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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 622972 times)
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« Reply #13155 on: Apr 29, 2014, 06:51 AM »

Rise of the pterodactyls becomes clearer with discovery of China’s ‘Krytopdrakon’

By Scott Kaufman
RawStory
Monday, April 28, 2014 9:48 EDT

Scientists working in China believe they have found the earliest example of a pterosaur, the group of flying reptiles that became extinct over 66 million years ago.

Brian Andres of the University of South Florida, James Clark of George Washington University, and Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Science claim to have found, as the title of their paper indicates, “The Earliest Pterodactyloid and the Origin of the Group.”

They named the new species Kryptodrakon progenitor — krypto is Latin for “hidden,” drakon for “dragon” — after the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was filmed in the desert in which the fossils were found. Progenitor is a reference to it being the oldest example of a pterosaur that’s been found. Kryptodrakon is five million years older than any other known member of the pterosaur family tree.

The fossilized remains were found in what is called a “dinosaur death pit” in the remote Chinese locale known as the Shishiugou Formation. It is so called because the ancient quicksand there trapped so many dinosaurs and preserved their fossils. Initially, the Kryptodrakon‘s bones were identified as belonging to a two-legged dinosaur known as a theropod, but eventually biologist James Clark realized that he was looking at a rare example of an early, tiny pterosaur.

The elongated “pinky finger” of pterosaurs is usually so fragile that it is not preserved in the fossil record. “In primitive pterosaurs, it is one of the shortest and least variable bones in the wing, but in pterodactyloids it is quite elongated,” co-author Brian Andres told Reuters.

But in the case of this particular Kryptodrakon, the quicksand in which it died preserved the fragile digit.

Just as important as the fossil itself, the co-authors contend, is where it was found. Pterosaur fossils are normally discovered in ancient marine environments, i.e. on or near the shores of ancient oceans. This fossil, however, was found in a part of China that would have been dominated by rivers, but far from the ocean. This suggests that the first large animals to take flight may have done so far inland, in a terrestrial environment.


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« Reply #13156 on: Apr 29, 2014, 06:52 AM »

Risk of city-killing asteroid hitting Earth much higher than thought: scientists

By Reuters
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:54 EDT

The chance of a city-killing asteroid striking Earth is higher than scientists previously believed, a non-profit group building an asteroid-hunting telescope said on Tuesday.

A global network that listens for nuclear weapons detonations detected 26 asteroids that exploded in Earth’s atmosphere from 2000 to 2013, data collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization shows.

The explosions include the Feb. 15, 2013, impact over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which left more than 1,000 people injured by flying glass and debris.

“There is a popular misconception that asteroid impacts are extraordinarily rare … that’s incorrect,” said former astronaut Ed Lu, who now heads the California-based B612 Foundation.

The foundation on Tuesday released a video visualization of the asteroid strikes in an attempt to raise public awareness of the threat.

Asteroids as small as about 131 feet (40 meters) – less than half the size of an American football field – have the potential to level a city, Lu told reporters on a conference call

“Picture a large apartment building – moving at Mach 50,” Lu said.

Mach 50 is 50 times the speed of sound, or roughly 38,000 mph (61,250 kph).

NASA already has a program in place that tracks asteroids larger than 0.65 mile (1 km). An object of this size, roughly equivalent to a small mountain, would have global consequences if it struck Earth.

An asteroid about 6 miles (10 km) in diameter hit Earth some 65 million years ago, triggering climate changes that are believed to have caused the dinosaurs – and most other life on Earth at the time – to die off.

“Chelyabinsk taught us that asteroids of even 20-meter (66-foot) size can have substantial effect,” Lu said.

City-killer asteroids are forecast to strike about once every 100 years, but the prediction is not based on hard evidence.

B612 intends to address that issue with a privately funded, infrared space telescope called Sentinel that will be tasked to find potentially dangerous asteroids near Earth. The telescope, which will cost about $250 million, is targeted for launch in 2018.

B612 takes its name from the fictional planet in the book “The Little Prince,” by French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery.


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« Reply #13157 on: Apr 29, 2014, 07:12 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Obama Hits Back Hard at Foreign Policy Critics

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 07:13

Barack Obama's frustration is spilling over as he makes the most strident defense of his foreign policy yet, rebuking critics who say his diplomacy is haphazard, weak and blurs U.S. national security red lines.

The U.S. president's patience snapped several times during his tour of Asia which wrapped up in the Philippines Tuesday, when confronted by arguments that he has failed to put his stamp on a world increasingly flouting U.S. power.

His four-nation trip was meant to cement the most substantive doctrinal element of his foreign policy, the pivot of American power to Asia, which had been a little ragged of late.

But Obama's inability to deter President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, the crumbling Middle East peace process and the unstoppable carnage in Syria, opened the president to new charges his foreign policy is a bust.

He had to reassure Asian allies nervous of China's growing territorial muscle that despite his reluctance to fight traditional wars, Washington's defense guarantees are rock solid.

He rarely loses his cool in public, but Obama was at his most waspish in public comments on foreign policy during the trip -- recalling his ill-tempered debates with Republican Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential race.

His wariness of foreign quagmires is also a consistent political theme -- recalling the 2002 rebuke of "dumb" wars that helped him harness public dismay with the Iraq war six years later to win the White House.

Obama argues that hubris gets America into trouble and that avoiding "mistakes" like the Iraq and Vietnam wars is paramount, while advancing modest goals and hoping for the odd foreign policy "home run."

"That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention -- but it avoids errors," he said in a press conference in Manila on Monday.

As a foreign policy doctrine, this might lack a little lofty vision -- but seems to represent a trimming of Obama's global aspirations since he swept to power vowing to change the world.

What critics see as a retreat, Obama sees as a wise turn away from foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan that have drained America's power, stretched its finances and strewn a new generation of U.S. dead on foreign battlefields.

Obama is especially sardonic about Republicans who portray him as overly reluctant to commit military force other than in robust drone wars, or to arm rebels in Syria or the Ukraine government.

"My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely," Obama said.

"Most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests."

He did not name particular critics, but his top antagonist is hawkish Republican senator John McCain who he beat to the presidency in 2008.

"I believe that the president does not believe that America is an exceptional nation. And if America doesn't lead, other people do lead," said McCain on PBS show Charlie Rose this month.

McCain believes Obama has been cowed by President Vladimir Putin and that he dismayed U.S. allies in the Middle East by stepping back from attacks on Syria.

"The most powerful, richest nation in the world can carry out a lot of measures to assert our leadership in the world," he said.

"We have to take steps that convince the bad people in this world... that there is a very heavy price if they do things... in gross violation of international norms."

Administration officials are privately incensed that a deal with Russia to remove Syria's declared chemical weapons stocks -- which emerged after Obama blinked at the last minute on firing missiles into Damascus -- is seen a failure.

They say more than 90 percent of the stocks have been removed and that this represents a foreign policy triumph.

Obama is also fuming over claims that he has left Ukraine high and dry and should arm Kiev to deter Russia -- despite Monday imposing new sanctions on Putin's inner circle.

"Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?" Obama asked.

Obama's unusually blunt language may also be born of frustration that a foreign policy record, adorned by the killing of Osama bin Laden, that was once seen as a political asset is now often seen as a liability.

For the president, his critics have one solution to every foreign policy headache -- deploy the U.S. military.

"Many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven't really learned the lesson of the last decade," he said as his frustrations spilled over -- again in Manila.

"They keep on just playing the same note over and over again. Why? I don't know."

******************

Rigging The Rules: Congress Moving Corporate Tax Breaks

By Robert Borosage April 29, 2014 6:00 am
CrooksAndLiars
 
Republicans in the House are getting ready to push permanent tax breaks largely for corporations. They don't intend to offset them by closing other loopholes or raising rates. This is a case study in how the game is fixed and the rules are rigged.

“The game is rigged and the American people know that. They get it right down to their toes.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren

This week, the House Ways and Means Committee is poised to demonstrate exactly how the rules are rigged. Beginning on Tuesday, the committee will mark up a series of bills on corporate tax breaks – known as “extenders” because they have been extended regularly every year or two for over a decade. Only now the Committee plans to make many of them permanent, at the cost of an estimated $300 billion over 10 years. And it does not plan to pay for them by closing other corporate loopholes or raising rates. The giveaway – almost all of which goes to corporations -- will simply add to the deficit. And no doubt those who vote for them will later demand deeper cuts in programs for the vulnerable in order to bring “spending” under control.

The measures range from big to small, sensible to inane. Two centerpieces are glaring loopholes for multinational companies and banks, encouraging them to ship jobs and report profits abroad to avoid an estimated $80 billion in taxes over a decade.

Call them – one known as the “active finance exception” and the other as the “CFC look-through rule -- the General Electric tax dodges. The loopholes allow multinationals with huge finance arms, like General Electric or Wall Street banks, to dodge paying their fair share of taxes simply by claiming that U.S. based financial income is being generated offshore. These “exceptions” are central to how GE managed to declare a profit of more than $27 billion over the past five years, while not only paying nothing in taxes, but pocketing tax refunds of more than $3 billion. The multi-billion dollar multinational pays less in taxes than any mom and pop store that turned a profit. These breaks don’t pass the smell test.

Making these permanent without offsetting them by closing other loopholes is a brazen insult to American voters. Republicans have railed incessantly about deficits, forcing austerity budgets that have impeded the recovery and cost jobs. For the first time, they even refused to pass emergency unemployment compensation to long-term unemployed workers unless it was “paid for” by cuts elsewhere. (And even after the Senate passed the measure with “pay-fors,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner still refuses to allow it to come to a vote)

Emergency unemployment compensation is temporary, targeted and timely. It goes to sustain the families of unemployed workers who are still looking for work. It is of limited duration. And the families that receive it spend it immediately on food, rent, gas – helping to boost jobs and the economy. And it can’t get a vote on the floor of Congress.

The offshore tax dodges that the Committee is about to markup and bring to a vote will be permanent. They aren’t emergency measures. They are targeted perversely to benefit the biggest corporations and banks the most. And they will cost jobs rather than help generate them.

But in a congress supposedly locked in hapless partisan gridlock, these bills are greased to go. They are backed by a full court press from the corporate lobbies. They gain bipartisan support by pairing the obscene with mostly small “side of the angels measures” -- a deduction for schoolteachers who pay for supplies out of their own pockets, a tax break for employees that ride mass transit to work, a tax relief for families taking a loss from selling a home with an underwater mortgage, a production tax credit for renewable energy.

Legislators who want to support the sensible measures are told they have to buy the drek. This is the routine way the rules get rigged, the powerful get the gold and the workers get the shaft.

But perhaps this time business as usual may bear a price. Warren is right: Americans are increasingly onto the game. As polling for Americans for Tax Fairness has shown, voters are outraged that corporations and the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. They are incensed at the notion that Congress is giving multinationals incentives to ship jobs or report profits abroad. Or that Wall Street banks are paying lower tax rates than small businesses.

Even the perpetually tanned House Speaker John Boehner will blanche at trying to explain how unemployed workers can’t be helped but multinationals need permanent loopholes to stash their earnings abroad. Even the glib Republican budget chair Paul Ryan will find it hard to justify deeper cuts that boot kids out of Head Start or cut Pell grants for college in order to make up for deficits produced by rewarding GE for stashing profits in the Cayman Islands.

This is an election year with voters in a surly mood. Embattled incumbents might be wise to think twice before bowing to the dictates of the corporate lobbies. Surely challengers in both parties will relish going after legislators who voted to carve a permanent loophole for multinationals that ship jobs abroad, while cutting investments in education and abandoning workers struggling to find a job.

Washington is a city wired for the insider’s deal to fix the game. And the rules will keep getting rigged until voters sort out who is on their side and who isn’t – and throw some of the latter out of office.

*******************

Supreme Court confronts digital privacy rights today in cell phone case

By Reuters
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:14 EDT

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday confronts the question of whether the increasing amount of deeply personal information kept on mobile devices means police officers need a warrant before they can search an arrested suspect’s cell phone.

In a case that pits expectations of privacy against the interests of the law enforcement community, the court will hear one-hour arguments in two cases.

The nine justices are weighing cases from California and Massachusetts arising from criminal prosecutions that used evidence obtained without a warrant from a judge.

Cell phones, initially used purely to make calls, now contain a wealth of personal information about the owner, including photographs, video and social media content. According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of adult Americans have a cell phone, more than a half of them smartphones that can connect to the Internet.

Concerns about increasing government encroachment on personal privacy, especially in relation to electronic communications, has surged into the public eye over the last year in light of the disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about government surveillance.

The cell phone cases arrive at the court two years after the court unanimously held that police need a warrant before they can put GPS tracking devices on vehicles.

That ruling was a signal that the court is concerned about how technology affects privacy rights, according to defense lawyer Gerry Morris, a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“You are starting to see much more awareness on the part of the court to the dangers to liberty that technology can pose,” he said in an interview.

In the cell phone cases, the legal question rests on whether the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bars unreasonable searches, requires police following an arrest to get court approval before a cell phone can be searched.

The two defendants challenging their convictions, David Riley and Brima Wurie, say evidence found on their phones should not have been used as evidence at trial because the searches were conducted without warrants.

SAFETY RISK?

According to court precedent, police only have two valid reasons for searching items immediately upon arrest: officer safety and the need to secure evidence that could otherwise be easily discarded. In the past, police officers have not needed warrants to look at items such as wallets, calendars, address books and diaries.

Digital rights activists and criminal defense lawyers are among the groups supporting Riley and Wurie say cell phone data is not a safety risk and can, in most cases, be easily secured.

State and federal government lawyers have told the court that searching a cell phone is no different than warrantless searches of other items commonly found on a person at the time of arrest. The administration of President Barack Obama is backed by 16 states in the case.

“While technology has increased the amount of information an individual may practically choose to carry, neither the form nor the volume of the information at issue here provides a sound basis for redrawing clearly established Fourth Amendment lines,” Kamala Harris, the Democratic attorney general for California, said in court papers dismissing the need for a warrant.

She noted that potential evidence held on a cell phone could be vulnerable if not searched for immediately. Some phones, for example, might automatically delete some data after a certain time or allow for data to be deleted remotely.

In the first case, Riley was convicted of three charges relating to an August 2009 incident in San Diego in which shots were fired at an occupied vehicle.

Local prosecutors linked him to the crime in part due to a photograph police found on his smartphone that showed him posing in front of a car similar to one seen at the crime scene. Riley sought the high court’s review after his convictions were upheld by a state appeals court in California.

In the other case, the U.S. government appealed after an appeals court threw out two of three federal drugs and firearms counts on which Wurie had been convicted by a jury in Massachusetts.

The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a May 2013 ruling that police could not search Wurie’s phone without a warrant after the September 2007 arrest for suspected drug dealing.

A major difference between the cases is that Wurie’s phone, unlike Riley’s, is not a smartphone. Officers used the phone only to find a phone number that took them to Wurie’s house in Boston, where drugs, a gun and cash were found.

Rulings are expected by the end of June. The cases are Riley v. California, 13-132 and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

**************

Researchers: More than 4 percent of U.S. death row inmates are likely to be innocent

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 28, 2014 18:20 EDT

About one in 25 inmates sentenced to death in the United States was likely wrongly convicted, a study said Monday.

Estimating the rate of false convictions, which the study put at 4.1 percent, is no easy task since there is no central database and many are never identified, in part because some sentences are commuted.

