Hundreds of Turkish police removed from posts
Shakeup follows corruption investigation which saw detention of politicians' sons and businesspeople close to government
Reuters in Ankara
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 11.08 GMT
Hundreds of Turkish police officers have been dismissed from their posts overnight and some moved to traffic duties, local media reported, further undermining a corruption investigation which the prime minister says is a covert attempt by a rival to usurp state power.
Tayyip Erdoğan – who is facing the biggest challenge of a 10-year rule that has seen the military banished from politics, the economy boom and Ankara press its influence in the Middle East – has portrayed the operation as a "dirty plot" by followers of a US-based Islamic cleric. The cleric backs no political party but enjoys broad influence in the police and judiciary.
The government has hit back by sacking or reassigning hundreds of police across the country since the investigation emerged last month, and a second investigation into large infrastructure projects championed by Erdoğan has been blocked.
About 350 officers in Ankara, including members of the financial and organised crime, smuggling and anti-terrorism units, were dismissed or reassigned overnight to new roles, including traffic or district duties, the media reports said.
Ankara police declined to comment.
Prosecutors meanwhile deepened their investigations, with at least 25 more people, including public officials, being detained as part of an investigation into the activities of a port in the Aegean province of Izmir, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
"Neither side appears willing to give up at this stage in this high-stakes battle for control of the state," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank.
The scandal is shaking investor confidence at a time when the lira currency is languishing around record lows, inflation is rising and growth slowing. As much as its Islamist-rooted ideology, Erdoğan's AK party has relied on its avowed commitment to fight corruption and its economic record to garner support.
Erdoğan and the Hizmet movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, which exercises influence through a network of contacts built on sponsorship of schools and other social and media organisations, accuse each other of manipulating the police and compromising the independence of the judiciary.
"Purges, or more accurately massacres, are being carried out of civil servants who are fulfilling their duties defined by the law," Gulen said in a letter to President Abdullah Gul, written as the row intensified in late December but published by the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on Monday.
Erdoğan, who has won three general elections and remains widely popular, casts the scandal as an attempted "judicial coup", a foreign-backed plot by those jealous of his success.
The clash between the erstwhile allies has spiralled into one of Erdoğan's biggest challenges. His decade in power has seen strong economic growth and stability but growing concern about what critics see as his authoritarian style.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets last summer in anti-government protests that Erdoğan also portrayed as part of a foreign-backed conspiracy.
The scandal – which exploded on 17 December with the detention of businessmen close to the government and sons of three cabinet ministers – has weakened the AK party before local elections due in March and presidential polls in August.
US rules out military aid to Iraqi forces in fight against al-Qaida in Falluja
Secretary of state says US troops will not return to aid Iraqis they once trained in battle to regain Sunni province
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Monday 6 January 2014 19.32 GMT
The Pentagon indicated Monday that the US-built Iraqi security forces are on their own to recapture the western Sunni province of Anbar from al-Qaida fighters, who have taken control of key locations in the desert near the Syrian border.
Al-Qaida’s Iraqi-Syrian affiliate has declared control of Falluja, the site of two of the bloodiest battles of the nine-year US occupation. It is the latest escalation after some of the worst violence Iraq has experienced since 2007.
But as bitter as it may be within the Pentagon to see the black banners of al-Qaida above the buildings of a city where soldiers and marines twice fought house-to-house assaults, there is little appetite to recommit precious US military resources, and secretary of state John Kerry has ruled out the return of US troops to aid the Iraqis they once trained.
“We’re not doing tactical work with the Iraqis,” said army colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, who raised doubts about the severity of the past days events in Anbar.
“I don’t know that it’s as urgent as maybe some of the press reporting [indicated]”, Warren said. “Ramadi is back under Iraqi government control. The Iraqi army has yet to even really engage.”
As part of a $14bn program of military hardware sales begun in 2005, the Iraqis recently received 75 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. A follow-on shipment will be expedited, as will the delivery of 10 ScanEagle unarmed surveillance drones. “We do share a lot of information,” Warren added.
But neither the new missiles nor the drones will finish arriving before the spring, the Pentagon said. An additional contingent of under 200 US advisers, the final cohort of US troops in Iraq following the December 2011 withdrawal, advises the security ministries and shares intelligence.
US officials have said they were willing to help bolster Iraq’s indigenous intelligence capabilities.
“We do want to help the Iraqis develop the capability to target these [terrorist] networks effectively and precisely,” a senior administration official said in October during a visit by Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The CIA has reportedly been assisting Iraq with targeting militant networks. The CIA declined to comment on Monday.
Beyond that, the Iraqis must rely on the training, small arms, vehicles and other hardware that the US provided in rebuilding the military it defeated and then cashiered in 2003 following its invasion.
The tenuousness of the Iraqi government’s ability to confront levels of violence not seen since the darkest days of the occupation raises bitter questions about what the US actually purchased for the $60.6bn it spent rebuilding Iraq from 2003 to 2012; and particularly the $20.2bn it spent since 2005 building a new Iraqi army and police force from scratch.
Following Maliki’s Washington visit, the US provided Iraq last month with a cache of 75 Hellfire missiles. Criticized for not providing additional aid as a government backed by the US – and, awkwardly, Iran – and amid struggles to confront a rising tide of brazen attacks, the Obama administration has said Iraq did not formally ask for the resumption of armed US drone flights over its territory.
Maliki called on residents of Falluja to oust the forces of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, the al-Qaida regional affiliate, ahead of a campaign by his army, which reportedly had the city encircled Monday.
Maliki left Washington in October without several items of military hardware he wanted, some of which are valuable in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns, such as Apache helicopters, and others that are not, such as air-defense missiles and F-16 fighter jets. The sale of the Apaches is pending before the US Senate, and in the interim, Iraq is acquiring a fleet of MI-28 and MI-35 helicopters from Russia.
US troops left Iraq in 2011 after Iraq rejected a basing accord due to concerns about US impunity for crimes committed in the country. Republican hawks have accused the Obama administration for not securing the deal, known as a status of forces agreement, but tend to overlook the Iraqi legislature’s role in rejecting a US troop presence.
“When President Obama withdrew all US forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to US national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever,” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement over the weekend.
In November 2011, ahead of the troop withdrawal, army general Lloyd Austin, the final US commander in Iraq, warned that “al-Qaida will continue to do what it’s done in the past, and we expect that it’s possible they could even increase their capability.”
Austin, now the commander of all US troops in the Middle East and South Asia, added: “If the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq are able to counter that, it will be a good thing. If they can’t, they’ll continue to grow in capacity.”
For years, US military leaders publicly vouched for the performance and integrity of the Iraqi security forces they nurtured, trained and equipped. Yet the force remains riddled with sectarianism, incompetence and corruption, a microcosm of the persistent political divisions afflicting the country after the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent occupation – all of which, according to a recent report from defense analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, provides al-Qaida with continuing opportunities in Iraq.
The Iraqi security forces “are both a path to stability and security and a threat to stability and security. They will remain so until Iraq has a more unified and truly national government,” Cordesman wrote Sunday.
“Moreover, unless outside aid take full account of the degree to which they are both a potential solution to Iraq’s violence, and its cause, increased effectiveness may push Iraq towards deeper civil conflict.”
The Pentagon’s Warren said Monday he was confident that the Iraqi army is a “very capable force”.
U.S. speeds up drone deliveries to help Iraq battle resurgence of Al-Qaeda
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 6:52 EST
The United States says it will speed up its deliveries of missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq as the Baghdad government battles a resurgence of Al-Qaeda linked militants.
The White House dismissed claims that the fighting, which has seen militants retake the city of Fallujah, was a result of President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops in 2011.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and “expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists,” a statement said.
“Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq’s Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists.”
Biden also spoke with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.
Biden “praised the recent cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and Sunni local, tribal, and national leaders in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant currently unfolding in Anbar Province,” the White House said.
“Nujaifi reaffirmed his commitment to Iraq’s fight against terrorism,” it added.
The Pentagon said that Washington would accelerate delivery of 100 more Hellfire missiles, which were due to be sent to Iraq in the next few months.
Colonel Steven Warren said an additional 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones would also be delivered.
Hellfire missiles, originally designed as an anti-tank weapon, can be fired from helicopters and warplanes.
ScanEagle drones are a low-cost three-meter aircraft capable of flying 24 hours.
The deliveries correspond to contracts already signed with Iraq. Some 75 Hellfire missiles were delivered to Baghdad in mid-December, US officials said.
