In the USA...United Surveillance America
GOP-led House committee balks at turning over insider-trading documents to SEC
Friday, July 4, 2014 19:07 EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. House of Representatives panel said on Friday it should not have to comply with a federal regulator’s demand for documents sought for an insider-trading probe involving the staff director of a subcommittee and a lobbyist.
The House Ways and Means Committee argued in a court filing that U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in New York should deny the Securities and Exchange Commission’s attempt to subpoena documents from the committee and its healthcare subcommittee staff director Brian Sutter.
The SEC went to court June 20 to enforce subpoenas it issued as it sought information related to a probe into whether Sutter leaked material nonpublic information about Medicare reimbursement rates to Mark Hayes, a lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig LLP.
The committee’s filing called the SEC subpoena “a remarkable fishing expedition for congressional records.” It said the U.S. Constitution shields the panel and Sutter from being compelled to testify or produce documents.
A request for comment from the SEC was not immediately returned.
The dispute between the House committee and the regulator could test the boundary of the SEC’s powers to compel the legislative branch of government to cooperate with its enforcement of the federal securities laws.
In previous court filings, the SEC said Hayes spoke with Sutter the same day that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced reimbursement rates for the Medicare Advantage program.
The regulator said Hayes then emailed the brokerage firm Height Securities, which shortly afterward sent its clients a “flash alert” suggesting the deal could help insurance companies such as Humana Inc and Health Net Inc .
Share prices of both companies jumped after the report was issued.
The SEC will have until July 11 to respond to the committee’s opposing arguments.
The case is SEC v. Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-mc-00193.
On Independence Day Republicans Crusade To Eliminate the Rights of Half The Population
Friday, July, 4th, 2014, 9:09 pm
As Americans celebrate the anniversary of their nation’s birth, it is not entirely clear if they really comprehend why the American colonists broke away from England. Fortunately, Americans can read the Declaration of Independence and see for themselves that the list of grievances are founded on Jefferson’s immortal statement that “all [men] are created equal” and have “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is a sad fact of life that 238 years after issuing the Declaration, the concept that all Americans are equal and have “unalienable rights” is as false today as it was at the nation’s founding. It is true that over two centuries the nation did grant more Americans equality according to their unalienable rights, but the gains are rapidly being chipped away by other Americans under the guise of defending their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The other Americans denying every citizen their unalienable rights are Republican and religious, and are worse than the tyrant the Colonists finally broke away from. Looking briefly at Jefferson’s immortal statement, and the meaning of the words he carefully chose, explains why the religious Republican right are tyrants; and blatantly un-American.
Unalienable is defined as “impossible to take away, deny, or give up,” and liberty means an individual has control over their own actions, speech, and the power to choose how they conduct their life. Life, of course, is the capacity for growth, functional activity, and change preceding death, and happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
To Republicans and fundamentalist Christians, Jefferson’s “immortal statement” does not apply to “all men” or “any woman;” it is reserved solely for the rich and the religious; specifically the religious Christian right. If Americans have learned anything over the past five years, it is that Republicans and their teabagger cohort are on a tear to deny Jefferson’s unalienable rights to every American that is not a member of the wealthy elite or religious right. Thus, not only do they openly oppose the sentiment behind the Declaration of Independence for all Americans, they have made taking away those so-called “impossible to give up and deny” rights from every American save the religious and the rich.
Republicans at all levels of government, at the behest of the religious right, have launched a vicious crusade to eliminate well over half the population’s liberty to control their own actions and the ability to choose how one conducts their life. It is beyond refute that the attacks on women’s sexuality and reproductive health, Americans unwilling to comply with religious edicts, or gays seeking equal rights, are solely to eliminate their ability to control how they live their lives. Whether it is Republicans and the religious right actively impeding women from controlling when they give birth, or disallowing gays from choosing how to conduct their lives, it is the definition of tyranny that American colonists fought a war of independence to break free from. Today a majority of the population faces harsher tyranny than the Colonists because it is founded in religious domination; something the colonists were not subjected to and the Founding Fathers attempted to prevent.
Although it is true Republicans and the religious are not actively hunting down and eliminating Americans’ lives, they are actively putting large swathes of the population in harm’s way. Whether it is denying women the right to medical care, forcing millions into poverty with barbaric slave wages, or deliberately withholding healthcare from the poor, Americans are dying and it is down to Republicans serving the rich and the religious.
Happiness is relative and difficult to quantify, but there are tens-of-millions of Americans whose mental and emotional state is anything but contentment or positive feelings. When one group uses their “unalienable” right of liberty to dominate, control, and harm other Americans, it is obvious the dominated will never be happy. What is astonishing, really, is that what makes Republicans and the religious happy is denying most Americans all they need to be happy; freedom from religious tyranny, ability to control their own lives, a good job, adequate food and shelter, and basic medical care.
Despite Jefferson’s timeless declaration, it is time for the American people to rise up and declare their independence from Republican and religious tyrants once and for all. It is not that Jefferson’s unalienable rights need to be changed, but it is crucial to declare that liberty is not the authority to impose religious tyranny on the people, or force them into servitude to the wealthy elite. Any new declaration will also require defining life as more than barely surviving at the whims of the rich as promoted by Republicans, or being denied the basic human rights of clean air, water, food, shelter, and medical care; the things that ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
If what makes Republicans and the religious right happy is using their lives and liberty to deprive the rest of the populations’ rights that the Declaration of Independence claims are impossible to give up or take away, they are tyrants. In fact, “taking away” Americans’ rights is the sole intent of the Republican and religious right tyrants regardless if it is other Americans life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness and everything those “rights’ entail. Republicans and the religious have no right to celebrate the nation’s founding because they are actively, and with malice aforethought, in a crusade to destroy everything the Declaration of Independence stands for in their plot to rule by tyranny.
It is a travesty that too many Americans will celebrate the nation’s Independence Day and never give a second thought to how their unalienable rights are being eroded at the hands of tyrants. But they will wave their flags, get drunk, attend parades, listen to Republicans and the religious tout the virtues of the Jefferson’s timeless declaration, and watch fireworks; all the while their unalienable rights are vanishing at an alarming pace because Republicans and the religious are actively pursing their liberty to tyrannize the American people.
Happy Independence Day! Wave a flag, watch fireworks, enjoy family and friends, and then contemplate how to help all Americans enjoy their unalienable rights before Republicans and the religious right eliminate them.
To Honor American Independence, Republicans Shame Immigrant Children
By: Trevor LaFauci
Friday, July, 4th, 2014, 5:50 pm
What better way for Republicans to honor our country’s independence than to berate some of its most vulnerable people?
In the news this past week was a story out of Murrieta, California. Murrieta is a conservative town in Riverside County, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Buses from Texas carrying 140 undocumented children and their families were stopped on their way into the city by nearly 300 protesters blocking the road, causing the buses to turn around and be rerouted to a detention facility in San Diego. The children were being sent to the Murrieta detention facility due to overcrowding in Texas, which has recently experienced a surge in child migrants from Central America, especially from the nations of El Salvador and Honduras.
This was not a spontaneous protest. It was not only inspired but was also encouraged by Republican mayor Alan Long who was concerned that Murrieta was one of the California towns designated to receive the undocumented children. Due to the overcrowding in Texas, California towns such as Murrieta and El Centro were scheduled to receive these children over the coming weeks where they would be processed before being placed under the supervision of ICE agents and would be required to report back to them within 15 days of their release. Long, in a press conference said, “Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities.” His call to action was joined by people from all over the region and was met by counter-protesters. Tensions were high, and there was even a reported incident of one man spitting on the face of another who opposed him.
This is just the latest incident in a series of ongoing questions over immigration reform at the federal level. With President Barack Obama now intent to use executive action to act due to Republican intransigence and John Boehner now threatening a lawsuit against the President, emotions are running high on both sides of the aisle on a run-up to this November’s midterm elections. Republicans have continued their age-old lies regarding undocumented immigrants in an effort to dehumanize them and fire up their xenophobic base. Despite the fact that Latinos makeup a powerful up-and-coming voting bloc, the Republican Party has refused to accept them as a viable and important part of a multi-ethnic America in the 21st century.
The problem for Republicans is that they can throw hissy fit after hissy fit all they want, but the fact is that the majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform and don’t see undocumented immigrants as a massive drain on our economy. Heck, they don’t even see the ‘drug mules’ with “calves the sizes of cantaloupes” as Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King would have us believe. As bad as Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run was, his self-deportation stance might very well have been his second biggest blunder of the entire campaign, after his infamous 47% recording. Even RNC chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged that it was a “horrific” comment to make, and it very well might have been the turning point for Romney to be even somewhat competitive for the Latino vote in this country.
In addition to the self-deportation fiasco, Republicans still can’t seem to fathom American support for immigration reform, more specifically, the treatment of the DREAMers. The DREAMers are the group of children who were brought here at a young age and have grown up doing everything a “typical American” would do. The vast majority of them know nothing of their home countries and there even exists a percentage of them who have no idea that they are undocumented. The DREAM Act has been a piece of legislation that has been floated since 2001 which would give these undocumented students a chance to eventually become citizens as long as they could meet the following criteria: Having entered the US before age 16, to have lived in the US for at least five consecutive years, for males to have registered with the Selective Service, to have graduated from high school or attained a GED, and to be of good moral character. The bill was even passed by Congress in 2010 with a 216-198 vote. However, Senate Republicans refused to get on board the bill and without any Senate Republican support the bill was unable to attain the 60 votes needed to head to the president’s desk to get signed into law.
As Republicans to continue to attack our nation’s immigrants, especially our child immigrants, they have failed to realize that their hard-line anti-immigration stance is not appealing to the average independent voter. The average independent voter recognizes that immigrants have played a valuable part in our nation’s history and that there needs to be something done for the eleven million undocumented immigrants already living here, especially the children. Openly advocating for policies like self-deportation or protesting against young children is not doing the Republican Party any favors and has even caused people like Bill O’Reilly to call out pundits like Laura Ingraham for having a “draconian” view on the topic. What Ingraham and today’s Republican Party don’t realize is that we are a nation of immigrants, we always have been, and we will continue to be. As the demographics continue to change and America continues to get less and less White, Republicans will have to realize that their anti-immigration stance is an electoral loser at the polls.
If they don’t realize this, the White House will stay blue for generations to come.
Ukraine's First Big Win over Rebels Dims Truce Hopes
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 July 2014, 11:45
Resurgent Ukrainian forces on Sunday pursued retreating pro-Russian rebels after seizing their symbolic bastion in a morale-boosting win that appeared to dim hopes for a ceasefire in the bloody separatist insurgency.
Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko called the moment when his troops hoisted the Ukrainian flag over the militias' seat of power in Slavyansk "a turning point" in a campaign that has killed nearly 500 people and inflamed East-West ties.
The rebels admitted suffering heavy losses while abandoning the strategic city nearly three months to the day after its capture marked the onset of a new and even more bloody chapter in Ukraine's worst crisis since independence in 1991.
Most analysts think Poroshenko desperately needed a battlefield success one month into his presidency to secure the trust of Ukrainians frustrated by their underfunded army's inability to stand up to what they see as Russian aggression.
"This is not a full victory and no time for fireworks," the 48-year-old chocolate baron cautioned in a national television address.
He noted the insurgents were now regrouping around the million-strong eastern industrial hub of Donetsk and vowed to flush out "terrorists who are entrenching themselves in large cities".
A top commander in the Ukrainian irregular forces' Donbass battalion on Sunday reported recapturing the cities of Druzhkivka and Kostiantynivka just south of Slavyansk.
But he also urged residents not to walk the streets at night because "this can be dangerous".
The surge of optimism in Kiev has only added to already strong pressure on Poroshenko not to agree to another truce with the insurgents, which is being pushed hard by Ukraine's Western allies.
Poroshenko tore up a 10-day ceasefire last Monday, citing unceasing rebel attacks that killed more than 20 soldiers and -- according to both Washington and Kiev -- allowed the separatists to stock up on new supplies of heavy Russian arms.
Uneasy EU leaders are hoping that a new truce and a Kremlin promise not to meddle can take pressure off the bloc to adopt sweeping sanctions that could damage their own strong energy and financial ties with Russia.
Poroshenko hesitantly invited separatist leaders and a Russian envoy to attend European-brokered discussions about a new ceasefire on Saturday.
The call had gone unanswered by Moscow and the rebel command. But Russia appeared ready to talk again after the fall of Slavyansk.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed to his French and German counterpart late on Saturday the importance of "reaching an agreement between Kiev and the southeast of Ukraine on an unconditional and lasting ceasefire".
