Scottish independence: currency union warning 'backfires' on Westminster
Voting analyst says support for independence increased after George Osborne ruled out a currency union
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 20 February 2014 19.56 GMT
A warning by Britain's three main political parties that they would rule out a currency union with an independent Scotland has "backfired" as a new poll shows that only slightly more than a third of voters believe Westminster, according to a leading psephologist.
As David Cameron tries to win over wavering voters by holding the first meeting of his cabinet in Scotland next week, John Curtice said that the gamble on a currency union had failed to boost the pro-UK camp amid signs of an increase in support for independence.
The professor of politics at Strathclyde University issued his warning as Alex Salmond said that George Osborne's decision to rule out a currency union in a speech in Edinburgh last Thursday had "backfired in spectacular fashion".
Salmond told MSPs: "Most people in Scotland would feel that George Osborne insulted the intelligence of the Scottish people … The indications we have so far is that the joint enterprise between George Osborne and Ed Balls has backfired on the two unionist parties in spectacular fashion."
The first minister turned on Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats after a poll in the Scottish Daily Mail showed an increase in support for the pro-independence side in the week since the chancellor's speech. The Survation poll found that 38% support independence (up six points on a poll two weeks ago) compared with 47% who support the UK, down five points. Survation cautions that a direct comparison cannot be made between its two polls because of a change in its methodology.
The poll also found that only 37% of voters believe that the Westminster parties mean what they say, suggesting that Salmond's attack on Osborne for "bluff" is striking a chord. Curtice pointed out that only 48% of voters want to form a currency union anyway.
Curtice said that the strategy of the pro-UK Better Together campaign – to create a game-changing moment by ensuring that Britain's three main political parties ruled out a currency union on the same day – has failed. Curtice wrote on the BBC website: "The poll's headline findings suggest that, if anything, the 'no' side's stratagem has not only failed to deliver any immediate boost to the unionist cause, but has actually backfired."
Salmond seized on the Daily Mail as he joked that he was breaking the habit of a lifetime to quote from the pro-Union right wing paper. The first minister dismissed attacks from the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont by saying that Labour had inflicted severe damage on itself by aligning itself with Osborne.
He said: "The Labour party have done themselves huge damage by associating with the Conservatives and in particular George Osborne. The reaction of the Scottish people to being told, instructed from on high that our currency – the currency that we jointly built up – actually doesn't belong to us, it belongs to George, is entirely understandable and will be deeply uncomfortable for the Labour party in Scotland."
Salmond was scathing about José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, who said it would "difficult if not impossible" for Scotland to join the EU because Spain might block its accession bid. Barroso pointed out that Spain, which fears secession by Catalonia, has blocked Kosovo's membership bid because it broke away from Serbia. Salmond highlighted remarks by Jim Currie, a former director general for environment directorate at the European commission, who described Barroso's remarks as "extremely unwise" and "inaccurate".
Cyprus expected to ease capital controls almost year after €10bn bailout
Restrictions introduced to prevent run on banks due to be lifted on domestic transactions on Friday, say finance ministry officials
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Thursday 20 February 2014 19.08 GMT
Almost a year after it was bailed out to the tune of €10bn (£8.2bn), Cyprus is expected to relax capital controls within the country on Friday.
The restrictions, enforced which were introduced to prevent a run on banks after depositors with more than €100,000 in savings were hit with losses as the price of aid, are due to be lifted on domestic transactions, finance ministry officials told the Guardian.
"There will definitely be some relaxation but I don't want to go into specifics as the markets could take advantage if it got out," said one well-placed insider. "All these steps are in the right direction but there is still a long way to go."
Last week Cyprus's finance minister, Harris Georgiades, said the easing of controls would be substantial. "Starting next week we will have significant relaxations of the restrictive measures," he told reporters after the island's fiscal progress was applauded by mission heads representing its "troika" of lenders – the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Although restrictions have been relaxed since the country's near economic collapse, cash withdrawals are still limited to €300 a day and the cashing of cheques banned, while large cash transfers have to be vetted. In a first for a eurozone state, savers are also forbidden from breaking time deposits.
When the controls were first introduced Cypriots were told they would last only four days.
But in a sign that Cyprus is gradually edging towards recovery, its central bank chief, Panicos Demetriades, has not ruled out all capital controls being lifted by the end of the year – if the country continues to make "substantive progress" in implementing its economic reforms.
"That is expected to happen, if all goes well, by the end of the year," he said last week, adding that he expected nearly all domestic controls to be removed in the next round of easing of controls.
The lifting of domestic restrictions would precede the easing of controls on transactions abroad cited by businessmen as the biggest single obstacle to foreign investment on the island.
Prostitutes in Italy fight for right to pay tax and qualify for pensions
Sex workers protest against tax code that doesn't recognise their profession, despite it being legal
Tom Kington in Reggio Calabria
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 16.53 GMT
As thousands of cash-strapped Italians take to the streets to protest against their tax bills, a small group of earners who have never paid a penny in tax are instead demanding their right to contribute to the nation's coffers.
Prostitutes up and down the country are fighting against a tax code that does not recognise their profession, even though paying for sex is legal, leaving them no chance to pay a cut of their earnings to the tax man and qualify for a pension.
"It is the height of hypocrisy that what I do is legal, but I cannot pay tax on it," said Efe Bal, 36, a Turkish transsexual prostitute who staged a naked protest in the rain outside the offices of Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday, delivering a tirade to two nervous-looking policemen as she barely covered herself with a full-page ad she had taken out in the paper the previous day.
Bal, a sex worker who has written a book called What Husbands Don't Say, has been plastering Milan, her hometown, with posters for months offering to pay tax.
What has really irked prostitutes is that, in a bureaucratic twist, the tax office has now decided to fine them for tax evasion, even though it has given them no way of paying tax.
Bal said she had decided to step up her protest after receiving fines worth €450,000 (£370,000). "It was calculated on payments into my bank account between 2008 and 2012 but didn't discriminate between earnings and the sale of property," she said.
