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« Reply #13815 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:01 AM »

In Thailand, a Growing Intolerance for Dissent

By THOMAS FULLER
JUNE 6, 2014
IHT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thailand, long the liberal bastion of Southeast Asia, has traditionally been a haven for refugees from its less democratic neighbors. Now, in the wake of a recent coup, a small group of Thailand’s intelligentsia are making the reverse journey — heading to Cambodia and other more repressive nations as their own country cracks down on dissent.

A leader of the exile community, Jakrapob Penkair, says dozens of professors, activists and politicians have fled Thailand in recent weeks as the leaders of the Thai junta detained hundreds of prominent people in what many consider a campaign of fear meant to silence critics or drive them out.

“Lots of us won’t be coming home very soon,” Mr. Jakrapob, a former government spokesman, said at a riverside restaurant here in the Cambodian capital, where he has met regularly with other Thai exiles since arriving in 2009.

He now hopes to organize some type of resistance to the junta from outside the country, though he said he would have to proceed carefully so as not to put “friendly countries in an awkward position.”

In decades past, the notion of fleeing Thailand for an authoritarian country like Cambodia would have seemed absurd to those accustomed to Thailand’s freedoms, even amid a series of coups over several decades. Instead, relatively wealthy Thailand has been a haven for the oppressed, whether it was families fleeing the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia four decades ago or persecuted hill tribes in Myanmar escaping attacks by the Burmese military.

That migration continues, but as Thailand has lurched from one political crisis to the next, some say they feel they have had little choice but to flee from what they call increasing intolerance of dissent.

Exact numbers are hard to confirm since many of those who left fear they are being hunted by the Thai military and are cautious about revealing their whereabouts.

One of those exiles, Chinawat Haboonpat, a former member of Parliament for the deposed governing party, wrote a message to his supporters on Facebook on May 22, the day the generals seized power in Thailand.

“Brothers and sisters, I am not escaping,” he said, adding that the former interior minister, Charupong Ruengsuwan, was with him. But Mr. Chinawat forgot to turn off a function on Facebook that added his location to the bottom of his message: Toul Kork, Cambodia, a district of Phnom Penh. (The message was subsequently deleted.)

The Thailand the exiles are leaving is hardly the picture of a typical military dictatorship. The curfew imposed after the coup has been lifted in tourist areas and is loosely enforced from midnight to 4 a.m. in other parts of the country. Most of the scores of those detained in the early days of the coup have been freed, including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But freedom of expression has been sharply curtailed. Thailand’s cacophonous news media has been partly silenced by the military junta, which closely monitors television news and has released detained journalists only under the condition that they not speak out.

The junta has also banned gatherings of five people or more — a rule that does not apply to its own attempts to manage the public mood, which have included staging performances in Bangkok, titled “Return Happiness to the People.” The shows feature women dancing and singing in camouflage miniskirts and were organized by specialists in psychological warfare, according to the Thai news media.

Nearly every evening, the military announces on television the names of people summoned for questioning or detention. Democracy advocates, academics and anyone who speaks publicly about politics now watch with anxiety to see whether their names are added to the list of more than 350 people already summoned. Those released from detention are forced to sign an agreement that bars them from taking part in “political movements.”

“If I violate these conditions or support political activities, I consent to face legal action immediately and consent to the suspension of my financial transactions,” says the military’s document, which the coup makers posted on their Facebook page. The army has threatened to try dissenters in military courts.

Some of those who have been summoned are affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, deposed in a 2006 military coup, who founded the highly successful populist movement that the military is seeking to dismantle.

On Wednesday, Thailand’s junta issued a summons for Mr. Jakrapob, the exile in Cambodia helping organize others who have fled. Mr. Jakrapob, who helped bring the 7-Eleven chain to Thailand, served in one of Mr. Thaksin’s governments and maintains ties with Mr. Thaksin, who is also in exile.

But also among those who have fled Thailand are researchers and commentators who, although outspoken, were not involved in politics.

Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has been critical of recent court decisions against Mr. Thaksin’s supporters that he saw as politicized, left for London after he said a man riding on the back of a motorcycle fired shots into his house.

“I have to admit,” Mr. Verapat said in a YouTube video uploaded after he left, “I am not sure I would be safe in Thailand.”

Mr. Verapat says he has no connection to Mr. Thaksin and has never spoken with him.

The coup was supported by many members of the Bangkok establishment and the urban middle class. They saw a military takeover as an effective way to scrub the country of the influence of Mr. Thaksin, whose movement has broad support in the countryside thanks in large part to policies that the Bangkok elite consider wasteful, like subsidies for farmers.

Mr. Verapat and many intellectuals saw new elections as the answer to the impasse. But opponents of the government run by Mr. Thaksin’s sister, Ms. Yingluck, earlier this year disrupted attempts to hold elections, which the party was widely expected to win.

As a measure of the passions in Thailand, Mr. Verapat’s Facebook page has both supportive comments and invective from backers of the military coup.

“I think a person like you should die abroad and never return to this country,” one comment under the name Tanan Tanaratanapisit read.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University in Japan, said he and many Thai scholars outside the country are now afraid to return to Thailand.

“Most academics I know have left the country,” Mr. Pavin said. “It is no longer safe for them.”

He called the military’s summoning of professors and intellectuals “a cunning strategy of the coup makers in creating a climate of fear rather than to launch a brutal crackdown against their critics.”

Even some people who are not public figures say they find the current political environment stifling, especially the online “witch hunts” by coup supporters targeting those who call for elections.

“I think there will be problems in this country for a generation or two,” said the owner of a catering business in Bangkok who is looking to move to Taiwan. “I’d like to get out of the country safely.”
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« Reply #13816 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:03 AM »


With Libya's return to war, democratic dream is all but ruined

Crisis escalates as rival governments preside over violence that is tearing nation apart three years after Arab spring

Chris Stephen   
The Guardian, Thursday 5 June 2014 20.28 BST   
 
When Libya threw off the shackles of dictatorship in its Arab spring revolution, few could have imagined that, three years later, it would have two rival governments installed at opposite ends of the country, presiding over fighting that has, in effect, torn the nation in two.

In the capital, Tripoli, an Islamist-dominated congress where less than half the members show up to vote has appointed Ahmed Maiteeq as the third prime minister in four months.

But the man he wants to replace, Abdullah al-Thinni, insists that he is still the rightful prime minister. Al-Thinni, who condemned his rival's appointment as illegal, has now decamped to the oil-rich eastern province of Cyrenaica with his cabinet and sections of that same congress.

Al-Thinni is now in talks with army officers allied to the renegade general Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have for three weeks battled Islamist militias that he labels "terrorists".

Government, in the sense of a joined-up administration, has all but collapsed and mediation efforts appear stillborn.

Many had hoped the country's supreme court would end the standoff by ruling on Thursday on the legality of Maiteeq's election. But judges appeared to duck the issue, putting off the decision until next week. Whether a ruling will make a difference amid the spiralling violence is unclear.

What is clear is that Libya's democratic dream has all but collapsed, in a week that has seen authoritarian rulers claiming mandates after elections of questionable credibility in fellow Arab spring states Egypt and Syria.

The crisis began last month when Haftar, supported by sections of the armed forces, launched Operation Restore Libyan Dignity in Cyrenaica's capital, Benghazi, with assaults on Islamist militias. The city is now a war zone, with daily battles between militias and army formations. TV footage this week showed air force helicopter gunships firing relays of missiles into militia bases, with streets deserted and civilians cowering in their homes during fighting that has cost more than 100 lives. Haftar himself survived a suicide car bomb that killed four soldiers at his headquarters.

For some, it is an echo of the 2011 Arab spring uprising, in which rebels, backed by Nato air strikes, toppled the government of Muammar Gaddafi in an eight-month civil war.

Yet the faultlines have changed, with the former rebel coastal city of Misrata aligned with what remains of congress and Haftar supported by powerful Zintan militias in mountains west of the capital.

Islamists insist they control a democratic congress, voted into power in the country's first post-revolution elections, but opponents say the parliament lost its legitimacy by extending its mandate beyond its original limit in February.

As fighting worsens, foreign officials have become targets. The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday suspended operations after a Swiss employee was shot dead in the coastal city of Sirte, and a UN spokesman said four of its diplomats were captured and "roughed up" by militias at Tripoli airport.

The United States has moved warships, aircraft and 1,000 marines to the region and Washington has joined Canada, Jordan and Tunisia in advising citizens to leave Libya immediately.

Many Libyans are wary of Haftar, an ally of Gaddafi before defecting to join US-backed dissidents, but hope the support he has in the regular army means an end to three years of anarchy.

"The support for Haftar is in essence support for institutions, not for individuals," said Libyan journalist Mohamed Eljarh. "There is this movement in eastern Libya which has managed to bring lots of actors together."Haftar's campaign has also received what some have interpreted as partial support from Washington, which is concerned about the rise of jihadists in Libya. America's ambassador to the country, Deborah Jones, has said: "It's not necessarily for me to condemn [Haftar's] actions in going against very specific [terrorist] groups."

Ansar al-Sharia, the Benghazi militia the US blames for killing its ambassador in the city in 2012, has borne the brunt of Haftar's attacks, and it has warned Washington it risks a "bloodbath" if it intervenes militarily.

Outside powers may prove crucial in the standoff, with Al-Thinni's ministers apparently winning support this week in meetings with Egypt's president-elect, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who warned Cairo would not tolerate "terrorist activities" launched from Libya.


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« Reply #13817 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:05 AM »


Egypt criminalises sexual harassment for first time

Campaigners welcome the move but remain concerned about whether the law will be enforced by police

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Friday 6 June 2014 08.38 BST    

Egypt has criminalised sexual harassment for the first time, in a move that campaigners say is just the first step towards ending an endemic problem.

Egypt's outgoing president, Adly Mansour, issued a decree that categorised sexual harassment as a crime punishable by a minimum six-month jail term and a fine worth 3,000 Egyptian pounds – with increased penalties for employers and repeat offenders.

Sexual harassers have been prosecuted on rare occasions in the past in Egypt – but only on vaguer charges of physical assault, and even then the defendants have often been found innocent.

UN research from 2013 suggested that 99.3% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment – but it is often the victims who are blamed for their experience, rather than the harassers.

Campaigners welcomed the law, but warned that it remained to be seen whether it would be enforced by police.

"The biggest issue is still the cultural one: society doesn't see it as a crime," said Eba'a El-Tamimi, a spokesperson for HarassMap, a group that works to end harassment in Egypt. "And police often tend to sympathise with harassers or be harassers themselves. Even when someone manages to get to the police station to report harassment, she will still encounter resistance from police officers, who will try to deter her from going through with filing the police report."

One woman who took her harasser to court last year – and successfully won a rare conviction on assault charges – told the Guardian at the time that the police had been one of the biggest obstacles to the case. "You think I'm going to lock up every man who beats someone in the street?" one official allegedly told her after she first tried to file the charges. "That's how lightly they took it," she added.

One senior policeman interviewed by the Guardian, Colonel Ahmed el-Dahaby, promised police would take the law seriously. But he also warned that the problem lay not with the police, but with society.

"Our traditions are the thing that stop people from filing charges," said el-Dahaby, a police chief in a rural area of northern Egypt. "The girls are scared – they're too ashamed."

But another Cairo-based policeman said police were part of the problem, admitting he still partly blamed women for the way they were treated. "The fault is a shared one between the guy and the girl – the girls because of the way they dress," the policeman said, on condition of anonymity.

It is an attitude often heard in Egypt – most recently from the president of Cairo university, Dr Gaber Nasser. Confronted by footage of a female student being harassed by a mob while crossing his campus in March, Nasser initially said both harasser and harassed should share the blame and a punishment. "We don't require a uniform here but clothes should be within the tradition of our society," he claimed, before backtracking amid a media storm that helped chivvy lawmakers into introducing the new legislation.

Soraya Bahgat, the co-founder of Tahrir Bodyguards, a group that rescues women from mob sexual assaults during protests, called the amendment "a great first step". But she warned that it still left many grey areas, including uncertainty over how victims of mob attacks might seek legal recourse – particularly if they are expected to bring their assailants to the police in order to lodge a complaint.

As a result, activists ultimately hope the government will eventually introduce another, broader law that methodically outlines all forms of sexual crime, and streamlines the judicial process. But, said HarassMap's El-Tamimi: "I don't think sexual harassment will be properly part of the government agenda unless society changes. The core issue is that society does not see it as a crime."


