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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1081422 times)
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« Reply #7260 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:16 AM »

July 1, 2013

For Many in Africa, Lack of Electricity Is Barrier to Growth


DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Alex Adrian, a carpenter at Yasir Ahmed Hardware, proudly brought out his newest purchase on Monday afternoon, a small lamp with a square solar panel to charge it.

He still had the receipt for 45,000 Tanzanian shillings, or about $28, pay for roughly two full days of work here. Two days of work, that is, unless the power goes out, as it often does. In that case, work stops and no one gets paid. At home, families have to skip meals.

A few minutes earlier, nine workers had huddled around Mr. Adrian, watching President Obama’s arrival at the airport in Tanzania on the tiny screen of his phone. The discussion turned to how the United States could help their country. The answer was unequivocal and unanimous: Electricity.

“We know we have natural gas supplies in this country and we want to use them to provide affordable electricity for work,” Mr. Adrian said. “All we need Obama to help us with is a reliable supply of electricity.”

Mr. Obama has begun a new push to bring power to the two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans who have no access to electricity, one of the cornerstones of his policy for the continent. That would mean light for schoolchildren to do their homework after sunset and refrigerators to keep food from spoiling. It would also mean more jobs and more development.

“Electricity is the heart of my business and of the development of Tanzania in general,” said Dotto Said, 50, the supervisor at Yasir Ahmed, which sits along the four-lane Nelson Mandela Road in the neighborhood of Mwenge, a stretch of storefronts selling paint, water tanks and office supplies.

Phil Hay, the World Bank’s spokesman for Africa, said that for the continent “to keep growing at this extraordinary rate it depends on more electricity,” adding, “That’s good for small traders, shopkeepers, businesses, for lighting roadways, for traffic lights.”

Yasir Ahmed’s workshop provides jobs for 35 people who make wooden doors, window frames and metal gates for the local market. There are stacks of wood and piles of piping and rebar. The men worked outside, shaded by a corrugated metal roof, but they still sweat from the exertion. Sawdust drifts are ankle deep in some places.

“Tanzania has some of the most talented artisans and technicians,” said Mr. Said, “but we use very old, outdated equipment, mostly from Italy, from the 1960s and ‘70s.”

In the metalworking area, the men operating the grinding machines wear sunglasses instead of goggles to protect their eyes from sparks. “We don’t do enough because the power is not reliable,” said Abdul Nganga, 35, a welder. “We don’t work to our full potential.”

Africa is rising, the experts say, Africa is booming, but it is relative. The challenge of moving beyond selling natural resources and agricultural products is apparent.

Businesses do not have connections to foreign markets and do not export as much as they would like. The situation in the country “has improved from bad to better,” Mr. Said said, “but there is still room for improvement.”

The solar lamp allows Mr. Adrian’s 7-year-old daughter to study at night without her father having to worry that if she knocks over the kerosene lamp she will start a fire, another small improvement. “Life is getting better for those who are hard workers,” Mr. Adrian said, “except for those depending on electricity.”
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« Reply #7261 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Islamist insurgency in Mali casts long shadow over Timbuktu

Five months after French forces removed Islamist militants, services such as electricity, fuel, banks, marketplaces and a judiciary are lacking

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network, Monday 1 July 2013 15.26 BST   

Link to video: Mali: the tour guide of Timbuktu

Five months after French troops liberated Timbuktu from Islamist fighters, the ancient desert town, like much of northern Mali, is struggling to recover from the effects of the nine-month occupation as well as longer-term security and development problems.

Few of the things a city needs in order to function – electricity, fuel, banks, marketplaces, and basic government services such as the town hall or judiciary – are fully up and running.

There are other, less visible but equally pernicious problems, including a breakdown in the fabric of a citizenry long-famed, thanks to Timbuktu's location at the crossroads of the Sahara, for its cosmopolitan mix of cultures and ethnicities. Mali also contends with a chronic regional food security crisis that leaves millions of people teetering on the edge of catastrophe every time the rains fail.

These issues and more are explored in IRIN's Trouble in Timbuktu: – northern Mali after the Islamist occupation.

"Timbuktu is free again, but it is a town where there is no economy at all, a town where everything is gone, everything is lost, apart from hope," said Hallé Ousmane, the town's mayor.

"80% of the civil servants are absent. Even if they were here, their offices are empty. There's no equipment, no computers, nothing – not even a chair. It's impossible to work," he said.

Electricity in Timbuktu is available only from 7pm until midnight. There are no petrol stations; instead, fuel is sold in mismatched bottles from stalls at the roadside.

In early 2012, Tuareg separatists launched an offensive in the north, taking over large swaths of the country. After an army coup in March, the separatists were sidelined by a range of Islamist groups (see Who's who, below) who moved into towns including Timbuktu. Many people, including most civil servants, fled.

The occupiers imposed their own interpretation of Islamic law, which is anathema to Timbuktu's Sufi inhabitants. Women were to wear the veil, men to grow beards, and the two were not to associate unless they were married. Those who violated the rules were whipped in public or locked up in crowded cells.

"We lived in fear. Armed men roamed the streets. Nobody knew what would happen from one day to the next," said Seydou Baba Kounta, a professional tour guide. "They cut off people's hands, people's feet. Schools were abandoned … Every day, people fled the town on trucks, on boats, or 4WDs," he said.

The increased insecurity in northern Mali had wide-ranging effects on the population – including loss or theft of livestock and jobs, rising prices, and the closure of markets – according to Patrick David, regional food security analyst with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"People had great difficulty obtaining basic foods because of lack of supply and price hikes. Livestock mortality was higher than normal. Many herders left for Mauritania. Even now livestock markets are poorly stocked," he said. About 1.3 million people in northern Mali need immediate food assistance.

Social fabric destroyed

When French forces chased the Islamists from their strongholds in January, many Arab and Tuareg residents also left, fearing reprisals for their suspected association with the occupiers.

"We have seen that the social tissue in places like Timbuktu is broken. The Arab and Tuareg communities, they have left these areas. A lot of the economy used to be run before the war by these groups … It's been run by them for thousands of years, but now they are absent, so to a great extent the economic engine of the north has come to a stop," said Fernando Arroyo, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Mali.

According to recent returnee Ousmane Maïga, "Now it's up to the government to bring peace and reconcile the different communities."

This task will be carried out by the newly formed national dialogue and reconciliation commission. "We are going to spend a lot of time listening, listening to the whole population," its chairman, Mohamed Salia Sokona, told IRIN.

"Many people think it's just about north-south reconciliation. In fact, it's everybody. It is inter- and intra-communal, so north-south but also north-north and south-south," he said. "It is about the whole of Mali, because this crisis was not just about the rebellion in the north, but also in the south there has been an institutional crisis which has created divisions that need to be healed."

As IRIN recently reported, further divisions have arisen over the prospect of holding elections at the end of July.

The gravity and complexity of the security and governance challenges ahead are underlined by the deployment of the UN multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali (Minusma), whose mandate includes protecting civilians, monitoring human rights, creating conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance, and the return of displaced people, as well as the extension of state authority.

While international attention has focused on the activities of Islamists in the north, many analysts believe that the uprising and terrorism are lesser drivers of Mali's chronic instability than governance vacuums, corruption and the international drugs trade.

Cocaine smuggling

In the mid-2000s, northern Mali started to become an important staging post in the trafficking of cocaine from South America to Europe because of its remoteness and lack of state presence. The smuggling of other products, notably cigarettes, was nothing new to the region, but cocaine, according to the International Crisis Group, "dramatically increased the financial stakes and significantly altered the economic and political dynamics".

"Alleged alliances [that] developed over the years between the political elite, smugglers and drug dealers greatly undermined the country's stability and development," according to political analyst Imad Mesdoua.

Still, one of the key unknowns in Mali and neighbouring states today is the extent of the threat still posed by the foreign-led insurgents.

Since the liberation of Timbuktu and other northern towns, Islamic miltants have staged several attacks and suicide bombings in what the regional army commander described as the "asymmetric phase of the war".

What residents of Timbuktu look forward to now, after so many months of hardship under occupation, is development, said Kounta, the tour guide. "Since the Islamists left, nothing has been done. We don't sense the presence of the state. The state is not here. I appeal to the state to work hard so that Timbuktu emerges from this obscurity."

Who's who

MNLA National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. Tuareg group that launched an offensive in northern Mali in January 2012. Unilaterally declared the independence of "Azawad" on 6 April 2012. Subsequently sidelined by groups named below. Signed ceasefire with government on 18 June 2013.

AQIM Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Has been present in northern Mali for a decade, training Islamist fighters and trafficking contraband.

MUJAO Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Regional Islamist militant group, splinter of AQIM.

Ansar Dine Malian Islamist group formed in 2012 whose name means "defenders of the faith". Led by Iyad Ag Ghali.

MIA Islamist Movement of Azawad. Broke away from Ansar Dine this year, saying it rejected extremism and terrorism.

MAA The Arab Movement of Azawad. Formerly the National Liberation Front of Azawad. Founded in 2012 to resist MNLA takeover of Timbuktu. 

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« Reply #7262 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:22 AM »

Chinese factory accused of poisoning Somaliland water supplies

The tanning factory has been accused by local people of dumping dangerous chemicals and causing health complaints

Sean Williams, Tuesday 2 July 2013 10.32 BST   

A Chinese-owned tanning factory based in Somaliland has been accused of dumping dangerous chemicals in waterways. But the government has failed to intervene for fear of spooking foreign investment, according to local people.

Jeronimo Group of Industries and Trading PLC, a subsidiary of Chinese glove-making firm Phiss, is the first and only foreign-owned company in the breakaway east African state. It has been operating a factory in the village of Dar-Buruq, 60km outside the capital Hargeisa, since 2008.

People living near the factory have made numerous complaints about respiratory problems. A former worker at Jeronimo named Ibrahim said that one day, while mixing chromium compounds without a mask, he was overcome by the smell and fell down, hitting his head. "The company did not take me to the hospital," he says. "To this day I still have breathing problems." Other locals confirmed many health complaints had been made.

When the Guardian investigated the Jeronimo compound it found an unbearable smell, and workers with no face masks or proper shoes and sacks of corrosive material spilling onto the factory floor.

Industrial waste is dumped in local waterways, the company admits, but it is adamant it has adhered to local and international rules governing the tanning industry. Livestock, which comprises up to 80% of local trade, has disappeared as animals refuse to drink the water and their herders move elsewhere, said one village elder. "[The livestock industry here] is dead, which has also created poverty," says Mohammed, a local government official. "The water here was free; God-given. Now people have to buy it from travelling sellers. A 20-litre jerry can costs 10,000 Somaliland shillings ($0.80). It is too much."

