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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1003198 times)
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« Reply #7050 on: Jun 21, 2013, 05:52 AM »

June 20, 2013

Dispute Over Falklands Intensifies


The protracted dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands appeared to harden further on Thursday, as the British side dismissed any thought of inviting the new Argentine pope to help mediate, and the Argentines rejected a March referendum that showed the islanders want to remain British.

Both sides made their positions known after an annual meeting of the United Nations Decolonization Committee, which called on Britain and Argentina to negotiate. Britain has said any negotiations must include a representative from the Falklands, a condition rejected by Argentina, which calls the islands, in the South Atlantic, Las Malvinas.

More than 30 years after the Argentines invaded the islands and British forces retook them, the emotions of the dispute appear to be reinvigorated. They were stoked this year when Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, sought to enlist Pope Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, to advance the cause.

But the idea of papal intervention did not sit well with Michael Summers, a Falklands representative who attended the Decolonization Committee’s meeting. “I think the last thing we need is religion inserted into this dispute,” he said at a news conference.

At a separate news conference, Argentina’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, rejected Britain’s contention that Argentina has no claim to the islands. Mr. Timerman also ridiculed the British insistence on including an island representative in any talks.

“I need to meet with the foreign minister,” he said. “Kings meet with kings, and queens meet with queens. Usually that is the way it works.”
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« Reply #7051 on: Jun 21, 2013, 05:55 AM »

Study finds 40,000 people were abducted during 40-year Colombian civil war

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 20, 2013 16:22 EDT

Almost 40,000 people were abducted during the 40 years of Colombia’s civil war, according to a study published on Thursday, the first attempt to quantify the scourge of kidnapping.

The research, released by the Center for Historical Memory in Bogota, was commissioned by police and prosecutors and compiled with help from nongovernmental groups and financing from the European Union.

The report found that 39,058 people were abducted at least once between 1970 and 2010 in Colombia.

The center said it hoped the study would lead to “justice and reparations” for those who lost days, weeks or in some cases even years to captivity.

“We are convinced that this statistical data is a way to give voice to the victims,” the authors of the report said.

The document said the figure represents the best available estimate on the number of people abducted over the years, adding that “there is no way to know with certainty how many kidnap victims there were.”

The typical abductee was an adult male who lived in the countryside and, while kidnappings of foreigners garner widespread media attention, they account for just three percent of abductions in Colombia.

The study said that most of the victims were held for ransom and were returned to their families after a period of captivity that usually lasted between one day and one month.

Colombia’s insurgency was launched in 1964, and marks the half-century milestone next year.

Land distribution was one of the triggers of the decades-old conflict in this Andean country, where there is gaping inequality between wealthy landowners and poor peasants.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the country’s largest guerrilla group with some 8,000 fighters. The second largest, the Army of National Liberation or ELN, has some 2,500 fighters.

The government is currently in peace talks with the FARC, but so far has excluded the ELN from the dialogue.

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« Reply #7052 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:00 AM »

June 20, 2013

Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists


TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country’s Muslim minority.

“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims.

“I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers,” Ashin Wirathu told a reporter after his two-hour sermon. “I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.”

The world has grown accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism defined by the self-effacing words of the Dalai Lama, the global popularity of Buddhist-inspired meditation and postcard-perfect scenes from Southeast Asia and beyond of crimson-robed, barefoot monks receiving alms from villagers at dawn.

But over the past year, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar — and revealed a darker side of the country’s greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.

Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.

What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks. Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.

The hate-filled speeches and violence have endangered Myanmar’s path to democracy, raising questions about the government’s ability to keep the country’s towns and cities safe and its willingness to crack down or prosecute Buddhists in a Buddhist-majority country. The killings have also reverberated in Muslim countries across the region, tarnishing what was almost universally seen abroad as a remarkable and rare peaceful transition from military rule to democracy. In May, the Indonesian authorities foiled what they said was a plot to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta in retaliation for the assaults on Muslims.

Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the radical movement, skates a thin line between free speech and incitement, taking advantage of loosened restrictions on expression during a fragile time of transition. He was himself jailed for eight years by the now-defunct military junta for inciting hatred. Last year, as part of a release of hundreds of political prisoners, he was freed.

In his recent sermon, he described the reported massacre of schoolchildren and other Muslim inhabitants in the central city of Meiktila in March, documented by a human rights group, as a show of strength.

“If we are weak,” he said, “our land will become Muslim.”

Buddhism would seem to have a secure place in Myanmar. Nine in 10 people are Buddhist, as are nearly all the top leaders in the business world, the government, the military and the police. Estimates of the Muslim minority range from 4 percent to 8 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 55 million people while the rest are mostly Christian or Hindu.

But Ashin Wirathu, who describes himself as a nationalist, says Buddhism is under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land. In part, he is tapping into historical grievances that date from British colonial days when Indians, many of them Muslims, were brought into the country as civil servants and soldiers.

The muscular and nationalist messages he has spread have alarmed Buddhists in other countries.

The Dalai Lama, after the riots in March, said killing in the name of religion was “unthinkable” and urged Myanmar’s Buddhists to contemplate the face of the Buddha for guidance.

Phra Paisal Visalo, a Buddhist scholar and prominent monk in neighboring Thailand, says the notion of “us and them” promoted by Myanmar’s radical monks is anathema to Buddhism. But he lamented that his criticism and that of other leading Buddhists outside the country have had “very little impact.”

“Myanmar monks are quite isolated and have a thin relationship with Buddhists in other parts of the world,” Phra Paisal said. One exception is Sri Lanka, another country historically bedeviled by ethnic strife. Burmese monks have been inspired by the assertive political role played by monks from Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.

As Myanmar has grown more polarized, there have been nascent signs of a backlash against the anti-Muslim preaching.

Among the most disappointed with the outbreaks of violence and hateful rhetoric are some of the leaders of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a peaceful uprising led by Buddhist monks against military rule.

“We were not expecting this violence when we chanted for peace and reconciliation in 2007,” said the abbot of Pauk Jadi monastery, Ashin Nyana Nika, 55, who attended a meeting earlier this month sponsored by Muslim groups to discuss the issue. (Ashin is the honorific for Burmese monks.) Ashin Sanda Wara, the head of a monastic school in Yangon, says the monks in the country are divided nearly equally between moderates and extremists.

He considers himself in the moderate camp. But as a measure of the deeply ingrained suspicions toward Muslims in the society, he said he was “afraid of Muslims because their population is increasing so rapidly.”

Ashin Wirathu has tapped into that anxiety, which some describe as the “demographic pressures” coming from neighboring Bangladesh. There is wide disdain in Myanmar for a group of about one million stateless Muslims, who call themselves Rohingya, some of whom migrated from Bangladesh. Clashes between the Rohingya and Buddhists last year in western Myanmar roiled the Buddhist community and appear to have played a role in later outbreaks of violence throughout the country. Ashin Wirathu said they served as his inspiration to spread his teachings.

The theme song to Ashin Wirathu’s movement speaks of people who “live in our land, drink our water, and are ungrateful to us.”

“We will build a fence with our bones if necessary,” runs the song’s refrain. Muslims are not explicitly mentioned in the song but Ashin Wirathu said the lyrics refer to them. Pamphlets handed out at his sermon demonizing Muslims said that “Myanmar is currently facing a most dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to eradicate all civilization.”

Many in Myanmar speculate, without offering proof, that Ashin Wirathu is allied with hard-line Buddhist elements in the country who want to harness the nationalism of his movement to rally support ahead of elections in 2015. Ashin Wirathu denies any such links.

But the government has done little to rein him in. During Ashin Wirathu’s visit here in Taunggyi, traffic policemen cleared intersections for his motorcade.

Once inside the monastery, as part of a highly choreographed visit, his followers led a procession through crowds of followers who prostrated themselves as he passed.

Ashin Wirathu’s movement calls itself 969, three digits that monks say symbolize the virtues of the Buddha, Buddhist practices and the Buddhist community.

Stickers with the movement’s logo are now ubiquitous nationwide on cars, motorcycles and shops. The movement has also begun a signature campaign calling for a ban on interfaith marriages, and pamphlets are distributed at sermons listing Muslim brands and shops to be avoided.

In Mawlamyine, a multicultural city southeast of Yangon, a monastery linked to the 969 movement has established the courses of Buddhist instruction for children, which it calls “Sunday dhamma schools.” Leaders of the monasteries there seek to portray their campaign as a sort of Buddhist revivalist movement.

“The main thing is that our religion and our nationality don’t disappear,” said Ashin Zadila, a senior monk at the Myazedi Nanoo monastery outside the city.

Yet despite efforts at describing the movement as nonthreatening, many Muslims are worried.

Two hours before Ashin Wirathu rolled into Taunggyi in a motorcade that included 60 honking motorcycles, Tun Tun Naing, a Muslim vendor in the city’s central market, spoke of the visit in a whisper.

“I’m really frightened,” he said, stopping in midsentence when customers entered his shop. “We tell the children not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.”

Wai Moe contributed reporting from Mandalay and Yangon, Myanmar, and Poypiti Amatatham from Bangkok.