Lavrov specifically cited the "rapid escalation of the situation that comes amid an intensified military operation by the Ukrainian authorities".
The withdrawal from Slavyansk was led by senior militia commander Igor Strelkov -- alleged by Kiev to be a colonel in Russia's GRU military intelligence unit.
Kiev believes this supports Western claims that Moscow is covertly backing the uprising to both punish the new leaders for the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed administration and keep control over Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine.
Strelkov on Saturday lashed out at Russian President Pig Putin on Twitter for seemingly going back on his promise to use "all available means" to protect his compatriots in Ukraine -- a neighbor the Kremlin chief referred to as "New Russia".
But the 43-year-old rebel commander later told Moscow-backed television that he was busy plotting a counter-offensive that he himself would lead.
"I intend to issue an order (on Monday) creating a central military council that will include all the major field commanders," Strelkov told the LifeNews channel.
"This agency will help coordinate how we intend to defend the Donetsk People's Republic and, possibly, a part of the Lugansk People's Republic," he said in reference to the other separatist region of eastern Ukraine.
Georgian Opposition Leader Ordered Jailed Until Trial
By OLESYA VARTANYAN
JULY 5, 2014
TBILISI, Georgia — One of Georgia’s most prominent opposition leaders was denied bail and ordered jailed on Friday until his trial on charges of threatening a regional election official, setting off a political firestorm just days before a decisive second round of local elections.
The opposition leader, Gigi Ugulava, who is a former mayor of Tbilisi, the capital, was ordered jailed for up to nine months. He is a member of the United National Movement and a close ally of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president. The United National Movement lost control of Parliament in 2012, and then the presidency in 2013 to Georgian Dream, a rival party led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a reclusive billionaire who served briefly as prime minister.
Since Georgian Dream won control of the government, more than 10 senior United National Movement officials have been arrested on various charges, in what critics say is a wave of politically motivated prosecutions.
Mr. Saakashvili has left Georgia and is living in the United States and Europe. He has been warned that he, too, would be arrested if he returns.
Mr. Ugulava faces six charges, three of which were announced last week. He is also accused of the misappropriation of state funds, corruption and efforts to coerce a regional election commission during the first round of local balloting last month. Mr. Ugulava’s supporters say that the charges are baseless and that his detention is part of an effort to hobble the United National Movement before the second round of voting in local elections, including the Tbilisi mayor’s race, on July 12.
Prosecutors had tried several times to have Mr. Ugulava jailed. On Friday night, however, a court ordered him jailed for up to nine months. Mr. Ugulava was detained as he tried to board a flight on Thursday for what he said was a one-day trip to Kiev, Ukraine.
Georgian Dream has defended the prosecutions as a legitimate effort to hold former officials accountable for corruption and other misdeeds. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Saturday called Mr. Ugulava’s arrest “a triumph of justice” and denied exerting any pressure on the court, which he said made “an independent decision.” Mr. Garibashvili cited the arrest last week of the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, as a parallel.
Earlier this month, Georgia signed sweeping political and free-trade agreements with the European Union, which largely hinge on the country’s willingness to adopt Western standards on democratic practices and the rule of law.
Western leaders have previously warned Georgia about politically motivated prosecutions. On Friday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement calling on the Georgian government “to ensure that the judicial process is fully independent, transparent, and free of political influence.”
07/04/2014 03:41 PM
NSA Experts: 'National Security Has Become a State Religion'
Interview Conducted By Sven Becker, Marcel Rosenbach and Jörg Schindler
In a SPIEGEL interview, Edward Snowden's lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, and former NSA contractor Thomas Drake discuss the reasons behind the American spying agency's obssession with collecting data.
For more than a year now, the world has closely followed revelations disclosed by former American intelligence worker Edward Snowden. The documents from the whistleblower's archive have fueled an at times fierce debate over the sense and legality of the National Security Agency's (NSA) sheer greed for data.
In its current issue, SPIEGEL conducted two interviews it hopes will contribute to the debate. The first is with two major critics of the NSA's work -- human rights activist and lawyer Jesselyn Radack, who represents Snowden, and former spy Thomas Drake. The second interview is with John Podesta, a special advisor to United States President Barack Obama.
SPIEGEL: Germany's federal prosecutor has opened a formal inquiry into the surveillance of Angela Merkel's mobile phone, but he did not open an investigation into the mass surveillance of German citizens, saying that there was no evidence to do so. Mr. Drake, as a former NSA employee, what's your take on this?
Drake: It stretches the bounds of incredulity. Germany has become, after 9/11, the most important surveillance platform for the NSA abroad. The only German citizen granted protection by a statement by Barack Obama is Angela Merkel. All other Germans are obviously treated as suspects by the NSA.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Radack, do you have an explanation for the German federal prosecutor's position?
Radack: Of course. They don't want to find out the truth. Either they're complicit to some extent or they don't really care to investigate.
SPIEGEL: The federal prosecutor says that he has no chance of obtaining any evidence because everything is classified and that he doesn't expect the Americans to cooperate anyway.
Radack: As a government, you have the power to make people testify, to interview people, to call them in front of a grand jury or the equivalent. I think you should at least try to subpoena them, and if they ignore the subpoena, they don't get to have their little family vacation in Europe, because they would be on a wanted list.
SPIEGEL: Our newsmagazine recently released documents from the Snowden archive pertaining to the work of the NSA in Germany. They include a list that shows 150 different places, at least historically, where the NSA and its predecessors conducted espionage here in Germany, so-called Sigads.
Drake: Yes, those are activity designators for signals intelligence, so these are sites where data is collected, data is accessed, and it's being provided back to the NSA.
SPIEGEL: Are we talking about data that was gathered for the sake of the security of the United States and Germany?
Drake: Well, that has traditionally been the purpose, but it goes far beyond that. Just look at the technology, the network. All the important information, economic as well, crosses through Germany in some manner. It is either collected by the NSA itself or forwarded to it by the BND or companies that secretly pass it along.
SPIEGEL: The NSA argues that, in the war against terrorism, in order to find the needle in the haystack, we need lots of hay.
Radack: If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, you don't make the haystack bigger. The US government is fear mongering when it claims: "If you're against surveillance, the next terrorist attack is on you!"
SPIEGEL: What is the true reason for the data collection?
Radack: It's about population control. And economic espionage.
Drake: One of the big elephants in the room is Germany with its engineers. It's extraordinarily tempting to know what's going on here -- new products, new methodologies, new approaches.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Drake, was that your assignment when you worked for the NSA in Germany?
Drake: I personally didn't, but I knew that it happened.
SPIEGEL: On the other hand, Snowden's documents show that Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, cooperates closely with the NSA. Why does it do that if it harms Germany?
Drake: It's a sort of paradox in that relationship. The cooperation between the two services goes back to the Cold War. There was a deep intelligence sharing going on. The NSA has always been the master in that relationship, and most of the sharing is in one direction. It has never been equal. Then 9/11 happened.
SPIEGEL: The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Drake: Yes, and guess which country was actually declared as a target nation No. 1 afterwards? It was Germany. It was like Germany needs to be punished, because the hijackers lived here, trained here and communicated from here.
SPIEGEL: To punish? Was that the political agenda?
Drake: You would not have heard it particularly that way. But the conversation was always like: My gosh, we can't trust the Germans because guess who was living amongst them: some of the hijackers. Ironically, this actually bound the partnership with the BND even tighter, because the NSA wanted to have more control over what your guys were doing.
SPIEGEL: How close is the relationship between the two intelligence agencies?
Drake: Extraordinary close. They were not like the United Kingdom or Australia and other members of the "Five Eyes," the closest allies of the NSA. But it is fair to say, that the NSA relationship to the BND is similar to this.
SPIEGEL: You yourself worked as a spy for the NSA. What made you become a whistleblower?
Drake: It was only months after 9/11. Back then it became clear to me that in order to avoid another failure to protect people we just set aside the rules of law. The NSA violated our constitution by spying on its own people. Today, we have the greatest surveillance platform the world has ever seen. This is why I shudder. National security has become a state religion. They say they want to keep us safe, but from whom?
SPIEGEL: Terrorists, for example?
Radack: Oh, I've heard that a lot of times: This is all being done for security. The former NSA director Keith Alexander lied to Congress when he said they had thwarted 54 terrorist plots. Four months later, he was dragged back to the Senate Judiciary Committee and had to admit it had thwarted one plot. Maybe.
SPIEGEL: Information from US intelligence services allegedly helped lead to the arrest of members of the Sauerland terrorist group that was planning attacks in Germany.
Radack: I'm not denying this is possible, but the vast majority of this, 99.9 percent, is not about security. It's about controlling people and information.
Drake: Yes, this is where we get to the dark side of that whole surveillance apparatus. It takes the Stasi motto of knowing everything on a new level. In order to know it all, the NSA collects it all.
SPIEGEL: Can you still recall your first reaction to the Snowden affair?
Drake: None of it surprised me.
Radack: I thought: Finally, finally! Because for years I have been representing NSA whistleblowers who were saying the agency is monitoring all your e-mails, all your phone calls. They turn over every kind of personal data without any kind of warrant. And nothing happened. My second reaction was: Whoever did this is going to be completely nailed.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Drake testified in front of an investigative committee on NSA spying in Germany's federal parliament this week. Edward Snowden will not be able to because he hasn't been invited to Germany by the committee. However, Snowden doesn't want to testify while under asylum in Moscow. Can you explain why?
Radack: Members of the committee wanted an informal meeting in Moscow. But comprehensive testimony is only possible in Germany.
SPIEGEL: Some people believe Snowden will only be willing to cooperate if he is offered residency in Germany.
Radack: No. He has spoken in front of the Council of Europe, so he has done this before. Germany really needs to decide how serious it is about clarification.
SPIEGEL: Some members of the parliamentary investigative committee claim that your client doesn't really have much information to provide about NSA activities on German soil, anyway.
Radack: That is incorrect given that they haven't heard his evidence. It seems like the majority of the parliamentarians -- from both the conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrat -- don't want to be affiliated too closely with him. I think a lot of them are acting cowardly.
SPIEGEL: Would Germany even be a safe place for Snowden?
Radack: Germany does have an unfortunate history in terms of providing protection to informants from the NSA.
SPIEGEL: You are alluding to the case of Jens Karney, who was kidnapped in the middle Berlin in 1991 by US special forces.
Radack: Yes, but I nevertheless still think Germany seems like a good place for Edward Snowden to get asylum.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Drake, are you still in contact with former colleagues? How do they view Snowden's actions?
Drake: Right now I have no contact with anybody. They said internally that if you have any contact with Drake, you're risking your job. That's a chilling message. I suspect there is actually great sympathy for Snowden, but it is never shared. Because people go home at night, watch their TV shows, pay their mortgages and they don't want to have that disturbed. It's too uncomfortable to look in the mirror.
Radack: Sometimes people show up anonymously at our events and then whisper in my ear: "I work at NSA. I support everything you do."
07/04/2014 03:59 PM
Price Wars: Amazon Battles Traditional German Publishers
By Isabell Hülsen and Claudia Voigt
Amazon is delaying deliveries in Germany in a bid to raise its share of e-book earnings. A number of the country's biggest publishers say the strategy amounts to blackmail and are refusing to cave in. But their refusal to compromise could cost them their future.
"A place in the sun. Real friends. Pleasant surprises" reads the slogan gracing the facade of Amazon's headquarters in Schwabing, a district in Munich. Perfectly set off against a matt surface, the silver lettering does indeed shimmer in the July sun. "Fertile ideas. No nonsense." Given the conflict raging this summer between the company and the German book industry, the words reaching across two storeys of the building could be construed as somewhat mocking.
Amazon's adversary in the conflict is the Swedish Bonnier Group. The Swedish media conglomerate's Germany imprints include famous names in the country's publishing industry like Piper, Carlsen and Ullstein. Whenever Amazon sells a Bonnier e-book, it collects 30 percent of the retail price. But now Amazon wants its share hiked to 50 percent. So far, Bonnier is refusing to budge. "Amazon is undermining our ability to survive," says Christian Schumacher-Gebler, CEO for Bonnier Media Deutschland.
"Negotiating is daily bread for us retailers," says Ralf Kleber, CEO of Amazon Deutschland.
