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« Reply #14610 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:32 AM »

Somalis speak out against female genital mutilation – audio slideshow

Since 1996, the UN children's agency has been working to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of the practice in the world. A recent survey of Somali women revealed that 98% of respondents had been been circumcised, a procedure that can result in infection, infertility and even death. Unicef's campaign has tackled FGM from a religious, community and cultural perspective. Here, a former 'cutter', a community leader, and a teenager who narrowly escaped being cut explain why the practice should be eradicated

Kate Holt, Tuesday 22 July 2014 14.01 BST   

Click to watch:


FGM and child marriage: grandmothers are part of the problem and the solution

Girls on their own can't change the norms that endanger them. Understand the role of the other women in a girl's life

Fatimah Kelleher
Guardian Professional, Thursday 17 July 2014 16.25 BST      

Child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are firmly under the spotlight at the UK government's Girl Summit this month, with both practices gaining increased recognition as barriers to both women's rights and sustainable development. But we need to move beyond the girl-centred dialogue often dominating these discussions and gain greater understanding of the role of mothers and grandmothers.

Found in diverse cultures across the globe, child marriage statistics show that one in three girls in the developing world are married by age 18, while one in nine are married by age 15. Some girls are married as young as eight or nine. FGM is found mainly in parts of Africa and the Middle East and the World Health Organisation estimates between 100 and 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to at least one of the first three steps of female genital mutilation.

Older women are sometimes at the core of such practices because they have been socialised into the patriarchal systems that uphold detrimental gender norms. "Decision-making processes for FGM are often led by older female relatives, including mothers and grandmothers, as they have the sole responsibility of making this happen as a sign of fulfilling their social responsibility", explains Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of Forward, whose work on FGM specialises in community engagement.

The centrality of mothers and grandmothers role means that they also have the potential to be disrupters. The Grandmother Project works in Senegal to strengthen communication between generations of women and also to empower grandmothers to influence male and community members towards stopping such practices. "In some cultural contexts where family decision making is collective, grandmothers play an influential role given their experience," says executive director Judi Aubel. "Conversely, it is extremely difficult for younger women, and especially for adolescent girls, to influence those decisions. It is in fact, a grandmother's culturally designated responsibility to pass on such traditions."

Girls not Brides has reported on the dangers of demonising families for continuing these practices. "Families practicing child marriage are not 'evil,' sending their children away because they don't care," says the campaign group. "Rather, they are operating within a system in which these early marriages are meant to protect the daughters they hold dear. Focusing on reasons that families practice child marriage opens up a range of possibilities to stop it." Child marriage and FGM are underpinned by a range of triggers from poverty to codes of honour and unquestioned norms integral to community identity.

Empowering girls directly has been a focus in much programming to combat these practices, and indeed, strengthening the agency of girls is central to ending them. However, girls do no not exist in a vacuum; they reside within familial relationships that have nurtured them, and the consequences of acting alone in a manner considered deviant cannot be ignored.

"We can't talk about empowering the girl child without involving the society she grows up in," says Rainatou Sow, founder and executive director of Make Every Woman Count. "It is very important to involve the community as a whole, so we need a holistic approach that addresses harmful practice and makes sure that the girl child can grow healthy and empowered within her community."

Indeed, this juxtaposition between a girl's individual sovereignty to resist harmful practices and a community's importance as a home and lynchpin of a girl's identity is difficult enough in a country like the UK, where at least emergency services, the force of law and greater access to information can to a certain extent offer some support. For many girls across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the circumstances are shakier.

"Many laws prohibiting FGM and child marriage in Africa coexist alongside customary laws therefore nullify the effectiveness of those laws," says Naana Otoo-Oyortey, who also highlights the importance of governments committing to human rights frameworks to address this tension.

At the community level, ensuring that girls are not left isolated is critical. Just as working with men and boys is pivotal to bringing about sustained change on these issues, ignoring or underestimating the role of older women would be extremely naïve.

"The alienation of those who are viewed as being cultural authorities can lead to the further entrenchment of those same harmful traditional practices," cautions Judi Aubel. "We believe that girls cannot change norms on their own and that one of their greatest needs is to have a supportive social environment around them, and that those who can best support them are other women."

The speedy transience of girlhood alongside what are often short-term girl-empowerment interventions also needs acknowledgment. Girls become women quickly in these contexts, and some will pass beyond the reach of targeted programming even before completion of the baseline research. Many will become mothers and even grandmothers themselves in short spaces of time. With that in mind, enabling women to form a compact of protection for their daughters and granddaughters is a powerful way forward.


Criminalisation will not stop FGM in east Africa

An Oxford University study has found that criminalisation of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia has lead to underground circumcisions. Social norms, not just the law, need to change

Kirrily Pells and Lorriann Robinson
Guardian Professional, Tuesday 15 April 2014 16.03 BST   
Since female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Ethiopia, some rural families have been holding clandestine circumcisions, said parents at confidential focus group discussions in Ethiopia for Oxford University's Young Lives study. Often, the ritual takes place at night in order to evade prosecution, with girls at even greater risk due to poor lighting or the use of less experienced practitioners.

As a 10-year-old, Ayu, who lives in the rural Oromia region, wanted to complete her education and become a teacher instead of getting married young. But at the age of 14 she underwent FGM and by 16 she had left school and got married.

Ayu's mother explained that the cutting was done at Ayu's request. "After she heard a girl insulting another who was not circumcised, my daughter came home and asked me to organise her circumcision. She told me she does not want to be insulted in the same way." And while her mother thought Ayu was not ready for marriage at 16 she was much more concerned about the risks her daughter would face as a young woman without the protection of a husband. "We live in corrupt and dangerous times," she said. "It is better that she is married early."

In Somaliland, the health messages about the risks associated with FGM (sometimes referred to as FGC, female genital cutting) have led to more girls undergoing clitoridectomy (the removal of the clitoris) instead of the more extreme infibulation (which involves the removal of the clitoris as well as the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal). But a forthcoming World Vision study, Examining the links between the practices of FGM/C and early marriage (available from 28 April on World Vision's website), found that since the pressure to stop infibulation has increased, the pressure on girls to marry young has intensified because they fear being perceived as more open to premarital sex if they have not had the procedure. As 15-year-old Faiza explained: "It is better for my dignity to have a husband and children now."

Martha Tureti, World Vision's gender and development co-ordinator in Kenya, believes criminalisation has failed to eradicate the practice in the country. And stand-alone interventions, such as setting up rescue centres or introducing alternative rites of passage, have not been enough to alter deeply imbedded attitudes that put a high premium on girls' sexual reputations and premarital virginity.

"If you only focus on the girls, the community still go ahead with the cutting anyway," Martha told us. "We realised the importance of including boys so that they understand the dangers of FGM because otherwise they still demand to marry girls who have been cut."

In northern Kenya, World Vision has sponsored the development of rites of passage that retain traditions like teaching the girls about their future adult roles, but replace FGM with reproductive health education that includes knowledge about the effects of genital cutting. One key to success has been persuading communities to identify their own adaptations to old traditions instead of trying to impose change from outside; holding ceremonies that include public endorsements from community leaders; and offering alternative income sources to the cutters. For example, a World Vision-sponsored ceremony involving 10-year-old girls in the northern district of Naivasha included the public endorsement of a local politician, as well as pledges from former cutters that they would abandon the practice in return for the gift of some goats that would provide them with alternative means of earning a livelihood.

A clear message from both the Young Lives and the World Vision research is that legal prohibition and intensive advocacy campaigns have not been enough to eradicate FGM. This is often because families feel unable to take the social consequences of making changes that go against the norm in close-knit traditional communities. So work towards the abandonment of FGM and early marriage must engage with the whole community and address the social norms that underpin the practices.

It is difficult for outsiders to predict what unintended consequences might arise in each circumstance as every community responds to change in different ways. But the Young Lives' focus group findings demonstrate the importance of understanding from community members why some continue practicing FGM despite prohibition. World Vision's experience has been that change is more likely if all the different interest groups in a community are involved in a non-judgmental dialogue about which solutions will work for them.

Ultimately, strategies to prevent FGM need to engage with the root causes of both FGM and early marriage: namely the unequal status of women and men, the desire to control female sexual activity and limited economic opportunities for women and girls.

Names have been changed at the request of World Vision.


How to eliminate FGM: follow Africa's lead

DfID should focus on supporting existing programmes across Africa where countries are making progress in banning the practice of female genital mutilation

Efua Dorkenoo
Guardian Professional, Monday 22 April 2013 11.16 BST

Last month the UK Department for International Development (DfID) announced that £35m would be provided to help eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa and elsewhere. This is a clear indication that the UK is committed to ending violence against women and girls (VAWG), in line with the eradication of extreme economic inequality. This also reflects the high-level panel's aim of ensuring that wealthier countries play a direct role in benefitting developing countries and is a step in the right direction towards integrating human rights into foreign policy.

In engaging with countries on FGM, it is vital that at a policy level, DfID does not convey a sense of carrying 'colonial baggage' by treading on 'egg shells' on the issue. Instead, it should recognise that the campaign to eliminate FGM has already come a long way in Africa – from the 1980s when FGM was highly politically charged and was literally a 'no-go area' – to today when African women are speaking out for themselves against the practice and leaders are calling for a global ban.

With this new source of funding, the UK has positioned itself as a true global leader. However, it is not starting from scratch and should take the lead from Africa. The protocol of the African charter on human and peoples' rights on the rights of women in Africa, which is currently in force – spells out the comprehensive approach to address FGM and other forms of VAWG. It says states should take all necessary child protection, legislative and education measures to eliminate such practices and provide support to survivors. To achieve these objectives the African Union has declared 2010-2020 the 'Decade for African women'.

FGM prevalence has been falling among the young in some countries – albeit not as quickly as desired. According to recent demographic and health surveys data, Burkina Faso has seen a 27.5% reduction in FGM between older and younger women. The Burkina Faso model employs multiple strategies. The government has had an 'end FGM' policy since 1983 and continues to advocate strongly against the practice.

At national level, it has created a secretariat, which is government-funded, to oversee work on FGM. It has a specific law banning FGM, which is enforced. It uses a multiplicity of interventions by involving religious leaders, members of the police force, medical professionals, teachers, youth and women's organisations. This has ensured that messages on FGM are communicated to the wider public and included in development programmes.

The country has also focused on disseminating information through awareness campaigns by the police and army teams, information, education, and communication projects, media exposure and a free Child Line hotline for both the public to report suspected cases and for survivors or other affected parties to receive counseling. In addition to integrating FGM into reproductive health programmes, Burkina Faso is developing a specialist clinic to address the complications of FGM. It also provides up-to-date information on FGM to monitor and evaluate the progress.

The UK is now in a privileged position and can make real progress in the elimination of FGM and other forms of VAWG along with the eradication of extreme global poverty. The two objectives go hand in hand; in many ways, they are the same thing. If we move carefully, the development advances we can now make will provide long term benefits. However, it is essential that we follow Africa's lead and recognise successes where they are already taking place.

Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, is a Ghanaian campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM). Efua is currently advocacy director of the FGM programme for Equality Now.

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« Reply #14611 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:34 AM »

07/23/2014 02:58 PM

A Damned Paradise: Does Haiti Need Tourism? Or Does It Need Justice?

By Samiha Shafy

Human rights attorney Mario Joseph and Tourism Minister Stéphanie Villedrouin are both trying to improve Haiti, but they are following radically different paths. The one wants justice, the other wants tourism.

The attorney stares at a hut next to the grave. It's made of wood and mud, and is covered with a plastic tarp. "I used to live like that," Mario Joseph says quietly, more to himself than to the three women crouching behind him in the shade of a tree.

The women are keeping watch over a rectangle of freshly dug up earth, surrounded by loose stones. One of them, Itavia Souffrant, says it is the grave of her mother. Two weeks ago, the mother had diarrhea and was vomiting, but because of heavy rains the family was unable to take her to the doctor. The mother died of cholera, the same fate suffered previously by Souffrant's three-year-old daughter and by so many others in the vicinity of Mirebalais, north of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

The three women at the gravesite have also had cholera, but they survived. They knew that they shouldn't have been drinking from the river, they say, but it was the only water available. The tablets to disinfect it are unaffordable, and they don't have enough charcoal to boil it.

Attorney Joseph believes that he has found a way to help them and all other victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. About 750,000 people have been infected with the disease and the death toll now stands at 8,500. Officials expect there to be about 45,000 new cases in 2014.

The culprit is the international community. A few months after the earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal emptied their latrines into the Artibonite River, and thus introduced the pathogen to Haiti. Until then, cholera was one of the few plagues that this poor country had been spared.

This explains why the attorney is now standing in front of a mud hut on a humid green hill, from which vapor rises in the heat. He has returned to the world from which he came in the hopes of changing it.

Joseph, 51, is a burly man with a moustache. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, a straw hat and sunglasses, he takes large gulps from his Diet Coke. He is asking the women questions in the search for information could help him realize his plan. It is as obvious as it is ludicrous: He wants to take the United Nations to court.

Justice for Haiti's Victims

It isn't actually possible to sue the UN; the organization invokes the principle of immunity, which seems cynical in this case. Nevertheless, Joseph, a well-known human rights attorney in Haiti, has filed a class action lawsuit in a federal court in New York, where the UN has its headquarters. "The peacekeepers knew that Haiti is a poor country without a waste water system," says Joseph. "They should have been extra careful, instead of dumping their fecal matter into the river!"

Joseph wants justice for Haiti's victims. In addition to his fight against the UN, he wants to see former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier brought to trial in Port-au-Prince. He also represents women who were raped in tent cities in the capital after the earthquake.

Joseph believes that for wounds to heal, they need to be examined and cleaned -- so that his wounded country can eventually recuperate. He wants to prevent the world from forgetting Haiti's suffering.

Joseph's adversary is sitting in her office in a yellow government building in Port-au-Prince. Stéphanie Villedrouin, Haiti's tourism minister, doesn't want the world to constantly hear any more tales of suffering coming from her country. She wants a Haiti that looks to the future and markets itself more effectively.

Four PR consultants are gathered around a table in Villedrouin's office. They have flown in from France, Great Britain, the United States and the Dominican Republic to hear about Villedrouin's vision of Haiti as the next vacation paradise in the Caribbean. The minister wants the marketing specialists to campaign for this vision in their respective countries.

"Which language should we speak?" asks the minister, smiling at her guests. She is fluent in English, Spanish, Creole and French. At 32, Villedrouin is the youngest and undoubtedly most attractive minister Haiti has ever had.

On this afternoon, she is wearing a pink silk blouse, black trousers, pumps, a diamond ring and diamond earrings. She has slightly wavy, caramel-colored hair, a smooth face and light skin. In Haiti, skin color is still a sign of social status. The poor are mostly black while the country's few white citizens usually have money and influence. Villedrouin is from the upper class.

Changing the Image

"The first thing people always tell me is that Haiti is a devastated country," she says. "We have to change that image."

The earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January, 2010, was the worst in a series of natural disasters that have ravaged vulnerable Haiti, a country torn by regime changes and civil wars. More than 220,000 people died.