Nevertheless, “false convictions are far more likely to be detected among those cases that end in death sentences than in any other category of criminal convictions,” said the article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Everyone, from the first officer on the scene of a potentially capital crime to the Chief Justice of the United States, takes capital cases more seriously than other criminal prosecutions — and knows that everybody else will do so as well.”

The study, the first of its kind, used a statistical method known as survival analysis. The method is usually used to determine the effectiveness of a medical treatment in reducing mortality rates.

Researchers were thus able to estimate the proportion of death row inmates whose innocence would have been established if they had stayed in prison and thus benefited from resources to defend themselves.

“Even if you are sentenced to death… the chance to be exonerated is much higher if you’re still on death row,” lead author Samuel Gross told AFP.

However, “the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed.”

The researchers used data from the 7,482 people sentenced to death from January 1974 to December 2004.

Among that group, 12.6 percent were executed, 1.6 percent were exonerated, four percent died while on death row, 46.1 percent remained on death row and 35.8 percent were taken off death row but stayed in prison after their capital sentences or convictions were reversed or changed.

Based on the analysis showing a more than four percent error margin in trials, the study said it was “all but certain” that several of the 1,320 people executed since 1977 were in fact innocent.

“Most innocent defendants who have been sentenced to death have not been exonerated, and many — including the great majority of those who have been re-sentenced to life in prison — probably never will be,” it added.

“The net result is that the great majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of capital murder in the United States are neither executed nor exonerated. They are sentenced, or re-sentenced to prison for life, and then forgotten.”

**************

A Deadly Fungus and Questions at a Hospital

By IAN URBINA and SHERI FINK
APRIL 28, 2014
NYT

NEW ORLEANS — The first victim was a premature boy in the intensive care unit whose mother noticed a mysterious irritation in his groin; it grew into an open wound burrowing into the baby’s abdomen. The last patient to die was a 10-year-old girl, whose face was ravaged.

Three other patients at Children’s Hospital here were also stricken, including a 13-year-old boy who his parents said endured over 20 surgical procedures in 54 days in a futile effort to save him.

Like the others, Zachary Malik Tyler, the 13-year-old, arrived at Children’s Hospital battling a serious illness before being overwhelmed by an infection. “What haunts me more than anything is thinking about what he suffered,” said Stephen Tyler, his father.

The children died of various causes between August 2008 and July 2009 during an outbreak of a flesh-eating fungal infection, mucormycosis, most likely spread by bed linens, towels or gowns, according to a medical journal. The disclosure this month caused new pain for the families of the children and raised troubling questions about how the infections came about, why doctors did not connect the cases until more than 10 months after the first death, and what obligation the hospital had to inform parents — and the community — of the outbreak.

Those questions take on greater urgency, experts say, because deadly fungal infections, while still rare, appear to be on the rise nationwide.

That may be because of changes in the environment and a larger pool of vulnerable people with suppressed immune systems because patients are living longer with serious illnesses.

An estimated 75,000 patients with infections picked up in health care facilities die in hospitals each year, according to figures released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreak may have spread unchecked, at least in part, because of lapses in the hospital’s infection controls and sloppy handling of contaminated linens, according to a review of emails, patient records, legal testimony from hospital and laundry staff, and interviews with doctors, lawyers, federal health officials, hospital administrators and patients’ families.

Workers unloaded clean linens on the same dock where medical waste was removed, moved clean and soiled linens on the same carts, and stored linens in hospital hallways covered in dust from a nearby construction site, court records indicated.

C.D.C. investigators did not fault the hospital for failing to move more quickly to detect the outbreak, noting that the infections occurred weeks or months apart in different areas of the hospital. Still, there were problems, records and interviews showed. With one of the five children, a doctor allegedly agreed to biopsy an infected spot only after a nurse and the parents insisted. And the hospital’s infection investigators did not become involved for months because their threshold for reviewing cases excluded some of the five deaths.

In a city where so many institutions had failed its citizens — a former mayor convicted of bribery, a police department tainted by charges of brutality, schools where student performance was historically abysmal — Children’s Hospital was well respected. It cared for New Orleans’s sickest young patients, from those living in the poorest precincts like the Lower Ninth Ward to those from the hospital’s genteel neighborhood uptown.

But now, Children’s Hospital is accused of breaking faith with the community. Much of the anger has focused on what a local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, charged in an editorial was an “appalling” failure to alert the public and a “lack of urgency” that slowed the discovery of the outbreak.

Hospital officials first suspected they had a problem in late June 2009, and in the weeks after alerted state and federal health officials, but few others. They contacted the children’s families only after the journal article “Mucormycosis Outbreak Associated With Hospital Linens” appeared in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. (The article did not identify the hospital, but a local television station, WVUE, disclosed it based on a tip from a local doctor, Brobson Lutz.)

“We failed to do what we should have done, pure and simple,” Dr. John F. Heaton, the hospital’s associate medical director, said during a news conference this month, in which he acknowledged that the infections most likely contributed to the children’s deaths.

In response to several unrelated outbreaks in recent years, the C.D.C. started an initiative to help hospitals and health departments communicate with the public about medical errors and infections acquired in health care facilities. Abbigail Tumpey, who leads the effort, said that while it is important to avoid scaring away patients, hospitals that are open about problems and the steps taken to remedy them have built public trust.

Children’s Hospital is trying to be more transparent, but for some, it is too late. Dolly Malik, Zachary’s mother said, “We clearly felt silence back then.”

The First Cases

Tyrel Cayden Gee, born prematurely at 26 weeks, would eventually be identified by investigators as Case No. 1. But because the infant had been critically ill before contracting mucormycosis — in its severe form the fatality rate tops 90 percent, and it primarily afflicts patients with compromised immune systems — it was not considered a primary cause in his August 2008 death. Even though Children’s Hospital had not had a single incident of hospital-acquired mucormycosis for at least 15 years, Tyrel’s case did not raise alarms or become labeled a sentinel event, which would have set off an inquiry.

Dr. Rodolfo Esteban Bégué, who headed the hospital’s infection control committee, said later in a deposition that he was not aware of the case. Even though mucormycosis had caused rare hospital outbreaks elsewhere, his committee had not included it in its quarterly reviews of hospital infections, and it was not among the diseases hospitals must report to the government.

When Zachary Malik Tyler came to the emergency room six months later, with a recurrence of a cancerlike condition that causes widespread tissue damage, his parents still expected he would return home to his siblings, his book collection and his chess sets. By March 2009, though, his immune system was suppressed by chemotherapy, his health precarious. Zachary’s empathy had still shown through during his hospitalization. When he saw his brother Crawford’s plans for an underwater car, Zachary said, “It just might work.”

That month, Zachary’s mother noticed a small black spot in his armpit. In operations, sometimes just a day apart, doctors chased the infection — cutting underneath Zachary’s arm and into a second site in his lower back. To repair the defects, they moved skin and muscle from his chest and thigh and operated on his belly, performing a colostomy. “After his skin graft, his pain was quite intensified,” doctors noted. He died of multiple causes on May 17, 2009.

Dr. Bégué helped treat Zachary and asked for a review of infection control procedures regarding his treatment, but did not consider opening a wider inquiry, he said later.

While Zachary had been struggling, another premature baby received a diagnosis of mucormycosis and died in a different part of the hospital, but Dr. Bégué did not learn of the case. In late June, Tierica Jackson, 10, admitted for heart surgery, also fell victim to the infection. Hospital personnel began swabbing various surfaces to determine the source, which struck one more patient, an 11-year-old girl, who died the day after her diagnosis. One of the doctors decided to test the linens.

A Prime Environment

The parents of Zachary Tyler said they hoped their son’s death would inspire hospitals and health care facilities to be more vigilant about controlling the spread of deadly infections.

Fungi thrive in moist environments, and the 40,000-square-foot washing warehouse owned by the hospital’s off-site launderer, TLC Linen Services, was just that. The laundry sits several blocks from Lake Pontchartrain on a dirt road in the city’s Ninth Ward.

The owners, who declined interview requests, replaced drywall and flooring after the levee failures caused by Hurricane Katrina brought in water. But he never tested to verify that the plant was free of mold, records showed.

The company, which was not accredited by the main voluntary group that inspects health care laundries, also lacked proper filters on ventilation fans to block spores and dust from the street, records showed. There was also reason to suspect that the outbreak was due to myriad problems with the way hospital workers handled linens, court documents showed. (Three patients’ families have filed lawsuits; one was settled.)

In the rare instances when linens have been associated with transmitting illnesses, the problem is usually caused by improper transportation or storage, said Lisa Waldowski, an infection control specialist with the Joint Commission, the organization that accredits most American hospitals. Hospitals typically do not sterilize linens, except those used in operating rooms. Hospital bedsheets and towels typically are washed and bleached to reach the same standard of cleanliness as hotel laundry. One key difference is that medical linens are supposed to be wrapped in bags or cellophane for transport.

Starting in 2007, TLC managers complained in meetings and emails about how Children’s Hospital housekeepers were handling the linens. Washcloths were being used as “cleaning rags” to wipe down bathrooms, TLC said. Laundry workers had to fish bags of dirty towels and sheets out of hospital trash bins. Trash was being put in linen carts and linens in trash carts.

Especially frustrating, TLC managers said in a deposition, was that, in violation of industry and federal guidelines, the head of housekeeping, Glenn Cobb, told them in 2007 to stop delivering the clean linens in sealed bags.

“I didn’t agree with it,” Charles LeBourgeois, a co-owner of TLC, said in the deposition. The plastic bags were cumbersome for the housekeeping staff and getting caught in cart wheels, he recalled being told by Mr. Cobb, who did not respond to interview requests. It was only after dust from nearby construction sullied linens that the hospital agreed to allow TLC to cover the carts.

Mr. LeBourgeois testified that he had discovered workers at the hospital washing bed linens in a machine there after the outbreak — using a method intended for cleaning floor mops. He said he had explained that the chemicals were too weak and the water temperatures too low to be hygienic. “Oh, my god,” he recalled Mr. Cobb saying. “So, we are not getting them clean?”

Changes Made

In recent weeks, hospital officials have emphasized the protective measures that they have taken, like resterilizing key areas of the hospital, including where linens were stored, and changing the site where they were delivered. The hospital now uses sterile linens for sick infants, cancer patients and other highly vulnerable patients. It also now wraps linens for transport.

Dr. Heaton also pledged that the hospital would fully disclose any adverse event or hospital-acquired condition that affects any of its patients.

Mr. Tyler, Zachary’s father, said such measures might have saved his son and other patients. “Perhaps it will inspire other institutions to be more vigilant.”

****************

Historians battle loyalists at Nixon library over how to portray the disgraced president

By Reuters
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:33 EDT

Nearly 40 years after President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal, the debate over how his legacy should be defined seems as vibrant as ever – at Nixon’s presidential library, at least.

The Nixon library, which opened in 1990 in Yorba Linda, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has become the focus of a behind-the-scenes tussle over how the story of the only person to resign from the U.S. presidency should be told.

It pits Nixon loyalists who want the library to do more to portray the 37th president as a great leader with a range of domestic and foreign accomplishments, against historians and others who say that the library – as a symbol of U.S. history and education – has a duty to also provide an unvarnished, and unflattering, lesson on Nixon’s downfall.

A key issue is whether the Nixon Foundation, which is run by former aides to the president and Nixon family members and is raising $25 million to renovate the library, is trying to delay the appointment of a new library director by the National Archives so the renovation can be done without interference from those not loyal to Nixon.

The Nixon library has been without a director for more than two years. The last director, Timothy Naftali, resigned shortly after installing a Watergate exhibit that detailed Nixon’s role in trying to cover up his administration’s involvement in the burglary of Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington.

Members of the Nixon Foundation vehemently objected to the exhibit, and several boycotted its opening in 2011. The other exhibits at the library are reverential toward Nixon.

The foundation, which is run by a board of directors led by former Nixon aide Ron Walker, rejects the notion that it has tried to stall the appointment of a new library director.

Some Nixon historians aren’t convinced. They include Stanley Kutler, who successfully sued the National Archives to force the release of White House audio tapes of Nixon and his aides discussing Watergate. Kutler calls the situation at the Nixon library “troubling.”

The tension at the Nixon library reflects how the memories of Watergate, and its impact on Americans’ trust in the presidency, remain bitter and unresolved for some.

It also is a reminder of the tensions that can develop over presidential libraries between library foundations – which typically are staffed by loyalists who largely fund and build the libraries and seek to cast their president in a positive light – and historians and other outsiders who want a non-partisan portrayal that includes details on the president’s worst moments.

Bill Clinton faced some criticism after the opening of his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2004 because of how it portrayed his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his impeachment. The library’s exhibit lumps the scandal with other controversies in a section dedicated to the “politics of persecution.”

At George W. Bush’s new presidential library in Dallas, Texas, the controversy over Bush’s decision to invade Iraq because it allegedly had weapons of mass destruction is portrayed in a way that aims to justify the decision.

Visitors can play a game in an interactive exhibit called “Decision Points Theater,” where they must decide whether to invade Iraq. If they choose not to invade, a video image of Bush appears to explain why the invasion was the right thing to do.

The exhibit has been ridiculed by critics of the Bush administration.

Some historians see such efforts to shape the memory of a president as not surprising, but unfortunate.

“It’s a serious problem,” said H.W. Brands, a presidential historian. “The foundations want to operate museums. They don’t want to operate libraries.” So the libraries become “like a … campaign.”

EMPHASIZING NIXON’S ACHIEVEMENTS

The National Archives, based in Washington, is responsible for running all 13 presidential libraries, which span the administrations from Herbert Hoover to Bush.

But the archives fund only the salaries and day-to-costs of operating the libraries. The private foundations that support the libraries raise the money to build the facilities and fund exhibits.

The Nixon Foundation’s board includes Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and Nixon’s brother, Edward Nixon. The foundation president is Sandy Quinn, who worked on Nixon’s unsuccessful campaign for California governor in 1962.

That was two years after Nixon, then Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, lost the presidential election to John Kennedy. In one of the great political comebacks in U.S. political history, Nixon was elected president in 1968.

Quinn says the new exhibits planned by the Nixon Foundation will include a deeper look at several of Nixon’s achievements, including his role in creating the Environmental Protection Agency and his ending of the draft by returning the U.S. military to an all-volunteer army.

Fred Malek, a former Nixon aide in charge of the fundraising, said: “It really is time to look at some of Richard Nixon’s accomplishments.”

Malek’s sentiments reflect those of many Nixon loyalists who were not happy with the Watergate exhibit that Naftali installed at the library in Yorba Linda, where the late president was born 101 years ago.

The foundation has no official veto power over library appointments by the National Archives, but it must be closely consulted by the Archives and has offices at the library. Because the foundation is the sole provider of renovation funds, Kutler and other historians and critics say this makes the archives wary of upsetting foundation members.

Kutler said he was told by Archives officials that a new library director had not been appointed because of a dearth of good candidates.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been around a long time,” Kutler said. “It’s hard to believe they can’t get a good candidate.”

Susan Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives, has been acting director of the Nixon library since Naftali’s resignation, from her office across the country in Maryland.

Donius said the Archives is using a recruitment firm to help in the search for a new director at the Nixon library. She declined to say why it has taken so long to find a new director and referred questions to David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States. Ferriero declined to comment.

