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« Reply #15165 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:00 AM »

Iraq pleads for global help in fight against Islamic State jihadists

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 25, 2014 8:12 EDT

Iraq called for global support for its fight against jihadists, as Shiite neighbour Iran said it was helping Baghdad resist the militants but not with soldiers on the ground.

Iraq is struggling to regain significant parts of the country after a lightning militant offensive led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group seized second city Mosul in June and swept through the country’s Sunni heartland, as security forces fled.

The jihadist fighters have been bombarded since August 8 by US air strikes in northern Iraq, allowing Kurdish peshmerga security forces to claw back a limited amount of lost territory, including the Qaraj area, which they retook on Sunday.

“We launched an attack this morning on positions of (IS) gunmen” in the Qaraj area southeast of Mosul, forcing the militants out after two hours of fighting, peshmerga Staff Colonel Salim al-Sorchi said.

Iraqi security forces repelled a renewed militant assault on the Baiji oil refinery, the country’s largest, a police officer and witnesses said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari urged greater support from the international community.

Iraq “needs help and support from everybody… all the forces against terrorism,” but not in the form of troops, as “there is no shortage of fighting men”, Zebari said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif in Baghdad.

Zarif, on a two-day visit to Baghdad, for his part said Iran is working with Iraq, and also called for a broad effort against IS.

“We are cooperating and working… with the Iraqi government and with the Kurdish government in order to repel this very serious, atrocious group,” Zarif said.

- ‘Horrendous genocide’ -

It is “committing acts of horrendous genocide and crimes against humanity” and “needs to be tackled by the international community and by every country in the region”, he added.

“But we do not believe that they need the presence of Iranian soldiers in order to do this task.”

There have been reports of Iranian forces fighting in Iraq, and despite Zarif’s denial, there is evidence of military involvement by Tehran, including an Iranian pilot that state media said was killed fighting in Iraq, as well as the presence of several Iranian Su-25 warplanes in the country.

The United States, which has launched more than 90 air strikes against IS jihadists in Iraq in the past two weeks, has said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.

In a phonecall, US Vice President Joe Biden and Kurdish president Massud Barzani discussed the ongoing military efforts.

“They agreed on the importance of continuing the historic cooperation underway between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces, which — with support from the United States and other partners — helped retake the strategic Mosul Dam,” the White House said.

IS jihadists on Sunday won a bloody battle for Syria’s Tabqa military airport, last stronghold of the Damascus regime in the northern province of Raqa, a monitoring group and state media said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 346 jihadists and 25 Syrian troops had been killed in the fighting at the airport since last Tuesday, with another 170 soldiers dying during fierce clashes on Sunday.

The jihadists have declared a “caliphate” — a successor state to historic Muslim empires — straddling territory it has seized in Iran and Syria.

Washington has ramped up its rhetoric following the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley who was abducted in Syria, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country”.

In a video released online, a masked black-clad militant said Foley was killed in revenge for US air strikes against IS.

On Sunday, officials announced that an American who has been held hostage for two years by an Islamic rebel group in Syria was released to UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.

“Finally he is returning home,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said, confirming the release of Peter Theo Curtis, a freelance journalist whose disappearance in Syria had not been previously reported.

Kerry said Curtis had been held by the Al-Nusra Front, another Islamic rebel group operating in Syria.

- Call to close ranks -

The IS onslaught has exacerbated already high sectarian tensions in Iraq.

On Friday, suspected Shiite militiamen launched an attack on a Sunni mosque in Diyala province, killing 70 people as they sprayed worshippers with machinegun fire, according to officers and a witness, although some sources blamed IS for the killings.

Dubbed by a “massacre” by rights group Amnesty International, the attack threatens to increase anger among the Sunni Muslim minority with the Shiite-led government at a time when the anti-militant drive depends on their cooperation.

Prime minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi, a Shiite, urged “citizens to close ranks to deny the opportunity to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to provoke strife”.

Iraq was hit by further violence on Sunday, with bombings in two areas of Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 people, among them five Kurdish security forces members.


Iraq: on the frontline with the Shia fighters taking the war to Isis

Special report In the first of a two-part series on the forces ranged against Isis in Iraq, meet the controversial Shia militia keeping the Islamists from moving on Baghdad

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Diyala province, Iraq   
The Guardian, Sunday 24 August 2014 19.08 BST   
The new Iraqi "border" is marked by a two-metre-high wall of earth. The berm, as it is known, cuts through farmland and orchards, separating the shrinking lands of the Iraqi state as it has existed for 95 years from the expanding territory of the new Islamic caliphate.

On the northern side, the black flags of Islamic State (Isis) shimmer in the afternoon haze. But on the Iraqi side it is not a national flag that flutters but a black Shia banner.

"This land is what separates good from evil," says a Shia fighter, pointing at the no man's land between the two forces. "Here you see the flag of Imam Hussein and there you see the black flags of Isis. This is the same history repeating itself," he says, referring to ancient Sunni-Shia enmities that played out on these plains centuries ago.

When the Iraqi army capitulated in the face of the Isis onslaught earlier this summer, it was left to Shia militias to fill the void and check the Islamist progress towards Baghdad. Like the Kurds in the north, the Shias are emerging as a far more effective fighting unit to confront the Islamists, whose murderous recent activities have elevated them to global public enemy number one.

But relying on the Shias brings problems of its own. On Friday, Shia militiamen were blamed for killing 70 people at a Sunni mosque in Diyala. It is attacks like these that have persuaded large numbers of ordinary Sunnis who live in the vast spaces between Baghdad and Damascus to side with Isis. In the Middle East, as the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said last week, my enemy's enemy is not always my friend.

On the ground, Shia militiamen are eager to stress their passionate dedication to the fight, but deny that they are just as bad as Isis.

"Our name brings terror and they fear us. They think we are like Isis but we are not like them," the militiaman adds. "We don't kill families and we don't attack women or children or elderly people."

The route to the frontline leaves the visitor in no doubt: this is a war. Military debris lies scattered along the two sides of the highway. An occasional military truck or a Humvee speeds in the opposite direction, ferrying the injured and dead, passing the wreckage of an artillery piece, a blown-up turret from a Humvee and a great multitude of mangled metal objects.

Fertile fields famed for their melons, wheat and barley are now parched wastelands after irrigation canals were destroyed by shelling. Hamlets lie deserted or destroyed and the remaining mud houses have been taken over by military and militia units after their Sunni inhabitants fled further north.

In these almost medieval settings, modern intrusions can seem absurd. A road sign on the nearby highway, the main artery connecting Baghdad to Kirkuk in the north, declares, with misplaced confidence, distances that cannot be measured in kilometres any more, but instead by how many men will die trying to traverse them.

"See the electricity towers in front of us? That's the town of Udhaim. It's under Isis control," said Mujtaba, another young Shia militiaman, as he sped towards the frontline. He nodded with his floppy hat to the left and added: "They are also parallel to us now – only the Tigris river separates us."

Mujtaba is a good example of the new breed of Shia fighter, hellbent on confronting what they see as an existential threat against them, battle-hardened by more than a decade of conflict in Iraq and Syria and, in some cases, trained in Iran and Lebanon under the unrelenting attention of Hezbollah.

Mujtaba is in his mid-20s, has fought in Syria, and has little faith in the Iraqi army's capability to fight this war. "You can't depend on the army – even if they put 2,000 soldiers in this village I won't take them seriously or count on them," he said. "We are a resistance faction that have been fighting for 11 years. Each one of us has been sent to at least three outside training camps in Iran and Lebanon under supervision of Hezbollah. Each lasted for two months. Do you know what it means to go for 60 days under constant gruelling by Hezbollah? You come back as a new person. You can't compare us with those soldiers who joined the army for money."

He was so impressed by his experiences that he named his first son after Imad Mughniya, the legendary Hezbollah military commander.

At the frontline, it is clear who the poor relations are. At one corner of the berm, a group of Iraqi army soldiers in boxer shorts and T-shirts caked with dust and sweat stood dazed under a scorching sun. Instead of foxholes or shelters, they had spread coloured mattresses and blankets on the berm, giving it the look of a giant laundry line.

The soldiers are dependent on the militias to hold the line and on civilian volunteers and villagers to feed and water them. The government has given up trying to supply them.

"They say the Iraqi soldier is a coward but where is the government?" said one middle-aged soldier. The troops had only a few hours' worth of ammunition and of the two ancient Russian armoured vehicles positioned nearby, only one could fire. The other had broken down and was there for decoration only.

"Where are the parliamentarians who are bickering back in Baghdad? Why don't they visit the front, give us a box of machine gun ammunition?" the disgruntled soldier asked.

Further along, in a small concrete room, a group of middle-aged militiamen with salt and pepper beards were huddled half-naked in the sweltering heat trying to get some sleep. Brand new machine guns, rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs were lined neatly against the wall on one side.

The men had just returned from fighting in Syria to take charge of a sector of the front in their home province of Diyala. There were no complaints about weaponry. Instead, there was just impatience for the battle. "Why are we not attacking them?" asked a one-eyed policeman who doubled as a militia fighter. "Our enemy in Syria was much stronger and there we were foreigners fighting in a strange land. Now we are home, I know every village and pathway."

In front of him sat the commander of the unit, a quiet former school clerk who said the berms were bad for advancing the cause.

"Before, targeting them was easier. Now we have walls between the two communities and they have settled behind them."

For these men, the Sunnis as a whole are the enemy, regardless of whether they are Isis supporters or not. For them, western strategies of trying to defeat Isis by depriving it of mass Sunni support are nonsense.

"When I withdraw my forces now the Sunnis will come back and they will become an incubator for Isis again," said one fighter. "When I liberate an area from Isis why do I have to give it back to them? Either I erase it or settle Shia in it."

"If it's for me I will start cleansing Baghdad from today," added another fighter. "We have not started sectarian war, we are just trying to secure our areas, but if the sectarian days come back then I am sure it will be won by us."

The war resumes every night. Soldiers and militiamen open fire at will, shooting into the darkness until the early hours.

"If they don't see us firing they will presume we have abandoned the positions and they start moving against us," said a young soldier. "We fire at everything, anything beyond the ridge, even if it's a dog."

There are signs that the Shia-inspired fightback is having results. Here in Diyala they have managed to push 50 kilometres into Sunni territory, taking over a series of villages and solidifying their lines. Corpses of dead Isis fighters have been taken back by the commanders and displayed like trophies in the provincial capital.

A Sunni village near the frontline was deserted, doors and windows smashed and many houses burned, the walls scribbled with pro-army slogans. A lone mortar shell fell in a small garden and started a fire. Palm trees burned slowly, their fronds crackling and moaning while a heavy stench of dead bodies wrapped the village.

"This is a village of rich farmers," said Mujtaba. "They brought destruction on themselves just because they hated the Shia and supported Isis."

He looked at the small mosque, which stood intact. "Its a shame the mosque is still standing – we should have burned it."

In the provincial capital, Baquba, two corpses have been hung from a lamppost, one upside-down. The Shia militiaman said they were Isis fighters brought from the front. But for the Sunnis of Diyala, the corpses were locals kidnapped by the militias and killed in retaliation for militiamen killed at the front.

"If they lose men at the front, they come raiding our villages and snatching men in retaliation," said a terrified Sunni farmer who lived nearby. "Nine men have been kidnapped in the last month. We found the bodies of three. The rest are still missing."

Across the street from the corpses, men and women waited silently for a bus with their plastic shopping bags and children in hand, keeping their gaze away from the dead bodies.

By noon another group of militiamen arrived at the frontline. They wore identical black T-shirts and brand new combat trousers. They posed with the soldiers, filming themselves as they fired a volley of precious bullets.

Mujtaba walked away in disgust and said it was time to leave. "We have a tense relationship with them."

Back in his pick-up truck, he said the young men belonged to one of the new battalions formed recently which were competing with his militia over funding and ammunition. "We suffer from the problem of the new factions that are appearing now every week," he said. "They are disastrous. Every 20 guys are forming a battalion or a brigade. They receive support from the mobilisation office and from the state and they haven't delivered anything in return.

"We used to get a lot of Iranian support but now Diyala is under the control of Hadi al-Amiri [commander of the Badr brigade and a longterm ally of Iran]. All the support of the Iraqi state and the [Iranian] republic is channelled through him. Iran says you get your share from Hadi al-Amiri."

In Baghdad a senior Shia politician, whose own party has started arming and equipping a militia force of its own, said that he feared the Shia were becoming as radical as the enemy they were fighting. "We are in the process of creating Shia al-Qaida radical groups equal in their radicalisation to the Sunni Qaida.

"By arming the community and creating all these regiments of militias, I am scared that my sect and community will burn. Our Shia project was building a modern, just state but now it's all been taken by the radicals. Think of 20 years ahead – these are all schools graduating militias, creating a mutant that is killing people, that is amassing weapons. Where will they go when the fight is over here? They will take their wars and go to Saudi and Yemen. Just like the Sunni jihadis migrated, so will the Shia militias."


UN calls for immediate action to avert massacre in besieged Iraqi town

Special representative for Iraq says situation in Amerli demands immediate action to prevent possible massacre of its citizens

Kevin Rawlinson and agencies, Saturday 23 August 2014 15.46 BST   

The United Nations special representative for Iraq has called on the international community to take immediate action to avoid a massacre of civilians in town besieged by Islamic State (Isis) forces.

