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« Reply #13245 on: May 07, 2014, 05:24 AM »


Thai court orders Yingluck Shinawatra to step down as PM

Constitutional court finds PM guilty of abuse of power over transfer of senior civil servant to another position in 2011

Kate Hodal in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 10.45 BST   

Thailand's caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has been ordered to step down after a court found her guilty of abusing her power – a decision that could result in huge protests after six months of political impasse.

The constitutional court ruled that Yingluck had acted with a hidden agenda when she transferred a senior civil servant to another position, shortly after taking office in 2011.

"The prime minister's status has come to an end," one of the judges said in a statement broadcast live on television. "Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister."

The commerce minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, is expected to replace Yingluck as prime minister. A general election is planned for 20 July.

Yingluck's Pheu Thai party released a statement soon after the decision, calling the court's ruling a conspiracy to remove the democratically elected government and a virtual coup, according to the English-language Nation newspaper.

Yingluck's supporters – who mainly come from Thailand's rural north – have vowed to hold a rally on Saturday and argue that the courts have sought to topple her at the behest of anti-government protesters, who have tried since November to remove her from office.

The protesters accuse her of acting as a proxy of her brother Thaksin, the former PM who was removed from government in 2006 and now lives in self-exile in Dubai. They have staged various rallies and sit-ins at government buildings.

Liam McCarthy, an expert on south-east Asia at Nottingham Trent University, said: "What is interesting is how such a bureaucratic, or intellectual, tactic will play with the rural communities of Thailand. They may see such a play as tricking them out of their chosen leaders."

On Tuesday Yingluck appeared in court to deny the charges against her.

Yingluck stood accused of removing Thailand's then chief of national security, Thawil Pliensri – who had been appointed by the opposition – in order to promote her brother-in-law in another post, as national police chief.

Although such a move was legal, the court ruled, it was done too quickly and without "moral principles". The court also ruled that the nine current cabinet ministers who were in office at the time of the transfer must also step down – among them the labour minister, finance minister and foreign minister, Thai media reported.

Another ruling against Yingluck is expected on Thursday, when Thailand's national anti-corruption commission decides whether she failed to act against corruption in a £14.5bn rice-pledging scheme.


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« Reply #13246 on: May 07, 2014, 05:26 AM »


Terrorism in China: the global dimension

China's Uighur militants appear to be getting more sophisticated, with links to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's time to take them seriously

Philip Potter   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 18.07 BST      

The knife attack in which six people were injured in southern China is the third high-profile incident at a Chinese train station in a little more than two months. It seems that China is in the grip of a mounting terrorist campaign, with militants apparently able to strike when and where they want.

Last week a railway station in Urumqi was attacked with suicide bombs and knives, with at least three killed and dozens injured. The authorities quickly attributed that attack to Uighur separatists. More jarring, the attack came at the end of President Xi Jinping's trip to that city for the explicit purpose of announcing a "get tough" policy on terrorism.

That incident followed close on the heels of an eerily similar March attack in Kunming. Details are sketchy, but in that brutal episode approximately nine militants wielding knives stormed the city's railway station, killing at least 28 and wounding about a hundred.

Only a few months before, that there was a high-profile attack on the most visible symbol of Chinese political authority – Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In that case, aggrieved Uighurs apparently drove across the country and mowed down tourists at the edge of the square with their Jeep before setting it on fire.

While these incidents have set China on edge, they have received relatively little attention from the outside world. Western analysts tend to draw on the "low-tech" weaponry and comparatively low death tolls to conclude that these are minor incidents. Even specialists often miss the potential for broader international implications, seeing only an internal separatist struggle.

Both of these instincts are wrong. Attacks like those in Urumqi, Kunming and Beijing are serious, and their increasing sophistication indicates a growing threat. If they continue to escalate, there is potential for far-reaching consequences for China and the world.

Despite their reliance on relatively unsophisticated weapons, Uighur militants seem to have already mastered some of the most challenging problems that extremist organisations face. The ability to conduct complex, co-ordinated attacks like those in Urumqi and Kunming are hallmarks of organisational strength. Moreover, while it might seem counterintuitive, restraint is also a clear indicator of capability. Weak movements lash out without discipline and coordination, while strong ones wait for opportune moments and symbolically valuable targets. Last week's attack in Urumqi certainly fits the latter description.

Timing an attack to coincide with Xi's visit to Xinjiang, explicitly to demonstrate his toughness on the separatist question, is a clear act of defiance and it set Chinese social media ablaze before the censors stepped in. The attackers dramatically undermined any remaining confidence that the authorities have this situation under control.

This compounds the concern that militants will be able to project still more violence out of long-restive Xinjiang and into distant Chinese cities as they appeared to do in Kunming and Beijing. This approach makes perfect sense. Terrorism is only effective when the fear that it generates reaches its intended audience, which in this case is the Chinese public. Chinese security forces had, until this recent spate of attacks, been very successful in bottling up violence in Xinjiang and keeping it out of view, but this apparent new capability to time attacks to coincide with symbolic opportunities and strike distant Chinese population centres upsets that equilibrium.

Indiscriminate attacks on civilians always warrant attention, but the evolving violence in China has under-appreciated potential to develop into global concern. When al-Qaida struck the United States on 9/11, it reshaped global politics, culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As an emerging global power, China's response to its terrorist problem could have consequences that are nearly as far-reaching. It is often forgotten that China's restive Muslim regions border Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal regions, putting it at the geographic centre of the "war on terror". The withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan will leave a host of problems on China's doorstep.

More troubling still, some of the most militant among the Uighurs have been active at high levels with jihadi organisations fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the west winds down its presence in Afghanistan, it would be prudent to anticipate that these militants will return their attention to China. When they do, they will bring a great deal of experience and capacity with them. China may then find itself at the mercy of militants operating from safe havens across borders, much as the US did. Only time will tell how China might respond.

All this suggests that it is time to take Chinese terrorism seriously. The attackers have carried only knives and crude bombs, but they and their kind have the potential to reshape both Chinese and international politics.


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« Reply #13247 on: May 07, 2014, 05:29 AM »


Jang Jin-sung: 'If anyone thinks North Korea is opening up, they are mistaken'

He was one of Kim Jong-il's favourite propaganda poets until he defected from the secretive state in 2004. Now, Jang is one of Pyongyang's most vocal critics

Enjoli Liston   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 10.20 BST    

Jang Jin-Sung was 28 years-old when he first met Kim Jong-il. That rare audience with North Korea’s late Supreme Leader in 1999 should have been the proudest day of his life. Instead, it was a catalyst for his eventual defection - one of the most high profile in the country’s history.

Born in Sariwon, south of Pyongyang, Jang made his name as a poet lauding the nation and exalting its deified master, Kim. His words soon earned him a place as one of North Korea’s most celebrated writers, and he was enfolded into the highest echelons of the state’s propaganda machine.

Meeting Kim in the early hours of the morning under a white marquee, on an island usually reserved only for use by members of the Kim dynasty, meant Jang had been admitted into the Pyongyang elite. As his country lay in the last throes of a famine that had killed up to 2.5m people, Kim gifted Jang with a £7000 Rolex watch.

“I will never forget that moment,” says Jang, sitting in a London cafe. “It sounds stupid, but what I remember most about the whole thing was that Kim was wearing heels, to increase his height, and he spoke in rough slang, not the beautiful prose we had all been taught to believe was his true voice. I realised he was not this God-like person we had all held up on a pedestal. He was just human.”

Dressed in a navy blue blazer and white shirt, Jang is in the UK to promote the newly released English translation of his memoir, Dear Leader, which he hopes will shatter “the vision of North Korea the world has created, and tell the reality of life there”.

As he sips his coffee, there is nothing in his appearance to suggest the hardships he endured. When he finally left North Korea one January morning in 2004, without saying a word to his family, he spent 35 days on the run in freezing conditions before eventually handing himself in to South Korean foreign intelligence agents. He was interrogated before being "debriefed" for six months, during which time the South Korean authorities grilled him on the machinations of the Pyongyang elite.

