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« Reply #5655 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:09 AM »

April 9, 2013

Taliban Defend New Perch in Northern Pakistan, Gaining Sway as Election Nears

By DECLAN WALSH
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Taliban fighters swept into the Tirah Valley of northern Pakistan last month, grabbing a remote but strategic area that was previously known for criminal activity, Pakistan’s military seized a chance to bloody the insurgents before they dug in.

But the counteroffensive took a dismal turn over the past week, as the Taliban struck back with a combination of guerrilla tactics and dexterous tribal politics, defending their new perch and increasing their ability to disrupt Pakistan’s approaching election.

After five days of fighting, at least 26 soldiers, many from the elite commandos unit, have been killed, according to several senior security and tribal officials. Dozens of Taliban militants have also died, they said.

“Resistance is stiff,” said one of those officials in Peshawar, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The battle for Tirah, a mountain redoubt of steep walls backing onto the border with Afghanistan in the Khyber agency, highlights the complexity of the war that has slowly engulfed Pakistan’s tribal belt over the past five years.

While the army has faced stiff American criticism for its failure to crack down on extremists in North Waziristan who wage war and terrorism abroad, it is simultaneously engaged in bruising battle with the Pakistan Taliban in other corners of the tribal belt.

There, in an echo of British military campaigns against tribal fighters a century ago, the Taliban use their knowledge of the terrain and some adroit tribal negotiations to outwit a militarily superior enemy.

The Taliban fled into the Tirah Valley in mid-March after tough clashes with the army in the neighboring district of Orakzai. They surprised military officials by quickly vanquishing a pro-government militia stationed in the Tirah, and by forging an opportunistic alliance with a powerful local warlord, Mangal Bagh, who had previously fought the Taliban.

“It took us by surprise,” one senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The army launched a two-pronged assault on Tirah last Friday. But it soon suffered heavy casualties, after troops from the elite Special Services Group commando unit ran into an ambush after clearing a village, a senior tribal official said. “Most of those killed so far are from the S.S.G.,” he said.

Since then the army has hit back hard, using artillery and helicopter gunship strikes. The army press office said Monday that 23 soldiers and 110 militants had been killed. Privately, officials put the militant death toll in the dozens.

The fighting has displaced an estimated 43,000 civilians, largely into neighboring tribal districts or the regional capital, Peshawar, where refugees have arrived with harrowing tales of flight. At least 10 elderly people and pregnant women died as they fled their homes, according to community leaders.

Suddenly, Mr. Bagh has become a rising star in the militant firmament, leaving NATO supply lines through Khyber agency — an area partly under his control — exposed to new attack. And the offensive has extended the Taliban’s reach across the northwest at a delicate time, as national elections approach.

The integrity of the May 11 poll was already in doubt across most of the tribal belt and parts of adjoining Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, said Khalid Aziz, a former provincial chief secretary. He estimated that 41 of the 99 directly elected seats in the province could be affected by Taliban violence or intimidation.

A foothold in Tirah gives the Taliban powerful additional influence, he added: “Although they will not participate in this election, they will be playing politics.”

Until now the valley, which has little arable land, was best known as a center of smuggling, gun running and hashish production. In Peshawar, displaced farmers have spoken openly of their distress at potentially losing their hashish stocks, Mr. Aziz, the retired official, said.

“They told me they were in debt with the drug traffickers, and now they would not be able to repay them,” he said.

Back inside the valley, the army faces the tough task of dislodging the Taliban from the high ground. “But we cannot afford to leave the operation halfway through. It will have to be taken to its logical end,” one senior security official said.

Otherwise, he warned, the valley could become a new safe haven for Taliban fighters fleeing fighting in Afghanistan or other tribal areas. “They need a space to regroup and recognize,” he said. “Now they have got one.”

Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.
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« Reply #5656 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Afghanistan's future after Nato troops leave uncertain, admits Hammond

Afghans will determine their own fate, says defence secretary, as MPs warns country could descend into civil war within years

Richard Norton-Taylor and Sam Jones   
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 10.12 BST   

The defence secretary has admitted that no one can predict what will happen to Afghanistan after British, US and other Nato troops end their frontline role there at the end of 2014, and stressed that only the Afghan people can find a lasting solution to the country's violence, corruption and lawlessness.

Philip Hammond's remarks came as the Commons cross-party defence committee warned that Afghanistan could descend into civil war within a few years and suggests that the British government's attitude towards the country is one of simply hoping for the best.

Hammond told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the UK had intervened in Afghanistan to protect its national security and had never intended to stay for a protracted period.

"Afghanistan is an incredibly complex society; a multiethnic society that was very fragmented before we started," he said. "Our ability to influence outcomes is very limited."

He defended the long deployment of British troops, saying their actions had brought about "the removal of international terrorists able to use Afghanistan as a base" and helped train the Afghan national security force, which "can and, increasingly, is holding the ring" on the insurgents.

"The sacrifices have been huge and we will never forget the sacrifice that has been made to deliver the security of Britain and our allies," he said.

"It was always clear that this could not be an open-ended intervention. We had to create the conditions where we would eventually be able to withdraw and allow the Afghans to maintain their own security so our security was protected.

"While the situation is not perfect we have come a long way to being able to deliver that objective."

The defence secretary also said it was clear that "the long-run solution to security has to be an Afghan solution; it cannot be imposed from outside". History, he said, had shown the futility of such attempts.

Asked about the committee's warnings, Hammond said it had been offered a range of views as to Afghanistan's future, which ran from the overly optimistic to the possibility of civil war.

"I completely accept nobody can say with certainty what the future for Afghanistan will be, but what I can say is that the future of Afghanistan will have to be determined by the Afghan people," he said.

Former British ambassadors to Afghanistan told the Commons committee that Nato's understanding of the Taliban was limited, that "corruption and abuse of power was intrinsic in Afghan society" and that the country's economy depended heavily on the drugs trade.

The MPs warned that the start of an Afghan-led peace settlement with the Taliban was vital to ensure the country's stability and security after the withdrawal of British troops next year. But they added that coalition forces' lack of progress in reducing violence in the country "does not augur well for improving security and economic development on a long-term sustainable basis".

The committee also criticised the government for failing to combat the perception that the pullout amounted to "withdrawal through fatigue".

Publication of the report came a day after the government announced that the last group of Royal Marines to be deployed in Afghanistan was returning to the UK. Troops from 40 Commando Royal Marines were based in the Nahr-e Saraj district. The 7,200-strong Royal Marine Corps has deployed commandos to Afghanistan 12 times since 2001, and troops from 40 Commando were the first British soldiers in the country that year, securing Bagram airfield and patrolling the streets of Kabul.

