02/18/2014 06:06 PM
Child Porn Investigation: Merkel Cabinet Rife with Suspicion and Mistrust
By Charles Hawley
It is a disastrous start for Angela Merkel's new government: After details of a child pornography investigation were leaked, a cabinet member was forced to resign. Now, the chancellor's new cabinet is consumed by backbiting and mistrust.
It was a difficult start to Chancellor Angela Merkel's third term. Coalition negotiations with the Social Democrats (SPD) following last fall's election proved challenging, with several weeks going by before Merkel's conservatives were finally able to come to terms with their center-left partners. And then the chancellor cracked her pelvis on a ski trip over New Year's.
Still, as 2014 began, the chancellor -- and the country at large -- was optimistic that the business of actually running the country could finally take center stage. Reimagining German foreign policy, introducing dual citizenship, fixing the problems with the country's turn toward renewable energies: There is plenty to do.
Now, though, the back burner is suddenly full. Over the weekend, Merkel was forced into an unwanted cabinet shuffle and her government is quickly sinking into a morass of mistrust, suspicion and backbiting. An investigation into recently resigned SPD parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy on suspicions that he possesses child pornography has reached the highest levels in Berlin -- and it is driving a wedge between Merkel's coalition partners.
On Tuesday evening, leaders from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union (the Bavarian sister party to the CDU) and the SPD are to gather in Berlin in an effort to pick up the pieces. It won't be easy. Prosecutors in Berlin announced on Tuesday that they were opening a preliminary investigation into the minister who resigned, Hans-Peter Friedrich of the CSU, for revealing confidential information regarding the Edathy investigation while he was interior minister last year. The man who made his indiscretion public, Thomas Oppermann, is the SPD's floor leader in parliament. Accusations of duplicity are flying.
The trigger for the meltdown, Edathy, 44, was seen as one of the SPD's rising stars. The son of an Indian father and a German mother, Edathy was a renowned workhorse, often turning down social engagements so that he could put in a few more hours in the office. He made a name for himself recently with his competent chairmanship of the parliamentary inquiry into the NSU neo-Nazi terror cell. Indeed, this fall he was expecting to land a state secretary position or even a cabinet posting.
More Explicit Material?
The call never came. Several years ago, in the course of a child-pornography investigation, Romanian police came across the name of Azov Films, a company based in Toronto that had apparently been purchasing videos from a supplier in Romania. In 2011, Canadian authorities raided the company and the ensuing investigation, known as Operation Spade, ultimately turned up 45 terabytes of data including information on Azov Films customer base. Among the names of those who had ordered from the company was one Sebastian Edathy from Germany.
German authorities at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) were informed late last summer, including detailed information regarding what Edathy had apparently ordered from the company. The SPD politician is alleged to have bought a total of 31 photo sets and videos. The products allegedly show mostly naked boys aged nine to 14, but no sexual activities. The BKA initially determined that the material was not prosecutable.
Still, investigators know from experience that consumers of the kind of films purchased by Edathy often have more explicit material in their possession. As such, his file was forwarded on to the public prosecutors' office in his home city of Hannover.
The timing, from Merkel's perspective, could not have been worse. Just as Edathy's file was making its way to Hannover, she was in the early stages of coalition negotiations with the SPD. It was a concern for Friedrich as well. In Merkel's last government, he was the interior minister and had been informed by the BKA after last September's general election of the Edathy investigation. He realized that if word of the investigation were to get out, the SPD would suspect Merkel's conservatives of planting the story to gain a leg up in the talks. To preclude such questions, he took aside SPD head Sigmar Gabriel during an early round of talks on Oct. 4 and told him that his party's rising star could be in trouble.
The move was not good for Edathy's career. It was the reason that the SPD leadership never turned to him with a senior position in the new government. As it turns out, though, the step proved just as damaging to Friedrich's own career. Passing along details of an ongoing investigation is a no-no. And on Friday, he was forced out of Merkel's new cabinet as a result, paving the way for Christian Schmidt, also of the CSU, to take over the agricultural portfolio.
Friedrich's slip-up came to light last week in a statement released by Oppermann, in which the SPD floor leader wrote that Gabriel informed him and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister in Merkel's new government, of the problems facing Edathy. Though Oppermann has since claimed that he cleared the statement with Friedrich before releasing it, Friedrich has denied elements of the statement. He has, however, confirmed that he informed Gabriel. On Tuesday morning, he told German public broadcaster ZDF that "it was my duty to do so. I can't understand how anyone could see it differently."
It is difficult to overstate the degree to which the incident has weakened Merkel's coalition. Many conservatives believe that Oppermann knew that his statement could cost Friedrich his job. The SPD floor leader also called the BKA to confirm the investigation into Edathy, thus giving the impression that he was meddling with the judiciary and opening him up to accusations that he sacrificed Friedrich so as to deflect attention from himself. Trust between the two coalition partners, in short, has evaporated completely.
Meanwhile, the SPD has a problem all of its own. The party has distanced itself from Edathy, even taking initial steps to throw him out of the party. "Irrespective," Gabriel emphasized in a statement on Tuesday, of whether the material in Edathy's possession was illegal under Germany's child pornography laws, the party is "horrified and stunned by these actions and by the behavior of Sebastian Edathy."
A Stolen Laptop
And yet, many suspect that Edathy knew that investigators were on his heels well before they finally raided his home and office on Feb. 10. SPIEGEL this week reported that Edathy's lawyer had been calling around in the weeks prior to the raid in an effort to determine the status of the investigation. On Monday, Lower Saxony's former interior minister, Heiner Bartling, said in an interview that Edathy himself had told him that an informant had tipped him off. Who the informant was remains a central question in the ongoing affair. Nobody has yet explicitly blamed anyone within the SPD for being the leak, but the fact that it can't be ruled out is not helping matters.
Edathy himself denied having knowledge of the investigation in an interview with SPIEGEL. But when investigators arrived in his apartment, they found plastic splinters that experts believe to be the remains of a destroyed hard drive. Edathy says the remains come from a hard drive he destroyed containing confidential documents relating to the NSU investigation. Yet authorities also found confidential papers in his possession, leading them to doubt his claim. They also believe that Edathy destroyed the hard drive shortly before their arrival.
In addition, Edathy last week registered his work computer, issued to him by German parliament, as having been stolen.
Still, despite the standstill to which the Edathy affair has brought Merkel's government, there are at least some politicians this week who are focused on legislation. Several have demanded that the sale of images of naked children -- of the type Edathy is thought to have purchased -- be banned. "The Edathy case clearly shows that there is a legal loophole," Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, the German government's commissioner for child abuse issues, told the daily Die Welt this week. It is, he added, a loophole that needed to be closed. "When images of children are created to satisfy the sexual interests of adults, this must be made punishable by law."
02/18/2014 05:33 PM
'Significant Escalation': Tensions Flare in German-Israeli Relations
By Ralf Neukirch
German-Israeli relations are at a nadir as German Chancellor Merkel begins her third term. When leaders of the countries meet next week, deals on smaller issues may be possible, but divisions over Israeli settlements will persist.
