OSCE Negotiators Free One Inspector from Ukrainian Rebels as Separatists Seize TV Station
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 12:24
OSCE negotiators late Sunday walked out of a rebel-occupied town hall in east Ukraine with just one of eight of their inspectors being held as "prisoners of war" by pro-Kremlin separatists, as militants seized a regional TV station in Donetsk.
The two negotiators left the four-story gray building in the town of Slavyansk with the freed Swedish officer.
The three made no comment to waiting reporters before driving away in a white car marked with an OSCE logo.
Negotiations continued for the release of the other seven European inspectors -- from Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark -- and four Ukrainian army officers who were seized with them on Friday, a rebel spokeswoman told Agence France Presse.
She said the Swede was freed first because he suffers from diabetes.
Hours earlier, the rebels had put the eight inspectors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in front of the cameras of a media conference they called in the town hall.
Speaking through one of their number, a German officer, the Europeans asserted their diplomatic status to the scores of local and foreign journalists.
With four armed rebels watching over them as they spoke, the group said they were in good health.
They said they had been captured by the insurgents on Friday around four kilometers (two miles) outside Slavyansk, as they had been about to return to the regional hub city of Donetsk.
"We are OSCE officers with diplomatic status," German officer Axel Schneider said.
"I cannot go home of my own free will."
Schneider added that he did not know the whereabouts of the four Ukrainian officers also detained.
Earlier, the local rebel leader in the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told AFP and a small group of other reporters the OSCE observers were considered "prisoners of war."
"In our town, where a war situation is going on, any military personnel who don't have our permission are considered prisoners of war."
Ponomaryov, who was wearing a pistol in a holster and was escorted by two armed bodyguards, claimed in the same interview that the observers "are not our hostages -- they are our guests."
He added that the group's driver, who had been seized with them on Friday, had been released.
He repeated in the interview that the men would be freed only in exchange for the release by Kiev's authorities of arrested pro-Moscow militants.
And he stressed that the rebels did not consider the detained men part of the main OSCE monitoring mission deployed in Ukraine.
The OSCE headquarters in Vienna has said the military verification mission is a separate operation to its main observer activity, and is under German command.
The pan-European security body said two monitors from its main mission were also held briefly Sunday at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine, before Ukrainian police secured their release.
Asked about Russia's promise to try to convince the pro-Kremlin rebels to release the observers, Ponomaryov said: "I have no direct contact with Moscow."
Ponomaryov also said that rebels had separately "arrested" three Ukrainian officers -- a colonel, a major and a captain -- who he said had been sent towards Slavyansk on a spying mission.
"There were a total of seven in their group and we arrested three of them. We will swiftly get the four others," he said.
The three officers were being kept in Slavyansk. Ukraine's SBU security service confirmed they had been seized. Russian television showed the men cuffed, with tape over their eyes, and in their underclothes.
The rebel mayor said there would be no negotiation with Kiev over any of the imprisoned Ukrainians because the pro-Kremlin insurgents see the capital's Western-backed government as illegitimate.
"There will be no contact with Kiev, only through the intermediary of the OSCE," he said. Ukraine's authorities, he said, "understand only the language of force".
Slavyansk has become the epicenter of the military standoff in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian militants are defying Western pressure to exit occupied buildings.
The Ukrainian army has set up a siege operation around the town of 110,000 to prevent reinforcements reaching the rebels but has stressed it will take a measured response in its military operations in a bid to avoid civilian casualties.
Meanwhile on Sunday, dozens of pro-Kremlin militants seized the regional television station in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
The insurgents, wearing camouflage uniforms and armed with baseball bats and knives, occupied the interior of the building, preventing anyone from entering.
Most wore a red armband bearing the name of the pro-Russian group Oplot (Bastion).
They were not carrying visible firearms, but militants carried several heavy bags inside the building and refused to answer reporters' questions.
The insurgents covered the trident, Ukraine's national symbol, adorning the entrance with a sticker bearing the name of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk Republic."
"The journalists will be allowed to continue to work but they will have to tell the truth," said one militant, who gave his name as Stanislav.
"The Russian channels tell the truth. We demand to have channels in Donetsk that tell the truth," he added.
The station headquarters will be guarded "day and night," added the separatist.
Russian TV channels are banned in Ukraine, where the authorities accuse them of spreading propaganda.
The station's chief later spoke to the several international reporters gathered outside the building.
"Our channels have not yet changed," Oleg Djolos said.
"Our journalists and staff are of course worried but the men who have taken control of our station have pledged to guarantee our safety," he added.
Nearby, six Ukrainian police officers, at least three of whom were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, watched the events unfold without intervening.
Asked about this, Djolos said: "You will have to ask them. They are Ukrainian policemen."
The officers declined to comment to reporters.
"We will come to work at the normal time tomorrow," the director said.
"We are a regional Ukrainian television station. We are not a broadcasting center. The decision to broadcast one channel or the other is not taken at our level."
When pro-Russia protesters took control of the Crimean peninsula last month, backed by Russian special forces, the TV stations were swiftly occupied in similar operations.
U.S. Official Says Sanctions to Hit Russia's Defense Industry, Others
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 19:04
The next round of U.S. sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine will target Russia's defense industry as well as individuals and companies close to President Pig Putin, a senior U.S. official said Sunday.
"Starting this week, in coordination with our allies and partners, we'll be exerting additional pressure on the people closest to him, the companies they control, the defense industry. All of this," deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said on CNN's State of the Union.
In a separate interview with CBS's "Face the Nation," Blinken said high technology exports to the Russian defense industry would be affected.
President Barack Obama said earlier Sunday the sanctions being drawn up by G7 countries were a punishment for Moscow's "provocation" in eastern Ukraine.
"It is important for us to take further steps sending a message to Russia that these kinds of destabilizing activities taking place in Ukraine have to stop," Obama said in Kuala Lumpur.
Blinken, however, made clear that Washington would not meet Ukraine's demands for weapons despite menacing Russian military exercises on its borders.
"Here is the bottom line. We could send weapons to Ukraine. It wouldn't make a difference in terms of their ability to stand up to the Russians," he said.
Instead, he said Washington would focus economic aid to Kiev, with an estimated $37 billion being rounded up by Washington, the IMF, World Bank and others.
"We need to be deliberate and do this in coordination with our partners," he said.
Republican lawmakers criticized the administration's approach as too little, too late, and called for sanctions that strike directly at the Russian economy.
"To me, hitting four of the largest banks there would send shock waves into the economy," said Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"What I fear is all we're doing is tweaking folks," he said, adding that the sanctions targeting individuals were "not creating the kind of pain within Russia that will cause the Pig to change," he said.
Khodorkovsky Heckled by Pro-Russian Activists in East Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 19:15
Former Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was heckled on Sunday by angry pro-Moscow activists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and barred from entering the rebel-held city hall.
Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison in Russia and now lives in self-imposed exile in Switzerland, is visiting eastern Ukraine to "see for himself what's happening there," his spokeswoman Olga Pispanen told Agence France Presse.
Khodorkovsky wanted to speak to people in Donetsk city hall but was turned away by Russian-speaking activists who told him he was unwelcome, according to footage from regional television.
"We saw you on television. How can we speak to you?" shouted one man outside the building, according to the footage broadcast on Russian state television.
"You sold out your country, your homeland," another Russian speaker angrily told the 50-year-old former head of the Yukos oil empire.
"That's what I wanted to talk about," Khodorkovsky responded, trying to stay calm before another activist tells him to leave.
Pispanen said the former oil tycoon on Saturday visited the eastern city of Kharkiv where he met students, activists and businessmen. She said people were friendly there.
Khodorkovsky was in Kiev last week where he participated in a conference about the future of Ukraine and Russia.
He said he saw it as his own "personal task" to help Ukraine see a better future.
"Because if Ukraine becomes more successful then democratization in Russia will proceed faster," he said at the conference.
In March, Khodorkovsky was greeted with a rousing reception in Kiev's Maidan square, the heart of the protests that led to the toppling of the pro-Kremlin president in February.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was jailed in 2003 for fraud and tax evasion in what his supporters say was President Pig Putin's revenge against him for financing the political opposition and openly criticizing the Russian leader.
The Pig stunned Russia in December when he said he had signed a decree to release his top foe.
Immediately upon his release, Khodorkovsky left Russia for Berlin, saying he would not be able to go back in the foreseeable future because he may not be allowed to leave again.
04/28/2014 12:43 PM
Foreign Minister Steinmeier: 'Russia is Playing a Dangerous Game'
Interview Conducted by Nikolaus Blome
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier talks to SPIEGEL about military escalation with Russia, which he describes as the "worst crisis since the end of the Cold War," Pig Putin's long-term goals and how NATO is adapting to a difficult new reality.
SPIEGEL: Minister Steinmeier, do you understand why people might currently be afraid of a war breaking out with Russia?
Steinmeier: We all sense that the events of the last few months could lead to a break, to a crossroad for Europe. I understand why that might scare people -- nobody could have foreseen how quickly we've slid into the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War. Those who can remember the fall of the Berlin Wall know what we've accomplished over the past 25 years. The gains we've made almost everywhere in Europe in terms of peace, freedom and prosperity are now at risk. That's why it's important we take every measure to prevent things from getting worse.
SPIEGEL: For a long time, a military escalation between Western and Eastern Europe was considered out of the question. Is that certainty still valid?
Steinmeier: I don't even want to think about military escalation between the West and the East. One thing, however, is clear: If the wrong decisions are made now, they could nullify decades of work furthering the freedom and security of Europe. Nobody of sound mind can seriously want that. Because we would pay the price for it in Europe -- all of us, without exception.
