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« Reply #14430 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:37 AM »


North Korea's 'Mata Hari' left out in the cold

Won Jeong-hwa served a five-year prison sentence for using sex to extract information from South Korean military officers. A year later, her notoriety has not brought the usual lucrative book or TV deals, and she is struggling to put her past behind her

Associated Press in Gunpo, South Korea
theguardian.com, Friday 11 July 2014 11.30 BST   
   
Once their espionage cases are resolved, some former North Korean spies find that life in the South can be pretty good. They write books, land TV gigs, work for think tanks and in general benefit from their new home's fascination with their old homeland.

Won Jeong-hwa is not one of those spies.

A year after finishing a five-year espionage sentence for using sex to obtain military secrets and plotting to assassinate intelligence officers, Won is a 40-year-old single mother eking out a living on an $800 monthly government subsidy.

Her espionage work is not taken seriously enough in South Korea for her to cash in on her past, yet she's also too notorious to find an ordinary job. She says she has been fired from several waitressing and cleaning jobs after employers learned about her past, which she had attempted to conceal.

    Her espionage work is not taken seriously enough in South Korea for her to cash in on her past, yet she's also too notorious to find an ordinary job.

"I've thought about killing myself many times," Won said in an interview at her small apartment in Gunpo, just south of Seoul.

A highly-trained spy?

She has two big strikes against her. There are allegations that she was merely a low-level informant whose deeds were inflated by South Korean officials eager to make Pyongyang look bad, and by reporters digging for a sexy story. Additionally, the sexual nature of her crimes carries a stigma in this conservative country.

Won was imprisoned in 2008 after a court ruled that she posed as an ordinary North Korean defector, then used sex to extract secrets from South Korean military officers. The media began calling her "North Korea's Mata Hari" in reference to an exotic dancer from the Netherlands who used sex to obtain military secrets during World War I.

North Korea accused South Korea of cooking up a spy scandal to tarnish Pyongyang's image and said Won was a criminal.

After Won was released, she was a popular guest on TV talk shows where she spoke about her harsh, elite spy training. She said she disobeyed Pyongyang's orders to assassinate two South Korean army intelligence officers with poison.

She also talked about how she fell in love with a junior army officer — the "man of my life". He was later imprisoned for passing her secrets including a list of North Korean defectors even after learning she was a spy.

The attention caused South Korean media to revisit her case. Some reporters questioned the value of her espionage work, and raised suspicions based on testimony by North Korean defectors who said they knew Won and her family members in the North.

Won's 2008 court verdict said she was trained at a special operations unit in Pyongyang and was a daughter of an agent killed on a spy mission in South Korea in 1974. But Won's stepfather, Kim Dong-soon, who came to South Korea in 2007, said in an interview that Won's biological father was an ordinary labourer who died of a heart attack, and that Won was a high school dropout who had nothing to do with special operations forces. Won denies Kim's allegations.

In the verdict and in interviews, it was said that North Korea first sent Won to South Korea in 2001 to take photos of the exteriors of US military installations and to collect South Korean newspaper editorials about North Korea. People dubious of Won's elite status consider that low-level spy work.

Some defectors who met Won before her 2008 arrest say she was often incoherent and unprofessional and could not have been a highly trained spy.

"I believe that she was exploited as an informant... she wasn't even worth being called a spy," said Kim Yong-hwa, a defector-turned-activist. He said he once rejected Won's request to meet with a high-profile North Korean defector because she rambled too much.

A key debunker of Won's espionage record is Won herself, who spoke to The Associated Press in a series of interviews between April and this week. She has said in media interviews that she was pressured by prosecutors to provide false testimony, particularly about her use of sex in spy work.

The trial verdict and an investigation by prosecutors said she slept with numerous men, including South Korean officers and her boss at an agency where she worked. Won said she used sex as a spying tool only once, to steal personnel management-related documents from an army major's home computer.

She said she couldn't resist pressure by prosecutors who gave her alcohol and urged her to confess during questioning. They "manufactured (the story of) my relations with men," she said. "I'm not a Mata Hari."

Prosecutors have dismissed Won's claims.

A new start

South Korea has a history of forgiving former spies and assassins, though they are still sometimes ostracised. Their careers in the media often depend on whether they were involved in high-profile cases that captured global attention, and whether they followed Seoul's propaganda line against the North.

Won said a prosecutor told her during her questioning that she could make a new start in the South by following in the footsteps of Kim Hyon-hui, a North Korean agent sentenced to death for bombing a South Korean jet in 1987, killing all 115 passengers aboard. Kim was later pardoned and wrote a best-selling autobiography. She often appears on TV to speak critically of North Korea.

Several other North Koreans who once attacked the South now embrace it. One of the 31 North Korean commandos who launched a brazen mission to assassinate South Korea's president in 1968 is now a Christian pastor who lectures about the North. A North Korean crew member of a submarine that ran aground in the South, and who was captured alive after a massive manhunt that left 25 other comrades dead or missing, is a lecturer for the South Korean navy. A spy arrested after a deadly shootout in 1995 works for a think tank run by the South's spy agency and wrote a book about his mission.

Won, on the other hand, feels trapped. No South Korean TV station wants her as an expert because of reports that she may not have been an elite spy. Finding work unrelated to her past is also impossible, she said, because no one wants to hire an unskilled woman with a criminal espionage record.

    Finding work unrelated to her past is impossible, she said, because no one wants to hire an unskilled woman with a criminal espionage record

One of the jobs she gained and quickly lost was at a noodle restaurant. She said a former colleague later told her the boss had been worried she would poison the food.

The army officer Won fell in love with has been released, but they are no longer in touch. Nor is the father of her 12-year-old daughter in the picture: she said he is a South Korean businessman she met in China, where she had been assigned to find and repatriate North Korean defectors before she was sent to South Korea.

Won said the government assistance she gets was not enough for her to even buy a school uniform for her daughter. A centre that helps female ex-inmates gave one to her.

Many defectors shun her. She said her neighbours once asked that she move, and that her daughter's friends have been told by their parents to stay away from the girl.

"I've told my daughter she should go to an orphanage because she'd be happier living there," Won said, sobbing. "I want to move to a country where no one knows me."


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« Reply #14431 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:48 AM »


'100 killed' in Gaza as pressure builds on Israel to end military offensive

Obama phones Netanyahu offering to broker a ceasefire with Hamas, while Palestinian officials say 100 killed so far in conflict

Orlando Crowcroft in Tel Aviv
theguardian.com, Friday 11 July 2014 11.53 BST

The death toll in Gaza has risen as international pressure builds on Israel to end its four-day conflict with Hamas and Palestinian militant groups in the enclave.

A Gaza health ministry spokesman said two Palestinians were killed and three injured in an Israeli air strike on Friday that brought the death toll to 100.

Rocket fire continued at Israeli cities, which have so far avoided fatalities, and Hamas's armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said on Friday it intended to hit Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion international airport, warning airlines not to fly to it.

The White House said late on Thursday that Barack Obama had phoned the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to offer to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

"The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement," the White House said.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that ceasefire was "more urgent than ever" after an emergency security council meeting on Thursday. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has also urged Netanyahu to consider a ceasefire.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's ambassador to the UN, said: "We call on the security council to act immediately to protect civilian lives, which are being lost a destroyed with each passing minute."

But in a televised statement on Thursday, Netanyahu seemed to indicate that Israeli's military action in Gaza – named Operation Protective Edge – was far from over.

"So far the battle is progressing as planned, but we can expect further stages in future. Up to now, we have hit Hamas and the terror organisations hard and as the battle continues we will increase strikes at them," he said.

Israel has called up about 20,000 reserve troops, and while there is still no indication of whether it will launch a ground offensive, shelling and air strikes continued on Friday.

Overnight six Palestinians were killed in two strikes, including one on the home of an Islamic Jihad militant in Rafah, medical sources said.

Witnesses told AFP the militant, Abdel Razzaq al-Ghannam, was not home when the attack took place, but five people, including a woman and a seven-year-old child, were killed. It followed an air strike on a house in Gaza City that killed 33-year-old Anas Abu al-Kass.

The Israeli military confirmed on Friday that 548 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, including one from Lebanon on Friday morning that landed near Gallilee.

Also on Friday, one rocket hit a petrol station in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, causing a huge blaze and seriously injuring at least three people, an ambulance spokesman said.

But despite a barrage of rockets targeting Israeli cities including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – causing thousands to rush to bomb shelters for the first time in years – there have still been no Israeli deaths since the beginning of this latest conflict.

On Friday morning, air raid sirens rang out again in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial capital, and three loud explosions were heard as Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system shot down rockets over the city for a third day running.

"Three rockets were launched at central Tel Aviv. All three were intercepted over the Tel Aviv metropolitan area," an Israeli army statement said.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police deployed extra units in the Old City to deal with potential unrest after Friday prayers, according to a police spokesman. Access to al-Aqsa mosque will again be restricted to women and men over 50.

Last week, there were riots in Shuafat, East Jerusalem, following the murder of 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was abducted from outside his home and then killed. A Shuafat resident told the Guardian on Thursday that as many as 60 members of Israel Defence Forces had been stationed in the neighbourhood for more than a week.

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

Rumor and Leaks Fill a Void as Israel Silences Press Over Killings

JULY 10, 2014
By ROBERT MACKEY
IHT

Israeli intelligence officials used gag orders in recent weeks to stifle reporting on the initial investigations into both the abduction and the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem.

These restrictions on media coverage of events in the Palestinian territories come more than five years after Israel blocked journalists from reporting on the bombardment of Gaza known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead. The current war in that territory is taking place in full view of foreign correspondents there, as the Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer pointed out.

In past decades, restrictions on the news media gave security officials in Israel a free hand to pursue their objectives under the cover of an information blackout. Now, with access to social media and activist blogging, that is no longer possible, and a vigorous, at times frightening, public discussion of the killings has continued online based on rumor and leaks used by partisans of both sides to indict their enemies.

In the case of the three Jewish students who went missing last month near Hebron as they hitchhiked home from school, Israel’s Shin Bet security service barred reporters from telling the public that gunshots were heard on the furtive emergency call made by one of the kidnapped teenagers. The Israeli journalist and commentator Noam Sheizaf argued that keeping salient facts of the investigation secret for weeks allowed a government-backed social-media campaign to channel outrage over the abductions to grow, but also set the public up for crushing disappointment once the bodies were discovered.

“In schools across the country, including one near my home, signs were hung with the teens’ names and slogans like, ‘looking forward to your return,’ ” Mr. Sheizaf wrote on his blog. “If the teachers knew about the blood in the car, the bullet holes and the sound of gunshots, would they have let their young students paint those signs or have their photos taken with them and posted on the Internet?”

Another Israeli journalist, Raviv Drucker, suggested that concealing facts from the public might have built support for the military operation in the West Bank against Hamas operatives during the search for the teenagers, but also created an atmosphere of blood lust, and open calls for violent revenge, in the days before a Palestinian boy in East Jerusalem was abducted and burned to death.

“That doesn’t mean that the search for the boys should have been halted, but perhaps there would have been fewer mass prayer vigils and empty speeches predicated on the belief that the boys were still alive,” Mr. Drucker wrote. “And perhaps there would have been less pressure from the public for a heavy handed response from our decision makers. Perhaps, too, the wave of ugly incitement would have been a bit smaller.”

The absence of verified information about the missing Israelis initially led some Palestinians to speculate that “no abduction had ever occurred,” according to Amira Hass, a correspondent for Haaretz. The widespread assumption that the boys might be found alive, fostered by statements from Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and other officials, also fueled speculation that the boys might have been abducted as bargaining chips to win the release of Palestinian political prisoners.

Mr. Drucker noted that the continuing suppression of information about the police investigation into the brutal killing of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old snatched from a street near his home in East Jerusalem last week, was accompanied by an apparent campaign to deflect blame by tarnishing the victim’s reputation. Opaquely sourced reports suggested that the boy might have been killed not by Jewish extremists, but by his own family in a dark “honor killing.”

As the police pursued this line of inquiry, evidence about the nature of the crime and the possible identity of the killers emerged through the efforts of Palestinian journalists, Internet activists and the boy’s family, who shared surveillance-camera footage with foreign correspondents who have more latitude to evade Israeli gag orders.

Bushra Abu Khdeir, an aunt of the boy, showed British reporters grainy, black-and-white video of the abduction, recorded by a surveillance camera.

Days later, the Palestinian-American blogger Ali Abunimah published clearer images, recorded by another security camera, that he said appeared to show the kidnappers’ faces.
Continue reading the main story Security-camera footage of two young men recorded just before the abduction of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir in East Jerusalem last week. Electronic Intifada, via YouTube

The Palestinian Wattan News Agency also obtained and published video of men reviewing the same security camera footage, which was apparently recorded just before the abduction.
Continue reading the main story Video of men reviewing security-camera footage apparently recorded just before the abduction of a Palestinian boy in East Jerusalem last week. Wattan News Agency, via YouTube

Details of the investigation into Muhammad’s death are officially secret, even after an Israeli police spokesman announced the arrest of six suspects and said there was a “strong possibility” that the motive for the killing of the Palestinian teenager was “nationalistic,” indicating that it was a revenge attack by right-wing Jewish extremists.