Nickolay Mladenov said he was "seriously alarmed" by reports that the people living in the northern Iraqi town of Amerli had no food or water as the two-month siege continues.

He said: "The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens. The town is besieged by [Isis] and reports confirm that people are surviving in desperate conditions."

Mladenov, a former Bulgarian foreign minister, also called on the Iraqi government to evacuate the town or provide "lifesaving humanitarian assistance" to those trapped there.

He added: "Iraq's allies and the international community should work with the authorities to prevent a human rights tragedy. The United Nations in Iraq will do all it can to support the government and people of Iraq in alleviating the unspeakable suffering of Amerli's inhabitants."

His comments came as western powers face mounting pressure to do more to confront Isis in its stronghold in Syria, as the heavily armed militants edged closer to taking an important airbase that would cement their domination over a swath of the country's north.

As US aircraft continued to pound the Islamist militants in northern Iraq, the Obama administration was studying a range of options for pressuring Isis in Syria, primarily through training "moderate" Syrian rebels as a proxy force, with air strikes as a possible backup.

Leaders in Washington and London are adamant they will not collaborate with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in tackling their common enemy, and on Friday the Pentagon insisted that it had yet to decide on whether to expand the US air war into Syria.

The White House has issued its strongest condemnation yet of the killing of American journalist James Foley, describing his beheading as an act of terrorism and warning that the US military response would not be restricted by international borders.

US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Foley's murder "represents a terrorist attack against our country" – a position backed by the UN security council, which called the killing "heinous and cowardly" in a unanimous statement.

"When we see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen," said Rhodes, adding that the US would do whatever necessary to protect its citizens in future.

"We are actively considering what is necessary to deal with that threat and we are not going to be restricted by borders," said Rhodes, briefing reporters at Martha's Vineyard, where Barack Obama is on holiday.

Earlier on Saturday Iraq's parliamentary speaker said an investigation was underway into an attack on a mosque that killed around 70 people and threatened moves to form a new government in the country struggling to contain the advance of the extremist Isis.

Salim al-Jabouri said on Saturday that a committee of security officials and MPs would announce its findings in two days after an investigation into the attack on Friday at a Sunni mosque in Diyala province, in eastern Iraq.

Doctors and police officers said 20 people were also wounded when worshippers were attacked with machine guns at the Musab bin Omair mosque, which Jabouri, a Sunni, described as "carnage".

Initial reports suggested Shia militiamen carried out the attack in revenge for the deaths of their fellow fighters, raising the threat of a further escalation of sectarian tensions. Ibrahim Aziz Ali, whose 25-year-old nephew was among those killed, told Agence France-Presse that he and other residents heard gunfire and rushed to the mosque, where they were fired on by snipers.

Five vehicles with images of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam, were parked at the mosque, Ali said.

When they could finally enter, "we found a massacre," he said.

Police officers said that angry residents exchanged fire with security forces and militiamen in the area on Friday, but reported no casualties. Iraqi premier-designate Haider al-Abadi issued a statement calling for unity and condemning the killings.

Two major Sunni blocs, including Jabouri's, have suspended talks on forming a new Shia-led government until the investigation is concluded. But other reports have said Isis, a Sunni militant group, was responsible.

Jabouri did not comment on the political fallout of the incident but it comes as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, made it clear that the White House would back a federalist government in Iraq, a further acknowledgement that there are growing doubts as to whether the unity of the country can be maintained.

Writing in the Washington Post, Biden – who is a longtime advocate of a plan under which Iraq would be divided into three autonomous regions for Shias, Sunnis and Kurds – also said the US was prepared to "further enhance" its support for Iraq's fight against Isis.

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« Last Edit: Aug 25, 2014, 06:29 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #15166 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:02 AM »

Israeli stealth drone downed at nuclear facility, Iran claims

Revolutionary Guard hails act against 'warmongers' as incident reported at major uranium enrichment plant

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Boston
The Guardian, Sunday 24 August 2014 21.18 BST

Iran's Revolutionary Guards claimed on Sunday that an Israeli stealth drone had been brought down above the Natanz uranium enrichment site in the centre of the country.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that Iran's elite forces had intercepted and brought down an unmanned aircraft belonging to "the Zionist regime". The news was announced in a statement published by the guards, but it was not clear when the incident, if true, happened.

"This mischievous act once again reveals the adventurist nature of the Zionist regime [of Israel] and added another black page to this fake and warmongering regime's file which is full of crimes," said the Revolutionary Guards' statement.

The state news agency ISNA reported that the aircraft was "of the stealth, radar-evasive type and it intended to penetrate the off-limits nuclear area in Natanz … but was targeted by a ground-to-air missile before it managed to enter the area."

A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards later told Iranian television that parts of the aircraft had been retrieved. Iran claimed to have reverse engineered a drone after capturing an American RQ-170 Sentinel in 2011.

"Major parts of the devices of the drone are intact and have been received by our friends that can be used for further information," said General Ramazan Sharif. He did not say when the aircraft was shot down, but said it was "identified upon arrival in Iranian airspace". He said authorities allowed it to fly for a short time to determine its destination.

Israeli political and military officials said they never respond to such claims. They have repeatedly threatened to take military action against Iran's nuclear installations, but have been reluctant to do so without US backing or participation.

Natanz is Iran's main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges. About 3,000 more are at the Fordo plant, buried inside a mountain and hard to destroy.

Israel says Iran is developing nuclear weapons at the sites which it intends to use in attacks on the Jewish state. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly said the Iranian nuclear programme is an existential threat to his country. Iran insists it is enriching uranium is for civilian purposes.

Iran and the P5+1 powers – Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany – reached a six-month interim agreement under which Iran suspended part of its nuclear activities in return for a partial lifting of international sanctions.

In July, that deal was extended by four months until November to give the two sides more time to negotiate a final accord aimed at ending 10 years of tensions over Iran's nuclear programme. The sides remain split on how much uranium enrichment Iran should be allowed to carry out.

Washington wants Tehran to slash its programme by three-quarters, but Iran wants to expand enrichment tenfold by 2021, chiefly to produce fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Israel opposes any agreement allowing Tehran to keep part of its uranium enrichment programme.

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« Reply #15167 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:06 AM »

Fishermen Cross an Imperceptible Line Into Enemy Waters

AUG. 24, 2014

KARACHI, Pakistan — Fishermen bustled through a ramshackle harbor, a knot of narrow streets and one-room houses on the edge of Karachi, as they prepared to set out to sea for the summer fishing season. But one man was going nowhere. As other fishermen mended their nets in a field, Abdul Shakoor hunched outside his front door, weaving a rug.

After 15 years on the boats, Mr. Shakoor said, he was seeking a new profession — a decision his wife, Zahida, heartily endorsed. “He’s getting into a boat again over my dead body,” she said firmly. “I won’t let him go.”

Mr. Shakoor, 34, returned to Karachi recently after a two-year spell in an Indian jail. He is one of several thousand fishermen, both Pakistani and Indian, who have been arrested at sea in recent years by the opposing countries’ navies. The fishermen are accused of crossing a border they cannot see and whose exact location is in dispute.

The quarrel goes back to the 1960s, when Pakistan and India first disagreed on the status of Sir Creek, a channel of water that separates Sindh Province in Pakistan from the Indian state of Gujarat. Since then, the argument has broadened into a wider dispute over how the land borders should extend into the Arabian Sea.

Over the years, in a bid to break the impasse, the two governments have commissioned surveys, held talks and proposed compromises. When Gen. Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan, he claimed to have come close to a settlement during secretive talks with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh. But General Musharraf was ousted in 2008, and, like so much between India and Pakistan, Sir Creek remains unresolved.

Today, the two governments cannot even agree on which map to use when discussing their sea borders, lawyers say. And where diplomats have failed, fishermen are paying the price.

Every year, dozens of fishing boats from both countries are detained by the Indian and Pakistani governments on charges of trespassing into enemy waters. Flung into jail, the fishermen often languish there for years, only to be released as part of the spasmodic peace process between the two countries. Currently, 249 Indian fishermen are being held in Pakistani jails, while 131 Pakistanis are being held in India, according to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that comparable figures were not readily available.

Although treated as criminals, the fishermen are better described as victims of history and geography, unfairly penalized for having to ply their trade on a map without borders, their advocates say.

“The purpose of the arrests is to demonstrate the governments’ authority, and to make a symbolic protest that the other state has allowed its fishermen into their water,” said Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a Pakistani lawyer who has worked on the Sir Creek dispute. “But it is the fishermen who suffer unnecessarily.”

In the fishing village of Ibrahim Hyderi, boats painted in the floral style of Pakistani trucks crowded the harbor one morning recently, their flags fluttering in the breeze. On the “Mamoon,” a goat sat quietly amid the commotion. Crew members said they would slaughter the animal once they set sail and smear its blood on the bow. “To ward off the evil eye,” explained Shahid, a 16-year-old deckhand.

When it comes to India’s border at sea, however, more than luck is required. A half-submerged shipwreck, known locally as “kaajal,” is used by Pakistani fishermen as a marker; a handful of well-off boats use GPS devices. Even so, arrests are frequent.

Mr. Shakoor said that his boat was near the shipwreck when it was impounded by the Indian Navy in 2012. Five other boats were captured that day and escorted to a port in Gujarat, which was then led by Narendra Modi, now the country’s prime minister.

The Indian authorities booked the six ship captains, Mr. Shakoor said, and threw their crews in prison. There, they met other Pakistanis, one of whom told Mr. Shakoor that he had been behind bars for 20 years.

Conditions in the prison were miserable, Mr. Shakoor said, and a Pakistani diplomat visited just once during his two-year incarceration. All the time, Mr. Shakoor worried about the plight of his family back in Pakistan. “I would think about the terrible condition they must be in,” he said.

His worries were well-founded: The wives of other men, still in jail, described a life of penury and struggle.

“My children are crying for clothes and food,” said Laila, a mother of nine, whose husband has been in an Indian jail for two years and whose children crowded around her as she spoke. “My tears are running this house.”

A fisherman’s life used to be less threatening. As recently as 10 years ago, several of them said, Indian boats were able to work freely off Manora Island, a small peninsula just south of Karachi. But in recent years, the fishermen have become pawns in a bigger diplomatic game.

Both governments use them as political leverage at critical points. This May, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan released 151 Indian fishermen before he flew to New Delhi for the inauguration of his Indian counterpart, Mr. Modi. India released 353 Pakistani fishermen from 2008 to 2013, according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry, compared with 2,079 releases by Pakistan in the same period.

(Pakistan appears to have arrested a greater number of Indian fishermen, which partly explains the discrepancy.)

The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, an advocacy group, says the arrests violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Pakistan and India have signed. Mr. Soofi, the lawyer, said the legal situation was murky, but noted that the rival governments could protest by issuing formal warnings to the trespassing vessels instead of arresting their crews.

But for Pakistan and India — neighbors who have fought three wars and amassed large nuclear arsenals — the fishermen are just the latest expression of an old fight. “Old enmities are played out through us,” said Kamal Shah, a spokesman for the Fisherfolk Forum.

The fishing season was well underway by Independence Day celebrations, which fell in Pakistan on Aug. 14 and in India a day later. But the border is not the only challenge facing the fishermen.

At Ibrahim Hyderi, where fishing crews transferred large blocks of ice onto their boats and stocked up on vegetables for trips of up to a month, fishermen explained the steep odds of their trade. In a good season, a haul of pomfret and prawns might earn each crew member $240. But in a bad season, it could be $20.

Still, Mr. Shakoor, weaving his rug, said he yearned to return to the sea.

“He doesn’t know anything else,” said Mr. Shah of the Fisherfolk Forum, sitting with the Shakoor family. “What will he do, become a thief?”

But Mr. Shakoor’s wife, Zahida, stood firm. “At least he’ll still be here,” she said, recalling the day he returned from the Indian jail, a bedraggled figure in filthy pants. “I won’t even let my son become a fisherman when he grows up.”

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« Reply #15168 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Afghan Election Dispute into Crunch Phase

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 13:38

Afghanistan's 10-week election crisis entered a risky new stage on Monday when officials started invalidating fraudulent votes in a process likely to bring to a head the bitter dispute raging between the presidential candidates.

The country has been in paralysis since the June 14 election to choose the successor to President Hamid Karzai, who will step down as U.S.-led troops end their 13-year war against Taliban insurgents.

Karzai has insisted the delayed inauguration ceremony must be held on September 2, imposing a tough deadline that has raised tensions between supporters of poll rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.

The vote was quickly mired in allegations of massive fraud, with Abdullah claiming that he had been denied victory after Ghani was declared ahead on preliminary results.

A smooth transition of power was meant to be the democratic keystone of the multi-billion dollar military and civilian aid effort in Afghanistan, but the impasse has emboldened the Taliban and weakened the fragile economy.

An anti-fraud audit of all eight million votes was agreed by both candidates as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to calm tempers as fears rose of a return to the ethnic hatred of the 1990s civil war.

"The IEC today begins the inspections of the audit result in an open session in the presence of national and international observers," Abdul Rehman Hotaki, deputy chairman of the Independent Election Commission, told reporters.

He said the audit, which has not yet been completed, was a "huge logistical task" but that it would be successful.

