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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1078760 times)
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« Reply #5565 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:32 AM »

April 5, 2013

Portugal: Austerity Cuts Struck Down


Portugal’s Constitutional Court ruled Friday that some of the unpopular pay cuts in this year’s state budget were unlawful, denying the government about $1.8 billion of predicted revenue. The court’s decision is a setback to the austerity deal between the government and foreign creditors who lent Portugal $101.5 billion in a bailout two years ago. The 13 judges said budget measures cutting holiday pay for government workers and pensioners, and others reducing unemployment and sickness benefits, were unconstitutional. They said the measures neglected guarantees of equality because private-sector workers were not subject to the measures. The government had no comment but scheduled a cabinet meeting for Saturday.
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« Reply #5566 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:37 AM »

04/05/2013 06:01 PM

Letter from Berlin: Franco-German Left Mired in Difficulties

By Charles Hawley

Germany's Social Democrats had hoped that François Hollande's victory last spring would provide them with some momentum. But Friday's visit to Paris by SPD candidate Peer Steinbrück has highlighted the difficulties facing the European left. A renaissance this election year seems unlikely.

One year ago, the mood among Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) was one of elated optimism. In May 2012, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande won the country's presidential elections, opening up the possibility that a right-to-left changing of the guard might be possible in Germany too. Just weeks after his victory, Hollande invited the SPD leadership to Paris to allow them to bask in his popularity.

On Friday, SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück is once again in Paris. But even as the general election campaign in Germany ahead of the vote this fall has begun to heat up, the mood on the Franco-German left has cooled. With Hollande's public opinion poll scores plummeting, his country's economy in trouble and his government mired in scandal, he looks to have very little sparkle left to lend to his cross-border political ally.

And Steinbrück's campaign too seems to have reached an impasse. A new poll in Germany indicates that, were Germans able to vote directly for candidates (rather than for political parties), only one in four would cast their ballot for Steinbrück, against 60 percent for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Furthermore, only 32 percent approve of the job he is doing, his lowest such score since he entered federal politics in 2005, according to a survey released on Thursday evening by German public broadcaster ARD.

Taken together, the travails facing the two politicians amounts to a fading of hopes, particularly among euro-zone member states struggling under the ongoing euro crisis, that Hollande's election would mark a resurgence of the European left -- and an end to Merkel's austerity-first approach to the common currency's woes.

Hollande as a Risk

Steinbrück tried to put a brave face on the situation on Friday. Hollande, he noted, had only been in office for 11 months and cannot be expected to have taken care of all the problems "that his two conservative predecessors didn't address in the last 10 to 15 years." He also said that a successful Hollande is in Germany's interest so that the Franco-German partnership can once again take up its traditional role as the motor of Europe.

But even the SPD has become concerned about identifying itself too closely with Hollande. As difficult as the French president's relationship with Merkel is -- a product of conflicting approaches to the euro crisis but also the result of Merkel's open support of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in last year's French campaign -- Steinbrück and his party are beginning to see Hollande more as a risk than a potential boon in the run up to the German vote.

For one, Germans are generally supportive of Merkel's handling of the euro crisis thus far, with the Thursday ARD survey indicating that only 33 percent of those polled agree with the statement that "Berlin doesn't care enough about how people in crisis-stricken euro-zone member states are doing." And Hollande himself appears to have had little luck in proving himself as an effective crisis manager. His administration has been unable to meet deficit reduction targets, many analysts believe that France could become the next euro-crisis hotspot and unemployment in the country has risen close to record levels in recent months.

Additional hurdles for Hollande have developed more recently. This week, former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, who stepped down in mid-March, admitted to holding illegal accounts with foreign banks and tax evasion following months of denying the allegations. And on Thursday, Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Hollande's campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, holds two shell companies on the Cayman Islands, though Augier has denied violating any laws.


Still, the pair of scandals is the last thing that a reeling Hollande administration needs. Furthermore, Steinbrück himself has not always been overwhelmingly impressed by his French ally. Merkel's finance minister from 2005 to 2009, Steinbrück does not approve of Hollande's introduction of a 75 percent tax on top earners in France. He recently referred to it as a "prohibitive tax" and said he would never introduce such a law in Germany.

Steinbrück also chided Hollande last summer when the newly elected French president suggested that he wanted to reopen European Union negotiations on the "fiscal pact," a Merkel-driven treaty aimed at strengthening EU budget rules. Steinbrück called Hollande's demand "naïve," a comment that deeply annoyed the French president.

Despite the subdued mood between the two leftist camps, however, Hollande made sure to roll out the red carpet for Steinbrück on Friday. The SPD candidate was given top level meetings with both Socialist Party head Harlem Désir and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Hollande, too, took an hour out of his schedule to meet with Steinbrück. But the pair decided to forego a joint appearance on Friday. Following the tête-à-tête, Steinbrück strode out of the Elysée Palace alone -- and rushed right past the media gathered outside.

With reporting by Veit Medick in Paris

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« Reply #5567 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Row over fascist-era statue reveals schism in how Italians deal with past

Brescia's rightwing mayor wants to reinstate a marble figure praised by Mussolini, because it is art. But he faces opposition from those who believe it represents something best forgotten

Lizzy Davies   
The Guardian, Friday 5 April 2013 18.21 BST   

In 1932, a 24ft marble statue of a young, muscular male athlete was unveiled in Brescia, northern Italy, and given the name Fascist Era. With its rippling torso and hand placed solemnly on hip, it was considered to symbolise the "rejuvenating ideals of the fascist regime", and, when Benito Mussolini came to visit, he was said to have praised it for its strength. Its sculptor, Arturo Dazzi, was reported to have remarked, "even if they want to tear it down, I don't care at all."

Some 13 years later, that is what happened when, with the second world war over and Italy's former dictator dead, the Brescia authorities took down the statue and consigned it to a warehouse. There it remained for nearly 70 years. But now, in a move condemned by critics as "overtly ideological", the city's centre-right mayor plans to reinstate the statue in its original position.

Andrea Paroli, of Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom People party (PdL), rejects any accusation of revisionism or fascist nostalgia, insisting the Bigio – as the statue became known in Brescia – is a valid piece of heritage that can be appreciated, aside from its political links, for its artistic and cultural merits.

Others disagree. "The statue was taken down … at the end of the liberation struggle," said Giulio Ghidotti, branch chairman of the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI). "The ANPI doesn't want to see it back where it stood because it brings back all the memories of the fascist regime and the oppression the country suffered." "It's strongly linked to the time it was made and it was made for propaganda reasons so it's hard for us to see it as purely a work of art."

In a week when Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio was criticised in Britain over his declaration that he was "a fascist not a racist", the row in Brescia is a different sign of divisions in Italy over how the Mussolini regime – and its symbols – should be treated.

To Marcello Pezzetti, an Italian Holocaust scholar, the Bigio's return would be an unacceptable example of "the bringing back to life of fascist symbols". He added: "It seems to me normal that symbols which give … a positive view of what happened [under fascism] will be fought,fought in a civil manner."

The ANPI said the move would be provocative and offensive. Near the square, it said, is a memorial plaque to Alberto Dalla Volta, Primo Levi's close friend in Auschwitz. Another chapter of Italy's troubled postwar history is told nearby in Piazza della Loggia, where eight people were killed and more than 90 wounded in 1974 by a bomb that exploded during an anti-fascist protest.

For others in Brescia, however, the authorities are justified in their attempts to restore a work of art to the public sphere. Mario Labolani, a spokesman for the administration, said the project to return the statue was part of a wider renovation of the piazza della Vittoria that aimed to improve facilities and restore its original aesthetic. "These is no ideological position on the matter, and all this has been invented for electoral reasons," he said. Brescia will hold local elections next month.

It is not the first time a row has broken out in Italy over a symbol linked to Mussolini. Last year, a memorial was opened in a town south of Rome to fascist military commander and war criminal Rodolfo Graziani. The row over the Bigio is less clear-cut. But the return of the statue has already caused offence, with over More than 2,000 people have signed a petition demanding the statue should not return. Their appeal was rejected by the city council. Critics said such a move would never happen in Germany, where any attempt to rehabilitate an object with links to Hitler and the Nazis would be taboo.

"The thing that hurts me the most is that I have contacts throughout the world – above all in Europe – who work on this subject, the Holocaust and the history of the Holocaust. And all my colleagues who come to Italy and protest, they say 'only in Italy would something of this nature be possible'," said Pezzetti, referring in particular to the large obelisk engraved with the words "Mussolini DUX" which still stands in Rome. "It's enormous. All my foreign colleagues – above all the Germans – say "how can it be possible?"

After Mussolini's execution by partisans in 1945, the deeply polarised country did not begin a systematic clampdown of fascism as Germany did following Hitler's defeat. Laws banning fascist parties and open support for the ideology were passed, but never properly enforced.