Carol, 54, a Verona-based prostitute born in Ethiopia said she had been treated like an "extraterrestrial" and sent packing when she offered to pay taxes at her local tax office only to receive a bill for €70,000, based on a year's earnings. "That is an exaggeration since I work on the streets and earn €40,000," she said.
"I escaped the war in Ethiopia for a better life and now they are massacring me – I will never have a pension," she added.
Sandra Yara, a Brazilian former prostitute who is now married, said she had been surprised to receive a bill for €50,000 after being told by her local chamber of commerce that her work could not be categorised.
The prostitutes' campaign to pay tax is stepping up as around 60,000 shopkeepers and artisans descended on Rome's Piazza del Popolo this week to demand that the incoming government led by Matteo Renzi lower their tax burden.
To identify Italy's up to 70,000 prostitutes – half of whom are foreign born – tax police are scouring escort websites for names as they try to recoup desperately needed tax revenue, said Pia Covre, head of the Italian Committee for Civil Rights for Prostitutes.
"They have been trying to fit prostitutes into taxable categories and we have heard of women being told they have been classified as working for marriage agencies," said Covre.
Bal, who speaks four languages, said she had done well from her trade, earning up to €20,000 a month before the current economic crisis halved her income. Transsexual prostitutes are a common sight on Italian streets, a phenomenon Bal put down to "widespread bisexuality" among customers.
Bal proposed a scalable tax structure for prostitutes which would estimate their income based on their age and ask them to pay less as they get older.
"Nobody said anything about this issue until I showed my bottom," she said. "My dream now is to visit the head of the Italian tax office and tell him 'I am a prostitute and I want to pay my taxes'."
Three suspected former Auschwitz guards arrested in Germany
Home raids across three states result in arrests of men suspected of having participated in murders at death camp
AFP in Berlin
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 13.56 GMT
Germany has arrested three men suspected of being former SS guards at the Auschwitz death camp in a series of home raids across three states, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The three men remanded in custody on Wednesday were aged 88, 92 and 94 and lived in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, said prosecutors in the city of Stuttgart.
They are suspected of having participated in murders at the Nazis' extermination camp in occupied Poland, where more than 1 million people were killed in the second world war.
The three elderly men underwent medical tests and then faced a judge who confirmed their fitness to be detained in a prison hospital, prosecutors said in a statement.
Further home raids were carried out at three more locations in the state, as well as at other homes in the western states of Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia.
"Various records and documents from the Nazi era were seized, and their evaluation is ongoing," said the statement about the six Baden-Württemberg home raids.
Frankfurt prosecutors separately confirmed two raids in Hesse state Wednesday, in which police searched the homes of men aged 89 and 92 but reported no arrests.
The men were suspected of having served as Auschwitz SS guards from 1942 to 1944.
The German office investigating Nazi war crimes last year sent files on 30 former Auschwitz personnel to state prosecutors with a recommendation to bring charges against them.
The renewed drive to bring to justice the last surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust follows a 2011 landmark court ruling.
For more than 60 years German courts had only prosecuted Nazi war criminals if evidence showed they had personally committed atrocities.
But in 2011 a Munich court sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of Jews at the Sobibor camp, where he had served as a guard, establishing that all former camp guards can be tried.
More than 1 million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by the Nazis from 1940 until it was liberated by Russian forces on 27 January, 1945.
• This article was amended on 20 February 2014. A subheading on the earlier version referred incorrectly to Auschwitz as a 'Polish camp'.
Iran and 6 Powers Agree on Terms for Nuclear Talks
By STEVEN ERLANGER
FEB. 20, 2014
VIENNA — In what officials described as a serious, workmanlike and conversational atmosphere, Iran and six world powers have agreed on a timetable and framework for negotiating a comprehensive agreement to end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s foreign minister said Thursday.
While details were vague and the two delegation leaders declined to take questions at a closing news conference, they said that groups of experts would meet early in March and that the full delegations would meet again on March 17, with the expectation that they would meet monthly.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said: “We had three very productive days during which we have identified all the issues we need to address to reach a comprehensive and final agreement. There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy, but we have made a good start.”
Officials refused to describe the topics for the expert meetings, but a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under the session’s ground rules, said, “Every issue of concern to us is on the table,” including uranium enrichment, Iran’s heavy-water reactor project and its suspected nuclear military research and ballistic missile program. All these issues, the official said, including clarifying the issue of Iran’s past military research, are at least mentioned in a joint plan of action agreed upon with Iran in November in Geneva.
“All our concerns must be met to get an agreement,” said the American official, defining Washington’s goals as ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and that world powers can be confident that Iran’s nuclear program has no military aspect or intent, as Iran maintains.
The care that officials on all sides took not to say anything very specific was striking, as was the positive atmosphere they described in the meetings themselves, which were said by one official to have no element of political rhetoric or posturing, even over “areas of difficulty.” It was clear that most of the work here was about setting an agenda and establishing the priority of the issues at stake, without entering into a substantive discussion of those issues.
Iranian officials have said publicly that only their nuclear program is on the agenda, not their larger military structure, and that they will not dismantle any part of their nuclear program or give up what they have called their right to modernize it. American officials have emphasized that large parts of Iran’s “nuclear infrastructure” will have to be dismantled, as opposed to simply disabled, as part of a final deal.
A six-month deal to essentially freeze Iran’s program in return for modest relief from sanctions and the release of some frozen assets expires on July 20. The officials said they had planned meetings throughout the next four months, but wanted to leave the last month free because talks tend to accelerate and intensify closer to deadlines.
“This is going to be both a marathon and a sprint at the same time,” the American official said. The six-month deal can be extended if both sides agree.
The Iranians also suggested that Ms. Ashton might visit Iran before the March 17 meeting. She leads the talks for the six world powers: the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany.
Western officials and experts concede that Iran will have an enrichment program, but they want to constrain and control it to ensure that Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon quickly or undetected. They want some formula that limits the level of enrichment; caps the stockpiles of enriched uranium; dismantles or decommissions a large number of Iran’s centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium; removes the possibility that the heavy-water reactor will produce plutonium; and allows a deeper level of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed by Iran.
