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« Reply #5040 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:12 AM »

Turkey: Accession impossible

11 March 2013
Cumhuriyet Istanbul

Although a member of numerous regional and international organisations, Turkey is still not in the EU, despite negotiations dating back some 50 years. A columnist wonders if the the country has missed its chance to become anything more than an auxiliary to US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Öztin Akgüc

Since the beginning of the 1960s, Turkey has planned on joining the European Union. At the time when this process began, the union, which was then called the European Economic Community, had only six members. Today Turkey is still involved in accession talks with the European Union, which now has 27 members and will shortly welcome a 28th with the inclusion of Croatia [on July 1].

Since 1969, has also been a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Development Bank. At the same time Turkey has joined a wide range of other international organisations like the OECD, and the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), of which it was a one of the principal founders. Of course, it is also a member of NATO and, it seems, flirting with the idea of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

In view of this context, you might assume that Turkey was very much an active player in world politics. But is this the true story? In any case, I am one of those who, right from the start, argued that Turkey could not join the European Union.

Regardless of how you view the Union and the integration process, you have to admit that both of these concepts have to be based on shared values. Given that Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria are part of the EU, and now that Croatia is about join, it is worth wondering: why should Turkey not be a member of the Union?

Combatting Moscow’s influence

In my view, these countries became members of the EU for reasons that are first and foremost political. In the early 1990s in the wake of the collapse of the USSR and the end of Comecon [the economic organisation of the Soviet Bloc], the view was that it would be necessary to regroup these countries in a structure to prevent them from being reabsorbed by Moscow’s sphere of influence.

The structure best suited to this purpose was the European Union, and this policy was encouraged by the Clinton administration. Croatia, which was close to Germany, played a critical role in the breakup of Yugoslavia. That is the reason why I believe that it really deserves its place in the European Union. On the contrary, there is no political reason to justify Turkish accession to the EU. And even if Turkey is flirting with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, even if it claims that it amounts to a viable alternative, everyone knows it will not be possible. Moreover, some consider the idea to be a political joke.

The reality of its political role is that Turkey acts as a second class subcontractor for the United States in the Middle East. The lack of political awareness in large sections of society, the calibre of Turkey’s politicians, the quality of its media, the capacity and the level of our entrepreneurs and civil servants have unfortunately all helped to confine Turkey to this supporting role.
‘Second-class subcontractor’

We should not delude ourselves with terms like co-president [an allusion to Turkey’s co-presidency of the Greater Middle East Initiative launched by George W. Bush, which was the subject of intense criticism in Turkish nationalist circles], but rather take stock of this sad reality. I use the term “second-class subcontractor” because I cannot find a better one to describe our situation with regard to the largely preferential treatment accorded to Israel.

For as long as large sections of our society have yet to develop a greater awareness of their citizenship, we will continue to be beguiled by empty notions about ourselves, but the situation of our country will not change.

Opinion: Really never?

“Turkey will never be part of the EU,” announces the headline of an article recently published in the German tabloid Bild. But “what Bild does not realise is that the word "never" does not feature in the lexicon of the EU,” says Milliyet, which points out that the EU has kept the Turks waiting without saying if their patience will ever be rewarded. For the Istanbul daily,

    We have now reached a point where the central question is no longer 'Will Turkey ever be be a member?' but rather 'Does Turkey still want to become a member?'

However, the newspaper continues —

    Political decisions in EU member states, which are linked to the economic situation in those countries, will have a decisive impact on Turkish accession. [...] The major fear in Ankara is that the trend of 'letting citizens decide' will become standard practice in the negotiation process."

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« Reply #5041 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:18 AM »

Cardinals to begin papal conclave with no obvious favorite

Field remains open as Pope Benedict's unexpected resignation leaves cardinals without any obvious 'papabile' leaders

John Hooper in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 March 2013   

The cardinals of the Roman Catholic church held their last meeting on Monday before the conclave to elect the next pope and used it to try to agree on the qualities they sought in the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion baptised Catholics.

Though two of their number – cardinals Angelo Scola of Italy and Odilo Scherer from Brazil – began as favourites, all the signs were that the field was exceptionally open, and that the conclave could go on for longer than usual in recent times.

Pope Benedict, who resigned last month, was chosen in 2005 in just four ballots. But the cardinals had had months, if not years, to discuss the succession during the protracted illness that led to the death of his predecessor, John Paul II.

This time, the leadership of the church has been caught off guard by Benedict's sensational departure – the first voluntary resignation of a pope for more than seven centuries.

The archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, pointed to another factor: "Last time around, there was a man of stature three or four times that of any other cardinal.

"That is not the case this time around. Therefore, the choice has to be made among one, two, three, four, a dozen candidates. We still don't really know anything. We will have to wait for the results of the first ballot."

Not all the cardinals who wanted to speak at Monday morning's 10th and final session of the preliminary discussions were able to do so, and a vote was taken on whether to hold a further session in the afternoon. It was decided to go straight to the conclave instead, but the episode highlighted the uncertainty that persists among many of the 115 cardinal-electors.

A Vatican spokesman said: "The expectations of the new pope and his profile was a recurring theme" in Monday's speeches. But the cardinals were also said to have discussed the Vatican bank whose president was sensationally dismissed last year.

His removal was one in a long succession of controversies, scandals and gaffes that marked Benedict's troubled papacy. Some of the cardinals put the blame on the Roman Curia, the central administration of the church, and want a pope who can take a much firmer grip on its officials.

Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is seen by many as the man for the job, according to sources close to the deliberations. The same sources indicate Scherer, a Brazilian and member of the commission that oversees the Vatican bank, as the initial choice of the curial insiders.

If he were to be elected, he would be the first non-European pope for well over 1,000 years. Scola would be the first Italian pope since John Paul I who reigned for only 33 days in 1978.

Both factions, however, will have thought of substitutes in case neither man gains momentum in the early stages. Traditionally, favourites who fail to attract a substantial number of votes in the first couple of ballots are swiftly abandoned.

At that point, their backers can either transfer their support to a cardinal of similar outlook or, as happened in 2005, back a less controversial figure of deep spirituality.

Eight years ago, and lacking a fall-back, the liberals who had supported Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, are thought to have switched their allegiances to an Argentinian cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio.

On this occasion, various second-tier contenders have attracted attention. Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, has been mentioned as an option for the curial faction. Péter Erdo, the archbishop of Budapest, would be an appealing alternative for the other side. The Vatican's chief theological watchdog, Marc Ouellet, remains a potential compromise candidate.

There are plenty of others to choose from. Some cardinals have signalled they are looking for someone to cut through the Catholic church's many problems with the offer of a vigorous, optimistic Christianity such as that radiated by New York's Timothy Dolan.

But a senior church source said: "Dolan is just too brash to be acceptable to the Europeans." The traditional wisdom is that no US cardinal is papabile (literally pope-able) because it would mean aligning the world's biggest Christian denomination with its only superpower.

On this occasion, however, the virtues of Sean O'Malley, the bearded Capuchin friar who is archbishop of Boston, have been widely discussed. They include prodigious language skills and an impressively thorough approach to tackling the issue of clerical sex abuse.


March 12, 2013

Ahead of Papal Conclave, a Call for Church Unity


VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrating the Mass on Tuesday preceding the conclave to elect the next pope, issued an appeal for unity in the Catholic Church, which has been damaged by Vatican corruption and clerical sex abuse scandals.

As dean of the college of cardinals, Cardinal Solano delivered his homily hours before the cardinals were to enter the Sistine Chapel for the conclave. It was the last major public statement by a Vatican prelate before the church’s next supreme pontiff emerges.

“St. Paul teaches that each of us must work to build up the unity of the church,” the cardinal said. “All of us are therefore called to cooperate with the pastors, in particular with the successor of Peter, to obtain that unity of the holy church.”

He also dwelled on the church’s charitable and evangelizing mission and prayed for the future pope to continue to promote peace and justice around the world. The cardinal, who for nearly 20 years has been one of the most influential figures in the Vatican and served both John Paul II and Benedict as secretary of state, made several mentions of those two popes.

He referred to the “luminous pontificate” of the “beloved and venerated Pontiff Benedict XVI, to whom in this moment we renew our profound gratitude,” drawing long applause from the worshippers. A number of the cardinals, but not all, clapped their hands modestly.

The cardinals have appeared divided over whether the next pope should be an outsider who would reform the Italian-dominated Curia, or Vatican bureaucracy; an internal choice who could bring change from within; or a galvanizing leader who can shore up the Catholic Church in the face of growing secularism and inroads by Protestant evangelicals.

They are selecting a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, whose decision to resign, the first pontiff to step down in nearly 600 years, has also caused differences in the cardinals’ ranks.

The homily, closely grounded in Gospel readings, was markedly different from the last such speech, which was given by Cardinal Ratzinger ahead of the 2005 conclave that chose him pope. Then, Cardinal Ratzginer delivered a sharp warning against departing from fundamental Catholic teaching, denouncing what he called a “dictatorship of relativism” that leaves “only one’s ego and desires” as the ultimate measure.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s showing going into the 2005 conclave was considered a factor in his election as pope. Cardinal Sodano will not take part in this conclave. He is over the age limit of 80.

At the outset of the Mass, the princes of the church moved slowly down the central aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica in pairs, wearing crimson robes and white mitres as Gregorian chant echoed through the cavernous baroque space. They held their hands clasped in front, approached the altar, bent in reverence and parted ways to take their places. Readings took place in Swahili, Portugese, Malayalam, French, Italian, English, Spanish and German.

The cardinals were scheduled at 4:30 p.m. to hold their procession into the Sistine Chapel, where they will swear an oath of secrecy and obedience to the constitution on papal transition. After the words “extra omnes” – everyone out – the princes of the church will get down to business. They will write the name of their candidate on rectangular pieces of paper and tip them into a flying-saucer shaped urn.

