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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1089489 times)
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« Reply #5880 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Nigeria violence kills at least 185

Fighting between Nigeria's military and Islamist extremists killed at least 185 fishing community members on Friday

AP in Baga
The Guardian, Monday 22 April 2013   

Fighting between Nigeria's military and Islamist extremists killed at least 185 people in a fishing community in the nation's far northeast, officials said on Sunday.

The fighting in Baga began Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad. The unrest saw insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers spray machine-gun fire into neighbourhoods filled with civilians.

By Sunday, when government officials felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.

The assault marks a significant escalation in the long running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with extremists mounting a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry.

Authorities said they had found and buried the bodies of at least 185 people as of Sunday afternoon.

Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye said the extremists used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault, which began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the radical Islamic extremist network Boko Haram.

Edokpaye said extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting – implying that soldiers opened fire in neighbourhoods where they knew civilians lived.

"When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including (rocket-propelled grenades), which usually has a conflagration effect," the general said.

The burned bodies of cattle and goats still filled the streets on Sunday. Bullet holes marred burned buildings.

"Everyone has been in the bush since Friday night; we started returning back to town because the governor came to town today," grocer Bashir Isa said. "To get food to eat in the town now is a problem because even the markets are burnt. We are still picking corpses of women and children in the bush and creeks."

The Islamic insurgency in Nigeria grew out of a 2009 riot led by Boko Haram members in Maiduguri that ended in a military and police crackdown that killed some 700 people. The group's leader died in police custody in an apparent execution. From 2010 on, Islamic extremists have engaged in hit-and-run shootings and suicide bombings, attacks that have killed at least 1,548 people before Friday's attack, according to an AP count.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has said it wants its imprisoned members freed and Nigeria to adopt strict Shariah law across the multiethnic nation of more than 160m people. While the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has started a committee to look at the idea of offering an amnesty deal to extremist fighters, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau has dismissed the idea out of hand in messages.

Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. Meanwhile, human rights groups and local citizens blame both Boko Haram and security forces for committing violent atrocities against the local civilian population, fuelling rage in the region.

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« Reply #5881 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Syria: opposition anger over US refusal to fund arms

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib has resigned to denounce 'international community's lack of real action'

Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Sunday 21 April 2013 18.59 BST   

Syria's opposition has reacted angrily to the refusal by the US and its western allies to do more to help, amid signs Bashar al-Assad's regime is gaining ground in the international debate about how to handle the country's two-year crisis.

Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the mainstream National Opposition Coalition (NOC), the rebel group backed by Arab and western governments, registered his dismay by confirming on Sunday that his resignation - first announced nearly a month ago but not implemented - was now final. "Khatib is resigning to denounce the international community's lack of real action on behalf of the Syrian people," said an NOC official, Marwan Hajjo.

The move followed Saturday's meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Istanbul, which ignored demands for "specific, precise and immediate action to protect Syrian civilians from the use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons".

The NOC had said it was a "moral imperative" to enforce a no-fly zone to stop attacks on Syria's northern and southern borders to allow for the free movement of refugees back into the country. But John Kerry, the US secretary of state, announced only a doubling of non-lethal aid, including equipment such as body armour and night-vision goggles but not weapons. America's $250m will be distributed by the Supreme Military Council, part of an effort to guarantee firmer political control by the Free Syrian Army.

Khatib, a former imam of the Ummayyad mosque in Damascus, is highly regarded inside Syria. His departure is a blow to an opposition which often appears fractured and incoherent and pits liberal and secular figures against the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. He first announced his resignation on 24 March, but continued working in the hope of securing wider representation and internal reforms. Khatib met Kerry before Saturday's conference began.

"The result in Istanbul was less than the Syrian people expected," Hisham Marwa, a senior member of the NOC, said. "The US said that the use of chemical weapons was a red line for the Assad regime but the regime is using them and nothing has happened. We expected more. Russia sends Assad tonnes of weapons every week."

Saudi Arabia, which has been accelerating arms supplies to the rebels through Jordan in recent weeks, was also unhappy with the outcome of the Istanbul meeting, opposition sources said. Opposition supporters inside and outside Syria say that providing the FSA with anti-aircraft missiles could quickly turn the tide by robbing Syria's air force of its ability to attack with impunity. But Assad's government has successfully exploited mounting western concerns about the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra, an important Islamist fighting group.

Last week it made much of the announcement that the group had sworn alleigance to al-Qaida in Iraq. The NOC says its role has been exaggerated.

Sharply aware of the damage caused by this association with a jihadi-type movement, the NOC said at the weekend that it firmly rejected all forms of terrorism and vowed that any weapons it was given would not fall into "the wrong hands." Nor would it allow acts of revenge against any group in Syria – an apparent reference to the Alawite minority from which the Assad family springs and which stands solidly with the regime.

"The Syrian government is winning the argument," another opposition figure reflected gloomily. "They have managed to bring other people to accept their own narrative. There are lots of international actors who are not ready for the collapse of the regime and they want to stop the acceleration and manage it at their own pace."

Faisal Miqdad, Syria's vice-foreign minister, hammered home the point in a Guardian interview last week when he accused

Britain and France of "directly or indirectly supporting al-Qaida" and behaving like "new colonialists."

William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, said in Istanbul that the European Union would discuss the question of easing its arms embargo preventing weapons supplies to the rebels. It expires at the end of May. Britain and France both want to see it relaxed, but Germany and other countries oppose them.

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« Reply #5882 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:21 AM »

April 21, 2013

Activist’s Death in Egypt Spurs Charges of Police Abuse


CAIRO — Mohamed el-Gindy spent three days in violent protests around Tahrir Square. In a television interview, he promised a backlash if the new Islamist government tried to recreate the Egyptian police state.

He also derided President Mohamed Morsi.

“We cannot be threatened, mama’s boy,” Mr. Gindy wrote in a Twitter message.

A few hours later, Mr. Gindy was found lying in the street, and bleeding from the head; he was dead within a week.

Today, after nearly three months, Mr. Gindy’s death is a mystery filled with accusations of police brutality, political retaliation, an official cover-up, and a collaboration between the new Islamist leaders and the same security forces that once jailed and beat them.

His death has underscored one of the most vexing challenges facing the new government: how to tame Egypt’s unaccountable and deeply despised security forces. But it has also raised questions about Mr. Morsi’s commitment to police reform, his willingness to turn a blind eye to the killing of a political opponent, and his fear of conflict with his own Interior Ministry.

Mr. Morsi’s advisers say he supports a “gradual” approach to reforming the security forces. He fears a police revolt at a moment when their services are desperately needed to curb the chaos in the streets enough to stabilize the economy and the political process.

But human rights groups and the political opposition warn of a turn back to authoritarianism. Mr. Gindy’s case has become the most notorious example of alleged police abuse since the murder of Khalid Said helped ignite the revolt against Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago. And with the demands for accountability unmet, many activists argue — echoing Mr. Gindy — that a failure to rein in the police will only bring more tumult in the streets.