Invalidation figures will be published daily by the IEC.

Ghani and Abdullah have also pledged to form a national unity government whoever wins the election, though the details of the power-sharing system have been subject to disagreement between the campaigns.

The U.S. has been pushing for the next president to be inaugurated before a NATO summit starting on September 4, which should sign off on follow-up support after the coalition's combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year.

The political crisis would worsen sharply if either candidate pulls out of the audit or rejects its outcome, with possible angry street protests in Kabul by aggrieved supporters posing a major challenge to the national security forces.

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« Reply #15169 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Thai King Endorses Coup Leader as Prime Minister

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 09:08

Thailand's coup leader was formally endorsed as prime minister by the nation's revered king on Monday, in a step towards forming a government to oversee sweeping reforms in the politically turbulent kingdom.

Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, 60, who booted out an elected government in a bloodless power grab on May 22, was chosen uncontested as premier last week by a national assembly made up mainly of military figures.

In a brief but elaborate ceremony to receive the royal command, Prayut -- wearing a white official uniform -- knelt and bowed in front of large portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"His majesty the king has appointed me Prime Minister. I am extremely grateful... this is a great honor for me and my family," Prayut said after the ceremony.

"I will work with honesty and for the benefit of people and the nation," he added.

The top general, who was endorsed as premier on Sunday but was officially given the royal command a day later, will also remain head of the junta as the military appears to tighten its grip on power.

A junta spokesman said Prayut will pick a cabinet and propose ministers for the king's approval in September.

The junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), says it was forced to take power after months of protests left nearly 30 people dead and hundreds more wounded, paralysing the government, cramping the economy and frightening off tourists.

It has ruled out holding new elections before October 2015, despite international appeals for a return to democracy, vowing first to oversee reforms aimed at cleaning up politics and society.

Critics say the protests provided a pretext for the power grab from the former government, which was led by Yingluck Shinawatra until shortly before the May 22 coup.

Prayut, whose term as army chief finishes at the end of September, is seen as a staunch opponent of Yingluck's brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose overthrow in an earlier coup in 2006 triggered Thailand's long-running political crisis.

Thaksin is reviled by much of Thailand's Bangkok-based royalist elite, but draws deep loyalty from the poor, but populous northern portion of the country.

His parties have won every election since 2001 -- even though the billionaire policeman-turned-businessman fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

Rights groups have condemned the junta for smothering dissent since seizing power.

Protests are banned under martial law while hundreds of activists and political opponents were summoned by the military after the coup -- although most were released within days.

The United Nation's last week also expressed alarm at a number of arrests and stiff jail sentences meted out since the coup for defaming Thailand's monarchy.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is revered by many Thais and protected by tough defamation laws that carry a maximum jail sentence of 15 years for each conviction.

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« Reply #15170 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:13 AM »

Chinese Media Warn U.S. over Warplane Interception

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 08:19

China's state-run media warned Washington on Monday that Beijing could treat its surveillance flights as an "act of hostility", after accusations a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. military aircraft.

U.S. Rear Admiral John Kirby said Friday the armed Chinese warplane came close to the American P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft on three occasions, at times less than 30 feet (nine meters) away, in what he called a "very dangerous" intercept.

China's defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun called the allegations "totally groundless" in a statement cited by the official news agency Xinhua.

The incident took place 220 kilometers (135 miles) off China's Hainan island, over an area the U.S. insists is international waters but Beijing regards as part of its territory.

The incident has echoes of a major incident in April 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 spy plane around 110 kilometers off Hainan.

The Global Times -- which is owned by the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, and often takes a nationalist tone -- lashed out in an editorial at U.S. surveillance "in the coastal waters and airspace of China".

"Such reconnaissance is posing a threat to China's core security interests, which could be treated as an act of hostility," it said.

"It would be a life and death fight between China and the U.S. if the collisions in the South China Sea became confrontations concerning both sides' core interests," it warned.

The episode comes as Beijing builds up its military might and naval reach, while Washington is engaged in a foreign policy "pivot" to Asia.

The official China Daily newspaper accused the U.S. of undermining mutual trust, saying that Washington's concerns over China's rise were a "psychological need to create an enemy to make up for its sense of loss after the end of the Cold War."

U.S. naval and airborne reconnaissance missions "do nothing to convince the Chinese authorities and the Chinese people that the U.S. is sincere in claiming it wants to build mutual trust with China," the paper said in an editorial.

Washington and Beijing have long disagreed over aviation and maritime rights in the strategic South China Sea, the site of key shipping routes, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

In the 2001 collision, a Chinese pilot was killed and the American aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan.

Chinese authorities initially detained its 24-member crew for more than a week until both governments worked out a face-saving deal for their release.

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« Reply #15171 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Malaysia's Anwar Dismisses Offers of Exile Abroad

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 07:09

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has rejected offers of asylum abroad ahead of a final appeal in October on a sodomy conviction that could see him jailed, a political aide said Monday.

Anwar was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in March on charges he sodomised a young former male aide, but is free pending a final appeal set for October 28-29.

Anwar, 67, has dismissed the case as fabricated by the government to ruin his political career.

The political aide, who asked not to be named, declined further comment but said that a media report Monday on the asylum offers was correct.

The Star newspaper quoted Anwar saying he had received several offers by "foreign leaders" to go overseas but would not accept them.

"I met up with a few foreign leaders who advised me to go overseas to escape a possible prison sentence. At my age, they say they cannot imagine seeing me behind bars," Anwar was quoted as saying.

The story did not specify which countries Anwar was speaking of.

Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years' jail in the Muslim-majority nation.

The accusation surfaced shortly after Anwar led a three-party alliance to unprecedented electoral gains in 2008.

A lower court acquitted Anwar in 2012, but an appeals court controversially overturned that verdict in March.

Anwar, a former top leader in Malaysia's ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), had earlier spent six years in jail on separate sodomy and corruption charges after a power struggle in the late 1990s that saw him expelled from the party.

The charges triggered massive protests against the UMNO-led regime.

UMNO has governed since independence in 1957, but has seen its support slump over corruption, authoritarian rule and divisive racial policies.

After his release, Anwar joined the fractious opposition, leading it to unprecedented electoral gains.

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« Reply #15172 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Nigerian town seized by Boko Haram declared ‘part of Islamic caliphate’ by extremist leader

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 24, 2014 12:12 EDT

Boko Haram’s leader said a northeast town seized by the insurgents earlier this month has been placed under an Islamic caliphate, in a video obtained by AFP on Sunday.

“Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in (the town of) Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate,” Abubakar Shekau said in the 52-minute video.

In a July video, Shekau voiced support for the leader of the Islamic State (IS) militants Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in late June declared himself “the caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere”.

But there was no indication from Shekau in the latest video that he was associating himself with Baghdadi, whose Sunni Muslim fighters have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.

As such, it was not clear if Shekau was declaring himself to be a part of Baghdadi’s call or if he was referring to a separate Nigerian caliphate.

In the 19th century, a Sokoto caliphate was proclaimed across most of modern-day northern Nigeria and was considered separate from other Islamic kingdoms, such as the Ottoman Empire.

Shekau — who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States and sanctioned by the UN Security Council — is shown in the video wearing military fatigues, with a Kalashnikov rifle strapped to his body.

He alternates between Arabic and the Hausa language that is dominant in the region.

He is pictured standing in front of three SUVs and flanked by four fighters, who are masked and armed. It is not clear when or where the video was filmed.

- ‘We will not leave’ -

There was no indication that Shekau was actually in Gwoza for the filming and his whereabouts remain unknown but he vowed that his fighters would keep control of the area.

“By the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay,” he said.

The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) earlier this month confirmed reports that Gwoza was under rebel control.

Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas near Gwoza in southern Borno, as well as large swathes of territory in northern Borno and at least one town in neighbouring Yobe state.

Mapping the precise areas which have fallen into Islamist hands is nearly impossible.

There are few humanitarian workers on the ground in the northeast, travel is dangerous and the region, which has been under a state of emergency since May of last year, has poor mobile phone coverage.

Experts have described Boko Haram’s gains in recent weeks as unprecedented, saying the group was closer than ever to achieving its goal of carving out a strict Islamic state across northern Nigeria.

But many analysts believe the military still has the capacity to reverse the insurgents’ advance.

A major offensive launched when emergency rule was declared in May last year appeared to put the militants on the defensive, flushing them out of their strongholds.

But critics say top brass failed to sustain the pressure and allowed the Islamists to retake some of the areas they had abandoned.

A lack of adequate weapons for troops sent to fight the well-armed rebels has hampered the counter-insurgency and some soldiers this week refused to deploy to Gwoza without better gear in an apparent mutiny.

- Gruesome executions -

After Shekau’s 25-minute speech, the video shows militant fighters on pick-up trucks firing rocket-propelled grenades and other heavily armed insurgents firing weapons as they walk calmly along the road.

The footage appears to show them taking over a military base, stealing weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as well as fuel cans.

In one frame, a fighter stands on top of a tank, waving the Islamists’ black flag.

The end of the video apparently depicts scenes of grisly executions, similar to those released by IS in recent weeks. Boko Haram have used similar tactics before, however.

In one scene, about 20 men in civilian clothing are shown with their hands tied behind their backs and lying by the roadside before they are shot at close range.

A second shows two men, whom Shekau said disguised themselves as women to escape the town, beaten to death with shovels. Two others similarly dressed are shot beside what appears to be a trench full of bodies.

["A screengrab taken from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (centre) on July 13, 2014" via AFP]

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« Reply #15173 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:20 AM »

Worst Ebola outbreak ever takes heavy toll on west African economies

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 24, 2014 9:24 EDT

The worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus is taking a heavy toll on west Africa’s economy as crops rot in the fields, mines are abandoned and goods cannot get to market.

The epidemic has ravaged the region since it erupted in the forests in the south of Guinea earlier this year, killing 1,427 people and infecting thousands more.

On Friday health officials said the fever had spread to every corner of Liberia, the worst-hit country in the grip of the epidemic where 624 people have died so far.

But beyond the mounting death toll, the disease is also undermining the region’s economic growth and threatening the long-term development of some of the world’s poorest countries.

“It is a total catastrophe. We are losing lots of money,” said Alhaji Bamogo, who sells clothes in the market in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

“All those who are coming to the market come only to buy food or products for the disinfection of Ebola,” he said.

Across the resource-rich countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, companies are suspending operations due to fears of the haemorrhagic fever, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids.

Steel giant ArcelorMittal this month said the contractors at its expanding iron ore works in Liberia had suspended operations and were pulling out staff.

Several international airlines have halted their flights to west Africa in a move that Moody’s ratings agency warns “will exact an economic toll” on the region.

And in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and most populous country where 15 cases have been identified and five people have died, experts warn that the impact for the regional economy could be dire if the disease takes hold.

“The Ebola epidemic is not just a public health crisis, but an economic crisis… affecting many sectors of activity,” the president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka warned this month.

- Too dangerous to invest -

Philippe Hugon, Africa research director at the French think-tank IRIS, said the biggest threat for west Africa is a long-term pullout of global companies that the region relies on.

“Everything depends on whether this stays limited or whether the epidemic continues to spread in a prolonged way. The heads of foreign businesses on the ground are very concerned,” he said.

The epidemic may “reinforce the idea that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are countries where it is dangerous to live — because of diseases like Ebola and AIDS — and thus to invest in,” he said.

The disease is also exacting a direct economic toll on the countries where it is spreading by sapping already stretched government budgets.

Moody’s warned it will squeeze state coffers from all sides, by forcing both “increased health expenditures, and… an Ebola-induced economic slowdown on government revenue generation”.

This month the African Development Bank pledged $60 million to support the over-stretched health systems of the four affected countries.

Critics have accused west Africa’s governments of being slow to admit the extent of the problem because of the cost of deploying resources to fight the disease.

Amadou Soumah, a trade union official in Guinea, which only last week declared a national emergency despite being at the epicentre of the outbreak earlier this year, said the government had played down the crisis “to stop investors fleeing”.

And now “Guinea is going to deploy its forces along the border to rack up even more spending,” he added, referring to the closure of its frontiers with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

- Food shortages -

For people on the ground, the epidemic has created an even more pressing problem: food shortages.

In the markets, supplies of staple commodities such as rice are already dwindling, with only the bravest traders willing to venture far afield to buy stocks.

In quarantined zones in Sierra Leone and Liberia, key cash crops such as cocoa and coffee have been left rotting in the fields as farmers fear to stray far from home.

“People are going to move around less and less,” said Philippe De Vreyer, a specialist in west African economics and professor at the University of Paris.

“For instance, the man who usually goes to the local market to sell his vegetables will decide to stay home. People are not going to get their supplies, with all that entails.”

In Nigeria, even though it is the least hit by the epidemic, Ebola fears are already keeping people indoors.

So far the epidemic has not threatened the economically vital oil industry, which is centred in the southern Niger Delta about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Lagos, where the cases have been found.

The service industry is feeling the effects, however.

“Bookings to hotels have dropped by almost 30 percent so far this month, as have orders for food and drink for large social gatherings like weddings and funerals,” said Bismarck Rewane, head of the Lagos-based Financial Derivatives Company.

