Kerry Pushes for Solution to Afghanistan Election Crisis
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and CARLOTTA GALL
JULY 11, 2014
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Obama administration had hoped that after years of frustration with President Hamid Karzai, a successful election in Afghanistan would finally produce a leader who could stabilize the country while working with the United States to allow an orderly withdrawal of American troops and end its longest war.
Yet nearly a month after a runoff election to choose Afghanistan’s next president, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Friday for a hastily arranged visit aimed at resolving a crisis that began with allegations of widespread vote rigging. It now threatens to fracture Afghanistan’s fragile government as American-led combat troops are preparing to complete their withdrawal.
Both candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have acknowledged that fraud marred the election, and yet each campaign has claimed victory, with Mr. Abdullah this week threatening to declare himself president, raising the specter of an ethnically and regionally divided Afghanistan.y
“If Abdullah goes for it and declares himself president, forget it, this is over,” said a former Afghan official who remains close to many of Afghanistan’s top security officials. “Fighting the Taliban won’t even be an issue because who is going to do it? The army will be split. So will the police.”
Overshadowed by the events in Iraq, the swift deterioration of the political situation here has, in a matter of weeks, moved Afghanistan dangerously close to a situation far worse than that envisioned as likely by many American and Afghan officials before the election. Some Western officials have begun to warn that the crisis poses a greater immediate threat to the Afghan government than the Taliban.
The prospect that Mr. Abdullah, who has the support of many powerful former warlords, might try to seize control prompted American and European officials to threaten in recent days that foreign troops could be pulled out and billions of dollars in essential aid lost if the crisis was not peacefully resolved.
It also spurred the Obama administration this week to begin moving off its long-held position that the election was an issue for Afghans to work out among themselves: President Obama called both candidates, and Mr. Kerry added a stop to Afghanistan on a trip he was making to Asia.
American officials said Friday that standing on the sidelines risked the possible fracturing of a government the United States had spent billions to build and sacrificed thousands of troops to defend. Current and former Afghan officials concurred, stressing that a solution was still possible, but that time was running out.
Adding to the complications faced by Mr. Kerry, salvaging the Afghan election means working with the person the Obama administration is most eager to see gone: Mr. Karzai.
The Afghan leader remains powerful even as a lame duck, and his support is crucial to any deal that could end the crisis. Although Mr. Karzai has sought to remain publicly above the fray, Afghan officials close to him have said he has shaped the election process in favor of Mr. Ghani, a longtime adviser and former finance minister who held a commanding lead in preliminary results released on Monday.
The Abdullah campaign has accused Mr. Karzai of rigging the election, a charge he denies.
Mr. Kerry is one of the few American officials with whom Mr. Karzai still enjoys a relatively warm relationship. Yet it is tainted by Mr. Karzai’s bitterness over the last presidential election, in 2009, during which he believes the United States tried to engineer his removal. That vote was similarly riddled with fraud, and it was Mr. Kerry who persuaded Mr. Karzai to agree to a runoff that year, which the Afghan leader saw as a humiliation.
Mr. Karzai’s challenger in 2009 was Mr. Abdullah, a former foreign minister who eventually dropped out of the race. And though American mediation averted a crisis at the time, it left both Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah mistrustful of the United States.
Overcoming those sentiments is necessary for Mr. Kerry to have any chance of brokering an end to the crisis. But the United States has far less leverage than it did in 2009. After years of watching American officials fold after being rebuffed by Mr. Karzai, few here give much credence to American threats to pull out troops and cut aid. And each successive crisis over election fraud — this year’s is the third in five years, including the parliamentary elections in 2010 — has diminished the faith of many Afghans in the government erected by the United States.
“The Americans have been here for 13 years, and what is the result? This system is a mess,” said Noor Azizi, 24, a marketing officer who was among about 40 protesters, some of them in a human chain blocking the entrance to Kabul’s airport on Friday.
Another protester, Mustafa Sattari, a doctoral student, said, “We want the international community to take action, and we want real democracy.”
Mr. Kerry met separately on Friday with Mr. Karzai, Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani. The focus was on the technical aspects of the election process, specifically on seeking an audit of votes suspected to be fraudulent, an issue at the center of the deadlock.
A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the candidate left his meeting with the sense he had finally gotten a fair hearing after weeks of being told by Western officials to respect a process that he believes is irredeemably tainted in Mr. Ghani’s favor.
Mr. Kerry “listened to our proposals, and his reaction was, ‘These make sense,’ ” said the aide, who had spoken with Mr. Abdullah about the meeting.
“I found him more optimistic,” the aide said of Mr. Abdullah. “Cautious, but not without hope.”
Supporters of Mr. Ghani were similarly positive after he met with Mr. Kerry. Daud Sultanzoy, a former presidential candidate who joined Mr. Ghani’s campaign in April, insisted that his candidate had won and that he had discussed ways of forming as inclusive a government as possible.
But Mr. Sultanzoy said Mr. Ghani had reiterated to Mr. Kerry his opposition to a unity government with Mr. Abdullah, who has also said he is not interested in such an arrangement.
Despite the relative optimism, the gap between the candidates remained wide after Friday’s meetings.
Mr. Kerry, in comments to reporters on Friday morning, seemed aware of the tough challenge he faced, cautioning that there was no guarantee of success.
“The future potential of a transition hangs in the balance, so we have a lot of work to do,” he said before a meeting with Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan.
The election crisis began almost as soon as voting ended in the June 14 runoff, with the Abdullah campaign alleging large-scale fraud that benefited Mr. Ghani. Mr. Ghani’s camp has accused Mr. Abdullah’s supporters of fraud, but with officials saying that Mr. Ghani is ahead, it has been far less vociferous.
At the start of the week, the two sides were talking about an audit that would be acceptable to both. Then Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced preliminary results that appeared to confirm what Afghan officials had been privately saying: Mr. Ghani was leading by roughly one million votes.
The announcement was made over the objections of the Abdullah campaign and Western officials, and the lopsided results helped breathe new life into the crisis, cutting off direct talks between the candidates.
The development also led powerful Abdullah supporters to start calling for him to seize power.
Mr. Abdullah “is in a very difficult position,” said the senior aide, who asked not to be identified so he could discuss internal campaign deliberations. “He has been under a lot of pressure from people who are saying you don’t have to trust the U.N., you don’t have to trust the U.S., remember what happened in the past.”
Israeli PM vows there will be more air strikes on Gaza
Netanyahu shrugs off foreign criticism after top UN human rights official warns that air strikes could violate international law
Julian Borger and Peter Beaumont in Gaza
The Guardian, Friday 11 July 2014 18.58 BST
The UN's top human rights official has called for an investigation into Israeli air strikes on Gaza, on the grounds that the targeting of Palestinian homes – resulting in a high death toll among civilians, particularly children – could violate international law.
The warning from Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, came on the fourth day of Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip and a rocket barrage of Israel by Islamic militants.
However, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said his government would not be deflected by criticism from abroad, refusing to rule out a ground offensive and vowing there would be more air strikes. So far more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians, including at least 23 children. More than 670 have been injured. There have as yet been no Israeli fatalities.
Pillay said her office had received "deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes" in Gaza. "Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law."
Pillay added that the "indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza" could also constitute a breach.
"Every alleged breach of international law must be promptly, independently, thoroughly and effectively investigated, with a view to ensuring justice and reparations for the victims," she said.
Netanyahu shrugged off foreign criticism and said the Israeli bombing would continue unabated. "No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power," he said, claiming to have had "good conversations" with several world leaders in recent days, including Barack Obama and European heads of government.
He claimed Israeli planes and drones had attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza so far this week, adding, "there are still more to go". The Israeli prime minister said Israel had already struck Gaza with twice the force used during the last offensive of its kind in 2012, and he would not rule out following the air campaign with an incursion by ground troops. "We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities," he said.
Israeli forces have been warning of imminent air strikes with the use of mobile phone texts and warning shots on the roofs of targeted buildings, but children are believed to constitute such a high proportion of the dead partly because they are often the most afraid to leave their homes while their neighbourhoods are being bombed.
When Pillay visited Gaza and Israel in 2011 in the wake of a similar exchange of fire, she said that both Hamas and the Israeli government should be held liable for war crimes and that Israeli forces had committed crimes against humanity.
"Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been down this road before, and it has led only to death, destruction, distrust and a painful prolongation of the conflict," Pillay said on Friday. UN officials said the current air strikes would have to be investigated further before a judgment on potential war crimes could be made.
Israel was reported to have been hit by 809 rockets and 61 mortars from Gaza this week. While nobody has been killed, according to local media reports, nine Israeli civilians have so far been hurt in the scramble to take cover after air-raid sirens.
Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told journalists: "More than 340 housing units in Gaza have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. As a result, more than 2,000 people have been displaced.
"Our aid workers on the ground report that people in Gaza are gripped by fear, the streets are empty and the shops are closed."
In Gaza, Airstrikes and Economic Stress Make for an Anxious Ramadan
By STEVEN ERLANGER
JULY 11, 2014
GAZA CITY — War during Ramadan has a particular tension. It is not just the normal anxiety of airstrikes in a crowded city, no matter how carefully Israel tries to target them. But the holy month of Ramadan falls this year in a particularly hot and humid Gaza July, and observant Muslims are fasting, not even drinking water, until sunset and iftar, the evening meal.
In the market of the Jabaliya refugee camp, normally bustling on a Ramadan Friday, most of the shops are shuttered. The conflict aside, the new military-dominated government of Egypt has largely shut the tunnel system that fed the economy (and the rocket-import business, too). In its struggle with the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, Hamas is running low on cash, so many workers have not been paid, or have been only partly paid, for months now.
