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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1078406 times)
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« Reply #5490 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:41 AM »

April 2, 2013

China Announces 4 New Bird Flu Cases


SHANGHAI — China said Tuesday that four more people in the coastal part of the country had been infected with a new strain of bird flu, which is believed to have killed two Shanghai residents last month and left one person in critical condition.

The four new patients, ages 32 to 83, are hospitalized and critically ill, according to a government Web site that cited the authorities in the city of Nanjing, in Jiangsu Province northwest of Shanghai. The officials said laboratory tests had confirmed that all four were infected with a strain of bird flu identified as H7N9, which was not found in humans before the Shanghai cases.

The cases are troubling because there is no vaccine for the H7N9 strain and because another strain of bird flu, identified as H5N1, killed hundreds of people in Asia beginning in 2003.

The World Health Organization says that most H5N1 cases had involved contact with infected poultry. One of the four people in Nanjing infected with the H7N9 virus is a poultry butcher. Health authorities had previously reported that H7N9 could not easily be contracted by humans, and officials said that no one who had contact with the four infected patients had developed symptoms.

The government said Monday in Shanghai that no link was found between the bird flu virus and the 15,000 dead pigs found recently in the Huangpu River.

Xu Yan contributed research.
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« Reply #5491 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:44 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
April 3, 2013, 4:21 am

Is the Prime Minister Changing His Tune?


NEW DELHI–Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of India’s flagging economy in a televised address Wednesday. He endorsed the need for growth that uplifts the poor, and acknowledged that the current 5 percent growth rate was disappointing, but he nonetheless urged people to be optimistic.

To bolster his point, he made reference to his last address to the same group, the Confederation of Indian Industry, in 2007, when India’s economy had grown at about 9 percent in each of the three previous years:

“In my last address I chose to strike a contrarian note. When everything seemed to be going exceptionally well I struck a note of caution. I propose to strike a contrarian note again,” he said. “If the business mood was unduly optimistic in 2007 I think it is unduly pessimistic today.”

But how cautious was he actually? While Mr. Singh had indeed underscored the need for inclusive growth throughout his 2007 address at the C.I.I., he was hardly downbeat, a review of his speech six years ago shows. He said then:

    The results are there for all to see. It is not by accident that the average rate of economic growth has been 9 percent in the last three years. It is not by chance that the savings rate of the country is 32 percent of GDP and the rate of investment has touched an all-time peak of 35 percent of our GDP. It is not by luck that the manufacturing sector is booming. It is not by good fortune that inward FDI is close to twenty billion dollars now. It is not by a miracle that we are today a trillion dollar economy.

    These are the results of balanced, prudent economic policies; policies which have focused on strengthening every aspect of infrastructure including airports, roads, railways and ports; policies which have reduced our revenue and fiscal deficits; policies which have promoted greater investment, both domestic and foreign; policies which have given a boost to manufacturing and services; policies which are designed to harvest the demographic dividend we are beginning to get from a youthful workforce; policies which have pushed development into our rural and backward areas; policies which have made India a great place to do business.

Six years later, Mr. Singh appears to have changed his tune somewhat. The government is not responsible for growth after all, he said Wednesday:

    Government is not the prime mover of growth. In a private sector led economy – and I repeat, we are a private sector led economy with 75 percent of investment being in the private sector, which includes farmers, small businesses and the corporate sector – the driver of growth is indeed private investment. But the private sector needs an environment in which enterprise can flourish and create both jobs and stimulate growth. It needs an environment which will ensure that this growth is inclusive. The environment today is not what it should be, and that is what the government must correct.

The prime minister’s office did not immediately return a call for comment.

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« Reply #5492 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Battling Pakistan militants' ban on polio vaccines in North Waziristan

Parents and officials are going to dangerous lengths to immunise children after militants imposed a ban on polio vaccinations

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network, Tuesday 2 April 2013 15.57 BST   

Parents and officials are going to great lengths to immunise children after militants imposed a ban on polio vaccinations in Pakistan's restive North Waziristan Agency. Government officials are withholding money and identity documents from groups affiliated with the ban, and parents are travelling long distances to get their children vaccinated, in some cases smuggling the vaccine back home.

Abdul Hassan* emerged recently from the district hospital in Bannu, just outside North Waziristan, clutching his toddler son and niece. Their 100km bus ride from Miranshah, the administrative centre of North Waziristan, was well worth it, he said, because he was able to get the children vaccinated. "The children have received polio drops, which they had not received for over a year, and that is a relief," he told IRIN.

Militants in the area banned all polio vaccinations in June 2012, to protest against the killing of civilians by drones. Around "200,000 children have been missed [by polio immunisation drives] as a result of the ban in North and South Waziristan", said Mazhar Nisar, health education adviser at the prime minister's polio monitoring and co-ordination cell in Islamabad. He said this "of course meant greater chances of the virus spreading and endangering more children".

Despite eradication efforts, polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Battling the ban

The government is trying a carrot-and-stick approach to get the ban reversed. "We are making what efforts we can to bring [the ban] to an end, so the anti-polio campaign can resume," said Fawad Khan, health director at the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) secretariat in Peshawar.

Nisar told IRIN that the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, officials at the Fata aecretariat and the political agent – a representative of the federal government – in North Waziristan were "all attempting to talk to tribal elders and sort out matters so anti-polio drives could resume".

In addition to the negotiations, they are also using colonial-era legislation to impose collective punishment on the areas. In December, using powers available to him under the Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901, the political agent for North Waziristan put in place measures that included denying tribal people of North Waziristan passports, national identity cards and other official documentation if community leaders don't overturn the ban.

A small honorarium to tribal elders was also stopped and development work in some areas has been suspended. The steps were taken after the Wazir and Dawar tribes declined to back the anti-polio programme, political agent Siraj Ahmed Khan said.

Militants had also imposed a polio vaccination ban in South Waziristan but Nisar said this had since been "somewhat relaxed".

A doctor, who asked not to be identified, at the hospital in Wana, the administrative centre of South Waziristan, told IRIN: "Generally people are allowed to bring people into the hospital to receive anti-polio drops, but teams are not permitted to move in the field to deliver them."

So far, the government's tactics in North Wazirstan have not led to a relaxation of the unofficial community ban.

Parents act to protect their children

"Our children are still not receiving drops. We are scared for them," Amina Bibi*, from near Miranshah, told IRIN. Bibi said she had seen "adults who had suffered polio" and "was scared of what could happen if the children are not protected".

Other parents with similar concerns are taking matters into their own hands. Some "take their children to larger towns like Peshawar or Bannu to receive the polio drops", said journalist Ayesha Hasan. Peshawar is about 285km from Miranshah.

"My infant son is too young to travel, so I went to Bannu and brought back some vaccines. Doctors there put it in a plastic bottle, packed ice around it and I hid it in a tin of dried milk," Hazir Gul*, 30, told IRIN.

"They told me how to give the drops, and I also brought home enough for two neighbours with small children," he said. "I was really scared the militants would discover what I was doing."

Javed Khan, who works at a clinic in Peshawar, the capital of KP province, told IRIN: "At least a dozen or so families have come to me over the past six months or so and taken vaccine home."

Distrust, misinformation

An administrative official in Miranshah, who asked not to be named, said: "We know parents are bringing in vaccine. They are desperate, and we try to help discreetly."

These actions take considerable courage as they expose the parents to potential violence from the anti-polio vaccine militants. The militants in North Waziristan have campaigned vigorously against the polio vaccine, and, according to Hasan, "planted in the minds of people the idea that it may be harmful for their children in some way".

She said that even people who had previously served as polio immunisation workers have voiced suspicions that the vaccine could affect reproduction or be harmful in other ways.

A polio vaccination centre in Bannu District, close to the border of North Waziristan, is a popular choice for parents hunting for the vaccine.

But, as Gul said: "It is not easy to move long distances with children, and the militants could find out where we are going." He added: "So far whatever measures the government is taking seem to have had no impact here."

*Some names have been changed


India makes inroads on polio as mosques spread the word

Health workers in Aligarh are overcoming cultural mistrust about polio immunisation by turning to local Muslim clerics for support

Esha Chhabra in Aligarh, Tuesday 2 April 2013 15.06 BST   

"If you convert our efforts into pay, it's not really pay. It doesn't even compare," says Khalida Sherwani, smiling. "I do it for the children. We do it for the children."

She speaks with an intensity, a passion, evident in her role as a Unicef polio health worker. It's the second day in India's biannual immunisation campaign, a routine that began in 1995 when India had more than 100,000 cases of polio.

Accompanied by a fellow Unicef health worker, she walks briskly in her billowing black burqa from house to house, the blue ice chest (which keeps the vaccine cool) in her colleague's hand. Having worked for the polio campaign for nine years, she knows these neighbourhoods intimately. She says she has a "blueprint" in her mind, a mental map that tells her how many children live in each of these nooks and crannies.

"There's no baby here? Where is the baby?" she asks, peeking in through a door left ajar. A lady in a bright blue salwar-kameez appears in the doorway. "Should we come back when your bhabhi (sister-in-law) is here? Is the baby with her?" Sherwani asks again.

She persists, but with an intimacy. Sherwani has been living in Aligarh, a city known for its lock-making industry, for the past 20 years. Less than two hours away from Delhi by train – situated in western Uttar Pradesh, a state that has historically reported a significant number of polio cases (as high as 1,242 in 2002) – Aligarh had been classified a "high-risk zone" where healthworkers faced considerable resistance, including stones being hurled at them when they went door-to-door. In 2003, Aligarh reported 40% of all polio cases detected in Uttar Pradesh.

Excuses for not taking the vaccine varied. Families alleged that it had been inappropriately administered; the cold chain had been broken by health workers; the vaccine was not potent since some children still came down with polio; and other children became ill after taking it. Plus, with a noticeable Muslim population, the polio campaign faced serious roadblocks stemming from cultural mistrust.

