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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1077315 times)
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« Reply #5415 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:19 AM »

March 29, 2013

Southern Town in Syria Is Seized by Rebel Fighters


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Syrian antigovernment activists reported the rebel seizure of a strategically important town in southern Syria on Friday only a few miles from the Jordanian border, which if confirmed would represent a new setback for government forces, who have already ceded territory to the insurgency in the north and east.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment group in Britain with contacts throughout Syria, said rebel fighters secured the town, Dael, after more than a day of clashes in which three military checkpoints were destroyed and more than 24 combatants and at least nine civilians were killed.

The town, with a population of about 40,000, sits on an important north-south highway that connects Damascus to Dara’a, the southern city that was the birthplace of the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that turned into a civil war.

“The entire town, which is on the Damascus-Dara’a road, is now outside the control of government forces,” the Syrian Observatory said in its daily dispatch on the fighting.

The Dawn of Islam Brigade, a rebel faction from southern Syria formed in December and now affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, led the battle for Dael, according to Internet videos from the town, including one showing a Syrian Army tank in flames.

Rami Abdulrahman, the founder of the Syrian Observatory, said in a telephone interview that the seizure of Dael was significant because it could prevent the military from using the north-south highway for funneling war matériel between Damascus and Dara’a. The highway is also an important doorway to Jordan, which Mr. Abdulrahman said was a point of entry for weapons and ammunition that is channeled to the rebels.

“The importance of Dael is its location,” he said.

Outside experts who have been following the progression of the war also said the seizure of Dael was significant because fighting in that area of southern Syria has been raging for weeks. Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an e-mail, “It’s a big win in a long war, and a loss of that area is strategic.”

There was no independent way to confirm whether the rebel occupation of Dael was temporary, or to ascertain whether the military would respond with overwhelming force, as Mr. Assad’s forces have done many times before in efforts to retake contested areas.

Mohammed Qadah, a Dara’a representative of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main opposition group, said in a telephone interview that the military had been “raining mortars and shells” on Dael since rebels had destroyed the last of the military checkpoints early Friday, and that at least two other villages on the Damascus-Dara’a highway remained under government control.

The Syrian military has increasingly resorted to the use of warplanes, helicopters and missiles to rout rebel forces. But the military’s ability to fight back and hold territory has eroded after two years of fighting. It retains at least a partial grip on most major cities, but has relinquished authority in parts of the north bordering Turkey and in the northeast near Iraq. This month, rebel forces seized control of Raqqa, a provincial capital in the northeast, and have held it.

Turkey is a major supporter of the Syrian opposition, but has denied Mr. Assad’s accusations that it is arming the rebels. As if to illustrate their government’s position, Turkish officials on Friday showed journalists weapons they said had been intended for rebel use, including more than 5,000 hunting rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, impounded from a warehouse near the border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa Province. Turkey’s semiofficial Anatolia News Agency said the warehouse owner had been arrested.

In Damascus, the Syrian state news media said inquiries had begun into a mortar attack on Thursday that hit the main university’s architectural engineering school, killing at least 10 students in an outdoor cafe. The attack, one of the worst in the capital, was blamed by the government on terrorists, its generic term for the armed opposition.

The Ministry of Higher Education, in a statement reported by the official SANA news agency, “affirmed that Syrian universities and institutes will remain centers for spreading science and knowledge, in addition to refuting the criminal thought practiced by the armed terrorist groups.”

Hala Droubi reported from Dubai, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon.
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« Reply #5416 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:20 AM »

March 29, 2013

Voting Irregularities in Kenya Election Are Confirmed, Adding Fuel to Dispute


NAIROBI, Kenya — The landmark legal challenge to Kenya’s presidential election wrapped up on Friday, and the last bits of evidence confirmed what many had suspected from the beginning: there were definitely voting irregularities, but were they big enough to change the outcome?

Earlier this month, Kenya’s election commission announced that Uhuru Kenyatta, a son of Kenya’s first president, had won 50.07 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff and clinching the presidency by a few thousand ballots.

But the second-place finisher, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, cried foul, saying the vote had been rigged, and he promptly filed a petition in front of Kenya’s newly re-formed Supreme Court, asking for the election to be nullified.

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court released results from a retallying of votes from a sampling of polling places. The recount showed that indeed there were some discrepancies in the vote totals from a handful of polling places, and that in some areas there were no official forms backing up the numbers the election commission used.

But Mr. Kenyatta’s legal team played down the mistakes. “There is no mischief,” said Fred Ngatia, Mr. Kenyatta’s lawyer.

He chalked up the discrepancies to human fallibility, saying, “Understandably, our young brothers and sisters across the country conducting this election on our behalf may have made one or two clerical errors.”

But Mr. Odinga’s lawyers staunchly disagree. They have claimed there was a conspiracy to rig the election, and they have argued that because Mr. Kenyatta skirted a runoff by such a tiny margin, some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million, the errors that have been discovered are enough to mandate a new election.

“You cannot rely on the results,” George Oraro, Mr. Odinga’s lawyer, told the court on Friday. He said the sample recount revealed “grave errors.”

Kenya’s Supreme Court, a panel of five men and one woman in green robes, said it would issue a decision on Saturday, preferably before dark. The justices have been holding hearings for several days on a number of election complaints and legal issues, including questions about the voter rolls and whether to include rejected ballots in the total number of votes cast.

“We have a mountain of stuff to do,” Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said on Friday. “It’s going to be very, very tough for us.”

Many Kenyans are anxious about what the reaction will be. If the court upholds Mr. Kenyatta’s win, will Mr. Odinga’s supporters riot like they did in 2007, when Mr. Odinga ran for president and lost amid widespread evidence of vote rigging? That disputed election set off ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,000 people and led to nationwide soul-searching and some important reforms, like the new Supreme Court.

But if the court rules against Mr. Kenyatta and orders a runoff or a new election, what will his passionate supporters do? Mr. Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, accused of using his vast family fortune to bankroll death squads during the election chaos of 2007 and early 2008.

So far, this election cycle has been peaceful, partly because of a widespread public education campaign and entreaties by politicians like Mr. Odinga to settle grievances in the courts, not the streets.
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« Reply #5417 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Homegrown crystal meth industry sparks west Africa crime wave

Clandestine methamphetamine laboratories discovered in Nigeria signal disturbing new chapter in regional drug trade

Monica Mark in Lagos, Friday 29 March 2013 17.34 GMT   

One May evening last year, as a tropical downpour lashed Lagos, Nigerian drug enforcement agents received the tipoff that would lead to a game-changing bust. Hours earlier, Baez Benitez Milan, a car dealer from Paraguay, had entered the country, telling airport officials that this, one of Africa's most notoriously gridlocked, chaotic cities, was ideal for plying his motor trade.

Instead, he drove to an unfinished, weed-choked building on the deserted outskirts of town, and holed up there for weeks. When agents eventually stormed the building, they found an amphetamine-producing factory capable of churning out 25kg of white crystal meth powder, or "ice", every few hours. Benitez Milan was, in fact, a Colombian drug runner named Gonzalo Osorio, whose skills in the rapid setup of clandestine laboratories commanded a $38,000 (£25,000) weekly fee. The factory, one of an intended three, was among the earliest to be discovered in west Africa, and signalled a disturbing new chapter in the regional drug trade.

For the past decade, west Africa's creek-lined coast has been a pipeline for trafficking South American cocaine to Europe and Asia. About $1.25bn of illicit trade has passed through annually, responsible in part for destabilising huge swathes of the region, from Mali's recent turmoil to the narco-state of Guinea-Bissau. But now homegrown criminal syndicates that previously earned cuts by providing mules for Latin American cartels are cooking up their own slice of the global drug pie. Their narcotic of choice is methamphetamine, a highly profitable powder concocted using readily available and legal ingredients.

"This is the next niche for criminal groups in west Africa because you can easily cook it at home, and you can easily adjust it for supply and demand. It is slowly but surely spreading in the region," said Pierre Lapaque, head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime in west Africa, whose latest report highlights the rising trade.

Four large-scale crystal meth labs have been discovered in Nigeria. Shipments of precursor chemicals have been seized in neighbouring Benin and Togo and in Guinea officials discovered huge vats used to cook MDMA, a similar synthetic drug.

Bola, a lanky drug baron with twitching hands who is based in downtown Lagos, said only local wrestlers bought synthetic drugs when he started peddling eight years ago. "It was difficult to sell. Now the guys selling [meth] to big boys and foreigners in the VIP dens can no longer come to areas like this because they will be robbed. Everybody knows they make big money," he said.

Behind Bola's stifling, corrugated iron shop selling dusty cartons of soft drinks is a warren of cramped brick-walled rooms barely high enough to stand up in. Ghoulish in the occasional shard of sunlight piercing through the haze, dealers and glassy-eyed users slump on wooden benches, hunch over chessboards or incessantly chop and wrap mounds of crystalline powder.

