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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071495 times)
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« Reply #14250 on: Jul 03, 2014, 05:55 AM »

Airport security may be tightened permanently after US warning – Clegg

US officials believe terrorists in Syria and Yemen could be developing explosives that could be smuggled on to planes

Nicholas Watt, Josh Halliday and Vikram Dodd, Thursday 3 July 2014 11.10 BST      

A tightening of security at UK airports may remain in place on a permanent basis in the face of a new extremist bomb threat to transatlantic aircraft, Nick Clegg has said as he warned of the dangers posed by a "medieval, violent, revolting ideology".

Speaking after the government announced an increase in airport security amid fears in the US that terrorists in Syria and Yemen were developing explosives that could be smuggled on to planes, the deputy prime minister said the new measures would not be temporary.

"I don't think we should expect this to be a one-off temporary thing," Clegg said on his weekly LBC phone-in. "We have to make sure the checks are there to meet the nature of the new kinds of threats. Whether it is forever – I can't make any predictions. But I don't want people to think that this is just a sort of a blip for a week. This is part of an evolving and constant review about whether the checks keep up with the nature of the threats we face."

Clegg was speaking after US officials told Reuters that security at European airports would be increased following intelligence that al-Qaida operatives in Syria and Yemen had joined forces to develop bombs that could avoid detection and bring down aircraft. The US did not specify which airports or countries would be affected, nor did it say what triggered the extra precautions.

The warning from the US prompted the Department for Transport in Britain to announce a tightening of security at UK airports. It is thought that the extra measures at UK airports could include increased random screening of passengers and tighter scrutiny of footwear, mobile phones and computers. A DfT spokesman said the changes would not cause significant disruption to passengers and the threat level remained at substantial, meaning an attack was a strong possibility.

Clegg acknowledged that passengers would face disruption although he said there was no need for panic. He said on his weekly LBC phone-in: "It will involve extra checks of various descriptions. The checks we have in terms of passengers who go on aeroplanes, how they are scrutinised, how they are checked is – in the jargon – multi-layered. So there is going to be another layer for some travellers on some flights. I don't think people should be unduly panicked or concerned. But this is the world we now live in. This won't be the last time that there are further adjustments made because we are having to constantly evolve our own defences in view of the evolving way people want to attack us."

The announcement from the US of the need for increased security followed intelligence reports which suggested that bombmakers from Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP) have travelled to Syria to meet al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra to work on ways to get an explosive device past existing security.

Clegg said the world needed to accept that it was facing a major threat from forces distorting Islam, as he highlighted the declaration by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) of a caliphate. Isis is in dispute with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is thought to be behind the alleged bomb plot.

The deputy prime minister said: "What is going on in Syria – the establishment of this self-declared caliphate across the border of Syria and Iraq – is now the latest turn of the wheel in a really ugly, medieval ideology. We need to be really, really clear that they are basing their whole world view on a kind of medieval, violent, revolting ideology that, by the way, is a total and utter aberration and distortion of what the vast, vast, vast majority of the millions of Muslims around the world believe in. It is a grotesque distortion of that faith."

The US department of homeland security said enhanced security measures would be implemented in the next few days at "certain overseas airports with direct flights into the United States".

The department secretary, Jeh Johnson, said: "We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry."

US intelligence agencies believe extremists in Syria and Yemen have been in contact to develop bombs that escape heightened security measures, although they do not have specific intelligence about an imminent attack or specific plot emanating from the suspected collaboration.

Some in the US intelligence community also believe that training complexes have been set up in Syria for western jihadists so they can return to their home countries better trained to carry out attacks.

While that conclusion is the subject of debate, it shows the level of fear counter-terrorism officials have about the threat posed by jihadists from Syria – now considered to be the main threat facing the west.

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« Reply #14251 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:03 AM »

Son-in-law of assassinated heiress Hélène Pastor retracts his confession

Defence lawyer for Wojciech Janowski says he was not allowed a translator or lawyer during 96 hours of questioning by police

Kim Willsher, Wednesday 2 July 2014 22.42 BST   

The Polish honorary consul accused of ordering the contract killing of a Monaco property billionaire has retracted his confession to police, saying he did not "understand all the nuances of French".

Wojciech Janowski was named by public prosecutors in Marseille on Friday as the man behind the ambush and assassination of wealthy Hélène Pastor, a friend of the Monaco royal family.

He was said by officials to have admitted having engaged and paid his sports coach to organise the killing of 77-year-old Pastor, the mother of his long-term partner Sylvia Pastor.

On Wednesday lawyers for Janowski, who has been officially put under investigation for the killing, said he wished to deny the charges and had "misunderstood the range of terms used by the police services" questioning him.

Defence lawyer Erick Campana added: "He speaks French, but he doesn't understand all the nuances of our language."

It was also revealed that Janowski, 65, under investigation for complicity to murder, was not allowed either a lawyer or a translator during his 96 hours of police questioning.

Two men, carrying a hunting rifle and a sawn-off shotgun, ambushed Pastor's Lancia Voyager car on 6 May as she left a hospital in Nice where her son Gildo, 47, was recovering from a stroke. After firing twice into the vehicle and checking that both Pastor and her chauffeur of 15 years, Egyptian-born Mohamed Darwish, 64, had been hit, the men ran off.

Darwish died in hospital after four days and Pastor, whose property empire is estimated to be worth up to €20bn (£15.9bn), died 15 days later. Before succumbing to her injuries, she told police she had no idea who might want her dead.

Marseille public prosecutor Brice Robin outlined in great detail last Friday how meticulous detective work, including the discovery of the alleged hitman's DNA on hotel shower gel, had led police to Janowski.

As well as the Polish businessman, six other people have been charged in relation to the killing. At a hearing on Wednesday, a judge ordered Janowski to continue to be held in custody.

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« Reply #14252 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:08 AM »

German cities accused of freezing out poverty-stricken bottle collectors

Empty bottles can be redeemed at supermarkets, but collectors have become increasingly controversial in German cities

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 July 2014 17.44 BST   

As the streams of fans moved towards the Brandenburg Gate to watch Germany's World Cup matches, few noticed the men and women standing with bags and carts by the entrance to the fenced-off arena, collecting empty bottles.

Nadine, a pregnant 20-year-old, had been stationed at the west entrance near the Victory Column since midday, and her shopping trolley was half full. Empty glass and plastic bottles can be redeemed at German supermarkets for eight to 25 cents (6-20p) an item. "Twenty euros should be in it for me today," she said.

Asked why she was collecting bottles, Nadine replied: "There are private reasons. But let's just say, I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have to."

In recent months, these Pfandsammler (deposit collectors) have become increasingly controversial, with some cities accused of trying to push them out of their centres.

Hamburg now has 160 solar-powered bins that squash rubbish, allowing them to be emptied less frequently. Stuttgart has installed bins that store waste underground. The effect in both cases is the same: collectors can no longer reach inside for bottles.

Stephan Karrenbauer, a social worker, said the move in Hamburg was part of a deliberate strategy to cleanse the city centre of unwanted social elements, something the council denies.

"If you don't have any money in Hamburg, you've got three options: you can go begging, sell Hinz & Kunzt [Hamburg's equivalent of the Big Issue] or start collecting bottles. So if you block up the bins, you are pushing a lot of people into abject poverty," he said.

In response to the public criticism, the city has since installed "bottle shelves" on some of its bins, allowing passersby to leave empties for the collectors, and similar designs are being tested elsewhere.

A spokesperson for the Hamburg's public cleaning services claimed that the shelves had been a great success – though critics question whether six holders per bin are likely to make a difference.

In Berlin, where one in seven citizens lives on the verge of poverty and there is no ban on drinking alcohol on public transport, bottle collectors have been a social phenomenon since the 2006 World Cup. Yet this year most of the big public screenings do not allow people to bring their own drinks, and bottle collectors are often barred by security staff.

"You can forget it this time," said one man collecting bottles outside the Brandenburg Gate. "In the past, you could earn a fortune."

But Germany's Pfandsammler resonate on a wider political level. Hard-working, orderly and environmentally friendly, workers in the bottle-recycling sub-economy embody some of the more positive values associated with Germany.

Some argue, however, that they stand for a new social class whose existence the government is trying to deny: people with irregular incomes or who are on basic state benefits, who need top-ups to survive in what is nominally Europe's richest economy. A large percentage ofAnd mMMany are pensioners.

"Politicians don't even recognise this group – they just ignore them," said Sebastian Moser, a researcher at the Max Weber Institute in Lyon, who last year wrote a doctoral thesis on the Pfandsammler phenomenon. As an exception, he mentioned the leftwing Die Linke party, which ran a poster campaign during last year's election that read: "Instead of collecting bottles: €1,050 minimum monthly pension!"

The controversy in Hamburg, Moser said, was indicative of the state's growing neglect of people whose lives were precarious. Citizens were left to compensate for the public sector's retreat. He talked of a privately run website called, which puts collectors in touch with people who want to get rid of bottles they have amassed at their home or office.

From an ecological perspective, Germany's bottle deposit scheme – implemented in 2003 in the face of opposition from manufacturers – is generally seen as a success. A 2010 environmental agency report said the scheme "leads to less rubbish on our streets and squares". But it made no mention of the informal economy that has grown around it.

After spending two-and-a-half years interviewing collectors in several cities, Moser concluded that money was rarely their sole motive. "For many, it is an attempt to escape from loneliness. Finding bottles and returning them gives people the kind of recognition they no longer get from their job or family. If the state wants to help, it should think about how it can integrate those whose social support system has collapsed."

As the Berlin crowds cheered on their team, a pensioner ambled away with a bin bag full of bottles on her back. "In the past, my husband and I used to go collecting together, but since he's died I've had to carry them by myself," she said. "I'm alone now, but when you're out and about collecting bottles, you get chatting with people.


Germany to adopt minimum wage to help working poor

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 11:16 EDT

Germany is set to introduce a national minimum wage on Thursday, long resisted by conservatives who say it will make industries uncompetitive, but which is hoped will help the poor and stimulate demand.

The step was a red-line issue for the centre-left Social Democrats when they teamed up last year with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives to form a “grand coalition” government.

The minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.60) an hour will eventually benefit more than five million workers in the low-wage sector when it is phased in between January 1, 2015 and 2017.

Introducing a universal minimum wage brings Europe’s biggest economy in line with 21 of the EU’s 28 member states, and with the wishes of the German electorate who have overwhelmingly supported the move in opinion polls.

The starting level, set to be reviewed by a labour market commission every two years, is in line with those in other major developed economies — slightly less than that in France (9.53 euros, $13) but above Britain’s £6.31 (7.91 euros, $10.83).

France has hailed Germany’s decision as a step away from Merkel’s austerity focus and toward pro-growth policies, and as a way of boosting consumer demand to bring down its large trade surplus.

Inside Germany, industry groups long protested and warned the minimum wage will destroy jobs, especially in the formerly communist east where, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, wages are still lower than in western states.

Amid such fears, and months of haggling, the government has excluded some groups, among them under-18-year-olds and the long-term unemployed during their first six months in a new job.

- ‘Split in labour market’ -

The bill’s passage in parliament is virtually guaranteed given the strong majority of the ruling coalition. The far-left Linke and Greens party opposition support the idea

But some conservatives are set to vote against the bill on principle, arguing that wages should be negotiated between employers and unions, the traditional German model, not set by the state.