Jon Wiener, a history professor at the University of California-Irvine, said the Archives’ long delay in appointing a new director in Yorba Linda “suggests an inability of the Archives and the foundation to agree on a new candidate.”

‘SHRINES,’ OR LIBRARIES?

Quinn, the Nixon Foundation’s president, said that “it’s absolute nonsense that we are holding up or blocking the appointment of a new director. We are anxious for a new director.”

Naftali, the library’s former director, said he left the library because he believed his work was done there once the Watergate exhibit was in place. He said he expected someone to replace him soon after he left to foster a culture of non-partisanship at the library.

“It’s much easier for a foundation to renovate a presidential museum if you don’t have a strong director in place, and a piece of cake if you have no director at all,” said Naftali, now director of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University.

Naftali added that presidential libraries “tend to be shrines unless people inside and outside the National Archives bring pressure to make them nonpartisan. My concern is that the National Archives has not hired a director and its ability to counter-balance the Nixon Foundation is undermined by the fact that there is no director at Yorba Linda after nearly two and half years.”

Wiener, the UC-Irvine history professor, said: “It appears that in the absence of a new director, the Nixon Foundation, staffed and funded by Nixon loyalists, is asserting itself again at Yorba Linda.”

*****************

The Mainstream Media Finally Abandons Sarah Palin and Declares Her Over

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, April, 28th, 2014, 9:51 am   

Robert Costa of The Washington Post reported on Palin’s decline:

    Four years after using her unique position to propel a number of conservatives — many previously unknown and not favored by party leaders — in the tea party wave of 2010, Palin is today a diminished figure in the Republican Party. Even as she travels to Iowa and elsewhere to bolster her handpicked candidates, her influence in these midterm elections has been eclipsed by a new class of stars and her circle has narrowed, with a handful of aides guiding her and a few allies in Washington beyond a group of backbench troublemakers in Congress.

    When Palin took the stage at the Hy-Vee Conference Center under a banner that read “Heels On, Gloves Off” on Sunday at an event for Senate candidate Joni Ernst, the ballroom was half-full, with a couple hundred attendees scattered in clumps. Three people held signs and, while Palin was received warmly, only about 50 people stayed after to shake her hand on the rope line as Shania Twain’s “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face” blared from the speakers.

    Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Iowa GOP, said that it was Palin’s smallest in-state crowd ever. Organizers blamed the heavy rainfall.

To put it another way, the media has finally caught on to the myth of Sarah Palin. Sister Sarah has been surviving for years on the idea that she is a conservative star, but the reality is that people were tired of her during the 2008 campaign. Palin has seen her fanbase narrow for years. She isn’t active in politics. She doesn’t donate enough of the money that she raises to candidates, and she has no future political prospects of her own.

For years, the media has happily pretended that Sarah Palin was a star, and a rival to President Obama. Palin was always the novelty that Republicans claim President Obama to be. Palin has taken to making radical statements to get media attention. Her latest is that if she were in charge she would baptize terrorists through waterboarding.

Palin will always have her fans, but even they realize that there is no future in supporting Sarah. There is no Senate campaign, or a presidential run coming. Palin is still living off of those few months in 2008, when she was a national political somebody.

Sarah Palin is the one hit wonder who started out playing arenas, then moved down to the clubs, then moved further down to the county fair circuit. When you stop drawing a crowd on the county fair circuit, it’s over.

The media is finally catching on that it is time to ignore Sarah Palin.

****************

Glenn Beck says he got a message from God: ‘I am coming and I will settle scores’

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Monday, April 28, 2014 18:06 EDT

Conservative radio host Glenn Beck claimed during a commencement speech at Liberty University last Friday that God delivered an angry message to him while preparing for a 2011 appearance in Jerusalem.

“I know the love, I know the gentleness of Christ,” Beck said in video posted by Right Wing Watch on Monday. “But I’ve never felt the wrath.”

Beck, a Mormon, told the crowd at the Christian university that God then informed him, “You tell them I am coming and I will settle scores.”

The alleged epiphany happened while Beck was asking God for guidance on what to say during his appearance at the Temple Mount, during which he described the popular uprisings taking place during the “Arab Spring” as “a familiar force which I said would come to the borders of Israel and bring death.”

“We went and we obeyed,” Beck told the audience at Liberty. “Some people who came with me were trying to talk me out of it the whole time, saying, ‘Glenn, this is impossible, it can never happen, it won’t happen.’ And I looked at them and I finally got sick and tired enough that I said, ‘talk to Him, not to me.’”

He also revisited a popular argument among conservatives, claiming that “aborted babies” were being incinerated to generate electricity in a Brooks, Oregon power plant.

In reality, as the Associated Press reported, conservatives seized on the topic after it was discovered that fetal tissue was among the materials used at energy plants in the United Kingdom, a practice that was quickly banned.

But officials in Marion County, which includes both Brooks and Portland, never received confirmation that the same was being done at the Oregon plant, and approved a revision for existing medical waste procedures to ensure that no fetal tissue is included.

Watch a portion of Beck’s speech, as posted by Right Wing Watch on Monday, below.

http://videos.rawstory.com/video/Glenn-Beck-God-told-me-he-s-comi


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« Reply #13158 on: Apr 29, 2014, 08:07 AM »

U.S., Britain Vow to Track Down 'Stolen' Ukraine Billions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 16:21

The United States and Britain said Tuesday they were determined to track down billions of dollars of Ukrainian assets allegedly looted under the regime of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and British Home Secretary Theresa May told an international conference on asset recovery that those responsible would be held accountable.

"There should be no mistake, we are determined in our efforts to be successful," Holder told a press conference in London at the start of the two-day forum.

"We are determined to hold accountable those who were responsible for the theft of these Ukrainian assets and we are also determined to ensure that those assets are returned to the Ukrainian people."

Ukraine's general prosecutor Oleh Makhnitskyi told the forum that Kiev has already identified stolen assets totaling at least 35 billion Ukrainian hryvnias ($3 billion, 2.1 billion euros).

He expected the eventual total to amount to tens of billions of dollars.

Makhnitskyi described the Yanukovych regime as an "organized criminal group" whose tentacles reached throughout the administration.

"The new government was set up and we found that our treasury was empty and the funds were misappropriated," he said.

Yanukovych was ousted in February following a series of massive protests after he decided to scrap an agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

He fled Ukraine for Russia.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, senior government officials, prosecutors and representatives from financial centers and international organizations around the world are also attending the conference, Britain's Home Office said.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office announced on the eve of the conference that it had launched a money-laundering investigation into possible corruption in Ukraine and frozen $23 million (17 million euros) in assets.

May said officials from Britain's National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service have already traveled to Ukraine to offer their assistance.

"I think this event will help to set a new benchmark for the international community," she said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday he will visit Ukraine next week in a show of support for Kiev.

Holder said countries accused of dragging their feet over Ukrainian assets would have to choose sides.

"Do you stand with the Ukrainian people or do you stand with those who have robbed and stolen from the Ukrainian people? It's a simple decision," he said.

Several countries are helping Ukrainian-led investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering by members of Yanukovych's government.

Swiss authorities have ordered a freeze on the assets of both Yanukovych and his multi-millionaire son Oleksandr, as well as 18 other former ministers and officials.

The hunt for Ukraine's missing money comes as Washington and Brussels harden their economic front against Russia over the crisis.

The European Union said Tuesday it had targeted Russia's armed forces chief of staff and its military intelligence chief in its latest round of punitive measures against 15 individuals.

The White House on Monday slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies close to President Pig Putin.

********************

U.S. Revives 'Iron Curtain' Policies in Ukraine Showdown

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 11:50

Moscow accused Washington of bringing back "Iron Curtain" policies in the showdown over Ukraine on Tuesday, as the West slapped fresh sanctions against key figures including Russia's military chief.

The Russian foreign ministry warned the sanctions were "absolutely counterproductive" and were driving the crisis towards "a dead end".

The sharp language underlined the Cold War echoes of the crisis swirling around Ukraine, which has opened diplomatic and economic fronts between East and West.

The increasing geopolitical tensions were doing nothing to ease the situation on the ground in east Ukraine, where sporadic violence was unabated and negotiations to free seven OSCE inspectors held by rebels continued.

A Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, tore into the United States for leading the sanctions charge on Monday, especially for its decision to curb hi-tech exports to Russia that could have military uses.

"All of that is a blow to our high-tech enterprises and industries," Ryabkov said in an interview with online newspaper Gazeta.ru.

"This is a revival of a system created in 1949 when Western countries essentially lowered an 'Iron Curtain', cutting off supplies of high-tech goods to the USSR and other countries."

Russia's foreign ministry also slammed the European Union for "doing Washington's bidding with new unfriendly gestures towards Russia".

The EU on Tuesday revealed that General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces and the country's deputy defense minister, was one of 15 Russians and Ukrainians targeted by a new asset freeze and travel ban.

The EU's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, announced the measure in a statement expressing alarm at "the downward spiral of violence and intimidation" in Ukraine.

The EU blacklist was part of a Group of Seven sanctions assault against Moscow led by Washington on Monday, when the White House slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies close to President Vladimir Putin.

Canada has targeted nine people and two banks, while Japan said it was denying visas to 23 targeted Russians.

Russia has vowed "painful" retaliation against Washington for the coordinated sanctions.

"We already have something and something will be introduced shortly," said Ryabkov.

Ukraine and EU countries dependent on Russian gas were worried a reprisal could hit the vital energy supply.

For all the outrage from Moscow, there was no sign that the sanctions were having an immediate effect on getting Russia to use its influence to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

Kalashnikov-toting militants on Monday seized the town hall of Kostyantynivka -- the latest of more than a dozen towns held by pro-Russian rebels.

Fourteen people were also seriously hurt when pro-Moscow militants wielding bricks, bats and knives attacked their march for Ukrainian unity in the city of Donetsk.

And a mayor in east Ukraine's biggest city of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes, was shot in the back by an unknown gunman, leaving him in a critical condition.

Kernes, who is Jewish, was flown Tuesday to Israel for medical treatment, his spokesman said. It was not known if the shooting was linked to the political crisis.

Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, has repeatedly said it has no plans to invade the ex-Soviet republic.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu repeated that assurance in a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon said.

Shoigu again denied U.S. accusations that covert Russian forces were already deployed in Ukraine to sow unrest, and urged Washington to tone down its rhetoric on the crisis.

Hagel in turn called for an end to Russia's "destabilizing influence inside Ukraine and warned that continued aggression would further isolate Russia and result in more diplomatic and economic pressure".

The U.S. defense secretary also asked for Moscow's help in securing the release of the seven OSCE inspectors held by pro-Russian militants in Slavyansk.

An AFP journalist in Slavyansk said early Tuesday there was still no sign of the captive inspectors leaving the occupied town hall, where they were being kept under armed guard.

The OSCE has been negotiating for several days to free the seven Europeans, who were seized on Friday. An eighth inspector, a Swede, was released on Sunday because he suffers from diabetes.

The local rebel leader has given the OSCE a list of pro-Russian militants detained by Ukrainian authorities he demands be freed in a prisoner swap.

Kiev's soldiers are surrounding the flashpoint town in a bid to prevent reinforcements reaching militants there.

Washington insists Moscow is behind the insurgency in Ukraine and U.S. President Barack Obama has warned of "still greater costs" on Russia if it does not cease its "illegal intervention".

The fresh Western sanctions are a response to Russia's perceived failure to implement an April 17 deal struck in Geneva to defuse the crisis by disarming militias and having them vacate occupied public buildings.

"Russia has so far failed to implement any part of the Geneva agreement," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who plans to visit Ukraine as well as Moldova and Georgia next week.

Among those targeted by the U.S. sanctions is the president of Rosneft, Russia's top petroleum company and one of the world's largest publicly traded oil companies.

Standard and Poor's swiftly cut its credit ratings for Rosneft and Russian state gas giant Gazprom.

The EU said talks with Russia and Ukraine will take place in Warsaw Friday to try resolve a $3.5 billion gas bill Gazprom calculates Kiev owes. Putin has threatened to cut off the gas flow to Ukraine if it is not quickly paid.

The crisis has accelerated since November, when pro-Western protesters in Kiev demonstrated against Kremlin-backed then-president Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union.

After four months of protests that turned deadly, Yanukovych was forced from power.

In response, Moscow launched a blitz annexation of the peninsula of Crimea and stepped up troop deployments on the border.

**************

Russian Invasion Threat Looms over Ukraine Border Village

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 15:58

If Russia invades Ukraine, "they don't need tanks, they can just walk," smiles Lev Nikolaevich, pointing with his deformed finger to the Russian border just behind the trees. "And we will welcome them."

While the world frets about an invasion amid the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War, the 90 or so people in the tiny border village of Hryhorivka are more relaxed.

"That's just dirty politics," says Nikolaevich, a wrinkled man of 67 who looks 15 years older.

"Yes, we're a bit anxious, but there's no panic. Here, no one is scared of the Russians. They are our brothers. We are one people. If they come, we will welcome them and then life will continue just as before," he added.

With geopolitical tensions at fever pitch over the Ukraine crisis, Russia has moved tens of thousands of troops to the border and conducted military exercises which the West and Kiev say are a provocation to war.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin does decide to invade, the army would encounter no resistance in Hryhorivka, says Nikolaevich.

"We used to have 500 people here. Now it's just the elderly. There's nothing here for young people," he said, pointing at the tiny houses, half of which are in ruins, dotted between the blossoming fruit trees.

"Can you see us standing up to the Russian army?"

He says he knows what it is like to be part of an occupying force. As a young man, he was in the Soviet Red Army that marched into Czechoslovakia in 1968.

"Some Czechs treated us as occupiers, especially the young people. We got on better with the older people. It would be the same story if the Russian army came across the river," he said.

In the neighboring village of Uspenka, Lyudmila Rodenko, a 36-year-old accountant, underlines the close ties between Russia and the eastern part of Ukraine.

"Here, we love the Russians. There's nothing to fear from them. Half my family live on the other side. If their soldiers come, we'll smile at them."

She takes aim at politicians who want to "push us into war", vowing "it won't work."

"For me, I don't care whether I have a Ukrainian or a Russian passport. All I want is for us to be protected from the fascists that have seized power in Kiev," she said, repeating a common trope of Russian media that the new government in Kiev is dominated by ultra-nationalists.

"We're not separatists here, we just want to be respected."

At the nearest border crossing, traffic flows normally. The only signs that a war is looming are six huge concrete blocks, erected not to ward off invasion from Russia to the east, but to protect against incursions from their fellow Ukrainians to the west.

To the north, in the town of Torez, the flag of the self-proclaimed "People's Republic of Donetsk" flutters over the town hall.

Unlike more tense cities in the eastern Ukraine region, there are no barricades, no masked men wielding Kalashnikovs.

In the entrance hall stands a white bust of Maurice Thorez, the French communist leader after whom the town was named in 1964.

Security in the area is the business of the burly Vladimir, 50, who introduces himself as "the head of the defense force."

He says his men "are co-operating with the local police to make sure the bandits and fascists don't come near here."

Like many in the area, he scoffs at the idea he should be afraid of a Russian invasion.

"Scared of the Russians? Should we be scared of our brothers, our cousins? If they come, I will shake them by the hand.

"During the Soviet Union, we were one land. We went hunting together. I am Ukrainian but they are not my enemies and they never will be."