The defence committee said the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office took an optimistic view of the future yet gave very little information about how they planned to be involved in Afghanistan beyond 2014,

James Arbuthnot, chairman of the committee, said: "We have received starkly opposing predictions for Afghanistan's outlook, post-2014. The fact is that the UK has limited influence."

The report concludes: "We hope that Afghanistan can become a secure, prosperous and flourishing country but we are concerned that Afghanistan could descend into civil war within a few years."

Some ground may have to be given in negotiations with the Taliban but the committee stressed the importance of open and free elections and said the rule of law and human rights should not be compromised in any settlement. The committee said that all Afghan people, including women, must be involved in the peace process. If women were excluded as a consequence of negotiating with the Taliban, the progress made could easily unravel, the MPs warned.

"If the UK is to continue to provide financial and training support to Afghanistan post-2014, there needs to be a clear articulation of the areas the UK will fund and support and the outcomes it expects to achieve," the report said.

"It must be clear to those engaged in the peace negotiations that, in providing support in the future, the UK will be paying close attention to the progress on the rights of women, children and minority groups, the tackling of corruption and the furtherance of the rule of law".

The report also claimed that not enough was being done to train and equip Afghan security forces properly. Concerns remained over the capability of Afghan forces to fill the gap left by withdrawing coalition forces, particularly in terms of helicopters, close air support and logistics, the committee said.

"We are concerned that the ANSF [Afghan national security forces totalling about 350,000] will reduce its strength by over a third on current plans based on the expectation that the insurgency will have been diminished," the report adds. "The government should urge the international community to develop a contingency plan in case the level of the insurgency does not diminish".
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« Reply #5657 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:13 AM »

April 9, 2013

After Talks End, Iran Announces an Expansion of Nuclear Fuel Production

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

MOSCOW — Iran’s president announced an expansion of the country’s uranium production and claimed other atomic energy advances on Tuesday, striking a pugnacious tone in the aftermath of diplomatic talks that ended in an impasse with the big powers last weekend in Kazakhstan.

“Iran has already become a nuclear country and no one is capable of stealing this title,” the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proclaimed in a speech in Tehran during a ceremony commemorating National Nuclear Technology Day, a holiday he created in 2006 during his first term in office to trumpet Iran’s nuclear energy achievements.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is at the center of a power struggle in Iran over who will succeed him after presidential elections in June, also took aim at the United States and “hegemonic powers” in the European Union that have sought to penalize Iran with onerous economic sanctions aimed at pressuring it to capitulate in their nuclear dispute.

“They caused restrictions and issued threats, thinking that the Iranian nation cannot achieve nuclear energy,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted him as saying.

While such rhetoric is hardly out of character, it showed how the talks had failed to narrow the divide between Iran and the six world powers that are demanding curbs in its nuclear program.

Iran has defied United Nations Security Council demands for a halt to the uranium enrichment until questions about its nuclear intentions are answered. It has denied accusations that it intends to build a nuclear weapon and has argued that it needs the enriched uranium for energy and medical uses.

The talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ended late Saturday without a deal, and with no plans for a next round of discussions — capping a year of talks that by all accounts has not brought the sides any closer. At a briefing afterward, a senior American official said that Iran had not offered a detailed response to a proposal advanced by the big powers in February and that it had made unrealistic demands.

“That minimal response not only had very, very tiny steps in our view, but wanted a lot in return for those tiny steps,” the official said. “So this is a negotiation, but the gulf between their current position and ours is quite great.”

European officials said Iran had refused to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a level considered a short technical step to the higher level of purity needed for weapons-grade fuel. The Europeans also said Iran had refused to suspend work at Fordo, an underground processing plant, in a way that would make quick resumption difficult.

The officials said Iran expressed no interest in a deal to export most of its 20 percent-enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel, saying it now has the capability to produce the fuel itself.

Iran’s rejection was significant because the proposal, which was made at an earlier round of talks and would have offered Iran a modest easing of sanctions, represented a softened position by the six powers, which had demanded that Iran close its Fordo plant and relinquish its entire stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium.

As Israel and other critics who believe the Iranians are stalling for time renewed their calls for more decisive action, negotiators for the big powers planned to confer with senior officials in London, where the Group of 8 foreign ministers were meeting this week.

Negotiators representing the so-called P5-plus-1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, expressed hope that the impasse would give their Iranian counterparts pause.

The American official said the Iranians needed to “go back to Tehran and discuss with their government what they heard and the fact that we felt there was such a gulf that we wanted to stop and have these consultations before proceeding further.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad did not display the intended reaction. He said that Iran had opened two uranium extraction mines in the central province of Yazd and a factory in the same area to manufacture yellowcake, a form of semi-refined uranium that can be processed into nuclear fuel. The president also announced that Iranian nuclear scientists had created five new medicines and a homemade industrial electron accelerator.

Until now, the big powers have been unified in their efforts to prevent Iran from developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons. With time, though, differences may develop. Russia, for instance, has expressed more readiness than its Western partners to recognize that Iran has a sovereign right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes — a recognition that the Iranian negotiators are demanding as a precursor to any deal.

The Western powers, particularly France, are adamantly opposed to recognizing any such right without a comprehensive agreement and substantial “confidence building” measures.

In his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad offered no signal that Iran was ready to take such steps. On the contrary, he asserted that the Western powers must win Iran’s trust. “The best way for you is to cooperate with Iran,” he said.

The next steps are unclear. Russia and China, which have opposed economic sanctions, are likely to resist further steps at the United Nations, while the Americans and Europeans have warned of imposing more on their own. The American official, speaking after the Almaty talks, noted that President Obama had repeatedly said he would “not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The triumphal tone of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s announcements was undercut somewhat by a 6.3 earthquake that jolted the countryside in southern Iran near Bushehr, the site of its only nuclear power plant. Iran state news media said that the quake, which was felt in neighboring Dubai, killed at least 30 people, injured hundreds and heavily damaged two villages, but that the power plant had not been affected.

David M. Herszenhorn reported from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.
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« Reply #5658 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Russian Orthodox Patriarch denounces ‘dangerous feminism’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 7:21 EDT

The Russian Orthodox Patriarch has cautioned against the dangers of feminism, denouncing “propaganda” that encourages women to take roles beyond housekeeping and rearing children.

