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« Reply #6630 on: May 29, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Riots spread in Myanmar after Buddhist woman set ablaze by Muslim man

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 13:56 EDT

Houses and mosques were set ablaze by mobs in a town in eastern Myanmar after a Buddhist woman was allegedly “torched” by a Muslim man, authorities said Tuesday, in a fresh bout of religious violence.

An ethnic Shan-Muslim man was arrested after he “torched” a woman selling petrol, a police officer in the Shan State capital of Lashio told AFP under the condition of anonymity.

A town official confirmed the arrest of the Muslim man who he said had “torched a woman with petrol”.

A curfew was imposed late Tuesday to disperse angry mobs of local people — including Buddhist monks — who had “destroyed some houses and mosques”, the official added, also declining to be named.

“Fires have been put out at some places in the town… the situation is under control now,” the official said, adding soldiers have been deployed to enforce the curfew.

The woman, an ethnic Shan-Buddhist, was taken to hospital, but neither official could give details of her condition.

Residents in Lashio, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) northeast of Mandalay, said Muslim shops and even a school had been set alight as furious mobs demanded the police hand the suspect over to them.

“I can still see smoke and flames coming out from a Muslim school… it appears the school has been burnt down,” one resident told AFP by telephone, confirming the curfew.

“We do not know exactly what is going on.”

The mainly Buddhist Shan are the country’s second-biggest ethnic group, accounting for about nine percent of the population.

Attacks against Muslims — who officially make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population — have exposed deep rifts in the formerly junta-run country and cast a shadow over widely-praised political reforms.

The government says at least 44 people were killed and thousands left homeless after a flare-up of religious violence in March, which was apparently triggered by a quarrel in a gold shop.

Tensions have simmered since, with hardline Buddhists — including monks — urging a boycott of Muslim shops and deploying fierce anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Three Muslims, including the gold shop owner, were jailed for 14 years in April for assaulting a Buddhist customer, while this month seven more received sentences of up to 28 years in connection with the violence.

So far no Buddhists have been convicted over the unrest which began in the central town of Meiktila, but officials have insisted both sides are being treated equally.

Last year up to 140,000 people — mainly Rohingya Muslims — were displaced in two waves of sectarian unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine.

Human Rights Watch has accused Myanmar’s authorities of being a party to ethnic cleansing over the violence, which killed some 200 people and saw mobs set fire to whole villages.

Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein this month vowed to uphold Rohingya rights, while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday made a rare intervention in the incendiary issue to condemn a ban on Rohingya having more than two children in strife-torn Rakhine.

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« Reply #6631 on: May 29, 2013, 06:17 AM »

May 29, 2013

Papua New Guinea Moves to Repeal Sorcery Act


SYDNEY, Australia — Papua New Guinea’s Parliament has voted to repeal the country’s Sorcery Act and also to reinstate the use of the death penalty in certain cases to help stem an increase in violence against people accused of practicing black magic.

Violence against those accused of sorcery is said to be endemic in the South Pacific island nation, and a rise in the number of brutal public killings in the last year has caused international condemnation and embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Mr. O’Neill last month vowed to repeal the 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalized the practice of sorcery and recognized the accusation of sorcery as a defense in murder cases. He made the pledge after the highly publicized decapitation of an elderly former primary schoolteacher by a mob whose members accused her of using witchcraft to kill a colleague.

Under the amendments passed on Tuesday, rape, robbery and murder would be among the crimes that could now draw the death sentence. Although death by hanging has technically been legal for decades in the former Australian colony, no hangings have been carried out since 1954. A variety of new methods of execution — lethal injection, asphyxiation, firing squad and electrocution — were stipulated as part of the package of new legislation.

The decision to reinstate the use of capital punishment was difficult but ultimately necessary to combat a culture of lawlessness and violence in the impoverished country, said Daniel Korimbao, a spokesman for Mr. O’Neill, in a statement.

“These are very tough penalties, but they reflect the seriousness of the nature of the crimes and the demand by the community for Parliament to act,” he said.

Papua New Guinea has come under increased international pressure to end what appears to be a growing trend of vigilante violence against people accused of sorcery. Last July, police officers arrested 29 members of a witch-hunting gang who were murdering and cannibalizing people they suspected of being sorcerers.

The killing in February of Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old woman who was stripped, tortured, doused with gasoline and then set ablaze, caused an international outcry. The United Nations said it was deeply disturbed by her killing, which was reportedly carried out by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who, they claimed, had been killed by her sorcery.

Earlier this month Mr. O’Neill publicly apologized to the female population for the high rates of sexual and domestic violence in the country, and he supported making crimes such as aggravated rape and gang rape punishable by death.

The human rights group Amnesty International, which has campaigned loudly against sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea, praised the repeal of the Sorcery Act but assailed the reintroduction of the death penalty

“Papua New Guinea has taken one step forward in protecting women from violence by repealing the sorcery act, but several giant steps back by moving closer to executions,” Isabelle Arradon, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.

“The taking of a life — whether a person is beheaded by villagers or killed by the state — represents an equally abhorrent violation of human rights,” she said.
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« Reply #6632 on: May 29, 2013, 06:21 AM »

May 28, 2013

In Thailand’s Schools, Vestiges of Military Rule


SAMUT PRAKAN, Thailand — Put aside for a moment the image of Thailand that tourists often see, a laid-back, anything-goes country of libidinous night life.

Thai students have an altogether different impression. In Thai schools, a drill sergeant’s dream of regimentation rooted in the military dictatorships of the past, discipline and enforced deference prevail.

At a public school in this industrial Bangkok suburb, teachers wield bamboo canes and reprimand students for long hair, ordering it sheared on the spot. Students are inspected for dirty fingernails, colored socks or any other violation of the school dress code.

“At a fundamental level, students should have the same appearance,” said Arun Wanpen, the vice principal, who presided over the morning ceremony one recent school day. A sea of uniformed students with close-cropped black hair (no dyed hair is allowed) sang the national anthem, recited a Buddhist incantation and repeated a pledge to sacrifice their lives for the nation, love the king and “not cause any trouble.”

Yet as the legacy of military rule fades, some students are rising up and challenging, with some success, a system that stresses unquestioned obedience. They have a receptive ally in a government that is seeking to reduce the military’s role in civic life and has proposed sweeping changes to the education system.

Late last year, a freethinking Thai high school student, Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan, who goes by the nickname Frank, started a Facebook campaign calling for the abolition of the “mechanistic” education system. Together with like-minded friends, he started a group called the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance. He rose to national prominence in January after speaking out on a prime-time television program.

“School is like a factory that manufactures identical people,” he said one recent morning at his school, Nawaminthrachinuthit Triam Udomsuksa Pattanakarn, the same school where Mr. Arun is vice principal.

Frank described the teachers there as “dictators” who order students to “bow, bow, bow” and never to contradict them.

The group’s message has resonated, partly because he has found a measure of common cause with the country’s United States-trained education minister, Phongthep Thepkanjana. He has vowed to allow Thai schoolchildren to let their hair down — literally — and has proposed a raft of education changes to reduce what he says is an emphasis on rote memorization and to promote critical thinking.

“We do not want all students in one prototype, especially a prototype that makes them follow orders,” he said in an interview. “We don’t want them to photocopy knowledge into their brains. We want them to be individuals, within reason.”

He has proposed less homework and fewer hours in the classroom, and a curriculum that would focus on the essentials of language, math and science. In the age of Wikipedia, he said, there is no sense in memorizing the names and lengths of obscure rivers in Africa, as he had been required to do as a student.

A former judge who was trained as a lawyer at George Washington University, Mr. Phongthep said that encouraging students to form opinions and debate would be good for democracy in a country that has had numerous stumbles on its eight-decade journey out of absolute monarchy.

“If students cannot voice their opinions in class, how can they exercise their freedom of expression in society?” he said.

Earlier this year he announced he would relax the rule on hair length, which carries great symbolism here since it was enacted by the military government in 1972. The rule requires that girls have their hair cut just below the ear, and that boys buzz the sides of their heads like cadets. The new rules are pending approval by the Thai cabinet.

“We want students to be reasonable people,” he said. “How can we force them to do something without any proper reason?”

The proposed changes go to the heart of the way schools work here. Studying longer and harder has long been considered one of the main ingredients for East Asia’s economic miracle, and is the model that Thailand, seeking to climb the ladder to the club of Asia’s wealthiest nations, has sought to imitate.

But Mr. Phongthep said Thai students were being smothered by it, and the schools’ report card shows room for improvement. Scores in national exams have been falling, and Thai students over all are ranked 52nd for mathematics in the Program for International Student Assessment, a global benchmark, placing them below average for the mostly highly developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (Students in Shanghai and Singapore were ranked first and second in the latest published assessment, in 2009.)

Advocates for change say the current curriculum, packed with subjects to memorize, does not allow time for Thai students to think for themselves.

“I have been saying for a long time that the more you study, the more stupid you become,” said Sompong Jitradub, an authority on the education system who is serving on the curriculum revision committee. “All they do is memorize. They never think critically. They never exchange opinions.”

