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« Reply #2775 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:16 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/23/2012 01:37 PM

'Nothing But Revenge': Tymoshenko Helps Unite Opposition Ahead of Vote

By Christian Neef

From inside the hospital where she is being held, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is forging compromises to help unite Ukraine's fractured opposition parties. With a parliamentary election coming up this Sunday, she hopes to force out the current regime and secure her release.

It takes a little detective work to find the TVi television station, across the street from "Milk Factory No. 1" near the main train station in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. It's not a very inviting neighborhood, especially after dark.

The live broadcast of the program Sogodni pro golowne, or "The Most Important News of the Day," begins at 7:30 each evening, and would be a standard political talk show if not for two unique features. First, TVi is the last independent broadcaster in the country, and it openly supports the opposition. And second, host Mustafa Nayem is a veritable thorn in the side of the regime in Kiev.

Today's topic: Will the opposition finally defeat the governing party of unpopular President Viktor Yanukovich in parliamentary elections on Oct. 28? And which of its politicians should the opposition thrust into the spotlight in the last days before the vote? Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former economics minister and foreign minister in the government of former President Viktor Yushchenko, whom came into power after the Orange Revolution? Or Vitali Klitschko, the reigning World Boxing Council heavyweight champion?

"Yatsenyuk?" host Nayem asks. The delicate-looking lawyer with glasses and thinning hair, completely lacking in charisma? A man many in this xenophobic country erroneously think is a Jew? "But what do you want with Klitschko?" a political scientist argues. "The man isn't a politician."

It's strange to hear the opposition discussing its prospects in this Sunday's election while making no mention of the regime's most important opponent. Not a word is spoken about Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition's top candidate, though her imprisonment renders her position to be one that is purely symbolic.

'As Ladylike as Ever'

On this evening, the former prime minister remains where she has been for the last six months: in a room with barred windows at the Railway Hospital in Kharkiv, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Kiev. President Yanukovich, hoping to eliminate his political archrival, had Tymoshenko sentenced to seven years in prison last fall. But despite his efforts, she continues to make regular headlines, such as when she demanded to be admitted to a hospital because of a painful herniated disc. She also attracted media attention when she insisted on being treated by German doctors, claimed that she was being mistreated by prison personnel and, finally, staged a hunger strike before the European soccer championships this summer.

Only been a few stories have come out of the hospital in Kharkiv since this summer, though. On one such occasion, the former prime minister accused prison authorities of deliberately exposing her to high levels of radiation, and on another she slept on the concrete floor in front of the door to her room when fellow party members were not allowed to visit.

A video released in late September shows Tymoshenko in jeans and a white cardigan. A guard tries to calm her down as she takes off a shoe and bangs it against a locked door. Many in Kiev had seen the video before long -- upon closer inspection it turned out that her shoes had 10-centimeter heels. "Even behind bars, Tymoshenko is as ladylike as ever," wrote the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, insinuating that a woman suffering from lower back pain would never wear high heels.

Is it possible that her health isn't as bad as she makes it out to be? When he visited her on the Sunday before last, Karl Max Einhäupl, the head of Berlin's Charité Hospital, found that Tymoshenko's pain had "decreased significantly" and that her overall mobility had "increased."

Tymoshenko Falls Silent

It's autumn in Kiev, and the chestnut trees on Khreschatyk Street, the city's main boulevard, have already dropped their leaves. A small tent city put up by Tymoshenko supporters still stands in front of the building at building number 44 on the street, but inside, at the "Art Club 44," they're celebrating John Lennon's birthday. No one here talks about Tymoshenko anymore.

Perhaps Tymoshenko herself senses the change. The 51-year-old politician, who rarely misses an opportunity to be in the limelight, has fallen silent. Still, she did write an open letter in September, accusing President Yanukovich of having transformed a country that was oriented toward Europe into a dictatorship, and calling upon the West to issue a visa ban against members of the government, freeze their assets and launch international criminal proceedings against them for corruption.

But where is Tymoshenko's voice in the final hours of this election campaign? "She is saying nothing," says Valery Kalnysh, editor-in-chief of the major Kiev daily newspaper Kommersant Ukraina. "She'll have to stay up nights to give enough interviews and issue enough statements for people to remember her now."

Is she suffering from depression? Has she realized that she is powerless? Or is it a calculated move? Her confidants say that she is focusing on only one goal: to gain a majority for the opposition in parliament and force the current regime out of power. "Nothing but revenge" informs her actions, says a friend, "even if the party falls apart as a result."

Uniting Opposition Parties

In fact, Tymoshenko, even while imprisoned, has managed to force part of the divided opposition to form a unified front, the core of which consists of her party, the All-Ukrainian Union, or "Fatherland" party, and Yatsenyuk's Front for Change. Yatsenyuk has taken over Tymoshenko's role, leading the newly formed United Opposition in the fight for the 225 seats in parliament that are assigned to political parties. After the election, the group intends to cooperate in parliament with Klitschko's Alliance for Reform and the nationalist Freedom Party. This coalition of three groups is ahead of the president's coalition in recent polls.

The remaining 225 seats are assigned by direct mandate in the provinces. To increase the chances of regime opponents, Tymoshenko has called upon her party to withdraw its own candidates in races where other opposition candidates are in a better position to win. On the Sunday before last, her fellow party members obediently complied with her wishes and took 26 candidates out of the running, which benefits Klitschko, whose party has candidates leading in several administrative districts.

If the opposition managed to win a majority, it could push through an amnesty law it has already drafted, but it needs at least 300 votes to do so. That would open the prison gates for Tymoshenko and enable her to exact revenge on Yanukovich in the 2015 presidential election. And that election is her only goal at the moment. But will the unified opposition front last beyond Sunday's parliamentary election? Tymoshenko is constantly sending letters to Yatsenyuk from prison, asking him to ensure that her portrait continues to be displayed in the streets. But the former minister, who isn't on good terms with Tymoshenko and has his own presidential aspirations, isn't complying with her wishes.

Klitschko has also remained aloof when it comes to Tymoshenko. He sees his prospects improving now that the polls show his party unseating Tymoshenko's party from the second-place spot. His success has less to do with his call for "European standards for everyone" than with the impression Klitschko made on voters when he defended his world championship title on television. Ukrainians see him as little more than a nice guy.

Taking Risks

Tymoshenko knows that she is holding her fellow party members hostage to her own ambitions, but she apparently doesn't care. Under normal circumstances, most of the politicians in her Fatherland party who already hold seats in parliament would be reelected to those seats. But many will lose their seats as a result of the compromise with Klitschko and other opposition parties. It's doubtful that those who will now win those seats, thanks to Tymoshenko, will support her in the 2015 presidential campaign.

The former prime minister is also hazarding the possibility that something revolutionary could happen on Oct. 28. For the first time in Ukraine and in the post-Soviet region, the right-wing extremist forces of the ultranationalist Freedom Party could enter parliament. Ukrainians' disappointment with the Orange Revolution has increased their popularity, and they already control the mayor's offices in many towns of the Galician regions. Tymoshenko is partly responsible for voters' acceptance of the far right, and now she needs it to achieve a majority in parliament.

Freedom Party Chairman Oleh Tyahnybok, 43, a doctor and lawyer from the western city of Lviv, is the Ukrainian version of former Austrian far-right politician Jörg Haider. On a recent October day, he unveiled his party's first proposed legislation to the press. It relates to pension policies, real estate speculation and the fight against the oligarchs. "We have a social plan," says Tyahnybok, trying to portray himself as impartial. He is trying to shed his party's reputation as a pariah, a party in the tradition of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which cooperated with Hitler's Wehrmacht for a time. True to its motto "Ukraine for Ukrainians," the Freedom Party views both Russians and Jews as occupiers.

Members of the far-right party are now frequently guests on the TVi studio, but no one knows how many Ukrainians are even able to watch its programs anymore. Since TVi exposed how the president's party is buying votes throughout the country, the station was removed from 97 of the country's 500 cable networks. It no longer receives advertising from the governing party, and this year TVi expects to be some €6 million ($7.8 million) in debt.

When the government demanded the payment of €370,000 in back taxes within 10 days, the head of the station appealed to viewers, raising three-quarters of the money within only a week. It was a good sign for Ukraine.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #2776 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:17 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/22/2012 04:47 PM

Parallel Universes in Paris and Berlin: Is the Franco-German Axis Kaput?

By SPIEGEL Staff

The most recent European Union summit exposed deep differences between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Berlin wants Brussels to be bestowed with greater power over national budgets and Paris is calling for an end to austerity. The dispute threatens to intensify the euro crisis.

One of the age-old exercises in European politics is to transform even the most wonderful news into messages of discord. What is new is that the governments in Paris and Berlin are proving to be especially adept at this strange discipline.

It was last Thursday evening in the somber government building in Brussels. The leaders of the 27 European Union countries had just convened for a crisis summit when German Chancellor Angela Merkel surprised them with a novel proposal. What if everyone at the summit would fly to Oslo together in December to jointly accept the Nobel Peace Prize, as a sign of European unity?

The other European leaders' reactions were reserved. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said that it ought to be sufficient for the heads of the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament to make the trip. British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed sending a child from every member state to Oslo. Finally, though, the issue was decided when French President François Hollande rejected the idea of a joint trip altogether, when he said caustically: "I'm not an extra."

Europe's most powerful political team is unable to find a common denominator, from the question of who should be picking up prizes or, more tellingly, to the much broader issue of rescuing the euro. At the Brussels summit last week, Merkel and Hollande, after arguing for hours, agreed on a slim formulaic compromise on the banking union, while all other contentious issues remained unresolved.

Since the days of former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and former French President Charles de Gaulle, Germany and France have generally been run by politicians who placed more value on unity than their differences. The axis between former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former French President Valéry d'Estaing axis proved to be just as resilient as the partnership between their successors, Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand.

Frosty Relations

Under Merkel and Hollande, however, the German-French partnership threatens to deteriorate into nothing but a façade. The two politicians, who hold the fate of the continent in their hands, greet each other politely with kisses on the cheek, and their respective public relations staffs extol their "professional" and "trusting" cooperation.

In truth, however, the relationship began on a cool note and has since slipped below the freezing point. Hollande doesn't want to forgive Merkel for having campaigned for his conservative opponent, former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Now the Chancellery suspects that Hollande is secretly planning a campaign for Merkel's challenger from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück.

Mistrust shapes the relationship between Paris and Berlin, on issues ranging from future European bank regulation to the joint aerospace and defense group EADS and the future architecture of Europe. Hollande suspects that Berlin is using budget consolidation as an excuse to gain European dominance. Merkel notes with unease that Hollande is joining forces with Rome and Madrid to form a joint axis against Germany.

Last Monday, a joint interview with the French president at the Elysée Palace given to six European newspapers offered a sense of how deep the divide is. In the one-hour meeting, Hollande not only criticized German policies more sharply than he ever has before since taking office, but he also rebuffed Merkel's austerity course. "It is France's task to tirelessly tell our partners that there are alternatives to a policy of austerity," Hollande said.

His predecessor Sarkozy also had differences of opinion with Merkel. Nevertheless, the two leaders always managed to agree on a joint position prior to a summit. This has changed, with the two sides now intensifying rather than smoothing over their conflicts prior to meetings.

