Iceland's next prime minister halts EU membership talks
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, whose party was returned to power in April, says referendum needed before new negotiations
Associated Press in Reykjavik
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 17.40 BST
The leader of a centre-right party has been chosen as Iceland's new prime minister and promptly announced a halt to talks about joining the EU.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said on Wednesday: "The government intends to halt negotiations between Iceland and the European Union. We will not hold further negotiations with the European Union without prior referendum."
Iceland has engaged in on-and-off talks with the EU for several years. Gunnlaugsson's Progressive party has been opposed, in part because it fears membership would mean giving up control of Iceland's fishing stocks.
The new government will also include Bjarni Benediktsson, head of the conservative Independent party, who will serve as minister of finance.
The general election on 27 April returned to power the two parties who governed Iceland for decades up to and including the 2008 economic collapse. After the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector that year, Icelanders voted in a liberal government led by the Social Democrats and the Left-Green movement. Iceland was forced to seek a bailout in 2008 from Europe and the International Monetary Fund, after the currency plummeted, and inflation and unemployment soared.
The Progressive party promised during the campaign to reduce Icelandic household debt by 20%.
"The government keeps open the option of creating a special adjustment fund to achieve its goals," Gunnlaugsson said, promising further details soon.
That fund would help reduce loans taken out in foreign currencies, which soared as the Icelandic krona depreciated. Many Icelanders took out mortgages and car loans in foreign currencies prior to the financial collapse.
The government will also focus on lowering taxes and lifting capital controls to increase foreign investment.
Gunnlaugsson has said in the past that foreign creditors of Iceland's collapsed banks would likely need to suffer a substantial "haircut" – or reduction – on debt claims. Details of any potential new plan for dealing with foreign creditors have not yet been announced.
UK and France to join global anti-corruption initiative
Decision by two countries to join scheme exposing corruption in mining and oil industries represents significant breakthrough
Patrick Wintour, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 19.39 BST
Britain and France have both announced they are to join a groundbreaking initiative to expose systematic corruption, mainly in Africa, requiring mining and oil companies to reveal the taxes paid to national governments and the value of the minerals being extracted.
Nearly 40 countries have already signed but the news that France and the UK have joined the initiative represents a breakthrough.
The decision to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative was announced by the French president, François Hollande, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, ahead of a working dinner in Paris.
The UK helped create the EITI in 2002 and has subsequently funded it, but since the UK was not defined as a "resource-rich" country by the International Monetary Fund, the UK did not feel it necessary to join, even after Barack Obama said the US would join in 2011.
Under the initiative, annual reports publish what tax was paid by oil and mineral companies in a country, and the national government publishes what it received. The report is prepared to an international standard overseen by an independent body. The two sums are then reconciled and any gap can be often be attributed to corruption. The move also strengthens the powers of the legislature of countries since they have clearer information on what their executives have received.
The current chair of the EITI is Clare Short, the former international development secretary. In a weekend interview she said: "This is billions and billions and it far outweighs anything that goes across the world in aid. If these monies were properly managed and properly invested and used, hundreds of millions, literally, of people could see a better life. At the moment there's great riches but they're not lifting up the people in poor countries that have become the target of mining and oil investment in this commodity boom in the way that they should."
She said: "You can't force countries, but if a country won't reform and in the worst case that you talk about where you've got a kleptocracy that really is running away with the money, no one can make them change unless they want to.
"But the EITI does leverage change in improvement in some of the countries with really serious problems."
In Washington last week, David Cameron the current chair of the G8 leading economies, called for more openness among energy companies, claiming a veil of secrecy obscures the conduct of the extractive industries.
He announced an urgent review into Britain's failure to join the regime, saying: "We cannot call on other countries to live up to these high standards if we are not prepared to do so ourselves."
The US Securities and Exchange Commission ruled last year that oil and natural gas companies must disclose payments to foreign governments.
At present there are 39 countries involved with the initiative and 23 that are fully compliant.
Swedish riots rage for fourth night
Police attacked and cars torched in Stockholm suburbs as unrest sparked by long-term youth unemployment and poverty spreads
Agencies in Stockholm
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 May 2013 09.00 BST
Hundreds of youth have burned down a restaurant, set fire to more than 340 cars and attacked police during a fourth night of rioting in the suburbs of the Swedish capital, shocking a country that dodged the worst of the financial crisis but failed to solve youth unemployment and resentment among asylum seekers.
Violence spread across Stockholm on Wednesday, as large numbers of young people rampaged through the suburbs, throwing stones, breaking windows and destroying cars. Police in the southern city of Malmo said two cars had been set ablaze.
Media reports said a police station office was set on fire in Stockholm's southern suburb of Rågsved, where several people were also detained. No one was hurt and the fire was quickly put out.
Rioters defied a call for calm from the country's prime minister, going on the rampage after nightfall damaging stores, schools, a police station and an arts and crafts centre in the four days of violence.
"I think there is a feeling that we need to be in more places tonight," said Towe Hagg, spokeswoman for Stockholm police. One police officer was injured in the latest attacks and five people were arrested for attempted arson.
Selcuk Ceken, who works at a youth centre in the district of Hagsatra, said 40-50 youths threw stones at police and smashed windows before running away.
He said the rioters were in their 20s and appeared to be well-organised. "It's difficult to say why they're doing this," he said. "Maybe it's anger at the law and order forces, maybe it's anger at their own personal situation, such as unemployment or having nowhere to live."
The disturbances appear to have been sparked by the police killing a 69-year-old man wielding a machete in the suburb of Husby earlier this month, which prompted accusations of police brutality. The riots then spread to other poor Stockholm suburbs.
"We see a society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger," said Rami Al-khamisi, co-founder of Megafonen, a group that works for social change in the suburbs. "And the people out here are being hit the hardest … We have institutional racism."
"The reason is very simple. Unemployment, the housing situation, disrespect from police," said Rouzbeh Djalaie, editor of Norra Sidan newspaper. "It just takes something to start a riot, and that was the shooting."
Djalaie said youths were often stopped by police in the streets for identity checks. During the riots, he said some police called local youths "apes".
The TV pictures of blazing cars has shocked a country proud of its reputation for social justice as well as its hospitality towards refugees from war and repression.
"I understand why many people who live in these suburbs and in Husby are worried, upset, angry and concerned," said the justice minister, Beatrice Ask. "Social exclusion is a very serious cause of many problems, we understand that."
After decades of practising the Swedish model of generous welfare benefits, Stockholm has reduced the role of the state since the 1990s, spurring the fastest growth in inequality of any advanced OECD economy.
While average living standards are still among the highest in Europe, successive governments have failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty, which have affected immigrant communities worst.
Around 15% of the population is foreign-born, and unemployment among these stands at 16%, compared with 6% for native Swedes, according to OECD data.
Youth unemployment in Husby, at 6%, is twice the overall average across the capital.
The left-leaning tabloid Aftonbladet said the riots represented a "gigantic failure" of government policies, which had underpinned the rise of ghettos in the suburbs.
As unemployment has grown, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party has risen to third in polls ahead of a general election due next year, reflecting many voters' worries that immigrants may be partly to blame.
While many of the immigrant population are from Nordic neighbours closely tied to Sweden by language or culture, the debate has tended to focus on poor asylum seekers from distant warzones.
Out of a total 103,000 immigrants last year, 43,900 were asylum seekers, almost 50% up from 2011. Nearly half of these were refugees from fighting in Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia, and will get at least temporary residency.
Among 44 industrialised countries, Sweden ranks fourth in the absolute number of asylum seekers, and second relative to its population, according to United Nations figures.
Policing in Stockholm has already been the focus of controversy this year, with allegations that police were picking out darker-skinned immigrants for identity checks on subway trains.
MI6 spent £200m bribing Spaniards in second world war
Newly released documents reveal secret services paid out fortune in bid to stop Franco joining war on Hitler's side
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 May 2013 00.00 BST
MI6 spent the present-day equivalent of more than $200m bribing senior Spanish military officers, ship owners and other agents to keep Spain out of the second world war, files released today disclose.
