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« Reply #11310 on: Jan 17, 2014, 04:48 AM »


Ukraine passes sweeping law to crack down on protests

Unauthorised tents, stages and amplifiers in public places are punishable with jail under new law, sparking opposition outcry

Reuters in Kiev
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 15.43 GMT   

Supporters of the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, have pushed a sweeping law through parliament in an attempt to curb anti-government protests, sparking an outcry from the opposition and raising tensions on the streets.

Under the law, backed by 235 of 450 MPs, the unauthorised installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places will be punished by a fine of up to £390 or by up to 15 days in detention.

People and organisations who provide facilities or equipment for unauthorised meetings will be liable to a fine of up to £780 or detention of up to 10 days.

Yanukovych's refusal in November to sign a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of boosting ties with Russia brought hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out on to the streets in protest.

Though numbers have dwindled since, several hundred people remain camped out on the central square of the capital, Kiev, and in public buildings in adjoining streets, despite a new year and Orthodox Christmas lull.

Opposition politicians regularly use a stage in the square to broadcast messages of support to the protesters and the law, assuming it is signed into force by Yanukovych, would make such action illegal.

The decision in parliament, taken suddenly by a show of hands which caught the opposition off-guard, followed a court ban on protests in Kiev, boosting opposition fears of an imminent police crackdown.

"What happened today in parliament is a violation of laws," said the boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader who is regarded as a strong challenger to Yanukovych for the presidency. "They do not have any legal basis."

The far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok, another opposition leader, said the vote was "simply a usurping of power".

The law would make it an offence punishable by up to 15 days' detention to wear a mask or face covering like that adopted by many of the protesters, particularly those from the nationalist parties.

Dissemination of extremist information and slander was also banned and seemed to be aimed at forcing the removal of political graffiti on walls and billboards pillorying Yanukovych and his government.

The move was certain to fuel opposition suspicions that riot police would soon crack down to end two months of protests. These have widened into rallies, sometimes involving thousands of people at the weekend, against sleaze and corruption in power.

The EU's ambassador to Ukraine, Jan Tombinsky, joined opposition leaders in condemning the way the law was rushed through parliament by a show of hands rather than by the customary electronic system of voting – a mechanism that opposition deputies can physically block.

"I am concerned about the way some laws were voted in parliament today. Norms should be adopted through proper procedures, otherwise the credibility of democratic institutions and of the legal system is at stake," he said in a statement.


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« Reply #11311 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:03 AM »

Massive pile of poop dumped outside the French National Assembly

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:04 EST

A truck dumped a huge pile of manure outside France’s National Assembly on Thursday in a protest against the French political elite.

The driver of the truck — which was marked with the slogan “Out with Hollande and the whole political class!” — was apprehended by police shortly after releasing his smelly load outside the front gates of the grand Palais Bourbon that hosts the lower house Assembly.

He was taken to a nearby police station and expected to face charges.

It was unclear what was behind the protest, but it comes as President Francois Hollande faces a scandal over revelations he had affair with an actress 18 years his junior.

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

France wakes to fresh revelations about Hollande's 'affair' with Julie Gayet

French magazine Closer claims president's relationship with actor began in 2011 and included weekends in south of France

Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 09.47 GMT   

The tumult surrounding François Hollande has grown with the publication of a string of further allegations concerning the French president's personal life.

In a second "special edition" that went on sale on Friday morning, Closer claimed to have more allegations of the on-off relationship between Hollande and actor Julie Gayet, which the magazine said has lasted for more than two years and has included weekends spent together in the south of France.

The magazine alleges that far from being simply a fling or a recent romance, the couple have been living an "eventful idyll" since 2011, shortly before Hollande's campaign to be the Socialist party's nominee in the presidential election the following year.

During the past few years, Closer claimed, the couple have endured "ruptures and reconciliations".

Meanwhile, doctors have prevented Hollande, 59, from visiting his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, in hospital, saying she is tired and needs a complete break.

But according to radio reports, France's first lady has broken her silence to reveal that the president sent her chocolates and flowers.

Trierweiler was taken to hospital a week ago after Closer published revelations of Hollande's alleged affair. On Thursday, RTL radio claimed to have spoken to Trierweiler, who said she had not seen Hollande since last Friday but did not feel abandoned by him.

"François Hollande has not yet visited her in hospital, but Valérie Trierweiler doesn't want people to think he is neglecting her at such a painful time," RTL said. "She has let it be known that it is the doctors who have banned the head of state from coming to see her … a widespread practice in cases of psychological distress."

RTL said Trierweiler was "temporarily confined and being kept at a distance from her entourage to give her space to get back on her feet. Bur François Hollande speaks to the care team and has met them personally."

Trierweiler, 48, was said to be "very tired to the point of not being able to stand up", and suffering from low blood pressure as well as low morale. "She hopes to leave with her head held high and shows a willingness to fight at least for her dignity."

RTL said Trierweiler had let it be known that she had not had a "nervous breakdown" when Hollande confessed to his alleged affair with Gayet, 41, hours before Closer magazine published its claims that Hollande had been secretly leaving the Elysée Palace to meet the actor. Other newspapers and magazines claimed Trierweiler was determined to "stand by her man" and fight to save her relationship with Hollande.

Le Nouvel Observateur said she "has not the slightest intention of packing her bags". "She's OK to forgive, but not OK to leave," it said.

In its second round of "exclusive" revelations about the personal life of the French president, Closer reported on Friday that Hollande met Gayet at an informal gathering of friends and political allies in a Paris restaurant in 2011 after the actor supported Ségolène Royal, Hollande's former partner and mother of his four children, in her unsuccessful battle against Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election. Royal had hoped to stand again, but was beaten to the nomination in a vote of party members.

Closer claimed on Friday that the pair originally met at an apartment in rue du Faubourg-Saint Honoré, not far from the Elysée, but stopped meeting there because a concierge recognised them and tried to take, and sell, photographs.

The magazine quoted a restaurant owner in Mougins – a picturesque village outside Cannes where Hollande has a flat – who claimed to remember the couple dining there. Closer also reported that Gayet was seen with him in Tulle, his former parliamentary constituency, and claimed that she introduced the president to her grandmother and members of her family who live outside Paris.

After Hollande was elected president in May 2012, he celebrated with Trierweiler. A few months later the president and his so-called "first girlfriend" spent part of the summer holiday at the official residence at the Fort de Bregançon on the French riviera.

It was, said Closer, to be the presidential couple's last summer holiday together. In 2013, Trierweiler flew to Greece with two of her sons, while Hollande retreated to his constituency at Tulle in the Correze, where the magazine claimed he and Gayet were seen walking together.

Gayet has launched a lawsuit against Closer for breach of privacy, claiming €50,000 (£41,000) in damages and publication of the legal award across half of the front page.

Her ex-husband Santiago Amigorena, with whom she has two sons, told Europe 1 radio: "Julie is very calm with all this and very sure of herself because nobody's done anything wrong, nobody's cheated on anyone."


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

Doctors tell François Hollande to stay away from Valérie Trierweiler

French president's partner to be 'given space to get back on her feet' – but Hollande has sent her chocolates and flowers

Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 21.35 GMT   

Doctors have prevented François Hollande visiting his partner Valérie Trierweiler in hospital, saying she is tired and needs a complete break.

But France's first lady broke her silence to reveal that the president has sent her chocolates and flowers, according to radio reports.

Trierweiler was taken to hospital a week ago after a French magazine published revelations that Hollande, 59, was allegedly having an affair with an actor. On Thursday, RTL radio station claimed to have spoken to Trierweiler, who said she had not seen Hollande since last Friday, but did not feel abandoned by him.

Doctors had said she needed a break and rest and advised that he should stay away.

"François Hollande has not yet visited her in hospital, but Valérie Trierweiler doesn't want people to think he is neglecting her at such a painful time," RTL said. "She has let it be known that it is the doctors who have banned the head of state from coming to see her … a widespread practice in cases of psychological distress."

RTL said Trierweiler was "temporarily confined and being kept at a distance from her entourage to give her space to get back on her feet. Bur François Hollande speaks to the care team and has met them personally."

Trierweiler, 48, was said to be "very tired to the point of not being able to stand up", and suffering from low blood pressure, as well as low morale. "She hopes to leave with her head held high and shows a willingness to fight at least for her dignity."

RTL said Trierweiler had let it be known that she had not had a "nervous breakdown" when Hollande confessed to his alleged affair with Julie Gayet, 41, hours before Closer magazine published its "special edition" claiming Hollande had been secretly leaving the Elysée Palace for secret trysts with the actor. Other newspapers and magazines claimed Trierweiler was determined to "stand by her man" and fight to save her relationship with Hollande.

Le Nouvel Observateur said she "has not the slightest intention of packing her bags".

"She's OK to forgive, but not OK to leave," the magazine said.

Hollande refused to say if there was still a first lady in France in his press conference on Tuesday, and flatly refused to answer questions about his relationship with Gayet. He did promise to "clarify" the situation before a visit to the US next month, when he will meet Barack Obama.