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« Reply #7053 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:02 AM »

June 20, 2013

Deaths of Chinese Officials Under Detention in Corruption Cases Raise Concern


BEIJING — The reported cause of death was respiratory failure, but the images circulating over Chinese social media on Thursday — showing a man staring blankly from a hospital bed, his gaunt body covered with bruises and scabs — told a different story.

The man, Qian Guoliang, 48, is the third Chinese official in the last three months known to have died while under detention by Communist Party investigators. His death on Wednesday, which came two months after he was ordered to submit to an extralegal investigative procedure reserved for party members, has raised concerns about China’s renewed efforts to crack down on official corruption.

Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, has said that the Communist Party’s failure to control graft could threaten its survival. On Tuesday, he began a “party rectification” campaign to stamp out waste, bureaucracy and graft, and has said the party must fight both “tigers and flies,” meaning top officials and lowly cadres.

In recent months, a handful of senior officials have been targeted in corruption investigations, including Liu Tienan, a top economic planner, and Ni Fake, a former vice governor of Anhui Province. Liu Zhijun, the former head of the Ministry of Railways, went on trial earlier this month, charged with receiving millions of dollars in bribes, and Bo Xilai, formerly a rising party secretary in Chongqing, has been in detention for more than a year while under investigation on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

The Communist Party makes use of a secretive system of detention known as “shuanggui” to scrutinize and discipline its members. The investigative mechanism exists outside the Chinese legal system, offering wide potential for abuse.

“Shuanggui has its own rules,” said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. “It doesn’t follow the rule of law.”

Shuanggui, which means “double regulations,” refers to a set time and place at which party members are meant to appear. The targets can be held at special party detention centers or hotels. The system allows open-ended detention, and subjects are sometimes beaten, starved and deprived of sleep to force confessions.

“The practice of shuanggui is above and outside the law, yet it is so commonly used,” said Si Weijiang, a lawyer hired by Mr. Qian’s family who has represented the families of other officials who have died in custody. “It is highly dangerous. I’m afraid this death won’t be the last if this practice continues.”

Reports of the abuse of criminal suspects can often generate public concern in China, but sympathy for officials who have died in shuanggui custody is tempered by greater anger over corruption.

“If you look at all the surveys, corruption is always ranked as a top public concern,” Professor Fu said. “As long as shuanggui is used as an anticorruption enforcement weapon, I think it has the support of general public.”

Lower-level officials, the “flies” in Xi Jinping’s formulation, have endured the harshest treatment while under investigation. Jia Jiuxiang, a 49-year-old court official in Sanmenxia, a city along the Yellow River in central Henan Province, died on April 23 after 11 days in custody. His death was reported as a heart attack, but his family said his body was swollen and bruised.

Yu Qiyi, a 41-year-old engineer with a state-owned firm in the southern coastal city of Wenzhou, died on April 9 after five weeks of detention. Six people have been arrested and charged with intentional assault in connection with his death, according to Mr. Si and to a microblog account run by Mr. Yu’s family.

Mr. Qian, the latest official to die while under investigation, was head of the seismological bureau in Huangmei County, in central Hubei Province. He was detained by Communist Party investigators on April 8, but after he began to suffer convulsions and lose consciousness he was sent to a hospital on June 3, according to the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, which first reported his death.

“So far the family has not received any official explanation as to why this happened to Qian,” said Mr. Si, the lawyer. “The family demands to see recorded videos and audios of the interrogation, but there has been no reply.”

The Huangmei County propaganda department did not answer calls seeking comment on Thursday.

Mr. Qian’s wife, Wang Qizhen, confirmed her husband’s death in a brief phone interview but declined to discuss his case further, saying she was preparing for his funeral. She told The Southern Metropolis Daily that they had earlier heard rumors that Huangmei County was under orders to uncover at least three corrupt officials this year, but her husband was unconcerned.

“We don’t know who the next unlucky one will be,” she quoted her husband as saying, “but I’m a clean official, so I can sleep easy.”

Mia Li and Amy Qin contributed research.
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« Reply #7054 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:04 AM »

June 20, 2013

Philippines Warns That It May Pull Peacekeepers Out of Golan


The future of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the disputed Golan Heights was thrown into further doubt on Thursday as the Philippines, which provides one-third of the force’s soldiers, warned that it might withdraw them unless they receive heavy weapons and protection to survive any attacks by warplanes, tanks and chemical munitions deployed in Syria’s civil war.

The warning, made by President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines, came as the United Nations was still scrambling for replacements to fill a void in the Golan peacekeeping force left by Austria, which ordered its contingent to withdraw a few weeks ago because of the instability caused by the war in Syria.

The Golan Heights area that straddles Syria and Israel had been relatively quiet for four decades. But in recent months, it has been increasingly entangled in the Syrian war, as clashes between insurgents and loyalists have spilled over. Israel, which remains technically at war with Syria, has responded by strengthening its military presence in the area.

Mr. Aquino told reporters in Manila that his government was trying to identify “all the potential threats” to the Golan force, known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. He said the Philippines was pressing for antiaircraft and antitank weapons. He also raised the possibility of a chemical weapons attack, as the United States and its allies have now concluded that the Syrian government used sarin, a nerve agent, in the conflict.

The Philippines has said its forces would remain at least until early August, but Mr. Aquino was quoted by the Philippines news media as telling reporters that “if our requests are not granted, I will not risk keeping our troops there without the resources required to carry out their mission.”

Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, declined to comment on the Philippine president’s remarks. But she said in an e-mail statement that the Golan force was in regular contact with the Philippine authorities and that it was “constantly reviewing its operational posture to ensure the safety and security of its personnel.”

Sectarian tensions raised by the Syrian conflict appeared to intensify on Thursday, focusing mainly on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant organization that is helping Mr. Assad’s forces fight the insurgents.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, beseeched Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, expressing concern in a Lebanese newspaper interview that its continued presence there would lead to more tension in Lebanon. Fighting between Hezbollah supporters and their Sunni antagonists broke out in Lebanon’s southern port city of Sidon this week.

In another symptom of the Shiite-Sunni divide over Syria, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Awad Assiri, told Lebanese television on Thursday that his country would deport any Lebanese who supported Hezbollah. The Saudis are major backers of the Syrian insurgency.

Destruction from the war also led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to announce Thursday that it had placed all six World Heritage sites in Syria on an endangered list. Some of them have already been damaged.
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« Reply #7055 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:07 AM »

Singapore air pollution hits record high

Sumatra island fires push toxic smog plumes to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, triggering record levels of haze

Associated Press, Friday 21 June 2013 11.19 BST   

Air pollution in Singapore has soared to a record high for a third consecutive day, as Indonesia prepares to send planes and helicopters to battle the fires blamed for hazardous levels of smoky haze in three countries.

The blazes in peat swamp forests on Indonesia's Sumatra island have sent massive plumes of smog across the sea to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, both of which are growing impatient with Indonesia's response to the problem that occurs nearly every year.

Singapore is suffering its worst haze in history. Its main index for air pollution hit a measurement of 401 at midday on Friday, exceeding record highs of 371 on Thursday and 321 on Wednesday. Those measurements were classified as hazardous and could aggravate respiratory ailments.

Plagued by the stifling smell of burning vegetation that wafted into homes and offices in this wealthy city-state, residents flocked to pharmacies to buy protective face masks after Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, urged people to remain indoors.

"I don't know if it's just my imagination, but even indoors my throat is starting to feel weird," said business manager Tan Joa-Quim. "I want a mask but my company has a limited supply, which we prioritised for the older and less healthy staff, and a lot of shops have sold out."

The dirty, acrid haze has slashed visibility and shrouded many of Singapore's landmarks, forcing airports to take extra precautions, the military to reduce outdoor training and some fast-food businesses to suspend delivery services.

Singapore's environment minister flew to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, on Friday to discuss measures to tackle the forest fires that break out in Indonesia during midyear dry spells because of carelessly discarded cigarettes and illegal blazes set by plantations and farmers to clear land.

Indonesia's national disaster management agency said it planned to use two helicopters in a water-bombing operation to assist more than 100 firefighters on the ground.

It added that planes would be sent over parts of Sumatra in the next few days in a cloud-seeding effort to try to chemically induce rain.

Some airports in Sumatra have also closed because of poor visibility and pollution levels that exceeded Singapore's.

In neighbouring Malaysia, officials closed nearly 600 schools in southern districts near Singapore. Most of the country, including the main city, Kuala Lumpur, was not as badly affected, though two southernmost towns recorded hazardous air quality.

This week Singapore's environment minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, urged Indonesia to take urgent and definitive action to combat the pollution at its source. But some Indonesian officials suggested that Singaporean and Malaysian firms involved in Indonesian plantations might be responsible for several of the fires.

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« Reply #7056 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:11 AM »

Taliban's Doha diplomacy leaves Afghanistan peace talks flagging

Insurgent group removes embassy-style trappings from its Doha office to appease an enraged President Karzai

Emma Graham-Harrison in Doha, Thursday 20 June 2013 20.13 BST   

For a brief few hours, the Taliban's office in Doha looked just like an embassy; their white flag fluttered over its walls, and a plaque by the front gate announced it housed representatives of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the insurgents' name for the country when they ruled from Kabul.