SPIEGEL: Is the Russian leadership playing with fire?
Steinmeier: It is, in any case, playing a dangerous game with potentially dramatic consequences, for Russia in particular. The financial markets are already reaching their verdict: Moscow stocks and bonds have fallen sharply. The outlook for growth has disappeared. Many Russians are openly cheering their leadership on while simultaneously withdrawing as-yet unknown amounts of capital out of Russia. And this doesn't even take into consideration the investments that Russia so urgently needs from outside the country for its modernization. This nationalist exuberance could lead to a swift hangover.
SPIEGEL: Why is the situation in East Ukraine so opaque and chaotic?
Steinmeier: In 1991, Ukraine inherited a difficult legacy with its independence. It's on the border between East and West, with regions that have completely different histories, with a plethora of unresolved ethnic, religious, social and economic conflicts. It doesn't surprise me that when the pressure in the pot rises, it would erupt. Now there are people on location there during this crisis who aren't revealing their true motives or deeds to us, and others who are playing with loaded dice.
SPIEGEL: Do have a notion of what Pig Putin is planning on the short and long term?
Steinmeier: It's anyone's guess whether the Kremlin has a master plan or if the Russian leadership is making decisions as it goes. But it seems clear to me that when President Viktor Yanukovych fled in a panic from Kiev on Feb. 21, it set off a dynamic whose consequences we must now deal with. That this course of action has -- at least in the short term -- wide popular approval, complicates matters.
SPIEGEL: Would the German government and NATO be well-advised to revisit their strategic defense planning and armaments priorities?
Steinmeier: There is no military solution to the conflict in the Ukraine. Even if it can sometimes be frustrating, I am firmly convinced that only tenacious diplomatic work can bring us any closer to a solution. That's why I'm arguing -- with all of my strength -- that the OSCE should get the chance to fulfill its mission as part of the Geneva Agreement. Of course, that doesn't preclude us members of NATO from incorporating the latest developments into our communal planning. That's a matter of course. That was already the task of the foreign ministers at the most recent NATO Council. And now that will be implemented.
SPIEGEL: Do you think it's more likely that Europe or the United States will come out of this conflict geopolitically strengthened?
Steinmeier: I don't have a crystal ball, unfortunately. But I caution against looking for winners and losers in the middle of the crisis based on concepts from the 19th and early 20th century. Spheres of influence, geopolitical regions, hegemony, aspirations to dominance … those aren't part of our foreign policy -- though we would also be well advised to take into account other people thinking along those lines. Whoever thinks war allows for lasting victories these days should take a look at European history books and learn their lesson.
Fench FM Warns of 'Incalculable Consequences' in Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 22:08
France on Sunday warned of "incalculable consequences" if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates, calling on Russia and on pro-Russian rebels in the former Soviet republic to de-escalate the crisis.
"The situation is very worrying," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on French television.
"When people are whipped into a frenzy and incidents proliferate, they can always boil over with incalculable consequences," he said on the eve of a meeting at which EU ambassadors will mull new sanctions against Moscow.
"It's not a question of going to war with Russia, that makes no sense. We must appeal for a de-escalation, in particular by the Russians and the pro-Russians" in Ukraine), he added.
On Sunday, pro-Russian militants in Ukraine presented a captured team of international observers as "prisoners of war", raising the stakes in the crisis as U.S. President Barack Obama warned Moscow against "provocation."
Fabius said: "Obviously we have to say, in particular to the Russians, that each country's sovereignty must be respected. We respect Russian sovereignty the Russians should respect Ukrainian sovereignty."
The French minister said that ambassadors from the European Union's 28 member states meeting in Brussels on Monday will "prepare a new set of sanctions (against Moscow), the Americans are expected to reveal a new set of sanctions, and if things get even worse, there could be a third phase."
Ukraine crisis: US will expand sanctions on Russian power brokers
• White House targets companies and people close to Putin
• Calls for wider focus meet European resistance
Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 April 2014 16.09 BST
The White House on Sunday insisted that sanctions against Russia, over the crisis in Ukraine, would work in the long term. The comments, made by the deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, came after President Obama, on a visit to Malaysia, sought to solidify European support for such measures.
Obama told reporters: “We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Russian president Pig Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict.”
In the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Sunday, eight military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe who have been held by pro-Russian separatists for three days were presented to the press by their captors. One of the observers, a Swede, was later released.
Blinken, asked on CNN's State of the Union – the first of three Sunday morning talkshows on which he appeared – whether the Obama administration was able to influence events in any way, said: “A week ago, Russia signed on to a roadmap regarding the events in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it hasn't lived up to that.
“So the president, in Asia, by phone convened all of the senior European leaders and got them to agree to a very strong statement, and this week there will be additional sanctions on Russia.”
Asked what would hurt the Pig the most, Blinken said the White House aimed to undermine the president's “promise” to the Russian people, of delivering economic growth.
“The economic isolation of Russia is growing everyday,” he said. “It's financial markets are down 22% since the beginning of the year.”
Regarding the focus of the new sanctions, however, he added: “Starting this week, in co-ordination with our allies and partners, we'll be exerting additional pressure on people closest to Putin, the companies they control, the defence industry, all of this.”
Washington and Brussels are expected, possibly as early as Monday – Blinken later told CBS the new measures would “begin to roll out as early as tomorrow” – to name new people and firms to be hit by punitive measures. In Malaysia, Obama said any decision on wider sanctions would depend on whether the US and its allies could find a unified position.
Washington is more hawkish on further sanctions than the European Union, as many European countries are worried about the risks involved, not least because Europe has extensive business ties with Moscow and imports about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia.
Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, told CBS's Face the Nation the sanctions against Russia needed to have a wider focus.
“These targeted sanctions against individuals just are not affecting the Pig's behaviour,” he said. “We need to start hitting companies within Russia … [to] destabilise their economy.
“I hope tomorrow's sanctions are much stronger than just against individuals. Much tougher sanctions need to be put in place.
“The Russian economy is certainly very fragile. To me, hitting four of the largest banks there would send shockwaves into the economy. Hitting Gazprom would certainly send shockwaves in the economy.
“What I fear is all we're doing is tweaking folks, these are oligarchs. We really aren't affecting the upper middle class, a broader base of citizens.”
Obama said Russia had not "lifted a finger" to get pro-Russian separatist rebels in Ukraine to comply with an international agreement to defuse the crisis. "In fact, there's strong evidence that they've been encouraging the activities in eastern and southern Ukraine," he said.
On Saturday, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke by phone. Each urged the other to do more to control contending interests in Ukraine.
On CNN, Blinken was asked why the administration was not considering providing weapons to Ukraine, in order for it to resist Russia's intervention more effectively. This week the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, said Russia wanted to “start world war three”, and added that "attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe."
Defending US policy of providing non-lethal aid, Blinken said: “We're focusing on where we can be most effective. This week the IMF programme [of aid] is going to go forward and all told, we're looking at $37bn over two years. That's going to have a dramatic impact."
“The vice-president [Joe Biden] was in Ukraine just a week ago – he announced additional, non-lethal security assistance. We've also worked with Ukraine before this crisis to help professionalise their military.
“But here's the bottom line – we could send weapons to Ukraine but it would not make a difference to their ability to stand up to the Russians.”
Ukraine: pro-Russian forces seize TV station in Donetsk and parade captives
Separatists march through city pulling down flags and set about replacing TV channels with pro-Kremlin broadcasts
Luke Harding in Donetsk
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 20.35 BST
Pro-Russian separatists seized control of the TV station in the eastern city of Donetsk on Sunday, and immediately set about switching off Ukrainian TV and replacing it with Russian channels that broadcast exclusively pro-Kremlin views.
A crowd of about 300 left a rally in Donetsk's Lenin Square and marched through the city centre, pulling down Ukrainian flags.
With police looking on but not intervening, the activists surged into the regional television centre. Masked youths, armed with baseball bats, ran up the flag of the "Donetsk People's Republic" from the roof of the Stalinist neo-classical building.
Its shaken director, Oleg Dzholos, emerged soon afterwards to say that the separatists had brought with them a technician who was turning off Kiev television and replacing it with Rossiya 24. The Russian state channel calls Ukraine's pro-western leaders "fascists" and frequently runs montages of them with footage of the Nazis.
"We hope to continue broadcasting," Dzholos said. His staff of 250 would be back at work on Monday morning, he said. With men in balaclavas and military fatigues standing on his steps, he admitted: "It's difficult to work in these circumstances. I hope we might be safe here."
The seizure is another blow to Kiev, which has struggled to assert its authority in the east, amid an insurrection that it says is plotted by Moscow. Law-enforcement agencies here have largely sided with anti-Kiev protesters and have made little effort to stop the occupations of town halls and other buildings. Three riot police with Kalashnikovs stood next to the TV station on Sunday, apparently ensuring the takeover went smoothly.
The activists complain that Kiev channels have failed to reflect the popular mood in the Russophone Donbass region. But only a few hundred anti-Kiev activists turned up for a rally in Donetsk on Sunday, in a city of one million people. The capture of the TV tower appears to be part of an unfolding plan to shut out information critical of Moscow and replace it with Kremlin propaganda.
In Slavyansk, meanwhile, rebels released one of eight European military observers kidnapped on Friday. Stella Korosheva, a spokeswoman for the town's separatist leadership, said they had freed a Swede. "He has a mild form of diabetes so we decided to let him go." Asked if he was the only one to be released, she told the Associated Press: "Yes." An OSCE vehicle, with three unarmed men, collected him and drove off.