When an Israeli police officer agreed to brief Sheera Frenkel of Buzzfeed on the investigation, revealing that the suspects were racist, hard-core fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, he insisted on anonymity because of the gag order.

That leak from the police has ignited public discussion of whether the Jerusalem club’s anti-Arab soccer fans are the embodiment of a dark tribalism at the heart of all extreme nationalism or deranged fanatics whose violence is unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As that debate continues, Israeli journalists like Mr. Sheizaf say that the country’s security officials should be challenged more when they seek legal permission to stifle the media.

“My only hope is that those district judges who approve the gag orders without giving them a second thought — be that incommunicado arrests, details of an investigation or a fact that might embarrass the chief of staff — might learn something from this affair,” he wrote. “I hope that in the future, local and foreign journalists think twice about the way they serve the interests of those in power, as opposed to the interests of their own readers.”

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

Palestinian Death Toll Nears 100 as Hamas Promises More Attacks on Israel

By ISABEL KERSHNER and FARES AKRAM
JULY 11, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — At least eight Palestinians were killed overnight in airstrikes as Israel pressed on with its air offensive in Gaza, while southern and central Israel came under heavy rocket fire from militants on Friday morning.

As Palestinian health officials said the death toll in Gaza was approaching 100, the two sides appeared to be set on a course of continuing escalation, with no outside mediator yet having stepped in to try to broker a renewal of the cease-fire that came into effect after the last round of fierce, cross-border fighting, in November 2012.

One rocket launched from Lebanon struck open ground in northern Israel, putting Israeli forces in the north on alert and raising the specter of confrontation on a second front. An Israeli military official said it was too early to determine whether the act was “symbolic or something more substantial.”

Israel responded with artillery fire aimed at the launch site in Lebanon, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military. He said it was not immediately clear whether Hezbollah, the Shiite organization against which Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006, was responsible for the rocket fire from Lebanon.

An attack on gas station in the Mediterranean port city of Ashdod wounded several people, one of them seriously. Three more rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system above the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, the military said.

Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza, and Islamic Jihad have both claimed responsibility for the rocket barrages that have reached much deeper into Israel than in the past and hit new targets spread across a wide area of the country.

The military wing of Hamas said it had warned foreign airlines to suspend flights to the “Zionist entity,” meaning Israel, citing the risks involved because of the fighting. In a statement on its website, the group claimed to have hit Ben-Gurion International Airport, just outside Tel Aviv, on Friday morning, although the Israeli police denied that it had. Sirens did sound at the airport as part of a general alert as rockets headed for the Tel Aviv area, but none of those struck the airport, according to Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman.

“So far Hamas has utilized only a little of what it has prepared for the Zionist enemy,” the military wing of Hamas said in an earlier statement on its website, adding that it would continue “to surprise” every day. “We have prepared ourselves for a very long battle, not for a week or 10 days, as some have said, but for many long weeks.”

At least 92 people have been killed in Gaza during the Israeli offensive. Of the eight Palestinians who were killed overnight in the airstrikes, five were from a family whose home was struck in the southern city of Rafah. Officials in Gaza said the other fatalities included a 10-year-old girl, who was killed in a strike on another house in Rafah; a Palestinian man killed in Israeli artillery fire there; and a pharmacist in Gaza City who was killed in an airstrike that targeted an apartment.

Israel says the homes that have been targeted serve as command and control centers for militant operatives who coordinate and guide the rocket fire against Israeli population centers. About 20 homes were struck on Thursday and early Friday. Israel says airstrikes on houses are preceded by warnings to the occupants, by telephone and other means, to vacate the properties. Despite the warnings, dozens of civilian casualties have been attributed to the attacks on houses.

Ahmed al-Shaer, a witness from Rafah, said that two rockets struck the house where five members of the Ghanem family were killed and that there was no advance warning.

According to data gathered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 58 civilians had been killed in Gaza by Thursday afternoon, including 11 women and 21 children.

Colonel Lerner said the Israeli military was “operating to minimize the civilian impact. But when Hamas embeds itself in the civilian population and uses it as a human shield,” he said, “that makes it very difficult for us.”

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

In Rubble of Gaza Seaside Cafe, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer

By FARES AKRAM
JULY 10, 2014
IHT

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — About a dozen local Palestinians gathered Wednesday evening at the Fun Time Beach cafe, a beachside eatery of plastic chairs, umbrellas, walls of cloth and palm leaves, a container for a kitchen and a small bathroom, to watch the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

What they were not watching for was an Israeli missile, apparently targeting what Israel’s military later described as a single terrorist. The blast destroyed the cafe and killed at least eight people.

On Thursday, bulldozers, excavators and rescue officers were digging through the remnants of the cafe on the golden sand of this city in the southern Gaza Strip. They were looking for the body of Salim Sawalli, a possible ninth victim. Two of Mr. Sawalli’s brothers were among the dead.

Kamel Sawalli, the oldest of the four brothers, was sitting up beside one of the bulldozer drivers, refusing calls from relatives to attend the funerals. The sand was wet from seeping seawater, making their work to find Salim harder.

“I will not go before I find Salim!” the brother shouted over the roar of the bulldozer. “The three should be buried together.”

The cafe was one of more than 750 locations that the Israeli military struck in the first 48 hours of its aerial blitz in Gaza that began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with the stated goal of halting the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli towns and cities.

Among the targets listed by the military are concealed rocket launchers, weapons stores, training sites, tunnels and other facilities used by the militant groups. The military has also bombed scores of homes it says are used as control and command centers by field operatives of Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza, and other militant organizations. In those cases the occupants are told to vacate the premises, usually by a telephone call followed by a small missile without an explosive warhead hitting the roof as a warning of a pending attack, though the system is not foolproof.

The death toll in Gaza had risen to at least 78 by Thursday, the majority of them noncombatants, according to Health Ministry officials in the Palestinian coastal enclave.

When the military aims to kill a specific militant in a precision attack, no heads-up is given. “We don’t warn terrorists,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military. Still, the military says it makes efforts to avoid collateral damage.

The details of what happened at the Fun Time Beach cafe remain hazy. Colonel Lerner said the missile had been meant to be a “precision strike,” adding, “We were targeting a terrorist.”

But he had no immediate information on the identity of the person in Israel’s sights or why the military struck when the cafe was abuzz with more than a dozen people.

Residents of Khan Younis said that Wednesday night was particularly unnerving because of the explosions.

“The bombing did not stop, the children could not sleep, it was really frightening,” said Hassan Bashiti, 52, who stood with a group of men wearing white gowns in the main street of the town where all the stores were closed, waiting for the funerals.

At the Nasser Clinical Center, the main hospital in the city, the wounded were still arriving at noon on Thursday. The wailing sirens of incoming ambulances mixed with the patriotic ballads that blared from the loudspeakers of cars on their way out, leading funeral processions.

Tamer al-Astal, 27, was lying in a hospital bed being treated for shrapnel wounds in his face and leg from the blast on the beach. Mr. Astal, a construction worker, said he lived near the cafe and went there every night.

“We were watching news on the television and waiting for the match to begin,” he recalled. “I heard a terrible boom and felt myself suffocating. I woke up to find myself here in the hospital.”

Three of Mr. Astal’s cousins were among the dead.

Samah Sawalli, 29, said her brothers had been spending their nights at the cafe and coming home at dawn when the daily fast starts in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“They would break their fast there,” she said, wearing a black veil and surrounded by her mother, who was unable to speak, and other women at the family’s home in Khan Younis. Weeping, she recalled their assuring her that Fun Time Beach “was a safe place.”

With the casualties of Israel’s aerial campaign in Gaza mounting, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, the main gateway for Gaza’s population of 1.7 million, to allow the evacuation of wounded to hospitals in Egypt and the passage of Palestinians who hold Egyptian citizenship. The crossing, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, had been closed for about a month.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the gate, which Hamas officers shut in a desperate attempt to control the crowds.

Nariman Shurab made it into the departure hall with her three children, who were barefoot. Her husband was unable to travel with them, she said, crying, because he does not hold an Egyptian passport, only a Palestinian one.

She said that an airstrike near her house in Khan Younis had blown out the windows and doors, so she had moved to her mother-in-law’s house, hoping it would be safer.

But then, she said, they also received a warning to vacate their house, referring to a recorded message sent to thousands of mobile phones in Gaza on Thursday. “I could not wait,” she said, as she waited for her passport to be stamped. “I ran out without even getting my children’s shoes and sped to the crossing.”


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« Reply #14432 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:50 AM »


Aid workers find 'dire conditions' in Darfur town that had been off limits

Non-Red Cross aid workers allowed into Guldo in the Jebel Marra region for the first time since August 2011

Agence France-Presse in Khartoum
The Guardian, Thursday 10 July 2014 19.48 BST   
   
Aid workers in Sudan have found dire conditions after entering a town in war-torn Darfur that had been off limits for three years, the UN said Thursday.

Government restrictions had prevented humanitarian workers from accessing the Jebel Marra region in Darfur where a rebellion began 11 years ago. The only exception was the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was providing services in the town of Guldo and some of the surrounding area until Khartoum suspended operations on 1 February.

For the first time since August 2011, authorities allowed non-ICRC aid workers into Guldo where they found the "humanitarian situation dire", the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its weekly bulletin.

"The town has had no functioning health services since ICRC activities were suspended," OCHA said. "It was also found that over 50% of the population in Guldo had no access to sanitation facilities, and no garbage collection services are in place. Hygiene promotion activities also stopped with the suspension of ICRC operations."

An estimated 100,000 people in Jebel Marra have been severely affected or displaced by conflict, but aid workers have not been able to access other parts of the district to confirm the situation.

In May, the ICRC said the suspension was having a severe impact. Authorities accused the organisation of violating guidelines. The suspension was one of many restrictions placed on foreign aid workers in Sudan, where humanitarians are struggling to meet the needs of more than six million people.


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« Reply #14433 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:51 AM »

South Africa Delays Decision on Parole for Apartheid-Era Killer

By ALAN COWELL
JULY 10, 2014
IHT

In one of the most charged cases in South Africa’s struggle to overcome its apartheid past, the authorities on Thursday postponed a decision on whether to parole Eugene de Kock, a convicted death-squad leader widely known as “Prime Evil.”

The case threw into relief the tangled issues surrounding the country’s long-running efforts to balance justice and reconciliation — the same issues that consumed years of post-apartheid hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s.

Mr. de Kock, 65, was arrested in 1994 on an array of charges from murder to kidnapping related to his time as commander of a notorious police unit based at the Vlakplaas farm near Pretoria. The site became synonymous with the killing and torture of suspects in an underground war against black activists.

But he also testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after his conviction in 1996 on 89 charges including murder and fraud that earned him a prison sentence of two life terms plus 212 years.

The commission granted amnesty to perpetrators who were deemed to have shown remorse for and told the truth about actions committed for political reasons in the conflict between the apartheid authorities and their foes. Mr. de Kock was pardoned for some crimes, such as his part in blowing up a church headquarters in Johannesburg in 1988, but not for others.

South Africa’s justice minister, Michael Masutha, told reporters on Thursday that the law required the families of Mr. de Kock’s victims to be consulted before parole was granted, South African and international news media reported.

“It is fair and in the interests of the victims and the broader community that the families of the victims are afforded the opportunity to participate in the parole consideration process of the offender,” Mr. Masutha said, ordering that the case could be reviewed within a year.

Mr. de Kock’s lawyer disputed the ruling and said he would challenge it.

Mr. de Kock, a former police colonel, sought parole on the grounds that no other member of the apartheid-era police force had been sentenced. “Not one of the previous generals, or ministers who were in cabinet up to 1990, have been prosecuted at all,” The Associated Press quoted him saying in an affidavit in January.

He also argued that he was acting on the orders of his superiors.

In posts online, responses to the ruling showed the long shadow of racial division, with some saying they supported keeping Mr. de Kock behind bars, while others cited the unevenness of a justice system that punished him but not his white superiors or his black adversaries.


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« Reply #14434 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:53 AM »

Bolivia Ask U.S. to Extradite ex-President

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 July 2014, 21:11

Bolivia said Thursday it has requested the extradition of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from the United States to face charges of human rights abuses while in office.

The United States has turned down to previous attempts to extradite Sanchez de Lozada, who resigned his second stint as president in 2003 amid violent protests and spiraling social unrest.

Bolivia's leftist government blame Sanchez de Lozada and two of his ministers for the deaths of more than 60 people in the violent repression of a protest against a government plan to export natural gas.

Justice Minister Sandra Gutierrez said she has lodged a new extradition request against Sanchez de Lozada with the State Department.

The request also seeks the extradition of former oil minister Jorge Berindoague and ex-defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain.

"These fugitives of justice have to return to Bolivia, because they must be held accountable for the genocide they committed in 2003, and they have to be tried in our courts because we all demand that justice be done in this case," Gutierrez said.

The ex-president is also being sued in a Florida court by relatives of those killed in the 2003 violence.