Add to that a banking problem that has shut most of the A.T.M.s, and there is little money to spend in one of the most important months of the Islamic year. Then there is the conflict, which may quickly escalate if Israel decides on a large ground operation in Gaza to better destroy the ability of Hamas and other groups, like Islamic Jihad, to launch ever-more sophisticated rockets deeper into Israel.
“Ramadan usually brings every good thing,” said Muhammad Ahmad, whose fruit stall was doing little business. So far on Friday afternoon, he’d taken in only 50 shekels, when normally during Ramadan, he said, he would take in 1,000 shekels a day.
“This war in Gaza has caused a kind of fear and stress and tension,” he said. “People are afraid to go out of their homes.”
The reluctance to spend time in public places is shared now in Israel, too, as the rockets rain down. But Israel is a larger, much more modern polity, which has equipped itself with shelters, air-raid sirens and a missile-defense system.
Gazans are quick to note the disparity in the death tolls from this war, in which more than 100 Palestinians have died, more than half of them civilians, according to the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. One Israeli has died thus far, a woman in Haifa who had a heart attack running to a shelter; an Israeli soldier was in serious condition with shrapnel wounds.
At Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, photographers and camera crews waited at the entrance for any ambulance that might roll up with a wounded person. Inside, there were a few men on stretchers, bloody and dotted with shrapnel wounds, and one girl, age 7, who had been severely wounded in an attack on a house in Al-Bureij, in central Gaza. She was brought here as a particularly difficult case, and Dr. Ayman al-Sahbani, the head of the emergency medicine, said she was likely to die.
Dr. Sahbani was upset but professional. He and most of his 10 doctors and 10 nurses had been at the hospital for four days without going home, he said. Al-Shifa has treated about half of the more than 600 Palestinians wounded so far, he said, with some pride. It could cope, he said, “if the fighting does not escalate.”
“We have drugs and consumables for three weeks in normal times,” he said. “Now, we’re reduced, but if it gets worse, with a ground invasion, it could be all gone in a day.” Not that he couldn’t use more doctors and specialist surgeons, he said.
What bothers him is the number of children he has had to treat, he said. “So we hope it will stop. I know this is political, but we doctors think only of humanity, and we see kids crying and wounded or dying, and it has a big psychological impact.”
Like most Gazans, Dr. Sahbani would not fault Hamas but rather “the siege and the occupation.” As a Palestinian Authority employee, he lost his salary when he continued to work in Al-Shifa under the Hamas government, which did pay him, though less. “I’m a doctor and this is an emergency room,” he said. “How could I not work?”
But for the last three months, even he has not been paid.
He has not had permission to leave Gaza for three years, he said. “It’s been more than eight years of siege,” he said, noting shortages “of gasoline, of electricity, of medical supplies and building materials,” let alone the nearly sealed borders. “Now we’re being bombed, and where can we go?” he asked. “There’s nowhere to go.”
It is a plaint heard regularly here, with particular pathos during hostilities. Gazans see themselves as living in a poor territory that nobody cares about, a kind of “prison,” as they like to say, trapped between Israel, an ambivalent or unfriendly Egypt and the closely patrolled sea. Not even fellow Palestinians in the West Bank really care for them, they say.
Of course, they are also prisoners of their situation, both defended and endangered by Hamas and other, more radical Islamic groups, which are devoted to resistance against Israel and thoroughly embedded among the noncombatants of an overcrowded population with no ability to leave.
There is understated criticism of the conflict, though mostly directed at Israel. Nawaf al-Najar, 57, shopping with his wife, Nawal, for groceries for their large family, used to be a construction worker in Israel but is now unemployed. He lives off intermittent charity and United Nations food parcels for refugees, and has trouble finding the money for Nawal’s diabetes medicine.
After blaming Israel for the war and its “imperial policies,” Mr. Najar turned philosophical, and even slightly subversive. “War never achieves political goals, but just destroys the people,” he said. “War is the language of the ignorant, and it is fought by the ignorant.”
But it is not far away. Nearby, on what is known as Intelligence Street, because of the Palestinian Authority intelligence headquarters that once functioned there, young men kicked at broken glass and stared at the remainder of a house struck by an Israeli bombing early Friday. The attack was apparently aimed at the resident of an apartment there, who was killed; the building, which also housed a small grocery store and bakery, was collapsing.
Piles of soot-covered plastic bottles of soda were in the rubble, along with blasted packages of Huggies diapers. One man walked by and said simply: “This was the bakery I used.”
Hundreds of Ghanaian football fans claim asylum in Brazil
Police say supporters were victims of illegal ring that demanded money in return for false promises of jobs
Monica Mark West Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 11 July 2014 16.11 BST
Around 200 Ghanaians have requested asylum after travelling to Brazil to watch the World Cup, with officials expecting hundreds more to do so when the tournament ends this week.
Fans who travelled to see the Black Stars said they were Muslims "fleeing the violent conflicts between different Muslim groups", police chief Noerci da Silva Melo told the news agency Agencia Brasil. Ghana, one of Africa’s most peaceful countries, has no recorded conflict among a population that is about two-thirds Christian.
Many of the asylum-seekers have taken shelter in a local Catholic seminary, which is helping them prepare official documents.
But dozens arriving daily in Brazil’s affluent southern states of Sao Paulo, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul – all several hundred miles south of the venues where the Ghanaian team played – had hoped to find work, Da Silva Melo said.
“This region, Serra Gaucha, is known as an area of full employment. It has became a magnet for foreign workers," he said. "You go through the streets and you can see many Haitians and Senegalese selling pirated CDs and watches. The area is overcrowded now."
The majority of the arrivals said they were victims of an illegal ring who had demanded payment after luring them with false promises of work, said police investigator Vinícius Possamai Della.
“The majority of them arrived with only the clothes on their backs and no money. Some of them have taken to sleeping in the city’s bus park,” the journalist Flavio Ilha of O Globo newspaper said.
A Catholic seminary, the Centro de Atendimento ao Migrante, has been receiving food and clothes donations after taking in 219 Ghanaians, two of them women, the centre’s director said.
The asylum-seekers "faced life-threatening situations back home. They feel they can find work and better living conditions in Brazil,” the centre's director Vanessa Perini Moojen told the Associated Press.
But Ghanaian authorities say the country has no religious conflict. "The basis for this alleged request is completely false as no religious conflict is taking place in Ghana," deputy information minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said. "Ghana's mission in Brazil has been instructed to liaise with the Brazilian authorities to investigate the matter.”
The Brazilian justice ministry will decide whether to grant their requests and in the meantime, they are allowed to work and circulate in the country.
An official delegation of 650 fans went to Brazil to support the Black Stars, but police said they are expecting a further 1,000 Ghanaians to request refugee status in the next week.
Ghana’s foray into the Cup was beset by off-pitch woes. President John Dramani Mahama was forced to fly a plane with $3m in cash to Brasilia after players threatened to boycott a match against Portugal. Defender John Boye, who later scored an own goal in a game the team lost 2–1, was captured on television kissing wads of cash delivered under armed guard to the players’ hotel.
Following a failure to make it past the group stages, the team is now under investigation after allegations of match-fixing.
In past international sporting events, athletes from the continent have sometimes disappeared in their host country. During London’s 2012 Olympics, seven Cameroonian athletes went missing, as did an Ethiopian torchbearer.
“You cannot blame them at all. No matter how much they decry it, a lot of our African officials would do the same thing given the first opportunity,” Ghanaian Martin Asamoah said from the capital, Accra.
After Soccer Loss, Dilma Rousseff Soothes Brazil With a Song
By SIMON ROMERO
JULY 11, 2014
BRASÍLIA — As her country recovers from its humiliating loss to Germany in the World Cup, President Dilma Rousseff sang a samba to express Brazil’s resilience and gave no quarter to opponents who suggest that the soccer disaster may haunt her in the election this fall.
“Soccer doesn’t mix with politics,” Ms. Rousseff told a small group of foreign correspondents here on Friday night. “We’ll be discussing this defeat in Brazil for a long time to come,” she added, defending her government’s handling of the World Cup, which has unfolded without major problems. “It would have been more serious if we had lost outside the stadium than within it.”
The discussion over the national team’s stunning 7-1 loss to Germany on Tuesday has broadened into the political sphere: Aécio Neves, an opposition candidate, and his running mate, Aloysio Nunes, of Brazil’s Social Democratic Party claim that Ms. Rousseff will suffer after politicizing the World Cup.
“She tried to catch a ride on the hopes of the Brazilian people,” Mr. Nunes, a senator from São Paulo, told reporters after the defeat. “Just wait and see: Now she’ll let the subject of the Cup die.”
The loss to Germany has reverberated politically in a country where the fortunes of the national soccer team are an obsession rooted in a tradition in which Brazil has won five World Cup titles, more than any other nation. Brazil entered the tournament as a favorite.
Over the past year, Ms. Rousseff’s government was sharply criticized over the cost of stadiums while transit projects that were supposed to be built for the World Cup were delayed. But before the loss to Germany, Ms. Rousseff, formerly a top aide to her influential predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, benefited from perceptions that the Cup was going smoothly, seeing her support among voters climb to 38 percent from 34 percent in a poll.
Projects conceived in boom times stand abandoned, visible symbols of waste and the country’s crippling bureaucracy.
In a wide-ranging encounter over canapés and wine on the ground floor of the modernist presidential palace, Ms. Rousseff, 66, spoke of the sense of national loss in depth.
