Cholera epidemic in Haiti 'poses major threat to Latin America and Caribbean'
UN assistant secretary general says deadly outbreak, which has been blamed on UN troops, demands decisive action
theguardian.com, Friday 7 March 2014 11.06 GMT
Haiti needs a "Marshall plan" for water and sanitation to quell a cholera epidemic which poses a major threat to the Caribbean and Latin America, according to the UN assistant secretary general.
Pedro Medrano Rojas, who is co-ordinating the response in Haiti, is visiting European capitals this week to drum up support for the faltering effort to deal with an epidemic that has killed 8,540 since 2010 and infected almost 700,000 people.
Studies have shown the cholera strain was probably introduced to the country by UN troops from Nepal, who were deployed in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 217,000 people.
Evidence suggests the outbreak of cholera, which is endemic in Nepal, occurred when contaminated sewage was discharged from barracks into a watercourse. Cholera is spread through infected faeces. Once it enters the water supply, it is difficult to contain, especially in a country such as Haiti, which has almost no effective sewage disposal systems.
Cholera cases had previously been rare in Haiti. Survivors of the 2010 outbreak are filing a compensation claim against the UN in a New York court, demanding that billions of dollars in damages be paid to them and the relatives of those killed. The UN maintains it has legal immunity from such compensation claims and rejected demands from affected Haitians. The case is being pursued by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
Medrano drew a distinction between the lawsuit and UN efforts to respond to the outbreak. "We cannot link these two things," he said. "One is a legal case with a different path that can take years … we have to respond now."
The first case in the current cholera epidemic was reported in October 2010; the outbreak has since become one of the worst in modern history. There were 65,000 cases last year, Medrano said. This year estimates range from 40,000 to 80,000.
"It all depends on the resources we get," he said. "If we get them, it could be 40,000; if not, it could be 80,000 – maybe more – new cases. It is a major threat for the whole Caribbean and Latin America region."
The 2010 earthquake wrought havoc in the already fragile country. Even before the disaster, basic sanitation coverage had decreased from 26% in 1990 to just 17% in 2008, with rural residents worst affected. Medrano said the main reason donors were not contributing more was because they did not consider the situation in Haiti to be an emergency.
As part of its anti-cholera effort, the Haitian government has set up a high-level committee chaired by the prime minister. It brings together key ministries – finance, health and public works – as well as donors and NGOs including the UN agency for children, the World Health Organisation and Médecins Sans Frontières.
Haiti has introduced a $2.2bn (£1.3bn) 10-year plan for the long-term eradication of cholera though the large-scale development of public health and sanitation services. The UN is appealing for $69m for the next two years as part of this effort. This year, it is asking for $40m, but so far the only funding committed is $6m from the UN central emergency response fund.
"This is vastly insufficient to meet urgent needs," the UN said. "The lack of available funds today risks the departure of cholera actors, which could compromise gains attained so far and lead to resurgence in suspected cases."
Medrano said the current dry season provided an opportunity for a sustained effort, including the vaccination of 500,000 people. Other measures include the supply of water pumps, mobile latrines, mobile health services, water purification tablets and the training of community workers to raise awareness of basic sanitation such as washing hands. But he warned that donors must act now to stem the epidemic.
"Last year was the lowest number of cases, which is a tribute to the Haitian government, but we are operating in an environment with less resources and a third fewer actors," he said. "People wrongly feel it's over, but this will take five to 10 years to stop. We have to respond now."
Julian Assange tells SXSW audience: ‘NSA has grown to be a rogue agency’
• Wikileaks founder: ‘All of us have to do something’
• Interview conducted from Ecuador’s London embassy
• Snowden and Greenwald also set to appear at SXSW
Stuart Dredge in Austin, Texas
theguardian.com, Saturday 8 March 2014 19.03 GMT
The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Saturday told an audience in Texas that people power is the key to rolling back the power of the National Security Agency and other surveillance agencies.
“We have to do something about it. All of us have to do something about it,” he said, in an interview at the SXSW conference in Austin. “How can individuals do something about it? Well, we’ve got no choice.”
Assange was speaking in a “virtual” conversation conducted by video from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been confined since June 2012. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald will appear in similar sessions over the coming days.
Interviewed by Benjamin Palmer of the marketing agency the Barbarian Group, Assange discussed issues including government surveillance, online democracy and the future of the internet.
On life within the embassy, he said: “It is a bit like prison. Arguably prison is far worse in relation to restrictions on visitors, for example, and the level of bureaucracy involved.” Noting that at any given point there are about a dozen police officers stationed outside, he said: “The UK government has admitted to spending $8m so far just on the police surveillance of the embassy.”
Asked for his views on what governments should be doing, after the NSA revelations, about the way surveillance agencies interact with people, Assange said: “The NSA has grown to be a rogue agency. It has grown to be unfettered … the ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there within a few years. And that’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon, to those who control the surveillance complex.”
Assange talked about a historical “PR campaign based on not existing” for the NSA, which he said had been swept away by the revelations prompted by Snowden’s leaking of thousands of documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
“That let everyone see that somehow this was an important element of power, and it had been developed unnoticed to people,” he said. “How had it come to this? How is it that the internet that everyone looked upon as perhaps the greatest tool of human emancipation there had ever been, had been co-opted and was now involved in the most aggressive form of state surveillance ever seen?”
Assange said the NSA’s traditional practice of not responding to press reports – “to give no oxygen” – would have to be replaced, although he suggested the Pentagon rather than the NSA would guide any new strategy.
“The internet four years ago was a politically apathetic space,” he said, noting that exceptions included the Anonymous group, albeit on an “amateur” basis. Assange suggested that publicity around some of his own organisation’s bigger revelations had opened the eyes of more internet users.
“Many people developed a sense that this space that they had enjoyed, the place where people communicated ideas [was] where all their friends were; [it was] their community’s interface with the regular power community of what we might call the geriatric quo: the old men with guns who control all the money.
“That spread out in different places in different ways, not just because of our [Wikileaks’] efforts, but through others as well. Through the Arab Spring, though Occupy … and the internet became a political space.”
Asked about the motivation behind Wikileaks, Assange talked about the importance of revealing information that had hitherto been kept secret.
“It became clear to me that one of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice. And you can be simplistic about it, which some people are. It’s not that when you expose something automatically there is justice,” he said. Instead, he said: “There’s always a really decent chance that they’re not going to get away with it, and the people affected can take some kind of action. And there’s no confidence in the power being deployed. No confidence in the injustice.”
Assange was asked about whether, thanks to the NSA revelations, the web was under threat. He pointed to comments made this week by a US military figure about a bill being put to Congress to try to “stop publication of material about the National Security Agency”, backed by new cyberterrorism legislation.
“There is a really serious attempt to try and stop these revelations and others, and introduce a new international regime of censorship,” he said, pointing to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a particular threat.
“Now that the internet has merged with human society … the laws that apply to the internet apply to human society. This penetration of the internet by the NSA and [British spy agency] GCHQ is the penetration of our human society. It means there has been a militarisation of our civilian space. A military occupation of our civilian space … is a very serious matter.”
Assange attacked what he sees as the powerlessness of even the most theoretically powerful politicians, and asked what would happen if President Barack Obama said tomorrow he was immediately disbanding the NSA, or even the CIA. “On paper he has that power, but we all know that this is simply impossible,” he said. “People would come up with lots of dirt attacking him in some manner … the National Security Agency has dirt on everyone.
“We have to do something about it. All of us have to do something about it … How can individuals do something about it? Well, we’ve got no choice. It’s not the case any more that you can hide from the state, and keep your head down, and hope that by sucking up or by being innocuous you can be spared.
“We are now all involved in this. We are all involved in what we traditionally called the state, whether we like it or not. So we have no choice but to try to manage the behaviour of the state that we have been forced to be part of.”
Assange also described what he sees as an “unprecedented theft of wealth from the majority of the population to those people who already have a lot of power … doing that in part by stealing information from all of us. Knowledge is power, and as a result they’re getting more power.”
He portrayed Wikileaks’ mission as “going after” organisations that accumulate knowledge and “putting it back into our common intellectual record, our common history … and that empowers us”.
Assange also suggested that 20-year-olds now are “much more worldly” than 20-year-olds were 10 years ago, as a result of this transfer of knowledge, which he thinks Wikileaks takes some of the credit for. He talked about future plans for Wikileaks, saying that it is preparing an “important” new release of material, but warned that he prefers not to give “the alleged perpetrator the heads up before the alleged victims … they simply prepare to counterspin”.
Assange was asked about The Intercept, the new online publication founded by Greenwald and funded by billionaire tech investor Pierre Omidyar.
“Pierre Omidyar has seen that there is not even liberty for people who have $8bn any more,” he said. “Omidyar is a symptom of a new elite in the United States that feels it is genuinely threatened by what is going on with the National Security Agency, and that is important.”
Assange also talked about his future targets, suggesting that there is a need for many more “grand disclosures”, both from Wikileaks and other sources.
“We are actually living in a world that we don’t understand,” he said. “Before all this material came out, CableGate or what we did with the Iraq war, or Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, we were going about our business in what we thought was the world. But we weren’t living in the world: we were living in some fictitious representation of what we thought was the world. And we are still living in this fictitious representation.
“We are walking around constantly in this fog where we can’t even see the ground. We think we can see the ground, but we’re wrong. And every so often a clearing in the fog happens when there is one of these grand disclosures. And we see the ground, and we are surprised.”
Ed Snowden claims he raised concerns with NSA officials more than 10 times
By David Ferguson
Saturday, March 8, 2014 12:28 EDT
Former security contractor and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden said that he tired to bring his concerns to the attention of superiors on at least 10 occasions before deciding to leave the organization with a massive cache of secret documents.
The Washington Post reported on Snowden’s testimony to the European Parliament about his actions. Transcripts of the testimony were released to the public on Friday.
Snowden insisted that he pursued other avenues before going rogue and leaving his job at Booz Allen Hamilton — a private contractor employed by the NSA.
“I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them,” Snowden said. “As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the U.S. government, I was not protected by U.S. whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.”
Snowden told the Parliament that the individuals to whom he reported his concerns fell into two camps: Some individuals agreed that the surveillance was wrong, but urged the former CIA employee not to make trouble, or he could face prosecution and professional retribution like other whistleblowers before him.
“Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorized operations,” he said.
The other group, Snowden said, urged him to let the illegality of the programs be “someone else’s problem.” Even the highest-ranking officials he spoke to told him that no illegal spying operation has ever been shut down because of an internal complaint.
Among intelligence officials, he said, “there was a unanimous desire to avoid being associated with such a complaint in any form.”
The NSA, for its part, told the Post that no evidence exists that Snowden raised any concerns with superiors. However, if the contractor had insisted to superiors that the meetings take place off the record, it would follow that no such evidence is available.
Snowden is scheduled to address attendees of the South by Southwest arts and culture festival in Austin on Monday. His speech is being carried by satellite and will broadcast at 11:00 a.m. central time.
Caves discovered in Patagonia may unlock secrets of how continents formed
Saturday, March 8, 2014 14:30 EDT
Chilean and French scientists have discovered a network of underground caves on a remote island in Patagonia that could provide valuable clues as to how continents were formed.
The group found the system of around 20 limestone caves this week during a research trip to Diego de Almagro island off the far southwest coast of Chile.
