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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 621145 times)
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« Reply #10065 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:55 AM »

November 18, 2013

East or West? Ukraine Now Has to Choose Its Path

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

KIEV, Ukraine — According to an old folk tradition, if a man knocks on the door of a Ukrainian beauty with a marriage proposal but does not win her heart, she will reject her suitor by presenting him with a pumpkin.

Who will get the pumpkin from Ukraine at the end of this month — Russia or the European Union?

More than 20 years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union and painfully searching for its place on the geopolitical map, Ukraine has a critical chance to firmly align itself this month with the EU's democratic standards and free-market zone.

The alternative is to slide back into Russia's shadow, both politically and economically, a result that Russian President Vladimir Putin's government is pushing hard to achieve.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has declared that Ukraine's future lies with the 28-member EU and has pushed through a flurry of pro-EU laws and reforms. But he has resisted fulfilling the most important condition set by the EU in order to sign a political association and free-trade agreement at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 28-29: the release from jail of his top political rival, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence on charges the West considers politically motivated.

"We have a chance to be finally together," said former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an EU envoy who has traveled to Ukraine 27 times over the past 1½ years to urge Yanukovych to release Tymoshenko and sign the EU deal. "Never (was) Ukraine so close to being inside the European community."

On Monday, EU ministers were stressing that they do need to see movement from Yanukovych, especially on judicial and electoral reform.

"It has got to be reform that is permanent and irreversible and not just reform for Christmas," said Britain's minister for Europe, David Lidington.

Most analysts say the EU deal would benefit Ukraine by giving it access to European markets, bringing its products into line with EU standards, accelerating much-needed reforms and increasing the likelihood of Ukraine getting a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. But, equally important, it would be a precursor to eventual EU membership and thus cement Ukraine's place in the West, with its commitment to democracy and human rights.

"I think it could be a total game changer — good for the people and good for Ukrainian business. I think if it ends up making the choice to go with Russia, then Ukrainians can forget about European values and perspectives," said Tim Ash, chief emerging-markets economist at Standard Bank in London. The alternative would be "relegating Ukraine's status finally and decisively to that of a second-division Russian proxy."

But the Kremlin has other plans for Ukraine, which shares a similar language and common Orthodox Christian faith with Russia. Having ruled over large parts of Ukraine for centuries, Moscow would hate losing this large piece of its former empire to the West. Putin's government has worked aggressively to derail the EU deal while nudging Ukraine to join a Moscow-led customs union instead.

As Kiev intensified negations with Brussels, Moscow offered Kiev sweet deals such as price discounts on natural gas and loans. But it has also brandished a big stick, banning Ukrainian imports on dubious health grounds and warning of a possible trade blockade.

"Whatever happens, wherever Ukraine is headed, we will still meet each other somewhere, some place," Putin told The Associated Press in an interview in September. "Why? Because we are a common people."

With Putin facing a reinvigorated opposition at home, keeping Ukraine on a leash is also an attempt to legitimize his own power among Russians nostalgic for their country's former might, according to Andreas Umland, assistant professor of European studies at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. "It distracts from domestic politics, it creates legitimacy by building an international alliance, a new collection of lost land."

Moscow would also feel threatened by a fully democratic Ukraine at its doorstep, as that would pose a threat to the Kremlin's model of "sovereign democracy," with manipulated elections and limited tolerance for dissent.

While a majority of Ukrainians favor an alliance with the EU, pro-Moscow lobbyists are targeting the part of the population that tilts toward the historical ties with Moscow. Ukrainian Choice, a pro-Moscow organization led by a former government official with close ties to Putin, has dotted the country with billboards warning of the perceived horrors that would follow the EU deal: price increases, job losses and, playing on the conservative Orthodox Christian attitudes, gay marriages.

With Yanukovych unwilling to pardon Tymoshenko, the charismatic leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution who nearly defeated him in the 2010 presidential election, Kwasniewski has proposed a compromise. He has urged the Ukrainian parliament to pass a bill next week that would allow Tymoshenko to travel to Germany to get treated for a back problem.

But Yanukovych is up for re-election in 2015 and he is maneuvering hard between Moscow and Brussels, trying to gauge which alliance would give him the best chance to stay in power.

His choice? Political and financial support from Moscow, which has never been fixated on clean elections, or the gratitude of Ukrainians for leading their nation toward the EU, but with the obligation to hold an honest election that comes with it.

Yanukovych took a mysterious trip to Moscow this month to meet with Putin, a meeting only belatedly confirmed by the Kremlin. Ukraine's opposition has accused Yanukovych of selling out to Moscow in behind-the-scenes talks.

Since the trip, Kiev appears to be stalling on Tymoshenko's release: Parliament delayed a vote on that last week and Yanukovych's prime minister described relations with Russia as the nation's top priority.

The EU, however, is not giving up.

In an emotional speech at a conference in Yalta, Kwasniewski recalled the remarks by a senior Russian official that Russia, which shares so much history and culture with Ukraine, was offering Kiev its love, while Kwasniewski said the EU's offer to Kiev was the rule of law.

He noted the painful trade sanctions that Moscow imposed on its neighbor in recent months.

"What kind of love is it?" Kwasniewski asked. "That is full perversion. That is not love."
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« Reply #10066 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:56 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/18/2013 12:44 PM

Reding in Washington: EU Sends Tough Commissioner for NSA Talks

By Sebastian Fischer and Gregor Peter Schmitz

The EU is remaining firm with Washington over US spying, with officials in Brussels demanding better protection for Europeans. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is heading to Washington on Monday with a number of demands.

When the European Union wants to signal that it's serious about an issue, it dispatches Viviane Reding. And that's exactly the plan for Monday, when the tough EU justice commissioner is set to meet with her counterpart, Attorney General Eric Holder, in Washington to discuss the consequences of the National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal.

Reding, who is from Luxembourg, has a reputation in the US capital for being a formidable opponent. Her decisive attempts to ensure that Europeans enjoy the same rights to data protection as US citizens have not necessarily been welcome, though. "If Reding wants to continue keeping big US companies away from Europe, then she shouldn't be surprised if Europe is soon as isolated as North Korea," one high-level person working on trans-Atlantic issues said.

But ahead of the meeting with Holder, Reding's resolve remained unbroken. "Data protection is a fundamental right in Europe," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Fundamental rights are non-negotiable. Period."

Due to the misuse of personal data by the US intelligence agency, the trans-Atlantic relationship is mired in a true crisis of confidence, she added. "The Americans' approach has been shocking. I'm on a fact-finding mission in Washington. Are the Americans ready to restore lost trust? Are they prepared to see us as partners instead of opponents?"

'I Want Clarity'

The justice commissioner isn't sure what the answers to these questions will be. The current EU-US agreement on mutual legal assistance -- which focuses in particular on American IT companies in Europe whose data can be accessed by US officials -- has not been adhered to by the Americans, Reding says. "The American government must guarantee the legal protection of EU citizens in the US if they want a framework agreement on law enforcement and judicial cooperation," she said. "I want clarity. The European parliament will never vote in favor of an agreement that doesn't clear up this point."

The question is whether Reding's determination will do anything to sway the Americans. So far, US government sources have signaled that they want to gain the greatest freedom possible within the EU for the data streams of Internet companies like Google, Amazon or Microsoft. As the global market leaders, they're also in a strong position, especially given that the Europeans have done little to build up companies that can compete.