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« Reply #15174 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:27 AM »

Air strikes pound Gaza as Israel presses ‘Operation Protective Edge’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 25, 2014 8:15 EDT

Israeli air strikes pounded Gaza Sunday, killing at least 16 people, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the bloody offensive would continue as long as necessary.

Israel and Hamas, who have been fighting for 48 days, looked unlikely to end their deadly face-off even after Egypt called for an indefinite ceasefire and new truce talks to end a war that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 68 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

One of Sunday’s air strikes killed Hamas financial official Mohammed al-Ghul as he was travelling by car in Gaza City, Israel’s army said in a statement. Gaza medics confirmed the death.

A later strike on northern Gaza killed a mother and four children from the same family, medics said, as the day’s death toll reached at least 16, including six children.

Israel’s offensive began with the stated aim of stamping out rocket attacks from Gaza and was later expanded to include the destruction of Hamas tunnels used for cross-border attacks inside Israel.

“Operation Protective Edge will continue until its aims are achieved… it may take time,” Netanyahu said of the offensive launched on July 8.

Israel on Sunday carried out 27 strikes while more than 120 rockets were fired from Gaza, including one intercepted on Sunday evening over Jerusalem, the army said. One rocket caused damage to a house but no one was injured, it added.

The Israeli ambulance service said that three people were wounded by Palestinian fire at the Erez crossing point between Israel and Gaza, at least one of them seriously.

Police identified the injured as Arab public transport drivers waiting in the crossing’s car park.

- PM warns Lebanon, Syria -

At a special cabinet session at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu repeated his warning of harsh retribution for the death of a four-year-old Israeli child on Friday in a rocket strike on a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

“Hamas is paying, and will continue to pay, a heavy price for the crimes it carries out,” he said.

“I call on residents of Gaza to immediately leave any structure from which Hamas carries out terror activity against us. All such sites are a target for us.”

Hamas dismissed Netanyahu’s warnings to civilians as a sign of weakness.

“The occupation (Israel) has failed in confronting the resistance (Hamas) in the field, and has resorted to threats of assassination and other threats designed to scare us. But the will of our people will not be broken,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.

Netanyahu also added a veiled warning to neighbouring Lebanon and Syria after overnight rocket fire into Israel.

Earlier on Sunday, five rockets fired from Syrian-controlled territory slammed into the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights but caused no casualties, the Israeli army said.

Late Saturday, a rocket fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel, causing damage but no casualties.

Israel has so far not responded to either attack.

- Egypt truce talks bid -

In a statement on Saturday, the Egyptian foreign ministry urged “concerned parties” in the Gaza conflict to accept an open-ended truce and resume indirect negotiations in Cairo.

But there was still no sign of either side adopting the ceasefire.

Since a previous round of frantic Egyptian diplomacy collapsed on Tuesday, shattering nine days of calm, around 100 Palestinians and the Israeli boy have been killed in the violence.

Previous ceasefires with fixed timeframes have failed to give Egyptian mediators shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams enough time to broker a deal acceptable to both.

Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist de facto ruler, says any truce must provide for a lifting of Israel’s crippling eight-year blockade of the territory and the opening of a seaport and airport.

The invitation to new truce talks came after a meeting on Saturday between Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

“What interests us now is putting a stop to the bloodshed,” Abbas said.

“As soon as a ceasefire goes into effect, the two sides can sit down and discuss their demands,” he said, adding that, as in previous rounds of talks, Hamas would be represented in the Palestinian delegation.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that “any proposal offered to the movement will be discussed”.

At least than 2,120 Palestinians and 68 people on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have been killed since July 8.

The United Nations says 70 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, and that among the dead were 478 children.

Around 460,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza — more than a quarter of the densely-populated Mediterranean enclave’s 1.8 million population.


Teenager Cites Ordeal as Captive of Israelis

AUG. 24, 2014

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — A Palestinian teenager says that Israeli soldiers detained him for five days last month, forcing him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed in his underwear and to search and dig for tunnels in Khuza’a, his village near Gaza’s eastern border, which was all but destroyed in the fighting.

The teenager, Ahmed Jamal Abu Raida, said the soldiers assumed he was connected to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza, insulted him and Allah and threatened to sic a dog on him.

“My life was in danger,” Ahmed, 17, said in one of two lengthy interviews on Thursday and Friday. As soldiers made him walk in front of them through the neighborhood and check houses for tunnels, he added, “In every second, I was going to the unknown.”

His assertions, of actions that would violate both international law and a 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, could not be independently corroborated; Ahmed’s father, Jamal Abu Raida, who held a senior position in Gaza’s Tourism Ministry under the Hamas-controlled government, said the family forgot to take photographs documenting any abuse in its happiness over the youth’s return, and disposed of the clothing he was given upon his release. The case was publicized Thursday by Defense for Children International-Palestine, an organization whose reports on abuses of Palestinian youths in West Bank military jails have been challenged by the Israeli authorities.

The Israeli military confirmed that troops had suspected Ahmed of being a militant and detained him during their ground operation in Gaza, noting his father’s affiliation with Hamas. A military spokesman promised several times to provide more details, but ultimately did not deal with the substance of the allegations, saying they had “been referred to the appropriate authorities for examination.”

A military statement also challenged the credibility of D.C.I.-Palestine, which accused the Israeli military of using Ahmed as a human shield by coercing him to engage in military actions. Throughout the current conflict, Israel has argued that Hamas uses Gaza residents as human shields by conducting militant activity in crowded public places.

“D.C.I.-Palestine’s report represents a perverse inversion of a truth in which Hamas persistently engages in the use of human shields, while the I.D.F.’s code of conduct rejects, in absolute terms, such behavior,” the military statement said, using the abbreviation for the Israel Defense Forces. It added, “D.C.I.-Palestine has exposed itself countless times as an agenda-driven and prejudiced organization with scant regard for truth and a marked disinterest in Palestinian perpetrators and Israeli victims.”

Separately, the military tried to bolster its human-shields argument against Hamas on Sunday by releasing what it said was a page from a Hamas training manual seized in battle. The page — which bore no Hamas logo and which a group spokesman called “fabricated” — says residents should hide weapons in buildings to move “the battle from open places to the closed, residential areas, which serves resistance and jihadi work,” saying, “It’s easy for fighters to work from inside buildings” and avoid “attack aircraft.”

On a battlefield surrounded by intense propaganda on both sides, Ahmed’s case highlights the difficulty of determining what actually happened. The Israeli military has been reluctant to reveal details of many individual situations, given the threat of war-crimes investigations. There are also repercussions for any Palestinians in contact with Israeli troops, as was on stark display in last week’s summary executions of suspected collaborators.

Several human rights groups in Gaza said they had heard about Ahmed’s case, which was reported on local news sites, but had not verified it. Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, described the case as “trivial” compared with the killings of about 500 children and destruction of more than 10,000 homes during the Israeli assault that began July 8.

After a 2002 petition by seven human rights groups, Israel’s Supreme Court banned the military’s so-called neighbor procedure — in which civilians were forced to enter a hostile’s home ahead of soldiers — and later the “prior warning procedure” that replaced it, saying they were “at odds with international law.”

D.C.I.-Palestine said it learned of Ahmed’s case from an Aug. 9 item on the website Palestine Today, which cited a report by a Geneva-based group, Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights. After that, a D.C.I. fieldworker in Gaza interviewed Ahmed at length, met with his father and obtained Ahmed’s signature on an affidavit.

The group’s report said Ahmed detailed “an almost constant stream of abuse,” including “kicks and punches, whips with a wire and threats of a sexual nature.” In his interviews with The New York Times, Ahmed did not mention sexual threats, and spoke of violence only a few times. He said a soldier “twisted my arm and was holding it firmly” at one point, “pushed me violently inside the tank and tightened my handcuffs” at another, “brought a cable and beat me with it,” and, finally, “grabbed me from the neck firmly for about 10 seconds.”

Ahmed, the oldest of five children, said in the interviews that his ordeal began July 23 after a night in which the family huddled under the stairway of its two-story villa, horrified by the incessant sound of warplanes and artillery shells. While evacuating the next afternoon, Ahmed said, he stopped to look at a tank, and a soldier ordered him away from the crowd of about 200, then took him to a nearby home.

“He was interrogating me about the tunnels,” Ahmed said, referring to the underground passages that became the focus of Israel’s ground invasion after Palestinian militants used them to penetrate its territory. “He asked about my name, age and tunnels. ‘Where are the tunnels? In which places were there tunnels?’ I told him I’m 17 years old, and if I knew about a tunnel in the area, I would not have stayed here until now because you won’t leave the area unharmed.”

Over the next several days, he was moved among homes and made to walk ahead of groups of soldiers looking for tunnels. Food was scant, and his bathroom breaks were limited and monitored, he said; at one point he wrote a note in Arabic, saying, “In case I die or get arrested, please send my greetings to my family,” according to D.C.I.-Palestine’s report.

He said he was interrogated up to three times a day by an Arabic-speaking soldier. “During the interrogation, he releases my hands and eyes and acts in a friendly manner,” Ahmed recalled. “When he finds nothing, he would be outraged and tie and handcuff me again.”

Eventually, Ahmed said, a soldier gave him a tool and told him to dig for tunnels at a school and two wells. “He said, ‘The dogs are hungry,’ and he will let them eat me if we did not find a tunnel,” Ahmed said. “I dug for about 15 minutes, but found nothing.”

After his release July 27, Ahmed said, he walked for about an hour before hitching a ride to an aunt’s home where the family had earlier agreed to gather.

His father said he spent five days praying, hardly eating or sleeping, thinking Ahmed had been killed.

“When I saw him, I hugged him for five minutes amid tears,” said Mr. Abu Raida, 50. “He was tired, too exhausted. He was not the energetic Ahmed that I know.”

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« Reply #15175 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:31 AM »

Islamic State militants seize Syrian airbase

Tabqa base almost entirely controlled by Isis, while in Iraq Shia Turkoman community north of Baghdad remains under siege

Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 24 August 2014 19.08 BST

Islamic radicals have seized most of an airbase in eastern Syria and are tightening a stranglehold on a minority Turkoman community north of Baghdad, as their pillage of the heartland of the Levant gains further momentum.

Militants from Islamic State (Isis) had breached the borders of the Tabqa base, which was the last base east of Aleppo still held by the Syrian regime, and now appeared certain to seize full control within days in another blow to all sides trying to slow the group's progress through Iraq and Syria.

About 300 miles to the east, a community of 18,000 Shia Turkomans holed up in the town of Amerli, north of Baghdad, said they were running out of food and hope after a two-month siege by Isis, which is trying to starve them to death or force them to convert to the militants' hardline brand of Sunni Islam.

In both locations, the bodies of fighters were reportedly defaced and displayed by Isis members, who have become feared and scorned for their unchecked barbarity.

Witnesses at the Tabqa base, not far east of the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, said that several captured Syrian soldiers had been beheaded.

Efforts to reinforce the base had failed, as had moves to evacuate up to 1,000 troops still stationed there as the extremists advanced.

Regime forces had fired at least one Scud missile, launched from near Damascus, at Isis forces nearby, but had failed to dislodge them.

In Amerli, surrounded residents said they were being left to their fate, unlike the Yazidis of north-west Iraq, who had escaped from Mount Sinjar after they were attacked by Isis.

Turkish rebels who crossed from Syria and US air strikes secured an exit for the Yazidi refugees to Iraqi Kurdistan, but no such efforts have been proposed to assist the Turkomans.

Amerli is deep within an area in effect controlled by Isis. Kurdish peshmerga forces are stationed to the north, but they would be unlikely to mount a rescue without extensive air cover, which only the US or Iran could provide.

The US military has said it has hit more than 90 Isis targets since stepping in to try to slow an Isis advance towards the Kurdish north. More than 60 of those strikes targeted extremist positions near the Mosul Dam, allowing the peshmerga to recapture it from Isis last week.

However, Barack Obama has repeatedly signalled his reluctance to get further involved in Iraq, framing US involvement so far as protection of US interests and diplomatic staff in Irbil.

Debate has intensified in Washington in recent days between the Pentagon and the White House as the extent of Isis's rapid moves to the east and the west has become clear. The organisation appears to have shelved an attempt earlier in August to push towards Irbil and is now mobilising for an imminent advance through central Syria.

At the same time, Isis members are advancing towards the Turkish border in north-west Syria, attempting to secure a valuable supply line that has been the lifeblood of their growth so far.

The White House has come under growing pressure to attack Isis inside Syria, but officials are reluctant to do anything that would support the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, who they believe has tacitly supported the growth of the jihadists as a means of splintering the homegrown rebellion against him.

In the past six weeks, the Syrian air force has been used to attack Isis in the group's stronghold city of Raqqa and near the border with Iraq. However, close to Aleppo where Isis holds sway over the towns of al-Bab and Minbij, the group has not been attacked.

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« Reply #15176 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:34 AM »

Libyan capital under Islamist control after Tripoli airport seized

Operation Dawn captures airport in fierce fighting against pro-government militias after five-week siege in the capital

Chris Stephen, and Anne Penketh   
The Guardian, Sunday 24 August 2014 17.07 BST   
Libya has lurched ever closer to fragmentation and civil war this weekend after Islamist-led militias seized the airport in the capital, Tripoli, proclaimed their own government, and presented the world with yet another crisis.

Operation Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misrata forces, captured the airport on Saturday in fierce fighting against pro-government militias after a five-week siege that battered parts of the capital.

