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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1010540 times)
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« Reply #11475 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:03 AM »

Thousands protest right-wing party’s formal ball in Vienna

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 24, 2014 18:04 EST

Thousands of people rallied in Vienna Friday to protest against the staging of an annual ball hosted by an extreme right party in a palace in the heart of the Austrian capital.

State television network ORF estimated 10,000 people took part in the three protest marches. Police put the number at less than 6,000. No crowd violence was reported, only some minor incidents.

The demonstrators were opposed to the Freedom Party (FPOe) holding its ball in the city’s imperial winter palace, the Hofburg, to which far-right figures from across Europe were invited.

Around 20,000 police manned a security perimeter around the building to prevent intruders disrupting the event.

Natascha Strobl, a spokeswoman for the Offensive Against the Right collective, told AFP the demonstration “is about halting the biggest gathering of Europe’s extreme right elite”.

The opposition FPOe is the third-biggest party in Austria, winning 21 percent of the vote in September elections — rivalling the support shown to each of the two traditional parties, on the centre-left and centre-right, that govern as a coalition.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #11476 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:05 AM »

British judge rules Google can be sued under local law in breach of privacy case

By Techdirt
Friday, January 24, 2014 20:36 EST

The battle over online privacy, and how personal data should be treated as it moves over the Internet, is being fought between the US and EU points of view in multiple ways. There is the EU's Data Protection Regulation, currently grinding its way through the legislative process; there are the discussions about the NSA's spying program, and how it impacts Europeans; and finally, there are various court cases involving US companies and the personal data of EU citizens. One of these is in the UK, where The Telegraph reports that an important decision has been handed down:

    The High Court ruled on Thursday that Google can be sued by a group of Britons over an alleged breach of privacy, despite the company being based in the US and claiming that the case was not serious enough to fall under British jurisdiction.

    Google faced a group action by users of Apple's Safari browser who were angered by the way their online habits were apparently tracked against their wishes in order to provide targeted advertising. But because Google is based in the US they needed to seek the court's permission to bring the case in the UK, something which the search company claimed was inappropriate.

    That claim has now been thrown out, as Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting at London's High Court, ruled that the UK courts were the "appropriate jurisdiction" to try the claims.

Google has said it will appeal, so it's too early to tell what the impact of the UK court's decision will be. But if it is allowed to stand, it will create a hugely important precedent for future legal actions against US companies providing services involving the handling of personal data in the EU.
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« Reply #11477 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Serbian Party Seeks to Cement Power in Early Election

JAN. 25, 2014, 6:56 A.M. E.S.T. 

BELGRADE — Serbia's dominant SNS party said on Saturday it would seek an early parliamentary election, betting that a surge in popularity would strengthen its grip on power and help it push through much-needed economic reforms.

Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he would propose early polls at a meeting of the centre-right movement's leadership on Sunday, ending weeks of speculation about a possible March 16 ballot.

"It's time to settle the bill," he told a party congress. "It's up to us to take the risk and if the people so decide, we'll leave power."

Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party, already the largest in the ruling coalition, has been clamoring for an early election, saying an even stronger mandate would help speed up structural reforms essential to the country's recovery from a decade of war and isolation in the 1990s.

Tensions within the coalition over the pace and depth of those measures saw Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic, a non-party member of the cabinet, resign on Saturday.

Radulovic had threatened to quit this month amid resistance from unions and some in the government to reforms aimed at liberalizing the labor market and cutting loose dozens of loss-making state firms.

The SNS is riding high in opinion polls, thanks largely to the personal popularity of Vucic and a high-profile anti-graft campaign he has been waging.

A big win for the SNS would almost certainly see Vucic become prime minister. It may force the Socialists of Prime Minister Ivica Dacic into opposition.


"Markets will take this quite well," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank. "A government with fresh and strong mandate will be well placed to accelerate the pace of reforms."

Once an ultranationalist disciple of the 'Greater Serbia' ideology that fuelled the wars of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European reformer, embracing Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

The EU opened accession negotiations with Serbia on January 21, a process that should help drive change in the largest country to emerge from the ashes of federal Yugoslavia. Serbia is unlikely to join before 2020.

"I can see them (SNS) winning the vote, but ... even if they garner enough to rule alone I see them forming a coalition so they can share out responsibility," said Marko Blagojevic, director of the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy.

"This will be the test for Vucic - is he a statesman or a politician?"

Vucic did not spell out how he would bring about an early election if, as expected, his party backs the idea.

But, with Dacic opposing an early poll, analysts said that either a majority of cabinet ministers would have to quit, or the SNS could force a confidence vote in parliament and bring down the government.

President Tomislav Nikolic, who founded the SNS with Vucic in 2008, would have to call the election by the end of the month if it is to coincide with a March 16 municipal ballot in the capital, Belgrade.

Dacic could not immediately be reached for comment. A close aide, who declined to be named, told Reuters: "We still believe elections were not necessary. These are plans of our coalition partner, but let's wait for their formal decision tomorrow."
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« Reply #11478 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:09 AM »

Russia Plans to Extend Snowden Asylum, Lawmaker Says

JAN. 24, 2014

DAVOS, Switzerland — Russia plans to extend its offer of asylum to Edward J. Snowden beyond August, a Russian lawmaker said Friday at the World Economic Forum here.

The lawmaker, Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of Parliament, hinted during a panel discussion that the extension of temporary refugee status for Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, might be indefinite.

“He will not be sent out of Russia,” Mr. Pushkov said. “It will be up to Snowden.”

He added that Mr. Snowden’s father believes his son could not get a fair trial in the United States.

Mr. Pushkov made his comments came against a backdrop of broad criticism of the American spying programs that have come to light since the summer. He pointed to the sheer volume of information that American authorities are able to gather.

“The U.S. has created a Big Brother system,” Mr. Pushkov said.

American participants on the panel continued to criticize Mr. Snowden for leaking information about the surveillance.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, argued that Mr. Snowden should be convicted. “Mr. Snowden violated an oath, and that is a fact,” he said. “The damage that has been done has been exaggerated, because we’re hearing it from Mr. Snowden.”

The remark drew criticism from Mr. Pushkov, who said that the courts must review the evidence first.

Jane Harman, a Democrat and former House member from California, said Mr. Snowden should stand trial. She also defended some of the work that the intelligence community had done, pointing to what has been described as the disruption of 54 potential terrorist plots.

But she added that some changes to the data-gathering initiatives were warranted. “Do we need to change the system?” she said. “I think we should.”
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« Reply #11479 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:11 AM »

Iraq hit by multiple fatal bombings

At least 12 killed, including soldier and family, in series of blasts

Associated Press, Saturday 25 January 2014 09.52 GMT   

A series of bombings in Iraq has killed 12 people, including a soldier and his family.

Police officials said that in the deadliest of the attacks on Saturday two explosions in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, destroyed the home of a soldier, killing him, his wife, his two daughters and two sons as they were sleeping.

