07/04/2014 11:39 AM
Yearning for Change: Italian Diplomacy Just Got Younger
By Walter Mayr
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised change for his country. His new foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, embodies the desire to shake things up. Just 41 years old, she lacks extensive experience, but is full of confidence.
"Let's go to the bar," the foreign minister suggests. It is shortly after 10 p.m. and Federica Mogherini, with her long blond hair and a discreet pearl necklace, strides purposefully ahead, choosing a table at the front-left. A waiter rushes over.
What would she like? "Nothing," the minister says pleasantly. Apologetically, she explains she prefers being "sober."
A married mother of two, Mogherini has been at the pinnacle of Italian diplomacy since February. Last week, her name was even thrown into the mix as a possible successor to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
At 41, Mogherini is two years older than Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, but of all her predecessors in the Foreign Ministry in Rome, only Mussolini's son-in-law Count Galeazzo Ciano was younger at the beginning of his term.
On this evening in Vienna, however, following a meeting of EU foreign ministers, she denies that her relative youth could be construed as a potential shortcoming. "You can't demand generational change on the one hand and expect 40 years of experience on the other," she says.
Young, feminine and focused on issues: Mogherini embodies much of what the restless reformer Renzi values as he tries to awaken Italian politics from its torpor. In the European Parliament elections in May, voters thanked Renzi by handing him a 40.8 percent result, apparently the reward for a government that is focused on change. Among Social Democrats in the EU Parliament, the Italians now represent the largest faction.
The generational gulf between the former bunga bunga premier Berlusconi and Renzi is striking. But so too is the contrast between Foreign Minister Mogherini and those who came before her, particularly her divergence with Emma Bonino, the 65-year-old who held the office until February. The human rights activist and chain-smoking ex-European commissioner was considered to be indispensable because of her experience -- at least in the eyes of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
Following the Path
But Renzi didn't agree, as Bonino was informed shortly before the new government's swearing in. It was a bold move, but it served as further proof that the new premier was serious about following the path he had laid out for himself.
Since February, Mogherini has been doing what she can to prove that Renzi didn't risk too much by choosing her over Bonino and to counter accusations that she lacks sufficient experience. "Green? For a woman of my age, that's a compliment," she says. No matter how much attention Renzi calls to the fact that his cabinet is 50 percent female, Mogherini does not see herself as a token woman.
The minister, who among other things first decided to clear her office of dark works of art left over from the Bonino era, is an optimist -- a characteristic which will serve her well with Italy having taken over the rotating EU presidency on July 1. Rome's voice is more important than ever in several crucial issues currently facing the EU: the Europe-wide support received by EU-critical parties; the ongoing refugee tragedy in the Mediterranean; and bloodshed in the Middle East.
That Renzi's Italy, together with other countries governed by the center-left, wants to have a greater voice internationally is clear. At a recent lunch on the Lido, just off Venice, where the Council for the United States and Italy was meeting, Mogherini said that Rome would like to take on a greater role as a mediator between "Russia and Ukraine, between Saudi Arabia and Iran." It is a plan that leads Richard Burt, the former senior US diplomat dining next to Mogherini, to smile derisively. The Iranians, Burt says, want neither Italian nor Chinese mediators. "They only want to talk with Washington."
Italy's new foreign minister has for years maintained contacts with US Democrats. In 2008, she could still be seen in Rome wearing an Obama T-shirt. Not everyone in Italy is enthusiastic about the fact that she has now risen to a position where she can preach Obama's message of peaceful discourse in a violent world. In a Corriere della Sera editorial, Mogherini was recently accused of wide-eyed "Obamaism" and "weak diplomacy."
'A Lot to Learn'
But Mogherini is nothing if not steadfast. In Washington recently, she emphasized "how strong …, how good, how excellent" ties with the US are. The Obama camp was likewise pleased to hear the Italian minister say: "We take the same line as the United States: the austerity policies need to be accompanied by greater flexibility to stimulate growth." Talking in smaller groups, she even mentions an "American" stamped cultural mission undertaken by the Renzi government.
One cannot accuse Mogherini of a lack of vigor. Immediately after taking office, she tweeted: "Spoke in these hours with Ashton, @JohnKerry, Lavrov, @LaurentFabius and @EVenizelos about #Ukraine, #Libya, #Syria, #Afghanistan." However, the photo she once posted to her blog showing her together with the erstwhile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has long since disappeared. As has the reprimand of Matteo Renzi -- who was mayor of Florence at the time -- that she tweeted in 2012 saying that he "still has a lot to learn when it comes to foreign policy."
The daughter of a director and born in Rome, Mogherini single-mindedly pursued political success. She studied political science and early on became involved in the leftist political youth organization Sinistra Giovanile. She was likewise active in the fights against Apartheid, gender discrimination and nuclear weapons. She was always "hard-working, well-read and excellently networked," say long-time acquaintances. People who have worked with her say she is highly regarded among Social Democrats, regardless who she served under. Among her posts were positions under former communists like Massimo d'Alema, Walter (Walterloo) Veltroni and even one-time Christian Democrats. The party always knew it could rely on her.
Despite her success, the minister remains grounded. She likes to go for walks in Prati -- the Roman district not far from the Vatican where she lives -- and be recognized by "pretty much nobody." When traveling on government business, she flies economy class. Like everybody else on the return flight from Vienna to Rome, flight attendants served her a cheese sandwich wrapped in cellophane -- which she ate while marking up a file on the Ukraine crisis.
Italy, with an official sovereign debt of €2.1 trillion, has to cut costs. "That's no problem for me," Mogherini says. "I am trying to change my life as little as possible anyway." But in her ministry, situated in the Palazzo della Farnesina, many are concerned about the coming cost-cutting measures. The ostentatious building, with its more than six kilometers of hallways and close to 1,300 rooms, is a remnant of the Mussolini era, back when Italy was still a colonial power. Italian ambassadors still earn more than twice the salary of their German counterparts.
'Naval Gazing and Insular Thinking'
In total, however, Mogherini's budget is just a fraction of that enjoyed by Germany's Foreign Ministry. And she has been tasked with cutting it by a further €108 million -- a significant burden given the crisis Italy is already going through, says one Western diplomat in Rome. "The decline of Italian foreign policy has been underway for 20 years and you can still feel the effects of the Berlusconi years. Plus, there has been an increasing tendency toward navel-gazing and insular thinking."
The fact that Renzi included a "rather inexperienced" foreign minister in his already "very inexperienced and very small team" is a significant risk for a country in crisis, says another diplomat. "Where are the Italians?" has been a common question asked in the past at important summits, where the Germans, French and British have become accustomed to taking the lead.
Mogherini is demanding "constructive cooperation" among EU member states and an end to the tendency to represent positions domestically that are contrary to those agreed to at the EU level. "What you say in Rome or in Berlin, you have to implement in Brussels," she says. She also has a clear answer to the kind of anti-German polemic spouted by opposition leaders Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi: "We have to communicate the message that, outside of football, there is no such thing as Italy versus Germany."
Indeed, Mogherini, who loathes missteps, once even vaunted the "Rome-Berlin Axis," only to quickly correct herself; the term refers to the unspeakable, World War II-era alliance between Hitler and Mussolini. In Berlin, the foreign minister's course has been benevolently interpreted as a "natural reflex to align with Frank-Walter," a reference to Germany's Social Democratic foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Indeed, Steinmeier expressed his appreciation for the "superb cooperation" on May 8 in Rome on the anniversary of World War II's end.
The Italian foreign minister, who frequently and proudly speaks of her "political home," feels a closeness with fellow Social Democrat Steinmeier. Together with him, she feels equipped to confront concerns that the upcoming transition phase in Brussels -- with new faces in Parliament and the Commission -- could lead to chaos, just as Italy holds the EU presidency.
After all, political chaos is something Italians know well. On average, one government a year has failed in Rome since World War II. What happens then if the second half of 2014 sees Rome sink into the kind of domestic trench warfare it has seen so often? What happens if Renzi's government stumbles over its own reform plans?
That won't happen, Mogherini says in the Viennese bar, flashing her warmest smile. The Renzi government has the people behind it, she adds. "Because many Italians suspect that this is our last chance for change."
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
The Guardian view on the arrest of Nicolas Sarkozy
The former president's arrest is a milestone for France and for French politics alike
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 19.59 BST
In one sense, the arrest of Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris this week can be seen as just the latest, albeit very high-profile, example of a continuing international investigative effort against financial abuse in Europe's political processes. Senior politicians have faced corruption grillings in Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Britain in recent years and in many cases paid the price. In France itself, the socialist budget minister resigned last year after the discovery that he held hundreds of thousands of euros in Swiss and Singapore bank accounts. In that sense, the arrest of Mr Sarkozy – who denies all the charges – may not say anything unique about either France itself or the former president's right-of-centre political party.
Yet the arrest is surely a milestone in both of these contexts. Past French presidents were plagued by corruption allegations during and after their terms of office. None, however, was subjected to the 15-hour police station detention to which Mr Sarkozy was subjected this week. None was placed under notice of investigation for "active corruption", as Mr Sarkozy has now been. This could either mean that the charges – which include allegations of accepting huge campaign donations from the former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi in 2007 – are far more serious than those that dogged Presidents Giscard, Mitterrand and Chirac. Or it could mean that a bar has simply been raised, and that French public life has begun to get more transparent than it was in the past – a possibility also signalled by the recent treatment of François Hollande's private life.
Realistically, the arrest might already mark the end, or the beginning of the end, of Mr Sarkozy's time in the top rank of French politics – which would become certain if Mr Sarkozy ended up with the 10-year jail sentence that is the maximum punishment for the corruption charge. It comes just as the former president was beginning his manoeuvres to regain control of the Gaullist UMP later this year, which could be a stepping stone towards a credible presidential run against Mr Hollande in 2017 and a possible Sarkozy restoration.
Both the arrest and the timing are helpful to the currently unpopular Mr Hollande, which inevitably raises suspicions on the right. Hoping to mirror Mr Chirac's landslide win in 2002 against Jean-Marie Le Pen, when the socialists were in disarray, Mr Hollande would probably prefer a second-round run-off in three years' time against Marine Le Pen rather than against a resurgent Mr Sarkozy or a lesser UMP personality such as Alain Juppé. So the consequences of this week's events could be very large and very damaging for France. That's no reason for the investigation not to take its course. But the stakes are very high, particularly at a time when Europe – including a febrile Britain – needs a stable and outward-looking France.
With Detention of Sarkozy, France Laments Presidency’s Faded Grandeur
By ANDREW HIGGINS
JULY 3, 2014
PARIS — The monarchical majesty of the French presidency suffered an undignified blow early this year when paparazzi photographed the head of state, François Hollande, scurrying away on the back of a scooter from an assignation with a secret lover. This week it took an unprecedented new hit: Mr. Hollande’s predecessor in the Élysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose phone had been tapped by investigators, was taken into police custody.
The detention of Mr. Sarkozy, France’s president from 2007 to 2012, lasted only 15 hours, but the spectacle, covered nonstop by television crews camped outside the offices of the judicial police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, was an indecorous new low for an office created by Charles de Gaulle as both the acme of political power and the embodiment of France’s grandeur.
Yann Moix, a French writer and filmmaker, summed up a mood of dismay at the indignities visited on France’s once-lofty presidency in a television talk show dedicated to Mr. Sarkozy’s detention, which stretched so late into the night that the former president’s chauffeur went home without him.
The former president of France is facing numerous legal challenges as he considers running for the top office again in 2017.
“The car of Nicolas Sarkozy is empty,” Mr. Moix said after watching footage of the Citroën limousine, its back seat unoccupied, pulling away from the Nanterre police offices. “The Élysée Palace often seems empty these days, too. What happened to the republic?”
Angst over the state of the republic, and life in general, is something of a perennial condition in France, where the present never seems to quite match up to the glories, real or imagined, of the past.
