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« Reply #13440 on: May 17, 2014, 05:40 AM »

Two Million Votes at Risk in East Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 12:59

Almost two million people in eastern Ukraine could be prevented from voting in the presidential election if the government fails to ensure security in rebel areas, the country's election body warned on Saturday.

The Central Election Commission said it could be impossible to organize the May 25 vote in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russian insurgents fighting Kiev's rule have declared their own independent republics.

"With the information we have to hand at the moment, we cannot organize preparations for the vote because of illegal actions by unknown people," the commission said in a statement, referring to the separatists.

The commission cited cases of "threats and physical pressure" against local election officials and said there were a number of offices where the security of its staff could not be assured.

The commission complained that local police and security forces had failed to act and called on interim President Oleksandr Turchynov to take measures to ensure security at polling stations on election day.

Almost two million voters are registered in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, according to an AFP tally of commission figures.

In total, 36 million Ukrainians are eligible to vote in the May 25 poll, seen in the West as crucial if the country is able to claw its way out of the escalating crisis on Europe's eastern flank.

The election was called by the new leaders installed in Kiev after months of sometimes deadly pro-EU protests led to the February ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Pro-Russians in the east took up arms against central government rule in April, branding those who took power ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists.

The rebels declared sovereignty in Donetsk and Lugansk after claiming victory in May 11 independence referendums rejected as illegitimate by Kiev and the West.

An opinion poll this week found that only a third of voters in the east were planning to cast their ballots in the election, widely expected to be won by billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko.

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NATO Chief 'Can No Longer Trust' Russia after Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 16:45

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday he could no longer trust Russia's assurances on the territorial integrity of countries in the region after its annexation of Crimea.

"After what we have seen in Ukraine, no one can trust Russia's so-called guarantees on other countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity," Rasmussen told a press conference during a visit to Romania.

NATO's secretary-general was referring to remarks by Russian officials saying Moscow would observe Moldova's territorial integrity provided the former Soviet republic remained neutral and offered a special status to the breakaway region of Transdniester.

In an interview with Romanian website HotNews.ro Thursday, Rasmussen said he expected Moscow to increase pressure on Moldova and Georgia, as the two ex-Soviet satellites prepare to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union on June 27, a move angering Russia and Russian-speaking Transdniester.

He said Russia aimed to prevent its former satellites having closer ties with the EU and NATO.

"In 1994 Russia guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and what we have seen recently is ... a grab of land by force, an illegal annexation of Crimea," Rasmussen said in Bucharest.

He added that every nation has a right to decide its alliances, and urged Russia "to live up to its international obligations and not try to destabilize the situation, neither in Moldova nor in Ukraine."

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's recent warning of a third world war breaking out were "a bit dramatic", Rasmussen said.

NATO had already reinforced the collective defense of its members and "will not hesitate to take further steps" in that respect if needed, he added.

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

Obama, Hollande Warn Russia of New Ukraine Sanctions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 22:58

Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande warned Russia on Friday of significant new sanctions if Moscow keeps up its "provocative and destabilizing" behavior in Ukraine.

During their telephone call, the U.S. and French leaders also discussed the hunt for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria and a conference Hollande is hosting in Paris this weekend on combating the Islamic militant group Boko Haram that is holding them, the White House said in a statement.

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Rebels Seize Military Barracks in Ukraine's Donetsk

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 20:13

Armed rebels seized control of a Ukrainian military barracks in the insurgent-held eastern city of Donetsk on Friday, an Agence France Presse correspondent at the scene said.

Explosions were also heard in Donetsk, a rare occurrence in the region's main city in recent weeks despite the pro-Russian insurgency in the east.

But they did not appear to be linked to the takeover of the National Guard barracks, and the correspondent said the separatists had not encountered any resistance as they overran the complex.

She said there was no sign of combat and the troops -- special forces attached to the interior ministry -- had left the barracks in trucks.

Kiev's interim leaders last month launched what they described as an "anti-terrorist" operation to try to wrest back control of over a dozen eastern towns from pro-Russian rebels.

But despite the Ukrainian military's superior firepower, the insurgents are digging in and going on the offensive.

"We control the base," was all one of the armed men would say at the Donetsk barracks.

"Everything happened calmly. We saw them arrive, armed men wearing masks. They surrounded the building and then there were about two hours of negotiations," said one local resident.

"They told the troops they could either join the rebellion or leave the barracks."

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

The Pig snorts to the Crimea's Tatars their future lies with Russia

UN warns Muslim minority has suffered harassment and persecution since peninsula was annexed from Ukraine

Alec Luhn in Simferopol
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 16.48 BST   

Pig Putin has snorted Crimea's Tatars that they must accept that their future lies with Russia, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of their mass deportation from their ancestral homeland.

Pig Putin's squeals came as the UN warned that the Tatars have been the subject of harassment and persecution since the Black Sea peninsula was annexed from Ukraine in March.

Speaking after meeting Tatar representatives, Pig snorted: "Today we must all realise that the interests of the Crimean Tatars today are tied to Russia."

He said: "We are ready to work with all people" but added: "None of us can allow the Crimean Tatar people to become a bargaining chip in disputes … especially in disputes between Russia and Ukraine."

Meanwhile, Crimea's prime minister issued a decree forbidding all public demonstrations until 6 June, in an apparent attempt to prevent the annual rally on Sunday commemorating Stalin's deportation of the Tatars in 1944.

Sergei Aksyonov said the ban was necessary to avoid "provocations by extremists" and "disruption to the resort season".

But thousands of Tatars are expected to gather for an event that experts say will determine the course of the burgeoning conflict between the Tatars and the pro-Russia regional government.

Tensions between the Tatars and Crimea's ethnic Russians have grown steadily since the independence referendum in March. Most Russian speakers supported the move to join Russia; the Tatars – a Muslim minority who make up about 12% of the population – largely boycotted the vote and wanted to remain in Ukraine.

On the day of the referendum, the body of Reshat Ametov, a Tatar who had protested against the seizure of the peninsula by Russian troops, was found with signs he had been tortured.

He had last seen alive in video footage showing unmarked men in camouflage leading him away from a protest in Simferopol's Lenin Square.

"It's like when we came in the 1990s, they looked at us askance. It's the same way now," said his wife, Zarina Ametova. "They look at us like an enemy."

Aksyonov has denied that local militias had anything to do with Ametov's murder, which remains unsolved. But many fear the murder was the start of a campaign of violence and political persecution against the Tatars.

The US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, told Congress this month: "We are extremely concerned about the human rights situation for all Crimeans but notably for Tatars."

In a report released on Friday, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the Tatars faced numerous problems including physical harassment, fear of religious persecution and internal displacement.

The report warned of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern Ukraine, where it said insurgent groups had carried out "targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment".

The UN highlighted the case of the Crimean Tatars' unofficial leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Ukrainian MP and former Soviet dissident, who was banned from the peninsula after he left for meetings in Kiev and was not allowed back in.

Dzhemilev has set the tone for the Tatar people and their self-governing Mejlis council by refusing to recognise the new pro-Russia government and the referendum to join Russia, even telling the Russian president, the Pig, to withdraw Russian troops in a phone call before the vote.

"They want to make us all Russian citizens, but there's no democracy in Russia," Dzhemilev said. "We're used to living more freely."

After Dzhemilev was denied entry to Crimea for the second time on 3 May, more than 1,000 Tatars closed roads around the peninsula in protest.

In response, Crimea's chief prosecutor, Natalia Poklonskaya, said last week that members of the Mejlis were suspected of "extremist activity" and that the council could be "liquidated".

Sahri Mustafayev, one of those who closed roads, said he had been fined 15,000 rubles (£260) last week along with at least 10 others, adding that 200 others also faced fines. But he plans to appeal against the decision, and the harsh measures seem to have only hardened protesters' resolve.

"I'm a Crimean Tatar, why can't I say what I want?" Mustafayev said. "This is our homeland. We have nowhere else to go. I would rather die here than listen to this new government.

"We're waiting for what the Mejlis will say to us. If they say rise up, we will," he said, but added that Tatars were also waiting for the results of the Ukrainian presidential election on 25 May, in which many of them hope to vote.

Dzhemilev said the Mejlis was split on whether to refuse to cooperate with the new government, but he thought it would have to compromise.

The political tension has been exacerbated by incidents such as one in which a 14-year-old Crimean Tatar was beaten by unknown men who reportedly said Tatars should be kicked off the peninsula.
Russia's Vladimir Putin with his envoy to Crimea Oleg Belaventsev and Crimea's PM Sergei Aksyonov Russian president Vladimir Putin, his envoy to Crimea Oleg Belaventsev and Crimean PM Sergei Aksyonov meet Tatar representatives in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

A member of the Mejlis, Abduraman Egiz, was beaten on camera last week by men who he said identified themselves as members of a pro-Russia self-defence unit and demanded to check his documents.

Tatar leaders are calling for the liquidation of self-defence forces, which have been a major issue of contention for the community.

"They say they ensure law and order. We think that they don't ensure it, they start conflicts," Egiz said, adding that beatings were on the rise. "They're dangerous in Crimea. They destabilise the situation."

Local police did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the independent Crimean political analyst Sergei Kostinsky, the Kiev government had previously kept discrimination against Tatars by the Crimean government in check.

