared dislike of the EU. If they are strongly represented in the European parliament, the immediate effect will be to drive the mainstream socialist, conservative and liberal groupings closer together. So you'd have an explicit "grand coalition" in Berlin and an implicit grand coalition in Brussels.

The trouble with grand coalitions is that since the mainstream, centrist parties are burdened with the responsibility of government, the field of opposition is left wide open for protest parties. On the other hand, the anti-parties' very success could at last mobilise a younger generation of Europeans to defend achievements that they take for granted. Nineteen-fourteen this won't be, but a hundred years on, Europe will again be living in interesting times.


Shots fired outside Paris bank following attack on Libération office

Police hunt for gunman as newspaper says photographer's assistant is in serious condition following shooting

Haroon Siddique and agencies, Monday 18 November 2013 12.38 GMT

French police are hunting for a gunman after shots were fired outside the headquarters of Société Générale in Paris following an earlier attack at the office of the leftwing daily newspaper Libération.

A 27-year-old man was seriously injured when the gunman opened fire in the lobby of the newspaper office.

A police official said the motive of the attacker, who was armed with a hunting rifle, was unclear.

"He walked in, fired twice and left," Libération's editorial manager, Fabrice Rousselot, told reporters.

The deputy editor-in-chief, Fabrice Tassel, said in a tweet that the victim, a photographer's assistant, was fighting for his life in hospital.

"As long as this person is still on the loose and we do not know the motives, this represents a threat," interior minister Manuel Valls told reporters outside Libération's offices after visiting the scene. "We must move fast."

Later on Monday, a man fired shots outside the headquarters of French bank Société Générale in the La Defense business district of western Paris, according to a spokeswoman for the bank.

"I can confirm that a man opened fire … Nobody was injured. The police are on the spot and investigating," the spokeswoman told Reuters.

Shortly afterwards, a gunman hijacked a car nearby and forced the driver to drop him on the Champs-Élysées in central Paris, the driver told police. It was not clear if that incident was related to the two shootings.

The incident came days after an armed intruder entered the offices of the BFM television channel, threatening journalists before disappearing. Rousselot said it was not clear whether the two incidents were linked. He said the assailant was apparently a short-haired man in his 40s.

Police have deployed protection outside the offices of other media outlets in the French capital.


Has Liberation lost its fight for freedom?

France's fiery leftist paper has a banker on board - and the walkouts have begun, says Jason Burke

Jason Burke   
The Observer, Sunday 17 September 2006   

It was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, is an icon of the left and a keystone of the recent cultural and political history of France. But now Liberation, the iconic Paris-based newspaper, is facing a financial crisis that could change it forever or even force its closure.

One of the few beneficiaries of the crisis are the bars and cafes of the Haut Marais quarter of Paris where the newspaper is based - serving its scores of employees seeking a few moments' respite from the stormy atmosphere behind the plate-glass windows on the Rue Beranger. 'It's like the last days of the Titanic - or ... or ... something else tense and very unpleasant with possibly terrible consequences,' said one employee last week, glumly stirring a pastis and looking at the rain. 'We are all waiting for the storm to break.'

Last week was particularly tense and particularly unpleasant. The newspaper's best-known journalist, Florence Aubenas, virtually beatified in France after being held hostage in Iraq for six months last year, resigned from the paper - a grave blow to morale. Three other senior staff left with her, declaring that 'things had changed'.

Aubenas dramatically issued a statement, reported as a news story in her own paper, saying that though she had 'wanted to finish her life with Liberation' and that she would have stayed with it 'even if the ship was sinking', she now felt she had to leave. She implied that the editorial line of the newspaper had changed significantly since Edouard de Rothschild, the investment banker, controversially bought nearly 40 per cent of the paper's shares and invested desperately needed capital last year.

The key event for Aubenas and others appears to have been the sacking of founder and editor-in-chief Serge July during the summer, although the moral force of Aubenas's words was slightly diluted by the revelation that she had been in an acrimonious dispute over severance conditions for several weeks - and by unconfirmed rumours that she found another job before leaving.

The departure may be important in other ways too - possibly opening the way for a new editorial team headed by a former editor of Le Monde, Edwy Plenel, who, according to analysts, would try and turn the paper into something less dogmatic. 'Under Plenel, Liberation would be biting, reactive, anti-government, scoop-getting, almost Anglo-Saxon - though more moral,' says Philippe Cohen, an author who has written extensively on the French press. 'This is a sector that is changing rapidly. Le Monde is launching a free edition next month. Liberation has to change or disappear.'