Kleber recently returned from Seattle, home to the Amazon mother ship. He seems to have brought back with him some of corporate America's upbeat and uncomplicated attitude. The door to his office is open, but no framed family photographs, shelves of CDs or actual books are anywhere to be seen. The 48-year-old sports a pale blue shirt and jeans, with his Amazon ID on a yellow lanyard standing in for a tie. The "Ralf" in his name appears on the ID in big, bold letters. His surname is barely visible.
Gaining access to Amazon is no easy task. There are plenty of book publishers in Germany Kleber has never even met. In response to SPIEGEL's request for an interview, the company's press spokeswoman first quoted Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder: "We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time." But now, Kleber is keen to set the record straight: In his opinion, too much wrong information is being reported.
And perhaps Amazon has realized that its dispute with the book industry could potentially damage its image. In order to ratchet up the pressure on the Swedish media group, Amazon is delaying delivery in Germany of printed Bonnier books, which include the Harry Potter series. While orders used to arrive within a maximum of 48 hours, they're now taking up to 10 days. In the US, where Amazon is engaged in a similar stand-off with the Hachette Book Group, writers, retailers and customers are livid, with the latter even downloading stickers that say "I Didn't Buy It On Amazon" from the Internet. In June, Amazon stopped taking re-orders of the box-office smash "The Lego Movie" because of a pricing disagreement with Warner Bros.
Changing People's Lives
As far as customers are concerned, Amazon's strengths are its range of products, its speediness and its reliability. They might well be put off by headlines portraying the company as greedy and insatiable.
Amazon is a digital warehouse that stocks everything from washing machines to rocking horses and chainsaws. But it's also a world power hell-bent on changing people's lives, from the way they shop and work to the way they watch TV and read.
But the company started out selling books. With even major bookstores stocking only a limited number of books in print, Amazon -- which today stocks a total of 15 million titles -- was instantly ahead of the game. But these days, barely 10 percent of the company's turnover comes from books, be they printed or electronic, even though the segment still earns Amazon more than any other.
Books are not any old product. They're not like washing machines and chainsaws. They're products with soul, made with skill and intellectual effort. They cannot be made by robots. Many writers receive advances from their publishers to work on their books, regardless of whether or not the sum is recouped. Once a manuscript is finished -- often long after the deadline is passed -- the publishers' editors, publicity and rights departments get to work.
It's a lengthy process illustrating why books are cultural assets and not just common-or-garden merchandise. Which is why there's more at stake in the dispute than a retail price. At the end of the day, it's about establishing a balance of power within the book market in the digital future.
Two world views are colliding. For Amazon, a book has value only once it's written. The online retailer isn't interested in its evolution, or in how much effort a publisher has invested in it. But lower profits for the publisher inevitably affect authors and therefore books themselves. But to Amazon executives, the value of a book is reflected not in its quality but in its sales figures.
"We have thousands of suppliers with whom we are in constant contact and with whom we continually adjust our financial terms," says Kleber. But he is at pains to hide the fact that he clearly feels that the constant harping on about books as cultural assets is just publishers' excuse for their own conservatism. "What the publishers are now up against is the future," he says.
Setting a Precedent
The battle for the future being fought between the book industry and Amazon began last fall. Every year, after the Frankfurt Book Fair, publishers sit down with the main retailers, such as Thalia and Hugendubel and, of course, Amazon, to discuss new titles, orders and conditions.
Last year, Alexander Lorbeer was appointed CEO of Ullstein, which, like Piper and Carlsen, belongs to the Bonnier Group, and whose authors include the likes of Nele Neuhaus and Jo Nesbø. Until two years ago, Lorbeer worked in the book department at Amazon in Munich. He can only guess as to Amazon's reasons for taking on Bonnier as its opponent in the tussle over e-book prices in Germany. "We're big enough for it to have repercussions for the whole industry but not so big that Amazon will shoot itself in the foot by delaying deliveries of our books," he surmises.
Amazon is not only demanding that Bonnier switch to more favorable terms, such as discounts of up to 50 percent. It has also confronted publicly traded publisher Bastei Lübbe and dtv in Munich. The Ganske Group, whose imprints include Hoffmann und Campe, has also been negotiating with Amazon since last fall -- so far, with no resolution in sight. For the time being, however, Amazon is still delivering their orders on time. But "the entire industry is looking to see how long Bonnier will keep digging in its heels," says Frank Häger, director of books at the Ganske Group.
Ahead of the Bonnier publishers' first meeting with Amazon in December, Lorbeer and his colleagues received an email from the company's headquarters in Munich. It informed them that this year, Amazon not only wanted to talk about print discounts, but also about terms in the e-book segment. In response to further enquires, Amazon revealed that it was planning to point a way forward for standardized discounts. It became rapidly apparent that in the next one to two years, Amazon would like to be collecting not 30 percent of e-book sales but 50 percent, the same amount it collects with printed books.
In this, Amazon is adopting a clear strategy. At first glance, its demand does not seem altogether unreasonable: Why shouldn't discounts on books published without printing costs be the same as with analog books? But from the point of view of the publishers, the situation is more complex. They have to fight for every cent because they pay their authors from their share of e-book sales. And so far, they receive a higher share for a digital book than they do for a print version. The expense is made up for with lower budgets earmarked for print and logistics. Amazon's assumption that publishers earn more from e-books is therefore off the mark.
Moreover, the publishers are taking the longer view and are unwilling to agree to a deal they see as blackmail. "Every percentage conceded by publishers inexorably takes us a step closer to the 50 percent share that Amazon is demanding," says Häger from the Ganske Group. For years, publishers have been feeling bullied by Amazon. They're worried that it will finally achieve a monopoly.
As far as its own costs are concerned, the online retailer still earns more from costly printed books than it does from e-books. According to experts, packaging and dispatch only accounts for about 20 percent of costs. Digital books retail at cheaper prices, earnings in the e-book market are lower and require greater investments in technology. In this respect, Amazon also has its back against the wall. The more the lucrative print segment wobbles and the more the e-book segment grows, the more its margins fall.
No More Loopholes
Amazon is also facing further obstacles ahead. As of January, the European Unon has ensured that Amazon's tax tricks will be a thing of the past. Until now, the company, like Apple has been funelling its revenues through Luxembourg, taking advantage of its low tax rate and collecting a 3 percent value-added tax (sales tax) on digital services like e-books. But Brussels has introduced new tax rules, according to which web retailers must charge customers based on where the consumer lives, and not where the retailer operates. The new rule will cost Amazon millions, since the VAT on e-books is up to 20 percent in most EU member countries.
Despite an ongoing exchange, negotiations between Amazon and Bonnier are making little headway. This is particularly vexing to Amazon because it feels it kick-started Germany's e-book market in the first place. When it entered it three years ago, it signed distribution deals with the country's leading publishers. The terms, however, were not the focus of these agreements. As ever, Amazon was interested primarily in growth before profit. It accepted the same share of earnings publishers had offered Apple. They got 70 percent, the web retailer got 30 percent.
Now, Amazon has not only launched the most user-friendly e-reader on the market, it has also become the best-known platform for e-books. When they want an e-book, the majority of consumers log on to Amazon without thinking twice. But this was a dead-end street that publishers and retailers alike went down with their eyes wide open. For a long time, they both saw e-books as a threat to their thriving business with pricey printed matter. All their attempts to establish their own portals for e-books were miserable failures. They are now paying a high price for this initial arrogance and lack of vision. The book industry's refusal to make even the smallest concessions to the web retailer is also a desperate 11th-hour attempt to contain Amazon's growing power.
By now, though, the horse has bolted. Amazon has secured itself an estimated 50 percent share of the e-books market in Germany and is shutting the stable door. "Today's e-book industry, which affords many authors and publishers profitable turnover, would not exist without our investment in Kindle," says Kleber. "The industry is now developing fast and we would like to have our fair share of it."
Bonnier, needless to say, has its own ideas about where fairness ends and coercion begins. After the Leipzig Book Fair in March, the group was prepared to put up a fight. "It's a choice between standing firm, however painful that might get, or sliding into financial difficulty over the next five years," says Lorbeer.
Last week, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association lodged a complaint with the Federal Cartel Office. "It is effectively blackmailing publishers in a manner that breaches antitrust law," the association said. The EU Commission also has its eye on the case, with its antitrust watchdogs sending Amazon and Bonnier a list of questions in recent weeks.
Kleber doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Were the discount supermarket chain Lidl to stop selling coke because the discount supermarket could no longer agree on a price with the Coca Cola company, Germany wouldn't start clamoring for new laws and lobbying antitrust authorities. Books, soft drinks -- it's all the same to Amazon.
Kleber also insists that Amazon continues to ship Bonnier titles, merely with a delay. The reason he gives is that the company has to order inventory from Bonnier if there is no stock on hand. What Ullstein, Piper and Carlsen see as a boycott is what Amazon sees as its right to buy whatever print inventory it likes. Every item on its shelves costs Amazon money, and right now, it's not willing to spend that money on Bonnier. In Amazon's lingo, its "overall profitability" is not currently to its satisfaction.
Kleber doesn't care much for crunching the numbers -- at least not when he's talking about Amazon. "I would rather not comment," is his stock phrase. "We provided Amazon with all our calculations," complains Schumacher-Gebler at Bonnier. "But they won't even tell us how many Kindle Readers they've sold in Germany."
Amazon is famous for humoring its investors with a gigantic promise: Once Amazon has become indispensable to billions of people, profits will take care of themselves.
For now, though, those profits remain elusive. It ploughs turnover into new ideas and business segments designed to make the company even mightier. These include drones that in the future might be able to deliver fresh groceries to households in American cities within 24 hours. Or the Fire Phone, which automatically recognizes text, sounds, and objects and then offers a way to buy it through Amazon's online store.
With turnover of $74.5 billion last year, Amazon was over 50 percent bigger than the Coca Cola company but was left with a slim profit of just $274 million. Coca Cola's yield is 31 times that amount. Shareholders never seemed to care, at least, not as long as they trusted in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' guiding principle that ultimately, all that matters is customer satisfaction. But as of January, the company's stock market value shrunk by 17 percent. "Is a 20-year honeymoon coming to an end?" the New York Times asked in April.
Amazon needs profits, and no other book market promises them quite like Germany's. It's the second-largest in the world, and a protected biotope thanks fixed book pricing that is required under federal law. In the US and Britain, in contrast, books are becoming increasingly cheap, with many e-book bestsellers retailing at just €5. The price wars were started by Amazon. The company used publishers' discounts to lower prices and undercut competitors. In the US, Amazon sold the last book in the Harry Potter series without making a profit. Fixed book prices make this sort of approach impossible. Every euro that Amazon takes from publishers benefits itself, not the customers.
A Doomsday Scenario
Germany likes to see itself as the land of poets and thinkers. The web retailer is keen to take advantage of this unflagging enthusiasm for books, but without grasping its origin. As far as Kleber is concerned, printed matter is just a P-book, another product. He doesn't get why publishers throw lavish parties and senior editors get to live in luxury villas. He himself doesn't even have a reception area and his office is barely 20 meters square. A seemingly unbridgeable divide separates a company whose façade is decorated with words such as "Sheer Quality of Life" and a publisher like a Piper, which sees itself in the tradition of German Expressionism.
The argument could end up being decided by authors. If it weren't for them, there would be no books, so publishers need their support. Amazon might try to sabotage this relationship, by luring writers with promises of 70 percent of sale price if they choose to self-publish with Amazon.
Traditional publishers would continue to print books while Amazon will take over the publication of e-books and attract writers whose work appears exclusively in digital editions. This would effectively bar traditional publishers from the future. A doomsday scenario, but not an unimaginable one.
Ralf Kleber is optimistic that an agreement can be reached. It's part of Amazon's strategy to assume that customers are not hugely interested in battles over book retailing. But readers are educated. Amazon would not be the first tech giant to discover that its thirst for success blinded it to customer sensibilities.
'Yes he can!' How Spanish indignado Pablo Iglesias aims to use a wave of protest to build 'a decent country'
Podemos came out of nowhere to win 1.2 million votes. Pablo Iglesias talks of his hopes for the leftwing fledgling party
The Observer, Saturday 5 July 2014 18.15 BST
Across Spain, everyone has an opinion about Pablo Iglesias. Mere mention of the ponytailed leader of the insurgent leftwing party Podemos (We Can), who is only 35, elicits a barrage of adjectives that range from honest to dangerous.
