Defiant Turkish PM digs in as government graft investigation is blocked
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 19:30 EST
A graft probe that has shaken Turkey’s government to its core and threatened Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule has been blocked, a prosecutor alleged Thursday.
“Clear pressure” from Istanbul’s chief prosecutor and police commanders have stymied further arrests in the investigation, which has already netted several high-profile political and business figures suspected of bribery and corruption, state prosecutor Muammer Akkas said in a statement.
His charge came the day after Erdogan reshuffled nearly half his cabinet following the resignation of his interior, economy and environment ministers, all of whose sons have been implicated in the scandal.
The outgoing environment minister, Erdogan Bayraktar told NTV television he had been pressured to quit, and stated “I believe the prime minister should also resign”.
The premier, though, appears determined to weather the storm, even as it inches closer to his inner circle and family.
He has claimed the probe was launched by a shadowy international cabal, and has ordered the sacking of dozens of police officers involved in carrying it out.
But many observers see the developments as a grievous blow to his 11-year reign, during which he has built a reputation as a formidable economic steward but also an autocratic leader.
On Thursday, the Turkish lira dived to a new record low on the developments. The Istanbul stock market has also taken a beating.
The opposition Cumhuriyet daily predicted an “earthquake” would ensue as investigators turned their attention to a non-governmental organisation connected to the premier’s son Bilal.
The paper said prosecutors were pressuring police to investigate construction tenders granted to the NGO by an Istanbul municipality, whose mayor has been implicated in the corruption scandal.
The mayor, a member of Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), was briefly detained last week but later released pending trial.
Akkas said in his statement Thursday that Turkey’s public “should be aware that I, as public prosecutor, have been prevented from launching an investigation”.
On Wednesday he was reported to have ordered the detention of 30 more suspects in the case, including ruling party lawmakers and businessmen.
Akkas said police chiefs were acting illegally by disobeying court orders furthering the probe.
But Istanbul chief public prosecutor Turan Colakkadi hit back at Akkas’s charges by saying prosecutors were not mandated to launch “random investigations”.
Colakkadi also claimed Akkas was removed from the investigation because he had mishandled the proceedings and had leaked information to the media.
The internal row did not look likely to stop there.
Turkey’s Higher Board of Judges and Prosecutors is backing Akkas. It says police are required to obey his orders.
Political observers have linked the bribery probe to tensions between Erdogan and one of his most powerful former allies: Fethullah Gulen, an influential Muslim cleric who lives in the United States but whose followers hold key positions in Turkey’s police and judiciary.
The Turkish premier says he is fighting against a “state within a state”, widely seen as a reference to the influential Gulenist movement, a key backer of his government when he first came to power in 2002.
Gulenists have their own media, universities, think-tanks, and businesses, and with their followers in key positions, analysts say, the movement appears to be the only force that can undermine Erdogan’s party in the run up to local polls in March.
“There is not even a little sign of a ceasefire, let alone peace,” columnist Rusen Cakir wrote in the Vatan daily on Thursday. “To the contrary, it appears the battle (between Erdogan and Gulen) will turn even more violent.”
“It is obvious that the (Gulen) movement have more tricks up their sleeve,” he added.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi says uranium enrichment is progressing
Salehi seeks to placate hardline critics of Geneva nuclear deal by saying new generation of centrifuges is on the way
Associated Press in Tehran
theguardian.com, Friday 27 December 2013 12.18 GMT
The head of Iran's atomic energy agency had said the country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment but need further tests before they can be mass-produced, apparently trying to counter hardliners' criticism of its nuclear deal with world powers.
Under an agreement made last month in Geneva, Iran promised not to bring new centrifuges into operation for six months, part of temporary limitations on its uranium enrichment programme in return for the easing of some sanctions. But the deal does not stop it from developing centrifuges.
Ali Akbar Salehi's comments appeared designed to show the country is moving ahead with its nuclear programme in order to fend off criticism by Iranian hardliners, who have called the deal a surrender to western pressure. The government of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, says the deal recognises Iran's right to enrich uranium.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes, including power generation and medical treatments.
In his comments reported by state TV on Thursday, Salehi did not elaborate on how long the building and testing would take.
"The new generation of centrifuges is under development. But all tests should be carried on it before mass production," Salehi was quoted as saying.
He also said Iran has 19,000 centrifuges, though he did not say how many were operational. In August, Iran said it had 18,000 including 1,000 advanced centrifuges. Iran has given the UN nuclear watchdog information on the new generation of machines.
Iran has long said it is developing more sophisticated centrifuges to enrich uranium faster.
Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5% and neutralise its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium.
Uranium can be used to build a weapon if it is enriched to more than 90%. At lower levels, it is used to power nuclear reactors.
Man who oversaw Saddam Hussein’s hanging: ‘The room was full of death’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 27, 2013 7:28 EST
Mowaffak al-Rubaie sits in his office with a statue of Saddam Hussein behind him, the rope used to hang the dictator around its neck, recalling his final minutes.
The former national security advisor, who oversaw Saddam’s 2006 execution, said he remained strong until the end, and never expressed any regret.
“A criminal? True. A killer? True. A butcher? True. But he was strong until the end.
“I received him (Saddam) at the door. No one entered with us — no foreigners, and no Americans,” Rubaie said in an interview with AFP at his office in the Kadhimiyah area of north Baghdad, near the prison where the execution took place seven years ago. “He was wearing a jacket and a white shirt, normal and relaxed, and I didn’t see any signs of fear.
“Of course, some people want me to say that he collapsed or that he was drugged, but these facts are for history,” Rubaie said. “I didn’t hear any regret from him, I didn’t hear any request for mercy from God from him, or request for pardon.
“A person who is about to die usually says, ‘God, forgive my sins — I am coming to you.’ But he never said any of that,” Rubaie told AFP.
Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq for more than two decades marked by brutal repression, disastrous wars and punishing international sanctions, was hanged after being found guilty of crimes against humanity for the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail.
He was president from July 1979 until the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and was found by American forces hiding in a hole on a farm in December of that year.
Saddam was executed three years later on December 30, 2006 after a summary trial.
Some Iraqis, particularly Sunni Arabs, look back fondly on the time of Saddam’s rule, especially the periods of internal stability that stand in stark contrast to the brutal violence that has plagued the country since his overthrow.
Saddam is also held in high regard by some Arabs for his 1980-88 war with Iran, his confrontations with the United States, his strikes against Israel, and his composure during his execution, which was recorded on mobile phone videos.
‘This is for men’
“When I brought him, he was handcuffed and holding a Koran,” said Rubaie, ignoring the statue of Saddam behind him, which depicts the dictator dressed in a uniform bearing the insignia of his exclusive military rank.
“I took him to the judge’s room, where he read the list of indictments, as Saddam repeated: ‘Death to America! Death to Israel! Long live Palestine! Death to the Persian magi!”
Rubaie then took Saddam to the room in which he was to die.
“He stopped, looked at the gallows, then he looked me up and down… and said: ‘Doctor, this is for men.’”
When it was time for Saddam to mount the gallows, his legs were still bound, so Rubaie and others had to drag him up the steps.
Just before he was hanged, witnesses taunted him with shouts of “Long live Imam Mohammed Baqr al-Sadr!” and “Moqtada! Moqtada!” — references to an opponent of Saddam who was killed during his rule, and the dead man’s relative, who rose to command a powerful militia after 2003.
Saddam replied: “Is this manhood?”
Rubaie said he pulled the lever to hang Saddam, but it did not work. Another person he did not name then pulled it a second time, killing him.
Just before he was hanged, Saddam began to recite the Muslim testament of faith.
“I testify that there is no god but God, and Mohammed,” he began, but he was hanged before he could say the final words, “is the messenger of God.”
Rubaie went under the gallows to retrieve the body, which he said was put in a white bag and placed on a stretcher.
The body was then transported in an American helicopter from the prison where he was hanged to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s residence in the heavily-fortified Green Zone.
The helicopter was crowded with people, Rubaie said, so the body had to be put on the floor, and the doors of the helicopter were left open during the flight, as the stretcher was too long to fit otherwise.
“I remember clearly that the sun was starting to rise” as the helicopter flew over Baghdad, Rubaie said.
‘The room was full of death’
At his residence, “the prime minister took our hands and said: ‘God bless you.’ I told him, ‘Go ahead and look at him.’ So he uncovered his face, and saw Saddam Hussein,” said Rubaie, who is still a close ally of the premier.
“I have never had such a very strange feeling,” Rubaie, who was thrice imprisoned during Saddam’s rule, said of participating in the execution.
