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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1009723 times)
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« Reply #4920 on: Mar 06, 2013, 06:54 AM »

March 5, 2013

Turkey Renews Focus on Ending Its Long Conflict With Kurds


DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — When three prominent Kurdish women activists were murdered in Paris in January, analysts worried that the killings would derail the fledgling peace talks, begun late last year. Just the opposite appears to have happened, as both sides have moved forward with more determination to end one of the region’s most intractable conflicts, which has claimed almost 40,000 lives over nearly three decades.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become such a forceful advocate for peace that he said he would drink “hemlock poison” if it meant an end to hostilities.

His nominal opponent, Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish militant leader, recently released a letter from his jail cell calling for a cease-fire by March and the withdrawal of fighters from Turkish territory by August.

Mr. Erdogan, frustrated with Turkey’s limited ability to shape the Arab world’s revolutions and facing a backlash at home for his support of the rebels in Syria’s bloody civil war, has shifted to seeking peace in his own backyard. If they bear fruit, the talks will bolster Turkey’s position as a regional power, burnish Mr. Erdogan’s legacy as a peacemaker and, perhaps, propel him to the presidency next year.

“If the talks are successful, he would get a peace dividend, as the leader that finally brought peace to Turkey after three decades of internal strife,” said Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, a research organization in Istanbul, and a former Turkish diplomat.

Analysts have described the peace talks with Mr. Ocalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe, as historic and essential if Turkey is to realize its ambitions to become a regional and global power as a prosperous and democratic Muslim nation. Many also see a political motive for Mr. Erdogan.

According to this view, Mr. Erdogan has found himself without the votes in Parliament to make constitutional changes to create a stronger presidency, the office that he might seek in next year’s election, and is gambling that the peace process will attract enough support from Kurdish lawmakers to alter the Constitution. “That is his only hope now to get this shift to a presidential system,” Mr. Ulgen said.

The leak of minutes from a recent jailhouse meeting with Mr. Ocalan, in which the guerrilla leader threatened more war if the prime minister failed to meet his demands for greater Kurdish rights, has caused a stir in the Turkish news media, and some commentators have suggested the provocative statements could complicate the peace talks.

National politics aside, here in Diyarbakir, the soul of Turkey’s Kurdish region and a world apart from cosmopolitan Istanbul, the hopes for peace, while real, are tempered by accumulated traumas of war and the resentments against a state that for decades denied Kurds their identity.

On a cold January day, old men in this ancient city of basalt stone walls and grand mosques waited for another funeral for a guerrilla fighter. It was a reminder that for all the talk of peace, there is still a war.

“For 30 years the state has killed my people and denied me my language,” said Kudbettin Yas, 60. “But today when I go to the funeral, I will chant for peace. I still have hope for peace.”

While the torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings of Turkey’s 1990s counterterrorism campaign have largely stopped, thousands of Kurdish activists are in jails on terrorism charges for engaging in peaceful political activities.

“There are many things we want to say, but as soon as we talk we are put in prison,” said a man at the funeral, explaining that even speaking to a newspaper reporter about his anger toward the state could land him in jail.

Yet scenes that played out across the city recently were testimony to small advancements in Kurdish rights that would have been impossible a few years ago. In the courthouse a defendant, a former mayor on trial for his involvement with a banned Kurdish organization, spoke Kurdish in his own defense, the result of a recently passed law. At a local library, named for the Kurdish novelist Mehmed Uzun, college students studied Kurdish grammar in anticipation that one day the state would allow them to teach in Kurdish.

Still, Kurds feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

“There is the general view that all Kurds are criminals, that a Kurd has a gun or a bomb,” said Mehmet Aktar, a lawyer who says he still refrains from speaking Kurdish in public when he visits Istanbul.

Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party have brought unprecedented improvements for the Kurds, including a Kurdish television station, and better health care and infrastructure in the southeast.

“To be fair, it was Erdogan who has taken the most radical steps on the path toward solving the Kurdish problem,” said Vahap Coskun, a law professor at Dicle University in Diyarbakir. “These steps have allowed people to maintain their hopes that this problem will be solved.”

There is an overwhelming sense here that the end of violence would not mark the end of the Kurdish struggle. The families of those killed by state paramilitary units in the 1990s want justice, but the 20-year statute of limitations on murder is expiring on many of the cases, which have been slowly winding through the judicial system.

“From now on, many cases will be dropped,” said Tahir Elci, the chairman of the local bar association who has spent years pursuing such cases. “If victims cannot reach justice and they don’t learn the truth about their relatives, it will be impossible to achieve social peace in this country.”

Meanwhile, a complex of centuries-old buildings within the walled city — headquarters, jail and torture chambers for Turkey’s vicious counterterrorism forces — is being remade into a tourist destination. The site will include a cafeteria, a stage for puppet shows and an archaeology museum that honors the city’s Ottoman past, but there will be no acknowledgment of its recent horrors.

“It gave me chills at first, but all those days are over,” said Remzi Gendal, 29, a worker at the site, who said that former inmates sometimes visit. “For the moment, we have a lot of hope. But I am cautious. With God’s will, this war will be over.”

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Diyarbakir, and Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul.

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« Reply #4921 on: Mar 06, 2013, 06:55 AM »

March 5, 2013

Moldova’s Pro-Western Government Falls


MOSCOW — The pro-Western government of Moldova fell on Tuesday when Parliament passed a no-confidence motion, shattering a fragile political alliance that had put the former Soviet republic on a path toward integration with the European Union.

Members of the Communist Party, which introduced the motion, said the three-party governing coalition of Prime Minister Vlad Filat had led the country into economic stagnation. By forcing new elections with the no-confidence vote, the Communists gain a chance to return to power after four years in opposition.

The government had hoped to sign an association agreement with the European Union later this year. That has been one of Mr. Filat’s primary goals since his coalition, the Alliance for European Integration, wrested power from the Communists in the 2009 elections.

“Right now we are observing a crisis,” said Oazu Nantoi, program director at the Institute for Public Policy in Chisinau, the capital. Though the European Union was preparing for negotiations with Mr. Filat’s government, he said, “the alliance, de facto, no longer exists. What happens now is very difficult to say.”

The alliance had been coming apart for some time. Mr. Filat ripped up the compact binding the three parties last month, and issued a fiery statement accusing some of its leaders of reviving “Communist era” corruption schemes. His allies then called for his resignation; one of them, Marian Lupu, led the 15 members of the Democratic Party to join the Communists in voting against the government on Tuesday.

Moldova is a relatively poor country of four million people wedged between Romania, a member of the European Union, and Ukraine; it is divided politically between those who look to the West or to Russia as guarantors of reform and stability. Russian troops are stationed in the section east of the Dniester River, which has broken away from the central government’s control, and Russia supplies most of the country’s energy.
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« Reply #4922 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:03 AM »

March 5, 2013

Russia Marks 60th Anniversary of Stalin's Death


MOSCOW (AP) — Devotees of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose brutal purges killed millions of innocent citizens and made his name a byword for totalitarian terror, flocked to the Kremlin to praise him for making his country a world power Tuesday, while experts and politicians puzzled and despaired over his enduring popularity.

Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov led some 1,000 zealots who laid carnations at Stalin's grave by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, praising him as a symbol of the nation's "great victories" and saying that Russia needs to rely on this "unique experience" to overcome its problems.

Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. Communists and other hardliners credit him with leading the country to victory in World War II and turning it into a nuclear superpower, while critics condemn his repressions. Historians estimate that more than 800,000 people were executed during the purges that peaked during the Great Terror in the late 1930s, and millions more died of harsh labor and cruel treatment in the giant Gulag prison camp system, mass starvation in Ukraine and southern Russia and deportations of ethnic minorities.

"Those repressions touched every city, town, and village," Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the presidential human rights council, said on Tuesday. "We can never forget this."

The liberal Moskovskie Novosti's cover Tuesday read "Stalin. Farewell" with the dictator's face scribbled over with childish graffiti, while staunch Communist daily Sovetskaya Rossiya ran a cover story on Stalin headlined "His time will come."

An opinion survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment found Stalin has remained widely admired in Russia and other ex-Soviet nations despite his repressions. Its authors noted that public attitudes to the dictator have improved during Russian President Vladimir Putin's 13-year rule, as the Kremlin has found Stalin's image useful in its efforts to tighten control.

Roman Fomin, who organized a group laying carnations at the grave, said a leader like Stalin "would definitely be for the good of the country and the country would be developing much better than it is now."

Putin, whose professed ideology draws heavily from Soviet statism, has made efforts to give Stalin a more positive historical evaluation. School history textbooks have been released stressing Stalin's role as an "effective manager" of the 1930s Soviet industrialization campaign, though historians express far greater skepticism about his supposed economic achievements.

Liberal newspaper Vedomosti dismissed "the crazy dichotomy of achievements and losses" in an editorial Tuesday. "You can't put economic achievements and human losses side by side, but even if you try, you won't find any justification for the Stalin myth," it said.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers campaigned this year to rename the city of Volgograd to Stalingrad — its name from 1925 to 1961 — in commemoration of the battle against Nazi Germany there, widely considered both World War II's bloodiest and its turning point. Most Russians, however, oppose the move and see Stalin's death primarily as the end of an era of political repression, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center published Monday.

Opposition politicians have criticized the government for failing to clearly condemn Stalin's repressions. Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal former presidential candidate, demanded Tuesday that the government "recognize what happened as a crime" and compensate Gulag prisoners who built some of Russia's biggest industrial enterprises, including metals giant Norilsk Nickel.

Much of the resurgence in Stalin's popularity owes itself to nostalgic perceptions of him as a strong leader in line with Russian traditions, rather than a longing to reinstate Communist dictatorship. One old woman made the sign of the cross after laying flowers at his grave; another carried a drawing of him in the style of Russian Orthodox Christian icons.