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

ILO Probes Bolivia Law Allowing Children to Work from Age 10

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 July 2014, 19:30

The International Labor Organization said Thursday it was investigating a new law in Bolivia that allows children as young as 10 to work, amid fears it breached global rules.

"The ILO is still looking into the provisions of the new law," the U.N. labor agency's spokesman Hans von Rohland told Agence France Presse.

"But there are already concerns that the law could amount to a reduction of the minimum age for work below the minima set in the ILO Conventions that Bolivia has ratified," he said.

Bolivia's previous labor code permitted no exceptions to a minimum age of 14, which ILO rules allow developing countries to adopt instead of the global limit of 15.

The new law was approved last week by the parliament of Bolivia, whose left-wing President Evo Morales is a former subsistence farmer and trade union activist.

While it leaves the limit of 14 in place, it allows exceptions when specific legal criteria have been met, taking the age to as low as 10.

The legal limit of 14 had come under fire from critics, including youthful trade unionists, who argued that Bolivians work from an early age out of necessity. Many of the youngsters are employed work in agriculture or as street hawkers.

The ILO's labor convention also says that children between the ages of 13-15 may do light work as long as it does not threaten their health or hinder their education, and that developing countries can cut that to 12-14 years.

Bolivia's lawmakers passed the measure by consensus, requiring employers to respect certain criteria in order to ensure the physical and mental health of employed children, and prevent child exploitation.

The factors include a voluntary decision from the child to work, consent from the parent or guardian and permission from the public ombudsman.

The ILO warned of potential loopholes, however.

"The law could also fail to protect the rights of children working in agriculture on their family farm," said von Rohland.

"In line with ILO Conventions on child labor, those children should enjoy the same right to be protected against hazardous work as other children working for a non-family employer," he added.

Bolivian officials argue that by reducing the legal limit, they hope to eradicate extreme poverty, a key cause of child labor, by 2025.


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« Reply #14435 on: Jul 11, 2014, 06:56 AM »

U.N. Finds Most People Now Live in Cities

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
JULY 10, 2014
IHT

UNITED NATIONS — More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and even more will soon. The world will have to confront how to make cities more fit for human habitation.

Those are the conclusions of a report released Thursday by the United Nations, raising new challenges including cholera, classrooms and food production.

If China urbanized most rapidly in recent decades, it is now India’s turn, thanks to a large bulge of young people in its population. Between now and 2050, India is projected to add 404 million people to its cities. The Indian capital, Delhi, became the world’s second most populous city in 2014, more than doubling its population since 1990 to nearly 25 million. Mumbai is the other Indian megalopolis among the world’s 10 most populous cities, with 20.7 million people.

Over all, India, China and Nigeria will account for 37 percent of the projected growth of the urban population between now and 2050, according to the report, World Urbanization Prospects.

Tokyo tops the report’s list of megacities, with a population of more than 37.8 million. Two cities in China are among the top 10: Shanghai (23 million) and Beijing (almost 20 million). Only one is in the United States: Taken together, New York and Newark, with a population of more than 18 million, rank ninth. None of the top 10 are in Europe. (The others are Mexico City, São Paulo, Osaka and Cairo.)

By 2050, the vast majority of the world’s megacities will be in Asia, according to projections by the world body. New York is forecast to slip to 14th place.

The pace of urbanization has been remarkably swift. In 1950, only 30 percent of the world’s people lived in cities. That has grown to 54 percent in 2014. By 2050, a full two-thirds of humankind will live in cities.

Close to half of them now live in small cities of less than 500,000 people. Only one in eight live in cities with more than 10 million people. There are 28 of these megacities around the world.

The overall numbers of rural inhabitants are projected to decline to 3.1 billion in 2050 from 3.4 billion today.
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« Reply #14436 on: Jul 11, 2014, 07:21 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

NSA chief knew of Snowden file destruction by Guardian in UK

Revelation contrasts markedly with White House efforts to distance itself from UK government pressure to destroy disks

James Ball   
theguardian.com, Friday 11 July 2014 11.10 BST   

General Keith Alexander, the then director of the NSA, was briefed that the Guardian was prepared to make a largely symbolic act of destroying documents from Edward Snowden last July, new documents reveal.

The revelation that Alexander and Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, were advised on the Guardian's destruction of several hard disks and laptops contrasts markedly with public White House statements that distanced the US from the decision.

White House and NSA emails obtained by Associated Press under freedom of information legislation demonstrate how pleased Alexander and his colleagues were with the developments. At times the correspondence takes a celebratory tone, with one official describing the anticipated destruction as "good news".

On 20 July 2013, three Guardian editors destroyed all copies of the its Snowden material held in London (video), under the supervision of two GCHQ staff following a period of intense political pressure in the UK.
Link to video: Revealed: the day Guardian destroyed Snowden hard drives under watchful eye of GCHQ

The decision to destroy the UK copies of the material was taken in a climate of advancing legal threats from Cabinet Office and intelligence officials. The Guardian and its publishing partners, which included the New York Times and the not-for-profit news organisation ProPublica, held other copies of the material in the US, and continued reporting revelations from the documents.

When the Guardian revealed it had destroyed several computers a month later in August, the White House spokesman Josh Earnest initially remarked it was hard to "evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened" but said it would be hard to imagine the same events occurring in the US.

"That's very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate," he concluded.

However, heavily redacted email correspondence obtained by AP reporter Jack Gillum shows senior NSA officials celebrating the destruction of the material, even before it had occurred.

An email to Alexander from Rick Ledgett, now deputy director of the NSA, has the subject line "Guardian data being destroyed", and is dated 19 July, a day before the destruction of the files. Most is heavily redacted, but Ledgett remarks: "Good news, at least on this front."

A day later, hours after the material was destroyed, Alexander follows up with Ledgett, asking: "Can you confirm this actually occurred?"

Later that day, Clapper emails Alexander under the same subject line, saying: "Thanks Keith … appreciate the conversation today".

The remainder of the emails are redacted, including the subject lines in many cases, meaning it is unclear who from the British government briefed the senior NSA and White House staff on the destruction, or whether US officials had any input to the decision to encourage destruction of journalistic material.

A spokeswoman for the Guardian said the revelation of the US-UK correspondence on the destruction was disappointing.

"We're disappointed to learn that cross-Atlantic conversations were taking place at the very highest levels of government ahead of the bizarre destruction of journalistic material that took place in the Guardian's basement last July," she said. "What's perhaps most concerning is that the disclosure of these emails appears to contradict the White House's comments about these events last year, when they questioned the appropriateness of the UK government's intervention."

The NSA and GCHQ declined to respond to AP's requests for comment on the email exchange.

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

Five plaintiffs sue after being targeted in US 'suspicious activity' database

James Prigoff one of the people suing over 'McCarthy era' tactics after the FBI monitored him for photographing public art
    
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 10 July 2014 21.05 BST   

The man from the FBI left his card on James Prigoff's door in Sacramento. When Prigoff, a photographer, returned Agent Ayaz's call, he learned that he had attracted the attention of a terrorism investigator, all for attempting to frame an ideal image of a piece of public art on the other side of the country.

Months earlier, Prigoff had travelled to Boston to photograph the Rainbow Swash, a series of bright, colorful stripes painted on a 140-foot gas storage tank in Dorchester. But two private security guards became agitated and told him – incorrectly – that he was on private property. After some hassle, Prigoff opted to snap the shot from a suboptimal location, into the sunlight.

Now, in August 2004, Ayaz wanted to know if Prigoff had ever been to Boston. The agent had already knocked on his neighbor's door, seeking information. Prigoff explained his Rainbow Swash incident, the only thing that came to mind from Boston that he reasoned could have prompted Ayaz's contact. Nothing further happened. As it happens, the Rainbow Swash is readily visible on Google Images.

But the most likely reason that Ayaz, a federal agent in California attached to a joint terrorism task force, could have known about Prigoff or his Boston trip in the first place is the result of post-9/11 laws intended to help law enforcement connect the metaphorical dots ahead of a terrorist attack. The security guards filed what is known as a suspicious activity report, an account of observed behavior striking the observer as questionable.

Suspicious activity reports – over 35,000 of which have been generated as of 2013, according to the government – go from their locations into terrorism databases like the FBI's eGuardian. There, they are visible not only to federal agents but to state and local police around the country through the Department of Homeland Security's controversial fusion centers. Reports on people like Prigoff reside there for up to 30 years.

Generating them requires observers to have neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion of criminal activity – merely the law enforcement equivalent of the "see something, say something" vigilance mantra post-9/11.

"This is supposed to be a free country, where the government isn’t supposed to be tracking you if you’re not doing anything wrong. I lived through the McCarthy era, and I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the SAR program may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today," Prigoff said in a statement.

Prigoff is one of five plaintiffs filing a lawsuit in California, represented in part by the ACLU, against attorney general Eric Holder and a Justice Department colleague. They seek a "permanent injunction" on the current lax standards of the suspicious activity reports and to end law-enforcement training on them. The standards "opens the door to and encourages religious profiling", reads the suit, filed on Thursday and shared with the Guardian.

According to a 2013 annual report from the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Report Initiative – comprising the FBI, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security – some 296,000 law enforcement personnel nationwide had been trained in the guidelines for the reports, which were said to include civil liberties protections.

But their utility for preventing terrorism is in question. A March 2013 Government Accountability Office study found that the Justice Department office in charge of managing the suspicious-activity initiative does not track "their role in deterring terrorist activities or the number of arrests or convictions achieved".

The standards undergirding a suspicious activity report are defined as: "Observed behavior reasonably indicative of preoperational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity." The lawsuit filed Thursday notes that such a standard is well below that of reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause.

Examples of such suspicious behavior at US hotels listed in a DHS-FBI bulletin from 2010 included: "Abandoning a room and leaving behind clothing, toiletries, or other items"; "Refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods"; and "Multiple visitors or deliveries to one individual or room."

The use of suspicious activity reports across the government is substantial. The 2013 annual report found that all 78 DHS fusion centers can contribute or share the reports; 21 of the fusion centers automatically share the reports with the FBI, according to the GAO. Training on a search tool to comb through them increased to the point where law enforcement and intelligence personnel have conducted over 76,400 searches.

One of those reports concerned Placentia, California, bio-tech worker Tariq Razak – or, as his suspicious activity report referred to him, "Close Cropped Beard … Male/Arab." (The repot was incorrect: Razak is of Pakistani descent.)

Razak visited the Santa Ana train depot in May 2011, where he had an appointment with the Orange County employment resource center, located in the station building. His mother, who was wearing a headscarf, accompanied him. After initially getting lost within the building, they ultimately finished their business and were on their way.

But not before they caught the attention of a security officer, Karina De La Rosa, who rode the elevator with Razak and his mother.

De La Rosa would later tell a Santa Ana police department's terrorism liaison officer that she grew suspicious when Razak "appeared to be observant of his surroundings and was constantly surveying all areas of the facility". He "meticulously" studied the "entry/exit points … where large groups of passengers gather". De La Rosa noticed him standing by the restroom, where "a female wearing a white burka head dress" [sic] would emerge. She watched as their 2007 Honda Accord drove away, northbound.

That description came from the suspicious activity report the terrorism liaison officer ultimately filed, which noted the make, model and license plate number of Razak's car and contained a detailed physical description of Razak himself. Razak's lawyer later sued for it.

De La Rosa would later say in the suspicious activity report on Razak that everything she did complied with the terrorism training she received.

"Karina said the behavior depicted by the male was similar to examples shown in her training raising her suspicion and making the decision to notify police," the report reads.

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

Obama administration warns money low to deal with migrant crisis

By Reuters
Friday, July 11, 2014 6:07 EDT

The Obama administration warned lawmakers on Thursday that U.S. border control agencies would run out of money and migrant children would run out of beds if Congress did not approve $3.7 billion in funds to address an influx of people from Central America.

Days after the White House put forward its request for emergency funding to address the humanitarian crisis at the southwest U.S. border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pressed the need for lawmakers to approve the request.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection would run out of funds by mid-August and mid-September, respectively, without the emergency cash, he said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the request.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said her department would run out of beds in temporary housing facilities if the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border continued into August at the same rate seen in May and June.

More children would be held in detention centers or “holding pens” at the border for long periods of time, she said at the same hearing.

The warnings from the officials came as support appeared to be growing for legislation that would make it easier for the Obama administration to deport thousands of Central American children who have migrated illegally.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner expressed support for changes to immigration law that would let the United States deport children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as quickly as it does those from Mexico.

U.S. law allows Mexican minors to be sent back promptly, although there are some steps those children can take to try to remain in the United States. A 2008 victims trafficking law requires that children from countries not bordering the United States, including those in Central America, be given added legal protections before they are deported.

Regarding children from those countries, Boehner told reporters, “I think clearly we would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico.”

NEEDED FUNDS

In a letter to congressional leaders last week, President Barack Obama proposed giving the Department of Homeland Security additional authority to process the return and removal of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Obama, battling political pressure to halt the influx of child migrants along the Texas border with Mexico, asked Congress for the emergency funds earlier this week.