Despite a promise by Pig last month to deal with issues including housing for Crimean Tatars, Kostinsky said Moscow has yet to take serious steps to rein in "Crimean chauvinism". Russians are beginning to express old biases in everyday life, he said.

Kostinsky attributed the pressure on Tatar political leaders to the Kremlin's attempt to crush opposition to its rule in Crimea and eventually divide the Tatars politically.

"Today Crimea is supposed to be a window exhibit for Russia, the world community, Ukraine," he said. "There's supposed to be mass support for Russia here, and if there is 12% to 20% of the population that considers itself to be Ukrainian it will ruin the picture and negatively affect the image of Russia, which says that the Crimeans invited it to invade."

About 1,500 Crimean Tatars have fled to western Ukraine, most of them fearing religious persecution, according to Rustem Ablyatifov, a Crimean Tatar who heads the pro-European integration NGO Institute for a Civil Society.

Dzhemilev has said a total of 5,000 Crimean Tatars have had to leave since the Russian takeover. Ablyatifov fled to Lviv because he was afraid of retaliation for his active support of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev after security services followed him and tried to arrest him, he said.

"When they detained us they shouted: 'We'll deal with you Muslims, we'll show you!'" he said.

About 30 Crimean Tatars have received political asylum in Poland, according to Ismail Ismailov, a pro-Euromaidan activist who has himself fled to Azerbaijan.

"The chauvinists have more government posts now. They feel more confident, and they will constantly put pressure on Crimean Tatars," Ismailov said.

For now, the conflict has yet to affect the daily lives of most Tatars. At the Khan's Palace in Bakhchysarai, the historical capital of the Crimean Tatars, tourists and a Russian wedding party posed for photographs on Sunday as Tatars sat outside the mosque.

At the city bazaar, where Russians and Tatars hawk their wares side by side, a Russian, Viktoria Bayeva, said that "everything seems friendly" for now.

"Of course we're worried, we're worried about the future of our children, but we hope it will be OK," said a Tatar woman named Sabina, who was sitting with her two daughters outside the mosque.

"For now the conflict isn't touching these peaceful women, but it could touch their husbands and brothers," said Nadzhie Femi, a local journalist who writes for Radio Free Europe.

"When they forbid a Tatar, especially one of such status as Dzhemilev, to enter Crimea … it's interpreted as the start of bigger repressions".

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

Kerry Denounces Rights Abuses against Crimea's Tatars

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 22:47

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday denounced fresh human rights abuses of Crimea's Tatars, 70 years after the minority group was expelled from the then-Soviet Union.

The Tatars, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, will commemorate the anniversary of the mass deportation on Sunday amid tensions over Moscow's annexation of the peninsula, which has revived memories of the tragedy.

Starting May 18, 1944, Soviet secret police under Joseph Stalin began shipping Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. The Tatars, accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany, were packed onto trains for weeks with no drinking water or medical care.

Those who survived the journey had to live in special camps until after Stalin's death in 1953.

Official figures say 193,000 people were deported, but Crimean Tatars put the number at closer to 240,000 -- including many soldiers who fought in the Red Army.

Kerry said "Russia's occupation and illegal attempt to annex Crimea has reopened old wounds."

"The list of human rights abuses committed today in Crimea is long and grows longer with each passing week," the top U.S. diplomat said in a statement.

"Murder, beatings and the kidnapping of Crimean Tatars and others have become standard fare."

Kerry said the United States will "commemorate the tragedy of 1944 with heavy hearts, even as we stand in solidarity with Crimean Tatars today against a new threat to their community."

Washington has repeatedly denounced the "illegal annexation" of Crimea by Russia in March and expressed support for "Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Many Crimean Tatars opposed Russia's annexation of the peninsula in March and firmly reject the new pro-Russian authorities.

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

Hungary's Orban Urges Western Ukraine Autonomy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 09:23

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday renewed a controversial call for autonomy for his ethnic kin in western Ukraine, less than a week after sparking a diplomatic row with both Kiev and Warsaw.

"The full weight of the Hungarian state is behind the autonomy demands of the Transcarpathian Hungarians," Orban said in an interview on the M1 public television channel late Friday.

Around 200,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Ukraine, almost all in the Transcarpathia region which belonged to Hungary before World War I.

"A stable and democratic Ukraine is in our interest, but Ukraine cannot be stable or democratic unless it gives the minorities and national communities living there, including the Hungarian one, what they are entitled to," Orban said, citing "dual citizenship, collective, or community rights, and autonomy".

Orban has granted dual citizenship to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries since a new law was adopted in 2011.

He also stressed that in the case of Russia's "violation" of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, "Hungary must support Ukraine".

Friday's remarks came after his inauguration speech on May 10 in the Hungarian parliament where lawmakers reelected him for a second consecutive term as prime minister following a landslide election win in April.

Ukraine's foreign ministry summoned Budapest's ambassador to explain the comments on Tuesday, while Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Orban's statement was "unfortunate".

Ukraine’s neighbors must show solidarity and must have an interest in sustaining its unity and independence, Tusk told journalists in Warsaw on Tuesday.

"We have to be careful not to support, directly or indirectly, pro-Russia separatists. [Orban's] words were ill-timed and ill-placed," he added.

Later in the week, Hungary's Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said Orban did not mean "territorial" autonomy.

In Friday's interview Orban said many legal forms of autonomy exist in Europe, and that Transcarpathia Hungarians will say which form they want.


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« Reply #13441 on: May 17, 2014, 05:43 AM »

Gazprom Head Soothes Europe Over Gas Supply via Ukraine

By REUTERS
MAY 17, 2014, 6:46 A.M. E.D.T.

MOSCOW — Russia's Gazprom assured European customers it would continue to supply their gas, after its threat to halts supplies to transit nation Ukraine next month over non-payment.

Any shortfall would be the fault of Ukraine, chief executive Alexei Miller told Russian television. Moscow blamed theft by Ukraine for a disruption to exports in a previous dispute.

Russia has warned that it will not supply Ukraine with gas in June unless Kiev pays in advance $1.66 billion by June 2, raising fears that gas piped to Europe through Ukraine could be affected.

"Gazprom will simply supply Ukraine as much as gas as it will have bought, and to the Russian border with Ukraine we will send as much gas as Europe should get and Ukraine should transit," Miller said in an interview on Rossiya-24 television.

"It would be our Ukrainian partners' responsibility for a so-called unauthorized off-take. But Gazprom from its part will do everything to ensure that European customers have no problems," Miller told the news show Vesti.

Gazprom said on Friday that exports to Europe via Ukraine remained stable, as they have so far during mounting tensions between Moscow and Kiev - and Russia and the West - since the removal of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president in February.

Previous disputes over gas have left Europe, which gets around a third of its gas needs from Russia, with limited supplies at the height of winter.

Ukraine, which owes Russia $3.5 billion for past gas deliveries, wants to change the conditions of a 2009 contract that locked Kiev into buying a set volume, whether it needs it or not, at $485 per 1,000 cubic meters.

On Friday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia was ready to discuss a discount if Kiev pays off more than the $2.2 billion it owed as of April 1 in a sign the two sides were edging toward a potential compromise.


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« Reply #13442 on: May 17, 2014, 05:45 AM »

Auschwitz commandant’s grandson leads fight against Europe’s neo-Nazis

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 16, 2014 8:12 EDT

Rainer Hoess was 12 years old when he learned he was the grandson of a man who oversaw the murder of a million people as commandant of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Growing up in post-war Germany, Hoess failed to understand why his school gardener — a Holocaust survivor — was consistently harsh towards to him, until a teacher revealed the terrible truth.

“I knew nothing about Auschwitz, I knew nothing about my family, I only knew that my grandfather was in the war like thousands of other grandfathers were,” Hoess told AFP.

Rudolf Hoess was the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in occupied Poland that became an enduring symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews.

“For a 12-year-old boy it’s huge information,” his grandson said.

Now aged 48, Hoess has turned his family burden into the driving force of a full-time commitment to fighting right-wing extremism.

He was in Sweden recently to promote a campaign against the rise of neo-Nazi movements across Europe, launched Wednesday ahead of the upcoming European elections.

“Right-wing extremists are not stupid,” he said. “They are growing, gaining ground, very slowly but very effectively.”

“I’m very aggressive against them,” added Hoess, who has turned down multiple offers to participate in neo-Nazi events.

“Every time I have the chance to work against them, I will do that.”

Entitled “Never Forget. To Vote”, the campaign launched by the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League (SSU) ahead of the May 22-25 vote sees the ballot box as the best defence against resurgent far-right extremism.

“To have Rainer at the front of this initiative is a way to show that he can never forget and we should never either,” SSU head Gabriel Wikstroem said.

- ‘Star of David’ -

One million Jews were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945 along with more than 100,000 non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals and anti-Nazi partisans before the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945.

Hoess experimented with different methods of mass killing, eventually settling on the use of the pesticide Zyklon B to gas his victims.

He went into hiding after World War II but was captured by the Allies in 1946 and hanged the year after near the infamous Auschwitz crematorium.

“He brings a lot of pain in our family, not only for his children but over decades,” his grandson told AFP.

“Generation after generation we bear the same cross he put on our shoulders.”

Despite the disapproval of other family members, who preferred to bury their past, he has spent more than 20 years researching his background and the Nazi movement.

Hoess, who wears a Star of David around his neck, devoted the last four years to educating schoolchildren about the dangers of right-wing extremism.