Julie Gayet, the actor at the centre of the French presidential scandal, began legal action to sue Closer magazine on Thursday for breach of privacy. She is claiming €50,000 in damages, €4,000 in legal costs and publication of the legal judgement over half of the magazine's front cover.

Closer magazine confirmed that it had received legal papers, but refused to comment further. A spokesperson for the publication said a second "special edition" with new information and photographs would appear on Friday morning.


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« Reply #11312 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:04 AM »


Catalonia votes to ask Madrid for secession referendum

Vote in Catalan parliament unlikely to lead to secession from Spain, but could fan flames of independence movement

Associated Press in Barcelona
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 13.49 GMT   

Catalan politicians have voted in favour of asking for the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain – a milestone in years of mass protests by Catalans, who are fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language.

As politicians debated at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona before the vote, dozens of Catalans outside waved independence flags. A smaller group unfurled Spanish flags before the debate began, yelling "Catalonia is Spain!"

But the vote is also largely symbolic: Catalonia can ask Spain for permission to hold an independence vote but Madrid still has the power to say no, and it almost certainly will.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister, has repeatedly said he won't allow a Catalonia secession referendum because Spain's 1978 constitution doesn't envision anything but a unified Spanish state, and mandates that referendums affecting Spain must be held nationally and not regionally. He has an absolute majority in parliament that assures he will prevail, and the main opposition Socialist party also opposes a referendum vote.

Still, the vote on Thursday could fan the flames of an already impassioned independence drive, even though it fell just short of the two-thirds majority that supporters hoped for. A strong separatist message may also inspire independence movements elsewhere in the European Union at a time when European unity has been rocked by the economic crisis.

Even if Madrid refuses to allow an independence vote, Catalan politicians might decide to try to hold a referendum anyway. That would put them in perilous legal terrain: when the northern Basque region, where separatist sentiment has also raged, failed to obtain permission for a similar referendum in 2005, Spain said Basque leaders could be jailed if they went ahead and held the vote anyway.

A less extreme scenario would be to use Catalan regional elections as a kind of unofficial referendum, with parties obliged to clearly state where they stand on independence. Under such a situation, any vote for a pro-independence party would be taken as a de facto vote for independence. A big yes turnout would give further ammunition to independence supporters to push for a referendum, with or without Spain's approval.


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« Reply #11313 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:06 AM »


Dutch scheme aims to reintegrate alcoholics by giving them beer

Amsterdam officials say paying men with alcohol to do light work keeps them busy and builds self-respect

Associated Press in Amsterdam
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 13.36 GMT

The men streaming in and out of a small clubhouse in east Amsterdam could almost be construction workers at the end of a hard day, taking off their orange reflective vests and cracking jokes as they suck down a few Heinekens, waiting for their pay cheques.

But it's only noon, the men are alcoholics and the beers themselves are the pay cheque.

In a pilot project that has drawn attention in the Netherlands and around the world, the city has teamed up with a charity in the hope of improving the neighbourhood and possibly the lives of the alcoholics – not by trying to cure them, but by offering to fund their drinking outright.

Participants are given beer in exchange for light work collecting litter, eating a decent meal and sticking to their schedule.

"For a lot of politicians it was really difficult to accept: 'So you are giving alcohol?'" the Amsterdam East district mayor, Fatima Elatik, said. "No, I am giving people a sense of perspective, even a sense of belonging. A sense of feeling that they are OK and that we need them and that we validate them and we don't ostracise our people, because these are people that live in our district."

In practice, the two groups of 10 men must show up at 9am three days a week. They start off with two beers, work a morning shift, eat lunch, get two more beers, and then do an afternoon shift before a last beer. Sometimes there is a bonus beer. The total daily pay package comes to €19 (£16), in beer, tobacco, a meal and €10 cash. Participants say a lot of that cash also goes towards beer.

For years, a group of around 50 rowdy, ageing alcoholics had plagued a park in east Amsterdam, annoying other park-goers with noise, litter and occasional harassment.

The city had tried a number of tough solutions, including adding police patrols and temporarily banning alcohol in the park outright, including for family barbecues and picnics. Elatik said the city was spending €1m a year on various prevention, treatment and policing programmes to deal with the problem, and nobody was satisfied.

Meanwhile, the small nonprofit Rainbow Group Foundation and its predecessors had been experimenting with ways to get help for alcoholics and drug addicts in the area.

Floor van Bakkum of the Jellinek clinic, one of the city's best-known addiction treatment clinics, said her organisation had a very different approach to treating alcoholism. She has a few reservations about the Rainbow programme, but approves of it in general.

She said a "harm-reduction approach" made sense only when there was no real hope an alcoholic could be cured.

"The Rainbow group tries to make it as easy as possible [for alcoholics] to live their lives and that they make as little as possible nuisances to the environment they are living in," she said. "I think it is good that they are doing this."

The idea was simply that troublemakers might consume less and cause less trouble if they could be lured away from their park benches with the promise of free booze. The Rainbow leader, Gerrie Holterman, said beer was the obvious choice, because it was easier to regulate consumption. Rainbow still harbours the ambition to cure alcoholics and move them back to mainstream society and sees the work-for-beer programme as a first step.

"I think now that we are only successful when we get them to drink less during the day and give them something to think about – what they want to do with their lives," Holterman said. "This is a start to go towards other projects and maybe another kind of job."

She conceded there had only been one individual so far who had moved from the programme to regular life. Numerous participants have found the rules too demanding and dropped out. But she said nuisance in the park had been reduced, neighbours were happy and there was a waiting list of candidates who wanted to participate.

Elatik said she could not quantify the cost of the programme. Its budget comes partly from donations to Rainbow, partly from city funds, but it is less than €100,000.

The foreman of one group participating in the scheme, Fred Schiphorst, takes his job seriously. He wears a suit and tie under his reflective vest. He said he was treated with more respect in the neighbourhood, but admitted his off-the-job drinking was still up and down.

Another participant, Karel Slinger, 50, said his life has not been transformed. He is still an alcoholic, but he said on the whole things had changed for the better.

"Yes, of course, in the park it is nice weather and you just drink a lot of beer," he said of his old life. "Now you come here and you are occupied and you have something to do. I can't just sit still. I want something to do."


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« Reply #11314 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:08 AM »


Italian mayor dismayed as port chosen for Syrian chemical weapons transfer

Mayor of Gioia Tauro says locals 'will come after me with a pitchfork' if anything goes wrong during ship-to-ship operation

Lizzy Davies in Rome and agencies
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 16.39 GMT      

Italy has announced that the port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria will be the site of a transfer of Syrian chemical weapons, prompting concern from the town's mayor who said locals would "come after [him] with a pitchfork" if something went wrong.

Maurizio Lupi, the minister of transport, said the southern port had been chosen as the place where 60 containers of deadly toxins would be transferred from a Danish ship to a US vessel.

None of the containers would be brought to shore, he said, and the operation would be carried out in "absolutely secure conditions". But that was not enough to reassure Renato Bellofiore, the mayor of Gioia Tauro, who said he had not been warned that his town had been selected for the task.

"We are absolutely not in favour [of this]; on the contrary, we are worried because have received no official information and we are stumbling around in the dark," he told the TMNews agency, adding that he would "pursue all legal means" to prevent the operation.

"They are putting my life in jeopardy," Bellofiore added. "If something happens the people will come after me with a pitchfork."

Domenico Madaffari, mayor of the neighbouring town of San Ferdinando, concurred. "We are weighing up whether to order the closure of the port," he said.

Ports across Italy had been dreading the announcement about which of them had been chosen as the site where the raw materials for sarin, VX gas and other lethal agents will be passed on to the specially equipped US Cape Ray before being destroyed at sea.

The transfer is viewed as an important stage in the depletion of Syria's chemical arsenal, as set out in an international agreement in the aftermath of what the UN said was the worst chemical weapons attack in 25 years in eastern Damascus in August.

On Thursday Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, thanked Italy for "its generous contribution". But in the runup to the decision little willingness had been in evidence from Italian ports to host the unusual job. Last week the governor of Sardinia, Ugo Cappellacci, said he had warned the prime minister, Enrico Letta, that he would take "political and judicial" action if a port on the island were chosen.

A first load of the materials is being stored on board the Danish ship Arc Futura in international waters. Uzumcu said on Thursday that although the timescale for the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons had slipped, all the chemicals would be destroyed by the end of June.


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« Reply #11315 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:18 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/16/2014 03:50 PM

The Bosnian Knot: Conflicts Unchanged in Birthplace of WWI

By Walter Mayr

The 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo came in the midst of a bitter power struggle among major European powers in the Balkans. One hundred years and three devastating wars later, peace still eludes the multi-ethnic region.

In a six-part series, SPIEGEL examines the modern-day consequences of World War I. Bosnia, where the war began with shots fired in Sarajevo, was the scene of the last mass killing on European soil, in a war that began in 1992. Rebel Serbs have ensured that the country remains a trouble spot today.