Sherwani saw the brutality of the campaign. Not only were they turned away, they were asked to barter, she explains. "If you give me a clean road, I'll let you vaccinate my child. If you give us 50 rupees, we will let you vaccinate our child. They played all kinds of games with us," she says.

When some questioned the validity of the vaccine, they had to turn to the local Muslim clerics to bolster the message, getting it voiced from the mosques.

"If we're lying, they can't lie. It's against their Islamic dharam [religion] to deceive," she explains. "If it echoed from the walls of the masjid [or mosque], then it would have greater impact."

That's exactly what happens before the polio rounds commence in Aligarh. A parade begins at the base of a beautifully built 18th-century masjid in the heart of Aligarh's Uppar Kot community. Local Rotarians, Unicef and World Health Organisation workers coalesce with a significant portion of Aligarh's 1.2 million residents to weave through the maze-like network of alleys, dressed in bright yellow apparel, baseball hats, vests and visors, voicing the mantra: "End polio now."

A rickety cycle rickshaw leads the way, carrying loudspeakers that echo: "Polio ki dawa pilao" ("Give polio drops"). Ubiquitous banners and flyers, written in Hindi and Urdu, display the date of the campaign.

At the heart of Aligarh sits the famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), a secular institution with a religious past, established in 1885. The vice-chancellor of AMU, Lieutenant General Zameer Shah, considers it the university's responsibility to add weight to the polio campaign, correct any misperceptions, and serve as the "fountainhead of intellectual Islam", as he puts it.

"AMU has the status of the Vatican here," says Shah. "So we have to be careful of what emanates out of here. We cannot be parochial."

AMU has worked with the local ulema, or Muslim clerics, encouraging them to have their children vaccinated and to promote the campaign in their local quarters.

In addition, AMU students volunteer for the polio campaign, accompanying health workers in the door-to-door rounds that take place for five days after National Immunisation Day.

These "mop up" rounds involve revisiting families – identified through chalk marks on doors – that refused the vaccine first time round or were unavailable.

Since the resistance in 2009, much has changed. Health workers are able to work with relative ease, says Umar Muhammad Khan, polio co-ordinator for the National Polio Plus Committee, who joined the effort in 2002 and saw it at its worst. "Now the challenges are much more developmental. The sanitation and hygiene is really poor. We have to change that and help those who already have the disease."

Back in Delhi, in the St Stephen's hospital polio ward – the only one in the country dedicated to the disease – sits a 20-year-old girl. She contracted polio at 10 months and is to undergo corrective surgery.

Where did she contract the disease? Aligarh, she says.

• This article was produced with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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« Reply #5493 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Pig Putin strikes again ...........

April 2, 2013

Russia: New Law Allows Governors to Be Appointed, Undoing Reform


President Vladimir V. Putin signed a law on Tuesday that could roll back a reform pushed by his predecessor allowing the direct election of regional governors. The new law allows regional legislatures to forgo elections and appoint governors from a list of candidates approved by Mr. Putin. He abolished direct elections for governors in 2004, during his second term as president, but President Dmitri A. Medvedev pushed a law through Parliament last year to restore them in what was seen as a major concession to a growing political opposition movement. Mr. Putin, now serving his third term as president, has said that the new law is needed to protect minorities in regions where elections could be combustible. Critics said the law would allow the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party to avoid election defeats by using its control of regional legislatures to bypass popular voting. The law was the latest unwinding of Mr. Medvedev’s initiatives since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency.


Russia sets April 17 trial date for opposition leader

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 3, 2013 7:35 EDT

Alexei Navalny, a leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin, will go on trial in mid-April on embezzlement charges, a Russian court said Wednesday, in a case supporters claim is politically motivated.

The case against Navalny, one of the most charismatic figures in the opposition movement against Putin, concerns a probe into a business deal that was struck by the government of the Kirov region he advised in 2009.

If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail.

“The trial will begin on April 17,” Sergei Blinov, a judge with the Leninsky district court in the provincial city of Kirov who will preside over the case, told AFP.

Navalny, who is facing several investigations, has already served two 15-day jail terms in Moscow for administrative offences he is deemed to have committed during anti-Putin protests.

But this is the first time Navalny will face a full-scale trial.

The 36-year-old is accused of acting in cahoots with a private firm, stealing 10,000 cubic metres of timber and causing a loss of 16 million rubles ($509,000) to the regional government.

Kirov is located some 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the northeast of Moscow.

Navalny, who made a name for himself through a series of high-profile corruption investigations, denies the charges, saying the Kremlin wants to muzzle him.

“The entire criminal case against Navalny has been made up by employees of the Russian Investigative Committee on the orders of Vladimir Putin,” says the website, which was set up by Navalny and his associates.

Navalny was at the forefront of unprecedented opposition protests that shook Russia last year and critics say his upcoming trial is part of a crackdown on civil society after Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term last May.

Weeks after his inauguration, Putin signed off on a raft of laws that opponents have attacked as a bid to quash dissent.

Scores of activists now face jail time for taking part in a protest on the eve of Putin’s inauguration and for alleged plans to overthrow the Russian strongman with the help of foreign sponsors.

Judge Blinov declined to further discuss the case against Navalny.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Last Edit: Apr 03, 2013, 07:51 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5494 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:53 AM »

April 3, 2013

Italy Makes Huge Haul of Mafia Assets in Green Energy Case


ROME (Reuters) - Italy made its biggest confiscation of mafia assets in history on Wednesday, including dozens of alternative energy companies worth a total of 1.3 billion euros (1.1 billion pounds), police said.

A court in Trapani on the island of Sicily ordered the definitive confiscation of assets first seized in 2010 from Vito Nicastri, a 57-year-old businessman, who was deemed a front man for the Sicilian mafia, known as Cosa Nostra.

Police and magistrates say Nicastri, once dubbed the "Lord of the Wind" because of his vast wind farm holdings, invested money made from extortion, drug sales and other illicit activities for Matteo Messina Denaro, believed to be Cosa Nostra's boss of bosses.

"Matteo Messina Denaro is behind many businessmen considered above suspicion who manage and take care of the assets of the real boss of Cosa Nostra," Ivan Lo Bello, vice chairman of business lobby Confindustria, commented on Twitter.

"To defeat the mafia, the fight against money laundering is fundamental," Lo Bello said.

Most of the seized assets were located in Sicily, home of the Cosa Nostra, and in southern Calabria, home of its sister crime organisation, the 'Ndrangheta.

The haul included 43 companies, 98 properties and even cars and boats, police said. Messina Denaro, 50, was once known as the "Playboy Boss" because he liked fast cars, women and gold watches. He has been on the run since 1993.

Thanks to his contacts in the criminal underworld, Nicastri went from being an electrician to one of Italy's biggest investors in alternative energy, a sector that enjoyed huge public incentives until last year.

Taken together, Italy's main crime groups - the Cosa Nostra, 'Ndrangheta, and the Camorra from the southern city of Naples - would have an annual turnover of 116 billion euros, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

That is more than the annual sales of Italy's biggest company, oil giant Eni.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio and Steve Scherer)
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« Reply #5495 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:57 AM »

François Hollande's credibility crisis is not for ever

Few people have a good word to say about the French president at the moment, but his gentle reforms can still change that

Pierre Haski, Wednesday 3 April 2013 11.04 BST   

France's president, François Hollande, went on TV for an hour last week, hoping to address his approval rate, which is at a historical low for a French leader so early in his mandate. The next day, opinion polls were cruel: two-thirds of the French were unconvinced.

The Guignols de l'info, the popular daily satirical puppet TV show, routinely describes Hollande every evening a weak president – afraid of his partner Valérie Trierweiler, afraid of Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and afraid of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, whom he met recently in Moscow. In short, Hollande is presented as a "Mr nice guy" unfit to lead a modern country in rough seas.

Things got even worse on Tuesday when the former budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, who was forced to resign only two weeks ago, suddenly admitted that he had been hiding money in a secret offshore bank account, despite vehement denials for several months. This has created a political storm, raising further doubts about Hollande's political authority.

Public and media reactions to his TV appearance last week were brutal and unanimously critical, although he had tried to give hope to the demoralised nation rather than promising it a Churchillian future of blood and tears, as his interviewer had suggested. This is the essence of the French paradox.

Here is a president who promises in March that by the end of the year, he'll be able to stop the rise of unemployment which is steadily growing to unprecedented levels, and no one believes him.

Here is a president who argues that full austerity should not be first choice, and that a reduction of public deficit should be done in a way that doesn't kill the patient, and no one notices.

Here is a president who tries to solve his country's financial trouble with a dose of social justice by making the rich pay more, and not even the poor applaud.

Since Hollande's victory over Nicolas Sarkozy last May, there has been only a brief suspension of the relentless criticism aimed his way – that came during his transformation as a war leader capable of sending the French army to fight al-Qaida affiliates in the sands of northern Mali. It's no surprise, therefore, that he told an enthusiastic rally in Bamako that this was the most important day in his political life.

Hollande's big credibility gap has several causes. To defeat Sarkozy, he minimised the extent of the economic crisis during his election campaign last year, blaming it mostly on bad management by the outgoing president. The wake-up call, from failed industry to pensions financing, has been violent; the gradual and soft recognition of the structural nature of the crisis has made it more difficult for the French to accept the brutality of some of the reforms needed: old industry closures, tax increases, and deep changes in the decades-old social contract.

The failure to show a vision for France's medium- or long-term future in the new world, whether within the highly unpopular European Union or in a global planet in which "the rest is rising", to paraphrase Fareed Zakaria, reduces the weight of the once-influential French.

The inexperience of Hollande's ministers, who have spent 10 years in the opposition, results in numerous couacs, as the French press calls contradictions and failures by cabinet members.

But despite these handicaps, Hollande is trying to keep to his preferred path: consensus-building and non-confrontational reforms, with the hope of adapting the country to the new world without tragedy.

During the election campaign, Sarkozy warned voters that if they chose his Socialist rival, France would be the next Greece "within two weeks". This hasn't happened, and despite having lost its AAA-rating, France is now borrowing money at record low-rates – often negative ones. The Paris stock market has also regained colours despite the overt hostility of investors to Hollande's plans to impose a 75%-tax on the super-rich and general criticism of his economic policies, including his failure to reach the target of 3% of budget deficit this year.