In the wake of Aubenas's departure, Liberation, which has seen sales slump dramatically in recent years, published a double-page spread explaining to readers why the allegations of editorial influence by Rothschild were unfounded. Yet the sense of impending doom persisted. 'The final hours have come [for Liberation] - though they might last a very long time,' says Claude Moisy, a media analyst and former director-general of Agence France Presse, pointing out that France Soir, another crisis-struck paper, had been 'in its final hours ... for 15 years'.

For Moisy, the problem at Liberation, which is likely to lose at least £8m this year, is more profound. 'Most French journalists simply do not make the connection between their trade ... and the grubby business of publishing,' he told The Observer last week.

'They do not accept that base questions of money should interfere with their art. When faced with the reality, they react like any Frenchman ... with anger and denial and a lot of noise.'

Staff at Liberation point - not without reason - to a series of factors causing grave problems for all French papers. Poor distribution networks, difficulties in making popular websites pay, competition from a thriving news magazine sector and the lack of major industrial groups offering support through lean times have all contributed. 'We have always been the ugly duckling of French newspapers,' Francois Wenz-Dumas, the paper's union representative says. 'Yes, it's a serious crisis, but it isn't terminal.'

Yet it is true that Liberation, founded in 1973 by a group of hard left militants in the wake of the seismic shock of the 1968 student revolts, has been hit particularly badly. According to some analysts, the particular brand of intellectual, educated, urban, left-wing culture that the newspaper represents is no longer shared by enough people in France to sustain its existence. 'The French left wing has difficulty accepting reality at the moment and is in some disarray as a result,' says Cohen. 'It's unsurprising that the sole serious left-wing newspaper is in disarray too.'

Change in philosophy

1973: Founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and a group of French Maoists.

1981: Established as paper of the Mitterand years, selling nearly 200,000.

2002: A front page saying simply 'Le Pen "Non"' during the presidential election sells a million copies.

2005: Circulation less than 140,000. Liberation calls for a yes vote on the European constitution. French vote no.

2006: Serge July, co-founder, sacked. Top reporters walk out.


11/15/2013 01:37 PM

Tragic Misunderstanding: A Model Immigrant's Battle to Succeed

By Juan Moreno

Derege Wevelsiep, an immigrant from Ethiopia, has accused police of beating him, although they deny it. What pains the engineer most, though, is his belief that foreigners like him will never be truly accepted in Germany.

Derege Wevelsiep lay bleeding in his bedroom, a thin red rivulet running down his left cheek. Later, the surgical resident who examined him at Frankfurt's Sankt Katharinen Hospital would mention that wound -- lateral, one centimeter (0.4 inches) -- only fleetingly in her report. She also wrote, "Primary diagnosis: concussion with loss of consciousness; secondary diagnosis: contusion of the chest, right side, contusion of the right knee, contusion of the hip."

For 10 minutes, perhaps 20 -- Wevelsiep can't remember exactly -- he lay in the bedroom of his Frankfurt apartment. It was shortly before midnight on Oct. 17, 2012, and Wevelsiep was trying not to move, because the pain got worse when he did. Besides, the police had ordered him to stay in the bedroom and there was no way he was going to disobey.

Voices drifted in from the living room as four German police officers opened drawers and cabinet doors. Then, eventually, there was silence. The officers appeared to have gone, leaving the front door open.

Wevelsiep dragged himself onto the bed and gasped for breath. At that moment, the phone rang. It was Misale Solomon, his fiancée.

"What's going on?" she asked. Solomon was born in Ethiopia and lives in Frankfurt, the same as Wevelsiep.

'I'm Bleeding, Everything Hurts'

"I can't talk right now," Wevelsiep said in Amharic, one of the languages spoken in Ethiopia. "I'm bleeding, everything hurts. Call an ambulance."

This is how Wevelsiep describes those hours. This is his truth, but it doesn't match the truth of the four police officers.

Wevelsiep spent the night in the hospital's intensive care unit after doctors found blood in his urine. The next morning, he was transferred to a regular ward. On the third day, the hospital released him.

Soon afterward, the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the four police officers accused of "causing bodily harm while exercising a public office."

The officers deny they assaulted Wevelsiep. In the course of the investigation, young public prosecutor Jennifer Höra interviewed around 20 witnesses, requisitioned telephone records and ordered DNA testing. A lawyer representing the officers who were in the apartment that night then argued that Wevelsiep is black and that it is difficult to detect hematomas on dark skin. Will Wevelsiep be able to prove that he was beaten? The accused police officers claim he inflicted his head injury himself. Could they be telling the truth?