In Seoul, where he lives now as one of the most vocal North Korean critics of the Pyongyang regime, he is escorted by government bodyguards for his own protection. Since leaving North Korea, he has worked as an intelligence analyst in Seoul, later leaving to found a North Korean news outlet called New Focus.

    If you want to protect the people you love, you keep your mouth shut and you carry on. If you choose to break the rules, you must be prepared to have blood on your hands.

Jang says he did not tell his family of his plans to defect so they could face the inevitable interrogations about their son’s disappearance with genuine ignorance. When asked if he has had any contact with his family since he left, he winces, and answers a simple “no”.

Jang knows too well the punishments the regime can inflict on its people. In his book, he recounts details of the public executions he witnessed during his time in the North. The country’s prison camps are populated with many accused of lesser crimes than having been associated with a defector.

“There are two fundamental reasons why most North Koreans do not rebel [against the leadership],” he says. “The first is guilt by association; if you rebel against the system, you are not just risking your own life, but those of your children, your partner, your parents. If you want to protect the people you love, you keep your mouth shut and you carry on. If you choose to break the rules, you must be prepared to have blood on your hands.

“The second is isolation; people in North Korea have no concept of basic human rights. They do not know what they should be entitled to. They have nothing to fight for.”

Before he met Kim in the flesh, Jang says he had been “wholly devoted” to the regime he now criticises, and had fully believed the propaganda he had helped to spread. "The [regime's] grip is so deeply psychological and emotional for North Koreans," says Jang. "The closer you get to the centre of power the more dangerous it becomes because you know more, and then control is maintained through fear".

Jang's disillusionment with Kim was compounded by the second special reward he received for his poetry – a trip home to Sariwon, which he found devastated by famine.

“It is very difficult to travel out of Pyongyang, its borders are as heavily fortified as those of the state of North Korea,” Jang says. Organisation and Guidance Department]. But Kim Jong-un doesn’t have an old boys network in North Korea. If he has one at all, it is abroad in Switzerland [where he was educated]. He must actually listen to his advisers, instead of control them as Kim Jong-il did.”

Jang sees this as a crucial chink in the young leader’s armour. He says he believes serious changes will come in the next five years, though he refuses to elaborate on what shape these changes may take.

“For now, the more we understand North Korea, the weaker the system becomes,” he says. “That is the only way to bring change.”

Dear Leader is published by Rider Books on 8 May


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« Reply #13248 on: May 07, 2014, 05:30 AM »


New Zealand in U-turn on designer drugs

Government reverses controversial legislation to ban sale and possession of synthetic narcotics after public anger

Associated Press in Wellington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 08.39 BST   

New Zealand has reversed its stance on allowing some designer drugs to be legally sold following an outcry.

A change in the law change effective from Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs, ending the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year.

The changes follow criticism that the drugs were addictive and were causing community disorder and violence. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions opposing the drugs and plans to test them on animals.

New Zealand last year drew international attention after enacting a law that allowed synthetic drugs, thought to be low-risk, to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing.

The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove they are low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. Manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers also banned the use of animals in testing the products.

"The mistake at the passing of this legislation was that 41 products were given interim licences because there'd been no complaints, no records of harm, no belief that any of these substances caused any concern," said the health minister, Tony Ryall, in an interview with Associated Press. "What's become quite clear in the subsequent nine months or so is that they were causing harm."

Ryall said manufacturers would need to decide if they wanted to pursue the approval protocols but he would be happy if they did not.

"It's not going to worry me if someone doesn't want to do it because of the cost or anything because actually I don't think we should have these substances if we can avoid it," he said.

Ryall said health officials had been surprised to find the size of the market for the drugs, estimated at about NZ$140m (£72m ) a year. He said health professionals will help the 200 people known to have become severely addicted to the drugs.

New Zealand has been inundated with designer drugs in recent years and has often found itself a step behind the manufacturers. Once a drug is declared illegal, a maker often alters its composition slightly to create a new, legal compound. Ryall believes the new rules will stop that from happening.

Other drugs including marijuana and cocaine were already illegal in New Zealand and not subject to the law changes.


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« Reply #13249 on: May 07, 2014, 05:36 AM »

Nigeria kidnap: US and UK offer help in hunt for schoolgirls

Barack Obama is supplying experts to Abuja while Britain is ready to send military support to pursue Boko Haram militants

Monica Mark in Abuja, Rory Carroll, Richard Norton-Taylor and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 02.03 BST   
  
The United States and Britain have offered military and technical support to Nigeria to hunt down the Islamist group which has abducted a new batch of schoolgirls, piling pressure on the Nigerian authorities to find and free the victims.

President Barack Obama led a mounting international outcry on Tuesday and said Nigeria's government had accepted help from US military and law enforcement officials to pursue Boko Haram militants.

Gunmen believed to be from the group kidnapped eight more girls, aged between eight and 15, in an overnight raid on a village in the sect's stronghold in north-eastern Borno state on Monday. It was already holding 257 girls from a raid on a school on 15 April.

Obama said the US was doing its utmost to help resolve the "heartbreaking" and "outrageous" situation but stopped short of offering to send troops – in contrast to Britain, which is prepared to send special forces and intelligence gathering aircraft.

"In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies," Obama told NBC. "But we're also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organisations like this that ... can cause such havoc in people's day-to-day lives."

The president said Boko Haram was one of the world's worst terrorist organisations. "I can only imagine what the parents are going through," added Obama, a father of two daughters aged 15 and 12.

The offers from Washington and London follow widespread criticism of the Nigerian government's perceived sluggish response to the crisis. Relatives of the girls have protested in the capital, Abuja.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has threatened to sell the captives into slavery and said militants would attack more schools and abduct more girls. The group's name means "Western education is sinful". In a separate atrocity this week militants reportedly shot at least 52 people in a remote village.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US embassy in Abuja would help assemble a team of technical experts, including military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance. The US was not considering sending armed forces, Carney said.

John Kerry, the secretary of state, said Washington had been in touch with Abuja since "day one". It rebuffed US offers of help until Tuesday when Kerry spoke with Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan.

"I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort," Kerry said at a state department news conference. "And it will begin immediately. I mean, literally, immediately."

In London Whitehall officials said Britain was prepared to send intelligence-gathering aircraft and members of the Special Air Service (SAS), or its naval equivalent, the Special Boat Service (SBS), if asked by Abuja.

Officials at a meeting of the government's emergency committee, Cobra, discussed options. The Nigerians are expected to make an official request on Wednesday following unofficial talks between London and Abuja.

Urgency grew after Boko Haram released a video threatening to sell their captives as "slaves" and gunmen slaughtered people in the village of Waraba. It straddles the Gwoza mountain range, a network of caves which stretches into neighbouring Cameroon and shelters the militants.

"They were many, and all of them carried guns," Lazarus Musa, a resident, told Reuters. "They came in two vehicles painted in army colour. They started shooting in our village. The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses."

The village was now deserted, said Marcus James, a Waraba resident who moved to the capital, Abuja, last year to escape cross-border raids. "The last I heard from my relatives is that around two dozen gunmen had been shooting for about three hours. At that time, my family called to say they were hiding in the bush, and I haven't heard from them since."

On Monday, Cameroonian officials said two soldiers were killed in a shootout with militants, in the latest sign of insurgents using porous borders to their advantage.

Nigeria's army has struggled against a fleet-footed enemy which launches lightning raids before disappearing into rugged mountain and desert terrain.

The five-year insurgency in the country's north-east has claimed more than 4,000 lives and forced almost half a million people to flee their homes, according to International Crisis Group.

The latest assaults come as Nigeria prepares to hold the World Economic Forum in Abuja, where two bombs in the last three weeks have killed at least 95. Roadblocks and security checkpoints have choked traffic as the government seeks to reassure heads of states and dignitaries of their security.

Ordinary citizens have been less convinced. Early on Tuesday, jittery parents in the suburb of Nyanya rushed to pull their children out of school after armed men hijacked an empty private school bus.