Earlier on Sunday, the military observers appeared in public for the first time, looking tired but unharmed. They took part in a press conference with Slavyansk's self-appointed mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomarev. As well as the Swede, the EU nationals include four Germans, a Pole, a Dane, and a Czech officer. Ponomarev did not produce five members of Ukraine's armed forces captured at the same time on Friday.
Speaking in German, the senior officer, Col Axel Schneider, defended his mission to the region, under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He said claims by Ponomarev that the group were Nato spies were blatantly false. "We are not Nato," he said. "Our mission was transparent. All OSCE members, including Russia, knew about it."
Two OSCE monitors were also briefly detained on Sunday in Yenakiyevo, also in the Donestk region, and the home town of Ukraine's ex-president Viktor Yanukovych. They were seized at a checkpoint and taken to the administration building. Local police then secured their release.
In Slavyansk, Schneider said his team had followed diplomatic protocols. He said they had not tried to enter the town but were instead a few miles south of it heading back towards Donetsk, when gunmen intercepted their minivan. He said they had been looking for tanks and artillery at the time but had not found any.
The rebels have described the kidnapped Europeans as prisoners of war and said they might be bartered for imprisoned pro-Russian activists in Kiev. Schneider said he had no idea what the method for a prisoner-swap might be, adding: "We are completely in the hands of Mayor Ponomarev. We have no indication when we will be sent home to our countries," he said.
Schneider said they had initially been housed in a basement but were transferred on Saturday to a comfortable room with light and air-conditioning. He said they had agreed to take part in a press conference at Ponomarev's suggestion "so our families might see us". The mayor called the Europeans "guests" rather than hostages.
The account of the kidnapping raises questions as to whether the rebels were tipped off about the group's movements in advance. The road between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, nine miles (15km) to the south, is usually safe, with traffic flowing regularly in both directions. The one rebel checkpoint on the outskirts of Kramatorsk is low key. The military observers were carrying ID but were not wearing uniforms and were unarmed.
Schneider denied rebel claims he had come to the area with spying equipment and said: "We just had small cameras with us." The mayor could use the group to get his message out, he added.
Ponomarev, however, said he would not release the kidnapped military observers despite talks between the separatists and the Vienna-based OSCE. "We are in a war situation," he said.
The pro-Russian militia is also holding Ukrainian journalists, local residents and the town's elected mayor, who has been allowed visits from her family and hairdresser. Another Ukrainian reporter, Lviv-based Yury Lelyavsky, was seized on Friday. The EU nationals appear to be high-value bargaining chips as further confrontation between the west and Moscow looms.
The G7 is expected to announce on Monday an expansion of the list of Russian individuals and companies subject to sanctions. They will include close friends of Vladimir Putin as well as those allegedly involved in co-ordinating unrest across Ukraine. The US and EU accuse Moscow of failing to implement a deal agreed in Geneva under which illegal groups would end takeovers of official buildings and give up their weapons.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said that while diplomatic routes to de-escalate the crisis remained open, Europe and the US were also working on more far-reaching measures of economic, trade and financial sanctions in case Russia did not back down.
"Those are for the future. What we will hear about in the coming days, what we will agree … is an expansion of existing sanctions, measures against individuals or entities in Russia," Hague told Sky News. He said Britain and its allies would be willing to accept the potential costs to their own countries of implementing further reaching economic or trade sanctions.
"It would be a price worth paying if this situation continues to deteriorate," Hague said. "We will calculate them in a way that has the maximum effect on the Russian economy and the minimum effect on our own economy and the European Union's."
Hague added that international observers being held by pro-Russian separatists should be released "immediately and unconditionally" and called on Russia to assist by lobbying the rebel groups.
Ukraine mayor Gennady Kernes fighting for life after being shot
Kharkiv mayor, who was a leading figure in ex-president Yanukovych's party, shot in the back while swimming in lake
Luke Harding in Donetsk
Monday 28 April 2014 12.01 BST
The mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, was fighting for his life on Monday after unidentified gunmen shot him in the back as he went for a morning swim.
Gennady Kernes, 54, was undergoing emergency surgery in hospital, his office said. "The doctors are fighting to save his life," said his spokeswoman Tatiana Gruzinsyaka. It was unclear who was behind the apparent assassination attempt.
Kernes was a leading figure in the Party of Regions of Ukraine's ex-president Viktor Yanukovych. The mayor had bitterly attacked the Maidan demonstrations that caused Yanukovych flee to Russia in February. A flamboyant figure with alleged ties to organised crime in the 1990s, Kernes had backed closer relations with Moscow.
Since the change in government in Kiev, however, Kernes's statements had become more patriotic. He stated that Kharkiv, an eastern university city25 miles from the Russian border, should remain part of Ukraine. A billionaire, he also claimed he was himself a victim of Yanukovych's corrupt system.
Kharkiv journalist Zurab Alasania blamed Russia for Monday's shooting. He noted in a Facebook post that the mayor had not changed his routine of going for a morning lake swim, despite the deteriorating security situation in the east.
"The Russian Federation is identifying and liquidating key centres of resistance," Alasania said.
A group of 30 pro-Russian gunmen seized a police station in the eastern city of Konstantinovka, 30 miles south of the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk. The masked men entered the building at 6am. The police offered no resistance and allowed the gunmen to take over.
The town is 65 miles north of Donetsk, the regional capital, and on the main highway to Slavyansk. It has little strategic importance but appears part of an ongoing plan to establish a rebel "Donetsk People's Republic" on the ground, before a separatist-organised "referendum" due to take place on 11 May.
Russia's propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine's Jews
Despite what Pig Putin says about antisemitism in the new Kiev government, Ukraine's Jews are committed to independence
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 19.00 BST
Violence is a distraction from the simple facts, and propaganda turns distraction into abstraction, people into symbols – and all the more now as Russian intervention in Ukraine grows ever more extensive and threatening. Consider the threat made by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, that it would "respond" if Russian citizens in Ukraine are harmed. Yet who are these citizens?
There are speakers of Russian in Ukraine, but they are not Russian citizens any more than I, a speaker of English, am a British subject. There are people who identify as Russian – about a seventh of the population – but they are no more Russian citizens than Quebecois are citizens of France. Dual citizenship in Ukraine is not permitted. So the answer to the riddle is: the Russian citizens in Ukraine are the soldiers of the Russian special forces who are already there. To push the logic a little further, one could say that Lavrov has finally admitted that the soldiers without insignia, whom the Ukrainians call "little green men", are Russian soldiers, since he had raised the possibility that they could be harmed.
In the information war no one is hurt more than the Jews, since mobilising the global memory of the Holocaust has real costs for actual people. From the very beginning of the revolution, they were an object of Russian propaganda. The current Ukrainian government, we were told, was composed of antisemites, fascists, and Nazis. Russian intervention was required, went the argument, to rescue the Jews of Ukraine.
This version was peddled to the west, where it had some effect, but interestingly it failed entirely in Ukraine itself. Pig Putin seems to have believed that Jewish people in Ukraine would identify with Russia, especially in times of threat. This was one of his many mistakes.
Ukrainian Jews, especially those from the major communities of Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, made clear to me that they had no desire to be protected by Russia. Jews in Ukraine understand Russia far better than anyone in the west Jewish or otherwise..
But this is not just a matter of a more accurate sense of threat from the outside. It is also a sense of being inside. Many and probably most Jews have moved towards a distinct identity of their own over the 25 years of Ukrainian independence, a trend that has accelerated dramatically in recent months.
The Jews of Kiev generally sided with the protesters of the Maidan, and indeed were present in the protests from beginning to end. When the Viktor Yanukovych regime tried to install a dictatorship in January, Jews were among those who resisted violence with violence. There was even a Jewish fighting unit, or sotnia. Ukrainian Jews returned from Israel and applied their Israeli Defence Forces training. Ukrainian Jews in Israel sent messages of support by social media, and challenged one-sided coverage of the protests in the Israeli press.
When the Yanukovych regime, under Russian pressure, carried out a sniper massacre of the protesters in February, one of the people shot was a Ukrainian Jew. On the Maidan itself, a Ukrainian artist of Jewish origin created an extraordinary sculpture called the Wall.
Today, in the tentative new order, Jews are present in Ukrainian public life. One is a deputy prime minister, another, Ihor Kolomoisky, is governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. He returned from a perfectly secure life in Switzerland to take responsibility for an east Ukrainian territory at the edge of Russian aggression. He clearly relishes the challenge, deliberately adopting symbols of Ukrainian nationalism as his own, deriding Pig Putin as a "schizophrenic of short stature", and offering a bounty for captured "little green men" – who, thus far anyway, seem to be steering clear of his territory.
Yet the greater point is not that all Jews supported the Ukrainian revolution. Mykhailo Dobkin, perhaps the most prominent pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, is Jewish. But he, like his political opposite Kolomoisky, is an active and powerful figure in civil life, no victim and no symbol.
When presidential elections take place next month, it is unlikely many Jews will vote for the Jewish candidate. The commitment of the vast majority of Ukrainian Jews to Ukrainian independence is a matter of civic, rather than ethnic, identification. Reducing Jews to their ethnicity is the first step towards making them a collective symbol in a propaganda story, in a situation where those who use the most violence get to tell the story first. Whichever side they are taking, Jews in Ukraine defy every day our reflexive assumption that Jewish minorities in eastern Europe are nothing more than tomorrow's headlines, the future victims of some greater power.
