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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1015613 times)
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« Reply #7245 on: Jul 01, 2013, 07:04 AM »

More than 80,000 march for gay pride in Mexico City

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 30, 2013 10:30 EDT

Clad in colorful costumes — or nothing at all — more than 80,000 people participated in Mexico City’s gay pride march, officials said.

Amid the procession of people dressed as butterflies, clowns and Indian warriors, were a dozen floats, including one featuring topless transsexuals dancing.

“This is our way to speak out against the social discrimination we face from our government and our society,” said Alberto Avila, a 40-year-old bisexual waiter who marched alongside his five-year-old niece.

“I’ve wanted, since I was little, to teach people how to live with diversity,” said the man dressed in a purple miniskirt, blond wig, and red heels.

Placards brandished by demonstrators declared “Mom, I’m a lesbian,” and “Proud to be transgender,” among many others.

“Lots of people are attacked for not corresponding to the standard genders demanded by society,” claimed a 16-year-old waving a huge rainbow flag.

Mexico City in 2009 approved gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, contrasting with mostly conservative policies across the largely Catholic nation.

But the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City urged authorities to “enforce the guarantee of respect for rights for its inhabitants” regardless of sexual orientation.

Within Latin America, Mexico is second only to Brazil in terms of hate crimes towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transexuals, the group said.

Meanwhile, Mexico City Archbishop Norberto Rivera called for the defense of traditional family values.

“We do not accept unnatural proposals which disfigure and obscure that splendor” of family, he said during a Mass, according to a local radio broadcast.

People march during the Gay Pride Parade in Mexico City on June 29, 2013. Mexico City in 2009 approved gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, contrasting with mostly conservative policies across the largely Catholic nation/AFP

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« Reply #7246 on: Jul 01, 2013, 07:06 AM »

Grenada's proposed debt deal could have implications for billions of people

Grenada wants to negotiate a debt reduction with all its creditors – private, multilateral and government. Could its radical suggestion work?

Posted by
Jürgen Kaiser and Tim Jones   
Monday 1 July 2013 07.00 BST

Decisions on the small island of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean could influence the way debt problems are dealt with across the world. Having partially defaulted on its huge debt payments in March, Grenada is now proposing that all creditors negotiate a debt reduction. This simple idea is unheard of during debt crises that have shaken the world for the past 30 years.

Grenada had a brief moment of fame in 1983, when a revolution started to build a more equal society. Land reform, social programmes and a good level of revolutionary pathos were the trademarks of that era – until the New Jewel movement began to dismantle itself. The US government under President Ronald Reagan used the opportunity of an internal coup in the Grenadian ruling party and government for a bloody cleansing operation in its backyard.

Ever since, successive Grenadian governments have integrated the island into world markets. The EU gave Grenada privileged access to banana and spice exports, but US pressure through the World Trade Organisation led the EU to cut trade preferences and open markets to banana producers in Central and South America. Small-scale producers in the eastern Caribbean were decimated.

The Grenadian economy was devastated again in 2004 and 2005 when hurricanes Ivan and Emily caused damage costing more than 200% of GDP.

Since the loss of EU export markets, the biggest hard currency earner has been tourism, particularly the cruise ship industry. However, the industry was hit by the financial crisis in 2008, and Grenada and its neighbours suffered severe reductions in external income.

Governments tried to cope with these shocks through foreign loans, but when economic growth could not be restarted quickly, debt skyrocketed. In Grenada, the debt has reached nearly 100% of national income, close to levels in European crisis countries.

In March, Grenada's government stopped making payments to private creditors. Roughly 40% of the debt is owed to private bondholders, and another 40% to multilateral institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. The remainder is on the books of governments, including Taiwan, Kuwait and oil-rich neighbour Trinidad and Tobago.

As there is no standard rules-based procedure for resolving sovereign debt crises, the Grenadian finance ministry, which has fewer staff and technical capacities than a treasurer in a medium-sized municipality in the US, has to negotiate with all its creditors in parallel, a tricky process. The bondholders are dispersed all over the world. Multilateral institutions have a policy of not negotiating their claims at all. And while governments sometimes reduce debts, there is no procedure to do so.

To get a fair outcome from the financial and logistical mess, the Grenadian Conference of Churches has proposed that negotiations on reducing the debt should take place with all creditors. This would be a major step forward for Grenada, and for dealing with debt problems elsewhere in the world. The last comprehensive debt reduction deal we know of was the cancellation of much of Germany's debt in 1953, which resulted in annual debt payments falling to less than 3% of export revenues. Grenada's payments are more than 20% of export revenues.

The Grenadian churches have proposed that an independent body should assess how sustainable the debt is. Under the current system, the IMF has monopolised such assessments. But the IMF is itself a major creditor, and represents the interests of powerful creditor countries. This makes it inherently biased, seeking to protect its money, and that of others such as western banks. The IMF's double role as lender and expert has led to absurd assessments by the Washington agency.

The Conference of Churches is inspired by the biblical concept of cancelling debts; a jubilee. Debts do not always have to be paid, even where they have been legitimately contracted. So far, the Grenadian government has reacted positively to the proposal, and has indicated it would like to negotiate with all creditors. An IMF delegation visited the island last week. International support is needed to give Grenada the strength to stick to its course.

If Grenada does stand firm, decisions on this island of 105,000 people could have implications for billions of others. The UN and many renowned economists have proposed the creation of a fair and impartial sovereign debt workout mechanism; a Grenadian debt reduction across all lenders would be a step towards making it happen.

Such a body could be developed along the principles of national insolvency regulations, which protect individuals and companies from protracted crises, and make all lenders comply with debt reductions. The UK government has opposed such a mechanism. In contrast, other governments including Norway, Germany, Argentina and many of the groupings of developing countries, support the idea.

On 1 July, Grenada is due to make payments on debt owed to western governments, including £270,000 to the UK. Grenada is already in default on payments to private creditors; the next step would be for these payments to be suspended, before a full debt conference.

The amounts involved are huge for Grenada and tiny for the lenders. But the stakes are much higher because of the positive example that could be set by fairly dealing with a government debt crisis. It is fear of this precedent that will motivate vested interests to push Grenada into piecemeal debt reductions for a few creditors, leaving others to be paid in full, and the island in a debt crisis for years.

Beyond academic discussions about how debt could actually be dealt with, this is a concrete case of a government that needs support and political backing for a pioneering effort. A successful approach in Grenada could have huge repercussions for achieving debt justice.

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« Reply #7247 on: Jul 01, 2013, 07:07 AM »

AIDS scientists in Malaysia hoping for cure

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, June 29, 2013 10:38 EDT

AIDS scientists expressed optimism over their search for a cure for the disease Saturday ahead of a major conference in Kuala Lumpur, with more funding and research breakthroughs boosting their hopes.

Thousands of delegates will attend the four-day International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference which starts on Sunday in the Malaysian capital, the first time the bi-annual meeting will be held in Asia.

Sharon Lewin from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said funding for cure research had gone from millions to tens of millions of dollars per year.

“I think we are a long way off, but what has changed in the last three years is a realisation, that there needs to be a commitment (to this),” she told AFP in a telephone interview.

“In 2010, at that time, very few people really believed it was possible… Between that time and now, there has been a major shift. There’s evidence that things have really been moving.”

Deborah Persaud of the US Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said the case of the “Mississippi baby” that her team worked on presented a “ray of hope”.

The baby, born in the US state of Mississippi, was apparently cleared of the virus after being given aggressive anti-retroviral treatment within 30 hours of her birth. She is now almost three years old.

“There needs to be a lot of work done… We have to replicate the case; we need to understand the case,” she told reporters ahead of the conference.

“The key thing for us that we should focus on is to do what we know how to do — and that is identify kids who are infected and treat them early.”

Children below the age of 15 make up 10 percent, or 3.3 million, of the estimated 34 million people infected with HIV worldwide. In total, the global pandemic has claimed 30 million lives.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is expected to release new medical guidelines at the conference Sunday, which could make more people infected with HIV eligible to receive drugs.

Last month, scientists meeting in Paris to mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, said they have high hopes for a treatment that will be given at an early stage of infection.

But they said people with a long-running, untreated infection and a compromised immune system may never benefit from an envisioned “functional cure” — through which a person would retain traces of the virus but no symptoms.

About 1.8 million people die every year from AIDS, a disease in which the immune system is destroyed, with sufferers exposed to pneumonia, TB and other illnesses.

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« Reply #7248 on: Jul 01, 2013, 07:19 AM »

In the USA...

Gay pride supporters gather across US after triumphant week

Thousands gather in cities to attend parades following the lifting of Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in California

Associated Press in San Francisco, Monday 1 July 2013 01.31 BST   

Gay rights supporters crowded parade routes in San Francisco, New York and other major US cities on Sunday – but this year's pride celebrations were especially lively after a week that saw the supreme court issue two major decisions on gay marriage.

Among the thousands at San Francisco's event, now in its 43rd year, were scores of teenage girls, opposite-sex couples and families with children.

"You can feel the smiles," Graham Linn, 42, said as he stood on a three-foot-tall building ledge surveying the crowds standing 10-deep on the sidewalks. "All around you there is a release. There is a vindication, and you can feel it."

The biggest applause went up for the two newlywed couples whose legal challenge of Proposition 8's gay marriage ban made it possible for Californians to wed.

The couples – Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – waved from convertibles as a group of people carrying cartoon-style signs that read, "Prop. 8-Kapow!"

Human rights campaign oresident Chad Griffin, who orchestrated the lawsuit, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for the movie about the murdered gay rights leader Harvey Milk, marched with them.

"It's so historic," Jeff Margolis, 58, said. "So many of us could never imagine this would happen, that people would be able to do what they want for the rest of their lives."

Loud cheers went to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom and state attorney general Kalama Harris – straight politicians who have been vocal advocates of same-sex marriage.

San Francisco's parade lineup illustrated how mainstream support for same-sex marriage has become. Companies such as Facebook and supermarket chain Safeway were represented. Police officers and sheriff's deputies marched while holding hands.

There was also a group that called itself "Mormons for Marriage" that drew enthusiastic applause. The Mormon church was one of the main sponsors of Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.

The supreme court on Wednesday struck down Proposition 8 and also invalidated part of a 1996 federal law that denied spousal benefits to gay couples. On Sunday morning, Justice Anthony Kennedy denied a last-ditch request from the sponsors of Proposition 8 to halt the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in America's most populous state.

San Francisco city hall remained open on Sunday so couples who wanted to marry could obtain their licenses. Every other clerk in California's 58 counties will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses starting Monday.

Parade organisers planned to hold a VIP reception for the newlyweds following the parade.

The parade in New York City, where the first pride march was held 44 years ago to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots that kicked off the modern gay rights movement, was also a sort of victory lap for Edith Windsor, the 84-year-old widow who challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act after she was forced to pay $363,053 on the estate of her late wife.

Windsor, who was picked as a grand marshal of New York's parade months before she won her case before the supreme court last week, walked up Fifth Avenue during the event and recalled watching it on television in past years with her wife, Thea Spyer, before Spyer died in 2009.

"I love it obviously," she said. "If someone had told me 50 years ago that I would be the marshal of New York City gay pride parade in 2013 at the age of 8, I never would have believed it."

In Seattle, the two women who were the first same-sex couple to be granted a marriage license in Washington state after same-sex marriage became legal there last year, Jane Abbot Lighty and Pete-e Petersen, helped raise a giant marriage equality sign featuring a red equal sign on top of the city's iconic Space Needle for the first time.

In another first, the Seattle Mariners flew a rainbow flag – the symbol of gay pride first unfurled during San Francisco's parade in 1978 – during their game Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

The supreme court wins motivated many first-time pride parade spectators, including Michael Pence, 53, and John Moehnke, 46, a North Carolina couple who are engaged, attended Chicago's annual Pride Parade for the first time, saying they were thrilled about the supreme court's decisions.

The couple from North Carolina planned to marry in New York in the fall, but want to see gay marriage extended to other states including Illinois, where they attended the parade with a church group.

"We have such a long way to go but we're ready for the fight," Moehnke said.

Efforts to legalise gay marriage in Illinois have stalled. Advocates started the year with intense momentum and received backing from President Barack Obama and Illinois' top political leaders. The measure cleared the Illinois Senate on Valentine's Day, state representative Greg Harris, the bill's sponsor, decided not to call a vote in the House because he didn't have the needed support.

Harris was one of several politicians at the parade on Sunday. He said he would bring back the issue in the autumn, adding that the supreme court's rulings have resonated with his colleagues in the Illinois House.

"Illinois is in a truly second-class status until we pass marriage equality," Harris said.

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« Reply #7249 on: Jul 02, 2013, 05:29 AM »

Edward Snowden threatens new leaks over ‘illegal aggression’

By Reuters
Monday, July 1, 2013 18:27 EDT

LONDON (Reuters) – Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden has broken his silence for the first time since he fled to Moscow eight days ago to say he remains free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity.

In a letter to Ecuador, Snowden said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance program, PRISM. He also thanked Ecuador for helping him get to Russia and for examining his asylum request.

“I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” Snowden said in an undated Spanish-language letter sent to President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, seen by Reuters.

“No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realize a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank,” part of the text read, according to a translation.

Snowden, who is believed to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport, complained that the United States was illegally pursuing him for an act he said was in the public interest.

“While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression,” he wrote.

(Reporting By Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Heavens)


07/01/2013 05:03 PM

Boundless Informant: The Global Hunt for Edward Snowden


Whistleblower Edward Snowden remains on the run from US authorities, leaving behind a trail of revelations. Currently believed to be in Moscow's international airport, he has become the victim of a global hunt with elements of a Cold War thriller.

At the headquarters of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, there is a giant granite memorial plaque listing the names of 171 agents killed in the line of duty, with the words "They Served in Silence" carved into the stone. It's a very American way of remembering the country's heroes.

They will never say that about Edward Snowden, the biggest whistleblower in recent American history. Nevertheless, he is now a hero for many, because he burst America's dream of total data control.

Snowden has been traveling around the world carrying four laptops filled with secret documents since the end of May, when he flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong and eventually on to Moscow, leaving behind a trail of global revelations. He exposed the NSA's Prism program, which uses data from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Skype; he revealed the role played in surveillance by the British intelligence agency GCHQ, whose Tempora program extracts data from hundreds of fiber-optic cables; and now he has also revealed the NSA's spying activities in Germany. New revelations seem to emerge by the day.

Since then Snowden has been engaged with US authorities in a global hunt with elements of a Cold War thriller -- only this time with 21st-century technology. He's also being pursued by hundreds of journalists, millions upon millions of viewers and presumably no small number of agents. This 30-year-old system administrator has already set off minor and major diplomatic tremors, because the revelations also show the extent to which allied countries spy on each other. The insights into its eavesdropping operations have embarrassed the United States in its relationship with China and Russia, as well as helping enemies and humiliating friends, who must now fear that their own spying activities will be scrutinized.

Snowden probably couldn't imagine all of this happening when, on May 20, he left his apartment in Hawaii and boarded a flight to Hong Kong. He was carrying a small, black suitcase containing the laptops, on which thousands of highly classified documents were stored. He told his girlfriend that he would be back soon, and he told his employer he needed to take some time off.

Snowden had been working in Hawaii for the security firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which does work for the NSA, for almost three months -- and he had access to America's biggest secrets. Although Snowden was a school dropout, he was also ambitious. When he enlisted in the army, he said that he was a Buddhist and committed to non-violence. The CIA and the NSA hired him because of his skillful handling of data networks.

Catapulted Out of Anonymity

In Hong Kong, Snowden took a room at the Mira, a five-star hotel in the Kowloon district. His choice of the Chinese special administrative region as a hideout was carefully calculated. He believed that he was safe there from the clutches of both American and Chinese authorities. He was also familiar with the city and had an acquaintance there. It was from Hong Kong that he launched a series of revelations that would shock America and the world before long.

He had already chosen a cohort in Glenn Greenwald, a blogger for Britain's Guardian newspaper. Greenwald, a former lawyer, lives with his partner and their 10 dogs in Rio de Janeiro. He's been advocating the disclosure of government secrets for years, and is seen as a passionate champion of transparency and someone who doesn't make compromises. Greenwald was the man Snowden now needed, so he asked him to come to Hong Kong.