Most public speeches given about relations between Berlin and Jerusalem emphasize the special relationship between the two countries and the fact that the historic obligation stemming from the crimes of the Nazis is part of Germany's raison d'état. When conversations between German and Israeli politicians take place behind closed doors, however, the niceties can fall away quickly. At least that was German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's experience during his visit to Israel in January.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman -- with whom Steinmeier already had a tepid relationship -- read out a laundry list of complaints to his colleague from Berlin. It even included lesser issues, like research and scientific cooperation, an area in which Israel claims Germany is imposing unacceptable conditions. Lieberman said Berlin often hides behind European Union positions rather than presenting its own views. But then he got straight to the point. He doesn't feel the Germans are behaving as one would expect from a close partner.
Recent years have seen several instances of tension between Germany and Israel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have even shouted at each other on the telephone while discussing Israeli policies toward Palestinians. But relations between the two countries have never been as difficult during Merkel's three terms in office as they are now -- on the eve of German-Israeli government consultations scheduled for next Monday in Israel.
Incapable and Unwilling
Officials in Berlin view the Netanyahu government as being both incapable and unwilling when it comes to pushing forward in the peace process with the Palestinians. At the same time, the Israelis feel abandoned by the Germans. The conflict has deteriorated to the point that some are questioning the special relationship status between the two countries. According to Israeli government sources, "special relationship" means that, when in doubt, Germany must side with Israel. That, though, is far from reality at the moment.
The appearance by Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament, before the Knesset last Wednesday seemed to provide the perfect example of what is driving Israeli displeasure with Germany. Schulz criticized the unequal distribution of drinking water between Israelis and Palestinians, asking "How it can be that an Israeli is allowed to use 70 liters of water per day, but a Palestinian only 17?" But he also had to admit that he hadn't checked the figures he cited. Several members of parliament left the plenary hall in protest. Schulz's speech came across in Israel as typical German know-it-all arrogance.
The Israelis are still deeply unhappy with Germany's abstention in a vote before the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012 to grant the Palestinians the status of a "non-member observer state." Leaders in Jerusalem had believed Germany would vote against it. Berlin's vote was particularly important because Israel had long seen Germany as a guarantee that the EU would not be unanimously opposed to Israeli interests.
An Absence of Trust
That no longer appears to be certain. Lieberman reportedly told Steinmeier that Israel wants assurance that Germany will resist the next time the Palestinians submit a membership application to an international body.
Given the absence of trust, small disputes are turning into bigger ones. For example, the EU and Israel recently agreed that European money for research subsidies cannot flow into the occupied areas. The German government now wants that language to be included in two bilateral agreements. The deals relate to research cooperation and the promotion of high-tech firms.
But the Israeli side doesn't want to accept this. Israeli daily Haaretz recently wrote that the decision represents a "significant escalation in European measures against the settlements."
Merkel, of course, is anxious to defuse the tensions. To demonstrate how important relations are, she has called on all of her ministers to travel to Israel next week. She's never taken such a step ahead of government consultations with Israel in the past.
Other initiatives include plans by Labor Minister Andrea Nahles of the SPD to prepare a draft law that would finally ensure that thousands of Jews who worked as slave laborers in ghettos are provided with the entirety of the pensions they are entitled to in time for the meetings. Invoking a provision in the German social law, the federal pension fund has so far only disbursed part of the money.
A compromise also appears to be taking shape in the dispute over research cooperation. Among other things that Germans would like to see in the bilateral treaty is a list of universities that would receive money. In exchange, the clause stipulating that Israeli institutions located in the occupied areas cannot receive funds could be changed. The result would be a compromise that would protect the German government's legal position. And it would not require the Israelis to sign a clause that they feel is overbearing.
Still, Merkel has not indicated any willingness to bend on what is proving to be the biggest sticking point. The chancellor and Foreign Minister Steinmeier both believe that Israeli's settlement policy represents a decisive barrier to the peace process. It's also something they don't shy away from saying in public, much to the Israeli's chagrin. "It is precisely because we are committed to the future of Israel as a Jewish state that we will remain so firm on this point," a source in Merkel's Chancellery stated.
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
British court quashes legal challenge by Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 7:07 EST
Britain’s High Court has quashed a legal challenge against the detention under anti-terrorism laws of the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who brought leaks from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to world attention.
David Miranda had appealed against his detention and nine-hour questioning under anti-terrorism legislation last August when he landed at London’s Heathrow Airport en route from Berlin to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
British authorities seized items from Miranda which they said included electronic media containing 58,000 documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, Snowden’s former employer, and from its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
The High Court ruled on Wednesday that the detention of the partner of the ex-Guardian newspaper reporter was lawful.
“In my judgment the Schedule 7 (of the Terrorism Act) stop was a proportionate measure in the circumstances,” said Judge John Laws.
“Its objective was not only legitimate, but very pressing.”
The ruling also criticized Greenwald’s evidence that journalists share with government the responsibility to decide what should not be published to protect national security.
“Journalists have no such constitutional responsibility,” the ruling said.
“The journalist will have his own take or focus on what serves the public interest, for which he is not answerable to the public through Parliament.”
Miranda’s lawyers said they had applied for permission to appeal against the decision and that journalists were now finding alternative ways to protect material when travelling through Britain.
“We look forward to the Court of Appeal considering the fundamentally important legal issues raised in our appeal in due course,” said Gwendolen Morgan.
“Whilst the courts consider our appeal, we understand that journalists are making alternative travel plans to safeguard their material, sources and confidential working systems when they have to travel via the UK.”
(Reporting By Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIAPussy Riot members perform new song after detention by Sochi police
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina among those held for several hours before being released without charge
Shaun Walker in Sochi
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 February 2014 19.37 GMT
Link to video: Pussy Riot arrest in Sochi described by Russian photographer
It was perhaps the most eagerly attended press conference of the Winter Olympics so far, and there was not a single Norwegian curler or Jamaican bobsleigh competitor in sight.
Emerging out on to the steps of a police station a few miles from the gleaming venues in the coastal cluster of the Sochi Games, the five women pulled on brightly coloured balaclavas and began singing their new song, Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland, as they were enveloped by a media crush. Among them were Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, released from prison in December after serving the majority of a two-year sentence for their lyrical protest in a Moscow cathedral.
The members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have an uncanny knack of exciting the world's media, and in Sochi they were given a helping hand by the authorities. The women had been keeping a low profile since arriving in the Olympic city on Sunday, apparently to film clips for a new protest song. But when they were arrested on Tuesday, they live-tweeted their ordeal, leading to a media scrum outside the police station.
The arrest charges were based on claims that a woman's handbag had been stolen from the hotel where the group was staying, and led to its members being bundled into a police van. The charges were dropped, and the women freed. It was unclear what purpose the arrest had served except to bring attention to the fact that Pussy Riot were in town.