On Thursday morning the plaque was gone and the flagpole also appeared to have vanished. But on closer inspection it had only been cut in half and – behind high villa walls – the flag was still fluttering defiantly, if a little lower.

The changes were ordered by the US in a desperate bid to coax Afghan president Hamid Karzai back into negotiations with the Taliban that were unveiled in a fanfare of optimism on Tuesday but quickly descended into chaos and now risk becoming a bitter diplomatic farce.

The name on the plaque and the stark flag had enraged Karzai because they carried a message far stronger than most scraps of brass or cloth. Both were potent symbols of the state that the insurgent group once ruled, and still hopes to rule again.

Their reappearance in a blaze of international publicity, after more than a decade in virtual form on insurgent propaganda videos or the Taliban's website, has jeopardised the first hope of substantial peace talks in 12 years of war.

It also put on hold US prospects of agreeing a prisoner swap to reclaim their only prisoner of war, as diplomats scrambling to rescue something from the debacle back-pedalled away from suggestions they would start meeting the Taliban almost immediately.

On Thursday morning, when the first talks had been expected, the head of the planned US delegation was still in Washington DC and the villa was almost deserted.

A Taliban official in Gulf robes, summoned reluctantly to the door, said the Taliban were holding discussions among themselves elsewhere.

"The building is empty, I'm the only one here," he said as workmen hurried past inside the compound. "Come back on Sunday."

Qatari police kept journalists from taking photographs of the building in the morning, when the flag pole was still up, even though television reporters were doing live reports there less than 24 hours earlier.

Aides say the Afghan president has always insisted that only an "Afghan-led" process can bring peace, and only agreed to talks in the Gulf state, after months of painstaking diplomacy, on condition that the Taliban would not use the office as a political platform.

That deal was contradicted by the trappings of their squat villa and a news conference where they unveiled plans to "improve relations with the international community" but mentioned other Afghans only in passing, and the current government and constitution not at all.

The Taliban delegates seemed more like a heavyweight government in exile than an insurgent group reluctantly coming to the table for talks. The sight of black--turbaned men holding forth on plans for the Islamic Emirate brought memories of the 1990s flooding back for many.

When Karzai pulled out of talks, accusing Washington of duplicity, the country's fractious power brokers and much of its population for once united behind their leader.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, rang Kabul twice after the debacle, promising that the flag and name plate would go, and that Washington would issue a letter of support for the Kabul government, Reuters reported.

The Afghan president, who has put lots of his own political capital into seeking negotiations, even if he has always been lukewarm about the Qatar office, appeared to be edging back towards the negotiating table.

"We would see no problem in entering into talks with the Taliban in Qatar" if Kerry comes through on his promises, spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said. But the insurgents' emphatic, if low key, defiance of the demand to ditch the flag suggests a low tolerance for efforts to patch over gaping differences between the two sides.

Their spokesman also flouted another key Karzai demand on Thursday that they deal chiefly with his government. Spokesman Shaheen Suhail said he was interested in speaking to fellow Afghans, but only after dealing exclusively with Americans in the first stage of any negotiations.

"After we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase … that would include all Afghans," Suhail told the Associated Press. "Having all groups involved will guarantee peace and stability."

One of the main US aims from any talks is freeing Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who has been held captive since 2009 and Suhail dug up an old offer of a prisoner exchange, to help boost trust ahead of talks, the Associated Press reported.

Original plans for a Qatar office hatched in 2011 included trading Bergdahl for five senior commanders held at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay. Then the harsh glare of publicity and anger among Taliban footsoldiers who felt betrayed by their leaders talking while they fought and died on Afghan soil led the talks to crumble into stalemate.

Spokesman Shaheen Suhail said the swap would be a critical confidence-building prelude to talks. "First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."

But confusion over the talks have put those prisoner swap discussions on hold, along with all other aspects of the talks. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Doha this weekend for a Friends of Syria group meeting, but a US official said that trip had been planned for some time and Kerry would not meet the Taliban.


Taliban's unworldly moderates in Doha struggle for coherence in peace talks

High hopes for Afghan peace talks in the Gulf almost failed at the start after Taliban's clumsy bid to use it as a political platform

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Thursday 20 June 2013 21.18 BST   

The Taliban team who have been waiting in Doha for more than a year to formally open their political office have long been portrayed by supporters of a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war as the good guys.

According to diplomats and analysts who have met them, they are nothing like the religious fanatics and bloodstained insurgents wreaking mayhem inside Afghanistan.

On the contrary, they are said to have remarkably reasonable views.

They tell their visitors they know they cannot conceivably win back power militarily. Besides, they appreciate that Afghanistan needs something better than the impoverished dictatorship they presided over in the 1990s.

Back then they claimed a divine right to rule over Afghanistan. Today democracy is fine by them.

They are thought to speak with authority – they set up shop in the Gulf in the name of Mullah Omar, the movement's supreme leader. Last year a team led by Anatol Lieven, a British academic, reported the Taliban would even accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, based on talks with four "senior Taliban interlocutors".

That astonishing claim, which seems to contradict the Taliban's basic justification for their bloody insurgency, was echoed this week by a top lieutenant of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. After being intimately involved in trying to get peace talks off the ground in the last few years, he told the Guardian on Monday that negotiations through these men might lead to successful elections in Afghanistan next April.

The Taliban, it is hoped, will not only refrain from attacking the process, they may also tacitly back a presidential candidate. "Sleeper" Taliban candidates may even run for the provincial council elections on the same day.

And yet, in their first moments on the world stage, these pragmatically inclined negotiators chose to enrage the Afghan government and cause acute embarrassment to the US and Qatar, which had been trying to facilitate talks.

Karzai had only given his consent to the office opening after receiving a written assurance from Qatar that the Taliban would only be allowed to use it to talk to the Afghan high peace council.

But the Doha Taliban sparked a crisis by declaring themselves the office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", raising their old flag and refusing to say they would talk to the Karzai government, which they dismissed as a "puppet government".

"These folks are supposed to be the moderates and most willing to talk and do business," said Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. "But they took full opportunity to stick it in the eye to Karzai and the Afghan government."

Wahid Monawar, a former Afghan diplomat, has met the Doha group six times in the last 16 months, initially as part of a private initiative to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier held by the Taliban for four years. He said that although the Doha group were in some ways forward-thinking, they were also often unworldly and simplistic. "They say they want to change the Afghan constitution, but when you ask which bit it takes them two months to answer," he said. "They need help, they need coaching by someone who can help them articulate their issues."

He recalls a conversation where one of the group was warming to the idea of standing in provincial elections in Kandahar: "When I asked him what his political platform would be he said he wanted to build a market. That was it."

Supporters of a political settlement say merely talking to the Doha group would strengthen their position within the wider Taliban movement, which is numerically dominated by rank-and-file fighters who may see any peace deal as a betrayal.

Opposition from hardliners, and the need to sustain the support of foot soldiers, is likely to be the biggest brake on negotiations.

The senior Afghan official said the government side must also give more serious thought to what it wants from the process. He asked what would happen if the Taliban negotiators demanded to know the fate of their leader, Mullah Omar, in any reconciliation deal.

"Do you send him to Bagram or Guantánamo, or do you make him chief justice?" he said. "Our side will not have an answer because we have never sorted out what the end picture looks like."

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« Reply #7057 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:19 AM »

Uzbekistan bans five Uzbek pop acts for failing to praise the motherland

Acts barred from performing live because songs lack 'patriotism', a failing that could be levelled against the president's daughter

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Friday 21 June 2013 10.39 BST   

Five pop acts in Uzbekistan have been banned from performing live for failing to sing songs that "praise the motherland".

The performers had their licenses revoked by the national culture agency, Uzbeknavo, because their songs were deemed "meaningless from musical and lyrical standpoints" and "lack artistic value", according to a statement carried by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.

"Their songs do not conform to our nation's cultural traditions, they contradict our moral heritage and mentality," said the Uzbeknavo. "We should not forget about our duty to praise our motherland, our people and their happiness."

The agency targeted the singers Dilfuza Rahimova, Otabek Mutalhojaev and Dilshod Rahmonov, as well as the groups Ummon and Mango, who all feature modernised Uzbek rhythms and a pop aesthetic.

Seven other acts were issued a warning and were given until 1 July to "eliminate creative shortcomings".

All aspects of life are heavily regulated in Uzbekistan, ruled by its longtime president, Islam Karimov. His daughter, Gulnara Karimova, also maintains a major presence in Uzbek life, and has recently been pursuing her own musical career.

In January, she released a duet with the French actor Gerard Depardieu, who has taken a liking to the authoritarian countries that once comprised the Soviet Union. She has released two albums under the stage name Googoosha.

Karimov's duet with Depardieu:

Unlike the performers banned from playing live, Karimov's songs, often love ballads with lyrics based on her saccharine poems, are mainly sung in English. The "motherland" has not featured in her songs. Her latest video, How Dare, centres on a half-naked man writhing in a chair.

Her father has ruled the central Asian country since 1989 and has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture. In 2005, his government killed hundreds of protesters in the city of Andijan.

