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« Reply #10230 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Madrid accused of 'strangling' gay pride

Mayor Ana Botella provokes anger among organisers of city's gay celebration after levying fines for noise violations

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid, Monday 25 November 2013 16.29 GMT   

The organisers of Madrid Pride Week, one of the biggest events of its kind in Europe, said the city was trying to "strangle" the event after they were fined nearly €160,000 (£134,000) for noise violations during this year's festival.

"You can't levy such barbaric fines on an event that's so important to the city," said Boti Rodrigo, president of the Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales. "These fines put the survival of Madrid Pride in serious jeopardy."

This is the fourth successive year the festival has been fined for noise violations. Past fines ranged from €35,000-€50,000, against which organisers successfully appealed and had reduced or waived. The courts have so far reduced one of the fines to €600, but have yet to rule on the other two. This year's edition of Madrid Pride, held in July, earned 15 fines totalling €159,809. Organisers have appealed against the fines, but said it could take more than a year before they find out if their appeal is successful.

"We've never seen city hall so short-sighted, with such little political will towards us," said Rodrigo. The celebration of gay pride, started in 1979, attracts an estimated 1.5 million people each year and offers the city a chance to "show that Madrid is an open, multicultural and tolerant city".

"They need to stop trying put obstacles in the way of the event," she said.

When the organisers of Madrid Pride decided to nominate the city to host World Pride, Madrid's mayor, Ana Botella, wrote a letter of support backing the campaign. Now, with the city gearing up to host the global event in 2017, Rodrigo said the mayor's attitude had changed.

"She's putting up permanent barriers to our success," said Rodrigo. "What's clear is that the ideology of a person, when that person is the mayor of Madrid, shouldn't interfere at all in her political responsibilities."

In 2011, when Botella was Madrid's councillor for the environment, she introduced stringent noise limits in residential areas. The restrictions forced Madrid Pride to resort to silent concerts, where participants danced to music streaming through their headphones. Organisers later complained that this dampened the mood of the event. Since then, the city has allowed for some flexibility, doubling the noise limit during Madrid Pride.

Calls to the mayor's office were not returned, but the association that represents Chueca, the neighbourhood where Madrid Pride is held, has been actively lobbying the city for years to crack down on the event. "It's a massive concentration of people drinking in the street with indiscriminate musical acts," Esteban Benito, spokesperson for the Asociación de Vecinos de Chueca, told El País. "They're not looking to integrate into the neighbourhood, they just want a five-day drinking party because their main business is in selling alcohol."

Juan Carlos Alonso, the general co-ordinator of Madrid Pride, said the event was more than just a party and brought 300,000 tourists to the city from as far afield as the Americas and Asia, who spend an estimated €110m during the event.

Alonso acknowledged that Madrid Pride was not the only event struggling to find a compromise with the city over noise restrictions. But, he said, "not all of them have fines this big, or problems this big. From our point of view, this reflects a change of policy from the city's administration."

The organisers have requested a meeting with the mayor. In the meantime, they are working on developing some sort of platform where people can show their support for Madrid Pride and speak out against the city's actions.

"The city of Madrid, under Ana Botella, is a city that's losing visitors, losing liberties and become more closed-minded," said Rodrigo. "It's becoming the kind of city that Madrileños don't deserve."

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« Reply #10231 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:06 AM »

From Quebec to Spain, anti-protest laws are threatening true democracy

The clash between neoliberal austerity and popular democracy has produced a crisis of 'ungovernability' for authorities

Richard Seymour, Monday 25 November 2013 17.15 GMT          

The Spanish government's punitive anti-protest draft laws are, critics say, an attack on democracy. That is precisely what they are.

In a number of recent front lines of popular protest, state capacities have been reconfigured to meet the challenge. In some instances, as in Greece, this has meant periods of emergency government. In Chicago, in Quebec and now in Spain, it has meant the expansion of anti-protest laws.

In 2011, the Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, requested that the city council pass "temporary" anti-protest measures in response to the planned protests around the Nato and G8 summits. The laws included a $1m insurance mandate for public protests, heavy policing and greater obstacles to obtaining a protest permit. By early 2012, the legislation had been made permanent.

Later that same year, as the administration of Jean Charest in Quebec sought to deal with a tumultuous uprising of students against increased tuition fees, it passed a piece of emergency legislation named Bill 78. With the support of the state's employers, it imposed severe restrictions on the ability to protest, including banning protests within 50 metres of a college and giving the right to change the route of a protest at short notice, with severe fines for those protesters who did not co-operate.

The "public safety" legislation proposed in Spain has an essentially similar basis. Demonstrating near parliament without permission will result in steep fines, while participation in "violent" protests can result in a minimum two-year jail sentence. In each case, the logic is to put a chill on protest. It is not just that it is a protest deterrent; it has a domesticating effect on such protests as do occur.

To understand why this is happening, it is necessary to grasp the relationship between neoliberal austerity and popular democracy.

In a previous era, when neoliberal austerity was first being prepared in tandem with a racist, authoritarian crackdown, Greek political sociologist Nicos Poulantzas spoke of the "redeployment of legal-police networks" as a constitutive element in a new "authoritarian statism". In this regime, formal parliamentary apparatuses would be retained even while substantive democracy was eroded. Stuart Hall, writing a few years later, remarked of Thatcherite neoliberalism that "under this regime, the market is to be free; the people are to be disciplined".

Why this authoritarianism? Why, in freeing "the market", was it necessary to discipline the people? If the focus is limited to austerity – neoliberalism in its "shock doctrine" form – then the problem can be interpreted simply as one of crisis management. The state assumes measures for enhanced popular control at just the moment when it is trying to manage an unpopular reorganisation of public services, welfare and capital-labour relations. But in fact, this is merely a conjunctural form of a wider problem.

In a simple genealogical sense, neoliberalism can be read as an adaptation of the concerns of classical liberalism to the problems posed by the age of mass democracy. At a political level, neoliberalism responded to a supposed surfeit of democracy, an excess of popular demands upon the state. This not only trapped the state in a web of special interests but ultimately produced a crisis of "ungovernability". For the state to be able to do its business, its authority had to be restored; hence the salience of "law and order".

The "primary purpose of the state," said Thatcher, "is to maintain order." By designating the problem in this manner, and identifying political opponents through the ideology of crime and disorder, she was able to link her successes to a simple assertion of common sense. But the proliferation of laws designed to restrain protest and strike action, the growth of a centralised and militarised policing apparatus and the boom in prison construction, all beginning during her reign, not only transformed the relationship of citizens to the state but in so doing weakened popular constituencies relative to dominant business elites.

This expansion and refinement of the technologies of containment is, by itself, rarely sufficient. It has generally been accompanied by the deployment of new ideologies of crime and legality. For protest policing under neoliberalism does not simply entail more repressive behaviour. In fact, the secular trend across European states is for a convergence around a more differentiated system of strategies toward protests.

In dealing with larger protests representing "official" bodies, police tend to prefer consensual and negotiated approaches, and tend to take a greater physical distance from the people whose activities they are policing. By contrast, smaller groups of protesters representing loose social coalitions, campaign alliances and so on, are more likely to be deemed extremist, terrorist or even – theatrical gasp – anarchist, and thus subject to militarised policing, direct surveillance and physical coercion, with the invocation of "anti-terrorist" or other repressive legislation.

Just as the definition of crime is inherently ideological, so the decision as to what constitutes an "official" protest or an "extremist" outrage is in part ideological and normative, deriving from the legal and political culture of policing in a given state and bureaucratic categories deployed by local and national forces. Necessarily, then, this is an inherently politicised form of policing. It is not merely demonstrative, showing by example what styles of protest are tolerated (ineffectual ones, largely), but practical in the sense that it drastically foreshortens democratic possibilities.

The reorganisation of states today in an authoritarian direction is part of a longer-term project to contain democracy while retaining a minimum of democratic legitimacy. That is what the anti-protest laws are about.

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« Reply #10232 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi says democracy at stake in Senate vote on expulsion

In letter to Democratic and Five Star senators, former PM claims new evidence proves he did not commit tax fraud

Associated Press in Rome, Monday 25 November 2013 19.11 GMT

Silvio Berlusconi begged his fellow senators on Monday not to kick him out of parliament, claiming new evidence proved he did not commit the tax fraud that has threatened his political future.

In a last-ditch effort to stave off a Senate vote that could keep him out of public office for years, the former prime minister claimed that affidavits from 12 witnesses and 15,000 pages of documentation from Hong Kong proved he was innocent.

The claim is legally contentious: Berlusconi's conviction for tax fraud has been upheld by Italy's highest court, and such rulings are final. But he was still trying to convince the court of public opinion 48 hours before the scheduled vote.

In a letter to senators from the centre-left Democratic party and the populist Five Star Movement, Berlusconi set aside his typically combative tone and painted himself as a concerned elder statesman, saying he understood their indignation and "authentic love for Italy" but that freedom itself was at stake.

"I ask you to truly reflect in the intimacy of your conscience … before taking a decision that concerns not just myself but our democracy," he said.

The 77-year-old has said his removal from parliament would amount to a government coup, even though he has no role in the government.

Berlusconi was convicted last year over the purchase of rights to broadcast US films on his Mediaset channels through a series of offshore companies that involved the false declaration of payments to avoid taxes. His defence argued that he was busy in politics at the time and no longer involved in managing the day-to-day activities of the business.

Berlusconi read aloud the text of an affidavit by a one-time manager of a US company who insisted the billionaire had nothing to do with the film deals.

Italy's high court upheld the conviction and four-year prison sentence on 1 August. A law passed last year bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

Berlusconi's lawyers have argued the law cannot be applied retroactively to crimes allegedly committed before it was passed, but the Senate vote to expel him appears poised to go ahead unless his allies can pull off a last-minute delay.


11/26/2013 01:06 PM

The Great Sell-Off: Milan Mired in Crisis of Money and Spirit

By Walter Mayr

The days when Milan could call itself a bastion of growth and progress in Italy seem to be gone. As the crisis swells the ranks of the poor, members of the city's business elite are jockeying for foreign investors while squabbling with courts over various legal entanglements.

Beppe Severgnini is renowned for his unique way of describing Italy in his best-selling books, and for his unusual titles, such as: "Surviving in Italy without Getting Married, Run Over or Arrested."

Severgnini is a popular figure, and not just in Italy. Even the BBC and the Economist appreciate the quirky columnist, and Queen Elizabeth II awarded him an OBE 12 years ago. On this rainy November day, the well-traveled writer is sitting in Milan. The white-haired author shakes his head and says he doesn't understand the world anymore. "Within a day, they sold both my football club and the home of my newspaper."

Corriere della Sera, the paper that publishes Severgnini's columns, has been Milan's pride and joy since 1876. Whereas the football club, to which Severgnini has dedicated three books and given his heart, is F.C. Internazionale Milano, more commonly known as Inter. Founded in 1908, Inter is a multiple European Cup winner and Italy's only club that has never been relegated from the top division.

Inter and Corriere are -- or, at this point, were -- as much a part of Milan as the Scala theater and the Duomo cathedral.

On this sad November day, Corriere is reporting that 70 percent of Inter, which has been under Italian ownership for 105 years, is now being sold to an Indonesian investor. After pumping an estimated €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) into the club, owner and club president Massimo Moratti, an oil-refinery tycoon from one of Milan's best families, decided he had had enough.

The news of the Inter sale is accompanied by the announcement that the 109-year-old Corriere is selling its headquarters building on Via Solferino. US financial investor Blackstone is buying the publishing house's historic palazzo, with its 30,000 square meters (323,000 square feet) of prime real estate, for €120 million. The current owners will be allowed to remain there for a while as tenants. The editorial staff was outraged over the sale, accusing the paper's shareholders of hawking the headquarters building to "speculators."

"Americans can buy a lot of things, but not history," Severgnini says bitterly. "And this here is history. Everyone has written in this building: Pasolini, Pirandello, Sciascia and Moravia. We're walking on the shoulders of giants here."

It was one of those giants, Indro Montanelli, who once said that Milan was "the real capital of the country," because things -- good and bad -- that begin in Milan, the capital of the Lombardy region, usually spread to all of Italy before long. It was the case with Mussolini's fascism beginning in 1919, and with Berlusconism 75 years later. It also applied to the economic miracle after World War II and the breakup of the political landscape in the 1990s.

Many of the 3,200 trials for corruption and illegal campaign donations took place in Milan's palace of justice during the "Mani pulite," or clean hands, campaign. It was a signal for the entire country.

Giants Stumbling Together

Is it now more than a twist of fate that two of Milan's most important institutions, Inter and the Corriere, are being partly sold? Will a sell-off of other Italian brands follow suit? The traditional fashion companies, Gucci, Fendi, Bulgari, Valentino and Loro Piana, have already come into foreign hands. Versace currently has plans to sell a minority stake in the company.

"Canadians will probably be buying Milan's Duomo soon," Corriere quipped in September, "and the Pakistanis will buy Nutella."

Hardly any other EU country has seen as little foreign direct investment as Italy in recent years. This is one of the reasons behind the growing pressure on family-owned companies to become more open to global capital.

But this has also created considerable anxiety. "The gnomes at McKinsey want to transform us into a nation of venerable waiters, guitar players, violinists and geriatric nurses," Giulio Sapelli, a business professor in Milan, has fumed.

Corriere della Sera is Italy's oldest newspaper, and it also has the widest circulation in the country. This liberal bastion looks very British inside, and its conference table is even modeled on that of the London Times. Staid men in shirts and ties work in the adjacent offices, where dark wood and heavy leather armchairs set the tone.

The list of shareholders of Corriere's parent company, RCS, reads like a who's who of the primarily local industrial and financial elite. Almost everyone who considers himself part of the Milan's closely connected upper crust, known as the "salotto buono," wants to hold a stake in Corriere. Its shareholders include Fiat, Pirelli, Mediobanco, Banca Intesa, Tod's, Benetton and Ligresti.