“The law goes in the wrong direction, many will vote no,” said conservative lawmaker Peter Ramsauer, a former transport minister, who warned that the step will harm the “competitiveness and future of Germany”.

Merkel herself had long opposed the minimum wage, raising fears it could force many small- and medium-sized businesses to lay off workers, and favouring instead separate pay deals for each industrial sector and region.

But she caved in after tough haggling late last year with the Social Democrats, who had argued that steps were urgently needed to narrow a growing pay gap in Germany’s 42-million-strong labour market.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned in May that Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by decade-old labour market reforms that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality.

It urged Germany to “heal the split in the labour market” between employees with permanent contracts who have better protection against dismissal and often better salaries, and those with temporary contracts with little protection and lower pay.

As the parliamentary vote has neared, Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, a Social Democrat, has agreed to more temporary exceptions, also including for example newspaper delivery workers.

Fears that prices for strawberries and asparagus will explode also won farmers a reprieve for seasonal workers, many of whom travel to Germany from neighbouring countries, and the right to factor in their board and lodging.

The loopholes drew harsh criticism from unions.

“Work is work, and to pay less in certain sectors than in others is discriminatory,” charged Stefan Koerzell of the DGB unions federation, while the Greens criticised the outcome as “a Swiss cheese” full of (loop)holes.

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« Last Edit: Jul 03, 2014, 06:40 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #14253 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Spanish unions launch campaign against 'criminalisation' of strikes

Major unions fight back as 260 workers appear in court over participation in recent labour actions

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 July 2014 15.31 BST   

With nearly 300 workers in court over their participation in strikes, Spain's major unions are fighting back, launching a campaign against what they call the increasing "criminalisation" of strikes and other labour activities.

At least 260 workers across Spain are facing cumulative jail time of 120 years over their participation in recent labour activities, said Cándido Méndez of the UGT general workers' union.

Threatened sentences range from fines to three years in jail. The moves is set against a backdrop of a recent labour law reform that made it cheaper and easier for companies to lay off people, reduce wages and modify the conditions of employment. "It's creating a dynamic in which the clear aim is to discourage workers from mobilising," Méndez said.

Prosecutors are exploiting an obscure article in the criminal code meant to prevent workers from being pressured into striking, said Ignacio Fernández Toxo, who heads the Workers' Commission trade union. The article is being increasingly relied on to justify fines and time in jail for those who strike.

The result, he said, was chilling. "They're trying to make examples of a few, instil fear and discourage people from participating in mobilisations and strikes. We're talking about a fundamental right that's enshrined in the Spanish constitution."

As part of the campaign, letters are being sent out and meetings planned with prosecutors and government officials. Rallies are also being organised across Spain next week.

The issue takes on particular importance, said Toxo, when Spain's recent history is factored in. It was not that long ago that Spanish workers lacked the freedoms to claim their rights as workers, he pointed out.

"We thought we had clearly overcome this phase in Spain. But it seems like maybe not."

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« Reply #14254 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Madeleine McCann detectives finish questioning suspects

Four Portuguese nationals were questioned for several hours by police investigating toddler's disappearance in Praia da Luz in May 2007

Brendan de Beer in Praia da Luz and Josh Halliday, Wednesday 2 July 2014 14.02 BST   

Detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have finished questioning four suspects in Portugal.

The four Portuguese nationals were quizzed for several hours on Tuesday in the presence of British police.

It is not known whether the four men remain persons of interest – or arguidos – in the investigation. However, a source close to the case said: "Unfortunately we are back where we were seven years ago with regards to this case."

It is understood that detectives will on Wednesday begin taking evidence from 11 witnesses over Madeleine's disappearance in the Algarve holiday resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

Trained police sniffer dogs have returned to Portugal for the latest phase in the multimillion-pound investigation, which is being overseen by Scotland Yard's Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood.

A source close to the case said there was a remote possibility that the police dogs might be used to search a car belonging to one of the witnesses.

British and Portuguese police have declined to identify the four suspects, but they are understood to include Sergey Malinka, 29, a Russian-born IT engineer who was first questioned in 2007.

Malinka, who now holds Portuguese citizenship, was questioned as a witness seven years ago but never declared a suspect.

In 2007, it was believed he was questioned due to his links to Robert Murat, a British expat with whom he had business dealings. Murat was named as a suspect 10 days after Madeleine vanished but was later cleared.

The latest phase of the investigation follows the end of major ground-level searches in Praia da Luz in early June, when detectives scoured a large patch of scrubland but failed to unearth new evidence connected to Madeleine.

Scotland Yard declined to comment.

The Attorney General's office in Lisbon said: "In the context of judicial cooperation requested by the English authorities, the investigation has been pursued as planned according to the respective responsible parties. We reaffirm that the content of the requests made by the British authorities is confidential and the Attorney General's Office will not make any comments on the matter."

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« Reply #14255 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:19 AM »

As Deadline Nears for an Iran Nuclear Pact, the Fingers Are Pointing

JULY 2, 2014

WASHINGTON — With less than three weeks until a deadline for a final agreement between Iran and the West on the future of Iran’s nuclear program, it is not just the country’s 10,000 working centrifuges that are spinning. So are the key negotiators.

Secretary of State John Kerry published an op-ed on Tuesday warning the Iranians that while they have engaged in serious talks, they have yet to make any tough decisions. “Their public optimism about the potential outcome of these negotiations has not been matched, to date, by the positions they have articulated behind closed doors,” he wrote. He described what failure would look like: “International sanctions will tighten.”

He was immediately one-upped by Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, who took to YouTube with a video making the case that if the talks fail in coming weeks, it is the Americans who will be at fault — for failing to recognize Iran’s reasonableness and basic rights.

“To those who continue to believe that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, I can only say that pressure has been tried for the past eight years, in fact for the past 35 years,” he said, as he strolled on a campus in Tehran, looking very much like the urbane professor he was until last spring. “It didn’t bring the Iranian people to kneel in submission. And it will not now, nor in the future.”

Behind the posturing on both sides was the opening of what could be the final round of negotiations — or, just as likely, an extension of the talks as both sides try to square face-saving compromises with their previous declarations of red lines they could not cross. But the enterprise is complicated by the fact that the talks are about more than the question of whether Iran can only be trusted to have 3,000 or so centrifuges in operation — the West’s argument — or whether it must have upward of 40,000 or more, which the Iranians say they will need to fuel nuclear reactors they have not yet built.

The public sparring is clearly an effort to seize the larger narrative of a negotiation that is ultimately about how Iran settles a long-running internal debate about whether to settle its decades-long estrangement from the West, and achieve its ambitions to establish itself as the Middle East’s most influential player. The declarations by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Zarif seemed aimed at setting a predicate for who would be at fault if the talks collapse.

Mr. Zarif, who for months has sounded publicly optimistic and privately far more pessimistic that a deal is in the offing, used his video to recap his view of the years of tension and to argue that now was the time to “make history” and “end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of the past few weeks in Iraq.” That was the closest he came to suggesting that this is a moment when the United States and Iran have a common goal in the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But he also argued that sanctions and sabotage, which American officials credit with forcing Iran to the negotiating table, actually had the opposite effect. “Sanctions did not cripple our nuclear program,” he argued. “Neither did the murder of our nuclear scientists,” a reference to assassinations widely attributed to Israel, “and the sabotage of our nuclear facilities, with potentially disastrous environmental consequences,” an apparent reference to the American and Israeli computer attacks that destroyed roughly 1,000 centrifuges at the main nuclear facility at Natanz.

Mr. Kerry argued that the time had come for Iran’s leadership to make a decision that it has so far hedged on whether it wants sanctions relief more than it wants a threshold capability to build a weapon. He argued that an extension on the talks is not automatic, writing that “our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations.” But calling a halt to the talks would invite Iran to resume large-scale enrichment, including of higher-purity uranium that is closer to bomb-grade.

One of the mysteries of this latest round of talks, which begins Thursday morning in Vienna, is how much leeway Mr. Zarif, viewed with suspicion by Iran’s military and many of its clerics, has to strike a deal on his own. He reports to President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected last year on a platform of freeing Iran from the sanctions that have made it so difficult for Iranians to move money abroad, sell oil or to travel. But Mr. Rouhani will not decide what deal to take. That decision will be made by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is believed to have scuttled an agreement in 2009.

“It’s not clear right now what is more dangerous for the supreme leader,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “A deal, or the absence of a nuclear deal?”

At the opening of this latest round the chief American negotiator, Wendy R. Sherman, was joined by two officials who opened a secret channel to the Iranians in 2012: William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The number of spinning centrifuges is only one issue. Whether Iran will sign on to a protocol that allows inspections in many other areas of the country, whether it will allow interviews of its nuclear scientists, whether it will explain away a dozen questions posed by international inspectors about suspected weapons designs are all on the table.

“It’s all about a comprehensive package,” said one senior administration official, “that involves enrichment, enhanced monitoring, and access to the inside of the program.”

That mixture allows room for additional spin. The United States — along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — has been trying to come up with solutions that would allow the Iranians to argue at home that they gave up none of their nuclear rights, and allow the West to claim that they slowed Iran’s ability to build a weapon.

But there is only so much face-saving that is possible. In the end, it is hard to spin how many centrifuges are spinning — or whether Iran’s nuclear laboratories have been opened up. “I can’t think of a harder deal to be negotiating in public,” one senior Obama administration official said, “or to explain simultaneously to the Congress and the Iranian mullahs.”


The paradox of Iran’s war on drugs and its progressive treatment of addiction

By The Conversation
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 13:28 EDT
By Maziyar Ghiabi, University of Oxford

There are stories some people might not expect to read about Iran – and its progressive drugs policy is one. As a number of countries begin to slowly reconsider their approach towards illicit drugs, following the avant-gardiste move of José Mujica’s Uruguay, the issue of drugs and treatment of drug abuse might be one where Iran could provide some meaningful contribution to the rest of the world.

The opium years

Iran has had a long history of drug use. Opium in particular has been part of the social, economic and cultural lives of Iranian people for about 15 decades. In the 20th century, the country has seen structural and ideological changes, and revolutions, war and cultural fervour have often coincided with changing tastes for drugs. Today, the country has arguably the highest number of drug users internationally – the official figure is 2-3m people although others suggest it could be more like 10m.

But this isn’t just about opium. Alongside well-established substances that also include hashish and alcohol are more modern and post-modern drugs such as heroin, crack and crystal meth, which in Persian is called shisheh or “glass”. Iran has a huge youth population – the average age is 25 for women and 24 for men – and an underground party scene is enjoyed by many in the urban, secularised and well-off younger generation. In 2012, Iran was the world’s fourth highest importer of pseudoephedrin, used to make crystal meth.

So besides being a major drug trafficking route, a large portion of Iran’s population is consuming various kinds of drugs, and increasingly, producing its own synthetic drugs. The Islamic Republic has paradoxes, and drugs is one major example.

The failure of the war on drugs

The taste and sophistication of drug use in Iran must cause amazement and incredulity among those more familiar with the austere image of the Islamic Republic. And the more so, when one considers that Iran faithfully implements the dictums of the war on drugs and its prohibitionist agenda. Every year, thousands of Iranian law enforcement agents are killed or injured in the fight against drugs and the Iranian state has been, without exception, among the countries with the highest level of narcotic seizure and interception of drug traffickers.