Jews can be victims, of course, and if the Russian invasion continues they likely will be, along with the Roma and the Crimean Tatars who are already suffering where Russian troops control Ukrainian territory, along with Ukrainians and everyone else. The pamphlet released last week in an area under Russian control, asking all Jews to register with the separatist authorities – although later widely described as a provocation – understandably raised fears. The history of the Holocaust demonstrates that few things are more risky for Jews than the destruction of state institutions and the rule of law, which is openly the goal and the consequence of Russian policy. Jews in the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russia is in control, can no longer count on the predictability of the rule of law. The immediate consequence of the Russian intervention has been gangsterism.
The intervention in Ukraine distracted us from a good many important things. One is the reality of the revolution: a mass movement pursuing classical revolutionary goals that actually succeeded in dethroning a kleptocrat. Another is the disaster of a Russian foreign policy which, in pressuring the former Ukrainian regime to do more and more, got an outcome that was exactly the opposite of what Russian leaders wanted: pluralism and elections.
But above all, what we have missed is the way in which the experience of revolution and counter-revolution has allowed people to reconsider their identity. Jews of Ukraine have become Ukrainian Jews.
• This article was amended on Sunday 27 April 2014 to clarify that the pamphlet released last week may not be genuine
Exiled environmental activist speaks of 'impossibility' of protest in Russia
Criticising environmental and state corruption leads to threats and intimidation, says Suren Gazaryan
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 07.00 BST
Criticising Russian state projects and the destruction of the environment leads to police intimidation, trumped up criminal charges and prison, says a green activist forced to seek political asylum in western Europe after protesting against a luxurious mansion being allegedly built for Pig Putin and the destruction of protected wilderness for the winter Olympic games in Sochi.
"It has become almost impossible now to object to grand projects which have the authorities behind them. People are threatened and intimidated," says zoologist Suren Gazaryan, who on Monday won a $175,000 prize in the Goldman awards, the equivalent of a "green Oscar". He is now in Germany after receiving political asylum in Estonia.
Gazaryan, with other members of Russian ecological group Environmental Watch on North Caucasus group (EWNC), has been a leading critic of the developments along the Black Sea coast and of the corruption surrounding the Olympics. In the runup to the Sochi games last year, the group issued photographs of the damage created by new roads and building in the national park and the Caucasus reserve. "There has been massive destruction of natural landscapes," he says.
Earlier this year, the group published a report on the environmental impact of the games, citing the destructive impact of development in protected areas, the degradation of habitats for rare animals and plants, air and water pollution and the loss of Sochi's potential as a health resort.
Gazaryan, a Russian bat expert, received a three-year conditional sentence for organising a rally against the allegedly illegal seizure of forest land for the mansion and was later charged with damaging a construction site. "My lawyers advised me that because I was on probation I would automatically be sent to prison. I did not want to lose three years of my life in jail."
However, his colleague, geologist Yevgeny Vitishko, was sentenced to three years in a penal colony in February and EWNC has effectively been closed down, with its bank accounts frozen. Last year it was ordered to register as a foreign "agent" and the group's offices were raided by "Centre E", the government department set up to combat extremism and terrorism. Six members were briefly imprisoned and the group was told not to publish its report on Sochi-related environmental damage so as "not to harm the country".
"When the group refused, inspectors said they would examine its computers for unlicenced software and look into the group's email account. The inspectors threatened to fine the organisation if anyone tried to hinder them from examining the computers and emails," said a Moscow-based spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. "The authorities were determined to silence Gazaryan and Vitishko because they refuse to be deterred from speaking out on environmental and state corruption issues."
"Amnesty International believes that Vitishko is a prisoner of conscience. The authorities have increasingly harassed several members of the NGO in the runup to the games, with repeated arrests and brief detentions, personal searches, questioning of activists themselves and of their close relatives by police, and unofficial warnings from police and security officials to abstain from protesting during the Sochi Olympics," said an Amnesty spokesman.
"If you want to be assertive in Russia you have to be careful. You cannot appeal against official projects. The situation is very difficult. All criticism is suppressed. There can be no opposition to the state. Only a very few articles appear in the media," said Gazaryan.
Merkel urged to press Obama on NSA scandal ahead of Washington talks
German chancellor in first meeting with president since revelation that US intelligence services tapped her mobile phone
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 17.16 BST
Angela Merkel should ask Barack Obama to destroy her NSA file when she meets the American president in Washington this week, a leading German opposition politician has told the Guardian.
The Greens warn that failure to address the intelligence monitor scandal would risk undermining the credibility of the western alliance during the Ukraine crisis.
"Close co-operation between western allies requires joint values – also in relation to the activities of our intelligence services," said Omid Nouripour, the Green party's foreign policy spokesperson.
"Trying to sit out the NSA scandal won't work: we can't afford to let the remaining open questions strain relations during on the current crisis," he said, suggesting that a symbolic act, such as the destruction of Merkel's NSA file, could help to mend US-German relations.
The German chancellor travels to the US on Thursday and will meet Obama on Friday.
So far, the US government has refused to allow Merkel access to her NSA file or answer formal questions about its surveillance activities, a recent query to the German Bundestag has shown. According to a report in German magazine Der Spiegel, the NSA kept more than 300 reports on Merkel in a special heads of state databank.
Merkel's office has been eager to lower expectations ahead of the first meeting between the two leaders since it emerged in October that US intelligence services had tapped Merkel's mobile phone.
Her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said on Friday one visit would not suffice to clear up remaining questions over NSA surveillance, and therefore "concrete results in this area can't be expected".
In Germany, Merkel's critics accuse her of mismanaging the fallout from the scandal. Having at first tried to brush aside the implications of the information revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the chancellor found herself at the centre of the scandal when her mobile number was discovered on a list monitored by the NSA.
Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democratic party's parliamentary leader, has called on Merkel to seek concrete answers over the NSA affair during her visit.
"I hope that the chancellor's visit to Barack Obama will help bring about an agreement. The USA knows espionage is a crime here. The German judiciary won't just sit back and wait while the NSA continues unrestrained," Oppermann said when Merkel's visit was first announced.
But rather than pushing for a stronger European protection law or a review of the "Safe Harbor" data transfer agreement, Merkel tried to turn the crisis into an opportunity by getting the US to sign a "no spy" agreement and allowing Germany to enter the "five eyes" intelligence partnership between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
At the time, German leaders claimed that the US government had offered an anti-spying agreement that would, in the words of Merkel's former chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, "set a standard for future co-operations, at least among western services".
During last December's visit to Germany by the US national security adviser, Susan Rice, American officials reportedly expressed concerns to their German counterparts that any bilateral anti-spying agreement between the two nations would inevitably trigger similar requests from other countries. "The US is not going to set a precedent," one German official was quoted as saying. When Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and US secretary of state John Kerry met in February, the talk was merely of a future "cyber dialogue".
Critics say Merkel travels to Washington with no concrete plans to show to German citizens. "Prioritising bilateral negotiations over an EU-wide data protection reform has not only been an act of disloyalty towards the European community, but also a massive miscalculation in terms her own political goals," said Jan Phillipp Albrecht, a German Green MEP.
If Merkel prefers to avoid discussing the NSA scandal with her US counterpart, its aftershocks are still being felt throughout Germany. Big media companies and telecommunications providers have used the revelations as the pretext for attacks on US competitors, with Deutsche Telekom launching an "Email Made in Germany" campaign and the CEO of Axel Springer publishing house criticising "close connections between big US online providers and the US intelligence agencies".
Germany's start-up scene, too, has enjoyed an uplift. The valuation of Hoccer, a social messenger app developed in Berlin, which encrypts chats at both ends of the conversation, tripled after WhatsApp was sold to Facebook in February.
Causes such as net neutrality or open access, for years championed only by "hacktivists", have gone mainstream and fill the pages even of more conservative newspapers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "In the past, we were laughed at – but now it turns out that some of the most paranoid theories were justified", said Martin Haase, a former officer at the Chaos Computer Club network. So-called Cryptoparties, workshops in which hackers teach you how to encrypt your hard-disk or emails over a beer, have enjoyed a massive rise in interest from younger and older users, he said.
Above all, the Snowden revelations have caused great damage to America's image in Germany, with NSA surveillance frequently employed as the chief argument by Germans expressing sympathy or understanding for Russia's position.
An April survey by public broadcaster ARD showed that only 45% of Germans felt their country should position itself as an integral part of a western alliance, while 49% believed Germany's proper role was as a buffer between the west and Russia.
Conservatives Win Macedonia's Polls, Opposition Cries Foul
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 07:05
Macedonia's ruling conservatives scored a double victory in snap legislative and presidential polls Sunday, officials said, as the opposition cried foul alleging vote fraud.
The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party won 42.27 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election, state electoral commission said, based on more than 50 percent of the count.
Its main rival, the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) garnered 22.8 percent, preliminary unofficial results showed.
Incumbent Gjorge Ivanov of the VMRO-DPMNE won a fresh five-year mandate for a largely ceremonial presidential post with 56 percent of the vote, according to the commission.
His SDSM rival Stevo Pendarovski won 39.49 percent of the vote.
VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Vladimir Gjorcev told reporters that outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski "will remain the prime minister of Macedonia and Gjorge Ivanov remains the president".
"It is the victory for VMRO-DPMNE," he said.
- Opposition cries foul -
But shortly after polls closed, the SDSM party said it would not recognize the election.
"Citizens were duped and the elections have been stolen. The government has conducted unfair and non-democratic elections," SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told reporters.