The French presidency, the centerpiece of the new constitutional and quasi-monarchical order put in place in 1958 and known as the Fifth Republic, was tailored by de Gaulle to fit his own outsize personality and sense of mission. This ensured that nobody else would ever fill its grandiose dimensions. “I had no predecessor and will have no successor,” de Gaulle observed.
But the shrinking of the French presidency, a process built into its original design, has been accelerated of late not only by the banal misadventures in Mr. Hollande’s private life and an avalanche of judicial troubles for his right-wing predecessor, but also by a growing public disenchantment with all institutions of state.
“There is a feeling that the Fifth Republic has exhausted itself,” said Christophe Barbier, chief editor of L’Express, a newsmagazine. “Things can’t go on like this,” he added, predicting “an enormous cracking” of the system if the presidency and subordinate institutions cannot prove themselves up to the task of reviving France’s sluggish economy, generating jobs, and finding an honorable role for a former world power that now gets hectored by Brussels over its missed budget targets.
Left-wing activists, including Mr. Hollande’s former longtime partner, Ségolène Royal, have for years promoted the idea of a Sixth Republic, a new model that would trim the powers of the presidency and replace France’s “monarchical republic” with a system dominated by Parliament.
Their proposals have gained little traction, and the sense of drift seems likely to endure. “In France, we only change the system when there is a revolution or a war,” Mr. Barbier said.
Mr. Sarkozy, mindful that French voters would like their current and former presidents to be beyond reproach but generally suspect the worst of them, insisted in a television interview on Wednesday that he was not asking for “any special privileges or advantages.” But he denounced the accusations of corruption and influence-peddling as the “preposterous” fruit of a politically motivated vendetta.
“I am profoundly shocked by what happened,” he said, referring to his extended detention in Nanterre and transfer under police guard late at night to meet two investigating magistrates in central Paris.
Former presidents have been investigated before and, in the case of Jacques Chirac, even convicted — in his case for embezzling public funds and breach of trust — but none had been formally detained until Mr. Sarkozy spent the better part of Tuesday in custody. And none, as far as the public knows, has suffered Mr. Sarkozy’s indignity of having private telephones tapped by investigators.
During his time as president, Mr. Sarkozy often rejected the stuffy formality and rituals of his office, marrying a former model, Carla Bruni, after a whirlwind courtship and hanging out on yachts with wealthy friends, earning himself the title of “president bling-bling.” Mr. Hollande, who ran on a promise to be a less showy “normal president,” has become so deeply unpopular that an opinion poll earlier this year suggested that voters would prefer even Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who in 2011 faced charges, later dropped, of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York.
Mr. Hollande has disappointed by being too insipid. He stirred little moral outrage by cheating on his official and now ex-mistress, Valérie Trierweiler, but raised eyebrows by looking goofy wearing a silly helmet on the back of the scooter after a clandestine rendezvous with Julie Gayet, an actress.
The French presidency does not involve a vow of celibacy but does demand a sense of decorum. Moreover, Mr. Hollande himself had vowed to show “exemplary behavior at every moment.”
“All presidential regimes have a problem with public disappointment,” said Pascal Perrineau, a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris. “But the problem is far more acute in France because, in the national subconscious, there has always been the figure of a monarch or a republican monarch. When the person in power looks feeble, the disappointment is felt very strongly.”
For voters on the left, Mr. Perrineau said, Mr. Hollande is “a pale copy of François Mitterrand,” a fellow Socialist. Though far from faithful to his wife and dogged for decades by scandals, including the staging of a fake assassination attempt against himself, Mr. Mitterrand displayed such hauteur in office that he satisfied expectations of a regal president. Voters on the right, meanwhile, “see all these scandals around Sarkozy and realize that he is not de Gaulle.”
Mr. Sarkozy, who had hoped to make a political comeback and may still try, has outdone all his predecessors by becoming entangled in seven different “affaires,” as the French call the uproarious scandals that flare up in a blaze of news media attention and, more often than not, vanish in a mist of public bewilderment.
Placed under formal investigation on Wednesday in the corruption and influence-peddling case, he has also been accused in the news media of receiving $68 million in illegal financing from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya for his successful 2007 election campaign. Other allegations involve fiddling with the books of his failed 2012 election campaign, crooked financial dealing in connection with a Pakistani arms contract and assorted other transgressions.
Mr. Sarkozy has repeatedly dismissed the accusations as unfounded, and prosecutors last year dropped a formal investigation into whether he had taken advantage of an octogenarian heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, to extract campaign financing.
Mr. Sarkozy’s former prime minister, François Fillon, said justice must be allowed to run its course, but demanded more dignified treatment for a man who had served as France’s head of state. “As a former president of the republic,” Mr. Fillon said, “he has the right to respect.”
France Ups Airport Security at U.S. Request
by Naharnet Newsdesk
04 July 2014, 09:59
France has joined other nations in bolstering security at its airports in line with a U.S. request to enhance screening for direct U.S. flights, aviation officials said Friday.
The new measures "will be carried out in a way to limit as much as possible inconvenience to passengers, however delays are possible," the DGAC civil aviation authority said in a statement.
A DGAC spokesman told Agence France Presse that "we cannot divulge the added measures" that are being taken.
Officials recommended passengers catching flights to the United States get to the airport early to undergo the additional screening.
The added security will notably be felt at the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports outside Paris, but also in Nice and Marseille in the south of France.
Charles de Gaulle is one of the world's busiest international hubs, with peak activity now, over the European summer vacation period. Every day, 47 U.S.-bound flights leave the airport, according to the ADP agency managing it.
Airports in far-flung French territories such as Tahiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe will also be affected by the new security measures.
Britain and Belgium on Thursday announced more rigorous screening at their airports. Passengers going through London's Heathrow airport reported enhanced screening of footwear and electronic items they were carrying into the cabin.
U.S. authorities have not publicly given a reason for their alarm, but it comes amid fears that hundreds of Islamist radicals traveling from Europe to fight in the Middle East could pose a security risk on their return.
There are also concerns that the extremist group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has developed hard-to-detect bombs designed to get past previous airport screening techniques.
Latvian NATO Center to Counter Russia 'Propaganda'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 19:45
Latvia on Thursday said it would open a NATO-backed strategic communications center in the capital Riga amid fears the Kremlin is influencing the Baltic state's large ethnic Russian minority over the Ukraine crisis.
The center will focus on providing an alternative to the official Russian narrative on the crisis and should receive full NATO accreditation "by the end of the summer", the Latvian defense ministry told Agence France Presse.
Concern runs high in all three of the formerly Soviet-ruled Baltic states that Russia is mounting a propaganda campaign to win over the region's ethnic Russians, who account for around a quarter of the population in both Latvia and Estonia.
Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma on Thursday said Russia was waging an "information war" in Latvia, which joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.
"The Latvian government cannot allow foreign countries to meddle internally, undermining the state," Straujuma told parliament.
Lawmakers also backed legislation more than doubling defense spending to the NATO-recommended minimum of two percent of GDP by 2020.
Bulgarian PM to Resign Later this Month
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 20:42
The Bulgarian prime minister has announced he will resign at the end of July, ahead of an early election aimed at ending months of political crisis.
Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said on Thursday that he would submit his resignation to parliament "on July 23, 24 or 25," and that lawmakers "will be able to vote" on the decision.
The EU's poorest country has faced renewed political instability since Oresharski's year-old government lost the backing of a key ally last month.
Oresharski, whose Socialist minority government is the second to collapse in less than 18 months, had been expected to resign after agreeing to hold snap elections in October, but has kept quiet about an exact date.
He only took office in May 2013 but has faced months of protests over his cabinet's apparently close links with oligarchs.
The demonstrations recently subsided, but controversy over a Russian-backed gas pipeline has stirred tensions between the Socialists and their key ally in parliament, the Turkish minority MRF party, which recently withdrew its support.
Without the MRF, the government has been unable to pass legislation and was doomed to collapse.
The conservative opposition GERB party and the nationalist Ataka party added to Oresharski's troubles and left parliament this week, vowing to only return to vote his resignation.
In a move to avert a full-blown political crisis, an agreement was reached between the government and the opposition to appoint a caretaker cabinet on August 6 and hold a snap vote on October 5.
Political uncertainty in Bulgaria coincided with runs on two Bulgarian banks last week that prompted urgent measures by the central bank and the government to avert a banking crisis.
The early elections are expected to return to power the conservative GERB party, whose leader -- ex-premier Boyko Borisov -- was himself forced to resign in February 2013 after massive street protests against poverty and corruption.
Swedish court sets date for Julian Assange rape case hearing
16 July hearing is first legal battle in the case since WikiLeaks founder sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London
David Crouch in Gothenburg
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 16.33 BST
Prosecutors in Sweden pursuing Julian Assange over rape allegations have rejected a demand by his lawyers to hand over new evidence and withdraw the warrant for his arrest, setting the stage in two weeks' time for the first legal battle in the case since 2012.
In a sharply worded rebuttal, prosecutors stated that Assange does not have the right to see copies of the case files.
Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder requested last week that text messages sent by his accusers be passed to the defence in an attempt to break the deadlock in the rape case brought four years ago against him.
"There is still probable cause to believe that Julian Assange is guilty of the offences that he was arrested for, and the basis for his detention, risk of flight, is undiminished," prosecutors Marianne Ny and Ingred Isgren said in a submission to Stockholm district court.
The court announced on Thursday that the two sides will present their arguments on 16 July in a public hearing – the first formal legal discussion of the case since Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London two years ago.
Dismissing the lawyers' argument that restrictions on Assange's "fundamental freedoms" since the allegations were made in 2010 are unreasonable and disproportionate, the prosecutors said Assange's confinement in the embassy is voluntary and "cannot be equated with detention".
"In our opinion, when assessing proportionality, only the time [detained] for questioning in the English courts should be taken into account," the prosecutors said. Assange was held for just 10 days in December 2010, they point out.
They also reiterated their refusal to travel to London to interview Assange in the embassy, which is seen by some Swedish politicians and senior legal figures as a possible first step to resolving the case.
Legal experts say that new legislation on a suspect's right to see evidence in the case before trial is open to different interpretations and has yet to be tested in court.
"The law states specifically that this provision does not give the suspect the right to have copies of case files," the prosecutors said in their rebuttal.
On Thursday Stockholm district court extended the invitation to Assange to appear at the hearing in two weeks' time.
Writing to him at an "address unknown", the court said valid reasons for not attending were problems with public transport, sudden illness, or unforeseen circumstances. It advised him to arrive in good time and "clear your pockets of metal objects and put them in the plastic bins provided".
Thomas Olsson, a Stockholm-based lawyer for Assange, said: "The statement from the prosecutor gives us strong arguments for our case."
Greece forges template for economic recovery as tourists pour in
After six stark years of recession, debt-stricken Greece is drawing in holidaymakers at record-breaking rates
Helena Smith in Paros
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 15.07 BST
It is Greece's summer ritual: the arrival of the island ferry, funnels billowing, horns blaring, gangplanks screeching as wide-eyed tourists prepare to disembark.
Last week in the wind-swept Cyclades, the isle of Paros was no exception. One by one they came – vessels the size of tenement blocks – disgorging holidaymakers on to an esplanade dotted with little white buildings in scenes of exuberant commotion.
For Andreas Hadjiathanasiou, whose car rental agency has a seafront view of the spectacle, the new arrivals were a welcome sight. The season has barely begun and business has already doubled. "We've ordered 60 new vehicles," said the operations manager who has relocated from Athens for the summer. "It's early days but tourists are pouring in from all over the place. Forget the crisis! I'd say this is one of our best years yet."
After six stark years of recession, debt-stricken Greece is back, doing what it has done since the 50s, drawing in holidaymakers from far and wide, only this time at record-breaking rates.
The rebound offers the first ray of light in a nation that to a great degree has been rendered unrecognisable by the corrosive effects of austerity. Like a freak storm, the eurozone crisis has swept over this land, leaving despair and destruction in its wake: almost no household has not felt the effects of wage and pension cuts (slashed by an average 40%), soaring taxes and unemployment that at 26.7% is the highest in the EU and unprecedented in Greece's post-war history.
