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« Reply #5685 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:37 AM »

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04/10/2013 02:41 PM

Next Domino?: Slovenia Totters Toward Euro-Crisis Brink

Could Slovenia become the next euro-crisis victim? A new OECD report highlights the deep problems facing the Slovenian banking industry and economy. While both Brussels and Ljubljana insist that a bailout won't be necessary, difficult times are in store for the country.

The row of buildings, containing 833 apartments, stands mostly empty, and construction on some of the buildings has not quite been completed. Nearby is a deep hole, ready to be filed with a brand-new hotel that will now almost surely never be built.

It is a scene that can be found in a number of euro-zone countries, ravaged by a sovereign debt crisis and a burst real estate bubble. But this particular complex, known as Siska, is on the outskirts of Ljubljana, the capital of tiny Slovenia. And it provides a dramatic backdrop to growing fears that the country could soon become the next euro-zone member state to require a bailout from Brussels.

Concerns that Ljubljana might soon request emergency aid were intensified on Tuesday by a report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Noting the country's economic struggles, rising sovereign debt and deeply troubled banking industry, the report noted that the country is at risk of a "prolonged downturn and constrained access to financial markets."

In other words, Slovenia might soon be unable to borrow the money from the markets it needs to remain solvent.

Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek was quick to dismiss bailout concerns as "speculation." She insisted that her country's economic fundamentals remained sound and that it could take care of the current problems it is facing without external help. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso likewise brushed off the OECD report, saying he was "confident that Slovenia will rise to the challenge" facing it.

Huge Banking Sector Problems

Those challenges are many. The Slovenian economy is in recession, with the OECD expecting a further contraction of 2.1 percent this year. Sovereign debt, though currently lower than the euro-zone average, is on pace to double to 100 percent of gross domestic product by 2025, according to the report. While the OECD notes that Ljubljana has taken significant steps toward consolidating its budget and reforming its economy, it writes that it could be many years before Slovenia resumes catching up with "more developed OECD countries."

First and foremost, however, Slovenia's problems are focused on its financial institutions. While the banking sector is worth the equivalent of about 140 percent of the country's GDP -- well below the euro-zone average and much lower than the more than 800 percent ratio seen in Cyprus -- the real estate collapse in the country has left banks there with significant quantities of bad loans on their books.

As the OECD report highlighted, many of the problems faced by the banks can be traced to the fact that the industry was never fully privatized after the fall of communism. The result has been an unhealthy amount of political influence on large banks such as Nova Ljubljanska Banka, the country's largest. Critics allege that some companies even received special treatment due to their political ties.

'Working Day and Night'

The result has been up to €7 billion ($9.17 billion) in bad loans weighing on the balance sheets of Slovenian banks. Bratusek's government is currently pursuing a plan to create a "bad bank" to offload those loans, many of them to the moribund construction industry. According to news reports, it will also have to inject €1 billion into those banks so as to prepare them for sale, though no date has been set. Concerns that the government may not be able to generate that cash along with another €2 billion Ljubljana needs to remain solvent have been driving up the country's borrowing costs.

"We are aware that the banking sector is the No. 1 problem in Slovenia," said Bratusek, who became prime minister in March. "We are working on it literally day and night."

Were Slovenia forced to apply for emergency aid, it would become the sixth euro-zone country to do so. Its economy represents just 0.4 percent of the currency union's annual economic output.

cgh -- with wire reports


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« Reply #5686 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:39 AM »

French Senate approves crucial marriage equality measure

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 14:17 EDT

France’s Senate on Wednesday approved the crucial first article of a bill granting gay couples the right to marry, clearing the way for a law that has sparked protests from conservatives and religious groups.

The upper house approved the article overnight by a vote of 179 to 157, with all Senators from the ruling Socialists voting in favour and five from the main opposition right-wing UMP breaking ranks with their colleagues to approve it.

The full bill must still be approved by the Senate, as well as another controversial article granting homosexual couples the right to adopt. A final vote is expected on Thursday or Friday.

The head of the Socialists’ Senate faction, Francois Rebsamen, said the vote “marked a victory in the fight against homophobia and for tolerance and democracy.”

The vote came after 10 hours of debate that saw UMP Senators voice fierce opposition to the bill.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman with a view to procreation. Two men or two women will never be able to have children!” UMP Senator Charles Revet said during the debate.

The bill has come under vehement attack in a country that is officially secular but predominantly Catholic, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people in pro- and anti-gay marriage protests nationwide.

In January, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded into Paris for an anti-gay marriage march. Last month, police were forced to fire tear gas on people protesting the bill, and dozens were arrested.

Opponents said Wednesday they would organise another mass protest in Paris on May 26 if the law is approved, to demand its withdrawal and a referendum on gay marriage.

President Francois Hollande championed same-sex marriage and adoption during his election campaign last year, and his support for the legislation has not wavered throughout the turmoil.

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« Reply #5687 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:48 AM »

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04/11/2013 12:30 PM

Red Gold: Saffron Cooperative Thrives amid Greek Crisis

By Manfred Ertel

As the economic crisis ravages their country, a community of Greek farmers is prospering. Their cooperative specializes in saffron, the world's most expensive spice, which is keeping the community afloat and attracting global attention.

In these hard times, it's hard to find a place in Greece where people still look forward to the future, except perhaps in the country's far north, in Krokos on the Macedonian plain.

Nikolaos Patsiouras is one of the satisfied residents in the town of about 5,000 people, which is surrounded by rocky fields. "We have no debt, our exports are doing well and we are healthy," he says proudly. "We are pioneers for Europe."

They used to call him "little German boy" when he was a child, because of his blonde hair and blue eyes. His hair is now silver-gray, and the 57-year-old is the president of the local cooperative of about 1,000 saffron producers, the only one of its kind in the country. The area around Krokos is world-famous for its red saffron, known as "red gold," the rarest and most precious spice on earth.

Krokos produces 1.5 to 2 tons of saffron a year, which sells for up to €2,000 ($2,600) a kilo. The farmers export the highly delicate stigmas of the saffron crocus to the United States, France, Germany, Canada and Australia. With world production at about 200 tons, Greece's share is relatively small. But about 90 percent of total production comes from Iran, which is having export difficulties because of its nuclear policy and Western sanctions.

Besides, the red saffron from Krokos is prized among top chefs. "We are the best," says Patsiouras, a stout, amiable man with rimless glasses. Medals from international awards are stacked on the cabinet behind him, and certificates hang on the walls. "Why else does our saffron fetch up to €500 more per kilo than saffron from Iran?" he asks.

Hard Work

Patsiouras' job is an unpaid position. He has no privileges and plays no special role. The cooperative pays 90 percent of its proceeds directly to the farmers. This is rare in a country where nepotism and corruption plunged an entire nation into crisis.

To become president of the cooperative, one must be a saffron producer. Patsiouras grows crocus sativus, a crocus plant with bluish purple flowers in the iris family, on about a hectare (2.47 acres) of land.

He used to be one of 2,500 spice farmers in the region, but many young people moved to the city over the years. There was a huge exodus around the 2004 Summer Olympics, when the entire country was experiencing an economic boom. Three years ago, there were only 580 saffron producers left in Krokos.

Part of the reason is that it's very hard work. To produce one kilogram of saffron, about 150,000 crocus flowers have to be picked by hand and the precious stigmas carefully plucked from the flowers. The harvest is concentrated in a two-week period in late October and early November. "Each time you ask yourself: Why am I doing this?" says the cooperative's president.

But he also delights in the harvest every year. "There is something magical about saffron," he says. His family has been growing crocuses for at least four generations. The plant was considered extinct in Greece until a few bulbs were brought to the area from Vienna about 300 years ago. There has been documented cultivation on the Macedonian plain since then.

Farmers Return to amid Crisis

Why the precious flower with expensive stigmas does so well in the region is a mystery. Is it the climate, with the Vourinos Mountains providing protection from the wind, the persistent fog and the unique, sandy soil? "To this day, we still don't know what is so special about our location," says Patsiouras.

Now that the debt crisis and austerity measures have forced the entire country to its knees, young people and former farmers are returning to Krokos. There are now as many saffron farmers as there were 10 years ago, when the Krokos region produced six tons a year, making it the world's second-largest producer. The farmers hope to regain that position in the next two years by doubling the amount of land devoted to the crocuses and tripling production.

In Germany, red saffron from northern Greece sells for up to €13 per gram. Chefs are scrambling to get it, especially now that British food inspectors concluded that saffron from Spain was of lesser quality, in terms of color, aroma and taste. It was also the British media that exposed Spanish exporters who had been repackaging and relabeling cheaper Iranian saffron.

Europe still works in Krokos, and Patsiouras believes in a common future. With bulbs from Austria, praise from London and the usual agricultural subsidies from Brussels, he says, "we are a European project; we are nothing without Europe."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #5688 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:53 AM »

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04/10/2013 04:04 PM

TV Tiff: Polish Weekly Shows Merkel in Concentration Camp

The Polish media is angry over the portrayal of the country's World War II resistance fighters in a popular miniseries that aired recently in Germany. So angry, in fact, that a Polish weekly has put an image of Chancellor Merkel as a concentration camp prisoner on its cover and accused Germany of rewriting history.

Ever since it aired in Germany in March, the World War II miniseries has been lauded as a milestone in the country's ongoing process of atonement. Filmed by public broadcaster ZDF, "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers") depicts the roles of ordinary Germans in the war, but without the moral judgement that has been applied so often in the past.

Germans loved it. But Poles? Not so much. Since the miniseries concluded, the Polish media has erupted with criticism, alleging that it not only painted Germans as victims, but falsely represented the roles of Polish resistance fighters in the Armia Krajowa (AK), or Home Army.

On Tuesday, their outrage came to a head when the conservative weekly news magazine Uwazam Rze published a cover story with an illustration of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a concentration camp prisoner, under the headline, "Falsification of History: How the Germans Are Turning Themselves into Victims of the Second World War."

Already in late March, Juliusz Braun, the head of Polish public broadcaster TVP wrote to ZDF to say that the portrayal of the Poles in the series had "nothing to do with historical reality." The Polish Home Army Association, which represents the largest armed underground movement in Poland during WWII, also released a statement that called the depiction of the fighters "scandalous."

Controversial History

The three-part series follows the lives of five young German friends through the war, including the Jewish character Viktor, who manages to break out of a train transporting him and others to a concentration camp. On the run, he finds shelter with resistance fighters in German-occupied Poland, but quickly gleans from their frequent anti-Semitic comments that he must hide his Jewish heritage to survive.

While there is evidence that Home Army units helped Poland's Jews, there are also disputed reports of anti-Semitic sentiments among them. The issue remains highly controversial in the country, so it's not surprising that the miniseries would raise eyebrows. It also doesn't help that the two neighboring countries have long had a fraught relationship, mainly due to Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland, but also because of the expulsion of Germans from ethnic-German territories ceded to Poland in 1945.

In response to the latest media coverage in Poland, ZDF has pointed to a statement it made late last month, which said it was regrettable that the role of Polish characters in the series had been interpreted as "unfair and hurtful."

"The deeds and responsibility of the Germans should in no way be relativized," it continued, adding that not only had well-known historians taken part in writing the screenplay, but that two historical documentaries had also been filmed to accompany the project.

kla -- with wire reports


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« Reply #5689 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:55 AM »

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04/10/2013 05:11 PM

Seeking Closure: Relatives Claim New Rights in Neo-Nazi Trial

By Gisela Friedrichsen

The trial of the last surviving member of the murderous neo-Nazi terrorist cell for a string of racially-motivated murders begins in one week. While state prosecutors appear to be aiming for a speedy verdict, the trial also has an unprecedented number of joint plaintiffs -- relatives of the deceased who insist they be included in the process.

This has never happened before. Not in the first Auschwitz trial or other major Nazi cases, not in the trials of the left-wing terrorist Red Army Faction at Stuttgart's Stammheim prison or in other significant national security-related trials in the past. Nor in trials relating to accidents that led to hundreds of deaths and injuries.

But in the trial surrounding the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU) -- a neo-Nazi terrorist cell accused of 10 murders, most of them racially motivated -- 71 joint plaintiffs their 49 lawyers will fill the entire lower section of the courtroom at the Munich Higher Regional Court. Media observers will have to make do with seats in the "balcony" section, which are less desirable because of their distance from the front of the courtroom -- that is, provided they filed an accreditation application early enough to be assigned a seat. The only other option is to stand in line for hours in hopes of securing one of the remaining visitor seats.

This unusual situation is the result of reforms made in recent years to victims' rights laws in Germany. These new laws have substantially expanded the rights of joint plaintiffs, who can now participate in the trial practically on the same level as the public prosecutor. They are allowed to be present at the trial at all times, submit requests to present evidence, question witnesses and much more. Did lawmakers consider that one day there would be a criminal trial garnering international attention, in which such large numbers of victims and surviving family members would make use of these laws? Probably not.

Halit Yozgat, a German citizen from Kassel in central Germany, unmarried and without children, was 21 when, shortly before 5 p.m. on April 6, 2006, two strangers walked into the Internet café his father had recently helped him open. Yozgat was sitting behind a desk that served as a counter. Several computer stations were occupied.

Sitting at one of the computers in the back room of the café was Andreas T., an employee of the state of Hesse's intelligence agency, the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution. As he would later tell the police, T. had gone to the café to see if he had received a message from someone he had met on a dating website, iLove.de.

