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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1015325 times)
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« Reply #5745 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:25 AM »

Hungary is on a fast track to the past

The government dismisses criticism of its policies as liberal lies, but attacks on the media, threats to the independence of the central bank and racism suggest otherwise

George Szirtes   
The Guardian, Sunday 14 April 2013   

Among the foreign dignitaries attending Margaret Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday will be a man who many feel shouldn't be representing his country. But it will be a handy getaway for Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, an excuse for him to break off from trying to defend his country's new constitution from its EU critics, who include commission president José Manuel Barroso.

The bad press Hungary has been getting of late is the result of left-liberal lies. At least, that is what the current government claims. In fact, it argues, Hungary is a perfectly normal country going about its business. Criticising the ruling party, the centre-right Fidesz, we are told, is an attack on Hungarians generally. Fidesz is, in effect, Hungary.

Of course these "lies" have been around only since Fidesz came to power in 2010. The party's landslide victory handed the new prime minister, Orbán, an opportunity to change the constitution. So what's the problem?

The EU identified three main ones: the new media law, the earlier obligatory retirement age for judges and the independence of the central bank. It exerted pressure on Hungary and little by little these points were addressed – but the most recent amendments weakening the constitutional court have taken everything back to square one. The minister for economic affairs is now the head of the central bank.

A catalogue of other changes worry Hungary-watchers, and Hungarians themselves. Most importantly, committees have been filled with government supporters and their terms lengthened to well beyond the life of parliament. Then there is the ousting of prominent theatre directors; the scaling-back of the film industry; the smearing and demonising of internationally known figures such as philosopher Agnes Heller and Nobel-prize-winning author Imre Kertész; the financial starvation of magazines and radio stations; the purging of dissenting voices in the media; the sacking of headteachers – and a great deal more. Women have been told to go back to the kitchen and have children. The party and its properly "Hungarian" values must take precedence.

This sits alongside a tolerance of savage anti-Jewish and anti-Roma rhetoric, including from journalist Zsolt Bayer, a founder of Fidesz and a good friend of the prime minister. In the last few weeks the government has handed out three major public awards to far right cultural figures. After some international embarrassment they withdrew one of them. And now there are laws that render rough sleepers liable to prosecution.

Like all governments, this one claims that it is simply sorting out problems created by its predecessors. But why, if this is so, has there been such a rise in the emigration of young, qualified people, particularly since 2010? There are about 500,000 of them working abroad by some accounts, maybe 100,000 in the UK. Fidesz is having to enact new legislation to deal with it.

The past year has seen changes to the school syllabus to include prewar fascist writers, and the building of statues to Admiral Horthy, the inter-war leader who allied Hungary with Nazi Germany. Fidesz's notion of national values – so easily "betrayed" by those who do not share their political sympathies – trumps everything. Opposition exists, but the cultural and political ground is being cleared of such voices. The government is on a fast track back to the 1930s.

And the story put forward in defence of developments in Hungary is that the picture painted of Orbán's programme is distorted – all liberal propaganda. It's a sign of weakness that the patriotism card is the only one they can play to excuse themselves, but you can bet that it will be played time and again.
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« Reply #5746 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:27 AM »

April 14, 2013

End of Palestinian Power Play Muddles the Peace Process


JERUSALEM — Salam Fayyad, the internationally respected Palestinian politician and economist, is widely credited with ending the chaos in the West Bank and putting things in order in his six years as prime minister. But his resignation over the weekend, the result of internal power struggles, has left the Palestinian Authority suspended in political ambiguity and confusion.

Analysts said Sunday that by accepting Mr. Fayyad’s resignation, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has put himself in a political bind just as the Obama administration has been trying to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

That, many Palestinians say, is because the vacuum created by Mr. Fayyad’s resignation presents an opportunity for renewed reconciliation efforts between Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party and its bitter rival, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. While healing the rift would be a popular course of action among Palestinians, it could complicate peace efforts and cause some Western donor nations to consider withholding much-needed funds, fearing that they could be used by Hamas. The groups is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Under previous accords with Hamas, Mr. Abbas had agreed to lead an interim government as prime minister in preparation for long-overdue elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and might do so now.

“My preferred path of action is that the president will form an independent and technocratic government for 90 days, then we will go to elections,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah official and an aide to Mr. Abbas. In that case, Mr. Fayyad would remain a caretaker prime minister while the consultations took place, Mr. Erekat said, adding: “How long will it take? Nobody knows.”

Munib al-Masri, a West Bank industrialist who has promoted Palestinian reconciliation, said: “We hope the president will form the government and will hold elections as quickly as possible. This is what everybody is expecting. Without ending the division, we do not have a country.”

Israel opposes reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as long as the Islamic group refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and will not renounce violence.

“We have always said that if the Palestinian Authority moves towards Hamas, it is moving away from peace and reconciliation with Israel,” an Israeli official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal Palestinian affairs publicly. He added that calling a unity government “technocratic does not solve anything.”

“Who controls the technocrats?” he said.

Palestinian analysts said that in any case, real reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas seems a long way off and that Hamas is not likely to commit to a date for elections or to a common policy with Mr. Abbas.

In Gaza, Hamas welcomed the resignation of Mr. Fayyad but emphasized that the move was not related to reconciliation efforts. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, accused Fatah of being unwilling to carry out all aspects of the previous deals between the groups.

If Mr. Abbas is unable to reach an agreement with Hamas that would allow him to take over as prime minister, he will have to name a replacement for Mr. Fayyad. Possible candidates include another economist, Mohammad Mustafa, who was educated in the West and worked for 15 years at the World Bank; Rami Hamdallah, the president of a West Bank university; Mazen Sinokrot, a successful businessman; and Muhammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah official.

But by replacing Mr. Fayyad with someone other than himself, Mr. Abbas, analysts said, would be opening himself up to popular criticism that he is moving away from ending the Palestinian schism.

Under the circumstances, keeping Mr. Fayyad on for now may be “the best of the worst solutions,” Ahmed Awaida, the chief executive of the Palestinian Stock Exchange, said in an interview. “I am convinced that he will remain the caretaker prime minister for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Fayyad, a political independent, is said to have resigned largely because of relentless criticism of his policies by Fatah officials who resent his power and who blame him for the financial crisis that has plagued the authority for the past two years.

“The problem is not Fayyad and never was Fayyad,” Mr. Awaida said. “The problem is the Israeli occupation and a lack of any kind of political or diplomatic horizon.”

“No government in the world can plan economic development when it has no control over borders, lands, water resources and it cannot make trade agreements,” he said. “This is the reality.”

Mr. Fayyad is renowned for having introduced “Fayyadism,” a byword for the new norms of a well-run Palestinian government.

“Fayyadism is about Palestinians finding a new source of legitimacy — one that is based on competence, not on a legacy of resistance or on religion,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “But given where the Palestinians are in pursuing their national goals, competence does not make national heroes.”

Mr. Fayyad’s quest to build the Palestinian state from the ground up, ahead of a peace agreement with Israel, also ended badly. In 2009, he unveiled a plan to build the apparatus of a state within two years. But with peace talks stalled, the Palestinians are still no nearer to statehood.

“What people would fault him for is having had unrealistic expectations,” said Nathan Thrall, Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group.

People in the West Bank were not upset by Mr. Fayyad’s resignation; they simply did not care, said Khalil Abu Arafeh, an architect and cartoonist in Ramallah. “They lost hope in everything: there is no funding, no reconciliation and no horizon regarding a political settlement,” he said.

Whatever happens next, Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Fayyad’s resignation signals “a serious weakening of the Palestinian Authority.”

“We are going to see growing interference of the Fatah dinosaurs in running the budget and the distribution of donor money,” Mr. Yaari said.