Still, something bordering on hope emerged for a short time after the tremor. Might it this time be possible to build a better country out of the ruins? When, if not now -- now that Haiti was in the global spotlight and governments and private donors alike were promising billions of dollars for reconstruction? Aid organizations had muddled along in Haiti for decades. This time, though, they pledged to do everything differently -- and everything right.

More than four years later, most Haitians have given up hope. The tent camps in Port-au-Prince have all but disappeared, but they have been replaced by new slums on the surrounding hillsides. They look as if the next heavy rain could flush them into oblivion. The government had some of the shacks painted in bright colors so that the view from new hotels in Pétionville wouldn't be quite so depressing.

And yet, despite everything, does hope still exist in Haiti?

Villedrouin embodies the way she would like to see Haiti: dynamic, modern and elegant. She grew up in Venezuela, where her father served as the Haitian ambassador under the Duvalier regime. When the dictator was ousted in 1986, the family returned home, where it owned restaurants and hotels. Villedrouin attended a tourism school in the Dominican Republic, returned to Haiti and began convincing important people to support her vision. The fact that she became a cabinet minister at 29 is partly due to her connections, but also a result of her talent to fill people with enthusiasm for ideas that sound almost as audacious as Mario Joseph's plan to take the UN to court.

"We have to start with France," says Villedrouin. France, she notes, has a large community of Haitian immigrants who could easily be won over as tourists. She also points out that the French have a historic connection to their former colony and might be interested in visiting the country.

The next stops in the marketing campaign are Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Russia.

Saving Haiti

Villedrouin believes that her plan could help Haiti pull itself out of poverty. Tourist attractions and hotels create jobs. Hotel owners can support Haitian farmers by buying local meat and produce. And the general population also benefits from the roads and airports built primarily for tourists, such as the Hugo Chávez International Airport in Cap Haïtien, modernized with Venezuelan aid. Once the tourists arrive, says Villedrouin, things will begin looking up for Haiti.

From listening to Villedrouin and Joseph, it becomes apparent that although they represent contradictory approaches, they sometimes have the same goal: to save Haiti. Many have failed at the task. Indeed, everyone who has tried has failed, and some have even spent their entire lives in the process. Haiti was once the richest colony in the world. Today, countless tragedies later, it is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

The current list of the "25 most interesting people in the Caribbean," published by the magazine Carib Journal, lists names such as Usain Bolt and Rihanna, but it also includes two Haitians: Mario Joseph and Stéphanie Villedrouin. After being made aware of that fact, Joseph is so amused that he almost chokes on his Diet Coke. "The government would be overjoyed if the minister were the only Haitian on that list," he says.

Joseph walks down the path leading from the shack and the old woman's grave to the road, where his car is parked. One of the three women, whose name is Lizette Paul, walks behind him so that he can give her a lift. Joseph drives past a gray shell of a building without windowpanes. Inside, small children are sitting on wooden benches, singing at the top of their lungs.

Looking grim under his straw hat, the attorney says that missionaries built the school. Only a 10th of all schools in Haiti are government-run, he explains, while foreign aid workers operate the rest -- a shameful state of affairs, Joseph says. Lizette Paul concurs. In fact, she says, she voted for singer Michel Martelly in the presidential election because he had promised free schools for the poor. But now, three years into Martelly's term, she still cannot send her three children to school.

Paul, 43, first met Joseph in a church. He had come to Mirebalais to speak with victims of the cholera epidemic and tell them about his plan to file a class action suit on their behalf. Paul's one-and-a-half-year-old daughter died in the epidemic, as did her father and her brother, who had supported her and the children financially.

"At least there is someone like him in the government, someone who does his job," says Paul, pointing at the attorney. She says that she very much hopes to receive her compensation from the UN soon. Joseph shakes his head. He looks tired. "I'm not part of the government, Lizette, you know that," he says. "I'm an opponent of the government." The woman looks at him uncomprehendingly and says nothing.

'This Is About Emotions'

Joseph's Haiti, the land of the wounded, is everywhere. One would have to be blind to ignore it. Villedrouin's promising Haiti also exists, but it isn't immediately apparent.

The minister has sent her PR advisers on a tour. "This is about emotions -- either you love Haiti or you hate it," she told them as they left. "To find out, you have to see it, sense it, taste it and feel it."

The four men are now sitting in a white, air-conditioned minibus as it rattles along hellish roads throughout the country. They say nothing as the bus passes piles of debris, mountains of garbage and slums. Finally, they arrive in gated oases of calm: hotels with private beaches that charge between $15 and 20 (€11-15) for their use.

Most Haitians live on less than $1 a day. Most of the people basking in the sun on the hotel beaches are aid workers, UN employees and groups of American missionaries. They are no tourists yet.

Two of the tourism experts, the Frenchman and the Dominican, visit a place that is normally off-limits to anyone arriving by land: the Labadie Peninsula. It lies 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Port-au-Prince, and is hidden behind a tall, black, barbed-wire fence patrolled by security guards.

About two dozen men are loitering outside the fence. They watch silently as a gate into the restricted zone opens for the visitors. Royal Caribbean, the American cruise line, has leased the peninsula and developed it into a sort of high-security playground for cruise-ship passengers. Those who go on land here remain behind the fence, where they can swim, snorkel and go jet-skiing.

The two men are taken along the coast in a boat. Wild, green and untouched mountains rise from the blue waters of the Caribbean. Citadelle Laferrière, a 19th-century fortress on the UNESCO World Heritage list, sits atop a 970-meter (3,180-foot) mountain in the distance.

He sees potential, says the Frenchman. What a gorgeous landscape, and what a pretty little spot of sand, that tiny island back there, he exclaims.

One-Eyed Among the Blind

That's Amiga Island, says the skipper. Christopher Columbus supposedly landed on that spot of sand in 1492 during his voyage of discovery to the New World, and gave it its name. The Frenchman looks at the captain with amazement.

Tourism? In Haiti? Attorney Joseph shakes his head. "You'd have to sprinkle sand in the tourists' eyes so that they'd see a different reality," he says. But his next words are surprising: The minister's ideas aren't all that preposterous. Perhaps she can achieve something positive, he says, even if she is part of an incompetent government. "She's a one-eyed person among the blind."

On his way back to Port-au-Prince, Joseph travels along dirt roads filled with potholes, past scrawny horses carrying heavy loads and garishly painted vehicles to which too many people are clinging. Joseph drives an air-conditioned SUV with bulletproof windows, which he had installed because of the death threats that come with his work.

The road passes through the village of his childhood. Frail goats wobble around, and there are mud huts, but there are also small concrete houses and a small school. Joseph slows down to look out the window. "My life here wouldn't be any different that Lizette's," he says, "if I hadn't been lucky enough to go to school."

Raised by their mother, Joseph and his three siblings grew up in a mud hut. Their father left the family when they were small. His mother took in washing for a living and sometimes sold rice. "The primary school cost nine Gourdes a year, and my mother could hardly scrape together the tuition for us," he says.

As one of the most gifted pupils, Joseph was permitted to attend secondary school and a group of missionaries paid his tuition. Beginning in the 10th grade, he started working as a teacher, which enabled him to continue going to school, graduate and study law.

"Baby Doc" ruled Haiti at the time. Nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude Duvalier came into power in 1971 after the death of his father and he ruled the country the way he had learned from "Papa Doc" François. Joseph remembers how the Tontons Macoute, Duvalier's paramilitary force, would beat farmers in his village. His aunt's husband was arrested one day and then disappeared, he says, and the family never found out what had happened to him.

Indifference and Friendliness

Joseph began campaigning for human rights. In 1996, he joined the Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, which had been founded a year earlier with the support of American attorneys, and Joseph now runs the institute's office in Port-au-Prince. "I was really excited when Duvalier returned," he says. "His return could be an opportunity to show the world that abuse of power will no longer remain unpunished in Haiti."

"Baby Doc" accumulated an estimated $800 million before he was forced to flee in 1986. Some 25 years after his ouster, he returned unexpectedly from French exile, where he had squandered much of his fortune. Since then, he has been seen dining with politically influential friends in the better restaurants of Port-au-Prince.

The political elite received the former dictator with reactions ranging from indifference to friendliness. Joseph, however, announced on the radio that he was searching for witnesses to Duvalier's crimes. More than 50 people contacted him, he says, and told him about people who had been arrested for no reason, spent years in prison without trial and were tortured.

Since then, Joseph has been spending a lot of time in court. The trial was already suspended once and now it is proceeding very slowly. Still, the dictator was at least summoned once to appear in court, where Joseph and other lawyers were allowed to question him. It was a historic victory, says Joseph, but not enough. "We cannot build a country without principles."

Joseph has a wife and three children. Ten years ago, they fled to Miami because life had become too dangerous in Haiti and he visits his family once a month. "My wife understands me, sometimes," Joseph says with a smile.

Stéphanie Villedrouin hasn't seen her husband and three children very often in recent years, either. She travels around the world, searching for partners to convince of Haiti's potential as a vacation destination. She has been traveling in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic in recent days. In the spring, she spent a day at the International Tourism Exchange in Berlin. A travel agency in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg now wants to attempt to "bring Haiti closer" to its customers, as an employee puts it.

Keep Investing

When the minister is in Haiti, she frequently attends the openings of new luxury hotels, like the Royal Oasis and the El Rancho. There are plans to build a luxury resort on an island in the south. A Marriott is under construction in Port-au-Prince, signs are being made for the city's chaotic streets so that tourists can find their way around and a tourist police force of 110 officers patrols the areas around hotels and sights. Villedrouin is developing a strategy document for the next 15 years although she has less than two years remaining before a new government is elected, provided the current administration can remain in power until then.

Villedrouin is sitting in a suite in one of the new hotels in Pétionville, enjoying a quiet moment between appointments. The El Rancho, part of a Spanish chain, has pleasantly bland rooms and a pool, and it's easy to forget where you are if you don't leave the premises. Villedrouin says that she hopes to attract private investors. "I always say to them: You guys have to keep investing in tourism in this country."

And what about her? She smiles. "Well, three years ago I had no idea that I would assume such an important position for my country." She says that she is grateful for the opportunity to promote her vision. Then she abandons the attempt at modesty, which doesn't suit her. "In any case, I also want to be in a leadership position in the future. That's just the way I am," she says.

Villedrouin seems to be winning her personal battle. But can she change Haiti? She says that she respects Mario Joseph for the fact that he wants to help his country, in his way. "The Carib Journal honored him because he is apparently a capable attorney," she says. "He is doing something that he believes is helping his sisters and brothers."

The minister has no budget to build roads and she has no power to make poverty and disease disappear. The question is how far optimism goes in making things happen in Haiti's reality.

The Perfect Photo

On the tour of Haiti, Villedrouin's PR advisers visit a former sugar plantation on the Côte des Arcadins that is now a hotel. With them are two French travel writers, guests of the ministry who have been invited to write a promotional article.

A museum in the garden commemorates a bloody colonial history. Haiti is the only country in the world where slaves were able to depose their tormentors and establish their own country. The PR agents learn how brutally the country was victimized, exploited and occupied by foreign powers. To this day, Haiti has never had a chance to become a healthy country.

To lighten the mood, the hotel owner takes the group out to a reef in a speedboat, and they splash around in the water and drink chilled fruit punch. And then, just once during their tour, the two Haitis collide, that of the minister and that of the attorney.

A fisherman in a dilapidated little boat paddles up to the group. He looks like the old man in Hemingway novel: toothless and with leathery skin, calloused hands and cracked fingernails. He says nothing. He merely gazes in astonishment at the scene and waits. The group on the speedboat looks down at the fisherman, equally astonished. The foreigners ask the old man to hand them a fish, and then they take pictures and hand it back to him. It's the perfect photo, they say.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #14612 on: Jul 23, 2014, 05:57 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Crises Cascade and Converge, Testing Obama

JULY 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — Not long after a passenger jet exploded in midair and plummeted to the ground in Ukraine last week, escalating a volatile crisis pitting the United States and Europe against Russia, President Obama’s thoughts turned to Syria.

The Malaysia Airlines flight seemed to have been shot down by a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft system provided to insurgents who mistook the airliner for a military transport. In a conversation with aides, the president said this was why he refused to send antiaircraft weapons to Syrian rebels. Once they are out of a government’s control, he said, the risk only grows.   

Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once — in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but making the current upheaval more complicated for Mr. Obama is the seemingly interlocking nature of them all. Developments in one area, like Ukraine, shape his views and choices in a crisis in another area, like the Middle East.

The crosscurrents can be dizzying. Even as Mr. Obama presses Russia to stop fomenting a virtual civil war in Ukraine, he is trying to collaborate with Moscow in a diplomatic campaign to force Iran to scale back its nuclear program. Even as he pressures Iran over its nuclear program, he finds himself on the same side as Tehran in combating a rising Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Even as he sends special forces to help squelch those insurgents, he is trying to help their putative allies against the government in Syria next door.

And then there is the mushrooming conflict in Gaza, where Mr. Obama seems to be losing patience. While backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets, he sent Secretary of State John Kerry to work with Egypt to force a cease-fire. This is the same Egypt to which Mr. Obama cut financial aid for a time because its leaders came to power after the military overthrew the previous government.

“It’s a very tangled mess,” said Gary Samore, a former national security aide to Mr. Obama and now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group. “You name it, the world is aflame. Foreign policy is always complicated. We always have a mix of complicated interests. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is there’s this outbreak of violence and instability everywhere. It makes it hard for governments to cope with that.”

Little wonder then that in recent days the president seems almost to be suffering geopolitical whiplash. “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time,” he said wearily last week after making a statement in which he addressed Ukraine, Gaza, Iran and Afghanistan, all in the space of seven minutes. “And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions.”

A few months back, Mr. Obama argued that foreign relations is not a chess game. But at times, it seems like three-dimensional chess. Admirers said Mr. Obama’s strength was seeing those connections and finding ways to balance them. Critics said he allowed complexity to paralyze him at the expense of American leadership in the world.

President Obama said Israel has the right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas, but he expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in the conflict.
Publish Date July 21, 2014. Image CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

His approach to foreign policy has become more of a political liability, the subject of sharp criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted last month, 58 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of world affairs, a 10 percentage point jump in a month and the highest such number during his five and a half years in office.

Yet polls find that Americans do not want Mr. Obama to get the country enmeshed more deeply in places like Ukraine and Iraq, suggesting that he is more in touch with a broader public desire for disengagement than many of his critics even though his leadership is in question.

“Just because there are lots of global challenges doesn’t mean you have to overreact on one just to make a point,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, his deputy national security adviser. “They each have to be managed carefully in their own right. We have longer run plays that we’re running. Part of this is keeping your eye on the long game even as you go through tumultuous periods.”

Others said that long game was sometimes hard to detect in what seemed an ad hoc foreign policy. “If they had a strategy that allowed allies to understand what we’re likely to do — the principles guiding our choices — they could take coordinated and strengthening actions,” said Kori Schake, a former aide to President George W. Bush now at the Hoover Institution. “But their unpredictability discourages others from acting, which is where ‘leading from behind’ runs aground.”

