Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López hands himself in to police
Harvard-educated politician denies charges of terrorism for his alleged role in violent anti-government protests
Virginia López in Caracas and Jonathan Watts
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 February 2014
Venezuela's opposition leader Leopoldo López has handed himself in to the authorities after coming out of hiding to attend a rally of supporters in Caracas.
After the protests that left three people dead last week, there was relief on the streets that a violent repeat might be avoided. Lopéz's defiance in recent days appears to have raised his profile as a figurehead of the resistance to President Nicolás Maduro.
The Harvard-educated politician has been accused of terrorism for encouraging the anti-government protests in several cities that saw fierce clashes between opposition demonstrators, police and colectivo militia groups loyal to the government.
But in a speech to several thousand supporters dressed in white, López denied the charges and said he was turning himself in to a corrupt justice system as a means of promoting non-violent reform.
"I have nothing to hide. They want to jail Venezuelans who want peaceful, democratic change," he said from a plinth for the statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Marti in Plaza Brion de Chacaíto. "This is the first step in the construction of the road for change and it must, by necessity, be a peaceful process."
Flanked by members of his Popular Will party, he walked towards a barricade where he was escorted away by police and national guardsmen.
Despite the peaceful rhetoric, the spectre of violence again raised its head elsewhere in Venezuela as government forces moved in on demonstrations. In the town of Carupano a student was reported to have been hit by a car and killed during protests, the Reuters news agency said, while the Associated Press said 11 protesters were wounded by gunfire at a demonstration in the city of Valencia. The reports cited residents and local officials.
In Caracas, his supporters said they had turned out despite fears of fresh clashes. "I am afraid because of the violence I have seen, but I am more afraid of the course my country has taken," said López supporter Ingrid Lopez, an accountant. "I am here today to tell the government it is unfit to lead this country."
When police helicopters buzzed overhead, the crowd shouted their defiance and waved their hands to show that nobody was armed.
Watched by heavily-armed security forces and blocked by barriers, the protesters were prevented from reaching their final destination.
Although the ruling bloc notched up impressive support during municipal elections last December, discontent about the government's handling of the economy and public security is high. Inflation is running above 56% – the highest rate in the world.
There are shortages of many essential commodities, such as toilet paper and milk. Caracas has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
"I am not sure how we will wake up tomorrow," said Jorge Farias a motor-taxi driver from Petare, a shanty town in western Caracas.
"This country can't stand this much longer – this insecurity in the streets, and these food shortages."
Tensions and suspicions are still running high in the capital after funerals were held last week for the dead, who included Juan "Juancho" Montoya, a colectivo leader from the 23 de enero (23 January) neighbourhood of Caracas.
Underlining the tension, officials said on Monday that a 17-year-old youth, Jose Ernesto Mendez, was killed by a truck during a protest in Carupano, part of an ongoing wave of demonstrations, particularly by students.
López has emerged as the most radical voice of the opposition, whose leader Henrique Capriles has adopted a less confrontational and more pragmatic approach in dealing with a government that controls parliament, the courts, the media and the military.
Maduro now faces a tricky political decision. If the case goes to trial, it could create a platform for López. If he is jailed, the opposition would have a powerful new cause célèbre.
The government blamed the US for stirring up trouble in the oil-rich nation. On Monday three US diplomats were ordered to leave within 48 hours because of their alleged involvement in the disturbances.
The foreign minister, Elias Jaua, said the expelled diplomats had met student activists at private universities "for training, financing and creating youth organisations through which violence is promoted in Venezuela". The US government denies this.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
US intelligence chief: NSA should have been more open about data collection
James Clapper tells interviewer the spy agency could have avoided controversy by being up front with American citizens
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 18 February 2014 14.33 GMT
The US director of national intelligence has conceded that the US government ought to have told American citizens that the National Security Agency collects their phone data in bulk.
James Clapper, whose misleading testimony to the Senate about the mass surveillance now overshadows his nearly four years atop the US intelligence agencies, continued to defend the bulk domestic phone, fax and other “telephony” data collection, as well as his honesty.
But in an interview released late Monday with the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, Clapper said that crucial moment was the first revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on 5 June last year, when the Guardian revealed the bulk phone records collection, which claims legal authority under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. “What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” Clapper said.
Clapper said that the controversy would not have occurred had the security apparatus been more open before. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11 – which is the genesis of the 215 program – and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards … We wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”
His admission contradicts months of warnings, from his office and from elsewhere in the administration, that disclosure of the bulk data collection jeopardized US national security.
“Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on US intelligence sources, methods and trade craft and the insights that they are gaining are making our job much, much harder,” Clapper told the Senate intelligence committee last month – during which he implied that the journalists working off the Snowden documents were “accomplices” to the former contractor’s alleged crimes.
But Clapper’s admission also reflects a fight to preserve, in a modified form, the NSA’s authorities to collect phone data in bulk at a time of great flux.
For months, the intelligence agencies have opted for a strategy of selective disclosure around the bulk surveillance, including speaking tours at colleges and legal associations and selectively declassifying documents from the secret Fisa court overseeing surveillance and publishing them on a Tumblr site; although many of those declassifications are the result of the government losing transparency lawsuits.
The gambit holds that if the government can reclaim the PR initiative from the news organizations publishing Snowden disclosures, it can withstand a push on Capitol Hill to restrain the NSA’s powers.
“I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing,” Clapper told the Daily Beast.
Members of the House judiciary committee warned the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies on 4 February that unless they backed a bill to end the bulk domestic phone records collection, they would lose even more counter-terrorism powers under Section 215 when the provision expires in June 2015.
That bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, is the chief legislative vehicle to end the mass domestic metadata collection. But the Obama administration is formally undecided on how much phone metadata ought to be collected under a successor program that would be overseen by an as-yet-undefined private entity, a move that keeps bulk records collection in play as a policy option.
Earlier this month, Clapper’s office put out a solicitation to private industry for ideas on how to structure that successor program. The NSA is expected to provide the White House with ideas for that program soon.
In his interview, Clapper continued to deny lying to Congress in March 2013, when he said the NSA did “not wittingly” collect data of any sort on millions of Americans, a lie he has apologized for.
As he has since July, Clapper insisted he “wasn’t even thinking” of the bulk phone data collection during his March 2013 testimony, and suggested that only mind-readers could say for sure that he was lying.
“There is only one person on the planet who actually knows what I was thinking,” Clapper told the Daily Beast. “Not the media, and not certain members of Congress, only I know what I was thinking.”
But Clapper initially said that he provided the “least untruthful” answer he could in a public setting, not that his answer was unfocused on the bulk phone records collection. Additionally, aides to his questioner, senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, have repeatedly said they alerted Clapper’s office to his error and unsuccessfully requested Clapper correct the public record.
Edward Snowden 'humbled' by his election as Glasgow University rector
In statement to the Guardian, NSA whistleblower describes vote as bold and historic decision in support of academic freedom
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 February 2014 20.25 GMT
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said he was humbled and honoured after Glasgow University students voted overwhelmingly for him to serve as their rector for the next three years.
In a statement to the Guardian, Snowden described it as bold and historic decision in support of academic freedom. "In a world where so many of our developing thoughts and queries and plans must be entrusted to the open internet, mass surveillance is not simply a matter of privacy, but of academic freedom and human liberty," Snowden said.
The vote is purely symbolic as Snowden is unlikely to be in a position to become a working rector, able to represent students at meetings of the university's administrators. He is wanted by the US for leaking tens of thousands of documents to journalists and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
The result of the online election was announced to candidates and their supporters shortly after polls closed at 5pm on Tuesday.
Snowden was nominated by a group of students at the university who said they had received his approval through his lawyer. He defeated the former champion cyclist Graeme Obree, the author Alan Bissett and the Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, who also stood for the post.
Chris Cassells, Snowden's spokesman for the rectorial election campaign, said: "We are delighted to see Edward Snowden elected as the new rector of the University of Glasgow. We have a proud and virtuous tradition of making significant statements through our rectors and today we have once more championed this idea by proving to the world that we are not apathetic to important issues such as democratic rights.
"We would like to thank all other candidates as well as the students who nominated them for promoting an exciting and relevant debating atmosphere over the last few weeks."
The rector not only represents the students but is chairman of the university court, the body that administers the resources of the university.
David Newall, secretary of court at the university, said: "This has been a record turnout for a rectorial election and I warmly congratulate Edward Snowden on his success. I would also like to thank Charles Kennedy for the contribution he has made to the university over the last six years."
Charles Kennedy, the outgoing rector and former Lib Dem leader, said: "It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the students of the University of Glasgow for the past six years. The post of rector is an important one, and I would like to wish my successor all the very best for his term of office."
Snowden, in his statement, said: "I am humbled by and grateful to the students of Glasgow University for this historic statement in defence of our shared values.
"We are reminded by this bold decision that the foundation of all learning is daring: the courage to investigate, to experiment, to inquire."
He added: "If we do not contest the violation of the fundamental right of free people to be left unmolested in their thoughts, associations, and communications - to be free from suspicion without cause - we will have lost the foundation of our thinking society. The defence of this fundamental freedom is the challenge of our generation, a work that requires constructing new controls and protections to limit the extraordinary powers of states over the domain of human communication.
"This election shows that the students of Glasgow University intend to lead the way, and it is my great honour to serve as their rector."
Journalists who broke NSA story in Guardian receive George Polk Awards
• Ewen MacAskill, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras honoured
• Polk curator: repercussions of NSA ‘will be with us for years’
Martin Pengelly in New York
theguardian.com, Monday 17 February 2014 03.02 GMT
The three journalists who broke the National Security Agency revelations from Edward Snowden in the Guardian are among the recipients of the prestigious 2013 George Polk Awards in Journalism.
Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras will receive the award for national security reporting, along with Barton Gellman of the Washington Post.
Janine Gibson, Guardian US editor-in-chief, said: “We’re honoured by the recognition from the Polk awards and delighted for Ewen, Glenn, Laura, Barton and their colleagues that their work has been recognised.
“It has been an extraordinary and occasionally menacing eight months of reporting for the Guardian and the support of our peers through this distinguished award is very much appreciated.”
In late May 2013 MacAskill, a senior Guardian US correspondent, Greenwald, then a Guardian columnist, and Poitras, an independent filmmaker, travelled to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, a former NSA contractor.