Most international orders come from South Africa and more recently Asia "because many people are afraid to go. The punishment there if they should catch you … " Bola mimed a knife across his throat, indicating the death penalty.

A kilo of meth exported to south-east Asia, where some countries have reported a 250% increase in traffickers from west Africa arrested over five years, brings in $45,000. In Bola's den, poorer users pay $1.20 for a single hit.

Crystal meth was traditionally brewed by US biker gangs but laws were tightened in 2005, curbing production. Thousands of miles away, there was unintended fallout. "Cocaine trafficking was falling because we were making record seizures. Suddenly we started making more and more interceptions of methamphetamine leaving the country, but nothing at all was coming in. We realised criminals had started making it within our borders," said Mitchell Ofojeyu, an official at the heavily guarded headquarters of Nigeria's drug enforcement agency.

Some worry the effects of this new trade will spill over into local communities, raising the spectre of rising crime and health problems.

"The warning signals are there that this really is a problem that could run amok in years ahead if comparable resources aren't devoted to the human consumption side," said Alan Doss, a senior adviser at the Geneva-based Kofi Annan Foundation.

For now, widespread unfamiliarity among the local population has sometimes got in the way of curbing the trade. When Nigerian officials discovered their first meth factory, they wanted to storm the site immediately.

"We didn't realise the chemicals were so poisonous. It was our international partners who told us: 'Look, you basically have to kit yourself up as if you're going to the moon'," said Ofojeyu.
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« Reply #5418 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Christians in Libya braced for Easter trouble from Islamists

Catholic priest shot at on Tripoli church steps, and dozens of Christians arrested for proselytising

Christopher Stephen in Tripoli, Friday 29 March 2013 17.29 GMT   

Palm Sunday at Tripoli's Anglican church is normally a joyous affair, with expatriate Christians parading in the spacious front yard with traditional palm branches. Not this year.

Fearing the attention of Islamist militants after recent attacks on churches and the arrest of dozens of Christians accused of proselytising, the church cancelled last weekend's planned parade.

"We usually celebrate with pomp, but I said no," said the Rev Vasihar Baskaran, vicar of the church of Christ the King, in Tripoli's picturesque Old Town, a popular venue for British, American, African and Asian worshippers. "I thought it was better not to attract the attention of bad elements. I told the congregation: when the service is finished, don't stand in the churchyard and drink tea and have fun, just go home."

It is the same story at the nearby Catholic church of St Francis, which has closed its doors outside service hours after a uniformed gunman shot at a priest on the church steps.

Libya has no recognised Christian community, but the small collection of churches serving foreign residents are braced for trouble at this weekend's Easter services.

Earlier this month jihadist militants set Benghazi's Coptic church ablaze with the priest inside it; his life was saved by local Muslim residents rushing into the flames. That followed the killing of two Egyptian worshippers in the bombing of another Coptic church in Misrata earlier this year. Tripoli's Coptic church has a 24-hour police guard; the Greek Orthodox church has closed, its priest returning to Greece after he was shot at outside his home.

Meanwhile, Libya's defence ministry has begun a crackdown on Christians accused of proselytising, beginning in February with the arrest of an American, an Egyptian, a South African and a South Korean accused of spreading Christian literature in Benghazi.

A further 48 Egyptian Copts were arrested in the same city, triggering protests and the burning of the Libyan flag in Cairo when one of the arrested died in custody.

The arrests were made by the Office of Preventive Security, a defence ministry unit tasked with defending Libya's Islamic culture.

At its military compound on the outskirts of Benghazi, preventive security commander Abdul Salam Barghathi showed off a collection of Bibles and Christian tracts in English and Arabic that he said were among 55,000 books seized in a raid on an evangelist warehouse.

"They were printing these in the city. Some of these books were given to children," he said.

Barghathi said the arrested Christians were shortly to be released as a "diplomatic gesture". "Anything that comes from abroad can be an invasion against our ideas and our thoughts, which can be a danger to homeland security," he said. "David Cameron has a famous saying. He said, 'Concerning the homeland security, don't ask about human rights'. I saw it on Facebook."

A few miles away the city's Coptic church is a blackened, abandoned ruin. Inside, wrecked furniture lies amid smashed stained glass and charred pews, reeking of smoke and rotting fruit from the ransacked kitchen.

Neighbour Abdul Muhammad said local Muslims saved the life of the priest after militants set the building ablaze. "We didn't know the priest was inside, then we heard him shouting. One of our guys took his gun and threatened to shoot anyone harming the priest, and we managed to get him out and drive him to the [Egyptian] consulate."

It is far from clear that jihadist militants enjoy widespread support; rather, they operate in a security vacuum in a country hamstrung by weak and divided government. The Benghazi church attack, like that by Islamists who killed US ambassador Chris Stevens at the American consulate in September, has triggered revulsion in a city which was the cradle of Libya's Arab spring revolution. "Trust me, the Christians are our friends, we get on with them," said Muhammad. "Our revolution was about freedom."

Meged Labib, an Egyptian Christian market trader, who showed a small blue cross tattooed on his wrist, agreed. "Really, we have no troubles with most people in Benghazi, I have Muslim friends here."

But he admitted being nervous. "Our priest fled to Egypt; I don't think they will repair the church. For now, we hold services at home."

Barghathi insisted his forces would protect churches, and condemned the militant attacks, but advised Christians not to attempt to spread their faith in Libya. "They should be careful. Anything that touches our religion offends us very badly. I don't really advise the Egyptians to get another church now."

Back in Tripoli, Baskaran insists Easter services will go ahead, albeit with the church door closed. "We will use the Easter services to pray for Libya. There is so much good in this country," he said.

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« Reply #5419 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Fewer Israelis see Obama as pro-Palestinian: poll

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 29, 2013 7:41 EDT

Fewer Israelis see US President Barack Obama as pro-Palestinian since his landmark visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank last week, according to an opinion poll published on Friday.

The poll carried by the English-language Jerusalem Post found that just 16 percent of respondents said Obama was “pro-Palestinian” against 36 percent before the March 20 to 22 visit.

The proportion who said he was “pro-Israeli” rose only slightly from 26 percent to 27 percent but the proportion who said he was “neutral” climbed sharply from 26 percent to 39 percent.

On his first visit to Israel as president, Obama pledged an “eternal” alliance with the Jewish state in the face of the threat from Iran and made a visible effort to turn a new page in his personal relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been marred by several public spats.

The poll was carried out among a representative sample of 500 Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, and the pollsters gave a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
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« Reply #5420 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Cyprus will not leave the euro, says President Nicos Anastasiades

Cypriots and eurozone told threat of bankruptcy lifted for now and bank restrictions will be eased eventually

Reuters in Nicosia, Friday 29 March 2013 12.32 GMT   

The president of Cyprus said on Friday that the risk of bankruptcy had been contained and the country had no intention of leaving the euro.

In a speech laden with criticism of Europe's currency union for experimenting with the island's fate, Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades spoke a day after banks reopened following an almost two-week shutdown to avert a run on deposits by worried Cypriots and wealthy foreign depositors.

Anastasiades said restrictions imposed on bank transactions in Cyprus – unprecedented in the currency bloc since euro coins and banknotes entered circulation in 2002 – would be gradually lifted. But he gave no timeframe.

Cyprus's difficulties have sent jitters around the fragile single European currency zone, and the imposition of capital controls has led economists to warn that a second-class Cyprus euro could emerge, with funds trapped on the island worth less than euros that can be freely spent abroad.

In a speech to civil servants in the capital, Nicosia, Anastasiades hit out at banking authorities in Cyprus and Europe for pouring money into a crippled Cypriot bank that now faces closure under the terms of the €10bn (£8.4bn) bailout plan that averted the immediate risk of financial meltdown.

"How serious were those authorities that permitted the financing of a bankrupt bank to the highest possible amount?" Anastasiades said.

"I don't want to say more," he added. "Now is not the time to say who bears more or less of the blame."

Anastasiades clinched the last-ditch bailout in Brussels five days ago, but has faced a backlash from Cypriots angry at the price that came with it – the winding down of the island's second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular Bank or Laiki, and an unprecedented raid on deposits over €100,000 that could spell the end of Cyprus as a hub for offshore finance. The country faces steep job losses and a prolonged and deep recession.

The president, barely a month in the job and wrestling with Cyprus's worst crisis since a 1974 war split the island in two, accused the 17-nation euro currency bloc of making "unprecedented demands that forced Cyprus to become an experiment". But he added: "We have no intention of leaving the euro. In no way will we experiment with the future of our country."

European leaders have insisted the raid on big bank deposits in Cyprus is a one-off in their handling of a debt crisis that refuses to be contained.

But policymakers are divided, and the waters were muddied a day after the deal was inked when the Dutch chair of the eurozone's finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said it would serve as a model for the handling of future crises.

Faced with a market backlash, Dijsselbloem rowed back. But on Friday European Central Bank governing council member Klaas Knot, a fellow Dutchman, said there was little wrong with his assessment.