Scientists had to abseil and scubadive to get into the caves, some of which are around 50 meters deep (165 feet). They found wall paintings and bone fragments left by the indigenous Kawesqar people that could help date the caves.
“You can make models of areas where the continents broke off and this could be one of those spots,” said speleologist Natalia Morata.
The expedition is the latest in a series by the French Centre Terre association, who have found types of rock in the caves normally found in more temperate zones. That could give clues as to how the continents split apart.
Scientists believe continents move due to plate tectonics, and that the map of the Earth would have looked very different millions of years ago.
Ancient statue of King Amenhotep III’s daughter unearthed in Egypt
Friday, March 7, 2014 8:38 EDT
CAIRO (Reuters) – A statue of the daughter of King Amenhotep III, grandfather of Tutankhamen and ruler of Egypt around 3,350 years ago, has been unearthed by a team of Egyptian and European archaeologists.
The statue of Princess Iset was discovered at the temple of her pharaoh father on the western bank of the Nile in the southern city of Luxor, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said on Friday.
The new discovery is the first known representation of Iset alone with her father, the ministry said, noting that sculptures on display at the Egyptian Museum depict her and her siblings together with the 18th Dynasty ruler.
The statue is only 1.7 meters (yards) high and is part of a huge, 14-metre alabaster statue of Amenhotep III himself that has been excavated in recent years, the ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency MENA.
The statue was found between the feet of the seated king. Iset’s name and royal title are inscribed near her feet, but her face has suffered from erosion.
Amenhotep III presided over an era which saw a renaissance in Egyptian art. He was succeeded by his son Akhenaten, the sun-worshipping pharaoh credited by some for starting the world’s first known monotheistic religion.
Some of ancient Egypt’s biggest monuments were constructed during Amenhotep III’s reign.
(Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Researchers pinpointing the source of Martian meteorites called ‘shergottites’
Saturday, March 8, 2014 20:27 EDT
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – About 5 million years ago, an asteroid or comet slammed into Mars so hard that rocks and other debris launched into space.
After traveling millions of years, some eventually landed on Earth, becoming the biggest of three main types of meteorites hailing from the Red Planet.
Now researchers say they have pinpointed the source of those Martian meteorites classified as the “shergottites.” The finding, if confirmed, would give scientists fresh insights into Mars’ history and evolution.
“If one were able to say, ‘Oh, this Martian meteorite is from exactly this spot on Mars,’ then that would have significant added value to what you could get out of it,” said Carl Agee, meteorite curator and director of University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics.
“We’d know exactly what material it is made of, we’d know how old it was when it formed. You’d get more of the missing pieces of the puzzle of how Mars formed,” Agee said.
University of Oslo planetary scientist Stephanie Werner and colleagues say they have done just that.
The shergottites, Werner said, come from a 34-mile (55-km) wide impact basin known as Mojave Crater in the planet’s equatorial region.
The scientists point to the crater’s large size, relative youth and chemical composition as good matches for the shergottites, which account for about 75 percent of the roughly 150 Mars meteorites found so far.
Others say the evidence is far from ironclad.
“The (study) strikes me as somewhat speculative,” said Agee, who was not involved in the research.
Werner, for example, says the shergottites crystallized some 4.3 billion years ago, roughly the same age as the crater’s original terrain.
But Agee said most scientists believe the shergottites are much younger.
“I’m not convinced,” Agee said.
Werner’s research is published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and David Gregorio)
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Sarah Palin: Nukes are Best Putin Containment Strategy
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 March 2014, 08:15
Sarah Palin offered unsolicited advice Saturday to President Barack Obama on containing Russian aggression, saying "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."
The Republican former vice presidential candidate used a predominantly crass tone throughout her appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
But she hit home by attacking what she called a feckless Obama foreign policy that she said has helped embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Failing to show peace through strength has allowed some "very, very, very bad dudes (to) gain ground," said Palin, who remains a darling of the far-right.
Obama "would gut our arsenal while he allows others -- enemies -- to enrich theirs, she said.
"Mr. President, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."
The comments follow Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine last month, action which sent tensions soaring and U.S.-Russia relations to perhaps their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
The remark may have sounded flippant, but it was red meat to conservatives mindful of similar language used by the head of the National Rifle Association, America's largest gun lobby.
In the aftermath of a December 2012 mass shooting in Connecticut, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre poured fuel on the gun control debate by saying that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Mitch McConnell’s Musket Stunt Backfires as He Gets Busted For Not Owning A Gun
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, March, 8th, 2014, 8:37 pm
The wheels are falling off of Mitch McConnell’s Senate reelection campaign faster than you can say, not from my cold dead hands. It turns out that McConnell looked so uncomfortable waving that musket around at CPAC because he doesn’t even own a gun.
According to the Courier-Journal:
Whatever the case, McConnell just didn’t look comfortable waving the flintlock musket above his head.
Instead of recalling images of Charlton Heston at NRA conventions, where the late actor incited the crowd by raising a similar gun, McConnell looked a bit more like Michael Dukakis riding in a tank or President Barack Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, or Jimmy Carter doing much of anything.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he didn’t look natural. A search of Courier-Journal archives and the Internet found no other photos of McConnell holding a gun and despite his constant support of gun rights, McConnell has never cultivated the image of a hunter — unless his prey is that of a political sort.
His campaign refused to say if McConnell hunts, shoots targets or even owns a gun and last fall when Grimes challenged McConnell to a shootout at a gun range, he ignored a reporter who asked if he would take her up on her offer and walked away.
This is where common sense comes into play. If McConnell owned a gun, hunted, or had remote familiarity with the thing that he was waving over his head at CPAC, his campaign would have been crowing about it in ads across the state. Mitch McConnell already possesses a lower than dirt approval rating, and the electorate feels little connection with him. That’s the whole reason why Mitch was waving the rifle over his head like a demented cross between Charleton Heston and Charles Bronson at CPAC.
McConnell was looking for the photo op. He was hoping that the picture and video would show the folks back home that he really is one of them. He never expected anyone to ask whether or not he shoots, or if he even owns a gun. Sen. McConnell has never played the good old boy hunter before, and his attempt to send a misleading message has completely backfired.
It is a symbol of Minority Leader McConnell’s desperation to keep his seat. This stunt also highlights why he is in serious jeopardy of getting bounced out of the Senate. McConnell thinks Kentucky voters really are that dumb. His campaign believed if he was seen with a gun, the voters would be convinced that he is regular folk.
All candidates do this kind of posing, but when asked do you own a gun? They usually don’t refuse to answer the question. The McConnell campaign’s refusal to answer is the equivalent of answering no. Figuratively speaking, Mitch McConnell shot himself in the foot by trying to pretend that he was something that he wasn’t.
Voters aren’t buying what their senior senator is selling, and McConnell is sending himself into retirement by treating people as if they are total morons. Mitch McConnell is fooling none of the people none of the time, and his act has worn thin in Kentucky.
McConnell’s Bad Week Leaves Mitch Looking More and More Ditched
By: Sarah Jones
Saturday, March, 8th, 2014, 4:16 pm
It wasn’t a great week for Mitch McConnell. It didn’t help that he capped it off by over compensating, waving a rifle around at CPAC. The Grimes campaign collected some of Mitch’s headlines over the past week, and it’s not pretty. The sources range from from Breitbart to Huffington Post to the AP, so it’s not a partisan thing. Rather, everyone agrees, from the right, left and middle, that Mitch McConnell is in trouble:
McConnell Looks “More Vulnerable” Now Than the Week Before, “Tea Party Still Winning GOP Debate.” “Bottom line: Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Pat Roberts, and Thad Cochran look MORE vulnerable today than they did last week.” [NBC News, 3/7/14]
HEADLINE: McConnell Gets Lukewarm CPAC Reception. [The Hill, 3/6/14]
HEADLINE: CPAC Gives Cold Shoulder to Mitch McConnell. [Breitbart, 3/6/14]
McConnell Campaign Manager Says McConnell Will “Probably Not” Win Back Conservatives. “‘Rand has been very careful not to criticize Bevin directly, and he won’t,’ said Benton. ‘Rand will be able to go to those [more conservative] voters and make the case. Will he win back all of them? Probably not, but he’ll get a lot of them for Mitch.’” [Huffington Post, 3/6/14]
Oklahoma Sen. Candidate: McConnell “Should Resign Immediately For the Sake of Our Country’s Future, And For the Good of the Republican Party.” [AP, 3/5/14]
ABC/Washington Post Poll: “Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Has Reached 25-Year High.”
[ABC News, 3/4/14]
NYT on McConnell’s Seat: “Could Flip to Democratic.” [New York Times, 3/2/14]
The Grimes campaign observed dryly that it’s more than a bad week, it’s actually been a bad year for McConnell, “It’s only one week into March, and 2014 has already been terrible for Mitch McConnell. Our campaign noted his year was off to a rocky start just 72 hours into the New Year – who knew that January 3rd would be his campaign’s highpoint.”
Indeed. Mitch McConnell was so busy getting rich off of the healthcare industry, among others, that he hadn’t been paying attention to his Senate seat. Who can blame him for taking it for granted, after all, he’s the longest serving U.S. Senator in Kentucky history– he’s had his seat since 1985. Suffice it to say, McConnell hasn’t exactly felt compelled to court the folks in his state. The relationship as it is works just fine for him, thanks.
But he’s paying attention now, with Matt Bevin breathing down his neck from the right and Alison Grimes pushing him from the sane middle to come up with a jobs plan after 30 years. It’s tough to be Mitch McConnell, and that’s why he just made a fool of himself pandering to the base at CPAC, who don’t trust him because they think he works with Obama too much.
In the meantime, McConnell still doesn’t have a jobs plan and is against raising the minimum wage, against veterans benefits, and against extending emergency unemployment benefits — but he’s all for giving himself a raise. It’s no wonder the folks at home are beginning to question McConnell’s lack of reciprocity.
Will Mitch McConnell’s very bad year continue? No one expected him to be in this precarious position, but here he is, thanks in part to a strong Democratic candidate in Alison Grimes and a Tea Party challenger that won’t sit down and shut up for the GOP. And instead of really addressing his plight by coming up with some policies to champion, McConnell seems content to wave a rifle around.
CPAC – An Absurdist Theater Where Reality Goes to Die
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Saturday, March, 8th, 2014, 8:13 am
CPAC seems to be the place conservatives go to make themselves feel good about all the lies and dishonesty they are responsible for. A place where they can slap each other on the back, wink, wink, nod, nod, and pretend among each other that they are not all full of sh*t.
It’s a place where reality has no sway, like one of those “mystery area” houses built at weird angles that seem to defy gravity, where things actually fall or roll uphill. When you go to one of those places, it is so realistic that you want to believe that this is somehow all really happening, but deep down, you know it’s impossible. Things don’t roll uphill. It just does not happen. And when you leave, the world returns to normal. You don’t stay in that silly house.
But I’m not sure the same holds true at CPAC. And I am not sure these people ever really leave CPAC when it’s over, but take it with them instead. You want to hope it does, that deep down, all these conservatives know that the first casualty of CPAC is the truth, that CPAC is where reality goes to die, but you cannot really be sure. You have the lingering notion that some of these people might actually believe the truly absurd things they are saying. And I don’t know if that’s more frightening or sad.