“He committed countless crimes, and he deserved to be hanged a thousand times, live again, and be hanged again. But the feeling, that feeling is a strange feeling,” he said. “The room was full of death.”
Rubaie said Saddam’s execution was set in motion after a video conference between Maliki and then-U.S. president George Bush, who asked the Iraqi prime minister: “What are you going to do with this criminal?”
Maliki replied: “We hang him.”
Bush gave him a thumbs up, signaling his approval.
December 26, 2013
Victory, and Setback, for Indian Opposition Leader
By GARDINER HARRIS and HARI KUMAR
NEW DELHI — The fiery head of India’s leading opposition party, who remains under pressure for his handling of an ethnic riot 11 years ago, won a victory on Thursday in one of the many disputes dogging him as he seeks to become India’s next prime minister, but faced a setback in another.
An Indian court rejected a petition seeking the prosecution of the opposition leader, Narendra Modi, the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party, over his role in riots in his home state, Gujarat, in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
But the government ordered a formal investigation into allegations that Mr. Modi’s top lieutenant, using state intelligence and security officers, oversaw wide-ranging surveillance of a woman on behalf of Mr. Modi.
Top members of Mr. Modi’s party hailed the court decision, but denounced the government-ordered investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt.
In response to the court judgment, Arun Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in the upper house of Parliament, said on Twitter, “The verdict has proved that propaganda can never be a substitute for truth.” But after the government’s announcement of the spying investigation, he told reporters, “This action is politically motivated.”
The petition seeking Mr. Modi’s prosecution was filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of Ehsan Jafri, a Muslim lawmaker in the governing Indian National Congress party who was among 69 killed — some burned alive — during the riots when a Hindu mob attacked a Muslim enclave in the city of Ahmedabad.
Neither case is likely to derail Mr. Modi’s growing popularity in India, since his tough-guy image is a big part of his appeal. Yet taken together, the cases demonstrate why he is a deeply divisive figure.
The most serious allegations against Mr. Modi concern the 2002 riots, which began in February of that year after Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims who were returning from a visit to a shrine. Fifty-nine Hindus were burned alive.
In the days following the train attack, riots rippled across Gujarat, in western India, fed by a strike called by Hindu groups and encouraged by some of Mr. Modi’s close associates. Initial investigations by Gujarat authorities were so suspiciously incompetent that the Indian Supreme Court ordered special police units to redo the investigations, which eventually resulted in hundreds of convictions.
Ms. Jafri claimed that Mr. Modi, a Hindu and chief minister of Gujarat, was criminally negligent and complicit in neglecting to quell the riots. A judge in Gujarat rejected that argument on Thursday.
Ms. Jafri said she was disappointed in the ruling. “I won’t give up the fight,” she told reporters. “I will appeal the verdict to a higher court.”
“Truth alone triumphs,” Mr. Modi responded on Twitter.
The spying allegations are more sordid but less serious. They came to light after transcripts of conversations between a top Modi aide and police officers were published by a website that said it had received the recordings from a Gujarat police officer, G. L. Singhal, who is accused of participating in assassinations and is now cooperating with authorities.
Some of the transcripts are comical, as when Officer Singhal reports disapprovingly that the woman, who has not been officially identified, “talks very rudely with her mother.”
Mr. Modi’s supporters initially conceded that state resources were used to keep track of the woman’s contacts with men, but justified the operation by saying that her father had requested it. More recently, officials of his party have suggested that the recordings were faked.
Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, dismissed the investigation as government harassment. “Narendra Modi will not come under pressure,” Mr. Singh said.
But Digvijay Singh, a leader of the governing Congress party and no relation to Rajnath Singh, welcomed the investigation into what he called an obvious violation of wiretapping laws. “This should have happened much earlier,” Mr. Singh said.
December 27, 2013
India Police Charge 6 in Gang Rape of Young Woman
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW DELHI — Police arrested 10 people and charged six of them with raping a 21-year-old woman in southern India, an officer said Friday, a year after a fatal gang rape in New Delhi spurred debate on sexual violence in the country.
Officer Monika Bharadwaj said the arrests were made Thursday after the woman complained that she was abducted and raped while visiting a friend in Karaikal, a port city in Pondicherry state.
Bhardwaj said that the woman has been hospitalized but that she did not suffer serious injuries.
Police have also detained a juvenile male for not informing the police about the crime.
Bhardwaj said the woman was first kidnapped by three of the accused around midnight Tuesday and released after nearly three hours of captivity.
As she called her friend to pick her up after she was freed, another group of seven people came in a vehicle and took her away, Bhardwaj said.
Police were questioning the accused to find out whether they knew each other or belonged to two separate groups, Bhardwaj said.
The assault came days after India marked the anniversary of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests.
The outrage spurred the government to adopt more stringent laws that doubled prison terms for rape to 20 years and criminalized voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women. Fast-track courts have been created for rape cases.
Four attackers in the New Delhi case were sentenced to death and a juvenile was sent to a reform center for three years.
December 26, 2013
With Shrine Visit, Leader Asserts Japan’s Track From Pacifism
By HIROKO TABUCHI
TOKYO — Shinzo Abe’s past year as prime minister has concentrated chiefly on reviving Japan’s long-ailing economy. Yet in Mr. Abe’s mind, the country’s newfound economic prowess is a means to an end: to build a more powerful, assertive Japan, complete with a full-fledged military, as well as pride in its World War II-era past.
That larger agenda, which helped cut short Mr. Abe’s first stint in office in 2006-7, has again come to the forefront in recent weeks, culminating in his year-end visit Thursday to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead, including several war criminals who were executed after Japan’s defeat. Past visits by Japanese politicians have angered China and South Korea, both of which suffered greatly under Japan’s empire-building efforts in the 20th century.
The latest visit set off swift rebukes from officials in Beijing and Seoul, who accused Mr. Abe of trying to obscure imperial Japan’s atrocities. And in a rare criticism of a close ally, the new American ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, also expressed disappointment with Mr. Abe’s government.
Mr. Abe has shown, however, that he is willing to take on big political risks to steer the country away from its postwar pacifism. Last month, he ignored blistering criticism from political opponents as well as the news media and steamrollered through Parliament a law that would tighten government control over state secrets. The law was presented by the government as a mechanism to aid in the sharing of military intelligence with allies, and create an American-style National Security Council.
Mr. Abe has also increased military spending for the first time in a decade, and loosened self-imposed restrictions on exporting weapons. A new defense plan calls for the acquisition of drones and amphibious assault vehicles to prepare for the prospect of a prolonged rivalry with China.
And experts say that next year, Mr. Abe could start taking concrete steps to reinterpret, and ultimately revise, Japan’s 1947 pacifist Constitution, something he has described as a life goal. Proposed changes could allow the country to officially maintain a standing army for the first time since the war, and take on a larger global security role.
“The past year has given Mr. Abe confidence to start flying his own colors,” said Koji Murata, president of Doshisha University in Kyoto. “He is signaling to his supporters that he is a politician who will fight for his convictions.”
Mr. Abe’s push is at once timely and risky. Regional anxiety over Beijing’s own rapid military buildup — and the relative decline of American influence here as Washington remains distracted by the Middle East — has seemed to set the stage for a more confident Japan. And tensions with China and South Korea have made a skeptical public more willing to accept Mr. Abe’s rightist agenda, including the establishment of a more robust military.
But territorial disputes, as well as sharp disagreements over the legacy of the war, also make for a dangerous backdrop to Japan’s rise. Japanese and Chinese patrol boats remain in a tense standoff near uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries, prompting concern among some military analysts that a miscalculation or accident could set off an armed confrontation.
Japan’s relations with South Korea are at rock-bottom because of a separate territorial dispute and disagreements over interpretations of history. Raised hopes for a reconciliation after recent reports of a meeting involving vice ministers from the two countries have been dashed by Mr. Abe’s Yasukuni visit.
“Mr. Abe has poured even more fuel on the fire,” said Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo and author of a best-selling book on the Yasukuni Shrine’s role in Japanese politics. “That does not bode well for Japan’s relations in Asia at all.”
Mr. Abe walks a fine line in part because the many facets of his agenda do not sit well together. For one, good relations with China — Tokyo’s largest trading partner — are critical to Japan’s ongoing economic recovery. Experts warn that taking a belligerent stance toward Beijing could deal another blow to Japanese business interests in China, and to Mr. Abe’s economic agenda.
Nor do Mr. Abe’s deeply revisionist views of history — which he inherited from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was jailed for war crimes before eventually becoming prime minister — inspire confidence that Tokyo can play a bigger security role in Asia.