"The content of his remarks comes down to an approach which has been on the table for a longer time in Europe," Knot was quoted as saying by Dutch daily Het Financieele Dagblad. "This approach will be part of the European liquidation policy," he said, in comments a spokesman said were accurately reported.

The government initially said the controls would stay in place for seven days, but foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Thursday they could last about a month.

Economists warn it could be much longer before confidence in the Cypriot economy bounces back enough to lift the restrictions.


Cyprus crisis: fears reach across 'dead zone' of divided island

Bankrolled by resurgent Turkey, northern Cypriots have little sympathy for economic troubles in south of the island

Helena Smith in Nicosia, Friday 29 March 2013 19.59 GMT   

From the street in front of his shop not far from the UN-patrolled "dead zone" that runs through Cyprus like a scar, Ozkan Zeki offers his opinion about the great economic crisis that has struck the island's Greek-controlled south.

At 76, the Turkish Cypriot is among the few who still have memories of mingling with Greeks before war entrenched the two ethnic communities behind a weed-infested no man's land in 1974. As such, he says, he feels like a Cypriot and doesn't want to gloat at his compatriots' financial woes.

"We don't want to laugh at them because this can happen to anyone," he insists, looking up from a wooden chair placed between rows of gaudy T-shirts at the entrance of his clothes store. "This is an ambush, in my view, an ambush aimed at giving them a lesson."

But in the next breath, he adds that he thinks his Cypriot brothers are not without fault. "I think they deserve it because their nose was too big. They were arrogant, always looking down at us, smiling like they love you but never from their heart."

Zeki is not alone in expressing a sense of schadenfreude at the fate that has befallen Greek Cypriots. Decades of international isolation for a rump state recognised only by Turkey has brought a hardening of views. Expat Britons who have settled in the northern republic – under economic embargo since it unilaterally declared independence in 1983 – are often unabashedly critical of Greek Cypriots.

Above the picturesque port of Kyrenia, in the jasmine-scented village of Bellapais – immortalised by Lawrence Durrell in Bitter Lemons, his autobiographical account of living in Cyprus in the 1950s – they openly evoke the divisions that have long racked the island.

"They've made our life hell for the past 38 years," said Deirdre Guthrie, who was raised on the island and knew Durrell as a child. "They've had their come-uppance," continued Guthrie who runs a small garden cafe in the village. "I don't have much sympathy for them."

Bankrolled exclusively by a resurgent Turkey, riding a wave of new-found confidence on the back of one of the world's fastest growing economies, the breakaway state has suddenly experienced a reversal of fortunes. In sharp contrast to the south, where trade has fallen sharply in recent years, the financial crisis is barely noticeable in the north, even if living standards still lag far behind and the presence of 45,000 mainland Turkish troops gives it the air of a garrison town.

But the territory also stands to lose business in the maelstrom of the south's economic meltdown. Prolonged recession as a result of the collapse of the Greeks' oversized banking sector – the price of aid from international creditors – will inevitably effect the few areas of co-operation that have emerged since barriers on free movement were lifted between the two communities less than a decade ago. In the casinos that dot the north, owners rue the sudden dearth of Greek Cypriot customers.

And in the slick modern building that houses the territory's chamber of commerce in northern Nicosia, officials openly fret about the fallout from the crisis.

"I am not at all happy about it," said its president, Gunay Cerkez.

"Around 2,500 Turkish Cypriots work, on a daily basis, in all walks of life in the south and it is very likely that most will lose their jobs because of the economy's shrinkage. Trade in goods, currently worth around €5m, will also contract."

Cerkez now finds himself in the paradoxical position of calling Europe's treatment of the Greek Cypriot government – whose campaign has thwarted international recognition of the north – "totally unfair."

"We have estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 Greek Cypriot companies will either go bankrupt or their business will be significantly reduced … so, no, we are not overjoyed by what is happening there," he adds. "The troika's model is totally unfair. In Greece they [EU and IMF] didn't make depositors cough up," he said, referring to the enforced losses on holders of deposits in excess of €100,000 (£84,450).

The divided island's membership of the EU – followed by its entry to the eurozone five years ago – was seen as a big victory for Greek Cypriots.

On Friday, six days after his insolvent country was forced to go cap in hand to the EU and IMF to avoid crashing out of the single currency, President Nicos Anastasiades said the €10bn bailout deal Cyprus had signed with its creditors had effectively contained the crisis.

"We have averted the risk of bankruptcy," he told a gathering of civil servants in the divided capital.

"The situation, despite the tragedy of it all, is contained. We have no intention of leaving the euro." But officials in the north are not so sure. Many fear that Anastasiades, a moderate in reconciliation efforts, will be sidetracked by the quagmire Cyprus now finds itself in and will be forced to delay reaching a solution.

"The fact that our southern neighbours have gone into this kind of crisis does not please us," said Dervis Eroglu, the north's president. "This may be one of the factors that is likely to delay a settlement. It may also force our good friend Mr Anastasiades to spend all his energy on economic problems and have less time to devote to the negotiation process."

On both sides of the "green line" that bisects Cyprus, memories of co-existence are fading fast. In the highly charged atmosphere of ethnic rivalry the rhetoric of hate is never far beneath the surface.

But among Greeks and Turks there are those who say the economic crisis should now be used to finally resolve the dispute.

"If the Greek Cypriots had agreed to reunite with us back in 2004," said bookstore owner Ali Rustem, invoking the last UN peace plan for the island, which the Turkish Cypriots supported but the Greeks did not, "commercially they would be much better off than they are today. They have to learn to forgive and forget the past."

Outside his shop, just meters away from the bullet-ridden sandbags and rusty gun ports of the barricades that are still a potent symbol of division, Ozkan Zeki agrees.

"I often go to the other side to see my friends," he smiles. "I speak Greek. As a Cypriot, I want reunification."


Cyprus bailout threatens Germany's 'special relationship' with Russia

Concerns mount in Berlin that it will take brunt of Kremlin's anger over losses incurred by Russian investors as part of EU deal

Miriam Elder in Moscow and Luke Harding, Friday 29 March 2013 17.33 GMT   

Kremlin anger over its losses in the Cyprus bailout could put the nail in the coffin of the "special relationship" shared by Germany and Russia, German businessmen and advisers increasingly fear.

"Of course there are tensions, there's no secret about it," said one adviser to the German and Russian governments, who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm afraid for relations. If the Germans crumble, then Russia has absolutely no ally in Europe anymore."

Russia's relations with the west have plummeted since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency last year amid unprecedented protests. A sustained crackdown against his critics – including the jailing of protesters, new laws limiting free speech and a recent raid on international human rights groups – has prompted growing criticism from European capitals.

The final straw could be Cyprus. Many Russian billionaires and state-run businesses – and, according to some Russian media, Putin himself – stand to lose great amounts of money from the EU bailout deal. Russian anger has been loud – and largely directed at Berlin. Some state-run media have presented the EU bailout as a German plot to punish Russia.

"The Cyprus problem was initiated by the German secret services," read a recent headline on Voice of Russia, a Kremlin-owned radio station. Alexander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin adviser, warned last week that in the case of big losses, "Moscow will be looking for ways to punish the EU", including freezing or taxing the assets of large German companies operating in Russia.

The stakes are potentially huge. Russia is Germany's second largest trading partner after China, with bilateral trade reaching $72bn (£47bn) in 2011. The Nord Stream pipeline, opened that year, solidified the country's energy ties.

Their trade ties have stood independent of a political relationship that has steadily worsened since Gerhard Schröder stood down as chancellor in 2005 – not least because of Putin's personal affinity for the country. He is fluent in the language, having served as a KGB agent in East Germany just before the Soviet Union collapsed.

He built a strong personal friendship with Schröder, who once referred to the longtime Russian ruler as an "immaculate democrat". Putin repaid him handsomely, handing him a lucrative job on the board of Nord Stream after he left office. He also helped Schröder adopt two Russian children.

His successor Angela Merkel – who speaks fluent Russian and grew up in communist east Germany – did not have the same rapport with Putin as her predecessor. Her aides recall how during one meeting in Sochi, Putin deliberately let his dog sniff the chancellor's legs; Merkel has a well-known aversion to dogs. "Typical KGB," one of the chancellor's aides complained.

"Mrs Merkel has a much more pragmatic approach to the Russian reality than did Mr Schröder," said an influential German businessperson who has been working in Russia since the Soviet collapse. "His opinion on Russia was different and, you have to remember, Russia was different."

In his third term, Putin has unleashed a relentless campaign to silence his critics, and a simultaneous foreign policy attacking the west. Those two vectors came together this week, when Russian prosecutors and tax officials raided dozens of non-governmental groups around the country, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and two German NGOs. The inspectors appeared to be particularly tough on the German funds – the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in St Petersburg, allied to Merkel's CDU party, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Moscow, linked to Germany's Social Democrats – confiscating computers and documents.