More and more money was delivered, mainly via a Swiss bank account in New York, as Sir Samuel Hoare, Britain's ambassador in Madrid, warned London that unless it was paid, there was a real and immediate danger of Spain abandoning its neutrality and of Franco joining forces with Nazi Germany.
In June 1940, Hoare was demanding an initial $1m. "I personally urge authority be granted without delay, and that if you have doubts, the prime minister be consulted," he told the Foreign Office in London. "Yes indeed," Churchill initialled on a copy of Hoare's deciphered telegram in red ink.
One file names "Senores Jose Jorro Andreo and Rasado Silva" Torres as recipients of British funds sent, in their case, to the Bank of Portugal in Lisbon.
"It may well be that Spain's entry in the war will depend on our quick action," telegraphed Hoare in another urgent plea for MI6 cash to spend on agents. The situation was "cricial", he insisted: "I cannot spend spare time to explain the position in detail."
Hoare claimed that British money was responsible for the arrest of people plotting to persuade the Spanish dictator to join the war on Germany's side. Hoare succeeded in persuading ministers in London. A top secret message from Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, referred to British contact with guerrillas in the event of Spain being invaded by Germany. "Please burn this letter when you have read it," he told Hoare.
British agents later made contacts in Lisbon with an unnamed Spanish Republican leader and representatives of the Allianza Democratica Española. Churchill's concerns that British agents were "contacting 'Reds' with the object of stirring up a revolution" were allayed by Hugh Dalton, the minister for economic warfare, the files show.
At least $14m, some $200m in today's value, from MI6's secret vote was spent on Spanish agents during the second world war, according to the documents. At one point, British ministers persuaded the US to unblock cash for Spanish agents held in banks in New York.
Franco seemed determined throughout the war to remain neutral, though was on close terms with Germany behind the scenes.
Spaniards were not the only beneficiaries of MI6 money approved by FO ministers. "We recently put forward to our ambassador in Baghdad a suggestion for the adoption of large-scale bribery of politicians and other leading personalities in Iraq," says a file dated January 1941. The file suggests that Britain had to keep up with the Italians and Germans, placing an initial £100,000 at the embassy's disposal. The document then adds: "We have been trying by hook or by crook to dislodge the Iraqi prime minister" – a reference to the pro-Axis Rashid Ali al-Gaylani.
The spy who cross-dressed
An MI6 officer was arrested by police in Madrid during the second world war dressed "down to a brassiere, as a woman", a file disclosed today recalls. Dudley Clarke, masquerading as a Times journalist, said he told Spanish police he was a "novelist and wanted to study the reactions of men to women in the streets". He later explained that he was taking the "feminine garments to a lady in Gibraltar and thought that he would try them on "for a prank".
An anxious report to C, the head of MI6, in London reported that among the items in his suitcase was a "roll of super fine toilet paper, which particularly excited the police, who are submitting the sheets to chemical tests".
Communications intercepted by the British revealed that German officials described the case as a "first class espionage incident".
But Clarke was released, and quickly made for Gibraltar. "Please keep him under strict surveillance and despatch to Middle East by next plane," C told Gibraltar's governor. "If he shows signs of mental derangement, he should however be sent home by first ship."
He did not. Clarke "went on to have a brilliant career in deception", wrote Keith Jeffrey in his official MI6 history.
Wartime MI6 had secret plans for 'liquidation or kidnapping' of targets
National Archives reveal plan to sow dissension among Soviet communists then kill Rommel and top Gestapos before D-Day
The Guardian, Thursday 23 May 2013
MI6 drew up plans for clandestine operations, including the "liquidation of selected individuals" and "kidnapping of high ranking Communist personalities" as the second world war led to the cold war, secret intelligence files released Thursday at the National Archives reveal.
The prime targets of the secret intelligence service were leading Soviet personalities. A file from 1947 entitled Covert Propaganda, listed "plants" and "fictitious indiscretions" as potential weapons.
The file notes said: "Action could be taken to discredit prominent Communist and other public figures, and to propagate dissension in Communist parties and organisations by (i) dispatch of forged letters through the post, and (ii) the planting of manufactured evidence."
Referring to the head of MI6, known, as that person still is, as "C" for chief, an intelligence officer told Ernest Bevin, the foreign secretary: "C's organisation should be given a free hand to carry out such special operations as are possible in peacetime in the Soviet Union itself and in Soviet zones of Germany and Austria."
To the irritation of MI6 and military chiefs, Bevin, like the prime minister, Clement Attlee, was squeamish about what the MI6 papers euphemistically called special purposes and subterranean work.
Responding to the MI6 memo, Bevin wrote: "I have grave objections to this. We are letting loose forces difficult to control … I did not regard it too successful (sic) in the war."
Ministers later softened their opposition to such MI6 operations in Europe and elsewhere, and "licensed to kill" was not officially abandoned until the mid 1950s.
During the later stages of the second world war, the files show, MI6 drew up a list of key German figures, included senior Gestapo officers, to be assassinated before the planned D-Day Normandy landings, at the request of US officers at the HQ of the allied commander, General Dwight Eisenhower.
Field Marshal Rommel, the "desert fox" who had been defeated in North Africa but who was commanding German troops in northern France, was a candidate for assassination.
However, the plan was dropped before D-Day amid concerns it would lead to what an MI6 officer called "a wave of murderings". He warned against reprisals against civilians and allied prisoners of war held by the Germans. The officer advised: "It is likely that for every successful assassination, there will be two or three failures, as past records of these attempts show."
Stewart Menzies, who was C, agreed, as did Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the joint intelligence committee. "Not out of squeamishness", he said, "as there are several people in this world whom I could kill with my own hands with a feeling of pleasure and without that action in any way spoiling my appetite, but I think that it is the type of bright idea which in the end produces a good deal of trouble and does little good."
But in June 1944 British agents received reports of a plot to kill Hitler and of his having been spotted in the southern French town of Perpignan disguised and fleeing to north Africa.
Defence chiefs told Winston Churchill they were "unanimous that, from the strictly military point of view, it was almost an advantage that Hitler should remain in control of German strategy, having regard to the blunders that he has made, but that on the wider point of view, the sooner he was got rid of the better".
MI6 believed the Middle East could provide fertile ground for its covert activities. In a file marked oral propaganda, it reported in 1947: "The widespread illiteracy among the people of the Middle East … points to the value of the spoken word as an effective means of propaganda. This kind of propaganda could be put across by the Moslem clergy, both Sunni and Shia, in the Arab countries and in Persia."
The MI6 noted added: "But they will need to be supplied with the compelling arguments based on a comparison of Communist tenets with Moslem and Christian principles and teaching."
C wondered whether to assign an officer after the war to the British embassy in Paris to spy on the French. He agreed to do so, the files show, in a letter which he instructed the recipient to burn.
But C wondered what cover his officer should have. After dismissing the labels of cultural attache and commercial secretary, the decision was made to call him "military adviser to the ambassador".
The man chosen for the task was AJ Ayer, who became well-known as a philosopher. Ayer did not stay long in Paris before he was replaced by MI6 and returned to Britain.
King Edward VIII's phones were bugged by the government, records reveal
Previously secret note from Home Office refers to order to intercept communications at height of 1936 abdication crisis
The Guardian, Thursday 23 May 2013
Ministers ordered the bugging of Edward VIII's telephones in Buckingham Palace and in his Windsor retreat at the height of the 1936 abdication crisis, hitherto secret papers reveal.
The extraordinary move, reflecting a growing and deep distrust between the king and his ministers, is disclosed in a unique cache of intelligence files hidden until now in a basement at the Cabinet Office in the heart of Whitehall.
Among the files is a scribbled note, dated 5 December 1936 and marked "most secret", from the Home Office to the head of the General Post Office, Sir Thomas Gardiner, referring to an order from the home secretary, Sir John Simon.
It states: "The home secretary asks me to confirm the information conveyed to you orally … that you will arrange for the interception of telephone communications between Fort Belvedere and Buckingham Palace on the one hand and the continent of Europe on the other."