Zaev called for new elections to be held, accusing the VMRO-DPMNE of "massive buying of votes" and "pressure exerted on citizens" to vote for the ruling party without detailing alleged irregularities.
It was unclear what would be the next moves by the opposition, as Zaev only said that the party "keeps all options open and the decision will be made in the coming days."
However Subhi Jakupi of the state electoral commission told Agence France Presse no complaints on irregularities had been received.
"The parties have 48 hours to file complaints," Jakupi said.
International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will present their assessment of the polls on Monday.
Analyst Ivica Bocevski warned that the opposition move was not "serious".
"One cannot claim electoral fraud when there is not a single concrete evidence for it," Bocevski said.
The polls were called a year ahead of schedule after the VMRO-DPMNE failed to agree with its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the DUI, on a joint presidential candidate.
Turnout was 60.8 percent of the more than 1.7 million voters.
VMRO-DPMNE hopes to increase its tally in the 123-seat parliament to 62 deputies and enable Gruevski to secure a third term as prime minister of Macedonia, an EU candidate since 2005.
"We need a majority so nobody can blackmail us and we can keep up with a programme... that would lead Macedonia into the EU and NATO," Gruevski told a final rally Friday.
- 'Poverty is everywhere' -
Gruevski had urged voters to back his measures to revive Macedonia's ailing economy, which showed signs of recovery last year when it posted 3.1 percent output growth.
With unemployment above 28 percent in the country of two million where the average monthly salary stands at just 350 euros ($480), ordinary Macedonians remain gloomy about their prospects.
Pensioner Milica Stevcevska complained of "extremely high living costs".
"Poverty is everywhere, pensions are so low and life so expensive, I would not be able to survive without the help from my son."
The opposition accused Gruevski of turning a blind eye to corruption and pressures on the media.
But worker Stevan Pocev said he had confidence in the ruling party to "lead the country in a good direction".
- What's in a name? -
One of the main tasks for the new government will be to kickstart Macedonia's integration into the EU and NATO, blocked for years over a name dispute with neighboring Greece.
Greece has a northern province historically called Macedonia, and the two countries have been at loggerheads over the right to use the name ever since the former Yugoslav republic proclaimed independence in 1991.
Analysts say Skopje can either strike an unpopular deal with Greece or risk continued economic and political damage.
Of the parties representing ethnic Albanians, about a quarter of Macedonia's population, the Democratic Union for Integration enjoys the support of about seven percent.
Relations between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian majority have been strained since a seven-month armed conflict in 2001 between government forces and Albanian guerrillas seeking more rights.
The conflict ended with an internationally brokered peace accord in August 2001 that gave ethnic Albanians more political clout.
04/25/2014 04:01 PM
The Downfall of Rome: Can a New Mayor Stop the City's Decline?
By Walter Mayr in Rome
Pilgrims from around the world are expected in Rome this weekend for the canonization of two former popes. They will find an Italian capital that is increasingly squalid and close to bankruptcy. The city's new mayor is hoping he can turn it around.
The Leonardo Express rumbles from Rome's airport right to the city center. After 32 minutes, it arrives at its final destination, Termini, the city's central station. An ad in a pedestrian tunnel at the station reads, "Roma Termini -- a Place to Live." Some have taken the message quite literally.
It's 11:10 p.m. Stranded people from around the world are wrapped up in their sleeping bags as they lay in front of the exit on the north side of the station. On some nights, up to a hundred homeless huddle together like freezing people in front of a fire. Many of those who sleep here are African refugees. During the daytime, Roma from Romania represent the majority in and around the station. Left largely unchecked by the local authorities, they aggresively try to squeeze money out of foreign tourists.
A comment by one British tourist recently got posted on the Facebook page of Ignazio Marino, who became the city's mayor in June. The tourist said she had never before experienced "a more wretched hive of scum and villainy" than when she arrived in Rome by train. For safety reasons, she wrote, it is advisable to "spend as little time as possible" at Termini.
Marino takes criticism seriously, but also in a sporting manner. As he sits at his desk in Rome's Palace of the Senate on Capitoline Hill, a building once remodeled by Michelangelo, he exudes the aura of a man at peace with himself. Two months ago, he was still cursing his opponents who, he says, wanted to let the Eternal City go up in flames just as Emperor Nero did. At the time, Marino made clear that he wasn't prepared to play the role of the "capital city's liquidator-in-chief."
What had happened? Rome was on the verge of bankruptcy and the mayor said the only way to possibly rescue the city would be for the national government to jump in with emergency aid to the tune of €600 million ($829 million) within 24 hours. Marino got his wish and the city didn't go up in flames. Standing beneath a photo that shows him in an intimate embrace with Pope Francis, the mayor now says he wants to move forward. After all, he adds, "spotlights from around the world will be shining on Rome" on April 27, and 2 billion people will be watching on their televisions.
On Sunday, the two most popular popes of the 20th century -- John XXIII and John Paul II -- are to be canonized on St. Peter's Square by Pope Francis. Catholic pilgrims from around the world plan to attend, and hotels in the capital city are almost entirely booked out.
A European City for a Day
For at a short time at least, Romans will be "able to dream of living in a truly European city," because the metro, for once, will finally operate at night to help accommodate the expected 3 million visitors, the local citizen's advocacy group Residents of the Historical Center notes caustically. The old Roman establishment feel they are being ignored by politicians and that they have been forced to look on powerlessly as one fast food restaurant or bed and breakfast after the other has replaced the last remaining artisan shops in the heart of the city.
More than 12 million tourists visited Rome last year, and this despite the fact that the city once known as Caput mundi, or the capital of the ancient world, has since lost much of its splendor. That, at least, is what many residents say.
Novelist Mauro Evangelisti warns visitors, like the pilgrims who are about to descend upon his city, that they must brace themselves for "an old airport, crooked cab drivers, swindlers, pickpockets" and streets full of potholes like in Havana. In an open letter published prior to the last municipal election, 21 Roman intellectuals lamented what they saw as signs of the city's downfall and "cultural gloom".
Meanwhile, Carlo Verdone, one of the leading actors in the movie that took this year's honor for Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars, "The Great Beauty," even goes so far as to describe his city as a true to scale likeness of a "totally failed country."
Rome, Kaput Mundi?
Matteo Renzi, Italy's new prime minister, is now calling for radical reforms. Since it narrowly averted insolvency at the end of February, the capital city has, to a certain extent, been under the yoke of the national government and the mayor has been ordered to undertake draconian austerity measures. This is the last remaining opportunity for turning the city around, Renzi's state secretary for the economy recently said. Rome, he said, should become a shining example for the rest of Italy to follow.
But where to begin? Upon their arrival, the first thing some pilgrims to Rome will see is a five-and-a-half-meter (18 foot) tall bronze statue of Pope John Paul II. In what appears to have been wise foresight, the former leader of the Catholic Church has his back turned to the station forecourt, which is littered with drug addicts' syringes and grocery store shopping carts that homeless people have filled to the brim.
A wiry, bald-headed man walks right through the turmoil on a recent morning and says, "The first thing that needs to be done is for the city to reconquer its public spaces. There is not a single street left in the entire city where you have the feeling you're in Europe -- I mean, where everything works as it should."
Few have the kind of insights about the underbelly of Rome as does Massimiliano Tonelli. The 35-year-old journalist is one of the most widely read bloggers in the city, but he is also one of the most contentious. His habitat is the streets, squares and riverside walks of Rome, and his natural enemies are those who make money by inflicting damage on the Eternal City's beauty.
Tonelli has held lectures at universities and was bestowed with the title "Roman of the Year" in 2010 -- because he doesn't pull any punches when fighting on behalf of his city. The names of his blogs attest to this, with titles like Rome Sucks (Roma Fa Schifo) or Cartellopoli.
Even the mayor collects a selection of Tonelli's posts on Roma Fa Schifo in a yellow binder, and for good reason. The blog combines pictures and words to document the daily anarchy Romans from all walks of life face when they leave their homes. One posting shows a pig foraging for food in the overflowing dumpsters of a residential area on the periphery of the city. Another shows souvenir peddlers relieving themselves right in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. One shows piles of discarded stolen wallets, while another includes images of an inner city slum of the kind one might expect to see in Mumbai, but not in the heart of Europe.
Tonelli says he wants to convey the message to local residents "that the things they are seeing in their neighborhoods aren't normal, and that they shouldn't even have to get used to them." Indeed, those who read his blog, come away with a better awareness of what is happening in their city. "That applies to many parts of the city," he says. "Let's have a look." Tonelli then offers to take the journalist on a tour.
Our first stop is the Colosseum. Why on earth, Tonelli asks, does the city tolerate robber knights here, disguised as Roman army commanders with plumes and wooden swords, price gouging tourists for photos? And what about the sunglasses sellers from Bangladesh who play a game of cat-and-mouse with police who approach them only half-heartedly before shedding their knock-off products? Or the men with the fake "Colosseo Tour Guide" pins on their lapels offering tours for up to five people at prices of up to €150 ($207)?
"It's all illegal, the black economy," Tonelli says, his voice growing indignant. "They don't pay any taxes, they're a blight on the city and, at best, the only thing they contribute is trash. Of course, we Romans then have to pay to have it disposed of."
Colosseum Director Rosella Rea also doesn't shy away from speaking about the filth around the world-famous amphitheater, which she describes as being reminiscent of the "Third World." The only time the entire property has been cleared of fakirs, street vendors and phony legionaries was on March 27 to make it presentable for a private visit by the US president. "If Rome goes to the dogs, it won't be because the city is nearly bankrupt," argues blogger Tonelli. "It will be for the exact opposite reason: Because the city isn't pulling in the revenues owed to it because lawlessness prevails."