Berlin has reacted indignantly to the unprecedented raids. Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister, warned that the raids would have a "sustained effect on bilateral relations".

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung bluntly observed that Putin's "authoritarian regime" was "slowly transforming into a bona fide dictatorship". The business paper Handelsblatt said: "Such political tensions can have a far-reaching effect, including on businesses in both countries." For the first time, German firms were now looking "sceptically" at the worrying developments inside Russia, it said.

Russian officials have also begun lashing out at the German press. Alexey Pushkov, the head of the Duma's committee on international relations, tweeted on Friday: "It's time to come to the conclusion that the German press is undemocratic, unpluralistic and has turned into anti-Russian agitprop."

The German business community is beginning to show concern. "I don't think Russia is interested in putting pressure on German companies," said another businessperson who has been working in Russia for 17 years. "It's not useful for them. But things might change if the Russian authorities continue to search our funds and NGOs – this really is an act that concerns the authorities in Germany and social opinion."

With federal elections approaching in September, Germany's relationship to undemocratic powers such as Russia and China is due to be a key theme, the adviser said. "The Russian position is: Yes, Mrs Merkel and the Germans are doing an election campaign on our backs and taking our money away."

As the crisis in Cyprus unravelled, Putin welcomed China's new premier, Xi Jinping, on his first trip abroad. They signed a host of deals, including a series of oil agreements and promises to reach a long-awaited gas deal later this year. It was the latest move in Putin's turn away from the west, which has long been seeking ways to ween itself off Russian energy.

A test for Russian-German relations will come on 7 April, when Putin visits the country. The last time he and Merkel met, the two clashed over Russia's human rights record, including the jailing of the punk band Pussy Riot. This visit will come in the wake of growing German anger over the treatment of its NGOs. The Kremlin has yet to comment on whether Putin will travel with his dog.

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« Reply #5421 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Slovenia could be next candidate for eurozone bailout

Former Yugoslav republic is struggling with troubled banking sector that threatens to bring down economy

Josephine Moulds, Thursday 28 March 2013 15.04 GMT   

Slovenia – famed for not very much – is fast emerging as the latest contender for a eurozone bailout.

Nestling between Croatia and Italy, this country of almost 2 million people may be best remembered in the UK for losing to England at the last football World Cup.

With risotto from Italy, goulash from Hungary and strudel from Austria, its cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbours. But when it comes to its finances, Slovenia follows more closely in the footsteps of Spain and Ireland, with a large, troubled banking sector that threatens to bring down its economy.

The once-booming former Yugoslav republic was plunged into recession by the economic crisis, which dented demand for its exports of manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals and food. The economy is expected to shrink by at least 2% this year.

But the statistic that has everyone concerned is the €7bn (£6bn) of bad loans on Slovenian banks' books, an amount equivalent to around a fifth of its GDP. The rating agency Moody's has already downgraded Slovenia's second largest bank, and the IMF has estimated that the government needs to recapitalise Slovenian lenders to the tune of at least €1bn.

Perhaps most worrying is the fact that the prime minister, Alenka Bratušek, was moved to say this week that her country would not be seeking a bailout.

Bond investors are not taking any chances. Prices of Slovenian government debt have plunged, sending yields rising by an eye-watering 0.8% on Wednesday alone. Slovenia's 10-year debt is now yielding around 6.15%, not far from the 6.49% yield on 10-year bonds from Portugal, which is already in a bailout programme.

Laurence Wormald at SunGard Financial Systems said: "The evidence suggests that action will be needed by Slovenia within the next two, three months. However, a bail-in is likely to be less drastic than the one in Cyprus, since Slovenian banks are much less leveraged than those of Cyprus. Also Slovenia is different from Cyprus in one crucial respect, in that Slovenia has not created a large offshore banking centre."

After Slovenia, who's next? The research house Capital Economics has its money on Malta and Luxembourg.

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« Reply #5422 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:40 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi reiterates call for grand coalition government in Italy

Former PM says 'no other solution' than a coalition including his own Freedom People party can break political deadlock

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 29 March 2013 19.29 GMT   

Silvio Berlusconi has positioned himself as a benevolent statesman acting in the best interests of Italy as he reiterated his call for a grand coalition government with his opponents to break the political deadlock after last month's election.

As he emerged on Friday from a meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano, the head of state who has led a series of day closed-doors consultations with the parties, Berlusconi said there was "no other solution" than a broad coalition government that included his own centre-right Freedom People (PdL) party.

Touting it as a government of "professionalism and responsibility as well as common sense", the three-time prime minister said his rightwing alliance with the regionalist Northern League would accept Pier Luigi Bersani, the centre-left Democratic party (PD) leader, as premier.

But a technocrat or "quasi-technocrat" government was unacceptable, Berlusconi said, "given the negative and tragic experience" of the one led by Mario Monti, which is still in charge in a caretaker capacity and marks 500 days in office this weekend.

Berlusconi, 76, has been advocating the formation of a PD-PdL government since the paralysingly inconclusive election results nearly five weeks ago. Bersani, whose party has an outright majority in one house of parliament but not in the other, has consistently rejected it, not least because of the billionaire media mogul's desire to exert influence over the selection of Napolitano's successor as head of state.

On Friday, even after the embattled PD head admitted to Napolitano on Thursday that he had not been able to find the numbers for a government, the party's stance appeared no different.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement of former comedian Beppe Grillo, meanwhile, maintained its resolute opposition to giving its support to any government.

Such was the continuing deadlock that Napolitano, whom some had expected to announce a new name to try to form a government, was said to be taking more time to reflect on the impasse. A statement was expected

One scenario would be a so-called "government of the president", led by a well-known but less political figure, which would have a relatively short term and a restricted remit of reform.

If neither that nor a broad coalition can be agreed on, Monti's mandate as caretaker prime minister could theoretically be extended.

Napolitano is keen to avoid a quick return to the polls – which could, theoretically, happen as soon as June.

Berlusconi's PdL, meanwhile, is outperforming the PD in some recent polls, while attention in the PD is shifting to the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. An SWG survey published on Friday found 66% of Italians would like to see Renzi leading the centre-left in a new election.

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« Reply #5423 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Sicily revokes permission for US military satellite station

Regional government makes decision after protests by residents worried that satellite ground station could cause cancer

Reuters in Palermo, Friday 29 March 2013 19.34 GMT

The Sicilian regional government has revoked permission for the US to build a military satellite station on the island, its governor said on Friday, after protests by residents who said it could pose a health risk.

The planned ground station was part of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), an ultra high-frequency satellite network aimed at significantly boosting communications capacity for the US military and its allies. But residents around the town of Niscemi had feared that the electromagnetic waves could cause cancer.

The regional government of the semi-autonomous island last month delayed construction and called for an independent study into its health and environmental impact. The Italian government said this month the demonstrations risked compromising operations at Sigonella, a US naval base in Sicily.

"Through the relevant department, permission for the construction of MUOS has been definitively withdrawn," Sicilian governor Rosario Crocetta told reporters in the island's capital, Palermo. He did not say whether the decision to revoke permission for the site was related to the study.

His remarks came a day before a planned protest expected to draw several thousand in Niscemi, which local groups of the governor's own Democratic party were due to attend.

In a visit to Italy in January, then-US defence secretary Leon Panetta said he understood the concerns of residents but that US studies had concluded there would be no health risk. The US military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
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« Reply #5424 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:44 AM »

European watchdog accuses Britain of shameful rhetoric on migrants

Bulgarians and Romanians 'treated like a scourge' as immigration debate in UK takes worrying turn, says watchdog

Alan Travis and Shiv Malik   
The Guardian, Friday 29 March 2013 19.08 GMT   

The debate over immigration in Britain has taken a worrying turn and is fuelling stereotypes and hostility towards migrants, Europe's human rights watchdog has warned.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, has said it is simply unacceptable to treat Bulgarian and Romanian citizens like a scourge and says it is time to blow the whistle on such shameful rhetoric.

He also warned that British government moves to restrict the access of new European migrants to social security, housing and social security, will only increase their social exclusion, fuel anti-immigration rhetoric and create even more social problems in the long run.

Muiznieks told the Guardian: "The UK debate has taken a worrying turn as it depicts lower-skilled migrants as dangerous foreigners coming to steal jobs, lower salaries and spoil the health system.

"A stigma is put on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens just because of their origin. This is unacceptable because a state cannot treat Bulgarian and Romanian citizens differently from other EU citizens. They need to be treated as everyone else, not on the basis of assumptions or generalisations about their ethnic origin," said Muiznieks, a Latvian politician and human rights activist.

He says that British political leaders have a crucial role in turning round the heated political debates in Britain and Germany on the threat posed by a supposed imminent flood of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania once employment restrictions are lifted in January.

His warning comes after David Cameron's immigration speech on Monday, which he said risked feeding stereotypes and hostility towards migrants."