The sentences for drug possession and trafficking are also among the toughest in the world including the death penalty for armed trafficking and recidivism. About 80% of Iran’s death sentences are for trafficking offences, a draconian approach that would have surely satisfied the ideologues of the war on drugs such as US presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Progressive on addiction and treatment

Nevertheless, Iran has something more peculiar than the old-fashioned and rather disastrous war on drugs machinery. Since the early 2000s, it has introduced some of the most progressive practices of addiction treatment and rehabilitation, including what is usually referred as harm reduction.

Harm reduction is a set of practices aimed at reducing the harm of illicit drugs, through a humanitarian and philanthropic support to drug users. It includes the provision of clean needles and syringes to injecting drug users (also in prison) as well as distribution of condoms to sex workers; similarly, that it contemplated the use of methadone, a pharmaceutical drug, as a substitute drug for heroin and opium.

Given that harm reduction has often been ostracised by central governments and the general public in Western countries, its successful implementation in Iran – a country ingrained with moral conservatism and characterised by suspicion towards deviant behaviours such as drug use and sexual promiscuity – calls for a reassessment of our understanding and portrayal of it.

This approach has been championed by the public – as a bottom-up movement – but also public institutions (or some of them at least) as timely reforms. Today, every Iranian city and even many towns and villages, have methadone clinics, rehabilitation centres and “detox camps”, to which people seeking support or medical treatment can resort. NGOs are also active at the margins of the cities providing clean syringes and limited everyday medical care for street addicts.

So, alongside the market for illegal drugs, the field of addiction, treatment and rehab has become a profitable business – confirmed by the large numbers of private centres working in this area. However, this has been mainly driven by non-state sectors. This provision of services to potentially millions of people would not have been possible otherwise, especially as US-led international sanctions that triggered a quasi European-style approach to austerity in Iran have hit social services, often at the expense of the most marginal groups including drug addicts.

State institutions do of course provide free access to public clinics for poorer drug users. However, there is stigmatisation of poorer people using drugs. Street addicts in Tehran are periodically collected and sent to compulsory treatment centres for a period of one to three months, for example, after which they are released in the streets. These mechanisms of these interventions are complex and deserve more attention.

Limits on joy and pleasure

Iran is a model for many countries in the region and other countries wanting to reform criminalising drug policy look to it. But prison, punishment and stigmatisation are still in place under the guise of prohibition laws, and in Iran as elsewhere, they are a more serious threat than drugs per se.

And while treatment and support are a powerful move towards new approaches to drugs, with Iran significantly ahead of many more liberal countries, its clear that the war on drugs isn’t stemming other major drug abuse factors. Physicians can only intervene and frame the problem medically, but the state through its prohibitionist machinery and, in this case, by imposing limitations to the public expression of joy and pleasure (as it is often the case in the Islamic Republic), helps create the problem itself.

The Conversation

Maziyar Ghiabi does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
« Last Edit: Jul 03, 2014, 06:43 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #14256 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:20 AM »

Pakistan Approves Sweeping Antiterror Bill, Prompting Warnings From Rights Groups

JULY 2, 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Parliament on Wednesday approved sweeping new powers for the country’s security forces, with an antiterrorism measure that the government says is needed to combat the Taliban, but that rights activists warned could result in state-sponsored human rights violations.

The Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 allows the security forces to shoot suspects on sight, arrest suspects without a warrant and withhold information about where detainees are being held or what they are being charged with.

It comes at a time of great public trepidation in Pakistan. The military is engaged in a large-scale offensive against the Pakistan Taliban and allied jihadist groups in the North Waziristan tribal district. Many Pakistanis fear violent militant reprisals in the country’s main cities.

In presenting the measure, one cabinet minister, Zahid Hamid, said it would “send a message that the government stands with the military in the operation against terrorists.”   

The bill offers “statutory cover to armed forces which are fighting against the enemies of the country for the revival of peace and stability,” Mr. Hamid added.

But rights groups and civil rights activists said the legislation risked curbing civil liberties in a country with an already abysmal record of human rights violations.

“It is an attack on the rights of the people,” said I. A. Rehman, a veteran activist with the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “It is very difficult to swallow.”

Military and some civilian leaders have long complained that flaws in the country’s criminal justice system have hampered their ability to fight militant groups.

Militants are rarely convicted in court, often because witnesses refuse to testify or judges are afraid to hear such cases, and there is no witness protection system to speak of. Trials move at a sluggish pace, often taking several years.

But the new legislation, critics say, provides legal cover for practices that have more frequently been denounced as human rights abuses and have often embarrassed the military in the news media. Thousands of people have been illegally detained at the hands of the country’s powerful intelligence agency, often on suspicion of involvement in militancy, or in the insurgency in the western province of Baluchistan.

The major opposition parties originally opposed the draft bill, which was presented before Parliament early this year, as a draconian measure.

But the amended bill that passed Wednesday contained provisions for judicial oversight and review, and was supported by the largest opposition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, as well as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Party, which dominates in Karachi.

The new measure doubles the maximum prison sentence for those convicted of terrorism offenses, allows security forces to hold suspects for up to 60 days and empowers senior police and armed forces officials to issue “shoot on sight” orders.

The security forces are allowed to search a building without a warrant, provided they justify their actions to a special judicial magistrate within two days. Intercepted cellphone communications will be admissible in court as evidence.

Several conservative opposition parties refused to endorse the new legislation. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by the former cricketer Imran Khan, abstained from the vote. Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s biggest religious political party, opposed the legislation.

During Wednesday’s parliamentary session, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a former minister and opposition politician, suggested that the law could be easily exploited by the country’s heavily politicized police force.

For all its stringent powers, however, one pressing question about the Protection of Pakistan law is whether the country’s weak judicial system can enforce its provisions.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to fully carry out the existing antiterrorism law, or even basic provisions of the criminal code.

For instance, the antiterrorism courts in Karachi, which has a history of militant and sectarian violence, have yet to see a case dealing with terrorism financing because the police lack the resources and training for such an investigation.

Specialized antiterrorism courts in the city have obtained convictions in a small number of high-profile cases, including local leaders of the banned anti-Shiite militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. But legal experts say the system has done little to stem the broader surge of militancy in Karachi.

“The existing law wasn’t utilized properly, and now they’ve brought a new one,” said Abdul Maroof Maher, a prosecutor based in Karachi. The government would have been better, Mr. Maher said, to improve the existing laws and improve the shoddy courts infrastructure.

But the new legislation has the backing of the country’s civil and military leadership.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a rare appearance in the national assembly when the legislation was presented on Wednesday. Pakistan’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, is expected to sign it into law this week.
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« Reply #14257 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:22 AM »

India's PM Modi makes sweeping changes at government offices

New leader has ordered a massive cleanup, demanding bureaucrats reorganise their desks and throw out unwanted files

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi, Thursday 3 July 2014 11.00 BST      

The vast quadrangle at the centre of a sprawling complex of ministerial offices in Delhi has become a rubbish dump for broken furniture, discarded water coolers, broken air conditioners, abandoned telephones and large bags of discarded paper.

Nearby, two clerks from India's ministry of women and child welfare wheel piles of brown, bedraggled office files on swivel chairs toward a waiting van bound for the central records office. Inside, another keys into a computer the details of several more files before they too are sent for storage.

On orders from the new prime minister, bureaucrats are busy clearing rooms, corridors and staircases of the rubbish accumulated by previous administrations over the last 67 years, especially useless paper files and broken furniture.

"All ministries are supposed to review and reorganise their offices every four years, but nobody bothered, and old files and broken furniture just piled up everywhere," said the clerk.

"But now that Narendra Modi has ordered it, ministers and top officers do the rounds at 9am every day, personally supervising the cleanup and reorganisation drive."

Modi has been prime minister for exactly a month, not long enough to judge whether he can deliver on his campaign promise of good governance. But with his obsession for order and cleanliness, he has been able to energise bureaucrats to take ownership of their working space to make it more presentable – and potentially more productive.

Like a stern housekeeper, he has roamed from floor to floor in government buildings, casting disapproving glances at the litter, the sloth and the lack of discipline. He found one office filled with cigarette smoke, despite "no smoking" signs everywhere. In another, he saw dirty tea cups lying around. "He just mentioned them and walked out, but it was enough for us to get the message," a bureaucrat told a reporter.

Clean, well-ordered offices is not the only thing Modi is demanding from Delhi's bureaucrats. He also wants them to come to work on time at 9am sharp, rely more on computers, abjure extended lunch and tea breaks to play cards in nearby parks (the junior ones) or golf at the club (an elite bunch of 200), say no to foreign junkets, be more responsive to the public and resist political interference by ministers and MPs.

The last instruction could be a potential gamechanger. The new prime minister has made it clear to the top bureaucrats in government that if they have a good proposal that is blocked by their own minister, they can pitch it directly to him (but only in a PowerPoint format please, since Modi hates reading long files and documents).

Modi's approach may seem to undermine the cabinet system of shared ministerial authority, but it has made top civil servants enthusiastic about work after a demoralising phase under the previous regime.

"The top, secretary-level officers are feeling empowered for the first time and are hoping Modi succeeds in putting the new system in place," said Soma Chakravarthy, deputy editor of Bureaucracy Today.

For more than a decade, India's bureaucracy has been ranked as the worst in Asia by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy. Much of the problem stems from shortsighted policies and outdated laws that entangle people in reams of red tape. But it is also to do with a work culture that shuns initiative and rewards indolence.

Delhi's bureaucrats had become too lazy even to clear the dust-laden files submerging them in a sea of decaying paper. After Modi ordered a cleanup, the home ministry discovered 150,000 unwanted files in its cupboards. One of these was from 1948, the year after Indian independence, and related to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India. The document records the sanction of "Rs 64,000" as travel allowance to Mountbatten for his final return to Britain. The file went straight to the National Archives.

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« Reply #14258 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:30 AM »

China's Xi Visits South Korea in Snub to North

by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 07:10

China's president arrived in Seoul Thursday for a state visit seen as a snub to Beijing's traditional ally North Korea, whose nuclear weapons ambitions will dominate talks with South Korean leader Park Geun-Hye.

It was Xi Jinping's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and will mark his second summit with Park, who visited China last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing -- a calculated rebuff that speaks to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea conducted a series of rocket and missile launches into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) over the past week, triggering protests from Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has been in particularly mercurial rhetorical form of late, one day threatening a "devastating strike" against the South and the next proposing a suspension of all hostile military activities.

South Korea on Tuesday rejected the peace offer as "nonsensical", and suggested that Pyongyang show its sincerity by dumping its nuclear weapons.

Xi and Park will hold their summit after Thursday's official welcoming ceremony, and the two leaders are then expected to sign a joint communique.

- Strong line on North Korea? -

Seoul will be hoping for a strong statement on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but analysts said Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

"That would go against China's traditional diplomatic pattern," said Kim Joon-Hyung, professor of politics at Handong Global University.

"Xi will probably keep to the general line of urging the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, rather than criticizing the North directly," Kim added.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalizing the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a U.S. troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's two-day visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbors ... is pretty striking," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the US "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

- Balancing act for Seoul -

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

So how far would South Korea be willing to go in developing its ties with China beyond the economic sphere?