In such circumstances only one in four Greeks will be able to go on holiday this summer, according to a poll published by the consumer protection group Inka this week. But in a country where trickle-down economics begins with tourism – one in five of the working population are dependent on the sector – the arrival of foreign visitors has brought relief.
It has also reinforced the official narrative, so often unfelt by those on the ground, that after achieving the biggest fiscal adjustment in global history, things are finally improving for the eurozone's weakest link. This month the Confederation of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) revised its projections for the second time this year – from 18.5 million to 19 million arrivals (excluding 2.2 million on cruise ships) - nearly twice the Greek population. Airline bookings are up 25%, with island airports reporting a surge in traffic. Revenues in the first four months of the year had expanded by more than a quarter, according to the Bank of Greece.
"We have revised our number upwards to around 19 million arrivals, an all-time record," SETE's chairman, Andreas Andreadis, said. "We've seen a double-digit growth in bookings from countries such as the US, Britain, Germany, France and Italy."
Regional turmoil, Greece's own internal deflation – a process that though savage has produced bargain basement deals – and the introduction of longer opening hours at museums and archaeological sites have helped spur the turnaround. So, too, have receding fears of Greece's ejection from the eurozone, the nightmare scenario that haunted the twice bailed-out country as it desperately tried to keep bankruptcy at bay.
Not long ago the comeback would have been impossible to imagine.
Tourism was the first sector to be hit when the scale of Athens' budgetary overflows became apparent in late 2009. As Greeks took to the streets in stunned anger – as much at their nation's economic meltdown as at the devastating price of international aid needed to avert default – millions of holidays were cancelled overnight.
No place was worst affected than Athens, from where televised images of riots, tear gas and burning buildings were shown around the world.
Yet, in a turnaround that has surprised even industry figures, the Greek capital is expected to see a 750,000 increase in arrivals this year. Already one million tourists have arrived – spilling out of archaeological sites and the narrow alleyways of the picturesque Plaka district beneath the Acropolis, piling into restaurants and cafes and cramming the stores that sell the fodder of every classic Greek holiday: sandals, statues, T-shirts and bags.
"We have seen a rise in occupancy rates of 25% in the first five months of this year, which is the highest in Europe," enthused Alexandros Vassilikos, chair of the Athens Hoteliers Association. "Tourism is the low-hanging fruit of the Greek economy. We have the basic infrastructure. We don't need to make huge investments. It's all there."
But the UK-trained economist also conceded Greece had its work cut out if tourism was to fulfil its potential. With the country bereft of heavy industry – and scrambling to find work for a youth population starved of jobs – the sector is widely seen as the fuel that can keep the Greek economy's engine going.
"Half of the 19 million we are expecting this year will visit Greece in the next 90 days," added Vassilikos. "If we want to reap more benefits from tourism it is vital that we improve our product, extend the season, branch into other niche markets like cultural and medical tourism."
SETE has set a target of 24 million visitors by 2021 – a rise that would contribute an annual €44bn or 20% to gross domestic product. That, say industry experts, would create as many as a million jobs in a nation where some 1.5 million are unemployed.
"Tourism is not just an important sector. It has complementarity with other sectors," said George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy at Athens University of economics and business. "It can help expand agro-tourism, promote real estate and trigger investment in infrastructure and transport, all of which creates a virtuous circle."
But the rush to find jobs – the key to ensuring political stability - has also raised questions over whether Greece can cope. The finance ministry has sparked howls of protest proposing that mass development be allowed along the country's coast, still among the most pristine in Europe.
"There is the threat of over-exploitation," added Pagoulatos. "We don't want Greek seashores being transformed into cement cities that resemble Majorca and Ibiza."
In his two-star hotel in Paros, Anastasios Gikas was the first to agree that tourism needed a rethink. He has painted the 15-room establishment, turned it into a "boutique hotel" and ensured that breakfast comes with the finest products Paros has to offer. "My reservations are up, up, up," he said, showing his booking sheets." "But the problem is we're full only June, July and August. The rest of the year is dead."
With Greece's great economic crisis catapulting tourism onto centre stage, industry figures have spent much of the crisis devising ways of better showcasing the "Greek tourism product". No more so than in the airy officers of the consultancy firm Marketing Greece. Here, on the fifth floor of 20 Voukourestiou street, young marketing managers and PR experts sit at computers strategising how to "rebrand Greece".
The company, established by SETE last year, is the private sector's answer to what is increasingly seen as the country's marketing conundrum and marks the first time entrepreneurs have actively sought to promote Greece abroad.
"We've spent the past year using the best technology, both in and outside Greece, designing and developing a multi-lingual website that promotes the Greek experience," said Iossif Parsalis, the firm's general manager. "Our priority is to attract high-growth tourism with high-income earners but to do that we need to change perceptions, move away from mass tourism and upgrade the quality of what this country has to offer."
Is this the end of the classic sun, sea and sand package so beloved of thousands of young Britons every summer? Could Greece really be reinventing itself?
"The crisis has made us reconsider the way we do a lot of things," said Anastasios Naoum, Swiss-trained general manager at the upmarket Poseidonion hotel on the Argo Saronic isle of Spetses. "For the first time I'm seeing Greek hoteliers attending seminars, taking notes, asking all the right questions. Mass tourism will always exist but now is the time to change."
Naoum's words are not without a poignant symbolism: it was at the opening of the Poseidonion, 100 years ago next month, that Eleftherios Venizelos, the then prime minister, announced the necessity for a Greek tourism board.
Standing on the hotel's seafront porch Louis Mueller, an American sculptor, takes in the view. The Greek crisis has neither deterred him, nor 200 other guests from the US, from making the journey to attend the wedding of a couple more normally based in LA.
"Greece offers the best of all worlds," he says, adjusting his blue-tinted spectacles. "It seemed a bit far-fetched, at first, coming so far for a wedding, but it's been wonderful, and I'll be back."
Belarus mythbuster: what is it like to live in 'Europe's last dictatorship'?
As Belarus celebrates Independence Day and the 70th anniversary of liberation from Nazi troops, BelarusDigest examines preconceptions about life under 20 years of Alexander Lukashenko's rule
BelarusDigest, part of the New East network
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 July 2014 13.25 BST
Is it accurate to call Belarus a dictatorship?
The Bush administration famously dubbed Alexander Lukashenko "Europe's last dictator" in 2005. Political freedoms in Belarus are severely restricted, especially in comparison with other European countries. However, the authorities are a long way from controlling all spheres of society, as would happen in a totalitarian state.
Elections, however, are not free and fair. There is no separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature. As a matter of fact, all political decision-making is either made directly or on behalf of the presidential administration.
The Belarusian authorities put significant effort into silencing alternative sources of information not under their control
The Belarusian authorities put significant effort into silencing alternative sources of information not under their control. Although the Internet is currently accessible in Belarus almost without limitations, there is virtually no freedom of expression in the newspapers or electronic media. In addition, the websites of opposition parties are often subject to hacker attacks, believed to be initiated by the state. Opposition parties formally exist, but in practice they are prevented from any substantive participation in political decision-making, such as being elected to parliament or other representative bodies.
At the same time, people are free to travel abroad. Criticising authorities in private discussions or in publications has no harmful consequences most of the time. However, the most active opposition activists and journalists are often fined or sentenced to jail. Participation in an unauthorised demonstration (most opposition demonstrations are not authorised by the authorities) may result in 5-15 days of police detention or a fine.
Following the 19 December 2010 presidential elections, political freedoms have been further restricted. Over a dozen opposition leaders, including former presidential candidates, have been prosecuted for protesting against falsification of the election results. Several of them were sentenced to several years in prison.
Does a cult of personality surround Lukashenko?
Lukashenko's rule is usually characterised as iron-fisted. However, he would not have been able to rule since 1994 without a certain degree of public consent, as well as authoritarian conditions imposed on the political opposition, and support from Russia.
In serious independent research, he appears much more often as a reflection of a country where an upgraded understanding of the Soviet model of politics is very much alive.
His social contract is based on constant economic growth and a more equal level of the distribution of wealth.
His social contract is based on constant economic growth and a more equal level of the distribution of wealth. The building of a strong power vertical, strong control mechanisms, functional (in the Soviet manner) state institutions as well as little corruption used to give Belarusians a better feeling about his leadership.
However, the model retained by Lukashenko was based on heavy subsidies in the form of cheap oil and gas from the Russian Federation. Without such subsidies and repression of the political opposition, the model would not be sustainable.
Does Lukashenko have the support of the average Belarusian?
In 1994, Lukashenko unexpectedly won the first Belarusian presidential election. Since that time, measuring his popularly has been difficult for two reasons. First, because since 1994, elections have been neither free nor fair. Second, most of the population has no access to independent media.
In the first and only relatively democratic elections of 1994, Lukashenko received 44.82 per cent in the first round, and 80.1 per cent in the runoff. That constituted 56 per cent of all registered voters. He was re-elected in 2001, 2006 and 2010 with around 80 per cent of votes each time. Most international election observers characterised these elections as neither free nor fair. Restrictions on campaigning by opposition candidates, censorship of the media, coercion of voters, ballot stuffing and non-transparent counting of votes are the most common examples of election irregularities in Belarus.
In the absence of free elections, it is difficult to estimate the level of support for Lukashenko. During the years of relative prosperity, as a result of generous Russian subsidies, most Belarusians passively tolerated the regime. He is not unpopular – some estimates suggest as many as 50% of Belarusians broadly approve of him.
However, the situation is changing because of the economic crisis, which resulted from Russia’s cuts to subsidies to Belarus. Despite censorship in the state media and propaganda campaigns, many Belarusians have become disillusioned with Lukashenko.
Are most Belarusians pro-Russian?
Most Belarusians do not have access to independent media and as a result public opinion in the country is determined by the state-run media, which is mainly pro-Russian and anti-Western.
In a poll published by the Institute for Independent Social and Economic Political Research (IISEPS) in March, respondents were given a hypothetical choice between integration with Russia and joining the European Union. 51.5% of Belarusian respondents said they would choose the first option and 32.9% would chose the second. In December 2013, that ratio was 36.4% in favour of closer ties with Russia, against 44.6% in favour of the EU.
How sensitive is the language question in Belarus?
In the mid-1990s, the language question was one of the most contested in Belarusian politics. Lukashenko skilfully positioned himself as the protector of the Russian language in Belarus, which helped him get political and economic support from Moscow.
However, this week, Lukashenko gave his first public address in Belarusian instead of Russian since 1994, sparking speculation that Lukashenko is asserting his autonomy from Russia (especially as the speech came one day before a visit from Russian president Vladimir Putin) in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Among the Belarusian public, the language issue is no longer controversial. Education and schooling in the Belarusian language are marginalised, and Belarusian is almost never, aside from this week, used in official communication. Although the majority of people consider Belarusian their native language, the language is spoken primarily in rural areas and by the intelligentsia.
Do Belarusians need permission to leave the country?
Belarus is one of the few countries of the former Soviet Union that does not require a special passport for foreign travel. In the past, the Belarusian authorities would issue a special stamp to validate a passport for foreign travel for a five-year period. Today, the stamp is no longer in use, and the national passport is automatically valid for foreign travel. It is never an issue for people to leave the country or to come back, with a few notable exceptions of pressure on prominent opposition leaders.
In the past, the Belarusian authorities would issue a special stamp to validate a passport for foreign travel for a five-year period
The biggest obstacle Belarusians face when they decide to travel abroad is getting a foreign visa, especially to the United States or the European Union. Since Belarus’ European neighbours – Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – joined the Schengen area, to spend a weekend outside Belarus’ western borders a Belarusian citizen needs to prove that he/she has a job, money and a reason to travel. This involves providing many translated and notarised documents, and Belarusians can never be sure whether they will be issued visas even if their documents are in order.
Does Belarus have low unemployment?
The Belarusian authorities proudly report that the level of unemployment in Belarus is around 1%. This figure, however, does not reflect reality.
