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« Reply #10125 on: Nov 21, 2013, 07:47 am »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/21/2013 11:21 AM

Listening Sector: Berlin Makes Easy Target for Spies

By Jörg Diehl

The center of Berlin has become a playground for spies. Phone calls in the dense German government district can be monitored with basic equipment and even by allies. German counter-espionage agents are alarmed.

The heart of the German capital is about as big as two football pitches. Pariser Platz square, framed by the Brandenburg Gate and the Unter den Linden boulevard is the must-see destination for any visitor to Berlin. The Reichstag parliament building and the Chancellery are just a few minutes' walk from here, and the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, France and Russia are very close. This is where the power is concentrated -- and where mutual espionage is at its most intense.

It's isn't just the embassies of the US and UK whose roofs are equipped with conspicuous structures which experts say could conceal equipment for the illegal monitoring of phone calls. The Russian Embassy also has a rooftop building that German security authorities have had an eye on for a long time. Security officials refer to it as the "Russian woodshed" and it too is suspected of housing surveillance equipment.

"If someone makes an unencrypted telephone call in the Berlin government district, it's probably not just one foreign intelligence service that will be listening," said one high-ranking official. Research by SPIEGEL recently revealed that the NSA had been spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone for a long time. The Americans aren't the only ones collecting information in this way -- phone surveillance in central Berlin is too easy for that.

Embassies Can't Be Searched

According to security sources, it's technically possible to monitor all mobile phones used in the Pariser Platz area with an 80-centimeter parabolic antenna. Security experts had warned of this "vulnerable situation" even before the German government moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1999.

There's little German authorities can do to stop the spying. Firstly, so-called "passive surveillance" can only be detected if it's done in a very amateurish way. In addition, the embassies are foreign territory where German agencies have no powers. They can't conduct searches.

So counter-espionage agents write polite letters to the ambassadors asking them for permission to inspect the architectural peculiarities on their buildings. They usually just get polite refusals. The only other thing they can do is warn German officials that their communications may not be secure, and to advise them to use mobile cryptophones, which are still pretty awkward to use.

The mass-circulation daily Bild reported on Thursday that members of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its expected partner in the next coalition government, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have agreed to measures to better secure communications, including the use of cryptophones. And only days ago, officials at the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) requested that the Chancellery, government ministers and high-ranking ministry officials switch to cryptophones in order to safeguard sensitive communications.

Germany's security services say they have been surprised by the intensity of the espionage activities of Germany's allies. Supposedly friendly embassies had not been systematically monitored, security sources say. After all, the German army doesn't' have its weapons turned on its friends.

The security services prioritized, concentrating their scarce resources on where they believed the biggest danger lay. Maybe, sources say, Germany needs to rethink where its focus should be.

'Germany Is In The Crosshairs'

Technological monitoring (signals intelligence or "sigint") is generally only one part of what intelligence services get up to in Germany. Foreign spies still try to recruit informants in large numbers in government offices, political parties and ministries for human intelligence, or "humint."

"Germany is in the crosshairs of the services," says one senior official. Accordingly, over the past year alone, the authorities have seen a three-digit rise in the number of such initial approach conversations, which mostly begin in a completely harmless and friendly manner; chatting away in the diplomatic arena.

The fact that much more may lie behind these contacts than appears at first glance is shown by the abundance of spies from Russia officially registered in Germany. The number has not reduced significantly since the end of the Cold War. According to the assessment of one expert, at least every third Russian diplomat in Germany is working for an intelligence agency. In addition, according to SPIEGEL's information, the number of so-called illegals -- agents who operate under the cover of a seemingly unremarkable civilian life -- runs into double figures. The sheer volume of radio traffic between Russian and potential agents in Western Europe provides a strong indication of this.

Heidrun, 47, and Andreas Anschlag, 53, were just such a couple. For more than 20 years they lived in Germany, her as a housewife, him as an engineer. At the same time, they were passing along information to Moscow's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). From October 2008 until shortly before their arrest in the fall of 2011, they ran Dutch diplomat Raymond P. as a source. He was an official at the Dutch Foreign Ministry in The Hauge and was given the codename "BR". He handed over hundreds of confidential documents and received at least €72,200. The transfer of the papers took place mostly in the Netherlands, and then Andreas Anschlag would leave the files in "dead drops" in the Bonn area in Germany, where they were subsequently picked up by employees from the Russian Embassy.

Unlike spies who travel through their operational areas under the guise of being diplomats, agents such as the Anschlags do not work under the protection of the embassy. In the worst case scenario, diplomats can be thrown out of the country -- but others can face potentially long prison sentences. Because of the high risk involved, they are known in Russian intelligence services as Wunderkinder, or child geniuses. The Anschlags are now stars in their industry even though they were sentenced to several years in prison. They are full of hope for an early commutation and a return to their homeland and the fame they will enjoy there.


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« Reply #10126 on: Nov 21, 2013, 07:49 am »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2013 05:32 PM

Near Zero: ECB Interest Rate Cuts Hit Savings Hard

As the European Central Bank pushes interest rates to a new low, Germans are growing increasingly concerned about their savings. The money in their accounts is losing value and life insurance policies are yielding lower returns. Investors and central bankers feel trapped. By SPIEGEL staff

Jens Weidmann seemed visibly uncomfortable in the role of rock star. The officials with the Frankfurt Cooperative Association had taken great pains to stage last week's appearance of the president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, as a show event.

The lights were dimmed in the "Jahrhunderthalle" convention center, the venue for an upcoming concert by the heavy metal band Motörhead. Trapeze artists hovered in the air as Michael Bockelmann, the association's chairman, set the tone with some sharp words against the European Central Bank (ECB). Because of low interest rates, he said, more and more people are losing interest in saving for the future. Bockelmann left no doubt that Weidmann is the last hope for German savers.

But the much-vaunted central banker began his appearance by tripping on the steps up to the stage, and then he voiced his disapproval of the notion that the magical powers of alchemists could be ascribed to central bankers. And when he finally took a cue from the man who had introduced him and invoked the dangers of a low interest-rate policy, he sounded defensive, almost a little clueless.

He could understand savers' concerns about "creeping expropriation," said Weidmann. He noted that low interest rates are a nuisance, and that relaxed monetary policy also creates risks for banks, insurance companies and the financial markets.

Reverberations of a Frankfurt Bombshell

But as consolation, Germany's top monetary watchdog could only offer a vague promise at the end of his speech, when he predicted that interest rates would eventually rise again.

It's been less than two weeks since ECB President Mario Draghi reduced the European base rate to the lowest level of all time. But the reverberations of the Frankfurt bombshell are still audible today. Until recently, politicians, investors and economists had hoped that the euro crisis would soon be over, as would the era of low interest rates. Now it is becoming apparent that savers will have to endure even more pain, and that the economic divide within the euro zone is deeper than ever.

In the north, savers and investors worry that the yields on their financial investments are close to zero. In the south, by contrast, rates on construction and commercial loans are still so high that there is very little new investment. The consequence is a persistent recession, which has also worsened the mood in Europe's monetary authority. Sources at the ECB say that a serious conflict could erupt if Draghi tries to push interest rates down even further.

The tense climate in the ECB Governing Council dovetails with the grim mood among German savers. The inflation rate is already higher than the rate of return on many investment products. Although this does not formally qualify as expropriation, savings are gradually losing value because prices are rising faster than interest income.

There is a growing sense of perplexity in the investment industry, which thrives on optimism and promises for the future. The powerful insurance companies are at a loss as to how to achieve the returns they have promised to their investors. Banks and savings banks are fighting with frustrated customers, and investors are desperately trying to figure out how to at least preserve the current value of their assets: with stocks, gold, or, perhaps even better, with the purchase of big-city real estate?

Prospects of a Comfortable Retirement Darkening

Only a few years ago, Germans were convinced that they could offset the cuts lawmakers had made to government-mandated pensions by saving more money on their own. They invested heavily in insurance policies and so-called Riester retirement plans, purchased shares in securities funds and paid portions of their salaries into company pension plans.

Now they are forced to look on as the euro crisis and the central banks' low interest-rate policies eat up the gains they had envisioned and darken the prospects of a comfortable retirement, especially at the lower levels of the income scale.

Sabine Müller (named changed), a secretary in Munich, knows all too well what this means. She bought a life-insurance policy when she started her first job in 1984. Even at that time, a statutory pension seemed everything but assured. Everything went smoothly at first. The anticipated benefits grew "slowly but surely," as Müller wrote in a recent letter to the Hamburg Consumer Center. In 2009, her insurance company told her that she could expect a sum of about €40,000 ($54,120) when she retired. But by 2010, the sum had already declined to €38,000, and in 2012 the company was projecting a future benefit of €37,000. According to the latest notice, she can now expect no more than €34,000. In other words, the secretary's assets have essentially declined by 15 percent in only four years.