There has been a great deal of discussion about police brutality in Germany. Are there really more violent police officers now than there were a few years ago, or are there simply more people with cellphone cameras, able to publicize police brutality via YouTube? An officer with Germany's Federal Police is said to have beaten a Turkish man with a baton at Cologne-Bonn Airport. In Bremen, a video emerged of police officers beating a man to the ground. In Offenbach, officers conducted an "inspection" of 20 young mosque-goers that left three of the men hospitalized.

On the Bottom Rung

Wevelsiep's case is an ambivalent one, with two different versions of events from the very start. Is Wevelsiep someone who can be trusted? To understand why his is far more than just a complicated investigative case, it's necessary to delve into Wevelsiep's life. The full tragedy of his situation only becomes clear when one learns that nothing has preoccupied Wevelsiep more than the question of how to become a good German citizen.

The man doubled up that night on the bedroom floor of his apartment in Frankfurt's Eckenheim district is now 42 years old. Born in Addis Ababa, he has small, humorous eyes and is meticulous in character. He's an electrical engineer, a man who tends to speak rapidly when his pulse is elevated.

Wevelsiep has always felt his life in Germany was a competition, an exhausting race. "To put it simply, everyone's trying to transform themselves from a B person to an A person," he explains. The course he had to run, Wevelsiep says, began with an application for asylum and ended with naturalization, becoming a German. As a "B person" in Germany, as an asylum seeker, as a foreigner, as a black person -- especially as a black person -- you are on the very bottom rung, Wevelsiep says, and it's not a good feeling. But you go through it because you're trying to achieve something. The goal, he says, is the transformation from African to German.

Perhaps the misunderstanding lies in believing that such a transformation is possible.

"You can't imagine what Derege went through in order to stay here, to not be deported," says Professor Klaus Wevelsiep, Derege Wevelsiep's adoptive father. He pauses, then adds, "What we all went through."

No Inconsistencies in His Answers

Professor Wevelsiep is sitting beside his wife Rosemarie in their home at the end of a row of houses near the city of Tübingen, with rooms furnished primarily in pine. They have their second home here because they like the region, "and the dog does, too." Both the Black Forest and the Swabian Jura region are close by.

The professor has thin, gray hair and the rich voice of a man familiar with public speaking. At 71 he continues to hold electrical engineering seminars at Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences in Friedberg. He makes statements such as, "Following the occurrence in question, I subjected my son to a systematic questioning, using much the same method as one would apply to a research subject. There were no inconsistencies in his answers whatsoever, as was confirmed by cross-examination on my part." That's his way of saying he believes his son.

His wife, a retired librarian, is a reserved woman in her late sixties. Diabetic since she was a child, Rosemarie Wevelsiep decided not to have children of her own, for fear she would pass the illness on to them. It wasn't an easy decision.

"At first I thought, my God, this Derege is depressed," Rosemarie Wevelsiep says. She met Derege and his younger sister, Lucy, in 1996 while teaching German to asylum seekers at a preparatory school for foreign students seeking to enter German universities.

A Bright Future Ahead

Derege's mother was an Ethiopian Jew, his father an army colonel. The family ranked among the elite in Ethiopia, which at the time had a socialist government. Ethiopian socialism, however, must be imagined as an illness, a type of insanity, a system under which as many as a million people starved to death during a drought in the mid-1980s.

For the privileged Derege, this was a time when his home life included many employees who cost his family nothing. His father set clear rules. Derege and his brothers were expected to attend university, with a bright future ahead of them.

These things were not a given in Ethiopia, and Germany was discussed a great deal within the family. Derege's father had studied logistics in Germany and he still remembers the way his father described the country. In young Derege's mind, Germany was the closest thing in existence to a perfect country.

When his parents were imprisoned in August 1990, Derege fled to Germany. It was his first and only choice, although he could have gone anywhere. His family had friends in the Foreign Ministry. When he arrived in Germany on October 1, 1990, the Berlin Wall had fallen and East and West Germany were mere days away from official reunification. Germany was a place highly preoccupied with itself.

The Fight to Stay

"They weren't the only ones who were alone, then -- we were, too," Rosemarie Wevelsiep says, sitting on her patio, in describing that 1996 meeting. "First we spent Christmas together, then the weekends, too." She and Derege's sister Lucy liked each other from the moment they met. Rosemarie's husband, meanwhile, quickly observed that Derege was a clever young man and interested in engineering.