The registration process for unemployment benefits is cumbersome, and the unemployed are required to perform public works in order to get state benefits. Hence, very few unemployed actually register and the official statistics are overly optimistic.
The Belarusian authorities proudly report that the level of unemployment in Belarus is around 1%. This figure, however, does not reflect reality.
Hidden unemployment levels remains very high, and there is a considerable imbalance between the supply and demand for some occupations and in some regions. A relatively low unemployment level during conditions of a production slump is maintained mostly by the labour force surplus in large enterprises. Youth unemployment is of special concern. The proportion of unemployed 16-29 year-olds is steadily rising.
Is healthcare in Belarus free?
Officially health care is free in Belarus. However, an ordinary Belarusian very often cannot obtain even basic services free of charge. There are some segments of the health care system where people do not have to pay. That includes staying in a shared hospital room, birth delivery, vaccinations etc. Emergency care is free, but medical services beyond that such as dental care are provided at an acceptable level only at an extra cost (legal or not).
However, even for these services it is usually recommended to give health care workers something to make them 'look after you better'. Though deemed a form of bribery, the widespread illegal payments or official fees for health workers encompasses all levels of public health – from a nurse administering injections to top specialists consulting on complicated cases. Very frequently it is not money that is given, but some expensive gift, like expensive cognac.
Lukashenko's regime has gradually been reducing the social achievements of the Soviet times
The health infrastructure is a remnant of Soviet times, and was neither built nor developed by Lukashenko's regime. On the contrary, his governments have gradually been reducing the social achievements of the Soviet times. At the same time, there are a number of private clinics in Minsk where services are offered at a good standard, using modern equipment. Costs for such services are paid out of pocket, because the system of medical insurance is underdeveloped in Belarus.
Do you have questions about life in Belarus, myths you want examined, or topics you'd like to see the New East network cover in more detail? Write to us in the comments below, or tweet us @GuardianNewEast
This article was amended on 3 July 2014, to update the IISEPS figures to those from the latest 2014 report
Kurds push for independence vote amid Iraq chaos
Massoud Barzani, president of autonomous Kurdish region, calls on Iraqi MPs to plan for independence referendum
Martin Chulov in Baghdad and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 19.06 BST
Iraq inched closer to partition on Thursday as the president of the country's autonomous Kurdish region asked MPs to start making plans for an independence referendum.
Speaking in the Kurdish parliament in Irbil, Massoud Barzani said he no longer felt bound by the Iraqi constitution, which enshrines the unity of the state, and asked MPs to start preparations for a vote on the right of self-determination, which would represent the Kurds' boldest move towards statehood in 94 years.
"The time has come to determine our fate and we should not wait for other people to determine it for us," Barzani said. The Kurds' historic ambition for a nation state has been given new momentum by the lightning advance of Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) – and Iraqi politicians' inability to act decisively in the face of the insurgent threat.
Iraq's national flag is now rarely seen in northern Iraq, and the Kurdish colours have been raised above all government buildings in Kirkuk, which Kurdish forces seized when the Iraqi army fled in the face of the Isis advance two weeks ago.
Government forces clashed again on Thursday with Isis militants near Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, which the army has been trying to retake for more than a week.
Kurdish fighters have engaged with Isis largely to defend Kurdish interests. In his speech Barzani said: "We will try to help our Shia and Sunni brothers … to get out of this crisis, but to be truthful we will [be responsible for] a new people [Kurds] who believe in coexistence, democracy and constitution. We will not deal with those who sabotaged the country."
Earlier this week, Barzani suggested that an independence referendum could be held within two months, a move that would redraw Iraq's current borders and in all likelihood spread deep instability in what remained of the country.
The fallout would be unlikely to stop there: Turkey, Iran and Syria are all skittish about Kurdish claims to sovereignty. Turkey, in particular, has fought a decades-long and bloody insurgency against Kurdish separatists in its south-east, who would be keenly watching developments.
Barzani insisted that years of Kurdish self-government had proved that they posed no threat to neighbouring countries. "We have many friends and supporters. There may be risk in this, but it is the right moment for us to tell the world what we want."
Iraqi Arab officials in Baghdad attempted to play down Barzani's comments, claiming he was simply attempting to gain leverage in the formation of a national government, in which Kurdish MPs comprise a significant minority.
Barzani and the Iraqi prime minister, Nour al-Maliki, have been at odds for much of the past three years and the Kurdish leader has insisted that Kurds will not join another Maliki-led administration.
Earlier this week, Sunni and Kurdish parties withdrew their MPs from Iraq's national parliament, when Shia politicians refused to name their candidate to replace Maliki as prime minister before the Sunni and Kurdish MPs revealed their own nominations for speaker. The standoff underscored the deep divisions that run through the fragile state's political class.
But in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzani's remarks were seen by officials as significantly more than brinkmanship. Kurdish MP Haji Karwan Najmadin said: "What came out of the president's speech is that we don't accept orders from any countries. We support the declaration of Kurdistan statehood. It should not be delayed – this is the right time, but we just need a preparation and that is for people to vote on this issue."
Barzani said Iraq should look to the precedent of Czechoslovakia, which peacefully separated into two countries following the end of communism. "Czechoslovakia was comprised of two peoples and they were forced together to establish a state. Because it was forced upon them, they separated again," he said. "There is a lesson here: they cannot oppress the people of Kurdistan and then say we must remain united."
Another MP in the Kurdistan regional government warned that there was still a gulf between Kurdish ambitions and reality. Mahmoud Haji Omar said Iran and Arab countries would oppose independence, not least because Israel has expressed support for Kurdish sovereignty. Earlier this week, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, endorsed Kurdish ambitions for statehood.
But Omar said Turkey, which had long been vehemently opposed to Kurdish statehood because of potential implications for its borders, had softened its stance in recent years. "They have expressed flexibility on this issue maybe because of the oil," he said.
Over the past year, the Kurdish regional government has been directly selling oil to Turkey despite an agreement with the central government that all oil should be marketed and exported nationally.
Kurdistan faces long, fraught road to sustainable independence
Kurds' caution is giving way to greater self-assertiveness amid the Iraqi government's collapse, but they must tread carefully
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 15.17 BST
Hopes of Kurdish independence are one of the Middle East's worst-kept secrets. Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003 brought the Kurdish region in northern Iraq a significant measure of self-rule, building on its precarious post-1991 autonomy. The Kurdish regional government (KRG) has steadily expanded its political and economic clout over the past decade. Now the apparent collapse of central authority in Iraq has given the biggest boost yet to the independence movement.
But the Kurds, who comprise about 20% of Iraq's population and are commonly described as the world's most populous stateless nation, must tread carefully. The territory they control, enlarged by last month's opportunistic seizure of Kirkuk, is landlocked and economically fragile. Its infrastructure remains rudimentary. And its independence has traditionally been opposed by powerful neighbours such as Turkey, Iran and Syria (which also have large Kurdish minorities) and by the US, which favours a unified Iraq and fears the possible consequences of secession.
All the same, habitual Kurdish caution is giving way to greater self-assertiveness as Baghdad's divided political elite quails before the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (Isis). Massoud Barzani, the KRG president, set a cat among the diplomatic pigeons this week when he declared bluntly that Kurdistan's moment had finally arrived.
"Everything that's happened recently shows that it's the right of Kurdistan to achieve independence. From now on, we won't hide that that's our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now … We'll hold a referendum and it's a matter of months," Barzani said. On Thursday, Barzani asked the Irbil parliament to prepare a vote.
Kurdish leaders maintain that, far from undermining Iraq's unity, the KRG has become an island of stability in a sea of troubles. Baghdad's warring Shia and Sunni factions, who failed again this week to agree on a new government, have brought the crisis down on their own heads, said Barham Salih, a former KRG prime minister.
"No doubt every Kurd wants an independent Kurdistan but we have made a deliberate decision to work within a democratic, federal Iraq. Undeniably the prospects of this federal Iraq are fading fast," Salih told US commentator Jeffrey Goldberg.
But Kurdistan still faces a long, fraught road to sustainable independence. As other newly independent states such as Kosovo and South Sudan have found to their cost, creating and defending internal security and internationally recognised borders, growing a self-sufficient economy, overcoming corruption, and ensuring political unity present formidable challenges.
Kurdistan, for example, controls valuable energy reserves, on which most of its income depends. But oil exports depend largely on a pipeline through Turkey, which opened this year. Faced by political developments in Irbil it dislikes, it would be an easy matter for Ankara to turn off the tap. Turkey has been fighting Kurdish insurgents in its south-east region for decades. It has always been assumed it would oppose Iraqi Kurdish independence, fearing a knock-on effect at home.
But that perception has gradually changed since 2003 amid heavy Turkish commercial investment in northern Iraq. High-level political contacts with the KRG are now routine, while Ankara's relations with Baghdad have soured. It may be that Turkey will ultimately prefer a stable, friendly new border state free of extremists (of any hue) that is also an energy supplier and trading partner.
"If Barzani does push for independence, he's gambling that the Turks will concede that, one, KRG oil deals are more valuable than KRG statehood is dangerous, and two, that Kurds are still a valuable buffer zone vis-a-vis Iran," said analyst Lee Smith.
Set against this prospect is the likelihood that, assuming he survives the civil war, Syria's president Bashar al-Assad will revert to his former anti-Kurdish policies. Iran, similarly fearful of domestic unrest, remains deeply hostile to Kurdish aspirations.
Support came from an unlikely quarter this week when Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, endorsed Kurdish independence. He wanted to rally the region's "moderate forces" against the rise of extremism, he said. But whatever others say, Washington's attitude may ultimately prove decisive.
Senior Kurdish officials met US secretary of state John Kerry in Washington this week to ask for financial assistance in coping with the turmoil around them, including an influx of refugees. Their request underlined their continuing dependence. More than that, Washington's backing for independence would require not only US funds but a galling acceptance that America's long war to secure a free, united Iraq has failed miserably.
Scores of Militants Reported Killed by Iraqi Army, but Group Seizes Syrian Oil Field
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
JULY 3, 2014
BAGHDAD — Almost 200 Sunni militants were killed in battles with the Iraqi Army on Thursday, the Iraqi government said, but the militants’ group gained potentially significant economic ground in their struggle for leverage in the region, taking control of Syria’s largest oil field.
The militants also made good on an agreement with the government of Turkey to release 32 Turkish truck drivers, who were handed over at a United Nations camp in Kurdistan.
The toughest fighting was in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, 85 miles northwest of Baghdad, where residents who had fled their homes for the suburbs said on Thursday that an intense bombing campaign by the Iraqi Army was underway in a fight to retake the city from militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The group’s fighters, who took Salahuddin Province, of which Tikrit is the capital, in mid-June, resorted to planting a series of roadside bombs and booby-trapping cars and houses in their effort to slow the Iraqi Army’s advance on the provincial capital. Iraqi forces fired from helicopters anywhere they suspected the militants were present, whether those locations were government buildings or homes, witnesses said.
The victories gained by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization.
“It is a dead city now,” said Adil al-Jubori, a tribal sheikh from Tikrit, who fled to the northern suburb of Al-Alam.
“There is no life inside,” he said. “When the army hits the militants, it damages everything in the area.”
The Americans had advised the Iraqi military not to try to fight in the cities, but the Iraqi government has been confident that it can win such battles, taking back ground and signaling the army’s commitment.
Mr. Jubori was less confident. “It’s not about freeing the area of ISIS,” he said. “It’s about keeping it clear of them afterwards.”
Many assaults on the militants’ positions were from Russian helicopters, which the Iraqi pilots have experience flying. Some Iraqi soldiers were dropped into buildings where they took up positions. By late Thursday, there were also reports of some soldiers working their way on foot through areas of the city.
A Tikrit resident, who was unable to leave the city, and a member of the Iraqi security forces who was in one of the government buildings said in telephone interviews that 95 percent of the city’s residents had fled, and that only the very poor and those who were working with the militants remained.