The confluence of crises seems to confront Mr. Obama almost with each passing day. He has been pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to force a more robust European response to Russian aggression just as the relationship ruptured again over a new report of American spying in her country.

As the death toll rises in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, a look at the Obama administration’s strategy for reaching a cease-fire.
Video Credit By Christian Roman and Carrie Halperin on Publish Date July 22, 2014. Image CreditWissam Nassar for The New York Times

Hoping to smooth things over, Mr. Obama dispatched his White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, to Berlin, where they met with German officials on Tuesday, even as European foreign ministers were meeting separately to consider new sanctions on Russia.

As Mr. Obama tries to corral the Europeans on Russia, he must manage their discontent over Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza. He is also trying to keep Afghanistan from falling into new disarray over a disputed election while arguing that he is not making the same mistake critics believe he made in Iraq by pulling out all troops there as well.

At the same time, he has summoned Central American leaders to the White House on Friday to press them to stop the flow of children heading illegally to Texas. And some in the administration worry that with everything else going on, not enough attention is being paid to the bloody civil war in Syria.

The cascading crises reflect larger trends, according to Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. While the Cold War made for clear relationships, there is no such structure anymore. “So what you have are relationships where you may cooperate with certain countries on certain issues on certain days of the week, while on other issues on other days of the week, you may compete or simply go your own way,” he said.

R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state now at Harvard, said Mr. Obama should prioritize by focusing on forging deals in two areas in the next week, a unified response to Russia and a cease-fire in Gaza. “This is an unusually challenging time with all these overlapping crises,” he said. “The president has an opportunity here to put us back in a leadership position by responding effectively to a few of these things.”

Mr. Rhodes said that so far, the White House had not noticed much spillover from one crisis into another. Germany has been cooperative on Ukraine, Russia has not tried to torpedo the Iran talks, and Egypt has asserted itself as a peacemaker, he said.

“It’s mutual interests,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a former State Department official under Mr. Obama. “You have to assume these other leaders are grown-ups making decisions in their own interests and their cooperation is rooted in mutual interests to some degree. It’s not favor trading, international diplomacy. On this big stuff, this is about interests.”


New Questions on Health Law as Rulings on Subsidies Differ

JULY 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — Two federal appeals court panels issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for millions of Americans, raising yet more questions about the future of the health care law four years after it was signed by President Obama.

The contradictory rulings will apparently have no immediate impact on consumers. But they could inject uncertainty, confusion and turmoil into health insurance markets as the administration firms up plans for another open enrollment season starting in November.

By a vote of 2 to 1, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down a regulation issued by the Internal Revenue Service that authorizes the payment of premium subsidies in states that rely on the federal insurance exchange.
If it stands, the ruling could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace. It could also undercut enforcement of the requirement for most Americans to have insurance and the requirement for larger employers to offer it to their full-time employees.

The Justice Department said the government would continue paying subsidies to insurance companies on behalf of consumers in the 36 states that use the federal exchange, pending further review of the issue by federal courts.

Critics of the law, who said the ruling in Washington vindicated their opposition to it, did not have much time to celebrate. Within hours, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., issued a ruling that came to the opposite conclusion.

The Fourth Circuit panel upheld the subsidies, saying the I.R.S. rule was “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

The language of the Affordable Care Act on this point is “ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations,” the Fourth Circuit panel said, so it gave deference to the tax agency.

In a separate case, the Justice Department informed a federal appeals court in Denver on Tuesday that the Obama administration would issue new rules within a month revising a compromise on contraceptive coverage under the health care law in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The court ruled this month that Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, did not have to fill out certain forms that would result in birth control being provided by insurers. The administration is studying options for ensuring that women still receive the coverage. The court suggested that Wheaton could notify the government of its religious objections rather than send the opt-out forms to insurers.

Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are a major element of the health care law. Without them, many more consumers would be unable to afford coverage and could be exempted from the “individual mandate” to have insurance.

The employer mandate is enforced through penalties imposed on employers if any of their workers receive subsidies, so it could become meaningless in states where subsidies were unavailable.

The White House rejected the ruling of the appeals court panel in Washington and indicated that the Justice Department would ask the full court to review it. The Obama administration has consistently underestimated court challenges to the health care law, including one decided in 2012 by the Supreme Court, which upheld the individual mandate.

At least two other cases on subsidies are pending in federal district courts, in Oklahoma and Indiana.

In the case decided in Washington on Tuesday, Halbig v. Burwell, the appeals court panel said that the Affordable Care Act made subsidies available only to people who obtained insurance through exchanges established by states.   

The law “does not authorize the I.R.S. to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal exchanges,” the panel said. The law, it said, “plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states.”

Aides to Mr. Obama said the ruling seemed to fly in the face of common sense.

“You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “I think that is a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”

Reacting to the ruling, a Justice Department spokeswoman, Emily Pierce, said, “We believe that this decision is incorrect, inconsistent with congressional intent, different from previous rulings and at odds with the goal of the law.”

Under this ruling, many people could see their share of premiums increase sharply. Subsidies reduced the average premium to $82 a month from $346, according to the administration.

The majority opinion in the case here was written by Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, with a concurring opinion by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a senior circuit judge, who was appointed by the elder President George Bush.

“Our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly,” Judge Griffith said. “But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still.”

Another member of the appeals court panel, Judge Harry T. Edwards, a senior circuit judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter, filed a dissent in which he described the lawsuit as an “attempt to gut” the law. The majority opinion, he said, “defies the will of Congress.” He said that the Obama administration’s reading of the law was “permissible and reasonable, and, therefore, entitled to deference.”

A similar approach was taken by the Fourth Circuit panel in its case, King v. Burwell. Judge Roger L. Gregory, who received a recess appointment from President Bill Clinton and a permanent appointment from President George W. Bush, said that the rival interpretations of the law by the plaintiffs and by the Obama administration appeared to be “equally plausible.”

But, Judge Gregory said, the administration’s position helps achieve “the broad policy goals” of the Affordable Care Act. “The economic framework supporting the act would crumble if the credits were unavailable on federal exchanges,” he said.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Andre M. Davis, a senior judge on the appeals court, said the plaintiffs’ argument “would effectively destroy the statute.” It would, he said, “deny to millions of Americans desperately needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction” of the law. Judge Davis and the other judge on the panel, Stephanie D. Thacker, were appointed by Mr. Obama.

The health law authorized subsidies specifically for insurance bought “through an exchange established by the state.”

When the law was adopted, Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats assumed that states would set up their own exchanges. But many Republican governors and state legislators balked, and opposition to the law became a rallying cry for the party.

The lawsuit in Washington, championed by conservative and libertarian groups, was filed by people in states that use the federal exchange: Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. They objected to being required to buy insurance, even with subsidies to help defray the cost.

One of the plaintiffs, David Klemencic, who has a carpet store in Ellenboro, W.Va., said: “If I have to start paying out for health insurance, it will put me out of business. As Americans, we should be able to make our own decisions in matters like this.”

Democrats said the Fourth Circuit ruling validated the law, which they passed in 2010 without any Republican votes. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said the plaintiffs’ reading of the law was “obviously false.”

By contrast, Speaker John A. Boehner praised the ruling of the appeals court panel in Washington. It showed, he said, that “President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable.”


An Ominous Health Care Ruling

JULY 22, 2014

Millions of low- and moderate-income people who signed up for health insurance with the help of federal tax-credit subsidies could find themselves without coverage or facing big premium bills if a destructive decision handed down by a federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday is not reversed. It would be a crippling blow to the ability of the Affordable Care Act to reduce the ranks of the uninsured with grievous consequences for vulnerable customers.

For now, consumers are expected to retain their coverage and tax credits while this and similar suits in other jurisdictions wend their way through the court system. Just hours after the ruling in Washington, a federal appeals court panel in Richmond, Va., ruled the opposite way, finding that Congress intended to make the tax credits available nationwide.

Under the decision of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, people living in 36 states, mostly led by Republican governors or legislatures, would be in jeopardy because their states refused to set up “exchanges” or electronic marketplaces on which individuals can shop for insurance plans and apply for subsidies based on their incomes.

For the most part, the political leaders in those states wanted nothing to do with what they deride as Obamacare, and left it up to the federal government to set up exchanges for their residents. People fortunate enough to live in the 14 states and the District of Columbia that have set up their own exchanges would escape the effect of this mindless and harmful ruling.

The 2-to-1 decision issued by the panel hinged on how to interpret language in the Affordable Care Act that most experts agree was poorly drafted and would ordinarily have been corrected by a Congressional conference committee. In this instance, there was no conference committee because the law was passed on a take-it-or-leave-it vote in the House to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Two Republican-appointed judges on the panel, taking an incredibly narrow and blinkered view, concluded that the language in the law allows the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax-credit subsidies only on exchanges established by the states. They decided that the statute’s wording does not allow subsidies on federally created exchanges — even though those exchanges carry out exactly the same purpose and, in effect, act on behalf of the states. The administration had expected most states to create their own exchanges, but most handed that task to the federal government.

The third judge, a Democratic appointee, called the majority opinion what it clearly was, a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut” the health care law. He argued that the law sought to achieve “near-universal coverage” of all Americans and that this could only be achieved with the help of subsidies working in tandem with a mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. It defies common sense to think that Congress really intended that there be no subsidies at all in 36 states.

The Obama administration is expected to appeal the decision to the full appellate court, whose 11 members include seven Democratic and four Republican appointees. What is needed is common sense in interpreting the law, not ideological opposition to Obamacare.

The three-judge appeals panel on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, while acknowledging ambiguities in the language of the law, unanimously and properly upheld the subsidies as a permissible exercise of discretion by the I.R.S.


Federal Court Ruling That Obamacare Subsidies Are Illegal Expected To Be Overturned

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 12:37 pm

Today, in a 2-1 split decision, the Republican judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals embraced a controversial interpretation of the ACA that believes all subsidies issued through the federal marketplace are illegal. The decision is expected to be overturned.

The ruling depended on a narrow reading of the statute to conclude that subsidies are only legal for state exchanges, “Because we conclude that the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges ‘established by the State,’ we reverse the district court and vacate the IRS’s regulation.”

The only way that this ruling makes any sense at all is if one ignored the legislative intent of Congress when the law was drafted.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during his daily briefing, “While this ruling is interesting to legal theorists, it has no practical impact” on individuals’ ability to currently receive tax credits for their health care. You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand Congress intended” for qualified individuals to receive tax credits regardless of who was administering the exchange.

Two courts had previously ruled in favor of the administration. This is the first ruling that has gone against the ACA.

The likely outcome here was described by Ron Pollack of Families USA:

    It is most likely that today’s split decision, which would take away premium subsidies for almost five million low- and moderate-income people, will never go into effect.

    It will inevitably be placed on hold pending further proceedings; will probably be reheard by all of the 11-member active D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals members, who predictably will reverse it; and runs contrary to an expected ruling on a similar case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
    Today’s decision represents the high-water mark for Affordable Care Act opponents, but the water will recede very quickly.

The Republican victory today was fairly meaningless. It is extremely unlikely that it will hold up on appeal, and it is questionable as to whether or not that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case. Republicans are celebrating something that in the big picture will not change anything.

Ironically, this “victory” will end up politically backfiring on the GOP. Over 18 million people have health insurance thanks to the ACA. Republicans are now arguing that those people should lose the subsidies that help cover the cost of their insurance. Democrats can argue that Republicans are trying to raise the cost of health insurance.

Republicans want to make the 2014 election about Obamacare, but thanks to this ruling, Democrats will be forcing them into a discussion that they don’t want to have. The Republican Party continues to rejoice over the prospect of Americans being denied affordable healthcare. This is why the GOP is will pay at the ballot box in November


John Boehner Makes A Fool Out of Himself Trying To Use ACA Subsidy Ruling To Push His Lawsuit

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 4:27 pm   

After the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that Obamacare subsidies were illegal for the federal marketplace, Speaker Boehner jumped the gun with a statement that pushed his lawsuit against President Obama.

Boehner said:

For the second time in a month, the courts have ruled against the president’s unilateral actions regarding ObamaCare. The president has demonstrated he believes he has the power to make his own laws. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. That’s why the House will act next week to authorize a lawsuit to uphold the rule of law and protect our Constitution. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats; it’s about the Constitution versus unconstitutional and unilateral actions by the Executive Branch, and protecting our democracy.

Today’s ruling is also further proof that President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed. The American people recognize that ObamaCare is hurting our economy and making it harder for small businesses to hire, and that’s why Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower health care costs and protect American jobs.”

The problem is that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA handed down a ruling that disagreed with everything that Boehner said. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the subsidies were legal. By jumping the gun with his statement, Rep. Boehner looks like a fool. Boehner’s office has not commented on the second ruling, which leads one to believe that he is simply going to pretend that it does not exist.

Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit has nothing to do with the issue that was ruled on today. The court’s ruled on whether the law covers subsidies for the federal marketplace or is limited to state-run exchanges. It is the height of dishonesty for the Speaker to suggest that these lawsuits have anything to do with his claim that President Obama is making his own laws.

One lawsuit that does directly relate to Speaker Boehner’s was not mentioned in his statement. Boehner doesn’t want to discuss the fact that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) tried to sue President Obama for making his own laws on Obamacare and had his suit thrown out of court because he lacked standing.

John Boehner demonstrated that he is a terrible Speaker of the House, but he excels at making a fool out of himself. The second ruling killed the Republican talking point that Obamacare is illegal and doomed while Speaker Boehner is on another planet still trying to sell his bogus lawsuit to a disbelieving public.


Outrageous Ruling On Obamacare Subsidies Is A Call To Arms For Liberals

By: Eric Shapiro
Tuesday, July, 22nd, 2014, 8:35 pm   

In a major blow to the Affordable Care Act, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled this morning in Halbig V. Burwell that states without their own insurance exchanges cannot receive federal subsidies to pay for healthcare. If this ruling stands – the Obama Administration will challenge it and stands a very good chance of winning – middle- and low-income Americans who have reaped the benefits of subsidized healthcare under the Affordable Care Act will be subject to higher prices than they can afford. While last month’s Hobby Lobby ruling was a travesty, this ruling is more wide-reaching and potentially devastating to the Affordable Care Act as a whole. Without subsidies, the GOP can claim, as it has all along, that the Affordable Care Act renders healthcare more expensive for Americans. The mandate will backfire, forcing Americans who are no longer entitled to subsidies to shoulder greater costs, potentially creating a backlash against a law that has expanded coverage to millions of Americans so far. It is tempting to dismiss longshot rulings like today’s as empty GOP desperation, but each and every joke of a case is symptomatic of a broader threat to progressive legislation: conservative judicial activism. After all, it only takes one successful ruling, upheld by conservatives on the Supreme Court, to cripple a law. And today’s is just one of many.