“I consider the phenomenon called feminism very dangerous,” said the powerful Patriarch Kirill in a speech delivered Tuesday and posted Wednesday on the official Russian Orthodox Church website.

“Feminist organisations proclaim a pseudo-freedom of women, which should be manifested outside marriage and family.”

But he argued: “The man should be focussed on matters outside (of the house), he must work and earn money, but the woman is always directed to the inside, towards her children and her home.”

“If that very important function of the woman is broken, then this is followed by the breaking of everything else: family, and in a larger sense, the motherland.”

The ultra-conservative Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, makes no secret of his political preferences and has sternly criticised mass opposition protests.

Despite petitions by many believers, he also supported harsh punishment for the members of all-female group Pussy Riot, two of which were jailed for performing a “punk prayer” in Russia’s main Cathedral of Christ the Savior to highlight his close ties with the state.

He is also a champion of the government’s drive to restore so-called family values as the cornerstone of the campaign to reverse the decline in the Russian population.

“We know how false propaganda of false values really works,” said Kirill.

“An opinion is forced down that the woman’s mission to be a mother is degrading,” he told an organisation of Ukrainian Orthodox women.

“It’s not an accident that most feminist leaders are unmarried,” he said, adding that there is nothing wrong with a woman having a career if she “correctly sets priorities” and “serves her duty as a wife and mother” as well as “bringing public good”.

“Birth rates fall when values are shifted and broken, when satisfying one’s personal needs, one’s egoism becomes the priority,” he said.

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« Reply #5659 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:22 AM »

April 9, 2013

Russia Takes Legal Action Against Election Monitors

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
IHT

MOSCOW – The federal Justice Ministry opened a legal case on Tuesday against Russia’s only independent election monitoring organization, charging that the group, Golos, and its executive director had violated a controversial new law by failing to register as a “foreign agent.”

The ministry’s action came a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany publicly chastised Russia over its intimidating treatment of nongovernmental organizations, including a series of recent raids. Ms.Merkel was the first Western leader to challenge President Vladmir V. Putin of Russia on the issue. She made her comments at a news conference in Hanover, Germany where the leaders toured a trade fair.

The new law, which requires nonprofit groups that receive financing from abroad to register as foreign agents, was among the most provocative in a passel of Kremlin-supported legislation in recent months that was aimed at tightening restrictions and limiting foreign influence on nonprofit groups,

In Russia, “foreign agent” is a phrase that carries a clear insinuation of treachery, and groups that rely on financing from outside Russia had voiced dismay over the requirement.

Golos, which was founded in 2000 with American financial and logistical support, monitors and comments on elections in Russia and other countries, It is also active in trying to shape election law in Russia. The group had a prominent role in drawing attention to fraud, including blatant ballot-stuffing and other crude measures, in the Russian parliamentary elections of December 2011,

Outrage over the fraud set off a series of large street protests in Moscow that continued for much of last year and led to the formation of a new coalition of political opponents to Mr. Putin. Recently, though, the protest movement has struggled to maintain momentum.

Shortly before that election, a judge fined the group’s executive director, Lidiya Shibanova $1,000 after finding the group guilty of violating a law the prohibited the publication of polling data in the five days leading up to the balloting. The group was cited for its “Map of Violations” posted on the Web, showing where allegations of fraud had been reported.

In a statement Tuesday? the Justice Ministry said of Golos: “According to the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring, the association receives funding from foreign sources At the same time the association carries out political activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

If convicted of the charges, Golos faces a fine of more than $15,000 and Ms. Shibanova faces a personal fine of about $10,000.

Golos’s deputy director, Grigory A. Melkonyants, said the group would respond with documents in court on Wednesday. In a posting on Facebook, Mr. Melkonyants rejected the allegations but said he feared the organization would be railroaded in court.

“This all seems absurd in light of the fact that from the moment the law on agents went into effect, the association has not received any grants,” he wrote, promising further details later. “But given the absurdity, and that this is a political order, I fear that in court it will be just like it was in court with the map of violations in December 2011.”

Supporters of the law in Russia compare it to an American statute, the Foreign Agents Registration, which seems to shed light on lobbying of the United States government by foreign countries.

But an analysis late last year by a legal news site, the Russian Legal Information Agency, cited numerous differences between the laws, including an exemption in the American law for groups engaged in “activities not serving predominantly a foreign interest.”

Russian authorities recently raided some of the most prominent international organizations working here, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Mr. Putin has spoken approvingly of the raids, describing them as part of normal enforcement efforts.

Among the offices searched in Russia were those of two of Germany’s most respected political foundations, and Ms. Merkel said she had expressed her disapproval to Mr. Putin. “I made it clear that a vibrant civil society can only exist when the individual organizations can work without fear or concern,” she said.

 (Andrew roth contributed reporting in Moscow)


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« Reply #5660 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:25 AM »

April 9, 2013

Online, Latvians’ Ideas Can Bloom Into Law

By SALLY McGRANE
IHT

CESIS, Latvia — Pulling up to a snow-covered front yard in this pretty little town last month, Alexander Grunte pointed to the chain-link fence, where a sad-eyed yellow mutt was tied up. “They’re so happy to get attention,” he said of the dog, which had jumped up and started barking. “Sometimes, it’s almost like they’re crying.”

The plight of local dogs left tied up alone outdoors has long bothered Mr. Grunte, a soft-spoken father of two and a translator of technical documents. So in January he went online and, using ManaBalss.lv, a Latvian Web site whose name translates to “My Voice,” created a parliamentary bill to make the practice illegal in Latvia. “I’ve never done anything political before,” he said. “But this was very easy.”

With the help of ManaBalss, he has a chance to see his proposal enacted into law by the Latvian Parliament. Thanks to a parliamentary rule passed shortly after the opening of the ManaBalss site in 2011, initiatives that gather 10,000 signatures from citizens 16 or older must be taken up by Parliament. Signatures can be gathered online, where they are verified using the same transaction codes that Latvians use for online banking.

With fewer than 2,000 signatures so far, Mr. Grunte’s proposal faces some headwinds, but he is still optimistic. “Even if it is declined by the Parliament, or even if it does not gain 10,000 signatures, it can already be considered as successful because of the wide publicity of the idea,” he said.

Latvia consistently has one of the lowest levels of political engagement and trust in government institutions in the European Union. Until recently, its national politics were largely controlled by a handful of business tycoons who amassed fortunes during the privatization of the 1990s and who are said to have chosen Latvia’s last president in a secret meeting in a zoo.