A car bomb in a commercial street in Baghdad's western district of Amariyah killed four people and wounded 12 others.

Also, in western Baghdad, a bomb near an outdoor market in the Sadiyah neighbourhood killed two shoppers and wounded six.

Nobody claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks but local officials blamed al-Qaida in Iraq.

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« Reply #11480 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:16 AM »

Iran’s Message at Davos Has Eerie Echo

JAN. 24, 2014 

WASHINGTON — When President Hassan Rouhani of Iran commandeered the spotlight this week in Davos, Switzerland, with a message of peaceful intentions and a desire for dialogue, it was an eerie echo of 10 years ago, when Iran’s last would-be change agent, Mohammad Khatami, delivered the very same message at the World Economic Forum.

Comparing their appearances demonstrates how much Iran has changed in the last decade, but also how fragile the current diplomatic opening is, and how little time Mr. Rouhani may have to negotiate a nuclear deal, while holding Iran’s hard-liners at bay.

Iran, Mr. Rouhani said Thursday, was determined to pursue “constructive engagement” with the world and had no intention of acquiring a nuclear weapon. In 2004, Mr. Khatami said, “Anywhere that we sense and feel that the other side respects us and does not force anything upon us, we are prepared to talk.” He, too, ruled out a bomb.

Then, as now, Iran agreed to halt some enrichment of uranium and submit to United Nations inspections, as part of an effort to negotiate a nuclear deal. Then, as now, the Iranian leaders used Davos, the annual gathering of world leaders and captains of industry, as an opportunity to lure foreign investors back to their country.

But less than a month after Mr. Khatami’s star turn in the Swiss Alps, Iran held parliamentary elections marred by the government’s disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates. For Mr. Khatami, whose landslide election in 1997 had stirred hopes for change, it was the final blow to his own reformist credentials. By the following summer, the nuclear diplomacy had collapsed and Iran switched its centrifuges back on.

Mr. Rouhani faces a similarly treacherous path. To close a nuclear deal, he will have to make concessions that would engender fierce resistance from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and other conservative factions. His growing international celebrity — and that of his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was also at Davos — could bring him into conflict with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Rouhani knows Khatami’s history,” said Abbas Milani, an Iranian scholar at Stanford University. “He knows Khamenei’s delicate position. He reads the attacks on him and Zarif in Iran. So he is trying to walk this rather sensitive line to see if he can open doors.”

For a variety of reasons, Iran experts said, Mr. Rouhani has more room for maneuver than his predecessor. The pain of international sanctions on Iran’s economy is a much bigger motivation to signing a nuclear deal than Iran’s fear in 2004 that the United States, which had invaded Iraq the year before, would march on Tehran next.

Mr. Rouhani, never a reformist, was elected with a broad consensus of Iran’s clerical and military establishment to try to negotiate a deal that would ease those sanctions. Mr. Khatami, who had long spoken out in favor of democracy and civil society, was an unorthodox victor whose election presaged deep rifts within the ranks of the mullahs.

“In contrast to Khatami, there is a widespread perception that Rouhani is working with, rather than against, the supreme leader to carry out détente abroad and reconciliation at home,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Still, he added, “Rouhani has been winning global accolades by using a similar — although less articulate and arguably less genuine — script than Khatami began using in 1997.”

The surface similarities were on display in Davos. Both leaders projected a genial, reasonable image as they greeted participants. Both steered clear of the angry, anti-Israel vitriol of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served as president between them. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory talk all but ensured that he would never be a Davos Man.

Mr. Khatami larded his speech with references to German philosophers like Hegel and Weber, and said, “Democratic norms are not identical packaged-goods, ready for export.” Afterward, he gamely held a chaotic news conference, in which he brushed aside suggestions that he should meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was also in Davos that year.

At the time, Iran was not even the world’s No. 1 nuclear rogue state. Two days after Mr. Khatami spoke, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler at the time, admitted that his country’s top atomic scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had sold nuclear designs to other countries.

This year, Mr. Rouhani was guaranteed a sold-out crowd. He had held a history-making phone call with President Obama; his country has signed an interim nuclear deal with the West, which has halted parts of its nuclear program for the first time in a decade; and Iran is viewed as something of a kingmaker in Syria, where its support for President Bashar al-Assad is one of the main reasons he has clung to power.

Speaking to an audience that included Israelis, Mr. Rouhani insisted that Iran would pursue a foreign policy of “prudent moderation.” While he did not seek common ground with the United States on Syria, he said “all of us should work to push terrorists out.”

Yet Mr. Rouhani also showed a more cautious, politically calculating side than Mr. Khatami. He canceled a planned news conference; his aides cited technical problems with the room. And in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN, he insisted that Iran would not agree to dismantle a single centrifuge — a position that, if nonnegotiable, would be a deal breaker.

Mr. Rouhani, unlike Mr. Khatami, has shown little appetite for opening up Iranian society or challenging the authority of its clerical institutions. If he runs afoul of Ayatollah Khamenei, some experts say, it will be less because of what he said at Davos than because of his enthusiastic embrace of other first-world pursuits, like Twitter and Facebook, though he said in Davos that his frequent posts are ghostwritten.

“Davos is fully approved by the theocracy,” said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow and an Iran expert at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It’s the other elements of the strategy, like social media, that are problematic at home.”


Kerry Presses Iranians to Prove Nuclear Work Is for Peaceful Purposes

JAN. 24, 2014

DAVOS, Switzerland — One day after Iran’s president took the stage here seeking to assure the world that his country did not aspire to develop nuclear weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back on Friday, challenging him to demonstrate that the Iranian nuclear program was peaceful.

“He told you that Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Kerry said in a speech to the World Economic Forum. “Starting now, Iran has the opportunity to prove these words beyond all doubt to the world.”

Mr. Kerry laid down several requirements for the comprehensive nuclear agreement that Iran and six world powers are now preparing to negotiate, saying that Tehran must accept extensive verification, abandon plans to build a heavy-water reactor that can produce plutonium, and resolve longstanding concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency over past Iranian compliance.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks were part of a wide-ranging speech that he said was intended to rebut critics who have contended that American influence in the Middle East has diminished under President Obama’s administration.

Worries that American power in the Middle East has ebbed have been a major topic of discussion among many of the United States’ historical allies. The concerns have grown as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has defied American demands that he cede authority to a transitional government, or even allow the delivery of food to besieged towns in the Syrian civil war. In addition, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq has brazenly occupied Falluja, a city in western Iraq that was secured by United States forces during the American-led invasion, at the cost of scores of American lives.

Before Mr. Kerry spoke, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on a panel here that he had been told by Middle East officials that American influence in the region was “on the wane,” especially after Mr. Obama withdrew the threat of cruise missile strikes in Syria in return for an agreement by Mr. Assad to eliminate his chemical weapons, which have accounted for only a tiny fraction of the estimated 130,000 people killed in the conflict.