Milan's business elite is an Italian version of Germany Inc., but with more of a fortress-like mentality. Its members have supported each other owing to their well-meshed equity stakes, but since the beginning of the global economic crisis, this has also meant that they have gone into a tailspin together.

"The Italian establishment used to be on our board of directors; today, it's a collection of this country's weakened economic leaders," says Ferruccio de Bortoli, the editor-in-chief. Facing a framed first edition of Corriere from March 5, 1876, he is struggling with the decision to jeopardize the Corriere legend for a handful of quick money, "and to certify the entire company's decline by selling the building."

If necessary, De Bortoli wants to continue publishing unflattering stories about the paper's shareholders. He says that he feels no obligation to go easy on Fiat and other shareholders with billions in sales "because, after all, Corriere has been around longer than its shareholders." Besides, he adds, they have recently provided regular material for negative headlines.

Tire maker Pirelli's CEO, Mario Tronchetti Provera, for example, Italy's best-paid manager in 2011, with an annual salary of €14.5 million ($19.6 billion), was sentenced to 20 months in prison in July for economic espionage. Billionaire Salvatore Ligresti is under house arrest for corruption and accounting fraud. Mediobanca, the centerpiece of old Italy Inc., is the subject of an investigation.

And then, on Aug. 1, to add to the bad news coming from Milan, Italy's supreme court upheld four-time former prime minister and Milan media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi's conviction for tax fraud.

Signs of Crisis

All those convicted or accused deny the charges against them. Does that mean that a crazed judiciary is taking aim at business leaders to help fill the government's empty coffers? Or is this the beginning of a new era, the end of the post-feudal dominance of a handful of captains of industry and finance?

"Milan was long described as Italy's moral capital, a city with the necessary public spirit to combat the so-called Italian disease," says Corriere editor-in-chief De Bortoli. "If we hope to overcome the current crisis, it will have to come from Milan."

Milan, Italy's richest major city, is in the third year of a persistent recession. From its luxury galleries to its soup kitchens to the Unicredit tower, it is clear that Milan is in rapid flux, a city searching for its identity.

There are many signs of the crisis in Milan, including the empty office space in the skyscrapers behind the Porta Garibaldi train station. And then there are the 2,000 square meters in the upscale Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in which the cash-strapped city administration has been forced to rent space to Autogrill, the highway rest-area operator. A few steps away, there are ads for Nespresso and Samsung products hanging on the exterior wall of the Duomo.

Another sign of the crisis is that 2,615 companies in Milan alone have gone out of business in the last two years, and that "Rigolo," a popular watering hole for many Corriere journalists, is now half-empty in the evenings. Even in ordinary trattorias, guests often have nothing but a salad and coffee.

Next to Dolce&Gabbana's Gold Restaurant, which offers dishes such as roast Iberian pork with glazed chestnuts, people start lining up at 11 a.m. for a warm meal at the Capuchin monastery on Piazza Tricolore. The monastery now distributes 800,000 meals a year to Milan's poorest residents.

Those who would rather not wait until noon go to the southern part of the city where, in the early morning hours, people are already waiting for food behind the elite, private Bocconi University. The meals are distributed by Pane quotidiano, or "Daily Bread," a charity that has helped fight hunger since 1898 and has two centers in Milan.

Skyrocketing Poverty
The man who steps out of a Porsche Carrera 4S in front of Pane quotidiano on Viale Toscana looks like he had lost his way on the road to Hollywood, with his tanned skin, Rolex and expensive custom-made suit. He is Luigi Rossi, an adviser to Pane quotidiano, and the kind of fundraiser who can only exist in Milan. Rossi works in the financial sector, which helps when it comes to approaching the people he needs to help fight hunger: people from the executive suites of banks, from Corriere and from La Scala, with whom he can host charity concerts. He also works with executives from Beretta and Lindt, who donate cold cuts and chocolate.

"When I began here, we had 1,000 people a day," says Rossi, who has been working with Pane quotidiano for 12 years. "Now we have three times as many. The biggest crowds come on Saturdays, when Italians bring their children along."

Those people include 43-year-old Elisabetta di Rosa, from the Montegani housing development, who occasionally works as a cleaning woman and seamstress to feed her two children and one grandchild. Her first husband went missing, and her second one died. She lives on €500 a month. She says, without bitterness, that she'd need at least €800 to get by. Today is her youngest child's birthday, and she is in line to pick up bananas and milk.

According to the Italian statistics agency, 225,000 people are now living in poverty in Milan, a city of 1.3 million. In 2012, the occupants of 18,000 apartments in the city and surrounding areas were evicted for not paying rent. The homeless population has swelled to 14,000, of which about 10 percent are university graduates.

'Hard Work and Bad Weather'

The city's trade and tourism commissioner has his office near the Milan stock exchange, where a marble sculpture called "The Finger," a hand with an extended middle finger, symbolizes the decline of high finance. Franco d'Alfonso made headlines nationwide in July when, without naming the fashion icons Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who had been convicted of tax evasion, he suggested that city officials exercise more restraint when choosing which designers they should count on during the Milan Fashion Week. "We don't need to be represented by tax evaders," D'Alfonso said.

Dolce and Gabbana, who are estimated to be worth at least a billion euros, were each handed a 20-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a total of €400 million in back taxes. After D'Alfonso's comments, they were so "outraged" that they promptly closed their Milan boutiques for four days. And Gabbana tweeted that Milan's leftist city government was "disgusting."

Commissioner D'Alfonso basically prefers not to comment anymore on the case, but he repeats that tax evasion in times of crisis is "morally reprehensible." Until recently, his city had €4 billion in debt, and it cannot expect any help from Rome. For a time, the city was even forced to cut a subsidy to the minimum pension for the poor. The country as a whole is groaning under a debt burden of more than €2 trillion.

"Italy, the garden of the world -- it sounds like sunshine and mandolins," scoffs D'Alfonso, adding that his city is different from the rest of the country. "Milan has always had a bad reputation. All we have here is hard work and bad weather."

All hopes are now focused on the Expo 2015 in Milan. More than 20 million visitors are expected, and there is talk of more than €3 billion in investments, which might guarantee twice as much in revenues. Could the Expo help jump-start Milan, marking a turn for the better for the city and perhaps even for the entire country? Taxi drivers, restaurateurs and hotel operators hope it will. Even now, more than a year before the expo starts, guests at upscale hotels in Milan pay a €5 special tax per night to the city administration.

But, last Thursday, Expo organizers in Milan experienced a temporary but symbolic setback. A ceremony in which Prime Minister Enrico Letta was supposed to unveil the projects surrounding the Expo was cancelled at the last minute. The premier preferred to stay in Rome. He had more important things to do.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Last Edit: Nov 26, 2013, 07:20 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #10233 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:09 AM »

UK accuses Spain of breaching protocol with Gibraltar diplomatic bag search

Foreign Office says there is no justification for Spanish authorities searching bag at border of UK overseas territory

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid, Tuesday 26 November 2013 11.52 GMT    

The British government has accused Spain of a "serious infringement" of diplomatic protocol after Spanish authorities searched a diplomatic bag at the border with Gibraltar.

The Gibraltar Chronicle reported that Spanish Guardia Civil officers searched a sealed diplomatic bag as it was being taking from Gibraltar to Spain last Friday.

The contents of the bag are not known, nor why it was being taken overland across the border. Opening a sealed diplomatic bags is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) called it a "serious infringement" of the Vienna convention, and called on the Spanish government to investigate the incident and make sure it does not happen again.

"We take very seriously any reported abuse of the protocol surrounding use of the diplomatic bag," the FCO said.

"As far as we are concerned there is no justification for this infringement of the UK's rights under the Vienna convention." They added: "Diplomatic bags are inviolable."

The incident, the latest in the ongoing dispute between Madrid and London over the British outpost, comes one week after Britain summoned Spain's ambassador over what it called a "provocative incursion" by a Spanish vessel into Gibraltar's territorial waters.

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« Reply #10234 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Why Germany's strength is an illusion

Coalition negotiations could leave Angela Merkel in hock to the very people the voters didn't want and shelve vital economic reforms

Alan Posener   
The Guardian, Monday 25 November 2013 18.25 GMT   
So, in democracies the people elect their government, right? Well, not in Germany. Two months ago, the Germans gave Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats 41.5% of the vote. Her nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, got 25.7%. However, Merkel hasn't been able to get herself elected chancellor yet. She is still negotiating with the losers about forming a coalition. And the losers are dictating the agenda.

Welcome to proportional representation. This, together with the fractured nature of the electorate, ensures that the composition and the programme of governments are decided in backroom deals. Since Merkel couldn't gain an absolute majority, and since she lost her previous coalition partner – the liberal Free Democrats, who were voted out of parliament – she has to form a coalition with the Greens or the Social Democrats, the very people she claimed in the election would ruin the country. It's enough to make you a cynic about democracy. The Greens declined; the Social Democrats agreed to negotiate.

Second, welcome to Merkel's modus operandi, which is to let things drift until the very last moment. The coalition talks are to be wrapped up on Friday, and still nobody knows who will get what, and how much of the wish list the negotiators from both sides have drawn up will make its way into Merkel's programme.

And third, brinkmanship. Sigmar Gabriel, the SDP leader, has promised his party that the coalition agreement will be subjected to a plebiscite of the party rank and file. It's a bit like David Cameron promising a referendum on British EU membership in the hope that this will force the other member states to give him what he wants. Unlike Cameron, however, Gabriel seems to be getting away with it.

This means that a tiny fraction of the electorate – the Social Democrats have been leaking members for years – will decide whether we get a new government or have to go to the polls again. And since, as with all parties everywhere, the party faithful are more radical than a party's voters, Gabriel has been able to use the prospect of their rejecting the coalition agreement to put what he calls "social democratic handwriting" on it.

It seems likely that the agreement will include a minimum wage of €8.50; higher pensions for non-working mothers and the poor; more exemptions from the pension age of 67; rent controls in cities like Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich; and other entitlements and sops to anti-capitalist feeling. This may seem like good news for Germany's struggling "partners" in the eurozone, as it will reduce its competitiveness. And as it will put more money in the hands of pensioners, a splurge on handouts also goes some way to countering the charges made by the European commission that Germany is pursuing a mercantilist (trade) policy at the expense of the rest of the EU.

However, the emphasis on money for pensioners, rather than for education; handouts for retirement-age mothers rather than help for young mothers; rent controls rather than innovative social housing – in a word on policies that either cater directly to the grey-haired majority or reflect its views – is symbolic. Germany may look like the strong man of Europe but its underlying weaknesses are obvious.

Germany is ageing and shrinking. France and Britain will overtake it soon, in terms of population. Too few women enter the workforce and they have too few children. Germany is over-reliant on industry and underperforms in services. Over half of every generation leaves school after 10 years, often with only a rudimentary knowledge of English and similar cultural skills. Immigrants are still not welcome. Most of these problems could be fixed with quotas for women in senior management and for immigrants in the civil service and the police; allowing dual citizenship; and encouraging kids to stay at school. But these reforms are unlikely to happen.

No, it's not good news. And it gets worse. As part of his pivot to the left, Gabriel has promised that the Social Democrats will be open to coalitions with the Left party, the heirs of the East German Communists. Since the SPD, the Left and the Greens already hold a majority in parliament, the temptation for Gabriel to break with Merkel in, say, two years to form a "red-red-green" coalition with himself as chancellor could become irresistible. And then Germany will be in real trouble. As I said, in other countries you get more or less the government you voted for. Not here.


11/26/2013 12:36 PM

Non-Apology Tour: US Lawmakers in Berlin over NSA Scandal

By Raniah Salloum

The Obama administration dispatched two lawmakers to Berlin this week to help ease concerns about the NSA spying scandal. Yet the word "sorry" never crossed their lips.

Under normal circumstances, it would have been a pleasant evening: Trans-Atlantic partners have a drink together, chat about world politics and reassure each other about how much they value their relationship. Yet the National Security Agency spying scandal turned a visit by two US representatives to Berlin on Monday into an excruciating session of couples therapy, with serious accusations on both sides.

The two-man delegation, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Representative Gregory Meeks of New York, both Democrats, were sent by Washington to get a feel for the sentiment in Berlin ahead of a potential visit by Secretary of State John Kerry to greet a new German government.

For decades, Germany thought of itself as a close partner of Washington. Then, as the extent of the NSA's surveillance became clear, it was abruptly forced to draw a new conclusion: Germany is a third-class ally that the US trusts so little that it monitors German phone calls, emails and text messages. It even tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

"We understand the depth of the damage that has been done," said Senator Murphy, 40, an up-and-coming politician with foreign policy ambitions. Speaking later at the Bertelsmann Stiftung think tank, he acknowledged European skepticism over President Barack Obama's orders to review US surveillance practices. "I know to many this looks like window-dressing," he said. "But this president is sincere."

The press conference with acting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday evening was the only public appearance that Meeks and Murphy made. They met earlier with other German officials, including Thomas Oppermann, chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee on German intelligence, and will travel to Brussels on Tuesday.

US Also Unsatisfied with Relationship

Things can only get better in the future, Murphy said at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. The planned free-trade agreement between the European Union and the US was almost like a "honeymoon," he said. And "oh boy," he mused rhetorically, wouldn't it be great if we could work together more closely on security matters? The question sounded almost accusatory, implying that Washington, too, was unhappy with the current state of trans-Atlantic relations.

Victoria Nuland, newly appointed assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said it more explicitly at the Atlantic Council in Washington earlier this month. "I'm also dismayed that allies expect to sleep safely at night on the cheap," she said. In other words, Europeans can't keep cutting their defense budgets and expect the US to pick up the tab and play world police.

Murphy also admonished Germans not to forget that the US is not the only bad guy. The analysis of metadata, he said, was conducted in cooperation with German intelligence.

The word "sorry" never once crossed the lips of the senator. The closest he came to it was saying he personally found "no excuse" for the monitoring of Chancellor Merkel's mobile phone, and that he was glad that it was over.