"There was never a purge after the second world war because Italy was on the frontline of the Cold War, essentially, so you couldn't hobble an Italian state facing the biggest communist party in western Europe," said John Dickie, professor of Italian studies at University College London. "A lot of things went unchallenged; a lot of truths went buried."

Fascism was on the sidelines as a real political force, however, until the early 1990s when Berlusconi came to power and, in the new landscape of the so-called second republic, started to detoxify the fascism label. To the outrage of many, the centre-right leader brought former fascists from the Italian Social Movement (MSI) into his government and helped contribute to what many say is a country in which fascism – while repugnant and unacceptable for most Italians – is regarded more ambiguously by a significant minority.

"In the last 20 years or so, fascism has become rehabilitated to a large extent. There has been an acceptance," said James Walston of the American University of Rome. The centre-right governments have "normalised fascism in a way which was not possible before 1994", he added.

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« Reply #5568 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:42 AM »

04/05/2013 04:53 PM

From Bombs to Obama: Germany's Complicated Love of America

By Josh Ward in Bonn

The US has had an enormous influence on postwar Germany, from pop culture to politics. But as America's focus turns away from Europe toward Asia, a museum in Bonn is taking stock of how that relationship has fared over the years.

Flipping through the visitor book at the end of a new exhibit in Bonn on the United States, it comes as no surprise to find entries like "Guantanamo = USA, shame on you!" or "Propaganda style: The winner writes history." America took a big hit in popularity with Germans because of the Iraq War. And, despite President Barack Obama's outsized personal appeal, his climate change policies and drone warfare have done little to improve America's overall standing here.

Still, "The American Way: The USA in Germany," at the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a national museum dedicated to postwar German history, explores this 68-year-old relationship and strongly concludes: No, the love has not died. It's just complicated -- or, as the museum prefers to say, "special."

The exhibit, two years in the making, is divided into four sections that examine how American security policies, economic interests and everyday culture have shaped postwar Germany. The first, "Victor and Vanquished," welcomes visitors with a black-and-white film of American bombers dropping their payloads over Germany during World War II, before detailing how the US later imposed order, meted out justice and molded the nation from the ground up. But America's role quickly morphs from that of victor to helper as the focus turns to C.A.R.E. relief packages, the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, all of which served to recast the image of Americans in West Germany from that of occupiers to something else, the topic of the next section.

In "America as a Role Model?", the focus turns to everyday life. Cars, jeans, films, Tupperware, comic books, hula hoops, Coca-Cola machines, jukeboxes -- the displays show how American culture inundated Germany in the early postwar years. This was the honeymoon period of the relationship, when many Germans fell in love with American culture. One look at the visitors tells you it was fun: A woman marvels aloud at vintage jeans and excitedly reminisces with a friend about her first pair. A 50-year-old teacher unabashedly does the twist to Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" before an on-screen jukebox and two younger colleagues.

One of the most striking images here is of "We Are Building a Better Life," a housing exhibition held in Stuttgart in 1952. The photo shows a crowd of Germans looking over railings into a roofless model house while actors demonstrate the domestic comforts of the modern American home. Watch and learn, the message seemed to be.

Penetrating the Iron Curtain

While Germans were eager to embrace America's consumer culture, by the late 1960s, an increasing number were openly rejecting its politics. The mood grows briefly but decidedly less chipper when the roughly chronological path comes to a large photograph of student leader Rudi Dutschke at an anti-Vietnam march in 1968 next to a sign that reads "Ami Go Home."

These political tensions are quickly swept aside in favor of the country's cultural allure, though, embodied by iconic pop culture characters, from a massive Sesame Street doll, the original R2D2 robot from "Star Wars" and a replica of the "Captain America" Harley Davidson chopper from the 1969 road film "Easy Rider." The cult show "Dallas" also features large, though there is notably no trace of David Hasselhoff, beloved in Germany for both his music ("Looking for Freedom") and television roles.

The next section, "Enemy Country and Place of Longing," is the museum's nod to how West Germany's love affair with the US was perceived on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in communist East Germany. It starts with objects that highlight how authorities there tried to prevent the West from gaining popularity. But it also shows how they ultimately failed to block American cultural influences. Clothes, music and even breakdancing ultimately did penetrate the closed society.

The final section, "Confronting Global Challenges Together," returns to politics and looks at how the relationship has become more complicated since German reunification in 1989. The central elements are mangled pieces from the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 -- part of an airplane window, a staircase floor sign, the back lights of a fire truck and two twisted building pieces -- all suspended in a haunting glass display that makes them seem to be falling from the sky. Equally powerful are the torn identification tag of Sebastian Gorki, a Deutsche Bank employee and one of 11 Germans killed in the attack, and a young German boy's drawing of a plane flying into a skyscraper flanked by "I am very sorry" in both German and English.

The exhibit then briefly dives into the more polarizing post-9/11 challenges to the German-American relationship: the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the darker episodes of the "War on Terror" and the financial crisis. But the final object is one of hope: a placard reading "Obama für Kanzler" ("Obama for Chancellor"), which was held up during then-candidate Obama's speech in Berlin in July 2008.

Conflicting Sentiments

When asked why non-Germans should visit the exhibit, museum spokesman Peter Hoffmann says "because of all the cool display items." And he's right. Many of the roughly 1,000 items -- photos, audio and video recordings, objects, projections -- have never been seen in Germany or anywhere else outside the United States. In fact, slightly toning back the Germany-specific focus would leave you with an excellent exhibit on postwar Americana in its own right.

There are plenty of wow-inducing objects big and small: the massive warhead tip of a V2 rocket, a 1957 mint-condition Ford Taunus, handwritten Elvis notes for a song he sang in German. And, delightfully, the cowboy hat, cowboy boots and driver's license of Konny Reimann, a German whose love of the freedom mythically embodied by the American West led him to move his family from the port of Hamburg to the plains of Texas in 2004.

That the exhibit is mainly geared toward Germans can be seen in a curious, chapel-like alcove at the center of it all. Here, visitors are invited to answer (German-only) questions about their feelings about the US, such as "Do you like Americans?" and "Should the USA be a role model for us today?" Visitors can also see how their answers match up with those of other visitors and respondents to a 2013 survey by the Allensbach Institute, a German opinion research organization.

The idea of shifting opinions and feelings runs throughout the entire exhibit. "We very consciously and repeatedly embedded survey results in the exhibit," says Hans-Joachim Westholt, a museum researcher who helped design the project. "And something you frequently see in the polls is a differentiation between America as a political power and the question: 'Do you like the Americans?'"

Museum spokesman Hoffmann adds that this continued love despite increased criticism -- or, put differently, hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner theme -- "is practically the subject of the exhibit."

And their findings are backed up by non-German polls, too. For example, Transatlantic Trends 2012, an annual survey published by the German Marshall Fund released last September, found that 70 percent of Germans have a positive view toward the United States. Meanwhile, a survey published by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project last June found that over half of Germans (52 percent) still have a favorable view of the United States, though the figure has dropped 12 percent since Obama's first election victory in 2008, the point at which the exhibit's chronology curiously ends.

"There has always been a cultural constant of anti-Americanism in postwar Germany, complicated by guilt, indebtedness and projection," says Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund's office in Berlin. "But there is also a great deal of affection -- and no president, policy or war can ever take that away."

"We try to make clear that there are fissures in the German-American relationship," Westholt says. "But I would in no case go so far as to say that the Iraq War destroyed the image of Americans here."

Why Now?

Both Hoffmann and Westholt say the response has been "super," a fact supported by throngs of visitors seen on several visits. "And I think people leave with the feeling: 'Man, for us the US really was an important, and perhaps the most important, state we were involved with'," Westholt says.

Westholt's choice of verb tense brings up the question of why this exhibit is being held now. Spokesman Hoffmann notes that the museum has been doing a series on Germany's neighbors and that the US fits into this category somewhat as "an occupying force, partner and economic competitor."

But, when asked if it has anything to do with America's "pivot" away from Europe toward Asia, which began under President George W. Bush and has continued under President Obama, the so-called first "Pacific president," Westholt admits that the issue was "in the back of our minds."

In any case, with continued military base closures, the American presence in Germany is waning, leading to a declining immediacy in the US-German relationship. But out of sight is not out of mind, and a tapering presence has yet to erase the sentiments. Indeed, continued affection is clearly reflected in the visitor book at the end of the exhibit. Negative comments are far outnumbered by positive ones, like an entry that thanks the exhibition for "reawakening many long-forgotten memories."

One comment, in particular, is frequently repeated throughout the book: "I (heart) USA."