What began when his children’s teachers asked him to share his story with pupils at their school, has now become a full-time job taking him to more than 70 schools in Germany last year alone.

His aunt Brigitte, one of Rudolf Hoess’s five children, chose the opposite path.

Only last year, at the age of 80 and dying of cancer, she chose to share her story with The Washington Post, on condition her married name and any details hinting at her identity be kept hidden.

Brigitte told the paper how she managed to leave Germany as a young woman, becoming a fashion model for Balenciaga in Spain where she met her future husband, a US engineer with whom she moved to Washington.

Ironically, she ended up working in a fashion salon owned by a Jewish lady.

The owner learned of Brigitte’s past after she revealed her identity to the shop manager, but decided to keep both her and the secret.

Through his own research, Hoess has met many Holocaust survivors, even travelling to Israel to take part in a documentary — a delicate undertaking, he admits.

“It was a little bit tricky, as the grandchild of a mass murderer to go to Israel.”

While there he was asked by a group of Jewish students what he would have done if he had met his grandfather.

His impulsive reply — which he now thinks overly emotional: “I would have shot him.”


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« Reply #13443 on: May 17, 2014, 05:57 AM »


Turkey mine disaster: police use riot tactics at protests about mine safety

Teargas and plastic bullets used on protesters at scene of worst industrial accident amid anger at PM's offhand remarks towards victims

Constanze Letsch in Soma
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 19.08 BST   
   
Turkish police used teargas, plastic bullets and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who gathered on Friday at the scene of the country's worst industrial accident to protest the country's dismal work safety record, and the prime minister's apparently offhand attitude towards victims of the catastrophe.

After Tuesday's explosion and fire at the mine in Soma, western Turkey, 284 people are confirmed dead. Taner Yildiz, the energy minister, said 18 miners were still missing.

The deaths in the Soma coal mine have stirred up fresh antipathy toward prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was criticised for last summer's crackdown on protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square and his increasingly intolerant stance toward any kind of dissent. The prime minister's comments that "this is what happens in coal mining" prompted a furious reaction in Soma, where he was confronted by angry protestors on Wednesday.

On FridayAbout 1,500 protesters gathered in the city on Friday, chanting anti-government slogans, before they were dispersed by riot police. Some of the demonstrators carried banners reading "It was not an accident, it was murder".

Opposition parties, unions and human rights groups have called for an investigation into the cause of the accident and for those responsible to be held accountable.

Erdogan's ruling party has asked the parliament to set up an inquiry into the disaster but accepted no responsibility.

"We have no inspection and supervision problem" at the Soma mine, insisted Hüseyin Celik, a deputy leader of the ruling party who said the mine had been inspected "vigorously" 11 times since 2009. "Let's learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes. The private sector and the public sector will draw lessons," he said. "This is not the time to look for a scapegoat."

Local miners and union members sharply disagreed.

"It is sad that Turkey is still number one in Europe when it comes to work accidents," said Tamer Kücükgencay, the chairman of the regional miners' union. "This mine was constantly inspected and certified as safe. The investigations into who is responsible for this accident has to start with those inspectors."

In his first press conference since the accident, Akin Çelik, the operating manager of the Soma Coal Mining Company, denied responsibility.

"There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I have never witnessed such an incident," he said.

Alp Gürkan, the mine's owner, said his company had invested a lot of resources to ensure the safety of workers. "We have spent our income to improve working conditions to avoid possible accidents," he said.

However, Turkish media said a 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) warned of major safety deficiencies in the Soma mines. Ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms and faulty wall supports all presented a serious danger to workers' safety, according to the report.

"No production should be made before the necessary research has been completed. Carrying out production with the lack of experience might lead to disaster," the TMMOB report warned.

Ali, a mining worker of five years who previously worked as a subcontractor in Soma, but is now a coal miner in the Thracian city of Edirne, said work safety was the least important issue in Turkish mines everywhere. "All they care about is profit and an ever increasing output. The subcontractor system makes an already bad issue worse. Miners are probably doing the worst of all in Turkey."

Human rights groups harshly criticised what they called the haphazard attitude of both the Turkish government and the mining operator.

Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International, said the disaster could have been avoided.

"The long history of deaths in mines in Turkey raises chilling questions over workers' safety. The fact that the government rejected recent calls by parliamentarians to investigate serious work-related accidents is nothing short of shocking. They are playing with people's lives," he said.

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

Public’s Outrage Over Mine Disaster Casts Harsh Light on Turkey’s Premier

By TIM ARANGO, KAREEM FAHIM and SEBNEM ARSU
MAY 16, 2014
IHT

SOMA, Turkey — There was no one to treat in the first aid tents near the entrance to the mine, where an old woman nearby wailed, “Our children are burning!” A man and his wife, dazed from a lack of sleep, walked the muddy grounds near here, looking for information about their missing son that no one in the government could provide.

“This is how they steal people’s lives,” said the grieving man, Bayram Uckun, who like many people here has become increasingly angry with Turkey’s leadership for its response to Tuesday’s explosion at the mine. “This government is taking our country back 90 years.”

The body of Mr. Uckun’s son, and those of at least 15 other men, was almost certainly still trapped in the coal mine. But with the death toll expected to rise above 300, this industrial disaster, the worst in Turkey’s modern history, has quickly metastasized from a local tragedy into a new political crisis for the Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Further aggravating antigovernment sentiment, security forces on Friday shot tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters in Soma.

Mr. Erdogan, whose Islamist party still holds unrivaled power after a decade, has recently stumbled from one political crisis to the next, often deepening public outrage with highhanded remarks and an authoritarian determination. That was the case again in Soma, even while the dead were being buried and bodies were still being recovered.

Mourners wanted answers when the prime minister visited. Instead, some said, they got defiance.

Mr. Erdogan traveled to Soma on Wednesday and appeared defensive from the start. He suggested that mining disasters were commonplace, even in developed countries, and recited a list of accidents that occurred in Britain in the 1800s — an awkward comparison for a leader who has projected an image of Turkey as a modern democracy.

“He inflamed the crowd,” said Ozcan, a hotel worker who gave only his first name. When Mr. Erdogan’s entourage faced angry hecklers in the town center, one of his aides was photographed kicking a protester who was on the ground. Seeking refuge from the crowds, the prime minister was hustled by his security team into a supermarket, where a video camera appeared to show him threatening an angry resident.

“When he saw people heckling him, he moved on them, which is the worst thing to do,” Ozcan said. “They are angry, they are frustrated, they are sad. If the prime minister is coming to town, he should bear in mind that if he even stepped out of his car, he would face some kind of protest.”

Instead of accepting the criticism, Mr. Erdogan dared his hecklers to come closer. “It outraged people,” Ozcan said.

“He clearly did not think about how to talk about this in public,” said Ziya Meral, a Turkish researcher and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Center in London.

He added, “Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly failed to communicate a personal and government message of condolence and national unity.”

Mr. Erdogan’s comments, and the stark images from the town center, where a miner statue has been dressed in red flowers and soccer scarves, have reinforced the image many critics have of him as arrogant, temperamental and increasingly autocratic. The crisis comes as Mr. Erdogan is trying to remain in power. An announcement that he would run for president this summer had been expected soon.

Along with the violent street protests last summer in Taksim Square in Istanbul and a continuing corruption inquiry, the mine disaster has laid bare the fragile foundation upon which the image of Turkey as a rising regional and global power was presented to the world over the last decade by Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P.

The protests highlighted the disenchantment of a largely secular, urban class with Mr. Erdogan’s policies, including his push for a greater role for religion in public life. The corruption cases have exposed a dark underbelly of cozy and corrupt relationships between government officials and business tycoons. Now, the mine tragedy, analysts say, underscores the gap between Turkey’s push for prosperity and modernity and its ability to safeguard workers to the same standards as the West and, in particular, the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join.

The A.K.P.'s power is built on its support from the country’s large numbers of religious conservatives, but many others, including rural blue-collar workers in this largely secular region, bought in to the party’s economic policies, and many now say they feel betrayed by the government they once supported.

Amid Turkey’s rapid industrialization, the demand for energy has increased rapidly. Turkey has few oil and gas reserves, but an abundance of coal. The industry was privatized under the A.K.P., and the mine here was taken over by a pro-A.K.P. businessman who has boasted in public of lowering the costs of the business. Coal has also become closely linked to the A.K.P. at election time, with the party handing out free coal and food to voters.

While it will take time to determine the cause of the disaster and whether corners were cut on safety standards, the community here has also directed its anger at company officials, who they say have been unresponsive and who have given conflicting information on casualties as the tragedy has unfolded.

Mine officials said on Friday that they had followed all required safety precautions, and they repeatedly denied allegations that the mine’s administrators had been negligent.

Yet they were unable to answer basic questions about what had caused the disaster. Alp Gurkan, the chief executive of the Soma Holding Company, which owns the facility, said he had not visited the mine since the accident — or, for that matter, in the last three years. “However, in light of things explained to me,” Mr. Gurkan said, “we say that we do not know the cause of the accident.”

Under repeated questioning from journalists about safety measures in the mine, Mr. Gurkan and his colleagues gave contradictory answers about the presence of so-called safe rooms where workers would take shelter in the case of an accident. Finally, they conceded that there were no such rooms in the mine, and said there was no legal requirement to have them.