He said the main resistance to change had come from the civil servants for whom revising the curriculum would be a gargantuan task. After that, a new curriculum would face a series of public hearings before it could be approved.

In the case of the dress code, there are already signs that administrators might balk. Mr. Arun, the vice principal and strict disciplinarian, is considering flouting the new rules himself if they are too lenient. He and others say that maintaining discipline is essential to combat the social ills convulsing young people in Thailand — drugs, teenage pregnancy and gang fights.

“The government has policies, but we are the practitioners,” he said in an interview in his office. “If the government launches new policies, we will look at them and decide which ones are appropriate for us.”

He summed up discipline this way: “The military needs guns; teachers need sticks. Sometimes you need to hit them a little bit, but only on the bottom.”

The greatest cheerleaders for change seem to be the students themselves.

“Students are not enriching themselves,” said Jirapat Horesaengchai, 16, a member of the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance. “‘They are waiting for information to be fed to them.”

The group consists of precocious students who love to debate. One of them trolls scientific sites on the Internet for comments questioning the theory of evolution, and ridicules the posters as being unscientific. Another member hacked into the Ministry of Education Web site, confessed, and was hired by the ministry to beef up cybersecurity.

Nutcha Piboonwatthana, 16, one of the few girls in the group, said she had a double mission, pushing for changes to the system and getting Thai girls, who are trained from an early age to be deferential, to be more adventurous.

“Girls think inside the box,” she said quietly, her hair neatly tied with a blue bow. “They are very good at studying. I just want the girls to realize there is a world outside of school.”

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting from Bangkok and Samut Prakan.

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« Reply #6633 on: May 29, 2013, 06:25 AM »

China: mother of baby freed from sewer pipe speaks out

Twenty-two-year-old said she kept pregnancy secret after father refused to stand by her and she could not afford abortion

Tania Branigan in Beijing and Associated Press, Wednesday 29 May 2013 11.39 BST   

The mother of the Chinese newborn rescued from a sewer pipe has said she kept her pregnancy secret after the father refused to stand by her and she could not afford an abortion.

The ordeal of Baby 59 – known only by the number of his hospital incubator – made headlines around the world after extraordinary footage was shown of firefighters and medics freeing him from the narrow pipe. Police in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, initially thought the baby had been abandoned and said they were treating the case as one of attempted homicide.

But they subsequently realised that the resident who had raised the alarm, and who remained present throughout the two-hour rescue on Saturday, was his mother. Local media said she told police she wanted to raise the child but had no idea how to do it.

Link to video: Newborn baby rescued from sewage pipe in China

The 22-year-old said she went to the shared bathroom when she felt abdominal cramps, state media reported. When the baby slipped into the sewer pipe she was unable to free him.

Shanghai Daily said police identified the woman as the likely mother on Monday and were still determining whether her story was true or she had intentionally dumped him. She reportedly confessed after they found blood-stained tissues and toys in her room and asked her to undergo a medical check.

Police in Pujiang declined to comment on whether the mother would face charges, saying the case was under investigation. But an employee at Punan police station, which previously handled the case, told the Guardian it was "an accident".

Images of the baby's rescue sparked horror and sympathy across China, with wellwishers deluging the hospital where he was treated with gifts and offers of adoption. He had suffered some scratches and bruises but is understood to be otherwise healthy.

According to Jinhua-based Zhezhong News, the woman works at a restaurant in the city and became pregnant after a one-night stand. But the man denied any responsibility and she could not afford an abortion.

She had not revealed her pregnancy to her parents, hiding it by wearing loose clothes and wrapping cloth tightly around her abdomen.

One microblog user said the woman did not deserve to be a mother and should not be allowed to keep the baby because she would not be a responsible parent. But as fresh details emerged, the initial wave of anger towards the baby's parents was tempered by sympathy for the mother.

One Sina Weibo user wrote: "I am the father of two children. I know a little about how much children need their parents, and I think this mother needs help too."

Another said that rather than blaming the mother or expressing sympathy for the little boy, people should seek to help other children, urging: "We should think about how to build a charity home for abandoned babies and give them assistance with their lives and psychologically."

Premarital sex is now widespread in China but experts say that many young adults lack the knowledge they need to protect themselves.

The sociologist Li Yinhe said more than 70% of China's young adults had had sex before marriage, but Chinese schools typically shied away from sex education and teaching about contraception for fear of appearing to condone premarital sex.
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« Reply #6634 on: May 29, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Thailand ignoring slaves at sea, says EJF report on Burmese migrants

Burmese men kept as forced labourers on shrimping boats in Kantang, Thailand, says Environmental Justice Foundation

Annie Kelly, Wednesday 29 May 2013 12.28 BST   

Thailand is facing fresh allegations of using slave labour in its fishing industry with the launch of a new investigation into the sale, abuse and exploitation of migrant workers on Thai fishing ships.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an environmental and human rights NGO, highlights the case of 15 Burmese men who had been rescued from boats in its report Sold to the Sea: human trafficking in Thailand's fishing industry (pdf). All of the men claim to have been deceived by labour brokers and forced to work up to 20 hours a day for months at a time with little or no pay on shrimping boats in Kantang, a city in the south of Thailand.

The men had been subjected to bonded labour, forced detention, and abuse and beatings by senior crew while working on ships operating in Thai waters, according to EJF.

Two of the men reported seeing fellow migrant workers tortured and executed for trying to escape, and witnessing the murder of at least five other men. Another man reported multiple murders and bodies being thrown out to sea with the crew forced to watch.

The report claims that while the men were in police custody, the owner of the boat that had held the men, as well as the broker who had sold the men to the ship, were given access to the rescued workers by local police.

Statements from the Burmese migrants also claim that Thai police profited from their further exploitation by forcing them to work on a rubber plantation allegedly owned by a senior official in the local force.

"We have been genuinely surprised by the levels of collusion by agents of the state, who instead of stopping these awful human rights abuses are ignoring and even benefiting from it," said Steve Trent, executive director of EJF.

"We were shocked by the extreme levels of violence inflicted on and witnessed by migrant men held as captive workers on these boats and how easy it was for us to conduct this investigation and collect our evidence. This was all out in the open. This is not an isolated case, but indicative of the widespread acceptance and use of modern slavery in an industry that feeds a global appetite for seafood."

Thailand has been repeatedly accused of slavery and human trafficking in its shipping industry. A 2011 report (pdf) by the International Organisation for Migration documented widespread trafficking within the fisheries sector in Thailand, with migrant fishermen being kept working on board for years without pay. A report in 2009 (pdf) by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that 59% of interviewed migrants trafficked aboard Thai fishing boats reported witnessing the murder of a fellow worker.

EJF is calling for Thailand to be downgraded to a tier three country in the upcoming US state department's Trafficking in Persons (Tip) report, which grades the scale and severity of people trafficking globally.

Thailand has been lobbying to retain its tier two status despite last year's Tip report concluding (pdf) that Thailand has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking and is not in compliance with minimum standards for its elimination.

A relegation into tier three would rank Thailand among the countries with the worst records on human trafficking including Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It could lead to restrictions on US foreign assistance and access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank.

"If you look at the structure of this industry, which is almost wholly dependent on migrant labour, it's clear that the state is turning away so its economy can continue to benefit from these abuses," said Trent.

"Thailand is looking to keep their European and North American markets open by trying to convince the world that they are taking the necessary measures to counter widespread slavery and forced labour, but these continuing abuses need to be dragged out of the shadows. This can no longer be allowed to continue."

An International Labour Organisation (ILO) report this month identified the fishing industry as one of the most open to coercive and deceptive labour practices due to the isolation, length of time at sea and transnational nature of the work, as well as the high percentage of migrant labour used.

However, the ILO office in Thailand said that although the EJF report highlights the "worst of the worst" abuses, it is difficult to assess how comprehensive the problem is within Thailand's fisheries sector.

"We have been working very closely on this issue for a number of years and in our survey of over 600 fisheries, we have found a number where there are decent working conditions and others where there is a problem with exploitation and forced labour," said Max Tunon, co-ordinator of an ILO project on migrant workers in Thailand.

"While this report is important [in] highlighting the very bottom end of the scale, it is important to frame it within the broader range of experiences within the sector and recognise that a significant percentage of those working in the industry are not trafficked."

He said the government is working to ensure that it is not relegated to tier three status in the upcoming Tip report. "While it is not true to say that real and definitive progress has been made, it is also not entirely fair to say the government is turning a complete blind eye to this. In the last year there has been a lot of willingness and urgency around this issue, although more definitely needs to be done."

The 15 men whose testimonies are included in the EJF report are being held in a government centre in Ranong. Thai police are investigating the boat owner and labour broker. EJF says it has raised the allegations concerning the local police with Thailand's department of special investigation, which is yet to announce whether it will launch an official inquiry.