The scale and audacity of the 15 April mass abductions in remote Chibok – several truckloads of militants were able to run rampant for almost five hours – has shocked Nigerians.

"We want to know what happens to all the money being spent on security every year. What is it for?" said one protestor in Abuja, referring to the government's $6bn annual security budget.

Officials have scrambled to provide explanations. On Sunday Patience Jonathan, the president's wife, accused local officials of being partially responsible for the attacks by opening Chibok school, even though others in the area had shut down.

African leaders have rallied around Nigeria. "All of us are fathers, and I could just imagine that my daughter could be one of them," said Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, who added he had written a letter on behalf of 14 other west African nations offering assistance.

The United Nations warned that any parties participating in the buying or selling of the schoolgirls could face prosecution under international law. "We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law," said UN rights spokesperson Rupert Colville. "So just because they think they are safe now, they won't necessarily be in two years, five years or 10 years' time," he told a news briefing in Geneva.

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France Pledges Help for Nigeria in Hunt for Kidnapped Girls

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 15:31

President Francois Hollande pledged Wednesday that France would help Nigeria look for more than 200 girls kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in an incident that has triggered global shock and condemnation.

The extremists seized a first batch of schoolgirls in Nigeria's restive northeast three weeks ago, saying they were holding them as "slaves" and threatening to sell them, and have since kidnapped other girls in the area.

"The president said that France will do everything to help Nigeria chase down this group and find the kidnapped hostages," government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said after a cabinet meeting chaired by Hollande.

"We are dealing with one of the most atrocious forms of terrorism because it involves kidnapping and trafficking children," he added.

Described as "heartbreaking" and "outrageous" by U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, the kidnappings have drawn several pledges of help from the international community.

Washington has deployed military experts to Nigeria to help search for the girls and Britain has offered unspecified practical help.

Hollande's comments came as Boko Haram this week kidnapped another 11 girls from a village in Borno state, the epicenter of the group's five-year Islamist uprising.

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Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram kidnaps 8 more girls: ‘They moved door to door’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 11:32 EDT

Suspected Boko Haram Islamists have kidnapped eight more girls from Nigeria’s embattled northeast, residents said on Tuesday, after the extremist group’s leader claimed responsibility for abducting more than 200 schoolgirls last month.

“They moved door to door looking for girls,” said Abdullahi Sani, referring to the late Sunday attack in the village of Warabe, Borno state. “They forcefully took away eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15.”

Sani, a Warabe resident, spoke to AFP by phone from Gwoza, a town 10 kilometres (six miles) away where he and others fled after the attack, which he blamed on Boko Haram.

He said the attackers did not kill anyone, which was “surprising”, and suggested that abducting girls was the motive for the attack.

The gunmen torched parts of the village, he said.

Another Warabe resident who also fled to Gwoza, Peter Gambo, confirmed Sani’s account of the attack and said the military had not yet provided any protection.

“We in Gwoza are also living in fear because of the kidnap of eight girls in Warabe,” he told AFP. “We have no security here. If the gunmen decide to pick our own girls nobody can stop them.”

Police in Borno did not respond to calls or text messages seeking comment, and state government spokesman Isa Gusau told AFP he was not aware of the attack.

The targeted area is 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Borno’s state capital of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said his fighters carried out the April 14 abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok, also in Borno, and threatened to sell them as slaves in a video obtained by AFP on Monday.

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Hundreds Killed in Boko Haram Attack in Nigeria Border Town

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 15:56

An attack by Boko Haram Islamists in a northeastern Nigerian town on the Cameroon border has killed hundreds of people, a local senator and witnesses said Wednesday.

Senator Ahmed Zanna added that the town of Gamboru Ngala had been left unguarded because the soldiers based there to protect the population had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14.

Gunmen riding in armored vehicles and on motorcycles stormed the town on Monday and razed much of the area.

Residents said survivors fled when the attack began, with the insurgents firing on civilians as they tried to run to safety into Cameroon.

Casualty figures had remained unclear in the hours after the attack because the town had been overrun by extremist fighters and it was not possible to return to assess the loss of life, witnesses had previously told Agence France Presse.

"I have been in constant touch with Gamboru (Ngala)," Zanna said.

"From information reaching me from the town, the death toll from the attack is around 300," he added.

"All economic and business centers have been burnt. The market in the town which attracts traders from all over the area...has been completely burnt," he added.

The senator's claim that the military had been redeployed from the town in search of the missing girls could not be immediately confirmed by the military, which has not responded to repeated calls and text messages seeking comment on the attack.

The mass abduction has shocked Nigerians and sparked global outrage.

The United States has sent military experts to Nigeria to help rescue the hostages.

Speaking by phone from Gamboru Ngala, resident Musa Abba told AFP that the town was "littered with more than 100 dead bodies," adding that the search was continuing and the toll may rise.

Another resident, Ibrahim Bukar put the death toll closer to 300.

Gamboru Ngala falls in Borno state, Boko Haram's home base and where the insurgents have killed thousands in a five-year uprising aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.

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Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram's 'craziest commander'

Little is known about Nigeria's most wanted man, who is believed to behind the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls

Monica Mark   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 07.41 BST   

Abubakar Shakau laughs as he informs viewers he plans to sell almost 300 girls kidnapped by his fighters. "Why is everybody making noise just because I took some girls who were in western education anyway?" he says, almost giggling, in the video.

The rhetoric is typical of the Boko Haram's leader's brash on-screen persona. But little is known about Nigeria's most wanted man.

Born in impoverished north-east Nigeria before moving to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, he is believed to be in his early 40s.

A Boko Haram intermediary said Shekau was fastidious about his personal hygience and rejected luxuries. But his controlling personality meant some commanders deserted, and his dictatorial leadership prompted the breakaway Ansaru faction, according to a senior security official.

"He is the craziest of all the commanders. He really believes it is OK to kill anyone who disagrees with him." the intermediary said. Analysts believe Shekau has at least one double.


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« Reply #13250 on: May 07, 2014, 05:37 AM »


Syrian rebels begin Homs evacuation

Fighters and civilians in besieged opposition-held districts will be taken to north of province under deal with government

Agence France-Presse in Beirut
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 08.35 BST   

Two thousand rebels and civilians are to begin leaving besieged opposition-held districts of Homs city in central Syria on Wednesday under a deal between fighters and the government.

Activists on the ground said two buses arrived in Homs early in the morning to begin the first of the evacuations. Injured people who have been trapped in the Old City and surrounding areas for nearly two years under a tight government siege are to be the first to leave.

Under the deal, negotiated with the assistance of Iran's ambassador to Damascus, the group will be taken to an opposition-held area in the north of Homs province, according to a rebel negotiator.

Fighters will be allowed to withdraw with light weapons, and one rocket launcher will be permitted on every bus used for the evacuation. The deal will be guaranteed by the United Nations and Iran.

The Homs governor, Talal al-Barazi, said last-minute preparations were still being made but the operation "will take place today, God willing".

The deal was reached as part of an exchange for an unknown number of hostages being held by rebels in the northern city of Aleppo. Opposition fighters will also allow aid into two Shia-majority towns, Nubol and Zahraa, which are under rebel siege.

On Tuesday, UN workers cleared roads of landmines in preparation for the withdrawal.

The evacuated areas will be turned over to the government, which will then have control of all but one major area of Homs, once considered the capital of the revolution. The district of Waer will remain under opposition control, but negotiations are under way for a similar deal to that being implemented in the Old City.

The Old City and surrounding rebel-held areas have been under government siege for nearly two years. This year, about 1,400 people were evacuated from the districts under a UN and Red Crescent operation. But a group of fighters and civilians, including those with injuries who were unable to reach evacuation points, remained behind. They faced increasingly tough conditions, with little food or medicine and the start of a government offensive to try to retake the areas.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011.


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« Reply #13251 on: May 07, 2014, 05:39 AM »


South Africa elections: have 20 years of democracy truly transformed nation?