Martin S. Indyk, the director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and a former American ambassador to Israel, said, “It’s a very sad day for Fayyadism.”

Mr. Fayyad, he said, “succeeded in building the state institutions, including an effective and responsible police and security force, and they will be his lasting legacy.”

“But the political process failed to create the state,” he added, “and unfortunately there was nothing Fayyad could do about that.”

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Khaled Abu Aker from Ramallah, West Bank, and Fares Akram from Gaza.
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« Reply #5747 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:29 AM »

April 14, 2013

Venezuela Gives Chávez Protégé Narrow Victory


CARACAS, Venezuela — In an unexpectedly close race, Venezuelans narrowly voted to continue Hugo Chávez’s revolution, electing his handpicked political heir, Nicolás Maduro, to serve the remainder of his six-year term as president, officials said late Sunday.

But the thin margin of victory could complicate the task of governing for Mr. Maduro, emboldening the political opposition and possibly undermining Mr. Maduro’s stature within Mr. Chávez’s movement.

His opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, refused to recognize the results, citing irregularities in the voting and calling for a recount.

Mr. Maduro, the acting president, narrowly defeated Mr. Capriles, a state governor who ran strongly against Mr. Chávez in October. Election authorities said that with more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Maduro had 50.6 percent to Mr. Capriles’s 49.1 percent. More than 78 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

“These are the irreversible results that the Venezuelan people have decided with this electoral process,” Tibisay Lucena, the head of the electoral council, said as she read the result on national television late Sunday.

Mr. Maduro gave a defiant speech that suggested little willingness to make concessions. “We have a just, legal, constitutional and popular electoral victory,” he said.

Mr. Capriles was equally defiant. “We are not going to recognize the result until every vote is counted, one by one,”  Mr. Capriles said. “The big loser today is you, you and what you represent,” he said, referring to Mr. Maduro.

Meanwhile, there were also signs that the strident, Chávez-style anti-American message that Mr. Maduro used during the campaign would now be set aside to improve Venezuela’s strained relations with the United States.

Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States with immense reserves, and under Mr. Chávez it has also been a major thorn in Washington’s side, wielding its oil and its diplomatic muscle to oppose American policy everywhere from Cuba to Syria. Mr. Chávez, who succumbed to cancer on March 5, built his political career on flaying the United States and its traditional allies in the Venezuelan establishment, and Mr. Maduro followed his mentor’s script throughout the campaign with an acolyte’s zeal.

He accused former American diplomats of plotting to kill him, suggested that the United States had caused Mr. Chávez’s illness, and had his foreign minister shut the door on informal talks with the United States that began late last year. A senior State Department official in Washington said the harsh rhetoric had made the possibility of improved relations more difficult.

But over the weekend, with his election victory looking likely, Mr. Maduro sent a private signal to Washington that he was ready to turn the page. Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who was in Caracas as a representative of the Organization of American States, said in an interview that Mr. Maduro called him aside after a meeting of election observers on Saturday and asked him to carry a message.

“He said, ‘We want to improve the relationship with the U.S., regularize the relationship,’ ” Mr. Richardson said.

The foreign minister, Elías Jaua, met with Mr. Richardson on Sunday, and said Venezuela was ready to resume the talks that it had cut off, Mr. Richardson said.

Though Mr. Chávez’s death raised the possibility of a realignment in the hemisphere, Mr. Maduro’s victory would seem to extend the life of the leftist coalition of countries that coalesced around Mr. Chávez. Mr. Maduro seems certain to continue the lifeline of oil sales on preferential terms that Venezuela provides to Cuba, whose leaders were close allies of Mr. Chávez.

Yet even his supporters say that Mr. Maduro lacks his predecessor’s sharp political instincts and magnetism, and many questions remain about how effectively he will lead at home and abroad.

At the voting booth on Sunday, Mr. Chávez was as much on voters’ minds as the two candidates were. Mr. Maduro went all-out to associate himself with the dead leader and his idiosyncratic style of socialism, which remains broadly popular in Venezuela, especially among poorer voters. His image was everywhere in Mr. Maduro’s campaign, and the candidate even told voters that Mr. Chávez’s spirit had appeared to him in the form of a little bird. An awkward campaigner who struggled to connect with supporters, Mr. Maduro took to whistling like a bird at his rallies.

Voters seemed to respond on Sunday. “The commander’s legacy should continue, toward a better future,” said Alejandro Rodríguez, 34, after casting his ballot at a school in a neighborhood known as Gato Negro, or Black Cat. “I voted for the commander’s son, Nicolás Maduro,” Mr. Rodríguez said, echoing the candidate who called himself “the son of Chávez.” Driving the point home, a large banner on a pedestrian overpass near the school entrance said, “A vote for Maduro is a vote for Chávez.”

Just as he did when running against Mr. Chávez last October, Mr. Capriles managed to energize and inject hope into a fractious and battered opposition. He represented a coalition of groups from across the political spectrum. But it was not clear if the opposition’s unity and momentum could be maintained after the defeat, in the face of a government that holds a virtual monopoly on power.

In the election last October, Mr. Chávez received nearly 8.2 million votes, or 55 percent, compared to nearly 6.6 million, or 44 percent, for Mr. Capriles.

But Mr. Maduro could also face pressure from within Mr. Chávez’s movement, from competing leaders or groups in government and the armed forces who do not feel the need to obey him with the absolute loyalty they once gave to Mr. Chávez.

Just as Mr. Chávez did, Mr. Maduro sought to exploit the bitter divide between loyalists and opponents.

“The country is going to be more polarized, divided into two parts,” said Rafael Huizi Clavier, a retired vice admiral who supported Mr. Capriles. “There is more confrontation, because the campaign has been very hard and the differences have been exacerbated. There is more antagonism between the two sides.”

The new president will face a host of challenges as he serves out the rest of Mr. Chavez’s term, which began in January. The economy suffers from high inflation — just over 20 percent last year — and from chronic shortages of many basic foods, medicines and other goods. Many economists predict that economic growth will slow significantly this year and some say the nation could slip into recession.

The government-owned oil monopoly, Petróleos de Venezuela, is a crucial source of government revenue, but it has been struggling with stagnant production and problems at its refineries. The country’s electrical grid is plagued by blackouts, which are frequent in many areas of the country outside Caracas.

And violent crime is rampant. As recently as Thursday, four people were shot to death in three separate incidents at a sprawling election rally for Mr. Maduro in Caracas, according to local news media accounts.

María Eugenia Díaz and Paula Ramón contributed reporting.
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« Reply #5748 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:30 AM »

April 14, 2013

In Testimony, Guatemalans Give Account of Suffering


MEXICO CITY — They were just children when Guatemalan soldiers rampaged through their villages, often killing their parents and siblings. Many fled to mountain forests, where they foraged for food and watched some of their numbers starve to death.  Some were abducted and sent to other families to be raised, in cities and towns far from the life they had known.

Now, the somber Mayan men and women in their 30s and 40s have traveled from their villages to tell their stories for the prosecution during the first month of the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala City.

In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included. Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached “100 percent support.”

Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire. Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. “I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,” Mr. Chávez told the court. “After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.”

Prosecutors made history by bringing the case against Mr. Ríos Montt last year in a country that has long delayed a reckoning for the conflict that a United Nations commission estimates killed 200,000 from 1962 to 1996. The trial has been moving rapidly, with testimony — including that of dozens of Ixil survivors of various ages — expected to conclude in the next two weeks.

According to the commission, Mr. Ríos Montt presided over the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s long-running civil war.

In their 1999 report, investigators for the body, the United Nations Historical Clarification Commission, concluded that the government had committed “acts of genocide” during the war against several Mayan groups, particularly the Ixil people, who live in the fog-shrouded mountains of El Quiché department.