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« Reply #13818 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:10 AM »

World’s Oldest Solar Device

Originally published on Green Building Elements.
06/06/2014
By John Perlin

Special thanks to author John Perlin for this contribution about what is believed to be the world’s oldest solar device – a solar ignitor, or yang-sui . The material comes from Perlin’s recently published book, Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story of Solar Energy.

During the sixth century BCE, Confucius wrote about the common use of curved mirrors shaped from shiny metal to concentrate the rays of the sun for making fire. These became known as yang­­-suis ­­– translating to solar ignitors, or burning mirrors.

According to the great philosopher, upon waking up the eldest son would attach a solar ignitor to his belt as he dressed for the day. It was his duty to focus the solar rays onto kindling to start the family’s cooking fire.

According to another early text, the Zhouli, which describes rituals dating far back into Chinese antiquity, “The Directors of the Sun Fire have the duty of transferring with burning mirrors the brilliant flames of the sun to torches for sacrifice.”

Although scholars found over the years many ancient texts discussing solar ignitors, the discovery of an extant yang sui eluded them for centuries. Quite recently came the Eureka moment. Digging up a tomb that dated to about three thousand years ago, a team of archaeologists found in the hand of a skeleton a bowl-shaped metal object. While the inner side could have passed for a wok, the exterior trough had a handle in its center. That’s what caught the eye of the two archaeologist in charge of the dig, Lu Demming and Zhai Keyong. They immediately brought the relic back to the local museum and ordered its specialists to make a mold from the original and then cast a copy in bronze.

After polishing its curved surface to a high degree of reflectance, the inquisitive archaeologists focused sunlight onto a piece of tinder just as the eldest son would have done so many years past, and in seconds the combustible material burst into flames. “This verified without a doubt that the purpose of the artifact is to make fire,” Lu and Zhai later wrote, assured of having found the oldest solar device in the history of humanity.

Now that the world could see what a real yang-sui looked like, museums retrospectively identified 20 more previously unclassified objects as solar ignitors. Multiple molds for turning out yang suislater found at a Bronze Age foundry in Shanxi province, close to the first find, suggest a mass market once existed for them. In fact, yang suis were probably as ubiquitous in early China as are matches and lighters today. The yang sui “should be regarded as one of the great inventions of ancient Chinese history,” remarked its discoverers, impressed by the ability of their forefathers to figure out the complex optics for such optimal performance so early in time.


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« Reply #13819 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:11 AM »

Stunning fossil eggs provide insight on gender differences of ancient flying reptiles

By Reuters
Thursday, June 5, 2014 12:54 EDT

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A spectacular fossil find in China – a prehistoric egg extravaganza from 120 million years ago – is providing unique insight into the lifestyle and gender differences of pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs.

Until now, only four pterosaur eggs had ever been found, and all were flattened during the process of fossilization.

But Chinese scientists said on Thursday they had unearthed five pterosaur eggs preserved beautifully in three dimensions at a site in northwestern China that also includes no fewer than 40 adult individuals of a newly identified species that lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake.

“This is definitely the most important pterosaur site ever found,” said paleontologist Zhonghe Zhou, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The creature, Hamipterus tianshanensis, had a crest atop its elongated skull, pointy teeth for catching fish and a wingspan of more than 11 feet (3.5 meters).

The five oblong eggs were “pliable” with a thin, hard outer layer marked by “cracking and crazing” covering a thick membrane inner layer, making them resemble the soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards, said paleontologist Xiaolin Wang, another of the researchers.

“They are the best-preserved pterosaur eggs ever found,” Wang said.

The site was remarkable for what it reveals about how pterosaurs lived. At least 40 male and female individuals have been identified, and there may be hundreds in all, Wang said.

The site indicates pterosaurs lived in large colonies, in this case nesting near the lake and burying eggs in moist sand to prevent them from becoming desiccated, Wang said.

“One of the significant (aspects) of this discovery – hundreds of individuals and eggs together from one site – is that it confirmed that pterosaurs were gregarious, and the population size is surprisingly large,” Zhou said.

The fossils illustrated important sex differences in pterosaurs. For example, males possessed distinctly larger head crests.

“In Hamipterus, size, shape and robustness are decided by the gender,” Wang said, adding that this contradicts a previous notion that “sexual dimorphism in pterosaurs was only reflected in the absence or presence of the crests.”

The site, discovered in Xinjiang province in 2005, was preserved probably after the Cretaceous period creatures perished together in a large storm, Zhou said.

Pterosaurs were Earth’s first flying vertebrates, with birds and bats appearing much later. They thrived from about 220 million years ago to 65 million years ago, when they were doomed by the asteroid that also killed the dinosaurs.

Knowledge about pterosaurs has been spotty, with their fragile skeletons not lending themselves well to fossilization. Little has been known about their behavior.

“I have been truly amazed by the abundance of bones and the number of eggs as well the great potential of more discoveries from the site,” Zhou said.

The genus name, Hamipterus, means “Hami wing,” honoring nearby Hami City. The species name, tianshanensis, refers to the nearby Tian Shan mountains.

The study appears in the journal Current Biology.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)


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« Reply #13820 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:12 AM »

Lunar rocks suggest the Moon was created after a violent collision with Earth

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Thursday, June 5, 2014 14:45 EDT

A new analysis of lunar rocks brought home by Apollo mission astronauts has shed fresh light on the violent birth of the moon. Researchers in Germany have found small but distinctive chemical signatures that suggest the moon formed when a giant planetary body slammed into the early Earth 4.5bn years ago.

Scientists have several theories for how the moon may have formed, but the “giant impact hypothesis” has been the leading explanation for some time. A cataclysmic impact between the Earth and a Mars-sized planet, known as Theia, would have scattered rock and dust from both bodies out into space, and these fragments would then have coalesced to form the moon.

But there was a problem with this scenario that left some researchers in doubt: variants of chemical elements on Earth seemed identical to those on the moon. If the moon had formed in a huge collision, then lunar rock should differ from Earth rock, because the former would contain material from Theia.

Scientists at the University of Göttingen analysed rocks brought back by the Apollo 11, 12 and 16 missions and found small but significant differences in the ratios of oxygen isotopes in moon and Earth rocks. On average, the difference amounted to only 12 parts per million. “The differences are very small but they are significant,” said Andreas Pack, a geochemist who worked on the rocks.

The study, reported in Science, solves one of the most enduring puzzles over the birth of the moon by confirming that, as would be predicted from a giant impact, the Earth and moon have slightly different chemical signatures. “This strengthens the evidence for a giant impact. That is very much the most likely process that formed the moon,” Pack said. “It was a long-lasting debate because we hadn’t found any isotopic difference between the Earth and the moon.”

The results give scientists some much-needed clues about the chemical make-up of Theia. The moon rock is similar to a class of minerals called enstantite chondrites. “This is the first time it has been possible to say something more about the giant impact hypothesis,” said Addi Bischoff, a senior author on the paper.

“The next goal is to find out how much material of Theia is in the moon,” said Daniel Herwartz, the first author of the study. Previous models of the birth of the moon had led scientists to believe it was around 70% Theia. But calculations by the German researchers point to a more even split, with the moon perhaps being half Earth and half Theia.

Earth’s moon is unusual in the solar system. There are more than 150 moons orbiting other planets, and most were either captured by their parent planet, or formed alongside the planets they orbit. The violent collision that created the moon is thought to explain the nature of its orbit and why it has less water and volatile compounds.

Last year, a separate study of lunar rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts found that traces of water locked inside the moon were originally from Earth. Scientists at Brown University drew the conclusion after running tests on water in droplets of volcanic glass trapped inside crystals in the rocks.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014


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« Reply #13821 on: Jun 06, 2014, 07:30 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Fears for Sergeant’s Life Led to Secrecy About Swap, Obama Official Says

By DAVID E. SANGER and PETER BAKER
JUNE 5, 2014
NYT

President Obama said he makes “no apologies” for seeking the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a prisoner swap with the Taliban and defended the exchange, which has dogged him on his European trip.

WASHINGTON — A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that the operation to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was kept a closely held secret because of fear that splits within the Taliban could lead gun-wielding guards to kill the soldier before he was turned over to American forces last weekend.

In an interview, the official said the administration never received a direct or indirect threat from the Taliban that Sergeant Bergdahl, who had been held for nearly five years, would soon be killed. But the concern about what could happen if news became public of the impending swap of Sergeant Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees was rooted in a fear that the Taliban themselves were split about the wisdom of the trade. The group holding Sergeant Bergdahl, a Taliban faction called the Haqqani network, has sometimes been at odds with the Taliban’s leadership.

The official was provided by the administration on the condition that he not be identified discussing sensitive negotiations.

“A variety of sources said that something could go wrong after a deal with the Taliban leadership but before it was executed,” said the official, who was involved in the talks. “But that didn’t mean that every guy with an AK-47 guarding Sergeant Bergdahl has signed off on the deal, too.”

The explanation came the same day that President Obama responded to the chorus of criticism about freeing Sergeant Bergdahl, who senior military officials say walked off his remote combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Obama strongly defended his decision to recover Sergeant Bergdahl regardless of whether the soldier had deserted his unit and framed the choice in terms of helping anxious parents recover a son.

“I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don’t see their children again after fighting a war,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Brussels after a summit meeting. “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American public understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.”

Since Mr. Obama first announced the prisoner swap from the Rose Garden of the White House on Saturday, there has been rising anger from members of Congress who say the administration ignored a statute requiring 30 days’ notice before prisoners are released from the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, where the five Taliban members were held.

While the White House has said that the need for secrecy explained why it had to ignore the statute, Mr. Obama’s aides have had a difficult time explaining why they could not have warned a small group of Senate national security leaders, called the “Gang of Eight,” that often receives briefings on covert or highly sensitive programs. The official said that inside the administration roughly 100 people were aware that a deal could be imminent, and that it had come together much more quickly than expected.

Senators who attended a classified briefing Wednesday night emerged largely unsatisfied.

The administration official also provided new details about the terms of the five Taliban members’ stay in Qatar, which has promised to hold them for at least a year. He said that while the five were free to leave their homes and engaged in routine activities — “They are not under house arrest, and they can go to the market,” the official said — they would be barred from fund-raising for the Taliban and inciting their brethren in Afghanistan.

Other officials have said that the five will be closely monitored by American intelligence, and that if they rejoin the Taliban in Afghanistan or elsewhere they could be targeted by the United States.

“No official gave them that warning,” the official said when asked whether the United States had specifically warned the Taliban before returning them. “Frankly, that is not a warning that they require, given the history of what happened to others who re-engaged” after returning to Afghanistan, he said.

At the Pentagon, officials said that Sergeant Bergdahl was continuing to recover at an Army medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany. Col. Steven H. Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Sergeant Bergdahl was gaining strength.

“His doctors say his health continues to improve daily,” Colonel Warren said. “Sergeant Bergdahl is conversing with medical staff and becoming more engaged in his treatment care plan. He is resting better.”

Colonel Warren told NBC News that Sergeant Bergdahl was being helped by psychologists working with him to “regain control of his emotions.”

In Brussels, Mr. Obama’s assertive defense was the second time in a four-day European trip that he had tried to quell the uproar. This time, he spoke with more passion and showed frustration about criticism over what he considered a clear choice.

Although aides have said they anticipated attacks over releasing Taliban detainees in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl, they have been surprised by the intensity of the focus on whether he merited the effort given the circumstances of his capture.

In private moments, White House officials have scorned critics of the deal for hypocrisy, given that some of the detractors previously supported the concept of a prisoner trade and that questions about Sergeant Bergdahl’s own behavior had long been known publicly.

“This is not a political football,” Mr. Obama said. “You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.”

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

Sgt. Bergdahl Tried To Escape Afghanistan Twice

By John Amato June 6, 2014 6:00 am
CrooksAndLiars

It's time for media to quit playing judge and jury and allow actual facts to come out.

Republicans and their talking heads have openly been portraying Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a traitor and a Nick Brody in training ever since President Obama made the deal to free him from captivity. The attacks have been relentless and have even his reached into his father's life as well.

Senator Angus King told CNN that if word had been leaked out on the Bergdahl deal he may have been killed.

    The Obama administration had reason to believe that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's life would have been in serious danger had negotiations for his release become public before the exchange on Saturday, according to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

    "They had intelligence that, had even the fact of these discussions leaked out, there was a reasonable chance Bowe Bergdahl would have been killed," King told CNN's Kate Bolduan on Thursday. "And that was one of the pieces of information that we learned yesterday that gave it some credence in terms of why it had to be kept quiet so long."