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« Reply #6635 on: May 29, 2013, 06:37 AM »

May 28, 2013

Anti-West Hard-Liner Gains in Iranian Race


TEHRAN — At his first presidential campaign rally, Saeed Jalili on Friday welcomed the cheers of thousands of young men as he hauled himself onto the stage. His movements were hampered by a prosthetic leg, a badge of honor from his days as a young Revolutionary Guards member in Iran’s great trench war with Iraq.

“Welcome, living martyr, Jalili,” the audience shouted in unison, most of them too young to have witnessed the bloody conflict themselves but deeply immersed in the national veneration of its veterans. Waving flags belonging to “the resistance” — the military cooperation among Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups — the crowd roared the candidate’s election slogan: “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.”

Mr. Jalili, known as Iran’s unyielding nuclear negotiator and a protégé of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is emerging as the presumed front-runner in Iran’s presidential election on June 14, an unsettling prospect for future relations with the West. Mr. Jalili, 47, who many analysts say has long been groomed for a top position in Iran, is by far the most outspoken hard-liner among the eight candidates approved to participate in the election.

Opposing “détente a hundred percent” and promising no compromise “whatsoever” with the West over matters like Iran’s nuclear program and involvement in Syria, Mr. Jalili seems set to further escalate Iran’s standoff with the United States and its allies if elected president.

“He seems to be Ahmadinejad Phase 2,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert based in Virginia, referring to Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “He would probably not be a partner to negotiate for the nuclear issues, as we have seen before when he was heading the delegations.”

An analyst based in Iran, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said Mr. Jalili was “the perfect follower of Khamenei.”

“If he gets elected I foresee even more isolation and conflict, as he doesn’t care about foreign relations, the economy or anything,” the analyst said.

In recent weeks, Mr. Jalili has garnered the open support of Iran’s governing establishment, a coalition of conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders known as the traditionalists. High-ranking Shiite Muslim clerics have begun speaking out in his favor, and a nationwide network of paramilitary volunteers, the basij, is now helping to organize his election campaign.

He has been featured in flattering terms in recent weeks in the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is connected to the Revolutionary Guards, as well as in dozens of Web sites and other news outlets. By contrast, the other candidates now sometimes discover their campaign appearances canceled for unclear reasons and often find themselves under sharp attack in interviews on state TV, while Mr. Jalili gets softball questions.

“He’ll easily get 30 percent of the vote,” said Amir Mohebbian, an analyst close to Iran’s leaders, pointing to the well-organized groups supporting Mr. Jalili. “The remainder will be divided between the other candidates.”

That would lead to a runoff election that Mr. Jalili would be heavily favored to win, since under Iranian law the president must receive at least half of the vote.

Iran’s presidential elections, lacking independent opinion polls and subject to manipulation, are notoriously unpredictable. In 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad came out of nowhere to win. In 2009, millions of people took to the streets to protest what they said was widespread fraud in the voting that returned Mr. Ahmadinejad to office over the more popular opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

But the major threats to Mr. Jalili’s candidacy were apparently eliminated when the representatives of two influential political factions, one led by Mr. Ahmadinejad and the other by a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were disqualified from the election by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council. That decision underscored not just the determination of the traditionalists to consolidate power, but their ability to ensure the result.

In a recent opinion article, Mr. Mohebbian said that while Mr. Jalili’s relative inexperience in domestic politics might make him appear as an outsider, the support of Iran’s governing establishment made it likely that “the conditions of the day will create an atmosphere which will put Mr. Jalili in a leadership position.”

While Ayatollah Khamenei is officially neutral, Mr. Jalili’s speeches and viewpoints closely resemble the leader’s worldview of an Iran engaged in a multifaceted battle with the West.

“The best president,” Mr. Khamenei said on Monday, speaking to students at a military academy, “is the one who powerfully resists the enemy and will turn the Islamic republic into an international example for the oppressed people of the world.”

Mr. Jalili, who sports a gray beard and prefers collarless shirts, headed Ayatollah Khamenei’s office for four years, starting in 2001, before emerging in recent years as the chief nuclear negotiator. But little is known about his views on other issues.

“Mr. Jalili is like a watermelon,” said Mohammad Khoshchehreh, an economist and professor at Tehran University. “He looks ripe on the outside, but we don’t know what color he is inside.”

Partly because of Western sanctions, Iran’s economy is reeling from high inflation and a battered currency, but Mr. Jalili has addressed the problems only obliquely. During a televised interview on Sunday he said that Iran should cut its dependency on oil revenues and establish a “resistance economy in order to foil the conspiracies against Iran.”

Such talk has left economists baffled. “His theory of resistance economy doesn’t mean anything,” Mr. Khoshchehreh said. “If it is based on looking at our weak points, that can be good, but we have no idea if he has a deep knowledge. We are worried about him.”

On Friday, during the campaign event in Tehran, Mr. Jalili chose to explain his policies by citing the first imam of the Shiites, the martyr Ali.

“All across the region we can hear our battle cry, ‘Ya Ali,’ ” said Mr. Jalili, who wrote a dissertation on the Prophet Muhammad’s foreign policy. “We heard it in Lebanon with the victory of Hezbollah. We hear it in our resistance against the Zionist regime. Time and time again we have proved our strength through this slogan.”

As songs played memorializing the battles in the border town of Shalamcheh during the Iran-Iraq war, men punched their fists in the air and shouted, “The blood in our veins belongs to our leader.”

The goal of Iran and its allies, Mr. Jalili said, is to “uproot capitalism, Zionism and Communism, and promote the discourse of pure Islam in the world.”

He did not directly mention the Western sanctions that were imposed over the country’s nuclear program — which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes but the West says is a cover for developing nuclear weapons — or the possibility that they will be tightened in response to Tehran’s intransigence. Nor did he speak about the potential for deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war, where Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has recently intervened in support of the Syrian government.

If his supporters harbored worries over what these policies might mean for the Iranian economy, they kept them to themselves. “We are fighting an ideological war — nobody cares about the economy,” said Amir Qoroqchi, 25, a smiling electrical engineering student from the holy city of Qum. “The only thing that matters is resistance.”

For decades, Iran’s presidents have staked out an alternative power center, frequently in conflict with the supreme leader and the more conservative elements in the government. With the rise of Mr. Jalili and the apparent elimination of serious opposition candidates, those on the losing end of Iran’s political spectrum fear a developing imbalance.

The republican and authoritarian religious parts of the government “have been in conflict from Day 1,” Mr. Nafisi, the Iran expert, said.

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« Reply #6636 on: May 29, 2013, 06:38 AM »

British forces are detaining dozens in Afghanistan, Philip Hammond confirms

Defence secretary says 80-90 people are being held at Camp Bastion after claims emerge of secret detention facility

Haroon Siddique and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul, Wednesday 29 May 2013 09.18 BST   

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, has confirmed that dozens of people are being detained by British forces at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan following allegations that the army is running a secret detention facility at the base.

Hammond said 80 or 90 people were being held at the site. He said many of them posed a danger to British troops, and reiterated that they could not yet be handed over to Afghan authorities because of concerns that they would be mistreated.

UK lawyers acting for eight of the men, some of whom they say have been held for up to 14 months without charge, have launched habeas corpus applications in the UK high court in a bid to free them, raising comparisons with the outrage over the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

Many of the prisoners have not been able to see a lawyer after months in prison, a basic right offered to anyone arrested in the UK. Access to a lawyer was among the first rights that Guantánamo detainees won off the US government. The Afghan detainees have also not been given any kind of trial date, or prospect of one.

"Our client has been held at Camp Bastion since August 2012. He has not been charged with any crime and has had no access to a lawyer so he can receive legal advice about his ongoing detention," said Rosa Curling, a lawyer with the firm Leigh Day, which is representing a 20-year-old prisoner with a young daughter.

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) rules dictate that British forces are only allowed to hold suspects for 96 hours. But in November last year, Hammond halted plans to hand suspected insurgents captured by British troops to Afghan security forces on the grounds that they risked being abused and tortured.

Phil Shiner, lawyer for eight of the men, said the government had chosen not to train the Afghan authorities to treat people lawfully and humanely.

"This is a secret facility that has been used to unlawfully detain or intern up to 85 Afghans that they have kept secret, that parliament doesn't know about, that courts previously, when they have interrogated issues like detention and internment in Afghanistan, have never been told about – completely off the radar," he told the BBC.

"It is reminiscent of the public's awakening that there was a Guantánamo Bay. And people will be wondering if these detainees are being treated humanely and in accordance with international law."

Shiner said the prisoners had not been told what they were accused of or granted access to legal representation, except for two men who had been allowed a one-hour phone call each with a lawyer on Wednesday.

In response, Hammond said that many of the detainees were suspected killers of British troops or known to be involved in the preparation, facilitation or laying of improvised explosive devices and it would be wrong to put them "back on the battlefield".

"We would like nothing more than to hand these people over to the Afghan authorities so they can be handed over to the Afghan judicial system," he told the Today programme, dismissing the description of Camp Bastion as a secret facility as "absurd".

The defence secretary said the government was working "very intensively" with the Afghan authorities to create the safe conditions that would enable the detainees to be transferred to the Afghan system and expressed his hope that this would be achieved "within a matter of days". Defending the prisoners' lack of access to lawyers, he said they would be granted representation when they were transferred to the Afghan judicial system.