Among the rows of apartment buildings in the far eastern section of Sarajevo, near the airport, murderer Gavrilo Princip remains a hero to this day.

Some Bosnian Serbs living in this neighborhood openly venerate their most famous son. On a cloudless Sunday in June 1914, Princip, a student who sported a moustache, shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with a single bullet to the carotid artery, fired from a 7.65 Browning pistol.

The deadly attack by the young Bosnian Serb on the scion of the Austro-Hungarian double monarchy turned out to be an overture to an unprecedented tragedy. Some 15 million died in World War I, and when it was all over, the rulers from the Habsburg, Hohenzollern and Romanov royal families had lost their thrones.

Was Princip's bloody attack justified from the Serbian perspective, an act of revenge against the Habsburgs, who had occupied Ottoman Bosnia in 1878 and then annexed it in 1908? In eastern Sarajevo, at any rate, a large portrait of the assassin hangs on the wall of the Soho Café today, a century later. Princip's last words, once scratched into a cell wall in the Bohemian town of Theresienstadt, are also displayed: "Our shadows will be walking through Vienna."

Princip and his fellow conspirators with the pan-Slavic "Young Bosnia" movement were motivated by an explosive mix of ideas: radical nationalism, combined with skepticism toward the Western lifestyle and rage over their own economic backwardness. Encouraged by the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had controlled the Balkans for centuries, warmongers in the region were already gaining ground before the Sarajevo assassination, especially in the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia, where some dreamed of a nation that would include all regions populated by Serbs in the territory of Austria-Hungary.

Even today, nationalists in the region once held by the defunct multi-ethnic Republic of Yugoslavia pose a threat to stability in the heart of Europe. This is especially apparent in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- a patchwork quilt that is home to Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

Princip's Great-Nephew

A white-haired man nicknamed "Bato," or buddy, who is sitting under the 1914 assassin's portrait in the Soho Café on this afternoon, agrees with the assessment that surprisingly few lessons have been learned from the suffering of the last 100 years, brought on by two world wars and the Bosnian war that began in 1992.

The 61-year-old businessman, who holds a degree in economics, is named Gavrilo Princip. He's the great-nephew of the young man who committed the most momentous murder of the 20th century only a few kilometers away. The stories Bato heard from his father, who lived under one roof with the budding assassin, are the first-hand accounts of his famous ancestor.

Princip, the assassin who shaped world history with his gunshots, was apparently a puritanical, ambitious young man from a very poor background. But was he guilty? "I'm no historian," says the great-nephew. "All I know is that he was still very young."

Although the only physical trait Bato has in common with the 1914 assassin is his long, narrow nose, he shares his Serb nationalist pride and his loathing of all forms of foreign control. Bato is irritated that Princip the rebel no longer fits into the modern view of history in independent Bosnia. "When I attended high school in Sarajevo, pictures were still displayed in his honor, and Young Bosnia was venerated as a revolutionary organization," he says in amazement. "And now that Yugoslavia no longer exists, are we suddenly supposed to believe that they were all terrorists?"

This is where post-Yugoslav opinions diverge, especially now that the 100th anniversary of the June 28, 1914 assassination is approaching. Proponents and critics of Princip's legacy are as irreconcilable as they were during the bloody Bosnian war of secession that began in 1992. There are parallels between today's dispute over the historic significance of the assassin of Sarajevo and the events that unfolded 20 years ago.

Freedom Fighter or Nationalist Murderer?

The one camp, predominantly Croats and Muslims, views Princip as a Greater Serbian nationalist and murderer, and believes that there should be no reason to celebrate him in an independent Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those in the other camp are mainly Bosnian Serbs and venerate Princip as a freedom fighter with national and anti-imperialist ideals.

Unlike the Catholic Croats and the Bosnian Muslims, most of whom were loyal to the emperor in 1914, the militant Serbs were viewed with suspicion in the Habsburg empire as Belgrade's fifth column. The divides between ethnic groups and religions in Bosnia are deeper than ever today. In the 1990s war, another 100,000 people, mainly Muslims, died on the region's already blood-soaked soil.

"Yes, Bosnia is a country of hatred," says one of the characters, a doctor of Jewish origin, in the story "Letter from the Year 1920" by the later Yugoslav Nobel laureate Ivo Andric. "This uniquely Bosnian hatred should be studied and eradicated like some pernicious, deeply-rooted disease. Foreign scholars should come to Bosnia to study hatred, recognized as a separate, classified subject of study, as leprosy is."

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that what Serbs did to their former fellow Yugoslavians in Bosnia near the end of the 20th century has roots in events that occurred at the beginning of the century. Some 550,000 Serb soldiers and civilians, close to a fifth of the entire population, died between 1914 and 1918. In relative terms, no other people suffered comparable losses in World War I.

Yugoslavia and the Germ of the Dispute

The Serb-dominated Kingdom of Yugoslavia, created in 1918 and abbreviated as the Kingdom of SHS, the letters representing its three ethnic groups, the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was a precursor to the later Yugoslavia and conceived in part as compensation for the horrific death toll of World War I. But the problem was that it united the Serbs with some of those who had fought against them on the other side of the front.

In this respect, the Kingdom of SHS contained the germ of the dispute from the very beginning. The bloodiest battles in World War II and later in the 1990s occurred in precisely the same spots where the winners and losers of World War I continued to live together in close quarters: in the Bosnian Krajina region and along the Drina River.

But Bato has little interest in the many tales of hatred and the Balkan "original sin" his ancestor allegedly committed with the Sarajevo assassination. He prefers to speculate on the dark powers working behind the scenes. Why, he asks, did the Austrians send their Franz Ferdinand, the future ruler of an empire stretching from Trieste on the Adriatic Sea to Lviv in Galicia, to troubled Bosnia with so few bodyguards?

Bato points out that the archduke was in a morganatic marriage and was not really even tolerated within the royal court in Vienna, and that a condition of his marriage to his wife Sophie was that their children would have no succession rights to the throne. This suggests the possibility, says Bato, that perhaps a few cunning court lackeys associated with the old Emperor Franz Josef may have orchestrated the assassination.

Bato, smiling at his conspiracy theory, takes his VW Golf for a spin around East Sarajevo, an outlying district of the divided Bosnian capital. Since the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, East Sarajevo has officially not been part of the Muslim-Croat dominated federation, but of the other half of the country, the "Republika Srpska."

Civilian life has now returned to East Sarajevo, where Serb leaders Radovan Karadžic and General Ratko Mladic once ran their ruthless regime. While the two men face charges of genocide before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague, students in Serbian East Sarajevo stroll around the former grounds of the military barracks in Lukavica. There is little left today to suggest that the grounds were once the headquarters of an almost four-year occupation and effort to destroy Sarajevo, the duration of which made it an unprecedented act of barbarism in 20th-century European history.

Gavrilo Princip, his pack of Drina cigarettes constantly within reach and his destination in view, drives briskly across the historically charged grounds. He stops the car at the now-abandoned guardhouse of the former military site, named during the war after Uncle Slobodan Princip, a partisan leader and posthumously decorated national hero of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. He points to the airport, where UN aircraft carrying essential supplies landed during the siege of Sarajevo, and to a few buildings in Dobrinja, the athletes' village during the 1984 Winter Olympics.

During the Bosnian war, Dobrinja became a daily hell for tens of thousands of residents of the front-line zone who were trapped there, and who smoked tea, ate dandelions and buried the victims of Serbian artillery attacks in their front yards. The trapped residents used gallows humor to shrug off the fact that white UN jeeps and armored personnel carriers would drive past their houses without helping them. "As long our gravediggers don't strike oil with their spades here, the world couldn't care less about us," went one local saying.

Landscape of Old Wounds

Bosnia's relationship with the outside world has always been shaped by a significant contradiction between the world's lack of interest in the wild, mountainous Balkan nation during times of peace, on the one hand, and the sad notoriety it has acquired again and again as a scene of bloodshed, on the other.

The region is like a landscape of old wounds covered by poorly healed scar tissue that periodically burst open at unpleasant intervals. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not only an intersection of East and West, Rome and Byzantium, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, Latin and Cyrillic, but also of traditional regions of interest to the Ottomans, the czars and the Habsburgs. Their bitter struggle for power in the region was the prelude to the tragedy of Sarajevo in 1914.

Collision of Interests

To this day, the interests of major and regional powers, Russians and Turks, Americans, EU Europeans and representatives of the Islamic world collide on Bosnian soil.

It may be somewhat shortsighted to conclude that the 20th century "took place primarily between two bridges in Sarajevo," as Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan notes. Nevertheless, both the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the Latin Bridge in 1914 and the murder of two female civilians on the Vrbanja Bridge, at the beginning of the war in April 1992, were events of great importance. The first killing led to the collapse of a painstakingly structured European order, while the second shooting destroyed the hope that the end of the Cold War could result in lasting peace on the continent.