On Friday, a few miles from the mine, traffic backed up on the road to a cemetery, where a large field was freshly mowed, prepared for many more graves.

At the mine, a solitary man stood on a raised platform near its entrance. A miner from a nearby town, he was looking for equipment so he could join the rescue effort. But there is little hope of survivors, only that the remaining bodies can be salvaged so families can give them proper funerals.

The miner said he considered his profession dangerous in any country, and added: “You have no other option. This is your bread money.”

A mother recalled a visit this week from President Abdullah Gul, seen as a more conciliatory figure than Mr. Erdogan. Mr. Gul met with families and generally projected more compassion, but in times like these, any amount of government remorse is of little solace for the grieving.

“The president asked us what we wanted,” the woman said. “I want nothing but my child’s body.”


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« Reply #13444 on: May 17, 2014, 06:05 AM »


India's PM-elect Narendra Modi receives hero's welcome in Delhi

Hundreds of flag-waving Bharatiya Janata party supporters celebrate at capital's airport after landslide election victory

Martin Williams and Jason Burke   
theguardian.com, Saturday 17 May 2014 10.58 BST   

Link to video: Narendra Modi arrives in New Delhi to hero's welcome

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/may/17/india-narendra-modi-new-delhi-heros-welcome-video

India's prime minister-elect, Narendra Modi, basked in a hero's welcome as he arrived in Delhi after a historic election victory by the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) which transformed the political landscape of the world's largest democracy.

A brass band, drummers and bagpipes played while hundreds of supporters waving BJP flags met Modi at the capital's airport on Saturday after his address to voters in the western state of Gujarat on Friday night.

With almost all 543 seats declared by Saturday morning, Modi's BJP looked set to win 282 seats, 10 more than the majority required to rule, and was heading for a tally of about 337 with its allied parties. The BJP said he will not formally take office until after Tuesday.

In his first speech after winning the landslide victory, the Hindu nationalist leader pledged to work for all 1.25 billion of his fellow Indians.

"The age of divisive politics has ended – from today onwards the politics of uniting people will begin," Modi, 63, told a crowd of ecstatic supporters on Friday.
Narendra Modi supporters dance as they wait for the BJP leader to arrive in Delhi Dancers perform as Modi supporters wait for the BJP leader to arrive in Delhi. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

"Brothers, sisters, you have faith in me and I have faith in you," he said. "The people of this country have given their verdict. This verdict says we have to make the dreams of 1.25 billion people come true. I must work hard."

Modi's victory for the BJP closes a chapter of coalition governments that began with the 1989 elections, after the assassination of the Congress party prime minister Indira Gandhi five years earlier. It also signals the end of an era dominated by the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.

Describing himself as a worker Modi is the son of a tea-stall owner and an outsider to Delhi political circles. "Four to five generations have been wasted since 1952. This victory has been achieved after that," Modi said, in a jibe at the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Congress party it dominates.

In a televised speech the outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said he was confident about the future of India. He said: "I firmly believe that the emergence of India as a major powerhouse of the evolving global economy is an idea whose time has come."

World leaders have rushed to phone the new premier. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of neighbouring Pakistan, with which India has fought four wars, invited Modi to visit.

The US president, Barack Obama, did likewise, even though Modi was barred from the country less than 10 years ago under a law preventing entry to foreigners who had committed "particularly severe violations of religious freedom".

Modi, who has been dogged by accusations of sectarian prejudice, has tried to reassure those within India and beyond its borders who fear he will prove a divisive leader, promising "good times ahead" for India.

"To run the country we need to take everyone with us, all together and I seek your blessings to succeed in this endeavour," he said.

Though a BJP win was expected, few predicted such a crushing victory. The size of Modi's mandate means he will not have to work with allies and can set his own agenda, with the party's regional strength likely to be reinforced at local elections in coming months.

About 100 million voters cast a ballot for the first time. Support among the young appears to be a key reason for the BJP's success. Another is inroads made into rural areas and traditional "votebanks" of the Congress party, such as those at the bottom of the caste system.

Since being named as his party's candidate last September, Modi has flown more than 185,000 miles and addressed 457 rallies in a slick presidential-style campaign that has broken the mould of Indian politics.

A huge social media effort has reached out to voters across the nation. Modi received more than seven times the media coverage of his chief rival, one study showed.

Modi's "Development For All" message appeared to have struck a chord with frustrated voters, particularly the young, across the nation.

It also countered accusations of sectarian prejudice, allowing BJP campaigners to argue that they believed in genuine equality because the party wants no communities to receive special treatment.
A Delhi resident reads a newspaper with the BJP’s election victory on the front A Delhi resident reads a morning paper after the BJP’s landslide victory. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

At the Congress headquarters, only a mile from those of the BJP, there was a very different mood. "It is very disappointing for us all, but we accept the verdict of the people. Congress has bounced back before and we are confident that we will bounce back again," said Rajeev Shukla, a former minister and senior party official.

The outgoing government was hit by allegations of corruption, its failure to rein in runaway inflation and faltering growth. India needs to create 10m jobs each year for new jobseekers alone, an area where the Congress officials admit they had difficulty. Others blamed the defeat on a failure to communicate the party's achievements in their 10 years in power.

At a chaotic press conference late on Friday afternoon, Sonia Gandhi, the president of Congress, admitted the party had done "pretty badly" and accepted responsibility for its worst ever defeat.

She called on the new government to avoid divisive policies and said her own party would focus on grassroots work. Gandhi held her constituency of Rae Bareli, an exception in a rout of dozens of senior Congress figures.

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

Narendra Modi’s Ambitious Agenda Will Face Difficult Obstacles

By ELLEN BARRY
MAY 16, 2014
IHT

NEW DELHI — Addressing a euphoric crowd Friday afternoon, Narendra Modi rallied the public to join him in taking on challenges of a vast scale. He has floated the idea of building “a hundred new cities,” of extending a high-speed rail network across the subcontinent and undertaking the herculean task of cleaning the Ganges River.

He has been inspired by China’s model of high-growth, top-down development. But the country he will govern is India: messy, diffuse and democratic.

Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a historic mandate in the country’s general election on Friday, emerging with 282 of 543 parliamentary seats, more than enough to form a government without having to broker a post-election coalition.

For months, Mr. Modi’s advisers had focused on crossing such a threshold, which they regarded as a signal that the country was behind an agenda of radical change.

The nature of that change has never been clear, though. Voters are seeking immediate economic opportunities. The party has proposed pro-business legislation like the easing of labor and land-acquisition laws. Mr. Modi is drawn to large-scale building and infrastructure projects, which he pursues with a single-minded — critics say dictatorial — style.

“He has a fairly clear idea of what he wants to accomplish, and he does not look for ratification from the market,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a Cornell University economist who has consulted informally with Mr. Modi’s economic team. “One could argue that in a country where there are far more words than actions thrown around, that this is far more preferable: a man who acts.”

Mr. Modi’s planned economic reforms are certain to encounter obstacles once he takes power, among them a federal system that puts essential functions like land acquisition in the hands of state leaders.

Entrenched national-level functionaries will resist efforts to strip their authority by eliminating red tape, a goal that was central to Mr. Modi’s plan to attract investors to the state of Gujarat. Changing tax policy or labor and land laws would require the support of the upper house of Parliament, which the Bharatiya Janata Party does not control. Meanwhile, voters’ expectations of immediate economic improvement are perilously high, setting the stage for rapid disappointment if Mr. Modi is seen as not delivering.

But Friday’s enormous victory will give Mr. Modi “a much freer hand than the typical leader of such a large democracy,” Mr. Prasad said. The reasons Mr. Modi’s party succeeded in defeating the Indian National Congress, which has controlled India’s government for nearly all of its postcolonial history, will be studied for years. But they clearly reflect a rapid change in Indian society as urbanization and economic growth break down old voting patterns.

For decades, the Congress party’s trademark initiatives have been redistributive, and the party introduced a package of major subsidies for the poor before the election. Voters, however, proved to be more captivated by Mr. Modi’s promise to create manufacturing jobs, which he has done quite successfully in Gujarat, the state he has governed since 2001.

Despite a period of rising incomes, a tide of economic discontent helped make Narendra Modi the prime minister-elect.

Mr. Modi, 63, the son of a provincial tea-seller, prides himself on being an outsider amid New Delhi’s elite, and he recently promised in an interview with Open magazine that he would “break the status quo.” He was profoundly imprinted by his years as a full-time activist for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization, and his earliest and most frequent trips as an elected official were to other countries in Asia, which shaped his vision of India as a manufacturing power.

A cultural conservative, he is no admirer of the liberal intellectuals who traditionally support the Congress party. Swapan Dasgupta, a journalist who supports Mr. Modi, said Delhi elites were worried — justifiably — that the space for their work would shrink when the new government settles in.

“I cannot say what the contours of the future political elite or political class will look like,” he said. “He has brought in lots of people who have risen from local politics, less of those people who are traditional dynasts. A new sort of people, perhaps a little technocratic. People not from the Anglophone elite, maybe.”

The mood at Congress headquarters on Friday was funereal. Top officials had prepared for a loss, but not for the crushing defeat they faced; according to final results from the Election Commission, the party had secured only 44 seats, a surprisingly low number for the party that was integral to India’s founding narrative.