Lawyers argue that while they try to find a solution, the government is violating two of the fundamental principles of British justice – that no one should be detained indefinitely without trial, and that any suspect should have access to a lawyer.

"We have been asking for access to our client since March this year and to date, it has not been provided. The right of access to a lawyer is a fundamental and constitutional principle of our legal system. Unimpeded access to a lawyer is part of our concept of the rule of law," Curling said.

The UK is the only foreign power still jailing Afghans in their own country, after Washington in March sealed plans for the much-delayed handover of the last Afghan prisoners it still holds on Afghan soil.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has long been an outspoken opponent of foreign-run jails, which he sees as a serious violation of national sovereignty, but has focused most of his attention and political firepower on getting US forces to relinquish their huge prison near Kabul and has remained relatively silent about the prisoners detained by Britain.

Curling warned that if the UK continued to hold prisoners without trial or access to a lawyer, it would undermine efforts to improve justice in Afghanistan.

"The government states that one of the objectives of its current work in Afghanistan is to establish the rule of law and build a fair justice system by the time UK forces leave in 2014. In such a context, for the UK government itself to be refusing my client and other individuals the right to access justice is wrong and unlawful."
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« Reply #6637 on: May 29, 2013, 06:47 AM »

Cuba plans to expand public Internet access

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 13:59 EDT

Cuba will expand limited public access to the Internet next month by opening up another 118 places where people on this communist-run island can surf the Web for a fee, authorities said Tuesday.

Set to start June 4, the extension takes advantage of an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela and will gradually be rolled out further — but not to homes, according to a Communications Ministry resolution published in the Official Gazette and local media.

The notification says members of the public will be able to access the Web for $4.5 an hour, down from the current $6 an hour, or check their email for an unchanged $1.50.

These services “can only be accessed from the navigation rooms,” said the resolution, which specifically ruled out the installation of Internet connections in homes.

There are now more than 200 public Internet rooms in hotels on the island that sell connection cards that cost between $7 and $10. Post offices also provide access to email.

With Cubans making an average of $20 a month, the reduced fee likely won’t make much of a difference to most locals.

“As low as they may seem, they are still high in comparison with salaries we earn,” Tania Molina, a doctor, told AFP. “So we’ll continue as before.”

Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet access in Latin America: the number of users was 2.6 million in 2011 out of a population of 11.1 million, according to official statistics.

Most Cubans access the Internet in their places of work or study, as only doctors, journalists and certain other professionals are allowed to connect from home.

In January, state telecom agency Etecsa announced that an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela had been activated for experimental use, the first hard-wired link from the island to international telecom networks.

Havana has been unable to join other undersea fiber-optic cable networks due to a US embargo in effect since 1962. Because of this, Cuba had connected to the Internet via slower satellites.

The government has blamed limited bandwidth for restrictions on Web access, saying it forces them to “prioritize” it for “social use” purposes, with universities, companies and research centers given preference.

But dissidents have said the government’s true goal is to control access to information and that it is another form of censorship in a country where all media outlets are state-controlled.

The US Interests Section in Havana and some European embassies offer free Internet access to dissidents.

Even government supporters have criticized the restrictions: in April 2012 some 60 pro-regime bloggers asked the government of Raul Castro to “reformulate” Internet limitation rules — which have spawned a black market — to promote a “greater presence of Cubans in cyberspace.

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« Reply #6638 on: May 29, 2013, 06:56 AM »

May 28, 2013

A Salvadoran at Risk Tests Abortion Law


MEXICO CITY — Beatriz spends her days in a hospital room, anxiously watching her belly grow.

Her doctors say she is inching along a high-risk pregnancy that could ultimately kill her, fraught with risks caused by lupus and other complications. The fetus itself has such a severe birth defect that it has almost no chance of surviving, they say, urging an end to the pregnancy to protect Beatriz’s health before it gets worse. But in El Salvador, where she lives, abortion is illegal under any circumstances.

Now she is waiting for the Salvadoran Supreme Court to rule on her case, which has quickly become a focal point in a broad battle over abortion in Latin America, a largely conservative region where the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable sway.

Long home to some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws, the region has begun experiencing a shift in recent years, with some nations loosening restrictions or even legalizing the procedure. Now Beatriz’s case is testing the limits of El Salvador’s law, one of the more ironclad bans the region still has, by challenging whether abortion should remain off limits even when the mother is at risk and the baby has little hope of survival.

“I don’t want to die,” Beatriz, 22, said in a telephone interview, explaining her reason for seeking an abortion. “I want to be with my boy, taking care of him.”

Advocates have adopted her cause to intensify a regional push to change abortion laws, arguing that her rights under international law are being violated: the fetus is not viable, the danger of serious illness or death is increasing as her pregnancy progresses, and she already has an infant child to care for. A group of United Nations human rights experts called on El Salvador’s government to grant “exceptions to its general prohibition, especially in cases of therapeutic abortion.”

The Salvadoran church, by contrast, has argued that the baby’s malformation should not be met with a death sentence.

“This case should not be used to legislate against human life,” read a statement from the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador.

Several Latin American nations have softened their stances against abortion in recent years. Uruguay’s Senate approved a bill last year allowing women to have abortions during the first trimester for any reason, after an earlier move to legalize the procedure in Mexico City. Courts in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have also loosened restrictions on some abortions, allowing them in certain cases like rape or when the fetus is expected to die.

But a total ban on the procedure remains in El Salvador, Chile and Nicaragua. Doctors who perform abortions and mothers who request them can be sentenced to long prison terms. Under Salvadoran law, Beatriz, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity, and her doctors could face up to eight years in prison if one is performed.

A group of doctors at the National Maternity Hospital, where she is being treated, determined that Beatriz’s risk of serious illness or death increased as the pregnancy continued, and that the fetus would die. They suggested terminating the pregnancy. “We agree in what proceeds,” the doctors wrote in a report, “but we are all subject to the laws of this country.”

In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court last month, Health Minister María Isabel Rodríguez described Beatriz’s situation as “grave maternal illness with a high probability of deterioration or maternal death.” Given the fatal prognosis of the fetus, “it is necessary to undertake a medical-legal approach urgently,” Ms. Rodríguez wrote.

But the case has its medical detractors as well. José Miguel Fortín Magaña, director of the Institute of Legal Medicine, which evaluates medical issues for the Supreme Court, acknowledged Beatriz’s medical problems but said that her health was currently under control and that she was not in danger at the moment.

“If someone has appendicitis, we have to remove the appendix, but we can’t say, ‘We’ll remove it now because maybe in the future there’ll be a problem,’ ” he said, arguing that when a mother was in more immediate peril, doctors would be allowed to induce a premature birth, possibly saving both the woman and the baby.

Other nations have wrestled with the question of whether to prioritize the health of the mother or the fetus. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered chemotherapy or radiation to protect the life of a Nicaraguan woman with metastatic cancer who was being denied treatment because she was pregnant.

Last year in the Dominican Republic, a pregnant 16-year-old with cancer was denied chemotherapy for several weeks while doctors deliberated whether the drugs amounted to an induced abortion. The girl lost the baby and died herself after beginning treatment.

Last month, the inter-American commission told the Salvadoran government to protect Beatriz’s life by following the doctor’s recommendations for an abortion, but the government has been waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter.

Beatriz is well aware that there is an international frenzy swirling around her, but it seems far from her mind — an abstraction compared with the palpable yearning to touch the young son she left behind in her rural village, three hours away.

She says she believes abortions are almost always wrong, acceptable only when the mother is at risk.

Her first pregnancy, in 2012, was fraught with complications, especially after the sixth month. Pre-existing lupus, an autoimmune disease, coupled with severe preeclampsia, a serious condition that leads to high blood pressure, forced her doctors to perform a premature Caesarean section. The baby remained in the hospital for over a month.

Medical records show that, following her doctor’s advice, Beatriz had a sterilization procedure scheduled shortly after the birth. She did not show up.

Then Beatriz found out she was pregnant again. Doctors told her the fetus had anencephaly, a birth defect in which the baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all anencephalic babies die soon after birth.

Beatriz testified at a two-day oral Supreme Court hearing two weeks ago, the first of its kind in the country’s history. During a cross-examination, Víctor Hugo Mata, Beatriz’s lawyer, asked her to remove her shawl. Standing in front of the judges, she uncovered her arms, chest and back to reveal lupus-related sores. Her lupus is under control now.

Overwhelmed, she had to leave the chamber. The judges announced they would make a decision within 15 business days.

Mr. Mata said that no matter what the Supreme Court ruled, doctors would probably have to remove the fetus as Beatriz enters her third — and riskiest — trimester. Several American hospitals have offered to perform an abortion, but Mr. Mata said this was an opportunity for El Salvador to modify its law.

In a video posted on Vimeo this month, Beatriz asks that her doctors not be imprisoned “for what they may do to me.” The camera remains closed in on her small, spotted hands fidgeting on her thighs. Her burgeoning belly is covered with a red shirt.