The two men, who did not want to be quoted by name because they feared becoming targets, said there was no diesel for cars, no gas for stoves and no food. Stores are closed, and the people who were unable to flee are living on food stocks they gathered before the crisis here began last month. In blocks where there are still residents, they gather once a day, pool their meager stores of rice and beans, and cook together to husband the little fuel they have left.
About eight miles away in Awja, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi counterterrorism brigade announced that it had killed 88 Sunni militants, according to an announcement on Al Iraqiya, the state-run television station.
It was difficult to know how the Iraqi government reached its estimates of the number of militants killed, since many died in airstrikes, and government soldiers were not on the ground to count the bodies.
Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the militants in Tikrit and nearby, the government was not ready to declare it had won the city, and it was unclear how many ISIS militants might have fled to the surrounding countryside to fight another day.
Near the border between Iraq and the semiautonomous Kurdish region, fighters for ISIS handed over the detained truck drivers at the United Nations’ Mahmur camp before they were escorted to the Turkish Consulate in Erbil, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said in a televised statement.
Mr. Davutoglu said all the freed hostages were in good health. They were scheduled to fly to Turkey on Thursday evening.
It was unclear if the government had paid a ransom to have the drivers, who were held for nearly a month, released. Mehmet Kizil, the owner of the transportation company employing the drivers, said that ISIS had demanded $5 million to $10 million on separate occasions for the men’s release, but that the government had taken over negotiations.
One of the truck drivers, Servet Karakan, said that he had lived in constant fear since the group was captured on June 9 by militants from ISIS. “Not a day went by without thinking it could be my last,” he said by telephone. “Today my prayers have been answered by God almighty.”
The drivers were delivering diesel fuel from a Turkish port to a power plant in Mosul when they were intercepted and kidnapped by ISIS militants, who were making sweeping territorial gains in northern and western Iraq.
In eastern Syria, ISIS fighters took control of the Omar oil field, which was described as the country’s largest, producing about 30,000 barrels a day when it was fully functioning. Recently it has produced about a third of that or less.
The field is in Deir al-Zour Province, and it had been under the control of a militant council that included local mujahedeen groups as well as the Nusra Front, the Qaeda affiliate in Syria. They appear to have handed the field over to ISIS without fighting.
In Karbala, a city holy to Shiites that lies 50 miles south of Baghdad, a battle between government forces and a renegade Shiite cleric left 33 of his followers dead, while he escaped, according to a member of the provincial council and a doctor at the Karbala hospital.
Final Push in 'Historic' Iran Nuclear Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 July 2014, 19:30
Iran's foreign minister took to social media Thursday to say that the outcome of nuclear talks with world powers was unclear, as a decisive final round began in Vienna ahead of a July 20 deadline.
"Considering the complexity and inter-connectivity of the several issues that must be agreed upon for the comprehensive agreement, it is really difficult to predict the outcome of the negotiations," Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Facebook page.
The accord being sought by Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, would finally ease fears of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons and silence talk of war.
In exchange, punishing sanctions on the Islamic republic would be lifted.
With Sunni Islamic insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq, and Syria in chaos from three years of civil war, a deal could help Tehran and the West normalize relations at a particularly explosive time in the Middle East.
"In this troubled world, the chance does not often arise to reach an agreement peacefully that will meet the needs of all sides, make the world safer, ease regional tensions and enable greater prosperity," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week.
The so-called P5+1 powers have proposed to Iran a "series of reasonable, verifiable and easily achievable measures", he said, warning Iran not to "squander a historic opportunity."
"What will Iran choose? Despite many months of discussion, we don't know yet."
Zarif, in a video message Wednesday, called the talks a "unique opportunity to make history", saying success would allow both sides to address "common challenges" such as Iraq.
But with major differences apparent after five rounds of talks seeking to secure a deal by July 20 -- when an interim deal from November expires -- Zarif said in French daily Le Monde that some among the P5+1 were suffering from "illusions."
The six powers want Iran to drastically reduce its nuclear activities in order to render any Iranian drive to assemble an atomic bomb all but impossible.
This would include Iran slashing its capacities to enrich uranium, a process that produces nuclear fuel but also, at high purities, the core of a nuclear weapon.
But Iran insists it has made too many advances in uranium enrichment to turn the clock back and that it needs to expand its program in order to fuel a future wave of power reactors.
Demands that Iran's program be "radically curbed" rest on a "gross misrepresentation of the steps, time and dangers of a dash for the bomb", Zarif said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, said that both sides will need to give ground on this vital issue.
In theory, the July 20 deadline could be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe this is already being negotiated.
But U.S. President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November, is wary of doing anything that could be construed by Republicans as giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.
This is the long-standing accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state which -- together with Washington -- has not ruled out military action.
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief and the six powers' lead negotiator, Catherine Ashton, told reporters he was "not aware" that an extension was being discussed.
"The atmosphere is as always very workmanlike ... (Negotiators) come here with determination to push the process forward and reach a deal by July 20," he said.
Russia Sees 'Political will' for Iran Nuclear Accord
by Naharnet Newsdesk
04 July 2014, 11:12
Russia signaled Friday that a deal could be clinched in Iran nuclear negotiations, as there is "political will" and a sense of urgency among participants for an accord before a July 20 deadline.
"One feels political will of the participants, and a certain fear that we may not be quick enough -- that is a good sign in this situation. There is not much time left. But there are chances," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant newspaper.
The most recent round of the negotiations is "different from the previous in that there is some static energy being accumulated that will have to be freed and turn into kinetic energy," he added.
The so-called P5+1 talks are now in the decisive final stretch as Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council seek to reach an accord before a July 20 deadline to ease fears of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons. In exchange, punishing sanctions on Iran would be lifted.
Ryabkov said that Moscow's current standoff with the West over the crisis in Ukraine will not hurt talks over Iran's nuclear program.
"In my opinion, there is no grounds for worrying that the situation surrounding Ukraine will be the bomb set under the talks over Iran's nuclear program, that it will prevent them from proceeding effectively," he said.
Pakistan's polio-busters try to contain disease despite terrorist opposition
Mass vaccinations for children to help stem spread from those fleeing hostilities in North Waziristan
Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Thursday 3 July 2014 16.12 BST
For years the red pins stuck into the large map of Pakistan on the wall of one of the UN's most experienced polio-busters have shown the disease in steady retreat. Where once they could be found all over, the pins – each one representing a child killed or crippled by the disease – had been pushed back by relentless public health campaigns into just three clusters.
Two are located in and around the cities of Karachi and Peshawar in the south and north-west, where the disease flourishes in unsanitary slums in which drinking water is easily contaminated with human waste. But the majority erupt from a small pocket of land representing less than 1% of the country on the border with neighbouring Afghanistan.
The explosion of pins on the map is not an accurate depiction of the scale of the problem, with 54 cases in the tribal agency of North Waziristan this year. "We ran out of space for more pins a long time ago," said Elias Durry, the head of the World Health Organisation's anti-polio effort in Pakistan, who is also a veteran of successful campaigns to stamp out the disease in Africa and Yemen.
North Waziristan's ability to generate more than half the world's polio cases in the past year has made it the biggest threat to the global effort to stamp out a disease that can easily reinfect areas that have been cleared.
It poses such a risk that since 1 June most travellers, young and old alike, have had to get revaccinated before leaving the country in case they take the disease with them.
While everything about tackling a highly infectious disease in a country with widespread poverty is hard, curbing the uncontrolled outbreak in North Waziristan has been impossible. No health polio vaccinator had been able to step in to the tribal agency since June 2012 when the militants who controlled the area banned all health workers in what they said was retaliation for US drone strikes. It followed revelations that the CIA had used a hepatitis B vaccination programme in the city of Abbottabad as a front for trying to track down the former al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
Health workers compared North Waziristan to a gushing tap that could not be turned off, forcing the campaign to focus resources on elaborate efforts just to stop it spreading. So the launch on 15 June of a massive military operation against the foreign and domestic terrorists who had come to rule North Waziristan is seen by Durry and his colleagues as a huge step forward.
"It's a real opportunity for us," he said. "We have been desperate to get access to these people for a long time."
While it has created misery for about half a million people who have had to flee their homes, the internally displaced have been forced to pass through army checkpoints, where they have been vaccinated.
Already almost 200,000 previously unreachable civilians fleeing hostilities have been treated with drops of a solution containing a highly weakened form of the polio virus.
But in underdeveloped countries one treatment is not sufficient for often malnourished and sick children to develop the immunity required to ensure the virus eventually dies out.
It means children have to be continuously re-dosed, with those in low-risk areas generally expected to receive about six doses a year while those living in the teeming slums of big cities receive the drops up to 15 times annually.
Such efforts are helping to drench Pakistan's children with polio drops – in the past two years more than 420m doses of oral polio vaccine have been administered.
The displaced children of North Waziristan will have to be tracked. Making the task harder is the unwillingness of most civilians from the area to stay in the refugee camp set up by the army. The country has already mounted a huge effort to target children more or less at random as they travel around the country, in addition to the traditional door-to-door campaigns.
Teams are operating at hundreds of "transit stations", such as the grand Raj-era train station in Rawalpindi, where young polio vaccinators and their police guard have 15 minutes to work their way down the trains before they press on with their journeys.
Passing through the grimy old carriages, a two-man team look for children younger than five. If their parents agree, the vaccinators whip out small plastic phials from a cooler box and briskly put drops into the children's mouths.
On a train containing dozens of families travelling en masse from the sprawling port city of Karachi – a polio hotspot – to the town of Mirpur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, there isn't enough time to cover everyone and the train pulls out of the station before they reach the final two carriages.
"We do our best, but the trains are always very busy," said Bilal Aftab, one of the vaccinators, as he watched the line of green carriages trundle onwards.
Not surprisingly, vaccination fatigue is setting in among some parents. One mother crossly swished away the vaccination team when they poked their heads over a privacy sheet tied across their section of the carriage. "We gave it to our daughter many times and it gave her a bad stomach," she said, adding that she had heard stories of the drops damaging some children.
Parental opposition is just one of the many problems that have made Pakistan a particularly hard nut for global polio elimination efforts. There is widespread misinformation about the vaccine, which has been demonised as being part of a western plot to curb birth rates in the Islamic world.
In late 2012 militants began killing vaccination teams, many of them led by an army of "lady health workers", creating yet more problems.
It has all added to the already difficult and expensive task of wiping out the last vestiges of the disease. About $227m (£133m) will be spent this year in Pakistan alone.
It is the sort of outlay that horrifies sceptics, who believe the ambition to eradicate rather than control polio is a grandiose pipe dream that overburdens developing countries and diverts resources from many other pressing health needs.
With only one other human disease – smallpox – successfully eradicated, some argue the goal is ultimately unrealisable. They point out the target year of 2000 for global eradication has been repeatedly pushed back.
Advocates say it is worth it because once polio is eradicated from the three remaining countries where it is endemic the benefits will be cost-free for the rest of time.
Durry says the intense focus on polio has helped push through essential reform of the country's health service, which was once plagued with "ghost" vaccination teams.
This year Peshawar pioneered a massive campaign to inoculate entire populations of children under the age of five on a single day, repeating the operation for up to 12 consecutive weeks.
To deal with the threat from gunmen, the streets were flooded with 4,000 policemen on vaccination days, while neighbourhoods were cordoned off and motorbike-riding banned.
There have also been efforts to challenge popular suspicions about a high-profile, well-funded campaign backed by international bodies and western philanthropists such as Bill Gates. Local campaigns have been renamed and rebranded so there is no longer any mention of international organisations.
The Islamic Development Bank has come forward to pick up the bill for the 2014 effort.
Respected religious scholars have been pressed into publicly supporting the effort and many teams carry small booklets of pro-vaccination edicts issued by scholars.
But despite growing optimism that the campaign derailed by Pakistan's religious militants may at last be getting back on track, the fundamental difficulty of attacking the disease means the red pins will not disappear completely for years to come.
What is polio?
• Polio is an ancient scourge that has been paralysing, deforming and killing its victims for millennia. One stone carving from ancient Egypt has even been found showing one sufferer with a characteristic withered leg walking with the aid of a stick.