Unlike previous recent conclaves, where powerful figures like Cardinal Ratzinger loomed large, this conclave seems wide open, with a scattered field of “papabili,” or pope-ables.

Only one round of balloting is provided for on the first day of a conclave, although Vatican officials explained that a vote is not guaranteed – the cardinals can decide not to – but likely. One thing is very predictable: that no one of the 115 cardinals present will receive 77 votes, or the required two-thirds, to become pope on that first ballot.

Candidates will build up blocks of votes over succeeding rounds. Two are scheduled in the morning and two in the afternoon each successive day.

The ballots and notes will be burned in a special oven set up in the Sistine Chapel, with chemicals added to produce black or white smoke. White means the world has a pope, black that no result is reached. Black smoke on Tuesday is expected to arrive toward the evening. A result is expected by the end of the week.

The process was set in motion on Feb. 11 when Benedict announced he would resign, unprecedented in modern times. A helicopter lifted him away from the Vatican on Feb. 28 and took him to the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, outside of Rome, where he is to remain in seclusion for several months until returning to a convent in the Vatican.

The Vatican has said none of the cardinals, who had been meeting daily to discuss the needs of the church and the expectations of a future pope, had sought him out.

Benedict’s longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, was expected to attend the Mass on Tuesday in his role as prefect of the papal household, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Benedict named Archbishop Gänswein as prefect several months before announcing his resignation.


March 11, 2013

Ritual and Secrecy Surround Conclave


VATICAN CITY — It begins with prayers chanted in an ancient language and ends with a tiny figure on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica unveiled as the supreme pontiff of more than a billion Catholics. The conclave to elect a pope, which starts Tuesday, unfolds with elaborate ritual, deep secrecy and politicking that would warm the heart of a machine politician.

While carried out in the trappings of past centuries, “in reality, the elections are a political fact,” said Paolo Francia, author of “The Conclave.”

The voting is minutely scripted. Rectangular paper ballots are counted, collected, pierced with a needle and burned. Exactly four rounds of voting are permitted each day. The winner’s name is intoned in Latin.

It is a process dating back centuries, with a rich history of chicanery — like the bought election of Julius II in 1503 and the undermining of a leading contender, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, in 1978, thanks to the leaking of an embargoed interview he gave.

There are no formal nominees, and technically, each cardinal enters the conclave as a possible pope. The next pope must garner two-thirds of the votes, or 77 of 115 in this case. In practice, a few names always emerge as favorites beforehand, although the principal truism is, “Go in a pope, come out a cardinal.”

The first ballot, expected late Tuesday afternoon, serves effectively as a primary. It identifies the cardinals to whom votes can flow in succeeding rounds — two every morning, two every afternoon.

“I expect the first vote is going to be quite scattered around,” said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, given “the wider field of candidates with the potential” to become pope.

While the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the guiding light behind a pope’s selection, the cardinals are known to negotiate between the ritualistic voting rounds over dinner and coffee, although the constitution governing papal transitions forbids them to make deals.

The conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005 as Benedict XVI lends some insight into how the voting progresses.

In 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger jumped out to a quick lead with 47 votes, according to the diary of an unnamed cardinal, as reported by an Italian state television journalist, Lucio Brunelli, in the journal Limes later that year. While never verified, the outline of Mr. Brunelli’s version was reflected in other accounts.

The diarist said Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, received 10 votes; Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan who was considered a less conservative choice, received 9; and four others held several votes. Many Vatican experts said that Cardinal Martini was not necessarily considered a real option, but a gathering point for anti-Ratzinger votes.

“We spoke at the table, exchanging impressions on the first vote that came to nothing,” Mr. Brunelli quoted the unnamed cardinal as writing. “More discussions, with maximum discretion, happened after dinner in the rooms. Small groups, two or three people.”

In the second round, Cardinal Ratzinger’s count rose to 65 and Cardinal Bergoglio’s to 35, the diarist said, according to Mr. Brunelli. Cardinal Ratzinger appeared to have picked up the 6 votes of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and 12 scattered votes. Cardinal Martini’s votes apparently went to Cardinal Bergoglio.

Round 3: Cardinal Ratzinger, 72; Cardinal Bergoglio, 40. At this point, Cardinal Bergoglio needed only four votes to exceed one-third of the total, enough to block a Ratzinger papacy.

“Great worry among the prelates who hope for the election of Cardinal Ratzinger; contacts grow thicker,” Mr. Brunelli reported the diarist as writing.

But on the fourth round, at least 12 went to Cardinal Ratzinger, giving him 84 and the papacy.

In an effort to limit the release of such inside information, the extras to the drama are sworn to secrecy, on pain of excommunication. The secretary of the College of Cardinals, priests for cardinal confessions, doctors, nurses, elevator operators, security officers, cleaning and meal crews and minibus drivers who all serve the cardinals — all took the oath on Monday in the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace. They numbered about 90.

Early Tuesday morning, the cardinals move into the unadorned rooms — chosen by lot — of the Santa Marta residence, where they will stay for the duration. The residence was first used for a conclave in 2005, replacing makeshift accommodations in the Apostolic Palace, where bathrooms were often far from sleeping quarters.

Smoking, in a nod to modern times, is banned at Santa Marta. Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo of Portugal wandered outside for cigars in 2005, according to the cardinal diarist.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, they celebrate a Mass dedicated to the election of a pope. At 4:30 p.m., the cardinals, chanting in Latin, walk from the Pauline Chapel into the Sistine Chapel, which has been prepared for the occasion. Vatican carpenters installed a wooden floor, covered by tan cloth, over the pavement to even out the different levels.

They built two rows of tables, covered by crimson cloth, along each of the two long walls of the chapel. Another table stands in front of the altar for the three “scrutinizer” cardinals chosen by lot to examine the ballots. Three cardinals are also chosen by lot to verify the results, and three are selected to carry ballots back and forth to any cardinals too ill to come to the chapel.

Jamming devices prevent cellphone service, part of the complete deprivation of contact with the outside world, a vestige of the need to protect conclaves from the influence of outside forces, like an emperor or king. Technicians have swept the chapel for bugs or video devices.

Fear of royal interference is no longer an issue, said Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, a historian of the papacy, “but you still have pressure of public opinion and of the press.”

On Tuesday, when they arrive in the chapel, the cardinals swear an oath to follow the constitution on papal elections and to keep secrecy.

Then, the master of papal liturgical celebrations gives the order “Extra omnes” — “Everyone out” — and almost all but the cardinals leave. The master of celebrations waits while a prelate delivers a meditation, and then the two leave the cardinals to their deliberations.

The cardinals have in front of them a list of their names and several ballots, rectangular pieces of paper with the words “Eligo in Summum Pontificem” — “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.” Each cardinal must write the name of his candidate in clear but disguised handwriting. Cardinal Napier said he did not bother to alter his penmanship the last time. No one knows his handwriting anyway, he said.

The voter folds the ballot in half, walks to the front of the chapel, holds it up in the air, places it in a saucer and then tips it into a flying-saucer-shaped urn. He says the words, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” Above him, in all its glory, is Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment.”

“That’s one of the most solemn motives,” Cardinal Napier said of the oath. “It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”

At the end of a round, a scrutinizer shakes the urn. Each ballot is pulled out, marked by the first scrutinizer, passed to the next for examination and then read out by the third.

The scrutinizers then pierce each ballot with a needle and thread through the word “eligo,” stringing them together to prevent any improprieties.

After each pair of rounds, the ballots and any notes are stuffed into a cylindrical cast-iron stove that has been installed by the main entrance of the chapel. Another stove next to it will receive chemicals to turn the smoke white, if a pope is elected, or black, if not.

Immediately after the pope is elected, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the senior cardinal at the conclave, will approach him and say the words: “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” If the answer is yes, he will ask what name the new pope wants to adopt.

After prayers and a reading of the Gospel, the cardinals individually approach their new pontiff and “make an act of homage and obedience,” according to the constitution. The new pope heads to the balcony of St. Peter’s, stopping in the Pauline Chapel by himself for a prayer.

“Obviously this part is not televised,” the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said on Monday.

The crowd in St. Peter’s Square will then hear the proclamation “habemus papam” — “We have a pope” — and the new man will appear, giving his first blessing as pope.


Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting.


Click here for a view of 'Inside the Conclave":

Click here for a list of the contenders to be the Pope: reasons for and against:

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« Last Edit: Mar 12, 2013, 05:35 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5042 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:22 AM »

Sex abuse victims call on ‘tarnished’ Cardinals to recuse themselves from Papal conclave

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 17:12 EDT

As cardinals prepare for the conclave to elect the next pope, the victims of sex abuse by clergymen are trying to ensure the vote doesn’t go to anyone they accuse of helping cover up the scandal.

The Catholic hierarchy had a final day of talks in Rome on Monday before going into lockdown in the Sistine Chapel for the vote, after former pontiff Benedict XVI’s shock resignation — the first for 700 years.

The endless scandals over sexual abuse by pedophile priests and cover-ups by superiors will be a factor in the debate, and victims’ groups have been campaigning in the Vatican and at home to try to make it a deciding one.

“If the Church elects a new Pope that has a poor record of dealing with abuse, that will be a sign that nothing has changed,” said James Salt, director of victims’ pressure-group Catholics United.

The group has launched an appeal calling for “all Cardinals tarnished by scandal to recuse themselves from upcoming Papal conclave,” eliminating themselves not just as candidates, but as electors.

Members of the US group SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — have traveled to Rome where they have been active ahead of the conclave.

They published a list of their “dirty dozen” — who include some of the top papal contenders, including Canadian Marc Ouellet and Italian Angelo Scola — each marked by what they said were failures to confront the abuse.