As in 1914, the Serbs, the largest Slavic ethnic group in the Balkans, played a fundamental part in the eruption of violence in 1992. To this day, their self-image as a pillar of the Christian West is based on the Battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman Empire in 1389, which the Serbs lost, but also on the Serb resistance movement against the Germans and the Habsburg dynasty in World War I, as well as the partisan struggle against fascist occupiers in World War II.

One of the things that still makes the war-tested Serbs a critical mass in the Balkans is the fact that Serb populations have been scattered across the various republics since the breakup of Yugoslavia. In addition to Serbia proper, ethnic Serbs live in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and the separatist part of Kosovo, where their status remains unresolved today.

When former Communist leader Marshal Josip Tito, the man Stalin called a "megalomaniacal dwarf," ruled Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980, he managed to contain the ethnic centrifugal forces. But the dams definitely burst after 1991. In Belgrade the Serbs -- under then President Slobodan Milosevic and with the support of their traditional protectors, the Russians -- pursued their goal of establishing a Greater Serbia. Meanwhile, Karadžic executed his policy of "ethnic cleansing" on Bosnian soil. It was only Washington's intervention and a NATO bombing campaign that put a stop to the bloody fighting -- a painful lesson for Europeans, especially the Germans.

Hereditary Enmities

Already in 1914, they had "slithered," as then British Prime Minister Lloyd George put it, somewhat rashly into the disaster on Austria's side. During World War II, Hitler's troops and his Croat satellites were primarily responsible for the deaths of a million Yugoslavs. And finally, at the beginning of the 1990s, Germany, under the aegis of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, by recognizing the secession of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina at an early juncture, exposed itself to the accusation that it had underestimated precarious alliances and longstanding hereditary enmities in the Balkans.

Bato spent the Bosnian war in Pale, a Serb stronghold outside Sarajevo and the headquarters of the despotic Karadžic's government. He had been offered a job in the Ministry of Tourism and Marketing, because, after spending time in Cambridge and Paris, he was seen as a worldly polyglot among the coarse Bosnians. "The alternative for me was the 'puschka,' or rifle, and war isn't my thing," says the descendant of the 1914 assassin.

He acquired modest wealth in postwar Bosnia. He is eating a meal of smoked ham and crullers at Motel M3 behind the airport, in which he has an investment. The invisible demarcation line between the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia, almost identical with the front line at the end of the war in 1995, runs practically outside the door. "But the real border is up here," says Bato, tapping his forehead with his finger, "in our heads."

Major General Dieter Heidecker, the commander of 600 soldiers from 22 countries, agrees. The Austrian is the highest-ranking military official with the EU's Althea mission, whose soldiers must still maintain a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina more than 21 years after the war began. "This is a beautiful country with extremely nice people, as long as they don't have to deal with each other," the general says with gentle derision.

Heidecker and his troops are training the Bosnians so that they will soon be able to provide their own security. "We now have the first recruits who were born after the war," says the commander of the European Union Force (EUFOR) Althea mission. This offers reason for hope, he adds. "The Bosnian army is currently the only thing that functions at a multiethnic level in this country."

Since the 1995 Dayton Agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina has not only consisted of two parts and a multinational district, but also of 10 cantons and a total of 180 ministers. Administrative costs consume up to two-thirds of the national budget. Consensus among the different parts of the country and ethnic groups cannot even be achieved on the most fundamental issues, such as the rights of minorities. The EU has persistently -- and unsuccessfully -- threatened to impose sanctions.

No Basis for a Functioning State

It is an irony of history that Austrians are in charge in Sarajevo once again, in both military and civilian matters, a century after the assassination. Under the Dayton Agreement Valentin Inzko, as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the highest-ranking civilian authority in the country. Europe must be judged on how it resolves the Bosnia-Herzegovina problem, says Inzko, "because this is our backyard."

Inzko has abandoned his original dream of maneuvering Bosnia into the EU to mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination. Today he has lowered his expectations to include preparatory steps toward "integration" into the EU and NATO. Why does destroying the Bosnian knot have to be so painstaking? The Muslims, Croats and Serbs, says Inzko, clearly lack what he calls the basis for a functioning state: "consensus among three ethnic groups."

There could hardly be a more sobering conclusion -- for Sarajevo, a place that played such a fateful role in European history, and for all of Bosnia.

There are few things the various ethnic groups can agree on at all these days. One area where they do not diverge, however, is in their view that armchair decisions made about the region by other countries ultimately led to calamities. This is their view of everything from the Congress of Berlin in 1878, where Austria-Hungary took over Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which ordered the creation of the new state of Yugoslavia; the Yalta Conference in 1945, which paved the way for communism under Tito; or the Dayton Agreement in 1995. Each time, it was always the others who were to blame.

In Bosnia, people tend to take a relaxed view of things -- including their belief that their's is actually a peaceful region. At least until something goes wrong again.

The Bosnian Killing Fields
Gavrilo "Bato" Princip spends his Sundays in a place crowded with mass graves from the last war, in eastern Bosnia, not far from the Serbian border. It's where his mother lives. The trip takes him through the Republika Srpska, with a population of roughly 1.5 million ethnic Serbs. Hardliner Milorad Dodik, who berates the construct of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a doomed "devil's state," is the president of this state within a state. Dodik can depend on protection from both Belgrade and Moscow.

One of the most horrific acts of violence to take place on European soil since World War II occurred in 1992 in the Republika Srpska, between Bratunac and Srebrenica. The massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys from Srebrenica shocked the global public. The murderers were members of regular and paramilitary Serb units, compatriots of Bato Princip.

In the middle of the Bosnian killing fields, he is now meeting his mother, who was driven out of her home near Sarajevo. Dragica Princip, 92, has been living as a refugee in Bratunac since 1995. The elderly woman tries to preserve her dignity in a living space crowded with wooden crates of apples, rolls of toilet paper and bottles of homemade plum brandy. She was accustomed to a different lifestyle. In the Yugoslav days, says Dragica, "all doors were open to us; we had privileges." Being related to the famous assassin didn't hurt, she adds.

The town outside Dragica's door is dilapidated. The Hotel Fontana, where Serb General Mladíc handed Dutch UN Commander Thomas Karremans a glass of schnapps before the deadly massacre of Muslim men and boys from the protected UN zone unfolded, is now a ruin.

Children are now playing outside the school where hundreds of Muslims were shot dead in 1992. The "Brotherhood and Unity" Stadium, with its freshly mowed lawn, looks deceptively idyllic today, with the local football club, FK Bratstvo, playing its home games there again. But in 1992, according to the final report by a UN expert commission, large numbers of Muslims were held in the stadium, their bodies burned and thrown into the nearby Drina River.

'We Must Break Through This Circle of Myths'

Some 3,337 people, almost a fifth of the population, died in Bratunac. So far 75 mass graves have been found near the city, and 612 people are still listed as missing. The victims are still being dug up, and DNA samples are being taken and body parts identified. The work is an indispensible part of investigating the massacre, says Adam Boys of the International Commission on Missing Persons, "because the fuel for the Bosnian war in the 1990s came from unresolved events during the first and second world wars; we must break through this circle of myths."

But the mayor of Bratunac, where old Dragica Princip lives, is still a Serb from Radovan Karadžic's party. He claims that his former party leader was not responsible for the 8,000 Srebrenica deaths. And as far as Bosnia's future is concerned, the mayor believes that it would be best if each nation "had its own country, even if meant having to change the borders."

Many in Bosnia-Herzegovina, both Serbs and Croats, still talk and think this way.

The town of Bosansko Grahovo in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina lies in a wild landscape of forests and cliffs seven hours west of Bratunac, near the border with the new EU member state Croatia. It's the birthplace of assassin Gavrilo Princip.

Nothing is left of his childhood home but the outside stone walls. Marauding Croatian troops devastated the building during a campaign to recapture lost settlement zones in 1995 -- after partisans previously smashed it to pieces in 1942, according to an old man with a cane who hobbles over from his neighboring yard.

Miljkan Princip, 81, is a cousin of Bato and the only member of the extended family still living in the town. He has lived through the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the partisans, Tito's Socialist Republic, the rise of radical Serbs in the early 1990s and the ensuing brutal acts of revenge committed by Croats.

Some 98 percent of the buildings in Bosansko Grahovo were destroyed, riddled with bullets or damaged by fire in 1995. The person mainly responsible for the campaign of destruction, Croatian Major General Ante Gotovina, was convicted of various war crimes in The Hague but was later acquitted. He now has thriving business activities on EU territory and is an honorary citizen of the coastal city of Split.