The atomic agency said in a report published on Thursday that Iran was meeting its commitments under the six-month deal. The report said that enrichment of uranium to “medium levels” had stopped, and that a part of Iran’s stockpile of that uranium “is being down-blended, and the remainder is being converted to uranium oxide,” as the deal requires. Enrichment to lower levels continues, the agency said, but no additional centrifuges have been installed, and work has been suspended at the Arak heavy-water reactor.
The head of the American delegation, Wendy R. Sherman, will travel on Thursday from Vienna to brief allies in Jerusalem; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and two of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, while telephoning other allies and members of the United States Congress.
But the Israeli government, in a statement released Thursday, argued that the interim agreement had not brought about “any change in Iran’s nuclear program.”
“For a civilian nuclear program there is no need for centrifuges and no need for a heavy-water reactor,” it said.
Afghanistan troop cuts will likely lead to Taliban surge, study warns
Insurgency ‘likely to swell’ following upcoming US and Nato military withdrawal, challenging Nato’s 2012 expectations
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Thursday 20 February 2014 16.31 GMT
Stability in Afghanistan will require tens of thousands more troops costing billions more dollars than Nato envisioned at a fateful 2012 summit, according to a new Pentagon-sponsored review.
The review, released Thursday and conducted by the nonpartisan think tank CNA at the behest of the Pentagon’s policy directorate, found that the Taliban insurgency is likely to swell in the years following the upcoming US and Nato military withdrawal, sharply challenging expectations set at Nato’s May 2012 summit in Chicago. The review also saw widespread deficiencies in Nato’s planning for Afghanistan manpower, logistics, air support and ministerial strength.
The review comes as the US has all but given up on President Hamid Karzai assenting to a residual US military force, complete with basing rights, and passing off agreement on a post-2014 foreign presence to the winner of Afghanistan’s imminent elections.
The CNA review panel, which included a former Marine Corps commandant and US Army chief of staff, found that the persistent Taliban insurgency will mount an increased threat to the Afghan government for years after the envisaged Nato withdrawal, and require a force substantially larger and more expensive than Nato has planned.
A force of 373,400 Afghan soldiers and police will likely cost between $5bn and $6bn annually to sustain, despite Nato’s projections at the 2012 summit that member nations would spend $4.1bn each year on the nascent force, CNA found. Most of that cost is expected to be borne by Washington, and a $6bn price tag is what the US spent on the Afghan security forces during the height of the 2010-12 troop surge.
That force is approximately 9,000 soldiers and police smaller than today – when factoring in 30,000 semi-official militia known as “Afghan Local Police” – but the US and allied militaries have long planned on diminishing the size of the Afghan security sector drastically further.
In 2012, Nato nations predicated their future commitments to Afghanistan on a drop in Afghanistan’s soldiers and police to 352,000 through 2015, but thereafter downsizing the force significantly, in accordance with a weaker Taliban challenge, to 228,500 by 2017.
The CNA team’s prediction of an increased Taliban threat to Afghanistan through 2018, supported by a recent US intelligence assessment, “stands in direct contradiction to the assumption of a reduced insurgent threat made at the Chicago Summit,” the report states.
Persistent weaknesses in the Afghan security forces are not only a matter of manpower, the CNA team found. “Systemic gaps in capability” remain, including in intelligence, air power, mobility and logistics. The US military plans on spending what could be its final year in Afghanistan addressing those gaps.
The CNA team also advises the Pentagon to keep international military advisers in the Afghanistan ministries of defense and interior through “at least” 2018 to mitigate long-term problems, including corruption and incompetence – something that will not be possible unless Karzai’s successor signs the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement.
“Our analysis suggests that the absence of these advisors has the potential to undermine the ANSF’s combat effectiveness over the timeframe of this study, thereby imparting additional risk to the US policy goal for Afghanistan,” the CNA team found.
The review comes as Washington’s patience with Afghanistan is rapidly waning. Last month, Congress slashed planned development and military aid to Afghanistan by roughly half, to $1.1bn. Last week, over furious US military objections, the Afghan government released 65 detainees from a former US jail. The US and Afghan governments each have outreach efforts to the Taliban that do not include one another.
The CNA panel was contracted by the former undersecretary of defense for policy, Jim Miller, following a congressional mandate for an Afghanistan security sector review.
Even with an increased level of support to the Afghan security forces, CNA still predicts a stalemate in the war through 2018, which would represent nearly 40 years of almost continuous warfare in Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion.
“We conclude that this force is not likely to defeat the Taliban militarily, but that if it can hold against the Taliban insurgency through 2018, the likelihood of a negotiated settlement to the war will increase,” the CNA review found.
More than 30 Killed as Pakistan Bombs Taliban Hideouts
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 February 2014, 21:40
Pakistani jets launched strikes on Taliban hideouts in the northwest on Thursday, killing at least 30 people according to security sources, in retaliation for attacks by the militants which have derailed peace talks.
The first raid confirmed by security officials came early Thursday when jets bombed several locations including a compound in the town of Mir Ali and surrounding parts of troubled North Waziristan tribal district.
"There are confirmed reports of 15 militants including foreigners killed in these air strikes," a senior security official told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.
Another official later confirmed that at least 16 Uzbeks were also killed during the raids on Mir Ali.
The first official based in Peshawar said more than five militants were killed in Bara area of Khyber tribal region when helicopters pounded four militant hideouts.
"Air strikes were carried out to target militant hideouts with precision," the official said.
"A huge cache of arms and ammunition has also been destroyed."
A second strike targeted militants hiding and arms stockpiles in the Khyber tribal district who are suspected of bombing a cinema in Peshawar last week and killing an army major on Tuesday, another security official said.
A security official in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, said the air attack lasted more than an hour, while many local residents fled to safer areas.
The air strikes and spiraling violence cast further doubt on a troubled peace process between the government and the insurgents just three weeks after talks began.
After several rounds of talks, government mediators pulled out of scheduled dialogue with their Taliban counterparts on Monday amid outrage over the claimed execution of 23 kidnapped soldiers.
On Sunday a faction of the Islamist movement from Mohmand near the Afghan border said they had killed the soldiers who were seized in the area in June 2010.