Their lawyer, Alexander Popkov, sighed as he watched the scrum of journalists barrel down the hill in pursuit of his clients, with frustrated motorists beeping their horns as they tried to pass the crowd.
"Our authorities have this amazing ability to organise a scandal," he said. "If they hadn't arrested them, there would have been none of this crazy media attention."
"At the moment this city is under occupation, under police control," said Tolokonnikova, wearing a bright blue balaclava. She said she and other members of Pussy Riot had been constantly tailed since arriving in Sochi on Sunday.
"We are always followed by a crowd of people – not journalists, but people who are following us and track our every move, and look for any excuse to detain us."
The 24-year-old said she believed they were detained to prevent them from carrying out a political protest. Special laws have been introduced in Sochi during the Olympics that make a one-person picket, allowed under the Russian constitution, illegal without permission.
"We were simply walking around Sochi when they grabbed us," said Tolokonnikova by phone from the police station during her detention. She later said she had been roughly treated while detained, including being dragged along the floor face down.
It was unclear whether the three other women arrested were original or new members of Pussy Riot. This month some of the original members released a statement – using pseudonyms – criticising the media activity of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina since their release. The statement said the pair were no longer members of the group. But Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina claim they still represent Pussy Riot, which has always been more of an underground collective than a band.
The pair – who were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for their protest performance in Moscow's main cathedral – were freed from prison at the end of last year under a wide-ranging amnesty approved by Vladimir Putin that was seen as an attempt to boost Russia's image ahead of the Olympics.
For the first week of the Games in the Black Sea resort, protests were muted and the focus was on the sport, but Pussy Riot have said they want to bring attention to the "huge corruption" around the Olympics.
"We love Olympic Sochi," said one of the women in balaclavas. "We have met a lot of people, and almost all of them have been in uniform."
Four others have been detained in past two days, including David Khakim, who was sentenced to 30 hours community service on Monday by a Sochi court for holding a one-man protest in support of Evgeny Vitishko, a jailed environmentalist. Vitishko was sentenced to three years for vandalising a fence, in a case that activists say is linked to his criticism of environmental violations during Olympic construction.
After giving interviews and several renditions of their new song, the women wriggled free from the media scrum and broke into a sprint through the backstreets near the courthouse. They eventually reached the main road and jumped into a pair of waiting taxis.
Before they sped off, Tolokonnikova shouted at her husband from the window: "Petya! We forgot the guitar in the police station! Go and get it!"
With that, they were off, having executed another set-piece designed to attract maximum attention and cause maximum irritation for the authorities.
**************Panty riot: Eurasian women draw a visible line against lingerie law
Outcry in Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus as Putin-led trade bloc moves to ban lacy underwear
• Jon Henley: Pig Putin’s Eurasian vision stripped to its knickers: http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/feb/18/brief-primer-vladimir-putin-eurasian-union-trade
Associated Press in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 01.33 GMT
A trade ban on lacy lingerie has Russian consumers and their neighbours with their knickers in a twist.
The ban will outlaw any underwear containing less than 6% cotton from being imported, made, or sold in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. And it has struck a chord in societies where La Perla and Victoria’s Secret are panty paradises compared to Soviet-era cotton underwear, which was often about as flattering and shapely as drapery.
On Sunday 30 women protesters in Kazakhstan were arrested and thrown into police vans while wearing lace underwear on their heads and shouting “Freedom to panties!”
The ban in those three countries was first outlined in 2010 by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which regulates the European Customs Union – a free-trade zone promoted by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who hopes it will eventually rival the EU.
The panty restrictions will not go into effect until 1 July. But a consumer outcry against it already is reaching a fever pitch.
Photographs comparing sexy modern underwear with outdated Soviet goods began spreading on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday as women and men alike railed against the prospective changes.
“As a rule, lacy underwear … is literally snatched off the shelves,” said Alisa Sapardiyeva, the manager of a lingerie store in Moscow, DD-Shop. “If you take that away again the buyer is going to be the one who suffers the most.”
According to the Russian Textile Businesses Union more than US$4bn worth of underwear is sold in Russia annually and 80% of the goods sold are foreign-made. Analysts have estimated that 90% of products would disappear from shelves if the ban goes into effect this summer as planned.
The Eurasian Economic Commission declined to comment on Monday, saying it was preparing to issue a statement about the underwear ban.
While consumer outrage may force customs union officials to compromise, many see the underwear ban as yet another example of the misguided economic policies that have become a trademark of many post-Soviet countries.
Sunday’s panty protest in Kazakhstan followed a larger demonstration the day before against a 19% devaluation of the country’s currency, the tenge.
Other people laughed off the panty ban, seeing it as yet another attempt to add regulations and controls to an already byzantine bureaucracy in the three countries. “I think [the girls] ... will still have the opportunity to wear it [synthetic underwear] whether you can buy it in Russia or not,” said 22-year-old Muscovite Trifon Gadzhikasimov, noting that most of his friends travelled abroad regularly. “I think this is just another silly law that shows the ineffectiveness of our government.”
Zarif Says Iran 'Greatly Concerned' by U.S. Sanctions Talk
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 February 2014, 23:06
Talk of new U.S. sanctions in recent months has created "a great deal of concern" in Iran on whether Washington is serious about a nuclear deal, Iran's foreign minister said Tuesday.
"Unfortunately what we have seen in the last two months has not encouraged us to believe that everything is in order," said Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking from Vienna on the first day of nuclear talks.
"I can understand the politics... in the United States... but from the general perspective of the Iranian populace what has happened in the last two months has been less than encouraging," he said.
Certain statements "have created a great deal of concern in Iran on whether the U.S. is serious about wanting to reach an agreement."
He added: "But nevertheless, these statements aside, it is really possible to make an agreement because of a single overriding fact, and that is that we have no other option.
"If we want to resolve this issue the only way is through negotiations," he said, speaking from Vienna in a webcast discussion organized by Denver University's Center for Middle East Studies.
U.S. President Barack Obama has had to fight hard to stop skeptical members of Congress, including some from his own party, from passing additional sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Such a move would contravene the terms of an interim nuclear deal struck in November by Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany under which Tehran scaled back its nuclear activities for six months.
Talks began in Vienna on Tuesday between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany on translating this deal into a lasting accord.
Zarif said that the talks "started on the right track" on Tuesday, saying he hoped to reach a deal before the six-month deadline -- which can be extended -- on July 20.
"We have a shared objective, and that is for Iran to have a nuclear program that is exclusively peaceful," he said.
He said a deal was "totally achievable" but would take more than "one or two sittings."
"I hope by July we can finalize this deal and move it in the right direction of implementing it," Zarif said, adding that getting an accord will take "some innovation and some forward thinking."
The talks in Vienna were due to resume on Wednesday.
Report Undermines U.S. Iran Sanctions Push
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 February 2014, 18:51
A new non-partisan report by top foreign policy experts largely backs White House warnings that imposing new sanctions on Iran could seriously complicate, if not derail, hopes of a final nuclear deal with Tehran.