The free exhibition can be visited until Oct. 13, 2013. For more information, visit the museum's website, where a free tablet app showing several of the objects on display can be downloaded. Although currently only available for iPads in German, English-language versions and Android apps will soon be available.
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« Reply #5569 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Why Theodor Herzl's writings still have an urgent message

Antisemitic attacks in Hungary illustrate the necessity of Israel

Giles Fraser   
The Guardian, Friday 5 April 2013 18.30 BST   

Last month's World Cup qualification match between Romania and Hungary in the Ferenc Puskás Stadium in Budapest was a subdued affair. Despite the fact that Romania pulled a goal back in the 90th minute to draw 2-2, the atmosphere was not what it ought to have been – the stadium being empty. Fifa had banned Hungarian fans as punishment for their disgraceful behaviour chanting antisemitic slogans during a "friendly" match with Israel in August. As the Israeli national anthem was played the crowd turned their backs and whistled. "Stinking Jews" and "Hail, Benito Mussolini" were among the crowd's recorded interventions. Regularly, on the Hungarian football terraces, a familiar nursery rhyme is chanted, with the words adapted to "the train goes to Auschwitz".

Not that English football is free of this sort of dangerous rubbish. Until the Jewish Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea in 2003, the gas noise regularly greeted the Spurs team as they made their way out on to the pitch at Stamford Bridge. This is why Paolo di Canio's "straight arm gesture", as it is being euphemistically described, really matters.

But things are so much worse in Hungary. Budapest may have Central Europe's largest population of Jews, but some of them are now asking themselves if it is time to leave. A month after the Israel match, a prominent leader of the Jewish community was beaten up by thugs in the street who screamed at him "rotten filthy Jews, you will all die". The Holy Crown radio station – registered in the US, and thus protected by their freedom of speech laws – defended the attack as "a response to general Jewish terrorism". And last November, the leader of the far right Jobbik party, the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament, called for influential Hungarian Jews to be catalogued and assessed as a national security risk. Elsewhere, Jewish graves are being desecrated and, encouraged by the government, statues are being erected to Nazi ally Miklós Horthy. With a failing currency, sky-rocketing unemployment and government credit rating reduced to junk status, all this is frighteningly reminiscent of the past.

Which is why re-reading Theodor Herzl's The Jewish Question in a Budapest cafe, opposite the astonishingly beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, feels, once again, so topical. Herzl was born in 1860 in the house next to the synagogue and had his bar mitzvah there. Later he left for Austria and went on to become the founding father of modern Zionism. Much that he predicted did not pan out as he expected. "The Jews, once settled in their own state, would probably have no more enemies," was one of his more naive predictions. And his desire for the new Jewish state – he wasn't sure whether it should be in Palestine or Argentina – not to allow the religious or the military to "interfere in the administration of the state" has hardly been realised. But Herzl's sense that even assimilated Jews are not always protected by their integration with surrounding society was well made.

I am a Zionist. Not an Israel right-or-wrong type of Zionist. Not a supporter of the settlement movement type of Zionist, and absolutely not a supporter of the shameful treatment of Palestinians type of Zionist. Tragically, the left-leaning universalist idealism of the likes of Herzl feels increasingly like a thing of the past in modern Israeli politics. But for all Israel's political blunders and military brutality, the place to look for the necessity of the state of Israel is not in Israel itself but in places like Budapest. "I shall now put the question in the briefest possible form: are we to get out now and where to?" asked Herzl back in 1897. For some people, that question remains.

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« Reply #5570 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:48 AM »

King Juan Carlos of Spain: a fairytale told by politicians

The Spanish monarchy's legitimacy was based on symbols, metaphors and, first and foremost, on storytelling

Miguel-Anxo Murado, Saturday 6 April 2013 11.00 BST   

King Juan Carlos of Spain must be one of the most Shakespearian kings, ever. His grandfather was ousted from the throne like Richard II, and like Richard III, his brother was killed (though in Carlos' case it was a tragic accident). Like Hamlet he had a difficult relationship with his father, and like Macbeth, he arrived at the crown by way of an evil creature (General Franco). It sounds inevitable that, like King Lear, in his old age he would be cursed with troublesome daughters. Now, one of them, Princess Cristina, has been summoned by a judge. She has to answer for allegations that, together with her husband the Duke of Palma, they misappropriated millions of euros in public funds. Some say this scandal, the latest in a long series of royal mishaps, threatens the very institution of monarchy in Spain. But is it so?

The rule of King Juan Carlos of Spain is a very interesting example of how the essence of monarchy is not history, but a story – and how tricky that is. The Spanish monarchy is a literary institution. It was born outside and above the law. Its legitimacy was based on symbols, metaphors and, first and foremost, on storytelling: a mostly imaginary tale of continuity and exceptionality. Modernity changed this a bit, but not by much. Like theatre, monarchy had begun like a religious cult and ended in a popular spectacle. That was all. In stable systems like the UK, this transition from statecraft to stagecraft could be done more or less effectively, but in Spain it was pushing the trick too far.

Kings have never been popular in Spain. Of the last eight monarchs, one was overthrown by his own son, two abdicated and another two were ousted by popular uprisings. All rose to the throne in controversial circumstances, except one (who was later ousted). By the time of King Juan Carlos's coronation, Spaniards had not known a monarch for almost half a century, the king's legitimacy came directly from a military dictator, and the odd choice of a double name was devised to hide the fact that he was wrestling the crown from his father, also named Juan.

You need Scheherazade in person to fix this narrative. And yet, it was done by far less colourful Spanish politicians, the young Francoist and the fresh Socialists: the king, we were told, "had brought" democracy to Spain. His family was austere, like any other Spanish family. They were said to "break the protocol" so often that you end up wondering why protocol existed in the first place. It was said that republicans loved him too and would vote for him for president.

Like with all story-telling, there's some truth in this fiction. Yes, the king did assist the transition to democracy, and he stood against the 1981 military coup. Yet the often overlooked fact here is that he had no alternative if he wanted to reign. It was true that he was not ostentatious, but he wasn't austere either. It is true that he seems a likeable person, but not exemplary. He was a patron of the WWF, but he also loves hunting elephants. He needed not to be perfect, but now he has to, because that was the nature of the narrative his friends concocted.

The excess of fiction is now being replaced by an excess of reality. A dead elephant in Botswana and the court summons of the princess have laid that old narrative to rest. But is it really the end of the monarchy?

I'm not so sure. In our modern world, unpopularity is no longer a game-changer for institutions. All of them are unpopular to some extent, and today's monarchy has a new, most powerful source of legitimacy, better than divine right: routine. Where it exists, it is the default setting, so to speak. It seems as stable as helium. In the case of Spain, only a profound political crisis (say, one triggered by the independence of Catalonia) could upset the balance. Meanwhile, abdication is indeed a possibility (that's what Lear did; it didn't work for him). Yet this would only happen because it could be construed as a fresh start, the basis for a new round of story-telling.

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« Reply #5571 on: Apr 06, 2013, 06:50 AM »

The bizarre banking loophole that has opened up in Malta

Malta throws a spotlight on how secure our bank accounts really are – or aren't

Patrick Collinson   
The Guardian, Saturday 6 April 2013   

Sharon Connor's story, featured on our front page today, is one of the most heart-rending we have ever covered. Not only did she lose her husband tragically early, she has now also lost much of her life savings amid the Cypriot banking collapse.

Once again it throws the spotlight on how secure our bank accounts really are. Last week I wrote that AgriBank, a new player in the British savings market, is offering temptingly high interest rates, but is authorised in Malta, and therefore dependent on the Maltese €100,000 deposit protection scheme.

With memories still fresh of the Iceland debacle, when Icesave's failure overwhelmed the country's deposit protection scheme, I felt it worth a warning, especially given the fact that Malta, like Cyprus, has a super-sized financial sector.

I was wrong. The truth is that deposits in AgriBank are not protected whatsoever. What has emerged is that there is an alarming loophole in EU compensation arrangements, and reason to be seriously concerned about the EU's so-called "single passport" for banking.

AgriBank, although it has no historic connections with Malta, has been granted a licence to operate as a bank by the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) and, because Malta is in the EU, the bank is allowed to take deposits in any of the 26 other countries in the union.

This is one of the drawbacks to the EU's neo-liberal drive for single markets, but profound inability to produce single regulators. We have the farcical set-up of a single banking market, but 27 different regulators all able to offer authorisation for a bank to operate across the entire union. Given the dog's dinner that is RBS, maybe you think our regulators in London are no better than those in Bucharest or Bratislava, but I don't quite buy it. The catastrophic collapses in Reykavik (though outside the EU) and Nicosia tell you otherwise.

But even more bizarre is the loophole that has opened up in Malta. It turns out I was right to assume that banks registered in an EU state have to become members of that state's €100,000 protection scheme, as set out in the European Deposit Guarantee Scheme Directive.