'Good People' Running Surveillance

When it came time for questions from the audience, German Internet activist and Pirate Party member Anke Domscheit-Berg raised her hand. But, rather than a question, she had prepared a long statement. "I admired Obama," she said. "Now I'm disappointed." The United States was using "totalitarian methods" that remind her of the time under the communist government of East Germany.

Murphy answered that there were "good people" running the surveillance programs. He said he understood that each side sees the trans-Atlantic relationship from its own perspective -- the Germans have their history, "and we have 9/11." The mutual -- he repeats, mutual -- surveillance programs prevented attacks in Europe and the United States.

The subject of Edward Snowden, whom many in Germany see as a hero, prompted a warning from Murphy. He described Snowden as someone who shared information with countries like Russia and China, implicitly calling Snowden a traitor. And the United States would certainly not be pleased if Germany invited him to testify here, he said. Meeks echoed that he agreed with Murphy "100 percent" on the matter.

Meeks, 60, represents part of the Queens borough of New York City. He mostly left the stage to Murphy, who chairs the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on European affairs. Yet, when the exchange of words threatened to become derailed, Meeks stepped in to mediate.

He said that he, too, was concerned about striking the right balance between security and privacy, and that he knew what it's like to feel collectively under suspicion, mentioning the African-American civil rights movement.

Murphy said he didn't want to linger on the past, but preferred to look toward the future. Meeks said working on improving trans-Atlantic relations would be a painstaking process, but that nothing worth so much is easy.


11/25/2013 04:58 PM

Art Investigation: 'Empathy Alone Doesn't Help Us Any Further'

Interview by Dietmar Hipp and Conny Neumann

Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback has defended the controversial handling of the trove of possibly looted art in a Munich apartment. He has also called for a new law to lift the statute of limitations in such cases in the future.

Winfried Bausback, 48, is a law professor who has been a member of the Bavarian state government with the conservative Christian Social Union party since October.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Bausback, has the public prosecutor's office in the city of Augsburg consistently conducted itself in an absolutely correct manner in the case of Munich art collector Cornelius Gurlitt?

Bausback: The confiscation was based on a court order. As a minister, I am in no position to comment on this. But there is another level that concerns our responsibility to come to terms with the crimes committed under the Nazi reign of terror, and this is important for the image of Bavaria and Germany around the world. Too much time has elapsed on this level since the paintings were confiscated in 2012 without us making sufficient progress in clearing up the provenance of many of these works. There is no doubt that everyone involved on the federal and state level should have tackled this challenge with more urgency and resources right from the start.

SPIEGEL: Who bungled it?

Bausback: As a minister who has just taken this office, I don't want to point the finger at anyone

SPIEGEL: Gurlitt came to the attention of officials during a customs inspection in September 2010. When was the Justice Ministry informed?

Bausback: Extensive investigations preceded the search of Gurlitt's apartment and the confiscation. During the period before the case was made public by the media, there were five reports here in the ministry, two of which reached the minister's office, although apparently not the top political level of our department.

SPIEGEL: What criminal allegations constitute the basis for the confiscation?

Bausback: Tax-related allegations in connection with art objects. The pictures and other things were confiscated as evidence.

SPIEGEL: Actually it had to do with the sale of a single painting. Did that mean that the authorities had to go ahead and cart off the entire art trove that Gurlitt had in his apartment?

Bausback: To protect tax confidentiality and Mr. Gurlitt's rights -- and because this is an ongoing investigation -- I don't want to make any public statements about the details of this case. As a general rule, every defendant in a criminal case has recourse to legal remedies to redress confiscations.

SPIEGEL: Gurlitt thinks that he will get the pictures back without resorting to such measures. Are you glad that he still hasn't hired a lawyer?

Bausback: He has every right to decide whether he wants to be represented by an attorney and how he defends himself.

SPIEGEL: If Gurlitt had evaded paying taxes when he sold the painting in question, it would have fallen under the statute of limitations. The sale was 20 years ago. The charge of embezzlement, which the public prosecutor is apparently considering, would also be barred by the statute of limitations. If Gurlitt has misappropriated someone else's property, then this happened in 1967, when he inherited the paintings. Isn't it inadmissible to confiscate evidence for offenses that exceed the statute of limitations?

Bausback: It is up to the public prosecutor to evaluate the legal situation.

SPIEGEL: Then you unfortunately cannot counteract the impression that the state has conducted a fairly big robbery here.

Bausback: Confiscating evidence during an investigation conducted on the basis of a court order is not, in my opinion, a robbery. The public prosecutor's office does not intend to illegally acquire the paintings for itself or for others.

SPIEGEL: But is it fair to come to terms with German history at Gurlitt's expense? Anyone who is of the opinion that he or she owns these pictures should take up the matter with Gurlitt. A public prosecutor does not normally confiscate a painting just because someone says: "That actually belongs to me." And you can only assign your task force to deal with the matter because this art trove is now in the hands of the state.

Bausback: Confiscations take place according to the code of criminal procedure for objects that are important pieces of evidence. You are mixing the two levels.

SPIEGEL: Pictures that are "unequivocally" Gurlitt's property are now to be returned. Isn't this turning the presumption of innocence on its head?

Bausback: On the contrary, this protects his rights. Evidence that is no longer required shall always be returned to the last individual who had it in his or her possession. But if there is reason to suspect that pictures actually belong to someone else, it's a different story. If the public prosecutor's office is aware of substantiated claims by third parties to looted art, for instance, it may not return the pictures to the last individual who had them in his or her possession.

SPIEGEL: Legal experts who we have questioned express serious doubt about this.

Bausback: I presume that Mr. Gurlitt's rights will be safeguarded during this process. These are complex legal questions, and they require complex solutions. Of course it also has to do with other issues -- particularly with regard to the paintings, which could be qualified as looted art and "degenerate art" -- and these matters should be resolved in a dialogue.

SPIEGEL: So far, there has been no dialogue with Mr. Gurlitt.

Bausback: I think I have sent out a very clear signal, and I will continue to endeavor to do so. To start with, I think it would now be advisable for someone from the task force who is knowledgeable about art to speak with Mr. Gurlitt.

SPIEGEL: What if he refuses to return looted art -- or paintings that were confiscated according to laws enacted under Nazi Germany -- to the heirs of the former victims? Even if these individuals could still be deemed the owners of the artwork, their civil claims to recover their property expired after 30 years. They lapsed a long time ago.

Bausback: It would be difficult for me to accept that our response to the restitution claims of such owners is that their demands are subject to the statute of limitations. I have therefore instructed my ministry to draw up draft legislation that we soon intend to put forward for debate. This legislation would prevent someone who acquired something in bad faith -- in other words, who knew that the pictures or other objects that he or she had purchased or inherited were sold under pressure by their owners -- from invoking the limitation period for claims under civil law.

SPIEGEL: Would this also apply retroactively, in other words also be valid for this case?

Bausback: Yes. It is constitutionally somewhat problematic, but we believe that it can be justified.

SPIEGEL: Do you want to increase the pressure on Gurlitt to force him to give in sooner?

Bausback: No. I don't want pressure; I want dialogue. But I want to tackle a general problem that is of great concern to me. I would also like to clarify that there will be no horse trading along the lines of immunity from prosecution in return for renouncing ownership of the paintings. This has to do with dialogue and how we now deal with the pictures, not with the criminal case. I hope that Mr. Gurlitt will be open to this.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps you would have more luck with Gurlitt if you showed greater understanding for his position?

Bausback: As a fellow human being, I can sympathize to a certain extent with Mr. Gurlitt. But showing empathy alone doesn't help us any further.

SPIEGEL: But perhaps you have a message for Gurlitt?

Bausback: I would appreciate it if he could manage to contribute to a constructive solution. I hope in any case that he has the strength to deal with the situation in such a manner that he is also satisfied with the outcome.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


11/26/2013 12:41 PM

Gender Quotas: How German Firms Help Women Get Ahead


Germany's plans to introduce a gender quota will cause fewer problems for companies than some critics are willing to admit. Many firms have already made changes, promoting female talent and bringing women into management.

Something exceptional must have happened for Annette Widmann-Mauz to see her name mentioned in the online edition of the New Yorker. The German lawmaker from the southwestern city of Tübingen, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is the parliamentary secretary of state in the German Health Ministry, a position that doesn't garner much recognition outside professional circles.

But last Tuesday, the magazine quoted the politician after negotiators for the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) had agreed to a statutory gender quota during their coalition talks. Under the agreement, 30 percent of open positions on company supervisory boards are to be reserved for women, beginning in 2016. The agreement, says Widmann-Mauz, marks a "a cultural shift in the corporate sector."

If the howls of protest immediately following her statement are any indication, Widmann-Mauz is probably right. According to corporate executives and business associations, the government-imposed quota constitutes a substantial intrusion into corporate freedom and fails to reflect the unique aspects of certain industries.

They also protested that the new rule would impair competitiveness because there are simply not enough qualified women. The chief lobbyist of German industry, Federation of German Industries (BDI) President Ulrich Grillo, even went so far as to say that management positions, including those on supervisory boards, should be "filled on the basis of suitability and performance."

Oh really?

This seems self-evident, even in Germany, where men have dominated corporate management and supervisory boards for decades, and the debate over putting more women in top jobs has often been derided. The situation in the 160 most important, publicly traded companies remains sobering: Women make up 17.4 percent of supervisory boards and only 6.1 percent of management boards.

Germany's laws on co-determination, which guarantee employees seats on supervisory boards, have narrowed the gender gap to some extent. Labor representatives on supervisory boards have filled about 24 percent of the 638 seats to which they are entitled with women. For representatives of capital investors on supervisory boards, the figure is only 13 percent, and in 58 of the 160 companies, not a single woman represents the capital side on supervisory boards.

Broken Promise

This is the situation 12 years after German industry made a voluntary commitment to more gender equality. In 2001, industry leaders promised to increase the share of women in management, precisely with the aim of circumventing a legal mandate. "If industry had taken the voluntary commitment seriously, it wouldn't be whining about the statutory quota today," says Monika Schulz-Strelow, president of the Initiative for More Women on Supervisory Boards (FidAR). She believes that the agreement marks a paradigm shift. "It's no longer a question of nice-to-have," she says, "but of necessary-to-have."

But will the quota truly change the German economy as fundamentally as the reactions would suggest?

The fact is that the coalition compromise isn't nearly as groundbreaking as it appears to be. The SPD and CDU negotiators have merely agreed that, starting in 2016, "a gender quota of at least 30 percent" will apply when open positions are filled on supervisory boards, as the document developed by the two major parties states. This would mean that a third of all supervisory board members would be women by 2020. Besides, the quota only applies to the exclusive circle of companies that are publicly traded and fully required to comply with co-determination laws.

There will be no fixed quota for the far more important positions in top management. Instead, the parties' negotiators agreed on a voluntary commitment by companies, which is strongly reminiscent of the controversial "flexible quota" model proposed by Family Minister Kristina Schröder (CDU).

The roughly 2,000 publicly traded companies or companies required to comply with co-determination laws must establish "binding targets for increasing the share of women on the supervisory board and the management board, and at the highest levels of management." However, there has been no mention yet of sanctions for non-compliance.

Some Firms Making Changes

As half-hearted as the coalition plans are, the years-long debate over a gender quota has led many business leaders to recognize that they will not be able to make do without female senior executives in the future. This has even resulted in some rethinking by opponents of a legal mandate, such as Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche.

Zetsche, like many other corporate leaders, is opposed to a gender quota mandated by law. However, he has set an internal goal for Daimler: to double the share of women in leadership positions from 10 to 20 percent by 2020. Daimler was the first automaker to bring a woman, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, onto the management board. And Zetsche is also putting male managers under pressure by threatening to reduce bonuses for those who do not promote enough women. The argument that women are now being promoted simply because they are women is "basically bullshit," says Zetsche, noting that he is not aware of any case in which the promotion of a woman has later proved to be a mistake. "I am aware of a few such cases with men," he adds.

On the supervisory board, at least on the capital investor side, Daimler is already meeting the 30-percent target now being discussed. Three of the 10 members on the capital side are women: former Nokia executive Sari Baldauf, former Nestlé Executive Vice President Petraea Heynike and former Avon CEO Andrea Jung. The women are from Finland, the United Kingdom and Canada, thereby also bringing more of an international flavor to the supervisory board. This has improved debate within the board, say male members.

Other major corporations have also reacted to the changing environment. In March 2010, Deutsche Telekom was the first company listed on Germany's DAX stock index to announce that it plans to place women in 30 percent of middle and upper management positions by the end of 2015.

The example of Lufthansa shows that it is possible to fulfill the quota. The airline's supervisory board adopted a resolution to increase the share of women in management, and the company is also changing its corporate culture to this end. Leadership positions throughout the company will now be filled in a way that satisfies certain criteria, including gender and nationality.

Energy giant RWE, based in the western city of Essen, is taking a different approach. It currently has only one woman on the capital side of its supervisory board, but it has also made a voluntary commitment to double the share of women in management positions by 2018. The company has a very active women's network, let by Marie-Theres Thiell, managing director of RWE East in Prague. Her lobbying even led the management to adopt the goals of the "Women on Supervisory Boards" initiative. CEO Peter Terium says: "RWE wants more women on supervisory boards and in top management, because it's an important tool in better positioning the German economy for the future."

Under the energy company's plans, it will be standard procedure to nominate women already working for RWE for supervisory board positions opening up within RWE subsidiaries. The company offers them special training programs.

Pool of Female Candidates
Claudia Gläser has completed one of these programs. The 44-year-old mechanical engineer has been the managing director of Gläser GmbH, a mid-sized company in the field of hydraulics and plant manufacturing, for 11 years. Gläser manages 60 employees in a company where about 40 percent of employees are women. "I have always made sure that we have a healthy mix and, most of all, that we hire the best people," she says. She notes that woman often have better degrees than men, even in technical fields.