These two dissimilar pairs of people, the childless academic couple and the young asylum-seeking siblings, became friends. And soon the Wevelsieps decided to do something that is not part of the usual asylum process -- they adopted Lucy and Derege. Shortly afterward, Professor Wevelsiep brought his son Derege's adoption certificate to his university and enrolled him in the electrical engineering department. He promised the university administration that the necessary permits to reside and study in Germany would soon be complete as well. A mere formality.

And a lie. The German immigration authorities declared the adoption insufficient. Officially, Derege Wevelsiep was not allowed to study in the country. The fact that the parents were German did not mean their adult son necessarily was as well, the authorities declared. It didn't even mean he would be allowed to stay in Germany. Nonetheless, Derege began his course of study at the university. He found the arduous fight to remain in the country unbelievable. He now had German parents, and it still wasn't enough.

"I love this country, truly," he says. "But I've never understood it." He's sitting in a Frankfurt subway car bound for the Bornheim Mitte station, traveling to precisely the spot where he first met the police officers who later entered his apartment that night in 2012. He's wearing a light-colored, freshly ironed polo shirt and neat slacks. He's rarely late, Wevelsiep says. In fact, strictly speaking, he is never late.

'I'm Not a Criminal Kind of Person'
Bornheim Mitte is still a ways off, and Wevelsiep looks out the window as he talks about his life. He speaks good German, in the Hessian regional dialect but dotted with amusing word creations of his own. "I'm not a criminal kind of person," he says.

Before his 1998 adoption by the Wevelsieps, Derege spent eight years trying to explain to the immigration authorities in the small city of Büdingen that things in his home country were completely crazy, and that there was no way he could go back. The authorities responded by noting that democratization had begun in Ethiopia. Yet rather than ever actually being thrown out, Wevelsiep was always allowed to stay for another few months -- but without any prospects of getting a real job.

There were moments when Wevelsiep could have sworn this was a country that simply lacked the courage to tell a man to his face: You need to leave. In fact, Germany took 10 years to take that step. Then, on April 1, 2000, the Administrative Court of the federal state of Hesse, in Kassel, conclusively rejected Wevelsiep's application for asylum. By that point, he had already been studying electrical engineering in Friedberg for two years.

Wevelsiep doesn't reproach Germany for the endless verdicts and letters that all gave him the sense he was unwanted. He got used to hearing the same sentence over and over at the Foreigners' Registration Office: "You are only a guest here." He got used to the fact that there were days when he was frisked for drugs twice on the same day by the same police officer at Frankfurt's main train station.

Wevelsiep grew up in the knowledge that he was part of Ethiopia's elite. He is perfectly aware that not all people are treated equally. But he never understood why Germany would rather pay for his room in an asylum seekers' home for years than let him work. Or why he was forbidden from taking a job in the cafeteria at Hesse's public broadcaster. He wanted to use the earnings to pay for his own apartment.

Traveling the World as an Engineer

Bornheim Mitte is still about five minutes away. It's late morning, and a group of children charges onto the subway car, shouting, pushing and jostling for space. Some of them are black. In fact, 68 percent of children in Frankfurt under the age of six have foreign roots. Wevelsiep watches the children silently. He has a son, David, who is three years old. David was there when his father was led away from Bornheim Mitte. "Now he's afraid of the police," Wevelsiep says.

Ultimately, Wevelsiep was allowed to stay in Germany. It's a long, complicated story, but it involves doctors' certificates, illness on the part of his adoptive parents, and a sympathetic government official who prevented their son from being deported.

He quickly finished his studies and got a job at Siemens. Since then, he has traveled the world as a plant construction engineer, and he won't hear a word said against his company or his colleagues. At a power plant in Spain where he recently worked, he found it unreasonable that he was forced to take a three-hour lunch break -- he could have been finished with his work much sooner instead, he says.

The subway's PA system announces Bornheim Mitte as the next stop. "I thought I'd made it," Wevelsiep reflects. "My old life was behind me. After 10 years of waiting." He had arrived in the class of "A people." Finally.

"Yes, the A-class," he says. For him that includes a university education, a job with a good company, an apartment he owns, and ultimately even German citizenship. And he had finally caught up with his brothers. One of them is an engineer in England. The other, Teddy, lives in the United States, after having studied aeronautics in Riga, Latvia. Teddy, too, had initially gone to Germany, but his academic degree wasn't recognized there.

'A-Class Until This Moment'

A Delta Airlines employee at Frankfurt Airport heard Teddy's story, and soon after, he had a green card. Germany had just enough time to inform him that he was still not allowed to work in the country, before Teddy moved to Houston, Texas. Most recently, he worked at NASA on the communications system for the International Space Station.