The two strangers, presumably the right-wing terrorists Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, walked up to the desk. One of the men suddenly pulled out a Ceska 83 pistol with a silencer and shot the unsuspecting Yozgat in the head. The bullet penetrated his skull horizontally and threw the young man sideways onto the floor. The perpetrators shot Yozgat a second time, either as he was falling or when he was already lying on the floor, this time in the back of the head.

Yozgat's father found his son at 5:05 p.m., but he was beyond help. The young man died at the scene from traumatic brain injuries caused by the bullets lodged in his head.

'Was It Really All Just a Coincidence?'

The presumed shooters, who allegedly killed nine other people, are not the defendants in the NSU trial, which begins April 17. Instead, the trial is directed against Beate Zschäpe, the only surviving member of the three-person cell, as well as four presumed accomplices. Mundlos and Böhnhardt committing suicide on Nov. 4, 2011 after a botched bank robbery.

Halit Yozgat's surviving family members will participate in the trial as joint plaintiffs, accompanied by their attorneys from Hamburg, Doris Dierbach, Thomas Bliwier and Alexander Kienzle. "Our clients are not interested in the scope of the sentence that may be imposed on Ms. Zschäpe," say the attorneys. "They couldn't care less about this woman. Not even an acquittal would bother them. They harbor no thoughts of revenge. But the family desperately wants to see the death of their son and brother explained. They want answers to the question of why the government failed so blatantly, at all levels and for such a long time, and why some of the investigations were marked by such a unusual sense of restraint." The father asks incredulously: "Was it really all just a coincidence?"

It's a fair question. How else should the parents of Halit make sense of the presence of Andreas T., an employee of the state's internal intelligence agency, at the scene of the crime just as the crime was committed? How should they interpret the fact that T., unlike all other witnesses at the scene, says he did not notice the killing or even hear anything unusual? T. reportedly told a psychologist that he may have noticed something but "suppressed" it.

Suppressed? The investigators made no headway with a so-called cognitive interview, which includes a reenactment of the incident to help improve the memory of the witness. The psychologist questioned T.'s willingness to remember what happened and believes that his claim of having repressed his memories is impossible.

Confidential Informants Not Allowed to Testify

On top of other details Halit's family finds suspicious, there's the the fact that T. himself was once a suspect. But despite that, Volker Bouffier, then the Hesse interior minister and now the state's governor, refused to allow the sources T. had been in contact with on the day of the murder to testify, even though the public prosecutor's office and the police had a pressing interest in their testimony. The State Office of Criminal Investigation emphatically asked Bouffier for the release of records, but to no avail.

A police memorandum suggests that an interrogation "and the resulting loss of T.'s sources" would, in the opinion of the state intelligence official in charge of preserving secrecy, constitute "the greatest possible disaster" for the agency. Why?

What should the surviving family members of a murder victim think when the state intelligence agency cynically notes: If such interrogations were approved, it would be easy for foreign agents to cripple the entire German domestic intelligence system. All they would have to do is place a dead body near a handler or one of his informants.

What is so striking about these oddities is that police officer Michèle Kiesewetter was then shot to death in the southwestern city of Heilbronn a year later, on April 25, 2007. Or rather, her murder was allowed to happen, since the police still were not on to the neo-Nazis. The Yozgat family's attorneys speculate that the authorities might have tied Mundlos and Böhnhardt to the murders earlier if they had been able to question any right-wing sources Andreas T. had spoken with on the day Halit died.

Concerned with Getting Closure
Dierbach, Bliwier and Kienzle are established criminal defense lawyers, and they are unaccustomed to representing victims and their families. But perhaps their current role isn't all that different. "In fact, we're experiencing the same thing we usually do," says Dierbach, looking slightly amused. "The judiciary tries to exploit the victims so as to limit the rights of the accused. But the victim is no longer available, for judicial purposes or from the standpoint of legal policy."

The attorneys representing the joint plaintiffs are not interested in denigrating the defendants even further. Rather they're concerned with their clients' right to get closure. This too, they argue, is one of the goals of a criminal trial. If it isn't achieved, the joint plaintiffs become newly embittered and disappointed, and old wounds are reopened. However, they add, closure is achieved first and foremost when monstrous acts are fully clarified, and less through the court's efforts to write a verdict immune to appeal.

When one considers that the chairman of the 6th Criminal Division of the Munich Higher Regional Court, 59-year-old Manfred Götzl, was once a judge in a jury court, it makes sense that he would not be too concerned with the demands of the victims, the joint plaintiffs' attorneys or even the defense attorneys.

The president of the Munich Higher Regional Court, Karl Huber, also downplayed such expectations in a press release issued in mid-March, when he wrote: "The court is not just another investigative committee. Rather, its job is to conduct a trial, the legal and primary goal of which is the question of the individual culpability of the defendant, and of her full or partial guilt." According to Huber, this is the sole objective of provisions in the German criminal code and the German judicature act.

Victims Increasingly Demand Validation

On the other hand, for some time now victims have been increasingly pushing their way into criminal trials. And now that they are equipped with ample procedural rights, they are expected to -- and want to -- actively participate in and shape these trials. So can their concerns simply be dismissed with references to the goals of the proceedings, as was the case prior to enactment of the new victims' rights legislation?

In the past, the victim was merely a witness. His or her wishes were dismissed as disruptive and incapable of being satisfied in a criminal trial. "Of no relevance to the court's decision-making process," was the standard argument. Today victims are insisting on their rights. This contradiction has never been as visible as in the upcoming NSU trial. This too is a consequence lawmakers likely didn't anticipate.

Joint plaintiff attorney Angelika Lex, who together with her colleague Yavuz Narin represents the family members of murdered Greek immigrant Theodoros Boulgarides, told the media that joint plaintiffs "want to know why they, of all people, became victims. They want certainty on how all of this came about and what happened to make them a target of the NSU." In addition, says Lex, they finally want to be perceived as victims, after being subjected to false accusations for a decade. They want to be rehabilitated and discover the truth, says Lex.

Gamze Kubasik, whose father was killed in the western city of Dortmund two days before the murder of Halit Yozgat, wants to give the deceased a voice in the trial and "show everyone what he was really like." That's because he was not a drug dealer, as investigators had suspected, but a member of the Kurdish-Turkish Alevi religious group who had been persecuted at home, and who loved Germany and his new life there.

The Simsek family is represented by Munich attorney Stephan Lucas and Jens Rabe, who practices in Waiblingen near Stuttgart. Enver Simsek was Mundlos and Böhnhardt's first fatal victim. On Sept. 9, 2000, presumably at around 1 p.m., the killers approached the back of a delivery van parked along the busy Liegnitzer Strasse in Nuremberg, where Simsek, a florist, was sorting his merchandise. One of the two men suddenly fired six bullets in close succession and at short range from the Ceska 83 at the head of his victim, who collapsed. Then the second killer shot three more bullets from his Bruni pistol at Simsek, who was now lying on the floor of the van. They photographed their seriously injured victim and closed the door at the back of the van.

Simsek was found at 3:28 p.m., after concerned customers had called the police due to his unusually lengthy absence. He died two days after the attack, at 38.

A Desire to Move On

Simsek's daughter Semiya, who was 14 at the time, is determined to see the defendant, Zschäpe. "She wants to track down this phantom that tormented her for years. She wants to finally find a human being in her," says Lucas, Semiya's attorney. There is one question that particularly motivates the young woman: Did it ever occur to the killers that their victims had families?

Lucas and Rabe have taken great pains to find out what is especially important to their clients and whether it can and should be introduced into the trial. "We have tried to understand the family, and now we have to try to take the court along on this journey," says Rabe. The fact that there are so many victims creates a risk that the action will stall, that their arguments will be of poor legal quality, and that the court will quickly cut them off.

Lucas, who is familiar with the conditions in Munich, says that presiding judge Götzl values at least a "perceived professionalism." But will this legally brilliant judge be capable of exhibiting the degree of sensitivity that the joint plaintiffs expect of him? If the balancing act between stirred up emotions and levelheaded strategy fails, the attorneys fear, "Götzl will have the entire courtroom against him." And probably not just the courtroom.

If a surviving family member or an injured party decides to take part in a criminal trial, says Lucas, this has to give him a sense of progression and satisfaction. Semiya Simsek, for example, hopes to be able to bury the horrible past after the trial and regain a normal life. "She is determined not to become a victim for life," say the attorneys. They note that their client knows that Zschäpe has the right to remain silent, even if she wants to hear the defendant say why her father had to die. Most of all, however, she wants to understand the verdict, whatever it may be.

Expectations of the trial are clearly high. But a look at the list of witnesses being called to testify suggests that the court will not budget much time for questions of the defense, or for the participation of the many joint plaintiffs and their attorneys -- not to mention motions, position statements or objections. Apparently the court wants the trial to proceed quickly. In the Yozgat case, for example, the first police witness is scheduled to appear at 9:30 a.m., the second one at 10:15 and the third at 10:45. An hour has been allotted for the testimony of Halit's father, and no more than an hour-and-a-half for Andreas T., the state intelligence officer.

"The worst thing for the Yozgat family," says attorney Dierbach, "would be if Götzl only turned to the joint plaintiffs as a pure formality and otherwise ignored them. We don't want anything unreasonable when we ask for explanation. This is one of the goals of this trial."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #5690 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:57 AM »

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04/11/2013 11:31 AM

Dangerous Depths: German Waters Teeming with WWII Munitions

By Carsten Holm

More than 50 million bombs, shells, detonators and cartridges from World War II are rusting away on the floor of the North and Baltic Seas or washing up on beaches. Authorities are opting not to remove the ordnance -- and hoping no one gets hurt.

Lorenz Marquardt has been sailing the Baltic Sea for more than 53 years, but the 68-year-old fisherman has an "uneasy feeling" whenever he leaves Eckernförde, in the northern Germans state of Schleswig-Holstein, for the Danish island of Bornholm.

An invisible threat lies dormant beneath him as soon as he reaches the rich fishing grounds around the island. To fish for cod, his cutter drags a bottom trawl through the Bornholm Basin, which is 60 to 70 meters (197 to 230 feet) deep -- in precisely the spot where tens of thousands of bombs and shells were sunk after the end of World War II.

Nautical maps identify the area above the bomb cemetery as "contaminated (munitions)" or "contaminated (gas munitions)," and warn: "Anchoring and fishing are hazardous." German and Danish Baltic Sea fishermen take the risk because they can return to port with up to 10 metric tons of cod on their best days. That translates into several thousand fish, weighing one to 10 kilograms apiece (two to 22 lbs.), and a very good catch can fetch €6,000 to €10,000 ($7,800 to $13,000), depending on the market price.

Years ago, Marquardt pulled a 500-kilo bomb onto his cutter, together with the floundering cod. He was lucky, because the bomb wasn't porous yet. Bomb disposal experts destroyed the bomb on land, in Eckernförde.

But since World War II, hundreds of Danish fishermen have been injured after pulling rusted shells containing mustard gas, which damages the skin, on board in their nets. The gelatinous material leaked from the metal shell casings, causing severe burns.

Almost seven decades after the end of the war, residual explosives that were hardly taken seriously for a long time are now coming to light in the North and Baltic Seas. Experts estimate that there are 1.6 million metric tons of conventional and chemical ammunition in German territorial waters alone, unexploded time bombs lying in or on the sea floor. The unexploded ordnance (UXO) includes giant aerial bombs weighing hundreds of kilograms, 15-kilo shells, small high-explosive shells, hand grenades, detonators and ammunition rounds, for a total of more than 50 million individual items.

No one knows how great the danger really is. "We are familiar with only a small portion of the areas contaminated with weapons," says Jens Sternheim, chairman of the "Munitions in the Sea" task force of the North and Baltic Sea Federal and State Committee. According to Sternheim, "munitions problems will increasingly come to light" during the construction of offshore projects, such as wind farms.

Hidden Dangers

The problem was created both during and after the war. When the Allies disarmed the Germans after defeating them, they ordered that the weapons be disposed of at sea. Before that, the Nazis had occasionally sunk their own ammunition when, for example, they feared airstrikes against their poison gas storage sites.

There are more than 100 of these bomb and shell graveyards scattered along all of northern Germany's coastlines. There are also apparently 5,000 metric tons of shells filled with substances such as phosgene and the nerve agent tabun in the Little Belt, the strait between the Danish island of Funen and the Jutland Peninsula. A report that Munitions in the Sea released a year and a half ago and has now updated lists many well known beach resorts along German coasts.

If the UXO is washed onto land, is caught in fishing nets or is merely disturbed during preparatory work for pipelines and offshore wind farms, it can pose a danger to local residents, vacationers, fishermen and excavator operators.

Last year, munitions clearing crews working in the Ems River estuary found two sea mines, massive metal spheres containing up to 300 kilos of explosives, which were intended to sink enemy ships headed for Nazi Germany. The mines were detonated. In July 2012, a tourist on the North Sea island of Wangerooge found the warhead of a German torpedo, which was also subsequently destroyed in a controlled detonation. Anyone walking in the tidal flats of the Elbe River estuary near the port of Cuxhaven should be alert. According to the expert report, "the munitions components, some of them lying openly exposed in the tidal flats, are dangerous."