The president of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and her son, Rahul, made a brief appearance at the headquarters late in the afternoon, when celebratory firecrackers could be heard from B.J.P. headquarters nearby. Mr. Gandhi, who has never appeared comfortable in his role as the party’s standard-bearer, kept an odd, fixed smile on his face, acknowledging that the party had “done pretty badly.” His mother, who reinvigorated the party after her husband, Rajiv, was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991, conceded defeat without mentioning Mr. Modi or the B.J.P.

“We believe that in a democracy winning and losing is part of the game,” Mrs. Gandhi said. “This time the mandate is clearly against us. I accept the mandate with humility. I hope that the incoming government will not compromise with the interests of society.”

A Congress-led coalition won a solid majority of seats in 2009 parliamentary elections, but the term was tarnished by corruption scandals and a slowing economy. Party workers, dully flipping through television news channels in a room with portraits of four generations of Nehru-Gandhi politicians on Friday, complained that the party’s grass-roots workers no longer had contact with Mr. Gandhi and his advisers, and had failed to identify shifts among young voters.

Rajendra Pal Singh, a clerk with the party for more than 30 years, sadly recalled a time when the party faithful streamed in and out of the party’s bungalow as if it were “a place of worship.”

“Gone are the days of the Gandhis,” Mr. Singh said. “We have not seen people coming here to hug Rahul for the past decade on any of those festivals. That culture is dead and long gone, like the Congress party now.”

Addressing a euphoric throng in the city of Vadodara after votes were counted on Friday, Mr. Modi was forced to pause repeatedly as he waited for the audience to stop chanting his name. Mr. Modi, normally an intensely solitary man, draws visible pleasure from his interactions with crowds, and he seemed on Friday to enlist their support for vast undertakings.

“Brothers and sisters, you have faith in me, and I have faith in you,” Mr. Modi said. “This is the strength of our confidence — that we have the capacity to fulfill the common man’s aspirations. The citizens of this country have done three centuries of work today.”

His supporters celebrated. Drummers, stilt-walkers and women in colorful saris converged at B.J.P. headquarters in New Delhi, where party workers had laid out 100,000 laddoos, the ball-shaped sweets that are ubiquitous at Indian celebrations. Among the revelers was Surinder Singh Tiwana, 40, a lawyer.

“I can equate my jubilation today, probably, to my mother’s on the day I was born,” Mr. Tiwana said. “This is a huge change for our country, a change of guard. A billion plus people have announced their mandate in no uncertain terms.”

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

For India’s Persecuted Muslim Minority, Caution Follows Hindu Party’s Victory

By GARDINER HARRIS
MAY 16, 2014
IHT

NEW DELHI — Like real estate agents the world over, Rahul Rewal asks his clients if they have children or pets, since both limit options. But there is another crucial but often unspoken question: Are they Muslim?

“I tailor the list of places that I show Muslims because many landlords, even in upper-class neighborhoods, will not rent to them,” Mr. Rewal said. “Most don’t even bother hiding their bigotry.”

Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications and turned-down loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment and economic status, with persistent discrimination a key reason. Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities and less likely to qualify for bank loans.

Now, after a landslide electoral triumph Friday by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Hindu nationalists, some Muslims here said they were worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous.

Despite a period of rising incomes, a tide of economic discontent helped make Narendra Modi the prime minister-elect.

“Fear is a basic part of politics, and it’s actually how politicians gain respect, but for us fear also comes from the general public,” said Zahir Alam, the imam of Bari Masjid, a mosque in East Delhi, in an interview Friday. “The meaning of minority has never been clearer than it is today.”

The B.J.P. is led by Narendra Modi, who is widely expected to become India’s next prime minister. Mr. Modi — a Hindu, like a majority of Indians — has a fraught relationship with Muslims, who make up about 15 percent of the country. He was in charge of the western state of Gujarat in 2002 when uncontrolled rioting caused 1,000 deaths, mostly among Muslims. He has also been linked with a police assassination squad that largely targeted Muslims.

But Mr. Modi ran a campaign that focused on promises of development and good governance, and that largely avoided religiously divisive themes. His allies say there is no reason for Muslims to fear a national government led by him, and in interviews on Friday, many Muslims said they believed that.

B.J.P. candidates won in 102 constituencies where Muslims make up at least one in five voters, up from just 24 of these seats in 2009, according to a Reuters analysis. Mohammad Sabir, 25, who supplies parts for fans at a business in Varanasi, said that while he did not vote for Mr. Modi, he did not fear an administration led by him.

“He is now a national leader, and he needs to focus on nation building,” Mr. Sabir said. “If he cannot take everyone along, then he cannot succeed.”

Mr. Modi’s victory came in large measure from India’s aspirational urban electorate, who yearn for a better future for themselves and their children. Christophe Jaffrelot, a professor at King’s College London, said that rapid urbanization and a growing middle class were softening barriers among Hindu castes, but that the same forces had increased divisions between Hindus and Muslims.

“In the village, you are bound to meet Muslim families because it’s such a small universe,” he said. “In the cities, you have these vast ghettos.”

Mr. Modi won a huge majority in the electorally critical state of Uttar Pradesh, in part because of deadly riots last year that broke a traditional voting alliance between low-caste Hindus and Muslims. But now that he has won, Mr. Modi must reassure India’s Muslims, said Neerja Chowdhury, a political commentator.

“Many people in India and around the world will be watching whether he reaches out to minorities in the coming days,” Ms. Chowdhury said.

Tavleen Singh, an Indian author and admirer of Mr. Modi, said that critics of Mr. Modi focused on his ties to rioting and assassinations without pointing out that such violence has long been part of Indian society.

India was born in 1947 amid the blood-soaked horror of partition, which split British India into Muslim-dominated Pakistan and largely Hindu India. Riots in New Delhi in 1984 after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards led to the killing of thousands of Sikhs, with leaders of the Indian National Congress participating. Violence among castes has long been a regular feature of rural life in India.

“It’s an ugly Indian reality,” Ms. Singh said.

But that is exactly why Mr. Modi is such a poor choice as prime minister, said Siddharth Varadarajan, the former editor of The Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper. Many among India’s liberal intelligentsia see Mr. Modi as a threat to India’s secularism, which is enshrined in its Constitution. It is a characteristic that distinguishes India from Pakistan and binds a nation of extraordinary diversity.

“Many of the things that are evil about India are not going to find their solution with Mr. Modi,” Mr. Varadarajan said. “If anything, they’ll get worse.”

In recent months, residents of a well-to-do Hindu neighborhood of a small city in Gujarat have protested outside a home purchased in January by a Muslim, saying his presence would disturb the peace and lower property values — the same arguments used for decades in the American South to exclude blacks from white neighborhoods.

In Mumbai this year, a ship captain credited with helping to rescue about 722 Indians from Kuwait after the 1990 Iraqi invasion said he was unable to buy an apartment in an affluent section of the city because no one would sell to a Muslim.

Zia Haq, an assistant editor at The Hindustan Times, said it had taken him nearly a year to find an apartment in New Delhi several years ago because he kept looking in neighborhoods dominated by Hindus who refused to rent to him. He finally found an apartment in a Muslim slum.

“This is the story of every middle-class Muslim who moves to a city in India,” Mr. Haq said. “Sometimes landlords are very upfront and say they won’t rent to Muslims. Others have excuses, like they have decided not to rent the place at all.”

But some Muslims say that such experiences demonstrate that Mr. Modi is hardly unusual in his difficulties with Muslims, and that his economic credentials make him worthy of leading the nation.

At Hyderabad’s Moazzamjahi Market, a crenelated stone complex with a mix of businesses run by Hindus and Muslims, Syed Jaleel, 56, the owner of a fruit and vegetable stand that sells produce from his farm, said he was delighted by Mr. Modi’s victory.

“Riots don’t matter because they happen all the time,” he said, clutching a lemonade to help cool off in the heat. “What matters is business development — just look at how Modi developed Gujarat. They don’t even have power cuts. He’ll do the same for the country now.”


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« Reply #13445 on: May 17, 2014, 06:06 AM »

Myanmar Rally Calls for Charter Change

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 13:02

Thousands of people joined a rally in Myanmar's main city on Saturday to call for changes to a military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

The former political prisoner-turned-politician has been campaigning to amend the charter since she became a lawmaker two years ago.

The 2008 constitution blocks anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country -- a clause widely believed to be targeted at the Nobel laureate, whose two sons are British.

It also ring-fences a quarter of the seats in parliament for unelected military personnel, leaving the army with a significant political role despite the end of outright junta rule.

Addressing a crowd at the rally in Yangon, Suu Kyi urged the military top brass as well as rank-and-file soldiers to support a petition campaign to amend the charter.

"I would like you all to consider whether getting more opportunities than ordinary citizens is really fair," Suu Kyi said.

"The main strength of the military forces is weapons. So I would like you to consider whether getting special opportunities because of the power of arms is dignified or good for yourself," she said.

Parliamentary elections due to be held in 2015 are seen as a definitive test of whether the military is willing to loosen its grip on power.

The country's president is selected by the legislature, and Suu Kyi has declared her ambition to lead the country.

Any change to the charter needs the support of over 75 percent of the legislature, so at least some soldiers would have to vote for the reforms.

Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule in Myanmar, before she was freed after controversial elections in 2010 that her party boycotted.

Since then President Thein Sein has pushed through sweeping changes, including releasing other political prisoners and welcoming Suu Kyi and her party into parliament following landmark by-elections in 2012.