But ManaBalss now puts Latvia at the forefront of European efforts to shift some forms of political participation to the Internet. Last year, both Finland and the European Commission started official online platforms for citizens’ initiatives, and Iceland recently crowd-sourced some of the changes to a new constitution over the Internet.

At ManaBalss, anyone with an idea can suggest a change to the way things are done in Latvia, be it reducing the value-added tax on food or requiring that all employees of state institutions practice Bikram yoga. If the proposal meets several basic requirements — it must be legal, provide a solution and include a plan of action — volunteer experts offer advice on how to restate the suggestion as a more formal proposal. Then, if 100 people agree that the issue is important, and the site’s volunteer lawyers think it is feasible, the idea goes public.

According to ManaBalss, about 600,000 people, a number roughly equivalent to a fourth of the Latvian population, have visited the site, where 500 initiatives have been listed. So far, those initiatives have received a total of just over 174,000 signatures; seven have reached the 10,000 threshold.

Two popular ManaBalss ideas — that Parliament should be obliged to consider ManaBalss-type citizens’ initiatives supported by online signatures and that the state should know the names of the beneficiaries of offshore holdings — have been enacted into law by Parliament. Two more ManaBalss initiatives, one about traffic law and another about who should pay for hepatitis C treatment, are under consideration in Parliament.

Of course, some suggestions, like “I just want to lead a good life” and “Let’s sack the president,” never make it past ManaBalss’s initial hurdles. “Latvia should petition the U.S. to become the 51st state,” on the other hand, would probably meet the requirements to go public, according to Kristofs Blaus, one of the site’s founders. “Then we see what the people say,” he said, with a shrug.

Governments usually take charge of setting up these online infrastructures, but Latvia followed a different route. The Web site, which is private, is the brainchild of Mr. Blaus, 24, an Internet entrepreneur, and Janis Erts, 25, a former employee of an advertising agency who helped stage a fake Latvian meteorite landing in 2009.

The meteorite ruse — which involved shovels, pyrotechnics and a sprinkling of old-fashioned Soviet photographic film that Mr. Erts believed had been treated with a uranium salt solution, “to give scientists something to think about” — made its way into news reports around the world before a Swedish telecommunications company announced that it had underwritten the whole thing as a publicity stunt. But the experience prompted Mr. Erts to turn his mind to politics.

“After the meteor, I understood I could do stuff,” said Mr. Erts, who began to wonder why people would go to great lengths for, say, the newest Apple product but were left cold by the political process. “I started to think, ‘Can I do this not just for selling, but for government, too?’”

Mr. Blaus said: “We realized that you can’t change anything sitting around and talking to your friends. You need your ideas to be heard by someone in power.”

ManaBalss made its debut in 2011, at a giant outdoor summer party called the Cemetery Feast for the Oligarchs. “We wanted to thank the oligarchs for helping us to realize we need to do something for ourselves,” said Viesturs Dule, a former television host for a political satire program, who helped plan the event. “They were the mouse at the table, showing us there was a problem.”

After the Web site’s opening, the new Parliament — with “an oligarch-free majority,” as Nellija Locmele, the editor in chief of a magazine called Ir, put it — was eager to cooperate.

The current Parliament speaker, Solvita Aboltina, wrote in an e-mail: “It was a time when the lack of trust in both the government and Parliament reached its peak; therefore, launching of this social platform was a logical initiative. I think it is noteworthy that mostly young people who wanted to have a tangible impact on the legislative process were behind the initiative.”

Boriss Cilevics, a member of Parliament with the opposition Harmony Center, scoffed at ManaBalss. “It’s a way to let people express their emotions and calm them down, in a way that’s not serious for the authorities,” Mr. Cilevics said. “Its main weakness is that it doesn’t matter.”

But others disagree. “In ex-Communist countries, one of the biggest problems is that, in a targeted way, the Communists created a situation where people didn’t trust each other, they didn’t cooperate, they didn’t believe that individual actions could have any outcomes,” said another lawmaker, Lola Cigane. “Some people thought our national anthem was too depressing, and there was an initiative to make it more cheerful. Some of my colleagues were getting mad about this. But there’s no problem with debate. If citizens are interested, it’s legitimate.”


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« Reply #5661 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:28 AM »

April 9, 2013

Upstart Party in Italy ‘Occupies’ a Parliament That Is Already Paralyzed

By RACHEL DONADIO
IHT

ROME — Just when Italians thought their politics could not get any stranger, on Tuesday they did. That was when members of the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo decided to “occupy” Parliament, a step that would seem unnecessary since voters had already sent them there to occupy 163 of its 945 seats.

The stunt by Mr. Grillo’s followers, who, despite their electoral success, seem intent on acting as a protest movement, was the latest twist in Italy’s continuing political tragicomedy. The members of Parliament from the Five Star Movement called for the occupation to demand permanent parliamentary committees, even though no party has yet produced a governing majority.

For the moment, Italy’s parties remain entrenched in a surreal stalemate — three intractable blocs produced by February’s national election — and as a result, on April 18, Parliament is expected to begin debate to elect a new president of the republic, even before a government is formed.

“It’s a terrible, really terrible mess,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. “Now, we’re really at the worst point because there are three blocs that can’t find an agreement. The logical thing would be for two blocs to ally, but instead that’s not happening.”

More than six weeks after national elections in February, none of the leading parties hold a commanding share of Parliament and all are gripped by irreconcilable differences.

The center-left Democratic Party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, a somewhat gloomy former economic development minister, won the most seats and has a majority in the Lower House, but not in the Senate. The center-right People of Liberty party, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, wields veto power.

And the Five Star Movement, which won a quarter of the popular vote, says it wants to destroy the existing political structure and has refused to form alliances with the two main parties, which it blames for having pushed Italy into financial disarray.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bersani and Mr. Berlusconi met for an hour for the first time since the elections, but failed to break the political impasse.

Mr. Bersani has rebuffed Mr. Berlusconi’s requests to form a grand coalition led by an outsider, saying that Mr. Berlusconi, his party’s sworn enemy, is not a reliable interlocutor.

Mr. Berlusconi was replaced by Mario Monti in November 2011 during an acute phase of Europe’s debt crisis and given up for dead, but drew on a groundswell of residual popular support to place second in elections in February by promising to eliminate an unpopular property tax.

“He governed badly for many years, but still managed to maintain a certain degree of consensus,” Mr. Folli said. The left, he added, “wasn’t able to transform itself and renew itself so as to take the reins of government. It fought against Berlusconi, but couldn’t form an alternative.”