Since then, Iraq has seen a resurgence of fighting in western Anbar province, which borders Syria and was a key insurgent stronghold for years following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Last week, fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) reclaimed Fallujah, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war between US troops and insurgents.
Warren said Washington was working with Iraq to develop a “holistic strategy to isolate Al Qaeda-affiliated groups so the tribes working with the security forces can drive them out of the populated areas.”
But he reiterated previous statements from US Secretary of State John Kerry that no American forces would return to Iraq to assist in military operations.
“We’ll not be sending forces to Iraq,” he said.
Instead, the United States will continue to provide intelligence to assist and advise the Iraqis at a “ministerial level” through some 100 military personnel still based at the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The assistance would not extend to operational advice. “We’re not doing tactical work with the Iraqis,” Warren said.
Despite the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, the United States remains a key security and defense partner, providing more than $14 billion worth of weapons to Baghdad since 2005.
Following the renewed fighting, the White House has been forced to rebut claims that the militants are filling a vacuum left by the departure of US forces.
“There was sectarian conflict, violent sectarian conflict in Iraq when there were 150,000 US troops on the ground there,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
January 6, 2014
U.S. and Iran Face Common Enemies in Mideast Strife
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — Even as the United States and Iran pursue negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program, they find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues surrounding an insurgency raging across the Middle East.
While the two governments quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The United States, reluctant to intervene in bloody, inconclusive conflicts, is seeing its regional influence decline, while Iraq, which cost the Americans $1 trillion and more than 4,000 lives, is growing increasingly unstable.
At the same time, Shiite-dominated Iran, the magnetic pole for the Shiite minority in the region, has its own reasons to be nervous, with the ragtag army of Sunni militants threatening Syria and Iraq, both important allies, and the United States drawing down its troops in Afghanistan.
On Monday, Iran offered to join the United States in sending military aid to the Shiite government in Baghdad, which is embroiled in street-to-street fighting with radical Sunni militants in Anbar Province, a Sunni stronghold. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he could envision an Iranian role in the coming peace conference on Syria, even though the meeting is supposed to plan for a Syria after the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.
To some, the Iranian moves reflect the clever pragmatism of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, aimed at building their country into a regional power. To others critical of the potential reconciliation, the moves are window dressing aimed at lulling the West into complacency while Tehran pursues nuclear weapons and supports its own jihadists throughout the region.
Yet even Iranians outside the reformist camp see the shared interests as undeniable. “It is clear we are increasingly reaching common ground with the Americans,” said one of them, Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “No country should have an eternal enemy, neither we nor the United States.”
With Iran as an island of stability in a region plagued by violent protests, sectarian clashes and suicide bombers, there are not that many options left for Washington, experts here say.
“We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian reformist journalist who closely follows the Arab world. He recalled how Iranian intelligence operatives gave reliable information to American Special Forces troops battling Iran’s enemy, the Afghan Taliban, in 2001.
While the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran has the potential to be an influential player on regional issues from Afghanistan to Syria, senior officials have said they are keeping their focus tightly on the nuclear negotiations. Cooperation on any other issues, they said, hinges largely on coming to terms on Iran’s nuclear program.
The administration has concluded that Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif have been empowered to negotiate on the nuclear program, but officials said it remained unclear whether their policy-making authority extended to regional issues like Syria. There, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps holds vast influence through its Quds Force, and it is supplying weapons to Hezbollah in an effort to prop up President Assad’s government.
The thaw in relations extends back almost a year, with the two countries making overtures long thought impossible, deeply angering Washington’s closest regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
As early as last spring, a series of secret talks in Oman and Geneva laid the groundwork for re-establishing relations, cut over three decades ago after Iranian students took American diplomats hostage in revolutionary Tehran.
In September came the agreement — credited to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but fully backed and partly engineered by Iran — to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. Not long afterward, President Obama and Mr. Rouhani held a historic phone conversation, and in late November the United States and other world powers struck a temporary nuclear agreement with Iran, the first in 10 years.
Iran has been presenting itself as the voice of reason, pointing at the extremely graphic videos of beheadings and other executions produced by some of the insurgent groups in Syria, while Mr. Rouhani wished a happy new year to all Christians on his Twitter account.
“Now extremists are once again threatening our security, and as in 2001, both countries will cooperate with each other in Iraq, and potentially elsewhere, too,” Mr. Shamsolvaezin said. “This is the beginning of regional cooperation.”
The thaw presents dangers to Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani, who will remain vulnerable to criticism from conservatives in both countries. Mr. Kerry’s invitation on Sunday for Iran to join “on the sidelines” of the Geneva conference was angrily rejected by Iranian hard-liners.
“The Americans are confessing Iran stands for peace and stability in this region,” said Hamid Reza Tarraghi, a hard-line political analyst, with views close to those of Iran’s leaders. “But when they invite us for a conference on Syria we are ‘allowed’ to be present on the ‘sidelines.’ This is insulting.”
Even Mr. Zarif rebuffed Mr. Kerry, saying that “everybody must be unified in order to fight the terrorists,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
But Tehran’s full participation in the conference would seem to present even deeper problems, in that the talks are aimed at planning for a Syria after Iran’s longtime ally, Mr. Assad, has stepped down.
Critics of United States policy say that the Obama administration is strengthening Iran at the expense of traditional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel. They say that Iran has not cut back on its support of its regional allies, like Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group in Lebanon, and Mr. Assad, and is deeply involved with Iraq’s Shiite government.
Moreover, they say, a final nuclear agreement with Iran, should it be reached, would relieve Iran of crippling economic sanctions, reviving its economy and giving it more resources to spread its influence in the region, while depriving the West of diplomatic leverage to restrain Iran.
Analysts in Iran say that Tehran is pursuing a clever strategy, using the United States to undermine its greatest regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
“Cooperating skillfully with Russia, Iran has managed to change the game both in Iraq and in Syria,” said Hooshang Tale, a Tehran-based nationalist activist and a member of Parliament before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “If we play our cards well, we will end up outsmarting both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”
He and others note that Iran has managed to keep Mr. Assad in power and wields considerable influence over its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan. Rightly or wrongly, they view their regional enemy Saudi Arabia as being on the verge of collapse, saying in Friday Prayer speeches and in televised debates that the kingdom is ruled by old men who have lost their way.
“We are worried for Saudi Arabia, which seems weak and potentially unstable,” said Mr. Shahmohammadi, the former adviser, who heads an institute that promotes dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites. “Even we, as their competitor, see all the horrible consequences if things go wrong there.”
On Tehran’s streets, where people tend to see much of the region as distant lands filled with mayhem and unrest, many Iranians welcome every step that brings Iran and the United States closer together.
“The U.S. stands for progress, for work, a future, new cars and a better life,” said Mohammad Reza Barfi, an auto mechanic. “I’d rather have peace with the U.S. than with any regional country. What do they have to offer?”
Indian separatists battle police in Kashmir
One officer killed in troubled Himalayan region after police ambushed by militants north of Srinagar
Associated Press in Srinagar
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 08.54 GMT
Separatist militants in India have clashed with police and paramilitary forces in a fierce gun battle that killed one officer in the troubled Himalayan region of Kashmir, according to police.
Police were ambushed in Sopore city, about34 miles (55km) north of Srinagar, after receiving a tip that militants were operating in the area, Inspector General AG Mir said.
Indian paramilitary forces were sent to help the police. Four officers were wounded, one of whom later died from his injuries, Mir said. There was no immediate word on whether any militants had been hit.
There has been a recent surge in violence in the Kashmir region, ownership of which is disputed by India and Pakistan, as rebels step up demands for independence or incorporation into Pakistan.
About 68,000 people have been killed since 1989 in an armed uprising and subsequent crackdown by Indian forces. While the rebellion has largely been suppressed, anti-India resentment runs deep.
Burmese journalists protest against reporter's jail term
Ma Khine, from Daily Eleven newspaper, sentenced to three months in prison while working on corruption story
Associated Press in Rangoon
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 09.23 GMT
Dozens of journalists have staged a rare demonstration in Burma's biggest city to protest against a jail term given to a reporter who was working on a story about corruption.
Wearing black T-shirts with slogans saying: "We don't want threat on press freedom", and carrying banners that read: "Right to information is life of democracy", nearly 60 reporters marched down a busy Rangoon street decrying the three-month prison sentence given to Ma Khine from the Daily Eleven newspaper.
A court in eastern Kayah state convicted her last month of trespassing, using abusive language and defamation.
Journalists have gained new freedoms under the reformist government of President Thein Sein who, since taking office in 2011, has abolished most censorship and allowed the publication of privately owned daily newspapers for the first time in almost five decades.