Cameron laid out plans to restrict health and housing benefits to migrant groups. In a speech widely seen as an attempt to fend off an electoral challenge from Ukip, the prime minister said he wanted to stop migrants claiming NHS treatment for free, and also ensure that UK residents got preferential treatment in social housing. But Cameron's speech unravelled later in the week when government estimates about the un-recouped cost of health provision to migrants from the 30-member European Economic Area varied between £20m as suggested by Downing Street, and £200m according the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The total NHS budget is £100bn.

Ministers have been drawing up other plans to keep overall immigration down. On Wednesday, the Guardian revealed that ministers are considering asking schools to check whether pupils are illegal migrants. According to a series of leaked emails, the inter-ministerial group on migrant access to benefits also contemplated banning an estimated 120,000 illegal migrant children from education.

On Friday the joint chairmen of the cross party balanced migration group, Labour's Frank Field and Conservative Nicholas Soames, called on Cameron to do more to restrict European immigration.

In an article for the Telegraph, they wrote that low skilled European migration was making it harder on the UK's young unemployed. "Most migrants who come to the UK to work take low-skilled jobs, as we saw following the earlier wave of eastern European migrants. With one million 18- to 24-year-olds out of work, allowing this to continue does not make sense, quite apart from the increasing pressure on our infrastructure.''

Muiznieks's intervention comes as a close political ally of Cameron, Sweden's prime minister, Fredrik Reinfelt, described the British plan to curb access for new migrants to public services as "unfortunate". Reinfelt said that when Sweden opened its borders to Romanians and Bulgarians it saw no evidence of people from those countries trying to abuse his country's generous benefits system.

"We didn't see this big social tourism that everyone warned us about and it might be wise to share that experience with others," said the Swedish PM. "I believe in a Europe that is open, where we have freedom of movement and where we should rather be asking the question of how to make it easier for people to come here and work."

Europe's human rights watchdog reinforced this telling the Guardian: "Let's face up to reality: people migrate because migrant labour is in demand. Migrant workers often fill gaps in sectors that locals have deserted and they contribute a great deal to the prosperity of a country both in terms of economic and financial output, as well as services offered."

Muiznieks said that British political leaders had to provide a positive lead in the immigration debate and acknowledge that the wealth produced by migrants profited everyone: "Migrants are crucial for our economies," he added.

He said that states had to take integration policy seriously for migration to contribute positively to society: "If migrants have no access to quality education, housing, health care and social security from the start, this will only increase their social exclusion. This in turn fuels anti-immigration rhetoric and xenophobia, and creates even more social problems in the long run. Immigrants should therefore enjoy the same social rights as other Europeans."

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« Reply #5425 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:54 AM »

03/29/2013 04:18 PM

A Son's Quest for Truth: The Last Battle of a German WWII Veteran

By Jürgen Dahlkamp

Heinz Otto Fausten, a German soldier who fought in World War II, saw things no one should ever have to see. After that, the high school teacher just concentrated on the future. But then his son started asking questions to find out whether he was a murderer.

Ottoooo..! That scream, that horrible scream, the scream that has echoed and reverberated in his head for the last 71 years. That scream, shrill and terrible, that only he can hear now, as he sits at his dining table in a small house at the end of a quiet, dead-end street, in a quiet living room with a vase of tulips and a gingerbread heart on the shelf, with the words "Opa is Fantastic" written on it with icing.


The scream transports Heinz Otto Fausten back 71 years to a trench in Kalikino, Russia, 2,240 kilometers (1,400 miles) away. The journey takes him a fraction of a second. Suddenly he is 21 again, and caught in a ruthless, violent world where life is about nothing but survival.

He is crouched on the ground next to his friend Ekkehardt. They are cowering in the trench, the entire company, one man next to the other. The trench is their only protection. Suddenly the company commander in front shouts to the soldiers behind him: "Fausten group to the front." Fausten doesn't move, sensing that whoever heeds the command is a dead man. "Don't say anything, Ekkehardt," he tells his friend, but Ekkehardt calls out: "We're coming."

There are eight men in the group, and their objective is to capture the village. They crawl past dead bodies and the wounded, the ones who have already tried and failed. The Russians are throwing everything they have into the attack: machine guns, antitank guns, hand grenades. Three men, Schreck, Degenhard and Mörscher, are killed immediately. A fourth man, Tritschler tumbles toward Fausten, his left hand dangling from his arm by the tendons. Tritschler rips off the nearly severed hand with his other hand.

Ekkehardt has been hit and is lying on the ground next to him. Fausten tries to get to his friend but runs into a counterattack, fires until his clip is empty and is forced to retreat. There are Russians and Germans everywhere, and everyone is running and shooting and trying to stay alive. Most of them fail, but Fausten runs and survives, carrying a wounded man on his back. Then he hears his friend Ekkehardt screaming: "Ottoooo..!" Again and again. Begging. Hoping. Despairing. Until suddenly the screaming stops. It happened in Kalikino, in October 1941.

The Force of Memory

It's 2013, and Fausten lives in the town of Sinzig, on the Rhine River. His voice trembles and his eyes are moist with tears. On this evening, the sheer force of memory has penetrated the wall he had erected around the past. Whenever Fausten used to talk about the war, like many of those who were part of it, it was with a strange sense of detachment. But even though he is now 92, he remembers what happened with photographic precision, as if the best way to describe the essence of the war is in the form of a military report. Or perhaps this levelheaded approach is the best way for men like Fausten to cope with the horrors of the war and how it affected the people who were in it.

Fausten reported how he, as a Panzergrenadier or mechanised infantryman, had attacked the Red Army in his armored personnel carrier, that the enemy's resistance had been "broken," that they had "raked" the enemy with machine-gun fire, that one of his comrades had fallen and the other one had escaped. The report also described what happened and who shot at whom, complete with ranks, names, places and the number of dead. It was a report written with the cold eyes of his generation, which saw things that would have been better unseen.

But this wasn't the kind of front-line report his son Peter wanted to hear from him. Not as a child, and certainly not as an adolescent, in the post-1968 era, when Germans were asking questions about blame and responsibility. And not now either, at 60, on that evening last week. Peter Fausten had always been interested in why, and not how, it all happened. He wanted to know why his father had participated, and whether he had lost more during those years in Russia than his right leg: whether he had lost his conscience as well.

It was a long road before Fausten, a teacher, was able to talk about it with his father, who always taught him that the Germans' war was the biggest crime of all time.

Praise for Film

Heinz Otto Fausten also saw the three-part miniseries "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers") on Germany's ZDF television network. Fausten, who became an art teacher and principal of the Sinzig high school after the war, says he would give the film a B grade. "It's true, it was really like that at the front," he says. There were a few minor errors, he adds. For instance, nurses didn't smoke cigarettes, as portrayed in the film, at least not in the field hospitals where he was treated.

He thinks it's important that the film has triggered something, prompting viewers to ask questions, once again, of a generation in which many said nothing after the war about their experiences because they hoped to silence the demons of their past. The questions are being now asked by the children of the wartime generation, and by the grandchildren. This is their last chance to ask these questions, before the last survivors are dead.

Heinz Otto Fausten hadn't intended to watch the film. He had to force himself to do it. He only watched because ZDF had interviewed him for a documentary, but one that was never aired. But he didn't need the film's images to remember. Fausten has his own, more jarring images in his head, images ZDF would never have shown, images that, to be complete, require the crashing and the exploding, the stench and the taste, the shock and the pain of war.

Heinz Otto Fausten comes from a family of university graduates. His father was an electrical engineer who owned his own business. It couldn't hurt to join the Nazi Party. It was good for business, says the son, who was a flag-bearer for the Jungvolk, a subdivision of the Hitler Youth, but who wasn't a fanatical Nazi. His family was too Catholic for that, says Fausten.

After graduating from high school in 1939, he served in the Reich Labor Service. He doesn't remember being enthusiastic when the war began that fall. He remained at the university for a few more months, studying German and geography, and then he volunteered for the army, knowing that he would be drafted soon, anyway. As a volunteer, he was allowed to choose his branch of the military. He wanted to be in a tank division. And so he ended up on the Russian border, in an infantry fighting vehicle, on June 21, 1941, prepared for the attack and for a war of aggression, one that would devastate both the country before them and their own souls.

For Family and Fatherland
When his division set out the next morning, he thought he was doing it for family and fatherland, because it was his duty, because he was obeying orders, and because doing anything else would have been inconceivable. Was he afraid? "No, I wasn't," he says. Did he think about death? "I realized that it was a possibility." Did he expect to be shooting people? "It was obvious," he says, given his position as a machine gunner on his tank. His responses are in keeping with a time when peace was just an opportunity to catch one's breath before the next war, and experiencing at least one war in a lifetime was completely normal.