How far the country has come since the fall of apartheid is undeniable, but it could have been so much better

Justice Malala   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 16.44 BST          

The new South Africa goes on trial again this week. Twice.

On Monday, Oscar Pistorius returned to court to buttress his charge that this was a country so ravaged by crime that he had to arm himself to the teeth in expectation of murderous burglars.

On Wednesday, 25 million registered voters will go to the polls – the first since Nelson Mandela died in December and the fifth in our 20-year-old democracy.

Both events are being watched closely. Pistorius, who rose against massive odds to teach the world a new way of looking at disability, is an obsession for South Africa and the world. And as South Africa votes in a new government, the question niggles: where is the country heading? Can it fulfil its promise as a beacon of prosperity and progressive governance in the world?

This is one of those weeks where South Africa gives watchers across the globe their regular dose of its "one minute before midnight" scenarios: is this the tipping point?

Twenty years after Nelson Mandela cajoled, threatened and shouted down even his own comrades and led us down the path of freedom, his successor Jacob Zuma has been crisscrossing the country campaigning to be re-elected.

In answer to virtually every question, he trots out his party's election slogan: "We have a goooooood story to tell."

The masses imitate him, and so do the middle classes. But how good a story do we have to tell?

If there is one thing South Africans agree on, it is that our country is a far better place than the monstrosity it was before 1994. The fruits of freedom are numerous and real for many of us: a country where we walk proudly, without fear; a full citizenship of the world; a democratic dispensation and constitution to be proud of.

For the government, there is also much to trumpet on economic transformation, on access to health and education, and in relatively harmonious race relations.

For a black man who grew up under apartheid, it is unimaginable to even dare to compare: I grew up with stories of my father and my brother being arrested or harassed because they were in a "white area". We were not human under apartheid, we were a cipher. Now, my humanity and dignity has been restored and – as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said – the humanity of the perpetrators has also been restored.

So as South Africa celebrates its 20 years of democracy the question is how much better could our story have been. The truth is that the shine is coming off our rainbow nation.

Every day now there are dozens of protests across the country over poor or absent services. Unemployment remains as intractable as it was 20 years ago (36% are out of work). The state of education remains parlous. South Africa is one of the top five most unequal societies in the world today. The economy is anaemic, growing at a mere 1.9% last year compared with averages of 5% across the African continent.

But the shine of the new South Africa really came off in the five years of Zuma's leadership, though. Corruption is rife, with the scandal of the president's private home receiving "security upgrades" of about £20m becoming the main motif of the election.

Other clouds loom. A pernicious secrecy law is awaiting Zuma's signature. The police are under the spotlight after the daylight killing of 34 mineworkers at the Marikana mine in August 2012. A handful of former ANC ministers have become so disgusted with their party they are calling on citizens to vote for smaller parties or spoil their vote.

As Thabo Mbeki, Mandela's successor, said in the early 2000s, South Africa is still a country of two worlds: the first rich and white, the second poor and black.

It is a reality every visitor to our country sees, and which ordinary South Africans are beginning to question. New political parties such as former ANC firebrand Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters – which calls for nationalisation of the economy and expropriation of white land without compensation – are tapping into this disquiet.

A look back at the past 20 years is bittersweet. We have come so far, achieved so much, and yet have fallen so far short of truly transforming our country.

At an election debate, Congress of South African Trade Unions leader Zwelinzima Vavi, a fierce critic of corruption, told a minister who tried to defend Zuma's home improvements: "If you want people to believe in the future then you must be honest about the present."

The truth about South Africa today is that there are elements of a good story, as the ANC puts it. But that story is marred by how much better we could have been – and how much further we could have travelled – had we not allowed the twin evils of corruption and poor leadership to enter and settle into our political firmament.


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« Reply #13252 on: May 07, 2014, 05:42 AM »


Yemen's main oil export pipeline blown up

Gunmen also attack electricity lines, causing power cuts in northern cities

Reuters in Sana'a
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 09.29 BST   

Yemen's main oil export pipeline has been bombed, halting crude flows, local officials said, while other gunmen attacked electricity lines, causing a power outage in most of the country's northern cities.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Yemeni tribesmen often attack oil pipelines and power lines. Al-Qaida-linked militants have also carried out such attacks.

The attacks late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday coincided with an offensive by Yemeni government forces in mountainous areas of the south that led to the capture of the militants' main stronghold in that region.

The pipeline was bombed twice in less than 12 hours late on Tuesday in an area between the central Maarib province and the capital, Sana'a, officials said, an area that has suffered numerous attacks since 2011.

The pipeline carries crude from the Maarib fields in central Yemen to the Ras Isa oil terminal on the Red Sea. Before the spate of attacks began three years ago, the 270-mile (435km) pipeline carried around 110,000 barrels a day to Ras Isa.

Separately, gunmen forced the closure of the Maarib gas-fired power plant after twice attacking its power transmission lines in the early hours of Wednesday, the state news agency Saba reported.

It was the third attack in less than 48 hours by vandals who targeted other lines that transmit power between Maarib and Sana'a, Saba said.

Regional powers have pressed Yemen to curb Islamist insurgents and to restore order in the south to prevent threats to the top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, next door. They also want to reduce any risk of Yemen being used as a springboard for attacks on western targets.

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

Yemen calls for help to tackle multiple crises in Arab world's poorest country

London conference discusses ways of helping country suffering from poverty, malnutrition and grave security problems

Ian Black, Middle East editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 April 2014 12.00 BST   

Yemen is urging the international community to boost efforts to tackle its multiple crises of poverty, economic underdevelopment, resource depletion and grave humanitarian problems as it continues fighting a resurgent al-Qaida.

Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the country's foreign minister, said that Tuesday's meeting of the Friends of Yemen forum in London should focus on the economy, unemployment and poverty.

"To stabilise the political situation people need to see the standards of living, jobs and the services they lack," he told the Guardian. "The Friends of Yemen need to prioritise so we can use the funds that are available wisely."

The Friends of Yemen, set up in 2010, comprises 40 states and organisations which co-ordinate international support for the Arab world's poorest country. It suffers from the second highest malnutrition rates in the world, a lack of water and medicine, weak governance, corruption and grave security problems.

Apart from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) – the target of controversial US drone strikes – it also faces Houthi rebels and separatists in the south.

Yemeni military officials said on Tuesday that troops, backed by aircraft, had launched a major offensive to drive Aqap out of towns in Shabwa province. Five soldiers were reported killed in the fighting, in which hundreds of volunteers from a militia known as the Popular Committees were also taking part, news agencies reported.

Half of the 24 million population needs some kind of humanitarian assistance, the UN says. Tuesday's conference is being chaired jointly by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Yemen, said Qirbi, deserved help because unlike other Arab countries where popular uprisings had taken place it had managed to avoid civil war and, with Gulf Arab and western support, launched a successful transition process following the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after months of protests.

"We need more development, improved security, better economic growth," he said. "We have about $8bn [£4.75bn] allocated from donors, so far only about 25% of it has been spent. We have to work harder on better implementation."

The government recently set up an "executive bureau" in Sana'a to absorb aid more efficiently and detail the status of outstanding donor pledges.

Yemen is currently facing severe fuel shortages and there have been reports that the government will not be able to pay its own employees in two months without a massive cash injection.

After conducting a successful national dialogue it is now drawing up a new constitution for a new federal state with elections due next year.

"Yemen is both a forgotten success as well as a forgotten crisis," Alan Duncan, the UK international development minister, told a pre-conference seminar organised by Oxfam on Monday.

"Back in 2011 it was the transition in Yemen that seemed to be the most fragile and dangerous of the Arab spring. Now it has made more progress than most towards a peaceful political transition."

But its economic problems are worsening by the day. "While Yemen is wrestling with its new constitution, millions are going hungry, water is running out and dwindling fuel stocks are crippling production ahead of the harvest," warned Colette Fearon, Oxfam's Yemen director. "You cannot build a new country without food and water."