But this is not the key to Hollande's unpopularity. His aides know that he will not recover in approval rates, including in his own camp, until he can show concrete results that are nowhere to be seen. At present, the mood on the left is highly depressed, and split between the supporters of Socialist dissident Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who bluntly accused the president of selling out), and Hollande supporters who feel that the president is paying more attention to employers' and investors' lobbying than to his own constituency's suffering.

But this could change quickly, if the haemorrhaging of jobs was stopped – via the creation of government-sponsored jobs, government support for investment and a more favourable international environment.

After Hollande's failed TV appearance, Charles Wyplosz, an iconoclastic Geneva-based economist, asked in a blogpost: "What if Hollande was right not to do anything?" This is an ironic and oblique criticism of the French president that could nevertheless be read in a positive way. What if Hollande's "no drama" approach to economic and social reform, refusing to brutalise a country prone to erupt into nervous breakdown and uprising, is the right way to change it?

The moment of truth is coming soon for a man who was underrated until he was elected president, and who is again underrated in the exercise of power.


France's former budget minister admits lying about secret offshore account

Jérôme Cahuzac plunges Hollande's government into crisis after shock confession to hiding €600,000 for more than 20 years

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Tuesday 2 April 2013 19.53 BST   

The French government is in crisis after François Hollande's former budget minister and tax tsar was charged with tax fraud following a shock confession that he had held a secret foreign bank account for 20 years and had repeatedly lied about it.

Jérôme Cahuzac's sudden admission that he hid €600,000 (£510,000) offshore for more than two decades is the biggest scandal to hit Hollande's presidency.

The public admission by the man who led France's fight against tax evasion that he secretly defrauded the taxman and was "caught in a spiral of lies" is a huge embarrassment for Hollande, who promised that his government would be beyond reproach after the corruption allegations that dogged previous French administrations.

Until last month, Cahuzac, 60, a former MP and cardiologist who became a plastic surgeon specialising in hair transplants, was Hollande's budget minister leading a crusade against tax fraudsters and tax havens. He had the crucial task of streamlining the budget and running Hollande's crackdown on rich individuals who would be made to pay a bigger share of the tax burden.

In December last year, the investigative website Mediapart reported that Cahuzac had held an undisclosed account at the Swiss bank UBS for 20 years and had travelled to Geneva to close it and transfer the money to Singapore just before he was made head of the parliamentary finance commission in February 2010.

The site published a recording in which Cahuzac allegedly told his wealth manager of his embarrassment over the Swiss account in 2000. A voice said to be Cahuzac's says in the recording: "What bothers me is that I still have an account open with UBS – UBS is not necessarily the most hidden of banks."

For the four months since, Cahuzac had repeatedly sworn he had no hidden account, taking libel action against Mediapart, swearing before parliament that he had "never had an account abroad" and taking to the airwaves to issue strong denials while continuing to lead France's clampdown on tax evasion.

Two weeks ago, when judges opened a preliminary inquiry into the account and his own possible tax evasion, he finally resigned but insisted he was innocent. Hollande applauded his resignation to "better defend his honour".

But on Tuesday, Cahuzac asked to see the investigating judges and then issued his shock confession via his blog, announcing that he was sorry for lying. He said the hidden account did exist but he did not say which country it was in.

"I was caught in a spiral of lies and I did wrong," he wrote. "I ask the president, the prime minister, my former colleagues in the government, to forgive me for the damage I have caused them." He said he was "devastated by remorse".

His lawyer said he had been placed under formal investigation for allegedly laundering the proceeds of tax fraud.

French Socialist MPs reacted with shock to what was a huge blow to the credibility of the French political class. Hollande described Cahuzac's actions as an "unforgivable moral error". The prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said "lies are not acceptable in democracy" and rushed to appear on the prime-time news to limit the damage.

Pascal Durand, head of the Green party, which has two ministers in government, said "Mr Cahuzac's lie was a lie of state" which "discredits the collective word of politicians".

Jean-François Copé, head of the rightwing UMP party, called for Hollande to address the nation to explain how much he knew.

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« Reply #5496 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:03 AM »

In France and Germany's eyes, David Cameron is already yesterday's man

Snubbed by Hollande and Merkel, the PM is seen as having little chance of being in power in 2015 to force a rewrite of Britain's EU status

John Palmer, Tuesday 2 April 2013 19.19 BST   

Angela Merkel and François Hollande have rejected David Cameron's invitation. He wanted them to take part in a government survey assessing the impact of European Union laws and regulations on the UK and other member states. The prime minister shouldn't be surprised by the snub – he had already been warned, notably by the Polish foreign minister speaking in Oxford last year, that there would be no encouragement from Europe for those in London who want Britain left isolated on the fringes of the EU.

Lest the British government be encouraged to play on any perceived differences between Berlin and Paris, the two most powerful EU heads of government co-ordinated their response very closely. The survey itself – an initiative of the Foreign Office launched in 2012 – is a lengthy and bland questionnaire designed to identify areas of policy where there might be public support for Britain pulling out of existing EU commitments.

The survey is one part of a carefully orchestrated campaign designed to lead up to a possible referendum on EU membership, to be held towards the end of 2017. This, of course, will be well after the next general election and is designed to follow on what London expects will be a major new EU constitutional treaty to give the Euro area sweeping new powers.

The prime minister's strategy therefore depends on him successfully clearing three critical hurdles. First: survive as leader of the Conservative party up to the general election. Second: win the next UK election with a clear overall Tory majority. Third: trade demands for the UK to be given a special semi-detached status in the EU in return for not blocking a new treaty for euro-area economic and political union.

There are obvious question marks over all three stages. Given the current frustration in the Conservative party over the government's unpopularity and the alienation of many Tory MPs from Cameron's leadership, a bid to oust the prime minister cannot be excluded. Indeed if next month's local government election results are as bad as some in the party fear and if the threat from Ukip looms ever larger, a leadership coup might even come later this year.

A new Conservative leader who tries to pull the party further to the Eurosceptic right would risk undermining the coalition with the Liberal Democrats. A government crisis would almost certainly be precipitated by any move to hold an EU membership referendum this side of the next general election, as some on the Tory right are already demanding.

Although a general election is two years away, there is little comfort in the opinion poll evidence for the present coalition, which is way behind Labour and is also losing votes to Ukip. But if the re-election of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition is questionable, the prospects for a majority Tory-only government seem remote. The conclusion being drawn in most European Union capitals is that there is only a small and diminishing prospect that David Cameron will still be in Downing Street after 2015 and in a position to force a fundamental rewrite of the terms of UK membership of the EU.

However, just to be on the safe side, there is much talk in Brussels and other capitals about delaying a new treaty to authorise a full European economic, monetary and banking union. For different reasons the French and German governments believe they can still nail down the much-needed Euro-area banking union without having to trigger a new treaty and thereby new risk referendums in other EU countries. This would deprive a Tory government of a powerful bargaining chip in seeking semi-detached status.

Given the deepening economic recession in the EU and the mounting demands for a radical change in policy to prioritise growth and jobs, it is far from certain how long a new EU treaty can be delayed. If a new German coalition government including the Social Democrats emerges from the German general election in September, it may demand significant further economic and political integration in return for underwriting a serious recovery strategy.

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« Reply #5497 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Ratko Mladic: the full story of how the general evaded capture for so long

The Bosnian Serb leader on trial for war crimes once inspired fear and loyalty but grew isolated during his 14 years in hiding

Julian Borger in Belgrade
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 April 2013 17.21 BST   

The men and women who helped hide Ratko Mladic through his many years as a fugitive saw him as a Serb hero. But just in case their loyalty should waver, they were presented with a gift: photographs of their children. The implication was clear: if we can shoot them with a camera, we can shoot them by other means as well.

The Bosnian Serb general, who is now on trial in The Hague charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity, eluded capture for 14 years, with the help of the Serbian military, then his wartime lieutenants, and then his family. But the common factor throughout was fear.

The stocky, ruddy-faced, ex-artillery officer made a career out of terror. He oversaw the three years of the Sarajevo siege and the daily attrition of its residents by shelling and sniping. He was also at the Muslim enclave in Srebrenica in July 1995, reassuring panicked women captives their loved ones would be safe, while his men were rounding up and slaughtering 8,000 men and boys. It was the worst atrocity Europe has witnessed since the Nazi era.

Link to video: Ratko Mladic trial: general confronted with Srebrenica footage

After the war, Mladic withdrew to Han Pijesak in eastern Bosnia, where the communists had built a reinforced bunker to resist invasion. But in 1997 when Nato troops finally began looking for war criminals, he slipped across the river Drina from the separatist Bosnian Serb republic to Serbia proper, where President Slobodan Milosevic, the mastermind behind the "ethnic cleansing" of non-Serbs, was ready to offer shelter. But Mladic's days as a wanted man had only just begun.

From interviews with relatives and court transcripts, as well as the accounts of Serbian and international investigators who ultimately tracked Mladic down in 2011, the Guardian has been able to piece together details of Mladic's years in hiding. While evading his pursuers for so long burnished his folk-hero image among nationalists as a Serbian Scarlet Pimpernel, the reality was more mundane and brutal. He stayed free by trusting fewer and fewer people, living in increasing isolation and squalor, ensuring silence with the threat of force.

In the years just after the war, when Mladic had the full weight of Milosevic's military establishment, his presence could still inspire dread among soldiers who were well aware they were witnesses to a dark national secret.

In July 1997, an army officer called Milan Gunj got an unusual phone call in Belgrade. It was a soldier from one of the military holiday homes Gunj managed telling him to get there quickly to meet some unexpected guests.

Gunj arrived at the officers' retreat at Rajac, about 62 miles from Belgrade, to find about a dozen men milling around the entrance. One of them was Mladic.