We have already seen Rand Paul conclude that because Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair with another adult that all Democrats must be sexual predators. I just want to know what it means when aberrochristians have extramarital affairs. You know, like Newt Gingrich. Or Senator John Ensign. Aren’t all Republicans sexual predators then? And I mean, c’mon D’nesh D’Souza. Really? Forget your guns. Obama is coming for your cars – and your couches? Is that really what you want to go with?
CPAC panelists, handsomely paid by the fossil fuel industry, held a little gathering called “What’s the Deal with Global Warming?” and did their assigned jobs and called climate change a “silly debate” and “modern witchcraft.” I’m not sure if they meant that they think people with wands are magically melting the arctic ice or that believing in global warming is like believing in witchcraft. I would assume the latter, but then i remember that these are the people who anointed Sarah Palin so she would be protected against witches, that her pastor was an actual witch-hunter, and that they think people become possessed by demons, and even by Satan himself. No, it’s never same to assume with this crowd.
Rick Santorum was introduced by billionaire Foster Friess as the most persecuted man at CPAC: “If any of us in this room has received more persecution than Rick Santorum, I don’t know who you are. This guy just knows what he believes, knows his heart and is willing to take the grief people throw at him.” So what has Santorum done to deserve “persecution” (by which, of course, he means “criticism” but he’s a Christian, so…ya know)?
Well, let’s see…he thinks Obama’s SOTU address shows he’s a tyrant, and that after making a really bad faith movie that he’s the guy to create “The Pixar of Faith Movies” – oh, and he says “Satan” controls the actual film industry (remember what I said about witchcraft above?), he tried to save Ken “No Sodomy Between Married Couples” Cuccinelli by leading a special task force to Virginia; he said that marriage equality will destroy America; he wants Obama to apologize for winning the election in 2012; he wants all non-Christians to get out of America; he doesn’t believe in separation of church and state; oh, and says don’t hate on the Crusades that murdered every man, woman, and child in Jerusalem.
I’ll end my list with how this guy with the billionaire friend told Iowa to vote for him because he “sticks it to the man.” Since Friess, being a billionaire, IS the man, and IS Santorum’s very particular friend, as they used to say, you might have to reinterpret what, precisely, “Old Frothy” means by “sticking it to the man.” Though that’s far from a complete list, I think it gives some clue as to why Santorum might take some heat from critics.
But Rick Santorum is far from the most clueless participant at CPAC this year. Mike “I Love Me Some Rapists” Huckabee talked to the audience about “the things that I know,” among them he “fact” that God created the United States. I don’t know that I’m willing to throw aside my history books based on Huckabee knowing something that’s patently and demonstrably untrue. Not only did God not sign the Declaration of Independence, his signature is nowhere to be found on the United States Constitution. He never held any political office in this country and his name does not appear on any military roster that can be found. I think we know pretty well who founded the United States, and God had no part in it.
And because Barack Obama opposes segregation, Ralph Reed thought it would be cool to compare Obama to George “Keep ‘em Segregated” Wallace. Reed thought it was clever to say to tell Obama, “Let those children go!” Heck, even Pink Floyd can say “leave those kids alone,” which amounts to pretty much the same thing, and makes more sense, since Republicans are determined to fleece both parents and children with their voucher programs, and refuse to feed them along the way.
And I don’t even know what to say about Michael Medved telling CPAC that no American state has ever, EVER, banned gay marriage: “There’s never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage, that’s a liberal lie.” Oh really? You want to stick with that, Medved? I don’t know, but I think such a list includes Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Tennessee, Arizona, Nebraska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Kansas, and that’s not a complete list.
You know what Medved’s answer is, of course: that gay marriage is not really marriage because real marriage is between one man and one woman just like the Bible does NOT say, and that therefore there is no such thing as gay “marriage” and that because it does not exist it could not have been banned. But if it does not exist, why do they keep trying to ban it? Just sayin’.
Look, CPAC is one long Saturday Night Live skit, or better, Monty Python, or South Park, because it is so over-the-top absurdly unreal. These people have become caricatures of conservatives in a post-conservative world. It is difficult to believe they take each other seriously, and that they can get through their shticks without laughing, but they somehow do, and expect the audience to applaud this absurdist theater. It’s crazy, but it’s the Republican Party. This is what they think America wants, and this is what they are going to give America. Really, I’d rather by a broken ant farm full of fire ants.
In the Bubble: How CPAC Showcases Modern Conservatism as a Fringe Movement
By: Trevor LaFauci
Saturday, March, 8th, 2014, 12:29 pm
Anybody who thinks the two major political parties in this country are exactly the same has never been exposed to the joyful madness that is the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC for short.
This year’s conference, held just outside of Washington, DC is now two days old and we have already seen some bold statements from marquee conservative speakers on issues that face the Republican Party today. In addition to addressing conservative voters, the CPAC is also seen as a valid litmus test for any high-ranking Republican government officials who aspire to one day hold the nation’s highest office.
In short, it’s an opportunity to see who can out-crazy the crazy.
Each speaker knows that he (I’d say she but let’s be honest we’re talking about conservatives here) has a captive audience hanging on his every word. This is not a national audience, but rather an audience that shares the exact same values and core beliefs of today’s modern Republican Party: Only the Christian God is important, poor people are moochers, our guns are under attack, ObamaCare will lead to the apocalypse, the liberal media is out to get us, our military should assert its might internationally, and Barack Obama is a dictator/Kenyan/Muslim/socialist/Hitler incarnate that should be stopped at all costs. Already through two days, we’ve seen a speech from Rand Paul claiming all Democrats are sexual predators and a speech by Paul Ryan taking credit for a child poverty story that wasn’t his.
It is this CPAC world that shows just how out of touch today’s Republican Party is with the rest of the nation, especially when it comes to social issues.
To see this discrepancy, you need only to look at the people who have already spoken at this year’s event. For example, everyone’s favorite gun manufacturing shill Wayne LaPierre took the stage on Thursday and offered up his typical, incendiary rhetoric. LaPierre mocked the “liberal media” for distorting the truth and then claimed that politicians were in league with the media to pass legislation that they didn’t even read. He asked the audience if they believed that the government could properly protect them and then he willingly repeated his infamous quote that “The surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” LaPierre concluded his speech by saying, “The NRA will not go quietly into the night. We will fight. I promise you that.” Strong words for a man whose own organization overwhelmingly supports background checks in addition to the 90% of Americans who support expanded background checks.
In addition to their undying admiration for the NRA, conservative members in attendance also got to take in some smaller, but important, panel discussions. The first of which had to deal with the reconciliation of the beliefs of libertarians and social conservatives. It was during this panel discussion that radio host Michael Medved addressed the issue of state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community by saying, “There has never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage. That is a liberal lie.” Apparently, the liberals are lying when they say that 30 states have gay-marriage bans in their state constitutions and only 17 states recognize gay marriage. Liberals are also apparently lying when the state of Arizona tries to pass its ‘Turn Away the Gay’ bill allowing for state-sponsored discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.
As informative as that panel discussion was, it was another panel that made news on Thursday, not for what was said, but rather the size of the audience. The panel was titled “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story” and featured former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie and three Republican strategists discussing ways to bring minorities into the RNC camp. The panel was held in the main conference room with the expectation that it would be well-attended, seeing as how minority outreach has been a priority for the GOP since 2012. However, as pictures have shown, the event was poorly attended, helping to reaffirm the notion that the Republican Party has lost the minority vote and doesn’t seem to want to make any effort whatsoever to get it back. It’s almost as if they refuse to acknowledge the changing demographics of this country.
That, in short, is exactly the problem with everything CPAC represents. It’s a bunch of White, wealthy American men who have no idea how the majority of Americans live their daily lives. People like Paul Ryan can mock the poor because him and his friends were never on free and reduced school lunch programs growing up. People like Wayne LaPierre can advocate for more guns because he’s never seen how a lack of background checks has led to dangerous neighborhoods. People like Michael Medved can pretend that LGBT discrimination is a liberal lie because he’s never had gay friends who have been told that their love for each other legally makes them second class citizens in this country. And people like the CPAC attendees can ignore a panel discussion on the minority vote because they don’t realize that outside their homogeneous suburban neighborhoods there exists a country that will be majority minority by the year 2043.
The CPAC may feel good for like-mined Republicans now. They’ll pat each other on the back and laugh when a speaker makes a joke about Obama or the big bad federal government. However, year in and year out as the country becomes more liberal, especially on social issues, the CPAC continues to showcase itself to be more and more out of touch with everyday Americans. If Conservatives really wanted to have a valuable CPAC panel discussion, they should discuss how and why the party continues to ostracize itself from the majority of Americans on social issues.
Of course knowing the audience in attendance, nobody would should up.
Paul Ryan Gets Caught Telling A Huge Whopper Of A Lie About School Lunches At CPAC
By: Justin Baragona
Friday, March, 7th, 2014, 2:55 pm
On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a speech where he referenced a poor young boy who preferred having his lunch made for him rather than getting a free lunch at school since it showed that somebody cared for him at home. The way Ryan framed the story, it was made to appear that free school lunches were harming our children and American society. Essentially, his case is that we might be filling the stomachs of our children, but we are emptying their souls. Below is the relevant excerpt.
“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
As Rmuse wrote earlier on Friday, there seemed to be something ‘suspiciously specious’ about this story. Well, he was absolutely correct. Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog at the Washington Post, decided to look into Ryan’s claim and found that it was a complete fabrication. Eloise Anderson never actually spoke to a young boy who told her this story. She lifted this story from a book that was written in 2011 called “The Invisible Thread.” The book detailed the story of an 11-year old homeless boy, Maurice Mazyck, that was befriended by the book’s author, Laura Schroff.
Schroff gave the boy two options for help with food. Either she could give him money at the beginning of the week and he’d have to budget it, or she could take him to the store, buy food for the week for him and then provide him with a lunch every day. The boy asked if he could have food for lunch and if it could be packed in a brown paper bag. He stated that if it was packed for him in a bag, it would show he had someone at home that cared for him.
Anderson apparently got her inspiration when Mazyck, at that time an adult, repeated the story on a talk show when talking about the book. Anderson acted as if she had spoken to a young boy directly, who had told her this story, when she spoke to Ryan and Congress last year. She then added the part about him being ashamed of having a free school lunch. Nowhere in the book did Mazyck bring up free school lunch programs. Also, the interaction between Schroff and Mazyck described in the book happened 25 years ago. Anderson insinuated in her remarks to Congress that this had all happened recently.
The best part of all is that Anderson, and then Ryan, used the story of the relationship between Mazyck and Schroff. Mazyck and Schroff are advocates trying to end childhood hunger in America and want school lunch programs and SNAP benefits to be EXPANDED, not cut back or eliminated. They are in complete opposition of Ryan’s views and went on the record against his budget. So it seems pretty darn funny that Ryan is using their story to further his agenda.
Kessler gave Ryan’s speech Four Pinocchios, essentially calling it a flat-out lie, and a dangerous one to boot. Below is what he wrote in handing out that rating.
Here at The Fact Checker, we often deal with situations in which people misspeak. We certainly don’t try to play gotcha. But this is a different order of magnitude. Anderson, in congressional testimony, represented that she spoke to this child — and then ripped the tale out of its original context. That’s certainly worthy of Four Pinocchios.
But what about Ryan? Should he get a pass because he heard this from a witness before Congress? It really depends on the circumstances. In this case, he referenced the story in a major speech. The burden always falls on the speaker, and we believe politicians need to check the facts in any prepared remarks.