A similar group in Mexico has gathered 23,000 signatures against the participation of Cardinal Norberto Rivera,

Rivera has been accused of covering up the actions of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, who was accused of sexually abusing children before he died in 2008.

In Belgium, victims have similarly denounced the participation of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, whom rights groups accuse of keeping silent on predator priests when he headed the country’s Catholic Church from 1979 to 2009.

Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno has likewise been called

And Catholics United has urged retired Cardinal Roger Mahony — relieved in January of all church administrative and public duties for mishandling abuse claims against dozens of priests, dating back to the 1980s — to “stay home.”

– Open the Vatican files –

“Many of the cardinals have made comments that have minimized the abuse crisis,” said Becky Ianni of SNAP, “with comments such as, ‘this happened a long time ago, it’s not just a Catholic problem, we are doing a good job, it is just a small percentage of priests’.”

“These comments re-victimize us all over again,” she said.

In the United States, several polls have shown that a majority of US Catholics believe the next Pope should focus on the sex abuse scandal, and many victims said that Benedict didn’t do enough.

“Tragically, the worst is almost certainly ahead,” SNAP director David Clohessy said in a statement.

He said the truth of “widespread, longstanding and deeply-rooted” abuse and cover ups has “yet to surface in most nations.”

In contrast to its “dirty dozen,” SNAP has published a list of the three candidates it considers “least worst” — Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Ianni argued that the next pope “will need to take action immediately.”

“In the past we have seen lots of policies created and lots of apologies made but have witnessed very little real change.

For real change, she said, the next pope “will have to punish those bishops or cardinals that cover up the abuse. The pope will need to open up the Vatican’s records on sex abuse.”

But Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi underlined that victims’ groups and ordinary Catholics don’t get a vote.

“It is not up to SNAP to decide who comes to conclave and who is chosen,” he said on CNN.

Clohessy, who is in Rome ahead of the conclave, conceded the point.

“We believe, however, in the eyes of many disillusioned or concerned Catholics,” the input of victims’ advocacy groups is “very much invited and welcomed.”

Catholics United’s Salt said more bluntly: “The cardinals can either listen to us or they can listen to doors slamming behind former Catholics who are leaving the church.”

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« Reply #5043 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:28 AM »

North Korea declares armistice void as US sends warning to Pyongyang

Obama security adviser threatens Pyongyang with 'full range of our capabilities' and urges China to act tough on neighbour

Chris McGreal, Tuesday 12 March 2013 08.34 GMT   

The US has dismissed North Korea's declaration that the 1953 armistice with Seoul is nullified as "bellicose rhetoric" but warned Pyongyang that it will face "the full range of our capabilities" if it were to carry out its threat of a nuclear attack.

Barack Obama's top national security adviser, Tom Donilon, on Monday called on China to join in further isolating Pyongyang, following the North Korean military leadership's declaration that the truce with South Korea was void after Seoul and the US kicked off a joint military exercise.

The annulment of the treaty also follows the UN security council's imposition of additional sanctions against Pyongyang after it carred out a third atomic bomb test, and threats by Pyongyang to fire nuclear weapons at the US and South Korea in response.

"North Korean officials have made some highly provocative statements. North Korea's claims may be hyperbolic, but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt: we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea," Donilon said in a speech to the Asia Society in New York.

"This includes not only any North Korean use of weapons of mass destruction but also, as the president made clear, their transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other states or non-state entities. Such actions would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies and we will hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences."

North Korean state media said that joint military exercises involving American and South Korean forces, which began on Monday, had annulled the truce. The armistice never became a fully-fledged peace agreement and therefore North and South Korea technically remain at war.

"The US has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper," it said.

The US State Department said the military exercises are held annually. American officials pointed the latest UN sanctions as the real cause of the threats. The US treasury imposed additional measures on Monday against the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea – the primary handler of hard currency – for its role in the financing of Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was not immediately clear what the impact of North Korea's claim that the truce is annulled would be – the third time it has made such a statement in recent years.

"For more than 60 years this agreement has ensured peace and stability on the peninsula. So it is concerning to us when any signatory makes a public statement that they're pulling out of it. But it's not absolutely evident what the impact of that would be," she said.

Pyongyang also stopped answering the hotline with South Korea at the border village of Panmunjom, which is generally tested twice a day. It has cut off contact via the hotline at least five times since the 1990s.

Donilon said the US would not be deterred by Pyongyang's threats. "The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States," he said.

Donilon called for North Korea to return to negotiations, but warned that Washington will not be fooled twice after helping Pyongyang with food and other supplies as part of an earlier agreement to halt nuclear development, only to discover that its communist leaders had gone back on their word.

"The United States refuses to reward bad North Korean behaviour. The United States will not play the game of accepting empty promises or yielding to threats. As former secretary of defence Bob Gates has said, we won't buy the same horse twice. We have made clear our openness to authentic negotiations with North Korea. In return, however, we've only seen provocations and extreme rhetoric," he said.

"To get the assistance it desperately needs and the respect it claims it wants, North Korea will have to change course. Otherwise, the United States will continue to work with allies and partners to tighten national and international sanctions to impede North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes."

Donilon praised China for backing the latest UN security council sanctions against North Korea, but called on Beijing to further isolate Pyongyang.

"We believe that no country, including China, should conduct business as usual with a North Korea that threatens its neighbours. China's interest in stability on the Korean peninsula argues for a clear path to ending North Korea's nuclear program. We welcome China's support at the UN security council and its continued insistence that North Korea completely, verifiably and irreversibly abandon its WMD and ballistic missile programmes," he said.

But the White House also offered a carrot, with the prospect of substantial economic help if North Korea is serious about abandoning nuclear weapons. Donilon pointed to the transformation in relations with Burma, which had, he said, received billions in debt forgiveness, development assistance and new investment.

"As he has said many times, President Obama came to office willing to offer his hand to those who would unclench their fists. The United States is prepared to help North Korea develop its economy and feed its people, but it must change its current course," said Donilon.

"Anyone who doubts the president's commitment needs look no further than Burma, where new leaders have begun a process of reform. Obama's historic visit is proof of our readiness to start transforming a relationship marked by hostility into one of greater co-operation."

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« Reply #5044 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:32 AM »

Aung San Suu Kyi support for copper mine outrages Burmese activists

Report commissioned after police crackdown on protesters says near-$1bn joint venture with Chinese firm should continue

Associated Press in Rangoon, Tuesday 12 March 2013 10.01 GMT   

Opponents of a nearly $1bn copper mine in north-western Burma have expressed outrage over a government-ordered report that said the project should continue and that refrained from demanding punishment for police involved in a violent crackdown on protesters.

The opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, chaired the investigation commission that produced the report, which was released late on Monday night. It could pose a problem for Aung San Suu Kyi by identifying her with the pro-growth policies of the government against the interests of grass-roots people's movements.

President Thein Sein appointed the commission after police cracked down on protesters at the Letpadaung mine on 29 November, leaving scores in hospital with serious burns.

Thwe Thwe Win, a protest leader, said on Tuesday that demonstrations would resume.

"I am very dissatisfied and it is unacceptable," she said. "There is no clause that will punish anyone who had ordered the violent crackdown. Action should be taken against the person who gave the order."

Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to travel to the mine area, in the town of Monywa, 450 miles (760km) north of Rangoon, to meet the protesting residents on Wednesday.

Protesters say the mine, a joint venture between China's Wan Bao mining company and a Burmese military conglomerate, causes environmental, social and health problems and should be shut down.

The report said the operation should not be halted, even as it acknowledged that the mine lacked strong environmental protection measures and would not create more jobs for local people. The report said scrapping the mine could create tension with China and could discourage much-needed foreign investment.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997m joint venture, signed in May 2010, did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it was concluded under the previous military regime. Many in Burma remain suspicious of the military and regard China as an aggressive and exploitative investor that helped support its rule.

"The commission should think about the welfare of their own people, poor local villagers, rather than good relations with China," Thwe Thwe Win said.

Aung Thein, an activist lawyer who works with the protesters, said the assertion that the contract should be honoured to maintain good relations was meaningless.

"Some people are afraid of China, but the people in general are not, and they don't feel any obligation toward China," he said.

The November crackdown was the biggest use of force against protesters in Burma since Thein Sein's reformist government took office in March 2011. The military junta that led the country for the previous five decades frequently crushed political dissent.

The use of incendiary devices by the police in the middle of the night to break up the 11-day occupation of mine property outraged many people, especially because most of the people who were burned were Buddhist monks.

The authorities had said they used water cannon, teargas and smoke grenades to break up the protest.

A separate, independent report released last month by a Myanmar lawyers network and an international human rights group said police dispersed the protesters by using white phosphorus, an incendiary agent generally used in war to create smokescreens.

The report released on Monday acknowledged that smoke bombs containing phosphorus were used. It said the smoke bombs do not generally create a flame but the phosphorus in them can sometimes burn flammable materials within an 8-metre radius.

Senior police told the commission that they used the same smoke bombs during monk-led protests in 2007 – the demonstrations known as the Saffron Revolution – and they didn't cause any burns then. The commission faulted the police force for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that police receive riot-control training.

Aung Thein, who helped prepare the earlier independent report, said that police should have known the bombs could cause fires. "There is no excuse for ignorance," he said.

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« Reply #5045 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:36 AM »

March 11, 2013

U.S. Demands China Block Cyberattacks and Agree to Rules


WASHINGTON — The White House demanded Monday that the Chinese government stop the widespread theft of data from American computer networks and agree to “acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace.”

The demand, made in a speech by President Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, was the first public confrontation with China over cyberespionage and came two days after its foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, rejected a growing body of evidence that his country’s military was involved in cyberattacks on American corporations and some government agencies.