On Thursday Pakistan delivered a formal protest to the Afghan government about the incident.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said later Thursday that the talks were suspended because of the militant attacks but negotiators were still there to work for peace.
"There are clear chances that dialogue process will once again come back on track. But negotiations and violent activities can't go together," he told reporters.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) had offered a ceasefire on Wednesday on condition that government forces stopped killing and arresting their members.
But Khan said that "elements" were using the dialogue process to attack security forces, and the air strikes were self defense.
"Some people were targeting security agencies in the disguise of the talks. We can't continue with negotiations in this atmosphere. They kidnapped and slaughtered 23 soldiers just because they were patriots," he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the start of talks on January 29 to "give peace another chance" following a seven-year Taliban insurgency that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives.
But a source in his office said Sharif, under pressure to avenge the Taliban killing spree, "issued orders to launch the air strikes" after being briefed by military advisers.
Despite the new bloodshed, professor Ibrahim Khan, a Taliban peace negotiator, told AFP Thursday there was still a chance of a settlement.
A total of 93 people have been killed since the reconciliation effort was launched at the end of January, including the kidnapped soldiers, according to an AFP tally.
The Taliban said 60 of their members had died before Thursday's strikes. They have accused the army of executing members while they are in custody.
As well as the execution of the kidnapped soldiers and other killings, the insurgents claimed a car bomb attack on a police bus in Karachi on February 13 in which 12 officers died.
The government has demanded a ceasefire as a condition to resume the peace talks.
The TTP has been waging a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007, often hitting military targets.
Some observers have raised doubts about the ability of the central Taliban command to control all factions, including some opposed to peace negotiations.
The Taliban's demands include the nationwide imposition of sharia law, an end to U.S. drone strikes and the withdrawal of the army from northwestern tribal regions -- conditions unlikely to be met.
China Urges U.S. to Cancel Dalai Lama Meeting with Obama
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 February 2014, 06:46
U.S. President Barack Obama will host Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House on Friday, a move China said would "seriously impair" ties as it called for the meeting to be canceled.
The meeting will take place in the Map Room on the ground floor of the president's residence and not the Oval Office, which Obama usually uses to meet foreign leaders and visiting dignitaries.
The U.S. leader last met the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, at the White House in 2011 in talks that triggered an angry response from Beijing, which said the encounter had harmed Sino-U.S. relations.
China, which calls the Dalai Lama a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and accuses him of seeking independence for Tibet, was quick to react to Thursday's announcement.
"China is firmly opposed to this," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement on its website, just hours later.
"We urge the U.S. side to treat China's concern in a serious way and immediately cancel the planned meeting."
Earlier, with the Dalai Lama already in the United States on a visit, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced that Obama would meet the monk "in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader".
In a sign of the sensitivity of the occasion, the event was listed on the president's daily schedule as closed to the press.
Hayden also underlined that the United States supported the Dalai Lama's approach but recognized Tibet to be "a part of the People's Republic of China".
"We do not support Tibetan independence," Hayden said.
"The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China. We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China."
Hayden said the Obama administration would renew calls for the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions.
China has for decades opposed foreign dignitaries meeting the revered Buddhist leader, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
In Beijing, the spokeswoman Hua said that China had "already lodged solemn representations" with the United States.
"The U.S. leader's meeting with the Dalai is a gross interference in China's internal affairs, a severe violation of codes of international relations and will seriously impair China-U.S. relations," Hua said.
The Dalai Lama says he advocates greater autonomy for Tibetans rather than independence.
But tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese authorities run high.
More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire and committed suicide in recent years to protest against what they see as oppression by China's government and controls on their right to exercise their religion.
The visit comes on the heels of a trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry but well ahead of an Asia-Pacific summit there in November that Obama is expected to attend -- meaning that China could not retaliate by canceling a high-profile visit.
Todd Stein, Washington-based director of government relations for the International Campaign for Tibet, hailed Obama's meeting as another sign of U.S. support for preservation of the Himalayan region's culture.
"President Obama's hosting of the Dalai Lama is a continued expression of support for his work, his message and his cause," Stein said.
Obama came under domestic criticism in 2009 when he did not see the Dalai Lama during a visit to Washington, as the new president looked to start on the right foot with China.
But the optimism of the early days of the Obama presidency has dimmed, with the United States pressing China on a range of concerns including its territorial disputes with U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines and Beijing's alleged cyber espionage campaign.
The Dalai Lama enjoys wide support across the political spectrum in the United States, and is on one of his regular visits to the country, which will also see him go to Minnesota and California.
The Dalai Lama, whose audiences often lean to the left, on Thursday found a receptive audience as he addressed the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
Pressed on whether he supported capitalism, the Dalai Lama offered a gentle call for a more humane system. He pointed to late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who started the Asian power's shift toward capitalism in the 1980s, as proof that the "centralized economy, no matter how much effort, fail(s)".
Reunited Koreans Given Privacy to Bridge 60-Year Divide
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 February 2014, 06:48
Around 80 elderly South Koreans met privately Friday with North Korean relatives they haven't seen for 60 years, on the second day of a highly-charged reunion for families divided by the Korean War.
In contrast to the previous day when their tearful and, in some cases, clearly traumatic meetings were played out in front of TV cameras, they were allowed three hours in their own rooms to try and bridge the decades of separation.
The event, held at a mountain resort in North Korea, was only secured after intense North-South negotiations, and has been seen by many as a possible first step towards improved inter-Korean cooperation.
It is the first such reunion for more than three years, and followed a rare concession from North Korea, which had originally threatened to cancel if the South and the United States pushed ahead with annual joint military drills that begin on Monday.
North Korea's main ally China, which has come under increased U.S. pressure to push Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear weapons program, welcomed the reunion as a moment of "great significance".
"We believe this is an important and correct step forward taken ... with national interests and regional peace and stability in mind," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
In an apparent goodwill gesture, Seoul approved Friday the shipment by two private aid groups for close to $1.0 million worth of tuberculosis medicine and powdered milk to North Korea.
The 82 South Korean participants, with an average age of 84 and some so frail they had to be moved by ambulance, arrived at the resort midday Thursday after crossing the heavily-militarized border in a convoy of 10 buses.