Meanwhile, in Bosansko Grahovo, between the ruins of the Gavrilo Princip School and the Gavrilo Princip Cultural Center, the Serbs who have returned to the town are doing their best to make ends meet. Their town is now in the Croat-dominated part of the federation, a Serb stronghold in hostile surroundings. Some 70 percent of the population is unemployed, in a town where non-Serbs are given preference for jobs in the public sector. The local police station flies the flag of Croatia and not that of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"There will be no peace in this area, as long as everyone is not living among his own people," says the Serb mayor. And Bato Princip, the assassin's descendant, warns the rest of Europe against the illusion that everyone has learned his lesson in the place where World War I began, "because in this country, there are always, unfortunately, three different truths: one for Serbs, one for Croats and one for Muslims."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #11316 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:24 AM »


White House releases summary of Iran nuclear deal amid calls for transparency

• Congress and other groups had called for details
• Agreement set to be implemented on 20 January

Reuters in Washington
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 23.47 GMT   

The White House on Thursday released a summary of the deal reached between six major world powers and Iran to curb its nuclear programme, responding to calls from Congress and other groups for more transparency about what the agreement entails.

Iran has denied that it wants to use the programme to build nuclear weapons but agreed to scale it back, after the international community applied strict financial and oil sanctions. The six-month preliminary deal includes some relief from sanctions as talks continue toward a broader, long-term deal.

The White House gave Congress access to the full text of technical instructions for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) but released a detailed four-page summary of the deal to the public. "It is the preference of the IAEA that certain technical aspects of the technical understandings remain confidential," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to stop production of 20% enriched uranium on or by Monday 20 January and to begin diluting half of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. Over the next six months, the IAEA will verify a series of other curbs on enrichment and use of centrifuges. Iran is not allowed to commission or fuel the Arak reactor, and must stop producing and testing fuel for the reactor, the summary said.

At the end of the six-month period, Iran will agree to "a cap on the permitted size of Iran's up to 5% enriched uranium stockpile", the summary said.

IAEA inspectors will visit the Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment sites daily, including both scheduled and unannounced inspections. Inspectors will visit the Arak reactor at least monthly, up from the current pace of one every three months, or longer.

Iran agreed to provide design information for the Arak reactor and other access to related facilities, the summary said.

The added inspections will "enable the international community to more quickly detect breakout or the diversion of materials to a secret program", the summary said.

The European Union, Iran, and the six major powers (P5+1 – US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) that are part of the agreement will name a joint commission of experts to work with the IAEA to implement the deal and discuss any issues that arise. The group will meet once a month.

The summary also included details on the timing of sanctions relief.

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

A Bill Stokes Debate, and Doubt, on Iran Deal

By MARK LANDLER
JAN. 16, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — Its Senate sponsors describe it as a “diplomatic insurance policy” that will help President Obama cut a better nuclear deal with Iran. The White House condemns it as a deal-killer that could put the United States on a path to war.

At issue is a 52-page Senate bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, which has become enshrouded in a fog of overheated talk, as the White House, Congress and a growing legion of lobbyists clash over the wisdom of passing new sanctions against Iran while pursuing diplomacy.

On a basic level, of course, the question of whether sanctions would cause Iran to leave the bargaining table cannot be answered in Washington. That decision is up to the Iranians, who have talked tough about sanctions but have plenty of reasons not to walk away.

But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.
Multimedia Feature: Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program

On Thursday, under pressure, the White House released technical details of how it is carrying out an interim deal with Iran. The document contained few surprises, though it raised enough questions — from the nature of Iran’s centrifuge research to the size of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium — that it is likely to feed the doubts of skeptics.

Those doubts run through the Senate bill, which would require Mr. Obama to certify, every 30 days, that a host of conditions have been met in order to defer the new sanctions.

White House officials zeroed in on three of the conditions: first, that any deal would dismantle Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure”; second, that Iran “has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States”; and third, that Iran has not tested any but the shortest-range ballistic missiles.

“They’re basically arguing for a zero enrichment capacity, with a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That’s not attainable, and it’s not necessary to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”

The Joint Plan of Action that Iran signed in November with the United States and its partners foresees a final deal that would allow Iran a “mutually defined enrichment program with mutually defined parameters” — enough centrifuges, in other words, to enrich uranium to a level adequate to fuel a civilian nuclear reactor.

Proponents of the bill deny it would deprive Iran of the right to modest enrichment. They point to the qualifier “illicit” in the reference to nuclear facilities that must be dismantled, and they say the language on enrichment is intentionally vague to mollify both Republicans, who are reluctant to grant Iran the right to operate even a single centrifuge, and Democrats, who balked at signing on to a bill that would rule out all enrichment.

“There’s no language that says a centrifuge is prohibited or allowed,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, who helped Republicans and Democrats draft some of the technical wording.

The ambiguity, he said, reflected the fact that the lawmakers who sponsored the bill are “doing it in a bipartisan way, but they have disagreements on what the end state should look like.”

Mr. Albright, however, said the provision on ballistic missile testing could pose a problem. Proponents say it merely echoes prohibitions on such tests that are in United Nations Security Council resolutions — resolutions that Iran must confront in the next round of talks. But Iran’s missile program was not part of the interim deal, and introducing it now, Mr. Albright said, would inject a combustible element into an already fraught negotiation.

The requirement that Iran not engage in terrorism against Americans seems self-evident: The United States is not about to make a deal with a country that attacks its citizens. But the language is vague on the time frame — Iran was certainly guilty of terrorism against Americans in the past — and broad in its scope, including Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.

As if to illustrate the problem, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, placed a wreath this week at the grave of a Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was accused of being a mastermind of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Any future attack by Hezbollah would be grounds to cut off diplomacy with Iran.

Proponents say the bill would give Mr. Obama leeway to waive the sanctions, not just for the first six months of the negotiations but for two additional months. Administration officials counter that the sanctions would still kick in legally — a violation, at least in spirit, of the agreement.

White House officials also shake their heads at a provision that would commit the United States to support Israel, militarily if necessary, if it decided to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in “legitimate self-defense.” Defenders of the bill say the provision is nonbinding and merely repeats an expression of solidarity with Israel that passed the Senate last year.

Mr. Albright said he believed that the Senate and White House could still negotiate a final version of the bill that would allay the administration’s concerns. But the White House seems uninterested, calculating perhaps that the bill’s sponsors were losing momentum in attracting enough Democrats to give the legislation a veto-proof majority.

For diplomats, that would be just as well. R. Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official who oversaw Iran policy during the George W. Bush administration, said that while the bill might not torpedo the negotiations, “it might give Iran an excuse to leave the table.”

“The idea that the Senate would intervene in the middle of a negotiation to alter the outcome of the negotiation is just not sensible,” said Mr. Burns, who now teaches at Harvard. “We can only have one president negotiating with Iran, not 525 presidents negotiating.”


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« Reply #11317 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:26 AM »

Rahul Gandhi Won’t Be Candidate for India’s Top Job

By ELLEN BARRY
JAN. 17, 2014
IHT
 
NEW DELHI — At a major gathering of the Indian National Congress on Friday, Sonia Gandhi announced that her son Rahul would not be nominated for the post of prime minister in upcoming elections, signaling the outcome of deliberations within the party that has dominated this country’s politics for decades.

“We took a decision on Rahul yesterday, and the decision is final,” she said.

Mr. Gandhi will lead the upcoming campaign and remains the party’s vice president. Analysts described the move as a tactical decision, aimed to insulate Mr. Gandhi from a potentially punishing campaign.

The announcement provoked chants of “Rahul PM” from party loyalists that were so sustained that Mr. Gandhi, the party’s vice president, finally took the podium himself and held his hands in the air, telling the audience to remain calm and promising to share “what is in my heart” in an address later in the day.

When the current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, mentioned Mr. Gandhi in his own remarks, the chants of “Rahul” resumed.

Damaged by a series of corruption scandals and a flagging economy, Congress looks unlikely to retain control of the next Parliament, especially after deep losses in four state assembly elections held in December.

In her remarks, Mrs. Gandhi warned that victory by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party risked dividing the country along religious lines.

“These elections will be a battle for India as it was conceived by our founding fathers,” she said. “It will be a battle for the preservation of our age-old secular traditions, traditions of diverse communities living harmoniously in one composite national identity.”

Mr. Gandhi’s role in the contest has remained stubbornly unclear for months, even as Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has buffed and fine-tuned his image as a take-charge candidate. Mr. Modi has seemed eager to highlight the contrast between the two men, casting himself as a self-made man, the son of a tea stall owner, and Mr. Gandhi as a cosseted “shehjada,” or prince.

Not naming Mr. Gandhi the prime ministerial candidate means sacrificing some of his star power in a country that reserves reverence for his father, grandmother and great-grandfather, who all served as prime minister. But Mr. Gandhi has not proven an especially charismatic presence at campaign events, and at times has projected reluctance about his role in government, rarely speaking at parliamentary sessions or expressing a stance in national debates.

Taking a back seat ahead of general elections could allow Mr. Gandhi to escape damage as a potential candidate if Congress performs badly. Mr. Gandhi has shown intense interest in reorganizing Congress’s party structure, including introducing internal competition for positions within the party’s youth wing, and insiders say he may hope to immerse himself in that work after the May elections.

In an interview published on Tuesday in a Hindi newspaper, Mr. Gandhi sidestepped a series of questions about whether he wanted to be the prime ministerial candidate.