Explosions can happen almost anywhere. During construction work on the Riffgat offshore wind farm, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the East Frisian island of Borkum, 2.7 metric tons of munitions were discovered and salvaged, and there are unexploded cluster bombs in the tidal flats south of Norderney, another East Frisian island. Walkers in the tidal flats near Kampen, a municipality on the North Sea resort island of Sylt, discovered two bombs in December 2012. The bomb disposal service assessed the find and detonated the two bombs after deeming them dangerous.

Beachgoers usually have no idea what can be washed up at their feet. In July 2012, two children from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg who were playing on the beach in Kalifornien, a town near the northern city of Kiel, brought a 1.5-kilo lump of material back to their parents' vacation house. Suddenly the hands, T-shirt, jacket and pants of one of the boys turned a yellowish orange. The lump consisted of Schiesswolle 39, an explosive compound that the German navy used in WWII torpedoes and can cause skin irritation. The boy was not injured.

Dangerous UXO also lies under important shipping routes. When a munitions clearing crew began working off the Baltic Sea resort town of Travemünde in 2011, it discovered, at a depth of 20 meters, six warheads from V1 flying bombs in or near the channel used by the large ferries that depart from Travemünde for Scandinavia or the Baltic countries. There is also UXO in the Flensburg Fjord, in Eckernförde and Hohwacht Bays and, farther to the east, in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in the Bay of Greifswald and off the islands of Rügen and Usedom (see graphic).

Fear of Disasters

For decades, Germany's states paid almost no attention to the dangerous legacy from World War II. In the end, it was not even a German government agency, but Stefan Nehring, a marine biologist and environmental consultant from the western city of Koblenz, who discovered one of the worst munitions graveyards in 2008. He had spent several years digging through mountains of records in the Federal Archives in Koblenz and the affiliated military archive in the southwestern city of Freiburg. While doing research in London, he uncovered concrete evidence of an especially heinous environmental crime: In September 1949, the British military administration had ordered the Germans to drop about 6,000 field artillery shells into the North Sea four kilometers south of the Helgoland archipelago. The shells were filled with 11.7 metric tons of the nerve agent tabun.

"Until then, German authorities had been unaware of the reports from the British National Archives cited by Dr. Nehring," the Schleswig-Holstein state government noted. The toxic waste disposal site was even a target area for the German military's torpedo attack exercises in 2010. Ships bound for the Port of Helgoland also sail near the area.

The shells will probably remain on the sea floor until they disintegrate completely, at least according to a recommendation from Germany's Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency and the international Helsinki Commission, which is responsible for environmental protection in the Baltic Sea. The recommendation states that there is no concrete threat to shipping owing to water depths of about 50 meters, and that possible environmental damage is limited to the immediate vicinity.

Nehring disagrees: "We're not talking about peanuts here, but a cocktail of chemicals in our waters." He wants to see a ban on fishing imposed off the Helgoland coast. He argues that even the interior ministry in Kiel, the state capital of Schleswig-Holstein, acknowledged four years ago that the sunken tabun shells are "highly dangerous objects, especially for fisheries, work on the sea floor (anchor maneuvers) and salvage operations."

The authorities are even more concerned about the effects of UXO on land. Some beach resorts do a lot to minimize the risks for vacationers. From before the beginning of Easter vacation to the end of the fall vacation period, employees with the private ordnance-disposal firm KMB Kampfmittelbergung travel to Wangerooge every two weeks to walk with bomb-detection equipment along the eastern beaches between Breakwater B and Breakwater T, a roughly 3.7-kilometer route on which UXO has been discovered for decades.

Last year alone, the KMB team found about 90 high-explosive shells, most of them small, 16 detonators, a torpedo head, a mine and various components of small munitions.

Danger to Vacationers and Beachcombers

Some of the most beautiful spots on the Baltic Sea coast are also burdened by this sinister war legacy. Usedom, Germany's second-largest island after Rügen, could be a truly idyllic seaside location if it weren't for the phosphorus accidents, the delayed consequence of a British air raid. In 1943, the British discovered that the Nazis were building a rocket in Peenemünde, a port village on Usedom. The V2 was being developed there under the direction of engineer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.

On the night of Aug. 17, 1943, 596 Royal Air Force bombers dropped tens of thousands of bombs onto the test facility within a few hours. About 40 percent, including incendiary bombs filled with phosphorus, accidentally landed in the sea east of Peenemünde.

Whether it happened in 1943, when the bombs burst upon contact, or in the ensuing decades as a result of corrosion, a large amount of white phosphorus leaked out of the metal casings. It became deposited on the sea floor and, especially during storm surges, makes its way onto land. It can become calamitous for the dozens of amber collectors who walk between Peenemünde and Zinnowitz on weekends, because even experts cannot distinguish the phosphorus lumps from amber at first glance.

Accidents happen every so often. Tourists carelessly put lumps they believe are amber into their pockets. If pieces of phosphorus are heated to temperatures of between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit), they can spontaneously ignite, emitting a darting flame with temperatures that can reach 1,300 degrees Celsius. Phosphorus is highly toxic, and merely touching it can cause organ damage.

The administrator of the Usedom North region, Kerstin Teske, tries to reassure visitors, saying that the overall risk from phosphorus is low. She notes that there are one or two incidents a year, and that a total of 12 have been reported since 1990. Teske says that she also likes to go amber-hunting on the beaches.

Marine biologist Nehring, on the other hand, recommends imposing a ban on gathering amber as long it remains unclear how much more phosphorus will wash ashore. The interior ministry in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, feels that a ban is not feasible because it would be difficult to monitor compliance. "How are you supposed to distinguish between an illegal amber-collector and a legal shell or rock collector?" asks one official.

One approach is to provide amber-gatherers with metal containers at lifeguard stations. The containers reduce the risks of phosphorus exposure. But since local resident and tourists alike rarely use the containers, accidents are likely to continue in the future, such as one that occurred on the Baltic Sea coast a year ago. Two female tourists from the eastern states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt became the victims of a phosphorus flame, suffering second- and third-degree burns.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #5691 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:01 AM »


François Hollande targets tax evasion as approval ratings plummet

French president unveils measures to tackle financial fraud and corruption after government rocked by sleaze scandal

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 17.44 BST   

France is to create a new agency to fight financial fraud and force its banks to detail activities in tax havens, in a bid to clamp down on tax evasion and corruption after the disgraced budget minister confessed to hiding money in a secret foreign bank account.

The Socialist president, François Hollande, has seen his approval ratings slide to record lows amid the biggest sleaze scandal to hit his presidency, after his budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, confessed to hiding €600,000 (£512,000) in a secret foreign account and lying over it.

Cahuzac, who until last month headed the Socialists' crackdown on tax evasion, has been charged with laundering the proceeds of tax fraud. The scandal has proved damaging to Hollande, who campaigned on a promise to fight sleaze. The president continues to face questions from the media over why Cahuzac was able to stay in office and lie for so long.

Hollande appeared on TV on Wednesday for the second time in a week to unveil a series of measures to ensure more transparency and integrity in public life, in an attempt to limit the fallout from the affair. He promised a "relentless fight" against financial crime, greed and opaque finance, acknowledging the mood of public suspicion and mistrust.

The measures include the appointment of a special prosecutor dedicated to financial crimes, corruption and fraud. He also promised that banks would be made to release annual lists of their international affiliates, country by country, in order to stamp out use of tax havens.

"In other words, it won't be possible for a bank to hide transactions carried out in a tax haven," he said. "Tax havens have to be eliminated in Europe and around the world."

Hollande had suffered further embarrassment last week when his former election campaign treasurer, Jean-Jacques Augier, was found to have made personal investments in offshore businesses in the Cayman islands, which, although legal, added to the climate of mistrust in the political class.

As part of Hollande's transparency drive, government ministers must publish details of their personal assets by next Monday, 15 April. France has been one of only a few European countries where politicians did not have to make public a list of their assets when taking office. Only the president was forced to go public on personal wealth while ministers only had to declare any conflict of interest.

The move has seen some ministers detail their assets in the media already, with the industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, telling Le Monde of flats jointly owned with his mother, half an underground parking space in Dijon and a Charles Eames chair bought for the equivalent of around €4,000.

The Green party housing minister, Cecile Duflot, sparked an environmental debate on social network sites after she declared an old Renault 4 and a Twingo. The culture minister, Aurelie Filipetti, said on TV that she owned her 70 sq metre flat in Paris and a David Beckham T-shirt. Marisol Touraine, the housing minister, declared she was subject to France's wealth tax as she had wealth of around €1.4m, made up of several properties.

The former rightwing prime minister Francois Fillon declared his home in Sarthe worth around €650,000, less than €100,000 in savings in several bank accounts, and two cars, each more than 10 years old. But he criticised Hollande's move to force public declaration of MPs' wealth, saying it "throws discredit on all elected politicians in the nation, in order to dilute his own responsibilities".

Jean-François Copé, head of the leading rightwing opposition party, the UMP, said the measure amounted to "voyeurism" and "hypocrisy".

Some MPs, including those on the left, complained about the move to force public declaration of wealth, saying it was not fair on their partners' privacy.

Under Hollande's new law, all MPs and key figures in local administration will be required to publish their assets at the start and end of terms. A new independent authority will monitor the declarations, after the disgraced Cahuzac lied in his declaration.

A list of banned professions for MPs will be drawn up, to prevent conflicts of interest. "For the sake of the French people, we aim to ensure that those who govern them, those they have elected … are not getting richer in the course of their mandate," Hollande said.


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« Reply #5692 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:03 AM »


Cyprus forced to find extra €6bn for bailout, leaked analysis shows

Less than a month after deal was agreed the bailout bill has risen to €23bn – larger than the size of the Cypriot economy

Heather Stewart   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 11.09 BST

Crisis-hit Cyprus will be forced to find an extra €6bn (£5.1bn) to contribute to its own bailout under leaked updated plans for the rescue.

In total, the bill for the bailout has risen to €23bn, from an original estimate of €17bn, less than a month after the deal was agreed – and the entire extra cost will be imposed on Nicosia.

Cyprus's politicians had already faced intense domestic political pressure for agreeing to impose hefty losses on savers at two struggling banks in order to fulfil its eurozone partners' demands of contributing €7bn.

But after a more detailed "debt sustainability analysis" showed that the black hole in the island nation's finances is far deeper than first thought, the total bill for Cypriot taxpayers and depositors has now been set at €13bn. The €23bn overall bill is larger than the size of the Cypriot economy.

The document, leaked on Wednesday night, underlines the botched nature of the initial bailout agreement, which was hurriedly cobbled together in March and had to be redrawn after the Cypriot parliament rejected the idea that depositors holding less than €100,000 – whose savings are meant to be insured – would face deep losses.

Under the new plan, which is likely to spark fresh public outrage, Cyprus will be forced to sell €400m-worth of gold reserves, renegotiate the terms of a loan with Russia and "bail-in" creditors of the Bank of Cyprus, to claw back some of the cost of the rescue.

There was also a suggestion that holders of €1bn-worth of Cypriot government bonds could be urged to agree to a debt swap, reducing the country's repayments. That could signal a messy period of negotiation and uncertainty.

Some analysts also warned that the projections for Cyprus's economy on which the bailout plans are based could prove to be over-optimistic, as has repeatedly been the case in Greece, potentially prompting a fresh bailout.

Cyprus's economy is expected to suffer a deep recession, with GDP contracting by 8.7% in 2013, and 3.9% next year. However, a government spokesman in Nicosia last week suggested the downturn this year could be far deeper, perhaps up to 13%, which could throw the bailout plans off course within months.

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, questioned the idea that the economy would recover within two years, recording growth of 1.1% in 2015. "Why would confidence return and make people want to put money into Cyprus?" he said. "The economy is three things – banking, property and tourism. You're not going to rebuild an offshore banking industry in Cyprus; and in tourism it's competing against Turkey, where the currency is down 50% since mid-2005."


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« Reply #5693 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:09 AM »


Poland: ‘Smolensk lie’

Gazeta Wyborcza,
11 April 2013

Former Polish president Lech Kaczyński and 95 other victims of the air crash in Smolensk on April 10, 2010 were killed as a result of a bomb attack — this was the main theme of the accident’s third anniversary tributes in Warsaw, organised by the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Kaczyński’s twin brother Jarosław.

The official Polish and Russian commissions which investigated the crash blamed pilot error for attempting to land in heavy fog, but the PiS claims explosives were planted on the flight and alleges Russian involvement and complicity from the Polish side.

However, the daily debunks the assassination theories, pointing out that they are contradictory and not based on facts.

Full Story

False Smolensk

Pawel Wronski
11/04/2013, Updated: 11/04/2013 8:57
Obchody trzeciej rocznicy katastrofy smoleńskiej

President and passenger Tu-154 were killed in the attack, the commission investigating the crash Miller was illegal, and the report is a hoax - in the rhetoric ran pisowskie third anniversary celebration April 10
The right of citizenship to the word "assassination" in a discussion about the Smolensk crash Jaroslaw Kaczynski gave the autumn - when the "Republic" was the text of TNT on board the Tupolev. Now no one spoke euphemistically of "betrayed at dawn". Antoni Macierewicz explicitly argued that the plane tore two explosions, but still does not know what material was used. The assassination has long been convinced pisowskich participants of the event. They came to it, like a year ago, with banners: "This was an attack", "Tusk to jail", "Putin is a murderer", "vendibly journalists washings are the People's Republic."