Qirbi said Yemeni security forces had not yet determined whether the Aqap leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, had been killed in three days of air strikes and drone attacks last week, which left a death toll of around 65 – fuelling criticism that counter-terror operations that kill innocent bystanders may end up recruiting more terrorists. DNA tests were being carried out to establish whether he and master bomber Ibrahim al-Asiri had died.

In the last few years the US, Britain and other western countries have focused on the Aqap threat following several attempts to bomb planes. Yemen has become an active frontline for al-Qaida as its Pakistani "core" has been weakened.

"Terrorist attacks in Yemen have a very negative impact on our image," said Qirbi. "It is one of the factors that has contributed to our economic ills because of the lack of investment and because tourism has almost disappeared.

"But the use of force is not the only solution for terrorism. In Yemen we are developing a comprehensive strategy that will look at the growth of terrorism, how people are recruited, funding and how to deal with it from an Islamic perspective, an economic one, and so on."

Meanwhile, Yemeni civil society groups have protested at being excluded from the Friends of Yemen event.

"The London conference has totally ignored Yemen's civil society and its vital role in the country's national development," a statement said.

"This exclusion takes place despite the fact that our organizations have and continue to carry out extremely important development and humanitarian operations perhaps not deliverable either by the government or international humanitarian agencies operating in the country."


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« Reply #13253 on: May 07, 2014, 05:44 AM »

U.S. Warns of 'Specific Terrorist Threat' to Uganda Churches

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 11:43

Churches in the Ugandan capital face a "specific terrorist threat", the U.S. embassy has warned, amid a wave of attacks in east Africa blamed on Islamist insurgents.

"The threat information indicates a group of attackers may be preparing to strike places of worship in Kampala, particularly churches, including some that may be frequented by expatriates, in May or June," the embassy warned in a statement to U.S. citizens Tuesday.

No specific group was mentioned in the warning, but Somalia's Al-Qaida linked Shebab insurgents or their supporters have been blamed for a string of attacks, especially in neighboring Kenya.

Both Uganda and Kenya are key contributors of troops to the African Union force fighting the Shebab in Somalia, and the Islamists have carried out major attacks in both countries in retaliation in the past.

In Kenya, two people were killed and dozens wounded in double bus bombings in the capital Nairobi on Sunday, a day after four were killed in twin attacks in the port city of Mombasa.

Shebab bombers killed at least 76 people in Uganda's capital Kampala in 2010.

Uganda set up a specialist tourism police force in March as part of counter-terrorism measures, amid warnings of Shebab attacks.

The United Nations has also warned of an increased threat of attacks from the Shebab following a major offensive launched against the militants in March.


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« Reply #13254 on: May 07, 2014, 05:47 AM »

Report: Israeli Spying on U.S. at Alarming Level

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 13:25

Israel spies on the United States more than any other ally does and these activities have reached an alarming level, Newsweek magazine reported Tuesday.

The main targets are U.S. industrial and technical secrets, the weekly said, quoting classified briefings on legislation that would make it easier for Israeli citizens to get visas to enter America.

Newsweek said a congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony "very sobering ... alarming ... even terrifying", and quoted another as saying the behavior was “damaging.”

"No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do," said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, according to Newsweek.

It said that briefing was one of several in recent months given by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate.

The former congressional staffer said the intelligence agencies did not give specifics, but cited "industrial espionage—folks coming over here on trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies, [or] intelligence operatives being run directly by the government, which I assume meant out of the [Israeli] Embassy.”

Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and go far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, Britain and Japan, counter-intelligence agents told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, Newsweek said.

"I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide was quoted as saying.

"But when you step back and hear ... that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking."

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman later denied the spying allegations, telling army radio: “We categorically reject such an accusation.”

"We're talking about lies and falsehood, simply libel which is baseless and unfounded," Lieberman said, describing the remarks as "malicious."

"I am sorry that there are apparently anonymous elements in the United States who are simply trying to maliciously spread false accusations," he said.

The minister said Israel had "learned its lesson" from the case of Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. naval analyst who was arrested in Washington in 1985 and sentenced to life in jail for spying on the United States for Israel.

Lieberman said Israel was not involved in any form of espionage against the United States, direct or indirect.

He also denied allegations in the Newsweek story that the alleged spying was connected to Israel's so-far futile attempts to join the U.S. visa waiver program.

Born into a Jewish family from Texas, Pollard passed to Israel thousands of secret documents about U.S. spy activities in the Arab world over a period of 18 months. He won Israeli citizenship in 1995 and was officially recognized as an Israeli spy three years later.

His arrest sparked a crisis in ties that only ended with Israel promising to end all espionage activities on U.S. soil.


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« Reply #13255 on: May 07, 2014, 05:49 AM »


Saudi Arabia breaks up 'al-Qaida-linked terror cell'

Riyadh announces arrest of 62 suspected members of jihadi group that had planned 'large-scale assassinations'

Ian Black, Middle East editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 18.24 BST   

Saudi Arabia has broken up a "major terrorist network" linked to al-Qaida groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen that was plotting attacks against government installations and foreign interests, authorities in Riyadh said.

The Saudi interior ministry said security forces had arrested 62 suspected members of the group, including three foreigners and 35 Saudi nationals who had previously been detained on terrorist-related allegations and freed.

Members of the organisation have "links with extremist elements in Syria and Yemen," the ministry said. Authorities were still hunting for 44 others.

Major-General Mansour al-Turki, the ministry spokesman, also told reporters in the capital that the Saudi organisation had made direct contact with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), an al-Qaida linked jihadi group that is fighting the Syrian government and other rebel groups.

The group had been targeting Saudi "government and foreign interests" and had planned "large-scale assassinations", Turki said. The arrests had been facilitated by "suspicious activities on social networks" – which are assumed to be closely monitored by Saudi intelligence.

"Elements of al-Qaida in Yemen were communicating with their counterpart elements in Syria in coordination with a number of misguided [people] at home in various provinces of the kingdom," Turki added.

Saudi security forces also dismantled a factory used to make explosives and electronic detonators and seized about 1 million Saudi riyals (£156,000). The suspects had been involved in smuggling people and weapons across the southern Saudi border.

The announcement comes against a background of growing anxiety in the conservative kingdom about the risk of "blowback" from jihadi groups fighting in Syria, despite enthusiastic Saudi government and private financial and logistical support for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month, the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, resigned after apparently losing an internal argument about security priorities. Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, the interior minister and a possible future candidate for the throne, has been working to discourage Saudis from going to Syria, fearing a repeat of what happened when young Saudi men, including Osama Bin Laden, were authorised to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In March, the Saudi interior ministry published a list of "terror" groups, including the al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida's official Syrian affiliate, Isis, and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The list also included the little-known Saudi Hezbollah group and Huthi rebels fighting in neighbouring Yemen, both of which may be linked to Iran.

Saudis are now officially banned from "participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries" as well as calling for demonstrations or taking part in them.

Saudi Arabia effectively defeated al-Qaida on its own soil after a wave of terrorist attacks between 2003 and 2006. Members of that group went on to merge with Yemeni extremists to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), which is based in Yemen and seen as one of the network's most formidable affiliates.

Others who were arrested went through much-vaunted official rehabilitation and re-education programmes. General Turki said these programmes could not be 100% effective but insisted that there was no better alternative.


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« Reply #13256 on: May 07, 2014, 05:51 AM »


El Salvador court issues arrest warrant for ex-president

Francisco Flores may have fled the country after being accused of misappropriating millions of dollars donated by Taiwan

Agence France-Presse in San Salvador
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 08.50 BST   

A Salvadoran judge has issued an arrest warrant for the former president Francisco Flores, who may have fled the country after being accused of misappropriating millions of dollars donated by Taiwan.

The court also ordered the seizure of Flores's assets including several homes, cars and boats, said the former president's lawyer, Edgar Morales.