When not at the palace, Edward stayed at Fort Belvedere, his bolthole in Windsor Great Park. Edward's mistress, the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, was staying with friends in the south of France at the time.
The panic in the British establishment provoked by Edward's affair with Simpson and his apparent belief that he could get away with marrying her and remain king has been widely reported.
What has not been disclosed until now is how the lack of trust in the monarch was such that ministers went to the lengths of recording his personal conversations.
The Queen's advisers at Buckingham Palace were consulted about the decision to release the file, the Guardian understands.
Deep anxiety in Whitehall and the government's fear of losing control of the situation led to a close watch of outgoing telegrams. One that was intercepted and blocked was from Neil Forbes Grant, London editor of the Cape Times.
Summoned to see the home secretary, Grant was told there was no truth to his report that the king was about to abdicate and that if the news had reached South Africa and then been telegraphed back to Britain, the reaction might have been "of a most serious character".
Simon wrote: "I reminded him that in 1815 a false rumour that we had lost the Battle of Waterloo produced a financial crisis and ruined many people. I asked him if he did not realise that his responsibilities as a journalist and an Englishman made the sending of such a message without definite authority as to its truth very improper and reckless."
Grant insisted he had got his information from "a very highly placed source", but seemed suitably chastened. According to Simon, the journalist said "this had been a lesson to him and that he would always have this experience in mind in discharging his responsibilities in future".
Edward abdicated on 10 December 1936, four days after Grant sent his intercepted telegram.
The newly released files, all highly classified, have been gathering dust for decades in a Cabinet Office basement. Lord Wilson, a former cabinet secretary, described how he visited what he called a strongroom beneath his old office where he found "heaps of paper … my eyes swivelled".
He said he decided to "grasp the nettle" and set up a review to look into the possible release of the papers. It was carried out by Gill Bennett, a former Foreign Office official historian. She said the papers had been treated as "too difficult" to categorise. Officials were "not sure what to do with them", she said.
Other files among the tranche, which records events up to 1951, reveal how a male MI6 officer was arrested in Madrid wearing women's clothes, how MI6 paid huge amounts of money to agents to keep Spain out of the second world war, and how MI6 was prepared to "liquidate" selected individuals after the war.
Amid tales of bribery, smuggling, dirty tricks, and intrigue – some of which, missing files suggest, are still being carried out – the papers also include a first-hand account of how Churchill spent a night drinking with Stalin in Moscow in August 1942. Sir Alexander Cadogan, top official at the Foreign Office, wrote of being summoned to Stalin's room. "There I found Winston and Stalin … sitting with a heavily laden board between them: food of all kinds crowned by a suckling pig, and unnumberable bottles.
"What Stalin made me drink seemed pretty savage: Winston, who by that time was complaining of a slight headache, seemed wisely to be confining himself to a comparatively innocuous effervescent Caucasian red wine."
" Everything seemed to be as merry as a marriage-bell", added Cadogan, as Stalin went on about the benefits of the Soviet system. The party broke up at 3am.
05/23/2013 11:54 AM
'Dealing with the Devil': The Thankless Task of Greece's Top Job-Cutter
By Manfred Ertel
Antonis Manitakis has the most thankless job in Greece. Tasked with slashing the grotesquely bloated public sector, he is hounded by troika officials, reviled by his countrymen and afraid of cutting too deep.
Appearances are deceiving on Klafthmonos Square in downtown Athens. Three imposing bronze statues, the "Monument to National Reconciliation," shimmer in the bright spring sunshine. But demonstrators at the base of the monument bring to mind the original purpose of the square, the name of which translates into "Lamentation Square." Until 1911, when the Greek constitution guaranteed all civil servants jobs for life, government bureaucrats who had been let go after a change in government used to come to the square to publicly express their outrage.
In the current crisis, no one has a job for life anymore, not even in the public sector. The government plans to slash at least 4,000 jobs by the end of the year and an additional 11,000 next year. Without this assurance, the so-called "troika" -- comprising the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank -- would have refused to disburse the next tranche of aid money to Greece in the amount of €7.5 billion ($9.6 billion) by June.
Government agencies are expected to slash some 150,000 jobs by 2015, representing roughly one-fifth of Greece's enormous public sector. Kostas Tsikrikas, the head of the powerful union representing civil servants, is already threatening the government with a "fight to the bitter end."
His rage is directly primarily at Antonis Manitakis, 69. Last May, after efforts to form a new government failed, Manitakis joined the transitional government of nonpartisan technocrats for a few weeks. After new elections in June, the smallest coalition partner, the Democratic Left, nominated the professor and renowned constitutional expert to be the minister of administrative reform.
Now Manitakis is grappling with the Herculean task of somewhat reducing the size of the grotesquely inflated administrative apparatus. "I want to give my country honor and dignity once again," he says. "I want to be able to tell my grandchildren one day that there are still dreams and values for them."
But until then, the top official in the civil service will have to get rid of thousands of employees, such as teachers on very small islands like Astypalea and Kastelorizo, where there are 15 teachers for 18 students. "The Greek people are responsible for their fate, and they must understand that only they can rectify problems like these," says the minister. But even Manitakis isn't quite confident enough to embark on large-scale layoffs yet.
Manitakis, a lawyer by training, is sitting in his office. He is a likeable elderly man in a gray suit, surrounded by dark, heavy furniture. He doesn't resemble the standard Greek politician. He hardly ever attends public events, preferring to keep a low profile, and he doesn't like to talk to journalists. In fact, it took him 10 months after coming into office to give his first interview.
Manitakis is committed to his causes. In the 1960s, he fled from the military dictatorship that controlled Greece at the time and went to Brussels to study. After the fall of the junta, he returned to Greece, where he initially supported Eurocommunism. For decades, he remained true to his liberal, leftist worldview.
Nevertheless, angry civil servants now mention his name in the same breath as the neo-Nazis, who are terrorizing the streets in the vacuum created by the crisis. Fellow professors, like constitutional law expert Giorgos Katroungalos, accuse him of having made a "deal with the devil." As Katroungalos puts it: "Deals with the devil always end badly, just not for the devil, and not for the troika, either."
All Power to the Creditors
Despite this criticism, Manitakis himself has a low opinion of the troika's austerity commissioners, and yet he staunchly defends the rest of Europe, which gave him asylum and an education. He praises the French experts on the EU task force who are helping him restructure Greece's public administration. He also has no harsh words for the Germans, a rare stance in Athens these days.
But Manitakis does complain about "horrible experiences in the negotiations with the troika, which I will remember for the rest of my life." He says that he had to learn "to understand that I must act as the representative of a bankrupt country, and that I am dealing with the representatives of the creditor nations, which have all the power."
He is slashing jobs, which is something Europe ought to respect. "The Greeks have to regain their self-confidence, and it's time to put an end to the humiliations," says Manitakis.
He constantly tells his civil servants that only those who have violated their oath of office, aren't doing their jobs, are performing poorly or obtained their jobs for life with fake documents will be let go.
But he will hardly be able to keep that promise, especially when dealing with organizations like the Kopais Lake Agency. It was established in the 1950s to drain a lake in southeastern Greece. The work was completed in 1957, but the office continued to employ a staff of three dozen civil servants for the next 55 years, although no one knows what exactly they did. Some 197 of these kinds of positions have already been eliminated, and hundreds more are expected to follow.
Another trouble spot is the so-called "labor reserve," to which 25,000 civil servants have been assigned, at reduced salaries and with the expectation that they will eventually be transferred to other jobs. But Europe's overseers expect that most of these positions will soon be eliminated.
Manitakis would rather use the reserve as a holding area for qualified civil servants who have become redundant in agencies like Kopais but could possibly be used in other government posts in the future. He hopes to achieve a real reduction in the government workforce through retirements, instead.