Mr. Gindy was discovered just after 2 a.m. on Jan. 28, lying on his back at the bottom of an exit ramp not far from Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum, according to interviews with witnesses and the ambulance crew that found him. Mr. Gindy’s cheeks were dirty, his eyes were bruised, and he was bleeding from gashes above one eye and on his scalp.

The son of an affluent family from the city of Tanta, Mr. Gindy, 28, was the trilingual founder of a company selling European tours. He had become a supporter of the leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy and organized meals for protesters at recent sit-ins at Tahrir Square and the presidential palace, his friends said. As soon as he went missing they suspected he had been abducted by the police.

Human rights groups say that around January’s protests dozens of civilians were captured by security police and held for days at police camps on the outskirts of Cairo. The camps were notorious for the abuse of prisoners under former President Hosni Mubarak, and there are signs that the Egyptian police have not abandoned such tactics. During a six-month period last year, at least 10 suspected criminals died in police custody, including at least three who died under torture, said Karim Ennarah, a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Unable to find Mr. Gindy at hospitals, police stations or the morgue, his friends made frantic calls to anyone they knew at the Interior Ministry. The calls brought a torrent of secondhand rumors about his abduction and torture. His family gave tearful interviews on television, the rumors echoed through the Egyptian media, and many are still widely believed. An advocacy group specializing in police abuse, Al Haqaneya, joined the cause. Activists protested for his release in Tahrir Square, outside a security police training camp, and at his hometown’s police headquarters.

With information from the town’s police chief, Mr. Gindy was finally located on Jan. 31 at the Cairo hospital where the ambulance had left him. He died there four days later, and, still blaming the police, his family accused Mr. Morsi of murder.

“I voted for them,” Mr. Gindy’s mother, Samia el-Sheikh, said in a tearful television interview. “Is this the reward? For them to kill my son.”

But even before any investigation or autopsy report, senior government officials moved to exonerate the police. The justice minister declared conclusively that Mr. Gindy’s death was caused by a hit-and-run accident.

“The medical examiner announced, just minutes ago, that the autopsy report showed he died from a car accident,” the minister, Ahmed Mekki, declared Feb. 9 in a television interview. “The paramedic testified to that and the forensics authority’s report proved it.”

The medical examiner, however, had given no such report. In interviews, the ambulance driver and paramedic both said they gave no such testimony.

Later, hounded by protesters, Mr. Mekki acknowledged that his information had come only from the interior minister. He had asked Mr. Mekki to declare it a hit-and-run to defuse the mounting anger. Blaming the police “would have led to people rushing to the security directorate and the administrative governorate,” Mr. Mekki said, “and this was alarming.” (Mr. Mekki submitted his resignation on Sunday, apparently for unrelated reasons.)

Mohamed Ezz al-Regal, the ambulance driver, said he tried to tell prosecutors that Mr. Gindy’s injuries could not have come from a car accident. For one thing, his body was largely unharmed below the neck.

“The prosecutor told me, ‘Don’t make conclusions. It is an accident until proven otherwise,’ ” Mr. Ezz al-Regal said.

“I said something, the prosecutor wrote something else down” as his testimony, he said.

An initial forensics report said that his injuries could be consistent with a car accident, but the doctor responsible took a leave, left the country and could not be reached. A second, fuller report, by a team of three doctors, concluded the opposite, that a car accident could have not killed him, and so did private doctors who examined him while he was alive.

A scan of Mr. Gindy’s brain showed bruises on the opposite side of his head from the original blow — a pattern known as a contrecoup, the doctors said, that indicated his head had been bashed against a hard surface like a floor or a wall.

“This was a crime and not a car accident,” said Ayman Fouda, one of the doctors and the former chief medical examiner. A top neurologist agreed.

Precisely how Mr. Gindy died is still unclear. The prosecutor produced two depositions from witnesses who said that they had seen him hit by a speeding minivan. One was an off-duty police officer; he would only refer to his deposition. And the other witness, the officer’s driver, could not be reached.

Advisers to Mr. Morsi, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said they were suspicious of the police story but could find no evidence of wrongdoing. And Mr. Morsi, they said, sought to avoid an open confrontation.

Recruited and trained under Mr. Mubarak, the police retreated from the streets after the revolution, and many are now openly skeptical of Mr. Morsi.

“The culture of the security establishment requires a comprehensive, medium-term strategy,” Dr. Pakinam el-Sharkawy, Mr. Morsi’s top political adviser, said in an e-mail in response to questions about Mr. Gindy’s case and police reform. “Gradual reform enables security sector personnel to reintegrate into society and fall in step with the new Egypt, rather than brand them and exclude them.”

“Police abuse is no longer systematic and certainly not with state blessing,” she wrote, adding that Mr. Morsi was committed to investigating human rights violations.

But many in the Interior Ministry say the security forces are in no need of reform. Asked about “reform” in an interview, Ahmed Helmy, deputy interior minister for public security, sounded puzzled and talked about geographic redeployments.

“Before I talk about human rights, I have to define, who is this human?” Mr. Helmy said. “Is it reasonable to ask me to be considerate of a citizen who has Molotov cocktails or a shotgun?” Mr. Helmy asked incredulously. “And when I violate his rights to accuse me of violating human rights?”

Contradicting voluminous documentation, he insisted that since the revolution, the security police had not used deadly force against Mr. Gindy or any other protester. “Now we want to seek the rights of the police against the citizens,” he said, “because the attacks against the police are now the main characteristic of the scene.”

Despite the forensic evidence, the interior minister has vowed further appeal to prove Mr. Gindy died from a car accident. A panel of five academic medical experts is conducting another review. Mr. Morsi has continued to publicly praise the Interior Ministry. Asked about police reform in an online question and answer session last week, the president urged patience. “Give it trust and you will see good things,” Mr. Morsi said. “God willing.”

Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.

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« Reply #5883 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:23 AM »

April 21, 2013

Hagel, in Israel, Presses U.S. Agenda on Deterring Iran


JERUSALEM — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel opened a weeklong visit to the Middle East on Sunday by pressing an American agenda focused on deterring Iran — including a significant new weapons deal for Israel — coupled with a strong caution that it would be premature for Israel to opt for unilateral strikes on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Hagel, who was subject to intense, even hostile scrutiny during his confirmation process over whether he was sufficiently supportive of Israel, hailed the “very special relationship” between the United States and Israel. He also repeatedly emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself “in a very dangerous, combustible region of the world.”

In preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States has said that all options are on the table, including military action. But President Obama and his national security team have argued for more time to pursue diplomacy and economic sanctions. Some Israeli leaders, though, say the timeline for Iran to build a nuclear bomb is short, and they regularly speak of unilateral action.

In recent days, Israeli officials have again discussed their right to act against Iran. But American national security officials and military officers say it is unlikely that a strike by Israel would be sufficient to terminate Iran’s nuclear program or halt any ambitions by Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran has denied it seeks to build nuclear weapons and has said its enrichment program is for civilian use.