Gulnara Karimova has attempted to break into the global cultural elite, with her albums, fashion and jewellery lines. In 2011, organisers cancelled her show at New York fashion week following pressure from human rights groups.

A 2005 US diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks said that "she remains the single most hated person in the country".

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« Reply #7058 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:21 AM »

German foreign minister condemns Ukraine over Tymoshenko

Guido Westerwelle wants President Viktor Yanukovich to allow jailed former leader to travel to Germany for treatment

Reuters in Kiev, Friday 21 June 2013 09.39 BST   

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has condemned the use of "selective justice" in Ukraine and indicated he would press President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday to let his jailed opponent Yulia Tymoshenko go to Germany for medical treatment.

Speaking to journalists before meeting Yanukovich, Westerwelle said: "From our point of view, Mrs Tymoshenko has full rights to an honest judicial hearing and decent medical treatment. The German proposal for medical monitoring and treatment [in Germany] remains on the table."

"It is very important that 'selective justice' is not used in any system of values in Europe. It must not be allowed in either Europe or Ukraine," he said.

Tymoshenko, 52, a former prime minister and Yanukovich's most dangerous political opponent, was jailed for seven years in October 2011 for abuse of office linked to a 2009 gas deal she brokered with Russia.

The Kiev leadership says the deal saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas supplies.

But the EU says her jailing smacks of political vengeance and many EU officials say a planned signing of political association and free-trade agreements with Ukraine later this year could be in jeopardy unless she is freed.

The Yanukovich leadership says it is committed to European integration rather than forging a closer relationship with Russia in a Moscow-led customs union and hopes the landmark agreements with the European Union can be signed in November.

But freeing Tymoshenko, a fierce political campaigner, and lifting other pending charges against her could be risky for Yanukovich as he prepares to make a bid for a second term in office, in 2015.

German officials say releasing Tymoshenko so she can travel for treatment for chronic back trouble might present Yanukovich with a way out of the stalemate.

Westerwelle met leaders of opposition parties and Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevgenia, before going on to talks with Yanukovich.

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« Reply #7059 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:23 AM »

FTSE slumps amid fears US may halt stimulus package

More than £48bn wiped off value of Britain's top 100 companies as US Federal Reserve signals that it could wind down stimulus

Nick Fletcher   
The Guardian, Friday 21 June 2013   

More than £48bn was wiped off the value of Britain's top 100 companies on Thursday as global stock markets took fright at the US Federal Reserve's signal that it could wind down the huge stimulus package for the American economy this year.

The FTSE 100 fell nearly 3% to 6159.51, its biggest one day fall since September 2011, despite positive UK economic news including a rise in mortgage lending and better-than-expected high street sales. There were also heavy losses on stock markets in Asia, Europe and on Wall Street.

Dealers blamed the falls on comments from the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, who said on Wednesday that the US central bank's $85bn a month bond buying programme – a wall of money aimed at supporting growth – may be eased later this year and could end completely in 2014, depending on future economic data.

Markets have been supported for several months by central banks taking concerted action to boost the global economy, including buying bonds and increasing liquidity by effectively printing money. The prospect of this support ending had already begun to unsettle investors, but Bernanke's decision to set out a timetable produced a sell-off across the board.

Manufacturing figures from China showing a slowdown this month added to the pessimism. Matt Basi, head of trading at CMC Markets in London, said rumours of a clampdown on lending in China had also hit share prices. Reasonable US data, including a rise in business confidence and housing sales, only served to convince investors Bernanke would turn off the money taps sooner.

Wall Street closed down 2.3%, while in Europe Germany's Dax index and France's Cac both lost more than 3%. Emerging markets, which have been big beneficiaries of the stimulus, were also hit hard, with Turkey down 20% from its recent peak.

Brenda Kelly, senior market strategist at IG, said: "Investors have spent May scanning anxiously for signs that the rally is over, but Ben Bernanke may just have fired the starting pistol on a wave of selling that might go on for weeks."

Bernanke's comments supported the dollar, which in turn sent commodity prices tumbling. Gold dropped nearly $88 an ounce to $1,286 an ounce while silver fell 8.3% to $19.82. Oil also slipped, with Brent crude down 3.7% at $102 a barrel.

Government sovereign debt suffered losses, with the interest rate on UK 10-year gilts rising to 2.29%, a level last seen in March 2012. This implies that it will cost more to service Britain's debts, with the UK on track to borrow £120bn this year.

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« Reply #7060 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:26 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia ....

June 20, 2013

Oil Wealth Ebbing, Russia Needs to Lure Foreign Capital


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — For more than a dozen years, it has been impossible to miss Russia’s soaring, often ostentatious, energy wealth — the flashiness of Moscow, the 250-foot yachts and the hundred-million-dollar penthouse apartments for the children. And the riches have hardly been confined to the private sector. Last year, when Vladimir V. Putin wanted to shore up support ahead of Election Day, the salaries of government workers jumped; military pay actually doubled.

Those heady days seem to be running out, however. The great gush of oil and gas wealth that has fueled Mr. Putin’s power and popularity and has raised living standards across Russia is leveling off. Foreign investors, wary of endemic corruption and an expanding government role in the economy, are hanging back, depriving the economy of essential capital.

In many respects, analysts say, the same iron fist that Mr. Putin wielded to public approval in the early years of his presidency could be the biggest obstacle to a badly needed economic restructuring, and potentially even turn public opinion against him.

Russia’s economy, the world’s eighth largest, slowed to a near standstill in the first months of this year, and the Kremlin is now preparing to dip into its $171 billion rainy day fund in a bid to spur growth. But the problems for Russia’s economy run deeper than its overwhelming dependence on oil and gas revenues, which now account for more than half the federal budget.

Despite the conspicuous consumption of oligarchs and the growing middle class in Moscow, most of Russia’s goods-producing economy has been languishing for decades. Many provincial cities and towns have grown shabby, the factories that sustained them decrepit. Young people have moved away.

With flattening revenues, the government badly needs to attract foreign capital, but the Kremlin’s recent move to tighten its grip on the oil industry through Rosneft, the national oil company, is just the latest warning flag to potential investors.

“The fundamental problem in this economy is still the politics of the country,” said Bernard Sucher, the former head of Merrill Lynch in Russia, who serves on the board of Aton, an investment company.

“The way power is organized in this country dooms the economy to underperformance,” he said. “The state is too big, it’s involved in too many areas of activity, and involving itself in too many more areas of activity, and by its nature discourages private investment.”

As Russia’s senior political officials, business leaders and foreign investors convened here in St. Petersburg on Thursday at an economic forum that serves as an annual gathering of the country’s top financial minds, the task facing Mr. Putin was how to create sustainable growth in a country where commodities, taken together, now account for 80 percent of exports.

Some experts at the forum said they were confounded by Russia’s contradictory problems: low growth and high inflation. “Financial policy is weird,” said Yu Yongding, a senior fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Beijing. He was on a panel with Elvira Nabiullina, an aide to Mr. Putin who has been tapped to lead Russia’s central bank, and Russia’s economic development minister, Andrei Belousov.

“Where is your industry?” Mr. Yu asked. “You can produce super excellent jet fighters, but what else?”

Energy prices, while still relatively high, are expected to flatten or decline in the years ahead. Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth, has been cutting prices and renegotiating contracts, under pressure from cash-poor clients in Europe and rising competition globally, caused in part by market shifts like development of American shale gas.

Discounts to customers cost Gazprom $4.2 billion, or about 7 percent of pretax earnings, according to Renaissance Capital, an investment bank. Oil revenues are also projected to decline long-term as production grows more costly and new technology curbs demand.

And more than a decade of efforts to diversify the economy have largely failed. There is little to show for government-sponsored programs aimed at developing a technology sector, for instance, or reviving once-robust Soviet manufacturing.

In response to the slowdown, Mr. Putin has directed the government to prepare an aggressive and potentially risky stimulus plan that would dip into reserve funds to pay for infrastructure projects. There have been blunt warnings against tapping the reserve funds, which now total $171 billion, or roughly 8 percent of annual economic output.

“Fiscal stimulus at this time would likely be ineffective, and merely intensify inflation pressures” said Antonio Spilimbergo, who led an International Monetary Fund team that just completed a fact-finding mission in Russia.

At the same, Mr. Spilimbergo and other analysts say Russia is better positioned than many other big economies, and could thrive if needed changes are put in place. “Improving Russia’s business climate would provide needed impetus to investment, diversification and growth,” he said.

Ksenia Yudaeva, an economist who is Mr. Putin’s liaison to the Group of 20, said Russia was hardly alone in struggling to find new sources of growth. “The significant problem is uncertainty above all,” she said.

“Before the crisis, it was clear that Russia has natural resources and Russia has significant demand, which was based largely on oil profits.” Now, she said, investors are not sure where to look for opportunities. “It’s not clear yet for investors which sectors, other than the traditional ones, will be most profitable.”

Other economists said investment was the key. “If you look at growth performance the weakest part of the economy is investment,” Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist at Deutsche Bank, said in an interview. “To revitalize Russia’s growth, measures need to be taken on the structural front, to boost investment.”

Mr. Putin, who will speak at the forum on Friday, is expected to try to reassure investors and to discuss the infrastructure program, as well as other strategic efforts to stimulate growth, including reducing interest rates on commercial loans.