Politically, it is also unlikely that much will change right now. When Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner recently discussed his plans in Brussels for more closely monitoring the NSA, the privacy of foreigners didn't play a role. He said he was concerned about improved observation of the NSA's work on US soil. And much-discussed legislation by Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein to rein in NSA spying is also unlikely to deliver much progress. Her bill even makes it possible for foreigners to be spied on for up to 72 hours without requiring any kind of court approval.

Kerry's 'Trans-Atlantic Renaissance'

Sources in Washington told SPIEGEL the Americans would prefer a diplomatic solution and that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Berlin as soon as a new German government is in place. His planned trip is part of a charm offensive aimed at easing tensions with the Europeans over the recent revelations about American spying. Kerry has already called for a "trans-Atlantic renaissance." Meanwhile, his assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Victoria Nuland, said last week there would be a "doubling down" of the trans-Atlantic relationship -- particularly on issues like the planned free-trade agreement and energy security.

Christopher Murphy, a Democrat and the head of the Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs, plans to travel to Berlin on Nov. 24 together with a high-profile delegation. Two days later, Murphy will also travel to Brussels. He says he wants to discuss "legitimate concerns" by "our European allies" about the nature and scope of US intelligence programs."

But is the White House even behind such reconciliatory efforts? President Barack Obama still hasn't issued any official apology to Merkel over the NSA's eavesdropping on her mobile phone. When Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, made a rare public appearance at the Aspen Ideas Forum last week, the NSA scandal wasn't even a topic of discussion.


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« Reply #10067 on: Nov 18, 2013, 06:58 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/18/2013 12:24 PM

Corporate Compromise: Coalition Talks Yield Plan for Gender Quota

Negotiators working to form a new German goverment coalition agreed this weekend to introduce a gender quota of 30 percent on the supervisory boards of publicly traded companies in the country in 2016. The issue has been the subject of intense debate.

Three weeks into negotiations to form a coalition government in Berlin, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have agreed on a gender quota on company supervisory boards, finally bringing an end to a debate that has raged for years -- not just between the two parties, but also within the chancellor's conservatives.

A working group charged with discussing family policy has proposed that as of 2016, 30 percent of new appointments to the supervisory boards of companies that are publicly traded in Germany must be women. Starting in 2015, major companies must also set their own binding goals for increasing the number of women on their supervisory boards, their management board and on their executive floors.

Manuela Schwesig, minister for employment and social affairs in Mecklenburg Vorpommern and the SPD's negotiator on family issues, said the decision would boost women's opportunities for advancement and was a move towards greater equality in the workplace.

'A Cultural Shift in the Corporate Sector'

The SPD originally suggested incrementally raising the number of women in executive positions to 40 percent by 2021. The CDU rejected a fixed quota but signaled willingness to compromise on the make-up of supervisory boards.

"(This marks) a cultural shift in the corporate sector," CDU negotiator Annette Widmann-Mauz said on Sunday, while stressing that her party stands by its conviction that a fixed quota on management boards is neither constructive nor constitutionally permissible. "I am therefore pleased that we managed to agree with the SPD on a sensible ruling that will benefit women."

For the time being, women remain under-represented in corporate boardrooms. In September -- 12 years after voluntary targets were introduced for companies to boost their ranks of female executives -- only 11.7 percent of executive posts were held by women.

Ahead of September's election, the female wing of the SPD made the introduction of quotas for women on supervisory boards one of the party's key conditions for entering into a coalition government with the CDU.

In April, Germany's parliament rejected a law that would have mandated gender quotas on the supervisory boards of domestic corporations.

Other European countries including France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Belgium have successfully introduced similar quotas in recent years.


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« Reply #10068 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:03 AM »


Spanish environmental activists could face lengthy jail terms for pie protest

Four men due to appear in court in Madrid in case likened by defence lawyer to the Inquisition

Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Sunday 17 November 2013 17.39 GMT   

Watch footage of the incident

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuKUv_FAktI

Four Spanish men could face long prison sentences if convicted for pummelling a regional president with pies, in a case their lawyer has described as reminiscent of the Inquisition.

The men are due to appear in court in Madrid on Monday charged with "hurling said pie in the face of Yolanda Barcina Angulo in an energetic fashion", in protest at the development of a high-speed train network that threatens forest land in the Pyrenees.

Barcina, president of the north-eastern region of Navarre, was left "dazed and disorientated" and her clothes were damaged, according to court documents. The incident took place across the border in Toulouse, where Barcina, of the governing rightwing People's party, was taking part in a public meeting in October 2011.

The four accused – Gorka Ovejero Gamboa, Julio Martín Villanueva, Ibón García Garrido and Mikel Álvarez Forcada – are members of Mugitu, an environmental activist group dedicated to non-violent protest against the rail plans. Ovejero could be sentenced to up to nine years in prison and the other three could face six years.

Their defence lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, told the Guardian: "This case reveals the very worst side of the Spanish judicial system and its total lack of contact with reality. It shows a corrupt judicial and political class prepared to use public resources to try people that have done nothing more than demonstrate their opposition to the destruction of the forest.

"If these people are convicted, the court will look like a tribunal during the Inquisition rather than a modern court of law."

Boye said the court had rejected all the eyewitnesses called by the defence and accepted only the evidence of two local Spanish policemen who were not present during the incident.

The activists say they had no intention of causing physical injury and wanted only to highlight their cause and mock "the image of authority represented" by Barcina. Four other men involved in the stunt, all French nationals, face no charges in France or Spain.

Shortly after the incident, Barcina said she had been left feeling "humiliated". The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, publicly expressed his support for her.

In an interview with the news site El Diario, Ovejero said he had not expected they would be risking a prison sentence when they planned the incident. He said they had looked into similar cases in other democratic countries, and could not find anyone who had been sent to prison for throwing a pie.

"In Belgium [the writer and activist] Nöel Godin and his group have thrown more than 100 pies in the face of important people and they have always been understood to be expressions of surrealist art," he said.

A number of recent trials have raised questions about the efficacy of the Spanish justice system, with many observers arguing there is one rule for the political and social elite and another for the rest.

Last week an 11-year investigation into the Prestige oil spill, in which 50,000 tonnes of crude oil destroyed fishing waters and beaches in Galicia, ended with no one found criminally responsible.

The ongoing trial of the People's party's former treasurer Luis Bárcenas has revealed the extraordinary levels of corruption at the heart of Spanish political and business life. Bárcenas is accused of handling an illegal slush fund made up of donations from construction companies, which was used to bribe MPs.

"In Spain, authority figures are protected as much, if not more, as they were under the dictatorship. If you throw a pie in the face of your local barber, nothing will happen. But if you do it to a public official, you'll find the great weight of the law coming down on top of you," Ovejero said.


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« Reply #10069 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:05 AM »


Irish president to make first official visit to the UK

President Michael D Higgins receives formal invitation from the Queen to stay at Windsor Castle in April

Press Association
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013   

President Michael D Higgins is to become the first Irish head of state to make an official state visit to the UK.

The Queen formally invited the president and his wife Sabina to stay with the royals at Windsor Castle on 8 April.

Aras an Uachtarain – the president's official residence in Dublin – has confirmed they have accepted the invitation.