But see if you can make head or tail of this. The MFSA emailed me to say: "We can confirm AgriBank is a member of the Malta Deposit Compensation Scheme (DCS)." Yet on AgriBank's website it says "AgriBank's deposit products are not covered by a depositor compensation scheme."

So is it or isn't it? The MFSA explains it, sort of, in this way. "Please note that on 16 May 2012, the MFSA had issued a policy under which it prohibited (or limited) any newly licensed credit institutions from creating undue liabilities on the local deposit compensation scheme … The position of AgriBank is therefore that while it is a member of the DCS, its funding shall be in the form which are [sic] not considered as eligible deposits under the DCS … There are currently ongoing discussions with AgriBank regarding amendments required to the text on their website."

As far as I can work out, this confirms that you can obtain a cross-EU banking licence from Malta, operate in the UK, be a member of a compensation scheme, but not really be a member of a compensation scheme. Yet one more tiny example of the mountain of idiocies that make so many people loathe the EU.

I don't want to suggest, of course, that Malta is anything other than a paragon of financial virtue, rather than a tax haven favoured by hedge funds. Indeed, when I asked the MFSA questions about AgriBank, its chairman, Professor Joe Bannister, replied in person. "All banks applying for a licence in Malta have to go through a rigorous procedure before being granted the licence," he said. Bannister is furious at any suggestion that Malta is next after Cyprus. "Such statements are ill-founded and have created unnecessary unease about Malta," he adds.

Yet the country's finance minister, Edward Scicluna, is chastened by what he witnessed at EU talks over Cyprus. Writing in the Malta Times he said God help his country if it encounters similar problems in the eurozone.

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« Reply #5572 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Middle East will be unstable for decades if rebels win in Syria, says Assad

Syrian leader warns of domino effect and accuses Arab neighbours of sheltering rebels who seek to overthrow him

Staff and agencies, Saturday 6 April 2013 13.17 BST   

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has warned that the Middle East faces being destabilised for decades if rebel forces battling to overthrow him succeed..

Assad, locked in a two-year conflict he says has been fuelled by his regional enemies, also criticised Turkey's "foolish and immature" leaders and accused Arab neighbours of arming and sheltering rebel fighters.

"If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control … the situation will inevitably spill over into neighbouring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond," he said in an interview with Turkish television.

Turmoil would spread "east, west, north and south. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come," Assad said in the interview, posted by the Syrian presidency on the internet.

The UN says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syrian's conflict. Daily death tolls of around 200 are not uncommon, monitoring groups say. More than a million refugees have fled the country and the Syrian Red Crescent says nearly four million have been internally displaced.

Neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan are both struggling to cope with the flood of refugees, while the sectarian element of the conflict – with mainly Sunni Muslim and Islamist fighters battling a president from Syria's Alawite minority – has also raised tensions in neighbours such as Lebanon and Iraq.

While accusing opponents of using "sectarian slogans", Assad said the essence of the battle was between "forces and states seeking to take their people back into historic times, and states wanting to take their peoples into a prosperous future".

He appeared to be referring to Sunni Muslim Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have supported efforts to arm insurgents in an uprising which began with peaceful protests for reform and spiralled into civil war.

Assad said Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, was recruiting fighters with Qatari money to wage war in Syria, but warned his former friend that the bloodshed could not easily be contained. "The fire in Syria will burn Turkey. Unfortunately he does not see this reality," Assad said. Erdogan, he said, "has not uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began".

Assad also condemned the Arab League, which has suspended Syria's membership and last month invited opposition leaders Moaz Alkhatib and Ghassan Hitto to attend a summit meeting in his place.

"The Arab League itself lacks legitimacy," he said. "It is an organisation which represents Arab states and not Arab people. It has lacked legitimacy for a long time because these Arab states themselves … do not reflect the will of the Arab people."

Assad also dismissed Western countries that have condemned his suppression of protest as hypocrites. "France and Britain committed massacres in Libya with the support and cover of the United States. The Turkish government is knee-deep in Syrian blood. Are these states really concerned about Syrian blood?" Responding to rumours of his assassination spread by activists and fighters over the last two weeks, Assad said he was living as ever in Damascus, despite rebel advances in the outskirts of the city and regular mortar attacks on its centre.

"I am not hiding in a bunker. These rumours (aim) to undermine the morale of the Syrian people. I neither live on a Russian warship nor in Iran. I live in Syria, in the same place I always did."

On Saturday troops loyal to Assad fought rebels in a town outside Damascus, according to opposition. In the north, warplanes hit rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, killing five people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Saturday's fighting was concentrated around the town of al-Otaybah, east of Damascus. The south-eastern Damascus suburb of Jaramana was hit by several mortar rounds, the group said. It sources its reports of daily fighting to a network of activists on the ground.


Syria says Jordan 'playing with fire' over assistance to rebels

Jordan tightens security along Syrian border as tensions soar amid reports of arms shipments to anti-Assad forces

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Friday 5 April 2013 16.34 BST   

Jordan is facing mounting tension with neighbouring Syria amid signs that it has moved to a more active role in support of the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The border between the countries was reinforced on the Jordanian side on Thursday after Syrian state media warned the western-backed kingdom it was "playing with fire" and poised "on the edge of a volcano" by backing the opposition.

Recent weeks have seen a spate of reports about arms shipments from Jordan to anti-Assad rebels who have been making gains around Deraa, the Syrian city closest to the border. Opposition sources say the military situation reflects enhanced supplies and training.

Barack Obama discussed the crisis with King Abdullah II in Amman on his Middle East tour last month. Jordan was the only Arab state the US president visited – an indication of the pressure the king is under to be more supportive of the Gulf-driven effort to drive Assad from power.

Diplomats say they have discussed plans for a buffer zone in southern Syria as well as accelerated training for rebel fighters by the US and Jordan. British and French special forces are reported to be involved in training, advice, logistics and intelligence support.

In an apparent reflection of nervousness about the issue, a government spokesman in Amman insisted on Friday that Jordan was "not part of the conflict" in Syria and maintained its support for a "peaceful solution" – the formal stance of all Arab states. The spokesman refused to comment either on the training or the buffer zone, the Al-Ghad newspaper reported.

The Washington Post cited Jordanian security officials this week as saying that a plan to complete the training of 3,000 Free Syrian Army officers by the end of June has been brought forward to the end of April in light of the border victories. The FSA is backed by western and Arab governments as a bulwark against the rise of Salafi or Jihadi-type Islamist groups.

Jordanian sources describe a "double discourse" – an official one that reiterates the formal position alongside clandestine training and Saudi-financed arms supplies delivered with the help of the CIA. Jordan's powerful Mukhabarat secret service enjoys a close relationship with its western partners, including MI6.

"The Jordanians are happy to channel support but they say 'don't put us in the front line'," said a Syrian opposition figure. "They used to be afraid that Assad's intelligence system could hit back and hurt Jordan but now he is weak they feel emboldened to be more active."

Jordanian officials repeatedly speak of the gravity of the Syrian crisis, with concern focusing on the flow of refugees across the border and the risk that extremist elements will come with them.

"Jordan can't sit idle and watch al-Qaida and other militants seizing control of its … border with Syria," Jordan's information minister, Sameeh Maaytah, was quoted as saying. "It must take proactive steps to arrive at a state of equilibrium in the security structure on the border."

An estimated 460,000 Syrian refugees are in Jordan. In one 24-hour period this week, 1,967 arrivals were recorded. If the influx continues at the current rate, Jordan could be hosting more than 1 million refugees by the end of 2013.

Abdullah Ensour, the newly appointed prime minister, has warned publicly of a "catastrophic" situation" and used even stronger language in private, according to sources in Amman.

Domestic strains have also been evident in complaints about the number of Syrian refugees. Several MPs are calling for the closure of the border. Abdul Karim al-Dughmi, a conservative politician, criticised the government's "timid position" on the crisis and blamed a "conspiracy by some Arab states" for the unrest.


Security concerns rise at Syrian refugee camp despite police presence

Za'atari camp – now Jordan's fifth largest city – becoming chaotic mix of Syrian refugees, locals, journalists and NGOs

IRIN in Mafraq, part of the Guardian development network, Saturday 6 April 2013 09.01 BST   

The Jordanian government is implementing measures to improve security for the Syrian refugees at Za'atari camp, but aid workers say the efforts are limited by funding constraints and have yet to make a difference.

The entrance to Za'atari – now Jordan's fifth largest city – is a chaotic hodgepodge of Syrian refugees, Jordanian citizens, journalists, aid workers, vans and water trucks, with up to 10,000 visitors a day.