There was the woman in Barcelona who gushed that "he seems like such a decent person" as she explained why she had cast her first vote in a decade and given it to Podemos. Or the worries expressed by the monarchist from San Sebastián who spent hours waiting on a sunny morning in Madrid to catch a glimpse of Felipe VI on his first day as the new king of Spain. "Iglesias wants to turn Spain into the next Venezuela."
In only a month, Iglesias has gone from well-known political pundit to member of the European parliament and one of Spain's most polarising personalities. Soft-spoken and calm, Iglesias shrugs off the attention. "I'm a normal person," he said. Active in left-leaning politics since he was 14, he describes himself as "a guy who worked in the university for many years, as a researcher, then as a professor".
Wearing a shirt lined with the red, yellow and purple colours of the Spanish republic, Iglesias pulled loose his ponytail as the interview started, his long brown hair falling over his shoulders for a moment before he tied it back into his signature style.
Sleep, he said in a voice tinged with exhaustion, had been hard to come by recently, lost amid a whirlwind of press conferences, party meetings, travels back and forth to Brussels in his new role and media appearances. "Very intense" is how Iglesias described the last month. "The truth is that ever since the election we've been overwhelmed by the response, the media attention, the hope of the people. But we're very hopeful because we think that we're contributing to something historic – the political change in our country."
A month ago Podemos came seemingly out of nowhere to capture 1.2 million votes and five seats in the European elections. Registered in March this year with the intention of turning the anger of Spain's indignados into real political change, Podemos became the third political force in many regions of Spain, including Madrid.
The anti-austerity party's list of election promises includes higher minimum wages, doing away with tax havens and EU border controls, the nationalisation of utilities and banks that were rescued with public funds, establishing a guaranteed minimum income and lowering the retirement age to 60.
While the elections saw many countries turn to Eurosceptic parties, many Spanish voters turned sharply left, harvesting votes from the country's two dominant parties in the wake of an economic crisis and years of corruption scandals. The governing People's party and the Socialists received less than half of the vote, a far cry from the 81% support they got in 2009.
The day after the election, Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said he would be stepping down. A week later King Juan Carlos announced he was abdicating in favour of his son, Felipe. Both changes, according to analysts, were rooted in the clear demand for change expressed by voters in the European elections.
For Iglesias, it's the beginning of the end for the regime that has governed Spain since 1978. "In some ways, it's their institutions that are in crisis: a monarchy that's more and more identified with impunity and corruption and the established political caste of the regime." The goal of Podemos was to turn the social majority into the political majority, said Iglesias, by having ordinary citizens do politics. "If people don't do politics, others will do it for you. And when others do it for you, they can steal your rights, your democracy and your wallet."
Solutions for the country, Iglesias has insisted repeatedly, come not from the adherence to leftwing or rightwing ideology, but rather in a movement against a privileged elite whose priorities are out of synch with what is best for most Spaniards.
The party's success came earlier than expected, sending the Podemos leadership scrambling to formalise the movement and prove it is more than just a phenomenon fuelled by protest votes. Lacking member lists, leadership to inform on day-to-day decisions and a system to hold its MEPs accountable, Podemos is now on a quest to find a balance between being a grassroots movement informed by a loose network of hundreds of working groups across the country and a functioning political party.
The clash between the two priorities was on display last month after Iglesias announced he was nominating a list of 25 people to organise a general assembly in the autumn and gave others six days to present competing lists. Some grassroots members criticised what they saw as an affront to Podemos's open structure.
It is still not clear how the party will work. Many of the answers, said Iglesias, would come in October at a general assembly where the emphasis would be on designing tools that allowed the party to respect its participative style and commitment to direct democracy. Critics suggest the emphasis on participation might be the party's achilles heel, in that it leads to ideas that, while popular, may not be workable. Others question the ability of Spain's fragile economy to withstand deep changes as it emerges from a long recession.
Iglesias brushed off these worries. "You can't be scared of democracy. These arguments that participation can be contradictory with efficiency is contrary to the very idea of democracy." He likened it to critics of universal suffrage who argued that it would cause chaos if everyone were able to vote. "We've seen that this isn't true."
In a country where one in four is unemployed and more than 150,000 families have been evicted from their homes in the last five years, Iglesias argues that pragmatism is relative. "It's not realistic that we have six million unemployed and that you can be poor even if you have a job," he said. "Our measures aren't very radical. They are measures that are very prudent along the lines of a project to save the country in the face of a crisis."
Polls suggest the party is gaining ground, showing that it could win between 30 and 58 seats in the Spanish parliament and capture as much as 15% of the vote, almost double the percentage it received in the European elections.
But as Podemos rises in the polls, so does scrutiny of Iglesias. He has been compared to Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro and called a freak and extremist. Others have taken aim at his words – he has been accused of justifying terrorism at the hands of Eta after he said that the group's violence "had political explanations" that needed to be understood in order to find democratic solutions.
At times the attacks had been amusing, he said, pointing to those who took aim at the fact that he bought his clothes at a low-cost supermarket. "I never thought it would be a subject of interest or that it would generate so much controversy," he said, smiling.
The attacks neither surprise nor bother Iglesias. To him, it is a demonstration that Podemos is making those in power nervous. "That's why they insult, defame, scream. It's a sign that they're worried."
Now the pressure is on for one of Spain's most polemical politicians to turn that worry into real political change. While he refused to rule out leading the country one day, Iglesias said his focus now was on political contribution.
"We want a more decent country. A country with public services, a country where nobody is thrown out of their house, a country with public hospitals, public pensions, a country in which if you have work you can fill the fridge and buy school supplies for your children," he said. He shrugged as he added: "Just the simple things."
A PARTY FORGED IN PROTEST
The indignados protests began on 15 May 2011, as Spain suffered the pain of austerity and mass unemployment. Alienated by mainstream politics, protesters gathered in squares across Spain to call for radical change.
In Madrid, the Puerta del Sol became the symbolic hub of the movement, as activists camped out, held debates and staged what became a kind of festival of alternative politics. The Puerta del Sol camp was eventually, and controversially, broken up by police.
While the original movement spurned political conventions, the formation of Podemos in March 2014 signalled a desire among leftwing indignados to build on the high-profile protests.
The new party, committed to greater public ownership, a green agenda and radical democratic reform, received 50,000 signatures of support on the first day of its existence. In the European elections in May it polled nearly 8% of the vote and elected 5 MEPs, including its figurehead, Pablo Iglesias. The MEPs have refused to take full salaries, in solidarity with low-paid Spanish workers.
Cyprus divided: 40 years on, a family recalls how the island was torn apart
The award-winning Observer correspondent who covered the 1974 Turkish invasion returns to the rocky battleground with one Greek Cypriot guardsman he met in the conflict
• Time stands still in Cyprus's UN buffer zone – in pictureshttp://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/apr/12/cyprus-buffer-zone-photographs-agencies
The Observer, Sunday 6 July 2014
On the outskirts of a mountain village in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, Lakis Zavallis, 72 in September, is scrambling about a rocky roadside hillside looking for an imitation-leather grip he had first used when he was a law student in London in the early 60s.
Some 40 years ago he was a lieutenant commanding a diminishing platoon of weary Greek Cypriot National Guardsmen when he hid the bag under the overhang of a rock. They had just been ordered to make what he thought might be a temporary withdrawal from a forward position and he wanted to lighten his load. In it was the English paperback edition of Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and a sweater, for even during the island's scorching summers the Kyrenia range gets chilly at night when you're dodging mortar bombs by living in a hole in the ground.
Beneath the book and the sweater is the item that makes Lakis persist in trying to find his bag. This was his second attempt this year and there have been others. In it is the diary he kept when he found himself part of a shambolic home guard doing its best to take on Nato's biggest army in cold war Europe and one that came with the kind of air and naval support intended to take on the Soviet Union.
This month sees the 40th anniversary of Operation Attila, Turkey's codename for its invasion of Cyprus. It started on 20 July 1974 and ended almost a month later on 16 August. By then, its forces occupied just over a third of the island in the name of a Turkish Cypriot minority not quite a fifth of its total population. They still do, though May's visit by US vice-president Joe Biden has raised hopes that the elusive settlement to the Cyprus problem might at last be in the offing, if only to divide the spoils of newly discovered offshore natural gas and oil.
On 15 July 1974, a coup against Archbishop Makarios III, president of Cyprus since 1960 when it stopped being a British colony, was orchestrated by the military junta in Athens who wanted what Greek speakers call enosis. This was the same political union with Greece desired by the Eoka guerrillas who in the late 1950s fought the British under Georgios Grivas, a Cypriot-born Greek army officer. The coup gave Ankara all the reasons it ever needed to launch Operation Attila, which came five days later.
About 650 officers in the 15,000- strong Greek Cypriot National Guard were professional soldiers from the junta's Greece. Their passion for enosis was rejected by those Makarios supporters who preferred a Cyprus that was a world away from the weird fascists then ruling democracy's birthplace. Dissenting conscripts got into trouble. In 1972 Doros Zavallis, Lakis's youngest brother who had tasted life under the colonels as a law student in Athens, returned to Cyprus to do his national service. When he was overheard criticising a speech made by an officer, warning them they should be ready to intervene if Makarios took a wrong turn, he was accused of being a communist, given 20 days' detention and sent to a remote coastal outpost monitoring a Turkish enclave.
These enclaves were guarded by the Turkish Cypriots' own militia, established during a period of inter-communal reciprocal slaughter between 1963 and 1967. Enosis was anathema to them. Their own extremists responded with another single-word slogan: taksim. It meant partition.
The coup was the culmination of a decade of fratricidal Greek Cypriot strife. Athens backed the septuagenarian Grivas, hero of the struggle against the British, who secretly returned to his native island from Greece and set up his Eoka B. Makarios responded by creating a praetorian guard he called the Tactical Police Reserve. When in January 1974 Grivas died of a heart attack, thousands attended his funeral in Limassol and Eoka B, armed by the junta, carried on. But it was some of the National Guard's ancient T-34 tanks, a gift from Russia, that fired the coup's opening shots at the presidential palace. The archbishop had already survived several assassination attempts and his luck held. He escaped to Paphos, his birthplace, from where a British helicopter took him to RAF Akrotiri on the sovereign bases. By the time the Turks had landed, he was already in New York and had just addressed the UN security council.
On the morning of the invasion Lakis Zavallis, driving a blue Morris Traveller used by his family's printing business in Nicosia, went to the village of Paleiometocho near the capital's airport where he was to report for duty with 366 Reserve Battalion. Names were being taken in a school. It took about 30 minutes and on his way he overtook some of the National Guards' Stalingrad-era T-34s. As he overtook them, the commanders in their open turrets smiled and waved. It was about 8am and the sky was full of contrails made by Turkish Skyhawks. Soon they would be falling on the personnel carriers of the Greek Cypriots' only armoured infantry battalion and kill their commanding officer.
Like most Nicosians, he had been woken shortly after dawn by gunfire, explosions and low-flying aircraft. He had got to the roof of his apartment block with his Super 8 camera in time to film the Turkish paratroops dropping to reinforce the Turkish Cypriot enclave north of the city. Then he got together what bits of uniform he could find, kissed his wife Anita and their two young sons goodbye and left.
In theory, the Greek Cypriots had in mind the kind of mass mobilisation the Israelis did so well. But Makarios had never dared allow an exercise involving the full call-up of reservists, for fear its Greek officer corps would march them to the presidential palace and dethrone him. Now thousands of Greek Cypriot men were clamouring for the chance to defend their island until the Greeks or the UN or both came to their rescue. They were of both factions, for the coupists had opened the jails and let out all the Makarios supporters they had rounded up, some of them looking rather the worse for wear. "Of course, that was before most of them had come under fire," recalled Lakis. "But there was a lot of enthusiasm. What was lacking was the apparatus to equip and absorb them."
His two brothers turned up at a reporting centre a couple of minutes' walk from the Zavallis family home where their widowed mother lived. Doros, despite the treatment he received as a conscript, grabbed the last Lee-Enfield rifle from a truck full of small arms and was soon part of a unit heading north. Sophocles, the middle brother who had attended Leeds College of Technology, missed out on the last weapons' distribution and was never mobilised. This turned into very bad luck indeed. During the first and very loosely observed ceasefire he tried to find his brothers. Turkish soldiers shot up his car and he ended up in a mainly Turkish Cypriot ward in the British hospital at Dhekelia being treated for four bullet wounds.