Some 32,000 civil servants retired last year, and about 90,000 are expected to follow suit over the next three years, Manitakis claims, adding that this could suffice. But it seems extremely optimistic to think that retiring civil servants could account for more than 120,000 of the 150,000 jobs the government plans to cut. Nevertheless, says Manitakis, the troika has accepted his figures. Greece's creditors apparently want to believe that the country is somehow meeting its obligations.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Muslim leaders pray at Auschwitz during a Holocaust awareness visit
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 16:36 EDT
Muslim leaders from across the globe knelt in prayer for the Holocaust dead at the Auschwitz’s notorious Wall of Death on Wednesday, in an emotional visit to the Nazi German death camp in southern Poland.
Imams from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States offered traditional Muslim “salat” prayers facing south towards their holy city of Mecca, shoes removed, during a Holocaust awareness visit to the site.
Thousands of Auschwitz prisoners perished at the wall, which is grey and still riddled with bullet holes. It is a stone’s throw from the infamous wrought iron “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) gate at the camp’s entrance.
“What can you say? You’re speechless. What you have seen is beyond human imagination,” a visibly moved Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), told AFP after prayers and viewing the camp’s infamous gas chamber and crematoria.
“Whether in Europe today or in the Muslim world, my call to humanity: End racism, for God’s sake, end anti-Semitism, for God’s sake, end Islamophobia for God’s sake, end sexism for God’s sake… Enough is enough,” he said.
“When I saw what happened for the people here, I tried to prevent my tears from my eyes because its very difficult to see how many people were killed without any reason,” Palestinian Imam Barakat Hasan from Ramallah said.
“I am from Palestine and my people are suffering now since 65 years until now, so of course I feel for others who have suffering,” he added.
The visit was part of a Holocaust awareness and anti-genocide programme organised in part by the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
Of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II, a million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly in its notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others including Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.
Operated by the Nazis from 1940 until it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was part of a vast and brutal network of death and concentration camps across Europe set up as part of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” of genocide against an estimated 10 million European Jews.
Once Europe’s Jewish heartland, Poland saw 90 percent of its 3.3 million pre-war Jews wiped out under Nazi German occupation between 1939-45.
Some of the imams wept at an emotional meeting Tuesday with Jewish Holocaust survivors and their Polish Catholic saviours who told stories of their war-time sacrifice and survival at Warsaw’s Nozyk Synagogue.
Earlier Tuesday, the group visited the Polish capital’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in the heart of city’s pre-war Jewish community which became the infamous Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis.
The sprawling venue highlights nearly a millennium of Jewish life in Poland obliterated by the Holocaust.
A soaring rupture opening on to undulating walls marks its facade, an allusion to Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea, through which Moses led the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt to freedom, a narrative shared by the Torah, the Bible and the Quran.
Polish doctors carry out world’s first life-saving face transplant
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 21:27 EDT
Polish doctors carried out the world’s first life-saving face transplant, the centre’s spokeswoman said Wednesday, weeks after a 33-year-old man was disfigured by a machine in a workplace accident.
“It is Poland’s first face transplant and also the first in the world done to save the patient’s life,” Anna Uryga, spokeswoman for the Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology in the southern city of Gliwice, told AFP.
The man, an employee at a stonemason’s workshop and only identified as Grzegorz, was severely maimed on April 23, when a machine used to cut stone ripped out a large chunk of his face.
An attempt to reattach it failed — though it saved the man’s vision and and a part of his face — and because of the breadth and depth of the lesions “his life was on the line”, Uryga said.
With time of the essence, doctors were lucky to find a donor within two weeks, a man in his thirties whose family immediately agreed to the operation.
The heart and liver of the deceased man were also donated to two other people.
A team of doctors at the centre — the only one licenced to perform face transplants in Poland — performed the 27-hour facial surgery on May 15, with the patient’s full consent.
“He and his family approved the action plan and the associated risks. He was even enthusiastic,” head doctor Adam Maciejewski told reporters.
Now, a week later, “his condition is still serious because it was a huge operation … (but) he is breathing on his own. Unable to speak, he is communicating via head and hand movements,” the doctor added.
Polish media published a photograph of the man flashing a thumbs-up from his hospital bed, with thick black stitches encircling his face.
“The patient will be able to eat, breathe and see. In eight months’ time, he should have full facial motor control.”
French doctors carried out the world’s first successful face transplant in 2005 on Isabelle Dinoire, a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog.
Since then, over 20 other transplants have been carried out worldwide, including in Belgium, Spain, Turkey and the US.
05/23/2013 10:55 AM
Blood in London: Vicious Attack Seen as Possible Act of Terror
By Carsten Volkery in London
Authorities are treating the brutal attack in broad daylight on Wednesday afternoon as an act of Islamist terror, with Prime Minister David Cameron meeting with top security officials on Thursday morning. Investigators are looking into a possible Nigeria connection.
The call came at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. When the first police officers turned into John Wilson Street in the Woolwich neighborhood of southeast London a short time later, they were greeted with a sickening sight: A young man lay on the street, covered in blood. Nearby stood a pair of men, one holding a pistol and the other a butcher knife and a meat cleaver.
One of the offers opened fire when one of the perpetrators began approaching her police car. Both suspected attackers were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds. But for the badly injured victim, a British soldier, help came too late.
The two men were not shy about broadcasting their motives, praising Allah at the scene and using rhetoric often heard in Islamist videos. Indeed, Prime Minister David Cameron, in Paris on Wednesday for talks with French President François Hollande, was quick to say that there were "strong indications that it is a terrorist attack." He quickly returned to London and is chairing a meeting of the government's emergency response committee, Cobra, on Thursday to discuss further security measures.
Shocked eyewitnesses reported that the two men slaughtered their target, a soldier from the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks, like an animal. "They were hacking at this poor guy, literally," an eyewitness identified as James told the local radio station LBC. They were treating him, he said, "like a piece of meat." Dozens of people were in the area at the time of the attack and photos and videos appeared almost immediately on the Internet.
"I first thought it was a car collision," Lauren Collins, who lives in the area, told the BBC. But then she learned what had happened. "I hope that nothing more happens," she said.
Possible Connection to Nigeria
The murder in full daylight raised a number of immediate questions. Witnesses reported that the perpetrators, both black men, posed for photos at the scene of the crime and made no effort to flee, apparently preferring to wait for police to arrive. Officials have released no details regarding the identities of the murderers, but Reuters is reporting on Thursday that officials are looking into a possible connection to Nigeria.
The perpetrators left little doubt as to the motivation for the brutal killing. On Wednesday evening, broadcaster ITV aired a mobile phone video made by a witness. It shows one of the perpetrators, hands covered in blood and holding a knife, saying directly into the camera: "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day." The man, who appears to be in his 20s or 30s, then says: "The British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
The man spoke with a London accent, leading observers to conclude that he is a local. He added: "I apologize that women had to witness that, but in our lands, our women have to see the same thing. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you."
The British tabloid The Sun shows more scenes from the same video on its website. In one of them, the perpetrator demands: "Tell them to bring out troops back so we -- so you -- can all live in peace." The wording recalls that found in videos made by Islamist terrorists when claiming responsibility for attacks. Still, it was initially unclear whether the attackers had any connection with terrorist groups or were simply uttering similar phrases.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who had been in Brussels for an EU summit before driving to Paris together with Hollande, immediately called an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee. Home Secretary Theresa May, Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond and London Mayor Boris Johnson were kept abreast of developments by Scotland Yard as were MI5 and MI6, the domestic and foreign intelligence services, respectively. The meetings clearly indicate that the British government is treating the incident as an Islamist attack.
Combating the 'Forces of Hatred'
Speaking at a news conference at the Élysée Palace in Paris, Cameron said: "We have had these sorts of attacks before in our country, and we never buckle in the face of them." Cameron then quickly returned to London, while Labour opposition leader Ed Milibrand cancelled a planned visit to Germany.
British police appealed to residents to remain calm and avoid "unnecessary speculation." The fact that it has not raised the terror warning level would seem to indicate that the government does not fear additional attacks. However, police presence was heightened in Woolwich. Officers on Wednesday evening halted a demonstration in Woolwich as about 50 members of the far-right English Defence League began shouting insulting slogans about the Koran and singing nationalist songs.