Previously, reporters worked under some of the tightest restrictions in the world, subject to routine state surveillance, phone taps and censorship of all publications.
Still, even under the reforms, some publications have been sued for defamation, including by government agencies. Ma Khine is the first journalist under Thein Sein's government to be given a prison sentence.
Ma Khine was sued by a lawyer after she visited her house for an interview on a story about corruption. The lawyer, who was annoyed by her questioning, asked her to leave and later filed a lawsuit, according to Wai Phyo, chief editor of the Daily Eleven.
"The judge could have imposed a fine but deliberately gave the prison sentence not only to threaten the reporter but to threaten press freedom," he said.
Myint Kyaw, the general secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network, helped organise the protest march "because we do not want the imprisonment of a journalist to become a precedent".
Local and international media and watchdog organisations such as the World Association of Newspapers, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have issued statements strongly condemning the prison sentence.
Burmese journalists stage press freedom demonstration
Tuesday 7 January 2014 09.00 GMT theguardian.com
Dozens of Burmese journalists staged a rare demonstration today to protest at a reporter being sentenced to jail while working on a story about corruption.
About 60 journalists paraded through a busy street in the capital, Rangoon. Some wore black T-shirts bearing slogans such as "We don't want threats to press freedom." Others carried banners saying "Right to information is the life of democracy."
It followed the three-month prison sentence given to Ma Khine from the Daily Eleven newspaper. She was convicted last month of trespassing, using abusive language and defamation.
Journalists in Burma have gained new freedoms under the reformist government of President Thein Sein, who has abolished most censorship and allowed the publication of privately owned daily papers.
Previously, reporters had been subject to routine state surveillance, phone taps and censorship. Ma Khine is the first journalist under Thein Sein's government to be jailed.
She was sued by a lawyer who was annoyed by her questioning when she visited her house to interview her for a story about corruption.
Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the Burma Journalist Network, helped organise the protest march "because we do not want the imprisonment of a journalist to become a precedent."
Press freedom watchdogs, such as the World Association of Newspapers, the Committee to Protect Journalists (here) and Reporters Without Borders (here), have condemned the prison sentence.
January 6, 2014
Bangladesh’s Governing Party Wins Vote Amid Unrest
By ELLEN BARRY
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s governing party celebrated its victory in general elections on Monday, dismissing critics who said the vote’s legitimacy was undercut by violence, low turnout and the absence of the country’s main opposition force from the ballots.
The party, the Awami League, won 232 of the 300 seats in Bangladesh’s new Parliament, about half of the victors unopposed. Partial results published by Bangladesh’s Election Commission put the average turnout on Sunday at 39.8 percent, though that figure appeared to have been padded by an influx of pro-government activists who arrived at polling stations shortly before they closed.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, receiving journalists in her home on Monday, put the blame on the main opposition force, the Bangladesh National Party, which boycotted the election and carried out a campaign to discourage turnout. Some observers had hoped that the poor results would force the warring parties to negotiate a new, more inclusive round of elections. But Mrs. Hasina took a tough tone on Monday, saying she would not enter talks unless the opposition first renounced violence.
“Today, democracy is tainted by the blood of innocent people and soaked by the tears of burned people, who have fallen victim to the violent political program that is hitting the nation’s conscience,” she said. She added she had ordered the army to “curb any post-poll terrorism and violence with iron hands.”
At least 22 people were killed on Sunday, in some cases when police officers opened fire on opposition activists. Another seven people were killed in clashes on Monday, Bangladeshi news media reported.
After preventing it earlier, the authorities allowed a reporter from The New York Times to interview the opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, in the house where she has been confined since Dec. 29. Mrs. Zia called Sunday’s vote a “farcical election” and said she believed that turnout had been closer to 10 percent.
She said the Bangladesh National Party leaders were prepared to start negotiations immediately, after the government releases party workers who had been arrested in a pre-election crackdown. “Yes, we are ready to discuss, but first, they have to create a more congenial atmosphere” she said. “All the senior leaders, they are in jail. I have so many workers, they are in jail. Other senior leaders, they are in hiding. They have to clear the atmosphere.”
In the interview, Mrs. Zia also signaled some willingness to reconsider her party’s ties with the banned pro-Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, as the government has demanded. “With Jamaat, it’s not a permanent alliance,” she said. Asked if she could end it, she said, “At this moment, I cannot, but when the time will come I will see.”
The United States and Britain issued critical statements on Monday. A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, urged both sides “to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people.”
There was also some grumbling on the street. One of the country’s most popular newspapers, Prothom Alo, printed in Bengali, published the headline “Fake Vote, Disgraceful Election,” and an editorial cartoon showed Mrs. Hasina jubilantly running across a finish line while her rivals watched from a few feet away, tied to a tree.
“I am a citizen and voter of this country, and I have been deprived of voting, so I am not happy with these polls,” Mohammad Minhaz, 28, said. “I don’t think the newly elected government will be able to run the country smoothly for a long time.”
In 1996, it was the Awami League that boycotted elections being held by the Bangladesh National Party. The party went ahead with them, but turnout was extraordinarily low, and Mrs. Zia, under pressure, held a new round of elections four months later. Dan W. Mozena, the American ambassador in Dhaka, said he was convinced that a similar solution was within reach.
“This is a very sophisticated culture — they can devise quickly a way to weave themselves through this thicket so that they can come up with a way to hold free, fair, credible elections,” he said.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.
China to allow private banks in 2014
Up to five privately financed banks could be created this year under plans to open up the state-owned industry
Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 09.16 GMT
China's bank regulator says it will allow the creation of up to five privately financed banks this year as part of reforms to open up the state-controlled industry and support economic growth.
The banking regulatory commission also said it would look at ways to allow foreign banks greater access to China.
Regulators promised last year to allow privately financed banks as part of reforms aimed at making China's economy more productive. The state-owned banking industry lends mostly to government companies, and advocates of reform say it has to do more to support credit-starved entrepreneurs who create most of China's new jobs and wealth.
The regulatory agency gave no details about what areas of banking in which private institutions would be allowed to operate.
Tunisia’s national assembly votes for gender equality in new charter
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 6, 2014 9:28 EST
Tunisia’s national assembly on Monday approved an article in the draft constitution that would guarantee gender equality “without discrimination” in the Muslim nation.
“All male and female citizens have the same rights and duties. They are equal before the law without discrimination,” states article 20 of the new charter, which was approved by 159 lawmakers out of the 169 who voted.
Tunisia hopes to adopt the long-delayed new constitution by January 14, the three-year anniversary of the overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that kicked off the Arab Spring.
Since the 1950s, when it gained independence from France, Tunisia has had the most liberal laws in the Arab world on women’s rights, which some have accused the outgoing Islamist-led government of wanting to roll back.
Human rights groups had expressed reservations about article 20 of the constitution, arguing that it limits the protection of rights to citizens and not foreigners, and does not specify the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
They urged the assembly, in a joint statement last week, to “enshrine the principles of equality and non-discrimination before the law and extend it to anyone subject to the jurisdiction of Tunisian authorities, including both citizens and foreigners.”
“Article 20 should specify that discrimination, direct and indirect, is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” said the NGOs, which included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Article 45, which would guarantee the protection of women’s rights by the state and the “equality of opportunity for men and women,” has yet to be examined.
The ruling Islamist party Ennahda, which has promised to step down when the new constitution is adopted, came in for heavy criticism when it tried to press through the idea of gender “complementarity” rather than equality.
After lawmakers have voted on the draft constitution article by article, it needs to be approved by two-thirds of parliament’s 217 members to be adopted. Otherwise, it will have to be put to a referendum.
Syrian rebels oust al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists from northern city of Raqqa
More than 50 hostages freed as rebel groups in Syria make sweeping advances against Islamic State of Iraq in Syria
Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Monday 6 January 2014 18.35 GMT
Syrian rebels have ousted a hardline al-Qaida group from the provincial capital of Raqqa, freeing more than 50 hostages in a fourth day of clashes across the north of the country.
The fight against the group, the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (Isis), comes as members of the same group remain in control of much of Ramadi and Falluja, despite similar attempts to oust them by the Iraqi military.
Rebel groups in Syria have made sweeping advances against Isis since first taking on the powerful militia on Friday. Since then, many of its members have withdrawn from most of the Turkish border areas it had held for at least six months.
Others have left the group to join another al-Qaida organisation, Jabhat al-Nusra, or more mainstream opposition groups, including the remnants of the Free Syria Army and a powerful new alignment of Islamic units.