Foreign investments like Jeronimo are seen as vital in proving Somaliland's worth as an independent nation, a point not lost on Dar-Buruq's residents. "We've talked to ministers, deputy ministers. Each time our arguments are passed on to someone else," one village elder says. "The government considers that it is fighting a broader war internationally to attract foreign investors. So if this one is clamped down on it will have a negative impact on that."

President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo's government has done little to stop the factory from dumping waste, despite continued appeals from locals.

Somaliland's chamber of commerce secretary general, Ibrahim Ismail Elmi,said that while a seven-minister delegation was sent to inspect Jeronimo in 2008, the situation has been "under review" ever since.

But another senior official, who asked to remain anonymous, added: "We suspect them [Jeronimo]. They use poisons and chromes are getting into the river." Jeronimo has a $6m agreement with the Somaliland government, the official claims, that has to be paid in full should the firm be shut down. "We don't have the capacity to refund them, so we just give advice."

"If the government was worried about these health issues, they should have checked before we came," says Li Fai La, the factory manager . Rather than remove or recycle effluent, he said the company dumps industrial waste "in water 3km away from the factory." Although he did not specifiy what percentage of waste is dumped, the Guardian understands the factory has no waste management system in place.

Li believes the complaints are economically driven, and says that he has considered moving Jeronimo to neighbouring Ethiopia. "You can go to the factory now," he says. "Yes, the smell is bad but trees are growing and there are fish in the water nearby."

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« Reply #7263 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:24 AM »

UAE sentences 'coup plotters' to jail

More than 65 of 94 accused of plotting Islamist coup get prison sentences – some of up to 15 years – amid further arrests

Associated Press in Abu Dhabi, Tuesday 2 July 2013 11.05 BST   

More than 65 people accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the United Arab Emirates have been handed prison sentences – some of up to 15 years – in a mass trial that underscored the widening crackdowns on perceived Arab-spring-inspired dissent across the entire Gulf region.

Rights groups have accused the UAE of widespread violations and abuse against the 94 people on trial, who include teachers, lawyers and even the cousin of one of the UAE's rulers.

The authorities have rejected the claims and have made further arrests targeting groups suspected of links to Islamist networks such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE, which allows no political parties, has not faced any street protests or direct pressure since the Arab spring uprisings began in the region more than two years ago.

But western-backed officials have turned their attention to suspected Islamist cells and online activists who have called for a greater public voice in the tightly controlled country.

The prominent rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, who was jailed in some of the first UAE crackdowns after the Arab spring, said prison terms of 15 years were given to eight people tried in absentia.

Ten-year sentences were handed to 60 others, including Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qasimi, who was head of a group known as al-Islah, or Reform. He is a cousin of the ruler in Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost of the UAE's seven emirates.

At least 26 of the defendants were acquitted, Mansoor said.

Security was tight around the court on Tuesday, with many foreign journalists, family members and observers blocked from the session. The Abu Dhabi-based newspaper the National reported that chants of "Allahu Akbar", or "God is great", came from defendants and some relatives as the verdicts were read.

Mansoor said at least two brothers of defendants were detained hours before the verdicts were handed down, reflecting wider trends across the Gulf as leaders attempt to quash any challenges to their rule.

Dozens of people have been jailed across the Gulf for blogposts and Twitter messages deemed offensive to rulers. Authorities across the Gulf also claim to have dismantled alleged espionage rings some accuse of links to rival Iran or its proxy Hezbollah.

But the UAE has been the most aggressive in moving against suspected threats from Islamist groups.

Last month, UAE officials said they were planning another high-profile trial against 30 Egyptian and UAE suspects for alleged coup plots linked to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The case has raised tensions with the Brotherhood-led government of the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, who is now under extreme pressure at home from protesters and military officials calling for him to step down.

In the Emirates' case against the 94 defendants, prosecutors claimed the al-Islah group was influenced by Muslim Brotherhood ideology to oppose the western-oriented system in the UAE.

The defendants rejected the claims, saying the group only supported Islamic viewpoints and carried out necessary social outreach in poorer areas of the country beyond the skylines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Al-Islah has operated openly for decades in the UAE under the tacit agreement that members would not get involved in political affairs.

In London, the director of the Emirates Centre for Human Rights said the aim of the trial was to "silence political activists and intimidate others who may support democratic reforms".

"Allegations of torture remain without investigation and numerous fair trial standards have been violated," said Rori Donaghy.

"UAE authorities must quash these verdicts, release these individuals against whom they have presented no credible evidence and investigate the allegations of torture that have been made," Donaghy added.

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« Reply #7264 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:27 AM »

Afghan-Pakistani ties in a tailspin, with botched British diplomacy blamed

Pakistan points finger at Hamid Karzai, but many analysts believe diplomatic impasse stems from summit at Chequers

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Monday 1 July 2013 15.51 BST   

It's been five months since David Cameron last lowered himself into the bear pit of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations by opening up his official Buckinghamshire residence to the civilian and military leaderships of the two countries.

Immediately after the Chequers summit, British officials expressed their delight at what they thought had been a breakthrough initiative to bring together an unprecedented number of top players from both sides, including the two presidents, as well as army and spy chiefs.

But it's now clear that Chequers was the exact moment when the fraught relationship between the two sides went into a tailspin, with some critics holding botched British diplomacy partly to blame. Unknown to the UK, which judged the conference a huge success, the Afghan side left feeling deeply aggrieved.

"It was clear it had not been a success," said one diplomat from a third country that was briefed by the entourage of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, soon after Chequers. "The [Foreign Office] gave a very different readout in London and elsewhere. They thought they had discerned a strategic shift in the Pakistani attitude to Afghanistan. But the Afghans were using words like 'zero result'."

With the return of the prime minister to the fraught subject this weekend during a whistle-stop regional tour taking in Kabul and Islamabad, the February summit at Chequers offers lessons about the limits of Britain's powers of persuasion when it comes to the complex realities of what foreign policy wonks like to call "Af-Pak".

With hindsight, the official joint statement produced at the end of the summit now seems ludicrously ambitious. It committed all sides to take steps to "achieve the goal of a peace settlement [in Afghanistan] over the next six months".

But since then, Pakistan has shelled positions on the Afghan side of the disputed border and Pakistani newspapers are full of articles disparaging Karzai. The Afghan president was particularly incensed when a senior Pakistani official was quoted in the international media in March as saying Karzai was the "biggest impediment to the peace process" and that he was "taking Afghanistan straight to hell".

Kabul has responded with its own war of words. In May, hundreds of people in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar staged protests, complete with chants of "Death to Pakistan". Bismillah Khan, the Afghan army chief, is said to have despaired at Karzai's emotional outbursts. One diplomat reported that he has complained his president appears to want "a war with Pakistan".

These cross-border hatreds are a major stumbling block for hopes of a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan is believed to have a veto over any such deal in effect because of the strong influence it has over the Afghan Taliban, whose headquarters are in Pakistani territory.

In an attempt to piece together what went wrong at Chequers, the Guardian talked to senior officials from both sides. Some blame the lack of normal diplomatic niceties for causing friction. Karzai is said to have taken umbrage at one discussion where he found himself sitting opposite Hina Rabbani Khar, then Pakistan's foreign minister, and not his opposite number, President Asif Ali Zardari.

A number of diplomats involved in Afghan and Pakistani affairs say they thought it extraordinary that neither Adam Thomson, the British high commissioner to Pakistan, nor Richard Stagg, the ambassador to Afghanistan, were present. The seasoned diplomats may have been able to smooth ruffled feathers.

But it was a politician, David Cameron, who led the discussion. The brainchild of the prime minister, the trilateral summit was launched amid sky-high hopes that it might start a process that could fix all the outstanding problems between the two countries. But his chairing of the meeting angered the Afghans, who thought Cameron often took the side of Pakistan in discussions.
Honest broker

"We have many in Kabul who think that London has an inherent pro-Pakistani bias, in the same way the US is not seen as an honest broker in the Middle East because of its pro-Israel bias," said Davood Moradian, an analyst in Kabul and confidant of Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Karzai's national security adviser.

"The reason Karzai accepted Cameron's invitation was that he thought the prime minister would attempt to exert some control over their errant child, Pakistan."

The difficulties went deeper than protocol, however. The Afghans left the meeting angry with what they believed were unacceptable demands by Pakistan, which Kabul fears still clings to its old policy of trying to dominate Afghanistan to prevent it making claims on its territory, or giving a perch for India to threaten Pakistan.

One of Afghanistan's senior policymakers told the Guardian that the Afghan side was taken aback by the frankness of the Pakistani team. "For the first time real clarity emerged," the government adviser said. "Some politicians, when they see clarity, they cannot digest it. Some senior politicians are still struggling with that reality."

According to him, that new reality was expressed by Zardari, who articulated his country's concern at the "unproportional increase of the Indian footprint in Afghanistan," he said. They also reportedly pushed for Afghanistan to recognise the Durand Line, the border drawn up the British Raj at the end of the 19th century, which deprived Afghanistan of swaths of territory. Accepting its status would be political suicide for any Afghan leader – even the Taliban regime of the 1990s refused to accept the demands of Pakistan, then its closest ally.

Khar, the Pakistan foreign minister, said such claims were "classic examples" of how Afghanistan "misinterprets everything we say". "I don't think we even used the words 'Durand Line'," she said. "What we do want to talk about is better border management because you cannot afford to have 50,000 people cross every day, unsupervised, unwatched and creating havoc in both countries."

Khar, who said she was "exasperated and discouraged" by the failure of the Chequers summit, said Afghanistan's leaders had been guilty of "playing to the public gallery" and not showing "seriousness of purpose and approach".

But the Afghans see it differently. "We thought we had an understanding with Pakistan that their contribution to the peace process will be non-conditional," the Afghan official said. "In Chequers we found that was not the case."

Pakistani officials respond with their own list of complaints about Kabul. Foremost is the Afghans' habit of blaming Pakistan for almost every big attack launched by the Taliban: many Afghans believe they are directed by Pakistan's military intelligence service. Pakistan has responded with counter-claims that Afghanistan supports and harbours groups attacking Pakistan.

At Chequers, Pakistan demanded an end to "safe havens" they believe the Pakistani Taliban enjoy inside Afghan territory and the extradition of a senior Pakistani Taliban commander held by the Afghans.

Pakistani intelligence officers even claim to have intercepted phone calls "from Kandahar" ordering an attack on 15 June claimed by separatists in Baluchistan province on one of Pakistan's most revered national monuments – a colonial-era house where the country's founder spent much of the last few week of his life.

Pakistan makes no secret of its anxiety to match the influence of India, which in October 2011 signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. Kabul is dragging its feet on a similar deal with Pakistan, demanding progress on its areas of concern first.

Pakistan is also determined to become involved in training the Afghan security forces, but Kabul has consistently turned down offers of places for its officers at Pakistani military academies.