• There is no cure for the disease, caused by one of three different viruses which enters the body through the mouth, proliferates in the intestine then invades the central nervous system, destroying cells that activate muscles. It causes irreversible paralysis
• Its ideal environment are crowded cities where the disease can easily be passed on, usually by faeces contaminating drinking water. The vast majority of people infected with the virus never display any of its symptoms, meaning they can spread it on to thousands of others before the first case of paralysis emerges.
• Large epidemics in the early 20th century were responsible for killing and paralysing hundreds of thousands of children. The first vaccine was developed in the 1950s. That was largely superseded by the invention of orally administered vaccines that are cheaper and easier to roll out on a mass scale.
• In 1988 polio was eradicated from much of the developed world and an international effort was launched to wipe it out everywhere else by 2000.
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
The Guardian, 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 past 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, including in the corridors and staircases," 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 a month, not long enough to judge whether he can deliver on his campaign promise of good governance. But his obsession for order and cleanliness has energised bureaucrats to make their working space 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, end 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 blocked by their minister, they can pitch it directly to him (but only in a PowerPoint format please, as 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 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.
Buddhist-Muslim Mayhem Hits Myanmar’s No. 2 City
By THOMAS FULLER and WAI MOE
JULY 3, 2014
BANGKOK — The authorities in Myanmar on Thursday declared a nighttime curfew in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, after a resurgence of religious violence left two people dead and more than a dozen injured.
In terrifying scenes that have been repeated numerous times in Myanmar over the past two years, scores of Buddhist men on motorcycles converged on a Muslim neighborhood in Mandalay brandishing swords, yelling anti-Muslim slogans and ransacking Muslim shops, witnesses said.
The curfew order, issued by the Mandalay regional government, bans gatherings of more than five people from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
This was the first time in recent years that large-scale religious rioting struck a major city in Myanmar, raising fears of a wider conflict. Mandalay — like the country’s largest city, Yangon — is heavily multicultural, a patchwork of Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities who have lived side by side since well before British colonial times.
The violence, which began on Tuesday night, was set off by reports that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman. State media on Thursday identified a Muslim name as that of the man suspected of rape.
The minister of security and border affairs in the region, Col. Aung Kyaw Moe, told reporters that in addition to the two deaths — of a Buddhist man and a Muslim man — one mosque had been burned and four others attacked with stones.
The Burmese news media identified the Buddhist victim as U Tun Tun, a driver for an association that offers free funerals. The Muslim was identified by a friend as U Soe Min, the owner of a bicycle repair shop. He was beaten to death while en route to a mosque for morning prayers, according to the friend, U Nay Oo.
Radical Buddhist groups have gained strength in Myanmar in recent years and have stoked violence against Muslims, who are a small minority in the majority-Buddhist country.
Muslim residents of the multiethnic neighborhood where the attacks took place said Buddhist mobs had destroyed cars and attacked Muslim shops that were only a five-minute walk from a large police station. The police fired rubber bullets in an attempt to quell the violence, but residents complained that they had come too late.
“I don’t understand why it took the police 50 minutes to arrive,” said U Nyi Nyi, a Muslim resident who owns a tea shop in the neighborhood. “I don’t understand why police did not arrest members of the mob even though they were just a few feet away from them.”
Mr. Nyi Nyi said that he had witnessed the violence and that the crowds had shouted, “We are Buddhist martyrs!” and “Muslims, be gone!”
Religious violence, which has left more than 250 people dead and close to 150,000 homeless since rioting broke out in western Myanmar in June 2012, has been a major setback for Myanmar’s transition from a military dictatorship to democracy.
The government of President Thein Sein says it is trying to contain the violence and has blamed shadowy forces. Activists say the government is not doing enough and point to a set of laws proposed earlier this year by Mr. Thein Sein that they say reinforces the religious polarization. The laws would, among other things, require Buddhist women to obtain permission before marrying outside their religion.
A posting on Facebook by Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of the radical Buddhist movement known as 969, appeared to have partly spurred the violence in Mandalay. He posted news of the reported rape and urged the government to crack down on what he called “jihadist Muslims.”
U Soe Lin, a Buddhist resident of Mandalay, said the attackers did not seem to know their way around the city.
“The mobs came after sunset, and they disappeared before dawn,” he said. “They didn’t know the layout of the city well. They were strangers.”
China and South Korea Affirm Antinuclear Goals
By JANE PERLEZ
JULY 3, 2014
SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of China and South Korea sent a strong message to North Korea on Thursday, saying they were united in their opposition to the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, though they fell short on how they would pursue that goal.
After a three-hour meeting, China’s president, Xi Jinping, and South Korea’s leader, Park Geun-hye, issued a joint statement that smoothed over the differences in approach that have stalled a more aggressive stance toward the unabated development of nuclear weapons by North Korea, and its leader, Kim Jong-un, China’s ally.
Their joint communiqué said that the “two countries reaffirm their firm opposition to the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula,” phraseology that the Chinese have always preferred because it does not specifically cite North Korea.
With Mr. Xi standing beside her, Ms. Park read a statement that said the two leaders had agreed that the “denuclearization of North Korea must be achieved at all costs,” with the emphasis on the nation of North Korea rather than the Korean Peninsula.
The variance in terminology showed the continued reluctance of China to single out the North Koreans and force them to give up their weapons for fear of creating instability that could spill over their borders, Chinese and South Korean analysts said.
Still, on the eve of Mr. Xi’s arrival in Seoul, the South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, said the Chinese position could be interpreted as meaning the denuclearization of North Korea. “China will never make that concession” and drop the reference to the peninsula, said Moon Chung-in, professor of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Just as Mr. Xi’s plane was about to land in Seoul, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, concerned about a warmer relationship between China and South Korea, announced that he would lift some sanctions imposed against North Korea. He was doing so, he said, in return for Pyongyang’s pledge to investigate the abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
The timing of the statement by Mr. Abe was interpreted in Seoul as an attempt to distract from the united front presented by China and South Korea on the behavior of Japan’s military during World War II.
“Abe is afraid of South Korean and Chinese cooperation on Japan’s past,” said Han Suk-hee, professor of international relations at Yonsei University.
It was possible, Mr. Han added, that Mr. Abe would seek to meet with Mr. Kim in the coming months as a way of upstaging Mr. Xi, who has ignored Mr. Kim and declined to invite him to Beijing.
Good personal chemistry between Mr. Xi and Ms. Park was on display Thursday on the first day of Mr. Xi’s visit to Seoul. It was the fifth time they had met since Mr. Xi became president of China early last year.
Yet beneath the personal warmth lay disagreements on important matters, like the North Korean nuclear weapons program, and for Ms. Park, how to deal with Mr. Xi’s new concept of a security architecture in Asia that would be led by China and would sideline the United States.
“When you get into the sensitive political matters — the denuclearization of North Korea and Xi Jinping’s ideas for Asia — it gets more difficult,” Mr. Moon said. As expected, Mr. Xi called for the resumption of six-party talks that began in 2003 with the aim of ending the North Korean nuclear program but stopped in 2007 after little progress was made.
In their joint statement, the two countries pledged to complete a free-trade agreement that would bolster their already booming economic ties. Mr. Xi said that they hoped the accord would be completed within the year, and that annual two-way trade would increase to $300 billion by the end of this year.
The country’s nuclear weapons program and its development of long-range rocket systems have angered many in the West, including in the United States.
In something of a surprise, Mr. Xi said South Korea had agreed to consider joining the Chinese initiative for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that Beijing is organizing as a mechanism for a Chinese-led effort to bankroll more infrastructure projects in underdeveloped Asian nations.
The bank, still in the planning stage, is widely seen as an effort by China to create a financing structure to compete with the Asian Development Bank, which is dominated by Japan and the United States.
Ms. Park has insisted that Japan should offer compensation to the victims of its military’s use of Korean and other women as sex slaves during World War II. Similarly, China has a long list of grievances about Japanese atrocities before and during the war, including the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in Nanjing in 1937.
“South Korea and China have been bonding on the history issues for a while,” said John Delury, professor of East Asian studies at Yonsei University.
Indeed, on the eve of Mr. Xi’s arrival in Seoul, Ms. Park told Chinese state television that a 1993 apology by Japan for using Korean and other women as sex slaves was insufficient, and that a recent review of that apology by Japan had only served to make the situation worse. Ms. Park’s government is seeking compensation for 54 Korean women who say they were sex slaves.
“South Korea feels there is a clear hierarchy of alliances and the U.S. is focused on giving Abe what he wants, and that makes the South Koreans feel on their own,” Mr. Delury said. Hence, he said, it was easy for South Korea to turn to China and unite on what are known as the “history issues.”
In China, Mr. Xi’s South Korean trip was given enthusiastic and plentiful news coverage on Thursday that failed to mention differences over North Korea.
But the state-run news agency, Xinhua, blasted the United States for its policies toward North Korea, an echo of the unhappiness within the Chinese government at the Obama administration’s refusal to be more flexible toward the North Korean government. “Washington’s counterproductive obsession with sanctions and intimidation and Pyongyang’s understandable sense of insecurity and unhelpful violations of United Nations resolutions have only exacerbated the feud,” the agency said.
Tony Abbott says Australia was 'unsettled' before British arrived
'Our country is unimaginable without foreign investment,' prime minister says in Q&A after speech urging infrastructure spending
theguardian.com, Friday 4 July 2014 00.28 BST
Australia was “unsettled” before the British arrived and owes its existence to Britain’s “form of foreign investment” in the land, Tony Abbott has said.
The prime minister delivered the keynote address to the Australian-Melbourne Institute on Thursday evening and during a question and answer session he was asked about foreign investment in real estate.
He said the issue was contentious and emotional and likened it to perhaps wanting to be able to sell your own house to a foreign investor, “but if my neighbour wants to sell his place [then] foreign investment might be the last thing we want”.
“Our country is unimaginable without foreign investment,” Fairfax Media reported Abbott saying. “I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land.”
The Q&A followed a speech during which Abbott pushed for greater investment in infrastructure.
He said the country had undergone a decisive and cultural shift against reform but his government would change that, as the gap between infrastructure need and infrastructure spending was about $1tn globally.
“A lot else has happened since the election but the boats are no longer coming, an infrastructure boom unmatched in our history is shortly to begin,” he said. “The budget is now projected to be in balance, and the carbon tax is likely to be gone within a week.”
Professor Michael Dodson, director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, said Abbott’s comments were “an unfortunate slip of the tongue”.
“It’s a typical European colonial thing to say and it probably has its origins in the way in which history, for too long, has been taught in this country,” Dodson told Guardian Australia.
“The British view that the place was terra nullius and unsettled still lingers in the minds of people like our prime minister, I’m afraid. It’s very disappointing. I mean he corrected himself, but even ‘scarcely settled’ isn’t quite accurate either because some areas were heavily settled,” he said.
Dodson, who was also Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, said the lie of terra nullius as the foundation for colonisation is still being perpetuated, despite the high court overturning it in the historic Mabo ruling in 1992.
Dodson said he did find the other portion of Abbott’s comments – that the British arrival was a “form of foreign investment” – highly offensive.
"Foreign investment of troops who slaughter the bloody populace," he said.
"The first encounter James Cook had with Aboriginal people was to shoot this ancestor of the Sydney people in the back. This hankering for a mythical past is disturbing.”
In the lead-up to December’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Abbott called for other governments to “get the settings right” for private business to play a bigger part in infrastructure investment.
“Governments can’t finance the world’s infrastructure needs on their own – as we have found in Australia and seen elsewhere,” he said. “The private sector must do more.”
Abbott also signalled further welfare reforms “based on the work of Patrick McClure and Andrew Forrest”.
He also said Australia had had six years of “economic drift”, but went on to laud the 23 years of continuous growth.
“It is a record unparalleled in our history and currently has few equals in the world,” he said.