Thousands of documents provided by Snowden have formed the basis of ongoing reporting into the agency’s surveillance activities in the US and overseas.
“The reporters conferred with Snowden to negotiate release of the material and then used their extensive backgrounds covering national security to explore the purloined files and reveal their stunning import, describing how the NSA gathered information on untold millions of unsuspecting – and unsuspected – Americans, plugged into the communications links of major internet companies and coerced companies like Yahoo and Google into turning over data about their customers,” the statement announcing the awards said.
John Darnton, curator of the awards, said: “In the tradition of George Polk, many of the journalists we have recognised did more than report news. They heightened public awareness with perceptive detection and dogged pursuit of stories that otherwise would not have seen the light of day.
“Repercussions of the NSA stories in particular will be with us for years to come.”
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras’ video interview with Edward Snowden.
In October 2013, the Guardian won two awards from the Online News Association for its work on NSA surveillance.The same month, Greenwald left the Guardian to work with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar on a new project, First Look Media.
The George Polk Awards were established by Long Island University in 1949, in memory of a CBS correspondent murdered while covering the Greek civil war in 1948. The 2013 awards will be presented in Manhattan on Friday, 11 April.
Others honoured include Eli Saslow of the Washington Post, for his reporting on food stamps and those who depend on them; Shawn Boberg of the Record of New Jersey, for his coverage of the Chris Christie bridge lane-closure scandal; and Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times, for his work on the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs scandal in Major League Baseball. The veteran New York columnist Pete Hammill will receive a special award.
New CBO Report Destroys The Republican Argument Against Raising The Minimum Wage
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, February, 18th, 2014, 4:37 pm
The CBO released a study today that obliterated the Republican argument against raising the minimum wage. Republicans retaliated by trying to distort the report, but they can’t explain away the bad news for the GOP.
Republicans have pounced on the CBO estimate that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost 500,000 jobs, but this is what the CBO actually wrote in their report, “Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects. As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.”
The CBO’s conclusion on employment is that their could be a negative effect, or a zero effect. The CBO report is not a definitive statement that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. In fact, the research on unemployment as summarized by seven Nobel Prize winners and 600 economists found that moving to $10.10 an hour will have little or no impact on employment.
The CBO also found that increasing the minimum wage will help the middle class and working poor:
Many more low-wage workers would see an increase in their earnings. Of those workers who will earn up to $10.10 under current law, most—about 16.5 million, according to CBO’s estimates—would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if the $10.10 option was implemented. Some of the people earning slightly more than $10.10 would also have higher earnings under that option, for reasons discussed below. Further, a few higher-wage workers would owe their jobs and increased earnings to the heightened demand for goods and services that would result from the minimum-wage increase.
The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate. However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
Republicans have argued that most minimum wage workers are teenagers, but the CBO found that only 12% of those earning the minimum wage are teens. Republicans argue that increasing the minimum won’t lift people out of poverty, but the CBO concluded that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.
Conservatives and their media have attached themselves to that 500K job loss number, but what they are trying to do is cover up the fact that the CBO report devastates their argument against raising the minimum wage.
An increase in the minimum wage would lift nearly a million people out of poverty and benefit the middle class. The increase would also boost consumer demand, and reduce the deficit. Republicans have their minimum wage job killing talking point, but an examination of the full CBO report reveals some very bad news for Republicans.
The minimum wage issue just took on a new dimension for Democrats. Raising the minimum wage is about helping the middle class, and if Republicans want to risk their seats by arguing against a policy that will benefit the middle class they are welcome to take on that challenge this November.
Republicans will be running themselves right out of office if they continue to insist on opposing an increase in the minimum wage.
The Cost of Voting Republican: Economy Lost $3 Billion Due to GOP Blocking UI Entension
By: Jason Easley
According to Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, Republicans have cost the economy $3 billion in less than two months by blocking an extension of unemployment benefits.
A new analysis found that the Republican refusal to extend unemployment benefits is having an impact on the economy that runs into the billions of dollars. 72,000 American workers are losing their unemployment benefits each week, while both House and Senate Republicans continue to block any extension of benefits for the long term unemployed.
Way and Means ranking Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) said, “The loss of long-term unemployment benefits is weighing down our economy at a critical point in the economic recovery, threatening to inflict long-term damage. Long-term unemployment remains an enormous challenge for millions of Americans and our overall economy, which is exactly why Republicans should join with Democrats to renew this important program.”
On the topic of unemployment benefits, there are two arguments. The moral argument is that, as a society, we have a responsibility to help American workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The Republican argument against extending unemployment benefits is that unemployment is a moral failing that the individual is responsible for. They believe that the government should have no role in helping those who have lost their jobs. Republicans have labeled the unemployed lazy, and unwilling to work.
A variation of this argument has been advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Both men have made the argument that unemployment benefits discourage work. They believe that it is better for the unemployed to face poverty instead of getting help from the government. Republicans have struck out with argument. Polling has consistently shown that roughly 70% of Americans favor extending unemployment benefits.
Having lost the moral argument. Republicans like Sen. McConnell and Sen. Rob Portman have shifted their argument against extension a UI extension to the economic realm. Republicans have been claiming that unemployment benefits are too expensive, so if they are going to be extended, they must be paid for. The reality is that it will cost the economy more, roughly $30-$40 billion to not extend unemployment benefits than the cost of the extension ($25 billion).
These economic losses aren’t isolated. They are building one on top of the other around the country, and causing long term damage to the economic health of the country.
It is difficult to put a numerical value on the amount of damage that has been done by those who decided to hand Republicans the majority in the House, and take away the Democrats’ 60th vote in the Senate, but the House Ways and Means Democrats have provided a basic starting point.
Voting for any political party that doesn’t have the economic interests of the majority at heart will result in catastrophic economic damage for many. The cost of empowering Republicans is financial devastation for 72,000 workers a week, and billions lost to the U.S. economy.
Your vote not only matters, but it can be the difference between survival and struggle.
Darrell Issa Desperately Tries to Unite the GOP Against Obama’s ‘Imperial Presidency’
By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, February, 18th, 2014, 1:02 pm
Republicans are a real mess right now, as the country witnessed with the painful debt ceiling vote. It hurt in the House where Boehner had to once again rely upon Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to get anything done, and it even hurt in the Senate, thanks to Ted Cruz forcing a vote Republican senators didn’t need to take.
But they’ve discovered a way to get back on track. I’ll give you two guesses, and if your first guess is “get something done for their record”, you lose. Now, reach for the biggest fail you can imagine – a fail that they have already tried and lost at. Reach for the one thing that could turn the House Democratic sooner than thought possible…
That’s right. They’re going Newt Gingrich 1990′s VS Bill Clinton on President Obama.
This crusade of desperation was championed by Darrell Issa Monday night during a New Hampshire speech, where he claimed he wanted to “shape” the debate. Steve Peoples writing for the AP via The Huffington Post reported:
His party divided, Rep. Darrell Issa, the chief Republican attack dog, is calling on the GOP to abandon government-backed solutions and instead unite against President Barack Obama’s “imperial presidency.”
This strategy is going to be their 2016 strategy as well, apparently, as Issa made wild accusations against former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton, which he had to amend later:
He said she played a central role in the immediate aftermath of the attack: “Hillary Clinton knew what was going on and conveyed that to the president.” He later clarified, “The accountability for the action and inaction belongs to the two top informed individuals who were awake: (Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta and Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
So, Darrell Issa, who held on the truth about Benghazi for a year in order to attack President Obama over a tragic matter that might have been avoided if only House Republicans had not denied the Obama administration the funding for embassy security that they requested, has the unmitigated gall to label this Presidency an “imperial presidency” with absolutely no facts to support his argument.
As Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) said so explosively in November of 2012 during a House Foreign Affairs hearing, while responding to Republican accusations that Obama’s Benghazi was “worse than Watergate”:
(Republicans have) “the audacity to come here” when the administration requested, for worldwide security, “$440 million more than you guys wanted to provide. And the answer is that you damn didn’t provide it! You REDUCED what the administration asked for to protect these people. Ask not who the guilty party is, it’s you! It is us. It is this committee, and the things that we insist that we need have to cost money.”
Darrell Issa is not letting facts get in the way of his politically motivated witch hunts (his bed time story for conservatives about the IRS targeting them was completely debunked as well). Instead, he’s turning up the volume on crazy, Newt Gingrich style. Don’t ask Republicans what they stand for, or ask why they have announced that they will be doubling down on doing NOTHING this year. Don’t ask why they won’t pass simple things that used be bipartisan, like extending long term unemployment. Nope.
Get distracted by the Big Lies, the gossip, the histrionic drama, and the hypocritical self-righteousness that has come to define the party of No. Seriously, following Newt Gingrich’s example? Really? So much for expanding that tent.
As Republicans rally around hating Obama in lieu of any real policy agenda, they make it clear that they have nothing. They are running on fumes of 2008 hatred and fear-mongering. The only question remaining is how long will it take until they dust off their only semi-live wire, Sarah Palin. Even Darrell Issa can’t do pure, unadulterated, stupid hate like Sarah Palin.
Do Nothing Republicans Announce They Will Not Be Passing Any Legislation This Year
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, February, 18th, 2014, 11:34 am
House Republicans have taken doing nothing to a whole new level by announcing that they won’t be passing any notable legislation this year.
The Washington Post reported:
After a tumultuous week of party infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans are focused on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year.
Comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, tweaks to the federal health-care law — bipartisan deals on each are probably dead in the water for the rest of this Congress.
It is not surprising that Republicans are not going to do anything this year. What is surprising is that the House Republicans have given up the pretense of doing anything. There aren’t going to be anymore show votes that are labeled jobs bills, or immigration reform. Boehner and the House leadership have simply given up.
They aren’t even trying to fool the American people into believing that House Republicans are doing something for them. The ruse is over. Republicans aren’t going to do anything, but run back to their districts in a desperate bid to save their seats. At least Boehner can stop going in front of the cameras, and trying to sell his absurd excuses for doing nothing as benefitting the American people.
2014 is going to be another lost year in American politics. Republicans are calling President Obama a dictator and making claims of constitutional violations, but it is clear that the president heads up the only branch of government that is trying to move the country forward by doing something.