Many people are in the same position as Sabine Müller. Over the decades, they have accumulated €5 trillion in monetary assets, along with more than €6 trillion in real estate and tangible assets. Because Germans tend to be risk-averse, they invest most of their money in savings deposits, life insurance and fixed-income products. Safety first was long the motto of German investors, but that is precisely why their savings are now melting like an iceberg in times of climate change.

There is a picture of a severe-looking snowman hanging on the wall of chief economist Ulrich Kater's office on the 41st floor of DekaBank in Frankfurt. Kater, with his sharp nose, sideburns and friendly-looking face, explains the phenomenon of "cold expropriation."

"A person who has deposited €1,000 into a savings account is pleased to see his €1,000 still in the account at the end of the year." But that, as Kater explains, is an illusion, because the saver is ignoring the loss of purchasing power. Savings can only grow in real terms if the interest rate is higher than the rate of inflation.

Investing in Federal Bonds a Losing Proposition

Some €900 billion of monetary assets consist of deposits, which can be withdrawn immediately and earn an average of about 0.42 percent in annual interest. At an estimated inflation rate of 1.6 percent this year, these assets will see a 1.18-percent decline in value, or about €11 billion. The situation is slightly more favorable for savings deposits or fixed deposits with terms of up to two years, but even here the real rate of interest is often negative. Investing in federal bonds is also a losing proposition for Germans. In the case of five-year bonds, for example, interest rates have also fallen below inflation.

This also affects many insurance companies and pension plans, which together account for more than €1.8 trillion of German monetary assets. They, too, invest most of their money in government bonds, which means that the returns on life insurance policies are declining from one year to the next. Guaranteed interest rates, which were at 4 percent in 2000, had dropped to 1.75 percent by 2012.

"Savers still benefit from the fact that their policies are backed by previously acquired bonds with higher fixed-interest coupons," Kater explains. "But the longer the low-interest-rate phase lasts, the more fixed interest rates will expire, and the bigger the losses will become from year to year." If the structure of monetary assets doesn't change and the low interest-rate policy continues for another 10 years, the total loss to savers could grow to €60 billion.

"In Germany today, people can no longer provide for their retirement by saving," says Walter Krämer. A statistics professor in the western city of Dortmund, Krämer initiated a call for protest by 282 German economists against the euro bailout policy last year, and this summer he followed up with a letter of complaint titled "Cold Expropriation."

Krämer assigns the blame to the ECB. "Savers pay the price for the fact that the ECB is determined to rescue comatose banks," he says. According to Krämer, banks are being charged too little to gain access to ECB funds, so that they have no incentive to offer more to savers.

An Unsustainable Demographic Makeup

But that is only part of the truth. The dilemma had its beginnings years earlier. "Interest rates are as low as they are today because the key economies loaded up on debt until 2007," says DekaBank economist Kater. In the financial crisis, it then became clear that these nations, as well as companies and citizens in many countries, had amassed too much debt, which could no longer be reduced by higher economic growth as it could in earlier years.

There are also demographic reasons for this. The percentage of young people in the population is shrinking, and yet they must generate greater economic output to reduce the debts they are inheriting from the current generation.

Because this is unsustainable, a redistribution from creditors to borrowers, or from savers to the state, is now occurring, as Kater explains. The operative expression is "financial repression." The government makes money when interest rates on government bonds are lower than inflation. Its debt burden is decreased, while savers are left to foot the bill, with their assets losing value in real terms.

The consequence is a massive redistribution. McKinsey, the consulting firm, has calculated that the governments of the United States, Great Britain and the euro zone already saved $1.6 trillion between 2007 and 2012 as a result of low interest rates. This is offset by a loss to private households of $630 billion. Older citizens are losing more than younger people, because the latter tend to have more debt and fewer savings.

As much as savers are being fleeced, there are also those who profit from low interest rates. People who own real estate have benefited from increases in value in recent years, while stock owners have seen Germany's DAX share index climb from one record high to the next. But this primarily benefits those who are not worried about having enough retirement income.

A Transfer of Assets From the Poor to the Rich
In this way, the low-interest-rate policy doesn't just lead to a transfer of assets from citizens to the state, but also from the poor to the rich. "This type of redistribution is an extremely anti-social instrument," says Kater. That's because affluent households are in a better position to shift their focus to stocks, real estate and other investments than those with average incomes.

The process is in full swing, as was evident last week at the Highlights International Art Fair held at the opulent former Munich palace known as the "Residenz," where the city's glitterati rubbed shoulders with the new moneyed elite from Asia and Russia. A Picasso for €8.5 million? No problem. And for the smaller budget, drawings by German-American painter Lyonel Feininger could be had for less than €100,000. Works by Max Beckmann, Joseph Beuys and others were priced somewhere in between.

"Because of the low interest rates, there has been a strong focus on tangible assets in recent years, which has also benefited the art market," says Peter Raskin, the head of international private banking at the Hamburg-based Berenberg Bank.

Nevertheless, it was probably more of a coincidence that a triptych by Francis Bacon ($141 million) and Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog" ($58.4 million) fetched record prices at auction in the days following the reduction in the base rate. The art market is on a roll, apparently with no end in sight. "Despite the very high price levels and growing number of record prices, we still don't feel that the market is overheated," says Raskin.

But for both small investors and major capital investors, the art market is not an alternative. Even the world's largest investor, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, is experiencing how difficult it is to achieve a palpable yield with solid investments. The fund's managers have more than €500 billion to invest, and they are investing less and less in government and corporate bonds. The share of these investments in total fund assets has declined considerably in the last few years alone, to the most recent figure of 35 percent. The fund is increasingly investing billions in real estate and in booming stock markets, which enabled it to achieve an enviable return of more than 13 percent last year.

Fighting a Losing Battle

Comparable returns are out of reach for most Germans. Instant access and passbook savings accounts, with their pitifully low interest rates, are still the most popular forms of investment. Only one in nine Germans has invested money in the stock market, either in the form of individual stocks or mutual funds.

No matter what happens to the markets, there is one constant: Germans have an aversion to equities. This explains why Martin Weber, a professor of banking management at the University of Mannheim, is probably fighting a losing battle.

In his lectures, he constantly advocates people investing a portion of their money in securities. "There is a fundamental misunderstanding in Germany," says Weber. "We view stocks as a form of gambling, and yet they are nothing but investments in a company."

Nevertheless, the situation is surreal. "We have the most successful companies in the world in many fields, and yet almost no one in this country wants to invest in them," says Andreas Beck, who founded the Munich Institute for Asset Accumulation. Foreign investors take a completely different view. They now own more than half of all shares in most companies listed on the DAX.

The longer the low-interest phase lasts, the more menacing it becomes for banks -- which should actually benefit from the ECB's policies -- and insurance companies.

Interest Earnings in Decline for Many Years

This is alarming to Andreas Dombret. A member of the Bundesbank Executive Board responsible for financial stability, last week he accomplished the feat of both appeasing and issuing strong warnings to the financial industry.

Because of intense competition in Germany, interest earnings, once the most important source of income for banks, have been declining for many years. Now the policy of cheap money is only exacerbating the problem. Dombret also fears that banks, in their pursuit of higher returns, could accept excessively high risks in areas such as mortgage lending.

Dombret believes the consequences of low interest rates are even more dangerous for insurance companies. For more than a year now, yields on long-term government bonds, in which insurers invest a large portion of their money, have been lower than the guaranteed interest rates on newly concluded policies. As a result, the policy providers are increasingly drawing on their assets for income. The Bundesbank has simulated scenarios in which up to 32 life insurance companies, with a market share of 43 percent, would no longer be able to fulfill statutory capital reserve requirements if the low-interest-rate phase continues. "Life insurance companies must examine the level of distributions and bolster their equity capital," Dombret warns.

He also fears that the low interest rates will lead to further growth in the poorly regulated shadow-banking sector. Recent figures prove him right: Last year the assets of hedge funds, money market funds and other providers in the industry, some of which are involved in commercial activities related to banking, grew by $5 trillion.

Although cheap money reduces the revenues of banks and insurance companies, it also keeps financial groups and many companies that ought to have disappeared from the market by now artificially afloat. In light of the low interest rates, investments that generate very low returns are still worthwhile. In this way, capital is being wasted.

Fatal Consquences for the Entire Economy

This can have fatal consequences for the entire economy. When money is invested in a way that yields very small returns, economic growth declines in the long term, because zombie banks and companies are being supported. Japan, which has seen virtually flat economic growth despite years of low-interest-rate policies, is a case in point.

This presents a significant challenge to the ECB. On the one hand, there is a risk that the euro zone economy will slide into deflation, a spiral of constantly falling prices and shrinking economies. On the other hand, the ECB's loose monetary policy could ultimately exacerbate the risks already apparent today.

Not surprisingly, the rift within the monetary authority continues to grow. Countries in the southern crisis regions, in particular, are pushing for even lower interest rates, in the hope that this will provide cheaper money for their domestic economies. The cash-strapped governments of these peripheral countries also expect lower rates to give them greater access to funds.