Take a look at the decision here

There is tremendous hypocrisy in the GOP’s constant claims of an “imperial presidency” for relatively minor executive actions even as they use the judiciary to cripple a law passed in both houses of Congress. Think about this for a second: two un-elected judges playing word games with quotes lifted out of context from a long, extremely complex piece of legislation could theoretically decide the nature of America’s healthcare system. Before we laugh off rulings like today’s, we should consider how a quack like Scalia might react to a ruling that we consider ridiculous.

The media has focused on high-profile and fruitless challenges to Obamacare in Congress, such as Ted Cruz’s petulant government shutdown and John Boehner’s frivolous lawsuit. However, Republicans cannot currently inflict lasting damage on Obamacare through Congress because Democrats still have enough seats to block challenges and, if worst comes to worst, Obama can wield the veto pen. Boehner, meanwhile, lacks the standing and precedent to challenge the president’s discretion to enforce a law in accordance with changing conditions. The courts pose the real danger, as they need neither electoral majorities nor standing to tear apart the law.

The conservative movement that came to power with Reagan’s election in 1980 and held the presidency for most of the next three decades (with the exception of Bill Clinton’s presidency) allowed the Republican Party to stack the courts, both federal and local, with activist judges bent on imposing a reactionary vision on the country. The Obama and Clinton Administrations have done their best to reverse this disaster, but the damage is not yet undone. As long as conservatives control the courts, all liberal accomplishments in the legislature are subject to crippling sabotage. The Supreme Court already struck down Obama’s Medicaid expansion, depriving millions of Americans of healthcare. If, on top of this, federal subsidies are denied to more than half the states, the Affordable Care Act as it was passed will be unrecognizable. All that without the GOP winning a single vote in Congress. With such a precedent established, will future Democratic presidents dare risk taking on healthcare reform and other ambitious goals?

All is not lost if today’s ruling serves as a lesson for liberals. It is not enough to vote in presidential elections, watch Congress pass ambitious progressive legislation, then stay at home in the midterms and hope for the best. If we do not elect durable majorities in Congress that allow our president to appoint and confirm judges to the Supreme Court, the DC Court of Appeals and other key judicial posts, all of our grassroots activism, all of our get-out-the-vote efforts will be for naught. We should not see today’s ruling as cause for despair, but rather a reminder of just how much is at stake moving forward. Obamacare still stands, but we cannot assume that it will inevitably survive as the one, shining example of Obama’s legacy; that kind of self-satisfied complacency can only lead to disaster. The composition of our Congress in 2015 could very well determine whether liberals build a strong judicial presence that will last for a generation or allow Republicans to maintain their dominion over the courts. The composition of our Congress in 2015 will determine President Obama’s ability to appoint a progressive voice to the Supreme Court. With Ginsberg likely to retire soon, we cannot allow the GOP to stall the confirmation of a progressive justice or perhaps worse, force Obama into appointing someone who does not bring a progressive vision to the bench.

Today’s ruling isn’t just about Obamacare. It’s about the capacity of government to pass ambitious, complex, multi-faceted progressive legislation to benefit the American people. In other words, its about liberalism as a tenable political philosophy. If courts can pick away at every government program piece by piece for blatantly political reasons, how can we accomplish any liberal priorities? After all, dealing with climate change, inequality and other pressing issues will, if anything, require even more ambitious legislation than the Affordable Care Act. In terms of healthcare alone, can we ever have a single-payer option if Obamacare, a relatively modest attempt to improve healthcare in America, fails? Healthcare subsidies may not seem as sexy or pressing to average voters as a blatant attempt to deny women their reproductive rights, but it is incumbent on liberals to explain what’s at stake before it’s too late. Regardless of whether it stands, let today’s ruling be a call to arms.

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« Reply #14613 on: Jul 24, 2014, 05:57 AM »

MH17: Ukraine separatist commander 'admits' rebels had Buk missile system

Alexander Khodakovsky reportedly told news agency rebels may have received Buk from Russia, then changes story

Shaun Walker in Donetsk
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 23.28 BST   

A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.

Alexander Khodakovsky, who leads the Vostok battalion – one of the main rebel formations – said the rebels may have received the Buk from Russia, in the first such admission by a senior separatist.

"That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence," Khodakovsky told Reuters.

Russian news agencies later said people close to Khodakovsky denied he made the admissions. Khodakovsky himself told Life News, a Russian news agency with links to Moscow's security services, that he was misquoted and had merely discussed "possible versions" with Reuters. Khodakovsky said the rebels "do not have and have never had" a Buk.

As two further Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down, apparently by missiles fired from within Russia, Khodakovsky appeared to imply that MH17 was indeed downed by a missile from the Buk, assuming the interview with Reuters is confirmed. He blamed Ukrainian authorities, however, for allowing civilian jets to fly over its airspace when the rebels had such capabilities.

"The question is this: Ukraine received timely evidence the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia," he said. "It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians."

Other leaders have repeatedly denied the rebels had a Buk, despite photographic and video evidence of one in the area of the crash last Thursday. There are rivalries and hatred between many of the rebel formations and Khodakovsky is believed to be out of favour with Igor Strelkov, the main commander of the Donetsk rebels.

However, his apparent admission about the Buk chimes with evidence on the ground. This week the Guardian also spoke to witnesses who said they saw a missile-launching system that looked like a Buk drive through Torez, near the crash site, last Thursday, a few hours before the plane was downed.

Khodakovsky said he did not know where the missile system had come from but it may have come from Russia. He added the separatists had seized several Buk systems from Ukrainian bases, but none of them were operational.

"I'm not going to say Russia gave these things or didn't give them," he said, according to Reuters. "Russia could have offered this Buk under some entirely local initiative. I want a Buk, and if someone offered me one, I wouldn't turn it down. But I wouldn't use it against something that did not threaten me. I would use it only in circumstances when there was an air attack on my positions, to protect people's lives."

The apparent admission came as the first bodies arrived in the Netherlands, after a long journey from Torez by train to Kharkiv, and then by plane to the Netherlands. Separatists said they loaded 282 bodies on to the train, but Dutch experts suggested the number actually handed over could be much lower. Monitors at the crash site say there are still human remains lying on the ground.

So far, only monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have visited the site, but in purely reporting function rather than any investigative role.

They were accompanied once by a three-man Dutch forensic team who monitored the transfer of bodies to the train but did not investigate the causes of the crash, and for the past two days by a small Malaysian delegation. There is still no security cordon around the site. The Dutch have taken the leading role in the international investigation, with the Dutch safety board taking charge of the team. On Wednesday, they said unfettered access to the crash site was crucial.

Spokesman Tjibbe Joustra told the Associated Press that around 25 investigators have arrived in Kiev and are analysing information from the crash site, including photographs, satellite images and radar information. However, they have not yet visited the site.

"We haven't yet got guarantees about security for our way of working," said Joustra. "If we go we have to be able to move freely. We hope to be able to get to the site soon."

It is unclear what they are waiting for. The rebels have said they are happy for any investigators to arrive and work at the site, and while the area is unquestionably dangerous given the ongoing military action in the vicinity, it is unlikely to become safer any time soon.

OSCE spokesperson Michael Bociurkiw said his team would do the best they can. "There has been a lot of talk about why there have been so few experts … We again feel that the work that remains to be done should be done by those far better qualified than us, yet in their absence we will continue to do the basic monitoring that we can."

The Dutch safety board also said that early examination of the black boxes from MH17, which have been sent to Britain for decoding, showed no evidence they had been tampered with. The black boxes were handed to a Malaysian delegation earlier this week in Donetsk by the region's self-declared prime minister, Alexander Borodai, who used the occasion to accuse Ukrainian forces of downing the plane.

Also on Wednesday, Ukraine's security council said two of its Su-25 military jets had been shot down, and added that the planes could have been brought down by missiles fired from inside Russia's borders.

"Two of our jets were hit at an altitude of 5,200 metres. According to preliminary information, the missiles were launched from the territory of the Russian Federation," the council said in a statement.

The planes were flying far lower than the altitude above 10,000 metres where MH17 was when it was shot down, but still out of usual range for the Manpad shoulder-launched missiles the rebels are known to possess.

Footage purporting to be from the crash scene of one of the planes showed a group of rebels arriving to find the burning wreckage.

One of them said the pilot had parachuted out before the plane crashed and the men set off to search for him.


Ukraine jets downed near MH17 site by ‘missile from Russia’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 13:34 EDT

Two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down Wednesday in the rebel-held area where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed were hit by missiles fired from Russian soil, Ukraine’s military said.

“According to preliminary information, the rockets were launched from Russian territory,” Kiev’s National Security and Defence Council said in a statement.

The planes came down close to the village of Dmytrivka, some 45 kilometres (25 miles) south-east of the MH17 crash site towards the Russian border, as they were providing air support for government infantry, the statement said.

The security council added that the Su-25 jets were flying at an altitude of 5,200 metres.

Pro-Russian rebels have insisted on several occasions that they were not equipped with weapons capable of hitting targets above an altitude of 2,500 metres.

However, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic told AFP its fighters had shot down the two aircraft.

An AFP crew trying to reach the scene were turned back by rebels who fired shots near their car some 10 kilometres from Dmytrivka.

The press office for Kiev’s military campaign against the insurgents had earlier blamed “pro-Russian bandits” fighting in Ukraine for downing the jets.

The pilots from both jets managed to parachute out, it said, giving no further details about their condition.

The downing of the government jets comes just six days after the insurgents were accused of shooting down the Malaysian passenger plane using a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board.

Pro-Russian rebels battling government troops in the east had previously taken out a string of Ukrainian military aircraft during their 15-week insurgency.

Kiev alleged last week that an airforce transport plane was shot down from across the Russian frontier while another Su-25 jet was gunned down by a Russian plane.

The rebels have denied that they attacked flight MH17 as it flew at some 10,000 metres, accusing the Ukrainian military of being responsible for hitting the jet.

The latest incident came after a ceasefire was declared by both sides in the immediate vicinity of the Boeing 777 crash site, where Malaysian experts and international monitors were examining the airliner’s wreckage on Wednesday.

Earlier, the first 40 bodies recovered from MH17 were flown out of the government-held city of Kharkiv bound for Eindhoven in the Netherlands.


Ukraine Fighting Rages as EU Mulls Russia Sanctions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 12:38

Fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels raged Thursday near the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17, as experts in Britain begin analyzing crucial data from the downed airliner's black boxes.

A Dutch team leading the probe into the downing of MH17 was stuck in Kiev, unable to join a handful of international investigators at the site, after two warplanes were shot down Wednesday just 45 kilometers from the impact scene in insurgent-held territory.

As the EU prepares to hit Russia with further sanctions over allegations it is arming the separatists accused of downing MH17, dozens more bodies are to be flown to the Netherlands, a day after the first 40 corpses arrived in the grieving nation.

Experts say many remains are still lying in the vast crash site where recovery work has grounded to a halt a week after the disaster, with Dutch authorities saying they can only be sure that 200 corpses have been recovered from the 298 people killed on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that there was still a need for a rigorous search of the debris zone.

"On the site it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who brought the plane down in the first place," he said.

"There has still not been anything like a thorough professional search of the area where the plane went down, and there can't be while the site is controlled by armed men with vested interest in the outcome of the investigation."

Rebels and government forces have declared a ceasefire in the immediate vicinity of the site, but just beyond, fierce fighting was ongoing.

Ukrainian military said that rockets were being fired "from the Russian side," hitting locations close to Lugansk airport and in several areas in the Donetsk region.

Mortar shells also rained down on Avdiyika in Donetsk region, the army said, without giving details of casualties.

An AFP crew seeking to access one of these combat hotspots Wednesday was turned back by rebels, who fired at their car.

Kiev said the missiles that downed two fighter jets were fired from Russian territory, and that while the pilots ejected safely, there was no information about their whereabouts.

As government troops push on with their offensive to wrest control of east Ukraine's industrial heartland from the pro-Moscow separatists, the Red Cross warned both sides to abide by the Geneva Conventions, declaring that it considered the country to be in a state of civil war.

In Brussels, the EU was looking at punishing Russia, which it accuses of fanning the rebellion in Ukraine's east by arming the separatists.

The bloc said Tuesday it will decide on a list of Russian individuals and entities which it would sanction for providing "material or financial support" to those responsible for the March annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory and destabilizing the east of the country, where MH17 came down.

The rat faced Pig Putin is staring down fresh European sanctions just a week after the last round was unveiled over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, which has seen East-West tensions spike to their highest point in years.

U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe the rebels mistakenly shot down the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.

British experts succeeded in downloading the data from the black boxes -- handed over by the rebels following intense international pressure -- and are set to start examining the vital contents.

Kiev said the Netherlands and other countries that lost citizens are proposing to send police to secure the crash site, amid reports by international monitors at the scene that debris has been moved increased fears that evidence was being tampered with.

The arrival of the first bodies from the crash in the Netherlands -- which lost 193 citizens -- on Wednesday brought the grief-stricken nation to a standstill, with a solemn ceremony held at the Eindhoven airport before 1,000 bereaved relatives and members of the Dutch royal family.

Dozens more bodies are due to be flown Thursday to the Netherlands, where they would undergo an identification process that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned could take months.

Dutch police have been visiting the bereaved to retrieve DNA samples from items such as hairbrushes, and obtain details of tattoos and fingerprints, as well as consulting medical and dental records to help with the identification.


Russia Calls on U.S. to Show Proof of Missile Claims

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 10:42

A senior Russian official called Thursday on the United States to prove its claims that the Malaysian passenger airliner shot down last week was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

"They've said U.S. intelligence has technical data and satellite photos which show that the missile was launched from rebel-held territory. The question is where is this data", Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in an interview with Russia-24 television.

U.S. officials have in recent days said that satellite and other "technical" intelligence confirmed the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 with 298 people on board was hit last Thursday by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by the pro-Russian rebels.

A senior U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Tuesday in Washington that: "It's a solid case that it's a SA-11 that was fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create."

Washington has accused Russia of supplying pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine with weapons, a charge Moscow denies.

Russian military officials on Monday said their flight records showed a Ukrainian fighter jet was close to the Malaysian passenger airliner just before the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 and that Kiev was operating radar stations used for missile systems.

Pro-Russian separatists have shot down a number of Ukrainian military aircraft in recent weeks.


Netherlands mourns as bodies of MH17 plane crash victims are flown home

Dutch royals and premier Mark Rutte join relatives at Eindhoven airport to receive 40 coffins arriving from Ukraine disaster site

Philip Oltermann in Eindhoven and Amsterdam
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 20.53 BST   

Coffin carried, MH17 victim at Eindhoven, Netherlands
A coffin of a person who died on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is moved at Eindhoven airbase, Holland.

As the first coffin was lowered from the planes on the runway, silence fell over Eindhoven military airport. The only sound came from a row of flags whipping in the wind at half mast.

Almost a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot from the skies above Ukraine, 40 bodies arrived on Wednesday in the Netherlands, the country that bore the heaviest toll in the crash.

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, joined about 1,000 relatives and friends of the victims, who gathered at the airport for a ceremony receiving the two military transport planes.