National celebrations were modest. In the Mass, the Temple of Divine Providence participated Kaczorowska Carolina, widow of Richard Kaczorowski, the last president in exile, who was killed in the crash. Prime Minister before leaving for Nigeria laid flowers at the monument to the victims of the Powazki. - I strongly believe that the day will come when this tragic anniversary will not share the Poles, but combined - he said.

Yesterday all ceremonies take place separately. The high point of the celebration was pisowskich Macierewicz team meeting in the Column Hall of the Sejm. Broadcast on big screens with a flushed face viewed demonstrators outside the Presidential Palace. Macierewicz introduced new versions of the report of the parliamentary group, which "must shake every Pole."

- It's the Georgian attack testified that the life of President Lech Kaczynski is exposed to the greatest danger - he argued. As for the incident in Georgia in 2008, when the presidential convoy deviated from the route, and in the vicinity of the shots rang out.

The team announced: * George Miller, the commission investigating the crash had no legal basis and "all the arrangements are illegal '* committee falsified data - prof. Kazimierz Nowaczyk in the U.S. found that the black boxes were falsified records; * hid committee that the Tu-154 were found even before the disastrous birch, and this testifies to the fact that the plane before it fell apart in the air - the furrows left in the place hit the ground contradict that fell in its entirety; * Eng. Marek Dabrowski says this explosion, not birch, caused the aircraft to tilt the wing; * Macierewicz based on analyzes of SmallGis claimed that the crash site was clear evidence of explosions just above the ground; * only pretends Polish prosecutor's office investigation - said attorney Peter Pszczółkowski that did not consider any of the sample for the presence of explosives (the prosecutor immediately denied).

Macierewicz but did not dare to repeat what he preached the day before in Kielce seminary: that three people survived the crash is Smolensk and evidence.

In comparison with the President PiS fell faintly. Before talking about the Presidential Palace by the governments of the broken unity PO Poles, the legacy of Lech Kaczynski, who "was accompanied by laughter contempt industry." Then the TV żwawiej Republic Donald Tusk accused of servility to Putin.

Night at the head of his followers Kaczynski returned the palace. - This day will go down in history Polish, he shows that there is a strong patriotic camp. We will not allow Polish humiliate and ultimately destroy - announced, and the crowd chanted: "Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw".

Accompanied by a stunning celebration of media coverage. Prior to the Presidential Palace pisowscy journalists doing interviews, director Antoni Krauze movie scenes filmed Smolensk, and John Pietrzak sang: "We have kind of a free Poland, the purpose of many generations, spew you want, as in the Polish People's Republic."

*******

The celebration of the third anniversary of the Smolensk air crash (Photo Stephen Romanik / Newspaper Agency)

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« Reply #5694 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:13 AM »



Hungary: ‘Europe’s bulldog’

Heti Válasz ,
 11 April 2013

The weekly, which has close ties to Viktor Orbán’s government, devotes its front page to European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding.

The magazine claims that Reding, who is also the Commission Vice-President, embodies a “new type of European identity” because she hails from Luxembourg, “a postmodern country” set up by France and Germany “where 38 per cent of the population are foreigners, mainly from southern Europe.”

Reding is leading “Europe’s campaigns against Hungary,” because they serve as a means of achieving her ambition of becoming president of the European Commission after Barroso," argues Heti Válasz, which adds: “In seeking conflict with the conservative Hungarian government, she aims to secure the support of the left and the liberals in Europe."

Full Story:

Europe Bulldog: Orban's EU Presidency will harshest critic?

"The only man on the committee," - said in Brussels Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who is a special way to the Hungarian government's policy is one of the toughest critics. The Luxembourg politician breaks up straight: the committee shall be chaired by one of the Super phenomenon. Tomorrow can reply, stated: Redingről exclusive portrait.
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"I fell into Europe than in the varázsitalba Obelix" - says Viviane Reding, who is currently the Commission all legerélyesebben Brussels preserves the interests of the Member States. If you are seeking a compromise between the smooth manners Barroso, Commissioner Reding will acceptability of conflict and sometimes too much of a big mouth known.

Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner himself a new kind of European identity. Birthplace and home of Luxembourg is also beyond the nation-state, post-modern Europe flask prototype was tested. The 19th century, the Grand Duchy of powers established by the German and French culture lies on the border, is now less than half a million inhabitants, 38 percent of foreign, mainly in southern Europe from citizens.

"First of all known had become" - tell me honestly Reding hajtós the background for decades. Politicians since 1989 have EPP MEP, and then in 1995, Luxembourg's party, the Christian Social CSV was elected to the post of President. The Brussels circles became known, the Eurocrat gray mass is colorful garments in a prominent, strong fellépésű Ms. Romano Prodi in 1999, invited the Commission members, in 2004, formed the Barroso Commission to telekomszektorral and the media of Commissioners post received.

The suspension of the voting rights of Hungary's EU openly referred to as viseltetne Reding antipathy toward the Hungarians? I do not know ilyenről. But there are political interests: it would be the culmination of a remarkable career in the European Commission, Chair of the 2014 Committee to obtain election. Among European Socialists Martin Schulz, Guy Verhofstadt, liberals, while the European Néppártnál Donald Tusk, the Polish name and Viviane Reding rotating presidency of the Commission present future entitlements have with each other. In this battle for sure are not bad odds. The principle behind Luxembourg politician has the EPP support - so long been courting European and liberal-left side, which is handy for booking committee chairs game. The Hungarian government action against militant Reding progress with the device: one might say, to make an example of us of European community.


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« Reply #5695 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:16 AM »


Guinea-Bissau bottom in index of commitment to tackling hunger

Index measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 countries, with Guatemala ranked first

Mark Tran   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 10.20 BST   

Guatemala ranks first and Guinea-Bissau last in a new index measuring political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries.

The central American state claimed top spot in the hunger and nutrition commitment index (Hanci) through policies including ensuring access to drinking water and improved sanitation, complementary feeding practices and ensuring over nine out of 10 pregnant women receive visits from health officials at least once before delivery.

Guatemala has a specific allocation for nutrition in its budget to make its spending accountable to all and has put in place a zero hunger plan to reduce chronic malnutrition in children under five by 10% by 2016.

Guatemala has one of the world's highest rates of child stunting – restricted growth – (48%) and annually loses more than $300m (£196) in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The IFPRI's latest global hunger index considered the situation in the country "alarming".

"While much remains to be done and substantial social inequities persist between indigenous and other communities, hunger and nutrition outcomes in Guatemala are gradually improving," said the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), publisher of the Hanci index.

Guinea-Bissau has stunting rates of 28% and its situation is also considered "alarming" in the global hunger index, but it shows weak political commitment to redress the problems of hunger and undernutrition. Guinea-Bissau fails to invest in agriculture, despite committing to invest 10% of its budget in agriculture as part of the African Union's Maputo declaration. Access to agricultural extension (advisory) services is weak and its nutrition policies need strengthening through, for example, time-bound nutrition targets.

Hanci revealed that sustained economic growth does not necessarily translate into government commitments to tackle hunger and undernutrition. Ivory Coast and Kenya rank 31 and 34 respectively despite solid economic growth. India, one of the fastest growing emerging economies, is ranked 29.

Conversely, low gross national income (GNI) per capita does not imply low levels of commitment. Malawi ranks second on Hanci despite a much lower GNI per capita ($870) than Guinea Bissau ($1,240) and Angola ($5,230), ranks third from bottom.

"This is one of the most surprising findings," said Dr Dolf te Lintelo, lead Hanci researcher at IDS. "It shows that you don't have to be particularly rich or wealthy to be committed to reducing hunger and undernutrition. Malawi is doing a lot better than powerhouses India or Nigeria."

The Hanci index ranks 45 developing countries for their performance on 22 indicators of political commitment to reducing hunger and undernutrition, using information in the public domain from UN agencies and other bodies. The index looks at policies and programmes (eg national nutrition policy, plan or strategy) legal frameworks (eg constitutional right to food and women's access to farmland) and public spending (eg spending on agriculture, nutrition budget).

It measures commitment to reduce hunger and undernutrition because they are not the same thing. Hunger comes from an empty stomach and leaves people more susceptible to disease, leading to increased illness and death. Undernutrition results from both a critical lack of nutrients in diets and a weakened immune system. Undernutrition in the first 1,000 days of a person's life has lifelong and largely irreversible effects because it impairs physical and mental development.

"Being committed to reducing hunger is different to having a commitment to nutrition," said te Lintelo. "South Africa is good on hunger but does poorly on nutrition."

Hunger affects around 870 million people a year and undernutrition contributes to the death of 2.6 million under-fives each year. Hunger and nutrition are the centrepiece of the IF campaign, launched in January by a coalition of 100 UK NGOs and faith groups, to lobby David Cameron, the prime minister, to use Britain's presidency of the G8 to push for an end to hunger. Cameron has promised to put hunger, tax and transparency on the agenda at the G8 summit in June in Northern Ireland.

Te Lintelo said: "The hunger and nutrition commitment index shines a spotlight on what governments are doing, or failing to do, towards addressing hunger and undernutrition. It should be a powerful tool for civil society – groups like IF – but also local civil society campaigns. It could be a catalyst for change."


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« Reply #5696 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:19 AM »


Mexico hails drop in drug killings but day brings more of the same

Clashes in Michoacan state kill 14 just as administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto announces fall in gang murders

Associated Press in Morelia
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 07.00 BST   

At least 14 people have died in a series of clashes between gunmen and federal police in Mexico, just as the government announced a 14% drop in drug-related killings.

The deaths took place in Michoacan state, a western area that has seen a surge of violence in recent years attributed to drug cartels.

Federal police said in a statement the first gun battle began when officers aboard a helicopter spotted armed men traveling in four vehicles in the town of Gabriel Zamora. The gunmen opened fire on the agents, who shot back and killed five assailants, the statement said.

It said one of those killed was high in the leadership structure of a Michoacan-based drug cartel but did not identify the group.

Hours later in the town of Apatzingan federal agents were accompanying a caravan of citizens commemorating the anniversary of the death of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when gunmen fired shots at some of the participants. Police killed one of the gunmen, authorities said.

The citizens continued on and were again attacked by gunmen who fired from an overpass, police said. Eight people died and another eight were wounded, including two police officers.

The Knights Templar cartel, which controls much of Michoacan, has been fighting rivals along its borders with other states including Guerrero, where a variety of smaller cartels control drug smuggling and other criminal activities.

On Wednesday when the clashes took place the Mexican government announced drug-related killings from December through March had dropped 14% from the same period a year earlier. The interior department said 4,249 people were killed during the first four months of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration. It said 4,934 were killed between December 2011 and March 2012.

But interior secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said it was "too early to assume victorious attitudes".

The government of previous President Felipe Calderón stopped releasing figures of drug killings in September 2011, but Osorio Chong said the federal government had continued to keep a count.

The interior department report said 184 law enforcement officials were killed between December and March, including soldiers, and federal and local police.

Bloody clashes are still common in Mexico and it can be impossible to know how many people died because drug traffickers take their dead away before authorities reach the scene.

In the border city of Reynosa there were at least four major shootouts between rival drug gangs in March. One of the clashes lasted several hours. People reported dozens of dead on social networks and at least 12 were corroborated by witnesses. The official account only listed two dead.

Osorio Chong said the state of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is located, is one of the "most important spots for this administration" when it comes to security.


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« Reply #5697 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Uruguay legislature approves same sex marriage

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 22:44 EDT

Uruguay’s legislature voted to allow same-sex marriages nationwide, making it only the second Latin American country to do so.

The vote, with 71 of the 92 members of the lower house backing the measure, was welcomed with cries of “freedom, freedom” and “equality” from members of the public who burst into applause.

The senate last week approved a bill legalizing marriage between “two people of different or the same sex.”

“Tomorrow, we will have a more just, more equal society with more rights for everyone,” said Sebastian Sabini, a lawmaker from the Frente Amplio ruling coalition.

Uruguay’s move came after Argentina approved gay marriage in 2010. Same-sex marriage has been permitted in Mexico City since 2009.

The Catholic Church appealed during Easter week for the defense of the institution of marriage, but only eight opposition senators voted against the bill, while 23 voted in favor.

Over the past six years, Uruguay has legalized civil unions for homosexuals and the adoption of children by same sex couples, and opened the military to gays.

The new law allowing same-sex marriage also includes other changes that apply to all regardless of sexual orientation. The minimum age for legal marriage will increase to 16 for all instead of the current 12 for women and 14 for men.

Same-sex couples who adopt will be allowed to choose the order in which a child uses family names.

The new law will take effect 90 days after its enactment.


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« Reply #5698 on: Apr 11, 2013, 07:49 AM »

In the USA...

Chilling Leak: Iraq Warns of ‘Fabricated Evidence’ Before Powell’s WMD Speech

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 10th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

As a part of their PlusD project, Wikileaks dumped another huge batch of cables, one of which is a cable from the United Nations to several US agencies. The cable is comprised of a letter from Iraqi FM Naji Sabri, taking a pre-emptive strike at a presentation that the US was soon to give, in which Colin Powell would claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The WMD speech.

In the letter, Sabri warned “against the use of the general assembly or the security council as forums for spreading false accusations and fabricated evidence in open disregard for mechanisms prescribed by the security council.”