The train stops at Bornheim Mitte. Wevelsiep gets off and walks over to a photo booth in the middle of the platform. "A-class -- until this moment," he says. "We were standing here, arguing, and then they made me go with them."

There are two versions of what happened next that evening.

Around 10 p.m., Misale Solomon, Wevelsiep's fiancée, called him and told him she was being held by four ticket inspectors. Shortly before, Wevelsiep had given her his transferable monthly train ticket.

Wevelsiep hurried to join his fiancée, and was angry to find the ticket inspectors treating her disrespectfully. He says one of them said, "We're not in Africa here." The inspector in question denies having said this.

Then something happened that would have been perfectly normal for an "A person," as Wevelsiep would put it -- but not for a "B person." Wevelsiep, his Siemens ID badge still hanging from his waistband, insisted on calling the police. "That was my right," he says.

"A people" do such things, having no fear of the police. As far as Wevelsiep was concerned, Solomon, his fiancée, had a valid subway ticket. The fact that the ticket inspector wouldn't accept it, because Solomon had accidentally first shown him an expired ticket instead of the valid one, was irrelevant. Wevelsiep felt he was in the right in this situation. And he wasn't an asylum seeker anymore.

'You Stupid Snitch'

When the police arrived on the platform, they spoke with the ticket inspectors. Wevelsiep was angry at the way they ignored him, and tried to break into their conversation to explain the situation. People who feel they're being treated unfairly often do such things. His father, the professor, certainly would have done the same. And the police probably wouldn't have pushed Professor Wevelsiep away. However, they did push Derege Wevelsiep. Not even the officers themselves deny doing so.

"In the end, they took me with them, because I couldn't produce a valid ID," Wevelsiep says. "I couldn't believe it. They hadn't spoken a word to us about what happened."

Now, he leaves the subway station and passes a bakery, where the officers' patrol car was parked that night. "Here's where I called my father, because they wanted to handcuff me to put in me in the car, and I didn't want that," he says. Professor Wevelsiep confirms this. The last thing he heard, the professor says, was one of the police officers saying to his son, "You stupid snitch."

"Then the officer counted to three, then came a blow to the temple," Wevelsiep says. "Then he kicked my knee and punched me." The four officers then drove Wevelsiep home. They entered his apartment, looked at his ID, and continued on their way. They later claimed they had treated Wevelsiep with complete courtesy and never hit him. They didn't file charges against him for resisting arrest.

There is no complete chain of evidence or proof for Wevelsiep's version of events. But many of the facts suggest he was beaten. The doctor who treated him at the hospital says she doesn't believe Wevelsiep was feigning his pain, despite bearing no visible hematoma. She has examined many people faking injury in the past and is familiar with such cases.

Additionally, the Sixth Police Precinct is not exactly known within Frankfurt's legal circles for its demure conduct. The same officer Wevelsiep says hit him was recently brought to trial for causing bodily harm while exercising a public office, on charges of beating a soccer fan. Nor do the traces of Wevelsiep's DNA found on the same officer's glove exactly support the officers' version of the story. The officer says the laceration on Wevelsiep's face happened as he was getting into the patrol car -- that he cut himself on the car's blue lights when he made a sudden movement. All four officers corroborate this.

Spontaneous Demonstrations in Frankfurt

A small storm of outrage broke out in Frankfurt when news of the case emerged. People gathered in a spontaneous demonstration against police brutality. Human Rights Watch became involved, as did Amnesty International. The local Green Party and Social Democratic Party (SPD) called for an investigation. These days, additional, undercover inspectors patrol Frankfurt's subway stations, checking up on the regular ticket inspectors.

After months passed without the public prosecutor's investigation into the Wevelsiep case reaching a conclusion, the chair of the SPD group within Frankfurt's city government declared, "This isn't Turkey, this is a country that operates under the rule of law," and suggested it was high time for at least a preliminary report. A spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office responded that this was true, this is not Turkey, but rather "a country that operates under the rule of law -- and in such a country, a full investigation is conducted." Ironic words, perhaps, given that the entire drama began with Wevelsiep hearing the sentence, "We're not in Africa here."

For Wevelsiep himself, the whole thing has become too much. He never slept another night in his apartment. He's removed all the furniture and put it up for sale. Siemens has informed him that the company will be sending him to Mexico. Mexico sounds good.

"The conversations with my brother in America are the worst," Wevelsiep says. Teddy is the plain-speaking type. "First they don't let you work or study for 10 years and force you to live like a beggar, only to then beat you half to death," he says.