Gene Palumbo contributed reporting from San Salvador.

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« Reply #6639 on: May 29, 2013, 07:07 AM »

‘Lost’ report over Brazilian tribal genocide resurfaces after 40 years

By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 8:48 EDT

Figueiredo report reveals alleged crimes against indigenous tribes from 1940s to 1980s and sheds light on current land policy

A “lost” report into genocide, torture, rape and enslavement of indigenous tribes during Brazil’s military dictatorship has been rediscovered, raising fresh questions about whether the government has made amends and punished those responsible.

The 7,000-page Figueiredo report has not been seen for more than 40 years, but extracts acquired by the Guardian reveal hundreds of alleged crimes and perpetrators.

Submitted in 1967 by the public prosecutor, Jader de Figueiredo Correia, the document details horrific abuse by the Indian Protection Service (widely known as the SPI), which was set up to improve the livelihoods of indigenous communities but often ended up as a mechanism to rob them of land or wipe them out with guns or poison.

The document caused an international storm when it was released, leading two years later to the foundation of the tribal rights organisation Survival International. Brazil, however, failed to jail a single person despite initial charges against 134 officials alleged to be involved in more than 1,000 crimes.

The report was believed to have been destroyed by a fire at the agriculture ministry soon after it came out, prompting suspicions of a cover-up by the dictatorship and its allies among the big land-owners. However, most of the document was discovered recently in a musty archive and is being examined by the National Truth Commission, which is investigating human rights violations between 1947 and 1988.

Although the document has not been made public since its rediscovery, the Guardian has seen a scanned copy in which Figueiredo describes the enslavement of indigenous people, torture of children and theft of land.

“The Indian Protection Service has degenerated to the point of chasing Indians to extinction,” the prosecutor writes in an introduction addressed to the interior minister.

The pages – all bound, initialled and marked MI-58-455 – include an alphabetical list of the alleged perpetrators and the indictments against them. Most are accused of falsely appropriating land, misusing funds or illegally selling cattle or timber to enrich themselves at the expense of the communities they were supposed to be protecting. But many are implicated in far more heinous crimes.

The number of victims is impossible to calculate. The Truth Commission believe that some tribes, such as those in Maranhão, were completely wiped out. In one case, in Mato Grosso, only two survivors emerged to tell of an attack on a community of 30 Cinta Larga Indians with dynamite dropped from aeroplanes. Figueiredo also details how officials and landowners lethally introduced smallpox into isolated villages and donated sugar mixed with strychnine.

Primary responsibility is attributed to Major Luiz Vinhas Neves, who headed the SPI from 1964 until he was sacked as a result of the report in 1968. He is cited in more than 40 counts, including financial irregularities totalling more than 1bn reals (£300,000) in today’s money. Following the report, a parliamentary resolution accused him of complicity in the spread of smallpox among two remote communities in Pataxó.

Torture was common. The most oft-cited technique was “the trunk”, which slowly crushed the ankles of the victims. An alternative was allegedly tried out by Álvaro de Carvalho, an official accused of murdering an Indian from Narcizinho whom he hung by the thumbs and whipped.

People were traded like animals. Flavio de Abreau, the chief of an SPI post in Couto Magalhaes, reportedly swapped an Indian woman for a clay stove and then thrashed her father when he complained. He is also accused of starving local communities. Other officers made children beat their parents, brothers whip their siblings and forced women back to work immediately after giving birth.

Figueiredo points out that the authorities operated with impunity to deny Indians what should have been a life of plenty. “There is a fabulous Indian heritage and it is well-managed. They do not require a penny of government assistance to live a rich and healthy life in their vast dominions,” he notes.

The report was highly embarrassing for the military regime and a censored press ensured it was rarely mentioned again. The SPI was replaced by another agency, Funai, but tribes continue to struggle against illegal loggers, miners, government dam-builders, ranchers

This is particularly true in Mato Grosso do Sul, which has the highest rate of murders of Indians in Brazil. The estimated 31,000 Guarani-Kaiowá Indians in the area are now confined to tiny areas, completely surrounded by fields of soy or sugarcane.

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said nothing has changed when it comes to the impunity regarding the murder of Indians. “Gunmen routinely kill tribespeople in the knowledge that there’s little risk of being brought to justice – none of the assassins responsible for shooting Guarani and Makuxi tribal leaders have been jailed for their crimes. It’s hard not to suspect that racism and greed are at the root of Brazil’s failure to defend its indigenous citizens’ lives,” he said.

Lawyers, politicians and NGOs warn the influence of the “ruralista” landowners’ lobby is once again on the rise. President Dilma Rousseff is dependent on their representatives in Congress, who have watered down the forest code, and are said to be planning the reduction of indigenous reserves by transferring responsibility for their demarcation from Funai to the conservative-dominated Congress.

Most of Brazil’s main newspapers – including Globo, Folha and Estadao de Sao Paulo – have largely ignored the rediscovery, even though the Figueiredo report was recently described by the Truth Commission as “one of the most important documents produced by the Brazilian government in the last century”.

Marcelo Zelic, the human rights lawyer who discovered the document amid 50 boxes of files in the Indian Museum in Rio de Janeiro, said powerful vested interests are already trying to undermine the report because they fear they may appear in it.

“This documentation, which was hidden for many decades, sheds light on conflict situations that endure today. For states like Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná, Bahia and Amazonas, it contains lots of information that can help reveal once and for all the truth behind many forms of violence against Indians today and provide an insight into the real owners of the land in dispute.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #6640 on: May 29, 2013, 07:08 AM »

05/28/2013 03:05 PM

Distorted Stats: Europe's Youth Unemployment Fallacy

By Alexander Demling

The oft-cited statistic that half of young Spaniards are unemployed is wrong. In reality, about one-fifth of those under 25 are looking for work. Nevertheless, outreach programs created by Germany focus on young people alone, though critics say other groups desperately need help too.

In recent days, it seemed as though the entire German cabinet had discovered youth unemployment as its new pet issue. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced there would be a job summit for Europe's young people, while her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, promised a loan program for Portuguese firms who train jobless youth. Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Madrid to take on the issue, which Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the "most urgent of tasks." Von der Leyen carried with her plans for a training program that would place 5,000 young Spaniards with German firms over the next four years. On Tuesday, the busy minister will also present a "New Deal" for European young people at a conference.

The concentrated efforts of these prominent German politicians on behalf of Southern Europe's youth appears to be necessary, given data that shows unemployment has reached shocking levels there as the euro crisis wears on. Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, reported at the end of last year that it had reached 57.9 percent in Greece and 55.2 percent in Spain.

But is every other young Greek or Spaniard really out of work? A closer look at Eurostat's statistics outline reveals that these rates do "not necessarily mean that the group of unemployed persons aged between 15 and 24 is large." That's because many in this group are full-time students and are "neither working nor looking for a job." Students are therefore omitted, though they account for more than half of those under 25.

A More Realistic Assessment

There are other indications that the classic youth unemployment rate creates a distorted view of reality. For example, the proportion of underqualified young people who are actually on the job market is far greater than it is in the entire population of 15- to 24-year-olds that includes students. Anyone who drops out of school at 14 gets statistically grouped into the workforce -- and they are likely to be unemployed.

Meanwhile, the best students often pursue their educations the longest, during which time they remain left out of the data. Those who go on to earn a master's degree or Ph.D. often don't enter the labor force until they are past 25, which means they never even appear in the youth employment statistics. Thus, Eurostat has also made an alternative calculation that accounts for the entire under-24 population, including students. This ratio shows that while the situation for young Southern Europeans still isn't great, it's also far from catastrophic. According to this calculation, Spain still led in youth unemployment for 2012 -- but at a ratio of 20 percent, compared to the frequently mentioned rate of 55.2 percent. Greece was at 16 percent, while 10 percent of Italy's young people were out of work.

So, in reality, it's not half of Spain's young people who are unemployed, but rather one-fifth -- though this remains a high level that obscures an even more distressing problem. Many students are choosing to extend their studies because they fear the hopelessness and stigma that come with unemployment. What's more, those who do work are often paid low wages.

Slightly Older Demographic Hit Hardest

Nevertheless, economists say that these young people aren't the biggest losers of the crisis, and that other groups desperately need more help. "Age is the wrong criterium for evaluating who is worthy of assistance," says Carlos Martin Urriza, head economist at CCOO, Spain's largest trade union. Those over 30 who have completed only the equivalent of a middle-school education are more likely to be unemployed, and for longer periods of time, than highly qualified workers under 30, he says. During the country's real estate boom, thousands of young Spaniards dropped out of school or university to make easy money in the sector. Now, many are older than 30 and don't qualify for programs such as those Germany has in mind.

It's the slightly older who have been hit hardest by the crisis. "When the economy was flourishing, they took on cheap loans, built houses and started a family. Today, 88 percent of unemployed family breadwinners are over 30," says Urriza. Most younger unemployed people don't have a house that can be foreclosed on or a family they have to feed. To move back in with one's parents after graduating from university is painful, but putting children to bed hungry is worse.