The study by the Iran Project assesses claims by critics of the sanctions push in Congress that it would fracture the international coalition pursuing talks -- which resumed in Austria on Tuesday -- and a sanctions regime already squeezing Iran's economy.
But it also argues that the Obama administration has been a little too adamant that the bill, if passed, would inevitably lead to war with the Islamic Republic.
The White House, has for now, succeeded in thwarting a bid by a bi-partisan group of hawkish senators to pass new sanctions on Iran which they say will increase U.S. leverage in nuclear talks.
Supporters of the legislation, including the Democratic leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez, say that any new sanctions would only come into force in a "trigger" mechanism in six months if talks on a permanent nuclear deal fail.
But the Iran Group report casts doubt on that claim, an important point because Washington promised not to impose new sanctions in an interim deal with Iran reached late last year.
"After carefully reading the bill line by line and consulting with both current and retired Senate staff of the relevant committees, it appears that the critics are correct: the change in sanctions law takes effect upon passage," the report said.
The report questions the claim by pro-sanctions supporters that since economic pain brought Iran to the table, more punishment will get it to capitulate in negotiations.
"Medicine administered at a certain dosage can improve the health of a patient, but if that patient turns around and doubles it, they might poison themselves."
The report also supports the contention that imposing new sanctions in Washington could undermine President Hassan Rouhani among ultra hard liners in Tehran.
It gives some credence to the idea that U.S. allies would see the imposition of new sanctions by Congress as a failure by Washington to live up to its promises.
But the administration got little support for its claims that the sanctions bill could put the United States on a "march to war" with Iran, by killing off chances of a diplomatic solution.
"It would seem that both sides are too confident in their claims that a new sanctions bill will lead directly to war or that the Iranians will never walk away," the report said.
Still, it concluded that the new sanctions bill could increase the probability of war with Iran even if it did not guarantee such an outcome.
The report was written by Jim Walsh, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and included contributions from foreign policy experts including career diplomat Thomas Pickering, former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, and Jessica Tuchman Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Taliban Says Ready for Ceasefire if Pakistan Stops Killings
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 14:44
Taliban insurgents offered Wednesday to observe a ceasefire to allow the resumption of stalled peace talks, provided Pakistani security forces stop killing and arresting them.
Government mediators suspended negotiations on Monday just weeks after they were announced following weekend claims by a Taliban faction that it killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
The mediators set a ceasefire as a precondition for another round of talks. A total of 70 people have been killed since the reconciliation effort was launched on January 29.
"We are ready for the ceasefire if the government assures us that bodies of our colleagues will not be found in gunny bags and they will not be killed in encounters and arrested in raids," Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told Agence France Presse.
"The government has killed more than 60 Taliban since the start of the peace talks, in Karachi and the rest of Pakistan, under a secret operation codenamed Operation Root Out," Shahid said.
"The killings of soldiers in Mohmand were in response to the onslaught on Taliban members by security forces during the talks between government and Taliban committees," he added.
A faction of the insurgent group in Mohmand near the Afghan border announced on Sunday they had executed 23 soldiers who were kidnapped in June 2010.
The Taliban's demands include the nationwide imposition of sharia law, an end to U.S. drone strikes and the withdrawal of the army from northwestern tribal regions -- conditions unlikely to be met.
Pakistani troops have for years been battling homegrown insurgents in the tribal belt, which Washington considers the main hub of Taliban and al-Qaida militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.
Lower House in India Passes Bill to Create a 29th State
By ELLEN BARRY
FEB. 18, 2014
NEW DELHI — Few questions in Indian politics have generated as much raw emotion, pro and con, as the proposed creation of Telangana, a 29th state, out of an inland slice of south India largely covered with cornfields and rice paddies.
Passion over the issue has driven some young people to suicide, inspired hunger strikes and, just last week, prompted a member of India’s Parliament opposed to Telangana to unload pepper spray on fellow lawmakers.
After more than 40 years of dispute, a bill on Telangana finally reached the lower house on Tuesday afternoon and was passed unanimously. Critics said the burst of progress was driven by major political parties, hoping to consolidate regional support before general elections in May.
More than a dozen lawmakers, all opposed to the new state, were excluded from the vote for disciplinary reasons after the pepper spray incident.
The vote set off delirious celebrations and protests. Jayaprakash Narayan, a legislator from Andhra Pradesh State, which would be divided to create Telangana, said the process had created deep divisions that would take years to heal.
“I am sure that in the years to come in political science faculties, people will study how terribly this was bungled,” Mr. Narayan said in a telephone interview from Hyderabad. “You cannot create, in a large, federalist country with primordial loyalties, a group of winners and a much larger group of losers.”
When India gained independence in 1947, giant states were created along linguistic lines. As the country’s population ballooned, so did identity-based movements based on religion, caste, region and ethnicity. Three new states were created in 2000, bringing the total to 28 states and seven territories, and the governing party, Indian National Congress, promised to create a commission to review existing borders, though it never materialized.
The Telangana initiative made it clear how divisive such movements are. While residents of the inland part of Andhra Pradesh desperately want statehood, the state’s remaining population opposes it with equal passion. One reason is that both groups want the revenue from the state’s booming capital city, Hyderabad, a major technology hub and host to multinationals like Dell and Motorola.
If the bill is passed by the upper house, Hyderabad will remain the capital of both states for 10 years.
Congress will most likely benefit from the gratitude of politicians who favored the new state, and critics described the bill’s sudden passage as a cynical bid for votes. But that was of little concern for supporters, who danced in the streets of Hyderabad, surrounded by the pink banners of the main pro-statehood party.
Bulli Konda Ramulu, 45, had stripped down to a loincloth, slogans in pink scrawled across his body.
“Our first step to a golden future has been taken,” he shouted, trying to make himself heard above beating drums. He heaped praise on K. Chandrasekhar Rao, a politician made famous by his 16-day hunger strike in favor of Telangana. “K.C.R. is our god, Sonia Gandhi is our goddess,” he said, referring to the president of Congress. “I worship them.”
Manmohan Reddy, 24, said the real celebrations would begin on Wednesday, when Congress’s leaders returned to their home districts. “Today, we are just happy roaming on the road, shouting slogans,” he said. “We are happy. We are free. At last.”
Amid the happy crowds were people from Seemandhra, the coastal region where most have opposed the new state’s creation. As they made their way home from work, some looked shellshocked. “In less than 25 minutes, Parliament, without a debate, passed a law to divide our state,” Rama Rao, 36, said. “We have fears. We are shocked.”
Moments before the vote, as the authorities braced for unrest, the live television feed from Parliament went dead, further fueling complaints that the process had not been transparent or democratic. Officials said the blackout had been caused by technical problems.
Leaders from Seemandhra declared a statewide strike beginning Wednesday morning, and pointed to the television blackout as evidence that the vote had been deeply flawed.