During a panel discussion on Friday afternoon, one Arab expert questioned whether stopping the war in Syria was a top priority for the White House. “For the Americans, Syria is Priority 5 or 6,” said the expert, Ghassan Salamé, the dean of the Paris School of International Affairs.

But Mr. Kerry sought to challenge what he called the “myth of disengagement,” with an account of his energetic attempts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, organize a peace conference on Syria and pursue a Middle East peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

After a decade that was “defined first and foremost by force, we are entering an era of American diplomatic engagement that is as broad and as deep as at any time in history,” he said. “The most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed U.S. retreat from the Middle East.”

On the nuclear issue, Iran has started to carry out a six-month agreement intended to freeze its nuclear program. The purpose is to give international negotiators time to reach a more comprehensive accord that would substantially lengthen the time that Iran would need to develop enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear device.

On Thursday, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, told the forum here that Iran was ready to negotiate such a comprehensive accord. “I do not see a serious impediment in the way of this agreement; the Iranian will is strong,” Mr. Rouhani said.

At the same time, he hinted that “pressure from other parties” to negotiate especially tough terms might jeopardize the push for an agreement, a thinly veiled reference to Israel.

Seeking to put the burden on Iran, Mr. Kerry said the Iranians must back up Mr. Rouhani’s reassuring words.

Mr. Kerry “is signaling that the U.S. will set a high bar for an acceptable comprehensive agreement,” said Robert J. Einhorn, a former State Department official who specializes in nonproliferation issues.

“He is making clear that the Arak reactor and Fordo enrichment facility are unacceptable, at least as currently configured,” Mr. Einhorn said, referring to the plutonium-producing reactor Iran had started to build near the town of Arak and an underground uranium enrichment plant known as Fordo near Qum.

On Syria, Mr. Kerry repeated his insistence that Mr. Assad had lost legitimacy within the country and had to relinquish power, though Mr. Kerry provided no road map of how he hoped to persuade the Syrian leader to do so.

During a separate appearance here, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, sought to claim the moral high ground by calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria. But Mr. Zarif did not detail the conditions for their withdrawal or acknowledge that members of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force have been operating there.

Much of Mr. Kerry’s speech was devoted to his persistent effort to break the deadlock in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Kerry met here with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. But comments that Mr. Netanyahu made about Israeli settlers in lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state appeared to raise even more formidable obstacles.

“I have no intention of evacuating a single settlement,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a news conference, in perhaps his most definitive statement on the subject since the start of the American-brokered peace talks last summer. “I do not intend to uproot a single Israeli.”

On the issue of Israeli security, Mr. Kerry was recently criticized by Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, for presenting a security plan for the West Bank that Mr. Yaalon said relied too heavily on technology and was inadequate to protect Israel from threats.

Israel has long insisted that it needs to keep Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley near the border between Jordan and a future Palestinian state to protect Israel’s security. The Palestinians have rejected that as an affront to their sovereignty.

In his speech, Mr. Kerry made a special point of defending the American security proposals, which drew heavily on the work of John R. Allen, a retired Marine general and the former commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry said he was convinced that General Allen’s plan could be the basis of a security system that would be developed in consultation with Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, and would “meet the highest standards anywhere in the world.”

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« Reply #11481 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:21 AM »

Delhi police suspend three officers over video of beating

Footage posted on Facebook page of Aam Aadmi party showed officers beating man with sticks and taking his money

Associated Press in Delhi, Friday 24 January 2014 14.26 GMT   

Delhi police have suspended three officers after a video showed them beating a man with sticks and taking money from his wallet.

The video was posted on the Facebook page (warning: graphic content) of India's Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party, which runs the government in the Indian capital. The party said a vigilante shot the footage outside the Red Fort, a popular tourist spot, earlier this month.

The police confirmed that the men shown in the footage were Delhi officers and said they had been suspended.

The Aam Aadmi party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has his eye on control over the city's police force, which now reports to the federal government. He has accused the force of targeting poor people for petty offences, but refusing to combat serious crime.

Kejriwal, who took office in December on a promise to sweep out corruption, led a protest by hundreds of supporters earlier this week against the city's police force.


Delhi chief minister calls off anti-police protests after breakthrough

Police place on leave two officers at centre of Arvind Kejriwal's allegations of inaction against crime

Reuters in Delhi, Tuesday 21 January 2014 18.15 GMT   

Delhi's chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has told his supporters to end anti-police protests that erupted in violence on Tuesday, saying the force had promised to take action over his accusations of negligence by officers.

A two-day sit-in led by Kejriwal in the heart of the Indian capital triggered clashes between demonstrators and police and drew attention to the radical street politics of the former activist who is now shaking up a national election campaign.

Delhi police said they had agreed to place on leave two officers who were at the centre of his allegations, to defuse the situation.

"The people of Delhi have won," Kejriwal told reporters, though his demands for the suspension of officers and shifting the central government-run force to his control were not met.

Earlier, television images showed a group of police punching and kicking one man after protesters toppled a barricade and surged through police lines. Other officers beat fallen protesters with sticks.

The clashes subsided quickly but prompted criticism that Kejriwal's style of campaigning was irresponsible and inflammatory. The standoff has been a headache for the central government as it prepares for a military parade on Sunday near the protest site, close to where top ministries are located.

Kejriwal was elected in December on promises of fixing a string of problems in the city. His Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party is trying to take advantage of its success in Delhi to build a national presence before a general election due by May.

Kejriwal launched the sit-in to protest against alleged inaction against crime by the city's police force. One of the officers placed on leave was in charge in the tourist area of Delhi where a Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped last week.

"This is an important step towards making the Delhi police accountable to the people of Delhi and the elected government of Delhi," Kejriwal said.


Delhi police to establish whether wife of minister 'murdered or took own life'

Magistrate accepts autopsy's drug overdose conclusion but calls for further inquires into death of Sunanda Pushkar, report says

Jason Burke in Delhi, Tuesday 21 January 2014 13.18 GMT   

Police in Delhi have been ordered to establish whether the death of the wife of a government minister, whose body was found by her husband in a hotel in the Indian capital last week, was suicide, an accident or murder, local media have reported.

The magistrate leading the inquiry into the death of Sunanda Pushkar has accepted the conclusions of a postmortem that said the 52-year-old died from a drug overdose but ordered that further investigations were needed to determine its cause, the Press Trust of India reported.

Pushkar was married to Shashi Tharoor who, though a junior human resources development minister, is one of the government's highest profile members.

Pushkar's death came shortly after she had posted messages on Twitter from Tharoor's account indicating that she appeared to believe, after reading other messages, that her husband was having an affair with a female Pakistani journalist. Both denied the claim. Pushkar and Tharoor then issued a statement in which they said the messages had been unauthorised, and told media their marriage was happy.

Tharoor, a former UN diplomat once tipped as a candidate for the organisation's top posts, has called for a speedy investigation into his wife's death, saying he hoped this would put an end to rumours about their personal lives.