In this case, apparently, the story was too good to check. We appreciate he is regretful now. But a simple inquiry would have determined that the person telling the story actually is an advocate for the federal programs that Ryan now claims leave people with “a full stomach and an empty soul.” So he also earns Four Pinocchios.
Ryan has tried to give himself an excuse for using that huge lie in his speech. Obviously, he’s blamed Anderson, who pushed the fib to begin with. He also said he should have done a better job verifying the story before including it in a speech. The only thing he is truly sorry for is that he got caught. That story was just too good not to use and if nobody fact-checked it, it would have been used over and over again. Without that story proving to be true, especially how it was presented in his speech, the entire substance of what he was trying to convey crumbles apart.
While Trying to Avoid Prison Michele Bachmann Calls Obama a Threat To America’s Survival
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, March, 8th, 2014, 3:18 pm
As she is facing numerous federal investigations that could land her in prison, Rep. Michele Bachmann is claiming that President Obama is a threat to America’s survival.
You see, our movement at its core, is an intellectual movement. We are based on the greatest ideas that have ever been conceived in the minds of man. I would put those magnificent ideas up against any other idea for freedom in the world. Because the Constitution, limited government, free enterprise, strong families, these are the principles that have passed the test of time. Nothing in our constitution says government is supposed to be a charity.
Government is not the family. It is not the church, and certainly, it should never be our doctor’s office. And you know as well as I do that America hasn’t survived for more than two hundred years because of Washington bureaucracy. It has survived because it has been preserved by the millions of men and women who have risen to the challenge, and made our country great, and we will survive Barack Obama too.
Now is a good time to remind everyone that Michele Bachmann is the focus of no less than four federal and state investigations surrounding her 2012 presidential campaign. Bachmann is the central player in an FBI investigation into allegations of money laundering and wire fraud. The Department of Justice is investigating her presidential campaign for illegal coordination with a super PAC. Her campaign bribed an elected official in Iowa, and she is the focus of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
While in the middle of her one woman campaign crime wave, Michele Bachmann wants you to believe that the real problem is that Barack Obama wants to extend unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage, and give 40 million Americans access to affordable healthcare. Bachmann may be the perfect mouthpiece for the do as I say, not as I do activists that populate CPAC, but to everyone else, she is the living embodiment of Republican hypocrisy. Bachmann claimed that the government is not a charity, but she took over $1.1 million from taxpayers in the form of farm subsidies, salary, and benefits.
Michele Bachmann probably believes that the criminal activity that forced her out of Congress is also President Obama’s fault. The biggest threat to America isn’t Barack Obama. The largest threat facing our nation is corrupt charlatans like Michele Bachmann who are wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution while using their elected position to take millions from the taxpayers.
Rand Paul Wins CPAC Presidential Preference Straw Poll
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sunday, March, 9th, 2014, 8:06 am
If you want to know who the most popular fascist is at CPAC’s “little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” as Texas Gov. Rick Perry put it, it is Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who won with 31 percent of the vote, repeating, and improving slightly upon, last year’s CPAC victory of 25 percent. Apparently, his irrational objection to a black man being elected twice to the highest office in the land, and obeying and upholding the Constitution, resonated with the audience.
Paul’s words were jingoistic if not factual, just the sort of thing a CPAC crowd loves: “He’s got a pen, he’s got a phone, he doesn’t care what the law is,” Paul said. “A tyranny will ensue, and we must stop this President.”
Will ensue, has ensued…they can’t make up their mind and don’t know what a tyranny is anyway, but what the heck, it makes an ignorant audience angry, and that’s the point.
There were 25 Republicans on the ballot, including some write-ins (Calvin Coolidge among them). The Cuban anarchist, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), had nothing new to say at CPAC and came finished second with 11 percent (a tepid increase of seven points over last year), with Dr. Ben Carson third with 9 percent (who tied with in last year’s poll) and New Jersey Gov. and self-professed Koch-sucker Chris Christie fourth, with 8 percent. Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tied for fifth, each garnering a meager 7 percent of the total.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) go a whopping 6 percent of the vote and Rick Perry 3 percent, tying Rep. “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It was Perry, who, seemingly unaware that it is his own party that is killing the USPS, who tried to fire up the crowd Friday with his cry, “And what the heck: deliver our mail; preferably on time and on Saturdays.”
CPAC was a triumph of “red state principles,” which are a combination of unbridled arrogance, limitless stupidity, and irrational hatred of humankind, with a whole lotta dishonesty mixed in.
We are all used to thinking in terms of millennials and liberal ideals, but at CPAC, we were not talking about a collection of geriatrics. According to CNN’s coverage of the event, “it was a very young voting group” – 46 percent of the voters were between 18 and 25. It comes as less of a surprise that they were mostly male, at 63 percent.
According to Politico, GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, “who has run the straw poll since 1986,” said, “This is a sampling of people from all 50 states who are at the forefront of the conservative moment. They’re the people who go knock on doors.”
Oh dear. Time to lock your doors, and if you’re a geriatric and irrelevant, maybe wave a musket around.
This was Rand Paul’s statement following his victory as the most popular person in the least popular political party in America:
The fight for liberty continues, and we must continue to stand up and say: We’re free and no one, no matter how well-intentioned, will take our freedoms from us. Together we will stand up for the Constitution. Together we will fight for what is right. Thank you, and onwards to victory.
It is unclear what freedoms Paul thinks are being taken from him and his fellow hooligans, or to which Constitution he was referring, since it clearly was not the United States Constitution. Yesterday, I called CPAC a theater of the absurd and certainly seems absurd that these conservatives are rallying around an America that has never existed, and will never exist, except in their imaginations. What they have accomplished is about as meaningful as if they made their 2014 rallying cry, “For Frodo!”
It would help, I think, if the GOP decided it was time to live in the same world as the rest of us. Just sayin’.
Common root to every world problem ...? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ykELwj1Ta8"A conspiracy doesn't need to be a theory."
"Behind the green mask UN Agenda 21" Rosa Koire is the executive director of the Post Sustainability Institute. Impacting every aspect of our lives, UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is a corporate manipulation using the Green Mask of environmental concern to forward a globalist plan.
Germany’s Merkel rebukes Vladimir Putin over proposed Crimea referendum
Sunday, March 9, 2014 18:14 EDT
By Andrew Osborn
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Germany’s Angela Merkel delivered a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, telling him that a planned Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia was illegal and violated Ukraine’s constitution.
Putin defended breakaway moves by pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, where Russian forces tightened their grip on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula by seizing another border post and a military airfield.
As thousands staged rival rallies in Crimea, street violence flared in Sevastopol, when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians.
Russian forces’ seizure of the region has been bloodless but tensions are mounting following the decision by pro-Russian groups there to make Crimea part of Russia.
In the latest armed action, pro-Russian forces wearing military uniforms bearing no designated markings sealed off a military airport in Crimea near the village of Saki, a Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman on the peninsula said.
The operation to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich’s flight from the country last month. Yanukovich was toppled after three months of demonstrations against a decision to spurn a free trade deal with the European Union for closer ties with Russia.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will hold talks with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday on how to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the White House said.
One of Obama’s top national security officials said the United States would not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents vote to leave Ukraine in a referendum next week.
“We won’t recognize it, nor will most of the world,” deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said.
Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory inhabited by Russian speakers.
Speaking by telephone to Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin said steps taken by authorities in Crimea were “based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population,” the Kremlin said.
A German government statement, however, said the referendum was illegal: “Holding it violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law.”
Merkel also regretted the lack of progress on forming an “international contact group” to seek a political solution to the Ukraine crisis and said this should be done urgently.
On Thursday, Merkel said if a contact group was not formed in the coming days and no progress was made in negotiations with Russia, the European Union could hit Russia with sanctions such as travel restrictions and asset freezes.
Merkel, whose country is heavily dependent on Russia oil and gas, has so far been more cautious than some other nations, urging Western partners to give Putin more time before punishing Moscow with tough economic sanctions.
This stance reflects German fears of the geopolitical consequences of an isolated Russia as much as it does concern about its business interests and energy ties.
In a round of telephone diplomacy on Sunday, the German chancellor also spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, agreeing that Ukraine’s sovereignty must be preserved,
and Chinese President Xi Jinping, underlining the need to resolve the crisis through dialogue.
Russians took over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea at around 6 a.m. (12.00 a.m. ET), trapping about 15 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman said.
The spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan, said Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts across Crimea, a former Russian territory that is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet and has an ethnic Russian majority.
At a Ukrainian military base at Yevpatoriya on the coast of western Crimea there were reports that the Russian forces had issued an ultimatum to surrender or be stormed. It passed, as has happened on other occasions at bases across Crimea.
“They are putting psychological pressure on us. It is not the first ultimatum,” Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Lomaka told Reuters by telephone, saying the Russian forces would not allow him out of the base.
“We have no fight with them, but we are not going to hand over our weapons to soldiers of the Russian Federation.”
Dimtry Bolbanchyov, 50, who works as a cook on commercial boats, bicycles 13 kilometers across town to bring the besieged Ukrainians soldiers food.
“I am doing what I can to boost their morale. Ukraine has become so weak, we can only hope for help from outside,” he said.
In Sevastopol, several hundred people held a meeting demanding that Crimea become part of Russia, chanting: “Moscow is our capital.”
Across town at a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, violence flared at a meeting to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth, when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a small group of Ukrainians guarding the event and the police had to intervene.
Footage from the event showed a group of men violently kicking one of the Ukrainians as he lay on the ground and a Cossack repeatedly hit him with a long black leather whip.
In Simferopol, Crimea’s main city, pro- and anti-Russian groups held rival rallies.
Several hundred opponents of Russian-backed plans for Crimea to secede gathered, carrying blue and yellow balloons the color of the Ukrainian flag. The crowd sang the national anthem, twice, and an Orthodox Priest led prayers and a hymn.
Vladimir Kirichenko, 58, an engineer, opposed the regional parliament’s plans for a vote this month on Crimea joining Russia. “I don’t call this a referendum. It asks two practically identical questions: Are you for the secession of Ukraine or are you for the secession of Ukraine? So why would I go and vote?”
Several thousand Russian supporters gathered in Lenin Square, clapping along to nostalgic Soviet era songs.
Alexander Liganov, 25 and jobless, said: “We have always been Russian, not Ukrainian. We support Putin.”
At a rally in the eastern city of Donetsk, home to many Russian speakers, presidential candidate Vitaly Klitschko, a former boxing champion, said Ukraine should not be allowed to split apart amid bloodshed.
“The main task is to preserve the stability and independence of our country,” he said.
The worst face-off with Moscow since the Cold War has left the West scrambling for a response, especially since the region’s pro-Russia leadership declared Crimea part of Russia last week and announced a March 16 referendum to confirm it.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to Russia’s foreign minister for the fourth day in a row, told Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that Russia should exercise restraint.
A spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said military monitors from the pan-Europe watchdog had on Saturday been prevented for the third time in as many days from entering Crimea.
Moscow denies that the Russian-speaking troops in Crimea are under its command, an assertion Washington dismisses as “Putin’s fiction”. Although they wear no insignia, the troops drive vehicles with Russian military plates.
A Reuters reporting team filmed a convoy of hundreds of Russian troops in about 50 trucks, accompanied by armored vehicles and ambulances, which pulled into a military base north of Simferopol in broad daylight on Saturday.