Television images from the scene showed jubilant, bearded, militias dancing on wrecked airliners, firing machine guns in the air and chanting "Allah O Akbar" ("God is great").

On Sunday, they set airport buildings ablaze, apparently intending to destroy rather than hold the site.

The victory, which secures Islamist control over Tripoli, was a culmination of weeks of fighting triggered by elections in July, lost by Islamist parties.

Rather than accept the elections result Islamist leaders in Libya accused the new parliament of being dominated by supporters of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and have sought to restore the old national congress.

"The general national congress will hold an emergency meeting in Tripoli to save the country," said Omar Ahmidan, a congress spokesman.

Libya's official parliament, the house of representatives, in the eastern city of Tobruk, denounced the attack as illegal, branding Dawn a "terrorist organisation" and announcing a state of war against the group. The move leaves Libya with two governments, one in Tripoli, and one in the east of the country, each battling for the hearts and minds of the country's myriad militias.

There are few regular forces for the government to call upon. The prime minister, Abdullah al-Thani, needs to persuade nationalist and tribal militias to try to recapture the capital. Dawn militias are consolidating their hold on the capital by rounding up government sympathisers and people from Zintan, whose militia defended the airport.

"Units from Gharyan and Abu Salem are circling the area looking for any Zintani they can find," said one frightened resident hiding at an address in the city.

Fighting is continuing to the west of Tripoli, while Islamist brigades in Benghazi, 400 miles east, are battling with army units and nationalist militias of the former general Khalifa Hiftar.

The weekend's developments threaten to tilt the country across the line from troubled post-Arab spring democracy to outright failed state.

Egypt and Sudan are known to be watching developments closely, and last week the French president, François Hollande, said that despite the crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and Gaza, his "biggest concern at the moment is Libya".

Some officials in neighbouring countries fear militants could use planes at the three airports Dawn now controls for terror attacks on surrounding nations.

Those fears were heightened after Dawn officials vowed retaliation against Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whom they blame for air strikes by unidentified jets, Saturday morning, which killed 17 Misrata militias.

"The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression, we reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment," said Ahmed Hadia, a spokesman for Dawn.

Reports from Italy say Rome is working with the US, France and other nearby states to launch precautionary exercises. Algeria has deployed air defence missiles on its border while Egypt and Tunisia have banned flights from west Libya airports.

The security situation has become so parlous in Libya that the nation has been forced to withdraw as host for the African Cup of Nations in 2017.

Libyan officials have arrived in Egypt before a summit in Cairo on Monday at which they are expected to appeal for military support. Libya's foreign minister, Mohamed Abdul Aziz, launched a similar appeal at the UN in July, but found no support, with diplomats wary about new foreign intervention.

Dawn leaders insist they are not extremists, characterising themselves as patriots ensuring that the gains of the 2011 revolution are not lost.

Many Libyans think fragmentation is now inevitable, with Islamist-led forces strong in Tripoli, and tribal and nationalists dominant in the east of the country.

"It's gone into complete madness," said Hassan el Amin, a Libyan politician who fled to Britain after receiving death threats from Misrata militias. "There's another battle coming up, between east and west."

The key to victory could be as much economic as military. Libya's government might have lost control of the capital but for the moment it has international recognition, ensuring access to the country's rich oil reserves and foreign assets, worth an estimated £80bn.

French diplomats say that in the present power struggle involving rival armed factions, the UN security council should take a leading role to forge a political solution and prevent the country from splitting apart.

France sent two frigates to Tripoli to evacuate the remaining French nationals from Libya on 29 July. Forty-seven French nationals and a number of Britons were evacuated secretly in the night-time operation.

But experts say military intervention in Libya, at this time either by France or within a Nato coalition, looks unlikely.

Camille Grand, director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, said: "Nato's got its hands busy with Ukraine. And in France, everyone's looking at Iraq, Syria and the Sahel.

"Who would be the driving force? And what would be the trigger now that French nationals have been evacuated? There aren't any volunteers to get involved in a quagmire that looks like Somalia now."

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« Reply #15177 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Four Killed, Two Inmates Beheaded in Brazil Prison Riot

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 06:58

Inmates rioting for better facilities in a Brazilian jail killed four fellow prisoners, decapitating two of them, and took two guards hostage, officials said Sunday.

The uprising took place in the Cascavel state correctional center in the southern city of Parana that currently holds 1,140 inmates, according to Elson Faxina, a state judicial spokesman.

"A group of prisoners took six inmates hostage; they killed four and have injured two. They also took hostage two guards," he said.

"Their demands are about facilities; it is an older building and they want food brought in."

Faxina said 60 percent of the jail had been taken over by rioting inmates and that negotiations had been broken off until Monday.

State prison officials told G1 news the prisoners launched a violent push for better food and cleaner facilities.

Brazil currently has more than half a million prisoners and faces severe overcrowding. It is short some 200,000 incarceration spots, according to the NGO Conectas that works on prisoners' rights.

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« Reply #15178 on: Aug 25, 2014, 07:00 AM »

In the USA....United Surveillance and Swat Teams of America

US journalist Peter Theo Curtis released from captivity in Syria

Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies, Monday 25 August 2014 13.01 BST       

Secretary of state John Kerry on Sunday confirmed the release in Syria of Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist who had been held for two years by the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida.

Kerry, speaking as debate continued in the US over the proper response to the killing of another journalist, James Foley, by Islamic State (Isis) militants, said Curtis’s time in captivity had been “a horrific period”.

Curtis’s family released a statement in which his mother, Nancy Curtis, said: “The Curtis family is deeply grateful to the governments of the United States and Qatar and to the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin.”

The statement added: “While the family is not privy to the exact terms that were negotiated, we were repeatedly told by representatives of the Qatari government that they were mediating for Theo’s release on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money.”

An unnamed Qatari source told Reuters: “Qatari intelligence agencies were behind the release of the American journalist in Syria.”

The Qatari-owned television station al-Jazeera first reported Curtis’s release, saying he had been handed over to a representative of the United Nations. Reuters’ Qatari source did not have details on what Qatar had done to free Curtis, saying only that it had been a matter of “communication with the right people in Syria”.

The Obama administration, which has been subjected to criticism since the death of Foley, for its policy of refusing to pay ransoms to terrorist groups, is reported to be considering air strikes agains Isis leaders in Syria, a move senior Republicans demanded on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, US central command said more airstrikes had been carried out against Isis around the Mosul dam in northern Iraq and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

A statement said: “One strike destroyed an [Isis] Humvee near the Mosul dam and the other strike destroyed an … armed vehicle near Irbil. All aircraft exited the strike area safely.” The statement said 96 air strikes had now been made across Iraq since the start of the US air campaign on 8 August.

Also on Sunday, the British ambassador to the US, Sir Peter Westmacott, said UK secret services were close to identifying Foley’s killer, who is believed to be British.

In his statement on the release of Curtis, a freelancer who writes under the name Theo Padnos, Kerry said: “Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home.”

Isis has issued threats regarding the safety of another US journalist, Steven Sotloff. Kerry said the US would “continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home”.

Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, also released a statement, in which she said: “Theo is now safe outside of Syria, and we expect he will be reunited with his family shortly.

“Just as we celebrate Theo’s freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria.”

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Isis.

In a video statement released by Curtis’s kidnappers at some point during his captivity, Curtis said he “had everything” he needed and “everything has been perfect, food, clothing, even friends now”.


'We need to communicate. That's key. But we need justice for Michael Brown'

Showdowns between police and protesters give way to efforts to change life in Ferguson, but locals fear more unrest if the officer who shot Michael Brown is not indicted. Chris McGreal reports

Chris McGreal in Ferguson, Sunday 24 August 2014 17.47 BST   
Ardester Williams is writing to Barack Obama the old-fashioned way, with paper and a postage stamp, to tell the president about the day in June when he shot a man.

“He was swinging at me, and he was much bigger than I was,” said the 73-year-old security guard at a Ferguson clothing store. “I had to draw my gun and shoot him. But I shot him in the foot. I’m writing to the president to tell him that the whole concept of police training is backwards. They should train them to shoot people dead as a last resort, not the first.”

A little further down West Florissant Avenue, Shiron Hagens is staffing a tent on a part of the street that just a few nights ago was clouded by tear gas and smoke from a burning convenience store, as protesters and the police clashed over the killing of Michael Brown. She is registering local residents to vote, in part to raise support for a petition to recall Ferguson mayor James Knowles, a white Republican, after he said that the upheaval of the past two weeks was not about race.

“There’s a mistrust right now,” she said. “The way to overcome mistrust is to talk. But there’s no way to have a conversation when you have a mayor who says there’s no race issue here. Michael Brown died because he was black.”

Across the road, Ken Goins, a St Louis attorney for 23 years, is advising people on their rights to protest peacefully.

Nightly showdowns between protesters and police along a short section of West Florissant avenue have given way to a flood of initiatives – some individual, some collective – which seek to use Brown’s death to change the police, politics and life of Ferguson. The anger is not diminished, but directed differently.

It has spurred a campaign to get Ferguson residents to vote in order to shift the balance of power in a city with a black majority but a white mayor and council. Other groups are pressing for the police to be required to wear body cameras, and for the local force to be demilitarised after it responded to the protests with armoured vehicles and snipers.

There is a new initiative to recruit more black policemen.

But for all of this, there is also a sense of limbo as Ferguson residents await what they regard as the crucial test – will the police officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, be indicted by a St Louis grand jury for unlawfully killing the unarmed 18-year-old?

Williams doesn’t have much confidence.

“Look at the make-up of the grand jury – nine whites and three blacks,” he said. “They don’t intend to do anything about Michael Brown’s death. That’s what’s so poor. That cop, he’ll be back on the streets as a cop again in 60 to 90 days.”

It has been said that a decent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, because the procedure is so weighted in favour of the state. So the assumption among many in Ferguson is that if Wilson is not charged it will be because the city’s prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, has not made it happen.

“I know that cop is innocent until proven guilty, but if Bob McCullough is not seen to be trying to get an indictment it is going to cause a very serious situation here,” said Laverne Mitchom, a retiree wearing a Michael Brown T-shirt. “I don’t have confidence in the grand jury because I don’t have confidence in Bob McCullough. He is very supportive of the police. He has a history of that.”

The lack of confidence in a prosecutor who has close ties to the police – his parents, brother and other relatives worked for the St Louis force, and his father was shot dead in the line of duty by an African American man – runs so deep that several groups have pressed the state’s governor to take him off the case.

“We want him removed,” said Andreal Hoosman, a member of the board of the St Louis National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). “We requested that the governor remove him. The governor said that is for McCulloch to decide. We don’t have confidence in him.”

Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, has declined to back McCulloch but refused to appoint a special prosecutor in his place, as many in Ferguson want to see. That has drawn accusations of weakness against Nixon from McCulloch and his critics.

Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri state senator who has been active in Ferguson over Brown’s killing and the subsequent protests, accused Nixon of being missing in action because he has refused to take decisive action.

Goins, who along with other lawyers was offering free advice to people on West Florissant avenue on their rights in dealing with the police – he reckoned many of the recent arrests at the protests over Brown’s death were unlawful – said he had little confidence in the investigation of the shooting.

“There’s been a lack of transparency through the whole investigation,” he said. “When someone shoots that raises questions and the public has the right to ask them. The police department has a duty to answer them, and so far it hasn’t.”

On Canfield Drive, where Brown was shot six times including in the head, the police handed out food parcels to residents at the weekend in a gesture of goodwill. Some appreciated it, some did not.

“I wonder what those cops are really thinking,” said Robert Kean, 29, next to the memorial to Brown where scores of red roses have been laid in a line down the middle of the street. “They’re here because they were told to come and make things look better. They didn’t suddenly start to love us. I bet it really screws them up inside to do this. But we’ll know if things have changed when we can walk down the street after dark without being stopped.”

Ron McBride, 48, was more forgiving.

“They’re trying, which is something. We need to communicate. That’s the key. But we need justice for Michael Brown, and handing out food doesn’t bring that,” he said.

There’s particular disillusionment over the manner in which a part of St Louis’s white population has rallied to support Wilson, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the police officer.

“It’s like hitting the lottery,” said a man who gave his name as Walter G. “You kill a black and make $200,000. If he had gone to Montana and shot an elk he would have had to pay for it. Here he can paid to shoot a black.”

Mitchom, too, was disappointed that some white people have sided with Wilson, saying it was a way of denying there is an issue with how the police deal with black people.

“We’re not surprised at that, but America has got to stop pretending that these things aren’t happening. My nephew is a policeman in St Louis. I know all policeman aren’t bad. There’s good and bad. But when there is bad he needs to be held accountable,” she said.

Mitchom said in some ways she felt the US hasn’t really changed at all.

“When Martin Luther King was assassinated, they sent state troopers to my high school in east St Louis. We didn’t do anything, but they assumed we would because we were African American. Then our teacher, a white woman, told us that we have to remember one thing: ‘The white people have the guns.’

“To see snipers on top of iron vehicles pointing guns at us in our own community was like going back to that. They were ready to do harm to unarmed citizens. That was devastating to me. I have six grandchildren. I’m worried that we’re seeing the clock turned back.”