Lawyers for Mr. Ríos Montt, 86, who is being tried along with his intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, have argued that he did not order the killings. The massacres and other atrocities, they say, were the excesses of field commanders facing a determined left-wing insurgency.

One of the first defense witnesses, retired military officer José Luis Quilo Ayuso, testified last week that even though Mr. Ríos Montt was president and commander in chief, military laws limited his power.

Mr. Ríos Montt, whose fate will be decided by a three-judge panel, has listened to the proceedings with large headphones to amplify the sound while thumbing through the country’s penal code and constitution.

Prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. “The army’s objective with the children was to eliminate the seed for future guerrillas,” Marco Tulio Alvarez, the former director of Guatemala’s Peace Archives, testified last week. “They used them to get information and to draw their parents to military centers where they arrested them.”

In a study of 420 bodies exhumed from the Ixil region and presumed to date from the Ríos Montt period, experts found that almost 36 percent of those who were killed were under 18 years old, including some newborns.

Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.

Defense attorney César Calderón began his cross-examination with a question that sounded more like a statement: “Wouldn’t you say that your life has been successful?”

Mike McDonald contributed reporting from Guatemala City.
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« Reply #5749 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:31 AM »

Canada’s Liberals pick Pierre Trudeau’s son Justin as leader

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 15, 2013 5:42 EDT

Canada’s beleaguered Liberal Party on Sunday chose Justin Trudeau, eldest son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, as its new leader as it seeks to rebound from a major defeat at the polls in 2011.

The 41-year-old former French teacher won by a landslide, getting 80 percent of the vote, the party announced during a meeting in Ottawa. He was greeted by chants of “Justin time” from supporters.

The party’s last leader, Michael Ignatieff, resigned in the wake of the 2011 drubbing, which saw the Liberals — who held power for most of the last century — relegated to the political margins as the country’s number three grouping.

In his victory speech, delivered in French and English, Trudeau thanked his supporters for the confidence they placed in him, called for party unity and vowed to engage in “positive politics.”

But he immediately launched an attack on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ruling Conservatives, accusing them of readying a negative campaign.

The Conservatives “are afraid,” said Trudeau.

“It is not my leadership that Mr Harper fears, it is yours: engaged and informed Canadian citizens.”

The Conservatives were also quick to go on the offensive.

“Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be prime minister,” said party spokesman Fred DeLorey.

Trudeau was elected to the House of Commons in 2008 and re-elected in 2011. Liberals hope his youth and famous name can revitalize the party in time to challenge the Conservatives in the next election, likely in 2015.

In 2011, the Liberals won just 35 out of 308 seats in parliament.

According to a recent Nanos poll, the Liberals have reached 35.4 percent support nationwide, ahead of the Conservatives with 31.3 percent and the main opposition party, Thomas Mulcair’s New Democratic Party, at 23.6 percent.

The Trudeau family is often compared to the Kennedys in the United States.

Pierre Trudeau, who died in 2000, was prime minister from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984. He is considered the father of modern Canada.

He was admired for the force of his intellect and praised for his political acumen in preserving national unity against separatists from French-speaking Quebec province, as well as in establishing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Trudeau also decriminalized homosexuality and pushed for the bilingualism and multiculturalism that have become an integral part of the national identity.
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« Reply #5750 on: Apr 15, 2013, 08:33 AM »

Experts: Millions will starve to death as climate change accelerates

By John Vidal, The Observer
Sunday, April 14, 2013 19:45 EDT

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: “Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

“Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further”.

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government’s national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have “increasingly negative” impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada’s wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected”, says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN’s World Food Programme director, said: “We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world’s poorest people.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #5751 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:02 AM »

North Korea promises to attack South without warning

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 15, 2013 16:30 EDT

North Korea’s military Tuesday issued an “ultimatum” saying it would attack without warning if anti-North Korean activities continued in the South.

The warning came after protestors in Seoul on Monday burned portraits of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, his son Kim Jong-Il and grandson and current leader Kim Jong-Un.

The act coincided with national celebrations in North Korea for the 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, a day it reveres as “The Day of the Sun”.

“All the service personnel and people of the DPRK (North Korea) are simmering with towering resentment at this monstrous criminal act,” the army’s supreme command said in a release carried on the official Korean Central News Agency.

In an “ultimatum” to the South, it warned: “Our retaliatory action will start without any notice from now as such a thrice-cursed criminal act of hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK is being openly committed in the heart of Seoul under the patronage of the puppet authorities.”

It added that the armed forces “will start immediately their just military actions to show how the service personnel and people of the DPRK value and protect the dignity of the supreme leadership.

“The military demonstration of the DPRK’s revolutionary armed forces will be powerful sledge-hammer blows at all hostile forces hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.”

The threat came as North Korea was expected to carry out a missile launch to mark Monday’s anniversary of its founder’s birth.

The Korean peninsula has been in a state of heightened military tension since the North carried out its third nuclear test in February.

Incensed by fresh UN sanctions and joint South Korea-US military exercises, Pyongyang has spent weeks issuing blistering threats of missile strikes and nuclear war.

In an attempt to defuse tensions, South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-Hye, in recent days has signalled the need to open a dialogue and “listen to what North Korea thinks”.

But the North has rejected her proposals as a “crafty trick” to conceal Seoul’s aggressive intentions.

North Korea’s army supreme command Tuesday said that if South Korea really wanted dialogue and negotiations, “they should apologise for all anti-DPRK hostile acts, big and small”.

The North has a habit of linking high-profile military tests with key dates, and expectations had been high of a mid-range missile test to coincide with Monday’s celebrations marking the birth of Kim Il-Sung.

But unlike the centennial birth anniversary last year, there was no muscular military parade through the centre of Pyongyang and officials in Seoul said the “missile watch” could drag on for days.


North Korea's war threats may be aimed at stifling domestic discontent

North Koreans are becoming less afraid of their government and increasingly well-informed about the outside world

Andrei Lankov, Tuesday 16 April 2013 12.39 BST   

North Korea is a remarkable country. How else would a small state with no economy to speak of manage to create a massive media panic and remain in the headlines for a couple of weeks in a row?

The question remains though: if Pyongyang is not about to launch a nuclear strike on the continental United States – and it clearly is not – what has it been up to for the past three weeks? One aim of this political theatrics is rather clear: the North Korean government wants to remind the world of its existence and demonstrate that it is cheaper to make a deal than sanction them. This time, however, there is good reason to believe that domestic considerations are also at work.

While North Korea is often thought of as the world's last Stalinist country, this is only partly the case. To a large extent, the Leninist state economy collapsed in the 1990s and has been replaced by a dynamic grassroots market economy. Private entrepreneurship is not supposed to exist in the North Korean economy, but the government generally has turned a blind eye to illicit commercial activities. This is understandable since the markets are reported to provide 75% of the average North Korean family's income.

Ignoring countless official restrictions, North Koreans trade, talk and travel remarkably freely. They even frequently cross the border with China – which until recently remained largely unguarded – and as a result about half a million North Koreans have visited China in the past two decades (largely as illegal migrants). These people have seen the fruits of Chinese economic growth and are much impressed by what appears to the average North Korean as prosperity beyond their wildest dreams.

They are even more perplexed when they learn of South Korea's economic achievements. Until the early 2000s, South Korea had been presented to North Koreans in their official media as a destitute, near-starving colony of US imperialists. Such claims have largely disappeared from the media of late, though, and with good reason: North Korean propagandists understand that such blatant lies will no longer be believed.

Knowledge about the outside world is seeping in through other channels as well. DVD players – now ubiquitous in North Korea – seem to have a special importance. North Koreans use them to watch South Korean TV series and movies. Technically this is treason, but everybody does it anyway.