Representatives of the northern member states, especially Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, hold the opposite view. They fear that the glut of money resulting from low rates will cause inflation and deter the ailing southern countries from enacting reforms.

ECB President Mario Draghi vacillates between the two positions. In June, his chief economist, Peter Praet, proposed lowering interest rates to 0.25 percent. But then he abandoned his plan, at least for the time being, in the face of growing opposition from Weidmann, German Executive Board member Jörg Asmussen, Luxembourg member Yves Mersch and the heads of the central banks of Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Interest Rate Could Be Cut to Zero

In the week before last, Draghi decided that it was a favorable time to bypass the opponents of lower rates. A sharp decline in the rate of inflation had prompted the Slovakian representative to change his position.

The step is an alarm signal for the group headed by Weidmann and Asmussen, who would have preferred waiting another month to make the decision. Now they fear that a majority in the ECB Council will want to push interest rates to zero when the ECB economists present their next forecast in December. Based on current indications, they will likely predict an increase in prices of just below 1.5 percent for next year and the following year, which is much lower than the ECB's inflation target of close to 2 percent.

This is why a large segment of the ECB Council believes that there is plenty of latitude for pushing the base rate closer to zero in the near future.

Many council members from the south even advocate pushing rates on deposit accounts below the zero mark. In that case, banks that maintain liquidity with the ECB would effectively be paying a fee to hold onto their customers' money.

The proponents of this step speculate that the lenders will withdraw their balances from the central bank and instead will return to lending more money to each other. In that case, citizens would literally be forced to raid their accounts and both consume and invest more, which would in turn revive the economy in the entire euro zone. "We want to frustrate savers," a central banker bluntly admits.

Italian Credit Sector the Biggest Winner

Two worlds are colliding. Weidmann and his supporters from the north are attempting to protect their domestic savers from even greater harm. The central bankers from the south, on the other hand, are concerned about the sick economies and ailing banks in their countries.

The main beneficiary of the most recent interest-rate decisions is the Italian credit sector, large parts of which are in trouble. Lenders in Draghi's native country were greatly relieved when the costs of new loans from the central bank were cut in half.

But Draghi is also making it easier for the Italian government to raise money. Last week, yields on 12-month bonds fell to their lowest level since the end of World War II.

Possibly the most dangerous consequence of the most recent interest-rate decision is that it increases mutual mistrust within the euro zone. Citizens of the crisis-ridden countries are increasingly furious, because despite substantial austerity measures, they still see no light at the end of the tunnel. In the north, ordinary savers and retirees are noticing that they are now experiencing the first measurable losses as a result of the euro bailout policy.

The battle lines among economists are also as hardened as ever, as Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, demonstrated in a SPIEGEL debate. Germany is "the greatest beneficiary" of the monetary union, claims Fratzscher. On the contrary, says Sinn, "Germany is no euro winner."

BY SVEN BÖLL, MARTIN HESSE, CHRISTIAN REIERMANN, MICHAEL SAUGA AND ANNE SEITH. TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY CHRISTOPHER SULTAN.


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« Reply #10127 on: Nov 21, 2013, 07:52 am »


Ukraine fails to pass bills freeing Yulia Tymoshenko before EU summit

Parliament in Kiev failed to pass any of six new laws seen as necessary for a breakthrough in Lithuania next week

Ian Traynor in Brussels
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 12.42 GMT   

Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, delivered an almighty snub to Europe on Thursday when his parliamentary supporters ditched legislation aimed at partly integrating the country with the EU.

A week before an EU summit in Lithuania that will be dominated by the Brussels-Moscow tug of war over Ukraine's future, the parliament in Kiev failed to pass any of six new laws seen as necessary for a breakthrough in Vilnius on Friday next week.

The bills would have cleared the way for the departure to Germany for medical treatment of Yanukovich's arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was jailed in 2011 for seven years.

Yanukovich's Party of the Regions did not vote on any of the six bills, condemning them to failure, amid calls of "shame", "scandal" and "treason" from the pro-European opposition, which is planning a big demonstration in Kiev this weekend in favour of Ukraine's "European option".

Yanukovich's brinkmanship came as a humiliation for Stefan Fuele, the EU commissioner for enlargement, who went to Kiev for talks with the president before the vote.

"I am encouraged to see the determination of the president in co-operation with all parliamentary factions to adopt key legislation on 21 November," said Fuele before the fiasco in parliament.

According to reports in Kiev, Yanukovich told Fuele that he was not prepared to sign the pact with the EU in Vilnius, potentially setting back by years the country's prospects of quicker integration with the EU.

At stake is a trade agreement and a political association deal stemming from 2005 when the EU launched its eastern neighbourhood policy, which offered trade and political benefits to post-Soviet states traditionally falling within Moscow's orbit. The policy falls short of offering eventual membership of the EU or negotiations to join.

Moldova and Georgia are expected to sign agreements with the EU in Vilnius. Armenia, under strong Russian pressure, has already dropped its European ambitions in favour of joining the Kremlin's Eurasian customs bloc.

Of the four countries, Ukraine is the main prize because of its size, geography and history. A failure next week would represent a foreign policy debacle for the EU.

Vladimir Putin, who appears to view the contest for Ukraine as a zero-sum game between Russia and the west, has been tightening Russia's trade screws on Ukraine and the other countries, and the Moscow media are issuing daily warnings of the bleak future facing Ukraine should it risk a westward leap.

The main terms for a breakthrough concern what the EU calls an end to "selective justice" in Ukraine, meaning that the courts and the judiciary are manipulated for political and business reasons. The touchstone for these criteria is the fate of Tymoshenko, with Germany insisting she be allowed to leave the country, while others such as France and Poland argue that the prospects for such a geo-strategic shift in Russia's backyard should not be tied to the fate of a single individual.

Diplomats and officials in Brussels, while dismayed by the serial negative signals from Yanukovich in recent weeks, nonetheless remained hopeful that the president was bluffing, seeking to extract better terms from the EU, and would yet yield at the last minute in Vilnius and issue a presidential pardon for Tymoshenko.

"The future of EU-Ukraine relations remains very unclear," said Hannes Swoboda, leader of the social democrats in the European parliament. "The parliamentary decision raises profound doubts about how serious Ukraine's commitment to the EU really is. We deplore the pressure and blackmailing tactics that Russia has used against Ukraine and other countries. It is equally deplorable that Ukraine seems to have given in to this pressure.


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« Reply #10128 on: Nov 21, 2013, 07:54 am »


Arctic 30: two more Britons granted bail by Russian court

Decision to grant bail to Frank Hewetson and Iain Rogers means five of six detained Britons will soon be released

Shaun Walker in Saint Petersburg and James Meikle   
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 12.05 GMT   

Two more Britons were hoping to be reunited with their families after a court in Saint Petersburg granted them bail on charges of hooliganism over a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic.

Frank Hewetson, a 45-year-old logistics co-ordinator from north London, and Iain Rogers, a crew member on the Arctic Sunrise icebreaker, joined communications officer Alexandra Harris, activist Anthony Perrett and journalist Keiron Bryan in having their requests for bail granted.

Five of the 28 protesters and two journalists have so far left jail, with the six Britons hoping they will soon follow suit. Twenty-six of the Arctic 30 have now been granted bail at £38,000 each. Philip Ball, from Oxfordshire, and two others face bail hearings on Friday. Only 59-year-old Australian citizen Colin Russell has had his detention extended.

The Australian ambassador to Russia, Paul Myler, tweeted after visiting Russell: "Not the most inviting-looking accommodation but Colin in good spirits and confident his appeal will be successful."

He added: "As am I following discussions with investigative committee, lawyers and prison head. General consensus - the first pancake never works out."

Sue Turner, Rogers' mother, said: "I am still taking it in. I am really pleased [at news of his pending release] but I am not very pleased that the charges haven't been withdrawn.

"I don't know what that means yet. He might not be able to leave Russia or Saint Petersburg but it will give him a little more freedom."

Hewetson, who lives with his partner, Nina Gold, and teenage children Nell and Joe, has been arrested on several other protests before but this detention, which has so far lasted more than two months, is his longest period of imprisonment.

Gold, welcoming the "fantastic news" and echoing other families' concerns about the continuing charges and uncertain bail conditions, said: "It is not all over yet. I am in the process of applying for a visa to go and see him." Their son and daughter were thrilled too, she said. "They want to go and see their dad as soon as possible as well."

The latest developments suggest that Russia may be relaxing the ultra-tough stance it has taken against the Arctic 30 since they were arrested two months ago.

The activists still face hooliganism charges that could result in seven-year sentences, but they will be able to leave prison while the investigation continues, as soon as their bail payments are made.

Greenpeace International said bail payments were being made as quickly as possible and it had booked hotel rooms for the activists. But none of the activists have valid Russian visas, so it is unclear how they can stay in Russia. Brazil has a visa-free arrangement with Russia, meaning the issue is not pressing for Ana Paula, but it is unclear how Russian authorities will handle the Europeans among the 30. Lawyers said it was unfamiliar legal territory. On Wednesday evening, Greenpeace representatives would not say where Ana Paula was or what her plans for the coming days and weeks are.