The Russian finance minister, Anton G. Siluanov, who is leading the response to the slowdown, said in an interview that Russia was suffering partly because of continuing woes in Europe, which collectively is Russia’s main trading partner, but that the government was poised to act.

“There is a question what measures have to be taken in order to stimulate the investment activity, stimulate the business activity, make the Russian economy more attractive for foreign investors,” Mr. Siluanov said. “This is exactly what the Russian government is working on now.”

He said the infrastructure program — high-speed railroads, major investment projects and upgrades to road networks in Moscow — would benefit the country on many levels.

Without new sources of growth, the government will struggle to meet demands for increased social spending, particularly on pensions for the country’s aging population. And if the stimulus plan fails, Mr. Putin could find his political support eroding in the Russian heartland, where it remained strong even during the large street protests against him in Moscow last year.

Some of his critics are expecting, if not quite hoping for, that result. “I don’t really think the economy is heading toward collapse, more likely long-term stagnation — a lost decade, if you will,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now a leader in the political opposition. “This will not lead to an immediate surge in protests, but it will be very difficult for Mr. Putin to stage another successful election in 2018 should the economy be dead.”

Mr. Putin envisions Russia as a global economic powerhouse, and the ruble as perhaps a reserve currency someday. But what economists almost universally cite as a precondition — a political overhaul that produces effective and reliable institutions that investors trust, and a resilient, diversified economy — so far remains out of reach.


06/21/2013 10:17 AM

Punishing the Needy: Russian NGO Law Hurts Nazi Victims

By Matthias Schepp in Volgograd

Many Russians who survived World War II, Nazi concentration camps, forced labor and postwar persecution depend on aid from foreign NGOs. Vladimir Putin's new law labelling such groups as "foreign agents" could strip them of needed help.

The light shines through the window of a small office in downtown Volgograd and onto the forearm of Galina Sashina. There, tattooed in blue ink, is the number 62084. "The Germans put it there when I was deported to Auschwitz in September 1943," she says. At the time, she was eight. Now 77, Sashina is head of an association of survivors of German concentration camps in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad.

The elderly woman speaks about the suffering the Germans inflicted on her and her family, though does so without hate. She talks about her father, who fought as a partisan against the German army until they shot and killed him. She recounts how they hid in the woods and how her mother admonished them that the Germans' airplanes carried a special device in their steel bellies that could pick up even the faintest human voices in the forests. She speaks of being captured at gunpoint and crammed into cattle cars, of how her mother and brother died in Auschwitz.

Sashina still cannot forget one night in the concentration camp. She lived in a barrack with her grandmother. Galina slept in the top of the bunk bed, her grandmother in the bottom. "Your grandma is already dead," whispered someone sleeping nearby. "Just touch her." Galina nudged her grandmother's leg and was startled when she felt how cold it was. "Grandma, are you still alive," she whispered. "Yes," the old woman quietly replied. But it wasn't long before Galina's grandma really was dead. And with her vanished all hope and support.

Nevertheless, Sashina survived. From her years in captivity, she can still remember a few scraps of German. "Eyes right and march!" the camp thugs would bellow.

Expansion of 'Foreign Agents' Law

Today, Sashina's interactions with Germans are much more positive. Some 700 Volgograd residents who either survived concentration camps or were shipped to Germany during the war to serve as forced laborers, continue to benefit from an aid program set up as part of Volgograd's partnership with the German city of Cologne.

The project aims to foster reconciliation between Russians and Germans, who fought against each other in two world wars. It pays for six social workers, a consulting physician and a full-time assistant. "Suddenly we're all supposedly foreign agents," says Irina, one of the social workers. "And that's just because the Germans donate money for us."

Last summer, the State Duma, the lower house of Russian parliament, passed a law forcing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are politically active and receive funding from abroad to register themselves as "foreign agents." The term "agent" was consciously chosen for the way it can mean not only authorized proxy, but also spy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the law to criminalize opposition elements outside of parliament and to depict America and the West as enemies of Russia.

Putin and his political apparatus originally pushed through the NGO law to undermine those of his government's opponents who received funding from abroad. But now, the law is seeing extensive use even against non-political organizations, such as against the "Angler and Hunter Club" in Yaroslavl, a major city some 250 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Moscow. This expansion has also come to threaten the broad network of German-Russian partnerships that have sprung up since the end of the Cold War, such as the Cologne-Volgograd project.

Dependent on German Help

Few in Volgograd are as dependent on this assistance as 87-year-old Alexandra Kainova. During the war, she was deported from Stalingrad to a forced labor camp in Töchin, 40 kilometers south of Berlin. In the evenings, while her crew returned back to the camp from the munitions and textile factories they worked in, she and her best friend, Tonia, would often sneak away in search of food. "The guards had pistols," she says. "But hunger was stronger than fear." They would beg farmers for potatoes. And then they would sneak back into the camp though a hole they had dug under the barbed-wire fence.

But one day, the guards caught Tonia, and Kainova's friend was forced into a detention cell. "It was cold there and full of water. She died a miserable death," Kainova says. "I don't understand how the Germans could be so cruel."

Today, Kainova lives in a small apartment in Volgograd. Her living room holds a dresser with plastic flowers, a cabinet, a bed, a refrigerator dating back to the 1970s and a TV, which she bought with the modest compensation she received from the German government in the 1990s.

Irina, the social worker, brings by some medications for Kainova. Some are for Kainova's eyes, because she is almost blind in one eye. Others are to combat calcification of her arteries, her constant joint pains and to help her weak heart. Part of the money for the medication comes from Germany. Her pension, the equivalent of €300 ($400) a month, isn't enough to pay for the expensive pills. German donations have also paid for her support stockings and an orthopedic mattress.

Kainova quotes a poem by Erich Weinert, a German Communist writer: "365 mornings, the same worries; 365 days, the same troubles; 365 nights from which one doesn't want to awake." Kainova learned the poem during her German class in grade school. "Troubles and worries," she says. "That's pretty much what my entire life has looked like."

Shadows of Suspicion

Kainova's mother died when she was just a year old. Her father succumbed to a lung infection during the war's first winter. For weeks, the family survived almost entirely on turnips.

In May 1945, the Red Army liberated Kainova from her labor camp. But her suffering didn't end once she returned home. Stalin treated forced laborers who had helped the Germans as collaborators. As a result, Kainova was forced to work felling trees in a village outside Stalingrad for the first years after the war. Kainova has never told even her neighbors about her years in Germany. She has heard of cases in which parents have rejected children who had been forced laborers and one where a man quit talking to his wife after she told him about her years in Germany.

At the end of our conversation, Kainova has one request. "Write that Putin should repeal this law," she says, because it once again casts suspicion on her as a traitor to her homeland. She knows the feeling from the Stalin era.

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« Reply #7061 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:28 AM »

06/21/2013 12:25 PM

Erdogan and the Protests: Turkey's Stubborn Man on the Bosporus

By Maximilian Popp in Istanbul

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on the way to becoming the most successful leader of his country since Atatürk. But he has reacted to recent protests as a tone-deaf despot. It is a tragedy for him and his country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often sought out influential opponents. First there was the secular elite that tried to thwart his bid to become mayor of Istanbul. Then there were the courts in Ankara, which tried to ban his conservative Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP). Finally, there were the generals, who had been in control since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the country, and whose power he broke.

After 10 years as prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan had so much power that, in the end, only one person could stop him: Erdogan himself.

Journalist Fiachra Gibbans aptly described Erdogan's political career in the Guardian recently as a "Shakespearean tragedy." The prime minister, who defied attempted coups and survived a court challenge, is now in trouble because of a few hundred trees in a city park. He is becoming the victim of his own hubris.

Looking back at the last few weeks of the Gezi Park revolt, there is one thing that is particularly disturbing: The way Erdogan has missed even the best opportunities to settle the conflict. And how he has outraged the protesters, who initially demonstrated merely to preserve Gezi Park on Taksim Square in Istanbul, through his implacability and the brutality of his police force.

A word of understanding or an appeasing gesture would likely have been enough to at least soften the uprising. Instead, Erdogan flew to Africa when the unrest began. Back in Turkey, he called the demonstrators "looters" and "terrorists," and he allowed the police to deal with them harshly. Still, the protests did not end. On the contrary, they expanded throughout the country. Only after almost two weeks of rebellion did Erdogan meet in Ankara with representatives of the protest movement. But even as he was promising dialogue, he sent the police to go after the demonstrators once again.

An Iron Fist

Insiders say that there have been discussions within the AKP over how to deal with the protests. Representatives of the moderate wing, including Turkish President Abdullah Gül, advised Erdogan to deescalate the conflict, they say. Moderates, however, were apparently unable to prevail against government hardliners. Erdogan is seeking to resolve the conflict in the same way he has resolved disputes throughout his life: with an iron fist.

Erdogan grew up in the rough Istanbul waterfront district of Kasimpasa, as the son of a fisherman from Anatolia. In the old Turkey, men of his background could count themselves lucky to be shining shoes in front of the Grand Hotel de Londres. But Erdogan was ambitious. He studied business administration and became involved with the Islamist Refah Party of Necmettin Erbakan. He acted as an agitator for the aging party leader, and he eventually became mayor of Istanbul. When Erbakan lost support within the party, Erdogan staged a coup against the old man. Together with Abdullah Gül, he founded the AKP in 2001 and, a year later, unexpectedly won the general election.