"Partly it depends who holds power in Seoul," Foster-Carter wrote on the NK News website.

"Conservatives like Park will ensure the U.S. alliance is not weakened, especially while North Korea continues to snarl.

"But South Korean presidents change every five years. If liberals return to power in 2018, the left's neutralist and Yankee-bashing tendencies might come to the fore," he said.

The military ambitions of the other main U.S. ally in the region, Japan, is also likely to figure in Thursday's summit talks, with both China and South Korea concerned by the recent change to its pacifist constitution.


China, S. Korea Summit Pushes North over Nuclear Weapons

by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 14:21

China and South Korea issued a joint call for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula at a summit in Seoul Thursday that was seen as a pointed snub of nuclear-armed North Korea by Beijing.

In a joint statement after their talks, the Chinese and South Korean presidents, Xi Jinping and Park Geun-Hye, reaffirmed their "firm opposition" to the development of nuclear weapons, but seemed divided on how to best persuade the North to give up its bombs.

While Park told reporters that the two sides had agreed to use "all means" possible to bring denuclearization about, Xi stressed that "dialogue and negotiation" were the best way forward.

The joint statement marked no departure from established Chinese and South Korean policy towards North Korea, but the fact that it was released at a summit in Seoul carried significant symbolic weight.

It was Xi's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and his second summit with Park, who visited China last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing and Xi's decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang was seen as a calculated rebuff that spoke to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Britain's Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea had conducted a series of rocket and missile launches over the past week and pledged further tests in the future.

Seoul had been hoping that Thursday's joint statement would include a strongly-worded warning to Pyongyang, but analysts had forecast that Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

It made no mention of North Korea's nuclear tests, although in her comments afterwards Park said both sides had reaffirmed their "resolute opposition" to any further detonations.

The statement did stress the importance of finding a way to get the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea up and running again.

Beijing has repeatedly pushed for a resumption of the six-party process -- involving the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

But Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first make a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalizing the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a U.S. troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's two-day visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbors... is pretty striking," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

But Pyongyang scored a diplomatic victory of its own Thursday, as Japan announced it was revoking some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea after progress in talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties, and the announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a significant step forward for a relationship that has been testy for decades.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the U.S. "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

So how far would South Korea be willing to go in developing its ties with China beyond the economic sphere?

"Partly it depends who holds power in Seoul," Foster-Carter wrote on the NK News website.

"Conservatives like Park will ensure the U.S. alliance is not weakened, especially while North Korea continues to snarl."

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« Reply #14259 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:32 AM »

Japan to Lift Some Sanctions on North Korea

by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 09:05

Japan will revoke some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, the prime minister announced Thursday, after talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Shinzo Abe said Tokyo judged Pyongyang, which pledged to re-investigate the disappearances of Japanese citizens, had shown sufficient willing in resolving the decades-old row and that this needed to be reciprocated.

"We have concluded that an unprecedented scheme that can make national decisions has been established. In accordance with the principle of action to action, we will lift part of the measures taken by Japan," Abe told reporters.

The move comes after the two sides met in Beijing to discuss what happened to the dozens -- or even hundreds -- of people Japan says were snatched by North Korean spies to train their agents in language and customs during the 1970s and 1980s.

The sanctions in question are additional to international strictures imposed after UN Security Council resolutions in the wake of nuclear and missile tests carried out by the North.

"Our stance of comprehensively resolving the issues of abduction, nuclear and missiles has not changed at all," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

"As a matter of course, we are going to coordinate with the United States and South Korea on the issues," Suga said.

Tokyo plans to lift a ban on North Koreans entering Japan, waive the reporting requirement for remitting more than 100,000 yen ($1,000) in cash and end the prohibition on some North Korean ships entering Japanese ports, government officials said.

Abe's cabinet will formally lift the sanctions on Friday when North Korea is scheduled to set up the investigation committee in Pyongyang, Suga said.

"North Korea appears to be showing its seriousness, and the Japanese response is reasonable," said Satoru Miyamoto, a North Korea expert at Seigakuin University in Saitama, north of Tokyo.

"But this is just the beginning as no one knows about what the results will be," Miyamoto told Agence France Presse.

"Prime Minister Abe has taken a gamble and will have to make tough, political decisions from now on," he said.

- Diplomatic chill -

Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties and relations between the two have been testy for decades.

But a late warming -- despite several recent missile tests by the North -- comes as Pyongyang appears to have fallen out of favour with Beijing, its longterm patron and protector.

Abe's announcement coincided with a visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which is largely seen as snub to the North, Beijing's traditional ally.

Kim Geun-Shik, professor of politics at South Korea's Kyungnam University, said the diplomatic chill rippling through northeast Asia, in which Tokyo remains at odds with both Beijing and Seoul, was a factor.

"Japan, like the North, is faced with increasing diplomatic isolation in the region with its relations with the South and China showing no signs of improvement under Abe's hawkish administration," he said.

"Japan appears to believe that the North perhaps could provide some way out of its diplomatic doldrums."

The Nikkei business daily said North Korea had handed Japan a list of at least 10 Japanese nationals who are said to be living in the country, including those believed to have been kidnapped by Pyongyang agents.

The list, which is in Korean, includes names and personal histories, according to Japanese government officials involved in the talks, the paper said.

At a meeting Tuesday, the North Korean delegation also presented details of a planned investigative panel, which Tokyo considers is well authorised to launch the probe, it said.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.

Five of the abductees returned home but Pyongyang said -- without producing credible evidence -- that the eight others had died, provoking an uproar in Japan.

The subject is highly charged in Japan, where there are suspicions that perhaps even hundreds of others were taken.

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« Reply #14260 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:33 AM »

07/02/2014 04:52 PM

War in South Sudan: The World's Youngest State Faces Failure

By Bartholomäus Grill in Juba, South Sudan

It was only three years ago that South Sudan celebrated its newfound independence from Sudan. Now, a civil war is tearing the young state apart amid reports of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. At the heart of the conflict is oil and corruption.

The lucky ones manage to make it to the quarantine ward. Lying on cots under a tarp with vomit-buckets at their sides, they at least receive intravenous fluids and antibiotics. The others who drag themselves to the emergency room at Juba Teaching Hospital, the biggest medical facility in the city, have to wait days for treatment, curled up on bare concrete next to fly-infested trash heaps and putrid puddles of waste water -- and largely ignored.

"New cholera cases show up every day," says Isaac Gawar, a young doctor. "They become infected by contaminated food or septic drinking water." Sweat runs down his face. "We have already seen 655 cases and can hardly handle them all. Fifteen people have died."

The hospital is just as run-down as the rest of the country. Nothing is left of the euphoria that gripped South Sudan three years ago when it became independent on July 9, 2011. On that day, tens of thousands of people celebrated the country's newfound freedom, hoping for a better future that has yet to arrive.

Independence came following a decades-long war of secession and, in January 2011, a referendum in which 99 percent of the largely Christian population voted for independence from Muslim Sudan. Peace, though, didn't last long and a new civil war broke out in December 2013. Over 10,000 people are thought to have lost their lives in the violence since then. A further 1.3 million have been displaced, according to United Nations estimates, and 4 million face starvation.

The tragedy is the result of the conflict between two leading politicians in the country -- a pair who actually worked together to ensure South Sudan's independence: President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. They each represent one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, the Dinka and the Nuer respectively, and their discord was marked by ethnic rivalry from the very beginning. At issue is access to oil, the country's most valuable resource.

Last July, Kiir fired his entire cabinet including Machar, setting off months of tensions. On December 15, those tensions erupted into armed combat. Kiir accuses his adversary of planning to overthrow him, an allegation that Machar denies. The stand-off ensued when several army divisions defected to the rebels and began fighting against the regular South Sudan military.

Lying in the Streets

Since then, several villages have been obliterated and larger cities like Malakal have been turned into ghost towns, with human rights organizations having accused both sides of committing war crimes. In mid-April, rebels perpetrated a massacre in Bentiu with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds of dead and corpses lying in the streets.

In the remote combat zone, the situation is worsening by the day. Farmers in the region were unable to plant this year because of the violence and the harvest has been correspondingly meager. Furthermore, since the rainy season began in May, many of those suffering from hunger cannot be reached via the region's muddy roads and have to be supplied by air.

In al-Sabah Children's Hospital in Juba, the only children's hospital in the entire country, 20 starving infants and young children with swollen bellies and rail-thin limbs are being treated with nutrients. Ribs clearly outlined behind their paper-thin skin, they whimper quietly, too weak to scream.

The mother of one nine-month-old girl relates how her husband was shot by the rebels and half her village wiped out. She managed to survive the 600 kilometer trek from Malakal to Juba; her child is little more than skin and bones and has the drawn face of an old woman.

In the three years since independence, the country's Health Ministry has not even managed to renovate the few hospitals in Juba. One day after agreeing to an interview with SPIEGEL, the minister cancelled it again -- he's not feeling well, one of his secretaries reported from behind her vast, empty desk in her bare office. She and her coworkers would appear to have little to do, spending much of the day simply waiting for evening to come.

There are some 200,000 civil servants working in South Sudan's several ministries and agencies, many of them former independence fighters who needed work once the wars of secession ended. But they have little idea how to establish a modern, functioning state.

'Results Have Been Poor'

Juba, a dusty expanse of houses with a population of 500,000, has been transformed in recent years into something like the aid industry's global capital. Currently, some 200 development organizations are active here, some state sponsored, others religious in nature and still others private. In addition, various UN agencies are here as well. Because there are so many of them, the city has introduced special license plates for vehicles belonging to NGOs.

In the last three years, it is likely that no other country in the world has received as much per capita aid as South Sudan. In the first year alone, the country received $1.4 billion. "When compared to the effort, the results have been poor," says one EU diplomat. He says that much of the aid money has stayed in Juba, with the central government seeming to have little control in the rest of the country.

The hurdles facing South Sudan were high from the start. Over three-quarters of its estimated population of 10 million are illiterate, about a third are chronically undernourished and only 1 percent have access to electricity. The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world. On the most recent Fragile States Index, released last week, South Sudan is at the very top, ahead of even Somalia.

Yet South Sudan could potentially be a wealthy country. It sits on top of large oil reserves and has valuable minerals, tropical hardwoods and fertile farmland that could theoretically produce enough to feed half of Africa. Prior to the outbreak of violence, the country's oil wells were producing 350,000 barrels per day, a total that has now dropped to 160,000 because of the fighting. The government receives $68 per barrel, resulting in projected revenues of around $4 billion for the current fiscal year. But the money has evaporated. Even prior to 2011, a confidential audit found that billions of South Sudanese petro-dollars were being redirected to bank accounts in Geneva. Following independence, the amount being embezzled quadrupled.

In June 2012, President Salva Kiir sent a letter to 75 leading civil servants demanding that they reimburse the state for stolen oil revenues. "We have forgotten what we once fought for and have begun enriching ourselves at the expense of our people," the autocratic head of state wrote. He and his cabinet often speak publicly of transparency, good governance and the fight against corruption. "Democracy is in our blood," Kiir says. He knows what Western donor nations want to hear.