He saw the first dead man after 500 meters, directly next to the tank: a motorcycle messenger who had been shot from his seat. That same day, he saw the first casualty that got to him: a young Russian killed in a forest by a bullet to his head. He had been sleeping. One of the soldiers in Fausten's group had seen the man and fired immediately.

The next day, says Fausten, he witnessed the scene that still shapes his image of the war to this day. They were driving past a Russian tank that had been shot to pieces. A dead commander was hanging out of the hatch with his head down. The side of another tank was ripped open, exposing the blackened bodies in the driver's seat and manning the gun. Fausten could smell the burnt flesh.

He still didn't realize that he was going to see people die miserable deaths. That he would hold a comrade whose guts were spilling out of his stomach, and who yelled "kill me" before dying in his arms. That he would pull the charred body of a commander out of a tank after a direct hit. That he would stare into an infantry fighting vehicle containing eight men, all of them beheaded by a shell. That he would be standing next to a soldier who was shot in the head that very moment. But the strongest and most lasting images are still those from his first two days in combat. What happened after that couldn't make a deeper impression -- not even the moments when he killed other soldiers.

The first soldiers he mowed down with his machine gun were Russians manning an anti-tank gun, en route to Leningrad. When he went up to the bodies, he saw that they were no older than he was. By the end of the war, by the moment a piece of shrapnel ripped open the back of his knee, costing him his leg, there would be dozens. Perhaps even hundreds. His unit attacked and was attacked many times, and he shot and was shot at just as many times. Nevertheless, Fausten can't see any of the faces of the people he killed. "I experienced so much that you really do get used to the horrors of war," he says.

After the War, No Time for The Past

But then it was all over and life after the war began. Fausten says that he felt an "unbelievable feeling of happiness" for having made it through alive. Now there were so many things to do. He had to finish school, and soon there would be a young family. He looked to the future and did what he could to get ahead. He had no time for the past. And why would he? He now had an everyday life worlds away from torn stomachs, ripped-off arms and severed heads. It was time to make plans that went beyond making it through the next day or even the next minute.

He rarely discussed his experiences with his wife. In the lives of the Faustens, family gatherings were the only occasions when memories of the war were brought up. One of his son's early memories is of his Uncle Jupp and his Uncle Theo sitting with his father: Theo, who had been at the tank battle at Kursk, and Jupp, who was also in Russia. Peter Fausten listened until he couldn't listen anymore, which didn't take very long. It was always the same old stories, the ones that began with the words "Do you remember, back then…?" There were never questions that questioned everything, that questioned themselves and what they had done.

Those were the questions that fascinated the son. He was 16 in 1968, and in the years after that an entire generation of sons and daughters began to ask about their fathers: where they had been in the war, what they had done, and whether they were Nazis, murderers or mass murderers. Many fathers remained silent, so that their last battle became a battle of silence. On the other hand, some postwar children demanded answers, and declared anyone who had been in the war to be a murderer.

But in the Faustens' home, the father did not choose to be silent, and his son didn't want to destroy him. "For some of my friends, it was enough to know that their father had fired a gun," to see him as a perpetrator and a murderer, says Peter Fausten. He, on the other hand, had been able to put himself in his father's shoes, he adds, which enabled him to understand that the father had been thrown into a war and wouldn't have survived without shooting. But was that the extent of it? Or was the father guilty in a way that was ultimately inexcusable? The son couldn't shake this feeling of uncertainty.

Burning Questions

So they talked, again and again, for decades. They slowly felt their way around the question of what Heinz Otto Fausten had done, and the question of whether the son, once he knew, would be able to stand his father.

Heinz Otto Fausten says that he did nothing that he would have to regret today. Because mechanized infantrymen were an assault force, they didn't witness the atrocities behind the front lines. But there were moments of horror nonetheless, like one incident 25 kilometers outside Leningrad. Fausten was sitting in his infantry fighting vehicle. There was an old man on the side of the road, a Russian farmer, and standing in front of him was a German soldier of a tank unit, wearing a black uniform. The German pointed to the Russian's felt boots, but the Russian shook his head. The soldier pulled out his pistol, shot the man, put away his pistol and removed the dead farmer's boots. Fausten's vehicle kept going, and no one confronted the murderer.

For Peter Fausten, it was important that his father tell this kind of story instead of keeping it a secret. But even more important to him was what happened in Greece in the summer of 1943, when his father and his unit spent several months expecting the Allied landing, before they were sent back to Russia.

Partisans had killed three Italians in an ambush. As a reprisal, Fausten was ordered to execute 30 Greeks in Sparta, but he refused. Then his commanding officers said they would be satisfied with 10 Greeks, because the dead had not been Germans. He refused again, says Fausten. In the end, three partisans who had been caught with weapons in their hands were placed in front of a firing squad. Fausten says he copied seven other names from fresh graves at the cemetery to bring the number up to 10.

Is all of this true? Or did the father portray his role in a more favorable light than was actually the case? His son also had his doubts. He was afraid of the truth, but he also was also afraid that his father, because of this fear, couldn't tell him the truth. But the son felt reassured when he thought about how many years had passed, how many conversations there had been and how many questions had been asked.

"A Good Tool For An Incredibly Criminal Regime"

He saw that his father had only gone once, and never again after that, to one of those veterans' meetings where the others tried to turn a lost war into a victory for German heroism. He also saw that his father was changing. At the end of the 1970s, he had refused to accept the contention that all Germans bore a share of the blame for Hitler. He sees things differently today. "I was a good soldier," says Heinz Otto Fausten, which seems like the beginning of a sentence that can't possibly turn out well. But then he says: "I see today that because of that, I was merely a good tool for an unbelievably criminal regime."

Peter Fausten also helped his father write a book about his war, mostly for his son, a book that contains passages that the father must have known would be difficult for Peter to read. But the father didn't want to leave anything out. They also talked about a title: "We Didn't Pick the Time," which could sound like an excuse but wasn't meant to. After all their talks, the son is confident in having a good idea of what his father did and did not do. "I'm not sitting next to a saint here, but I have the impression that my father got through the war with his moral integrity intact."

And if that hadn't been the case? It was the risk he had taken from the start in his desire for the truth. "I don't know what I would have done then," he says. Peter Fausten has friends who have encountered different fathers, fathers they would rather not have discovered. But the Faustens were fortunate in two respects. The father survived the war, and the son can live with that. With the how and the why.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5426 on: Mar 30, 2013, 07:59 AM »

New coronavirus is potentially more deadly than SARS

By David Ferguson
Friday, March 29, 2013 13:15 EDT

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong warned that a new coronavirus that has emerged from the Middle East has the potential to be deadlier than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which kiled 774 people between 2002 and 2003. The Global Post reported Friday that the University of Hong Kong team published their results this week in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. 

The new virus is named hCoV-EMC, meaning human coronavirus-Erasmus Medical Center, after the Dutch hospital where it was first isolated. It has killed 11 people since September of last year and attacks multiple systems of the body, unlike SARS which was specifically a respiratory virus.

Lead researcher and study author Yuen Kwok-yung told the South China Morning Post, ”The SARS coronavirus infects very few human cell lines. But this new virus can infect many types of human cell lines, and kill cells rapidly.”

Patients infected with the Erasmus virus die of multiple organ failure as the organism attacks the body at multiple points, particularly the kidneys. Thus far, the virus has a 65 percent mortality rate, compared to an 11 percent mortality rate in patients infected with SARS.

Scientists are rushing to create a vaccine, even as they attempt to gain more knowledge of the pathogen, including questions as to where it came from, how rare or widespread it is, whether all forms of the disease are equally severe, what animals it thrives in and how it makes the leap to human hosts.

According to U.S. microbiologists Tom Gallagher and Stanley Perlman, current evidence shows that, unlike SARS, the virus is not easily transmissible between humans. The scientists at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands believe that the virus enters the body through the lungs, latching on to a specific receptor cell in the respiratory tract.

The same cell is common in common pipistrelle bats, which would point to bats as a natural source of the virus. Whether the virus is transmitted straight to humans from bats or through another animal vector is still unknown. Viruses and bacteria are constantly mutating and it is always possible that hCoV-EMC could evolve into a form that is more easily spread from person to person.

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« Reply #5427 on: Mar 30, 2013, 08:05 AM »

In the USA...

Greed Kills: Why McDonalds and Wal-Mart Don’t Deserve Your Business

By: Jason Easley
Mar. 29th, 2013

McDonalds and Wal-Mart are desperate for recession stretched dollars, but overpaid CEOs and underpaid workers are a good reason to take your business elsewhere.

According to Pay Scale, here are the five highest and lowest CEO to worker pay ratios:

CEO Pay in Perspective

It isn’t surprising that Wal-Mart is at the top of this list. The entire Wal-Mart business model has been about keeping payroll costs below market. The less they can pay their employees, the more money will flow to the top of the corporate food chain. Wal-Mart CEO Duke claims that Wal-Mart pays competitive wages. What he doesn’t tell you is that those wages are both below market and below poverty levels. Consumers seem to be wising up. Wal-Mart’s profits are crumbling, and their customers are fleeing to the much more worker friendly Costco.