The groundbreaking three-day state visit follows the Queen's trip to Ireland in May 2011, where she paid her respects to republican dead at Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, and visited Croke Park – site of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre – and made a widely-praised speech on Anglo-Irish history at Dublin Castle.

The invite to Ireland from former president Mary McAleese paved the way for a reciprocal invite for her successor to the UK.

A number of meetings between Mr Higgins – a former Labour government minister, a poet and academic – and members of the Royal family have taken place since his election.

Both he and his wife met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in June last year at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

The president met Princess Anne at a sporting event while the Duke of Kent visited him this year at Aras an Uachtarain, the president's residence in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Although the Irish head of state has travelled to events in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland over the past year, these were not official visits.

Likewise, previous meetings between the Queen and President McAleese and her predecessor Mary Robinson at various functions in the UK were not official state visits.

Next year's trip will the first time an Irish head of state has been formally invited to the UK by a British sovereign.

Although the official programme is yet to be finalised, it is expected Mr and Mrs Higgins will stay at Windsor Castle and will pay official visits to the prime minister at Downing Street as well as the leader of the opposition.

In line with other state visits to the UK, it is anticipated the Lord Mayor of the City of London will host a banquet for the president.

Sources said the programme will reflect the political, economic and cultural relations between the UK and Ireland.

A concert may also be held to mark the occasion. During the Queen's trip to Ireland, she was entertained by The Chieftains, Westlife, X-Factor singer Mary Byrne and Riverdance during an hour-long extravaganza at Dublin's Convention Centre.

It is also expected the Queen will host a state banquet for the president next April, during which both heads of state will make speeches.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny warmly welcomed confirmation that President Higgins will pay an official visit to the UK.

"This is a further demonstration of the warm and positive relationship that now exists between Ireland and the United Kingdom," he said.

"The state visit in April, following on the very successful visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in 2011, will be a wonderful opportunity to deepen this even further."


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« Reply #10070 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:06 AM »


British nuclear energy industry could attract South Korean investment

Korean companies tipped to follow France and China into UK market in wake of deal for new Hinkley Point reactor

Terry Macalister, energy editor
The Guardian, Sunday 17 November 2013 18.07 GMT   

South Korea could become the next nation to take a stake in the British nuclear industry as the financing deal with France and China for a new reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset creates a wave of wider interest.

The move could trigger controversy because the Korean atomic industry has been hit by a scandal over fake safety certificates but the UK and South Korea have vowed to help restore credibility and build closer links in this sector.

Lloyd's Register, which provides risk management services, has been hired by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company to help give the country's reactors a clean bill of health.

But senior executives for the London-based Lloyd's say the relationship is a two-way process with the Koreans also looking at the best route to enter the British market in the aftermath of the Chinese investment in Hinkley Point.

"Discussions are ongoing and I would not be surprised to see, in a year or so's time, the Koreans taking an equity investment in the UK market," said Richard Clegg, a managing director at Lloyd's Register and a former chief scientist at the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment.

David Cameron met the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, in London two weeks ago with the media headlines taken up with joint agreements on how to tackle the threat of nuclear weapons in North Korea.

But the two leaders also promised to increase commercial ties in everything from nuclear power to financial services. The Lloyd's deal, which was signed on the sidelines, will help over a two-year period with the safety certificate problem that has forced some of the 23 South Korean reactors offline.

Clegg said the Hinkley Point financing agreement between Britain, EDF of France, China General Nuclear Corporation and China National Nuclear Corporation had attracted a lot of attention among other potential atomic investors.

Ministers have agreed to guarantee a generous price of up to £92.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity for 35 years, more than twice the current market rate.

Clegg believes that Toshiba and Hitachi of Japan, which have their own different consortiums for building potential new plants in Britain, can be expected to press ahead with firm investment plans too.

"We have been here before, of course. Sizewell [the last new nuclear plant constructed in Britain] was meant to be the first every year for a decade but with all the macro-pressures there are now around energy security my personal judgment is that we will see more than one and we could see six," he said.

The next site after Hinkley in Somerset is likely to be Sizewell, where EDF and the Chinese have rights to build, and Clegg believes that the Far East partners will want to be playing an even bigger role than just taking an equity stake.

"I think we can expect to see the Chinese pushing for their one equipment and supply chain to be used with a longer term aim of being able to sell nuclear technology into emerging markets such as the Middle East, Africa and south-east Asia."


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« Reply #10071 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:08 AM »


If the Arctic 30 are freed, Greenpeace will be made to pay

Greenpeace has picked fights with nation states before, and it may find Russia will exact retribution without the need for prison

Frank Zelko   
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 11.00 GMT   
       
Greenpeace has been carrying out dramatic, attention-grabbing actions for more than 40 years, often in parts of the world far removed from the public eye. In doing so, the organisation has served as a global environmental conscience, and thorn in the side of major corporations and governments. Since its early days protesting at atomic bomb testing and baby seal killing, its modus operandi has become well known, including in Russia. Indeed, Soviet whalers were among the first to experience Greenpeace's innovative protest style in 1975, when a handful of individuals tried to intercept whaling vessels in a media-ready passion play of cetacean blood and human bravado.

Russian authorities thus knew full well, when 30 Greenpeace activists attempted in September to scale a state oil platform in the Pechora Sea, that the non-profit group was seeking to raise awareness, not to inflict injury or property damage. Anything else would undermine the organisation's scrupulous commitment to non-violence, a hallmark as crucial to Greenpeace's image as coolness is to Apple's. Theatrical protests, however, risk theatrical responses. By initially charging the activists with piracy and threatening them with 15 years in prison, Russian authorities made brutally clear they would brook no dissent.

Such heavy-handed retaliation is nothing new to Greenpeace. Like the Gandhian non-violence and the US civil rights campaigns the organisation first modelled itself on, Greenpeace and its representatives have long engaged in a delicate dance with opponents who, if they chose to, could crush them like bugs. Most often, both sides' tacit understanding of the rules of engagement has ensured that Greenpeace actions are merely denounced or disregarded. From time to time, however, targets of the group's melodramatic stunts have responded far more aggressively. In each instance, it has been because states' strategic interests – not merely the blood of sentient beasts – have been at stake.

Greenpeace's first entanglement with state retribution occurred in the early 1970s during protests against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. After chafing against Greenpeace's presence for several days, a French naval vessel simply decided to ram the group's boat. French commandos later illegally boarded the vessel and severely beat its captain, future Greenpeace International leader David McTaggart. When even this attack proved unsuccessful in driving the group away, France went on to instruct its agents in 1985 to attach a bomb to the Rainbow Warrior's hull while it was anchored in Auckland harbour, thereby destroying the ship and killing a Greenpeace photographer in the process.

The threat of lengthy prison sentences also isn't new. In 2000, Greenpeace activists were arrested in California for protesting about a missile launch that was part of the Pentagon's Star Wars programme. Seventeen activists were charged with conspiracy to violate a safety zone and threatened with 11-year prison terms. The US attorney's office kept the accused in suspense for six months before finally dropping the charges. In exchange for clemency, however, Greenpeace had to agree to halt civil disobedience at all US military installations involved in the Star Wars programme and pay a $150,000 fine.

Hopefully for the Arctic 30, the story will play out much the same way in Russia. After playing hardball for several months, the Russians will back away from the charges while extracting some kind of legally binding promise from Greenpeace to cease protesting about Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. While this would be a relief to those currently incarcerated, it would constitute one more blow against Greenpeace's ability to cast light on state activities in far-off places, the ripple effects of which encompass us all.