"I was somewhat surprised, scared and confused by this turn of events," Gunj later told The Hague tribunal. "First of all, because this happened in my compound, and I had no information that this would happen so it was a surprise event. And secondly, I know that Mr Ratko Mladic has been accused of certain acts by The Hague tribunal. And at that point in time I was in a state of panic. I was very afraid. I felt uneasy."

Just over a month later, the Mladic entourage went off, again in the middle of the night, to another, bigger military resort, at Stragari, near the city of Kragujevac, a bucolic hideaway with sports grounds, swimming pools, table tennis tables, even wooded grounds stocked with deer for hunting.

General Djordje Curcin, an old family friend, described a typical day with Mladic in his heyday as a fugitive.

"We talked, we walked through the woods, we played some chess. We also played cards, table tennis. We had lunch. And then we walked some more," Curcin said.

Such was the determination of the Serbian general staff to keep Mladic both comfortable and hidden that an entire department was established in Belgrade to that end, called the 30th Personnel Centre. Alongside a permanent retinue of about 10 bodyguards, Mladic had a driver, a cook, even his own personal waiter, who would travel with him back to Rajac in late winter when Stragari was opened to civilian hunters and then, when the season was over, they would drive back. But he also spent time at his family home at Blagoja Parovica street in Belgrade and went out to restaurants and football matches in the Serbian capital. Video of these days, shows a relaxed Mladic playing ping-pong and enjoying family parties.

Outside this protected bubble, however, Serbia was changing rapidly. Milosevic fell from power on 5 October 2000 and was arrested the next year by a democratic government led by Zoran Djindjic, who sent the ex-dictator to The Hague war crimes tribunal. The arrest shook Mladic out of his complacency.

Curcin recalled: "On the night when Mr Milosevic was arrested, he was in his own home, in his own apartment, and that night he left. When I saw him later on and spoke with him, he was visibly concerned for his security and the security of the people close to him. And he was determined not to surrender alive."

Milosevic's friends in the army command moved him to yet another base, Krcmar near Valjevo, which had stronger fortifications and underground bunkers, but from then on they were in retreat as the Djindjic government asserted its authority over the security apparatus. Mladic was declared retired from the military in March 2002 and early in April a decree was issued legalising co-operation with The Hague tribunal. Reluctantly, the generals told Mladic he had to leave Krcmar but at first he refused, triggering an uneasy standoff during which the army buzzed the base with helicopters in mock raids to persuade him to go. On 1 June, Mladic finally took the hint and left in a convoy of army staff cars.

That marked the start of a far less comfortable phase for the fugitive general. His support network shrank from the Yugoslav military to a handful of old comrades from the Bosnian war. At its head was Jovo Djogo, a former Bosnian Serb colonel, who masterminded the renting of a series of flats in the warren of tower blocks in New Belgrade.

"After the army said they would no longer look after him, he went to Jovo Djogo and a small team of people who looked after him," Mladic's lawyer, Milos Saljic, said. "In New Belgrade, he stayed inside and was brought food and papers. His family couldn't come."

"The rented flats had a very precise specification," said a senior Serbian official involved in the Mladic hunt. "In large buildings, with nothing on the first floor, nothing on the top floor, nothing with security guards, or locked doors or security cameras."

It was an unsettled existence for the first few months until the network found a couple of houses where Mladic felt entirely comfortable, on a street named after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He was living just a few doors down from Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb political leader also facing genocide charges, but it is quite possible the two did not cross paths.

They loathed each other and investigators say there was no overlap between their support networks. Karadzic hid in plain sight, under the assumed identity of a new-age healer, Dragan Dabic, complete with topknot and loose clothing, and hanging out a small cafe on Yuri Gagarin street, the Luda Kuca (Mad House). Mladic maintained military discipline, rarely venturing out of his flat except for an occasional evening walk along the Sava river with his son, Darko.

For the men and women tasked with looking after him, he was a demanding guest. He wanted warm milk and honey in the morning before his exercises. He required all his food to be fresh, bought the same day it was eaten. Fruit and vegetables had to be bought from a range of stalls on the baffling grounds that their purchase all from one place would somehow arouse suspicion.

He was careful about his appearance, shaving and grooming every day – he told his minders the way you looked at your death was the way you would look in the afterlife. He was fastidious about his teeth too, aware that a trip to a dentist could compromise his security.

Those were the parameters of Mladic's life until 12 March 2003, when Djindjic, the Serbian prime minister, was shot by a sniper as he entered a government building, in an assassination plot put together by an unholy alliance of paramilitaries and organised crime.

His pursuit of war crimes suspects, said Boris Tadic, Djindjic's deputy leader in the Democratic party, who went on to be president, "was one of the reasons Djindjic was assassinated".

Arrests that followed the killing targeted the shadow security apparatus put in place by Milosevic and the backlash came sufficiently close to Mladic's network for him to tighten his rules still further. Before, his bodyguards stayed with him, sometimes sleeping on the floor. Afterwards, he moved flats but the team did not go with him. They were kept a phone call away, with only one minder knowing his address.

There is evidence too that to avoid the increasing heat after the Djindjic killing, Mladic and his team may have hidden for some time in a warren of underground bunkers in the Belgrade district of Topcider. Two guards were murdered there in 2004 and their deaths covered up as a murder-suicide by the military. Their parents say they were killed because they had seen Mladic or his security detail, and a second inquiry has since found they were shot by other weapons. A new investigation was ordered last month.

By 2005, Mladic was back on Yuri Gagarin street, in a different flat, but feeling increasingly jumpy. In September of that year, investigators say, a policeman making routine inquiries about an incident in the tower block knocked on his door, adding to his paranoia. In December he was moved out to a village called Ljuba near the town of Sremska Mitrovica, where one of his network of protectors had a country cottage. That was followed by a month in Sremska Mitrovica in January 2006 but it did not stop Mladic feeling the pressure. That month Djogo was arrested along with a former bodyguard.

Link to video: Ratko Mladic: 'I defended my people and my country'

According to separate sources, the fugitive abruptly dropped his network, presumably believing it was only a matter of time before one of them was picked up and gave him away, and in the dead of night, on 4 February 2006, he rang the intercom of his brother-in-law, Krsto Jegdic's flat, announcing himself only as "the guy from Bosnia".

Jegdic assumed it was a brother who lived in eastern Bosnia and buzzed him in, only to open the door to the sight of Mladic brandishing a gun. He sent Jegdic's son down to tell his driver he could leave and while the teenager was away made a comment that suggested the boy's life might be in the balance if he, Mladic, was given away. The behaviour was enough for Jegdic's wife to veto the fugitive general staying any longer. Jegdic offered to drive him to the station in the morning and then, on second thoughts, to the house of another brother, Miroslav, in the village of Mala Mostanica, about 19 miles south-west of Belgrade, along the river Sava.

It is a pretty settlement scattered across undulating woodland. Miroslav Jegdic's house is three unfinished storeys of red brick and concrete balconies without railings. There are cherry trees in the back and vines propped up on the west side. Miroslav has long gone back to his native Macedonia to escape the clamour of the Mladic case and it was his sister-in-law, Djuka, who emerged from a nearby house to quiz visitors, thinking they were estate agents. The family are trying to sell up and leave.

Mladic's lawyer, Saljic, had said that Djuka used to cook meals for Mladic and Miroslav and take them across, but she insists she only found out he was there when he was arrested. Her husband, another of the Jegdic clan, Vukasin, had told her Mladic was hiding in Miroslav's house, she concedes, but she did not believe him because his mind had become erratic in recent years.

"He started having hallucinations, and I thought it was just another hallucination. He would imagine he saw all sorts of people," Djuka Jegdic said. She blames the pressure of Mladic's presence and heavy-handed police tactics for his breakdown. "Once they came and took us both away and we couldn't warn our 15-year-old son, so he thought we'd disappeared," she complained, weeping bitterly at the memory.

In a now notorious raid in April 2006 men in 4x4s swept up the narrow country lane. Mladic, looking down through the wooden-slatted shutters of his second-floor window, must have thought his time had finally come, but officers of Serbia's BIA intelligence agency went to the wrong brother, Vukasin.

"A couple of them walked around Miroslav's house," Djuka said. "But Miroslav was away in Belgrade and they didn't go to it. They just walked around and came back."

A western investigator who was involved in the hunt said: "The 2006 raid was either monumentally stupid, or deliberate – a way of warning Mladic to move out, while looking busy for the benefit of Carla del Ponte [then The Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor]."

Foul-up or conspiracy, the result was the same. Mladic was able to slip out the back door into the woods and return the next morning, but he left Mala Mostanica for good two days later.

There is a difference of opinion among investigators on where he went next. The official version says Mladic made his way straight to Lazarevo, a village in northern Serbia where some of his cousins lived, and where he was finally caught. There are suspicions, however, among Serbian and some western investigators, that he may have made a detour to the south-eastern Bosnian village of Gacko. There were a couple of credible sightings there, officials say, and some apparently conspiratorial activity by family members, avoiding phone contacts and speaking in what may have been code, but it was never confirmed.

What is certain is that Mladic life as a fugitive ended in Lazarevo, in the run-down farmhouse belonging to his cousin Branislav. Living in one room, his health deteriorated and Branislav found him on the floor one day after an apparent stroke, but Mladic refused to be taken to hospital. By now, his isolation was almost total. He allowed neither his wife, Bosiljka, nor his son, Darko, to visit, but in the end it may have been family sentiment that gave him away.

On 6 May 2008, Darko brought his two daughters to celebrate St George's Day in Lazarevo. The party was at another cousin's house but they made a detour to Branislav's house, walking into the central farmyard and then out again, baffling their police tail.

Link to video: Ratko Mladic arrested

"He watched them through the window. He wasn't well. He couldn't let the girls see him but he had the desire to see his granddaughters," said Boris Tadic, who was then Serbian president and under intense pressure from the EU and The Hague tribunal to capture Mladic. "Then the Mladic family phoned Lazarevo twice in three days. Why two times? That is what eventually took us to that house."