'Only the Young Take Priority'

For Juan José Dolado, a labor market expert at the Charles III University of Madrid, it's not the young, but rather low-skilled workers of all ages, who are "the true problem." Returning to school or university is not a solution for people with a family to feed. What they need is a dual vocational education and training model in line with Germany's, Dolado recently suggested in the Spanish newspaper El País.

Instead, complains unionist Urriza, many of the measures taken in Europe are merely symbolic. He says there's a reason that the employment guarantee approved in February by the EU only includes unemployed people under 25. With young people, he reasons, it's easier to finesse the statistics by placing them in unpaid internships. "To train those over 30 is an expensive and long-term measure -- the policy lacks the endurance for that," says Urriza.

The Spanish government, too, with its "Strategy for Entrepreneurship and Youth Employment" program, aims only at 16- to 30-year-olds. "The government decides what programs will get support from Europe. They take the money and don't ask questions," says Urriza. "And for Europe's politicians, only the young take priority."


Merkel's medicine will not cure disease of youth unemployment in Europe

Despite the rhetoric about a lost generation, it will take more than €6bn to bring meaningful results

Wednesday 29 May 2013 01.49 BST The Guardian

Europe's biggest country has no minimum wage and some of the lowest unemployment in the EU at a time of soaring jobless rates across the continent.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, best known in Greece or Ireland for taking the axe to public services, budgets and jobs in response to the euro crisis, has suddenly discovered a penchant for job creation.

On Tuesday in Paris, in a rare recent demonstration of Franco-German affection, both countries' finance ministers joined forces to put Europe's youth back to work.

The tone has shifted from austerity, a word that Merkel hates, to handwringing about Europe's lost generation. But that the rhetorical shift reflects a major policy shift is improbable.

One might suspect there was an election looming somewhere. Merkel is indeed seeking a third term and looks assured of winning it in September. There will be more such cuddly gestures in the months ahead.

As well as the party in Paris, Merkel is summoning labour ministers, labour market experts and unit labour cost analysts from all over the EU to bang heads about jobs for youth. She wants to keep Brussels out of it, seeing no role for the European commission because Berlin says it has no expertise whatsoever in this area. But the money, €6bn (£5.1bn) – a pittance given the scale of the challenge – comes from the Brussels-administered budget. The other funds foreseen are old wine in new bottles: EU structural funds.

Merkel's remedy looks singularly ill-adapted to treating the disease. It may sound like Keynesian social democratic job creation scheming of the kind usually frowned upon in Berlin and Frankfurt. But it will take more than €6bn to bring meaningful results. It will not, however, damage her re-election prospects.


Euro leaders unite to tackle soaring youth unemployment rates

François Hollande makes impassioned plea for jobless 'post-crisis' generation that fears it will never work

Rupert Neate and Graeme Wearden   
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013 23.57 BST   

European leaders warned on Tuesday that youth unemployment – which exceeds 50% in some countries – could lead to a continent-wide catastrophe and widespread social unrest aimed at member state governments.

The French, German and Italian governments joined forces to launch initiatives to "rescue an entire generation" who fear they will never find jobs. More than 7.5 million young Europeans aged between 15 and 24 are not in employment, education or training, according to EU data. The rate of youth unemployment is more than double that for adults, and more than half of young people in Greece (59%) and Spain (55%) are unemployed.

François Hollande, the French president, dubbed them the "post-crisis generation", who will "for ever after, be holding today's governments responsible for their plight".

"Remember the postwar generation, my generation. Europe showed us and gave us the support we needed, the hope we cherished. The hopes that we could get a job after finishing school, and succeed in life," he said at conference in Paris. "Can we be responsible for depriving today's young generation of this kind of hope?"

. We're talking about a complete breakdown of identifying with Europe.

"Imagine all of the hatred, the anger"What's really at stake here is, not just 'Let's punish those in power'. No. Citizens are turning their backs on Europe and the construction of the European project.

Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, warned that unless Europe tackled youth employment, which stands at 23.5% across the EU, the continent "will lose the battle for Europe's unity".

Italy's labour minister, Enrico Giovanni, said European leaders needed to work together to "rescue an entire generation of people who are scared [they will never find work].

"We have the best ever educated generation in this continent, and we are putting them on hold," he said.

The UK Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury were unable to say why Britain, which has a 20.7% rate of youth unemployment, was not represented at the conference in Paris on Tuesday.

Stephen Timms, shadow employment minister, attacked the coalition for remaining "utterly silent on youth unemployment".

"This government has totally failed to tackle Britain's youth jobs crisis. This government must stop sitting on the sidelines and take the urgent action we need to get young people back to work."

Hollande outlined a series of measures to tackle the problem, including a "youth guarantee" to promise everyone under 25 a job, further education or training.

The plan, which has been discussed by the European commission, will be supported by €6bn (£5bn) of EU cash over the next five years. Another €16bn in European structural funds is also set aside for youth employment projects.

Herman Van Rompuy, European council president, pledged to put the "fight against unemployment high on our agenda" at the next EU summit in June. "We must rise to the expectations of the millions of young people who expect political action," he said.

The commission estimates youth joblessness costs the EU €153bn in unemployment benefit, lost productivity and lost tax revenue. "In addition, for young people themselves, being unemployed at a young age can have a long-lasting negative 'scarring effect'," the commission said. "These young people face not only higher risks of future unemployment, but also higher risks of exclusion, of poverty and of health problems."

The European ministers, who will meet German chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the youth unemployment crisis in July, said small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) will form a central plank of the plans. SMEs traditionally employ the vast majority of young people, but have complained they haven't been able to borrow enough money to grow since the financial crisis struck in 2008.

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's labour minister, said: "Many SMEs, which are the backbone of our economies, are ready to produce but need capital, or they have to pay exorbitant borrowing rates."

The minsters are working on establishing a special credit line for SMEs from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which will have a €70bn lending capacity this year.

However, Werner Hoyer, head of the EIB, warned minister not have "expectations completely over the horizon".

"Let's be honest, there is no quick fix, there is no grand plan," he admitted.

Schäuble warned that European welfare standards should not be jeopardised in order to cut youth unemployment figures. "We would have a revolution, not tomorrow, but on the very same day," he warned. Germany and Austria have the lowest rate of youth unemployment, with 8% not in work, education or training.

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« Reply #6641 on: May 29, 2013, 07:09 AM »

05/29/2013 11:05 AM

War on Subsidies: Brussels Takes Aim at German Energy Revolution

By Frank Dohmen, Christoph Pauly and Gerald Traufetter

As part of Germany's switch to renewables, industry has been exempt from paying higher prices associated with solar and wind energy. The European Commission, however, believes the practice distorts competition on the Continent. Huge penalties could be in store.

The audience was small and exclusive, which helps explain why little has emerged thus far of what European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said at the Hotel Stanhope in Brussels on May 6. It was enough to cause something of a stir among his listeners.

For the European Commission and for Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, Oettinger said during a dinner event, it is clear that price concessions for energy-intensive companies in Germany amount to an inadmissible subsidy. In the best-case scenario, he said, the Commission would ban such subsidies. But, he added, the worst case could see Brussels demanding that such companies pay back the money they had saved as a result of the discounts they have received.

Competitors and neighboring countries had filed an official complaint about these benefits with the European Commission, prompting the EU competition authority to launch an investigation. The German commissioner had sought to assure industry representatives that the process was only just beginning and that the outcome remained unclear.

That, though, seems to only have been partly accurate, which helps explain the current agitation. The scenario Oettinger outlined at the Brussels dinner is a horrifying one for parts of German industry and for the government in Berlin. The prospect of having to repay several billion euros is certainly a daunting one. Even worse, though, is that the competitiveness of entire industrial sectors would be put at risk. Also at stake is the Renewable Energies Act (EEG), a central component of Berlin's shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy, also known as the Energiewende.

Since 2000, Germany has used the EEG to promote the expansion of renewable forms of energy. To ensure that the construction of expensive solar and wind farms is worthwhile for private individuals and investors, they receive a guarantee that the electricity they produce will be purchased at a fixed price for a period of several years.

Alternate Reality

The costs of start-up financing for green energy and the compensation for expansion of the power grid are added to customers' electricity bills in the form of a special tax. The entire subsidy system is supposed to come to an end when green energy becomes competitive. That, at least, is the theory.

But the reality is different. No longer can one simply describe the tax as a way to get renewable energies off the ground. Indeed, following Berlin's decision two years ago to shelve nuclear energy and accelerate the expansion of renewables, the EEG has become a giant redistribution machine.

Owners of wind and solar farms were paid about €14 billion ($18 billion) last year alone. This is the difference between the guaranteed EEG price and the proceeds actually achieved on the market for the electricity they fed into the grid. Experts with the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne estimate that consumers will have to pay more than €100 billion by 2022 for renewable energy facilities that have already been installed. Of the 28 cents household customers pay per kilowatt-hour of electricity today, 5.28 cents already applies to the EEG levy, and that figure is growing.