Fear is slowly diminishing as well – even though North Korea still remains the world's most repressive government. In recent years, the North Korean government halted some of its most notorious practices, including the so-called "family responsibility principle". According to the principle, all those registered at the same address as a political criminal are sent to prison camps. This notorious practice has largely been discontinued in recent years and punishments for escape to China have been significantly reduced.

Paradoxically enough, rampant corruption has also contributed to liberalisation in the country. For a fee, pretty much anyone in North Korea can break laws. This is applicable to political crimes as well. Sometimes it appears that secret policemen are looking for signs of political misbehaviour in order to get bribes for closing the case.

North Koreans have therefore become somewhat less afraid of their government and, at the same time, have become far better informed about the outside world. Many of them now know that they live in a poor and highly restrictive society, and they are also increasingly aware that their South Korean brethren enjoy unbelievable levels of affluence and individual freedom.

For the North Korean regime, this is a potentially deadly set of changes. North Korea is occasionally presented as a secular religious cult state, but at the end of the day, Pyongyang's claim to legitimacy is based on bread-and-butter issues – ie living standards – rather than its so-called ability to keep its people "pure". Kim Jong-un is not Mullah Omar.

The government is failing in what it has been promising to give its people for the last 60 years, and this failure is made even more spectacular by the success of North Korea's immediate neighbours. From my own interactions with North Koreans it is obvious that the level of resentment towards the government and general cynicism is growing fast. It might be a long way to a North Korean revolution, but the discontent and ferment are clearly present already. Decision-makers in Pyongyang are surely aware of these perils as well.

This is why a bit of a war scare may be judged useful. The North Korean populace has to be reminded that scheming enemies ready to attack at any moment surround their country. They also are made to remember that only their great General and his mighty armed forces can protect them. It is not clear how long such tricks can work, but they certainly are useful for the time being. Since dangerous ideas are steadily gaining popularity within North Korea, we should expect some more of the same theatrics.


North Korea's UK ambassador defends Pyongyang's stance in rare speech

In speech to Communist party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Hyon Hak-bong says North is only interested in self-defence

Tania Branigan in Seoul, Monday 15 April 2013 20.28 BST   

The North Korean ambassador to Britain has made a rare speech to a foreign audience, defending Pyongyang's stance as a response to the provocations of the United States and South Korea.

The 11-minute address by Hyon Hak-bong was posted on a YouTube channel carrying North Korean propaganda on Monday afternoon. The timing of the unusual intervention is striking, coming as the US secretary of state, John Kerry pressed his message that Washington sought a peaceful resolution. The North has dismissed a proposal of dialogue from the South as a "crafty trick".

The London embassy has so far declined to respond to media queries on current tensions on the Korean peninsula. But in his talk to the Communist party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Hyon addressed the situation at length, insisting that Pyongyang is only interested in self-defence.

Adam Cathcart, an expert on North Korea at Queen's University Belfast, said it was not unheard of for Pyongyang's diplomats to attend meetings, such as those held by friendship organisations, but they usually did so to receive praise or messages of appreciation. He could not recall a previous speech of this kind in the UK.

"He is obviously there to make a statement, and it's a statement in English," he said.

"If you are not interested in negotiating, why send your ambassador out to make a statement in a European capital?"

Hyon told his audience: "The western media, including the UK … Reuters, the BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian … all are talking about tensions on the Korean peninsula. The problem is that they are describing it as if the DPRK [North Korea] is provoking [it]. That is not true. We are being provoked by the US and South Korea and are only responding to that provocation and their military threats."

He defended the country's third nuclear test in February, which led to a new United Nations security council resolution tightening sanctions, telling listeners: "Our nuclear weapons have served as a strong war deterrent to defend our national security and sovereignty."

He also denied that the North's last rocket launch was intended to further its ballistic missiles programme, reiterating that it put a satellite into space for scientific purposes.

Hyon described the North's warning that it was prepared to launch a nuclear strike on the US if necessary as a "justifiable and reasonable response" to American aggression and specifically criticised the US use of B2 and B52 bombers and F22 jet fighters during its ongoing joint military drills with the South.

Hyon became ambassador to the UK in December 2011. He previously served as the North's spokesman at the six-party aid-for-denuclearisation talks between 2004 and 2007.

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« Reply #5752 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:11 AM »

China blasts US for Asia-Pacific military build-up

With tensions high over North Korea, its ally releases defence white paper accusing Washington of stoking regional disputes

Reuters in Beijing, Tuesday 16 April 2013 07.01 BST   

China's defence ministry has made a thinly veiled attack on the US for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region, days after John Kerry, the US secretary of state, visited Beijing.

China is uneasy with what the US has called the "rebalancing" of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention in the Asia-Pacific.

China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes. China faced "multiple and complicated security threats" despite its growing influence, the ministry of defence said in its annual white paper, adding that the US strategy meant "profound changes" for the region.

"There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser," the ministry said in the 40-page document, in a clear reference to the US.

Such moves "do not accord with the developments of the times and are not conducive towards maintaining regional peace and stability", ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

The official People's Liberation Army Daily went further, saying in a commentary on Monday that China needed to beef up its defences to deal with a hostile west bent on undermining it. "Hostile western forces have intensified their strategy to westernise and split China, and employed every possible means to contain and control our country's development," it said.

On Monday, Kerry defended the reorientation of US foreign policy towards Asia as he ended a trip to the region dominated by concerns about North Korea's nuclear programme.

While China has been angered by North Korea's behaviour, including staging its third nuclear test in February, it has also made clear it considers US displays of force in response to Pyongyang's behaviour to be a worrisome development.

China is North Korea's most important diplomatic and financial backer – the two fought together in the 1950-53 Korean war – although Yang would not be drawn on the subject aside from repeating a call for peace and dialogue.

China's own military moves have worried the region, too. China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure last month, to 740.6bn yuan (£77.8bn/$119bn) for 2013 and is involved in protracted and often ugly disputes over a series of islands in the East and South China Seas.

"On the issues concerning China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighbouring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue," the white paper said.

The dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands, which China calls Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku, has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have sent fighter jets and patrol ships to shadow each other.

The waters around the islands in the East China Sea are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is crisscrossed by crucial shipping lanes.

The US shift comes as China boosts military spending and builds submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernisation. It has also tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

China has repeatedly said the world has nothing to fear from its military spending, which it says is needed for legitimate defensive purposes in a complex and changing world, and that the sums spent pale in comparison with US defence expenditure.

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« Reply #5753 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:14 AM »

April 15, 2013

Assassinations Grow as Iraqi Elections Near


BAGHDAD — In the first Iraqi elections since the American troop withdrawal, Sunni candidates are being attacked and killed in greater numbers than in recent campaigns, raising concerns in Washington over Iraq’s political stability and the viability of a democratic system the United States has heavily invested in over years of war and diplomacy.

At least 15 candidates, all members of the minority Sunni community, have been assassinated — some apparently by political opponents, others by radical Sunni militants. Many others have been wounded or kidnapped or have received menacing text messages or phone calls demanding that they withdraw.

By going after members of their own sect, radical Sunnis aligned with Al Qaeda are effectively seeking to destabilize the Shiite-led government, making an already angry and alienated community fearful to participate in national governance. At the same time, it appears intra-Sunni rivalries are inadvertently aiding the radical cause, as Sunnis kill political adversaries in their quest for power.

As candidates nervously continue meeting voters, promising jobs and handing out cellphone cards in exchange for assurances, sworn on the Koran, of their votes in local elections this weekend, there are worries that the violence is deterring good candidates — and that voters will be put off as well.