It may have been that Darko or Bosiljka fretted more about the old man's health, having felt his presence in Lazarevo, and let their guard down. On 26 May 2011, a police patrol was sent to check on the village cousins. Tadic argues the routine and low-key nature of the patrol contradicts a widespread conspiracy theory that his government knew all along where Mladic was, and was simply waiting for the most advantageous moment to play him as a bargaining chip.

"The proof that we didn't know ahead is that just one officer actually entered the house where he was," said Tadic. "You have my word, we did not calculate this. This was our moral obligation."

The policeman opened the door and saw a bare room with a bed that looked like it had just been occupied. He glanced behind the door to another corner of the room where an old, ailing man was hunched up. Asked to identify himself, he said: "I'm Ratko Mladic", bringing to an end a 14-year pursuit.

Mladic had at one point told his old cousin, Branislav, to shoot him with one of the two pistols the fugitive kept with him rather than let him be arrested. But Branislav was out that day and anyway told Mladic's lawyer Saljic,he could never have brought himself to pull the trigger. Neither, as it turned out, could Mladic.

Tadic was doing his morning exercises when he got the call. He asked how long DNA testing would take but on discovering it could be several days, demanded photos be brought to him as soon as Mladic and his captors reached Belgrade. "When I saw the photos, I said: 'This is Ratko Mladic.'"

When Saljic arrived at the cell where Mladic was awaiting transfer to The Hague, he was shocked at his appearance. "He actually looked blue and his mouth and face were twisted. I wouldn't have recognised him on the street," the lawyer recalled. "It was emotional. He got up from his chair and hugged me and started to cry saying: 'I'll never be able to repay you for all you have done for my family.'"

Saljic's attempts to forestall Mladic's transfer failed, but the investigating judge did grant one of the prisoner's requests: to visit the grave of his daughter, Ana, who killed herself in 1994 with one of his pistols because, it is said, she could not live with what he had become. His minders withdrew as Mladic was given half an hour at the grave.


Court hope for parents who believe sons were killed to protect Ratko Mladic

Case of dead Serb soldiers could go before European court after Belgian ruling that parents did not get fair hearing

Julian Borger in Belgrade
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 April 2013 17.21 BST   

Allegations that Serbian soldiers were murdered because they discovered where General Ratko Mladic was hiding from war crimes charges could soon go before the European court of human rights, after the constitutional court in Belgrade found the soldiers' parents had been denied justice.

Janko Jakovljevic said the Belgrade ruling confirmed his belief that his son, Dragan, and another guard at a military barracks in Belgrade, Drazen Milovanovic, had been killed in 2004 because they had inadvertently found out that Mladic was being sheltered by Serbian officers there.

The Bosnian Serb commander was captured in 2011 and is on trial before The Hague war crimes tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity, for his part in atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict.

"Our sons were killed because they either saw Mladic or his security teams," Jakovljevic told the Guardian. He said he and Milovanovic's parents received a letter in January from "someone in Mladic's security" giving details of the killing. They believe the letter is genuine and have handed it over to the prosecutor's office.

An initial Serbian army inquiry ruled that one soldier killed the other then himself, but an independent commission later found the two soldiers had been killed by a third person using a different weapon.

The constitutional court judgment last month said that the parents had been denied a fair trial and awarded them €5,000 (£4,000) in compensation. Jakovljevic said if there is no new investigation they will take their case to the European court in Strasbourg.

In 2005, a Serbian deserter, Sergeant Miroslav Petrovic, told the Belgrade daily Danas, that he went to a meeting on improving Mladic's security the previous year at Topcider, the same barracks where the two soldiers were killed. "I attended a meeting at Topcider where I met many members of the Bosnian Serb army, whose task was to secure the routes for the general if he travelled north of Serbia or to Bosnia," Petrovic said. Of the two murdered soldiers he said: "Mladic was in Topcider last October. The unfortunate fellows saw him and were executed instantly."

Petrovic's current whereabouts are unknown and he could not be contacted.

Mladic was protected by the Serbian regime under Slobodan Milosevic but after he was toppled in 2000 in democratic elections, shielding war crimes suspects from The Hague tribunal was made illegal.

The Topcider case is not the only one in which Serbian soldiers are alleged to have been killed because they knew too much about Mladic. Srdjan Ivanovic was found dead at the Sinkovce barracks near Leskovac in August 2005 in what the army said was a heroin overdose.

His father, Miodrag, insisted that his son never took drugs or drank alcohol. He added that his son had finished his year's military service and only took the bus to Leskovac on the day he died to return his gun and keys to the military vehicles he was responsible for as a military driver. "Before he went back he said he was afraid for his life because as well as being a driver for his commander, he had also been a driver for Mladic," he said.

Two other soldiers at the same barracks had been killed over the previous year and their deaths officially described as suicides despite plentiful evidence of murder. "I said I would go with him back to Leskovac but he said: 'Don't worry – it's just for a day,' and I never saw him again."

A legal analysis of the Leskovac killings commissioned by the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade, found that in Ivanovic's case, autopsy provided "no data on whether the soldier had consumed heroin or any other hard drugs , how the heroin got into the soldier's organism and whether there are any marks of intravenous injection of heroin on his body"

Ivanovic said that if he does not get justice for his son in Serbia, he will also take the case to Strasbourg.

"Most likely, these kids saw something and were killed for it and the military covered it up," Jelena Milic, the executive director at CEAS, said. "We can't begin to reform Serbia if we can't get at the heart of darkness in the military."


The hunt for Ratko Mladic – interactive

Mladic spent 16 years moving around central Serbia seeking shelter in military bases, Belgrade flats and isolated villages. But eventually his presence in the country became an obstacle to Serbia's EU aspirations and he was handed in to the international criminal tribunal

Julian Borger and Paddy Allen, Tuesday 2 April 2013 17.21 BST

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« Reply #5498 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:18 AM »

04/03/2013 11:53 AM

Promising but Perilous: German Firms Put Off by Russian Corruption


Russian President Vladimir Putin is proud of how well his country is performing economically. But corrupt officials and powerful oligarchs are hampering the country's development. For German companies, the Russian market is as treacherous as it is enticing.

The Hotel Ukraine in Moscow is still graced with the emblem of the former Soviet Union, which features wreaths of grain encircling the Soviet star. The upscale Italian restaurant on the 29th floor offers a sweeping view past the symbols of the former communist empire to those of the modern age, the gleaming skyscrapers on the opposite bank of the Moskva River.

Down below is an armada of black, luxury sedans, looking as small as toy cars, interspersed with the occasional red Ferrari or yellow Lamborghini. The restaurant serves spaghetti with crabs from the Kamchatka Peninsula for €50 ($64), and bottles of Château Pétrus for about €10,000. Business executives in tailored suits go there to celebrate their latest deals. They often raise a glass to President Vladimir Putin, who they see as the guarantor of Russia's stability.

Putin sees himself the same way. Next weekend, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will jointly open the Hannover Messe 2013, which showcases Russia this year. At the trade fair, Putin will present an impressive record to the representatives of German industry.

The economy of the world's largest country in terms of land mass grew by 3.4 percent last year. Unemployment is at 6 percent nationwide, significantly lower than in Western countries, and the government had a balanced budget last year, following a surplus in 2011.

Today's Russia no longer has anything in common with the scarcity and lack of services that characterized the economy of the final Soviet years. For instance, Russia is about to replace Germany as Europe's largest automobile market. And even in small Siberian cities, supermarkets are well stocked and open around the clock.

Still, Putin's impressive economic figures veil fundamental problems with the economic system he created: rampant corruption, conglomerates run by oligarchs and mounting government intervention in the economy. These have rendered Russia's economy less dynamic than those of the other members of the association of emerging national economies known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). More than anything, Russia lacks the political will to address these problems.

Stability Isn't Everything

Western economies appreciate political stability, but that doesn't mean Putin won't be met with skepticism in Hanover. Relations between Germany and Russia are already strained, and the crisis in Cyprus has only made things worse.

All of last week, Russians were upset because they thought that Europe -- and Germany, in particular -- had ignored their efforts to rescue Cyprus. From their perspective, the European Union was "intentionally destroying the Cypriot banking system" and, indeed, expropriating an entire people. The newspapers likened the Cyprus bailout to theft, "Bolshevism like in the Soviet era" and a political punishment of Russia, which, as is widely known, has significant interests on the island.

For years, the Kremlin has used Cyprus as a financial base for Russian companies. Apparently it wasn't troubled by the tax evasion and money-laundering occurring at the same time. One Russian banking expert criticizes Moscow's inaction as being partly to blame for the current situation in Europe. There are currently "no relations at all anymore between Western Europe and Russia," says Sergei Alexashenko, the former deputy chief of Russia's central bank. He notes that the Cyprus crisis should serve as a warning to Moscow to finally change its ways.

What German companies expect more than anything is legal certainty and economic reforms. For them, the Russian market, which, unlike many others, continues to grow, is both promising and potentially treacherous. Indeed, whether a business venture succeeds or fails in Russia is still largely determined by politics.

Volkswagen, for example, is already producing VW and Skoda models in two Russian plants. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn negotiated directly with Putin about building additional plants. "There was a lot of back and forth and hemming and hawing over whether or not to do it," says Winterkorn. In the end, he decided that the company would build another engine factory in the western Kaluga region. But the decision was not entirely voluntary.

With a law known as Decree 166, the Russia government compels foreign companies to build their own production plants in the country. High import duties increase the cost of models coming in from abroad. But starting in 2016, any automaker that produces at least 300,000 vehicles in Russia will be allowed to import additional cars at lower import duty rates.

Lopsided Economy

Pressure tactics like this are the Russian leadership's heavy-handed attempt to develop a new industrial base in the country. The relative lack of industry will be evident in Hanover, where the Russian booth is dominated by companies such as energy giant Gazprom and the Russian Railways (RZD). The state controls more than 50 percent of banks and 73 percent of the transportation industry. Likewise, the government's control of the oil industry has grown from 10 percent, at the beginning of the Putin era in 1999, to 45 percent today.