Raqaa is the only provincial capital to have fallen out of the hands of the Syrian regime. Held first by the Free Syria Army, by June last year had become a stronghold for Isis, which then imposed a ruthless interpretation of sharia law on what remained of the town's population.
Scores of captives, among them journalists and aid workers, had been detained by Isis in government buildings. Those freed on Monday appeared to all be Syrians. It is understood that the western captives had earlier been moved to another location.
In Iraq, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on Monday urged tribal leaders to unite with the country's military, which claims to have surrounded the two Sunni cities west of Baghdad and to be preparing to attack.
The US has provided hellfire missiles to Iraq, which are fired from Cessna planes flown by Iraqi pilots. It has also provided surveillance drones. It is not clear whether US officials are guiding the drones, or whether any of them are able to fire missiles.
Tribal figures have significant influence in both cities and in the surrounding Anbar province. Some have aligned with the Isis militants, who entered urban areas after the Iraqi army withdrew a week ago. Others have allied with Maliki's military, which is perceived by many in Anbar as an army of Shia soldiers and officers.
Iran said it had also offered assistance to Maliki in launching an attack. Accepting such an offer would likely prove difficult for the Iraqi premier, who has been trying to reassure Anbar leaders that he is fighting extremists, and not the Sunni sect.
Reinforcements from Syria are continuing to move towards Falluja and Ramadi, Iraqi officials say, making the going easier for the Syrian opposition in its fight against Isis. Rebel groups claim to have secured much of eastern Aleppo, which has remained out of the hands of the Syrian regime for 18 months, during which some districts had been taken over by Isis.
South Sudan peace talks begin
Rebels and government delegation meet in Ethiopia to try to broker ceasefire to halt violence that has killed at least 1,000
Reuters in Addis Ababa
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 09.29 GMT
South Sudanese rebels and a government delegation started peace talks on Tuesday to try to end fighting that has left the world's newest state on the brink of civil war.
The talks in neighbouring Ethiopia will focus on brokering a ceasefire to halt three weeks of violence that has killed at least 1,000 people and driven 200,000 from their homes.
"We have begun our meeting on the cessation of hostilities," a member of the government delegation said.
The fighting, often along ethnic faultlines, has pitted President Salva Kiir's SPLA government forces against rebels loyal to the former vice-president Riek Machar.
Mabior Garang, a member of Machar's delegation to the Addis talks, confirmed that the talks had begun.
The two sides delayed talks for several days haggling over the fate of 11 detainees held by the government in Juba. The rebels initially insisted on securing their release before negotiations started.
An Ethiopian diplomat said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional grouping of east African nations that initiated the talks, had sent envoys to Juba to press Kiir to release the detainees.
"They're flying today to meet Kiir. They will push for the detainees' release," said an Ethiopian diplomat close to the talks.
The diplomat said the trio of envoys was led by Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister.
January 6, 2014
Saudis’ Grant to Lebanon Is Seen as Message to U.S.
By ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — If a wealthy patron were all the Lebanese Army needed to counter the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as the dominant force in the country, the recent $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia might make a decisive difference in the country’s complex political landscape.
But the Saudi aid package — nearly twice Lebanon’s $1.7 billion annual defense budget — is earmarked to buy French arms and is unlikely to give the army what it needs most, say supporters and opponents of Hezbollah here. And even if it does, they say, it will take years to make an impact.
And while the Saudis are clearly alarmed at Hezbollah’s staying power and its intervention in Syria’s civil war, analysts say the gift announced last week was intended as much to send a message to the United States as to shift the military balance.
Yezid Sayigh, a scholar of Arab militaries at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the Saudis were declaring a “tactical divorce” from the Obama administration over their frustrations with what they see as America’s indecisiveness on Syria and its attempts at reconciliation with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival and Hezbollah’s patron.
“They’re on the warpath, angry, and that doesn’t make for good policy,” Mr. Sayigh said.
Analysts on both sides agree that if Lebanon’s government, under Saudi pressure, pushed the army to confront Hezbollah, it would risk fracturing the force along political and sectarian lines and destroying the closest thing the country has to a broad-based national institution. Mr. Sayigh said that not even the United States had tried to link aid to Lebanon’s army with action against Hezbollah.
“Those are illusions,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese military analyst who favors Hezbollah. “The Lebanese Army would be dismantled.”
The grant comes as the Syrian civil war intensifies a geopolitical and increasingly sectarian power struggle between two major players in Lebanon: Saudi Arabia, which backs the predominantly Sunni insurgency in Syria, and Shiite-led Iran, an ally of Syria’s government.
The grant was announced as Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Future party buried a top official, Mohamad B. Chatah, who was killed in a bombing for which Future leaders blamed Hezbollah and Syria. And it came weeks after Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia for growing sectarian tensions and attacks like the November bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
Since Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, international promises to establish the army as a guarantor of stability have been undermined by American reluctance to arm it with weapons that could challenge Israel, which officially is still at war with Lebanon. That leaves the army ill equipped to police borders and confront militias. Lebanon is now paying a high price, with Sunni and Shiite militants streaming in and out of Syria and spillover violence erupting around the country.
A national consensus has long allowed Hezbollah to maintain its own formidable guerrilla force, on the grounds that it alone can defend the country from Israel. Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful political party, rose to prominence fighting to end the 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and survived the 2006 war in which Israel vowed to cripple it.
But lately, Hezbollah’s regional popularity from those successes has been dented as its fighters in Syria battle insurgents supported by many Sunnis, in a conflict that began as a struggle for political rights and escalated into armed struggle against President Bashar al-Assad. While Mr. Assad appears unlikely to be dislodged soon, he has struggled to retain the untrammeled power that has guaranteed a Syrian land bridge for Hezbollah’s Iranian-supplied weapons.
The Saudis see “an opportunity,” said Mustafa Alani, the Saudi director of security and defense studies at the Gulf Research Center. “They think Hezbollah lost a lot of legitimacy. They appear like machinery that can be sent anywhere by the Iranian government.”
At the same time, he said, the Saudis did not condition the gift on disarming Hezbollah, did not want direct confrontation with the group and aimed to contain Sunni extremists as well.
“There are no conditions,” Mr. Alani said. “Al Qaeda is also growing in Lebanon and is a major concern for Saudi Arabia.”
Such statements are viewed with suspicion in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s supporters note that the government rejected a similar offer from Iran in 2010, and that when Saudi Arabia’s Lebanese allies were ascendant — like when Rafik Hariri, a Saudi citizen, was prime minister — the kingdom was content to work through them, not institutions. They see the Saudis acting not from a position of strength, but in a fit of pique as their ambitions to weaken Iran and Syria falter.
Mr. Atrissi criticized Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, for announcing the gift — and lavishly praising Saudi Arabia — immediately after the burial of Mr. Chatah.
“Why did the Saudis wait until now?” he asked. “Why this rush, amid tensions and assassinations?”
The Saudis have been power brokers in Lebanon since helping to end the civil war, and Mr. Suleiman is seen as seeking their approval for a second term. He has called for Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and pushed to break the country’s political deadlock by forming a cabinet without the group, risking a new political crisis. The cabinet still must approve the Saudi gift. Yet analysts said that it probably would, with Hezbollah unlikely to oppose it. Mr. Nasrallah recently praised the army as the country’s “savior and safety belt.”
Haytham Mouzahem, an analyst at the online news site Al Monitor, said that even though Hezbollah influences the most important officers, if the package included “secret conditions,” it could create rifts between the army and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah could also credibly quibble with the arms shopping list, which France must approve. Mr. Alani said the package could pay for attack helicopters, artillery and tanks, as well as new infrastructure and a bolstering of the ranks, to 70,000 from 57,000 — but not air defense, “a red line” for Israel. Such weapons would help the army, which struggled in 2007 to subdue a militant group and resorted to dropping grenades from helicopters.
But Mr. Mouzahem said Lebanon also needed ships and fighter planes. He said the Saudis should have financed the army’s existing five-year $4.7 billion modernization plan, with 60 percent for infrastructure like bases, hospitals, training and communications, and 40 percent for weapons. That, Mr. Sayigh said, would better fit their stated goal of institution building, by supporting the army’s American-aided planning process.
But it might not suit another Saudi goal: showing the United States that it is acting in its own interest.
“They are washing their hands of Obama,” Mr. Alani said.
For now, Mr. Sayigh said, Hezbollah has little to fear: Saudi pledges have fallen through before, and new systems take years to activate.