There are many reasons for the cost explosion. Contrary to earlier forecasts, solar and wind farms are a long way from being able to produce energy at the prices possible in coal-fired or nuclear power plants. There are also high costs associated with grid expansion and electricity storage facilities -- both necessary for a system more reliant on renewables -- as well as for backup power plants, which take up the slack when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. In addition, the German government failed to define upper limits for solar energy, an expensive form of energy that is inefficient in a country like Germany, with its relative lack of sunshine.

Even more vexing, consumer advocates and Green Party politicians like energy expert Bärbel Höhn have been saying for months, are the special provisions that enable "supposedly energy-intensive companies" to exempt themselves from the EEG levy and grid charges.

A Farce

The exceptions, introduced in 2003, were intended primarily for industries and companies that consume large amounts of energy and compete internationally. On the international market, they face off against competitors who can buy electricity in their home countries at significantly lower prices. This applies, in particular, to sectors like steel, aluminum and chemicals.

But as costs have risen, what was once a reasonable tool has become a farce. Because the German government lowered the limit at which a company is considered energy-intensive from 10 gigawatt-hours a year to only 1 gigawatt-hour a year, large corporations are now not the only ones able to enjoy the exemption. Discount markets, furniture stores and retail chains have combined the electricity consumption of their branches nationwide to qualify and submit exemption applications.

The number of company sites with an EEG exemption has jumped from 979 in 2012 to the current figure of 2,245. According to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by the Green Party, applications for exemptions from grid charges more than doubled, from 1,600 in 2011 to 3,400 in 2012. This has allowed companies and larger corporations to save close to €5 billion.

Consumer advocates, Greens and small and mid-sized business owners unanimously complain that small companies and household customers are expected to make up the difference. "They are the ones ultimately footing the bill," says Höhn.

The exceptions are also vexing to European Competition Commissioner Almunia, who even sees them as a deliberate effort to influence European competition. In an internal statement on the grid charges, the legal service of the European Commission noted last October that "German lawmakers are deliberately favoring certain energy-intensive companies, which threatens to distort competition and is apt to obstruct trade between member states."

Consequently, a few weeks ago, the Competition Commission introduced formal proceedings against Germany, which it suspects of providing "inadmissible subsidies." In a first step, the case revolves around company exemptions from grid charges, Oettinger told his small audience in Brussels. This amounts to about €800 million in 2013. According to Oettinger, companies and the German government are likely to see sanctions from Brussels this year.

An Inopportune Time for Berlin

At the same time, Almunia's competition experts are looking into an expansion of the case to include all EEG exemptions for German companies. Although a decision hasn't been reached yet, the step seems likely if Germany fails to respond by amending the EEG. In talks with representatives of the German Economy Ministry, Brussels officials have threatened to demand repayment of the money saved as a result of exemptions.

The foray comes at an inopportune time for the German government. The Energiewende has stalled, as it becomes clear that ambitious schedules for the construction of energy storage systems and offshore wind farms cannot be met. At the same time, the costs of green electricity are skyrocketing.

"Should Brussels now force German companies to fully or partially repay the relief resulting from the EEG levy and grid charges, industry acceptance of expensive green energy subsidies and the transformation of the energy supply would be over once and for all," says Joachim Pfeiffer, the economic policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. In addition, says Pfeiffer, energy-intensive industry, which plays an important role in the German industrial landscape, threatens to be "driven out of the country." The controversial EEG, with its billions in subsidies for green electricity, could hardly survive in its current form.

The European Commission and Energy Commissioner Oettinger would likely welcome such a development. They have long advocated the Europeanization of energy policy without a separate path for Germany. They believe that constantly rising energy prices could provide the impetus for such a move.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso shocked EU leaders at the summit meeting last week when he mentioned a few numbers. While electricity prices have stagnated in the United States since 2005, he said, they have gone up by an average of 38 percent in Europe. Barroso warned that the competitiveness of European industry is in jeopardy. In contrast to past speeches, Barroso hardly mentioned climate change at all.

European-Wide Energy System

Oettinger hopes that a deep-seated reform of the EEG will follow closely on the heels of German elections this fall. "The pointless misallocation of funds must be brought to an end," he says. A chart prepared by a research institute and handed out at the EU summit identifies Germany as Europe's most expensive producer of wind energy. Countries like Spain, Greece and Italy have natural advantages in the production of solar energy, which the energy commissioner believes should be exploited.

He wants a uniform, Europe-wide pricing and conveyance system, together with transnational energy grids that transport electricity to where it is most needed at any given time. Countries like Poland and the Netherlands are constantly complaining about the fact that, while they benefit from free German green electricity on days with abundant sun and wind, they are required to keep expensive power plant capacities in reserve at the same time.

Within the Commission, Oettinger argues that the sanctions against grid charges and the EEG should not be applied prior to the federal election in the hopes that changes will come soon afterward. "The retroactive loss of electricity subsidies would be life-threatening for many companies," he says.

Judging by Oettinger's remarks to the industry representatives at the Hotel Stanhope, his colleagues in Brussels are unlikely to be impressed by such arguments for long.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #6642 on: May 29, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Slovenia: ‘Prosecutor: Two years of prison for Janša’

28 May 2013

In the Patria corruption case, the prosecuting attorney has demanded a 24-month prison sentence and a €37,000 fine for former Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Janša denied the allegations against him and claimed that prosecution did not present any evidence for the charges of bribery against him, reports Delo.

Full Story:

Janša: The proposed penalties are absurd

The process of Patria: Janša's public prosecutor accused Ferlincu to behave as a military prosecutor 25 years ago.

Marko Jakopec, Chronicle
Monday, 05.27.2013, 19:35

Ljubljana - "The proposed penalties are ridiculous," said the penalties proposed by the Attorney General Andrej Ferlinc, responded Janez Janša. "The prosecution was political, about the same as a military prosecutor 25 years ago, personally was even more shocking as a military prosecutor," said Janša.

Before the Palace of Justice, Janez Janša said that they heard two prosecutors who are reading the same thing twice. "For it shows a lot of confusion of what was happening in the courtroom, even more confusing, the content," he said, adding that the 60 hearings even one of the charges, the complaint relating to him could not be sustained.

All witnesses deny the allegations, the prosecution but he did not offer any evidence, "however, are now in the final words read two sentences from the indictment proposal, which put me in an unspecified way, on an unspecified date to an undetermined site got promise Awards and then the other, "he said.

Attorney Andrej Ferlinc the president of the party and former Prime Minister Janez Janša proposed 24 months in prison . For the first man Rotis Ivan Crnkovic and Brigadier Tone Krkovič after 22 months in prison. The prosecution is proposed for each side at 37,000 euros fine.

Journalists Ferlinc among other things, that the guilt of all the accused, according to the Prosecutor's Office fully demonstrated, tapped but also along the Slovenian legislation.

"In Finland and Austria, not only in these two countries, corruption is one of the most serious crimes in our country by the legislation as a kind of bagatelno offense falling within the jurisdiction of the district," he said, pointing out that this finding in no way diminishes the competence and professionalism of Judge Barbara Klajnšek.

He added that the fact that the actual payment of bribes by the accused "mistakenly called fee" was not in any way contribute to the accused, but only a bare, luck, or "conscientiousness Austrian bank employee who doubted the legality of high-rise amount by the Austrian Leibnitz tried to raise Walter Wolf. "

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« Reply #6643 on: May 29, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Bulgaria: Dress rehearsal for 2014

27 May 2013
Dilema Veche Bucharest

Put together on May 27, the new Bulgarian government, which is mainly made up of technocrats, has enabled the Socialists come out on top in the wake of elections, which failed to return a majority for any party. The result will have an effect throughout the EU, as will other national elections that are to be held in the run-up to European elections in 2014.
Ovidiu Nahoi

At the time of writing of this article, the make-up of the future goverment in Sofia remains unresolved following the indecisive outcome of the May 12 elections. However, the stakes are high, and not just for our neighbours to the south across the Danube, but for the whole of the EU.

Indeed, the early Bulgarian elections were also a sort of dress rehearsal for the upcoming European elections. And, in any case, the issue is extremely important for the future configuration of the Assembly that will decide the future of the European Union.
Intensity of negotiations

The 2014 elections to the European Parliament will usher in a novelty for the citizen of the Union: the big political groupings will, for the first time, propose candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission (EC). These are the first elections following the Lisbon Treaty, a document that confers increased powers on the legislative assembly, which meets in Brussels and Strasbourg. The effects are already being felt, for example in the growing intensity of the negotiations between the Parliament and the Council on various topics – the more publicised being perhaps the 2014-2020 budget.

The main role in appointing the head of the Commission always falls to the European Council. But the latter should make that decision in accordance with the outcome of the elections to the European Parliament. Otherwise, the candidate proposed by the Council might not be able to put together the required majority among the MEPs.