"We're concerned about monopolies and falling back into a state-run economy," says Michael Harms, director of the Moscow-based German-Russian Chamber of Commerce. Putin himself has been pushing to re-nationalize major corporations for years. The state-run oil giant Rosneft, run by Putin's confidant Igor Sechin, was given the green light to absorb TNK-BP, a private oil company, in a deal worth $60 billion. The merger, completed in late March, makes Rosneft the world's largest oil producer, placing it ahead of ExxonMobil.

"The country depends on exporting its natural resources and financing its imports with the revenues," says Rainer Hribar, chairman of VBH Holding, a public trading company based in Korntal-Münchingen, outside Stuttgart, that has been selling door and window hardware in Russia for the last 18 years.

The focus on state-controlled natural-resource companies is hindering the development of an economy of small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs). It also promotes Russia's dependence on oil and natural gas prices, which could soon decline, as the extraction method known as fracking increases the production of shale gas worldwide.

Indeed, the country threatens to become less competitive internationally. There is far too little investment and not enough innovative energy, and Russia's largely Soviet-era infrastructure is too dilapidated.

Russia is plagued by plane crashes, burst pipelines and power-plant accidents. Though a proud member of the G-8 group of nations, it is often more akin to a developing country. About a fifth of the country's drinking water is lost through leaks. Only about 500 kilometers (310 miles) of new roads are built each year. "At this rate, it will take us 1,000 years to develop a modern, comprehensive road network," the minister of regional development complained in November.

Prestige and flagship projects are now expected to improve the infrastructure. They include the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 2018 World Cup and a new port near St. Petersburg, although the details of who exactly owns the port are not entirely clear.

A Land on the Take

Cranes made by Liebherr, the German equipment manufacturer, jut into the sky at the container terminal in Ust-Luga on the Gulf of Finland. The port also includes an oil terminal and a loading station for coal. Last year, more than 160,000 cars were imported into Russia through the Ust-Luga port.

To date, the government has pumped more than €3 billion into the project. Investigative journalists with the magazine Nasha Versiya speculate that Valery Izraylit, the chairman of the Ust-Luga Company with a dubious reputation, and a former transport minister hold the majority of shares in Ust-Luga through two offshore companies. They also believe that the port facility is being developed with government funds, though Izraylit denies the accusations.

Ust-Luga seems to be one of the countless examples of the conflation of political power and economic benefits -- and an expression of an "essentially feudal system," as economist Vladislav Inozemtsev says. Characteristic of this malaise in the Russian economy is the elite's lack of confidence in the system it created. In 2012, wealthy Russians and Russian companies took more than $50 billion out of the country.

The 30 largest Russian companies, including state-owned businesses such as oil giant Rosneft, have a large share of their operations managed by offshore companies. The Renova conglomerate, owned by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, which the Kremlin has engaged to build a Russian Silicon Valley on the outskirts of Moscow, saves taxes by maintaining companies registered in Switzerland, Panama and the Bahamas. Telecommunications giant Vimpelcom, owned by magnate Mikhail Fridman, is headquartered in the Netherlands.

In Russia itself, a backward bureaucracy impedes competition, as do cartels run by shady oligarchs or former members of the notorious KGB intelligence service. Russia ranks 112th out of 185 economies in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index. In Moscow, it takes an average of 540 days to process a building permit application.

Ubiquitous corruption swallows up vast amounts of money. The National Anti-Corruption Committee estimates that bribes and nepotism account for $300 billion a year. In Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, newly installed hot-water pipes were already leaking this winter. As it turned out, old, rusty pipes were installed instead of the brand-new pipes the city had been charged for.

On Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Russia is tied for 133rd place out of 176 countries, along with Iran, Honduras and the Comoros. The Russian edition of the magazine Esquire calculated that for €5.9 billion, the amount it cost to build a 48-kilometer road around Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the highway could easily have been paved with black caviar.

In November, the public prosecutor's office launched an investigation against former Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik, who apparently feels more comfortable staying at her €11 million estate in France. She reportedly paid a large share of the purchase price in cash.

The Perils of Fighting Corruption

Hans-Jörg Grundmann recently became the anti-corruption officer of Siemens, the German electronics and engineering giant, after serving as head of its railroad division. He is familiar with the ways of doing business in Russia from his own experience. Western businesses often find it necessary to hire local consultants in Russia, but it is difficult to tell whether portions of their fees are also used for bribes. This is why Siemens carefully screens such consultants and requires them to fully document their activities even after they have been hired.

So-called expediting payments are strictly forbidden at Siemens. But Russian officials sometimes ask for a small contribution to speed up the passage of urgently needed goods through customs. When they suspect that such payments are being made, Siemens employees are supposed to call a special hotline set up at the company for this purpose. The hotline employees then try to help the employee in question resolve the problem. "You just have to be firm and stand your ground," says Grundmann, "and such requests will decline."

Not everyone is as confident. A few years back, when Porsche wanted to set up a dealership in Moscow, the Stuttgart-based automaker was first offered a piece of land away from the downtown area. Porsche executives were advised to contact the wife of a certain politician if they wished to be offered a better location. The woman had desirable properties at her disposal, but she demanded a share of the dealership in return. Porsche declined and built elsewhere.

Before the dealership could be opened, the fire department appeared at the site on a daily basis, allegedly in response to fire alarms. The building had to be cleared each time. Although the fire experts found neither smoke nor fire, valuable time was lost. The problem was cleared up after Porsche donated a red Cayenne SUV to the fire department. Miraculously enough, there hasn't been a false alarm ever since.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5499 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:20 AM »

04/02/2013 04:24 PM

Life after the Fall: The Aftermath of the Cypriot Banking Collapse

By Ralf Hoppe

Cypriots are paying a high price for the collapse of their banking system. A leading lawyer, a real estate broker and a bar owner have already begun the process of searching for a future -- for themselves, their companies and their country.

The sun is rising over Cyprus, the temperature is 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) and the air feels like silk. On a morning like this, Pavlos Loizou, who works with his father in one of the island nation's largest real estate firms, would normally get into his silver Land Rover, rush over to Limassol or Larnaca, appraise building lots, take happy customers out to lunch and earn a lot of money in the process. At least that's the way it has been in recent years.

Loizou, 33, is tall, boyish-looking and polite. He studied finance in London and Cambridge, and he seemed to be headed for a magnificent future. Not anymore.

"I do know one thing," he says. "I'm not giving up."

On a morning like this Andreas Neocleous, a 73-year-old man and a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in Cyprus, would normally drive out to the shore in Limassol shortly after sunrise. He would do his yoga exercises on the beach in the early morning light and then drive home again, shower and eat a light breakfast. At about 7:30, he would be sitting in his office, drinking green tea. He would stay there all day, working until late in the evening -- as always.

His office has its own elevator and occupies the top floor of the Neocleous Tower in downtown Limassol. It's where Neocleous employs scores of attorneys, notaries and experts on holding companies, who represent and advise companies from more than 100 countries.

"This company was my life's work," he says. "I started very small, at a time when Cyprus was completely backward. My father was a farmer. We had a rocky field and exactly 12 chickens. Today more than 100 attorneys work for me. Of course I was happy to have succeeded, but what happens tomorrow?" Today, at any rate, he is running back and forth in his office, cursing and saying that he is going to sue the bankers. They are all criminals, he says, and if he had his way he would lock himself in a room with them for 24 hours -- with a whip in his hand.

A Heavy Burden

Normally, on a day like this, Nakis Dimitriou would at some point open his tavern on a ridge near the village of Pyrgos. He would greet the musicians, give the cooks and waiters their instructions and look forward to a wonderful evening of rebetiko folk music and revenues of a few thousand euros. That was what it used to be like. In his tavern, Dimitriou only hired live musicians, the best and most beautiful singers and bouzouki virtuosos. He borrowed money to buy an expensive sound system with a mixer console and foldback speakers for the stage, but now that the crisis has forced him to close the tavern, the loan has become a heavy burden.

"People are holding onto their money," Dimitriou says. "I still pay rent, in the hope of being able to open again -- and then create a place where there is music. It was my lifelong dream."

A tavern owner, a top attorney and a real estate broker -- to understand what happened and what the future holds for Cyprus, it's important to understand the lives of these men. Their stories reflect the history of the island, its rise and its sudden crash.

The three men have never met. Each one had his own life plan. The one thing they have in common is that their dreams, like those of so many others in Cyprus, are currently being dissolved.

Cyprus has managed to dodge a bullet, just barely, but at a high price. The country's second-largest lender, Laiki Bank, will be broken up. Small investors and savers with deposits of less than €100,000 ($128,000) will be spared and their accounts will be transferred to the Bank of Cyprus. But those with accounts worth more than €100,000 could lose everything above that amount. Customers of the Bank of Cyprus will also feel the pain. Their accounts will be frozen, although the details are still being worked out. One thing is clear: A lot of money is about to disappear.

Neocleous's firm, for example, has accounts with the country's three largest commercial banks. It has about €15 million in accounts with Laiki Bank, and significantly more with the Bank of Cyprus. Neocleous estimates his total loss at about €30 million.

'Run by Criminals'

"Only recently, I proudly told a business associate in Japan that my company had enough cash reserves to last two years without a cent in revenues. That's the way you have to do it, I said, and I was proud of myself. I had no idea at the time that the banks were being run by criminals."

Neocleous freely admits that much of his business was done with Russians. "Of course," he says when asked, "with Russians, Arabs, Norwegians, Japanese and Chinese. We advised any company that paid us to do so. Is there anything wrong with that? Cyprus was clearly a tax haven. That's how the laws were."

He denies, however, having anything to do with money laundering and dubious accounts. "Never with me," he says.

The Loizou family's real estate company also had all of its business accounts with Laiki Bank, which was once a rock-solid family bank, says Pavlos Loizou. In late 2012, when the situation became increasingly menacing, his father and uncle began cautiously transferring assets and reducing credit lines.