Like Wal-Mart, McDonalds has become huge by keeping worker pay down, and corporate profits up. McDonalds pays 6% below market wages, and in an effort to squeeze every last dollar out the market tried to get their employees to work on Christmas for no overtime pay. After decades fast food dominance, McDonalds has been passed in total number of US stores by Subway, and isn’t even among the top 10 restaurant choices for Americans age 23-36.

In this era of consumer boycotts, a customer’s values are often reflected by where they choose, or don’t choose, to spend their money. It isn’t a coincidence that McDonalds and Wal-Mart both have well deserved reputations for poor treatment of employees, and now they are struggling.

Because one company’s employee is another company’s consumer, the behavior of Wal-Mart and McDonalds negatively impacts the entire economy.

When corporate giants like Wal-Mart and McDonalds place CEO pay ahead of employee wages, they are harming the economy by creating fewer consumers. When competitors like Target follow the Wal-Mart model, they helping to create a domino effect that drags down the entire economy.

America will never rebuild a strong middle class as long the Wal-Mart mindset towards workers dominates our economy.

If we are the company we keep, it might be best for all of us if we stop being seen with Wal-Mart and McDonalds until these two get it together and clean up their act.


Conservative Christians Lose It and Threaten President Obama, the GOP, and the Supreme Court

By: Rmuse
Mar. 29th, 2013

Militarism is the belief that a group should maintain strong military capabilities and be prepared to use them aggressively to promote their interests, and it may imply the justification of conflict to administer a group’s policy on its enemies. Over the course of the past few years, conservatives have threatened various levels of conflict to impose their particular agenda on the government and American people whether it was opposition to healthcare reform when teabaggers attended protests claiming “we came unarmed this time,” or threats of race, civil, or revolutionary war over gun safety laws and the election of an African American president. Whatever various conservative groups’ causes, their reason for threatening conflict is always their opposition to the government’s right to enact laws within the tenets of the U.S. Constitution. During the Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8 that banned same-sex marriage, conservative Christians became the latest group to use combative language to express their outrage at the prospect the Constitution forbids them from imposing their religious morality on the entire nation.

A little reported exchange during arguments in favor of perpetuating inequality in America was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s reading a line from the House Report justifying DOMA’s passage in 1996 that defined the law’s entire legal underpinning. It said, “Congress decided to reflect and honor a moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.” That one line is all the reason the High Court needs to strike down the law on two counts; it is rank, government-sanctioned discrimination, and it is straight out of the Christian bible making it a direct violation of the 1st Amendment’s prohibition on establishment of a state religion. Conservative Christians, meanwhile, fearing the prospect the Court may strike down the law, immediately took up a militaristic posture leading one influential conservative Iowa talk radio host to say, “It’s going to raise the issue to Orange Threat Level, it’ll be DEFCON 6,” and his warning was repeated across the country.

In Texas, about 250 opponents of same-sex marriage assembled at the Capitol to hear the state’s Republican leadership promise that Texas will remain a bastion of “freedom, family and faith,” and that “the hope of America is Texas” according to state Sen. Ken Paxton. The state’s lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, kept up the battle-field rhetoric and inflamed rally-goers claiming that conservative values were under steady assault from President Barack Obama and his administration,  and that “Over our dead bodies are we going to let this state turn blue.” Another Texas Republican, state Senator Donna Campbell said “Our core values are being attacked on a daily basis … by government fiat in our courts and in our schools. They want to redefine the Constitution and it’s just not going to stand with me” and promised that Christian values would be defended here “because there is no other Texas to move to.” Steve Deace, who warned the threat level was elevating to DEFCON6 said “these people have invested decades in this fight and they are not going to throw up their hands, they’re going to double down, it’s going to be even nastier.”

The freedom, faith, and values crowd, conservative Christians, did not limit their threats to President Obama and the Supreme Court, and set their sights squarely on the Republican Party. An anti-gay activist, Gary Bauer, threatened Republicans and promised mass defections if they dared stand on the side of Constitutional equality, and promised to “leave the party and take as many people with me as I possibly can.” Bauer’s speech was for a “March for Marriage” event organized by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) at the National Mall, and he told the American Values crowd “shame on the politicians and the judges that are trying to undermine the institution of marriage,” and then dismissed reports of increasing support for marriage equality by claiming “the polls are skewed.” Poll results aside, the simple fact is that no-one is undermining the institution of marriage, redefining the Constitution, or attacking Christian values, but that was never the point. The point is many conservative Christians are up in arms at the prospect of losing their government-sanctioned ability to force their religion’s “moral disapproval of homosexuality” on the nation and they are fully prepared to “double down” and “get even nastier.”

An evangelical anti-gay operative, Ralph Reed, leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition predicted a protracted battle and said “If the court were to go to the most extreme case and strike down laws defining marriage, it will undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, and spark a movement that will spend decades trying to reverse the decision.” However, the mood among hardline bigots in the conservative Christian movement is at a heightened level of an existential threat and it is unlikely the people threatening to get nastier and defend their bastion of freedom, faith, and family values are going to stand by and lose their legal right to impose the bible’s morality on all Americans for very long. It is not necessarily that conservative Christians are going militaristic over marriage equality in the near future, but they are the same crowd that threatened civil war over gun safety proposals, election monitoring, President Obama’s re-election, implementation of the ACA, and various issues they deemed worthy of nullification and 2nd Amendment remedies. It is not even a stretch to imagine that a Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA and Prop 8 will be the final straw because it involves religion, and history is replete with violence precipitated by the belief that someone’s religion is under assault, and to millions of conservative Christians, marriage equality is an attack on their faith, freedom, and families.

If conservative Christians agree with Congress in 1996 that they “reflect and honor a moral judgment and express moral disapproval of homosexuality,” they have that right according to their faith and bigoted family values. They also have the right to stay in traditional marriages if that is their wont and no-one will force them to change their innate heterosexual tendencies, divorce their opposite-sex spouses, and find a same-sex partner to marry. However, they or their Republican facilitators, do not have the right to force their faith and values on any American whether they are same-sex couples or women seeking contraception, and the Supreme Court is duty-bound to strike down DOMA on the grounds it is government-sanctioned discrimination and state-established religion. One just hopes that after four years of threats of violence against the government with an African American man as President for all manner of imagined slights, conservative Christians restrain themselves from getting nastier and taking extreme measures to assert their will on Americans who do not adhere, or approve, of making moral judgments based on conservative Christian’s disapproval of homosexuality.

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« Reply #5428 on: Mar 31, 2013, 06:30 AM »

North Korea increases tensions with South by issuing threat over factories

US plays down prospect of war on the peninsula as Pyongyang follows 'state of war' declaration with more sabre-rattling

Paul Harris in New York
The Observer, Saturday 30 March 2013 19.28 GMT   

The rising tension between North and South Korea escalated further on Saturday as Pyongyang threatened to shut down a vital factory complex run jointly by the two countries.

North Korea has been engaged in a massive display of sabre-rattling in recent days, declaring that it was in a "state of war" with its far wealthier and more powerful southern neighbour. It has also cut a military hotline between the two countries that was one of the few ways that senior North and South Korean officials could talk to each other, adding to a sharp sense of unease about events on the Korean peninsula.

Now North Korea has explicitly said that it may target the Kaesong industrial park – an important trade zone that is run jointly with South Korean expertise and North Korean labour. Kaesong is a vital source of foreign currency for the North and has been operating normally so far, despite the bellicose warnings dominating headlines in both Koreas.

A spokesman for the North Korean department controlling Kaesong was quoted by the country's state news agency as warning the country would "shut down the zone without mercy" if it felt it was not being taken seriously.

Recent weeks have seen a torrent of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang threatening dire consequences for both South Korea and the US. North Korea is angry about the annual South Korea-US military drills, which will run until the end of April, and at the UN sanctions imposed after it carried out another nuclear test in February.

North Korea is also seen as trying to persuade the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and also to win diplomatic talks with the US that could get it more aid. A final factor could be a attempt by the North's young leader, Kim Jong-un, to strengthen his military credentials and build a sense of unity in the secretive state by highlighting a sense of an outside threat.

Though the two Koreas have technically been at war for more than half a century – having never signed a formal peace deal after the Korean war in the 1950s – there is a concern that mis-steps could provoke a real crisis amid the blustering words and dire predictions emerging from Pyongyang.

On Thursday, US military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on frontlines as part of their drills with South Korean troops. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike US targets if provoked.

But generally North Korea watchers and senior security officials in the White House and the Pentagon have sought to play down the reality of the crisis, portraying it as just the latest in a long series of such incidents. On Saturday National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the US was in close contact with Seoul over the crisis and took the threats seriously. But she added that North Korea had repeatedly made such threats, including claims it would shut down Kaesong. "North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today's announcement follows that familiar pattern," she said.