Many Democrats and immigration advocacy groups have strongly opposed changing the trafficking law, but congressional leaders indicated they might not block such legislation if it is tacked onto the spending bill. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she would prefer the law be changed to give Mexican children the same protections as those from Central America. However, she said the issue should not stand in the way of quickly getting Obama the emergency funds he is seeking. Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic-controlled Senate, said he would not block an amendment to change the 2008 trafficking law, but would have to see what comes to the floor.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said the administration could use a clause in the law that allows for exceptions under special circumstances to speed up the deportations without changing the law itself. More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from the three countries have been caught trying to sneak over the border since October, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Both Democrats and Republicans have been pressing for changes to address the child migrant issue, but the money is not guaranteed.

“We’re not giving the president a blank check,” said Boehner, leader of the Republican-controlled House.

Boehner said the House should act on some sort of immigration legislation this month. He has formed a working group of lawmakers to study options.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with Obama in Texas, said the president was willing to negotiate on his request but noted it reflected the priorities Republicans have identified, including more immigration judges and additional border resources.

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

Republicans Embrace Bizarre Conspiracy That Obama Is Behind Immigrant Surge

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, July, 10th, 2014, 3:45 pm   

During the Thursday broadcast of his radio show, right-wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh discussed the possibility that President Obama is responsible for the surge of immigrants coming in from Central America in recent months. This is a conspiracy theory that has been gaining momentum in conservative circles over the past few days. Apparently, as this insane theory goes, the Obama Administration has convinced tens of thousands of young immigrants to storm the border. President Obama will then provide them with asylum and eventually turn them all into American citizens. In turn, all of these newly turned citizens will become dedicated Democratic voters, helping to widen the gap between Democrats and Republicans and turn the country into the Socialist hellscape that Obama has always planned. Or something like that.

Anyway, Limbaugh took his cue from The Washington Times and The Daily Caller. Both ran stories on Wednesday linking to the far-right website DMLDaily. The owner of the site, Dennis Michael Lynch, had posted two sets of photos on the site last week showing tennis shoes that had the phrase ‘Yes We Can’ and the likeness of Obama. Lynch stated that he received the photos from Border Patrol agents and that the shoes were on the feet of children who were detained at the border. He admits that he cannot authenticate the photos but that he trusts the agents.

DC and The Times ran with the story on Wednesday. Both of them posted the photos, seemingly as proof that these migrants were taking orders from Democratic operatives that the borders were open, and they just need to make their way to America. Basically, they have an open invite from the President. The Times even sent out a tweet Thursday morning with one of the photos.

    Illegal immigrants showing up at border with ‘Yes we can’ #Obama shoes: report – http://t.co/ehaJjLSofu #immigration pic.twitter.com/Xpl3Xemvd6

    — The Washington Times (@WashTimes) July 10, 2014

These articles helped to feed into the narrative that had already been started by Texas Republicans, most notably Governor Rick Perry and Rep. Louie Gohmert. Therefore, by the time of his broadcast Thursday, the conspiracy theory was ripe for Limbaugh to put it on blast.

Below is an excerpt of his comments, via a transcript from The Rush Limbaugh Show:

    RUSH: So, I must confess, I have been tempted to make a joke about something, but I held back. I held back because it involves the children. I’m talking about the children that are arriving unaccompanied all across the US Southern border. And the joke was going to be, “How long’s it gonna be before these kids start arriving with ‘I love Obama’ shirts?’” But I didn’t mention that because I thought people might think it’s a bit insensitive and not taking the situation seriously.

    And, lo and behold, every time I either think about or actually make a joke about these people, it comes true! The kids are arriving wearing Obama “Yes, we can” tennis shoes. I have the photo. I have proof right here, ladies and gentlemen. Some of this is hilarious. It is something that you joke about, “They would never do this. They would never.” But they’re doing it!

    You know, I told Snerdley this morning that I thought one of the fastest ways to shut this down would be if somebody were able to sneak across the border into Mexico and get themselves on these trains and the other forms of transportation that these kids are coming in on and pass out “I can’t wait to vote Republican” T-shirts and caps and have these kids arriving wearing that stuff. That would shut this down faster than anything you’ve ever seen. If it wouldn’t shut it down, we would be able to get pictures of border control agents ripping the clothing off of these kids and ripping their caps off.

A couple of things here. First off, we are’t even sure that these photos are authentic. They were basically just forwarded to a conservative commentator and filmmaker who has already made two films critical of immigration reform and he posted them on his website. Even with his disclaimer that the photos could not be authenticated, two media sources decided to push his story and try to get it into the mainstream. Besides being sloppy, it shows a complete lack of journalistic integrity. But, then again, integrity really isn’t a word you associate with The Daily Caller or The Washington Times.

However, even if these are authentic photos taken at detention centers at the border, all I have to say is — So what? What does it matter? These are poor kids escaping violent conditions and traveling hundreds or thousands of miles and will wear just about anything that they can get their hands on. We see pictures of two sets of shoes with Obama’s likeness on it. Ummm, ok. How many came across wearing shoes and shirts with other logos on them because they were readily available in their location due to charitable donations? I am sure many were wearing shirts representing sports teams. Does that mean those specific franchises were down in El Salvador or Honduras handing out apparel and telling kids to make it across the border in order to support their teams going forward?

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

In a Desperate Last Gasp John Boehner Will Sue Obama Over Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, July, 10th, 2014, 6:29 pm   

According to a resolution posted on the House Rules Committee website, John Boehner will be suing President Obama for not enforcing parts of the Affordable Care Act.

The resolution states:

    Resolved, That the Speaker may initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court of competent jurisdiction to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code, and to seek appropriate ancillary relief, including injunctive relief, regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the United States, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.

The Rules Committee will be meeting to markup the bill on July 16. It is hard to believe that House Republicans are going to try to revive the Obamacare wars with this lawsuit. Republicans are going to argue that the president didn’t not have the legal authority to delay the employer mandate. They are going to claim that he went beyond his constitutional powers, even though his constitutional powers include implementing the laws that are passed by Congress.

The fact that Boehner has chosen to sue over Obamacare reveals that this is nothing more than a partisan stunt that is intended to fire up Republican voters. Legally, this is going to be a virtually impossible case for Republicans to win. There are decades of legal precedent granting presidents the discretion to impose reasonable delays on implementing laws.

Politically, Boehner is going to court to argue that employers with fifty or more full-time employees should be immediately required to provide them with health insurance. If this looks like a cynical gambit to get employers outraged over Obamacare, that’s because it is. Boehner is actually arguing for more Obamacare even though his stated goal is the repeal of the ACA.

The decision to sue over Obamacare now is more bad timing from the GOP. According to a new survey by The Commonwealth Fund, “73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before — including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year — were happy with their new coverage.”

President Obama said the real reason why Boehner is suing is because Republicans don’t like him. The news that Boehner is suing over the ACA confirms that the president was correct.

This lawsuit is a last ditch attempt to turn public opinion against the ACA, a plea to fire up Republican voters, and a possible path to the impeachment of Obama. On all this counts, it is already a failure. Obamacare is getting more popular. Democrats are raising record sums of money off of the lawsuit threat, and Boehner and company will likely be laughed out of court.

House Republicans are the ultimate one-trick pony. Everything else that they have tried has failed, so they are running back to bashing Obamacare. The lawsuit is a desperate act by a desperate man who is leading a failed party to ruin. The ultimate sign of victory is when the sore losers have no choice, but to whine in court. Instead of leading to a Republican victory in November, the lawsuit is sowing the seeds of their own demise.

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

As His Lawsuit Disintegrates Boehner Falls Apart During A Woozy Tirade Against Obama

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, July, 10th, 2014, 2:15 pm      

The NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) is playing with social media today. Now comes Vine. You remember Vine? It was going to get modern Mitt elected in 2012.

So Republicans thought it would be a super idea to post this little sound bite of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) looking woozy and ragey at the same time, accusing President Obama of never taking responsibility for anything.

Speaker Boehner: When will President Obama take responsibility for something?

We hope he didn’t pop a vein, poor thing. Politics isn’t an easy business. Speaker Boehner is very upset that he can’t get his lawsuit to take off and after finding himself figuratively standing next to Sarah Palin, who then attacked him as being impotent, he’s got to be a bit embarrassed. This is naturally all Obama’s fault, for if Obama hadn’t won two elections, Boehner wouldn’t be trying to appease a foaming tea party base.

The full video is from Boehner’s office from his weekly press conference held on Thursdays, where the Speaker often stands improbably in front of a press wall with “JOBS” pasted all over it as if somehow that will make the Keystone Pipeline a jobs bill.

Indeed. Projection is a terrible thing to waste. Luckily, the Speaker has enough of it to maintain a steady stream of denial over his party’s vow to obstruct this President and refusal to do their jobs for going on 6 years now. And they criticize unions for being lazy.

So this is one way to sell a baseless lawsuit and hysterical, bitter demands for the President to be impeached over things that the Republican President actually did. For real.

But sometimes I wonder if Republicans really get social media; they clearly needed an empty chair for this whole ragey white man redux to work properly.

Anyway, I think you just saw the GOP NRCC’s 2014 strategy. They’re going to be pointing their fingers and wailing, “Barack did it, Mommy!” But on Vine, so it will be cool. Really, really cool. If they learned one lesson in 2012, it’s that people believe anything that’s on social media and this is why Mitt didn’t win. It had nothing to do with their policies or southern strategy or war against women.

Vine! ‘Cuz rage looks better in short, ready-to-be-mocked clips.

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

Obama Drops A Major Truth Bomb On The GOP: They’re Suing Because They Don’t Like Him

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, July, 10th, 2014, 5:07 pm   

Things are going from bad to worse for the Republicans as President Obama is openly calling out John Boehner and the GOP for suing because they don’t like him.

The president said:

    As long as Congress will not increase wages for workers, I will go and talk to every business in America if I have to. There’s no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise, and if you work full-time in this country, you shouldn’t live in poverty. That’s something that we all believe.

    Now, here’s where it gets interesting. There are a number of Republicans, including a number in the Texas delegation, who are mad at me for taking these actions. They actually plan to sue me. Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.

    The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did. Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. You hear some of them — “sue him,” “impeach him.” Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay.

    I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job — while you don’t do your job.

    There’s a great movie called “The Departed” — a little violent for kids. But there’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — they’re on a stakeout and somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg is all upset and yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, “Well, who are you?” And Wahlberg says, “I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.” Sometimes, I feel like saying to these guys, I’m the guy doing my job, you must be the other guy.

    So rather than wage another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money, I’ve got a better idea: Do something. If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, let’s team up. Let’s pass some bills. Let’s help America together.

When Obama starts quoting Marky Mark, it’s getting real.

The president is having a field day with the Republican threats to sue, and the demands for impeachment. Obama dropped a major truth bomb on Republicans by calling out the real reasons behind Boehner’s lawsuit. The Republicans want to sue the president because they don’t like him. George W. Bush pulled off the biggest executive power grab since Nixon, and nobody on the right side of the aisle tried to sue him.

President Obama has already turned the American people against this lawsuit before it has even been filed. Obama is trivializing their lawsuit, and highlighting why it is a complete waste of time and taxpayer resources. There was nothing but the truth in the president’s comments. Republicans are suing him because he is doing his job, and they don’t like him.

Boehner can’t explain the legal basis for his lawsuit against the president, but Obama can explain why the Speaker is doing what he is doing with a single sentence. This is another battle that Republicans have already lost before it began. Obama has already won in the court of public opinion and if House Republicans try to take him to federal court, they will lose.

Speaker Boehner has painted himself into a corner. The most likely outcome for Boehner is that the House passes his bill to speed up the process of suing the president while Harry Reid lets the bill die in the Senate and the Speaker never files a lawsuit because it would take too long to litigate.

Obama sarcastically mocked Boehner’s big political gambit for 2014, and he has left House Republicans reeling after another failed attempt to destroy his presidency.

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

The Supreme Court’s Conservatives Are Abolishing Anti-Discrimination Laws

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, July, 10th, 2014, 11:22 am   

Although America was founded on the brilliant, but false, premise that all citizens are equal, it has taken the course of the nation’s history, a Civil War, and several hard-fought civil rights battles for most Americans to realize a semblance of equality. Obviously, most Americans either could not comprehend, or adamantly opposed, the idea that social equality means every citizen has the same status and equal rights under the law, or that true equality requires the absence of legally enforced boundaries and government enforced discrimination; precisely what the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all Americans.

One would think most Americans support the 14th Amendment’s prohibition of unequal treatment under the law unflinchingly. Unfortunately, the religious right is intent on abolishing the concept of equality and rejects the idea that no American, or government entity, has the right to abridge any other Americans’ right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now, they are using the Hobby Lobby decision to attempt to establish Christianity’s prohibition against gays as a government policy as a jumping off point in the rush to government by theocracy.