The Struggle Continues

In recent weeks, the government has busied itself with preparing for South Sudan's third birthday. Huge posters have been erected reading: "The Struggle Continues. Our Mission Isn't Yet Fulfilled." Those displaced by the recent violence, such as John Kom Yak, find the billboards insulting. Together with his family, the 47-year-old fled to Tomping, a camp on the outskirts of Juba that is protected by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS. The peacekeeping mission is soon to be expanded to included 12,500 troops; its mandate was extended by six months at the end of May.

They will have to stay much longer than that, says Yak, a tall Nuer man with decorative scars on his forehead. He is sitting in the shadow of an acacia and playing dominoes with a couple of other men. They stop to show photos on their mobile phone of atrocities committed in their village. "This is what government soldiers did, those damned Dinka," says Yak. Several members of his family were killed in the violence.

Following independence, Yak joined the village police force and earned enough to support his extended family of 11. Now, he has nothing left aside from the clothes he is wearing, his uniform and a few keepsakes. "We feel like prisoners but we have to stay here. If we leave the camp, we will be slaughtered by the Dinka," he says. Tribal identification has become much stronger than patriotism, Yak says. "Nation building was just an illusion."

In Camp Tomping, some 20,000 internally displaced people have found refuge. They live in lean-tos and sleep on damp mattresses; there is only one latrine for every 65 camp residents. When they go to fetch water from the tanker truck, they sink up to their ankles in mud.

Many of the refugees have lost all hope for a stable peace. They also don't think much of the deal signed by President Kiir and rebel leader Machar on June 10. After all, two previous ceasefires, one signed in January and another in May, were broken by both sides within days.

Losing an Enemy

This time, though, neighboring states have threatened sanctions should the most recent deal be ignored. It calls for a joint, provisional government to be formed within 60 days in an effort to prevent complete collapse.

"We will establish peace and prosperity," says David Yau Yau, a member of the Murle ethnic group. Once a student of theology, Yau Yau became one of the country's most notorious warlords fighting their own regional conflicts. After losing an election, he scraped together a group of rebels and began terrorizing the population in the state of Jonglei. "We are partly responsible for all of these events," Yau Yau admits. "But now we want reconciliation." The events he is referring to include raids, rapes, the enslavement of children and ethnic cleansing.

The real roots of the crisis are the systematic discrimination of his region, Yau Yau says. There are no paved roads, no schools and no hospitals, he says. Yau Yau is demanding that his region get a fair share of the oil revenues and wants to administer his county of Pibor himself. He recently traveled to the capital with a 10-member delegation to negotiate the details and was hosted at a dinner given by head-of-state Kiir.

Just a few months ago, such a trip might have ended in death. Indeed, Yau Yau has already survived one assassination attempt. He was an archenemy of the president, with his fighters battling government troops and killing or expelling Dinka and Nuer from the region he controlled. More recently, though, the warlord has become an ally of the president's. Indeed, Kiir has even made Yau Yau a general and wants to integrate his fighters into the regular military. The president's list of adversaries has now become shorter.

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« Reply #14261 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Water supply key to outcome of conflicts in Iraq and Syria, experts warn

Security analysts in London and Baghdad say control of rivers and dams has become a major tactical weapon for Isis

John Vidal   
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 July 2014 14.19 BST   
The outcome of the Iraq and Syrian conflicts may rest on who controls the region’s dwindling water supplies, say security analysts in London and Baghdad.

Rivers, canals, dams, sewage and desalination plants are now all military targets in the semi-arid region that regularly experiences extreme water shortages, says Michael Stephen, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute thinktank in Qatar, speaking from Baghdad.

“Control of water supplies gives strategic control over both cities and countryside. We are seeing a battle for control of water. Water is now the major strategic objective of all groups in Iraq. It’s life or death. If you control water in Iraq you have a grip on Baghdad, and you can cause major problems. Water is essential in this conflict,” he said.

Isis Islamic rebels now control most of the key upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates, the two great rivers that flow from Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south and on which all Iraq and much of Syria depends for food, water and industry.

“Rebel forces are targeting water installations to cut off supplies to the largely Shia south of Iraq,” says Matthew Machowski, a Middle East security researcher at the UK houses of parliament and Queen Mary University of London.

“It is already being used as an instrument of war by all sides. One could claim that controlling water resources in Iraq is even more important than controlling the oil refineries, especially in summer. Control of the water supply is fundamentally important. Cut it off and you create great sanitation and health crises,” he said

Isis now controls the Samarra barrage west of Baghdad on the River Tigris and areas around the giant Mosul Dam, higher up on the same river. Because much of Kurdistan depends on the dam, it is strongly defended by Kurdish peshmerga forces and is unlikely to fall without a fierce fight, says Machowski.

Last week Iraqi troops were rushed to defend the massive 8km-long Haditha Dam and its hydroelectrical works on the Euphrates to stop it falling into the hands of Isis forces. Were the dam to fall, say analysts, Isis would control much of Iraq’s electricity and the rebels might fatally tighten their grip on Baghdad.

Securing the Haditha Dam was one of the first objectives of the American special forces invading Iraq in 2003. The fear was that Saddam Hussein’s forces could turn the structure that supplies 30% of all Iraq’s electricity into a weapon of mass destruction by opening the lock gates that control the flow of the river. Billions of gallons of water could have been released, power to Baghdad would have been cut off, towns and villages over hundreds of square miles flooded and the country would have been paralysed.
Iraqi men move a boat that was stuck on the banks of the Euphrates river in Twairij, roughly 20 kilometres east of Karbala, due to a decline in the water level after supplies were blocked by anti-government fighters who control access to a dam further upstream in conflict-hit Anbar province on April 8, 2014. Iraqi men move a boat that was stuck on the banks of the Euphrates River after supplies were blocked by anti-government fighters who control a dam further upstream.

In April, Isis fighters in Fallujah captured the smaller Nuaimiyah Dam on the Euphrates and deliberately diverted its water to “drown” government forces in the surrounding area. Millions of people in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Babylon and Nasiriyah had their water cut off but the town of Abu Ghraib was catastrophically flooded along with farms and villages over 200 square miles. According to the UN, around 12,000 families lost their homes.

Earlier this year Kurdish forces reportedly diverted water supplies from the Mosul Dam. Equally, Turkey has been accused of reducing flows to the giant Lake Assad, Syria’s largest body of fresh water, to cut off supplies to Aleppo, and Isis forces have reportedly targeted water supplies in the refugee camps set up for internally displaced people.

Iraqis fled from Mosul after Isis cut off power and water and only returned when they were restored, says Machowski. “When they restored water supplies to Mosul, the Sunnis saw it as liberation. Control of water resources in the Mosul area is one reason why people returned,” said Machowski.

Increasing temperatures, one of the longest and most severe droughts in 50 years and the steady drying up of farmland as rainfall diminishes have been identified as factors in the political destabilisation of Syria.

Both Isis forces and President Assad’s army are said to have used water tactics to control the city of Aleppo. The Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates, 60 miles east of the city, was captured by Isis in November 2012.

The use of water as a tactical weapon has been used widely by both Isis and the Syrian government, says Nouar Shamout, a researcher with Chatham House. “Syria’s essential services are on the brink of collapse under the burden of continuous assault on critical water infrastructure. The stranglehold of Isis, neglect by the regime, and an eighth summer of drought may combine to create a water and food crisis which would escalate fatalities and migration rates in the country’s ongoing three-year conflict,” he said.

“The deliberate targeting of water supply networks ... is now a daily occurrence in the conflict. The water pumping station in Al-Khafsah, Aleppo, stopped working on 10 May, cutting off water supply to half of the city. It is unclear who was responsible; both the regime and opposition forces blame each other, but unsurprisingly in a city home to almost three million people the incident caused panic and chaos. Some people even resorted to drinking from puddles in the streets,” he said .

Water will now be the key to who controls Iraq in future, said former US intelligence officer Jennifer Dyer on US television last week. “If Isis has any hope of establishing itself on territory, it has to control some water. In arid Iraq, water and lines of strategic approach are the same thing”.

The Euphrates River, the Middle East’s second longest river, and the Tigris, have historically been at the centre of conflict. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein drained 90% of the vast Mesopotamian marshes that were fed by the two rivers to punish the Shias who rose up against his regime. Since 1975, Turkey’s dam and hydropower constructions on the two rivers have cut water flow to Iraq by 80% and to Syria by 40%. Both Syria and Iraq have accused Turkey of hoarding water and threatening their water supply.

“There has never been an outright war over water but water has played extremely important role in many Middle East conflicts. Control of water supply is crucial”, said Stephen.

It could also be an insurmountable problem should the country split into three, he said. “Water is one of the most dangerous problems in Iraq. If the country was split there would definitely be a war over water. Nobody wants to talk about that,” he said.

Some academics have suggested that Tigris and Euphrates will not reach the sea by 2040 if rainfall continues to decrease at its present rate.

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« Reply #14262 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:38 AM »

Violent clashes as Palestinians demand justice after teenager's body found

Discovery of body, thought to be Mohamed Abu Khdeir, prompts claims he was killed by Jewish extremists in revenge attack

Peter Beaumont in Shuafat, East Jerusalem
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 July 2014 07.30 BST   

Clashes continued late into the night in East Jerusalem after the discovery on Wednesday of a body believed to be that of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who had been abducted hours earlier from an Arab neighbourhood.

The badly burned body, thought to be that of Mohamed Abu Khdeir, was found in an area of forest to the west of the city a day after the funeral of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed three weeks ago. The discovery prompted widespread accusations from Palestinians that he had been murdered by Jewish extremists in a revenge attack.

Most prominent to make that charge was Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who accused extremist Israeli settlers of "killing and burning a little boy" and demanded Israel "hold the killers accountable ... [and] mete out the strongest punishment against the murderers if it truly wants peace".

While the identity and motive of the kidnappers remain unclear, Palestinians were quick to blame "settlers" for the killing - allegations that were not immediately refuted by Israeli political figures.

As news of Khdeir's disappearance spread, hundreds of Palestinian youths fought running battles for hours with Israeli police who fired plastic coated rounds and stun grenades as pillars of smoke billowed from burning tyres.

Israeli police who are investigating the killing say they have not yet formally identified the body, but the missing boy's family said they had recognised their son.

Speaking as youths traded stones with Israeli police firing tear gas rounds outside her house, Khdeir's mother said he was abducted just before 4am on Wednesday morning, as he waited outside the mosque next to his home for pre-dawn Ramadan prayers.

"He's a good boy, not a troublemaker," she told the Guardian. "He would stand next to the shops before going to the mosque to pray and then come back home.

"My nephew told me someone had been kidnapped and I asked where Mohamed was. He said I don't know, so I told him to go to look for him at the mosque. I called for my son, but there was no reply."

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, called on the police to swiftly investigate the "despicable" murder.

A senior Israeli police spokesman confirmed the force had received reports early on Wednesday that an Arab youth had been "forcibly pulled into a vehicle" in Shuafat in East Jerusalem – and that an hour later a burned body was discovered in a separate part of the city.

"We are looking at two possible motives," he said, "a criminal motive or a nationalist one."

The abduction took place just hours after the funeral of three Jewish seminary students – Gilad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19 – who Israel says were abducted and killed by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

The ceremony was attended by tens of thousands of mourners and came amid a clamour of calls for retribution. After the funeral, extremist Israeli youths rampaged through Jerusalem chanting "death to Arabs" and assaulting passers by. Around 50 far-right Israeli youths were arrested.

