Austerity pushes Spain’s youth toward becoming a ‘lost generation’
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 7:20 EDT
Despite having a bachelor’s degree, five years of professional experience and speaking three languages, Paloma Fernandez has joined the swelling ranks of Spain’s “lost generation” that can’t find work in a grinding recession.
The 28-year-old, who has a degree in translation, lost her job of four years at the justice ministry in December 2011 and as of last month she lost the right to collect unemployment benefits.
Since losing her job she has sent out dozens of resumes for jobs as a translator, administrative assistant or receptionist but has not had any luck.
“Sometimes you feel like yelling: ‘I want a job, I want to have a routine!’ We always complain about routines but when you don’t have it, you miss it,” said Fernandez.
Many other Spanish youths find themselves in the same situation.
The unemployment rate for those between the ages of 16 and 24 has soared to 57.22 percent, and a record 27.16 percent overall, at the end of the first quarter as the country struggles through a double-dip recession sparked by the collapse of a decade-long building boom in 2008.
“It is probably a generation, I don’t know if you should call it lost, but which will mark a before and after the crisis” in terms of consumption and lifestyle habits, said Sara Balina, chief economist for Spain at Madrid-based consultancy Analistas Financieros Internacionales.
As an example she points out that young people are putting off the age at which they move out of home since they struggle to find stable employment.
Fernandez shares a bright but sparsely decorated flat that she rents for 400 euros ($520) a month from her family in Moratalaz, a Madrid suburb, with her boyfriend who is also unemployed, and a cat called Rayo.
“It is very unstable and I don’t know what my life plan is. I apply for jobs and I can’t make major long-term plans, not even short-term plans,” she said, adding thinking of having children now “would be crazy”.
Fernandez, who is already fluent in English and French in addition to her native Spanish, tries to keep busy by learning Japanese, attending fitness classes and tutoring students in languages to earn some money.
Rocio Alarcon, who completed a degree in political sciences last year with the third highest grade in her class, shares her worries.
The 23-year-old, who lives with her parents in Getafe, a Madrid suburb, had hoped to find a job to contribute to the family’s budget and to save to pay for a master’s degree which she will begin in September.
“I didn’t aspire to work as a political scientist from the beginning. But the fact is that out of all the resumes I sent, I have not been called for any interview,” said Alarcon, adding employers usually ask for a high level of English and previous work experience.
“It is a curious thing to ask for previous experience from young people who have just finished their studies. They have not given us time to get any experience.”
Like many young out of work Spanish youths, Alarcon plans to look for work abroad once she completes her master’s degree if she can’t find a job in Spain, a trend that worries experts who fear the country is losing its talent.
“I will look for work wherever. If it is in Spain great and if it is abroad I would have no problem,” she said.
Fernandez said she had always been open to working abroad but now sees it as a necessity.
“Going abroad attracts me but right now it is not a question of tastes, it is the only option I have. The feeling that you are being forced to go or that you have no option is the hardest part,” she said.
From the beginning of 2012 to the end of March, some 365,000 Spaniards between the ages of 16 and 29 have left the country, according to the National Statistics Institute.
With Spain in need of a change in its economic model, the loss of young people with university studies represents the loss if “one of the key elements for growth, which is human capital,” said Balina.
“We can’t have a situation where young people with higher education who can help revitalise sectors that Spain needs to grow, are the ones to abandon the country,” she added.
05/27/2013 06:03 PM
Made in Germany: Berlin Under Fire for Tank Deal with Cairo
By Gerald Traufetter
Berlin is once again in hot water over its arms export policy, having authorized the shipment of armored vehicles that were used to fatally crush peaceful demonstrators in Cairo. Tanks manufactured in Egypt under license by a German contractor have also ended up in war-torn countries.
On the night of Oct. 9, 2011, scenes of wanton brutality played out on the streets of Cairo. Shaky videos captured by mobile phones show images of peaceful demonstrators, including students and Coptic Christians, marching toward the Maspero building, which houses the Egyptian Radio and Television Union.
But then tanks rolled in and the masses panicked as the armored vehicles headed directly toward the crowds. Rather than slowing down, they accelerated and charged straight ahead. In the end, a dozen pro-democracy advocates lay dead, crushed by the tanks' steel armoring or run over by their solid-rubber tires.
Mathias John has not been able to get these images out of his mind. As an arms expert, the activist with Amnesty International knows exactly what kind of military equipment can be seen in the images: the Fahd armored personnel carrier. The 4x4 vehicle is based on the prototype of the TH 390 designed by Thyssen Hentschel, a German defense contractor that was integrated into Rheinmentall, another German arms manufacturer, in 2000. Since the 1980s, some 1,300 units have been manufactured in Egypt under license. "It is unspeakable that such a massacre was perpetrated with German vehicles," John says angrily.
With the help of parliamentarians from Germany's far-left Left Party, the human-rights advocate has submitted an official request for information from the German government. He wants to learn whether the German Economy Ministry has learned what is being done with "Made in Germany" military equipment.
But the ministry refuses to directly acknowledge what even a second-rate military expert should be able to clearly recognize from the videos: that the vehicle crushing the demonstrators is a Fahd. Instead, its response was that: "The federal government is aware of a report claiming that at least two armored personnel carriers wantonly steered into the crowds during demonstrations on Oct. 9, 2011 outside the 'Maspero' television building, killing up to 12 people."
John finds that cowardly. But there are reasons for such faintheartedness. The tank deal that the German government has with Egypt calls into question the principles on which its arms-export policies are based. These principles are actually supposed to prevent occurrences like those seen in the Cairo images. German export policy stipulates that arms be sold only to states that do not commit violence against their own people, invade other countries or pass on the weaponry to agressive regimes.
Pumping Weapons into Crisis Zones
But such pledges have not been kept. Instead, images have repeatedly emerged showing German weapons in the hands of terrorists, individuals committing massacres and members of organized criminal organizations. Despite the visibility of cases such as the Fahd vehicles in Cairo, German export controls have not worked properly for some time now. Indeed, in this case, the failure can be seen on several YouTube videos uploaded onto the Internet by survivors of the Maspero massacre.
But something even more shocking is included in the government's response to the parliamentary request for information, in which the government reveals that, between 2004 and 2012, German companies delivered components for the Fahd vehicles to Egypt, including Daimler-made diesel engines and chassis, without which the Egyptians would have never been able to manufacture such armored vehicles. All told, the ministry cites approved deliveries of such parts totalling some €131 million ($170 million). Of this, €55 million in parts deliveries were approved in 2011, the year in which the Arab Spring began. What's more, the total value of exports could be even higher if components for the Fahd that do not require government approval were also delivered. Such approvals come from Germany's Federal Security Council, a nine-member body made up of the chancellor and several ministers that meets behind closed doors.
Germany's recent actions make it clear that the Arab Spring, which saw citizens in several North African countries rise up against their autocratic rulers, did not trigger a change in thinking about arms-export policies. The Economy Ministry, which is responsible for monitoring exports, states that it reviewed the already granted approvals "in February 2011, in light of ongoing developments." But, it continues: "Individual approvals were re-granted after the reviews were concluded."
Among these approvals were those related to the components for the Fahd vehicles. And in 2012 -- as if images from the Maspero massacre had never been captured -- the ministry also signed off on exports of Fahd components worth €3.5 million. "The government neglected to address the consequences of its mistake," criticizes Amnesty International arms expert John.
The Primacy of the Merkel Doctrine
It's also possible that the German-designed and partially manufactured armored vehicles weren't used only in Egypt as an instrument to violate human rights. Of the 1,300 vehicles produced under license in Egypt, an unknown number landed in countries ravaged by civil war, such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Economy Ministry sheepishly admits that "re-export requires the approval of the Federal Republic," and that this is stipulated in the licensing contracts. But the Egyptian regime never received such an approval, opting instead to simply export them at will.
For some time now, human rights advocates have called for the German government not to rely on the written end-user certifications supplied by the countries receiving arms shipments. Instead, they would like to see officials actively monitor buyers to make sure they uphold the ban on re-exportation. "Why doesn't the German military attaché in Cairo request to see the companies' books and search them for illegal export to third countries?" asks John.
This violation of German laws also puts the new arms-export doctrine of Chancellor Angela Merkel in doubt because it actually makes it easier to improperly export weapons into third countries. Merkel has selected so-called "strategic partner countries" that she intends to outfit with German-made weapons. But there is no requirement that these countries pursue democratic values. Instead, the doctrine emphasizes that they defend Western interests against even more worrying rogue nations.
Pursuant to this strategy, Qatar has received German Leopard tanks and howitzers, Indonesia has been allowed to purchase tanks and armored personnel carriers, and Saudi Arabia has been given the green light to order Leopard tanks as well. The Merkel Doctrine also aims to support the domestic arms industry, which has suffered as a result of declining orders from Germany's own military, the Bundeswehr.
While former Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak was in charge, Germany's arms exports to the country were widely acceptable. Mubarak's government was considered a reliable partner in the Middle East -- that is, until his security forces began running down protesters with Fahd tanks.
New Tanks 'Could Be Used for a Crackdown'
Now, Algeria has been promoted to the role of "strategic partner." The country is to serve as a bulwark in North Africa -- a buffer against the Islamist rebels raging in Mali. For this reason, Berlin gave Rheinmetall permission to build a factory near Algiers devoted to the production of Fuchs wheeled tanks, a very similar model to the Fahd. The first 54 vehicles have already been assembled in Germany and shipped to Algeria. "If the population were to rise up, the Fuchs tanks could be used for a crackdown," warns John.
What's more, the Fahd example shows that Germany is unable to prevent the tanks from landing in other conflict zones. Up to 1,000 units are to be produced in Algeria. Further export is not provided for, the Düsseldorf manufacturers and German Economy Ministry assure in unison.
Arms experts think this is implausible. A thousand is a huge production count. The comparatively large German Bundeswehr bought about as many wheeled tanks as will now be manufactured in Algeria during the entire Cold War.
05/28/2013 11:56 AM
Campaign Headache: Drone Debacle Could Cost Merkel a Minister
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziére is under fire after he cancelled a half-billion euro surveillance drone program that he knew was in trouble years ago. The scandal could create problems for Chancellor Merkel's re-election campaign. By SPIEGEL Staff
Thomas de Maizière is sitting in the first row in the convention hall in Celle, with a collection of officers, lobbyists and a few lawmakers sitting behind him. Maizière, Germany's defense minister, is in the northern German city to talk about the future of the military, the Bundeswehr, but first it's a local politician's turn to speak.
Dirk-Ulrich Mende, the Social Democratic mayor of Celle, has been tasked with delivering the opening remarks at the event, and he uses the opportunity to criticize the approval of German tank exports to countries like Indonesia. He then mentions the trouble-plagued Euro Hawk drone program. Naturally, he says, the "people have an interest in an investigation," especially when €500 million ($647 million) in taxpayer money has already been sunk into the project. As a local politician, Mende adds, it's his duty to help account for any waste of public funds.