According to a noted constitutional lawyer, Edward Tabash, the High Court’s conservatives failed to reconcile the two religious clauses in the First Amendment and decided that by merely professing a religious objection, someone can establish their religion as law and over other Americans by constitutional fiat. Tabash explained the Establishment Clause as ensuring that believers and non-believers were equal before the law and that no branch of government can favor one religion over another religion, or no religion, and the free exercise clause ensured that because of someone’s religious views they can not suffer lesser rights. By butchering the Free Exercise clause, the Court gave Christians special constitutional rights over the law and other Americans that conflicted with the Establishment Clause. It is that new interpretation of the Establishment Clause that religious leaders are beginning to use to force the government to establish the Christian right’s objections against anti-discrimination laws such as the 14th Amendment’s as government policy. The conservative Court effectively gave fundamentalist Christians the right to establish their religion on the government and the people, and it is why an expanded consortium of faith leaders are demanding that President Obama use taxpayer funds to legally discriminate against gays in direct conflict with the 14th Amendment.

The newer, stronger, demand from religious leaders is that taxpayer-funded government contractors have religious freedom to hire only “people who share the employers’ faith.” The faith leaders, now including megachurch preacher Rick Warren and Catholic Charities CEO Rev. Larry Snyder, want the federal government to legally discriminate against gays according to Christian’s newfound religious liberty. The Vice President of the Human Rights Campaign disagreed with the Christians and said rightly that “Taxpayers’ dollars should not be used to discriminate,” and it was a valid statement before the Hobby Lobby ruling. Most federal contractors already have employment policies barring anti-gay workplace discrimination, but that was before the conservative Court rewrote the Establishment Clause to empower the Christian right’s supremacy over the law.

The idea of abolishing anti-discrimination laws, including the 14TH Amendment, began taking shape in earnest in 2009 when a confederation of Catholics, Southern Baptists, and evangelical fanatics devised a theocratic manifesto known as the Manhattan Declaration. This column has warned that the Declaration’s signatories, including Hobby Lobby’s legal team, were on a crusade to abolish anti-discrimination laws and establish Christian prerogatives as government policy, and on the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision, it is coming to pass. According to the theocratic manifesto, its purpose is to impose “a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.” However a reading of the document informs a truly consistent ethic of hatred of equality, America as a secular nation, and anything not supported by the religious right.

For example, the Declaration’s signatories condemned hate crime laws, civil rights laws, and anti-discrimination laws as attacks on their religious liberty. They also claim that the concepts of “liberty, autonomy, and choice” are responsible for America’s demise into a secular nation, as well as religious persecution they suffer at the hands of that secular government; particularly with an African American man as President. Part and parcel of what they call persecution and tyranny against “Christians,” and what they vehemently condemn as an abomination against god’s authority over America, is divorce, marriage equality, promiscuity, television programming, single-parent families, women’s reproductive choice, the entertainment industry, and secular government they claim are gross violations of their First Amendment “freedom of religion” and affronts to their almighty and loving god. The document also claims current conscience laws, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, are under attack like their religious liberty and are inadequate to afford Christians the right to “render unto god what is god’s;” supremacy over the law and other Americans the High Court just granted them in Hobby Lobby.

It is likely why yesterday, in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling, Utah’s Mormon governor and attorney general are appealing directly to the Supreme Court to rule that the state’s Mormon majority can legally exercise religion to discriminate against gays who married the person they love. If any American truly believed the Hobby Lobby case and subsequent decision was solely about providing contraceptives in health plans, the push to force the government to use taxpayer funds to discriminate against gays and violate an obsolete 14th Amendment guarantee of equality under the law should disabuse them of that fallacy.

No American should think for a second that they are protected from the Court’s new interpretation of the Establishment Clause, or the Free Exercise Clause; including Christians opposed to evangelical fanaticism. President Obama, a Christian sworn to uphold the Constitution, is being besieged by Christian “friends of the White House” to defer to the Christian prerogative and use taxpayer funds to discriminate against gays. Even a cursory reading of the vile nine page Manhattan Declaration informs that no American, or segment of society, is safe from the religious right’s newfound “religious freedom.” The document is rife with condemnation of every segment of American society that does not conform with evangelical Christianity’s worldview and now that the Court gave them religious supremacy over every other American and redefined the Establishment Clause, no religion, secular institution, or government entity is safe from what is arguably an all-out-war on America as a secular nation.

Because the Court legalized freedom of religion as a tool for Christian domination, and established religious supremacy over the law and other Americans’ rights, this country faces the real prospect of living under a version of Christian Sharia Law. Republicans, whether they are religious or not, will take advantage of the conservative Christian’s religious fervor to garner electoral support and dutifully repay evangelicals when they propose new legislation in Congress and state legislatures. It is true the Hobby Lobby ruling will mobilize Democratic voters in November, but now that the religious right has been awarded the religious liberty they have lusted after for thirty years, they will turn out the vote to accomplish what the Founding Fathers never intended; America as a Christian nation. By eviscerating the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, the Supreme Court’s conservatives effectively nullified the Establishment Clause and hastened America’s march toward theocracy.

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

The intellectuals attacking Obama should have the president quaking in his boots

By Katie Halper
RawStory
Thursday, July 10, 2014 9:47 EDT

I’ve always been able to look at politics and politicians objectively. For instance, I may not like what Mitch McConnell has to say, but I’m not going to pretend he’s not freaking hot. And this intellectual honesty has led me to believe that the President and those who support him should be worried. Very worried.

On June 25th, Speaker and Bronzer of the House John Boehner announced his plans to file a lawsuit against the President. And last week President Obama responded by saying, “So, sue me.” Yes, the President is a former professor of constitutional law. And John Boehner is very good at football and bar-tending. But perhaps the President shouldn’t be quite so flippant. Because Boehner isn’t the only one out to get Obama. And he’s certainly not the smartest.

As I looked at some of the countless Right Wing politicians who have attacked President Obama this week (so far), I found myself  forced to admit that though I disagree with their positions, these critics are, like it or not, intellectual forces to be reckoned with. To dismiss their cerebral prowess would be as dishonest and dangerous as as denying the lipless good looks of Mitch McConnell. So, I urge the President to take these attacks seriously and respond appropriately. Let us look at these great critical thinkers, their history of intellectual acuity and their undeniably logical and reasoned attacks on our president.

1. Texas Governor Rick Perry: The Right of Hand-Shake Refusal

Though the White House invited Governor Perry to greet the President at the Houston Airport on Wednesday, Perry, refused. Why? Well, Rick may be a southern gentleman, but, as anyone who has ever heard him speak knows, the wonkish Perry prefers policy discussions and serious debate over small chat and niceties. Or, as Perry explained in a letter to the president,

    I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue.

Perry is so committed to “substantive” immigration talks, that, with sufficient advance warning, he would be willing to re-arrange his busy schedule of jogging, killing Coyotes and executing innocent people to meet with the President of the United States: “With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

Expertise: Secession Law, Texas History, Remembering two out three things.

President Obama is no match for Governor Perry and his encyclopedic knowledge the law and history. As you may recall, Perry once said, “when we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want.” And, he added, in the legalistic jargon in which he is so proficient, “we’re kind of thinking about that again.” It turns out that Perry was wrong about the whole “stand alone nation deal.” But there was no way he would have known that unless he had followed who had won the Civil War or had heard of the Supreme Court Case  Texas v. White which held that the union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.” But both of those events occurred way before Perry was even a twinkle in his father’s racist eye. And he can hardly be expected to know anything about them.

Like many geniuses, Perry has a nearly photographic memory as he demonstrated during a Republican debate when he remembered not one but two of the three agencies he vowed to shut down if elected president: “I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the — What’s the third one there? Let’s see.The third agency I would do away with…the…ahh…Education…ahh…Commerce, and, let’s see… can’t, the third one. I can’t.” But even intellectuals are able to make mistakes. The issue is how they explain them. And Perry’s explanation for his memory lapse was perfect: “Oops.”

2. Entertainer Sarah Palin: Impeach.

The commitment-phobic former Governor and perpetual entertainer Sarah Palin called for the impeachment of President Obama on Tuesday. Writing in the scholarly journal that is the website Breitbart, Palin explained that the “unsecured border crisis is the last straw” and that, “It’s time to impeach…” “President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness,” Palin argued, “including his own, is the foundational problem here… It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along.”

Expertise: All Newspapers Ever, Supreme Court History, theology and Intelligence.

It feels unnecessary to even bother discussing Palin’s intellectual strengths, since they are so obvious. But, just to be consistent and thorough, let us remember that she reads more newspapers than any other human being ever. When asked by Katie Couric what she read regularly to stay informed, Palin responded, “I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.” When Couric persisted and asked which publications Palin read “specifically,” the then Veep hopeful said, “Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.” When Couric pressed Palin to name a single one, she responded, “I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.” Though the liberal media used this interview as an excuse to pick on Palin, anyone objective knows that the exchange merely proved what we already knew: 1) Palin reads so much that she can’t keep track of it, and 2) the gestapo-like tactics for which Katie Couric is so famous can throw anyone off their game. Or as Palin put it more charitably, “Katie’s purpose—shared by most media types—seemed to be to frame a ‘gotcha’ moment. And it worked.”

But as fellow eloquent sage George W. Bush once said, “fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

Thus, when Commandant Couric tried to trick Palin into naming a single Supreme Court Case with which she disagreed, Sarah knew to avoid the trick question, saying: “Well, I could think of — of any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.”

I don’t have enough time or space to list all of Palin’s credentials, but I will say that she is also well versed in the history of Christianity and intelligence-fathering, as she revealed when she spoke at an NRA event and said, “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

3. Louis Gohmert: Defund White House to Stop Obama from Letting in Diseased Aliens who will Turn Texas into a Blue (and Diseased) State.

Lots of Republicans (who don’t own businesses or need landscaping or lawn-mowing) want to keep and/ or kick “illegals” out of this great country (that was stolen  from others founded and founded illegally) so they can’t steal the jobs that U.S.-born citizens don’t do anyway. But Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) is especially astute when it comes to the socio-economic and political forces behind immigration policy. In fact, just Tuesday, Gohmert called on Congress to defund the White House, the Attorney General of the United States and, as it’s outlined in The Constitution, “anything that the president cares deeply about.” Why is bankrupting the entire country so imperative? Well, because Obama is allowing in dangerous foreign elements: “Our schools cannot handle this influx… Our health care systems can’t withstand this influx…. We don’t even know what all diseases they have.” I think we can cross Smallpox and Montezuma’s Revenge off the list. And it’s not just that The President is allowing this. He’s encouraging it so, as Gohmert figured out, Texas and the country (and probably the world!) vote Democrat: “In the end, they [Democrats] have said that they want to turn Texas blue, they want to turn America blue.” Obama’s plan is to admit “hundreds of thousands or millions of people” and “give them the ability to vote.” And the final part of the scheme is blackmail: Democrats would tell the invaders “If you want to keep getting the benefits, you have to vote, and President Obama’s lawyers are not going to allow them to ask for an ID, so go vote or you’re going to lose the benefits you’re getting now…. That drives people to vote and it will ensure that Republicans don’t ever get elected again.” Pretty brillz!

Expertise: Alien movement, Enfranchisement, Crustaceans, Photobombing.

Louis Gohmert’s grasp of the relationship between immigration and voting patterns comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with his opinion-based research on the subject. Just last year he explained that, counterintuitively, denying amnesty to “Hispanics” will actually attract them because it will “preserve a country that Hispanics will want to come to.” Gohmert’s insights into the way Hispanics think remind me of the the insights of Sherry Argov, author of Why Men Love Bitches. In fact, I’m now inspired to write my own book, Why Hispanics Love Rejection or Hispanics: They’re Just Like Men Who Love Bitches.

Like the others listed here, Gohmert is a renaissance man. He’s also well-versed in class-based dietary habits. For instance, he supports cutting off food-stamps– read food– because they they turn their recipients into obese king crab legs-consuming heartbreakers:

    When I look into the eyes of constituents, who want to provide for their children … and they talk about standing in line, I’ve heard this story so many times … standing in line at a grocery store behind people with a food-stamp car—one individual said, I love crab legs. You know, the big king crab legs. I love those. But we haven’t been able to have those in who knows when. But I’m standing behind a guy who has those in his basket, and I’m looking longingly like, when can I ever make enough again where our family can have something like that, and sees the food-stamp card pulled out, and provided, he looks at the king crab legs and looks at the ground meat, and realizes because he does pay income tax, he doesn’t get more back than he pays in, he is actually helping pay for the king crab legs when he can’t pay for them for himself.

Take a minute to wipe away your tears. OK. Moving on. The last talent Gohmertian talent I wanted to highlight was his unique and unsung photobombing abilities, which requires major hand-eye coordination and stealth.

4. Iowa GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst: Castrate & Impeach

Finally, allow me to share one more woman whose intellect we and the president dismiss at our own peril. Her name is Joni Ernst and she is running for the Senate in Iowa. Sarah Palin may be in the spotlight this week for calling for Obama’s impeachment, but a recently discovered video reveals that Ernst was advocating for this six months ago, making her the intellectual trend-setter. Ernst complained that the President had “become a dictator” and needed to “face those repercussions…whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” She outlined exactly how the President has become a dictator, using the precise and clinical language of a Political Science professor: he “oversteps his bounds… when he’s appointing czars… So he has become a dictator…. He is running amok.”