The activists were apprehended in September, when armed coastguard officers descended from helicopters on to the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace's icebreaker. They were originally charged with piracy but now face charges of hooliganism as part of an organised group, which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years. They were initially held in detention in the Arctic port of Murmansk but were moved to Saint Petersburg by prison train earlier in November. The 30 are being held at three different pre-trial detention centres across the city, with 14 men inside Kresty, the notorious jail that dates back to Tsarist times and once held Leon Trotsky.

British consular officials were present at the hearings, and have met with all six British activists since their arrival in Saint Petersburg from Murmansk, however they were also unaware of exactly how bail might look for the foreign Greenpeace activists.


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« Reply #10129 on: Nov 21, 2013, 07:56 am »


Police arrest man suspected of Paris shooting attacks

Abdelhakim Dekhar, previously jailed over a robbery in which four died, found in car park unconscious from overdose

Kim Willsher in Paris and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 21 November 2013   

Link to video: Paris shootings suspect linked to robbery in which four died

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/21/paris-shootings-suspect-robbery-four-died-video

French police have arrested a man they suspect to be the gunman who spread panic across Paris for three days after shooting and critically injuring a young man at the offices of the newspaper Libération on Monday.

The suspect was named as Abdelhakim Dekhar, convicted in 1998 as an accomplice in a high-profile 1994 robbery and car chase that left three police officers and a taxi driver dead. Dekhar served four years in prison in the so-called Rey-Maupin affair but authorities had no trace of him in recent years, Valls said.

Dekhar was eventually discovered in a car in an underground car park at Bois-Colombes in the Paris suburb of Hauts-de-Seine at about 7pm French time (6pm GMT) on Wednesday.

Based on DNA data authorities believe he was the lone gunman behind Monday's shooting at the prominent daily newspaper Liberation, a shooting outside French bank Societe Generale, a brief hostage-taking in which the suspect hijacked a car and a similar shooting incident three days before at news network BFM-TV.

Dekhar apparently tried to kill himself before he was arrested on Wednesday, Valls told reporters early on Thursday.

He was said to bear a very strong resemblance to a man in photographs taken from security cameras. The rifle-toting man shot a young photographer's assistant at Libération. He had previously threatened a senior editor at BFM TV on Friday evening.

Detectives were reportedly unable to question Dekhar because he was "semi-conscious", having taken a quantity of medical drugs in a suspected attempt to kill himself.

Detectives said he was virtually comatose and not in a fit state to be questioned or read his rights, so was transferred to a Paris hospital where he remained under armed guard.

Police union official Christophe Crepin said the man appeared heavily medicated when he was detained. "My colleagues noticed he was not very lucid. They deduced that he had taken medicines, because of the capsules nearby," Crepin told the Associated Press.

Police received several hundred calls after issuing photographs of the suspect on Tuesday. As the city-wide manhunt dragged on for a third day police were under pressure to find the attacker described as a lone gunman.

A man, described as between 35 and 45, stocky and European, fired twice after walking into the Libération offices at about 10.15am on Monday.

He strolled into the entrance hall and opened fire, injuring a 23-year-old in the back, thorax and abdomen. The victim, who was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries, was said on Wednesday to be making a good recovery.

The gunman then travelled to the Paris business district, La Défense, where he shot at the headquarters of the French bank Societé Générale.

Afterwards he hijacked a car, ordering the terrified driver to take him to the Champs-Elysées where he was last seen disappearing into a Metro station.

DNA tests were carried out on bullet casings the gunman had thrown to the ground at BFM TV, where he told the editor he threatened: "Next time I won't miss", and on traces in the vehicle car-jacked at La Défense. The tests showed that the same man was responsible both attacks.


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« Reply #10130 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:00 am »


Forced labour in the UK: 'There was no escape. I lived every day in fear'

A Polish migrant describes plight at hands of violent gang, as experts say Britain is a breeding ground for forced labour

Katie Harris
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 14.52 GMT      

When Piotr, 60, was promised a job in a meat-processing factory in the UK, he weighed up his options. His wife had recently died, he had just been made redundant, and his daughter – his only remaining relative – lived overseas. He decided the opportunity was worth the risk and agreed to leave his native Poland.

The man who had offered Piotr work also provided two one-way tickets to Britain – one for Piotr, the other for his friend. "We left Poland with a few belongings and €10 [£8] that I borrowed from a friend," Piotr told the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). "I was worried, but happy that I would be working again."

When the pair arrived in the UK, they were taken to a house where other workers lived. But things did not go according to plan. "My friend and I had to share the double bed – we had no choice," Piotr said. "The room was cold and dirty. Black mould was on the walls, wallpaper was dropping off and the house was damp. My heart stopped."

Piotr knew he could not return to Poland – he had no money, he didn't know where he was, and his English was poor. He was also worried that his daughter would think he was a fool to make such a life-changing, but ill-informed, decision.

Piotr said he regularly worked up to 60 hours a week at the factory. He had to give half of his wages to his bosses and, although he was taken to various banks to open accounts, he never saw the bank cards.

Escape was proving impossible. "I paid my debt [for travel to the UK] after a month, but if I left I knew they would find me and kill me, so I had to stay," Piotr said. "They were always threatening that they would take us to a wood 50km away and we would not leave. I was their property and there was no escape. I lived every day in fear."

Piotr's case is yet another an example of forced labour, which comprises any work an employee is coerced to undertake. "Forced labour is an emerging trend where people are using human beings as exploited commodities," said Paul Broadbent, chief executive of the GLA, which supported Piotr when his fresh start transformed into a nightmare of exploitation.

A report on forced labour in the UK, published this month by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), found that the structure of the UK economy, through its light-touch regulation of business and its heavy hand on immigration, has created a low-paid segment of the workforce that is susceptible to forced labour.

"The government isn't really monitoring the workplace in the UK," said Jean Allain, a professor of public international law at Queen's University Belfast and one of the JRF report's authors. "And while there are various agencies in the UK that are meant to monitor the workplace, you find in other countries there are many more."

Allain adds that some foreign nationals – for example, Bulgarians and Romanians – are allowed to enter the UK but are not legally permitted to work, which can push some to seek employment in the informal sector, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.

According to Allain, Piotr's case ticks several boxes: "Are people being threatened so as to work? Yes. Are people in a situation of having to repay a loan? Yes. Does it typically happen to non-UK nationals? Yes – because they are vulnerable, don't speak the language and don't understand the system."

Forced labour is likely to occur where the informal sector – for example, cash in hand – meets the formal economy. "Let's say the profile of an exploiter is someone who is working in the grey economy," he said. "This informal sector is the breeding ground or gateway for forced labour."

Allain's team is adamant that forced labour is not a hidden crime – and combatting it requires an understanding of the business motivation behind forced labour: taking advantage of people to make money and generate profits.

"There are links between the informal economy and the formal economy," Allain said. "We need a better understanding of what the entry points for forced labour are and we need to have better intervention strategies to stop it from happening."

Piotr eventually escaped. After being subjected to a series of beatings, he sought help at the job agency where his bosses had initially taken him to sign his employment contract. The GLA became involved in his case, and he is now living in safety.

To disrupt the business of forced labour in the UK, and to prevent people from being exploited, the JRF report calls for tougher, government-led regulation of businesses and for increased social auditing of labour forces.

"What we say is that brands should be worried about their labour supply chains," Allain said. "They should be asking where the labour comes from that creates their products. It's about taking responsibility and going into those labour supply chains and social auditing."


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« Reply #10131 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:05 am »


Italian justice minister survives no-confidence vote

Anna Maria Cancellieri tells parliament she did not pull any strings to win release of family friend from jail

Associated Press in Rome
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 18.41 GMT   

Italy's justice minister survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday after insisting she did not abuse her position to win the release of a family friend from jail.

Anna Maria Cancellieri has been under pressure to resign following revelations that she called court officials to tell them the friend, Giulia Lingresti, was in ill health. Cancellieri also acknowledges calling Lingresti's companion to express sympathy after her arrest for alleged false accounting.

Cancellieri has said she regrets the phone calls, but told parliament before Wednesday's vote that she had not pulled strings to win Lingresti's release. "There was no undue zeal or anomalies," she said.

Cancellieri survived the vote by 405-154. She has the backing of the president, Giorgio Napolitano, and the prime minister, Enrico Letta, who sought to ensure centre-left MPs' support of Cancellieri by linking the confidence vote to the survival of his government.

The motion was brought by the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement founded by the former comic Beppe Grillo, and had divided Letta's Democratic party.

Ligresti is the daughter of Salvatore Ligresti, an insurance magnate who is under house arrest on charges of false accounting and market manipulation. Cancellieri is a long-time friend of the Ligresti family.

Cancellieri said she called prison officials on 19 August, about a month after Giulia Lingresti was placed in pre-trial custody, to pass along information about the woman's health. But, Cancellieri said, "the situation was already known to the judges and the penitentiary officials". Ligresti was released to house arrest on 28 August.