De Maizière smiles grimly. What else can he do? He currently finds himself faced with one of the most difficult challenges of his career. Earlier this month, de Maizière cancelled Germany's half-billion euro surveillance drone program due to the mammoth increase in investment the Defense Ministry says would be necessary to meet flight certification requirements in Germany. The drones, as currently designed, do not have adequate collision avoidance technology and would thus not be available for use in Germany. Even worse, the Defense Ministry has known about the problem for years. The minister said this week, however, that he plans to continue Germany's combat drone program.
De Maizière finds himself in unfamiliar territory, despite his long political career. He was a state secretary in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and a minister in Saxony, he served under Chancellor Angela Merkel as interior minister and as chief of staff. His name, however, has never been associated with scandal. Until now -- and it is an issue of his own making that is catching up to him.
No other German defense minister had advocated the purchase of drones as vehemently as de Maizière has done. For him, they are not just a piece of military equipment that protects German soldiers from being injured or killed. They also serve as proof that Germany is not shirking its global duties.
The Price of Influence
Since becoming defense minister in March 2011, de Maizière has formed a counterbalance of sorts to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who favors military abstinence. "Responsibility is the price of influence," says de Maizière.
De Maizière isn't the one who ordered the troubled Euro Hawk drone, a project which now represents the waste of €650 million in German taxpayer money. That was done by Merkel's previous government, a coalition of her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). But de Maizière has always made it clear that he sees the drone as an indispensable tool of a new, globally active Bundeswehr.
Now, de Maizière's favorite weapon threatens to claim its first victim: the minister himself. The opposition is still exercising restraint in its demands for resignations, calling only for the ouster of his state secretary Stéphane Beemelmans, 47. But de Maizière has been in the business long enough to know that this is merely a skirmish leading up to the real battle. If Beemelmans is brought down, the minister himself would then be in the line of fire.
For the moment, de Maizière is doing his best to distance himself from the scandal, citing regrettable difficulties that can arise with any major arms deal. But no doubt he knows that this approach is not a terribly promising one. Internal documents from the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) show that objections were raised early and warnings expressed about the Euro Hawk program, but they were ignored. What ultimately counted was not prudence but the political leadership's desire to bring a prestigious defense project to Germany.
De Maizière, of course, does not carry all of the blame for the failed Euro Hawk program; his predecessors also played a role. But attention is now shifting to the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) defense project, an aerial reconnaissance system for NATO. Although de Maizière must have known about the Euro Hawk's problems, he strongly advocated that the Germans play a major role in the NATO project, which involves acquiring five Global Hawk drones that are almost identical to the Euro Hawk. Germany's contribution to the total price tag of €1.5 billion is €480 million. At the moment, there is every indication that this too will prove to be a complete waste of taxpayer money.
Filled with Oddities
The first act of the drone drama got underway at the beginning of the last decade. Military officials were beginning to search for a successor to the reconnaissance aircraft the Bundeswehr had relied on until then, the Breguet Atlantic, developed in the 1970s. The military argued that unless the Breguet were replaced, it would suffer a "complete loss of capability" in this area. Without reconnaissance technology, the Bundeswehr is incapable of detecting hostile air defenses, for example.
In 2007, then Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung decided to acquire a reconnaissance drone. The Euro Hawk was a hybrid solution from the beginning. While the drone is based on the Global Hawk, made by American defense contractor Northrop Grumman, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) was supposed to supply the reconnaissance technology.
The contracts with the Americans were filled with oddities. For instance, Northrop Grumman was not required to disclose all blueprints for the drone, even though this is necessary to obtain flight certification from German aviation authorities.
In addition, German drone pilots were not given the right to fly the Euro Hawk. Instead, the German Defense Ministry had to ask Northrop Grumman for permission to fly the drone. Only when a pilot sat down at the computer in California could the drone take off in Germany. This is still the case today and, as a result, the German pilots trained specifically to fly the Euro Hawk sit around doing nothing. To keep their pilot's licenses from expiring, they fly training flights on Lufthansa training jets -- at the government's expense.
On Dec. 22, 2006, Werner Gatzer (SPD), state secretary in the Finance Ministry, sent the contract for the new drone to the Budget Committee in German parliament. The goal was to sign an agreement with Euro Hawk GmbH to develop a prototype of the drone and of the Isis reconnaissance system. Of the €430 million earmarked for the project, half was to be paid to Northrop for the drone and the other half to EADS. Under the plan, a contract for the actual procurement of four additional drones would not be concluded until later.
But it became clear early on that there were massive problems with the American manufacturer, as evidenced by internal documents from the department in charge of routine testing at BAAINBw in Koblenz in western Germany.
In the summer of 2009, BAAINBw inspectors flew to Northrop Grumman's facility in California to conduct a thorough inspection of the new drone. The group sent an alarming report back to Germany, say agency officials. Apparently production was already complete by the time the German inspectors arrived, which made it impossible to conduct any tests during production, even though this was in fact required under German regulations.
Northrop Grumman also failed to provide the inspectors with any recognized construction documents, even though they were necessary to determine whether the drone was truly built in accordance with design plans. In addition, the Germans were not always welcome when Northrop Grumman tested the new drone. For instance, the US Air Force refused to allow them to observe testing of the fuel system.
As internal BAAINBw documents suggest, the German inspectors may not even have been authorized to certify the new drone's airworthiness. This would have required that Northrop Grumman provide the German officials with extensive technical details, which appears not to have been done.
If only to protect themselves, the inspectors from Koblenz initially refused to continue the prototype inspection. As one official wrote in a letter filled with concern, accidents with fatal consequences would be blamed entirely on the inspectors, who could be charged with involuntary manslaughter or even homicide.
The works council at the Koblenz agency warned agency head Harald Stein against pushing through the drone's certification despite the concerns. The council, which represents the interests of agency employees, accused Stein of being willing to accept the fact "that the employees assigned to the task have no or little experience in the certification of aircraft."
Bad News for an Election Year
But the works council's letter produced no results. And pressure from the Defense Ministry only increased, as indicated by email correspondence from late 2010 involving the invitation to a crisis meeting. The correspondence mentions a "ministerial initiative" to have the Euro Hawk delivered by April 2011. In other words, then Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was tired of hearing nothing but objections and warnings. He wanted to see the drone finally delivered to Germany.
Eventually an inspector was found at the Koblenz agency who was willing to provide the necessary signatures. He was later given an effusive evaluation and promoted. After the landing of the Euro Hawk in the Bavarian town of Manching on July 21, 2011, the Koblenz inspector's supervisor recommended him for a performance bonus.
But all such permits must be seconded, and the process whereby the Euro Hawk allowance was seconded has raised red flags. According to the certification document, the prototype test was seconded by an employee with the quality inspection office who was apparently no longer working there at the time of certification. He apparently obtained the official stamp by getting it from his former office. BAAINBw, citing the ongoing investigations, was unwilling to comment.
The transfer flight to bring the drone from Palmdale in California to Manching ultimately exposed the Defense Ministry project as the massive bad investment it actually was. First, American air traffic controllers refused to grant flyover rights to the drone due to non-compliance with flight safety rules, and it was forced to follow a detour over Canada and Greenland. During its flight, the Euro Hawk lost radio contact with the base station twice, for several minutes at a time. The drone, which is as big as a medium-sized passenger aircraft, was briefly flying through the air with no supervision at all.
In addition to the technical problems, the Euro Hawk was plagued by cost overruns from the start. In 2009, for example, the German government submitted a "Third Amendment Agreement" that called for Berlin to pay an additional €50 million, because changes in scheduling meant that delivery deadlines could no longer be met. In addition, two new maintenance agreements were signed, at an additional cost of just under €90 million.
An End to the Program
Today the Defense Ministry admits that it had been aware of problems with the Euro Hawk since late 2011. Two weeks ago, de Maizière told the Bundestag budget committee that he had nevertheless decided to move forward with the drone purchase in the fall of 2011. Without the drone, the Germans would have been unable to test Isis, the EADS reconnaissance component, which the Defense Ministry views as a gem of surveillance technology that it was determined to have.
A German Defense Ministry delegation traveled to Santa Barbara, California earlier this spring in an effort to save the faltering drone project. After German officials had met with Northrop Grumman representatives for several days, the Americans were still unwilling to release the blueprints for the drone. They also refused to turn over the controls to the Euro Hawk to German pilots.
In February 2013, German parliamentarian Hans-Peter Bartels submitted an inquiry to the Defense Ministry, requesting a status update on the drone. It took Defense Ministry State Secretary Thomas Kossendey a month to send a brief response to Bartels' office. In it, he wrote that the ministry was "currently concluding its review of whether a procurement of the Euro Hawk series can be justified, in light of the certification issues."
Three weeks ago, de Maizière finally decided to put an end to the Euro Hawk program. The move was likely prompted by the realization that it would cost an additional several hundred million euros to retrofit the drone to ultimately attain permanent flight certification.
EADS and Northrop Grumman on Monday released a statement on their websites denying that certification would result in extra costs and challenged reports of text flight problems. "The full Euro Hawk system, including the mission control system and the sensor, has performed flawlessly and safely throughout the entire flight test program," the statement reads. "Media reports that indicate there are challenges with the aircraft's flight control system, as well as excessive costs associated with completing airworthiness certification, are inaccurate."
Defense Ministry officials are now claiming that only part of the investment in the Euro Hawk was wasted. They argue that because the Bundeswehr can still use EADS's Isis reconnaissance system, at least that investment is not a complete loss. All the technology needs is a new carrier aircraft -- which isn't exactly an easy proposition. But de Maizière also has a completely different problem: In the coming weeks, the minister will have to explain why he, more than almost any other NATO defense minister, promoted the AGS program.
At its core, AGS consists of the acquisition of five Global Hawk drones, which are very similar to the Bundeswehr's Euro Hawk and, therefore, will run into the same certification problems. The US Army is already flying the Global Hawk from the NATO base at Sigonella on the island of Sicily. But each time the drone is supposed to take off, special permission is required, just as it would be for the Euro Hawk in Manching, and the entire airspace above the air base has to be closed for hours due to the drone's lack of collision-avoidance technology.
Even the US Air Force's passion for the Global Hawk has cooled. Officers still remember what happened when the Air Force wanted to use a Global Hawk to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In contrast to the drone's use in warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) suddenly wanted to see proof of certification -- which didn't exist. In the case of Katrina, the solution was easy. Because the storm had shut down civil aviation, the FAA simply closed the airspace and allowed the drone to take off. But it isn't always that easy.
None of these difficulties deterred de Maizière from championing the Global Hawk. He was especially insistent ahead of the NATO summit in May 2012. At the time, many NATO partners were still outraged over Berlin's refusal to take part in the Libyan war. De Maizière wanted to announce good news in Chicago, while at the same time proving that Berlin remained loyal to the alliance. Approval of Germany's participation in the AGS was a critical part of that message.