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« Reply #10072 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:13 AM »

November 17, 2013

Warnings of New Turmoil as Pakistan Pursues a Treason Case for Musharraf

By SALMAN MASOOD
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s government said Sunday that it was initiating a treason prosecution of the country’s former ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in what would be a groundbreaking, if politically charged, assertion of civilian supremacy over the powerful Pakistani military.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the government had asked the Supreme Court to establish a special panel to try General Musharraf on accusations that he subverted the Constitution in late 2007 when he imposed emergency rule and fired much of the judiciary.

The military has ruled Pakistan for about half of the country’s 66-year history, and no ruler or top military commander had ever faced criminal prosecution until General Musharraf’s return from exile in April. Since then, he has faced criminal prosecution in four cases related to his time in power.

But a treason prosecution would sharply raise the stakes between civilian and military leaders — the charge carries a potential death penalty — and, analysts warned on Sunday, could cast the country into new political turmoil.

“It is a can of worms,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and respected political commentator. “It is really absurd.”

The decision to proceed against General Musharraf comes at a tough time for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government is facing increasing scrutiny for its handling of the economy, foreign relations and security. And personally, Mr. Sharif, who is visiting Thailand, has been criticized for his frequent foreign tours even as Pakistan has faced struggle after struggle.

On Friday, at least nine people were killed and 50 were wounded in Rawalpindi, the garrison city next to the capital, as sectarian riots broke out between Shiite and Sunni groups.

The violence led the government to clamp a two-day curfew on the city, suspend cellphone services and bring out troops in several other cities to quell tensions.

And relations with the United States are under strain over accusations that an American drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud sabotaged nascent peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

With such a turbulent political environment as backdrop, the sudden announcement of treason charges brought immediate questions and criticism.

“What we saw today was a political decision,” said Fahd Hussain, the director of news at the Express News television network. “It was important for Nawaz Sharif to be seen to deliver on his past pledges.”

What seems clear, at least, is that Mr. Sharif’s government wanted to prevent General Musharraf from slipping out of Pakistan into exile. General Musharraf, a former army chief, had been under house arrest at his villa outside Islamabad until earlier this month, when he was released on bail on all cases and later requested permission to go to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to visit his mother.

On Monday, lawyers for General Musharraf are due to make a court application to have him taken off an official list that prevents him from leaving Pakistan. A treason prosecution would result in new restrictions on Mr. Musharraf’s movements, although it remained unclear how quickly the Supreme Court would move on Monday.

In a statement on Sunday, General Musharraf’s office described the treason charges as a “vicious attempt to undermine the Pakistan military” and a “botched attempt” to divert attention from the country’s other problems.

Babar Sattar, a lawyer and columnist with the English-language daily newspaper Dawn, said that Mr. Sharif appeared to be betting that the army would not stop the judiciary from trying General Musharraf in open court.

“I think Nawaz realizes that Musharraf is a bygone for the army,” he said. “He wants to fix him but does not want to give an impression that it is revenge.”

General Musharraf’s supporters say the law is being applied selectively, pointing out that many senior justices, including the country’s crusading chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, validated the 1999 coup that brought the military ruler to power. Mr. Chaudhry was among the judges fired by Mr. Musharraf during the state of emergency, and later became a rallying point for opposition to the former general’s rule.

The decision to put General Musharraf on trial also comes at a time of transition for the military. The current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is due to retire at the end of this month. Chief Justice Chaudhry is due to retire in December.

But if Mr. Sharif is seeking to take advantage of this period of transition in Pakistan’s power politics, many warned that it could backfire.

“They are adopting an unchartered course of action that contains many hazards,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst. “This case may ultimately alienate the military.”

Mr. Rizvi added that governance had been “very poor” and that ordinary people had been severely affected in the last five to six months by inflation and chronic power shortages.

“It just shows very poor sense of priority. What are they trying to achieve?” said Mr. Masood, the retired general. “The army is involved in the tribal belt. It is also involved in maintaining peace in Karachi and now in Rawalpindi. What message is the government sending?”


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« Reply #10073 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:18 AM »


Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
November 18, 2013, 1:49 am

Analysts Hail China’s Plan to Overhaul Economy

By BETTINA WASSENER

If the initial summary of China’s highly anticipated economic policy plan disappointed analysts last week, the far more detailed plan that was released by the Chinese authorities late on Friday more than made up for it.

The reaction among investors and analysts to the more than 21,000-character document that laid out the Chinese Communist Party’s decisions on how to overhaul the Chinese economy was overwhelmingly positive.

‘‘The breadth of the reform plan has certainly exceeded most expectations,’’ commented Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS.

The document, said the China economists at Goldman Sachs, ‘‘showed high reform conviction and lifted reform expectations and targets.’’

And Yao Wei, an economist in the Hong Kong office of Société Générale, said, ‘‘The new leaders really delivered and promised a number of concrete changes. China’s reform boat has finally set sail.’’

The stock markets echoed the overall sentiment: On Monday, the Shanghai composite index closed nearly 2.9 percent higher, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong, where many mainland companies are listed, climbed 2.7 percent.
On Friday, both had risen 1.7 percent in anticipation of more details on the meetings.

In part, the cheer stemmed from the fact that the initial communiqué from the closed-door meeting of top party policy makers released on Tuesday last week — about 5,000 characters shorter than the final ‘‘decisions’’ document — had been vaguely worded, replete with platitudes, short of detail and almost bound to disappoint.

The longer outline released three days later ‘‘swept away the haze of disappointing ambiguity’’ of that initial communiqué, said Zhu Haibin, the chief China economist at JPMorgan.

It addresses a wide range of issues — including changes to the long-standing one-child policy, land rights, price liberalization and the role of the markets in the largely state-dominated economy.

For our full coverage, click here.

Many of these topics had been discussed at great length and widely telegraphed in the months before the party meeting.

‘‘But seeing them all in one document, backed by a clear sense of urgency, is heartening,’’ Stephen Green, an economist at Standard Chartered, wrote in a note on Monday.

There were some disappointments. Many economists highlighted an apparent lack of determination to reduce the dominance that state-owned enterprises, or S.O.E.’s, hold in many areas of the Chinese economy.

‘‘S.O.E. reform appears timid, reflecting the old thinking that the state ownership should remain as the mainstream,’’ the team at Citigroup said in a note. ‘‘Without forcing S.O.E.’s out of the competitive industries, private companies will continue to find themselves at a disadvantaged position in acquiring natural and financial resources.’’

And the usual cautions on the challenges of actually implementing the mandated changes remain firmly in place, analysts said.

Many of the overhauls will take months, if not years, to implement, and many could run into opposition from officials and businesses who are eager to preserve the status quo.

‘‘Whether or not the Plenum ends up a turning point in China’s development depends on how well reforms are implemented,’’ said the team at Capital Economics.

Over all, though, they added, ‘‘we can’t help feeling more upbeat about the prospects for China’s long-term economic future than we have ever been.’’

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

November 17, 2013

Hurdles Seen for Change to China’s One-Child Rule

By CHRIS BUCKLEY
IHT

HONG KONG — The Chinese government’s decision to relax a decades-old one-child limit on couples has already encountered two problems likely to test dozens of social and economic changes promised by President Xi Jinping — vagaries about implementation and magnified public expectations of even bigger changes ahead.