The White House, Mr. Donilon said, is seeking three things from Beijing: public recognition of the urgency of the problem; a commitment to crack down on hackers in China; and an agreement to take part in a dialogue to establish global standards.

“Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyberintrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale,” Mr. Donilon said in a wide-ranging address to the Asia Society in New York.

“The international community,” he added, “cannot tolerate such activity from any country.”

In Beijing, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, did not directly say whether the government is willing to negotiate over the proposals spelled out by Mr. Donilon. But at a daily news briefing Tuesday she repeated the government’s position that it opposes Internet attacks and wants “constructive dialogue” with the United States and other countries about cybersecurity issues.

Until now, the White House has steered clear of mentioning China by name when discussing cybercrime, though Mr. Obama and other officials have raised it privately with Chinese counterparts. In his State of the Union address, he said, “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.”

But as evidence has emerged suggesting the People’s Liberation Army is linked to hacking, the China connection has become harder for the administration not to confront head-on. The New York Times three weeks ago published evidence tying one of the most active of the Chinese groups to a neighborhood in Shanghai that is headquarters to a major cyberunit of the People’s Liberation Army. That account, based in large part on unclassified work done by Mandiant, a security firm, echoed the findings of intelligence agencies that have been tracking the Chinese attackers.

American officials say raising the issue with the Chinese is a delicate balancing act at a time when the United States is seeking China’s cooperation in containing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and joining in sanctions on Iran. Yet they have been expressing their concerns about cyberattacks with Chinese officials for years. Starting in 2010, they invited P.L.A. officials to discuss the issue — a process that has only just started — and last November, Mr. Obama broached the subject at a summit meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a senior administration official said.

Since then, the official said, there has been a “perfect storm” of media coverage and protests from the corporate world. Still, he said, Mr. Donilon chose not to mention the P.L.A. in his speech because he did not want to engage in finger-pointing.

“What we are hoping to do,” another senior official said, “is force the Chinese civilian leadership to realize that the P.L.A. is interfering with their foreign policy.”

The Chinese have insisted that they are the victims of cyberattacks, not the perpetrators. On Saturday, the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, issued his own call for “rules and cooperation” on cybersecurity and said reports of Chinese military involvement in cyberattacks were “built on shaky ground.”

“Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others nor whitewash themselves,” Mr. Yang told reporters at the National People’s Congress, which was preparing to ratify the ascension ofXi Jinpingto the Chinese presidency.

Mr. Donilon said the threats to cybersecurity had moved to the forefront of American concerns with China, noting that he was not “talking about ordinary cybercrime or hacking.”

That distinction, a senior administration official said, was meant to separate the theft of intellectual property by Chinese state entities from small-scale hacking by individuals, or the use of cyberweapons by a state to protect its national security. But the distinction between cyberattacks aimed at intellectual property theft and those aimed at disabling a military threat is largely made by Western officials devising legal arguments, not one the Chinese have embraced.

Even as he emphasized the need for international rules to guide cyberactivity, Mr. Donilon made no reference to the billions of dollars the American military and intelligence agencies are spending to develop an arsenal of offensive cyberweapons — to be used against military targets, officials insist, not economic ones. The most famous of these operations was the covert cyberattack mounted by the United States and Israel to disable the centrifuges that Iran uses to enrich uranium at its site in Natanz.

Mr. Donilon sketched out a vigorous agenda in Asia, insisting the United States would keep pursuing its “strategic pivot” toward the region, despite cuts in military spending. He announced that the Treasury Department would impose sanctions on a North Korean bank specializing in foreign-exchange transactions — ratcheting up the pressure on the North Korean government on the day that Pyongyang announced it would no longer abide by the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War.

With fears about North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile capabilities causing considerable anxiety in Seoul and Tokyo, Mr. Donilon restated a “declaratory policy” that was first formulated by President George W. Bush after the North’s first nuclear test, in 2006. He warned that the United States would reserve the option to retaliate against the North, not just if it used nuclear weapons but if it allowed the “transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other states or nonstate entities.”

That formulation did not appear to cover, however, the transfer of technology to build nuclear facilities, as North Korea did in Syria. That reactor was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

“It’s understandable that the people of South Korea would be concerned about the threat they face from the North,” Mr. Donilon said, apparently alluding to talk in the South of building the country’s own nuclear arsenal, a move the United States halted decades ago. Mr. Donilon added that the United States had assets in place “to insure that South Korea’s defense is provided for.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 11, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the Chinese official with whom President Obama, at a summit meeting last November, broached the subject of Chinese cyberattacks on American computer networks. It was Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, not the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi.
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« Reply #5046 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:39 AM »

March 11, 2013

In China, Cinematic Flops Suggest Fading of an Icon


BEIJING — It has been five decades since Mao Zedong decreed that the altruistic, loyal soldier Lei Feng should be a shining star in the Communist Party’s constellation of propaganda heroes. But last week, on the 50th anniversary of that proclamation, came unmistakable signs that despite the Chinese government’s best efforts, Lei Feng’s glow is fading.

National celebrations of “Learn From Lei Feng Day,” which was observed last Tuesday, turned into something of a public relations debacle after the party icon’s celluloid resurrection in not one but three films about his life was thwarted by a distinctly capitalist weapon: the box office bomb.

In cities across the country, many theaters were unable to sell even a single ticket, an embarrassment for the Communist Party, which has been seeking to burnish its moral luster during the annual legislative sessions of China’s rubber-stamp Parliament taking place in the capital, where Lei Feng was venerated as an inspiration for all.

Also last Tuesday, the octogenarian photographer famous for taking 200 photos of Lei Feng suffered a fatal heart attack after giving his last of over 1,260 speeches honoring Lei Feng to a roomful of military personnel in China’s northeast. Chinese media widely reported his dramatic death, featuring footage of the photographer slumped in his chair and receiving CPR, and finally a photograph of his corpse reverently draped with a Communist Party flag.

The unwelcome developments in the Lei Feng narrative subverted the carefully scripted celebration of the Communist role model. By the time Lei Feng died at 21 — in 1962, slain by a falling telephone pole — a slew of government paparazzi had captured him fixing military trucks, darning his fellow soldiers’ socks or diligently studying the works of Chairman Mao by flashlight. After his death, a diary detailing his many selfless acts was supposedly discovered and then swiftly disseminated among the masses to be studied and, it was hoped, emulated.

As the Communist Party formally orchestrates a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders, the nation has been fixated on what many say is society’s declining morality, highlighted by a seemingly incessant flood of government corruption scandals replete with bribes and mistresses.

Last month, a Beijing woman was caught using a silicone prosthesis to pretend she was pregnant and fool subway riders into giving her their seats. Last week, a fresh round of outrage erupted after news spread that a carjacker in the northeastern city of Changchun had strangled a baby boy he had found in a stolen vehicle and then buried him in the snow. After thousands took to the streets for a candlelight vigil honoring the infant, the authorities banned further media coverage of the episode.

The evolving cult of Lei Feng — from the man to the myth — opens a window into how the Communist Party has sought to adapt ideologically while remaining firmly in control of a rapidly changing society. While Mao used him as a tool for inspiring absolute political obedience, propaganda officials have been struggling to rebrand Lei Feng and make him relevant to a nation where smartphones vastly outnumber copies of Mao’s Little Red Book.

Today, social media apps include Micro Lei Feng, meant to inspire good deeds among the technologically adept. The state media has been championing him as “a role model for Chinese society today as the government is trying to improve the social moral environment.”

But experts agree that the relentless portrayal of Lei Feng as a panacea for China’s social ills has rung hollow for those who have doubts about the party’s moral authority.

“The Chinese government no longer enjoys high credibility among people,” said Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University in Beijing. “It begs the question: the government keeps bringing up the Lei Feng spirit and calling on people to be more helping to others, but what has the government done to follow the Lei Feng spirit?”

At a time when China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, has begun a highly publicized campaign against corruption that cynics say is largely cosmetic, many wonder whether Lei Feng the saint should be buried once and for all. For them, the box office disaster of the Lei Feng-themed films is the nail in the coffin.

In the central Chinese city of Taiyuan, in Shanxi Province, an employee of a cinema confessed that it had pulled the films — “Young Lei Feng,” “Lei Feng’s Smile” and “Lei Feng 1959” — after the theaters remained empty on opening day.

The films suffered a similar fate in coastal Nanjing. Reached by telephone, a Nanjing International Cinema employee said the cinema had not sold a single ticket for “Young Lei Feng” and had canceled further screenings. An employee at another theater, the Nanjing Xingfu Lanhai Cinema, said, “ ‘Young Lei Feng’ has been on the screen for four days but no tickets have been sold so far.”

Even in Beijing, where thousands of delegates to the National People’s Congress were gathering, the films were doing poorly. One local cinema reported it had sold only 43 tickets for “Young Lei Feng” in four days — compared with over 450 for “Les Misérables.”

When Chinese media reports revealed that the public was largely ignoring the films, the studio behind “Young Lei Feng” denied it was a dud, saying an article in The Yangtse Evening Post about dismal ticket sales in Nanjing was incorrect. “This story has imposed irreparable negative impacts on this movie and has misled people into believing it’s lousy,” the Xiaoxiang Film Group said in a statement.

Ardent Lei Feng supporters are eager to portray the films’ poor performance as a problem with form, not content. “Lots of people think the ‘Lei Feng spirit’ is a 50-year-old cliché,” said Wang Wei, director of the Lei Feng Spirit Research Institute in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province. “Once they hear about those movies, they instantly decided that they are not worth seeing. These films should have adopted new propaganda angles to attract audiences.”

The government is instead resorting to old-school tactics to fill theaters. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has ordered film studios and cinemas to better promote the films and has exhorted party cadres to organize group viewings, particularly by rural audiences.