The former Black Sea naval officer said the fact there is a border between the two countries is "ridiculous."

"That's why we created the Republic of Donetsk. We want to be an independent country in a union with Russia.

"We want to be part of something big."


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« Reply #13159 on: Apr 30, 2014, 05:56 AM »

Ukraine 'on Full Combat Alert' against Possible Russia Invasion

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 12:48

Ukraine's military is "on full combat alert" against a possible invasion by Russian troops massed on the border, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a ministerial meeting in Kiev on Wednesday.

"Our armed forces are on full combat alert," he said. "The threat of Russia starting a war against mainland Ukraine is real."

His comments came as Ukraine's army and police appeared to be making little progress in a high-profile operation to stop pro-Russian rebels expanding their grip over towns in the restive east.

Turchynov several weeks ago also announced Ukraine's defense forces had been put on high alert, but there was no visible sign of any increased readiness.

Russia deployed an estimated 40,000 troops to its shared border with Ukraine in March. Moscow initially said they were mobilized for exercises but last week said they were ready to respond to Kiev's military offensive against pro-Kremlin rebels.

Russian President Pig Putin snorts he has a "right" to send his forces into Ukraine but has not yet done so.

Kiev and Washington, however, say Russian special forces are already active in east Ukraine, leading an insurgency that has overrun 14 towns and cities.

Turchynov told the cabinet meeting that "our number one task is to prevent terrorism spreading from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions to other Ukrainian regions".

He underlined moves announced a day earlier to set up armed civilian "territorial volunteer militia" units to help beleaguered police and troops in the restive east.

***************

SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/29/2014 06:36 PM

War in Europe? Ukraine and the Threat of Wildfire

By SPIEGEL Staff

Following the apparent failure of the Geneva agreements, the inconceivable suddenly seems possible: the invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russian army. Fears are growing in the West of the breakout of a new war in Europe.

These days, Heinz Otto Fausten, a 94-year-old retired high school principal from Sinzig, Germany, can't bear to watch the news about Ukraine. Whenever he sees images of tanks on TV, he grabs the remote and switches channels. "I don't want to be subjected to these images," he says. "I can't bear it."

When he was deployed as a soldier in the Ukraine, in 1943, Fausten was struck by grenade shrapnel in the hollow of his knee, just outside Kiev, and lost his right leg. The German presence in Ukraine at the time was, of course, part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But, even so, Fausten didn't think he would ever again witness scenes from Ukraine hinting at the potential outbreak of war.

For anyone watching the news, these recent images, and the links between them, are hard to ignore. In eastern Ukraine, government troops could be seen battling separatists; burning barricades gave the impression of an impending civil war. On Wednesday, Russian long-range bombers entered into Dutch airspace -- it wasn't the first time something like that had happened, but now it felt like a warning to the West. Don't be so sure of yourselves, the message seemed to be, conjuring up the possibility of a larger war.

'A Phase of Escalation'

Many Europeans are currently rattled by that very possibility -- the frightening chance that a civil war in Ukraine could expand like brushfire into a war between Russia and NATO. Hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin would limit his actions to the Crimean peninsula have proved to be illusory -- he is now grasping at eastern Ukraine and continues to make the West look foolish. Efforts at diplomacy have so far failed and Putin appears to have no fear of the economic losses that Western sanctions could bring. As of last week, the lunacy of a war is no longer inconceivable.

On Friday, leading Western politicians joined up in a rare configuration, the so-called Quint. The leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and the United States linked up via conference call, an event that hasn't happened since the run-up to the air strikes in Libya in 2011 and the peak of the euro crisis in 2012 -- both serious crises.

Germany's assessment of the situation has changed dramatically over the course of just seven days. Only a week ago, the German government had been confident that the agreements reached in Geneva to defuse the crisis would bear fruit and that de-escalation had already begun. Now government sources in Berlin -- who make increasing use of alarming vocabulary -- warn that we have returned to a "phase of escalation."

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk spoke of a "worst-case scenario" that now appears possible, including civil war and waves of refugees. Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has even gone so far as to claim that "Russia wants to start a Third World War." (Though, of course, Yatsenyuk also wants to instill a sense of panic in the West so it will come to the aid of his country.)

There may not be reason to panic, but there are certainly reasons for alarm. After 20 years in which it was almost unimaginable, it seems like a major war in Europe, with shots potentially being fired between Russia and NATO, is once again a possibility.

"If the wrong decisions are made now, they could nullify decades of work furthering the freedom and security of Europe," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) told SPIEGEL in an interview. Norbert Röttgen, a member of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, said, "The situation is getting increasingly threatening." His counterpart in the European Parliament, Elmar Brok of the CDU, also warned, "There is a danger of war, and that's why we now need to get very serious about working on a diplomatic solution."

'Against the Law and without Justification'

Friday's events demonstrated just how quickly a country can be pulled into this conflict. That's when pro-Russian separatists seized control of a bus carrying military observers with the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and detained the officials. As of Tuesday, seven observers were still in detention, including four Germans -- three members of the Bundeswehr armed forces and one interpreter.

The same day, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the de facto mayor of Slavyansk, told the Interfax news agency that no talks would be held on the detained observers, whom he has referred to as "prisoners of war," if sanctions against rebel leaders remain in place. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, condemned the detentions, describing them as "against the law and without justification." He called for the detainees to be released, "immediately, unconditionally and unharmed." German officials have also asked the Russian government "to act publicly and internally for their release."

The irony that these developments and this new threat of war comes in 2014 -- the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I and the 75th of the start of World War II -- has not been lost on anyone. For years, a thinking had prevailed on the Continent that Europe had liberated itself from the burdens of its history and that it had become a global role model with its politics of reconciliation. But the Ukraine crisis demonstrates that this is no longer the case.

'All Signs Point to an Armed Conflict'

The question now becomes: How far will events in Ukraine go? Fausten, the retired school principal, says he doesn't believe they will lead to war. "The Ukrainians and Russians are still grappling with the aftermath of the world wars," he says. "I can't imagine that the Russians will allow this to come to that."

Others in Germany are beginning to fear the worst. Pastor Heribert Dölle, 57, of the Catholic Church parish in Düsseldorf's Derendorf and Pempelfort districts, has been gathering other impressions. One of the churches in the parish is shared by Düsseldorf's Catholics and Ukrainian Christians. "It feels almost as if we are experiencing the conflict right at our front doors," Dölle says. "We know each other and fears about what is happening right now in Russia and Ukraine are rising."

In Berlin, Christian Mengel is just one of the droves of tourists who continued to make their way to the capital city's dramatic Soviet War Memorial. "All signs point to an armed conflict, but I do not believe that NATO will intervene and I certainly hope they do not," he says. Visitor Hans Pflanz echoes his sentiment. "I'm afraid that this conflict could expand into an international crisis," he says. "I think our politicians don't understand the Russians' intentions and motives." He says he would prefer the West to remain acquiescent to Russia-- an opinion shared by the majority of Germans, according to pollsters.

Germany Harbors Unique Fear of War

Since 1945, Germany has been been particularly afflicted by worries about wars. As in other countries, millions of Germans died on the fronts and in the cities during the two world wars, but here, an additional factor has weighed heavily: guilt. Even today, Germans remain uncertain whether the Prussian militarism and unconscionable obedience that influenced the country during those wars has been banished entirely or whether it might rear its ugly head again in a time of crisis. Postwar Germans have and continue to long for peace, partly to remain so with themselves.

Germany's fear of war has provided the country with a fertile soil for pacifism. Over the past decades, the German peace movement has fought against the arming of the German Air Force with nuclear weapons as well as plans for the stationing of middle-range missiles by NATO in the 1980s.

The protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s and again during the first Iraq War in 1991 were always infused with some anti-American sentiment. The peace movement's fear of war led it to consistently demand peace from NATO and the West, but when it came to the Soviet Union, its efforts tended to range from friendly to indifferent.

Since the 1970s, peace marches have taken place during the Easter Holiday in Germany and other parts of Europe. It's an important annual event for pacifists, but this year only a few thousand people turned out for them in Germany: Neither Putin's aggressions nor NATO's reactions to them seem to have done much to awaken the slumbering peace movement. Nevertheless, the pacifist mentality is still alive and well. "War is crap. I'd rather stuff flowers into rifle barrels," German film and theater director Leander Haussmann says of the current crisis.

Three-Quarters of Germans Oppose NATO Intervention

Three-quarters of all Germans oppose a military intervention by NATO in the Ukraine crisis and one-third say they can sympathize with Putin's decision to annex Crimea. These sentiments, it seems, stem at least in part from Germans' latent fear of war.

Prominent German political scientist Herfried Münkler uses his theories of "heroic" and "postheroic" societies to describe the phenomenon. At the recent Petersburg Dialogue in Leipzig -- an important forum between Germany and Russia that has brought together representatives of the worlds of politics, culture and business since 2001 -- Münkler said this "postheroism" is essentially an expression of prosperity, the German daily Die Tageszeitung reported. Those who have it good don't want to jeopardize their good fortune.

Münkler argues that, as a rule of thumb, there's an ideal of "heroism of masculinity" in poorer and less developed counties in which notions of war and defense of the homeland are idealized. In "postheroic" societies, however, which tend to be well-developed and prosperous, war is deemed to be aberrant. According to the newspaper, he argued that Eastern Europe isn't prosperous enough to discourage young men from this idea of heroism. Indeed, politicians can often profit if they are able to tap these emotions. When it comes to Putin's policies, he argues, this heroism aspect makes the situation unpredictable. "Dynamics are being toyed with that, at some point, will no longer be controllable," he said.

That sense of heroism was recently on display on Maidan Square in Kiev, where, five months ago. the current crisis began. There, three men stood in front of a barrel on a sunny spring day and used their powerful voices to sing an impassioned song about the "Cossacks' blood-bought glory" and the "Moskaly," a pejorative for Russians. "When the Moskaly cross the border, we'll finish them off," says Dmytro, a 30-year-old whose head has been shaved clean, save for a small tail. He says an invasion by the Russians is only a matter of time, but that his people will be undefeatable if it comes to war. "A Ukrainian with a tail on his head like mine and a weapon in his hand will sit behind every bush," he says.

Germany's Allies Less Timid than Berlin

Although most people would argue it's a good thing that postwar Germany has overcome this kind of "masculine" thinking, some might argue that the country has swung too far toward the opposite end of the spectrum. Germany still plays a major role in global politics, including with the Ukrainians and the Russians, but it is far more timid than some of its most important Western allies.

The French are less anxious about military conflict than the Germans, largely because they have often deployed their military in Africa and thus gotten used to war. The French, just like the British, also feel they are in a good position to defend themselves because they possess nuclear weapons. The Germans, on the other hand, are reliant on others' such weapons, which further feeds domestic sensitivities. They have a particularly tough time lending their full trust to the Americans, whom they have repeatedly perceived to be acting imperialistically -- as a result, many Germans worry the US might drag them into its dirty business.

So far, much of the escalation in this crisis has happened in the diplomatic sphere, with cancelled meetings and threats of sanctions, but there have also been military movements. Last week, the US said it would deploy 600 soldiers to Poland and the Baltic states for exercises, a move it made without NATO's preemptive approval, and the Russians are now conducting maneuvers right on the other side of the Ukrainian border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned last week, "An attack against Russians is an attack against Russia." Those are the kinds of comments that could later be used to justify an intervention. They also subtly demonstrate how the threat of war is growing.

'Security Is Threatened'

These days, Germany is in a much better position than during the Cold War. Back then, the two German nations were frontline states and had the potential to become the site of the first battles if a conventional war broke out. Today, that role would most likely fall to the Ukrainians, the Poles and the Baltic states.

It's a role that pleases few in the East. "Basically, there is a feeling in Poland that, for the first time since 1989, our security is threatened," says Polish diplomat Janusz Reiter, who served as ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1995. Reiter says it's not so much a fear of being "affected by an imminent military threat," as the return of a feeling that Poland is living in the shadow of its giant neighbor -- one that is prepared to use force to alter Europe's borders or plunge a country like Ukraine into a civil war.

Countries in the region have plenty of unpleasant memories of when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians experienced the Soviet Union as an occupying force during World War II. In 1956, Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian uprising. Again in 1968, it was the Soviet Union's tanks that quashed the Prague Spring. Given that history, these countries have considerable difficulty overcoming the suspicion that Moscow is seeking to reclaim its former greatness.

The Baltic states are also home to sizeable populations of ethnic Russians. Six percent of the population of Lithuania is Russian; in Latvia and Estonia, the minority represents more than a quarter of the total population. So far, the Baltic Russians have remained loyal to their countries -- there aren't any splinter parties calling for annexation by Russia.

Nevertheless, governments in the region worry that their Russian populations could allow themselves to get pulled into the conflict. The governments of Latvia and Lithuania have shut down transmitting stations for the Russian-language broadcaster Russia RTR because it is sponsored by Moscow. Plans are afoot now to establish an independent Russian-language station for the region.

Parallels to Conflicts in Former Yugoslavia?

Czech President Milos Zeman said last week that he sees a bloody scenario brewing in Ukraine similar to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia assume that thousands of refugees will flee if the violence escalates.

As terrible as the Yugoslav wars were, they at least remained regional in scope, partly because the Russians refrained from intervening militarily and because the Americans also force to ensure that the fighting ended. This time the situation is more complicated. The Russians are engaged militarily, and if the Americans attacked, it would become a war between the superpower and a major power.

At the same time, it's unlikely the Americans will intervene. After 10 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has become weary of war. Many Americans are also only marginally interested in Ukraine and -- despite warnings from members of the Republican Party who are busy conjuring up the return of the Cold War -- have lost the sense that Russia poses any kind of immediate threat. In the American media, the Ukraine crisis is just one story among many. CNN recently gave heavier play to the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Despite lukewarm interest on the part of most Americans, the Ukraine crisis represents a true political dilemma for President Obama. He views his own country as unprepared to make sacrifices for Ukraine, but with a desire for a strong president who can be tough in global flare-ups.

Among those demanding a firmer approach is former Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He bemoans that Obama is gambling away the United States' reputation as the world's last superpower. "This administration, I have never seen anything like it in my life," McCain said in an interview last week with the Wall Street Journal. "It's passive," he criticized. "Vladimir Putin understands peace through strength and nothing else. And so far we've made a lot of threats and done almost nothing."

The most likely scenario is a maintenance of the status quo -- in which Ukraine slips into a state of civil war that fuels Russia, leading the West to respond with economic sanctions, but little, if anything, more.

That scenario might be more palatable for many in the West, since it would spare them from going to war. But it wouldn't spare them moral culpability if bloodshed occurred on European soil.

Memories of World War I

Perhaps the most reasonable words at the moment are those coming from Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. "We should stick to our double strategy," he says. "We should continue to maintain diplomatic contacts with Russia, but we should also be prepared for another round of sanctions if necessary."

The prospect of civil war in Ukraine is also fraught with the danger that the conflict could explode and spill across the borders of its Western neighbors. Then Article 5 of the NATO charter would have to be invoked, requiring all members to come to the defense of a member under attack. By then, at the very latest, Germany would also be pulled in to the conflict.

The head of Germany's Protestant Church even offers words addressing such extreme scenarios. "With threats of war, flexing of military muscles and increasingly aggressive rhetoric, Christians around the world are viewing this conflict with the deepest concern," says Nikolaus Schneider, chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKG).