Turin prosecutors have said they will not investigate Cancellieri for any wrongdoing.


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« Reply #10132 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:07 am »


Ikea France executives under investigation amid spying accusations

Head of Ikea France among those accused of employing private detectives to snoop on employees, particularly union activists, and even unhappy clients

Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 November 2013 19.33 GMT   

Three senior Ikea executives in France were put under investigation on Wednesday over allegations they spied on disgruntled customers and former staff.

The head of Ikea France is among those accused of employing a firm of private detectives to snoop on individual employees, particularly union activists, job applicants and even unhappy customers, and of fraudulently obtaining personal information from police files.

A judge decided there was enough evidence to formally mis en examen (the equivalent of being charged) Stefan Vanoverbeke, the chief executive of Ikea France, his predecessor Jean-Louis Baillo and chief financial officer Dariusz Rychert, who were arrested on Monday and held for questioning.

Under French law, the men had to be formally put under investigation within 24 hours or freed.

Since January, a total of 10 people have been arrested and put under investigation for "fraudulent use of personal information", including four police officers and Ikea's former head of security.

The case is hugely damaging to the reputation of the flagship Swedish company famed for its family-friendly but infuriatingly difficult to assemble flat-pack furniture.

The accused are said to have requested a range of personal data, including criminal records and confidential details about the targets' dealings with the police or courts, even as witnesses or victims. Scores of people were alleged to have been snooped on, including a union official.

Last year, the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchainé obtained and published emails allegedly between Ikea's management in France and Sûreté International suggesting the security company was obtaining information from the national police information system on behalf of Ikea. The magazine said Ikea agreed to pay Sûreté International €80 (£66) for each request for information and that up to 200 demands were made at the same time.

Two unions have filed legal complaints against Ikea, accusing it of snooping on hundreds of people over a period of at least five years.

Among the claims is that Ikea asked investigators to find out if a customer, who was suing the company for €4,000 (£3,350), owned her own property or was known to the police. Other accusations centre on the tracing of car registration numbers.

Vanoverbek's lawyer, Alexis Gulbin, said his client denied involvement. "It was he who took corrective measures as soon as the problems were detected," Gulbin said.

Ikea France suspended and later fired the head of its risk management department last year along with three top-level executives, before publishing a new code of conduct.

In a statement in 2012, Christophe Naudin, head of Sûreté International, told journalists last year it had "consultancy and security contracts" with Ikea, but flatly denied snooping for the firm.

If found guilty of fraudulently using personal information, the accused face up to five years in prison and €300,000 in fines.


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« Reply #10133 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:10 am »


Medicalisation of misery to blame for soaring use of antidepressants, say GPs

Doctors across Europe warn limited time and resources leads many to prescribe pills for less-urgent cases of depression

Mark Rice-Oxley and Carmen Fishwick   
The Guardian, Thursday 21 November 2013   
   
Doctors across Europe are warning that the soaring use of antidepressants is down to growing pressure to "medicalise" unhappiness, complaining that a lack of time and meagre availability of other therapies meant that physicians reach for the prescription pad far too often.

In response to a questionnaire devised by the Guardian and five leading European newspapers, the vast majority of almost 100 European doctors and psychiatrists who replied said there was a "prescribing culture" in their country because other help for people with depression was inadequate.

Many of the doctors – from the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands – said they believed antidepressants were an effective treatment for cases of severe depression. But dozens expressed frustration that limited time and even more limited resources mean that they often feel pressured to prescribe pills in less-urgent cases.

"We are medicalising common situations: conflict, separation and the vicissitudes of life," said Gladys Mujica Lezcano, a Barcelona-based hospital doctor.

"They are prescribed much too easily," added Alain Vallée, a psychiatrist from Nantes in France. "If you take an antidepressant and it doesn't work, you don't think it's because you might not be depressed, but that you need to take a stronger one."

Not everyone agreed. Ricardo Teijeiro, who practises in the Netherlands, said the Dutch system had figured out that antidepressants might not be appropriate for milder forms of depression. "Dutch family doctors prescribe very little," he said. "They have learned that mild depression is iatrogenic and prescribe pills when they encounter a severe depression."

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development more or less bears this out: in the Netherlands antidepressant usage has risen by less than 25% since 2001 and has flatlined in the past five years. In Germany, the UK and Spain, by contrast, prescriptions have doubled over the past decade.

Doctors and psychiatrists say the pressures are manifold: from patients desperate for resolution and families eager for reassurance, from schedules that leave them with too many patients and not enough time and from the lack of available alternatives.

Fareedoon Ahmed, a trainee psychiatrist from Essex, said the illness had long since outstripped the resources available – in the UK at least. "Depression is a common mental health problem with a large number of sufferers, of which only the most severe can be supported within this health system."

But continental doctors expressed the same view.

"It's inadequate," said Simone Schliermann, from Erbach in Germany. "There's a lack of psychotherapy. My waiting list is one year."

José Luis Ballesteros Ramos, a psychiatrist from Granada, added: "The fact that primary care physicians prescribe antidepressants is linked to the inability to spend more time with the patient, because they get to see 40 patients in the morning."

The financial crisis has certainly squeezed health budgets across the EU, and in Germany, consultants say that the state cannot afford the appropriate treatment for the large numbers of depression patients who present.

"There is a payment problem for the dedicated psychiatrist," said Jörg Madlener, a Frankfurt-based neurologist. "For €40 [£34] a quarter, and with the huge inrush of patients, I can only treat depression with medication."

This is a frustration for many clinicians, because experience broadly shows that while antidepressants can be effective at treating symptoms of depression, it is talking therapies that will help patients understand what is happening to them – and how to avoid relapse. The chances of a recurrence of depression are far higher in people who do not have some form of psychiatric therapy than for those who do.

UK-based doctor Hannah Hudson said access to talking therapies was poor unless the patient was severely depressed. "Otherwise it is scanty," she said. "There are few support groups and often the only professional who provides support is the GP."

More broadly, there is concern that common human afflictions – sadness, melancholia, ennui – are being turned into medical conditions and then treated with pills. "Psychiatric care is becoming a consumer good in a society in which there is a low tolerance for frustration and adversity," said one Spain-based doctor whose identity has been verified but who wanted to remain anonymous.

"Trivial problems are being psychiatrized. There are people who want antidepressants because 'the boyfriend left me'."

José García-Valdecasas Campelo, a Tenerife-based psychiatrist, added: "Sadness is a normal human emotion that should not be medicalised. Social problems should be treated at a social level, and not at a psychiatric one."

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

How depression treatment differs throughout Europe

Antidepressant use is up across the world, but what kind of help can patients expect to get in the five most populous EU states?

• Readers experiences in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and UK

Kim Willsher, Philip Oltermann, Vittorio Infante and Paul Hamilos   
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 07.00 GMT   


Turn up at your GPs with anxiety, depression or insomnia and the chances are you will be prescribed antidepressants. It will of course vary from doctor to doctor, and some will have a better idea of which drug is more effective at dealing with which symptom. But access to psychiatry on the NHS is rare and usually only reserved for cases in which the doctor feels the patient is a very real threat to him/herself. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme has started trying to offer more talking therapies but coverage is patchy.

Private psychiatry is formidably expensive; for anyone buying health insurance, it may be worth inquiring about psychiatric cover too. You are more likely to fall prey to depression than to get run over by a bus.

France

The treatment of depression in France is very medication-based. Sometimes doctors will prescribe antidepressants (one for the day and another lower dose to help the patient sleep at night), as well as tranquillisers.

Depression and anxiety are primarily considered neuroses and not psychoses and as such the psychotherapy is not covered by the health system. Some psychiatrists will put through a treatment (30 minutes) as a "consultation", which means it will be reimbursed. But psychotherapists charge quite a lot for their sessions – it is called "the psychotherapist's hour" and it means 50 minutes. The most that is reimbursed by the health service is 70% but some are not reimbursed at all and many can set their own consultation fees.

If someone has chronic or clinical depression that requires hospital treatment, then this will be covered by the state.

Germany

In Germany, GPs, or Hausärzte,are generally recommended as first ports of call for those suffering from anxiety and/or depression. There are no legal constraints to the kind of drugs they can prescribe, but patients are generally advised to consult a specialist practitioner before being prescribed antidepressants.

Specialists in cases of depression and anxiety can be psychotherapists, psychiatrists or neurologists, but only the latter two are allowed to prescribe drugs.

The cost of prescribed medication is usually mostly paid through the public health scheme (about 85% of the population) or private insurance. Patients have to pay 10% of the price of prescribed drugs (usually about €5 [£4]), though there can be exceptions for patients on long-term treatments.

With psychotherapy, the public health scheme pays for up to five "test sessions" for each therapist. If the patient considers these a success, the therapist can recommend short treatments (usually 31 sessions) or long treatments (usually 45 sessions), but needs to get permission from the public or private health insurance company before putting a patient through one of these courses. Maximum length for psychotherapeutic courses is usually 60 sessions. The entire cost should be met by the public or private insurance scheme.