Teddy, in Texas, doesn't understand what his brother sees in Germany. Wevelsiep tells him that not everyone in Germany is like that. That there are good Germans, too. People like his parents. Or the people who turned out for the demonstration. Wevelsiep can understand that people here wince when they hear that 68 percent of young children in Frankfurt have non-German roots. He can understand that Germans are asking themselves what will happen in 20 years. How will all the Germans who believed themselves to be in the majority feel then?

'This Is My Home, No Question'

Wevelsiep realizes that strict asylum laws are not a product of a xenophobic country, but a fearful one. And he has accepted that the rules that determine who is allowed to stay in Germany do not necessarily make sense. They are German rules, reflecting a large, wealthy country in the heart of Europe that would like to be left in peace. This country does recognize that its population is growing too old, that it needs immigration and things will have to change. But it is delaying that change out of fear.

"This is my home, no question, and it's better than Ethiopia," Wevelsiep says as he boards the subway once again. The doors slide shut behind him. He gives a thumbs up and smiles.

Over the course of the coming weeks, more than a year after Wevelsiep first became a case for investigators, the public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt will conduct a review to determine whether to close its case concerning the charges of defamation, unlawful entry of a residence and causing bodily harm while exercising a public office. It looks very likely that the case will be closed. The four police officers have gone on record giving logical-sounding statements that are consistent on all key points: Wevelsiep's head injury was incurred as he was getting into the patrol car. He was neither insulted nor beaten.

Public prosecutor Jennifer Höra will presumably be left no choice but to believe the police officers, who have given identical statements. And it's their word against that of a single individual, a former asylum seeker who now holds German citizenship. A black man without a hematoma.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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November 17, 2013

Where St. Nicholas Has His Black Pete(s), Charges of Racism Follow


AMSTERDAM — St. Nicholas entered Amsterdam twice this weekend.

On Sunday morning, under a heavy November sky, he climbed off a steamboat near the Maritime Museum and then, astride a tall white horse and clad in the red-and-gold cloak and miter of a bishop, to the cheers of tens of thousands of children and their parents, he paraded into the center of town accompanied by his faithful servant, Black Peter.

Well, more accurately, servants. For surrounding St. Nicholas, who comes into Dutch cities every year at this time in a mix of Mardi Gras and Christmas to prepare for his feast day on Dec. 6, abounded hundreds of Black Petes in a swirl of activity. There are Black Petes playing music or singing; Black Petes on horseback; Black Petes on stilts handing out balloons and candy; and Black Petes scaling with ropes the facades of department stores or cavorting on the roofs of six-story buildings.

Another St. Nicholas arrived on Saturday afternoon. He sat quietly on a makeshift stage in a tiny square near the Stock Exchange, dreadlocks flowing from under his gold-and-red miter, but without Black Pete. For if Black Peter is a white Netherlander in blackface, this St. Nicholas was a member of the country’s small black minority, and he was presiding at a demonstration by several hundred people, black and white, denouncing Black Pete as racist.

The arrival of St. Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas here (the Dutch carried Sinterklaas to New Amsterdam, now New York, where it was later pronounced Santa Claus; he carries his own bags), is an event in several European countries, though only in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium is he accompanied by Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet in Dutch. Portrayed by men and women in blackface makeup, Peter sports outlandish Renaissance costumes (the kind, critics say, Renaissance lords dressed their slaves in for paintings by the old masters), with thick red lips and frizzy hairdo wigs or fake dreadlocks. Big hoop earrings were once part of the outfit, but they have been sacrificed recently in a concession to critics.

Black Pete is a dimwit of a figure who sings and dances and cavorts to the delight of children. Although the Dutch pride themselves on their tolerance, they now feel that a tradition is under threat, sacrificed to political correctness by those who do not understand it. And poor St. Nicholas, a symbol of kindness and generosity, has become for some a source of division and, occasionally, pretty nasty behavior.

Two years ago, when Quinsy Gario wore a T-shirt with the words “Black Pete is racist” to the St. Nicholas parade, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and dragged away by the police. Born in Curaçao and raised in St. Maarten, Dutch territories in the Caribbean, Mr. Gario, 29, came to Amsterdam in 2002 to study television and theater. At the rally on Saturday, he milled among demonstrators with signs reading “Free Pete” and “Let Me Love You Again, Netherlands.” One displayed a portrait of President Obama with the words, in English, “Leave Our Face Out Of It!”