Flores, who held power between 1999 and 2004, was investigated by congress and the attorney general's office in the wake of allegations by the current president, Mauricio Funes, that Flores received up to $15m (£9m) in donations from Taiwan without accounting for them.

Funes claimed Taipei donated the money to El Salvador in the last months of Flores's presidency, in 2003 and 2004. Flores has said he accepted money but did nothing inappropriate, passing it on through the proper channels.

The legislature speaker, Sigfrido Reyes, has asked Panama to help locate Flores, after a Panamanian media outlet reported that Flores was there. El Salvador's attorney general, Luis Martinez, told the broadcaster TCS last month that Flores was wanted for embezzlement, illicit enrichment and disobedience.


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« Reply #13257 on: May 07, 2014, 05:52 AM »

Drought forces Venezuelan capital to enact four-month water rationing plan

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 19:40 EDT

Water use in Caracas will be rationed for at least four months due to drought, authorities said Tuesday, as Venezuela grapples with shortages of basic goods which have spurred massive anti-government protests.

“We made a special water supply plan that will be released so that our people know the days they will have continuous service, night service and no service,” Environment Minister Miguel Leonardo Rodriguez told reporters.

One in every four goods including basic food, hygiene products, medicine and auto parts, however, have already become difficult to find, resulting in long, lengthy lines.

The shortages, rampant crime, inflation and other economic woes have resulted in more than two months of anti-government unrest which has left 41 people dead and more than 700 injured.

Rodriguez said that one of the three reservoirs that supply the Caracas valley with water was below minimum capacity and was closed.

The water supply to the capital and its suburbs, home to five million people, has fallen by 13 percent from 19,500 liters per second to 17,000.

“We hope that (the rationing) will end at the end of August or mid-September” Rodriguez said, placing its termination at an undefined date that depends on how the country’s upcoming rainy season goes.

For ten days residents of Caracas’s upper- and middle-class eastern neighborhoods have seen their water supply disrupted. Areas such as Petare, a sprawling slum on the city’s eastern edge, have also been affected by cuts.

Even when fully operating and unaffected by drought, water supply levels in the capital area are below international standards, capable of providing 340 liters per person per day, which is sufficient for household consumption but falls short of commercial and industrial demands.


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« Reply #13258 on: May 07, 2014, 05:54 AM »

Brazilian sports minister: World Cup will be safer than Iraq or Afghanistan

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 21:32 EDT

Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo admitted Tuesday the World Cup faced “serious” security problems — but said the country was not a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan.

Riots rocked Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana Beach district last month and fears about safety for thousands of football fans visiting Brazil were heightened last week by the fatal shooting of man during a clash with police close to the England team hotel in the city.

“We all have our tragedies and challenges, serious problems relating to security,” said Rebelo as he embarked on a spirited defense of Brazil, which is racing to be ready to host the World Cup from June 12 and has had to deal with years of negative press headlines.

But calling for perspective, he said: “I don’t think the English will confront greater threats in Manaus than in the Iraqi provinces or Afghanistan, where they recently lost hundreds of young soldiers.”

He did though concede that in Rio in particular, which hosts seven games including the final on July 13, there is “day-to-day civil violence… but we are taking precautions.”

That includes drafting a huge security force of 150,000 police and 20,000 private security agents for a tournament expected to attract some three million Brazilians and 600,000 foreign tourists.

Rio authorities deployed 2,000 more police this week — earlier than scheduled — after the clashes between military police and residents of a slum just a short walk from the Copacabana Beach tourist drag.

Copacabana will host Rio’s “fan fest” parties during the World Cup for ticketless supporters staying in a city whose huge slums are havens of gang violence and drug trafficking which police are struggling to contain.

- ‘Overcome them ‘ -

Rebelo also took aim at the British tabloid media for stories about crime in Manaus — where England open their tournament campaign against Italy on June 14.

One report last year headlined “Murderous Manaus” described the city as “one of the deadliest places on earth” with a homicide rate of three murders per day — triple that of Rio.

England coach Roy Hodgson admitted his team had wanted to avoid the venue, not least for its energy-sapping Amazon heat.

“The English got used to hot temperatures during the colonial era — and the Iraq war,” Rebelo said in a not-so-subtle dig.

While saluting Brazil’s “firm links with Britain,” he could not resist an additional barb.

Noting the northeastern coastal city of Recife hosts a British cemetery, a relic of a sea-faring colonial power’s historic tropical adventures, he said: “I don’t think its population will rise because of the World Cup!”

Rebelo said violence had rocked several sporting events around the world in the past, citing the Munich Olympics massacre and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, as well as suicide bombings in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics in February.

France also got the Rebelo treatment for “frequent problems in the metro” in Paris — while social problems sometimes had seen its suburbs erupt “in flames.”

Promising “modern, sophisticated” security for the World Cup, Rebelo said Brazil would cope with popular protests expected to occur during the event — some Brazilians have slammed corruption and the Cup costs, estimated at more than $11 billion.

“Brazil has constitutional protection for demonstrations but the law prohibits violent protests,” he warned.

“We will do everything to protect the population. We have our deficiencies but will tackle the problems and overcome them.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #13259 on: May 07, 2014, 06:14 AM »

In the USA....United Surveillance America

Supreme Court Throws Out Establishment Clause With Public Prayer Ruling

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 10:06 am      

At this nation’s founding, Thomas Jefferson was very specific that the reason for the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment was to prevent Christians from exerting their will on the young nation’s government, and to the Founding Fathers’ credit, their insistence on a secular government served this nation’s people well for 227 years. Over the past thirty years, since Republican demigod Ronald Reagan aligned himself with a Christian movement known as Dominionism and gave them the keys to government, the religious right plotted to impose theocracy on the people by demolishing the Constitution. Yesterday, Dominionists on the Supreme Court all but eliminated the last vestige of the Separation and Establishment Clause and setup Christianity as a government institution the five conservatives on the Court justified as “tradition.” The only tradition remotely related to the High Court’s ruling was eradicating the tradition of America with a secular government set out by the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers, and created the opening Christian Dominionists cheered as they prepare for their impending Christian government.

When Americans in the near future look back and wonder how, why, and when their democracy was lost to theocracy, and the Constitution replaced with the bible, they can look back at the Court’s ruling as a pivotal moment, not the deciding moment, in democracy’s demise but a very significant one all the same. The Court’s decision is another advancement of Dominionist theology that over the past five years took advantage of dirty racists’ hatred of Barack Obama to set about culminating a thirty-year crusade to establish a Christian nation. All the  while, most on the left demurred and counseled those warning of government by religion to “find common ground and dialogue with the religious right and Dominionists” about how to move forward “together” to save America.  There is no such thing as common ground with evangelical extremists or Dominionists, or any chance of saving America as a secular nation after the Supreme Court ruled in The Town of Greece v. Galloway. The Christian majority ruled that opening government meetings with blatantly sectarian (Christian) prayers is constitutional, and that separation between church and state is a myth.

Writing for the Supreme Court’s Christian majority, Anthony Kennedy said “since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and ex­presses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.” Kennedy’s pathetic ignorance of the Separation Clause was evidenced by his opinion that there were “traditional ties between religion and government that date back to the nation’s earliest days,” regardless of the Founders’ intent there were never to be any ties between religion and government. Kennedy also abandoned earlier rulings that prayers at government meetings were to be nonsectarian saying, “to hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force legislatures that ‘sponsor prayers’ to involve government in religious matters” to a far greater degree than the town’s current practice of scheduling exclusively Christian prayers in advance.

The case only went to the High Court because the Town of Greece started its public meetings with a prayer from “a chaplain of the month” who was always a Christian and used distinctly Christian sectarian language such as “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” “your son Jesus Christ,” and “our lord and savior Jesus Christ” to note just a sampling of all prayers at public meetings.  Justice Elena Kagan, in writing for the minority, said “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian, constantly and exclusively so.” The Dominionist majority opinion said that is what makes the government meeting prayers so brilliantly constitutional; they are explicitly, constantly, and exclusively Christian as was Founders intent as an American tradition.