Ukrainian troops are performing training exercises in their bases but there are no plans to send them to Crimea, Interfax news agency quoted acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh as saying. Ukraine’s military, with 130,000 troops, would be no match for Russia’s. So far Kiev has held back from any action that might provoke a response.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Alissa de Carbonnel at Yevpatoriya; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood; Editing by Anna Willard)
Rival rallies in Crimea chant for Russia and Ukraine
Fears rise of clashes after vote on union with Russia as Cameron seeks Putin's support for contact group
Shaun Walker in Simferopol
theguardian.com, Sunday 9 March 2014 22.16 GMT
By the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, they came with yellow-blue flags and chanted "Glory to Ukraine" and "Down with the Russian occupiers". Across town by the monument to Vladimir Lenin, the flags were red, white and blue, and the chanting was for union with Russia.
There were two very different visions of Crimea's future on display at the two rallies in its capital on Sunday, a week before the peninsula holds a referendum on joining Russia which the west has called illegitimate, but Russia's parliament has strongly suggested it will honour.
At a similar pro-Ukraine rally in the port city of Sevastopol, the demonstrators were attacked by a group of whip-wielding Cossacks, in a forewarning of the possible violence in the coming months. There are fears that after the referendum, there could be clashes between the large pro-Russian population and the minority Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian populations, who are aghast at the prospect of union with Moscow.
The referendum, to be held on Sunday, will ask Crimeans if they want more autonomy within Ukraine or union with Russia. However, the local parliament has already voted for union with Russia and said the referendum is merely meant to "confirm" the decision.
A Cossack stands during a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol A Cossack stands during a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko /Reuters
Vladimir Putin said last week that there was no suggestion of Russia annexing Crimea, but Moscow put on a warm reception for the region's de facto leaders on Friday, and in a phone call with David Cameron and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Sunday, Putin appeared to back the referendum.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea's legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula's population," said the Kremlin in a statement about the call.
In the same phone call, Cameron told Putin that Britain and the EU wanted to work towards a diplomatic solution.
The Foreign Office said: "The prime minister called President Putin this morning to urge him to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between the governments of Russia and Ukraine.
"The PM made clear that we, along with our European and American partners, want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea."
A woman holding Crimean flags in Simferopol A woman holding Crimean flags in Simferopol. Photograph: Maysun/Corbis
The region is now full of heavily armed pro-Russian militias, backing Russian military actions in the region. But even among the ethnic Russians, who make up more than half of Crimea's residents, there is not a consensus on joining with Russia. Many would prefer enhanced autonomy within Ukraine.
At the pro-Ukraine protest, 62-year-old Larisa said she was filled with worry at the prospect of joining Russia.
"I am Russian, I was born in the far east of Russia, but I am a Ukrainian patriot. We are pawns in Putin's game, who is he to say we need defending? He has sent in troops to our country on the pretext of protecting us, but from whom?"
Other Russians, however, were certain that union with Russia was the only thing that could save the peninsula from being attacked by the new government in Kiev, which is widely described here as fascist.
"Our grandfathers fought the Nazis, and now they are in tears looking at these revolting fascists in Kiev," said Vladimir, a factory worker from the town of Bakhchisarai who plans to volunteer for a local self-defence unit. "We have had 23 years of Ukraine and the economy has gone to shit. Russia is a great country, Putin is a great president. Only with Russia can we experience the good life of the Soviet Union again."
In Kiev, there was also a rally near the Taras Shevchenko monument, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the national icon's birth.
"We face the biggest challenge for our country and nation for the history of modern independent Ukraine," Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine's prime minister, told the crowd. Yatsenyuk will travel to Washington this week and meet Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff /AFP
In Kiev, he insisted that Ukraine would never give up Crimea to Russia. "Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won't budge a single centimetre from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."
"Our army is small, we lack guns, so our only weapon is our spirit," said Iryna Derevytska, a 42-year-old teacher waving a big Ukrainian flag at the rally.
However, it is not clear just how Ukraine intends to defend Crimea, and spirit may not be enough. Kiev's soldiers on the peninsula are stranded inside bases, under assault from the Russians and lacking direction from the capital.
Russian military control over Crimea is intensifying by the day, with unconfirmed reports that mines have been laid on the isthmus that connects the peninsula with the rest of Ukraine. The Ukrainian army said that at Chongar, on the border, mines had been laid, and there had been a huge buildup of Russian military vehicles in recent days.
Crimean broadcasters also stopped the transmission of Ukrainian channels in the territory and replaced them with Russian channels over the weekend. Russian media have accused the west of ignoring far-right elements present in the Kiev protests and whitewashing what it describes as a "neo-fascist" government.
"Russian propaganda is lying as always," said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's richest man, who was released by presidential pardon after a decade in prison late last year, addressing the crowds on Independence Square on Sunday. "There are no fascists or neo-Nazis here, or at least there are no more than there are on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg."
"I want you to know there is another Russia," said Khodorkovsky, his voice shaking with emotion. He said he had spent the night in the square talking to different activists and wished them all the best in their struggle to build a new government now. He was given a warm welcome by the crowd.
Additional reporting by Nick Watt, Harriet Salem and Oksana Grytsenko
Russia risks consequences over Crimea referendum, Cameron and Merkel say
Leaders' statement implies further sanctions if Russia legitimises referendum but says diplomatic efforts ongoing
Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt
theguardian.com, Monday 10 March 2014 10.11 GMT
David Cameron and Angela Merkel have agreed that any Russian attempt to legitimise next Sunday's referendum in Crimea will result in further consequences, implying stronger sanctions.
The prime minister and the German chancellor agreed a statement after a working dinner in Hanover on Sunday night.
In what is in essence a twin-track approach, the two leaders also said they were still working to persuade the Russians to engage with a western contact group designed to start a diplomatic process in Ukraine. The referendum is seen as an attempt to annex Crimea, and the west as well as Turkey have condemned the referendum as unconstitutional and legally dubious.
EU leaders agreed at a heads of government summit last week to escalate sanctions if Russia did not start to engage in a diplomatic process in days; as yet there has been little sign of Russian willingness to seek a diplomatic outcome on the ground.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, appears in telephone conversations to be emollient but does not seem prepared to carry out his verbal commitments inside Ukraine.
Downing Street said in a statement after the dinner: "They both agreed that the priority is to de-escalate the situation and to get Russia to engage in a contact group as swiftly as possible. They reiterated their view that the proposed referendum in Crimea would be illegal and that any attempt by Russia to legitimise the result would result in further consequences. They also agreed that we must keep working to support the Ukraine government, including identifying how the international community can help to stabilise the economic situation."
On Sunday, Cameron told Putin he must do more to reduce tensions in Ukraine as he called on the Russian president to agree to the creation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between Kiev and Moscow.
As the foreign secretary, William Hague, warned of a "great danger of a real shooting conflict" if Russian forces moved beyond Crimea to enter the main part of eastern Ukraine, the prime minister told Putin that Britain and the EU wanted to work towards a diplomatic solution.
The prime minister spoke to Putin by phone before his working dinner with Merkel.
A No 10 spokesperson said of Cameron's conversation with Putin: "The prime minister called President Putin this morning to urge him to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support the formation of a contact group that could lead to direct talks between the governments of Russia and Ukraine. The PM made clear that we, along with our European and American partners, want to work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea.
"The PM emphasised that we recognise the right of all Ukrainian people to choose their future and that the elections, currently scheduled for the end of May, provide the best way to do this. The international community should work together to ensure the elections are free, fair and inclusive.
"President Putin agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine. He said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that he would discuss the proposals on the contact group with Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov tomorrow.
"The PM and President Putin also discussed the serious economic challenges facing Ukraine and agreed that the international community would need to provide financial support in the months ahead. Both leaders agreed to stay in touch on the issue in the coming days."
The EU's 28 leaders agreed at their summit on Thursday that Moscow must agree to a dialogue, to be established through the contact group, with Kiev if it is to avoid a round of sanctions. It is understood that London and Berlin fear that Putin will use his current strategy – to sound reasonable in telephone conversations while Russian forces tighten their grip on Crimea – to stall any negotiations if the contact group is established. Merkel and Cameron are keen to let Putin know that they are not "naive" and have clocked his strategy.
Hague acknowledged that none of the options on the table – diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions – would be able to remove Russian forces from the Black Sea peninsula.
Asked by the BBC's Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, what would happen if Russian troops went beyond the Black Sea peninsula to enter "mainland" eastern Ukraine, Hague said: "There would be far reaching trade, economic and financial consequences. It would bring the great danger of a real shooting conflict. There is no doubt about that."
Asked whether Britain and the EU would advise the Ukrainians not to take up arms against the Russians, Hague said: "We have commended all of their restraint so far. It is not really possible to go through different scenarios with the Ukrainians and say: in these circumstances you shoot and in these you don't. We have commended their restraint. They have not risen to any provocation from Russia."
Minister Says Ukraine May Sign EU Agreement This Month
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 March 2014, 22:34
Ukraine said Sunday it could sign later this month part of a crucial EU agreement for greater integration, even as the former Soviet state remains in a state of upheaval.
"The political association with the European Union could be signed on March 17 or 21," Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said in an interview with Ukrainian 1+1 television.
The new government in Kiev had already earlier said it planned to sign the political parts of an EU association pact before snap presidential elections on May 25.
The dates given by the minister correspond to a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on March 17, and a summit of EU leaders on March 20/21.
Kiev was close to signing an association pact and free trade deal with Brussels in November but former president Viktor Yanukovych scrapped the agreement at the last minute in favor of closer ties with Moscow, setting off mass protests in the country that resulted in 100 deaths and Yanukovych's eventual ouster last month.
The signing of the EU accord will take place after a March 16 referendum in Ukraine's autonomous Crimean peninsula, whose pro-Moscow leadership wants to become part of Russia amid the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War.
Reports: Ousted Ukraine Leader to Make Statement in Russia
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 March 2014, 12:10
The ousted president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, is to speak in southern Russia on Tuesday in his first public statement in over a week, Russian news agencies reported.
"The statement will be made in Rostov-on-Don. The exact time and place will be announced later," the agencies cited an unnamed source in his entourage as saying Monday.
There were no further details.
The Russian media had printed rumors that Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine after three months of street protests in Kiev turned deadly, was seriously ill in a Moscow hospital after a heart attack.
During his last public appearance, at a press conference on February 28 in the same Russian city, a feisty Yanukovych insisted that he was still the legitimate leader of Ukraine.
"I have not been overthrown by anyone, I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to an immediate threat to my life and the lives of those close to me," he said at the time.
Ukraine's oligarchs: who are they – and which side are they on?
With two of them occupying key posts in the new government, the country's richest men are key players in the unfolding crisis between Kiev and Moscow
Rinat Akhmetov … Ukraine's richest man.
Ukraine's oligarchs may lag behind their Russian counterparts in cash terms, but they are much more politically active – so it is no accident that the new government has called on them to back the regime. Two of the biggest have agreed to run provinces in the frontline of Russian threat. Yet Ukrainian oligarchs must look both east and west. So who are they and where do their loyalties actually lie?