Mitchom said she was worried that the efforts at peaceful change, including the efforts at cooperation between the police and Ferguson residents, would give way to yet more confrontation if the grand jury does not indict Wilson. She is not alone.

“There’s a lot of emotion in this community,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “They feel if they don’t get justice, everything will just erupt. Do they want it? Absolutely not. But they fear that if people don’t get justice that it will.”


‘I don’t see a racial divide’: Ferguson’s mostly white historic district untouched by unrest

By Reuters
Monday, August 25, 2014 6:35 EDT

Images of rioting and demonstrations after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, have provoked outrage across the world.

Yet just a 10-minute drive from where Michael Brown was killed on Aug. 9, signs of the unrest that has beset the poorer neighborhoods of this St. Louis suburb are strikingly absent.

The sometimes violent protests have had little visible impact on the quiet tree-lined streets of Ferguson’s historic district, where some of the city’s grandest houses are located and many of its white residents live.

It is in stark contrast to the daily disruptions to everyday life felt in poorer, mostly black areas just a few blocks away.

“We have seen no difference. We are far away enough from the isolated parts of Ferguson and are virtually unaffected,” said Ruth Brown (pictured, with her husband, Gunnar Brown), a 72-year-old white woman, sitting on a white couch in the spacious living room of her 130-year-old home.

Even so, “we are heartbroken, because we fear that the town will not recover this time,” said Brown, whose grandparents came to Ferguson in 1885.

Michael Brown’s death and the sometimes violent protests that followed have exposed racial tensions in the city and across the United States, and have prompted international condemnation of the clashes between police and demonstrators. About 67 percent of Ferguson’s residents are black, according the latest U.S. Census data.

While the protests have remained calm in the brutal August heat of recent days, Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday is expected to draw huge crowds, leaving many concerned about further violence. Hundreds of people gathered in a St Louis park on Sunday afternoon at a rally where the father of Michael Brown was joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen shot two years ago in another racially tinged case.

But in historic Ferguson, the streets were deserted, showing the divided fortunes of the town of 21,000.

Huge elm and oak trees tower above the free-standing houses. Sprinklers keep the broad front lawns lush and green. Apart from the signs that read “I love Ferguson” that have cropped up outside houses across the city since the demonstrations began, there is no sign of the disruptions occurring across town.

On Saturday a farmers’ market attracted locals seeking fresh produce, and at night locals sat at the bar at the Brewhouse where craft beers were sold. Vitriol towards the police was muted and no one interviewed had been to the protests.

“I hope that the law enforcement department reviews what they are doing now, but it is not black versus white or us versus the police,” said Sheryl Gibbs, standing on the porch of her brick house with green wooden shutters and large back yard.

“The City of Ferguson has made a lot of progress. I don’t see a racial divide,” said the 48-year-old white woman, who owns a small business in the Dogtown area of St Louis.

While some expressed concern about the impact of the protests on business and investment, others remained positive.

The shooting of Michael Brown could help generate awareness of the town’s problems, said Carol Stevenson, 76, who has lived in her bungalow in Ferguson for 50 years.

“I remember when the schools were segregated,” she said, pointing to an elementary school across her street. “This is a good thing — let’s get these problems sorted out.

“Am I worried about it? No, we will win.”


Lack Of Diversity In St. Louis Area Police Departments Is Just Flat-Out Embarrassing

By: Justin Baragona
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 2:46 pm   

In the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a light was shone on the unbelievable lack of racial diversity within the Ferguson police department. It was revealed that while Ferguson’s population is 67% African-American, only three of the town’s 53 full-time police officers are black. The complete disconnect between the racial makeup of the community and the demographics of law enforcement patrolling Ferguson’s streets has been cited as a prime example of the simmering racial tensions in the town that boiled over in the aftermath of Brown’s killing.

However, Ferguson is not an isolated case in the St. Louis area. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story Sunday detailing the lack of diversity that exists in other St. Louis County police departments. The paper requested the racial makeup of 36 police departments in the county. Of the 31 departments that responded to the Post-Dispatch, 30 of them had a lower percentage of black officers when compared to the proportion of black residents in those communities. While 25% of St. Louis County’s residents are African-American, only 10% of the police officers in the county are black.

Of course, the main excuse given by police departments with nearly all-white forces in communities with a large percentage of black residents is that they just aren’t getting many black applicants. Basically, they are saying they’d love to hire more African-American cops. However, the more qualified minority applicants are generally going for jobs with St. Louis City’s police department, or other, larger metro units. They also said that the relatively lower pay that smaller police departments are forced to pay is possibly a deterrent to qualified black applicants.

Whether or not these are legitimate reasons, the fact remains that St. Louis County is utilizing a predominately white police force to police areas with heavy African-American populations. Research shows that 90% of the county’s black population resides in what is known locally as North County. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with Ferguson, the police departments in that portion of the county, for the most part, are largely white. These departments don’t require the officers to live within the community, so most of the officers live in other towns and cities. Some commute as much as an hour or more each day to the job.

This huge racial disparity in the police departments in the St. Louis area speaks to the impact white flight has had on the region. As more blacks have moved into certain communities, much of the white population has moved further out into other suburban communities, basically creating ‘whitopias.’ At the same time, cops may stay with the same police department, but move away to one of these other communities. This helps widen the divide between local law enforcement and the neighborhoods they patrol. When the majority of a department’s force does not reside in the town, then the sense of community is broken.

Wesley Bell, a professor of criminal justice and a Ferguson resident, brought this up to the Post-Dispatch.

    “Policing is going to be more effective when personal relationships are made and (police) have an investment in the community…If the police department in Ferguson was more reflective of the community, people would be more apt to give them the benefit of the doubt that the officer was using his discretion, and race was not an issue.”

This is a very important point. While quite a bit of focus has been centered on the militarized nature of the police and a rush to the use of deadly force to quell potentially dangerous suspects these past few days, one of the biggest underlying issues that has come to the surface in Ferguson and the St. Louis area is the feeling that local law enforcement is not part of the community. There are no real personal relationships between officers and residents. This builds distrust until it reaches a total tipping point, like what we’ve seen in Ferguson over the past two weeks.

It is my belief that what is going on in St. Louis is merely a microcosm of what is happening in this nation. Hopefully, the lid has been blown off, and solutions will be worked on to make law enforcement more about protecting and serving and less about harassing and intimidating. Trust needs to be regained in communities far and wide. Obviously, law enforcement is a difficult and many times thankless job. However, that job can be a lot easier and fulfilling if the local residents aren’t suspicious and fearful of you.


LAPD cops ignored asthmatic suspect’s pleas before death: ‘You can talk, so you can breathe’

By Travis Gettys
Monday, August 25, 2014 7:36 EDT

Police ignored a handcuffed suspect’s pleas for help breathing before he died while in custody, according to an investigation.

Jorge Azucena died during an arrest in September 2013 after he ran a red light and briefly fled from officers.

After he was handcuffed, the 26-year-old Azucena told officers he had asthma and could not breathe.

Two reports issued last week – one by the civilian Police Commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department and another by Police Chief Charlie Beck — indicated police did not take Azucena’s claims seriously.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, one of the arresting officers said: “You can talk, so you can breathe.”

A wobbly Azucena had to be assisted to a patrol car, police said, and he begged onlookers for assistance.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he said, according to investigators. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

Police carried Azucena into a cell at a South Los Angeles booking station, where they laid him face down on the floor. He was found unconscious a short time later and died before paramedics arrived.

A member of the Police Commission said officers violated their policies and procedures during the arrest.

“There should not be any question that when somebody in custody is heard to say ‘I cannot breathe,’ the officers should promptly call for an ambulance,” said commission member Robert Saltzman.

Nine officers and two sergeants remain under internal investigation, and county prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine whether their actions were criminal.

Another sergeant involved in the case recently retired.


Walking While Black: Beverly Hills PD Arrests Innocent Black Man

By karoli August 24, 2014 10:41 pm

Charles Belk's story shouldn't shock you, but it will anyway. Walking While Black: Beverly Hills PD Arrests Innocent Black Man

There isn't much more I can say about this than Charles Belk didn't already say in his Facebook post. Here it is for everyone to see. He spent 6 hours at the station before they got a clue about who he was -- and who he wasn't.

Belk is involved with the NAACP, filmmaking and is a businessman in the Los Angeles area who was in Beverly Hills for pre-Emmy awards activities when a couple of Beverly Hills cops decided he was the guy who robbed a bank nearby. Here is his story.


    It’s one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you.

    On Friday afternoon, August 22nd around 5:20pm, while innocently walking by myself from a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd, to my car up LaCienega Blvd my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

    Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.

    Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.

    Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.

    Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” ... "fitting the description."

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know at the time that I was a law abiding citizen of the community and that in my 51 years of existence, had never been handcuffed or arrested for any reason. All they saw, was someone fitting the description. Doesn't matter if he's a "Taye Diggs BLACK", a "LL Cool J BLACK", or "a Drake BLACK"  

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was an award nominated and awarding winning business professional, most recently being recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal at their Nonprofit & Corporate Citizenship Awards. They didn't need to because, they saw someone fitting the description.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a well educated American citizen that had received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Indiana University (including a full Consortium Fellowship to business school) and an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Business School. Hey, I was "tall", "bald", a "male" and "black", so I fit the description.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a Consultant for the NAACP, a film and tv producer, a previous VP of Marketing for a wireless application company, VP of Integrated Promotions for a marketing agency, ran Community Affairs for the Atlanta Hawks, was the Deputy Director of Olympic Village Operations for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was a Test/Quality/Mfg Engineering Manager for IBM and was a Bond Trader on Wall street. Surely, folks that fit the description wouldn't qualify as any of those.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that throughout my entire life I have been very active in serving the communities that I have lived in, including Chapter President and National PR Chair for NSBE, a USC Student Senator, a USC Trojan Knight, a USC Engineering Student Council Member, a USC Black Students Council Member, and a Resident Assistant; as well as a founding board member of the RTP NBMBAA, a member of Durham County Transportation Advisory Board, Durham City / County Planning Commission, Atlanta House of Love for the Homeless Board, Cobb County Transportation Advisory Board, Georgia CASA Board, United Way of Greater Atlanta VIP Selection Committee, Jomandi Theater Board, Silver Lake Film Festival Board, Downtown LA Film Festival Board, Chaka Khan Foundation Fundraising Dinner Committee, and the USC Black Alumni Association Board. Nawl, not a "black male", especially a "tall, bald" one.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that just hours earlier, I was at one of the finest hotels in their city, handling celebrity talent at a Emmy Awards Gifting Suite, as part of business as usual, and, invited to attend a VIP Emmy pre-party that very night in their city. The guy doing that, just DON"T fit the description.

    What I don’t get………WHAT I DON”T GET, is, why, during the 45 minutes that they had me on the curb, handcuffed in the sun, before they locked me up and took away my civil rights, that they could not simply review the ATM and bank’s HD video footage to clearly see that the “tall, bald headed, black male”… did not fit MY description.

    Why, at 11:59pm (approximately 6 hours later), was the video footage reviewed only after my request to the Lead Detective for the Beverly Hills Police Department and an FBI Agent to do so, and, after being directly accused by another FBI Special Agent of “…going in and out of the bank several times complaining about the ATM Machine to cause a distraction…” thereby aiding in the armed robbery attempt of a bank that I never heard of, or ever been to; and within 10 minutes……10 MINUTES, my lawyer was told that I was being release because it was clear that it was not me.

    The sad thing is, prior to my freedom being taken from me for an easily proven crime I did not commit, I was walking back to my car, by myself, because I needed to check my parking meter, so that I wouldn’t get a ticket and break the law. In fact, if it wasn’t for a text message that I was responding to, I would have actually been running up LaCienega Blvd when the first Beverly Hills Police Officer approached me. Running!

    I want to thank GOD, Robin Lola Harrison of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, Robert Dowdy and Attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn , without whom, I am certain that I would still be locked up in the custody of the Beverly Hills Police Department. Based on comments made by a Beverly Hills Police Officer during my booking, and an FBI Special Agent, it appeared that they had tried and convicted me.

    To everyone, especial black males (regardless of height, hair style or particular shade of "black") - Hari Williams, Michael Marcel, Reginald L Shaw, Shawn Carter Peterson, Devon Libran, Aaron D Spears, Cedric Sanders, Cornelius Smith Jr, Catfish Jean, Ashford Thomas, Drew McCaskill, Carlton Jordan, Jawn Murray, AS Lee, Bertrand L Roberson Sr, Deron Benjamin, Hawk Oau, James Alan Belk, Juhahn Jones, Darryl Dunning II, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Stephen Bishop, Logan Alexander, Michael Moore, Brandon Dmico Anderson, Jon Covington, Lamar Stewart, David Mitchell, Gerald Andre Radford, Gerald Edwin Rush II, Gerald Yates, etal, - I have always stayed as far away from being on the wrong side of the law as much as possible; so please, be careful. If something like this can happen to ME, it can certainly happen to ANYONE!

    Time has come for a change in the way OUR law enforcement officers "serve and protect" us.

    We all do not, FIT THE DESCRIPTION.

And (some) white people wonder why there's so much anger and frustration?