Several Muslim organizations have strongly condemned the attack. "This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam," the Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement released Wednesday. "This action will no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the United Kingdom." The council called on all Muslims and non-Muslims alike to "come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail."
Despite these various calls for peace, there have already been reports of anti-Muslim actions. One member of parliament reported via Twitter that a 43-year-old had been arrested after forcing his way into a London mosque armed with a knife. A second man has reportedly been arrested in southeast England on suspicion of racially motivated property damage.
London attacker vows: ‘You people will never be safe’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 23, 2013 7:39 EDT
One of the two alleged killers of a British soldier on a street in south-east London on Wednesday explained his actions on an amateur video obtained by the television channel ITV.
The young black man, who is wearing jeans, sports shoes, a jacket and a black hat and holding a bloody kitchen knife and a meat cleaver is filmed approaching the camera.
“We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you unless you leave us alone,” he says.
“We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
“I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.
“You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy, like you, and your children.
“So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so can all live in peace.”
Other words are inaudible.
48-year-old woman confronted London attackers to deflect danger
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 23, 2013 8:17 EDT
A woman who challenged knife-wielding assailants suspected of hacking to death a British soldier in London on Wednesday said she intervened because “it was better having them (the weapons) aimed on one person”.
Cub scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, 48, explained in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph that one of the men told her they wanted “to start a war in London tonight” when she asked them why they had carried out the attack.
The mother-of-two ran from a passing bus after seeing the victim lying in the road and tried to take his pulse.
It was only then that she noticed the arsenal of weapons, including knives and a revolver.
“He was not high, he was not on drugs, he was not an alcoholic or drunk, he was just distressed, upset,” she said of the first attacker she talked to, the paper reported.
“I said ‘right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose, what would you like to do?’ and he said ‘I would like to stay and fight’.”
She later approached the second suspect and asked for him to hand over his weapons.
“I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me rather than everybody there, children were starting to leave school as well,” she told the Telegraph.
Britain’s top policeman confirmed two men had been arrested following the “shocking and horrific” attack.
“We have launched a murder investigation, being led by the Counter Terrorism Command,” explained Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe
“Two men have been arrested in connection with that murder.”
Kurdish guards fear for jobs and lives when Turkey and PKK make peace
Paramilitaries reviled by compatriots face losing their livelihoods and possibly their lives if Ankara cuts them adrift at end of war
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 18.18 BST
Sitting in front of a small stone cabin on top of a hill overlooking green valleys, with the snow-capped Hakkari mountain range in the background, two men in camouflage uniforms are busy making tea. An AK-47 leans against the wall.
"We are optimistic about the peace process, but we are worried about what will become of us," said Mustafa Can.
His anxiety stems from his 12 years as a foot soldier in Turkey's "village guard" system, a huge force of mainly Kurdish paramilitaries created almost 30 years ago by the Turkish state to patrol Kurdish settlements of the south-east.
With the conflict winding down and a young and fragile peace process under way between Ankara and the rebel fighters of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' party, the fate of the units is one of the biggest issues in the long-running Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
There are huge numbers of them – 50,000 on the government payroll, and half as many again who serve as unpaid volunteers. Few have any certainty as to what the future holds for them. Many fear they will lose their livelihoods. Some speak of retribution that might follow if they are disbanded and disarmed.
Can said he had little choice but to become a guard. "Most of the men in our village became village guards in the 1990s. There were no jobs here, and the Turkish army threatened those who didn't want to take up arms against the PKK."
In April, the pro-Kurdish BDP party proposed the abolition of the system as part of efforts towards the settlement of the Kurdish issue, but so far the government has not addressed the problem. Despite the ongoing peace negotiations and the start of a PKK withdrawal this month, the militiamen are still standing watch in the mountains and alongside roads in Hakkari province.
Yildirim Öztepe, head of the units in the Yüksekova region, said that he wanted to serve as an armed guard to protect his family and his property, but underlined that the vast majority of those in his 2,000-strong association took up the job for economic reasons.
"There is no industry here, and agriculture died during the 30-year-old conflict," he said. "We need to feed our families, too."
Paid guards earn about 820 Turkish lira (£295) a month, but do not receive any social security benefits and only limited health care. Many, being Kurds, are seen as traitors and opportunists – as enemies worse than the Turkish security forces. The PKK reportedly hanged some of the paramilitaries, their mouths stuffed with banknotes. "Other Kurds call us donkeys and say that our blood is dirty. The government ignores our demands for more social rights," Öztepe said. "We are the stepchildren of this country, and of this conflict."
Some have also been accused of human rights abuses.
"Village guards first wounded and then burned my son alive, dragged his dead body behind a car and left it to the dogs," said a Kurdish woman from a mountain village close to the Iranian border.
"I hate the village guards more than I hate Turkish soldiers, and if I could find those who did this, I would kill them myself."
Since the peace talks between Turkey and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan began last October, village guards have repeatedly expressed their concerns about possible retaliation.
According to the Turkish Human Rights Association, units have often prevented displaced Kurds from returning to their villages. More than 5,000 guards have also faced charges of aiding the PKK, kidnapping, smuggling, theft and rape, since the system was put in place in 1985. Criticism increased when a group killed 54 guests at a wedding in Mardin province four years ago after a family dispute, with weapons supplied by the Turkish state.
Vahit Demir, a former PKK member from a village close to the Iranian border, thinks that the system made the Kurdish-Turkish conflict bloodier. "The state pitched brother against brother. If it hadn't been for the village guards, this conflict would have never reached this intensity," he said. But he insisted that there would be no attempts at revenge: "All we want is peace. Nobody has an interest in prolonging this war."
In a mountain village in Hakkari, a group of men voiced their worries about the future. "We would be happy to put down our arms," said Necati Yildiz, a guard since 1998. "But we need to receive the social security and pay that other state employees receive. Nobody in Hakkari would employ a former village guard. How are we supposed to support our families?"
Yildiz added: "We were used as propaganda tools by the Turkish state. It looked good to have Kurds fighting against the PKK."
He admitted that militias had been involved in human rights abuses, but said they were caught between a rock and a hard place: "The army ordered us to fight against the PKK. When we refused, they accused us of being terrorists. For fear of government reprisals, we accepted."
According to official figures, nearly 2,000 village guards have been killed since 1985, fighting the PKK. At the height of the conflict in the 90s, armed rebels often targeted whole families and villages. Kidnappings were common.
"We are talking about an enormous paramilitary force, an irregular army in a sense," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch. "And the village guards are probably the most unaccountable force in this conflict. It's a system that pits one part of the population against another.
"In addition to being involved in counter-terrorism operations, they have often also exploited their position as guards to occupy land that has been evacuated [as part of Turkey's scorched earth policy]."
The Hakkari men agreed that lasting peace was now the most important goal, but added that their rights should not be disregarded.
"We, both as Kurds and as village guards, paid a high price for this peace. After all these years, we need to be part of the peace process also," Yildiz said. "The government cannot just ignore us. They need to realise that a hungry man is a hundred times more dangerous than any PKK fighter."
IAEA says Iran expanding nuclear program
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 16:35 EDT
Iran is making significant progress in expanding its nuclear programme, including in opening up a potential second route to developing the bomb, a new UN atomic agency report showed Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest quarterly update said that Tehran has accelerated the installation of advanced uranium enrichment equipment at its central Natanz plant.
It also outlined further progress at a reactor under construction at Arak, also in central Iran, which Western countries fear could provide Iran with plutonium if the fuel is reprocessed.
The US State Department said the report was an “unfortunate milestone” marking a decade of Iran expanding its nuclear activities “in blatant violation of its international obligations”.
Highly enriched uranium and plutonium can both be used in a nuclear weapon. North Korea used plutonium in two tests in 2006 and 2009, while uranium was used in the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.