The richest man in Ukraine, with $12.5bn, mostly made from iron and steel and thermoelectricity. Akhmetov has smoothed over an early reputation for mixing with tough street operators. He is the president of Shakhtar Donetsk FC. When in London, he lives at One Hyde Park. This former supporter of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych (he once lent him his private plane) and MP for the Party of the Regions now backs the new government, calling for national unity. His influence in the Russian-speaking east makes his support particularly important.
Ukraine's best-known oligarch, worth $3.2bn. He offered belated support to the protesters after Yanukovych fled, but then turned down the new government's request for assistance. The son-in-law of former president Kuchma treads a fine line between east and west. This friend of Tony Blair, and one of the world's biggest Damien Hirst collectors, made his money selling steel pipes. Claims that he has engaged in dumping (selling goods too cheaply for the purpose of undercutting competitors) in the US and Russia, and the collapse of his Russian insurance company, have depleted his fortune, but he remains the second-richest man. Pinchuk funds Blair's Faith Foundation, for his sins.
Financed Yanukovych until his downfall. His fights with opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko over gas interests are legendary. This bruiser from post-Soviet times fought his way up from the street; he has made billions through RosUkrEnergo, a natural-resources and energy giant. Firtash regards the UK as his second home (he owns a house near Harrods with an underground swimming pool).
The founder of Privat Bank, Kolomoisky has answered the call from the new Ukrainian president to run the central Dnipropetrovsk province. He is well qualified, as he owns the local football team, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. He is thought to be worth $3bn. A fierce opponent of the Yanukovych regime, he was once allied with Tymoshenko.
The "Chocolate King" made his $1bn trading cocoa beans, before diversifying into media. Said to be the most popular man in Ukraine, he backed the Orange Revolution and fought Yanukovych. He stuck doggedly to his pro-EU line in the teeth of opposition.
Just 28, but said to have made $2.4bn through gas sales. He used some of it to buy the football team Metalist Kharkiv. This friend of the Yanukovych family is on an EU sanctions list and has fled the country for Belarus. He says he faces no criminal charges and the corruption allegations are motivated by competitors.
A Kiev Question: What Became of the Missing?
By C. J. CHIVERS
MARCH 9, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Volodymyr Danyluk was a Soviet Army veteran who joined demonstrations against Ukraine’s government last year. He was 55 years old, separated from his wife and mostly out of contact with his family, who saw him on live television during a winter of protests.
Then came the authorities’ crackdown last month in Kiev, the capital. The riot police and demonstrators clashed, scores of people were killed and the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych fell. Mr. Danyluk disappeared from sight.
In the weeks since, Ukraine’s interim authorities have allowed opposition members to search prisons, morgues and hospitals for their missing. There has been no sign of Mr. Danyluk — or of more than 250 other missing Ukrainians.
After a season of political upheaval here, a gnawing worry persists: What happened to Ukrainians who seemingly vanished in their revolution’s fast-moving tides? Were Mr. Danyluk and the others victims of state repression and criminal activity by the police, or had some of them just drifted back to quiet lives?
“Our mom is worried and calling me all the time,” said Mr. Danyluk’s sister, Galyna Onyshchuk, crying.
In all, 661 people have been reported missing since protests began last December, according to Euromaidan S O S, a volunteer group leading efforts to find the disappeared. The fates of 272 of them remained unknown late last week.
Many people were found in prison cells or hospitals, or resurfaced on their own, said Vitaliy Selyk, a Euromaidan S O S coordinator. Some cases were caused by breakdowns in communications, including people who lost cellphones or ran out of credit on SIM cards, he said.
A few of the missing were people estranged from families and whose recent silence was by choice. Mr. Selyk said he expected that most of the remaining cases would be solved and that the missing would turn up.
But beneath that hope lies the grim concern that many Ukrainians may have disappeared after being seized by the Berkut riot police unit, by pro-Russian provocateurs or by unofficial forces that worked to keep Mr. Yanukovych in power.
This fear, cited almost universally by the opposition, is rooted in two particular cases.
The first was the killing of Yuriy Verbytskyi, a seismologist and an opposition activist, who was found dead in January in the forest near Boryspil after being abducted from a Kiev hospital.
A fellow abductee who survived, Igor Lutsenko, told journalists that their captors spoke Russian, beat them, interrogated them about their activities in the opposition and generally behaved like police officers.
The second case was the abduction of Dmytro Bulatov, an organizer of AutoMaidan, a mobile opposition movement that includes drivers who ferried demonstrators to protests.
Mr. Bulatov disappeared in late January. He turned up a week later, bloodied and bearing signs of torture that he said he received at the hands of people he believed were members of Russia’s special services.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, then under the control of Mr. Yanukovych, suggested that Mr. Bulatov had faked his own kidnapping as an antigovernment provocation.
That assertion undercut the public’s confidence that the authorities would dedicate themselves to solving missing-person cases that might point to a government role or official complicity.
Abuses by the ministry’s riot police have been well established, including the taunting humiliation of Mihailo Gavryluk, a farmer from western Ukraine who, upon being arrested last month, was forced to stand outside naked in the wintry cold while masked and hooded police officers posed for photographs with him.
Part of this episode was posted in a video on YouTube. In it, one officer slaps him and gives him a stern kick.
Mr. Gavryluk said the Berkut officers who arrested him tore off his clothes. “They had fun,” he said, darkly.
But he noted that his luck soon turned better. The Berkut police were busy, and often left detainees at police stations or hospitals scattered around the city. Mr. Gavryluk said he was taken to a hospital where veterans who fought in the Soviet war in Afghanistan and were loyal to the opposition were active.
The veterans quickly spirited him back to the square, he said. When the police returned to pick him up for prosecution, he was gone.
Another former detainee, Andriy Babyn, described a law enforcement system overwhelmed by the large number of people arrested as Ukrainians turned out to fight. “There was practically a war going on,” he said.
One result, Mr. Babyn said, was that some detainees ended up at police stations or jails where officers were either neutral or sympathetic to the opposition.
But the same characteristics of an overburdened prisoner-intake system meant that detainees were scattered across the region, opening the possibility for police abuse. That has also made a full accounting of the detainees difficult.
Mr. Selyk, of Euromaidan S O S, also noted that many bloodstains had been found at areas where detainees were handled — possible evidence of police crime.
“Although we can find blood traces everywhere, we need DNA tests to find which people were where,” he said. “This is a huge amount of work, and there is some chance that the police will not do it.”
More than two weeks since the last clashes, many people remain missing, even after thorough checks at hospitals and prisons. Rumors are rampant.
One macabre story, common in Independence Square, is that 50 opposition members being treated in a hastily organized medical aid station in the Trade Union building were killed and burned beyond recognition by the fire that gutted the building.
This tale is largely false, people involved in the searches said. A few people did die in the blaze, they said, but the number of victims was six or fewer.
Among those lost in the fire was Volodymyr Topij, 59, from Vyshnya, for whom at least one missing-person circular was still posted in the opposition encampment. Mr. Topij’s remains were identified last week. His body was escorted home for burial.
A more sinister whisper on the street is that the authorities, to mask widespread police crimes, arranged for the cremation of more than 100 bodies of those they killed.
Euromaidan S O S has investigated these claims, and Mr. Selyk said they also appear false. “We know people who work in the crematorium,” he said, “and they say it is not true.”
In the absence of clear information, the cases linger, unsolved, including that of Volodymyr Tsarenko, who left his home on Feb. 19.
Mr. Tsarenko, an elderly pensioner with strong nationalist sentiments, was last seen walking along a highway in the countryside south of Kiev.
At the time, the confrontation between the government and opposition was at a fierce pitch, and pro-government thugs were roaming roads, intimidating people they suspected of trying to reach the demonstrations in the capital.
Mr. Tsarenko’s son, Oleksandr, said he had searched the woods along the road, looking for his father’s body. After reporting his father missing, he was summoned to a morgue to view the body of an unidentified man. That man was not his father.
He said he suspected that his father had been taken by pro-Yanukovych gangs or police officers trying to prevent opposition supporters from reaching the capital.
“Lots of buses with anti-Maidan people were roaming around,” he said, “and they could have grabbed him.”
Fears of Impending Change Darken Normally Lighthearted Odessa
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MARCH 9, 2014
ODESSA, Ukraine — In a joke making the rounds in this city famous for its humor, wry and dark at the best of times, two condemned prisoners are talking on death row. One suggests they try to run away, but the other says, “No, that will only make things worse.”
As Crimea prepares for a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, residents here and in other Russian-speaking areas throughout the south and the east of Ukraine find themselves swaying, to greater and lesser degrees, between east and west.
The country’s new leaders in Kiev were ushered into power by tens of thousands of peaceful protesters in the capital, but also western Ukrainian militias, a matter of grave concern here. The prospect of direct rule by Moscow is only a little less unsettling, if that.
“I have two fears,” said Anna Misyuk, a historian and the author of a literary history of her hometown. “I’m afraid of Ukrainian nationalism, and I’m afraid of Putin and his regime. We know a lot about Putin’s Russia. This is not what people want. They want to live in Russia culturally, to feel Russian and not feel second rate for it.”
With the city in play, street fighters from Independence Square in Kiev have arrived by bus in Odessa. Their eyes deep from the violence they had just seen, attired in body armor, they draw apprehensive stares, but their presence has also allowed supporters of the interim government to feel safe enough to stage several large rallies.
Russia’s presence is also felt. Pro-Russian street activists believed to be preparing the ground for possible further military moves are active here, as in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.
In a statement issued Friday, the Russian presidential administration said that President Vladimir V. Putin had told President Obama in a telephone call that Russian speakers in the southeast, where Odessa is situated, were appealing for aid. “Russia cannot ignore appeals connected to this, calls for help, and acts appropriately.”
For now, though, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a war in abeyance, stopped at the borders of the Crimean Peninsula, as both sides assess the mood in Russian-speaking areas like this, which are potential targets of further Russian advances.
Over the weekend, after scuffles with the police, pro-Russian activists raised the Russian flag over the city’s administrative building. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian flag went back up.
“I cannot believe this is happening in the 21st century,” a local resident, Maria Dubova, said of the shoving matches over a flagpole that might actually determine the fate of her city.
Residents are, not surprisingly, on edge, although the streets are perfectly calm.
It’s a sobering moment for a city that does not like such moments; where the municipal holiday is April Fools’ Day, called Humorina, celebrated with a rowdy street festival of practical jokes; where Dixieland jazz is played and men circulate in bowler hats and one man sells jokes for a dollar apiece.
After reports emerged online that two dozen bodybuilders from Kharkiv had checked into an Odessa hotel to “offer moral support” to the pro-Russian protesters, a blogger, Sergei Melnikov, posted on Facebook that “right now in Odessa, huge psychiatrists are hanging out.”
The city, founded by Catherine the Great around the same time as Sevastopol in Crimea, has carved its cultural identity as a place distinct from the sea of rural Ukraine around it.
“Odessa is a cosmopolitan city on the Ukrainian steppe,” Ms. Misyuk said.
Here, the pro-Russian groups are the People’s Alternative, the Odessa Cossacks, Youth Unity, Motherland and others, some with roots in the city, others that nobody here seems to have heard of before. People’s Alternative has been pushing a plan for greater autonomy for the Odessa region, but not independence.
Supporters of the interim government gather daily on the promenade above the Potemkin Stairs, a worldwide symbol of the evils of repressive powers, from a scene in the 1925 Sergei Eisenstein film “Battleship Potemkin.”