Republicans have given the voters no reason to reelect them this year. They have no agenda. They have done nothing but obstruct progress, and now Boehner and company have the nerve to announce that they aren’t going to go to work, but they still are expecting your votes in November.
The House will remain dysfunctional until the members who see doing nothing as their job are replaced. If We The People want a government that works, we need to elect candidates who are willing to do the job.
Dark Money Tribes Displacing Political Parties
By karoli February 18, 2014 7:04 pm
Citizens United has given rise to cabals of secret donors, supplanting the role of political parties in 2014.
I'm pleased to announce that there is at least one liberal billionaire out there ready to spend big money to advance the cause of climate change.
Actually, I'm not that pleased to announce it. Yes, I'm glad Tom Steyer is stepping up to defend a cause which shouldn't be liberal or conservative, but I'm also cognizant of the price that goes with it. As Nick Confessore says in this segment with Chris Hayes, dark money cabals are displacing political parties. At first blush that might sound like a good thing, but it's not if it means all future political agendas will be determined by fabulously wealthy people who may or may not give a damn about the rest of us.
But it’s worth thinking twice before celebrating Mr. Steyer’s donation, which will make plutocracy politics even worse.
Big money pollutes politics whether it comes from the Koch brothers, with a hard-edged agenda against environmental or financial regulation, or from Mr. Steyer and his liberal friends. Either way, the donations enhance the ability of those with money to influence what the country is talking about, and how it votes.
In state after state, corporate executives and financiers are giving money to super PACs associated with Republican congressional candidates, prompting unions to contribute to Democratic super PACs. This arms race escalates every campaign cycle, producing a torrent of attack ads that make all candidates look like liars, cowards and thieves, increasing cynicism that keeps people away from the polls.
There is one difference, though. Steyer is forthright about his effort to change the debate, rather than hiding behind secret corporations and non-profit organizations. For that, I congratulate him, but in the overall big picture, it's an escalation that threatens the foundations of our political system.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIAPussy Riot clash with Russian police in Sochi
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 10:53 EST
The two best known members of Pussy Riot said they clashed with plain clothes police and Cossacks Wednesday when they tried to stage an action in the centre of Winter Olympics host city Sochi.
The scuffles came a day after members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were detained by police in Sochi for several hours on Tuesday in connection with a theft case.
Cossacks, clad in their national clothes, are often seen helping the police with their work in the south of Russia in line with a tradition dating back to Tsarist times.
Plain clothed members of the security forces used tear gas in the clashes, Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov wrote on Twitter.
Tolokonnikova herself wrote on her Twitter feed @tolokno that they had been attempting to stage a new performance entitled “Putin will teach you to love the motherland”.
“Pussy Riot were attacked by Cossacks, hit with sticks and sprayed with pepper gas,” she said.
Alyokhina posted pictures on her Twitter of her chest showing severe bruising after the clashes.
The women have since gone to Sochi hospitals for medical treatment. The centre of Sochi is some 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of the Olympic venues.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to penal colonies on a two year hooliganism sentence for performing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral in 2012.
However they were freed early on amnesty in December last year.
**************Pussy Riot: The Pig Will Teach You to Love the Motherland – music video
Russian agit-punk band Pussy Riot's music video for their new song, Pig Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland. The release of the video coincides with the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The lyrics attack President Pig V. Putin's human rights record, while the video depicts the women in trademark brightly-coloured balaclavas, protesting in Sochi and being arrested by police
Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/music/video/2014/feb/20/pussy-riot-putin-teach-love-motherland-music-video
Melee in Kiev: 33 people dead, 67 police captured
Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 33 people dead.
By YURAS KARMANAU
KIEV, Ukraine —
Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 33 people dead.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.
Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. Ukraine's Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. It was not clear how they were taken. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.
President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country -- mostly in its western cities -- are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
At least 59 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Thursday was the deadliest day yet. An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
An Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies Thursday laid out on the edge of the capital's sprawling protest camp. Protest medic Andriy Huk later told the AP that 32 activists were killed Thursday. In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
The carnage appears to show that neither Yanukovych nor the opposition leaders appear to be in control of the chaos engulfing Ukraine.
A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters at Kiev's Independence Square campsite. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday because of the "armed and aggressive mood of the people."
Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken." But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an "anti-terrorist" operation.
Some signs emerged that Yanukovych is losing loyalists. The chief of Kiev's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
"We must be guided only by the interests of the people, this is our only chance to save people's lives," he said, adding he would continue to fulfill his duties as long as he had the people's trust.
Another influential member of the ruling party, Serhiy Tyhipko, said both Yanukovych and opposition leaders had "completely lost control of the situation."
"Their inaction is leading to the strengthening of opposition and human victims," the Interfax news agency reported.
The parliament building was evacuated Thursday because of fears that protesters would storm it, and the government office and the Foreign Ministry buildings in Kiev were also evacuated.
As the violence exploded and heavy smoke from burning barricades at the encampment belched into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries -- France, Germany and Poland -- met with Yanukovych for five hours after speaking with the opposition leaders. The EU ministers then returned to speak again with opposition leaders.
The 28-nation European Union was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Ukraine later Thursday in Brussels to consider sanctions against those behind the violence, but it was not clear when the three EU ministers would be leaving Kiev.
The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would once again limit the president's power.
Prior to the deaths and injuries on Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of street violence. Protesters who have set up a medical facility in a downtown cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched away by police say the number of injured are significantly higher -- possibly double or triple that.
The Caritas Ukraine aid group praised the protest medics but said many of the wounded will need long-term care, including prosthetics.
The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off in November after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The political jockeying for influence in Ukraine has continued.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was sending former ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to Ukraine as a mediator.
President Barack Obama stepped in to condemn the violence, warning Wednesday "there will be consequences" for Ukraine if it keeps up. The U.S. has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will "try to do our best" to fulfill its financial obligations to Ukraine, but indicated Moscow would hold back on further installments of its bailout money until the crisis is resolved.
"We need partners that are in good shape and a Ukrainian government that is legitimate and effective," he said.
At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukrainian alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska, 24, said she will not take part in Friday's women's slalom due to the developments in Kiev.
"As a protest against lawless actions made toward protesters, the lack of responsibility from the side of the president and his lackey government, we refuse further performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games," her father and coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, wrote in a Facebook post.
Maria Danilova, Jim Heintz and Yury Uvarov in Kiev contributed to this report
Deadly Violence Shatters Ukraine Truce as EU Envoys Hold Crisis Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 February 2014, 10:15
Armed protesters stormed police barricades in Kiev on Thursday in renewed violence that killed at least 26 people and shattered an hours-old truce as EU envoys held crisis talks with Ukraine's embattled president.
Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smoldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced police from Kiev's iconic Independence Square -- the epicenter of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis.
The retreating police unleashed a hail of rubber bullets on protesters as plumes of acrid smoke billowed into the air amid the explosions of stun grenades.
The lobby of the Ukraina hotel overlooking the square was turned into an impromptu morgue, with the bodies of seven dead protesters laying side by side under white sheets on the marble floor in front of the reception desk.
An AFP photographer saw spent live cartridge shells littering the ground on the square. It was unclear who had used the ammunition.
The main government building nearby was evacuated while lawmakers ended a session of parliament early after the violence.
The country's three main opposition leaders put the blame for the fresh unrest on the authorities, calling it a "planned provocation."
The clashes shattered a truce that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had called late Wednesday in response to a spurt of violence that killed more than two dozen people in less than two days.
Yanukovych was holding crisis talks with the foreign ministers of EU powers France and Germany along with Poland ahead of an emergency meeting in Brussels at which the European Union was expected to impose sanctions against Ukrainian government officials for the unrest.
The U.S. State Department had earlier announced slapping travel bans on about 20 senior Kiev government figures over fighting that killed at least 28 people on same central Kiev square on Tuesday night.
Yanukovych has appeared to struggle to formulate a clear policy over a frantic 48 hours that saw Ukraine's deadliest violence since independence and an escalating Cold War-like war of words between the West and former master Moscow over the future of the country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.
AFP reporters said they saw the bodies of at least 25 protesters with apparent gunshot wounds around two popular Independence Square hotels and lying outside the central Kiev post office on Thursday.
Ukraine's interior ministry said that one policeman died from gunshot wounds sustained in the clashes while 29 officers had been injured.
The latest deaths bring to at least 54 the number of people killed in Ukraine since the start of the week, according to health ministry and AFP counts.
Ukraine's crisis was initially ignited by Yanukovych's shock decision in November to ditch an historic EU trade and political association agreement in favor of closer ties with Kiev's historic masters in the Kremlin.
But it has since evolved into a much broader anti-government movement that has swept through both the pro-Western west of the country as well as parts of its more Russified east and exposed the deep historical fault lines between the two.
Yanukovych had appeared determined on Wednesday to end the crisis by force after the country's security services announced plans to launch a sweeping "anti-terror" operation.
He also sacked the army's top general -- a powerful figure lauded by the opposition for refusing to back the use of force against those who had come out on the street.
But he then received three top protest leaders and told them he would take no immediate action against those who have taken to the streets against his rule, including charismatic boxer-turned-lawmaker Vitali Klitschko.
U.S. President Barack Obama urged the government Wednesday to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters and warned of "consequences" if any further abuses take place.
The crackdown on protesters triggered a storm of condemnation from the West while the Kremlin denounced an "attempted coup" by the demonstrators.
The U.S. State Department announced it was imposing visa bans on about 20 senior Ukrainian officials "complicit in or responsible for ordering or otherwise directing human rights abuses."
Western pressure was set to mount still further on Thursday when the European Union considers its own measures during a meeting in Brussels, with France saying ahead of the meeting that the bloc would prepare sanctions against those responsible for the violence.
Moscow meanwhile has issued a string of outraged comments condemning both the protesters and the West.
President Pig V. Putin's spokesman placed all responsibility for the unprecedented violence on "extremists (whose) actions can be seen and are seen in Moscow exclusively as an attempted coup d'etat".
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia's cabinet on Thursday that Moscow intended to follow through on its commitment to issue the next tranche of a $15 billion bailout that Putin and Yanukovych agreed shortly after Kiev rejected the EU pact.
But Medvedev said Moscow needs "partners who are in good shape and for the authorities that work in Ukraine to be legitimate and effective."