The limited curtailing of rules that restrict most city-dwelling couples to raising just one child was a highlight of 60 proposed reforms endorsed by a Communist Party Central Committee, which were released to the public on Friday. The change will allow couples to have two children if either the husband or wife is an only child. Couples can now have two children only if each of the spouses is an only child. Most rural families are already allowed to have two children.

The Chinese state-run news media have celebrated the shift as demonstrating that Mr. Xi’s government is willing to make changes that have been debated, and delayed, for many years. But over the weekend, a senior official in the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that provincial-level governments would decide when to carry out the new policy, and he stressed that the government had no plans to further relax family size restrictions.

“There will not be a uniform nationwide timetable for starting implementation,” Wang Pei’an, a vice minister of the commission, said in a question-and-answer transcript issued by Xinhua, the state-run news agency. “But it would be inadvisable for the lag in timing of implementation between each area to be too long.”

Provincial-level governments include large municipalities, like Beijing and Shanghai, which answer directly to the central government.

Wang Feng, a demographer who teaches at the University of California, Irvine, and Fudan University in Shanghai, has estimated that the policy change could lead to one million to two million extra births in China every year, on top of the 15 million or so births a year now. But that limited change has aroused hopes among experts and citizens that the government could let all couples have two children, and eventually even scrap state limits on family size.

“Two children should be the standard,” Zhang Yuan, a civil servant in Nanjing, a city in Jiangsu Province, eastern China, said in a telephone interview. She said she was already eligible to have two children, as both she and her husband were only children.

“Even if the policy was further relaxed, it’s not necessarily so that every couple will have more kids,” she said. “It’s a huge pressure to raise a kid, especially in China.”

But, she said, she and her husband were thinking about having a second child in two or three years, in addition to their 2-year-old daughter. “I’m not very concerned about the financial pressure. Rich or not, you can raise the kids either way.”

Mr. Wang, the health commission official, emphatically said no to ideas of a further relaxation of the general one-child rule.

“Adjusting and improving family-planning policy is not tantamount to relaxing that policy,” Mr. Wang said. Allowing all urban couples to have two children would create too many burdens for society, he said.

“There would be a quite serious concentration of births that would impose very heavy pressure on basic public services,” he said. “In the longer term, that would create a cyclical surge in births, so the total population would experience sustained growth, and the arrival of the population peak would be delayed.”

The relaxation was possible because of China’s slowed population growth, and in the longer term it will help to offset the pressures of coping with an aging society, Mr. Wang said. But the policy change will not significantly alter China from its course toward an increasingly old society with a slowly shrinking labor force, said Hua Sheng, an economist at Southeast University in Nanjing.

“There’s unlikely to be a major short-term impact,” Professor Hua said. “The economic impact also will depend on how much actual behavior changes. But the real significance is that it’s a positive signal — the first major change in family planning after many years.”

The party Central Committee meeting that endorsed the change in family policy also vowed to abolish re-education through labor, a form of punishment that can be used to imprison people for up to four years without any real judicial scrutiny or chance to appeal. But that proposal, as well as a slew of economic changes promised by the committee, also await detailed rules for implementation.

For eligible couples, the question of whether to have a second child will come down to choosing between the pleasure and benefits of another child against the pressures in a society where health care, schooling and housing costs can be daunting even for prosperous members of the middle class.

Li Xuebing, a real estate advertising salesman in Beijing, said he and his wife would be eligible to have another child under the new policy, in addition to their 18-month-old son.

“Ever since the first, we’ve wanted to have a second child,” he said.

“I’m an only child, and my experience growing up was that an only child carries too many burdens from the family’s expectations,” Mr. Li said. “I think this policy opening will grow bigger and bigger.”

Patrick Zuo contributed research from Beijing.

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

Activists say they have found way around Chinese internet censorship

Campaigners create 'mirror sites' to circumvent controls after Reuters and Wall Street journal websites are blocked

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 11.48 GMT   
   
Cyber-activists have retaliated against Chinese authorities' censorship of foreign media websites by exposing an apparent weakness in the country's vast internet control apparatus.

China blocked the Wall Street Journal and Reuters Chinese-language websites on Friday after a New York Times exposé revealed business ties between JP Morgan and the daughter of the former premier Wen Jiabao. Both websites appear to still be blocked on Monday. The New York Times's English and Chinese-language websites have been blocked in China since 2012.

Charlie Smith, the co-founder of GreatFire.org, a website which monitors internet censorship in China, says he has helped discover a strategy to make these sites available in mainland China without the aid of firewall-circumventing software.

"We think we have exposed a weakness in the Great Firewall," he said. The strategy involves creating mirror websites – essentially replicas of existing sites – which authorities would be unable to block without severely disrupting other, government-sanctioned internet traffic. Mirror sites that GreatFire.org established for the Wall Street Journal and Reuters' Chinese-language sites are currently accessible within mainland China.

"We're serving these mirror sites through companies like Amazon," Smith said. "For them to block these mirror sites, they're going to have to take down Amazon web servers in China, and that would affect thousands of services in China, maybe tens of thousands," he said. Many Chinese websites hosted by Amazon's web services are involved in e-commerce, he said, so a blanket ban could have significant economic consequences.

The Chinese government has long used a range of intimidation tactics including internet censorship, visa denials and verbal warnings to express its displeasure with news agencies that it deems a political threat. Authorities blocked the websites of Bloomberg News and the New York Times in 2012 after they featured lengthy investigations exposing the wealth amassed by family members of top leaders. They have withheld visas for incoming reporters from both organisations, some for more than a year.

The blocks come amid a controversy over self-censorship, as western media companies vie for financial gain in the world's second-largest economy. Top editors at Bloomberg News allegedly quashed two politically sensitive investigations last month to avoid jeopardising the organisation's China bureaux, the New York Times reported. Most of Bloomberg's revenue in China comes from subscriptions to financial terminals, and sales have slumped following publication of sensitive articles in the past.

Bloomberg managers have suspended the Hong-Kong-based correspondent Michael Forsythe – a lead reporter on one of the stories – for leaking the editorial decision, the New York Post reported on Friday. "Thanks everyone for the incredible outpouring of sympathy and support," Forsythe tweeted on Monday evening in his first public statement since the suspension. "It has really helped me and my family get through this.

The Reuters Chinese-language website was blocked soon after it published news concerning the New York Times exposé, Smith said. The Wall Street Journal site was blocked at around the same time, although the reasons appear less explicit. "All of this stuff is related to the news about Bloomberg – which media organisations are self-censoring at the moment, and which aren't?" he said. "Financial Times Chinese isn't blocked. What does that mean?"

Bloomberg has vociferously rejected allegations of self-censorship. "It is absolutely false that we postponed these stories due to external pressure," a spokesperson, Belina Tan, said in an email. "We are disappointed that they chose to publish a piece that claims otherwise."

Early this month, China's foreign ministry notified Paul Mooney, a 63-year-old reporter with 18 years of experience in China, that his visa application to work for Thompson Reuters in Beijing had been denied. He had been waiting for eight months.