Mr. Berlusconi has said he would support a government led by Mr. Bersani only if his party gets to choose the president of the republic.

The pressure is rising because the seven-year term of Italy’s 87-year-old president, Giorgio Napolitano, ends in May, and his replacement must be elected with a two-thirds majority of the same divided Parliament.

Italy’s Constitution forbids a president to dissolve Parliament and call new elections in the final six months of his term.

The presidency has traditionally been a largely symbolic office, but Mr. Napolitano has become a bulwark against political instability. Last month, he named a committee of 10 politicians, experts and technocrats and asked it to produce a list of issues on which the squabbling parties could find consensus. They are expected to issue their findings this week.

Amid the chaos, selecting a viable presidential candidate is a challenge. “This president should be elected with an accord between the Democratic Party and the center right because they are the two formations that represent the great majority of the country,” Mr. Folli said. “But this person should also represent novelty,” he added, and should “speak to the 25 percent of Italians who voted for Grillo.”

Some of the names being mentioned are Emma Bonino, a former Radical Party leader and former European commissioner, who some public opinion polls have placed first, and two ministers in Mr. Monti’s current caretaker government: Justice Minister Paola Severino and Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri. Political analysts say that electing Italy’s first female president would help guarantee stability and also represent a change.

On Tuesday, some of the Five Star Movement lawmakers “occupied” the Senate, meaning they remained in their seats after the day’s session. The group said they would stay until midnight to protest a decision by the presidents of the Lower House and Senate not to form permanent committees until Parliament forms a government.

They passed the time by reading aloud from a legal code.

Mr. Grillo, who does not serve in Parliament but runs the Five Star Movement with what critics say is an autocratic hand, accused the two parliamentary leaders of having carried out “a coup” by blocking the creation of committees.

Last week, the Five Star Movement drew attention when its legislators piled into buses to an undisclosed location for a secret meeting with Mr. Grillo. The buses took three different routes to the site, a hotel in the countryside outside Rome, in order to throw journalists off the trail.

Mr. Bersani has so far failed in his efforts to try to persuade some of the Five Star lawmakers, all of them first-time politicians, to support a center-left coalition. But as time passes, the movement appears to be splintering and may not vote as a bloc.
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« Reply #5662 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:30 AM »


France's chief rabbi resists pressure to resign over plagiarism

Gilles Bernheim apologises for copying other writers for his book on Jewish meditations but says quitting would be 'desertion'

Reuters in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 09.38 BST   

France's chief rabbi has refused to stand down despite admitting to several counts of plagiarism and deception about his academic credentials.

The revelations have shocked France's 600,000-strong Jewish community and Gilles Bernheim has come under pressure to quit, but he said resigning would be a "desertion" as he came clean on one of the country's main Jewish radio stations.

"It would be an act of pride and against the collegial structure that presides over decisions. I assume my functions fully," Bernheim, 60, a modern Orthodox Jew who was elected grand rabbi in 2008, told Radio Shalom.

"I ask for forgiveness from all those close to me, my family and the community as a whole that I have disappointed," he said.

Bernheim had seemed to be at the height of his career in recent months after his booklet against same-sex marriage laid out the intellectual argument for France's multi-faith movement against the government's plan to legalise it later this year.

The disclosures also come at a time when France's political elite is under intense scrutiny following the resignation of the country's budget minister over a secret foreign account that has created the biggest sleaze scandal of President François Hollande's 11-month-old Socialist government.

Bernheim's troubles began last month when a blogger accused him of copying a 1996 text by the late French post-modernist philosopher Jean-François Lyotard to use in his 2011 book Forty Jewish Meditations.

Bernheim responded by saying he was a victim of Lyotard's plagiarism of notes from lectures he had delivered in the 1980s when he was Jewish student chaplain in Paris.

Two weeks later, he admitted Lyotard had authored the disputed passage and blamed a student researcher he hired to help write the book because he was too busy with other duties.

His philosophical and historical defence of traditional marriage had attracted the attention of former pope Benedict, who unexpectedly praised it in his annual speech to the Vatican Curia last December, calling it "profoundly moving".

But even that has been called into question.

Jean-Noel Darde, a French academic who fights against plagiarism and has been one of the sources of the accusations, said on Tuesday that Bernheim had also plagiarised in that leaflet, prompting France's largest Jewish association to demand an explanation of the rabbi's behaviour.

Last week, another blogger accused Bernheim of plagiarism in a 2002 book and L'Express magazine revealed he had not earned the prestigious rank of philosophy professor that was often attached to his name.

Although his official biography did not mention him passing the agrégation, the highly selective examination needed to qualify as a professor, Bernheim never disputed the title when it appeared in newspaper articles and publicity for his books.

Bernheim was rabbi of the largest synagogue in Paris and was a leading Jewish intellectual when he challenged his predecessor, Joseph Sitruk, in a hard-fought campaign to become chief rabbi in 2008 that revealed deep divisions in French Judaism.

"When you're successful a lot of people consider you as some sort of hero ... so you don't want to disappoint them so you propagate the image they have of you," Bernheim told the station, sounding calm as he admitted and explained each allegation in turn.

The scandal follows similar cases in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel's defence and education ministers had to quit after parts of their doctoral theses were found to be plagiarised, and the resignation of an Italian anti-corruption campaigner who claimed academic degrees he did not have.

Hungary's president also had to resign a year ago after a plagiarism scandal over his doctorate.


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« Reply #5663 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:34 AM »


Moldovan connection: on trail of alleged hitman suspected in London hit

Vitalie Proca is accused of attempt on Russian exile's life and being a hired killer for mafia network active across east Europe

Luke Harding in Pitusca and Mihai Munteanu
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 April 2013 15.15 BST   

Alleged hitman Vitalie Proca's school diploma, which he collected on being paroled in 2010 after 12 years in prison for a sadistic and fatal robbery in Moldova.

On 1 March 2012 Vitalie Proca slipped out of his native Moldova. It was night. He crossed the border into Romania and went across the Prut river by coach. From there he travelled to Italy. Moldovan police believe Proca used a fake passport to reach his ultimate destination – an address in east London.

Proca's alleged mission was to kill a wealthy Russian businessman, 46-year-old German Gorbuntsov, who had fled to the UK in 2010 after falling out with powerful enemies in Moscow. For obvious reasons, he kept a low profile, living in a service flat in a quiet corner of Canary Wharf.