On Sunday, Mr. Hagel acknowledged that there might be “minor” differences between the United States and Israel on the timeline in which Iran might develop nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s important that we all keep our eye focused on the objective,” he said. “And there is no daylight there at all — that Iran is prevented from acquiring that nuclear capacity.”

The current regimen of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran is among the toughest, most effective ever applied, Mr. Hagel said. “We know through many measurements that those sanctions are hurting Iran — significantly.”

Even so, he acknowledged that diplomacy and sanctions were not guaranteed to succeed. “Military options, most of us feel, ought to be the last option,” he said.

During his travels, Mr. Hagel will be pushing forward with a $10 billion arms package intended to further increase Israel’s military edge over other powers in the region while also bolstering the armed forces of two important Persian Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Included in the weapons deal for Israel are tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft, which can be used for transporting troops and patrolling borders and nearby seas, as well as advanced radars for Israeli warplanes.

The United Arab Emirates will be allowed to purchase two dozen F-16 warplanes, and both Saudi Arabia and the emirates will be allowed to buy precision air-to-ground missiles. Those missiles are in a class of weapons described as “standoff,” meaning they can be launched from a safe distance against ground targets.

And two systems to be sold to Israel — a new generation of aerial refueling tankers and advanced missiles that home in on radar signals to destroy air-defense sites — would be important in any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Hagel said the weapons sales served as “another very clear signal to Iran.” But American officials also made it clear that the new arms should not be interpreted as tacit approval for Israel to accelerate planning for an attack on Iran.

An Israeli government official said one goal of the visit was to strengthen the personal relationship between Mr. Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, since both are new in their jobs. Mr. Yaalon, a former military chief of staff and minister of strategic affairs, was named defense minister in mid-March.

Israeli analysts noted that discussions between the two are expected to focus in part on how Israel will pay for the new weapons package. “An improvised solution is necessary,” Alex Fishman, a military affairs analyst, wrote Sunday in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, adding, “If we have no money, we’ll be left with nothing but paper.”

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« Reply #5884 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:26 AM »

U.S. diplomat warns situation in Darfur deteriorating

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 21, 2013 14:37 EDT

Security in Darfur is worsening and militias need to be disarmed, the US charge d’affaires to Sudan Joseph Stafford said on Sunday, condemning the recent attack which killed a peacekeeper.

Stafford also expressed grave concern “about the reports of civilian casualties and deliberate targeting of civilians by militias in Muhagiriya and Labado”, the region where the Nigerian peacekeeper died on Friday.

He told reporters it is not yet clear who carried out the “deeply troubling” attack against the base of the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) near Muhagiriya town in southern Darfur.

But he said there is an “urgent” need for an investigation bringing those responsible to justice.

Two other peacekeepers were wounded in the assault, two days after the Sudanese government announced it regained control of the area from rebels.

“We’re worried about the deteriorating security situation in Darfur and the conflict between the government forces and the militia”, Stafford said.

He said “escalation in the acts of violence underscores the need for militia disarmament” as well as other measures including a ceasefire between the government and rebels who have not signed a 2011 peace deal with Khartoum.

That deal is a good foundation but “implementation is proceeding slowly”, said Stafford, whose country says it is Darfur’s largest single aid provider.

Under the peace deal between the government and rebel splinter factions, Khartoum is responsible for disarming all militia. Last October a monitoring committee set up under the peace pact said authorities had filed a comprehensive plan to disband the groups.

More than 40 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile action during UNAMID’s five-year history and the UN has repeatedly called for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

However, UN sources have said they were unaware of anybody previously being held accountable in Sudan for killing a peacekeeper.

In February a UN panel of experts reported “some incidents in which former members of government militias have forcibly expressed their discontent with the current government, especially against the backdrop of rising inflation and unemployment.”

It said this discontent has occasionally led to “direct attacks on UNAMID staff and premises”.

Ethnic rebels in Sudan’s far-western Darfur region rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.

In response, government-backed Janjaweed militia shocked the world with atrocities against ethnic Africans.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, instability has been complicated by inter-Arab fighting, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes, many suspected to be the work of government-linked militia and paramilitary groups.

A rare 10-day rebel occupation of Muhagiriya and Labado ended on Wednesday when the Sudanese army announced it “liberated” the area but the insurgents said they withdrew in the face of massive force.

The Sudan Liberation Army’s Minnawi faction had taken control of the strategic district on April 6.

Darfur’s insurgents normally stage hit-and-run attacks.

The Minnawi rebels have freed seven government soldiers who were handed over on Sunday to Sudanese authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Two of the soldiers were injured, the Red Cross added, without specifying whether the troops had been captured during Minnawi’s occupation of the Muhagiriya area.

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« Reply #5885 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:30 AM »

04/22/2013 01:38 PM

World from Berlin: 'Once Again, the Victor Is Berlusconi'

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano had earned his retirement from politics, German editorialists say, but Italy's political stalemate meant parliament had no other choice than to ask him to remain on the job. He now faces the daunting task of finding a prime minister who can unite a deeply divided country.

Italian lawmakers over the weekend took the unprecedented step of re-electing their governing president, a move that reflects the desperately fractured state of politics in the country two months after inconclusive parliamentary elections.

Giorgio Napolitano, 87 and going on 88, easily reached the simple majority needed for election on Saturday, winning 738 votes out of 1,007. However, the final decisive vote followed three days of balloting, as the various parties squabbled over who would be capable of choosing a prime minister who could survive a confidence vote and bring enough of them together to form a government.

While there is no prohibition on serving two terms as president, tradition holds that the head of state steps down after the first term. Napolitano had repeatedly said he would decline a second nomination because of his old age. If he is able to serve for the full length, he will be nearly 95 when his term runs out. Citing a sense of responsibility to the nation, though, he ultimately accepted the job.

"We must all look, as I tried to do in these hours, at the difficult situation of the country, at the problems of Italy and Italians, and the international image and role of our nation," Napolitano said in a brief statement after the vote.

Ultimately it was Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party, the centrist caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti and the conservative former leader Silvio Berlusconi who rallied their support behind Napolitano. Opposition came from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by comedian-turned-populist politician Beppe Grillo. He rejected Napolitano as a symbol of the old guard of corrupt politics, and called his re-election "a cunning little institutional coup."

German media commentators cautiously welcomed Napolitano's re-election as a lone symbol of stability and unity in an otherwise chaotic political situation. But they also warned that his election alone does not solve Italy's crisis, and that whatever coalition government emerges from the Napolitano presidency -- or whatever new parliament takes shape should Napolitano call new elections -- is unlikely to be ideal.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"On the one hand, Italy's president has quite a bit of discretionary decision-making power in times of government crises. On the other hand, Napolitano could also demand that all parties support his vision for the future of Italian politics in exchange for his willingness to take a second term. That means that once again, like under Prime Minister Mario Monti, a broad coalition of the traditional parties have to produce a government together. But above all, it means that this time the reform of electoral laws, the constitution and the economy can no longer be put off as it was in the past two years."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Grillo's success is the flip-side of the frenzied political stalemate in Italy, for which a legion of pompous politicians is responsible. Grillo says 'those' politicians have to be sent home. In Italy's case, one unfortunately has to say that the accusation is not all that unjustified. Giorgio Napolitano is now back at the helm. Maybe he'll keep trying to find a personality who could be capable of circumventing the parties and forming a government that is more than illusory."