The camp, built to accommodate around 60,000 Syrian refugees, now hosts at least 140,000, according to the government. About 50,000 arrived in February alone; between 1,500 and 2,000 more arrive every night.

As the numbers in Za'atari have swelled, safety and security have degenerated, with theft, fires and riots commonplace. Residents say there is palpable tension in the air; aid workers have been attacked, even hospitalised, and journalists beaten. Security is often the only item on the agenda at camp co-ordination meetings.

"We've got grave concerns for the security situation in Za'atari – not only for refugees, but also for our staff," said Andrew Harper, representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Jordan. "That's part of the reason we are embarking on a major programme with the security apparatus, so that they have the means to enhance security in camp … The sense of impunity must be removed."

Gateway to a city

The identification system governing entrance to and exit from the camp is "opaque, confusing and open to abuse", Mathew Russell, security adviser to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IRIN.

Tents, mattresses, gas and other products are smuggled in and out through a thriving black market, which often charges refugees exploitative prices for essential goods, aid workers say. Tents and food items, clearly marked with agency logos, can be seen for sale in the nearby city of Mafraq and in the desert on the way to Za'atari.

The UN Children's Fund (Unicef) has lost $1m worth of taps, showers, latrines and other material; UNHCR has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in kitchen supplies disappear. Even fences have been stolen, Harper told IRIN. He and others say worse crimes could be taking place inside the camp, though no one is really sure.

This month, local media reported that the Jordanian police busted large amounts of heroin sold by Syrian refugees in Za'atari. One refugee told IRIN that she was twice taken outside the camp and brought back by smugglers without being questioned. Refugees are officially not allowed to leave the camp unless they are "bailed out" by a Jordanian citizen.

"Imagine having a gate to a city when you are controlling everything that comes in and out," said Saba Mobaslat, who leads Save the Children's programmes in Jordan relating to the crisis in Syria. "It reaches a point when it is impossible."

Anmar Alhmoud, rapporteur of the government's higher steering committee for Syrian affairs in Jordan, acknowledged the "illegal" movement of people across the camp's border, but said rumours of rape and the presence of weapons inside Za'atari "are blowing everything out of proportion".

Still, there is concern the insecurity could be felt well beyond the camp's borders. Some analysts, including Hassan Barrari, an international political science lecturer at the University of Jordan, say the government may fear "hidden groups" penetrating the camp and escalating problems.

'You literally have to wear a helmet'

Camp resident Hajjar Ahmad, 37, says she no longer feels safe leaving her children on their own in their tent when she goes to collect donations from aid agencies or visit the doctor.

"Nowadays, there are too many people going inside and outside of the camp every day," she told IRIN. One taxi driver said he thinks twice before taking customers to Za'atari, for fear of having his car windows smashed.

Aid workers have been frequently attacked during aid distributions. Initially, riots and violent protests were motivated by poor living conditions and delays in receiving assistance. But increasingly, refugees with few other means of self-expression riot over everything, from who was first in line to their village being bombed.

"Before, riots used to happen for a reason," Mobaslat said. "Now, riots happen for everything and nothing … You literally have to wear a helmet. You never know when you're going to be hit by a stone."

New arrivals to the camp, who have witnessed more violence in Syria, are "louder and more violent" than those who arrived at the beginning of the crisis, she said.

"Riots are mainly planned by single men who just want trouble," said Marwan, a camp resident. "Most refugees riot and protest at night after planning it during the day. These are different from clashes happening in the day during aid distribution." Alhmoud says there are around 2,000 single men in the camp and that most of the security problems are due to such "agitators".

Six staff of Save the Children went to hospital in January after a riot. The organisation has had to replace the windows of three vehicles after they were shattered by rock-throwing children, some as young as three or four. In another incident, gendarmerie fired tear gas on refugees – who were also throwing rocks – at the food distribution site of Save the Children and the World Food Programme; aid workers were caught in the middle.

Russell said on average, six or seven "significant" incidents a week force NRC staff to temporarily move locations. "There's a lot of start-stop," he said. "It really does stifle work." One aid worker said that she does not feel safe walking around the camp as she feels "constantly harassed".

New measures

In March, the Jordanian police took over camp management from the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, a local NGO that had been operating the camp on behalf of UNHCR since its opening in July.

Camp administration now falls to a new entity known as the Syrian refugee camp directorate, which reports directly to the ministry of interior. Regular police man the entrance, and checkpoints of the gendarmerie (known as Darak), dot the road encircling the camp. Special forces of the gendarmerie intervene when incidents arise, and, according to the prime minister, police in civilian clothes are also present. The government has decided to erect a fence and berm around the contours of the camp, Alhmoud told IRIN, "to prevent any foul play from the outside and the inside".

"Our Syrian brothers and sisters came seeking refuge to be safe from shelling and violence in their home country," he said. "The least we can provide them with is safety on our land."

Alhmoud promised a "total improvement" in the security situation within a week or two, once police buildings are set up outside the camp and officers begin conducting patrols inside. "Every day, there is a difference … Things are improving … Law and order will be established."

More needed

Aid workers urge better engagement and co-ordination with police, more clarity on who is responsible for what, and police training on international norms vis-a-vis refugees.

"Camps should be managed by people who have training in dealing with refugees and have the experience in delivering aid, fundraising, as well as management," said human rights activist Issa Marazeeq.

Some police have been on UN peacekeeping missions abroad, and are attending seminars with UNHCR on relevant international norms, Alhmoud said. But Mobaslat said: "That does not guarantee that [the knowledge] trickles down to the guy standing at the gate. Some prerequisites around international law need to be part of an induction training prior to deployment to the camp."

UNHCR has struggled to keep up with the "massive demand" for training that is "overwhelming the whole system," Harper said. Funding remains another major constraint: There is not enough money for sufficient lighting and electricity, let alone for a large security force.

UNHCR will be providing over $2m in support for the Syrian refugee camp directorate, including accommodation and vehicles, to allow the police to respond more quickly and to patrol inside the camp, but Harper said it will not suffice.

"[The Jordanian government has] basically put a freeze on recruitment of security and police because they don't have any money. So how are they supposed to provide law and order for 500,000 refugees [in the country]? They don't have the vehicles; they don't have the troops; they don't have the water; they don't have the fuel or the tires to deal with a massive increase in their workload," he said.

"For all those people who are questioning [the situation in] Za'atari, help us by contributing to funding this … The camp is as good as what people's commitment to it is."

Aid workers say there are also less-expensive tools to use: UNHCR is working through imams to promote messages of non-violence, holding camp elections, and looking to break the camp into sections that can be more easily managed. The government has started using boreholes to supply water from inside the camp, to decrease the number of trucks coming in from outside.

"We're doing everything that you could expect us to do, but you have 110,000-plus people in a camp," Harper said. "It's a massive challenge."


04/04/2013 06:12 PM

War without End: The Price of Inaction in Syria

A Commentary by Christoph Reuter

Western leaders -- and German ones, in particular -- have come up with countless reasons for not providing military support to Syrian rebels. But this just plays into the hands of Assad, who has nothing to win, but plenty to destroy.

Take a moment to imagine it the other way around: A Syrian dictator with a full beard -- an Islamist harboring al-Qaida sympathies -- has the Christian population of his country shot, starved and bombed, lets fanatical militias massacre non-believers and burns the country down to ashes. Were that the case, an alliance of Western nations would step up to intervene faster than you could say "Mali."

Yet the people of Syria have been trying to rid themselves of a dictator for two years now. They spent months getting shot at while participating in peaceful demonstrations before they starting putting up violent resistance, and now they are facing a regime that intends to annihilate them. But it would seem that they're simply out of luck.

The reason isn't hard to see: Most of these rebels are Sunnis or, more broadly, Muslims. Many of them also have beards and shout "Allahu akbar" (as do the much smaller numbers of Ismailis, Druzes and Christians who fight alongside them). Sunnis also live in the areas that are being bombed almost daily when visibility is good.

Muslims rising up against their rulers to demand justice simply doesn't fit into our worldview. Over the past decades, this view has been fed on news of the Taliban, of radical Islamist clerics preaching messages of hate, of "honor" killings, of battles over a Danish cartoon and of the events of 9/11. Held responsible for the sum total of all we have heard over the years, Syria's Muslims are finding that the world views their struggle with suspicion and as just another attempt to establish a Muslim theocracy.

If they were Tibetans, you could be things would be different. But, as is, Bashar Assad's air force has been allowed to bomb with impunity. Scud missiles level entire city blocks, while Syria gradually empties out. Over 70,000 people have died in the conflict, and more than 1 million have fled the country.

From the start, Assad's regime has played on the West's fears expertly. It has denounced Syrian protestors as foreign jihadists -- while simultaneously releasing hundreds of al-Qaida supporters from prisons. It has faked attacks and worked to incite the country's various religious groups against one another, only to then turn around and present itself as a secular bulwark against radicalism.