A surprisingly large number of Russians even believe that Stalin had mystical powers. As recently as 2003, about 750,000 people voted for a party that aimed to continue what it said was Stalin's attempt to battle the ancient Egyptian priesthood of Ra, which supposedly runs the world from its base in Switzerland. Zavtra, a newspaper run by a popular novelist and columnist, frequently runs pieces like one from about the same time predicting that Stalin would return from the dead and saying that "if you put your ear to the Volga steppe outside Stalingrad you can hear his footsteps."

"Russian society is living through a period of crisis of historical consciousness and, in my view, the only remedy for this ailment is creating an archive describing" the Stalin era, said Andrei Sorokin, Director of the Russian Archive of Socio-Political History.

In 1989, at the peak of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to liberalize the country and expose Stalinist crimes, only 12 percent of Russians polled described Stalin as one of the most prominent historical figures, while in the Carnegie poll last year, 42 percent of Russian respondents did so.

The poll revealed that the dictator also has continued to enjoy wide popularity in his native Georgia, where 45 percent of respondents expressed a positive view of him. Efforts to shed the nation's Soviet legacy by Georgia's pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili have failed to change public perceptions of Stalin.

Georgian communists, who flocked to Stalin's hometown of Gori for the anniversary on Tuesday, hope that the government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose bloc defeated Saakashvili's party in parliamentary elections last fall, will restore the Stalin monument torn down on Saakashvili's orders.

"Stalin has given a new impulse to the development of mankind," said 58-year old history teacher Aliko Lursmanashvili who heads the Gori branch of Georgia's Stalin Society uniting the dictator's admirers.

Mixing communist symbols with religious rites, communist participants in the rally went to a local church to light candles to remember Stalin after they had rolled up their red flags.


Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed to this report from Gori, Georgia.


03/05/2013 04:29 PM

Six Decades Later: Stalin Cult Alive and Well in Russia

By Uwe Klussmann

Josef Stalin ruled the early years of the Soviet Union with torture, show trials and vast numbers of executions. Yet today, many Russians are willing to forgive this brutality. They see him as a hero for consolidating power and modernizing the country.

It's not like someone in Russia would dispute that Josef Stalin stands for a gruesome reign of violence. He was a controversial figure from the beginning among the leadership of his own party, the Bolsheviks, forerunners to the Communist Party. Even former Russian Communist leaders concede that the number of his victims is inconceivably high.

And yet the late Soviet dictator is the source of intense disagreements in modern day Russia. Admirers like writer Alexander Prokhanov extol Stalin's "mystical victory" at the end of World War II and the Soviet "red project" as epoch-making. The pro-Stalin camp regularly wins television debates with liberals warning of the dangers of Stalin nostalgia. Sixty years after his death, on March 5, 1953, the "man of steel" still inspires fascination among many Russians.

Lenin issued some of the earliest warnings against what Stalin was capable of. As he wrote in a letter to the party convention on December 24, 1922: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated an enormous power in his hands; and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution."

The Great Purges

Back then, Stalin had not yet achieved unfettered power over the five-year-old Soviet state. World War I and the Russian Civil War had shaken the land, and the all-powerful Communists were split into rival factions. One man from a well-to-do Jewish family made a name for himself as a brilliant orator: Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, who called himself Leon Trotsky. Lenin, apparently a connoisseur of human nature, warned against him, too. Trotsky had a "too far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs."

It was this judgment that made Stalin's rise to power possible. Almost no one, not even Lenin, had imagined that Stalin would have Trotsky expelled from the party and sent into exile. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin could no longer be stopped. He quickly isolated Trotsky supporters, the "Trotskyites," repeatedly warning of their dictatorial ideas, like the widely hated concept of the "militarization of labor."

In Moscow in the 1920s, Stalin distinguished himself with vows to establish democracy. His consolidated his power through the party apparatus, in which he promoted mostly young Russians. The party that Lenin had left behind was chaotic, ruled by political adventure-seekers who had virtually no connection to the lives of average Russians. In contrast, the class of state administrators and regional rulers were greedy and corrupt. Neither group was capable of building a state, and Stalin seized the opportunity. In the latter half of the 1930s, he used the Moscow show trials to sentence hundreds of thousands to death and millions to imprisonment camps, where countless died.

Ivan the Terrible, a Historical Role Model

What could have driven Stalin to do this was made clear in a film that, upon first glance, appears to have nothing to do with Stalin. "Ivan the Terrible" was filmed during World War II by director Sergey Eisenstein at Stalin's request. The film takes place in the 16th century, showing the life of Ivan IV, the Tsar of All Russians, whose sadistic inclination earned him the epithetic "the Terrible" in the West.

Similar to Stalin, Ivan IV faced a hurdle in his path to absolute power: the corrupt boyars, aristocrats whom he could not trust. Stalin was fascinated by the historical parallels. Viewers experienced a tsar as a highly gifted people's leader, besieged by malicious princes and traitors. In the Russian trailer, the film is described as dealing with "a man who for the first time united our country and created a powerful state."

Stalin, too, had subjugated the power apparatus with terror and waves of bloody purges. Where resistance was not demonstrated, he had it fabricated. Confessions were forced out of people with torture. Show trials against leading men from the party and the state signaled to the country from 1935 on that opposition to Stalin's politics, whether open or concealed, would not be tolerated. On one day alone, December 12, 1938, Stalin's trials sentenced 3,167 people to death. Even the Soviet secret police, responsible for so much of the terror, was not spared from the purges -- just like the Oprichniki, the personal police of Ivan the Terrible.

The sword of the dictator circled around the army leadership as well. In a few years, more than 10,000 officers were executed, and three out of five marshals and 15 army commanders were imprisoned. In 1940, Trotsky, who was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and was then living in Mexico, took an ice axe to the head by a Soviet assassin.

From Industrialization to Victory

What at first looked like the full-blown insanity of a paranoid maniac actually had a purpose. Like Ivan the Terrible, Stalin attempted to create for himself a loyal service gentry. But Stalin's rule was not a tsarist revival so much as a dictatorship of modernization.

In a speech to engineers, project directors and officials in Moscow in February 1931, Stalin voiced the essence of his policy. His audience of 700 mostly young and middle-aged men, many of whom had traveled in trains across the enormous snowy landscape of the country, listened intently to the plans they were meant to realize.

The "old Russia," Stalin said, was "continually battered by its backwardness," and by "Mongolian Khans, Swedish feudal lords and English-French capitalists." His final conclusion was that the country must "eradicate its backwardness as soon as possible... We have stayed 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. We have to make up this distance in 10 years. Either we bring this about or we will be crushed."

Ten years later, the most advanced military machinery in the world, Hitler's Wehrmacht, attacked the Soviet Union. German panzers crushed cornfields and dive bombers attacked industrial factories in Russian cities.

Yet the Soviet Union prevailed. Germans had to watch in bewilderment as the Red Army approached Berlin with 6,000 tanks to sound the death knell for the German Reich.

This was made possible through Stalin's gigantic industrialization, paid for by the millions of farmers who starved to death because of Stalin's forced collectivization of the agrarian economy. Sending workers who were repeatedly late to work in the factories to gulags was not the exception but the rule after 1939. You are nothing; the Soviet empire is everything -- that was the unspoken motto of the Stalinist regime. And the principle seemed to work: After the 1945 victory, the Soviet sphere of influence stretched from the Pacific to the Bay of Lübeck.

Lonely Death

In order to watch over his enormous empire, Stalin's employees in the post-war years brought him daily reports by airplane to one of the summer houses he liked to retreat to. He worked through the documents at a small brown desk next to his bed.

While the dictator would often retreat into the seclusion of the Abkhazian town of Gagra on the Black Sea for weeks and months on end, his bureaucrats ruled in far-off Moscow and revered him with an insincere personality cult. Deceitful, cowardly and conniving, their self-interest was kept at bay only by the fact that Stalin was still living.

Stalin had not groomed a successor. It had grown lonely around him when he died in the spring of 1953 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage at his Kuntsevo resident outside Moscow. Later evidence suggested he may have been poisoned.

As a large part of the population mourned the death of their father figure, the Moscow elite devoted themselves to what they did best: scheming and struggling for power. Three years after Stalin's death, the public renunciation of his policies began. Thirty-eight years after his death, the Soviet Union collapsed.

The current fascination with Stalin -- now 60 years after his death -- is not with the Communist dictator but the founder of the empire. The reasons behind it, surmises Vladimir Solovyov, a liberal TV journalist at the state channel Rossija ("Russia"), lies in the "devastating present."

In light of broad corruption in government and administration, of abuse of power and social injustice, Solovyov says, many Russians feel a growing need to elevate Stalin. The dictator's personal belongings, after all, were essentially limited to a handful of uniform jackets. Even his weekend homes belonged to the state.

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« Reply #4923 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Czech Republic: Václav Klaus accused of treason

5 March 2013
Mladá Fronta DNES, 5 March 2013

"The president goes to court?" headlines Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes. Three days before the end of his term, the Senate has voted to bring a charge of high treason against outgoing President Václav Klaus in the Constitutional Court. This is a first such charge to be brought in the history of the Czech Republic. If it pursues the complaint, the Court must try him to establish whether he violated the constitution.

Initiated by opposition Social Democrat senators, 38 senators backed bringing the charge, compared to 30 who voted against it. The case is linked to Klaus's controversial amnesty on January 1 of 7,400 prisoners and, more significantly, the halt of several legal cases involving serious financial crimes and corruption.

The senators also argue that the president acted unconstitutionally when he delayed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and when he ignored the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court by refusing to name a new judge for four years.

Even if there are "good arguments against the accusation – Klaus could come out of it as a martyr, which may still help his political career – it is a good thing that the senators are forcing him to face his responsibilities, says Czech weekly Respekt. The magazine notes that –

    on several occasions, Klaus acted like a tin-pot dictator, treating the constitution like a calendar, and ripping out pages (...) He treated it in such an arbitrary manner that now we need to clarify certain points – for example concerning the amnesty and the ratification of international treaties.

Mladá Fronta Dnes, sees the treason –

    as an example of the isolation in which Klaus forms his opinions. [...] Václav Klaus's error during his second presidential term is interesting because other politicians also suffer from it. In other words, their opinions are formed in a state of greater and greater isolation from reality. [...] We will see how his successor, Miloš Zeman, fares."