Expertise: Swine Castration, Propaganda

Ernst is the least known of the four people I review here but perhaps the biggest threat. She brings to the table not merely a sharp mind, but a sharp knife. She is the only person that I’m aware of who is calling for impeachment and who has experience removing pig testicles. As she boasted in her campaign video, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.” She knows how to “cut pork” and “make ’em squeal.” This genius video, which features adorable and sympathetic pigs, is a brilliant way to reach that sociopathic, sadistic swing voter.


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« Reply #14437 on: Jul 12, 2014, 05:57 AM »


23 Ukrainian troops killed in clashes with separatists

Highest 24-hour death toll since president ended brief ceasefire includes 19 troops killed in rocket attack near Russian border

Agencies
The Guardian, Friday 11 July 2014 15.15 BST   

Ukraine's military has said 23 servicemen have died in clashes with pro-Russia separatists across the east, a development that threatens to shatter slim western hopes of a truce in the three-month insurgency.

"In the past 24 hours, while performing special assignments in various regions where the active phase of anti-terrorist operations is under way, 23 servicemen from the Ukrainian armed forces and state border service were killed," the military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov wrote in a Facebook post.

The official spokesman of Ukraine's intensifying campaign against the rebel movement added that 93 troops had sustained "wounds and contusions of varying severity".

Ukraine's defence ministry said in a separate statement that the toll included 19 troops who were killed early on Friday in a multiple rocket attack staged by insurgents near the Russian border.

In a phone call on Thursday evening, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, advised the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to "maintain a sense of proportion" in his actions against separatists.

Steffen Seibert, a German government spokesman, said: "The chancellor urged President Poroshenko to maintain a sense of proportion in his legitimate actions against the separatists and to protect the civilian population.

"Both agreed that talks of the contact group … are urgently needed now in order to begin the implementation of Poroshenko's peace plan and a mutual ceasefire."

Friday's official death toll is the highest since Poroshenko tore up a brief ceasefire with the rebels on 1 July and relaunched an offensive that managed to dislodge the militias from key eastern strongholds they have controlled for nearly three months.

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

Ukrainians Flee Rebel Bastion Fearing Reprisal Assault

by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 July 2014, 12:49

Panicked Ukrainians flooded highways and packed trains leading out of the main remaining rebel stronghold on Saturday fearing a reprisal assault by government forces after they lost 30 servicemen to defiant militants.

Separatists near the Russian border mowed down 19 troops in a hail of heavy rocket fire on Friday in a bloody reminder of their resolve to reverse the recent tide of government gains across the eastern rustbelt.

The military said four other troops died elsewhere on Friday and seven more were killed overnight in attacks that also left more than 120 soldiers wounded.

Ukraine's new Western-backed leader immediately vowed to hunt down the guilty militias in a push that would shatter all hopes of a truce in one of Europe's most explosive conflicts in decades.

"The rebels will pay for the life of every one of our servicemen with tens and hundred of their own," President Petro Poroshenko told an emergency security meeting.

"Not a single terrorist will avoid responsibility."

The militant talk convinced many in the million-strong eastern hub of Donetsk -- the new home to a flood of gunmen who had abandoned surrounding cities since last weekend -- that their riverside city was about to be bombed.

The local mayor rushed out to meet Poroshenko on Friday to discuss measures that could "avoid bloodshed and the use of air strikes and heavy artillery."

But separatists in control of Ukraine's coal mining capital said locals were not taking any chances after three months of fighting that has claimed nearly 550 lives and sparked the biggest East-West crisis since the hight of the Cold War.

"I would say that one car in five is filled with refugees," said a young separatist volunteer manning a roadblock around 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Donetsk.

"I have lived here more than 40 years and it is very difficult for me to leave this town," said Natalia as she prepared to catch a train that would eventually take her to Russia.

"But there is no other solution," she said.

Friday evening political talks shows filled with voices questioning tactics and demanding to know why most of the rebels were allowed to slip out of the towns and cities they had abandoned in recent days.

Poroshenko had last Saturday proclaimed the seizure of Slavyansk -- the symbolic heart of the uprising -- a turning point in a conflict set off by the February ouster in Kiev of a Kremlin-backed president and Russia's subsequent seizure of Crimea.

EU leaders quickly joined Russia in a rare collective bid to dampen Kiev's new-found bravado and convince Poroshenko to launch direct truce talks with the separatists.

The European Union said on Saturday that it was also adding 11 separatist leaders to the names of 61 Russians and pro-Kremlin Ukrainians blacklisted for their roles in inflaming the conflict.

But Poroshenko's top aide said that all talks with the rebels were off.

"Those who call themselves leaders of the People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk are nobodies -- they are puppets, servants of the Kremlin," presidential administration chief Yuriy Lutsenko told Kiev's Inter television.

"The only possible side that can be involved in negotiations is Russian President Vladimir Putin," he stressed. "And the only subject that can be discussed is the terrorists' withdrawal from the territory if Ukraine."

Poroshenko's security headaches have been compounded by the threat of Ukraine going bankrupt if it fails to adopt tough and deeply unpopular cost-cutting measures demanded under the terms of an emergency Western bailout deal.

An International Monetary Fund team was due to leave Kiev on Saturday after checking whether Ukraine had done enough to merit the disbursal of a second tranche of a $17-billion loan at the heart of a broader $27-billion international package.

Standard and Poor's delivered a rare dose of good news to Poroshenko on Friday by revising to "stable" from "negative" Ukraine's credit rating based on the conviction that the IMF would not abandon Kiev at this stage.

"Full disbursement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and related multilateral lending should enable Ukraine to meet its external financing needs over the next year," S&P said.

"At the same time, the new government under Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has been stable and relatively cohesive."

The two-year international program is meant to make up for a $15-billion package Russia had extended former president Viktor Yanukovych for his November decision to ditch an historic EU trade and association pact.

His ouster and the new team's signature of the European deal helped provoked the ongoing insurgency and saw Russia withdraw the aid.

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

Seeing Cost of Saber Rattling in Ukraine, Pig Putin Alters Course

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
JULY 11, 2014
IHT

MOSCOW — When he speaks about Ukraine at all these days, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia focuses on worthy subjects like humanitarian aid, distinctly turning down the flame underneath the political speech that erupted with the annexation of Crimea in March.

That shift over the past few weeks has led Kremlin analysts to conclude that Russia has started playing a waiting game with its once closest neighbor. The economic, political and military costs of any abrupt, armed action to keep Ukraine — or even parts of it — in Moscow’s orbit were deemed far too high. Even the sort of indirect support that NATO and the Ukrainian government accuse the Kremlin of providing to the separatists seems to be falling into disfavor.

But that does not mean that Moscow has abandoned its many goals in Ukraine, and it raises the question of whether the West will continue to allow the clock to tick away while Mr. Putin and his lieutenants pursue them.

They want to ensure that Ukraine does not join NATO, and that the country is kept as weak and decentralized as possible. And they would like to extract Russia from the mess while claiming victory in protecting the rights and the lives of millions of Russian-speaking residents in southeastern Ukraine.

In addition, Mr. Putin would like to find new allies in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, who will pursue renewed political and economic ties, particularly given Moscow’s reliance on Ukraine for military equipment that will take two or three years to replace. Finally, Moscow wants to limit any economic fallout from the association agreement Kiev just signed with the European Union.

Ukraine is nearly broke. With the West unlikely to pay the staggering costs needed to right Ukraine’s economy, Moscow expects Kiev will have to find a way to restore its longstanding ties with Russia, analysts noted. In particular, it needs to reach an agreement with Moscow on natural gas supplies, now cut off, before temperatures start dropping in November. Russia also could use a deal over water, electricity and other supplies that used to flow to Crimea from Ukraine.

“The main goal from the beginning has been to create the conditions so that Western structures — above all NATO — would not widen their range to include Ukraine,” said Sergei A. Karaganov, dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs and an occasional Kremlin consultant. “That has been achieved.”

“Russia is now looking for an excuse to cool down the crisis and to restore some relationship with the West,” while leaving Ukraine weak, he said. “It will be unified one way or another — a weak state with a crumbling economy — that is inevitable.”

The situation remains volatile, however. With Russian-backed separatists vowing to make a last stand in Donetsk and Luhansk, Moscow could still end up in a military conflict.

Europe and the United States are split on the strategy going forward. Some in Washington are demanding tougher action against Russia immediately. But Europe is working the diplomatic front, with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, frequently consulting with Mr. Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, by telephone.

Mr. Putin is to meet with Ms. Merkel on Sunday in Brazil during the closing ceremony for the World Cup, which he will attend as the leader of the host of the next tournament, in 2018. Mr. Putin began his five-day tour of Latin America on Friday in Cuba, Russia’s staunchest regional ally, before heading to Argentina and Brazil.

Perhaps most important, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Putin will attend a summit meeting of the leaders of the so-called BRICS countries in the Brazilian coastal city of Fortaleza. The group — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — is expected to announce the formation of a new development bank, seen as an alternative to Western-dominated structures. Russia is also looking for new military cooperation agreements in America’s backyard.

Two or three months ago, with Crimea already annexed and 40,000 Russian soldiers deployed along the border, it seemed that Moscow was just waiting to light the fuse in Ukraine.

But then came the first round of Western sanctions. They targeted a few dozen people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as their businesses, and had little direct economic impact. Psychologically, however, they made the world business community extremely wary.

Russia’s central bank announced Wednesday that capital flight had amounted to $75 billion in the first six months of 2014. Although Russia has not fallen into recession as some predicted, the economy is stagnant. For example, car sales are likely to drop 12 percent this year, a trade group announced this week.

In late June, with the threat of more Western sanctions looming unless Russia brought calm to southeastern Ukraine, the public discourse suddenly shifted, with Mr. Putin playing the statesman.

Over the past week, he has remained silent even as Ukrainian forces were routing pro-Russian separatists from their stronghold in Slovyansk and threatening further attacks. On state-run television, more moderate voices have replaced those demanding armed intervention in Ukraine.

“We somewhat overdid our coverage of the events,” Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister and foreign minister known for his anti-Western sentiments since Soviet days, said on Rossiya 24 television. “The general tone was such as if we were preparing the country for war.”

Mr. Primakov said that Russia needed peace to preserve essential ties. “If we had deployed our troops, this would have led to a sharp deterioration of the situation in Ukraine, as well as of our relations with the West, which must be maintained,” he said.

Public opinion has shifted seemingly in lock step. A poll at the end of June showed that 66 percent of Russians said the country’s troops should not enter Ukraine’s territory, according to a state-run pollster known by its initials, WCIOM. That was similar to the result of a poll taken before Crimea’s annexation.

In fact, separatist leaders were openly criticized, signaling that Russia doubts they can win. When Igor Strelkov, the Russian who commands the separatists, accused Moscow on his blog of “abandoning” his forces, he was attacked.

A front-page analysis that appeared July 7 in the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, for example, noted that Moscow did “everything right” in terms of annexing Crimea and then avoiding military conflict in the rest of Ukraine.

“It was obvious from the very beginning that Donetsk and Luhansk were not Crimea,” wrote the analyst, Mikhail Rostovsky. “A decision to do something similar with southeast Ukraine would have been complete insanity and guaranteed the most monstrous consequences.”

Some in the United States say that Mr. Putin is trying to fool the world while still pursuing territorial gain.

“Putin doesn’t have to win today,” Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in hearings on Ukraine on Wednesday. “He only needs to generate a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine that he can exploit when the world has moved on. And that has been a standard operating procedure for years.”

Another question is whether Mr. Putin, after stoking nationalist sentiment for months, can suddenly pull the plug without facing backlash at home. But the waiting game will also take care of that, analysts noted, especially with Mr. Putin’s approval rating staying over 80 percent.

The bellicose propaganda message has already largely gone. “You make it disappear,” said Konstantin von Eggert, an independent political analyst, predicting that there will be no consequences “as long as it can be explained that we scored our point.”


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« Reply #14438 on: Jul 12, 2014, 05:58 AM »

Kremlin Snuffs out Last Avenues of Dissent for Pig Putin Foes

by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 July 2014, 08:51

House raids, bugging devices, threats, violence and demeaning posters are just a few things Vladimir Putin's critics have faced while trying to run for city parliament in the Russian capital.

Two years after the Pig Putin was elected for a historic third term - facing mass protests in Moscow where less than half of the population voted for it - the Kremlin pigman is riding high in the polls while the opposition is all but stamped out.

And as the authorities seek to tighten their grip on society after seizing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March, even the Moscow city duma - a decorative body stripped of almost all decision-making power - seems to be considered a potential threat.

The 35-seat body that discusses matters in Moscow -- which has a population of over 11 million and annual budget of about $50 billion -- became the latest target of Kremlin foes scrambling around for at least a modicum of political representation.

But out of two dozen independent candidates who sought to run for office in the September election for the city duma, only two were able to file documents in time for Friday's deadline.

"It's because of fear. They have to show that they can squash anybody," said Nikolai Lyaskin, an ally of opposition leader Alexei Navalny who tried to qualify for the polls, but failed due to what he said was constant harassment.