In the latest surge of violence, more than 20 attacks around the country on Monday killed close to 50 people and wounded nearly 200. Two schools in Hilla that were to serve as polling sites were blown up by homemade bombs; no one was killed, but the explosions suggested that insurgents might be intent on attacking voters and not just candidates. Security officials in Hilla quickly declared a state of emergency, and said they had intelligence that militants were preparing to target more polling stations in the region.

At the same time, the violence could further mar the credibility of an election that was already being closely watched for fraud or other abuses: for the first time since the American invasion in 2003, Iraqi officials will be largely on their own in securing and monitoring elections.

“Killing candidates means instilling fear,” said Hameed Fadhil, a political-science professor at Baghdad University. “And that is why I think it will affect voter participation, because I don’t think that people will want to risk their lives again.”

Politics and violence have long been intertwined in Iraq, where the promise of democracy is always tempered by sectarian, tribal and ideological conflict. But this election cycle is proving deadlier than either of the last two times that Iraqis went to the polls — in 2010 for parliamentary elections and in 2009 for provincial elections, said Ghati al-Zawbai, an official at the Independent High Electoral Commission, which oversees elections in Iraq.

On a recent morning, the rituals of mourning played out over sweet tea and heaps of rice and lamb in the Baghdad home of Salah al-Obeidi, a prominent lawyer who days earlier was shot to death in his office just up the road. Mr. Obeidi, 48, was a Sunni candidate and a legal adviser to Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite who heads Iraqiya, the mostly Sunni bloc that won the most seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections.

“Because he’s a Sunni, no one will care,” said Hussam Jassim, a friend of Mr. Obeidi’s. The murder will probably never be solved, he said, adding that he believed the gunmen were aligned with the Shiite-dominated government.

Mr. Obeidi almost always carried a pistol, but he had left it at home on the day he was killed. And days earlier, he received a text message that read, “Withdraw from the election or you will be killed,” said his son, Abdella Sabbah.

Mr. Sabbah said that he had hoped his father would heed the warning and told him: “I don’t think you need to run for this election. It is too dangerous.”

As the elections approach, the pace of attacks has seemed to increase. On Saturday night, a Sunni candidate was driving north of Tikrit when gunmen opened fire with pistols equipped with silencers, killing him, officials said. And on Sunday, in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, Najim al-Harb, a member of the local council who was running for re-election, was killed in an ambush involving a roadside bomb and hidden gunmen.

Civilians are often caught up in the violence. The bloodiest attack occurred on April 6, when a suicide bomber struck a hospitality tent in Baquba, where Sunni politicians were holding a rally. Nearly 20 people were killed, though none were candidates, and many more were wounded.

In the northern city of Mosul alone, six candidates have been killed, either by gunfire or homemade explosives, and six others have survived assassination attempts.

“We blame the security forces because of their negligence in protecting our candidates,” said Rahim al-Shimari, a spokesman for Iraqiya. “In spite of the repeated targeting, we have not seen any precautionary measures taken to limit the attacks.”

In offering theories about the attackers, experts and Iraqi officials say that in addition to the political rivals who are thought to be behind some killings, the militant group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is believed to be responsible for others. The group, which is also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, targets Iraqi Shiites, but also Sunnis who accept the Shiite-led government or even just participate in politics, declaring them apostates.

“Although it is possible that some of the attacks may be the result of political rivalries, many of the attacks bear the hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Ahmed Ali and Stephen Wicken, analysts for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, wrote in a recent online column. “Historically it has opposed Sunni Arab participation in the political process.”

The killings have added to the sense of embattlement by the country’s Sunni Muslims, who are a minority here and who have been holding protests against the Shiite-dominated government. In Anbar and Nineveh Provinces, where Sunni-led protests have increased in recent months and where most of the assassinations have occurred, the government has postponed elections for a month, citing security concerns. They did so despite objections from local leaders, the Iraqi election commission, the United Nations and American diplomats.

“I have expressed my concern about this decision, as the citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope,” Martin Kobler, the United Nations representative in Iraq, said in recent testimony to the Security Council in New York.

On a visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the decision and asked Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to reconsider. Mr. Maliki only reiterated the decision, demonstrating the limits of American influence over Iraq’s affairs.

The election postponement, despite the violence, is largely seen as a political move by Mr. Maliki to prevent the election of Sunni candidates who are opposed to the central government. At least that is what Iraqiya leaders believe. After all, they say, every election since 2003 has been held amid the threat of violence.

“There is killing every day in Iraq,” said Jaber al-Jabouri, a member of Parliament and an Iraqiya leader. “It’s not just candidates.”

But the campaign season goes on, even in Anbar and Nineveh Provinces, in all the unorthodox ways that typify Iraqi politics.

In Falluja, some candidates have turned to a fortune teller, who locals say practices a kind of witchcraft, to improve their chances. The woman, who gave her name as Um Razak, said she had counseled candidates who have asked her to “cast a spell” to help them win.

“I tell them that they will win, but that they need to work hard,” she said. “They promise me that if they win, they will pay for me to go to the hajj in Mecca, or buy me a house.”

Others have given up on politics.

Muhammad Hikmet, a political science professor from Anbar, withdrew his candidacy after receiving a threat.

“I do not want to be the next victim,” he said.

Yasir Ghazi and Duraid Adnan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and employees of The New York Times from Anbar and Nineveh Provinces, Iraq.

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« Reply #5754 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:20 AM »

India in shock over footage showing crowds ignoring accident victim's pleas

Outrage and introspection greet video of drivers passing bloodied father and son as wife and baby bleed to death in road

Jason Burke in Delhi, Monday 15 April 2013 16.37 BST   

Footage showing hundreds of vehicles passing a father pleading for help beside the bodies of his wife and eight-month-old baby have prompted outrage and shock in India.

Images show Kanhaiyalal Raigher holding his five-year-old son by the hand, attempting in vain to flag down passing traffic for 10 minutes.

The family were riding together on a motorbike through a tunnel in the north-western city of Jaipur on Sunday afternoon when the accident occurred at around 2.30pm.

Reports said Raigher tried to overtake a truck which then hit the bike. His 24-year-old wife and the baby she was holding were both killed or died shortly afterwards. The family were on their way to visit Raigher's in-laws.

Television stations showed the footage repeatedly. "Their tragedy, our problem," ran one headline.

India has the highest rate of road accidents per vehicle in the world with around 150,000 people dying and several times that number seriously injured each year. Traffic rules are habitually flouted, vehicles are badly maintained, drivers are often untrained, policemen easily bribed, and punishments for dangerous driving rare.

"We saw the CCTV footages [sic] in which the truck involved in the mishap sped away, while Kanhaiyalal kept crying for help for 10 minutes. Several sports utility vehicles, cars and trucks passed by them. However, no one stopped to help the victims," the local IANS agency quoted a police officer as saying.

The driver of the truck involved in the accident fled the scene.

An ambulance was finally called by road maintenance workers.

There have been other infamous incidents in which seriously injured people have been ignored by crowds or passing traffic.

In December a 23-year-old woman, who had been brutally gang raped by six men, and a male friend, both badly injured, lay beside a major road on the outskirts of Delhi for 40 minutes before the emergency services were called. That incident provoked a bout of introspection.

"You often hear that this is due to a decline of morals or globalisation but the truth is that the deck is stacked against the would-be helper," said Vivek Dehejia, a Mumbai-based economist and author of the recently published Indianomix which analyses modern Indian society.

"There is a murky legal situation and no 'good samaritan law' as elsewhere. And the more general fact that people fear the police and don't want to get involved."