“Even if the whole thing is completely serious,” he said, “it’s not going to have the slightest impact on the army for years to come.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
African migrants stage Tel Aviv protests against Israel's new detention law
Thousands protest against law permitting Israeli authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely
Reuters in Tel Aviv
theguardian.com, Monday 6 January 2014 17.16 GMT
Several thousand African migrants protested outside western embassies in Tel Aviv on Monday, demanding freedom for compatriots jailed by Israel in a desert facility under a new open-ended detention law.
"No more prison," chanted the crowd that packed a Mediterranean beachfront promenade across from the US embassy.
Protesters also marched to the French, Italian, British, Canadian and German embassies to hand over letters appealing for international support against Israel's detention policy toward migrants it sees as illegal jobseekers.
Three weeks ago, Israel's parliament approved the law permitting authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely. The measure has been condemned by critics as a violation of human rights.
Some 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006, Israeli authorities say.
Many say they want asylum and safe haven.
"We are here today to request basic human rights. We are refugees. We don't need to be arrested. We don't need to be detained. We don't need to be in prison," said Germai Asmaro, one of the migrants protesting on Monday.
Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has said he views the presence of many of the Africans as a threat to Israel's Jewish social fabric.
"Demonstrations won't help them," Netanyahu told lawmakers of his rightwing Likud party on Monday. "These aren't refugees, who we treat according to international norms. These are illegal infiltrators seeking work."
An Israeli border fence has cut off the African influx from Egypt since 2012, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to what the government describes as an open prison in Israel's southern desert.
On Sunday, more than 10,000 Africans demonstrated outside Tel Aviv city hall on behalf of what human rights groups said are more than 300 migrants arrested since the detention law went into effect.
Dozens more have been summoned for detention, among them men with wives and children, according to rights activists and the United Nations high commission on refugees (UNHCR).
Detainees can leave the detention centre, but must report back three times a day, including at nightfall, and may be held without a time limit pending repatriation or resolution of their asylum requests.
"Placing asylum-seekers in duress that may force them to opt to return without having examined their asylum claims could amount to a violation" of international refugee conventions, Walpurga Englbrecht, the UNHCR representative in Israel, said in a statement on Sunday.
Englbrecht criticised Israel's official description of migrants as "infiltrators", saying most were refugees or deserved international protection. Israel's newest detention facility "would appear to operate as a detention centre from where there is no release", she said.
Israeli interior minister Gideon Saar rejected her comments, telling Israel Army Radio on Monday the vast majority of migrants had come in search of jobs, not asylum.
"But Israel isn't their home and we will make efforts to ensure it won't become a state of infiltrators," he said.
Netanyahu said Israel would continue encouraging migrants to leave or find countries to accept them. He said 2,600 left in 2013 and "this year we shall remove more of them".
Hotline for Migrant Workers, an organisation that advocates for the Africans, accuses Israel of pressuring detainees to accept payouts and leave the country.
Israeli protests: a refugee's story
As tens of thousands of migrants demonstrate in Tel Aviv, one man describes what happened when he went home to Sudan
Maeve McClenaghan for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
theguardian.com, Monday 6 January 2014 15.54 GMT
Joseph Tuto wants to stop running. Tuto, not his real name, is an athlete from the Nuba region of Sudan. He trains in 400m, 800m and 1500m distances and has won medals in professional international competitions.
But this is not what he wants to stop. For the past six years Tuto, his wife and two young children have lived a life on the run, fleeing violence in Sudan to seek a better life in Israel.
Yet after settling in the town of Arad, life for the Tutos remained a struggle. "I stayed in Israel for five years and six months and I worked as a cleaner in hotels," Tuto said.
"Life in Israel is very hard for refugees. I worked from 6am to 5pm and then I trained [as an athlete]. My children also faced racism at school. In Israel you are like a machine. You work from day to night and you face racism from the highest ranked [person] to the lowest," he added.
The Tutos were among an estimated 60,000 migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, in Israel – a community that the government has declared unwelcome. Last year the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to remove "tens of thousands of infiltrators", saying new measures were necessary to "protect the Jewish and democratic character of the state".
Under the international convention on refugees, of which Israel is a signatory, the government is unable to forcibly repatriate anyone if there is ongoing violence in their home country – so it is seeking other ways to reduce migrant numbers.
One of these is a controversial new law that allows migrants without visas to be detained indefinitely in an open-prison that required them to sign in three times a day. Protests against this law, which was introduced three weeks ago, have seen tens of thousands of migrants taking to the streets of Tel Aviv yesterday and today, and a strike that has caused disruption to businesses such as restaurants, hotels and cleaning services, where migrants are often employed.
The government is also offering financial incentives to refugees in an attempt to get them to return home voluntarily. For the Tuto family this looked like an attractive option so, rather than face detention, they accepted a $1,500 payment to return to Sudan via Egypt.
But when the family arrived they faced further persecution from the Sudanese government, which strictly forbids its citizens from travelling to Israel. At the airport, Tuto told officials that the family had been in Egypt rather than Israel, but the deception was easily detected by Sudanese authorities as Tuto's children, aged seven and five, had lived most of their lives in Israel and speak Hebrew rather than Arabic.
Three days later Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service visited Tuto's home in Khartoum. He was out at the time and the officials took his mother into custody for days, questioning her about her son's whereabouts.
Fearing for his life, Tuto and his family went into hiding. "In Sudan, security forces were after me every day. They wanted to put me in jail," Tuto said. "There is no security in my country, I couldn't live there."
"I moved from safe house to safe house. I was terrified every day and I moved between more than 10 houses, staying with friends and family. They would beat and intimidate my mother and my siblings. I'd rather die than stay in Sudan," he added.
So once again the family was forced to flee, arriving in a country he would prefer not to identify, where again they are unwelcome. They live in a rented house with a one month permit to remain, and the little money they have is slowly running out.
"My children don't go to school. We don't leave the house. We don't know anyone. We don't know anything." he said. "I regret leaving Israel. At least there I could work. I feel tricked by the Israeli government."
Amnesty International, which has documented the stories of migrants in Israel, has criticised the way they are treated. Yonatan Gher, the director of Amnesty International Israel, said: "Asylum seekers in Israel... do not get access to fair and transparent asylum proceedings, have no work permits and no access to basic health and welfare services."
He said the new detention law added to the pressures on refugees, who, like Tuto, were being driven to accept so-called voluntary return forms, only to put their lives in danger.
Both the Israeli and Sudan government have denied responsibility for the Tuto family's fate. An Israeli government spokesman described the family's experiences in Israel as "marginal incidents" that were not representative of the country's "multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual" cultural diversity.
Dr Khalid Al Mubarak, a spokesman for the Sudanese government, rejected suggestions that the security services intimidated returnees. "Some people go to Israel, some are recruited and trained (to fight the Sudanese government), and then they are sent back to the Sudan. Of course our security service would need to screen people (returning)," he said, "but any tales of going to the family and beating them up, that is nonsense."
For Tuto, the only option left is to keep running. He is currently trying to train with a local running group. "I still have $900 left (of the Israeli money)," he said. "Our only hope is to be resettled to another country. I don't have any other hope. I can't work and I have no money."
Additional reporting by Patrick Galey. Maeve McClenaghan is a journalist at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Israel PM: illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state
Binyamin Netanyahu reignites row over fate of thousands of African migrants in Israel
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Sunday 20 May 2012 16.40 BST
The Israeli prime minister has stoked a volatile debate about refugees and migrant workers from Africa, warning that "illegal infiltrators flooding the country" were threatening the security and identity of the Jewish state.
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state," Binyamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity." Israel's population is 7.8 million.
His comments follow media reports of rising crime, including two gang rapes, in southern Tel Aviv, where many African migrants are concentrated. However, Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for the Israeli police, said the overall crime rate in Israel had fallen. There had been one alleged rape of a teenage girl connected to the migrant community, for which three suspects were in custody, he added.
Yohanan Danino, the Israeli police chief, said migrants should be permitted to work to discourage petty crime. Nearly all are unable to work legally, and live in overcrowded and impoverished conditions. "The community needs to be supported in order to prevent economic and social problems," said Rosenfeld.
But the interior minister, Eli Yishai, rejected such a move, saying: "Why should we provide them with jobs? I'm sick of the bleeding hearts, including politicians. Jobs would settle them here, they'll make babies, and that offer will only result in hundreds of thousands more coming over here."
Yishai repeated an earlier call for all migrants to be jailed pending deportation. "I want everyone to be able to walk the streets without fear or trepidation ... The migrants are giving birth to hundreds of thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying," he told Army Radio. Last week he said most migrants were involved in criminal activity.