“I will follow whatever orders the party asks me to follow,” he said. “I am only concerned about why the entire argument comes to standstill over the issue of a ‘post.’ Why is it being debated on a national level? Why don’t people debate about steps to clean politics?”

Siddharth Varadarajan, a prominent journalist, called the decision not to nominate Mr. Gandhi “an insurance policy, an exit strategy, a safety valve.” He said Congress leaders are already braced for deep losses in the May election, but may see an opportunity to bounce back in several years, hoping that the newly formed government may prove fragile.

He said it was far too early to talk about the end of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, noting that Rahul’s sister, Priyanka, is seen as a talented politician. He added that the family would be wise to gradually untether itself from the party.

“The way to do it would be to say, ‘we recuse ourselves, and we will keep a distant watch,’ ” he said. “If they had the best future of the Congress Party in their mind, they would realize that the dynasty has to end, and it has to end in an orderly fashion. I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
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« Reply #11318 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:31 AM »


Thai anti-government protesters wounded in explosion

More than 30 people are hurt after explosive device is thrown into lorry driven by demonstrators during march in Bangkok

Associated Press in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 09.34 GMT

Dozens of people were wounded in Bangkok when a grenade was hurled at anti-government demonstrators marching through the Thai capital at midday on Friday, raising tensions in the country's political crisis.

The protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in the procession but was not wounded when the explosive device was thrown into a lorry driven by demonstrators that was several dozen metres ahead, the group's spokesman Akanat Promphan said. The city's emergency services centre put the number of injured at 31.

Police said the grenade was hurled from a nearby building.

Thailand has been wracked by repeated bouts of unrest since the military ousted the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 amid charges of corruption and alleged disrespect for the monarchy. The crisis boiled over again late last year after an attempt by the ruling party to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return from exile failed.

Anti-government demonstrators who are now seeking to oust the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, have taken over seven key roads and overpasses in Bangkok this week, blocking them off with sandbag walls and steel barricades.

The protests have been peaceful but small acts of violence have been reported nightly at protest venues, which have been targeted in shooting attacks. Small explosives have been hurled at the homes of top protest supporters.

Overnight, two motorcycle-riding suspects drove past the residence of the governor of Bangkok, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, and hurled a grenade inside, police said.

Sukhumbhand, a member of the Democrat party, which is backing the protesters, was not home at the time and no injuries or serious damage were reported.

The attack was similar to another grenade attack on the home of Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former Democrat premier whose party lost to Yingluck's in a 2011 vote.

The violence came as Yingluck faced fresh legal troubles on Friday after the country's anti-corruption commission announced it would investigate her handling of a controversial rice policy.

The legal threat adds to the intense pressure against her caretaker administration to resign as protesters calling for her removal march across the capital for a fifth day to protest at government offices.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said on Thursday that it had found grounds to investigate allegations that Yingluck was criminally negligent in her handling of what the government had described as a deal to export surplus rice to China.

The commission has already determined that there are grounds to press charges against her former commerce minister and more than a dozen other officials.

If found guilty, Yingluck would be forced to resign.


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« Reply #11319 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:35 AM »


Xinjiang steps up fight against religious extremists in China

Doubling of anti-terrorism budget sparks fears of repressive crackdown in China's ethnically divided north-west

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 08.49 GMT   

China's north-western area of Xinjiang will double its anti-terrorism budget in the coming year, state media have reported, raising concerns of an increased wave of repression in the ethnically divided region.

Xinjiang has stepped up what it calls a battle against religious extremism and terrorism in recent months, amid a spate of violent clashes between local authorities and native Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.

The region's police force will receive 2m yuan (£202,000) this year to combat terrorism, according to China's state newswire, Xinhua.

"We must constantly strike hard against violent terrorism, showing no mercy, in accordance with the law, and maintaining a high-handed posture," said Nur Bekri, the chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, according to the report.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong-Kong-based senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, called the increased anti-terrorism budget "one step further in an overall repressive strategy".

"[China's president] Xi Jinping has taken a very clear stance on Xinjiang," he said. "He's taking a hardline approach to Xinjiang affairs."

According to state media reports, Xi announced a "major strategy shift" in Xinjiang at a high-level political meeting last week, emphasising a prioritisation of "maintaining social stability" over economic development. The full text of the speech has not been released.

In October, a Uighur man drove a jeep through a crowd of pedestrians in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing five people and drawing national attention to Xinjiang's deep-rooted ethnic divide. Chinese authorities called the incident a terrorist attack and swiftly tightened security throughout the region; Uighur activists and human rights groups say the act may have been a violent protest against religious and cultural constraints.

On Thursday, the mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, announced a raft of forthcoming anti-terrorism measures in the capital, including a tightening of internet controls, according to the Hong-Kong-based newspaper the South China Morning Post.

Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the measures were largely prompted by the October attack. "Beijing needs to [address] … such problems because, even though they don't happen very often, each instance makes a huge social impact," he said, according to the newspaper.

On Wednesday, police detained the prominent Beijing-based Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government's regional policy. "The public security organs have detained him in accordance with the law," China's foreign ministry spokesman said, suggesting he would be likely to face prosecution.

US and European officials have expressed concern at the arrest. "I have called on the authorities to treat him in line with Chinese legislation, to substantiate the charges," said Markus Ederer, the European Union's ambassador to China, at a Friday morning press briefing in Beijing.

In a statement, the US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "The detention of Mr Tohti, who has been outspoken in support of human rights for China's ethnic Uighur citizens, appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions."

Bequelin said the arrest was consistent with the recent surge of hardline rhetoric. "It's not always the case that the line is set out so clearly by the top leadership on an issue," he said. "On Xinjiang, it is, and I think Tohti's arrest is a direct result of this – a new level of political tightening in respect to ethnic affairs issues."

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

China cracks down on 'naked' officials

Officeholders denied promotion if immediate family live overseas in bid to stop corruption being hidden via foreign connections

Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 05.38 GMT      

Chinese officials whose spouses and children have emigrated will not be considered for promotion, state has media reported, in the latest move to crack down on corruption.

China has witnessed a series of cases where so-called "naked officials" – the term for government workers whose husbands, wives or children are all overseas – have used their foreign family connections to illegally move assets or avoid investigation.

"They belong to a high-risk group for corruption. Around 40% of economic cases and nearly 80% of corruption and embezzlement cases involve naked officials," the official Xinhua news agency cited Communist party official Wang Huanchun as saying.

Xinhua said the revised rules had for the first time ruled out promotion for such officials. The rules, unveiled by the ruling Communist party's powerful organisation department, which is in charge of personnel changes, also state that promotions must place greater emphasis on "moral integrity".

Officials would only be eligible for fast-track promotion if they were "especially outstanding", the report added. Those with a "poor reputation among the public" would not be considered for promotion.

"It further said an obsession with economic growth data as the only benchmark in evaluating a local official's performance should be avoided," Xinhua said.

"Greater emphasis should be put on their achievements in securing effective and sustainable economic development, people's livelihoods and society, culture and environmental protection."

President Xi Jinping has warned, like others before him, that graft is such a serious problem it threatens the party's very survival and has vowed to go after powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies".

Xi said this week that the fight against corruption was grim and complicated and had to be solved quickly with "drastic medicine".

However, the party has shown no sign of wanting to set up an independent body to fight graft and has arrested activists who have pushed for officials to publicly disclose their wealth.


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« Reply #11320 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:36 AM »


Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who took three decades to surrender, dies

Second world war intelligence officer stayed stubbornly holed up in Philippine jungle until he was coaxed out in 1974

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 07.20 GMT   

The last Japanese soldier to come out of hiding and surrender, almost 30 years after the end of the second world war, has died.

Hiroo Onoda, an army intelligence officer, caused a sensation when he was persuaded to come out of hiding in the Philippine jungle in 1974.

The native of Wakayama prefecture in western Japan died of heart failure at a hospital in Tokyo on Thursday, his family said. He was 91.

Onoda’s three decades spent in the jungle – initially with three comrades and finally alone – came to be seen as an example of the extraordinary lengths to which some Japanese soldiers would go to demonstrate their loyalty to the then emperor, in whose name they fought.

Refusing to believe that the war had ended with Japan’s defeat in August 1945, Onodera drew on his training in guerilla warfare to kill as many as 30 people whom he mistakenly believed to be enemy soldiers.

The world had known of his existence since 1950 when one of his fellow stragglers emerged and returned to Japan. A second member of the group reportedly died in 1950.

Onoda, whose sole remaining companion was killed in a shootout with Philippine troops in 1972, held firm until two years later.

He was only persuaded to surrender when his former commanding officer travelled to his hideout on the island of Lubang in the north-western Philippines and convinced him that the war had ended.

Until then, Onoda would later explain, he believed attempts to persuade him to leave were a plot concocted by the pro-US government in Tokyo. By the time he surrendered he had been on the island since 1944, two years after he was drafted into the Japanese imperial army.