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« Reply #13446 on: May 17, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Vietnam Groups Call for More Anti-China Protests

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 10:12

Vietnamese civil society groups have called for renewed demonstrations against China in several cities Sunday after Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested South China Sea waters triggered the worst anti-China unrest in decades.

But Vietnamese authorities -- who have occasionally allowed demonstrations to vent anger at the country's giant neighbor -- warned they would "resolutely" prevent any further outbursts.

China's positioning of an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam has ignited long-simmering enmity between two communist neighbors who have fought territorial skirmishes in past decades, with protests erupting in major cities in recent days and enraged mobs torching foreign-established factories.

An alliance of 20 vocal Vietnamese NGOs called for fresh protests in the capital Hanoi, the southern economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City, and other areas against China's "aggressive actions" in the South China Sea.

However, it urged participants to remain peaceful following the chaos Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Those violent actions created a bad image for patriotic demonstrations and the people of Vietnam; therefore, they must be stopped," said a statement issued on social media late Friday.

The alliance comprises largely anti-government organizations and is believed to have played a role in stirring the recent protests.

In a text message sent by the government to Vietnamese mobile phone users Saturday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said authorities across the country had been ordered to "implement measures to resolutely prevent illegal demonstrations that could cause social and security disorder."

China's deployment of the giant rig is viewed in Hanoi as a provocative assertion of Beijing's hotly disputed claims in the South China Sea and has been criticized by Washington as exacerbating territorial tensions.

There have been repeated skirmishes near the controversial rig in recent days between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels, including collisions and the use of water cannon.

The violent attacks on Chinese personnel at foreign-invested factories in Vietnam have further aggravated the situation, with China accusing Vietnam's government of a role in the unrest.

Beijing, which has refused to budge on the oil rig, has said two Chinese were killed and more than 100 injured over the past week.

China's Xinhua news agency said a delegation led by Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao met Friday with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi to discuss the rioting.

The report said Liu complained about the unrest and "urged the Vietnamese side to take actions to deal with the aftermath of the riots".

The attacks on foreign enterprises -- which included Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean businesses -- appear to have spooked Vietnamese authorities, which depends heavily on foreign investment for economic growth.

But while condemning China's maritime actions, the government has warned against further protests and pledged foreign investments would be protected.

The oil-rig confrontation is the latest to spark alarm among China's Southeast Asian neighbors, who complain of increasing maritime intimidation by Beijing.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold significant offshore energy reserves.


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« Reply #13447 on: May 17, 2014, 06:11 AM »

Nigeria and Neighbors to Join Forces over Abducted Girls

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 08:46

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan meets with leaders of neighboring states in Paris on Saturday for talks aimed at forging a common strategy against Islamist militants holding more than 200 schoolgirls.

At a half-day summit hosted by French President Francois Hollande, Jonathan will be pressed to seek much closer cooperation with neighboring Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin in the fight against Boko Haram.

The group, which is waging a deadly campaign to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, has achieved a new level of notoriety since it seized the girls a month ago.

Hollande discussed the conference and the hunt for the girls with U.S. President Barack Obama in a phone call Friday, the White House said.

Wendy Sherman, a senior official at the U.S. Department of State, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague will attend the talks which will also review the preliminary work done by specialist teams sent by Britain, France and the United States to help the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to locate the missing girls.

Experts say the group's ability to wreak havoc across large swaths of mostly Muslim northern Nigeria is strengthened by the porous nature of the borders in the region, which makes it easier for militants to escape from the security forces and to pick up supplies, most notably arms.

A long-running territorial dispute has soured relations between Nigeria and Cameroon, hampering any steps towards joint action against the militants.

"Boko Haram represents a risk to the stability of every state in the region, and the leaders of these countries have to be aware of that," said a French diplomat.

- International support -

The international community has been mobilised over the plight of the girls. Among the resources already put at Nigeria's disposal have been U.S. drones and surveillance aircraft.

Further Western military involvement however is not on the agenda, officials say.

"Nobody is talking about Western military intervention: the Nigerians neither need nor want that," a French defence official said.

Instead, the emphasis is on sharing intelligence and knowledge about dealing with groups like Boko Haram. France has particular experience in that area, having recently secured the release of a French family that was kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram fighters in Cameroon and then held in Nigeria for two months.

France is deeply involved in the region. Impoverished Niger is a strategic supplier of uranium for the French nuclear industry and Paris has troops deployed on peacekeeping duty in the Central African Republic and in Mali, where it sent a force last year to combat Al Qaeda-linked militants who had seized control of much of the north of the country.

Although the French believe that the intervention in Mali inflicted significant damage on groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), military planners remain concerned about the implications of potential alliances being forged between militants in northern Nigeria, Mali and the north of the profoundly unstable Central Africa.

"If they all link up, that would be very problematic, for France, for Europe and the rest of the world," said one planner.

French military officials believe Boko Haram's links to Mali-based groups are key to it being able to source weapons, many of which originate in Libya.

In terms of concrete help for Nigeria's anti-terrorism efforts, Paris has signalled that it could put Rafale fighter planes and drones it has based in the region at the disposal of Jonathan's government for surveillance activities.

- Jonathan under pressure -

The Nigerian leader is under pressure to be seen being proactive over the abducted girls after coming under fire for cancelling a visit to their hometown Chibok which had been scheduled for Friday.

The visit was reported to have been called off for security reasons -- which reignited criticism of the administration's handling of the crisis that erupted when the 276 girls were abducted on April 14. Some subsequently escaped their captors but 223 are still missing.

The girls' fate has become the focus of a global campaign and Jonathan has been frequently depicted as being indifferent to the suffering of their families.

"If, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is afraid to visit Chibok because of security fears, he is simply telling the hapless people in the northeast that he cannot protect them and they should resign themselves to their fate," said Debo Adeniran, of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders pressure group.

Robert Menendez, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said this week that Nigeria had been "tragically and unacceptably slow" to tackle the crisis.

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

Nigerian schoolgirls' home town in despair after president cancels visit

Abducted girls relatives in Chibok say they have lost faith in Goodluck Jonathan's government to rescue captives from Boko Haram

David Smith in Kano, Harriet Sherwood and Judith Soal   
The Guardian, Friday 16 May 2014 17.32 BST   
 
Relatives of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who have been missing for more than a month after being kidnapped by Islamic militants have voiced anger and despair after the country's president cancelled a visit to their home town, citing security concerns.

As the international effort to find and rescue the girls gathered momentum, with military and intelligence resources from the US, UK, France, Israel and Canada pouring into Nigeria, and the #bringbackourgirls social media campaign exceeded 1m tweets, there was mounting criticism of President Jonathan Goodluck's slow response to the crisis.

In Chibok on Friday, the home town of the missing girls, families said they had lost faith in the government to do everything possible to rescue their daughters, sisters and nieces. In Washington, a senior US official admonished Nigeria's failure to tackle the insurgency.

Many relatives had gathered at the Chibok government girls secondary school, from which the teenagers were abducted in a night raid on 14 April, to greet Jonathan on his first visit to the area during the crisis.

"You begin to question what could be more important to the president than the lives of these students," Dr Allen Manasseh, whose 18-year-old sister Maryamu Wavi was abducted from the school, told the Guardian.

"The parents were hoping he would come with some information for them about where the girls may be and what efforts are being done to recover them, but instead to be told he is not coming was not easy for them. It's not an easy thing to have a missing child."

He said the families were upset that it had taken more than a month for Jonathan to schedule a visit to Chibok, but that to have promised to come and then postponed without adequate explanation had further diminished their faith in the authorities.

Bulus Mungo Park, a civil servant volunteering with a local vigilante force protecting Chibok from Boko Haram and the uncle of two missing girls, said the villagers were extremely disappointed.

"The parents were happy that our president would come and see for himself. He was our last resort," he said. "And now we don't know what is happening. We're hoping he can still come some time."

Following the release of a video by Boko Haram earlier this week, showing around 130 of the abducted teenagers, Mungo Park escorted a group of girls who had managed to escape and relatives of those still missing to the nearby town of Maiduguri to identify the captives.

"They were able to identify about 75 by name," he said. The faces of other girls were known to their school colleagues. "Soon we will know all their names."

Manasseh said his sister was not among the girls in the video released. "It makes me very worried for her because I do not know whether she is alive or where she might be."

A leading Nigerian politician claimed Boko Haram blundered and handed the search mission a golden opportunity when it released a video of the captured girls because it contains significant clues to their whereabouts.

Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a former defence minister who has spent years combating the militant group, said: "On TV they are exposing themselves to an intelligent military. Anyone who is familiar with this area can pinpoint the place. Terrorists who are clever put white cloths behind them but in this one you can see the location of the children in Sambisa forest."

He added: "We have people very well trained. A layman will tell you that all of the clues are there. A tree that I saw there is special: it's not a tree you find in many places."

Kwankwaso is now governor of the northern Kano province, the scene of one of Boko Haram's deadliest attacks, and tipped as a possible challenger to the president in next year's elections. He was scathing about Jonathan's response to the present crisis.

"The issue is on CNN, Sky News," he said. "All the international stories are helping us to remind him that what is happening is very significant in Nigeria.

"To him it was nothing. They wanted to sweep it under the carpet like nothing happened. But if everybody is talking about it, it is an issue. I have never seen in the history of the world where more than 200 people are kidnapped and it is not an issue."