He enthusiastically told lawmakers on the Defense Committee in German parliament about the advantages of the Global Hawk. In return for its €480 million contribution, Germany would receive the "raw data" from the drone images, and would therefore "benefit greatly," de Maizière said. But he said nothing to the lawmakers about the technical problems associated with certification of the Hawk line of drones. There is also no mention of any such concerns in the ministry's procurement draft.
The minister is now in a tight spot. He is only partly responsible for the Euro Hawk disaster, with his predecessors Jung and Guttenberg sharing some of the blame for the waste of taxpayer funds. But why did de Maizière, in full knowledge of the American drone's many problems, continue to press the Bundestag to approve the German share of the project? And why did he neglect to mention the risks associated with purchasing the Global Hawk?
Ready to Pounce
There has been a lot of talk at the Defense Ministry in Berlin about Germany's alliance obligations, and that the country cannot shirk its responsibilities. But AGS was by no means uncontroversial among NATO countries. Many refused to participate, while other countries withdrew from the project, because they felt it was too costly and fraught with risks. In other words, de Maizière shouldn't have had to worry about being isolated.
The minister is now trying to portray himself as the chief investigator in the drone affair, and he plans to submit his investigative report on June 5. But the success of the investigative effort seems doubtful given that the head of the weapons division, Detlef Selhausen, is leading the investigative task force. How can a man remain unbiased in conducting an investigation if its outcome could mean the loss of his own job?
De Maizière wants to have a first draft of the investigative report on his desk by this Friday, so that he has time to review it over the weekend. The minister is well aware of how sensitive the investigative project is. If his officials overlook a tiny detail that later ends up in the newspaper, the mission will have failed. Merkel's Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), still support him. "The defense minister has the full confidence of the parliamentary group. He is preparing the necessary materials, and he should take the time he needs to do so," says CDU/CSU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder.
But the opposition is already looking for an excuse to pounce. The Greens, in particular, find the prospect of summoning the minister before a Bundestag investigative committee in an election year very appealing. "If de Maizière isn't able to fully explain his decisions," says Green Party budget expert Tobias Lindner, "the parliament will have to take over."
BY RALF BESTE, MATTHIAS GEBAUER, RENÉ PFISTER, GORDON REPINSKI and GERALD TRAUFETTER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Greece becomes trade battleground as foreign investors swoop
Three years after Greek bailout, Russian, Chinese and Qatari investors jostle for access into new trade gateway to Europe
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 27 May 2013 15.47 BST
The Chinese are interested in airports, harbours and railways. The Russians are determined to infiltrate the energy market. The Qataris have made clear they want to invest in property.
Three years to the month after becoming the first eurozone country to be bailed out by the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greece has finally got its long-delayed privatisation campaign off the ground, and the programme has turned the debt-choked country into a battleground for nations seeking access to the EU trading bloc.
"We have to transmit the message that this is a different Greece," the development minister, Kostis Hadzidakis, said in an interview. "We have to surprise in a positive way. Privatisations will send the message that we are a business-friendly country."
The prime minister, Antonis Samaras, took that message to Beijing this month, urging China to participate in what he described as Athens' success story. He was buoyed by a raft of unusually good news: international creditors had agreed to prop up the economy with another €8.8bn (£7.5bn) in rescue funds, Fitch had upgraded Greece's credit rating, while borrowing costs on 10-year bonds in May fell to their lowest level since the outbreak of the debt crisis.
If ever there was a time, it was now, for the Asian tiger to pursue its desire to make Greece a gateway to Europe by investing in infrastructure projects beyond Piraeus port. As Europe's biggest passenger harbour and one of its top 10 container terminals, the docks at Piraeus have become an operational base for the Chinese since Cosco, its state-run shipping company, paid €500m to lease half of them in 2010.
"Greece can become a real gateway for investment and trade flows between China and Europe, " said Samaras, whose conservative-dominated coalition has been credited with bringing political stability to the crisis-hit country since it assumed office last June. During his visit, 11 bilateral agreements were signed with Chinese officials, who have also signalled their interest in taking over Athens' international airport.
Last week, it was Moscow's turn, with Alexey Miller, the powerful head of Gazprom, Russia's biggest gas producer, flying into Athens for the third time in as many months to discuss buying Depa, Greece's natural gas corporation. Gazprom, which supplies 90% of Greece's natural gas through a pipeline from Bulgaria, made a preliminary €900m bid for Depa last year, although insiders say the deal will probably be closed for €750m.
As the country's sole retail gas distributor, Depa is one of two companies viewed as the jewel in the crown of a privatisation programme that, though wildly off target, is among the most ambitious undertaken on the continent of Europe. The other is the state gambling monopoly Opap, a third of which was sold to Greek-Czech investors this month.
In private talks with Samaras, Miller made clear that Moscow not only wanted to take over the corporation, but would brook no interference in the deal. The US and EU have raised objections to Russia exerting further influence over the energy sector in what has become an increasingly delicate geopolitical balancing act for Greece.
Over the weekend, Greek officials said plans were afoot to sell Desfa, the natural gas network's operator, to Azerbaijan's state oil company, Socar, which is believed to be backed by US interests "for the sake of equilibrium".
A deadline for bids for Depa, originally set for 29 May, has been scheduled for early June.
In his office overlooking Syntagma square, Hadzidakis claims that what Greece has experienced is more than just an economic crisis. "It is an historic moment, a turning point for our country, the fight of our generation that we are condemned to win," he said. "If we are successful in selling both Opap and Depa, then we win a central battle and the privatisations to follow will be easier," adding that the government would work on the principle of selling to the highest bidder. "The whole process is fully transparent."
In its sixth consecutive year of recession, Greece, the recipient of €240bn in rescue funds, the biggest bailout in western history, is under immense pressure to push ahead with privatisations to cut a debt load that is projected to reach 185% of GDP this year. Samaras's tripartite coalition has similarly announced plans for the gradual denationalisation of the country's biggest electricity generator, DEH.
The breakneck speed at which the privatisations are taking place – regional airports, industrial real estate, sporting facilities, beaches, state-run hotels and even thermal baths were recently handed over to the state privatisation fund, Taiped – follows earlier criticism from the EU that the sell-offs have been painfully slow.
The programme, initially aimed at raising €50bn by 2019, has been repeatedly scaled back, with the government now intending to raise €11.1bn by 2016 and €25bn by 2020. A goal of €2.6bn has been set for 2013.
"Privatisations are never going to solve this country's financial problems," said Prof Theodore Pelagidis, head of economic analysis at Piraeus University. "But it is hoped they will eliminate state-linked corruption and increase production efficiency."
Hadzidakis said the privatisations would be the best proof yet that Athens is not only determined to revitalise investor confidence, but committed to pushing ahead with unpopular reforms.
Highly sensitive, the sale of prized state assets, or "the family silver", has long been perceived as the ultimate humiliation for a nation hobbled, more than any other on the periphery of Europe, by the punishing effects of relentless austerity.
"Even those who were against privatisations can accept them now," said the politician who had first-hand experience of public resistance to the sell-offs when he oversaw the sale of the nation's official carrier, Olympic Airways, in 2009. "They understand that privatising state-owned organisations is a prerequisite to tackling the problem of unemployment," he added, referring to Greece's record jobless rate of 27%. "People can see that the public sector is unable to create new jobs."
Chief executive of Russian energy company Gazprom, Alexey Miller (L), leaves the Maximos mansion after a meeting with Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras. Photograph: EPA/Alexandros Vlachos Gazprom chief Alexey Miller, left, leaves the Maximos mansion after a meeting with the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Photograph: EPA/Alexandros Vlachos
To this end, he added, it was vital that potential investors were given the "red-carpet treatment" rather than the "red-tape nightmare" widely blamed for the country's notorious lack of competitiveness.
"Our objective," said Hadzidakis, "is to make Greece a transit hub in the broader region, which is why we are also working with the World Bank to see how we can develop a logistics sector as well."
Such is the desire to lure investors that the Greek parliament recently passed legislation offering five-year residence permits to non-EU citizens purchasing property worth more than €250,000.
The move was widely seen as a sop to the Chinese, who are keen to be able to travel freely in the 27-nation EU bloc. Although the Qataris have also expressed interest in developing Athens' former airport at Hellenikon, pouring €100bn into a joint investment fund, few, if any, EU member states have exhibited any desire to invest in Greece.
For all the official euphoria, the sell-offs have been the focus of widespread criticism, with opponents pointing out that at a time of depressed market rates, Opap, once the nation's most profitable state enterprise, received only two bids for the 33% stake in the company.
The winning bidder, the Emma Delta fund, will pay €652m for the stake plus management rights in the company, nearly €100m less than its market value based on the company's share price on the day the offer was submitted. However, Athens' total receipts from the sale will rise to €712m after dividends under the terms of the deal.
The reduced price tags have prompted political opponents to pledge to take to the streets once again and also to describe the programme as more of a "sell-out" than "sell-off".
"They are trying to convince us that the climate is changing because they are forging ahead with the programme of pillaging national wealth, which they call the privatisation programme," said Alexis Tsipras, head of the main opposition party, the radical-left Syriza. "What they don't say is that the sales, the change of ownership of profit-making organisations, are not about [to bring] investment. They won't bring growth or jobs."
What is up for grabs
Athens' old international Airport Hellenikon, which at almost 70m sq ft, is three times the size of Monaco. It is also Europe's biggest development project
Natural gas corporation Public power corporation
Ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki
Water companies in Athens and Thessaloniki
Formerly exclusive state-owned Xenia hotel chain
Real estate for tourism development
Thousands of Romanians protest Chevron fracking
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 27, 2013 18:04 EDT
Thousands of Romanians protested on Monday against plans by the US company Chevron to explore for shale gas in eastern Romania.
“I have three children and I want them to grow up within a safe environment with clean water. Exploring for shale gas threatens to contaminate ground water,” Alina Secrieru, a 39-year old nurse from the Barlad region told AFP.
“No fracking”, “Chevron go home”, “We say no to shale gas”, read some of the banners carried by protesters who came from Barlad and surrounding villages.
Chevron obtained a vast concession in this poor and rural area of Romania to prospect for shale gas.
“This area survives on agriculture. If our water gets contaminated by the extraction of shale gas, agriculture will die and this area as well,” said Constantin, a water specialist who was among the protesters.
He refused to give his last name out of fear of losing his job as most of the local politicians are now defending shale gas drilling.
Chevron has said in the past that all its activities “have, and will continue to be conducted in compliance with Romanian laws, EU requirements and stringent industry standards.”
Shale gas drilling has fuelled controversy around the world.
The technique to extract the gas, hydraulic fraction or fracking, has been banned in countries such as France and Bulgaria but is widely used in some US states.
Fracking is a process whereby liquid products, including water and chemicals, are pumped deep into oil or gas-bearing rock to cause fractures and release the hydrocarbons.
Environmentalists say the method poses serious threats that include contaminating ground water and triggering earthquakes.
Romania together with Britain, Hungary, Poland and Spain strongly pleaded for developing shale energy during the last European council on energy.
Protesters lashed at centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta, accusing him of flip-flopping on his position against shale gas.