But the tattered hagiography has lost more than just its cinematic appeal. At the “Forever Lei Feng” exhibition in Beijing on Friday, almost all visitors were government workers or schoolchildren, even though municipal officials had sent a text message to millions of cellphone subscribers announcing the show.

Strolling past large propaganda posters of a uniformed Lei Feng grinning at the camera while polishing cars, and display cases filled with Lei Feng’s image on lighters, backpacks and T-shirts, the crowd of sailors and city maintenance workers — all of them had been dispatched by their government employers — posed for photos before heading quickly for the exits.

Zhen Lifu, a professor at Peking University who was volunteering as a docent on Friday, spent the day lecturing about Lei Feng’s generosity toward his comrades. But away from the crowds, Mr. Zhen admitted that he thought Lei Feng himself would have been depressed by the moral decay that plagues modern Chinese society.

“Frankly, Lei Feng wouldn’t be the only one,” he said. “These days, we’re all pretty dissatisfied, which is why we need Lei Feng.”

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« Reply #5047 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:43 AM »

Delhi gang rape victim's tragic death transforms her family's life

The victim's father recalls her ambitions and final days just as family hopes of a better life finally arrive – at the highest cost

Jason Burke in Delhi
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 March 2013   

Soon the narrow lane with dirt floor that leads through the leaning tenements and market stalls will be a distant memory. So too will the evening ritual of spreading out a plastic sheet over a bed to turn it into a dining table. Food will no longer be prepared in a tiny kitchen crammed with spotless tin utensils. The four toothbrushes – once five – will no longer be stored in a battered plastic holder outside the washroom.

Thousands of families move to better accommodation every day in Delhi. A marginally lesser number slip into greater poverty. And so India moves, incrementally but seemingly ineluctably, towards prosperity.

But the move that will take these two young men and their parents from a two-room basement to a spacious "middle-income" government-built apartment with running water and continuous power is far from ordinary. Nor has it much to do with a new "India Shining". The new home is a gift from the local authorities and, in the cold language of bureaucrats, described as "compensation" for the death of the young woman, their daughter and sister, who died of injuries sustained during a brutal gang rape by six men three months ago this week.

The incident prompted a global outcry, weeks of protests in India and calls for a wide-ranging legal and policing reform. It led to a fierce debate on the wave of sexual violence to women in India and the social attitudes that some say are responsible.

On Monday, the principal accused in the rape case, Ram Singh, 33, was found hanged in Delhi's Tihar prison. An inquiry has been launched into what India's minister for home affairs admitted was a "serious security lapse". The victim's eldest brother, 20, said the family was disappointed the man had been able to chose the time of his own death.

Singh was on trial with five others at a specially established fast-track court in Delhi and faced the death sentence.

In an interview with the Guardian, the 23-year-old victim's father remembered the moment when a policeman rang him, at about 10pm on a cold December evening, to tell him there had been an "accident" and that he would find his daughter at a hospital 10 miles across the city from his home in the scruffy outlying suburb of Dwarka.

A friend with a motorbike took him through Delhi's busy traffic. "She was lying on a stretcher, covered by a green blanket," he said. The family have not been identified in the Indian press due to strict local laws.

"I thought she was unconscious but when I laid my hand on her forehead she opened her eyes. She was crying. I told her: 'It'll be alright, beta [child]'."

Hours later came bad news.

"I was waiting outside the operating theatre. A doctor came out. He said she would probably not last more than a few hours, certainly more than a day or so," the father said.

But the girl held on much longer, twice giving a crucial statement to investigators. On 25 December, she closed her eyes for the last time.

"During the evening, maybe 9pm, she saw me standing outside the intensive care unit.

"She turned to look at me and gestured for me to come. She asked me if I had eaten. I said yes. Then she said: 'Dad, go to sleep, you must be tired.' I patted her head. She said: 'You should get some sleep.'

"She took my hand and kissed it. That moment hurts me more every time I think about it. She never opened her eyes again."

His daughter died days later, in a clinic in Singapore where she and the family had been flown by the Indian government for specialised treatment.

Unlike many parents in India, where sons are usually favoured, the family had spared nothing for their daughter.

A first son had died days after being born and the new child was so welcome "we did not care if it was a boy or a girl as long as it survived," the father said.

She was born in Delhi. Her father had moved to the city from his village in a remote part of the poor, lawless northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He left, reluctantly, his patch of inherited land too small to provide for a family. "I had no choice. I had to move to the city to have a chance of a better life," he said.

He worked in factories and, in recent years, as a loader at Delhi's domestic airport, working double eight-hour shifts unloading planes from places he could never visit to bring home 200 rupees (£2.50) every day.

With no savings, he sold part of his land and mortgaged the rest to raise the 45,000 rupees (£600) annual fee for his daughter's training as a physiotherapist at a college in the northern city of Dehradun.

The young woman worked in call centres to cover the 50,000 rupees (£660) living expenses. The family hoped that her earnings would eventually be enough to pay for the college fees of her two younger brothers and perhaps a better life.

In their small home, stifling in the 45C heat of the Delhi summer, freezing in the chill winters, the young woman had a bedroom to herself, to sleep and, above all, to study.

The rest of the family slept next door in the only other room. She covered a wall in notes and posters – not of Bollywood stars as many Indian teenagers would have done – but of formulae and diagrams culled from her science text books.

"I read somewhere that pulling yourself out of poverty means working like a horse and living like a saint. That is what I have always done. That is what my children have been taught to do. That is what my daughter did," her father said.

In death, she has transformed her family's life. Not only are they moving to a new home, of a size and standard they could never have been able to afford, but three separate state governments have made payments worth £50,000. Previously, the family's entire savings never amounted to more than a the equivalent of £100. Her 18-year-old brother has been given a coveted job in a subsidiary of Indian railways.

The family have not been attending the trial.

"What would I do if I saw them? I'd want to kill them but I am helpless," the father said. The men now facing the death penalty for the assault that took place in a moving bus and the brother said on Monday the suicide of the alleged ringleader should change nothing. A juvenile also detained for his role in the attack should be hanged, too, he added.

"I have faith in the government. Every citizen should trust the government of his country to see that justice is done," the father explained.

He and his wife chose their new home close to where they have lived for decades and where their children grew up. Only a few days ago, they packed her clothes and books away.

"I console myself that she was a good soul, set free in death," he said.


March 11, 2013

India Rape Suspect’s Family Says His Death Wasn’t Suicide


NEW DELHI — The case of a fatal gang rape aboard a bus here in December, which set off an uproar across India, took a surprising turn on Monday when the body of a suspect in the attack was found hanging from a bedsheet noose in his jail cell. Officials called the death a suicide, but the suspect’s family insisted that he had been killed.

The suspect, Ram Singh, was accused of being the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old woman was beaten and raped. The woman had severe internal injuries from being sexually assaulted with an iron rod.

Mr. Singh was found at 5:45 a.m. hanging from a bedsheet rope suspended from a ceiling grille, jail officials said. An investigation was under way, they said.

“It is a major lapse in security — certainly it is not a small incident,” India’s home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said at a news conference in New Delhi.

But Mr. Singh’s family and his lawyer said that he would not have been able to tie a noose, because his right arm had been seriously damaged in a bus accident. In addition, they said, he shared his cell in the Tihar prison complex with several inmates, making it difficult to believe he could have hanged himself without being noticed.

“I suspect there is foul play,” the lawyer, V. K. Anand, said. “There were no circumstances for committing suicide. His mental state was stable, the trial was going well, he was meeting with his family. I can’t understand why he would commit suicide.”

Some family members said Mr. Singh had been abused in jail.

“It is not suicide; he has been hanged by the police,” his father, Mangilal, said in an interview. He said his son had told him on Friday that the police were beating him in jail and that he was being pressed to change his lawyer.

Earlier Monday, the father told the television channel NewsX that Ram Singh had said other inmates raped him.

Mr. Singh’s brother Mukesh is one of four other men accused in the case, which is being tried in a “fast track” court in South Delhi set up for sexual assault cases. The creation of such courts was a direct result of the uproar over the fatal rape in December, as thousands of people across India, long angered by selective law enforcement and endemic corruption, vented their outrage over failures in preventing and prosecuting crimes against women.

A sixth defendant is being tried as a juvenile. The four men face 13 charges, including rape, robbery and murder — which could carry the death penalty.

Ram Singh, whose job was to transport schoolchildren in the bus, was the first suspect the police apprehended after the attack was reported.

His confession to the police led them to the other suspects.

The police said a group of drunken men, looking for victims to harass, had tricked the young woman and a male friend into getting on the bus, attacked them and then stripped off their clothes and left them on a highway.

Such confessions to the police are not admissible as evidence in India, and Ram Singh had not yet testified in court. The police said that even without his testimony, they had forensic evidence linking the suspects to the woman who was killed and to her companion, who was beaten.

Another of Mr. Singh’s brothers — who asked that his name not be used, to shield him from further news media attention — said by telephone that his brother had shown no suicidal tendencies.

On Friday, Mr. Singh’s parents visited him in jail, the brother said, and he appeared to be calm.

Betwa Sharma and Malavika Vyawahare contributed reporting.

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« Reply #5048 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:46 AM »

U.S. officials warn Pakistan risks sanctions over Iran pipeline

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 17:17 EDT

Pakistan risks sparking US sanctions if it pursues its plans with Iran to build a $7.5 billion gas pipeline linking the two nations, a senior US official said in a renewed warning Monday.

“We have serious concerns, if this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We’ve been straight up with the Pakistanis about these concerns.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched the construction of a much-delayed section of the gas pipeline with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at a ceremony on the border of the two neighbors.

But Nuland added: “We’ve heard this pipeline announced about 10 or 15 times before in the past. So we have to see what actually happens.”