Greatly adding to Islamabad's fury, in March a senior Afghan official was quoted claiming that any Afghans who received training in Pakistan would be regarded as spies and traitors when they returned home. At the same time Afghan officials are disillusioned by what they claim are broken promises made in 2011 to help facilitate a dialogue with the Taliban.

These promises included the release of Taliban prisoners held by Pakistan, support for a conference of senior Afghan and Pakistani clerics in Kabul that it was hoped would have issued a religious fatwa condemning the Taliban tactics of suicide bombing. Although some prisoners were released, they were minor players of whom few people had heard. Afghan officials have questioned whether some of them were insurgents at all.

Pakistan has also held on to Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of Karzai's fellow tribesman who was arrested in Karachi in 2010 after he attempted to start a secret dialogue with Kabul.

The conference of clerics was torpedoed by Tahir Ashrafi, a senior Pakistani mullah, who declared the Afghan Taliban were waging a legitimate jihad against foreign occupation.

And Afghan officials claim Pakistan did nothing to facilitate dialogue, although Pakistani officials deny this. "We had high hopes from this process," the Afghan official said. "But it was a total failure."

Afghan suspicions that Pakistan is not committed to helping the Kabul government talk directly to the Taliban is a key factor poisoning the relationship, a western diplomat said. The Taliban has long refused to negotiate with Karzai, whom it claims heads an illegitimate "puppet" regime.

Last week, Pakistan's official statement welcoming the opening of the Taliban office in Doha merely said it welcomed "the start of direct talks between the US and the Taliban", making no mention of any role for the Afghan government.

Khar said she has been "very, very disappointed" by events since Chequers because her government had worked hard to patch up differences after the open contempt the former president Pervez Musharraf used to show Karzai.

Poisonous roadblock

Recently, however, Pakistan's newspapers have carried prominent stories quoting unnamed foreign ministry and military officials savaging Karzai, who was described as a "poisonous roadblock" to peace. One Pakistani military official was quoted as saying that the US now had no choice but to "accept Taliban as a legitimate power in Afghanistan, talk to them, [and] accommodate their main demands even it meant abandoning assets like Karzai."

A former Pakistani diplomat said the country's army had reasserted full control over Afghan policy by taking advantage of a weak Pakistani foreign ministry during the two-month tenure of a non-political caretaker government before elections on 11 May.

During that time, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, represented Pakistan at an important meeting with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Karzai in Brussels.

Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has not appointed a foreign minister and appears far more interested in India than Afghanistan. "Sharif has allowed this issue to be run by the military but they just don't have the patience required to deal with a man like Karzai," the former diplomat said. "Karzai is the head of state, not a colonel in the Pakistani army who can just be given orders."

Pakistan's army is impatient for the US to negotiate directly and quickly with the Taliban because the military are desperate to split the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani Taliban, said Syed Talat Hussain, a journalist who wrote one of the recent articles reflecting Pakistan's new priorities.

"No nation or leader in the world would accept the kind of dictation [Pakistan] is giving Afghanistan," he said. "But the current Afghan leadership is not a real sample of the sentiment of Afghanistan."

Given the vexed history of a complex dispute and the deep distrust between the two sides, the Kabul analyst Moradian said he had been astonished by the "British naivety in expecting a resolution to an entrenched conflict in just six months".

"Chequers was a British version of a south Asian social institution: the forced marriage," he said. "It was an attempt to force Pakistan and Afghanistan together. But like many forced marriages, it was never likely to last long."

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« Reply #7265 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:30 AM »

North Korea: US must accept offer of talks unconditionally

Foreign minister says standoff on Korean peninsula will not be resolved until US changes tone

Associated Press in Brunei, Tuesday 2 July 2013 10.55 BST   

North Korea's top diplomat has said the US must unconditionally accept its offer of dialogue if it wants to ease tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, adding that hostile policies by Washington against his country make war a possibility.

North Korea surprised many by offering to talk to the US and return to long-stalled international nuclear disarmament talks last month after weeks of tension following its nuclear test in February.

The country also recently eased its warlike rhetoric, but has still vowed to bolster its nuclear arsenal, citing what it calls US military threats. US officials have responded coolly to North Korea's overtures, saying Pyongyang must first demonstrate its sincerity on nuclear disarmament with concrete actions.

The North's nuclear weapons programme was a key topic at the 27-country Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) regional forum, held on Tuesday in Brunei. Asia's largest security forum includes the US, North Korea and the four other countries involved in six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions in return for aid.

During the conference, North Korea's foreign minister, Pak Ui-chun, appealed again for direct talks with the US. "The US must unconditionally accede to … our goodwill gesture if it is truly interested in ending the vicious circle of intensifying tension on the Korean peninsula and safeguarding peace and stability," Pak said, according to the North Korean delegation official Choe Myong-nam.

Pak said there was "a touch-and-go situation in which a war can break out any time" on the Korean peninsula, and US hostility against the North was primarily responsible for that, Choe told reporters. Pak said the US must normalise relations with North Korea and lift sanctions against the country, adding that the North Korean nuclear standoff would not be resolved unless the US changed its tone, according to Choe.

It is unlikely that the US will accept North Korea's dialogue offer any time soon. On Monday the US secretary of state, John Kerry, stepped up pressure on the North to abandon its atomic ambitions, saying key regional powers, including North Korea's ally China, were "absolutely united" in demanding nuclear disarmament.

After meeting his counterparts from China, South Korea and Japan, Kerry told reporters: "I want to emphasise … all four of us are absolutely united and absolutely firm in our insistence that the future with respect to North Korea must include denuclearisation.

"China made clear to me they have made very firm statements and very firm steps that they have taken with respect to the implementation of that policy."

China, North Korea's longtime ally and main aid provider, was angered by the North's ramping up of tensions and has since supported tightening UN sanctions and cracked down on North Korean banking activity.

The nuclear disarmament talks – which involve the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia – have been stalled since North Korea quit the negotiations in 2009 to protest against international condemnation over a rocket launch.

Since the Asean security forum includes all six countries involved in the talks, it has previously provided a chance to use informal discussions to break stalemates over the nuclear standoff. In 2011, top nuclear envoys from the two Koreas met on the sidelines of the forum in Bali, Indonesia, and agreed to work towards a resumption of the six-nation talks.

But there have been no reports that North Korea had similar talks with the US or South Korea in Brunei. US and South Korean officials have said they have no plans to meet privately with North Korea.

The Korean peninsula officially remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The US keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.


White House guarded over North Korea offer of nuclear and security talks

Spokeswoman says Pyongyang must 'live up to its obligations to the world' for offer of talks to be accepted

Matt Williams in New York, Sunday 16 June 2013 16.54 BST   

The White House has responded to an apparent overture by North Korea over nuclear talks, stating that it is open to discussions, but only if Pyongyang lives up to its "obligations to the world".

The guarded response from Washington came after North Korea's high-ranking National Defence Commission proposed "senior-level" negotiations aimed at easing tensions with the US and forging a peace treaty to formally end the Korean war.

The apparent softening line on US relations from Pyongyang comes during a period of relative quiet on the Korean peninsular. Until recently, the situation was marked by bellicose language and posturing, with missile and nuclear tests in the North countered with a stepping up of joint US-South Korea military exercises. But the overture from Pyongyang also comes just days after the withdrawal of a proposal from the North for rare cabinet-level talks with counterparts in the Seoul. Bickering over who would lead the delegations saw the negotiations fall apart before they had begun.

In that context, the latest overture to Washington has been interpreted by some as an attempt to go over the head of Seoul, in a deliberate snub. It would also mirror a forthcoming meeting between South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, and Xi Jinping of China, which Pyongyang counts as its one major ally.

The White House acknowledged the statement from the National Defence Commission, which is headed by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. But the Obama administration fell short of committing itself to talks.

"We have always favoured dialogue and, in fact, have open lines of communication with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said on Sunday. The aim was to have "credible negotiations" with North Korea, she added, but this would have to involve the North "living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and ultimately in denuclearisation."

A senior official from the administration told the Guardian that prior to any talks with Pyongyang taking place, the matter would first have to be discussed with Washington's partners in the region – Japan and South Korea. A meeting between the three allies has been set up for this week, it is understood.

After the sabre-rattling of late 2012 and early 2013 – which culminated in Pyongyang warning of "nuclear war" in April – tensions on the peninsula have faded, to a degree, in recent months. Reporters in the North have noted a softening of propaganda, with billboards calling on Koreans to "wipe away the American imperialist aggressors" having been taken down.

The pattern of North Korea calling for talks after embarking on perceived provocative actions has been seen before, with experts in the West suggesting the impoverished nation uses the tactic in order to draw out greater concessions. But Washington may be wary, having been stung before. A significant food-for-disarmament deal which was agreed in February 2012, after months of discussions, was soon scuppered by a resumption of missile tests by the North.

A sticking point could be the belief held by Pyongyang that the US still has nuclear weapons stored in South Korea – a claim Washington has denied. The talks the North proposed on Sunday would address "denuclearising the whole peninsula, including South Korea, and aims at totally ending the US nuclear threat", according to the National Defence Commission.

The statement said it was now up to Washington to propose a date and venue for talks.

The new development comes as the peninsula prepares to mark the 60th anniversary, next month, of the armistice that put ended active fighting in the Korean War. Pyongyang has said it is keen to have a peace treaty signed by the US, a move that would formally end the conflict that lasted from 1950 to 1953.

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« Reply #7266 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:31 AM »

July 1, 2013

Australian Leader Announces Cabinet With Record Number of Women


SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who supplanted Australia’s first female prime minister last week in a party coup, announced a new cabinet on Monday that includes more women than any other in the country’s history.

Lawmakers of the governing Labor Party put Mr. Rudd back in power last Wednesday — replacing Julia Gilliard, who had replaced Mr. Rudd in 2010 — because of fears that the party was headed for a landslide defeat in national elections scheduled for September.

The new cabinet of 29 ministers includes 11 women, 6 in senior positions and 5 in junior roles.

Mr. Rudd dismissed suggestions that his choices pandered to female voters who may have been bothered by Ms. Gillard’s abrupt dismissal. “These are women who are strong, professional, highly experienced, and they are there exclusively on their merit,” Mr. Rudd said in an interview on Monday with the Channel Seven television network.

Years of infighting over the leadership have left the Labor Party deeply divided. At least six ministers resigned after Mr. Rudd replaced Ms. Gillard, leaving a dearth of experienced lawmakers in the cabinet. Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal-National coalition, was dismissive, saying that the cabinet “isn’t even the B team, it’s the C team.”