At the Winter Olympics in Russia's resort of Sochi, a Ukrainian alpine skier and her coach pulled out of the games in protest at the authorities' deadly use of force.
02/19/2014 06:07 PM
Violence in Ukraine: Yanukovych Forces EU into Sanctions
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels
The EU resisted the idea of imposing sanctions on Ukraine for a long time. With violence in Kiev intensifying, however, Brussels has little choice. But what can Europe really do?
If the situation in Ukraine wasn't so grim, one could almost laugh at an irony it has produced. Earlier this month, American diplomat Victoria Nuland gained instant worldwide notoriety when a recording of her saying "Fuck the EU" went viral. In the bugged telephone call with a colleague, she expressed her clear hope that the EU would finally apply sanctions against the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Europe was indignant; the outcry was intense. But now, following the events of Tuesday in Ukraine, Nuland is likely to get what she wanted.
The images from Independence Square in Kiev have become too brutal to ignore. And with neither side having shown a willingness to back down, Wednesday night could very well see more fatalities on top of the 25 who lost their lives on Tuesday.
On Thursday, European Union foreign ministers are set to meet at a hurriedly arranged meeting in Brussels to determine the extent of the penalties that will be levied on Ukraine's political leadership. According to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, member-state diplomats laid the foundation for such penalties on Wednesday. "All possible options will be explored," she said in a statement, "including restrictive measures against those responsible for repression and human rights violations."
What Can the EU Do?
Few in Brussels doubt that sanctions of some kind are coming. Several European leaders on Wednesday went public with their demands for penalties, from Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met in Paris on Wednesday, also threw their support behind targeted sanctions, echoing a statement released by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier early on Wednesday.
But what can the EU really do? It seems likely that whatever sanctions are approved will be modest. Most probable are bans on travel to the EU for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his closest aides along with the freezing of any accounts they might have in the European bloc. Select companies in Ukraine could also find themselves blacklisted.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission emphasized, however, that sanctions against the opposition would also be under consideration. Their attacks on government buildings, she noted, were likewise unacceptable. Any penalties agreed upon could be applied as soon as Friday.
A New Stick
Still, there remains widespread doubt within the EU as to the effectiveness of sanctions. Critics recognize that Yanukovych has essentially dashed all hopes of a political solution in recent days and they also understand that penalties could graphically demonstrate to Ukrainian oligarchs that there is a price to be paid for supporting the president.
"But there are reasons why sanctions weren't imposed long ago," says one high-ranking EU diplomat. Not only are Ukraine's neighbors fearful of escalation, but many also believe that individually targeted measures are easy to circumvent. Critics say they also significantly limit the chances that fruitful negotiations can take place -- even if the events of Tuesday seem to have precluded any such talks for the foreseeable future.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder shares such concerns. Sanctions achieve "little," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday. Even Merkel was in the skeptics' camp prior to her Wednesday appearance with Hollande, preferring instead to exert pressure via public appearances with opposition leaders.
Now, though, it would appear that the EU no longer has much of an option. The protesters on Independence Square have become Europe's to a certain extent, with many of them wrapping themselves in EU flags. Were European diplomats to stand by and do nothing, it would be a declaration of impotence.
On Thursday, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski -- whose government has long supported European efforts to court Ukraine -- is traveling to Kiev on behalf of the EU. He will be joined by German Foreign Minister Steinmeier and their French counterpart Laurent Fabius. The carrot, in the form of EU aid and partnership agreements, has long since been proffered, offers that the EU on Wednesday insisted are still valid.
Now, after the events of Tuesday night, the trio has a stick to take along as well.
Ukraine crisis: Obama attacks the Pig over Russia's role
US president accuses his Russian counterpart of failing to respect people’s basic freedoms in both Ukraine and Syria
Dan Roberts in Toluca
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 03.44 GMT
Barack Obama has sharply criticised Russian support for crackdowns in Ukraine and Syria, calling for a transitional government in Kiev and personally accusing Pig V. Putin of failing to respect basic freedoms in both countries.
In his most explicit comments yet on alleged Kremlin involvement, the president used a press conference at the North American leaders’ summit in Mexico to warn against viewing the countries as a “cold war chessboard”, insisting the US was “on the side of the people”.
“You have, in this situation, one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently being supported by Russia, where the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country,” said Obama.
“I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognise that basic freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections – are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy.”
Obama continued with an unusually personal attack on the Russian president, suggesting recent setbacks in Ukraine and at Syrian peace talks had pushed their already strained relationship to a fresh low.
“Mr Pig Putin has a different view on many of those issues [of basic freedom] and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that,” he said.
“Our approach in the United States is not to see these as some cold war chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make the decisions without having bombs going off.
“There are times, I hope, where Russia will recognise that over the long term they should be on board with those values and interests as well. Right now there are times where we have strong disagreements.”
Both Obama and the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, who shared the stage at the press conference in Toluca, were cautious about reports of a truce with Ukrainian protestors, urging political leaders in Kiev to go further and establish a transitional government.
“My hope is at this point that a truce may hold,” said Obama. “But Stephen is exactly right; ultimately the government is responsible for making sure that we shift towards some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets, without the bloodshed that all of us I think strongly condemn.”
Events in Kiev have overshadowed the Mexico summit and precipitated a rapid hardening of the US position over the last 24 hours. Arriving on Wednesday morning, Obama directed his criticism solely at the Ukrainian government, which he said was “primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way”.
Later in Washington the state department was more explicit in its comments on Russian involvement but said it was difficult to be sure exactly how much of an influence Kremlin support had played.
“We’ve seen a pattern of [financial support] beginning with the $15bn in loans that Russia offered in December,” said a senior state department official. “But these have been non-transparent discussions. So it’s very hard to have a good ability to analyse. And with regard to how it might have influenced President Yanukovych’s thinking, I personally have long since stopped trying to read his mind.”
Obama showed little hesitation in blaming Russian support for exacerbating the Ukrainian crisis.
“When I speak to the Pig, I’m very candid about those disagreements,” added Obama. “But I want to emphasise this. The situation that happened in Ukraine has to do with whether or not the people of Ukraine can determine their own destiny.”
Kiev prepares for new battles as Obama warns of ‘consequences’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 17:27 EST
Thousands of helmeted protesters steeled themselves Wednesday for new clashes with riot police on Kiev’s flame-engulfed main square after the deadliest night of violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.
U.S. President Barack Obama warned starkly of “consequences” after apocalyptic scenes on Tuesday in which 26 officers and civilians died as battles broke out across central Kiev.
Obama said he held President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government responsible for ensuring that Ukrainians could protest “without fear of repression”.
Yanukovych responded to the mounting pressure by announcing a “truce” and the start of direct talks with the opposition after receiving three top opposition leaders in a presidential office that less than a block from the site of Tuesday’s deadliest violence.
But the scenes playing out in the heart of Kiev on Wednesday evening suggested a war zone that was being reinforced from all sides before a new fight.
Pungent smoke from car tyres rose over the capital’s iconic Independence Square while bursts of gunfire and exploding stun grenades echoed across the paralysed city centre as determined protesters faced off over burning barricades against lines of heavily armed troops.
The shocking scale of the violence three months into the crisis brought expressions of grave concern from Western leaders and condemnation of an “attempted coup” by the Kremlin.
The nation of 46 million people sits on the geopolitical border between Russia and the West, and the crisis was ignited by Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a historic European Union agreement in favour of closer ties with Russia.
Obama cautioned Yanukovych that Washington was “watching closely” as the EU for its part called an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss sanctions against those responsible for the use of force.
The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland — two leading proponents of stiff EU sanctions — along with France prepared to hold urgent talks with Yanukovych in Kiev on Thursday morning before flying back to Brussels to consider imposing measures against his ministers.
Yanukovych gave off conflicting signals on Wednesday that suggested a leadership grasping for answers to the country’s worst crisis since it gained independence two decades ago.
He showed unbending resolve on Wednesday afternoon by announcing plans to launch a sweeping “anti-terror” operation and sacking the army’s top general — a powerful figure lauded by the opposition for refusing to back the use of force against those who had come out on the street.
But he then received three top protest leaders and told them he would take no immediate action against those who have taken to the streets against his rule.
“The sides announced a truce and the start of a negotiations process aimed at ending the bloodshed (and) stabilising the situation in the country for the benefit of civil peace,” a statement posted on the president’s website said after talks that included opposition leader Vitali Klitschko.
- Cold War rhetoric -
The Cold War-style confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s future gained steam on Wednesday with a string of outraged comments from Moscow that included condemnation of the protesters, EU officials and Washington.
The Pig's spokesman placed all responsibility for the violence on “extremists (whose) actions can be seen and are seen in Moscow exclusively as an attempted coup d’etat”.
The Russian foreign ministry bluntly referred to Ukraine as a “brother” country — a clear reference to Moscow’s view of ex-Soviet states as its historic sphere of influence that must not be meddled with by the West.
The heated rhetoric prompted a telephone conversation between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at finding a joint solution to the crisis that could head off the diplomatic tensions.
“We have decided to stay in very close contact with Russia,” Merkel said alongside French President Francois Hollande and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso after talks in Paris.
Barroso for his part said he had urged Yanukovych in a telephone conversation to engage in a “sincere and constructive political dialogue with the opposition”.
- Central post office ‘occupied’ -
Kiev protesters — many wearing ski masks to hide their identities — meanwhile took control of both the central post office and the state radio and television headquarters that sit on the edge of Independence Square.
The move was largely symbolic because the imposing building had already been empty and only serve as the office space for officials responsible for bureaucratic affairs.
But the state media centre was transformed into new provisional headquarters for the Kiev protest movement after its hand-picked leaders were forced to vacate another government building on the square after it was engulfed in flames.
“This is where activists can turn to for information and where they can get any help they want,” media centre coordinator Eduard Bubnyak told AFP.
Volunteers streamed into the media centre’s makeshift kitchen on the first floor with donations of food and blankets as Bubnyak spoke. Several medics prepared piles of medicine and bandages to treat the wounded in a room nearby.