The United States had been seeking alternative plans, saying the move with Iran would take it “in the wrong direction right at a time that we’re trying to work with Pakistan on better, more reliable ways to meet its energy needs.”

Nuland said the US was “supporting large-scale energy projects in Pakistan that will add some 900 megawatts to the power grid by the end of 2013.”

Those projects included renovating the power plants at Tarbela, the Mangla Dam, as well as modernizing others plants and building new dams at Satpara and Gomal Zam, she added.

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« Reply #5049 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:49 AM »

Bhutan prepares to consolidate democracy with new elections

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 7:30 EDT

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan will go to polls for the second time in its history next month for elections which will consolidate its transformation to democracy, according to a royal decree.

A vote for the 25-member upper house will take place on April 23, said the decree which was posted online. An election date for the larger and more influential lower house has yet to be announced but is widely expected in May.

“It is important that all voters take their right and duty seriously, exercise their franchise and choose the most competent and deserving candidate as their representative,” said the decree.

The landlocked Buddhist nation wedged between India and China held its first vote in 2008 after its beloved royal family opted to step back and peacefully turn the country into a constitutional monarchy.

Almost 80 percent of Bhutanese turned out to vote, handing a landslide to the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) or Bhutan United Party led by Jigmi Thinley — a two-time former premier under the previous royal governments.

Political parties have flourished since the last polls with a total of five parties set to contest the elections in the lower house, two of which are led by women.

Bhutan follows a unique home-grown development model focused on boosting Gross National Happiness instead of economic growth, putting respect for the environment and well-being of citizens at the heart of its policy-making.

The Kuensel newspaper said voting for the new 25-member National Council would take place at 850 polling booths dotted around the mountainous country, with results to be declared on April 24.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5050 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:51 AM »

March 11, 2013

Kenyan Reaction to Disputed Election Is Far Calmer Than Last Time


NAIROBI, Kenya — In the Kibera slum, where the sun beats down mercilessly on the metal shacks and ribbons of raw sewage snake across the dirt, people are about as angry as they have ever been.

Their preferred presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, lost the election. He claims it was rigged, again. And he is refusing to concede.

But unlike the reaction after the last presidential election, in 2007, which Mr. Odinga also lost amid evidence of vote rigging, Kibera has not exploded. There have been no major clashes this time, here or anywhere else across Kenya, no blockading of national highways or ripping up of train tracks.

The chaos that reigned during the last election dispute cost more than 1,000 lives and shook Kenya to its core, but so far this disputed election seems to have been absorbed remarkably peacefully.

“I am not a happy man,” said John Otieno, a community leader in Kibera and an Odinga stalwart.

A crowd of young men who had gathered around him on Monday morning grunted their support, muttering the words “thief” and “stolen.”

“But there will be no protests,” Mr. Otieno said, and the men around him simmered down. “We will listen to our leader. Raila said he will take this to the courts, and we have faith in the courts. We will wait for them.”

“Kenya,” he said grandly, “has changed.”

Though the electoral drama has not been fully resolved, Kenya has greatly defied expectations, along the lines of what Uhuru Kenyatta, the president-elect, said in his acceptance speech on Saturday: “Finally, Kenya has come of age.”

The raft of reforms this country made after the crisis of late 2007 and early 2008, and the extensive antiviolence messages during this election, seemed to have found their mark. Since the election results were announced Saturday, giving the presidency to Mr. Kenyatta in a surprising first-round victory, top politicians down to neighborhood activists have been calling for peace — and the peace has been holding, even in passionate Odinga strongholds like Kibera and Kisumu (in western Kenya) and along the coast.

A big reason is that Mr. Odinga, who says he has detailed information about inflated voter turnout and the theft of thousands of votes, has decided to take his grievances to the courts this time, not to the streets. He says he has faith in the judiciary, which in 2007 was widely dismissed as inept and corrupt, but is now respected as one of Kenya’s more dependable public institutions. Willy Mutunga, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, is one of Kenya’s most trusted public officials, though some analysts have raised doubts about the other five justices.

Many of the same underlying tensions that agitated Kenyans in 2007 still exist, like yawning economic inequality, historic disputes over land and the bitterness that many feel about the continued dominance of Mr. Kenyatta’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu, in business and politics. But this election was run differently and much more transparently, giving Kenyans a window into the vote counting as it was ticking along last week.

Mr. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president and one of the richest men in this part of Africa, jumped out to an early lead and held it the whole time, finishing nearly one million votes ahead. The only question seems to be if Mr. Kenyatta cleared the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. According to official results, he did so by less than a tenth of a percent. If Mr. Odinga, who got about 43 percent, can show that a few thousand votes were rigged, there is a chance that the Supreme Court could order a new election or a runoff.

Mr. Odinga is an ethnic Luo, but unlike last time — when thousands of Luos poured into the streets, screaming, “No Raila, no peace!” — many Luos now just want him to concede.

“I think he lost,” said Dominico Owiti, a retired civil servant. “Going to court is not going to help. It just suspends the problem.”

Elections create huge anxiety in Kenya, and many people across the political spectrum said they did not want to go through the horrors of the last election again. Still, there were fears. Schools were closed all last week, and many people did not go to work, worried about what might happen when the results came out. In Kibera, the price of basic staples, like cabbage and dried fish, soared. It was only on Monday that life began to resemble normal, with the dirt streets thick with people marching to work.

Mr. Odinga is expected to file his case in the next few days, with the Supreme Court hearing it soon. Election observers seem split on the merits. Some say there is evidence of vote tampering. Others, including a network of Kenyan nonprofit organizations, said the results were credible. But even if the court rules against Mr. Odinga and affirms Mr. Kenyatta’s win, this election will still cast a long shadow.

Both Mr. Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, scheduled to be the deputy president, have been accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity. Prosecutors say the two men organized widespread killings during the election mayhem last time.

Both have insisted that they are innocent and that their cases are based on gossip. Some independent analysts have said that the cases, especially the one against Mr. Kenyatta, are weak.

On Monday, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court dropped all charges against Francis Kirimi Muthaura, a former Kenyan official who had been accused of working with Mr. Kenyatta to organize death squads. The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she was forced to drop the case because several important witnesses had “either been killed or have died,” while “others are too afraid to testify.”

She said one witness had recanted and admitted that he had accepted money to withdraw his testimony. She also said that the government had “failed to provide my office with important evidence and failed to facilitate our access to critical witnesses.”

But she emphasized that the cases against Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto would continue, though legal experts wonder how easy it will be to find witnesses to speak out against Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, now that they have won.

Western powers, including the United States, have been uncomfortable about a Kenyatta win, though it is not clear what the West will actually do given that Kenya has become such a strategic partner in a volatile region.

Over the weekend, several African countries sent warm congratulations to Mr. Kenyatta, with Uganda speaking of “brotherly relations.” But statements from the United States, Britain and the European Union stuck to congratulating the Kenyan people, pointedly avoiding any mention of Mr. Kenyatta.

“It’s still disputed,” one American official explained.

The International Criminal Court seems to have been a significant factor throughout this election. Analysts said that Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, who were fierce political enemies in 2007, with members of their communities killing each other, decided to join forces this time because they thought it was the best way to beat the charges.

Their union fused together two of Kenya’s biggest ethnic blocs, the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, and on Election Day their supporters turned out en masse, galvanized by the perception that Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were being attacked by outside forces.

Now that the two have won, many supporters wonder why the International Criminal Court cases are even necessary.

“If Uhuru and Ruto have succeeded in reconciling warring communities, isn’t that the point?” asked Edward Kirathe, a real estate developer. “What other interest does the I.C.C. have?”

Marlise Simons contributed reporting from Paris.
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« Reply #5051 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Somalian journalists beaten by police while covering court case, says union

At least five reporters say they were assaulted in Mogadishu in the latest sign of a crackdown on press freedom in Somalia

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Monday 11 March 2013 20.33 GMT   

Journalists in Somalia claim they were threatened at gunpoint and beaten by police as they tried to cover a court case in Mogadishu, in the latest evidence of an official crackdown on press freedom.

At least five reporters were assaulted, some seriously, on Saturday, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists. The union leader said he believes the attack is related to recent media coverage of a woman who alleged that she was raped by uniformed men and then pressured by police to drop her case. The reporters had been invited to the court by its chairman, Hashi Elmi Nor, to cover hearings there but were "kicked out of the court" on the orders of a local police chief, the union said.

A court security official promised to take disciplinary action and asked the journalists to return. But when they did a soldier allegedly grabbed a gun and pointed to the journalists, threatened "to kill anyone who tries to enter, disobeying his commander".

After the journalists left again, police from the Afar-Irdood station in Hamarwein district "were ordered to chase and arrest the journalists", the union said. "The police started beating the journalists and pointing the gun at those who managed to escape."

A reporter and cameraman were seriously hurt and briefly detained, according to the union, whose treasurer suffered a broken finger as he tried to intervene. Eventually the court chairman ordered police to release the journalists and return their equipment.

Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary general of the union, said: "We condemn the beating and the arbitrary detentions against the journalists, and it is unlawful to knowingly point guns [at]the messengers. The journalists must be respected and facilitated in carrying out their duties.

"This clearly demonstrates the poor working relationship between the police and the media community following the recent rape case. However, journalists must feel safe in exercising their profession free from reprisals."

In a separate incident last week, the union said, police beat and briefly detained Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, a reporter for the UK-based Universal television. He was taken to a hospital for treatment with his face wounded and bloodied.

The plight of Somali journalists recently received worldwide attention [] after Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim interviewed an alleged rape victim, Lul Ali Osman Barake, and both were sentenced to a year in prison. While Barake's conviction was quashed on appeal, Ibrahim's was upheld with a reduced sentence of six months.

Hassan Ali Gesey, director of Dalsan Radio, where Ibraham is operations director, said: "All the journalists here are feeling demoralised. Abdiaziz is a colleague for us and one of the most liked at this station for his personality.