Ms. Gillard said after the party removed her from the leadership that she would retire from politics. Her poll ratings slumped over her three years in office as she struggled to assert her authority, deal with party dissent and communicate her legislative successes. Two recent polls suggested that Mr. Rudd’s return to office gave Labor a boost and signaled a close race in September.
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« Reply #7267 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Mongolian neo-Nazi group now pushing ‘resource nationalism’

By Reuters
Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:25 EDT

By Carlos Barria

ULAN BATOR (Reuters) – A Mongolian neo-Nazi group has rebranded itself as an environmentalist organization fighting pollution by foreign-owned mines, seeking legitimacy as it sends Swastika-wearing members to check mining permits.

Tsagaan Khass, or White Swastika, has only 100-plus members but it is one of several groups with names like Dayar Mongol (Whole Mongolia), Gal Undesten (Fire Nation) and Khukh Mongol (Blue Mongolia), expanding a wave of resource nationalism as foreign firms seek to exploit the mineral wealth of the vast country, landlocked between Russia and China.

From an office behind a lingerie store in the Mongolian capital, the shaven-headed, jackbooted Tsagaan Khass storm-troopers launch bizarre raids on mining projects, demanding paperwork or soil samples to be studied for contaminants.

“Before we used to work in a harsh way, like breaking down doors, but now we have changed and we use other approaches, like demonstrations,” the group’s leader, Ariunbold Altankhuum, 40, told Reuters, speaking through a translator.

On a patrol to a quarry in grasslands a dusty two-hour ride from the capital, members wore black SS-style Nazi uniforms complete with lightning flashes and replica Iron Crosses.

They questioned a mine worker against the sound of machinery grinding stones about paper work, opting to return in a week when the owner had returned.

“Today our main goal is to save nature. We are doing things to protect the environment,” Altankhuum said. “The development of mining is growing and has become an issue.”

The group, founded in the 1990s, says it wants to halt pollution in the landlocked former Soviet satellite as foreign companies dig for gold, copper, coal and iron ore using cheap labor from neighboring China and nearby Southeast Asia. But a lot of the pollution is caused by local, illegal miners working individually.

“We used to talk about fighting with foreigners, but some time ago we realized that is not efficient, so our purpose changed from fighting foreigners in the streets to fighting the mining companies,” Altankhuum said.

Foreign-invested mining companies contacted by Reuters either were unavailable for comment or did not want to comment.

Mongolians fear foreign workers are taking up scarce jobs in an economy where nearly 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Asia Development Bank.

“Mining is important because it’s 90 percent of our economy,” said political commentator Dambadarjaa Jargalsaikhan. “But the unequal channeling of this revenue, the inequality in this country, that’s the major issue.”

Not helping the Tsagaan Khass environmental credentials among mainstream observers, apart from the uniforms, is Altankhuum’s reverence for Adolf Hitler.

“The reason we chose this way is because what is happening here in Mongolia is like 1939, and Hitler’s movement transformed his country into a powerful country,” he said.


Because of comments like that, some observers dismiss groups such as his as self-serving and irrelevant.

“Mongolia’s neo-Nazis have been receiving too much attention from global media, and they’ve obviously been enjoying it,” said Tal Liron, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago who specializes in national identity. “They do not, however, represent Mongolians as a whole, any more than neo-Nazis in Britain represent the Brits.

“…Mongolians are cosmopolitan, savvy and perfectly capable of adapting many foreign ideologies and fashions to their context. For example, they have since 1990 thoroughly and vibrantly embraced representative democracy, just as they embraced socialism before 1990. I think that’s the real story here: Mongolians are not and perhaps never were a remote, isolated people. And they’re also quite capable of understanding irony, especially in regards to their contemporary condition.”

Resource nationalism has been a major election issue in Mongolia, where the largest foreign investment is the Oyu Tolgoi project, 66 percent owned by global miner Rio Tinto and the rest by the government.

Oyu Tolgoi is expected to boost Mongolia’s economy by about a third by 2020. Annual output in its first decade is expected to average 330,000 tons of copper and 495,000 ounces of gold.

But Rio has said since February it will not begin exports from the mine until it resolves disputes with Mongolia over royalties, costs, management fees and project financing.

“They are saying they have signed contracts on it and are giving some percentage of that to the people,” Dorjgotov Purev-Ish, a 39-year-old manual laborer, told Reuters, describing government assurances of the advantages to flow from Oyu Tolgoi.

“But our family hasn’t received any benefit.”

Incumbent president Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who wants more controls on foreign mining investment, won a second term last week, riding concerns over the faltering economy and the growing role of foreign firms.

Colonel Tumenjargal Sainjargal of the National Police Department said the right-wing phenomenon began 15 years ago when young people grew angry at the appearance of foreign languages on signs and made threats against business owners.

“They said it was too much, that it looked like a Chinatown,” Sainjargal said.

“There are complaints that some foreign-invested companies hire Mongolian employees and cheat them, use violence, over work them, or refuse to pay money owed to them. Afterwards, some of these Mongolians call the nationalist groups. There have been a few incidents with nationalists coming to companies for violent reasons to resolve the conflicts in their own way.”

It seems unlikely Tsagaan Khass’s new green thinking will be enough to repair its reputation after accusations of violence, such as shaving the heads of women it claimed were prostitutes serving foreign customers.

“We didn’t shave the heads of the women, we just cut their hair,” said Altankhuum. “But today we are changing. That was crude. That time has passed.”

(Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Nick Macfie)

[Image: Ariunbold Altankhuum, founder of Mongolian neo-Nazi group Tsagaan Khass, stands next to a statue of Chingunjav, a Mongolian national hero (unseen), in Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. By Carlos Barria for Reuters.]

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« Reply #7268 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:35 AM »

China to join Russia for largest naval drills with foreign partner

Exercises are intended to deepen co-operation between militaries, says Chinese army chief

Associated Press in Beijing, Tuesday 2 July 2013 10.06 BST   

China will join Russia later this week for its largest-ever naval drills with a foreign partner, underlining deepening ties between the former cold war rivals along with Beijing's desire for closer links with regional militaries.

China has long been a key customer for Russian military hardware, but only in the last decade have their militaries begun taking part in joint exercises.

China's defence ministry said on Tuesday that its navy would send four destroyers, two guided missile frigates and a support ship for the exercises, which start on Friday in the Sea of Japan and run until 12 July.

The ships departed on Monday from the port of Qingdao, where China's Northern Fleet is based, and headed for the rallying point in Peter the Great Bay near Vladivostok.

"This marks our navy's single biggest deployment of military force in a China-foreign joint exercise," the ministry said.

General Fang Fenghui, the People's Liberation Army chief of the general staff, announced the exercises during a visit to Moscow, where he met his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov. The two also announced that another round of anti-terrorism joint drills would be held in Russia's Ural mountains from 27 July to 15 August.

In comments reported by the official Liberation Army Daily, Fang emphasised that outsiders should not consider the exercises threatening.

"The joint drill conducted by the two militaries of China and Russia do not target any third parties. Their aim is to deepen co-operation between the two militaries in the training field, boost capacity in co-ordinating military activities, and serve the purpose of safeguarding regional security and stability," Fang said.

China began deploying ships to the anti-piracy flotilla off the coast of Somalia in 2008 and in recent years its navy has joined in a series of joint drills in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Chinese land units have taken part in border security and anti-terrorism exercises organised by the six-nation Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

Co-operation with the US navy, the predominant maritime force in the region, has been more limited, although China will take part next year in the US-organised multinational Rim of the Pacific exercises, the world's largest maritime exercise.

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« Reply #7269 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Thousands march in Hong Kong to demand democratic reforms

Protesters use anniversary of the handover from Britain to press for universal suffrage and elections for chief executive

Tania Branigan in Hong Kong, Monday 1 July 2013 18.08 BST   

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents endured torrential rain on Monday to push for promised democratic reforms and protest against the government. The annual 1 July march marks the anniversary of the territory's handover from Britain to China 16 years ago. But this year's protest was fuelled by anger at the unpopular Beijing-backed chief executive and concerns ranging from growing inequality to the influence of mainland Chinese in the territory.

One group carried a large banner reading "Chinese colonists, get out!" while others chanted: "One person, one foot! Kick Leung Chun-ying out!"

Organisers had hoped for one of the biggest turnouts since 2003, when half a million protesters surged onto the streets amid fury over proposed national security legislation. Supporters complained that pro-establishment groups tried to lure potential marchers away with a cheap concert and shopping discounts, but heavy rain was probably the biggest deterrent. Police said 33,500 had set out from the starting point, Victoria Park, while organisers have yet to release an estimate.

Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Hong Kong is a part of China but enjoys far greater freedoms. Beijing has promised universal suffrage for elections for the chief executive in 2017 and for the legislature by 2020. But most are suspicious of these pledges.

"The message of today's impressive turnout despite the rainy weather is clear: more Hong Kong people are demanding a faster pace and larger scope of democratic reform from the Hong Kong government, which is, however, politically sandwiched between the democrats and the central government in Beijing," said Sonny Lo, co-director of the centre for governance and citizenship at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

"Given Beijing's distrust of the people of Hong Kong, who may really elect a chief executive independent of the centre's control, the 2017 chief executive election reform would likely be piecemeal and characterised by a nominating committee screening out 'politically unsafe' candidates."

That will not satisfy democrats, he pointed out – which would lead to the inevitable push towards the Occupy Central movement, a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience proposed for next summer if there is no real movement towards universal suffrage.

"The central government has to come up with a timetable and proposal to say how Hong Kong people can truly have one person, one vote instead of it being decided by 1,200 members of the ruling class," said Ed Chin, one of Occupy Central's organisers.

Earlier this year, a senior mainland official increased concerns by saying China would not accept a leader who confronted Beijing. On Monday, Leung said he would launch a consultation on universal suffrage "at an appropriate juncture", as he addressed a reception to celebrate the handover's anniversary.

Leung has been hit by scandals since taking power a year ago, ranging from illegal building work at his mansion to last week's fraud conviction for his first development secretary, Mak Chai-kwong.

But marcher KC Wong, who was pushing a giant red monster he had constructed, with flashing eyes and the yellow stars of the Chinese flag, said: "It's not only CY Leung that people are unhappy with: he is a puppet; it is who is behind the puppet."

The 43-year-old artist said his creation was inspired by a Japanese manga series about humans who live in walled cities to protect themselves from gigantic creatures who devour them. "Our city walls are falling one by one," he said. "You can see that in social, political and economic aspects Hong Kong is falling down – and, of course, people have asked for universal suffrage but been constantly denied."

He also complained that mainland influences were encouraging corruption and that an influx of mainland tourists was eroding local culture.

Nerissa Tsui, 21, said she was marching for the first time because issues such as housing had become so pressing. "People are living in [single] rooms, even cages, and the government says there is wealth and growth," she said.