“I suffered through the game as all Brazilians did,” she said, but she praised the humble manner in which Germany’s players described their victory. When discussing how Brazil could learn from what happened, Ms. Rousseff, a leftist guerrilla during the country’s military dictatorship before becoming an economist, uncharacteristically expressed herself in song.
Brazilian fans grieved in the streets after their team’s historic loss to Germany on Tuesday.
Video Credit By Nadia Sussman on Publish Date July 9, 2014.
“Get up, shake the dust off, get back on your feet,” she said, singing several verses from “Pick Yourself Up,” a samba by Paulo Vanzolini.
Ms. Rousseff also pointed out that World Cup victories or losses did not influence election outcomes in recent decades, citing the examples of 2002, when Brazil won the tournament but the candidate of the ruling Social Democrats lost the election, and 1998, when the national team lost in the final to France, but the incumbent, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, won re-election.
Going further, Ms. Rousseff said the loss should open the way for a more intense debate over how to improve Brazil’s soccer institutions. She said measures were needed to financially strengthen clubs and training structures so that star players did not have to play abroad, as many of Brazil’s top players now do in Europe.
While she is still the front-runner in the election scheduled for October, dissatisfaction with a sluggish economy, which is in its fourth consecutive year of slow growth, has opened her to criticism over her insistence on using a sprawling apparatus of state-controlled companies and banks to guide economic policies.
Ms. Rousseff defended her economic record, noting that inequality had diminished during her administration and that of Mr. da Silva, while unemployment had fallen to historic lows. “In concrete terms, this means your maid has the chance to sit in an airplane and travel to see her parents,” she said, pointing to an example of how incomes have climbed in Brazil this century.
Even though she was greeted with jeers by some fans at the opening match of the World Cup a month ago in São Paulo, Ms. Rousseff said she was looking forward to attending the final on Sunday, where she expects to sit with Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was expected to miss the game after her government announced that she had a throat ailment.
Ms. Rousseff declined to say whether she was rooting for Germany, which eliminated Brazil from the tournament, or Argentina, a neighbor and Brazil’s biggest historical rival in soccer.
“I’m the president of the nation,” she said with a smile, explaining that she felt obligated as a host to treat every visiting team fairly. “I can’t move a muscle in my face to indicate how I feel about this.”
Scientists warn: Don’t get sucked in by ‘Supermoon’ hype
By Arturo Garcia
Friday, July 11, 2014 23:29 EDT
Though some observers have expressed excitement over the first “supermoon” sighting of the year on Saturday, the phenomenon is actually not as rare as one might think, NASA Science News reported.
“Supermoons” — or perigee moons, as they’re known in the scientific community — originate when the Moon is at its closest orbital point to Earth, making it appear 30 percent brighter and around 14 percent bigger than the typical full moon. Three of this year’s five expected “supermoons” are expected to occur in consecutive months: July, August and September.
But U.S. Naval Observatory spokesperson Geoff Chester said that, contrary to popular belief, perigee moons and full moons coincide every 13 months and 18 days. Last year, he told NASA, there were actually three “supermoons,” but only one received widespread attention.
That same amount of attention — and possible misinformation — is likely to occur this weekend, he said.
“I guarantee that some folks will think it’s the biggest Moon they’ve ever seen if they catch it rising over a distant horizon,” Chester was quoted as saying. “Because the media will have told them to pay attention to this particular one.”
Popular astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson expressed some frustration last June over similar coverage of a “supermoon” event.
“The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle,” DeGrasse Tyson said at the time. “Sometimes it’s closer, sometimes it’s farther away. Every month, there is a moment when it is closest. Occasionally, that moment when it is closest coincidences with a full moon. People are calling that a super moon, but there’s super half moons. Every month one of those phases is the closest. I don’t hear people saying like ‘super crescent, super half moon.’”
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Darrell Issa Destroys His Obama Investigation With Admission That It’s Political Theater
By: Jason Easley
Friday, July, 11th, 2014, 5:52 pm
Rep. Darrell Issa has managed sabotage his new allegation that the administration is using taxpayer dollars for political purposes by admitting in 2011 that a similar investigation was nothing but political theater.
Rep. Issa (R-CA) wrote that he will be subpoenaing the head of the White House Office of Political Strategy, David Simas to appear in front of the House Oversight Committee because he is investigating whether or not the White House is using taxpayer dollars for political purposes, “In an effort to appease its political allies, the Obama Administration broadcast its intention to re-open a political office within the White House to assist in partisan election efforts and fundraising. This follows a serious pattern of behavior at the highest levels of the Administration. Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, both members of President Obama’s cabinet, were faulted by the Office of Special Counsel for inappropriately using their offices in violation of the Hatch Act. This hearing will examine abuses of taxpayer funds for political gain and the level of White House commitment to preventing them.”
House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cumming (D-MD) shot back with a claim that this is all part of Issa’s temper tantrum that has been unfolding since Boehner took the Benghazi investigation away from him, “Over the past several weeks—ever since House Speaker John Boehner took the Benghazi investigation away from the Oversight Committee and transferred it to the new Select Committee—you have been engaged in a subpoena binge, issuing more unilateral subpoenas than at any point during your tenure, and all with no debate or votes by our Committee.”
Cummings continued, “Since you became Chairman in 2011, you have issued nearly 100 subpoenas—more than all three previous committee chairmen combined—in less than half the time. In the eight years from 2003 to 2010, former Republican and Democratic Chairmen Tom Davis, Henry A. Waxman, and Edolphus Towns issued a combined total of 78 subpoenas. With only rare exceptions, they issued all of their subpoenas with the concurrence of the Ranking Member or a vote of the Committee. In contrast, over the past three and a half years, you have issued 96 subpoenas without any debate or a vote of the Committee.”
The problem for Issa is that he tried something very similar to this stunt a few years ago. In 2011, Issa tried to investigate the Obama and the DNC for filming a video in the Map Room at the White House. Issa also told The Washington Times that his hearing was nothing but political theater, “It’ll be good theater. The Democrats will make the claim that somehow we were wrong. And we’ll remind them that this isn’t much different than what Waxman looked at. And then it will end. The sad truth is, the most we can do on our committee is the equivalent of a pitcher who gets tired of a batter crowding the plate. Our hearings can maybe brush him [the president] back a little.”
Fast forward to 2014, and Darrell Issa is stomping on the same old ground that got him nowhere three years ago. This is a typical pattern for Issa. He has bounced from fake scandal to fake scandal since he took over the chairmanship of the Oversight Committee. The California Republican keeps going to the same dry wells repeatedly in an attempt to find something to use to impeach President Obama.
Democrats are correct about Issa reckless unilateral use of his subpoena power. As Republicans accuse President Obama of unilateral action, they continue conveniently to ignore Darrell Issa’s taste for acting alone. Issa has managed to knock down his own house of cards, as his desperate attempts to find a scandal to bring down Obama continues to flounder.
Mitch McConnell Gets Busted Mitt Romney Style on Tape Hating Women and Students
By: Sarah Jones
Friday, July, 11th, 2014, 4:33 pm
Another tape, another busted, out-of-touch, entitled Republican.
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) thinks that whilst running against a female candidate — Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) — on a party platform infamous for its War Against Women, he ought to inform female voters that he has no intention of granting them this preferential treatment they seek with equal pay, etc. Oh, and he also thinks students need to get over themselves.
McConnell smugly informed voters in Buckner, Kentucky that 50% of women voted for him last time and he gave them no preferential treatment so hey. It’s in the bag. Per Leo Weekly, “The last time I ran I got 50 percent of the women votes in the state. So I don’t grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population, which is in my view, leading and performing all across the… you know, maybe I’m missing something here.”
You see, in the World According to Mitch, those barriers are gone. Everything is great for women, which is a huge relief because it means that the Republican Senator doesn’t have to do anything legislatively for them. With his dismal voting record, McConnell has an added incentive to believe his own fictional account of the status of women.
Leo Weekly got their hands on the tape and thus were able to confirm and elaborate on the entitlement. It’s epic, and should be a must read for Kentuckians. The Grimes campaign were more than happy to round up a few of the choice quotes.
Sexism is over, by Mitch McConnell:
“We’ve come a long way… in pay equity and uh… there are a ton of women CEO’s now running major companies…”
“I could be wrong, but I think most of the barriers have been lowered.”
“So I don’t grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population…”
“You know, maybe I’m missing something here…I think women voters are going to be looking at the same kind of issues that men are.”
But much like Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell doesn’t save his contempt for one section of the electorate. You students also suck and need to get over yourselves because “not everyone needs to go to Yale.”
Get over yourselves, America, by Mitch McConnell:
“I don’t think that the federal government ought to be forgiving debt.”
“I think it’s outrageous that it costs as much as it does, but I don’t think the federal government ought to be in the business of forgiving, in effect, obligations owed. That kind of mentality is how we ended up with a $16 trillion debt… So I rule out forgiving obligations that have been voluntarily incurred.”
“There are a lot of low cost options that I hope more and more kids will take advantage of. Public schools are cheaper than private schools. There is proprietary education, which works for some people.”
“I think more competition and shopping around for college alternatives is a pretty good idea. This comes from a guy who’s financed three daughters at out-of-state schools.”
“I think the best short term solution is for parents to be very cost conscious in shopping around for higher education alternatives.”
“Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”
It should be noted that originally, McConnell was reported to have said of women’s issues that most of the barriers had been lifted, but the reporting paper later amended the quote to read “lowered”.
Mitch McConnell doesn’t have a good record regarding women’s rights. It’s downright dismal. His own campaign has shown the nation just how not over sexism is. So it’s tough to comprehend the level of smug entitlement in which the Senator encases himself. Nice bubble, but it didn’t work for Mitt Romney. It might not work for Mitch McConnell, even in Kentucky. They do hate Obama there, but they hate Mitch more and that is really saying something.