Greenwald, a colleague from the Guardian and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras arrived on June 1. Snowden gave them elaborate directions to meet, and used a Rubik's cube to identify himself. The trio questioned their informant for almost a week. Then, on June 5, the Guardian published the first revelation, the story of a secret court ruling that showed that the US government had forced the telecommunications company Verizon to hand over telephone data for thousands of US citizens. The Prism surveillance program was disclosed the next day, followed by revelations about a similar program used worldwide, known as "Boundless Informant."

The disclosures coincided with the first meeting between the two most powerful men in the world. On June 7, US President Barack Obama invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Sunnylands Ranch in California. It was hot, 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit), and to the annoyance of the Chinese, their hosts had added the subject of cyber security to the agenda at the last minute. Obama told Xi that he would like to see a world order in which everyone played by the same rules. It was an admonition, from those who feel victimized, against the presumed malefactors in the cyber war -- the Chinese.

Although the Americans had taken notice of the revelations in the Guardian, they didn't know that a man on the other side of the Pacific was about to disclose even more secrets.

The video in which Snowden, a previously unknown system administrator, catapulted himself out of anonymity into the public eye, transforming from an everyman into the world's most wanted person on June 9, is 12 minutes and 35 seconds long. It had been clicked on 1.7 million times soon after its release.

The man in the video is young and pale, is wearing angular glasses and has a three-day beard. He speaks clearly, slowly and confidently. He says he has no intention to hide, because he hasn't done anything wrong. When asked why he didn't want to remain anonymous, Snowden replies: "The public is owed an explanation."

Snowden describes the NSA as a super-agency, a giant octopus that accesses massive amounts of data worldwide. He also explains that he decided to become a whistleblower when he realized that what he was experiencing on a regular basis were abuses, and that the more he wanted to talk about it, the more he was ignored and told that it really wasn't a problem.

The hunt was on.

Avoiding Extradition

Snowden's hiding place was discovered a few hours later, but he had already disappeared and gone to the apartment of a Hong Kong acquaintance.

Meanwhile, he was in contact with journalists from the South China Morning Post. After a conversation with Snowden, they revealed that the NSA had also hacked into the servers of telephone companies in China and Hong Kong and had collected millions of text messages.

Snowden apparently hoped to avoid extradition by provoking Chinese rage against the Americans. And he needed to do something, because Washington had already started to apply pressure. Although it has no extradition treaty with China, Hong Kong is largely autonomous and signed its own extradition treaty with the United States in 1996. US politicians were already demanding that Snowden be prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law."

"People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions," Snowden told the South China Morning Post. But he also sensed that he wasn't safe in Hong Kong. Where else could he go?

At that moment two men entered the equation who wanted some of the whistleblower's fame to rub off on them: Rafael Correa and Julian Assange.

Ecuador soon announced that it was considering an asylum application by Snowden. It isn't as if Ecuadorian President Correa is a fan of transparency. In fact, a new, restrictive media law has just been enacted in his country. But Correa suffers from the fact that Ecuador is too small a stage for his political ambitions.

On June 16, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stood on the balcony at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, together with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño. He said nothing but waved to his supporters. In interviews, however, Assange called Snowden a hero and recommended that he seek asylum in Latin America.

Assange has been stuck in London for more than a year now. Police officers are waiting outside the embassy to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault. His room at the embassy isn't much bigger than a jail cell. It contains a table, a few chairs, a bookshelf and a single bed. The room is so gloomy, Assange said, that he ordered a sun lamp to simulate natural sunlight. He also has a treadmill and receives occasional visits from a personal trainer. Otherwise, he spends his time watching old episodes of "The West Wing" and "Twilight Zone."

Assange runs the now divided organization from his temporary home at the embassy. But he hasn't had any scoops in a long time, now that the flow of leaks has dried up. The situation in London is slowly becoming hopeless, and escape seems impossible. Since Snowden exposed himself as a whistleblower, it has become clear to Assange that this is his chance to get back into the game, draw attention to his fate and put one over on America.

WikiLeaks Steps In To Help

Assange arranged travel documents for Snowden from Ecuador and sent Sarah Harrison, a member of the WikiLeaks legal defense team, to Hong Kong. He wanted WikiLeaks to become Snowden's escape agent and bring him to a safe haven -- if such a place even exists anymore.

Snowden left his hiding place again for the first time on June 18. He had become even more cautious. He turned up at a meeting with attorney Albert Ho and two colleagues wearing a hat and sunglasses, and he told everyone to leave their mobile phones in the refrigerator. They ate pizza, drank Pepsi and talked for two hours. The lawyers warned him that no one could guarantee that he would remain a free man during possible extradition proceedings. If that happened, he would be without a computer or access to the Internet. Snowden was nervous. He wanted to leave, but he didn't know where to go.

It was a situation in which WikiLeaks could be helpful to him. A company that handles the accounting for donations to the organization had offered to pay for a private jet to take Snowden to a safe place. Assange had also activated his global network of supporters. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson filed an application for asylum in Iceland on behalf of Snowden, in case it didn't work out in Ecuador. But was it just a red herring?

Snowden turned 30 on June 21. That evening, he learned that the US government had filed espionage charges against him, and that Attorney General Eric Holder was personally applying pressure to his Hong Kong counterparts to extradite the whistleblower. A provisional arrest warrant had already been sent to Hong Kong, and his passport had been revoked. The next morning, an intermediary from the Hong Kong government informed Snowden that there would be no objection to his leaving the territory soon. It was clearly a request.

The Repercussions in China

Since the revelations about espionage in China, the leadership in Beijing apparently decided not to extradite Snowden, but instead to urge him to continue his travels. The official explanation reads like a public slap in the face or, even worse, a verbal middle finger pointed at the United States: The documents were incomplete. The US government had used the wrong middle name for Snowden in the extradition documents. The Chinese also demanded prompt clarification of the Americans' spying activities.

Snowden was too afraid by now, and on June 23 he went to the airport, passed through the normal security control and took an Aeroflot flight to Moscow. His passport was now invalid, but he was presumably traveling with refugee papers from London, accompanied by WikiLeaks activist Sarah Harrison. On the same day, the South China Morning Post published another Snowden revelation. It included his statement that he had deliberately sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton three months earlier to gain access to classified NSA information. At this point, Snowden was starting to look like a professional spy.

Meanwhile, China's leaders were relishing the fact that the United States, not China, was now being portrayed as a major data thief. Military expert Wang Changqin called the United States a "hacker empire," saying that there was now proof that China itself was a victim of attacks by foreign hackers, and that it isn't China but America that plunders the intellectual property of others.

But the Snowden case is also not without risk to the Chinese leadership. Shortly after Snowden left the country, a debate unfolded over the Chinese government's handling of Internet security for its citizens. How are we Chinese protected against attacks? Who approves the laws under which we are spied on? What happens when the authorities place a Chinese citizen under observation? These were the questions that Xie Yanyi, an attorney, was asking the Ministry of Public Security, a first in a surveillance state like China. Xie is unlikely to receive satisfactory answers to his questions, but the fact that he dared to even ask them is unprecedented.

A Gift for Moscow

Dozens of journalists and intelligence agents were waiting for Snowden when his flight landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. But no one came face-to-face with the fugitive, who only spoke with the Ecuadorian ambassador in the transit area. Then he disappeared, and there were soon rumors that he was leaving for Ecuador the next day.

Last Monday there was a crowd at Gate 28, where Aeroflot flight SU 150 was departing for Havana. Two dozen journalists had booked tickets on the flight. But seat 17A, where the fugitive was allegedly seated, remained empty. The flight took off, but Snowden was not on board.

Although Ecuador is playing up its role as a possible safe haven, there are only four connections from Moscow, each with a layover: via Madrid, Miami, Amsterdam and Havana. The first three airports are out of the question for Snowden, and even Cuba has an extradition treaty with the United States -- and is currently trying to improve relations with its neighbor. In contrast to the 1970s, Cuba is no longer a safe haven for fugitives.

Does this mean that Snowden will remain in Moscow? The Kremlin has ruled out extraditing the whistleblower from the start. Moscow's power elite sees his presence there as an opportunity to get back at America. Writing in the pro-government newspaper Izvestiya, nationalist writer Eduard Limonov called for revenge: "Let us spit at America and offer Snowden asylum, especially now that we've already given the drunkard Gérard Depardieu a passport."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also commented on the Snowden affair. Because the fugitive was still in the transit area, said Putin, he was not truly in Russia, which was why -- unfortunately -- Moscow could not extradite him. With a hint of a smile, he added: "Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information. Ask yourself this: Should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?"

For Putin, Snowden's flight to Moscow is a gift. The revelations provide him with ammunition with which to exert control over social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Russia's intelligence agencies already monitor the online activities of citizens today. The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament even wants to create a "sovereign Internet," free from the control of foreign powers -- and all the more controlled by Russian agencies. It wouldn't be impossible. Of the 20 largest Internet companies operating in Europe, 15 are American and five are Russian.

Has Snowden truly remained in Moscow voluntarily? Or was he perhaps forced to remain and is being interrogated? For Russian intelligence, Snowden's presence there is a unique opportunity to gain access to top-secret documents, or at least that is the suspicion being expressed out loud in the United States. Many now view the erstwhile hero as a traitor, because he is seeking out the wrong friends. With each day that passes, Snowden is less of a hunter and more of a hunted man. It no longer appears to be his game, but a game controlled by other powers.

By the middle of last week, no one knew where the whistleblower was. Was he in an isolated part of the airport? In a villa near Moscow owned by Russian intelligence? On his way to Ecuador, after all? It seems most likely that he will remain in Moscow for a while longer, and that he may even be applying for asylum there. His fate hangs on two thin threads: that a country allows him to pass through it without stopping him, and that he has the necessary travel documents.

Meanwhile, President Correa is already backpedaling in Quito, where he said: Snowden is not on Ecuadoran territory, so technically we cannot even process the asylum request." The decision could also take a while, as the foreign minister tweeted, "a day, a week or two months." Snowden seems to be welcome in Ecuador, just as long as he doesn't actually go there. The longer the diplomatic tug-of-war lasts, the better it is for Correa. He can portray himself as the David of free speech, rising up against a Goliath without having to deal with the problem of American sanctions against a country that depends on the United States economically.

Few Options

Last Friday evening, Snowden appeared to have three options left. The first was a private plane. The flight from Moscow to Quito would cost about $200,000 (€154,000), and the Russian authorities would have to approve Snowden's departure.

Snowden's father Lonnie proposed the second option on Friday: that his son surrender to American authorities. Unlike WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning, Snowden would be charged in a civilian and not a military court. And he could conceivably be acquitted if the court ruled that he did not commit treason. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, for example, received one year of probation for his disclosures.

The last option would be to seek refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Moscow, but that would require Russia's permission. And then? Snowden would be stuck, just like Assange.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


07/02/2013 12:21 PM

Legal Limbo: Stateless NSA Whistleblower Extends Asylum Bids

The fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, trapped in legal limbo in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, has requested asylum in over 20 countries, including Germany. Many of them have already refused to consider his bids.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for over a week, has applied for asylum in over 20 countries, including Germany.

The former CIA analyst has been on the run from US authorities since late May, after exposing the top secret surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Jürgen Trittin, parliamentary floor leader for the Green Party, said in a television interview on Monday that it was Germany's duty to take in Snowden.

"He should get safe haven here in Europe because he has done Europe a service," said Trittin. "Democratic countries should be ashamed that someone who has served democracy and revealed a massive breach of fundamental rights should need to seek refuge with despots who do not themselves uphold fundamental rights."

But Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of the Christian Democrats and chair of the Internal Affairs Committee in German parliament, believes the bid will fail.

Germany can take in "someone suffering political persecution but not someone sought on criminal charges," he told Bayerischer Rundfunk radio on Tuesday. "(Snowden) is not wanted because he is a member of a political opposition in the US or for racist or religious reasons but because the US accuses him of breaking the law."

Asylum Hurdles

According to a statement on the WikiLeaks website, Snowden also applied for asylum in Russia, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela.

But Russian news agencies on Tuesday quoted President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Snowden withdrew his request after President Vladimir Putin laid out his terms.

"If he wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do so," Putin said at a news conference on Monday. "If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound coming from my lips."

Meanwhile, several of the other countries where Snowden has applied for asylum have noted that he cannot apply from abroad. Officials in Germany, Norway, Austria, Poland, Finland and Switzerland have reportedly said an application can only be considered if it is made on their soil.

Still, some in Germany believe that Berlin should initiate contact with Snowden by virtue of him being a vital witness in a potential crime against Germany -- namely extensive espionage. Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele said on Tuesday: "With even federal prosecutors investigating possible espionage against Germany, the government shouldn't just offer Snowden asylum, but also -- as with the tax informants in Switzerland -- perhaps even witness protection." Ströbele was referring to CDs obtained by German officials in recent years containing the names and bank account details of people suspected of having evaded German taxes.

"Citizenship as a Weapon"

Snowden has been on the run since the US filed espionage charges against him. Initial attempts to gain political asylum in Ecuador, which facilitated his flight to Moscow from Hong Kong with a temporary travel pass and whose London embassy is currently sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, have reportedly been aborted after the Ecuadorian government sent out mixed messages. In an interview on Monday with British daily The Guardian, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said that Snowden was Russia's responsibility and would have to reach Ecuadorean territory before the country would consider any asylum request.

The same day, Snowden released a statement via WikiLeaks in which he slammed the Obama administration, accusing it of "using citizenship as a weapon," leaving him unable to leave the airport in Moscow, and pressurizing the international community not to help him.

"President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic 'wheeling and dealing' over my case," he wrote. "Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the president ordered his vice president to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions."

"Although I am convicted of nothing, (the US) has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person," he said. "Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum."


Edward Snowden's Moscow stopover became end of the line … for now

When the NSA whistleblower melted into Hong Kong's streets, many thought he would stay and fight his case. Instead, he ran

Tania Branigan in Hong Kong and Miriam Elder in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 1 July 2013 22.27 BST   

On Monday 10 June the whistleblower Edward Snowden left the modern Mira hotel in the heart of Kowloon's Nathan Road shopping district and melted into the busy streets of Hong Kong, one of the most densely occupied cities in the world. He travelled to a safe house provided by a wellwisher and, fearing he would be recognised, did not venture out for more than a week. He was, observers believed, showing every sign that he would stay in Hong Kong and fight his case.

Snowden engaged two lawyers known for their work on sensitive human rights and asylum claims: solicitor Jonathan Man and barrister Robert Tibbo. Both offered their services on a pro bono basis. Snowden also reached out, via WikiLeaks, to the governments of third countries to discuss the possibility of refuge. Iceland and Ecuador were top of the list, but others were also considered. Snowden appears to have been exploring numerous possibilities.

"Obviously, it's fairly well known, I think… what WikiLeaks did with regard to Mr Snowden is to connect the legal teams together and assist in his process in seeking for an asylum," Kristinn Hrafnsson of WikiLeaks said in a press briefing on 24 June. "Secondly," said Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks acted "as a go-between carrying the requests and messages to officials in government."

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted in the same briefing that any country offering asylum in such a case "has to be...strong enough to stand up against the United States". According to Ratner, that would include China and Russia, but it was unlikely that either would take him. The other countries "are those in South America who have been willing to take an independent stand from the US: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba," he said.

While Snowden and his supporters were making plans for escape, officials in the US were working out how to arrest him. Though it would not be revealed publicly for another week, on Saturday 15 June, six days after Snowden melted into the busy streets of Hong Kong, the US sent Hong Kong a request for his surrender. The two sides have a well-used treaty and Hong Kong has proved extremely helpful in complying with US requests in the past, experts say. This time, however, the territory would prove notably cautious in moving forward.

"Hong Kong was right to conduct its due diligence rather than going for it like a bull at a gate," said barrister Mark Sutherland. "If the US responded slowly and a potential suspect left in the interim – that's too bad." Others argue that there were clear political considerations.

For the Hong Kong government, the key issue was protecting its reputation as a place that upholds the rule of law and honours treaty obligations – essential to its success as an international financial centre – said Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong.

Like many people in the territory, Cheng takes it as a given that Beijing was involved behind the scenes. "It did not want to be seen as bowing to pressure from the US. Sending Mr Snowden back would have been an unpopular act," he said. "On the other hand, it did not want to confront the US."