The new IAEA report, seen by AFP, said Iran has installed at Natanz almost 700 IR-2m centrifuges and/or empty centrifuge casings, compared with just 180 in February. None was operating, however.
Iran has said it intends to install around 3,000 of the new centrifuges at Natanz — where around 13,500 of the older models are in place — enabling it to speed up the enrichment of uranium.
The UN Security Council has passed numerous resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment and heavy water activities — of the kind under development at Arak — and has imposed four rounds of sanctions.
Last year additional unilateral US and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s oil exports and its financial system began to cause real problems for the Persian Gulf country’s economy.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out military action against Iran, as has US President Barack Obama. Iran says that its atomic activities are peaceful.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the impasse, most recently in six-power talks with Iran in Kazakhstan in April, have failed to make concrete progress.
Despite developments at Natanz, the IAEA report noted that Iran has not started operating any new equipment at its Fordo facility, built under a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
Fordo is of more concern to the international community, since it is used to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 percent and Natanz mostly to five percent, technically much closer to the 90-percent level needed for a bomb.
The IAEA report showed that Iran has produced so far 324 kilos (714 pounds) of 20-percent enriched uranium, 44 kilos more than three months ago, but that 140.8 kilos have been diverted to fuel production, up from 111 kilos.
Experts say that around 240-250 kilos are needed for one bomb.
At the research reactor under construction at Arak, meanwhile, which Iran says will start operating in the third quarter of 2014, the IAEA said that the plant’s large reactor vessel “has been received but … yet to be installed”.
But the agency also “observed that a number of other major components had yet to be installed, including the control room equipment, the refuelling machine and reactor cooling pumps.”
Iran had not provided the IAEA with updated design information for the IR-40 reactor at Arak since 2006, the IAEA added, saying this was “urgently required”.
“This is important because the reactor could be used to produce enough weapons grade plutonium for one weapon a year,” Mark Fitzpatrick, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.
The IAEA is meanwhile also trying to press Iran to provide access to documents, sites and scientists involved in what it suspects were research activities, mostly in the past but possibly ongoing, towards developing the bomb.
At one of these sites, the Parchin military base near Tehran, the new IAEA report said that in addition to months of activity levelling the area that the agency wants to inspect, Iran has now covering a “significant proportion” with asphalt.
“I don’t think they are doing themselves any favours,” one senior official familiar with the probe said, adding that some rubble from the site had been dumped in lakes.
Iran elections: Khomeini daughter attacks Rafsanjani exclusion
Zahra Mostafavi, whose father founded Iran's Islamic republic, calls on supreme leader to reverse guardian council's decision
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 17.28 BST
The daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, has protested against the disqualification of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from next month's presidential election.
Zahra Mostafavi has written to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling on him to reinstate Rafsanjani in order to prevent the forming of a dictatorship.
Neither Rafsanjani, a confidant of Khomeini and the opposition's favoured candidate, nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei were among the eight candidates approved by the guardian council to enter the ballot out of at least 680 people who registered this month.
Ahmadinejad expressed dissatisfaction with the decision against Mashaei, describing it as an act of oppression. He promised to raise the issue with Khamenei.
"In my opinion there will be no problem with the supreme leader and I will take up this issue until the last moment with him," Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday. "I am hopeful the problem will be solved."
The guardian council, a powerful body of six jurists and six clergymen, vets all candidates to make sure they have sufficient loyalty to the Islamic republic and its principles, but critics say the group's function is undemocratic.
It does not publicly give reasons for its decisions but Rafsanjani, 78, is said to have been barred because he was considered too old and Mashaei for being a nationalist figure. Rafsanjani's moderate support for the opposition Green movement is also believed to have counted against him.
Unlike Mashaei's rejection, which was widely expected, Rafsanjani's exclusion has come as a surprise to many, especially supporters of the Islamic republic who regard him as one of Iran's great political survivors, formerly serving as president for two consecutive terms.
Rafsanjani's supporters see many ironies in his disqualification, not least that he is currently head of the expediency council, which mediates between the guardian council and parliament. Two of the guardian council's members are older than Rafsanjani, and Khomeini was not much younger when he took power in 1979.
In Mostafavi's letter – published on Jamaran.ir, a website close to Khomeini's family – she wrote: "Unfortunately I see that the guardian council has blocked him [Rafsanjani] for presidency … This act has no meaning other than creating a separation between two companions of the imam [Khomeini] and a disregarding of the enthusiasm and interest of the people towards the system and the elections,"
She wrote that Khomeini had thought of Rafsanjani as a potential candidate to succeed him as supreme leader, and cited a saying by her father with the message that the supreme leader should prevent any occurrence of dictatorship.
"The gradual separation between the two of you [Khamenei and Rafsanjani] will be the biggest blow to the revolution and the system," she wrote. "The imam always said: 'These two are good when they are together.'"
Rafsanjani has yet to respond to his disqualification but Eshaq Jahangiri, the head of his official campaign, told the Isna news agency that he would not object.
Not all of Rafsanjani's supporters were upset with his disqualification. One said it showed "the empress has no clothes", referring to how Khamenei was tightening his grip on Iranian politics.
Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first post-revolution president, who now lives in exile, told the BBC's Persian service that Rafsanjani's last political gamble had paid off by exposing the establishment's increasing dogmatism.
Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tweeted: "Increasingly looking like Iran's presidential election will be one man, one vote. That one man's name is Ayatollah Khamenei."
Wednesday's newspapers in Tehran largely avoided the disqualifications and instead focused on the eight men allowed to stand.
Tehran residents on social networking websites reported a heavy presence of security forces on the streets on Tuesday night as the final candidate list was announced on state-run TV, and complained of an increase in online censorship and slower internet connections.
The final list of candidates includes few reformist figures but they seem to have little chance of victory. Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who is seen as Khamenei's favourite candidate, are on the list.
Ali Motahari, a Tehran MP whose father was a prominent revolutionary figure, objected to Jalili's candidacy, saying he had little experience in executive positions.
Many analysts believe that the disqualifications have smoothed the path for Jalili to potentially succeed Ahmadinejad. Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said on Tuesday that Khamenei was sending a message that Tehran would not compromise over its nuclear programme.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2013, 07:06 AM by Rad »
May 22, 2013
Report on Deadly Factory Collapse in Bangladesh Finds Widespread Blame
By JIM YARDLEY
DHAKA, Bangladesh — A factory building that collapsed last month outside Dhaka, killing more than 1,000 workers in the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, was constructed with substandard materials and in blatant disregard for building codes, a high-level government report issued Wednesday concluded.
The 400-page report on the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital, found widespread fault for the April 24 disaster, which killed 1,127 people. It blamed the mayor for wrongly granting construction approvals and recommended charges against the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, and the owners of the five garment factories in the building that could result in life sentences if they are convicted.
The factory owners urged workers to return to their jobs despite evidence that the building was unsafe, the report said. “They compelled them to start,” said Main Uddin Khandaker, a high-ranking official in Bangladesh’s Home Ministry, who led the investigation.
The Rana Plaza disaster has focused global attention on unsafe conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-leading exporter of clothing, trailing only China. Bangladesh has more than 5,000 garment factories, handling orders for nearly all of the world’s top brands and retailers. It has become an export powerhouse largely by delivering lower costs, in part by having the lowest wages in the world for garment workers.
Rana Plaza was a disaster waiting to happen, the government report suggested. Mr. Rana illegally constructed upper floors to house garment factories employing several thousand workers, it said. Large power generators placed on these upper floors, necessary because of regular power failures, would shake the poorly constructed building whenever they were switched on, according to the report.
On April 23, cracks appeared in the building, shaking the structure enough that many workers fled. An engineer who had been called to inspect the structure warned that it was unsafe. Yet Mr. Rana and the factory bosses discounted any concerns and ordered their workers into the building the next morning, the report concluded. A generator soon switched on, and the building buckled and collapsed.
Mr. Khandaker’s report recommended that Mr. Rana and the factory owners be charged with culpable homicide. He also suggested that Mr. Rana had bribed local officials for construction approvals.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.