The Obama administration condemned the death of the Palestinian as a "heinous murder" and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. In a series of posts on Twitter, national security adviser Susan Rice said on Wednesday the US was paying close attention to the investigation into the death while Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing sickening and said: "There are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people."

In a statement, Kerry said: "At this tense and dangerous moment, all parties must do everything … to protect the innocent."

The killings of the teenagers have ratcheted up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and prompted a wave of racial incitement on social media. A Hebrew Facebook page – We are Israel and We Demand Revenge – attracted 35,000 "likes" before it was removed from the social media site on Wednesday night. The page included pictures of Israeli soldiers and police officers, posing with guns and signs and calling for "revenge".

Two young women posted a selfie holding a sign saying: "Hating Arabs is not racism, it's values."

The Israeli Defence Forces condemned the involvement of its soldiers. "The IDF views the statements and photographs circulating on social media and attributed to soldiers as unacceptable, a breach of the IDF moral standards, code of ethics and a breach of rules and regulations," a spokesperson said. "Any soldier found to have expressed these abhorrent sentiments online, will be disciplined. Officers have been instructed to do all in their power to prevent activities of this type."

Khdeir's family said he would often sit outside his home drinking water before going to the mosque. Witnesses said he was approached by a car with three passengers that made several passes down the street before stopping. After speaking to him for a moment, the occupants bundled him into the vehicle and drove off.

Relatives showed the Guardian shaky CCTV footage which they said showed the teenager talking to the men who abducted him in front of his uncle's shop around 4am on Wednesday morning. Locals said Israeli police had later taken the originals of the footage.

"They destroyed Hebron looking for the three Israeli boys," his mother said, referring to the massive manhunt for the murdered Israeli teenagers. "Now they must demolish Israeli houses in the same way they've destroyed our houses.

"Are we not human like them? I want to get even with them the same way they got even with us."

The killing was condemned by a member of the family of Naftali Frenkel. Yisahi Frenkel told the Ynet website: "If the Arab youth was murdered because of nationalistic motives then this is a horrible and horrendous act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no forgiveness or justification for any murder."

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« Reply #14263 on: Jul 03, 2014, 07:18 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

NSA reformers dismayed after privacy board vindicates surveillance dragnet

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board endorses agency's so-called '702' powers, plus backdoor searches of Americans' information

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Wednesday 2 July 2014 19.47 BST   
Civil libertarians saw their hopes for curtailing the National Security Agency's massive digital surveillance program dimmed in the wake of a report from a US government privacy board vindicating much of the international communications dragnet.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) voted Wednesday to adopt a 200-page report on the NSA's so-called "702" powers, which include the widespread collection of foreign email, voice and text messages and Americans' international calls.

While PCLOB chairman David Medine said those efforts walked "right up to the line of constitutionality," the report largely vindicated the controversial surveillance, the scope of which was disclosed through reporting on documents provided by Edward Snowden, as both effective and legal.

Elisebeth Collins Cook, one of five board members and a Justice Department official in the Bush administration, hailed the digital surveillance as "legal, valuable and subject to intense oversight," and characterized the PCLOB's recommendations as "relatively slight changes at the margins of the program."

In ways both bold and subtle, the long-awaited report blessed the NSA's large-scale collection of digital data, even as it found elements of it problematic.

The PCLOB denied that the 702 siphoning is bulk collection, even though it annually provides the NSA with "hundreds of millions" of different sorts of communications -- blessing an NSA definition that considers only indiscriminate collection, untethered to surveillance targets, to be bulk.

"It's a big program, but it is a targeted program," Medine said after the sparsely-attended Wednesday hearing, which was held in the basement of a Marriott between Congress and the White House.

Civil libertarians castigated the PCLOB over what they consider a counterintuitive definition.

"They say if we're collecting everything from Egypt that's not bulk, everything from [area code] 202 that's not bulk, everything from that's not bulk, and that's just bullshit," said Jennifer Granick of the Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

Dealing another blow to privacy advocates, the board endorsed the NSA, CIA and FBI's warrantless, so-called "backdoor" searches for information from Americans, just weeks after the House of Representatives voted to ban them. While Medine and another board member, former federal judge Patricia Wald, wanted to add greater legal protections, the board advocated restricting the FBI's warrantless searches and urged NSA and CIA analysts to certify that their queries are "reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information."

"We have seen no evidence of a backdoor, so our recommendations are designed to make sure one is not built," Cook said.

Perhaps most controversially, the PCLOB gave a qualified endorsement to the NSA's practice of siphoning directly from the Internet information that merely references a surveillance target even if the correspondence is neither from nor sent to that target, a practice known as "about" collection.

The PCLOB acknowledged that "about" collection would mean the inevitable collection of purely domestic communications that the NSA is expressly not permitted to acquire, a circumstance intelligence officials called technologically unavoidable after they were compelled to disclose significant overcollection last summer. It urged the NSA to "continually" revisit technological feasibility and the scope of its targeting in order to minimize the intrusion into US privacy. It was far less concerned about non-US privacy considerations.

"About" collection played at most a background role in what now appears to be an epochal 2007-8 debate in Congress to bless what had previously been a surveillance program almost entirely operated by executive prerogative. The PCLOB nevertheless found that the resulting law, the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act, and its critical Section 702 provision, authorized such collection, something Medine said was a "permissible" interpretation by NSA.

All that amounted to a bitter pill for privacy advocates to swallow, particularly coming from a government body that in January had condemned the NSA's bulk surveillance of US phone data.

The PCLOB may have interrupted recent momentum in Congress towards preventing the US government from conducting backdoor searches.

Stanford's Granick held out hope that the PCLOB's assessment would inadvertently bolster the chances for a backdoor-search ban in Congress. The report's perceived moderation could aid legislators in curbing the searches on the argument that they would restore public confidence in US surveillance.

"But for the longer term goal of reining in warrantless, massive collection of communications and for getting countries to protect their communications of all people and not just their own citizens, this doesn't help us at all," Granick said.

The American Library Association similarly declared the PCLOB report a "serious disappointment" and said it should be "an absolute floor for 702 reform and a spur to immediate and broad legislative expansion."

Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, who testified to the PCLOB in March, called the report "weak."

"It fails to fully grasp the significance of allowing the government to conduct surveillance on this massive scale, of allowing it to store millions of Americans' communications in government databases, and of allowing it to search those databases without any of the safeguards the Constitution has historically been held to require," Jaffer said in a Wednesday statement.

The Center for Constitutional Rights called the PCLOB's treatment of the constitutional implications at stake "disappointingly superficial."

"The board includes no mention whatsoever of free speech, due process, and right to counsel when analyzing the legality of the NSA’s collection of the content of communications between U.S. residents and persons of interest abroad," it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the leader of the US intelligence community acknowledged his victory.

"In this important report, the PCLOB confirms that Section 702 has shown its value in preventing acts of terrorism at home and abroad, and pursuing other foreign intelligence goals," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a Wednesday statement, adding that he would take the board's privacy concerns "very seriously."

The PCLOB is not done reviewing the NSA's surveillance authorities and their implementation.

When the board next meets, on July 23, it will consider launching a new inquiry into one of the seminal texts behind US intelligence authorities, an executive order known as 12333. The NSA relies upon that obscure document for, among other things, its surreptitious collection of unencrypted information transiting from Google and Yahoo data centers. After the hearing adjourned Wednesday, Medine, Cook and Wald all indicated their appetite for reviewing 12333.


Review Report: NSA Surveillance Helped Smash Terror Plots

by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 07:03

The U.S. National Security Agency's electronic snooping led to "well over 100 arrests" and helped smash numerous terrorist plots, a privacy review panel said Wednesday.

The figures in a 196-page report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) offer new details on the NSA's claims that its oft-criticized data sweep programs had helped avert terrorist attacks on the U.S. and its allies.

The report largely endorsed the electronic surveillance under a law known as Section 702.

"A rough count of these cases identifies well over 100 arrests on terrorism-related offenses," the report said.

"In other cases that did not lead to disruption of a plot or apprehension of conspirators, Section 702 appears to have been used to provide warnings about a continuing threat or to assist in investigations that remain ongoing."

The report said around 15 cases involved some connection to the United States, and some 40 cases involved operatives and plots in foreign countries.

PCLOB said the NSA's claims were largely in line with its own conclusions.

The report was in sharp contrast to the same panel's rebuke of domestic surveillance efforts earlier this year.

But civil liberties and privacy activists said the panel failed to consider the ramifications of the NSA's broad data collection in light of revelations from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The panel examined the program dubbed PRISM which collects data from major Internet companies and other sources.


US to boost security at overseas airports over al Qaeda ‘stealth’ bomb concerns in Syria, Yemen

By Reuters
Thursday, July 3, 2014 6:32 EDT

The United States said on Wednesday it would increase security at overseas airports with nonstop flights to the country, and U.S. officials cited concerns al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen were developing bombs that could be smuggled onto planes.

The new security measures would be required at airports in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that have direct flights, the U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The Department of Homeland Security said “enhanced security measures” would be implemented in the next few days at “certain overseas airports with direct flights into the United States.”

It did not specify which airports or what countries would be affected, nor did it say what triggered the extra precautions.

“We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said he directed the Transportation Security Administration to implement the measures in the coming days. The move comes during the summer travel season and days before the July 4 holiday.

A U.S. official told Reuters some of the new measures would involve additional inspections of passengers’ shoes and property.

The official said Washington had legal authority to enforce new security requirements on foreign governments or airports because the flights go directly to the United States.

Asked about the enhanced security steps in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday night, Johnson said: “We continually evaluate the world situation and we not infrequently make changes to aviation security. We either step it up or we feel sometimes we’re in a position to dial it back.

“So this is something that happens periodically and people should not overreact to it or overspeculate about what’s going on,” he said.

Adding there is “a terrorist threat to this country that remains,” Johnson said: “We continually evaluate the world situation and if we think that there are improvements that we can and should make without unnecessarily disrupting the traveling public, we’ll do that.”

Earlier, law enforcement and security officials told Reuters the United States and European authorities were discussing measures that could include installation of additional bomb-detection machines.

Bombmakers from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are believed to be working together to try to develop explosives that could avoid detection by current airport screening systems, U.S. national security sources said.

The main concern is that militant groups could try to blow up U.S.- or Europe-bound planes by concealing bombs on foreign fighters carrying Western passports who spent time with Islamist rebel factions in the region, the sources said.

‘Stealth explosives’

AQAP has a track record of plotting such attacks. It was behind a 2009 attempt by a militant with a bomb hidden in his underwear to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.

There was no immediate indication U.S. intelligence had detected a specific plot or time frame for carrying out an attack. U.S. officials believe Nusra and AQAP operatives have carried out operational testing of new bomb designs in Syria, where Nusra is one of the main Islamist groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, a national security source said.

The “stealth” explosives the bombmakers are trying to design include non-metallic bombs, ABC News reported.

But officials are especially worried that the recent battlefield successes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, an al Qaeda splinter group, have drawn a growing number of militants from America and Europe to the jihadist cause and they would have easy access to flights headed for American cities.