And the regime's message finds willing ears in the West, where the fact that Assad bears primary responsibility for all this murder is dutifully mentioned. But, of course, the latter is only done as a prelude to enumerating, incident by incident, human rights abuses on the part of the rebels, in order to arrive at the conclusion that both sides in the conflict are terrible.

Should … Should … Should

The West doesn't want to intervene. In Germany, both the government and the opposition have assumed the stance that, in addition to not providing the rebels with military aid, it should also stringently uphold the EU's arms embargo. Yet it's not as if the Syrian opposition has always been clamoring for weapons at all costs. Instead, asking for them is more of a last resort now that all its other appeals to the international community -- for everything from a military intervention to a no-fly zone -- have been turned down.

Despite a number of successes on the rebels' part, the regime's troops still hold the city centers of almost all major cities. They have also held on to enough airports to allow them to carry out strikes on the regions of the country that have been liberated, something they do continually. Assad no longer has anything to gain in this conflict, but there is still plenty he can destroy.

Very slowly, the West is coming around to a different perspective. The United States has been covertly providing aid since late fall, flying arms and ammunition into Turkey -- 3,500 tons' worth, according to the New York Times -- to be delivered from there to Syrian rebel groups. However, not many of those supplies seemed to have arrived by late January, when rebel commanders in northern Syria were still issuing their fighters individual, carefully counted rounds of ammunition. The rebels urgently need anti-aircraft missiles to defend themselves against air strikes, but Washington is holding back on supplying such weapons, afraid they might eventually fall into the wrong hands. Great Britain and France now want to supply the rebels with arms, but the EU embargo is still in place -- and Germany still supporting it.

How, then, can the inferno in this land that was once Syria be brought to an end? Supporters of the embargo come up with all sorts of declarations, all of which seem to employ the same verb: "Assad should resign!" "We should support the UN's mission in Syria!" "We should prevent Russia from further arming Assad!" "We should make clear to those who support the Islamists that they had better stop doing so."

We should, but apparently we can't -- and therein lies the problem. To base our policies on airy appeals that haven't produced any results in the last two years is merely self-deception.

Illogical Arguments

There are many good reasons to refrain from military involvement in other countries. In the case of Syria, however, some of the rationales put forth are simply illogical. For example, there is the argument that there are already so many weapons in the country that it doesn't make sense to send in any more. By that logic, we could have spared ourselves the invasion of Afghanistan, not to mention the entire arms race conducted in recent decades.

The curious thing about many German politicians is that they continue to praise Germany's involvement in Afghanistan, even though it has been a failure when measured by its own goals, yet they don't want to intervene militarily in a situation in which it would make sense to do so. In taking this stance, these politicians are ignoring one fundamental difference: In Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, there was no revolution from within, no vision of a different form of government; instead, there was an invasion from outside. The US was able to topple Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, but not to create stable governments to replace them.

Syria is different. The uprising that began here in many different places simultaneously and without centralized leadership gave rise to hundreds of rebel groups that are not subordinate to any single, centralized command, yet manage to cooperate passably well. Committees for self-government have formed in the places where Assad's troops have been driven out. What is in place at the moment is chaotic and inadequate, but people here don't want anarchy. They want a government -- just a different one from what they had. Lawyers, businesspeople, religious leaders and civil servants are all doing their best to maintain public order. The question is how long this system will continue to function.

Empty Excuses

Worn down between the regime's brutality and the jihadists who have been growing stronger for months, embittered by the West's passivity and terribly impoverished, some people have turned to brutality, while others have fled. More and more of the rebels have joined with the radicals, not least because these groups receive abundant supplies from networks of influential clerics in the Gulf States. "Ahrar al-Sham" -- one of the two largest fundamentalist groups within the rebels' ranks -- "always buys the latest weapons, and plenty of them. They have money," a middleman in northern Syria reported in December.

To hold up these Islamists as a reason not to get involved is to confuse cause and effect. And those who defend the arms embargo -- as German Chancellor Angela Merkel does -- on the grounds that supplying the rebels with arms could further fuel the conflict, are misjudging both the nature of the regime and the dynamics at work in this war.

Assad has systematically tested out whether the international community would object to his use of tanks, of military helicopters, of jets and of missiles. US President Barack Obama has drawn a line only at the use of chemical weapons, which taken the other way around amounts to a declaration that the US will not get involved under any other circumstances. Assad and his generals would sooner accept the country's destruction than yield their grip on power. And as long as the West allows them to continue, they will.

This is the prospect we face: an utterly ravaged country, with 6 million instead of 1 million refugees, and a civil war that will drag Lebanon along into the fray -- a war that will not end with Assad's downfall, but will continue indefinitely, fueled by a cycle of revenge and retaliation.

Should that happen, Germany's government will of course condemn it vehemently.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


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« Reply #5573 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Terrorists planning Somali attacks, government warns

British government warns terrorists in final stages of planning attacks in Mogadishu, following statement by Foreign Office

Ben Quinn, Saturday 6 April 2013 00.57 BST   

Terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the British government has warned.

Concerns about a possible attack were highlighted in a statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which already advises against all travel to Somalia.

The Foreign Office's website states that attacks in and around Mogadishu continue to be carried out by al-Shabaab, a terrorist group, and others opposed to the Somali government.

Attacks in the past have targeted government institutions, hotels, restaurants and public transport, including the international airport.

An FCO spokesperson said: "We have amended our travel advice for Somalia. Our advice makes clear that there continues to be a high threat from terrorism and that the FCO believes that terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks in Mogadishu. We advise against all travel to all parts of Somalia."

"The safety of British nationals abroad is a major concern for the FCO. We therefore attach great importance to providing information about personal safety and security overseas, including an assessment of the level of threat from terrorism, to enable people to make informed decisions about travel."

Security in Mogadishu has improved greatly since a military offensive drove Islamist rebels allied to al-Qaida out of the city in August 2011. But bombings and assassinations blamed on militants still occur often.

Last month, a suicide car bomber killed at least 10 people near Mogadishu's presidential palace in an explosion that police said was aimed at a senior security official.

The attacker blew up his car while driving along a boulevard that runs between the palace and the national theatre.

In late September, al-Shabaab withdrew from the southern Indian Ocean port of Kismayu, its last major urban bastion in the east African state, signalling its demise as a quasi-conventional military force, but it pledged to step up a campaign of suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks.
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« Reply #5574 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:04 AM »

April 5, 2013

Mali: France Proposes Permanent Force


France has proposed keeping a permanent force of 1,000 French troops in Mali to fight armed Islamist militants, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday. Mr. Fabius, on a visit to Bamako, Mali’s capital, said France was pushing ahead with plans to reduce its 4,000-member military presence from the end of this month but planned to keep a combat force in Mali to support a future United Nations peacekeeping mission. France’s three-month military campaign has largely swept Islamist rebels out of towns in northern Mali and into remote desert and mountain hideaways. “France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men, which would be permanent, based in Mali and equipped to fight terrorism,” Mr. Fabius said.
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« Reply #5575 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:06 AM »

April 6, 2013

Former Minister Asked to Form Government in Lebanon


BEIRUT — A prominent Lebanese politician has been asked to form a new cabinet after a vast majority of legislators supported him.

After two days of consultations, President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon asked Tamam Salam, a legislator and a former minister of culture, to form the new cabinet after 124 members of Parliament, out of 128, chose him for the job.

Mr. Salam will face the challenge of holding Lebanon together amid rising sectarian tension resulting from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Shortly after the consultations ended on Saturday, Mr. Salam headed to the presidential palace where Mr. Suleiman asked him to form the government.

Mr. Salam is expected to form a national unity government, a process that could take him a long time because of the sharp divisions among Lebanese politicians as a result of the Syrian crisis.
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« Reply #5576 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Human rights groups fear impact of draft Egypt law restricting their work

Legislation could force international NGOs to seek permission from new committee for almost every aspect of every project

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Friday 5 April 2013 14.23 BST   

Egypt's parliament is close to passing a law that campaigners say will severely restrict the activity of human rights groups and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and which is seen as a serious betrayal of the goals of the 2011 uprising that ousted the former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

According to Heba Morayef, the Egypt director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), the draft law, if passed unchanged, will "make it almost impossible for international human rights organisations to operate in Egypt".

As it stands, the law – which has been condemned by both the UN and the EU, and which might be passed as early as next week – could force international NGOs to seek permission for almost every aspect of every project. Their work would need to be authorised by a new committee that could veto any projects it believed would work against Egypt's national unity, public morals, and development goals – loose concepts that campaigners fear will allow the authorities to clamp down on any project that questions the activity of Egypt's Islamist-led government.