Sunday Shows Feature Same Old Republicans Spouting Off The Same Old Tired Talking Points

By: Justin Baragona
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 6:09 pm   

If it’s Sunday, that means it is time for the same old GOP fame whores to show up on our television sets and push their particular talking point while simultaneously blaming President Obama for anything and everything. That was particularly the case this Sunday as all of the Sunday show regulars showed up. They were chomping at the bit to push the case for full-scale war in the Middle East. The ongoing situation with ISIS was used by the warmongering GOP lawmakers to ostensibly make the case that a long-term military mission needs to be put in place.

It was a full-on assault by the most notoriously camera addicted figures from the Republican Party. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) made an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Rogers was the most frequent Sunday show guest in 2013 and looks well on his way to repeating in 2014. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) showed up on Fox News Sunday. McCain finished second to Rogers in 2013 and is doing his best to retake the crown in 2014. McCain good buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was on CNN’s State of the Union. Graham was tied for 5th in 2013 but seems to be making a push for a top 3 showing this year.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who typically parrots Graham and McCain, appeared on Face the Nation on CBS. Ayotte made 10 Sunday show appearances in 2013 and has been seen numerous times so far this year. Another frequent guest, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who made 13 appearances in 2013, turned up at ABC’s This Week. All of these guests pretty much said the same things. Essentially, the all made sure to toe the line when it came to pushing the neo-con narrative that further military action needs to be take against ISIS and a war with American boots on the ground is an inevitability.

On This Week, McCaul used the well-worn neo-con line that we need to fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Congressman, if — if you get the kind of expansion you and General Allen then are talking about, won’t that require a new authorization from Congress?

    The 2001 authorization targeted al Qaeda, not ISIS. It would be a real stretch to put this under the Iraq authorization of 2002.

    So won’t Congress have to act here?

    MCCAUL: We believe that the administration should be in consultation with Congress. So far, they have, under The War Powers Act. But once that period of time expires, we believe it’s necessary to come back to the Congress to get additional authorities and to update, if you will, the authored use of military force.

    With respect to General Allen’s comments on regional strategy, I — I whole-heartedly agree. I believe that America, the United States shouldn’t bear this burden alone. We have regional allies, both Muslim allies and European allies, that can bring a lot of pressure on ISIS. And I don’t think you’re going to — you’re going to win this with a containment policy alone. This administration thus far has only dealt with containment. We need to expand these air strikes so that we can ultimately defeat and eliminate ISIS, because I would far prefer to eliminate them over here than have to deal with them…

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that…

    MCCAUL: — in the United States.

As Jason Easley pointed out, McCain told Fox News Sunday show host Chris Wallace that he wants President Obama to do “stupid stuff” in the Middle East and essentially place troops on the ground there. As one would figure from Fox News, there was no real sort of pushback from Wallace. Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Rogers actually did get resistance and tough questions from the moderator, because Chris Jansing was filling in for outgoing host David Gregory. If this were Chuck Todd, as it will be in a month, Rogers would have been able to safely recite his talking points without worrying about follow-up questions.

State of the Union host Candy Crowley essentially let Graham spout off his talking points without any challenge whatsoever. Graham was on at the same time as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and they were both asked questions regarding their assessments of the threat if ISIS. Graham claimed that ISIS was an immediate threat to the homeland. Instead of following up with Graham regarding that claim, Crowley just moved on to her next set of questions.

    CROWLEY: Senator Graham, I am trying to kind of — kind of home in on, what is the immediate threat to the homeland? Because there are a number of people saying, it’s not — really not an immediate threat, has to be dealt with. It’s a threat to the region, but it’s not an immediate threat to the U.S.

    GRAHAM: Well, I would argue that the intel that we have been provided in Congress is that there are hundreds of American citizens holding U.S. passports. There are European citizens going to the fight that can penetrate America by having European-U.S. passports.

    A lot of jihadists have flocked to area. They have expressed the will to hit the homeland. That’s part of their agenda is to drive us out of the Mideast. Do they have the capability to hit the homeland — homeland? I would say yes.

    It’s about time now to assume the worst about these guys, rather than to underestimating them. They’re not the J.V. team anymore. They’re the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, but they’re not the only one. They’re in competition with the other jihadist groups.

    And the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America. They’re fighting for status with al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra. All of these guys are bidding for future recruits and status, and the gold medal goes to the one that can hit us here at home. To those who underestimate this threat, you do so at America’s peril.

Ayotte essentially repeated the same strategy to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. When Schieffer asked her what we should do against ISIS and in the Middle East, Ayotte responded with the following.

    And what I think is that a containment strategy is not going to cut it. We need a strategy to defeat ISIS. As the secretary of defense has described, it is an imminent threat to us. It’s like nothing we have ever seen in terms of the sophistication of this group, the funding, the territory that they control.

    And we need a strategy that is going to expand the airstrikes, going to support the Kurds further and the Iraqi forces, but in particular the Kurds, get them the military equipment that they are requesting, and also look at supporting more and more support and enhancement for the moderate opposition in Syria to deal with the sanctuaries in Syria.

    We have to do that if we want to defeat ISIS, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week. And then I would say also the political solution is important. We need an Iraqi government that is inclusive.

It would at least be a change of pace if we could see some slightly different faces saying these things. But we aren’t so lucky. Nope, instead we just get the same tired actors repeating the same bad lines, time and time again.


John McCain Loses His Mind By Calling On Obama To Do “Stupid Stuff” In The Middle East

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 12:26 pm      

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John McCain criticized President Obama for refusing to do stupid stuff in the Middle East. McCain said, “No more don’t do stupid stuff.” In other words, McCain claimed that the US can defeat ISIS by doing stupid things.

Sen. McCain said,

    The president has got to come forward with a cohesive, comprehensive strategy, not only in Iraq, but also in Ukraine also in other parts of the world. This is an administration which the kindest word I can use is feckless where they have not outlined a role that the United States of America has to play, and that’s a leadership role.

    No more leading from behind. No more don’t do stupid stuff. No more tell Vladmir that I’m going to be more flexible if I’m reelected , when I’m reelected. The United States, the president has to understand that America must lead, and when America hasn’t a lot of bad things happen in the world. This is not like the earthquake in San Francisco. All of this could have been avoided like leaving a residual force in Iraq, and obviously the challenges now are much greater than it would have been when the president made the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq among other things.

What McCain was directly advocating was for President Obama to do stupid stuff in the Middle East. Specifically, he wants to see troops on the ground in Iraq. Sen. McCain retold the same lie from two weeks ago when he blamed Obama for Bush’s decision not to leave troops in Iraq. George W. Bush signed the Status Of Forces agreement that paved the way for combat troops leaving Iraq. A residual force was not left behind because the Iraqi government refused to give US troops immunity from local prosecution.

The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people wanted the Americans out, so they demanded a deal breaker condition in the SOF agreement. Without local immunity, US troops could be legally arrested and imprisoned in Iraq. Any president would have to be insane, or John McCain, to agree to those conditions.

Sen. McCain was claiming that the way to defeat terrorists is to do stupid things, like sending American troops into a ground war that ISIS is trying to bait the US into. McCain rejected Obama’s direct targeting of terrorists. Instead he want to provide the terrorists with American targets on the ground by sending troops back to Iraq.

McCain’s comments on Fox News Sunday were an example of the mainstream media’s “foreign policy expert” in action. John McCain is trying to rattle the country into another Middle East war, and the media are going along with him because they think that he is good television. John McCain is reckless warmonger who won’t be satisfied until American troops are back to bleeding and dying on Iraqi soil.

John McCain is the mainstream foreign policy voice of the Republican Party, which why it is ridiculous to think that these people will ever nominate someone like Rand Paul in 2016. If Rand Paul wants the nomination, he is going to have become a lot more like John McCain, because do stupid stuff is foreign policy platform of the Republican Party.


Without David Gregory or Chuck Todd GOP Talking Points Get Challenged On Meet The Press

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 1:46 pm   

Chris Jansing was the fill in moderator on Meet The Press, and without David Gregory or Chuck Todd, Republican talking points about the threat of ISIS to America were strongly challenged.


CHRIS JANSING: From your perspective, well, we’ve heard a ramping up of the rhetoric by the administration. How significant a threat is ISIS?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI): Oh, it’s a very real threat. You saw the very barbaric behavior. And one of the problems is it’s gone unabated for nearly two years, and that draws people from Britain to across Europe, even the United States, to go and join the fight. They see that as a winning ideology, a winning strategy, and they want to be a part of it. And that’s what makes it so dangerous. They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores. And that’s why we’re so concerned about it.

CHRIS JANSING: But we’ve heard the Pentagon say that, right now, they are not in a position to launch an attack on the United States. Is there any credible intelligence that ISIS is either planning that or has the capability to do it.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Well, I’m going to dispute that. So we know that, and the number 2,000 of Westerners with Western passports is low. Intelligence has a very different number and it’s much higher than that. And the very fight between Al Qaeda that allowed ISIS to separate from Al Qaeda in Syria was the fact that they wanted to conduct Western-style operations….

CHRIS JANSING: But aren’t we, Congressman, significantly safer than we were on 9/11 in terms of being able to keep those kinds of threats out of the United States?

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Well, we have a better system of trying to do it, but we’re just not configured. We, the United States intelligence services and Department of Defense and administrative policy is not configured in a way to continue a tempo that allows disruption. The reason ISIS is so successful is there was nothing deterring them for years. So they recruited, they financed, they trained. All of that was happening.

And so, yes, we might be okay if we continue the posture that we’re in from a defensive posture. But remember, they get new recruits every single day. And what’s dangerous, think of this: If that’s a British citizen, we believe it was, you have somebody that was watching and participating in the whole exercise of making that video. That individual goes back home and, is again, buys one plane ticket, they’re in the United States. We may or may not know who that individual is. That’s what’s so dangerous about this, and why we can’t let them continue unabated.

CHRIS JANSING: So what do we do about it? We’ve seen what the U.K. has done, for example. They’ve been revoking passports of U.K. citizens who have gone over to Syria to fight so they can’t come back West. Obviously the president is considering a whole range of options. We already have air strikes in Iraq; questions about whether there should be air strikes in Syria. Should there, for example, be more small teams of special ops on the ground to gather more intelligence? What do we do now?

Jansing asked Rep. Rogers (R-MI) is there is any credible intelligence to back up his claim that ISIS is a plane ticket away from attacking the United States, and he never answered the question. Chris Jansing’s questioning of Rogers was very logical. She didn’t let him get away with repeating his talking points unchallenged. In a moment that has been virtually unseen since Tim Russert died, she made him defend his claims.

This is the kind of questioning that viewers want to see on Meet The Press. Jansing challenged her guest with facts. Meet The Press doesn’t need a liberal or a conservative moderator. It needs someone who is prepared and committed to not accepting talking points as answers.

Unfortunately, Chuck “challenging Republican lies isn’t my job” Todd will be taking over the program. Viewers can expect a return to the endless repetition of talking points next month. For one week, it was nice to see a journalist on a Sunday show ask questions that weren’t based on talking points and follow up the answers with deeper questions.

Real journalism made a brief return to Meet The Press. Enjoy it now, because Chuck Todd is coming in September.


In A Victory for Public Education Judge Says NC School Vouchers Are Unconstitutional

By: Rmuse
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 10:42 am   

For the past decade, Republicans have been on a tear to blatantly transfer taxpayer money directly to private enterprises without regard for the needs of the people. Whether it is privatizing Medicare, Social Security, social services, or education, Republicans have devised various schemes to appropriate taxpayer money to profit their donors; including churches Hell-bent on inculcating Christianity in private religious schools at the expense of public education.

One of the most important clauses in the U.S. Constitution is the General Welfare clause in Article I – section 8 that reads, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” According to the Founding Fathers and first four Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, taxes providing for the ‘general welfare’ were to provide housing, food, medical care, and education for the poor among other domestic programs. In fact, one of the authors of the Constitution, James Madison killed legislation giving taxpayer money to churches anxious to profit from pretending to provide for the people because the Founders believed the government should never, never ever, give money to churches for anything; including education.

Republicans believe America’s first four Presidents were completely wrong and in several states are regularly taking government money intended for public education and handing it directly to private Christian schools under the guise of vouchers for “charter schools,” a clear violation of the Constitution. In North Carolina last week, a judge finally struck down a Republican school voucher scam to transfer public school funding directly to private religious schools as patently unconstitutional, and elucidated why vouchers, charter schools, and private religious schools fail constitutional muster.

The judge, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, identified the Republican legislation, “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” as a scam to “siphon money from the public schools in favor of private schools and allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.” The judge was not finished, and besides decrying the obscenity of school vouchers, he correctly identified the major flaw in charter schools; they have no obligation to teach anything. Hopefully, President Obama will pay attention and stop listening to charter advocates like education secretary Arne Duncan and an ever-growing cabal of school privatization advisors within his Administration.

