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« Reply #11595 on: Jan 30, 2014, 06:51 AM »

Pirate Bay ban lifted in Netherlands as blocking torrent sites ruled ‘ineffective’

Dutch court finds piracy increased after 'ineffective' Pirate Bay block

Samuel Gibbs   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 29 January 2014 13.20 GMT     

A Dutch court of appeal has overturned a court-ordered block of the infamous Pirate Bay torrent site by internet service providers (ISPs), labelling the practice as “ineffective”.

The block prevented internet users in the Netherlands from accessing the Pirate Bay site directly via a browser.

Two Dutch internet providers, Ziggo and XS4All, took the case to the court of appeals in The Hague. The court reversed the blocking order allowing internet users access to the Pirate Bay without having to resort to the use of proxy servers and other methods circumventing the blockade.

“Victory for the free internet!” proclaimed Niels Huijbregts, spokesman for XS4All in a blog post. “We are very pleased that the court ruled in favour of the freedom of information, protecting a fundamental right of all Dutch citizens.”
Piracy actually increased

The appeal judges ruled that blocking the Pirate Bay at the ISP level had not deterred users from using the BitTorrent network and the illegal downloading of copyrighted content, and had had the opposite effect. The ruling notes that the use of BitTorrent and "magnet" torrent links for piracy had actually increased since the blockade was implemented in 2012.

The court applied case law from the European court of justice, which stated that ISPs should not be forced to take measures like the blockade of the Pirate Bay which was disproportionate or ineffective.

"The court's ruling is detrimental to the development of a legal online market which requires protection against illegal competition," said Tim Kuik director of Dutch anti-piracy group Brein, which won the original blockade court order in 2012 that was overturned by the appeal.
Ineffective and inhibits the free flow of information

Brien has been involved in legal battles with six major ISPs since 2010, including Ziggo and XS4All, in the Netherlands over the blockade of the Pirate Bay. The ISPs have continually argued that the blockade has been ineffective at preventing piracy and that it inhibits the free flow of information.

Brien now has to assume responsibility for the €400,000 legal costs of the trial.

The ruling sets a precedent in the Netherlands, which could have implications across the rest of Europe, in which anti-piracy groups have sought court orders for the blockade of piracy sites against ISPs.

“Like Brien, we are against sharing copyrighted material without permission,” said Huijbregts.

“Unimpeded internet freedom provides an unprecedented breeding ground for new possibilities and opportunities. For the entertainment industry, initiatives such as iTunes, Spotify and Netflix clearly show that the internet offers rightsholders new opportunities, rather than threats.”

• In January, the Pirate Bay announced plans for a new "anti-censorship" browser


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« Reply #11596 on: Jan 30, 2014, 06:53 AM »


Norway has fallen in love with electric cars – but the affair is coming to an end

Free parking, incentives and driving in bus lanes push Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf to top of best-seller lists

John Vidal in Tromsø
theguardian.com, Wednesday 29 January 2014 14.48 GMT   

Norway's traffic jams are becoming the cleanest and quietest in the world due to a flood of drivers buying electric cars which now power around the country's cities on hydro-electricity, competing for free charging points.

For three months at the end of 2013, the luxury electric sports car the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf family electric car were the best-selling models among all cars sold in the country, beating popular and conventionally-fuelled cars including the VW Golf.

The latest figures suggest that over 21,000 all-electric vehicles (EVs) are now registered in the country of 5 million people with sales running at over 1,200 a month, or over 10% of all sales. That compares with a total of around 70,000 EVs registered in the US with a population of 313 m, and just 5,000 in the UK with apopulation of 63m. Dealers expect there to be more in Oslo than in Los Angeles and San Francisco combined within a year.

The Nordic rush for zero-emission vehicles, which have a range of just over 100 miles in the case of the Leaf, is less inspired by concern for the environment than for the chance of free commuting in the bus lane and generous incentives, says the industry.

Battery-powered cars in the world's fourth richest country are not just exempt from high rates of purchase tax, and VAT, but pay no road and ferry tolls or parking fees, cost less to insure and can be charged up for free electricity from thousands of points. Local government will also subsidise the installation of charging points in homes. Research suggests the subsidies could be worth nearly £5,000 a year per car.

"You can buy a Nissan leaf for 280,000 NOK (£26,500) which compares with 300,000 (£29,400) for a VW Golf. Over 10,000 km, it costs about 1,800 Nok (£176) to run, but the same for a petrol car would be 8,000 Nok (£784). On top of that I save save 35Nok (£3.20) a day on tolls but some people are saving far more," says Snorre Sletvold, president of the Norwegian electric vehicle association.

"We needed a new family car. We got a Nissan Leaf because it was really cheap and we did not want to pollute the air", says Maren Esmark, ceo of Friends of the Earth Norway. "We felt we were supporting the technology but the reason why most Norwegians are buying them is because they have a lot of money and can afford two cars, and because they can use them in the bus lanes.

"At the start we got comments like 'do you really think you can save the envirornment with that car?' but now they are so common that they are not noticed."

By far the two most popular are the Sunderland-built Nissan Leaf which was Norway's third best-selling passenger car last year, selling over 3,500, and the more expensive Tesla Model S which was the country's best-selling car in September and December. Volkswagen and BMW are now rushing to introduce their versions of electric cars.

"A boatload of Nissan Leafs arrives in Norway each week and is sold almost immediately. It is astonishing. We did not expect this. Electric cars started as an Oslo phenomenom but they are now selling all over Norway. By the end of Ferbruary we expect to be the first country in the world where 1 in 100 cars on the road are electric," said Sletvold.

But, says the govermnment, the Norwegian love affair with electric cars may end sooner than expected. Incentives will be withdrawn, or reconsidered, when 50,000 zero emission cars have been registered or come 2018, whichever is the earliest. At the current rate of sales, the 50,000 figure could be reached within 18 months.

Besides, the allure of quick commuting and free fuel is wearing thin as they become more popular and defeat the purpose for which people bought them. The vehicles are now so popular that they dominate the bus lanes into Oslo, making up to 75% of the vehicles alowed in them. In addition, it's getting harder and harder to find unoccupied public charging facilities.