“Today, democracy has come to a standstill,” said Dinesh Trivedi, a member of Parliament who opposed the creation of a new state. “The spirit of democracy has been killed.”
Correction: February 18, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the Indian city in which joyous supporters of the Telangana bill were interviewed. It is Hyderabad, not New Delhi.
All seven convicted of Rajiv Gandhi assassination to be freed
State of Tamil Nadu had been expected to release three whose death sentences were lifted but government goes further
Anu Anand in Delhi
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 07.11 GMT
All seven people jailed for killing the Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi are to be released, according to reports.
The decision was announced on Wednesday morning, a day after India’s supreme court lifted death sentences from three men convicted in the assassination of Gandhi in 1991. The court commuted the sentences to life and said the government could not indefinitely keep people on death row – it has been 16 years since they were sentenced and three years since they filed mercy petitions.
In its judgment the Indian supreme court said the government of Tamil Nadu state where the attack occurred could decide whether or not to release the three men.
On Wednesday, the state’s chief minister, J Jayalalitha, reportedly decided at an emergency cabinet meeting in Chennai to release all seven of those convicted of Gandhi’s assassination, four of whom were serving life sentences.
The decision had been expected, but not so swiftly, and the central government, led by Gandhi’s own Congress party – his widow Sonia Gandhi is the party’s president – now has the opportunity to respond.
Rajiv’s daughter, Priyanka, famously visited some of his killers in prison and Sonia herself has argued against putting her husband’s killers to death.
“The supreme court has rendered the verdict, which should be respected,” Kapil Sibal, a Congress party minister, told India’s CNN-IBN news channel.
The case is sure to revive a debate on India’s death penalty and whether or not it is being applied consistently. In November 2012, a Kashmiri terror suspect, Afzal Guru, who maintained his innocence, was put to death by the government, sparking massive protests in his home state.
Thailand unrest: court prohibits use of force against protesters
Two government orders deemed unconstitutional as violent protests continue against PM Yinluck Shinawatra
Kate Hodal in Bangkok and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 12.50 GMT
A Thai court has ordered the government not to use force against anti-government protesters after clashes between riot police and demonstrators left five dead and nearly 70 wounded.
The Civil Court of Thailand ruled that some orders issued by the prime minister and a special security command centre under an emergency decree were illegal because they would violate the protesters' constitutional rights.
The prohibited orders included bans on gatherings of five or more people and the use of certain roads by the demonstrators. The court also prohibited the government from using force to crack down on the protesters.
But the court also rejected a demand by the opposition that it revoke the state of emergency, saying it was within the executive branch's power to enforce such a law.
The ruling by the civil court could complicate Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's handling of more than three months of mass opposition protests, although her government had already pledged to avoid using violence against the demonstrators.
On Wednesday protesters besieged the Thai prime minister's temporary offices in Bangkok's northern suburbs and vowed to hunt her down until she resigns.
"Wherever she is, wherever she sleeps, we will go after her," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said of the embattled Yingluck. "[We] must intensify our fight and we will attack Shinawatra businesses and their funding sources."
Protesters have been calling for Yingluck's resignation since November under the banner of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which aims to install an unelected "people's council" to institute political reform, citing government corruption.
The PDRC has been leading a Bangkok "shutdown" for the past month during which demonstrators have occupied government ministries, public parks and major intersections, cut off power to ruling MPs' homes and and cemented shut the gates to Yingluck's Government House.
Yingluck – whose Puea Thai party won a landslide election in 2011 – has consequently been ruling Thailand from temporary offices and had hoped this week to be able to return to her normal office in Dusit. But after Tuesday's violence, in which four protesters and one police officer were killed in a gun and grenade attack after police attempted to remove demonstrators from protest sites, both she and her cabinet ministers stayed away from all offices.
Pro-government redshirts offered on Wednesday to provide offices and security personnel to the embattled government should it wish to move up to Chiang Mai, Yingluck's hometown and a major base of voter support.
"If the government is unable to work in Bangkok, Chiang Mai is ready to serve as the new headquarters," redshirt leader Petchawat Wattanapongsirikul told English-language daily paper The Nation.
Until Tuesday, the Thai government had exercised considerable restraint against the protesters, in an attempt to diminish the possibility of a military coup.
But the army, which supports the monarchy and the old-school Bangkok establishment, has said that it will intervene only if the police are unable to maintain order and told Reuters that it would only act upon government request.
"Our strategy has not changed and is still to provide support to police," said Colonel Werachon Sukonhapatipak.
"We have no intention of deploying extra troops. If the government needs extra help with security, it has to ask us and so far it has not asked for reinforcements."
More than 180 demonstrators have been arrested, 15 people killed and several hundred injured, since protests began in November. Police said on Wednesday they did not plan to retake any protest sites in the near future.
China rejects UN report on North Korea's crimes against humanity
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson decries the 'politicising' of human rights issues
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 18 February 2014 15.27 GMT
China has rejected a UN report accusing North Korea of crimes against humanity, brushing it off as "unreasonable criticism".
The scathing 400-page document, which was released on Monday by the UN's Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, is an unprecedented indictment of the isolated country's leaders, highlighting widespread rape, torture, forced abortions and other atrocities in its network of forced labour camps. It recommended that North Korean officials – possibly including its 31-year-old leader Kim Jong-un – be tried before the international criminal court.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying rejected the report's findings at a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
"Of course we cannot accept this unreasonable criticism," she said, according to Reuters. "We believe that politicising human rights issues is not conducive towards improving a country's human rights. We believe that taking human rights issues to the international criminal court is not helpful to improving a country's human rights situation."
When asked about China's policy of sending North Korean defectors back to their home country, where they're routinely judged political criminals and sent to camps, she said: "These people are not refugees. We term them illegal North Korean migrants," adding that China deals with them "in accordance with international and domestic laws and the humanitarian principles".
Hua refused to respond to other questions, such as whether China would veto further action on the report if it were brought to the UN security council, and why China barred UN investigators from the north-eastern border area where many North Koreans cross into the country illegally.
China is North Korea's greatest international benefactor, and it has an entrenched interest in keeping Pyongyong politically stable. Rapid change could send an unsustainable influx of refugees pouring across the border and edge a US-friendly unified Korea uncomfortably close to Beijing.
China is increasingly willing to adhere to international norms in pressuring North Korea to denuclearise. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said during a state visit on Friday that top leaders "could not have more forcefully reiterated [their] commitment to that goal". But Chinese officials have long been touchy about foreign powers highlighting their own abuses, and fear setting a double standard.
The UN report "is a very strong indictment of North Korea, but China is clearly right there in the mix, and that's the reason why they were reluctant to co-operate," said Scott Snyder, a North Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And so the main purpose of the report, beyond making the case for a continued international response to North Korea through the international criminal court, is to move China."
China's media coverage of the report underscores its unwillingness to change the status quo. Mainstream news websites re-posted an article by the state-run newspaper Global Times suggesting a high-level order to refrain from independent reporting. It reviewed the UN's conclusions while neglecting to cover the grim details that gave the report its weight, including detailed firsthand accounts of starvation and torture.