"But maybe Napolitano, the first president of the republic with a second term, will exercise his right to call new elections. That would be the better solution -- even if it's not parties, but the ruins of parties that compete in the vote. The youthful old man Giorgio Napolitano bears the responsibility of preventing Italy from becoming a failing state. That cannot be achieved with cunning alone."

The center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Italian politics have declared bankruptcy. Aging politician Napolitano has to give up his well-earned retirement and become the first president in the history of the country to take a second term -- an 87-year-old in the role of the last remaining savior from chaos. Yet several days earlier, he himself warned that his re-election would not be a solution."

"Napolitano's election signaled a turning point. Change can no longer be the catchphrase. Presumably his second term will mean the return of an unspoken grand coalition with Berlusconi -- an extreme breach of trust that might result in the breakup of the left."

"According to opinion polls, new elections would give a significant advance to Berlusconi. And Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement continues to gain momentum. Two populists could soon be the main figures in Italian politics. It's a prospect one would prefer not to have to imagine."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Napolitano certainly enjoys the highest respect abroad and has the highest level of popularity in Italy. But even though he himself comes from the left, the victory is nothing less than a Waterloo for them, primarily for the Democratic Party (PD) under Pier Luigi Bersani. Now a man who is nearly 88 years old is expected to continue as head of state, because the left is incapable of pushing their own new candidate through parliament -- despite their strength in numbers."

"Countless cliques, bound together mainly by mutual hatred, and two irreconcilable approaches have now driven the PD into the abyss. Given the success of Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, the PD had a choice. It could either form a large coalition with Silvio Berlusconi (and his People of Freedom party), or seek a compromise with Grillo. ... (Napolitano) is a known supporter of the grand coalition between the left and right, which will now come to pass in Italy. And once again, the victor is Berlusconi. Meanwhile, the PD lies in ruins, at risk of being divided."

-- Andrew Bowen


April 21, 2013

Opposition Leader Rallies Italians in Protest After President Is Re-elected


ROME — He is not a member of Parliament or one of the 1,007 grand electors who selected a president on Saturday.

But for a growing number of Italians, Beppe Grillo, the charismatic founder of the antiestablishment Five Star Movement, is the leader who best represents their desire for change and their anger toward political parties they believe are obstructing political reform.

On Sunday, one day after a majority of the electors re-elected President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, to a rare second term, Mr. Grillo denounced the re-election as a “cunning little institutional coup,” meant to preserve the political status quo and to gain time. “They are stealing a year,” he said.

Antonella Mariniello, a telephone operator, was one of the many hundreds of Mr. Grillo’s supporters who heeded his call to flood Santi Apostoli Square in downtown Rome on Sunday afternoon to express their dismay at the tactics behind the election. “He’s right. The parties schemed an agreement, the oppositions went hand in hand,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

Saverio Di Rosa, an engineer, said he was attending his first protest because “I just don’t feel represented.”

“Napolitano isn’t the best man in this moment, people want change, and they don’t see anything new in Napolitano,” he said.

The square was so packed on Sunday afternoon that Mr. Grillo was unable to make his way past a scrum of photographers and reporters and into the mass of admirers. So he climbed up on a car and gave an impromptu — if uncharacterically short — address. Referrring to Italy’s lawmakers, he said, “Give yourselves up!”

Mr. Napolitano, who commands respect at home and abroad, easily won re-election with more than 700 votes. Political leaders from Italy’s traditional parties had implored him to stand for a second term when it became clear that no candidate was likely to win a majority after two days of voting.

Italy still does not have a government eight weeks after national elections, but the agreement over the president suggests that a government with multiparty support can be formed. The Italian Parliament is split into three antagonistic voting blocs.

Mr. Napolitano is now expected to nominate a candidate for prime minister who will try to form a new, broad coalition government, which must be approved by Parliament. If Parliament rejects his candidate, he could dissolve its two houses and call new elections, but he has said he would like to avoid that. Italian newspapers on Sunday put forward former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato or Enrico Letta, a Democratic Party official, as possible candidates for prime minister.

But there is no guarantee that a government can be formed. There are many detractors within the very parties expected to back it, and in any case the government would probably be short-lived, content to pass a few nondeferrable reforms. The situation has become more dicey after the implosion of the Democratic Party, the strongest party in Parliament, which failed to negotiate a viable political solution during five weeks of negotiations. The entire leadership of the party resigned Friday and Saturday.

“The applause in Parliament that erupted when Napolitano was elected — that wasn’t for the president. The politicians were applauding themselves” for finding a way to stay in office longer, Mr. Grillo said at a rambling, two-hour news conference in Rome on Sunday morning.

“But the format of political parties is over,” he said, overcome by the participatory democracy his movement promotes. “The parties are imploding, not because of Grillo but because it’s history.”

In February, the Five Star Movement won 25 percent of the national vote on its first foray into national elections, and recent opinion polls have shown support for Five Star growing. Elections in the northeast Friuli-Venezia Giulia region this weekend are being closely watched to gauge the party’s popularity.

Five Star Movement Parliament members have ruled out future accords with any government that might emerge from negotiations, to begin this week. The party is preparing to pursue its battles — for a new electoral law, for a minimum salary for all citizens, for anticorruption legislation — as the opposition.

Mr. Grillo, who is the voice and face of the movement, has won support by distancing himself from the current crop of Italian lawmakers, whom he disparages as a privileged caste who have lost touch with the daily problems many Italians face.

“Politicians live in their world but there is no dialogue with the rest of us, they don’t understand real problems,” said Michele Dresda, a salesman for herbal products who came out to Santi Apostoli Square. He said he hoped to leave Italy because the economic situation was so dismal. “I pay all my taxes, but see few results,” he said.

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« Reply #5886 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Serbia approves deal to normalize ties with Kosovo

By Afua Hirsch, The Guardian
Monday, April 22, 2013 7:57 EDT

Serbia’s government on Monday approved the EU-brokered deal with breakaway Kosovo, a historic agreement aimed at turning the page on the Balkans’ last simmering trouble-spot 14 years after the end of hostilities.

The government has accepted the “first accord on principles which regulate normalisation of relations, reached during the dialogue on Kosovo in Brussels” on Friday, said a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.

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« Reply #5887 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:36 AM »

April 21, 2013

Europe’s Leaders Hear Call to Do More to Spur Growth


WASHINGTON — For another year, the annual spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ended with a single, strong message aimed at Europe: Do more.

Yet in a change, signs suggested that European leaders were starting to agree, with more high-ranking ministers and officials talking up the need to slow the pace of budget cutting and bolster growth on the Continent.