Mitch. Mitch Mitch Mitch. Who lets Mitch talk without prior censoring? This is no way to run a campaign. But this is the guy who told Kentuckians that it was not his job to bring jobs to Kentucky. That’s someone else’s job apparently. Someone with power, unlike a 30 year incumbent minority leader in the most powerful legislative chamber in the nation.
Really? House GOP Whines About Border Crisis While Killing Its Own Immigration Reform Plan
By: Justin Baragona
Friday, July, 11th, 2014, 10:19 am
You just cannot make any of this up.
Over the past few weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill and conservative commentators have focused on the situation at the border where tens of thousands of migrant children are being detained. The children are refugees escaping from violent conditions in Central America. Per a law signed by President Bush in 2008, children from specific countries in Central America who reach the border must be allowed to seek asylum. Therefore, they need to be processed, and a determination needs to be made if they are eligible to remain in the country. Due to the influx of migrants from Central America, a bottleneck has been created, causing overcrowding in the detention center system which has led to this humanitarian crisis.
Republicans, meanwhile, have decided to use this particular crisis to rail against President Obama (natch). One criticism has been that the President lured these refugees to the border when he issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a memo that provided DREAMers a temporary reprieve from deportation. This memo was meant as a stop-gap until permanent legislation was passed, as the DREAM Act was in Congressional purgatory at the time (and still is.) Conservatives have claimed that this action by POTUS has convinced those coming to the border that they will be granted citizenship once they arrive.
Another criticism leveled at the President from the right has been that he isn’t doing enough to secure our borders or stem the tide of illegal immigration. It doesn’t matter that these children are actually stopping at the border and being detained by border patrol agents. Or that that deportations are higher under President Obama than his predecessors. Or even that we have more border patrol agents and other border security measures than during President Bush’s tenure. It doesn’t really matter to the GOP. They continue to complain that POTUS isn’t doing anything.
Except, he is. President Obama has pushed for comprehensive immigration reform since first taking office. The bill finally passed the US Senate over one year ago with bipartisan support. That bill included increased border security measures, such as an increase in border patrol agents and more fencing along the Mexican border. However, the House Republicans have refused to act on it, with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) not allowing it to come up for a vote. The House GOP said they would come up with their own alternative to present to the Senate. On Thursday, that all came to an end.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) was tasked with coming up with the House’s alternative immigration reform bill. During his tenure in the House, Diaz-Balart has made it a mission of his finally see sweeping changes made to the country’s immigration policy. He has worked with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), along with others, to come up with at least a somewhat bipartisan solution. Diaz-Balart felt that progress had been made and that the policy his group had come up with easily pass in the House if brought up for a vote. Instead, he informed reporters on Thursday that Republican leadership had told him that immigration reform was officially dead in the House, and they wouldn’t be moving on it at all.
“I’m really, really disappointed. We have a good bill. We have a unique opportunity to secure our borders, fix our broken immigration system, help our economy and do so in a way that adhere to the rule of law. But unfortunately I’ve been told we’re not going to be able to pursue it. And I think that’s highly unfortunate.”
The Florida Republican also told reporters that the main reason he was given by Boehner that they won’t move forward is because they can’t trust the President to enforce the laws. In essence, Boehner told Diaz-Balart that Congress won’t pass any laws while President Obama is in the White House.
I have no idea how Boehner thinks this is going to fly with the American people. It appears he has completely painted himself into a corner. On Thursday, Boehner threw a hissy fit when confronted with a question about passing the President’s emergency spending request regarding the crisis. He wanted to know, “When is the President going to take some responsibility for this.” In essence, he was telling the President to continue to use executive orders to deal with issues affecting the country. At the same time, Boehner is filing a lawsuit against the White House for the use of executive orders.
I have no idea what the endgame is for Republicans in Washington. The fact is, if House Republicans had passed comprehensive immigration reform over a year ago, there would already be more resources at the border to deal with this crisis. Instead, they have to wait until the President sends over an emergency spending measure during the height of a crisis, and then complain about him not doing anything to prevent this situation from occurring. They want him to act like a ‘leader’, yet refuse to work with him and sue him when he circumvents them in order to get something done.
They have no plans, only complaints. Everything is the President’s fault. They can’t trust him. Therefore, they refuse to work with him. Boehner will not allow any bill that comes from the Senate to pass the House. He is just going to sit in a corner, pout, and tell anyone that asks him that it is the President who isn’t doing anything. It is the President who is passing the buck. But the President is also doing too much, and we need to sue him.
It just makes your head spin.
Kansas Is Going Broke Due To The Republican Plan Of Cutting Taxes For the Rich
Friday, July, 11th, 2014, 11:22 am
By now, most Americans have heard the infamous line from Albert Einstein that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. A reasonable person would think that doing the same thing with full knowledge it will not give the same results is just stupid. One cannot fathom the Republican mindset that drives them to believe if they continue their thirty year experiment in trickle down economics, it will create jobs and be an economic bonanza that is both stupid and insane because it is always a monumental failure.
It is puzzling really, that if the so-called supply-side economic theory has been a failure on the national level, why Kansas Republicans thought if they started with a budget surplus, squandered it on huge tax cuts for the rich, the state’s coffers would be flush with money and a job creation explosion would follow. It has not been that many years since George W. Bush squandered a budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich that failed to produce the storied economic benefits of trickle down economics, but apparently Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) and the Republican legislature were asleep during Bush’s tenure. Kansas is going broke and predicted to be bankrupt within two years, job creation is lagging the entire nation, and it is all down to giving tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the state’s economic life and the people the Republicans were elected to serve.
The latest news from trickle down Kansas is that the state is so broke after Governor Brownback signed a package of nearly $1.1 billion in tax breaks for the rich last year, there are insufficient funds to keep homeless shelters open. A homeless shelter specifically for families in southeastern Kansas will have to close its doors starting next week, and it is all down to the increasing state budget shortfall that is a direct result of tax cuts for the rich. The CHOICES Family Emergency Shelter provides a place to live for 350 homeless people every year most of whom are children. The closure is another victim of the state budget shortfall that is so severe that even after cutting the funding by half for all of 2014, $100,000 was not enough to keep the shelter open past next week.
According to Steve Lohr, the Executive Director of Southeast Kansas Community Action Partnership, which runs the family shelter, “this is the first time in our 48-year history that it hadn’t received enough state funding to continue operating. We were defunded 50 percent.” Homeless families and children should not feel particularly singled out as expendable to make sure the rich received their tax cuts. Since squandering the surplus he inherited and giving over a billion in new tax cuts, the state is facing a serious revenue shortfall that prompted funding cuts for poor school districts and poor people who rely on food stamps to survive.
When Brownback signed the tax cuts, Democrats and some Republicans were intelligent enough to predict it would create a revenue shortfall not unlike during the Bush-Republican tax-cutting frenzy. At the time, former state GOP chair Rochelle Chronister opposed Brownback’s gift to the rich because “It bankrupts the state within two years.” The House Democratic leader, Paul Davis said, “There is no feasible way that private-sector growth can accommodate the price tag of this tax cut. Our $600 million surplus will become a $2.5 billion deficit within just five years.” Brownback was unfazed and said that his tax cuts would lead to even more success; “I firmly believe these reforms will set the stage for strong economic growth in Kansas,” and despite the unfunded $800-million price-tag, “I’m gonna sign this bill, I’m excited about the prospects for it, and I’m very thankful for how God has blessed our state.”
Likely, Brownback was also thankful to trickle-down economist Arthur Laffer, who guaranteed that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue and create jobs that thus far has the “State general fund revenue down over $700 million from last year” according to Duane Goossen, a former state budget director. Goossen also said the revenue drop is “a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession,” and that the budget surplus that had been replenished since the recession “is now being spent at an alarming, amazing rate.” It was just a little over a month ago that the revenue shortfall was nearing the $500 million mark.
Of course, Brownback reverted to the typical Republican response when their economic malfeasance blows up in their faces and blamed President Obama for Kansas’s revenue shortfall and non-existing job creation bonanza from giving so-called “job creators” tax cuts. Brownback said, “This is an undeniable result of President Obama’s failed economic policies of increasing taxes and overregulation,” and “the uncertainty over the fiscal cliff of 2012″ that was, like Brownback’s unfunded tax cuts for the rich, inspired by Republicans. If, as Brownback claims, Kansas Republican’s economic malfeasance is President Obama’s fault, the national job creation numbers would not be on the upswing and the overall economic picture would not be stronger; Brownback’s assertion is patently false.
None of the “trickle-down” economic benefits have materialized and Kansas’s job growth lags behind the rest of the nation “especially in the years following the first round of Brownback tax cuts.” The revenue shortfall prompted credit rating agency Moody’s cut the state’s credit rating in May, and it is entirely because of tax cuts for the rich; not President Obama’s economic policies, tax hikes, or overregulation. The travesty of another failed experiment in trickle-down economics is that Kansas legislators will have to make seriously deeper cuts to domestic programs with no plans to repeal the wealthy job creators’ tax cuts.
If the Bush-Republican tax cuts for the rich, and thirty years of failed trickle down economics, is not a cautionary tale for America under Republican governance, then the state of Kansas’s economy certainly is. Brownback’s failed economic strategy is minimal compared to the annual Path to Prosperity budget House Republicans pass with claims it will lead to economic growth and incredible job creation all at the expense of the poor and middle class.