According to police data quoted by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the crime rate among foreigners in Israel was 2.04% in 2010, compared with 4.99% among Israelis.
More than 13,500 people entered Israel illegally in 2010, of whom almost two-thirds were Eritrean and one-third were Sudanese. Three were granted refugee status by Israel, rising to six last year. Human rights organisations say more than 50,000 asylum seekers and migrants have entered Israel illegally since 2005.
Most are smuggled across the Israel-Egypt border by Bedouin tribesmen. Israel is constructing a vast steel fence through 150 miles of the Sinai desert as a deterrent to people-trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and weapons. The barrier would be completed, bar one small section, by October, Netanyahu said.
Israel is also constructing the world's largest detention centre for asylum seekers and illegal migrants, capable of holding 11,000 people. The £58m building, close to the border, will receive its first detainees by the end of the year.
Netanyahu said the state would embark on "the physical withdrawal" of migrants, despite fears among human rights organisations about the dangers they could face in their home countries. Yishai said: "I'm not responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan, the UN is."
As tensions rise in cities with relatively high African populations, the past month has seen a spate of attacks on buildings in south Tel Aviv that house asylum seekers and migrant workers. In one incident, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the courtyard of a kindergarten. NGOs working with migrants have also received abusive and threatening calls.
Amid the anti-immigration clamour, some Israelis have argued that, in the light of Jewish history, their state should be sympathetic and welcoming to those fleeing persecution.
Israeli Official Points to ‘Incitement’ by Palestinians
By JODI RUDOREN
Published: January 6, 2014
JERUSALEM — Adolf Hitler is quoted on the websites of Palestinian Authority schools. A young girl appears on Palestinian television, describing Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs” and the “murderers of Muhammad,” the Islamic prophet. Maps on the Facebook page of the Palestinian presidential guards do not show Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas himself embraced as “heroes” released Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis.
Israelis Document Incitement by the Palestinian Authority
These are among dozens of examples highlighted by Israeli officials in a new presentation documenting negative statements about Israel and Jews in official Palestinian Authority media and textbooks. As Secretary of State John Kerry departed here on Monday after an intense four-day push for a framework agreement outlining prospects for a peace deal, Israeli leaders said that such statements had not abated since negotiations began this summer and did not bode well.
“The general phenomenon is very clear: They are poisoning Palestinian children with deep hatred of Israel and the Jewish people,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said on Monday as he showed the presentation to international reporters. “At the end of the day, let’s assume we’ll be able to resolve all the technical issues, which are extremely complicated. Are we going to get genuine peace, or just a piece of paper?”
Video by a Jordanian production company "Bird of Paradise." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illF1vt5g1Q
The 2010 song, "When We Die as Martyrs," is cited as influential among Palestinian children in Israel's report.
The presentation, which Mr. Steinitz delivered at an Israeli cabinet meeting on Sunday, is part of an intensifying campaign in which he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others have emphasized what they call “incitement” as a prime obstacle to peace. It underpins their increasing demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which they argue is the only way they will be assured that an agreement will end the long-running conflict.
Palestinian leaders dismiss the renewed focus on incitement as a ruse to distract from disagreements over issues including borders, the future of Jerusalem and the rights of refugees. They say that Israel has refused to reconvene a committee, which included Americans, that was established in 1998 to deal with incitement but disbanded after two years and about 20 meetings.
“If there is any incitement against Israel, this is a forum where they can provide it officially, and we can do the same,” said Majdi Khaldi, a diplomatic adviser to Mr. Abbas. “Why do we have to continue just complaints from one to the other? It’s better for all to go to the trilateral committee, and that will solve the whole issue.”
Asked about reviving the committee, Mr. Steinitz said Monday that it had been “completely useless” and would not help because the problems were coming from Palestinian government sources, not rogue individuals.
Mr. Khaldi says the problems go both ways. He pointed out that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has repeatedly accused Mr. Abbas of “diplomatic terrorism,” and said he also saw Israel’s continued construction in West Bank settlements and military raids on Palestinian cities as forms of incitement.
Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, noted that weather maps in Israeli newspapers do not demarcate Palestinian territory, just as maps cited in Mr. Steinitz’s report do not show the land divided.
Incitement is an issue as old as the conflict itself. An unusually comprehensive recent study of Israeli and Palestinian Authority textbooks found that each presented the other side as the enemy, but that the Palestinian books contained more negative characterizations. David Pollock, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who in September published a 172-page study of the issue, said that while incitement had decreased markedly since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, a decade ago, it persists.
“There are ups and downs, there are exceptions,” Mr. Pollock said in an interview, “but unfortunately I think it is true that the official Palestinian media continue to incite against Israel and to claim that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians. There’s almost no positive discussion of peace, two peoples, any of that sort of favorable or even just moderate messages about Israel.”
On the Israeli side, Mr. Pollock said, “what you have are unofficial, extremist fringe individuals” whose statements are “disowned and discouraged, for the most part,” by government leaders.
Mr. Steinitz’s ministry has four people working full time tracking incitement, and since 2009 it has issued quarterly reports trying to quantify it. Mr. Steinitz said that numbers for the fall of 2013 were not yet available, but that “amazingly, surprisingly, since the resumption of the negotiations we see even more incidents.”
On the Nov. 2 anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which Britain endorsed the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, the website of Mr. Abbas’s presidential guards posted bloodied pictures of Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary for whom the declaration is named, and Israeli prime ministers under the banner, “A promise from one who did not own it to one who did not deserve it,” according to the presentation.
The same site, on the Nov. 29 anniversary of the 1947 United Nations vote to partition Palestine, had a headline, “Palestine Is Not to Be Divided,” with a map that did not show Israel. The presentation also included a picture of a Nazi flag hung in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar in October.
And there was a November video on a website of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah faction in which masked members of its military wing threatened to kidnap Israeli soldiers and showed off weapons, singing, “With these rockets we will liberate Jerusalem, with these rockets we will crush the Zionist enemy.”
Mr. Steinitz said that Mr. Netanyahu had shown Mr. Kerry some of these examples during a recent meeting in Rome. The prime minister also complained about incitement in an August letter to Mr. Kerry, and has frequently raised the issue in his public statements since the negotiations began.
“This Palestinian government incitement is rampant,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a joint appearance with Mr. Kerry when he arrived here on Thursday. “Instead of preparing Palestinians for peace, Palestinian leaders are teaching them to hate Israel.”
Brazil's indigenous rights activists hail illegal settlers' eviction
Troops begin evicting ranchers and loggers from Maranhão state in eastern Amazon, home of endangered Awá tribal group
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 08.17 GMT
Indigenous rights campaigners hailed a rare victory in Brazil this week as government troops began evicting illegal settlers from an area that belongs to one of the world's most endangered tribal groups.
The Awá population has been decimated along with the eastern Amazonian forests upon which its nomadic people depend. Disease, murder and the loss of habitat are thought to have reduced their numbers to 450.
Although the Brazilian government demarcated their territory in Maranhão state more than 10 years ago, the Awá reserve has been increasingly infringed upon by ranchers, loggers and landless farmers.
Last week the government announced it would comply with a court order and evict the settlers. In an online statement, the government's indigenous affairs department, Funai, said the army, police, justice ministry and environment officials would be involved in the operation.
Starting this week, non-indigenous residents will be given 40 days' notice to leave and help will be provided for their resettlement.
Stephen Corry, director or Survival International, which has launched a campaign to save the community, said the operation was a victory for the global campaign to save the tribe.
"This is a momentous and potentially life-saving occasion for the Awá. Their many thousands of supporters worldwide can be proud of the change they have helped the tribe bring about. But all eyes are now on Brazil to ensure it completes the operation before the World Cup kicks off in June, and protects Awá land once and for all," he said.
Action to evict the "invasores" has been slow coming, and conflicts – including killings and arson attacks – have occurred sporadically.
A Vanity Fair reporter who recently visited the area estimated that illegal logging roads were found within a few miles of an area where the last 100 uncontacted Awá hunt.
A federal judge described the situation as genocide, and Survival International calls the Awá "the most threatened tribe on earth".
The government has dragged its feet because it professes to be a supporter of the million-plus landless rural workers and is dependent in congress on the agro-business lobby, which wants to redraw indigenous land demarcations.
But with questions being asked by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, front-page stories on the plight of the Awá in Brazil's bestselling newspaper, and an international campaign featuring Colin Firth, Vivienne Westwood and Sebastião Salgado and other celebrities, the pressure for protection has increased.
Tensions are likely to persist both here and in other areas demarcated as indigenous lands. Native populations have been slaughtered since the arrival of the first European settlers. They now comprise less than half a per cent of Brazil's population of 199 million, but their territories cover 13% of the country's land.