After a brief lunch, they were led into a banqueting hall where they first came face-to-face with the 180 North Korean relatives they had applied to see.
Some simply embraced and sobbed, while others stared and stroked each other's faces, seemingly unable to believe that they were in the same room.
Photos were exchanged and lovingly pored over, not just old black-and-white ones of the family when it was together, but also brand new color pictures of husbands, wives, children and grandchildren that neither side knew even existed.
One of the oldest South Koreans, a 93-year-old man who was separated from his pregnant wife during the 1950-53 conflict, met the now 64-year-old son he had never seen.
"So old," were his first words as they came face-to-face -- the resemblance strikingly clear to people watching.
"Let me hug you," the father said and then, sobbing, they both embraced.
The North Korean women wore traditional hanbok dresses, while the men were mostly dressed in dark suits. All seemed to be sporting badges of former leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il -- obligatory accessories in North Korea.
- Clock running out -
Tens of millions of people were displaced by the sweep of the 1950-53 Korean War, which saw the frontline yo-yo from the south of the Korean peninsula to the northern border with China and back again.
The chaos and devastation separated brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives.
Because the conflict concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war and direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are prohibited.
The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, but the numbers clamoring for a chance to participate have always far outstripped those actually selected.
For many people, time simply ran out. Last year alone, 3,800 South Korean applicants for reunions died.
Of the 82 South Koreans attending the current reunion, 14 needed wheelchairs and two were forced to return home a day early for health reasons.
Friday's private gatherings will be followed by another mass, open reunion in the afternoon.
Then on Saturday, comes the probably the most traumatic moment of all: a farewell ceremony that both sides understand -- given their advanced ages -- marks the last time they will ever see each other.
U.N. Rights Office Criticizes Australia Asylum Policy
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 February 2014, 14:39
The U.N.'s human rights office on Friday urged Australia to reconsider its policy of shipping asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea and detaining them there, after rioting at a holding center left one person dead.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said this week's violence at the Manus Island facility had thrown the spotlight on a wider problem.
Manus Island and another center in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru are the core of Australia's punitive off-shore detention policy, which has been repeatedly condemned by the U.N. and human rights groups.
Under the scheme, which Australia says is aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum-seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to Manus or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement outside Australia.
"We stress the obligation of Australia, PNG and Nauru to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are protected in accordance with international standards," Shamdasani told reporters.
"The practice of detaining migrants and asylum-seekers arriving by boat on a mandatory, prolonged and potentially indefinite basis, without individual assessment, is inherently arbitrary. Moreover, alternatives to immigration detention should always be considered," she added.
An estimated 1,340 asylum-seekers are currently being held at Manus Island.
Tensions with locals have reportedly spiked, and the detainees recently learned that if their asylum claims were approved they would only be allowed to settle in Papua New Guinea, not Australia.
Thirty-five asylum-seekers broke out of the facility on Sunday and several were injured.
In more rioting the following night, one person was killed and 77 injured, 13 of them seriously.
"While the precise circumstances are not yet clear, it is alarming to see violence against the very individuals who seek protection," said Shamdasani, adding that the incident underscored the need for independent monitoring of the facilities.
While welcoming a probe by Australian and Papuan New Guinean authorities, she said it must examine reports that private security forces were involved in the violence.
"We stress that states maintain their human rights obligations when they privatize delivery of services such as security, and must take steps to investigate, redress and punish human rights abuses by third parties," she said.
Gaza's fragile ceasefire threatened by border clashes as Hamas weakens
Palestinian militants challenge an Islamist movement sidelined from Kerry talks, and enfeebled by tunnel closures and blockade
Ian Black in Gaza City
theguardian.com, Friday 21 February 2014 10.40 GMT
Abu Saad is not really following the peace talks being brokered by the US secretary of state, John Kerry. Gripping an M16 automatic rifle, his face masked by a red keffiyeh headdress, the camouflage-clad Palestinian fighter wants to talk about defending Gaza against Israeli attacks – ceasefire or no ceasefire.
In a safe house reached by a circuitous route, he and other members of the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) are flaunting their weapons and defiance at a time when the truce with Israel is looking fragile. Under his balaclava, another man's eyes flicker as he registers the sound of a drone hovering above – an ominous reminder of their enemy's reach. "There are planes in the sky," he warns. A hurried consultation follows over the squad's radio.
The alarm is understandable. Last Thursday Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian in the exclusion zone close to the border fence. Three other men were injured. Last Friday the PRC's Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades fired two Grad missiles into Israeli territory in response to what they called "the crimes of the occupation". Three days later Israeli troops dismantled a 20kg bomb buried near Khan Yunis.
"Our target bank is always ready," says Abu Saad. "We are well prepared." Israel says 43 missiles have been fired from Gaza this year so far. Few have caused any damage or injuries.
Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip, is committed to the agreement that ended Israel's last big offensive, in late 2012. "Israel follows a policy of collective punishment but we are concerned to keep the situation calm and under control," says Ghazi Hamad, its deputy foreign minister. "We are not interested in any kind of confrontation. But if we were not in control there would be many more missiles."
Islamic Jihad, a smaller faction backed by Iran, also respects the ceasefire. Israel says it is committed to it too, but Palestinians and others complain that the Israelis have failed to significantly ease restrictions on movement and access into the border enclave, and carry out raids at will. "We are committed to a ceasefire as long as the occupation is," says Abu Saad. "But Hamas is a government. Their interests are not the same as ours. Should we ask for their permission to attack when Israel violates the agreement?"
Militarily it is an unequal struggle. Israel controls almost all Gaza's land borders, its airspace and coastline. Drone strikes, helped by collaborators on the ground, have killed hundreds of Palestinians. The most recent target, Abdullah Kharti, was injured while riding a motorbike, apparently surviving only because he was not carrying a mobile phone, which would have provided a signal to guide a missile. Kharti was described by the Israeli army as a "global jihad" activist. "That's simply propaganda by the occupation," retorts Abu Saad. "They are trying to damage the Palestinian cause."