The following Monday, Hong Kong informed the US by email that it was considering the issue. But the race against the clock had begun. By mid-week, WikiLeaks' London-based volunteer Sarah Harrison had arrived to aid Snowden. Although not a legal professional, she is believed to have extensive knowledge of asylum issues owing to Julian Assange's case – and her two sisters, Kate and Alexandra, live in the city. They have declined to comment.

Albert Ho, whose legal firm worked on the case, suggested Snowden feared being sent to prison. But lawyers in the region say that he could have sought bail. Additionally, had he applied for asylum after detention, he would have stopped the clock on surrender proceedings, some lawyers believe, and having lodged his appeal he could not be detained indefinitely.

By mid-week the US attorney general, Eric Holder, had called his Hong Kong counterpart, Rimsky Yuen, to press for action. Two days later, the US turned the pressure up publicly, with officials briefing the press that Hong Kong was dragging its feet and the delay could damage relations.

"At no point, in all of our discussions through Friday, did the authorities in Hong Kong raise any issues regarding the sufficiency of the US's provisional arrest request," an unnamed US official later told the Washington Post.

The territory's chief executive, CY Leung, has insisted: "It was not a pretext at all. We were just following the laws of Hong Kong."

That same afternoon, Hong Kong emailed the US with a list of issues. According to the city's justice secretary, it included the fact that no passport number was included and that Snowden's middle name appeared to have been stated wrongly – basic details that led Hong Kong officials to dismiss the request as "sloppy".

But the justice secretary later added that the response also demanded a clarification of whether the US had been hacking targets in the territory, as Snowden had claimed – arguing it was crucial to his chances of mounting a political defence to his surrender. Lawyers say such considerations are far above the usual threshold for a warrant.

As significant as the content of that dispatch was its timing.

"Even if the US government had replied within hours, it would have been weekend here in Hong Kong … basically giving Snowden the 'weekend window' to escape out of Hong Kong," noted Surya Deva, associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong's school of law. With events moving fast it was clear that Snowden would have to go soon if he wanted to go at all. The situation was crystallising. He would have known that by Monday the US would respond.

Leaving had always been an option, a source with knowledge of the situation said shortly after his departure, but he had preferred to stay. The decision to go was made in a scramble.

Last week, Ho – a well-known former legislator – said that he had been tasked with asking officials whether Snowden could leave safely. He also said that he understood that someone "purportedly representing the government" had made contact with Snowden.

On Saturday morning, the Ecuadorean consulate in London appears to have issued a safe conduct pass for Snowden – though the government in Quito would later describe it as unauthorised. On the same day, the US revoked his passport – a request that Hong Kong authorities had apparently not processed.

As Snowden prepared he seemed anxious, perhaps concerned that it might be a trap designed to lure him out.

On 23 June, two weeks after revealing his identity to the world, Snowden left his hiding place early to drive to Chek Lap Kok airport. The Norman Foster-designed terminals would have been quiet at that time on a Sunday. Flanked by supporters, according to one news report, he managed to avoid being recognised as he checked in at the Aeroflot counter for flight SU213 to Moscow and made his way through regular immigration channels. Within hours, Hong Kong officials were informing their furious counterparts in Washington. They then put out a public statement.

Shortly after 2pm on Sunday, Snowden's plane landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Passengers disembarked from the nine-hour flight and were ushered on to waiting buses. Several noted an increased police presence around the plane. At least three saw a black car drive up to the jet.

Those transiting to other destinations, as Snowden supposedly was, passed into the grim halls of Terminal F, a crumbling Soviet-era wing in stark contrast to the rest of the airport's shiny new structures. No passengers said they saw the man whose face had flooded TV screens and front pages for days. He didn't exit with the rest of them.

Reporters rushed to the airport and camped out for days but the trail had gone blank. Snowden was nowhere to be seen – not in its dining halls or VIP lounges, at an on-site hotel or the public transit area.

Ecuadorian diplomats arrived at Sheremetyevo late on Sunday afternoon, but they too did not know where to find him. The country's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said later that day that Snowden had applied for political asylum.

The next day, Snowden was registered on a flight to Cuba and then onwards to Venezuela, but he never showed up.

Russian officials finally broke their silence on Tuesday, with the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, diplomatically saying that Snowden "hasn't crossed the Russian border". Many took it as a denial of Snowden's presence in Russia, failing to grasp Lavrov's – and the Kremlin's – love of wordplay.

Hours later, during a visit to Finland, Vladimir Putin said Snowden was indeed in Sheremetyevo's transit zone. Russia would never give him up, he said, praising his role as a human rights activist. He denied that Russia's spy agencies were working with the whistleblower.

For many that was hard to believe, considering Putin's growing animosity with the United States and the fact that Snowden was clearly hiding, or being hidden by someone.

Amid intense US lobbying, Ecuadorean support for Snowden began to fade. Late on Sunday night, Harrison approached the consular office in Sheremetyevo's Terminal F carrying a request for political asylum in Russia.

The consular officer on duty, Kim Shevchenko, accepted it and called the foreign ministry. They sent a courier over one hour later and are now studying the request. Putin said on Monday that Snowden would have to stop "harming" the US if he hoped to stay in Russia, the first public admission that Snowden could stay in Russia for ever. Whether by chance or design, Snowden now seems ever more likely to remain in Russia, something sure to infuriate the United States.

"It wasn't the plan to get him and to use him," said Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign policy analyst. "For Russia, of course, the best scenario would be if he left for a third country but there is no country that seems eager to get him. Since there is no alternative, maybe he will stay."


Edward Snowden's statement released through WikiLeaks – full text

The NSA whistleblower, currently in Moscow, has released a statement through the freedom of information group WikiLeaks

Edward Snowden, Monday 1 July 2013 23.35 BST   

Full text of a statement released by Edward Snowden through Wikileaks

Statement from Edward Snowden in Moscow

Monday July 1, 21:40 UTC

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised – and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

Edward Joseph Snowden

Monday 1st July 2013


Rafael Correa not considering Snowden asylum: helping him was a 'mistake'

Ecuador's president reveals travel pass was granted 'without authorisation' and says whistleblower is now Russia's problem

Rory Carroll in Quito, Tuesday 2 July 2013 02.44 BST   

Ecuador is not considering Edward Snowden's asylum request and never intended to facilitate his flight from Hong Kong, president Rafael Correa said as the whistleblower made a personal plea to Quito for his case to be heard.

Snowden was Russia's responsibility and would have to reach Ecuadorean territory before the country would consider any asylum request, the president said in an interview with the Guardian on Monday.

"Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It's not logical. The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia."

The president, speaking at the presidential palace in Quito, said his government did not intentionally help Snowden travel from Hong Kong to Moscow with a temporary travel pass. "It was a mistake on our part," he added.

Asked if he thought the former NSA contractor would ever make it to Quito, he replied: "Mr Snowden's situation is very complicated, but in this moment he is in Russian territory and these are decisions for the Russian authorities."

On whether Correa would like to meet him, the president said: "Not particularly. He's a very complicated person. Strictly speaking, Mr Snowden spied for some time."

The comments contrasted with expressions of gratitude the 30-year-old fugitive issued hours later, before Correa's views had been published.

"I must express my deep respect for your principles and sincere thanks for your government's action in considering my request for political asylum," Snowden said, according to a letter written in Spanish and obtained by the Press Association news agency, based in London.

"There are few world leaders who would risk standing for the human rights of an individual against the most powerful government on earth, and the bravery of Ecuador and its people is an example to the world."

Snowden compared the silence of governments afraid of US retaliation with Ecuador's help in his flight to Moscow on 22 June. A temporary Ecuadorean travel document substituted for his cancelled US passport.

"The decisive action of your consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, guaranteed my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong – I could never have risked travel without that. Now, as a result, and through the continued support of your government, I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest."

The letter will boost Ecuador's reputation with Snowden's supporters but sat awkwardly with the president's attempt to distance Quito from the saga. Correa said Quito respected the right of asylum and appreciated Snowden exposing the extent of US spying, but would not consider an asylum request unless he made it to an Ecuadorean embassy or the country itself – a remote possibility while he remains reportedly marooned in Sheremetyevo airport's transit lounge. "He must be on Ecuadorean territory," the president said.

Earlier on Monday, Moscow confirmed that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia. The Los Angeles Times said he had made similar applications to a total of 15 countries. In another statement, issued through by the campaigning website Wikileaks, Snowden attacked President Obama for putting pressure behind the scenes on countries to which he had petitioned for asylum.

In his Guardian interview, Correa said his government had not, and would not, give Snowden an authorised travel document to extract himself from Moscow airport. "The right of asylum request is one thing but helping someone travel from one country to another — Ecuador has never done this. "

He said the temporary travel document issued by his London consul on 22 June – and publicly disowned five days later — was a blunder.

"It was a mistake on our part. Look, this crisis hit us in a very vulnerable moment. Our foreign minister was touring Asia. Our deputy foreign minister was in the Czech Republic. Our US ambassador was in Italy."

Narvaez and the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has sheltered at Ecuador's London embassy for the past year to escape extradition, took matters into their own hands because they feared Snowden risked capture, Correa said.

"The consul, in his desperation, probably he couldn't reach the foreign minister ... and he issued a safe conduct document without validity, without authorisation, without us even knowing."

Correa said the consul was a "cultured" man who cited the example of Ecuadorean diplomats in Czechoslovakia giving Jews visas in defiance of their foreign ministry during the second world war.

"Look, he [Assange] is in the embassy, he's a friend of the consul, and he calls him at four in the morning to say they are going to capture Snowden. The [consul] is desperate – 'how are we going to save the life of this man?' – and does it.

"So I told him: OK, if you think you did the right thing, I respect your decision, but you could not give, without authorisation, that safe conduct pass. It was completely invalid, and he will have to accept the consequences."

Narvaez would be "sanctioned", the president said, without elaborating.

Some Ecuadorean diplomats have complained that Assange appeared to usurp Quito but the president said there was no rupture. "Mr Assange continues to enjoy our total respect and is under the protection of the Ecuadorean state."

Correa, a standard bearer for the left in Latin America, has joined European and other Latin Americans leaders in denouncing US espionage.

However he softened his tone over the weekend and praised vice-president Joe Biden for a gracious phone call, saying he would consider Washington's request to refuse any asylum claim from Snowden while retaining Ecuador's sovereignty.


Edward Snowden withdraws Russian asylum request

NSA whistleblower withdraws asylum request after Putin says he could stay only if he stopped harming US interests

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Tuesday 2 July 2013 10.20 BST   

Edward Snowden has withdrawn his request for political asylum from Russia, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, further adding to the uncertainty over the US whistleblower's future.

A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said Snowden withdrew the request after Putin's statement making clear that he would be welcome only if he stopped "his work aimed at bringing harm" to the United States.

"Snowden really asked to remain in Russia," Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman, said. "Learning yesterday of Russia's position… he abandoned his intentions and his request to get the possibility to stay in Russia."

Russia has refused to hand over Snowden, charged under espionage laws in the US after leaking top-secret documents on US surveillance programmes. He has been kept hidden away since 23 June, when he landed in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport from Hong Kong.

His attempts to win asylum have been fraught with difficulty. Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, told the Guardian that his country, whose London embassy is sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was not considering Snowden's asylum request.

He also said Ecuador never intended to facilitate Snowden's flight from Hong Kong, calling his London consul's decision to issue temporary travel documents to Snowden "a mistake".

Speaking to Reuters in Moscow on Tuesday on the second day of a two-day visit, Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, said Snowden "deserves the world's protection".

He said Venezuela had not yet received an asylum request from Snowden. Asked whether he would take Snowden back to Venezuela with him, Maduro answered wryly: "What we're taking with us are multiple agreements that we're signing with Russia, including oil and gas." But he added his support for the US whistleblower: "Edward Snowden is a 29-year-old young, brave man who didn't kill anyone, didn't give any reason for the start of war," Russian news agencies cited Maduro as saying.

A WikiLeaks statement released early on Tuesday said that in addition to Ecuador and Iceland, Snowden had made asylum requests to 19 countries, including Venezuela, China, Bolivia, France and Germany.

Maduro said Venezuela would examine the asylum request once it was received. "We think this young person has done something very important for humanity, has done a favour to humanity, has spoken great truths to deconstruct a world… that is controlled by an imperialist American elite," he said.

At least two countries where Snowden requested asylum have said they will not cooperate. Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, said that Snowden's request did "not meet the requirements for a formal application for asylum. Even if it did, I will not give a positive recommendation."

Finland said on Tuesday that it could not accept his application as Finnish law required him to be in the country. Finnish foreign ministry spokeswoman Tytti Pylkko said that Snowden had sent his request by fax to Finland's embassy in Moscow.

Peskov did not detail how Snowden withdrew his asylum request from Russia. The request was handed to a Russian consular official at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday via Snowden's WikiLeaks handler, Sarah Harrison.

In an awkwardly phrased statement released via WikiLeaks late on Monday, Snowden accused the Obama administration of "using citizenship as a weapon" and placing undue pressure on countries where he had applied for asylum.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Tuesday. Lavrov told reporters that the two did not discuss Snowden.

• According to WikiLeaks, Snowden has requested asylum from Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Venezuela.


July 2, 2013

Venezuela Defends Snowden but Hedges on Offering Sanctuary


MOSCOW — President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said Tuesday that he had not yet received an application for political asylum from Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who is on the run from the American authorities, and that he would not use his plane to ferry Mr. Snowden to Caracas.

Still, Mr. Maduro, who is visiting Moscow, seemed to hold out the possibility that Venezuela might ultimately agree to shelter Mr. Snowden. Speaking to legislators and reporters at the Russian Parliament, Mr. Maduro said that Mr. Snowden deserved protection under international law.

“He did not kill anyone and he did not plant a bomb,” Mr. Maduro said, according to Russian news services. “He only said a big truth to prevent wars.”

As an international oil and gas forum convened here on Monday, there had been speculation that President Vladimir V. Putin and Mr. Maduro would use the opportunity to negotiate terms for Mr. Snowden to leave the transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he arrived from Hong Kong nine days ago.

He had apparently intended to board a connecting flight headed for Latin America. In the interim, the United States announced that his American passport had been revoked, leaving him in a geopolitical limbo, stripped of any valid travel document and unable to leave the transit zone.

Russia enjoys warm ties with Venezuela, a major arms customer and energy partner, which sees the alliance as a way of countering the United States’ influence in Latin America.

The newspaper Izvestia speculated Monday that Mr. Maduro could spirit Mr. Snowden away on his presidential plane when he leaves Russia on Tuesday, arranging to take off from Sheremetyevo instead of a government facility at Vnukovo Airport. But at a news conference on Monday, Mr. Putin responded blankly to that theory.

“As to the possible departure of Mr. Snowden with some official delegation,” he said, “I know nothing.”

Even as Mr. Maduro seemed to hedge about Venezuela’s intentions, a spokesman for Mr. Putin confirmed that Mr. Snowden on Monday had submitted asylum requests to 15 countries. The spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, however, said that Mr. Snowden had rescinded his request for asylum in Russia.

“He has abandoned his intention and his request for the opportunity to remain in Russia,” Mr. Peskov said on a conference call with a small group of reporters in Moscow. At the same time, however, Mr. Peskov reiterated that Russia had no intention of extraditing Mr. Snowden to the United States, where the death penalty is a possibility for him if he is convicted.

On Monday, Kim N. Shevchenko, the Russian consul at Sheremetyevo Airport, said that Mr. Snowden’s traveling companion had hand-delivered an asylum request to the consular office in Terminal F of the airport, and that it had been passed on to the Foreign Ministry.

The request had threatened to deeply complicate Russia’s position in Mr. Snowden’s case, potentially making it impossible to maintain the mostly neutral position that Mr. Putin has sought to stake out since Mr. Snowden landed in Moscow.

The Russian Constitution gives the president direct authority over asylum requests.

At his news conference on Monday, Mr. Putin tried to thread the needle, saying Mr. Snowden was welcome to stay in Russia as long as he stopped publishing classified documents that hurt the United States’ interests. He went on to acknowledge that this was unlikely to happen.

“If he wants to go somewhere and they accept him, please, be my guest,” Mr. Putin said. “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners, as strange as it may sound from my lips.”