Australia 'unsettled' before the British came? Tony Abbott knows better
The prime minister doesn’t need a history lesson on the colonial settlement of this continent. So what’s he playing at?
theguardian.com, Friday 4 July 2014 02.41 BST
Tony Abbott does not need a history lesson on the colonial settlement of Australia.
The prime minister knows that the Indigenous inhabitants of what became Sydney Harbour stood on the headland at that point we know as Lady Macquarie's Chair and watched the tall ships arrive.
Abbott knows what followed, too. He knows that Europeans grabbed the traditional lands of the tribes as the pastoralists pushed further north, south and west. And he knows, too well, that British troops – and later, locally raised military units, paramilitaries and raiding parties – carried on a war with the first inhabitants that claimed, by conservative estimate, 20,000 Indigenous Australians and 2,000 colonial settlers and combatants.
We know that he gets all of that because he has said so often enough – and sometimes even to his detriment among conservatives who are divided about what acknowledgment modern Australia should give to its Indigenes, not least in the constitution.
“Our climate, our land, our people, our institutions, rightly make us the envy of the Earth, except for one thing: we have never fully made peace with the first Australians. This is the stain on our soul that prime minister Paul Keating so movingly evoked at Redfern 21 years ago. We have to acknowledge that pre-1788 this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now. Until we have acknowledged that we will be an incomplete nation and torn people.”
(Making peace, of course, tacitly acknowledges war, or at least combat. This is important, given the interpretation of benign settlement that contributes to Australian cultural narcolepsy on colonial conflict or frontier war.)
Abbott said this about Keating’s Redfern speech in federal parliament in February 2013, to the private and public consternation of some of his sympathisers who are wary of moves to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution – and loathe Keating. Instructively Peter Coleman, one of the judges of the prime minister’s literary awards, which include the prestigious PM's Australian history award, has disparaged the Keating speech as “dreadful”.
All of which makes Abbott's pronouncements on Thursday night about pre-European settlement of the “great southern land” (the description of the admiralty pre-1788) both mystifying and extremely reckless.
Speaking at the Australian-Melbourne Institute conference, Abbott mused on the importance of foreign investment in Australia, saying that, as a general principle, “we support foreign investment”. Nothing contentious there.
But he went further when he emphasised just how important that investment is. “I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, great southern land.”
Unsettled or scarcely settled?
It’s difficult to justify either proposition. At the time of European arrival the continent was settled, and had been for 40,000 years, from coast to coast and through the centre, and from north to south, with peoples who had sophisticated land management systems, cultural practices and languages. Those who doubt this should read Bill Gammage's remarkable book The Greatest Estate on Earth.
Well before white settlement the British admiralty, in secret instructions to Captain Cook – the explorer who was at the vanguard of seeking trade, settlement and, to follow the Abbott analogy, “investment” opportunity – acknowledged potential Indigenous sovereignty of the great southern land.
Long before the first fleet, Cook sailed on his voyage of discovery with instructions “ … To observe the genius, temper, disposition and number of the natives, if there be any, and cultivate a friendship and alliance with them ... You are also with the consent of the natives to take possession of convenient situations in the country in the name of Great Britain. Or, if you find the country uninhabited, take possession for his Majesty.”
Abbott's intentional – or otherwise – questioning of the extent of Indigenous habitation of the great southern land at the time of white settlement (or invasion) – will embolden critics of his plan to acknowledge Aboriginal Australians in the constitution. That process, which he has vowed to push ahead with in this parliament, has a long way to run – culturally and politically.
It is hard to imagine Abbott, a PM who has long been seen as a progressive on Indigenous rights, history and recognition, was accidentally mis-speaking on such a monumental and contentious matter.
Tony Abbott: budget will pass because no one has 'credible alternative’
PM optimistic despite key crossbenchers signaling opposition to budget measures ahead of taking Senate places next week
Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor
theguardian.com, Friday 4 July 2014 01.06 BST
The prime minister has acknowledged the budget faces a very tough ride in the new post-July Senate, but Tony Abbott has nonetheless declared his economic statement will pass in time “because no one has put up a credible alternative”.
Abbott told a Melbourne Institute conference on Thursday night it could take several attempts to end the current legislative deadlock over the May statement, but he remained optimistic the debate would turn.
“Eventually – if not at the first attempt or even the second – this budget will pass, because no one has put up a credible alternative,” Abbott said.
With key crossbenchers signaling their opposition to major budget measures ahead of taking their places in the upper house next week, the prime minister appeared to suggest the ALP may come round from its current hardline stance.
“Even the Labor party will eventually realise that you can’t block the government’s economic action strategy without one of your own,” he said.
Abbott used his speech at the conference to contend that major economic reform was still possible despite the political obstacles faced by governments wanting to embark on structural change.
“The age of reform has not ended in Australia,” Abbott said. He said governments had to press ahead with getting the budget onto a sustainable footing because “business as usual is not an option for a country that’s living beyond its means.”
“The Australian people will never be content to wallow in mediocrity,” he said.
The government has taken a substantial hit in the opinion polls and left itself wide open to political attack by breaking key election promises in its first budget.
But Abbott said on Thursday night the Coalition had done what it told voters it would do pre-election: stop the boats, repeal the carbon tax, build the roads of the 21st century, and get the budget back under control.
“A lot else has happened since the election but the boats are no longer coming, an infrastructure boom unmatched in our history is shortly to begin, the budget is now projected to be in balance, and the carbon tax is likely to be gone within a week,” he said.
“This government is arguing for difficult but necessary reforms – not justifying incompetence or trying to excuse negligence.”
The new Senate takes its place next week and the government intends to press ahead with its plan to repeal Labor’s clean energy package and the mining tax.
Palmer United party senator Jacqui Lambie declared on Thursday that her party had no interest at all in compromising on unpopular budget measures “especially that $7 co-payment, deregulation of university fees and the paid parental leave, which is a very big sticking point for Palmer United”.
Abbott has been reaching out to the crossbench as representatives of the Palmer United party, Australian Motoring Enthusiast party, Family First, and one Liberal Democrat attended orientation sessions in Canberra on Thursday and Friday in order to learn about parliamentary procedures.
Chinese investors could have more access to Australia
Labor says China should get the same foreign investment deal as the US achieved under its free trade agreement with Australia
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 July 2014 07.48 BST
Labor says China should get the same foreign investment deal as the US achieved under its free trade agreement with Australia.
And its trade spokeswoman, Penny Wong, says agriculture should not be viewed a special case.
The Abbott government has signalled Australia will offer China the same preferential deal on foreign investment by private firms as it has granted the US, Japan and South Korea in bilateral free trade pacts.
Those deals create a new investment threshold of $1.08bn (up from $248m) before Foreign Investment Review Board (Firb) scrutiny is triggered.
Wong said on Thursday Labor was happy to “support moves to put China, our biggest trading partner, on the same footing as the United States when it comes to investing in Australia”.
“That means a threshold of $1.078bn for Foreign Investment Review Board screening of proposed investments in non-sensitive sectors,” she said.
But Wong signalled Labor would continue to be cautious about investment from state-owned enterprises, a key issue of contention in the Australia/China FTA.
“Lower thresholds should continue to apply for investments in sensitive sectors or by state-owned enterprises, where issues of national interest can arise,” she said.
The Abbott government has indicated it will look to strike a special deal to approve more investment in Australia by Chinese state-owned enterprises if Beijing agrees to sign up to a broad-ranging free trade pact later this year.
Wong indicated Labor did not see agriculture as a special case when it came to foreign investment.
“Placing hurdles in the way of foreign investment in our primary production industries will only jeopardise their growth,” she said. “That is why Chinese investment in agriculture should be treated in the same way as investment in other non-sensitive sectors.”
The Nationals insist that lower foreign investment thresholds apply to all foreign investment in Australian farmland and agribusinesses in free trade pacts.
Recent free trade agreements with South Korea and Japan contain provisions to screen proposals for private investment in agricultural land at $15m, and agribusinesses at $53m – a fraction of the $1bn thresholds applying to non-sensitive sectors.
Wong’s speech indicates Labor rejects this position.
“If we are serious about significantly expanding our food exports to Asia, we must front up to the reality and necessity of foreign investment in our agricultural sector,” she said.
“It is inconceivable that we will be able to scale up production to fully tap into the growing consumer markets of Asia without foreign investment.”
She also suggested the $1bn-plus threshold for Firb screening offered to investors from the United States, Korea, Japan and New Zealand might be extended to all Australia’s trading partners.
Wong touted the benefits of free trade in reducing poverty in the region and said Australia should use its chairmanship of November’s G20 meeting to revive the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha round talks on multilateral trade liberalisation.
She said since Australia was negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which included a dozen countries, but excluded China, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which included China but excluded the US, it was in a unique position to bring the countries together.
If handled correctly, the negotiations could result in a free trade area covering the Asia-Pacific region, Wong said.
“I want to see more opening of our economy, on a wider range of fronts, with deeper integration into our region and the world,” she said.
“Because freer trade will improve living standards for working people and deliver growth for Australia. And, around the globe, free trade will continue to lift millions out of poverty and to reshape the world economic order.”
Wong said the reshaping of the global economy gave Australia the opportunity to replace the tyranny of distance with the advantages of proximity which could deliver great economic benefits for future generations.”
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, said he welcomed Labor’s approach to the $1bn threshold, and noted higher investment thresholds applied to countries with which an FTA had been finalised.
“It’s certainly something we would like to extend to China as well, should this deal be concluded,” he said on Thursday.
The Liberal senator Zed Seselja criticised Wong for raising the matter while FTA negotiations were under way.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to get these [free trade agreements] done with Japan and Korea is because we do them in a sensible way, we don’t give away our negotiating position … I think this intervention from Penny Wong, their first policy statement, is an extraordinary one,” he told Sky News.
“Hopefully what we achieve with China will be as good [as], or better than, what we’ve achieved with Japan and Korea.”
The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, said Labor believed in foreign investment and the government had been at “sixes and sevens” on it.
“It goes to our approach of an open economy, an economy which welcomes foreign investment, one which embraces trade and one that says economic growth must be at the forefront of Labor’s agenda,” he said.
Coalition to tighten laws to crackdown on alleged jihadists
Under the proposed national security shakeup, Australians could be presumed to be visiting Syria or Iraq 'for no good purpose'
Daniel Hurst, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 4 July 2014 11.23 BST
Australians could be presumed to be visiting Syria or northern Iraq “for no good purpose” under significant national security law changes to make it easier to detain and prosecute alleged participants in foreign conflicts.
On Friday the attorney general, George Brandis, signalled the proposal could be part of a forthcoming package toughening Australia’s national security legislation, effectively conceding deficiencies in current laws as they apply to alleged jihadists participating in the bloody sectarian conflicts.
The government has gradually intensified its rhetoric about national security in the past few weeks, warning of the risks posed by “radicalised” young Australians returning home after participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Security agencies have issued explicit warnings about those domestic risks since late last year. Brandis said the government was considering ways to address “evidentiary problems” as part of reforms it would bring to federal parliament shortly.
“For example, one proposal which we are considering is the capacity for the minister for foreign affairs to certify that a particular region or a particular conflict within a region is a region for the purposes of the foreign incursions legislation, so that if it is demonstrated that an Australian has returned from that region, there can be a presumption that they were there for no good purpose,” Brandis told 2GB radio on Friday.
Such a presumption is likely to make it easier for authorities to detain people preventatively if they return to Australia.
The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act makes it illegal for an Australian citizen to enter a foreign state and engage in a hostile activity, or to intend to engage in a hostile activity.
The outgoing national security legislation monitor, Bret Walker SC, whose office is being axed by the Coalition as part of the “red tape” reduction push, used his final report to outline “defects” in current laws, including the inability to use evidence obtained from surveillance in a foreign country without permission from officials of that country.
Brandis said the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, had cancelled passports on the advice of security agencies to prevent people from leaving to fight in the conflicts, but the government also needed to make policy changes ensuring people could be targeted when they returned after fighting.