Gläser is also head of the Union of Women Entrepreneurs (VdU), and a clear proponent of the quota. The VdU began developing a pool of female candidates in 2011, "to finally invalidate the knockout argument that there aren't enough qualified women." The pool includes profiles for 400 women in top management positions, of which about 150 were trained for working on supervisory boards in collaboration with the PwC consulting firm. "Now how many male candidates can make that claim?" Gläser asks.

Recruitment consultants are quick to point out that the lack of women in top positions is not the result of a lack of qualified female candidates. "We have expressly looked for women in recent years, have found them and have recommended them to companies," says a senior manager at a large recruitment agency. But even though companies claimed they wanted to hire women, most jobs ultimately went to a man, and not always those with better qualifications. Critics of the quota, however, argue that there are too few suitable women.

A person working on a supervisory board must have high qualifications and a broad understanding of companies and the economy, and must also bring in specialized expertise in certain areas, to enable them to carry out effective control in all kinds of areas, says Ulrich Lehner, former chairman of the chemical products company Henkel and, with his many board memberships, one of the most influential business executives in Germany.

Truly effective supervisors serve on so many boards that taking on yet another position is usually out of the question, because they would be stretched too thin, says Lehner. Qualified women -- so-called "golden skirts" -- have been inundated with inquiries, he explains. He is referring to such high-profile supervisory board members as Simone Bagel-Trah, Ann-Kristin Achleitner and Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller.

Is Fear at Work?

But there is no risk of the gender quota leading to a dictatorship of the "golden skirts." The male contingent is probably more concerned that the growing number of female supervisory board members could lead to the definitive end of male dominance. For decades, the "Deutschland AG" corporate system, with its network of cross-shareholdings, was a men's club where the top positions were distributed between members. In a bid to counter that, the maximum number of supervisory board positions per person was limited to 10.

Currently only 10 female representatives of the capital side on the supervisory boards of the 160 publicly traded companies hold two board positions simultaneously, while only three women hold three positions each, according to an analysis by the Kienbaum human resource consulting firm. In the 30 companies that make up the DAX index, only 13 percent of women supervisory board members hold more than one seat, compared with 17 percent among their male counterparts.

The men will simply have to get used to dealing with more women in the future, even if some still find it difficult. For instance, one fund manager at the last Daimler annual shareholders' meeting criticized the appointment of former Avon CEO Jung to the supervisory board. He noted that the board would be better off improving its automotive competency than "cosmetically increasing the gender quota."

That was too much even for Daimler Supervisory Board Chairman Manfred Bischoff. "We don't make cars on the supervisory board," he said. Andrea Jung, he added, could contribute her experience in the important US market to the board, in addition to her outstanding management credentials. One ought to think that would be enough.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


11/25/2013 06:20 PM

Growing Risks: Government Bond Holdings Could Burden Banks

By Martin Hesse and Christoph Pauly

European banks hold increasingly large shares of government bonds as a result of the debt crisis. If those states default and can no longer service their debt, it could lead to massive losses. Germany's Bundesbank is pushing for new rules at the ECB.

German consulting firm Roland Berger did its bit for German-Italian relations last week when it named the head of Italy's UniCredit, Federico Ghizzoni, as "Italo-German Manager of the Year."

The ego massage is expected to boost strained ties between Germany and Italy. A manager for UniCredit, Italy's largest bank, recently accused Jens Weidmann, president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, of harboring a basic mistrust of Italy. The rift was quickly patched up following a flurry of diplomacy, but potentially deeper divisions loom on the horizon.

UniCredit, which has €46 billion ($62.1 billion) of sovereign debt on its books, is one of a number of European banks that have purchased enormous quantities of government bonds from their own country. In Italy, Spain and elsewhere the lending institutions have become the leading financiers of their own states. This may please their respective governments, but it also entails risks. If, at a certain point, a state can no longer service its debts, the banks could suffer huge losses. Consequently, many economists -- above all Bundesbank President Weidmann -- are urging the introduction of new regulations to break the so-called feedback loop between governments and private banks.

A Dilemma for the ECB

The Bundesbank proposal is well-intentioned, but it has drawbacks: It puts cash-strapped banks and crisis-ridden states in a bind. And, perhaps more urgently, it creates a dilemma for the European Central Bank (ECB), which is set to evaluate the stability of the euro zone's largest banks. Before the ECB assumes its new supervisory authority over euro-area banks in 2014, it intends to review their balance sheets, weed out toxic assets and evaluate whether these institutions are adequately prepared to weather future market turbulence.

While the ECB wants to test the potential impact that losses from sovereign bonds would have on euro banks, there is debate over how rigorously sovereign holdings should be assessed. Weidmann's proposal, which could mean more banks would ultimately fail the tests, is likely to compound the challenges facing the ECB.

A team of 15 economic and financial advisers to the ECB's European Systematic Risk Board -- founded by the EU in late 2010 and tasked with recognizing and eliminating risks in the financial system -- were recently reminded of the politically sensitive nature of the topic of sovereign bonds. Doing their due diligence, the advisers had presented the board with recommendations on how to unravel the intricate ties between banks and sovereigns.

The experts came to the conclusion that when, for example, Spanish banks primarily hold Spanish sovereign bonds, and Irish financial institutions predominately hold Irish government bonds, this poses a risk that is comparable to when a bank grants a large proportion of its loans to a single company. To avoid such concentrations of risk, the advisers suggested that the banks be required to limit their sovereign bonds to a predetermined proportion of their investments. Another possibility would be to buttress these bonds with capital reserves, which would at least make it possible to adequately contain the risk over the medium term.

However, if such rules were introduced for banks, euro-zone states would have to find entirely new ways to finance themselves in the future. ECB President Mario Draghi immediately recognized the potentially explosive nature of these proposals. He returned the recommendations "for revision" to the financial advisory committee, which includes German economists Martin Hellwig, of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, and Claudia Buch, the head of the Halle Institute for Economic Research. The economists declined to comment on Draghi's request.

Credit Limits?

Central bank officials are concerned that a fundamental debate on the risky system of state financing could come at an inopportune moment. Still, Draghi is also worried that the ECB's authority could be undermined before it even takes over banking supervision, if the risks of a national bankruptcy are simply ignored during the stress test. "We have to make a decision here," he told the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs at the European Parliament in September, and promised that there would be an "initial communication" in mid-October.

But Europe's banks and governments have been waiting in vain for Frankfurt to lay down the law on sovereign bonds. Part of the reason for hesitation is that Draghi doesn't have a majority on the ECB Governing Council to back a plan for risk-weighting sovereign debt on bank balance sheets. "The battle lines are drawn according to the degree of impact," says an individual who is taking part in the discussions.

Southern European countries are particularly reticent to change the current standards. Until now, banks have had to maintain absolutely no capital reserves to safeguard sovereign bonds, as if there were no risk involved. For instance, Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo has acquired some €100 billion ($135 billion) in bonds issued by its own government.

ECB monetary policy plays a role in all of this, too. For years, it has been supplying euro-zone banks with cheap liquidity in a bid to boost the economy. But Italian banks are not using those funds to grant loans to Italian companies. Instead, they have increased their holdings of sovereign bonds since late 2011 from €240 billion to €415 billion.

"We are observing an evasive reaction that we have caused ourselves through monetary policy interventions," argues Weidmann. Indeed, he thinks it is necessary "that we treat sovereign bonds the way we treat corporate bonds." According to normal banking practice, financial institutions are only allowed to grant companies loans up to a certain limit. In Weidmann's opinion, a similar credit limit should also be introduced for states -- specifically, the bonds issued by each individual country.

A Political Issue

Experts like Daniel Gros, the director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, take a similar view. "The most consistent instrument for dealing with sovereign bonds would be the use of credit limits," says Gros, who is also a member of the advisory committee of the European Systematic Risk Board. Gros notes that it may be advisable to set aside capital to cover the sovereign debt, depending on the level of risk. "We should not orient ourselves according to ratings here, but simply according to the level of sovereign debt in relation to the gross domestic product."

The ECB does not plan to include such fundamental considerations in next year's stress test. But to make the test credible, the central bank has to somehow take into account the risk of sovereign debt on banks' balance sheets. The financial markets realized long ago that sovereign bonds constitute a risk for the banks. The rating agency Standard&Poor's (S&P) already calculates deductions for these risks when it assesses the creditworthiness of banks. This is one reason why S&P says that European financial institutions are generally not as well-capitalized as they portray themselves.

"There are banks whose risks are too strongly concentrated on the sovereign loans of individual countries," says S&P bank analyst Markus Schmaus. He thinks it would make sense for the stress test to simulate possible losses, and thus identify the corresponding need for capital.

Nevertheless, Schmaus realizes that this is a highly political issue: "By adjusting the sovereign bond lever, you can fairly well control the result of the entire stress test."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #10235 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Scotland unveils blueprint for independence and its own defense force

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:36 EST

An independent Scotland would keep Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch but create its own defence force, nationalist leader Alex Salmond said Tuesday as he unveiled detailed proposals ahead of next year’s historic referendum.

Launching his regional government’s long-awaited “white paper” on independence, Salmond said he could build a “wealthier and fairer nation” if Scots vote next September to end the 300-year-old union with London.

“We’d become independent in more promising circumstances than virtually any other nation in history,” Salmond, the first minister, told a packed news conference in Scotland’s biggest city Glasgow.

“Ultimately at the heart of this debate there is only one question and one choice.

“Do we, the people who live and work in Scotland, believe that we are the best people to take decisions about Scotland’s future?”

Among the proposals in the 670-page tome, an independent Scotland would take 90 percent of revenues from the North Sea oil reserves lying off its shores and would no longer play host to Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — both highly contentious issues.

Salmond did admit however that while Scotland had “huge” hydrocarbon resources for another 50 years, “we need to build renewable wealth which will last forever”.

An independent Scotland would continue to use the pound as its currency, but would ditch the BBC as its national broadcaster.

With 10 months to go until the vote, Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) is struggling to convince Scots — some 38 percent are currently planning to vote for independence, according to a Panelbase survey for the Sunday Times, while 47 would vote against.

Salmond insisted there was a strong economic case for independence and that Scotland’s “immense” natural resources would guarantee a prosperous future.

His deputy Nichola Sturgeon said the document “puts beyond any doubt that Scotland can afford to be independent”.

But Salmond added that the new country would also have to tackle a “legacy of debt, low growth and social inequality” bequeathed to it by the London government.

The white paper sets out Salmond’s vision of how he believes independence would affect Scots, from taxation and pensions to welfare, education and defence.

The white paper says a vote against independence would mean “Scotland stands still”.

But Britain’s former finance minister Alistair Darling, who is leading the “no” campaign, said it was “complete fantasy to believe that you can leave the UK but keep all the benefits of being part of it”.

“This document will be judged on its credibility,” he told BBC radio.

“No one is going to tell me that all the good things will stay north of the border and all the bad things will go to the south.”

Scots are generally “pretty sceptical about the whole idea of independence”, he added.

Britain’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander warned Salmond on Tuesday that under independence the average basic rate taxpayer in Scotland would face a tax rise of £1,000 (1,200 euros, $1,600) a year by the end of the decade.

“This is a very stark reminder of why it is in the interest of Scotland to pool these risks, not go it alone,” he wrote in a letter.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government is pushing hard for a “no” vote in the referendum.

Scots will be able to request a hard copy of the white paper, and it will also be available to read online.

The document plans for Scotland to celebrate its independence day on March 24, 2016 and hold its first parliamentary elections in May 2016.

March 24 has a symbolic importance because it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Acts of Union in 1707, which joined Scotland and England into a single kingdom.

Scotland’s devolved government currently has control over a range of policies including health and education, but other key policy areas — including defence, foreign policy and welfare — are still controlled by London.

Salmond’s critics warn that a “yes” vote would throw up huge headaches for Edinburgh and London.

Rejoining the European Union and NATO could also be problematic, the “no” camp claims.

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« Reply #10236 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:29 AM »

British women having lesbian sex has quadrupled in 20 years

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 20:03 EST

London (AFP) – The number of British women having lesbian encounters has quadrupled in the last 20 years, according to the largest-ever survey of Britain’s sexual habits which was published on Tuesday.

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which quizzed more than 15,000 Britons about their sex lives, found that nearly eight percent of women had been with female partners, compared to just 1.8 percent in 1990.

In contrast, the number of men having gay sex has remained more stable over the same period, and now stands at 4.8 percent according to the findings published in the Lancet medical journal.

Professor Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which co-ran the study, said there had been a “remarkable” change in women’s sexual behaviour since the first survey two decades ago.

“In some areas of sexual behaviour we have seen a narrowing of the gender gap, but in others we have seen women overtaking men in the diversity of their behaviour,” she said.

The trends need to be seen “against the backdrop of the profound changes in the position of women in society, the norms governing their lifestyles, and media representations of female sexuality”, she added.

British women have twice as many sexual partners over a lifetime as they did 20 years ago — the figure now is 7.7 on average.

Men also have more partners than before — around 12 over a lifetime, up from 8.6 — but the smaller increase suggests “a narrowing of the gender gap”, according to the study.

Elsewhere the survey found that Britons are having sex less often but are enjoying it well into their seventies.

The average Briton has intercourse less than five times a month, compared to more than six times a month a decade ago.

The study said the drop was explained partly by the fact that more Britons live alone than before, meaning they have “less opportunity to have sex” and by the economy.

“In a recession we find an association between unemployment and a low number of sexual partners, perhaps due to low self-esteem,” explained Wellings.

Many older Britons, meanwhile, said their age had not stopped them from having sex — some 60 percent of men and 42 percent of women aged between 65 and 74 said they had at least one sexual partner in the last year.

The new survey is the first in the project’s 20-year history to question people aged up to 74.

At the other end of the spectrum, around a third of both men and women in Britain are having sex before the legal age of 16, the survey found.

While attitudes towards gay sex have become more liberal, Britons have become more disapproving of adultery than they were 20 years ago.

Around two thirds of Britons disapprove of non-exclusivity in marriage — up from around half before.

“We tend to think that these days we live in an increasingly sexually liberal society, but the truth is far more complex,” said Professor Anne Johnson of University College London, which also worked on the project.