The farm lobby is desperate to change this. It is proposing a constitutional revision – known as PEC215 – that would shift responsibility for demarcation from Funai to congress, which is heavily dominated by agricultural interests. In December, one farm group in Mato Grosso do Sul held a fundraising drive to support "resistance" by agriculturalists against indigenous groups.
Troops have been dispatched to restore order on several occasions. Over Christmas more than 100 members of the Tenharim tribe in Amazonas state were forced to flee when a mob of angry settlers descended on their village and burned several buildings to the ground. This followed accusation and counter-accusation over the disputed death of the Tenharim chief and the disappearance of three non-indigenous men.
Last August the National Guard was called in after the killing of a Guarani man, Celso Rodrigues, in Mato Grosso do Sul.
The mismatch between indigenous communities and mining wealth
Indigenous communities rarely reap the benefits of mining and attempts by companies to redress the balance often fall short
Guardian Professional, Friday 15 November 2013 14.52 GMT
"It shouldn't be like this. It's a rich country... for some", reflects the veteran left-wing journalist and filmmaker John Pilger in his new documentary about the plight of Australia's indigenous community.
Utopia, which opens in UK cinemas today, offers a searing critique of what Pilger describes as Australia's "hidden secret". In the opening sequences, the viewer is taken from a Palm Beach apartment renting at AUS$30,000 (£17,388) per week to a police station foyer where a young indigenous Australian male is beaten and later dies.
The juxtaposition between Australia's affluent classes, buoyed by a prolonged mining boom, and the grudging poverty of its native populations crops up throughout the film. Pilger seems genuinely bewildered by the gulf. When he questions Warren Snowdon, a long-term parliamentarian in Australia's Northern Territories, about this manifest development gap, he's told that his question is "puerile" and "stupid".
Is that fair? According to the Australian government's own figures (PDF), mining is the "main reason" for a 78% increase in the country's terms of trade between 2004 and 2011. As a percentage of total national investment, mining's portion shot up from 8% to 31% over the same period. Is it really "puerile" to ask if some of the benefits of Australia's mining boom might accrue to the country's native communities?
Pilger certainly thinks not. He cites the case of Roeburne, located in Western Australia's Pilbara region: "It's right at the centre of one of the world's greatest resource 'gold rushes', yet its people remain impoverished and the children stricken with preventable diseases; many are partially deaf."
On the face of it, the global mining industry appears to be responding. Take the International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM). The London-based trade body, whose 22 corporate members operate more than 800 mine sites in over 60 countries, issued a position statement on indigenous rights five years ago. The document, which was updated last May, calls on companies to show "mutual respect" and deliver "mutual benefit".
The industry's big guns seem to be listening. Only last month, Australia's BHP Billiton announced an AUS$10m education fund to finance 90 scholarships for indigenous students. The likes of Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Gold Corp all boast similar initiatives. Yet the complaints and conflicts go on, so where's the mismatch?
At least three major obstacles stand in the way. First is the question of commitment. Many seemingly well-intentioned development efforts by corporations are either too little or too late. It's all very well to provide a handful of jobs or scholarships, Pilger argues, but these have "almost no positive bearing" on the systemic problems of housing, sanitation, health and so forth that many indigenous groups face.
The Wayúu in Colombia provide a case in point. Comprising over two-fifths of the population of north-western state of La Guajira, home to the country's largest coal mine, they scrape a meagre living as subsistence farmers and herders. Not only has none of the wealth from the Cerrejón mine trickled their way, they have had to suffer the health impacts of air and water pollution to boot, Wayúu leaders say.
"If the charitable foundation of the company comes and offers people something, they will take it because they are desperate but it doesn't cover all their needs", says Jackeline Epiayu, a Wayúu human rights campaigner. Even then, only a "minimal fraction" of the Wayúu communities receives support, says Epiayu, leading her to conclude that such programmes are "mere window dressing".
The second major barrier is that of historical context. Native communities, by definition, preceded those that came after. That makes extractive companies the newbies. If nothing else, this single fact demands that they are respected. Hence, the insistence by indigenous communities of their right to be listened to and to say "no" to mining projects should they so wish – what's known in policy circles as "Free, Prior and Informed Consent". The revised ICMM norms water down this commitment by giving the final word to host governments, argues First People Worldwide, a global indigenous rights organisation.
Historical context also demands that companies are seen to tackle the injustices of yesteryear, not just those of today. Pilger's film is littered with examples of atrocities against Australia's indigenous peoples that have never been officially admitted, let alone addressed. For abuses in which companies are involved, even if only indirectly or under different ownership, appropriate restitution or compensation is a must for winning trust. In other cases, companies should be actively lobbying the government to set the past straight.
The final, and arguably most significant, obstacle is cultural. Indigenous communities follow "fundamentally different norms" from western-minded, neoliberal-oriented corporations, argues Jon Altman, professor in anthropology at the Australian National University (and one of Pilger's interviewees). It's not that indigenous people don't want development; it's just that many don't want the kind of development that multinational companies are offering.
"We need to redefine what we mean by development", argues Bobby Banerjee, professor of management at London's Cass Business School. Work needs to be done to design income-generating models that concur with indigenous customs and beliefs, particularly those related to the sanctity of nature. "Economic development that comes at the price of social dislocation and environmental degradation is certainly not a preferred outcome", he argues.
Mining corporations could certainly go a lot further in mitigating their impacts on indigenous peoples. Even then, the notion that the two can somehow live together in a harmonious utopia still seems highly optimistic. More realistic, perhaps, is a fragile armistice.
Brazil's Amazon conservation project threatened by loggers and landowners
Small farmers and a Catholic nun are facing a violent backlash as they develop a project to protect the rainforest
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 07.00 GMT
Sister Angela Sauzen exudes energy and determination. A Brazilian nun of German extraction, she has made a real difference to progressive causes in Latin America over the past half-century. Peasant farmers laughingly say she never takes "no" for an answer.
When the Guardian met her in September, she was excited about a project she was helping peasant farmers to develop as an alternative to destructive slash-and-burn agriculture. Like the farmers, Sauzen was having to learn about budgets, quality control and marketing strategies – issues not generally covered in a nun's training. But she was not in the least daunted.
She lives in the hot, unpleasant town of Uruará, on the Transamazônica highway, which cuts through the Amazon basin from east to west. With some 50,000 inhabitants, it is a typical frontier town, with no running water, no sewerage, no internet, no airport (apart from several small, clandestine landing strips, some of which are said to be used for drug trafficking), not even a bus station.
What Uruará does have in abundance are loggers, who bring in most of the town's income and are clearly the powers that be. In the late afternoon, lorries transporting massive tree trunks arrive in the loggers' depots. Some of the lorries are new but, almost invariably, they don't have a number plate. It's a way the loggers have found to hide the origin of their timber so they can claim it comes from one of the few areas where logging is permitted. This scheme, known as heating the wood, is so common that, off the record, loggers admit it would be impossible to find a single logger who did not disguise the origin of at least part of his timber in this way.
The loggers take timber from wherever they can find it, including indigenous reserves and land allocated to peasant families as part of the government's agrarian reform programme. With the government largely absent from the region, they have used the classic combination of patronage (building roads, repairing bridges, taking sick people to hospital) and threats to get the peasant families to sell them their timber at peppercorn prices.
In 2007 Sauzen decided to do something to try to change the dynamic. "I came back to Uruará after a 12-year absence and I was horrified at the way logging and forest-felling had increased," she says. "I feared that the whole wonderful forest would be destroyed." She began to talk to the families about developing a sustainable way of earning their living. Some of them in a nearby settlement called Rio Trairão responded favourably, and Sementes da Floresta (Seeds of the Forest) was born.
A community leader, Derisvaldo Moreira, said the basic philosophy behind their project was to collect produce from the forest (Brazil nuts and seeds of the andiroba, cupuaçu, copaíba and other trees), process it and sell it to retailers and cosmetics manufacturers. None of the families had done anything like this before. Like Sauzen, they had a lot to learn, but little by little the project has been moving forward. Or it was.
There were signs in September 2012 that Seeds of the Forest was provoking fierce opposition from loggers and big landowners, particularly when it announced plans to incorporate, legally, a further 14,000 hectares (34,500 acres) of public forest.
The Guardian got a taste of the landowners' fury when a cattle farmer, Domingos Nicolodi, claimed to own 6,000 hectares of forest in the area claimed by Seeds of the Forest. When reminded that the constitutional limit on the area of public land that could be owned by an individual was 2,500 hectares, he reacted furiously. "That land is mine," he shouted. "All this trouble is being caused by that mad nun. That's what I call her, a mad nun. She should be praying in a church."