Kwankwaso challenged the president: "Yes, you inherited the problem, but what did you do when you came in? You have had five years on the throne. Five years is enough to make a difference. In 2015, by grace of God, he should get out of the [presidential] villa."

Relatives and activists have raised fears that the girls could be intended as sex slaves for the militants, or trafficked to other countries. However, the Nigerian government has said it believes the girls are still within the country's borders, most likely hidden in the Sambisa forest.

Mohammed Dunoma, the chairman of the local parent-teacher association, told the Guardian earlier this week that many villagers were now reluctant to allow their daughters to go to school. Boko Haram, whose name means "western education is sinful", was an ever-present threat, he said: "We don't know when they will come."

The area is a stronghold of Boko Haram. Insurgents killed at least four soldiers in an ambush on Monday.

In Washington, a senior US official criticised inaction by the Nigerian government. "In general, Nigeria has failed to mount an effective campaign against Boko Haram," Alice Friend, the Pentagon's principal director for African affairs, told the Senate foreign relations committee. "In the face of a new and more sophisticated threat than it has faced before, its security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies, new doctrines and new tactics."

She added: "We're now looking at a military force that's, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage."

Dampening hopes of an imminent breakthrough in the internally backed search mission, state department spokesperson Marie Harf said military and intelligence teams faced "a tough challenge".

The US has deployed manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft over the area. According to the New York Times, 30 specialists from the state department, FBI and Pentagon, with medical, intelligence, counter-terrorism and communications expertise, have been sent to Nigeria.

Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, said there would be no active deployment of US forces in Nigeria. "At this point, we're not actively considering the deployment of US forces to participate in a combined rescue mission," he told reporters.

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, told CBS News it was an open question whether Nigerian forces were capable of rescuing the girls. "We just don't know enough yet to be able to assess what we will recommend to the Nigerians, where they need to go, what they need to do, to get those girls back," Hagel said.

US general David Rodriguez met Nigerian officials in Abuja this week, as did British Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds. Canada announced it had sent special forces to Nigeria, and Israel also joined the search and rescue mission.

Jonathan was due to fly to Paris on Friday for a summit hosted by François Hollande, the French president, to discuss the security threat posed by Boko Haram. Nigeria's neighbours – Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad – were expected to attend, along with US, UK and EU representatives.

A social media campaign over the kidnapped girls has won global backing, with more than 1m tweets under the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. High profile endorsements have come from Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai.


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« Reply #13448 on: May 17, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Abbas Meets in London With Israeli Negotiator

By JODI RUDOREN
MAY 16, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority met Thursday in London with Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, the first known face-to-face talks between the two sides since the American-brokered peace negotiations collapsed last month.

Ms. Livni, one of Israel’s two chief peace negotiators, and Mr. Abbas had each met separately in London with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the breakdown of the talks and the prospects for moving forward. A senior State Department official said that Mr. Kerry had made clear to both “that while the door remains opened to peace, the parties must determine whether they are willing to take the steps necessary to resume negotiations.”

Ms. Livni emphasized in the meeting with Mr. Abbas the gravity with which Israel sees the reconciliation pact that his Palestine Liberation Organization signed on April 23 with Hamas, the militant Islamic faction that rules the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported Friday night. Ms. Livni was one of the cabinet ministers who voted unanimously to suspend the peace talks the day after the deal, and she and other Israeli officials have stressed that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government “backed by Hamas.”

Mr. Abbas, who is expected to announce a new government of professionals unaffiliated with political factions by May 28, has stated repeatedly that the government would recognize Israel and renounce violence, though Hamas leaders have made clear that they would not do the same. Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have said they remain open to resuming peace talks if Israel freezes construction in West Bank settlements for three months and agrees to spend the time discussing the borders of two future states.

The London meeting, which was first reported by Israel’s Channel 2 News, was held as tensions on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians increased. After two young Palestinian men were killed Thursday by Israeli security forces during a demonstration commemorating the Nakba — Arabic for “catastrophe,” and the word used to describe Israel’s destruction of Palestinian villages as it became a state in 1948 — two Israeli journalists said they were nearly “lynched” by a Palestinian mob.

Avi Issacharoff, a well-known columnist who covers Palestinian affairs, said he and a cameraman were in the West Bank town of Beitunia covering the fallout from Thursday’s killings there when they were attacked by a group of masked men. He said the pair were kicked and beaten before being saved by Palestinian security personnel.
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« Reply #13449 on: May 17, 2014, 06:15 AM »


Heavy fighting breaks out in Libya as troops storm militias in Benghazi

Attack leader, a retired general, says operation aims to clear the city of Islamist militias and restore Libya's dignity

Chris Stephen   
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 14.39 BST   
   
The heaviest fighting in Libya since the Arab spring revolution broke out in the eastern capital of Benghazi on Friday as forces led by a retired general attacked militias on the ground and with jets.

Air strikes pounded militia bases at dawn and 6,000 troops converged on the city, storming a series of bases and checkpoints.

Eyewitnesses described a city in chaos, with jets streaking low over rooftops, tanks on the streets, heavy detonations and aggressive fighting.

"The fighting is close to my house," said one resident in the Hawari district. "Planes are going very low, there are explosions, there is fighting around the February 17 [militia] base."

But there were wildly different claims over whether the attacks have official sanction, with the government denouncing the offensive and the local army command saying it was monitoring the situation.

The attack is led by Khalifa Hiftar, a former commander of the 2011 uprising that deposed Muammar Gaddafi. Hitfar announced the operation was launched to clear Benghazi of Islamist militias and restore Libya's dignity.

Hiftar, who called on the army earlier this year to mount a coup against the government, appears to have the support of a significant proportion of Libya's armed forces. He insisted the operation was sanctioned by army commanders, saying: "All reserve forces are mobilised. If we fail today, the terrorists win."

But Libya's government insisted the operation had no official sanction, with the chief of the general staff, Abdul Salam Jadallah, branding Hiftar a criminal and ordering Benghazi's militias to fight back.

Air force planes struck the bases of the Rafalla al-Sahati and Ansar al-Sharia militias, the latter blamed by Washington for the attack two years ago on the US consulate that led to the death of ambassador Chris Stevens.

By early afternoon on Friday hundreds of Benghazi residents had assembled on a flyover to watch the battles around militia bases, as jets and helicopters circled above.

There are few foreigners in Benghazi, with most diplomatic missions evacuated after a string of attacks and bombings. Britain closed its consulate in the city in 2012 after a rocket attack on the former ambassador which wounded two of his bodyguards.

Elsewhere in Libya there are reports of pro and anti-government forces mobilising. The capital, Tripoli, is tense after weeks of skirmishes between rival militias.

The attack comes after weeks of chaos and instability in Libya, with the national congress split between Islamists and their allies and non-Islamists.

A new prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeg, was elected earlier this month in a vote opponents labelled fraudulent, and has still to take office, which remains in the hands of former defence minister Abdullah al-Thinni, himself a replacement for Ali Zeiden who was sacked in March.

Earlier this week the Pentagon announced the deployment of a force of 200 Marines, backed by helicopters and vertical takeoff aircraft in Sicily amid growing concerns about Libya's unrest.


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« Reply #13450 on: May 17, 2014, 06:16 AM »

Clashes Near Sao Paulo Airport 27 Days from World Cup

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 08:41

Dozens of protesters clashed with police late Friday, throwing fireworks and torching at least two vehicles near Sao Paulo's airport, which has just opened a new international terminal ahead of the World Cup.

Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the estimated 50 protesters who demonstrated in the Sao Paulo suburb of Guarulhos to demand better living conditions, according to media reports.

"They looted fireworks and ignited them and threw them at police. There were no reports of injury but some vehicles were damaged," a police spokeswoman told Agence France Presse.

The protest occurred just 27 days ahead of the World Cup, with a substantial flow of international attendees slated to pass through the gates of the new Guarulhos airport terminal.

A series of protests have shaken Brazil ahead of the month-long tournament that will begin June 12.

Brazil faced a major test of its security preparations Thursday as 10,000 demonstrators upset at the cost of the World Cup took to the streets in Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Porto Alegre, Rio and Sao Paulo.

In business hub Sao Paulo, about 6,000 people staged several marches throughout the day, with demonstrations ending in vandalism and confrontations with police.

Meanwhile in the northeastern city of Recife, a partial strike by military police was lifted after youths took advantage of the opportunity to loot stores and go on a rampage.

Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo reassured reporters that demonstrations will decrease during the World Cup and the country will adopt a festive atmosphere.

About 600,000 foreign visitors are expected for the tournament, in addition to about three million Brazilians who will travel domestically for the matches.


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« Reply #13451 on: May 17, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Colombia Hails 'Important Step' in FARC Peace Process

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 09:32

Colombia and leftist FARC guerrillas concluded a key stage in talks on Friday aimed at ending five decades of war, as the rebels announced a truce for the upcoming presidential election.

The outcome of talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and Bogota authorities is important for President Juan Manuel Santos's May 25 re-election bid.

Santos faces growing opposition to the peace talks from conservatives, especially Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a top candidate supported by popular former president Alvaro Uribe.

FARC members said the May 20-28 unilateral truce will include Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). Government officials however said they will continue to pursue the rebels.

Colombian and FARC representatives have been negotiating a peace deal in communist Cuba since November 2012.

On Friday the two sides agreed on ways to end Colombia's vast illicit drugs trade, the third of a six-point peace agenda.