British ‘slavery’ case kidnappers were Maoists

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:04 EST

A couple who allegedly held three women as “slaves” in a London house for 30 years were prominent Maoist activists in the 1970s, according to media reports.

The couple, named by British newspapers as Indian-born Aravindan Balakrishnan and his Tanzanian wife Chanda, were arrested Thursday after their three alleged captives were freed in a police operation.

One of the victims, aged 30, is believed to have spent her entire life in servitude.

It was also reported in Britain’s press on Tuesday that a female member of the sect died after falling from a bathroom window at the house in 1996.

Police are looking into the death of Sian Davies, 44, who fell two floors on Christmas Eve. She was left paralysed and died in August 1997.

A Marxist history website said Balakrishnan, 73, was a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) but had been suspended in 1974 because of the “conspiratorial and splittist activities” of his “clique”.

The website also said Balakrishnan, dubbed “Comrade Bala”, had been arrested in 1978 along with his wife during an attempt by police to shut down a Maoist centre in south London’s Brixton area.

Police have confirmed the couple were arrested in the 1970s, but have not said why.

Detectives have refused to confirm the identities of the couple, who have been bailed until January pending further investigations.

The three “slaves” — a 57-year-old Irish woman, a Malaysian aged 69 and the 30-year-old Briton — were freed on October 25 after one of them secretly contacted a charity.

Police said the women, who are believed to have been living in a flat in Brixton, were brainwashed and had reported being beating, but did not appear to have been sexually abused.

They were occasionally allowed out of the house and detectives are working to understand the “invisible handcuffs” that were used to control them.

Police revealed on Saturday that the two older victims had met their male captor through a “shared political ideology” and initially lived with him as part of a collective.

Meanwhile media reported that the youngest of the victims, named by The Sun newspaper as “Rosie”, had bombarded a male neighbour with love letters but warned him not to confront her “mad and evil” captors.

“I’m like a fly trapped in a spider’s web,” she reportedly told 26-year-old Marius Feneck in one of around 500 letters sent to him over eight years.

“These monsters here are mad and evil and racist — they’ve locked all doors and windows and keep keys on themselves at all times,” she is said to have written.

Police said Monday they were investigating 13 addresses linked to the couple, who came to Britain in the 1960s and are suspected of immigration offences as well as involvement in forced labour.

Detectives carried out house-to-house inquiries at the weekend in Brixton, one of London’s poorer, more ethnically-diverse districts that was the scene of notorious anti-government riots in the 1980s.

The exact address where the women were held has not been identified, but the police operation centred on a modern, low-rise block of flats in Brixton’s Peckford Place.

Specially-trained officers are now working with the women to try to understand what happened to them. All 37 officers in Scotland Yard’s Human Trafficking Unit are working on the investigation.

Home Secretary Theresa May said on Sunday that tackling modern slavery in Britain was a “personal priority” and that other victims were “hidden in plain sight”.

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Iran sanctions to be eased as US and west work out full Geneva deal

Oil revenues to be paid to Tehran in first phase of nuclear agreement, with warmer relations expected across region

Ian Traynor in Brussels, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger, Monday 25 November 2013 19.08 GMT   

Link to video: Iran nuclear deal: west will ease sanctions, says William Hague

The west is likely to start easing crippling sanctions on Iran in the new year, following the breakthrough agreement in Geneva to freeze and reverse Iran's nuclear programme.

"The focus for the coming weeks has to be swift implementation," said a senior western diplomat.

The accord reached in Geneva on Sunday morning represents a first, six-month phase of a process in which Iran will accept limits on its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

According to US calculations, the interim deal will be worth up to $7bn (£4.3bn) to Iran, made up of $4.2bn in Iranian oil sales revenue unblocked from frozen accounts; $1bn repatriated from petrochemical sales; a possible $500m in extra production and sales by the Iranian car industry due to the lifting of the ban on imports of car parts; and the unblocking of $400m in Iranian frozen assets to help pay the costs of Iranian students abroad. A suspension on a ban on Iran's trade in gold and other precious metals is expected to bring in smaller amounts.

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said EU ministers would discuss the lifting of partial sanctions as early as December and that a "Europe-wide" decision was necessary for easing some of the punitive measures that the EU has imposed on Tehran. "[That meeting] is expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is limited, targeted and reversible," he told radio station Europe 1.

The Geneva deal, struck between Iran and a six-nation group comprising the US, three European states, Russia and China, mediated by the EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, is expected to trigger a flurry of diplomacy. This will include an EU initiative to try to reassure Iran's regional rivals, enemies and sceptics, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, of the value of an agreement that, for the first time in a decade, has Tehran agreeing to roll back its nuclear projects under intrusive daily inspection by United Nations monitors.

European and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts are to confer this week on how to verify the implementation of the accord in Iran, which will rely heavily on IAEA expertise and manpower to inspect Iran's nuclear-related sites.

Diplomatic efforts will also be made to bolster Iranian reformists under President Hassan Rouhani to try to reinforce his flanks against a conservative backlash in Iran.

"The [Iranian] government can show they are really delivering on their promise to improve relations with the west," said a senior diplomat. "I hope it will change Iran's relations, particularly with the west, for the better. This will hopefully recreate more confidence and trust. I know that for countries in the region there are other issues that are very important – that is Iran's regional role."

Ashton and the six-nation group will soon start work preparing further negotiations with the Iranians with a view to sealing a final settlement within six months. The task could be far more challenging than clinching the interim accord as it will involve tackling issues that were set aside during the past few months' deliberations as being too hard to solve.

At some stage, say sources, those negotiations will have to tackle suspected military aspects of the nuclear programme that go back years and have never been clarified, concerning the Parchin military complex, for example.

Western diplomats say that the Geneva deal was achieved in the nick of time as Iran's enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium were escalating at such a rate that the country would soon have had the capacity to assemble nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks if it had chosen to break out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"It is a first important step," said the senior diplomat of the weekend agreement. "If we had not been able to agree that step and the Iranian programme had progressed the way it has been progressing in the last months, this would have significantly increased the break-out capability."

Fabius assured Israel that Paris would be protecting its security in the Middle East, but said he did not think Tel Aviv would seek military action against the Islamic republic because, if it did, "no one would understand it".

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has called the Geneva agreement an "historic mistake". He announced on Monday that he would be sending a team to Washington to discuss the Iran deal.

"I spoke last night with President Obama. We agreed that, in the coming days, an Israeli team led by the national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran," he said.

But Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, told parliament on Monday : "We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned.

"The fact we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran's nuclear programme should give us heart this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained."

Iran's negotiating team, led by its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, returned home on Sunday night from Switzerland to a hero's welcome at Tehran's Mehrabad airport.

Upon arriving in Tehran, Zarif updated his Facebook page, which has been "liked" by 700,000 people, apologising to his supporters that bodyguards did not allow him to spend time with them at the aiport.

"It is 10:45pm Sunday night. Just arrived at home. Before posting a report drafted in airplane, I would like to thank all present in airport for welcoming us," he wrote. "I am very sorry that our guardsmen wouldn't let me get out of the automobile."

His message post, Zarif talked about the tensions behind the smiles and laughs shown on camera worldwide. Zarif said: "The art of a diplomat is to conceal all the turbulences behind his smile." He called on his critics in Iran to be fair and consider the country's national interests. "You should be alert that Zionists and other warmongers are all extremely on edge and they would spare no pretext and device to bring a deal – dubbed a deal of the century for Iran – to nothing," he wrote.

Zarif's smiling face dominated the front pages in Tehran, with two reformist newspapers, Etemaad and Shargh, publishing the picture of his handshake with his American counterpart, John Kerry.

Conservative newspapers also ran headlines suportive of Zarif's diplomacy, apart from Kayhan, a hardline newspaper whose director is appointed by supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei. "The US is not to be trusted," read its deadline.

Sadeq Zibakalam, a prominent analyst at Tehran University, told Deutsche Welle's Persian service: "Geneva showed that people in Iran are tired of radicalism. We will see more newspapers in stands, less censorship by the cultural ministry and release of more political prisoners."

Zibakalam said he thought the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, would also be lifted in the coming months.

Iran's currency market reacted positively to news of the nuclear accord, with the Iranian rial steadily recovering its value against the US dollar.


Across political spectrum, Iran media largely supports nuclear deal

'Only two people in the universe dissatisfied with the Geneva accord: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hossein Shariatmadari'

Tehran Bureau correspondent, Tuesday 26 November 2013 11.03 GMT   
It was quite early for Hossein Shariatmadari, the longstanding editor in chief of Kayhan, to start criticising the temporary nuclear deal reached in Geneva.

“Shariatmadari intentionally wrote Sunday’s lead editorial in order to avoid having to write anything about the agreement Monday,” said one political desk journalist at the reformist Shargh daily concerning the initial reaction of Iran’s leading right-wing newspaper to the nuclear accord just signed in Geneva.

Though Shariatmadari is also Kayhan’s chief editorial writer, that lead opinion piece Sunday was in fact attributed – most unusually – to education editor Hossein Shamsian. Whoever its true author, it accused the United States of immediately subverting the accord.

Decrying Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Iran’s right to uranium enrichment had not been recognized, it exclaimed, “After years of persecuting and usurping the Iranian people’s rights, they put even this agreement under question and suspicion within hours of its signing! Of course, this is exactly what the Supreme Leader predicted regarding America’s long history of imperial arrogance and their agreement-breaching character.”

While most Iranians fervently welcomed the accord, the Kayhan editorial cautioned the country’s citizens against hopefulness and demanded that its compatriots in the media “avoid exuberantly selling this as a victory to the people, which at the least will result in expectations whose fulfillment can’t be expected due to the nature of the agreement.”

A meme that swiftly took shape in Iranian social media holds that there are only two people in the universe dissatisfied with the Geneva accord: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hossein Shariatmadari.

Ali Reza, a 24-year-old engineering student who had gone to the airport to cheer Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, on his return from Geneva said that one of the slogans the crowd chanted was “Condolences Israel! Condolences Kayhan!”

While most of Iran’s conservative press welcomed the agreement with the group of world powers known as the P5+1, the Raja News website, affiliated with influential arch-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, shared Kayhan’s concerns.

Raja News’ Ali Naderi wrote, “While it is claimed that the enemy has recognized Iran’s right to uranium enrichment, the P5+1 did not even agree to include this phrase in the agreement, despite years of confidence-building efforts on Iran’s side.”

Another Raja News contributor, Camil Taghipoor, in an item titled “Do Imbalanced Steps of Iran and the 5+1 Protect Iran’s Interests?”, argued, “In contrast to Iran’s comprehensive and transparent commitments, the west’s commitments are minor and open to interpretation.”

In the parliament on Sunday, Hamid Rassaei, a clerical ally of ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who regularly writes opinion pieces for Raja News, condemned the agreement. After Majles vice speaker Mohammad Hossein Aboutorabi praised the “valuable efforts” of the negotiating team and “especially” the foreign minister, Rassaei riposted, “The question is if the people’s representatives yet understand the Iran and P5+1 agreement. And I am puzzled at to what Mr Aboutorabi actually applauded this morning. We don’t even know what was agreed to between Iran and the P5+1.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a political analyst in Tehran said, “Extremists in the parliament and the media feel sorely defeated. Their perches have been rattled by domestic causes and now foreign events are bringing them to collapse. [Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has turned his back on them and they can’t climb the power pyramid by virtue of aggressive foreign policy acts. They want to break up the game at any cost, but they have also lost that power, at least for now.”

On the other hand, the nuclear agreement has powerful supporters such as the head of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has supported President Hassan Rouhani before and since his June election. Rafsanjani entered the fray a few hours after the accord’s announcement, stating, “It’s true that Iran’s right to [uranium] enrichment has not been written in, but it remains secure, as this subject is pointed out in Iran’s NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] agreement and naturally any nation has the right to a peaceful nuclear industry and can enrich as well.”

The former president, speaking at Ali Akbar Velayati’s inauguration as head of the Center for Strategic Research, added of the P5+1, “They were reluctant about the phrasing [around this matter] as they wanted to show something in hand. Regardless, it make no difference, as they have implicitly said that ‘you can continue to enrich.’ If they had said that it is ‘your right’, then other nations would step in and say that they had the right too.”

Prominent conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli concurred with Rafsanjani’s view. As quoted by the Tabnak website, he said, “The information received thus far can be evaluated positively. The biggest impasse – now pulverized – was in regard to Iran’s right to enrichment. They dropped their heads in acquiescence.”

Tehran representative Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, also embraced the agreement, stating, “We must welcome Iran’s first success in its ten-year-long challenge in this unequal nuclear struggle in establishing the right to enrich and initiating the dismantling of sanctions. In this first step toward its delineated goals, it has been victorious. The anger of the Zionist and Saudi Arabian regimes over the agreement’s [measures] indicates their effectiveness and importance.”

An expert in Iran who has closely followed the progress of the country’s nuclear programme over the past decade said, “In my view, Iran has obtained a valuable agreement. Iran has been given the right to continue enrichment at the 5% level without seeing further sanctions, along with some existing sanctions being lifted. This is what right to enrichment means. In 2003, Iran halted all enrichment comprehensively. But now, at the peak of crisis, it has the right to enrich and no one is against it. Even aggressive figures like [French foreign minister Laurent] Fabius have accepted it.”

The conservative Resalat daily also expressed great satisfaction with the agreement. Mohammad Kazim Anbarluei, a senior member of its editorial team and a prominent figure in the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh), authored the paper’s lead Monday editorial, declaring that for the first time “the interlocutor was forced to concede points” and that “Iran’s right to uranium enrichment has been conceded, putting the legal basis of UN security council resolutions under question.”

The lead editorial in Johmhouri Eslami, another conservative daily, stated, “The advantages that Iran has attained in the signed nuclear agreement set the groundwork for economic expansion in the country, and the energy, time, and resources that have been used over the years to overcome the nuclear impasse can be put to work for the nation’s critical essentials.