A Sour Note

When Hollande emerged from his car in front of the European Council building in Brussels on Thursday, he said venomously that Merkel is dragging her feet on European issues because, as everyone knows, she "has her own deadline, in September 2013," referring to the next federal election in Germany. Merkel had previously renewed her call in the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the EU's right to intervene in national budgets, an idea Paris decidedly rejects.

Then the two leaders met privately, hoping to find some common ground despite their differences. But it was clear to everyone who saw Merkel and Hollande marching from their conference room to the Council chamber that the meeting had ended on a sour note. The two politicians looked tense as they spoke with each other, talking so quickly that the interpreters could hardly keep up, with Merkel energetically shaking her head here and there. Only when they had reached the Council chamber did they suddenly put on smiles.

It's been going this way for months. They feign harmony in public, but in reality Merkel and Hollande are living in parallel universes. Their views of the world couldn't be more different.

Open Displeasure in Paris

In recent months, impatience with Germany has grown to open displeasure at the Elysée Palace. Hollande believes that the crisis can only be solved if Europe introduces shared liability for debts. His staff is constantly introducing new proposals that tend to differ in name only: euro bonds, euro bills, a debt repayment fund.

The French are also annoyed that Berlin is incessantly calling for strict budget controls while the continent slips into recession. Paris is critical of what it calls Germany's obsession with austerity, and it believes that cutting spending in a sagging economy is the wrong approach. "A fundamental discussion of this austerity policy is in the air throughout Europe," say officials at the Elysée.

Hollande accuses the Germans of having double standards. He argues that they are demanding a lot of other Europeans while unilaterally pursuing national interests, as was the case with aircraft maker EADS. The German-French group wanted to merge with the British defense contractor BAE, which would have created the world's largest aerospace company, but it would also have jeopardized jobs in Bavaria.

Hollande's supporters complain that Merkel vetoed the deal without explanation and without agreeing to new negotiations. They argue that by intervening, Merkel, who is always calling for more competitiveness and less government, is actually preventing the European defense industry from becoming more competitive.

Officials at Elysée Palance don't seem to understand their counterparts in the Chancellery and, conversely, Berlin is at odds with the new administration in Paris. The Germans had already lowered their expectations before Hollande came into office, and the relationship has steadily deteriorated since then.

Is Hollande Accelerating French Decline?
The journalistic broadside that Hollande fired at the Germans before the EU summit was a "remarkable move," sources within Merkel's administration say diplomatically. Translation: It was "incredibly impudent."

Merkel apparently sees the interview as evidence of the Frenchman's political inexperience. Hollande is a novice in the business of governing, Berlin officials say disparagingly. Unlike his predecessor Sarkozy, he had not held any government posts before becoming president. This is why, from Germany's perspective, he is making mistakes that would never have happened to his predecessors, especially in European policy.

The Germans are particularly dismayed over Hollande's attempt to paint himself as the spokesman of the southern EU countries. It upsets them that the Frenchman is reviving old plans for a Mediterranean union on Europe's southern edge. In early October, Hollande met with the leaders of four other Southern European and five North African countries at a conference in Malta. Officials in Berlin complain that after having painstakingly disabused Sarkozy of the notion of a new southern axis, they now have to start all over again.

Merkel's confidants fear that Hollande is accelerating France's economic decline, to the detriment of all of Europe. Although the president pushed through the fiscal pact, they argue, he hasn't done much else to modernize his country.

"You don't get France's problems under control by raising taxes and lowering the retirement age," scoffs a German government official.

An Open Quarrel

Whether the issue is reform, spending money, solidarity or integration, there have been many crises in the German-French relationship before, but the rift has never been this wide. The two sides have accused each other of playing with marked cards ever since the unsuccessful June summit in Brussels.

At the time, the Germans and the French had agreed to develop a joint European financial regulatory agency, which was to bail out ailing banks if necessary. The French interpreted the agreement to mean that the so-called banking union was to commence on Jan. 1, 2013, but that apparently didn't coincide with the German view. In Berlin, officials fear that if the launch date is too early, Germany will be stuck with large liabilities for struggling Southern European banks.

The disagreement led to an open quarrel. In mid-September, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said publicly that the launch date was not to be. His French counterpart, Pierre Moscovici, was furious. "No, I don't agree with Mr. Schäuble," he said after a meeting in Cyprus, noting that there was no reason to delay.

The conflict was postponed at last week's summit. Germany managed to convince EU leaders that joint funds could only be paid to banks once the new regulatory agencies are fully operational. But France continues to push for creating the necessary conditions in the coming year.

The situation is no less muddled at EADS. Now that the proposed merger with BAE has fallen apart, the German government wants to sell some EADS shares to automaker Daimler in the coming weeks. It urgently needs Paris, because Hollande has to approve the deal so that the Germans will be included in a shareholder package that would guarantee them an important voice in the company.

But Berlin isn't doing much to mollify the Hollande administration. On the contrary, the German government is currently refusing to provide financial support for the development of the new Airbus A350 wide-body jet. The German Economics Ministry is holding back €600 million ($780 million), whereas Paris paid its share long ago.

Europe's Engine Is Becoming Its Brakes

With the number of German-French conflicts on the rise, the erstwhile engine of European unification has now become a braking factor instead. The entire EU is waiting for Germany and France to finally reach a compromise over the future architecture of the euro, but Berlin's and Paris's ideas on the issue are still far apart.

Chancellor Merkel insists that Brussels should be able to monitor national budgets in the future. "We should give Europe real rights of intervention in national budgets," she said in the Bundestag last week.

Hollande opposes the idea. In addition, a transfer of sovereignty rights would require amending European treaties, which could be discussed at an EU convention, the results of which would have to be approved by the people in France. Hollande, however, fears that the majority of Frenchmen could say "non" to a referendum, as they did in a 2005 referendum on the European constitution. The French president envisions things basically remaining unchanged in Europe, with the heads of state and government continuing to have the last word.

If an amendment to the treaties is to be discussed at all, it will have to include the so-called communitization of debt, says Hollande, in reply to German thoughts on the issue. But this would be "out of the question" as long as "there are individual national budgets," the chancellor said after the summit.

The fronts are hardened, and time is running out. Under the agreement reached by the European leaders, the EU reforms should be approved by December, if possible.

Much is at stake. If the quarreling partners don't find a convincing solution, the euro crisis could intensify even further, with unforeseeable consequences for all of Europe. The fear of a crash is the one sentiment Paris and Berlin still share wholeheartedly, and it's what Europeans are relying on.

"Germany and France will come to terms in the end," says a senior EU official, "as they must."

REPORTED BY RALF NEUKIRCH, MATHIEU VON ROHR, MICHAEL SAUGA, CHRISTOPH SCHULT AND GERALD TRAUFETTER

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #2777 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:22 AM »

Britain and Germany clash on road ahead for EU

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:25 EDT

The foreign ministers of Britain and Germany clashed on their vision for Europe on Tuesday, with William Hague saying Berlin’s integration drive was alienating many in the bloc.

Hague told a foreign policy forum in Berlin that the push for ever-greater coordination in areas like the banking sector and national budgets to fight the euro crisis risked in fact driving a wedge through the EU.

“The coalition government is committed to Britain playing a leading role in the EU but I must also be frank: public disillusionment with the EU in our country is the deepest it has ever been,” the British foreign secretary said.

“People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say… People feel that the EU is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level.”

He added: “These points may be felt most acutely in Britain but they’re not felt only in Britain.”

As Europe faces a growing gulf between the 17 countries of the eurozone and the remaining 10 EU member states, Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted all 27 including Britain should encourage a sustainable end to the euro crisis.

“All Europeans, and not just those in the eurozone, share an interest in a strong Europe and a healthy euro,” Westerwelle said.

He said Berlin’s drive for a fiscal union imposing budgetary discipline, which Britain has declined to join, and EU plans for a banking union were part of a crucial integration process that would be beneficial for all.

“We need to develop Europe further,” he insisted, comparing European reforms to “diamonds, formed under great pressure”.

Tensions between Britain and Germany over Berlin’s push for greater European policy coordination have come to a head in recent weeks.

A report in the weekly Der Spiegel this month said that Chancellor Angela Merkel in private compares British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet members to the grumpy Muppets Statler and Waldorf, grumbling from sidelines.

The German government has declined to comment on the report and on Monday joined Britain in denying that Merkel would have a November EU summit on the bloc’s seven-year budget scrapped if Britain threatened to veto a deal.

Germany is calling for a one-percent spending increase, a proposal Hague again dismissed as “massive” at a time when Britain is implementing swingeing cuts to its own public budget.
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« Reply #2778 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:25 AM »

Six scientists jailed for failing to predict 2009 Italian earthquake

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 22, 2012 15:03 EDT

Seismologists said they were horrified after six of their colleagues were sentenced to six years in jail for manslaughter Monday on charges of underestimating the risk of an earthquake that struck Italy in 2009.

“We are deeply concerned. It’s not just seismology which has been put on trial but all science,” Charlotte Krawczyk, president of the seismology division at the European Geosciences Union (EGU), told AFP.

The verdict struck at scientists’ right to speak honestly and independently, she said in a phone interview from Germany.

“All scientists are really shocked by this,” said Krawczyk. “We are trying to organise ourselves and come up with a strong statement that could help so that the scientists do not have to go to jail.

“People are asking, ‘Is this really true?’ ‘What does it mean for us?’ And, ‘What does it mean for talking in public about risks?’”

“People are stunned,” said Mike Bickle, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Cambridge.

Roger Musson at the British Geological Survey (BGS) said the verdict was “unbelievable”.

He and other seismologists said it was impossible to forecast an earthquake, and scientists pressed to give a black-or-white answer could unleash panic or lose all credibility if nothing happened.

“Seismologists are more or less reconciled to the fact that the chances of predicting when a large earthquake is going to strike are somewhat more remote than finding the Holy Grail,” said Musson.

“It will have a chilling effect not just for seismologists but for science. People will be very cautious about giving an opinion,” he warned.

The six Italian scientists and a government official were sentenced to six years in jail in L’Aquila for multiple manslaughter.

They were also ordered to pay more than nine million euros ($11.7 million) in damages to survivors and inhabitants.

They were members of the Major Risks Committee which met in the central Italian town on March 31, 2009.

They convened six days before a 6.3-magnitude quake devastated the region, killing 309 people, destroying homes and churches and leaving thousands homeless.

Richard Walters of Oxford University said he was “very saddened” by the verdict.

“The issue here is about miscommunication of science, and we should not be putting responsible scientists who gave measured, scientifically accurate information in prison,” Walters said.

“This sets a very dangerous precedent and I fear it will discourage other scientists from offering their advice on natural hazards and trying to help society in this way.”

David Rothery, a lecturer in earth sciences at Britain’s Open University, said, “The best estimate at the time was that the low level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game.

“Earthquakes are inherently unpredictable,” he said in remarks reported by the Science Media Centre. “I hope they will appeal.”
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« Reply #2779 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:28 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/22/2012 06:18 PM

Madonna and Milk Cartons: Russia's War on Gays and Lesbians Intensifies

By Benjamin Bidder  in Moscow

Obscure conservative groups in Russia have intensified their fight against homosexuality, recently going after the pop-singer Madonna as well as an allegedly offensive milk carton label. The developments underscore a growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country. 

Russia's self-proclaimed morality police have discovered a new danger to the people's health and values, and it is to be found in the country's supermarkets -- in the form of dairy products from the American company PepsiCo. Activists from the Orthodox group called the People's Council have even gotten Russia prosecutors involved.