Chau Kam-kwan and her husband Lee Siu-cheung, both retired, said they were worried about "brainwashing education" – the attempt to introduce national education courses, shelved last year after huge protests. . "We know a lot about our country, China, and love it. But we don't love this party," said Chau.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of groups which organised the demonstration, has yet to release an estimate of the number of marchers. Organisers said 400,000 people attended last year, while police put the figure at 63,000.

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« Reply #7270 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Extremophile microbes to inherit the Earth in two billion years

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 1, 2013 20:56 EDT

Two billion years from now, an ever-hotter Sun will have cooked the Earth, leaving microbes confined to pockets of water in mountains or caves as the last survivors, a study said Monday.

The bleak scenario is proposed by astrobiologist Jack O’Malley-James of the University of St. Andrews, Edinburgh.

As the Sun ages over the next billion years, it will become more luminous, cranking up the thermostat on the Earth, O’Malley-James suggests in a computer model presented at a meeting of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

Increased evaporation rates and chemical reactions with rainwater will cause a dramatic fall in levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), on which plants depend for photosynthesis. Animals, in turn, depend on plants.

Over the second billion years, the oceans will dry up completely, leaving extremophiles — microbial life able to cope with intense ultra-violet radiation and raging heat from the Sun — to inherit the planet.

“The far-future Earth will be very hostile to life by this point,” O’Malley-James said in an RAS press release.

“All living things require liquid water, so any remaining life will be restricted to pockets of liquid water, perhaps at cooler, higher altitudes or in caves or underground.”

But 2.8 billion years hence, even these hardy holdouts will have followed the dodo, according to his model.

The finding could help hunters of exoplanets who dream of finding an Earth-like planet in another solar system.

A dying planet would have a telltale nitrogen atmosphere where there would be only traces of methane pointing to residual bacterial life.

The five-day RAS annual meeting, gathering more than 600 astronomers and space scientists, runs at St. Andrews until Friday.

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« Reply #7271 on: Jul 02, 2013, 06:53 AM »

In the USA...

July 1, 2013

Snowden Is Said to Claim U.S. Is Blocking Asylum Bids


Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive former American security contractor, appeared to break his silence on Monday for the first time since he flew to Moscow eight days earlier. WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group, issued a statement attributed to him that denounced President Obama for revoking his passport, opposing his asylum requests and leaving him a “stateless person.”

The statement posted on the Web site of WikiLeaks, which has been assisting Mr. Snowden, accused Mr. Obama and the United States government of seeking to intimidate him and deceive the world because of his disclosures about the vast global surveillance efforts of American intelligence agencies.

The statement attributed to Mr. Snowden cited Mr. Obama’s assertion last week that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” with other countries that may wish to grant him asylum. But, it said, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been pressuring “the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.”

Mr. Biden telephoned President Rafael Correa of Ecuador last week and asked him not to grant Mr. Snowden asylum, Mr. Correa said Saturday.

“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon,” the statement attributed to Mr. Snowden said. “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.”

A later post, which appeared early Tuesday on the WikiLeaks Web site, said that Sarah Harrison, the group’s legal adviser in the Snowden matter, had “submitted by hand a number of requests for asylum and asylum assistance on behalf” of Mr. Snowden to 19 countries. They were listed as Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.

The post said the requests, which “outline the risks of persecution Mr. Snowden faces in the United States,” were delivered to an official at the Russian Consulate at the Moscow airport where, according to Russian officials, Mr. Snowden is ensconced in an international transit lounge, trying to determine his next step, and has technically not entered Russian territory. It said the consulate had started delivering the requests to the relevant embassies in Moscow.

The statement on Monday attributed to Mr. Snowden appeared to be the first direct word from him about his predicament since his flight to Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23 despite an American request to the Hong Kong authorities to arrest Mr. Snowden, who is accused of violating espionage laws. His disclosures have embarrassed the Obama administration and caused tensions with other countries, including China, Russia and European Union members.

Mr. Snowden, 30, has still not been publicly seen in Russia, and there was no way to immediately verify that he had made the statement attributed to him.

Mr. Snowden’s case appeared to be causing tensions between the government of Ecuador and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Mr. Assange has been in Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year, given asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations that he sexually assaulted two women.

“The conduct of Assange has bothered me a little, and this morning I spoke with the foreign minister to tell him not to speak about our country’s situations,” Mr. Correa said Monday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Correa was apparently displeased by comments that Mr. Assange made on Sunday on the ABC program “This Week” regarding Mr. Biden’s telephone call. Mr. Assange characterized that call as an effort to pressure Mr. Correa. “What does he know about the call from Joe Biden?” Mr. Correa was quoted as saying by A.F.P. “And he says that he called to pressure me. I have never permitted a call to put pressure on me.”

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and William Neuman from Quito, Ecuador.


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


July 1, 2013

Experts See New Normal as a Hotter, Drier West Faces More Huge Fires


One of the deadliest wildfires in a generation vastly expanded Monday to cover more than 8,000 acres, sweeping up sharp slopes through dry scrub and gnarled piñon pines a day after fickle winds and flames killed 19 firefighters.

The gusty monsoon winds where the Colorado Plateau begins to drop off into the Sonoran Desert continued to bedevil about 400 firefighters who were defending 500 homes and 200 businesses in the old gold mining villages of Yarnell and Peeples Valley.

Scientists said those blazes and 15 others that remained uncontained from New Mexico to California and Idaho were part of the new normal — an increasingly hot and dry West, resulting in more catastrophic fires.

Since 1970, Arizona has warmed at a rate 0.72 degrees per decade, the fastest among the 50 states, based on an analysis of temperature data by Climate Central, an independent organization that researches and reports on climate. Even as the temperatures have leveled off in many places around the world in the past decade, the Southwest has continued to get hotter.

“The decade of 2001 to 2010 in Arizona was the hottest in both spring and the summer,” said Gregg Garfin, a professor of climate, natural resources and policy at the University of Arizona and the executive editor of a study examining the impact of climate change on the Southwest.

Warmer winters mean less snowfall. More of the winter precipitation falls as rain, which quickly flows away in streams instead of seeping deep underground.

The soils then dry out earlier and more quickly in May and June. “It’s the most arid time of year,” Dr. Garfin said. “It’s windy as well.”

The growing season also starts earlier, so there is more to burn.

“The fire season has lengthened substantially, by two months, over the last 30 years,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist at the United States Geological Survey station at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

The fire potential is exacerbated by the past policy, beginning around 1900, of putting out all fires. Fires are a natural way of clearing out the underbrush. With that natural rhythm disrupted, the flammable material piled up, so when it did catch fire, it ignited a giant fire that burned hotter and wider.

This total-suppression policy began to ease as early as the 1950s, when scientists began to see fire’s role in ecosystems. It was completely abandoned nearly two decades ago.

But in the 1970s, the Southwest entered a wet period, part of a climate cycle that repeats every 20 to 30 years. “That wet period helped keep a lid on fires,” Dr. Allen said. “And it also allowed the forests to fluff up.”

Since 1996, the climate pattern, known as the Pacific decadal oscillation, has swung to the dry end of the spectrum, and the region is caught in a long-term drought.

Stephen J. Pyne, one of the nation’s leading fire historians and a professor at Arizona State University, said, “How we live on the land, what we decide we put on public and private lands, how we do things and don’t do things on the land, changes its combustibility.”

In many landscapes, he added, “you’ve enhanced the natural combustibility” by building hundreds of thousands of homes in fire-prone areas, and for years suppressing natural fires, allowing a buildup of combustible materials like the “slash” debris left behind by logging.

“The natural conditions, particularly climate, the land-use changes that interact with it and how we add or subtract fire, those are the three parts of the fire triangle. Almost all of those are pointing in the same direction — bigger, more damaging fires,” he said.

While Yarnell is not a new community, and its population remained basically stable between 2000 and 2010, it is representative of the risk involved in the trend around the West for people to move into fire-prone areas in what social scientists call the “wild land-urban interface.”

Those expanding communities, with rural views but more urban economies, have been the focus of concern among federal and state officials for a decade or more. While such regions are more plentiful in the East, it is in the areas west of the 100th longitude, reaching from West Texas and the Dakotas to the Pacific Ocean, where the natural aridity, increasingly exacerbated by climate change, makes fires a common threat.

In the West in the 1990s, more than 2.2 million housing units were added in these fire-prone areas, according to testimony by Roger B. Hammer, a demographer at Oregon State University and a leading authority on the issue. Speaking to a House subcommittee in 2008, he called this a “wicked problem,” and predicted an additional 12.3 million homes would be built in such areas in Western states — more than double the current numbers.

Government and scientific data show that destructive sweep of wildfires covered an annual average of seven million acres in the 2000s, twice the totals of the 1990s. Michael Kodas, who is writing a book on modern firefighting, wrote in On Earth magazine last year that scientists believe that number will rise 50 percent or more by 2020.

Yet in fiscal 2013, more than $1.7 billion, or 38 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, was to be devoted to firefighting in general, with $537.8 million — a slight reduction from the previous year — specifically allocated for wildland fires. The Interior Department’s appropriation for wildland firefighting was $276.5 million, a slight increase over the previous year.

But the federal budget sequester eliminated $28 million from the Forest Service budget, although Interior’s remained nearly level. This occurred even though both agencies overspent 2012 budgets of similar size, and though federal firefighters are often first responders, working alongside their state colleagues during blazes like the Yarnell Hill fire.

“The Forest Service is being treated as a firefighter of last resort,” Dr. Pyne said. This, he added, “is not what the agency was set up for, and it’s not financed for it.”

Dr. Allen said that what was different in the recent fires — hotter, more enveloping — is that they are killing far more trees. “We’re seeing the size of postfire treeless patches merging into thousands of acres,” he said, “sometimes many thousands of acres.”

That could permanently transform much of the Arizona landscape as grasslands and shrubs fill in the empty space.

Fernanda Santos and John Dougherty contributed reporting from Prescott, Ariz., and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a contributor. He is John Dougherty, not Doherty.


Texas Abortion Fight Not Over

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, July 1, 2013 13:42 EDT

Gov. Rick Perry petulantly called another special session to pass a massive anti-abortion bill, basically giving up any pretense of using the special sessions for what they were created for, emergencies. Obviously, the hope is that by returning to the same well over and over again, Texas Republicans can just wear out pro-choicers and get this massive bill, which will shut down 37 out of 42 abortion clinics in the state, passed. But what do we say to death (of our pro-choice dreams)? Not today. The crowds at the Capitol Building look huge:

Another shot:

There’s very little chance that Republicans won’t get away with this, though it’s so obviously and aggressively not about “women’s health” as they claim that I expect it will get tied up in court pretty quickly. Multiple politicians, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, have openly stated that this is about stopping safe, legal abortion in the state, and have barely even glanced by the new anti-choice strategy of pretending that ever-increasing regulations on clinics have anything to do with making abortion safer. (I never understood how we’re supposed to really believe that anti-choicers sincerely want to make abortion safer anyway. They claim to believe it’s murder. What kind of person wants to make it safer for a murderer to murder? They are just so full of shit.) The fact of the matter is requiring abortion clinics to be run like they’re hospitals makes abortion less safe by making it unavailable. Texas is, as someone who is from there, exactly the sort of place where a black market will rise up the second legally available abortion disappears. This is extremely dangerous.