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« Reply #4924 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Portugal: The social earthquake rumbles ever louder

5 March 2013
Expresso Lisbon

More than a million people of all ages took to the streets of Portugal on March 2 to demand an end to austerity. The growing discontent could bring down the political system that has been in place since the fall of the dictatorship.

Daniel Oliveira

Ultimately, September 15 was just a passing episode. In the end, everything did not boil down to just the Single Social Tax, which was followed by the fiscal massacre. Ultimately, the vast majority of Portuguese are not waiting on the mood swings of the CDS [Christian Democratic Party, a member of the coalition] or waiting for the president of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, to shake off his profound lethargy, or for what has come to be called the internal opposition of the PSD [the centre-right Social Democratic Party of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho] to believe that its time has come. Ultimately, people took to the streets in the middle of an inspection by the visiting troika to show that they are not the "good people" that one of its bureaucrats seemed to believe live here.

Despite the obvious antipathy that the entire political class appears to deserve these days, the protests of March 2 were not anti-political. They were, rather, marked with more sadness and blighted hopes than those of September. But they are not – not yet, away – desperate. They were entirely political demonstrations, framed in all their symbolism by democratic sentiments. And that, considering the social situation we are living through and the institutional stalemate we are facing, is extraordinary. This may be explained, perhaps, only by the fact that our democracy is still relatively young.

I say “still” because, if the opposition fails to provide an answer to this revolt by coming up with a credible alternative – and not restricting itself to preparing for another spell in power or trying to capitalise on the support for the next elections – the next step could be quite different.

I am convinced that if something new appears on the electoral spectrum next year and proves able to enthuse the Portuguese or to capture their attention, the result would be surprising. That "something" could be positive – but it is more likely to be inconsistent, or even politically dangerous.
Protesting pensioners

One thing leaps out when you look at the Saturday demonstrations: their make-up in terms of age groups. Observers noted a lot of retirees in the crowds, more so than in the protests of September 15. It is on the retirees that the problems of the country concentrate most forcefully – the problem of having been born and raised in a country that is socially, economically and culturally backward. And the problem of carrying, more than all the others, the burden of this backwardness.

One such burden is the miserable pensions, which most of them take as overwhelming evidence of the line that Passos Coelho follows, and that he wants the country to stick to – that we have a welfare state that is far too generous. It's an idea that can spring only from the mind of someone who knows the country only through his party headquarters and the corporate offices of his friends.

One of the things talked about most on Saturday was the children who emigrate, who are unemployed, who are desperate. And the lack of prospects for their grandchildren. In a society such as Portugal, where the family is a kind of complementary welfare state (or even the main one), the old gather the suffering of all the generations under their roof. And they are, themselves, the most sacrificed.
Propelled into the street

Some of the retirees who took to the streets Saturday were participating in a demonstration for the first time in their lives. In other words, they lived through the dictatorship, the 1974 revolution, the PREC [Processo Revolucionário Em Curso], the ongoing revolutionary process – that is to say, the transition to democracy] and through our young democracy without ever having made use of this right. And it is only now, at more than 60 years of age and after almost 40 years of democracy, that they feel propelled into the street.

We live in a time of peaceful revolt that still fits inside the political system, as we know it today. But that system has entered its decadent phase. If the political world persists in not responding to the mood of the country, unpredictable events will take place. I believe (or at least I hope) that they will take place within the spirit of democracy and without imperilling it. After two years of austerity and misery, however, everything can change. In the social protests, much has already changed. It is not only merely a corporatist embodiment of union and partisan structures, and it is no longer even dominated by them. Whether this is good or bad I do not know. It's just how it is.

If the opposition fails to embody a credible alternative, and if the main party of the Portuguese right starts to fall apart, then the first to seize this moment, whether they are serious players or populists, comedians or statesmen, may provoke a political earthquake. Because the social earthquake is already here. Without, apparently, stirring the institutions and parties to react.   

Debt crisis: Portuguese expecting more cuts

“The Portuguese believe the government is preparing to make cuts in health, education and social security,” but instead, they want cuts in public-private partnerships, debt interest and defence. These were the results of a Portuguese survey published on March 5, by Diário de Notícias.

The Portuguese government and the troika of lenders – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – which will be in Lisbon until the end of this week for the seventh review of the bailout programme – are preparing new cuts in public spending, totalling around €4bn.

A total of 57 per cent of respondents believe these cuts should be in public-private partnerships, while 36 per cent want a reduction in on the debt interest repayments, and 33 per cent want a drop in national defence spending.

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« Reply #4925 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Spain: Is the Grillo bug catching?

5 March 2013
El País Madrid

Economic crisis, youth exclusion, discredited political parties: The situation which triggered the success of the Italian Five Star Movement could produce the same effect in southern Europe’s other countries, warns a Spanish sociologist.
Enrique Gil Calvo

The victory of Jiminy Cricket (as Beppe Grillo has always been translated in Spain, after the character in the Pinocchio story) in the recent Italian elections has once again brought to the fore the resurgence of populism, triggered by the contradictions between capitalism and democracy, that have launched a political crisis caused by financial speculation.

The situation in Greece, where its party system collapsed under pressure from the markets, has led to big gains at the polls for two populist parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum (the far-right Golden Dawn](2608201) and Syriza on the radical left, following a period of emergency technocratic government that laid out a strict financial plan for reform.

The immediate question that springs to mind is whether something similar could happen in Spain during the next elections either in 2015 or even earlier, if the current ruling party collapses? There are signs that our current democratic model is going through a profound political crisis, greatly aggravated by the serious social effects of the inequitable fiscal adjustment. Catalonia is de facto becoming independent, while its electoral majority party, Convergencia i Unió, is collapsing at the polls.

Discredited ruling party

The Socialist Party also risks a looming schism, while its leadership is being shown as incapable of reorganising themselves, or exercising any sound opposition, or recouping the slightest electoral credibility. The discredited ruling party is teetering between distrust and helplessness at the inability of its leadership to come clean on the many cases of corruption ensnaring it. And, meanwhile, civil society is turning its back on both the institutional elite and the political class, as revealed by the waves of mass demonstrations by the middle classes. That is why it would be no surprise if the next elections in Spain are won by a populist candidate in the style of the Five Star Movement (M5S).

Indeed, as many observers are beginning to realise, the Beppe Grillo phenomenon should not be interpreted as the tale of a contemporary Pied Piper, able to dazzle unsuspecting children, but rather the opposite: a figurehead chosen by a pluralistic social movement to bind and package up in one kit the heterogeneous voices emerging from civil society that are rejecting the political class. The groups which most resemble the Italian Five Star Movement, are the Spanish 15-M movement of “indignados”: the Rodea el Congreso (Surround the Congress) of the September 15 movement and the Stop Evictions of the PAH. They echo them as much by their age and social background, which are educated and professional middle class youth, as by their tools for organising and mobilising, through IT social networks and the occupation of public places.

Populism is like cholesterol

Populism is just like cholesterol, you have to distinguish between the good and the bad. Good populism is akin to a universalist social capital that builds positive confidence, while the bad is particularistic social capital that gives off negative distrust. Bad or negative populism is the populism of Berlusconi and other leaders like him: a mafia godfather who kidnaps his followers to exploit them for his own ends. Good or positive populism (as theorised by Ernesto Laclau) is that of the “Girotondi” [the Italian street protestors who playfully encircled state buildings], the “indignados”, the 15-M and the M5S. It is a universalistic and inclusive movement capable of articulating and interconnecting a plurality of heterogeneous social networks in order to organise them into a single collective mobilisation that is willing to together speak for civil society as a whole.

The specific difference that distinguishes the Italian case from the Spanish is the existence of Beppe Grillo as a theatrical mask: a collective spokesperson acting as a ventriloquist for the social movement. A role that no one has been able to play in Spain.

One might say that Beppe Grillo is no more than a clown – or no less, according to the German Social Democrat candidate for the federal Chancellery. In fact, he is a speculator who has opted to play politics, and has won – just as financial speculators lay their bets in the roulette wheel of the market. If you admit that speculation is inherent in the logic of the financial market, why not also admit that speculative populism is also inherent in the democratic logic of the electoral game?

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« Reply #4926 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:17 AM »

03/06/2013 12:58 PM

Battle with Brussels: Germany to Lobby against EU Gender Quota

Berlin plans to fight the proposed EU-wide gender quota for boards of publicly-traded companies, according to a media report on Wednesday. German representatives in Brussels have been instructed to block the measure. Instead, the government wants member states to come up with their own rules.

German opposition to the EU's proposed gender quota for the non-executive boards of stock market-listed companies has reportedly reached a new level, following reports that Berlin is to begin actively lobbying other countries to vote against the plan.

The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday that the German representation in Brussels had been ordered to "immediately -- and on diplomatic levels -- promote the German position." The directive quoted by the newspaper used blunt language, saying that the goal of negotiations should be the outright "rejection of the proposed guidelines."

Germany opposes the mandatory, EU-wide requirements in favor of individual nations coming up with their own strategies to increase women in leadership positions. Family Minister Kristina Schröder and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have warned against "overregulation."

The newspaper also reported there was a rift in the German cabinet on the issue, with the Federal Labor Ministry, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, having no objections to an EU-wide gender quota. Von der Leyen was reportedly pressured by the chancellery to stay quiet on the issue.

Uphill Battle in EU Legislature

The EU proposal, championed by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, would require at least 40 percent of all non-executive director positions to be filled by the "under-represented gender." That wording is meant to ensure that men are not adversely affected by the law.

The rules would apply to companies in the 27 member states that are listed on the stock market and have more than 250 employees or annual revenues of at least €50 million ($65 million). The companies would have until 2020 to come into compliance, or risk sanctions.

The European Commission had already watered down the proposal, leaving it up to member states to determine what kind of sanctions to impose on non-compliant firms. The rules also exempt executive boards from the quota. A press release last November, when the proposal was officially introduced, said that 85 percent of non-executive board members in European companies are men. The gender imbalance in executive boards is even bigger at 91.1 percent.