A lone trumpeter played the Last Post as troops in dress uniform saluted then carried the wooden caskets to a row of hearses. They drove from the airport under military police escort to an army barracks in the central city of Hilversum where forensic experts were waiting to begin the painstaking task of identifying the remains.

Crowds gathered on bridges along the 65-mile route to throw flowers on to the convoy of 40 hearses.

The Dutch government had declared a day of national mourning – the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962 – and at 4.07pm a minute's silence was requested across the country.

Two-hundred and ninety-eight passengers and crew were killed when the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar was shot down last Thursdaya week today. The Dutch victims numbered 193. In a nation of just 16 million, few have been unaffected by the disaster.

"Holland is a small country. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who died in the crash," said Peter, who was waiting at Schipol airport. "It has completely changed how we look at the conflict in the Ukraine. Everybody talks about it: neighbours, colleagues, relatives."

Some have inevitably described the biggest aviation disaster in Dutch history as "Holland's 9/11" – a misleading term, not least because the Dutch passengers on flight MH17 are not thought to have been targeted deliberately.

And yet, relations between the Netherlands, home to the majority of the victims, and Russia, accused by some of aiding those who carried out the attack, have in recent days become increasingly fraught.

At Schiphol airport, where on the day after the crash there was still a sense of business carrying on as usual, the mood was now different.

The impromptu shrine outside terminal three, little more than a pile of flowers on Friday, had grown into a sea of bouquets, teddy bears and candles. A letter to one of the victims described him as a "kind, gentle and funny person". The card read: "Even in death he's still a better bloke than all of us."

A woman named Miranda said she had come to the airport specially to lay down flowers. She used to live in Asia, she said, and had a lot of friends who regularly flew with Malaysia Airlines. Something in her attitude, and that of friends, towards Russa, had altered over the last week, she said. "At first we were numb but now there are a lot of angry feelings coming up."

In a widely shared article, the writer Bas Heijne criticised his government's "overtly cautious, strangely muted" response to the disaster. The Dutch, Heijne argued, had always defined themselves somewhere on a scale of pragmatism and moralising, "the Dutch merchant and the Protestant preacher".

In recent years the merchant had gained the upper hand; wagging the finger at countries like Russia, many politicians and businessmen warned, only damaged the economy. So the government had done little to defend itself when the evil Pig Putin accused the Netherlands of "promoting paedophilia" or when Dutch Greenpeace activists were arrested for getting too close to a Russian oil platform. "For too long," Heijne wrote, "the Dutch government has coddled the dictator in Moscow."

Other commentators accused Dutch leaders of letting commercial interests get in the way of diplomatic consequences. Last year Russia exported goods and services worth $70bn to the Netherlands. If one country could seriously hurt Putin with trade sanctions, said one analyst in the German newspaper Die Welt, it was the Netherlands.

Frustration with the delayed return of the air crash victims' bodies, and reports in the Dutch media that the crash site had been looted, have affected the country's mood. Where at first there had been calm and composure, there were now also flashes of anger.

Hans de Borst, whose 17-year-old daughter, Elsemiek, died in the crash, wrote an open letter to the stinking PIg Putin and pro-Russia separatists, which he put on Facebook: "Aforementioned misters, I hope you're proud to have shot her, amongst other, young life and future. And that you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning."

Politicians have adjusted their rhetoric accordingly. "All of the Netherlands feels their anger," said Rutte on Sunday, after meeting relatives. "All of the Netherlands feels their deep grief. All of the Netherlands is standing with the next of kin."

Frans Timmermans, the foreign minister, previously hesitant about calling for sanctions, adopted a notably firmer stance at a meeting of ministers in Brussels on Monday: "There is no Dutch blockade of further sanctions. The Netherlands wants the European Union [to make] a united, and also strong, clear, statement against the unrest in eastern Ukraine."

As if to symbolically underline Holland's newfound resolve, the row of flags at Eindhoven airport included a Ukrainian, but no Russian, flag, even though there were no Ukrainian nationals among the victims.

At Schiphol, the Hoogewoud family had stopped off to leave flowers after seeing off their youngest daughter, who was flying to Thailand.

Marloek, the older daughter, said a Spanish friend had sent her a Facebook message after the crash expressing hope that the Dutch government would press charges against the pro-Russian separatists. "But that's not people's first reaction here."

Her father, Ferdinand Hoogewoud, said: "How can we expect politicians in Russia or the Ukraine to take responsibility after two days, when it took the Netherlands two decades to own up to its role in Srebrenica?" Only a day before the MH17 crash a Dutch court had ruled that the government was liable for the deaths of about 300 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

"The crisis in the Ukraine used to feel very far away," observed Hoogewoud. "Now it's our problem too. We can't push it away."


British Experts Examine Second MH17 Black Box

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 13:42

British investigators have started examining the second black box from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine, the transport ministry said Thursday.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in Farnborough, southwest of London, is looking at the flight data recorder, which records information from instruments on the plane.

On Wednesday AAIB experts downloaded "valid data" from the first black box, the cockpit voice recorder, which should give them hours of the pilots' conversations.

"They have started examining the Flight Data Recorder," a Department for Transport spokesman told AFP on Thursday.

"The analysis of any data will be done by an international team led by the Dutch."

The boxes -- which are actually orange in color -- were delivered to Farnborough by the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), which is leading an international investigation into the crash in which 298 people died, 193 of them Dutch.

Pro-Russian rebels controlling the crash site handed the boxes over to Malaysian officials on Tuesday, following an international outcry over the treatment of the wreckage and the bodies of the victims.

The OVV said on Wednesday that the data from the cockpit voice recorder data "was successfully downloaded and contained valid data from the flight. The downloaded data have to be further analyzed and investigated".

If the second black box also contains "relevant information" then the data from both boxes will be combined, it said.

The OVV is coordinating investigation teams from eight different countries, including Russia.

Western governments say the evidence points to the Boeing 777 plane having been shot down with a missile by pro-Russian separatists.


MH17 crash site: Australian foreign minister pushes for access

Julie Bishop says negotiations are under way amid reports Australian police and troops may be deployed to area

Gabrielle Chan and agencies, Thursday 24 July 2014 03.29 BST   

The crash site of MH17 remains under the control of Russian-backed separatists and negotiations for access for international investigators are under way, the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has said.

The Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, and Bishop will be meeting Ukrainian leaders to build on government discussions with a range of leaders over how best to secure the site.

The Australian prime minister’s office refused to confirm reports on Thursday that a federal police taskforce protected by Australian troops could be deployed in days, saying discussions were ongoing.

Bishop and the Australian governor general, Peter Cosgrove, attended a memorial ceremony at Eindhoven air force base to mark the arrival of the first plane carrying the remains of the victims of the air disaster.

Cosgrove said it was important that victims’ remains were received by “their respective nations”.

"There is a long road ahead but now we can care for those taken from us in this unthinkable tragedy, and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Cosgrove said.

"Today I say to Australian mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, mates – many of your loved ones are now in friendly arms.”

The Dutch and Australian foreign ministers will meet Ukraine’s leaders in Kiev to discuss the implementation of the UN security council resolution.

Australia’s special envoy, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, will brief the foreign ministers and they will meet the Australian government inter-agency team. There are now 200 Australian officials from various agencies in the Netherlands and Ukraine.

Bishop also met the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, in the Netherlands to discuss progress on the international investigation.

Meanwhile, hundreds gathered at a multi-faith service in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, to pay their respects to those killed in the disaster.

The service brought together religious leaders from across the city to lead prayers for the victims and their families.

The head of the Anglican church in Australia said those left behind deserved to know why their loved ones died.

"From what we know, someone gave orders to destroy MH17. It cannot be true that no one knows what happened," the Anglican primate, Archbishop Philip Freier, told the congregation on Thursday.

Freier said the families faced a frustrating wait to find out if the people who shot the plane down would face justice.

"What might not always be satisfied in this world, will certainly find its true measure in the judgment of God," he said.

Freier said the bodies should be returned so families could grieve and say goodbye properly.

The Victorian premier, Denis Napthine, read a poem by the Dutch-American Henry van Dyke, as candles were lit to commemorate those who died.

Sheikh Moustapha Sarakibi said a Muslim prayer, Hojun Futen gave a Buddhist blessing, and Cantor Bruce Levin sang a Jewish lament.

Malaysia’s consul general, Mohamad Rameez Bin Yahaya, and the Dutch honorary consul, Hans Nieuwland, lit candles as a tribute to the many who died from their countries.


MH17: Dutch mayor wants Shit Stain Pig Putin's daughter Maria deported

Pieter Broertjes called for 29-year-old to be expelled from the Netherlands in wake of plane disaster but later apologised

Philip Oltermann in Amsterdam, and Shaun Walker in Donetsk
The Guardian,
Wednesday 23 July 2014 13.46 BST   

Dutch frustration with Russia in the wake of the MH17 crash is taking on an increasingly personal note, as some called for the shit stain Pig Putin's daughter to be deported from the Netherlands.

Pieter Broertjes, the mayor of the city of Hilversum, used a radio interview on Wednesday morning to call for 29-year-old Maria Putin, who is said to live in Voorschoten with her Dutch boyfriend, to be thrown out of the country.

More than half of the 298 people killed when the Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine last week were Dutch.

Broertjes later apologised for his remarks via Twitter, saying they were "not wise", but adding that "they stemmed from a feeling of helplessness that many will recognise".

A plane carrying the first 50 victims of the crash is expected to arrive this afternoon at Eindhoven airport, from where they will be transported to army barracks in Hilversum. The Dutch government has declared Wednesday a day of national mourning and will mark the bodies' arrival with a minute's silence across the country.

Ukrainians living in Holland have also called for a peaceful protest outside the Pig's daughter's flat, according to De Telegraaf newspaper. It published a photograph of the apartment complex where Maria is said to live alongside the article on Monday.

Very little is known about the Russian president's two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina, who are completely sheltered from media attention and have never been officially photographed as adults.

But there have been persistent rumours linking Maria with Dutch citizen Jorrit Faassen. Dutch media claimed that Pig Putin visited the couple last year, something his spokesman denied.

Faassen has held senior roles in the Russian firms Gazprom and Stroytransgaz, a pipeline manufacturer, and hit the headlines when he was reportedly assaulted by the bodyguards of Russian banker Matvei Urin in a road-rage incident in Moscow in 2010. Urin was later arrested and jailed for fraud.


How harsher sanctions could help Rad Faced Pig Putin turn Russia back into the Soviet Union

By The Conversation
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 13:16 EDT

By Richard Connolly, University of Birmingham

The downing of flight MH17 has caused attention to shift once again to the prospect of even harsher penalties being imposed upon Russia by Western countries. Up to this point, sanctions have been limited to individuals within or close to Russia’s ruling elite, as well as a few associated companies. While these sanctions may weaken support within Russia’s elite for the current course of foreign policy, the effect on economic activity in Russia has been relatively muted.

The most recent discussions among European leaders led to an expansion of the existing list of Russians subject to asset freezes and visa bans. But a decision on whether to apply so-called “third tier” sanctions – that is, sanctions applied to whole sectors of the Russian economy, or export bans on technology that might be used in Russia’s defence or energy sectors – was once again postponed, although this may change if Western countries lose patience with what they consider to be Russian intransigence in Ukraine.

With these discussions ongoing, it is useful to consider what might happen if Europe and the US were to impose an enhanced package of economic sanctions.

Aiming high

A useful starting point is to consider the objectives of Western policy makers in applying sanctions in the first place. The “surgical” nature of sanctions imposed so far suggests that Western governments do not intend to seriously harm Russia’s economy or its people.

Instead, the array of measures so far chosen – focused as they are on individuals and entities with close ties to Pig Putin, his inner circle, and those with direct ties to the conflict in Ukraine – has likely been selected to inflict pain on key members of Russia’s ruling elite, in the hope that this will force them to pressure Putin to change his foreign policy.

This strategy is based on certain assumptions about the nature of Russia’s political system. By focusing sanctions on the elite, Western policy makers are showing that they think it is those at the top, and not the wider electorate, who determine the direction of foreign policy in Russia. Any future escalation of sanctions to encompass Russia’s strategic sectors – defence, energy and finance – might be viewed as a logical step in ramping up pressure on the elite.
Strengthening the regime

But what if “third tier” sanctions have the opposite effect, and instead of weakening elite support for Putin they cause a strengthening of the current regime? This could happen because sanctions have specific distributional effects in oligarchic regimes like Russia, and can serve to bolster the state and enrich politically important individuals and organisations. This could happen if the leadership in Russia decides to use sanctions as an opportunity to transfer economic resources to key political allies.

To illustrate this point, consider how Russia might respond to an embargo on Western defence or dual-use technology to Russia. While existing supply chains would be interrupted, it would offer the leadership the chance to shift more resources to develop domestic industries instead.

This wouldn’t be great from an economic point of view, as it is unlikely that Russia would be able to produce goods as well or as efficiently as Western firms any time soon. But from a political perspective, the diversion of extra resources to the domestic defence industry would create a constituency that would benefit from sanctions. In the context of Russia’s ongoing rearmament programme, this outcome could increase defence industry support for the current leadership.

While this may sound counter intuitive, it is precisely what happened in South Africa after the imposition of the UN arms embargo in 1977. The sanctions were supposed to help end apartheid, but they had the unintended effect of strengthening the country’s manufacturing sector. In particular, the creation of the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) in response to the embargo proved to be a boon for the ruling regime. Domestic high-technology capabilities were enhanced, and ARMSCOR became a major player in the global arms market. Most importantly, it enabled the regime to secure support from a key constituency that was a direct beneficiary of sanctions.
Going solo?

Major sanctions could lead to something similar happening in Russia’s vital energy sector. It is widely acknowledged that Russia will require access to foreign technology and know-how in the future if is to exploit the geologically harder to reach oil and gas deposits in the Arctic and the Far East. But if sanctions denied this, Russia might opt to expand direct state ownership of the industry, and form partnerships with state-owned companies from friendlier countries (China, for instance) to develop indigenous solutions to existing geological challenges.

Again, this solution would not be as economically efficient as current arrangements to access technology and know-how through joint ventures with the likes of BP and Exxon-Mobil. But those charged with managing an energy industry dominated even more by the state than it is now would arguably become even more powerful, not less.

Taken together, the hypothetical scenarios briefly outlined here would represent a reversal from the path of reintegration with the global economy that Russia has undergone over the course of the last twenty years. Instead, a self-sufficient, quasi-autarkic relationship with the global economy could emerge. Although Russia would remain far more open that it was during the Soviet era, it would be a deeply worrying step backwards for those hoping the country would become an open and active part of the global economy.

From South Africa to Iraq or Zimbabwe, sanctions do not always work as intended. Unless carefully tailored to the situation in Moscow, a policy designed to alter Russian behaviour in Ukraine may instead end up achieving an entirely unintended and undesirable outcome: the strengthening of the current regime, and a reassessment of Russia’s role in the global economy.

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« Reply #14614 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:03 AM »

Norway On Alert over Feared 'Terrorist' Attack

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 12:06

Norway has taken exceptional security measures after being informed of a possible imminent "terrorist attack" by militants who have fought in Syria, the country's intelligence chief said Thursday.