Several residents said in interviews that they feared the linguistic and cultural status quo that worked well enough for everybody here — a large mix of nationalities and religions, including Romanians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Jews, Tatars, Russians and Ukrainians, with Russian as the lingua franca — was in danger of being torn apart by outsiders, the Russian government and Ukrainian nationalists alike.
This attitude was on display at Tatyana Rybakova’s cozy and cluttered bookstore on Yevraiskaya Street, or Jewish Street, which sells only Russian-language books. Ms. Rybakova, who supported the Maidan protests, concedes that some customers of her shop have a language problem: they do not want their books in Russian. When that happens, Ms. Rybakova sends them around the corner to the shop of her friend Galina Dolnik, who sells only Ukrainian-language books.
The pair share a penchant for cardigan sweaters and necklaces with oversize beads, and in interviews both owners identified their common and hated enemies — mail-order schemes and e-book readers.
Asked if it is possible to be culturally Russian outside Russia, Ms. Rybakova, who said she had been compelled to read “Doctor Zhivago” in samizdat form because of censorship, said it was — in Odessa at least — “now more than ever.”
U.S. Deploys Fighter Jets to Poland, Lithuania
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 March 2014, 22:35
The United States is sending a dozen F-16 fighter jets to Poland as a part of a training exercise, amid continuing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the Polish defense ministry said on Sunday.
Three hundred U.S. service personnel will also be sent to Poland as part of the exercise. The deployment will be completed by Thursday.
Chuck Hagel, the U.S. Secretary of State for Defense, and his Polish counterpart Tomasz Siemoniak agreed the deployment during a phone call, according to a statement from the Polish ministry.
"The unit will be composed of 12 F-16 planes and will transport 300 soldiers," defense ministry spokesman Jacek Sonta told Agence France Presse.
The fighters had been sent following a request from Poland.
The exercise was originally planned to be smaller but was increased and pushed forward because of the "tense political situation" in Ukraine, added Sonta.
The deployment in Poland comes after Washington announced it was also sending four F-15 planes to Lithuania to strengthen surveillance in the airspace around the Baltic.
According to Lithuania's defense ministry, the deployment was in response to "Russian aggression in Ukraine and increased military activity in Kaliningrad," the Russian exclave which borders Poland and Lithuania.
While, Poland has 48 of its own F-16 fighter jets, the Baltic states do not have sufficient air resources and look to NATO to provide protection for its airspace.
Iran Press Hail Ashton Visit amid Some Criticism
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 March 2014, 13:04
Iranian newspapers on Monday welcomed European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's weekend visit to Tehran although her focus on human rights came under criticism.
Ashton met on Sunday with top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"Iran and Europe enter an era of cooperation," ran the headline in government-run daily Iran alongside a picture of the Rouhani-Ashton meeting.
According to the president's office, Ashton delivered "the goodwill message" of the 28-member European bloc to Rouhani.
Ashton is tasked with coordinating a diplomatic push by six world powers in talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear drive.
Those talks culminated in an interim deal in November, but ongoing negotiations on a final accord will be challenging, she warned at a joint press conference with Zarif.
The reformist Arman daily said her mission signaled "an extensive revision of the European Union's approach towards Iran," recalling a string of visits by European top diplomats in recent months.
Another reformist paper, Shargh, argued the visit was a foreign policy success for Rouhani, who came to power in August vowing to mend strained ties with the outside world.
Iranian media said Ashton also met with rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has served time in jail, and the mother of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger who died in detention under unclear circumstances.
A hardline figure in Iran's armed forces condemned the encounter, with his remarks echoed by conservative newspapers.
"Ashton's meeting with some notorious people is proof of a violation of diplomatic rules and a harbinger of future interference" in Iran's internal affairs, said General Masoud Jazayeri, quoted by Fars news agency.
Shargh newspaper criticized what it termed the West's double standards in putting the spotlight on human rights while at the same time imposing sanctions over Iran's nuclear drive.
"Ashton can visit Iranian medical centers and think about the fate of patients who could face death because they do not have access to drugs," it said in an editorial.
It was referring to curbs on financial transactions between Western firms and Tehran, making the procurement of medicine nearly impossible.
Taliban threaten to attack Afghan presidential elections
Statement released by militants says anyone who goes near voting booths or rallies will be in danger
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Monday 10 March 2014 08.34 GMT
The Taliban have threatened to attack Afghanistan's crucial presidential election next month, warning that anyone who goes near "electoral offices, voting booths, rallies and campaigns" is putting their life in danger.
Afghanistan is preparing for a poll that if successful will prepare the way for the country's first ever peaceful, democratic transfer of power. Security and fraud are seen as the two largest, and interconnected threats.
Some of the worst vote-rigging in the 2009 poll occurred in "ghost" polling stations, vote centres that were opened in violent areas where few or no locals were willing to risk defying the Taliban to cast a genuine vote but hundreds of ballots were registered.
The Taliban had earlier called the election a waste of time, but the English-language statement posted on Monday was more explicit in threatening violence against anyone associated with it.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan encourages all its countrymen to avoid becoming victims of the enemy conspiracies in the upcoming elections process; reject it wholly and do not put yourselves in danger," the statement said. "If anyone still persists on participating then they are solely responsible of any loss in the future."
There have already been several attacks against election workers. Last year, insurgent gunmen in northern Kunduz province assassinated the provincial head of the Independent Election Commission, the government body organising the logistics of the vote.
More recently, in western Herat province two men from the team of the leading candidate Abdullah Abdullah were gunned down the day before campaigning officially began, although that attack was not claimed by insurgents.
Repeating earlier allegations that the election is a rigged sham, the Taliban said the vote would continue US dominance of the country, even after foreign troops left, by selecting a head of state who was in effect a puppet.
"It [the US] will install a head of state who appears to be an Afghan but will have American mentality, vision, deeds, creed and ideals while openly being in conflict with the clear teachings of the sacred religion of Islam," the statement said.
The US has strenuously denied any meddling in this election, although the former defence secretary Robert Gates in his memoirs described efforts in 2009 to ensure Karzai was defeated, manoeuvring he described as a "clumsy and failed putsch".
2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death
By ROD NORDLAND
MARCH 9, 2014
BAMIAN, Afghanistan — She is his Juliet and he is her Romeo, and her family has threatened to kill them both.
Zakia is 18 and Mohammad Ali is 21, both the children of farmers in this remote mountain province. If they could manage to get together, they would make a striking couple.
She dresses colorfully, a pink head scarf with her orange sweater, and collapses into giggles talking about him. He is a bit of a dandy, with a mop of upswept black hair, a white silk scarf and a hole in the side of his saddle-toned leather shoes. Both have eyes nearly the same shade, a startling amber.
They have never been alone in a room together, but they have publicly declared their love for each other and their intention to marry despite their different ethnicities and sects. That was enough to make them outcasts, they said, marked for death for dishonoring their families — especially hers.
Zakia has taken refuge in a women’s shelter here. Even though she is legally an adult under Afghan law, the local court has ordered her returned to her family. “If they get hold of me,” she said matter-of-factly, “they would kill me even before they get me home.”
Neither can read, and they have never heard Shakespeare’s tale of doomed love. But there are plenty of analogues in the stories they are both steeped in, and those, too, end tragically.
Zakia invokes one, the tale of Princess Shirin and Farhad the stonecutter, as she talks about her beloved, and her long wait in the women’s shelter to marry him. “I would wait until I reach my love, no matter how long,” she said.
In 21st-century Afghanistan, as well, life is no fairy tale, especially in rural places like Bamian. Young people who want to choose their own mates face the harsh reality that strict social traditions still trump new laws and expanded rights — and that honor killings in such cases remain endemic.
Nearly all marriages are still arranged by the parents, and girls bring to their families bride prices that can be considerable — although for poor families like Zakia’s and Mohammad Ali’s, that might be a few goats. Afghan courts can also apply Shariah law, interpreting it to justify parental authority even over an adult child.
“The story of true love in Afghanistan,” said Reza Farzam, an Afghan university professor, “is the story of death.”
Zakia and Mohammad Ali knew each other from childhood, working in adjacent fields in the village of Khame Kalak, near the provincial capital.
“We would go to the desert and take our animals for foraging, and we used to spend our days in the huts around the animals,” Mohammad Ali said.
Their love affair did not begin then. “We were too young to know of these things,” he said. But their friendship was close, and it was abruptly cut off.
“Unfortunately, she grew up, and I could no longer see her,” he said. Once past puberty, girls must remain covered and usually can go out only in the company of close male relatives.
Complicating matters, Mohammad Ali is a Hazara, who are mostly Shia Muslims. Zakia is a Tajik, a Sunni ethnic group. (As with many Afghans, neither has a surname.)
Occasionally, though, Mohammad Ali would glimpse Zakia in the fields and catch her eye under her head scarf. He was sure she returned the interest. “One hundred percent, I knew she loved me, too,” he said. He found a young girl to be an intermediary, and gave her a cellphone to take to Zakia.
Zakia hid the phone where no one would find it, and for most of the past four years they spoke to each other once a week or so. Whenever Zakia, one of 10 children, could find some privacy, she would call him, let it ring once, and he would call back.
Mohammad Ali gave her calls a ringtone that was a verse from a popular Afghan song that recalls the story of Yusuf and Zuleika.
On one of their calls, he told Zakia the story. In the version as told among Afghans (details differ across the Islamic world, and in the Christian version it is the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Egypt), Zuleika is a married woman who tries unsuccessfully to tempt Yusuf into adultery. He is thrown into prison, and Zuleika waits 36 years for him to be freed.
By then she is homely, old and blind, but her love has not flagged, and Yusuf marries her, miraculously turning her into a young beauty.
When he finished the story, Mohammad Ali said, “Her reply to me was that she’s ready to wait for me for even 50 years.”
Through his father, he twice sent messengers to Zakia’s father to ask permission to court her. They were rebuffed, even after the offer of part of Mohammad Ali’s family fields as a bride price.
Zakia took the initiative and showed up at Mohammad Ali’s house, pleading to be taken into the family to marry him.
Mohammad Ali’s family sent her back, not once but twice, despite his protests. His older brother and father beat him so badly that he was hospitalized, and he still bears a prominent bruise on his left cheekbone. “We didn’t want them to be disgraced,” he said. “But when they sent her back to her family it was not a secret anymore.”
The second time, Zakia said, she, too, was badly beaten, and her cellphone was discovered and confiscated. She fled to Mohammad Ali’s house a third time.
“I saw there was no place to go,” he said, “so I brought her to the Women’s Ministry.”
When Zakia and Mohammad Ali showed up at the Bamian branch of the ministry, they were chased by Zakia’s family, who rampaged through the building trying to find them. Policemen subdued the male relatives, but Mohammad Ali had to hide in a closet from Zakia’s angry mother, he said.
When order was restored, Zakia’s parents claimed the girl was legally engaged to someone else, an aunt’s son, although the head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, Fatima Kazimi, said their versions varied about which one. Zakia denied she had consented to an engagement, so she was given refuge in the shelter, and the matter was referred to court.
Ms. Kazimi, who has successfully pushed the Bamian police to bring hundreds of prosecutions in cases of violence against women, was barred from the court proceedings. But she later learned that at the request of the judges, who were all Tajik, Zakia had put her thumbprint on a document agreeing that she would return to her family. Her family also put their thumbprints on written promises not to harm her if she did.