Washington has generally been keen for Japan to take on a more active military presence in the region to counterbalance China’s growing might. But rather than become a stable ally, Tokyo has become another Asian problem for American officials because of its quarrels with Beijing.
When Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Japan in October, they paid their respects at a different cemetery for Japan’s unnamed war dead, in an apparent effort to nudge Japanese leaders away from visiting Yasukuni.
“In the end, Mr. Abe’s historical views diverge sharply from America’s,” Mr. Takahashi said. “After all, Mr. Abe does not believe in the postwar order that America established.”
Yet thanks to his early focus on the economy, Mr. Abe’s ratings of around 50 percent are high by recent Japanese standards; he faces no credible opposition and no nationwide elections are scheduled until 2016. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in July, giving it control over both chambers of Parliament, and the power to push through legislation.
Mr. Abe has, at times, worked well with the Americans. For example, he was personally involved in a long-stalled plan to move an American Marine base on the island of Okinawa.
“He began by focusing on economic revival, and cementing his support, which was wise,” said Eiji Yoshida, a professor of law at Kansai University in Osaka. “But he’s been waiting and waiting for the moment he can move on to his true agenda, and that moment is now.”
China has little room to maneuver after last month unilaterally declaring a new air defense zone over the East China Sea islands, raising alarm across the region. In a direct challenge to threats by China that it could take military action against foreign aircraft entering the zone, the United States sent two unarmed B-52 bombers through the airspace, after which China appeared to backpedal from its threats.
“China has already played its card. There’s little room for it to escalate matters over Prime Minister Abe’s visit,” Mr. Murata of Doshisha University said.
Some analysts say that Mr. Abe did his best to minimize the fallout from his Yasukuni visit. He avoided worshiping there during the shrine’s seasonal religious festivals, or during politically or historically significant anniversaries.
Many Japanese conservatives say the visit should not be so politically charged, because it was simply meant to honor the 3.1 million military personnel and civilians who perished in World War II.
Mr. Abe himself made that claim, saying he contemplated on the “preciousness of peace” as he paid his respects at Yasukuni.
Few analysts, however, think that he will now turn his full focus back to the economy. Instead, the new year is likely to mark new steps to change the Constitution.
Mr. Abe has said he would first push to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to take action on behalf of allies under attack. But he has made no secret that he would seek a wide-ranging revision of the document itself, allowing Japan a national army.
“Perhaps the most important lesson of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni is that despite claims that Abe is focused on economic recovery above all else, the prime minister does not believe that his mandate is limited to his economic policies,” said Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at Teneo Intelligence, an advisory firm.
Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea. Patrick Zuo contributed research from Beijing, and Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno from Tokyo.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 26, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of the spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry. He is Cho Tai-young, not Cho Tae-yong or Cho Tae-young.
Chinese state media pushing for retaliation after Japanese PM’s shrine visit
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 22:15 EST
China must take “excessive” counter-measures after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial war shrine visit, state-run media urged on Friday, reflecting the smouldering resentment among Chinese at its onetime invader.
China expressed strong opposition and summoned Tokyo’s ambassador on Thursday to deliver a “strong reprimand” after Abe paid respects at the Yasukuni shrine.
The site honours several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II, a reminder of Japan’s 20th century aggression and a source of bitterness for China and other Asian countries.
“People are getting tired of such futile ‘strong condemnations’,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a paper that is close to the ruling Communist Party and often strike a nationalist tone.
“China needs to take appropriate, even slightly excessive countermeasures” or else “be seen as a ‘paper tiger’”, it warned.
It suggested barring high-profile Japanese politicians and other officials who went to the shrine from visiting China for five years.
Abe’s visit was the first by an incumbent Japanese prime minister to the inflammatory site since 2006, and came as tensions between the two Asian powers have escalated since 2012 over an island dispute.
State-run media also excoriated Abe, who has sought to shore up Japan’s military.
“In the eyes of China, Abe, behaving like a political villain, is much like the terrorists and fascists on the commonly seen blacklists,” the Global Times said.
The China Daily called the visit “an intolerable insult” that had “slammed the door to dialogue shut”, adding that “Abe knew it would be an insult. But he does not care”.
It criticised the leader’s “sheer hypocrisy” and “nasty track record”, including “his denial of the aggressive nature of Japanese intrusions during WWII, his lack of remorse for Japan’s historical sins”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Abe’s visit “a flagrant provocation against international justice and treads arbitrarily on humanity’s conscience”, a ministry statement said on Thursday.
China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, have important trading ties.
But conflict over East China Sea islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan have soured diplomatic relations since last year.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Okinawa approves relocation of controversial US military base
Residents of Japanese island protest against plans to move US air base from Futenma to less populous Henoko
Reuters in Tokyo
theguardian.com, Friday 27 December 2013 10.59 GMT
The governor of the Japanese island of Okinawa has approved a controversial plan to relocate a US air base to a less populous location, but still wants the base moved off the island altogether.
The decision in Okinawa, long a reluctant host to the bulk of US military forces in Japan, is an achievement for the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has promised a more robust military and tighter security ties with the United States amid escalating tension with China.
Sceptics, however, said it remained far from clear whether the relocation – stalled since the move was first agreed upon by Washington and Tokyo in 1996 – would actually take place given persistent opposition from residents, many of whom associate the US bases with crime, pollution and noise.
The approval came a day after Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, seen in parts of Asia as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. The visit infuriated China and South Korea, and prompted concern from the US about deteriorating ties between the Asian neighbours.
The Okinawa governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, told a news conference he had approved a central government request for a landfill project at the new site, on the Henoko coast near the town of Nago. His approval for that project, required by law and a first step to building the replacement facility, was the last procedural barrier to eventually replacing the US marines' Futenma air base in the crowded town of Ginowan.
"The government has recently met our requests in compiling a plan to reinvigorate Okinawa. We felt that the Abe government's regard for Okinawa is higher than any previous governments," Nakaima told a news conference.
He added, however, that he still believed the quickest way to relocate the Futenma air base would be to move it to an existing facility with runways outside Okinawa.
About 2,000 people gathered in front of the Okinawa government building to protest against the decision, with a few hundred staging a sit-in in the lobby of the office building, Jiji news agency said.
The US and Japan agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma base but plans for a replacement stalled in the face of opposition in Okinawa, which hosts more than half of the US forces in Japan. Okinawa was occupied by the US after Japan's defeat in the second world war until 1972.
The Futenma base has been a lightning rod for criticism because of its location in a densely populated area.
Activists living in tents have been staging a protest near the site of the proposed Henoko base for almost 10 years and have promised demonstrations if Nakaima approves construction.
In April, the US and Japan announced a plan to close Futenma as early as 2022.
Abe said the government would study whether that plan could be accelerated and would begin negotiating an agreement with the US that could allow for more local oversight of environmental issues at US bases.
That would address Nakaima's call to revise the bilateral Status of Forces agreement that has applied to US military in Japan since 1960 but has never been officially revised.
Abe's government has earmarked 348bn yen (£2bn) for Okinawa's economic development in the draft budget for the year from April, a 15.3% increase from this year.
China cancels plans for Mao's 120th but in one village, his spirit lives on
Communist party in rethink on television series and celebration, but last commune remains a shrine
Tania Branigan in Nanjiecun, Henan
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 December 2013 14.52 GMT
The day begins at 6.15am, as The East Is Red blasts through the speakers and echoes down the wide, empty streets, past the blazingly white statue of Chairman Mao, his right hand aloft in perpetual salute.
It ends at dusk with the closing refrain of another revolutionary classic: "The socialist society will surely succeed! A communist society will surely be achieved!"
Nanjiecun is as close as anywhere in China comes to fulfilling that pledge: a commune in a land that long ago embraced capitalism. Land is still farmed collectively. Its 10,000 inhabitants spend food tokens in public grocery stores. Inside the gates, the clatter and clamour of modern life vanishes; exhortations from the Great Helmsman replace advertising slogans. Each home, provided by the government, has the same furniture – down to its electronic Mao calendar.
As China celebrates the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth this week, Nanjiecun officials believe him as relevant as ever.
"Only Chairman Mao thought can lead to common wealth," explained Wang Hongbin, the party secretary. "Although he has left us, we hope his spirit is immortal."
At its height, Mao's influence was felt not only in Asia but across Africa and in the bourgeois west. In Paris, student radicals waved their Little Red Books. The British left was less enthused, but when police arrested a man and woman in London last month on suspicion of slavery, it emerged that the roots of the case lay in a Maoist sect founded in the 70s.