Accused Benghazi ringleader denounced U.S. presence in Libya

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 11:18 EDT

The Libyan held as the suspected ringleader of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was driven by extremist anti-Western ideology, the Washington Post reported late Tuesday.

US prosecutors said in court documents filed late Tuesday that after the attacks in 2012 Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the only detainee in the case, and other armed men overran and looted the compound, then returned to a base to prepare an attack on a CIA annex nearby.

The attack killed US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

It also led to a protracted political dispute in Washington. Republicans accused the administration of President Barack Obama of staging a politically motivated coverup by initially stating the attack stemmed from a spontaneous anti-US rally outside the compound, rather than a pre-meditated assault.

The administration eventually conceded it viewed the attack as an act of terrorism.

Abu Khatallah’s motivation to attack the US facilities sprang from extremist anti-Western views, US official argue. “In the days before the attack, the defendant voiced concern and opposition to the presence of an American facility in Benghazi,” prosecutors stated in the new court papers, the Post said.

And many of his associates in a militia called Ansar al-Sharia have been identified as being among a group of 20 or more armed men who massed outside the US mission on Sept. 11, 2012, breached the gate, entered the facility and set fire to the property, the motion states, according to the Post.

Abu Khatallah was seized by US special forces in Benghazi on June 15 this year, and charged two weeks later with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists. He has pleaded not guilty.

He was to appear Wednesday in US District Court in Washington for a detention hearing.

According to the Post, US officials say the single-charge indictment will be superseded later by one with additional charges including ones that carry the death penalty.

Evidence in the US case against Abu Khatallah includes “photographs and video from the attacks, testimony from witnesses, and evidence of the attacks’ planners boasting of their involvement,” the Post said, quoting a US official who has reviewed the case.


Benghazi Attack Suspect Ordered Held Until Trial

JULY 2, 2014

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Libyan militia leader charged in connection with the 2012 killing of the American ambassador and three others in Benghazi must remain in government custody and be held without bond.

In her ruling, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson sided with the Justice Department, which argued that the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, should be held until he faced trial because he continued to pose a threat.

The Justice Department contends that he has extremist views and has plotted attacks against the United States and Western interests in recent months.

A lawyer for Mr. Abu Khattala, Michelle Peterson, did not contest the detention. But Ms. Peterson used the hearing as a forum to attack the government’s case, contending that it had not been able to back up the claims it had made in court about Mr. Abu Khattala’s involvement in the attacks.

Given “the utter lack of evidence,” Ms. Peterson said, “it’s incredibly difficult to defend Mr. Khattala.” There was “no suggestion” in the information released by the government that he was involved in the attacks, she said.

A federal prosecutor, Michael DiLorenzo, said the government had given “critical” video clips to Ms. Peterson on Wednesday morning.

Ms. Peterson also took on the government’s contention that Mr. Abu Khattala posed a threat to the United States because he had a loaded gun on him at the time he was apprehended by American commandos in Libya a little more than two weeks ago.

The place where Mr. Abu Khattala lived in eastern Libya, Ms. Peterson said, is dangerous, and it is “not unusual to be armed” there.

Mr. Abu Khattala spent a decade fighting the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and led a group that opposed him — a cause the United States had supported, she said.

In documents filed on Tuesday and in statements in court on Wednesday, the Justice Department laid out several reasons Mr. Abu Khattala should be detained.

Prosecutors described Mr. Abu Khattala as “a commander in an extremist militia group who is fully committed to causing death and destruction to American personnel and property.” They said that if he were set free, he would be motivated to flee because he has few ties to people in the United States.

Mr. Abu Khattala, they said, has “extensive contacts with senior-level members of extremist groups throughout Libya” and “could communicate and further conspire with many of those extremist individuals.” If set free, the filing said, Mr. Abu Khattala could “continue to communicate his plans for additional deadly attacks to other extremists and encourage them to carry out those plans.”

“Given the defendant’s proclivity for violence,” prosecutors argued, “as well as his ability to readily communicate with other similar-minded individuals, as demonstrated by his status as a commander of an extremist brigade, his detention is the only means available to neutralize that threat.”

Mr. Abu Khattala was snatched by American commandos in a raid outside Benghazi and taken to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

On Saturday, he was brought to Washington from the ship. He was arraigned that same day and pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists that resulted in a death.

In the filing, the government said that since his capture, Mr. Abu Khattala had provided American interrogators with “voluntary statements” that corroborated key facts about the attacks. The filing did not say what those facts were. But according to American officials, he has discussed what occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, the day of the attacks, although he has not incriminated himself in the killing of the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and the three others.


U.S. troops in Baghdad to fly Apache helicopters and drones

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 11:36 EDT

The nearly 500 American troops sent to Baghdad to bolster security for the US embassy are equipped with Apache attack helicopters and small unarmed surveillance drones, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama on Monday ordered 200 additional troops to the Iraqi capital to ensure the safety of American diplomats and other personnel working in the city, as Baghdad government forces face a challenge from advancing Sunni extremists.

The reinforcements will include troops to fly and maintain Apache attack helicopters and unarmed surveillance drones, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.

The drones were not Reapers or Predators but smaller Shadow robotic aircraft that are launched from a catapult, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The Shadow aircraft, which have been heavily used by US forces previously in Iraq and in Afghanistan, are about 14 feet (4 meters) long and can fly at an altitude of 8,000 feet (2,400 meters).

The US security contingent will concentrate on safeguarding access to the Baghdad airport as well as the embassy, the official said.

Kirby told reporters that the additional troops would “help provide extra security for our facilities, our people, our property, and to also allow — to help allow the State Department and the embassy to continue to function as it is.”

The embassy remains “open,” he added.

The deployment brought the number of US troops in Iraq devoted to security to about 475. In addition, Obama has approved sending up to 300 military advisers, and 180 of the advisers are already on the ground studying the state of the Iraqi army, Kirby said.

He would not say whether the US move was based on an assessment that Baghdad was under a heightened threat.

The situation “continues to be very dangerous” and “the threat continues to be very real,” Kirby said.

“But we have seen Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad begin to reinforce themselves and prepare to defend, and they are taking the offensive,” he said.

“And we saw this over the weekend up near Tikrit,” said Kirby, referring to a counter-offensive by Baghdad government forces.


‘Hypocrisy at its finest’: CNN calls out Hobby Lobby for investing in birth control

By David Edwards
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 14:08 EDT

CNN host Ashleigh Banfield on Wednesday highlighted the “hypocrisy” of Hobby Lobby for investing in companies that made the same birth control products that it refused to provide to female employees.

Earlier this year, Mother Jones revealed that Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan had more than $73 million invested in companies that produced emergency contraception pills. It was that same type of birth control that Hobby Lobby said it had an objection to when it took its case against President Barack Obama’s health care reform law to the Supreme Court and won.

“The critics are calling Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) investments hypocrisy at its finest,” Banfield emphasized on Wednesday, adding that CNN had not gotten an explanation from the company after giving it “plenty of time” to respond.

“I don’t even know where to begin on this one,” the CNN host remarked. “I kept thinking to myself, this had to be an accident. But then I thought, it’s no accident when you are in the middle of the biggest political storm — all the way to the Supreme Court — and, yet, your guys aren’t aware of what your investments are in your very, very large 401(k)?”

CNN Business Correspondent Alison Kosik said that it was possible that Hobby Lobby’s investments in contraception makers could have initially been an oversight, but she noted that the company could ask its mutual fund manager to forbid investments in certain companies.

“It would mean that Hobby Lobby employees would most likely have higher fees,” Kosik pointed out. “But if you ask me, my thought is, if they’re that fervent about upholding their biblical principles, maybe that should include their investments to.”

“That’s putting their money where their mouth is,” she concluded.

Click to watch this report:


NJ Gov. Chris Christie vetoes gun legislation aimed at cutting mass shootings

By Reuters
Thursday, July 3, 2014 6:26 EDT

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Wednesday vetoed a bill approved by the state legislature that would have reduced the legal size of ammunition magazines from 15 to 10 bullets, saying it would do nothing to end mass shootings.

Christie, in sending the measure back to legislators, instead proposed new rules boosting access to mental health services and allowing the mentally ill to be involuntarily committed if they were at risk of rapid deterioration.

“It simply defies common sense to believe that imposing a new and entirely arbitrary number of bullets that can be lawfully loaded into a firearm will somehow eradicate, or even reduce, future instances of mass violence,” Christie said in his message to legislators.

“Nor is it sufficient to claim that a 10-round capacity might spare an 11th victim,” Christie said

Gun control advocates blasted the veto and accused the governor of allowing his presidential ambitions to guide his decision making.

The governor is considered a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016.

“At the end of the day it was a cowardly decision that lacks leadership,” Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a Democrat and the lead sponsor of the legislation, said in a written statement. “In fact, this is political expediency at its worst, considering the governor is headed out to campaign in Iowa in a few weeks.”

He noted that the veto came soon after families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting rampage came to the state capitol in Trenton and presented thousands of signatures in a petition to support the gun control measure.


Racist Murrieta Residents Terrorize Bus Full Of Immigrant Kids


In Riverside County, a crowd forces busloads of immigration detainees, mostly children, to turn around
Police in Riverside County can't keep protesters from blocking buses carrying immigration detainees
Mayor urged protest over federal immigration detainee decision; crowd in Murrieta responds by blocking buses

A crowd of 200 to 300 people in downtown Murrieta surrounded three buses carrying immigrant detainees Tuesday afternoon, causing the buses to turn around before they reached a Border Patrol station in the Riverside County city.

Waving Americans flags and protest signs, the crowd refused to give way when the buses arrived with some 140 detainees from Texas, which has seen a flood of Central American immigrants cross the border in recent weeks without legal permission.

The face-off came one day after Mayor Alan Long urged residents to protest the federal government’s decision to move the recent immigrants who had arrived in the country illegally -- and have overwhelmed Texas border facilities -- to the Border Patrol station here.

“Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities,” Long said Monday at a news conference. The city had defeated two previous attempts to send migrants to the facility, he said.

Unable to drop off their passengers safely in Murrieta, buses instead headed for a Border Patrol facility in San Diego County, arriving late Tuesday afternoon.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials met with city officials in Murrieta and Temecula before the protests, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the agency, adding that ICE is aware of concerns in the region.

“We’re sensitive to those issues and we’re seeking to address them,” she said.

An initial 140 migrants had been expected to arrive in Murrieta on Tuesday afternoon, Long said, followed by  arrivals every 72 hours for several weeks. The detainees are primarily children accompanied by mothers or fathers. They were to be processed at the Murrieta facility before being placed under the supervision of ICE agents who would ensure that they were united with family throughout the country, Long said.

This year, Border Patrol agents across the Southwest have detained more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors, with a particular concentration along the Rio Grande border in Texas, according to federal records.

Because of this influx, officials are sending migrants to Border Patrol facilities in less heavily trafficked areas, such as Southern California, for processing and supervised release by ICE agents.

By sending migrants to the Murrieta facility, the federal government is not properly enforcing immigration laws that require immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants, Long said.

But, according to the mayor, public safety officials were fully prepared for the arrival and have established an information hotline that residents can use for updates on the transfer.

“I can say, without equivocation, Murrieta will remain safe,” Long said.