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« Reply #11597 on: Jan 30, 2014, 06:55 AM »

Danish Government Collapses after Coalition Partner Exits

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 January 2014, 13:06

One of the three members of Denmark's leftist coalition quit the government on Thursday over the controversial sale of a stake in state-controlled energy group DONG to U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs.

"We have followed this DONG case to the end," leader of the Socialist People's Party and minister for social affairs and integration, Annette Vilhelmsen, said at a press conference, where she announced her resignation from both posts.

The party is likely to continue to support Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt's government in parliament, although it may have to seek support from the opposition on some issues.

At a press conference, Thorning-Schmidt said there was no need to call a new election and that her minority government would "shortly introduce a new cabinet".

"It's the same parliament as yesterday so why should we (have an election)," she said.

"What we do is remarkably different from what a right-wing government would do," she said of her minority coalition.

The Danish government wants to sell a 19-percent stake in utility DONG to Goldman Sachs for eight billion kroner (1.07 billion euros, $1.46 billion) after the state utility lost money on natural gas investments.

To pass the deal, the government will have to reach out to the center-right opposition, just like it did before passing this year's budget.

The deal has drawn ire from grassroot members of the Socialist People's Party, which has been accused of supporting a government whose policies many see as being too right-wing.

Vilhelmsen said she resigned after realizing she was unable "to unite the party".

The Social Democratic-led government has cut the corporate tax rate to 22 percent from 25 percent, and tightened the requirements for claiming social benefits.

Economic growth in Denmark has been persistently sluggish since a housing bubble burst in 2007, leading to anaemic household spending amid a high level of consumer debt.


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« Reply #11598 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:03 AM »

Britain Seeks to Strip Naturalised Terror Suspects of Citizenship

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 January 2014, 12:59

UK Home Secretary Theresa May wants to strip naturalized terror suspects of their British citizenship in a last-minute amendment to an immigration bill expected to face strong opposition in parliamentary debates Thursday.

The interior minister has introduced an amendment which would allow the removal of a British passport from any naturalized person whose conduct is deemed "seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK".

The move is an apparent effort to appease backbench lawmakers among Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, the main party in Britain's governing coalition.

The home secretary already has to power to strip British citizenship from people with dual nationality.

However, the proposed amendment would allow May to make people stateless if they have been naturalized as a British citizen, whether they hold another nationality or not.

"Those who threaten this country's security put us all at risk. This government will take all necessary steps to protect the public," said Immigration Minister Mark Harper.

"Citizenship is a privilege, not a right. These proposals will strengthen the home secretary's powers to ensure that very dangerous individuals can be excluded if it is in the public interest to do so."

The government is set to clash with Conservative rebels over the Immigration Bill, as a key amendment backed by restive backbenchers has been chosen by the speaker to be debated.

The amendment would allow ministers rather than judges the final say on whether deportation would breach the rights of foreign convicted criminals.

Thursday's debate in the elected lower House of Commons is a stage in the bill's progress through parliament. It would next be sent to the appointed upper House of Lords for consideration.

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

David Cameron to face questions on security strategy

PM to be grilled by MPs and peers on UK's relationship with the US following revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden

Press Association
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 07.57 GMT   

The prime minister will be questioned about the national security strategy in parliament on Thursday amid continued concern about defence cuts and the activities of the intelligence agencies.

David Cameron will be asked about the effectiveness of the National Security Council (NSC) and how the next strategy, expected in 2015, will respond to the changing risks facing the country.

The session with MPs and peers on the national security strategy committee is likely to cover the UK's relationship with the US, which has come under scrutiny following the intelligence revelations from the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warnings about the impact of defence cuts from the former Pentagon chief Robert Gates.

The committee has also previously raised concerns about the US's strategic "pivot" away from Europe towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Other topics likely to be covered include the government's response to events in Syria and the Ministry of Defence's decision-making on the future of the army.

The evidence session is also expected look at wider national security concerns, including energy and food security, and the ownership of critical national infrastructure.

The joint committee, chaired by the Labour former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, includes the former security minister Lady Neville-Jones, and the intelligence and security committee chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

The former energy secretary Chris Huhne last year raised concerns about the information given to the NSC following Snowden's disclosure of techniques used by GCHQ and its American counterpart the National Security Agency.

He said the NSC and the cabinet had been kept in the dark about the Tempora spy programme and the British use of the American Prism system.

"If anyone should have been briefed on Prism and Tempora, it should have been the NSC," he said.

While the Snowden leaks have focused attention on the close relationship with the US intelligence agencies, difficulties in the military partnership were highlighted earlier this month by Gates.

He said defence cuts, including the lack of an operational aircraft carrier, had reduced its ability to be a "full partner" to the US across the whole range of military operations.

But Cameron insisted Britain remained a "first-class player" in defence terms and dismissed Gates's claims that spending cuts had left the UK diminished on the world stage as "wrong".

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

Britain denies head of its NSA equivalent is leaving because of Edward Snowden

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 18:44 EST

Britain announced Tuesday that the head of GCHQ, the secret eavesdropping agency that has come under scrutiny following leaks by former US analyst Edward Snowden is to stand down.

Iain Lobban, 53, will leave the agency later this year after serving nearly six years as director, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

It denied that his departure was related to revelations contained in Snowden’s leaked documents that GCHQ was one of the main players in mass telecommunications surveillance.

“Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on as planned at the end of the year,” said a Foreign Office spokesman.

The Government Communications Headquarters — a giant, ring-shaped building nicknamed “the doughnut” — is situated in the spa town of Cheltenham in southwest England.

It is at the heart of Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States when it comes to spying, according to the documents.

They claim the NSA secretly funded GCHQ to the tune of £100 million ($160 million, 120 million euros) over the last three years.

One of Snowden’s revelations was that Britain was running a secret Internet monitoring station in the Middle East, intercepting phone calls and online traffic, with the information processed and passed to GCHQ.

It also tapped into more than 200 fibre-optic telecommunications cables, including transatlantic ones, and was handling 600 million “telephone events” each day, according to Snowden.

“They are worse than the US,” Snowden told The Guardian.

Called to appear before a parliamentary committee last November in response to the Snowden leaks, Lobban insisted the agency was not conducting mass snooping on the British public.

“We do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the e-mails of the majority,” he said.