In a letter to India's home affairs minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, Tharoor wrote about "reckless speculation rampant" in the media.

"Nothing short of truth will end the indignity to which my wife and I are being subjected," he said.

Tharoor, 57, has also given testimony to the official leading the inquest into his wife's death.

Local reports said two strips of an anti-depressant, alprozalam, were found close to Pushkar's body in the hotel room on Friday night.

The scandal has erupted just as the ruling Congress party is preparing to fight a tough election against a resurgent opposition Bharatiya Janata party, as well as a new political group that promises clean and open politics.

Rivals have painted the Congress party as engulfed in corruption scandals and unable to hold its leaders to account for their actions.

Tharoor, who has a reputation for eloquence and hard work, was one of the new wave of politicians who provided an alternative to traditional politics based on patronage and backroom deals, but was previously forced to resign following controversy caused by his alleged links to a cricket club.

He and his wife had taken two rooms at the $400 (£245) a night Leela Palace hotel while their own home was being renovated.

Subramanian Swamy, a leader of the BJP, said the circumstances of Pushkar's death needed thorough investigation.

Digvijay Singh, the Congress party's general secretary, said: "Our party has always stood for allowing free and fair investigations. Our chief ministers and ministers have resigned wherever charge sheets have been filed against them. We stand by these values."

Five members of Tharoor's staff were also questioned by the magistrate leading the inquest. Under Indian criminal law, a magistrate must conduct an inquiry if a woman dies within seven years of marriage. The Tharoors married in late 2010, the third marriage for both.

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« Reply #11482 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:26 AM »

No, Thailand's protesters don't want 'less democracy'

Democracy does not begin and end with the ballot box – it's a myth that this is all about an elite rejecting the popular vote

Dave Sherman, Saturday 25 January 2014 04.00 GMT        

As Thailand's protests intensify and a state of emergency is imposed in and around Bangkok, some have begun referring to the demonstrations as "antidemocratic", zeroing in on the opposition's boycott of a forthcoming election and the protest leaders' calls for an unelected "people's council" to replace existing democratic structures. But the truth is more complex, with the protesters being arguably – and paradoxically – more democratically minded than the elected government they oppose. To understand how this is possible, one has to scratch beneath the surface of Thai politics and dispel some myths.

Myth 1: The protesters are mainly 'Bangkok elites'

The government is led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who is widely acknowledged to be the proxy of her self-exiled brother and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. The protests began last November after the parliament passed an amnesty bill that wiped Thaskin's slate clean, allowing him to return to Thailand without serving his two-year jail sentence.

Spearheaded by the opposition Democrat party and Bangkok's middle classes, the protests grew even after the bill was withdrawn, morphing into a wider movement to reform Thailand's politics, cleansing them of Thaksin's influence once and for all. These protesters are often called an "elite" by pro-Thaksin groups – it's a term used to discredit their opponents, and it has caught on among many in the international media. In reality, while the protests indeed have their centre in Bangkok, most protesters are fairly diverse, and include the city's middle and working classes, as well as students and people of all walks of life from Thailand's south. Crucially, the majority of the Bangkok-born working class do not support the government.

It is true that the protest does not enjoy much support in the country's northern and northeastern regions, where the majority of Thailand's population resides. This geographic divide highlights the protest's limits as a national movement, but it in no way supports the notion that protesters are an unrepresentative elite.

Myth 2: Urban protesters oppose rural Thais' desire for equality

The protests were never driven by a need of urban Thais to deprive their rural compatriots of their rights, but were triggered by specific and highly provocative actions by the pro-Thaksin government and parliament. The controversial amnesty bill carried one clear message: we are here to serve, first and foremost, the needs of Thaksin Shinawatra, not the country – and it was, in effect, the last straw.

But while the protesters want to remove Thaksin from Thailand's body politic, they do not specifically seek to punish his rural supporters. When Yingluck Shinawatra first assumed power after winning the 2011 election, all Thais accepted the result peacefully. Had "Bangkok elites" wanted to bring down the government simply because it represented the power of their opponents, they would've come out against it much sooner.

Some protesters have, unfortunately, said disparaging things about rural Thais, questioning their ability to make the "right" electoral choices due to a lack of education and other perceived faults. What this shows is that Thailand has a long way to go in conquering the many stereotypes that exist among its people – but it does not point to a protest born of a desire of one part of the population to disenfranchise another.

Myth 3: The protesters want 'less democracy'

Thai protesters will invariably tell you that democracy does not end with elections – that it is not simply a piece of paper placed into a ballot box. This shows parallels to Egypt last year, as masses piled into the streets, challenging the elected government of Mohamed Morsi in its drive to consolidate power and impose a theocratic state on an unwilling populace. It's not that Egyptians did not want democracy – a year earlier they had died in the streets fighting for it – but they felt democracy was usurped by the very government elected under its rules.

Thai protesters' anger and disillusionment comes from a similar place. They are reacting to the government's abuses of power, its vast corruption and a majoritarian style of rule that excluded opponents from any decision-making on key issues of governance. As the government became more and more dedicated to fulfilling Thaksin's need to regain power, it became not just distasteful to the protesters, but politically illegitimate.

To the protesters, Thaksin has always been seen as an autocrat for whom democracy is simply a means to holding on to power, not a guiding political philosophy. Therefore opposing Thaksin and his proxy government is not seen as antidemocratic – as Thaksin himself is antidemocratic in substance, if democratic in form.

Meanwhile, Yingluck's dissolution of parliament and call for new elections as the protests intensified was viewed as nothing but a raised middle finger to the protesters: "We don't care what you're protesting or demanding; we will have an election, and we will win on the strength of our supporters alone. You don't matter!" The protesters heard this message loud and clear, and it only deepened their resolve to resist an illegitimate government, hiding behind the facade of an election.

Hence, the demand for "reform before election" – with most protesters accepting democracy with free elections as a basic form of government, but only after reforming the system to eliminate Thaksin's influence from Thai politics.

In truth, eliminating Thaksin and his influence from Thai politics may be a very tall order, and the protest leaders' unyielding demands for a vague and unelected council will have to be tempered by a more realistic and nationally acceptable compromise. Nevertheless, the protests in Thailand are not fundamentally antidemocratic. It is a reform movement born of a deep frustration and outrage with the way democracy has been cheapened and abused by one man and his interminable drive to regain power.

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« Reply #11483 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:32 AM »

Fresh clashes kill 12 in China's Xinjiang region

Six die in explosions and another six shot dead by police in Xinjiang, home to ethnic minority Uighurs

Associated Press, Saturday 25 January 2014 09.05 GMT   

Six people have died in explosions and another six have been shot dead by police in fresh violence in China's restive western region of Xinjiang, home to the ethnic minority Uighurs, state media reported.

Assailants threw explosives at police in Xinhe county in the Aksu prefecture on Friday, triggering a clash in which police killed six and captured five suspects, according to the Tianshan news outlet, which is run by the regional Communist party.