"The packaging of these dairy products with the label 'Vesyoly Molochnik' have long been a thorn in my side," says Anatoly Artyuch, of the People's Council. The brand means "happy milkman" in English.

Pepsi uses the brand to sell all manner of dairy products, including milk, yoghurt and kefir. Packages portray a smiling, slightly rotund milkman wearing a chef's hat. Behind him is a green meadow with a rainbow stretching across the sky. Artyuch believes that the rainbow isn't quite as innocent as it might seem. He thinks it is "the global symbol of the sodomite movement." Russia's judiciary is currently looking into the claims.

The grotesque offensive against the dairy brand is part of a conservative campaign in Russia aimed at gays and lesbians in the country. In their view, homosexuality isn't merely a sin, but also a symbol of damaging "Westernization."

The happy milkman isn't the only target. A court in the metropolis of St. Petersburg, once called the "window to the West" by Czar Peter the Great, has subpoenaed US pop icon Madonna for allegedly disseminating "homosexual propaganda" during her concert in the city at the beginning of August.

'Colossal Moral Damage'

She is being investigated in connection with a law passed in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the year by President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party which criminalizes "public behavior that promotes sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and trans-genderism among minors." Indeed, the passage of the law led the Canadian Foreign Ministry to issue a travel warning for gays and lesbians, urging them to avoid public displays of affection in St. Petersburg.

During her concert, Madonna demanded "respect, tolerance and love" for gays and lesbians and distributed pink armbands as a symbol of acceptance. She also displayed the message "No fear" on her back during the show. For the plaintiffs in the case, that was enough to cause "colossal moral damage." They are demanding that Madonna be made to pay 333 million rubles, roughly €8.3 million, in damages.

The two cases help demonstrate that today, more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remains an intensely intolerant country. According to a recent survey by the well-respected Levada Center, fully 62 percent of Russians condemn homosexuality. The only things seen as worse are suicide and rejecting one's own children.

'The New Jews'

Recently, when an outdoor clothing chain advertised in the Internet for applicants to a business academy, one of the five criteria listed was "traditional orientation," Russian code for heterosexuals. A columnist for the English language paper Moscow Times commented in response that "gays are the new Jews."

Despite the widespread discrimination, a homosexual subculture has been able to develop in Russia. In both Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are dozens of clubs catering to gays. They are the exception, however, tolerated in the niches of the cosmopolitan metropolises. Attempts to hold gay-pride parades in the two cities regularly end with bans, arrests or brutal neo-Nazi attacks. Earlier this month, when around 70 gays and lesbians were celebrating Coming Out Day at the Moscow club 7freedays, men in masks stormed the party. They threatened the security personnel and bartenders with a pistol and proceeded to beat up the guests.

Vitoly Milonov, a United Russia deputy in the St. Petersburg legislative assembly and one of the initiators of the city's anti-gay law, even went so far as to blame the partygoers for the violence. They provoked the violence, he said, by virtue of their "obnoxious, crude and permissive behavior." He said that homosexuals "run around like jackals at foreign consulates begging for another grant" or they "call from help from some star or from Hillary Clinton."

Sodom and Gomorrah

The charges against Madonna also have an anti-Western subtext. The singer is an "ideological weapon of the West" the complaint against her reads, she is perpetrating "moral genocide." The group behind the complaint is an obscure collection of Orthodox hardliners called the Union of Russian Citizens. Group members attracted attention previously by seeking to sprinkle holy water onto a square where Madonna had performed. The group glorifies the Soviet Union for being a "country of goodness and justice." They are currently collecting signatures for a referendum on changing the name of Wolgograd back to Stalingrad. Mikhail Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to opening up the Soviet Union, would like to see the Union of Russian Citizens be brought to court for treason.

The radical Moscow priest Sergei Rybko even used the brutal attack on the club 7freedays as an excuse to call for the final battle between the East and the West. Russia, he warned, is threatening to become "a tolerant, Western country in which anything goes." He called for a "cleansing of the Fatherland."

That was too much even for some within the Orthodox Church. "Of course we denounce such phenomena," said conservative priest Roman Bratshik. "I would like to point out, however, that God sent angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah."

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

October 22, 2012

Opposition Figure Wanted in Russia Says He Was Kidnapped and Tortured

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
IHT

MOSCOW — A political opposition figure who vanished in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Friday after seeking asylum at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reappeared on Sunday evening outside a Moscow courthouse, where he was recorded on video shouting that he had been kidnapped and tortured.

The man, Leonid Razvozzhayev, was on the run from Russian authorities after a televised documentary accused him of seeking funds from Georgia to help topple the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russian’s top federal investigator, said Monday that Mr. Razvozzhayev had turned himself in and confessed to plotting riots, among other things. Supporters of Mr. Razvozzhayev said that any confession was coerced.

But on Sunday, the online news site Life News posted a video on its Web site, showing Mr. Razvozzhayev being led out of a Moscow court building in the dark and shouting, “They tortured me.” Craning his neck before being put into a police car, he shouted, “They tortured me for two days, kidnapped me in Ukraine.”

Mr. Razvozzhayev was featured in a documentary shown this month on the pro-Kremlin channel NTV, in which he was accused of meeting another opposition leader, Sergei Udaltsov, with a Georgian official to ask for help in ousting Mr. Putin.

Last week, Mr. Udaltsov was briefly taken into custody by investigators. Mr. Markin said that he could face terrorism charges and potentially a sentence of life in prison. Mr. Udaltsov, who is well known by the authorities and has been arrested frequently on minor charges, was released but barred from leaving Russia.

One of his associates, Konstantin Lebedev, was also arrested last week, and officials said then that they were looking for Mr. Razvozzhayev. He has worked for a prominent member of the Russian Parliament, Ilya V. Ponomarev, who is also active in the political opposition.

In a post Friday on the social media site VKontakte, Mr. Razvozzhayev denied all accusations stemming from the NTV documentary, and explained his decision to go into hiding. Mr. Ponomarev, in an interview, said that Mr. Razvozzhayev had gone to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kiev to seek asylum.

In a statement, United Nations officials confirmed this account and said they were “deeply concerned about the disappearance” of Mr. Razvozzhayev.

Officials said they had directed Mr. Razvozzhayev to a nonprofit group that provides free legal assistance to asylum seekers, and that he vanished during a lunch break.

“Mr. Razvozzhayev said he would go to a nearby cafeteria for lunch and left his personal belongings in the office,” according to the United Nations statement. “When he did not return to the interview and the lawyer could not contact him on the phone, a missing person’s report was immediately filed.”

The statement noted that governments had legal obligations to protect asylum seekers.

Mr. Markin, the spokesman for the federal Investigative Committee, said that a preliminary investigation had begun into the assertions that Mr. Razvozzhayev had been kidnapped. But Mr. Martin denied that any torture had taken place, and insisted that Mr. Razvozzhayev was in his “right mind” when preparing a 10-page written confession.

Mr. Markin insisted that Mr. Razvozzhayev did not need or request any medical treatment.

“In his admission, he reported in detail on the circumstances of preparing to organize mass riots on Russian Federation territory by himself, Sergei Udaltsov and Konstantin Lebedev,” Mr. Markin said.

About two dozen supporters of Mr. Razvozzhayev gathered outside the headquarters of the Investigative Committee on Monday night, including Mr. Ponomarev and Mr. Udaltsov, who said he expected to be railroaded by the authorities.

“I am under a threat of arrest at any second,” Mr. Udaltsov said, adding, “I think they have in mind a show trial in the spirit of the totalitarian era and a show of swift retribution, in order to intimidate the whole country and prove to everyone that Putin will rule forever.”

The Georgian official accused of meeting with the Russian opposition figures, Givi Targamadze, who is the former chairman of the Defense and Security Committee in the Georgian Parliament, also denied the accusations. “First the Russian law enforcement authorities identified a goal — to arrest Udaltsov,” Mr. Targamadze told the Interfax news agency. “Then, with this goal in mind, they began collecting different absurdities.”

The intrigue surrounding the case of Mr. Razvozzhayev on Monday overshadowed the conclusion of three days of elections by members of Russia’s political opposition to choose a leadership council. The election, conducted entirely by Internet balloting, was scheduled for the weekend, but was extended for a day after the computer system came under a hacker attack.

In the more than 10 months since outrage over fraud in last December’s parliamentary elections spurred tens of thousands of people to demonstrate on the streets of Moscow, the opposition has struggled to develop a cohesive organization and message.

While the rallies have continued, in some cases attracting large crowds, and while white ribbons were adopted by many as a symbol of protest, the opposition remains a loosely formed coalition of disparate groups, including leftists and Communists, neoliberals and conservatives, nationalists, hipsters and a constellation of others.

Anna Kordunsky and Andrew Roth contributed reporting.

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« Reply #2780 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:42 AM »

In the USA

Originally published October 22, 2012 at 9:44 PM | Page modified October 23, 2012 at 6:11 AM
   
Trade group told compounding pharmacies how to skirt the FDA

The trade group representing compounding pharmacists, like the one that made a drug linked to the recent outbreak of meningitis, tutored pharmacists on how to sidestep requests by the Food and Drug Administration worried that compounders across the country might be selling a substandard drug, possibly made with Chinese ingredients.

By WALT BOGDANICH and SABRINA TAVERNISE

The New York Times

A year before people began dying of meningitis caused by a tainted drug from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, the Food and Drug Administration worried that compounders across the country might be selling another substandard drug, this one possibly made with Chinese ingredients.

But when the FDA began seeking samples to test, the trade group representing compounding pharmacists went on the offensive. Instead of encouraging members to help the agency determine if the injectable drug, used to reduce the risk of premature birth, was substandard, the group tutored pharmacists on how to sidestep requests.

In an email to members, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists suggested they respond to any request for samples by saying: "We do not compound or distribute 'samples' of any of our prescription medications to anyone." And if a compounded drug were on the premises, the trade group added, a pharmacist should say it was awaiting pickup by a patient.

A spokesman for the trade group said the instructions were intended to guard against unauthorized release of samples to corporate competitors and not to hinder the FDA investigation. But the memo is emblematic of the industry's frequent and often successful attempts to fend off regulators at a time when concerns are growing about the quality of compounded drugs and the uncertain provenance of their ingredients, some of which originate in China and flow through various repackagers and middlemen with little extra scrutiny, according to interviews with health experts and government records.

Drugs made by compounders — who mix or alter ingredients to create customized medicine for a specific patient — are rarely tested, unless someone is harmed or a complaint is filed. In Texas, a hub of compounding pharmacies and one of only two states that randomly test compounded drugs, random tests by the state's pharmacy board over the last several years found that as many as one in four compounded drugs was either too weak or too strong. The testing results are just slightly better in Missouri, the other state that randomly tests. Potency varied by as much as 300 percent in the Missouri tests.

And records of FDA drug seizures at U.S. borders, as well as several criminal cases, point to a link between drug compounders and Chinese manufacturers, some not registered with the FDA. Records analyzed by The New York Times show that in 62 cases over the last decade, the FDA blocked the importation of drugs for use in compounding; nearly half were from China, one of the largest producers of raw pharmaceutical ingredients, where many manufacturers operate outside the regulatory net.