He added, “Because he sees himself as a human-rights activist and a freedom fighter for people’s rights, apparently he is not intending to cease this work. So he must choose for himself a country to go to, and where to move. When that will happen, I unfortunately don’t know.”

Mr. Putin’s comments reflected an increasingly sober view of the outcome if Mr. Snowden remains in Russia. For the second time, he took pains to say that Mr. Snowden had not been recruited by Russian intelligence — an impression that could corrode Mr. Snowden’s image as a truth-teller and drive away some supporters.

“He sees himself not as a former agent of a special service but as a fighter for human rights, a sort of a new dissident, someone similar to Sakharov, on a different scale, though,” Mr. Putin said. “But nevertheless, at his core he is a fighter for human rights, for democracy.” The reference was to the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

While Mr. Snowden remains at Sheremetyevo, the United States has engaged an array of countries that have considered granting him asylum, making clear that doing so would carry big costs.

Ecuador, the country that is sheltering the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has distanced itself, with top officials saying that it could take as long as two months to process Mr. Snowden’s asylum request and that Russia bore most responsibility for his fate.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman said as recently as Sunday that Mr. Snowden’s case “was not one on the Kremlin’s agenda,” noting that Sheremetyevo’s transit zone is legally not the part of territory of the Russian Federation.

“Snowden himself is in a pretty difficult situation,” said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “I think he was following Assange’s advice trying to get to Ecuador, but then Ecuador, and, indirectly, Cuba, have failed him. I think Venezuela is talking to the U.S. as well. The U.S. can offer things to Venezuela.”

Mr. Snowden’s application for asylum could make it difficult for the Kremlin to remain neutral, especially since the case has become a primary topic for public discussion in Russia over the last several days.

A parade of public figures — including human rights activists, pro-Kremlin figures, Communists, nationalists and parliamentarians — have made statements in favor of granting him asylum. As anchors read reports on Mr. Snowden’s case on a popular news program Monday night, a vivid blue-and-red backdrop read “Betray Snowden — Betray Freedom” and showed President Obama wearing headphones, a visual reference to the surveillance programs Mr. Snowden has revealed.

“To be honest, I can’t see any problem there,” Ivan Melnikov, one of the leaders of Russia’s Communist Party, told Interfax. “If the problem is hysterics from the United States, they ought to remember that, historically speaking, granting political asylum to figures like Snowden is normal historical practice, and there’s no reason for Russia to be embarrassed and drop out.”

At a round table on Monday, a prominent leader of United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, said Mr. Snowden “has done no less to win the Nobel Prize than Barack Obama.” Kirill Kabanov, a member of the presidential human rights council, described Mr. Snowden as a man who “tried to save the world.”

Sergei A. Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst, said that if Mr. Snowden received asylum, he could acquire a Russian transit document and leave the country, or else remain in the country as a public figure, which he said would be “very good for public relations, he will be like Gérard Depardieu.” Mr. Depardieu, the French actor, sought Russian citizenship to avoid taxes in his home country.

Mr. Markov said Russian leaders had spent several days weighing their options and taking a measure of domestic public opinion. The result, he said, was “more or less consensus over this issue.”

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07/01/2013 06:27 PM

'No Longer in the Cold War': Merkel Infuriated by US Spying

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has compared US spying to Cold War tactics and Brussels wants EU facilities checked for American eavesdropping equipment. Concern is growing the scandal could seriously damage trans-Atlantic relations.

The German government reacted strongly on Monday to media reports that the United States has spent years spying on the European Union and on specific European countries. Meanwhile, European Union leaders have both reviled the US for allegedly bugging EU diplomatic missions in Washington, DC, and New York and ordered that bloc facilities be searched for American eavesdropping equipment.

"The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday through her spokesman Steffen Seibert. "We are no longer in the Cold War." Seibert said that Merkel had already communicated her displeasure to the US. "Trust has to be the basis of our cooperation," Seibert said. "When it comes to this affair, trust has to be re-established."

In addition, Germany's Foreign Ministry is performing a check on the security of its communications with embassies abroad while the Interior Ministry in Berlin is undertaking an examination of the safety of communication channels used by the German government.

The reactions are the clearest indication yet that Berlin and Brussels are taking reports seriously that the American intelligence service National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the EU and collected vast quantities of data from German citizens.

SPIEGEL reported on the surveillance over the weekend after having seen secret documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is just the latest in a series of allegations made by Snowden regarding the vast reach of US intelligence. In addition, the Guardian has reported that the NSA spied on several European countries, including France, Greece and Italy, in addition to other overseas allies.

'A Great Deal of Unrest'

Europeans are deeply unsettled as a consequence. "We expect rapid clarification from our American partners," said a spokeswoman for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. "Of course we are worried, because if the allegations are true, it would create a great deal of unrest."

EU diplomats, with the active involvement of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, spent much of Monday coming up with a joint response and reaction to the possible US spying. According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Westerwelle spoke at length with Catherine Ashton, chief of EU foreign affairs, on Monday. "Both were in agreement that such activity among partners and friends in unacceptable," the statement read.

Ashton, who is in Brunei for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), addressed the spying allegations with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of that meeting on Monday. In comments to reporters in Brunei, Kerry appeared to play down the allegations. "I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contribute to that," Kerry told journalists there. "All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations."

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry called in US Ambassador Philip Murphy on Monday for consultations. Brussels likewise called in the US ambassador to the European Union, William Kennard.

'A Touchy Issue'

French President François Hollande also voiced his anger at allegations published by the Guardian that Paris had been a target of US surveillance and spying activities. "We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies," Hollande said. "We ask that this stop immediately." Italian President Giorgio Napolitano added that "this is a touchy issue that requires satisfactory answers."

Beyond the sharp words, however, are concerns that the spying allegations could result in an immediate worsening of trans-Atlantic relations and perhaps even have negative consequences for negotiations over the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement which started last month. Several diplomats have suggested that talks should be suspended temporarily, including European Commissioner Viviane Reding on Sunday.

On Monday, German Consumer Affairs Minster Ilse Aigner expressed her own concern, telling SPIEGEL ONLINE that "we need better protection of private date, not more state surveillance. Otherwise, a free trade agreement makes no sense." European Parliament President Martin Schulz also indicated on Monday that the free trade agreement was in danger. "As a European and a representative of a European institution, I feel treated like the representative of the enemy. Is this the basis for a constructive relationship ...? I think not." He also compared the NSA activities to those undertaken by the Soviet intelligence agency KGB during the Cold War.

Schulz has also called a meeting of representatives of all the party groups represented at the European Parliament to discuss the wording of a potential EU resolution in response to the spying allegations. The Green Party in the European Parliament is calling for the EU lawmaking body to demand that the Commission examine possible legal action against the United Kingdom and the US relating to the surveillance and spying. Others are demanding the immediate creation of a parliamentary investigative committee at the EU level.

Merkels' unusually sharp words seem to have opened the gates for more reactions from her cabinet in Berlin. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich in particular seemed eager to reverse earlier comments he had made about Prism in which he said that critics of US Internet surveillance were action out of a "mixture of anti-Americanism and naiveté."

Obama to Provide Information

On Monday, he changed his tune. "If suspicions are confirmed, it would be a burden on the trust between the EU and the US," he told German newsmagazine Focus. "An apology would be unavoidable," he added.

German Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, who is also Merkel's vice chancellor, likewise vented his anger on Monday. "The energetic collection of data that we currently see from our partners in European and abroad is outrageous," he told reporters in Frankfurt. "We have understanding for combating terrorism," he added, but not for "aimless, indiscriminate and unrestrained spying on citizens."

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger commented on the allegations of US spying on Sunday.

The US, meanwhile, is biding its time. US President Obama said on Monday in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that his government is still looking at the revelations published in SPIEGEL. He said that once that examination is complete, the US will provide its allies with all of the information they are seeking.

With reporting by Veit Medick, Annett Meiritz and Philipp Wittrock


07/01/2013 02:58 PM

Friends or Foes?: Berlin Must Protect Germans from US Spying

A Commentary by Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark

The German government has failed to protect the public from the NSA's surveillance program and should be held accountable. On both a national and an EU level, there needs to be an independent investigation into the scandal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally got around to commenting on Monday, two days after SPIEGEL reported that the NSA has been storing and evaluating data from around half a billion communications connections in Germany each month. Her reaction, to be sure, was harsh. "The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated. We're no longer in the Cold War," she said through her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

But the dimensions of US data surveillance -- and the fact that much of that data was collected in Europe -- have been generally known for weeks, as a result of documents made public by Edward Snowden. Yet when US President Barack Obama visited Berlin in June, the Chancellor merely asked a few polite questions. That was it.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich also appeared to be trying to make up for lost time on Monday, demanding an apology from the US in an interview with the news magazine Focus. "If the reports are confirmed, it would be a burden on the trust between the EU and the US," he said.

It took a while for the full dimensions of Snowden's allegations to sink in with Germany's politicians. And yet Snowden himself uttered the key allegation three weeks ago. "Any NSA analyst at any time can target anyone," he said, "from a federal judge to the president." All that's needed is an email address. Thanks to Snowden, Germans now know that this happens on a vast scale, even in their own country.

The US government points to the war on terror to justify its surveillance activities. In order to effectively tackle international terrorism, so goes the rhetoric, much has to be allowed -- all in the name of protecting the West. As Obama says: "You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience."

"Information Superiority"

Now that Snowden has afforded the world a glimpse of the inner workings of the NSA, it has become clear that Obama is, at best, telling only a small portion of the truth. With evidence indicating that the NSA bugged EU offices and summits in Brussels attended by world leaders, the fight on terror is no longer a valid excuse. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz don't seriously pose a threat to anyone.

The Americans' colossal spying operation smacks of totalitarianism. SPIEGEL has viewed an internal NSA presentation which lays out a vision of "Information Superiority": a worldwide dominance of information networks. This vision was drawn up several years ago and it seems safe to assume that the US has come a significant step closer to implementing it since then. In it, the NSA openly refers to Germany as both a friend and a foe. "We can, and often do, target the signals of most third party foreign partners," it boasts.

The NSA's totalitarian ambition regarding information-gathering does not affect just states and authorities. It does not affect just businesses. It affects us all. It even affects those who think they have nothing to hide.

A constitutional state cannot allow it. None of us can allow it.

It's worth taking a close look at Germany's constitution, the Basic Law. "Privacy of letters, posts, and telecommunications shall be inviolable," it states in Article 10.

When it comes to correspondence, the private sphere was even a top priority for those who drafted Germany's constitution. The US should be able to understand this. Amendments to the US Constitution, such as the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are treated as inviolable legal rights.

Protecting them is now the challenge facing the chancellor. And she has leverage. With talks on an EU-US free trade agreement getting underway, she could make it clear to Obama that such a deal is contingent on whether the NSA practices are investigated and stopped.

Merkel, Friedrich and the rest of the German government have a political mandate to protect the public, defend the German constitution and to guarantee German sovereignty. If they fail in this task, they don't deserve to be re-elected this September.


But there might be another reason why Berlin has been reluctant about raising its voice. German authorities could well know more than they are letting on. It is hard to imagine that the NSA acted without the involvement of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Rumors persist that the US coordinated at least part of their surveillance program on German soil with German authorities. Germany's collusion would go some way to explaining how half a billion of its communications connections each month ended up in the NSA's internal "Boundless Informant" system. Thus far, the BND has vehemently denied to SPIEGEL that it supplied any raw data.

It is high time to put the matter in independent hands. On a European level, this would take the form of an international investigation committee tasked with shedding light on just what the NSA was doing on EU territory and against the EU itself, and also on the extent that national intelligence agencies may or may not have been cooperating. The whole process would also serve as an acid test of where today's Europe stands on domestic and legal policy. This is an unprecedented scandal on a trans-national scale. National borders and laws apply only to a limited extent.

In Germany, the latter are decided by the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. In March 2010, when it ruled that a law allowing the mass storage of private records breached Germany's constitution, it proved that it understands where to draw the line between security and freedom.

This is the very same private data -- which Germany's high court says cannot be stored -- that the NSA has been collecting. If the BND is telling the truth and never agreed to the NSA's spying activities, the ball would be in federal public prosecutors' court, as it would whenever a foreign intelligence service engaged in non-approved practices. Just imagine what would happen if Russian or Chinese intelligence services were found to be hoarding vast amounts of data from Germany every month. An army of investigators would hunt down the spies. It would be a first-class scandal, and rightly so.

The NSA is striving for "Information Superiority." What any constitutional state must now strive for is "Information Sovereignty" -- a return to self-determination and its basic right to decide itself what happens to its data. Edward Snowden's allegations can help this happen. They are in the public interest. In a video interview, he made a statement explaining why he became a whistleblower. "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said.


Barack Obama seeks to limit EU fallout over US spying claims

President says NSA will assess espionage allegations as France and Germany demand answers and warn of delay to trade talks

Ian Traynor in Brussels and Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 July 2013   

Link to video: Barack Obama seeks to soothe relations with EU over NSA spying

Barack Obama has sought to limit the damage from the growing transatlantic espionage row after Germany and France denounced the major snooping activities of US agencies and warned of a possible delay in the launch next week of ambitious free-trade talks between Europe and the US.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that US agencies bugged European embassies and offices. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday.

Hollande went further, indicating the talks could be called off unless the alleged spying was stopped immediately and US guarantees were provided.

The diplomatic row came as Edward Snowden – the fugitive National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, who faces espionage charges in the US and is holed up in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport – applied for asylum in Russia. Snowden used his first public statement to attack the US for revoking his passport and accused it of bullying countries that might grant him asylum.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said on Monday: "If he wants to go somewhere and someone will take him, go ahead. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition – he must stop his work aimed at bringing harm to our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth.

"Russia never gives anyone up and doesn't plan to give anyone up. And no one has ever given us anyone."

As Washington desperately sought to contain the diplomatic fallout from the bugging controversy, Obama acknowledged the damage done by the revelations and said the NSA would evaluate the claims and inform allies about the allegations.

After the Guardian's disclosure that US agencies were secretly bugging the French embassy in Washington and France's office at the UN in New York, Hollande called for an immediate halt to the alleged spying.

"We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies," he said. "We ask that this stop immediately … There can be no negotiations or transactions in all areas until we have obtained these guarantees, for France but also for all of the European Union … We know well that there are systems that have to be checked, especially to fight terrorism, but I don't think that it is in our embassies or in the European Union that this threat exists."

Merkel delivered her severest warning yet on the NSA debacle. "We are no longer in the cold war," her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said. "If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable."

Seibert said Berlin was keen on the trade talks with Washington, but qualified that support: "Mutual trust is necessary in order to come to an agreement."

While Obama sought to defuse the tension amid growing anger in Europe, he also said the US agencies were simply behaving in the same way as other intelligence organisations everywhere. "Not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there's an intelligence service – here's one thing that they're going to be doing: they're going to be trying to understand the world better and what's going on in world capitals around the world," the US president said in Tanzania.

Obama sought to reassure fellow world leaders that the scale of US espionage against friendly nations did not signify a lack of trust.

The Europeans received their first opportunity to demand answers from the top level of the Obama administration about the alleged massive scale of US spying on its EU allies when Lady Ashton and John Kerry met in Brunei. On Sunday she demanded prompt US clarification over the veracity of the media reports.

Kerry, the US secretary of state, delivered a low-key response to the growing European clamour for answers, saying the NSA activities were not unusual. "Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that," he said. "All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations."

A sense of outrage gathered momentum across Europe at the reports that US agencies were bugging and tapping EU offices in Washington and New York, as well as the embassies of several EU member states. The European commission said it had ordered a security sweep of EU buildings following the bugging disclosures. José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, had "instructed the competent commission services to proceed to a comprehensive … security sweep and check," a spokeswoman said.

The push for clear answers from the Americans threatened to derail the long-awaited talks on a transatlantic pact between the US and the EU to create the world's biggest free-trade area.

"This is a topic that could affect relations between Europe and the US," said the French trade minister, Nicole Bricq. "We must absolutely re-establish confidence … it will be difficult to conduct these extremely important negotiations."

"Washington is shooting itself in the foot," said Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

"Declaring the EU offices to be a legitimate attack target is more than the unfriendly act of a machine that knows no bounds and may be out of the control of politics and the courts."