That was backed up by top White House officials. CBS news reported that a senior member of President Barack Obama's administration had played down any prospect of actual hostilities. "North Korea is in a mindset of war, but North Korea is not going to war," the official told the TV station.

But, despite such attempts at maintaining calm, the US has also strengthened its missile defence capabilities on its west coast. "We continue to take additional measures against the North Korean threat, including our plan to increase the US ground-based interceptors and early warning and tracking radar," Hayden added.


Russia urges US and North Korea to show restraint

'We hope that all parties will exercise maximum responsibility,' says Russian foreign ministry as tensions continue to rise

Ewen MacAskill in Washington and agencies, Saturday 30 March 2013 13.58 GMT   

Russia has urged the US and North Korea to show restraint after Pyongyang said it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea in a further escalation of its bellicose rhetoric.

"We hope that all parties will exercise maximum responsibility and restraint and no one will cross the point of no return," said senior Russian foreign ministry official Grigory Logvinov on Saturday.

On Friday the Pentagon declared that the US was flly capable of defending itself and its allies against a missile attack from North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong-un, had declared that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific. Kim's words came in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula this week.

On Saturday, a spokesman for the Foreign Office warned North Korea that its statements would lead to further isolation.

"We have made clear to North Korea that its long-term interests will only be served by constructive engagement with the international community. These threatening statements will only seek to isolate it further," he said.

"The armistice agreement has enabled the Korean peninsula to benefit from 60 years' peace. Maintaining it is in the best interests of all."

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters travelling with Barack Obama on Air Force One to Miami: "The bellicose rhetoric emanating from North Korea only deepens that nation's isolation. The United States remains committed to safeguarding our allies in the region and our interests that are located there."

Asked if the joint US-South Korean military exercises and the use of the stealth bombers had fuelled the escalation, Earnest replied: "It's clear that the escalation is taking place from the North Koreans based on their rhetoric and on their actions."

The Pentagon said on Friday that the US would not be intimidated, and was ready to defend both its bases and its allies in the region. Lt Col Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokesperson, said: "The United States is fully capable of defending itself and our allies against a North Korean attack. We are firmly committed to the defence of South Korea and Japan."

The secretary of state, John Kerry, will visit the region in a week or so for meetings with Japan, China and South Korea.

North Korea announced that its forces had been placed on high alert on Tuesday but the threats became graver when a picture was published of Kim reiterating the order at an emergency meeting on Friday.

The US defence department keeps secret its assessment of the distance North Korea's missiles can reach. But Admiral James Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said a fortnight ago it had one type of missile capable of reaching the US.

While defence analysts agreed that North Korea was theoretically capable of firing a missile, they expressed scepticism about whether its technology was as advanced as it claims and were doubtful about its accuracy in hitting targets.

But there is more concern in Washington than previous standoffs with North Korea have elicited because Kim is a new leader, young and inexperienced and a largely unknown quantity in the west.

A major worry is the possibility that North Korea might attack a South Korean ship – it was blamed for the sinking of a South Korean vessel in 2010 – or a land target. Seoul has said that it would retaliate this time.

Wilkinson said: "North Korea's bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others. DPRK will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in north-east Asia.

"We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations."

She added: "We remain committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. This means deterring North Korean aggression, protecting our allies and the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. 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."

At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said: "There are a lot of unknowns here. But we have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action that this new, young leader has taken so far since he's come to power."

Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation and disarmament programme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, played down the threat. "North Korea is upping its rhetoric to a world-class level, but it's still just rhetoric. They have no capability to hit the US mainland with anything – except through cyberspace. Their only tested missiles can fly a maximum of 1,600km, less than half the distance to Guam."

Fitzpatrick, who is scheduled to lead a thinktank discussion at the institute's Washington office next Thursday on whether the US policy of patience has run its course and whether it should instead pursue reunification of the Korean peninsula, said on Friday that while North Korea was limited in its ability to hit US targets, it posed a threat to South Korea and Japan.

"Their Scuds and Nodongs can hit anywhere in South Korea and Japan. Using them would be suicidal, of course. The far more likely scenario is a pin-prick attack in the nature of the 2010 attacks. This time, however, South Korea is determined to respond with an eye for an eye, in order to restore deterrence. North Korea's ensuing response could trigger a larger conflagration."

Jim Walsh, a specialist on security and nuclear weapons at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, played down the prospect of an attack on the US, but said: "The reason it is scary is you can get war even when no one intends to have a war. All the sides – South Korea, North Korea and others – are now leaning into each other, and if someone makes a mistake, I am concerned that that mistake will escalate into something larger than anyone expected.

"Suddenly you have a young man in a closed country who has to decide whether he is going to respond to your actions."

The risk was not of a North Korean attack on the US but of one on South Korea that would bring in the US, he said.

Walsh, who has visited North Korea and has had talks with its officials in Switzerland, Sweden and the US, said the present confrontation felt different because of the harsher rhetoric from North Korea, the secret defence pact agreed by the US and South Korea and the US military drills this week.

"If we are lucky it will all be bluster on everyone's side. That is the good outcome," Walsh said. "The bad outcome is that it is bluster until someone screws up and then war happens."

Michael O'Hanlon, one of the leading military analysts in the US, expressed worries that the US approach of tit-for-tat and imposition of additional permanent sanctions after North Korea's third nuclear test could exacerbate the situation. Like Walsh, he sees this confrontation as being different from previous ones.

In an email, O'Hanlon, a security specialist at Washington's Brookings Institution, said: "I favour temporary sanctions in response to the third nuclear test, to give Pyongyang an incentive not to provoke again." He argues that setting a time limit such as two, three or four years could encourage North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test.

"I am talking about automatic sunset provisions with a specific timeframe, unless of course there is another nuclear test or another act of violence," O'Hanlon said.


March 30, 2013

North Korea Threatens to Close Factories It Runs With South


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea, reiterating that it considered the Korean Peninsula back in “a state of war,” threatened Saturday to shut down a factory complex it jointly operates with South Korea and that stands as the last significant symbol of cooperation.

The industrial park, the eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North. It funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by the North in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the United States to soften their policies on the North.

Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if the North committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks. On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.

Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144.

The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang’s verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.

“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. It said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency.

In another development, some of the North’s main government-run Web sites were disabled on Saturday in what news media reports said were cyberattacks.

The disabled sites included those of Naenara, the government’s official Web portal; Air Koryo, the state-run airline; and Voice of Korea, Pyongyang’s international broadcast outlet.

North Korea Tech, a Web site that monitors Internet activities on the Korean Peninsula, said the problems appeared “to be part of a loosely coordinated effort by hackers to target North Korean sites.” By late Saturday afternoon, North Korean officials had not confirmed any attacks on government-run Web sites.

The problems come as some analysts suspect that cyberattacks have become an increasingly frequent weapon in the intensified sparring between the Koreas, although each side denies hacking the other.

South Korean officials suspect that North Korea was behind cyberattacks on March 20 against three banks and the country’s two largest broadcasters. The attacks came five days after North Korea blamed the South and the United States for cyberattacks that temporarily shut down some of its official Web sites, and warned of “consequences.”

North Korea has been angry ever since South Korea and the United States started a joint military exercise in early March. Its bellicosity further escalated when the United Nations imposed more sanctions against it after its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

The North has since declared an “all-out action” against Washington and Seoul and said that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953, as well as all nonaggression agreements with the South, was nullified.

Last week, it cut the last remaining military hot lines with Seoul. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered all his missile units to be on standby and if provoked, attack the United States and South Korea with nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, although most analysts doubt the North has them.

A statement by South Korea’s military said that although the North Korean threats were not new, they “are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, and Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong.

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« Reply #5429 on: Mar 31, 2013, 06:36 AM »

China reports first known human deaths from rare bird flu strain

Two men in Shanghai die from H7N9 strain but authorities say there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission

Associated Press, Sunday 31 March 2013 11.33 BST   

Two Shanghai men have died from a little-known type of bird flu in the first known human deaths from the strain. Chinese authorities said on Sunday that it was unclear how the men had been infected, but that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

A third person, a woman in the nearby province of Anhui, also contracted the H7N9 strain of bird flu and was in critical condition, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission said in a report on its website.

There was no sign that any of the three had contracted the disease from each other, and no sign of infection in the 88 people who had closest contact with them, the medical agency said.

H7N9 bird flu is considered a low pathogenic strain that cannot easily be contracted by humans. The overwhelming majority of human deaths from bird flu have been caused by the H5N1 strain.

One of the two men from Shanghai, who was 87, became ill on 19 February and died on 27 February. The other man, 27, became ill on 27 February and died on 4 March, the agency said. The 35-year-old woman in the Anhui city of Chuzhou became ill on 9 March and is being treated.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention conducted tests and confirmed on Saturday that all three cases were H7N9, the health agency said, adding that the World Health Organisation had been notified of the findings.
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