Ukrainian media reports said protesters on Wednesday had also stormed the administration building in Poltava — a region in eastern Ukraine that had represented the base of Yanukovych’s pro-Russian support.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Lavrov Urges Ukraine Opposition Cooperation, Germany Wants to 'Avoid Escalation'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 21:30
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call to his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for the European Union to encourage the opposition to cooperate with the authorities.
Steinmeier is heading to Ukraine on Thursday with the French and Polish foreign ministers before emergency talks among EU ministers in Brussels.
Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin is also set to visit Kiev Thursday, Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin said, cited by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
Lavrov "called for partners in the European Union to use their close and daily contacts with the opposition to urge them to cooperate with the Ukrainian leadership", the Russian foreign ministry said on its website.
Lavrov said the opposition should respect the agreements it made with the Ukrainian government and distance itself from "radical forces who have unleashed bloody riots and essentially embarked on the path to a coup d'etat".
His comments appeared to be a change of strategy since he had earlier on Wednesday accused Western powers of meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, said she had spoken with Russian President Pig V. Putin and the two had agreed "to do everything to avoid an escalation of violence" in Ukraine.
Merkel said she had "informed" the Pig of plans to send the foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France to Kiev on Thursday morning.
"We have decided to stay in very close contact with Russia," she said, adding that "everything must be done to launch a political process" in Ukraine.
Merkel was speaking alongside French President Francois Hollande and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso after talks in Paris.
Barroso said he had spoken to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and urged him to engage in a "sincere and constructive political dialogue with the opposition".
He said he had told Yanukovych that "violence is not the answer" to Ukraine's political crisis.
"I have hope that president Yanukovych can have a real answer to these very strong messages from the European Union," Barroso said.
IOC bans Ukraine's athletes from wearing black armbands at Sochi
Request from national team to mark violent loss of life in Kiev denied due to ban on political protests at Games
Shaun Walker in Sochi
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 February 2014 13.24 GMT
The International Olympic Committee has banned Ukrainian competitors at the Sochi winter Games from wearing black armbands to commemorate the deaths of protesters and police in Kiev.
The country's Olympic association said in a statement that it had asked the IOC if its competitors could mark the "deep pain over the loss of fellow countrymen" by wearing black armbands. "The answer was received from the IOC that in accordance with the Olympic charter it is not possible to do this."
Sponsor logos are everywhere at the Olympics, but the IOC regularly bans anything it deems to be political. It has also banned helmet sticker tributes to Sarah Burke, a skier who died in a 2012 accident, at Sochi.
Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole-vaulting hero and leader of his country's delegation to Sochi, appealed on his Twitter account to both sides to stop the violence: "I want to bring Olympic truce to my country. Dialogue is power, violence is weakness," he wrote. "Our athletes are competing hard in Sochi, but peacefully and with honour. Violence has no place in the World."
Bubka is also a former MP for President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
"Yes it's a distraction, everyone's talking about it. Even just now at the start, at the finish, people are saying 'what's happened in your country, what's happened?'" said Dmytro Mytsak, 18, a giant slalom skier from Kiev. "We're getting support from the Russian spectators and I'm grateful for that."
Ukrainian cross-country skiers Kateryna Serdyuk and Marina Lisogor pulled out of the women's team sprint classic event in which they were due to compete on Wednesday, but the Ukrainian delegation said that this was because of an injury to Serdyuk rather than for political reasons.
The IOC's spokesman, Mark Adams, reiterated on Wednesday that there was no place for political protests at the Olympics, and criticised the Italian transgender former MP, Vladimir Luxuria, who has been detained twice, once for displaying a rainbow flag that read "Gay is OK", and again for wearing a rainbow outfit inside one of the Olympic venues.
"She explicitly had said that she would demonstrate in a venue and clearly venues are not the place where we would like to have political demonstration," Adams said.
Asked about the detention for several hours of nine people including members of the punk group Pussy Riot on Tuesday, Adams said: "I understand that what happened yesterday wasn't in the context of any demonstration against the Games, so at the moment I don't have any relationship at all with that incident."
Ukraine: a crisis that affects us all
The increasingly grave developments in the Ukrainian capital could have repercussions for Russia, the EU, and the world
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 February 2014 23.33 GMT
Ukraine could become the most serious crisis the world has faced for many years. The confrontation between President Viktor Yanukovych and the growing popular protest movement has lurched back and forth since late November, with violent episodes punctuated by truces, talks and attempts at mediation. It was dangerous, and often seemed beyond control, but it was possible to imagine it ending in some muddled compromise or in a deal with the European Union that the president could use to fend off his critics.
But the problem was that the original cause for the protests, the suspension of talks on an association with the EU, became less and less important. Demands that the EU negotiations be reinstated and the closer relationship with Russia that the president had embraced be repudiated were eclipsed by an insistence that the president and all his people step down and the corrupt, coercive and quasi-criminal system through which they were said to be ruling be dismantled.
The deaths of so many in Kiev on Tuesday, followed by a crackdown on so-called terrorism across the country and allegations that a coup was under way, have almost certainly taken the Ukrainian government, the formal opposition and the protest movement beyond the point of no return. Perhaps advised by President Vladimir Putin, Mr Yanukovych, who has used force both inconsistently and ineffectively throughout, decided to get tougher.
The result is a deepening of the crisis that will affect not only the fate of Ukraine, but that of Russia, the European Union and the United States. At stake for Ukraine are its chances of a decent political future, for, if the present government stays, it will be able to do so only by using more and more force and by criminalising all the protesters, something it has already begun to do. Early elections might represent a way out, but it is hard to imagine the regime, having chosen the path of repression, making such a concession.
At stake for Russia is Mr Putin's credibility, and that of his own system, not so very different in some respects from Mr Yanukovych's. Although there is much Russian popular support for him on the Ukraine issue, this might well erode if the situation there slipped into wider violence or even into something akin to civil war. Ukraine is not Georgia, done and dusted in a weekend. On the other hand, if Mr Yanukovych were to be pushed from power, that would be a far bigger defeat than the mere signing of an EU agreement would have been.
At stake for the EU, already weakened by the euro crisis and by its own internal divisions, is its weight in international affairs and in its own continent. Did the EU mismanage the Ukraine negotiations by failing to offer, on the side, a financial package that would have rescued Mr Yanukovych from his debtors? Did it imply too strongly, as some believe, that a closer relationship with Brussels excluded a close relationship with Moscow?
Should it have more strongly backed Poland, the EU country that takes Ukraine most seriously, when the Poles argued that the situation should get more attention? Should it have instituted sanctions, on the president and others, when Mr Yanukovych's bad faith in offering and then withdrawing concessions, in pledging not to use force and then using it, became apparent? Perhaps sanctions would have made little difference. But, whatever the rights and wrongs of that, the EU does not emerge with its reputation enhanced, and the loss of prestige could prove permanent.
At stake for the United States is its already prickly relationship with Russia. That has implications for arms control and for American diplomacy on Syria and Iran. Co-operation between America and Russia has slipped badly, but what remains is still a requirement for an orderly world. Thus it is that Ukraine has gone from being a story of trouble in a distant place to being an issue which could profoundly affect all our futures.
Italy's Renzi to Formally Accept Prime Minister's Post Saturday
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 16:03
Italy's center-left leader Matteo Renzi said he intends to formally accept the position of prime minister on Saturday, ahead of a confidence vote in his new government.
The prime minister-designate, who has been holding coalition talks with a dozen parties this week, said that after accepting his nomination by the president he intends to "come before parliament from Monday" for his government line-up to be voted into power by the upper and lower houses.
<Denmark 'Cautiously Optimistic' over Syria Chemical Weapons
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 22:14
Denmark's premier, whose country is a key player in an international operation to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal, said Wednesday she was "cautiously optimistic" the timetable for doing so will be met.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt was speaking during a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades aboard the Danish frigate HDMS Esbern Snare, which is escorting Syrian chemical weapons shipments and is operating out of nearby Cyprus.
"I am still cautiously optimistic in terms of keeping the timeframe that we have adopted, but it is important that we put some pressure on the Syrians to live up to their part of the bargain, and we are here to fulfil the task," Thorning-Schmidt said.
Under a U.N. resolution, Syria is to turn over all its chemical weapons for destruction, but Damascus has missed several key deadlines to move material and U.N. officials have urged it to speed up the process.
Syria says it remains committed to a June 30 deadline to destroy its entire chemical arsenal but that the ongoing civil war is causing delays.
Danish and Norwegian naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials from Syria, where they will be transshipped to a U.S. Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.
"We have a mandate, we have the ship, we have the operational tools to fulfill this task and this is why we are here," Thorning-Schmidt said.
"It is very important. We talk about chemical weapons that were used to kill a thousand people, and that is why this task is very, very important."
She was referring to deadly chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus on August 21 that Western governments accused the regime of President Bashar Assad of carrying out.
EU must help refashion Bosnia's future
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 February 2014 21.00 GMT
Your leader (17 February) forgets that the international community, particularly the European Union, has lost interest in Bosnia. The high representative's influence has considerably diminished in recent years; the international community has failed to contain the Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity) as it inches its way towards some sort of independence. Mostar remains a bitterly divided city – in spite of the symbolism of the restored bridge, there has been no local government since 1995. A recent survey by Mostar University shows how many Bosnian Croats want their own "entity" and, given the inability of many Bosniak politicians to put the interests of their country before their own, there is a worrying new development: the growth of radical Islamism, which will certainly thrive in a population where 57% of young people are unemployed. Officials from the EU do little but publicly reprimand politicians and urge them to show "leadership". But the recent protests offer new possibilities, particularly among a younger generation weary of the old nationalisms. Some NGOs are calling for a national dialogue. If politicians can't or won't wake up, then it will be up to these NGOs to take a lead in refashioning Bosnia's future – and the least the EU should do is to make funding available at once for such an initiative.
The Rev Donald Reeves
Director, the Soul of Europe
• Bosnia has indeed become "a mess of overlapping and competing administrations which turned into a happy hunting ground for ethnically based politicians, who could exploit its many possibilities for patronage and personal enrichment". This succinct and accurate description poses a stern question for those who have crowed over the break-up of Yugoslavia, the overthrow of Saddam and Gaddafi, and who act as cheerleaders for armed opposition to Assad. Does intervention by the US and its allies leave the situation in the country concerned better or worse?