Over the past month Lyaskin, who also faces alleged politically-motivated embezzlement charges over Navalny's crowd-funded mayoral campaign last year, says he found a tracking and bugging device in his car and constantly dealt with provocateurs at campaign events who "yelled about killings in eastern Ukraine" where pro-Russian separatists are fighting against the Western-backed government forces.

But with protest icon Navalny held under house arrest on graft charges the opposition say are meant to cut him off from average Russians, his closest colleagues like Lyaskin face not just hostility from the authorities but renewed apathy from Muscovites.

"What changed (since Pig became president) is that people stopped believing that change is possible," said Lyaskin, who works on anti-corruption projects in a group Navalny founded.

Another independent candidate Olga Romanova received threats and was put on posters calling her a "fascist" who receives money from Ukraine's ultra-nationalist group Right Sector -- an organization banned and vilified in Russia amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Despite endorsement from several celebrities, Romanova was also unable to file her candidacy, which due to the latest restrictive legislation requires gathering about 5,000 precisely verified signatures with passport information in the neighborhood.

Navalny, who received 27 percent in the mayoral polls but has now all but disappeared from public view, slammed the city duma elections as "fake" and pointed out on his website that Arnold Schwarzenegger only had to gather 65 signatures to be put on the ballot for the California governorship.

"That was the instinct of the regime: to erect a barrier that high," said political analyst Alexei Makarkin of the Center of Political Technologies.

"The opposition is weakened, it is in decline, many people are disappointed in it," he said.

"The mood has changed. People are afraid to put their names down for the opposition, afraid of being fired, summoned to the police, afraid of war and instability."

"Nobody wants to be the fifth column," he added, using the term the Pig has revived recently to describe domestic dissent amid Moscow's stand-off with the West over Ukraine.

"A fear has returned from the Soviet era."

Protest moods have plummeted since the opposition rallies of 2011 and 2012, and are currently at the lowest point for more than a decade, according to data from independent pollster Levada Center released on Friday.

Eighty-one percent said any political protests in their town were unlikely, the highest in the 17 years that Levada has polled on the issue. Only nine percent said they would go to a rally if there was one in their area.


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« Reply #14439 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:06 AM »


Germany demands public promise from US to end spying

Scheduled talks with John Kerry over Ukraine and Iran to be overshadowed by concerns over recent espionage allegations

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 11 July 2014 23.32 BST   
   
Germany is determined to extract a public commitment from the US over future spying activity during talks with John Kerry this weekend, despite a White House preference to try to mend their battered diplomatic relationship behind closed doors.

Secretary of state Kerry is due to meet his counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vienna for Iranian nuclear talks, but senior German diplomats say that securing a satisfactory response to recent espionage allegations will be their top priority.

"Everything is overshadowed by this," one high-ranking German official told the Guardian on Friday. "This will be the lead item."

During its first substantive comments on the allegations earlier in the day, the White House appeared to accuse German officials of feigning naivety over the affair and questioned why they could not make their complaints in private.

"Countries with sophisticated intelligence agencies like both the United States and Germany understand what intelligence activities and relationships entail," said Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest. "When concerns arise, there are benefits to resolving those differences in private secure channels".

But German officials believe that a domestic political audience already rocked by Edward Snowden's revelations of bulk data collection and surveillance of chancellor Merkel's mobile phone will not be satisfied by anything less than a public commitment from the Americans to curtail future espionage activity in Germany.

"Dialogue in private is fine, but there must be something in public; people are so outraged," said the German official.

Diplomats are playing down the significance of a second arrest of a German government worker on Wednesday, saying it is too soon to tell whether he was actually spying for the US, but are adamant that the arrest of an intelligence officer last week for allegedly selling documents to the CIA reveals a complete breakdown of trust between the two countries.

Anger is running so high in Berlin that several earlier overtures by the US have this week been rejected by Berlin, which instead asked the CIA's station chief to leave the country.

The Guardian has confirmed that CIA director John Brennan previously offered to come to Germany to discuss its concerns but has so far been rebuffed by officials in Berlin, who believe he must commit to something more substantive before they agree to meet.

And Bloomberg News reported on Friday that US ambassador John Emerson even offered to strike an intelligence-sharing agreement similar to the so-called "five eyes" deal between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but saw his offer spurned by Merkel.

German sources deny that a formal no-spying offer was made in this way, but say they are less interested anyway in such a reciprocal arrangement than when Merkel previously discussed joining the five-eyes scheme during her last trip to Washington. They claim this is partly because of earlier confusion over the proposal, and partly because domestic anti-surveillance laws prevent Germany from offering the same level of shared intelligence as English-speaking allies do.

Instead, the German government is seeking an "informal agreement" or "common understanding" over future US intelligence activity in the country, ideally one that does not commit Germany to carrying out yet more surveillance itself in return.

"We need to find something that satisfies the German public mood," said the senior German diplomat on Friday, who warned of growing anti-Americanism in the country that could overshadow trade talks and diplomatic talks over the Ukraine. "There are not many secrets to hide here; the Americans are our friends."

But inside the White House there remains bemusement at what some officials view as an over-reaction to routine intelligence work. "What do they think their intelligence people do?" asked one US official.

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

German spy agency searches for more moles after US breach

BND president orders analysis of agency's communications for irregularities, and foreign minister to meet John Kerry

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Friday 11 July 2014 18.51 BST      

Germany's intelligence agency has reacted to the continuing row over US spying by commissioning an investigation to unmask further moles in its own ranks.

Gerhard Schindler, president of the BND, has told the government that he has ordered an analysis of his agency's communications for irregularities, according to Der Spiegel.

Similar searches had previously concentrated on identifying Russian and Chinese spies, the magazine said.

The discovery in the past fortnight of two suspected US spies on the German government's payroll triggered an official request on Thursday for the CIA's station chief to leave the country.

The move met with cross-party approval in Germany on Friday. The foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, described the request, which does not amount to a formal expulsion, as a necessary step in response to the US "breach of trust".

Steinmeier confirmed he would meet the US secretary of state, John Kerry, during the Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna next week. He said he hoped the meeting would lead to a new start for the US and Germany's damaged relations: "It would be an illusion to assume that conflicts can be defused and political solutions can be worked out without closely collaborating with the US."

A recent survey by Germany's TNS research institute illustrates what a devastating impact the string of spying allegations over the past year have had on the German public's view of the US. Of those surveyed, 69% told researchers their trust in the US had shrunk, while 57% called for more independence from the US. As many as 40% said they would approve of closer collaboration between Germany and Russia.

It remains unclear whether US intelligence services were pursuing a specific goal in their correspondence with contacts within the German authorities. Originally, there was speculation that US spy agencies may have been trying to obtain information about the government's parliamentary investigation into NSA surveillance in Germany.

Members of the Bundestag's supervisory panel said on Thursday that they believed that motive was unlikely. Out of the cache of 215 confidential documents the BND staffer is alleged to have sold to contacts at the CIA for €25,000 (£20,000), only one is said to concern the activities of the NSA committee.

Clemens Binninger, chair of the supervisory panels, said it was currently "impossible to come up with a conclusive analysis" of the importance and relevance of four folders of leaked documents. But according to Die Welt, some of the leaked documents were part of the communication between the office of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and that of the president of BND, while others contained an overview of BND locations around the world – which might hint at a more general spying strategy rather than a targeted operation.

That is the most widely circulated theory in Germany. "The NSA digs and rummages wherever it can," wrote Kai Biermann in an op-ed in Die Zeit [http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2014-07/nsa-botschaft-resident-ausweisung]. "It is a 'mafia with a legal department' and does not care for laws or basic rights. It has no ethics and no morality and only wants one thing: to know everything."

More details have emerged about the second instance of suspected spying. Germany's counter-espionage service was alerted to a defence ministry employee's contacts with a US agent while he was engaged as a political adviser to the Nato-led Kosovo force in the Balkans.

The defence ministry employee is said to have had regular meetings with the US agent since 2010, but insisted these had been of a private nature. A payment of €2,000 into the suspect's bank account had drawn the attention of counter-espionage investigators, but the suspect claimed the money was merely a loan for a wedding party.

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

U.S. Hints at Displeasure with Germany over Spying Row

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 July 2014, 22:40

The United States on Friday hinted at clear displeasure with Germany over its handling of a spying row, which saw the CIA chief in Berlin thrown out of the country.

The White House also rejected suggestions the showdown over apparent US recruiting of double agents could damage broader ties with the Berlin government and cooperation on issues like Ukraine.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who has all week declined to go into detail about the row because it touches on intelligence matters, did offer a window into U.S. thinking.

"Allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand with some degree of detail exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail," Earnest said.

"Any differences that we have are most effectively resolved through established private channels, not through the media."

Asked whether it would be fair to interpret his statement as a criticism of Germany's response to the row, Earnest said it was up to journalists to parse his meaning.

But privately, some administration officials have expressed frustration with Germany's angry reaction to the reported discovery that two government intelligence officials were working for the CIA and to its decision to respond in a highly public manner.

The expulsion of the agency's top agent in Berlin marked an unusual and highly public show of fury by Germany toward its ally, and came with German Chancellor Angela Merkel under political pressure to respond to the latest in a string of disagreements over intelligence with the United States.

Earnest would not confirm that the CIA station chief had been sent home.

But he said Washington did understand the importance of the matter.

Washington also, "as a matter of course, respects the German government's wishes regarding the accreditation and presence of U.S. diplomats in Germany," Earnest said.

The scandal, which follows German complaints that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped Merkel's cellphone and over mass U.S. Internet and telephone data sweeps, has whipped up considerable criticism of the United States in German politics.

But Earnest argued that the row should not make it more politically difficult for Merkel to act on issues important to the United States -- for instance toughening sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, which has been a tough sell in Germany.

"The reason that there is a strong ongoing national security and intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Germany is not because Chancellor Merkel is doing a favor for anybody in this country.

"She is doing that, and she is committed to that relationship as strongly as President Obama is, because it's in the best interests of the country that she was elected to lead."


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« Reply #14440 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Romanian Deputy Premier Resigns amid Minority Rights Row

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 July 2014, 21:06

One of Romania's deputy prime ministers resigned from the government on Friday in a dispute over an international initiative calling for better the protection of minorities in the EU.

Kelemen Hunor, who was also culture minister and remains a member of Romania's Hungarian minority party, had railed against a government decision to oppose the drive by the Federal Union of European Nationalities, a non-governmental organisation, calling for the safeguarding of basic rights for minorities across the continent.

The group's initiative was rejected by the European Commission, which argued that the protection of minorities is the responsibility of individual member states. The case is currently at the European Court of Justice.

Romania, which joined the 28-member EU bloc in 2007, has a minority Hungarian population of roughly 1.4 million.


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« Reply #14441 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:09 AM »

Spain Drafts Controversial New Law for Policing Demos

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 July 2014, 19:25

Spain's government Friday approved controversial new fines for holding unauthorized demonstrations, sparking protests from civil rights groups.

Following warnings from judicial authorities, Madrid watered down measures from an earlier bill, but maintained tough penalties for unauthorized demos if they are deemed a security threat.

Critics have branded the reform repressive. But Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz insisted it would "guarantee greater security for citizens with greater legal security... and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens".

He spoke at a news conference after the conservative government approved the latest draft at a cabinet meeting on Friday. It now heads to parliament where the ruling Popular Party holds a strong majority.

The new text sets fines of up to 600,000 euros ($815,000) for unauthorized demonstrations in public buildings that pose a threat to people or disrupt public services.

It sets a fine of up to 30,000 euros for unauthorized demonstrations near the national or regional parliaments if they are deemed to pose a serious security risk.

Spain's recent years of recession and tough economic reforms have sparked mass street demonstrations. Some rallies near parliament in Madrid boiled over into clashes between protesters and police.

The new law also sets a fine of up to 30,000 euros or obstructing authorities in their work -- as many protesters have done in Spain while trying to stop bailiffs evicting poor homeowners.

The law also doubles to 600 euros the fine for climbing public buildings and monuments without permission -- as the environmental campaign group Greenpeace often does.

Greenpeace members protested against the reform on Friday by climbing up the sides of a 90-meter (295-foot) tower near Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's offices.

They unfurled a banner reading: "No to the gag law."

The government said the law on demonstrations "aims only to sanction violent, aggressive or coercive actions".

"The law expressly protects the right to demonstrate," it asserted in a statement.

But a protest group campaigning against the reform, named We Are Not a Crime, vowed to demonstrate in central Madrid on Friday evening in anger at the proposals.

"The government is trying to create a false impression of insecurity in society to justify toughening the laws at the expense of curbing citizens' rights," it said in a statement.


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« Reply #14442 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Prosecutors Seek to Confirm Berlusconi Sex Trial Sentence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 July 2014, 18:35

Italian prosecutors on Friday asked an appeals court to confirm a seven-year prison sentence against former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for having sex with an underage prostitute and for abuse of power while he was in office.

Prosecutor Piero de Petris said the sentence handed down last year had been "severe" but "irrefutable", as the court prepares to issue a ruling in the case on July 18.

Berlusconi was not present in the courtroom as the billionaire tycoon is doing community service in an old people's home near Milan for a separate conviction for tax fraud, which also led to his expulsion from parliament.