Another six people died in blasts, the news outlet said, without providing details.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the Uighur town of Xinhe was shaken by three blasts that hit a hair salon, a produce market and a vehicle that exploded after it was surrounded by police. The case is under investigation.

Xinjiang is home to low-intensity insurgency by native Turkish Muslim Uighurs against what they see as discrimination and religious suppression by China's majority Han people. The government has responded with a crackdown on what it calls terrorism incited by separatists who are influenced by radical Islam.

The Tianshan report called Friday's violence an act of terrorism.

Last year, clashes between authorities and members of the minority group left scores dead, including 40 police officers.

The violence included an unprecedented attack on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing that killed three Uighur assailants and two tourists last year.


January 23, 2014, 4:00 pm

Shanghai Test Scores and the Mystery of the Missing Children


Pupils line up at a Shanghai school for children of migrant workers. Some have questioned whether migrants are fairly represented in Shanghai test results.Ariana Lindquist for The New York Times Pupils line up at a Shanghai school for children of migrant workers. Some have questioned whether migrants are fairly represented in Shanghai test results.   

Is the education system in Shanghai, China’s largest and most internationalized city, really a paradigm of academic excellence and educational equity, or does its stellar performance mask a grimmer reality, in which one of the world’s largest barriers to education opportunities plagues tens of thousands of its residents?

The question has been the subject of intense debate among scholars and educators since December, when the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released the results of its 2012 tests. These showed students from Shanghai scoring highest in all three categories: reading, math and science.

Conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, PISA is given every three years to more than half a million 15- and 16-year-old students from 65 countries. Shanghai has been the top-scoring region for the last two rounds, followed by other Asian economies such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. In the PISA report, the O.E.C.D. commends Shanghai’s achievement. In particular, it praises Shanghai for its effort to promote educational equity, describing near-complete enrollment of local children at primary and middle schools that is “ahead of the pack in universal education.”

While many Western observers have rushed to uncover the secret to Shanghai’s success, others argue that PISA has portrayed Shanghai in an overly positive light by failing to present the whole picture.

In a series of articles published on the Brookings Institution’s website, Tom Loveless, a former professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an expert on education policy, questioned the inclusiveness and representativeness of PISA’s Shanghai samples. He pointed out a glaring oddity in the PISA data: Shanghai, a city of 24 million, reports only slightly more than 100,000 15-year-olds, a number similar to that reported in Portugal and Greece, countries with less than half Shanghai’s population.

“Where did all of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds go?” Mr. Loveless asked.

His answer is that China’s restrictions on internal migration are to blame. Shanghai has a migrant population of 10 million, about 40 percent of its total population. Because of the country’s household registration system, known as the hukou system, which ties access to subsidized education and health care to hometowns, migrants do not enjoy the same access to Shanghai’s schools and hospitals as local residents.

Currently, migrant children can enroll in selected primary and middle schools in Shanghai, up through the ninth grade. However, around the age of 15, most children must return to their hometowns to attend high school, which runs from 10th to 12th grade. They can take the gaokao, the national university entrance exam, only in their home provinces, according to the current hukou policy.

Such restrictions drive migrant children out of the city as early as primary school, statistics show. In a chart provided by Kam Wing Chan, professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert on Chinese migration, the percentage of migrant children out of the total child population in Shanghai declines steadily in each age bracket starting at age 8. It picks up again at the age of 16, as migrants, having completed middle school in their home provinces, swarm to Shanghai seeking jobs.

“By the time they reach 15, there are far fewer migrant kids left in Shanghai’s education system,” Mr. Chan said in a telephone interview. Speaking of PISA, he added, “No matter how it samples, it is going to get only very few of them.”

Furthermore, Mr. Chan said, the migrant children who do stay in school tend to come from more prosperous families, with better-educated parents. The result, he said, is a school system that gradually filters out the most disadvantaged children, accentuating Shanghai’s education status as “the cream of China.”

The O.E.C.D. report on PISA discusses migrant children in Shanghai only briefly, stating that the city “has established the notion that migrant children are ‘our children’ and works constructively to include them in its educational development.” The word “hukou” does not appear in the report.

“They are presenting Shanghai in the best possible light” as “a paragon of educational equity, and that’s not accurate,” said Mr. Loveless, who objects to PISA’s comparison of Shanghai to other major world economies. “It’s such a unique system, I wouldn’t compare it to anybody,” he said in an interview.

Andreas Schleicher, who directs the O.E.C.D.’s international educational testing program, acknowledged the dip in Shanghai’s migrant population around age 15 but noted that it happens in other countries as well. “If you look at the United States, the percentage of disadvantaged children is very high in primary school,” he said by telephone, “and they are the first to drop out of school as they grow older.”

Still, even by comparison with other regions and countries with similar levels of economic development and birthrates, the number of 15-year-olds in Shanghai seems startlingly low. In Hong Kong and Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, 15-year-olds account for 1.2 percent and 1.4 percent of the total population, respectively, according to data published by PISA. In Shanghai, they make up 0.45 percent.

“There are limitations in the ways we conducted the test in most countries,” said Mr. Schleicher. “But even when you exclude the 30 percent of worst-performing students in the United States, Shanghai still performs No. 1.”

In past interviews, Mr. Schleicher has referred often to PISA results collected from other provinces of China to make another point: Even children from less advantaged backgrounds are performing well in Chinese schools.

But Mr. Loveless noted that these scores have not been published, and he questioned whether the O.E.C.D. gives the Chinese government special treatment. Mr. Schleicher has said the results have not been published because the sampling and testing were conducted by provincial governments rather than by the O.E.C.D.

In recent years, Shanghai has made remarkable progress in integrating migrants into its education system. It has opened up a large number of primary and secondary schools to migrant children, as well as a number of vocational schools. It has also implemented a point-based residency system, which allows migrants to apply for a residency permit based on their age, education, professional skills and employment status.

Still, the system strongly favors migrant children with highly educated and well-to-do parents, and effectively leaves the majority of the less resourceful families to their own devices.

“Shanghai should be commended for implementing some hukou reforms,” but “that does not justify PISA’s portrayal of Shanghai as a model of educational equity,” Mr. Loveless wrote in his most recent blog post on the subject. “There is considerable distance between taking the first steps towards righting an historical wrong and acting in a way that other nations should follow.”

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« Reply #11484 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:34 AM »

Australian dollar heads for four-year low amid China growth fears

The Aussie dipped below 87 US cents after RBA member said it could go as low as 80

Bloomberg and agencies, Saturday 25 January 2014 01.34 GMT   

The Australian dollar has dropped below US$0.87 for the first time since July 2010 amid concerns about growth in China and the knock-on effects for emerging markets.

China’s bank regulator ordered regional offices to increase scrutiny of credit risks in the coal-mining industry, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

At the same time, emerging market assets were hit by worries about slowing growth in China as well as political problems in Turkey, Argentina and Ukraine.