The regulations have to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the de facto upper legislative body of the EU that comprises individual member states. That's where Germany reportedly wants to gather a minority strong enough to block the legislation.

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« Reply #4927 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:22 AM »

One of Beppe Grillo's MPs castigated for praise of fascism

Roberta Lombardi, senior politician in Italy's Five Star Movement, criticised for blogpost lauding fascism's family values

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 March 2013 17.43 GMT   

One of the most senior newly elected politicians in former comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement came under fire on Tuesday, for a blog in which she appeared to praise aspects of fascism, including its family values and respect for the state.

Just a week after the upstart M5S's spectacular breakthrough in Italy's inconclusive election, Roberta Lombardi, 39, was widely criticised for the blog. In a front-page article, one commentator in La Stampa even called on her to resign.

The post, published on 21 January, said that "before it degenerated, the ideology of fascism had a socialist-inspired sense of national community and a very high regard for the state and the protection of the family".

Days later, three-times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi caused outrage by choosing Holocaust memorial day to present his own revisionist take on why fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had, apart from introducing antisemitic race laws, "done well" in other ways.

Lombardi, an employee of an interior decoration firm who has been made the M5S's leader in Italy's lower house of parliament, said on Tuesday in a separate blogpost that she had been left "speechless" by what she described as the "exploitation" of her comments.

"What was expressed was an exclusively historical analysis of this political period, which, of course, I condemn," she wrote.

Lombardi was not the only M5S politician to be riled by the press. Her colleague and party leader in the upper house of parliament, Vito Crimi, said he had been misinterpreted in reports that suggested Grillo's movement could potentially support the formation of a technocrat government.

Italy's 87-year-old president, Giorgio Napolitano, who has the unenviable task of appointing a new government from the wreckage of last week's election, is reported to be keen to pursue such an option if efforts by centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani fail.

However, on Tuesday, Grillo, whose movement holds the balance of power in the Senate, said he would not support a technocrat government, saying it would be merely a "fig leaf" and, despite its name, inherently political.

The ex-comedian and blogger, who has taken to appearing in public with his hood pulled over his face and aviator sunglasses on top, is also refusing to support a centre-left government.

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« Reply #4928 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Sistine Chapel closes as cardinals prepare to choose next pope

All but five of 115 cardinal-electors have arrived in Rome to take part in 'deep, unhurried' conclave, Vatican says

Lizzy Davies in Vatican City, Tuesday 5 March 2013 15.55 GMT   

The Sistine Chapel has closed to visitors as all but five cardinal-electors of the Roman Catholic church pursue the "deep and unhurried process" of preparing for papal conclave, the Vatican says.

Speaking at a press briefing, the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that of the 115 cardinals aged under 80 who will take part in the election of a new pope 110 had now arrived in Rome. A date for the conclave had still not been set, he added.

However, logistical preparations are under way, with more than 5,000 journalists now accredited to cover the conclave and construction work at the Sistine Chapel beginning. Before the chapel plays host to the cardinal-electors, it needs a false floor, to level out the surface and hide anti-bugging devices.

There will be two stoves in the chapel, one in which the cardinals' ballots will be burned and another in which the smoke used to make a signal will be created, with the help of additional chemicals.

Lombardi said it was unclear how long the work would take but it would undoubtedly be "accelerated" once a date for the start of conclave was announced. That is likely to take place only once the final five cardinals who are still awaited have arrived in Rome. Lombardi said he had no specific information on the cause of their delay, but added that they were all expected in the coming days.

As they met for their third "general congregation", there had seemed among the cardinals "no desire to hasten the process", Lombardi, said through an interpreter: after Pope Benedict's resignation, the circumstances of the discussions required "discernment and reflection". The cardinals' decision to meet only in the mornings, and not the afternoons, of Tuesday and Wednesday was perhaps indicative of that, he said.

During the third session, held in the Paul VI hall on Tuesday morning, 148 cardinals – both those under 80, and thus eligible to vote, and those over 80 and so ineligible – were present. Among the subjects raised had been holy see activities, the renewal of the church in the light of Vatican II, and the church and new cultures, said the Vatican. Lombardi said he was unable to comment more specifically about the nature of each discussion.

On Monday some cardinals were reported to have asked for more information on the so-called Vatileaks scandal, which dominated the latter part of Benedict XVI's papacy and ended with his butler being jailed for the theft and leaking of confidential documents.

In a sign that the former pontiff remained in the cardinals' minds, the Vatican said on Tuesday it had approved and sent a message to the pope emeritus thanking him for his "untiring work in the vineyard of the Lord". The cardinals will gather for a special prayer service on Wednesday afternoon in St Peter's Basilica.


March 5, 2013

Cardinals Signal Careful Pace Toward Vote on Pope


VATICAN CITY — Despite intense anticipation, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church marched toward the papal election at a deliberate pace on Tuesday, making clear they would not be rushed as they formulate their views on who should be the next man to lead the world’s more than one billion Catholics.

After two formal meetings on Monday and Tuesday morning, the cardinals decided to forgo an afternoon session Tuesday to allow more time for private talk and research. They said they would keep the same measured pace on Wednesday.

“The cardinals wanted time to organize themselves according to their rhythm of reflection and the need for information,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters. “They can use the time they think best.”

The unstructured time, Vatican experts said, may in fact be the cardinals’ most productive. Two-thirds of the cardinal electors do not live in Rome or come from far-flung dioceses and generally need more time to get to know one another and the potential contenders for the papacy.

The slow pace, some Vatican experts speculated, may benefit candidates from outside Italy who may be intent on cleaning up widely reported instances of corruption within the Vatican bureaucracy, rather than those candidates who run Vatican business already, and who might want to move more quickly.

“For some, they want more discussion,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who leads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said at a later briefing. “Others are a little more impatient.” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said the prelates were not in a hurry to start the conclave. If they go in unprepared to vote, he said, many cardinals worried that the conclave “will drag on.”

The timing of the conclave, the closed gathering when voting for the next pope will take place, was still not set, but definitely on the cardinals’ minds. They asked that Pope Benedict XVI’s Feb. 22 order allowing the conclave to begin sooner than usual be read aloud. Normally it takes place 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope.

Cardinals under 80 and thus eligible to vote were still trickling in to the meetings, even though Benedict made public his intention to resign on Feb. 11 and exited his office, and the Vatican, on Thursday.

The gatherings, called the general congregation, began with 103 of the 115 voters, grew to 107 on Monday and reached 110 by Tuesday. Father Lombardi said he was not sure what was behind the delays, but cited the case of Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite patriarch from Lebanon, who reported staying behind to attend a long-scheduled meeting of bishops before landing late Monday.

The prelates’ work is being led by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, the former No. 2 to Benedict and Pope John Paul II before him. Under his leadership, they agreed to hold a public prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday evening and sent a message expressing their gratitude to Benedict at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer home, where he is staying for the next few months.

In one sign that the conclave is coming closer, workers on Tuesday closed off to tourists the location of the vote, the Sistine Chapel. They will erect a wooden platform to protect the floor, install the stoves used to generate the black or white smoke indicating whether a pope has been selected and set up tables and chairs for the red-hatted prelates.

Scores of cardinals who are over 80 are also taking part in the general congregation in the Paul VI Hall, straddling the border between the Vatican City state and Italian territory.

During the two-hour session on Monday, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who holds the title of preacher of the papal household, gave a religious address to the cardinals, who are sworn to secrecy.

(Father Cantalamessa drew criticism three years ago in the midst of a round of sexual abuse scandals in Europe with a Good Friday address in which he compared outrage at the scandals to anti-Semitism.)

The Vatican’s rules on papal transition stipulate that the cardinals hear two such meditations, one in the congregation and one at the start of the conclave. The contents were not released. The cardinals are also expected to hear reports on Vatican finances and diplomacy.

The pre-conclave gatherings will offer the cardinals a chance to make a case for the kind of pope they want, and to size one another up at coffee breaks and later over dinner.

Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.

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« Reply #4929 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:33 AM »

03/06/2013 12:30 PM

Humanitarian Crisis: Syrian Refugee Numbers Swell to a Million

The Syrian refugee situation threatens to spiral into "full-scale disaster," with their numbers reaching 1 million, the United Nations said Wednesday. More people are fleeing the civil war than had been anticipated.

The number of refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war has reached the 1-million mark, the United Nations announced on Wednesday.

Numbers have swelled dramatically since the year began, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement released in Geneva. Based on figures from the body's refugee agency UNHCR, more than 400,000 Syrians have fled their country in recent weeks.

About half of them are children, most of them younger than 11, according to the data provided by UNHCR offices in neighboring countries where Syrians have taken shelter. They are traumatized, have no possessions and many have lost their loved ones, Guterres said.

Only a few weeks ago, UNHCR officials predicted that the 1-million mark for Syrian refugees would not be reached until early summer. Fearing for their lives, however, more people than expected have fled the war-torn country sooner.

'Thousands Cross Border Every Day'

"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster," Guterres said in the statement. "We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped."

Refugees have flooded into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt since the civil war began nearly two years ago. Many have since gone on to North Africa and Europe. But the countries receiving the refugees are increasingly overwhelmed by the task of trying to feed and shelter them.

Lebanon, which is the closest country to the devastated capital Damascus, has seen its population grow by 10 percent due to the influx. Meanwhile, Turkey has spent some $600 million to maintain 17 refugee camps. Basic utilities in Jordan such as electricity and water, along with social services, are also reportedly strained to the limit.

There appears to be no end in sight to the brutal conflict between rebels and Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. The UN estimates that some 70,000 people have been killed in Assad's attempt to put down the uprising.


03/05/2013 12:16 PM

Fears of Bloodbath: Uneasy Calm Reigns in Assad Stronghold

By Thilo Thielke

The wealthy Syrian port city of Tartus, a stronghold of the Assad regime, is an island of calm in the war-torn country -- for now. Members of Assad's Alawite clan and the Christian minority are bracing themselves for a bloodbath if the city falls to the rebels, and partying while they still can.