"There was great variety in what people read into Maoism," said Julia Lovell of Birkbeck, University of London, who is writing a book on its global legacy.
"Some saw him as the heir to Stalin; a doctrinaire Communist leader. Others ran with the idea of Mao as an anarchic democrat; as a guerrilla leader; as a man of the people but also a philosopher and poet. You have this strange contradiction: admiration for him as a proletarian, but also as a cultured intellectual."
At home in China, Mao's portrait hangs in Tiananmen Square and his face gazes from banknotes. His birthplace, Shaoshan, has spent 15.5bn yuan (£1.56bn) on tourism projects.
Since becoming leader in 2012, Xi Jinping has consciously embraced some Mao-style tactics, such as holding televised "criticism and self-criticism" sessions, for people to highlight others' faults, and confess their own. But he has also said anniversary celebrations should be simple and pragmatic. A TV series on Mao has been dropped and a birthday concert rebranded as a new year gala.
Officials celebrate an icon of national revival and Communist party rule, rather than the revolutionary whose thinking was described as a "spiritual atom bomb".
Yet his promise of economic equality has renewed appeal in a country beset by corruption, injustice and a gulf between rich and poor, as the popularity of Bo Xilai's quasi-Maoist platform proved before the Chongqing party secretary's downfall last year.
With its dated atmosphere, quiet streets, wholesome ethos and street-corner Tannoys, Nanjiecun is uncannily reminiscent of the 60s TV show The Prisoner: a staged, self-contained world out of place and time.
To Fan Jinggang, who manages Utopia, the Beijing bookstore known as a centre of modern Maoism, it is not an anomaly but an inspiration.
"If all villages in China took Nanjiecun's path, farmers' rights would be guaranteed and living standards would be higher than now," said Fan. "You would not see so many farmers exploited in cities. They would not be discriminated against … The rights of the proletariat would be guaranteed and the polarisation between rich and poor would not happen."
Many of the social ills he lists are also cited by the liberals he denigrates: environmental degradation, wasted resources, corruption, social discontent.
But his diagnosis is wholly different: "The transformation of the Communist party is the root of all problems in China," he said. "The rebels, to a large degree, have kidnapped the Communist party and the republic."
Current plans for reform suggest a further embrace of privatisation and marketisation, which he warned would intensify economic polarisation and social instability.
Fan points to the successes of Mao's reign: then, life expectancy soared from 35 to 68 years, workers were respected politically, and there were warmer relations between cadres and the people.
"History has proven that Chairman Mao's thought is the truth," he said.
But others remember him as the man whose leadership caused tens of millions of deaths in the Great Famine and the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution. When China embraced reforms after his death, hundreds of millions climbed out of poverty.
It is impossible to know how many in China share Fan's views, but it is probably true that their numbers are easily underestimated. Many are poor, often old, and they lack connections and influence.
Utopia's website was closed after Bo's purge, although a sister site still publishes leftist content. Fan complained that he could not share his opinions freely, blaming neoliberalism among officials and in the media, which does not run leftist opinions, and which attacks individuals and their point of view, he said.
Still, neo-Maoists are more tolerated by authorities than those calling for multiparty elections. And while they complain of being silenced, they are frequently intolerant of other views. When the prominent economist Mao Yushi criticised Mao Zedong as a "backstage orchestrator who wrecked the country and brought ruin to the people", leftists petitioned for his arrest and threatened the 84-year-old with violence.
Nanjiecun's officials avoid this brand of harsh ideological rhetoric: they are confident in their sedate course.
"Because it's common wealth, we don't have big disparities between rich and poor … Living and working here, you don't have pressure, because the group will help you solve problems," said the party secretary, Wang.
"When people work together and are optimistic and active, that's a good atmosphere. People talk and laugh together."
When Nanjiecun land was decollectivised, local farmers simply handed it back. Fields are now tended by a team and a grain ration given to residents. Officials and workers are paid but also enjoy free water and power, free meals in canteens, and free medical care.
Despite reports of significant debt in 2008, officials insist the town is prospering. Nanjiecun promises security in a world of casual employment, scant social welfare and soaring property prices – which is why young people who have ventured out to China's busiest cities often opt to return.
Government-run factories do, however, include a joint venture with a Japanese noodle-maker. In theory, there are no private shops, but the staff of a grocery store seem surprised to learn this. And though labourers from outside contribute according to ability, they do not receive according to their need.
"Everyone wants to live in Nanjiecun, but it's hard to qualify," said 21-year-old Xiao Li, who works as a guide to the village but lives elsewhere.
Much of the Mao memorabilia, such as the full-size replicas of his former homes in the botanical gardens, seems aimed primarily at tourists. His statue was erected in 1993 and the giant portraits around it – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – went up the following decade.
Qi Hongyao, a local, had brought a visiting friend to admire the figure. But he was perplexed by the idea that Nanjiecun might be a model for other places.
"In the past, people never went outside and didn't know what life outside was like. In the past, people just wanted warm clothes and enough food. Now they have more, so they want more," he said. "You can't go back."
Additional research by Cecily Huang
Thai army chief calls for end to violence but fails to rule out coup
General Prayuth Chan-ocha says 'door is neither open nor closed' to military intervention after two months of protests
Associated Press in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Friday 27 December 2013 12.41 GMT
Thailand's army chief has urged both sides in the country's bitter political dispute to show restraint, but did not explicitly rule out the possibility of a coup.
Thailand has been rocked by two months of violent street protests and political tensions pitting the government of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, against protesters seeking to remove her from power. The army has staged 11 successful coups in the country's history; in the current volatile climate, its intentions are being watched carefully.
"That door is neither open nor closed," the army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said in response to questions from reporters as to whether a military intervention was likely.
He also reiterated a request that people stop asking the army to take sides in the dispute. "Please don't bring the army into the centre of this conflict," he said.
On Thursday, protesters seeking to disrupt elections scheduled for 2 February fought police in clashes that left two people dead.
Thailand's election commission also called for a delay in the polls, a blow to Yingluck, who expects to win them handily thanks to her overwhelming support in the country's north and north-east.
Prayuth said the army had shown "red traffic lights to both sides, so things will calm down", and called for an end to street violence. "You ask: 'Who wins?' Who wins?' No one," he said.
Police have made no move to arrest the protest movement's ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding that the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented. He has vowed that protesters will thwart the polls through civil disobedience. Authorities must tread carefully, as a crackdown would be likely to provoke greater violence and chaos.
The current tensions date back to 2006, when Yingluck's brother, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled in a military coup. The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption but still wields influence.
Thaksin or his allies have won every election since 2001. His supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok's elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class, which is represented in the current protest movement.
Car bomb kills Mohamad Chatah, aide to ex-PM of Lebanon Saad Hariri
Chatah, outspoken critic of Hezbollah and Syrian regime, assassinated in attack near Hariri's compound in Beirut
Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Friday 27 December 2013 09.38 GMT
Link to video: Beirut car bomb: eyewitness accounts of Mohamad Chatah assassinationhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/dec/27/beirut-car-bomb-eyewitness-assassination-mohamad-chatah-video
A senior aide to the former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri has been assassinated by a large car bomb in central Beirut. Fifteen other people were injured in the blast, which destroyed part of a neighbourhood near Hariri's compound.
Hariri-linked media reported that Mohamad Chatah, a senior adviser to the now exiled leader, died in the blast. He was believed to have been en route to a meeting at the nearby headquarters, where he kept an office. Chatah was an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime and of Hezbollah, which has held sway over the Lebanese government since Hariri was ousted as leader three years ago.
Chatah, 62, is the second senior opposition figure to have been killed in the past 14 months. The political killing of figures linked to the Hariris dates back nine years.
In October last year, Wissam al-Hassan, the head of the Internal Security Forces intelligence branch, was also killed by a car bomb. He was buried several hundred metres from the scene of Friday's blast in a shrine alongside former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the patriarch of the western-leaning 14 March alliance whose assassination in February 2005 sparked a new era of instability in post-civil war Lebanon.
Friday's bombing comes several weeks before the start of the long-delayed trial of the alleged assassins of Hariri, five members of Hezbollah, who will be tried in The Hague in absentia. Hezbollah has vehemently denied being responsible for Hariri's death, which it labels as a US and Israeli plot.
A giant mushroom-like cloud towered over the downtown district where the explosion hit, not far from the Hariri compound in the Wadi Abu Jamil area. The Lebanese Red Cross said at least 15 casualties had been taken to nearby hospitals. It was not immediately clear how many had been killed and whether the toll would rise.