"As the Protestant Church in Germany, in 2014," he says, "we are thinking very intensely back to 1914" -- the year World War I broke out,

BY JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, MORITZ GATHMANN, MARC HUJER, DIRK KURBJUWEIT, PAUL MIDDELHOFF, PETER MÜLLER, JAN PUHL, BARBARA SCHMID AND PETER WENSIERSKI

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey

**************
John Kerry rips into 'Snorting Pig Putin's Russia' over Ukraine crisis

US secretary of state says Kremlin bent on reshaping region's security landscape and warns: 'Nato territory is inviolable'

Agence France-Presse in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 05.46 BST   

Russia was seeking to "change the security landscape of eastern Europe", John Kerry said on Tuesday, calling on Moscow "to leave Ukraine in peace."

Speaking at an event about US-Europe ties at the Atlantic Council think-tank, the US secretary of state warned that "Nato territory is inviolable", adding: "We will defend every single piece of it."

"The events in Ukraine are a wake-up call," Kerry said as fresh violence erupted in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday when thousands of pro-Russian protesters stormed key buildings in the city of Lugansk.

"Our European allies have spent more than 20 years with us working to integrate Russia into the Euro-Atlantic community. It is not as if we really haven't bent over backwards to try to set a new course in the post-Cold War era," he said.

"What Russia's actions in Ukraine tell us is that today President Pig Putin's Russia is playing by a different set of rules.

"Through its occupation of Crimea and its subsequent destabilisation of eastern Ukraine Russia seeks to change the security landscape of eastern and central Europe.

"So we find ourselves in a defining moment for our transatlantic alliance – and nobody should mistake that – and we are prepared to do what we need to do, and to go the distance to uphold that alliance.

"Our strength will come from our unity. Together we have to push back against those who want to try to change sovereign borders by force."

***************

Ukraine crisis: Kiev powerless as east slips out of its control

Pro-Russian crowd seizes control of state buildings in Horlivka, while Donetsk looks likely to declare autonomy after May vote

Luke Harding in Donetsk
The Guardian, Wednesday 30 April 2014     

Link to video: Donetsk in east Ukraine rocked by violent clashes

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/apr/29/donetsk-east-ukraine-violent-clashes-video

Ukraine's beleaguered government appears to have lost control of law and order in the east of the country as pro-Russian separatists seized control of state buildings in Horlivka, almost unopposed by police.

The town of almost 300,000 people sits just north of Donetsk, where mainly Russian-speaking separatists have declared a 'People's Republic' and plan a referendum on secession on 11 May.

"They've taken them. The government administration and police," a police official in Donetsk told Reuters.

On Tuesday, 3,000 activists – some in masks and military fatigues – stormed the regional government HQ in the eastern city of Luhansk. Police supposed to guard the building let the crowd inside. A pro-Russian militia had occupied the security service office in Luhansk, a town of 465,000, just 20 miles (32km) from the Russian border.

The unwillingness of security structures to defend public buildings from separatist occupation has been a theme in eastern Ukraine since early April. Supporters of the "Donetsk People's Republic" have taken over a string of city halls and police stations. An armed unit from Crimea – led by an alleged Russian colonel – has also established a de facto military capital in the town of Slavyansk.

But in recent days Kiev's tentative grip on local law enforcement in the east appears to have slipped completely. In Luhansk riot police stood passively in a courtyard, kettled in by separatists armed with bats and hammers. "The regional leadership does not control its police force," Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters. "The local police did nothing."

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said: "The vast majority of law enforcement officials in the east are not able to fulfil their obligation to protect our citizens."

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said the events represented a "wake-up call". He called on Russia to "leave Ukraine in peace" and warned that Nato would not accept efforts by the Kremlin to reshape the region's security landscape.

On Monday in Donetsk another contingent of riot police in full battle gear looked on as pro-Russian thugs attacked a peaceful pro-unity rally. The separatists beat Ukraine supporters with iron rods. Fourteen people needed hospital treatment. Two were seriously injured. The mob also took five hostages, supporters of the city's Shakhtar Donetsk football team who had formed a protective cordon at the front of the rally. The five were taken to an office near Donetsk's occupied regional administration. They were eventually released on Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, seven or eight police officers in light blue uniforms stood outside the office where the hostages had been kept. The scene was peaceful. A few feet away volunteers from the "Donetsk People's Republic", dressed in military fatigues, guarded the entrance. They wore orange and black ribbons, the symbols of the "republic's" anti-Kiev revolution. The two groups appeared to be on friendly terms.

Asked if the police had gone over to the separatists, the captain in charge, Yevgeny, said: "Among the police there are different opinions. Obviously our job is to uphold the law and apply it neutrally."

The "republic" has announced its own referendum on the region's future, to be held on 11 May. "I don't make any secret of the fact that I'm for a referendum," Yevgeny added. Another policeman chipped in: "We'll take part. Personally I'm for Russia".

The police were reluctant to talk about the bloody events of the previous night, when they failed to protect civilians from attack. But one officer who was there said: "This situation is all Kiev's fault. They say we in the east are slaves, half-humans. They revere people like Stepan Bandera [the second world war Ukrainian nationalist leader] who shot our brothers. We are normal citizens like everyone else."

Standing next to their patrol car, still striped with Ukraine's blue and yellow colours, the officers reeled off a list of grievances. These included low pay – $200-$250 (£120) a month. (One policewoman, Svetlana, said: "I'm supposed to give my life for this. Who is going to come to my mother afterwards and say "thanks for your daughter?") They also complained that a mistrustful Kiev had confiscated their service revolvers three weeks ago. "I can't exactly defend myself," Yevgeny said, showing off his empty holster.

The captain said he was one of 400 Donetsk region police officers sent to the capital to deal with anti-Yanukovych demonstrations, which began last November. The experience had left him bitterly disillusioned. He had nothing but contempt for the new government, part-formed from the protest movement, he said. Other officers who had not been in Kiev repeated claims made by Russian TV that the Maidan protesters were paid narco-maniacs, and unemployed "fascists".

The police even had sympathy for pro-Russian gunmen in Slavyansk, who are holding 40 people prisoner, including seven European military observers. One officer said: "Kiev started all this by arresting our activists. They [in Slavyansk] are merely defending their rights."

The US embassy in Kiev said on Tuesday the abduction of the OSCE inspectors and the attack on demonstrators by pro-Russian thugs in Donetsk on Monday were acts of terrorism.

"There is no place for these examples of inhuman behaviour in a modern, democratic society. This is terrorism, pure and simple," it said in a statement.

On Tuesday the EU followed the US in widening sanctions, naming a further 15 people it is targeting because of their roles in the Ukraine crisis. The list included General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff and first deputy defence minister, and Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, identified as the head of GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, dismissed the new sanctions. "We reject the sanctions … imposed by the United States and the European Union against all common sense, in relation to the events in Ukraine."

Russian president Vladimir Putin said Moscow saw no need for counter sanctions against the west, but could reconsider the participation of western companies in its economy, including energy projects.

"We would very much wish not to resort to any measures in response. I hope we won't get to that point," he told reporters after meeting the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan. "But if something like that continues, we will of course have to think about who is working in the key sectors of the Russian economy, including the energy sector, and how."

THe US secretary of state John Kerry accused Moscow of accelerating the crisis in Ukraine instead of sticking to an agreement to ratchet back tensions, and said Nato partners should step up efforts to lessen Europe's energy dependence on Russian oil.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council think-tank, Kerry said Nato is facing a defining moment in the strength of its alliance. He pledged anew that Nato partners including those that border Ukraine or Russia would be defended to the hilt if their sovereignty is threatened. "Nato territory is inviolable," Kerry said in his 20-minute speech. "We will defend every single piece of it."

One pro-Russian activist, 39-year-old Igor Vasilyovich, said at least half of the local police supported the cause. "They understand that without Russia we can't live properly," he said. Igor admitted that not everybody in Donetsk – population one million – was an enthusiast for the new unelected "republic". "We're the active minority. We'll lead the passive majority," he said. But what if the "republic" didn't succeed? "Then we'll start a partisan war," he replied.

Serhiy Taruta, the new governor sent by Kiev to head the Donetsk region, admits that the police and security services in the east are not doing their job. His officials attribute this to what they call "post-Maidan syndrome".

Many were sent to the capital, and were told that the protesters in Kiev were their enemies. Now back in the east, the same enemies are running the country. They are also unsure whether Viktor Yanukovych – the president who fled to Russia – might come back again.

One official said: "They [the police in the east] feel a mental fight over who is their master. The problem is they are not sure if it is Kiev, or Yanukovych and his family. We've had a lot of conversations with commanders and officers. They are people from here, and they feel angry and afraid."

The official said the Donetsk police were acutely aware that the Russian police salary was $2,000 – 10 times higher than their own. They also regarded the Berkut riot police – disbanded for their alleged role in the shooing of Maidan protesters – as local heroes. The Donetsk police chief Konstantin Pozhidaev was doing all he could, the official said, conceding: "It will take more time to achieve meaningful order."

With a separatist referendum looming, Donetsk's pro-Kiev administrators have little time left. Much of the region is unlikely to vote in this "poll", but that will probably not deter the "People's Republic" from declaring an overwhelming victory. One self-appointed "deputy", Anatoly Aneshenko, said on Tuesday the oblast or region was certain to declare autonomy.

What would happen to those who opposed this outcome? "Well, they can leave," he said.

***************

Pig Warns West over Restive Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 10:28

Russia and the United States stepped up their rhetoric over the spiraling crisis in Ukraine, as pro-Moscow militants shored up control of key buildings in the country's increasingly chaotic east Wednesday.

President Vladimir Putin threatened that U.S. sanctions against Moscow could harm Western energy interests in Russia, which the West blames for stoking the worst confrontation since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hit back, urging Moscow to "leave Ukraine in peace" and vowing to "defend every single inch" of NATO territory. Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but several of its neighbors are.

Meanwhile, unrest in the eastern regions of the ex-Soviet republic continued to seethe as pro-Russia rebels, spearheaded by a heavily armed mob, took control of the police station in Lugansk after a stand-off with tear gas and shots fired.

Police had tried to hold off an angry mob of some 1,000 demonstrators with grenades and tear gas but eventually turned over their headquarters and weapons to the rebels.

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov lashed out at what he called the "inaction" and in some cases "treachery" of the police services in the east.

Lugansk is one of more than a dozen towns in the east of the country that have fallen under the control of the rebels, who do not recognise what they see as the "fascist" Western-backed authorities in Kiev.

Speaking at a regional summit in Minsk late Tuesday, Putin reiterated his denial that Moscow's troops were involved in the violence in eastern Ukraine.

"There are neither Russian instructors, nor special units, nor troops there," said Putin.

And he hit back at Western sanctions against Russia, unveiled on Monday, warning that foreign companies operating in the lucrative Russian energy market could suffer as a result.

"If this continues, we will of course have to think about how (foreign companies) work in the Russian Federation, including in key sectors of the Russian economy such as energy," Putin told reporters.

Putin's comments threaten the operations of some of the world's biggest energy companies in the resource-rich state -- once viewed as a reliable alternative to unstable natural gas and oil producing countries in the Middle East.

Among those targeted by the U.S. sanctions is the president of Rosneft, Russia's top petroleum company and one of the world's largest publicly traded oil companies.

The EU said talks with Russia and Ukraine will take place in Warsaw on Friday to try to resolve a $3.5-billion gas bill Gazprom calculates Kiev owes. Putin has threatened to cut off the gas flow to Ukraine if it is not quickly paid.

Russian officials have accused the United States of wanting to reinstitute "Iron Curtain"-style policies with the sanctions and warned they could "boomerang" back to hurt them.

U.S. moves to restrict high-tech exports to Russia appeared to cause particular fury, with Moscow warning Washington was "exposing their astronauts on the ISS".

The International Space Station is operated jointly by Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada and relies on Russian rockets to get to it.

Moscow has also taken aim at Japan and the European Union, which it accused of "doing Washington's bidding" as it joined in the coordinated sanctions push.

And the fear of a Russian invasion of its neighbor still looms large, with NATO saying there was no indication Moscow was making good on its pledge to pull back its tens of thousands of troops from the border.

The Pentagon is looking at additional support measures for its eastern European NATO allies increasingly worried over Russia's military actions.

In particular, the U.S. is planning to beef up training exercises planned for June in the Baltic states.

Separately, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma at the White House and underscored Washington's "iron-clad commitment" to the collective defense of its NATO allies, the White House said in a statement.

Russian media reported that Putin could travel to the annexed territory of Crimea on May 9 -- two days before rebel-held towns in east Ukraine plan to follow in its footsteps by holding an independence referendum.

In a small chink of light amid what EU foreign policy supremo Catherine Ashton called a "downward spiral of violence and intimidation", there were hopes a team of kidnapped international monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe could soon be freed.

The rebel leader in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk said late Tuesday that there had been "good progress" in frantic talks to free the seven European officials and hoped for a "positive outcome".

"Negotiations are continuing," a rebel spokeswoman told reporters on Wednesday.

The head of the OSCE was in Kiev on Tuesday for negotiations. The head of the Council of Europe and the Austrian foreign minister were expected in the Ukrainian capital later Wednesday.

Putin said he hoped the OSCE team's situation "will be resolved and that they are able to freely leave the territory (of Ukraine)".

But he laid the blame for the detentions squarely at Kiev's door.

"All those involved in what happened should draw corresponding conclusions from what happened," said Putin.

"If the government -- or those who now call themselves the government -- invited some sort of observers... then these (observers) should have understood that they were entering a conflict zone, a region of the country that does not recognize the authorities' legitimacy," he said.

"They should have thought about that in advance, and agreed (their mission) with the people who control this territory."

The crisis in Ukraine has slipped rapidly into a global confrontation since February when Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych was forced out after months of increasingly bloody protests.

****************

Reports: Pig to Visit Crimea for May 9 Military Parade

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 13:54

President Pig Putin will make his first visit to the Crimean peninsula since Russia annexed the territory in March, reports said Wednesday, in a move to bolster public support amid simmering tensions in Ukraine.

Russian dailies Kommersant and Gazeta.ru reported Putin could attend a May 9 military parade marking victory in World War II in Sevastopol, which hosts the Black Sea fleet.

The trip to Sevastopol "is on the agenda, the issue has to be confirmed with the Kremlin administration," a high-ranking source in the defense ministry told Kommersant.

Pig could fly to Crimea after overseeing the country's main military parade on Red Square, marking 69 years since Nazi Germany surrendered its forces, the reports said.

The reports said Pig could travel with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in a rare joint trip.

Russia and the other ex-Soviet states celebrate victory in World War II on May 9. Putin has often used Soviet Union's World War II victory to boost patriotism and domestic support.

The crisis in Ukraine, which has pushed Russian relations with the West to lows not seen since the end of the Cold War, has also featured World War II rhetoric.

Moscow has frequently dismissed the pro-Western government in Kiev as "Nazis" and "Fascists".

And Russia said the Kiev authorities admire a war-time nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who proclaimed an independent Ukrainian state that would work with Nazi Germany.

He is hated by Russians for collaborating with the Nazis but remains a hero to some Ukrainian nationalists.


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EU Firms Help Power China's Military Rise

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 06:59

As China boosts its military spending, rattling neighbors over territorial disputes at sea, an Agence France Presse investigation shows that European countries have approved billions in transfers of weapons and military-ready technology to the Asian giant.