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« Reply #5755 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:25 AM »

Putin's most vocal critic, Alexey Navalny, faces revenge in court

Anti-corruption crusader Navalny accused of conspiracy to embezzle £333,000 from state-owned timber firm

Miriam Elder in Kirov, Tuesday 16 April 2013 09.04 BST   

With its dirt pavements and crumbling wooden homes, the city of Kirov is a city stuck in time. Karl Marx Street runs parallel to Lenin Street. Soviet-era buses ferry workers to and fro.

But on Wednesday morning the eyes of the Russian elite – from ministers to Kremlin critics – will be on an unassuming courthouse in the centre of this city, where Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin's loudest foe, will go on trial charged with embezzlement.

Few doubt the trial is motivated by political revenge. Navalny, a 36-year-old lawyer, anti-corruption crusader and popular blogger, has spent the last year labelling Putin a crook and calling for the powerful president to be jailed, and has uncovered corrupt schemes by some of Putin's closest associates.

Kirov is 500 miles north-east of Moscow but a world away. Its nearly half a million residents make an average wage of 17,000 roubles (£350) a month; many still work in the Soviet-era factories that line the town.

Kirov was meant to be a showcase of liberal co-operation with an unwavering Kremlin. In 2009, Putin's protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, then president and now prime minister, appointed opposition politician Nikita Belykh to the governor's post. Despite criticism from his anti-Putin cohorts, Belykh took the job, arguing that it was possible to transform the system from within.

"There were big hopes for the governor's team," said Yana Strauzova, spokesman for the city government.

Acquainted with Navalny from Moscow opposition circles, Belykh called the young lawyer in as an adviser. It was then, prosecutors argue, that Navalny conspired to embezzle 16m roubles (£333,000) from a state-run timber firm called Kirovles. Two previous investigations were closed.

The case was reopened and Navalny was charged in July, not long after he uncovered secret property owned in the Czech Republic by Alexander Bastrykin, a close Putin ally and head of Russia's investigative committee, a powerful body that has been likened to a political police. Navalny faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Belykh, his one-time ally, has declined to comment. On Monday, the governor took to his blog to address the many journalists and supporters descending upon Kirov. He would not be in town, he said, but provided a list of tourist sites to visit.

The chance that Navalny will be acquitted is minuscule. Konstantin Zaytsev, head of the court that will try Navalny, said a guilty verdict was "probable but not inevitable". The presiding judge, Sergei Blinov, has never issued a not-guilty verdict. Zaytsev himself said he has issued one not-guilty verdict in his decades-long career – and it was overturned.

"The system works in such a way that those who would be found not guilty get filtered out before the case reaches court," Zaytsev explained. Russia's conviction rate is over 99%.

Navalny has accused Putin of personally ordering the case against him and has called the charges absurd.

Like most provincial towns around Russia, Kirov is far from the hustle and bustle of Moscow's political life. Rocked by months of street protests early last year, the capital has settled into a state of constant, low-level tension. Dozens have been arrested for a protest that turned violent on 6 May and a series of repressive laws keep opposition anger afloat, if hidden.

Navalny was the most public face of those protests. Yet according to recent research by the Levada Centre, an independent poll group, only 37% of Russians had heard of the opposition activist. At the height of Russia's protest season, around the time of a 4 March presidential election that swept Putin back into the Kremlin, 3,000 people turned out in Kirov – something local activists considered a runaway success.

"All I've heard about Navalny is what they say about him," said Margarita Trufakina, a 22-year-old swimming instructor. "He presented himself as a fighter for justice – and proved to be otherwise." Many more had heard nothing of Navalny or the case against him.

All but barred from appearing on state-run television, the opposition activist has taken to the internet to win a following. Yet in a country marred by ubiquitous corruption, the case has already tarnished his reputation among some who once looked upon him with interest.

"In such cases, one can't be 100% sure of anything," said Ivan, 21. "Maybe they're trying him because he really stole something, or maybe it's because he wanted to change something in Russia. Anything is possible."

Dozens of supporters from around the country have promised to make their way to Kirov for the trial, aiming to raise awareness among locals, counter state propaganda and keep the attention on a case far from the media-heavy capital.

Kirill Osipov, 26, hitchhiked seven hours from the city of Kazan to arrive in Kirov on Monday morning. "If we don't show the government our position, they will never listen to us," Osipov said. "The same thing can happen to any of us. That Navalny is against the system is a positive thing for us." He said he planned to stay up to a month in the city. Anna, a 21-year-old activist, drove 12 hours from the southern city of Volgograd and said she planned to stay for a week.

Navalny's associates have set up a headquarters to host the flood of activists and Moscow-based reporters expected to descend upon Kirov for the trial. In a basement office they were scrambling to set up an internet connection and make sure there was enough tea and coffee in stock.

The office stands near the end of a long, pot-holed road lined with crumbling pre-revolutionary homes and empty new constructions. At the opposite end, on Lenin Street, stands the grandest building in Kirov – a red-and-white castle featuring balconies and gargoyles, and topped with two sculptures of Russia's national symbol, the double-headed eagle. The building does not host the local government, the mayor's office or a court. It is the city's headquarters for the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB.

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« Reply #5756 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:28 AM »

04/15/2013 01:19 PM

Pressure from Moscow: Chill Settles over German-Russian Relations

Germany has fallen out of favor with the Kremlin, which has ramped up pressure on German institutions in Russia. But while Chancellor Angela Merkel disapproves of President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian presidency, she has no desire to burn bridges with the country.

A number of years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the counterintelligence department of Russia's main domestic security agency, the FSB, to scale back its activities regarding German offices and institutions. However, this remit no longer seems to apply, with Putin taking an increasingly combative stance toward Germany.

An ice age appears to be dawning within German-Russian relations in more ways than one. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, last week the FSB pressured staff at the German embassy in Moscow to hand over information.

Then, a delegation of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic parliamentarians visiting Moscow last week met with one canceled appointment after another. The same week, a pro-Kremlin mass-circulation newspaper published pictures that supposedly showed the German Chancellor naked. Russian state television, meanwhile, compared the mandatory bank deposit levy in Cyprus, which Merkel backed, with the expropriation of Jews during the Nazi era.

A Frosty Visit

Further fanning the flames of simmering tensions, Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign committee in the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, accused Germany of playing down Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in the popular World War II miniseries "Our Mothers, Our Fathers" ("Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter"), that aired on German TV in late March, saying that it marked "a further attempt to rewrite history."

The word in Berlin is that relations with Moscow had already reached a low point when tax authorities confiscated computers in late March from the St. Petersburg offices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Merkel's Christian Democrats.

But even though Merkel has not hidden her disappointment at recent political and social developments in Russia, government insiders say that she has no desire to burn bridges either. Nonetheless, when German Chancellor hosted a two-and-a half hour dinner with Putin during his visit to the Hanover Trade Fair last week, the mood was reportedly quite frosty.

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« Reply #5757 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:33 AM »

04/15/2013 03:36 PM

Flasher Mob: Putin Prank only the Beginning for Germany

By Merlind Theile

Ukrainian activist group Femen has made international headlines by going topless to demonstrate for women's rights. Fresh off their stunt during Putin's visit to Hanover, they plan to bring their topless brand of protest to Germany.

Vladimir Putin might now be dead. "We could have shot him," says Klara Martens. When she and her friends arrived at the venue in Hanover, where Putin was attending a trade fair on German-Russian business, no one searched them for weapons. Martens believes she easily could have smuggled in a gun and taken aim at the Russian president. But that, of course, was not the women's intention. Their weapons of choice are their naked breasts.

Early last week, the photos made their way around the world. As Chancellor Merkel led Putin and his entourage on a tour through the trade fair, five screaming half-naked women rushed the group. The chancellor looked terrified; her staff looked terrified; Putin grinned and gave two thumbs up.