A group of elegant young women are sitting around a small bistro table on the seaside corniche, laughing and clinking their glasses. They're wearing international chic: dresses by Yves Saint Laurent, shoes by Gucci and glasses by Ray-Ban. There are three types of beer available: Mexican Corona, served with a slice of lime wedged in the neck of the bottle, Heineken from the Netherlands and Almaza from Lebanon.

A pleasant Mediterranean breeze is blowing into the fortress, which once offered refuge to the Crusaders. "Enjoy," says the waiter. It's Saturday evening in the Syrian city of Tartus -- party time.

A war is raging only a few kilometers to the east, but in this port city the only signs of war are the conversations of local residents, which often revolve around neighbors and friends who have packed their bags and fled to nearby Lebanon.

Many Syrian Christians and, most of all, Alawites -- members of the Muslim faction that also includes dictator Bashar Assad -- live in the coastal strip around Tartus. They have benefited from the Assad system for decades. Many are wealthy and hold key positions in the regime. But now they must fear the advancing rebels.

Women wearing headscarves and speaking northern and eastern dialects have become a more common sight in the busy streets. They are refugees from the fighting that is raging in other parts of Syria. The walls of buildings are covered with large posters showing soldiers in the uniform of the Assad regime, posing with bazookas, assault rifles and cartridge belts across their chests.

"All of these men are dead. They died in the battle for our freedom and are being honored as martyrs on the walls of the city," says a businessman as he drives his Volkswagen through heavy traffic. His first name is Nawar, but he is too afraid of the rebels to give us his last name. Nawar, a Sunni Muslim, has only been back in Syria for a few years. He worked as an investment advisor in Vienna, where he made a lot of money and then invested it in tourism in his native Syria.

A few months ago, Nawar was driven out of his villa in Homs, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away as rebels advanced ever deeper into the Syrian heartland. The only place where he still feels safe is the area around Tartus. "Tartus is different," says Nawar. "Tartus is modern Syria." He turns up the car stereo, which is playing the Italian pop singer Eros Ramazzotti, and cheerfully honks his horn at a brunette in tight jeans. Nawar feels as free as he would in the West. But how much longer will it last?

Risk of a Religious War

Since fighting began about two years ago, the conflict has spread to almost every part of Syria. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have already been killed. In the capital, Damascus, coffee house conversations are now accompanied by the thunder of government artillery and the whistling of rebel shells. Aleppo, the economic capital in northern Syria, is divided, while the northwestern city of Idlib is under siege by the rebels. More and more fighters are entering the war zone from Turkey to join the rebellion against the Assad regime.

"These people want to establish an Islamic theocracy," claims Nawar. "They are supported by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and Qatar." He fears that if the radical Sunnis were to advance on Tartus, Alawites and Christians will suffer a bloodbath. "This is also an attack on religious tolerance in the country," he says.

There are many fronts in the carnage that is threatening stability in the Middle East. The rebels claim that the uprising against Assad is a struggle for more democracy. The family has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1970, first under Hafez Assad and, since 2000, under his son Bashar. They have oppressed and killed tens of thousands of people.

But there is an increasing risk that the rebellion will expand into a religious war. The Americans now intend to increase their aid to the rebels, but so far the West has declined to intervene militarily, while others have been only too willing to help the rebels. They include the Al-Nusra Front, which is associated with al-Qaida and is fighting for a radical Sunni version of Islam. Their hatred is directed, in particular, at Assad and his allies, not necessarily because of his poor record on democracy, but because he is an Alawite.

Alawites make up only 10 percent of the Syrian population. Many Sunnis treat them as infidels because they, like the Shiites, revere Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Consequently, Shiite Iran supports Assad while Sunni Saudi Arabia supports the rebels. Alawites and many Christians in the region surrounding Tartus are praying that Assad will win the conflict.

Christians Fear Rebels

Arsanios Lahham is one of them. The Greek Orthodox priest includes the government's troops in his prayers during Sunday church services. "If the Sunni rebels capture Tartus, we will all have to fight for our lives," says Lahha who, with his thick beard, sturdy build and black robe, looks like a relic from the days of the Crusades. "We were born here, and we will die here."

Where else can the Syrian Christians go? Christians are persecuted or the target of discrimination in many countries of the region, like Iraq and Egypt. Lebanon, a small and crowded country, is also deeply divided.

"Assad was one of the last leaders in the Middle East to practice religious tolerance and offer protection for minorities," says Lahha. "To us, he is a hero." The priest believes that the rebels would wipe out the Christians.

About 10 percent of all Syrians are Christians, and Lahham's congregation consists of 800 families. There are three Greek Orthodox congregations in Tartus alone, as well as a Maronite and a Protestant church, says Lahham. "So far we have lived in peace here with all denominations and religions."

Tens of thousands have fled from the embattled regions to Tartus. Many are staying with relatives. Those with means have rented apartments, causing rents to triple in the last few months in Tartus, a city of about 100,000 people. Other refugees are being housed in the local stadium or in temporary shelters set up in schools.

The Shami family from Aleppo is staying in a former school for deaf mutes. The Shamis are Sunnis. After their house burned down, one of their sons was wounded by shrapnel and the other son began screaming in his sleep, they packed their belongings and went to Tartus.

Along the affluent Mediterranean coast, with its large Alawite and Christian communities, they seem like people from another planet. They rarely leave the school building, and they intend to return home as soon as the war is over. They're intimidated by the popular preconception here that all Sunnis are primitive radicals who conceal their women under headscarves. They spend much of the day in a sparsely furnished classroom, staring out the window.

Not far away is the palace of Nizar Moussa, the governor of Tartus Province, who invites his guests to sit in palatial oriental armchairs. There are 14 portraits of dictator Assad hanging on the walls of his oversized office. He has eight fixed-line telephones and two mobile phones to help him keep in touch with the outside world. Scenes from Syrian battlefields flash across a TV screen in Moussa's office.

The battles are often waged over small villages, but Moussa believes that the entire world is involved in the Syrian conflict. "The Americans, the Germans, Israel and the Saudis are siding with our enemies," he says, "while Iran, China and Russia are on our side." He points out that this amounts to a stalemate, and that everyone will lose in the end. "So you can tell the world that they should leave us alone," he says. Then he stares at the TV and reports of a suicide bombing in Damascus.

Businessman Nawar's mobile phone is ringing again. This time it's a friend from the Czech Republic, who wants to know if Nawar is still alive. "There is no war here," says Nawar, "not yet." Then he leaves, heading for a nightclub. You only live once, he says, and soon it'll all be over. To stay warm, he buys a can of Red Bull mixed with vodka at a roadside stand.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4930 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:36 AM »

U.N. rips Israeli military for ‘institutionalized’ mistreatment of Palestinian children

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:10 EST

The ill-treatment of Palestinian minors held within the Israeli military detention system is “widespread, systematic and institutionalised,” a report Wednesday by the UN children’s fund found.

UNICEF in the 22-page report that examined the Israeli military court system for holding Palestinian children found evidence of practices it said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

“Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised,” it concluded, outlining 38 recommendations to improve the protection of children in custody.

Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 Palestinian children aged between between 12 and 17, most of them boys, the report said, noting the rate was equivalent to “an average of two children each day.”

“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” it said.

The vast majority of arrests are for throwing stones, which is considered an offence under Section 212 of Military Order 1651.

Although the maximum sentence for children of 12 and 13 is six months, the penalty rises dramatically from the age of 14 when a child can face a maximum penalty of between 10 and 20 years depending on the circumstances, it said.

In a step-by-step analysis of the procedure from arrest to trial, the report said the common experience of many children was being “aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear.”

Many were subjected to ill-treatment during the journey, with some suffering physical or verbal abuse, being painfully restrained or forced to lie on the floor of a vehicle for a transfer process of between one hour and one day.

In some cases, they suffered prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or access to a toilet.

UNICEF said it found no evidence of any detainees being “accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation” and they were “rarely informed of their rights.”

“The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess,” it said, noting they were restrained during interrogation, sometimes for extended periods of time causing pain to their hands, back and legs.

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” it said.

Most children confess at the end of the interrogation, signing forms in Hebrew which they hardly understand.

It also found children had been held in solitary confinement for between two days and a month before being taken to court, or even after sentencing.

During court hearings, children were in leg chains and shackles, and in most cases, “the principal evidence against the child is the child’s own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation,” it found.

“Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves,” UNICEF concluded.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4931 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Prisoner X was working for Israeli government, Australia confirms

Evidence suggests Ben Zygier, who died in Israeli prison, worked for the Mossad, says minister

Alison Rourke in Sydney, Wednesday 6 March 2013 09.41 GMT   

Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, has confirmed that the man known as Prisoner X, a dual Israeli-Australian national who died in mysterious circumstances in a high-security Israeli prison in 2010, was working for the Israeli government.

Ben Zygier's death in December 2010, apparently by suicide, has been shrouded in mystery. Last month, Israel was forced to admit that it had secretly imprisoned Zygier on serious but unspecified charges.

Zygier, 34, a father of two, originally from Melbourne but who had lived in Israel for 10 years and was also known by the names Ben Allen and Ben Alon, was believed to have worked for Israel's external intelligence agency, the Mossad. He was arrested in February 2010.

Carr, said: "Open sourced material … would suggest he [Zygier] worked for the intelligence arm of the Israeli government. I cannot confirm or deny those reports, but you can draw your own conclusions."

His comments came as he released his department's review into Australia's handling of the Zygier case. He said the review raised "unanswered questions about the use of Australian passports of a dual national and they are not easily resolved".

"If it transpires that Australian passports were used for security or intelligence gathering by Israel in this case; it is something against which we take the strongest opposition," Carr said. "No country can allow the integrity of its passport system to be compromised."

He was unable to confirm speculation that Zygier's passports had been used in the 2010 murder of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an operation in which a team of killers, believed to be Mossad agents, used stolen Australian and British identities.

Carr said: "We know that in 2010 there was an episode of this in Dubai. We can't say it took place in this case with Mr Zygier's several passports. I hope that one of the inquiries taking place in Israel can clarify this position."