Korean reunions resume after Pyongyang accord
Agreement between North and South allows group of elderly South Koreans to cross border to meet long-lost siblings and relatives
Agence France-Presse in Sokcho
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 10.31 GMT
A group of 82 elderly South Koreans gathered at a coastal resort before crossing into North Korea for the first reunion in more than three years for the peninsula's divided families.
With an average age of 84, they were accompanied by 58 family members for physical and emotional support as they prepared to meet relatives last seen decades before.
One 91-year-old made the 90-mile journey from his home north of Seoul by ambulance; 14 others were in wheelchairs. All were to spend the night in the Hanwha resort in the eastern port of Sokcho before heading to the heavily fortified border and then on to another resort on North Korea's Mount Kumgang.
Their highly emotional journey is the result of a hard-won agreement between both North and South Korea to resume reunions of family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean war.
The programme had been suspended since 2010 when the North shelled a South Korean border island.
Pyongyang cancelled a reunion planned for last September, so families had been wary when the two sides agreed to hold an event from 20-25 February at Mount Kumgang.
The accord almost fell apart when the North took exception to overlapping joint military drills by South Korea and the US, and was only saved by rare high-level talks last week.
The frailty of the participants was underlined on Wednesday when one man, 83-year-old Lee Kun-Su, was forced to pull out at the last minute because of health issues.
Lee Ok-ran, 84, said she had barely been able to sleep at the prospect of seeing the two sisters she left behind in the North's western province of Hwanghae. South Korean TV showed her at home packing bundles of gifts, ranging from underwear and analgesic patches to Choco Pies – a South Korean chocolate and marshmallow biscuit snack.
"I've heard Choco Pies are popular and expensive in the North," Lee said. "Ok-Bin, Ok-Hi, I'm waiting to hug you hard and dance together," she said looking into the camera and calling her sisters' names.
Kim Se-rin, 85, worried whether he would be able to recognise his sister when he finally meets her. "She's 81 now, I wonder what she looks like," he said, as he packed his belongings in the family car in Seoul for the drive to Sokcho.
"I have waited 64 years for this," said Kim, who left his home in North Korea after the outbreak of war in 1950 to join the South Korean army. "This is it. My last chance," he told AFP.
Millions of Koreans were separated by the war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives. Last year, about 3,800 South Korean applicants for reunions died without ever realising their dreams of seeing their relatives.
Because the Korean conflict concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war and direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are prohibited.
About 71,000 South Koreans are wait-listed for a chance to take part in one of the reunion events, which select only a few hundred participants at a time.
The reunion programme began in earnest in 2000 following a historic inter-Korean summit. Sporadic events since then have led around 17,000 relatives to be briefly reunited.
On arrival in Sokcho, the chosen South Koreans were given an orientation course by South Korean officials, who briefed them on what to expect in the North. Their reunion with 180 North Korean relatives will last until Saturday, after which the group will return home.
A selected group of 88 North Koreans will travel to Mount Kumgang to meet 361 of their relatives from the South from Sunday to Tuesday. For the vast majority it will be the last contact they ever have with each other.
Last year, about 3,800 South Korean applicants for reunions died without ever realising their dreams of seeing their relatives.
Mining tax: it's time for all Australians to realise they are being ripped off
The mining boom has resulted in a huge extraction of wealth. Norway has been turning its resource bounty into a fund for future generations, while Australia is dangerously careless with it
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 00.57 GMT
Australians are routinely being told that hefty mining taxes would hinder the country’s largest exports of coal and iron ore. This concern about the competitiveness of the industry has been the basis of the Abbott government’s drive to abolish the mining tax. However, it is hard to reconcile this view (key player Gina Rinehart, for example, claimed that Australia was “too expensive to do export orientated business”) with news this week that mining giant BHP Billiton recently increased its profits by 83% to US$8.1bn.
Within the last year alone, there has been a 20% increase in BHP Billiton’s Western Australian iron ore exports. In spite of this enormous growth, the company only paid US$29m in minerals resource rent tax (MRRT). As it stands, the tax is in no way making BHP uncompetitive – its bumper profits are a testament to that.
While mining companies such as BHP Billiton are making a motza, we need to be reminded that 83% of Australian mining operations are foreign owned. The net income balance – the difference between the profits of Australian investing overseas, and profits made by foreign companies in Australia – has suffered as a result of mining companies extracting greater amounts of Australian mineral wealth for foreign owners.
From 2003 to 2011, the net income balance reduced from minus 2% to - 6% of Australian GDP. In other words, Australia is being held at gun point by day light robbers.
Unlike Australia, Norway has kept their resource extraction wealth in their control without it fattening up a capitalist exploiting of finite mineral resources. Norway has a 78% tax on oil and gas revenues – unlike Australia, where the effective tax rate is a mere 13%. $60bn from gas sales to continental Europe is annually deposited in the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund. The fund has 5.11 trillion Krone (AU$930bn), or twice Norway’s GDP.
Pal Haugerud, director general of the asset management in the department of the Norwegian ministry of finance, has explained Norway’s policy:
It is a fund for future generations, both current and future. And that’s a responsibility for us to make sure that not only this generation, but also future generations get their fair share of the wealth because it is a one off. It is a transformation of wealth. We used to have wealth beyond the North Sea and now we are transferring that into financial assets.
If the Norwegian experience has demonstrated anything it is that resources cannot move, unlike factory operations which can move to a jurisdiction with the lowest regulation, wage or taxation level. If taxed heavily, corporations have no option but to pay a fair price for those resources. If a company threatens to cease operation, government should offer to nationalise the operation at a fair price, so a public company similar to Statoil can extract the profits and deposit them in a sovereign wealth fund, reduce taxation or improve infrastructure and social spending. Norway’s example demonstrates that, after 20 years, private companies will remain and continue to make a profit – with margins reduced.
But while Norway has been prudent with its resource bounty of $185,000 for every citizen, Australia has not.
Fairfax economics editor Ross Gittins notes that Australia’s structural deficit emerged in 2002, when the Howard government slashed taxes and increased spending. This spending took the form middle class welfare: the baby bonus, private education and health care costs, superannuation concessions, etc (no wonder the IMF identified the Howard government in this period as one the two profligate government in the last 200 years of Australian history). What does Australia have to show for the mining boom? A few extra flag poles in schools and a $800bn infrastructure deficit – which the Coalition is now using as an excuse to flog off everything from Australia Post to Medibank Private and even incentivise the offloading of state government assets.
From 2012 to 2016, up to $50bn of dividends of Australian wealth will leave Australia. What could that buy? If we increased taxation rates to Norwegian levels, imagine what that would purchase.
It is not xenophobic to believe that Australians should receive the maximum benefit from their property. Australia’s mineral wealth is owned by the Crown; the Crown holds those resources in trust so they may benefit citizens. Those resources ought to be exploited by the Australian citizenry because they belong to them.