To drive home how serious this bill is, Laura Clawson at Daily Kos put together a gif to show how this will affect abortion clinics.

I grew up in the West part of the state, so I can tell you just by eyeballing this what it all means. If you live in El Paso, that means you’d have to drive 8 hours to the nearest abortion clinic in the state. (They’ll probably just go to New Mexico instead, even though they also have very few clinics.) If you live in Lubbock, it’s about a six hour drive. Now, remember that there’s a 24-hour waiting period for abortion in the state, which means that if you live in West Texas and you go to say, San Antonio, you need a day to drive there, a day for the first meeting with the doctor, another day for the abortion, and another day to drive home. So that’s four nights in a hotel. The cheapest I found was for about $60 a night.

Adding it up, therefore, the cost of getting an abortion if you live in West Texas and have to drive to San Antonio:

Abortion itself: $500

Hotel: $300, with taxes and fees

Transportation: $150, based on a car that gets 25/mpg and current gas prices

Food: If you’re frugal, about $60

That comes in around $1,010. Based on the median pay of an American worker, that’s 1 and a half weeks of work, not counting the four days lost wages. However, women who get abortions are more likely to be low income, so it’s probably a much bigger chunk of their budget.

And that’s for the lucky ones. These clinics are probably going to get overloaded, for one thing. For another, a lot of women are going to look at that price tag and start looking on the black market. Let’s be clear: In Texas, that’s going to be a huge temptation. In Mexico, it’s already common for people to use an over-the-counter ulcer medication that is known to induce miscarriage. That knowledge is spreading quickly across Texas, and women are opting for that instead. Which makes perfect sense, and probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, safety-wise, but it still makes me uneasy. For one thing, Cytotec isn’t the same thing as RU-486. It doesn’t terminate the pregnancy before expelling it, like RU-486, making the whole process more fraught. Second of all, it’s hard to tell what the right dose, etc. is. Women are just going to wing it, because the alternative is that $1,000 bill they can’t afford.

One thing that won’t happen is anti-choice fantasies of happy mothers gratefully thanking Rick Perry for forcing childbirth on them. That didn’t happen when his cuts to family planning caused the unwanted child-bearing rate to go up, and it won’t happen now. This will just cause suffering and pain, and hurt Texas women and their families.


July 1, 2013

North Carolina’s Deep Cut to Jobless Benefits Takes Effect Amid Protests


North Carolina’s sharp cuts in benefits to the unemployed went into effect this week, amid a swelling public outcry.

The far-reaching changes enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature in February decreased the maximum benefit payout by more than one-third, which will result in a decline in the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid. The measure also reduced the number of weeks residents can receive unemployment aid.

The overhaul was the centerpiece of a renewed protest in Raleigh on Monday, the ninth organized in recent months by the N.A.A.C.P. and an expanding roster of allies. Critics said the state’s agenda was undermining the economic stability of residents.

“They are literally hurting people, and it is wrong,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. “It’s about violating people’s deepest moral values. Even when you have a majority, you’re not allowed to violate moral values.”

North Carolina, which has the fifth-highest jobless rate in the nation, at 8.8 percent, acted in an attempt to eliminate a debt to the federal government of more than $2 billion, legislators said.

Along with the reductions in unemployment benefits, the state imposed higher taxes on businesses. The changes are expected to help North Carolina pay off its debt to Washington in 2015, three years earlier than first planned.

“We’re responsible for making sure that all North Carolinians have a sound state government,” said State Representative George Cleveland, a Republican sponsor of the proposal, which won bipartisan backing. “This was a necessary step in that direction.”

The average unemployment benefit in North Carolina for the first quarter of 2013 was $298.90 a week, according to the United States Department of Labor.

When he signed the bill into law, Gov. Pat McCrory said the measure would “ensure our citizens’ unemployment safety net is secure and financially sound for future generations and help provide an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again.”

But critics argue that the proposal unfairly strikes at the state’s poor and unemployed and allows businesses to escape without significant sacrifice.

“From where I stand, the main motivation was to come up with a plan to repay as fast as possible with little or no taxes being raised on employers,” said Bill Rowe, the director of advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center, a research and advocacy organization.

By trimming unemployment benefits as it did, North Carolina abandoned its participation in a federal Labor Department program that helps jobless residents whose state payouts have run their course.

States lose their eligibility if they decrease average weekly benefits, although they are permitted to make other changes to fine-tune their individual programs, said George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project, a policy group.

He added that the Labor Department, which said North Carolina’s exit from the program would affect 170,000 residents by the end of the year, had no authority to maintain the payments in the wake of the overhaul.

And one week after the police arrested nearly 120 people at a “Moral Monday” demonstration, a record for the growing social movement, its supporters predicted that the cuts would attract larger crowds to Raleigh. (Monday’s protest led to at least 75 arrests, The Associated Press reported.)

“The unemployment benefit cuts are the first real-world impact of the radical, regressive agenda that this legislature has adopted. The pain is starting to be real,” said Penda Hair, a co-director of the Washington-based Advancement Project, a civil rights group that has provided assistance to Moral Monday organizers. “The momentum has built every week. I would expect to see large numbers of people turning out.”

Republican lawmakers, including Mr. Cleveland, said the protests would not influence their position.

“It’s their right to be there,” Mr. Cleveland said of the demonstrators. “It doesn’t solidify or change any of my thinking.”

But others said they believed the protests would ultimately carry weight.

“People may be saying it doesn’t matter, but I can’t imagine how you could avoid being affected by that many people coming each week,” Mr. Rowe said. “I think in the long run, it will.”

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« Reply #7272 on: Jul 03, 2013, 06:17 AM »

Bolivian president's jet rerouted amid suspicions Edward Snowden on board

France and Portugal accused of refusing entry to their airspace, while plane lands in Vienna with no sign of Snowden

Dan Roberts in Washington and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 July 2013   

Link to video: Bolivian president's plane grounded in Vienna

Bolivia reacted with fury after a plane carrying the country's president home from Russia was diverted to Vienna amid suspicions that it was carrying the surveillance whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

France and Portugal were accused of withdrawing permission for the plane, carrying the president, Evo Morales, from energy talks in Moscow, to pass through their airspace.

Officials in both Austria and Bolivia said Snowden was not on the plane. The Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said: "We don't know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales."

In a midnight press conference, Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia said Italy and Spain were also denying the plane permission to fly through their airspace. He described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.

"The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorisation to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9am Wednesday they would be in contact with us again," defence minister Ruben Saavedra said. The Spanish government had made "revision of the presidential plane" a condition of granting it passage, he said.

Choquehuanca earlier told reporters Portugal and France had abruptly cancelled air permits. "They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr Snowden was on the plane."

Choquehuanca said in a statement that after France and Portugal cancelled authorisation for the flight, Spain's government allowed the plane to be refuelled in its territory. From there the plane flew on to Vienna. He said the decision by France and Portugal "put at risk the life of the president".

Saavedra, who was on the flight, said: "This is a hostile act by the United States State Department which has used various European governments."

Later he said France and Portugal had reconsidered and had agreed to allow Morales' plane to overfly, but Italy and Spain were still refusing.

"Two countries have changed their positions, first France and now Portugal," Saavedra said. "We will patiently seek to resolve the negative position taken by Italy and Spain, according to international norms."

Morales was in Vienna airport early on Wednesday discussing with the plane's crew how to reschedule the plane's return to Bolivia, Saavedra said.

Officials at the White House were not immediately able to comment on whether it had put pressure on western European allies to refuse to allow the plane to enter their airspace.

Officials at Portugal's foreign ministry and National Civil Aviation Authority could not be reached for comment. French government officials reached overnight said they could not confirm whether Morales' plane was denied permission to fly over France.

The precautions may have been prompted by a desire among governments in Paris and Lisbon to avoid entanglement in the affair – especially with public opinion in Europe running strongly against revelations of US spying.

Morales had earlier used a television interview in Moscow to hint strongly that Bolivia would look favourably on an asylum request from Snowden.

As other options began to fade for Snowden, trapped in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, Morales said his country was keen to "shield the denounced".

Speaking in Moscow, Morales said Bolivia had not received a formal application for asylum from Snowden yet, but hinted it would consider any request favourably.

"If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea," Morales told RT Actualidad, the Spanish-language service of Russian broadcaster RT.

"I know that the empires have an espionage network and are against the so-called developing countries. And in particular, against those which are rich in natural resources," he added.

His comments were echoed by favourable noises from Venezuela, another possible exit route for the former NSA contractor. President Nicolás Maduro said Caracas was also ready to consider Snowden's asylum should he ask for it.

Maduro said Snowden should be given a "humanitarian medal" for revealing details of NSA surveillance programmes on US and foreign citizens. "He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb," Maduro told Russia's Interfax news agency. "What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law."

Snowden's father, meanwhile, stepped up the rhetoric in favour of his son's actions on Tuesday, publishing an open letter that compared him to colonial independence fighter Paul Revere. The letter was signed by Lon Snowden and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, who also reported receiving a phone call from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Fein told the Associated Press that Assange, in the phone call on Saturday, delivered what he said was a message from Snowden to his father, asking him to keep quiet.

In the open letter, Lon Snowden wrote in glowing terms about his son.

"You have forced onto the national agenda the question of whether the American people prefer the right to be left alone from government snooping absent probable cause to believe crime is afoot to vassalage," he wrote. "You are a modern day Paul Revere: summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government."

In Washington, the US state department said it was "hopeful" Snowden would be returned to the US to face charges of espionage and theft after a string of other countries said they would not accept Snowden's petition for asylum.

Speaking before the developments in Vienna, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected claims made by Snowden on Monday the US had bullied other potential hosts such as Ecuador into withdrawing their offer of asylum. "I am not sure what the basis for those claims are," she said.

The US insists it has simply impressed upon possible host countries the seriousness of the crimes that Snowden has been charged with.

Psaki also defended a decision to suspend his passport, an act which has left Snowden unable to the leave the airport transit zone and which he described as "using national identity as a weapon". The state department says such a response is normal when a US citizen attempts to flee arrest in this way.


Is Edward Snowden stateless and where can he go?

Even if another state grants Snowden asylum and issues him with a letter of passage, Russia would have to agree to accept it

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 July 2013 17.34 BST   

Is Edward Snowden stateless?