It was the first time a head of the agency had given evidence in public.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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

People-smuggling gang jailed after Channel port arrests

Four Sri Lankans and one British national charged illegal immigrants for help in their attempts to enter UK as stowaways

Press Association
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 January 2014 23.28 GMT   

Five members of a criminal gang who smuggled Sri Lankans into the UK through Channel ports have been jailed.

The men, four Sri Lankans and one British national, helped illegal immigrants attempting to reach the UK by smuggling them in vehicles and charging them £4,500 each for the service, according to the Home Office.

Many of the smuggling attempts were foiled by Border Force officers who discovered stowaways hiding in vehicles stopped at ports including Calais, Dunkirk, Coquelles and Dover.

Of those who reached the UK, some would travel to North America using falsified documents, the Home Office spokesman said.

He added that investigations were ongoing to find those who had entered the UK illegally.

The gang's ringleader, 37-year-old Sudharsan Jeyakodi from Luton, pleaded guilty in August last year to conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration and was jailed for five years and four months at Maidstone Crown Court.

Chubramanian Vignarajah, 42,from Croydon, also pleaded guilty last year to the same offence and was sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment. years

Kamalanesan Kandiah, 39, from Hayes, London, John Anes Soundaranayagam Uvais, 41, of East Ham, London, and British national Amarjit Mudhar, 46, of Northolt, London, were found guilty of the same charge on 17 January following an eight-week trial.

Kandiah and Uvais were jailed for five years each while Mudhar was sentenced to four years and eight months, the spokesman said.

The gang was caught following a Home Office-led investigation, supported by Kent police, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Europol and French, German and Swiss law enforcement agencies.


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« Reply #11599 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:07 AM »


Greece bailout: MEPs land in Athens to investigate effect of troika's loans

Inquiry comes amid mounting criticism of the wreckage austerity has left since Greece accepted emergency loans

Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Wednesday 29 January 2014 19.39 GMT   
   
An inquiry into whether international creditors have inflicted more harm than good on Greece – the most problematic of the four countries bailed out since the onset of Europe's debt crisis – intensified on Wednesday with the arrival in Athens of MEPs conducting the investigation.

In a reversal of roles, the seven-strong team of MEPs began an on-the-ground examination of the tough cost-cutting policies that Athens' "troika" of lenders – the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetry Fund – has prescribed as a cure for the nation's financial woes.

The two-day visit comes amid mounting criticism of the wreckage austerity has left in its wake since Greece, locked out of capital markets, was forced to resort to emergency loans to avert default.

Ottmar Karas, the conservative Austrian European Parliament vice-president leading the inquiry, admitted mistakes had been made. "The troika … prevented the bankruptcy of several countries. Without it, the situation today would be much worse," he told the Greek daily Kathimerini ahead of the fact-finding mission.

"But that does not mean that every single decision and the decision procedures have been perfect … nobody, no country, no institution was prepared for such a situation."

The adjustment programme enforced on Greece as the price of more than €240bn in aid has been blamed for record levels of unemployment, the loss of more than a quarter of GDP, prolonged recession and a sharp increase in the country's already monumental debt load, even though it has also achieved the biggest fiscal consolidation in modern times.

According to figures released by the European Parliament, Greek public debt jumped from 148 % of national output in 2010, when Athens signed up to the international rescue, to more than 176% of GDP at the end of 2013. Under the twice-bailed out nation's latest loan agreement, it will need to fall to around 120% by 2020 to become anywhere near sustainable – a target widely seen as high nigh impossible.

But likening the crisis to a storm, Karas insisted that Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus had ultimately been saved. "We had to repair the boat during the storm," he said. "The storm is not yet over. But we have saved the boat – that is what everybody has to acknowledge. But now we have to ask what can be done in a better way, in similar situations in the future."

The delegation, which has visited Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, will be meeting officials from the Greek government and anti-austerity opposition for a report it is expected to publish in April.

The team has already indicated that the troika may become a thing of the past as it looks at ways of reorganising the body.

The IMF has increasingly been at loggerheads with other lenders over rescue policies, not least those imposed on Greece where it insists that debt relief must now be made a priority if the crisis-plagued country is ever to recover economically.

Germany – the biggest provider of assistance so far, bankrolling around 27% of the emergency loans to date – has fiercely rejected the proposal, arguing that fiscal progress will only be improved when Athens forges ahead with long overdue structural reforms and the sale of state assets. Creditors promised to discuss the possibility of a debt write-down when Greece achieved a primary budget surplus which it is on course to do.

Karas conceded that as part of the soul-searching the creation of a European Monetary Fund – carved out of the emergency European stability mechanism – was among the options now being considered. "The help of the IMF was indispensable. At the beginning of the crisis, the EU did not have the expertise the IMF had," he said, referring to the Washington-based organisation's long history of overseeing financial assistance programmes for ailing states.

"But it is also true that the share of IMF money in the [European] programmes [has] decreased from a third at the beginning to less than 10% now."

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

Sappho: two previously unknown poems indubitably hers, says scholar

University of Oxford papyrologist convinced poems preserved on ancient papyrus are by seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos

Read one of the poems here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/30/read-sappho-new-unknown-poem-papyrus-classical
   
Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 January 2014 19.45 GMT   
   

Sappho is one of the most elusive and mysterious – as well as best-loved – of ancient Greek poets. Only one of her poems, out of a reputed total of nine volumes' worth, survives absolutely intact. Otherwise, she is known by fragments and shards of lines – and still adored for her delicate outpourings of love, longing and desire.

But now, two hitherto unknown works by the seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos have been discovered. One is a substantially complete work about her brothers; another, an extremely fragmentary piece apparently about unrequited love.

The poems came to light when an anonymous private collector in London showed a piece of papyrus fragment to Dr Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University.

According to Obbink, in an article to be published this spring, the poems, preserved on what is probably third-century AD papyrus, are "indubitably" by Sappho.

Not only do elements of the longer poem link up with fragments already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect in which the poems are written point to Sappho.

The clincher is a reference to her brother, Charaxos – whose very existence has long been doubted, since he is mentioned nowhere in previously discovered fragments of Sappho.

However, Herodotus, the fifth-century BC historian, named the brother when describing a poem by Sappho that recounts the tale of a love affair between Charaxos and a slave in Egypt.

In this poem – though it is not the precise one that Herodotus mentions – the writer addresses her audience, seeming to berate them for taking Charaxos's return by ship from a trading trip for granted.