Judging by a "tough" visa interview he had undergone at San Francisco's Chinese consulate this spring, he said, authorities were probably displeased with his reporting on sensitive political issues such as detained human rights lawyers and ethnic tensions in Tibet. "The consular officer said: 'If we give you the visa and allow you to go back, we suggest you be more objective in your reporting,'" Mooney said in a phone interview. "It's a form of intimidation."

Mooney returned to the US in 2012 when the visa sponsored by his former employer, the South China Morning Post, expired. "I always considered myself a China person first and a journalist second," he said. "So it's hard to think that I won't be able to go back and continue the work I was doing."


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« Reply #10074 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:21 AM »


Indonesia recalls Canberra ambassador over Yudhoyono phone tapping attempt

Foreign minister demands explanation after documents reveal Australian agencies targeted phones of president and his wife

 Oliver Laughland in Jakarta
 theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 10.45 GMT   
   
Indonesia has recalled its ambassador to Australia following Guardian Australia's revelations that Australian spy agencies attempted to listen to the private phone calls of the Indonesian president and targeted the phones of other senior figures in Jakarta, including his wife.

The Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, confirmed on Monday that he and the president had contacted the ambassador in Canberra and told him to return to Jakarta for “consultations”. He added that Indonesia was reviewing all information-sharing agreements between the two nations, a damning move given the new Australian government’s pledge to combat people-smuggling in the region.

Natalegawa said any tapping of Indonesian politicians’ personal phones “violates every single decent and legal instrument I can think of – national in Indonesia, national in Australia, international as well”.

He added: “It is nothing less than an unfriendly act which is already having a very serious impact on bilateral relations.”

Natalegawa said summoning the ambassador was “not considered a light step” but was the “minimum” that could be done to “consolidate the situation”.

“The ball is very much in Australia’s court,” he said, calling for an official, public explanation from Canberra.

He expressed frustration at the response he had received from the Australian capital, adding he would be speaking with the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, later on Monday. Natalegawa dismissed any suggestion that phone surveillance was “common practice between countries”, saying: “I have news for you: we don't do it, we certainly should not be doing it among friends.”

Natalegawa said he would be examining whether the phone tapping revelations were in violation of the Lombok treaty signed by the two nations in 2006, which aimed to enhance bilateral security co-operation.

The foreign minister, known for his reserved demeanour, spoke in an unusually forthright manner. He said he would be “quite flabbergasted” if tapping the private phone calls of the president had relevance to Australia’s security interests.

“I need quite desperately an explanation how a private conversation involving the president of the Republic of Indonesia, involving the first lady of the Republic of Indonesia, how they can even have a hint, even a hint of relevance impacting on the security of Australia,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, the deputy Australian ambassador to Indonesia, David Engel, was called to the foreign ministry for talks. After a 20-minute meeting, he described talks as “very good”.


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« Reply #10075 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:23 AM »

November 17, 2013

Inland, No Aid for Survivors of Typhoon

By KEITH BRADSHER
IHT

JARO, Philippines — Even as a major international aid effort has begun to take hold around the coastal city of Tacloban, the situation grimly differs just a few miles inland, where large numbers of injured or sick people in interior villages shattered by Typhoon Haiyan more than a week ago have received no assistance.

Well away from the coastal storm surge areas where most of the death toll occurred on the Philippines island of Leyte, the picture is still one of utter devastation — in this case from Haiyan’s record winds. Mile after mile along the inland roads, particularly in the east, practically every home looks as though its roof had been ferociously clawed off.

Coconut palm forests were torn apart, with vast swaths of trees snapped off about 15 feet above the ground. Falling trunks crushed or knocked holes in houses and huts alike.

But while international relief workers in bright blue or red vests and Philippines Department of Health workers in orange vests are now scouring neighborhoods up and down the coast, they are nowhere to be seen in the interior.

Doctors, mayors and local council members in six inland towns and villages here on Leyte Island all said Sunday that their citizens had received no medical treatment or medical supplies and no food, water or tents from the international assistance program. They also had not received any medical assistance from the Philippines government; although town governments had received sacks of rice, village governments had not.

All of them said that with the exception of a handful of people sent to hospitals in Tacloban with clearly life-threatening injuries, most people with typhoon-related lacerations and other injuries were being sent home with little or no care. The inland areas lack doctors and have few if any antibiotics, antiseptic, gauze, or other medical supplies.

All of them also said that they were seeing increasing rates of fever and diarrhea, which they attributed to large numbers of people drinking contaminated water and living in now-roofless homes that offer scant protection from the periodic heavy rains over the past nine days.

Raul Artoza, a 49-year-old local council member in Macanip village, which is under the administrative authority of the town of Jaro, said that he had never seen so many children come down with fever as in the past few days.

Nobody has a thermometer in the village, nobody has taken a child to a health care worker of any sort and no aid has arrived from the Philippines government or any international group since the typhoon, he said.

“We’re just putting leaves on their foreheads,” said one of his neighbors, Milagros Macanip.

Rosalina Doyola, a 22-year-old who completed a university degree in accounting last year, sat in a clinic in Santa Fe on Sunday morning, missing two chunks of her left calf each long and deep enough to put an index finger in lengthwise. She was hurt nine days ago by flying debris and has only received iodine solution as a topical antiseptic, plus inexpensive oral antibiotics, with no attempt at suturing her wounds.

“We were escaping from our house and I was hit by an iron roof; maybe it was the church’s roof,” said Miss Doyola, adding that both her brothers had been injured by stepping on nails since the typhoon, but that her two sisters were fine.

Virginia Anoya Macasaet, the 51-year-old midwife who has run the clinic for many years, said that she had no formal training in wound care. She said that she had initially put gauze on Miss Doyola’s wounds nine days ago but later changed her mind.

“We bandaged it, but it smelled bad, so we left it open,” she said.

Mrs. Macasaet and Miss Doyola both expressed surprise when told that German and Belgian medical aid groups had opened free field hospitals just three miles away in coastal Palo. An ambulance was parked in front of the Santa Fe clinic and available to take them to Palo, and gasoline has become available again in the past couple days after disappearing from sale for a week after the typhoon.

Mrs. Macasaet mentioned that flying debris during the typhoon had also gouged out the left eye of a 9-year-old girl and that she had been sent home with little care. She asked that the mayor, who was standing nearby, be told that the town’s ambulance should be used.

Oscar Monteza, the mayor of Santa Fe, a town of 20,000 people, said that “hundreds” of people had been injured by flying debris during the typhoon. He said that his main priority with the renewed availability of gasoline was to fix and start a generator to produce electricity, but he later agreed to authorize use of the ambulance.

Miss Doyola was fortunate to have received oral antibiotics for more than a week, although they were inexpensive ones to which many bacteria are resistant. Rosaura Diola, the registered nurse who runs the main clinic in downtown Jaro, said that she rationed patients to only three of the 21 tablets they need to complete a weeklong course of antibiotics. Medicine is in such short supply after the typhoon that patients must figure out for themselves how to obtain the rest of the tablets needed to complete treatment, she said.

The clinic typically performs 70 obstetric deliveries a month, but lost its roof in the typhoon. Its upstairs is now open to the heavy rains, although the very damp downstairs still provides partial shelter. Asked how the clinic operates at night without electricity, Mrs. Diola shrugged and said, “There is moonlight.”

Clinics elsewhere are even worse: The clinic in Buenavista village is deserted and has no roof and no windows and such a completely gutted interior that it would be completely unrecognizable as anything other than a long-abandoned building were it not for the sign still labeling it as the village clinic.