Our drive continues through the historic center along the banks of the Tiber River, where brightly colored scraps of plastic dangle from the branches of trees like Tibetan prayer flags. Then we continue on to the bridge near the Museum of Contemporary Art, where Romanian immigrants have erected a small tent camp, complete with a fireplace, smack in the middle of the historic center of Rome, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The blogger says that, owing to its lawless areas, Rome attracts "a certain type of immigration." Still, he adds that the Rome establishment has only itself to blame for the city's growing slums. "What ails this city most is a lack of civic sensibility," he says.
A Dramatic Situation or Comic Opera?
The fact that the Museum of Roman Civilization has been closed since the beginning of this year because of deficient security jibes neatly with this image. What's more, following a number of outbursts of violence in the city's Trastevere nightlife area recently, there has even been talk of sending in the Italian military to ensure safety and order. "We are at war here," says Orlando Corsetti, a member of the city council. "The situation is out of control." Meanwhile, the district mayor with responsibility for the area says there is only enough money in district coffers to provide funding for daycare, nursing homes and care for the handicapped until May.
Is the situation really as dramatic in Rome as people are depicting it to be, or is it just one big case of opera buffa, comic opera?
It's reassuring to see Rome's mayor smiling in a suit and tie as he cycles his e-bike down Via del Corso on his way to City Hall. It doesn't seem as though things can really be coming apart at the seams in Italy's largest city as long as its leader, escorted by a half-dozen police, can still get around so casually.
When Ignazio Marino managed to defeat the incumbent from the Berlusconi camp to become mayor in June 2013, it was an upset. The challenger had a lot going against him. As the son of a Swiss mother and a Sicilian father, Marino first came to Rome at the age of 14 and left again at 35 to make a name for himself as a doctor in England and the United States. Marino even served as one of the surgeons during the world's first transplant of a liver from a baboon to a human.
'Removing the Abcess Is the Easiest Part'
The mayor says he knows something about sharp cuts and that this is serving him well as mayor of Rome. "Still, removing the abscess is the easiest part," he says. "After that you need to get everything patched up and then get the organism going again." Marino says that Rome is now faced with deep cuts. "I was left with a city full of potholes, a school system that is falling apart and poverty that is rising dramatically," he says. "Add to that €14 billion in existing debt, some of which is still left over from Rome's preparations for hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 1960."
Marino says he was unaware of the full "scale of the disaster" prior to entering office, but that he still won't allow anyone to dissuade him from his aims. "I will only spend money that is at our disposal," he says. "People handled that differently for years in this city."
To many long-time residents of Rome, the current mayor comes across as being a bit disconnected from reality. With his striped blue socks, an accent that obviously isn't local and his vision for a car-free city center, it didn't take long for him to ruffle a few feathers. Indeed, his first act in office was to close the main traffic artery that passes by the Colosseum, a move that prompted howls of protest among locals.
Still, Marino has remained true to the unorthodox way in which he is running his administration. One time he fell off his bike in front of the Ministry for Cultural Assets and ruined his pants. Another time he cycled to the other side of the Tiber Bridge and asked a Swiss Guard where he could park his bike before meeting with Pope Francis. Part of his proposal for addressing the adversity at Termini station is to employ Rome's more than 8,000 homeless people as unskilled workers at local libraries.
The mayor of Rome is certainly well-meaning. He also takes a lot of pride in the fact that he didn't grow up in the political morass of the Italian capital, that he isn't dependent on others and that, financially, he is a man of his own means. That, Marino says, gives him a free hand as a politician. "I have the insane advantage that I do not have to establish my career, meaning it is possible for me to make unpopular decisions."
When asked to cite examples, he points to the city-owned company Ama, which is responsible for refuse disposal, and Atac, which operates Rome's public transportation. Taken together, these two companies have amassed €3 billion in debt over the years. In addition, Ama reports an employee absenteeism rate of 18 percent, and at Atac, the illness rate reached a record 22 percent in August. "Starting immediately, we're no longer going to accept things like that," Marino says.
Pilgrims traveling to Rome for the canonizations this weekend probably won't face major problems with public transportation given that additional shifts have been ordered to meet the increased demand. But ordinary Romans complain that, even though Atac has 12,000 employees and more managers than NASA, it is hopelessly overstrained in terms of its mission of providing buses to ensure the effective tranport of locals around their city.
Hundreds of vehicles sit broken down in the bus depots and replacement parts aren't available. Fewer than half of the city's expensive mini-buses are currently in operation because of defective batteries. Journeys totaling some 16 million kilometers (9.94 million miles) are cancelled each year. And what do the honest residents of the capital city who still purchase their tickets have to say about that? Those who don't profit from fare dodging in a city where ticket checks on the public transportation system are as rare as an August snow storm?
They say nothing.
Seasoned Romans are heroic when it comes to getting through daily life. They are capable of withstanding 38 degree Celsius (100 degree Fahrenheit) temperatures in the shade or flash-flood January gushes while waiting at bus stops. They seem to be able to put up with whatever comes their way. For the privilege of living in the capital, they are even burdened with the highest income tax surcharges in the country, with no prospects for relief within the foreseeable future. On the contrary, there is a shortfall in the 2014 budget of close to €1 billion. Austerity plans will have to be presented soon, and some predict cuts in the social sector alone could run as high as 50 percent.
And even though tourism may earn the city €8 billion a year, the proceeds have largely landed in the pockets of those sufficiently close to city officials rather than in the actual communal coffers. The licenses for almost half the fast-food trucks located in the shadow of the Colosseum are owned by the family of a city council member with the Berlusconi camp. That means that almost half the people who are willing to pay €5 for a bottle of beer or a sandwich there are helping to build that family's wealth.
This, the mayor says, has to be stopped. In the meantime, he travels a lot and often spends time trying to determine why it is that things work better in other cities. In Paris, for example, he has discussed bike-sharing and environmental protection with city officials. He has talked about "smart city" ideas in Madrid. And while visiting a Saudi Prince in Riyadh, on whose mother he once conducted a liver transplant operation, he talked about raising money to restore some of Rome's dilapidated monuments.
Marino is fully aware of the fact that rescuing Rome from possible bankruptcy is dependent on whether and how quickly the right steps are taken. "Renzi and his government are correct in stating that this is our last chance," he says. Marino argues that city-owned businesses need to be privatized, the names of individual metro stations could be put up for auction (as seen recently in Madrid) and a special tax of up to €10 per overnight stay in a hotel needs to be levied. The goal, he says, is no less than creating a better future for "one of the most beautiful cities on the planet."
'Italy's Decline Before Our Very Eyes'
Raffaele La Capria believes the mayor has taken on a considerable challenge, especially given that the crisis in Rome is a microcosm of the situation in the entire country. "We're all disappointed and a little depressed to see Italy's decline before our very eyes," he says.
La Capria, 91, an elderly man with a sharp mind and polished manners, is the grandseigneur of Roman novelists. He has lived on the top floor of a palazzo located on Piazza Grazioli for half of a century. It's a place where he can literally look down on Silvio Berlusconi, who lives directly across, a few meters below.
Pointing to the home of the former prime minister, La Capria says that Rome's crisis is only partly related to "the man over there," and the nearly two-decade era he presided over. One of the real problems, La Capria says, is that the Italian capital city, together with its rundown bourgeoisie, is lacking a needed consciousness of its own shining heritage.
La Capria is one of the few remaining survivors from an era in which it was still cultural giants like Fellini, Pasolini and Moravia who shaped the image of Rome for the rest of the world. He says he has witnessed an inexorable change in society in his city -- "a somersault downward."
Those who have already hit rock bottom in Rome can be seen with the naked eye from the podium where the pope will canonize two of his predecessors on April 27: the men in Via della Conciliazione. Just 300 meters away from St. Peter's Basilica, they sleep outdoors beneath arcades. The right side is dominated by Romanians who listen to music late into the night. On the left you can see Poles with boxed red wine.
Jacek, the only one in the group who doesn't drink, says he studied land surveying back home. He says he has lived in Rome for a quarter of a century; with the last 11 months of that being spent on the streets. At 67, he says there is nothing he would rather do than work, which is also why he still tries to take care of himself as best he can. He wears appropriate clothing, takes a shower each morning at a homeless shelter and he spends his evenings reading under the bright neon light of a pedestrian tunnel at St. Peter's Square.
Jacek has a photo that he keeps safely stored in his prayer book. It shows fellow Pole John Paul II. On April 27, the day the former pope is to be canonized, Jacek says he will get up at the crack of dawn just as he always does. He will place his belongings behind a construction fence and then set off for St. Peter's Square, where he will mix in with the pilgrims -- just as if he were one of them.
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
Russia cracks down on swearing in public performances
Parliament's lower house passes law implementing ban and fines for foul language in theatres, music gigs and cinemas
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 April 2014 18.41 BST
Russia's rich tradition of vulgar slang has long been a matter of pride for its authors and poets; Fyodor Dostoevsky once claimed a Russian could express his entire range of feelings with the swearword for the male sexual organ.
But a new ban on explicit language in public performances means that some of the country's best known directors, musicians and actors could face fines, and classic works of literature and cinema could be sold in special packaging with a warning sticker.
The lower house of parliament passed a law last week implementing banning "foul language" in public performances including movie showings, plays and concerts. Audio, video and books containing swearwords are required to be sold in special packaging featuring an explicit language warning.