Ponta, in power since May 2012, had slammed the previous government’s decision to grant Chevron and other oil groups concessions to prospect for shale gas.
His government last year adopted a moratorium on drilling, putting Chevron’s operations on hold.
But since the moratorium expired in December, Ponta said he was in favour of exploration.
“Politicians have let us down but we want to remind them that the people in this area are against the exploration of shale gas. People here care about their environment” said Lulu Finaru, a notary who helped organise the protest.
A US Energy Information Administration study said the joint reserves for Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary were around 538 billion cubic metres (19 trillion cubic feet), among the biggest in eastern Europe.
May 27, 2013
At Least 53 Are Killed in Bombings in Baghdad
By DURAID ADNAN
BAGHDAD — More than 50 people were killed in a wave of car bombings on Monday that struck Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad despite tightened security measures, officials and security forces said.
The attacks started during the afternoon rush hour. A car bomb exploded at a public market, killing six people, the police said. Just after that, eight car bombings hit Shiite neighborhoods, including Huriya, Sadr City, Baya, Zafaraniya and Kadhimiya.
Altogether, at least 53 people were killed in the attacks and more than 100 were wounded, yet another sign of a surge in violence as sectarian tensions have risen in the last month.
Recent bombing attacks have increased concerns that the violence is pushing the country toward the kind of widespread sectarian fighting it suffered in 2006 and 2007.
On Sunday, the Iraqi Army started operations against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown terrorist group, and other armed groups in Anbar Province, officials said, where predominantly Sunni protests have flared against the mostly Shiite government.
U.S. says retailers are ‘critical’ to improve worker safety in Bangladesh
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 7:10 EDT
The United States said Western brands buying clothing from Bangladesh had a “critical role” in improving conditions in the sector, even as leading US retailers refuse to sign a new safety pact.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Bangladesh, the world’s second biggest garment maker after China, to urge the government to learn the lessons of a building collapse last month that killed 1,129 workers.
She referred to the changes in regulations, building codes and inspections implemented in the US after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, which killed 146 workers.
“It was a transformation and we hope that is the case here in Bangladesh as well,” she said late on Monday following meetings with government officials, workers’ groups and businesses.
Asked about the role of international buyers, she said they too must work to improve safety in an industry plagued by accidents and “sweatshop” conditions for workers, who are paid less than $40 a month.
“Absolutely, the buyers have a critical role. We will continue to work in every way to get the buyers to come to the table and every appropriate way to play the part that they must play for a sustainable solution,” she said.
International workers’ associations such as Swiss-based UNI and IndustriALL Global Union have pressured Western retailers to sign up to a legally binding agreement committing them to independent building and fire safety inspections.
While big European brands such as H&M, Zara, Marks & Spencer and major supermarket buyers have signed up, US groups like Walmart and Gap have refused because of concerns about their legal liability.
The hugely popular Japanese brand Uniqlo has also declined to commit to the pact, but it said Tuesday that it may do in the future.
“While giving it serious consideration, we have started doing what we can do now,” a spokesman said, adding the firm had this week begun checks on fire prevention and other safety measures at its suppliers in Bangladesh.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
China dismisses Australian spy HQ hacking claims
Foreign ministry spokesman shrugs off 'groundless accusations' by Australian media that Chinese hackers stole Asio blueprints
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 28 May 2013 10.37 BST
China has shrugged off allegations by Australian media that Chinese hackers have stolen the blueprints for the new Australian spy headquarters.
"China pays high attention to cybersecurity issues, and is firmly apposed to all forms of hacker attacks," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. "Groundless accusations will not help solve this issue."
The response came amid separate allegations that Chinese hackers had compromised some of the US's most advanced weapons systems designs.
According to a classified report prepared for the Pentagon, the breaches compromised more than two dozen weapon designs for highly advanced missiles, fighter jets, helicopters and combat ships, the Washington Post reported.
Designs believed to have been compromised include those for the advanced Patriot missile system, the Black Hawk helicopter, and the $1.4tn F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system ever built.
While the Defence Science Board, a senior advisory group that prepared the report, did not explicitly accuse the Chinese of stealing the designs, "senior military and industry officials with knowledge of the breaches said the vast majority were part of a widening Chinese campaign of espionage against US defence contractors and government agencies," the Washington Post reported.
"In many cases, [the defence contractors] don't know they've been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door," an unidentified senior military official told the newspaper. "This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They've just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It's nuts."
In Canberra, the Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, said claims that Chinese hackers stole top-secret blueprints of the Australian spy agency Asio's new headquarters would not threaten bilateral ties.
Carr refused to confirm ABC reports that the cyber-attack netted documents containing details of the building's floor plan, communications cabling layouts, server locations and security systems.
Concern has been rising over state-sponsored hacking emanating from China, with further allegations that its cyberspies have recently obtained sensitive Australian military secrets and foreign affairs documents.
Carr said the government was "very alive" to emerging cybersecurity threats but refused to confirm the ABC's specific claims on Tuesday.
"I won't comment on matters of intelligence and security for the obvious reason: we don't want to share with the world and potential aggressors what we know about what they might be doing, and how they might be doing it," he said.
The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, referred in parliament on Tuesday to "these inaccurate reports" without elaborating on which elements of the reports were wrong.
The Asio building's construction had been plagued by delays and ballooning cost, with builders blaming late changes made to the internal design in response to cyber-attacks.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was last year barred from bidding for construction contracts on the national broadband network amid fears of cyber-espionage.
May 28, 2013
North Korea Invites South Koreans to Closed Industrial Complex
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday invited South Korean factory owners to a shuttered industrial complex to discuss its reopening, a gesture the South Korean government was unlikely to accept.
The two Korean governments have been blaming each other for weeks for the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Zone. Their bickering is closely watched by analysts; whether they revive the factory park or decide to shut it down for good could set the tone for broader inter-Korean relations in coming years.
If the South Korean factory owners return to Kaesong, “we are ready to hold any discussion on the normalization” of the zone, a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
If the South is worried about the safety of the business owners, he said, North Korea will allow them to be accompanied by officials from a semi-government agency that represents the South’s interests in Kaesong.
Officials at the Unification Ministry, the South Korean government agency in charge of relations with North Korea, dismissed the North Korean overture as another trick aimed at generating friction between the South Korean factory owners and their government in Seoul.
“Our position remains unchanged: if North Korea is really interested in the future of the Kaesong complex, why doesn’t it accept our proposal for government dialogue?” a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity until the government made a formal announcement.
The eight-year-old Kaesong factory park had been the biggest and best known joint Korean economic project. More than 120 South Korean factories hired 53,000 North Korean workers there before the project fell victim to a recent escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s nuclear test in February.
North Korea pulled out all its workers from the complex in early April. South Korea later withdrew all its factory managers.
South Korea has since made several offers for official dialogue with North Korea aimed at letting South Korean factory owners bring out finished products from Kaesong and to discuss the future of the complex.
But North Korea has rejected such offers, calling them a “cunning trick” aimed at finding a pretext to shut the place down for good. Instead, it has reached out to factory workers directly through fax messages, in which it blamed the South Korean government for the closure of the industrial zone.
Factory owners, who wanted to resume operations at Kaesong, called on both governments not to let their politics interfere in the joint economic project.
The government of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said it wanted to revive the factory complex. But it remained firm that it would not reopen it “as if nothing had happened,” and it has sought a guarantee from the North that it would never again use the economic complex as a political tool.
May 27, 2013
South Korea Urges North to Be Serious Before Talks
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea opposes engaging the North in another round of “talks for talks’ sake,” its foreign minister said Monday, after a special North Korean envoy reportedly told Beijing that the North was ready to return to the negotiating table.
The envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, made the statement when he met the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Friday, according to the official Chinese news media. Reporting the same meeting, however, North Korea’s state-run news media reported neither Vice Marshal Choe’s comment nor Mr. Xi’s call for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
That glaring gap between the two Communist allies cast doubt on the prospects for reconvening the long-stalled six-nation talks intended to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. China wanted to revive negotiations after a hiatus of more than four years. But the United States and South Korea insisted that reconvening the forum would be meaningless unless the North convinced them that it was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons.
“We oppose talks for talks’ sake,” said Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister, on Monday. “North Korea must demonstrate its sincerity through action by honoring its international obligations and promises regarding denuclearization.”
Asked to elaborate, Mr. Yun referred to the international agreements the North had signed, as well as United Nations resolutions imposing sanctions on the country. Those documents, among other things, called on North Korea to freeze its nuclear programs before their eventual dismantlement and to accept nuclear monitors from the United Nations. The North Korean envoy’s trip to Beijing last week followed an easing of political speech from the North’s government, which had for months issued bellicose pronouncements..
But there has been no indication so far that the North is shifting its stance on nuclear weapons development.
Instead, its government on Saturday reaffirmed its new party line, which called for the country to rebuild its economy while “simultaneously” expanding its nuclear arsenal. When President Park Geun-hye of South Korea warned that the approach would never work, the North taunted her on Saturday, advising her to learn of the North’s “military preparedness before learning how to change her skirt into trousers and change her civilian dress into a military uniform.”
On Monday, South Korea denounced North Korea’s “derogatory comments.”
It also spurned a North Korean proposal to hold a joint celebration of the June 15 anniversary of the 2000 inter-Korean summit agreement, which had called for large South Korean economic investments in the North.
South Korea suspended the summit deal as inter-Korean relations deteriorated in recent years over the North’s nuclear weapons development and military provocations. North Korea, which seeks to revive the deal, invited South Korean civic and religious groups to a celebration of the anniversary of the summit meeting this year, while ignoring the South’s calls for talks over the fate of a joint industrial complex shut down in April.
Australia is rated best place to live and work for third year running
UK comes 10th in OECD index, behind US and Scandinavian countries but ahead of France and Germany
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 28 May 2013 07.02 EDT
Australia is the best place in the world to live and work, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The UK, by contrast, comes 10th in the OECD's Better Life Index, behind the US, Canada and the Scandinavian countries. Britain did, however, fare better than Germany and France, which were ranked 17th and 18th respectively.
Australia retained its place as the world's happiest industrialised nation for the third year running, boosted by strong indicators for health and housing. Life expectancy in Australia is 82 years – two years above the OECD average, while 90% of people say they are satisfied with their housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%.
Australia – which enforces compulsory voting – also scored highly for public engagement, with 93% turnout at the recent elections. That compares with just 66% in the UK, and the OECD average of 72%.
The UK, by contrast, scores well for income and employment but poorly for work-life balance. About 12% of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 9%.
Average disposable income for households in Britain is £17,800 a year, above the OECD average of £15,300. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest, with the top 20% of the population earning nearly six times as much as the bottom 20%.
The Paris-based thinktank measured 11 topics to gauge general wellbeing in a country, comprising community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, housing, income, jobs, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance. Turkey was the lowest ranked of the 36 countries the OECD surveyed, with poor readings for almost all the topics.
Countries hit by the eurozone crisis were notably low on the list, with Portugal and Greece ranked 28th and 30th respectively. Both scored poorly on employment: in Greece some 56% of people aged 15 to 64 in Greece have a paid job, while in Portugal the figure is 64%, below the OECD average of 66%.