Black Pete, Mr. Gario later told the crowd, “anywhere in the world would not be accepted.” Switching to English, he added, “The world is watching, and the Netherlands have been found wanting.”

“I would like people to take responsibility to change it,” Mr. Gario said, chatting after his talk. “Nobody takes responsibility for this figure.”

And indeed, politicians in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities are sensitive to public feeling. A Facebook page backing Black Pete gathered more than two million endorsements within just days, a staggering result in a country of 17 million people, even if surveys show about one-third of the population willing to admit that Black Pete is a problem. “Black Peter is black,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said recently. “We cannot do much to change that.”

In October, the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, in a carefully worded letter to the City Council advised it to reject a petition calling for St. Nicholas’s arrival parade to be canceled, because of Black Pete. But Mr. Van der Laan, the father of five children from two marriages, acknowledged that the figure “can potentially result in manifestations of racism — for example if black-skinned people are called Black Peter in everyday life.” Yet he added, in very Dutch fashion, that “the first matter of importance is gradualness.”

Gradualness, others say, will not work. Black Peter, said Marjan Boelsma, who works with an anti-discrimination group in Rotterdam, is “the embodiment of racism.” The Dutch establishment, she added, “says gradually, but you can’t put down racism gradually.”

On Saturday, Patrick Winter stood with his wife and two children, 5 and 4, overlooking the harbor as St. Nick’s steamboat, surrounded by dozens of smaller craft, entered. His wife’s grandparents migrated to the Netherlands from the Dutch Caribbean islands and at first she was taken aback by the figure of Black Pete. Many islanders are descended from Africans taken there as slaves. “It took a long time,” said Mr. Winter, 44, a salesman, and this was the first time the family attended the festivities. “In the end,” he said, “it’s a kids’ celebration.”

Dennis de Vreede agreed. On Dec. 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day, he said, a St. Nick he orders up online will arrive at his home, accompanied by two Black Petes. They will distribute gifts and read prepared statements he supplied beforehand about how each of his three little boys, 5, 4 and 3, has behaved. Mr. De Vreede, 44, chief financial officer of an undersea exploration group, said of Black Peter that “it’s a children’s party, and children at that age don’t mind.”

“We need to realize as adults,” he went on. “What are we talking about? Aren’t there more important problems in the world?”

Americans visiting the parade, and especially black Americans, are often puzzled. When Julie Dastine and two other women crossed the Dam Square on Saturday, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by five women costumed as Black Pete, complete with frizzy hairdos and red lips, keen on having their photo taken with three black Americans.

“I don’t think it’s for us to comment on their tradition,” said Ms. Dastine, a hair stylist from Rockland County, New York. “At first, I was a little confused,” she said. “They got blackface, I thought. I don’t know how I feel about that.”

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« Reply #10063 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:52 AM »

November 17, 2013

French Leader Assures Israel He Will Keep Pressure on Iran


JERUSALEM — As France and other world powers prepared to resume talks with Iran this week on its disputed nuclear program, the French president, François Hollande, arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit and was warmly embraced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been conducting a lonely campaign against a deal he calls “bad” and “dangerous.”

At a red-carpet welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Mr. Netanyahu thanked Mr. Hollande for his “resolute stance” on both Syria and Iran, and Mr. Hollande assured Israel that France “will not tolerate nuclear proliferation.” He pledged to keep up the pressure on Iran until it was clear that Iran had given up its quest for nuclear weapons, and declared in Hebrew, “I will always remain a friend of Israel.”

Talks in Geneva on Nov. 9 between Iran and six world powers — France, the United States, Germany, Britain, Russia and China — failed to produce an agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international financial sanctions. Western powers fear that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, although Tehran insists that its program is for civilian purposes only. Israel views a nuclear-powered Iran as an existential threat.

The talks broke down in part because France said the proposed deal would do too little to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment or stop the development of a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium.

But at a joint news conference later in Jerusalem, Mr. Hollande emphasized that negotiations were always preferable to military force.

On his first visit to Israel as head of state, Mr. Hollande was accompanied by his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, and a large delegation of government ministers, including his foreign minister, as well as businessmen.

On Monday, he was scheduled to meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of an effort to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He was also expected to address the Israeli Parliament.

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« Reply #10064 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:54 AM »

November 17, 2013

Exiting President Reflects on Georgia


TBILISI, Georgia — Mikheil Saakashvili, now the former president of Georgia, was still working his famously late nights, apparently intent on squeezing every last minute from the final days of his term. In an interview late last month that began after midnight and could well have stretched until dawn, Mr. Saakashvili boasted that in his decade in office, Georgia had made huge strides toward becoming an established democracy. He profanely dismissed allegations of heavy-handedness and authoritarian abuses, and voiced regret that he had not spent more money on education and less on weapons.