Just a few of the reasons the judge gave for ruling school vouchers unconstitutional are: appropriates to private schools grades K-12, by use of funds which apparently have gone to the university system budget but which should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools, appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose, appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education, and appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.” In essence, the judge concluded that the North Carolina legislation “fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

Republicans had included a statement in their voucher legislation they assumed would protect their religious privatization scam by stipulating that “scholarship grant funds awarded to eligible students attending a non-public school shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.” The Judge was not fooled and noted in his ruling that nowhere in the state’s General Statutes is there any provision for scholarship grants to come from any source other than taxpayer funds. He said, “If scholarship grants shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina, this court is at a complete loss to understand the source of those funds. Follow the money. The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

Judge Hobgood recognized, and reminded Republicans, that the state had an obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the Supreme Court in its Leandro decision . He said, “The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk.” The parents who demanded that taxpayers pay for their children’s private religious education were represented by a Koch brother-backed law firm, Institute for Justice, and contended they would be harmed if the court did not help implement the theft of public school money to profit private religious schools. Private schools that Judge Hobgood accurately noted received taxpayer dollars yet were “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time.” Whether the Judge realized it or not, he defined, quite accurately, what charter schools entail and why school vouchers are a scam and outright theft of taxpayer money meant for public education.

There has been an ongoing Justice Department, and other plaintiffs’, lawsuit targeting Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher privatization scam that records revealed multiple schools accepting school vouchers actually disclosed “discriminatory policies such as the legal right to expel gay and lesbian students as well as admitted to charging the state more in tuition for students who are not members of the private school’s sponsoring churches.” In fact, Jindal has thumbed his nose at the Constitution for years by continuing to steal taxpayer money intended for public schools to provide funding for private and charter religious schools. Of course, Jindal blames President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the Department of Justice portion of the lawsuits by claiming “This is shameful. President Obama and Attorney General Holder are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents.” These are parents that insist on taxpayers funding their children’s religious instruction, and if Jindal and the Republican legislature were not robbing public education funds, public schools would not be failing.

Republicans claim, ad nauseum, that they are the champions of the original intent of the Founding Fathers, and yet they have consistently opposed the concept that taxpayer dollars are meant to “provide for the general welfare of the people;” not churches, not private religious schools, and definitely not at the expense of public education. Although the Judge’s ruling was a defeat for school vouchers and Koch and Art Pope-backed privatization efforts, his portrayal of charter schools as “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time” was priceless, and accurate.

This is not to say that there are no private religious, or charter schools, providing a decent education to their “customers,” there are. However, they are under no obligation to provide an education to prepare students to compete with public school students who are not indoctrinated with anti-science, bastardized history, and religious mythos. The Founding Fathers were specific that taxpayer money was to provide for, among other things, the general welfare of the people that included a sound public education; something Republicans have decided is the purview of private, for profit, enterprises that are more often than not religious schools stealing from taxpayers to inculcate students into the Christian religion.

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« Reply #15179 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:37 AM »

Russia admits its soldiers have been caught in Ukraine

Defence ministry source claims captured soldiers seen on video were on a border patrol and had strayed into Ukraine by mistake

Shaun Walker in Kiev, Tuesday 26 August 2014 10.44 BST   

Sources in Moscow have admitted that men captured inside Ukraine are indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake. The admission comes as President malignant tumor Pig Putin Putin is due to land in Minsk for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday afternoon.

Videos were released by Ukrainian authorities of interrogations of prisoners, who said they were serving Russian army officers. One said he had not been told exactly where they were going, but had an idea he was inside Ukraine. There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the recordings, but the fact that Russian wire agencies ran a defence ministry admission that soldiers had indeed crossed into Ukraine suggested that the footage was genuine.

"The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.

Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers, though it did not state how they were caught. Weapons and fighters are able to cross the porous border freely, but until now there has never been confirmation that serving Russian soldiers are active inside Ukraine, despite repeated claims from Kiev and some circumstantial evidence.

This makes the videos released on Tuesday all the more significant, if authenticated.

Two weeks ago, the Guardian saw a convoy of armoured personnel carriers and support trucks with Russian military plates cross an unmarked section of the border near the town of Donetsk.

Russia furiously denied that any incursion had taken place, and said the column was on a "border patrol" mission that stayed strictly on the Russian side.

The incursions by Russian soldiers are likely to be discussed at the meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, on Tuesday.

Poroshenko has already landed in Minsk and malignant tumor Pig Putin is due to arrive in the early afternoon. The official reason for the summit is a meeting of the nations of the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. But EU officials and Poroshenko are also invited, and all eyes will be on the expected meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and Poroshenko.

Russia has called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, but Kiev wants to finish its "anti-terrorist operation" to win back control of the whole country. Both leaders are under pressure from domestic audiences not to make concessions, and there is little hope of a major breakthrough.


Ukraine president calls snap election as he prepares for malignant tumor Pig Putin meeting

Petro Poroshenko dissolves parliament amid accusations of border intrusions before talks

Shaun Walker in Kiev and agencies, Tuesday 26 August 2014 01.29 BST   

Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, has dissolved parliament and called for early elections in October as his country continues to battle a pro-Russia insurgency in its eastern regions, and Kiev again accused Russia of sending soldiers into its territory.

In a statement, Poroshenko said snap elections would be held on 26 October, and that the dissolution, signalled by the breakup of the majority coalition last month, was in line with "the expectations of the vast majority of the citizens of Ukraine" and called it a move toward "cleansing" the parliament.

In advance of a meeting between Poroshenko and malignant tumor Pig Putin, Kiev said Moscow was trying to alter the reality on the ground ahead of the talks, sending in a column of Russian armoured vehicles disguised as local separatists. Russia denied any such moves, though foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow plans to send another humanitarian convoy into Ukraine, with or without Kiev's agreement.

Ukraine's security service said soldiers from the 98th airborne division based in central Russia had been captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne, about 50km (30 miles) south-east of Donetsk. "Investigators opened a criminal probe into illegal border crossing by Russian armed citizens," it added.

Ukraine's defence minister, Valeriy Geletey, said on his Facebook page: "Today Ukrainian armed forces captured many Russian soldiers. Officially, they are at exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine." He added that their families knew nothing about their true fate, he said.

Malignant tumor Pig Putin and Poroshenko will meet on the sidelines of a summit in Minsk on Tuesday afternoon, but hopes that the dialogue will bring about any major improvement are slim. On Monday Poroshenko expressed "extraordinary concern" over the alleged military moves and the second convoy in a telephone call with Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

In recent weeks the separatists have been pushed into areas outside their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, but they could yet make life harder for the Ukrainian forces by opening a second front from the south.

The Minsk summit is a meeting between the EU and the heads of state of Putin's Customs Union, which includes Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia has long wanted Ukraine to join the Customs Union, and it was former president Viktor Yanukovych's U-turn over signing an EU integration pact in favour of further consultations on the Customs Union that sparked the protests last December that brought about his downfall.

Ukrainian officials did not hold out much hope for a breakthrough at the talks.

"The malignant tumor has been the dictator of Russia for 14 years and is used to dealing in blackmail, threats and provocations," said Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, in an interview with Ukrainian television. "He will do everything to make Ukrainian citizens feel nervous and threatened."

Malignant tumor Pig Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that the meeting between the malignant tumor and Poroshenko would probably touch on "the internal Ukrainian crisis", as well as issues of Russian humanitarian aid, "to avoid unnecessary delays" in its delivery.

Last week a convoy of over 200 repainted military trucks entered east Ukraine from Russia, carrying aid for the beleaguered residents of Donetsk. Ukraine said Russia sent in the convoy without proper permission, in what amounted to an "invasion", while Russia accused Ukraine of manufacturing delays to keep the trucks out.

Some have suggested that the parade was a breach of the Geneva conventions. Lavrov said lawyers should examine the footage, but personally he found nothing humiliating about it.

The prisoner parade was held as a response to a large military parade in Kiev to mark Ukraine's Independence Day, which included 1,500 soldiers and 90 units of military vehicles and heavy weaponry, including the Grad rockets that have caused many civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine.

European politicians have come down harshly on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, with several rounds of sanctions imposed by the EU and US. However, there has also been pressure on Ukraine to make concessions, with Angela Merkel telling Poroshenko during a visit to Kiev on Saturday that Kiev should increase autonomy for the eastern regions.

After leaving Kiev, Merkel said in an interview with German television that "decentralisation" of power in Ukraine was important, and hoped that a breakthrough could be made in Minsk.

"I want to find a way, as many others do, which does not damage Russia. We want to have good trade relations with Russia as well. We want reasonable relations with Russia. We are depending on one another and there are so many other conflicts in the world where we should work together, so I hope we can make progress," said Merkel.

With pressure from nationalists in both countries, it is unclear whether either side could make enough concessions to satisfy the other. Ukraine has said that signing a new version of the EU integration agreement is non-negotiable. Kiev is also against introducing Russian as a second-state language and federalising the political system, both things that Russia is demanding. Kiev wants Russia to stop organising and funding the insurgency, something that Russia denies it is doing at all.

Lavrov again insisted on Monday that there are no illegal incursions over the border, claiming Russia was "fully responsible" for its side of the border and noting that an OSCE observer mission had not fixed any illegal crossings of weaponry. However, the OSCE are only mandated to monitor the official checkpoints, and are not allowed to observe the long, unguarded stretches where dirt tracks criss-cross the border and where unmarked military vehicles can frequently be seen coming and going.

It was on one of these tracks, close to the Russian border town of Donetsk, that the Guardian saw a Russian military column make an incursion over the border into Ukraine earlier this month. Ukrainian officials said they had later destroyed it, but did not provide any evidence. Russia denied the column ever crossed the border, claiming it was a border patrol mission that operated strictly on the Russian side.


As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine

AUG. 25, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.

The public humiliation of prisoners came as the presidents of Russia and Ukraine prepared to meet for peace talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Tuesday. The taunting and provocation appeared to be aimed at dissuading the Ukrainian government from accepting a settlement that might forestall a broader Russian intervention, a development that separatists here are banking on as their military fortunes wane.

Further muddying the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of opening a new front in the war by sending an armored column across the border from Russia south of the Ukrainian lines that surround the rebel capital, Donetsk.

The Russian government dismissed the accusation and the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, said that Western governments should not expect Russia to make all the concessions in a settlement and that Ukraine, too, would have to compromise.

The Ukrainian military said 10 tanks and two armored infantry vehicles manned by Russian soldiers disguised as separatist fighters had crossed the border near the town of Novoazovsk and engaged in combat with Ukrainian border guards. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Also on Monday, Russia announced it would send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine across a border area controlled by pro-Russian separatists; Ukrainian officials say the movement of goods is calculated to undermine the country’s sovereignty.

The drama that played out on the streets of Donetsk Monday seemed sure to ratchet up tensions. A military unit of Russian nationals from the region of North Ossetia, in southern Russia, held the woman at a checkpoint in a roundabout in Donetsk known as “the Motel,” for a nearby hotel. The men, smiling and gesturing toward the woman, waved over cars for drivers to observe or take part.

“We should hang you on the square,” one woman in the crowd yelled, then walked up and spat in the face of the victim, then kicked her in a thigh, causing the woman accused of spying to stagger back.

The gunmen looked on. At times, the pro-Russian soldiers posed beside the crying woman to take selfies on their smartphones, or playfully twirl her hair with their fingers.

At one point, a fighter walked a few paces back, crouched in the street and aimed a Kalashnikov rifle at the woman in a mock execution. The woman shut her eyes. “Open your eyes, stand up straight!” another of the gunmen yelled.

A call placed by The New York Times to an aide for a senior separatist commander informing him of the abuse resulted in the rebel soldiers at the checkpoint briefly detaining the journalists. The aide, who uses only the nickname The Georgian, sent a car with gunmen to extricate the suspected spy and journalists from the Motel.

The two groups of gunmen agreed to release the journalists, but were not able to agree on handing over the woman. After the discussion, the captors drove her away to an unknown location.

The man known as The Georgian, who is a member of the Vostok Battalion, which consists of mostly local Ukrainians, said the Ossetian volunteers at the Motel checkpoint do not report to Ukrainian commanders, so nothing further could be done. He said he condemned the abuse.

At the peace talks in Minsk, President malignant tumor Pig Putin of Russia and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the Russia-led Customs Union, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus. Although the talks offer some hope for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Poroshenko are under strong pressure from nationalists at home to press on militarily.

Oleh Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian diplomat, said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that Mr. Poroshenko will use the summit meeting to ask malignant tumor Pig Putin to halt the flow of Russian volunteers and military hardware across the border and may offer, perhaps in private talks or via subordinates on the sidelines, autonomous status for portions of eastern Ukraine in exchange. The Ukrainian government, however, will not accept any legitimization of the main rebel group here, the Donetsk People’s Republic, Mr. Voloshyn said, particularly after the public abuse of prisoners.

“After yesterday’s parade of prisoners of war, the sympathy toward the people of the Donbass is low in other regions in Ukraine,” he said, making it politically difficult for Mr. Poroshenko to negotiate, something that factions in the separatist movement intent on drawing in Russian peacekeepers want, Mr. Voloshyn said. “Most Ukrainians want peace. But if it comes to a choice between total humiliation and war, they will choose war.”

In Moscow, Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister, was questioned about the parade held Sunday in which prisoners of war from the Ukrainian Army were displayed. Researchers with Human Rights Watch said the parade violated Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment against prisoners of war.” Mr. Lavrov said the parade did not appear to meet that standard. “I saw a picture of this parade,” he said. “I did not see anything close to abuse.”

* Petro Poroshenko.jpg (20.27 KB, 459x331 - viewed 7 times.)

* malignant tumor pig putin.jpg (8.63 KB, 300x226 - viewed 5 times.)

* UKRAINE-master675.jpg (84.81 KB, 675x449 - viewed 5 times.)
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