Scientists warn that mass badger hunt could cause an illegal extermination of the whole population
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Monday, May 27, 2013 16:30 EDT
England’s highly controversial badger culls risk illegally wiping out every badger in the cull zones because the animals’ numbers are so poorly known, according to one of the UK’s leading badger experts.
The culls, intended to curb tuberculosis in cattle, are authorised to begin on 1 June but could prove unworkable because of the uncertainty over badger numbers, said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Zoological Society of London.
The government is determined to have an impact on the disease which in 2012 meant that more than 37,000 cattle had to be slaughtered at a cost to the taxpayer of £100m. But the costs of carrying out and policing the culls will mount as animal rights campaigners mobilise to disrupt the night-time shoots and last-minute legal challenges loom.
The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were postponed in October after farmers’ low estimates of badger numbers were rejected in favour of higher government numbers. Now the population estimates have been reduced again, after further government study.
Sources have told the Guardian that David Cameron has made clear to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, that another U-turn on the culls is unacceptable and that Paterson’s job is at stake. An insider said that key officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are “pale with worry”.
Paterson has remained steadfast on the cull and told the Sunday Times that it could run for decades: “We want to reduce the incidence of disease to less than 0.2% of herds a year. It will take 20-25 years of hard culling to get to that.”
Woodroffe said: “The difficulty of counting badgers is the Achilles heel of the policy.” Woodroffe was a key member of the team that spent a decade and £50m culling 11,000 badgers before concluding that culling could make “no meaningful contribution” to reducing bovine TB. She said: “Badger numbers halted the cull in October and could still be the thing which makes the cull unworkable. That is completely plausible.”
Prof Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at Defra, said: “The numbers are not precise; there is uncertainty. If the [licence] criteria are not met, we will need to think again about what we are doing, whether we move to a different approach to culling, or to vaccination. But we cannot allow the status quo to continue. We have lost control of this disease in the UK.”
The government has approved two pilot culls to determine whether the untested method of shooting free-running badgers can kill sufficient numbers and do so safely and humanely. Killing at least 70% of badgers in a cull zone is crucial, as the previous decade-long trial showed, otherwise fleeing badgers cause TB in cattle to rise.
But, according to Woodroffe, there are serious uncertainties in the population estimates in the two cull zones. According to the government’s own figures, farmers in Gloucestershire must kill between 2,856 and 2,932 badgers, but the estimate of the population ranges much more widely, from 2,657 to 4,079. Even worse, according to Woodroffe, is that there is a 40% chance the real population lies outside even that range.
If the real population is below the minimum cull target of 2,856, farmers could kill every badger in the area – breaking the strict condition of the licence that forbids local extinctions – while simultaneously failing to kill enough badgers to satisfy the terms of that same licence. The situation is the same in Somerset, where between 2,061 and 2,162 badgers must be culled, but the population estimate ranges from 1,972 to 2,932.
“The new badger population estimates make use of the best available data and provide robust estimates,” said a Defra spokesman. “Scientific evidence and the experience of other countries shows that culling can have a positive effect in helping to reduce bovine TB.”
The Badger Trust, which unsuccessfully attempted to stop the culling through judicial review in July 2012, is concerned about the uncertainty in badger numbers. In a letter to the government’s licensing body, Natural England, the trust’s lawyers noted that badger populations vary through the seasons and from year to year. “There has been a fatal failure to factor this into the cull targets,” their letter said. Ministers had ignored advice from own independent expert panel to repeat October’s surveys this spring. “The Badger Trust is continuing to consider its legal options,” said Jeff Hayden, a director of the trust.
The trust’s legal letter also said it was “reckless and irrational” to proceed with culling when the costs used in the government’s original cost-benefit assessment had been far exceeded. The initial assessment had concluded that the costs actually outweighed the benefits, and at least £1m of additional costs for badger surveying has been incurred since then. The Defra spokesman said: “The pilots will test our and the farming industry’s cost assumptions [and] this will inform our decision on wider roll-out of the policy.”
Activists are gearing up to disrupt the pilot culls, using vuvuzelas and bright torches to frighten badgers away. “Whenever it happens we’ll be ready – it’ll be like an army,” said Joe Thomas of Bristol Hunt Saboteurs. “The number of new volunteers has been astronomical and they are not your normal animal-rights people, it’s everyday, ordinary people who are preparing to help.”
The Defra spokesman said: “Those opposed to culling have the right to undertake peaceful protest. However, those licensed to cull badgers must also be allowed to undertake lawful activity without fear of harm or intimidation.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...
May 27, 2013
In Terror Shift, Obama Took a Long Path
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — The pivot in counterterrorism policy that President Obama announced last week was nearly two years in the making, but perhaps the most critical moment came last spring during a White House meeting as he talked about the future of the nation’s long-running terrorism war. Underlying the discussion was a simple fact: It was an election year. And Mr. Obama might lose.
For nearly four years, the president had waged a relentless war from the skies against Al Qaeda and its allies, and he trusted that he had found what he considered a reasonable balance even if his critics did not see it that way. But now, he told his aides, he wanted to institutionalize what in effect had been an ad hoc war, effectively shaping the parameters for years to come “whether he was re-elected or somebody else became president,” as one aide said.
Ultimately, he would decide to write a new playbook that would scale back the use of drones, target only those who really threatened the United States, eventually get the C.I.A. out of the targeted killing business and, more generally, begin moving the United States past the “perpetual war” it had waged since Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the policy shifts will actually accomplish that remains to be seen, given vague language and compromises forced by internal debate, but they represent an effort to set the rules even after he leaves office.
“We’ve got this technology, and we’re not going to be the only ones to use it,” said a senior White House official who, like others involved, declined to be identified talking about internal deliberations. “We have to set standards so it doesn’t get abused in the future.”
While part of the re-evaluation was aimed at the next president, it was also about Mr. Obama’s own legacy. What became an exercise lasting months, aides said, forced him to confront his deep conflicts as commander in chief: the Nobel Peace Prize winner with a “kill list,” the antiwar candidate turned war president, the avowed champion of transparency ordering operations over secret battlegrounds. He wanted to be known for healing the rift with the Muslim world, not raining down death from above.
Over the past year, aides said, Mr. Obama spent more time on the subject than on any other national security issue, including the civil war in Syria. The speech he would eventually deliver at the National Defense University became what one aide called “a window into the presidential mind” as Mr. Obama essentially thought out loud about the trade-offs he sees in confronting national security threats.
“Americans are deeply ambivalent about war,” the president said in his speech, and he seemed to be talking about himself as well. Mr. Obama said the seeming precision and remote nature of modern warfare can “lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism,” and it was not hard to imagine which president he had in mind.
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle,” Mr. Obama said, “or else it will define us.”
In a sense, that had already happened to Mr. Obama. Somehow he had gone from the candidate who criticized what he saw as President George W. Bush’s excesses to the president who expanded the drone program his predecessor had left him. The killing he authorized in September 2011 of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen tied to terrorist attacks, brought home the disparity between how he had envisioned his presidency and what it had become. Suddenly, a liberal Democratic president was being criticized by his own political base for waging what some called an illegal war and asserting unchecked power.
The Awlaki strike also killed another American, Samir Khan, who officials say was not intentionally targeted. A subsequent strike killed Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, a death that officials say was an accident. A furor over the American deaths convinced Mr. Obama that it was time to lay out clearer standards and practices for drone warfare.
Under the stewardship of John O. Brennan, then the president’s counterterrorism adviser, officials spent months discussing how to be more transparent about a program that was still officially secret and how to define its limits. After last spring’s discussion with the president, Mr. Brennan began a more intensive, formalized interagency process to rewrite the rules. He also took a first step in explaining the administration’s drone policy to the public with a speech in which he said strikes targeted only those who posed “a significant threat to U.S. interests.” But even then he did not directly acknowledge American involvement in Mr. Awlaki’s killing.
In seemingly endless meetings, including a dozen or more with the president, Mr. Brennan and other administration officials grappled with the issue. Concluding that Al Qaeda’s core leadership had been decimated, some officials wanted tighter restrictions on the use of drone strikes, but the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon balked. The C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center resisted another proposal to take its drones away and put them under Pentagon control.
While the agencies argued, Mr. Obama focused on winning a second term, boasting about the same aggressive approach he was privately rethinking. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top Al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” he said in response to campaign criticism.
Days after his victory, he told his staff he wanted to conclude the review with a major speech, although there would no longer be pressure to complete it before the next inauguration, since he would be staying. Around the White House, it became known as Archives 2, a reference to the president’s May 2009 speech at the National Archives on counterterrorism issues.
“What he said repeatedly is he felt when he took office it wasn’t clear how we used this tool,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser assigned to write the speech. “Part of this frankly is laying out for the American people but also for the next president: here’s how we do this.”
The first outlines of the speech came together in February. But there were critical debates to resolve. As Mr. Brennan departed to become C.I.A. director, his replacement, Lisa Monaco, and the top White House national security lawyer, Avril D. Haines, ushered the process to a conclusion.
Ultimately, the president and his team decided to tighten the standard for striking targets outside overt war zones. Instead of being authorized for any “significant threat to U.S. interests,” drone strikes would be used only in cases of a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” They would also be limited to cases with a “near certainty” of avoiding civilian casualties.
The C.I.A.’s opposition to shifting responsibility for drones entirely to the Pentagon resulted in a compromise: There would be a transition period for the program in Pakistan, which would be reviewed every six months to determine if it was ready to be moved to military control. Administration officials suggest that the transfer of the Pakistan drone program may coincide with the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
“The hawks may be grumbling about it, but that’s to be expected,” said a senior government official who supported the strategy shift. “This is a big change. But no one is screaming.”
The hawks proposed a change of their own, suggesting, as The Daily Beast has reported, that the president leave individual strike decisions in authorized areas outside overt war zones to the Pentagon and the C.I.A. But the White House rejected that. Mr. Obama felt those decisions were the president’s responsibility: he wanted to keep his own finger on the trigger.
All of that was codified in a Presidential Policy Guidance that remains classified. To address drone policy, though, meant owning up to the killings of Mr. Awlaki and other Americans, officials concluded. The C.I.A. and others resisted, but Mr. Obama decided to declassify information about not just Mr. Awlaki’s killing, but the killings of three other Americans who officials say had not been intentionally targeted.
Mr. Obama was also interested in instituting an independent review of how and when drone strikes would be conducted. Multiple papers were prepared and multiple options evaluated. Among them was a special court to oversee targeted killings, but the discussion became tied up in knots about how it would work. Would a judge have to approve such strikes in advance or after the fact? What about an independent board within the executive branch instead? Administration lawyers argued against surrendering presidential authority, and defense policy makers argued against giving up operational control.
That proved to be a debate Mr. Obama could not resolve. In his speech, he invited Congress to come up with ideas. He also thought it was time to review the authorization of force that Congress passed in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, and that has been the legal foundation for the war on terrorism. But after a two-hour discussion just days before the speech, he could not decide exactly how to do that, either.