Mr. Saakashvili, who rose to power as a leader of the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003 and became a darling of the West — embraced by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — also issued a pointed warning that the United States was signaling weakness to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by not following through with threats of military action in Syria.

“Russia perceives American hard power is pulling back from the entire region,” Mr. Saakashvili said, sipping tea and munching on hot roasted nuts. “If America had some limited operations in Syria,” he said, “that would still have been a kind of risk for Putin. Now, he is almost convinced or fully convinced that there is no way, whatever he does — you know, shuts off the Georgia pipeline, comes and occupies Tbilisi, goes and kicks out the Azerbaijan leadership — nobody is going to do anything except strong statements and condemnation.”

“What we hear from our friends in Washington,” Mr. Saakashvili continued, “is, you know, ‘You are great guys. We like you, great transition to democracy — you know, peaceful transition of power, big achievements. But, you know, we now have other things to care about. We’re on your side. We’ll be on your side. But what can we do?’ ”

That Washington might be losing interest in the South Caucasus, where Georgia has been America’s closest ally, was evident on Sunday at the inauguration of Mr. Saakashvili’s successor, Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former university rector and education minister. Rather than a high-profile delegation, perhaps led by a senior cabinet official with members of Congress who are active in Eurasian affairs, the Obama administration sent some little-known officials led by Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

Mr. Saakashvili did not attend the inauguration, because of the arrests and prosecutions of many former members of his government on various charges of corruption and abuse of power; many of those arrests appear to have been politically motivated.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has raised the possibility that Mr. Saakashvili, too, could face arrest and prosecution. The rise of Mr. Ivanishvili, a billionaire whose party, Georgian Dream, swept to power in parliamentary elections in October last year, forced Mr. Saakashvili to spend his final year in office as an opposition figure,

In the interview, Mr. Saakashvili said he fully expected to be a target. “The prime minister envisions for me either prison or exile,” he said. “I will try to fight for my place to be free in my own country.” He said he expected to be proved innocent of any charges that may be brought, but he acknowledged that it was possible that he would be imprisoned anyway.

“Should I be in solitary confinement for one year, without windows, or without any sunlight, because he said that I supposedly ate children alive or killed lots of people in the streets?” Mr. Saakashvili asked. “That’s the issue we are facing.”

On Sunday, aides to Mr. Saakashvili said that he was on vacation with his family in Europe, but that they did not know which country he was in or when he would return home. It was unclear whether he had perhaps begun a sort of temporary exile.

Mr. Ivanishvili and his supporters insisted that they have brought a new climate of openness and civility to Georgia, freeing the judicial system from political influence and ending police and prison abuses. But Mr. Saakashvili said he believed that democracy had suffered a setback in Georgia.

“We are back to the Wild West of some kind of post-Soviet politics,” he said.

Mr. Saakashvili said his biggest regret was not sending more young Georgians to study in the West. “Now I wish we had spent one billion less on defense, and spent it entirely on education,” he said. “That would have been much better defense than buying all these weapons that are, anyway, of little use when you are talking about confronting Russia.”

“That is, in retrospect, I think, my biggest mistake,” he continued. Mr. Saakashvili expressed disdain for Mr. Ivanishvili, who has said that he would resign at the end of November, to be succeeded by the interior minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, 31.

Constitutional amendments that came into force on Sunday strengthen the authority of the prime minister, making that office, rather than the presidency, the most powerful in the country. Mr. Saakashvili denied that he had supported those changes with an eye toward becoming prime minister himself, the way Vladimir V. Putin had become prime minister of Russia after two terms as president while remaining the dominant figure there. “I was asked this by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton,” he said. “They never said I shouldn’t be prime minister, but how they were asking it, they obviously had some concern it would look like Putin. But I told them many times that I was never going to do that.”

In the interview, Mr. Saakashvili said he recognized the historical significance of respecting term limits and stepping down on schedule without a fight, a practice that remains uncommon in post-Soviet states. “It’s huge, huge,” he said.

Another lesson, he said, would be that his party, United National Movement, would be back in the next elections, unlike previously ousted parties in Georgia, which quickly disappeared. “An amazing thing for this part of the world,” he said.

As for his successors, he predicted, “They will learn three things: Things should be changed through institutions, through the ballot box. There is no free lunch. And no sweet Russia, under any circumstances.”

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