"Press freedom is under threat. There is a double risk right now. We knew the dangerous topic was al-Shabaab: they would kill you. But added to this is the government: if you talk about corruption and institutions, you will be in jail like Abdiaziz. Journalists who had fled the country in recent years and come back are now preparing to leave again in case they are arrested for their work."

Gesey also called for speedier police investigations into the murder of journalists. Last year 18 were killed but no arrests were made. Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Abdi Farah Shirdon, the prime minister, last month announced a $50,000 (£33,530) reward for information that leads to the convictions of those killing journalists. "I respect the important work you do in Somalia in what are often extremely difficult circumstances and I understand your concern," he said. "One journalist killed is one journalist too many. We don't want any to be killed."

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« Reply #5052 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:55 AM »

U.N. warns Syria: Civil war could cost you a generation

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 7:05 EDT

A whole generation of Syrian children risks being lost amid the spiralling civil war in the country, the UN children’s agency cautioned Tuesday, saying it was in urgent need of funds to address the crisis.

“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict,” UNICEF chief Anthony Lake said in a report published two years to the day after the Syrian conflict began.

The Geneva-based agency pointed out that nearly half of the four million in dire need of aid inside Syria are under the age of 18, and 536,000 of them are children under the age of five.

Some 800,000 children under the age of 14 have meanwhile been internally displaced by the conflict, while more than half a million children are refugees in neighbouring countries, it said.

“In short, the crisis is reaching a point of no return, with long-term consequences for Syria and the region as a whole, including the risk of a lost generation of Syrian children,” UNICEF said in its report.

The agency stressed that it was severely underfunded to help all the children in need, warning that it will have to “halt a number of key life-saving interventions by the end of March 2013″ if it does not receive more funds.

UNICEF said it so far had received only 20 percent of the $195 million it had appealed for to help children and women affected by the crisis in Syria and in neighbouring countries through the end of June.

The agency warned that without more funds, it would soon need to scale back things like providing clean water, measles and polio vaccination campaigns, life-saving neo-natal care and emergency medical care.

Children, it cautioned, were especially vulnerable in the midst of an ever more ruthless civil war, that began with a brutal crackdown by the Bashar al-Assad regime on protests that erupted in March 2011.

Children inside the country are among 70,000 people the UN estimates have been killed there during the past two years of escalating violence, UNICEF pointed out, adding that children have also been maimed, exposed to sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention and recruitment as soldiers.

“Countless children suffer from the psychological trauma of seeing family members killed, of being separated from their parents and being terrified by the constant thunder of shelling,” Lake said, adding that access to clean water, adequate sanitation and health care is becoming increasingly scarce.

One in five schools in the country have been destroyed, the report showed.

“All around them, their dreams and opportunities for the future are being lost,” Lake said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5053 on: Mar 12, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Falkland Islands: respect overwhelming 'yes' vote, Cameron tells Argentina

Only three vote against staying British in unsurprising landslide, which Argentina dismisses as irrelevant

Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent, and Uki Goni, Buenos Aires correspondent, Tuesday 12 March 2013 08.20 GMT   

David Cameron has called on Argentina to respect the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands after they voted overwhelmingly for the territory to stay British in an unsurprising but still historical referendum that aims to send a defiant message to Argentina and the outside world.

The prime minister said Argentina should take "careful note" of the referendum result and that Britain would always be there to defend the Falkland Islanders.

Despite near zero temperatures and flurries of snow and rain, the turnout was 92% from an electorate of 1,650. All but three people voted yes to the question posed on the ballots: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?"

Nobody expected anything but a landslide in a vote that the Argentinian government had dismissed as illegal. Regardless, the islanders said they were delighted at the strong show of unity at a time when the Falklands are coming under increasing pressure from Buenos Aires and its allies in South America.

"I'm very happy. Everyone has come together to express ourselves," said Kyle Biggs, who guides tourists to see penguins and battlefield sites from the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina. "I think this is massively significant. It's important to show how much we want to stay British."

After the results were announced, Biggs said, islanders celebrated late into the night  despite temperatures of 3C.

In Argentina the result was dismissed with angry words by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. "We must denounce this trickery that pretends to represent the popular participation of an implanted population," said Senator Daniel Filmus, a close collaborator of the president. "This publicity stunt has no validity for international law."

Argentina's Senate is preparing to vote this week on a motion to reject the Falklands referendum and reaffirm Argentina's longstanding claim to the islands it calls Las Malvinas. "The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum," said Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman.

Another close Kirchner collaborator, Senator Anibal Fernandez, restated the government's view of the Falklanders as a foreign population living illegally in Argentina. "There will never be self-determination for an implanted population and there is no legal framework for this, the Malvinas are Argentine sovereign soil," said Fernandez.

Speaking to an Argentinian radio station, the country's ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, suggested the islands need Argentina to guarantee their survival. "How long can the islanders live isolated from the continent? They are 8,000 miles from London and 500 kilometres from continental Argentina," Castro told the Buenos Aires radio station La Red.

Cameron insisted that the islanders were entitled to the right to self-determination. "It is the clearest possible result there could be," he said.

"The Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through and that is how they want to stay. People should know we will always be there to defend them.

"We believe in self-determination. The Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result."

The Falklands have moved back into the international spotlight due to the 30th anniversary of the war and a push by President Kirchner to reassert her country's longstanding sovereignty claims.

Argentina has raised the issue at the UN and regional bodies, placed full-page advertisements in British newspapers and – most controversially – restricted access to the islands. It has persuaded South American neighbours to turn away Falklands-flagged ships, curtailed overflights and imposed sanctions on companies that exploit the resources of the islands.

The islanders have a high degree of legislative autonomy, although they are still under a governor sent by London. They organised their first ever referendum to show their determination to resist what some of them say is a blockade.

Mike Summers, a member of the Falklands' Legislative Assembly, told the Guardian before the election that Argentina had become "aggressive and difficult".

"Our relationship with the UK is strong and mutually productive, and we would like to be left in peace to continue to develop that relationship for the benefit of future generations," he said.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the referendum result demonstrated more clearly than ever the Falkland Islanders' wish to remain an overseas territory of Britain. "All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy. I wish them every success in doing so," he said.

The vote is unlikely to shift opinion in Argentina. In 2012 a poll to mark the 30th anniversary of the war indicated that 89% of Argentinians support the sovereignty claims of Buenos Aires. Many believe the timing of the referendum is linked to the discovery of extensive oil and gas deposits, as well as growing interest in the Antarctic, which is likely to become an important source of fresh water and other resources. Veterans say it is absurd that the small community of islands should decide the fate of an strategically important area of land and sea that is bigger than Argentina itself.
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« Reply #5054 on: Mar 12, 2013, 06:02 AM »

03/11/2013 05:06 PM

The Eternal Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Complicated Legacy

By Jens Gluesing and Mathieu von Rohr

Hugo Chávez's supporters are relying on his cult of personality to hold on to power. In doing so, they are overlooking a different legacy he left behind in Venezuela: one of corruption and mismanagement.

There is a circular cloud surrounded by a rainbow in the sky above Caracas as Zuilma Blanco stands on the side of Avenida Fuerzas Armadas, waiting for the coffin containing the body of Hugo Chávez. She pulls out her mobile phone, takes a picture into the light, and exclaims: "A halo! I can feel that something is descending upon us, my president!" A man standing next to her says that he recognizes a face in the cloud.

It is Wednesday of last week, and Caracas is a sea of people in red, the color of the Chavists. Hundreds of thousands line the streets for their president who, in death, is becoming a religious figure to his followers for good.

Blanco, 41, a dark-skinned woman with fine features, is wearing a red polo shirt and a red baseball cap. She came to Caracas with her daughter in the morning from her village in the mountains. "Venezuela has never experienced anything this powerful before," she says. "I believe our president, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, was too big for this country." She is simultaneously weeping and beaming with pride. "We lost him physically, but he lives on in us, his people. We are all Chávez."

The coffin, still an hour away, is driven through the crowds at a snail's pace. Walking in front is Nicolás Maduro, the man Chávez named as his successor in his last TV appearance, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a moustache, wearing a tracksuit top in the colors of the Venezuelan flag.

When the procession finally passes Blanco, she weeps and wails, clutching her daughter, who has just said that her mother loves Chávez "too much," though she is now weeping herself, too. Some of the bystanders faint, creating a scene of mass hysteria.

In the end, it will have taken six hours for the coffin, covered with flowers and caps, to arrive at the military academy, where the body will lie in state for the people. The entire procession is broadcast on the government-owned television station, a fitting end for a man who spent much of his time in office on TV. Chávez's appearances were always simultaneously broadcast on all stations, and he was known for chastising or dismissing ministers live on his program, "Aló Presidente." He sang, danced, showed photos of his grandchildren and told jokes, especially about the "empire" in the north, the United States.

A Painful Announcement

His last procession is also a TV marathon, presented in the tone of a sermon, during which Chávez, the freedom fighter Simón Bolívar and Jesus Christ merge into one person. It's been a long time since someone has been carried to his grave like the Venezuelan president, who died of cancer last Tuesday, at 58.

At first, he even staged his illness like a telenovela, appearing on TV as he did early morning exercises with his cabinet, and reading his blood levels aloud to the public. When he lost his hair after chemotherapy, young people shaved their heads in solidarity. Supposedly cured, he summoned all of his strength in October to win reelection, capturing 55 percent of the vote, against Henrique Capriles, the first opposition candidate to be taken seriously since Chávez came into office in 1999.