Erdogan is one of the most fascinating politicians of his time. His rise to power is stupendous, and so are at least some of his political successes. He has built Turkey, a country of crises and coups, into a regional power. He has modernized the economy and helped it achieve previously unheard of growth. And he is on the verge of settling a conflict that has tormented Turkey for three decades: the struggle with the Kurds in the country's southeast, which has cost the lives of tens of thousands. The leader of the Kurdish terrorist group PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, recently called upon his fighters to lay down their arms.

Erdogan appeared set to go down in history as the most successful Turkish prime minister since the country's founder, Atatürk. But now he is in the process of squandering the successes of more than a decade in the space of just a few weeks.

'Tremendous Damage'

There is even growing discontent among Erdogan's supporters. The pro-government newspaper Zaman writes that Erdogan has done "tremendous damage" to the "national psyche." It now seems out of the question that, after 11 years as prime minister, he will be able to have himself declared president next year as he had planned.

But Erdogan himself doesn't seem willing to recognize his mistakes. In many respects, he has developed into precisely the type of autocratic ruler he had promised to replace upon taking office. He wants to control everything and relentlessly persecutes dissidents. Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world.

Last Sunday, Erdogan gathered hundreds of thousands of his supporters for a rally in Istanbul. His choice for the site for the rally was not accidental. He gave his speech on a field on the city's outskirts where Mehmet the Conqueror launched his attack on Constantinople in the 15th century.

A Confused Despot

Erdogan called upon his supporters to fight the "terrorists" demonstrating against his government in Taksim Square. In countries like the United States, where political conflicts are also sometimes waged with great intensity, new presidents insist, after each election, that they represent "all Americans," including those who did not vote for them.

Erdogan abandoned this notion long ago. Instead, he is rallying his supporters and dividing the country. On Sunday night, Erdogan supporters marched through Istanbul, hunting down regime critics.

It seems unclear whether Erdogan is truly aware of what he is saying and doing. He denounces the uprising against his government as a conspiracy by the foreign media and has the police arrest doctors who treat injured protesters. At times, Erdogan seems more like a confused despot than the democratically elected premier of one of the world's largest economies.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7062 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:42 AM »

06/20/2013 04:16 PM

Disunited Kingdom: Crisis Leaves Britain Deeply Fractured

By Christoph Scheuermann

The economic crisis has caused the United Kingdom to drift apart, creating ever-widening rifts between rich and poor, native and immigrant, English and Scot. With the anti-Europe UKIP party on the rise, Great Britain stands at a crossroads.

From this vantage point, London seems almost innocent. Irvine Sellar, a real estate developer, points to a gray dome down near the Thames River.

It is St. Paul's Cathedral, which was the tallest structure in the city for a quarter of a millennium, until other, taller buildings were erected in the late 20th century. First there was Tower 42 (formerly NatWest Tower), straight ahead, and later, off to the right, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, London's defiant answer to Wall Street. And now Sellar is gazing at the city from his tower, which looks like the 310-meter (1,017-foot) tip of a cocktail skewer, and which he named "The Shard." From there, St. Paul's is nothing but a gray spot in the midst of a view for which Sellar expects his tenants to pay a lot of money.

Sellar didn't want to build an ordinary office tower, he says: "I gave the city a sculpture," the tallest building in Western Europe. The island stretches into the distance below his feet, and above him is nothing but the sky.

The view of the rooftops of the British capital shows how quickly and radically the country has changed. London's silhouette is a reflection of two decades of growth, decadence and hubris.

The frenzy began in the 1980s, when Great Britain was prosperous and London became a global financial center where brokers, traders and speculators were responsible for billions changing hands every day. Gone were the days of factories and trade, or so it seemed. The act of trading with money was dubbed the financial industry, and together with the real estate sector, it grew to become one of the most important industries in the kingdom, almost a new religion.

Then the crisis erupted in 2008, and things have been going downhill ever since. Unemployment is now at almost 8 percent, and 27 percent of children in Britain live in relative poverty. In late March, the University of Bristol published the most comprehensive study to date on the state of British society. It concludes that a third of the population lives in precarious conditions. Millions of Britons don't have enough to eat and are unable to adequately heat their homes in the winter. "And the situation will get even worse," says David Gordon, an expert on poverty at the university, "because social services are shrinking and real wages continue to decline."

The country is suffering from the consequences of the crisis. The gap between rich and poor is growing, the conflicts between left and right are becoming more heated, and a new party has taken shape to the right of the Tories, the anti-Europe UK Independence Party (UKIP). Friends and foes of Europe argue heatedly over whether remaining a member of the European Union or withdrawing from it is more likely to help the country emerge from the crisis. And in 2014, the Scots will hold a referendum over whether they want to establish an independent country, one that would no longer have to share profits from the North Sea oil and gas fields with the English.

An Era of Virility

From the highest point in London, the kingdom seems limp. Many of the construction cranes towering over the city are idle. Waiting at the elevator of his skyscraper is Sellar, a short, restless man with curly hair, who sold gloves in Petticoat Lane in the 1960s and later built a fashion chain. He got into the real estate business in the 1980s. Like many others, he surfed on the avalanche that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had unleashed: more power for business owners and bankers, less for union officials and politicians -- and real estate for all.

If a city's virility is measured by the number of cranes, and of buildings shooting up from the ground, then the 20 years leading up to the collapse of London's financial markets can be seen as a phase driven by testosterone, a time of bulls, when people could make millions without leaving their desks.

Sellar hit upon the idea for the tower in the most euphoric phase of Britain's construction frenzy: the late 1990s. He met with Italian architect Renzo Piano and described the project to him. Sellar drew his inspiration from Hong Kong and Shanghai. It was a time when men like him derided the Continent for its sluggishness.

Then came the crash, and a consortium from Qatar invested in Sellar's project. The sheikhs who now own the lion's share of his tower are desperately looking for tenants. A hotel and three restaurants have already signed leases, but 60,000 square meters (646,000 square feet) are still empty.

The elevator speeds down to ground level at six meters per second. When the doors open, a woman in a light-colored outfit asks Sellar if he would like coffee or tea. He smiles uncomfortably. He is now 74 and a multimillionaire, and he could have retired long ago. But he wanted to build the Continent's tallest building. "You build tall because it makes more money," he says. And now Sellar, the former glove salesman, is stirring his coffee in a tower filled with empty offices.

He thought that money would continue to flood into the city. Everyone thought so. London was Europe's alpha male, an urban promise that the old world could constantly reinvent itself and become cool again.

It's a three-hour drive northward from London to Stickford, near the east coast. But the real distance is much greater to the village where a woman lives who never believed in the promise of coolness.

Guardians of the Drawbridge
The road passes through rapeseed and asparagus fields, before reaching the country house of Victoria Ayling, where she lives with her partner Kevin Couling and their three sons. Ayling is a local politician and a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a party of patriots and opponents of Europe, which has already made considerable progress in its effort to drive Great Britain out of the EU. UKIP captured 23 percent of the vote in local elections in early May. Ayling's fellow party members are nipping at the heels of Prime Minister David Cameron's Tories. About a third of Tory lawmakers now favor withdrawing from the EU, and in 2017 the British people will vote on the issue in a referendum. Many Britons see Europe as the cause of their country's crisis.

The last few meters to Ayling's house are a trip back in time to the days of the British Empire. The stables are not far from the garage. Ayling is wearing a light summer dress, even though it's just beginning to rain. She joined the Young Conservatives at 14 and later embarked on a career with the Tories. In the 2010 general election, she narrowly lost a bid to enter the House of Commons by 714 votes.

Ayling is now a district and county councillor in Lincolnshire. She sees herself as a rebel, and in March she joined the UKIP. "I defected," she says, as if the country were in a civil war. There is a clear political divide in Britain, with a majority of the traditional parties, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals, on one side and Ayling and her UKIP friends on the other. They are still a minority, but a vocal one nonetheless. UKIP Chairman Nigel Farage has appeared frequently on television in recent months, berating politicians in Brussels and London as incompetent, cowardly and corrupt. It's a message people like to hear. Ayling says that Farage would be a good prime minister.

Bulldog Patriotism

In Lincolnshire, it becomes clear how public sentiment in parts of the kingdom is gradually slipping from moderate conservatism to bulldog patriotism. From Ayling's standpoint, UKIP's success is merely a symptom of a much larger upheaval, a cultural change.

After coping with the loss of the Empire in the postwar period, Great Britain has been left with something akin to the phantom pain of one who has lost a limb. Ayling's father made his fortune with furniture, and her family had servants. She grew up in a country in which hierarchies that had developed throughout the centuries were still intact, and where life could be very comfortable for those at the top.

But eventually the working class began to talk back, becoming rebellious. Ayling believes that this change roughly coincided with Great Britain's accession to the European Community in 1973, and with a tectonic shift in Europe's political landscape. She hopes that UKIP will help the Empire regain its old strength. What this means is a return to the 1950s and '60s.