The FDA said Friday that investigators did not believe the original ingredients used by the Massachusetts pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, were the source of the crisis unfolding in 16 states, where at least 297 people have contracted meningitis and 23 have died. (Authorities have yet to disclose the name or location of the compounder's supplier or suppliers.) Those affected had been treated for back and neck pain with contaminated steroid injections produced at the compounding center.

Modern supply chains are a maze of importers, repackagers and dealers. But while large drug companies, bound by FDA rules, must keep meticulous track of who has handled their raw materials, compounding pharmacies are not bound by those guidelines, even though some have grown so large that they resemble commercial manufacturers.

Michael Chappell, a former high-ranking FDA official who helped to oversee the agency's regulatory policies, said federal officials have had difficulty at times getting answers to questions about where compounders bought their ingredients.

"Is it being repackaged in the back of a '57 Buick in a parking lot somewhere?" Chappell asked. "The answer was always, 'We get them from our suppliers.' But what do you know about that supplier? Who makes the original chemical?"

Some compounding pharmacies have taken advantage of the legal no man's land in regulation. The FDA can inspect them and issue warnings, but the agency says states have ultimate jurisdiction.

The FDA has authority if it decides a compounding pharmacy is manufacturing, and not simply mixing drugs for individual patients. But to make that determination, the agency has to look at a pharmacy's records to see its volume, and pharmacies argue the law does not require them to produce those records.

Some consumer advocates say the FDA has the authority to investigate compounding pharmacies but often chooses not to.

Unlike commercial drug manufacturers, compounding pharmacies are not bound by the agency's so-called good-manufacturing practices, which require companies to report incidents when their medicine might have harmed patients. Usually the FDA learns about such cases only through the media or voluntary reporting.

In 2001, the agency looked at samples of compounded products from 12 different pharmacies, including antibiotics, steroids, and drugs to treat glaucoma and asthma, and found a third of the products failed one or more standard quality tests, mostly having to do with potency. A similar FDA survey in 2006 found the failure rate about the same.

KV Pharmaceuticals, a large drug company in St. Louis, did not rely on the government to assess the quality of compounded drugs that competed with its FDA-approved product, Makena, used to reduce the risk of premature birth. KV hired a corporate intelligence firm to obtain and test samples of the compounded version, 17P, for potency and purity.

In January, the company's researchers published their findings, alleging that 80 percent of the drug did not meet purity specifications. Michael J. Jozwiakowski, a co-author of the study, said the only companies they could find that manufactured the active pharmaceutical ingredient, available to compounders, were Chinese companies not registered with the FDA. One sample contained nothing but glucose.

When the FDA was given the data last fall, the agency decided to take its own samples of the compounded version, prompting the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, the trade organization, to offer its members advice on how to respond to FDA requests, in an emailed member alert titled, "F.D.A. Calling Compounders about 17-P."

The trade-group spokesman, David Miller, said the alert, despite its title, was intended to defend against data collectors from KV Pharmaceuticals, which member pharmacies said had been calling asking for samples.

"There was no evidence that any of the calls pharmacies received were coming from a genuine governmental official," Miller said. "Regulators do not 'call around' asking for information. They come to a pharmacy with an official inspection form."

He denied that the alert contained language instructing members not to cooperate with federal regulators.

"There is not one word in that document that says do not comply with a regulator," he said.

Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizens' Health Research Group, a nonprofit consumer organization, said the group's advice to members should have been to cooperate fully and answer all their questions. Instead, Carome said, the group suggested answers "for which the implicit, if not explicit message was to stonewall and obstruct" the FDA's attempt to assess the compounded drug.

The FDA said in June that after obtaining and testing 13 samples of the compounded drug, it had found no significant quality problems. KV Pharmaceuticals filed for bankruptcy this year, and it is suing the FDA.

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

October 22, 2012

U.S. Concern Over Compounders Predates Outbreak of Meningitis

By WALT BOGDANICH and SABRINA TAVERNISE
NYT

A year before people began dying of meningitis caused by a tainted drug from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, the Food and Drug Administration worried that compounders across the country might be selling another substandard drug, one possibly made with unapproved Chinese ingredients.

But when the F.D.A. began seeking samples to test, the trade group representing compounding pharmacists went on the offensive. Instead of encouraging members to help the agency determine if the injectable drug, used to reduce the risk of premature birth, was substandard, the group tutored pharmacists on how to sidestep requests.

In an e-mail to members, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists suggested that they respond to any request for samples by saying, “We do not compound or distribute ‘samples’ of any of our prescription medications to anyone.” And if a compounded drug was on the premises, the trade group added, a pharmacist should say it was awaiting pickup by a patient.

A spokesman for the trade group said the instructions were intended to guard against unauthorized release of samples to corporate competitors and not to hinder the F.D.A. investigation. But the memo is emblematic of the industry’s frequent and often successful attempts to fend off regulators at a time when concerns are growing about the quality of compounded drugs and the uncertain provenance of their ingredients, some of which originate in China and flow through various repackagers and middlemen with little scrutiny, according to interviews with health experts and government records.

Drugs made by compounders — who mix or alter ingredients to create customized medicine for a specific patient — are rarely tested, unless someone is harmed or a complaint is filed. But in the only two states that randomly test compounded drugs, Texas and Missouri, significant problems have surfaced.

In Texas, a hub of compounding pharmacies, random tests by the state’s pharmacy board over the last several years found that as many as one in four compounded drugs was either too weak or too strong. The testing results are just slightly better in Missouri. Potency varied by as much as 300 percent in the Missouri tests.

And records of F.D.A. drug seizures at United States borders, as well as several criminal cases, point to a link between drug compounders and Chinese manufacturers, some not registered with the F.D.A. Records analyzed by The New York Times show that in 62 cases over the last decade, the F.D.A. blocked the importation of drugs for use in compounding; nearly half were from China, one of the largest producers of raw pharmaceutical ingredients, where many manufacturers operate outside the regulatory net.

The F.D.A. said on Friday that investigators did not believe that original ingredients used by the Massachusetts pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, were the source of the crisis unfolding in 16 states, where at least 297 people have contracted meningitis and 23 have died.

Beyond the Massachusetts case, though, United States authorities have expressed concern that compounders, far less stringently regulated than commercial drug makers, have been using ingredients manufactured overseas in factories not approved by the F.D.A.

Last year, the F.D.A. issued an import warning after noticing that “a large increase” in unapproved human growth hormone, manufactured overseas, was being offered to compounding pharmacies.

In March, an upstate New York company, Medisca, which sells ingredients to compounders, forfeited $1.7 million from the unlawful sale of human growth hormone supplied by an unapproved Chinese drug maker. Two other compounding pharmacies were also found in recent years to have illegally sold anabolic steroids and human growth hormone made in China.

As companies increasingly buy raw materials from foreign sources — about 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients in products sold in the United States are from overseas — regulators are struggling to keep up.

Modern supply chains are a maze of importers, repackagers and dealers. But while large drug companies, bound by F.D.A. rules, must keep meticulous track of who has handled their raw materials, compounding pharmacies are not bound by those guidelines, even though some have grown so large that they resemble commercial manufacturers.

Michael Chappell, a former high-ranking F.D.A. official who helped to oversee the agency’s regulatory policies, said federal officials have had difficulty at times getting answers to questions about where compounders bought their ingredients.

“Is it being repackaged in the back of a ’57 Buick in a parking lot somewhere?” Mr. Chappell asked. “The answer was always, ‘We get them from our suppliers.’ But what do you know about that supplier? Who makes the original chemical?”

Some compounding pharmacies have taken advantage of the legal no-man’s land in regulation. The F.D.A. can inspect them and issue warnings, but the agency says states have ultimate jurisdiction.

“You can ask a question, but does a company have to answer you?” said Robert Coleman, who was an F.D.A. investigator for three decades and is now a consultant based in Atlanta. “That’s up for debate. It always made me wonder as an investigator, ‘Why don’t you want to tell me that? Is there some problem?’ ”

The F.D.A. has authority if it decides that a compounding pharmacy is manufacturing, and not simply mixing drugs for individual patients. But to make that determination, the agency has to look at a pharmacy’s records to see its volume, and pharmacies argue that the law does not require them to produce those records.

“There is some legal dispute about our ability to look at records and pharmacies and it is the records that help us determine whether a pharmacy is acting as a pharmacy or as a manufacturer,” Deborah M. Autor, the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for global regulatory operations and policy, said in a phone call with journalists. Some consumer advocates say that the F.D.A. has the authority to investigate compounding pharmacies but often chooses not to.

Unlike commercial drug manufacturers, compounding pharmacies are not bound by the agency’s so-called good manufacturing practices, which require companies to report instances when their medicine might have harmed patients. Usually the F.D.A. learns about such cases only through the news media or voluntary reporting.

There have been virtually no federal efforts to quantify the problem of large-scale compounding pharmacies or their rapid growth, but the F.D.A. has occasionally taken a limited look at the quality of their drugs. In 2001, the agency looked at samples of compounded products from 12 different pharmacies and found that a third of the products failed one or more standard quality tests, mostly having to do with potency. A similar F.D.A. survey in 2006 found the failure rate about the same.

After a pharmacist in Kansas City, Mo., pleaded guilty to watering down chemotherapy drugs, the Missouri Board of Pharmacy began in 2006 randomly sampling compounded drugs. In 2008, one in four samples failed a potency test. The failure rate dropped to 15 percent in 2010, the most recent year available.

The Texas State Board of Pharmacy started its own random testing program after seeing what Missouri had done. That state’s failure rate has generally hovered between 20 percent and 25 percent. “If you take a drug, you should expect to get the amount of drug listed on the bottle,” said Gay Dodson, the board’s executive director.

In April, a compounding pharmacy in Dallas, ApotheCure Inc., and its owner, pleaded guilty in federal court to two misdemeanors for shipping a misbranded drug that led to the deaths of three people in the Pacific Northwest. Subsequent testing by the F.D.A. found that some vials were superpotent, containing 640 percent of the drug listed on the label, while others were subpotent.

K V Pharmaceuticals, a drug company in St. Louis, did not rely on the government to assess the quality of compounded drugs that competed with its F.D.A.-approved product, Makena, used to reduce the risk of premature birth. K V hired a corporate intelligence firm to obtain and test samples of the compounded version, 17P, for potency and purity.

In January, the company’s researchers published their findings, alleging that 80 percent of the drug did not meet purity specifications. Michael J. Jozwiakowski, a co-author of the study, said the only companies they could find that manufactured the active pharmaceutical ingredient, available to compounders, were Chinese companies not registered with the F.D.A. One sample contained nothing but glucose.

When the F.D.A. was given the data last fall, the agency decided to take its own samples of the compounded version, prompting the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, the trade organization, to offer its members advice on how to respond to F.D.A. requests, in an e-mailed member alert titled, “F.D.A. Calling Compounders about 17-P.”

The trade group spokesman, David Miller, said the alert, despite its title, was intended to defend against data collectors from K V Pharmaceuticals, who member pharmacies said had been calling them asking for samples.

“There was no evidence that any of the calls pharmacies received were coming from a genuine governmental official,” Mr. Miller said. “Regulators do not ‘call around’ asking for information. They come to a pharmacy with an official inspection form.”

He denied that the alert contained language instructing members not to cooperate with federal regulators. “There is not one word in that document that says do not comply with a regulator,” he said.

Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a nonprofit consumer organization, said the group’s advice to members should have been to cooperate fully and answer all their questions. Instead, Dr. Carome said, the group suggested answers “for which the implicit, if not explicit message was to stonewall and obstruct” the F.D.A.’s attempt to assess the quality of the compounded drug.