“The chief judge told me, ‘We are Tajiks, and it dishonors us if you decide to marry a Hazara,’ ” Zakia said. “I told them whatever he might be, he’s still a Muslim.”
Ms. Kazimi visited Zakia with police and government officials present, telling her that she was free to do as she chose and that they would support her. Zakia asked to be kept from her family, saying she had no idea what she had signed with her thumbprint.
As Ms. Kazimi and policemen escorted Zakia out of the court, her family went wild.
“My father and mother were pulling my clothes and even ripping them off me,” Zakia said. Her mother screamed at her, calling her a whore over and over — about the worst thing one can say to an Afghan woman. Zakia said her brother and brother-in-law tried to beat her, and they all threatened to kill Mohammad Ali and her, as well as Ms. Kazimi.
“They said if I go marry him, they will not let us live,” Zakia said. “But if I go home, I know my mother and father will not let me live either.”
In February, the chief judge, Atola Tomkin, issued an order suspending Ms. Kazimi and another Women’s Ministry official from their jobs for intervening on Zakia’s behalf. He also insisted that the document with Zakia’s thumbprint was valid and that she should return to her family.
Judge Tomkin refused to speak to a journalist, but another judge who had served on the panel in Zakia’s case, Sayif Rahman, called Zakia’s charges of ethnic bias in the court “just propaganda.” He said the court was just trying to mediate to reach a peaceful settlement, as called for under Islamic law.
The Women’s Ministry has appealed the judicial decision, and the attorney general’s office is reinvestigating the family’s claims. Ms. Kazimi has little faith in the local legal system, however. Another of those in the shelter is a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by an old man, she said. The court ordered both of them tried for adultery and dropped the rape charge.
Zakia has now logged her fifth month in the shelter. She is not allowed a phone there, and has been unable to talk to Mohammad Ali.
“I’m very worried that my family is trying to harm him and his family,” she said in an interview at the Bamian Women’s Ministry. “If he should die, I should also die.”
Mohammad Ali was interviewed separately at the ministry. “Our story is the same as Shirin and Farhad,” he said. “We are stuck in such a story.”
In the Afghan version of that Persian tale, Shirin is courted by a wealthy prince, as well as the penniless Farhad. She tells Farhad that if he can remove the face of the mountain with an ax, she will marry him instead of the prince. He labors for months, and when the prince sees he really is moving the mountain for her, he sends a woman to tell Farhad that Shirin has already married. Farhad kills himself, and so does Shirin when she learns of his death.
“I’m still standing on my word, and I will try to reach her until the last drop of my blood,” Mohammad Ali said. “Shirin and Farhad knew that in this temporary world they might not reach one another, but God knew they might do so in the next world, and my ambition is also the same.
“If they separated me from her, if anything happened to her,” he added, “I would commit suicide.”
Mohammad Ali said he moves around his village with great care now, fearful of being attacked by Zakia’s family. He says he is unarmed — “I don’t have so much as a nail file” — although Zakia’s family claims he carries a rifle with him.
Zakia’s aggrieved father, Mohammad Zaman, and some of her brothers sat in their mud-walled house and gave their side of the story. By last week it had changed considerably. Instead of being already engaged, as the family had told officials at the Women’s Ministry, Zakia was actually already married, to her cousin, and so could not marry again, her father said.
Court officials said there was no evidence that was true, and Zakia denied it.
Mr. Zaman said his nephew had already paid the bride price — 28,000 Afghanis, or $500, about the price of three goats. Mr. Zaman said he knew he could have gotten much more, “but he’s my nephew, and I didn’t want to cheat him.”
The marriage was never consummated, he said, because of a delay in arranging a wedding party. In the meantime, Mohammad Ali came on the scene and lured Zakia away.
“We would not harm her. We would not do anything to her,” said Mr. Zaman, who also claimed he had “not even a nail file” as a weapon. “We know that boy just deceived her. It was not her fault. We just want her to come home.
Nepal Police Arrest Tibetans for 'Anti-China Activity'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 March 2014, 12:34
Nepalese police arrested nine Tibetans on Monday after stepping up security on the streets of the capital for the anniversary of the 1959 rebellion against China's rule in Tibet.
About 30 police swooped on a handful of protesters, who waved Tibetan flags and chanted "we want a free Tibet", near the Chinese consular offices in Kathmandu, an Agence France Presse reporter said.
"We have arrested nine Tibetans, four on suspicion of anti-China activity and five for carrying out anti-China demonstrations," police spokesman Ganesh KC told AFP.
The protesters were bundled into a waiting police vehicle from where one of them told AFP over the phone that "my clothes are torn, my arms are bruised, I don't know where the police are taking us".
Nepal, home to around 20,000 Tibetans, is under intense pressure from its giant neighbor China over the exiles, and has repeatedly said it will not tolerate what it calls "anti-China activities".
Police fanned out across Tibetan-dominated areas in Kathmandu, with officers stationed outside refugee camps and Buddhist places of worship, on Monday for the March 10 anniversary.
There were few other signs of activity to mark the anniversary of the 1959 failed uprising by Tibetans against Chinese government rule that led spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to flee his homeland.
Tenzing Jampa, a 45-year-old monk, said: "People are now too afraid to protest, otherwise many more people would turn up."
"Nepal today is totally following China's rules," he told AFP.
An intensified security sweep last year saw at least 18 Tibetans arrested during the run-up to the March 10 anniversary.
A Buddhist monk in Kathmandu set himself on fire in February last year, in the 100th self-immolation bid since 2009 by Tibetans anguished over perceived persecution in Tibet in China. At least 90 have died.
In March 2008, Tibetan anger over Beijing rule of the Tibet Autonomous Region erupted into deadly riots in the regional capital Lhasa and adjacent areas.
North Koreans Vote in Parliament 'Election'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 March 2014, 08:00
North Koreans voted Sunday in a predetermined election for a rubber-stamp parliament -- an exercise that doubles as a national head count and may offer clues to power shifts in Pyongyang.
The vote to elect representatives for the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) was taking place as scheduled, the state-run KCNA news agency said, adding that voter turnout was a whopping 91 percent as of 2.00 pm (0500 GMT).
Those who are ill or infirm and cannot travel to polling stations are casting votes at special "mobile ballot boxes," it added.
"Overjoyed" voters rushed to polling stations across the country from early in the morning, it claimed, adding many danced and played music on the street in praise of the leader, Kim Jong-Un.
The North's state TV showed hundreds of people across the country clad in brightly-colored traditional dresses dancing in circle on the street.
State-run media have in recent weeks stepped up propaganda to promote the election, with a number of poems produced to celebrate voting under titles including "The Billows of Emotion and Happiness" and "We Go To Polling Station."
Apart from the physical casting of votes, there is nothing democratic about the ballot. The results are a foregone conclusion, with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts.
It was the first election to the SPA under the leadership of Kim, who took over the reins of power on the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.
And like his father before him, Kim stood as a candidate -- in constituency number 111, Mount Paektu.
Koreans have traditionally attributed divine status to Mount Paektu and, according to the North's official propaganda, Kim Jong-Il was born on its slopes.
TV footage showed hundreds of soldiers queuing up at a polling station in constituency number 111 and dancing in unison on the street to festive music.
Portraits of Kim's late father and grandfather were hung on the wall behind the ballot box. Soldiers deeply bowed to the portraits after casting their votes.
"I gave the vote, the evidence of my loyalty, to our supreme leader comrade," one soldier said in a TV interview.
Elections are normally held every five years to the SPA, which only meets once or twice a year, mostly for a day-long session, to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the ruling Workers' Party.
The last session in April 2013 adopted a special ordinance formalizing the country's position as a nuclear weapons state -- a status that both South Korea and the United States have vowed not to recognize.
The real interest for outside observers is the final list of candidates or winners -- both lists being identical.
Many top Korean officials are members of the parliament, and the election is an opportunity to see if any established names are absent.
It comes at a time of heightened speculation over the stability of Kim's regime.
Kim has already overseen sweeping changes within the North's ruling elite -- the most dramatic example being the execution of his powerful uncle and political mentor Jang Song-Thaek in December on charges of treason and corruption.
"It's a chance to see who might be tagged for key roles under Kim Jong-Un," said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University for North Korean Studies.
"The list of names can also point to what, if any, generational changes have been made and what policy directions Kim Jong-Un might be favouring," Yang said.
In the absence of any competing candidates, voters are simply required to mark "yes" next to the name on the ballot sheet.
"Let us all cast 'yes' votes," said one of many election banners that state TV showed being put up in the capital Pyongyang.
And they do.
The official turnout at the last election in 2009 was put at 99.98 percent of registered voters, with 100 percent voting for the approved candidate in each seat.
For the North Korean authorities, the vote effectively doubles as a census, as election officials visit every home in the country to ensure all registered voters are present and correct.
"At any other point in the year, family members of missing persons can get away with lying or bribing surveillance agents, saying that the person they are looking for is trading in another district's market," said New Focus International, a defector-run website dedicated to North Korean news.
"But it is during an election period that a North Korean individual's escape to China or South Korea becomes exposed," it said.
Kim Jong-Un has ramped up border security in an effort to curb defections, but more than 1,500 made it to South Korea last year via China.
Ahn Chan-Il, a former defector who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies in Seoul, said the crackdown was undermining the accuracy of the census, with many local officials not daring to report people missing from their neighborhood.
"Otherwise, they would find themselves in trouble as it's their responsibility," Ahn told AFP.
African Peacekeepers Retake Strategic Somali Towns
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 March 2014, 15:11
African peacekeepers in Somalia operating with government forces have recaptured several strategic towns in the southwest from the al-Qaida-linked Shebab militia, officials said Sunday.
The African Union's AMISOM force announced it had launched a widescale offensive on Thursday against the Islamist fighters in areas near the Ethiopian border.
The operation comes in the wake of a surge of attacks in the Somali capital Mogadishu, where the Shebab is fighting to oust the internationally-backed government.
"AMISOM and the Somali troops kicked al-Shebab out of several key towns including Wajid and (regional capital) Hudur," regional government official Abdulahi Yarisow told Agence France Presse.
"Our military advancement will continue until we eliminate the enemy from the rest of the country."
AMISOM said in a statement it had also secured the towns of Ted, Rabdhure and Buudhubow and driven out Shebab militiamen, but witnesses reported fierce fighting on Sunday in Buudhubow.
"The SNA (Somali National Army) and AMISOM joint operations signal the beginning of the renewed efforts by the Somali government forces working more closely with AMISOM forces to dislodge al-Shebab from many of its strongholds across the country," it added.
Hudur had been taken from the Islamists in March 2012 by Ethiopian troops who later withdrew and it then fell back into Shebab hands.
Ethiopia intervened in Somalia between 2006 and 2009 and again sent in troops in November 2011 to battle Islamist fighters in border regions, providing crucial aid to the peacekeeping force.
In January of this year, Ethiopian troops joined AMISOM, sending a contingent of 4,400 men and boosting the peacekeeping force to some 22,000.
Local residents contacted by AFP confirmed that Wajid and Hudur had been retaken by AMISOM.
"The town (Wajid) is empty, al-Shebab ordered people to leave the town before the Ethiopian and Somali troops (arrived) but the situation is quite calm now," said Abdi Hassan, who lives in a neighboring village.