Meanwhile, Lakis and Doros went separately off to war. Doros became the ammunition carrier for a heavy machine gun team but he did occasionally use his Lee-Enfield. Neither he nor his brother had fired a rifle since basic training, which in Lakis's case was almost 10 years ago. Not that he had one to fire until he acquired it from a wounded man after they came under air attack and naval gunfire. Nor did the second lieutenant star on his epaulette mean he was qualified to command frontline infantry. It was there because as a lawyer he was part of the National Guard's legal department.
But his men didn't know that, and when I met him in the foothills of the Kyrenia range, where the dry earth was being blown into big brown clouds by Turkish artillery, they appeared willing to follow him almost anywhere. Some still do. In May, when the heat was kinder, several of them joined their lieutenant in the search for his bag, though he complained they weren't all as nimble on those rocky terraces as they should be.
Military historian Colin Smith was the Observer's chief roving reporter in 1974. He has just edited Andrew Borowiec's Warsaw Boy, a memoir of the Polish resistance (Viking, out now).
TIMELINE OF A CRISIS
16 August 1960 – British rule ends: Greek and Turkish Cypriots to share power in newly independent Republic of Cyprus but some Eoka veterans still yearn for "Enosis" – union with Greece.
1963-67 – Consensus breaks down. Communal fighting leads to UN troops policing a virtual partition where Turkish Cypriots live in enclaves.
15 July 1974 – A pro-Enosis coup led by Greek army officers seconded to the Greek Cypriot National Guard topples president Archbishop Makarios, who escapes to British bases.
19 July – Makarios arrives in New York and addresses UN security council.
20 July – Turkey invades Cyprus with about 40,000 troops; despite a shambolic mobilisation Greek Cypriot resistance is surprisingly tough in places. Turkish military losses will total 568 killed and 2,000 wounded.
25 – July Talks between Turkey, Greece and Britain begin in Geneva but a ceasefire agreed two days before is ignored by Turks who expand their positions.
15 August – Hostilities end after Turks take Famagusta; they now hold 37% of the island for 18% of its people. At least 140,000 Greek Cypriot refugees have moved to the south and 50,000 Turkish Cypriot have fled north.
Militant Leader in Rare Appearance in Iraq
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
JULY 5, 2014
BAGHDAD — Wearing a black turban and black robes, the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic state that stretches across eastern Syria and much of northern and western Iraq made a startling public appearance, his first in many years, at a well-known mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a video released on Saturday whose contents were confirmed by experts and witnesses.
Until then, there had been very few photographs on the Internet of the insurgent known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But on Friday he delivered a public sermon in a city once under American control with an audacity that even Osama bin Laden never tried.
ISIS released a 21-minute video of the sermon on Saturday.
Previously he had been all but invisible, seemingly reluctant to risk a public appearance as his group grew in strength and he became the United States’ second-most sought-after terrorist, after Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda. The United States government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
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.
But on Friday at the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque, Mr. Baghdadi appeared confident, calm and measured as he urged the faithful to fast during Ramadan and undertake jihad. He also asserted his position as caliph, or spiritual leader, of the Muslim faithful, calling himself “Khalifa Ibrahim,” or caliph Abraham, a reference to the prophet Abraham, who appears in the Quran. Mr. Baghdadi’s militant group declared its territory in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, or Islamic state, on June 29.
“Do jihad in the cause of God, incite the believers and be patient in the face of this hardship,” he admonished the congregation. “If you knew about the reward and dignity in this world and the hereafter through jihad, then none of you would delay in doing it.”
ISIS militants took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, on June 10, after the Iraqi Army fled. ISIS fighters patrol the streets, although far fewer than in the first days after the takeover, and while some people have gone back to work, the city is far from normal. The congregation at the mosque in the video had been ordered to come to Friday Prayer, said a man who was there but who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
When worshipers arrived at the mosque, they were searched thoroughly by armed ISIS fighters, and the congregants were told where and how to sit, said the man. No one was allowed to leave until 10 minutes after the end of Mr. Baghdadi’s sermon, the man said.
The sermon was no extemporaneous cameo, but a carefully crafted speech in which he asked for the congregation’s support and struck an almost humble and pious tone that was difficult to square with the group’s tactics on the ground, which include kidnapping for ransom, summary executions and beheadings.
“I was placed as your caretaker, and I am not better than you,” he said, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. “So if you found me to be right, then help me, and if you found me to be wrong, then advise me and make me right.”
“I do not promise you, as the kings and rulers promise their followers and congregation, luxury, security and relaxation; instead, I promise you what Allah promised his faithful worshipers,” he said.
Mr. Baghdadi’s address appeared to be aimed at several audiences, analysts said. He seemed to be appealing to followers of other militant groups in Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, and also to Iraqi Sunnis to look to him as a leader rather than the Iraqi government.
Daniel Benjamin, a senior counterterrorism official in the State Department from 2009 to 2012, said that if the video was authentic, Mr. Baghdadi’s appearance would be a “remarkable event.”
“If Baghdadi has emerged from hiding, it suggests that he is adopting a posture as a different kind of leader from Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and the like, and by implication a greater one,” said Mr. Benjamin, now a scholar at Dartmouth College. “He is demonstrating that ISIS has what they didn’t: territory that is secure, and he is its ruler.”
“As a public demonstration of leadership, you’d have to go back to April 1996, when Mullah Omar appeared on top of a building in Kandahar in a cloak that was said to belong to the prophet and was declared commander of the faithful,” Mr. Benjamin added.
Peter Neumann, a professor of security studies at Kings College London, said the appearance was “a sign of confidence” and a “message to all these other jihadists, this is really happening, it’s not going to go away anytime soon.”
The video was still being authenticated late Saturday by the Central Intelligence Agency. A spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, told Reuters that the ministry thought it was fake, but Mr. Neumann said he had little doubt that it was authentic, in part because ISIS would have little to gain from a falsified video. An American official who spent extensive time in Iraq said that the man in the video appeared to be Mr. Baghdadi.
Two people who were in the mosque when Mr. Baghdadi spoke said they had no question it was him. But they had never seen him before, so their certainty was based primarily on how the ISIS fighters treated him.
Also on Saturday, official Iranian news agencies reported that an Iranian pilot had been killed in fighting in Iraq, which appeared to be the first confirmation of the deployment of Iranian forces there. There have been unconfirmed reports that Iran had sent military advisers and jets to Iraq.The Islamic Republic News Agency said that the pilot, Col. Shoja’at Alamdari, was killed in Samarra defending a Shiite shrine. The Fars News Agency said that he was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The agencies provided no further details about his death, and it was not clear whether he died on the ground or in the air. There have been no reports of planes shot down by the rebels.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: The ISIS leader who is now more powerful than al Qaeda’s chief
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 5, 2014 13:13 EDT
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the enigmatic self-proclaimed “caliph” of a state straddling Iraq and Syria, is increasingly seen as more powerful than Al-Qaeda’s chief.
The leader of the powerful Islamic State (IS) militant group was on June 29 declared “caliph” in an attempt to revive a system of rule that ended nearly 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
In a video posted online on Saturday, purportedly the first known footage of Baghdadi, he ordered Muslims to obey him during a Ramadan sermon delivered at a mosque in the northern militant-held Iraqi city of Mosul.
“I am the wali (leader) who presides over you, though I am not the best of you, so if you see that I am right, assist me,” he said, wearing a black turban and robe.
“If you see that I am wrong, advise me and put me on the right track, and obey me as long as I obey God.”
The man now touted as the world’s most prominent jihadist, who has rarely been seen in public, appeared in Saturday’s video sporting a long beard, bushier and greyer than in the few previously released images.
His appearance follows the June 29 declaration by IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani of a pan-Islamic “caliphate” with Baghdadi as its leader.
Baghdadi, born in Samarra in 1971 according to Washington, apparently joined the insurgency that erupted shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, at one point spending time in an American military prison in the country.
In October 2005, American forces said they believed they had killed “Abu Dua”, one of Baghdadi’s known aliases, in a strike on the Iraq-Syria border.
- $10-million bounty -
But that appears to have been incorrect, as he took the reins of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in May 2010 after two of its chiefs were killed in a US-Iraqi raid.
Since then, details about him have slowly trickled out.
In October 2011, the US Treasury designated him as a “terrorist”, and there is now a $10-million (7.3-million-euro) bounty for his capture.
This year, Iraq released a picture they said was of Baghdadi, the first from an official source, depicting a balding, bearded man in a suit and tie.
US officials said last year that the jihadist was probably in Syria, but information about his whereabouts since has been unclear.
If authenticated, Saturday’s video would indicate growing confidence of the once secretive Baghdadi, one of the world’s most wanted militants.
His appearance at the Mosul minbar, or pulpit, in the typical garb of a Sunni Muslim scholar, could also signal a shift from the battlefield to a more spiritual role for the self-proclaimed “caliph”.
Baghdadi, whose group advocates an extreme form of Islamic law and a return to the lifestyle of the first Muslims, pulled out a “miswak” — a twig used as a traditional toothbrush and reportedly used by the Prophet Mohammed — and cleaned his teeth before beginning his sermon.
He is touted within IS as a battlefield commander and tactician, a crucial distinction compared with Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, and has attracted legions of foreign fighters, with estimates in the thousands.
At the time Baghdadi took over the group in April 2010, when it was ISI and tied to Al-Qaeda, it appeared to be on the ropes after the “surge” of US forces combined with the shifting allegiances of Sunni tribesmen to deal him a blow.
But the group bounced back, expanding into Syria in 2013.
Baghdadi sought to merge with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Al-Nusra Front, which rejected the deal, and the two groups have mostly operated separately since.
Iranian pilot ‘killed fighting in Iraq’: state media
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 5, 2014 10:11 EDT
An Iranian pilot has been killed while fighting in Iraq, state media reported Saturday, in what is thought to be Tehran’s first military casualty during battles against Islamic State jihadists.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency did not say whether the pilot died while flying sorties or fighting on the ground.
It said Colonel Shoja’at Alamdari Mourjani was killed while “defending” Shiite Muslim holy sites in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.
His death comes after Iran’s declarations that it will provide its western neighbour with whatever it needs to counter the Sunni militants who are laying siege to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Samarra is a major flashpoint in the fighting and is home to the Shiite Al-Askari shrine which was bombed by Al-Qaeda in February 2006, sparking a bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian war that killed tens of thousands.
The reports of the pilot’s death came as Iranian officials insist their assistance is not in the form of troops, but rather of weapons and equipment if Iraq asks for them.
President Hassan Rouhani vowed last month that Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, would protect Shiite holy sites in Iraq, including in Samarra.
The Fars news agency appeared to confirm the IRNA report, publishing photos of a funeral service for the pilot on Friday in his home province of Fars, in southern Iran.
Fars did not give any details, but hinted that Alamdari Mourjani was a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, whose elite Quds Force is believed to be on the ground and assisting Iraqi forces, despite Tehran’s denials.
Earlier in the week, the Iraqi defence ministry said it had taken delivery of five Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes and released video footage of them being unloaded from a cargo plane.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said the jets came from Iran.
Report: Kurdish Rebels to Restart Withdrawal in September
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 July 2014, 12:39
Kurdish rebels will begin a stalled withdrawal from Turkey into their safe haven in northern Iraq after parliament passes reforms aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency, local media reported on Saturday.
In an apparent bid to secure votes from the Kurdish community ahead of presidential polls in August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government submitted a bill to parliament last week that would remove a number of barriers to a final agreement.
The six-article package of reforms would grant immunity to key actors involved in the peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which was hailed as a "historic development" by the group's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan.
The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, stalled its withdrawal from Turkey last year, accusing the government of its failure to deliver on promised reforms including constitutional recognition for up to 15 million Kurds.
Kurdish rebels will restart the withdrawal in September as soon as the government-led packages are stamped in the 550-seat parliament where Erdogan's AKP party has a comfortable majority, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Saturday.
The withdrawal process is due to be finalised within 18 months, it added.
The second withdrawal by PKK militants will be subject to legal supervision unlike the first one that started in May 2013, according to the report.
However it remains unclear if the fighters will leave their weapons on Turkish soil. If they are left in Turkey, a monitoring board to be set up after the reforms are adopted will be tasked with overseeing whether they are stockpiled or destroyed.
The presentation of the reforms came shortly before Erdogan announced his candidacy Tuesday for presidential polls on August 10. Support from the Kurdish community is seen key to any outright victory in the first round.
Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government launched clandestine peace talks with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 to end a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives over three decades.
The rebels declared a ceasefire in March 2013, but peace talks stalled in September after the insurgents said they were suspending their retreat from Turkish soil in protest of Ankara's failure to move on reforms.