On 20 March, Gorbuntsov returned to his home in Byng Street around 7.30pm. The banker emerged from a black cab. According to UK and Moldovan investigators, Proca allegedly fired six bullets into him. The hitman fled, tossing his Makarov semi-automatic pistol into a bush. Gorbuntsov survived, just. Badly wounded, and eventually discharged from hospital, he now lives under 24-hour police protection.

Proca's alleged role emerged in February, when he was arrested as he flew into Moscow. Russian police, acting on an Interpol warrant, detained him at Domodedovo airport – a tall, unkempt figure wearing jeans, pointy black shoes and a flashy Adidas top. (He unzipped it to reveal a paunch. Previous CCTV footage from Canary Wharf tube station appears to showed a man in a trendy black leather jacket.)
German Gorbuntsov shooting CCTV footage from Canary Wharf tube station on 20 March 2012 of a man police wanted to question over attempted murder of German Gorbunstov in east London. Photograph: Metropolitan police/PA

Moldovan police say Proca was a professional hitman, employed by eastern European gangs to eliminate rivals. The alleged killer was linked to a sprawling mafia network active in Romania and Moldova, police say, and responsible for contract killings, robberies, prostitution, drugs and cigarette smuggling.

Ion Gusan, aka "Nicu Patron", the alleged leader of a Moldovan gang, hired Proca to carry out the London hit, they add. But the Patron group were brokers. The order to shoot Gorbuntsov came from Moscow and from one of the world's most dangerous mafia groups, the Solntsevskaya gang, the Guardian and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has learned.

Citing wiretap evidence, Moldovan prosecutors say the gang discussed how Gorbuntsov had "cheated" them out of $500m (£330m). In February 2012 an order was given to "disappear" Gorbuntsov. Known as the Black Banker, he was under investigation in Moldova for alleged fraud and money-laundering. Soon after receiving the call, Proca, 33, left for London.

A country of 3 million people, the impoverished former Soviet republic of Moldova is a hub for transnational crime. Most of its residents speak Russian but many have Romanian passports, allowing them access to the EU and especially Italy, home to a large Moldovan diaspora. Flight records suggest that Proca returned to Moldova via northern Italy, flying three days after the London hit. Proca was born near Pitusca, a poor village of muddy vine plots and crumbling dachas, 28 miles north-west of Chisinau. At one corner of the village is a large, white-painted orthodox shrine, with Christ on the cross. The bumpy road to Pitusca winds through Moldova's wine-growing heartland, past a scenic landscape of uneven agricultural fields, walnut trees and a lake.

Proca's mother is a pharmacist; his father, now dead, was a labourer; his grandfather the leader of a Soviet work brigade. He has two sisters, one married to an Italian.

Speaking to the Guardian, his mother, Ana Proca, said she had striven to bring up all three of her children correctly. She discovered her son's arrest in Moscow from a news bulletin.

Of her son's alleged trip to London, she said: "I have no idea about any of this. I thought he was at home in Chisinau. I didn't even know he had a passport." Did he have any ties to the UK? She smiled wryly then replied: "He can't speak English. At school he studied French." She went on: "We've had very little contact since he left school at 17 and moved to Chisinau. Whenever I call their apartment, I get his wife."


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« Reply #5664 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:36 AM »


Irish doctor 'constrained by abortion law', Indian woman's inquest hears

Dr Katherine Astbury says there was a small prospect the foetus would survive when Savita Halappanavar became ill

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 12.03 BST   

A consultant obstetrician in an Irish hospital where an Indian woman died after being denied an abortion has told her inquest that she felt constrained by the republic's strict anti-abortion laws.

Dr Katherine Astbury said she believed there was still "a small prospect the foetus would be viable" on 22 October last year when Savita Halappanavar became ill.

Astbury told the inquest in Galway courthouse into the death of the Indian dentist that "law does not permit termination even if there is no prospect of viability of foetus".

She denied claims by Savita Halappanavar's husband, Praveen, that medical staff told the couple they could not carry out a termination of her 17-week pregnancy because Ireland was a Catholic country.

Asked about the phrase which has become attached to the controversy since Savita Halappanavar died in Galway University hospital, Astbury told the coroner, Dr Ciaran McLoughlin, that such language would have been uncaring, insensitive and wrong.

Pressed about her decision to refuse the Halappanavars' request for an emergency termination, Astbury said that under Irish law there had to be a "real and substantial risk" to the life of the patient before this could happen.

She said that at the time of the request, Savita Halappanavar was well and a termination was not permitted because of a diagnosis of poor foetal prognosis.

Earlier, lawyers for Galway University hospital denied tampering or interfering with the medical records of Savita Halappanavar. The inquest in Galway city continues.

The death of the 31-year-old Indian woman provoked protests in Ireland, India and across the world against the republic's strict laws on abortion. The case has also piled further pressure on the Fine Gael-Labour coalition to reform abortion law and allow for terminations in Irish hospitals when a woman's life is at risk.


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« Reply #5665 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:41 AM »


Slovenia's prime minister tries to quell eurozone bailout rumours

Bratusek insists government committed to fixing country's banks, struggling with bad debts as double-dip recession continues

Graeme Wearden   
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 April 2013 20.49 BST   

Slovenia's prime minister has attempted to quash speculation that she will become the next eurozone leader to seek a bailout, after an influential report warned that the country faces the threat of a "severe banking crisis".

On an official trip to Brussels on Tuesday, Alenka Bratusek insisted that her government was committed to fixing Slovenia's banks, which are struggling with bad debts as a double-dip recession continues.

Bratusek admitted that Slovenia did not face an easy task, but denied that it would be forced to seek international help.

"The new government is determined to do everything in its power to solve its problems by itself," she told a press conference, after holding talks with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. "We are aware that the banking sector is the number one problem in Slovenia."

The Office for Economic Co-operation and Development is also concerned about Slovenia's banks. It fears the situation could lead to Slovenia being locked out of the financial markets unless Bratusek's administration takes decisive action.

In its Economic Survey of Slovenia 2013, the OECD blamed excessive risk-taking, weak corporate governance and limited regulatory supervision. It warned that non-performing loans already make up 14% of bank balance sheets in Slovenia, which will escalate as the economy shrinks by an estimated 2.1% this year.

"Additional and far-reaching reforms are needed as soon as possible to restore confidence and head off the risks of a prolonged downturn and constrained access to financial markets," said the OECD.

It also warned that the scale of the toxic debt problem in Slovenia may be larger than official estimates have shown.

There are also signs that investors are growing nervous about Slovenia. Borrowing costs rose at an auction of short-term debt on Tuesday, with Slovenia only selling around €56m ($48m) f bonds against a maximum target of €100m.