The F.D.A. said in June that after obtaining and testing 13 samples of the compounded drug, it had found no significant quality problems. K V Pharmaceuticals filed for bankruptcy this year, and is suing the F.D.A.

Sarah Cohen contributed reporting.

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

October 22, 2012

Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring

By RON NIXON and JOHN ELIGON
NYT

EAGLE GROVE, Iowa — After initially trickling in slower than the auctioneer’s babble, the bids began picking up.

“Get your hands up,” belted Marv Huntrods, the auctioneer, his baritone echoing from a raspy speaker in a plaid-carpeted Masonic lodge here last week. He chopped the air with one hand and drew out his vowels.

“Grains up overnight.” “It’s only money.” “Just tell me, yes or yes.” “Last chance.”

After about 15 minutes and a starting bid of $6,000 per acre, Mr. Huntrods, an agent with Hertz Farm Management, ended up with more than he had expected. A former John Deere dealer bought the 80-acre farm plot at a stunning price of $10,600 per acre. Mr. Huntrods had thought it would fetch less than $9,500 per acre.

Across the nation’s Corn Belt, even as the worst drought in more than 50 years has destroyed what was expected to be a record corn crop and reduced yields to their lowest level in 17 years, farmland prices have continued to rise. From Nebraska to Illinois, farmers seeking more land to plant and outside investors looking for a better long-term investment than stocks and bonds continue to buy farmland, taking advantage of low interest rates.

And despite a few warnings from bankers, the farmland boom shows no signs of slowing. Almost every year since 2005, except during the start of the recession in 2008, agriculture land prices have posted double-digit gains. In the same period, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has had double-digit gains in only three of those years.

An August survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago showed a 15 percent increase in farmland prices since last year across a region that covers Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Another survey released at the same time from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City showed even higher growth in the Great Plains states, where farmland prices have increased 26 percent since last year.

The two Fed surveys and sales data have raised concerns from bank regulators about a potential farmland bubble, similar to the housing frenzy that helped set off the financial crisis. A year ago, rising farmland prices prompted regulators to warn banks not to relax lending standards. In July, the Kansas City Fed held a symposium to discuss concerns about a bubble.

“Any time you have an asset that doubles in value over a decade, there is cause for concern about how sustainable that growth is,” said Richard A. Brown, chief economist at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

For farmers in the land hunt, a potential bubble was barely a concern. Many said they needed to buy more land to expand their businesses so they can generate more income. And in this wobbly economy, they found safety in stashing their money in farmland.

“What’s a C.D. at the bank? Half a percent,” said Clark Wadle, who attended the auction. “What’s the stock market? Unstable. Whether land prices go up or they go down again, you still have the property.”

The winning bidder, Gaylord Jones of Eagle Grove, said that buying farmland was a way to invest on his own terms.

“I don’t buy stocks,” he said. “This way, I make my own damn mistakes.”

The worst drought in decades this summer seemed a distant memory here as about two dozen farmers escaped the cold and rain for the coffee-and-cookie-infused air inside the lodge where the auction was held.

In some cases, the drought has benefited farmers seeking land. Brent Kuehnast, who bought 190 acres this summer to add to the roughly 1,200 his family owns, said the drought helped him negotiate a below-market price on the property near his home in Humboldt, Iowa.

But the drought also caused some anxiety over his purchase.

On a recent afternoon, as his pickup truck bobbed like a vessel in choppy water over the dirt of his new plot, Mr. Kuehnast, 44, smiled when asked how often he inspected his new land, which he will start farming next year.

“All the time,” he said. “I like to find out where it needs to be improved.”

No state has benefited more from the farmland boom than Iowa.

According to an agriculture land survey by Iowa State University, prices have risen 32 percent since 2010. Statewide, farmland prices averaged $6,700 an acre, the highest ever, even after adjusting for inflation. Four years ago, prices averaged $3,900 an acre.

Because of the strong demand for farmland, banking regulators fear that farmers could take on more debt to make purchases, a repeat of the 1970s and early 1980s, when overleveraged farmers used their farms as collateral to buy up more land. The resulting debt led to a slew of bankruptcies and plummeting land values.

Those days are fresh in the mind of John Kintzle, 68, who lives near Cedar Rapids and attended the auction here in north-central Iowa just to observe. Back then, he said, prices dropped from $3,000 an acre to $1,000 an acre in three years.

“I’m a little gun-shy,” he said, though he added that he was open to purchasing. “My wife thinks I’m nuts.”

Economists say that so far there are few signs of a repeat of those days.

Agriculture Department data show that net farm income is expected to increase to $122 billion this year from $117 billion in 2011, a 4 percent increase even with the effects of the drought. That’s the highest income level since 1973 on an inflation-adjusted basis. Economists say farmland values are getting a boost from corn and soybean prices, which had reached records highs because of the drought.

Farmers are carrying less debt than they were 30 years ago, and low interest rates are also a factor because they make it less costly for farmers to borrow. The federal crop insurance program also plays a role in keeping farmland prices high, by covering a majority of losses in revenue or crop yields.

Regulators, however, say that despite the continued growth in farmland prices there are reasons to be cautious. Some lenders have reported that a number of farmers are taking out loans based on the current value of their land to take advantage of the farmland boom.

Fed officials and some real estate brokers said these buyers could be in trouble if interest rates rose and crop prices fell. This could cause farmland values to drop by a third to a half, putting farmers at risk of default. Another risk is that if the drought stretches into multiple years, it could interrupt the boom in farmland prices, officials said.

But that was not something to worry about, said Brian Wagner, who stopped his bidding at the auction because he thought values would eventually drop, allowing him to buy a better piece of land at a lower price.

“That would be like me asking you, ‘When you get in your car or on the bus, do you think about getting into an accident?’ ” he said. “Accidents happen randomly. Droughts come and droughts go. They don’t come very often.”

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

Clinton hails Haitian post-quake reconstruction

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 22, 2012 21:59 EDT

CARACOL, Haiti — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday hailed Haitian reconstruction after the devastating 2010 earthquake, drawing parallels between the “American dream” and the “Haitian dream.”

Clinton was speaking at the formal opening of an industrial zone meant to help boost economic development and create 37,000 jobs in the impoverished country still reeling from the quake, which killed at least 250,000 people.

“In the United States, we pride ourselves on the promise of the American dream. And we have seen many Haitian Americans achieve that American dream,” Clinton said. “Now, Haitians here in Haiti have the very same drive.”

The top US diplomat was accompanied by her husband and former US president Bill, whose charitable Clinton Foundation is very active in Haiti.

Others attending the event included Haitian President Michel Martelly, his predecessor Rene Preval, British tycoon Richard Branson and actors Ben Stiller and Sean Penn.

In her remarks, Clinton underscored that while the creation of new jobs was critically important, other sectors were in dire need of development.

“In addition to effective government, Haiti needs a strong justice sector, free and fair elections, housing, energy, schools, health care — all of which will serve the people of Haiti, but also attract even more investment,” she said.

Clinton also urged Haiti to build upon progress achieved with US support, while pledging that the partnership between the two countries would continue once she leaves office.

“Now it is up to the people and leaders of Haiti to sustain and build on this progress. After all, it always comes down to what people will do for themselves,” she said.

“But I think we’re off to a very good start together, and the United States is committed to the work we are doing here. We believe in Haiti’s promise and the dream that every Haitian should be able to feel.”

Less than 18 months after taking office, Martelly is facing a wave of opposition focused on the rising cost of living and corruption.

State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, appeared to downplay the situation.

One official described Martelly as a popular president who, like all others in his position, has to work hard to maintain the trust of his people.

Working with the parliament “has proven to be a challenge” for Martelly, the official said — “a challenge for both parties to be the kind of partner that they can be to each other.”

“And so I don’t know that this government has different challenges than many governments and certainly not different challenges than governments here in Haiti have had.”

Another US official suggested some of the anti-Martelly protests had been bankrolled by opposition parties and “aren’t all that spontaneous.”

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

October 22, 2012

Russell Means, Who Clashed With Law as He Fought for Indians, Is Dead at 72

By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
NYT

Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was 72.

The cause was esophageal cancer, which had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, said Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative. Told in the summer of 2011 that the cancer was inoperable, Mr. Means had already resolved to shun mainstream medical treatments in favor of herbal and other native remedies.

Strapping, and ruggedly handsome in buckskins, with a scarred face, piercing dark eyes and raven braids that dangled to the waist, Mr. Means was, by his own account, a magnet for trouble — addicted to drugs and alcohol in his early years and later arrested repeatedly in violent clashes with rivals and the law. He was tried for abetting a murder, shot several times, stabbed once and imprisoned for a year for rioting.

He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

But critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety by running quixotic races for the presidency and the governorship of New Mexico, by acting in dozens of movies — notably in a principal role in “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) — and by writing and recording music commercially with Indian warrior and heritage themes.

He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites.

Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used.

And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments.

In the ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents, thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Mr. Means and his fellow protest leader Dennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny and conspiracy. But after a long federal trial in Minnesota in 1974, with the defense raising current and historic Indian grievances, the case was dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct.

Mr. Means later faced other legal battles. In 1976, he was acquitted in a jury trial in Rapid City, S.D., of abetting a murder in a barroom brawl. Wanted on six warrants in two states, he was convicted of involvement in a 1974 riot during a clash between the police and Indian activists outside a Sioux Falls, S.D., courthouse. He served a year in a state prison, where he was stabbed by another inmate.

Mr. Means also survived several gunshots — one in the abdomen fired during a scuffle with an Indian Affairs police officer in North Dakota in 1975, one that grazed his forehead in what he called a drive-by assassination attempt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, and one in the chest fired by another would-be assassin on another South Dakota reservation in 1976.

Undeterred, he led a caravan of Sioux and Cheyenne into a gathering of 500 people commemorating the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, the nation’s most famous defeat of the Indian wars. To pounding drums, Mr. Means and his followers mounted a speaker’s platform, joined hands and did a victory dance, sung in Sioux Lakota, titled “Custer Died for Your Sins.”

Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge reservation on Nov. 10, 1939, the oldest of four sons of Harold and Theodora Feather Means. The Anglo-Saxon surname was that of a great-grandfather. When he was 3, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, a welder and auto mechanic, worked in wartime shipyards.

Russell attended public schools in Vallejo and San Leandro High School, where he faced racial taunts, had poor grades and barely graduated in 1958. He drifted into delinquency, drugs, alcoholism and street fights. He also attended four colleges, including Arizona State at Tempe, but did not earn a degree. For much of the 1960s he rambled about the West, working as a janitor, printer, cowboy and dance instructor.

In 1969, he took a job with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Within months he moved to Cleveland and became founding director of a government-financed center helping Indians adapt to urban life. He also met Mr. Banks, who had recently co-founded the American Indian Movement. In 1970, Mr. Means became the movement’s national director, and over the next decade his actions made him a household name.

In 1985 and 1986, he went to Nicaragua to support indigenous Miskito Indians whose autonomy was threatened by the leftist Sandinista government. He reported Sandinista atrocities against the Indians and urged the Reagan administration to aid the victims. Millions in aid went to some anti-Sandinista groups, but a leader of the Miskito Indian rebels, Brooklyn Rivera, said his followers had not received any of that aid.