"It has very vague language that gives the government discretion to halt any activities that it doesn't agree with substantively," said Morayef, who is the country's highest-profile rights campaigner.

"I can fully imagine them saying that going forward, if you want to work on women's rights, then that's not a priority in Egypt. Don't work on women's rights." Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, and most of the country's current parliamentarians are affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently condemned moves to grant basic rights to women.

In a situation that many feel will be exacerbated by the new legislation, the government has already tried to restrict funding to women's rights groups such as the New Woman Foundation, who in turn have been forced to cut salaries and lose staff.

Campaigners also criticised the way the law gives state security officials a leading role in the authorisation process. "It is a back door for the security apparatus to restrict the activities of the NGOs – by not approving funds for NGOs that are going to monitor elections or the situation of human rights or torture," said Mohamed Zaree, Egypt programme director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Morayef agreed: "The idea of giving MI6 or the CIA the right to register NGOs in the UK and the US would be ludicrous."

Even if the committee did not reject an NGO's activity outright, there are concerns it could still drastically slow their work through bureaucracy. "The law doesn't say that you're going to be shot down immediately," said Gasser Abdel-Razek, associate director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "But … it basically means that you really waste a lot of your resources in keeping yourself alive, rather than in contributing to whatever you set out to do."

International groups are not the only ones under threat. Among many other restrictions, local groups would need authorisation to receive any funding from foreign sources. This would particularly restrict Egyptian human rights NGOs, whose work – according to UN representatives – is almost entirely funded by overseas grants.

"If you look back during the last 10 years in Egypt and other Arab countries, the human rights organisations, where have their funds come from?" asks Marwan Abi Samra, the head of democratic governance for the UN in Egypt. "Let's say 90% has come from foreign sources. This means that [the law] will have a very bad impact on human rights organisations."

Samra added: "It is not what we expect after a revolution in Egypt, and most importantly, many of these issues are in total contradiction with international law.

"This is definitely a betrayal of the revolution," said Zaree. "When I participated in Tahrir Square, the demands of the revolution were bread and freedom and social justice. Not bread and freedom and restricting the work of NGOs."

The activity of NGOs has long been restricted in Egypt. Under Mubarak, the government would drag out the registration of individual NGOs over several years – a process that forced the groups to tread especially carefully, in order to avoid their applications being rejected.

Under the military dictatorship that followed Mubarak, NGO repression became more explicit, as 43 NGO staffers were arrested, ostensibly for receiving "illegal" foreign funds. The new law promises more of the same.

While many Egyptians agree that the 2011 uprising generally brought them greater freedoms, the putative NGO law is also one of several recent developments that suggest that Egypt's Islamist-led government is seeking to turn the clock back.

This week, the TV satirist Bassem Youssef was detained and questioned for insulting the president on his politics-themed show – along with a prominent stand-up comedian, and more than 20 opposition activists, lawyers and politicians. Parliament is also rushing through legislation that would restrict the right to protest.

The Egyptian government's director for NGO affairs, Osama Shaltout, did not respond to requests for comment.

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« Reply #5577 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Satirist Bassem Youssef not letting up on Egyptian president despite charges against him

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 5, 2013 22:00 EDT

Egyptian humorist Bassem Youssef again satirised President Mohamed Morsi in his first television show since facing charges of insulting the country’s leader and Islam.

“I would love to know how you make your decisions,” Youssef said of Morsi, comparing him to a magician drawing his ideas out of a hat.

He also ridiculed the pro-Morsi media and the prosecutor involved in the case against him.

“It’s not fear… but after my visit to the prosecutor, I decided not to talk any more about Morsi. So I’m going to talk about the prosecutor, especially his problems!” he joked.

Youssef regularly skewers the country’s ruling Islamists on his wildly popular weekly programme Albernameg (The Show), which is modelled on Jon Stewart’s US satirical The Daily Show.

He is currently out on $2,200 bail after an interrogation on Sunday that lasted nearly five hours.

He was questioned on accusations of offending Islam through “making fun of the prayer ritual” and of insulting Morsi by “making fun of his international standing”.

He is also subject to a new investigation for “threatening public security”.

The charges against the Egyptian satirist have raised international concerns and Morsi himself on Wednesday stressed Egypt’s commitment to freedom of expression, insisting that citizens’ complaints, not his office, were behind the probe against Youssef.

However, the soaring number of legal complaints against journalists has cast doubt on Morsi’s commitment to freedom of expression — a key demand of the popular uprising that toppled his predecessor Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Youssef’s high profile case prompted the United States to express “real concerns” about the direction being taken by the Egyptian government.

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« Reply #5578 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Head of Brazil's equality body accused of homophobia and racism

Human rights groups have called for the resignation of pastor Marco Feliciano on the grounds of his apparent bigotry

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Friday 5 April 2013 17.33 BST   

The Commission for Human Rights and Minorities in Brazil's lower house of parliament is supposed to promote tolerance and understanding, but it is now embroiled in an unholy row over the controversial preacher who recently became its president.

Marco Feliciano, an evangelical pastor from the Christian Social party, is accused of homophobia, racism and excluding outsiders from sessions that were previously open to the public.

As of Wednesday night, the commission decided to hold meetings behind closed doors to prevent disruptions from critics of its president, who has become a focus of concerns that Brazil is becoming a less liberal nation.

Human rights groups and celebrities have called for the resignation of Feliciano on the grounds of his apparent bigotry.

On his Twitter page Feliciano recently said that Aids was a "gay cancer". He has previously stated that Africans are "cursed since the times of Noah". The politician denies that his comments or views are prejudiced.

Feliciano was appointed last month as a result of horse-trading for key positions in Congress among the main parties. As the only candidate for his post, his suitability was not called into question by politicians, but civil society has erupted in indignation.

"A bigoted congressman should not run a commission aimed at ending prejudice," noted the country's largest online campaign group Avaaz in a petition for his resignation that has attracted 465,000 signatures.

The Folha de São Paulo newspaper ran an online poll asking whether Feliciano should step down. Despite a campaign by the congressman and his supporters, 80.6% of the 100,320 respondents agreed that he should go.

Anonymous, a group of internet hackers, has joined the campaign by releasing what it says are documents about Feliciano's financial backers.

The office of the commission declined the Guardian's request for a comment. But the congressman has publicly vowed not to buckle in the face of his critics, whom he accuses of taking his comments out of context.

"I am not homophobic," Feliciano said in a recent sermon.

He added: "I am against their promiscuity. I don't want my daughters to go out on the streets and see men with shaved legs kissing each other. The Brazilian family must be respected."

He has written on Twitter that his comments about Noah do not constitute racism and said in interviews that his mother and stepfather are black.

He has failed to convince a growing number of celebrities who have come out against him.

One of the country's most popular singers, Daniela Mercury, told the G1 news website on Wednesday that she was in a lesbian relationship with journalist Malu Vercosa: "I am in love with Malu, with Brazil, with individual freedoms. We cannot ignore the conquests we have achieved. We cannot walk backward like the Felicianos of the world."

The outcry has spread to street protests in Copacabana and a demonstration outside the Brazilian embassy in Paris.

The work of the commission – which is supposed to draw up legislation and consider cases of human rights violations – has also been disrupted by activists.

Feliciano has won support from many in the evangelical Christian movement, which is a growing force in Brazilian politics.

His Twitter stream includes words of endorsement from numerous pastors, including one – which Feliciano retweeted – who claimed gay foster parents rape their children.

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« Reply #5579 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:16 AM »

04/05/2013 05:46 PM

A Global Look at Gay Rights: 'The Fight Against Discrimination Must Go On'

In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, Boris Dittrich, head of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy at Human Rights Watch, discusses the current debates on same-sex marriage in Europe and the United States and virulent homophobia in Russia and Uganda.

Boris Dittrich, the 57-year-old advocacy director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch in New York, has been involved in policies boosting the standing of same-sex relationships since early on in his political career. As a member of parliament in the Netherlands for more than 12 years, he was not only one of the first openly gay men to serve in office, but also the person responsible for legislation that made Holland the first country in the world to introduce full-fledged same-sex marriage.

Dittrich's work on human rights has taken him to many corners of the world, including Russia, which has been plagued by institutionalized homophobia and violence against gay men and lesbian women over the past decade, and countries in Eastern Europe that have failed to develop the progressive policies seen in many Western European countries. Dittrich recently announced he would relocate from New York to Berlin, the city from which he will base his advocacy work on behalf of LGBT issues beginning in May.

SPIEGEL ONLINE recently caught up with Dittrich and discussed anti-gay legislation heading toward approval in Russian parliament, protests over the French government's efforts to elevate same-sex marriage to the same status as heterosexual pairings and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own opposition to calls for similar action in her country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Dittrich, as head of the Human Rights Watch program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affairs, you will soon be moving to Berlin. What will your main points of focus be here?