At the outset of the gathering of finance ministers and central bankers last week, the I.M.F. lowered its global growth forecasts, again citing weakness from Europe. And Christine Lagarde, managing director of the fund, separated nations into three groups that might be described as strong, trying and laggards.

In the first group she placed the developing and emerging economies that are the engine of global growth. In the second she put countries that are gaining momentum in their recoveries, like the United States. The third group, she said, contains countries that continue to struggle with their policy response to the crisis — not growing, and hindering global growth. That group includes many countries in high-income Europe, including Britain, Germany and Italy.

At a news conference during the meetings, Ms. Lagarde said such countries should try “anything that works” to create jobs. That starts “with growth and a good policy mix, which relies on not just one policy but a set of policies that will include fiscal consolidation at the right pace,” she said, also citing structural changes and loose monetary policy as necessary.

The debate at the meetings focused on helping to identify that right mix of policies, with officials from the fund and countries including the United States arguing that austerity had sapped too much demand, too soon, from the Continent. In the past, European officials tended to brush off such advice. And some powerful officials continued to do so last week, instead emphasizing budget cutting to soothe financial markets.

“Fiscal and financial sector adjustments remain crucial to regain lost credibility and strengthen confidence,” said Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister of Germany and a powerful voice promoting austerity in Europe. “At the current juncture, it is in particular the responsibility of the advanced economies, including Japan and the U.S., to follow through with ambitious fiscal consolidation over the medium term.”

George Osborne, the British chancellor of the Exchequer, echoed that sentiment, even as high-level officials at the fund repeatedly criticized the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for its campaign of budget cuts.

“The priority for most advanced economies is still to restore fiscal sustainability,” Mr. Osborne said in a statement. “Continued consolidation is needed over the medium term, supported by highly accommodative monetary policy.”

But the fund downgraded its growth estimates for several large European economies, including those of France and Germany, last week. Many have re-entered a period of economic contraction, with their unemployment rates continuing to rise. In light of that, other European officials said a renewed focus on growth — by slowing budget cuts, changing deficit targets or taking other measures — might be appropriate.

“They are preaching to the converted,” Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, was quoted by Reuters.

“In the early phase of the crisis, it was essential to restore the credibility of fiscal policy in Europe because that was fundamentally questioned by market forces,” Mr. Rehn added. “Now, as we have restored the credibility in the short term, that gives us the possibility of having a smoother path of fiscal adjustment in the medium term.”

In a communiqué, the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 large economies said: “We have agreed that while progress has been made, further actions are required to make growth strong, sustainable and balanced.”

They urged a closer banking union in the euro zone and for “large surplus economies” to take “further steps to boost domestic sources of growth.”

In her opening remarks, Ms. Lagarde also cited Japan as having continued to struggle with slow growth. But at the spring meetings, Tokyo won plaudits for its ambitious new campaign of fiscal and monetary stimulus to bolster demand and end the deflation that has plagued the economy for more than a decade.

Some finance ministers had questioned the Bank of Japan’s aggressive easing of monetary policy, arguing that it was aimed at pushing down the value of the yen and as a result unfairly favoring Japanese exports. If other countries followed suit to try to devalue their currencies, it could set off a round of “currency wars,” some warned.

But the Group of 20 communiqué stated that “Japan’s recent policy actions are intended to stop deflation and support domestic demand,” a tacit nod to the recent round of easing. And the I.M.F. raised its estimates of Japan’s growth on the back of the government’s new policy moves.

At the meetings, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, also outlined his policy goals: the effective eradication of extreme poverty in a generation. The world has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. To cut the rate to 3 percent by 2030, Dr. Kim said, would require strong, inclusive growth.

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« Reply #5888 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:39 AM »

April 20, 2013

Danes Rethink a Welfare State Ample to a Fault


COPENHAGEN — It began as a stunt intended to prove that hardship and poverty still existed in this small, wealthy country, but it backfired badly. Visit a single mother of two on welfare, a liberal member of Parliament goaded a skeptical political opponent, see for yourself how hard it is.

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

In past years, Danes might have shrugged off the case, finding Carina more pitiable than anything else. But even before her story was in the headlines 16 months ago, they were deeply engaged in a debate about whether their beloved welfare state, perhaps Europe’s most generous, had become too rich, undermining the country’s work ethic. Carina helped tip the scales.

With little fuss or political protest — or notice abroad — Denmark has been at work overhauling entitlements, trying to prod Danes into working more or longer or both. While much of southern Europe has been racked by strikes and protests as its creditors force austerity measures, Denmark still has a coveted AAA bond rating.

But Denmark’s long-term outlook is troubling. The population is aging, and in many regions of the country people without jobs now outnumber those with them.

Some of that is a result of a depressed economy. But many experts say a more basic problem is the proportion of Danes who are not participating in the work force at all — be they dawdling university students, young pensioners or welfare recipients like Carina who lean on hefty government support.

“Before the crisis there was a sense that there was always going to be more and more,” Bjarke Moller, the editor in chief of publications for Mandag Morgen, a research group in Copenhagen. “But that is not true anymore. There are a lot of pressures on us right now. We need to be an agile society to survive.”

The Danish model of government is close to a religion here, and it has produced a population that regularly claims to be among the happiest in the world. Even the country’s conservative politicians are not suggesting getting rid of it.

Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000. But in exchange, the Danes get a cradle-to-grave safety net that includes free health care, a free university education and hefty payouts to even the richest citizens.

Parents in all income brackets, for instance, get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs. The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy.

But few experts here believe that Denmark can long afford the current perks. So Denmark is retooling itself, tinkering with corporate tax rates, considering new public sector investments and, for the long term, trying to wean more people — the young and the old — off government benefits.

“In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it,” said Karen Haekkerup, the minister of social affairs and integration, who has been outspoken on the subject. “My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it.

“But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.”

In 2012, a little over 2.6 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 were working in Denmark, 47 percent of the total population and 73 percent of the 15- to 64-year-olds.

While only about 65 percent of working age adults are employed in the United States, comparisons are misleading, since many Danes work short hours and all enjoy perks like long vacations and lengthy paid maternity leaves, not to speak of a de facto minimum wage approaching $20 an hour. Danes would rank much lower in terms of hours worked per year.

In addition, the work force has far more older people to support. About 18 percent of Denmark’s population is over 65, compared with 13 percent in the United States.

One study, by the municipal policy research group Kora, recently found that only 3 of Denmark’s 98 municipalities will have a majority of residents working in 2013. This is a significant reduction from 2009, when 59 municipalities could boast that a majority of residents had jobs. (Everyone, including children, was counted in the comparison.)

Joachim B. Olsen, the skeptical politician from the Liberal Alliance party who visited Carina 16 months ago in her pleasant Copenhagen apartment, is particularly alarmed. He says Sweden, which is already considered generous, has far fewer citizens living on government benefits. If Denmark followed Sweden’s example, it would have about 250,000 fewer people living on benefits of various sorts.

“The welfare state here has spiraled out of control,” Mr. Olsen said. “It has done a lot of good, but we have been unwilling to talk about the negative side. For a very long time it has been taboo to talk about the Carinas.”