In the midst of the White House debate, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in an attack attributed to two ethnic Chechens living legally in the United States, reaffirming the continuing threat of terrorism. For Mr. Obama, it was another pivot point. The Boston attack, he thought, typified the new terrorist threat more than 11 years after Sept. 11, 2001: smaller-scale attacks that have fewer casualties but are harder to stop and often conducted by people radicalized while already living in the United States.
At the beginning of May, Mr. Obama was given a first draft of the speech but tossed it out and wrote out a detailed outline by hand over several pages. He expanded it from drones to include a renewal of his failed promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He also wanted fresh emphasis on nonmilitary tools like diplomacy, foreign aid and help for other countries dealing with threats inside their borders, although he made sure the word “patiently” was added to reflect the difficulty.
Some Pentagon and State Department officials learned only the day before the speech that Mr. Obama would lift his moratorium on repatriating Guantánamo detainees to Yemen and appoint a new official at the Defense Department to oversee transfer efforts.
Mr. Obama’s eventual speech, at 59 minutes one of the longest of his presidency other than a State of the Union address, reflected the process that developed it. Even as he set new standards, a debate broke out about what they actually meant and what would actually change. For now, officials said, “signature strikes” targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.
Even as he talked about transparency, he never uttered the word “C.I.A.” or acknowledged he was redefining its role. He made no mention that a drone strike had killed an American teenager in error. While he pledged again to close the Guantánamo prison, he offered little reason to think he might be more successful this time.
Yet even the promise of change left some people scathingly critical. “At the end of the day,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, “this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine, making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be attacked literally every day.”
Reporting was contributed by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage.
May 27, 2013
Gun Makers Saw No Role in Curbing Improper Sales
By MIKE McINTIRE and MICHAEL LUO
The Glock executive testified that he would keep doing business with a gun dealer who had been indicted on a charge of violating firearms laws because “This is still America” and “You’re still innocent until proven guilty.”
The president of Sturm, Ruger was not interested in knowing how often the police traced guns back to the company’s distributors, saying it “wouldn’t show us anything.”
And a top executive for Taurus International said his company made no attempt to learn if dealers who sell its products were involved in gun trafficking on the black market. “I don’t even know what a gun trafficker is,” he said.
The world’s firearms manufacturers have been largely silent in the debate over gun violence. But their voices emerge from thousands of pages of depositions in a series of liability lawsuits a decade ago, before Congress passed a law shielding them from such suits in 2005, and the only time many of them were forced to answer such questions.
Much of the testimony was marked confidential, and transcripts were packed away in archives at law firms and courthouses around the country. But a review of the documents, which were obtained by The New York Times, shows the industry’s leaders arguing, often with detachment and defiance, that their companies bear little responsibility, beyond what the law requires, for monitoring the distributors and dealers who sell their guns to the public.
The executives claimed not to know if their guns had ever been used in a crime. They eschewed voluntary measures to lessen the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. And they denied that common danger signs — like a single person buying many guns at once or numerous “crime guns” that are traced to the same dealer — necessarily meant anything at all.
Charles Brown’s company, MKS Supply, is the sole distributor of an inexpensive brand of gun that frequently turned up in criminal investigations. He said he never examined the trace requests that MKS received from federal agents to learn which of his dealers sold the most crime guns. This lack of interest was echoed by Charles Guevremont, the president of the gun manufacturer Browning, who testified that his company would have no reason to review the practices of a dealer who was the subject of numerous trace requests.
“That’s not for us to enforce the law,” Mr. Guevremont said.
A discordant note was sounded by one executive — Ugo Gussalli Beretta, a scion of the family of Italian firearms makers. His testimony indicated that he did not understand how easy it was to buy multiple guns in the United States, compared with his home country. Questioned by a lawyer for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, he said he believed — incorrectly — that Beretta U.S.A. had a policy requiring its dealers to first determine if there was “a legitimate need” for someone to buy so many guns.
Asked why he thought that, Mr. Beretta replied, “Common sense.” Because the testimony came in the context of high-stakes litigation, it is difficult to tell how much of it reflected a studied attempt to avoid liability or a fundamentally laissez-faire attitude toward the firearms trade.
Even so, many of those who testified are still with the same companies, and the issues they were asked about have not gone away. In the wake of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and other recent high-profile shootings, the gun industry’s response — that existing laws should be better enforced rather than new restrictions imposed — largely mirrors its stance from a decade ago.
Because of lobbying by gun-rights groups, there are more restrictions on the government’s use of trace data than when the lawsuits began. And the industry continues to oppose limits on multiple gun sales to a single buyer, a major theme of the lawsuits; it is in court fighting a new requirement that dealers report such rifle sales under certain circumstances.
Regarding Mr. Beretta’s testimony in 2002 about multiple sales, the general counsel of Beretta U.S.A., Jeffrey Reh, said last week that it was possible he had not understood the questions being asked because of the language barrier.
“That being said,” Mr. Reh said, “I can advise you that Beretta U.S.A.’s position is and has always been that the purchase by an individual of multiple firearms is not, in and of itself, evidence of improper or suspicious behavior.”
In all, more than 30 cities, counties or states filed suit against gun makers beginning in the late 1990s. The theory behind the litigation — that the industry was negligent, or willfully blind, in its sales practices — was similar to the one employed in the successful suits against tobacco companies that same decade.
Jonathan Lowy, the legal director for the Brady Center, which was involved in most of the suits, said firearms makers “should have a code of basic, reasonable business practices that dealers and distributors who sell their guns are required to follow.” He said Mr. Beretta’s testimony showed that the American gun industry was out of touch.
For their part, the manufacturers argued that the lawsuits were a frivolous abuse of the courts to grind them down financially. They also pointed to voluntary measures, like the industry trade association’s distribution of safety locks to gun owners, as evidence of their concern about reducing accidents.
The Times reached out to a half-dozen gun makers for comment. Most did not respond or declined. But Timothy A. Bumann, a lawyer for Taurus International Manufacturing, reiterated some of the arguments made by gun executives in their depositions, saying Taurus is not a law enforcement agency and has no legal duty to do more to police its dealers and distributors. Nevertheless, he said, the company is “proactive in all the things it reasonably can do vis-à-vis the safe and lawful use of its product.”
Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry’s trade association, said in an e-mail that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “does not want manufacturers to play Jr. G-man.” He also highlighted a number of ways the association had worked with the A.T.F. — including an education program to prevent people from illegally buying guns and transferring them to people barred from doing so that was more than a decade old — as evidence of the industry’s commitment.
The lawsuits were bolstered, however, by testimony from several former industry insiders. The most prominent was Robert Ricker, a former lawyer for the National Rifle Association and executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, the main gun industry trade association before it was disbanded.
“Leaders in the industry have consistently resisted taking constructive voluntary action to prevent firearms from ending up in the illegal gun market and have sought to silence others within the industry who have advocated reform,” Mr. Ricker wrote in a 2003 affidavit on behalf of the City of San Diego.
Mr. Ricker detailed the backlash from the N.R.A. and trade groups against anyone who pressed for changes to industry practices. Because of his calls for reform, Mr. Ricker, who died of cancer in 2009, said he was forced to resign as the head of the trade group.
Another insider, Robert Hass, a former Smith & Wesson executive, testified that “the nature of the product demands that its distribution be handled in such a way as to minimize illegal and unintended use.” And yet, he said in an affidavit, “the industry’s position has consistently been to take no independent action to ensure responsible distribution practices.” When Smith & Wesson voluntarily adopted a set of safeguards, including requirements that its dealers limit multiple sales of firearms, it was ostracized and boycotted, forcing it to abandon the changes.
Mr. Hass and Mr. Ricker were in the minority among industry professionals in insisting that firearms makers could do more to police themselves. More typical was a combative deposition given in 2001 by Robert Morrison, who retired two years ago as president of Taurus, in which he refused to acknowledge that guns in the wrong hands posed a risk to the public.
“I don’t believe that we know that,” he said. “I think we believe that the guns don’t pose any risk at all. It’s the people that are using them that pose the risk.”
And he challenged a plaintiff’s lawyer, telling him that if he knew of someone behaving irresponsibly with a gun, he should “go to the authorities and get them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law instead of bringing it up in a goddamn room like this.”
Mr. Morrison added that he expected the dealers who sell Taurus guns to abide by the law. But he said it was not his company’s role as a manufacturer to enforce responsible behavior. “It isn’t up to me to judge the legality of the sale,” he testified. “It’s up to the authorities.”
The executives were reluctant to concede that guns that were the subject of trace requests by the A.T.F. were necessarily tied to a crime, pointing to an A.T.F. disclaimer that “not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime.”
When the police wish to trace the ownership of a gun found at a crime scene, the bureau contacts the manufacturer with the serial number to try to learn where it was first sold.
Mr. Morrison cast doubt on the definition of “crime gun,” saying, “I wonder if they found them in the bushes or under a car, or maybe they didn’t find them at all, maybe they just showed up at the police department.”
When Larry Nelson, a vice president of Browning, was asked if he agreed that trace requests relate to criminal investigations, he said that the requests make “some kind of statement at the top of the form that suggests that.”
“But,” he said, “I think in reality it can be simply a gun that is not necessarily associated with crime.”
Glock’s chief operating officer at the time, Paul Jannuzzo, was particularly aggressive in defending his company’s policies. Asked whether Glock ever considered declining to sell high-capacity magazines for its guns, he replied, “Not for one half a second, no, sir.” And he belittled a 1994 law that temporarily banned such magazines, calling it “ridiculous” and a “feel good” measure. He said he did not see how his company could require dealers to properly secure the Glock guns they sold in their stores, and he derided a suggestion that children should be denied access to the section of stores where Glock guns were sold.
“Why? There’s nothing intrinsically evil about these things,” Mr. Jannuzzo said. “They don’t impart bad vibes or keep you up all night long if they’re separated from the ammunition and they’re in a counter or locked up or on a chain or a cord. I can’t imagine why anybody would even propose such a thing.”
Mr. Jannuzzo, a former prosecutor, was later convicted of embezzling money from Glock and is serving a seven-year prison sentence.
As quickly as the suits were filed, they began to run aground. Most were dismissed by judges or withdrawn. In some states, legislatures passed their own laws shielding gun makers from liability, leading to dismissals, and most of the suits that survived were eventually stymied by the federal immunity legislation passed in 2005.
In at least one case, a federal judge concluded that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the industry could do more to reduce gun violence — but he dismissed the suit, brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, because he said the group lacked standing to claim damages. In his 2003 decision, the judge, Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York, criticized the gun makers for turning a blind eye to gun violence.
“A responsible and consistent program of monitoring their own sales practices, enforcing good practices by contract, and the entirely practicable supervision of sales of their products by the companies to which they sell could keep thousands of handguns from diversion into criminal use,” Judge Weinstein wrote.