"But then the president and the finance minister went on TV and explained that there was absolutely no risk of a debt haircut and the loss of deposits." Loizou, his father and his uncle believed them. After all, they thought, this was Cyprus, not Greece.

They don't know exactly how much they've lost. But they'll have to pay 55 employees at the beginning of April, and they don't know where the money will come from. The son, Pavlos Loizou, is in better shape. His personal and business accounts are with the Bank of Cyprus. He has no access to his money and he will have to accept losses, which he expects to be between 30 and 40 percent. But that's good news these days.

Loizou, determined not to sit around at home, prefers to drive around the island and think -- about business ideas and about the future. The country is in a state of shock. Shops are closed in Nicosia and there are long lines in front of cash machines. The streets are quiet, as if the country were in mourning. There are demonstrations here and there, with schoolchildren and students chanting: "Troika out of Cyprus!" But their faces look sheepish and unsure, as if they knew that it isn't quite that easy.

A Visit to "Limassolgrad"

Unemployment in the Greek part of the island has risen from 6.8 to 14.7 percent in the last two years. Youth unemployment was 28.4 percent in 2012. Garbage is still being collected and service stations still have gasoline, but many places no longer accept checks and credit cards.

Only the Russians are still spending money. In the tourist center and port city of Limassol, nicknamed "Limassolgrad," they sit at the "Maxi," one of the many topless clubs, or at the "7 Seas." Another establishment, the "Dolce" on the beach promenade, is scheduled to reopen soon. The Dolce used to charge €1,000 to rent a sofa near the dance floor for an evening, champagne included, says Loizou. He had his bachelor party there. "The party is over," he says. On the other hand, it's possible that the crisis will just bring down the sofa rental price.

The broker sits in his Land Rover, driving past the dream houses of Limassol. First, there is the Twin Towers luxury residential complex on the promenade, with a bridge to the beach so that residents don't have to cross the street. Then there is a row of villas on one of the prettiest sections of the beach: 14 houses, each with about 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) of living space, complete with copper-clad facades and tropical hardwoods. Most of the houses are finished, but not all. Prices have dropped and construction is on hold, says Loizou. Then he drives through Yermasoyia, a neighborhood of luxury homes where the wealthy Russians live.

"Of course we have millionaires from Russia who are settling here, but no billionaires. They go the French Riviera. We get millionaires with assets of between two and 10 million, but now we've noticed that there is a limit to Russian involvement."

The fourth stop is the Hyper Tower, a futuristic, five-story office building. Each of the 815-square-meter floors is empty and ready for occupancy. Loizou has had to adjust the appraisal value of the building several times. "First it was 90 million, then 40, then 30 and now it's 11," he says. But it still hasn't been sold. He shakes his head.

"What exactly has happened?" he asks. "And what happens next?"

What Next for Cyprus?
All three men are asking themselves the same question: the top attorney, the real estate broker and the tavern keeper. There is much talk of the island's illustrious history these days. Cypriots have always been proud of their achievements, of their struggles on the road to prosperity and of their independence.

In Neocleous's office, there is a black-and-white photograph of him as a 16-year-old boy -- prisoner number 8554. He was a fervent nationalist and partisan at the time, says Neocleous, fighting against the British. He was arrested and sent to prison for three years, where he was tortured. When he was released, shortly before Cyprus gained its independence in 1960, he vowed to get rich as quickly as possible.

Although his father had little money, Andreas Neocleous finished school, went to Athens to study law and, in the 1970s, returned to his native Cyprus. By then it was no longer a backward island. The Cypriots had discovered something new and exciting: mass tourism.

The English in particular, Cyprus's erstwhile enemies, brought money into the country, and they needed accommodations. Hotels were built, followed by vacation cottages and, finally, houses for those who had decided to settle on the island. With all of the contracts to be signed and properties to be sold, there was plenty of work for a young attorney.

Nakis Dimitriou's dream was to run his own tavern. But he needed money for that, so he worked in construction, doing carpentry work and pouring foundations. He was paid 100 pounds a week, not the 40 pounds he would have earned elsewhere.

Defending the Cypriot Model

Pavlos Loizou, the real estate broker, wasn't born yet at the time. But his father opened a real estate company and laid the foundation for future prosperity. If the business continued to go well, he planned to send his son abroad to study.

And business did go well. In the five years leading up to the turn of the millennium, the number of registered holding companies grew from a few hundred to more than 40,000. Tankers and container ships around the world sailed under the Cypriot flag.

And then came 2004, when Cyprus joined the European Union and, three-and-half years later, the euro zone. The elimination of barriers that came as a result of those memberships made it even more appealing to register companies in Cyprus, and the number has since grown to an estimated 270,000. With its 10 percent corporate tax rate and other business-friendly regulations, Cyprus became the Cayman Islands of the Mediterranean, an offshore haven with a perfect climate and top-ranked in Europe in terms of the percentage of the population with university degrees. Unfortunately, all of them wanted to be attorneys, real estate brokers and bankers.

The model functioned very well, and the Cypriots staunchly defended it. Georges Vassiliou, president of the country from 1988 to 1993 and architect of its accession to the euro zone, is today one of Germany and of the troika, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Cyprus is being used to set an example, he says. The way countries treat each other in the European family is shocking to Vassiliou. "We had an overinflated banking sector? Perhaps, but then you could also say that Germany has an overinflated automobile sector! Should we destroy that too?"

Souvlaki and Sandwiches

But Neocleous, the top attorney, Loizou, the broker and Dimitriou, the tavern keeper -- they all know that causes of the crisis are homemade. The more money poured into Cyprus in the past few years, the larger the banking sector grew. Most recently, banking assets amounted to more than seven times the country's gross domestic product. And the bankers, says a business professor in Nicosia, put on cowboy airs. Then came the financial crisis, and Cypriot banks were heavily affected by the restructuring of Greek debt. Rating agencies reduced the country's credit rating. The debt spiral had been set in motion.

How will Cypriots endure the brutal bailout process? The banking sector needs to be restructured as quickly as possible, says Neocleous. Meanwhile, he adds, scared customers need to be reassured, neglected sectors like tourism must be revived and, most of all, Cypriots have to persevere and plough ahead.

The Cypriot economy has been too one-sided, says Loizou, the broker. For him, the solution is to develop new sectors, like technology, IT and the sciences. "We have dealt with all kinds of setbacks throughout our history," says attorney Neocleous. Dimitriou, the man who wanted to rescue Cypriot music, now runs a souvlaki stand.

Loizou has already implemented two new business ideas. He set up a company that publishes a newsletter for investors and he has opened a sandwich shop. Thanks in part to the Russians, the shop is doing well with its menu of healthy food and freshly squeezed juices. A Russian boy, perhaps 10 years old, comes to the sandwich shop twice a week. Someone calls in advance to reserve a table, and then the boy is driven there in a dark, chauffeured Mercedes ML 400 with tinted windows. He recently brought along his aunts and nannies for a small party. It's the best way to build a customer base.

A sandwich shop, says Loizou, is a business model like any other -- nothing new or sensational, he explains, but a sound business nonetheless.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #5500 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:22 AM »

04/02/2013 06:09 PM

Record High: European Jobless Rates Show North-South Rift

Unemployment in the euro zone hit 12 percent in February, its highest level since the creation of the euro, according to data released on Tuesday. It provided further evidence that the debt crisis has driven a wedge between the stable north and the struggling south in the 17-member currency bloc.

Euro-zone unemployment data released on Tuesday provided yet further evidence of the widening economic rift between the stable north and the struggling south.

The rate was 12 percent in February, unchanged from an upwardly-revised 12 percent in January, initially reported as 11.9 percent, said Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. It was the highest rate since the creation of the euro in 1999.

In the 17-nation bloc, 19.07 million were registered as unemployed, Eurostat estimated. In the full 27-member European Union, the unemployment rate rose to 10.9 percent from 10.8 percent.

The difference between the northern and southern euro member states is striking. Austria, Germany and Luxembourg had jobless rates of 4.8 percent, 5.4 percent and 5.5 percent respectively, while Greece and Spain were the hardest hit with rates of over 26 percent each. Portugal's unemployment stood at 17.5 percent.

The debt crisis is hitting young people particularly hard. In Greece, more than one in two people aged under 25 is without work -- a staggering rate of 58.4 percent. In Spain, the rate is 55.7 percent, followed by Portugal with 38.2 percent and Italy at 37.8 percent.

Economic powerhouse Germany has the lowest youth unemployment at 7.7 percent. The average rate for the euro zone was 23.9 percent in Feburary, down slightly from January.

A Threat to Global Competitiveness

The figures are likely to reinforce criticism by many politicians and economists that the austerity approach to tackling the debt crisis isn't working.

The bailout of Cyprus agreed to last week is expected to plunge yet another euro-zone member into a deep recession. Economists say the Cypriot economy could shrink 10 percent this year, with thousands of job losses, as a result of the deposit levy and enforced scaling down of the island's banking sector, one of its main industries.

The debt crisis isn't just increasing the strain within the euro zone, but also threatens to set the bloc back in competition with the other big economic regions.

China's GDP is growing at around 8 percent a year. The US economy grew 2.2 percent in 2012 and should expand 1.7 percent in 2013, the International Monetary Fund predicts.

The euro zone, meanwhile, contracted by 0.6 percent in 2012 and is expected to shrink again, by 0.3 percent, this year.

cro -- with wire reports

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« Reply #5501 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Diplomacy: Berlin’s new activism

2 April 2013
Le Monde Paris

Germany is taking advantage of its robust economic health to firm up its presence on the international stage. However, trade is the engine of a diplomacy that still fears embracing military interventions, a stance which remains popular with the German public.

Frédéric Lemaître

Vladimir Putin is expected in Hannover, Germany on April 7 and 8 where, together with Angela Merkel, the Russian president will cut the ribbon to open a great industrial fair that this year is showcasing Russia as its guest of honour. The stars of the Russian economy have, of course, reserved their booths.