“Certainly, domestic opponents of the Geneva nuclear accord may criticize it, but what’s unacceptable is their stone-pelting, unrealistic propaganda against this agreement. Now that the Supreme Leader has sanctioned the Geneva nuclear pact in his reply to the president’s letter, irrational antagonists have no option but silence.”

Iran’s longest-publishing daily, the ideologically moderate Ettalaat, asked Sadegh Kharazi – ambassador to the United Nations and later France during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist administration – to pen its lead editorial. According to Kharazi, “Reaching an agreement in Geneva is the first step in a long and difficult road, and has to be interpreted as the first move toward normalizing Iran’s nuclear dossier and its return from the Security Council to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and as a strategic agreement that has to be defended against any setback.”

He defended the negotiation tactics of his close friend Zarif, and called the foreign minister’s efforts “heroic.”In Iranian circles, reformism is a relative thing, and the former diplomat also wrote, “The success of the Geneva negotiations attests to how international extremist movements, such as belligerent American warmongers, aggressive Israeli militarists, and the petrified, wimpy-hearted Saudis, in addition to al-Qaeda and Salafist forces, have lost the beat.”

On Sunday, domestic media outlets quoted Abdullah al-Askar, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Assembly, saying, “My worry is that Iran may have given up something regional to obtain some other political advantage from international powers. I am worried that Iran has been given a larger space and more freedom of action in the region.”

In central Tehran’s Abbas Abad neighborhood, Rose, 26, scanned the headlines at a newsstand. “They are constantly looking to do dastardly deeds," she said, referring to the Saudi stance. "If we had not come to an accord, they’d say, ‘Sanction them.’ Now that we have reached an agreement, they interrogate the US: ‘Why did you agree?’”

Yousef, who ferries passengers on his motorbike between Vali Asr and Haft’e Tir squares, summed up the mood for many: “Thank God our bride and groom have made up.”

"America, the groom, said a few things in haste. Obama said that they will not be enriching and [we] will remove the uranium. But I don’t imagine Iran would do such things. Anyhow, thank God that it all ended up well.”


Israel kicks its most important ally in the shins over Iran nuclear deal

Netanyahu has not only weakened his leverage with the United States, he's weakened it with the other members of the P5+1

Michael Cohen, Tuesday 26 November 2013 12.45 GMT   
When word came from Geneva that there was a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, the Israeli government faced a clear choice – support the agreement and call for continued vigilance in preventing Iran from getting a deal or blast the agreement as inadequate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose, not surprisingly, the latter course labeling the deal an "historic mistake". In the process he has further isolated Israel and widened what may be the most serious rift in US-Israel relations in two decades.

The crux of the growing US-Israel divide is the fact that the two countries simply don't see eye-to-eye on Iran's nuclear program. The Israelis want a complete dismantling of Iran's capabilities – a position that is unrealistic and short of using military force is never going to happen. Iran has progressed so far along the road to developing a nuclear capability that the issue today is what is the best way to slow the program and prevent Iran from going nuclear rather than reversing it.

Indeed, if Netanyahu stepped back from his red line, he might actually realize that the deal signed in Geneva goes a long way towards meeting that goal. In fact, it is rather shocking the number of concessions the US and its western allies were able to secure in Geneva without giving up that much in return. Under the agreement, Iran must stop all uranium enrichment above 5% and neutralize its stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20%. In addition, Iran must halt construction at the Arak nuclear reactor (which was potentially capable of producing plutonium for a bomb) and end the production, installation and maintenance of centrifuges used for enrichment purposes.

While these steps will not ultimately prevent Iran from getting enough material to make a bomb, they will certainly stop the process, a far better result than no deal at all. Perhaps most important, Iran has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to have daily access to Iran's two major enrichment facilities – a level of transparency that the Arms Control Association rightly calls "unprecedented". These inspection measures will make it virtually impossible for Iran to pursue "breakout" nuclear capabilities without detection.

And what is Iran getting in return? Frankly, not much. The biggest carrot is relief from international sanctions – to the tune of approximately $7bn. This is not chump change, but considering that about $100bn in Iranian overseas assets will remain frozen and the vast architecture of international and unilateral sanctions will remain in place, it isn't that much, either. If anything, the continued pain caused by these sanctions is incentive enough for Iran to offer further concessions in negotiations toward a final agreement.

In fact, the Iranians have to know that a failure to abide by this temporary deal will basically ensure that sanctions will likely never be lifted against them. If Iran prefers having a bomb to having a functioning economy than theoretically they'd be OK with that. But then why enter talks in the first place; and why agree to such intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities? Iran could just as easily continue to develop its capability and present the world with a fait accompli. Signing on that bottom line in Geneva has put enormous pressure on Iran to live up to its obligations or face dire consequences.

That Netanyahu describes these advances as a "mistake" is a reflection of how isolated he's made Israel on the Iran issue. No one – not even Israel's new bestie, France – is going to stand on that wall for the complete removal of Iran's nuclear program. In the pursuit of the perfect deal for Israel, they've made themselves into the enemy of the good.

The impact on US-Israel relations, however, could be more serious. The bonds between the US and Israel are too strong to be irreparably changed by this agreement (and Netanyahu's rhetoric), and the White House is already taking steps to ratchet down the heat. But increasingly, it seems clear that the current Israeli government is in denial about US policy toward the Middle East. America is not sprinting to the region's exits, but it's certainly taking a brisk walk in that direction. Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; resisting intervention in Syria; seeking to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and making a deal with Iran are the actions of a nation finally waking up to – and executing on – the fact that US engagement in the Middle East brings with it more costs than benefits.

This isn't a blip; it's the new reality in the Middle East and Netanyahu's harsh condemnation of the deal made in Geneva – a deal made in large measure to safeguard Israel's security – will only serve to reinforce the view among US policymakers and in particular President Obama that they're on the right path.

This is not to say that Netanyahu shouldn't do what he thinks is best for his nation, and if he thinks the deal is a bad one, he's well within his rights to say so. But kicking Israel's most important ally in the shins, denigrating their diplomatic efforts, darkly hinting that they will unilaterally use military force and seeking to upend what is clearly one of President Obama's key foreign policy priorities, nuclear non-proliferation, is incredibly unwise.

By taking such a position, Netanyahu has not only weakened his leverage with the United States, he's weakened it with the other members of the P5+1. Over the next six months, as Iran and the P5+1 seek to forge a comprehensive agreement, Israel's ability to influence that deal – and the US negotiating positions – will be shaped by their public stance and their willingness to accept something less than an ideal solution. If the last 48 hours are any indication, they're not off to a good start.


November 25, 2013

Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians


JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders on Monday condemned the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program as an exercise in appeasement by the Western powers and a delaying tactic by Iran. Yet many of them see the same strategy of interim confidence-building steps as the only realistic route to resolving their long-running conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel is outraged that, under the deal signed Sunday, Iran is not required to stop enriching uranium or to dismantle centrifuges while negotiating a final agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. At the same time, Israel continues to build West Bank settlements while negotiating with the Palestinians, prompting similar outrage from the international community.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Do these alternate approaches to parallel issues that are crucial to Israel’s future amount to hopeless hypocrisy? Or are they simply a sign of the profound differences in the way Israel views the two problems and its starkly different role in the two sets of talks?

“Looking at how Bibi views these negotiations tells you a great deal about how he’s seeing the world,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using the nickname of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi’s self-image first and foremost is shaped by wanting to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb. His image is not driven by being the peacemaker, creating two states and dividing Jerusalem.”

“Both offer pathways that are incredibly problematic for him,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s like the rest of the world is playing checkers and he is forced to play three-dimensional chess.”

After years of railing against Iran’s nuclear program, and decades of discussions with the Palestinians, Israel suddenly finds itself facing clocks ticking simultaneously on both fronts. As Tzipi Livni, Israel’s lead negotiator with the Palestinians, said on Monday, “We have six months to prevent a permanent agreement with Iran, which will make it nuclear, and six months to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, which will secure a safe, Jewish and democratic Israel.”

Mr. Netanyahu announced Monday that he was sending a team led by his national security adviser to the United States to discuss the final deal with Iran, which he said “must lead to one result: the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capability.”

But Israel is not a party to the Geneva-based talks on Iran’s nuclear program, leaving it mostly to lobbing grenades from the bleachers. And Israel views Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat to its existence, while the Palestinian issue garners far less urgency and is mainly seen as a problem to be managed in the hope of avoiding international isolation.

“It’s interesting on paper, but it’s missing the whole point of the substance about what each of these tracks are about,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute here who has written extensively on both issues. “There’s a difference between creating a state and stopping a nuclear program. It’s not the same dynamic.”

“This is an existential moment,” he added, “and the Palestinians at this point are a diversion.”

There has long been suspicion of linking the two issues, along the lines of the Obama administration’s promising Mr. Netanyahu it would block Iran from getting the bomb in exchange for his making concessions with the Palestinians. Such a trade seems off the table now, and many think Israel will continue to go through the motions of the peace talks started this summer only at the insistence of Secretary of State John Kerry, while focusing intensely on Iran.

The significance of the interim agreement for the Israeli-Palestinian issue did not escape the notice of Palestinian officials. On Monday, Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, called it a “unique precedent” and “platform” that should be applied to the peace process.

“What happened in Geneva is a new prototype where everybody has shared in reaching an agreement to avoid war and achieve stability,” Mr. Erekat said in a statement. “We call upon the international community to make use of the same efforts in order to end decades of occupation and exile for the people of Palestine in order to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”

In some ways, Israel’s approach to Iran has echoed arguments long made by its Palestinian adversaries. Over the past few weeks, Israeli leaders frequently said Iran must be forced to comply with United Nations resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agreements that it has been violating for years. Similarly, the Palestinians insist that Israel must live up to prior promises to evacuate settlements considered illegal under international law.

“It shows a double standard,” said one senior Palestinian official involved in the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity under an American dictate not to discuss them publicly. “If they expect to reach a solution in Iran by pushing more and more sanctions, why shouldn’t they expect from our side to push for sanctions against Israel?”

Jay Rothman, a professor in a new program at Bar-Ilan University on conflict management, resolution and negotiation, said both tracks were stuck in a pre-negotiations phase where the sides saw each other as “evil” and had yet to narrow their differences enough to define a common agenda.

“These are existential needs, and unfortunately when we play the negotiations game, they’re played against each other as if they’re zero-sum,” Professor Rothman said. “If we’re talking about interests, power, economic gains — those are bargainable. But in existential needs, the more I get the better, but the less you get, not the better, because unless you get your existential needs, you’re not going to let me get mine.”


Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran's man on a diplomatic mission

Foreign minister starting to normalise Iran's ties with rest of the world while keeping hardliners at bay back home

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Monday 25 November 2013 18.44 GMT   

Asked in September how optimistic he was about a possible nuclear deal with the west, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's popular foreign minister, replied: "It takes two to tango."

It was only in the early hours of Sunday, as Zarif and his six western counterparts prepared to leave Geneva's Intercontinental hotel on a five-minute journey to the Palace of Nations for a historic Kodak moment, that he could be certain the other side at last had said yes to his invitation.

Before leaving the hotel that morning, Zarif took a few moments to go up to his room on the 14th floor to update his Twitter and Facebook accounts. "We have reached an agreement," he tweeted at 3.03am local time.

With that simple message, the 53-year-old showed that President Hassan Rouhani's best decision upon assuming office was to appoint him as the man in charge of reviving Tehran's diplomacy, which had been badly damaged under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now, 100 days after taking the job, Zarif enjoys immense support at home, with supporters of both the opposition and Rouhani's regime largely united in their admiration for his quick diplomatic work.
Supporters of Mohammad Javad Zarif Supporters of Mohammad Javad Zarif flash the sign for victory as the foreign minister arrived home from Geneva. Photograph: Hemmat Khahi/AFP/Getty Images

According to Zarif, his career in diplomacy started by accident. In 1977, two years before the Islamic revolution, the then 16-year-old travelled to the US on a student visa. When revolutionaries toppled the shah in Tehran, Zarif decided to seek work at Iran's UN mission in New York.

A fluent English speaker with a PhD from the University of Denver, he stayed in the US for much of his post-revolutionary life, rising through the ranks of the New York mission. He became heavily involved in rare and often secret bilateral negotiations between Tehran and Washington, and was promoted to ambassador to the UN.

In 1987 when Iran's then president, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, travelled to New York to address the UN general assembly, Zarif organised Khamenei's trip and managed to gain his trust. According to Kamal Kharazi, a former Iranian foreign minister, it was Khamenei who personally gave Zarif permission to talk directly to the US at that time.

At the UN the ambassador was praised for his diplomatic manner even by the Islamic republic's sworn enemies. The former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger reportedly gave him a copy of his 1994 book Diplomacy, signing it "To Zarif, my respectful enemy".

William Miller, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who met Zarif frequently in New York, said the diplomat was "extremely well-informed" about the US and "deeply knowledgeable" about his own country. "He's admirably suited by temperament, background and education to work on these issues that have divided the US and Iran for 34 years," Miller said.
Mohammad Javad Zarif Mohammad Javad Zarif, centre left, shakes hands with John Kerry in Geneva. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

According to his memoirs, based on a series of interviews and published under the title Mr Ambassador, Zarif stuck to the customs of his own country. "I lived for 30 years in the US, but always kept my Islamic and Iranian culture and customs … even now western lifestyle feels strange to me," he says in the book.

"You can't drink alcohol, you can't eat non-halal meat and you don't shake hands with women – that's why an Iranian diplomat would always feel that [the west] is not the place he should be."

Although it was Rouhani who chose Zarif as foreign minister, his appointment would have been impossible without the blessing of Khamenei, now Iran's supreme leader. It is widely believed that Zarif secured Khamenei's trust during his time at the UN by being an obedient servant, even though at times he held different views.