Taliban Cut Hair and Beards to Flee Pakistan Army Assault
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 July 2014, 09:48
Hundreds of Taliban fighters rushed to disguise themselves with new haircuts in the weeks before a Pakistani army assault, it has emerged, as refugees revealed details of life under the militants -- and their taste for imported luxuries.
Azam Khan was one of the top barbers in Miranshah -- the main town of North Waziristan -- until he, like nearly half a million others, fled the long-awaited offensive unleashed by the Pakistan military on the tribal area in June.
He told AFP his business boomed in the month leading up to the army assault as the militants sought to shed their distinctive long-haired, bearded look.
"I have trimmed the hair and beards of more than 700 local and Uzbek militants ahead of the security forces' operation," he said while cutting hair in a shop in Bannu, the town where most civilians fled.
For years he cut Taliban commanders' hair to match the flowing locks of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, killed by a U.S. drone last November, but in May a change in style was called for.
"The same leaders came asking for trimming their beards and hair very short, changing 'god is great', and saying that they were going to the Gulf and wanted to avoid problems at Pakistani airports," Khan said.
Even Uzbeks and Tajiks with little knowledge of the local language came to him, he said.
"Knowing little Pashto, they used to utter four words: 'mulgari (friend), machine, zero, Islamabad'," said Khan -- asking him to shave their beards, while changing 'god is great', to nothing so they could go to Islamabad.
The Pakistani military launched the offensive against militants in North Waziristan tribal area on June 15, vowing to wipe out the strongholds they have used to wreak countless deadly terror attacks across the nuclear-armed state.
The rugged, mountainous area on the Afghan border has been a hideout for years for Islamist militants of all stripes -- including Al-Qaida and the homegrown TTP as well as foreign fighters including Uzbeks and Uighurs.
For years people from North Waziristan remained tight-lipped about life in a Taliban fiefdom, scared of being kidnapped or even beheaded if they shared information about the militants.
But as the exodus of people has grown, some have found the confidence to tell their stories.
While the militants bombed and maimed thousands in their fight to install an austere sharia regime in Pakistan and publicly professed contempt for the West, in North Waziristan they indulged themselves with fancy imported goods.
Hikmatullah Khan, a shopkeeper in Miranshah, said that at the same time as commanders were insisting he pay 300 rupees ($3) a month "tax", their fighters were stocking up on grooming products.
"They were very keen to buy foreign-branded shampoos, soaps and perfumed sprays," Khan told AFP.
"They had a lot of eagerness for French and Turkish perfumes, body sprays and soaps."
Muhammad Zarif, a wholesale merchant in Datta Khel, near Miranshah, said fighters would buy large quantities of British detergent and American cooking oil, much of it smuggled from Dubai.
Pakistan's allies, particularly the United States, have long called for an operation to flush out groups like the Haqqani network, which use the area to target NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan and are thought to have links to Pakistani intelligence services.
The Pakistani military has said it will target militants "of all hue and color" but the scant resistance troops have encountered has led many to believe the insurgents fled before the offensive, limiting its effectiveness.
The army says the operation has killed nearly 400 militants and will rid North Waziristan of their bases, denying them the space to plan attacks and allowing investment to come to one of Pakistan's poorest areas.
But it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the offensive will be. Local intelligence and militant sources told AFP that up to 80 percent of fighters fled after rumors of an army assault emerged in early May, most over the porous border into Afghanistan.
These sources estimate the present number of militants as around 2,000, down from around 10,000 before the operation. The figures are uncertain and difficult to confirm.
The Pakistani army has asked Afghanistan to crack down on TTP refuges across the border and this week top brass from both sides met in Islamabad to discuss the issue.
"It is clear that militants were aware that the offensive was coming before it started. Lots of them fled," a Western diplomat told AFP.
"The big question is: after the offensive, will Pakistan allow the Haqqanis and others to come back?"
Air Strikes Kill Uzbek Militants in Pakistan Offensive
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 July 2014, 12:31
Pakistani jets bombed militant hideouts in a lawless tribal district Saturday, killing scores of Uzbek and local insurgents in a massive ongoing offensive against the Taliban, the military said.
Air strikes were carried out at Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, and Boya village after shots were fired at troops, according to a statement.
"Five terrorists hideouts, caves and huge cache of arms and ammunition were destroyed and scores of terrorists killed in early morning strikes, silencing the firers," it said.
"Most of the terrorists killed in strikes were Uzbeks," the statement added without providing casualty figures.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaida affiliate, has had a large presence in Pakistan's tribal belt since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Last month Pakistan's military launched a long-awaited offensive in North Waziristan, aimed at wiping out longstanding militant strongholds in the area, which borders Afghanistan.
More than 500,000 people have fled the area with tens of thousands of families have leaving for the town of Bannu, close to North Waziristan.
Jets and artillery began hitting militant targets on June 15 to try to regain full control of the district after years of pressure from Washington and other powers.
The assault was finally launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban.
So far, 386 militants and 20 soldiers have been killed in the offensive, according to the military, though with the area off-limits to journalists the number and identity of the dead is impossible to verify.
Separately Saturday, a Pakistani solider was killed by an improvised explosive device explosion during a clearance operation after the air strikes, the military said.
Afghan Presidential Candidate Rejects 'Unacceptable' Results Delay
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 July 2014, 18:53
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani said Saturday any further delay in releasing preliminary results from the disputed election would be "unacceptable" after his opponent said he would reject their outcome.
The June 14 election run-off has been mired in allegations of cheating, with Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads in a crisis that threatens Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.
The run-off election result was due to be released last Wednesday but was delayed by the commission until Monday to allow an audit of nearly 2,000 of the 23,000 polling stations nationwide.
Abdullah, once a front-runner in the race, alleges he was the victim of "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing, with many more votes than voters registered in some areas.
On Friday he confirmed he would not accept Monday's outcome from a partial audit of ballots -- pitching the election into further turmoil as the political impasse between the two deepens.
"Further delay of the results are unacceptable to us and will create serious doubts and mistrust of people on the election process," said Ghani, who claims to have won the runoff fairly by more than one million votes.
He also denied rumors that a coalition government with Abdullah could be struck. "I can assure you we have not made any deals", Ghani said.
U.S.-led allies who have fought a 13-year war against Taliban militants and spent billions of dollars in aid are eager to avoid a prolonged power struggle in Kabul.
On Thursday, European Union observers voiced growing international concern over fraud and called for an audit of suspicious votes to be expanded from 2,000 to 6,000 polling stations -- about a quarter of all ballot boxes.
U.S. senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have traveled to Afghanistan to meet both candidates, in a bid to ease tensions.
With NATO's combat mission ending, the coming months are expected to be a test of the fledging Afghan government forces now responsible for imposing nationwide security.
All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December, with about 10,000 U.S. troops staying into next year if the new president signs a security deal with Washington.
Any delay in appointing a successor to President Karzai could undermine anti-Taliban operations and also put billions of dollars of aid pledges at risk.
Afghanistan rejects Facebook ban as election tensions rise
Online exchanges between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah supporters over alleged fraud threaten to spill over into violence
Agence France-Presse in Kabul
theguardian.com, Sunday 6 July 2014 11.29 BST
The Afghan government has rejected a proposal to ban Facebook during an ongoing deadlock over the presidential election, despite fears that social media postings have fanned ethnic hatred.
The dispute between candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah over alleged fraud in the 14 June election has triggered bitter online exchanges between rival supporters that have threatened to spill over into violence.
Ghani attracts much of his support from the Pashtun tribes of the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups – echoing the ethnic divisions of the bloody 1992-96 civil war.
"The national security council discussed banning of Facebook in their meeting today," Fayeq Wahedi, the deputy presidential spokesman, told AFP on Sunday.
"There are people on Facebook who spread hatred and cause damage to national unity, but after talks the council decided not to ban Facebook."
Internet use has soared in Afghanistan in recent years, and supporters of both sides have been posting hostile messages and photographs since the fraud allegations erupted.
Two weeks ago, the United Nations issued a warning that the internet activity could spark civil unrest.
"There has been a disturbing tone in some social media platforms, and we urge supporters … to refrain from inflammatory statements, hate speech or statements which promote divisive ethnic mobilisation," the UN mission chief, Jan Kubis, said.
He added that some postings were "rhetoric that brings back memories of tragic, fratricidal, factional conflicts in the 1990s that cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians".
Abdullah has vowed to reject the result of the election, which is due on Monday, alleging he is the victim of "industrial-scale" fraud and calling for a thorough audit of ballot papers.
But Ghani claims he won fairly by at least 1m votes and said the result must be released on schedule after previous delays.
The dispute has thrown Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power into turmoil as US-led troops withdraw after 13 years of fighting the Taliban insurgents and with aid money to the country set to fall in coming years.
'Arrest us all': the 200 women who killed a rapist
When hundreds of women descended on Nagpur district court armed with knives, stones and chilli powder, within minutes the man who raped them lay dead. Raekha Prasad reports
The Guardian, Friday 16 September 2005
A year ago Usha Narayane was about to embark on a new life. A call-centre worker with a diploma in hotel management, she was 25 and about to travel north from her home in the centre of India to begin a managerial job in a hotel in Punjab. The job would transport her not only geographically but also socially.
Like her neighbours, Narayane is a dalit, an "untouchable", at the bottom of the caste ladder. Schooling and literacy are rare among the women of Kasturba Nagar, the slum neighbourhood in the city of Nagpur where she grew up. She was unmarried, preferring to work and study. Yet nobody resented her success. Instead, they had high hopes for the girl. But Narayane went nowhere. Today, she is in her family's one-room, windowless home, awaiting trial for murder.
At 3pm on August 13 2004, Akku Yadav was lynched by a mob of around 200 women from Kasturba Nagar. It took them 15 minutes to hack to death the man they say raped them with impunity for more than a decade. Chilli powder was thrown in his face and stones hurled. As he flailed and fought, one of his alleged victims hacked off his penis with a vegetable knife. A further 70 stab wounds were left on his body. The incident was made all the more extraordinary by its setting. Yadav was murdered not in the dark alleys of the slum, but on the shiny white marble floor of Nagpur district court.
Laughed at and abused by the police when they reported being raped by Yadav, the women took the law into their own hands. A local thug, Yadav and his gang had terrorised the 300 families of Kasturba Nagar for more than a decade, barging into homes demanding money, shouting threats and abuse.
Residents say he murdered at least three neighbours and dumped their bodies on railway tracks. They had reported his crimes to the police dozens of times. Each time he was arrested, he was granted bail.
But it was rape that Yadav used to break and humiliate the community. A rape victim lives in every other house in the slum, say the residents of Kasturba Nagar. He violated women to control men, ordering his henchmen to drag even girls as young as 12 to a nearby derelict building to be gang-raped.
In India, even to admit to being raped is taboo, yet dozens of Yadav's victims reported the crime. But the 32-year-old was never charged with rape. Instead, the women say, the police would tell him who had made the reports and he would come after them. According to residents, the police were hand-in-glove with Yadav: he fed the local officers bribes and drink, and they protected him.
When one 22-year-old reported being raped by Yadav, the police accused her of having an affair with him and sent her away. Several others were sent away after being told: "You're a loose woman. That's why he raped you."
Nagpur is counted among India's fastest-growing cities. Yet the experience of the women of Kasturba Nagar is a parallel tale of how everyday life in India's back streets is stuck in the past. Splashed across the country's news- papers, the gory image of Yadav's blood on the courtroom floor was a lesson in the consequences of a state unable to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
After Yadav's murder, powerful voices were raised supporting the lynch mob. Prominent lawyers issued a statement saying the women should not be treated as the accused, but as the victims. One retired high court judge even congratulated the women. "In the circumstances they underwent, they were left with no alternative but to finish Akku. The women repeatedly pleaded with the police for their security. But the police failed to protect them," said Justice Bhau Vahane.
Two weeks before the lynching, Yadav came to Narayane's house on several successive days, threatening to throw acid on her and rape her. He targeted her, she says, because she was outspoken and her brother-in-law, a lawyer, had verbally stood up to Yadav. "He raped only poor people whom he thought wouldn't go and tell, or if they did, wouldn't be listened to. But he made a big mistake in threatening me. People felt that if I were attacked, no woman would ever be safe."