The fines imposed by the legislation range from 2,500 roubles for ordinary citizens to 100,000 roubles for businesses. Repeat offences will lead to a suspension of up to one year for those who violate in an official capacity, or a 90-day cessation of activities for commercial enterprises.
Although Vladimir Putin must sign the law before it comes into effect, the president signed a similar law last year banning foul language in mass media.
Just as that law was criticised for lacking a clear definition of foul language, the new legislation on artistic works does not specify which words exactly are to be banned. Instead, it proposes that "words and phrases not meeting the norms of modern Russian literary language" be determined by an independent panel of experts. It's also not clear whether music and film that bleep out swearwords would fall under the ban.
This latest legislation would pose a difficulty for a wide number of authors, directors and performers. Leningrad, one of Russia's most popular bands, is famous for its vulgar lyrics, and even has an appropriately profanity-laced song that declares "it's impossible to live without swearing". Meanwhile, Russian blockbusters occasionally include blue dialogue, and several hit plays in recent years have featured prominent and creative use of swearwords.
Rock star Yuri Shevchuk, a Bono-like figure who challenged Putin on questions of free speech during a televised meeting with the president in 2010, warned that the legislation was part of a growing conservative trend in Russia, which he said could "devolve into a dark age". "I'm against bans. I'm against all government interference in art," Shevchuk said. "We have these bans within each of us, in our morality, what we can and can't allow ourselves. They're formed by upbringing and religion."
Media outlets have already faced prosecution under the foul language in mass media, and the information agency Rosbalt was briefly closed by a judicial decision after it posted two videos that included swearing.
The mass media law was widely condemned by journalists, and the legislation on artistic performances has already drawn the ire of cultural figures. Writer Sergei Shargunov called the law "sanctimonious" and pointed out that even classic Russian literature contains swearwords, including the works of great Russian poets. "So now let's ban Pushkin, Yesenin, Mayakovsky?" he asked.
Swearing also features in the works of famous novelists such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Sergei Dovlatov. The beloved, satirical Soviet novel Moscow to the End of the Line, an alcohol-heavy adventure famous for its cocktail recipes featuring such ingredients as foot odour solution, varnish and insecticide, includes vulgar language such as variations on the word whore, one of Russian's most common swearwords. It has also been adapted for the stage.
Russian language has a long tradition of vulgar slang known as mat, which is based on a few swearwords that with the help of prefixes and suffixes can form any part of speech and express both positive and negative emotions.
In a 2003 New Yorker essay prompted by a previous parliamentary attempt to ban profanity, the author of Moscow to the End of the Line, Victor Erofeyev, explained how important mat is in Russian language and culture.
"Once only spoken on the street and in prisons, mat has made its way in to opera, literature, the internet, pop songs," he wrote. "Unlike indecent terminology in most languages, mat is multi-levelled, multifunctional, and extensively articulated – more a philosophy than a language."
German neo-Nazis hold concerts, Hitler birthday bash in France
By Etienne Balmer
Metz (France) (AFP) - German neo-Nazis, hamstrung by tough laws back home, are increasingly organising bashes across the French border, including a recent commemoration of Adolf Hitler's 125th birth anniversary.
Facing intense media scrutiny in Germany and a slew of tough legislation, many neo-Nazis have turned to surrounding countries to stage concerts and other events, including France's northeastern border regions of Alsace and Lorraine.
The area, which was under German control for about 40 years and only reverted back to France after World War I, was the venue of a recent ceremony to mark Hitler's birthday.
Some 200 people crossed over the border for the party, held on the Saturday before Easter, in a communal hall in the Alsace town of Oltingue, which is near the border with Germany and Switzerland.
The local officials were in the dark until after it was held as the organisers had kept their plans a close secret. They had even banned participants from bringing cameras and mobile phones.
"We sometimes have these kind of rallies, generally in the Moselle region which is very close to Germany," said a police officer in Lorraine, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officer said the events were "very tightly controlled and discreet" and did not "cause any trouble or pose any threat to public order".
"As a result, we do not have the authority to go in and see what is happening," police said.
"We can ban an event if there is a precise objective but this is never the case."
- 'Neo-Nazis always have a plan B' -
Germany has toughened its laws to prevent the resurgence of Nazism, launching strict measures against such gatherings.
"Apart from restrictions limiting the number of people gathered in a hall, sporting any Nazi emblems or any linked objects is illegal even in private," said Gideon Botsch, a researcher in the far-right at the University of Potsdam.
German authorities have also cracked down on neo-Nazi hard rock groups. Songs espousing Nazi ideology or containing racist words are blacklisted and their sale is banned in the country.
"The more liberal laws in neighbouring countries afford neo-Nazis opportunities" to hold events there, Botsch said, naming France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
But they take care to hide their intentions and leave no traces to avoid prosecution abroad.
In Volmunster in the Moselle region near Germany, neo-Nazis have organised concerts in recent years in a discreet and isolated private chalet.
"I don't know if the land belongs to them but its owner is German," said Volmunster's mayor Daniel Schaff.
"They hold music events from time to time," he said. "But it's always orderly and the following day everything is clean. Nobody even complains. What can one do?" he said.
But local officials are more riled when they hire public halls, like the one used to fete Hitler's birthday, under false pretexts and often with the help of French peers.
The youth wing of the far-right German National Democratic party held several gatherings in France's Bas-Rhin region in 2011 and 2012.
An event, which drew some 1,000 neo-Nazis mainly from Germany, was held in a private warehouse in the area after they failed to rent a public hall at Volmunster.
"They rent several places at once and always have a plan B," said Alexander Breser, the spokesman for an anti-fascist group from Saarbruecken in southwest Germany.
"On the flyers distributed on specialised Internet forums, the venue of the concerts is never clearly indicated. There is just a temporary telephone number or an email," he said.
That eventually leads to the precise location, he said.
One such concert has been advertised for the end of May somewhere in the north of France, according to a flyer on the Internet tracked by ant-fascist organisations in Germany and Switzerland. Experts think it could likely be staged in Lorraine.
German’s express outrage at Berlusconi concentration camp remarks
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 27, 2014 16:16 EDT
Officials in Berlin expressed outrage Sunday over remarks by Italy’s former premier Silvio Berlusconi claiming that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps.
The disgraced billionaire made the provocative allegation Saturday during a campaign rally on behalf of his centre-right party for European elections in May.
Ralf Stegner, deputy head of the Social Democrats, partners in power with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, called on the European People’s Party (EPP) — the umbrella group to which Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party belongs — to condemn his claim.
“The EPP must confront this intolerable slur against all German citizens with absolute decisiveness,” he was quoted by the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung as saying.
“Those who silently tolerate such remarks in their own party family endanger the solidarity of democrats.”
Manuela Schwesig, Germany’s family affairs minister, fired back almost immediately on Twitter late Saturday, calling Berlusconi’s comments “unspeakable” and a direct attack on the German chief of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, the centre-left candidate in the race to lead the EU Commission.
Schulz himself, in an interview with Der Spiegel news magazine conducted before Berlusconi made his remarks, accused Forza Italia of whipping up anti-German sentiment with its slogan “More Italy, Less Germany”.
“Germany is a land that has shown a lot of solidarity and that is why such posters are outrageous,” he said.
The German government told AFP it had no comment on the matter.
Berlusconi had been expanding on comments he made in 2003 when he jokingly offered Schulz a part in a film as a “kapo”, a concentration camp inmate tasked with overseeing other prisoners.
The media magnate bridled while in power at German demands for the eurozone’s debt-mired countries to sharply curb their spending as a condition for European bailouts.
Afghan Election Front-Runners Trade Fraud Allegations
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 15:28
The two leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election raised allegations of ballot fraud on Sunday, setting the stage for a difficult second-round vote likely to be targeted by Taliban attacks.
Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani will compete in a head-to-head vote after results from the April 5 election showed neither gained the 50 percent needed for first-round victory.
The eventual winner will lead Afghanistan into a new era as U.S.-led NATO combat troops end their 13-year war against the Islamist insurgency that erupted after President Hamid Karzai took power in 2001.
"With the evidence we have, the victory of our team is evident and clear," Abdullah said, adding that he would have won the first round decisively if the election had been clean.
"We said from the beginning that fraud is our only rival, and we still hope that the complaints we have delivered will be addressed in a transparent way.
"There were fraud violations -- organized, systematic fraud."
Abdullah also accused the government of "meddling" in the vote.
The 2009 election, when Karzai retained power after defeating Abdullah, was marred by massive fraud in a chaotic process that shook the multinational effort to develop the country after the ousting of the austere Taliban regime.
Preliminary results released on Saturday showed Abdullah secured 44.9 percent of the first-round vote, with Ghani on 31.5 percent.
The final result is set to be announced on May 14 after a period for adjudication of hundreds of fraud complaints -- followed by a run-off tentatively scheduled for June 7.
Another expensive, and potentially violent, election could be avoided by negotiations in the coming weeks, but both sides have dismissed talk of a power-sharing deal.
Ghani sounded a defiant note despite finishing 13 percentage points behind Abdullah.
"After inspection of fraud, the distance between the two top candidates will lessen," he said. "A second round is a must according to the constitution. Any doubts will threaten the stability of Afghanistan.
"If the polls are transparent, I will be the first to congratulate the winner, and we expect the same from them, because we will be the winner," Ghani added.
"We will go for principles, not deals. The people's votes tell me not to strike any deals with anyone behind the curtains."