University of Westminster and UCL
02/19/2014 05:58 PM
Interest Rate Blues: Emerging Nations Demand Western Support
By Martin Hesse and Christian Reiermann
At the G-20 finance ministers' meeting in Sydney, emerging economies will push for joint action to halt rising interest rates. But the industrialized nations want nothing to do with it and are instead arguing that each country should solve its own problems.
A relatively agreeable meeting is awaiting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble at the end of this week. The journey itself, to be sure, will be a taxing one; the flight from Berlin to Sydney will take almost 24 hours. But once he arrives, the greatest difficulty will already be behind him.
Under the summer Australian sun, Schäuble will meet with his counterparts from industrialized and emerging economies as part of the G-20 meeting there. As always, the state of the global economy will be the main topic of conversation.
Schäuble and his colleagues from the euro zone, in contrast to previous years, can sit back and relax this time around. Nobody will be trying to force Germany, France or Italy to take immediate action to protect the world economy from turbulence in Europe. "The euro as such is no longer the focus of financial market attention as a source of concern," Schäuble recently said with satisfaction. The euro crisis, much to the pleasure of European leaders, has gone dormant. This year, others will be in the spotlight, such as the Americans.
Investors Return to Dollar
Representatives from India, Brazil and Turkey in particular accuse the US Federal Reserve, under the leadership of new head Janet Yellen, of having severely handicapped their economies by backing away from the crisis driven policies it has pursued in recent years. By reducing the number of US sovereign bonds it purchases, the Fed has triggered a rise in US interest rates, with the consequence that a flood of investors are now returning to the dollar from emerging economies.
To halt the decline of their currencies, India and Turkey were recently forced to raise their own interest rates, a move which, while propping up the exchange rate, also puts the brakes on economic growth. As such, they and similar countries want to use the meeting in Sydney to establish a common approach with the industrialized economies, particularly with the US. They want the developed world to pay closer attention to economies in Asia and Latin America.
The battle lines are familiar: emerging economies versus Europe and the US, just like at the beginning of the economic crisis. Back then, though, China, India and Co. were negotiating from a position of strength. Pointing to their own strong growth rates, they demanded that the Americans and Europeans -- who they not illogically saw as having caused the crisis -- do more to prevent a collapse of the global economy. Now, though, with growth in emerging economies having slowed, roles have been reversed.
Many of the contours of the Sydney showdown are already clear. Even if the Americans and Europeans were often at odds during the euro crisis, Europe firmly backs the US position now. Schäuble, in particular, can be relied on; he considers the complaints coming from Asia and South America to be unjustified and believes that the dangers to the global economy are no longer to be found in the euro zone or in the US.
He has some pretty powerful supporters too. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now sees the US as an engine of growth and has stated that the collective euro-zone economy has emerged from recession. It is time, Berlin feels, to move away from crisis policies and return to normality -- just as the US has been doing in recent months.
The Finance Ministry in Berlin believes that the shift shouldn't come as a surprise to the emerging economies. After all, they were forewarned at the G-20 meeting in Cannes back in November of 2011 that industrialized countries would abandon crisis policies as soon as the situation allowed. That time, Berlin says, has now come.
In any case, Schäuble argues, complaints shouldn't be directed at himself and his Western counterparts. He points out that central banks make their decisions independently, free of political meddling. And that, too, is an argument he plans to pull out in Sydney if necessary.
Schäuble and his Western counterparts also have the impression that they are being abused as scapegoats. Many of the problems currently being faced by emerging countries, they say, are homemade. Turkey's economy, for example, is not the victim of global problems. Rather, many of the difficulties it is facing stem from the domestic policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Argentina, which has also distinguished itself in America bashing of late, is suffering from the consequences of decades of misguided economic policy. In Thailand, the government and opposition have been locked in a stalemate for months, which has left its mark on the economy. And Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has proven unable to get corruption and excessive regulation under control.
The 'OHIO Principle'
Thus, Europe and the US are expected to call on their critics to pursue the OHIO principle, as experts call it. The abbreviation stands for "Own House in Order," meaning roughly that each country should do its own homework. And that's a major reason why Western representatives don't see a need for orchestrated action against the turbulences within the context of the G-20. "We aren't expecting an Asia crisis 2.0," a Schäuble staffer said.
But there is no way of ruling that out entirely. There are plenty of reasons that the economic miracles in the emerging economies have recently lost some of their sparkle. For the past two years, growth in China has fallen below the double-digits, increasing instead at an average of 7.7 percent, notes Min Zhu, deputy chief of the International Monetary Fund. That's still dizzyingly fast compared to mature economies like Germany or Japan, but nevertheless a little slower than important trading partners and raw materials suppliers to China, like Brazil, India and South Africa, have been used to for years now.
China recently tamed its furious pace of investment, putting an end to the price bonanza surrounding many raw materials that had ensured high growth and ample foreign exchange revenues. Of course, there's also the issue of interest doping. As long as interest rates in the United States, Europe and Japan remained microscopically small, emerging countries were also able to borrow money under fantastic conditions.
Since 2010, more than $1 trillion net flowed each year into the emerging markets of Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. But the influx receded in 2013 to levels not seen since 2008.
"For a long time, it appeared that there were few differences remaining between emerging economies and fully developed industrialized nations," says David Solomon, the co-head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs. "The risk premiums were almost at zero. Now people are registering that they overestimated the emerging economies and that these premiums should have been higher."
So far the outflow of capital from once hot markets of the past few years hasn't been that dramatic. Since the currencies of South Africa, India and Turkey plunged at the end of January, the situation has quieted a little. The central banks in those countries raised interest rates and, by doing so, were able to stop the flight of money -- at least for now.
'There Will Be Further Turbulence'
Has the crisis really been resolved though? Can the countries that have been experiencing an economic miracle suddenly get back to business as usual? It is unlikely. "There will be further turbulence; the problems aren't over yet for the emerging economies," says Scott Mather, deputy chief investment officer at Pimco, the world's largest bond fund. He does believe, however, that investors will differentiate more between the individual countries. "The problems will last longer in those places where economic vulnerability is mixed with political instability -- for example, in Ukraine, Turkey or Thailand."
The most economically vulnerable countries are those that import much more than they sell abroad and are thus accustomed to high capital influxes. When high deficits and debts are added to the equation, the investor money can evaporate just as quickly as it flowed in during recent years.
Still, numerous economists -- be they from the IMF, the banks or the large funds -- are still optimistic. The dangerous mix that triggered the financial crises of the late 1990s occurs less frequently today. "Many emerging economies are in a better starting position than they were in the earlier crises," says Scott Mather. "They possess greater currency reserves, less rigid exchange rates and in many cases a balanced or even positive current account balance."
That's only true to a certain extent. Brazil may have sextupled its currency reserves within eight years to around $350 billion, an increase that fosters trust and the impression that the country has become far more robust. But the government still hasn't found a solution for its massive negative account balance, inflation is at around 6 percent and growth is leveling off at a level similar to that of Germany.
Countries like India or Indonesia have similar structural problems. In addition, problems like corruption and political uncertainty are common. In recent days, the exchange rates of oil countries like Russia and Kazakhstan went into decline.
US Will Play Decisive Role
This rightfully makes managers of American pension funds or German insurance outlays nervous. When investors' risk aversion grows and the herd starts running in another direction, investors tend to just start pulling their money out all over the place. They don't spend much time analyzing the specifics of each individual country. If growth doesn't recover in the emerging economies, the situation could yet worsen.
The US will play a decisive role in whether that happens or not. "At the moment, the global economy is very dependent on the recovery of the American economy and continued low interest rates," says Dennis Snower, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
Many other economists share Snower's view that a normalization of America's monetary policy is not only essential, but is also in the interest of the emerging nations. "In the short term, the change of course in American monetary policy may cause pain for developing nations, but they will profit from it in the end if the Fed is able to ensure sustainable growth," Pimco executive Mather says.
But if the situation in the emerging economies continues to worsen and the turbulence endures, the reverse could be true -- because it could jeopardize the upswing in the United States as well as Europe's recovery.
'Negative Feedback Loop'
"The potential for a negative feedback loop from the emerging markets to the developed markets is huge," Gautram Batra, managing director and investment strategist at London-based Signia Wealth, told Bloomberg earlier this month. Global companies are increasingly dependent on developing nations. Corporations like Apple, General Motors, Coca-Cola or multinational oil companies already generate a high share of their profits there. Multinational food giant Nestlé recently admitted it had missed profit expectations because of turbulence in these markets.
An enduring crisis in the developing economies could also create fresh worries for Europe's strapped financial sector. Analysts at Deutsche Bank recently calculated that competing banks, like Italy's Unicredit, Spain's Santander or Austria's Erste Bank, generate a high degree of their profits from emerging markets, making them vulnerable.
But economists like Snower consider the danger that Europe's recovery will be halted by crisis in the emerging economies to be limited. "Emerging economies still play a minor role for German exports, with most going to Europe," he says. Italy alone imports as much from Germany as Argentina, Brazil, India and Turkey do combined. So it's likely that political and economic problems in Italy would be the source of greater concern for German Finance Minister Schäuble than turbulence in Istanbul or Buenos Aires.
Still, if a conciliatory gesture toward the emerging economies does come in Sydney, it will likely come from the Europeans. For now, it is virtually assured they will maintain their loose monetary policy.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey
Turkey Seeks to Widen Powers of Spy Agency
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 February 2014, 12:53
Turkey's government has submitted a bill to parliament to give the country's spy agency more sweeping powers, a parliamentary source said Thursday.
The bill aims to give the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) the authority to carry out missions and surveillance both in Turkey and abroad without the need for a court order.
The MIT, which reports to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will also have unlimited access to all documents -- from personal information to data on public or banking sector -- pertaining to national security.
And journalists who publish MIT documents face up to 12 years in prison -- seen as a fresh attempt by Erdogan to stifle dissent.
Erdogan has come under fire at home and abroad for what critics see as increasingly authoritarian policies, including curbs on the judiciary and the Internet.
The government also embarked on a massive purge of police and prosecutors in the wake of a damaging corruption probe launched last year targeting several members of Erdogan's inner circle.