China's air force relies on French-designed helicopters, while submarines and frigates involved in Beijing's physical assertion of its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea are powered by German and French engines -- part of a separate trade in "dual use" technology to Beijing's armed forces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced stepped-up production of the Airbus EC175 helicopter in China during his visit to France this month -- a deal analysts said could result in technology transfers to the military.

"European exports are very important for the Chinese military," said Andrei Chang, editor of the Hong Kong-based Kanwa Asian Defense Review.

"Without European technology, the Chinese navy would not be able to move."

The European Union imposed an arms embargo on China after its army killed many demonstrators in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. But member states are free to interpret the embargo loosely, analysts say.

The exports have generated friction with the United States -- which does not export arms to Beijing -- along with criticism from activists pointing to human rights violations and analysts citing regional security concerns.

An EU spokesman said in a statement that "the final decision to authorise or deny the (arms) export is the responsibility of EU member states".

- Vessels of war -

China -- the world's second largest military spender -- last month announced the latest of many double-digit rises in its official defense budget.

EU arms makers received licences to export equipment worth three billion euros ($4.1 billion) to China in the decade to 2012, according to annual EU reports on the trade.

The most recent said arms exports worth 173 million euros were approved in 2012, with France issuing more than 80 percent of them by value. A French parliamentary report said the country delivered China arms worth 104 million euros.

Most of the sum was accounted for by the production of Airbus helicopters in China for use by China's military, according to analysts from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which monitors arms transfers.

Other EU licences included almost three million euros' worth of "smooth-bore weapons" and accessories, approved for export by Britain, and nearly 18 million euros' worth of "vessels of war" or their accessories and components, authorised by the Netherlands.

Most of Beijing's military imports last year came from Russia while France, Britain and Germany supplied 18 percent, SIPRI estimates.

- 'Very lax, very loose' -

China is on track to become a major military power.

While it calls its expanding capabilities peaceful and aimed at self-defence, relations with its neighbours have soured in recent years, especially rival Japan, with experts warning of potentially dangerous escalations if either side miscalculates.

Tensions spiked last year when a Jiangwei-class Chinese frigate was among the vessels Tokyo accused of locking fire-control radar on a destroyer and a helicopter near disputed islands seen as a potential flashpoint, an allegation Beijing denied.

Military experts believe the ship relies on diesel engines produced by German firm MTU.

Another accused ship, a Jiangkai-class vessel, uses engines made by SEMT Pielstick, a French diesel engine manufacturer owned by German firm MAN Diesel and Turbo, according to analysts and specifications posted on Chinese military websites.

MAN told AFP that its Chinese licensees have supplied about 250 engines to China's navy.

MTU said it "acts strictly according to the German export laws", without elaborating.

The engines are exported as "dual use" -- having civilian and potential military applications -- so are exempt from the EU arms embargo.

Beijing's military has acquired an array of such items, including software used to design fighter jets, from Europe over the past decade.

German-designed engines chosen for their quietness power virtually all non-nuclear Chinese submarines and several classes of Chinese frigates deployed in the South China Sea, where Beijing has a host of territorial disputes, analysts say.

Citing the co-production deal signed in France, Chang said: "China uses the name of civil purchase to purchase French helicopter engines, and they shift those engines into military helicopters."

"If (China) knows how to design the middle-sized EC175, they will know how to design a middle-sized military transport helicopter."

China's recent military helicopters "appear to just be upgrades" of Airbus designs, said Roger Cliff, military analyst at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council.

Airbus directed inquiries to its helicopter division, which did not respond.

Bernadette Andreosso, director of European studies at Ireland's University of Limerick, described Europe's dual-use export controls as "very lax, very loose".

European countries face a dilemma, analysts said.

"China represents much more of a threat today to stability in the Pacific and elsewhere," said Andreosso. "We might have to sacrifice some of our competitiveness to have greater security."

- Trading values for arms? -

Arms exports have created tension between the EU and U.S., analysts say, and according to SIPRI the U.S. has not exported any arms to China in any of the recent years for which it has data.

China's defense ministry declined to comment.

Campaigners also worry about human rights in China, which jails dissidents and deploys troops in sensitive areas including Tibet.

"The EU is supposed to be based on the promotion of human rights and democracy, but all too often these values are overridden in the name of short-term profits for arms companies," said Andrew Smith, of the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Emil Kirchner, an EU policy expert at Britain's University of Essex, said East Asian tensions meant the exports could eventually damage EU interests.

"Already, cynics claim that if the People’s Liberation Army went to war tomorrow, it would employ an arsenal filled with equipment from Germany, France and Britain," he said.


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« Reply #13161 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Erdogan Denies Armenian Massacre Constituted 'Genocide'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 18:38

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied the World War I killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide, just days after his government offered condolences over the massacres for the first time.

"This is not possible because if such a genocide had been the case, would there have been Armenians living in this country?" Erdogan told U.S. broadcaster PBS on Monday.

"We are a people who think genocide is a crime against humanity and we would never turn a blind eye to such action," he added.

Erdogan last week offered his condolences over the 1915 massacre, calling it "our shared pain" in a statement marking the 99th anniversary of the start of the killings and mass deportations -- an unprecedented move described by the United States as a historic gesture.

Armenia dismissed the statement, accusing Ankara of "utter denial."

Using both diplomatic levers and its influential diaspora abroad, Armenia has long sought to win the massacre's international recognition as genocide.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries.

Turkey argues 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers siding with invading Russian troops.

**************

Turkey Prosecutors Launch Probe of PM Foe Gulen

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 14:49

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation into a U.S.-based cleric on charges of attempting a coup after the government accused him of masterminding a vast corruption scandal, an official said Wednesday.

Culture Minister Omer Celik told the private NTV television network that the Ankara chief prosecutor's office had launched the probe after several complaints against Fetullah Gulen, a former ruling-party ally whom Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running a "parallel state".

"There are serious accusations including espionage. We see that they (followers of Gulen) formed a state within a state and wiretapped even the most private government meetings," Celik said.

Gulen is being charged with "attempting to destroy the Turkish government, or to partially or completely prevent its functioning" and forming and running a criminal organization, according to the NTV report.

Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey would seek Gulen's extradition from its NATO ally the United States.

Turkey's powerful premier, who has dominated politics for 11 years, has repeatedly accused Gulen's followers in the police and judiciary of engineering the corruption scandal that has ensnared his government as well as a string of damaging leaks in the media.

The prime minister retaliated by sacking thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges.

The influential cleric, who was forced to flee the country in 1999 after he was accused of plotting against the government of the time, has denied being behind the corruption scandal.

Celik said Wednesday the accusations should be dealt with as a national security problem.



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« Reply #13162 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:18 AM »


Prisons across Europe: lessons to be learned from UK's neighbours

Prison populations have fallen in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany but elsewhere it is a mixed picture

Sabine Cessou in Amsterdam and Jannat Jalil in Paris
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 April 2014 20.00 BST      

The Netherlands has more prison staff than prisoners. Sweden is shutting down jails because prisoner numbers have fallen by 10% in under a decade. In Germany, the decline is even starker: a fall of almost 20% since 2005.

In the Netherlands, almost half of all prison capacity is empty. "Community service sentences are one the main reasons," says a spokesperson for the National Agency of Correctional Institutions. Since 2001, courts have replaced short-term jail sentences with community service. For any jail sentence of less than eight months, a four-month community service sentence has to be served instead, for instance in the kitchen of public hospitals.

Electronic tagging will also become more widespread, as the Dutch emulate Britain in one key aspect: trying to reduce costs. Eight out of 85 Dutch prisons are to be closed by 2018, with 3,700 jobs axed.

A new law is also under consideration to make prisoners pay for part of their stay in Dutch jails. If adopted, this law could make all prisoners or their relatives pay a flat rate of €16 (£13) a night by 2015.

Prisons could also be put up for rent: Belgium has shown interest in the overcapacity in Dutch prisons, asking to rent cells. Under a temporary agreement struck in 2009 for €30m, 650 Belgian criminals are kept behind bars in the Netherlands.

Sweden is also slashing capacity because of falling prisoner numbers. Four jails were shut last year. Using probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor offences is thought to be playing a role.

Elsewhere, it's a mixed picture. Prison numbers are soaring in Turkey and Italy. In France, they have risen more than 30% since 2003, according to Eurostat. Much of the rise is due to harsher sentences, ordered by politicians such as the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who introduced mandatory minimum terms for repeat offenders.

France is home to Europe's biggest prison, at Fleury-Mérogis, which houses 3,800 prisoners, and its experience of large jails may be instructive for the UK. Fleury-Mérogis is now regarded as difficult to run because of its huge size and impersonal nature. It is split into sections to make it easier to manage inmates, but staff still complain it's hard to deal with so many prisoners.

The suicide rate in French jails is one of the highest in Europe, with about 100 deaths a year, according to the latest figures. Dr Louis Albrand, who wrote a government-commissioned report on prison suicides, said he told the authorities they needed smaller, more humane jails, where prison staff know the inmates and can help them keep in touch with families and employers on the outside: "In France, we have immense and inhumane prisons. The larger a prison is, the more inhumane it is. The suicide rate is higher in big prisons, there are twice as many suicides there."

France is not planning to build any more super-prisons to tackle its overcrowding crisis.

"British prisons are much better. In the UK there is more rehabilitation, and prisoners can retain more dignity," said Dr Albrand.

When asked what he thought of the British plan to build super-prisons, he replied "It's a very bad idea."


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« Reply #13163 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:20 AM »


Scotland is getting its referendum – next up Catalonia

My people must have the democratic right to decide on independence from Spain

Artur Mas   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 09.00 BST   
   
The Spanish parliament's rejection earlier this month of Catalonia's request for delegated powers to hold a referendum on our country's future came as no surprise. What happened in Madrid was exactly the opposite of what occurred in London when the UK government granted Scotland's request for a referendum without questioning the Scottish people's right to decide, despite its strong desire to keep Scotland within the UK. That is how democracies work.

But Spain's ruling party, the PP, has held to a steady course, of recentralising power to Madrid. It was the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who referred Catalonia's statute of autonomy to the Spanish constitutional court, which struck down some of its most important provisions; his government has stripped away powers that had been devolved to autonomous governments; his education minister has even spoken of the need to "Hispanicise" Catalan children.

As a result of Spain's recent policies, the desire for a vote on the future of our country – of putting our status to the test of democracy – has developed deep roots among the Catalan people. This is no elite vanity project. More than a million and a half people, a fifth of our population, joined hands from the north to the south of Catalonia last September calling for the right to decide their own future. Opinion polls show that popular support for such a vote has stabilised at around 80%. Almost two-thirds of the members of our parliament supported the request for delegated powers to hold the referendum. Although Madrid has rejected that, we are not disheartened. We will continue to move forward to fulfil the wishes of our people.

We do not seek a flawed Crimea-style vote. We want a legal process by which our people can express their wishes. We were morally obliged to give the institutions of the Spanish state an opportunity to engage with Catalonia's wishes. And although one of the procedural paths to that goal has now been closed off by the Spanish Congress's vote, other options remain.

To be very specific, the Law of Consultations, now being finalised in the Catalan parliament, will establish a legal path to hold a non-binding vote under our Statute of Autonomy, which is also a Spanish law that permits this. That popular consultation will take place on 9 November, asking a two-part question: "Do you want Catalonia to become a state? If so, do you want this state to be independent?"

This date and question have the support of six different political parties represented in parliament. If Madrid has an alternative proposition to put to our people, we will of course ensure that it is also included on the ballot paper. This process will be legal, transparent and democratic.

In a modern democracy there really should be no problem with having an open discussion of all options, which concludes by actually asking our people what future they want for our country. The UK has shown how these questions can be addressed, devolving the powers to allow Scotland to hold its September referendum on independence, the option that Madrid has rejected for us. In Europe, in the 21st century, it is better to find a political solution to a political problem than to hide behind legal arguments and threats. We want dialogue with Madrid; we are ready for a discussion without preconditions or artificial limits.

Let us be clear. Catalans have been European since the beginning of our history and we want to remain in the European Union. Yet we have been told that an independent Catalonia will be kept out of the EU "for ever". Does this mean that Spain will go to the European council, inform the other 27 EU member states that Catalonia is independent, and propose that the EU must therefore expel Catalonia? Given the longstanding and close economic, cultural and personal links between our country and the rest of Europe, is it really credible to believe that the other 27 EU member states will prefer to expel Catalonia than to keep us? Some EU leaders, who rely on co-operation with Madrid for their day-to-day work, will say what they must say; but other experts take a different view. We believe that a pragmatic solution for Catalonia to remain in the EU, which satisfies everyone, can and will be found when the time comes.

Madrid's rejection of our request to hold a referendum is not the end, but just the next step along the legal, democratic and peaceful road to let Catalonia's people exercise our rights and vote on our own future.


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« Reply #13164 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:24 AM »


Iraq election holds little hope of change for town scarred by decade of war

As the country prepares to go the polls for the third time since the fall of Saddam Hussein and after its deadliest period in five years, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad finds the people of Buhriz fighting a new wave of insurgents – and for their lives

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Buhriz
The Guardian, Tuesday
29 April 2014 16.19 BST   

Thursday night in Buhriz, and spring has sprung. In the garden of a retired security officer a group of men, sitting around a plastic table in the middle of a lush garden, are debating matters of horticulture. "The garden had three lemon trees before he came to the house," says one of the guests – a balding man with a mischievous grin. "He cut them down and replaced them with roses; look, so many roses."

The mood is relaxed and the ex-security officer, once a feared man, smiles with satisfaction. These days he spends most of his time in the garden, tending to his shrubs and roses. In the distance a helicopter draws wide circles in the pale blue sky, and the occasional remote explosion filters through the chatter and the shrieks of the children playing football in the street.

"What are they shooting at? Leave us in peace," says the gardener. "It's just a scam," says his nephew, a car mechanic whose father was killed in the last bout of Iraq's civil war in 2006-08. "They fire a few rounds and claim they have killed terrorists. They are just shooting at the palm groves and destroying the trees."

The helicopter does one more circle and vanishes behind palm tree tops, firing a salvo of rockets into the groves. "The people have just started rebuilding the groves, how many trees will be destroyed?" asks the retired officer.

It's a good question. These trees, these people, this town of 40,000 people north of Baghdad have suffered the bitter exigencies of every phase of Iraq's decade-long misery. To understand Buhriz today is to understand Iraq today, a nation nominally on the threshold of its third post-Saddam parliamentary election, but a nation once again tearing itself apart.

A Sunni town surrounded by Shia villages, the people here have by turns fought against everyone including themselves: the Americans from 2003, the Shia during the sectarian war, al-Qaida when it moved into the vacuum, the Shia government led by Nouri al-Maliki which treats them as second-class citizens, and now against the new insurgents wreaking havoc across both Syria and Iraq.

Anger and hatred have never really dissipated, and even during quieter times a separation more tangible than any concrete wall persists.

Now, understandably, the people have had enough. "It's become about killing only," says a commando officer in his mid-20s, who once fought the Americans, but gave up to raise a family and join the police. "Fighting had no meaning any more, and even the resistance groups we formed just became a new mafia."

The men repair indoors. For now, they can relax. But the war has never truly stopped in Buhriz. And so it will prove.