All of the towns and villages visited had been without electricity since the typhoon, as temperatures have swung between sweltering heat and sometimes cool breezes after rain. In all of the towns and villages, tetanus vaccines are either out of stock or nearly so, and the few vaccines still being injected had been quite warm for more than a week; pharmaceutical guidelines call for them to be kept cool for full potency, although warm vaccines may be better than none.

Ricky Carandang, a presidential spokesman for the Philippines, said that aid shipments had begun to all town governments on Leyte Island, and these governments were responsible for passing on shipments to village governments. He expressed concern upon being told that village leaders in places like Macanip and Buenavista said that they had not received any relief, not even food, adding that, “We will look into these reports and take appropriate action.”

Inland towns and villages tend to have fewer people and far fewer dead than coastal cities hit by the storm surge. Catalina Agda, the mayor of Tunga, an inland town of 7,000, said that there had been only one typhoon-related death there, caused by a falling coconut tree, and 75 confirmed injuries. Santa Fe had 10 confirmed dead and Jaro had 13, local officials said.

But the extreme damage to housing, coupled with a tendency of inland residents not to go to a clinic when they are injured or sick because of an awareness of the limited medical supplies available, make it likely that injuries and sickness are more widespread in inland areas than anyone on the coast realizes, local officials said.

After town officials in Santa Fe were told of the assistance available in nearby Palo, the ambulance was to take Miss Doyola, the 9-year-old girl and another person there for help. But their fate was still a mystery on Sunday night.

Thomas Laackmann, the medical team leader based in Palo for International Search and Rescue Germany, a nonprofit group based in Duisburg, said that he did not know what became of the 9-year-old girl. But he had seen Miss Doyola’s leg and been concerned that her injury was potentially life threatening. He said he had told the Santa Fe ambulance crew to take her to the Australian field hospital at the Tacloban airport.

But as night closed in, and curfew took hold in Tacloban, medical officials at the hospital said they had no record of her arrival.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 18, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified the gender of the 9-year-old child whose eye was gouged out. The child is a girl.


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« Reply #10076 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:26 AM »


Qatar 2022 World Cup workers 'treated like cattle', Amnesty report finds

Fresh fears raised about exploitation after Fifa president declares country 'on right track' over migrant labourers' rights

Owen Gibson, chief sports correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 17 November 2013 21.00 GMT      

A damning Amnesty report has raised fresh fears about the exploitation of the migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, amid a rising toll of death, disease and misery.

The report – published a week after Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, met the country's emir and declared Qatar was "on the right track" in dealing with workers' rights – claims that some migrant workers are victims of forced labour, a modern form of slavery, and treated appallingly by subcontractors employed by leading construction companies in a sector rife with abuse.

The report, based on two recent investigations in Qatar and scores of interviews, found workers living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation exposed to sewage and sometimes without running water. It found that many workers, faced with mounting debts and unable to return home, have suffered "severe psychological distress", with some driven to the brink of suicide. Discrimination is common, according to the report, which says that one manager referred to workers as "the animals".

It describes one case in which the employees of a company delivering supplies to a construction project associated with the planned Fifa headquarters during the 2022 World Cup were subjected to serious labour abuses. Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said they were treated like cattle. Employees were working up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, during the summer months when temperatures regularly reach 45C.

Qatar's labour laws stipulate a maximum working day of 10 hours and say no one should work between 11.30am and 3pm during the summer months.

Last month Fifa was forced to address the issue of workers' rights after a Guardian investigation showed that dozens of Nepalese workers had died in recent months, prompting warnings from trade union organisations that 4,000 could be killed before the start of the football tournament.

Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2013/sep/25/qatar-migrant-workers-world-cup-host-video

Blatter promised to travel to Doha to meet the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and said he would raise the issue of workers' rights. But after the meeting and a presentation from the 2022 World Cup supreme committee, which includes many senior government representatives, Blatter said he was reassured by the progress that had been made on the issue.

That will not pacify human rights organisations, which have called for improvements to living and working conditions and for urgent action to reform the kafala sponsorship system that ties migrant workers to their employers. Amnesty said the sponsorship system "permits abuse and traps workers".

In November 2011, the Fifa general secretary, Jérôme Valcke, met Qatari officials to address the issue of workers' rights and the Qatari authorities promised to take the issue seriously.

But Amnesty's report, The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup, is based on inspection visits in October 2012 and March 2013 and suggests change is nowhere near fast enough, despite a new charter introduced by the supreme committee, which applies only to the World Cup stadiums and not to infrastructure.

Amnesty said many workers had reported poor health and safety standards at work, including some who said they had not been issued with helmets on sites.

It quoted a representative of Doha's main hospital saying that more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 after falling from height at work. Some 10% were disabled as a result and the mortality rate was significant.

Researchers also found migrant workers living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning, exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks. One large group was found to be living without running water.

The organisation has also documented cases where workers were effectively blackmailed by their employers to get out of the country and others where they were not allowed to leave.

Researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers to get their passports back to leave Qatar in front of government officials, falsely confirming that they had been paid.

The company for which the men worked, ITC, had cashflow problems and 85 workers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka were left in accommodation with no electricity or running water, with sewage leaking from the ground and piles of rubbish accumulating. Their salaries went unpaid for up to a year and they were forced to sign away any claim to the money before being allowed to leave.

"It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive," said Amnesty's general secretary, Salil Shetty.

"Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. Fifa has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup."

Amnesty, which carried out interviews with 210 workers and held 14 meetings with Qatari authorities, said that multinational construction firms profiting from the $220bn (£137bn) construction boom in the tiny gas-rich state could not ignore the actions of the web of subcontractors employed to do the work.

"Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers," said Shetty.

Amnesty found that some of the workers who had suffered abuses were working for subcontractors employed by global companies, including Qatar Petroleum, Hyundai E&C and OHL Construction.

"Companies should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention. Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people's lives and livelihoods," added Shetty.

Following his meeting, Blatter said Fifa could look forward to "an amazing World Cup" in Qatar. "What was presented to us shows that they are going forward not only today but have already started months ago with the problems with labour and workers. The labour laws will be amended and are already in the process of being amended."

The Qatari authorities insist they are being proactive and say the World Cup can be a catalyst for change.


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« Reply #10077 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:28 AM »


‘Quite ill’ Nelson Mandela now unable to speak

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 17, 2013 10:07 EST

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela remains “quite ill” and is unable to speak, using facial expressions to communicate as he receives intensive medical care at home, his ex-wife told Sunday media.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said the 95-year-old was not on life support but he was no longer talking “because of all the tubes that are in his mouth to clear (fluid from) the lungs”.

“He can’t actually articulate anything” as a result, she told The Sunday Independent newspaper.

“He communicates with the face, you see. But the doctors have told us they hope to recover his voice.”

Mandela was discharged on September 1 to his home in Johannesburg’s upmarket Houghton suburb after nearly three months in hospital for a lung infection.

“I have heard this nonsense that he is on life support. He is not,” Madikizela-Mandela said.

Mandela is under the care of 22 doctors, and while his pneumonia has cleared, his lungs remain sensitive, she said.

“It is difficult for him,” said Madikizela-Mandela. “He remains very sensitive to any germs, so he has to be kept literally sterile. The bedroom there (in Houghton) is like an ICU ward.”