Abu Saad Abu Saad belongs to the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza.
Gaza's streets are plastered with posters of "martyrs". One of the oldest is of Fathi Shikaki, the founder of Islamic Jihad, who was gunned down in Malta in 1995 by agents from the Mossad. Many commemorate Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas leader involved in the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Assassinations disrupt and divide. Four different Islamist groups, two of them close to Hamas, shelter under the PRC's umbrella.
If the military balance is overwhelmingly in Israel's favour, few expect political change any time soon. Gaza, often described as the elephant in the room, is not being discussed in the Kerry talks. Hamas opposes the negotiations being conducted by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, but its tone is surprisingly emollient nonetheless. "I believe we should give Abbas the benefit of the doubt," says Ahmed Youssef, who runs the Bayt al-Hikma thinktank. "He is a shrewd politician."
Hamas is in a bad way. Israel maintains pressure through the blockade, but Gaza's lifeline from Egypt has been severed since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in July. The effect, admits one senior figure, has been catastrophic. The closure of the tunnels under the border near Rafah has led to a shortage of weapons and, more importantly, cash and goods. The salaries of 40,000 government employees still need to be paid.
Many of Gaza's 1.8 million people are suffering as food prices have skyrocketed, and electricity is available for only a few hours a day. The lack of raw materials has paralysed construction. Unemployment is 38%, crime is on the rise and it is hard to leave when Israel's Erez border post is closed to most and the Rafah crossing to Egypt open for just a few days a month. Begging is rife.
"Its a deliberate attempt to force us to surrender," says Nafez Azzam, of Islamic Jihad.
"The Israelis do allow some things in, to show to the media," says Youssef. "They try to keep us on a diet. They will not let us become like Somalia, but they need to keep us busy worrying about food and electricity and sewage and shortages – not about politics and the struggle with Israel, not about the refugees and our long-range objectives."
Efforts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah movement – opposed by Israel and the US – have not achieved much. Hanan Ashrawi, of the PLO executive committee, believes that Hamas "has to be part of the Palestinian political system" but blames Israel and Egypt for blocking a rapprochement.
It may take the collapse of current US diplomatic efforts to force the rival Palestinian camps to bury their differences. The Gaza Islamists appear to be banking on that. Agreement by Abbas would be political suicide, says Bassem Naim, an adviser to the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
"Abbas has promised that he will consult all Palestinian factions." says Hamad. "But my prediction is that there will be no deal. Sooner or later Kerry will fail unless he looks at the roots of the conflict."
Hamas and Israel are both hoping to avoid escalation. "Hamas has no illusions," says a senior Israeli official. "They understand that there are rules of the game and that there is zero tolerance for any breach of the ceasefire." But Abu Saad and his men are players too – and they may be less concerned about the consequences.
Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank Is Fired After Warning of Missing Oil Revenue
By ADAM NOSSITER
FEB. 20, 2014
DAKAR, Senegal — President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria removed the governor of the country’s central bank from his post on Thursday, after the bank governor repeatedly charged that billions of dollars in oil revenue owed to the treasury was missing.
The dismissal of the bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, was seen as further evidence of the Nigerian government’s weakening resolve in tackling widespread corruption, a problem that has plagued the country since independence, analysts said.
Mr. Sanusi’s removal was greeted with dismay in financial markets. The country’s stock market fell sharply, bond trading was halted and the value of the Nigerian currency, the naira, plunged to a record low against the dollar before the bank intervened to prop it up. Outside investors had generally seen Mr. Sanusi as an effective regulator of the country’s troubled banking sector; his tenure was scheduled to last until June.
His dismissal, along with a series of accusations of misspending by high officials and a presidential pardon last year for a state governor convicted of stealing millions, has prompted Nigerian news outlets to depict Mr. Jonathan’s government as too casual about corruption.
At the heart of the problem are the billions of dollars in oil revenue that accrue each year to Nigeria, the largest oil producer in Africa. Oil yields 95 percent of the country’s total export earnings, and Mr. Sanusi has been saying for months that a substantial portion of the money was missing from public coffers.
Oil wealth has created a small but immensely wealthy elite in a country where poverty is on the rise; by some estimates, nine-tenths of the economic benefits from oil production go to 1 percent of the population. So when oil money goes missing — and Mr. Sanusi has said that as much as $50 billion could be unaccounted for, a figure since revised downward — it touches a nerve in Nigeria.
A parliamentary committee is now investigating the claims of missing oil money, first raised by good-government groups and given added weight by Mr. Sanusi. Even the country’s finance minister, a staunch defender of Mr. Jonathan’s government, has called for an audit.
Mr. Sanusi, an aristocrat from the ancient Muslim city of Kano, raised the issue in a letter to Mr. Jonathan in September, saying that the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, or N.N.P.C., had failed to turn over nearly $50 billion in revenue over an 18-month period, from January 2012 to July 2013, “in gross violation of the law.” Though oil prices were strong, official figures inexplicably showed declining revenue and falling reserves.
Exactly how much money may be missing is unclear, as Mr. Sanusi acknowledged in a letter to the Nigerian Senate this month. It could be “$10.8 billion or $12 billion or $19 billion or $21 billion — we do not know at this point,” he wrote, adding that the apparent diversion “has been going on for a long time” and could “bring the entire economy to its knees” if it is not stopped.
But he may have taken on too big an opponent in the national oil company. The sprawling company acts as the country’s oil buyer, seller, explorer, producer, processor and regulator, and is “at the nexus between the many interests in Nigeria that seek a stake in the country’s oil riches,” according to a 2010 Stanford University study.
The study said that while the company “functions well as an instrument of patronage,” it is neither competent nor efficient in its many operations. Mr. Sanusi went further, accusing it this month of “illegal and unconstitutional acts,” including transferring income from government-owned oil properties to “private hands.”
The oil company reacted to Mr. Sanusi’s accusations with outrage, though it initially acknowledged that about $10.8 billion in oil revenue had not been accounted for. Then on Thursday, Mr. Jonathan’s government ousted Mr. Sanusi, saying his “tenure has been characterized by various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct.”
Anticorruption activists said that explanation for his dismissal would not be widely believed.