14 March leaders have been strong supporters of the uprising against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, whom they accuse of seeking hegemony over Lebanon directly and through Hezbollah and Iran. The bloc is strongly backed by Saudi Arabia and supported by Qatar. Each side is arming proxies in the vicious war in Syria, while seeking to assert its influence on the Lebanese political scene, which has been unable to form a government for more than a year.
Chatah had adopted an unusually strident tone against Syria and Hezbollah for the past year, taking to Twitter regularly to warn of the perils of political chaos and the influence of foreign players. "As Hezbollah chips deeper into the state's sovereign prerogatives, it undercuts the foundations of a single/united Lebanon," he said recently. In another tweet he said: "Arafat, then Assad then Nasrallah. If Lebanon is not saved from its current path, history will tell how the third blow led to its downfall."
In his final tweet, hours before he died, he said: "Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years."
Britain's ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, paid tribute to Chatah on Twitter. He said: "Mohamad Chatah was a wise, tolerant, smart patriot. His courage not that he knew risks but that he believed Lebanon worth taking them for.
"We condemn his cowardly assassination. Determined to honour his memory by support to justice, rule of law and stability for Lebanon."
Bomb injures five after Egyptian government escalates 'war on terror'
Egyptian authorities round up Muslim Brotherhood members after bomb blast near bus travelling north of Cairo
Carol Berger in Cairo
The Guardian, Thursday 26 December 2013 18.22 GMT
A bomb exploded near a bus travelling north of Cairo on Thursday injuring five people a day after Egypt's interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. A second device was found nearby and defused.
The attacks came after a car bomb tore through a suburb north of Cairo on Tuesday, killing 16, which the country's leadership blamed on the Islamist group.
The classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group is a marked escalation in the military-led government's campaign to suppress opposition – an effort it has branded a "war on terror".
On Wednesday, the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility Tuesday's suicide bombing on a police headquarters in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo. In a statement, it warned people to stay away from what it said were legitimate targets, including police, military and government buildings.
Egypt's armed forces have been carrying out military operations in the northern Sinai for several months. Security forces claim to have killed 164 people and arrested more than 500 others on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.
Analysts were divided on what the immediate impact of the statement on the Muslim Brotherhood would be. It has already been listed as a banned organisation and its financial assets seized after a 23 September court ruling.
Most of its senior leadership sit behind bars and former prime minister Hisham Qandil was captured on Tuesday on a desert road en route to neighbouring Sudan, according to security forces.
HA Hellyer, a Cairo-based associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the immediate legal ramifications of Wednesday's announcement were unclear, but he had not been surprised by the announcement.
"The courts, for months, have been calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation," he told the Guardian. "And you have the media narrative, which has described the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists for months.
"The difference is that the cabinet and the actual leadership of the state is now saying this. This is the first time the state has directly linked the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism."
He discounted claims the Muslim Brotherhood was behind Tuesday's bombing in Mansoura: "You have a large number of people who supported [ousted president] Mohamed Morsi, and they are responsible for the attacks. Those are criminals. Those are terrorists. Those should be targeted by the security forces."
Hellyer predicted the climate for supporters of the Brotherhood would get worse. He added: "It also increases the likelihood that we will see more acts of violence."
An immediate concern is the potential for vigilante attacks on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, Hellyer said, as well as those opposed to the military-led interim government.
After the Mansoura bombing, hundreds of local residents vandalised property belonging to Muslim Brotherhood supporters, burning cars and ransacking businesses.
Several Egyptian observers have, however, applauded the government's move, with some suggesting it was late in coming.
Hisham Kassem, a publisher and analyst, said the government had made the announcement in response to growing criticism over its failure to end protest action and violence connected to those opposed to the government.
"People did not think the state was firm enough," he said, adding: "The statement will not have any impact because it's already a full-scale war."
Kassem referred to threats made by senior Brotherhood figures in the wake of Morsi's removal in July. "They have made statements that they would burn the country as punishment for removing Morsi," he said.
"The Brotherhood have made it clear – they refuse to use reason. They have repeatedly threatened to derail the country's progress," Kassem added.
Over the past week, reports have circulated of clandestine talks between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unnamed sources quoted in local media claimed the Brotherhood was stepping back from earlier demands that Morsi be reinstated. There was also talk of finding a legal "exit" for the imprisoned Brotherhood leadership.
With Wednesday's announcement, however, it appears unlikely the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, will be allowed to re-enter Egyptian politics.
• The story was amended on 27/12/2013 as HA Hellyer prefers to be known by his initials, not his first name
December 26, 2013
African Leaders Press for Peace in South Sudan
By NICHOLAS KULISH and ISMA’IL KUSHKUSH
JUBA, South Sudan — As clashes between government troops and rebels continued in South Sudan on Thursday, diplomats moved swiftly to drag the warring sides to the negotiating table but announced none of the breakthroughs they had hoped for.
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia arrived on Thursday in South Sudan for talks with President Salva Kiir, pressing for a political solution to the fighting that has engulfed this young nation for more than a week.
Diplomats from Africa, Europe and the United States have urgently called for the two sides in the crisis to begin negotiations before the violence escalates into an all-out civil war. Officials called the closed-door discussion with Mr. Kiir and the two regional leaders on Thursday constructive, but the hoped-for result — a plan to begin formal talks between the two sides — was not announced after the session, which lasted hours.
Even as the meeting took place, a spokesman for the South Sudanese military, Col. Philip Aguer, said that government forces were waging a pitched battle against rebels in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State, with the government controlling the city’s north and the rebels the south.
The crisis in South Sudan began last week after what Mr. Kiir described as a coup attempt by soldiers loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar. Mr. Kiir dismissed Mr. Machar and the entire cabinet in July. Mr. Machar remains in an undisclosed location after fleeing the capital. Many of his allies were arrested, and he has said their release is a precondition for starting talks, a position Mr. Kiir has rejected.
But the political dispute has spiraled into a broader humanitarian crisis. The United Nations special representative to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, said in a videoconference from the capital here on Thursday that well over 1,000 lives had already been lost in the conflict. More than 50,000 people are seeking refuge at United Nations compounds across the country. The peacekeeping force is overstretched trying to protect them, she said, adding that she expected reinforcements of personnel and equipment within 48 hours.
Ms. Johnson said the United Nations did not see the conflict coming. “We knew that there were tensions and that this could lead to problems, but I don’t think any South Sudanese, nor any of us observers, in country or outside, expected an unraveling of the stability so quickly,” she said.
The dispute stems from a power struggle between grudging collaborators turned outright rivals, but the violence quickly shifted into attacks against civilians and reprisals between ethnic groups. Mr. Kiir is a Dinka, the country’s largest ethnic group, while Mr. Machar is a Nuer, its second largest. South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
While an uneasy calm prevailed in Juba on Thursday, some fighting continued in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State that is home to a United Nations base where an estimated 17,000 people have sought refuge, Ms. Johnson said. Heavier fighting centered in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile, disrupting production as foreign oil workers have fled.
Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, said one civilian died and six others on the United Nations base in Malakal were wounded on Thursday in the heavy crossfire from the battles there. The United Nations hospital has already treated more than 95 people wounded by gunfire.
“It’s a very bad situation there right now,” Mr. Lanzer said. “The two sides are really vying for who can control strategic locations in and around the city.”
Teresa Gabriel fled to the United Nations compound in Malakal on Tuesday with her mother, sister and four children. When she came to the compound, she said, she saw looting, fires and wounded people. She said the people taking refuge there were from a mix of ethnic groups, Dinka, Nuer and others.
The fighting made it difficult to get aid into the city. The airport in Malakal was closed on Thursday because of the violence. The humanitarian situation in the compound is difficult, Ms. Gabriel explained. “There is no food, no water, and the bathrooms are really bad.”
But she said it was better than being outside the compound. “We could hear the gunfire coming from the town,” Ms. Gabriel said.
Nicholas Kulish reported from Juba, and Isma’il Kushkush from Khartoum, Sudan.
December 27, 2013
Israel Plans 1,400 More West Bank Settlement Homes, Official Says
JERUSALEM — Israel plans to build 1,400 homes in its settlements in the occupied West Bank and will announce the projects next week after releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners, an Israeli official said on Friday.
The Palestinians have said any further expansion of Israeli settlements on land they seek for a state could derail U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year break and are set to last until April.
Israel has been expected to release about two dozen Palestinians, the third group to be freed since the talks restarted, by the middle of next week and to announce a new settlement push of hitherto undisclosed size shortly after.