Dittrich: Largely Eastern Europe, with a special focus on Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia has been a focal point for discrimination against LGBT people in the past year. Ten regions have adopted legislation forbidding what they describe as pro-homosexual propaganda. Similar legislation is pending in six regions.

Dittrich: More troubling is that the national parliament, the Duma, has adopted similar legislation in its first reading forbidding what it calls "homosexual propaganda" from being disseminated to people under the age of 18. If a private individual were to be caught speaking positively about homosexuality in public -- for example by promoting safe sex and condoms in relation to homosexuality -- then that person could be fined the equivalent of $160. An NGO could face a massive $16,000 penalty. This is extremely troubling and a violation of international human rights laws, and even the European Court of Human Rights has stated this.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are European Union leaders taking sufficient action to pressure Russia to ensure the basic human rights of gays and lesbians are protected?

Dittrich: On April 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin will open the Hanover Trade Fair and hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Human Rights Watch, together with a number of other NGOs, are protesting against the propaganda legislation and other human rights violations in Russia. Putin has orchestrated a crackdown on civil society. More than 200 NGOs were recently inspected without any announcement in an attempt to intimidate these groups. In February, the Dutch foreign minister visited Moscow and conveyed the message that the Netherlands rejects the legislation. A vicious back and forth ensued in the joint press conference, with Russia's foreign minister stating his country was "independent" and others shouldn't tell it what to do. But all European leaders should consistently raise the issue when they meet with with Putin and other Russian dignitaries. Russia has ignored decisions from the European Court of Human Rights. European leaders like Merkel should make it clear to Moscow that this behavior is intolerable.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This kind of discrimination in Europe's backyard isn't limited to Russia. What are some other major flashpoints?

Dittrich: The situation is even worse in Ukraine, where a similar "propaganda" law has been tentatively adopted in a first reading. Instead of just fines, however, Ukraine is seeking to criminalize positive statements about homosexuality, and it can even carry a prison sentence of up to five years. Meanwhile, in Moldova, several larger cities have even declared themselves to be "gay-free zones". It may not be legally binding, but it is certainly a psychological factor that will add pressure on gay men or lesbian women living in such a city. The developments in these cities in Moldova happened after a visit by an American evangelical minister named Scott Lively, who held meetings with members of city councils.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have also accused Scott Lively of playing an instrumental role in influencing Uganda's anti-gay legislation.

Dittrich: It's not just Scott Lively, but he is very vocal and has been in Uganda a lot, where he teaches courses on the "homosexual danger". He warns people attending that in the United States, gays have become very powerful, leading to same-sex marriage and immoral behavior. Among those attending one of his courses was David Bahati, a member of parliament who then introduced Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, in which there's a provision for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality". Another clause in the law requires that people report anyone they know to be gay or lesbian to the police within 24 hours. If they fail to do so, they can face a prison sentence of up to three years. A vote hasn't happened yet, but the bill enjoys the support of a large majority of the Ugandan parliament. This very harsh legislation is obviously a violation of all kinds of international human rights laws.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the chances of passage appear to be strong.

Dittrich: It frequently appears on the agenda in parliament, but then it disappears for a few weeks again. Our assessment is that it is some kind of political game between parliament and the president. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is under tremendous international pressure not to countersign the law once it has been passed by parliament. Apparently Museveni is also fearful of what will happen if it passes and how society will react to it. There have been vicious campaigns in the media recently, with newspapers sometimes outing gay men and lesbians with pictures and stories about where they live, work and even providing the license plate numbers of their cars.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Last year, Ugandan gay rights activists sued Scott Lively. Has this had an impact on quieting his efforts to spread hatred against gays and lesbians?

Dittrich: Frank Mugisha, one of the heads of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), and others sued Lively in a state court in Massachusetts. Mugisha recently traveled to the United States for the first hearing in the case and also visited us. We asked what kind of impact the case could have knowing it may be years before a decision is made. The interesting thing is that it is actually a psychological one. American pastors will now have to realize that they can't just hop on a plane and go to Uganda, Zambia, Lithuania or Moldova to spread their hate and then just go back home and forget about it. The Alien Tort Claims Act allows foreign activists to start cases in the US and, soon, the consequences of a speech given by someone like Lively can then be felt back home.

'Not A Single Country Has Fallen into a Moral Abyss' over Gay Marriage
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Religion is an ever-present theme when it comes to LGBT rights. There's a new pope in the Vatican. Are you hopeful that Pope Francis can bring progress in relations between the Catholic Church and LGBT communities?

Dittrich: If you look at Pope Francis' background in Argentina, he has not been supportive of LGBT rights, and he masterminded calls to members of parliament to vote against the country's successful same-sex marriage law. Still, even though the Vatican has institutionally never been supportive of homosexual relationships, I would like to restart a dialogue after I get to Berlin to make the Catholic Church's stance against violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons better known because that is in fact the official view of the Vatican. Philip Bene, the Vatican's legal attaché at the time, came to an International Human Rights Day event at the United Nations in December 2009 and issued that statement. The Vatican is also officially opposed to things like the Uganda law, and it has called upon the 76 countries in the world that still criminalize homosexual conduct to decriminalize it. The Vatican doesn't spread that message to all its cardinals or to the priests or people who are Roman Catholic Church leaders in their communities, so a lot of people don't know about this. For Human Rights Watch, it is important to try to seek dialogue and to push them on the issue.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Vatican City is smack in the center of Rome and Italy remains one of the few Western European countries where there isn't even an active political debate over the possibility of civil unions or marriage between same-sex couples. Do you see this changing soon?

Dittrich: There is a such a strong influence of the Catholic Church in Italy that it will be a very difficult battle. Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi raised the prospect, but then failed to take action before his government fell. He was succeeded by Silvio Berlusconi, who wasn't interested in anti-discrimination legislation or civil unions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: France has had the civil solidarity pact, or PACS, on the books since 1999. Similar legislation has passed in staunchly Catholic Spain and Portugal. Now French Socialist President François Hollande wants to place same-sex unions on the same status of marriage in the country, but large protests have resisted his move. Why is opposition still so strong despite more than a decade of experience with PACS?

Dittrich: The demonstrations for and against marriage equality in France show how lively French democracy is. Because the government proposes it, it is logical that opponents take to the streets. They use arguments that are used everywhere else when such legislation is proposed. It is a mixed bag of religious, traditional and cultural arguments. No revolution has ever broken out in countries where this legislation has been adopted, and not a single one has fallen into a moral abyss as predicted by the opponents. A majority of French society is in favor of same-sex marriage, so I am confident the legislation will pass.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany first recognized same-sex civil unions in 2001. Opposition to upgrading these domestic partnerships to make them equivalent to the institution of marriage in terms of tax benefits has also been significant.

Dittrich: Same-sex marriage will soon be adopted in New Zealand, Uruguay and the United Kingdom. You have it in Scandinavia, in Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Argentina and South Africa. The question will arise: What will Germany do? The (conservative) Christian Democrats and their leader, Chancellor Merkel, recently decided against providing taxation equality to same-sex marriages. I would love to meet with members of the Bundestag and share my experience. In the Netherlands, marriage equality was introduced in 2001 and we have now amassed 12 years of experience. We see a whole generation of young people growing up who can't even conceive of the idea that there was a time when gay men or lesbian women couldn't get married. Even Christian Democratic politicians who voted against my proposals at the time are now in favor of marriage equality.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Let's go back to issues in Eastern Europe. Compared to many of the traditional EU countries, not much progress has been made in terms of achieving civil unions or same-sex marriage in the region.

Dittrich: There are a lot of groups pressing for more and more. I've been, for example, to gay pride celebrations in Prague in the Czech Republic. A lot of LGBT groups there would like to open the discussion on same-sex marriage. Usually the first step in countries is to introduce civil unions or registered partnerships.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You've so far been working on the issue of gay rights for Human Rights Watch from your current base in the United States, where nine states have legalized same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court in Washington, DC, is now considering a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages at the state level. How do you think the Supreme Court will rule on DOMA and California's Prop 8, and what impact will this potentially have on the future of gay rights in America?

Dittrich: It is too difficult to predict an outcome. But if the ruling explicitly states that gay couples have the same right to civil marriage as opposite couples, then it will be a boost for LGBT groups in states where this right has not been achieved yet. However, it could also pose one danger for the LGBT movement: After marriage equality has been achieved the groups should continue fighting discrimination and not lean back and think after marriage the country will be a paradise for LGBT people. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is mulifaceted and is inherent to the position of being a minority. The fight against discrimination must go on, even after marriage has been achieved.

Interview conducted by Daryl Lindsey

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