As foreign minister Zarif has managed the difficult trick of starting to normalise Iran's ties with the international community, especially Washington, while keeping hardliners at bay back home. In September he held a historic bilateral meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, on the sidelines of the UN general assembly, a move that broke the 34-year taboo over direct talks between Tehran and Washington. He has since met Kerry many times, which is remarkable in the context of more than three decades of hostility.

With more than 700,000 likes on Facebook and 87,000 followers on Twitter, Zarif is perhaps the Islamic republic's most popular diplomat since 1979. "Dr Zarif, thank you," read one of the 36,000 comments on Zarif's Facebook page on Sunday. Updating his status upon arriving in Tehran to a hero's welcome, Zarif wrote at 10.45pm local time on Sunday: "The art of a diplomat is to conceal all turbulence behind his smile."


November 25, 2013

U.S. and Saudis in Growing Rift as Power Shifts


WASHINGTON — There was a time when Saudi and American interests in the Middle East seemed so aligned that the cigar-smoking former Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was viewed as one of the most influential diplomats in Washington.

Those days are over. The Saudi king and his envoys — like the Israelis — have spent weeks lobbying fruitlessly against the interim nuclear accord with Iran that was reached in Geneva on Sunday. In the end, there was little they could do: The Obama administration saw the nuclear talks in a fundamentally different light from the Saudis, who fear that any letup in the sanctions will come at the cost of a wider and more dangerous Iranian role in the Middle East.

Although the Saudis remain close American allies, the nuclear accord is the culmination of a slow mutual disenchantment that began at the end of the Cold War.

For decades, Washington depended on Saudi Arabia — a country of 30 million people but the Middle East’s largest reserves of oil — to shore up stability in a region dominated by autocrats and hostile to another ally, Israel. The Saudis used their role as the dominant power in OPEC to help rein in Iraq and Iran, and they supported bases for the American military, anchoring American influence in the Middle East and beyond.

But the Arab uprisings altered the balance of power across the Middle East, especially with the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of both the Saudis and the Americans.

The United States has also been reluctant to take sides in the worsening sectarian strife between Shiite and Sunni, in which the Saudis are firm partisans on the Sunni side.

At the same time, new sources of oil have made the Saudis less essential. And the Obama administration’s recent diplomatic initiatives on Syria and Iran have left the Saudis with a deep fear of abandonment.

“We still share many of the same goals, but our priorities are increasingly different from the Saudis,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Vermont. “When you look at our differing views of the Arab Spring, on how to deal with Iran, on changing energy markets that make gulf oil less central — these things have altered the basis of U.S.-Saudi relations.”

The United States always had important differences with the Saudis, including on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the spread of fundamentalist strains of Islam, Mr. Gause added. But the Obama administration’s determination to ease the long estrangement with Iran’s theocratic leaders has touched an especially raw nerve: Saudi Arabia’s deep-rooted hostility to its Shiite rival for leadership of the Islamic world.

Saudi reaction to the Geneva agreement was guarded on Monday, with the official Saudi Press Agency declaring in a statement that “if there is good will, then this agreement could be an initial step” toward a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In recent days, Saudi officials and influential columnists have made clear that they fear the agreement will reward Iran with new legitimacy and a few billion dollars in sanctions relief at exactly the wrong time. Iran has been mounting a costly effort to support the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, including arms, training and some of its most valuable Revolutionary Guards commandos, an effort that has helped Mr. Assad win important victories in recent months.

The Saudis fear that further battlefield gains will translate into expanded Iranian hegemony across the region. Already, the Saudis have watched with alarm as Turkey — their ally in supporting the Syrian rebels — has begun making conciliatory gestures toward Iran, including an invitation by the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, to his Iranian counterpart to pay an official visit earlier this month.

In the wake of the accord’s announcement on Sunday, Saudi Twitter users posted a wave of anxious, defeatist comments about being abandoned by the United States.

In many ways, those fears are at odds with the facts of continuing American-Saudi cooperation on many fronts, including counterterrorism. “We’re training their National Guard, we’re doing security plans and training for oil terminals and other facilities, and we’re implementing one of the biggest arms deals in history,” said Thomas W. Lippman, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute who has written extensively on American-Saudi relations.

And despite all the talk of decreasing reliance on Saudi oil, the Saudis remain a crucial producer for world markets.

But none of this can obscure a fundamental split in perspectives toward the Geneva accord. The Saudis see the nuclear file as one front in a sectarian proxy war — centered in Syria — that will shape the Middle East for decades to come, pitting them against their ancient rival.

“To the Saudis, the Iranian nuclear program and the Syria war are parts of a single conflict,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton. “One well-placed Saudi told me, ‘If we don’t do this in Syria, we’ll be fighting them next inside the kingdom.’ ”

How the Saudis propose to win the struggle for Syria is not clear. Already, their expanded support for Islamist rebel fighters in Syria — and the widespread assumption that they are linked to the jihadist groups fighting there — has elevated tensions across the region. After a double suicide bombing killed 23 people outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last Tuesday, the Arab news media was full of panicky reports that this was a Saudi “message” to Iran before the nuclear talks in Geneva. A day later, a Shiite group in Iraq claimed responsibility for mortars fired into Saudi Arabia near the border between the two countries.

The Saudi-owned news media has bubbled with vitriol in recent days. One prominent columnist, Tareq al-Homayed, sarcastically compared President Obama to Mother Teresa, “turning his right and left cheeks to his opponents in hopes of reconciliation.”

American efforts to assuage these anxieties, including Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Riyadh earlier this month, have had little effect.

The Saudis have already broadcast their discontent about the Iran agreement, and America’s Syria policy, by refusing their newly won seat on the United Nations Security Council last month. It was a gesture that many analysts ridiculed as self-defeating.

Beyond such gestures, it is not clear that the Saudis can do much. The Obama administration has made fairly clear that it is not overly worried about Saudi discontent, because the Saudis have no one else to turn to for protection from Iran.

The Saudis have increased their support for Syrian rebel groups in the past two months, including some Islamist groups that are not part of the secular American-backed coalition.

“They are working with some people who make us squeamish,” said one United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But they’re effective, they’re the real deal. These are Islamists who foresee a Syria where Alawites and Christians are tolerated minorities, but at least they’re not enemies to be slaughtered.”

In its most feverish form, the Saudis’ anxiety is not just that the United States will leave them more exposed to Iran, but that it will reach a reconciliation and ultimately anoint Iran as the central American ally in the region. As the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh put it recently in an unsigned column: “The Geneva negotiations are just a prelude to a new chapter of convergence” between the United States and Iran.

That may seem far-fetched in light of the ferocious and entrenched anti-Americanism of the Iranian government. But the Saudi king and his ministers have not forgotten the days of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, who cherished his status as America’s great friend in the region.

“The Saudis are feeling surrounded by Iranian influence — in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Bahrain,” said Richard W. Murphy, a retired American ambassador who spent decades in the Middle East. “It’s a hard state of mind to deal with, a rivalry with ancient roots — a blood feud operating in the 21st century.”

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« Reply #10238 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:40 AM »

National Security Advisor Susan Rice Karzai U.S. may leave no troops in Afghanistan

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:11 EST

US national security advisor Susan Rice told Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday that a delay in signing a troubled security deal risked the US pulling troops out of the country completely next year.

The US said that Karzai had called for “new conditions” for signing the bilateral security agreement (BSA) to allow US forces to remain in the country after 2014.

The president held talks with Rice in Kabul after he hedged on when he would accept the deal despite a “loya jirga” assembly of Afghan tribal elders and politicians on Sunday urging him to sign it promptly.

“Without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” Rice told Karzai, according to a White House statement Monday.

“Ambassador Rice stressed… that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year’s elections is not viable” when she met with Karzai at the end of a three-day trip to Kabul, it added.

Washington was ready to sign the deal in the coming days following the loya jirga’s decision, the statement said.

But “in response, President Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly”.

Karzai stressed his demands for “no operations by foreign forces in residential areas, a sincere start of a peace process (with Taliban insurgents), and the holding of transparent elections,” his office said after Monday’s late-night meeting.

At the tribal assembly last week in Kabul, Karzai exasperated Washington by saying he wanted to delay signing the deal until after April’s presidential election, when he is due to step down.

The BSA will permit some US soldiers to remain after the end of 2014 when most of NATO’s 75,000 US-led troops pull out.

“We believe it’s untenable and impractical to wait until January to have this thing concluded,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters Monday.

“We want it closed. The American government wants it. The Afghan people want it, so Karzai needs to sign.”

Supporters say the BSA is vital because the Afghan government remains fragile despite 12 years of war against the Taliban.

Rice’s trip to Afghanistan was planned before the latest setback for the BSA, but National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell told AFP that Monday’s talks were at Karzai’s request.

Karzai’s office added that he asked Rice for his demands to be passed on to President Barack Obama.

Karzai said on Sunday he would “continue bargaining” on the BSA, which was hammered out after months of difficult negotiations with Washington.

The Taliban, who before the assembly had threatened to target delegates if they backed the BSA, condemned the pact.

The “illegal and insignificant pact of slavery with America will neither benefit the American invaders nor criminal slaves”, they said in a statement referring to the jirga members.

After four days of discussions, jirga delegates — who were convened by Karzai to vote on the BSA issue — said that he should sign before the end of 2013.

Karzai last week also appeared to toughen his stance on US military raids on Afghan homes, a sensitive topic that threatened to derail the negotiations.

“If the US goes into Afghan homes one more time, there will be no agreement,” he said.

Kate Clark, senior analyst with the Afghan Analysts Network, said Karzai may be genuinely concerned about what could happen once the Americans had the BSA.

“As Karzai said on the first day of the jirga, there is no trust between them. He does not believe their assurances,” she wrote on the AAN website.

“He wants to hold on to some form of leverage, as, in his mind, this is the only way to force the US to refrain from stomping over Afghan sovereignty.”

The US has warned that failure promptly to sign the pact could jeopardise billions of dollars in aid, and that Obama had not yet decided whether to keep any American forces in Afghanistan at all beyond 2014.

The draft text of the BSA released by Kabul appeared to show Karzai had bowed to a US demand that American troops would remain exempt from Afghan jurisdiction if they are accused of crimes.

The issue of US troop immunity sank a similar deal in Iraq in 2011, leading the Americans to pull out completely. The country is now in the grip of some of its worst sectarian violence since 2008.

Rice’s visit to Afghanistan, her first trip abroad as national security advisor, will also include meetings with US troops, development experts and diplomats.

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« Reply #10239 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Indian couple sentenced to life for murder of daughter and housekeeper

Rajesh and Nupur Talwar avoid death penalty for double killing after five-year case that gripped India

Associated Press, Tuesday 26 November 2013 12.21 GMT   

A court in India has sentenced two married dentists to life in prison for killing their 14-year-old daughter and their housekeeper, resolving a five-year-old case that dominated headlines and polarised the country.

Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, from the Delhi suburb of Noida, had reportedly broken down in tears when they were convicted on Monday and vowed to appeal the verdict.

A defence lawyer, Rebecca John, said after Tuesday's sentencing that the case against the Talwars, based largely on circumstantial evidence, amounted to a "witch-hunt" and said: "There has been a serious miscarriage of justice in this case."

The couple came under suspicion soon after their daughter, Aarushi, was found dead in her bedroom, her throat slit with surgical precision.

Police initially named the Talwars' missing Nepali housekeeper as the prime suspect, until his body was found a day later on a terrace above Aarushi's room.

The double murder became one of the most closely watched cases in recent memory in India, with dramatic turns by police and prosecutors seizing national headlines and launching debates over details of the case.

Prosecutors for the Central Bureau of Investigation had asked for the death penalty.

"Such crime comes under the rarest of rare cases," a prosecutor, Naresh Yadav, said. "So they should be awarded maximum punishment."

The investigation determined both victims had been hit with a golf club and later had their throats slit.

Police offered several possible motives in prosecuting the parents, including an "honour" killing.

Several other suspects had been questioned by police. After the case stalled, the Talwars demanded a fresh investigation in 2011.

The couple were also sentenced to an additional five years in prison for destruction of evidence.


November 25, 2013

Dispute Erupts in India Over Surveillance by Candidate


NEW DELHI — In a set of telephone transcripts and recordings that were published by an Indian website this month, high-ranking intelligence and security officers from the western state of Gujarat can be heard reporting back on an unusual assignment: covertly tracing every movement of a young woman, meticulously documenting her contacts with men. Their findings were passed to another high-ranking official they referred to as “Saheb.”

Though no one mentions his name in the transcripts, the context leaves little doubt that Saheb is Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, who hopes to be India’s next prime minister.

The “snooping controversy,” as it has been called by Indian newspapers, comes six months before national elections, as Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party rides a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment. After a flurry of reports in the Indian news media, Mr. Modi’s government on Monday appointed a two-member commission to investigate charges that surveillance of the young woman had been carried out illegally.

After the transcripts were published, a spokeswoman for Mr. Modi’s party acknowledged that Mr. Modi had used government resources to monitor “the girl,” but did so because her father had requested security for her, so it was not a violation of her rights. Another version has come from a suspended civil servant from Gujarat, who says he fell out with Mr. Modi because he had information about a secret relationship between the leader and the young woman, an architect. The woman, who has since married, has made no public statements.

The matter is unlikely to drive away Mr. Modi’s supporters, who are braced for a season of partisan exposés. But it has set off a discussion of the use of state surveillance in Gujarat, which Mr. Modi has run with a firm grip since 2001.

“The fact is that for a lot of people, this is part of his appeal, that he is a tough leader, he does what he thinks needs to be done,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of The Indian Express, a daily newspaper. “I think people are overcorrecting for a very weak government, and there is a hankering for a strong government, whatever a strong government means.”

He added, though, that undecided voters might be concerned that Mr. Modi had used the police to follow the woman, who was not suspected of any crime. “People who are in the middle may worry that if this guy comes to power, he’ll have many more agencies under him,” Mr. Gupta said.

The website that published the transcripts, Cobrapost, said they were provided to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation this year by a Gujarat police officer, G. L. Singhal, who is accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings and had decided to cooperate with the authorities.