Pray to Hera, says the narrator, "so that Charaxos may return here, with his ship intact; for the rest let us leave it all to the gods, for often calm quickly follows a great storm".

The poem goes on to say that those whom Zeus chooses to save from great storms are truly blessed and "lucky without compare". The poem ends with the hope that another brother, Larichos, might become a man – "freeing us from much anxiety".

According to Tim Whitmarsh, a professor of ancient literature at Oxford University, the poem could be read as a play on Homer's Odyssey, and the idea of Penelope waiting patiently at home for the return of Odysseus. Sappho frequently reworked Homeric themes in her poems.

Sappho, who was born in about 630BC, is known for her lyric verse of longing, often directed at women and girls – the bittersweet feeling of love, impossible-to-fulfil desire and the sensation of jealousy when you see the object of your obsession across the room, talking intimately with someone else.

She was admired in antiquity for her delicate, passionate verses. The only evidence for her biography comes from within her poems – and the naming of her brothers, Charaxos and Larichos, adds substantially to a sketchy knowledge of the poet's life.

Sappho's poems, which were lost from the manuscript tradition and were not collated and copied by medieval monks as were so many surviving ancient texts, have been preserved by two main means: either through quotation by other authors (often as examples of particular syntactical points by ancient grammarians) or through the discovery of fragments written on ancient papyrus. There is hope yet for more poems to come to light, preserved in the Egyptian sands.

Obbink's article, with a transcription of the original poems, is to be published in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.


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« Reply #11600 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:11 AM »


Spain's black economy booming as GDP continues slow growth

Report finds shadow economy has expanded to 24.6% of GDP, as official figures show fourth-quarter economic growth at 0.3%
   
Stephen Burgen in Barcelona
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 10.31 GMT   
   
While the rest of Spain's economy is either stagnant or in decline, a new report shows that the so-called submerged economy is booming and accounted for 24.6% of GDP in 2012, 6.8% higher than in 2008.

The report by Spain's inland revenue department titled The Cost of the Submerged Economy: Increased Fraud During the Crisis claims that the black economy is now worth €253bn (£208bn) – €60bn more than in 2008.

Meanwhile, figures released on Thursday show that Spain's GDP rose by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2013, up from 0.1% in the third quarter. This represents the biggest rise in Spanish GDP since the beginning of 2008.

The inland revenue report says the submerged economy has grown fastest in those areas most affected by unemployment and the burst housing bubble, such as Andalusia, the Canaries, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha. The figure for Extremadura, where unemployment stands above 30%, is 31.1%.

The housing boom "created a huge reserve of black money, especially in coastal areas", demonstrated by the "massive use" of €500 notes, which the report claims account for 70% of all the cash in circulation.

Other factors are the punitive social security regime imposed on the self-employed and the lengthy and labyrinthine process of establishing a legal enterprise, both of which discourage entrepreneurship and boost the cash-in-hand economy.

The report comments on the "serious moral problem when it comes to paying taxes", a situation that has put Spain's black economy high above Germany (13.1%), France (10.8%) and the UK (10.1%), although the rate in Italy, Portugal and Greece is closer to Spain's.

Shadow economic activity in Greece is equivalent to almost a quarter of national output, a study by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found. The research found that Greece's shadow economy was equivalent to 24% of GDP last year, which was one of the highest rates in Europe but lower than a decade earlier when it surpassed 28%.

The authors of the Spanish report, carried out for the tax department by the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, criticise the government for turning a blind eye to fraud. They also say it is only thanks to the black economy, along with family support and charity, that there has not been widespread social unrest. Although unemployment stands at around 26%, it is an open secret that this figure disguises the large numbers working in the submerged economy.

In spite of the high levels of fraud, there is only one Spanish tax inspector for every 1,928 taxpayers, compared with 860 in France and 729 in Germany.


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« Reply #11601 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:17 AM »

A Mafia Legacy Taints the Earth in Southern Italy

By JIM YARDLEY
JAN. 29, 2014
IHT

CASAL DI PRINCIPE, Italy — The Italian state arrived in the heartland of the Camorra mafia this month bearing a backhoe. Police officers in polished black boots posed for television cameras as the backhoe clawed into an overgrown field, searching for barrels of toxic waste or some other illegal industrial sarcophagi.

Two jailed mafia informants had identified the field as one of the secret sites where the Camorra had buried toxic waste, near a region north of Naples known as the Triangle of Death because of the emergence of clusters of cancer cases. One environmental group estimates that 10 million tons of toxic garbage has been illegally buried here since the early 1990s, earning billions of dollars for the mafia even as toxic substances leached into the soil and the water table.

While the dumping has been widely documented, the trash crisis has only worsened, as the parallel problem of the illegal burning of toxic waste has brought the region another nickname, the Land of Fires. With new revelations fueling public outrage, the question is whether the Italian government will confront the Camorra and clean up the mess — and whether the mess can be cleaned up at all.

“The environment here is poisoned,” said Dr. Alfredo Mazza, a cardiologist who documented an alarming rise in local cancer cases in a 2004 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet. “It’s impossible to clean it all up. The area is too vast.”

He added, “We’re living on top of a bomb.”

Garbage is a perennial problem in Italy as landfills run out of space, setting off periodic crises in cities like Rome and Naples. But the land of the Camorra, stretching from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Apennine foothills, is a particularly vivid tableau of ruined beauty.

Garbage is strewn along highways, tossed beneath overpasses or dumped atop irrigation canals. Rats search for food amid discarded sheets of asbestos, broken computer screens and empty paint cans. Plumes of black smoke often rise, the entrails of trash illegally burned from distant hillsides or abandoned fields.

The landscape is a result of decades of secret dealings between manufacturers in Italy and beyond, who sought to avoid the high costs of legally disposing of hazardous waste, and the Camorra, one of Italy’s three main mafia organizations, which saw the potential to make huge profits by disposing of it illegally.

By burying the waste in its backyard near Naples and the surrounding region of Campania, where the Camorra was born, the mob ensured a measure of protection, and silence. Bosses often exert a powerful influence over the local economy and politicians, especially in small towns like Casal di Principe.