The Israeli government official said about 600 homes would be announced in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement of mainly Ultra-Orthodox Jews located in an area of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem in a move unrecognised internationally.
Another 800 would be built in other West Bank settlements which Israel also plans to keep in any future peace deal, though the list was not yet finalised, the official - who spoke on condition of anonymity - said.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the move would "destroy the peace process" and could be met with retaliation.
"We in the Palestinian leadership would immediately present our application for membership in 63 international organisations, among them the International Criminal Court," the al-Quds newspaper quoted Erekat as saying on Friday.
An Israeli official had said on Wednesday that there were plans to announce more construction in Jewish settlements, but gave no figure for the number of new homes.
Palestinians see the settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal.
The Palestinians won an upgrade to their U.N. status in 2012 from "entity" to "non-member state" in a vote perceived as a de facto recognition of statehood and have threatened to join the International Criminal Court to confront Israel there.
Earlier this year, however, the Palestinians agreed to suspend any actions at the United Nations in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian inmates convicted of killing Israelis at least 20 years ago as part of the package worked out by Washington to resume talks.
A previous round of negotiations broke down in 2010 in a dispute over settlement construction and since their revival this year, peace talks have shown little sign of progress.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Noah Browning in Ramallah; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by John Stonestreet/Ruth Pitchford)
Falklands papers show diplomatic pressure on Ireland
Margaret Thatcher pressured Ireland to abstain from resolution calling for ceasefire between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands
Conal Urquhart and agencies
The Guardian, Friday 27 December 2013
Margaret Thatcher placed intense pressure on the Irish government to abstain from a resolution calling for a ceasefire between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, according to newly released documents from Ireland's national archives. British diplomats warned their Irish counterparts that the prime minister would not be able to visit Ireland if supported the proposal.
Ireland, one of the non-permanent members of the UN security council during the Falklands war in 1982, voted with Britain, one of five permanent members, to support resolution 502 condemning Argentina's invasion of the islands. They both also voted to pass resolution 505, which urged Britain and Argentina to co-operate with the then UN secretary-general, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, in achieving a ceasefire.
However, Ireland was keen to support a more robust ceasefire resolution proposed by Panama and Spain, also non-permanent members of the security council.
Britain was adamant that there should be no ceasefire unless Argentina left the territory it had invaded in April 1982.
The papers, revealed under Ireland's 30-year rule, include a cable from an unnamed Irish diplomat at the UN describing a lunch with the British foreign secretary, Francis Pym, in early June 1982. Pym, who was appointed foreign secretary during the Falklands war after Lord Carrington resigned, said he deplored what had happened tothe Anglo-Irish relations, which he described as "getting worse every day". The deterioration in relations was particularly disappointing to Thatcher, who had accepted the "unique relationship" between the two countries, he told the Irish official.
"In her present mood he could not give any assurance that the PM would wish to have a meeting with the taoiseach, although he added that a week is, of course, a long time in politics and things could change," the diplomat told Dublin in the cable.
According to the files, Pym asked Ireland to at least abstain from a UN vote on a Panama-Spain proposed resolution, which called for an immediate ceasefire. But the diplomat wrote: "I gave him no hope of this in light of our stand in the [security] council and explained our policy at some length."
At the lunch, the diplomat also had a conversation with Sir Antony Acland, then head of the British diplomatic service in his role as permanent under-secretary of the Foreign Office.
"Sir Antony referred to the prime minister's personal involvement in the Falklands crisis and said that she saw herself in the role of defending the islanders from aggression "He hinted, without saying so bluntly, that the PM might find it politically difficult to visit Ireland this year if we continued to play a role seen by No 10 Downing Street as unfriendly to Britain and to the interests of the islanders."
He added: "I insisted we were in favour of a ceasefire leading to peace in the interests of all concerned, including the islanders and that it was this approach which had guided out actions at the UN."
The Panama-Spain ceasefire resolution was vetoed by the UK and US, and Ireland did not have the opportunity to vote on it. Argentinian forces on the Falklands surrendered on 14 June.
Security professionals withdraw from tech conference after NSA revelations
By George Chidi
Thursday, December 26, 2013 13:10 EST
Add Josh Thomas to the list of security experts cutting ties with RSA Security after the Snowden leaks.
“If the allegations are true, a company that’s sole purpose to build trust – and that’s what cryptography is – and they can’t be trusted, then I don’t want to be part of that,” Thomas said to Raw Story. Thomas, “Chief Breaker” of Atreidis Partners, had been lined up to speak at the annual RSA conference in February. The conference gathers computer security researchers to discuss the latest in cryptography and security.
But the RSA brand is radioactive territory after Reuters published accusations that the firm colluded with the NSA to market flawed encryption. The conference is separate from the company, he noted. “They share a name and nothing else. To punish the conference for the company is probably not fair. The problem is that they do share a name. They are furthering the RSA brand. Everyone who gets on stage is furthering the credibility of the company.”
Mikko Hypponen, chief researcher for Finnish computer security firm F-Secure, withdrew in protest from a speaking engagement at conference, citing the Edward Snowden revelations as tainting the event published an open letter Monday describing his concerns to RSA and its parent firm, EMC Corp.
“On December 20th, Reuters broke a story alleging that your company accepted a random number generator from the National Security Agency, and set it as the default option in one of the your products, in exchange of $10 million. Your company has issued a statement on the topic, but you have not denied this particular claim,” Hypponen wrote in an open letter.
“Eventually, NSA’s random number generator was found to be flawed on purpose, in effect creating a back door. You had kept on using the generator for years despite widespread speculation that NSA had backdoored it. As my reaction to this, I’m cancelling my talk at the RSA Conference USA 2014 in San Francisco in February 2014.”
Hypponen’s decision reverberated within the security community through social media. F-Secure is one of the most important anti-virus and computer security firms in the world, and Hypponen is a world-renowned expert at defeating computer viruses and worms. In a Twitter message, Hypponen said the title of the talk he would have delivered at RSA 2014 was “Governments as Malware Authors.”
A Reuters report last week, relying on information provided by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, accused the security division of EMC of received $10 million from the NSA to use a flawed random number generator in one of its products. RSA denied entering into a secret contract … but has not denied taking money from the NSA.
“We made the decision to use Dual EC DRBG as the default in BSAFE toolkits in 2004, in the context of an industry-wide effort to develop newer, stronger methods of encryption. At that time, the NSA had a trusted role in the community-wide effort to strengthen, not weaken, encryption,” it said in a statement Sunday.
Spokespeople for the conference have not yet returned requests for comment.
Scientists retracing the footsteps of 1911 Antarctic expedition trapped in ice
By Alok Jha, The Guardian
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 8:55 EST
Icebreaker ships go to help MV Akademik Shokalskiy after captain issues distress call
A team of scientists and members of the public who have been retracing the footsteps of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911 have become trapped in heavy ice a few miles from the coast of Antarctica.
Passengers aboard the ship, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, were informed on Christmas morning that the captain had issued a distress call to the Maritime Service Authority based in Falmouth in the UK earlier in the day. Three nearby icebreaker ships have been notified of the Shokalskiy’s situation and are on their way to help.
The nearest ship, the Chinese Xue Long (Snow Dragon), will take just over a day to reach the Shokalskiy’s position, around 1,500 nautical miles from Hobart in Tasmania. A French ship called the Astrolabe, and sent out from the nearest Antarctic base, Dumont D’Urville, could arrive around the same time. The furthest ship, also on its way, is the Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis.
“The ship is no danger,” said Chris Turney. “We’re currently in heavy ice and we need help to get out. It’s frustrating – we’re only two miles from open water. Everyone is well on board and morale is high. We’ve had a fantastic Christmas and the science programme has been continuing while we’re stuck in position. The results looking really exciting. We’re very fortunate the Chinese are in the area, passing relatively close by.”
The Snow Dragon is a 166-metre-long icebreaker, cruising towards the Shokalskiy at 14.5 knots.
The Russian-built Shokalskiy left the port of Bluff in New Zealand on 8 December with 48 passengers and 20 crew members to follow in the footsteps of the great Antarctic explorer and scientist Douglas Mawson. Led by the climate scientist Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales, the ship has been sailing through the Southern Ocean, repeating and extending many of Mawson’s wildlife and weather observations in order to build a picture of how this part of the world has changed in the past 100 years.