It is a sad commentary that Kansas cannot afford $200,000 to keep a homeless shelter for families with children open, is cutting education funding drastically, is cutting food assistance for Kansas residents that cannot find jobs, and is still facing a devastating revenue shortfall all to give the rich over a $1 billion in tax cuts. It is not insane or stupid to do the same thing Republicans think will deliver a different economic result; it is typically Republican and informs that Kansas Republican loyalties, and raison d’être, is to enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the people, including families with children being thrown out on the streets; something Sam Brownback is likely “very thankful for how God has blessed our state.”
Busted: Florida Republicans’ 2012 Redistricting Plan Thrown Out By Federal Judge
By: Trevor LaFauci
Friday, July, 11th, 2014, 9:29 pm
Republicans are gradually learning a difficult lesson: If you’re going to do something illegal, make sure you don’t get caught.
In yet another clear-cut example of Republicans attempting to break the law for political gain, a Florida Circuit Court judge threw out Republicans’ 2012 congressional redistricting plan on Thursday after seeing evidence that “made a mockery” of the rules and transparency required for the process.
In a forty-one page ruling, Judge Terry Lewis noted that two of Florida’s congressional districts need to be redrawn as they violated a “Fair Districts Florida” standard approved by voters in 2010 as a way to ensure that legislators would be banned from favoring or protecting incumbents. In his strongly worded ruling, Lewis slammed state Republicans who had been involved in the redistricting process by saying:
“What is clear to me from the evidence … is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.
…They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process and they went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.
…They might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public, had it not been for the plaintiffs’ determined efforts to uncover it in this case.”
Judge Lewis’ ruling follows a 13-day trial in June. The plaintiffs he refers to consisted are a coalition of groups who brought the redistricting shenanigans to light, including the League of Women Voters of Florida as well as Common Cause, a DC non-profit liberal advocacy group. These groups brought forth convincing evidence of gerrymandering and successfully pointed out that Democrats hold a slight edge in voter registration in Florida and yet Republicans have 17 of the state’s 27 representatives in the House. This fact brought to light the state’s 2012 redistricting plan, which greatly favored the state’s Republican Party and was so egregious that it became clear the Republicans had drawn it that way to protect their majority in the House of Representatives. In his ruling, Lewis noted that prominent Republicans who chaired the redistricting committee had also been conveniently involved in the fight against the “Fair District Florida” amendments that ensured the new districts would be created as fairly and as impartially as possible.
The two districts in question actually are split with one Democrat and one Republican representative. The Democratic representative for one of the districts in question is Corrine Brown, who represents the Jacksonville area. The Republican representative for the other district in question in Daniel Webster, who represents the Orlando area. Should it be that these two districts are redrawn, it would affect neighboring districts and would cause a shock wave effect throughout the state as these two districts would then spill over into other districts and vice versa. The ruling is expected to be appealed by Republican state leaders and could make for interesting midterm elections in the Sunshine State.
In today’s day and age, gerrymandering remains a significant threat to our democracy. In 2012, House Democrats won the popular vote by 1.17 million votes and yet did not gain control of the House of Representatives. It was only the second time in the last seventy years that a political party had won the popular vote but not won control of the House. By ensuring a Republican-led House, Speaker John Boehner and his party of no have successfully managed to be the least productive Congress on record. By acquiescing to the Tea Party loonies, Boehner and House Republicans have successfully managed to avoid meaningful votes on immigration, ENDA, and raising the minimum wage all while voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over fifty times. Thanks to gerrymandering at the state level, Republicans maintained control of the House despite being grotesquely out of touch with the American people.
For Democrats and independents, they need to take heed with the lessons learned from 2010. Elections matter not only at the national level but are equally as important at the state level. For all states with a hard-fought battle for governor, Democrats and independents need to get out to vote or else face the consequences. As we saw in 2010, the consequences of Republican-led state governments follow a remarkably similar recipe for disaster: cutting funding for education, refusing to expand Medicaid, attacking and vilifying unions, and restricting women’s access to safe, affordable health care. We have seen a prime example of this in the state of Virginia where Democrats and Republicans have fought tooth and nail in an equally divided state government over whether or not to expand Medicaid. In states like Florida and Texas with high-profile battles for governor, each and every vote will be necessary to ensure that a Republican does not takeover and lead his state to inevitable ruin.
Unlike Republicans, Democrats do not need to lie, cheat, and steal to win elections. They just need to vote.
Donetsk: A Ghost Town Waiting for Ukraine's Final Battle
by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 July 2014, 17:09
Donetsk, one of the last bastions of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, has become a ghost town as residents clog the roads and railway stations in a desperate scramble to escape advancing government troops.
The self-proclaimed prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, Oleksandr Borodai, claims more than 70,000 of the city's 900,000 inhabitants have already fled as Kiev's forces move within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the city.
Every train was full on Friday as residents calmly joined long queues to buy tickets.
"I have lived here more than 40 years and it is very difficult for me to leave this town. But there is no other solution," says Natalia, who was catching a train to Dnipropetrovsk, 250 kilometers west, from where she plans to cross the border into Russia.
She is fleeing after months of daily "bombardments" by Ukrainian government planes, which have laid siege to the separatist stronghold.
"The planes fly near my house permanently and fire on the town," she says.
Watching over a pile of bags, a man in his fifties prepared to join his parents in Russia with his daughters and grandchildren.
"Everything is shutting down," says the man, who did not give his name. "There is nothing to do here. No work -- and it is getting too dangerous."
Stall-keepers and shoppers at a small market outside the station jump at the sound of artillery fire that breaks out sporadically a few kilometers away at the airport, where the separatists and government forces are vying for control.
"It is very scary," says Yaroslava, who runs a stall selling sunglasses. "But we do not want to leave. We just want to survive and to no longer be bombarded."
The exodus from Donetsk is also taking place by road.
"I would say that one car in five is filled with refugees," says a young separatist volunteer manning a roadblock around 20 kilometers east of the city.
"But me, I'm not going anywhere. My mother and my two grandmothers are buried here, so I will fight, even though I have sent my wife to Russia."
Minibuses and trams are still operating in the city, but cars and pedestrians are sparse. There are hardly any cafes or restaurants open, and those that are hurry to close up before nightfall.
Only food stores appear to be functioning normally. Banks and any shops that could be pillaged have shut long ago.
Rumors of imminent clashes and military offences are rife, echoing around social media and increasing hopes and tensions throughout the city.
Ukraine's military says it controls all routes in and out of Donetsk and have vowed reprisals after 30 government troops were killed by defiant rebels in the past 48 hours.
On the outskirts of the city, the rebels manning the roadblocks are on high alert. Some passers-by offer them packets of cigarettes or biscuits.
The Vostok (East) Battalion is in charge of one barricade. One of the most professional and organized of the rebel units, they have vowed to "defend the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic" and "reclaim our land".
That means sacrifices, said one rebel. Still, he predicts "we will have time to watch the football final on Sunday," referring to the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany.
New Canadian Sanctions over Ukranian Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 July 2014, 17:04
The Canadian government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has added 14 individuals to a list of people facing economic sanctions and travel bans related to the Ukranian crisis.
"Russia's illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula and provocative military activity remains a serious concern to Canada and the international community," Harper said in a statement Friday.
This brings to 43 the number of Russian targeted by Canada in sanctions coordinated with the U.S. and the EU. Thirty pro-Russian Ukrainians have also been hit with visa bans and other measures by Ottawa.
The announcement was made on the day that Minister for International Trade Ed Fast concluded a three-day trade and development mission to Ukraine.
Harper said Canada supports Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan "and we will continue to apply pressure against Russia with our allies and partners. We continue to closely monitor the situation and we are ready for further actions if necessary."
Ukraine Clashes Kill 12 Civilians, Nix Pig Putin Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 10:27
Escalating clashes between pro-Kremlin separatists and Ukrainian forces on Sunday killed 12 civilians and forced the new Western-backed leader to cancel a pivotal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the World Cup in Brazil.
An explosive security crisis on the eastern edge of the European Union that has claimed more than 550 lives and inflamed East-West relations has since Friday threatened to spiral into an all-out civil war.
Militias that the West and Kiev allege are being armed by the Kremlin used a Grad multiple-rocket system late Friday to mow down 19 Ukrainian soldiers and wound nearly 100 near the Russian border.
Further attacks killed 18 more troops and 20 civilians -- 12 of them in what Kiev said were missile and other overnight rebel strikes staged across the eastern rustbelt -- in violence that appeared to shatter any hope of a truce.
Kiev-backed authorities said six people were killed and eight wounded in a suburb of the million-strong rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
Municipal workers in neighboring Lugansk said six people had also died and seven were injured in various overnight incidents in that separatist bastion of 425,000.
And an Agence France Presse correspondent at the morgue in Maryinka saw the corpses of eight people killed in clashes waged outside that village just west of Donetsk on Saturday afternoon.
The civilian toll is one of the highest recorded over a two-day span in a three-month conflict that has threatened the very survival of the strategic ex-Soviet state sandwiched between the EU and Russia.
And the military losses have profoundly dampened rising hopes in Kiev that its recent string of battlefield successes had finally convinced the rebels to sue for peace.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to kill "hundreds" of gunmen for every lost soldier and ordered an air-tight military blockade of Lugansk and Donetsk -- both capitals of their own "People's Republics" that want to join Russia.
European leaders responded by joining forces with Putin in a bid to convince Poroshenko to put the breaks on violence first sparked by the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader and fanned by Russia's subsequent seizure of Crimea.
The immediate hopes of a truce rested on a meeting between Putin and Poroshenko -- only the second since the latter's May 25 election -- that seemed in the cards on the sidelines of the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Putin was due in Rio as part of his Latin American swing and the Brazilian presidency said Poroshenko had also accepted an invitation on Friday.