"If that's confirmed we will be registering our strongest protest."

The Mossad's use of foreign passports prompted furious reactions from Britain and Australian not long before Zygier's secret arrest and an Israeli diplomat was expelled from Canberra a few months later.

Carr confirmed that Israeli authorities had given assurances to Australia's intelligence service, Asio, at the time of Zygier's detention that he would be afforded his full rights in jail. Carr also confirmed that Zygier had more than 50 visits from his family and lawyer during the 10 months he was held.

"At no time did his family or his lawyer come to the Australian government and say they needed assistance," he said. Carr said the decision by his department not to follow up on the Zygier case while he was detained "reflected an assessment that Israel would probably not grant access to Mr Zygier".

Carr reaffirmed that the Australian ambassador in Tel Aviv had not been informed of Zygier's detention but said the Australian government had sought and relied on assurances from the Israeli government that his legal rights would be respected, that he had a lawyer of his own choosing and that he was not being mistreated.


Israel's media censorship of the Prisoner X story is a sad fact of life

The media gag on the death of Mossad agent Ben Zygier relied not on coercion but on public support for a high-security state

Aluf Benn, Friday 15 February 2013 10.30 GMT          

Israel's media operates under official censorship. That has been the basic fact of my professional life as a journalist covering foreign policy and national security. Here's how it works: any story involving defence, intelligence, or nuclear matters must be submitted to the military censor's office. It can run only after being stamped for approval.

Israel being Israel, and not China or the former German Democratic Republic, its censorship is less scary than it might appear. The 35 military censors are not faceless, inaccessible bureaucrats who work behind walls. You know them personally and you can negotiate the wording to let the story pass.

Paradoxically, the existence of censorship has its advantages. Your military and intelligence sources are more open to give you secret information, trusting the censor to play bad cop. More importantly, once you have submitted anything to the censor, you're relieved from legal responsibility.

The main goal of censorship is deterrence: you know that your story will be blacked out, so why bother writing it. All of us are well-trained in self-censorship and in using code words like "nuclear capability" or "nuclear option" rather than "nuclear weapons".

The success of censorship relies not on coercion and legal enforcement, but on public support. The military and intelligence community enjoy sacred status in Israeli society, and "national security" resonates much better than "civil liberties". Many journalists accept censorship willingly as their national contribution, don't argue with it, and criticise their peers who break with the official line. They are even proud of knowing the story and withholding it from their audience.

As a young journalist in the late 1980s, I wasn't a member of the club and prepared a critical story about the Mossad. "Do it in your free time, it'll never see the light of day anyway," my editor warned me. It was duly censored. My new editor, Meir Schnitzer, appealed to the high court. We won the landmark case, which set the scope of censorship.

Since then, the tide of censorship has turned in tandem with the public sentiment toward security. The second Lebanon war of 2006 caused a major setback, as the media was blamed for disclosing the locations of rocket attacks and thus "supplying Hezbollah with targeting data". The Olmert government, and the Netanyahu government that succeeded it in 2009, leveraged the public anger to impose stricter censorship.

In most cases, the media lives with restrictions through quoting "foreign sources". At Haaretz, we can't write that Israel bombed a nuclear reactor or arms convoy in Syria, but if it's published in the Guardian, for example, it's fine.

This week, however, we were told not to even quote foreign sources, when ABC news broke the story of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Mossad agent who had strayed from his mission, was locked secretly in solitary confinement, and committed suicide in prison in late 2010. The affair was covered by a gag order, which is stronger than ordinary censorship: disobeying it risks criminal prosecution. We ran a story quoting the Australian broadcast, and were told to take it off our website. Then the editors of Israel's newspapers, TV and radio news channels were summoned to a closed-door briefing by Mossad head Tamir Pardo, who asked them to ignore the story.

I refused to attend. I don't want to know more than my readers. If Pardo wants to explain, he should talk to the public, not to turn editors into intelligence "assets". In the meantime, the Facebook and Twitter feeds of thousands of Israelis were filled with links to the ABC news story and overflowing with comments. And three courageous opposition MKs asked the justice minister, on live broadcast, about the mistreatment of a mysterious prisoner. Several hours later, the gag order collapsed, and the government issued an official statement the next day, acknowledging "negligence" in the treatment of Prisoner X.

The government realised its hopeless effort to seal the Zygier story, and backed down. An overdue debate over the mishaps of Mossad and the prison service in the case ensued. Luckily for us, our Australian colleagues helped in strengthening Israeli democracy. But unfortunately, this will not change the basic facts of life for us. As long as "state security" is sacred in the public mind, we will have censorship.

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« Reply #4932 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:45 AM »

March 6, 2013

Snags in Vote Tabulation Spur Anxiety in Kenya


NAIROBI, Kenya — Confusion and anxiety rose in Kenya on Wednesday as results from the presidential election were delayed by electronic breakdowns and officials announced a late-night change in tabulating votes, leading several observers to predict that a runoff might follow.

Millions of Kenyans flooded into the polls on Monday and the voting itself went reasonably well, most observers said. But serious questions have begun to crop up in the tallying process, with unexplained delays in electronically transmitting the results from the polling places and public wrangling over which votes should be counted.

Election officials are counting the ballots by hand after abandoning the electronic tabulation system that has posted early returns, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

Given the deadly aftermath of Kenya’s last major election in 2007, which was marred by vote rigging and then erupted in bloodshed, any electoral breakdowns or disputes could tear at the public’s confidence in the vote, an outcome many people fear could set off violence again.

“I don’t think the situation looks good,” said Joel D. Barkan, a senior associate for the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We are entering a quite potentially messy situation here.”

Tensions were rising in the slums. Truckloads of soldiers in helmets and padded suits chugged through the streets, eyeing the crowds warily. Many shops remained closed, and Kenya’s police inspector general promptly banned all demonstrations, saying Kenya had “no history” of peaceful protests.

As of Wednesday morning, about 60 percent of the votes had been tallied, giving a relatively large lead to Uhuru Kenyatta, the scion of one of the wealthiest, most powerful political families in Africa — 53 percent to 42 percent over Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, who also traces his roots to one of the country’s founding political dynasties.

But there was a wrinkle.

Kenyan election law says that the winning candidate must secure more than 50 percent of “all the votes cast” and late on Tuesday night, the election commission announced that it would include more than 300,000 rejected ballots as part of the total.

With the pool of votes suddenly enlarged, several analysts said that both candidates would receive a smaller percentage of the total and that Mr. Kenyatta might not clear the 50 percent threshold, forcing a runoff.

Ahmed Hassan, the head of Kenya’s election commission, conceded that the number of ballots rejected for stray marks and other irregularities was “quite worrying,” though election observers said it was not particularly surprising given the complexity of these elections. Voters had six ballots in their hands, for national and local races.

“We feel the Constitution is very clear,” said Salim Lone, an adviser to Mr. Odinga. “The spoiled votes have to be included as part of the calculation.”

Mr. Kenyatta’s camp expressed displeasure with the decision, which may mean a protracted court battle after the preliminary results are announced, expected in the coming days. The risk, analysts said, is that Mr. Kenyatta’s supporters might feel they were unfairly denied an outright victory.

Partial results showed that once again, Kenyans voted overwhelmingly along ethnic lines. Some areas voted 95 percent for the politician from their ethnic group, while other areas, equally poor, with people in very similar circumstances, voted 95 percent in the opposite direction.

“I guess we haven’t come very far,” said Maina Kiai, a prominent Kenyan human rights advocate. “We still use identity as the only factor in voting.”

Enormous efforts were made this time around to move voters away from choices based on ethnicity and persuade them to consider other factors, like the candidate’s résumé or policy proposals. The Kenyan news media, considered among the most independent and professional in Africa, even organized televised presidential debates, a first.

But in the end, the presidential candidates who tried to gain some momentum on issues-based campaigns, like Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua, got a minuscule share of the vote. It seemed that most voters still felt that the leader from their ethnic group was the best one to protect them — especially in an edgy environment where many fear a replay of postelection violence.

“The ethnic vote is often the one based on fear,” Mr. Kiai said.

Kenya’s ethnic arithmetic favors Mr. Kenyatta, who has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. His ethnic group, the Kikuyu, is the country’s largest, and along with the Meru and Embu, which often vote with it, they represent 22 percent of the population. He then chose William Ruto, a Kalenjin, to be his running mate, and the Kalenjin are the third-largest group in the country.

Mr. Odinga, a Luo, chose a Kamba running mate, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, but their combined numbers are far below the Kikuyu-Kalenjin alliance. Mr. Ruto has also been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the election violence in 2007 and 2008.

Kisumu, a city in western Kenya and Mr. Odinga’s ethnic stronghold, which exploded in riots in 2007 and 2008 during the last presidential election, was quiet on Tuesday.

“We’re just waiting,” said Christine Ololo Atieno, a seller of secondhand shoes and a passionate Odinga supporter. “People are still hoping that more votes will come in and things will change.”

Mr. Odinga says he was cheated out of winning the last election, and many analysts say that Kisumu could explode again if there is vote rigging and Mr. Odinga loses again.

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« Reply #4933 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:54 AM »

Hugo Chávez: Venezuela begins seven days of mourning after president dies in Caracas

Death comes 21 months after it was revealed he had a tumour, and he will be given a state funeral in the capital

Jonathan Watts and Virginia Lopez in Caracas
The Guardian, Wednesday 6 March 2013   
Venezuelans began seven days of painful and public mourning on Tuesday night after the announcement that their president, Hugo Chávez, had died aged 58 after a long battle against cancer.

The country's vice-president, Nicolás Maduro – tipped as a likely successor – broke the news on Tuesday night, prompting a wave of grief in the nation's streets.

"We have just received the most tragic and awful information. At 4.25pm, President Hugo Chávez Frias died," Maduro announced in a televised address, his voice choking. "It's a moment of deep pain," he said.

Chávez died at a military hospital in Caracas, the capital of the country he has ruled since 1999. As soon as the news was announced, supporters gathered at the city's main square, Plaza Bolivar, and began chanting: "Chávez vive, la lucha sigue" – "Chávez lives, the battle continues."