The Aussie slid versus all 16 major currencies after the Wall Street Journal cited Reserve Bank member Heather Ridout as saying around 80 cents would be a fair deal for everybody.

The nation’s three-year bond yield slid by the most in four months amid increased demand for the relative safety of sovereign bonds.

Both stories have “combined to hurt the Aussie,” said Greg Gibbs, a Singapore-based strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group. “The Australian dollar is going to be treated as low-risk insurance against possible financial stress in China.”

The dollar tumbled almost 1% in 24 hours to stand at US$0.8688 on Saturday morning after enduring more overnight losses when it dipped as low as US$0.8662.

It fell to NZ$1.0525, a level unseen since December 2005.

The Aussie was not helped by another overnight sell-off in the US where concerns about emerging markets saw the S&P500 index of major stocks post its worst week since June 2012.

The S&P 500 fell 2.6 percent for the week, closing below its 50-day moving average Friday for the first time since 9 October, suggesting more selling may be ahead for the market that closed 2013 with a 30% gain.

The day's decline was also the biggest percentage drop since June 2013 for the index.

"There's definitely some nervousness. The world is suffering from the emerging markets' flu," said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

Worries over China's growth surfaced after a disappointing manufacturing number spurred the S&P 500's 0.9 percent drop on Thursday.

The Turkish lira hit a record low and the South African rand fell to five-year low against the dollar.

Argentina's government said Friday it would relax stringent foreign-exchange controls, after it abandoned its long-standing policy of intervening to support the peso currency. That resulted in the currency's steepest plunge since the 2002 financial crisis.

With many market participants expecting the Federal Reserve to decide next week to shave its stimulus by another $10 billion a month, investors also worried that interest rates will soon begin to rise. Fed policymakers will conclude a two-day meeting on Wednesday.

China’s efforts to contain a “financial excesses” won’t be positive for growth, Gibbs said. The next major psychological level for Aussie is the 2010 low near 80 cents, he said.

The China Banking Regulatory Commission’s order did not mention concerns that a 3 billion yuan (US$496 million) trust product distributed by Industrial & Commercial Bank of China may default after a coal miner that borrowed the funds collapsed, said the people, who asked not to be identified. Regional CBRC offices were told to also closely monitor risks from trust and wealth management products, they said.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner.

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens signaled last month that a weaker local currency is preferable over lower interest rates to help spur the nation’s economy. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, he said “85 U.S. cents would be closer to the mark.”

The Aussie has dropped 15 percent in the past year, the biggest drop among 10 developed nation currencies tracked by Bloomberg Correlation Weighted Indexes. The kiwi is up 2.1 percent.

RBA board member Ridout was today reported as saying that the currency hasn’t fallen sufficiently.

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« Reply #11485 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:39 AM »

Angry Japanese protesters demand a stop to indigenous dolphin hunting

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 24, 2014 10:23 EST

Activists protesting against Japan’s indigenous dolphin hunting held a rally in Tokyo Friday, calling on officials to stop sales of the marine mammals to aquariums and as meat.

Some two dozen campaigners, mostly Japanese, congregated in front of the Fisheries Agency with banners and pictures, urging the government to ban dolphin catching.

“Most Japanese people do not know about dolphin hunting,” said Noriko Ikeda, who organised the rally and a member of Action for Marine Mammals.

“The government has argued the practise is part of the Japanese tradition and food culture.

“But reality is that it is extremely rare to find Japanese people who wish to eat dolphins. The real problem is that hunt is driven by demand for live dolphins among aquariums to put on dolphin shows,” she said.

The US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy recently tweeted her concern at the “inhumaneness” of a Japanese village’s traditional dolphin hunt.

“Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG (US Government) opposes drive hunt fisheries,” she said in an online post.

Every year the fishermen of Taiji in western Japan corral hundreds of dolphins in a secluded bay, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and kill the rest for meat.

Activists from the international militant environmental group Sea Shepherd have streamed live footage of the dolphin capture in Taiji, which drew worldwide attention in 2010 when it became the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove”.

Defenders of the hunt say it is a tradition and point out that the animals it targets are not endangered, a position echoed by the Japanese government.

They say Western objections are hypocritical and ignore the vastly larger number of cows, pigs and sheep butchered to satisfy demand elsewhere.

The Japanese activists who gathered Friday said dolphin hunting was tarnishing Japan’s reputation as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.


Star Envoy’s Frankness Puts Kennedy Mystique to Test in Japan

JAN. 24, 2014   

TOKYO — Japan went into a collective swoon two months ago when Caroline Kennedy arrived as the United States’ ambassador. The appointment of someone with such celebrity appeal — who offered a living link to a golden age when America was still reassuringly strong and confident — appeared to be proof that Washington was finally giving Japan the embrace it craved.

When she traveled by horse-drawn carriage to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito, a formality observed by many new ambassadors, thousands of cheering Japanese lined the streets in a rare display of public affection for a diplomatic envoy.

But Ms. Kennedy has quickly surprised her Japanese hosts by being undiplomatically frank on delicate issues. She created a stir recently when she publicly expressed concern about a bloody annual dolphin hunt that is widely condemned abroad, but that many Japanese view as a part of their traditional culture.

“Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” Ms. Kennedy wrote last week on Twitter. “USG opposes drive hunt fisheries,” she added, referring to the United States government’s stance on the hunts, in which dolphins are herded into coves so they can be hacked to death.

The comment, coming soon after her embassy issued a rare criticism of the prime minister for visiting a controversial war shrine, indicated that the often reserved Ms. Kennedy might be more of an outspoken envoy than many expected, willing to take on subjects the Japanese prefer to discuss behind closed doors. And she is doing so using a social medium that allows for little of the nuance that shapes formal Japanese diplomatic communication; Ms. Kennedy is an active Twitter user, posting in English and Japanese for her more than 75,000 followers.

Her stark criticism of the hunt comes as the United States is trying to strike a delicate balance — nudging Japan to stop antagonizing its neighbors over their shared wartime history, while also encouraging its support for a stronger American presence in the region as a counterbalance to China.

Japanese officials greeted Ms. Kennedy’s comments on the dolphin killings, which the State Department says it supported, with a mixture of irritation and seeming confusion.

Yoshinobu Nisaka, the governor of the prefecture where this week’s hunt took place, said in a news conference that “we live on the lives of cows and pigs.”

“It is not appropriate to say only dolphin hunting is inhumane,” he continued.

The top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, defended the hunt — the same one filmed in the 2009 American documentary “The Cove” — as being in accordance with international law. But he quickly added that Japan would try to “explain our stance to the United States.”

The United States Embassy in Japan referred all requests for comment to Washington, and on Friday, the White House spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said that “Ambassador Kennedy is doing a great job representing the United States in Japan.” The State Department said that even before Ms. Kennedy’s confirmation hearing last fall, she received numerous comments about Japan’s dolphin hunting practices and decided she wanted to address the issue. She consulted with the department about the administration’s policies before posting on Twitter, an official said.