But the Ukrainian leader's office said early on Sunday that Poroshenko was forced to cancel his attendance "considering the situation currently happening in Ukraine".
- 'Irreversible consequences' -
The separatists' use of Grad systems -- featured heavily in Russia's devastating assault on the Chechen capital Grozny in the 1990s -- has underpinned the most recent charges of the Kremlin's direct involvement in the insurgency.
Putin rejects accusations of orchestrating the uprising to retain partial control over eastern Ukraine and punish Kiev for its decision to strike an historic EU alliance instead of a new Kremlin pact.
But Poroshenko argues that no truce with the rebels is possible until his troops manage to seal the Russian border and halt the continuing flow of gunmen and arms.
The frontier became the conflict's new frontline after last weekend's evacuation by the rebels of a host of towns and cities that they had held since early April in the coal mining region of Donetsk.
The militias have since concentrated their forces around Donetsk and Lugansk and are hoping for new weapons deliveries to revive their campaign.
A new source of tension between the Kremlin and Kiev emerged when Moscow said one person was killed and two injured when a shell fired from inside Ukraine hit a residential area near a small Russian border town.
The Russian foreign ministry said the incident could lead to "irreversible consequences," laying the blame on Kiev.
A top Ukrainian military spokesman said Ukrainian forces were responding to another Grad rocket attack launched from that border region overnight.
EU imposes sanctions on more Ukraine rebels
Alexander Borodai, leader of Donetsk 'republic', and 10 others face travel bans and asset freezes as clashes continue in east
Chris Johnston and agencies
Saturday 12 July 2014 15.26 BST
The European Union has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on the Ukrainian separatist leader Alexander Borodai and 10 other rebels as residents of Donetsk flee amid fears of further attacks on the rebel stronghold.
The move came as the Ukrainian government claimed that air strikes had killed hundreds of rebel fighters in retaliation for the 23 soldiers killed by a missile strike on Friday.
Andriy Lysenko, a military spokesman, said fighter jets had struck a rebel base near Perevalsk, north of Donetsk, leaving "about 500" rebel fighters dead and destroying two tanks and 10 armoured vehicles. Further strikes had also destroyed a significant rebel base near Dzerzhinsk.
Rebel representatives denied that they had suffered big losses. "There were no volunteers [rebels] where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday," a spokeswoman said.
The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, had pledged to "find and destroy" the rebels responsible for the missile attack at Zelenopillya, which also injured more than 120 troops.
The EU said Borodai was "responsible for the separatist 'governmental' activities of the so-called 'government of the Donetsk People's Republic'".
The 41-year-old Russian citizen claimed in May that he was a political adviser who helped in Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea in March and then moved to eastern Ukraine to help separatists there. He denied any links to Moscow.
Others on the EU blacklist include Alexander Khodakovsky, a defector from the Ukrainian state security service who now commands rebels, and Nikolay Kozitsyn, identified by the EU as another rebel commander.
Kiev has denounced them as terrorists and accused Russia of backing the rebellion in east Ukraine, where hundreds have died in clashes between rebels and government forces.
The additional names take the number of people under EU sanctions to 72, as well as two energy companies in Crimea.
When the sanctions were announced last week, Russia said they would damage ties with Europe.
The EU trade chief, Karel de Gucht, held talks with Russian and Ukrainian officials in Brussels on Friday and told Moscow the sanctions were not intended to damage the Russian economy.
European leaders said late last month that the EU would consider imposing more sanctions on Moscow unless pro-Russian rebels stopped their action in eastern Ukraine and began negotiations on implementing Poroshenko's peace plan.
The president's militant language convinced some residents of Donetsk – the new home to a flood of gunmen who have been abandoning surrounding cities since last weekend – that their city was about to be bombed. Almost 550 people have been killed in the conflict that erupted three months ago and has sparked the biggest east-west crisis since the cold war.
Slovenians Start Voting in Snap Polls Unlikely to End Turmoil
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 09:00
Slovenians voted on Sunday in snap elections with a political novice favored to win but unlikely to restore stability in the crisis-hit eurozone country.
The vote will be the second early election in three years in the country that was once a model member of the European Union, but that has been on a downward spiral since the 2008 financial crisis.
Miro Cerar, an influential 50-year-old Ljubljana University law professor, is tipped to win despite his lack of political experience, and analysts predict that any new government will not last long, spelling further instability for the small nation of two million.
Latest polls show that his Miro Cerar Party (SMC), which he founded only in June, is expected to win some 31 percent of the vote, ahead of the around 23 percent for opposition center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of ex-premier Janez Jansa, who began serving a two-year term for corruption last month.
Despite his lack of political experience Slovenians see Cerar, who helped draft Slovenia's first constitution in 1990 and has been advising parliament on legal issues for more than 20 years, as a welcome alternative to squabbling politicians and corruption scandals.
Slovenia's leaders agreed to hold snap elections on July 13, despite it being the height of the summer holiday season, after Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek lost the support of her center-left Positive Slovenia (PS) party and resigned in May.
During her year in office, Slovenia avoided a much-dreaded bailout and recapitalized its largest state-owned banks.
But public debt increased to 70 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, and little was done to halt the decline in quality of life for ordinary Slovenians amid crippling austerity measures and high unemployment.
Bratusek's newly-founded Alliance party (ZaAB) is expected to get around four percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, just above the threshold needed to enter parliament.
Whoever wins Sunday's ballot will likely need to form a coalition, with the pensioners' party DESUS -- currently third in the polls with 11 percent -- the likely kingmaker again.
- More turmoil ahead -
Observers warn that, regardless of the election results, more turmoil lies ahead for the former Yugoslav republic.
"I deeply doubt these elections will bring more political stability. In fact, we may face (fresh early elections) even faster than we did now," Matevz Tomsic, a professor at the Nova Gorica School of Social Sciences, told Agence France Presse.
Bratusek, who launched a privatization drive to reduce public debt, has urged her successors to stay the course.
Frontrunner Cerar has already spoken out against privatizing infrastructure companies but promised that "we will not halt the privatizations if they've reached a point at which it could damage Slovenia's credibility or cause losses."
Despite returning to growth this year, Slovenia remains under the close watch of the European Commission because of its weak corporate governance and high public debt, which tripled from 2008 to 2013.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor's revised its outlook for the country from stable to negative in late June, warning that the political uncertainty could undermine reform efforts.
Some 1.7 million eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots from 7:00 am (05:00 GMT) on Sunday. First exit polls are expected soon after polls close at 7:00 pm, with first partial official results announced later that evening.
Sarkozy Hit by New Phone Tap Leaks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 July 2014, 16:46
A corruption scandal surrounding former French president Nicolas Sarkozy deepened further on Saturday with fresh leaks of telephone conversations purporting to show he offered to get a judge a plum job in return for favors.
Sarkozy, who was charged two weeks ago with corruption and influence peddling in a case related to his campaign to win the presidency in 2007, claims he is the victim of a "grotesque" set-up. He accuses his enemies of using the justice system to undermine a possible political comeback.
But according to extracts from tapped calls published by the French daily Le Monde on Saturday, the ex-president appeared to lobby for a job for the judge in Monaco in return for his help on one of six bribery and funding scandals in which Sarkozy is embroiled.
In intercepted mobile phone calls with his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog -- who also faces charges -- Sarkozy is alleged to have said, "I will help him (the judge)... I will get him set up," adding, "Call him today and tell him I will sort it out. I am going to Monaco and I will see the prince (Albert)."
The conversations are alleged to have taken place in February this year on a mobile phone the 59-year-old politician bought using a false name.
Sarkozy's lawyer Pierre Haik declined to comment to Agence France Presse on the new leaks, the latest in a series of damaging revelations to have hit Sarkozy since he left power.
The senior magistrate at the center of the case, Gilbert Azibert, has been charged with illegally passing on information about the a long-running political funding scandal involving the billionaire L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.
Azibert did not get the position in Monaco, a principality on the Riviera which is largely dependent on France, and has applied to retire.
In another alleged extract, Sarkozy told his lawyer to tell the judge that he was meeting that day with Monaco's Minister of State (prime minister) Michel Roger and would keep him informed of how it went.
But according to the newspaper, the authorities believe Sarkozy discovered that his "secret" telephone was being tapped and subsequently decided not to ask for the job for the judge.
It claimed Roger confirmed to police that Sarkozy had talked to him on the day of the conversation was taped but had not brought up Azibert or his desire to head up principality's judiciary.
Sarkozy's lawyer Herzog -- who faces the same corruption charges as the ex-president -- tells his client on the tapes that the judge had "access to unpublished information" on the Bettencourt inquiry and that he has "worked really hard" to help them.
Under French law it a crime to promise a public position as a favor, whether or not the position is given to the person.
A poll earlier this month showed that two out of three French voters are against a comeback by the charismatic right-wing leader, who is married to the singer and former supermodel Carla Bruni.
The survey for BFMTV, however, found that 72 percent of supporters of Sarkozy's UMP party backed a return.
In the wake of the charges, Sarkozy insisted that "there was no question of renouncing politics" and said he would not decide whether he would stand for the leadership of the party until August or September.
France's Socialist government has rejected claims that Sarkozy is being dragged through the courts to derail his thin-veiled ambitions to stand again for the presidency in 2017.
In a pointed riposte to Sarkozy's allegation, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said: "The judiciary is independent, there is no longer any interference."
Iraqi Militants Kill 26 in Raid on Baghdad Building
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
JULY 12, 2014
BAGHDAD — Gunmen stormed an apartment complex in Baghdad on Saturday night and killed at least 20 women and six men, according to the Interior Ministry.