It was Femen's most sensational action on German soil, and it will not be the last. What began five years ago with staged naked protests in Ukraine is now poised to take off in Germany. Femen founder Alexandra Shevchenko has made a special trip to train female German activists. For the past few weeks she has been living in Berlin with Klara Martens. The question remains whether Femen's methods will work in Germany, though.

Two days after the protest against Putin, Martens, 22, sits in a café in Berlin 's Mitte district. She has come directly from a class at Berlin 's Technical University, where she is a third-year engineering student. As the daughter of an East German mother, she was raised with the ideal of the working woman. Martens says she has always been politically minded. She is also ambitious. "Angela Merkel took my dream from me," she says. "I actually wanted to be the first female chancellor."

What is the path of a young, attractive woman in Germany who wants to be politically engaged? First, Martens joined a political party. For several years she was a member of the Greens, but felt the party wasn't making any headway. Work within a party is tedious, says Martens. "It takes forever to reach a position from which you can actually get anything done."

'Nudity is Freedom'

Femen caught her attention in early 2012. Ahead of the European Football Championship, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, several bare-breasted young Ukrainian women launched a series of protests against the demeaning image of women in their country, patriarchal power structures and forced prostitution. On their stomachs were written messages: "Naked War," "Nudity is Freedom," "I Am a Woman, Not an Object." According to their logic, the naked female body should not be a sexual commodity but rather a weapon in the war over power of interpretation.

Martens liked the revolutionary spirit that she saw in the pictures. And she believed in their power. In order to enact political change today, you need media coverage, says Martens, and you're going to get it with naked breasts.

She made contact with the Ukrainians through Facebook and assembled a German group. Today there are some 20 Femen activists in Germany who are learning the strategies from the Ukrainians: how to scream as loudly as possible, how to stand so that your poster doesn't cover your breasts, how to put up a fight with security personnel for as long as possible (heavy legs, lots of wriggling).

In Germany, too, there is plenty to protest against, insists Martens. "The sex industry continues to spread through our society like a cancer," she says. Indeed, pornography has never been as readily available as it is today. It has become a part of everyday life. Pole-dancing courses and bikini waxing for women have long been taken for granted. And television shows like "Germany's Next Topmodel" and "The Bachelor" send a message that for a young woman, success means pleasing jurors, photographers and bachelors -- in short, men. On such shows, says Martens, the women are merely objects: "That's what we're protesting. "

No Longer a Taboo?

One problem, however, could be that in Germany, naked protests no longer break a taboo. As far back as 40 years ago, women went topless through the streets to fight for their rights. Back then, the logic may have worked, to transform from victim into perpetrator through self-determined nudity. But what about now, in the Germany of today, when the tabloids are filled with naked breasts and even yogurt commercials are made to be titillating? In this over-sexed society, is the political message of the activists actually reaching public awareness? Or in the end is Femen really just offering up a few more pictures of beautiful women's breasts?

"It obviously can't last forever. I can't work with Femen for the next 60 years," says Martens. But not because of fading looks -- Martens says that one of her friends who researches protest movements has talked to her about the half-life of such activities. "The attention span for this kind of protest is, at most, two years," she says. After that, you have to become more radical -- or more serious.

At present it seems unlikely that Klara Martens will pick up a gun in two years. According to her current plans, in 2015 she will be receiving her master's in engineering -- a rather serious field of study.

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« Reply #5758 on: Apr 16, 2013, 06:37 AM »

04/15/2013 01:24 PM

New Date May 6: German Neo-Nazi Terror Trial Postponed

The start of the trial of suspected neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe, due to begin on Wednesday, has been postponed by three weeks to May 6 because media accreditation for the proceedings has to start from scratch following a row over foreign press access, SPIEGEL ONLINE learned on Monday.

The trial of a neo-Nazi suspected of involvement in the killings of 10 people, most of them Turks, between 2000 and 2007 has been delayed by three weeks due to a dispute over media accreditation, according to judicial sources.

The Federal Constitutional Court had ruled on Friday that the Munich court handling the trial must grant access to foreign media after no Turkish journalists had been able to obtain accreditation under a first-come, first-served applications procedure.

The postponement will allow the Munich court to reorganize the accreditation.

The main defendent is Beate Zschäpe, 38, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman, two bombings in Cologne and 15 bank robberies. She is believed to be the only surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which was uncovered by chance in November 2011.

Four others are charged with assisting the NSU.


04/15/2013 06:15 PM

Reactions NSU Case: Neo-Nazi Trial Delay 'Disastrous' For Victims' Families

The postponement of Germany's neo-Nazi trial by three weeks on Monday triggered angry reactions from people representing the families of the NSU terror group's victims. One official called it a "catastrophe" for relatives, some of whom would no longer be able to attend the opening.

The trial of a neo-Nazi suspected of involvement in the killings of 10 people, most of them Turks, between 2000 and 2007, has been delayed by three weeks to May 6 following a dispute over media accreditation, the Munich court where the trial is to be held said on Monday.

The Federal Constitutional Court had ruled on Friday that the Munich court handling the trial must grant access to foreign media after no Turkish journalists had been able to obtain accreditation under a first-come, first-served application procedure.

The trial was due to start on Wednesday, April 17. The postponement will allow the Munich Higher Regional Court to reorganize the accreditation. Its initial refusal to amend its media access rules had embarrassed Germany and caused an outcry, with accusations that the court wasn't being sensitive enough to the victims. The dispute was overshadowing the start of the trial and threatened to compound the controversy caused by the failings of Germany security authorities in the investigation.

The main defendent is Beate Zschäpe, 38, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman, two bombings in Cologne and 15 bank robberies. She is believed to be the only surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which was uncovered by chance in November 2011.

Four others are charged with assisting the NSU.

The appointed government representative of the families of the victims, Barbara John, called the delay a "mid-sized catastrophe." She said many relatives had prepared themselves emotionally for what would be a traumatic experience for them. They had also bought tickets, booked hotels and arranged vacation time in order to be in Munich on Wednesday. Many wouldn't be able to make the new date, she added.

John called on the Munich court to compensate the families. "They mustn't be left to cover those costs," she told the newspaper Die Welt. "The Munich court must cover them."

Delay 'An Additional Ordeal For the Families'

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, also criticized the court. "If the court hadn't been so stubborn from the beginning we would have been spared the postponement," Mazyek told the Rheinische Post newspaper. "I feel sorry for the families of the terrorism victims, it's an additional ordeal for them. I hope the court will learn from its mistakes. This isn't a criminal case like any other."

Ralf Höcker, the lawyer for Turkish newspaper Sabah, which had filed the legal complaint that prompted the Constitutional Court decision against the Munich court's accreditation policy, said: "My client of course regrets that the trial has been postponed. After the ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court it wasn't absolutely necessary to repeat the accreditation process. From our point of view it's just the second-best solution."

Mehmet Daimagüler, a lawyer representing the families of two NSU victims in the trial, said he was "stunned and appalled" by the delay. "One would have thought the court would be in a position to sort out a seating problem. This situation has turned into a slapstick comedy."

However, the opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) welcomed the postponement. "What matters is that foreign media too will get enough seats," said SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles. "The Turkish and Greek media have a justified interest in taking part in the trial. It's a good signal that the court is now taking that into account."

Other politicians also said they were relieved at the court's decision, which would give it more time for a fair allocation of seats to the media.


04/16/2013 01:11 PM

World From Berlin: NSU Trial Delay Is 'Salvation and Fiasco'

Postponing the neo-Nazi terror trial is both a curse and a blessing, say German media commentators. On the one hand, it entails inconvenience and stress for the relatives of the 10 victims. On the other, it should allow a new watertight media accreditation process -- and thereby lower the risk of an appeal.