The situation has since become more tense. According to reports, labourers are illegally cutting down swaths of forest in the area used by the families. There have been death threats. Last month a masked man held a gun to Sauzen's head, warning her to back off. An activist secretly recorded an official from Ibama, the environmental agency, saying: "There's already a group trying to get us withdrawn. It's a powder keg here."
Every year scientists come up with evidence showing the importance of the Amazon forest in regulating global climate. Yet, after declining for several years, Amazon deforestation increased by 28% from August 2012 to July 2013, with 5,843 sq km (2,255 sq miles) being felled. It is clear that, if the devastation is to be permanently halted, projects such as the Seeds of the Forest must be provided with the protection they need to survive.
Further along the Transamazônica highway another Catholic nun – the American Sister Dorothy Stang – worked ceaselessly for peasant families. Just like Sauzen, she was helping them to develop a sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn farming. She was gunned down in January 2005 by an assassin, hired by a local landowner.
Honduras and the dirty war fuelled by the west's drive for clean energy
The palm oil magnates are growing ever more trees for use in biofuels and carbon trading. But what happens to the subsistence farmers who live on the lucrative land?
Nina Lakhani in Tocoa
The Guardian, Tuesday 7 January 2014
The west's drive to reduce its carbon footprint cheaply is fuelling a dirty war in Honduras, where US-backed security forces are implicated in the murder, disappearance and intimidation of peasant farmers involved in land disputes with local palm oil magnates.
More than 100 people have been killed in the past four years, many assassinated by death squads operating with near impunity in the heavily militarised Bajo Aguán region, where 8,000 Honduran troops are deployed, according to activists.
Farmers' leader Antonio Martínez, 28, is the latest victim of this conflict. His corpse was discovered, strangled, in November.
Peasant farmers say they are the victims of a campaign of terror by the police, army and private security guards working for palm oil companies since a coup in June 2009 ended land negotiations instigated by the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya.
Witnesses have implicated Honduran special forces and the 15th Battalion, which receives training and material support from the US, in dozens of human rights violations around the plantations of Bajo Aguán.
They say private security guards regularly patrol and train with the soldiers, and have even been given military uniforms and weapons for some operations.
The military denies the allegations, blaming the United Peasant Movement (Muca) for escalating violence in the region. Repeated requests for comment from the US embassy in Honduras failed to elicit a response.
The Bajo Aguán dispute dates back almost 20 years, to a World Bank-funded land modernisation programme. The farmers say thousands of hectares of land used for subsistence farming were fraudulently and coercively transferred to agribusinesses that grow African palms, which are lucratively exported to the west for biofuel, and are traded in the carbon credit market.
Since then, they have tried to reclaim the land using the courts, as well as roadblocks and illegal land occupations.
Zelaya launched an investigation to resolve the conflicts, but this came to an abrupt halt when he was toppled in a coup in 2009 that was backed by the business, political, military and church elites.
In December 2009, groups of subsistence farmers started large-scale illegal occupations on disputed land also claimed by the country's biggest palm oil producer, the Dinant Corporation, which is owned by Miguel Facussé, one of Honduras's most powerful men.
Dinant says 17 of its security guards were killed and 30 injured in clashes with farmers.
Map - Aguan Valley, Honduras
The region was heavily militarised in early 2010, and the farmers who were occupying the land were forcibly removed by soldiers enforcing contentious court orders. Accusations of human rights violations have escalated ever since.
In one incident, in 2012, Neptaly Esquivel, 32, a father of five, was permanently disabled by a bullet to the hip fired at close range by a soldier, whose face was hidden by a balaclava, during a peaceful protest against education reform. His case is with the inter-American court of human rights.
In another incident, Matías Vallé, 51, a founder member of Muca, was shot dead by two masked men on a motorcycle as he waited for a bus. Witnesses said a car full of private security guards was parked a few metres away.
His wife, Dominga Ramos, said he had rejected money from Dinant employees to stop the farmers' movement, after which he was told there was a price on his head.
Ramos said: "I witnessed one police officer trying to hide a bullet shell in the ground with his foot. We buried him in a secret place so they couldn't remove his head. I am tired and scared.
"My two sons left because of threats. We just want to work our land in peace."
Dinant strongly denies any direct or indirect involvement in death squads or human rights violations.
It denies collusion between its security guards and government security forces to target peasant groups, and says it is committed to corporate social responsibility. The company says government security forces have been deployed against trespassers, who Dinant says are guilty of murder and other crimes.
A spokesman said Dinant was "not familiar" with the cases of Martínez, Esquivel or Vallé, and it had never been investigated for any suspected involvement. The company said it remained committed to "a quick and peaceful resolution to the Aguán conflict".
Another recent case is the disappearance of Josbin Santamaría Caballero, who was allegedly shot and taken away in an army helicopter on 30 October 2012 as his wife and two young daughters cowered in their kitchen of their home.
The Dinant spokesman said the company was ignorant of his case, too.
Caballero, 25, son of a prominent peasant activist, had been publicly denounced as a violent criminal by Colonel German Alfaro, commander of the joint police-military Xatruch operation in the region.
Alfaro, trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas) in Fort Benning, Georgia, denied any military involvement and said Muca, the most organised peasant group in the region, was responsible for the current violence.
Alfaro said: "Muca and other groups encourage farmers to confront agro-industrialists, maintain constant tension and insecurity, and commit crimes to destabilise the area with armed groups."
The Aguán conflict mirrors a wider struggle over land and natural resources across Honduras that for decades has pitted the poor majority against the country's 10 oligarch families. Honduras became the world's most violent country outside a war zone in 2011, and it is one of the poorest and most unequal in the Americas.
Activists say the use of state security forces to suppress protests against landgrabs, dams, mining and oil concessions has intensified since the 2009 coup. Over the same period the US has built up its military presence, with several bases in the country, which has become a major transit point for the international drugs trade. Between 140 and 300 tonnes of cocaine are believed to pass through Honduras every year en route from South America to the US and beyond.
Elections late last year boosted the status quo when the rightwing National party returned to power on a pro-business, pro-security manifesto amid allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation.
Bertha Oliva, director of the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, said: "The police and military are using the cover of the US-led war on drugs in Honduras to eliminate many people, maybe including me: I am on the death list again."
An investigation published in February by the Canadian group Rights Action (pdf) detailed 34 acts of violence and other crimes directly implicating the 15th Battalion. It said these typically occurred "in co-ordination with private security forces of palm oil corporations, Honduran national police agents and other military units … in what can only be characterised as death-squad activity."
Karen Spring, from Rights Action, said: "The role of the military in terrorising and criminalising communities in the Bajo Aguán shows the complicity of the Honduran state and US government in supporting big business regardless of the killings."
The use of private security has increased exponentially across Honduras, which now has five private security guards to every police officer.
The UN working group on mercenaries described consistent reports of guards using illegal weapons to carry out with impunity human rights violations including killings, disappearances, forced evictions and sexual violence.
Patricia Arias, who led the UN group, told the Guardian: "The most worrying information is about private security guards acting together with the police and army, for example the Xatruch operations in Bajo Aguán."
Héctor Castro, vice-president of the Federation of Palm Growers, said both sides had committed abuses and broken the law. He added: "We don't have a government or authorities which look for conciliation or apply the law equally."
Vitalino Alvarez, a Muca leader who survived an assassination attempt in November 2012, said: "Each threat, disappearance and murder is part of the campaign of terror against us. We are blamed for killing each other and publicly called assassins, drug traffickers and drunks. We live, work and negotiate with guns pointed to our heads."
From bananas to biofuels
Honduras was the original, archetypal banana republic: a small, poor, fertile country controlled by a small group of wealthy families with ties to transnational business interests such as Chiquita, formerly the United Fruit Company.
Bajo Aguán, with its lush terrain, sunny climate and myriad rivers, was once dominated by banana trees. In this landscape, poor campesinos barely scraped a living from back-breaking work.
Banana companies withdrew from the region in the 1930s, and its population declined. But by the 1980s the Aguán was one of the most diverse crop regions in Honduras, producing coconuts, pineapples, grapefruits and almost half of all the country's bananas.
But African palm plantations have increased by almost 50% in the past three years, and now dominate the Bajo Aguán landscape, having replaced bananas and other edible crops. African palms, the saturated oil of which is a staple ingredient in processed foods and biodiesel, are now the most profitable crop in Honduras.