The apartment complex is known for prostitution and in the past prostitutes have been the targets of extrajudicial killings there by Muslim extremists. It was not clear if that was what happened this time. However, if the targets were prostitutes, it is unlikely that would cause the kind of backlash that a large-scale sectarian killing would.
Still the attack, and the fact that at least initially the perpetrators seemed to vanish without a trace, raised the specter that amid the chaos sweeping the country, gunmen feel they can act with complete impunity even in the capital. Almost at the same time, a television station associated with Sunnis broadcast what it said was a recording by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a fugitive who was Saddam Hussein’s vice president and a senior figure in the Baath Party.
Intelligence experts here have predicted an unleashing of anti-government cells and some wondered on Saturday if Mr. Douri’s message was the signal for the cells to begin to fight.
“The liberation of Baghdad has become close or closer,” the man reported to be Mr. Douri said in a statement full of support for the insurgency that has swept through large parts of northern and western Iraq. “Half of Iraq’s land is outside of the government’s control.”
The statement was also notable because it appeared to run counter to reports that the insurgency could be weakened by friction between the main insurgent group and Mr. Douri’s group of former loyalists to Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Douri is the founder of the Men of the Army of the Naqshbandia Order, a group of former Baathists that has taken an active part in the recent battles against the Iraqi government. The broadcast heaped praise on the main Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
“What happened in Nineveh and Tikrit is the greatest day ever in Iraqi and Arab history,” the man reported to be Mr. Douri said, referring to the ISIS takeovers, which were carried out with the help of a number of insurgent groups, including the Naqshbandia Order.
He blessed all the groups, but above all “the heroes and knights of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” adding, “I send them warm greetings full of love.”
The fighting for small patches of territory continued on Saturday. Security forces regained control of a military base that ISIS had taken over in an area northeast of Baghdad. It remained unclear if the militants might be regrouping to try to grab back the base.
Seventeen militants and six members of the security forces were killed in that fighting in Diyala Province, according to a doctor at the provincial hospital, which received the bodies.
“There are no civilians in the area,” said a man who lives near the area and could hear the fighting, but asked not to be quoted by name because he feared one side or the other would find out.
“It’s a war zone, only ISIS and the army are there and the army is not really an army,” he said, explaining that many of those participating in the fight are Shiite militia members.
Other locals said they too believed that militias were now heavily involved in the fighting in Diyala. This fight, locals said, included members of the Asaib al-Haq militia and the Peace Brigades, a new group of volunteer fighters started by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
South of Baghdad, in Babil Province, the southern front of the fighting against Sunni extremists remained difficult for the Iraqi military. After four police officers were killed, the army went in to retrieve the bodies and was ambushed by ISIS fighters who killed four of them, according to the operations command in Hilla, the provincial capital.
In developments elsewhere in the country, officials raised the death toll from Friday’s suicide bombing in Kirkuk to 28 from 13.
As the military showdowns continued, the country’s political parties were still attempting to form a new government after elections in April, with the parties saying they would go to the Parliament on Sunday to make another effort. The divide between the country’s ethnic and sectarian groups has deepened since the elections, and so far the parties have been unable to bridge the gaps.
It seemed unlikely that the parties would be able to quickly smooth over their differences. In an interview on Saturday Dafar al-Ani, the spokesman for the largest Sunni bloc, said that he thought the Sunnis needed two or three more days to agree on their nominee for the speakership.
Approving a speaker is the first step in forming a government, according to the Constitution. Then within two weeks, the Parliament must vote on a president and within a month of that, a prime minister.
The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov issued a statement Saturday saying that “failing to move forward on electing a new speaker, a new president, and a new government risks plunging the country into chaos.”
U.S. Warns Iran Over ‘Unworkable’ Plans for Nuclear Power Program
By DAVID E. SANGER
JULY 12, 2014
VIENNA — A senior Obama administration official said Saturday that Iran continues to take “inadequate and unworkable” positions on the future of its nuclear program, and warned that the country would have to live with sharp limits on its ability to produce nuclear fuel for at least a decade, and perhaps longer.
The comments, made to reporters here just hours before Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to arrive with European foreign ministers, strongly suggested that a comprehensive deal would not be closed by a July 20 deadline.
Although the goal of the weekend negotiations is to try to push Iran to make political decisions that American officials say it has resisted, the Obama administration is refusing to discuss extending the talks — which is possible under a preliminary agreement reached late last year — for fear that would reduce the pressure to make progress over the next week.
The official, who is centrally involved in the negotiations, spoke to a large group of reporters on the standard diplomatic condition of anonymity. The official said that some progress had been made on several areas of the negotiations. While there were no specifics, European officials have said that major gaps have been closed on the future of a plutonium reactor under construction near the Iranian city of Arak, and on the fate of a deep underground nuclear-enrichment center that was discovered by Western intelligence agencies and that President Obama said four years ago needed to be closed.
But the central sticking point remains differing views on the future of Iran’s program.
In a speech in Iran five days ago, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, talked of a long-term plan for a tenfold increase in Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability, saying the country’s scientists have determined that would be the only way to satisfy Iran’s need for nuclear power. The comments worried American and European officials, because they suggested the religious leader was not preparing the Iranian people for cutbacks in the country’s existing number of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium. It currently has about 10,000 enriching uranium, and another 9,000 set up but not in full operation.
Mr. Khamenei spoke of an American demand that only 10,000 centrifuges could be allowed to run, dismissing that as unworkable. In fact, American officials say their number is far lower than that, though they would not specify it.
American officials denied that there were divisions among the six countries negotiating with Iran, and played down the significance of the absence of Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, from the meeting expected here on Sunday. France said last week that Russia was now separating itself from the common positions it had taken with the French, as well as with China, the United States, Germany and Britain.
Mr. Kerry will be joined here by William Hague of Britain, Laurent Fabius of France and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.
Mr. Steinmeier and Mr. Kerry are also expected to meet separately on the demand by Germany that the C.I.A. station chief in Berlin leave the country, a protest over alleged American recruitment of spies in Germany.
Kerry Brokers a Deal to Audit All Afghan Votes
By CARLOTTA GALL and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
JULY 12, 2014
KABUL, Afghanistan — After nearly 12 hours of often tense negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday that Afghanistan would audit all eight million votes cast in a runoff presidential election last month as part of a deal to end a tense power struggle between the top two candidates.
The audit, intended to resolve allegations of widespread fraud, is to begin almost immediately, he said, and will be supervised by international monitors. Its results will be binding, and the winner will go on to head a national unity government whose shape has yet to be finalized.
“Every single ballot that was cast will be audited,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference where he was flanked by the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who endorsed the agreement.
The breakthrough came on the second day of a visit that Mr. Kerry hastily arranged to try to prevent Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power from collapsing. Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani had said the election was marred by fraud, but both had also claimed victory.
Tensions were heightened Tuesday when Mr. Abdullah threatened to form his own government following the release of preliminary results from the runoff, raising the possibility of an ethnically and regionally divided Afghanistan just as American troops prepare to complete their combat mission.
Mr. Kerry spent Friday largely listening to the proposals of the Abdullah and Ghani camps and meeting with President Hamid Karzai.
And then on Saturday, shortly before 9 a.m., he began what would turn out to be an entire day of shuttling between meeting rooms at the American Embassy, where each candidate had gathered with a handful of advisers. He also met with Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace in the afternoon.
By the time they announced the deal, Mr. Kerry looked like a man who had put in a long day’s work. Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani looked similarly worn out by the marathon negotiations, which had achieved what they alone could not in the weeks since the June 14 runoff.
“This is unquestionably a tense and difficult moment,” Mr. Kerry said, “but I am very pleased that the two candidates who stand here with me today and President Karzai have stepped up and shown a significant commitment to compromise.”
Mr. Kerry said the audit would begin within 24 hours and take several weeks, and Mr. Karzai indicated that he would agree to postpone the inauguration, though he urged that the auditors try to complete their work in time to meet the scheduled date of Aug. 2.
He did not set a new date, only saying it would take place after the audit.
Mr. Karzai seemed comfortable with the outcome, something of a turnaround, as he had previously refused to allow international “interference” in the elections.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Karzai have been through painfully long negotiations on previous occasions, but the two men seemed at ease together on Saturday night.
If it is implemented successfully, the deal will be an accomplishment for Mr. Kerry, who has long played a troubleshooting role on Afghanistan.
When he was a senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry persuaded Mr. Karzai to accept a runoff in the contested 2009 presidential election. In March 2013, Mr. Kerry went to Kabul to rebuild relations with Mr. Karzai after he publicly accused the United States of wanting to destabilize the country.
Not all of Mr. Kerry’s efforts on Afghanistan have held up. In November 2013, Mr. Kerry announced that the United States and Afghanistan had completed the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would establish a legal basis for keeping American forces in Afghanistan after 2014. Mr. Karzai later refused to sign the agreement, though Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani have each indicated that they would do so shortly after assuming office.
The accord on the terms of an audit follows several recent setbacks for Mr. Kerry, most notably the failure of an intensive effort to secure a Middle East peace agreement. His push to encourage productive talks between Russia and Ukraine has also fallen short.
But in Kabul, Mr. Kerry had more leverage than he had in the Middle East. Afghanistan’s security forces depend on billions of dollars of assistance from the United States. In calls to each of the candidates last week, President Obama stressed his support for a review of the fraud, but warned pointedly that resorting to violence or taking extraconstitutional actions “would result in the end of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan.”