The expedition had already reached the fast ice off Commonwealth Bay, carrying out measurements of the Southern Ocean along the way. A small team of scientists and conservationists also reached Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison on Thursday last week, 40 miles (65km) across the ice from where the ship was anchored. The expedition was heading east on Tuesday to spend a day at the Mertz glacier when it became trapped among thick ice floes near Stillwell Island, off Cape de la Motte.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is co-ordinating the rescue, said: “It’s in quite a remote part of the world. But we have everyone safe. The vessel isn’t in any immediate danger.”
Passengers were kept updated throughout the day about the ship’s situation. When the ship is free from the ice, expected by the weekend, this modern incarnation of the AAE will continue on to the Southern Ocean and will return to Bluff via a stop on Macquarie Island to carry out a short programme of wildlife, oceanography and climate research.
“We can’t wait to get to Macquarie Island,” said Turney. “It was a cornerstone of the original AAE and we’re keen to finish the research programme there.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
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In the USA...United Surveillance America
U.S. sending missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq to help combat Al-Qaeda-backed violence: NYT
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 10:05 EST
The United States is sending Iraq dozens of missiles and surveillance drones to help it combat a recent surge in Al-Qaeda-backed violence, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
The weapons include a shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles purchased by Iraq, which Washington delivered to the country last week, the Times reported.
The daily wrote that 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones — smaller versions of the larger Predator drones that once were frequently flown over Iraq — are expected to be sent by March.
Administration sources told the Times that the delivery comes as the Iraqis had virtually run out of Hellfire missiles.
The shipments are being sent as Baghdad confronts the worst wave of Islamic militant violence in half a decade.
Recent attacks, including the bombing Wednesday of a market near a church in Baghdad, have killed at least 44 people across Iraq, in the worst bloodletting since 2008 when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
Militants frequently attack places where crowds gather, including markets, cafes and mosques, in an effort to cause maximum casualties.
Experts say widespread discontent among Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab community is a major factor fueling the surge in unrest.
More than 6,700 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
Obama signs bipartisan budget deal and Guantanamo transfer bills into law
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 17:56 EST
President Barack Obama Thursday signed into law the compromise US budget bill recently negotiated by feuding lawmakers and a massive defense bill that takes a step toward ultimate closure of Guantanamo.
After signing the legislation while vacationing in Hawaii with his family, Obama praised the National Defense Authorization Act for allowing accelerated repatriation of detainees from the US naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I am encouraged that this act provides the executive greater flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees abroad, and look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility,” Obama said in a statement.
The new law still forbids transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, a restriction Obama opposes.
He said “the continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners and emboldening violent extremists.”
The bill assures $552.1 billion in military spending, as well as $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations, namely the war in Afghanistan.
It allows for a one-percent raise for military personnel and requires reforms in the way the Pentagon handles some sexual assaults in the military.
The broader budget agreement also signed by the president lays out top-line spending limits for 2014 and 2015, and erases $63 billion in arbitrary spending cuts that were to take effect January 1.
Critically, it reduces the threat of a government shutdown after January 15, the date by which Democrats and Republicans from both chambers will have to craft a series of spending bills under the new limit.
Failure to do so would risk another shutdown like the one that paralyzed Washington for 16 days in October, but this month’s modest deal makes it far easier for lawmakers to negotiate appropriations.
The bill increases the $967 billion cap for 2013 spending to $1.012 trillion next year and $1.014 trillion in 2015, and reduces the deficit by about $23 billion over 10 years.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
December 26, 2013
With Health Law Cemented, G.O.P. Debates Next Move
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — With the first enrollment deadline now passed, Republicans who have made the repeal of President Obama’s health care law their central aim are confronting a new reality: More than two million Americans are expected to be getting their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act come Jan. 1.
The enrollment figures may be well short of what the Obama administration had hoped for. But the fact that a significant number of Americans are now benefiting from the program is resulting in a subtle shift among Republicans.
“It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and a Tea Party favorite. “There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.”
And that underscores a central fact of American politics since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act during the Depression: Once a benefit has been bestowed, it is nearly impossible to take it away.
Republicans are considering several ideas for how to proceed. Mr. Johnson argued that Congress should do away with the mandate that most people obtain insurance, but not the online exchanges at the heart of the law. Instead, he said, the options in the marketplaces should be augmented by other choices that fall short of the law’s coverage standards, such as catastrophic health plans. (Many policy analysts and insurance companies say such a move would not work, because the mandates are essential to delivering a diverse pool of uninsured people.)
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that health care strategy was the hottest topic of debate in closed-door political sessions.
“The hardest problem for us is what to do next,” Mr. Graham said. “Should we just get out of the way and point out horror stories? Should we come up with a mini Contract With America on health care, or just say generally if you give us the Congress, the House and the Senate in 2014, here’s what we will do for you on multiple issues including health care? You become a more effective critic when you say, ‘Here’s what I’m for,’ and we’re not there yet. So there’s our struggle.”
Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, said she was teaming up with Democrats on a host of incremental changes to the law, such as expanding health savings accounts and repealing a tax on medical devices. And other Republicans are wondering aloud how long they can keep up the single-minded tactic of highlighting what is wrong with the law without saying what they would do about the problems it was supposed to address.
Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, a physician and a prominent conservative voice on health care, is pushing what he calls the Empowering Patients First Act, which would repeal the health care law but keep its prohibition on exclusions for pre-existing conditions in private health insurance.
The bill would allow for insurance to be sold across state lines, push small businesses to pool together to buy insurance for their employees, expand tax-free health savings accounts, cap malpractice lawsuits, and offer tax credits of $2,163 for individuals and $5,799 for families to buy health plans.
The American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group run by Douglas Holtz Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, analyzed the Price plan this month. The group concluded that it would lower insurance premiums by as much as 19 percent by 2023, while leaving the ranks of the uninsured about five percentage points higher than the Affordable Care Act would by then.
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012 and a possible 2016 presidential hopeful, is preparing his own health insurance plan for release early next year.
Mr. Ryan’s plan will build on one that he and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, introduced in 2009, according to aides familiar with it. The proposal, called the Patients’ Choice Act, would have eliminated the tax break for employer-provided health care to finance a tax credit of about $5,700 for families and $2,300 for individuals. States would have been asked to create insurance marketplaces like the ones many have created under the Affordable Care Act.
As with the Obama health care law, the Ryan proposal demanded that insurers meet minimum standards of coverage and be prevented from excluding the sick. But instead of mandating penalties for failing to buy insurance, the approach would have automatically enrolled people unless they opted out.
Mr. Price said on Thursday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that he, other lawmakers and House Republican leaders could meld the different approaches into one alternative health plan to take to voters — and possibly the House floor — in the 2014 election season.
“It’s the minority’s responsibility to provide a contrast,” he said. “It’s important that we put forward an upbeat, positive proposal, so the American people know there is an alternative.”
Whether voices like Ms. Ayotte’s or Mr. Johnson’s will prevail is unclear, given the deep opposition among rank-and-file Republicans. Mr. Graham said that Republicans would probably get away with denouncing the Affordable Care Act through the midterm elections, but that by 2016 they would need to have a fully formed alternative.
White House officials acknowledge that the administration needs to focus on making sure all those who enrolled in health plans actually have coverage on Jan. 1. HealthCare.gov received two million site visits on Monday, the official deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, and the insurance call center took more than 250,000 calls, said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 129,000 people left emails on Monday after finding the website jammed with traffic, and activity remained brisk on Tuesday for those taking advantage of a 24-hour extension.
“Millions of people visited the state and federal marketplaces this week to purchase private health plans,” said a White House spokeswoman, Tara McGuinness. “The final tallies are being rounded up, but we believe the deadline encouraged decision-making for hundreds of thousands of families who will have access to care in the new year.”
State-run exchanges had a similar crush. Almost 26,000 people signed up in New York State on the last enrollment day. California enrolled 27,000, and Washington State 20,000. Connecticut beat its expectations with 6,700 new sign-ups.
Some of those rushing to enroll are bound to find problems in January as private insurers struggle to line up federal and state website enrollment with actual policies, a White House official said. And attitudes toward the law are not going to change overnight.
But if Mr. Obama’s approval rating on health care is tepid, Congress’s is abysmal. Just 19 percent of Americans approve of the way congressional Republicans are handling health care. Still, a New York Times/CBS News poll this month showed that nearly two-thirds of Republicans wanted to have the Affordable Care Act repealed, and most Republican lawmakers are appealing to those constituents.
“A few million people are buying a product that has features they don’t want, paying more for it than they should have to pay for it because they had to buy it through this government-mandated mechanism,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think that changes anything fundamentally at all.”