It is important therefore to know who will represent Bulgaria on the Council – unlike Romania, the Bulgarians are represented by their prime minister, and not by the country's president, even though, as is the case in Romania, the latter is elected by universal suffrage. And so then, which [European Union] political grouping will have Bulgaria’s vote on this Council that will put forward the name of the president of the Commission?
War at the polls

For now, the balance seems to be tilting towards the Socialists, since the speaker of the Parliament in Sofia [Mihail Mikov] was elected from among their ranks. A socialist led parliamentary majority under Sergei Stanishev might therefore be in sight – but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. However, it is worth noting that Stanishev is the president of the PES, the Party of European Socialists.

It’s precisely for this reason that the stakes for the Socialists are enormous. It’s even rumoured that the candidacy of German Martin Schulz – Chairman of the European Parliament and leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – for the presidency of the Commission will be launched in Sofia. The Socialists, however, have every interest in organising their festivities where their colleagues have been victorious, and not where they have been beaten.

True, the Bulgarian Socialists have not won the war at the polls, where they won only 27 per cent of the votes, which is three per cent less than the party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who resigned at the start of the year. Stanishev therefore is almost obliged to win the peace – that is to say, the negotiations to form a government.
A specific issue for Bucharest

It must be said nonetheless that while the Bulgarian elections and their outcome do matter to Martin Schulz, the elections in his own country, Germany, are much more important. It will be virtually impossible for the leader of the socialist MEPs to be proposed as chair of the Commission if his party is not part of the governing coalition in his own country. (Seeing how things stand at present, it does not seem likely the SPD will win the elections in Germany outright.)

There is also a specific issue for Bucharest, related of course to the election year 2014. That’s election year for the European Parliament – and for the Romanian presidency. In the meantime, we could see by this autumn a referendum to change the Constitution.

The Romanian political crisis of the summer of 2012 showed the European Commission’s influence on our internal power plays. It is also clear that for the struggling factions in Bucharest, the name of the future President of the Commission is not a matter of indifference.    

New government in Sofia: A team of technocrats led by Socialists

The Socialists, who came second in the May 12 elections, have appointed former Finance Minister Plamen Orecharski as Prime Minister after the head of the outgoing government, Conservative Boyko Borissov, stepped down after failing to gain enough support to form a coalition.

On May 27 Orecharski is to present a cabinet of technocrats delegated with the task of lifting the country out of its political and economic crisis and submit it to Parliament's vote on May 28, reports 24 Chassa.] Orecharski himself has no seat in the coalition put together by the Socialists and the MRF (Movement for Rights and Freedoms), which mainly represents the country's ethnic Turkish minority. To gain a majority in the Parliament, Orecharski is relying on the support or abstention of members of other parties.

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« Reply #6644 on: May 29, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Beaver kills man in Belarus

Incident is latest in series of beaver attacks on humans in the country, as animals make comeback following hunting bans

Associated Press in Ostromechevo, Wednesday 29 May 2013 07.58 BST   

A beaver has attacked a 60-year-old fisherman in Belarus, slicing an artery and causing him to bleed to death.

It was the latest in a series of beaver attacks on humans in the country, as the rodents, who have razor-sharp teeth, have turned increasingly aggressive after wandering near homes, shops and schools.

"The character of the wound was totally shocking," said the village doctor Leonty Sulim. "We had never run into anything like this before."

Once hunted nearly to extinction in Europe, beavers have made a comeback as hunting has been banned or restricted and new populations were introduced.

In Belarus, a former Soviet republic between Russia and Poland, the beaver population has tripled in the past decade to an estimated 80,000, according to wildlife experts. That has caused beavers increasingly to encroach on populated areas.

The Belarusian emergency services said they have received a rash of reports of aggression by beavers, which can weigh up to 30kg (65lbs) and stand about a metre (3ft) high. Officials have responded to some calls by sending out crews to drive away the animals, often by spraying them with water from a fire hose.

The fisherman, who has not been named at the request of his family, was driving with friends toward the Shestakovskoye lake, west of the capital, Minsk, when he spotted the beaver along the side of the road and stopped the car. As he tried to grab the animal to have his picture taken, it bit him several times. One of the bites cut a major artery in his leg, according to Sulim.

The man's friends were unable to stem the bleeding, and he was pronounced dead when he arrived at Sulim's clinic in the village of Ostromechevo.

He is the only person known to have died from a beaver attack in Belarus.

The rise in the number of attacks is attributed partly to spring bringing about more aggressive behaviour in young beavers that are sent away to stake out their own territory. Largely nocturnal, beavers can also become disoriented during the daytime and attack out of fear, according to Viktor Kozlovsky, a wildlife expert.

Kozlovsky said the large beaver population was beginning to cause significant damage to forests and farms. The forestry ministry said it was encouraging the hunting of beavers, once prized for their fur and gland secretions used for medicinal purposes. But since they are such easy targets near dams, says the ministry spokesman Alexander Kozorez, "beaver hunting holds little sporting interest".

"Hunting them is more like work," he said.


Belarus: inside Europe's last dictatorship

Belarus is stuck in the Soviet past, under the grip of a brutal regime. But a few dissidents still cling to the small hope that things will improve

Sigrid Rausing   
The Guardian, Sunday 7 October 2012 17.57 BST   

On 23 September, there were elections in Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko's supporters won every seat. Lukashenko, formerly a state farm director, has been in power since 1994, presiding over the last dictatorship in Europe.

I was there in the early summer, to visit Chernobyl. We stayed mainly on the Ukrainian side, but had received permission to enter the "alienated zone" in Belarus. So much of the former Soviet Union feels depopulated and abandoned compared with the west, but near the Chernobyl zone that feeling gradually intensifies. We drove for hours along empty roads lined with birch and pine, abandoned houses dotting the landscape. On the Ukrainian side, old men and women worked on small plots, raking hay into stacks. Some people have drifted back into the zone, but there are no young people there, and there won't be for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years to come: the radiation is too dangerous.

Eventually we reached the border between Ukraine and Belarus. Our permission to enter the "alienated zone" in Belarus was rescinded, and I went to the capital, Minsk, a five-hour drive on a straight road through endless forests and past vast collective farm fields, a landscape so relentlessly flat, so unchanging from beginning to end, that only an autocratic centralising regime could have produced it.

Most of Minsk was destroyed in the second world war; it is now an entirely modern city. Modern architecture in the west is so piecemeal in comparison – a mixture of individual buildings with no obvious relationship to each other, or uninspired housing districts for the poor. Minsk is a city that only could have emerged from total war, and in a political system of excessive state control, a vision of a dystopian future.

That evening I met Andrei Sannikov and his wife, journalist Iryna Kahlip. He was the presidential candidate who was imprisoned after the crackdown in December 2010, following the presidential elections. He was sentenced to five years but was released, after international pressure, 16 months later. Iryna received a suspended sentence and is still under curfew. The police come to check on them every night, sometimes several times a night.

We met in the home of friends in an anonymous block of flats. The poky lift carried us creakily upwards. A woman looked at us curiously. We sat in the small kitchen. Andrei spoke of his imprisonment and his fading hope for democracy. He had black shadows under his eyes; Iryna, also, looked so tired. I was tired too. None of us could eat much of the Russian feast in front of us, though we did drink the Georgian wine. Quite soon they had to leave to be back in their own flat in time for the curfew.

I went on to a rehearsal at the Belarus Free Theatre, the dissident Belarussian theatre group. Its headquarters are a tiny suburban house. Inside, two modest rooms have been thrown into one – the owner smashed down the internal wall with a sledgehammer to give the company more space. The actors rehearsed their piece; a dance of dictatorship with no lines, only hums and sudden, discordant screams. I talked to some of the performers afterwards. They were young, engaged and alternative – we might have been in Berlin or New York, rather than Europe's last dictatorship.

The group's founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, are political refugees in London. It was easy to forget the political reality, but later, after they showed me what was left of old Minsk – a handful of buildings survived the war – a nebulous political fear descended on me. I lay on the bed in my hotel room thinking about the epic sweep of Soviet repression, the hope after 1989, which faded with the post-Soviet political violence; beatings, abductions and murders. I thought, most of all, of Oleg Bebenin, Sannikov's press secretary and close friend, founder of the Belarussian citizens' rights group Charter 97, who was found hanged at his dacha in 2010 with unexplained bruises on his hand, chest and back. We had talked about him earlier. I thought about how easy it is for governments to kill people. "They threatened me too," Sannikov said. "I had no reason not to believe them."

In 1999, Gennady Karpenko, the leader of the opposition to Lukashenko, died, either of a cerebral haemorrhage, or of poison. Jury Zacharanka, the former minister of internal affairs who had joined the opposition, disappeared the same year. So did Victor Gonchar, opposition politician, and Anatol Krasouski, a businessman who was with him that evening. A year later, cameraman Dmitriy Zavadski disappeared. They are all presumed dead, victims of Lukashenko's regime. The owner of the flat where we met, a man in his 60s, kissed my hand as we left. He had told us earlier about being beaten not so long ago near the entrance of the block. "Don't bother to call the police," one of his attackers said. "We are the police."

Sigrid Rausing is the publisher of Granta Magazine and Books, and founder and chair of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to human rights.

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