"Today we are very close, closer than ever to obtaining peace," Santos told supporters in Bogota.

"This is a definite step, an important step, and great news for Colombia and for the whole world."

Rodolfo Benitez of Cuba, whose country is a guarantor of the process, said the deal would see a campaign to eradicate illicit crops such as coca -- the source plant of cocaine -- and heroin. The plants will be forcefully eradicated if farmers insist on growing them.

Colombia and Peru are the world's top producers of cocaine, a product that comes exclusively from coca bushes grown on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

The drug trade has fueled the leftist insurgency as well as right-wing paramilitary groups and organized crime.

Norwegian diplomat Dag Nylander, whose country is also a guarantor, said that Colombia would convene an international conference against drug trafficking under the aegis of the United Nations.

"Both the government and the FARC acknowledge that the drug trade has fed the conflict in Colombia," lead government representative Humberto de la Calle said.

Negotiators earlier agreed on issues of rural development and guerrilla integration into the political process.

Still to be discussed: how FARC fighters will lay down their weapons, compensation for conflict victims, and determining whether a final peace deal should be put to a national vote, as the government wants.

Colombia specialist Christian Voelkel with the International Crisis Group told AFP that the agreement was a landmark moment in the peace process, and that both sides were now past the point of no return.

The FARC, which has between 7,000 and 8,000 fighters, have been at war with the state since its founding in 1964. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the conflict.

They said their unilateral truce for the election period was a gesture of goodwill.

But Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon vowed there would be no let-up -- Bogota has repeatedly refused to agree to a ceasefire during the peace talks because the rebels have used previous ceasefires to rearm and regroup.

"We are not going to stop pursuing them simply because they do us the favor of refraining from committing one of the many crimes they commit," Pinzon said.

FARC representative Pablo Catatumbo said the rebels reject the legitimacy of Colombia's electoral system. "Nevertheless, we believe that a national clamor" for peace "should be heeded," he said.

The FARC has held temporary unilateral ceasefires twice before since peace talks started. However this would be the first time the smaller ELN - which also wants to start peace talks with the government - joins in a truce.


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« Reply #13452 on: May 17, 2014, 06:20 AM »


More than 2.7 billion people live in countries where being gay is a crime

New research lays bare discrimination faced by gay people – in not a single country do they enjoy equal rights as heterosexuals

LGBT rights around the world – an interactive

http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/may/-sp-gay-rights-world-lesbian-bisexual-transgender

James Ball   
The Guardian, Friday 16 May 2014 13.09 BST      

More than 2.7 billion people live in countries where being gay is punishable by imprisonment, lashes or even death, new research obtained by the Guardian shows.

The stark figure from the International Lesbian and Gay Association (Ilga) highlights the discrimination faced by gay people around the world; the full report shows there is not a single country where LGBT people enjoy equal legal rights with their heterosexual counterparts.

Five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – still have a statutory death penalty for homosexuality, while a further 71 countries punish same-sex couples with lesser sentences of imprisonment or corporal punishment.

In total, 2.79 billion people live in countries where being gay can lead to prison or death – seven times as many as live in countries with same-sex marriage.

The figures do, however, also highlight the progress made by equal rights groups in winning new rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. More than 1.3 billion people live in countries with some form of legal protection against discrimination against LGBT people, while 780 million live in countries with same-sex marriage or civil unions. More than a billion people live in countries which bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

Renato Sabbadini, the executive director of Ilga, said the organisation's research – which has been turned into an interactive graphic by the Guardian – was of the "greatest interest" and reflected the organisation's efforts over a decade, but that more work was still needed.

"Mapping the legal situation, albeit important and very informative in terms of measuring advances or regressions, constitutes only part of the picture," he said. "It is becoming more and more important to find the human and financial resources to start a mapping exercise in relation to violence based on [perceived]sexual orientation and gender identity, as the fact that a country adopts progressive legislation is not necessarily a guarantee of the fact that the lives of LGBTI [LGBT plus intersex] people living in it will improve or cease to experience discrimination and violence."

The research reflects a year of disparate advances and regressions for the daily lives of gay people across the globe. Uganda stepped up prosecutions of people accused of being in gay relationships, while Russia's new law against a gay "propaganda" law drew worldwide ire during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Uganda gay newspaper headline In Uganda, where being gay can lead to a lengthy prison sentence, a newspaper published the names and photos of 14 men it identified as homosexual. Photograph: Marc Hofer/AFP/Getty Images

At the same time, US courts even in traditionally conservative states have struck down bans on gay marriage, while equal marriage became law in the UK with the support of all three major political parties.

Other gay rights battles have received less attention: Kyrgyzstan, for example, is currently considering a gay propaganda law modelled almost word-for-word on the Russian ban, while Brunei is set to impose sharia law criminalising homosexuality, which is attracting international pressure, including a threatened boycott from Elton John.

Other countries face battles to extend gay rights. In Peru, the Movimiento Homosexual de Lima (MHOL), is fighting to introduce civil unions. Homosexuality is legal but highly stigmatised. Jorge Chávez, the president of MHOL, says support for civil unions sits at around 40%, and his organisation has gathered 100,000 signatures in support of the motion – but opponents have gathered still more.

"Since 1920 there are no laws that make homosexuality a crime or a misdemeanour, but police consider any homosexual public display of affection like an 'indecency' and take repressive measures," he said. "We have some data that shows some discrimination against gays and lesbians at work, and gay and lesbian children and teens are usually victims of bullying at schools. Some of them undergo 'gay cure' attempts by their parents."

"Since the civil union campaign [#UnionCivilYa] began, homophobic attacks on social networks have risen, especially from religious people."

All Out, a global campaign for equal rights, welcomed the research but said it highlighted the difficulties faced by gay people across the world.

Executive director Andre Banks said: "As a lesbian, gay or trans person, there is nowhere you can go on the planet to be treated equally under the law. It is unfair and it is untenable. But, the laws don't tell the whole story. Everywhere you go, there are millions of people who reject the notion that your ability to live openly and free from torture and discrimination should be an accident of your birth.

"All Out is channelling millions into a global movement speaking out for love and equality. We know that when more of us speak out, our friends and families and eventually our governments will join us. That's what will fuel the change in our cultures and our laws to protect every person, no matter where we are, who we are, or who we love."

Ilga plans to continue its research into rights around the world with a project looking at state-sponsored transphobia.

George Arnett contributed to this report


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« Reply #13453 on: May 17, 2014, 06:22 AM »

Largest ever: Paleontologists find 90-million-year-old fossil that belonged to 80 ton dinosaur

By The Guardian
Saturday, May 17, 2014 7:27 EDT

Paleontologists in Patagonia, southern Argentina on Friday announced they have unearthed a 90-million-year-old fossil of what they claim is the largest dinosaur found to date.

“It’s the largest example ever found,” said Ruben Cuneo, director of the Feruglio Museum of Trelew, a city founded by Welsh settlers in the 1860s.

The new kind of dinosaur dwarfs even the Argentinosaurus, the previous largest contender. It is a 40-metre (130-foot) long sauropod discovered in farmland about 260km (160 miles) from the town of Trelew.

The dinosaur weighed about 80 tons, the equivalent of 14 grown elephants, said the museum director. A complete skeleton was found in a field discovered by a farm worker last year, where up to seven such complete skeletons are believed to exist, in the locality of El Sombrero.

“It’s like two trucks with a trailer each, one in front of the other, and the weight of 14 elephants together,” said José Luis Carballido, the Argentinian paleontologist who led the dig. “This is a real paleontological treasure. There are plenty of remains and many were nearly intact, which is unusual.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014


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« Reply #13454 on: May 17, 2014, 06:23 AM »

NASA approves two-year mission for planet-hunting Kepler telescope

By Reuters
Friday, May 16, 2014 17:08 EDT
By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) – NASA plans to revive its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope for a new mission after a positioning system problem sidelined the observatory last year, officials said on Friday.

The telescope was launched in 2009 to search for Earth-sized planets suitably positioned around their parent stars for liquid water, a condition believed necessary for life.

Kepler scientists are still analyzing data to find a true Earth analog but already have added 962 confirmations and 3,845 candidates to the list of 1,713 planets discovered beyond the solar system.

Kepler’s steady gaze was broken last year when it lost the second of four positioning wheels. Three are needed for precision pointing.

“Good news from NASA HQ,” Kepler deputy project manager Charlie Sobeck wrote in a status report posted on the Kepler website. “The two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft … has been approved.”

The first observations of the new campaign, called K2, are scheduled to begin on May 30. Kepler worked by monitoring about 150,000 target stars for slight but regular changes in brightness, a possible sign of a planet passing by, or transiting, relative to the telescope’s line of sight.

An Earth-sized planet moving around its host star as close as Earth circles the sun would transit once every 365 days. Scientists want to see at least three transits to be sure any telltale light dips are caused by a passing and not a stellar flare or other phenomenon. Engineers developed a plan to use pressure from sunlight to balance the telescope, though it no longer will be stable enough to catch the faint signs of small, transiting planets.

NASA approved a two-year follow-on mission encompassing all types of stars, rather than just stars like the sun. The observations also will include star clusters, supernova and objects beyond the Milky Way.

Kepler currently costs NASA about $18 million a year. The telescope flies in an orbit about 40 million miles (64 million km) from Earth.

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