“Well, we don't want them back, we don't want these people back, and that is why one of the things the prime minister has asked me to do is to review our laws, which we are doing right at the moment, to ensure that there are adequate legal bases to stop them from coming back, or if they arrive at the border, to take them into custody,” Brandis told 2GB.
“It is already a crime against Australian law to participate in fighting in a foreign civil war. If somebody who has participated in fighting in a foreign civil war returns to Australia, they can be arrested, they could be charged with an offence which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 25 years.
“But there are sometimes evidentiary problems. You've got to be able to prove that these people have committed that offence, and that's one of the aspects of the law we're looking to reform: to make sure that it is easier to prove that these people whom we suspect of engaged in foreign war fighting, have in fact done so.”
Brandis’s comments represent an acknowledgement of the practical difficulties of securing prosecutions under the existing legislative framework. They follow his blunt comments earlier in the week about how the government intended to deal with fighters who returned to Australia.
“Those who do come back, there is a very high chance that they're coming back for no good, which is why if they try to come back, we should pick them up at the border and charge them for the offence that we know they've already committed and that is waging war in a foreign land,” Brandis told Sky News on Tuesday.
On Wednesday the criminal barrister and one-time political candidate Greg Barns cast doubt over the government’s practical capacity under current laws to round up alleged jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria.
And in the final report of the national security legislation monitor, Walker said the problem of gathering overseas evidence was challenging for the prosecution of terrorism offenders. He noted discussions with relevant agencies confirmed investigations were “presently stillborn on account of problems of foreign evidence, that might otherwise have succeeded”.
The potential reforms to deal with the issues in Iraq and Syria are in addition to a forthcoming bill to expand the powers of intelligence agencies, including to access the computers of people who are not the primary subject of an investigation. Those extra powers are based on the recommendations of chapter four of the 2013 parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security (PJCIS) report.
PJCIS members will travel to London next week for an international conference pondering the challenges of effective intelligence oversight after disclosures by Edward Snowden.
Brandis said the legislation to be brought to the Senate within two weeks would ensure the investigative tools of security agencies kept pace with developments in technology. He said the inability of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (Asio) to access other computers in the same network as one for which it had a warrant reflected “the pre-internet era”.
Abbott stressed the need to tackle national security threats as he announced on Friday that the government would soon bring forward legislation to set minimum mandatory five-year jail terms for gun trafficking.
“Right now we face serious challenges from international events and these new and emerging threats make it more important than ever that we work together to keep our borders secure and keep our communities safe, to keep people who would do us harm under the closest possible supervision,” the prime minister said.
« Last Edit: Jul 04, 2014, 06:17 AM by Rad »
Murdered Palestinian teenager's family says new footage shows his abduction
Claims that Mohamed Abu Khdeir was targeted by Israeli extremists in revenge attack appear to be bolstered by video
Peter Beaumont in Shuafat
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 July 2014 20.53 BST
Source: Quique Kierszenbaum
Link to video: Palestinian teenager Mohamed Abu Khdeir's abduction 'caught on CCTV'http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/jul/03/cctv-palestinian-teens-mohamed-abu-khdeir-abduction-video
New video footage has emerged which the family of a Palestinian teenager abducted and murdered earlier this week says shows the moment of his kidnapping.
Mohamed Abu Khdeir, 17, was snatched by three men in a car while he was waiting to pray outside a mosque next to his home in East Jerusalem. His badly burned body was discovered in a forest on the western side of the city.
Senior Palestinian figures, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have said they believe the teenager was targeted by Israeli extremists in a revenge attack for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers three weeks ago.
This claim appeared to be bolstered by the emergence of the footage which the boy's family says captures the abduction – and suggests that he was randomly targeted outside a mosque and did not know his kidnappers.
The video, shown to the Guardian at the family home in Shuafat, was found on a CCTV camera a little way from the place where he went missing.
Relatives insist that it shows Khdeir about a hundred yards away sitting on a wall, a slumped dark shadow who moves occasionally.
Dated and timestamped, the footage appears consistent with the timings and account given by witnesses, although it is not possible to see any identifiable features or to verify the claims.
Crucially, the video appears to suggest that the abductors spotted the teenager sitting alone by chance, returned to watch him and let cars pass before approaching.
The key footage begins at 3.45am. Several cars pass where the boys is sitting, heading through a junction with some lights.
Then a car stops at the lights before reversing back down the road, past the boy and out of frame. At 3.50am, two figures in lighter clothing walk into the frame and towards Mohamed. They appear to engage him in conversation and then the car moves into shot again, drawing level.
The car pulls forward again past the group and then reverses amid what appears to be a struggle. When the car drives away at 3.51am, the figure who had been sitting on the wall is gone.
The disclosure of the tape came as the Israeli military bolstered forces along the increasingly volatile border with the Gaza Strip in response to intensifying rocket fire, which has added to the mounting sense of crisis.
In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, convened his security cabinet for a fourth time since Monday.
Although military and political sources have made clear they would like to avoid a serious conflict in Gaza with the militant Islamist group Hamas, whom Netanyahu blames for the kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, sources made clear that the group had a deadline of 24 hours to halt rocket fire.
Commenting on the new deployment of troops in Gaza, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said forces were taking up "defence positions" in Israeli communities that have been struck by the rockets from Gaza. He did not comment on the scale of the deployment. It follows air strikes against the territory early on Thursday.
It is the first time since the border began to heat up in mid-June – in tandem with an Israeli military sweep and search for the three abducted Israeli youths in the West Bank - that Israel has announced troop movements near the Gaza Strip.
"We are moving and we have moved forces," Lerner said in a conference call with foreign journalists. "Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don't de-escalate."
Israel, he said, has "no interest in deepening the conflict with Gaza – the absolute opposite is true".
Tensions in Jerusalem remained high in anticipation of Khdeir's funeral. No time has been set for the burial, an event that will stir strong emotions among Palestinians and could trigger further confrontation.
The military said Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired 14 projectiles into Israel on Thursday and that rockets struck two homes in the southern town of Sderot, causing no casualties.
****************Teenagers’ Deaths Raise Fears of Shift From Political Struggle to Blood Feud
By ISABEL KERSHNER and JODI RUDOREN
JULY 3, 2014
SDEROT, Israel — In this resilient town about a mile from Israel’s volatile border with the Gaza Strip, the streets were empty on Thursday but the residents expressed defiance as Israeli troops massed around Gaza after a barrage of rockets including three that hit homes here.
“We need to finish them off before they finish us off,” said Avichai Jorno, 34, whose bedroom was littered with debris and bathroom was destroyed by an unexploded rocket.
In Shuafat, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed the day before, streets strewn with remnants of Wednesday’s violent protests were mostly quiet, too, but for a smallish clash with Israeli soldiers. And the boy’s family was also defiant, calling on the Israeli authorities to declare the attack an act of revenge by Jews for last month’s abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, not the result of a family dispute.
“We want a written paper from the Israeli government saying the crime was committed on a national background, and we want the Israeli government to condemn this crime,” Ishak Abu Khdeir, the victim’s uncle, told reporters.
A familiar sense of foreboding engulfed Israelis and Palestinians, with both preparing for the possibility of another of Israel’s periodic military blitzes on Gaza, and with growing worry about a potential third intifada, or uprising, in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
But two months after the collapse of the latest round of peace negotiations, there was also a new kind of fear bubbling, a sense that these brutal crimes against young people — and the hate-laced social media campaigns surrounding them — had revealed an alarming depth of demonization and distrust on both sides.
“It could be a shift in the nature of the conflict, from political struggle to blood feud,” said Moshe Halbertal, a professor of philosophy at Hebrew University. “It’s no more the Palestinian possible state vis-à-vis the Israeli state; it’s kind of two peoples entangled in cycles of vengeance.”
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and analyst, said Israel’s aggressive crackdown on the West Bank — with hundreds of homes searched, mostly in cities supposedly under Palestinian control — had left “an overwhelming feeling of just this great vulnerability.”
“A lot of the problem with this place is that compassion has become quite selective,” said Ms. Buttu, who is a citizen of Israel but lives mainly in Ramallah. “I hate to say this, but all of the ingredients are there for things to get worse.”
The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday sentenced four recent recruits to 10 days in military jail for joining a Facebook revenge campaign by posting pictures of themselves with signs urging Israel’s prime minister to “let us terminate the terrorists.”
After nearly three weeks of intense activity in the West Bank, Israel’s military on Thursday turned toward Gaza, where the daily exchange of rockets answered by airstrikes threatened to explode into a full-scale operation.
With more than 40 rockets fired toward Israel in 24 hours, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said troops were mobilizing around Gaza “to serve defensive positions and forward preparations.” But he repeatedly said that “we have no interest in escalation,” and said Gaza’s fate was in the hands of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that dominates there and that Israel blames for the kidnap-murder of its three teenagers.
“Our activities on the ground are in direct relation to what Hamas has been dealing out,” Colonel Lerner said. “We don’t want to take it further, but we will be prepared for developments.”
Hamas political leaders, too, have said they are not interested in escalation, but that they are having trouble persuading other militias to hold their fire, especially with Wednesday’s discovery of the burned body of the 16-year-old from Shuafat, Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
After a meeting of the Gaza factions on Thursday afternoon, masked men from the Hamas military wing declared themselves “ready for all possibilities.” Thirteen rockets hit Israel as night fell.
“We monitor the barbaric and brutal aggression by the enemy’s army in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” a Hamas fighter said through a kaffiyeh covering all but his eyes. “We promise to turn your settlements, posts, the targets that you expect and those you don’t expect into a burning coal if your leadership makes any stupid step.”
The people of Sderot, where the first crude Qassam rockets made in Gaza fell 13 years ago, were preparing for another round, but were skeptical that Israel would take strong action. “It’s a waste of fuel,” Itzik Biton, who owns a falafel store, said of the mobilization. “They won’t do anything.”
“We were born here and we will die here,” Mr. Biton, 43, added. “The question is whether we will die of old age or from a Qassam.”
Ministers and Parliament members, insurance assessors and reporters visited Sderot, but local residents were scarce. In the midafternoon heat, a half-dozen children had the public pool — reopened this week after years’ closed for security reasons and then renovations — to themselves.
Mr. Jorno’s wife, Tami, said that when the rocket alert sounded at 8 a.m. Thursday, she and a friend rushed their three small children into the safe room off the kitchen and almost immediately heard two booms. She went out to her garden with its ornamental gnomes and toadstools, sensing that one had landed close by. Neighbors pointed out the hole in her stucco wall.
Later, bomb disposal experts carried the unexploded rocket away. Debris littered the Jornos’ flowery summer bedcovers.
Shuafat was also riddled with detritus from Wednesday’s clashes. Smashed traffic lights. Overturned garbage bins. A vegetable stand in an unfinished two-story building blackened by firebombs protesters had hurled at soldiers using it as a staging area.
“Resistance lives on,” read a splash of fresh red graffiti. Next to Muhammad’s name, another said, “Palestine is free and Arab.” Most were in Arabic, but one, in Hebrew, said, “Death to Jews.”
Around 5 p.m., some 300 Palestinians threw stones at soldiers, who responded with stun grenades. But most of the day was quiet, as mourners congregated at a canopy in front of Muhammad’s house and adorned with his picture, waiting for word on when the autopsy would be complete. The funeral was expected after Friday’s noon prayer.
“It will not be a normal funeral,” said a cousin, Said Abu Khdeir, who owns a restaurant in the neighborhood. “It will be a wedding for a martyr.”
A police spokesman said the investigation was continuing and had not yet determined whether the killing was revenge or a nonpolitical crime. Wasem Abu Khdeir, 17, a cousin of Muhammad’s, said the police had questioned four of his other teenage cousins for hours on Thursday about whether they had anything to do with the crime.
Tamir Lion, an anthropologist who focuses on youth and combat soldiers, said on Israel Radio, “The state of Israel in recent years is looking for its ethos — that is to say, ‘Where are we going.’
“When there is no ethos, and it does not matter why, you always withdraw to the most primitive ethos — us and them,” he added. “It becomes a group that defines itself not as what it is, but what it hates.”