Murrieta is one of several cities whose facilities will receive migrants as the government seeks to lessen the burden on the Texas border. Migrants will also be sent to a border patrol facility in El Centro, in neighboring Imperial County, as well as a center in New Mexico, which has also caused lawmakers there to protest.

In his comments Monday, Long emphasized the temporary nature of the new arrivals.

“There is not, and never has been, any intention to release these immigrants locally out the front door of the Border Patrol office,” he said.

Protester Roger Cotton, 49, drove up from San Diego to wave a flag outside the Murrieta Border Patrol Station.

"I wanted to say that I as an American citizen do not approve of this human disaster that the government has created," Cotton said. He said he believes the migrants who were supposed to be dropped off at the station would be a burden on an already strained system.

"Who’s going to pay for them?" he asked. "What kind of criminality will happen?"

Cotton, who works as a 3D animator, said he blames Democrats for not doing more to secure the border.

"The Democrats are making it easy for them to come here so they can produce more Democratic voters," he said.

Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities. - Murrieta Mayor Alan Long

Cotton arrived shortly after the bus was blocked and turned around. He said he decided to come to Murrieta on his own accord and was surprised to find other protesters there.

He stood with a group of them on the side of the road, chanting "USA" and sparring with a group of counter-protesters who had come to support the immigrants.

Lupillo Rivera, 42, was one of them.

A well-known Mexican banda singer who came to the United States at age 4, Rivera said he was driving by when he happened upon the protest at the Border Patrol station. He said somebody shouted that he was an illegal immigrant and should go home. Rivera, who is a U.S. citizen, went home and returned with several of his friends and bandmates to confront the protesters.

"Our people cook your food," he shouted at them. "We didn't ask for them to come here," one protester shot back.

Rivera, brother of the late Mexican singer Jenni Rivera, said anybody who would turn away a busload of children was "not human."

"It doesn’t matter where a child is from," he said. "He deserves respect and help because he’s a child.

"How can a 5-year-old defend himself?" asked Rivera, who lives in Temecula. "I don’t think we should push a child out of our country."

As light faded over Murrieta, protesters continued their verbal sparring.

Protesters supporting immigrant rights waved Mexican flags and shouted slogans, while across the street, a smaller group of protesters opposed to the immigrants’ arrival waved American flags. Murrieta police patrolled Madison Avenue, which was closed to any further vehicle traffic.

At an evening City Council meeting, officials praised protesters for the lack of violence but assailed the federal government for what they say was a pattern of poor communication and inaction.

“We need to fix this permanently,” said Long, who had issued a call Monday for citizens to contact their elected officials to protest the move. “Today was a Band-Aid. The only people with the power to fix this are in the federal government.”

Other city officials expressed concern over how Murrieta, with a population of just more than 100,000, would house several groups of immigrants during processing.

City Councilman Rick Gibbs, who toured the Border Patrol facility where the immigrants were to be held, had reservations about the space. “This is a jailhouse,” he said. “This is not a hotel. It is a spartan facility.”

Gibbs also doubted whether all the detainees would comply with the government requirement that they report back to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office within 15 days of their initial release.

“We're going to dump a bunch of people at a bus station, hope they get somewhere in the United States of America, and somehow in 15 days, they are going to respond and come back?” he said. “Everybody knows that 95% of them are never going to return.”

Councilman Harry Ramos agreed.

“You would get fined if you dumped off a dog in the street here in Murrieta, but that's what they are doing to people here,” he said.


Darrell Issa Tells Obama To Forget About Immigration Reform And Deport DREAMers

By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, July, 2nd, 2014, 6:45 pm      

On Wednesday, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), released a letter to the press that he had sent to the White House earlier in the day. The letter, signed by 32 other House republicans, essentially demanded that President Obama proceed with deporting all of the DREAMers. (DREAMers are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.) The letter also requested that President Obama forget about comprehensive immigration reform being passed, especially if it includes a pathway to citizenship.

Below is an excerpt from the letter. The entire letter can be read here.

    Firstly, we call on you to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created, without congressional support, by your Administration in June, 2012. While the current program only applies to arrivals prior to 2007, the very existence of the program contradicts present law and violates the Constitutional principle of a separation of powers which grants primary law making authority to the Congress. The Executive does not get to pick and choose which laws must be enforced and which can be selectively ignored. Further, DACA rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits. The DACA program must be immediately ended to send a clear signal to all individuals that our immigration laws will be enforced.

    Secondly, you must make an explicit public commitment that you will not support legislation that extends legal status to newly arriving illegal aliens no matter the age. Secretary Johnson’s statement that S. 744, the Senate’s immigration proposal, would not confer benefits to the newly arriving UACs is insufficient to mitigate the popular belief that a pathway to citizenship will be available to any individual in the United States. We request that you remove from consideration any preferential treatment for individuals who have recently illegally crossed our borders.

Obviously, Issa and Co. are trying to make political hay for the Republican Party over the recent crisis involving the influx of young immigrants coming in from Central America and being detained at the border. On July 1st, newscasts across the country showed protesters in Murrieta, CA, spurred on by Mayor Alan Long, blocking buses that were transporting some of these detainees to a processing center in Murrieta. The anger displayed by the protesters was palpable and the scene was replayed on cable news over and over. Therefore, Republicans feel like they have a way to energize their ‘angry white guy’ base by pushing hard against comprehensive immigration reform.

Besides tapping into the anger showed by the extremists regarding immigration, Issa is also using this letter to help back Speaker of the House John Boehner’s play. Boehner announced last week that House Republicans plan to sue President Obama over his use of executive orders. Issa’s letter refers to Obama circumventing Congress numerous times. It seems apparent that Issa and other House Republicans want to show Boehner that they are fully on board with his plan to sue the White House. It also seems like another step for the GOP to finally get what they’ve long dreamed about — impeachment.

In the end, this is all bluster and no bite. The President is going to blow this letter off and not think twice. It is merely an effort by Issa to get his name into this discussion, as the other ‘scandals’ he’s been ‘investigating’ (IRS, Benghazi, etc.) have turned up nothing. Issa is just chasing his white whale. And it keeps eluding him.


All The Single Ladies: Female Voting Power and The Looming Extinction of The GOP

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, July, 2nd, 2014, 1:28 pm   

Democrats are wooing single women — a rising power of a voting bloc, while Republicans spit in their face.

While Republicans at Fox insult single women by calling them “Beyoncé voters” who depend on the government, Democrats embrace them. Specifically all the single ladies out there — a growing and powerful new voting bloc, who tend to vote for Democrats. They’re even calling their new get out the vote push ROSIE, as in Rosie the Riveter, Re-engaging our Sisters in Elections. (Yes, Beyoncé has paid homage to Rosie.)

DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward explained ROSIE to NPR’s Mara Liasson in May, “We can identify a voter by their marital status and then match that to a turnout model that helps us identify those unmarried women who when they vote they will vote for Democrats, but are not likely to vote this cycle. We want to go after those voters and start a conversation with them about how this election has a stake in their lives and why they should care about it.” And now, post Hobby Lobby, Democrats have quite the calling card.

Jackie Calmes broke down the numbers in the New York Times Wednesday morning:

    Half of all adult women over the age of 18 are unmarried — 56 million, up from 45 million in 2000 — and now account for one in four people of voting age. (Adult Hispanics eligible to vote, a group that gets more attention, number 25 million this year.) Single women have become Democrats’ most reliable supporters, behind African-Americans: In 2012, two-thirds of single women who voted supported President Obama. Among married women, a slim majority supported Mitt Romney.

She points out that the Democratic party isn’t asleep at the wheel. They’re wide awake and they’re wooing these voters:

    Democrats and allied groups say they are wooing single women — young and old, highly educated and working class, never married and divorced or widowed — with unmatched ardor. They have seized on this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to add to their arguments that the Democrats, not the Republicans, represent the interests of women.

Democrats will be using the historical Republican assault on women’s rights (the legislation pushed by Republicans since the 2010 midterms is enough to make thinking people despair for their country) to motivate women to the polls.

This growing and powerful voting bloc is why I wrote that the Supreme Court (and the GOP) would be sorry about Monday’s Hobby Lobby decision. Just to seal the deal, the Court even took Republicans’ one talking point away from them, by clarifying that they did indeed intend their ruling to be taken broadly. That translates to all forms of birth control that an employer can decide they don’t want to offer women in their healthcare insurance, because they have feelings about women using contraception. These feelings rarely seem to translate into any sense at all, leaving these folks making an argument against all contraception just so that they can get Obama. They call this position anti-abortion (aka, in their inaccurate parlance, “pro-life”), but of course it’s the opposite, since contraception is the single best way to reduce abortions.

As recent elections have shown, this bloc doesn’t turn out for midterms but they make a difference in presidential elections. However, they made a huge difference in Virginia after the Republican Party turned off even Republican women by running what was then seen as an extremist — but is now the norm — misogynistic, woman-hater candidate who thinks he knows a lot more about a woman’s body than he does.

But the Supreme Court just gave Democrats a way to mobilize this voting bloc that doesn’t usually turn out in midterm elections. The court handed it to Democrats on a silver platter. The conservatives on the court might be activists, but they aren’t the brightest activists going. Maybe they’re being instructed by Karl Rove, and we all know thug is out.

Since single women are on the rise, Republicans have gone out of their way to demonstrate their contempt for single women. Instead of trying to woo single women, Republicans choose to try to control them via shame, as if they have no idea what decade it is.

Women hold tremendous power in their hands; they can force their needs and the needs of their children to be heard – but first, they have to vote. In every election.

Five men who couldn’t find their way around a female body or science or medicine to save themselves — obviously, or they would know that contraception is often used for medical purposes — just made a decision to spit in the face of all women who have ever used contraception. They shouldn’t have the power to make decisions about issues they clearly do not understand. A Democratic Congress could pass new legislation to protect women from the conservative SCOTUS.

Republicans have gone out of their way to shame women for needing contraception; their newest talking point is that birth control is only nine dollars, so get off your lazy slut butts and pay for it yourselves. (Republican civility is at a low point, or what one hopes is their low point.) It’s as if they want a teeny, tiny tent.

In the meantime, the Democratic Party is putting a ring on it.

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« Reply #14264 on: Jul 04, 2014, 05:15 AM »

Recovery in some eurozone crisis economies speeds ahead

Ireland, Spain and Italy perform best in Markit's June survey combining activity in manufacturing and services

Angela Monaghan   
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 19.03 BST   

Recovery in some of the eurozone's worst hit crisis economies is speeding ahead, according to the latest snapshot of the private sector in the single currency bloc.

Ireland, Spain and Italy were the best performing member states in Markit's June purchasing managers index survey combining activity in the manufacturing and services sector.

Italy's services sector benefited from the sharpest rise in new orders since July 2007.

But a poor performance from France, where private sector activity shrank in June, dragged the overall growth reading in the eurozone down to 52.8 from 53.5 in May – where anything above 50 signals expansion.

"Italy is catching up with Spain and Ireland, which have been among the top performers in the eurozone for some time," said Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg. "The performance of the reform countries contrasts favourably with reform laggard France."

Meanwhile the European Central Bank left interest rates on hold at its June policy meeting. President Mario Draghi made the surprise announcement that from January 2015 the central bank will reduce the frequency of meetings from once a month to every six weeks. It will also start to publish the minutes of its meetings.

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