Commentators in Japan say some of the turbulence may be inevitable, since the Obama administration chose in Ms. Kennedy a public figure with the star power to dazzle the Japanese public, but who is also not afraid to speak out. Even if some officials felt jittery with her approach, it might prove difficult for them to say so publicly.

“How do you rein someone like her in?” said Dave Spector, an American who has worked in Japan for more than 25 years as a television commentator and who has followed Ms. Kennedy’s ambassadorship closely. “Her father is on the 50-cents coin, for crying out loud. She is bigger than life.”

Her fame is so formidable, he said, that she is vulnerable to people looking for meaning in her every move. On Wednesday, a routine meeting with the South Korean ambassador to Japan generated articles in both countries. The news agencies emphasized that a sore point between the two countries had come up during the meeting.

The Kyodo news agency of Japan, in its headline, quoted the Yonhap news agency of South Korea as saying that the two ambassadors discussed the so-called comfort women issue, but neither article makes clear if she even made a comment on the matter. Many scholars say the women, tens of thousands of them Korean, were forced to serve in wartime Japanese military brothels, but many Japanese conservatives say they were prostitutes.

Her willingness to engage in touchy issues may prove a particular headache for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative who has pledged to maintain close ties with Washington. Mr. Abe, who has 260,000 followers on Twitter, has been popular in Japan’s small but very vocal community of nationalist Web users.

At least one noted woman also spoke out on the dolphin hunt. A day after the ambassador’s post, Yoko Ono published an open letter to the fishermen to stop the killings she said have given Japan a bad name internationally. (Dolphin meat is prized in a limited number of places in Japan, but conservatives bridle at foreign dictates of what Japan should do.)

Despite the kerfuffle, Ms. Kennedy remains enormously popular in Japan, Mr. Spector and others say. Partly, this is because of the aura here that still surrounds the presidency of her father, John F. Kennedy, for whom many older Japanese feel an almost teary-eyed nostalgia. When Ms. Kennedy was named as ambassador, Japanese television stations repeatedly broadcast images of her as a little girl on her father’s lap, or standing forlornly at his funeral.

Nor has Japan been entirely negative about her outspokenness. Some of the comments posted on Twitter expressed admiration for her as a woman who has the courage to speak her mind in Japan, a nation still dominated by men.

But others quickly criticized her for sticking her nose into something that they say is not her, or any other foreigner’s, business. Some angrily reminded her that Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan at gunpoint in 1853 to secure ports for American whalers.

“We don’t want to be told such things by Americans who used to kill whales just for their oil,” said one user. Another was succinct: “Stupid woman! Go home!”

Many said the relationship between Japan and the United States is strong enough to endure an honest airing of opinions, and that the number of Japanese who feel strongly about the dolphin hunt is limited in any case.

“Frankly I think it’s good that someone with that kind of credentials can say the kind of thing that others would hesitate to say,” said Ellis S. Krauss, a professor of Japanese politics at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Although the message could have been conveyed more subtly and privately, he said, “It would have gotten less attention if Caroline Kennedy hadn’t said it.”

Minoru Morita, a political analyst who runs a think tank in Tokyo, says he does not think the flare-up will have a lasting effect on her popularity. “I don’t think many Japanese felt good about her criticizing Japan’s food culture,” he said. “But most Japanese have very fond feelings for her, and for the era of her father, and that won’t go away easily.”

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« Reply #11486 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:44 AM »

Cairo hit by four explosions as Egypt insurgency escalates

At least six killed and 80 injured as biggest blast comes from car bomb outside police HQ on eve of 2011 uprising anniversary

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Friday 24 January 2014 19.35 GMT   

Cairo was rocked by four explosions that killed at least six people and injured 80, and severely damaged artefacts inside a major Egyptian museum.

The first and largest explosion was a car bomb that struck Cairo's police headquarters early on Friday morning – the eve of the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Three smaller blasts later struck near a cinema, metro station and a police station in west Cairo. All appeared to target policemen, with officials saying the fourth was aimed at the motorcade of a senior police officer.

The explosions mark an apparent escalation of an insurgency waged by Islamist extremists since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last July, which has killed more than 100 police officers and soldiers. It follows an audio warning released overnight by Egypt's most prominent extremist group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which previously claimed responsibility for a failed attack on Egypt's interior minister, and last month's bomb at a northern police headquarters that killed 16 officers.

The group has repeatedly condemned the police and soldiers for a post-Morsi crackdown on Islamists, which has seen more than 1,000 Morsi supporters killed, and thousands more arrested.

Further violence is feared on Saturday after government officials called on Egyptians to use the anniversary of the 2011 uprising to march in support of the police – while Ansar Beit el-Maqdis warned Egyptians to stay away from public squares.

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, promised that the government would respond to the insurgency as it did a similar series of attacks in the 1990s. "I assure you that just as we succeeded in the 1990s to eradicate terrorism we will again prevail," said Mansour, installed by the army last July, in a speech. "Failure in our current battle is not an option."

The car bombing occurred shortly before 6.32am, and was heard from several miles away on all sides of the city. CCTV captured a white pick-up truck stop outside the police building shortly after 6.29am, and the driver jumping into a passing car. Two men emerge from the police building to inspect the truck, before walking calmly back inside. Two minutes later the vehicle explodes.

"After the explosion, a white private car with four passengers started shooting on the buildings" said Mahmoud Abdel Sattar, 27, a sergeant on duty in the building.

Sattar said he was hit by falling masonry. "There was gunfire between the two sides. Everyone started running and there were a lot of injuries."

Other survivors also reported hearing gunfire. "I heard the explosion, then the ceiling fell in, and after that I heard shooting," said police conscript Ahmed Hussein, who was injured by the debris. "My colleague went outside to see what was happening, but ran back inside because of the gunfire."

The blast caused a large crater outside the building that quickly filled with water. An official at the scene said it was four metres deep. The force of the explosion smashed windows in buildings dozens of metres away, collapsed house walls and warped the shutters of shopfronts.

It severely damaged the collection of the Islamic Art Museum, which stands opposite the targeted building, after debris crushed much of the museum's glass and ceramic artefacts. Unesco's director-general warned of the potentially catastrophic nature of the damage to the museum, one of the world's best collections of Islamic art. "This raises the danger of irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people," said Irina Bokova. "This heritage is part of the universal story of humanity, shared by all and we must all do everything to safeguard it."

The attacks may strengthen the hand of Egypt's government, which has used counter-terrorism rhetoric to explain its ongoing crackdown on all kinds of dissent.

Officials and almost all media outlets say Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist group that it is behind all attacks on the Egyptian state – but there is little evidence of their involvement.

Onlookers at the site of the first blast backed the government's narrative, immediately blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack.

"The people demand the execution of the Brotherhood," chanted a crowd of bystanders, some of whom carried pictures of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Morsi.

Two mobs attacked a van suspected by some of containing members of the Brotherhood.