But the disease returned, and on Dec. 8, 2012 he said goodbye to Venezuelans on television before being taken to Cuba for treatment. He was no longer seen in public after that, and his true state of health remained a mystery. He was allegedly flown back to Caracas in late February, and by the beginning of last week the country was buzzing with rumors. Was Chávez dying, recovering or long dead? Was he really back in Venezuela, or was he actually in Cuba again? During a visit last Tuesday morning, there seemed to be little security at the military hospital where Chávez was supposedly being treated.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Maduro read a strange statement on TV, in which he indirectly accused the United States of being responsible for Chávez's death. That evening, his voice cracking, Maduro finally announced: "At 4:25 in the afternoon, today, the 5th of March, Comandante President Hugo Chávez Frias died."

In the hours after the announcement, militia members loyal to Chávez, their faces twisted with pain, drove through the streets. Anti-Chávez students, who had been protesting in downtown Caracas against the policy of keeping citizens in the dark, were beaten. That evening, tens of thousands held a wake on Plaza Simón Bolívar. One man carried a sign that read: "They poisoned him." The young people gathered in the square were hardly old enough to have experienced any president other than Chávez, who took office in 1999.

No Middle Ground

The 22 heads of state who attended his funeral on Friday included Cuban President Raul Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose presence attested to the fact that Chávez changed both his country and the entire continent. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kissed the coffin, and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko shed a few tears. Their appearance reflected the political alliances Chávez had forged with the help of Venezuela's oil and his brand of anti-imperialism.

His legacy, and how history will regard his 14 years in office, remains a complicated question. Was Chávez a great statesman or a dictator in disguise? Did he liberate his people from poverty or ruin his country's economy? It's difficult to find objective answers to such questions. After his death, Venezuelans are more divided than ever, and as in the rest of the world there are in fact only two opinions about Chávez: One must be for or against him.

A visit to the home of Zuilma Blanco in Capaya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Caracas, helps to explain his supporters' profound adoration for Chávez. The highway turns into a bumpy main road, passing government-owned filling stations along the way. There are still posters from the election in October, which Chávez won by a 10-percent margin.

Blanco is a member of the Consejo Comunal, one of the local councils established under Chávez. Hers is in charge of sports and social events. She constantly repeats the same refrain as we drive through the town: Here you can see what our president has done for us. This is the road Chávez paved, the hospital Chávez donated, the school for agritourism Chávez founded. She points out new buildings erected under one of the social programs paid for with oil revenues, a large-scale residential housing construction effort called "Gran Misión Vivienda."

Finally, she takes us to the "Casa de Alimentación," which provides free meals daily for 140 people. The manager, Rafaela Palacio, says that the people she serves hardly had anything to eat in the past, like some 20 percent of the population, but that those days ended when Chávez came into power. Palacio, 65, a matron wearing a brightly colored robe, receives a monthly pension equivalent to €300 ($390), which corresponds to the country's minimum wage.

"Believe me," she says, bursting into tears, "those who came before him did nothing for us. He was the first and the only one." According to Palacio, Venezuela was once a racist society, ruled by a corrupt, white oligarchy that had looked down on people like her.

Chávez, however, was from the rural grasslands. He spoke in the melodic singsong tone of the people, and he touched people wherever he went. He always had scratches on his hands after an election campaign. The lower class felt that he was one of them.

Uncanny Popularity

Blanco is one of the original Chavista. She still remembers the first time she saw him, in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 1992. Chávez had staged a failed military coup against the elected government the night before. After he had turned himself in, he appeared on television to call upon his co-conspirators to follow suit. The appearance became one of his greatest moments.

"First of all, I would like to say good morning to the Venezuelan people," Chávez said. "Unfortunately, at least for now, we were unable to achieve our goals in the capital." He added that he hoped there were would soon be different ways to provide the nation with a better destiny.

The TV appearance transformed the previously unknown officer into a popular hero. Blanco, together with other women, visited him in prison. It marked the beginning of his uncanny popularity, which catapulted him into the presidency in the 1998 free elections.

"Do you believe me when I tell you how upset I am that we let him on TV at the time, without editing his appearance?" asked Diego Arria, as he sits under a 200-year-old wild cashew tree in his garden in Caracas's upscale Country Club neighborhood. The 74-year-old politician made his fortune with the country's first mobile communications company.

Arria, a former ambassador to the United Nations and close advisor to former President Carlos Andrés Pérez, was in the palace when Chávez carried out his attempted coup. Last year, Arria ran unsuccessfully in the opposition primaries.

When Chávez ranted against the country's old oligarchy, he was referring to people like Arria. Three years ago, he announced on "Aló Presidente" that he was going to confiscate Arria's farm because nothing was being produced and there weren't even any cows there. Arria then displayed images of cows on the Internet, but the army turned up nonetheless. Children were bussed in to swim in the pool. Arria still has the real estate magazines depicting the attractive house and sprawling pool.

"Well, the pool wasn't really that big," he says, noting that it was only a 400-hectare (990-acre) property. "I told Chávez on television: 'You are corrupting minors by teaching them to steal.'" But now the farm is gone, and Arria says that it is sadly missed. Even more so, he misses the good, old Venezuela of the 1970s and 80s, when he was governor of Caracas and the country was far from being as polarized as it is today

Opposition Alleges Corruption

At the time, power was divided between social democrats and conservatives. The political elite was considered corrupt, and a longing for change brought Chávez into power. While Arria acknowledges the failures of the old guard, he says the country is far more corrupt now. Never have so many people struck it rich by such dubious means as under Chávez, says Arria, "the government, the opposition, businesspeople, everyone."

The businessman is now one of the most radical members of the opposition. He calls the government a "de-facto regime" and says that Maduro and his cabinet lack all legitimacy. Since Chávez never officially began his fourth term in office, Arria explains, Maduro is not the official vice-president. It's a sentiment widely shared among the opposition.

"Maduro is the Cuban candidate," says Arria. He believes that the Castros control Venezuela. "The Cubans produce our identification cards and passports, they control record offices, the army and the intelligence service, and they know everything about us."

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was a political and actual father figure for Chávez, his only idol next to Simon Bolivar. Castro, for his part, saw Chávez as his true political heir. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Venezuelans subsidized the ailing island economy with cheap oil, ensuring the Castro regime's survival.

Chávez began focusing more heavily on the Cuban model in 2007, nationalizing companies and expropriating landowners. But the government cooperatives proved to be inefficient and corrupt. Very little is actually produced in Venezuela. Even staple foods, which could easily be produced there, are imported from Mexico and Brazil. A state capitalism masquerading as socialism dominates the economy, with economic development depending solely on the price of oil.

The state-owned oil company PDVSA is Venezuela's economic engine. Chávez used its revenues to fund his social programs. But oil production has been declining for years, even though the country has enormous reserves. And despite its massive wealth, Venezuela has failed to create functioning institutions.

'Chavism Is a Feeling'
Vladimir Villegas once believed in Chávez. The 43-year-old wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a pink shirt was a member of the National Assembly, participated in the passage of the constitution, was a former ambassador for the Chávez government and then served as head of Venezuelan state TV. He says that Chávez embodied hope but then failed to live up to his promises.

Six years, ago Villegas fell out with Chávez, because he was against reforming the constitution again. He was ejected from the inner circle, his office was vandalized and the word "traitor" was written on the walls. He is now working as a radio journalist again, while, ironically, his brother Ernesto serves as information minister.

Villegas says that it's too early to pass judgment on the Chávez era. He is one of the few people who do not see the Caudillo as exclusively black or white, even though he was deeply disappointed by him. Chávez, says Villegas, gave the poor a feeling of belonging. People felt they were being taken seriously, which is not insignificant, he adds. Chávez raised the literacy level within a large segment of the population, strengthened the healthcare system, reduced inequality and raised pensions. There is also the 1999 constitution, he adds, one of the most democratic in Latin America.

But the president also deepened divisions within society, impeded democratic dialogue and sidelined his critics, says Villegas. He also failed to tackle crime, and Caracas has become one of the world's most dangerous cities. The Venezuelan currency is depreciating rapidly and the supermarkets are empty.

"Perhaps there were indeed more positive than negative things," says Villegas at the end of his enumeration. "But the negatives are very substantial."

Then the news arrives that the government intends to have Chávez embalmed and laid out in state in a glass coffin -- an eternal president. "Chavism is a feeling, and it won't go away," says Villegas. "This is the first time a democracy is embalming a head of state. They need the power of this icon."

National Mythology

The government is in the process of creating Chavism without Chávez. The dead president, together with his ideology, is to be permanently written into the nation's mythology, thereby depriving the opposition of its legitimacy.

Hardly anyone believes that the opposition can win the election, which is set to take place on April 14. It is highly likely that Maduro will succeed Chávez, who had asked the people to "choose Nicolás Maduro" in his last TV appearance. Maduro is a former bus driver, and he also went to the same secondary school as Villegas. They are no longer on speaking terms, but Villegas believes it is at least possible that Maduro could be a more pragmatic president than Chávez.

Nevertheless, the economic crisis, inflation and crime will make life difficult for the new president in the next few years. Although he has begun to imitate the Comandante, including his folksy tone and way of speaking, his authority is merely borrowed.

"Because of Chávez's charisma and his allure, the Chavistas have digested inflation, violence and all of the country's other problems," said sociologist Tulio Hernández. "Without him, a pothole is a pothole and 28 percent inflation is 28 percent inflation."

Zuilma Blanco will vote for Maduro because it was the Comandante's will. Chávez has always provided for her, she says, so he must have known what would be best for his people after his death. At times, she sounds robotic as she ceaselessly repeats Chávez's slogans and those of his supporters. Nevertheless, she deeply believes in them.

On Thursday, Blanco is waiting beside the boulevard leading the military academy, in the middle of a line that seems to continue endlessly in either direction. She has come to see her president, even if it means standing in line day and night.

"Jesus lived to serve," says Blanco. "And so did our president."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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