A front-page editorial in Le Monde charged the Americans with very bad behaviour.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, likened the NSA to the Soviet-era KGB and indirectly suggested a delay in the talks. Greens in the European parliament, as well as in France and Germany, called for the conference to be postponed pending an investigation of the allegations. They also called for the freezing of other data-sharing deals between the EU and the US, on air transport passengers and banking transactions, for example, and called for the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, to be granted political asylum in Europe. French Greens asked Hollande to grant Snowden asylum in France.

Schulz said: "I feel treated as a European and a representative of a European institution like the representative of the enemy. Is this the basis for a constructive relationship on the basis of mutual trust? I think no."

"It is shocking that the United States take measures against their most important and nearest allies, comparable to measures taken in the past by the KGB, by the secret service of the Soviet Union."

While the anger is broad and growing across Europe, it is particularly intense in Germany which, according to Snowden's revelations, is by far the main target within the EU of the NSA's Prism programme sweeping up metadata en masse, capturing and storing it.

Given the high sensitivity of data-privacy issues in Germany, the scandal could test Merkel and force her on to the offensive against the Americans as she seeks to win a third term in general elections 11 weeks away.

The opposition Social Democrats in Berlin demanded action from Merkel, but left her scope to cut a deal that would allow some snooping and data exchanges. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrats leader in the German parliament, said the chancellor had to insist "the mania for data collection be palpably limited".

The Germans are also incensed at the British over GCHQ's Tempora programme which is gathering electronic information from across Europe.

The Germans were given their first proper opportunity to be briefed by the British on Monday afternoon, according to Der Spiegel. London has called a video conference with the Germans at the British embassy in Berlin. The Germans are sending intelligence officers, diplomats, and officials from the interior and justice ministries to take part, the news magazine reported.

Germany's federal prosecutor's office has also opened inquiries into the NSA debacle, with a view to establishing whether German laws have been breached.


Intelligence chief James Clapper apologizes to Congress for ‘erroneous’ NSA claims

By Dan Roberts, The Guardian
Monday, July 1, 2013 21:31 EDT

The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has attempted to head off criticism that he lied to Congress over the extent of government surveillance on American citizens, with a letter to senators in which he apologised for giving “erroneous” information.

Two weeks after telling NBC news that he gave the “least untruthful answer possible” at a hearing in March, Clapper wrote to the Senate intelligence committee to correct his response to a question about whether the National Security Agency “collected data on millions of Americans”.

During the orginal hearing on 12 March, Clapper answered “no, sir,” to a question by Senator Ron Wyden. It emerged later that Wyden had given him 24 hours notice of the question, and after the session ended, offered him an opportunity to correct it, which was declined.

After disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden detailing the collection of millions of American phone records, pressure grew on Clapper to clarify his remarks. In an interview with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, portions of which were first broadcast on 9 June, after Snowden’s leaks first emerged in the Guardian, Clapper explained the apparent inconsistency as a ploy to avoid revealing classified information.

On 18 June, Republican senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, accused Clapper directly of lying, pointed out that lying on oath to Congress was a crime, and questioned whether he could continue in his position.

According to the latest revelation in the Washington Post on Monday, Clapper wrote to the Senate intelligence committee on 21 June, when he admitted directly that his answer was wrong. “My response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize,” Clapper said in the letter.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to requests by the Guardian to confirm the contents of the letter.

In his MSNBC interview, Clapper said he believed Wyden’s question was unfair, akin to asking him when he was going to stop beating his wife. “So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying no,” Clapper said.

In the later letter to the intelligence committee, Clapper acknowleded the “heated controversy” over his remark, and said he had misunderstood the original question. “I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time,” Clapper said in the letter, according to the Washington Post.

The question was posed by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who grew frustrated that he could not get a “direct answer” from Clapper about a question Wyden said he had been posing to the intelligence agencies in a series of letters for a year: when do US spies need a warrant to surveil Americans’ communications?

“What I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question: does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Wyden asked Clapper.

He responded: “No, sir, not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”

Last week Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, led a bi-partisan group of 26 senators who wrote to Clapper to complain that the administration is relying on a “secret body of law” to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.

The senators, including four Republicans, also accused intelligence chiefs of making a number of misleading statements which prevented proper public debate on the subject.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” they said.

“This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.” © Guardian News and Media 2013
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Young, qualified and jobless: plight of Europe's best-educated generation

Twentysomethings missing out on the homes, pensions, independence and confidence that come with steady employment

Jon Henley in Thessaloniki, Bologna and Málaga
The Guardian, Monday 1 July 2013 17.43 BST   

"All your life," says Argyro Paraskeva, "you've been told you're a golden prince. The future awaits: it's bright, it's yours. You have a degree! You'll have a good job, a fine life. And then suddenly you find it's not true."

Or not so suddenly. Paraskeva left Thessaloniki University five years ago with an MSc in molecular biology. Beyond some private tutoring, paid essay writing ("I'm not proud. But a 50-page essay is €150") and a short unhappy spell in a medical laboratory, she hasn't worked since.

Over cold tea in a sunlit cafe in Greece's second city, Paraskeva says she has written "literally hundreds of letters". Every few months, a new round: schools, labs, hospitals, clinics, companies. She delivers them by hand, around the region. She's had three interviews. "I will go anywhere, really anywhere," she says. "I no longer have the luxury of believing I have a choice. If someone wants a teacher, I will go. If they want a secretary, I will go. If they want a lab assistant, I will go."

So would countless other young Europeans. According to data out on Monday more than 5.5 million under-25s are without work, and the number rises inexorably every month. It's been called the "lost generation", a legion of young, often highly qualified people, entering a so-called job market that offers very few any hope of a job – let alone the kind they have been educated for.

European leaders are rarely without a new initiative. Last week, they pledged to spend €6bn (£5bn) over two years to fund job creation, training and apprenticeships for young people in an attempt to counter a scourge that has attained historic proportions. This week, Angela Merkel is convening a jobs summit to address the issue. Yet still the numbers mount up. In Greece, 59.2% of under-25s are out of work. In Spain, youth unemployment stands at 56.5%; in Italy, it hovers around 40%.
Euro jobless

Some commentators say the figures overstate the problem: young people in full-time education or training (a large proportion, obviously) are not considered "economically active" and so in some countries are counted as unemployed. That, they say, produces an exaggerated youth unemployment rate.

But others point out Europe's "economically inactive" now include millions of young people (14 million, according to the French president, François Hollande) not in work, education or training but who, while technically not unemployed, are nonetheless jobless – and have all but given up looking, at least in their own country. Millions more are on low-paying, temporary contracts. By most measures, the situation is dire.

In the words of Enrico Giovannini, Italy's employment minister, this is a disaster all the more shocking because it is hitting Europe's best-educated generation: in Spain, nearly 40% of people in their 20s and early 30s have degrees; in Greece it's 30%; in Italy, more than 20%.

The crisis is even more acute because of its knock-on impact: these are often young people with no pensions, no social security contributions, diminishing networks, limited opportunities for independence. High youth unemployment doesn't just mean social problems and productivity wasted; it means falling birthrates and intergenerational tension between parents and their thirtysomethings still living at home. "A wholesale destruction," a Bologna University professor says, "of human capital".

In the first three months of last year, Paraskeva earned €300. Then nothing for four months, then €250 more, then nothing again. She spends "€30 a week, max, mostly my parents' money". She is not entitled to unemployment benefit because what little work she has done has mostly been on the black market. So at 29, she's back living at home with her parents. Her mother has rheumatoid arthritis, her father is on dialysis – but both, thankfully, still have their jobs as teachers. And their health insurance.

As a registered jobseeker, Paraskeva gets a few discounts, and free screenings at Thessaloniki's film festivals. She goes to classes for the jobless: art, fantasy fiction, French. She sees friends (though most of her classmates have gone abroad; she might too, next year, a funded PhD in the United States). She collects her parents' prescriptions. She reads, a lot.

"You have to find a routine," she says. "You need a routine. And to meet other people like you, that's really important. To understand that it's not your fault, you've done nothing wrong, that everyone's in the same boat." But still, some mornings "you wake up and there's … no meaning to getting out of bed".

Sporadically, this overwhelming frustration boils over into anger on the streets: the indignados of Spain, the near-riots that have scarred Athens in recent months, the great movement of Portuguese protesters that forced the government into an embarrassing U-turn last year. This month, thousands marched in Rome to demand action on record unemployment.

But in between times, young people are just as likely to respond to their predicament with a mixture of gloom and resignation.

Vasilis Stolis, 27, has a master's in political science and – apart from odd evenings playing the bouzouki in restaurants until the work dried up – has been unemployed since 2010. "Sometimes, I'm not going to lie, it feels really bad," he says. Stolis lives in a flat belonging to his grandfather. His parents, other family members, "anyone who still has an income, basically", chip in to help with the €350-odd a month he lives on. "It's frankly miserable, sometimes," he says. "You pay the bills. You go out with a girl you like, you can buy just one drink. No cinema. No holidays."

If most of these young people in the worst-affected states – Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal – are getting by, it must be at least partly thanks to some remarkably resilient, close-knit families. Many are still at home, or living – like Vasilis – in places owned by a relative, and with the help of parental handouts.

"The family," says Andrea Pareschi, 21, a political sciences graduate from Bologna, "has become the primary social security system." (That's while wages, pensions and benefits hold up, of course; in Greece at least, both – certainly in the public sector – are shrinking fairly fast. Stolis's father, who works for the health service, has seen his salary slashed from €2,500 to €1,500 a month.)

One way of postponing the issue is to prolong your studies. "As long as you're studying, you have something to do," says Sylvia Melchiorre, 26, who graduated from Bologna, Italy's oldest university, spent 12 months as an au pair in Paris, and has come back to do two more years of languages and literature.
Daniele Bitetti and Sylvia Melchiorre Daniele Bitetti and Sylvia Melchiorre, from Puglia, are both unable to find work. Melchiorre has returned to her studies and her boyfriend may soon do the same.

Her boyfriend, Daniele Bitetti, also 26, will apply for a PhD in human geography unless he finds a job soon. The couple, from Puglia, pay €300 rent plus bills for their apartment – helped by their parents who send each some €600 a month.

"Studying at least makes you feel that you're not doing nothing," says Melchiorre. "You do three years, then a couple more, and then – my God, what next? A master's, a PhD … and never a job at the end of it."

Others are simply packing up and leaving: this crisis is seeing young Europeans emigrate in unprecedented numbers. More than 120,000 recently qualified doctors, engineers, IT professionals and scientists – half with second degrees – have left Greece since 2010, a University of Thessaloniki study found this year.

"It's a terrible loss for this country," says Sofia Papadimitriou, who is applying to study bioinformatics in the Netherlands next year. "It trains all these brains, and they all leave. The government says the future will be different; they will come back. I'm not so sure."

In previous decades – after the second world war, in the 1960s and 70s – Italian emigrants were mainly unskilled workers, fleeing a life of poverty. Last year, emigration from Italy jumped 30%. Half the leavers were aged 20-40, and twice as many as a decade ago had degrees.

In Spain, the employment ministry estimates more than 300,000 people aged under 30 have left the country since the 2008 crash. Some 68% more are seriously considering it, according to a European commission study.

Among them is Lucia Parejo-Bravo, 22, leaving Málaga University next month with a business management degree and the firm intention of finding a job in Germany, where she studied for a year. "Most of my friends have left: to the US, UK, South America, Asia, Scandinavia, Canada," she says. "Staying here means fighting – I mean really fighting – to find a job. If by a miracle you do get one, it's €600 a month. Or less, if they make you work self-employed. They get away with it because there are just so many of us so desperate for work. Germany won't be easy, but at least it will be fair."

Not all are as optimistic as Parejo-Bravo. Spain's particular problem is that of the 1.8 million Spaniards under 30 looking for a job, more than half are poorly qualified. Victims of the burst property bubble, they left school to earn €2,000 a month or more on construction sites and in building supply firms.

Those jobs have now gone, and will not return for many years. But in the meantime, says David Triguero, 27, at Málaga's crowded Playa las Acacias with friends, "we bought nice cars. I bought a flat. Some got married; had kids. My benefits run out in February. I don't see a future. Nothing."

Things do not seem quite so bleak for Victor Portillo Sánchez, but he too does not see his future in Spain. At 31, about to finish his PhD (the EU-funded money has run out), he entertains no hopes of staying in a country "that's closing research centres it opened only five years ago".

Portillo too gets by "with the help of my parents, and on my savings. But it doesn't feel good to be spending your savings at 31." He has failed to find part-time work teaching, and as a waiter and barman.

So after defending his thesis this summer, he'll be off. "Anywhere, it could be," he says. "If you'd told me three years ago I might apply for a job in Sweden, I'd have laughed. Or in Newcastle. I went there once, for a conference."

Are they happy to leave? Three, four, maybe five years abroad, says Portillo: fine. Nice, even. But this feels more like exile. "I don't see there being a job for me in Spain in five years' time," he says. "Nor in 10. Maybe not ever. And that pisses me off. My dad's not in great shape."

This is not an adventure, Portillo says: "Sorry. It's not like a gap year. If it was my choice, then OK. If I'd fallen in love, something like that. But I'm being forced to leave, to look for food. And I may never come back. That worries me."

They have much to worry them, these young people. Now, true, it is summer: in Thessaloniki and Bologna and Málaga the days are long, the sun is shining, the beach beckons. "We're young, you know?" says Melchiorre in Bologna. "We must live for the day. We have friends. Cafes. It could be worse."

But come September, and once a few years have passed, says Vera Martinelli, "you really don't feel so good. I know. I've been there. I'm 33. September is the time of fresh starts, new beginnings. Except for me it won't be."

Martinelli lives with her husband in a flat belonging to her grandad, a former professor. She has a degree in languages and literature, studied at the Sorbonne and in Oxford, did postgraduate work, trained as a teacher, and worked for three years with chronically ill children. Her unemployment benefit ran out in 2011. The couple live on her husband's (recently reduced) salary of €900 a month, and occasional help – "bills, car insurance, that kind of thing" – from family. She wants to do "something useful, that's all. For an NGO, ideally. But actually, at this stage, for anyone. I just want something to do every day."

The worst, she says, is "when people ask, what are you? And I have no answer. Everything seems to have blurred. I'm not a teenager any more: I'm married. I grew up with feminism; I can't say 'I'm a wife'. And I'm not a grown-up, because I don't have a job. I don't know what I am."

What they all do know is that the world they live in has changed, completely. The kind of working lives their parents have enjoyed and are still enjoying, they understand, will not be open to these people: stable, full-time jobs, a pension.

"They could choose from lots of jobs," says Melchiorre. "They could take time to decide. They knew they'd have work for 40 years. Now they know they'll retire, in six or seven years' time. I have no job, and no money, now. Maybe I'll have none in 10 years. Maybe I'll never be able to retire."

For some, this looks quite exciting. "Every generation has its challenges," says a bullish Stefano Onofri, 21, embarking on a master's in international management. "This is ours. This is the world we're in. It's what we've got now. Opportunities don't die, they just change."
Young people in Bologna Stefano Onofri, Caterina Moruzzi, Alessandro Calzolari and Andrea Pareschi, who are likely to have very different working lives to those of their parents.

His friend Alessandro Calzolari, 23, midway through a masters in theoretical physics and looking at a career in nanotechnology, sees clearly that "we will all have to be entrepreneurs, with ourselves. We will be constantly selling ourselves. It is quite exciting. Scary, but exciting."

A few have already started. Riccardo Vastola, 28, studied marketing and communications but founded a music business in 2009, organising indie rock gigs, events, club nights in and around Bologna. It's officially an association at the moment, but next year will hopefully become a company.

"I felt I had to do this," he says. "I had to do something I enjoy and that let me work with other people, create like a little family in my work. That was important to me. I'm not sure I could do a 'classic' job in some big company."

For the moment, it's working: Vastola takes home a bit less than €1,000 a month, enough to live on.
Riccardo Vastola Riccardo Vastola, one of a new breed of entrepreneurs, started a music business in
In Thessaloniki, the same motivation spurred Stolis to set up, an alternative news website, with four friends.

He's not making money. "But it's really important to me," Stolis says. "We're working together. That's hope for the future. I think more and more of us will be like this, doing our own projects. People have got it now. That degree wasn't the key to prestige and security everyone said it was. And not everyone can be doctors or lawyers or engineers."