    In a closed-door, classified briefing on Wednesday, senators viewed a “proof of life” video taken of Bergdahl in captivity and questioned administration officials on the merits and legality of the exchange, which included five senior Taliban leaders.Reaction to the video was mixed. Some senators, including King, said Bergdahl appeared sickly.

    "He looked terrible," King told CNN. "And I think that video should be released at some point. He could barely talk. He couldn't focus his eyes. He was downcast. He was thin. He looked like a man -- I looked around the room, as that video was shown, and I think it was clearly effective. And when the video stopped -- it wasn't very long, maybe 30 seconds -- there was a dead silence in the room."

    “It did not look good,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said after the hearing, as quoted by The Washington Post. “I would definitely think that it would have had an emotional impact on the president when he saw it.”

But in another report from The Daily Beast we find out that Bergdahl not only tried to escape once, but twice while being held as a prisoner. That doesn't sound like someone who had abandoned his country and joined the Taliban.

    The Pentagon rejected the idea of a rescue mission for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because he was being moved so often by his Taliban captors that U.S. special operators would have had to hit up to a dozen possible hideouts inside Pakistan at once in order to have a chance at rescuing him.

    Bergdahl had also twice tried to escape, so the militants guarding him had stepped up their numbers, further complicating any potential rescue attempt.

    “A rescue mission would have been fraught politically as well as tactically,” according to a senior defense official briefed on the Bergdahl case.

That doesn't sound like the kind of a cozy relationship one has with his friends that Fox News has been trying to portray.

    In his first escape, Afghan sources said he avoided capture for three days and two nights before searches finally found him, exhausted and hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.

    In his second bid for freedom, which has not been previously reported, Bergdahl made it to a remote village in the mountainous part of Pakistan, the former Afghan official said. The villagers simply returned him to his captors in the Haqqani Network. The U.S. officials were not familiar with details of the second escape attempt, though they knew Bergdahl had briefly slipped away from his captors.

Fox News' James Rosen took some of the same information and made sure it fit into the Roger Ailes mold of journalism: EXCLUSIVE: Bergdahl declared jihad in captivity, secret documents show

    U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at one point during his captivity converted to Islam, fraternized openly with his captors and declared himself a "mujahid," or warrior for Islam, according to secret documents prepared on the basis of a purported eyewitness account and obtained by Fox News.

    The reports indicate that Bergdahl's relations with his Haqqani captors morphed over time, from periods of hostility, where he was treated very much like a hostage, to periods where, as one source told Fox News, "he became much more of an accepted fellow" than is popularly understood. He even reportedly was allowed to carry a gun at times.

Rosen frames the escape attempts as just part of his conversion. Listen, I have no idea what happened to Sgt. Bergdahl or his state of mind, but wouldn't you say you've converted to Islam, fraternized with the enemy just to try and survive over there? Either way what they are doing to this man is out of bounds on so many levels. I'd say he's been hurt enough by a frakked up war and should not be tortured by the conservative media until the military has their say.

This is a message to all troops fighting in wars: Republicans admire your service to the country until they can exploit it for political purposes.

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

Obama Shames Republicans As He Refuses to Apologize for Freeing Bowe Bergdahl

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, June, 5th, 2014, 12:16 pm      

The president was asked about the Bergdahl controversy at a joint press conference in Brussels, and he made the Republicans look like unpatriotic fools with his answer.

President Obama said:

I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. That’s par for the course, but I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about it, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it, and I make no apologies for that.

We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur, but because of nature of the folks that we were dealing with, and the fragile nature of these negotiations we thought it was important to go ahead and do what we did and we are now explaining to Congress the details of how we moved forward, but this basic principle that we don’t leave anyone behind, and this basic recognition that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration. It dates back to the beginning of our republic.

And with respect to how we announced it, I think it is important to understand that this is not some distraction. This is not some political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in some distant land, and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again. As Commander In Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids, and I get letters from parents that say if you are in fact sending my child off to war, make sure that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don’t see their children again after fighting a war.

I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents, and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child, and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.

The president shouldn’t apologize, The circumstances to do not matter. Sgt. Bergdahl is still a US citizen who was wearing his country’s uniform. This means that we as a nation have a duty to bring him home.
If he did anything wrong, he should be punished here, not left to die in the hands of the enemy. These basic principles have been around for as long as the republic itself. None of this is new. What President Obama did is not unique in US history.

Republicans are trying to whip up a scandal, because they can’t win with their agenda, so the only option they have strategically is to drag their opponents through the mud. What is different about the Bergdahl situation is that they have chosen also to smear a soldier and his family.

None of the Republican behavior has been proper, appropriate, or in the least bit patriotic. By attacking Bergdahl and his family, Republicans are demonstrating that they can’t be trusted to support the troops that they sent into war.

President Obama was 100% correct. There is no apology necessary for bringing a prisoner of war home. Republicans should be apologizing to Sgt. Bergdahl’s family for their deplorable political attacks.

By standing tall, the president is destroying what was left of the myth that Republicans care about and support the troops and their families.

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

What Republicans Don’t Want You to Know: 500 + Detainees Were Released from GITMO Under Bush

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, June, 5th, 2014, 4:41 pm   

Yet another exercise in exploring the depth of Republican hypocrisy and hysteria. This one is about OH MY GOD IMPEACHING OBAMA BECAUSE GITMO TRANSFEREES!

In a June 2nd press briefing, questions were asked regarding the transfer of the five Guantánamo (Gitmo) detainees in exchange for the successful recovery of Sergeant Bergdahl, a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Press Secretary Jay Carney explained that there were restrictions made in the prisoner exchange, which is not an uncommon occurrence in armed conflicts.

From the White House transcript:

    Q As you know, there have been detainees who have returned to the battlefield. What are the guarantees, other than just a one-year ban on travel on these five detainees that they won’t go back and target U.S. interests, U.S. personnel, U.S. military?

    MR. CARNEY: Again, I’ll re-stipulate that prisoner exchanges are not uncommon in armed conflicts. Secondly, I’ll say that without getting into specific assurances, I can tell you that they included a travel ban and information-sharing on the detainees between our governments, between the United States and Qatar. I can also tell you that the assurances were sufficient to allow the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, in coordination with the national security team, to determine that the threat posed by the detainees to the United States would be sufficiently mitigated and that the transfer was in the U.S. national security interest.

    So this was done after the appropriate consideration and analysis, and it was the judgment of the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the entire national security team that there was sufficient mitigation in place and assurances in place to allow the exchange.

Republicans are acting as if Obama never should have done this. Senator Lindsey Graham is talking impeachment if Obama releases any more prisoners or tries once again to close Gitmo. Yet, in 2009, PolitiFact confirmed that “More than 500 Guantánamo detainees were released or transferred under Bush.”

    Indeed, government documents indicate more than 500 detainees were released or transferred from Guantanamo while George W. Bush was president. A White House executive order issued on the second day of Obama’s presidency said, “The federal government has moved more than 500 such detainees from Guantánamo, either by returning them to their home country or by releasing or transferring them to a third country.”

    That’s backed up by a fact sheet from the military task force that runs the detention camp, which says 520 detainees had been released or transferred by March 2009.

PolitiFact then got into the weeds of release versus transfer, with a transfer being a situation where there are restrictions (as appears to be the case with the prisoners transferred in exchange for Bergdahl). Maybe someone should tell Lindsey Graham, too.

    But the Pentagon says there is a difference between a release and a transfer to another country. The vast majority of detainees leave Gitmo under a transfer, which means they are transported to another country that places them under some type of restrictions. Some are incarcerated in those countries because of criminal charges, while others face monitoring or travel limitations.

Carney noted we successfully recovered Sergeant Bergdahl (this is exactly the sort of discussion Republicans are hoping to avoid), “(T)his was the right thing to do, because we in the United States do not leave our men and women in uniform behind during an armed conflict. And five years is a very long time to be a prisoner.”

The bottom line is Obama got Osama, and now Obama successfully recovered our single prisoner in the Afghanistan war. So, Republicans are attacking Bergdahl and his family in dishonorable and stunningly disturbed ways, hoping to mitigate what they see as another Obama success.

Republicans have muddied the waters of every single Obama success. There has not been one occasion upon which they have been able to set aside their partisan agenda in order to cheer or praise a positive occurrence under Obama. They made sure no one gave Obama credit for bin Laden and now they’re at it again.

Ironically, even if the Republican smear campaign against Bergdahl and his family was accurate (and no one judging Bergdahl is in any position to sift through the facts as broken down here, so the discussion is irrelevant and ridiculous), the bottom line is we don’t leave our troops behind.

Clueless Republicans might want to note that it’s not because we deem them all heroic characters fit for the black and white world in which conservatives live — the ultimate Good Guy. It’s because practically speaking, we need to protect our assets, including information. If we have reason to suspect an asset has been compromised it behooves us to determine to what extent.

Republicans have chosen to troll Obama’s national security successes until the press is embroiled in discussing their accusations rather than the success. We can’t have a moment of national pride in a job well done—oh, no. Not while a Democrat is in the White House.

Note: Per the Pentagon’s distinction, the title to this article should read “released or transferred”. However, for the sake of brevity and due to common usage in the national dialogue on this issue, we’ve used “released”.

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

Obama administration expects more Guantanamo transfers despite Bergdahl controversy

By Reuters
Friday, June 6, 2014 4:30 EDT

The Obama administration expects more inmates will be transferred from the Guantanamo Bay military prison this year, a U.S. official said on Thursday, despite the political firestorm over the exchange of five Taliban detainees for the last American soldier held in Afghanistan.

“There are a significant number of transfers in the pipeline at various stages, and I think you are going to be seeing substantial progress this year,” a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told a briefing for reporters on moves toward closing the base.

The official declined to say how many of the 149 prisoners still at the U.S. detention center at the naval base in Cuba are up for transfer. Seventy-eight – including 58 Yemenis and four Afghans – have been approved to be released without charge.

The detention camp, much-criticized by human rights groups and others, has been back in the spotlight since Saturday when Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was released after being held for five years by the Taliban, in exchange for five Taliban officials held at Guantanamo for 12 years.

News of the swap, which was arranged without consulting Congress, infuriated many lawmakers, particularly Republicans already skeptical about the avowed intention of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to close the prison.

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Obama of using Bergdahl’s release “as an opportunity to pursue his legacy of closing Guantanamo Bay” in a column published at Time.com.

After being briefed about a potential swap of five prisoners for Bergdahl in late 2011, Congress passed a law, which Obama signed in early 2012, requiring the White House to give them 30 days’ notice of any transfers from Guantanamo.

Lawmakers contend that the Bergdahl swap deal violated that law because they were not given notice of the Guantanamo transfers, underscoring the tough fight ahead of the White House as it seeks to shutter the prison.

Advocates for closing the camp say it violates U.S. principles such as not holding prisoners without charge. It also acts as a recruiting tool for anti-American militants, and is very expensive to keep open.

It costs $2.7 million to $2.8 million per year to keep each detainee at Guantanamo, compared with $78,000 per inmate at the highest security prisons in the United States.

Current U.S. law does not allow any prisoners to be moved to the United States from Guantanamo, for trial in federal courts or any other reason, even medical emergency.

Lawmakers who favor closing the base have repeatedly introduced legislation to allow some transfers to the United States. Most recently, they included such provisions in a defense spending bill currently making its way through Congress. Such legislation has repeatedly failed to pass.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool)

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

Right Wing Freaks Out With DOJ Announcement to Crackdown on Domestic Terrorists

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Friday, June, 6th, 2014, 9:00 am   

When Eric Holder announced  that the DOJ is bringing back its committee on Domestic Terrorism, right wing hypocrisy on terrorism was on full display. Simply put, when white supremacists use violence and terrorize communities to further their political agenda, it’s free speech. Only foreign terrorism counts, except when there’s an opportunity to engage in a little home grown Islamophobia, racism or both.

So when you go after people who are merely good conservatives who bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors you’re just going after people who disagree with you.  How dare the government go after good faux Christian White Supremacists?  That’s not going after domestic terrorists, it’s going after anyone who is white and opposes the Obama Administration.

Got it?

Pat Dollard claimed this is about mobilizing to wage war on white men. Alex Jones wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to dismiss the reality of domestic terrorism when it sounds so much scarier to say that Obama is going after his political enemies.