Only one major company, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, broke ranks. In 2000, it agreed to settle the litigation, and it adopted a number of far-reaching changes, including promising to design a handgun that could not be operated by children and forbidding its dealers and distributors from selling at gun shows unless background checks were conducted on all sales.
Smith & Wesson’s sales quickly plummeted amid an industry backlash. Documents produced through the discovery process in the municipal suits show other gun makers seeking to isolate the company. A letter from Dwight Van Brunt, an executive at Kimber America, a gun maker, to top officials at a firearms industry trade group urged them to confer with the N.R.A. and “boycott Smith now and forever. Run them out of the country.”
“You guys need to make sure that no one else is going to join the surrender,” Mr. Van Brunt wrote.
None did. When a new company bought Smith & Wesson in 2001, executives distanced themselves from the arrangement, which had never been enforced. The company resumed its place in trade groups like the shooting sports foundation.
“It was important that we be an active part of the industry again,” Robert Scott, the new chief executive of Smith & Wesson, said in a 2002 deposition.
Last year, Smith & Wesson was inducted by the N.R.A. into its “Golden Ring of Freedom” circle of donors, reserved for patrons who have given a million dollars or more to the group, another milestone in the company’s long journey back.
Russia to deliver arms to Syria as fears rise of proxy war
Israel's defence minister signals that its military is prepared to strike shipments of advanced Russian weapons to Syria
Julian Borger in Ankara and Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013 22.01 BST
Russia said on Tuesday that it would supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the country's rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks fail in Geneva next month.
Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300s if they were deployed in Syria as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes in Israeli air space.
"The shipments haven't set out yet and I hope they won't," Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli defence minister, said. "If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we'll know what to do."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague visits Serbia William Hague says the UK will not make a decision on sending arms to Syria until after the Geneva talks. Photograph: Koca Sulejmanovic/EPA
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, argued that the delivery of the S-300 system had been previously agreed with the Syrian government in Damascus and would be a "stabilising factor" that could dissuade "some hotheads" from entering the conflict. That appeared to be a reference to the UK and France, who pushed through the lifting of the EU embargo on Monday night and are the only European countries currently considering arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The move by Moscow was criticised by the White House, which said arming the Syrian government did "not bring the country closer to the desired political transition" that it deserved.
Washington welcomed the EU move to suspend its arms embargo. State department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said it was helpful because it sent a "message to the Assad regime". But the developments put Washington in the difficult spot of condemning Russian arms sales while appearing to condone potential EU arms sales.
Ventrell insisted the US was "co-ordinating" with its allies but said it had still not made a decision about whether it should supply weapons to the rebels. US officials declined to comment on whether or not there was any irritation with Europe and insisted they were still hopeful that the Geneva peace talks, tentatively scheduled for mid-June, could go ahead.
Britain and France said that, despite Monday night's divisive vote in Brussels, they had not yet taken the decision to send arms and would not do so at least until after the Geneva talks.
"We have said, we have made our own commitments, that at this stage, as we work for the Geneva conference, we are not taking any decision to send any arms to anyone," said William Hague, the foreign secretary.
British officials said the lifting of the embargo had a political purpose, raising the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, Russia and Iran, to make concessions in Geneva, most importantly to agree not to play a role in a transitional Syrian government. If that fails, the officials said western arms supplies would strengthen moderate elements in the armed opposition currently outgunned and out-financed by jihadist groups.
"Whoever controls logistics will command loyalty," a senior British official said. "It's about dragging some of these fighters back from the extremists."
The official stressed that any future British arms supplies would not include portable anti-aircraft missiles. "There is not going to be an airliner brought down by some weapon we provide," he said.
The leading UK role in lifting the arms embargo was fiercely criticised by Labour at Westminster.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "Russia's announcement that it will send S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to President Assad further underlines the real risks of this conflict escalating into a regional war by proxy, leading to further suffering for the Syrian people."
Downing Street refused to say whether MPs would be given a chance to vote on any decision to send arms to the rebels. "What we are doing is sending a signal, loud and clear, to the regime," said a spokesman.
Although Moscow's declaration was a riposte to the decision in Brussels, analysts pointed out that it would take more than a year for S-300 missiles to become operational, if they were deployed at all.
"Does Russia have S-300 batteries ready to go?" said Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain. "I'm not sure that it does. Is it going to send engineers to integrate it with existing [air defence] architecture? Will they send trainers for the one to two years it takes to train people to use it? This seems more like an exercise in political signalling to me, saying: 'Hands off Syria.'"
Daniel Levy, at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argued that, like the Russian announcement, there could be more posturing than substance in the lifting of the EU arms embargo as any eventual weapons deliveries would be limited by legal and political constraints.
"Given that the impact of such arming would anyway be relatively minor, the EU foreign ministers' meeting was akin to a very public discussion of how best to bluff a weak hand in a poker match – not a good idea," Levy said.
In Ankara, a senior Turkish official portrayed the Geneva talks as a make-or-break moment to take practical steps towards the creation of transitional government without Assad and his closest entourage, unlike the first round of Geneva talks last year.
"If Geneva II fails, the opposition, the Free Syrian Army, will get all they need, including sophisticated arms," the official said. "This will be the last diplomatic channel. There won't be another chance for the regime to negotiate its role in a transitional government."
He said the key factor would be the US position on backing the rebels if Geneva failed to bring progress.
At the moment, Washington is only providing non-lethal assistance to the FSA, but the Turkish official said President Barack Obama showed readiness to change policy at his meeting earlier this month with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"The US is stepping up its efforts and its close contacts it keeps with [FSA commander] Salim Idriss tells you something about American intentions," he said.
The Syrian opposition is hopeful that the visit by Senator John McCain to rebel-held areas in northern Syria over the weekend would increase the political pressure on the Obama administration to send arms.
However, the US administration played down the significance of the McCain visit. A spokesman said the White House was aware McCain was planning the trip to see rebel leaders and looked forward to "speaking to him upon his return".
The opposition Syrian National Coalition is holding fractious internal debates in Istanbul over its leadership and whether or not it should attend the Geneva talks. However, Turkish officials say they are confident that there will be opposition representation.
It is unclear, however, whether Iran will attend in the face of determined Saudi opposition to their participation. Riyadh has threatened to boycott the talks if Iran attends, officials in Ankara said. Russia and some Syrian opposition groups argue that Tehran has to be included in view of its heavy involvement on the conflict. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training pro-government militias to fight alongside the Syrian regular army.
"If Iran doesn't come to Geneva, then that will be confirmation that it is a purely cosmetic exercise," a senior Syrian opposition official said.
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/29/syria-israel-us-condemn-russian-shipments-video
05/28/2013 03:32 PMThe Syrian Mire: Middle East Divisions Deepen amid Civil War
By Julia Amalia Heyer and Christoph Reuter
The civil war in Syria is increasingly dividing the Arab world along sectarian lines. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has now charged into the fray, joining predominantly Shiite government forces in an effort to dislodge Sunni rebels from the key city of Qusair.
There was an absurd moment in the battle for the small city of Qusair when, last Monday, an old Israeli military jeep was paraded before Syrian state television cameras. According to the state news agency SANA, the jeep, which the army had supposedly captured in Qusair, was clear proof of Israeli involvement in the Syrian civil war. In fact, it added: "This confirms that Israel, Turkey and Qatar are leading the aggression against Syria with a joint operations center."
The SANA report did not explain why they would do so with a vehicle model that was taken out of service 10 years ago. As it turned out, the jeep was from a museum's inventory. Before that, it had been used in the Khima military prison, in southern Lebanon, to transport prisoners until the Israeli army withdrew from the area in May 2000. After that, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah set up a memorial at the prison, and now it had apparently brought the vehicle to Qusair. This would explain why a tractor could be seen in front of the jeep in the photos.
But despite the propaganda, the bitter battle for Qusair could become a turning point in the Syrian civil war. For the first time, Hezbollah fighters are openly leading the ground war against the insurgents, while the Syrian army provides backup with tanks and, most of all, airstrikes.
Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime, has also sent troops to fight for President Bashar Assad. The rebellion threatens to expand into a sectarian conflict beyond the country's borders along the Middle East's most tension-filled divide: the one running between Sunnis and Shiites. The centers of conflict between the two major denominations of Islam, isolated until now in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, could be drawn into a wider conflict that would quickly engulf the entire region.
On April 30, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah dramatically announced a policy that would lead to the conflict now being waged in Qusair. After a visit to Tehran, he declared nothing less than a holy war, referring to the rebels in Syria as "Takfiris," or Sunni fanatics who view Shiites as heretics and aim to fight them and desecrate their shrines. For this reason, Nasrallah said, they must act preemptively and do everything in their power to support their fellow Shiites fighting for Assad.
After Nasrallah's speech, Hezbollah units streamed across the border for weeks, closing the ring of siege around Qusair. On Sunday, May 19, they launched an assault on the city, which has long since been bombed to bits. Last Monday, Syrian state media reported that government troops were on the verge of victory, even though rebels were still fighting in the ruins last Friday. In addition, more rebel units are on their way from Aleppo to Qusair, while more Hezbollah fighters continue to arrive from Lebanon.
About 100 rebels and 40 elite Hezbollah fighters were killed on the first two days of the battle alone. For Hezbollah, it was the largest casualty figure since the 2006 war with Israel.
Mounting Antagonism Between Sunnis and Shiites
In the past, Hezbollah buried its fighters killed in Syria discreetly, but now they are carried to their graves in ostentatious processions. The message seems to be that each dead fighter represents an obligation to continue fighting.
But the propagandistic act of desperation with the museum jeep also shows how uncomfortable it makes the "Party of God" to jeopardize its image, developed over the course of three decades, as Lebanon's defender against Israel. Hezbollah, which portrays itself as the Arab "David," repeatedly defying the Israeli "Goliath," has turned into a sectarian army in the fraternal struggle within Islam.
Rather than being a unified state, Lebanon has been held together for years primarily because of a standstill agreement among its religious groupings. But now it is being sucked into the war in neighboring Syria. Last week, the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli saw its worst fighting in years between Sunni radicals and militias made up of Alawites, whose faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Unrest also erupted at a Hezbollah funeral procession in the southern city of Sidon.
The numbers of Sunni jihadists coming to Syria from the entire Arab world is still low. Their old way of defining their enemy was shaped by al-Qaida, which champions the struggle against the West, the Jews and all infidels in general. But this image is changing, and the Sunnis are now opposed to those demonized as the betrayers of true Islam: the Shiites. Indeed, Nasrallah's call for holy war against the Sunnis is being met with a thundering echo.
The Key City of Qusair
Qusair lies about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Israeli border. The fact that Hezbollah is now fighting against the very people who sheltered Lebanese citizens fleeing from Israeli bombing in 2006 doesn't make their campaign any more popular in Lebanon. But Qusair is important because one of the routes the rebels use to reach the former industrial city of Homs passes through the town. More important than the city is the nearby highway. If the Syrian regime keeps it open, it can move troops between the territory it holds along the coast and Damascus, and it can move missiles and other military equipment arriving at the port of Tartus to the capital.