"Nowadays, you almost have to be ashamed to be British," says her partner, Kevin Couling. In school, children learn a great deal about the Holocaust and the women's suffrage movement, he says, but not much about the country's history. "They can't even name the British kings." Besides, says Couling, Polish and Latvian immigrants are taking away jobs in the asparagus fields.

Ayling says that the government should crack down on illegal immigrants and criminals, and should "build more prisons." She criticizes Cameron for legalizing same-sex marriage, when in her view it would have been better to block immigration from the new EU countries of Eastern Europe.

But how can he do that, given that Great Britain is a member of the EU?

"He has to declare a state of emergency and close the borders," she says, although she doesn't believe that Cameron, "that coward," has the guts to do it. Ayling glances at the clock. She has a district council meeting to attend, "but it'll be a short one, because they're usually about potholes."

The meeting takes place in a dark building that smells of moist cardboard. Ayling, wearing her summer dress, bursts into a heated debate over gravestones. In the rural east of England, "heated" means that someone stands up, mumbles "sorry" and wraps his critical remarks in polite phrases. After an hour, someone asks if anyone knows where specific graves are located in the local cemetery. The meeting is adjourned.

Later, sitting in a pub, Couling groans and says that the entire country is apathetic, that everyone is so politically correct and that no one has the courage to tell the truth anymore. In a country with such high unemployment and trillions of pounds in public debt, and with cemeteries where no one knows who is buried where, he asks, what else has to happen?

"England was once a free country," says Ayling, "in the 18th century." She wants to regain that freedom. "We are an island nation," says Couling, "and now we want to withdraw to our island."

The problem is that the English aren't the only ones who own that island. There are other patriots -- the Scots, for example, many of whom no longer want to share their wealth. The worse the crisis gets, the clearer do the symptoms of decline in the United Kingdom become.

The Battle of Bannockburn
If Europe ever becomes a museum, it won't take much to set up a department called "Early Industrial Age" in Birmingham or Newcastle. Great Britain is rusting. It has become a sluggish, despondent and anxious country. An article of clothing currently popular among young Britons is the "onesie," a sort of playsuit for adults who like to spend their days lounging in comfort -- assuming they don't have to go to work.

Dennis Canavan, 70, lives in the hills northeast of Glasgow. Canavan is the chairman of the "Yes Scotland" campaign, which is fighting for Scottish independence. Bannockburn, a traumatic place in English history, is merely a stone's throw away. Scottish warriors defeated the army of the English king, Edward II, in a two-day battle at Bannockburn in June 1314. The defeat was so humiliating and devastating for the English that Scotland plans to hold a major festival next year, to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Canavan is excited about the party, to the extent that "excited" and "party" apply in this case. He is wearing baggy corduroy trousers and a fleece sweater, and he smiles precisely two times during the conversation. One of Canavan's hobbies is running marathons. He has always been an extremely persistent man.

He was elected to the House of Commons for Labour in 1974. After 33 years in the British and Scottish parliaments, he retired as one of the country's longest-serving members of parliament. He had intended to start hiking again, but then Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond asked him if he was interested in a new project. After a bit of grumbling, Canavan agreed.

The Scots have never been happy about their union with England, which has existed for 306 years. But the divisions have rarely been as great as they are today. Canavan says that Scotland would be better off without England. It would be a richer country, because it would control its own oil and gas production. It would be a more peaceful country, because it would no longer be forced to tolerate nuclear warheads on its soil or participate in the wars of the English. And it would be a fair and equitable country, because it could reverse the British government's cuts to social benefits. It would be a free country filled with proud people. "The lakes, mountains and rivers are our national heritage," says Canavan. "Scotland is the envy of the world." So why shouldn't the Scots hazard the step to independence?

'Caught in a Straitjacket'

As a Labour MP, Canavan battled with Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a shopkeeper, who shut down mines. At the time, he was already thinking of ways to counter the power of the British government. In 1997, London incrementally granted the Scots more rights, but it wasn't enough for Canavan. He believes that Scotland is oppressed. "We are caught in a straitjacket," he says. If Canavan had his way, he would introduce the euro in Scotland tomorrow. "We need a new beginning," he says. A Second Bannockburn.

There have already been a few skirmishes. Recently Nigel Farage, the English head of UKIP, had to hide in a pub in Edinburgh because an angry mob had gathered outside. Most Scots are disgusted by Farage's crude England patriotism. He eventually left the pub with a police escort.

In the late summer of 2014, the Scots will vote in a referendum over whether they still want to be part of Great Britain. Anyone who believes that the proximity of the 700-year celebration is coincidental isn't familiar with the Scottish penchant for perfidious tactics.

The English are opposed to Scottish independence. For months, the government in London has fired off study after study on the risks of independence. Polls show that a third of Scots support independence. "We have a mountain to climb," says Canavan. But things didn't look good for the Scots 700 years ago, either -- and in the end, they defeated the enemies from the south. Canavan smiles for the third time.

In a Different Country
Great Britain is currently undergoing a shift. There is a growing distance between the periphery and the center, among the individual parts of the kingdom and between the top and the bottom of society. It has never taken as much money as it does today to make it onto the Times list of the 100 wealthiest Britons. Irvine Sellar's cocktail skewer and all the other towers in London seem even taller and more imposing in the eyes of those who stand at the bottom, those who lost a great deal when England was betting on the financial industry and neglecting everything else. Society is becoming unravelled at its fringes.

The information age has been slow to arrive in Bangor, in northern Wales. "They say we'll be getting faster Internet soon," says Bryn Lewis. "But they've been promising us that for a long time." Lewis is 23 and unemployed, one of about a million Britons between 16 and 24 who are out of work. He writes about his life in North Wales, a remote corner of the country, on blogs and in Internet forums. Like many of his generation, he would rather do without running water than the Internet.

Nevertheless, the Internet is sometimes down for days, he says while sitting in a café in Bangor. Local public transport isn't in much better shape. Lewis doesn't have a driver's license, and there is only limited bus service into the city after 6 p.m.

Wasted Youth

Lewis is one of many who are too clever for the provinces and too lazy for London. His native Wales has seen better days. Its mines stopped supplying fuel for England's industrial revolution long ago. Nowadays, a young person in Wales has two choices: to be unemployed or to move away. Two businesses that still work are health clubs and the illegal amphetamine and steroid trade.

For years, Lewis has been stumbling between a mentoring program and courses for young entrepreneurs. He was studying chemistry until a year ago, when he dropped out because he could no longer afford the tuition. He is paid a small fee for his blog posts, and he occasionally writes articles for the local newspaper. He earns the equivalent of €230 ($310) a month. He saves rent by living alternately with his father and his girlfriend.

People who grow up in Bangor waste their youth on the steps of the Costa Coffee Shop or on a bench at the beach. The theater was torn down years ago, and the movie theaters have been closed for a long time. You figure out how to get booze without an ID card at an early age, says Lewis. He and a teacher recently founded the Bangor Youth Group, which hosts movie nights and lectures. But the group lacks money and a space of its own. They are now hoping to receive funding from Prince Charles' foundation.

In the meantime, Lewis and his friends get together at Skerries, where a pint of beer costs 1.80. Like in every pub on the entire island, the air smells like urinal cake. Johnny and Gaz, who are playing a round of billiards, cook burgers in a fast-food restaurant during the day. Huw is studying creative writing. Arwel is 21 and stocks supermarket shelves. He has had the words "born free" tattooed onto his knuckles. His daughter Summer has just turned three, but he is no longer with her mother. She is now Lewis's girlfriend.

"It's all pretty complicated here," says Lewis. He has just started writing his first novel, which takes place in a desert. Lewis doesn't want to move to a big city, London included. It's much too far away, he says. Sometimes it seems to him that London is the capital of a different country.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

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« Reply #7063 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:46 AM »

06/20/2013 01:09 PM

World from Berlin: Obama Visit Highlights 'Genuine Trans-Atlantic Dissonance'

US President Barack Obama managed to achieve his primary goal during his one-day visit to Berlin on Wednesday: charming his hosts. But German commentators argue he was unable to bridge a growing gap between the two countries.

All that's left is the clean-up. Workers across the Berlin city center were busy on Thursday morning dismantling grandstands in front of the Brandenburg Gate, packing up the vast security checkpoint at the Friedrichstrasse train station and loading vast numbers of police barricades onto flatbed trucks.

US President Barack Obama and his family left the German capital just after 10 p.m. on Wednesday night after spending a little over 24 hours in the city -- a day in which he met with German leaders, gave a keynote address before 4,000 people in the blazing sun and attended a gala dinner at Charlottenburg Palace.

He also, however, managed to remind Germans why they are such big fans of this president. Even if Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first time Obama had visited Berlin as president -- after fully five years in office -- he was able to make it seem as though Germany and the Germans were near and dear to him. He casually embraced German President Joachim Gauck, he referred to German Chancellor Merkel as simply "Angela" and he quickly took off his jacket at the beginning of his keynote speech in the blazing sun, saying: "We can be a little more informal among friends."