Spain

There are minor differences between the country's 17 autonomous regions in standard procedure for treating patients exhibiting problems related to their mental health.

Primary care doctor will often offer treatment as part of their portfolio of services, especially patients who have anxiety and depression. That said, Spanish primary care doctors will typically treat fewer cases on their own than their British counterparts, usually only those presenting mild to moderate conditions. In these cases, the prescription of anxiolytic drugs (benzodiazepines, buspirone) and anti-depressants (SSRIs such as escitalopram) is typical.

There is also supportive psychotherapy available, although this depends on resources and the degree of specific training in psychiatric disorders (there are a number of Spanish doctors who are trained in psychotherapy). If a primary care doctor recommends therapy, the patient will be referred to a mental health unit, with a variable waiting time (less than a week in severe cases).

Typically, a major depressive disorder, with psychotic symptoms or suicidal tendencies, somatisation disorder or serious panic attacks including depersonalisation, are sent directly to a mental health unit.

Italy

Patients can follow two routes: first, they may seek the advice of the GP, who can refer them to a psychiatrist or a specialised health unit that deals with psychiatry. Alternatively, patients can access a specialist service directly without referral. But clinicians say that time and money means that most will be dealt with through antidepressants.

Statistics in Italy show that only 50% of those who suffer depression seek treatment; about 15- 20% of these patients seek the advice of a psychiatrist. The figures are low because there is still a lot of stigma attached to seeing a health professional.

Italian psychiatrists prescribe two treatments for depression: a drug-based therapy and psychotherapy. For the latter, psychologists and psychotherapists are involved.


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« Reply #10134 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:14 am »


Derry bus driver who drove alone with bomb on board is 'selfless heroine'

Woman defied masked terrorist's instruction to take viable device to central police station by driving it instead to less built-up area

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 11.08 GMT   

A bus driver has been labelled a "selfless heroine" after risking her life to stop a bomb placed on her vehicle exploding outside Derry's main police station.

She managed to evacuate up to 10 passengers on the service, which was bound for the city centre, on Wednesday night and then drove the bus alone with a bomb on board for almost a mile to a less built-up area.

She had defied a masked man who said he was from the new IRA terror group when he boarded the bus at about 6.15pm on Wednesday. He had ordered her to drive the bus with an explosive device on board to Strand Road police station – the target of repeat bomb attacks by republican dissidents.

It emerged on Thursday that instead of taking the bomb along a three-mile journey into central Derry the driver found the nearest bus stop in a less built-up area. She then got off the bus and telephoned police.

Her actions were hailed on Thursday as the work of a "heroine" by local politicians, who condemned the republican terrorist group's actions. SDLP councillor John Boyle said: "This selfless heroine put the lives of her passengers and people living around ahead of herself."

He added: "Up to 10 passengers were traumatised by this incident and up to 40 families had to spend several hours out of their homes on a brutally cold evening. But thanks to this courageous woman there was no loss of life or injuries."

Army bomb disposal experts were called in to deal with what the Police Service of Northern Ireland later said was a "viable device".

Northern Ireland's transport minister, Danny Kennedy, said: "I want to praise the bravery of the bus driver who had to deal with this frightening situation."

The Ulster Unionist member added: "Attacks on public transport impact the entire community who depend on buses and trains to get to work, school, hospital and go about their daily business. The driver showed immense courage under very difficult circumstances."

Sinn Féin councillor Eric McGinley said those responsible for leaving the bomb on the bus "are going against the will of the vast majority of the people in this area who have indicated that they want to move forward without this type of disruption".

Security alerts involving improvised explosive devices have become almost a weekly occurence in Derry during the past few months as dissident republicans step up their armed actions in the city. So far, however, no one has been killed or badly injured in any of the attacks.

The use of a potential proxy to drive a bomb to a security force base will bring back memories in Derry of the 1990 murder of Catholic contractor Patsy Gillespie. He died in an explosion that also killed five British soldiers. He had been strapped into a van packed with explosives and was forced to drive the vehicle towards an army vehicle checkpoint while his family were held at gunpoint back in their Derry home.

The use of a so-called human bomb along with two other similar attacks on the same day provoked widespread condemnation throughout Ireland and beyond.


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« Reply #10135 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:17 am »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/21/2013 12:02 PM

Munich Art Trove: Jewish Groups Criticize Plans to Return Paintings

The elderly man in Munich whose more than 1,000 artworks were seized on suspicion of being stolen by Nazis is likely to get around 300 of the pictures back. Jewish groups accuse authorities of seeking to hastily end the scandal with the move.

Cornelius Gurlitt, the eccentric son of a Nazi-era art dealer whose trove of precious works of art was seized last year and long kept secret by authorities, is likely to get hundreds of the artworks back. The Augsburg public prosecutor's office told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that about 310 of the paintings were undoubtedly Gurlitt's legitimate property and could be returned to him by next week.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country's largest Jewish umbrella organization, criticized the move and called for "sensibility and responsibility" in matters related to possibly stolen art.

"After the whole thing was treated almost conspiratorially for more than 18 months, the quick decision of a wholesale return (of the art) is certainly also the wrong way," Dieter Graumann, the Council's president, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung's Thursday edition. The case was about more than just a "legal right to restitution," he said; it also had a "moral and historical dimension," and politicians have the responsibility to "help provide the dignity of today to the victims of the past."

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, accused state authorities of wanting to rid themselves of the issue as fast as possible, and called for a change in the statute of limitations law relating to art stolen by the Nazis.

Authorities seized more than 1,000 works of art from Gurlitt's apartment in early 2012, suspecting they had been confiscated or banned by the Nazis. Gurlitt, 80, said in an interview with SPIEGEL that he "loved" the artworks and kept them secret in his apartment to protect them.

The federal government and the state government of Bavaria have created an expert commission to investigate the provenance of artworks and determine which, if any, were stolen -- initial estimates place the number of suspicious works at around 590. The commission is also working to place more of the paintings up on the online database, www.lostart.de.

Around 100 lawyers from around the world have filed claims to some of the works, and the case is likely to be bogged down by legal problemsfor some time to come.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/21/2013 01:32 PM

Time Machine: Munich Art Collector Lives in the Past

By Özlem Gezer

SPIEGEL reporter Özlem Gezer spent four days with reclusive art collector Cornelius Gurlitt, the man at the center of the sensational Munich art discovery. She found a man at odds with the modern world.

A ride in an elevator was all the time I had to convince Cornelius Gurlitt to let me join him in the taxi. It was the start of a four-day trip, the end of which I was never certain. Over the course of those days with him, I often had the feeling of having stepped into a time machine.

Cornelius Gurlitt, 80, is the kind of man who books hotel rooms by mail, with a letter written on a typewriter and signed with a fountain pen. He marvels at why telephones show numbers on display screens. His world is a slow, quiet one, far removed from 2013. Gurlitt last went to the movies in 1967, where he saw Franz-Josef Spieker's "Wild Rider, LLC," one of the first works of New German Cinema. He talks of the screening as if it were yesterday. The comedy made him laugh, he says -- it was "very amusing." He raves about his most recently acquired record, a recording by post-war opera star Martha Mödl.

Cornelius Gurlitt doesn't use the Internet, nor does he own a television. He does collect newspaper articles, preferably colorful ones, and he listens to the radio. One radio report quoted the authorities as saying the paintings they seized from his apartment were stored among canned food and leftovers. That was not the case, he assures me resentfully. Sure, he has plenty of food on the shelves at home, but not without reason. Then he tells me about the federal government's "squirrel campaign" of 1961, when people were encouraged to stockpile food like squirrels do for the winter. It was meant for times of crisis, like the kind Gurlitt now finds himself in.

He is a man who trusts no one, let alone the German government, which he says buys tax files from thieves. He's distraught because he doesn't understand why the state is publicly displaying his private property -- the love of his life, as he calls the art. He says he never called on the state for anything.

Cornelius Gurlitt comes across as a man who decided never to lead his own life in order to look after the paintings in the family's possession and protect his father's inheritance. This mission seems to have gradually removed him from reality. Now, for the first time in his life, he's in the spotlight of a society that is alien to him.

Yearning for the Past

After spending four days with Gurlitt, I had the feeling that it wasn't just the paintings he kept locked up in the walls of his apartment to insulate them from the world. He locked up himself along with them. He lives with a constant yearning for the past, when men's jackets had three buttons instead of two.

Cornelius Gurlitt is a modest man. He sits in a bakery and enjoys a warm croissant for minutes, whispering again and again that it's the best he's eaten in ages. He says his favorite meal is a ready-made chicken fricassee from Karstadt, a German department store.

Every time we meet, he shakes my hand in greeting or in parting -- sometimes four times a day. We stayed in the same hotel, but we always agreed to meet at set times. He doesn't like to have things unplanned. Conversations tire him.