Wikileaks tweeted, “Chilling cable from #Iraq to UN Security Council immediately before Colin Powell’s infamous speech on WMD’s”. Chilling it is. Read on, from Wikileaks PlusD:

UN/IRAQ: IRAQ SENDS LETTER PRE-EMPTIVELY TAKING ISSUE WITH THE SECRETARY’S FEBRUARY 5 PRESENTATION

Date:2003 February 6, 00:21 (Thursday) Canonical ID:03USUNNEWYORK298_a

Original Classification:UNCLASSIFIED Current Classification:UNCLASSIFIED
Handling Restrictions:– Not Assigned — Character Count:4562
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TAGS:IZ – Iraq | PARM – Political Affairs–Arms Controls and Disarmament | PREL – Political Affairs–External Political Relations | UNSC – UN Security Council Concepts:– Not Assigned –
Enclosure:– Not Assigned — Type:TE
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From:United Nations (New York) Markings:– Not Assigned –
To:Central Intelligence Agency | Defense Intelligence Agency | Department of Defense | Department of State | Iraq Iraq Collective | Joint Chiefs of Staff | National Security Council | United Nations Security Council | White House

ISSUE WITH THE SECRETARY’S FEBRUARY 5 PRESENTATION

1. (U) IRAQI FM NAJI SABRI SUBMITTED THE FOLLOWING LETTER TO
THE SECURITY COUNCIL (S/2003/132), CONCERNING THE U.S.
PRESENTATION TO THE COUNCIL ON FEBRUARY 5. THE FULL TEXT OF
THE LETTER FOLLOWS IN PARA 2.

2. (U) BEGIN TEXT.

THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT HAS
CALLED FOR A MEETING OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON 5 FEBRUARY
2003 AT WHICH UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL
WILL PRESENT WHAT HAS BEEN DUBBED “EVIDENCE OF IRAQ’S
POSSESSION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION.”

THIS PLAY-ACTING HAS BECOME TRANSPARENT AFTER THE SUBMISSION
BY THE UNITED STATES OF MORE THAN ONE REPORT FILLED WITH
ALLEGATIONS AND ACCUSATIONS DEVOID OF ANY EVIDENCE TO
SUBSTANTIATE THEM, SUCH AS THE REPORT ANNEXED TO THE SPEECH
OF UNITED STATES PRESIDENT BUSH BEFORE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ON 12 SEPTEMBER 2002, ENTITLED “A DECADE OF DECEPTION AND
DEFIANCE,” AND THE REPORT OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
(CIA) OF OCTOBER 2002, ENTITLED “IRAQ’S WEAPONS OF MASS
DESTRUCTION PROGRAMS.” IN BOTH THOSE REPORTS, THE BUSH
ADMINISTRATION ACCUSED IRAQ OF DEVELOPING WEAPONS OF MASS
DESTRUCTION AT MORE THAN 50 SITES. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER
TONY BLAIR HAS PLAYED A SUPPORTING ROLE IN THIS REGARD,
PUBLISHING A SIMILAR REPORT IN OCTOBER 2002 IN WHICH HE
CLAIMED THAT THERE EXISTED SPECIFIC SITES IN IRAQ AT WHICH
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION WERE BEING DEVELOPED.

AFTER IRAQ ACCEPTED THE RETURN OF THE INSPECTORS ON 16
SEPTEMBER 2002 AND AGREED TO DEAL WITH SECURITY COUNCIL
RESOLUTION 1441 (2002), THE UNITED NATIONS MONITORING,
VERIFICATION AND INSPECTION COMMISSION (UNMOVIC) AND THE
INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY (IAEA) WERE REQUESTED TO
ACCORD PRIORITY, IN RESUMING INSPECTIONS, TO SITES ALLEGED BY
THE UNITED STATES AND BRITAIN TO BE DEVELOPING WEAPONS OF
MASS DESTRUCTION PROGRAMMES.

INSPECTION WORK BEGAN ON 27 NOVEMBER 2002. AFTER TWO MONTHS
OF INTENSIVE INSPECTIONS INVOLVING THE USE OF
STATE-OF-THE-ART EQUIPMENT FOR DETECTING ANY PROSCRIBED
NUCLEAR, CHEMICAL OR BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY AND THE ANALYSIS OF
WATER, SOIL AND AIR SAMPLES ALL OVER IRAQ DURING 518 TOURS OF
INSPECTION COMPRISING ALL THE SITES THAT WERE THE OBJECT OF
PRESIDENT BUSH’S AND PRIME MINISTER BLAIR’S ACCUSATIONS, AS
WELL AS NUMEROUS OTHER SITES, INCLUDING RESIDENTIAL QUARTERS
IN IRAQI CITIES, THE REPORT OF MESSRS. BLIX AND ELBARADEI,
SUBMITTED TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON 27 JANUARY 2003,
SUBSTANTIATED IRAQ’S DECLARATIONS AND CONSEQUENTLY CONFIRMED
THAT THE REPORTS OF PRESIDENT BUSH AND PRIME MINISTER BLAIR
WERE DEVOID OF TRUTH AND HAD BEEN DRAFTED IN ORDER TO DISTORT
THE PICTURE OF IRAQ AND CREATE PRETEXTS FOR AGGRESSION
AGAINST IRAQ AND AGAINST THE REGION AS A WHOLE.

PERHAPS THIS FACT EXPLAINS THE URGENT REQUESTS ADDRESSED TO
STATES BY MESSRS. BLIX AND ELBARADEI TO PROVIDE UNMOVIC AND
IAEA WITH VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE OF ANY PROSCRIBED ACTIVITIES,
SUBSTANCES OR MATERIALS IN IRAQ AND THE INSISTENCE OF STATES
MEMBERS OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL THAT THOSE STATES WHICH ARE
ALLEGING THAT IRAQ IS DEVELOPING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
SUBMIT THEIR EVIDENCE TO UNMOVIC AND IAEA PURSUANT TO
PARAGRAPH 10 OF RESOLUTION 1441 (2002), WHICH READS,
“REQUESTS ALL MEMBER STATES TO GIVE FULL SUPPORT TO UNMOVIC
AND THE IAEA IN THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR MANDATES, INCLUDING BY
PROVIDING ANY INFORMATION RELATED TO PROHIBITED PROGRAMMES OR
OTHER ASPECTS OF THEIR MANDATES …”

ON THE BASIS OF THE ABOVE TEXT, CONTAINED IN THE SECURITY
COUNCIL RESOLUTION, WE REQUEST THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED
STATES, THROUGH YOU, TO SUBMIT IMMEDIATELY ITS ALLEGED
EVIDENCE TO THE TECHNICAL COMMITTEE ENTRUSTED BY THE UNITED
NATIONS WITH VERIFYING SUCH ALLEGATIONS, NAMELY UNMOVIC (IF
THEY RELATE TO PROSCRIBED ACTIVITIES IN THE CHEMICAL,
BIOLOGICAL OR MISSILE FIELDS) OR IAEA (IF THEY RELATE TO
PROSCRIBED ACTIVITIES IN THE NUCLEAR FIELD), SO AS TO ENABLE
THE TWO ORGANIZATIONS TO BEGIN THEIR INVESTIGATIONS
IMMEDIATELY AND INFORM THE SECURITY COUNCIL AND THE
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OF THE EXTENT TO WHICH THOSE
ALLEGATIONS ARE CORRECT.

IN THIS CONNECTION, WE CAUTION AGAINST USING THE GENERAL
ASSEMBLY OR THE SECURITY COUNCIL AS FORUMS FOR SPREADING
FALSE ACCUSATIONS AND FABRICATED EVIDENCE IN OPEN DISREGARD
FOR THE MECHANISMS PRESCRIBED BY THE SECURITY COUNCIL

End Cable

The cable was released as a part of 251,287 diplomatic cables, nearly all from 2003 to 2010, in PlusD. Wikileaks explains, “The Kissinger Cables are part of today’s launch of the WikiLeaks Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), which holds the world’s largest searchable collection of United States confidential, or formerly confidential, diplomatic communications. As of its launch on April 8, 2013 it holds 2 million records comprising approximately 1 billion words.”

We already knew weapons of mass destruction were a lie, but somehow this cable lays it bone-chillingly bare.

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Rep. Joe Barton: Biblical ‘Great Flood’ shows climate change isn’t man made

by David Edwards
RawStory
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 16:00 EDT

Republican Texas Rep. Joe Barton on Wednesday dismissed concerns that the Keystone XL pipeline could contribute to climate change, citing the biblical flood myth described in the book of Genesis as evidence that climate change was not man made.

BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski obtained video of Barton speaking to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power in support of the Northern Route Approval Act, a bill that could allow Congress to override President Barack Obama if he refuses to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline extension.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a proponent and supporter of the Keystone pipeline,” Barton explained.

In contrast to Barton’s past insistence that global warming science is “pretty weak stuff,” the Texas Republican took a different tack in Wednesday’s hearing.

“I don’t deny that the climate is changing,” he said. “I think you can have an honest difference of opinion on what’s causing that change without automatically being either all-in that it’s all because of mankind or it’s all just natural. I think there’s a divergence of evidence.”

“I would point out if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change. And that certainly wasn’t because mankind overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”

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Rand Paul to black student: Bringing up GOP voter suppression ‘demeans’ Civil Rights movement

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 14:04 EDT

“The Republican Party has been using their state legislators and their governments to prevent African-Americans from voting, because they didn’t want to re-elect President Obama.” said the student, Julian Lewis, a former White House intern under President Barack Obama. “So I’m asking you, how can we believe what you’re saying in regards to voting rights when we honestly feel, based on our intellectual ability to gauge whether you can connect with us or not, how can you say that, sir?”

Paul countered by revisiting one theme of his speech, pointing out that it was Southern Democrats who were behind the early efforts to stifle African-American voting rights before the civil rights movement took hold.

“I think if you liken using a drivers’ license to literacy tests, you demean the horror of what happened in the ’40s and ’50s, maybe probably from 1910 all the way through the 1960s in the South,” Paul said. “It was horrific. Nobody is in favor of that. No Republican is in favor of that. But showing your drivers’ license to have an honest election, I think, is not unreasonable. And I think that’s the main thing Republicans have been for.”

However, voter ID laws and other Republican-backed measures such as the curtailing of early voting hours have in fact been heavily criticized for disproportionately affecting the African-American voting community, among others, prompting Sen. Nina Turner (D-OH) to say in August 2012 that “Jim Crow has been resurrected” in her state.

Also, despite Paul’s suggestion that Republicans opposed measures like poll literacy tests, fellow Tea Party member and former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) said at the first Tea Party National Convention in February 2010 that the lack of such tests helped Obama be elected in 2008.

“People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House,” Tancredo said at the time.

Paul also attempted to rewrite his position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act during the speech.

“I have never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act,” he said. “The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of the remedy should come under federal or state or private purview.”

In a May 2010 interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, however, Paul suggested the “dispute” around the Civil Rights Act centered around freedom of speech.

“Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?” Paul said at the time. “I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”

When Maddow asked if that also applied to desegregation of lunch counters, he compared that issue to the conflict between restaurant owners’ rights to bar guns from their establishments and gun owners’ rights to carry their firearms.

“Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?” Paul said. “These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion.”

As Think Progress reported in January 2012, Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), voted against a 2004 resolution praising the Civl Rights Act, saying it “increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.” Seven years later, the younger Paul explained that decision by saying, “The point is that its not all about that. It’s not all about race relations, it’s about controlling property, ultimately.” Such views prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to label Paul an “extremist” that same year.

Paul’s full speech can be seen at C-SPAN’s video library. A transcript is available at iroots.org. A short excerpt from the conclusion of the speech, posted on YouTube by the National Review on Wednesday, can be seen below.

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Michelle Obama calls for strengthened gun laws to stop bloodshed

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 19:44 EDT   

First Lady Michelle Obama returned to her murder-plagued hometown Wednesday to make an emotional plea for strengthening US gun laws, saying she too could have been a victim of brutal street violence while growing up.

Making a rare direct foray into the domestic policy debate, Obama held back tears as she recalled a young black Chicagoan named Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead one week after performing in President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.

As she urged lawmakers and city officials to find constructive ways to combat youth bloodshed, Mrs. Obama mentioned how, when attending the 15-year-old’s funeral with the Pendleton family, “I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me.”

“Because what I realized is that… Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” Obama said as she held back tears.

“But I got to grow up, and go to Princeton and to Harvard Law School, and have a family and the most blessed life I could imagine. And Hadiya… we know that story.”

Obama recalled how a city school teacher told her about students who walk down the middle of the street after school, defying traffic, because it was the best way to avoid the shootings that have become all-too-common in some Chicago neighborhoods.

“I’m not talking about something that is happening in a war zone halfway around the world,” she said. “I’m talking about what’s happening in the city that we call home.”

The first lady said President Obama was “fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can, to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence.”

It is rare that first ladies engage so deeply in the nation’s political discourse. Hillary Clinton was widely criticized in the early 1990s for her role in trying to reform health care while husband Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office.

Michelle Obama’s plea came shortly after Senate Democrats and Republicans announced a compromise deal on extending background checks to all commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows and on the Internet.

The White House had sought a similar but more-comprehensive, universal background check measure in the wake of the Newtown school massacre in December.

The legislation must pass the Senate and the House before it becomes law.