Resources are a special case for protection because they are finite and owned by the collective. For the sale of any property, one would expect to get a fair price for it. The Crown holds those resources for the collective which a majority of Australians (54%) presently expect to receive significantly more tax, according to a recent UMR Research poll. Foreign multinational mining companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto pay a mere 13% tax on the profits (not the value) of our property; the middle man pockets the difference.
Still think we’re getting a good deal? Imagine the sale of another form of property. Say you want to sell your family home say for a million dollars, the real estate agent takes a 87% commission and you receive a mere $130,000 from the sale. Would you be fuming with rage, foaming at the mouth, gnashing your teeth? That $870,000 is now in the pocket of someone else, and you cannot get it back ever again; most of it will flow overseas. That is the sort of loss of wealth Australia is experiencing.
The historian Philip Mirowski has argued the past three decades have been about using the powers of the state to divert more resources to the wealthy. In Australia’s case, a lot of the wealthiest do not even call Australia home. Meanwhile, all Australians are ripped off. It’s time to change that.
Smuggled video testimony documents harsh rule of Syrian Islamist group
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has imposed strict interpretation of sharia law since taking control in Raqqa
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 12.45 GMT
Link to video: Inside Raqqa, the Syrian city ruled by Islamistshttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/feb/19/raqqa-syria-town-islamists-video
Moving testimony of how jihadi group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has imposed its own strict interpretation of sharia law has emerged in a series of video interviews smuggled out of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.
The group – which operated under the auspices of al-Qaida until it recently severed the association – gained full control the city after lethal clashes with other brigades in the Syrian opposition left hundreds of dead.
The group has also been one of the most prominent kidnappers of western journalists, a number of whom are reputedly being held in Isis prisons in Raqqa.
Although the brutal rule of Isis has been well documented – most recently in an Amnesty International report in December, which detailed killings, arbitrary trials and detention and the abuse of children as young as eight – the new interviews that have emerged provide an intimate and chilling depiction of day to day life under the group.
Since take control of Raqqa the group has banned music, signing and smoking, with the threat of severe penalties for any violators including public flogging.
The videos of life on the streets of Raqqa were recorded by an activist who attached a camera to a car and drove around the town and also interviewed resident who asked for their identities to be kept hidden.
The footage shows the group's black banner hanging over one of the main streets and the overspill from a mosque praying in a street.
In one segment of the film an unnamed taxi driver is interviewed describing the punishments for listening to music.
"I like listening to music and I also like to listen to [tapes of the] Qur'an," he explains, filmed from behind to hide his face. "But the Islamic state has forbidden us from listening to music and forced us to listen to the Qur'an only.
"What should I do now?" he asks describing a familiar dilemma to residents of the city: "Should I listen to music or not? They have forced us to either listen to Qur'an or face being whipped or other [punishments].
"At the same time we are not allowed to smoke anymore. If they see anyone holding a pack of cigarettes he will get a couple of blows from a whip. They have also prohibited any place to stock or keep cigarettes. If they find a place with cigarettes they'll burn the entire inventory, put the owner in jail and whip him."
For "Fatima" from the Tawsea district of the city the problems have been different.
"After Isis occupied Raqqa they imposed the full face veil, which is not required in Islam. In Raqqa where we've lived together, both Muslims and Christians, these kind of rules can be forced on us as Muslims.
"But this stuff can't be imposed on Christians, and many Christian families were forced to leave Raqqa because of issues like the veil and others. Even at home, when we go out into the balcony, we [have to] go out veiled. We're not used to this kind of stuff. It is a suppression of personal freedom. We are not used to that."
Fatima's comments were echoed by Aisha from the Mashle district.
"After Isis took control of course the veil was forced on all women. I wear the veil because that is what our religion demands of us. But our religion is tolerant. They can't cannot impose the hijab. People feel they are being forced to wear the hijab. [I think Muslim women] should wear the hijab but Islam is not the only religion in Raqqa. There are many other religions and [Isis] should respect that.
"There have been many whippings of women because of this. Some were even executed. People have been plunged into a state of fear and horror.
"And now when we go into the buses they now separate the men and women, and that is unacceptable. Who gives them the right to enforce these things? Our religion is Islam and is nothing close to this religion. Our religion is a religion of guidance. Not a religion forcibly imposed."
Saudi Arabia's first female editor of national newspaper appointed
Somayya Jabarti takes over at helm of Jeddah-based English daily Saudi Gazette following departure of Khaled Almaeena
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Monday 17 February 2014 18.29 GMT
A woman in Saudi Arabia has been appointed editor-in-chief of a national newspaper, the first female journalist to be promoted to such a public position in a country with an appalling record on women's rights.
Somayya Jabarti, a former deputy editor, has become the new boss at the helm of the Jeddah-based English daily Saudi Gazette, the paper's departing head has announced.
"There's a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I'm hoping it will be made into a door," Jabarti said after starting her new job, according to quotes carried by Al Arabiya News.
She added: "Being the first Saudi woman [editor-in-chief] is going to be double the responsibility … One's actions will reflect upon my fellow Saudi women."
According to Jabarti, of around 20 Saudi Gazette reporters only three are male but the paper's senior editorial positions are mainly held by men.
"The majority of our reporters are women – not because we are biased and choosing women over men. There are more women who are interested in being journalists, and who are journalists," she said. "The success will not be complete unless I see my peers who are also Saudi women in the media, take other roles where they are decision-makers."
News of her appointment was made public by the departing editor-in-chief, Khaled Almaeena, who had held the position for over a decade.
"Today I proudly leave my nominee, a female journalist — Somayya Jabarti — who will take the helm of the paper," Almaeena wrote in an article published on Saudi Gazette's website on Sunday. Almaeena will become the paper's editor-at-large. "She has been associated with me for almost 13 years, and I've had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in-chief."
Almaeena said Jabarti's appointment was based on merit and described her as a dedicated journalist.
"It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity. I am proud to have played a role in her career," he wrote. "She is determined and dedicated, and I can assure her and the team that I will be there to assist and advise, so that Saudi Gazette further advances as a media unit in a highly competitive and digital age."
Before joining Saudi Gazette, Jabarti worked for a rival newspaper, Arab News. There, she rose from being a local desk editor to become the deputy national editor and finally the executive editor and managing editor.
Many Twitter users hailed Jabarti's appointment but also referred to the kingdom's restrictions on women drivers.
"She's not allowed to drive, but Somayya Jabarti is #saudiarabia's first female newspaper editor," tweeted Katelyn Verstraten, a journalism student.
In 2011, Jabarti wrote an article for Channel 4's website that imagines the year 3000 when women could finally drive freely in Saudi Arabia.
Women's rights in the Gulf kingdom have come under the spotlight in recent years mainly due to Saudi women's campaign to be allowed to drive. A number of Saudi women have defied the ban, even posting videos of themselves driving on YouTube. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are banned from driving, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty said women in Saudi Arabia face "severe discrimination" in law and in practice.