Kennedy also wrote that Christian prayers at government meetings “reflect the values long part of the nation’s heritage” putting the full force and weight of the nation’s highest court behind evangelical extremists’ assertions that America was founded, by design of the Constitution’s Framers, as a Christian nation governed by the Christian bible. It is highly probable that Kennedy subscribes to the David Barton revisionist history, and Republican evangelicals absurd assertion, that god founded America as a Christian nation at the precise moment he delivered his handwritten copy of the Constitution to the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the rest of the secularists who founded this nation would take exception to Kennedy’s opinion for the Christian majority. A constitutional law professor at the University of California at Irvine, Erwin Chemerinsky, said that the ruling “allows cities to be more visibly aligned with a particular (Christian) religion than ever before,” and that the Dominionist ruling “is a significant further erosion of the wall separating church and state;” a separation evangelical extremists claim, and the Dominionist court just confirmed, is non-existent. Thomas Jefferson would vehemently disagree.

This Court’s gift to Dominionists and the religious right is another direct assault on the Founders’ intent that America is a secular nation and that government cannot give special privileges, or establish any sectarian religious belief. Just three days ago it was reported here that an Alabama Supreme Court Justice stated the First Amendment only applies to Christians, and the High Court is set to rule on whether “exercise of religion” is the death knell of the 14th Amendment.  Last week at a Republican candidate forum to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate, the event hosted by the Family Leader enlisted four candidates who declared their unwavering support for America ruled by biblical law, including confirming only prospective jurists who would rule according to biblical principles.

In states, primarily southern bible-belt states, Republicans blatantly flaunt the Establishment and Separation Clause by stealing money for public schools and giving it to private Christian schools. In many of the same states, bible creationism is taught as established science and science is castigated as an assault on religion and a liberal plot to indoctrinate students. Every year across America Christian preachers video-tape themselves campaigning for Republicans from the pulpit and send the tapes to the Internal Revenue Service daring them to revoke their tax-exempt status with the express purpose of going before the Dominionist Court to sanction the IRS for violating church religious liberty. All of the Christian Dominionists, and many are not evangelical extremists, have the same intent of enticing the government to challenge their actions in court so the Dominionist Supreme Court will rule taxpayer money for private religious instruction, teaching the bible as science, holding teacher-led Christian prayers, and campaigning from the pulpit is constitutional.

When will Dominionists and evangelical extremists stop their crusade to completely shred the Constitution and replace it with a bible?  If one listens to the chorus on the left cheering the religious right’s demise and claiming America as a secular nation has never been safer, evangelical extremists and Dominionists pose no threat whatsoever even as a constitutional law professor said yesterday’s ruling “is a significant further erosion of the wall separating church and state.” But what does a constitutional law professor know that pie-in-the-sky liberals do not  because they seek “common ground with religious right extremists and Dominionists” about how to save America. Too late.

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

Democratic Senator Unloads On Republicans For Opposing Obama Because He Is The Wrong Color

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 7:10 pm   

Retiring Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller unloaded on Republicans during a hearing today. He said that Republicans don’t want anything good to happen for this president because he’s the wrong color.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on transportation funding, Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) said, “It’s an American characteristic that you don’t do anything which displeases the voters, because you always have to get reelected here. I understand part of it. It has to do with — for some, it’s just we don’t want anything good to happen under this president, because he’s the wrong color.”

Rockefeller admitted that he is mad at himself for not speaking up about a lot of things earlier, and he criticized his colleagues for putting their own political self interest ahead of making the tough decisions to do what is right.

It is one thing for a senator to hint as these kinds of racial motivations for opposing President Obama on cable news, but it is quite another to do so on the record during a Senate hearing. Obama is now well into his second year of his second term, so the Republican opposition is no longer about getting this president out of office.

There is some self-interest at work, as obstructing Obama looks good to the Republican voters back in red states, but one gets the sense that Rockefeller is correct. Republicans oppose Obama because they don’t want to see anything good happen for the nation’s first African American president.

The Republican obstruction has reached the point where this is no longer about the color of President Obama’s skin. Racism has seeped into the Republican Party itself, and Democrats are battling a political culture of race based policy justifications that the GOP has adopted. From budget architect Paul Ryan to the party’s irrational opposition to immigration reform, Republicans have moved from raced based opposition to Obama to raced based opposition to non-whites.

Something ugly has emerged from the Republican Party. What began as racial opposition to President Obama has turned into a pattern of behavior that Democrats may have to call out and battle in the years to come.

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Louie Gohmert: Constitution only protects Americans who ‘cling to God and guns’

By David Edwards
RawStory
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 11:21 EDT

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) recently asserted that the U.S. Constitution only applied to people “who cling to their God and their guns.”

Speaking at a rally in Iowa for Republican Senate candidate Sam Clovis on Friday, Gohmert recalled that he had initially been blamed after Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) had shouted “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

“Somebody yells ‘You lie!’ and the camera goes on me!” he told the crowd, adding that he “knew” the president wasn’t telling the truth about an immigration bill.

“And so Joe was right,” Gohmert continued. “That’s not how a country goes forward effectively, with a leader that will play those kinds of games. You know, truth is too important.”

The Texas Republican then pointed to an 1798 John Adams quote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“It only is fit for people who cling to their God and their guns, you know?” Gohmert offered as an interpretation to the delight of the crowd. “So, it is deeply troubling if you get in these tough situations and you can’t trust your leadership.”

The congressman added that he would never personally violate the rules of decorum in the House of Representatives, but he liked to take his criticism of the president “right up to the line.”

“We know under the rules of the House of Representatives that our president would not lie,” he quipped. “But whoever is putting those words in his teleprompter sure is.”

Former Council for Secular Humanism Regional Director Austin Cline has pointed out that “John Adams didn’t write the Constitution, much less the First Amendment… Just because he might have thought that the Constitution was incompatible with a nation of secular atheists doesn’t mean that anyone else necessarily has to think the same.”

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White House Hopes Climate Change Report Will Finally Get GOP To Stop Denying Its Existence

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 2:09 pm   

A new climate change report was released by the White House on Tuesday. The National Climate Assessment, which is prepared every four or so years by the US Global Change Research Program, states that not only is climate change is an economic and environmental threat in the not-so-distant future, but that the Unites States is already in the midst of dealing with its effects right now. While the report itself didn’t offer any broad policy recommendations, it did present the impact that global warming is having on the country now and what the future holds if we stay on the same path when it comes to carbon emissions and other man-made factors.

Below is the assessment’s overview, which pretty much tells the whole picture:

    Climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways. Certain types of extreme weather events with links to climate change have become more frequent and/or intense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warming is causing sea level to rise and glaciers and Arctic sea ice to melt, and oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. These and other aspects of climate change are disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.

The White House released a statement on Tuesday in regards to this report. It is apparent that President Obama wants to make awareness of climate change, and combating the rapid growth in global temperatures, a priority.

    “The findings in this National Climate Assessment underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids.”

In a conference call discussing the report, White House counselor John Podesta stated that he hoped that Republicans would look at this report change their minds on the existence of climate change and that it is indeed caused by man. Besides acknowledging its existence, the hope is that Republicans realize the long-term impact that rapid and extreme climate change has on the nation’s, and worlds, economy and will be proactive in working with Democrats and world leaders on solutions and policy changes.

Right now, though, conservatives can’t be bothered to think about anything that might actually affect the lives of every living person on the planet when they have bigger fish to fry right now. Despite the fact that over 300 experts worked on a report that shows that the United States, and the planet as a whole, is in a crisis state right now due to the real-time impact of climate change, Republican leaders had only one thing on their mind on Tuesday.

    The public has a right to know what else the White House is hiding on #Benghazi.

    — Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) May 6, 2014

    Will be speaking with .@FoxNews in just a few minutes about the latest on #Benghazi. — Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) May 6, 2014

    Judging by White House’s reaction to #Benghazi #SelectCommittee, this topic may have missed their reading list… pic.twitter.com/DQRvhVpRrW

    — Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 6, 2014

    .@ChicagoTribune: Americans deserve the truth about #Benghazi http://t.co/5NL12JnUe0 — John Boehner (@johnboehner) May 6, 2014

    The Obama admin does not respect the authority of Congress to provide #Benghazi oversight: http://t.co/nbaLpuNHsg

    — Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) May 6, 2014

    Why won’t the #WH say if they will participate in a #Benghazi investigation? http://t.co/Plv7ju7nI3 — Reince Priebus (@Reince) May 6, 2014

Not one of these figures could even spend 140 characters sharing an opinion on this extremely vital report that was released on Tuesday. Nope, Tuesday was like any other day in the past week for them…all Benghazi, all the time. Thankfully, they have a willing media partner in Fox News to help push the only topic they’ve deemed fit to discuss. On Monday, Fox News anchor Jon Scott dismissed Podesta as an ‘understudy’ of White House Spokesman Jay Carney and pulled away from live coverage of the White House’s press briefing where Podesta was discussing energy policy, stating that they’d only go back if there was any mention of Benghazi.

Also on Monday, The Five’s Dana Perino talked about an event scheduled for Tuesday where the President would be meeting with meteorologists from across the country to discuss this report. Perino actually stated that she wanted at least one meteorologist to hammer the President with questions on Benghazi, because that is what’s most important now.

    “Tomorrow, President Obama is going to do interviews with meteorologists all across the country about a new climate change report. … I hope they ask him about Benghazi. Like the weatherman from Montana should ask him about Benghazi, that would be great. I dare you.”

Yeah, I don’t think conservatives are going to take climate change seriously for a while, if ever.

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Fox News Claims Climate Change Report Is A Distraction From Benghazi

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 5:36 pm      

The White House released a comprehensive climate change report on Tuesday. The report, worked on by over 300 scientists and experts and legally mandated by the federal government, presented the facts on man-made global climate change and pointed out what will likely occur in the present and near-future. The US Global Change Research Program and their National Climate Assessments came about during George H.W. Bush’s presidency. The USGCRP is required to release a National Climate Assessment every four years.

Well, you knew this was coming. On Tuesday, while announcing that the White House had released this report, Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, host of America’s Newsroom, stated that the report was perhaps being used to distract people from the “multiple scandals swirling around the administration.” Obviously, by referencing scandals, Hemmer was stating that a report that was required to be released by the federal government was being used by this President to make people forget about Benghazi. Because, right now, on Fox News, it is Benghazi 24/7. It seems as if Roger Ailes has ordered that for the next few months, it is all Benghazi, all the time.

Not only did Hemmer make it appear that this report, which has been worked on for quite a while and is mandated to be done by the government, is merely a distraction from Benghazi, he and co-host Martha McCallum presented a statement from notorious climate change denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) saying that it was meant to distract from the President’s “regulatory agenda.”

    “With this report, the president is attempting to once again distract Americans from his unchecked regulatory agenda that is costing our nation millions of job opportunities and our ability to be energy independent.”

Basically, per Republicans and the conservative media, President Obama cannot discuss anything except for the topics and subjects that conservatives want to talk about. Anything else is a distraction from the narrative that has been set at that moment. Any time there is an attempt to perhaps have an important discussion on policy or social change, conservatives throw up their hands and cry, “Distraction! Distraction! Distraction!” Right now, all Fox News wants to talk about is Benghazi. Therefore, any possible story that isn’t focused squarely on Benghazi (unless it one that makes the President or Democrats look bad) has to be, by definition, a distraction.

Therefore, despite this report presenting us with the dire economic and environmental impacts to this nation and planet if we continue not to act in regards to climate change, and pointing out that we’ve already seen the effects that climate change has had on our nation’s economy, Fox News and the rest of conservative media is going to conveniently toss this all aside as the President’s attempt to make everyone forget about Benghazi. It will be interesting how history looks back at this period of time, when a large section of our nation’s population decided it wasn’t worth their time and effort to be concerned about real and large-scale problems, and instead just wanted to focus on their own animus towards a black man being in the White House.

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Republicans Try To Silence House Democrats By Kicking Them Out of a Taxpayer Funded Room

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 12:18 pm   

Top House Democrats, including Leader Nancy Pelosi were supposed to be holding a Steering and Policy Committee hearing on the Republican refusal to extend unemployment benefits, but Republicans kicked Democrats out of their scheduled room.

House Democrats had to abruptly turn their hearing into a press conference, when Republicans refused to let them have a room to hold the hearing in.

According to a statement from Rep. Pelosi’s office, “House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Members of the House Democratic Caucus will hold a press conference today in the wake of House Republicans’ refusal to allow the stories of Americans severely affected by the loss of this vital lifeline to be heard. Leader Pelosi and House Democrats will call on Speaker Boehner and the House Republican leadership to end their callous indifference to the nearly 3 million individuals who have lost UI since the program expired on December 28 and to #RenewUI this critical lifeline.”

What happened was that Democrats had a hearing room scheduled, and at the last minute, Republicans told them that they couldn’t use it.

There is no limit to how low House Republicans will go to prevent the message that they are hurting 3 million Americans by refusing to extend emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Boehner and company will grant endless hours of time and as many rooms as needed for Benghazi, IRS, or any other number of conspiracy based hearings, but Democrats can’t even get a room for a couple of hours to talk about the plight of 3 million Americans who have been pushed into dire poverty because Republicans refuse to extend unemployment benefits.

House Republicans may hold the majority, but they don’t own the building. Those hearing rooms belong to the taxpayers. Republicans have the right as the majority to control the scheduling, but their behavior is a slap in the face to the democratic process.

The American people want unemployment benefits extended. Every poll taken since before the benefits expired has shown that large majorities support extending the benefits. House Republicans are not only trying to silence Democrats. They are also trying to silence the American people.

John Boehner likes to refer to the House as “The People’s House,” but today the people were denied a voice, and the needs are being ignored by a Republican majority that cares more about the Koch brothers than the millions of American lives they are destroying.

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Monica Lewinsky Destroys GOP Hopes of Using Bill’s Scandal Against Hillary Clinton

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, May, 6th, 2014, 3:21 pm      

Monica Lewinsky is back, and she is debunking the talking points that Republicans are hoping to use against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been going around the country for months calling former President Clinton a sexual predator who abused his power.

On Meet The Press, Paul said,

    Well, you know, I mean the Democrats one of their big issues is they have concocted and says Republicans are committing a war on women. One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office, and I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this.

    He took advantage of a girl that was twenty years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office. This isn’t having an affair. I mean this isn’t me saying he’s had an affair we shouldn’t talk to him. Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office. I mean really? And then they have the gall to stand up and say Republicans are having a war on women.

Republicans like Sen. Paul are trying to paint her as the victim, but Monica Lewinsky tells a vastly different story. Vanity Fair has published excerpts from an upcoming story that was written by Lewinsky herself, “Maintaining that her affair with Clinton was one between two consenting adults, Lewinsky writes that it was the public humiliation she suffered in the wake of the scandal that permanently altered the direction of her life: “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position. . . . The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.”

I don’t think this is a path that any Republican should want to go down in 2016. The Lewinsky scandal stuff didn’t work in the late 90s, and it definitely isn’t going to work nearly 20 years later.

The interesting thing about Lewinsky’s quote above is that she is blaming both former President Clinton’s throwing her under the bus, Republicans, and the media for the fact that she has been branded for life. I believe that it is time to let Monica Lewinsky live her life. She wasn’t the first woman in history to have an affair with the President Of The United States, and she probably won’t be the last.

The strategy of using the Lewinsky scandal to tarnish Hillary Clinton is destined to backfire. Republicans would only serve to alienate and anger more women if they chose to make what happened during Bill Clinton’s second term a focus of the 2016 election.

Monica Lewinsky’s own words illustrate just how wrong it is to bring this scandal up again. Rand Paul has no idea what he is talking about, and he will definitely regret it if he chooses to go there with Hillary Clinton in 2016.


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