But David Barnett, an analyst specialising in the insurgency and a research associate at the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said evidence for Brotherhood involvement in the attacks was tenuous at best. "While Ansar Beit el-Maqdis has acknowledged having former members of the Muslim Brotherhood within its ranks, these are former members who specifically left because they were upset that the Muslim Brotherhood was not implementing violent jihad," he said.

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« Reply #11487 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:46 AM »

Syrian peace talks: regime and rebels finally meet

After tense days spent avoiding each other, negotiators gather briefly at UN for Geneva II meeting to discuss civil war

Staff and agencies, Saturday 25 January 2014 10.55 GMT   

The first direct negotiations between the Syrian government and rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad started and ended after barely half and hour at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

After tense days spent avoiding each other and meeting separately with veteran Algerian mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, Assad's delegation and representatives of the Syrian Opposition Coalition gathered briefly in the same room, then emerged.

The two sides were distant going into the meeting, with the government delegation denying it had accepted the premise of a transitional leadership, and the opposition stating it would accept nothing less. Diplomats have said even getting them to the same table can be considered an accomplishment three years into the uprising that has left 130,000 people dead.

Brahimi announced on Friday night that the parties had agreed "to meet in the same room" after a day of frantic efforts to prevent either side from walking away from the talks. "Nobody will be leaving on Saturday and nobody will be leaving on Sunday," he told a press conference.

Diplomats added that the two sides were likely to address any remarks on Saturday to Brahimi and not directly to each other.

The first threat to quit came from the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, who warned on Friday morning that he would return to Damascus unless serious talks were held by Saturday.

Brahimi met government and opposition negotiators separately behind closed doors at the Palais des Nations on Friday while outside their respective representatives blamed each other for the apparent deadlock.

Opposition spokespeople had said they would not start talks until the other side accepted the Geneva I agreement of 2012, which calls for the creation of a transitional governing body in Damascus by mutual consent. Given that the rebels insist Assad must go – and Assad is adamant that he will not – it remains hard to see how that can happen.

Moualem and other Syrian government officials have emphasised the need to discuss "terrorism", their blanket term for opposition to Assad, before talks on a political solution to the 34-month crisis, which has made 2 million people refugees and Syria a magnet for al-Qaida-inspired extremists.

The meeting on Saturday suggested that neither side wanted to be blamed for walking out, at least at this early stage. Al-Arabiya TV quoted an unnamed Syrian source as saying that the government had agreed to release more than 5,500 prisoners. If confirmed, that would be a significant confidence-building measure.

Amid all the diplomatic activity it was hard to avoid a sense of disconnect from the crisis on the ground. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 63 people had now died due to poor health and living conditions in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian area of Damascus. "Dear Geneva II crowd: Could you please get people in Homs and Yarmouk some food?" one activist tweeted. Air raids were reported over Aleppo.

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« Reply #11488 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:48 AM »

Five Egyptian embassy staff kidnapped in Libya

Abductions in Tripoli follow threat of retaliation from militia group whose leader was arrested in Cairo

Reuters, Saturday 25 January 2014 11.13 GMT   

Five Egyptian embassy staff have been kidnapped in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the Libyan foreign ministry has said.

Four were kidnapped on Saturday and one on Friday. No group has claimed responsibility for any of the abductions, but they came soon after a Libyan militia said its leader had been arrested in Cairo and it threatened to retaliate.

"Four more have been kidnapped," the Libyan foreign ministry spokesman said on Saturday. "One of them is the cultural attache and the other three are staff," he added, without giving further details.

One militia group, the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, said on Friday its leader, Shaban Hadia, had been arrested in Egypt, where he had travelled with his family for medical treatment.

Another of the group's leaders, Adel al-Gharyani, denied it had kidnapped the first Egyptian diplomat. But he called on Egyptian authorities to release their commander or there would be a "strong response" from the group.

A number of foreigners have been abducted and attacked in recent weeks. Libyan security forces earlier this week freed a South Korean trade official who had been held for days by kidnappers who authorities said were not politically motivated.

An American teacher was shot dead in Benghazi in December, and in January, a British man and a New Zealand woman were killed on a beach in western Libya.

The Egyptian government said on Friday that talks were continuing to try to secure the release of the first diplomat, an administrative attache.

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« Reply #11489 on: Jan 25, 2014, 07:52 AM »

South Sudanese Rebels Accuse Government of Ignoring Day-Old Cease-Fire

JAN. 24, 2014

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — South Sudanese rebels said that government forces had attacked several of their positions on Friday, a day after a cease-fire was signed that was supposed to bring an end to a monthlong conflict that shook the new country and displaced hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

Analysts cautioned that enforcing a cease-fire would be far more daunting than agreeing to one.

A news release from the opposition that was sent to reporters on Friday charged that the army of President Salva Kiir, along with Ugandan forces, went on the offensive in Jonglei and Unity States.

In Jonglei, the release said, “the attackers were repulsed and suffered heavy casualties.”

Yohanis Musa Pouk, a spokesman for former Vice President Riek Machar, the leader of the opposition, said his side would write a letter of protest to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the East African regional bloc that mediated the weeklong peace talks. Mr. Pouk added that fighting continued late Friday night, after the agreement took effect.

Michael Makuei Lueth, a spokesman for the South Sudanese government, said in Addis Ababa that the army had not been involved in fresh clashes with the rebels. “We’re not fighting anybody by now,” he said, and accused the opposition of trying to find any reason to not abide by the agreement.

Tewolde Gebremeskal, one of the Intergovernmental Authority mediators, said he had not heard any reports that would bolster the opposition’s claims. Representatives of his group are to meet on Monday to work out the details of monitoring the cease-fire and other commitments made by both parties, like access to conflict zones for humanitarian organizations.

On Friday, the United Nations said that more than 500,000 had fled or been displaced since the conflict began on Dec. 15, and that more than 75,000 people were being sheltered on its bases, fearing that they could be killed if they return home.

All parties involved in the talks said that a cessation of hostilities would be a temporary measure, short of a formal peace agreement, and that negotiations would have to continue.

On Friday afternoon, most of the opposition leaders were checking out of a hotel in Addis Ababa where they had stayed during the negotiations. Many of them, still fearing arrest in Juba, their country’s capital, headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Among them was Mabior Garang, a son of John Garang, considered to be South Sudan’s founding father.

Despite the reports of renewed conflict, Mabior Garang saw the cease-fire agreement as a success, though his side had not achieved the immediate release of political detainees held since mid-December, when a clash at a military barracks in Juba prompted Mr. Kiir to accuse Mr. Machar of fomenting a coup. Mr. Machar, who fled into the bush, has denied the charge.

“It was a good agreement because it brings a pause in the conflict where we can have a conducive environment for further discussions,” said Mr. Garang, who surprised many South Sudanese by supporting Mr. Machar, an old enemy of his father’s, in the conflict. “In any negotiation process you don’t always get a hundred percent of what you’re looking for,” Mr. Garang said.
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