Friday

The policeman is younger than he wants you to believe. He is a rough man, compact and sturdy, and prefers to wrap a simple scarf on his head like he used to do when he worked on his father's palm grove.

He is not of the new generation of Iraqi security men, confident and proud in displaying the gadgets they inherited from the Americans: goggles, knee pads and backpacks. And he is old-fashioned in his interrogation techniques, preferring his fists to the wide array of torture methods deployed by the Iraqi security services. He has a passion for birds and pigeons, and whatever extra money he gets through side jobs and bribes are spent on his collection.

People hate him, fear him and need him in equal measure. He is not a mere survivor but a skilful navigator of the new Iraq, a Sunni negotiating the violent Shia power structures that underpin the state. "I don't fear the confrontation, the people love me," he says with his AK resting between his knees. "But when the gunmen threaten you with your family it's hard, your family is your worst weak point. If they come to me face to face it's OK."

If the policeman has the most dangerous job in Buhriz, then the groves are the most dangerous place. Between the town and the Diyala river lie long stretches of marginal reclaimed land. In the good times the leafy scrubland is great for barbecues or alfresco drinking. In the bad times, and there have been many bad times, it is the perfect hiding place for insurgents, deserters, al-Qaida, outlaws. During the civil war the groves were the place for disposing of kidnapped men, hundreds of whom were lined up on the river banks and shot.

On this Friday the policeman and his commander were combing the groves for insurgents, along with soldiers from the interior ministry Swat force. There is a terribly uneasy irony at play here – local Sunni policemen heavily reliant on Shia government units for security back-up, men they may well have fought against in the past.

The patrol quickly turned into an ambush. "We were besieged, just 12 of us," says the policeman. "The gunmen fired at us using snipers and heavy machine guns." The mayhem of war can start up as quickly as it stops.

"We went deeper and entered a grove that was more like a swamp. The local police withdrew. We wanted to leave too, but the Swat team refused to let us leave. They told us more of their men were inside. I called my officer and shouted at him, I said what have you dragged me into. I was wearing my flak jacket carrying an AK and a machine gun, and carried the bullets. [By that time] I had fired 700 bullets in the machine gun and now it jammed every two bullets." Four of the Swat team were killed.

That night the Sunni of Buhriz started receiving calls from friends in neighbouring villages telling them that Shia militiamen were mobilising. Many people started sending their families away.

The deadly ambush was not the first in Buhriz. And it will not be the last. Shortly before the shooting broke out, the car mechanic and the balding man were reminiscing about the good old days.

They crossed one of the canals that dissect Buhriz. "We ambushed the Americans here once," says the balding man. "We would drink all day and when we heard that the Americans were coming, we would leave the bottles, fight and return to drinking. We fought without leadership and without training. We thought fighting the Americans was a jihad whatever your beliefs were.

"Life was simple, fighting the Americans was joy. My mother would give me and my brothers our kit and guns. I didn't know where she hid them after we finished. She would fetch them and stay waiting for us until we came. She was a simple woman who thought fighting a foreign occupation is an honourable thing."

These days things are not so simple. The two men stop at street corners, and ask about the road ahead for fear of arbitrary detention by the army. Some families are fleeing town after their young menfolk were detained the night before. Each son will cost $10,000 (£6,000), maybe $20,000 dollars to release, depending on the wealth of the family.

"They want to impoverish the Sunnis," mutters the mechanic.

Saturday

The market opened normally. The government was threatening to bulldoze the groves but the fighting had stopped and the Swat and police units withdrew after the casualties of the night before.

In the city hall in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, a few miles away, the general in charge of the operations summoned tribal elders and the heads of local councils and demanded that they hand over the insurgents hiding in their groves. He told them that he would not sacrifice any more of his men for the town. Next time it would be aerial bombardment.

After his ordeal in the groves the policeman is given half a day's rest, but goes back to his checkpoint in the afternoon.

The car mechanic was in the Abu al-Ghaith mosque. Then all hell broke loose. "I thought the Swat was raiding the town," he says.

The policeman had entered the blue concrete room of his checkpoint and heard the bullets. He put his head out forgetting to wear his helmet. "I was shocked, to tell the truth," he says. "I hadn't seen anything like it before, suddenly they had us surrounded. I pushed the gun out of the room and just fired seeing nothing, pointing at no one, but just shot. I will die, I thought. I jumped out of the room, and hid behind the blast wall."

In the concrete tower another policeman opened fire with his machine gun and pinned down the attacker. Another policeman on the other side of the road opened fire too, but was is shot in the leg and screamed for help.

The gunmen skirted around the market, and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the tower, killing the machine gunner.

"The injured policeman was screaming, calling for help but how can I cross the street? They surrounded him and shot him, may Allah be merciful upon him," says the policeman.

"Someone shouted at me from the other side of the river that they were coming my way so I jumped in the canal and swam. It was getting dark now, and I hid in a house and started calling my commanders." It wasn't until the following morning that he was rescued by a friend.

The car mechanic and other people in the mosque had barricaded themselves inside anticipating an attack.

"I shouted at the people to end the prayers, end it, and people clambered at the doors but everyone was afraid to leave. We thought those would be the Swat teams coming to detain the whole town," the mechanic says.

"From a small window we saw they were not police but gunmen, some in khakis others in civilian clothing, sharwals and tracksuits. We said those would be shia militias but after a while no one shot at the mosque and nothing happened so we opened the door and negotiated with the gunmen. They demanded that we say Allahu Akbar. We all fled. They were shouting Allahu Akbar, we came to save you from the apostate government."

Families were already leaving. Some on foot walking along the canals. People abandoned their shops and fled.

At 8pm the gunmen took the mosques and announced the liberation of the town, calling on the people to come back and close their shops. Few did.

Abu Hayder is a Shia resident of Buhriz, who lives on the outskirts, far away from the town centre. He gathered his four children and wife and ran as fast as possible when he heard the gunmen had taken over the town. "I am a Shia and my sons' name is Hayder, I will be killed."

He had fled the town when it was overtaken by insurgents a few years ago and only returned last year. History was repeating itself.

Sunday

The commando officer from the garden party spent all night repelling attacks from gunmen. He was running out of bullets and his checkpoint was about to fall when Swat units supported by Shia militiamen turned up. "We came to support you," said the Shia to the Sunni.

Government troops attacked from two fronts. By mid-afternoon the gunmen had withdrawn as fast as they came leaving the town clear for Swat teams and the militias to enter.

The policeman, along with other local police units, was barred from the town that morning, and only allowed in by the late afternoon. "They locked us in the base," he says. "We went back in after Swat had reclaimed the city. Swat were there. The killing happened in late afternoon. We started to clear the bodies."

"These are new boots," he says lifting his feet, "but I want to change them from the smell of blood."

Now it was the turn of the Sunni to flee town. The retired security officer, the car mechanic and his balding friend all fled when they hear of the killings in town. Some did not have time to put on shoes and run barefoot. For hours they hid in the fields anticipating Shia attacks. Leaving their women alone.

But the killing had stopped by the afternoon. Almost.

Monday

The police announced that the town is safe and free from gunmen, and a neighbourhood chief, Mahdi Saleh, and his family decided to return home along with other people who had fled the town.

They entered the town in two cars. The young men went ahead into the market to see if it was safe for the family to follow.

"I waited at a distance," the chief says. "I called them but no one answered. I waited and then I saw someone running and they said they shot some young men in the street."

By the time he arrived he found the car empty with pools of blood inside.

The policeman had arrived a few minutes earlier with his unit. He says there were four bodies. Some had been shot in the head, some in the face. A Swat team of 12 men are manning a nearby checkpoint.

"If you say anything, Swat can kill you and say you were a collaborator," says the policeman. "They were shot in the head and their blood was hot. We piled them in my pick-up and ferried them to the hospital. One of them was alive. But he soon died in the hospital.

"Why were they killed a day after the killing had stopped in the town?" I ask. "When Swat see men sitting in the car, they say 'Those are DA'ISH [from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], bring them here.' They are executed and no one asks any questions. All the people who were killed were labelled terrorists.

"The father arrived at the hospital, he was shouting and cursing. He swore at my mother and sisters told me I am filth, but my commanders told me to let him alone he was mad," says the policeman.

"He shouted where is my fifth boy where is my fifth? He said he had called him. No one knew what he was talking about."

*****

Two days later as more families returned to their homes, one family noticed a trail of blood that led under one of the beds. There they found the body of the fifth son.

On the walls into town, graffiti is political. "Did you know that God is with Maliki," one person has written. "Long live Maliki," is scribbled elsewhere.

I met the car mechanic again. At the end of the weekend he was restless and bloodshot. Now he is calmer, and if anything there is a sudden sense of purpose coursing through him again.

"We won't let anyone come, not the army not the police not the insurgents," he says. "At night we formed a network of informers who sit and watch all nights. We stash guns nearby and watch," he says. "A few old army officers have joined us, and the local police have given their allegiance and promised to give weapons if battles start up again."

"All groups have to abide by the ruling from the military leadership. We don't want anyone to be killed for nothing."

From this conversation, it is not hard to see how a man who so mistrusts government forces might turn to the insurgents like ISIS.

"Now, our enemy is the same," the mechanic says simply.

The policeman, who had refused to leave his base for days, worried about the anger of the town. I met him with his friend who had rescued him after he swam for his life across the canal.

"To be honest with you I am thinking of joining the Shia militias," says the Sunni policeman. "The government can't protect us, my life here among this shit-town is threatened. I will either be killed here or will have to join them. If it wasn't for the militias this town would be under control of gunmen."

As we leave his friend turns to me and says: "I tell you if he joins the Shia, I, who saved him, will kill him myself."

*Sunni election candidates later flocked into Buhriz, to use the massacre as a campaign issue. Some, like Saleh al-Mutlaq, visited the father of the five dead men on the outskirts of town. The politician's fleet of armoured black SUVs and bodyguards in suits and shades looks incongruous next to this unprepossessing house with its small garden and a rickerty broken sofa in the middle.

The neighbourhood chief is tall and lanky with a small head and short, cropped hair and eyes crimson red from crying. His sentences break and are unfinished. He is incoherent. He takes me to see the car, an old black sedan. There is dried blood on the seats but no trace of bullets. The men were pulled out of the car and shot in the street.

"I used to have one AK in my house," says the neighbourhood chief. "Now I have 10. We are gunmen now. We won't attack the police or the army, but we kill the bad guys and Swat and Maliki, and we will become emirs when the war starts again."
Iraq's election

In theory, 14m voters are eligible to cast ballots in Wednesday's general election, the third national vote since the US-led invasion in 2003. In practice, many may have other things on their mind, given the surge in violence in recent months. 2013 was the deadliest in Iraq for five years.

For those who do vote, there is no shortage of choice: in all 276 political entities are taking part in the process to elect 328 members of the Council of Representatives of Iraq.

Incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, head of the State of Law Coalition, is eyeing a third term. It is unlikely that any bloc could win a majority strong enough to allow them to form a government without an extensive period of coalition building. Such negotiations during the last national poll, in 2010, took 10 months to be resolved. Iraqi officials and pundits expect a drawn out period of horse-trading this time around too.


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« Reply #13165 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:25 AM »


Scores of Taliban-linked militants killed by Afghan troops near Pakistan border

Backed by western forces, assault is one of the biggest against Haqqani network as US attempts to deal lasting blow

Reuters
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 13.12 BST   

Afghan troops backed by western air forces have killed at least 60 militants near the Pakistan border, in one of the biggest assaults against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, Afghan security officials have said.

US officials say Washington has intensified its drive against the network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants before foreign combat forces depart at the end of the year.

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's main intelligence agency, said in a statement that about 300 Haqqani insurgents and foreign fighters came under intensive fire on Monday when they tried to storm Afghan bases in the Ziruk district of Paktika province.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Afghan forces were already in position after receiving information about imminent attacks by the insurgents.

"Hundreds of insurgents tried to take over the district centre but we were there and hit them with a huge blow," Sediqqi said, adding that five Afghan policemen were wounded.

"Dead bodies, wounded fighters, their weapons and pickup trucks were left on the battlefield," Sediqqi added.

The Nato-led international force did not comment.

The Haqqani network, which professes obedience to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, is believed to have been involved in some of the most deadly attacks of the Afghan war.

The group has been blamed for attacks on hotels popular with foreigners in Kabul, the bombing of the Indian embassy in the capital, a 2011 attack on the US embassy and several big attempted truck bombings.

The US blacklisted the group as a terrorist organisation in 2012. It also accuses Pakistan's powerful spy agency of supporting the network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its arch-rival India. Pakistan denies that.

Monday's battle occurred in the southeast province of Paktika, which shares a long and porous border with lawless areas in Pakistan where foreign fighters and the Haqqani network are believed to be based.

The Obama administration has created a special unit based in Kabul to coordinate efforts against the militant group, officials said. The unit was set up late last year, as part of a new strategy that involves multiple government agencies.

Headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a "fusion cell", the unit brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group, the officials said.

The US-led military operation in Afghanistan is due to end on 31 December, although the US wants to keep a small force in the country for counter-terrorism support and training.

The outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, has declined to sign a security agreement allowing US forces to stay, but the two frontrunners to replace him as president say they would honour the pact.

Afghan insurgents have pledged to disrupt the election with a campaign of violence, but the first round of voting was relatively peaceful. As the country readies for a second round in June, there is concern the conditions will be more favourable for militant attacks.


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« Reply #13166 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:29 AM »

U.S. Announces Actions to Enforce Iran Sanctions

By RICK GLADSTONE
APRIL 29, 2014
IHT

The United States government escalated enforcement of its Iran sanctions on Tuesday, adding eight Chinese companies, a Dubai company and two Dubai-based executives to blacklists for evading American restrictions on Iranian weapons, oil and banking transactions.

In coordinated announcements of the actions by the Treasury, State and Justice Departments, the government also offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Li Fangwei, a Chinese businessman also known as Karl Lee, a previous sanctions target, who is accused of abetting Iranian weapons procurement.

The announcements said that he owned the eight Chinese companies and that he had been charged in a previously sealed indictment with several federal offenses, including conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud and wire fraud.

The announcements signaled the first significant enforcement of American sanctions directed at Iran in about three months, and seemed aimed at dispelling what Obama administration officials have called a misimpression that economic relations with Iran are moving toward normalization.

Despite a modest thaw between Iran and the United States, including a temporary accord on Iran’s disputed nuclear program that eased some sanctions while negotiators attempt to reach a permanent agreement, administration officials have emphasized that most restraints on dealings with Iran remain in place.

“These actions are intended to deter future sanctions evasion and prevent Iran from procuring sensitive technologies while we negotiate a comprehensive solution that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensures its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” the Treasury announcement stated.

There was no immediate reaction from Iran, which regards the sanctions as arrogant bullying by the United States and other Western powers.

The eight Chinese companies were described as fronts for Mr. Li, who had been previously identified as a supplier of parts for Iran’s ballistic missile activities. According to the unsealed indictment, Mr. Li used these companies to illicitly move millions of dollars through United States-based financial institutions to conduct business with Iran.

The Dubai company, identified as Al Aqili Group L.L.C., and the two Dubai-based businessmen, identified as Mohamed Saeed al-Aqili of Dubai and Anwar Kamal Nizami of Pakistan, were accused of “shady and deceptive oil deals with Iran,” according to the Treasury announcement.

Under the sanctions, violators are banned from doing business in the United States, and any properties they hold under American jurisdiction can be seized.