Malaysian authorities crack down on opposition activists
After controversial re-election by National Front coalition, three anti-government figures arrested and activist student charged
Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 May 2013 10.40 BST
Malaysian authorities have detained three anti-government figures, charged a student activist with sedition and seized hundreds of opposition newspapers, raising political tensions after recent national elections triggered claims of fraud.
Opposition activists have staged numerous peaceful demonstrations since the 5 May general election won by the National Front coalition with a weakened parliamentary majority. The activists insist the coalition, which has governed since 1957, retained power through bogus ballots and other irregularities, though the prime minister, Najib Razak, and electoral authorities deny manipulating the results.
The latest arrests involve Tian Chua, a senior official in the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice party; Haris Ibrahim, a rights activist who leads an anti-government group; and Tamrin Ghafar, an opposition party member. The men have criticised the National Front at recent political gatherings.
Chua wrote on Twitter that police detained him at an airport and told him he was being held for sedition. Ibrahim and Tamrin were held separately, but it was not immediately clear for what they were being investigated. Police officials responsible for their case could not immediately be contacted.
After his arrest, Chua tweeted that Malaysians should not allow themselves to be "overtaken by fear [but should] continue to assemble peacefully and have faith".
Their arrests occurred hours after prosecutors charged the student Adam Adli, 24, with making seditious statements that included calling for people to "go down to the streets to seize back our power" while addressing a political forum. He pleaded innocent at a Kuala Lumpur district court on Thursday and was released on bail before a hearing set for 2 July.
Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government.
Rights activists have long criticised Malaysia's anti-sedition law as a tool to curb democratic dissent. Najib said last year the government planned to eventually abolish the Sedition Act, which was introduced in 1949 during British colonial rule, and replace it with new laws that would strike a better balance between allowing freedom of speech and ensuring public stability.
Adli, who was arrested last weekend, faces three years in prison and a fine if convicted.
Hundreds of people have demonstrated peacefully in recent days against Adli's arrest. Adli became publicly known in 2011 when he brought down a flag bearing Najib's portrait at the ruling party's headquarters during a demonstration. He was subsequently suspended for three semesters from his teaching course at a Malaysian state-backed university.
The home ministry said it had seized more than 2,500 copies of newspapers published by opposition parties from stores nationwide since Wednesday. The government-issued publication licences for those newspapers specify they should be distributed among party members only and are not for retail sales, the ministry said in a statement.
China unveils details of pilot carbon-trading programme
Nation's first trading scheme in the southern city of Shenzhen will cover 638 companies when it begins next month
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 16.38 BST
China has unveiled details of its first pilot carbon-trading programme, which will begin next month in the southern city of Shenzhen.
The trading scheme will cover 638 companies responsible for 38% of the city's total emissions, the Shenzhen branch of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced on Wednesday. The scheme will eventually expand to include transportation, manufacturing and construction companies.
Shenzhen is one of seven designated areas in which the central government plans to roll out experimental carbon trading programmes before 2014.
China is the world's biggest carbon emitter and burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world's countries combined.
Li Yan, Greenpeace east Asia's climate and energy campaign manager, said that the pilot programmes will inform the central government on how to motivate local authorities to adopt low-carbon policies.
The push to reduce carbon emissions coincides with the newly installed leadership's effort to tackle the country's dire air pollution problem, which has emerged as a source of widespread anger and frustration in recent months. "Having a mid-term strategy, and trying to prepare years ahead, is actually in line with China's interests and its political and social priorities," she said.
On Monday, the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported that the NDRC has discussed implementing a national system to control the intensity and volume of carbon emissions by 2020. The agency expects China to reach its carbon emissions peak by 2025, five years earlier than many recent estimates, according to unnamed sources quoted in the article.
At a recent climate change meeting, the agency "announced that it's currently researching and calculating a timetable for the greenhouse gas emissions peak, and will vigorously strive to implement a total emissions control scheme during the '13th five-year plan' period (from 2016-2020)," the paper quoted a NDRC official, also unnamed, as saying.
"The NDRC is looking for a national cap, but nobody knows exactly when that is going to happen," said Wu Changhua, greater China director of the Climate Group. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
The EU's carbon trading scheme, the world's largest, has suffered repeated setbacks in recent months. In April, MEPs voted against a proposed reform aimed to raise the price of carbon, which has been diluted by an overabundance of permits.
May 23, 2013
Japan Gyrations Underline Economy's Vulnerability
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TOKYO — Japan's financial markets gyrated wildly Thursday, underscoring the vulnerability of its economy to a loss of investor confidence as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts shock monetary easing to end two decades of stagnation.
Interest rates, or yields, on 10-year Japanese government bonds briefly topped 1 percent for the first time in a year on Thursday, following news that some U.S. Federal Reserve officials are willing to scale back the American central bank's stimulus efforts as soon as June if the economy perks up.
Thursday's spike, which came despite the Bank of Japan's aggressive efforts to keep borrowing costs down, is unnerving some investors at a time when Japan's already overburdened government finances are vulnerable to rises in interest rates. A sustained rise would push up the cost of borrowing for the government.
"Japan really has a long-term debt problem," said Franklin Allen, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "There will be a financial stability problem" if long-term government bond yields rise to 2.5 percent to 3 percent, he said.
The bond gyrations, along with fresh data showing China's recovery is faltering, led to a 7.3 percent tumble in the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index, as investors cashed in on recent sharp gains. The Nikkei lost 1,143 to 14,483.98, its worst drop since the March 2011 tsunami disaster.
The Bank of Japan has been grappling with unexpected swings in the government bond market since early April, when its new governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, announced a drastic shift in policy aimed at doubling the amount of cash circulating in Japan's economy. That move should in theory stop yields from rising. The central bank's goal is to attain a 2 percent inflation target within two years, the main tenet of Abe's economic program, dubbed "Abenomics."
"We've never seen this volatility ... that we're seeing today in the Japanese market," said Ken Courtis, a former Goldman Sachs vice chairman and investment banker.
Since taking office in December, Abe has also raised government spending and promised reforms to make the world's No. 3 economy more competitive. Like the Fed, the Bank of Japan is buying massive amounts of government bonds, seeking to keep interest rates low to encourage people and businesses to borrow and spend more.
The government has yet to achieve its aim of breaking out of a deflationary rut of sagging prices that has slowed investment and is thought to be discouraging consumers from spending. Since rising prices would mean money spent now will go further than later, the government hopes to get Japanese to step up spending, especially for big ticket items like cars and houses.
The effort to "reflate" the economy has pushed share prices sharply higher, while the value of Japan's currency has fallen by 25 percent against the U.S. dollar since late last year. The yen was trading at about 101.8 to the dollar on Thursday after briefly passing 103 to the dollar.
Some say the success in boosting stock prices and weakening the yen could sap momentum for difficult economic reforms that are crucial to the success of Abenomics. Abe also wants to carry out political reforms such as changing Japan's constitution which enshrines pacifism.
"The incentive to carry out structural reforms is weakening. There might be a sense that nothing more has to be done," said Shinichi Ichikawa, chief market strategist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo.
"It requires a lot of strength for the prime minister to change the constitution. And of course a lot of power is needed to start the structural reform of the economy. I don't believe that one prime minister can achieve both at the same time."
Whether Abenomics succeeds or fails, Japan's government must ultimately reckon with its years of deficit spending and mountainous debt.
If the central bank revives inflation, it eventually will have to raise interest rates to keep price rises in check. Government debt amounts to over twice the size of the economy and higher rates would vastly increase the government's repayment burden as it continually sells new bonds to finance its deficits.
Paying interest on the government debt already consumes a quarter of government spending, said Courtis.
"What will Japan do," he said, "when interest rates go up and debt servicing starts to swallow the entire budget?"
The level of Japan's debt is higher, relative to its economy, than even some of the crisis-stricken European countries. But because it is mostly owned by domestic investors, especially huge banks and insurance companies, the country's credit rating has remained steady.