“He remains quite ill, but thank God the doctors were able to pull him through from that (last) infection,” she said.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in apartheid jail before becoming South Africa’s first black leader, has faced several health scares.

His most recent hospital stay was his longest since he walked free in 1990.

Mandela was in “an atmosphere he recognises”, Madikizela-Mandela said.

“When he is very relaxed, he is fine and it has given us a lot of hope.”


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« Reply #10078 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:30 AM »


Palestinian held without trial takes case to Israel's supreme court

Israel says Samir al-Baraq is an al-Qaida biological weapons expert who was planning attacks when he was arrested

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 09.13 GMT   

Israel's supreme court is set to rule on the continued detention of a Palestinian man accused of being an al-Qaida member who has been held in an Israeli jail without charge or trial for more than three years.

Samir al-Baraq has demanded to be released from "administrative detention", the system by which Israel keeps security suspects locked up without going through a normal judicial process. The Israeli authorities are seeking a further six-month extension to the detention order.

Israel says Baraq, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, is a biological weapons expert who was planning attacks against Israeli targets when he was arrested in July 2010 while attempting to enter the country from Jordan.

According to court documents, Baraq studied microbiology in Pakistan, underwent military training in Afghanistan and was recruited in 2001 to al-Qaida by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is the group's leader today. In 2003, he spent three months in Guantánamo Bay, the US high-security jail in Cuba, and later spent five years in prison in Jordan.

Previous petitions against his administrative detention orders have been unsuccessful. In July, when extending the order, a military tribunal said: "The respondent is a senior al-Qaida operative with personal and direct ties to current commanders of the organisation. There can be no disagreement about the danger posed by him, and that his release would ignite military activities of the Salafi Jihad against the state of Israel."

However, Baraq's lawyer, Mahmid Saleh, told Army Radio: "If he is such a senior terrorist, then why hasn't he been prosecuted? There is no evidence against him."

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, there were 135 Palestinian prisoners held on administrative detention orders in September 2013. There have been a series of hunger strikes by prisoners protesting over the orders.


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« Reply #10079 on: Nov 18, 2013, 07:31 AM »

November 17, 2013

West Faces Challenge in Moving Syrian Chemical Arms Through Battlefields

By DAVID E. SANGER, THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT
IHT

WASHINGTON — A plan announced over the weekend for getting the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons out of the country in coming weeks has raised major concerns in Washington, because it involves transporting the weapons over roads that are battlegrounds in the country’s civil war and loading them onto a ship that has no place to go.

Security for the shipments is being provided entirely by Syrian military units loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who has surprised American officials with how speedily he has complied with an agreement brokered by Russia to identify and turn over his chemical weapon stockpiles. Intelligence analysts and Pentagon officials say the shipments will be vulnerable to attack as they travel past the ruins of a war that has raged for two and a half years.

Asked over the weekend what the backup plan would be if the chemical weapons components were attacked by opposition forces linked to Al Qaeda, or even elements of Mr. Assad’s own forces, a senior American official said: “That’s the problem — no one has attempted this before in a civil war, and no one is willing to put troops on the ground to protect this stuff, including us.”

Another official noted that the choice now facing the United States and other nations was to “either leave the stuff in place and hope for the best, or account for it, get it out of there, and hope for the best. That’s the ‘least worst’ option.”

A range of current and former administration and Pentagon officials discussed the risks of moving the Syrian chemical munitions on the condition of anonymity. Most were reluctant to even disclose their concerns, because of the delicacy of the continuing operations to clear the country of chemical weapons. Even if the chemicals make it safely to a Syrian port and are loaded on cargo ships to be taken out of Syrian territory by the deadlines set in the agreement — Dec. 31 for the most critical material, Feb. 5 for most of the rest — the problems would hardly be over.

On Friday, Albania turned down an appeal by the United States to destroy the weapons on its territory, after thousands of Albanians took to the street in protest. Norway rejected an earlier request, saying it did not have the expertise or the facilities to destroy the weapons. The issue caused a major political dispute there as well.

As a result, Syria’s chemical weapons material may be on the high seas for a long time, as officials seek a country willing and able to destroy it. Already there are fears that the cargo ships bearing the material could become the weapons equivalent of a barge loaded with garbage that left Long Island in 1987 but could not find a place to unload for four months. American law prohibits the importation of chemical weapons for destruction here, and Russia says it is still overwhelmed by the task of destroying its own stockpiles.

The more immediate concern is that over the next six weeks, the material — more than 600 tons of precursor chemicals, mostly stored in one- and two-ton containers — will present a huge, slow-moving target for the Syrian opposition groups at war with the Assad government — and sometimes in conflict with one another.

“The transportation stage of any operation is usually a critical, vulnerable stage,” a senior Defense Department official said.

The Syrian military appears to understand the challenge. Over the weekend, there were reports of fighting along the highway that links Damascus with the coast. Much of the area, near the Lebanese border, is mountainous and has been highly contested.

The original American idea was to avoid transporting the weapons at all. Early plans, developed more than a year ago, called for destroying the materials in place in Syria. But that would have required a major presence of outside troops, and there were numerous environmental hazards. It also would have taken years to build the necessary facilities.

Thought was also given to flying the chemicals out of their sites, but that would have carried other risks, American officials said.

Instead, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or O.P.C.W., which announced the plan for removing the material late on Friday, is expected to train Syrian forces to package, seal and safeguard the containers for transportation in truck convoys to the port from 23 declared weapons sites. Then the organization has to oversee the maritime voyage — assuming that a destination can be arranged.

The plan “sets ambitious milestones to be met by the government of Syria,” Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the disarmament organization, said Friday. “This next phase will be the most challenging, and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons.”

Under an agreement reached in September, Russia and the United States are to work closely with the disarmament agency and Syrian officials to develop a plan for “the security of the monitoring and destruction mission.” But the accord noted the “primary responsibility of the Syrian government in this regard.”

The effort will be helped by the fact that the precursor chemicals are useless as weapons before they are mixed. But as one senior American official said, “The biggest challenge we’re facing now is convoy security, from the sites to the port.”

Assessing the threat is not easy. Senior Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Qaeda-linked elements in Syria have made clear their desire to seize precursor chemicals, possibly to develop their own chemical arsenal. But one former senior White House official said that the threat posed by the extremist militants, while not inconsequential, was moderated by intelligence reports that they were neither well trained nor well equipped to deal with the highly toxic materials.

“This material would obviously be a target for any opposition element,” one senior Defense Department official said. “But we have seen reporting — both O.P.C.W. and others — that indicates the regime is serious about security.”

Moreover, a former senior White House official said that while relying on the Syrian government for security is not an ideal solution, the Syrians have shown surprising prowess in the past year in moving and consolidating their chemical weapons stocks around the country, to prevent them from falling into rebel hands. In addition, the former official said, Russia has an incentive, as an ally of the Assad government, to help ensure that the chemical agents are disposed of safely.

Iraq and Afghanistan have given militant groups more than a decade of experience in mounting attacks on convoys, using improvised roadway bombs, small arms and mortar strikes. American officials note, however, that attacking a convoy to kill and injure was not as complex as attacking a convoy to seize its cargo without damaging it.

“Al Qaeda is known more for brute force, not finesse,” one military officer said. “As you can imagine, grabbing chemical weapons would most definitely require finesse.”


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