Asked what should be done with the millions of people getting health care through the law, Senator Dan Coats, Republican of Indiana, said, “Call the White House and ask them.”
Chamber of Commerce sets GOP goal for 2014: ‘No fools on our ticket’
By Travis Gettys
Thursday, December 26, 2013 8:40 EST
The GOP’s corporate allies have set a New Year’s resolution they hope will lead to electoral victory in the 2014 midterms: “No fools on our ticket.”
Republican House leaders are planning to impose discipline on unruly members to help avert the party squabbles that badly damaged the GOP brand, and major donors and advocacy groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads intend to develop and fund more centrist candidates.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said Scott Reed, the top political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Wall Street Journal. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
Presumably, Reed’s talking about candidates such as Mark Jacobs, Bob Vander Plaats, Chris McDaniel and David Barton.
Party leaders also plan to promote legislation, such as child tax credits and flextime for hourly workers, in hopes of appealing to working families.
“Working middle-class families are struggling to find a good-paying job, get ahead and keep more money in their pocket,” said Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “House Republicans will continue to offer conservative solutions that help create better conditions for them to succeed.”
Republican House Speaker John Boehner signaled this shift earlier this month when he chided conservative activist groups that opposed the two-year budget compromise.
The Speaker’s deputies also worked behind the scenes to quiet internal dissent by warning committee chairmen that opposition to the deal could jeopardize their committee posts.
“The Speaker, and the entire leadership team, urged all House Republicans to support the [budget] agreement, which lowered the deficit without raising taxes,” said Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel.
Committee chairmen had helped derail a farm bill earlier this year and extended the federal government shutdown.
Party leaders will test their clout next month when Congress considers a bill to keep the federal government running and later in the spring when lawmakers consider whether to extend the debt ceiling.
The debt-ceiling debate will take place as Republican primaries start in early March, and the party’s business wing intends to advocate against Tea Party candidates.
The Chamber of Commerce plans to spend at least $50 million to promote business-friendly candidates who they think can win a Republican Senate majority, and they hope the GOP House might pass a farm bill and reform the immigration system.
But conservative activists groups say that won’t happen.
“Lawmakers do not have a monopoly on information, and we will continue to communicate directly with their constituents on important legislation as it moves through Congress,” said Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action, part of the Heritage Foundation think tank. “(Lawmakers) will find it difficult to go back home and defend votes that increase spending, increase deficits and undermine the rule of law.”
Republican Lies Rejected: 73% Say Congress Has Done Nothing To Help the American People
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, December, 26th, 2013, 10:28 am
A new CNN poll found that the American people aren’t buying what Republicans are selling as 73% of those polled said the GOP has done nothing to address the nation’s problems.
Every demographic group in the poll agreed that this Congress is the worst that they have ever seen in their entire lives. Women, men, African-Americans, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, rich, poor, old young all agree that this Congress is the worst.
The bad news for Republicans is that they aren’t fooling anyone with their rhetoric about doing the work of the American people. 73% of respondents said that this Congress has done nothing to address the nation’s problems. The negativity cuts in every direction. 52% believe Democratic policies would take the country in the wrong direction. 54% believe Republican policies would take the country in the wrong direction, and the same 54% believe President Obama’s policies would take the country in the wrong direction.
It may not look like it, but there is a possible advantage available for the president and the Democrats. While John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and congressional Republicans are trying to convince the American people that doing nothing is a productive political agenda, Democrats are hard at work on a platform for 2014 that is centered on job creation, tax fairness, and raising the minimum wage.
As the healthcare rollout continues to smoothly progress, President Obama’s poll numbers will rebound. The president is still being hurt by the barrage of bad media coverage that surrounded the ACA website rollout, but he also has a growing economy working in his favor. If the economic message takes center stage in 2014, Democrats will be in a great position come Election Day next year.
What this poll reveals is that the American people aren’t stupid. People are paying attention, and they understand obstruction for political gain when they see it. Republicans have been successful in creating the kind of toxic political climate that holds down turnout in a midterm election year, but they have damaged themselves so badly that the Republican brand may be virtually unelectable in 2016. The GOP’s short sighted strategy looks to be dooming them to a best possible outcome of controlling the House and nothing else for years to come.
The more likely scenario is that Democrats run on their jobs, fairness, and anti-income inequality agenda and end up being the only party discussing the issues that voters care about. Republicans should be very worried about these poll numbers. They may think that they are getting what they want, but in reality Republicans are sowing the seeds for Democratic victories for years to come.
The Media Calls Out Republican Grinches and Scrooges For Screwing Over the Unemployed
By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, December, 26th, 2013, 11:41 am
In case you missed it, this past year was the year of the Republican rebrand. Yes, they were to move away from the Party of You People disdain, carefully avoiding legitimate rape and lemon pregnancies, while stepping around their contempt for arguably more than 47% of the country. All of this rebranding was to be in service of a tent that did not collapse upon them when the old Fox watching white men died.
Instead, Republicans end the year with a bang, being called Grinch and Scrooge by US News and the Daily Beast (neither of which are liberal outlets), as well as becoming a constant target in political cartoons for their now infamous miserliness when it comes to the people, and their utter spinelessness when it comes to corporations and rich white men.
So it is at the end of 2013 that 1.3 million Americans stand to lose their emergency unemployment benefits and Republican hero Rand Paul announced that he doesn’t understand what a lack of jobs means. The Kentucky Senator justified the GOP position of refusing to extend unemployment benefits to the long term unemployed with this bit of idiotic confusion, “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”
The Senator apparently hasn’t stopped reading novels intended for juvenile boys because nothing in his statement reflects an awareness of reality here on Earth. On Earth, where gravity is a thing and global climate change exists, America is short on jobs. We have been since 2007. This is why President Obama has been pushing his jobs bill since he took office. But Republicans don’t believe in passing a jobs bill or in extending long term unemployment benefits, because once again they appear to believe in the Magic Fairy of Luck who creates jobs for those with good intentions and starves the children of the rest.
Some in the media are not impressed. On Christmas Eve, US News ran, “The GOP Embraces Its Inner Grinch: Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits is cold-hearted and wrong-headed By Robert Schlesinger.”
Mr. Schlesinger wrote:
Occasionally, in politics, parties drop the pretense, stop fighting it and just embrace their caricatures. So the GOP, which every December transmogrifies in its critics’ eyes into the living embodiment of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, has embraced the role.
How else can one explain the fact that, thanks to the GOP refusing to allow an extension, Congress is just days away from letting supplemental unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans? And that’s just for starters. According to the White House Council on Economic Advisers, an additional 3.6 million people will lose their benefits by the end of 2014. These families should not, in other words, splurge on a Christmas feast of Who-pudding and rare Who-roast beast.
Jamelle Bouie at The Daily Beast was on the same page only he saw Scrooge instead of the Grinch with “the GOP Decides to Play Scrooge as Millions Lose Benefits: Republicans are all that stands between security and crisis for the millions of Americans who are set to lose emergency unemployment benefits”:
Even after you get a job, the harm from long-term unemployment can last for years. Indeed, the idea that this is something people enjoy—that anyone wants to stay idle—is ludicrous. “If you look at the long-term unemployed, a good chunk of them have children. A good chunk are married. A good chunk are college-educated or have had some college and in their prime earning years,” writes Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, “It strikes me as implausible that this person is engaged in a half-hearted job search.” People want to work, the problem is that—with three seekers for every position—there aren’t enough jobs to go around.
Mr. Bouie felt compelled to explain math to the Scrooges in the GOP, as in: There are 3X number of people but only X number of jobs. Forget math! The Republicans believe in the Magic Fairy over math and science. The Magic Fairy creates jobs for the worthy. The Magic Fairy makes sure everything is fair and no one who is worthy is ever unlucky.
This is the mentality of actual Senators running this country — they still believe that lucky is indicative of character, which implies justice is inherent in their good fortune and therefore other people’s bad fortune is their fault. This is a very small-minded, immature set of beliefs caused by an over-inflated sense of self combined with smug privilege that seeks to place causality where there is none.
Sure, hard work is often behind success, but as an example, hard work is not evident among the very privileged Republicans in the House of Representatives, and yet they still have great jobs with healthcare. Therefore, there is something else at play besides hard work.
And all of the grown ups can see this truism and have had to accept tough facts of life like unintended pregnancy caused by rape and desperately needing a job and still not getting one. You see, contrary to the beliefs of little boys like Senator Paul, we don’t always get what we want or need. And that is the very frightening reality that most of America has to deal with at some point, while the children of the GOP play Scrooge out of willful blindness and epic selfishness.