To ensure security — and to give the candidates confidence that no new vote tampering was taking place during the audit — the NATO-led military coalition in Afghanistan is to fly ballot boxes that are currently in the provinces to Kabul, the capital, and work with Afghan forces to provide security for the boxes once they arrive. United Nations and other international observers will watch the entire process.
Jan Kubis, the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan, called on other nations to send extra observers to assist with the audit as soon as possible.
Discussions on Saturday concerned how to determine how many ballots should be re-examined for fraud and how to ensure that the audit was impartial. Both sides had wrangled over the technical details, in particular the threshold for selecting which ballots should be reviewed.
Mr. Kerry had to seek not only agreement by the two candidates, but also acceptance by Mr. Karzai, who will step down after 13 years in power and has by all accounts remained a powerful presence behind the scenes.
In the first round of voting on April 5, Mr. Abdullah emerged the top vote-getter against 11 other candidates, with 45 percent to Mr. Ghani’s 31 percent. Because neither won more than 50 percent of the vote, a required runoff between the two was held on June 14.
Preliminary results from the runoff show Mr. Ghani leaping ahead with 56 percent of the vote, and Mr. Abdullah with 44 percent. The turnout in the runoff also increased by more than a million voters, to eight million.
Mr. Abdullah’s campaign has accused his opponents of conducting extensive institutional fraud, and has alleged that members of the Independent Election Commission, government officials and Ghani supporters orchestrated large-scale ballot stuffing to enable Mr. Ghani to win the presidency.
Mr. Ghani’s team has said that fraud took place on both sides and insists that his better showing in the runoff was the result of an energetic campaign to mobilize his fellow ethnic Pashtuns to vote for him.
The dispute, which has delayed results for nearly a month since the initial vote, comes amid a rise in violence around the country. Civilians are killed and wounded more frequently now in Afghanistan than at any point since the arrival of American forces, the International Crisis Group said in a statement on Saturday.
Seven members of the Afghan security forces were killed in clashes with the Taliban east of the capital in Laghman Province on Saturday.
Two tribal elders and a family of eight were killed in three separate attacks in southern Afghanistan, electricity has been knocked out in the city of Kandahar, and a bomb killed two people in Jalalabad.
The power struggle between the candidates had threatened to once again plunge the country into ethnic violence. Some officials here warn that such an outcome could be even more dangerous for the country than the continuing Taliban insurgency.
“The legitimacy of this voting process is obviously at stake,” a senior administration official traveling with Mr. Kerry said in a briefing to journalists Friday evening. He was speaking on the condition that he not be named in accordance with State Department rules.
“There were millions of people that voted in the first round and then again in the second round of elections,” he said. “They deserve to be counted accurately and to demonstrate that democracy works.”
Correction: July 12, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the day of the initial vote. It was April 5, not June 14. (The latter date was the day the runoff vote was held.)
Pakistani Jets, Artillery Kill 18 in Anti-Militant Offensive
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 13:49
Pakistani jets and artillery pounded militant hideouts in a lawless tribal district, killing 18 foreign and local insurgents in a massive ongoing offensive against the Taliban, officials said Sunday.
Air strikes were carried out in Mosaki area, 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan on Sunday while artillery shelled militant hideouts in Kharkamar area, 30 kilometers west of Miranshah on Saturday night.
"Six terrorist hideouts and a huge ammunition cache were destroyed and at least 13 militants, most of them Uzbeks, were killed in the Saturday morning strikes," a security official told Agence France Presse.
He said five other insurgents were killed and two militant hideouts destroyed by artillery fire in Kharkamar area on Saturday night.
A local intelligence official confirmed the raids and militant casualties.
A military statement also said that a number of terrorists were killed but did not give the exact number.
Last month Pakistan's military launched a long-awaited offensive in North Waziristan, aimed at wiping out longstanding militant strongholds in the area, which borders Afghanistan.
Jets and artillery began hitting rebel targets on June 15 to try to regain full control of the district after years of pressure from Washington and other powers.
The assault was finally launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban.
More than 400 militants and 20 soldiers have been killed in the offensive so far, according to the military. The area is off-limits to journalists and the number and identity of the dead is impossible to verify.
The rugged mountainous area has for years been a hideout for Islamist militants of all stripes -- including al-Qaida and the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as well as foreign fighters including Uzbeks and Uighurs.
The latest air strikes came a day after militants crossed from the Afghan province of Kunar to launch a pre-dawn ambush on a check post in Bajaur tribal district, killing three Pakistani soldiers.
"Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Afghan side in Islamabad and Kabul on Saturday and reiterated that Afghanistan should eliminate the terrorist sanctuaries and not allow its territory to be used against Pakistan," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Indian Girl’s Rape Called Case of Eye-for-Eye Village Justice
By ELLEN BARRY
JULY 12, 2014
SWANG GULGULIA DHOURA, India — For many years, under a tall, spreading neem tree in the middle of this settlement, the village headman has adjudicated disputes between his neighbors, doling out tongue-lashings and occasional penalties.
This, the local police believe, is what happened here a week ago. It began with an ordinary case of bad behavior: A young man crept into a hut after dark and groped Suguna Devi, a married woman and the daughter of the village’s headman, before her shouts woke the village and he fled.
The next day, villagers waited to see what punishment the headman would impose on the assailant — until midafternoon, when they said they saw Ms. Devi’s husband drag the young man’s 13-year-old sister from her father’s hut and into the woods, where he raped her. The worst thing, said the girl’s father, was that no one did anything to stop it.
“My wife wept, but nobody listened,” said the father, Munna Pasi, 62. “My daughter said, ‘Save me, save me,’ but nobody listened. All these people became blind when he was dragging my daughter away.”
It is the latest in a series of shocking assaults that have drawn attention to remote villages in India, where police precincts are far-flung and traditional forms of justice still dominate. After a surge of news coverage of the episode, police inspectors converged on the destitute settlement of Swang Gulgulia Dhoura on Saturday.
The authorities have arrested Ghosal Pasi, 45, the village’s headman, on suspicion of ordering the rape, and his son-in-law, Nakabandi Pasi, on suspicion of rape. The girl’s brother, Harendra Pasi, is in custody, on suspicion of assaulting Ms. Devi.
Under the neem tree, the headman’s daughter lay inert on a rope cot, tears streaking her cheeks, promising that, if only her father were released, he would not mete out any more punishments. In the future, she said tonelessly, “if something will happen, people will go to the police station.”
But others warned that it would be foolish to expect an end to village justice.
“There is a practice here, to sort out matters themselves,” said Vinod Vishwakarma, head of an elected village council whose territory includes the hamlet. “I spoke to some women, they said if something like this will happen in our village again we will oppose it. But when the girl tried to seek help from people, they turned away their faces. That’s the fact.”
There have been other recent examples of sexual assaults being imposed as punishment. In January, when a woman in West Bengal was found with a married man, an elected village head sent her to a hut where she was raped repeatedly, perhaps by as many as 15 men, the police said. And in Pakistan’s Punjab Province the same month, a caste council ordered the rape of a 45-year-old woman as a penalty after her brother was accused of rape.
The residents of Swang Gulgulia Dhoura, members of an untouchable caste who traditionally earned money by begging, are strikingly isolated from mainstream society. When he began pushing for the village’s children to attend school, Anant Das, an aid worker, was shocked that the residents “were not aware of national holidays” and that many could not identify Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Only in the last few years, he said, have a few televisions appeared in the village.
“Nobody knows these people,” he said. “They have no education. They are not being treated as human beings.”
The victim, a watchful, reed-thin girl with a long ponytail, clasped and unclasped her fingers on Saturday as the adults discussed what had happened to her. On Sunday night, said Munna Pasi, her father, the girl’s brother Harendra had consumed “a kind of rice beer” and crept, partly disrobed, into Suguna Devi’s house, where he “tried to molest her.”
First thing in the morning, Mr. Pasi said, he approached the headman, seeking some settlement. “I said, ‘My son did wrong, and we are willing to take the punishment,’ ” he said. “I realized we needed to pay some fine. I said, if you want to impose a punishment, then beat him.” But when the headman gave no answer, Mr. Pasi said, he went to work scavenging coal.
While he was gone, the police say, the headman delivered his verdict.
“Ghosal told his son-in-law, ‘You do the same thing to his daughter that this man did to your wife,’ so he grabbed her and dragged her to the jungle,” said Lakshman Prasad Singh, inspector general of the Jharkhand State police. The girl’s mother, Sonamani Devi, 42, said that her daughter was folding clothes inside their hut when the headman’s daughter burst in and “caught hold of my daughter by grabbing her hand and hair” and then passed her to her husband, Nakabandi Pasi.
Sunita Devi, a neighbor, said she and other women heard the girl screaming but did nothing because, she explained, “We did not know he was going to rape her.” The girl limped back to her family’s hut 45 minutes later, and then set out on the hourlong walk to the nearest police station.
In interviews, the headman’s relatives denied that he ordered the assault or looked on as the girl was dragged away. Gupta Kumar, 18, his son, said that there was a plan to convene a council to decide on a punishment, but that Harendra did not show up, and that after that the headman slept for much of the day because he had taken a medication.
“My father did not order anything,” he said. “Out of anger my brother-in-law did this thing.”
Pressure seemed to be building in the village on Saturday. The district administration had stationed two armed guards outside the victim’s hut, and politicians had been stopping by with small cash gifts and sacks of food for the family. Mr. Pasi, his face grave and deeply lined, said that the headman’s relatives had come to him repeatedly, asking him to withdraw the charges, but that he had refused.
“When this was done to my family and my daughter, nobody came forward to help us,” he said. “Why should I be lenient to anybody?”