The audience ate it up. Sure there is concern in the country about Obama's drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is widespread disgust with the mind-boggling extent of online surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency. There is also a good bit of disillusionment stemming from Obama's inability to close down the Guantanamo detention camp. The US president was asked about all of those issues during his stay in Berlin.

Achieving His Goal

But Germans like nothing better than to be taken seriously -- and they are open to being charmed. Obama made a convincing show of doing both. He avoided subjects that might be difficult for his hosts, shying away from asking Germany to supply weapons to Syrian rebels and avoiding mention of Berlin's abstention on the United Nations Security Council vote to intervene in Libya. In his speech, which focused heavily on history, he even managed to turn World War II and the Holocaust into a rhetorical side note.

Instead, he opted to focus on nuclear arms reduction. One could, of course, see his decision to highlight such an issue -- one that everybody can agree on -- as an indication that the US does not see Germany as a foreign policy partner when it comes to more controversial issues. But coming from a president that most in Germany continue to revere despite the shortcomings that have by now become obvious to all, Berliners were more apt to see the logic of proposing cuts to the nuclear arsenal in a city so marked by the Cold War.

That, of course, was Obama's intention. And he left the city having achieved the primary goal of his visit -- that of putting a feel-good coat of paint on a trans-Atlantic relationship that had recently begun to show its age.

German commentators on Thursday, however, seemed largely immune to the charm offensive.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"(The speech) was a disappointment for those who hope for … for what actually? Clearly these phrases for the history books, which in themselves imply the claim of the US to lead the western World, don't exist anymore."

"But there was something else. There was a proposition made by the American president. Obama used the Brandenburg Gate, he used Berlin, and he used Angela Merkel and her East German heritage to send a clear signal to Russia. With his proposal to reduce the US nuclear weapon arsenal by one-third, he ventured into possibly the only foreign policy area in which he can initiate something positive -- and that is worldwide nuclear disarmament."

"A clear vow to lead on this issue is worthy of respect. The fact that this appeal to Russia was broadcast from Germany to the world shows what a central role Berlin still plays from America's point of view in its relations with Russia."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Barack Obama's visit to Berlin was warm, extremely warm. But it didn't touch the Germans, neither warmly or coolly. Even the massive security measures that shut down the city center were largely accepted with a shrug. ...The indifference with which Obama was received is not an indication that Germans don't like Obama anymore. ... Rather, the American president himself signalled with all of his appearances on Wednesday that the moral and emotional chapter of the Cold War is finished. We are now getting into the fine print."

"America has become more foreign to us, too, and it doesn't help to evoke the great period of bonding during the Cold War. But Europeans have also become more foreign to Americans. How should Americans know and understand that which we ourselves don't know or understand? There is still a great lack of clarity about where the partially unified, partially divided continent of Europe is headed politically. Europe is complicated. Germany, the shame-faced regional power, is too. Europe could be extremely powerful internationally, but hasn't found a way to get there without sacrificing its traditional particularities. And last but not least: Angela Merkel insists stubbornly but with good reason that austerity and growth have to go hand-in-hand, but that austerity is non-negotiable. Obama doesn't like that and it has created genuine trans-Atlantic dissonance."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Whatever Obama was before, today he is an unsentimental practitioner of realpolitik, which has ruled in America for some time. One could be more specific: Obama's foreign policy lacks any emotional dimension. The president is led by pragmatism and interests, with limits being set, if need be, by international law."

"That doesn't have to be wrong. The foreign policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush, was based purely on emotion, a mixture of megalomania and self-righteousness. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was the thirst for revenge and his own moral mission, which was supposed to bring freedom to the entire world. Bush was proud of making decisions by gut instinct. But when it came to war and peace, things went terribly wrong."

"Obama works differently, even if he speaks as much about freedom as Bush did. Obama twists and turns and examines a foreign policy problem. After he has weighed all of the arguments, he then decides. That leads to a rational, and sometimes hesitant, but not empathetic foreign policy."

"Paradoxically, Europeans, especially the Germans, have their problems with both presidents. They despise Bush as a supposedly dim-witted cowboy. But in the meantime, they have become leery of the coldly analytical Obama, who kills suspected terrorists with drones and lets his government monitor the Internet."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Obama's speech reminded one of the old Obama with his 'Yes We Can' and the rebirth of the American dream. ... It was not the image of a president who, with his (drone) directives, stands in the middle of the battle against terror or whose agencies pursue a far-reaching surveillance regime in the Internet and among journalists. No. In Berlin, the Obama spoke who … wants to make the world a bit better."

"Germany, once again, provided the TV-ready backdrop for a US president, but is the country really a partner to America? Obama's speech was more an address to the world than to Germany. ... Yet Germany and America need each other more than ever. Washington can't cope with the economic crises of our times on its own. The US government itself knows the importance of Berlin and would like to see Germany take on a greater global role. But Obama would never say as much directly."

"Why not? It is certainly not only a product of Obama's own reserved relationship to Germany. It has to do with a German foreign policy that permanently hides behind legal and moral qualms so as not to dirty its hands. Economically, a strong German role in the world is necessary and Berlin certainly plays a decisive role in the euro crisis. But politically and militarily, the Germans have chosen retreat."

Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Obama, probably the best speaker in the world, used Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate to give a bad speech. He spoke about a lot, without saying much."

"He did not say anything about any of the many points in his speech -- maybe someone has the time to count them all. At no point did he make a proposal. As we could see, sitting in front of the TV, he had no plan. He wanted to get the thing over with. And he succeeded in doing that. But he also succeeded in robbing passion from his greatest enthusiasts."

"Obama is not one who cannot manage to get people excited about what it is he wants. That's what makes this appearance especially embarrassing. Everyone who has experienced seeing him or has read his captivating book knows that when he wants to get people thinking a certain way, he can. The only possible conclusion is that he didn't want to. Possibly the most important politician in the world has nothing planned. That is terrible news."

-- Charles Hawley and Mary Beth Warner

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« Reply #7064 on: Jun 21, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Google and privacy: European data regulators round on search giant

France has given the company three months to rewrite its privacy policy, while Spain accuses search compay of breaching data protection laws

Juliette Garside   
The Guardian, Thursday 20 June 2013 18.30 BST   

European data protection watchdogs are closing in on Google, with Spain charging the software giant with six legal infringements punishable by up to €1.5m (£1.3m) in fines, while France has given it three months to rewrite its privacy policy.

Google is likely to face actions from the UK, German, Italian and Dutch data watchdogs, in a co-ordinated campaign to push it into improving protection for consumers.

Spain launched a sanction procedure on Thursday, accusing the company behind the Android phone software and the world's largest search engine of six counts of breaching data protection laws.

The six-month process initiated by Spain's Agencia Española de Protección de Datos could result in five fines of up to €300,000 each and a further penalty for a more minor transgression of up to €40,000.

Google collects a wide range of information on individuals, including names, photographs, email addresses, phone numbers, credit cards, websites visited, what smartphones, tablets and computers customers are using, logs of queries typed into its search engine, phone numbers called, time, date and duration of calls, and customer locations.

Spain is concerned consumers were not told clearly how Google planned to use their personal information before it was shared. It objects to the combining of personal information from one service, such as email, with that from another, such as search queries.

It is concerned Google is collecting disproportionate amounts of data, and holding on to it for longer than needed. And it says Google does not make it easy enough for an individual to correct, delete or access their private information.

On the same day, France's Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) gave Google formal notice that it risks a fine of up to €150,000 and a second of €300,000 if it fails to rewrite its privacy policy within three months.

The CNIL has similar concerns to its Spanish counterpart and has requested a series of changes. It wants Google to give customers "defined and explicit purposes" for gathering their personal data, so that individuals know how their information will be used before deciding whether to share it.

France wants "definite retention periods" for data. Users should be informed before the 'cookies' which track their browsing are stored on their computer. And Google should not be allowed, without legal basis, to combine data supplied for different products and services.

"This case is a significant test of how strong the laws are to protect our privacy in an internet age," said Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign Big Brother Watch. "Fines totalling a few million dollars will hardly trouble a multi-billion dollar empire and it's essential that action does force the company to respect our privacy and put users rights before the demands of its advertising customers."

Jeff Gould, president of public sector computing group SafeGov, said: "We remain concerned that non-consumer users of Google's services, such as employees, civil servants, patients or schoolchildren, who aren't able to individually consent to or opt-out of data processing practices, remain at risk of intrusive online tracking."

The UK Information Commissioner's Office is considering whether Google's privacy policy, updated last July, is compliant with the UK Data Protection Act, and will shortly be writing to Google to confirm their preliminary findings.

A Google spokesman said: "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward."

Watchdogs are keeping a wary eye on Google Glass. On Wednesday, 37 data protection agencies sent a joint letter to Google's chief executive, Larry Page, raising concerns about the digital spectacles.

"Fears of ubiquitous surveillance of individuals by other individuals, whether through such recordings or through other applications currently being developed, have been raised," the letter stated.

"Questions about Google's collection of such data and what it means in terms of Google's revamped privacy policy have also started to appear."

The signatories, who include data protection agencies from Canada, Australia, Israel, Switzerland and New Zealand, want privacy built into the development of products and services, and have requested demonstrations and full consultation with Google before Glass goes on sale.

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