Although Narayane has been charged with Yadav's murder, she claims she was not at the court when it took place but in the slum collecting signatures for a mass complaint against him. Among the charges levelled against her are some of India's most serious offences, including "anti- nationalist" crimes amounting to treason. "The cops say I planned the murder; that I started it. They have to make someone a scapegoat," she says. She believes she has been singled out because she has been the police's most vociferous critic. Her education gave her the confidence that inspired the community to act, she says.
In the week before the lynching, people started to talk about taking action against Yadav. He disappeared, sensing boiling anger. Narayane and her brother-in-law bypassed the local officers and went straight to the deputy commissioner. He gave the family a safe house for a night and promised to search for him.
On August 6, hundreds of residents smashed his empty house to rubble. By evening they heard Yadav had "surrendered" and was in custody. "The police had said he would be in danger if he came back. They suggested he surrender into their care for his own safety."
The next day he was due to appear at the city's district court and 500 slum residents gathered. As Yadav arrived, one of his henchmen tried to pass him knives wrapped in a blanket under the noses of the police. After the women protested, the accomplice was arrested and Yadav taken back into custody, but not before he threatened to return and teach every woman in the slum a lesson.
Hearing that Yadav was likely to get bail yet again, when he returned to court, the women decided to act. "It was not calculated," Narayane says. "It was not a case that we all sat down and calmly planned what would happen. It was an emotional outburst. The women decided that, if necessary, they'd go to prison, but that this man would never come back and terrorise them."
On the day of Yadav's hearing, 200 women came to the court armed with vegetable knives and chilli powder. As he walked in, Yadav spotted one of the women he had raped. He called her a prostitute and threatened to repeat the crime against her. The police laughed. She took off her sandal and began to hit him, shouting, "We can't both live on this Earth together. It's you or me."
It was a rallying cry to an incensed mob. Soon, he was being attacked on all sides. Knives were drawn and the two terrified officers guarding him ran away. Within 15 minutes, Yadav was dead on the courthouse floor. But his death has not brought the women peace. Five were immediately arrested, then released following a demonstration across the city. Now every woman living in the slum has claimed responsibility for the murder. They say no one person can take the blame: they have told the police to arrest them all.
But it is Narayane who is in limbo as she waits for her case to be heard. "After the murder, society's eyes opened: the police's failings came to light. That has irritated them. The police see me as a catalyst for the exposure and want to nip it in the bud."
They face a fight. Narayane is loudly unrepentant. "I'm not scared. I'm not ashamed," she says. "We've done a good thing for society. We will see whether society repays us".
Powerful, unelected, all-male Indian village councils loosen rules on marriage, property and wearing of jeans
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 6, 2014 8:09 EDT
Yashpal Mor grew up watching men in his village stay single rather than defy the rules of the traditional council which controls Indian rural life with an iron grip.
For as long as anyone can remember, families in a cluster of villages north of the capital have lived under two sets of laws — those of the government and another imposed by unelected but powerful men.
From marriage to property and even the wearing of jeans, all-male councils, or khap panchayats, have issued diktats that have controlled life in much of Haryana state, which borders New Delhi.
“I have seen many men in our village remain unmarried all their lives,” Mor told AFP in Bass, a village surrounded by lush farmland. “I don’t want to share their fate.”
Now, in a sign of major reform coming to a corner of the country steeped in tradition, the state’s largest council has allowed couples from neighbouring villages, and even different castes, to marry.
For generations, the council had banned men marrying women from neighbouring villages or different castes, assuming that they were already related, and also because of caste prejudice.
With female infanticide rampant because of a preference for boys, eligible women were in short supply, fuelling an insidious “bride buying” industry and leaving many other men unmarried in a culture that prizes matrimony.
“The (new) decision that they have taken will have a lot of benefits,” said Mor, 24, whose parents are now looking for a bride — a task made easier by the lifting of the ban.
“Earlier there could be no marriage alliances but now it will start happening. So it’s really something to be happy about,” he added.
- ‘Kangaroo courts’ -
Often embroiled in controversy, khaps have been branded “kangaroo courts” for their punishments, including fines but also horrific violence. They have been blamed for provoking honour killings, public beatings and even fuelling the buying of brides.
In some cases, khaps have ordered young couples be stripped naked, thrashed in public and even lynched by mobs for defying their orders on relationships.
Council head Inder Singh, who led the push for reform, said he was trying to “erase the bloody past” of khaps, which dominate swathes of mainly rural, northern India, and are often bastions of caste prejudice.
“We began our efforts some three years back to get rid of the caste bias. I went to every village and tried to build a consensus,” said Singh, 78, at his two-storey house in Bass.
“There was a lot of resistance initially. Some five percent are still against but I am glad the majority have agreed,” he told AFP.
Analysts hailed the move, announced in April, as a sign of easing khap control over villages.
Last year, girls were banned from wearing jeans and using mobile phones in a khap ruling issued elsewhere in Haryana for fear of fuelling sex crimes.
“It’s a very important decision and it may prove to be a turning point for other khaps as well,” Anand Kumar, a professor of sociology in Delhi, told AFP.
“It will push others to become more reflective and liberal. It’ll force them to think if they are really being fair to their sons and daughters,” he said.
According to those living in Bass and neighbouring villages, the marriage restrictions led to an acute shortage of “suitable” brides, placing intense pressure on families.
The problem was compounded by the fact Haryana already has one of the country’s worst gender ratios.
This sparked a rise in “bride buying”, in which local men paid impoverished families in other parts of the country cash for their daughters, residents said.
Although there are no official figures, council head Singh estimated 10-15 “brides” were probably sold into each of the 42 villages under the khap’s control in the last 10 years.
- ‘I hate my life here’ -
Meera Deka is one such bride who says she was forced to leave her parents and her home in remote northeast Assam state when she was 25 after she was sold for 80,000 rupees ($1,330) to her now husband.
“All day I am washing, cleaning and cooking. I don’t understand their language, I don’t like their food. I hate my life here,” Deka told AFP, as she tended buffalos in Bass.
Under the council’s complicated rules, men were allowed to pay for a bride from another caste in another state – but were barred from having a consensual relationship with a woman from a neighbouring village.
Singh conceded the trend of “bringing in outsiders” as brides created numerous problems, with most of the women struggling to adjust.
“We realised it is better to have a daughter-in-law from a different caste but who is accustomed to our culture than bring in a complete stranger,” Singh said.
The move also addresses prejudices against lower castes, which are deeply entrenched in mainly poor, rural areas. Marriages between higher and lower castes are few in a country where despite rapid modernisation, tradition still holds sway.
And the reforms — which also include the appointment of the first woman to the khap — also go some way to softening the reputation of local councils, experts said.
With her days revolving around her many chores, Deka welcomed the new rules, saying hopefully fewer women would be forced to move to Haryana.
“I am glad women will no longer have to suffer like me,” she said.
Amid Modi’s Centrist Shift, an Aide With a Turbulent Past Rises
By ELLEN BARRY and SUHASINI RAJ
JULY 5, 2014
MUZAFFARNAGAR, India — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new junior minister for agriculture, Sanjeev Balyan, is a first-time officeholder famous for precisely one thing: After two Hindu men were killed in an altercation with Muslims in his district last summer, he rallied crowds of angry young men from his caste, urging them to protect their own kind.
At the time, the police listed Dr. Balyan, a veterinarian, as one of 14 politicians who addressed a crowd that was armed with bamboo clubs and sticks. Their report summarizes the politicians’ message in blunt terms. “Wherever we will find people belonging to the Muslim community, by killing them, we will get our revenge,” the report says.
A week later, mobs of armed Hindu men descended on local villages, leaving around 60 people, mostly Muslims, dead and prompting tens of thousands of Muslims to flee their homes. Dr. Balyan, who had been jailed before the violence, was charged with incitement.
It was an echo of the episode that has haunted Mr. Modi’s political career for more than a decade. In 2002, not long after Mr. Modi had taken office as chief minister of Gujarat, riots broke out after Hindu pilgrims burned to death in a train. Some Hindus blamed Muslims for setting the blaze, and weeks of bloodletting followed. More than 1,200 people died, most of them Muslims. Mr. Modi, who has close ties to right-wing Hindu organizations, was long blamed for failing to stop the killing.
Explore key developments in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that shadowed Narendra Modi’s ascent to the prime minister’s office.
As he campaigned to become prime minister earlier this year, Mr. Modi assiduously avoided religious issues, hewing to the economic growth platform that carried him to a landslide victory. In his early days in office he has tried to set a conciliatory, centrist tone, and some of his decisions since taking power have disappointed his far-right backers.
So it is curious to find Dr. Balyan in such a high-profile post, unless you consider the raw math of political payback. On the heels of an ugly episode of religious polarization, Dr. Balyan won election to Parliament in a landslide, delivering this sugarcane-producing region in the politically vital state of Uttar Pradesh into the hands of Mr. Modi’s center-right Bharatiya Janata Party for the first time in 15 years. His presence in the cabinet is a reminder that stoking such divisions remains a way to win votes, something that Mr. Modi still needs to do in order to build up a team of regional allies in the coming months and years.
“You see,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst, “it is one ballgame to win an election and an entirely different ballgame to run a country like India.”
The violence that tore through the Muzaffarnagar district last August began with an ordinary quarrel. Gaurav, an 18-year-old Hindu man from the Jat caste, was eating in a marketplace. A 24-year-old Muslim cloth merchant on a motorcycle asked him to move his bicycle. He refused, according to Gaurav’s father, Ravindra Kumar.
Sharp words were exchanged — and the Muslim man slapped Gaurav, who returned later with a group of relatives. In the brawl, the cloth merchant was fatally stabbed, and Gaurav and his cousin Sachin, 24, were beaten to death, their bodies sprawled on the dusty, bloodstained road.
By the next day, political parties had gotten involved on both sides, demanding that the guilty parties be arrested. A Muslim member of Parliament from a lower-caste party attended the last rites for the cloth merchant, according to Mohammad Irshad, a local imam. Though the Bharatiya Janata Party was not traditionally strong in the region, high-ranking officials became regular visitors to the Jat areas, making the three-hour journey from New Delhi.
But the true local champion was Dr. Balyan, 42, whose father is a Hindu activist and farmer from a nearby town. Divendra Singh, a cousin of the dead Hindu men, said Dr. Balyan managed to remove the names of several relatives, including Mr. Singh, from the criminal complaint about the Muslim man’s death.
Alok Priyadarshi, Muzaffarnagar’s rural superintendent of police, said that the authorities were prompted to take action after a group of 14 politicians addressed a gathering of thousands of men armed with sticks, four days after the deadly brawl, which “turned the situation from bad to worse by whipping up passions.” Of the 14, 12 were affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Anshul Panwar, 31, a farmer who said he attended the gathering, described “such immense anger amongst the Hindus around here,” and recalled that Dr. Balyan “was talking like the rest of the leaders, that we must do our all to save the honor of our daughters and sisters.”
Dr. Balyan and the other leaders were detained several days later in what the police described as a preventive measure. In June, investigators submitted charges against them for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion,” and disobeying and obstructing public servants, said Manoj Kumar Jha, who headed the investigative team.
In an interview in his new office in New Delhi, Dr. Balyan played down the importance of the charges, which he described as “the kind of case which can be slapped against anyone for political reasons.”
He said he bore no responsibility for the violence because it broke out when he was in jail.
If he had not been behind bars, he said, “I would have tried my best to make sure the riots didn’t happen.”
The weekend after the gathering brought another huge meeting of Hindu men — and a burst of violence. Groups of men armed with machetes and clubs coursed through the streets of Kutba Kutbi, Dr. Balyan’s home village, some chanting “Go to Pakistan, or go to the graveyard,” said Muslims who fled the village that day.
They set fire to the mosque and Muslims scattered, some taking shelter on their roofs and others plunging into sugarcane fields. As Muslims fled the village, “We saw body parts lying about,” said Mohammad Shahid, 29. Eight men and one woman were killed in that one village, residents said, listing out the names.
Indramani Tripathi, a top civil official in Muzaffarnagar, said, “I have never seen anything like it, and I hope and pray I never see such a situation again.”
None of the village’s Muslims have returned to their homes. Though Hindus from Qutba occasionally pass through the new Muslim settlement, they do not stop, and the two groups regard each other with cold distrust, braced for new violence. Mohammad Jafar Siddiqui, 32, grimaced when asked about Dr. Balyan’s new post.
“For his role in shedding the blood of innocents,” he said, “he was rewarded with a ministership.”
Discussions of last September’s riots have been, to a great extent, eclipsed by the seismic political events of the spring, when the Bharatiya Janata Party made a stunning showing in Uttar Pradesh, winning 71 out of 80 parliamentary seats.