Barroso, though, said the EC was confident that Bratusek would deliver economic reforms to lead Slovenia back to growth. He also firmly rejected suggestions that Slovenian savers should fear a repeat of the Cyprus bailout, in which large deposit holders are suffering heavy losses.

"It is a completely different situation in Cyprus and in Slovenia," said Barroso, adding that comparisons between the two countries were "abusive".

Slovenia's banking sector is less than 1.5 times its annual GDP, while Cyprus's was about eight times the island's GDP when it sought a bailout last month.

In Cyprus, a parliamentary probe into allegations that some large depositors shifted their funds abroad before the bailout deal was agreed were suspended, after the country's central bank only handed over transaction data for the first half of March. Demetris Syllouris MP called the move "unacceptable."

Fresh data showing that German exports and imports both fell in February added to concerns that the eurozone's downturn deepened during the winter. Christian Schulz of Berenberg Bank said it could show that consumers were becoming more unsettled by the ongoing debt crisis.


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« Reply #5666 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:43 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/10/2013 11:12 AM

Senate Says 'I Do': France Moves Closer to Same-Sex Marriage

Following months of protests both for and against the measure, the French Senate on Tuesday night passed an important provision in a package of laws that would legalize same-sex marriage in the country. The vote is a political win for embattled President Hollande.

French President François Hollande has had precious little to celebrate since he was elected last May. His country's economy has refused to ignite, unemployment is nearing record highs and his government has been rocked by recent corruption allegations.

But this week, Hollande was finally able to take a key step toward fulfilling a major campaign promise. After months of passionate debate both among lawmakers and on the streets of Paris, the French Senate late Tuesday passed a key provision of the package of laws that would ultimately place same-sex marriage on par with heterosexual marriage in the country.

Following a 10-hour debate, the Senate voted 179 to 157 in favor of an article allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed. The law will only go into effect once the Senate approves all of its component parts. A further article still pending approval would allow gay married couples in the country to adopt. The first article passed on Tuesday, however, was the most important and virtually assures the legalization of gay marriage in the country.

It could still take several weeks before all of the provisions of the law are passed in the Senate. France's lower house, the National Assembly, passed the law in mid-February.

The law is the first significant social reform under the watch of Socialist President Hollande. And recent months have shown that there remains plenty of opposition to gay marriage in the country. Hundreds of thousands of anti-gay marriage protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks to voice their disapproval of the measure. Surveys, however, indicate that well over half the population support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Germany Next?

Gay and lesbian couples in France have been allowed to enter into civil unions since 1999. The new law, however, would place them on the same level as heterosexual couples when it comes to taxation, adoption and other areas.

The vote means that France is set to become the latest country to legalize gay marriage, joining 11 other countries, most of them in Europe. Germany has thus far declined to take the step despite widespread support for the measure. Chancellor Angela Merkel recently had to squelch a debate on the issue among her conservatives as it threatened to become a central campaign issue.

And it still could. Germany's high court expanded adoption rights for same-sex couples already this year and is currently looking at laws excluding gay couples from joint tax filing benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. A ruling on that issue is expected before the elections this fall.


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« Reply #5667 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:46 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/09/2013 04:21 PM

Digital Gold Rush: The Bitcoin Boom and Its Many Risks

By Marcel Rosenbach and Hilmar Schmundt

In the midst of the euro crisis, particularly daring investors are putting their faith in the Internet currency bitcoin. A boom in the virtual coins has made some into millionaires. But central bankers are wary of its potential, and the currency is everything but crash-proof.

A somewhat different brand of speculators celebrated an unexpected bonanza last Thursday evening at Room 77, a Berlin bar. Nerds and activists in T-shirts and sneakers got together at the bar in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, which offers live music, "warm beer, cold women," according to the sign outside, and a burger called the "Fidel Castro." They paid their tabs with the source of their newfound prosperity: bitcoins, an alternative currency from the Internet.

"Almost every day, someone comes up to the bar here and pays with bitcoins," says bar owner Jörg Platzer. His bar is where supporters of the cyber currency held their monthly meeting, one day after the value of a bitcoin reached an all-time high of about $150 (€115). "Many can't stop grinning as they pay their tabs, because they remember how little their bitcoins were worth just a year ago," says Platzer.

Until now, the currency, invented in 2009, had been treated as the cute Web experiment of hackers, libertarians and anarchists. Last year, the value of a bitcoin was stagnating at €5. And now some people are suddenly getting rich, including Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden's Pirate Party. "I had invested all of my assets in bitcoins," he says. "Now I've converted half of it into other currencies. I've never been this rich before."

The increase in the bitcoin's value (now worth more than $190) in the midst of the euro crisis has attracted the attention of monetary watchdogs and law enforcement officials. The European Central Bank (ECB) investigated bitcoin and other previously unregulated virtual currencies in October. According to the final report, these currencies do not pose a threat to price stability at this time, although they could become a "challenge" to government authorities.

Officials at the German Finance Ministry say that they are keeping an eye on the developments. A spokesman says that bitcoins do not threaten the government monopoly on money right now. However, he adds, "acts of private currency creation" contradict the government's control of the money supply. The United States Treasury Department has already found it necessary to take action, deciding in mid-March to subject bitcoin to US money laundering regulations.

Central Bankers Keep Close Watch

It isn't surprising that governments take a critical view of the digital cash. After all, it was invented to break the monopoly of central banks. Its inventor, who is known only by his pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, wanted to create a direct, anonymous form of payment on the Internet that would render middlemen like PayPal or credit card companies unnecessary.

Recently, more and more reputable merchants have begun to accept and use bitcoins as a form of payment. One of the attendees at the Berlin party was filmmaker Aaron König, who pays animation specialists in India with bitcoins. However the currency is also popular among Internet criminals.

Bitcoins are not simply available at cash machines. To enter the bitcoin market, you have to download free software and create an anonymous account. Users can use dollars or euros to buy their first bitcoins for this account, or digital wallet, in markets like Mt. Gox, or they can "mine" the currency themselves with special computers called "mining rigs."

These computers, which have especially fast graphics cards, compete in a global computing competition for a single possible solution, and the winners of each round receive a set of fresh bitcoins. The system is designed to make it more and more difficult to mine bitcoins, with the global supply set to peak at just under 21 million -- a principle of "controlled supply" similar to the idea that there's a limited amount of gold in the world, whereas paper currency can be printed in unlimited amounts. In the early days, beginners with home computers still stood a chance at mining, but now professionals dominate the field.