The US whistleblower has accused Washington of revoking his passport, leaving him a stateless person. The Obama administration, however, insists it has only cancelled the validity of Snowden's travel document, not deprived him of citizenship. The US State Department has now offered him a "one-entry travel document" to return home – an option unlikely to tempt Snowden to board a US-bound plane.
Can he be rendered stateless?

Making anybody stateless is formally forbidden by the universal declaration of human rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. , which declares under article 15 that: "(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality; (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality." Individuals can voluntarily renounce their US citizenship – but they have to turn up in person at a US embassy.

Are airports outside national territory?

States normally retain full control over airside transit areas. Russia appears to be treating Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport, where Snowden is believed to be hiding, as beyond its control. Gemma Lindfield, a London barrister specialising in extradition and international law, said: "Russia is taking the view that he has not entered Russian territory. It's finding a reason to do what it wants. The authorities have redefined the space of the airport as international."
What documents would Snowden require to leave Moscow?

Ecuador initially provided him with a laissez-passer (from the French for "let pass"), or temporary letter of passage, requesting a country to allow a person without other identity documents to cross international borders. But even with a laissez-passer, Lindfield said, "Russia would have to agree to accept it. It would also come down to whether the airline carrier would be happy to take him."
How long can anyone remain in an airport?

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee, lived in the departure lounge of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years. His story, Terminal Man, was later turned into a film, The Terminal. Another Iranian refugee, Zahra Kamalfar, spent 10 months at Sheremetyevo airport before flying on to Canada in 2007. Apart from Julian Assange, who is confined to Ecuador's embassy in London, others trapped in long-term legal limbo have included Archbishop József Mindszenty, the Catholic primate of Hungary, who spent 15 years in the US embassy in Budapest.

What are Snowden's other options?

Formal requests for asylum have been lodged on Snowden's behalf with 21 states. His initial applications were to Ecuador and Iceland. The WikiLeaks activist Sarah Harrison has submitted additional letters to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
How are those requests progressing?

Snowden has withdrawn his asylum request to Russia because it said he would be welcome only if he stopped "his work aimed at bringing harm" to the US. Norway, Poland, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain and Switzerland say that asylum requests can only be made on their soil. Ecuador is reported to have revoked the safe passage letter written for Snowden to leave Hong Kong because the president, Rafael Correa, was not informed before it was issued.

Which country should he choose to escape the reach of US justice?

States that do not have extradition treaties with the US are likely to offer the best hope of securing his freedom. But lawyers point out that even the absence of a treaty may not be sufficient protection against extradition. The UK has managed to extradite suspects from Somalia through case-by-case bilateral agreements. In the end his asylum may come down to political will more than international law. "You would do well to choose a country that has historically terrible diplomatic relations with the US," Lindfield suggested.

Owen Bowcott


07/03/2013 09:29 AM

Stateless in Moscow: Germany Rejects Asylum for Snowden

Germany has rejected NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's application for asylum, joining several other nations that refused to accept him on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Bolivian President Morales was forced to make a stop in Vienna due to rumors the whistleblower was on board his plane.

Germany on Tuesday evening became just the latest country to reject NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's application for asylum, with the Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry in Berlin issuing a joint statement saying that "the conditions for admittance are not fulfilled."

The decision came just hours before a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, on its way from Moscow back to South America, was forced to land in Vienna just after midnight after France and Portugal had closed its airspace to the plane due to rumors that Snowden was on board. Morales had already taken off from Moscow -- where Snowden is currently staying at the Sheremetyevo Airport -- when Bolivian officials were informed that he would not be allowed to pass over France and they re-routed to Vienna.

The suspicions proved incorrect, and South American leaders are furious. Leaders from both Ecuador and Argentina have called for an extraordinary meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to discuss the incident. The Venezuelan government added that it was a clear violation of the diplomatic immunity that all heads of state enjoy.

Germany's rejection of Snowden's asylum request was not unexpected. The former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) is wanted by the US for having revealed in recent weeks the country's far-reaching electronic surveillance and spying operations abroad. He applied for asylum in 21 countries on Tuesday morning, including several in Europe. So far, however, he has received only rejections.

Only Venezuela has said that it was willing in principle, though no official decision has been made.

Germany, however, spent much of Tuesday agonizing over his request. It was clear from the outset that European Union rules, which stipulate that those applying for asylum must be on the territory or at the border of the state with which they intend to submit an application, prohibited Berlin from granting political asylum. But many political leaders, particularly from Germany's Green Party, had demanded that Snowden be allowed to come to Germany on humanitarian grounds. Some Green Party leaders also pointed out that Snowden is an important witness in a significant case of espionage involving German interests and should be brought to Germany as a witness.

'Don't Do Anything'

Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele, for example, 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.

The Greens aren't the only party in Germany that has exhibited sympathy for Snowden and his plight. The center-left Social Democrats demanded on Tuesday that his asylum application be carefully examined and the Free Democrats (FDP), Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, also showed no inclination to reject Snowden out of hand. Many FDP leaders have been particularly strident in their criticism of US spying in recent days. Among Merkel's conservatives, several politicians have expressed respect for Snowden.

Top Green Party politicians on Tuesday evening were sharply critical of the decision to reject Snowden's application. "Angela Merkel's rejection of accepting Edward Snowden shows the vast hypocrisy of this government," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Jürgen Trittin, the party's top candidates in the campaign, in a joint statement. "They display indignation but don't do anything."

Both center-right and center-left politicians in Germany defended Berlin's decision on Wednesday. Senior Christian Democrat Michael Grosse-Brömer said on public television on Wednesday that the decision was "legally based," adding that Snowden did not fulfill the conditions for asylum.

Social Democrat Dieter Wiefelspütz, the party's domestic policy spokesman, said in an interview with the Mitteldeutschen Zeitung: "I cannot see that the man is being politically persecuted. He likely betrayed state secrets due to reasons of conscience. He is perhaps a hero of freedom. But that doesn't protect him from legal consequences."


Angela Merkel: NSA snooping claims 'extremely serious'

German chancellor says fight against terrorism is essential but methods used must be proportionate

Kate Connolly in Berlin, Wednesday 3 July 2013 11.01 BST   

Angela Merkel has responded angrily to claims of widespread US spying in Europe, calling it "an extremely serious incident", in her first personal comments on the allegations.

In an interview with the Guardian and five other European newspapers, Merkel argued that while the fight against terrorism was essential, the methods used needed to be proportionate.

"If these reports are confirmed in the course of our investigations, we will be looking at an extremely serious incident," she said. "Using bugs to listen in on friends in our embassies and EU representations is not on. The cold war is over. There is no doubt whatsoever that the fight against terrorism is essential, and it needs to harness intelligence about what happens online, but nor is there any doubt that things have to be kept proportionate. That is what guides Germany in talks with our partners."

The German chancellor grew up in communist East Germany, where citizens were the victims of widespread spying by the notorious state secret police, the Stasi. Its sophisticated espionage techniques in the days before the internet or mobile phones included bottling the scents of those suspected of being anti-regime.

Merkel acknowledged that foreign intelligence agents had helped thwart terrorist attacks on German soil. "Like most Germans, I am well aware that other countries' services have helped identify terrorist groups in Germany and prevent their attacks on a number of occasions. That said, the need to protect privacy also has to be respected alongside security interests. There has to be balance between the two."

She said Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BND, was working closely with its European counterparts to throw light on what was alleged to have taken place. "Our services and our ministries are working at all levels – at the European level too – to clear up what has happened, including the new issues that came to light at the weekend," she said.

European leaders have said the US spying row could delay ambitious free-trade talks between the world's two largest economic powers. Barack Obama has sought to defuse the row, saying US agencies are behaving in the same way as intelligence organisations everywhere.


07/03/2013 12:33 PM

NSA Spying in Germany: How Much Did the Chancellor Know?

By Philipp Wittrock

While the Chancellery appears to be outraged by the NSA's spying tactics in Germany, the opposition doubts the revelations came as a surprise to Angela Merkel. Just how much could she have known?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to be pretty clear with US President Barack Obama the next time she has him on the line. At least that's a reasonable assumption, based on the anger she has expressed about American spying operations in the European Union and Germany.

"I demand an explanation, Barack," the chancellor might say. After all, the president eloquently defended the Prism program on his recent visit to Berlin, but the Americans' bugging, electronic eavesdropping and excessive data collection from allied European countries, which came to light this weekend, was not part of the conversation. Merkel is said to be quite rankled.

But others say that the chancellor will probably be friendly to Obama during their next talk, and not because this is what diplomatic conventions call for, even amid tensions. No, it's because there is some question as to whether Berlin's dismay about the espionage by the National Security Agency (NSA) is really as great as it claims. Could some of the indignation be feigned? Did the revelations really shock the chancellor? And if it did come as a surprise, has German counterintelligence failed miserably?

The opposition doesn't believe that Merkel was unaware of the situation. In an editorial for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this week, Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), openly aired the suspicion that Merkel was familiar with at least some of the spying activity. The government has vehemently rejected this accusation as crude campaign bluster. This isn't totally unjust -- the opposition has seized on the opportunity to portray Merkel as a traitor to citizens' freedoms, a strategy that could gain support among a population particularly sensitive to data protection issues.

Who Informs Who?

The election campaign aside, there are good reasons to ask critical questions of not just the Americans, but the German government too. Intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom says that Gabriel's suspicion is "at least tendentially" correct. "According to my estimation, the authorities knew about this," he told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

That's because the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), which is responsible for protecting government networks, compiles threat analyses for the Interior Ministry. And adversaries include "not only China or Russia, but also the Anglo-Saxon services," Schmidt-Eenboom said. Additionally, Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) is familiar with the capacities of allied intelligence agencies, he added. In turn, the BND briefs the Chancellery, or more precisely its chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, who is responsible for coordinating the intelligence agencies. He then shares this information with the chancellor when he sees fit.

On Wednesday, Pofalla is to sit before the Parliamentary Control Committee of the Bundestag for a question and answer session. The heads of the three German intelligence agencies -- responsible for foreign, domestic and military intelligence -- were also invited to the special session. The questions there will probably follow the same line of logic: How much did the German agencies know about the activities of their American counterparts? How much would they like to know? And could it be that German counterintelligence is not functioning? The SPD, however, cannot hide behind Merkel's conservatives. After all, it was current opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier who occupied Pofalla's post from 1999 to 2005, in the delicate time after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when US intelligence agencies were certainly not idle.

One thing is obvious: No one believed that the NSA was steering clear of Germany. When it comes to the war on terror, Germany has frequently benefited from the work of American spies. The information that led to the 2007 capture of the so-called "Sauerland cell" came from the NSA and CIA, which had intercepted phone calls and emails. Even if the partner services don't normally get to see the raw data, the Germans should have been able to figure out that the Americans could only collect this information through very comprehensive surveillance.