Onoda wept uncontrollably as he agreed to lay down his perfectly serviceable rifle.

He was later pardoned for the killings by the then Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos. In his formal surrender to Marcos, Onoda wore his 30-year-old imperial army uniform, cap and sword, all of which were in good condition.

He returned to Japan in March the same year, but after struggling to adapt to life in his homeland, he emigrated to Brazil in 1975 to become a farmer. He returned to Japan in 1984 and opened nature camps for children across Japan.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, praised Onoda’s strong will to live, telling reporters on Friday: "I vividly remember that I was reassured of the end of the war when Mr Onoda returned to Japan."

Onoda was one of several Japanese soldiers who remained holed up in their former battlegrounds long after the war ended.

Onoda, like Shoichi Yokoi, a soldier who was found on the island of Guam in 1972, dismissed reports declaring the war’s end as Allied propaganda. On his return to a hero’s welcome in Japan, Yokoi famously
said: “It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned.”

In 2005 there were unsubstantiated claims that two former Japanese soldiers in their 80s were still in hiding in the mountains on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The men were reportedly afraid that they would be court-martialled for desertion if they gave themselves up.


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« Reply #11321 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:40 AM »

 2014-01-17
France24

The UN warned Thursday that violence in the Central African Republic had the makings of a genocide as seven more people were killed overnight in inter-religious bloodshed ahead of a parliamentary vote Monday to select a new president.

Violence in the country has not let up despite the resignation last week of former rebel leader and president Michel Djotodia, who was under intense pressure to step down over his failure to stem the bloodshed.

The violence in the Central African Republic "has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia", UN humanitarian operations director John Ging told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

"The elements are there for a genocide, there is no question about that," Ging said. He was speaking after a five-day visit to the country.

"Atrocities are being committed on an ongoing basis [and] fear is consuming the minds of an entire population, wherever you might go."

The country descended into chaos after Djotodia’s Seleka rebels deposed president François Bozizé in a March coup. Djotodia officially disbanded his predominantly Muslim rebel group after he seized power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some communities in the Christian-majority nation to form vigilante militias.

The US military on Thursday started transporting the first elements of a Rwandan troop force to the Central African Republic to join an African Union-led UN mission already in place in the country, the Pentagon said.

The African Union mission includes troops from Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Chad and Equatorial Guinea and is working alongside some 1,600 French troops.

Tension are running high in northern Bangui, where French troops patrolled in a bid to quell the unrest that has spiralled out of control between Muslim former rebels and the Christian majority in the wake of the coup.

Some residents of the capital have accused French soldiers of shooting people during a search. "They fired at the three men," said a youth, pointing to spent shells.

The French army acknowledged that there had been a clash but denied any link with the three deaths.

'We're being massacred here'

Panicked Muslim residents were also fleeing, headed northwards for neighbouring Chad, a country unfamiliar to many of them. AFP journalists saw dozens of people packed into lorries accompanied by Chadian troops from the regional African force known as MISCA (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic).

Women in tears and terrified children scrambled to get aboard moving vehicles, some of them wounded by the Christian "anti-balaka" militias formed in response to atrocities committed by armed Muslims.

"We're being massacred here. I've suffered too much. I'm going," said Sadou Gambo, a widow with six children and no relatives in Chad.

Members of the Transitional National Council (CNT), which is serving as a provisional parliament, on Thursday agreed on 17 criteria for a potential interim leader and said the election would take place on Monday morning.

The successful candidate will be "competent, a person of integrity, rigorous and capable of pushing forward national reconciliation", the CNT said.

However, the person must not be a member of the CNT itself, nor have served in Djotodia's administration nor have been part of a militia or armed rebellion for the past 20 years.

"The council has an historic opportunity to put the country on a path toward stability, democracy and development, and we encourage the council to seize this opportunity by selecting leaders of integrity who can restore stability to the Central African Republic," the US State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said on Wednesday.

But the UN's Ging warned of the scale of the task ahead for any future leader.

"Politically, the country has collapsed; public services have also collapsed, whether it's healthcare, education, social services and so on," he said.

"This conflict [was initiated] by extremely violent people who have an agenda to try to convert this into an inter-religious conflict," he said. "The communities are resisting that, but they are in fear."

About a fifth of the population of 4.6 million has been displaced or fled abroad to escape widespread murder, rape and pillage committed by rival militias, according to UN agencies.

Some 100,000 people from Bangui survive in an overcrowded tent city by the airport, where the French troops and MISCA soldiers who are trying to disarm the militias and provide security are based.

On Wednesday, the African Union urged central African countries to strengthen the MISCA force from around 4,500 to 6,000.

Relief agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster and are making efforts to feed people, help run crowded hospitals and provide vaccination for measles, which can be deadly when hygiene is lacking.
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« Reply #11322 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:44 AM »


Freedom of speech debate sparked by draft law to ban use of 'Nazi' in Israel

Bill would impose fine and jail sentence on anyone using the word other than in certain educational or artistic contexts

Associated Press in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 10.10 GMT   

An Israeli draft law that would criminalise the use of the word Nazi in most cases has sparked a debate on freedom of speech.

Seven decades after the formation of the state of Israel, memories of the extermination of millions of Jews during the second world war permeate virtually every aspect of life in Israel. Public figures and interest groups frequently invoke the genocide to score political points, and the word and Nazi symbols have slipped into Israeli discourse over the years.

The bill would impose a fine of 100,000 shekels (more than £21,000) and six months in jail for anybody using the word or symbols from Adolf Hitler's Third Reich in a "wrong or inappropriate way". Educational settings would be exempt, as would certain artistic performances, said Shimon Ohayon, the bill's sponsor.

The Knesset gave preliminary approval to the measure on Wednesday, but it has to pass three more readings and committee discussions before becoming law. A similar effort in 2012 failed at the committee stage.

Ohayon, from the hardline Yisrael Beitenu party, said the law would put Israel on a par with other nations battling antisemitism. He acknowledged enforcement would largely rely on violations being reported to police.

"We want to prevent disrespect of the Holocaust," said Ohayon. "We allow too many freedoms, which are taking over in a way that is harming us."

Opponents say the measure endangers freedom of speech in a country that frequently asserts a claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East.

"Week after week you want to shut mouths and harm freedom of expression," said Zehava Galon, leader of the opposition Meretz party.

Six million Jews were murdered in the systematic Nazi effort to kill all the Jews of Europe. Created in 1948 in the shadow of the war, Israel provided a haven for hundreds of thousands of refugees liberated from Nazi death camps. Today, it is home to about 200,000 survivors.

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Israel summons European envoys to protest about 'support for Palestinians'

Envoys from UK, France, Italy and Spain are called in after countries summoned Israeli ambassadors over settlements

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 17 January 2014 11.06 GMT   

Israel has summoned envoys from four European states to protest against their "one-sided" stand in favour of the Palestinians, the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said on Friday, escalating a quarrel over Israeli settlements.

On Thursday, Britain, France, Italy and Spain called in Israeli ambassadors to hear protests against Israel's latest announcement of settlement-building on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, called the European criticism hypocritical, and in a tit-for-tat move, Lieberman said envoys from the four EU countries had been summoned to a meeting in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem.

In a statement, he said Israel would make clear "that the one-sided position they constantly take against Israel and in favour of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates a feeling that they are only looking to place blame on Israel".

Last week Israel announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 500,000 Jewish settlers already live.

Most countries deem Israel's settlements as illegal and the European Union routinely condemns any new building moves.

Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed East Jerusalem in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally and in 2005 pulled out of Gaza, now run by Hamas Islamists who oppose peace talks with the Jewish state.

Israel and the Palestinians resumed US-brokered peace talks in July after a three-year deadlock. The negotiations have shown little sign of progress so far.

The future of settlements is a core issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli building will deny them contiguous territory they see as crucial to a viable country and have warned that their expansion could derail the peace talks.

Israel says the issue should be solved within negotiations.

Netanyahu, whose coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has defended recent expansion in settlements that he says Israel would retain in any future peace deal.

"Israel is making great effort to allow the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue and the position these states are taking, beyond it being biased and unbalanced, is significantly harming the chances of reaching an accord," Lieberman said.


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« Reply #11323 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:49 AM »


Rafik Hariri assassination: trial of Hezbollah suspects begins

UN's special tribunal for Lebanon tries Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badredine, Hussein Onessi and Assad Sabra in absentia for 2005 killing

Martin Chulov in The Hague
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 11.20 GMT   

Almost nine years after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the trial of his alleged killers has started in The Hague.

The defendants, all members of the powerful militia Hezbollah, are being tried in absentia – the first time this has happened at an international trial since the Nuremberg prosecutions.

The trial at the UN's special tribunal for Lebanon comes as the country continues to reel from instability caused by the 2005 killing and as a combustible political climate cripples the region.

Victims of the attack, which killed Hariri and 22 others and wounded several hundred more, have said they are expecting accountability from the process – a rare thing in Lebanon where assassinations have long been part of the political fabric, with perpetrators rarely caught.