In 1987, Mr. Means ran for president. He sought the Libertarian Party nomination but lost to Ron Paul, a former and future congressman from Texas. In 2002, Mr. Means campaigned independently for the New Mexico governorship but was barred procedurally from the ballot.

Mr. Means retired from the American Indian Movement in 1988, but its leaders, with whom he had feuded for years, scoffed, saying he had “retired” six times previously. They generally disowned him and his work, calling him an opportunist out for political and financial gain. In 1989, he told Congress that there was “rampant graft and corruption” in tribal governments and federal programs assisting American Indians.

Mr. Means began his acting career in 1992 with “The Last of the Mohicans,” Michael Mann’s adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, in which he played Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Over two decades he appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Pathfinder” (2007). He also recorded CDs, including “Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America” (1993), and wrote a memoir, “Where White Men Fear to Tread” (1995, with Marvin J. Wolf).

He was married and divorced four times and had nine children. He also adopted many others following Lakota tradition. His fifth marriage, to Pearl Daniels, was in 1999, and she survives him.

Mr. Means cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis. It was, he said in an interview last October, a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.


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« Reply #2781 on: Oct 24, 2012, 06:52 AM »

German chancellor to inaugurate Roma genocide memorial

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 7:25 EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will on Wednesday inaugurate a sombre memorial to the estimated half million Roma and Sinti murdered by the Nazis, joined by survivors of the genocidal campaign.

The long-delayed monument, consisting of a round pool of water and stele on which a single fresh flower will rest each day, sits opposite the Reichstag parliament building in central Berlin.

A timeline of the Nazi extermination drive stands next to the memorial, which was finally built with a federal government grant of 2.8 million euros ($3.6 million).

“Auschwitz” by Italian poet Santino Spinelli is engraved around the rim of the dark pool in English and German, recounting the suffering and sorrow inflicted on the Roma.

It was designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, 81, and is located near two other memorials for victims of Nazi barbarism, a sprawling field of pillars for the six million murdered Jews and a smaller monument for gay victims.

Merkel stressed the crucial importance of living up to the crimes of history and providing a site to educate, to mourn the victims and to warn coming generations.

“That is why we must have appropriate places where that is possible — where people can also go in the future when the survivors are no longer alive,” she said in her weekly video podcast.

She will be joined at the opening by President Joachim Gauck and about 100 elderly survivors, as well as the leader of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, Romani Rose, who heads a community of about 70,000.

The Nazis deemed the Roma and related Sinti like the Jews to be racially inferior, and unleashed a systematic campaign of oppression against them.

In 1938 SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the “final solution of the gypsy question”.

Those caught in the sweep were confined to ghettos, deported to concentration camps and slaughtered. Many were subjected to grotesque medical experiments.

Historians estimate nearly 500,000 Roma men, women and children across Europe were killed between 1933 and 1945, decimating a population with roots in Germany dating back six centuries.

Rose, who was born in 1946, one year after the war’s end, had fiercely objected to the memorial referring to “gypsies”, a term commonly used in the past but now viewed as derogatory.

He lamented that it had taken the West German government until 1982 to acknowledge the genocide but told AFP he was confident the monument would contribute to a gradual ebb in the hatred and bias still faced by Roma today.

“Opening the memorial sends an important message to society that anti-Roma sentiment is as unacceptable as anti-Semitism,” he said, adding that the genocide against his people was often seen as a “footnote to the Shoah”.

The government’s decision to erect the monument dates from 1992 but its opening was held up by bitter rows over its design, cost and inscription.

Some 11 million Roma live in Europe, seven million of them in the European Union, making them the continent’s biggest ethnic minority. But they suffer from disproportionate poverty and rampant discrimination.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 sent many fleeing southeastern Europe for the richer west and countries such as France and Italy have in recent years cracked down on illegal camps.

And Germany recently indicated it would like to curb the flow of Roma into the country, possibly by reinstating visa requirements for Serbia and Macedonia.
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« Reply #2782 on: Oct 24, 2012, 06:55 AM »


Women still face global gender gap in wages: report

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 19:53 EDT

GENEVA — Women are closing the gender gap with men in health and education but struggle to get top jobs and salaries, data from a study of 135 countries showed on Wednesday.

“Gaps in senior positions, wages and leadership levels still persist,” even in countries that promote equality in education and have a high level of economic integration among women, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said in its annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The new figures were released just hours after a European Union initiative to set a 40-percent quota for women on the boards of listed companies stalled because of a lack of support.

The report, which covered more than 90 percent of the world?s population, looked at how nations distribute resources and opportunities between women and men.

It found that the Nordic countries, headed by Iceland, Finland and Norway, had done the best job of closing the gap, while Chad, Pakistan and Yemen had the worst rankings.

While almost all countries had made progress in closing the gap in healthcare and education between women and men, only 60 percent of countries had managed to narrow the economic gender gap and only 20 percent had progressed on a political level, the study said.

Of the top four global economies, the United States, Japan and Germany all made progress in closing their economic gender gap in 2012.

However, they slipped in the overall ranking, which also looks at health, education and politics, with Germany falling two spots to 13th place, the United States sliding five spots to 22nd, and Japan dipping to 101st from 98th last year.

China, which took a step backwards when it came to closing the economic gender gap, also fell in the overall ranking to 69th place from 66th last year.

Greece, which ranked 82nd, registered one of the biggest falls since 2011, when it ranked 56th — largely owing to a change in the percentage of women holding ministerial positions, from 31 percent in 2011 to only six percent in 2012.

Countries such as Nicaragua (9) and Luxembourg (17) climbed up the ranking thanks to an increase in the percentage of women in parliament.

Reducing the male-female employment gap has been an important driver of European economic growth in the last decade, the report said.

It added that introducing even more equality could boost US gross domestic product by nine percent and eurozone GDP by up to 13 percent.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Tuesday that a move to set a 40-percent quota for women on the boards of listed companies had been delayed amid an ongoing row over the lack of female candidates for a key European Central Bank (ECB) job.

Reding, who was scheduled to present the plan, said on Twitter: “Gender balance directive postponed,” owing to insufficient support for the idea within the 27-member European Commission.

The delay came a day after the European Parliament’s economic affairs committee rejected the nomination of Luxembourger Yves Mersch to the ECB executive board, because it would result in an all-male board until 2018.

The WEF report said that closing the global gender gap was fundamental to economic growth and stability. It pointed out that no country in the Middle East or north Africa featured in the top 100 of the index: these were regions often troubled by instability and frequently pointed to when gender inequality is discussed.

Elsewhere in Africa, however, five countries ranked in the top 30.

By region, the Philippines (Cool remained the highest-ranking country from Asia in the index.

With women making up 50 percent of countries’ “human capital”, governments needed to find ways to benefit from their talent, insisted Saadia Zahidi, senior director at the World Economic Forum.

“If that capital is not invested in, educated or healthy, countries are going to lose out in terms of their long-term potential,” she said.

Only six countries had showed an improvement of 10 percentage points since the report launched seven years ago, Zahidi added, and almost 75 countries have improved by less than five points.

“So the progress is very slow… even though we are seeing a trend in a positive direction,” she said.
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« Reply #2783 on: Oct 24, 2012, 06:58 AM »

 With 60,000 dead, Mexicans wonder why drug war doesn't rate in presidential debate

Much of Latin America was dismayed that they got only a glancing mention in Romney and Obama's final presidential debate.

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer / October 23, 2012
Win McNamee/AP   
Mexico City

Mitt Romney’s single mention of Latin America last night, calling it a “huge opportunity" for the United States, generated immediate glee from Latin Americanists across Twitter – but the hemisphere got no nod from President Obama, and then both went silent on the topic.   

Given that the final presidential debate Monday evening was dominated by the Middle East and terrorism, most of the world was left out by President Obama and Mr. Romney. That includes the whole of Europe and its debt crisis. India. South Africa. And not a single mention of any country in Latin America or the Caribbean: neither Cuba specifically, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, nor Peru. (Read a transcript here.)

That means no candidate talked about the drug trade, despite historic violence playing out in Mexico, much of it along the 2,000-mile border that the US shares. They did not talk about energy policy in the Americas. Or the economies of Brazil and Mexico. 

The debate opened with promise for Latin America – with moderator Bob Schieffer referring to the 50th anniversary of the disclosure that the Soviet Union had missiles in Cuba. But he did not pose a question about it or anything else in the region, which observers say was a clear missed opportunity – even if hardly surprising.

“In a broader foreign policy context, we have to begin to mainstream the Americas,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a consultancy based in New York. “Brazil is an important international player, not just a Latin American player.… Latin America is of rising importance in the world, [we should have been hearing how the candidates] would work with Brazils, and Mexicos, and Colombias.”

Romney mentioned Latin America in the context of how to boost employment at home. “Trade grows about 12 percent year. It doubles about every – every five or so years. We can do better than that, particularly in Latin America,” he said. “The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully. As a matter of fact, Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We're all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us – time zone, language opportunities.”

OPINION: Presidential debate: Romney and Obama bring it back home

But Obama did not respond. And the only other mention of the region came once again from Romney, who mentioned Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro as part of a list of the world’s “worst actors” whom Obama has failed to meet with, he said, despite promises to do so.

Obama has remained popular across Latin America and is favored among Hispanic voters in the US. But some of that support abroad has slipped. In a Pew poll released in June, 39 percent of Mexicans said they approved of Obama’s international policies. That fell from 56 percent in 2009. (Here is the poll.)

Much of that slide could be pegged to record deportations of undocumented immigrants under Obama, although in a huge move this year he gave a reprieve to many undocumented migrants who were brought to the US as children.

While immigration is the topic that Latin America perhaps cares most about, few expected the politically charged issue to feature at the presidential debate. Still, there was hope that the growing role that places such as Brazil and Colombia play in the energy sector would be mentioned. And if nothing else, the drug-fueled violence plaguing Mexico and Central America right now.

Mexican journalist Leon Krauze wrote in a widely shared Tweet: “Mexico, a country facing 100,000 deaths, neighbor to the United States, didn't deserve one single mention tonight. A disgrace.”

Mexican academic Sergio Aguayo added, using a more commonly cited figure for Mexican deaths: “They talk about a humanitarian tragedy in Syria (30,000 deaths) and still don’t say anything about Mex (some 60,000). Will they?”

They did not. When asked what the greatest future security threat was to the US, no one mentioned Mexico. Obama cited “terrorist networks,” while Romney mentioned a “nuclear Iran.”

OPINION: In presidential debate, President Obama is no dove, and Mitt Romney is no hawk

Latin American observers were just as befuddled as those in Latin America. “As George W. Bush rightly said, Mexico is the US's most important bilateral relationship. A presidential debate should focus on whether the United States is doing enough ­­– ­and doing the right things – to assist Mexico [and Central America] deal with its drug-fueled crime and violence,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “If the US is not prepared to do everything possible to stand up for its closest neighbors and allies, then how could it have a credible foreign policy more broadly?”
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« Reply #2784 on: Oct 24, 2012, 06:59 AM »

Libya marks 1st ‘liberation’ anniversary amid tension

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 17:24 EDT

TRIPOLI — Libya on Tuesday celebrates the first anniversary of its “liberation” from the regime of Moamer Kadhafi, even as fighting flared in a former bastion of the slain dictator.

On October 23, 2011, just three days after Kadhafi was captured and killed in his hometown Sirte, the transitional authorities declared the country’s liberation, formally ceasing hostilities.