Konstantis Sevris, a 25-year-old political science graduate in Thessaloniki, had a money-spinning idea: a youth hostel, with rented bikes, in a city with 100,000 students that doesn't have one. "I've tried," he says. "The tourist office told me there was no law in Greece for youth hostels. You can have hotels, or rooms to rent. There's a lot of crazy like this in Greece."

But not everyone is ready for a brave new world. "In Italy at least, they don't teach that mentality," says Calzolari. "They don't create a culture where it becomes possible. In the US, start-ups get launched right after university. Not here."

Most said they were largely happy with the quality of university teaching. And they reject the idea of a strictly utilitarian system, tailoring courses and student numbers to available jobs. "University has to be about developing our minds, too," says Caterina Moruzzi, 22, a philosophy master's student at Bologna. "People should be able to pursue what interests them. What would society be otherwise?"

But many feel universities need to do more to prepare students for a new reality. "We're taught how to think, not how to do," says Pareschi. "University here is about learning, not working," says Calzolari: "There's very little connection with the world of work. Few internships."

And almost all are worried about the longer-term consequences of the working environment they see being sketched out for them: Europe's social systems, they point out, are all built around stable, full-time, long-term jobs.

"So we're out there, building our own brand, for hire," says Portillo in Málaga. "Except nothing's set up for that. Say I go to the US, pay into a private pension fund for 10 years. Then I come back, at 41. The Spanish pension system isn't going to let me opt out. It's going to tell me I have to work 30 years, in Spain, for a pension. How's that work?"

In Bologna, Martinelli feels much the same: "I know I'll never have a job like my mother had, teaching English all her life," she says. "It could be great, lots of jobs. But only if when I'm ill I'm covered, when I'm unemployed I'll be OK, when I'm 75, I'll be able to retire."

No one, Martinelli says, seems to be thinking about that. Just like no one is thinking about the implications, longer term, of her and her 30-something unemployed friends not having babies. Sylvia knows a couple who are putting in PhD application simply because "that's three years' income assured. They could start a family. How wrong, as a situation, is that?"

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« Reply #7252 on: Jul 02, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Jobless Greek youth find innovative ways to make a living

By Helena Smith, The Guardian
Monday, July 1, 2013 13:12 EDT

Greece has the highest percentage of unemployed young people in Europe, but many are finding innovative ways to make a living

Angelos Koulis doesn’t like the term “lost generation” but he accepts that, in theory, he is part of it. Like many young Greeks, the 19-year-old is the first to say his future looked unbearably bleak, bereft of a job or any prospect of work, until he decided to become a break boy.

“I weighed up my options and thought I can sit on my behind or do something I really like,” he says, recalling the moment when he decided breakdancing was the way forward.

“And I’ve never looked back,” he enthuses after a particularly energetic dance on Ermou, Athens’ main shopping boulevard. “On a good day we can earn as much as €60 each. There are six of us so that’s €360. It doesn’t happen often but when it does we’re like ‘wow’ because it’s much more than we could ever get doing anything else.”

Greece’s youth unemployment rate at 64.2% is the highest in Europe. The figures have given way to a crushing recognition that it is the young who are paying hardest for the crisis in Greece. Inevitably, many feel hugely betrayed by a state that in racking up debt to meet short-term policy aims has played havoc with their future.

“No politician told us the truth,” says Eleftheria Rapti who is enrolled at the University of Thessaloniki where she is studying to be a vet.

“They waited until the very last minute to tell us that Greece wasn’t the country we thought we knew, that basically it was bankrupt,” she sighed, rueing the fact that at 21 she is still forced to live with her parents. “You could say we are angry and disappointed and, well, furious, really.”

For many, mass migration or further education have been the answer. But Rapti is among those who do not want to join the exodus that has already seen about 120,000 young professionals emigrate – mostly to Germany and other countries in the eurozone’s wealthier north but also as far as away as Australia, Canada and the US.

“I want to stay in my country even if I am not convinced that I’ll be able to,” she says. “I’ve decided I’ll take an extra degree to make myself fitter for the market.”But force of circumstance has pushed growing numbers to think outside the box. Exploiting their flair for enterprise and entrepreneurship – a spirit doused by decades of dependence on state largesse – young Greeks are also behind an explosion of bars and restaurants nationwide, but especially in Athens.

“The crisis has allowed us to be much more creative,” says Kanella Anapoglou, a graphic designer who returned to Athens from London eight years ago. “It was like an African state here. To get on, you had to belong to a tribe,” she explained, sitting in a newly opened pastry shop that she helped design, with a view of the Acropolis. “Now that a lot of big companies have collapsed and no longer have the monopoly it’s opened up a whole new space.”

Around the corner from where Koulis, the breakdancer, keeps the crowds enthralled, scores of young Greeks visit the headquarters of Athens’ co-lab workspace every day in the quest to start “innovative, game-changing start-ups”. In an atmosphere that is cool, eager and deadly serious, they sit behind computer screens, exchanging experience, ideas and advice. What bonds them is the desire to create technical companies that will break the mould.

For Spiros Kapetanakis, who co-founded the lab two years ago, the crisis has taught the young software engineers sitting around him “not to waste time”. “The majority will fail but everyone is hungry for success,” he says. “They come in and sit at desks or in rooms they can rent by the day or month literally for hours.”

Stavros Messinis, his partner, puts it another way. “The crisis has levelled the playing field,” he says. “Young Greeks are on their own and they’ve become much more imaginative in taking steps, risk and destiny into their hands. They’re not a lost generation. They are the future of this country.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #7253 on: Jul 02, 2013, 05:47 AM »

07/02/2013 12:21 PM

Tough Talks in Athens: Greece Expects a Second Debt Haircut

Greece is expecting a second debt haircut from its European creditors following the German election, the country's economy minister said on Tuesday. First, though, Athens must prove that it has done enough to receive the next tranche of badly needed bailout money.

With German elections just three months away, Berlin is eager to avoid any talk about yet another debt haircut for ailing Greece. Indeed, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble ruled out such a possibility just last week. It is clear, he said, "that we aren't going to undertake such a debt reduction."

This week, though, with Athens' international creditors once again in town to check up on the country's reform progress prior to the release of the next €8.1 billion tranche of aid money, Greek Economy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis say he believes that such a debt haircut is coming.

"If we are reliable and make progress, I am certain that our partners will demonstrate their solidarity with Greece," Hatzidakis told German daily Die Welt on Tuesday when asked if he thought that the EU would consider forgiving some of the country's debt.

The comments are a continuation of the bitter dispute last fall between European Union leaders and the International Monetary Fund about the long-term sustainability of Greek debt. The IMF was demanding measures to ensure that the country's debt load had shrunk to 120 percent of GDP by 2020 -- a level that would almost certainly require that Athens' creditors forgave some of that debt. Germany led the opposition, partly out of concern for how it would play among voters ahead of this year's general election.

For the moment, of course, the question of a debt haircut remains academic, particularly this week. Representatives from Greece's troika of lenders -- the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank -- are back in Athens to determine whether Greece has made satisfactory reform process.

Unsatisfactory Reform

And according to a Reuters report on Tuesday morning, they are not happy with what they have found. Following an unsatisfactory Monday report on the country's progress toward privatization goals and public sector reform, troika officials have given the country three days to put together a new report, to be presented on Friday, Reuters reported, citing four unnamed euro-zone officials. European Finance Ministers are scheduled to meet next Monday to discuss the release of the next tranche of liquidity.

"All agreed that Greece has to deliver before the Euro Group (meeting) on Monday. That's why they must present again on Friday," a source told Reuters.

The talks resumed this week following a two-week hiatus resulting from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' sudden shutdown of Greek public broadcaster ERT and the subsequent near-collapse of his government. Now, after one of his coalition partners left his government, Samaras is left with but a three vote majority in Greek parliament, giving him little wiggle room when it comes to passing new reforms.

But with the troika unhappy with Greek progress, he may be faced with having to make additional budget cuts. Of particular concern is the slow pace of Athens' privatization program, with Greece planning to ask the troika to lower the 2013 target of €2.6 billion, primarily because finding a buyer for the country's natural gas company DEPA has proven problematic. Furthermore, Athens missed a June deadline to dismiss 12,500 public sector workers and state-run health insurance company EOPYY is currently suffering a €1 billion shortfall. Plugging that gap and others may be difficult without further cuts.

Greeks, though, are understandably tired of increasingly tight austerity measures, particularly after years of deep recession. The country's jobless rate currently stands at 27 percent, a significant reason why European Union unemployment now stands at a record high of 12.1 percent, according to statistics released on Monday.

The €8.1 billion at stake is just the latest portion of the second EU bailout package. It is set to expire at the end of 2014.

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« Reply #7254 on: Jul 02, 2013, 05:55 AM »

Finland's education ambassador spreads the word

Pasi Sahlberg was Finland's chief inspector of schools … until it was decided teachers did not need Ofsted-style surveillance. Now his job is global spokesman for the Finnish message. Profile by Peter Wilby

Peter Wilby   
The Guardian, Monday 1 July 2013 20.00 BST   

Imagine a country where children do nothing but play until they start compulsory schooling at age seven. Then, without exception, they attend comprehensives until the age of 16. Charging school fees is illegal, and so is sorting pupils into ability groups by streaming or setting. There are no inspectors, no exams until the age of 18, no school league tables, no private tuition industry, no school uniforms. Children address teachers by their first names. Even 15-year-olds do no more than 30 minutes' homework a night.

The national curriculum is confined to broad outlines. All teachers take five-year degree courses (there are no fast tracks) and, if they intend to work in primary schools, are thoroughly immersed in educational theory. They teach only four lessons daily, and their professional autonomy is sacrosanct. So attractive (some might say cushy) is a teacher's life that there are 10 applicants for every place on a primary education course, and only 10-15% drop out of a teaching career.

It sounds like Michael Gove's worst nightmare, a country where some combination of teachers' union leaders and trendy academics, "valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence" (to use the education secretary's words), have taken over the asylum.

Yet since 2000, this same country, Finland, has consistently featured at or near the top of international league tables for educational performance, whether children are tested on literacy, numeracy or science. More than 60% of its young people enrol in higher education, roughly evenly divided between universities and polytechnics.

Even the management consultancy McKinsey, which has spearheaded the global movement for testing, "accountability" and marketisation, acknowledges that Finland is top. The country's defiance of current political orthodoxies appears to do little economic harm.

According to the World Economic Forum, Finland ranks third in the world for competitiveness thanks to the strength of its schooling, which overcomes the nation's drawbacks, in the forum's view, such as restrictive labour market regulations and high tax rates.

The story, at least for Guardian readers, sounds too good to be true. Is it possible to pick holes in it? I met Pasi Sahlberg, a rather dour (though not, I am told, by Finnish standards) 53-year-old former maths teacher and education academic, during his recent visit to London.

Sahlberg, who now heads an international centre at the education ministry, was Finland's last chief inspector of schools in the early 1990s before politicians decided that teachers could be trusted to do their jobs without Ofsted-style surveillance. "I only ever inspected one school," he says.

Now he has emerged as the global spokesman for Finnish schooling. His book, Finnish Lessons, has been translated into 15 languages, including Chinese, Russian and Arabic, and each day he receives two or three invitations from across the planet to give talks or lectures.

I met him the day after Gove had announced his plans to transform GCSEs, restoring traditional three-hour exams to their former glory. He's never met Gove, but what would he say to him if he did? "I would say: 'I am afraid, Mr Secretary, that the evidence is clear. If you rely on prescription, testing and external control over schools, they are not likely to improve. The GCSE proposals are a step backwards'."

He is similarly dismissive about Gove's enthusiasm for academies and free schools, largely modelled on those in Finland's neighbour, Sweden. "In Sweden," Sahlberg says, "everybody now agrees free schools were a mistake. The quality has not improved and equity has disappeared. If that is what Mr Gove wants, that is what he will get."

Finland hasn't always been an educational superstar. Before the 1970s, fewer than 10% continued their education until the age of 18. The schools were similar to those of England in the 1950s, only worse. After taking tests at the age of 11, children whose results were in the top 25% went mostly to private grammar schools – if their parents could afford the fees. Sahlberg himself, initially educated in a tiny village primary in northern Finland, where both his parents were teachers, was one of the last to go through this system.

By the time he left school in the mid-1970s, the move towards peruskoulu (or comprehensives), had begun, heavily influenced by British thinking. Mixed-ability teaching, teacher education reforms, abolition of the national curriculum (once 700 pages), and devolution of schooling to local authorities followed later.

While England began to dilute its comprehensive system almost as soon as it was established – in the early 1980s, the Tories introduced "parental choice" and offered subsidised places in elite private schools – Finland was further extending its ideal of the common school.

Like England, it had a vociferous lobby demanding a return to selection as well as Swedish-style free schools. Business leaders and rightwing politicians argued that comprehensives held back the gifted and talented and jeopardised the country's economic future.

But the critics were silenced early this century when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) emerged. All of a sudden, politicians and educators flocked to Finland in their hundreds, seeking the secret of its success. Finnish education became almost as big a global brand as Nokia. "Pisa stopped the arguments for privatisation and national testing," says Sahlberg. "Many say it saved the Finnish school system."

Sahlberg is reluctant to attribute Finland's economic success to its schools. "Some would say it's the other way round: we have educational success because we have economic success." To him and other Finns, equity is the schools' greatest achievement: the gap between high and low achievers is the smallest in the world and nobody talks of failing schools because there isn't that much difference between schools' results.

Sahlberg insists: "Pisa is not what we are about. League tables are not a good measure of a school system. We never aimed to be the best in education, only to have good schools for all. Equity came before a 'race to the top' mentality." Like many other educational researchers, he argues that most pupil achievement is explained by factors outside of school authorities' control and that, if politicians wish to elevate children out of poverty, they should look to other public policy areas.

Which leaves the question of whether Finnish schooling is exportable. Finland is an unusually homogeneous society: child poverty is low, and the ratio of income share between the richest 20% of the population and the poorest 20% is only a little over four-to-one, against nine-to-one in the UK. Its proportion of foreign-born citizens, moreover, is under 5%, and was much lower a decade ago.

All this, critics argue, makes it easy for Finland to put all children through comprehensives without social or educational strain. Other critics point to the Finnish language which, like Korean (South Korea is also near the top of the Pisa tables), is written almost exactly as it is pronounced. Young Finns and Koreans have little trouble with spelling, which not only makes reading and writing easier, but leaves more time for other subjects.

Sahlberg doesn't wholly dismiss either of these arguments, but suggests that other influences outside the schools are more important. Finnish adults, he says, are the world's most active readers. They take out more library books, own more books and read more newspapers than any other nation.

"Reading is part of our culture. At one time, you couldn't marry unless you could read. If you belonged to the Lutheran state church, you had to go a camp for two weeks before confirmation, as I did. I had to read the Bible and other religious books to the priest and answer questions to show I understood them. Only then could I be confirmed and only if I was confirmed could I get a licence to marry in church. That is still the case. Now, of course, you can get married anywhere, but 50 years ago there were very few options other than marrying in church and, 100 years ago, none at all."

There is another issue. Finnish education isn't quite what it seems. Exams and competitive pressures may have been eradicated from schools, leaving teachers and pupils free for the co-operative pursuit of cultural, creative and moral improvement. But this educational idyll eventually comes to an abrupt end.

Pupils who stay beyond 16, as more than 90% do, move into separate (allegedly self-selected) streams: "general" and "vocational" upper secondary schools. Though there is some crossover between the two, the vocational school students usually go to polytechnics or directly into jobs.

Only the general school – catering for what, in effect, is the academic stream – offers the 155-year-old national matriculation exam, a minimum requirement for university entry. Wholly financed from student fees (in a system in which everything else, including school meals, is completely free until university graduation), the exam comprises traditional essay-based external tests covering at least four subject areas. To study a particular subject at a particular institution, students must take yet more exams set by the universities themselves.

As Sahlberg acknowledges, Finland hasn't abolished competition; it has just moved it to a different part of the system. "It is getting tougher and tougher to reach the end points," he says. "It is the Finnish compromise."

In other words, although Finland unarguably achieves better results for more of its children than almost any other country in the world, success may (and I emphasise "may") be attributable less to its laid-back school regime than to the children's expectations of later competitive pressures. Exporting what appear to be educational success stories is a dubious enterprise, because it is so easy to misread how another country's system works and to discount its cultural background.