The decision by the Munich Higher Regional Court to postpone the biggest neo-Nazi trial since World War II due to a bitter controversy over the lack of seats allocated to foreign media has met with mixed reactions -- lawyers for the families of the 10 victims of the National Socialist Undergrouound (NSU) , whose sole surviving member Beate Zschäpe is facing trial, are angry at the cost and inconvenience the delay entails for relatives. Tickets and hotel reservations will have to be cancelled and vacation time changed. Some now won't be able to make it to the trial, due to start on May 6 after the original start date on April 17 was cancelled.

The Federal Constitutional Court, responding to a legal complaint from a Turkish newspaper, ruled on Friday that the Munich court must allow better access for foreign journalists, after no Turkish newspapers secured seats in the courtroom under the first-come, first-served application procedure that even German media representatives said was flawed from the start. The Munich court's initial refusal to amend the procedure led to an outcry because most of the victims of the NSU terror trio were of Turkish descent.

The Constitutional Court ruling gave the Munich court leeway to make three extra seats available to Turkish reporters in a minor adjustment that would have allowed the trial to start on time. But starting the accreditation procedure afresh means that the trial will be less vulnerable to an appeal, say some German media commentators. They all agree that the Munich court has shown intransigence and insensitivity and hasn't grasped the dimensions of the trial -- and that it would be well advised to rethink its aproach before the new start date.

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"It will entail an additional burden for the relatives of the victims. They had emotionally prepared themselves for the trial and now face organizational challenges: they will have to cancel their travel arrangements, reschedule their requested leave from work. The relatives are paying the price -- in literal terms as well -- for the lack of sensitivity displayed by the court, which has failed to recognize that this case has broader dimensions than the search for truth and guilt. But a complete relaunch is the right thing to do in legal terms. The application process was flawed in more ways than the lack of seats for foreign media."

"Some media outlets were quite evidently given more notice than others, which is a breach of the constitutional ban on unequal treatment. So its better to start from scratch, this time with transparent rules and a result that can't subsequently be criticized."

"It's unquestionably embarrassing and hard to take for the relatives, but it would be unreasonable to portray this as a total failure of the German justice system and to tar the court with the same brush as the amateurish investigation by security authorities into the NSU murders."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The most appalling series of far-right terrorist murders the German Federal Republic has ever seen was to have come to court on Wednesday -- a crime that brought accusations that the state wasn't able to protect citizens with foreign roots and was unwilling to investigate their deaths. Following the suicide of the alleged murderers who were directly involved, there was justified hope that a public and fair trial would clarify individual responsibility for the monstrous crime.

"But the NSU trial itself is starting to look tragic. Of course it was proper to accredit media in accordance with the sequence in which they had filed their applications. But every process has to offer equal chances, and on closer inspection, that equality wasn't provided. Then there was sufficient time to correct the admitted mistakes in the accreditation process -- also with a view to a possible appeal."

"The court could have allocated a few extra seats to foreign media in time for the trial to open on Wednesday as originally scheduled, the newspaper said."

"Now there's a risk that there will be a new battle for seats, and with more people affected. That will ratchet up the already high pressure on the trial, expectations of which are already exaggerated."

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The failure of the authorities in investigating the NSU murders has shaken the faith of many immigrants in the German justice system, and the run-up to the trial has hardly made matters better. On the contrary, the leading judge Manfred Götzl doesn't appear so far to have come even close to grasping the significance and dimensions of the trial."

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The court's decision was understandable and right. True, the Constitutional Court's ruling on Friday gave the court leeway to allocate three additional seats to Turkish media. But the judges in Karlsruhe also mentioned the possibility of repeating the entire accreditation process. And after all the irregularities that placed not only Turkish media at a disadvantage, it makes sense to opt for a legally watertight accreditation process. No side should be able to threaten an appeal due to supposed inadequate public access to the trial."

"A large contingent of seats must be allocated to the international media. Three seats out of 50 would have been an emergency solution, 20 seats would be appropriate."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The postponement is a salvation as well as a fiasco, because it lays bare the failure of the court and because it entails further stress, especially for the relatives of the victims. But on the other hand it's a salvation because hectic adjustments would have led to the risk of new mistakes being made. The court is taking a break -- hopefully to engage in some reflection. Reflection on what? On the fact that a criminal trial isn't something one 'gets over with' -- which is rumored to be the special talent of the presiding judge in this case. This isn't about rigidity but about human and legal sensitivity. The trial is meant to get as close as possible to the truth -- in a way that protects the rights of the relatives, takes into account the suffering of the victims and adheres to the rule of law."

-- David Crossland

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04/16/2013 12:16 PM

Capital Study: Chinese Investment in Europe Hits Record High

By Claus Hecking

Europe has become the world's largest recipient of foreign investment by Chinese firms. While North America largely views them with suspicion, China's state-owned corporations have been largely welcomed in a continent plagued by recession and in desperate need of cash.

Chinese state-owned companies are expanding their influence in Europe, investing more than $12.6 billion (€9.6 billion) in the Continent last year, according to a study by the Hong Kong-based private equity firm A Capital.

The amount represented an increase of about one-fifth in comparison to 2011, and was all together larger than investments in North America and Asia combined. About 86 percent of the investments were in the service and industrial sectors.

The study by A Capital is the most comprehensive investigation yet into Chinese investment in Europe. The private equity firm itself counts the Chinese government among its investors, in the form of the China Investment Corporation (CIC).

Chinese firms have caused a furor in the past for their partial or complete takeovers of German flagship companies like concrete pump manufacturer Putzmeister, warehouse equipment maker Kion and consumer electronics manufacturer Medion.

"Many Chinese investors regard Europe's current weakness as an opportunity to jump in," said A Capital CEO André Loesekrug-Pietri. "They're looking for technology, know-how, high-value brands -- and they find them here." Many European firms are world leaders in sectors like industrial manufacturing, auto manufacturing, the environment and health care.

The Chinese leadership is setting these key sectors as a top priority in their newest five-year plan. The State Council is supporting companies' expansions abroad with cheap credit and tax breaks, with 93 percent of Chinese investments in Europe coming from state-owned corporations.

Crisis-Plagued Southern Europe Needs Cash

"In Europe, the resistance to these kinds of investments is lower than in other places," Loesekrug-Pietri said. Reservations about the opaque interests of Chinese state companies are greater in the United States, where the government Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) essentially blocked the sale of US aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft to a Chinese buyer for national security reasons. In 2008, the committee blocked the now-defunct electronics maker 3Com from being partially sold to Chinese state corporation Huawei.

The Canadian government recently gave its blessing to the sale of oil and gas company Nexen to the Chinese state firm Cnooc, after a long period of deliberation. However officials said in the future they would allow such investments only in exceptional cases.

In contrast, Europe has been a largely welcoming place for Chinese buyers. State fund CIC acquired a 10-percent stake in London's Heathrow Airport late last year, and a 7-percent stake in the French satellite provider Eutelsat. And Portugal's government negotiated its largest-ever privatization in late 2011, agreeing to sell its 21-percent stake in the massive power company Energias de Portugal to China's Three Gorges. The sale was Lisbon's first privatization mandated under its bailout program earlier that year.

"The Europeans see things more pragmatically than the Americans," said Loesekrug-Pietri. The economies of recession-plagued Southern Europe are particularly in need of fresh capital. In addition, many small and mid-sized companies -- the so-called Mittelstand that are the backbone of the German economy -- are hoping their new shareholders will provide easier access to the booming Chinese market.

"What we're seeing with these deals is just the beginning," Loesekrug-Pietri said, adding that the coming years show tremendous potential.

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