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April 10, 2013

A Senator’s Search for an Ally Keeps a Gun Bill Alive

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
NYT

WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III so craved a pro-gun-rights Republican as a partner for a bill to expand background checks on gun buyers that he took to buttonholing senators on the in-house subway that ferries them from their offices to the Capitol, making his pitch while his colleagues were trapped with him in the tiny car.

Repeatedly rebuffed, Mr. Manchin, a conservative West Virginia Democrat, decided to call on his friend Senator Patrick J. Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican known almost exclusively for his conservative fiscal positions. On a recent Amtrak trip from New York to Washington where they happened to intersect, Mr. Toomey agreed to listen.

On Wednesday the two gun owners, long favorites of the National Rifle Association, came together in a last-ditch effort on a background check compromise that opened the door to a rare Congressional consideration of gun law changes, beginning Thursday. While their agreement ensures only that the measure will reach the Senate floor for debate, it rescued gun law changes sought byPresident Obama and gun control groups from an early defeat.

Lawmakers who represent neighboring states, allies on energy issues and temperamentally aligned, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Toomey announced they had gingerly put together a bipartisan deal that would expand background checks to cover unlicensed dealers at gun shows as well as all online sales.

It would also maintain record-keeping provisions that law enforcement officials find essential in tracking guns used in crimes, but that some Republicans had balked at. Unlike the initial Democratic plan, it does not cover sales between family members and neighbors.

For Mr. Toomey, a Republican toiling in a swing state chock-full of suburban women who often favor gun safety legislation, a relatively modest measure to expand background checks seemed both politically viable and in need of a Republican imprimatur. Gun legislation was “not something I sought,” he said.

“I’ve got to tell you, candidly, I don’t consider criminal background checks gun control,” said Mr. Toomey, who led the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth after a stint in the House.

He acknowledged that it was hard to take heat from fellow conservatives over his reach across the aisle.

“There have been people who’ve called the office expressing disappointment,” he said in an interview. But some have expressed support, too, he said.

For Mr. Manchin, whose signature campaign ad in 2010 featured him shooting environmental legislation with a hunting rifle, Mr. Toomey represented his best hope of a credible Republican ally who may be able to bring along fellow conservatives to the bill.

“I wanted to make sure whoever I was with came from a gun culture such as mine,” Mr. Manchin, who opposes most gun control legislation but wants to close background check loopholes, said in an interview. “I just appreciate Pat so much for being able to get there.” Mr. Manchin, who wept during a meeting with family members of victims of the Newtown shooting, has been lauded by gun control advocates for his help.

The politics of the deal are so fragile that Mr. Toomey asked that one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the amendment, SenatorCharles E. Schumerof New York, not appear at a news conference Wednesday morning, Senate aides said. Mr. Schumer agreed, and told Mr. Manchin at the 50th-birthday party of the television hostJoe Scarboroughthat he would not be attending.

The details took so much fine tuning that on Tuesday, as the two senators negotiated, “around 4:00 I was concerned we couldn’t do it,” Mr. Manchin said.

“We took a half-hour break,” he said, and managed to put it over the line late Tuesday night.

The gun bill will receive its first procedural vote in the Senate on Thursday. The House leadership sounded cool on the measure but for now the fight is in the Senate.

The bill also enhances some gun rights. For instance, it would allow gun owners who have undergone background checks within the past five years for a concealed-carry permit to use the permit to buy guns in other states, and it would relax some of the restrictions on hunters traveling with their guns through states that do not permit them. It would also allow active members of the military to buy firearms in their home states, currently prohibited when they are stationed outside their state.

The compromise, which two weeks ago seemed elusive, is intended to pull in as many members from both parties as possible, including Democrats running for re-election in Republican-leaning states.

“There was the danger that we might not accomplish anything,” Mr. Toomey said, adding that he and Mr. Manchin have consulted with the National Rifle Association. The group released a statement painting it as a defeat for the White House and MayorMichael R. Bloombergof New York but also saying the proposal was ultimately ineffective.

“While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s ‘universal’ background check agenda is a positive development,” the group said, “we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson.”

The compromise was met with cautious optimism by Mr. Obama, who has made new gun regulations a centerpiece of his second term, and gun control advocates."This is not my bill,” Mr. Obama said in a statement, “and there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger.”

The president said the Senate proposal “does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress” and recognizes that some in both parties agree “we’ve got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence.”

Michelle Obamastepped into the gun debate on Wednesday as well, speaking before hundreds of business leaders in Chicago, her hometown. “Right now my husband is fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence,” Mrs. Obama said. “And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress.”

Many issues remain unresolved in the Senate proposal, chiefly how such new regulations would be enforced, and how law enforcement officials would be able to easily tell the provenance of some guns. But the measure would close many of the loopholes in gun laws.

On Wednesday families of the Newtown shooting victims continued to meet with senators to encourage them to support the bill, and Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, chose to focus his first speech on the Senate floor on gun violence, bringing large photographs of some of the 20 children killed in the massacre to the floor.

Mr. Toomey, who said he had long supported background checks, described Mr. Manchin as a great partner. “It’s going to be intense for the next few days,” he said.

Monica Davey contributed reporting from Chicago.

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April 10, 2013

Broad Outlines of Senate Immigration Agreement Emerge

By JULIA PRESTON and ASHLEY PARKER
NYT

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators has largely agreed on a broad immigration bill that would require tough border measures to be in place before illegal immigrants could take the first steps to become American citizens, according to several people familiar with drafts of the legislation.

But in a delicate compromise worked out over weeks of negotiations, the bill does not impose any specific measurements of border enforcement results that, if they were not met, would stop the immigrants from proceeding toward citizenship.

Instead, the bill allows a period of 10 years for the Department of Homeland Security to make plans and use resources to fortify enforcement at the borders and elsewhere within the country before it sets several broader hurdles that could derail the immigrants’ progress toward citizenship if they are not achieved.

During the first decade after passage, the bill sets ambitious goals for border authorities — including continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border and 90 percent effectiveness of enforcement in several high-risk sectors — and for other workplace and visa enforcement measures. It provides at least $3 billion for Homeland Security officials to meet those goals during the first five years, with a possibility of additional financing.

The bill includes provisions, or “triggers,” during that decade that allow Congress at different points to ensure the enforcement goals are being met.

As the group of eight senators continued on Wednesday to iron out final details of the legislation, several tens of thousands of immigrants, Latinos, labor union members, gay rights and other advocates held a rally on the lawn below the steps of the Capitol. With many waving American flags, they called for Congress to move quickly and demanded a direct path to citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants.

“Families cannot continue to be torn apart,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, told the crowd.

“Anything less than citizenship undermines American democracy,” he insisted.

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat who is one of the eight senators working to draft the legislation, told the crowd that the group was close to presenting a bill.

“We have to get those who are in the shadows into the light to have an opportunity to earn their citizenship and be part of the dream,” said Mr. Menendez, who like many of the other speakers delivered his words in both English and Spanish.

The senators’ compromise allows Republican lawmakers, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, to say that they achieved border enforcement advances in the bill as a condition before any illegal immigrants can apply for permanent-resident green cards, the first step toward citizenship.

But it also allows Democrats to describe the border measures as goals that can be achieved with the resources provided, so they will not become roadblocks that could stop the immigrants from reaching the final stage of citizenship.

President Obama, who has been largely silent during the negotiations, is strongly opposed to any hindrances on the immigrants’ path that could be the focus of political battles later on.

As drafted, the legislation would provide as much as $3.5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to set up a five-year border security plan. Officials must present the plan within six months, and no immigrants can gain any provisional legal status until the plan is in place. It would include a program to finish any border fencing that border agents deem necessary.

The plan must also show how the authorities will move quickly to spread technology across the border to ensure that agents can have surveillance capability along its entire length. They will also have five years to reach 90 percent effectiveness in their operations, a measure based on calculations of what percentage of illegal crossers were caught or turned back without crossing.

If, after five years, border officials have not reached the surveillance and enforcement goals, the bill establishes a border commission to advise the Department of Homeland Security on how to reach its goals, with additional financing of up to $2 billion.

Homeland Security officials will also be required to expand a worker verification system, making it mandatory nationwide for all employers within five years. Within 10 years, they must also create an electronic exit system at all airports and seaports to help ensure that foreigners leave when their visas expire.

Also, illegal immigrants who pass background checks and meet other requirements will have to wait in a provisional status for at least 10 years, before they could apply for green cards. Before those applications can begin, officials must show that the border security plan is operational, the fence is completed, and the worker verification and visa exits systems are operating.

At the rally, the demonstrators filled the large lawns that sweep down from the Capitol, and overflowed into lawns on either side. Groups of demonstrators came mainly from Washington, Maryland and Virginia, while several hundred buses brought delegates from around the country. Rather than concentrate all their forces in one place, organizers also held more than 30 smaller events around the country on Wednesday, including marches, early morning candlelight vigils, and door knocking.

In Orlando, Fla., farmworkers and immigrants held a picnic in front of the offices of Mr. Rubio. In Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif., advocates rallied outside the offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who is leading negotiations over the agricultural provisions in the bill. Many events were organized by the Service Employees International Union and other unions, which have strongly supported the immigration effort.

Many activists spent the morning on Capitol Hill lobbying lawmakers, including a contingent from Alabama who delivered 250 small red footballs to the office of Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from that state who is a staunch opponent of the proposed legislation. “Don’t drop the ball,” was the message they conveyed.

At the rally, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a Democrat who has been a tenacious proponent of the immigration overhaul, said, “You need to guarantee that you give me and my colleagues and the Congress of the United States no place to hide.

“There are no acceptable excuses for failing to pass immigration reform this year,” Mr. Gutierrez said, “and no excuses will be accepted.”

Many in the crowd said they were hoping that the coming debate in Congress would not divert or close their path to becoming Americans.

“I believe this is a country of opportunity,” said Alonso Martinez, 30, an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Maryland, “and without citizenship we are not going to have the same opportunity as the other immigrants who came before us.”

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Republicans Wanted Chained CPI, But Now Paul Ryan is Demanding Even Deeper Cuts

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 10th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

The Republican’s budget guru (who has yet to do the math on his budgets) dismissed the President’s offer of chained CPI today, saying it isn’t entitlement reform – it’s just “clarifying a statistic.” Just last December, Republicans said they wanted Chained CPI more than any other “entitlement” reform.

TPM reported:

    On a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan trivialized President Obama’s decision to include a provision called Chained CPI, which cuts the growth of Social Security benefits, as a gesture of good will to Republicans in his budget.

    “I don’t see it as entitlement reform, as much as clarifying a statistic,” Ryan said.

If it’s just a clarifying statistic, then why did Republicans demand it over anything else? Last December, Republicans said they wanted Chained CPI more than any other “entitlement” reform, but now it’s not entitlement reform.

    In December of 2012, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he had to have chained CPI. Oh, a little chained CPI would be compromise and if he got it, he’d give the President $1 trillion in revenue, “President Barack Obama is considering a possible budget concession on Social Security cost-of-living increases after House Speaker John Boehner dropped his opposition to raising tax rates for some top earners, said two people familiar with the talks…. A Republican congressional aide said Boehner is pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes, such as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age.”

How can Boehner be pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes, such as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, if Chained CPI is not an entitlement reform?

This is called moving the goal posts, and it works quite well for the Republicans because no one seems to ask them why last December Chained CPI was the thing they had to have in order to negotiate, but now it’s nothing.

The many Republicans attacking Obama’s budget before they‘ve even had a chance to read indicates that they never had any intention of meeting the President anywhere in the middle on the budget. They are not budging, because they know they can’t get Boehner’s House to raise revenue. In order to save face, they have to trip over their own words pretending Chained CPI is suddenly nothing.

The only good news here is that President Obama was probably betting that they wouldn’t bite. (He offered, they refused. He tried. They didn’t. Etc.) Once again, Republicans make fools of themselves when dealing with this President. They will do anything to avoid admitting that they can’t tell their masters that they have to raise revenue, even if it means changing what they want every time the President tries to hand them a carrot.

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15 Republican Governors Would Rather Kill Their Own Citizens Than Expand Medicaid

By: Dennis S
Apr. 10th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

A youngish PR guy spoke at a recent county Democratic function in my home territory of Upstate South Carolina. He was from the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA). I’m betting he’s a Republican, having previously worked as a lobbyist for state Real Estate interests, but sometimes special interests collide with party interests at the intersection of “What’s in it for me?” And apparently the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid has rattled the hospital people to their very core.

The SCHA wants to autoclave the moronic decision on the part of the state’s Republican power brokers. Sterilize the idiocy out of their hatred of Obamacare if you will. The earnest young man whose first name was Schipp (sounds like the ritzy part of town to me) gave a wonderfully convincing and informative talk to a roomful of the mostly already converted. I talked with him briefly after the meeting and told him I was likely to include parts of his speech in my next contribution to the progressive Website, PoliticusUSA. He seemed pleased to get the word out. So I’m sharing some of his facts and figures and some of my own that should lend context to the issue.

Yes, South Carolina, as it does with many federal offerings, has rejected the Medicaid Expansion. The simple fact is that the Medicaid expansion money that doesn’t come to South Carolina, goes elsewhere, turning this state into a donor state. Eligibility is based on anyone earning less that $11,500 or $23,550 for a family of four. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation calculates that South Carolina ranks 4th of the states that would benefit most from the expansion. In terms of numbers, that’s 250,000 plus people who would be impacted.