Glenn Beck took the opportunity to chime in with: “This regime is now justifiably terrified that attempts to overthrow them and re-establish our constitutional government and the rule of law may occur. A nazi/Stalin regime like rule is about to begin where people will be arrested and detained without evidence but on suspicion alone. Unlike Germany, there are no allies to come to our rescue to stop it.”

The SPLC’s report on the right wing’s reaction can be read here.

Most of our attention was focused on the right wing freak out over Bowe Bergdahl’s release because hey, it’s negotiating with “real” terrorists over a POW who studied ballet, his father has a beard and there are rumors that Bowe may have been a deserter.  That’s so much different from say, Cliven Bundy who was just exercising his right to be a deadbeat.  The government actually expects him to pay grazing fees? Don’t you know, in that case, the government was engaging in an act of terrorism. *facepalm*

In the sociopathic minds of the extreme right, all is fair in the name of stopping certain forms of terrorism.  If it means profiling Muslims or people who “look” Muslim that is okay because it’s about keeping America and Americans safe. War crimes are justifiable as is a white male Republican President’s Unitary executive doctrine.

Their reaction is very different when the terrorists in question are government hating white supremacists. Back in 2009, Republican sociopaths stomped their feet to condemn a DHS report that identified white supremacists as the greatest domestic threat to national security.

Folding to Republican temper tantrums, then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew the report.  She also apologized to those who were offended by the fact that right wing terrorists would find returning vets who possess combat skills and experience attractive and would try to recruit them.

The reality is the report was right.  The attack on the Sikh Temple in 2012 was by a Neo-Nazi who was recruited while he was in the army. Then there’s the case of the right wing radicals from Georgia who organized a far-right militia unit while they were in the Army.  Eventually they murdered to hide their planned acts of terrorism.

Republicans continued to stomp their feet until the DHS shutdown the Domestic terrorism unit.

As a result, domestic terrorists have had free reign with nods and winks from many of the same people who smell impeachment because Bergdahl begins with the same letter as Benghazi.

In saner times, there would have been consensus around Eric Holder’s announcement to re-establish the committee to investigate domestic terrorism.  Actually, the DHS’s domestic terrorism unit would never have been shut down.  But we’re living in times when “patriots” call a president’s refusal to leave a soldier behind an impeachable offense.  The reality is we can blame Republicans for defending and pandering to home grown terrorists but we can only blame ourselves if we back down when Republicans use the language of terror to shut down efforts to enforce the law against home grown terrorists.

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

Sens. Bernie Sanders, John McCain Announce Bipartisan Deal On Veterans Care Bill

Posted:  06/05/2014 3:37 pm EDT    
 
WASHINGTON -- Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced Thursday that they have reached a deal on bipartisan legislation aimed at reforming the veterans' health care system.

Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, outlined the framework of the forthcoming bill on the Senate floor. The proposal comes in response to reports of misconduct at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities around the country. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the health care scandal last Friday.

The bipartisan legislation would allow for the construction of 26 VA medical facilities in 18 states and provide $500 million for hiring new VA doctors and nurses. It would also allow veterans to see private doctors if they experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, though that is a two-year trial project.

Other provisions include aid to veterans who can't afford to go to college under the post-9/11 GI bill, resources for victims of military sexual assault, and updated rules to ensure that spouses of veterans killed in battle can take advantage of the post-9/11 GI bill.

Sanders and McCain targeted administrative matters as well. Their bill would make it easier to fire VA staffers for wrongdoing and create an expedited process to allow those staffers to appeal. It would also establish a new presidential commission to work with the private sector to develop better technology for the VA.

Sanders said he would have preferred that the proposal went further, but given that he and McCain are "people who look at the world very differently," their compromise is a major success.

"I hope we will be back on the floor to continue the effort to deal with the many unmet needs of veterans," Sanders said. "But right now, we have a crisis, and it is imperative that we deal with that crisis."

President Barack Obama vented his anger last month as reports surfaced of misconduct at 26 VA facilities, including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for appointments and staff rigged recordkeeping to cover up long wait times. Obama echoed the views held by many veterans groups that while VA care is good, the length of time people have to wait for it is a problem.

McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said Thursday that he and Sanders are open to amendments to their bill if other senators have ideas for strengthening it. But he urged his colleagues not to let politics get in the way of urgently needed legislation.

"Can we sort of pledge that we are committed to seeing this thing all the way through?" McCain asked. "If you've got a way to make it better, come on in. But let's not get hung up on certain other aspects of our differences that have characterized what most people would view as gridlock in this body."


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« Reply #13822 on: Jun 06, 2014, 08:58 AM »

Pig Putin Agrees with Poroshenko on Need to End Ukraine 'Bloodshed', Holds Brief Talks with Obama

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 13:42

Russian President Pig Putin and Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko met Friday during D-Day events in Normandy and called for an end to bloodshed and violence on both sides, Putin's spokesman said, amid a brief exchange between Putin and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama.

"Pig Putin and Poroshenko called for the soonest possible end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine, and to military operations on both sides -- both by the Ukrainian armed forces and by supporters of the federalization of Ukraine," Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods," Peskov said.

Peskov said the Ukrainian and Russian leaders held a brief "standing up" conversation along with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among leaders marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day in northern France.

Earlier on Friday, Obama and the Pig held informal talks, diplomatic sources said, amid the worst crisis in ties between the United States and Russia in decades over the unrest in Ukraine.

The pair exchanged brief comments while waiting to head into a lunch for world leaders held to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a French source said.

Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security adviser, said the meeting at Chateau Benouville lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

"President Obama and President Pig Putin did speak with each other on the margins of the leaders' lunch. It was an informal conversation -- not a formal bilateral meeting," Rhodes said.

It was their first meeting since the start of Ukraine crisis and first face-to-face encounter since the G20 summit in St Petersburg last year.

As punishment for the annexation of the peninsula and what the West sees as meddling in eastern Ukraine, Russia was effectively expelled from the group of eight rich nations and has suffered economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Obama said at a rearranged meeting of world leaders in Brussels on Wednesday that he would deliver the "same message" -- that "if Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs."

Earlier, Hollande underscored the need for a truce in Ukraine during a dinner he hosted for the Pig, the French foreign minister said Friday.

"We held discussions with the Pig to tell him: in Ukraine it's virtually all-out war. How can we help to bring about a truce?" Laurent Fabius, who was at Thursday's dinner, told RTL radio.

He said the Pig was told that this "was the first thing that is necessary."

The Pig, who has been criticized by Washington and its allies since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in March, met both British Prime Minister David Cameron and then Hollande on a night of gastro-diplomacy in Paris.

His stop in Paris ahead of Friday's D-Day commemorations in northern France came as Kiev said it had lost control of part of its eastern border to pro-Russian separatists.

Fabius said Hollande had also raised the issue of Russia's gas supplies to Ukraine.

Russian state-controlled giant Gazprom has doubled its prices and demanded billions in back payments from cash-strapped Kiev, threatening to turn off the taps if it does not get its money.

"We held very frank discussions," Fabius said, adding that the Pig had squealed that he "could have a certain influence but not total influence" over events in Ukraine.

"He gave the example of the referendum which took place while he had asked for it not to be held," Fabius said, referring to the May 11 vote called by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine to split from the rest of the ex-Soviet republic.

Pro-Russian separatists claimed a massive victory in the two east Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Lugansk while Kiev called the balloting a farce.

"We will see what transpires in the coming hours and days but we have explained that what is unquestionable is that it is in nobody's interest that there is a major war in Ukraine," Fabius said.

Fabius also said Paris would stick to a deal to build two Mistral warships for the Russian navy, which Washington has criticized.

Fabius said the 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) deal for two helicopter carriers was "struck in 2011 by another government," adding that a large part of the money had been paid.

Saying the contract represented many jobs, Fabius added: "France like the United States has a tradition of honoring these contracts."


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Poroshenko Sworn in as Ukraine's President, Vows Unity

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 June 2014, 10:42

Western-backed tycoon Petro Poroshenko vowed Saturday to avert civil war and mend ties with Russia after being sworn in as Ukraine's fifth post-Soviet president with the nation facing disintegration and economic collapse.

Poroshenko took the oath of office one day after holding his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since a May 25 election victory entrusted him with taming a bloody crisis that has shaken the post-Cold War order and redrawn Europe's map.

The 48-year-old magnate -- dubbed the "chocolate king" for his popular brand of sweets -- first asked a packed session of parliament to pay a minute of silence for the 100 people killed in three days of carnage in Kiev that led to the February ouster of Ukraine's Kremlin-backed regime.

The self-made billionaire then vowed to give an amnesty to any insurgents who had "no blood on their hands" as the first step in a peace initiative designed to save the nation of 46 million -- which saw its Crimea peninsula annexed by Russia in March -- from splitting further along ethnic lines.

"I am assuming the presidency in order to preserve and strengthen Ukraine's unity," Poroshenko said in an address that alternated between Ukrainian and Russian.

"The citizens of Ukraine will never feel the blessing of peace and security until we resolve our relations with Russia."

But Proshenko also added that he would never accept Russia's seizure of Crimea or attempts to divert his pro-European course.

"Crimea will remain a part of Ukraine," Poroshenko said firmly.

"Ukraine now returns to its natural European condition that so many generations have longed for."

Saturday's solemn ceremony was attended by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy along with more than 20 other dignitaries from countries that back Kiev's new Westward drive.

"All neighbours... need to respect (Ukraine's) sovereign choices, including stronger ties with the European Union and its territorial integrity," Van Rompuy said in a clear reference to Russia.

But Moscow was only represented by its acting ambassador to Kiev -- a telling sign of how far relations between the two neighbours have slipped since the February revolt.

- Thankless job -

Poroshenko is one of Ukraine's more experienced politicians who held senior cabinet posts under both the Western-leaning government that followed Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution and the Moscow-friendly leadership of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

That pragmatic approach has instilled hope among many Ukrainians that he will be able to resolve an eight-week secessionist drive by pro-Russian militants in the eastern rust belt that has claimed 200 lives and grown even more violent since his election.

Poroshenko -- who has vowed to give up direct ownership of his holdings to avoid a conflict of interest -- must also address a two-year recession and tackle endemic corruption that has turned Ukraine into one of Europe's poorest countries and has fed broad public discontent.

A step in that direction may have been taken in Normandy Friday when he shook hands with the Pig on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations that were haunted by the spectre of an outright civil war breaking out on the European Union's eastern edge.

Moscow had previously said it was ready to work with the new president but stopped short of explicitly recognising him as the legitimate leader of the Ukrainian people.

U.S. President Barack Obama -- who met the Pig for 10 minutes on Friday despite earlier efforts to isolate the hardline Kremlin chief -- told NBC Nightly News that Russia had to recognise Poroshenko as legitimate if it wanted to resolve the flaring conflict.

"Mr Pig Putin should be working directly with Mr Poroshenko and the government of Ukraine to try to resolve differences between the two countries," Obama stressed.

Russia also needs "to stop financing and arming separatists who have been wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country," Obama added.

Mounting tensions in the rebel regions have seen Kiev concede that it was losing control of three border posts that were being routinely attacked by the rebels.

Insurgents on Friday shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane near Slavyansk -- a rebel stronghold where many of the 120,000 residents have been forced to spend nights in basements because of the ceaseless fighting.

A military spokesman said Saturday that "some crew members" managed to evacuate in time. But he gave no casualty figure.

- 'Positive' Normandy talks -

The Pig  sounded a surprisingly upbeat note after his meeting with Poroshenko.

"I cannot but welcome the position of Poroshenko on the necessity to end the bloodletting immediately in the east of Ukraine," he snorted to reporters in France.

"I cannot say for sure how that can be implemented in practical terms, but overall it seemed to be to be the right approach," the Pig squealed.

"He has a plan, which -- it's probably better to ask him. He explained it quickly to me."

"Ukraine must demonstrate its good will. The repressive operation must be stopped," squealed the Pig.

"I hope that will happen, and if that happens, the conditions would be there for the development of our relations in other areas, including economic."

But the Pig also snorted that Russia would have no choice but to slap trade restrictions on Ukraine should it proceed with plans to sign an historic economic treaty with the European Union in the coming weeks.