But many Japanese financial institutions, especially regional banks and credit cooperatives, would be unable to keep such large holdings of government bonds if the value of those bonds drops too far, Allen said. Individual buyers are likewise seeing their retirement savings evaporate.
The BOJ has pledged to help quell the turbulence in the market. On Thursday, it added an extra 2 trillion yen in liquidity, seeking to counter the jump in bond yields. But the volatility raises questions over how much influence the BOJ wields over the market, despite soaking up about 70 percent of all new bond issuance.
Japan's economy expanded at a faster-than-expected annual pace of 3.5 percent in the last quarter, a development many supporters view as a vindication of Abe's approach. The Bank of Japan ended a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday with no change in policy, saying the economy was "picking up," despite the lack of any change in price trends so far.
Critics contend that keeping interest rates artificially low to encourage borrowing merely encourages companies to waste money and avoid improving their efficiency and competitiveness.
Abe's government needs to produce a convincing program for the reforms needed to sustain growth, and to coax business into raising wages and investment, or face further punishment from investors, said Courtis.
"When people see the economics could be very problematic, in effect, if there's no big structural long-term release of domestic demand, all this really amounts to is a big devaluation," he said. "That's the monetary equivalent of a Pearl Harbor."
Associated Press writer Malcolm Foster contributed to this report.
May 22, 2013
Hackers Find China Is Land of Opportunity
By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — Name a target anywhere in China, an official at a state-owned company boasted recently, and his crack staff will break into that person’s computer, download the contents of the hard drive, record the keystrokes and monitor cellphone communications, too.
Pitches like that, from a salesman for Nanjing Xhunter Software, were not uncommon at a crowded trade show this month that brought together Chinese law enforcement officials and entrepreneurs eager to win government contracts for police equipment and services.
“We can physically locate anyone who spreads a rumor on the Internet,” said the salesman, whose company’s services include monitoring online postings and pinpointing who has been saying what about whom.
The culture of hacking in China is not confined to top-secret military compounds where hackers carry out orders to pilfer data from foreign governments and corporations. Hacking thrives across official, corporate and criminal worlds. Whether it is used to break into private networks, track online dissent back to its source or steal trade secrets, hacking is openly discussed and even promoted at trade shows, inside university classrooms and on Internet forums.
The Ministry of Education and Chinese universities, for instance, join companies in sponsoring hacking competitions that army talent scouts attend, though “the standards can be mediocre,” said a cybersecurity expert who works for a government institute and handed out awards at a 2010 competition.
Corporations employ freelance hackers to spy on competitors. In an interview, a former hacker confirmed recent official news reports that one of China’s largest makers of construction equipment had committed cyberespionage against a rival.
One force behind the spread of hacking is the government’s insistence on maintaining surveillance over anyone deemed suspicious. So local police departments contract with companies like Xhunter to monitor and suppress dissent, industry insiders say.
Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist, said he had received three messages from Google around 2009 saying his e-mail account had been compromised, an increasingly common occurrence in China among people deemed subversive. When the police detained him in 2011, he said, they seized 200 pieces of computer equipment and other electronic hardware.
“They’re so interested in computers,” Mr. Ai said. “Every time anyone is arrested or checked, the first thing they grab is the computer.”
There is criminal hacking, too. Keyboard jockeys break into online gaming programs and credit card databases to collect personal information. As in other countries, the police here have expressed growing concern.
Some hackers see crime as more lucrative than legitimate work, but opportunities for skilled hackers to earn generous salaries abound, given the growing number of cybersecurity companies providing network defense services to the government, state-owned enterprises and private companies.
“I have personally provided services to the People’s Liberation Army, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security,” said a prominent former hacker who used the alias V8 Brother for this interview because he feared scrutiny by foreign governments. He said he had done the work as a contractor and described it as defensive, but declined to give details.
And “if you are a government employee, there could be secret projects or secret missions,” the hacker said.
But government jobs are usually not well paying or prestigious, and most skilled hackers prefer working for security companies that have cyberdefense contracts, as V8 Brother does, he and others in the industry say.
Self-trained, the hacker teamed up with China’s patriotic “red hackers” more than a decade ago. Then he began working for cybersecurity companies and was recently making $100,000 a year, he said.
V8 Brother said this cyberworld was so arcane that senior Chinese officials did not know details about computer work at government agencies. “You can’t even explain to them what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s like explaining computer science to a construction worker.”
In Washington, officials criticize what they consider state-sponsored attacks. The officials say intrusions against foreign governments and businesses are growing, and the Pentagon this month accused the Chinese military of attacking American government computer systems and military contractors. The White House, which has ordered cyberattacks against Iran, has made cybersecurity a priority in talks with China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says China opposes hacking attacks and is itself a victim.
The furor in Washington intensified in February after The New York Times and other news organizations published details of hacking efforts against their own networks and the findings of a new report by a cybersecurity company, Mandiant. The report said a shadowy group within the People’s Liberation Army, Unit 61398, ran a formidable hacking and espionage operation against foreign entities out of a building on the outskirts of Shanghai.
In China, the unit is just one part of the complex universe of hacking and cybersecurity. And the military units are not a well-kept secret. At least four former employees of Unit 61786, responsible for cryptography and information security, have posted résumés on job-search Web sites listing employment in the unit.
Another job seeker reported employment in Unit 61580; the unit has engineers specializing in “computer network defense and attack,” according to the Project 2049 Institute, a nongovernmental organization in Virginia that studies security and policy issues in Asia.
Members of Unit 61398, the bureau mentioned by Mandiant, have written several papers on hacking and cybersecurity with professors at Shanghai Jiaotong University, which has a prominent information security department. Across China, the universities labeled jiaotong — meaning communications — are taking the lead in building such departments. The military recruits at the universities and runs its own training center, the P.L.A. Information Engineering University, in the city of Zhengzhou.
But cybersecurity experts here say the schools often churn out students who know theory but lack practical skills. That could explain why many Chinese hacking attacks that have been discovered do not appear very sophisticated. American cybersecurity experts say attacks from Chinese groups often occur only from 9 to 5 Beijing time. And unlike, say, the Russians, Chinese hackers do not tend to cloak their movements, said Darien Kindlund, manager of the threat intelligence group for FireEye, a cybersecurity firm in Milpitas, Calif.
“They’re using the least amount of sophistication necessary to accomplish their mission,” Mr. Kindlund said. “They have a lot of manpower available, but not necessarily a lot of intelligent manpower to conduct these operations stealthily.”
The culture of hacking began in China in the late 1990s. The most famous underground group then was Green Army. One sign of how hacking has gone mainstream is the fact that the name of a later incarnation of Green Army — Lumeng — is now used by a top cybersecurity company in China. (Its English name is NSFOCUS.)
These companies are often started by prominent hackers or employ them to do network security. They have polished Web sites that list Chinese government agencies and companies as their clients. They also list foreign clients — at least one company, Knownsec, lists Microsoft — and have offices abroad.
The Web site of another company, Venustech, says its clients include more than 100 government offices, among them almost all the military commands. The company, which declined an interview request, has a hacking and cyberdefense research center.
Another former hacker said the monolithic notion of insidious, state-sponsored hacking now discussed in the West was absurd. The presence of the state throughout the economy means hackers often end up doing work for the government at some point, even if it is through something as small-scale as a contract with a local government office.
“I don’t think the West understands,” he said. “China’s government is so big. It’s almost impossible to not have any crossover with the government.”
Private corporations in China are employing hackers for industrial espionage, in operations that involve complex tiers of agents who hire the hackers. Sany Group, one of China’s biggest makers of construction equipment, hired hackers to spy on Zoomlion, a rival, according to official news media reports confirmed by the former hacker. Sany declined to comment.
That hacker said he knew the middleman agent who had hired cyberspies for Sany. The agent was a security engineer who owned two apartments in Beijing and had been under pressure to meet mortgage payments. “In China, everyone is struggling to feed themselves, so why should they consider values and those kinds of luxuries?” the former hacker said. “They work for one thing, and that’s for money.”
Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting, and Mia Li contributed research.