“Nigerians will see it as the result of the whistle he has blown on the nonremittances by the N.N.P.C. to the Federation Account,” said Dauda Garuba of the Revenue Watch Institute, which is supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, among others. “Public opinion agrees with Sanusi.”
Another watchdog group in Nigeria, the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said in a statement Thursday that Mr. Sanusi’s removal exposed “the wider ramifications and impunity of corruption currently bedeviling the fiscal responsibility and accountability of this government.”
Militants Attack Presidential Palace in Somalia
By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM and NICHOLAS KULISH
FEB. 21, 2014
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Multiple explosions and a firefight erupted near the presidential palace here in the Somalian capital on Friday, in a deadly militant attack on the heart of the government.
“Terrorists tried to attack the presidential palace and the security forces foiled the attack,” Abdikarim Hussein Guled, the minister of the interior and national security, told state media. He called on the public to remain calm and promised to provide more information later.
The United Nations’ top envoy to the country said in a message on Twitter that the Somalian president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, had survived the attack on the palace, known as Villa Somalia. “President just called me to say he’s unharmed,” said Nicholas Kay, the United Nations’ special representative for Somalia. “Attack on Villa #Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost. I condemn strongly this terrorism.”
Witnesses said a loud explosion was heard, followed by an exchange of gunfire and then a series of other explosions around Villa Somalia. Ambulances were on the scene collecting the wounded.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein of the police told The Associated Press that the attack had begun with a car bomb, followed by militants attempting to shoot their way into the compound, where the president and the speaker of Parliament reside and have their offices.
“Somali National Security Forces foiled cowardly attack outside Villa #Somalia,” said the African Union mission in Somalia, known as Amisom, in a Twitter message after the attack. “Senseless attack was directed on innocent civilians as Friday prayers were underway in Mosques.”
Three suicide bombers tried to assassinate Mr. Mohamud in September 2012, as he was holding a news conference at a hotel with the visiting Kenyan foreign minister. Mr. Mohamud was not harmed in that incident either, but an African Union soldier was killed.
A spokesman for the Somalian militant group the Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Our commandos have attacked the so-called presidential palace in order to kill or arrest those who are inside,” the Shabab military spokesman Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab told AFP.
At least five people were killed and a dozen wounded last week when a car loaded with explosives blew up near the entrance to the international airport in Mogadishu, an attack believed to be aimed at a passing United Nations convoy. The Shabab also claimed responsibility for that attack.
“Al-Shabaab unsuccessfully trying to divert ongoing plans by #Somali National Forces & #AMISOM to flush them out of their remaining bases,” Amisom said in a subsequent Twitter message.
The Shabab came to prominence as a nationalist movement combating the United States-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. The group seized control of large swathes of the country, including Mogadishu.
Somalian troops and African Union forces forced the militants back in recent years but for all their territorial gains have been unable to stem the tide of terrorist and guerrilla-style attacks. The Shabab recently even announced a ban on the use of the Internet in Mogadishu and areas under their control.
The tactics used in Friday’s attack have become all too familiar to security personnel in Somalia. On New Year’s Day a similar assault killed half a dozen or more people at the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu. In one of the most devastating episodes, the militants detonated a pickup truck in front of the United Nations compound last June and then stormed the facility with gunmen, killing at least 15 people.
Police stations, the court complex in Mogadishu and restaurants popular with peacekeepers and government officials have all been targeted. The group demonstrated that it could project power beyond Somalia’s borders when militants armed with AK-47’s carried out a bloody siege at the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, last September, killing more than 60 men, women and children.
In November the United Nations Security Council authorized an increase of more than 4,000 peacekeepers in Somalia, bringing the total number of African peacekeepers there to more than 22,000 while also expanding logistical support for the fight against the militants.
The Pentagon in December sent a small team of uniformed military advisers to Somalia to help provide logistics, planning and communications assistance to Somali and other African forces combating the group. They are the first American troops there since 1993, when 18 Americans were killed in an episode widely known as “Black Hawk Down.”
“This is another desperate and criminal act which does nothing but harm to the people of Somalia” Mr. Kay, the United Nations’ special representative, said in a statement Friday. “The Somali people are tired of shootings, bombings and killings. It’s time for a new chapter in Somalia’s history and we cannot allow a slide back at this critical time.”
Villa Somalia said in a Twitter statement, “Don’t be fooled by this ‘media spectacular’. This is another act of desperation from a dying animal.”
Egypt Extends Its Crackdown to Journalists
By KAREEM FAHIMFEB. 20, 2014
CAIRO — The three men, wearing white prison scrubs in metal cages reserved for criminal suspects, listened to the list of explosive charges accusing them of aiding a plot to undermine Egypt’s national security.
They had links to terrorists, the prosecutors contended, and before their court appearance on Thursday, the men were detained for weeks among prisoners whom the government considers its most dangerous opponents. The charges could bring up to 15 years in prison.
But the three suspects are all seasoned journalists. Their crime was filing news reports for their employer, Al Jazeera English, before state security officers came to the hotel suite they used as a makeshift studio in December, ultimately rounding them up and throwing them in jail.
The charges against the men, branded the “the Marriott cell” by government-friendly news outlets, are the most serious against journalists here in recent memory, rights groups say, part of a widening crackdown by Egypt’s military-backed government that has ensnared scores of reporters, as well as filmmakers, bloggers and academics.
What began months ago with mass arrests and repression of the government’s opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily broadened into a campaign against perceived critics of all stripes. In all, thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also some of the best-known activists from the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — have been put in jail, many of them still awaiting trial.
At least 60 journalists have been detained since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi last July, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with nine of them still in custody, including a Yemeni blogger arrested after interviewing attendees at a book fair.
“This is a dangerous decision,” Peter Greste, one of the journalists from Al Jazeera English, wrote about his arrest in a letter from prison. “It validates an attack not just on me and my two colleagues, but on freedom of speech across Egypt.”
Beyond Mr. Greste and his two colleagues from Al Jazeera English — Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed — 17 other people are charged in the same case, including several students who appeared in court on Thursday as well. The allegations include possessing materials promoting a terrorist organization — presumably, the banned Brotherhood — and broadcasting images that the government says distorted Egypt’s image by suggesting that “the country is undergoing a civil war.”