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

Obama Asks Pig Putin to 'De-Escalate' Situation in Ukraine as Russian Leader, Poroshenko Jointly Urge 'End to Bloodshed'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 13:42

Russia and Ukraine appeared to have made a long-awaited breakthrough in efforts to resolve a damaging crisis in their relations after conciliatory talks on the sidelines of Friday's D-Day anniversary ceremonies.

Pig Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko embraced the spirit of the day that signaled the end of World War II by announcing they would jointly seek a ceasefire in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

The two leaders shook hands and talked for a quarter of an hour in a meeting brokered by French President Francois Hollande before a lunch of world leaders attending the D-Day events.

A series of positive commentaries on the encounter followed from both Kiev and Moscow, raising hopes of a peaceful de-escalation of a crisis that erupted when Russia annexed Crimea in March and sparked a damaging chill in its relations with western powers.

The rift with the West looked to be healing too as Putin had his first face-to-face encounter with U.S. President Barack Obama. U.S. officials styled the meeting as an informal chat but the Pig portrayed them as "substantial" discussions.

The Pig snorted to Russian TV that Poroshenko had the "right approach" to ending the crisis while the Ukrainian president-elect, who is due to be inaugurated on Saturday, said he believed there was a "good chance" of a successful dialogue with Moscow.

The Pig revealed that the two countries were close to a deal on the vexed issue of Russian gas supplies to its former Soviet partner.

Russia has been accused of holding Ukraine to ransom as a result of energy giant Gazprom's doubling of the price of gas it supplies to the country and its demand for a rapid settlement of arrears.

The Pig's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two men had urged "the soonest possible end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine, and to military operations on both sides -- both by the Ukrainian armed forces and by supporters of the federalization of Ukraine.

"They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods."

It was the first meeting between the two leaders since pro-Western chocolate tycoon Poroshenko won Ukraine's presidential election on May 25.

Russia indicated it would send an ambassador to Kiev for Poroshenko's investiture in what will be seen as de facto recognition of the new president's legitimacy.

A ceasefire could be harder to deliver as, for it to be accepted by the rebels, there would have to be some sort of pullback by Ukrainian government forces which Kiev would regard as an infringement of its right to police all of its sovereign territory as it sees fit.

Later on Friday, the Pig squealed that his meetings with Western leaders in France were positive and described talks with his Obama as "substantial."

"I think the exchange of views was very positive," the Pig snorted in remarks broadcast by Russian television from France.

He added that he spoke on two occasions with Obama, "in a rather substantial manner."

The Pig was also positive about Ukraine president-elect Poroshenko.

"I cannot but welcome the position of Poroshenko on the necessity to end the bloodletting immediately in the east of Ukraine," he said.

"I cannot say for sure how that can be implemented in practical terms, but overall it seemed to be to be the right approach," he said.

"He has a plan, which -- it's probably better to ask him. He explained it quickly to me," he added.

"Ukraine must demonstrate its good will. The repressive operation must be stopped.

"I hope that will happen, and if that happens, the conditions would be there for the development of our relations in other areas, including economic."

The Pig in particular raised the issue of Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine, saying that the two parties were close to a deal.

"No, I did not discuss gas prices with Poroshenko, but I know that Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart are close to a definitive deal," he said.

"We do not exclude making a gesture to the Ukrainians, by lending them some support in the case that they repay their debt," he added.

Ukraine's third "gas war" with Russia in less than a decade erupted when Moscow nearly doubled the price it charges its neighbor for the fuel.

Kiev accused Moscow of "economic aggression" and refused to cover a bill that Russia puts at $5.17 billion (3.79 billion euros).

Russian gas transiting through Ukraine supplies about 15 percent of European needs.

For his part, Poroshenko said: "The dialogue has begun, and that's a good thing."

"A Russian representative will travel to Ukraine, and we will discuss with him the first steps towards a plan (to resolve) the situation... We have a good chance of implementing it," he added.

The talks will take place on Sunday, he said.

Poroshenko, who will be sworn in as president on Saturday, said he expected Russia to recognize his election after a "short delay."

Poroshenko shook hands with the Pig but he emphasized that the first top-level encounter since the start of the crisis had been tough.

"The talks weren't easy and the reaction when I raised the issue of Crimea wasn't pleasant," he said.

Russia carried out an annexation in March of Crimea, a peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea, after a three-week occupation and a referendum considered illegal by the international community.

Since mid-April Ukrainian forces have fought an armed uprising in the east of the country that has so far cost about 200 lives.

Russia has been accused by Ukraine and the West of offering clandestine support to the insurgents.

Meanwhile, Obama said Friday that he personally told the Pig he must de-escalate tensions in Ukraine or face deeper international isolation, according to a U.S. official.

"President Obama underscored that the successful Ukrainian election provides an opportunity that should be taken," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser.

"President Obama made clear that de-escalation depends upon Russia recognizing President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine, ceasing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stopping the provision of arms and materiel across the border."

Rhodes said Obama noted Poroshenko's commitment to pursue reforms to ensure that the rights and interests of all Ukrainians are respected, and urged Russia to work immediately with the government in Kiev to reduce tensions."

"President Obama made clear that a failure to take these steps would only deepen Russia's isolation."

The readout offered no details of the atmospherics or the tone of the talks, the first direct encounter between the two leaders since the Ukrainian crisis erupted.

But there was a hint of a carrot for the Pig of better relations with Washington if he meets U.S. demands.

"If Russia does take this opportunity to recognize and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions," Rhodes said.

Tensions in southeastern Ukraine have mounted in recent days with the government admitting on Thursday that it had lost control of three border posts that were being routinely attacked by the rebels.

On Friday, one police officer was killed and two others injured in a mortar attack in Slavyansk, the epicenter of rebel activity in the region.

The Russian president has repeatedly emphasized that he does not control the rebels while the Western powers accuse Moscow of pulling their strings.

According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the Pig snorted he could have a "certain influence but not total influence" over events in Ukraine.

If there is a ceasefire and a significant de-escalation of the crisis, it will be a major coup for Hollande and the gastro-diplomacy that has brought Putin in from the cold.

Friday's deal was done before a slap-up meal of John Dory fish, veal and pear and caramel biscuits. On Thursday evening, the Socialist leader had to race through a dinner with Obama at a French restaurant so that he could meet Putin for a late supper at his Elysee palace.

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

D-Day Spirit Ignites Ukraine Peace Hopes

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 June 2014, 07:30

Russia and Ukraine appeared to have made a long-awaited breakthrough in efforts to resolve a damaging crisis in their relations after conciliatory talks on the sidelines of Friday's D-Day anniversary ceremonies.

Pig Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko embraced the spirit of the day that signaled the end of World War II by announcing they would jointly seek a ceasefire in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

The two leaders shook hands and talked for a quarter of an hour in a meeting brokered by French President Francois Hollande before a lunch of world leaders attending the D-Day events.

A series of positive commentaries on the encounter followed from both Kiev and Moscow, raising hopes of a peaceful de-escalation of a crisis that erupted when Russia annexed Crimea in March and sparked a damaging chill in its relations with western powers.

The rift with the West looked to be healing too as the Pig had his first face-to-face encounter with U.S. President Barack Obama. U.S. officials styled the meeting as an informal chat but Putin portrayed them as "substantial" discussions.

The Pig snorted to Russian TV that Poroshenko had the "right approach" to ending the crisis while the Ukrainian president-elect, who is due to be inaugurated on Saturday, said he believed there was a "good chance" of a successful dialogue with Moscow.

The Pig revealed that the two countries were close to a deal on the vexed issue of Russian gas supplies to its former Soviet partner.

Russia has been accused of holding Ukraine to ransom as a result of energy giant Gazprom's doubling of the price of gas it supplies to the country and its demand for a rapid settlement of arrears.

The Pig's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two men had urged "the soonest possible end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine, and to military operations on both sides -- both by the Ukrainian armed forces and by supporters of the federalization of Ukraine.

"They also confirmed that there was no alternative to resolving the situation with peaceful political methods."

- Police officer killed -

It was the first meeting between the two leaders since pro-Western chocolate tycoon Poroshenko won Ukraine's presidential election on May 25.

Russia indicated it would send an ambassador to Kiev for Poroshenko's investiture in what will be seen as de facto recognition of the new president's legitimacy.

A ceasefire could be harder to deliver as, for it to be accepted by the rebels, there would have to be some sort of pullback by Ukrainian government forces which Kiev would regard as an infringement of its right to police all of its sovereign territory as it sees fit.

Tensions in southeastern Ukraine have mounted in recent days with the government admitting on Thursday that it had lost control of three border posts that were being routinely attacked by the rebels.

On Friday, one police officer was killed and two others injured in a mortar attack in Slavyansk, the epicenter of rebel activity in the region.

Elsewhere a Ukrainian plane was shot down as fighting continued in the east of the country, amid signs the government was losing control of parts of its border with Russia.

The Russian president has repeatedly emphasized that he does not control the rebels while the Western powers accuse Moscow of pulling their strings.

According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the Pig squealed could have a "certain influence but not total influence" over events in Ukraine.

If there is a ceasefire and a significant de-escalation of the crisis, it will be a major coup for Hollande and the gastro-diplomacy that has brought Putin in from the cold.

Friday's deal was done before a slap-up meal of John Dory fish, veal and pear and caramel biscuits. On Thursday evening, the Socialist leader had to race through a dinner with Obama at a French restaurant so that he could meet Putin for a late supper at his Elysee palace.

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

Volunteers or paid fighters? The Vostok Battalion looms large in war with Kiev

The Vostok Battalion is shaping the direction of conflict in eastern Ukraine as it grows in numbers and influence

Alec Luhn in Donetsk
theguardian.com, Friday 6 June 2014 18.31 BST     

At the headquarters of the Vostok Battalion on the outskirts of Donetsk, the rebel in command was ordering an attack on 30 Ukrainian soldiers and two fighting vehicles in a nearby town. "Shoot to kill," he said, speaking with a subordinate over one of three mobile phones he carries. "What negotiations? If they wave a white flag, then of course that's different."

The commander, a Russian army veteran – who like all the men in the battalion is known only by a nickname ("Major") – told his deputies to assemble 40 men and tank-busting weapons. A few minutes later, a soldier ran in with six rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Throughout the day, fighting vehicles and lorries loaded with armed men roared in and out of the base.

As the possibility recedes of a "Crimean scenario" – Russian troops intervening in eastern Ukraine – the pro-Moscow Vostok Battalion has emerged as the leading force in the fight against Kiev's attempts to retake control of the east. Along with the Army of the Southeast in Luhansk and a militia in Slavyansk led by Russian citizen and alleged intelligence agent Igor Girkin, better known by his nom de guerre "Strelkov," iIt is Vostok that will define the course of the mostly low-level war with Kiev forces.

The militia has about 500 men, according to its leader, Alexander Khodakovsky, who was regional head of the elite Alfa special forces unit under former president Viktor Yanukovych, and handfuls of new recruits have been joining each day. Since it was formed in April, some analysts have worried that Vostok is an incipient private army directed by – or at least linked to – Russian intelligence. But locals welcomed the fighters with cheers when they fired into the air at an anti-Kiev rally during the recent presidential election.

Khodakovsky and his commanders are vague about their goals, saying their immediate task is to drive pro-Kiev forces from their region. But they are vehemently opposed to the new pro-western government brought to power following the Euromaidan protests in Kiev this winter – during which Khodakovsky and his special forces unit participated in violent clashes with the demonstrators.

"To side with America now, at a time when the world is getting extremely polarised, means to go against Russia. But how can the south-east be against Russia? We are trying to prevent us from becoming an enemy of Russia," Khodakovsky told reporters as his men showed off a variety of weaponry at the Donetsk Botanical Garden on Sunday.

So far, government forces have been unwilling or unable to take heavily populated rebel strongholds, but pro-Russian forces have also failed to achieve decisive victories. Ukraine's prosecutor general said this week that, excluding rebel forces, 181 people have died, including 59 soldiers, and 293 have been wounded since fighting started in April.

On Friday, the Pig briefly met Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko at the D-day commemorations in France. A Kremlin spokesman said the two leaders urged a "speedy end to the bloodshed in south-eastern Ukraine as well as to fighting on both sides". "It was confirmed that there is no other alternative to resolve the situation than through peaceful political means," the spokesman said.

On Thursday, President Obama gave Russia a one-month deadline to stop the flow of fighters and weapons into Ukraine after a string of clashes at the border, which is now at least partially under rebel control.