But voters in Uttar Pradesh were not exactly swept up in the Modi wave, with 62 percent of them saying they would have voted for the B.J.P. regardless of its leader, according to the Center for the Study of Developing Societies. Indeed, in his campaigning Dr. Balyan often explicitly departed from Mr. Modi’s centrist message.
“I will not talk of development; this is not the time to talk development,” he told one crowd, in April, according to The Indian Express. “The verdict from this area must be one-sided. You know what to do. There is nothing more for me to say.”
Asked what had caused this major shift in voting patterns, virtually everyone in the Muzaffarnagar district pointed to the riots. And political analysts, searching for an explanation of why Mr. Modi had selected a junior minister with such a controversial past, reached the same conclusion: The position needed to go to a Jat, and he was available.
On a recent afternoon, Dr. Balyan’s father, Surendra Singh, was lounging on the veranda of his farmhouse in Qutba with a group of friends. They swelled with pride as they discussed the new minister. “This boy is fast in his work like a cheetah,” said one man. “He is as swift and agile as a cheetah.”
To a question about the B.J.P.’s victory, Mr. Singh responded cheerfully.
“Let me tell you a small story,” he said, and launched into a detailed narration of Gaurav’s death, which he said had set off the chain of events that culminated in his son’s election. It wasn’t hard to get details, since Ravindra Kumar, Gaurav’s father, happened to be sitting beside him.
“There was total polarization — the Hindus were on one side, and the Muslims were on the other side, and it worked in his favor,” Mr. Singh said. “Because of what happened to that family, the Hindus united. And for the next 100 years, we will make sure this remains a B.J.P. bastion.”
After Barrage of Personal Attacks, Indonesian Presidential Election Tightens
By JOE COCHRANEJULY 5, 2014
Joko Widodo, in Bandung on Thursday, has seen his double-digit lead shrink in a poll. Credit Timur Matahari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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JAKARTA, Indonesia — The allegations have been flying thick and fast as Indonesia’s presidential election campaign nears its end.
One candidate has been accused of lying about his ethnicity, his religious affiliation and even whether he is the biological father of one of his children. The other has been branded a murderous “psychopath,” and has faced rumors that he has been debilitated by a stroke.
Smears have had a place in previous Indonesian elections, but this year’s contest, fueled by social media, has hit new lows amid fears that the mudslinging is actually swaying voters.
Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday to elect a successor to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won the country’s first direct presidential election in 2004 and then re-election in 2009.
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Election officials prepared paper ballots for counting at a polling station on Wednesday in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Early Count in Indonesia Favors Largest Opposition PartyAPRIL 9, 2014
Police officers in Jakarta at a roll call on Monday in preparation for this week’s vote. Polls show Islamic-based parties faring poorly.
Memo From Indonesia: In a Nation of Muslims, Political Islam Is Struggling to Win VotesAPRIL 7, 2014
Governor of Jakarta Receives His Party’s Nod for PresidentMARCH 14, 2014
Joko Widodo, 53, the populist governor of Jakarta, is running against Prabowo Subianto, 62, a former army general during the administration of the dictator Suharto, his father-in-law. Mr. Prabowo is popular among urban and middle- and upper-class voters despite widespread allegations of human rights abuses during his military career.
Prabowo Subianto, in Central Java Province last week, was a military leader under Suharto. Credit Idhad Zakaria/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Joko, a former mayor with no link to Indonesia’s authoritarian past, had been leading the race by a comfortable margin over the past few months. But Mr. Prabowo has narrowed the gap in recent weeks, and now the race is too close to call. Though analysts believe Mr. Prabowo has won over many voters because of strong campaign appearances, they say smears against Mr. Joko have also helped. Those analysts, as well as a large study of social media, say Mr. Joko has been the target of most of the attacks during the campaign.
A nationwide survey released on June 29 by Indo Barometer, a respected polling company, found that a 13-point lead Mr. Joko had over Mr. Prabowo before official campaigning began in early June had shrunk to 3 points.
Some of the most damaging accusations — made anonymously online — suggest Mr. Joko is ethnic Chinese and a former Christian, which would turn off many in this Muslim-majority country where resentment of often-wealthier Chinese Christians runs high. Mr. Joko has repeatedly asserted he is Javanese and a Muslim, and Mr. Prabowo has not questioned that.
“Smear campaigning is difficult to detect in surveys, but I have found that people who identify themselves as ‘Muslim voters’ are now equally supporting each candidate, while before the campaign, the majority of them supported Joko Widodo — almost 50 percent to 37 percent,” said Muhammad Qodari, executive director of Indo Barometer.
“Now it’s equal at 44 percent,” he said. “I can’t think of any other conclusion except that Muslim voters are being influenced.”
The poll found that Mr. Joko’s lead among rural Indonesians — his political base — had narrowed to 5 percentage points from 13, Mr. Qodari said.
It is unclear who is behind most of the accusations that have become the topics of daily gossip among many Indonesians. Many of the rumors have been put forward in tabloid news reports, anonymous text messages and countless comments on social media sites slamming the two men.
The rumor about Mr. Joko being a Christian started online in May, when a photograph of a certificate purportedly belonging to him began circulating on social media sites stating that he was of Chinese descent and was a former Christian. A separate message that made the rounds online claimed that Mr. Joko was unable to properly perform Muslim prayers.
In early June, Obor Rakyat, a tabloid newspaper that began publishing in April, made similar allegations and later added that Mr. Joko was not the biological father of his first child.
Mr. Joko has denied the stories.
Mr. Prabowo has been a target of negative campaigning as well. In early June, A. M. Hendropriyono, a retired army general who is serving on Mr. Joko’s campaign team and who was once Mr. Prabowo’s superior officer, called Mr. Prabowo a “psychopath” during a news conference and claimed that he had failed a mental health evaluation while in the military. The military has refused to say if Mr. Prabowo passed or failed an evaluation.
Last month, after rumors spread that Mr. Prabowo had been debilitated by a stroke, journalists peppered his campaign for information.
Mr. Prabowo’s campaign denied that he had had a stroke and that he had failed the mental health evaluation; his campaign team denounced the claims and filed a complaint against Mr. Hendropriyono. Mr. Prabowo, who did have at least one stroke several years ago, has been mentally sharp during the campaign.
Still, Mr. Joko and Mr. Kalla appear to have been the target of most of the personal attacks. PoliticaWave, an Indonesian social media study group, examined 24,000 social media conversations in May and found that the ticket was targeted by a ratio of eight to one, compared with Mr. Prabowo and Hatta Rajasa, his running mate.
The intensity of the attacks, analysts say, has been fueled in part by this year’s two-ticket race.
When Indonesia held its first direct presidential election in 2004, there were five tickets. In 2009, there were three. In both contests there were limited instances of smear tactics. This time, with only Mr. Joko and Mr. Prabowo contesting — offering vastly different choices amid a charged political atmosphere — the electorate is polarized, analysts said.
Mr. Joko has been campaigning on the issues that made him a popular mayor and governor, including fighting corruption and improving education and health care. Mr. Prabowo has been more nationalistic, promoting an Indonesia-first approach to foreign investment and elaborate development projects, and promising decisive leadership.
“Like the United States, Indonesia has complex politics with high stakes, so people are willing to do a lot to win the election, including defaming their opponents,” said R. William Liddle, an emeritus professor of political science at Ohio State University, who closely monitors Indonesian and Southeast Asian politics. “If I was an Indonesian, I would be worried about how destabilizing these things could be.”
A pugnacious campaigning style appears to have become the norm in Indonesia, said Effendi Gazali, a Jakarta-based political scientist and communications analyst.
“Our politicians gradually have embraced the spirit of attacking rival campaigns, though they’ve needed to adjust to what level they think society could stand or accept,” he said.
How breeding with ancient ‘Denisovan’ species gave Tibetans their head for heights
By The Conversation
Saturday, July 5, 2014 10:32 EDT
By John Brookfield, University of Nottingham
A new study of the DNA of Tibetans has looked at the gene underlying their ability to live in the low-oxygen conditions at high altitudes. It found that this gene has come from an unexpected source – the mysterious group of ancient humans called the Denisovans. This work, a collaboration between Chinese, Danish and American scientists, has been published in the journal Nature.
In the 1990s, a consensus existed about the origin of our human species, Homo sapiens. Our species is young, evolving in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and spreading throughout the world, reaching Europe perhaps only 60,000 years ago.
But we are not the first species of the genus Homo to live in Europe. Fossils from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago reveal the Neanderthal people, Homo neanderthalensis. Many viewed the process where modern Europeans and Asians left Africa and supplanted the Neanderthals as a complete replacement, with no interbreeding. This is what the fossils seemed to say, and seemed confirmed when the sequence of one small part of the Neanderthals’ DNA – that found in the cell’s mitochondria, revealed the Neanderthals to be quite distinct from all modern humans.
More than just us
But, in 2010, studies refuted this simple picture. The Neanderthal genome project found that Modern Europeans and Asians, but not Africans, had somewhere between 1% and 4% of their DNA that came from the Neanderthals. There had been interbreeding between the groups after all.
But another surprise was looming. In a cave at Denisova in Siberia, fragmentary human sub-fossils, around 50,000 years old, yielded high-quality DNA, and from them the genome of the “Denisovans” was sequenced. And the Denisovans were almost as genetically different from Neanderthals as are modern humans. Suddenly, we had to get used to three distinct groups of humans 50,000 years ago. Did the Denisovans breed with modern humans? Apparently, yes, as a small proportion of modern New Guineans’ DNA showed strong similarity to Denisovan sequences.
While this ancient DNA was surprising to the scientific world, researchers were looking at modern human DNA to find evidence for recent adaptations arising by natural selection. For some studies the goal was to identify the genetic causes of the important biological differences between modern humans and our ancestors, as in the search for “genes for language” or such. Other researchers identified local adaptations in specific human populations, which had evolved to allow them to cope with unusual local environments.
It was the latter that went looking for genetic variants that may have led to adaptation among Tibetans that allowed them to live 4,000 metres above sea level, where the oxygen concentration is less than half of that at sea level. They found that one gene, called EPAS1, makes a protein that regulates many genes involved in how the body processes oxygen. The variant of the gene seen in Tibetans is also seen in related high-mountain people like the Sherpas and Mongolians.
EPAS1 showed a “signature of selection” in the Tibetans, where an initially rare variant had been become common in the population though natural selection. But the assumption was, as in other cases of local adaptation in humans, that the low-oxygen-adapted version of this gene was created by a random mutation in the modern humans (Homo sapiens) of Central Asia.
Interbreeding can help
The new study has revealed an unexpected result. By sequencing this gene in many Tibetans, and Han Chinese for comparison, the authors initially showed that this gene is indeed unusually different between Tibetans and the Chinese compared to the rest of their chromosomes. This confirms that natural selection played a role in the difference observed.
But the gene showed too many differences from the Han Chinese. That is why an explanation beyond natural selection was needed. Nothing like it was seen in any other modern human populations, but something like it did exist in the databases- the Denisovans’ version of the same gene.
So, it seemed that, in this case of local adaptation is the result of acquiring a gene from a pre-existing human group – the Denisovans. Among them, it had presumably been carrying out the role of low-oxygen adaptation for hundreds of thousands of years. This gene then spread in the one modern human group whose environment necessitated it.
Report: Japan Set for First Arms Export under New Rules
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 July 2014, 09:23
Japan is set to approve its first arms export following relaxation of its self-imposed ban, as the nation aims to boost its global military and economic presence, a report said Sunday.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to export a high-performance sensor to the United States, which will use it in the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) missile defense system to be exported to Qatar, the Nikkei business daily said without citing sources.
Tokyo's decision, likely to become official later this month, comes after Japan in April amended its traditional strict ban on arms exports, particularly in cases where the products might be re-exported to countries engaged in conflict.
The government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe eased the rules to allow exports of military products in a move aimed at letting Japan join international joint programs to develop weapons and to grow its defense industry.
Japan has concluded that the planned U.S. transfer of the missile to Qatar was unlikely to escalate any conflicts, the Nikkei said.
Mitsubishi Heavy produces the PAC-2 sensor for Japan's Self Defense Forces under license from Raytheon, the Nikkei said.
The U.S. company however is scaling back production of PAC-2 components, as it is focusing on the next-generation PAC-3 missile interceptor system, it said.
The sensor is a key component of the infrared seeker set into the tip of the missile to identify and track incoming targets, the Nikkei said.