“The mafia has made money on the garbage,” said Ciro Tufano, 44, an accountant who has spent two decades pushing officials to clean up a toxic site near his home. “Politicians must have been aware, but they don’t care. Nobody was tracking this trail of garbage.”

The public has awakened in recent months, though, after a string of disclosures and protests that brought thousands of people onto the streets of Naples in November.

Some revelations came from the declassified 1997 testimony of Carmine Schiavone, a former treasurer for the Casalesi clan, one of the most powerful Camorra factions. Speaking in secret to an investigative parliamentary committee, Mr. Schiavone had described nighttime operations in which mobsters wearing police uniforms supervised the burial of toxic garbage from as far away as Germany.

“We are talking about millions of tons,” Mr. Schiavone warned in his testimony 17 years ago, portraying an environmental disaster.

Then, the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso published a cover story titled “Drink Naples and Then Die.” The article detailed a public health survey conducted in 2008 by the United States Navy, which has a base in Naples. The Navy study, which had not been publicized in Italy, found serious water contamination. It described “unacceptable risks” in some areas and recommended that all Americans stationed in the region use bottled water for drinking, food preparation and brushing teeth.

Last month, Prime Minister Enrico Letta approved a decree to increase prison sentences for illegally dumping or burning waste. This month, the government announced that a contingent of Italian soldiers would conduct anti-dumping patrols in the region.

“This is a response to an emergency situation,” said Gen. Sergio Costa, commander of the Naples region for Italy’s environmental police. “Politicians now have to respond because people are now marching on the streets.”

The digging operation with the backhoe this month was supposed to demonstrate the government’s newfound resolve. The location was just outside the usual parameters of the Triangle of Death dumping zone, but in a city synonymous with the Casalesi clan. Journalists were invited amid expectations that the backhoe would unearth canisters of hazardous waste. In 2008, a chemical truck had been discovered beneath a field a few miles away.

But what emerged after hours was dirt and skepticism. Officials said later that digging would continue for weeks and that quantities of asbestos and mud tainted by industrial waste had already been recovered. The owner of the land, Stanislao Di Bello, a lawyer who bought the plot in 1990 as an investment, watched the work from behind tinted glasses, unimpressed. He said the authorities had also excavated the land in the early 1990s but found nothing.

“Now, after 16 years, the movie repeats itself,” he said.

The biggest question is whether the buried toxic materials could cause a public health crisis. More than 500,000 people live in the region, and the Lancet study and other reports have documented cancer rates far above the national average. While no study has sought to prove a direct link, a World Health Organization report conducted with national and local health institutions documented clusters of liver, kidney, pancreatic and other cancers in areas known as dump sites.

In the nearby town of Marigliano, the Rev. Giannino Pasquale has watched cancer spread swiftly among his parishioners. He opened the green ledger that serves as the parish death registry and counted for last year: 27 deaths, 10 from cancer. One of the parish’s most dedicated volunteers died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, three years after his wife also died of cancer.

“My sense is that there is an agreement between the political parties and the Camorra,” Father Pasquale said. “Just look around. Tires and asbestos are tossed on the sides of the roads. Why is it not possible to control this area?”

Luigi Sodano, 57, a member of the parish, has lost more than 60 pounds during his battle with pancreatic cancer. His mother has bladder cancer, his nephew has testicular cancer and his nephew’s wife has breast cancer. He is so listless from radiation treatment that he rarely leaves his apartment.

“I’m his angel because I’m always with him,” said his wife, Angela Dioguardi, 53.

General Costa, the environmental police commander, said the Camorra had stopped burying waste a few years ago and was now illegally shipping it to Eastern Europe or the Balkans. The acreage where waste is buried is relatively small, he said, but the risks are significantly higher because the dump sites are spread across such a large area.

“It flows all over the place,” he said. “You can be a farmer who is unwittingly irrigating your land with polluted water.”

Local farmers complain that prices are falling because wholesalers are leery of buying their produce. Concerns have also been raised about the region’s famed mozzarella cheese, though General Costa said that production was tightly controlled and that no cases of contamination had occurred.

He recalled the early days of the garbage crisis, when he overheard a wiretapped conversation between a Camorra boss and another mobster.

“We’re polluting our own house and our own land,” the mobster said. “What are we going to drink?”

“You idiot,” the boss replied. “We’ll drink mineral water.”


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« Reply #11602 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:25 AM »

Iran Rejects Obama Boast that Sanctions Forced Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 January 2014, 13:59

Iran on Thursday dismissed as "unrealistic and nonconstructive" comments by U.S. President Barack Obama that international sanctions linked to its nuclear program had forced Tehran to the negotiating table.

"The delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran's motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB.

Obama, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, said U.S. and international pressure had led to the interim deal struck in November between Iran and six global powers, under which Tehran agreed to scale back uranium enrichment in return for sanctions relief.

"American diplomacy, backed by pressure, has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolled parts of that program back," Obama said.

"The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible," he added.

Afkham, in comments posted on the IRIB website, dismissed Obama's comments.

"It is a totally wrong interpretation of Tehran's interest to create an opportunity for Western countries to have another kind of relation with the Iranian nation," she said.

Afkham also rejected Obama's assertion that diplomacy had opened a window which could forestall any possible nuclear weapons drive by Iran.

"America considers preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon to be its biggest achievement, but it is wrong since Iran has never sought to obtain a nuclear weapon and will never do so in future," she said.

Iran has repeatedly rejected suggestions that economic sanctions had forced it to the negotiating table, although last year then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted the punitive measures had caused "problems".

The Islamic republic has also consistently denied its nuclear program has a military dimension, as suspected by Western nations which imposed the sanctions.

Under the deal struck in Geneva in November, Washington committed to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" for six months while world powers seek to hammer out a comprehensive settlement with Iran.

Obama has also pledged to veto any bill by U.S. lawmakers to impose new sanctions against Iran, warning the move could derail the talks.

The negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- are scheduled to resume in New York next month.


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« Reply #11603 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:26 AM »

Iraqi forces ‘take back control’ of western areas after weeks-long struggle

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:16 EST

Iraqi forces Wednesday wrested back control of key areas west of Baghdad that have been out of government hands for weeks amid a deadly standoff between militants and security forces.

The battles in Anbar province, a mostly-Sunni desert region bordering on Syria, and a protracted surge in nationwide violence, have killed more than 850 people this month, fuelling fears Iraq is slipping back into the all-out conflict that plagued it from 2006 to 2008.