The day was observed as a public holiday and the new defacto head of state, Mohammed Megaryef, was due to address the nation later in the evening, the official LANA news agency reported.

Cars cloaked with the national flag cruised the capital from the early morning, their speakers pumping out patriotic songs at full volume. People gathered at Martyrs Square after sundown with youth setting off fire crackers.

In Benghazi, hundreds of people massed outside Tibesti Hotel to mark the one-year anniversary but also demand that the eastern city, cradle of the uprising that toppled the regime, become the “economic capital.”

Fierce clashes in Bani Walid, one of the final bastions of the former regime which is accused of harbouring die-hard Kadhafi loyalists, have cast a pall over celebrations.

“Since the formal declaration of the end of hostilities, Libya has become a country beset by intercommunal strife,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group.

“The central authorities have acted chiefly as bystanders, in effect subcontracting security to largely autonomous armed groups only nominally under the authority of the state,” she said.

On Tuesday, columns of smoke rose over the hilltop town. The sound of shooting and explosions rung out over the valley, according to an AFP photographer who was on the northwestern edge of the town.

Dozens of foreign workers continued to flee on foot, he added.

Pro-government forces entered Bani Walid and released 22 detainees, the official LANA news agency said.

Fighting in Bani Walid has fanned old tribal feuds and underscored the difficulties of achieving national reconciliation with former rebel fighters locked in battle against ex-Kadhafi loyalists.

Bani Walid natives, angered by the government-sanctioned offensive against the heartland of the powerful Warfalla tribe, stormed the national assembly on Saturday in protest.

Demonstrators also ransacked the offices of a private television station in Benghazi after it announced that Kadhafi’s son Khamis and the dictator’s spokesman Mussa Ibrahim had been captured there.

The authorities never presented evidence to back these claims.

Bani Walid natives charge these reports were fuelling attacks on their town.

Last week’s scaled-up offensive against Bani Walid came in response to the death of Omran Shaaban, 22, a former rebel from the city of Misrata who was credited with capturing Kadhafi.

Shaaban spent weeks held hostage in Bani Walid, where he was shot and allegedly tortured, before the authorities managed to broker his release.

He later died of injuries sustained during the ordeal, stoking tensions between his hometown Misrata and Bani Walid, long-time rivals who fought in opposite camps of the 2011 conflict.

It also galvanised the authorities to take action against the ex-regime bastion.

Clashes between pro-government forces and Bani Walid fighters over the past week killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds, in scenes evocative of the civil war that toppled Kadhafi one year ago.

To justify the offensive, Megaryef, president of the national assembly said that the oasis had become “a sanctuary for a large number of outlaws and anti-revolutionaries and mercenaries.”

Tribal leaders and commanders in Bani Walid, located 185 kilometres (115 miles) southeast of Tripoli, accuse “lawless Misrata militias” of seeking to annihilate their historic rival.

The authorities, they say, are powerless to stop them.
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« Reply #2785 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:01 AM »

October 23, 2012

The Whiff of Conflict Grows in Mali

By ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

BAMAKO, Mali — A military strike to recapture Mali’s Islamist-held north is growing more likely, according to Western powers, regional bodies and the United Nations — a pronounced shift after months of hesitation and hopes that negotiations might end what is now seen as a far-reaching jihadist threat.

In recent weeks, for the first time, a broad-based international consensus has formed that war could soon be waged in the vast desert and savanna of northern Mali, an area roughly the size of France. Planning for such an operation remains embryonic. Who would take part? When would it occur? Who would command it?

These basic details have yet to be worked out, officials conceded. Yet they emphasized that previously reluctant partners, including Mali itself, were convinced of the military imperative after months of inconclusive meetings and discussions. On Oct. 12, the United Nations Security Council, led by France, passed a resolution declaring its “readiness” to respond to Malian demands for an international force and asked that a detailed plan be submitted in 45 days. That resolve was reiterated at an international summit here last week.

“There is no alternative,” said Jack Christofides, a top official in the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which is playing a leading role in planning a possible operation. “For some of these more radical groups” occupying northern Mali, he added, “it’s going to take military force.”

As many as 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers may be needed to take back and hold the north, United Nations officials have said, and the barriers to compiling such a force are evident. Nigeria, with the largest army in West Africa, is tied up with a fight against its own Islamist radicals. Algeria, often considered to have easily the most efficient force in the region, has been reluctant to get involved, though it may be coming around, officials said.

France, plagued by kidnappings of its citizens (about half a dozen are being held) and fearful of a radical enclave so close to the Mediterranean, has been the most vocal about kicking out the Islamists. On Monday, its special representative to the region, Jean Felix-Paganon, said that France had resumed its military aid to Mali, and a defense expert briefed by the French government said it would send intelligence drones to West Africa by the end of the year to help intervention efforts.

But France, like the United States, has ruled out sending its own troops into the fray.

Harsh geography and weather, and the Islamists’ guerrilla tactics, are also complicating factors. “We shouldn’t be optimistic that this is going to be a one- or two-week surgical strike, and then we go home,” Mr. Christofides said. “The biggest issue is money because this is not going be cheap,” he added.

Yet the objective is clear: to eradicate the repressive regime in the north — made up of a loose triumvirate of radical Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Qaeda regional affiliate — that for the last six months has imposed a nightmare of public whippings, beatings, amputations and stonings on a helpless local population. The Islamists have drawn up ominous lists of unmarried pregnant women to be punished, the United Nations said; enforced marriages are being carried out; and children are being recruited to plant improvised explosive devices.

More than 300,000 people have fled the region, and the menace is being portrayed as one that spreads well beyond Mali’s borders, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling northern Mali “a larger safe haven” that could allow terrorists “to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.”

The Islamists controlling Gao and Timbuktu, the principal towns in northern Mali, appear to be preparing for war, according to residents there. “They’re camouflaging their vehicles,” said Issa Maïga, a journalist in Gao. “They are in a bit of a panic,” he said. “They are afraid.”

Small detachments of new fighters, perhaps from outside Mali, have been observed in both towns. In Timbuktu, Cissé Agaly, a former hotel manager, said 37 new fighters had arrived over the weekend. “We saw them walking in the market,” he said, adding that they appeared to be from Western Sahara.

Similarly, a municipal councilor in Gao, Abderahmane Oumarou Maïga, said about 60 new fighters had arrived in the town, also from Western Sahara and the border regions of Algeria. In addition, witnesses in both towns spoke of incessant aircraft overhead — apparently surveillance planes, though the witnesses said they were flying too high to be identified. “Every day, days and nights,” said Mr. Maïga, the journalist in Gao.

The United States has periodically flown Global Hawk surveillance drones and some reconnaissance planes over northern Mali and the wider Sahel region, but has so far limited Predator surveillance drones to missions in nearby Libya. State Department officials have expressed strong reservations about introducing armed drones in any missions in Mali.

Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, is meeting French officials in Paris this week. He has said that military action to drive out the Islamic extremists was inevitable, but that any operations had to have Malian soldiers leading forces from West Africa, all following a carefully organized plan.

“There will have to be, at some point, military action,” Mr. Carson said this month.

The Islamists seized control of the long-unstable north in the wake of a coup d’état here in the capital in March. The Malian Army collapsed after the coup, fleeing the principal cities of the north in the wake of the rebel advance, and power in Bamako has since been uneasily shared by weak civilian leaders and the military, which has been accused of serious human rights abuses.

For months this shotgun marriage, each side jockeying for power in the capital, distracted the nation from either taking back the lost north itself or inviting outside help to do so. As alarm beyond Mali has grown, though, the divided authorities here have come under pressure to accept assistance, initially regarded as humiliating.

Finally, in mid-September Mali’s interim president sent a letter to the United Nations asking for help. The idea was still being contested by thousands of anti-intervention, nationalist demonstrators on the streets of the capital this week.

But in the last two weeks, the tide elsewhere has turned decisively in favor of an international military expedition, incorporating what remains of the shattered Malian army, to end the Islamist takeover in the north. Adding urgency, the Islamists have established training camps in northern Mali towns, adding to existing Islamist bases in the desert, and children have been observed engaging in rifle training at these establishments, according to Human Rights Watch. “We must act to end this,” the United Nations deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, said at the summit meeting here last week.

Still, nothing like a road map for the deployment of troops came out of the meeting. American officials said they would consider a request for support once a plan was in place.

Many military difficulties are associated with the group of West African states, known as Ecowas, which has been among the most consistent in advocating a military resolution. The group’s representative at the summit, the foreign minister of Ivory Coast, Daniel Kablan Duncan, suggested that it would need help in mustering troops from two neighboring, nonmember countries, Algeria and Mauritania.

“Mauritania and Algeria must involve themselves more fully,” he told the delegates. “And why not our brothers from Chad?” he added, citing another non-Ecowas country.

Even more fundamentally, the Malian army, which would be assigned a central role in any intervention, has serious problems, officials said. It has been “depleted quite substantially,” said Mr. Christofides, adding, “They might have lost as much as half of their matériel.”

A Western military attaché here said Malian officers had even sold equipment that they were issued and claimed more men under their command than they actually had in order to pocket extra salaries.

Moreover, the same army abandoned the northern towns to the Islamists in early April with barely a fight. “What’s happened to them?” the Western defense attaché asked. “They left a country divided in half. In some countries that would be high treason.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
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« Reply #2786 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:06 AM »

October 23, 2012

Massacre at Syrian Bakery Dims Hopes for a Holiday Truce

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Syrian artillery gunners shelled a bread bakery full of workers and customers on Tuesday in an insurgent-held neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 30 in what activists and videographers described as a sudden and devastating attack.

The shelling at Al Zura Bakery was among the more graphic episodes of violence in Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, on Tuesday. It cast further doubts on the already dim prospects of a nationwide cease-fire for the coming Id al-Adha holiday, which the newly appointed peace envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been trying to negotiate for the past week.

Disturbing video uploaded to the Internet, which appeared to be genuine but could not be corroborated independently, showed what was described as the aftermath of the bakery shelling in the Hanano district of Aleppo. Mangled bodies were interspersed with upended loaves of freshly baked pita on the bakery’s bloodied floor, as screaming rescue workers hauled the dead and the wounded to pickup trucks and taxicabs. Some of the victims were children, including a girl who was decapitated.

Abu al-Hasan, an activist from the Aleppo suburb of Maree, said in a Skype interview that most of the dead were bakery workers. He said it was unclear whether the attackers had been aiming for the bakery, which is in a large warehouse.

“The problem is those kinds of missiles are not guided to their intended targets,” he said. “They’re not precise. They fall on random buildings.”

He said the shelling came as residents of the neighborhood, who had been too afraid to venture outside for the past few days, finally took the risk in order to buy food for Id al-Adha, a widely celebrated Muslim holiday that starts on Friday.

Aleppo, near Syria’s northern border with Turkey, has been under siege for three months and has become a focal point of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels have frustrated attempts by Syrian forces to retake the entire city and have threatened to cut off the military’s supply lines there.

At the same time, bakeries in rebel-held areas of Aleppo have emerged as vitally important resources that are clearly potential targets for Syrian forces seeking to starve the insurgents and their sympathizers into submission. Many of the bakeries are run by the insurgents, who have learned how to bake bread as part of the war effort.