Already the government has reduced various early-retirement plans. The unemployed used to be able to collect benefits for up to four years. Now it is two.

Students are next up for cutbacks, most intended to get them in the work force faster. Currently, students are entitled to six years of stipends, about $990 a month, to complete a five-year degree which, of course, is free. Many of them take even longer to finish, taking breaks to travel and for internships before and during their studies.

In trying to reduce the welfare rolls, the government is concentrating on making sure that people like Carina do not exist in the future. It is proposing cuts to welfare grants for those under 30 and stricter reviews to make sure that such recipients are steered into jobs or educational programs before they get comfortable on government benefits.

Officials have also begun to question the large number of people who are receiving lifetime disability checks. About 240,000 people — roughly 9 percent of the potential work force — have lifetime disability status; about 33,500 of them are under 40. The government has proposed ending that status for those under 40, unless they have a mental or physical condition that is so severe that it keeps them from working.

Instead of offering disability, the government intends to assign individuals to “rehabilitation teams” to come up with one- to five-year plans that could include counseling, social-skills training and education as well as a state-subsidized job, at least in the beginning. The idea is to have them working at least part time, or studying.

It remains possible that the cost-cutting push will hurt the left-wing coalition that leads the government. By and large, though, the changes have passed easily in Parliament and been happily endorsed by conservatives like Mr. Olsen, who does his best to keep his meeting with Carina in the headlines.

Carina was not the only welfare recipient to fuel the sense that Denmark’s system has somehow gotten out of kilter. Robert Nielsen, 45, made headlines last September when he was interviewed on television, admitting that he had basically been on welfare since 2001.

Mr. Nielsen said he was able-bodied but had no intention of taking a demeaning job, like working at a fast-food restaurant. He made do quite well on welfare, he said. He even owns his own co-op apartment.

Unlike Carina, who will no longer give interviews, Mr. Nielsen, called “Lazy Robert” by the news media, seems to be enjoying the attention. He says that he is greeted warmly on the street all the time. “Luckily, I am born and live in Denmark, where the government is willing to support my life,” he said.

Some Danes say the existence of people like Carina and Mr. Nielsen comes as no surprise. Lene Malmberg, who lives in Odsherred and works part time as a secretary despite a serious brain injury that has affected her short-term memory, said the Carina story was not news to her. At one point, she said, before her accident when she worked full time, her sister was receiving benefits and getting more money than she was.

“The system is wrong somehow, I agree,” she said. “I wanted to work. But she was a little bit: ‘Why work?’ ”

Anna-Katarina Gravgaard contributed reporting.

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« Reply #5889 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:40 AM »

April 22, 2013

Ex-Defense Minister on Trial in Greek Corruption Case


ATHENS – In the most high-profile criminal trial of a politician in Greece for more than two decades, a former defense minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, appeared in a court here on Monday charged with setting up a complex money laundering network to cover the trail of millions of euros in bribes he is accused of pocketing from government defense deals.

Mr. Tsochatzopoulos, 73, a onetime socialist heavyweight, is on trial with his wife, daughter and another 16 former aides and associates alleged to have participated in the scheme. He, his relatives and another five suspects have been in custody at Athens’ high-security Korydallos Prison for the past year.

Mr. Tsochatzopoulos and his wife, who were transferred to the courthouse on Monday morning by a police bus, have been subjected to intense media scrutiny of their wealth as the living standards of ordinary Greeks plummeted after three years of austerity. Dressed in a dark blue suit and clutching a file of documents, the white-haired minister held his head high as police escorted him into the court building while his 50-year-old wife, a former assistant in his political office, appeared pale and drawn.

The charges are highly unusual in a country where top-ranking state officials are rarely prosecuted. During his stint as defense minister between 1996 and 2001 and for several years after that, Mr. Tsochatzopoulos is alleged to have used a network of offshore companies to siphon off millions of euros in bribes he is said to have taken in exchange for procurement contracts including the purchase of a Russian missile defense system and German submarines.

According to prosecutors, around €160 million, or about $210 million, in bribes was paid for those two deals which were worth an estimated €3 billion. Authorities have traced €57 million.

The former minister, a founding member of the country’s once dominant socialist Pasok, which is now part of a conservative-led coalition, has denied the charges, claiming his prosecution is politically motivated. He has called for members of the political and defense council that co-signed the contracts for the defense deals — including two former prime ministers, Costas Simitis and George Papandreou — to testify at his trial which is expected to last several months. The request has been rejected by the Greek judiciary which said the bribery allegations, not the deals, were under scrutiny.

Irrespective of the outcome of his trial for money laundering, which could yield a 20-year prison term, Mr. Tsochatzopoulos will not escape jail time. Last month he was sentenced to eight years in prison for concealing assets from the authorities, notably by failing to report the purchase of a neo-Classical mansion near the Acropolis. That property has been linked to the money laundering scheme Mr. Tsochatzopoulos is alleged to have set up.

With public anger growing after the years of economic crisis, the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has vowed to crack down on corruption among the political elite whom most Greeks blame for the dysfunctional state system that created the country’s huge debt problem and led it to dependence on foreign rescue loans. In an unusually severe sentence in February, a court in Salonika, Greece’s second-largest city, convicted the former mayor, Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, to life in prison for embezzling at least €18 million from city coffers.

Last September, the Greek authorities began examining the bank accounts of more than 30 politicians to determine whether they should be charged with tax evasion and other crimes and last month three former ministers were charged with submitting false income declarations.

Mr. Tsochatzopoulos is the most senior government official to stand trial since the former prime minister and Pasok founder, Andreas Papandreou, was acquitted in 1991 on charges of accepting bribes in return for forcing state companies to prop up a troubled private bank.

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« Reply #5890 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:45 AM »

France's gay marriage bill fought over on streets as much as in parliament

Extreme-right groups blamed for stoking climate of homophobia and violence as MPs expected to approve divisive legislation

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Sunday 21 April 2013 19.37 BST

Tens of thousands of protesters marched against gay marriage in Paris on Sunday, as thousands of others led a counter-demonstration against what the government called a growing climate of homophobia and extreme-right violence in France.

On Tuesday, the Socialist majority in the French parliament is expected to approve François Hollande's flagship social reform, the gay marriage and adoption bill, making France the 14th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. It is the most significant social reform since France banned the death penalty in 1981.

But, in recent days opposition to the bill has spilled over into violence, with riot police teargassing people protesting against same-sex marriage and arresting more than 100 people after nightly demonstrations near parliament. Last week, skinheads attacked a gay bar in Lille, injuring several people after announcing they had "come to beat up gays". A gay bar in Bordeaux was attacked by masked, armed men the same night. Politicians in favour of gay marriage have received death threats and there was a near fist-fight in parliament between MPs over the bill.