Iran nuclear talks off to a good start, says EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton says agreement on 'ingredients for success' are an early step forward in Vienna talks
Reuters in Vienna
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 10.40 GMT
Six world powers and Iran made a "good start" during talks in Vienna towards reaching a final settlement on Tehran's contested nuclear programme, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters after three days of talks, Ashton said the two sides had identified the ingredients of an accord that could end years of hostility between the west and Iran.
However, she cautioned that future talkds, which western governments want to wrap up by late July, would not be easy.
"We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement," she said. "There is a lot to do. It won't be easy but we have made a good start."
Senior diplomats from the six powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – as well as Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Ashton agreed to meet again on 17 March, also in Vienna.
Although modest in scope, the agreement for talks indicates an early step forward in the search for a settlement in the nuclear dispute, which carries the risk of enveloping the Middle East in a new war.
The sides remain far apart on how to resolve the dispute and both Iran and the US - a key player in the talks - have publicly stated it may not be possible to reach a final deal.
A senior US state department official said of Wednesday's second day of talks: "Today's discussions, which covered both process and substance, were constructive and useful."
The six powers want a long-term deal on the scope of Iran's nuclear work to lay to rest concerns that they could be put to developing atomic bombs. Tehran's priority is a complete removal of damaging economic sanctions.
The powers have yet to spell out their precise demands of Iran. But western officials have signalled they want Tehran to cap enrichment of uranium at a low fissile concentration, limit research and development of new nuclear equipment, decommission a substantial portion of its centrifuges used to refine uranium, and allow greater access UN nuclear inspectors.
Such steps, they believe, would help extend the time Iran would need to make enough fissile material for a bomb and make such a move easier to detect before it became a fait accompli. Tehran says its programme is peaceful and has no military aims.
Wide differences over expectations remain, however. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, was quoted by Press TV on Tuesday as saying Iran would not agree to dismantle its nuclear installations.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards worried nuclear talks will damage country’s pride
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 10:56 EST
Iran and six powers held nuclear talks for a second day Wednesday as the commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards warned against damaging “national pride” but predicted a “victorious” outcome.
Speaking in Iran, Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari warned against crossing “red lines” that would damage the country’s pride.
He has previously indicated his opposition to any dismantling of nuclear facilities, even though the chief US negotiator, Wendy Shermann, said Iran “does not need” the Fordo site or a new heavy-water reactor at Arak.
Jafari said that Iran “will be victorious either way” in the talks.
Michael Mann, spokesman for the powers’ lead negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the talks in Vienna were “substantive” and “useful”.
He declined to comment, however, on the substance of the meetings between Iran with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, nor on whether they would continue on Thursday as scheduled, nor on a date for the next round.
Ashton is due to chair a meeting in Brussels on Thursday afternoon of EU foreign ministers on the situation on Ukraine. It was unclear if this meant the Iran talks must finish by then.
The parties in Vienna hope to create a lasting accord out of the landmark interim deal struck in November, under which Iran agreed to freeze certain nuclear activities for six months.
In exchange, the Western governments offered minor relief from a range of punishing sanctions that have cost Iran up to $8 billion per month in lost oil revenues, as well as a promise of no new sanctions.
The six-month deal expires on July 20 but can be extended, with the parties aiming to conclude negotiations and implement the final “comprehensive” deal by November.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said late Tuesday that the talks had “started on the right track”.
“We have a shared objective, and that is for Iran to have a nuclear programme that is exclusively peaceful,” he said from Vienna in a webcast discussion with Denver University’s Center for Middle East Studies.
He said a deal was “totally achievable” but would take more than “one or two sittings” and would require “some innovation and some forward thinking”.
Others have been considerably more circumspect about the prospects for a deal that satisfies hardliners on both sides, as well as other countries such as Israel, after a decade of failed initiatives and rising tensions.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that this effort would “go nowhere” but that he was not against trying.
The aim of the final deal would be for Iran to retain its civilian nuclear programme, but likely on a reduced scale and with enhanced oversight in order to ensure a dash for nuclear weapons is all but impossible.
In exchange for a full lifting of sanctions, the powers want Iran’s nuclear programme to be within what the Geneva deal called “mutually agreed parameters consistent with (Iran’s) practical needs” and for a “long-term duration”.
Iran has long been suspected of seeking atomic weapons, despite its denials, and the US and Israel — the latter assumed to have a large atomic arsenal itself — have never ruled out military action.
Further upping the ante between the two foes, Iran’s foreign ministry on Wednesday blamed a double suicide car bombing near an Iranian cultural centre in Beirut that killed four people on Israeli “agents”.
India's supreme court says Rajiv Gandhi killers cannot be released
Supreme court steps in to prevent release of death row trio convicted of murder of former prime minister in 1991
Anu Anand in New Delhi
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 10.38 GMT
India's supreme court has stepped in to prevent the release of three men sentenced to death for their role in the assassination of India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, according to reports on Thursday.
The court said the three - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who were on death row – cannot be released by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state, where the attack took place and where they are being held.
Four others serving life sentences, including Murugan's wife, Nalini, could still go free.
The court set a date of 6 March for further deliberations.
On Tuesday, India's Supreme Court commuted death sentences for the men to life in prison, because it said they had languished too long in legal limbo. They had neither been put to death nor had their mercy petitions heard.
On Wednesday, in a move that surprised much of the country, Tamil Nadu's chief minister Jayaram Jayalalitha said she would use legal provisions under the Indian criminal code to release all seven prisoners early. She gave the government three days to respond.
"If (the federal government) fails to respond in three days, we will release all of them on our own," she told the state legislature.
According to Indian criminal law, the leader of a state can release convicted prisoners serving life terms early as long as they have served at least 14 years of their sentence. But the central government must be consulted, since it originally prosecuted the cases.
However, Jayalalitha's counsel at the supreme court, Rakesh Dwivedi, said she is only required to consult the government, not seek approval.
On Thursday, India's Congress Party, led by Rajiv's widow, Sonia, and his son, Rahul, who is the next likely prime ministerial candidate, filed a petition with the supreme court challenging the releases.
"The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India," current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in the statement issued soon after the government filed its legal challenge.
The showdown pits the Gandhi dynasty and its ailing Congress party against a powerful regional leader who may be key to forming the next national government.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in May 1991 at a campaign rally in the town of Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. A female suicide bomber detonated explosives as she bent to touch his feet, a way of showing respect in India. He was 47 years old.
A total of 18 people, including Gandhi and the bomber, were killed in the blast, organized by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels as punishment for Indian forces being sent to their country.
The Indian government originally prosecuted 26 people in the case. However, in 1999, nineteen were acquitted, leaving the seven currently in prison. That same year, Sonia Gandhi said she did not believe anyone should be put to death.
In 2008, Rajiv Gandhi's daughter, Priyanka, secretly visited Nalini Sriharan in prison in Vellore. Shriharan had given birth to a daughter while facing trial and had her death sentence commuted to life with the blessing of Sonia Gandhi.
"Meeting with Ms Nalini was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced," Priyanka, 19 years old at the time of her father's killing, said at the time. "I do not believe in anger, hatred and violence and I refuse to allow it any power over my life."
But Wednesday, despite these overtures, Rahul Gandhi expressed his anger at the possibility of the releases.
"I am saddened by this," he said. "If a prime minister's killers are being released, what kind of justice should the common man expect?"
However, the families of the prisoners have expressed happiness and relief.
"I'm very very very happy," Harithra Murugan, the daughter of Nalini Shriharan and Murugan, told India's NDTV news channel by phone early Thursday, before the latest Supreme Court decision. "I knew one day they're going to get released. I know they are innocent."
Murugan has kept a low profile for security reasons, but she was born in prison in 1992 as her mother faced trial. She later emigrated with her extended family to the UK. According to The Hindu and now lives in London.
Under today's supreme court ruling, her father, Murugan, cannot be released. But her mother, Nalini, still may be if Tamil Nadu leader Jayalalitha keeps her word.
Pakistan launches air strikes on Taliban
Attacks said to have killed 15 comes after peace talks faltered and Taliban announced it had executed 23 Pakistani soldiers
Reuters in Islamabad
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 07.22 GMT
Pakistani fighter jets have bombed suspected militant hideouts in a tribal area on the Afghan border, killing at least 15 people, security officials said, after attempts to engage the Taliban in peace talks collapsed.
“We received information about militant hideouts and based on our intelligence precision strikes were carried out around midnight in the Mir Ali area,” an intelligence official told Reuters. “Fifteen militants were killed in the bombing. Thirteen of them were foreign fighters.”
Another security official said a cache of arms was destroyed in the strikes.
Nawaz Sharif became prime minister last year with a promise to find a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
But as talks broke down this week the air strikes may herald a broader military offensive in North Waziristan, a region where many insurgents are based.
The army publicly supports Sharif’s call for talks but in private senior officers have expressed frustration, giving rise to talk that the military was waiting for an excuse to mount an armed operation.
The excuse may have come this week when a Taliban wing operating in the tribal Mohmand region said it had executed 23 soldiers in revenge for the killing of its own fighters by army forces.
Thursday morning’s air strikes came a few hours after Pakistan’s army said more than 100 soldiers had been killed by Taliban militants in the last five months, a rare admission of mass casualties.
In an unusually tough statement Sharif’s spokesman said in televised remarks late on Wednesday that the Pakistan army was capable of crushing all enemies.
“The prime minister wants to resolve these issues without bloodshed but if the Taliban continue killing people then we will be left with no choice but to keep our citizens safe from terrorism through any means possible,” Pervez Rashid said.
Thai PM Protests Innocence amid Impeachment Threat
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 February 2014, 09:21
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra protested her innocence on Thursday after an anti-corruption panel filed charges of neglect of duty that could lead to her removal from office.
The embattled premier is under intense pressure from various legal challenges and almost four months of mass street protests demanding her resignation.
Yingluck questioned why the investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into an expensive rice subsidy scheme had apparently been fast-tracked.
"I reaffirm that I am innocent of the accusations by the NACC," Yingluck said on her official Facebook page.
"Even though I am accused of criminal charges and face removal (from office), which were the wishes of people who want to overthrow the government, I am willing to cooperate to establish the facts," she added.
The NACC says Yingluck ignored warnings that the rice scheme was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. She has been summoned to hear the charges on February 27.
Yingluck urged the panel not to rush to deliver a ruling "which may be criticized by society as benefiting people who want to overthrow the government". She noted that similar complaints against the previous administration were still under investigation.