The trial reflects a particularly intense struggle between the Egyptian government and Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera. Egypt accuses Qatar of harboring Islamist leaders, including wanted men, and complains that the channel provides a platform for Egypt’s enemies.
The network’s Arabic language news service, like the Qatari government, strongly supports the Brotherhood, the Islamist group that had become Egypt’s governing party until the military takeover last summer. Afterward, Egyptian officials shuttered the station’s news bureaus and detained reporters and staff members. One of its journalists, Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned since August and is on a hunger strike.
Journalists with the English-language service, which takes an independent editorial line, have continued to work in Egypt. When Mr. Fahmy joined the network just last September, he assured his family that the English channel was looked upon more favorably in Egypt.
Mr. Fahmy, an Egyptian and Canadian citizen, has worked for the some of the world’s biggest news organizations, including CNN, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, and was an author of a book on the uprising in his Egyptian homeland. The job at Al Jazeera English made him a bureau chief for the first time, and provided a dose of stability as he was preparing to get married after years of bouncing around on assignments, often in war zones like Iraq and Libya.
His co-defendant Mr. Mohamed comes from a family of Egyptian journalists and had worked as a freelance producer for Al Jazeera for about seven months, his brother Assem said. Mr. Greste, an Australian correspondent who had worked for the BBC and Reuters, did not even live in Egypt. He was based in Nairobi, Kenya, and had been filling in over the Christmas holiday in Cairo when security officers came for him and his colleagues.
A video leaked to an Egyptian news channel after their arrest showed officers interrogating Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Greste, who both looked bewildered. Mr. Mohamed was arrested later that night. During the raid on his house, officers shot Gatsby, the family dog, his brother said.
When pressed about their handling of the news media, some Egyptian officials said it was not so different from the Obama administration’s crackdown on leakers in national security cases. And in Al Jazeera English’s case, they have repeatedly emphasized that the men were working without press credentials in Egypt, a point their employer has conceded.
“We were wrong,” said Heather Allan, the head of news gathering for the channel, who attended the trial on Thursday. But officials had also told her that the channel was not banned, she said. “We were not operating clandestinely,” she added.
The official explanations shed little light on why a Dutch journalist who did not work for Al Jazeera was named as a suspect in the case, and forced to flee Egypt: Her crime, it appeared, was meeting with Mr. Fahmy. And the relatively simple matter of credentials did not seem to explain the treatment the Al Jazeera English journalists received after their arrests, which they detailed in harrowing letters and messages from prison.
In the first weeks, Mr. Greste was treated the most kindly, allowed an exercise session after being “locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning.”
Around him, at Tora prison in Cairo, “authorities routinely violate legally enshrined prisoners’ rights, denying visits from lawyers, keeping cells locked 20 hours a day,” he wrote. “But even that is relatively benign compared to the conditions my colleagues are being held in.”
Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed were sent to a wing known as Scorpion, where their neighbors were Islamist political detainees and hardened jihadists.
In a message to his family, Mr. Fahmy described a cell “infested with insects, freezing cold, with access to little food and no sunlight at all.” Privileges — like a blanket — were granted and then snatched away. An arm broken before his arrest was left untreated and grew worse, he said.
He and Mr. Mohamed relied on work to preserve their sanity, hosting evening discussions with other prisoners through the grates of their cells. They called it the “Scorpion Live Talk Show.”
The three colleagues were eventually moved together to a less secure wing, and placed in the same cell, with improved conditions. In court on Thursday, they appeared buoyed by the attendance of more than two dozen diplomats and journalists.
Mr. Fahmy translated the proceedings, which were in Arabic, for Mr. Greste, who was not provided with an interpreter. During breaks, the journalists shouted answers to questions from their colleagues in the gallery, struggling to put on a brave face. They spent 23 hours a day in their shared cell, they said, with no access to news or reading materials. Their next court date is set for early March.
From the cage, they asked journalists to pass on greetings to absent relatives: to Mr. Greste’s parents, and Mr. Mohamed’s wife, who is pregnant and whom he begged to “take care.” Mr. Fahmy smiled and asked that word be sent to his fiancée, who was barred from the courtroom, to prepare for a “big wedding” when he got out.
C.Africa Refugee Numbers Spiral in Cameroon
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 February 2014, 14:59
Around 28,000 people have fled from conflict-torn Central African Republic to neighboring Cameroon since the start of this month, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
"The new arrivals from CAR are living in appalling conditions. Most of them lack food and shelter," said Dan McNorton, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).
"Generous host communities have taken in many people, but they cannot share their homes and resources with everyone," he told reporters.
The influx, mainly of Muslims fleeing communal bloodshed, brings to 35,000 the total number of people who have fled across the border to Cameroon since a coup in March 2013.
Even before the current crisis erupted when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition seized power last year, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from unrest-prone Central African Republic.
They first started to arrive in 2006, fleeing growing attacks by rebels, militias and bandits.
McNorton said the growing number of refugees was driving up prices for food and other basic necessities such as soap and fuel.
The violence in Central African Republic spun out of control when rogue Seleka fighters began committing atrocities against the Christian majority.
The campaign of killings, rape and looting sparked revenge attacks by Christian vigilantes known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete).
Despite the presence of French and African peacekeeping troops, violence continues in the country, and has already forced about a quarter of the population of 4.6 million people from their homes.
In addition to Central African citizens, thousands of migrants from other countries have also fled the violence, in particular citizens of majority-Muslim Chad fearful of being targeted by anti-balaka fighters.
About 8,000 refugees from other countries have already arrived in Cameroon, mostly Chadians and citizens of Mali, Mauritania and Niger, said McNorton.
Aid agencies have scrambled to help them get back to their home countries.
In addition to heading west to Cameroon, thousands of refugees have gone north to Chad.
"Seventeen trucks carrying more than 2,000 people arrived overnight," said Christiane Berthiaume, spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration.
"And hundreds of people are in the process of crossing the border," she told reporters.