South Carolina ranks 48th in the nation in the number of children living in poverty; 49th in the number of diabetics, 42nd in obesity, 45th in coverage by Medicaid and 45th in persons not covered by health insurance. That translates to a total of 700,000 citizens with no health insurance.

So the obviously predictable move for the extraordinarily ignorant and Obama-hating red state government would be to reject the expansion of Medicaid (joining 14 other dumb-ass states) in a move that will be devastating to hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of South Carolina residents because it’s not only lower income individuals and families that are affected, but those with health insurance, who, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, pay an estimated $1,000-$2,000 extra dollars in premiums per year (it’s $3,000 for small businesses) because hospitals are legally forbidden to turn away those in need (one of the few positives from the Reagan administration) and the cost shifting is passed along to the already insured.

To save hospitals that are still in danger of going under, the government provides Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) adjustment payments for those hospitals that serve a ‘disproportionate’ share of low-income patients that are uninsured and not covered by traditional entitlement programs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, despised by clueless right-wingers, increased DSH payments for 2 fiscal years to most states by 2.5%. That should have saved those already insured a few bucks if the right-wingers beloved huge insurers adjusted their premiums for at least 2 years to reflect the federal payments.

That’s what the Medicaid expansion program was designed to accomplish. Benefit those earning under poverty minimums and take pressure off of hospitals and the currently insured.

The Advisory Board Company that consults health care and higher education clients has compiled a handy list of states that embrace or reject Medicaid expansion. A total of 15 states (as of this writing) couldn’t care less. The Dunce Cap states are South Carolina (of course) and North Carolina, when not busy obsessing on denying the vote to roughly 600,000 eligible citizens. Alabama’s on board with not being on board. Checked the collective IQ’s of that state lately? No expansion for Mississippi. No anything else for that God forsaken plot of KKK-land either. And there’s Georgia where their Republican Governor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the state “Couldn’t afford expansion.” Of course it’s free for the first 3 years followed by phasing down for a few years to a permanent 90-10 fed/state split. “Georgia can’t afford that?”

Idaho joins the parade of heartless states brushing off help for those strapped for cash for medical emergencies. “Let ‘em eat cake.” Iowa is lost in the stalks. Louisiana is a puzzle in their refusal to participate. How can such a smart governor as Bobby Jindal be so dumb? Then there’s Maine and the state’s totally misinformed Republican governor Paul LePage. He took a pass on expansion because it would be a “Degradation of our nation’s premier health system.” Premier??? Governor, have you read even one fact about America’s health care standing among industrialized and universal health care nations? Even one? Back in April, LePage said his state might consider expansion if the feds paid a full ten years of the freight. As it turned out, no long-term freebie, to hell with the poor constituents. Right-wingers love the guy because he’s always blasting liberals and unions.

Oklahoma’s in the mix of Medicaid Expansion-deniers. To paraphrase the joyous lyrics of “Oklahoma”…”OOOOKlahoma, where the callous hate-anything Obama wind comes sweepin’ down the plain. Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay!!!” YEEOW is pretty much what those who end up paying somebody else’s tab are going to be screaming in the Sooner state. Another ‘nein’ comes from the sleazy Republicans of Pennsylvania. You remember the legislature manipulating voting right’s laws in an attempt to get Romney elected. Screwing poor folks over is an easy call for PA’s right-wing leadership. Next in line is South Dakota, another reason to never think about South Dakota when the subject is thoughtful governance. Then there’s Wisconsin, a formerly liberal state now featuring extremist right-wing leadership whose brains are best compared in size to Gulliver in Brobdingnag. Finally, there’s Texas. ‘Nuff said.

According to the consulting firm, 25 states have signed on to expansion, a couple are leaning that way, 3 are leaning the other way and the rest are undecided. The blood-red county I live in is the 4th neediest county (out of 46) in the state for Medicaid Expansion. There are 11,414 uninsured citizens age 18-64 with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The local legislative delegation is overwhelmingly Republican; not just Republicans, but right-wing extremists, Tea Party Republican. In other words, not Republican at all, but an amalgam of Obama, fed and Democrat-haters hiding behind a party banner. Any initiative that would bring credit to any of the above would be trashed in the time it would take for a goober to drive to a gun sale at Walmart.

In closing, yet another reminder to keep Matthew, the son of Pastor Rick Warren, in your prayers. The young man, described by his father as mentally troubled and suicidal for years, killed himself Friday morning with a gun kept at his home.


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North Korea must end its 'belligerent approach', says Obama

Pentagon plays down intelligence report that regime might have a nuclear missile but says it is prepared for worst

Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 April 2013 08.25 BST   

Barack Obama has called on North Korea to end what he described as its "belligerent approach" as US intelligence officials concluded for the first time that the country has a nuclear weapon small enough to be carried on a missile.

The US president made his first public comments on the crisis as a congressional hearing was told of the Pentagon's latest intelligence assessment on North Korea. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report said it concluded "with moderate confidence that the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles". But it said the missiles would not be reliable.

The Pentagon later sought to row back from the DIA assessment read out in Congress, saying that North Korea's had not yet fully tested a nuclear weapon.

US military commanders have been preparing for North Korea to launch a missile after a new round of United Nations sanctions were imposed last month.

The US has threatened to shoot down any North Korean missiles but it might only do so if the missile appears to be targeted at a US territory or one of its allies such as South Korea or Japan. If the missile is headed out to sea the US might try to avoid further escalation by letting it take its course.

Pentagon spokesman George Little refused to say what the US response would be. "We are prepared to respond to any missile threat," he said.

Little later issued a statement saying: "In today's House armed services committee hearing on the department of defence budget, a member of the committee read an unclassified passage in a classified report on North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

"While I cannot speak to all the details of a report that is classified in its entirety, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage. The United States continues to closely monitor the North Korean nuclear programme and calls upon North Korea to honour its international obligations."

South Korea's defence ministry also cast doubt on the finding that North Korea could make a nuclear warhead small enough to go on a missile. "Our military's assessment is that the North has not yet miniaturised," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in Seoul on Friday morning.

"North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests but there is doubt whether it is at the stage where they can reduce the weight and miniaturise to mount on a missile."

Obama, speaking to reporters after he met UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the White House, said: "We both agreed that now's the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they've been taking and to try to lower temperatures.

"Nobody wants to see a conflict on the Korean peninsula. But it's important for North Korea, like every other country in the world, to observe the basic rules and norms that are set forth, including a wide variety of UN resolutions."

He added that the US would take all necessary steps to protect its people.

The Obama administration remains of the view that North Korea's actions and rhetoric over the last month are bluster and that there is no serious threat yet.

The DIA assessment was revealed by Congressman Doug Lamborn during a congressional hearing. He said the part of the assessment dealing with North Korea had been declassified.

Lamborn, reading from the report, which was produced last month, said: "DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low."

The revelation came after a Pentagon briefing at which the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, refused to say whether North Korea was capable of building a nuclear weapon that could fit on a missile, arguing that the information was classified.

Administration officials know there is much more public scepticism about such intelligence claims after assessments about Iraq's weapons capabilities proved so wrong.

The revelation at this juncture will be viewed with suspicion by some anti-war groups who will wonder if, as with Iraq, it is part of a process to demonise North Korea ahead of military action.

But there appear to be no senior figures inside the Obama administration pressing for military intervention in North Korea to bring about regime change. The policy at present remains "strategic patience", with officials content to settle for containment.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is heading to the region on Thursday for talks with South Korea, Japan and China.

Earlier, in Washington, Mark Fitzpatrick, a director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, argued that while "strategic patience" was an answer for the present "artificial" crisis, in the long term the aim should be regime change and the reunification of North and South Korea.

He did not anticipate North Korea willingly trading away "big bang" weapons – the only significant achievement of which it could boast.

Fitzpatrick argued in favour of broadcasting direct to people in North Korea, targeting the finances of the ruling elite and highlighting its human rights record.

"The answer to the question: is regime change the answer? Yes," Fitzpatrick said. "But it is not obviously an immediate answer to the current situation. North Korea's actions and statement, however, reinforce the conclusion that there is only one happy ending to this long-running tragedy: unification of the Korea as a democratic, free-enterprise based republic."

Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/12/barack-obama-north-korea-video

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John Kerry hits back as North Korea threatens Japan with nuclear strike

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 7:30 EDT

US Secretary of State John Kerry Friday demanded North Korea abandon an expected missile launch as the communist state threatened a nuclear strike on Japan amid a chilling new evaluation of its offensive capability.

Kerry, visiting Seoul to give fulsome US backing to military ally South Korea, joined President Barack Obama in decrying North Korea’s incendiary rhetoric — and urged China to step in.

The air of crisis that has engulfed the region for weeks, since North Korea staged a rocket launch and atomic test, was given even greater menace from a US intelligence report that said it may now have a nuclear warhead in its arsenal.

US and South Korean military officials downplayed the assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), but Pyongyang warned of the direst results if Japan executes its threat to shoot down any North Korean missile.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said that such a “provocative” intervention would see Tokyo — an enormous conurbation of 30 million people — “consumed in nuclear flames”.

“Japan is always in the cross-hairs of our revolutionary army and if Japan makes a slightest move, the spark of war will touch Japan first,” KCNA said in a commentary.

Unbowed, an official at Japan’s defence ministry told AFP that the country “will take every possible measure to respond to any scenario”, while Kerry warned that a North Korean missile launch would be a “huge mistake”.

“The rhetoric that we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standards,” he told a news conference in Seoul alongside South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se.

“The United States, South Korea and the entire international community… are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power,” Kerry added.

“If (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Un decides to launch a missile, whether it’s across the Sea of Japan or any other direction, he will be choosing wilfully to ignore the entire international community.

“It will be a huge mistake for him to do that because it will further isolate his country,” Kerry said, adding that North Koreans want food, not a leader “who wants to flex his muscles”.

Kerry also that it was high time for China — whose trade and aid have propped up North Korea since the end of the Cold War — to intervene with its wayward ally if it truly wants to safeguard regional stability.

“China has an enormous capability to make a difference here,” he said.

Intelligence officials in Seoul say the North, as a show of force, has two mid-range missiles ready for imminent launch from its east coast, and South Korea and Japan remained on heightened alert for any test.

Pyongyang has not officially announced plans for a launch, but a state body in charge of inter-Korean exchanges stressed Thursday that “powerful strike means” were in place.

Observers believe a launch is most likely in the build-up to Monday’s anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il-Sung, for which celebrations are already well under way in Pyongyang.

The mid-range missiles mobilised by the North are reported to be untested Musudan models with an estimated range of up to 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometres).

That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.

Obama said earlier that “nobody wants to see a conflict”, but emphasised that the United States was ready to take “all necessary steps to protect its people” and defend its allies in the region.

“We both agree that now is the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they’ve been taking,” Obama said after White House talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

North Korea has no proven capacity to shrink a nuclear device onto a missile tip. But for the first time, the DIA evaluation gave official US credence to Pyongyang’s claim in February that it has now mastered the technology.

“DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles,” said the report cited by a Republican lawmaker at a congressional hearing. “However, the reliability will be low.”

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said it would be “inaccurate” to suggest North Korea had shown that it has such expertise, in a remark echoed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

South Korea was also sceptical. Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said it was “still doubtful” that the North had produced a ballistic missile warhead.

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April 11, 2013

Pentagon Says Nuclear Missile Is in Reach for North Korea

By THOM SHANKER, DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
NYT

WASHINGTON — A new assessment by the Pentagon’s intelligence arm has concluded for the first time, with “moderate confidence,” that North Korea has learned how to make a nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile.

The assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been distributed to senior administration officials and members of Congress, cautions that the weapon’s “reliability will be low,” apparently a reference to the North’s difficulty in developing accurate missiles or, perhaps, to the huge technical challenges of designing a warhead that can survive the rigors of flight and detonate on a specific target.

The assessment’s existence was disclosed Thursday by Representative Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, three hours into a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. General Dempsey declined to comment on the assessment because of classification issues.

But late Thursday, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., released a statement saying that the assessment did not represent a consensus of the nation’s intelligence community and that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”

In another sign of the administration’s deep concern over the release of the assessment, the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, issued a statement that sought to qualify the conclusion from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has primary responsibility for monitoring the missile capabilities of adversary nations but which a decade ago was among those that argued most vociferously — and incorrectly — that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

“It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage,” Mr. Little said.

A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, Kim Min-seok, said early Friday that despite various assessments. “we have doubt that North Korea has reached the stage of miniaturization.”

Nonetheless, outside experts said that the report’s conclusions could explain why Mr. Hagel has announced in recent weeks that the Pentagon was bolstering long-range antimissile defenses in Alaska and California, intended to protect the West Coast, and rushing another antimissile system, originally not set for deployment until 2015, to Guam.

Also Thursday, Mr. Clapper sought to tamp down fears that North Korean rhetoric could lead to an armed clash with the United States, South Korea and regional allies, and a high South Korean official called for dialogue with North Korea.

Mr. Clapper told a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee that in his experience, two other confrontations with the North — the seizure of the Navy spy ship Pueblo in 1968 and the death of two military officers in a tree-cutting episode in the demilitarized zone in 1976 — stoked much greater tensions between the two countries. The statement by the South Korean official, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, was televised nationally, and it represented a considerable softening in tone by President Park Geun-hye’s government.

Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, was scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Friday and to travel to China and Japan after that. He has two principal goals on the last leg of a six-nation trip: to encourage China to use its influence to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program while reassuring South Korea and Japan that the United States remains committed to their defense.

The report issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency last month was titled “Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program.” Its executive summary reads: “D.I.A. assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low.”

A spokesman for Mr. Lamborn, Catherine Mortensen, said the material he quoted during the hearing was unclassified. Pentagon officials said later that while the report remained classified, the one-paragraph finding had been declassified but not released. Republicans in Congress have led efforts to increase money for missile defense, and Mr. Lamborn has been critical of the Obama administration for failing to finance it adequately.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, including one this year, and shot a ballistic missile as far as the Philippines in December. American and South Korean intelligence agencies believe that another test — perhaps of a midrange missile called the Musudan that can reach Japan, South Korea and almost as far as Guam — may be conducted in the coming days, to celebrate the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder. At the Pentagon, there is particular concern about another missile, yet untested, called the KN-08, which may have significantly longer range.

“North Korea has already demonstrated capabilities that threaten the United States and the security environment in East Asia,” Mr. Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee.

He added that “we believe Pyongyang has already taken initial steps” toward fielding what he called a “road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.” He appeared to be referring to the KN-08, provided to North Korea by a Russian company and based on the design of a Russian submarine-launched nuclear missile.

Mr. Clapper referred to “extremely belligerent, aggressive public rhetoric towards the United States and South Korea” by the North’s young president, Kim Jong-un. And he made it clear that getting inside Mr. Kim’s head, and understanding his goals, had been particularly frustrating.

He suggested that while Mr. Kim’s grandfather and father had clear motives — to periodically threaten the world with nuclear crises, then wait to get paid in cash, food or equipment to lower the rhetoric — the younger Mr. Kim apparently intended to demonstrate both to North Koreans and to the international community that North Korea deserves respect as a nuclear power.

“His primary objective is to consolidate, affirm his power,” Mr. Clapper told the House committee, adding that “the belligerent rhetoric of late, I think, is designed for both an internal and an external audience.”

Asked if the North Korean leader had an “endgame,” Mr. Clapper said, “I don’t think, really, he has much of an endgame other than to somehow elicit recognition from the world and specifically, most importantly, the United States, of North Korea as a rival on an international scene, as a nuclear power, and that that entitles him to negotiation and to accommodation, and presumably for aid.”

Other officials have said, in background interviews, that Mr. Kim is trying to get North Korea into the same position as Pakistan: an acknowledged nuclear power that the West has given up hopes of disarming.

Mr. Clapper appeared with the heads of several other intelligence agencies, including Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn of the Defense Intelligence Agency; the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III; and the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, to present their annual assessment of the threats facing the nation. The same officials briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee last month.

Even as they sought to explain the North Korean leader’s recent bellicose threats, which have prompted American and South Korean troops to increase alert levels, Mr. Clapper and other top intelligence officials acknowledged that United States spy agencies do not know much about Mr. Kim.

“Kim Jong-un has not been in power all that long, so we don’t have an extended track record for him like we did with his father and grandfather,” Mr. Brennan said. “That’s why we are watching this very closely and to see whether or not what he is doing is consistent with past patterns of North Korean behavior.”

Mr. Clapper added that with such little information on Mr. Kim, “there’s no telling how he’s going to behave.”

“He impresses me as impetuous, not as inhibited as his father became about taking aggressive action,” he added. “The pattern with his father was to be provocative and then to sort of back off. We haven’t seen that yet with Kim Jong-un.”

As for what might change the North’s posture, Mr. Clapper pointed to China’s new leadership. “I think probably if anyone has real leverage over the North Koreans, it is China,” he said.

Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and Choe Sang-hun from Seoul.

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North Korea's aggressive stance condemned by G8 in 'strongest terms'

China and Russia join in pressure on regime as Obama tells Pyongyang: time to end 'belligerence'

Tania Branigan in Seoul and Peter Beaumont   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 23.53 BST   

Foreign ministers from the G8 group of nations meeting in London have condemned North Korea's aggressive rhetoric and its continued development of nuclear missile programmes before an anticipated ballistic missile test launch by Pyongyang within the next few days.

The stern communique issued after weeks of bellicose rhetoric from North Korea follows evidence in recent comments and editorials that China has been persuaded to put public pressure on its ally to step back from further dangerous provocations.

It also comes as new US intelligence suggested that North Korea has the ability to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles but that the weapons would probably be unreliable, according to Pentagon officials. The US Defence Intelligence Agency said North Korea probably has the knowhow to arm a missile with a nuclear warhead but doubted its reliability.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is travelling on to Seoul and Tokyo, with the tensions expected to dominate discussions in both cities.

In the statement the G8 ministers condemned in the "strongest possible terms" recent missile tests for seriously undermining international security, adding to similar messages that have been emerging in the Chinese media in recent days.

The G8 nations are the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.

In a sign of growing international solidarity over North Korea's recent behaviour, Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia – which has been at loggerheads with the US over Syria – said: "There is no disagreement with the United States over North Korea."

The G8 ministers said Pyongyang's aggressive rhetoric would only isolate North Korea and urged the government to engage in "credible" talks on abandoning all existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

They urged North Korea to refrain from "further provocative acts", and expressed concern about its plans to reopen its Yongbyon nuclear facility.

On Thursday President Barack Obama warned North Korea that his administration would "take all necessary steps" to protect American citizens, and urged the country's leadership to end its nuclear threats, saying it was time for the isolated nation "to end the belligerent approach they have taken and to try to lower temperatures."

"Nobody wants to see a conflict on the Korean peninsula," Obama added, speaking from the Oval Office alongside United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

North Korea claimed on Thursday it had "powerful striking means" on standby for a missile launch.

Despite the recent strident tone of its warnings, analysts believe that the spate of threats is intended to pressure South Korea and the US into shifting their policy.

Although this round of rhetoric and symbolic measures has been particularly prolonged, they believe it reflects the coincidence of joint US-South Korean military drills, the United Nations security council resolution condemning North Korea's third nuclear test, and the coming anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.

The country is often keen to demonstrate its military power and technical progress on important political dates. Officials in Washington and the US say Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test-fire a medium-range missile, dubbed the Musudan, thought to have a potential range of 3,500km.

"North Korea has continuously issued provocative threats and made efforts to raise tension on the Korean peninsula … but the current situation is being managed safely and our and foreign governments have been calmly responding," said Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman, Cho Tai-young.

The unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to engage in dialogue and discuss resuming production at the joint industrial park at Kaesong, from which North Korea pulled its workers earlier this week.

The G8 statement was released amid the first signs that all parties were edging away from the warlike rhetoric of recent weeks. North Korea's state news agency seemed to suggest that the strongest step the country had so far taken – the closure of the Kaesong joint economic development zone – had been a temporary measure.

Pyongyang issued a statement that appeared to be tinged with regret over the closure of Kaesong, which was shut when it ordered its workers out this week, terming the North-South venture "the pinnacle of General Kim Jong-il's limitless love for his people and brothers".

The statement, on the country's KCNA news agency, blamed the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, for bringing the money-spinning venture to "the brink of shutting down".

Evidence from inside North Korea in recent days has also suggested that reserves who had been mobilised have returned their weapons and gone back to other duties.

Despite threats that it will attack US bases and the South in response to any hostile acts, the North has welcomed a stream of visitors for Monday's celebrations marking Kim Il-sung's birthday. The official news agency listed an eclectic mix of guests ranging from Chinese businessmen to cold war-era enthusiasts of its socialist monarchy and official ideology of "juche", or self-reliance.

Most observers say Pyongyang has no intention of igniting a conflict that could bring its own destruction, but fears remain over the risk of miscalculation on the militarised Korean peninsula. North Korea has stationed five medium-range missiles on its east coast, according to defence assessments by Washington and Seoul, possibly in readiness for a test launch that would show its ability to hit US bases on Guam.

"There are signs the North could fire off Musudan missiles any time soon," an unnamed intelligence source in Seoul told Yonhap news agency.

Apart from the swipe at South Korea's new president, verbal threats appeared to fall off as KCNA listed arrivals for the upcoming birthday celebrations, naming an eclectic mix ranging from Chinese businessmen to Ccold Wwar-era enthusiasts of its socialist monarchy and official ideology of "juche", or self-reliance.

China has also urgedIn a sign of growing pressure on Pyongyang from Beijing, China yesterday urged "relevant parties" to resume long-stalled six-party talks involving China, the two Koreas, the US, Japan and Russia and aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"The hope that the Korean peninsula maintains peace and stability is the universal expectation of the international community," spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

The Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist party's People's Daily, underlined the growing pressure from Beijing. It said: "North Korea is sure to change, because its current situation is unsustainable and is placing huge pressure on the country … the regime has taken an extreme path … Pyongyang should clearly understand that it does not have the capability to dominate the situation in the Korean Peninsula."

Another piece, carried by the website of the Communist party newspaper People's Daily, criticised the US, Japan and the South but noted that while the outside world should not interfere with the North's internal affairs, "if its choice and words intensify the Korean peninsula tensions and affects peace and stability in the region, it becomes an international issue. The situation's development on the peninsula will not necessarily go according to the ideas and expectations of the DPRK."

"China's policy towards the DPRK has been changing since 2006 [when Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test], and is still changing," said Cheng Xiaohe, a foreign policy at Renmin University. "In the past few days we've seen China seemingly ratchet up its warnings to the DPRK – and also to other countries, including the US. But any expectations of fundamental change will be unrealistic. China's bottom line is that it will not cut off its relations with the DPRK and will not turn the DPRK into its enemy."

Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/11/g8-condemns-korean-threat-video

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John Kerry: North and South Korea tensions can ease with serious talks

US secretary of state tells Seoul right decisions can ensure peace, and says a nuclear-capable North will not be accepted

Tania Branigan in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 April 2013 12.25 BST   

The US secretary of state has stressed the prospects for resolving tensions on the Korean peninsula as he met with leaders in Seoul. "Relations between the North and South can improve very quickly if leaders of the North, and one in particular, can make the right decisions," John Kerry said.

The new South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, had "expressed a vision built on trustpolitik – and I hope that is what will take hold", Kerry added. But he warned: "They have to be really serious. No one is going to talk for the sake of talking."

Kerry, who reiterated that the international community would not accept a nuclear-capable North Korea, echoed the Pentagon in playing down an assessment by a US government agency that Pyongyang had a nuclear weapon that could be mounted on a missile.

The South's foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, added: "We hope the DPRK will make the right choice and engage in trustpolitik."

An expert on the North, John Delury at Yonsei University, said: "The message here was dialogue, but still in passive form: 'It's up to North Korea' … it's still not enough."

Earlier, President Barack Obama urged the North to end its "belligerent approach".

The tensions on the peninsula are expected to dominate Kerry's meetings in South Korea, China and Japan. Washington and Seoul anticipate that the North will launch a mid-range missile over the next few days.

Pyongyang has engaged in a series of angry threats and gestures, such as pulling workers out of the Kaesong industrial complex it shares with the South, and appears to be preparing its launch base. It often carries out tests around significant political dates, such as Monday's anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, lauded as the country's founder.

But Park, meeting officials from her party before talks with Kerry, suggested Seoul should at least listen to what North Korea had to say. According to local media, she told them: "We have a lot of issues, including the Kaesong industrial zone. So should we not meet with them and ask: 'Just what are you trying to do?'"

Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also meeting Park in Seoul, said on Twitter that he commended the South for seeking peaceful solutions through dialogue. He also urged the North to halt the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

"The North certainly seems to be edging away from some of its high-flown rhetoric and having brought in the stealth bombers [during military drills with the South], the US is also starting to ease up a bit," said James Hoare, a former British charges d'affaires in Pyongyang. "I think China is effectively saying to everyone: calm down and let's do something sensible."

But he noted that if the North did test fire a missile it was likely to lead to further action by the United Nations security council.

A US official in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: "Our greatest concern is a miscalculation and where that may lead. We have seen no indications of massive troop movements, or troops massing on the border, or massive exercises or anything like that, which would back up any of the rhetoric that is going on."

The US hopes China will increase pressure on the North. Beijing is the North's main ally and the country is a crucial source of aid and trade.

A report by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which emerged at a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, said it had concluded with "moderate confidence" that North Korea had developed a nuclear bomb that could be fitted on a ballistic missile, but such a weapon would probably be unreliable.

But a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said "it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced".

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the DIA's conclusion was not shared by the entire US intelligence community. "North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile," he said.
An anti-war protester wears a John Kery maskduring a rally in Seoul An anti-war protester during a rally in Seoul. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

In Seoul the defence ministry said it did not believe North Korea could mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Even so, experts say recent tests and rocket launches suggest Pyongyang is making progress in its weapons programmes.

After its third nuclear test in February the North claimed it had detonated a "miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously".

Hoare said: "The long-term aim seems quite clear: they want nuclear weapons capability and are working on the means to deliver it. The problem is always going to be: what can you do about it? My view is that you can cap but not stop it: you don't ask them to give up anything but say, don't do anything more. You have inspectors and monitoring devices. But to do that you would have to start talking."

Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea, told CNN: "There is not the slightest reason to be more afraid than we are of, say, French nukes. They're not suicidal … they are very rational."



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