Vulnerability to Hackers and Crashes

Because the current boom began during the Cyprus crisis, there was much speculation that it was primarily anxious Cypriots and Spaniards who were using bitcoin as an inflation-proof, safe-haven currency. Jon Matonis of the Bitcoin Foundation, which sees itself as an advocacy group for fans of the alternative currency, disagrees. "Most transactions are still coming from affluent regions, like the United States and Northern Europe," he says. "What we are seeing is not a Cyprus bubble."

Gatis Eglitis, who established the first bitcoin hedge fund with the Exante investment firm in Malta, sees growing demand from major investors. He also insists that all investors are made fully aware of the risks. "We've told our customers: Either you'll get rich, or you'll lose everything."

Just how unstable the bitcoin system is became clear, ironically enough, in its most successful week to date. At the high point of the rally, the most important exchanges and bitcoin account providers, like Mt. Gox and Instawallet, were suddenly targeted by Web attacks. The value had already dropped precipitously in 2011, after hackers looted digital wallets.

A person's own computer poses another risk. "I once lost 7,000 bitcoins, because I had forgotten to make a backup copy," says programmer Stefan Thomas. The virtual money was irretrievably gone. If he hadn't lost the bitcoins, Thomas could almost have become a real millionaire last week.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #5668 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:49 AM »


Germany: ‘Nazi mafia in German prisons’

Bild,
10 April 2013

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and police in the state of Hesse are investigating an attempt by several neo-Nazi prisoners in several jails to establish a political network, disguised as a mutual aid organisation for detainees.

According to Bild and Süddeutsche Zeitung, the prisoners used coded messages in attempt to make contact with the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund, a neo-Nazi terrorist group that has been behind a number of racist attacks.

As a result of the investigation, inspections in prisons will be more thorough, and prison officers will receive special training on the management of extreme right prisoners.
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« Reply #5669 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:52 AM »


April 9, 2013

In Crisis, Last Roundup for Horses in Spain Is the Slaughterhouse

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

CHAPINERIA, Spain — Like his father and grandfather before him, Alberto Martín breeds horses, raising them on two farms, one of them here on the outskirts of Madrid. But even as a third-generation breeder, nothing in his experience had prepared him for times like these. Over the last two years, Mr. Martín says he has been forced to sell 50 of his 70 beloved mares for about $400 each. That is all the slaughterhouse would pay.

Some of the horses had cost him as much $24,000 when he bought them before 2008, the start of the financial crisis. But now, Mr. Martin said, ‘'it sadly makes more sense to sacrifice horses for close to zero money rather than continue to pay for their upkeep, knowing that nobody seems to want to buy horses anymore.'’

“Breeding always has its difficulties,” he added, “but I don’t believe anybody in my family ever faced a crisis like this.'”

While a horse meat scandal has recently raised concern among European consumers over their food and its labeling, for breeders and others in this horse-loving country an altogether different kind of drama has unfolded — the increasing slaughter of horses that people either do not want or cannot afford.

Many were bought during Spain’s real estate-led boom years, when owning a horse was seen by some buyers as a way to gain social status and join the ranks of Spain’s landed gentry, without always considering the long-term maintenance costs. Now that the economic bubble has burst, many of those same buyers have been offloading horses, often for slaughter.

Other horses are simply abandoned, or killed illegally, animal right activists say, their carcasses dumped in remote areas and sometimes even beheaded in order to remove their identification microchip and avoid a possible fine. The police recently unearthed a horse cemetery in the hills near Algeciras that contained the unidentifiable remains of around 20 horses.

“Many people who suddenly became rich thanks to property then also went crazy about buying nice horses,” said Miguel Alonso, a horse veterinarian. “The major difference is that you can at least shutter a house if the market then collapses, while a horse has to continue to be fed.”

The crisis has had the unexpected effect of making Spain an increasingly prominent supplier of horse meat to the rest of the Continent. The number of horses killed in Spanish slaughterhouses has doubled since the start of the financial crisis, to 59,379 last year from 30,563 in 2008, according to Spain’s Agriculture Ministry.

Most of that Spanish horse meat is exported to countries like France and Italy, where horse meat is a culinary tradition. Spanish horse meat exports rose six-fold in 2011, according to the most recent figures from the Agriculture Ministry. (Spain itself, with the exception of the eastern regions closest to France, has little use for horse meat.)

Spanish officials say that the slaughtering boom has increasingly claimed horses in their prime years, not just those one step from the proverbial glue factory, which is good if you plan to eat their meat. “There has been a move from slaughtering older to younger horses, so the quality of Spanish horse meat is also much higher than before,"said Luis Vázquez, head of the animal inspection department in Seville, Andalusia’s capital.

The slaughtering has gathered pace particularly in the southern farming region of Andalusia, home to almost a third of the country’s horses. In Andalusia alone, the slaughtering activity almost tripled last year, to 16,391 horses from 6,256 in 2011, according to data from the regional government.

Animal rights activists warn that the number of abandoned horses is also soaring. “There are hundreds of horses whose lives are under threat right now in Spain,” said Virginia Solera, who works for Cyd Santa María, a Málaga-based association that rescues abandoned horses.

The statistics on slaughter understate the true magnitude of the problem, Ms. Solera and other activists said, because under Spanish law only horses that have been registered can be taken to a slaughterhouse. As in other sectors of Spain’s economy, the activists claim that a sizeable part of the horse business is underground.

The Agriculture Ministry said that it had been clamping down on unregistered horses and ranches in recent years, leading to a rise of 14 percent in the official census of 2011, which registered 748,622 horses in Spain.

Still, Rafael Olvera, who is director general for livestock and agricultural production in Andalusia, argued that the rise in slaughtering should still be seen “a legitimate business decision that any owner can make.” As for horses being abandoned, Mr. Olvera said, “There have been some cases, but not on the scale of a major scandal.”

Mr. Martín, the breeder, would of course prefer to sell his horses to buyers interested in keeping and raising them. On Monday morning, he was busy grooming some of the horses that he keeps and has not managed to sell since the start of the crisis, including 8-year-old Farruco, who has been earmarked for dressage, and 6-year-old Gallo, a black stallion.

Mr. Martín said he had lowered the price for his horses on average by 60 percent in the past year. He is now asking $14,000 for Gallo, for instance, compared with an initial price tag of more than $30,000.

“It used to be so easy to find buyers that I had never bothered with any marketing,” he said, “But now, even with plenty of advertising, I’m lucky if I can sell one horse a month.”


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