In the last two months, Assad's army has established a ring around the Damascus metropolitan area, thereby encircling thousands of rebels in the suburbs. The country could be divided into two parts. Assad's forces have been reduced in size but are still loyal to the president. They are made up of elite units, Alawite militias and Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters. Together, they hold the western edge of the country, from Damascus to the northern coast, as well as the Druze province of Suwayda in the south and parts of the desert east of Damascus and Homs. Except for a few Syrian army bastions, the rebels hold the rest: Idlib in the north, large parts of Aleppo and the Kurdish regions, Dayr Az Zor in the east, and the southeastern part of the country.
Western news services have reported that the fall of Qusair would cut the rebels off from all weapons supplies. But these claims are incorrect because only one of several smuggling routes passes through Qusair. With the exception of one border crossing, rebels control the entire border with Turkey. A similar situation applies along the border with Jordan and even the border with Iraq, whose government tolerates Assad.
It isn't the transport routes that are blocked. The shipments of ammunition, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, sanctioned by Turkey and Jordan, have been brought to a virtual standstill for weeks. Without American approval, Turkey and the Persian Gulf states are also unable to send weapons to the rebels. But now Washington wants to wait and see what comes of the international peace conference planned for June in Geneva.
The Widening Sectarian Divide
Nevertheless, the United States and Europe still don't quite know what to do. At a meeting that stretched well into Monday night, EU foreign ministers couldn't agree on a unified position to determine what happens after the arms embargo expires at the end of May. France and Great Britain are leaning toward providing military aid for the rebels, while the German government feels that the best strategy is to keep out of the conflict altogether. Other EU members, including Austria and the Czech Republic, are vehemently opposed to providing any military assistance to the rebels.
Meanwhile, Assad's allies are keeping the dictator's military machinery running. Last week, Awad al-Zoubi, a Syrian Air Force general who defected to the Jordanian capital Amman in 2012, said that Department 720 of the Syrian Air Force intelligence service compiles an order list for Tehran every evening. After 15,000 missions, says Zoubi, Assad's forces are not just running out of bombs, but also materiel, such as tires, hydraulic fluid, spare parts and kerosene. "Iranian cargo planes arrive almost daily with the ordered materials," says Zoubi, who is now the guest in the villa of a Saudi Arabian tribal leader. "If they stopped delivering," he adds, "the air force would be finished after two weeks."
Iran and Hezbollah are standing firmly behind Damascus. Although Syria's Sunni neighbors have held back militarily, they are in the process of taking positions along the new front. In late 2011, the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas withdrew from Damascus, where its leadership had lived for years under the sponsorship of Iran.
The majority of Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq are also Sunnis. This may have helped bring about the successful outcome of recent negotiations between the Kurdish separatist organization PKK and the Turkish government, after 30 years of civil war. Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani played a key role in achieving the breakthrough. For weeks, his troops have been ready to fire on army units under the command of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki, for his part, is forcing Sunnis out of government and military posts in Baghdad, while the country is being shaken by the worst attacks in years.
Everything is interconnected. Like slivers of iron on a magnet, countries, ethnic groups and combat units are sorting themselves out along sectarian lines as the divide between Sunnis and Shiites widens.
Israeli's Role in the Complicated Equation
The civil war in Syria also threatens to reignite another longstanding conflict. So far, Israel has tried to wage a war within the war, not against Assad's military machinery, but only against shipments of missiles and other high-tech weaponry from Syria to Hezbollah. As always, the leadership in Damascus, which for decades cultivated its image as a front against the "Zionist aggressors," put up no resistance against the Israeli airstrikes. Even after the latest bombardment, on May 5, it merely issued a tepid protest, saying that a continuation of the attacks would "heighten tensions in the region."
The tacit understanding between the two enemies, the Assad dynasty and Israel, benefited both sides for decades. Damascus kept the peace along the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied and administered since the Six-Day War in 1967. In return, Israel largely left the regime alone, despite its hostile rhetoric, with the exception of a few targeted airstrikes. Proxy wars were waged in Lebanon. Even after the attack in early May, the Israeli government made an effort to appease the Syrians, saying that its intention was not to bring down the regime but merely to stop arms from reaching Hezbollah.
Israel resembles Hezbollah in its belief that it can choose who it wishes to fight. Hezbollah wants to strike at Sunni rebels in Syria, and yet it wants to avoid conflict with Sunnis in Lebanon. But how much longer will this approach work?
Israel is under pressure to halt any future missile deliveries to Hezbollah. The Lebanese organization, for its part, has to live up to its own propaganda. Hezbollah can hardly justify sending more than 1,000 men to fight in Qusair, where there are neither Shiite shrines nor Israeli soldiers, while simultaneously doing nothing as Israel bombards an arsenal intended for its use.
The two sides are still merely threatening each other, and despite the propaganda, an open war still seems a distant possibility. Moscow's decision to provide Syria with the modern S-300 air defense system does make a war slightly more likely, but it is still unclear whether the Russians will change their mind at the last minute. Even after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow on May 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Moscow would still deliver the S-300 to Syria, noting it was contractually obliged to do so.
If the S-300 -- which, under the agreement with Moscow, would include six batteries and 144 missiles -- were ready for use in the near future, it would destroy Israel's absolute air superiority. Its jets would be within range of the S-300 missiles shortly after takeoff. Russia has an interest in keeping Assad in power. But Hezbollah would also be largely immune to attacks under Syria's air-defense umbrella.
"Israel cannot and will not allow this to happen," says Giora Eiland, a retired general and former national security adviser. "This is a very difficult issue for us. After all, we don't want a war with Russia. But if they do go ahead with the delivery, the response will likely be dramatic."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
May 29, 2013
Kenyan Girls Win Landmark Rape Case Against Police
NAIROBI, May 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Kenyan High Court has ordered police to reinvestigate complaints of rape by 11 girls in a landmark case brought by a children's charity on behalf of more than 240 victims of child rape, some of them as young as three years old.
Mercy Chidi, who runs the Ripples International children's charity in Meru, Kenya, filed a petition on behalf of the girls, who came to the charity for help after being raped by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, police officers and neighbors.
The police rarely investigated their complaints, even locking one girl in a cell after she reported one of their colleagues had raped her, Chidi said.
Police demanded bribes to investigate rape, refused to investigate unless the victims produced witnesses, and said victims had consented to intercourse, the victims said.
The court order released late on Tuesday in Meru, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Nairobi, said police contributed to a culture of tolerance for sexual violence against girls.
"Perpetrators know they can commit crimes against innocent children without fear of being apprehended and prosecuted," the court said.
"The respondents showed disbelief, blamed the victims, humiliated them, yelled at and ignored them."
Police who failed to enforce the law now risked arrest, fines and imprisonment, said a lawyer for the girls, Fiona Sampson of The Equality Effect, an international legal rights network.
"It is a huge victory for the individual girls and for girls across Kenya and, I would say, Africa," she said.
The Equality Effect is supporting similar claims in Ghana and Malawi, and has been approached by groups in Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo asking for legal assistance to initiate cases.
One in five women and girls are victims of sexual violence in Kenya, according to a 2008/09 government survey. Rape is rarely reported due to stigma and lack of faith in the justice system, although there are strong laws against sexual assault.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Sonya Hepinstall)
G4S accused of holding South African prisoners in isolation illegally
Confidential government report lists 62 inmates held in single cells for up to three years, with some denied medication
Ruth Hopkins in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013 22.26 BST
A South African prison run by the embattled British security firm G4S is illegally holding inmates in isolation for up to three years and denying them life-saving medication, according to a confidential South African government report.
The report lists 62 inmates who were detained in single cells for periods ranging from two weeks to three years, against prison rules. Two of them were not given essential TB and HIV medication during their solitary confinement, it says. A recent visit to the prison in Bloemfontein by the Wits Justice Project suggested that the practice was ongoing.
Inmate Ouba Mabalane told the project that he had been held in solitary confinement in Mangaung prison from 23 November 2006 to 7 November 2009, without access to television, radio or rehabilitation programmes. He was only allowed out his cell for one hour a day.
"The isolation drove me insane," said Mabalane, adding that he had tried to kill himself in 2009. "I didn't like being alone all day." He said he had been held in a dark cell with sparse lighting and just a small window to let in some sunlight.
G4S is best known in the UK for bungling a contract to provide security at the London Olympics, forcing organisers to bring in the army at the last minute.
In South Africa, the isolation of inmates is an unpleasant echo of the country's apartheid past, when political prisoners were regularly detained in single cells for years on end. The Pan Africanist Congress leader Robert Sobukwe, for example, was held in a solitary cell on Robben Island for nine years.
These days it is illegal to segregate prisoners as a punishment. The practice can be imposed under certain conditions, for example, if the prisoner is considered an escape risk or a threat to other inmates, or may be at risk of violence in a shared cell, but it must be reported to prison inspectors.
For the practice to be legal, the inmate has to be visited by a nurse, psychologist or a medical practitioner every day. According to the confidential report in 2009, the prison management ignored these stipulations.
Mabalane said he was told he was being held in a single cell because his life was at risk from violent gangs, although his isolation was not reported as required.
A recent visit to the Bloemfontein prison revealed that Ishmael Mohlomi was detained in a single cell from 22 November 2012 to 22 April this year, while Joseph Monaise was placed in isolation after being involved in a hostage situation at the prison in November. "They told me they would detain me in that cell for two years," he said. He remains in isolation.
In a letter to the inspectorate, the government controller at the prison, Clement Motsapi, said the three inmates had not been segregated but placed under "high care" – a form of detention which also requires reporting.
In April inspectors from the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services contacted the prison management to ask for further information on the isolation of inmates. In correspondence seen by the Guardian, the management fails to explain the practice, although it is legally required to do so.
Umesh Raga, of the Judicial Inspectorate, said: "It appears that the contractor (G4S) and the controller (a government official at the prison) need to sit around the table and address the question of responsibility and accountability to the inspectorate. On the one hand we are provided with information in respect of three inmates, the balance of the 62 is simply not addressed. We reiterate our request for comment/explanation on each of the inmates on the schedule."
G4S told the Guardian that the controller at Mangaung prison had approved the detention of inmates in single cells.
"Inspectors from the office of the judicial inspectorate visit the Mangaung correctional centre on a regular basis," a statement said. "They have the opportunity to visit the different housing units and to communicate with inmates. The Correctional Services Act specifies that inmates that pose a security risk must be detained and monitored in more stringent regimes. These inmates may be detained in a single cell as per their security classification. The controller at Mangaung correctional centre is employed by the department of correctional services to ensure that G4S Correction Services adheres to and operates according to approved policies and procedures. The detention of inmates in single cells at Mangaung correctional centre is approved by the controller."
The company said it was not its policy to deny inmates access to TB or HIV medication, and that there were no "dark cells with sparse lighting" as claimed. "All cells at Mangaung correctional centre meet the standards prescribed by the department of correctional services. The accommodation is regularly inspected and approved by the department of correctional services and an independent engineer."
• Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist at the Wits Justice Project