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan welcomed the results, but warned election officials that they must address all fraud complaints "in a professional, expeditious and open manner."
Eight men ran in the election three weeks ago, with polling day hailed as a success by Afghan officials and foreign allies.
Turnout was far better than in 2009 and the Taliban failed to launch a major attack despite threats to disrupt the vote.
A run-off in June -- at the height of the traditional "fighting season" -- could be more problematic for Afghanistan's stretched security forces.
Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term in office, stayed publicly neutral in the election.
But he was widely thought to have lent some support to his loyal former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, who took just 11 percent of the vote.
Rassoul could still play a key role in power-broking before the next president is chosen, as could former Islamist warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, who collected seven percent.
Abdullah, a pro-U.S. politician who came second in the 2009 election, was a close adviser to the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, a revered Tajik ethnic leader who fought the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule.
Ghani is a renowned intellectual who energized the campaign with his fiery speeches and is more favored by the larger Pashtun ethnic group.
Both candidates have pledged to explore peace talks with the Taliban and sign a deal with Washington that could allow 10,000 U.S. troops to stay on after this year on a training and counter-terrorism mission.
Nearly seven million people voted out of an estimated electorate of 13.5 million.
Of those who voted, 36 percent were female -- a figure seen as a sign of some improvement in women's status in society.
India Test-Fires Anti-Ballistic Missile
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 April 2014, 19:33
India successfully test-fired a new anti-ballistic missile on Sunday in a step towards developing a missile defense system which only an elite club of countries has built.
India, which shares borders with arch-rival Pakistan and giant China, both of whom are nuclear-armed, is developing the system that aims to shield it against a ballistic missile attack.
The test was conducted off the east coast on Sunday morning, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) told the Press Trust of India news agency.
"The trial was conducted successfully and all the mission objectives were met," said DRDO spokesman Ravi Kumar Gupta.
The missile, which was tested at Wheeler Island off the coast of Orissa, is capable of intercepting targets outside the earth's atmosphere.
India has a double-layered ballistic missile defense program which can destroy missiles at higher as well as lower altitudes.
Only a small number of countries including the United States and Russia have anti-ballistic missile systems.
India, the world's second-most populous country, has been stepping up efforts to position itself as a strong regional power in Asia.
The nuclear-armed country has fought three wars with Pakistan and one war with China.
North Korea labels South's president as 'crafty prostitute' after Obama visit
Tirade against Park Geun-hye hits new low in unusually personal abuse, which analysts say may indicate Kim Jong-un echoing his grandfather
Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 16.30 BST
North Korea has launched a vitriolic attack on the South Korean president, comparing her to "crafty prostitute" in thrall to her "pimp" Barack Obama.
It also described Park Geun-hye as America's "comfort woman", a reference likely to enrage many in South Korea, where anger still runs high over the plight of thousands of women who were enslaved in Japanese military brothels during the second world war.
The comments were issued on Sunday by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), which handles cross-border affairs, following the US president's two-day visit to Seoul. He arrived in Malaysia on Sunday for the penultimate stop on his four-nation tour of Asia.
While Pyongyang is known for its aggressive rhetoric, recent remarks have been unusually personal.
Earlier this month state media ran misogynist articles, including one headlined "We accuse Park the bitch", labelling her as a lunatic, idiot and "cold-blooded animal" and emphasising the fact that she has never married or had children.
Those remarks were presented in the form of quotes from ordinary North Koreans, while the latest tirade, carried by state news agency KCNA, is presented as a statement from an official body.
It comes days after a homophobic diatribe which described the head of a United Nations commission on human rights in North Korea as a "disgusting old lecher". Pyongyang was angered by the team's report, which said it was committing grave and systematic human rights abuses on a scale unparalleled in the modern world.
"What Park did before Obama this time reminds one of an indiscreet girl who earnestly begs a gangster to beat someone or a capricious whore who asks her fancy man [pimp] to do harm to other person while providing sex to him," North Korea's CPRK said.
Obama and Park had warned Pyongyang it could face strengthened sanctions if it detonated a fourth nuclear device, after North Korea said it could carry out a new kind of test. Satellite imagery has shown increased activity at a test site.
Those remarks "laid bare her despicable true colours as a wicked sycophant and traitor, a dirty comfort woman for the US and despicable prostitute selling off the nation," said the CPRK.
It said the trip had shown North Korea was right to have concluded it should deal with the US "by force only, not just talking, and should finally settle accounts with it through an all-out nuclear showdown".
The committee also accused Obama of being "utterly indifferent to the sorrow of South Koreans" over the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which has left more than 300 people, including many children, missing or dead.
"Had Obama even an iota of ethics and morality, he should have postponed or shelved his trip," it said.
The US president expressed his condolences and offered South Korea any help required within 24 hours of the disaster. In contrast, North Korea expressed no sympathy until a full week later.
The statement also suggested that Park would be assassinated like her father, the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. "Genes remain unchanged," it said.
But experts do not believe the attacks are propelled by lingering animosity towards her father.
"It's not so much about her personally, but rather a symbol of a new rhetoric … I think this is an attempt to use the same kind of emotional abuse as [Kim Jong-un's] grandfather," said Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert on the regime's ideology and propaganda at Korea University in Seoul.
She said that while North Korea always attacked its southern neighbour's politicians, the "loud, personalised" tone of recent abuse seemed to echo the approach of the 1950s and early 60s. It might be part of emphasising his likeness to his grandfather, with a return to "proletarian candour", she said.
"That was something used in Kim Il-sung's time and applauded; it meant he was 'one of us', not an elite intellectual, speaking from his heart," she added.
John Delury of Yonsei University described the remarks as "a new low point in the misogyny".
He added that Pyongyang's "deeply counterproductive" methods showed how ignorant it was of South Korea.
"There are deep fractures in South Korea and a lot of ways that North Korea could manipulate that," he said.
Using the "comfort women" comparison in particular touched on an extremely sensitive issue, not only insulting Park but also the survivors of the second world war brothels, he noted.
Chinese cyber-attack on Australia 'wider than previously thought'
Hacking attack may have given China effective control of leadership's private emails for a year, says newspaper report
Reuters in Sydney
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 10.57 BST
A cyber-attack on the Australian parliamentary computer network in 2011 may have given Chinese intelligence agencies access to politicians' private emails for a year, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.
The newspaper, citing government and security sources, said new information showed the attack had been more extensive than previously thought and "effectively gave them control of" the entire system.
"It was like an open-cut mine. They had access to everything," a source told the newspaper.
Australian officials, like those in the US and other western countries, have made cyber-security a priority following a number of attacks.
The parliamentary computer network is a non-classified internal system used by federal lawmakers, their staff and advisers for private communications and discussions of strategy.
While inside the system, hackers would have had access to emails, contact databases and any other documents stored on the network, the report said.
The access would have allowed China to gain a sophisticated understanding of the political, professional and social links of the Australian leadership and could have included sensitive discussions between lawmakers and their staff.
Domestic media initially reported on the breach in 2011, although it was believed at the time that Chinese agents had only accessed the system for about a month.
Last year, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints of a new multimillion-dollar Australian spy headquarters, as well as confidential information from the department of foreign affairs and trade.
Tony Abbott's government upheld a ban on China's Huawei Technologies from bidding for work on the country's £21bn ($38bn) National Broadband Network (NBN) when it came to power last year, citing cyber-security concerns.
Report: Kerry says Israel risks becoming 'apartheid' state
Washington (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of senior international officials that Israel risks becoming an "apartheid" state if it does not make peace soon, a US news website reported.
Kerry made the controversial remarks at a closed-door meeting of the influential Trilateral Commission on Friday, The Daily Beast news website reported Sunday.
The Daily Beast said a source at the gathering provided them with a recording of Kerry's remarks.
"A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens —- or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state," Kerry said, according to The Daily Beast.
"Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even (Thursday), said they remain deeply committed to," he reportedly said.
The online publication said that US, Western European, Russian, and Japanese senior officials and experts were at the event.
The term "apartheid" is a reference to South Africa's 1948-1994 oppressive and racially segregated social system.
While both Kerry and President Barack Obama have refrained from using the term when speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former president Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) titled a 2006 book that he wrote on the subject "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Kerry also insisted that the peace process was not dead.
"The reports of the demise of the peace process have consistently been misunderstood and misreported. And even we are now getting to the moment of obvious confrontation and hiatus, but I would far from declare it dead," Kerry said, according to the news website.
Netanyahu: ‘Iran is calling for our destruction’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 27, 2014 16:21 EDT
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned anew on Sunday of a nuclear-powered Iran at the annual Holocaust memorial for the victims of the Nazi genocide, saying Tehran wants “our destruction”.
“Iran is calling for our destruction, it is building underground bunkers to enrich uranium, producing heavy water for plutonium, acquiring intercontinental missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads that threaten the entire world,” Netanyahu said.
In November, Iran clinched a deal with world powers under which it froze some nuclear activities in return for limited relief from crippling Western sanctions.
Since then it has been engaged in negotiations with the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — aimed at reaching a lasting accord on its nuclear ambitions.
Israel, which is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the region, had denounced the November agreement and repeatedly voiced concern over the ongoing talks between Iran and world powers.
Speaking at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Netanyahu urged world powers “not to give in for the sake of avoiding, at all costs, a confrontation” with Tehran.
Netanyahu, whose government has not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb, said the international community must demand Tehran “dismantle totally its capacity to produce nuclear weapons.”
Israel and the West have long suspected Iran of covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme — something strongly denied by Tehran.