The level of scrutiny was extraordinary, according to the transcripts. The man supervising the operation was Amit Shah, one of Mr. Modi’s top aides, who now occupies a crucial post in the B.J.P. campaign. Mr. Shah instructed officers to collect footage from surveillance cameras, supply records from the woman’s phone carrier, follow her to gyms and shopping malls and tail her from an airport arrival lounge.

“In case she escapes, we can keep a vigil at the hotel,” Mr. Shah says, according to the transcript. Mr. Singhal recounts the woman’s telephone conversations, remarking, “Sir, she talks very rudely with her mother.” Mr. Shah nervously urges his subordinate not to allow the woman to slip away unnoticed, saying repeatedly, “Saheb comes to know of everything.”

Neither Mr. Modi nor the government of Gujarat has commented on the transcripts, which were heavily covered on Indian news broadcasts. Civil and security officials in Gujarat did not respond to requests for comment.

The day after the recordings were published, Meenakshi Lekhi, a spokeswoman for the B.J.P., questioned why “CDs that were part of official state property were made available to members of the opposition,” and dismissed them as a smear by the Congress Party, which leads the national government.

Another B.J.P. spokeswoman, Nirmala Sitharaman, said in a later interview that the transcripts might not be authentic. “We question the veracity of these transcripts,” she said. “Talking about it in great detail is tantamount to speculation.”

The National Commission for Women, a government body overseeing women’s rights, last week requested an investigation into a possible violation of the Indian Telegraph Act, which limits the state’s ability to tap phone lines. In an effort to forestall an inquiry, the woman’s father, Pranlal Soni, a jewelry merchant in Gujarat, appealed to the commission with a letter, saying he had asked Mr. Modi, an old friend, to provide state protection for his daughter.

“My daughter is fully aware of all types of help that was rendered by the state machinery,” the letter said. “She is fully conscious that the said help was absolutely necessary.” The commission has forwarded the letter to security agencies to verify its authenticity and contents.

Another perspective has come from Pradeep Sharma, a former civil servant who now faces corruption charges in Gujarat. Mr. Sharma has petitioned for a change of venue, saying his prosecution is politically motivated. In an application submitted to the Supreme Court on Saturday, he said that he had introduced Mr. Modi to the “young lady architect” to whom the transcripts refer, and that Mr. Modi had feared that he would disclose politically damaging information about their relationship.

“It is for this reason that a number of false and frivolous cases against the applicant were registered with a view to implicate him and ‘punish him,’ ” the application reads.

A B.J.P. leader, Arun Jaitley, portrayed Mr. Sharma’s testimony as a Congress Party smear campaign. “They are back to their old game of detecting a disgruntled police officer or a civil servant and getting him to make absurd charges,” Mr. Jaitley said in a note posted on Facebook.

Bharat Desai, the editor of the Gujarat edition of The Times of India, said the “snooping scandal” would have little impact in the chief minister’s home state because “it’s a known fact that a lot of telephones are illegally tapped here.”

R. B. Sreekumar, a former director of police intelligence in the state, said he clashed with Mr. Modi in 2002 after refusing to wiretap the phones of a Congress politician, and was removed from his post. At the time, he said in an interview, about 150 phones were tapped through legal procedures, but “a large number” of wiretaps had been carried out without authorization.

“Tapping of phones depends on the government and the political leadership,” Mr. Sreekumar said. “Most officers are more than willing to follow the political dictate to advance their own interests and careers.”

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« Reply #10240 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Thai protesters force closure of ministries

In Bangkok, finance, transport, agriculture and tourism ministries closed as PM Yingluck Shinawatra faces calls to step down

Associated Press in Bangkok, Tuesday 26 November 2013 08.22 GMT

Protesters in Thailand have forced the closure of several government ministries and vowed to take control of state offices nationwide in an attempt to oust the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, escalating the biggest challenge she has faced since taking office.

Thousands of demonstrators fanned out across Bangkok emboldened by their takeover a day earlier of the finance ministry, where crowds stormed the gates and camped out overnight. It was closed on Tuesday along with the transport, agriculture and tourism ministries.
Bangkok interior ministry Security personnel stand behind barricades at one of gates of the interior ministry. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Outside the interior ministry, thousands of protesters held a standoff with riot police as they called on workers inside to leave.

Protesters say they want Yingluck, who took office in 2011, to step down amid claims her government is controlled by her brother, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup following corruption allegations in 2006.

On Sunday, more than 100,000 demonstrators took to Bangkok's streets, uniting against what they call the "Thaksin regime".

But the opposition-led movement has grown increasingly vague about its goals and demands. What started a month ago as a campaign to unseat Yingluck is now been seen as a battle to uproot the Shinawatra network from Thai politics, with no clear explanation of what that means.

The occupation of the ministry offices has raised fears of violence and worries that Thailand is entering a new chapter of political instability. They also recall previous protests against Thaksin and his allies in 2008, when protesters occupied and shut down the prime minister's office for three months.

On Tuesday, the main protest group appeared to have converted the finance ministry into its headquarters, and declared Tuesday a rest day, as protesters erected tents in the car park.

"Tomorrow there will be a nationwide movement," Akanat Promphan, a protest spokesman, told reporters inside the emptied ministry. He said the aim is to paralyse government operations by seizing offices and state agencies so they cannot be "used as a mechanism for the Thaksin regime".

Separately on Tuesday, the opposition Democrat party, which is spearheading the protests, launched a parliamentary no-confidence debate against Yingluck. The vote has no chance of unseating Yingluck as her ruling Pheu Thai party controls the House of Representatives.

Yingluck called for calm and offered to negotiate with protest leaders.

"If we can talk, I believe the country will return to normal," she said.

Yingluck has vowed not to use violence to stop the protests but expanded special security laws to cover the entire capital late on Monday. The internal security act was already in place for three districts of Bangkok since August, when there were early signs of political unrest. It authorises officials to impose curfews, seal off roads, restrict access to buildings and ban the use of electronic devices in designated areas.

The anti-government campaign started last month after the ruling party tried to pass a controversial law that critics said was designed to absolve Thaksin and others of politically related offences. The Senate rejected the bill in a bid to end the protests, but the rallies have gained momentum.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have battled for power since he was toppled in 2006 following street protests accusing him of corruption and disrespect for the country's constitutional monarch. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for the past five years to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction.

The battle for power has sometimes led to bloodshed. About 90 people were killed in 2010 when Thaksin's Red Shirt supporters occupied parts of central Bangkok for weeks before the government, led then by the current opposition, sent the military to crack down.

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« Reply #10241 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:49 AM »

November 25, 2013

Election Results in Nepal Signal a Political Right Turn


NEW DELHI — Nepal’s dominant Communist party was routed, the country’s politics swung sharply to the right and India’s influence in Nepal is likely to soar after the first set of results from last week’s election was finalized on Monday.

The Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest political party and one that favors close ties with India, won 105 of the 240 directly elected seats. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) came in second with 91 seats. Despite their party’s name, the Marxist-Leninists are considered centrists in Nepal. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the dominant Communist party, secured only 26 seats in the direct election, a small fraction of the total it earned in the 2008 elections.

The majority of seats in the Constituent Assembly will be determined by proportional votes, and in those preliminary returns the Nepali Congress is again first, followed by the Marxist-Leninists, according to the Election Commission of Nepal. Together, the two parties are likely to dominate the new Constituent Assembly.

Because a two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly is required for a constitution to be adopted, however, the Maoists may still play a critical though reduced role.

Since the scope of their loss became clear, the Maoists have said that the elections were riddled with fraud, charges that have been dismissed by independent election observers including former President Jimmy Carter. After a meeting of the group’s leaders on Monday, a Maoist spokesman said that the party would participate in the Constituent Assembly.

“We have put together a couple of conditions to participate in the assembly and will join once they are met,” said Agni Sapkota, the spokesman.

Those conditions include an investigation into election fraud and the forging of a consensus among political parties about how the most contentious issues facing the assembly will be resolved.

Nepal’s election commission has ruled out a revote or recount. “We are not in a position to review the vote after all parties were provided chances to review the entire process,” said the chief election commissioner, Neel Kantha Uprety.

Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies, said the Maoists’ dismal performance shocked everyone. But he predicted that the Maoists would participate in the Constituent Assembly’s constitution-writing process.

“They have no other option,” Mr. Baral said.

The Maoists fought an insurgency against government troops from 1996 to 2006, joined a peace process and participated in elections in 2008 that they dominated. Many of their fighters joined the national army. Some Maoist leaders took sanctuary in India during the war, but India is unlikely to be as accommodating should the war restart.

Counting of the ballots in the proportional vote, in which voters picked a political party, and in which 122 parties are competing for 335 seats, is expected to be completed in two weeks. In another sign of the rightward turn in Nepal’s politics, the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, a nonfactor in the previous assembly, is now in fourth place in the preliminary returns of the party balloting.

More than 70 percent of Nepal’s eligible voters participated in the Nov. 19 vote despite an election boycott and transportation strike by a coalition of 33 parties, including hard-line Maoists.

The new assembly is charged with writing the country’s constitution, a task the previous assembly was unable to complete after it became deadlocked over whether to adopt a parliamentary or presidential system of government, and whether ethnicity or geography should be used to divide the country into states.

Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting from Katmandu, Nepal.

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« Reply #10242 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:55 AM »

Malaysia summons Singapore envoy over spying claims

Foreign ministry acts after reports that Singapore helped US and Australia tap telecommunications links in Asia

Associated Press in Kuala Lumpar, Tuesday 26 November 2013 08.25 GMT   

Malaysia's foreign ministry has summoned a senior Singaporean diplomat over allegations that the city-state helped the US and Australia tap telecommunications links in Asia for espionage purposes.

Singapore's government has not publicly responded to the allegations, which were published on Monday in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald and cite documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Malaysian foreign minister, Anifah Aman, said in a statement that his ministry was seeking clarification from Singapore's high commissioner to Malaysia.

"If those allegations are eventually proven, it is certainly a serious matter that the government of Malaysia strongly rejects and abhors," Anifah said. He said spying against a good friend and neighbour was unacceptable.

Anifah's ministry earlier this month protested to US and Australian embassy officials over accusations that their diplomatic missions house surveillance equipment used to collect electronic communications.

The Sydney Morning Herald report said an NSA map published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad this week confirmed that Singapore played a role in helping the US and other intelligence partners tap undersea cables.

Similar spying allegations rocked relations between Indonesia and Australia this month, with Jakarta recalling its ambassador, downgrading relations and suspending co-operation on people-trafficking after claims of Australian tapping the phones of Indonesia's president, his wife and eight Indonesian ministers and officials in 2009.

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« Reply #10243 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Xinjiang university students must have political views approved

Chinese students whose political qualifications are 'not up to par' must not graduate, according to Communist party newspaper

Reuters in Beijing, Tuesday 26 November 2013 09.32 GMT   

University students in Xinjiang will not graduate unless their political views are approved, a university official has said, as the country wages what school administrators called an ideological war against separatism.

Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, many of whom resent controls imposed by Beijing and an inflow of Han Chinese migrants. Some Uighur groups are campaigning for an independent homeland.

University officials from Xinjiang said their institutions were a frontline in a "life and death struggle" for the people's hearts and a main front in the battle against separatism, the ruling Communist party's official newspaper in the region, the Xinjiang Daily, reported on Tuesday.

"Students whose political qualifications are not up to par must absolutely not graduate, even if their professional course work is excellent," said Xu Yuanzhi, the party secretary at Kashgar Teachers College in southern Xinjiang, which has been a centre of ethnic unrest.

It is unclear if such a policy has been officially implemented throughout the region.

"Ideology is a battlefield without gun smoke," said the Xinjiang Normal University's president, Weili Balati.

"As university leaders we have the responsibility to do more to help students and teachers properly understand and treat religion, ethnicity and culture and help them distinguish between right and wrong."

Beijing blames the East Turkestan Islamic movement for an attack on 28 October when a vehicle ploughed through crowds on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.

An Islamist militant group released a speech claiming responsibility but Uighur exiles, rights groups and some experts have cast doubt on the official accounts from Beijing.

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« Reply #10244 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:58 AM »

November 25, 2013

Japan Answers China’s Warnings Over Islands’ Airspace


TOKYO — Matching China’s stern language with warnings of his own, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan vowed on Monday to defend his nation’s airspace after China declared an air defense zone over a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr. Abe called China’s move an unacceptable effort to change the status quo with threats of force. He described it as a dangerous ratcheting up of tensions in the standoff over the uninhabited islands, which are administered by Japan but also claimed by China.

“We are determined to defend our country’s air and sea space,” Mr. Abe said. “The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever for Japan.”

China and Japan have been locked in an escalating war of words and nerves over the islands for more than a year. China’s declaration on Saturday that it would identify and possibly take military action against aircraft flying near the islands follows a long period of frequent dispatches of Chinese coast guard ships and aircraft to the area to challenge Japan’s control.

Mr. Abe’s effort to draw a line in the sand reflects his promises to lead his nation in standing up to China, which has eclipsed Japan as Asia’s top economic power. Since taking office in December, Mr. Abe, an outspoken conservative, has raised defense spending for the first time in a decade, and has increased military ties with the United States.

Japan has repeatedly signaled to China since Saturday that it has no intention of yielding control of airspace over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. On Monday, the Japanese vice foreign minister, Akitaka Saiki, summoned China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, to demand that China repeal the air defense zone, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Cheng replied that the Chinese air zone was not aimed at a specific country and would not affect civilian air traffic, according to Kyodo News. In Beijing, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said that Japan had “no right to make irresponsible remarks,” because Japan has maintained a similar air defense zone over the islands, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

As the standoff has escalated, Japan has also sought to bind itself more closely to the United States, which has been the guarantor of Japanese security since the end of World War II. On Monday, the top Japanese government spokesman and chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that Japan would work with the United States to urge China to allow aircraft to continue flying freely near the islands, which lie between Okinawa and Taiwan.
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