Sahlberg, I think, would agree. He is an odd, diffident sort of ambassador, spreading the message about "the Finnish miracle" but not really believing in the data that supposedly proves that it works. His fear now is that Finland's educational success is breeding complacency.

"Ask Finns about how our system will look in 2030, and they will say it will look like it does now. We don't have many ideas about how to renew our system. We need less formal, class-based teaching, more personalised learning, more focus on developing social and team skills. We are not talking about these things at all."

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« Reply #7255 on: Jul 02, 2013, 05:58 AM »

Croatia has become the latest member of the EU periphery

Croatia's accession is marked by public anxiety that it will be the latest fall guy of the EU political elite's neoliberal ideology

Srecko Horvat and Igor Stiks, Monday 1 July 2013 18.00 BST   

Croatia has become the 28th EU member state. The European leaders want us to believe that, in spite of the Union's current crisis, this clearly testifies to the EU's lasting transformative power, its undisputable international role, and the desirability of its political and economic model. The Croatian political elite wants its citizens to believe that the old dream of joining Europe, which framed the narrative that once legitimised the reasons for abandoning socialism and later Yugoslavia, is finally achieved.

But almost no one in Croatia believes that the morning after will bring a better life. After all, Croatia is the new European record-holder in low Euro-enthusiasm, with only 43.5% turnout at the EU referendum in 2012 and 21% turnout for the first elections for the European parliament earlier this year. The EU's self-congratulatory statements cannot hide a profound malaise about the EU's future either. In stark contrast to the 2004 enlargement and, to a lesser extent, the 2007 one, Croatian accession is marked by a general gloom and anxiety within the new member state as well as across the EU.

Since 1990, Croatia has gone through a series of transformations, including a brutal war, a nationalist autocracy and the Euro-compatible behaviour of the post-Tudjman elites. The £2bn external debt, part of which was inherited from Yugoslavia, now stands at about £40bn, which is close to 100% of the country's GDP. Once the most prosperous and developed of the Yugoslav republics, it now has almost no industry. Tourism – often cited as Croatia's biggest asset within the EU – cannot replace it. A tourist slogan once portrayed it as "a small country for a great holiday", but tourism amounts to less than 20% of the country's GDP.

The dubious privatisation agenda of the 1990s, facilitated by the aftermath of war and followed by the continuous neoliberal reforms of the 2000s, created enormous social gaps which include today an unemployment rate of almost 20%. It is no surprise that Croatia ranks third (with 51.8%) in Europe when it comes to unemployment among young people – just behind Greece and Spain. Croatian governments, of both nationalist right and social-democratic left, have followed obediently the EU's austerity advice, even before the accession. Indeed, the Croatian story resembles those we hear about other EU member states from southern Europe – which brings us to a unavoidable conclusion: on 1 July Croatia has not actually joined only the EU; in reality, it has become a fully-fledged member of the EU periphery.

It is hard to miss the historical irony here. At the end of the 1980s Yugoslavia was experiencing a sharp conflict between the developed north and underdeveloped south, a foreign debt crisis, IMF-imposed austerity measures resulting in high unemployment, strikes, institutional paralysis, a lack of solidarity and the rise of nationalism. Croatia seceded from the crumbling federation in 1991 only to join, two decades later, another multinational union where it meets strikingly similar problems.

Instead of facing – or at least admitting – these problems, the Croatian government organised a party on 30 June at Zagreb's central square. More than £800,000 was spent on the celebration ceremony, which included live coverage on national television of a grand reception with European leaders in attendance, although Angela Merkel disappointed the host by cancelling her participation. Just a few days before, a leading shopping-chain from western Europe provided free lunch at the same square. The offer attracted about 15,000 Croatians.

During the celebration show the Croatian chief negotiator with the EU, Vladimir Drobnjak, was talking to a reporter about the benefits of the EU membership. He mentioned the well-worn phrase about "sitting at the same table and participating in decision-making". He mentioned that all these decisions are made by consensus – exactly as was the practice in Yugoslavia – and that it is priceless. Then, to the surprise of the reporter, he added, "and for everything else, there's MasterCard". In this he revealed the truth about Croatia's accession to the EU: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Croatian citizens have already paid dearly for EU membership. True, they are becoming European citizens, but the enormous debt will greatly weaken the country's negotiating position.

Croatian membership in the EU will have significant consequences for the rest of the Balkans as well. The new EU border, now pushed towards Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, will influence regional economic, social and political dynamics. Instead of recovering lost ties and creating an atmosphere of stability and mutual co-operation among post-Yugoslav states, which the EU and Croatian government state as being among their goals, the EU's longest external land border (1,300km) will, by the mere functioning of its police apparatus, necessarily cut Croatia off from its immediate and natural surrounding and bring further isolation from its neighbours. Croatia has thus a moral and political imperative to fight against the thickening of a border that cuts deep through what was once a common borderless space.

The leader of the Greek opposition, Alexis Tsipras, during his talk at the Subversive film festival in Zagreb in May, called upon Croatia to join the struggle for an EU that will be different from the one dominated in its current policies by neoliberal ideology and austerity measures, and based instead on the principles of democratic participation, social justice and international solidarity. A Croatia that could make a difference for itself and for others is indeed one that would have to understand that to make its voice heard within the EU it would have to replace the one-way street communication with Brussels with large solidarity networks both within the EU and the rest of the Balkans. Only then might it become something more than just the EU's "small country for a big holiday".

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« Reply #7256 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Dutch pension group halts Wal-Mart investments over low wages and working conditions

By Reuters
Monday, July 1, 2013 17:21 EDT

(Reuters) – Dutch pension administrator PGGM Vermogensbeheer B.V. said on Monday it would no longer invest in Wal-Mart Stores Inc , saying the retailer was not willing to discuss its concerns, including possible labor issues in the United States.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, declined to comment.

Wal-Mart “was not prepared” to take concerns about what PGGM called “tense” U.S. labor relations into consideration and its board was not willing to participate in “fruitful dialogues” with shareholders, PGGM said in a statement.

PGGM is a Zeist, Netherlands-based pension administrator focused on pensions of employees of the Dutch healthcare and social work sector. It manages more than 140 billion euros ($182.50 billion) in assets.

PGGM said that it met with Wal-Mart multiple times about the issues of concern. In 2012, it questioned the company about the Wal-Mart de Mexico , or Walmex, bribery scandal, “but these questions were left unanswered,” it said.

Wal-Mart has been criticized by community and labor groups for what they perceive as low wages and unfair working conditions. Among the critics is OUR Walmart, a group of employees that says it is not trying to unionize but is part of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

PGGM held 2.76 million shares of Wal-Mart as of March 31, according to Thomson Reuters data. Shares of Wal-Mart closed at $74.59 on Monday, making the investment worth roughly $205.87 million.

PGGM’s other investments include U.S. retailers such as TJX Companies Inc , Target Corp , Bed Bath & Beyond Inc and Costco Wholesale Corp , according to Thomson Reuters data.

Wal-Mart’s largest investor is the family of founder Sam Walton, which holds roughly 51 percent of the retailer’s stock.

To see the fund’s statement, click: (

($1 = 0.7671 euros)

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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« Reply #7257 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:06 AM »

Lithuania: ‘A historic day’

1 July 2013
Lietuvos žinios

On July 1, Lithuania takes over the rotating presidency of the EU, “marking a new and exceptional page in its history,” announces Lietuvos žinios.

As Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has pointed out, the country is “ready” to take on this task. However, the daily argues, “the need to take rapid and important decisions, which are expected throughout Europe, will weigh on our shoulders.” In particular the country will have to make progress on two issues: the adoption of the EU 2014-2020 budget and the development of the Eastern Partnership.

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Ready for Europe to show their potential

1 July 2013
Lietuvos žinios

Today Lithuania opened another new historic site - the first time was in charge of the European Union (EU) Council. Half of the year will continue for chairmanship of will not be a lightweight: on the of our country shoulders of gula the necessity of adopting quite a few of important and urgent decisions are, whose waiting for the whole of Europe.

Considerable expectations

European Council in Brussels last week attended President Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania asked about readiness to join the EU Council of the wheel, said to be very self-critical and does not want to brag. However, she shared the representatives of other countries it views and expectations. "Lithuania at least before the presidency seen as a state that could very well carry out its function, that is - well prepared. Such a impression on we managed to done, "- contended it has.

Grybauskaite said to us are placed quite high expectations that we can cope with the tasks. "I would like all of us wish that this opinion might be fulfilled which is not damaged. Everything depends on us, the parties, which we promise to help, and the consensus among all agencies. I want to remind you that Lithuania nepirmininkaus Europe, it is only the presidency of the EU Council. Apart from being the European Parliament, as a fully autonomous body, the European Commission. Thus, all institutions working together - to handle this semester in Europe ", - said Head of State.

Main Lithuanian as the Presidency, tasks, Grybauskaite said that Europe will deal with nasal economic issues: unemployment, economic crisis, budget deficits, the banking union and integration.

In his presidency included the agenda for our country and the Eastern Partnership, as an attempt to actualize it. "Faced with a difficult economic situation in Europe, no doubt, a very busy themselves. But it is our duty to remind you that Europe is useful to have around you and the more democratic and more developed countries. It also means a more secure environment. Therefore, the presidency included an additional focus - the Baltic Sea cooperation, energy security and the Eastern Partnership "- explained the president of Lithuania.

We are ready to prove it

Chairmanship of the - it's a great opportunity to show for Europe and to to the world that to lead the of EU rules the creation of we can as well, as a and other Community countries shall be. It is approved by Foreign Affairs Minister Linkevičius. "We are the were the first from in the Baltic countries who takes over the chairmanship of the EU to the Council. All wish us luck, it is but natural that together assess whether we will be able to overcome this challenge, "- he said.

According to L. Linkevičius, Lithuania presidency will promote economic growth and competitiveness, reduce unemployment, to ensure financial stability and to create an open Europe to our partners. Financial stability remains an important continuation of the EU's economic and monetary union, the banking union, progress on other EU initiatives, reforming financial markets and to combat tax evasion. The intention is to work towards the agreed economic reforms.

Linkevičius noted that this semester, due attention will be given to research and innovation. Lithuania will seek to implement the EU's commitments to the 2014 completion of the internal energy market and to ensure that after 2015, no EU Member State is isolated from the grid.

Another huge EU legal package is designed to combat unemployment, employment and youth employment. During the Presidency the of the recommendations was, how to deal with youth employment problems in, will have to be Rules created, operation Ways to how the initiatives should act in practice.

Yes well as the will be aimed at, that the European openness to would remain the example of to the world, would continue to be establish connections more the dialogue with third countries and EU Member candidates for accession. "The EU should do everything in our neighbors, supporting European values, it would be easier to work with the community. I would like to single out and emphasize the importance of the Eastern Partnership. In November, adopted by the EU and the Eastern partners, members and managers would like to see is not just a third of the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius - claimed Linkevičius.

Required to work effectively

Lithuanian permanent representation to the EU Ambassador Raimund Karoblis noted that on July 1st to the accession of Croatia, Lithuania will be the first country to preside over 28 countries to an enlarged Council.

"We are the last country to the EU Council Presidency, the steering rack cycle before the upcoming European Parliament elections. "After our pirmininkausiantiems Greeks remain three months, legislative, and even less. We have 6 theory, practice - 4.5 months to achieve its goals, "- said R.Karoblis.

Presidency will need to focus to the 2014-2020 EU budget-related legislation required for its entry into force from the beginning of next year for adoption. One of them is 75, which is usually the head of the Community Council shall state average of 50-55 law. R.Karoblio According to our presidency will be judged by the success of the legislative process efficiency.

Foreign media publications appeared which argued that not much to expect from the accession to the EU Council of Lithuanian power. According R.Karoblio where we are strong, show the process of the Presidency. "But the moment the EU and the legislative process is such that we must work to obtain results, and our presidency would good and very good," - said the Ambassador.

Preparation in the Presidency responsible

Chairman of the Parliamentary Vydo Gedvilas According to EU Council Presidency - a great opportunity for Lithuania to present themselves to Europe and the world. "I believe that we will be able to harmonize chairing the EU Member States' interests, we will reach a consensus adoption of important decisions", - said Head of the Seimas. According V.Gedvilo, Lithuania's presidency will have a huge job - to coordinate more than 500 EU legislative consideration and adoption. "The European Union is currently going through a difficult period. Cope with the economic and financial issues. The ongoing debate on the euro area and the EU's own future, "- said Chairman of the Seimas. V.Gedvilo said that special attention will be given to the four Seimas approved presidency priorities to the state are the most relevant. "This is a strengthening of energy security, effective in the Baltic Sea Region Strategy, closer relations with the eastern neighbors of the EU and the consolidation of the EU's external border security enhancement," - said the head of the parliament. V.Gedvilas recalled that the first presidency of the parliamentary dimension of the event will take place on Thursday. In Parliament on March 11 of the Act of the hall at a solemn meeting of the expected arrival of a plethora of distinguished guests.

It is expected the newer approach

Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists (LPK) Gediminas Rainys hopes that the Presidency will provide the opportunity to influence certain political decisions, especially - directives and regulations for the process. "It is equally important that the weight we need institutional knowledge, see how cooking in the kitchen, now and in the future could affect the adoption of favorable decisions for us," - said G.Rainys. According to industry representatives, the time, Europe is the only global part of the world where the crisis is still ongoing, so it takes on a special meaning to documents that do not interfere with economic development, acceptance. "I think that Lithuania is here to make a fresher wind, demonstrate a more recent approach to the somewhat rigid legislative process and mentality," - said Mr. Rainys. He believes that the Presidency of the public authorities, in particular the middle, for the relations with the EU ministerial departments responsible, prepared well. "Obviously, the question may arise on the highest level, especially since not all policies have a great experience in this field. But I hope that it is the middle level "deported" to work together and develop senior managers to enable them to chair the meetings to discuss the adoption of directives "- hoped LCI Vice President.

The most G.Rainys said no one attending the Presidency of the related event. "Lithuanian Presidency Europe negotiate free trade agreements with the U.S. and Japan. In July, we will visit one of the strongest in the world of Japanese Industrial Organization Keidanren delegation "- said vice-president of LCI. In addition, during the presidency of half of the country will be a lot of sectoral industry associations and events. "The most important event - in November the Eastern Partnership Forum and the day before a business summit to be held a forum in which major corporations willing to attend the leaders will present their recommendations to the politicians," - said G.Rainys.

Small state - a big responsibility

Famed musician saxophone virtuoso Peter Vyšniauskas remembers the days when Lithuania became a member of the EU. In June 2004, a known Lithuanian folk singer Veronika Povilioniene he performed in Brussels to present the new-member national culture. "It was the first appearance in a role specialization, at least as full citizens of the EU" - remembered musician. He jokes that when Lithuanian artists sing the song sounds today, when Lithuania takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU helm.

"We do not have minerals, but have a particularly strong culture. Our artists are is a powerful force introducing Lithuania to for Europe and to the world ", - convinced P.Vyšniauskas. According to him, the Presidency of the EU Council during the country's culture will draw a lot of attention, so all art disciplines will contribute to the Lithuanian representation. As of today, according to P.Vyšniauskas, our country will face a huge challenge and experience. "This is - a small state great responsibility - said the artist. - I believe in Lithuania. I wish the the best of luck in this at work. "

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« Reply #7258 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:13 AM »

July 2, 2013

Foreign Minister Quits as Egypt Braces for Further Protests


CAIRO — The Egyptian foreign minister was reported Tuesday to be the latest in wave of high-ranking officials to quit the government following days of mass protests that have shaken President Mohamed Morsi’s hold on power, and the president denied that a 48-hour ultimatum by the country’s powerful military signaled an imminent coup.

As the nation braced for further displays of mass dissent, other state institutions also offered fresh challenges to Mr. Morsi’s rule, with a court ruling to remove a top prosecutor, Talaat Abdallah, whom Mr. Morsi appointed soon after coming to power last year.

Adding to the sense of embattlement, the official MENA news agency reported on Tuesday that Mohamed Kamel Amr, the foreign minister, had joined several other ministers who are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood in resigning from Mr. Morsi’s cabinet.