Fighting continued on Friday around a border post at Marynovka, where 16 rebels were killed after overnight air strikes, Kiev said. The major border crossing at Dovzhansk and another at Krasnopartizansk are reportedly under rebel control. The government has ordered the closure of the border in Luhansk and part of Donetsk regions but rebels say they control 150-200km of the frontier.

The Vostok Battalion does include Russian fighters, and the bodies of 31 members were sent back to Russia last week after a battle at Donetsk airport. But more than a dozen interviews over several visits by the Guardian suggested Vostok is largely comprised of Ukrainian volunteers with nicknames like "Forest Lord," "Psycho," "Wild Man" and "Beaver". Although its sources of funding and weapons are not entirely clear, it does not seem to enjoy large-scale Russian military support, with kit that ranges from sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to battered hunting rifles.

On a recent afternoon, members of the battalion's mechanical section were welding an anti-aircraft gun to the back of a lorry to create a vehicle straight out of Mad Max. "If we had Russian military hardware, you would see it," said "Mamai," a garrulous Vostok member from Russia's republic of North Ossetia. Vostok commanders said they had taken their weapons mostly from captured Ukrainian military facilities.

Some members of the battalion look like professional soldiers, but Mamai said he doesn't receive money to fight. Another Russian member named "Varan" ("Monitor Lizard") said he received $100 (£70) a week for living expenses but maintained that the men were volunteers, not mercenaries on Moscow's payroll. Yet Russian authorities have at least tacitly encouraged volunteers to go to Ukraine. Varan said a military enlistment office tipped him off about a group of fighters forming in Rostov-on-Don who then walked through a border crossing as civilians, receiving arms in Donetsk.

The Vostok Battalion has taken part in most of the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, including a checkpoint battle near Karlovka, the bloody attempt to seize the Donetsk airport and the continuing struggle to break the Ukrainian encirclement of Slavyansk. The unit truly asserted its dominance last week, however, when – after a tense standoff – Vostok fighters kicked other rebel groups out of the regional administration building, which was occupied by the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic in April. A Vostok commander said they were there primarily to bring looters to justice, and the unit has since assumed a quasi-law-enforcement function in place of the impotent police.

Alexander Sheremyet, a protester who was involved in the administration building occupation from the first days, said Vostok is now the most powerful force defending the Donetsk People's Republic, but denied they were controlling the fledgling government.

"They gathered experienced veterans, they have the most strength, but their tasks are only military," he said.

The battalion's Russian members include men who served in previous wars on its borderlands. Speculation began to swirl that the unit is connected to Russian intelligence after fighters from Chechnya were found to be fighting with it. Its name – which means "East" – suggests a Chechen unit run by Russia's military intelligence agency, which was active during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies the Russian security services, argued that the two are probably linked and said the emergence of the Vostok Battalion could represent the Kremlin tightening its control on the situation in eastern Ukraine.

"Moscow needs an instrument," Galeotti said. "But also insofar that they're going to try to assert their authority through the Donetsk People's Republic hierarchy, they need to make sure those guys have credible force at their disposable, not just a collection of thugs."

Chechen fighters in Donetsk, one of whom said he served in the original Vostok Battalion, denied that the current Vostok had any connection with the disbanded Chechen unit. Other members said its name merely reflected its fight in eastern Ukraine.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence analyst, raised questions about the unit's source of funding. "Someone's paying them; war without money doesn't happen," he said. "Most likely there's a lot of criminals involved doing different kinds of rackets, but that's not a means for an operation of such magnitude to buy weapons, pay bribes to get weapons in, for ammo."

While it is unlikely Vostok is being financed directly by the Kremlin, it could be supported by pro-Kremlin businessmen, as other separatists have been. Konstantin Malofeyev, an oligarch known for his support for Russian expansionism, reportedly financed Russian citizens promoting separatism in Crimea including Strelkov and Alexander Borodai, the recently declared prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic. Strelkov and Borodai have said they are friends and were both previously employed by Malofeyev in Moscow.

Borodai denied receiving funding from the Russian government and told the Guardian he didn't know if the people's republic had taken donations from Malofeyev or other Russian oligarchs.

Khodakovsky's connections and allegiances are unclear. According to Konstantin Mashovets, a Kiev-based defence analyst, he would have been appointed Alfa head by either Yanukovych or his security service chief. The former president was known to be closely allied with Rinat Akhmetov, the most powerful oligarch in eastern Ukraine, who has seemed to waver between Kiev and the east during the current uprising.

Khodakovsky has denied receiving financial backing from Akhmetov or having connections with the Kremlin, and Vostok commanders said they don't know of any rich sponsors.

Dmitry Durnev, a Donetsk journalist, said local rebel leaders have yet to form permanent alliances and are probably "taking money from everyone".

Meanwhile, the unit continues to grow in numbers and influence. One commander nicknamed "Lithuania," a coal miner who joined late last month, said he enlisted because Vostok was the rebel unit with the most discipline and "spirit and ability" to fight the "Kiev junta".

"The Vostok Battalion is actually engaging in military operations against this scum; it doesn't just sit in its base," he said. "We're hoping for Russian assistance, so our brothers will come to help us.

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

The Pig Orders Tightening of Border Control With Ukraine

By REUTERS
JUNE 7, 2014, 7:22 A.M. E.D.T.

MOSCOW — Russian President Pig Putin gave an order to the Federal Security Service to strengthen protection of the country's border with Ukraine to prevent people crossing illegally, Russian news agencies reported on Saturday.

The order comes a day after the Pig held talks with global leaders in France, where U.S. President Barack Obama called on him to cease support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and stop the provision of arms and material across the border.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)


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« Last Edit: Jun 07, 2014, 06:35 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #13824 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:24 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
06/07/2014 12:14 PM

Trouble for Merkel: Berlin Divided in Spat over EU Commmission

By SPIEGEL Staff

The appointment of the next leaders of the EU Commission has divided Europe, raising the specter that Britain could leave the bloc. London is an important ally to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and it is likely she will seek to broker a deal.

The mood was not a good one when Christian Democratic parliamentarians from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia met in Berlin last Monday evening. Normally, such gatherings focus on agreeing on a common line ahead of votes in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. But this time, the deputies needed to vent. Angela Merkel's grand coalition, which pairs her CDU with the Social Democrats, has been in office since last autumn. And many lawmakers within the chancellor's party are tired of the SPD presenting itself as the driving force in the government.

"We have to avoid the impression that the SPD is governing and that we, as election victor, are happy to be a part of the government," complained Wolfgang Bosback, a senior CDU member well known for his temper. A fellow parliamentarian, Jens Spahn, complained that two more issues -- pension reform and minimum wage -- could soon give the SPD even more opportunity to take center stage. "The only thing missing is if the German European Commission representative were to come from their party," Spahn says, referring to demands that SPD member Martin Schulz, outgoing president of European Parliament, become a member of the Commission. "If Schulz becomes commissioner, it would contradict two election results -- those in Germany and those in Europe."

The fight over who will become the next Commission president has reached Berlin. And that means that an issue that was already one of the most complicated that Merkel has ever faced has become even more so. The number of contradictory interests is unusually large. She wants to keep Britain in the European Union, she doesn't want to antagonize the SPD, she doesn't want to anger people within her own party and she doesn't want to be seen as the one who ignored the election result and prevented election victor Jean-Claude Juncker from taking what many see as his rightful position as Commission president. Economists call such a situation "lose-lose." Novelist Joseph Heller called it a "catch-22." For Merkel, it is a serious political problem.

During the depth of the euro crisis, Merkel was able to rely on the SPD. But this time, she can't. The SPD, together with other Social Democratic parties in Europe, are intent on installing their lead candidate Schulz as deputy head of the Commission, meaning he would have to become Germany's representative on the EU's executive body. Juncker, who needs SPD support in European Parliament to become Commission president, has agreed to the move. Should Merkel decline to support Schulz as Germany's Commission representative, the SPD would withdraw its support for Juncker and the entire deal would fall apart.

'No Legal Foundation'

For German conservatives, however, Schulz represents the worst of the SPD's tax-and-spend mentality. During the European election campaign, they said he "seems like an Italian" -- implying that he wants to abandon austerity, the main pillar of Merkel's euro-crisis policy. "It is out of the question that Schulz will be Germany's representative on the Commission. The SPD has enough cabinet posts for a party that won just 25 percent in German elections," says Hans-Peter Friedrich, the conservatives' deputy floor leader in Berlin.

Plus, Merkel's party doesn't want to allow European Parliament to dictate who will become Germany's commissioner. There is "no legal foundation" for such a procedure, they say.

The chancellor agrees and wants to block Schulz as well. Indeed, it is part of a much more expansive plan which she hopes will convince Britain to remain in the EU. And one that could leave Juncker on the outside looking in.

She believes that the SPD is not prepared to allow Germany's governing coalition to collapse because of a dispute over Martin Schulz's next job. Merkel, SPD head Sigmar Gabriel and Horst Seehofer, chairman of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, the Christian Social Union, met on the Monday evening after EU elections to discuss the situation. One of the issues addressed was that of the German representative on the Commission. The tone was businesslike and the trio was only interrupted once, when Merkel had to speak with US President Barack Obama on the telephone.

Gabriel didn't openly demand that Schulz be named to the post, but Merkel and Seehofer were both able to read between the lines of his comments. Merkel, for her part, didn't reject Schulz outright, but she made it clear that she wasn't particularly enthusiastic. She also reminded Gabriel that the CDU received substantially more votes in the European election than the SPD did -- even without adding in the votes received by the CSU in Bavaria. With such a result, it would be "very difficult" to convince German conservatives that an SPD man should be named Germany's representative on the Commission.

Gabriel, of course, knows that as well. "The stage is Brussels," he said during a telephone conference with SPD leaders last Monday and said: "Let's focus on Juncker and avoid mentioning Schulz's name at all for now."

Schulz himself is also aware of the fragile political situation in Germany and has developed a Plan B. Before the election, SPD party heads and government leaders from around Europe promised to support him as the center-left's lead candidate. He has also positioned himself to be named floor leader for the Social Democrats and Socialists in European Parliament in mid-June. More importantly, he will lead the center-left in negotiations with the conservatives, talks that will focus on issues European Parliament will address in the next five years as well as important posts. As such, Juncker's interest in keeping Schulz in the running for the Commission job is great.

Merkel, though, believes that this is the weak link in their strategy. And it will be here, despite all of her public expressions of support for Juncker, that she will focus her energies.

Will Juncker Withdraw?

Specifically, she intends to argue that, faced with anger within her own party, she has little choice but to prevent Schulz from becoming Germany's commissioner. Plus, SPD leader (and German vice chancellor) Gabriel has made it clear that he does not intend to allow Merkel's government to collapse over the issue. And, if Social Democratic support for Juncker begins to splinter across Europe -- at least according to Merkel's strategy -- then Juncker will realize that his own chances to become president of the Commission are dwindling. And he will withdraw.

A high-ranking advisor to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who is currently speaking to heads of government across Europe about the situation, confirms the scenario. "I presume that Juncker will withdraw from the race himself, should criticism of his person continue as it has," he says. That would clear the way for a compromise candidate. Whether European Parliament, which is more self-confident than ever before, would approve such a candidate is an open question. Particularly given the fact that no serious names have emerged.

Merkel Expresses Britain's Importance in Europe

In short, Merkel's calculation is one with an unusual number of variables and only one constant: The British should remain in the EU. Merkel sees the bickering over Juncker as a tricky political challenge but believes that a break between the EU and Britain would be a historical failure.

Merkel made the distinction clear last Wednesday in German parliament. She uttered two or three sentences focused on her support for Juncker -- and followed it up with a long, passionate speech on Britain's importance to Europe. The "nonchalant way" that some have spoken of a possible British secession is "extremely negligent," she said. The question as to whether the British stay is anything but unimportant, she said. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (a senior member of the SPD) echoed the sentiment: "Great Britain is a strong partner of Germany's and makes a decisive contribution to Europe's joint foreign policy and, as such, to the defense of European interests in the world." Germany's government, he said, has made it a goal to "cooperate more closely on foreign policy."

And despite her frustration with the role Britain has played in several past EU debates, Merkel values Britain's influence on the 28-member bloc. The similarities between Berlin's and London's positions become clear in a confidential German government paper on the tasks facing the next Commission. "Growth and competitiveness" should take precedence, the paper reads. "The potential of the European market and free trade" should be tapped to the fullest. The French, Spanish and Italians would not unconditionally sign off on such a focus at the moment. But British Prime Minister David Cameron surely would. The chancellor also knows that Britain's pro-market position in many debates allows her to focus on other areas, such as the EU budget, the banking union and the trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement.