The move comes as concerns are mounting in Europe about the growing national security threat posed by jihadists returning from war-torn Syria.

The domestic intelligence service (PST) "recently received information that a group of extremists from Syria may be planning a terrorist attack in Norway," said PST chief Benedicte Bjoernland, adding it could be a question of days.

The threat is "non-specific" but "credible", said Bjoernland. Neither the eventual target, nor the timing of the attack, nor the identity of the militants, nor their location are known, she added.

In a separate statement, Norwegian police said that the information received pointed to a possible attack "in Europe", with "Norway being specifically mentioned".

The authorities said they were increasing the presence of armed police in stations and airports, recalling civil servants from their holidays and increasing border controls.

"There is a specific threat against Norway and several measures have been implemented to face this threat," Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said, urging the population to be vigilant without stigmatizing any group.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg is postponing her summer holiday due to the latest developments.

In its annual evaluation presented earlier this year, the PST said the threat level against Norway had increased because of the conflict in Syria. 

The intelligence services said between 40 and 50 individuals with links to Norway had fought or were fighting in Syria.

The Nordic country has one of the highest rates per capital of nationals who have traveled to fight in the Syrian conflict.

The potential threat to security was underscored in May with the attack of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where four people died.

The presumed perpetrator is French-Algerian Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent more than a year in Syria, where he is thought to have joined some of the most radical and violent jihadist groups.

According to Cato Hemmingby, researcher at Norwegian Police University College, the extremely rare initiative of the country's government to make a threat public could be an attempt to dissuade the alleged terrorists from staging an attack, by making them understand its execution would be more complicated.

It is also likely aimed at raising awareness among the population, Hemmingby said.

In a report from last December, the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) said the number of foreign fighters in Syria had almost doubled their last estimate from April 2013 to up to 11,000 individuals from 74 countries.

"Among Western Europeans, the number has more than tripled from (up to) 600 in April to 1,900 now," ICSR said.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met his Norwegian counterpart Anundsen in Oslo and called for cooperation with Europe to stem the "grave threat" of extremists travelling to Syria.

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« Reply #14615 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:04 AM »

European Rights Court Condemns Poland for Hosting Secret CIA Prisons

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 12:12

Europe's top human rights court condemned Poland on Thursday for hosting secret CIA prisons on its territory, saying Warsaw knowingly abetted unlawful imprisonment and torture of Guantanamo-bound detainees.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a Palestinian and a Saudi national who were held in a U.S. detention centre for several months in Poland in 2002-2003 before being transferred to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Polish government "enabled the U.S. authorities to subject the applicant to torture and ill-treatment on its territory", the ECHR said in its rulings over the cases of Palestinian Abu Zubaydah, 43, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 49, of Saudia Arabia.

The men's lawyers had argued before the Strasbourg court that during their detention, they were repeatedly tortured by waterboarding.

The ECHR also found Warsaw guilty of allowing the men to be sent to places where they faced torture, further detention and "flagrant denial of justice".

The government was ordered to pay 100,000 euros (135,000 dollars) in damages to each plaintiff.

A decade later, both men remain at Guantanamo, and have as yet not had a hearing before a U.S. judge.

Poland has three months to appeal the decision to the Strasbourg court.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry told Agence France Presse the government had "no comment for the moment", and that it would prepare a reaction for later on Thursday.

Poland's president at the time, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was quoted by Polish news agency PAP as saying, "I respect the verdicts of independent tribunals, but I will not comment on them."

An investigation into the detainees' treatment was opened in Poland in 2008 but is still not concluded -- a situation that has been condemned by the UN's anti-torture body.

Poland is one of a number of European countries accused of having assisted the United States in its extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Guantanamo, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Macedonia was condemned by the ECHR in December 2012 over the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin who was arrested in Macedonia at the end of 2003 and transferred to a CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he was held in secret for five months.

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« Reply #14616 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:08 AM »

Sudanese woman spared death sentence for apostasy arrives in Italy

Meriam Ibrahim, whose death sentence was overturned after international outcry, arrives with husband and two children

Mark Tran, Thursday 24 July 2014 10.43 BST   

Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian Sudanese woman spared a death sentence for apostasy after an international outcry, has arrived in Italy.

Italian television showed the 27-year-old leaving the aircraft at Ciampino airport in Rome accompanied by her husband, two children and Italy's vice minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli.

Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy in May, sparking an international campaign to lift the death sentence. More than a million people backed an Amnesty International campaign to get her released, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, and the US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson among world leaders who clamoured for her release.

While on death row, Ibrahim, a graduate of Sudan University's school of medicine, gave birth in shackles in May. It was a difficult birth as her legs were in chains and Ibrahim is worried that the girl may need support to walk.

Ibrahim was told that her death sentence would be deferred for two years to allow her to nurse the baby.

Under the Sudanese penal code, Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men.

During her trial in Khartoum, she told the court that she had been brought up as a Christian, and refused to renounce her faith. She and Daniel Wani – an American citizen – married in 2011. The court ruled that the union was invalid and that Ibrahim was guilty of adultery.

Her convictions, sentences and detention in Omdurman women's prison while heavily pregnant and with her toddler son incarcerated alongside her caused international outrage. After an appeal court overturned the death sentence, Ibrahim, Wani, and their two children tried to leave last month, but were turned back. The Sudanese government accused her of trying to leave the country with false papers, preventing her departure for the US.

Her lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, said he had not been told of her departure on Thursday.

"I don't know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Meriam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled," Mostafa told Reuters.

Ibrahim and her family had been staying at the US embassy in Khartoum.

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« Reply #14617 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Bulgaria's prime minister Plamen Oresharski resigns

Oresharski's one-year tenure overshadowed by protests against corruption, deadly floods and disputes over gas pipeline project

Reuters in Sofia
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 18.57 BST   

Bulgaria's prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, stood down on Wednesday, leaving his successor to sort out the Balkan state's worst banking crisis since the 1990s with the fate of its fourth largest lender undecided.

Oresharski, who has been in power for just over a year, had flagged up his departure after the ruling Socialists' poor showing in May's European parliamentary elections. His resignation paves the way for an interim government to take over in August and a general election in October.

The vote will mark the second snap election in less than two years in the EU's poorest member state. The prolonged instability has hampered efforts to make the economy more efficient and prompted a credit rating downgrade in June.

The Socialist-led coalition increased the minimum wage, worked to cut red tape for businesses and found investors for a €1.5bn (£1.2bn) sovereign bond last month despite the banking crisis.

Oresharski's tenure, however, was overshadowed by months of street protests against corruption, deadly floods that hit the Black Sea city of Varna in June and a standoff between Brussels and Moscow over a Russian-led gas pipeline project.

The Socialists ruled with the ethnic Turkish MRF party in a minority coalition, which relied on the outside support of the nationalist Attack party to cling to power and survive repeated no confidence votes while in office.

Hundreds of people gathered in Sofia as news of the resignation broke, chanting "victory", as two lines of police looked on in front of the parliament building. Wednesday also marked the first anniversary of an eight-hour siege of parliament by protesters demanding the government's resignation.

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« Reply #14618 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:28 AM »

Afghanistan’s Election Result Hinges on a Squabble-Prone Audit

JULY 23, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seemingly endless squabbles are interrupted by full-scale shouting matches. Campaign aides mutter suspiciously about what foreign visitors might be up to. And ballot boxes are piling up, waiting to be cracked open and examined for signs of fraud.

In two spartan, stifling warehouses on the edge of Kabul, hundreds of Afghans, Americans and Europeans are engaged in a last-ditch attempt to salvage an acceptably democratic result from an election dispute that has been tumbling toward a street fight, or worse.

They are auditing all of the roughly eight million ballots cast in last month’s presidential runoff, trying to separate fraud from fact. But a week into the process, the audit has engendered little confidence, and is already desperately behind schedule.
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Only 4.5 percent of the roughly 22,000 ballot boxes had been examined by Wednesday. Each day has seemed to yield some new dispute or confusion that has put on the brakes. Does writing “insh’allah” — God willing — next to the name of a candidate on a ballot constitute a legitimate vote? Is it proper for campaign representatives to move between tables, urging colleagues to argue harder? And who was that tall, bearded foreigner with no badge?

On Wednesday, the audit was suspended outright for the second time in seven days so that Afghan and Western officials and representatives of the rival campaigns could hash out the rules under which the auditing is supposed to be conducted — rules that were supposed to have been established a week ago. Western and Afghan officials said this should allow the audit to resume Thursday at a speedier pace.

In the balance is an election that opened almost four months ago with the encouraging sight of millions of Afghans turning out to vote despite bad weather and the threat of Taliban violence.

With the American troop withdrawal looming, and worries about Afghanistan’s long-term stability, international officials had hoped for a widely accepted result that would give democracy a boost and help cement a positive legacy for the long and costly Western involvement here.

But the election went badly off the rails after the June 14 runoff. One candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, almost immediately began accusing his rival, Ashraf Ghani, of widespread fraud, and then presented what he called evidence of collusion with election officials to rig the vote.

By the start of last week, some of Mr. Abdullah’s most powerful and well-armed supporters were preparing to install their man as president by force, if necessary.

Fearing Afghanistan was on the verge of fracturing, President Obama called both candidates, and Secretary of State John Kerry made an emergency trip here to broker a deal between Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani. They both agreed to an audit of all the votes, and pledged that the winner would form a national unity government.

The two candidates hugged for the television cameras at a late night news conference to announce the deal, and they have since met privately.

But substantive talks on the political side of the deal have not yet begun, leaving many powerful Afghans who had been promised jobs by one side or the other to anxiously obsess over their fates.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah, in the meantime, have refused to publicly release the details of what precisely they agreed to. They instead have been spinning the deal in the terms most palatable to their respective supporters, renewing concerns about whether the results of the audit would be accepted by the losing side’s supporters.

But first there must be a winner, and the focus right now is the audit.

“Chaotic” seems to have emerged as the description of choice among Western observers who are trying to be diplomatic about the audit. Among those with less discretion, the word “mess,” coupled with various adjectives, has been more common.

On Tuesday, for instance, two staff members from rival campaigns almost came to blows, shouting and pointing in each other’s face only moments before Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the American special envoy here, James F. Dobbins, arrived for a tour of the audit warehouses.

Down the middle of each building is a wide walkway separating two parallel rows of plastic tables and chairs. At each table, Afghan election officials, international observers and agents from both campaigns are tasked with opening ballot boxes and looking for signs of fraud.

It is laborious work that is made even harder by the suffocating heat inside the warehouses, which are little more than bare aluminum sheets wrapped over frames anchored to concrete floors. There is no air-conditioning, there are precious few fans, and drinking water is taboo for everyone — it is Ramadan, and the foreigners do not want to risk offending their Afghan colleagues, who are fasting all through the day.

For those seeking a sip of water or a cigarette, the bathrooms have proved an invaluable haven.

The boxes that do not pass muster are supposed to be flagged so that senior Afghan electoral officials can decide whether to invalidate the votes. But that would require an agreement on what kind of fraud should result in disqualification, and such an accord has not yet been worked out.

Until Wednesday’s suspension, there were also disputes about what constitutes evidence of fraud, and the confusion was the source of much of the disorder that has reigned since the audit began.

Western and Afghan officials said that the audit was to restart on Thursday, and that they believed all sides had reached an understanding of how it would proceed, with limits placed on how many campaign representatives could be at any given table at the same time.

“Are we all in agreement?” said a Western official who took part in the meetings. “I don’t know if anyone is ever entirely in agreement — we have seen no evidence of that at any point. But we are close enough, it appears.”

To be fair, the audit is an enormous undertaking, and no one had any idea it would be needed until it was announced, at which point it was given just two days to start. It took four.

Hundreds of foreign observers are being brought in to help, each of whom requires housing and security. Western embassies have all been pressing staff into the effort.

The delays already appear to be upsetting President Hamid Karzai, who is said to be increasingly agitated by the growing international role in the election.

“President Karzai never asked for U.S. involvement, nor have we welcomed it,” said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president, in an electronic message sent late Tuesday.

“The president accepted it as a ‘bitter pill’ in order to avoid more complications for Afghans as they have been waiting impatiently for months for their new president.”

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« Reply #14619 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:30 AM »

Bangladeshi factory safety group needs extra £4m from retailers for inspections

Accord on Fire and Building Safety, set up after Rana Plaza garment factory deaths, aims to frontload spending this year

Sarah Butler   
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 18.10 BST   

Retailers and clothing brands are being asked to pay an extra $6.8m (£4m) towards factory inspections and worker education following the collapse last year of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh.

In its first annual report, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in Bangladesh, the body set up in the wake of the disaster to ensure higher factory standards through a legally binding agreement, said it was supported now by more than 180 brands and retailers, including H&M, Primark, Puma, and Marks & Spencer.

The organisation said it had carried out inspections of 800 out of the 1,500 factories used by its members and that 16 factory buildings had been temporarily closed. Seven of these had reopened after new safety measures were put in place.

The organisation aims to have inspected all the factories by the end of September, and to have developed action plans to improve fire and structural safety within a year.

The group, which was set up soon after the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka collapsed causing the deaths of 1,129 people in April 2013, said it still expected to spend up to $48m over five years on the project but needed to frontload expenditure to complete the inspections, instead of spending in equal amounts over five years.

So retailers and brands are being asked to contribute $16m this year, up from $9.2m last year towards completion of the programme, amounting to an increase of $6.8m.

Those contributions will not cover the work to improve the factories; this will be paid for by the factory owners, though the group's retailers and brands are ensuring that sufficient funds are available for the work and for worker compensation if a factory closes.

Some factory owners have threatened legal action to demand compensation because the group is not providing direct funding to help support workers who have been laid off temporarily.

Anger mounted after a rival scheme, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, set aside $5m to help pay workers.

On Tuesday the alliance released its annual report, in which it estimated that the cost of fixing up the 600 factories its members used would cost $150m. Again those funds were to be supplied by factory owners. Signatories to the alliance, such as Walmart and Gap, are being asked to assist with soft loans or promises of orders to help factory owners comply with improvements.

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« Reply #14620 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:34 AM »

Ex-General in Indonesia to Challenge Election Results, Citing Irregularities

JULY 23, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Prabowo Subianto, the former army general who was declared the loser in Indonesia’s emotionally charged presidential election, will appeal the results to the country’s Constitutional Court, saying that there were widespread voting irregularities, senior advisers to his campaign said Wednesday.

Indonesia’s General Elections Commission said Tuesday night that Joko Widodo, the populist governor of Jakarta, had beaten Mr. Prabowo in the July 9 election by more than eight million votes, with 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Prabowo’s 47 percent.

Mr. Prabowo rejected the results hours before they were even announced and briefly threatened to withdraw his candidacy. His campaign said irregularities at 52,000 polling places, in the casting of ballots and in the counting process, had called 21 million votes into question.

Mr. Prabowo’s decision to appeal the results had been widely expected, but election and constitutional law experts said it was doubtful that the Constitutional Court would rule in his favor.