Washington has said it plans to sell Iraq 24 Apache attack helicopters in a $4.8 billion deal to help the country fight militants.

But foreign leaders have also urged the Shiite-led government to address long-term grievances in the disaffected Sunni community to undercut support for militancy.

Security forces and allied tribal fighters regained control Wednesday of Albu Farraj, just north of Ramadi, as well as a district on the outskirts of Fallujah, officials said.

“Iraqi security forces have taken control of Albu Farraj,” said defence ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari, describing the area as an “important base” for militants, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We will give it back to the tribes and police forces to return the area to normal.”

Officials said Iraqi forces also took back Al-Nasaf, on the western outskirts of Fallujah.

Security forces have been locked in battles in Ramadi, where militants hold several neighbourhoods, and have carried out operations in rural areas of Anbar province.

Anti-government fighters also hold all of Fallujah, on Baghdad’s doorstep.

ISIL has been involved in the fighting, and witnesses and tribal leaders in Fallujah say the group has tightened its grip on the city in recent days, but other militant groups have also taken part in the battles.

It is the first time militants have exercised such open control in Iraqi cities since the peak of violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the UN refugee agency said, describing this as the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008n conflict.

In Baghdad and the main northern city of Mosul, multiple shootings and bombings killed seven people Wednesday, including two members of the security forces and three anti-Qaeda militiamen.

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« Reply #11604 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:29 AM »

Pakistani Premier Forms Group to Start Talks With Taliban

By SALMAN MASOOD
JAN. 29, 2014
IHT   

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named a four-member commission on Wednesday to initiate peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, saying he would pursue a dialogue with the militants despite recent terrorist attacks that have left the country reeling.

“As the desire for peace has been expressed on the other side, we want to forget the unpleasant past and give another chance to peaceful talks,” Mr. Sharif said in a speech to Parliament in Islamabad, the capital.

He urged the militants to stop their attacks during the peace process but offered no specifics about the talks.

The Pakistani Taliban said that its leadership would discuss Mr. Sharif’s proposal in a meeting in the next few days.

Though Mr. Sharif and his party have previously said they favored peace talks, his announcement took many by surprise. Some senior government officials had indicated in recent days that the government was preparing for a military offensive and had been discussing an operational plan with senior military leaders.

After two recent attacks on security forces, one in Bannu and one in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani military has its headquarters, air force jets and army gunship helicopters mounted a rare retaliatory strike, pounding militant hide-outs in North Waziristan.

Mr. Sharif’s appearance in the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday was his first in six months, and there had been speculation that he would announce additional military operations against the militants.

“I think the principal reality that Pakistan is slowly coming to grips with is that no one really has any clue what Nawaz is thinking, or which way he is leaning, until he announces his decisions himself,” said Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor at Dawn, the country’s leading English-language daily newspaper.

A politician from the governing party, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that although Mr. Sharif was insistent on pursuing a dialogue, the country’s powerful military remained determined to retaliate for any future terrorist attack.

“The military establishment has decided to use force,” the politician said. “Talks and use of force will go side by side.”

The four-member commission announced by Mr. Sharif includes three of his trusted aides, and appeared to have been formed hastily. It includes Irfan Siddiqui, an influential newspaper columnist recently appointed as an a special assistant to the prime minister; Muhammad Amir, a retired army major and intelligence official; Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist regarded as an expert on Taliban and Afghan affairs; and Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

Mr. Yusufzai told local news media outlets that he was contacted by Mr. Sharif on Wednesday morning, and at first declined to take part. Mr. Mohmand said he learned of his inclusion in the commission from a news report. Both men tried to hold down expectations. “It is very difficult to be optimistic in the current situation,” Mr. Yusufzai said.

Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier and a defense analyst, said the commission was “a nonstarter” whose members lacked the expertise and influence to deal with the militants.

Mr. Almeida noted the absence of prominent political figures, and said, “Nawaz is essentially saying he doesn’t have any faith in politicians to address the most vexing and critical problem facing the country.”
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« Reply #11605 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:30 AM »


Mob attacks remote Indian village in land dispute

At least 10 killed after gunmen from neighbouring state open fire in Chauldhua in northern Assam state

Associated Press in Gauhati
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 08.17 GMT   

A mob armed with shotguns has attacked a remote village in north-east India, killing at least 10 people in a long-simmering land dispute, police say.

The attackers fired indiscriminately on Wednesday evening in Chauldhua in northern Assam state, said a resident, Indrashwar Das.

"A large mob attacked us with guns. Everyone was surprised," said Das, who was shot in the leg. "I saw people falling and I ran."

The gunmen came from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh state, police said. It took officers several hours to access the densely forested area.

The dispute dates back to 1987, when Arunachal Pradesh state was created and the village was declared to be in Assam. There have been similar attacks before, but this was the most deadly. The supreme court has taken up the case.

Chauldhua is nearly 155 miles north of Gauhati, the state capital of Assam.


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« Reply #11606 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:32 AM »

Bangladesh Court Sentences Top Islamist to Death for Arms Smuggling

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 January 2014, 10:15

A Bangladesh court on Thursday sentenced 14 people to death, including the leader of the country's largest Islamist party, over a massive arms smuggling racket ten years ago.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, 70, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was sentenced to hang after being convicted over the racket involving 10 truckloads of arms seized by police at a Bangladesh port.

"The judge sentenced 14 people including .... Motiur Rahman Nizami, to death on smuggling charges," prosecutor Kamal Uddin Ahmed told Agence France Presse from the southern port city of Chittagong.

"We're satisfied with the verdict. This is an unprecedented case and all those accused have got due justice," Ahmed said.

Prosecutors said Nizami, who was industries minister at the time, helped unload the weapons that included 4,930 sophisticated firearms, 27,020 grenades and 840 rocket launchers in April 2004.

Nizami, in custody since 2010, was among 50 people charged with smuggling and other offenses over the weapons that were meant to be moved across the border to a rebel group in northeastern India.

Ex-home minister Lutfozzaman Babar and the former chiefs of the country's two main intelligence agencies were also among the 14 who were sentenced to death on Thursday over the racket.

A leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Paresh Baruah, was also sentenced to death in absentia over the racket, which was meant to help the group's separatist struggle. Baruah has long been on the run.

The judge confirmed in his verdict "that the massive arms were meant to be smuggled across the border to ULFA," Ahmed said.

Security was tight in Chittagong for the judge's long-awaited verdict following a year-long trial.

Extra police and elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers were deployed in key areas as a precaution, amid concerns activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party could take to the streets to protest the decision.

Nizami was a minister in the government of Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party which was allied with Jamaat.

The parties were thrown out of power after suffering a massive defeat in December 2008 elections.

The secular Awami League-led government, which retained power after the January 5 elections, has pursued the arrests of the alleged major figures in the case since coming to power.


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« Reply #11607 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:35 AM »

As China’s Economy Slows, the Pain Hits Home

By KEITH BRADSHER
JAN. 29, 2014
IHT   

HONG KONG — Piles of unsold coal line rural roads in north-central China. Some iron ore mines near Beijing are operating at a fraction of capacity. Chinese farm products are even increasingly scorned by the Chinese consumer.

While China remains nearly self-sufficient in all these categories, it is importing more from other emerging markets. Economists and investors around the world have been fretting in recent days about the effects on smaller emerging markets if China’s economic slowdown worsens. Those concerns have driven down share prices and currencies from Jakarta to Istanbul to Buenos Aires, although emerging markets staged a partial recovery on Wednesday. They helped to prod the central banks of Turkey and India to raise benchmark interest rates unexpectedly on Tuesday.

Yet the most vulnerable producers these days may not be the coal mines in Indonesia, palm oil plantations in Malaysia or soybean farms in Brazil, but the farms and particularly the mines in China itself.

China’s role as the largest buyer of a long list of commodities, from iron ore to palm oil, means that emerging markets are heavily exposed to any economic slowdown. But their ability to capture ever-larger shares of the Chinese market at the expense of China’s commodity producers has limited at least somewhat the exposure of emerging markets.

China’s steadily strengthening renminbi, persistent inflation and soaring blue-collar wages have combined to erase much or all of the cost advantage of domestic production for a long list of commodities. At the same time, tightened pollution regulations have made it harder for steel mills to use China’s low-grade iron ore reserves or for power plants to burn China’s low-quality coal.

“With the increasing focus on the environment and high costs in some industries in China, China seems to be importing more of the key commodities they need,” said Bruce Diesen, an analyst at the Oslo-based investment bank Carnegie.

Another profound change in Chinese society is also having an impact. Hundreds of millions of Chinese are eating more meat and drinking more milk. The extra animal feed, as well as chicken, beef and dairy products, for that shift is coming increasingly from farms as distant as Uruguay and Argentina. Chinese farms have grown uncompetitive because they tend to be small and inefficient and have a reputation for contaminated food.

Charter rates for bulk freighters, often a good leading indicator of China’s commodity imports, have stayed strong. The shipping industry is betting that even when long-distance freight charges are included, new mines opening in Brazil and Australia will outcompete mines in China.

“That new capacity will probably squeeze out more expensive domestic capacity for iron ore and coal,” said Timothy Huxley, chief executive of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, a Hong Kong shipping company.

Emerging markets face many more pressures right now than the strength of China’s demand for commodities. A gradual tapering in the pace of monetary stimulus by the United States Federal Reserve, where policy makers were concluding a two-day meeting on Wednesday, has sent interest rates drifting higher in America, drawing in investment dollars that might have previously gone to Bangkok or Rio de Janeiro.

Rising exports to China by emerging markets also mean that if a downturn in China is severe enough, emerging market exporters will be affected along with Chinese producers. China could also adopt a variety of measures to keep out imports during a downturn, like providing government subsidies to domestic producers — although many of these possible steps would violate China’s commitments to the World Trade Organization.

Many emerging markets, including India, have fought losing battles with inflation for years and are now struggling to maintain the value of their currencies. After announcing this month a two-year plan to slow inflation in consumer prices, the Reserve Bank of India announced on Tuesday that it was pushing up its benchmark short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point.

Raghuram G. Rajan, the central bank’s governor, acted even though his country’s manufacturing sector, heavily dependent on borrowing and sensitive to any increase in rates, is already slowing. “It is only by bringing down inflation to a low and stable level that monetary policy can contribute to reviving consumption and investment in a sustainable way,” he said in a statement.

The Turkish central bank raised its benchmark interest rate a surprisingly steep 4.25 percentage points on Tuesday in an attempt to defend the nation’s currency.

If China’s economy slows further in the coming months, that would not just hurt demand and world prices for raw materials. It would also reduce demand and prices for a range of industrial materials, like steel, produced in many emerging markets.

An HSBC survey last week found considerable gloom among many Chinese manufacturers, and an updated survey early Thursday confirmed that the industry was beginning to contract. Some wholesalers and retailers in China say that they also see signs of weakness in the crucial shopping period ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations beginning on Friday. The period is nearly as important for Chinese retailers as Christmas is for many Western retailers.

“Business this month is down 20 percent over the previous few months. I don’t really know why, but people’s desire for spending is just not there,” said Michael Liu, a wholesaler of photo frames, bangles and other crafts in Guangzhou.

Yet the prospects for emerging markets are not entirely grim. Many economists have focused on slowing growth in the value of Chinese imports, and warned about troubles in emerging markets. That partly reflects that commodity prices have been falling. But the tonnage of Chinese commodity imports has kept rising. In December, China’s imports were up only 4.3 percent in dollar terms compared with a year earlier. But they were up nearly twice as much, 7.8 percent, in terms of tonnage, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.

The rising tonnage of imports has been hurting domestic production. China’s coal imports have doubled in the last three years, even as many new open-pit mines have begun production in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. That is causing considerable hardship and closings at underground coal mines in traditional mining provinces like Shanxi and Shaanxi, just as many underground coal mines closed in Wales and Appalachia in the 1970s and 1980s when they could not compete with open-pit mines in emerging markets or Montana.

The iron ore industry in Hebei Province, near Beijing, has also been struggling as growth in steel production has stalled even as iron ore imports pour in from South Africa, Iran, Brazil and Australia.

Chinese statistics show that annual growth in the mined tonnage of iron ore slowed to 6 percent last year after hovering around 20 percent for a decade. Even the modest increase last year overstates the actual increase in iron extracted, because China is having to shift to lower-grade ore reserves as high-grade reserves are exhausted.