The bakery attack came as Mr. Brahimi, a veteran Algerian statesman who became the special Syria peace envoy last month, left Syria after having met with Mr. Assad and his subordinates over the weekend. A statement issued by the United Nations said Mr. Brahimi had held “frank and substantive” discussions with Mr. Assad, who had “given a positive reaction to his call for the government to declare a military pause during the Id al-Adha holiday.”

But there was no official announcement of such a truce. Many Syrian activists and opposition figures had said it was highly unlikely anyway, given what they called Mr. Assad’s lack of credibility and the inability of Mr. Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, to broker a pause in the fighting.

Mr. Brahimi had said he hoped that a religiously inspired truce would be the basis for at least the start of a dialogue between antagonists in the 19-month-old conflict, which has left more than 20,000 people dead. He was scheduled to brief the Security Council by video link from Cairo on Wednesday, said Martin Nesirky, a United Nations spokesman.

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency reported Tuesday that the number of Syrians who had fled to neighboring countries had climbed to more than 358,000 and that Lebanon had become the third country, after Turkey and Jordan, to house more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the refugee agency, said in a statement that the sectarian mayhem in Lebanon caused by a bombing in Beirut on Friday had temporarily disrupted the agency’s registration work in Lebanon. She also said most of the Syrians who had entered Lebanon to escape the war were from Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.

Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.
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« Reply #2787 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:08 AM »

October 23, 2012

Iran’s Warning to Oil Market Fails to Send Prices Higher

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Iran threatened on Tuesday to halt all its oil exports if the West’s antinuclear sanctions on the country are strengthened, apparently in the hope that such a warning would spook the international petroleum market by raising prices and reminding the world of Iran’s potential to wreak havoc with the global economy.

But the threat, made by Rostam Qasemi, Iran’s oil minister, at the World Energy Forum, a conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, appeared to have no impact. In a possible reflection of how steeply Iran’s influence in the market has eroded, oil prices fell to a three-month low.

Iran holds the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves and was once the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, behind Saudi Arabia. But the regimen of American and European sanctions over the past year has severely restricted its ability to produce and sell oil, the country’s most important export.

The International Energy Agency, a group of mostly Western oil importers, reported this month that Iran’s daily production fell to a nearly 25-year low of 2.63 million barrels a day in September and that oil exports that month totaled only 860,000 barrels a day, compared with 2.2 million barrels a day at the end of 2011. Iran has disputed those figures.

At the same time, Iranian officials have acknowledged that the Western sanctions have wounded the country’s economy. Outside experts, noting a severe devaluation in the currency and other troubling indicators, have said the country’s economic problems are severe and worsening quickly. The United States and European Union have said more sanctions are looming.

Mr. Qasemi was quoted by news agencies at the Dubai conference as saying Iran had contingency plans to survive without any oil revenue if further sanctions were applied. The sanctions are meant to pressure Iran into suspending its uranium enrichment, which Western nations suspect is meant to enable Iran to produce nuclear weapons.

“If you continue to add to the sanctions, we cut our oil exports to the world,” the minister was quoted as saying. “We are hopeful that this doesn’t happen, because citizens will suffer. We don’t want to see European and U.S. citizens suffer.”

But Mr. Qasemi’s remarks, which might have once caused oil traders to bid up the price on fears of a supply shortage, had no effect. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the price of the benchmark grade fell $1.98 a barrel or 2.3 percent to $86.67, the lowest closing price since July 12.

“It’s a classic weak man’s poker hand,” Cliff Kupchan, a Washington-based analyst at the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, said of the Iranian minister’s remarks. “It’s what you do if you’re running out of chips and you need more money.”

Oil traders attributed the weakness in the oil market to fears about a global economic slowdown that would reduce demand in the months ahead.
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« Reply #2788 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:10 AM »

October 23, 2012

Qatar’s Emir Visits Gaza, Pledging $400 Million to Hamas

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

JERUSALEM — The emir of Qatar on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took full control of it in 2007, the latest step in an ambitious campaign by the tiny Persian Gulf nation to leverage its outsize pocketbook in support of Islamists across the region — and one that threatened to widen the rift between rival Palestinian factions.

The emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, pledged $400 million to build two housing complexes, rehabilitate three main roads and create a prosthetic center, among other projects, a transformational infusion of cash at a time when foreign aid to the Palestinian territories has been in free fall. The sheik, his wife and the Qatari prime minister led a large delegation that entered Gaza from Egypt and sped in a convoy of black Mercedes-Benzes and armored Toyotas through streets lined with people waving Qatari and Palestinian flags.

“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”

In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.

The visit signaled just how much the region had changed for Hamas since the advent of the Arab Spring. Where Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak once allied with Saudi Arabia to squeeze Hamas by keeping the border largely closed, Egypt under a new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, opened the crossing to allow the Qatari ruler through. But the visit also reflected the unique foreign policy that has allowed Qatar to straddle competing worlds, bankrolling political movements like Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, while maintaining strong links to Washington.

Sheik Hamad, who has ruled Qatar since 1995, has gradually transformed the tiny nation into a regional powerhouse, relying on its immense wealth to extend its influence. That has been especially true in the past two years, as Qatar has played decisive roles in the revolutions in Libya and Yemen and the isolation of the Syrian government.

Qatar allied with the West in helping oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, while financing Islamists on the ground. In Egypt, it has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, it provides cash and weapons to Islamists battling President Bashar al-Assad, and at the same time it hosts a large United States military base that affords it protection in a volatile neighborhood.

“Qatar is a secure little kernel with huge resources that has chosen to use those resources in foreign policy,” said Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center. “They have no constraints. They can take any position anytime anywhere.”

But eight months after Doha, the Qatari capital, hosted the signing of a reconciliation agreement between the Hamas leadership and Mr. Abbas, the deal has not come to fruition in the form of national elections. On Tuesday the emir’s visit drove a deeper wedge between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Mr. Abbas, and raised alarm in Israel.

Hamas has refused to reject violence or recognize Israel, which also considers it a terrorist organization, and has struggled lately to control more militant Islamist groups within Gaza. Since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, Hamas has closed its offices in Syria, its primary patron, and tried to establish a close and direct connection to Mr. Morsi of Egypt, who was a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood before his election.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declared that the emir had “thrown peace under the bus,” noting that his visit came a few hours after an Israeli soldier was severely wounded when a bomb exploded along the border with Gaza. Southern Israel has faced what he described as “a steady drizzle of rockets” in the last few weeks.

“It helps Hamas entrench themselves in Gaza, not to yield one inch to the P.A., and enhancing the division and the reality of two de facto states,” Mr. Palmor said. “Most of the money that he’s pouring in Gaza will go to Hamas pockets, directly or indirectly. You think that will encourage them to hold national elections?”

The Qatari projects dwarf the roughly $300 million in foreign aid that analysts estimate Gaza receives annually. They come as international donations to the Palestinian Authority have nose-dived, from a peak of $1.8 billion in 2008 to less than $700 million this year, according to a World Bank report. The shift is part of a broader financial crisis that has caused the delayed or partial payment of government salaries three months running, the focus of violent street protests in the West Bank last month.

Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said a critical question was whether rumored visits to Gaza by other regional heads of state would follow Qatar’s. He said that Cairo’s role in brokering the visit was an important signal in the evolving relationship between Gaza and Egypt, and that Hamas was hoping it would help reverse the so-called “West Bank-first model of attempting to promote prosperity in Ramallah and austerity in Gaza.”

“The message that Hamas wishes to convey is ‘We are the future; the P.A. is disintegrating,’ ” he said. “The argument Hamas is hoping to make is that this is the beginning of a sort of Gaza-first model: Arabs ignoring a failing P.A., and supporting Gaza with sums of money that Europeans, even if they wanted to, couldn’t match.”

The six-hour visit ended with a large rally at the Islamic University in Gaza City, where the emir and his wife received honorary doctorates.

Speaking at the university, he called on Palestinian leaders to repair their rift, which he said “was more painful than the Israeli aggression” and left them “without peace negotiations or a resistance and liberation strategy.”

Fares Akram contributed reporting from the Gaza Strip, and Robert F. Worth from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 23, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the length of time that government salaries in the West Bank have been delayed or only partially paid. It is three months, not five.

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« Reply #2789 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:11 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/24/2012 12:18 PM

Two More Years for Athens?: Report Says Greece Will Get More Time

A German newspaper on Wednesday is reporting that Greece's creditors will grant the heavily indebted country two more years to meet its budget targets. Despite high-level denials, momentum appears to be growing for such a delay, which would necessitate further aid to Athens.

When it comes to Greece's future in the euro zone, both sides in the dispute over additional austerity measures -- both Athens and Brussels -- have done their best to appear unbending. Brussels has insisted that the Greek government under Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pass additional billions in belt-tightening measures to qualify for further aid, while Samaras has said that his country needs more time to get its budget in order.

But lately there have been signs that Europe might soften its position. Most recently, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Tuesday that he considered it likely "that we can come to agreement on a policy that makes sense for Greece."

Now, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung is reporting that Greece's international creditors have agreed to grant the heavily indebted country two more years to reduce its budget deficit below the 3 percent maximum allowed by European Union rules. While not citing sources beyond a draft version of a "Memorandum of Understanding," the paper also reports that Athens will additionally be given a breather on deadlines for labor market reform, energy policy reform and privatization efforts.

It is unclear whether the draft deal seen by the Süddeutsche is the same paper that news agency Reuters claims also to have seen. The news agency is also reporting on Wednesday that Greece and its lenders are moving towards a deal that would give Greece two additional years, until 2016, to reach its target of achieving a "primary budget surplus" of 4.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). A "primary budget" does not include interest payments on debt.

'Reading Tea Leaves'

Berlin officials have been quick to deny the Süddeutsche report, saying that no agreement has been finalized. Steffen Kampeter, a state secretary in Germany's Finance Ministry, insisted that no decision will be made until a report from the troika -- made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- is completed. "Anything prior to that is reading tea leaves," he told German radio on Wednesday morning.

Senior ECB official Jörg Asmussen also noted that no final decisions would be made before the troika report is completed, likely in the first half of November. "We haven't completed the talks in Athens," he told German public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday morning. "There is no final agreement with the troika."

The Süddeutsche piece reported that the draft agreement with Greece foresees more realistic privatization targets of €8.8 billion by the end of 2015, instead of €19 billion. The paper also writes that Athens' creditors have already agreed to pay out the next aid tranche, worth €31.5 billion. Payment of that tranche, part of the €130 billion bailout package passed in March, had been made dependent on Greek progress on reforms. Athens has said that it will run out of cash by the end of November if it doesn't receive the aid money, though.

Growing Support

Granting Athens an additional two years to meet its reform targets is controversial. For one, it would mean that Greece would need yet more aid to remain solvent during those two years, up to €20 billion by some estimates. Meanwhile, willingness to send more money to Athens is vanishing rapidly in the euro zone. Many also fear that leniency may reduce pressure on the Greek government to rapidly implement reforms that have already been agreed upon.

Still, support for a delay seems to have grown in recent weeks. Athens argues that the deep austerity measures already introduced have contributed mightily to the country's economic collapse, which has seen the economy shrink by almost 20 percent in the last five years. Slowing these efforts down, Samaras argues, could help the economy get back on track. Indeed, he has received some high-level support, with IMF head Christine Lagarde saying earlier this month that Athens should get two more years. SPIEGEL reported last week that troika experts had also requested finance ministers from euro-zone member states to give the country more time.
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