Berlusconi's main lawyers were not present at Friday's hearing as they are themselves being investigated for allegedly bribing witnesses during the original trial.

Berlusconi was sentenced in June 2013 in what has become known as the "Rubygate" case, which focussed on raunchy parties hosted by Berlusconi at his sprawling villa.

The aging playboy was found guilty of having sex for money with then 17-year-old exotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug, better known by her stage name as Ruby the Heart Stealer.

he was also convicted of putting pressure on police to have hear released from custody after she was detained for petty theft, apparently concerned she could reveal their liaison.

Many of the witnesses in the original trial were young women who attended the Berlusconi parties and described them as "elegant dinner parties", prompting prosecutors to look into the possibility of witness tampering.

Others have described the events as little more than orgies, featuring an array of strippers dressed as nuns and politicians and ending up in Berlusconi's bedroom.

A ruling against Berlusconi could be appealed again at the supreme court. If Berlusconi loses that final appeal, he would face either house arrest or community service.


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« Reply #14443 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:13 AM »

U.S. Knew Britain Planned to Erase Data at The Guardian

By CHARLIE SAVAGE
JULY 11, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration knew in advance that the British government was planning in July 2013 to force the newspaper The Guardian to destroy hard drives containing copies of documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, and a high-ranking National Security Agency official celebrated the event as “good news,” newly disclosed emails show.

The destruction of the computers was a vivid moment in the saga of Mr. Snowden’s leaks, which included documents about top secret surveillance activities by the N.S.A. and by its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The episode highlighted that greater protections for press freedoms exist in the United States, under its First Amendment, than in Britain.

On July 20, 2013, about six weeks after The Guardian published the first of the documents Mr. Snowden provided and after legal threats to the newspaper by the British government, GCHQ personnel came to the paper’s offices and took photographs as Guardian employees used angle grinders to demolish the hard drives and memory chips.

When The Guardian revealed a month later that it had agreed to destroy the computers and described the event, the Obama administration demurred when asked whether it had known in advance about the British government’s plans and suggested that such an event would never happen in the United States.

“It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate,” a White House spokesman, Joshua Earnest, said at an Aug. 20 briefing.

But according to a heavily redacted set of internal N.S.A. emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Associated Press and made public on Friday, it turns out that intelligence officials in the United States government knew about GCHQ’s plans ahead of time.

On July 19, Richard H. Ledgett Jr., who was then leading an N.S.A. task force in charge of responding to Mr. Snowden’s leaks and has since become the agency’s deputy director, sent an email to Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who was then its director. The title of the email was “Guardian data being destroyed,” and while most of it was blacked out, one line was not:

“Good news, at least on this front,” Mr. Ledgett wrote.

The next day, General Alexander replied, “Can you confirm that this actually occurred?” Later in the day, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, sent General Alexander an email as part of the same chain, saying, “Appreciate the conversation today.”

After its disclosure, the destruction of the computers was widely portrayed as a symbolic but futile gesture by the British government because there were copies of the files in other places, including New York, and The Guardian continued to publish articles based on the trove. This year, the paper shared a Pulitzer Prize for public service with The Washington Post, the other primary recipient of Mr. Snowden’s leaks, for its reports based on them.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Friday that it was aware in advance of the British plan to have The Guardian destroy its hard drives, but took no action; their destruction was seen as having a substantive impact because it cut down on the repositories of the raw documents and reduced the risk they would be more widely disseminated in bulk.

“The intelligence community saw the removal of any potential classified intelligence information from nonsecure computers as a good thing to ensure that any stolen documents, including those not published, would not be acquired by foreign intelligence services or cybercriminals,” said Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for Mr. Clapper.

Another administration official said that some at the White House who were working on the Snowden leaks were aware in advance of the Guardian plan, but it was unclear how high up in the administration that information was shared.

Asked on Friday for the White House’s view on the computer destruction in light of the remark that Mr. Ledgett, a career intelligence official, made in the newly disclosed emails, Shawn Turner, a White House spokesman, said, “This administration strongly believes in the value of a strong, independent press.”

Mr. Turner added, “While the press has a responsibility to be mindful of the impact of revealing sensitive national security information, we have an even greater responsibility to be as transparent as possible with the American people about the government’s activities.”

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

Russia says Snowden’s Russian asylum could be extended in a week

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 11, 2014 13:36 EDT

Fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden could have his request to extend his asylum in Russia agreed within a week, a senior migration service representative said Friday.

“Snowden’s life is still in danger, so the Federal Migration Service has every basis to extend his status,” the head of the service’s public chamber, Vladimir Volokh, said Friday, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

“It can be dealt with in the course of a week,” said Volokh.

Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said Wednesday that he had already filed a formal request to extend Snowden’s one-year asylum beyond July 31.

Kucherena did not say for how long Snowden wanted to extend his stay, which status he was seeking or whether he wishes to become a Russian citizen.

Snowden has been in Russia since flying in from Hong King in June last year after shaking up America’s intelligence establishment with a series of leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world.

He could not travel onwards however after his passport was revoked, and was holed up in the transit zone of a Moscow airport for weeks before Russia granted him a one-year refugee status.

Although he gradually increased his media visibility by giving several tightly-controlled interviews, his life in Russia is still a mystery and only a series of reported sightings seem to indicate that he remains somewhere in or around Moscow.

He had applied for asylum in other countries and has said he would like to go home, where he faces espionage charges that could lead to a lengthy prison term if he is convicted.

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« Reply #14444 on: Jul 12, 2014, 06:16 AM »


Kurds on Iraq's new faultline feel destiny beckoning

Fighters defending territory against Isis predict that Iraq will soon cease to be a nation and become three provinces again

Luke Harding in Mariam Bek
The Guardian, Saturday 12 July 2014   
   
On one side were Kurdish fighters, dug in behind a series of ramparts and trenches reminiscent of the first world war. Five hundred metres away, over a muddy canal and past a farm, were the jihadist fighters of Isis (Islamic State).

Offering a pair of binoculars, first lieutenant Noman Osman, a Kurdish soldier, pointed to the Isis checkpoint. It was a canopied shed. Nearby, on a deserted road, was a burnt-out lorry. There was also an American Humvee, looted from Iraqi forces by the Islamist fighters. Beyond that, a ridge of feathery trees from where Isis snipers had been taking potshots at Kurdish positions.

"Our mission is defensive. We are defending our land from terrorists," Osman explained. "We don't venture beyond the canal." What did he think of his opponents, who now control much of Sunni Iraq? "Isis are traitors," he declared. "No cars cross here. But two days ago a Sunni sheikh came to visit. He says he wants to fight Isis, that locals are fed up with them."

From a Kurdish watchtower – reached via a metal ladder – a few civilian vehicles were visible in the far distance. The agricultural landscape revealed sunflower fields, irrigation ditches, and a line of pylons. The stillness was deceptive. Removing his hat, Osman showed off a bullet wound. A jihadist militant shot him last month, he said. "After two weeks in hospital, I went back to the front," he added.

This frontline at Mariam Bek marks the new 1,000km faultline along which Iraq is fracturing. On one side is the Islamic State, the new caliphate proclaimed by Isis, across Syria and Iraq. On the other, a possible future state of KurdistanIsis and the Kurds now confront each other across a swathe of territory from Sinjar region in the northwest, next to Syria, through to Khanaqin, close to the border with Iran. Most of the villages here are Kurdish. But they are also home to Yazidis, Christians, Turkmens and Arabs.

"When the British set up this country in the 1920s they didn't do a good job," said Colonel Ghaleb Taha Ismail, the chief of police in Kirkuk's Kurdish Rahim Awa neighbourhood. "Before they were three provinces – Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. I think it will be three provinces again. History will go back to its original format."

Why? "Iraq has been a country for 90 years. Throughout this period, these three provinces haven't been able to live together."

Ismail, a Kurd, who took over as police chief in January, said he presided over a multi-ethnic force. It included Kurds and other groups. "The people of Kirkuk should vote to decide their future. I believe in democracy," he said. Meanwhile, his uniform still bore the insignia of Iraq's interior ministry. Hanging in the entrance lobby were framed portraits of officers murdered in the line of duty. They had been killed in the on-off insurgency waged by Sunni militants, since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, he said.

Kurdish moves to peel away from Baghdad's rule are multiplying. They have announced a referendum, and on Friday said they were pulling out of Iraq's national government, no longer sitting in the cabinet or ministries.

Central to this new reality is Kirkuk, an oil-rich, mainly Kurdish city of around a million people, which lies outside the Kurdish autonomous region. But the Kurds have largely controlled it since 2003.

On Friday peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) seized two nearby oilfields, Kirkuk and Bai Hassan, turfing out Arab workers and replacing them with their own staff. Baghdad's oil ministry was furious.

The move consolidates the Kurds' hold on Kirkuk and its huge oil reserves. It suggests that the Kurdish fighters who entered the city a month ago are not planning to leave.

They moved in after the Iraqi troops tasked with guarding it ran away. The alternative, the Kurds say, was an Isis takeover, followed by a bloodbath. Elsewhere, the peshmerga advanced somewhere between 20km and 40km beyond existing Kurdistan and deep into federal Iraqi territory. Kurdistan got bigger; so did its security headache.

Despite heavy security around the city, a suicide car bomb blew up outside a police station in the Huzairan district on Friday, killing at least nine and injuring 21. Last month an Isis suicide bomber killed six.

The Kurdish security agency Asayish says the situation inside Kirkuk is now "relatively calm". But it admits that Isis remains a potent threat.

Spokesman Captain Farhad Hama Ali said fighting was going on in two areas immediately south of the city: the subdistrict of Mala Abdulla, which has a mixed population of Arabs and Turkmen, and the contested village of Besir. "Isis still wants to take Kirkuk. It wants to turn it into another Ramadi," he warned.

According to Ali, politicians in Baghdad were to blame for the extraordinary rise of Isis. Ali said the Kurds had warned Baghdad five days before the fall of Mosul that Isis was on the march. The federal government ignored the tip and told the Kurds to stay out of the city, Iraq's second biggest. When Isis did surge in, Baghdad called and desperately asked for assistance. "By this point it was too late," Ali said.

In theory, Kirkuk is still under central control. The Iraqi flag flies above the governor's heavily defended mansion together with the flag of Kurdistan. Photos in the lobby show Kirkuk's development over the past century: a brief period of British occupation in 1918; the discovery of oil in the 1920s; modernisation of what was once ancient Sumeria and Assyria. The ethnic balance continues to change. In the 1980s many Kurds fled Saddam's murderous Anfal campaign. Arab settlers arrived. Over the past decade, Kurds have come back.

Many feel the moment of Kurdish destiny has arrived. Last week the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, called on the Kurdish parliament to hold a rapid referendum. It is likely to take place in two stages. The first will be a vote on whether Kirkuk and other disputed territories should join the autonomous Kurdish region. The second – to be held later this year, or possibly early next – will decide whether Kurdistan should break away from Baghdad.

Iraq's disintegration has affected the city in multifarious ways. It has, for example, touched on the fortunes of Kirkuk's football club. Nowzad Qader, the head of Kirkuk's FA, said Iraq wasn't able to complete its league this year, with players unable to travel to Baghdad. It was too dangerous, he said, since Isis controlled the road. "Isis doesn't like humanity much, let alone football," he observed. "If Iraq still exists next season we'll resume."

Nearby, youths kicked a ball around in the early evening heat.

Qadar said the local FA reflected Kirkuk's tradition of coexistence, at odds with the sectarian mayhem in the rest of the country. He was a Kurd, his deputy a Turkman and the secretary an Arab. "It's like a microcosm of Iraq. We work together in brotherhood," he declared. Maureen Nikola, a volleyball coach, said girls who played on her team came from all of Kirkuk's ethnic groups. Some of her Christian players had emigrated with their families after 2003, she said. Nikola, a Christian herself, added: "If the peshmerga weren't here, we would have had to flee, like Mosul."

Back at the frontline, first lieutenant Osman said morale was high among his men, who were posted along sandbagged embrasures or who sheltered under tarpaulins from the afternoon sun. He declined to say how many of them had been killed. "My request to Britain is to help the Kurds to defeat terrorism," he said. "We have old weapons. We need new ones." Osman said hi-tech military equipment given by the US to the Iraqi army had fallen into the hands of Isis. "We told them [the Americans] this would happen and it did," he said.

Hadn't western military involvement in Iraq been a disaster, though? "We're not talking about Iraq. We are talking about Kurds," Osman said. "Kurds have always been friends of the UK. When the US and Britain came to Iraq, the Kurds welcomed them with flowers. The rest of Iraq welcomed them with IEDs."

Either way, the rise of Isis was now the west's problem, he suggested. "They are a threat to the UK and other countries. There are 500 Brits fighting with Da-ash [Isis] right now," he said.

On the Isis side of the canal, nothing moved. The Islamist fighters appeared to be having a break. On the peshmerga side, it was quiet too – other than a love song by the Kurdish-British singer Mazhar Khaleqi. "The Ba'athists want to set up their own region, their own fundamentalist state," Osman said. "We have our demands too: an independent country."

Additional reporting by Fazel Hawramy


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