Cameron seeks to reinforce his resistance at a mini-summit planned with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfelt, Dutch leader Mark Rutte and Merkel south of Stockholm on Monday and Tuesday. He's hoping he can count on the Swedes, the Dutch and Hungary as well as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has been more openly criticizing Juncker in recent days. Should they join him, he would be within reach of achieving a blocking minority in the European Council, the body representing the leaders of the EU member states, against Juncker -- especially if he could get the Germans on board.

More than anything, it is expected that Cameron will make clear just how much pressure he is under. If Juncker succeeds in becoming Commission president, British observers and diplomats fear it will trigger a political earthquake in London. If he doesn't prevent Juncker's election, outcry will be significant and sneering headlines are sure to appear in newspapers like the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph.

Pressure on the prime minister could even force him to move up the national referendum on EU membership, currently planned for 2017. And were that to happen, a British exit from the EU would become a very real possibility.

'Playing with Dynamite'

Cameron's staff is currently doing all it can, in a nationwide campaign, to put the focus squarely on the European Parliament and trying to paint it as a power hungry body trying to pull influence away from EU leaders. British diplomats accuse Juncker, Schulz and a handful of other EU parliamentarians of seeking to leverage European treaties to improve parliament's position within Brussels' institutional structures. "They are playing with dynamite," they claim.

Germany's own chancellor is partly responsible for the fact that things have gotten this far; in recent months, Merkel's approach has been more hands off than normal. For quite some time, for example, she ignored Martin Schulz's efforts on the center-left to establish support for the concept of a Europe-wide leading candidate on the German model. Indeed, it became something of a Schulz fait accompli. Merkel even agreed to make Juncker the lead candidate for the center-right European People's Party -- to which her CDU belongs -- even though she privately shared the widespread reservations about the former Luxembourg prime minister. Finally, at last week's EU summit, she lost control of proceedings and was only able to stop what would have been a highly contested vote on Juncker with considerable effort.

Since then, the image she has presented publicly is one of wavering. First she downplayed Juncker, describing him as just one of many who could do the job. Then she backed him publicly, promising several times she would intercede on his behalf.

Merkel has since spoken to almost all of the 27 other EU leaders in the search for a compromise. That process is expected to continue until the end of June. "We have time," she told German parliament in Berlin this week.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker is expressing his optimism. On Monday, he sent out his first Tweet in five days, quite a delay when viewed against his Twitter activity during the election. "I'm more confident than ever that I will be the next European Commission President," he wrote. Juncker refused to further elaborate when contacted by SPIEGEL.

By Nikolaus Blome, Horand Knaup, Peter Müller, Christoph Scheuermann, Gregor Peter Schmitz and Severin Weiland


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« Reply #13825 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:32 AM »

New Hungarian Government Sworn in

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 14:46

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's new government was sworn into office Friday, after his right-wing Fidesz party cruised to reelection.

Fidesz won a landslide margin in April polls, granting it a second consecutive two-thirds majority in parliament.

Orban was sworn in as prime minister on May 10.

On Friday he named Zsolt Semjen, a minister without portfolio, as his deputy.

The new cabinet includes Tibor Navracsics as Minister of Foreign and External Economic Affairs, a newly expanded brief.


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« Reply #13826 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:43 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
06/06/2014 04:57 PM

'We'll Get You': An Albanian Boy's Life Ruined by Blood Feuds

By Katrin Kuntz and Maria Feck (photos) in Shkoder, Albania

Blood feuds still exist in Albania and those involved have to live a life in hiding. They include people like Leonard Qukaj, who has left his home only rarely in the last four years for fear of being murdered by a rival clan -- or by his own uncle.

On nights when a strong wind sends the clouds scudding over the mountain tops and carries the smell of freshly cut grass through the window, Leonard's sleep is a bit more restful. The breeze makes the decrepit front door rattle, which covers up the sound of the squeaky gate hinges outside. Amid all the noise, the teenager is convinced, he wouldn't hear the assailant's steps and the click of his silenced pistol.

His little brother in the room next door would be able to continue sleeping peacefully and his mother wouldn't wake up either. And he himself, 14-year-old Leonard Qukaj -- a shy boy with bright blue eyes, a talent for drawing and an enthusiasm for the Bayern München football club -- would likely not even feel the bullet piercing his skull. "My life," he says, "would simply be over."

Of course, he says, it wouldn't be nice for his mother to find him dead in the kitchen, where he sleeps in a bed next to the stove, the next morning. But she might actually be pleased, because his murder would be accompanied by renewed hope for peace. It would restore honor to the avengers. His death would open up the possibility for reconciliation and an end to the blood feud his family has been ensnarled in for years due to a ludicrous dispute over a mountain stream.

Leonard has thought about the moment of his death often during the four years he has been hiding in his house from assassins from a rival family. He has developed back problems from sitting so much; during the day, when there is nothing else to do, he watches Italian television or, more to his liking, football. Often, he simply lies on the sofa and stares at the ceiling. Sometimes, his mother Gjelina, or his 10-year-old brother Florian, sits with him -- or his cat who has a name similar to his own: Quoki.

The family lives in a whitewashed house in Shkoder, a city of 96,000 people in Albania's northwest, near the Albanian Alps. Horse carts drive by on unpaved streets, vendors sell tomatoes on the sidewalks and men play dominoes in the parks. There is a university in Shkoder, it has restaurants and bars and women picking their way carefully across the cobblestones in high heels. But Shkoder is also a poor city with high unemployment, its outskirts smell of garbage and damp fields. Leonard's house has no running water.

Spilled Blood

Shkoder is just as deeply divided as the rest of the country. On the one hand, it is a place looking optimistically to the future; this week, Albania was given the green light by the European Commission as an EU accession candidate. On the other hand, it is a country where corruption, human trafficking and organized crime are all present. It is a country where blood feuds are still prevalent -- of the kind that could soon cost Leonard his life.

"Spilled blood must be met with spilled blood": Such is the edict of the Kanun, a set of traditional Albanian laws that stems from the 15th century. It is a parallel system of justice focusing on honor, guilt and vengeance, and remains in effect in rural regions. And here in Shkoder. It threatens entire families, including children and teenagers. And the feuds that result often begin with a seemingly harmless quarrel.

Sitting on a torn living room sofa one April morning, beneath a picture of Mother Mary hanging on the wall above, Leonard prepares to tell the story of the dispute which has become a roadblock to his life. Making sweet Turkish coffee on a gas cooker for his guest, his face is pale and his expression is one of defiance, except when he smiles. He is happy for the visit. Any change of pace in this three-room house -- his prison -- is welcome.

Four years ago, Leonard begins, there was a dispute over a water mill up in the mountains where the Qukaj family used to live. It centered on the question as to whether Leonard's family had to pay to use the water that flowed through the property of the neighbors, the Prroj family. The Prrojs thought they should be paid a fee and insulted the Qukajs, a serious blow to the family's honor. To restore it, Leonard's uncle shot and killed a member of the Prroj family. Two years later, the Prrojs got their revenge by killing two members of the Qukaj family. The murders alternated, a member of the first clan would kill someone from the second, triggering a murder perpetrated by the second on the first. Leonard's cousin Marija was also killed two years ago.

Coffee in hand, Leonard sits on the stairs leading out to the yard -- surrounded by a high wall -- to tell the story of his cousin. Marija's story is part of his own.

Women in the Kanun are referred to derogatorily and seen primarily as producers of offspring. Their lives are held to have little value, which is why they are not generally targeted in blood feuds. But Marija, who was 17 at the time of her slaying, was raking in her grandfather's fields wearing a shirt and pants. She looked like a boy, which is why she was murdered together with her grandfather.

'We're Going to Get You'

Her death was widely publicized and Marija became a symbol of the senselessness of blood feuds and revealed the country's backwardness. There were even protest marches in the capital Tirana, but Leonard didn't go. "Because in reality," he says, "Marija's death was a mistake." The bullet had been meant for him. "Now, Marija's father also wants me dead." He told Leonard: "We're going to get you."

Since then, Leonard has been hiding from his own relatives in addition to the Prrojs. "My parents don't let me go outside," he says quietly. In recent years, he has only attended school a few times: "But only when I became so aggressive that my mother couldn't take it anymore," he says. Leonard could make up with his uncle, but to do so he would have to kill a member of the Prroj family. The feud with the Prrojs, on the other hand, could be resolved if the family was prepared for reconciliation. "But neither will ever happen," he whispers.

When the most recent shots in the feud were fired on April 8, 2014, Leonard was out in the yard. His mother called him inside and said that his uncle had just tried to take revenge for Marija's death with his Kalashnikov, firing 30 shots from a distance at the Prroj clan leader. The man was hit, but he survived. "Uncle did his duty," said Leonard's mother.

The news didn't surprise Leonard. He grew up knowing that his was one of the some 3,000 Albanian families that are involved in blood feuds. Since the end of communism, around 10,000 people have lost their lives in this manner, according to an estimate by the Committee of Nationwide Reconciliation. During the country's deep crisis in 1997, many Albanians plundered the army's weapons depots; only a small fraction of the firearms was ever recovered.

The state has played down the problem for years. The police chief of Shkoder claims that cases of blood revenge have fallen dramatically, with only 208 reported in the region since 1991. And yet, he says, thousands of Albanians have sought asylum abroad, claiming their lives were in danger because of a feud. It's his belief that they have abused the tradition in order to seek better lives in Europe. But the government has nonetheless tightened penalties for blood feud crimes. Until very recently, perpetrators faced maximum prison sentences of 25 years, but the figure has now been increased to 40.

But people like Leonard, his cousins and his brother are still hunted as a result of this tradition. Non-governmental organizations estimate that around 1,500 young men around the country are forced to hide in their homes because they are targeted. If they reach adulthood, they often become killers themselves to avenge their families.

White Knuckles

Leonard says he didn't feel anything when he heard about the shots fired by his uncle. "I went into the house," he says. Although the Qukajs' property is protected against intruders, he suddenly no longer felt safe in the yard. He walked inside, sat down on the sofa, threw his arms around his scrunched up legs and began waiting -- for what, he didn't know.

That evening, his father didn't come home. Instead, he called and said he would be hiding at a friend's place for a few months. His mother cried quietly and his little brother played silently with toy cars on the floor. Leonard became afraid, and then angry. As he lay in bed that night, he pressed his knuckles against the wall so hard that they turned white.

Shortly after the first murder four years ago, Leonard's family moved from the mountain village down to the city. Life appeared to be safer for them there. Despite the perils the family faced, their father began working in construction and the children even attended school. They made a home for themselves and surrounded it with a high wall. Still today, laundry hangs out to dry and the onions and lettuce flourish in well-tended beds. From above, the scene would be one of perfect normality. But then the Prroj family moved into town and the fear returned.

The Kanun originates from a time when there were neither laws nor judges in Albania. Its 1,263 paragraphs include some good rules, like provisions for hospitality or keeping one's word. But it also holds an antiquated view of honor, which holds that a killing can only be atoned through a retaliatory murder. "I just don't get it," says Leonard.

On the afternoon of the day of our April visit, Leonard's 10-year-old brother, who is still allowed to go to school, returns home. His mother says he'll be able to leave the house for two more years, but "once he's a man, he'll also have to hide. That's what will happen and we can't do anything to change it." Women and children are supposed to be excluded from feuds, but few seem to follow the rules anymore and recent years have seen adolescents targeted as well.

As his mother talks about his brother, Leonard runs out of the house and into the garden. It's too much for him. He can't bear to listen to Florian's stories about his classmates and the girls. His own friends stopped visiting him long ago and don't know why he is forced to stay at home. He's so weak and pale that he doesn't want them to see him like this anyway. Though he will be 15 this year, he hasn't kissed his first girl yet.

When asked what he would like most, he answers, "A normal life." But in order to end the feud, the family would have to pay the victims' relatives several thousand euros. It's a lot of money in an impoverished country like Albania, and Leonard's family doesn't have it.

'You Drink a Lot of Raki When You Do this Work'

Different groups in Shkoder are working to reconcile sparring families. One, Justitia e Pax, has completed a photo project that features portraits of young men who have been forced to go into hiding. Every Tuesday, two nuns from Switzerland organize a support group for young men in hiding that enables them to leave their homes for two hours.