The developments came with the country in a state of tense uncertainty after the military delivered an ultimatum to the country’s first democratically elected president, hundreds of thousands of protesters renewed calls to oust him from office and the president’s Islamist allies vowed to take to the streets to stop what they called “a military coup.” The crisis drew in President Obama who spoke to Mr. Morsi by telephone on Monday from Tanzania, the last stage of an African tour.

The standoff prompted other expressions of concern far beyond Egypt’s borders, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Navi Pillay, urging all parties to engage in “a serious national dialogue in order to find a solution to the political crisis and prevent an escalation of violence” and calling on President Morsi to “listen to the demands and wishes of the Egyptian people.”

Through a spokesman, Ms. Pillay also said Mr. Morsi should “to heed the lessons of the past in this particularly fragile situation.”

In a military communiqué read over state television Monday that echoed the announcement toppling former President Mubarak two chaotic years ago, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces demanded that President Mohamed Morsi satisfy the public’s demands within 48 hours or the generals would impose their own “road map” out of the crisis.

But instead of soothing the volatile standoff between Mr. Morsi’s opponents and his supporters, the generals seemed to add to the uncertainty that has paralyzed the state, decimated the economy and brought millions into the streets Sunday demanding the president step down. It was not clear what the military meant when it said Mr. Morsi must satisfy the public’s demands, what it might do if that vague standard was not met and who would be able to unite this badly fractured nation.

The generals did, however, open a new confrontation with Mr. Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood with its threat to impose a political “road map” on the president. Brotherhood members rallied in half a dozen cities to denounce the threat of a military takeover, a reminder that the group remains a potent force unwilling to give up the power it has waited 80 years to wield.

“We understand it as a military coup,” one adviser to Mr. Morsi said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential negotiations. “What form that will take remains to be seen.”

In a sternly worded statement issued after 1 a.m. Tuesday, moreover, Mr. Morsi’s office said that it was continuing with its plans for dialogue and reconciliation with its opponents. Noting that it was not consulted before the military made its statement, Mr. Morsi’s office asserted that “some of its phrases have connotations that may cause confusion in the complicated national scene” and suggested that it “deepens the division between the people” and “may threaten the social peace no matter what the motivation.”

The delicate interplay between Mr. Morsi and the military’s top officer, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, was fraught with risks for both men, and for the nation. Racked with fuel shortages, dwindling hard currency reserves and worries about its wheat supplies, Egypt urgently needs a government stable and credible enough to manage difficult and disruptive economic reforms. A move by the military to force the Brotherhood from power, despite its electoral victories, could set off an Islamist backlash in the streets that would make stability and economic growth even more elusive.

President Obama called Mr. Morsi late Monday night, the White House press office confirmed on Tuesday. According to a statement released as the president visited Tanzania, the final stop on his African tour, Mr. Obama told the Egyptian president that “the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group.”

He stressed that “democracy is about more than elections,” the statement said, and encouraged Mr. Morsi to demonstrate “that he is responsive to the concerns of the protesters and underscored that the crisis must be resolved through a political process.”

Mr. Obama also said he was deeply concerned about violence during the demonstrations, especially sexual assaults against women, the statement said.

Mr. Morsi’s aides described Mr. Obama’s message as a confirmation that the White House was continuing to deal with Mr. Morsi as Egypt’s elected president and to support the country’s transition to civilian democracy.

On Monday, Mr. Obama had expressed concern about the protests but said the situation was different from the earlier protests that had prompted the United States to call for the departure of Mr. Mubarak. “When I took a position that it was time for Egypt to transition, it was based on the fact that Egypt had not had democratic government for decades, if ever,” he said.

Now that Egypt has such a government, he said, “there’s more work to be done to create the condition where everybody believes their voices are heard.” He urged both sides to refrain from violence, and specifically mentioned reports of assaults on women in Egypt, saying that “assaulting women does not qualify as peaceful protests.”

In Cairo, speaking to a crowd of Islamists armed with makeshift clubs and hard hats at a rally, a senior Brotherhood leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy, called on the crowd to defend Mr. Morsi’s “legitimacy” as the elected president. “No coup against legitimacy of any kind will pass except over our dead bodies,” he said, dismissing the latest protests as “remnants” of the Mubarak elite.

Across the Nile in Giza, Mohamed Fadala, a financial manager, told a late night rally for Mr. Morsi that General Sisi appeared to have considered only the non-Islamist half of Egypt. “Sisi ignored half the people!”

The generals have shown little enthusiasm for returning to politics, especially after their own prestige was badly tarnished by the year of street violence and economic catastrophe they oversaw after ousting Mr. Mubarak. But as the protests against Mr. Morsi grew larger than those that pushed out Mr. Mubarak, it became clear that Mr. Morsi had lost the support of much of the population and has never fully controlled the security services or other institutions of the state.

Protesters faulted Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood allies for what they called a rush to monopolize political power. In public squares that just a year ago echoed with chants demanding an end to military rule, cheers rose up again Monday welcoming the generals’ help in pressuring Mr. Morsi.

Citing “the historic circumstance,” the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said in its statement Monday that “if the demands of the people have not been met” within “48 hours” then the generals would “announce a road map” to be “enforced under the military’s supervision.” But the generals insisted that under its auspices “all political factions” would participate in settling the crisis.

The “demands of the people” appeared to refer to the rallying cry of the wave of protests: a call for Mr. Morsi’s immediate departure. The generals, however, did not elaborate, leaving open the possibility that they might accept another power-sharing arrangement.

“The wasting of more time will only create more division and conflict,” the statement warned.

Still, the generals were also eager to disavow any eagerness to return to political power. “The armed forces will not be party to the circle of politics or ruling, and the military refuses to deviate from its assigned role in the original democratic vision,” the generals insisted.

As the Islamist pressure grew Monday night the generals issued a second statement specifically denying that they planned a “military coup,” saying their earlier statement was intended to push all political parties in the nation to find solutions to the current crisis quickly.”

The Interior Ministry, whose police officers have been in open revolt against Mr. Morsi, issued its own statement endorsing the military’s intervention — another reminder of the breakdown in authority over the holdover institutions of the Mubarak government.

Egypt had been bracing for weeks for Sunday’s protests against Mr. Morsi on the anniversary of his inauguration. But the turnout surprised almost everyone: the crowds were far larger — running into the millions — and less violent than expected. The result not only underscored the depth of the animosity against Mr. Morsi but also dispelled Brotherhood arguments that a conspiracy of Mubarak “remnants” accounted for most of the opposition in the streets.

By Monday morning, however, clashes between Brotherhood supporters and opponents had left 15 dead across the country. Protesters attacked several Brotherhood offices. In Cairo a mob attacked the Brotherhood’s headquarters with Molotov cocktails, setting it on fire, breaking down its doors and looting the building.

The Health Ministry reported eight deaths outside the building, six from gunshots.

Protest organizers had given Mr. Morsi until Tuesday to resign and threatened a general strike. Protesters chained or blockaded government offices in 11 provinces. By evening, the crowds in several cities had grown to the hundreds of thousands again.

Many of the demonstrators now calling for Mr. Morsi’s ouster had spent months last year marching to demand that the military give up its hold on power, but when the military’s announcement was broadcast over the radio on Monday, cheers erupted.

Hassan Ismail, a local organizer, rejected any compromise that left Mr. Morsi in office and at the same time sought to distance his movement from its new military allies. “We don’t want to be against the army,” Mr. Ismail said. “And we don’t want the army to be against us.”

Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, Michael D. Shear from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Alan Cowell from London.


Journalist killed, another raped, in Egypt protests

Roy Greenslade   
Tuesday 2 July 2013 11.16 BST     

A journalist covering a protest in Port Said against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was killed by a homemade bomb on Saturday (29 June).

Salah al-Din Hassan, a 37-year-old reporter with independent news website Shaab Masr (Egyptian People), died after picking up a bomb hurled at protesters in order to throw it away. But it exploded in his hands. Ayda Sobh, Hassan's mother, blamed Morsi's supporters for throwing the bomb.

Seven other journalists were injured while covering protests at the weekend. And one 22-year-old female reporter with a Dutch television station was reported to have been raped after being attacked in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The Dutch embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying the woman, whose name has not been released, had been repatriated .

Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and north Africa coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said: "Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have fostered an atmosphere where journalists are attacked with impunity.

"We call on all sides to respect the safety of the media and urge journalists to take precautions for their security in this dangerous climate."


Egypt's army remains the ultimate arbiter of power

Despite the military's reluctance to take on overtly political roles, it is happy to wield power behind the scenes, writes Ian Black

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Monday 1 July 2013 19.47 BST   

Egypt's first modern revolution, carried out by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his fellow "free officers," overthrew the monarchy and ushered in the first republic in 1952. The army's actions in 2011 allowed Hosni Mubarak to fall without mass bloodshed. Now the military is moving again to "save" the country from its squabbling politicians.

Jubilant cheers from the crowds in Tahrir Square when the news broke of the army's demarche underlined the positive response from those protesting against President Mohammed Morsi. It was hardly the way people would react to the sort of military coups that took place all over the Arab world in the second half of the 20th century. Morsi's supporters, and others, see it as a disastrous throwback to pre-revolutionary days.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the defence minister, was careful to spell out what he was and wasn't prepared to do in a TV statement broadcast to the nation. Laying down a "road map for the future" is one thing – while calling for an "inclusive" process that will force an end to the paralysing rift between the Muslim Brotherhood and its opponents – but the army would not itself get directly involved in politics and government, he insisted.

Sisi conspicuously failed to call on the president to step down – though his 48-hour ultimatum clearly suggests that could yet happen. It was a stark reminder that for all the drama, sacrifices and high-flown aspirations of the Egyptian revolution, the army remains the ultimate arbiter of power. The patriotic music playing in the background provided its justification – to itself and others.

Critics will be quick to conjure up the spectre of Algeria in 1991 when the generals stepped in to cancel a second round of elections an Islamist party had been poised to win. The difference is that Egypt has had its election – won by the Brotherhood. The fear now, perhaps being deliberately exaggerated in a dangerously charged and polarised atmosphere, is that Algerian levels of violence will follow.

The Brotherhood's anger at this move reflects a sense that they have been outmanoeuvred by the soldiers they thought they had neutralised. Only last summer the newly elected Morsi won plaudits for moving swiftly and effectively against the Mubarak-era commanders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) – and appointed Sisi to underline civilian control over the army.

Still, the two sides have maintained a partnership of sorts in the long and messy transition to Egypt's rickety and dysfunctional democracy. The army is ideologically aligned with the secular opposition but the Brotherhood remains the most organised civilian body in the country – a legacy of the authoritarian decades of stunted political life and rigged elections. And the army has managed to maintain its privileges and huge economic interests as well as its strategically vital relationship with the US military and the Pentagon. Monday's comments by President Barack Obama sounded distinctly approving of its intervention.

If the army has been reluctant to take on overtly political and governmental responsibilities – and it did not relish the period of Scaf rule between Mubarak's fall and last summer's presidential election – it is certainly happy to wield power behind the scenes. That reflects the way it sees itself, in the words of the Palestinian scholar, Yezid Sayigh, as "an autonomous institutional actor with a privileged political role".

That much was clear last December in the run up to the constitutional referendum. Sisi invited Morsi, ministers and a wide spectrum of political and public figures to what he called a "social dialogue" – an unmistakably political act that was taken without consultation with either the president or the cabinet.

In the past, the army has also intervened in limited, tactical ways. But Sisi warned explicitly on 23 June that it would step in if clashes between government and opposition supporters span out of control and threatened to lead the country into "a dark tunnel of conflict". With the sustained mass protests of the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement that moment has now arrived. Egypt's soldiers have taken their country's fate into their hands again.

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« Reply #7259 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:14 AM »

July 1, 2013

Chaos in Middle East Grows as the U.S. Focuses on Israel


WASHINGTON — In Damascus, the Syrian government’s forces are digging in against rebels in a bloody civil war that is swiftly approaching the grim milestone of 100,000 dead. In Cairo, an angry tide of protesters again threatens an Egyptian president.

At the same time, in tranquil Tel Aviv, Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a busy round of shuttle diplomacy, laboring to revive a three-decade-old attempt at peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He insisted on Sunday that he had made “real progress.”

The new secretary of state’s exertions — reminiscent of predecessors like Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III — have been met with the usual mix of hope and skepticism. But with so much of the Middle East still convulsing from the effects of the Arab Spring, Mr. Kerry’s efforts raise questions about the Obama administration’s priorities at a time of renewed regional unrest.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once a stark symbol and source of grievance in the Arab world, is now almost a sideshow in a Middle East consumed by sectarian strife, economic misery and, in Egypt, a democratically elected leader fighting for legitimacy with many of his people.

“The moment for this kind of diplomacy has passed,” said Robert Blecher, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program of the International Crisis Group. “He’s working with actors who have acted in this movie before, and the script is built around the same elements. But the theater is new; the region is a completely different place today.”

Administration officials no longer argue, as they did early in President Obama’s first term, that ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state is the key to improving the standing of the United States in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now just one headache among a multitude.

And yet Mr. Kerry, backed by Mr. Obama, still believes that tackling the problem is worth the effort: five visits to the region in the last three months. The most recent trip involved nearly 20 hours of talks, stretching almost until dawn, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Former administration officials defend that conviction. Mr. Kerry’s focus, they say, makes sense precisely because of the chaos elsewhere. With little leverage over Egypt and deep reluctance about intervening in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one place that the United States can still exert influence, and perhaps even produce a breakthrough.

“You don’t have instability between the Israelis and Palestinians right now,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East. “But if you don’t act, there’s a risk that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, leaving a vacuum. And if we know one thing about vacuums in the Middle East, they are never filled with good things.”

Resuscitating the peace process, he said, is also vital to Jordan, which is reeling from the wave of refugees from Syria and can ill afford a new wave of Palestinian unrest in the neighboring West Bank.

What is less clear is whether the Arab upheaval has made a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinian any less elusive. Some analysts say the instability has made Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas eager to resolve their dispute, while others assert that both can use it as a pretext to avoid making the hard choices needed for a deal.

“I think both sides look at what’s happening in the region right now and think, ‘Maybe we’re better off putting ourselves in a more stable situation with each other,’ ” said a senior Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his involvement in what Mr. Kerry has demanded be confidential discussions.

But several Israeli analysts said the reverse was true: the unrest has made Israel more concerned about security than about taking risks to advance the peace process. Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said most Israelis would rank Syria, Iran, Egypt and Jordan above the Palestinians in terms of “importance and urgency.”

A day after Mr. Kerry concluded 13 hours of talks with Mr. Netanyahu, Israeli newspapers were dominated by images of the vast protests in Egypt. Five of the six five major daily papers did not even carry front-page reports on Mr. Kerry’s diplomacy.

“Were you to ask people in the leadership of both Israel and the Palestinians whether they thought resolving the conflict now, given the developments in the region, is feasible, most people would tell you it’s quite unlikely,” Mr. Meridor said.

As for the Palestinians, some analysts said Mr. Abbas felt as vulnerable as ever about protracted negotiations with Mr. Netanyahu, particularly without preconditions. A preoccupied Egypt would leave the Palestinian Authority without crucial political support.

“Abbas would say that to reach a deal, you need Arab support from Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” said Ghaith al-Omari, the executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. “With all the chaos, you might not get that.”

Mr. Kerry has made efforts to enlist the Arab world in his campaign. He brought Arab foreign ministers to Washington in April and won their support for an update to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

Before his latest round of shuttle diplomacy with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, Mr. Kerry huddled with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Analysts say he has avoided the trap of pushing for direct talks without laying the necessary groundwork.

“There is a reason Kerry has gotten as far as he has,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt.

While resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the magic bullet for the region that some once thought, it still resonates widely, whether among the crowds in Tahrir Square or the militants of Hezbollah, who cite Israel in rallying around President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

A recent survey of 20,000 people in 14 countries by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha found that found Israel and the United States were seen as the top security threats.

Mr. Kerry has made it clear that he will not give up his peacemaking quest. But analysts said that the gravity of the crisis in Egypt would force him and other senior officials to shift their attention to Cairo, where American policy, some say, has failed to keep up with events.

“It’s good that Kerry is focusing on the peace process,” said Brian Katulis, an expert on Egypt at the Center for American Progress, “but the biggest thing they haven’t done is pursue a strategic review on Egypt.”

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.

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