Prosecutor Norman Farrell laid out a case against the four accused – Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badredine, Hussein Onessi and Assad Sabra – whom Hezbollah have vowed never to arrest, and whom neither Lebanese authorities, nor members of the STL investigative team have been able to locate since the international body was established by UN statute five years ago.

He said the case against the accused would be anchored by communications evidence that "presents a blueprint of how the crime was carried out and by whom".

Farrell said Hariri had been under surveillance "every minute" he had been in the country from the end of December 2004 until his death in Beirut at 12.55pm on 14 February 2005.

He said the bomb that killed Hariri and obliterated much of his convoy was comprised of an "extraordinary quantity of high-grade explosives. Clearly their aim was not only to make sure the target was killed but to send a terrifying message to the people of Beirut and of Lebanon."

Hariri had been a popular prime minister of post-civil war Lebanon, credited with rebuilding the central area of the capital, Beirut, and with trying to instil sovereignty in state institutions. He had cross-sectarian appeal and was vocal in his criticism of Syria's influence in Lebanon, which had been a spillover from the war years. In the months before his death, he had supported a UN resolution calling on Syrian forces to leave the country.

Farrell alleged that Salim Ayyash "was on the ground leading the team carrying out the final acts in preparation for the attack. Ayyash organised and co-ordinated the physical surveillance of the attack."

Hariri's son Saad, who was ousted as Lebanon's prime minister in January 2011, travelled to The Hague for the trial's opening session. One of his chief advisers, Mohammed Chatah, was killed in a similar explosion in Beirut last month. An investigator responsible for the Lebanese end of the international investigation into the 2005 killing was also killed by a car bomb in late 2012.

Hezbollah has vehemently denied carrying out the attack. It describes the trial as a US and Israeli plot aimed at discrediting the group.

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

Former Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri was a marked man, tribunal hears

Prosecution claims four accused of assassination began staking out Hariri from the moment he resigned as prime minister

Martin Chulov, The Hague
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 18.50 GMT

Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri was a marked man from the moment he stepped down as leader in late 2004 – with assassins watching almost his every move until they killed him on 14 February 2005, the international tribunal into his death has heard.

Nearly nine years after Hariri's death in a massive explosion in central Beirut, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, jointly funded by the state and the United Nations, began long-awaited hearings in a city synonymous with many of modern history's most infamous trials, The Hague.

The first day of evidence, in what is expected to be at least 15 months of hearings, was as significant for what it did not say as what prosecutors disclosed.

Over the last two years, much has been made in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East of the four accused being members of Hezbollah, the Shia militia which holds significant sway in Lebanese affairs and, increasingly, beyond the fragile state's borders.

In six hours of opening remarks, though, three prosecutors laid out the case against the men – Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra – without making any mention of their alleged affiliation. Nor was there discussion of the highly charged political atmosphere around the assassination, the effects of which are still being felt, with Syria and Iraq ravaged by insurrection and Lebanon crippled by chaos.

Ahead of the trial, the tribunal indicated it would avoid the Machiavellian political backdrop that guided Lebanese affairs early last decade, and continues to cloud developments now.

Using methodically compiled call records from the six months leading up to the assassination, the prosecution alleged that the accused had started monitoring Hariri from the day he quit as prime minister on 20 October 2004. They alleged the group had staked out the former leader, using at least three dedicated networks of mobile phones as they plotted his execution.

Hariri had resigned as a dispute festered over an extension of the term of the-then Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud who was backed by Syria. Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, wanted Lahoud to stay in the post.

In the run-up to his resignation, Hariri had an increasingly tense relationship with Assad, whom he claimed had been angered by his attempts to remove Lebanon from the influence of Syria, which had played a dominant role in the country since the darkest days of the civil war. In September 2004, one month before he resigned, he had supported a UN resolution calling for Syria to withdraw "all its remaining forces from Lebanon".

Outside the court, tribunal officials said no case would be made against a state or a group. Instead, prosecutors would focus on the four individuals, none of whom were present– the first time that defendants in The Hague have been tried in absentia.

Co-prosecutor Graeme Cameron said that despite a highly disciplined attempt to avoid detection, the men had "left numerous pieces of reinforcing evidence that they could not erase".

He said the four networks of phones used to plot the assassination, dubbed green, blue, red and purple, could be linked to the accused using a series of other corroborating data that either placed them at the scene of various calls or established them as users of the phones.

Saad Hariri, the son of the late leader, who was prime minister from 2009-11, said he was "seeking justice, not revenge, punishment and not vengeance".

Standing in a bitter rain outside the court alongside key aides from his political bloc, the younger Hariri, who has remained in exile since being ousted in a political push led by Hezbollah three years ago, said: "We were certainly appalled to have a Lebanese group accused in this crime, based on evidence and extensive investigations.

"We never thought that there would be, in the ranks of the Lebanese, people who could sell themselves to the devil. This truth is painful. The assassination crime of premier Rafik Hariri and his companions, and the political assassinations which Lebanon witnessed, have … sabotaged national life in our country.

"Starting today, the eyes and the sentiments of the Lebanese people are drawn to the work of this tribunal which opened the first page of true justice, and laid the required cornerstone to fight political assassination and organised crime in Lebanon and the Arab world."

Victims of the blast, in which 21 other people were killed, were present at the trial, as were several others injured in a series of subsequent bombings. Among them, was the veteran Lebanese journalist Maya Chidiac, who lost part of a leg and arm when her car was targeted by a bomb.

Some wept as a series of videos shot in the immediate aftermath of the bombing were played to the court. The force of the explosion was so large, it was recorded by seismic equipment 37 miles (60km) away, the court was told.

Data records that showed where each phone used in the alleged plot was situated throughout the last weeks of 2004 and early weeks of 2005 showed that their location often matched the precise whereabouts of Hariri, who moved regularly during that time from his residence in west Beirut to a second home in Faqra, the foothills above the capital. His only other regular movements were to the area near the parliament in central Beirut, or to the airport. When he moved to either place, the alleged conspirators' mobile phones were registered as having locked on to nearby mobile masts.

The prosecution's case appears to centre on electronic fingerprints left by phones, and is not expected to draw heavily on witnesses.

The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has refused to hand over the accused men, all of whom are believed to remain under the protection of the group in Lebanon. Nasrallah has alleged that Israeli intelligence agents manipulated the data records in an attempt to damage Hezbollah. He has vehemently denied that the organisation played any role in the attack.


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« Reply #11324 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:51 AM »


South African pharma firms accused of planning to delay patents law reform

Leaked documents reveal lobbying proposals to delay laws that would allow fast introduction of generic medicines

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Friday 17 January 2014   
   
Drug companies in South Africa have been accused of planning a covert, well-funded campaign to delay the introduction of laws that threaten their profits. Leaked documents show that pharmaceutical companies planned a $450,000 campaign, involving a high-profile consultancy based in Washington, DC, against changes to intellectual property laws that would enable their patents on new medicines to be bypassed in the interests of public health. This would allow the manufacture of cheaper copies of their medicines.

Campaigners accused the international drug giants of trying to derail life-saving legislation. The trade body IPASA (Innovative Pharmaceutical Industry Association South Africa), which was coordinating the campaign, said on Thursday the plans were no longer going ahead – although it was legitimate for drug companies to promote their views in this way.

One of the leaked documents is an email dated 10 January from a member of IPASA's executive to representatives of most of the big-name drug companies operating in South Africa. As agreed in December, it says, "we have moved ahead in identifying a high-calibre consultancy group to work with us", naming Washington-based Public Affairs Engagement (PAE).

The second document is the proposed PAE strategy, involving the creation of an alliance of businesspeople and academics, the placement of prominent editorials in newspapers, and a bid to "distract" access to medicine campaigners "from their own aggressive campaign".

The document later names Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), calling them a "coalition that was formed to pressure the government into producing [the draft IP policy] in the first place".

The stakes are high, says the document. "South Africa is now ground zero for the debate on the value of strong IP protection. If the battle is lost here, the effects will resonate. Clearly MSF and similar NGOs understand that ... Without a vigorous campaign, opponents of strong IP will prevail – not just in South Africa but eventually in much of the rest of the developing world."

Campaigners said they were shocked. "What is surprising to us is that it is done so subversively," said Julia Hill of MSF. "We have really made an effort to be very transparent. It is disappointing that this is being done in secret and that such an extraordinary amount of money is being spent to interfere with the democratic process."

Lotti Rutter, a senior researcher at TAC, said: "We have got massive concerns over what appears to be quite a covert and well-funded atempt from foreign industry to delay an essential law reform process happening here in South Africa."

Val Beaumont of IPASA said the discussions had taken place but the PAE proposal had not been accepted. "It is a very, very important issue to us and it will be to any of the knowledge-based organisations," she said. "There was a huge concern that it would be rushed." It was OK for an organisation to have a PR agency to help put across its views, she said.   
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