Nikoll Shullani, of the Committee of Nationwide Reconciliation, knows many stories of guilt and atonement, of a false understanding of the meaning of honor, but also of hope for Albania's future in Europe and the dream of young Albanian men to escape this chilling tradition. He's also familiar with the stories of the Qukaj and Prroj families, and both unleash equal feelings of helplessness and anger in him. "You drink a lot of raki when you do this kind of work," he says.

In the week following the attempted murder, the men hunting Leonard refused to receive any visitors. Shullani has already gone to their home three times unsuccessfully. Now he knocks on their door one more time.

The Prrojs are sitting in their living room and a few neighbors have also gathered at the table. Their 28-year-old son Nik has opened Google Maps on a computer and it shows the bridge in the mountains where his father was shot at. Nik's wife brings him raki and cigarettes. They are willing to talk, but not about questions relating to blood feuds or about Marija. No one has yet claimed responsibility for her murder, even two years after her death.

When asked what happened the week before, Nick Prroj answers, "Two men ambushed me in the mountains. They wanted to shoot me in the forehead, but they were either too far away or too dumb."

He says that for him, honor is "more important than life."

When asked if that's the kind of thing he tells his children, he says, "yes."

Describing his thoughts on peace, he says, "I sent a letter to the government telling them that I fear revenge and that they haven't provided me with protection. We're forced to take care of that ourselves." The older Prroj shows the letter. His father pours more raki and then grows silent.

Back Inside

"What happened with Marija was an accident," one of the family members says. "We didn't want to get any girls. Now leave!"

Shullani says that in most cases these days, people aren't obeying the actual rules of the Kanun. Everyone seems to be making up their own, he says, and there is no respect for the age of the children involved. The Kanun also makes provisions stating that homes should be shelter or havens, but they aren't safe anymore either. Most attacks, he believes, are the product of frustration rather than any attempt to save face.

Another day draws to a close in Shkoder, and silence has fallen at Leonard Qukaj's home. His brother is visiting a friend and his mother is shopping. He explains how he and his mother washed the carpets that morning, gave the walls a fresh coat of paint and also swept the floor. "We know that I'm going to have to stay here for a long time," he says.

Leonard has combed his hair and put on a purple shirt, dressed as if he's getting ready to go out. He moves from the living room to the narrow courtyard and begins kicking a soccer ball against the iron gate. He doesn't feel like talking anymore. He focuses on his game until dusk descends on the mountains and the time comes to go back inside the house.

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey


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« Reply #13827 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:45 AM »


Iraq militants seize hostages after storming university near Ramadi

Gunmen storm Anbar University in west of Iraq as country experiences its worst surge in violence since 2007

Agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 June 2014 11.14 BST   

Militants have stormed a university in western Iraq, holding dozens of students and staff hostage.

The attack took place on Saturday morning when gunmen stormed Anbar University near the provincial capital Ramadi, said police and army officials.

An al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and other Sunni-led militants have controlled parts of Anbar province, including the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi, since late December.

Iraq is currently grappling with its worst surge in violence since the sectarian bloodshed of 2006 and 2007, when the country was pushed to the brink of civil war despite the presence of tens of thousands of US troops.

The latest violence has been fuelled by Sunni Muslim anger at the Shia-led government in Baghdad, as well as the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Isil has carried out scores of deadly attacks on both sides of the border and imposed a brutal form of Islamic rule in territories under its control. It was not immediately clear if Isil was behind the university attack.


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« Reply #13828 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:47 AM »


Pakistani TV news channel ordered off air after criticising spy agency

Regulator suspends Geo News's broadcasting licence and fines station for defaming Inter-Services Intelligence chief

Jon Boone in Lahore
theguardian.com, Friday 6 June 2014 17.12 BST      

A leading TV news station which dared to criticise Pakistan's feared spy agency has been ordered off the air after a standoff which has further soured relations between the country's military and politicians.

Pakistan's broadcast media regulator suspended Geo News's operating licence for 15 days and fined it £60,000 for defaming the head of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), General Zaheer-ul-Islam.

The channel's president, Imran Aslam, condemned the decision, saying the "forces of might have prevailed" in the seven-week row, which many analysts fear has cowed the private media, setting back efforts to curb army power.

"It seems that justice has bowed down to forces that are above the law," Aslam said.

Amnesty International said it was a serious attack on press freedom in the country. "It is the latest act in an organised campaign of harassment and intimidation targeting the network on account of its perceived bias against the military," Amnesty said.

The row began on 19 April when Geo's coverage of an attempt to kill Hamid Mir, the channel's best-known journalist, enraged the military.

Geo gave prominence to claims by Mir's brother that the ISI was behind the gun attack, which left the journalist seriously wounded. He claimed the hit had been ordered by Zaheer-ul-Islam, and the channel aired photographs and video of the otherwise little-seen spy chief.

The hours of coverage, delivered in the tabloid style that made Geo the country's most watched private channel, represented an unprecedented public assault on the ISI – an institution described by critics as an all-powerful state within a state.

It sparked a furious effort to close down a TV channel which in the 12 years since the start of Pakistan's electronic media boom has emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the country.

Geo picked fights with the government and felt secure enough to question core beliefs of the military establishment, including the ruthless tactics used to crush separatist rebels in Balochistan and opposition to a rapid normalisation of relations with arch-enemy India.

Immediately after the attack, the military lodged a formal request to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for Geo to be shut down because it had damaged an important state institution.

An informal campaign against the station became increasingly serious as the weeks passed.

Rightwing religious militants demonstrated in favour of the ISI, pressure was put on cable operations to drop Geo from its lineup and an incendiary claim was made that the channel had broadcast blasphemous material in a light entertainment morning show.

Geo's outside broadcasting vans were attacked and vehicles used for delivering the company's newspapers were torched. Spotting an opportunity to bring down a competitor that utterly dominates Pakistan's private television market Geo's commercial rivals also joined in, attacking the company for being "anti-state".

Aslam said the company had been financially crippled and his staff "harassed, intimidated and physically assaulted by shadowy forces".

On Friday, before the Pemra announcement, the firm announced it was suing the regulator, the ISI and the army for "defaming and maligning the group by accusing it of working on an anti-Pakistan agenda". It demanded compensation of more than £300m.

Throughout the crisis, the group has shifted from angry defiance to efforts to defuse the row, even printing front page apologies on its newspapers. The affair has wider implications than just the future of the company, which is owned by the reclusive media mogul Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who micro-manages editorial decisions from his base in Dubai.

The government has supported Geo in its fight with the army, with prime minister Nawaz Sharif visiting Hamid Mir in hospital after the attack. Sharif has told confidants he would rather be ousted from power than agree to let Geo be closed down.

Sharif was the victim of a military coup in 1999 and his relations with the army are fraught.

In his latest stint in power, the two sides have clashed over the treason trial of former military leader Pervez Musharraf and whether operations should be launched against Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan.


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« Reply #13829 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:58 AM »

In Thailand, Growing Intolerance for Dissent Drives Many to More Authoritarian Nations

By THOMAS FULLER
JUNE 6, 2014
IHT 

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thailand, long the liberal bastion of Southeast Asia, has traditionally been a haven for refugees from its less democratic neighbors. Now, in the wake of a recent coup, a small group of Thai intellectuals are making the reverse journey — heading to Cambodia and other more repressive nations as their own country cracks down on dissent.

A leader of the exile community, Jakrapob Penkair, said dozens of professors, activists and politicians had fled Thailand in recent weeks, as the leaders of the Thai junta detained hundreds of prominent people in what many consider a campaign of fear meant to silence critics or drive them out.

“Lots of us won’t be coming home very soon,” Mr. Jakrapob, a former government spokesman, said at a riverside restaurant here in the Cambodian capital, where he has met regularly with other Thai exiles since arriving in 2009.

He now hopes to organize some type of resistance to the junta from outside the country, though he said he would have to proceed carefully so as not to put “friendly countries in an awkward position.”

In decades past, the notion of fleeing Thailand for an authoritarian country like Cambodia would have seemed absurd to those accustomed to Thailand’s freedoms, even amid a series of coups. Instead, the relatively wealthy Thailand has been a haven for the oppressed, whether families fleeing the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia four decades ago or persecuted hill tribes in Myanmar escaping attacks by the Burmese military.

That migration continues, but as Thailand has lurched from one political crisis to the next, some said they felt they had had little choice but to flee what they described as increasing intolerance of dissent.

Exact numbers are hard to confirm, because many of those who left fear they are being hunted by the Thai military and are wary of revealing their whereabouts.

One of those exiles, Chinawat Haboonpat, a former member of Parliament for the deposed governing party, wrote a message to his supporters on Facebook on May 22, the day the generals seized power in Thailand.

“Brothers and sisters, I am not escaping,” he wrote, adding that the former interior minister, Charupong Ruangsuwan, was with him. But Mr. Chinawat forgot to turn off a function on Facebook that added his location to the bottom of his message: Toul Kork, Cambodia, a district of Phnom Penh. (The message was later deleted.)

The Thailand the exiles are leaving is hardly the picture of a typical military dictatorship. The curfew imposed after the coup has been lifted in tourist areas and is loosely enforced from midnight to 4 a.m. in other parts of the country. Of the scores detained in the early days of the coup, most have been freed, including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But freedom of expression has been sharply curtailed. Thailand’s cacophonous news media has been partly silenced by the military junta, which closely monitors television news and has released detained journalists only under the condition that they not speak out.

The junta has also banned gatherings of five people or more — a rule that does not apply to its own attempts to manage the public mood, which have included staging performances in Bangkok titled “Return Happiness to the People.” The shows, which feature women dancing and singing in camouflage miniskirts, were organized by specialists in psychological warfare, according to the Thai news media.

Nearly every evening, the military announces on television the names of people summoned for questioning or detention. Democracy advocates, academics and anyone who speaks publicly about politics watch with anxiety to see if their names have been added to the list of more than 350 people already summoned. Those released from detention are forced to sign an agreement that bars them from taking part in “political movements.”

“If I violate these conditions or support political activities, I consent to face legal action immediately and consent to the suspension of my financial transactions,” says the military’s document, which the coup makers posted on their Facebook page. The army has threatened to try dissenters in military courts.

Some of those who have been summoned are affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms. Yingluck’s brother and a former prime minister, who was deposed in a 2006 coup. Mr. Thaksin founded the highly successful populist movement that the military is seeking to dismantle.

On Wednesday, the junta issued a summons for Mr. Jakrapob, the exile in Cambodia who is helping organize others who have fled. Mr. Jakrapob, who helped bring the 7-Eleven chain to Thailand, served in one of Mr. Thaksin’s governments and maintains ties with Mr. Thaksin, who is also in exile.

But also among those who have fled are researchers and commentators who, although outspoken, were not involved in politics.

Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has criticized recent court decisions against Mr. Thaksin’s supporters that he saw as politicized, left for London after, he said, a man riding on the back of a motorcycle fired shots into his house.

“I have to admit,” Mr. Verapat said in a YouTube video uploaded after he left, “I am not sure I would be safe in Thailand.”

Mr. Verapat said he had no connection to Mr. Thaksin and had never spoken with him.

Many members of the Bangkok establishment and the urban middle class supported the coup. They saw it as an effective way to scrub the country of the influence of Mr. Thaksin, whose movement has broad support in the countryside — thanks in large part to policies, like subsidies for farmers, that the Bangkok elite consider wasteful.

Mr. Verapat and many intellectuals saw new elections as the answer to the impasse. But earlier this year, opponents of the government run by Ms. Yingluck disrupted attempts to hold elections, which the party was widely expected to win.

In an indication of the passions in Thailand, Mr. Verapat’s Facebook page has both supportive comments and invective from backers of the coup.

“I think a person like you should die abroad and never return to this country,” read a comment under the name Tanan Tanaratanapisit.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University in Japan, said he and many colleagues outside Thailand were afraid to return.

“Most academics I know have left the country,” Mr. Pavin said. “It is no longer safe for them.”

He called the military’s summoning of professors and intellectuals “a cunning strategy of the coup makers in creating a climate of fear rather than to launch a brutal crackdown against their critics.”

Even some people who are not public figures said they found the current political environment stifling, especially what they described as online “witch hunts” by coup supporters targeting those who call for elections.

“I think there will be problems in this country for a generation or two,” said the owner of a catering business in Bangkok who is looking to move to Taiwan. “I’d like to get out of the country safely.”


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