People wearing the red beret the president was known for sang a popular folk song with the words: "Those who die for life cannot be called dead."

As messages of condolence came from many world leaders, perhaps the most significant was from Barack Obama. He said: "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Chávez, the symbol of Latin American socialism, succumbed to a respiratory infection on Tuesday evening, 21 months after he first revealed he had a tumour. He had not been seen in public for three months since emergency surgery in Cuba on 11 December.

He will be given a state funeral in Caracas on Friday, likely to be attended by millions of supporters and leftwing leaders from across the globe who have been inspired by Chávez's doctrine of "Bolivarian 21st-century socialism", grateful for the subsidised energy he provided or simply impressed by his charisma. His death will also trigger a presidential election, to be held within 30 days, to decide who controls the world's greatest untapped reserves of oil.

His designated successor, Maduro, is likely to face Henrique Capriles, the losing opposition candidate in the presidential election held a few months ago in October 2012. Until then, according to the constitution, the interim president should be the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello. However on Tuesday night the Venezuelan foreign minister, Elias Jaua, said Maduro was the interim president. It was not clear whether this would only apply until the official calling of the election and beginning of the campaign, or whether Maduro would remain in charge until the election result was determined.

Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, called for free and fair elections to replace Chávez. "Hugo Chavez ruled Venezuela with an iron hand and his passing has left a political void that we hope will be filled peacefully and through a constitutional and democratic process, grounded in the Venezuelan constitution and adhering to the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

Replacing one of most colourful figures on the global political landscape will be an immense challenge. Born to a poor family on the plains, Chávez became a tank commander and a devotee of South America's liberator, Simón Bolívar. A failed coup in 1992 propelled him into the limelight but it was his ballot box triumphs that made him an inspiration for the resurgent Latin American left and the most outspoken – and often humorous – critic of the US, the war in Iraq and George Bush, whom he described as a "donkey" and a "devil". Formerly one of the most dynamic political leaders in the world with a globe-trotting schedule and a weekly, unscripted TV broadcast – often hours long – Chávez shocked his countrymen in June 2011 when he revealed that Cuban surgeons had removed a baseball-sized tumour from his pelvic region.

After that, he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and two more operations in what he described as a "battle for health and for life". His medical records were never made public, prompting widespread speculation about his imminent demise, but he and his supporters insisted he was recovering. Before the presidential election in October 2012, aides claimed he was well enough to complete a full term. During that campaign, Chávez was clearly affected by his illness. But although he made fewer and shorter appearances, he won more votes than in any of his earlier elections battles, prompting him to proclaim victory in a "perfect battle".

Fears about his health escalated after he rushed to Cuba for hyperbaric oxygen treatment on 27 November. Less than a fortnight later, he made a televised address in which he said that doctors had discovered malignant cells that required surgery and urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he was incapacitated.

Since his operation in December, Chávez has been visited by family members and several of his closest political allies, including Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba, Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa and Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Beyond a set of four photographs released last month that showed a remarkably hearty looking Chávez smiling in a hospital bed and flanked by his daughters, the president has not been seen or heard for three months. This prompted frequent rumours that the president was dead or on life support. The government denied this and said he continued to run the country by writing down his orders.

But officials acknowledged that Chávez suffered multiple complications after his surgery including respiratory infections and bleeding. He had to undergo more chemotherapy and drug treatments and could only breathe through a tracheal tube. He returned from Cuba on 18 February at his own request, said officials. Since then he has been treated at Carlos Arvelo military hospital in Caracas.

Hopes for a recovery dimmed on Monday, when minister of communications, Ernesto Villegas, said the president's condition had declined due to a "new and serious respiratory infection."

Constitutional questions have been raised by his long hospitalisation and absence from public life, which he formerly dominated with dynamic and provocative appearances on his weekly television address, Hello Mr President.

When he failed to attend his scheduled inauguration on 10 January, the opposition asked who is running the country. The ruling party responded with a rally of more than 100,000 supporters, many carrying banners declaring "We are Chávez."


03/06/2013 10:34 AM

Narcissus from Caracas: Chávez Death Ends an Era in South America

By Klaus Ehringfeld in Mexico City

Hugo Chávez will be remembered for completely changing the face of both Venezuela and much of Latin America. For most of his rule, he almost always got what he wanted. But his methods were not universally welcome. His death on Tuesday marks the end of an era.

"I will remain as long as God and the people command me to," said Hugo Chávez in 2008. At the time, the Venezuelan president and left-wing nationalist was at the apex of his power. Fifty-four years old and in office for 10 years, he self-confidently and energetically planned for the next decade as Latin America's longest serving head of state.

At the time, it was unimaginable that this gifted orator and former officer would be gravely ill by the time the 2012 presidential elections arrived. A year prior to that vote, Chávez had undergone the first of what would become four operations to free him of cancer. In recent months, his public image had come to be dominated primarily by reports on his health and further surgical procedures -- a significant come-down for a man who had presented a thorny challenge to the political elite of South America and who had seen himself as a bulwark against the US.

Now, Chávez has succumbed to his illness; Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the leader's death late on Tuesday afternoon shortly after news of an additional "severe" respiratory infection had been publicized. He was 58.

Maduro announced seven days of official mourning with a public funeral scheduled for Friday. New elections are to be held in 30 days. "It is a moment of deep pain," said Maduro, who will hold power until the vote. "His project, his flags will be raised with honor and dignity. Commander, thank you, thank you so much, on behalf of these people whom you protected."

Chávez' death marks the end of a dynamic life. The son of village schoolteachers from the town of Sabaneta in the state of Barinas, Chávez quickly rose through the military ranks to become a lieutenant colonel before rising to the presidency of the oil-rich country. As early as 1992, he made a grab for power in a failed coup attempt against President Carlos Andrés Pérez. He was pardoned after two years spent behind bars. Thereafter, he sought a political path to power in Venezuela.

Reshaping the Country

It didn't take long. In December 1998 elections, Chávez won with a commanding 56 percent of the vote. He embodied a fresh new project, an alternative to the corrupt elite and to the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats who had alternated power for decades.

The project was to completely reshape the country, a Chávez-led reboot. He rewrote the constitution, disempowered the old parliament and replaced it with a new one and concentrated power in his own hands. He handed top political positions to his closest confidants. Perhaps most importantly, he secured control over the country's most valuable treasure: oil. With Venezuela being one of the world's largest producers of crude, oil income was to be a significant element of Chávez' power and he didn't shy away from nationalizing parts of the industry.

Chávez governed Venezuela as though it were his own private hacienda. Yet he nevertheless ensured that his rule was constantly legitimized at the ballot box. In total, he was able to survive four elections, an attempted coup d'etat and a nationwide referendum.

He wanted to ensure that when he left power, it would be on his own terms. When he sensed danger, he would slip into the role of guarantor for peace and order, as he did prior to his most recent election victory in October of 2012. He insisted to voters that, were he not elected, the country would descend into civil war. He ensured that the prophecy was no idle threat, delivering thousands of Kalashnikovs to his followers and strengthening the Bolivarian militias he created to patrol city slums. His justification, as so often, was the presumed threat of a US invasion; a guerrilla war would await them, Chávez claimed. In reality, however, the militias were little more than paramilitary squads designed to secure the president's hold over the country. They threatened both journalists and opposition activists.

Despite his illness and a growing opposition movement, Chávez managed to win the election last fall. But even then, it was clear that he was losing his grip. In recent years, Venezuela has been producing oil almost exclusively for export, yet had seen falling profits at home. Ultimately, Chávez had redirected such a large share of the revenues brought in by the state-owned oil company PDVSA into social programs and into his own campaign coffers that there was little left over for much-needed investment in the company's infrastructure. Oil production in the country has been sinking for years despite gigantic reserves.

Acute Shortages

Furthermore, there are acute shortages of some food items in the country, leading to rationing of the kind seen in Cuba, a country Chávez had always admired. Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, has become the most dangerous metropolis in Latin America with the highest murder rate on the continent.

His popularity had dwindled as a result. Whereas the country's middle-class had thrown its support behind Chávez in 1998 after he had cleaned out the corruption and greed of his predecessors, they had begun recently to turn their backs. Only the country's lower classes continued to support him. He had, after all, been the first Venezuelan president ever to pay them much attention, establishing generous social programs and creating 34 so-called "missions," aid and education programs funded with billions of dollars.

The missions ultimately became the backbone of his government; since 1999, Chávez has pumped fully €300 billion ($390 billion) into the system. According to state statistics, he was able to reduce the number of poverty-stricken citizens from half the population to less than a third during his rule.

That, surely, will become part of his historical legacy. As will his focus, following the neo-liberal 1990s, on the unjust dispersal of the country's riches and the exploitation of national resources by multi-national companies.

He also infused leftists across Latin America wth a new self-confidence, paving the way for Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador to win elections. Indeed, Chávez has long had an influence far beyond the borders of his own country. Since coming into office in February of 1999, no Latin American leader has changed the continent's political landscape to a greater degree than he has.


"Without Chávez, Latin America would not be the same as it is today," says the social scientist Heinz Dieterich, who was a confidant of the late president and one of the creators of "Socialism of the 21st Century," which Chávez sought to establish in his country and, if possible, to export elsewhere in Latin America. He suppliedboth Cuba and Nicaragua with cheap oil and generous economic aid; in both countries, the economy climbs and falls based on the amount of assistance they receive from Caracas. Haiti and many other small Caribbean countries likewise were recipients of Chávez's generosity.

He also looked further afield. With an almost messianic enthusiasm, he sought alliances with like-minded leaders elsewhere in the world and was happy to grant economic assistance in exchange for political friendship. The axis of this cooperation was ultimately formed by Belarus, Russia, Iran and China.

In his heyday, Chávez was omnipresent in his country. In his Sunday TV show "Aló Presidente" he would preach, parlay and polarize for up to eight hours live. He would assume the role of both entertainer and the nation's chief whip, espousing his liberation theology and his revolutionary rhetoric, waxing lyrical about the achievements of his government, giving history lessons or railing against the "empire" -- his term for the US. Chávez was a born showman, a marathon speaker -- Chávez was the narcissist of Caracas.