Her critics say the controversial scheme, which guarantees farmers above-market rates for rice, has encouraged corruption, drained the public coffers and left the country with a mountain of unsold stock.
Yingluck said she was simply trying to improve the lives of farmers, some of whom have staged protests because they have not been paid for months under the scheme -- a delay the government has blamed on the demonstrations.
Hundreds of farmers driving trucks and tractors were heading towards the capital in a slow-moving convoy, with some local media reports suggesting they plan to go to Bangkok's main airport on Friday to voice their demands for payment.
Suvarnabhumi Airport director Rawewan Netrakavesna said they would be allowed to gather in a designated area but added that more than 1,000 soldiers and police were on standby to provide security.
"I think they (the farmers) will come to stage a symbolic protest but they cannot shut the airport," she said.
Thailand's tourist industry still has painful memories of 2008 when opposition protesters paralyzed Bangkok's main airports, stranding thousands of travelers.
In another setback to Yingluck, a Civil Court on Wednesday ordered the government not to use force against peaceful protests, limiting the authorities' scope to deal with opposition rallies that have descended into violence on several occasions.
Authorities announced they would swiftly appeal the decision, saying it has crippled their ability to keep order and uphold the law.
"Protesters can lay siege to government offices and obstruct elections as the public has seen," Tarit Pengdith, of the agency in charge of the security response to the crisis, said in a televised address Thursday.
"That's not right," he said, adding their work "has been stopped" by the court ruling.
Sixteen people have been killed, both protesters and policemen, and hundreds injured in gunfire and grenade blasts linked to demonstrations.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused both sides of using live ammunition in clashes on Tuesday in Bangkok's historic district in which five people were killed and dozens wounded.
"Excessive force by the police and violence by groups on both sides of the political divide needs to stop to prevent this situation from escalating out of control," HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
The government has said security forces used only rubber bullets and not live ammunition.
Protesters accuse Yingluck's billionaire family of using taxpayers' money to buy the loyalty of rural voters through populist policies such as the rice scheme.
Shinawatra business interests are the latest target of the demonstrators, with their firebrand protest leader calling for a boycott of several companies.
"All Shinawatra businesses must collapse," Suthep Thaugsuban told a cheering crowd outside a building linked to the family.
The opposition demonstrators want Yingluck to step down and make way for a temporary unelected government that would oversee loosely defined reforms to tackle corruption and alleged vote-buying.
The main opposition party boycotted a February 2 election which Yingluck called to try to defuse the protests. The results are not expected to be known until balloting is held in constituencies where voting was disrupted by protesters.
U.N. Envoy Urges Impartial Probe into Myanmar 'Killings'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 February 2014, 18:31
The U.N.'s rights envoy to Myanmar on Wednesday raised "serious concerns" over the impartiality of a government investigation into allegations of deadly attacks on Rohingya Muslims in unrest-torn Rakhine state.
Tomas Ojea Quintana warned that tensions in Rakhine, following two major waves of unrest that left around 140,000 people displaced and sparked anti-Muslim violence in other parts of the country, could "jeopardize the whole (Myanmar political) transition process".
He said domestic probes had so far failed to satisfactorily address claims of a recent eruption of violence in a remote part of the state, including "the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties".
Myanmar, whose sweeping political reforms have been overshadowed by religious bloodshed, has strongly denied civilians were killed but authorities said a police officer was presumed dead after a clash in January.
The government has, however, ordered an inquiry into the incident by a committee that is currently in Rakhine state.
"We need to respect that investigation. At the same time I have serious concerns about the possibility for this investigation... to be impartial and independent," Quintana told reporters.
He added that a history of impunity in the former military dictatorship meant "there has never been an independent investigation of any incident".
Quintana, who was concluding his final mission after a six-year mandate, said the probe was due to present its findings on February 28, but that he would urge the U.N. to aid another inquiry if it did not meet international standards.
"The international community, the United Nations, have a responsibility also in respect to these incidents, which according to the allegations were quite serious," he said.
Quintana said he had met the chief of the state's police, who had admitted that more than 100 officers, armed with live ammunition, had taken part in a search at the village for a missing policeman presumed to have been killed by local people.
He said the authorities denied any deaths or injuries during the operation on January 13 and 14.
The area where the latest violence is believed to have taken place is mainly populated by the stateless Rohingya Muslims, whose movements are strictly controlled by a heavy security presence.
Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Two rounds of unrest in Rakhine state in June and October 2012, largely between local Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority, sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country leaving about 250 people dead.
Nationalistic Remarks From Japan Lead to Warnings of Chill With U.S.
By MARTIN FACKLER
FEB. 19, 2014
TOKYO — A series of defiantly nationalistic comments, including remarks critical of the United States, by close political associates of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has led analysts to warn of a growing chill between his right-wing government and the Obama administration, which views Japan as a linchpin of its strategic pivot to Asia.
Rebuttals from the American Embassy in Japan have added to concerns of a falling-out between Japan and the United States, which has so far welcomed Mr. Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s economy and military outreach in the region to serve as a counterbalance to China. The comments, which express revisionist views of Japan’s World War II history, have also led to renewed claims from Japan’s neighbors, particularly China and South Korea, that Mr. Abe is leading his nation to the right, trying to stir up patriotism and gloss over the country’s wartime history.
One of the most direct criticisms of the United States came this week, when Seiichi Eto, a governing party lawmaker and aide to Mr. Abe, posted a video online in which he criticized the Obama administration for expressing disappointment in the prime minister’s recent visit to a shrine. The visit to the shrine, which honors the war dead including war criminals, stoked anger in South Korea and China, which both suffered under Imperial Japanese rule.
“It is I who am disappointed in the United States,” said Mr. Eto in the video on YouTube, which was removed on Wednesday as the prime minister’s office sought to control the diplomatic damage. “Why doesn’t America treat Japan better?” he added.
The disconnect between Washington and its strongest Asian ally comes at a time of rising regional frictions that Mr. Abe has likened to Europe on the eve of World War I. The disputes over history and territory have complicated the United States’ already fraught attempts to persuade Japan and Korea to present a united front to a more confident China, while also trying to avoid antagonizing the Chinese.
American officials express frustration that Mr. Abe is not doing enough to allay fears in South Korea, a crucial American ally in Asia, about a conservative agenda they worry includes rolling back the apologies that Japan made for its early 20th-century empire-building. American officials also fear he could undermine his own efforts to restore Japan’s standing in Asia by playing into what they call Chinese efforts to paint the Japanese as unrepentant militarists.
Analysts say such concerns are behind the United States Embassy’s taking the unusual step of publicly criticizing Mr. Abe’s trip to the shrine.
For their part, Japanese officials express their own exasperation that the United States does not take a clearer stand in favor of Japan in its continuing dispute with China over the control of islands in the East China Sea. They also complain that the Obama administration has not rewarded Mr. Abe enough, despite his self-proclaimed efforts to improve ties with Washington by taking such politically difficult steps as pushing to restart a stalled base relocation in Okinawa.
“Prime Minister Abe feels frustrated,” said Yuichi Hosoya, an expert on United States-Japan relations at Keio University in Tokyo. “He feels he is not being thanked enough for expending his political capital to strengthen the alliance.”
One of the most provocative comments from Abe allies came this month, when an ultraconservative novelist, Naoki Hyakuta, who was appointed by the prime minister himself to the governing board of public broadcaster NHK, said in a speech that the Tokyo war tribunal after World War II was a means to cover up the “genocide” of American air raids on Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States Embassy called the comments “preposterous.”
Mr. Hyakuta’s comments came days after the new president of NHK, who was chosen last month by a governing board including Abe appointees, raised eyebrows in Washington by saying that Japan should not be singled out for forcing women to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war, saying the United States military did the same. Most historians say the Japanese system of creating special brothels for the troops, then forcing tens of thousands of women from other countries to work there, was different from the practice by other countries’ troops in occupied areas who frequented local brothels.
The Japanese discontent with treatment by the Obama administration goes back to early last year, when a newly elected Mr. Abe tried to arrange an immediate trip to meet the president, only to be told to wait a month. More recently, Japanese officials have appeared hurt that Mr. Obama wants to spend only one night in Japan during a visit to the region in April.
Some analysts say this feeling of being held at arm’s length may be driving some of the recent criticisms of the United States.
“This is one of the most dangerous moments in U.S.-Japan relations that I have seen,” said Takashi Kawakami, an expert on international relations at Takushoku University in Tokyo. “Japan is feeling isolated, and some Japanese people are starting to think Japan must stand up for itself, including toward the United States.”
Analysts note that many of the comments are being made by relatively minor figures, and not members of Mr. Abe’s cabinet. They also say that Japanese public attitudes remain overwhelmingly favorable toward the United States, which has been the guarantor of Japan’s postwar security with its 50,000 military personnel stationed in the country.
At the same time, the analysts say, frustrations on both sides are real. In the United States, they reflect an ambivalence toward Mr. Abe, as some worry that he is returning to the agenda he pursued the last time he was prime minister — trying to revise the country’s pacifist Constitution and downplay wartime atrocities in the name of restoring lost national pride.
“I think the Yasukuni visit was a turning point in U.S. attitudes toward Abe,” Daniel C. Sneider, associate director for research at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, said of the visit to the shrine. “It was a reminder that he is still trying to push his patriotic remake of postwar Japan.”
The Yasukuni Shrine visit, and the American criticism of it, also appeared to unleash the current wave of revisionist statements.
American analysts and officials have faulted Mr. Abe for failing to sufficiently distance himself and his administration from the nationalistic statements. Instead, his government’s spokesman has merely said the statements represented the speakers’ “personal views” without criticizing them, though the spokesman did say the administration had asked Mr. Eto to remove the video expressing disappointment in the United States.
Visiting members of Congress have also warned that revisionist statements as well as Mr. Abe’s visit to Yasukuni would only benefit China. They added, however, that the American relationship with Japan is still sound enough to be easily fixable.
“There are always unfortunate statements and unfortunate comments even among the best of friends, and this is something that is going to have to be worked out and gotten over with,” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, who was part of a group of visiting Congress members in Tokyo who met on Wednesday with Mr. Abe. “It is important that we have an economically vibrant and strong Japan to act as a counterbalance to China.”