The anti-gay marriage movement has been building for six months, after its first major demonstration was the largest gathering of conservative and rightwing protesters in France for 30 years. But policing was stepped up for Sunday's demonstration after the interior minister warned of the appearance on the edge of the movement of small rightwing extremist groups which have caused tensions and differences among demonstrators in recent days. Manuel Valls said the groups, thought to number at most a few hundred of people, adhered to the "Vichy ideology" of France's Nazi-collaborationist regime during the second world war.

A comedian Virginie Tellene, better known by her stage name Frigide Barjot, is leading the anti-gay marriage street marches. She condemned homophobic attacks and said radical groups were not welcome at the demonstrations. At the start of the rally, organisers told police of a demonstrator carrying six teargas canisters who was detained.

The group SOS homophobie, which has monitored homophobia in France for 20 years, said the sharp rise in homophobic incidents since the start of the national debate on gay marriage was "unprecedented".

The debate in both upper and lower chambers of parliament have been of unprecedented verbal violence, which campaigners said had allowed homophobic insults to proliferate on the streets. This week the justice minister called the parliamentary debate "a spaghetti western" and an MP from the main rightwing opposition UMP party accused the government of "killing children" by allowing gay adoption. Earlier a senator said legalising gay marriage was akin to allowing people to marry "animals" or "objects".

At the demonstration, Catholics, students, lawyers, families, teachers and shopkeepers marched behind a handful of rightwing politicians, including one MP elected on a ticket with the far-right Front National's Marine Le Pen.

Thibault Genin, 32, who had been in the French military and now worked as a consultant, said: "It's an old technique of the French left to call you a Nazi if you don't agree with them. It's rubbish. We will fight to the end against this law.

"I'm absolutely not a homophobe, but children and family rights are at stake. I led my troops into combat for France, so now to be called a Nazi by my own government, or teargassed by police for staying at a demonstration past an appointed time is hard to take."

Julien Bernachez, 25, a lawyer wrapped in the tricolour, said: "People feel angry we're not being listened to."

At the parallel anti-homophobia demonstration, Laurent Delaire, a nursing auxiliary, and Gilles Le Berre, a railways ticket inspector, described how on the night of a major anti-gay marriage rally in March, neighbours knocked on their door shouting homophobic insults. The couple, who plan to marry, informed the police. "Initially we felt tense walking down the street, but we're not scared, you can't give in. It's absolutely unacceptable the type of language that MPs and senators have been using," Le Berre said.

Laure Pora, from the Aids awareness group Act Up, said: "There's an increase in homophobia today in France. It has always existed but it wasn't always expressed so freely. Now the political debate and demonstrations have led to a kind of 'legitimation' of homophobic comments. We're on the street to say we have every right to be here, the street doesn't belong to people who would prefer us dead."

The latest poll by BVA showed 58% of French people supported the right to gay marriage but 53% opposed the right to adoption for gay couples.

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« Reply #5891 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Russians' idealism is dashed too often for them to believe in Alexei Navalny

Russians' waning belief in the anti-corruption whistleblower says much about a nation that has long since given up hope

Vadim Nikitin   
The Guardian, Sunday 21 April 2013 21.00 BST   

Something doesn't make sense about Alexei Navalny, and it's not just the trumped-up charges against him. The Russian corruption whistleblower and opposition leader, who will be formally arraigned this Wednesday for allegedly embezzling half a million dollars from a state-owned timber company in 2009, is in a peculiar bind. "The case against Navalny is a case against us all," chant his admirers. But if that is true, why are people who seem to otherwise trust Navalny's anti-corruption work apparently so reluctant to support his political bid?

Recent polls by the independent Levada Centre show Navalny's name recognition rising steadily over the past three years, to nearly 40% in March 2013. And of those who have heard of him, more than half trust his muckraking exposés of the corruption endemic among Russia's elite.

Yet the number of people who say they would definitely vote for him should he run for office has fallen from 5% in 2011 to a mere 1% today. Last week, just 1,500 people turned up at a Moscow protest organised in solidarity with the detained dissident. Meanwhile, significantly more people (a fifth of those questioned) said they would vote for the liberal-leaning oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, despite nearly half (wisely) suspecting him to be a Kremlin plant.

The public's strangely lukewarm attitude towards Navalny certainly appears to have little to do with the patently false accusations he faces. The ludicrousness of the charges is evident to all, not least the Kremlin itself, which accused Navalny of the same crime back in December 2010, only to be forced to close its own probe for lack of evidence. So flimsy is the case against him that the government couldn't even make it stick during the two critical years when the marches he was leading in downtown Moscow sent the authorities scrambling for any excuse to silence him.

On the contrary – Navalny's greatest problem might be the public's fear that he may actually be innocent. For, as a result of Russia's ignominious history, particularly during the last cataclysmic quarter century, its citizens have come to view politics as so inherently corrupt, dirty and cruel that anyone who comes in attempting reform is viewed with utmost suspicion. After so many repeated disappointments with democracy, Navalny's countrymen may have simply become resigned to the fact that might is right and politics is little more than a strategy for direct personal enrichment. It's one reason why voters may be more likely to support a self-interested ruler backed by the power of the state, such as Prokhorov: at least there are no illusions – and, who knows, something good might even get done amid the usual plunder.

Whereas Navalny, with his big-city middle-class supporters and western-style volunteerism, remains a mystery to many Russians. In a country where a casual smile at a stranger connotes either idiocy or threat, where everything is about money and everyone has a price, what kind of person would do something as dangerous as Navalny's brand of political protest for nothing? Even if he's not guilty of embezzlement, goes the popular logic, he's sure as hell guilty of something. Otherwise, he's just plain crazy.

The last time Russians allowed themselves to be carried away by hopeful promises was in the heady post-communist euphoria of the early 1990s. And their faith was brutally dashed by the Yeltsin government's barely-concealed allegiance to rapacious capitalism masquerading as liberal democracy. As Victor Pelevin put it in his cult novel Generation P, in those days, the only use for the word "parliamentarianism" was to flog Parliament-brand cigarettes.

As that old Texan proverb beloved by the former president George W Bush (a famous seer of the Russian soul) has it: "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me, you can't get fooled again". Thus, it's a jaded electorate reeling after a heartbreak too many from democracy's gilded promises, rather than the Kremlin's iron fist, that may yet become Navalny's biggest obstacle.

Alexander II, Khrushchev, Gorbachev: the country's history is littered with failed reformers and idealists of all stripes, whereas the leaders it most reveres have been its cruellest ones: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin and now Putin. If Russia reserves its biggest punishments for the well-meaning, Navalny's biggest crime is to be the candidate of hope in a land that has long since given it up.

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« Reply #5892 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:52 AM »

The anti-abortion lobby is barbaric

Everywhere in America, anti-abortionists imperil women's lives. We must stop it happening here too

Tanya Gold   
The Guardian, Monday 22 April 2013   

When access to abortion is threatened, pregnant women die. This is hardly a surprise to those with the imagination to cast their minds back to the years when knitting needles, gin and hot baths and backstreet criminals were the only remedies for an unwanted pregnancy. Childbirth itself is life threatening, but who cares to dwell on that when monomaniacal joy is the only acceptable response to the promise of a child?