In 2012 the Chancellor made the same rounds in the company of the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, when Beijing was at the heart of that year’s fair. Two typical examples of how German diplomacy feeds the German economy, and vice-versa.

In Germany, industrial exports are seen not merely as the consequence of the competitiveness of the economy, but as a goal in themselves. A brand is an object of pride, for the left and the trade union movement as well. It’s also insurance against demographic decline, as investing the trade surpluses will help in part to cover Germany’s social expenditures in the future.

In a country that, for several decades after the Second World War, dared not claim any particular strategic interest – “we were supposed to have the same interests as our allies and neighbours,” says a diplomat – trade is an ideal gateway to the world.

Crammed itinerary

And Angela Merkel is making that outbound voyage. Since 2007 the Chancellor has made no less than 274 trips abroad: 168 within Europe, 59 to Asia, 29 to North America, 11 to Africa and seven to Latin America. Even little Moldova was entitled to a visit. In this crammed itinerary, China occupies a special place. In the last six years, the Chancellor has made no fewer than six lengthy official visits there, including two in 2012, spending time both in Beijing and in the provinces. Clearly this isn’t happening by accident. In the past 10 years trade between the two countries has shot up from €36bn to €144bn, with China becoming Germany's third-largest trading partner (behind France and the Netherlands), with Germany posting six trade surpluses.

Another illustration of the German approach: relations with the United States, which extend well beyond the merely economic. Germany’s anchorage in NATO is one of the pillars of German diplomacy. In recent months Berlin has managed use its privileged ties with Washington to rekindle in dramatic fashion the negotiation of a Free Trade Treaty between the European Union and the United States. Visiting Berlin on February 1, American Vice-President Joe Biden gave the green light from the new Obama administration to the initiative. And so, to promote German industry, Angela Merkel has not hesitated to bypass the European Commission, which is responsible for the negotiation, and to start a new dispute with France, which is much more cautious about a free-trade agreement. Nor has Merkel hesitated to turn her back on multilateralism, the cornerstone of German diplomacy.

Another theme provokes a kind of sacred alliance in Germany: access to raw materials. The issue is a serious one, because without raw materials a good part of German industry would be forced to stand idle. Result: in February 2012, during the Greek crisis, Angela Merkel rolled out the red carpet for the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and signed with him an agreement allowing German companies to search for and mine rare earth minerals in the uranium-rich country. Human rights defenders protested the deal, while employers applauded it. Incidentally, rumour had it that the Kazakh dictator, while he was in Germany, was treated at a clinic in Hamburg.

Increasing diplomatic role

Having discreetly become the third-largest arms exporter in the world, after the United States and the Russia, Germany is also playing on the success of its submarines with the Israeli Navy and of its tanks, of which Saudi Arabia and the Algeria hope to acquire several hundred, to play a diplomatic role in the Arab world and in the Middle East. It also does not fear to rush in to exploit the animosity of some countries towards France, as revealed by France’s vigorous presence in the Maghreb.

Angela Merkel has, moreover, broken a taboo: the Chancellor no longer thinks twice about selling weapons to friendly countries, even in conflict zones. While the opposition denounces a short-term “Merkel doctrine”, the majority – and some experts – see her actions as the formalisation of a policy that has already been pursued previously by Gerhard Schröder, Merkel’s Social Democrat predecessor.

Although Germany is taking part in peacekeeping operations in several countries (including 4,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, 730 in Kosovo, 320 in the Horn of Africa, 300 in Turkey, 150 in Lebanon and, most recently, 330 in Mali and Senegal), sending soldiers abroad remains nonetheless an unpopular measure. And so, for any chancellor, it’s a step fraught with political risks.

Commenting on the turmoil generated in the country by a television series that is sparking a huge debate on the participation of ordinary Germans in Nazi crimes, Der Spiegel on March 25 headlined: “War and the Germans: the eternal trauma”. Hence the abstention of Germany at the United Nations when, in 2011, the UN decided to back intervention in Libya. Hence its minimal engagement in Mali. Hence its desire not to get involved in Syria. Most of the time, the experts (and the press) criticise this wariness of Angela Merkel and her Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle – but German public opinion approves of it.
Incoherent foreign policy?

Plenty of trade, a dash of human rights and participation restricted to NATO operations under the flag of the United Nations: does all this add up to a coherent foreign policy? "No it does not", says Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chairman of the Social Democratic group in the Bundestag and Foreign Minister from 2005 to 2009, rather firmly. That judgement is "exaggerated" according to Eberhard Sandschneider, one of the leaders of the DGAP Foundation (German society for foreign policy). For him, Germany is “adapting to the changing world”, even though it is still struggling to assume its role as a power in the world, particularly in relation to the United States.

Germany’s abstention from the United Nations vote on Libya can be read as a lack of courage by the fourth economic power in the world, but also as the sign of a relative autonomy that it has begun to practice vis-à-vis two key allies: France and the United States. Germany’s reluctance to send troops into combat zones should therefore not lead anyone to underestimate the power of its diplomacy, even if Germans themselves are sometimes reluctant to admit the decisive influence of the latter and to draw the consequences.

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« Reply #5502 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Balkans: ‘Slovenia unanimous in its support for European Croatia’

3 April 2013

On April 2, the Slovenian parliament unanimously endorsed the treaty for Croatia’s accession to the EU.

The vote had been made possible by the March 9 agreement to put an end to a banking dispute that had troubled relations between the two former Yugoslavian countries for 19 years. In 2010, Ljubljana and Zagreb also overcame a border dispute.

Four countries, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, still have to ratify Croatia’s accession, which is scheduled for July 1.
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« Reply #5503 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Denmark: 875,000 Danish children locked out of school

2 April 2013
Berlingske Tidende, Politiken, Jyllands-Posten

“Teachers must accept that school managers have the right to arrange how work is organised, as is the case in all other workplaces,” writes conservative daily Berlingske, in opinion piece on the dispute between the Danish state and 69,000 teachers and municipal authorities. On April 2, students were left locked out of school as a consequence of the deadlock.

The main issue in the dispute is the question of class preparation time, which is up for renegotiation. Under the terms of a previous agreement, which has recently expired, teachers gave a maximum of 25 hours of classes per week to allow adequate time for preparation.

However, municipal and state authorities are now arguing that school managers should be allowed to make more flexible use of their teachers,– and even have the option of asking them to spend more time in class.

For Politiken, it is vitally important that the good aspects of Danish schools should not be undermined by the conflict —

    All too often when we criticise Danish schools, we forget just how well they actually work. We forget that unlike children in many other countries, Danish children are very happy to go to school. We forget that Danish schools produce innovative students, with independent minds. And we forget that motivated and committed teachers are vital to the functioning of these schools.

In contrast, liberal daily Jyllands-Posten points out that 18 per cent of students leave school (at age 16, just before senior high school) without passing final exams in maths and Danish, and concludes: “It is high time that teachers woke up to the intellectual poverty that they have helped create.
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« Reply #5504 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:31 AM »

04/03/2013 11:20 AM

Unwanted Guests: Far-Right NPD to Hold Convention in Parking Lot

By Christina Hebel

The right-wing extremist NPD wants to hold a party conference this weekend, but the only venue it could find is a parking lot in Bavaria. The event threatens to be disrupted by road construction and anti-Nazi protestors promising to build a wall of sound with rock music and chainsaws.

The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) has a packed agenda for its party conference this weekend. It's got to discuss what do about the legal bid to outlaw it, how to handle its dire finances and what its campaign strategy will be for the September general election.

As if those weren't enough problems, it's been having trouble finding a venue to hold the meeting. It's not an uncommon challenge for the party: Conference hall managers tend to refuse to permit NPD gatherings because of the party's far-right, xenophobic stance and the danger of violent clashes with anti-Nazi protestors.

This year, the NPD has found no other alternative to holding its meeting on a privately-owned parking lot in a tent, in the village of Rottenbach in Bavaria. The car park belongs to a "long-standing comrade," according to a regional NPD website. His name is Hermann Schwede, the son of Franz Schwede, the former Nazi Party Gauleiter for the region of Pomerania.

Schwede junior, who tried and failed to get into parliament for the NPD in the 2005 general election, received an NPD award last September for his "decades of work and membership."

Some 400 NPD members are expected to attend the party conference in the tent. However, the tent has yet to be erected and it's unclear how they will be able to access the parking lot because the adjoining road has been dug up for major construction work, which is scheduled to last until next Tuesday.

"It is evident that the construction measures are being taken because of us," says NPD spokesman Frank Franz. The regional council insists, however, that the work was scheduled long ago and says it has no intention of postponing it.

"We will definitely stick to this site," says Franz. The NPD doesn't appear to have an alternative venue. Time is running out. It needs to put the tent up by Thursday afternoon or the building safety authority won't be able to permit its use for a public gathering.

Anti-Nazi Protests Planned

A government-commissioned report last year labeled the NPD as having an "anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic position" and being "related" to National Socialism. But the council can't ban the meeting because it will be held on private land. But locals are worried. "We have had calls from Rottenbach residents who are afraid that there could be violence," said Dieter Pillmann, spokesman for the council. Left-wing extremists are planning to disrupt the conference and a large number of police will be drafted in to prevent trouble.

"We're not going to tolerate violence -- neither from the left nor the right," said Mayor Hermann Bühling of the conservative Christian Social Union. "We can't have the NPD staging events here every few weeks." The party held a summer festival on the parking lot last year and marched through the nearby town of Coburg in October.

"We can't prevent the NPD meeting but we can interrupt it," said René Hähnlein, who is running for the Left Party in the September election. He is part of a local anti-Nazi alliance that includes members of the Greens, Social Democrats and church groups.

The demonstrators plan to play rock music near the parking lot "as loud as technically possible," says Hähnlein. Chainsaws will also be used to add to the noise.

The "Network for Human Rights and Democracy," an anti-racism group, will join the demonstation and plans to put up hundreds of posters and distribute leaflets.

"We want to show that we won't abandon the small community of Lauterbach," said the group's regional manager, Stefan Hinterleitner. "There's no room here for far-right ideology."

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