On Monday Prince Charles was due to fly to the Middle East for a visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On the eve of his four-day tour, Amnesty issued a reminder on the Saudi and Qatari records of human rights and urged the prince to take up the issue with their officials.
"Prince Charles's trip comes with all the trappings and courtesies of an official royal visit, but if the opportunity arises for a frank discussion of human rights issues we'd certainly like him to take it," said Allan Hogarth, the UK's head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty.
"In Saudi Arabia, where any whisper of dissent can land you in prison and women are forbidden from getting behind the wheel of a car, Charles may find that numerous topics are extremely sensitive ones."
Lebanon blast kills at least four near Iranian cultural centre in Beirut
Blast in mainly Shia suburb of Lebanese capital appears to have been caused by car bomb and motorcycle laden with explosives
Agencies in Beirut
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 08.43 GMT
A large explosion near an Iranian cultural centre in the southern suburbs of Beirut has killed at least four people and wounded 19.
The explosion in Lebanon's capital appeared to have been caused by a car bomb and a motorcycle laden with explosives. Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack on its Twitter account.
The area is a Hezbollah stronghold. Bombers targeted Iran's embassy in the same area in November.
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the blast occurred on Wednesday morning in the suburb of Beir Hassan.
The Lebanon-based TV network al-Mayadeen reported that the explosion took place near the Iranian cultural centre and the Kuwaiti embassy.
Television footage showed fire engines and soldiers in the streets. A wounded man was carried away on a stretcher and two men took a young girl to safety . Glass covered the road and nearby buildings were damaged.
There has been a wave of bombings linked to the war in neighbouring Syria over the past few months, killing and wounding scores of people.
Radical Sunni Islamists have pledged to attack Hezbollah on Lebanese soil in retaliation for its intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam, in his war against majority Sunni rebels.
U.S. to Demand Partial Israeli Settlement Freeze
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 11:16
Washington is to demand Israel implement a partial settlement freeze after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents his framework for extending peace talks, army radio reported on Wednesday.
Quoting U.S. negotiators involved in the talks, the radio said the United States was hoping to obtain a freeze on construction in isolated settlements outside the major West Bank blocs, which Israel hopes to retain in any peace deal.
A settlement bloc is an area where clusters of settlements have been established in relatively close proximity to one another, in which the majority of the West Bank's 367,000 settlers currently live.
Kerry, who is to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Wednesday night, is currently working on a framework that would allow the ongoing talks to be extended beyond an April deadline until the end of the year.
Launched in July 2013, the talks have shown very little visible progress since they began, with both sides at loggerheads over a series of issues, including Israel's ongoing settlement construction on land which the Palestinians want for a future state.
The framework agreement is reportedly to be made public early next month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
The Palestinians have been infuriated by the ongoing construction, which has seen Israel advance plans for more than 11,700 new settler homes since the talks started, and they have baulked at any talk of extending the nine-month negotiating period.
They have also said that when the April deadline expires, they will resume moves to seek further international recognition, a step which they agreed to suspend for the duration of the talks.
Netanyahu's office refused to comment on the report.
"The Israeli side is well aware that the framework will not be enough to convince Abu Mazen (Abbas) to remain at the negotiating table without Israel giving him something else," the radio said.
Israel has insisted its settlement construction does not violate its commitments in line with the negotiations, and has until now rejected pressure to renew a one-time, 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank building, which expired in late 2010, contributing to the collapse of an earlier round of talks.
West Bank- Palestinians Cool To Partial Settlement Freeze
Published on: March 24th, 2013 at 01:02 PM
West Bank - A senior Palestinian official on Sunday rejected the idea of a partial Israeli settlement freeze as a way of restarting peace talks, a sign of tough times ahead for the Obama administration's new attempt to bring the sides together.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met separately late Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about ending a deadlock of more than four years over settlements.
Abbas says he won't return to negotiations without an Israeli construction freeze, arguing that Israel's building on war-won land pre-empts the outcome of talks on a border between Israel and a future state of Palestine. Abbas last held talks with Netanyahu's predecessor in late 2008.
Netanyahu has refused to halt construction and instead calls for an immediate return to negotiations. President Barack Obama sided with Israel's position during a visit to the region last week, saying the Palestinians should return to talks to sort out the settlement issue.
The U.S. has not spoken publicly about possible compromises in recent days, though there has been some speculation it would propose a partial construction stop in the West Bank heartland, east of Israel's separation barrier.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that the Palestinians do not seek a confrontation with the Obama administration, but appeared to suggest that nothing short of a full freeze will bring them back to negotiations.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967. Since that war, Israel has built dozens of settlements — considered illegal by much of the world and now home to more than half a million Israelis — in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Much of the construction takes place in so-called "settlement blocs" close to Israel and in east Jerusalem. Israel's separation barrier cuts off east Jerusalem and some of the settlement blocs from the rest of the West Bank.
Asked if Abbas would accept a partial freeze, east of the barrier, Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio: "Absolutely not. It is rejected."
"First of all, 90 percent of the building in settlements is going on in the blocs," he said. "If we accepted that, we would be committing two crimes. The first is legalizing what is illegal, which is settlement construction, and the second is accepting the Israeli policy (of) dictation."
Israel agreed to a 10-month slowdown in settlement construction early in Obama's first term, allowing talks to resume briefly in 2010. The talks fizzled out after Netanyahu refused to extend the slowdown, which halted new housing starts but allowed previously started construction to continue.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who will oversee any negotiations with the Palestinians, said it remained to be seen what would bring about a new round of talks.
"We are after four years of stalemate, of distrust, and we need to see how we restart, what we will discuss," she told Army Radio.
Erekat said the Palestinians would wait for two to three months to see if the Obama administration can come up with a way out of the deadlock. "We want to cooperate with the U.S. administration, not clash with it," he said.
If the deadlock persists, the Palestinians will move ahead with their quest for international recognition, he said. "We have to focus on the steadfastness of our people, and we have 63 international agencies we can join," he said.
In November, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, despite objections by the U.S. and Israel. The recognition paved the way for Palestinians to seek membership in U.N. agencies and other international organizations.
Earlier Sunday, Israel dismantled a tent camp Palestinians set up during Obama's recent visit to protest Israeli plans to build a large West Bank settlement near Jerusalem.
During his visit, Obama singled out the settlement, known by its planning name E-1, as particularly problematic. The settlement of more 3,500 apartments would close one of the last open spaces between east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Before dawn Sunday, about 200 Israeli police officers removed some 40 demonstrators from the tent camp, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Three protesters were arrested, but no injuries were reported, Rosenfeld said.
The encampment is part of a new Palestinian tactic to protest against Israeli settlement expansion.
Also Sunday, the Israeli military said security forces arrested five Palestinians suspected of throwing stones at an Israeli car in the West Bank two weeks ago. An Israeli toddler was seriously hurt in the incident. The military said the suspects, aged 16 and 17, confessed their involvement during questioning.