Last week two cases told us what happens when abortion is either criminalised, or subject to a growing taboo. The first was that of the 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar, who died after being refused an abortion in a Galway hospital as she miscarried last year, and was told that "Ireland is a Catholic country". Halappanavar died of sepsis and E coli; Dr Peter Boylan, the obstetrician giving evidence to the inquest, believes that had Halappanavar received the abortion she requested, she would not have died. Last week the coroner ruled medical misadventure – how could he do anything else?

If doctors had realised Halappanavar was dying, they could legally have saved her. (This is too like the trials of the ancient witches: if they drowned, they were innocent). The barbarism is reflected in Halappanavar's husband's bewildered eyes: how could this happen in a civilised country? Ireland's abortion laws are a disgrace. No decent Irishman or woman should sleep until they are repealed; instead we have only a recommendation that the law on when exactly abortion is acceptable be clarified.

The second case is the trial of Kermit Gosnell. He is that creature of nightmare, a mad doctor who performed cheap, illegal, late term abortions in what the Daily Mail, inevitably, calls his "House of Horrors" clinic in Pennsylvania. There has been plenty of news coverage about the bits of broken babies in the House of Horrors; rather less on how fear of censure left patients reluctant to complain about Gosnell's behaviour. There is even less on how women went to Gosnell simply because other abortion clinics had protesters outside, or had closed down. And, I think, there is nothing at all on how legal restrictions on abortion in America lead directly to delays, and thus themselves create the necessity for the hated late-term procedure that we can unite in disgust around. The anti-abortion lobby did not create Gosnell, but they facilitated him. Now, of course, they will use him.

Gosnell apparently cut the spines of seven living babies' with scissors; one woman, Karnamaya Mongar, died after receiving an overdose of medication. Predictably, the anti-abortion lobby treat Gosnell as a cracked saviour who has come to reveal the true "reality" of abortion, a convenient devil who will prove the existence of God. It does not matter that what Gosnell did is illegal and he will go to jail. He is a gift to a campaign seeking to force all women, no matter what the circumstances or the results, to carry their babies to term.

Everywhere in America anti-abortion activists harass, imperil and impede safe abortion; they spread misinformation; they seek to close clinics and sometimes they commit murder. These tactics are spreading in Europe; last month the 40 Days for Life movement prayed outside abortion clinics in London for the whole of Lent, a grotesque imposition on vulnerable or sometimes traumatised women. Also last month Abort67, a group that likes to display huge photographs of dismembered foetuses outside abortion clinics on the grounds that women do not "understand" what abortion constitutes, hung one such image outside the Department of Health on Whitehall. (What do they think women seeking abortions think? That the stork giveth, and the stork taketh away?)

In Ireland similar images hang near airports, so women coming to England for abortion will see them and feel what? Self-hatred, of course. The plan is to create widespread public revulsion for abortion. Then they will attempt legislation, always pruning, pruning at that which is humane, and safe.

The anti-abortion lobby hate adult women, I think; give them their way, and they will have more dead women, more thwarted women in poverty and trapped. Forced motherhood is a kind of slavery, because motherhood and autonomy can never coexist. Restrictions on abortion killed Savita Halappanavar; they almost certainly killed Karnamaya Mongar too. We should remember it.

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« Reply #5893 on: Apr 22, 2013, 07:54 AM »

04/22/2013 12:57 PM

Brothel Crackdown: Politicians Aim to Reform Prostitution Laws

With human trafficking on the rise in Europe, Germany's governing coalition has agreed to a long-disputed reform of the country's prostitution laws, SPIEGEL has learned.

After years of dispute, Germany's center-right governing coalition has agreed to enact tougher penalties for human trafficking and forced prostitution.

According to SPIEGEL information, members of the coalition -- made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) -- say that an agreement over an appropriate set of regulations has nearly been reached.

Prostitution is legal in Germany, but the coalition plans to toughen criminal penalties against human trafficking and more strictly regulate the commercial activities of brothels. In the future, brothel operators will need special authorization to open such an establishment. Moreover, authorities will be required to enforce hygienic standards and operators will be screened for prior criminal offences. There is still resistance, however, from Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP), who wants to prevent harsher criminal laws in the sex industry.

For years, both conservative and FDP lawmakers have been pressing to reform the prostitution laws that were passed in 2001 by the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Though the legislation helped free prostitution from the stain of immorality, experts say it also led to a sharp increase in the sexual exploitation of women -- mainly because authorities failed to properly regulate the industry. Most recently, a report by the European Union's commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmström, showed that human trafficking in Europe has risen sharply.

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Remains of woman adorned with gold beads and buried 4,500 years ago discovered near Windsor

By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
Monday, April 22, 2013 8:39 EDT

The remains of a woman who was buried almost 4,500 years ago has been discovered in a quarry in Berkshire wearing a precious necklace of gold beads – a particularly rare find from a woman’s grave, when even her near contemporary the Amesbury archer, the richest burial of the period ever found, only had two small gold hair ornaments.

Inevitably she has been dubbed “Kingsmead’s queen” after the quarry near Windsor where she was found, but the architects from Wessex archaeology have more properly called her “a woman of importance”.

She clearly had considerable wealth and status in her community. The fragmentary bones, almost destroyed in the acid soil, suggest she was at least 35, and as well as the necklace of tubular sheet gold beads interspersed with black disks of lignite, she had several pierced amber beads which may have been buttons for a jacket, and more black beads which may have been a bracelet.

She also had a finely decorated cup placed by her hip – one of the indications that she was one of the so-called Beaker Folk, new arrivals in Britain from the continent who brought with them advanced metal-working skills in copper and gold. They were commonly buried with an array of possessions including the pottery cups.

Gareth Chaffey, who has been excavating at the site for seven years, thinks if not a queen, the woman from the quarry must have been someone with power and authority. “It is interesting to think who this woman was within her community. She was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items.”

Stuart Needham, formerly of the British Museum, an expert on Copper Age metalwork, said: “Beaker graves of this date are almost unknown in south-east England and only a small number of them, and indeed continental Europe, contain gold ornaments. The tubular beads that were found at Kingsmead quarry are certainly rare in Britain, and this gives the grave tremendous research importance.”

Analysis of the gold suggests it came from southern Britain or possibly Ireland. The lignite – a black shale which resembles jet – came from eastern England and the amber buttons may have come from as far as the Baltic.

The actual bones are too badly decayed to allow carbon 14 dating, or analysis which might reveal where she came from, but she has been dated by her possessions to between 2,200BC and 2,500BC.

Cemex, the quarry operators, hope all the finds will go on display later this year in a local museum.

The Kingsmead site has been quarried for sand and gravel since 1946, but has recently yielded a string of remarkable archaeological discoveries, including a small hamlet of some of the earliest houses in Britain, built almost 6,000 years ago, a unique discovery from such an early date.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

The video below depicts a reconstruction of one of the early Neolithic houses discovered at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton, Berkshire and was uploaded to YouTube on March 6, 2013:

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