On our last evening, sitting in his hotel room by the light of the reading lamp, Gurlitt tells me he doesn't understand today's world anymore. He laments the downfall of his beloved Free Democratic Party, which was recently kicked out of parliament after failing to win at least 5 percent of the national vote. Their politicians were just too boring he says. If it were up to him, the party would have had a liberal university professor or Nobel prize winner as its leader. That would have saved the FDP, he says.

Gurlitt raves about former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In contrast to Angela Merkel, Adenauer never went to soccer games in a public manner. "Adenauer would never have taken a government plane to watch a football match in South Africa," he insists. He says stadiums are evil places, all about victory. "I can swear on the Bible that I've never been to a stadium," he says. It's one of the few moments he seems proud, and laughs self-consciously.


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« Reply #10136 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:18 am »

November 20, 2013

Polish Prime Minister Replaces Top Cabinet Officials

By DAVID JOLLY
IHT

WARSAW — Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland on Wednesday overhauled his cabinet apparently in an effort to bolster his flagging poll numbers, replacing Poland’s top finance official and changing environment ministers in the middle of a United Nations climate conference his country is hosting.

Mr. Tusk said he was appointing Mateusz Szczurek, an economist and former banker, as finance minister, replacing Jacek Rostowski, who had served in the role since Mr. Tusk was first elected prime minister in 2007. Mr. Rostowski is the architect of a planned overhaul of the pension system that has alarmed some investors. That plan was approved on Tuesday by the cabinet.

The prime minister also said he would replace his environment minister, Marcin Korolec, with Maciej Grabowski, a former deputy finance minister. Mr. Tusk’s center-right Civic Platform party and its coalition ally, the agrarian People’s Party, enjoy a slight majority in Parliament. While his government has been struggling, dropping behind the opposition Law and Justice party in the polls, it is not facing new elections until 2015.

United Nations climate talks are taking place in Warsaw. The government said Mr. Korolec would remain in office through the end of conference, being held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The talks, which conclude this weekend, are aimed at bringing about a new international agreement to replace the frayed 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Maciej Muskat of Greenpeace Poland said Mr. Tusk’s move showed that he “is not sincere about the need for an ambitious climate deal.”

Mr. Tusk has already drawn considerable criticism from environmentalists for holding a world coal summit meeting at the same time as the climate talks.

As part of a broader cabinet reshuffle, Mr. Tusk also merged the ministries handling transportation and regional development on Wednesday, just days after the transport minister, Slawomir Nowak, resigned amid questions about his ownership of a $6,600 wristwatch.

The prime minister also replaced officials responsible for sports, education, science and administration.

Michal Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research group, said the reshuffle reflected Mr. Tusk’s realization that it was time to inject new energy into the government. He noted that Mr. Szczurek, the new finance minister, is 38 years old and comes with no particular political baggage, while Mr. Rostowski, 62, has been in his role since 2007.

Widespread concern about the state of the economy has damaged the government’s standing, he said, while debate over Mr. Tusk’s pension reform plan, which critics have likened to the “nationalization” of private savings, has proved deeply divisive.

Mr. Korolec sought to reassure delegates at the climate conference, saying in a statement that he would retain the portfolio of Poland’s chief representative to the talks. “I’ll be able to fully concentrate on the process of climate negotiations, without other responsibilities related to daily responsibilities of running the Ministry of Environment,” he said.

Mr. Grabowski, the new environment minister, pledged to begin work on the exploitation of Poland’s shale gas resources, which are thought to be substantial.

“There is a chance for us to be a leading country in this respect in the coming months,” Mr. Grabowski said at a news conference, Reuters reported.

There has been disappointment in Warsaw, which gets most of its energy from coal, at the failure of an expected shale gas boom to materialize. A number of major energy companies have given up on Poland after arriving with high hopes for recovering shale gas by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, stymied by local opposition, bureaucracy and lower-than-expected reserves.
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« Reply #10137 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:20 am »


Iran nuclear negotiator digs heels in over right to enrich uranium

Senior negotiator at Geneva nuclear talks dashes hope of possible compromise offered by Mohammad Javad Zarif

Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 13.04 GMT   

Iran entrenched its position at nuclear talks in Geneva on Thursday, insisting it would not sign an agreement that did not have specific guarantees of its right to enrich uranium.

The issue is one of the thorniest at the negotiations and one of the main reasons the last round of talks here broke up without agreement on 10 November despite intense bargaining by ministers including the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

This week Zarif appeared to offer a concession on the issue, saying Iran did not need international approval to carry on enriching uranium as it was already an international right guaranteed under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

But a senior Iranian negotiator at the talks denied there had been any give in the Iranian position. "If this element is not in the text, it is unacceptable to us. Without that, there will be no agreement," the negotiator said.

The 1968 NPT is vague on the subject. It guarantees the nation's right to a peaceful nuclear programme, without mentioning enrichment specifically. Signatories are also obliged not to develop weapons and to agree on inspection regimes with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A possible compromise had been floated in the days running up the latest Geneva talks in which text of the agreement would mention NPT rights and the various parties would interpret that in their own way. However, the Iranian negotiator said that would not be enough for Tehran.

"It is because there are different interpretations of the NPT that there is a need to spell it out in the text," he said. "We are trying to find language that is the least problematic for all parties, but what is essential is the element of enrichment."

Western states acknowledge that they will have to accept some degree of Iranian enrichment as a fait accompli in any interim agreement - which is the focus of the Geneva agreement currently being negotiated and that will aim to slow down, stop or reverse different elements of the nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanction relief.

However, Washington and its allies, particularly France, do not want to put that acceptance in writing, lest it serve as a legal precedent for global proliferation. Enrichment of uranium is a dual-use technology – it can produce fuel for nuclear power stations, but also weapons-grade fissile material for warheads.

The Iranian official at the talks said he had not read Zarif's earlier, apparently conciliatory remarks on enrichment. Western officials at the talks say the Iranian delegation have stressed how much pressure they have been under at home from hardliners. Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, declared on the eve of the new round in Geneva that the negotiators had been set strict red lines on what they could accept.

Zarif met the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on Thursday morning for detailed talks on the current draft agreement, which has disputed paragraphs in brackets, and negotiators said the general atmosphere was positive. Contingency preparations have been made for Kerry and foreign ministers from the other five nations at the talks – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – to fly to Switzerland at short notice if a deal is near.

However, France signalled on Wednesday that it would stick to its tough line on Iran and was not ready to make more concessions. Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, said he hoped a deal could be clinched but added: "This agreement can only be possible based on firmness. For now, the Iranians have not been able to accept the position of the six. I hope they will accept it."

The Iranian official said that in contrast to the last round of talks, when Fabius openly voiced its objections to a draft text, the six-nation group had stayed united on this occasion and let Ashton talk on their behalf. "The French are no longer in the forefront of negotiations," he said.

The Iranian deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi told the Iranian news agency ISNA: "From negotiations with Mrs Ashton we want to see if we can begin talks about the text. If we conclude that talks can have results, we will then enter negotiations with the [six-nation group]."


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« Reply #10138 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:21 am »


US and Afghanistan reach deal to ensure American post-war presence

Security Agreement ensures rump US force will continue to train, advise and equip roughly 350,000 Afghan soldiers

Spencer Ackerman in Washington and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 November 2013 22.32 GMT   
   
The US and Afghanistan governments have reached terms on a deal that would ensure an American presence in the war-ravaged country beyond the formal 2014 end of combat.

US secretary of state John Kerry, who had been in difficult long-distance negotiations with Afghan president Hamid Karzai throughout the week, announced the agreement in Washington on Wednesday, ahead of a large-scale national gathering in Kabul expected to give Karzai wider political cover for agreeing to a residual US presence in Afghanistan.

The deal, known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, ensures that a rump US force will continue to train, advise and equip the roughly 350,000 Afghan soldiers, police and airmen that it has assembled almost from scratch over the last half decade.

A draft accord published on the Afghan government’s website holds that the US shall not conduct any combat operations “unless otherwise mutually agreed”, but appears to give them relatively wide leeway for the counter-terror missions that are a priority for Washington.

US commanders and politicians have said their forces will try to tackle al-Qaida but only train and equip Afghans to fight the Taliban, leaving them to fight alone after 2014.

The final deal came only hours before around 3,000 elders, power brokers and other delegates from around the country meet to discuss the deal and ultimately vote on whether Karzai should sign it. The hand-picked representatives are widely expected to approve the agreement, after airing opposition views.

The agreement paves the way for the longest US conflict in history – one launched in the weeks after September 11 and which has claimed 2,153 US military lives and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian lives – to enter a murkier phase.

Left out of the accord is the war’s other principal combatant. Years of furtive efforts to broker talks with the Taliban have not achieved any tangible results, and the insurgent group have vowed to keep fighting while there are any foreign boots on Afghan soil.