A Common Despot?

But it was hard to get a sense of the man behind this non-stop performance. His former professor at the military academy in Caracas once described him as his cleverest student. His critics in Venezuela and abroad regarded him as either sick or as an egomaniac, a cold politician hungry for power who pursued a clear political program: to implement his Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and to carry it to the rest of Latin America.

There's no doubt that Chávez felt called upon to carry on the work of the great liberator Simon Bolívar, who from 1813 first beat the Spanish and then freed today's Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador from colonial rule. As Chávez saw it, the US and the opposition in his own country were modern colonial masters who had to be vanquished. In his deeply ideological claim to gain complete control of his country, he became the epitome of the charismatic ruler.

After meeting Chávez years ago, the writer Gabriel García Márquez said he didn't know if he had just spoken to a visionary capable of saving Latin America or a dreamer who would turn into a common Latin American despot.


March 5, 2013

Chávez Dies, Leaving Sharp Divisions in Venezuela


CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died Tuesday afternoon after a struggle with cancer, the government announced, leaving behind a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis that grew more acute as he languished for weeks, silent and out of sight, in hospitals in Havana and Caracas.

Close to tears and his voice cracking, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said he and other officials had gone to the military hospital where Mr. Chávez was being treated, sequestered from the public, when “we received the hardest and most tragic information that we could transmit to our people.”

In short order, police officers and soldiers were highly visible as people ran through the streets, calling loved ones on cellphones, rushing to get home. Caracas, the capital, which had just received news that the government was throwing out two American military attachés it accused of sowing disorder, quickly became an enormous traffic jam. Stores and shopping malls abruptly closed.

As darkness fell, somber crowds congregated in the main square of Caracas and at the military hospital, with men and women crying openly in sadness and fear about what would come next.

In one neighborhood, Chávez supporters set fire to tents and mattresses used by university students who had chained themselves together in protest several days earlier to demand more information about Mr. Chávez’s condition.

“Are you happy now?” the Chávez supporters shouted as they ran through the streets with sticks. “Chávez is dead! You got what you wanted!”

Mr. Chávez’s departure from a country he dominated for 14 years casts into doubt the future of his socialist revolution. It alters the political balance not only in Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States, but also in Latin America, where Mr. Chávez led a group of nations intent on reducing American influence in the region.

Mr. Chávez, 58, changed Venezuela in fundamental ways, empowering and energizing millions of poor people who had felt marginalized and excluded. But his rule also widened society’s divisions, and his death is sure to bring vast uncertainty as the nation tries to find its way without its central figure.

“He’s the best president in history,” said Andrés Mejía, 65, a retiree in Cumaná, an eastern city, crying as he gathered with friends in a plaza. “Look at how emotional I am — I’m crying. I cannot accept the president’s death. But the revolution will continue with Maduro.”

The Constitution says that, since Mr. Chávez was at the start of a term, the nation should “proceed to a new election” within 30 days, and Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said in a television interview that Mr. Maduro would take the helm in the meantime. The election is likely to pit Mr. Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez designated as his political successor, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who lost to Mr. Chávez in the presidential election in October.

But in light of Mr. Chávez’s illness, there has been heated debate in recent months over clashing interpretations of the Constitution, and it is impossible to predict how the transition will proceed.

“We, your civilian and military companions, Commander Hugo Chávez, assume your legacy, your challenges, your project, accompanied by and with the support of the people,” Mr. Maduro told the nation.

Only hours earlier, the government seemed to go into a state of heightened alert as Mr. Maduro convened a crisis meeting in Caracas of cabinet ministers, governors loyal to the president and top military commanders.

Taking a page out of Mr. Chávez’s time-tested playbook, Mr. Maduro warned in a lengthy televised speech that the United States was seeking to destabilize the country, and the government expelled the two American military attachés, accusing one of seeking to recruit Venezuelan military personnel to carry out “destabilizing projects.” He called on Venezuelans to unite as he raised the specter of foreign intervention.

During the speech, Mr. Maduro said the government suspected that the president’s enemies had found a way to cause his cancer, a possibility that Mr. Chávez had once raised. Mr. Maduro said scientists should investigate the source of his illness.

Mr. Chávez long accused the United States of trying to undermine or even assassinate him; indeed, the Bush administration gave tacit support for a coup that briefly removed him from power in 2002. He often used Washington as a foil to build support or distract attention from deeply rooted problems at home, like high inflation and soaring crime.

American officials had hoped to improve relations with Venezuela under Mr. Maduro, with informal talks taking place last year. But more recently, the government has appeared to shift into campaign mode, taking sweeping aim at the Venezuelan opposition and playing up the opposition’s real or alleged ties to the United States.

“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, said after the expulsion of the American attachés. He added, “Notwithstanding the significant differences between our governments, we continue to believe it important to seek a functional and more productive relationship with Venezuela.” 

Mr. Chávez’s cancer was diagnosed in June 2011, but throughout his treatment he and his government kept many details about his illness secret. He had three operations in Cuba between June 2011 and February 2012, as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but the cancer kept coming back.

Then on Dec. 8, just two months after winning re-election, Mr. Chávez stunned the nation by announcing in a televised address that he needed yet more surgery. That operation, his fourth, took place in Havana on Dec. 11.

In the aftermath, grim-faced aides described the procedure as complex and said Mr. Chávez’s condition was delicate. They eventually notified the country of complications, first bleeding and then a severe lung infection and difficulty breathing.

After previous operations, Mr. Chávez often appeared on television while recuperating in Havana, posted messages on Twitter or was heard on telephone calls made to television programs on a government station. But after his December operation, he was not seen again in public, and his voice fell silent.

Mr. Chávez’s aides eventually announced that a tube had been inserted in his trachea to help his breathing, and that he had difficulty speaking. It was the ultimate paradox for a man who seemed never at a loss for words, often improvising for hours at a time on television, haranguing, singing, lecturing, reciting poetry and orating.

As the weeks dragged on, tensions rose in Venezuela. Officials in Mr. Chávez’s government strove to project an image of business as usual and deflected inevitable questions about a vacuum at the top. At the same time, the country struggled with an out-of-balance economy, troubled by soaring prices and escalating shortages of basic goods.

The opposition, weakened after defeats in the presidential election in October and elections for governor in December, in which its candidates lost in 20 of 23 states, sought to keep pressure on the government.

Then officials suddenly announced on Feb. 18 that Mr. Chávez had returned to Caracas. He arrived unseen on a predawn flight and was installed in a military hospital, where, aides said, he was continuing treatments.

Over nearly a decade and a half, Mr. Chávez made most major decisions and dominated all aspects of political life. He inspired a fierce, sometimes religious devotion among his supporters and an equally fervent animus among his opponents. As many of his followers say, “With Chávez everything, without Chávez nothing.”

But that leaves his revolution in a precarious spot without its charismatic leader.

“In regimes that are so person-based, the moment that the person on which everything hangs is removed, the entire foundation becomes very weak because there was nothing else supporting this other than this figure,” said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College.

Mr. Chávez’s death could provide an opportunity for the political opposition, which was never able to defeat him in a head-to-head contest. Mr. Capriles lost to Mr. Chávez by 11 percentage points in October. But he has twice beaten top Chávez lieutenants in running for governor of his state, Miranda, which includes part of Caracas.

And Mr. Maduro is far from having Mr. Chávez’s visceral connection to the masses of Venezuela’s poor. Even so, most analysts believe that Mr. Maduro will have an advantage, and that he will receive a surge of support if the vote occurs soon.

But even if Mr. Maduro prevails, he may have a hard time holding together Mr. Chávez’s movement while fending off resistance from what is likely to be a revived opposition.

Mr. Chávez’s new six-year term began on Jan. 10, with the president incommunicado in Havana. In his absence, the government held a huge rally in the center of Caracas, where thousands of his followers raised their hands to pledge an oath of “absolute loyalty” to their commander and his revolution. Officials promised that Mr. Chávez would have his inauguration later, when he had recovered.

But the hoped-for recovery never came. Now, instead of an inauguration, Mr. Chávez’s followers are left to plan a funeral.

The foreign minister, Mr. Jaua, announced that on Wednesday Mr. Chávez’s body would be taken to the military academy in Caracas and lie in state there.

Mr. Jaua said that the government would hold a ceremony on Friday with visiting heads of state and that officials would announce later where Mr. Chávez would be laid to rest.

Reporting was contributed by María Eugenia Díaz, Girish Gupta and Meridith Kohut from Caracas; María Iguarán from Cumaná, Venezuela; and David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 5, 2013

In an earlier version of this article, the given name of a State Department spokesman was incorrect. He is Patrick Ventrell, not Robert Ventrell.

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« Reply #4934 on: Mar 06, 2013, 07:59 AM »

European deep-space telescope will soon go out of service

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 13:37 EST

The deep-space Herschel telescope, launched four years ago to observe the creation of stars, will soon be going out of service as its supply of instrument coolant runs out, the European Space Agency said on Tuesday.

When it was launched in May 2009, Herschel became the largest and most powerful infrared telescope in space and has made several discoveries, ranging “from starburst galaxies in the distant universe to newly forming planetary systems orbiting nearby young stars”, the ESA said.

The agency said in a statement it was not possible to give an exact date of when supplies of the liquid helium coolant will be exhausted, but said it expects it to happen in the coming weeks.

The supplies of the coolant determine Herschel’s lifetime as detectors of the telescope’s camera and spectrometer equipment need to be cooled to minus 271 degrees Celsius (minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit).

“It is no surprise that this will happen, and when it does we will see the temperatures of all the instruments rise by several degrees within just a few hours,” Herschel mission operations manager Micha Schmidt said.

When it was launched, the ESA calculated the telescope would be in operation for about 3.5 years.

Once the coolant is exhausted, the telescope will still be able to communicate with its ground stations for some time, but will be sent into a “parking orbit” around the sun in May, the ESA said.

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