The court, which has the sole authority to order recounts or new voting at the provincial level and below, has rejected every legal challenge to a presidential election result since the country began holding direct polls for president in 2004.

At a news conference on Wednesday in Jakarta, Mr. Prabowo’s advisers said elections commission officials had dismissed their requests to investigate claims that the number of people who voted at tens of thousands of polling places far exceeded the number of names on the voter rolls. They also contended that Mr. Joko had mysteriously garnered an additional 490,000 votes in West Java Province, an election battleground, during the vote-counting process.

Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Mr. Prabowo’s brother and chief adviser, said Mr. Prabowo would ask the Constitutional Court to order the elections commission to conduct recounts or new voting at the 52,000 polling places identified by his campaign. “I think that’s the only way we would accept the result,” Mr. Hashim said.

Mr. Hashim said the campaign did not know whether the 21 million ballots it considered suspect tended to benefit one candidate or the other.

Officials with the elections commission could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, but they had previously rejected assertions by the Prabowo campaign that there were widespread irregularities in the election.

“I don’t think he could present any compelling proof that would trigger revoting at 52,000 polling stations,” said Muhammad Qodari, executive director of Indo Barometer, a polling firm. “I’m very skeptical that he has any strong evidence.”

Mr. Joko, 53, is scheduled to be sworn in on Oct. 20, completing a political rise from modest beginnings to the presidency of the world’s fourth most populous nation. Mr. Prabowo, 62, was a son-in-law of Suharto, the authoritarian president forced to resign in 1998 after 32 years in power.

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« Reply #14621 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:35 AM »

Food Safety in China Still Faces Big Hurdles

JULY 23, 2014

China has been scrambling to right its gargantuan processed-food ship ever since six infants died and thousands more were hospitalized with kidney damage in 2008 from milk adulterated with an industrial chemical.

But as the latest scandal involving spoiled meat in fast-food shows, the attempted transformation over the last six years has run up against the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain.

From factory inspections to product recalls, laboratory testing to prosecutions, China’s emergent food-quality apparatus has turned into reform on the fly, with ever-changing threats and setbacks. Now, the growing presence of big American brands means that the country’s oversight efforts — and its most glaring lapses — are playing out on a global stage.

Earlier this year, fox meat was found in packages sold by Walmart as “Five Spice” donkey meat, prompting a recall and the company’s pledge to triple its spending on food safety in China. Excessive amounts of antibiotics and hormones discovered in some chicken products sold by KFC in late 2012 led to calls for a consumer boycott; the company’s troubles deepened last year when nine deaths from avian flu raised public concern about chicken generally and depressed its sales.

“The way I keep explaining China to people is that it’s kind of like the U.S. in the time of Upton Sinclair and ‘The Jungle,’ ” said Don Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University and president of the International Association for Food Protection, referring to the 1906 novel that described unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry and inspired reform. “There is tremendous desire by the Chinese to get it right, but they have a long way to go.”

The meat episode that started garnering widespread attention on Sunday ensnared a roster of American fast-food giants. It stemmed from a hidden-camera broadcast by Shanghai-based Dragon TV showing processing plant workers using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products. Meat that had dropped onto the floor was scooped up and tossed back into the processing machine, the news report showed.

Government investigators have since found that workers at the plant, Shanghai Husi Food, used expired or rotten meat to make Chicken McNuggets, beef patties and other food products totaling more than 5,000 boxes, the official news agency Xinhua reported. One hundred tons of meat products were seized, and on Wednesday police detained five people as part of their inquiry. The factory supplied McDonald’s, KFC and other fast-food restaurants in China, and is a subsidiary of the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill.

Along with McDonald’s and KFC, the restaurants that have stopped obtaining supplies from Shanghai Husi include Burger King, Starbucks and the Papa John’s pizza chain. The factory had customers in Japan as well, including McDonald’s Holdings Japan, which said it had sourced about a fifth of its Chicken McNuggets from Shanghai Husi and stopped selling the product on Monday.

As of Wednesday, regulators in Shanghai said they had conducted 875 inspection visits to 581 companies using products from Shanghai Husi.

“Company management was appalled by the report and is dealing with the issue directly and quickly” through internal inquiry and cooperation with government investigators, OSI said in a statement. A company spokeswoman declined to answer questions.

China is not alone in facing food-safety dangers. In the past week alone, a nationwide recall was issued for fruit from a California packing plant over concerns of possible contamination by the pathogen listeria, though with no illnesses as yet reported; the food company Sysco agreed to a $19.4 million settlement in California in connection with the storage of perishable food in unrefrigerated sheds; and Minnesota health officials investigated 13 cases of illness from the food-borne bacteria E coli.

Globally, millions of people fall ill every year from eating unsafe food, and the World Health Organization estimates that food- and waterborne diseases lead to about 2.2 million deaths annually.

But the oversight efforts are mixed in China. The country has banned or limited sales of imported American foods including pork, citing concerns about feed additives, even as it grapples with recent safety concerns over contaminants in an array of its domestically produced rice, bottled water and soy sauce.

It is difficult to gauge just how much progress China is making given its still-nascent efforts to create a system of public health epidemiology that can trace food-borne illnesses back to their source, food safety experts said. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States is viewed as having perhaps the world’s most vigorous food-borne illness detection system, which may account for much of the continuing product recalls and alerts involving American products.

The varied and often-stomach-turning episodes in China, along with the growing number of American food companies operating there, have made it a focus of world attention and expert support in the efforts to build its food-quality protections. Events like the government-sponsored China International Food Safety and Quality Conference, which began eight years ago, have been drawing top American experts, from regulators to litigators, who say the challenge China faces is staggering.

“Although China is by outward appearance an incredibly modern and vibrant society, it just doesn’t have a long history of regulatory control, of checks and balances, where somebody is making the decision, ‘If the meat falls on the floor, should I put it back in?’ ” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based consumer lawyer who has attended the food safety conferences.

Mr. Marler, a leading filer of food-borne illness lawsuits in the United States, cites the lack of a vigorous civil torts system in China as a major hindrance to its food-safety overhaul, arguing that big-dollar cases cause companies to change their ways. But the failings in China’s system range widely, observers said, and persist despite the 2009 update of its Food Hygiene Act with the far-more vigorous Food Safety Law.

There may prove to be a benefit as more American food companies enter the Chinese market. While they are raising public alarm about episodes like this week’s meat scandal, they may also come bearing the expertise to help set things right, Professor Schaffner said.

“They’re not perfect,” he said. “But when companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands come in, they are bringing high food-safety standards to China, which is good for Chinese suppliers.”


China's red furniture craze fuelling illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau

Appetite for African rosewood has driven a surge in illegal deforestation that threatens to destabilise local communities

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.48 BST   

Between March and May, during the cashew harvesting season, it is typical to see trucks line Amílcar Cabral Avenue in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau's capital, waiting to offload their cargo on to ships. But when they line up all year long, suspicion is raised, especially as demand for the nut has plummeted.

From interior regions of Guinea-Bissau, the trucks openly haul tree trunks, said Constantino Correia, an agro-engineer and former director of the country's forest management agency. The cargo, mainly African rosewood, is destined for China, according to Abílio Rachid Said of the government Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (Ibap).

Environmental activists have been denouncing illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau for years, but now it may be too late, "as we risk not having [the African rosewood] in the coming years", Said warned. "It is a type of wood in extremely high demand in the Chinese market."

Worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bissau-Guinean rosewood is used, among other things, to make hongmu furniture, red luxury Chinese pieces replicating the styles of the Qing period.

Reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicate that China's craze for rosewood has driven dramatic increases in illegal logging elsewhere in the world.

After the April 2012 military coup, rule of law deteriorated in Guinea-Bissau, heightening corruption and fanning illegal and wanton deforestation. "There has always been illegal cutting of trees," Fodé Mané, president of Human Rights Network in Guinea-Bissau, said. "The difference is that it wasn't as abusive as it is now."

He said protests by communities worried about the loss of the forests and source of their livelihood have resulted in intimidation and abuse by the National Guard and military.

The crisis has piled pressure on the country's mainly rural population, as donors froze funds, while the prices of its main export commodity, cashew nuts, plunged due to falling demand. About 80% of the country's 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production.

The falling price has led the terms of trade for cashew to deteriorate sharply for the local population, with 1kg of rice being exchanged for 3kg of cashew nuts in 2013, up from a 1:1 ratio the previous year, according to an assessment by the World Food Programme in 2013.

To access their forests, loggers may typically pay impoverished communities about $500; young villagers may be paid just $2-6 to cut a tree. The average price per kilogramme of cashew nuts was about two US cents in 2013, though prices have improved to about 50 US cents.

While tree felling provides communities with quick money, many are worse off as they are deprived of their source of survival.

"It is from the forests that the people obtain wood, which is their primary domestic source of energy," Correia said. "It is to the forests that the population goes to get its medicine … [and] meagre sources of protein though hunting animals. At this pace, deforestation is going to destroy the animals' natural habitats and cause their disappearance."

On the other hand, a container of wood fetches between $6,000-10,000, while the price of a container of rosewood can reach $18,000, sources say. Rosewood can take almost 50 years to mature.

Lassana Seidi, the country's former corruption chief, describes the illegal logging as barbarism that epitomises Guinea-Bissau's decline. Nearly 70% of citizens of the west African country, which has been jolted by coups and instability, live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

It appears that the illegal loggers have obtained licences to harvest and export logs without requisite conditions, such as setting up sawmills, wood shelters and subjecting themselves to the supervision of the general directorate of forests and wildlife to ensure compliance with regulations, according to environmental activists. "Now, anyone who owns a saw can have a licence," Said said.

According to the forestry regulations, only processed timber can be exported. But local newspapers have reported that containers of unprocessed logs are being shipped out of the country. Recently, Ação Cidadã, or Citizen Action, said logging concessions were being given for wood harvesting in protected areas and in forests held sacred by local communities.

In a petition, the group said extensive logging was ongoing under the eyes of the military in Dulombi national park in western Guinea-Bissau and Lagoas de Cufada park near the Atlantic Ocean.

Correia said that despite certain weaknesses, strict application of the regulations could significantly improve forest conservation. "The problem," he said, "is the inexistence of the state."

In April, Guinea-Bissau elected a new government to end the post-coup transition, and the country hopes to reverse its international isolation and economic decline.

Local populations have continued to decry the extensive wood harvesting, but their efforts have have been hampered by harassment and repression. "The locals, poor as they are, cannot resist the bribes offered. Sometimes even if they want to resist, they don't have the strength to do so. Against the military, there is no possible resistance," Correia said.

As criticism against illegal logging increases, the Chinese operators, to avoid further exposure, have started offering higher prices for the wood at Bissau's port, Mané said. "The trafficking chain now involves a lot of nationals," he added.

There are suspicions that the trafficking involves the police, forest guards as well as high-level government and military officials, which makes law enforcement difficult.

A source, who requested anonymity, said army or police officers allow the logs to reach the port for a $200 bribe.

There may be irreversible losses resulting from the deforestation, warns Said, who has called for immediate implementation of reforestation plans and suspension of wood-harvesting concessions.

Activists and experts agree that, above all, the law must be enforced. The end of the two-year transition period is bringing hope for a new beginning. The council of ministers recently announced a temporary suspension of timber exports and prioritised cashew exports.

Mané said the election of a new civilian government was starting to be a deterrent to deforestation. However, not all share the optimism. Much of the illegal logging benefits a few military officials who are unlikely to easily give up huge profits. According to some activists, illegal logging will continue but under more subtle guises.

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« Reply #14622 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:49 AM »

UN issues Gaza war crimes warning as flights to Israel resume

US lifts airline ban, while human rights council in Geneva votes to investigate offensive and Hamas calls for humanitarian truce

Harriet Sherwood, Thursday 24 July 2014 06.47 BST   

The UN has said Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in two weeks. In Geneva the UN human rights council voted to launch an international inquiry, with the US opposing the move and 17 countries abstaining.

"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in the debate.

Early on Thursday the US Federal Aviation Authority lifted its ban on US airlines flying in and out of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. The ban had been in place since Tuesday amid security concerns sparked by Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza . Thousands of tourists and other travellers had been stranded by the ban. El Al, the Israeli national carrier, which continued to fly, hiked fares up to 150% amid a scramble for seats, according to Haaretz.

In permitting the resumption of flights, the FAA said it had "carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation”. But it warned it would "continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion airport and will take additional actions as necessary”.

Hamas's leader-in-exile, Khaled Mishal, said the organisation would consider a humanitarian truce in the 16-day conflict in Gaza if Israel agreed to lift its blockade.

But in a restatement of the Hamas position set out more than a week ago, Mishal told a news conference in Doha on Wednesday night that he would not agree to a full ceasefire until terms had been negotiated. Hamas wants crossings from Gaza to Egypt and Israel opened and Palestinian prisoners released.

The Egyptian government has proposed both sides halt fighting first and then negotiate. "Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights. We reject this and we reject it again today," Mishal said. But he added that Hamas "will not close the door" to a humanitarian truce if Israel ended its siege of Gaza.

Mishal's statement came after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN leaders in an urgent quest for a deal to end the fighting. "We have certainly made small steps forward," he said between meetings, but added: "There is still work to be done."

Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, was also in the region for talks about a possible ceasefire.

Israel has continued to pound the Gaza Strip with hundreds of people trapped in the village of Khuzaar, near Khan Younis, unable to escape the bombardment. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) negotiated a brief pause on Wednesday to allow a convoy of ambulances to evacuate the wounded. Similar lightning evacuations were undertaken in Shujai'iya, scene of a bloody battle on Sunday, and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

Aid agencies said a child had been killed every hour on average in the past two days and there had been a sharp spike in premature births. Gaza officials said more than 3,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged and 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had been hit. Israel claims that militants fire rockets from and store weapons in civilian buildings. Hamas and other militant organisations have continued to fire rockets at Israel.

As the death toll on the 16th day of conflict topped 700 – more than 690 Palestinians and 34 Israelis plus one Thai agricultural worker – Pillay told an emergency debate at the UN human rights council (UNHRC) in Geneva that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians, citing air strikes and the shelling of homes and hospitals.

Pilay also condemned Hamas and other militant groups for "indiscriminate attacks" on Israel. Her comments were seen as a warning to Israel about its obligations under international law. She also called for an end to the blockade of Gaza – the underlying reason for the conflict and an issue that would have to be tackled if any ceasefire were to endure.

The UNHRC backed a resolution calling for the urgent dispatch of "an independent, international commission of inquiry" to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Israel would be highly unlikely to co-operate with any such inquiry. Its envoy to the council, Eviatar Manor, accused Hamas of committing war crimes and said Israel was acting as any other state would in seeking to defending its citizens. "There can be no moral symmetry between a terrorist aggressor and a democracy defending itself," he said. Hamas was a terrorist organisation, not the Salvation Army, he said, adding that it was responsible for civilian casualties because it was using people as human shields.

Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, appealed to the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions in Gaza. "How many martyrs must die before Israel puts an end to its aggression?" he asked.

In Washington a state department official said Kerry was expected to remain in the Middle East for the next few days, possibly moving around the region. Kerry has indicated privately that he does not want to return to the US without securing a ceasefire. US officials rejected the suggestion that his high-profile failure to hold together peace negotiations had reduced his leverage in the region or led to a diplomatic vacuum that allowed the current conflict to escalate.

They pointed out that the current conflict has also escalated beyond hostilities in 2012, when Israel stopped short of launching a ground invasion. While Kerry believes Egypt, which controls border crossings into Gaza, will be central to any negotiated ceasefire, he has acknowledged that the country's president, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, has nowhere near the leverage with Hamas that helped his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, convince the Palestinian side to pause the conflict.


Kerry Claims Progress Toward Gaza Truce, but Hamas Leader Is Defiant

JULY 23, 2014

TEL AVIV — During a whirlwind round of diplomacy on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that progress had been made on forging a cease-fire to halt the bitter fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants there led by Hamas.

“We will continue to push for this cease-fire,” Mr. Kerry said. “We have in the last 24 hours made some progress in moving towards that goal.”

But even as Mr. Kerry pressed his case with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, a defiant note was struck by one figure whom the secretary of state has conspicuously not talked with: Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas.

“Everyone wanted us to accept a cease-fire and then negotiate for our rights,” Mr. Meshal said at a news conference in Qatar, his home in exile, taking aim at the very approach Mr. Kerry has sought to nurture. “We reject this, and we reject it again today.”   

Mr. Kerry has emphasized that his immediate goal is to obtain a cease-fire, after 16 days of fighting that has killed nearly 700 Palestinians, 32 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians.

In comments after his meeting with Mr. Abbas in Ramallah and a meeting in Jerusalem with Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, Mr. Kerry also stressed that he hoped to lay the ground for a “sustainable” way forward after an end to the fighting.

That seemed to be a way to assure the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza that the United States was prepared to address some of their long-term economic and political grievances without making their solution a condition for a cease-fire and to similarly acknowledge Mr. Netanyahu’s argument that any lasting political settlement should also reduce the ability of Hamas and its affiliates to attack Israel.

Mr. Kerry’s decision, however, to relegate many of these issues to a subsequent phase of the negotiations — after a cease-fire is established — also appeared to be an implicit recognition of the difficulties in resolving these issues.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how we can get to the point where the violence can stop and these bigger key issues can be addressed over the longer term,” said a senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified in keeping with the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.

Israel’s position remained difficult. While the Israeli public has strongly supported the military’s attacks in Gaza to quell the thousands of rockets fired into Israeli territory, the government faced economic pressures on Wednesday to negotiate a halt to the war.

Because of fears of Palestinian rocket fire, the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington had extended a suspension of all United States flights to and from Israel. One rocket landed earlier in the week near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main gateway. The F.A.A. lifted the restrictions effective around 11:45 Wednesday night, but said in a statement that it would “continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Mr. Kerry, whose United States Air Force plane was exempt from the F.A.A. directive, flew into the airport earlier on Wednesday.

While Israel’s national carrier, El Al, added larger planes and more flights to its schedule that day to accommodate passengers stranded by cancellations, El Al was already bracing for tens of millions of dollars in losses from an enormous drop in tourist traffic this summer.

Israeli news reports indicated that only seven foreign carriers continued their flights on Wednesday. Calcalist, an Israeli business newspaper, estimated the hit to the tourism industry could reach $200 million.

The fighting has exerted no significant impact yet on Israel’s vibrant stock market, and its currency, the shekel, has been stable throughout the latest upsurge in the conflict.

Still, some of Israel’s strongest supporters acknowledged that the suspension of the flights had been, as Hamas claimed, a “great victory” in its struggle with Israel.

“I probably don’t agree with very many things Hamas says, but that is clearly true,” Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, told CNN. Mr. Bloomberg, who flew to Israel on El Al to express his strong objection to the F.A.A. suspension, said he thought the agency’s officials had made a mistake.

“They are well-meaning,” he told CNN. “It’s a great organization. They make airlines and airports safe in America, but not as safe as Ben Gurion and El-Al are.”

“And the fact that one rocket falls far away from this airport, a mile away,” he said, “doesn’t mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze the country.”

Despite the economic dislocation, stopping Hamas’s ability to infiltrate Israel through its network of tunnels — which the Israelis now say is far more developed than they had thought — remained their paramount concern.

In a briefing for reporters, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, gave the impression that the army was in a rush to seal as many of the tunnels as it could before a cease-fire might be reached. “We continue to attack our targets, there are many left, many more tunnels to destroy,” General Almoz said.

Yitzhak Aharonovich, the public security minister, also told Army Radio that in Israel’s view, it was vital to neutralize the tunnels.

“We cannot go to a cease-fire without resolving the tunnels,” Mr. Aharonovich said. “We can have a cease-fire while dealing with the tunnels, but we cannot accept a situation where the tunnels are used by the terrorists as an entrance into Israel.”

After his meeting in Ramallah, Mr. Kerry heaped praise on Mr. Abbas, whose influence among Palestinians has been increasingly eclipsed by Hamas as the Gaza conflict has intensified.

“Sometimes it is very satisfying to see the immediate impact of the violence, but it doesn’t take you to a solution,” Mr. Kerry said. “President Abbas understands the road to the solution. And that is what we are working for. “

After his meeting in Israel, Mr. Kerry flew back to Cairo, which he has been using as his main hub for his current round of diplomacy, and consulted by phone with President Obama.

While Mr. Kerry had spoken by phone to his Qatari counterpart, he has yet to visit Qatar during his current diplomatic push.

The willingness of Qatar, an important Arab ally of the United States, to provide financial support to Hamas — which both the United States and Israel classify as a terrorist organization — may emerge as an element of any cease-fire agreement.

But Qatar also has a tense relationship with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose cease-fire proposal, Mr. Kerry says, has provided the framework for the current negotiations.

In Doha, Qatar’s capital, Mr. Meshal outlined his own demands. While Mr. Meshal said that Hamas would not “close the door” for a brief truce to evacuate the wounded and deliver humanitarian aid, he stressed a more lasting agreement would not come until some of the group’s demands were met.

“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” he said.


Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza

Human rights group B'Tselem will petition Israel's supreme court after advert was deemed to be 'politically controversial'

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Thursday 24 July 2014 08.24 BST   

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority has banned a radio advertisement from a human rights organisation which listed the names of some of the scores of children killed in Gaza since the conflict began 17 days ago.

B'Tselem's appeal against the decision was rejected on Wednesday. It intends to petition Israel's supreme court on Sunday in an effort to get the ban overturned.

The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial". The broadcast refers to child deaths in Gaza and reads out some of the victims' names.

In its appeal, B'Tselem demanded to know what was controversial about the item. "Is it controversial that the children [aren't] alive? That they're children? That those are their names? These are facts that we wish to bring to the public's knowledge."

In a statement, the human rights group said: "So far more than 600 people have been killed in bombings in Gaza, more than 150 of them children. But apart from a brief report on the number of fatalities, the Israeli media refrains from covering them." By Thursday morning, the death toll in Gaza had exceeded 700.

B'Tselem went on: "IBA says broadcasting the children's names is politically controversial. But refusing to do so is in itself a far-reaching statement – it says the huge price being paid by civilians in Gaza, many of them children, must be censored."

Aid agencies said on Wednesday that a child had been killed in Gaza on average every hour for the preceding two days, and more than 70,000 children had been forced to flee their homes. There has also been a spike in the number of premature births.

"The shocking number of children being killed, injured, or displaced in Gaza demands an unequivocal international response to stop the bloodshed," Save the Children said. "Entire families are being wiped out in seconds as a result of the targeting of homes."

Dr Yousif al Swaiti, director of al-Awda hospital, said: "We have witnessed many premature births as a result of the fear and psychological disorders caused by the military offensive. The number of cases of premature births per day has doubled, compared to the average daily rate before the escalation."


Foreign Correspondents in Israel Complain of Intimidation

JULY 23, 2014

As the death toll mounts and passions spike, the Foreign Press Association in Israel condemned on Wednesday what it called “deliberate official and unofficial incitement against journalists” who are reporting on the fighting in Gaza. That includes “forcible attempts to prevent journalists and TV crews from carrying out their news assignments,” the association said.

The statement was released as some Israelis, apparently incensed by what they see as reporting on the Israeli offensive in Gaza that is overly sympathetic to Palestinians, have started to take their frustration out directly on foreign correspondents.

One example cited by the press association was an assault Tuesday on a reporter for BBC Arabic, Firas Khatib, who was shoved during a live report from the city of Ashkelon, a frequent target of rockets fired from Gaza.

The irate Israeli man who burst into the live shot called Mr. Khatib a “son of a whore” during the assault. A BBC spokesman said in an email, “Firas was unharmed and will continue reporting as normal.”

Last week, as Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza, the CNN correspondent Diana Magnay reported live from a hilltop in Sderot where residents have gathered day after day to cheer Israeli strikes on their Palestinian neighbors.

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« Reply #14623 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:51 AM »

42 Are Killed in Bombings Aimed at Nigerian Figures

JULY 23, 2014

DAKAR, Senegal — Bombs targeting two prominent Nigerians, a cleric and a leading politician, exploded in the northern city of Kaduna on Wednesday, killing at least 42 people but missing the intended victims, officials said.

Both Sheik Dahiru Bauchi and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria, have recently been critical of the violent Islamist sect Boko Haram and suspicion immediately fell on that group.

Boko Haram’s bloody five-year insurgency has been gathering in intensity — significant portions of the country’s far northeast are now effectively under its control — but Wednesday’s bombings represented something of a departure in the sect’s campaign to undermine the Nigerian state.

Kaduna is a major city of more than one million people. And Mr. Buhari, the leading figure in the main opposition party, and Mr. Bauchi each have millions of followers in the populous north. If either had been killed, the shock and anger likely to have followed would have been a major challenge for the already shaky government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

“The fact that these two personalities survived, it could have been much worse,” said Shehu Sani, a resident of Kaduna who is also a leading Nigerian social critic, writer and activist. “If they had been killed, it would have resulted in serious civil unrest,” Mr. Sani added. As it was, the bombs killed many innocent bystanders — street vendors and passers-by.

“Some of those killed were traders selling fruits who patronized the neighborhood,” Mr. Sani said. His own house, in a leafy neighborhood where many prominent citizens live, was shaken by the first blast, which was aimed at Mr. Bauchi, the cleric.

Supporters were gathering in a central square to hear him preach a sermon marking the end of Ramadan when the bomb, which officials said had been planted, exploded. Mr. Bauchi had not yet arrived, but at least 25 people were killed and dozens more injured. He had recently described Boko Haram as un-Islamic; an attempt on his life was also made at his home some three weeks ago. “He was highly critical of the group,” Mr. Sani said. “He even said their acts were not Islamic.”

Mr. Buhari, who ruled Nigeria with an iron hand in the early 1980s and was later deposed in a coup, has since made a comeback as the leading opponent to Mr. Jonathan and is likely to be a candidate against him in next year’s election. He was passing through Kaduna when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into his convoy. Mr. Buhari survived, but at least 17 were killed in that attack. Mr. Buhari has recently published writings critical of Boko Haram, and the sect has issued threats against him.

By striking at two leading figures in Nigerian public life, Boko Haram has shown its capacity to reach beyond its narrow base in the northeast and inject itself — violently — into the center of the country’s national discourse. Yet until now, a series of random bombings in Abuja, the capital, have been virtually the only examples of that sort of escalation.

The kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, near Boko Haram’s northeastern base, unexpectedly became a national, then an international issue. Initially, though, in April, it was treated by both the country’s news media and politicians as just one more in an endless string of cruel depredations by the group in the country’s remote and battered north.

In a statement on Wednesday night, Mr. Jonathan denounced “the dastardly targeting of the prominent political and religious leaders by terrorists and enemies of the nation in an odious attempt to inflame passions.”
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« Reply #14624 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:58 AM »

Christians Face 'Growing Harassment' in Post-Breakup Sudan

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 11:23

Church properties have been bulldozed and seized in a climate of growing harassment of minority Christians in Islamist-run Sudan since the south's 2011 independence, its council of churches said.

Kori Elramla Kori Kuku, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, told AFP that harassment has been on the rise ever since the separation three years ago of South Sudan, whose population follow mainly Christian and traditional beliefs.

A death sentence issued in May to a pregnant Sudanese Christian woman convicted of apostasy from Islam drew worldwide attention to the issue of religious freedom in Sudan.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag took refuge at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum after a higher court annulled her conviction. On Thursday, the Italian government flew her and her family out to Rome.

Away from the limelight, Kuku said in an interview Wednesday, churches have faced numerous challenges and threats from Sudanese authorities.

"The situation is very bad," he said.

"After separation, everything changed completely. The freedom we used to have now is denied."

He said the Council is concerned after a Sudanese newspaper report that the religious affairs ministry will no longer allow the building of new churches, since most Christians were Southerners who had left.

But a senior ruling party official, Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, told AFP he was unaware of any such decision.

In practice, churches have already faced obstacles, according to Kuku.

The Sudan Church of Christ in North Khartoum was "bulldozed" because, according to officials, it lacked legal title to the land, he said.

Authorities have also confiscated a building housing the Sudan Interior Church in the central Khartoum Two district, Kuku said at his office.

And state security agents last week halted a workshop organized by ALARM, the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Kuku said.

The peace-building group had invited Muslims and Christians from Sudan's war zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Kuku said security agents intervened shortly after the workshop opened with readings from both the Koran and the Bible.

"We are not forcing anybody," he said. "What is wrong if we read the Bible?"

Deportations, confiscation and destruction of church property, and other anti-Christian actions have increased since December 2012, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group, said in May.

A dozen denominations including Catholic and Coptic Orthodox officially belong to his Council, but Kuku says he also has a responsibility toward more than 12 other denominations.

"We feel our rights are not respected even though the constitution is good," guaranteeing religious freedom, said Kuku, interviewed at the Council's headquarters in a low-rise building which carries no sign, only a small cross in the metal grillwork above an open door.

He agreed, however, that worship itself takes place unhindered, although security agents monitor the services.

Ebaid of the ruling National Congress Party said that even if something is constitutionally guaranteed, "you have to follow the procedures and the steps" laid down in associated laws.

There is no clear data on how many Christians remain in Sudan, but Ebaid said "they have economic weight, they have intellectual weight and even their opinion is respected".

They were not "in the margin" of society.

At a breaking of a fast event organized by the Coptic church during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Omar al-Bashir said Sudan was a "model in boosting values of religious tolerance", according to official media.

However, Western governments and rights activists expressed alarm over the case of Ishag, who had been sentenced to hang for apostasy under Islamic sharia law which outlaws conversions on pain of death.

"I know we are a minority. But we have a right as Sudanese citizens to worship, to build the churches, to exercise our religious freedom," Kuku said.

"We are not hindering them to worship God. Why are they hindering us, the minority?"

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