The last significant sanctions enforcement actions were in late January and early February. On Jan. 23, the Treasury Department announced what it described as a landmark $152 million settlement of sanctions violations by Clearstream Banking, a Luxembourg-based subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Börse securities exchange, for having permitted Iran to evade restrictions on dealings with American banks.

A few days later, the Treasury Department announced a $9.5 million settlement with the Bank of Moscow, which was accused of illicitly moving money through the American banking system on behalf of Bank Melli, an Iranian bank hit with sanctions. On Feb. 6, Treasury announced that it had penalized companies and individuals in eight countries.

Those announcements, shortly after the temporary nuclear accord with Iran took effect, had also been intended partly as a message to dispel conjecture that the sanctions were unraveling.

Since then, some critics have accused the administration of being willing to play down sanctions violations so as to not jeopardize the success of the nuclear negotiations, which President Obama regards as an important foreign policy objective.

“My sense is that the Obama administration is trying to counter charges that it is willing to overlook all Iranian provocations in order to ensure that nothing interferes with a nuclear deal,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based group that has advocated strong sanctions against Iran. “This may be part of that pushback strategy.”
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« Reply #13167 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:33 AM »

Pakistan Journalism 'Under Siege', Warns Amnesty

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 April 2014, 07:16

Journalists in Pakistan are "under siege", Amnesty International warned Wednesday, living with the constant threat of violence from intelligence agencies, armed groups such as the Taliban and even political parties.

The rights group said in a report that the authorities have "almost completely failed" to stem attacks on the media or hold those responsible to account.

Since the restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan in 2008, at least 34 journalists have been killed because of their work, Amnesty said, but the culprits have been brought to justice in only one of those cases.

Amnesty's report says the journalist death toll is only one part of a broader picture in which reporters have been threatened, abducted or tortured for their work.

"Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege," said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

"Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting."

Covering almost any sensitive story leaves journalists at risk from one side or another -- militants, intelligence agencies or political parties -- putting them in an "impossible position", Amnesty said.

- Row over anchor shooting -

The report comes as a furious row rages between the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and leading media group Jang over the shooting of top TV anchor Hamid Mir.

The ISI has faced accusations of complicity -- hotly denied -- in the attack on Mir, the host of primetime chatshow "Capital Talk" on Jang's Geo TV station.

Mir is the second high-profile journalist to escape an attempt on his life in the past two months, after columnist and chatshow host Raza Rumi.

Amnesty said numerous journalists it interviewed for its report complained of harassment by the ISI and would not be named because they feared for their lives.

"The spy agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but no serving ISI official has ever been held to account --allowing it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law," Amnesty said.

The 60-page report "'A bullet has been chosen for you': Attacks on journalists in Pakistan" is based on research into more than 70 cases and interviews with more than 100 media workers.

While the nature and details of abuses vary from case to case, Amnesty said, all share the same aim: to "silence the media and stifle public debate".

It is the influence Pakistan's diverse, vigorously competitive media has on political life and national conversation that makes various factions seek to silence them, the report says.

Journalists face threats from a host of sources, according to Amnesty, including ISI, the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida-linked groups, ethnic Baluch rebels, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party dominant in Karachi.

Soon after he condemned a Taliban attack on an Express TV crew in Karachi, Rana Muhammad Azeem, the president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, received a call from someone claiming to be from the Taliban.

"He scolded me for speaking out against them and told me 'a bullet has been chosen for you'," Azeem said in the report.

Faced with these kinds of threats and all too aware that those making them are prepared to follow through, many journalists resort to self-censorship to protect themselves, said Griffiths.


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« Reply #13168 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:37 AM »


Narendra Modi accused of breaking India's election rules by taking selfie

Leader of frontrunning BJP party accused of posing with party symbol on polling day, in contravention of campaign rules

Agencies in Hyderabad
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 13.10 BST   

Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to emerge as prime minister after India's election, has sparked controversy by taking a selfie as he joined millions voting on Wednesday.

The chief minister of Gujarat and leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, who was voting as nine of the country's 29 states went to the polls, took a photograph of himself holding a lotus flower, his party's symbol, in his inked finger after casting his ballot.

Angry supporters of the ruling Congress party complained to the authorities that Modi had flouted election law by canvassing for votes in violation of rules forbidding campaigning on election day.

The two parties are locked in a tense battle for control of the next national government, with Congress facing a possible drubbing over corruption scandals and a recent economic slowdown.

Modi is predicting defeat for his rivals. "After analysing the election process and the voter's mind until now, I can say that this time nothing can save the mother-son government ... a strong government will come to power," he said after voting. "All citizens have to take part in the festival and make the democracy stronger."

In the seventh phase of the election on Wednesday, nearly 140 million people were eligible to vote for 89 seats in the 543-seat parliament, including all 26 for Gujarat. Elections were also being held in the northern state of Punjab and in the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal.

Fourteen constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, were also voting, including Rae Bareli, where Congress party president Sonia Gandhi is running.

Security was tight in Uttar Pradesh, with tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police deployed across the state. In elections last week, supporters of political parties took over 11 polling stations in Rampur constituency, said Umesh Sinha, the state's chief electoral officer. A new election was ordered and took place on Tuesday.

Sinha said police were given shoot-on-sight orders to prevent any outbreak of violence or any attempt to disrupt Wednesday's voting.

In Telangana, around 28 million people were expected to vote for 17 seats in parliament and 119 seats in the state assembly.

Telangana, India's 29th state, was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in February after nearly six decades of street protests and strikes.

Telangana supporters say statehood will bring more money to their underdeveloped area. But the move to create Telangana was opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, which will eventually lose its capital city, Hyderabad, to the new state.

Opinion polls have given Modi an edge in the election and indicate that his BJP could form India's next government.

Modi's critics say his image has been tainted by sectarian violence that ripped through Gujarat in 2002, killing nearly 1,000 Muslims. Modi, who has been chief minister of the state since 2001, is widely seen as having done little to stop the carnage.

Modi denies playing a role in the riots, and has never expressed remorse over them. In December, under pressure to speak about the violence, which has become a focal point of his candidacy, Modi spoke of his "anguish" over the bloodshed. The carefully worded statement appeared designed to convey that he had nothing to apologise for.

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India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy

India Votes: B.J.P.’s Urbane Face Nervous in Electoral Debut in Amritsar

By VAIBHAV VATS   
April 30, 2014, 7:13 am

AMRITSAR, India – On Sunday afternoon, Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and leader of the opposition in Parliament’s upper house, was driven to Lawrence Road, a busy thoroughfare in Amritsar, the second-largest city in the western state of Punjab.

There, a sprawling banquet hall mostly reserved for weddings had been transformed into Mr. Jaitley’s campaign headquarters; it swelled with party workers, journalists and dozens of Mr. Jaitley’s relatives. Soon after arriving, Mr. Jaitley disappeared into a back room, where he held long discussions with party leaders to prepare for what may be the most critical moment of his political career.

On March 15, Mr. Jaitley was announced as the B.J.P.’s lower house of Parliament candidate from Amritsar, a constituency the party has held since 2004. Amritsar seemed a safe choice for Mr. Jaitley, a master strategist and election manager for the B.J.P., who entered Parliament through an indirect election to the upper house.

Mr. Jaitley, who is close to Narendra Modi, the B.J.P.’s prime ministerial candidate, chose to fight a direct election for Parliament’s lower house in order to secure some popular legitimacy for himself and strengthen his case for an important position in the next national government, which is likely to be led by the B.J.P.

However, what in the beginning had seemed a straightforward and smooth ride for Mr. Jaitley has been transformed into one of the most competitive and high-profile contests of this election.

A week after Mr. Jaitley’s candidacy was announced, the Indian National Congress party, in an uncharacteristic and inspired move, chose Amarinder Singh, a political heavyweight and a former chief minister of Punjab, to run.

The entry of Mr. Singh has rattled Mr. Jaitley, who now finds himself thrust into a contest far tougher than he expected. “The odds are stacked against Mr. Jaitley,” said Sankarshan Thakur, a commentator on India’s right wing and roving editor at The Telegraph newspaper. “He is contesting his first election in late-midcareer, and a loss would deal him a blow.”

Mr. Jaitley is also fighting a wave of discontent against the Shiromani Akali Dal, the governing party in Punjab’s state legislature and an ally of the B.J.P. The tenure of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which has been in power in the state since 2007, has been marked by corruption, lawlessness and poor economic performance. Punjab, once India’s wealthiest state, has fallen into ruin, struggling with poor infrastructure, rotting cities and agricultural decline.

Mr. Jaitley is further hobbled by the unpopularity of Bikram Singh Majithia, a local legislator from Amritsar and revenue minister in the Punjab state government, who has been accused of running a drug racket in the state.

Widespread drug abuse, itself a result of unemployment and poverty that have followed Punjab’s economic descent, is a significant cause for anger and concern in the state. Although no definite statistics are available, around two-thirds of Punjab’s youth are estimated to be addicted to medical and synthetic drugs.

On Sunday evening, crowds assembled at Novelty Chowk,  in the heart of Amritsar, where Mr. Jaitley was due to make an appearance.

Surinder Sharma, a 49-year-old doctor, had left his clinic early to catch a glimpse of Mr. Jaitley. Like large swaths of India’s middle class, Mr. Sharma had become fed up with the Congress party. “Manmohan Singh was an intelligent man, but he couldn’t change anything at the ground level,” he said. “Even Sikhs are disgusted with him.”

Mr. Sharma was enthusiastic about Mr. Jaitley’s candidacy. “This man has vision. He will do good work and be our voice in Parliament.”

Mr. Jaitley emerged from his meeting to campaign on the back of an open jeep, flanked by motorcycles bearing B.J.P. flags. Vehicles fitted with loudspeakers and dozens of party workers on foot followed.

A glib talker and suave operator in New Delhi’s power circles, Mr. Jaitley thrives in television studios, election war rooms and policy debates in Parliament. These skills, however, are almost useless in the thrum of an Indian election campaign.

Mr. Jaitley, lacking the swagger of natural politicians, appeared ill at ease in the raucous delirium as his motor cavalcade navigated the streets of Amritsar. His body language remained stiff, and he could barely bring himself to smile.

Waving comes to politicians like second nature, but Mr. Jaitley often seemed lost, staring impassively into the crowd.

Later that evening, Mr. Jaitley drove to address a rally in New Amritsar, a modern enclave on the outskirts of the city. A small stage had been erected on a wide avenue, and several leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal, including Mr. Majithia, joined Mr. Jaitley.

Mr. Jaitley, speaking to a small crowd, reiterated the pitch that could be the key to victory in Amritsar: his stature and importance in a future government in New Delhi, likely to be headed by the B.J.P. “I want to plead with Amritsar: Join yourself with the Modi wave,” he said. “To make Amritsar a successful city, we need to add Delhi’s power to it.”

In the last days of the campaign, as Punjab readied to vote on Wednesday, Mr. Jaitley was pulling out all the stops to ensure his first foray into parliamentary elections does not prove a failure.

“My final request is that please press the third button on the electronic voting machine. Don’t remember any other button.”

Yet many people, even within his own party, were worried that Mr. Jaitley may have committed a mistake. One friend, who knew Mr. Jaitley from his days as a young lawyer in Delhi, told me, “He could have contested from Delhi or Gujarat. I am not sure if Amritsar was the right choice.”

A B.J.P. worker from Amritsar, who was campaigning for Mr. Jaitley, said, “He is a good man. We are desperate for him to win. But if anyone defeats him, it will be the Akalis.”

This is the first piece of a two-part series on the crucial parliamentary race in Amritsar. Next: a profile of Amarinder Singh of the Congress party, Arun Jaitley’s main opponent in Amritsar.


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« Reply #13169 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:38 AM »


Sultan of Brunei unveils strict sharia penal code

Fines and jail terms for offences such as indecency and failure to attend Friday prayers, with future penalties to include flogging and death by stoning

Agence France-Presse in Brunei   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 11.09 BST   

The sultan of oil-rich Brunei has announced the introduction of tough Islamic criminal punishments, pushing ahead with plans that have sparked international condemnation and rare domestic criticism of the fabulously wealthy ruler.

"With faith and gratitude to Allah the almighty, I declare that tomorrow, Thursday 1 May 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases," the absolute monarch said in a royal decree on Wednesday.

Plans for the sharia penalties – which will eventually include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning – triggered condemnation on social media sites in the tiny sultanate earlier this year.

Confusion has swirled around implementation of the punishments following the unexplained postponement of an expected 22 April start date that raised questions over whether the Muslim monarch was hesitating.

But 67-year-old Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah – one of the world's wealthiest men – said in his decree that the move was "a must" under Islam, dismissing "never-ending theories" that sharia punishments were cruel in comments clearly aimed at detractors.

"Theory states that Allah's law is cruel and unfair but Allah himself has said that his law is indeed fair," he said.

The initial phase beginning on Thursday introduces fines or jail terms for offences ranging from indecent behaviour, failure to attend Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

A second phase covering crimes such as theft and robbery is to be implemented later this year, involving more stringent penalties such as severing of limbs and flogging.

Late next year, punishments such as death by stoning for offences including sodomy and adultery will be introduced.

The monarch's wealth – estimated three years ago at $20bn by Forbes magazine – has become legendary, with reports of a vast collection of luxury vehicles and huge, gold-bedecked palaces.

The monarchy was deeply embarrassed by a sensational family feud between Hassanal and his younger brother Jefri Bolkiah over the latter's alleged embezzlement of $15bn during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s.

Court battles and exposés revealed salacious details of Jefri's jetset lifestyle, including allegations of a harem of western paramours and a luxury yacht he owned called "Tits".

Bruneians enjoy among the highest standards of living in Asia due to the country's energy wealth, with education, medicine and other social services heavily subsidised.

The sultan first proposed the sharia penal code in 1990s, and in recent years has increasingly warned of rising crime and pernicious outside influences including the internet. He has called Islam a "firewall" against globalisation.

He announced the implementation plans in October.

Brunei is the first country in east or south-east Asia to introduce a sharia penal code on a national level.

Situated on Borneo island, which it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia, the small state already practised a relatively conservative form of Islam compared with its Muslim-majority neighbours, banning the sale of alcohol and restricting other religions.

Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up about 70% of the population, are broadly supportive of the move by their revered father-figure.

But some Malays and non-Muslim citizens privately express unease. About 15% of Brunei's people are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese.

Earlier this year, many users of Brunei's active social media – the only avenue for public criticism of authorities – denounced the penal code as barbaric and out of step with the gentle Bruneian national character.

The move could indicate the sultan is becoming more conservative as he ages, said Joseph Chinyong Liow, a Singapore-based professor of Muslim politics.

"The sultan himself is at a point where there is a need to come to terms with religious identity, both personally and for the country," he said.

Liow said the sultan may have viewed sharia as a popular step, as support grows among some Muslims in south-east Asia for a post-colonial return to Islamic roots.

Brunei's legal system currently features civil courts along with sharia-compliant chambers handling non-criminal issues such as marital and inheritance cases.

The UN's human rights office said this month it was deeply concerned about the changes, adding that women typically bore the brunt of punishment for crimes involving sex.

"It's a return to medieval punishment," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "It's a huge step back for human rights in Brunei and totally out of step with the 21st century."

Officials have said judges will face high burdens of proof, and will have wide discretion to avoid sharia punishments.


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