While US, UK and Nato combat will formally end, the US will subsequently negotiate a residual force of as-yet undetermined size, to be stationed throughout a handful of Afghan military bases, as well as some bases of which the accord grants the US “exclusive use.” Pentagon sources have said in the past year that Bagram, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif are on the list of potential bases.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the US/Nato military commander in Afghanistan, is said to favor a post-2014 force of roughly 10,000 to 13,000 troops, about a fifth of the current US deployment.

The draft text published by the Afghans explicitly states that “US military operations to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism,” leaving the door open both to US raids, probably by special operations forces, after 2014.

“US military counter-terrorism operations are intended to complement and support [Afghan] counter-terrorism operations, with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes,” the draft text reads.

There is also a concession to Afghan demands that the US offer guarantees against external aggression, but the language is vague indicating the US would have “grave concern” over attacks by foreign entities into Afghanistan – most likely from Pakistan – but not committing to any specific military response.

The draft sidesteps the question of drones based on Afghan soil. They have been used for strikes in neighbouring Pakistan, and are expected to continue to launch missions from the range of bases offered to US force under the deal.

The language about the sanctity of the Afghan homes has been among the most controversial in the document, as has assurances the US demands that it will have the exclusive legal jurisdiction and control over any US personnel suspected of committing crimes in Afghanistan.

Earlier on Wednesday, the State Department strongly denied that the US would issue any apology to Afghanistan over mistakes made in the 12-year old war.

Jen Psaki, the top State Department spokeswoman, said earlier reports of a forthcoming apology were erroneous, but added it was possible that the US would provide “reassurances” to Afghanistan “addressing past issues, such as civilian casualties”.

Although the accord paves the way for a residual US force in Afghanistan on an open-ended stay, it represents a political victory for the Obama administration, which had vowed to a domestic US audience it would bring the war to a conclusion.

Pending the Afghan loya jirga’s anticipated approval of the accord, the deal contrasts sharply with the 2011 exit of practically all US troops from Iraq – a circumstance forced onto Washington by an Iraqi government that would not permit the US to prosecute its own forces, a deal-breaker for the Pentagon.

Instead, whatever comes of the longest US war in history will come by diplomatic accord between Washington and its erstwhile Afghan ally.


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« Reply #10139 on: Nov 21, 2013, 08:24 am »


November 20, 2013

Kazakhstan’s Bet on Rail

By KEITH BRADSHER
IHT

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — The railroad locomotive factory here on the outskirts of the capital of Kazakhstan is one of the most modern in the world, with huge yellow overhead cranes and a work force of 1,100. An engine factory being built next door will soon make some of the world’s most fuel-efficient 12-cylinder diesel engines.

But in Aktogay, a Kazakh rail junction town 600 miles to the southeast, the roads are mostly dirt and the houses are low and cramped. Just a few yards outside the entrance to the main freight rail yard, cars swerve to avoid a pothole more than a yard across and deep enough to snap an axle.

With oil finally having started to flow in September from the vast Kashagan field in the shallow Kazakh waters of the Caspian Sea, this big but sparsely populated Central Asian nation is considering how to spend its coming wealth. An early beneficiary is the country’s sprawling railroad network, a large, state-owned business empire. It is investing heavily with cash from the country’s oil-financed sovereign wealth fund and is now considering initial public offerings for one or more of its business units.

The rail business, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, better known by its initials as K.T.Z., reached a deal this summer to build a $100 million freight and logistics center on the coast of China at Lianyungang port, roughly halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. The goal is to bring goods in and out of Central Asia through a combination of rail and sea freight, and help the region diversify its exports beyond an overwhelming dependence on Russia that has lasted for more than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union.

“We can see the change of the market toward more shipments to China,” said Kanat K. Alpysbayev, the chief operating officer of K.T.Z., in an interview here.

The railroad has opened a second line from Kazakhstan to China that runs through a southern mountain pass that is less prone to the high winds and blizzards that bedevil a Soviet-era border crossing farther north built under the Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Brezhnev. The company is frenetically building new rail lines within Kazakhstan to distribute goods, too, and has more than quadrupled its annual investment in the last four years, to $3.1 billion this year.

Kazakhstan faces a difficult challenge in trying to spend its oil wealth in ways that will create prosperity beyond the city limits of the capital, Astana, and there is no guarantee that its emphasis on the rail industry will work.

Through history, many countries reaping bonanzas from natural resources have seen other domestic industries hollowed out as their currencies surged and other industries became uncompetitive. Spain’s wool and garment industries lost competitiveness in the 1600s and 1700s as gold and silver flowed in from its colonies in the Americas. The Netherlands suffered a broad industrial decline after the large-scale development of offshore natural gas in the 1960s, as the climbing value of the Dutch guilder made other exports less competitive. Nigeria has endured a steady decline in recent years in its role as an industrial hub of Africa as it has become dependent on its considerable oil wealth. From the Persian Gulf to Algeria, Arab countries with oil and natural gas wealth have largely failed to create new industries, with Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans to grow wheat in the desert often cited as one of the most conspicuous failures.

Like Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan is trying to use oil wealth to foster new industries that barely existed before. When it was part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s economy relied heavily on wheat production, iron ore mining and military spending. Now it is trying to become a powerhouse in railroad manufacturing and operations.

A large, black steam engine with a bright red Bolshevik star on the front sits as a museum piece in front of the main train station in this city of 800,000. Railroad tracks link practically every town and village in a country with fewer people than Florida scattered across an area larger than the United States east of the Mississippi.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s authoritarian ruler since before its independence in 1991, visits the locomotive factory here every year to inspect progress. He attends not only the opening of practically every new train station in Kazakhstan, no matter how small, but even attends the reopening of stations that have been refurbished. “He has been committed to moving away from just an oil base and commodity base and toward industrializing the country,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, who helped oversee the Kazakhstan locomotive project as chief executive and president of General Electric’s transportation division for the last five years. He became head of G.E.’s oil and gas unit in October.

One issue facing Mr. Nazarbayev is whether Kazakhstan’s young but small population will be interested in the skilled blue-collar jobs that the government is trying to produce. The government has set up training programs, and towns like Aktogay and Dostyk still have a strong blue-collar culture.

The nation is changing in many ways, thanks to its wealth. Expensive, Western-style shopping malls are displacing Soviet-era stores in big cities like Astana and Almaty, which have been the biggest beneficiaries of oil wealth and also what critics describe as lavish spending by a politically connected, sometimes corrupt elite.

Having licensed locomotive designs from G.E., the railroad has set up a joint venture with a Russian company, Transmashholding, to manufacture and distribute the vehicles. The joint venture has already begun exporting to Tajikistan and is in discussions to sell more locomotives in Central Asia.

As the cash-flush transportation giant increasingly reaches out to neighboring China, it changes the geopolitical equations for the West and for Russia. While most of China’s imports of raw materials and exports of finished goods currently travel on sea routes controlled by the United States Navy, the development of land routes across Kazakhstan and access to Kazakhstan’s plentiful oil, iron ore and wheat mean that a growing share of China’s trade is traveling through areas outside of American dominance.

For China, “it’s an added level of assurance that China will not find its options restricted by whatever the United States decides to do,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a specialist in Chinese geopolitical strategies at the Brookings Institution.

After years of limiting Chinese investment for fear of being overwhelmed by its far more populous neighbor, the Kazakh government is showing a new willingness to accept Chinese investments in logistics ventures inside Kazakhstan, although none has started yet. “If the Chinese want to do that, we would like to discuss it,” said Mr. Alpysbayev of K.Z.T.

Russia is wary of Central Asia’s willingness to turn to China to avoid dominance by Russia. Mr. Alpysbayev said that K.T.Z. was not seeking to shift from Russia to China, but rather simply to balance its freight traffic. Nearly all of the rail freight transiting Kazakhstan until the last few years consisted of goods traveling between Russia and former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan. But now a quarter of the transit traffic is with China and K.T.Z. expects it will soon grow to half.

“We need to work with Russia as well. The main idea for us is to diversify our routes,” said Mr. Alpysbayev, who also said that container rail freight traffic to and from China had increased 62 percent in the first nine months of this year compared to the same period a year ago.

And now, top Western investment bankers are flying here to seek underwriting assignments for a planned initial public offering of shares in one or more units of K.T.Z., when the government begins privatizing them. Mr. Alpysbayev said that the government was still discussing how to do that.

Any public listing is almost certain to be done on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange in Almaty, a city of 1.3 million in southern Kazakhstan, and not in New York or other foreign markets, he said.

The trickiest problem for K.T.Z.’s expected offering lies in what to do with its huge work force, which it must pay and provide with a wide range of social benefits. In rail junction towns like Aktogay and Dostyk, the stationmaster is essentially the mayor as well, as K.T.Z. takes responsibility for schools, roads and more.

K.T.Z. employs 160,000 people in a country with a labor force of only 8.6 million, or one in every 54 workers in the entire country.

If the work force is not pared, and the responsibility for social benefits transferred to government agencies, then the initial public offering will be a much harder sell. “The reduction will come,” Mr. Alpysbayev said, “but we try to make it very smooth so as not to raise any social aspect with the people.”


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