“You’re moving more dirt to get the same amount of useful product,” said Ephrem Ravi, the head of Asian metals research at Barclays.

The weakening value of iron ore production, together with low prices and costly pollution controls in the steel sector, is affecting the entire economy in Hebei.

“Business has not been good during the past few months, it is down 20 percent compared to the same period a year ago,” said Yi Jinwei, marketing manager of a construction materials wholesaler in Handan City. “The economy is just not what it used to be.”


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« Reply #11608 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:37 AM »

Philippine Negotiator Calls on Spoiler Rebels to Give Up

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 January 2014, 14:04

The Philippines' chief peace negotiator with Muslim rebels called Thursday on breakaway guerrillas still fighting the government to turn themselves in, as the death toll from this week's clashes rose to 41.

Negotiator Miriam Coronel said the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was working with government forces to contain the breakaway group and stop the fighting spreading from remote villages in the southern island of Mindanao.

Clashes broke out this week between troops and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a small breakaway faction of the MILF which opposes the peace talks.

Regional military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said 40 BIFF members and one soldier had been killed while 13 soldiers had been wounded.

About 10,000 civilians had fled their homes due to the violence, he told Agence France Presse.

The new clashes broke out just two days after the government and the MILF successfully concluded years of negotiations aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.

The BIFF has carried out several deadly attacks in recent years to try to derail the peace process.

"The ongoing military operations are geared at degrading the BIFF's capability to continue to cause harm to the government forces, civilians and the peace process," Coronel said in a statement.

"We call on the members and the leaders of the BIFF to put down their arms and be part of the process. We ask them to listen to the plea of their own brothers and sisters to give peace a chance."

Visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the success of the negotiations with the MILF "is a testament to the vision and determination of (Philippine) President (Benigno) Aquino and all those involved".

"We know from our own experience in Northern Ireland that implementation brings its own challenges, but it will also bring rewards, both for Mindanao and for the whole of the Philippines," he said.


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« Reply #11609 on: Jan 30, 2014, 07:40 AM »


Syria wiping neighbourhoods off the map to punish residents – rights group

Report contains satellite imagery showing seven areas that have been largely or completely destroyed

Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 09.01 GMT   
   
The Syrian government has demolished thousands of buildings, in some cases entire neighbourhoods, in parts of Damascus and Hama, as part of a collective punishment against residents of rebel-held areas, Human Rights Watch has found.

Satellite imagery taken over both cities has revealed seven areas where neighbourhoods have either been largely destroyed or totally demolished. None of the destruction was caused during combat. Rather, the buildings have been systemically destroyed using bulldozers and explosives placed by troops who first ordered residents to leave, then supervised the demolitions.

A report released on Thursday morning says the Syrian regime claims that the demolitions were part of an urban planning programme that aimed to remove illegally constructed buildings.

Human Rights Watch, however, claims the motivations were instead to punish areas that were deemed to be sympathetic to opposition groups. It says the destruction violated international law and the laws of war.

Claims of widespread abuses have been routinely levelled by the government and the opposition during almost three years of war in Syria, which has killed more than 130,000, displaced close to 8 million, led tens of thousands to disappear and battered the country’s renowned heritage sites. However, the scale of the physical destruction has been difficult to document, with reporting limited by government visa restrictions and the intensity of the fighting.

“Wiping entire neighbourhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government.”

Using satellite imagery, the organisation has compiled a dramatic series of before and after shots that it says show 145 hectares, the equivalent of 200 football fields, where the state policy has caused near-total destruction.

Some demolitions took place near areas such as the Mezzeh airbase and the international airport that the opposition viewed as strategic. While acknowledging that a military response in these areas could be deemed as legitimate, the report claims that the response was disproportionate.

The Mezzeh and Tadamoun areas of the capital, both opposition strongholds, have been particularly heavily hit, the images show. In Hama, where former president Hafez al-Assad killed tens of thousands of residents and wiped out neighbourhoods over several days in 1982, widespread destruction has again taken place. The satellite images show that the Masha al-Arb’een area has been wiped out. One image, apparently taken while the demolitions were under way, shows part of the area still standing – a grey blob of buildings juxtaposed against a white backdrop of ruins.
Above images embedded from Human Rights Watch website

Researchers compiled the report after viewing 15 satellite images and speaking to 16 witnesses to the demolitions, among them homeowners. Government statements, interviews with officials and videos posted to the web depicting the destruction were also used.

“No one should be fooled by the government’s claim that it is undertaking urban planning in the middle of a bloody conflict, ” said Solvang. “This was collective punishment of communities suspected of supporting the rebellion. The UN security council should, with an ICC [international criminal court] referral, send a clear message that cover-ups and government impunity won’t stand in the way of justice for victims.”

Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa, said: "These are the areas that we were told about by witnesses. There are likely to be other areas, but there are many black holes in Syria where we don't have information. This is likely part of a systematic policy in rebel held areas elsewhere in the country as well.

"It shows yet again that this is not a one-off act by a commander. This is part of a strategy targeting all opposition-held areas. It is a mirror image of the starvation of people in Yarmouk [refugee camp in Damascus] or in Old Homs. It shows yet again how ready the government is to collectively harm areas of people that are supporting the opposition."

While the destruction of Syria’s towns and cities during fighting has been well-documented, the eradication of neighbourhoods as a form of punishment or deterrence against supporting the opposition has not been revealed.

The regime has claimed that all those fighting against it are internationally backed terrorists who have imposed their will on communities, which they then use as bases to hide and stage attacks.

Opposition-held parts of Aleppo have repeatedly been hit by large ballistic missiles, including scuds, as well as non-conventional high-explosive bombs dropped from helicopters, known as barrel bombs. Such attacks killed 13 people in Aleppo on Tuesday and have claimed more than 300 lives since the start of the year.

Earlier satellite images have also revealed the scale of destruction in Aleppo, Syria’s second city. A series of shots taken over other towns and cities during the past year has shown a physical landscape changed dramatically by the war.

Human Rights Watch called for its findings to be referred to the international criminal court and for compensation to be paid to homeowners. It also called for the international community to implement arms embargos that limit the supply of weapons and ammunition to the Syrian government.


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