The Wednesday Phone Call

Why ask questions if the cooperation is working? Merkel knows that the US is extremely sensitive when it comes to national security. But she must also know, at least since the Wikileaks revelations three years ago, that the Americans are not here just to search for terrorists. It was then brought to light that the US Embassy was relying on insiders for information about the goverment coalition negotiations in 2009. This wasn't espionage, but it showed that Washington is interested in information from Europe's innermost circles of power.

But the chancellor may have been alarmed to find out that such information can also be obtained through targeted wiretapping, as documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden now reveal in the case of several EU delegations. This also explains why keeping quiet about the NSA scandal is not an option for her, especially given the upcoming election in September.

On Wednesday, Merkel may have the opportunity, as announced, to speak to Obama personally by phone about the espionage allegations. That's when the US president returns from his seven-day Africa trip. There's no doubt that Obama will express polite understanding for the worries of the Germans. But it's highly doubtful that any fundamental changes will be made regarding American intelligence practices.

The US president turned the tables once more on Monday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: "In European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, then at least my talking points," said Obama, in reference to the current activities of other countries' intelligence agencies.

In other words, what's all the fuss?


07/02/2013 04:15 PM

Spying Scandal: Obama Owes Us an Explanation

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington

Americans tend to be more open-minded than Germans about Big Data -- at least for now. The kind of mass data collection being conducted around the world by the NSA could eventually backfire for President Obama at home, however.

Mick Jagger, 69, might be a father of seven and a grandfather of four, but he can still pull off the role of the eternally youthful rebel. The Rolling Stones recently gave a concert in Washington, just a few kilometers away from the White House. "I don't think President Obama is here, but I'm sure he's listening in," the Stones frontman quipped.

The audience laughed out loud because Barack Obama -- the man who carried so much hope and was long believed to be a very European US president -- has become the butt of jokes. Some view him as the embodiment of the very "Big Brother" once sketched by George Orwell, the dictator who spies on, monitors and controls every citizen without any scruples.

But how much of that is a cliché, and how much truth is there to it? Given the revelations published by SPIEGEL in recent days showing evidence of a US spying program that is directed at European Union institutions, and monitoring an almost inconceivable number of communications connections -- 500 million a month in Germany alone -- you can't blame a person for thinking the worst. Even if Obama has explicitly ensured that Americans needn't fear some kind of "Big Brother," the "3rd Party Partners," as Germany was categorized in top secret NSA documents, are now asking if the same applies to Europeans.

Americans See the Positive in 'Big Data '

In no other country is this question being asked as loudly as in Germany, a country that, through its own painful history during the Nazi era and under communist East Germany, has learned just what an overly curious state and paternalism can lead to. The Germans cherish their privacy and fear absolute control. That's why Facebook's facial recognition software is uncomfortable for us, and the reason that many Germans have had a positively allergic reaction to Google Street View cameras. It's the reason Germans visiting the United States get annoyed when they call a hair salon for an appointment and are asked not only for a telephone number, but an email address and a credit card number too.

Americans have a far more casual attitude about this kind of thing. When it comes to "Big Data," people in the land of think tanks and modern communication tend to think first of the magic and opportunities it presents, rather than the pitfalls. This is particularly true of their president, whose savvy use of data greatly contributed to his re-election in 2012.

Obama recruited the smartest people from Google and Facebook to categorize American voters by up to 500 different personal proclivities. His IT foot soldiers were able to determine their age, gender, education and favorite beer or magazine -- they even data mined their online surfing habits. By hunting voters with algorithms, they were able to create profiles so complex that they could address them in a precisely targeted manner. Obama's election workers knew exactly which doors they needed to knock on in swing states and where canvassing would be pointless. After such a successful election campaign, it is clear that Obama has no qualms about using "Big Data," and that he doesn't perceive it as evil.

Obama Must Speak Openly about Spying

But can Obama really discount our privacy concerns as being merely typically European? Should we just accept the line suggested by some in the US that spying among friends has existed from time immemorial? Will it suffice to clear up these concerns behind the scenes as the first statements made by Obama suggest will be the case?

That would be disastrous. To be sure, we Europeans wouldn't suddenly stop shopping at Amazon, using Facebook to connect or searching the Web via Google. But the scandal nevertheless threatens to create divisions in trans-Atlantic relations. People in Europe already complaining about genetically modified corn from America, for example, may rebel against the planned free trade agreement between Europe and the United States if they also have to fear for their privacy. French President François Hollande is no fan of the treaty and he is already deliberately fuelling such concerns with his sharp criticism of America.

That's unlikely to be Obama's only concern, however. He also needs to be worried about his own "first party partner," the American people. We've already recently seen how the left- and right-wing fringe can come together to demand greater transparency from the White House when it comes to secret drone flights abroad. At the time, they feared that any monitoring apparatus deployed in the short or long-term might eventually be used at home. Similar voices are already being heard this time, and they seem to be further emboldened by the growing anger in Europe.

Influential Time columnist Fareed Zakaria writes that potential abuses of Big Data are "like a scenario from a horrifying sci-fi thriller." "Is that compatible with life in a free society?" he asks.

Obama will have no choice but to speak openly about these programs. The sooner he does it, the better -- for both Europe and America.


NSA revelations: why so many are keen to play down the debate

The mass surveillance that Edward Snowden has exposed asks questions not only of government but of telecoms companies too

Nick Hopkins, Tuesday 2 July 2013 17.51 BST   

Covering the Edward Snowden story has not been straightforward for many in the mainstream media, which is reflected in the disjointed coverage it has received in the UK so far. For the newspapers that campaigned so hard to get the communications data bill thrown out because of the implications for privacy, he should be a hero. But then the brash young American "stole" the material, came to the Guardian with it, and has ended up stranded in Russia, where he may or may not receive asylum with the help of Julian Assange. All of which makes him rather unpalatable to many in Fleet Street – and indeed the House of Commons. For many of them, the easier story to tell was the one about Snowden's girlfriend, who was left bereft in Hawaii.

This week there have been more revelations about the way the US spied on the EU, which followed the Guardian's disclosures about how the British snooped on diplomats from Turkey and South Africa, among others, at the G20 summit in London four years ago. This has caused genuine fury among those targeted, particularly the Germans and the French. But their anger has been met with shoulder-shrugging indignation from former British diplomats and security experts, who say this sort of thing happens all the time.

They would hardly say anything different. In all likelihood, they have either authorised or benefited from such covert intelligence gathering, so the lack of biting analysis was entirely predictable. For those in the media unsure how to deal with Snowden, and rather hoping the complex saga would go away, this was another easy escape route: "No story here, let's move on."

But there is a story. It gets lost, all too conveniently, in the diplomatic rows and the character-assassinations, but ultimately it is the legacy of the Snowden files. The documents have shown that intelligence agencies in the UK and the US are harvesting vast amounts of information about millions of people. This is fact, not fantasy. They are doing this right now, on a scale that could not have been envisaged five years ago, let alone when the laws covering the collection and retention of data were drafted. They are also sharing this treasure trove of intelligence with each other, and other close allies.

In the UK, the same ministers who sign off operations to spy on our allies, are also approving countless warrants to allow GCHQ to siphon off data from cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country. Emails, conversations on Skype, the details of phone calls – they all go into the intelligence pot ready for analysis and digestion.

The methods that GCHQ has developed may be ingenious. But are they right? Do the laws really legitimise this activity? And can the handful of MPs and commissioners tasked with the scrutinising the agencies really keep on top of all this? Do they have the staff, the expertise? Those are the questions that need proper argument. The reassurances of senior cabinet ministers, such as William Hague, who is responsible for GCHQ, needed to be tested, not just repeated unchallenged.

Those who wail about the leaks affecting national security might consider the words of Bruce Schneier, a security specialist, who wrote in the New York Times: "The argument that exposing these documents helps the terrorists doesn't even pass the laugh test; there's nothing here that changes anything any potential terrorist would do or not do."

And where are the telecoms companies in all this, and the internet service providers? For now, they are still keeping quiet. But at some point they will be asked to explain to their millions of customers what they knew about this industrial-scale snooping. None of this is easy, and ministers and intelligence officials would like nothing more than to shut down the debate. The clues are in their discomfort.

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« Last Edit: Jul 03, 2013, 06:43 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7273 on: Jul 03, 2013, 06:24 AM »

07/02/2013 01:34 PM

In the 'Land of the Enemy': Spies Strain German-Russian Ties

By Fidelius Schmid and Holger Stark

A pair of Russian agents was convicted on Tuesday of spying in Germany for more than 20 years. Russian President Pig Putin is personally conducting the negotiations for a potential exchange, but now a new case is straining German-Russian relations.

A treasure in the exhibit room at the German Federal Criminal Police Office in the western city of Wiesbaden has aroused a great deal of curiosity among the world's intelligence agencies. It looks like an ordinary, black laptop bag. It contains a Siemens hard drive, or at least it looks that way. But a notch reveals that it is not an off-the-shelf product. It's a high-frequency satellite transmitter, with an antenna hidden in the flap of the bag.

The device is state-of-the-art military technology, a "top quality intelligence product," raves an expert. In the spy wars, German authorities haven't gotten their hands on anything this important in years. The significance of this high-tech device, however, approaches that of the legendary Enigma code machine from World War II. Domestic intelligence officials at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) in Cologne are eager to examine the device. The American intelligence agencies, the CIA and the NSA, as well as Israel's Mossad have also asked for permission to inspect the miraculous piece of equipment.

The satellite device served Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag as a connection back home. They were Russian spies who lived as agents in Germany for more than 20 years, until they were arrested in October 2011. But even though they were each sentenced to several years in prison on Tuesday before the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court, hardly anything has come to light about their true identity. Their real first names are probably Alexander and Olga, but their last names are still unknown.

The next question will be whether the Russian government is still interested in the agent exchange the German government offered more than a year ago. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met personally with a German envoy at the Kremlin, who he then rebuffed. Putin's aim was probably to discover how much the Germans had learned about Russian espionage methods. Now that the case has been tried in a court, Putin will have to reconsider, though. Will he allow Heidrun and Andreas Anschlag to be imprisoned for five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half years, respectively, as the court ruled on Tuesday?

The spy story from the town of Michelbach in the western German state of Hesse is reminiscent of the days when the Berlin Wall was still standing amid the smoldering East-West conflict. It also shows how the Russians view Germany to this day, despite all pledges of friendship. Germany is a "land of the enemy," as the SWR, the successor to the KGB, said in a radio message found among the Anschlags' things. Much has changed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but Moscow shamelessly continues its spying activities.

Cooling Relations

The German government experienced this only last winter, when two agents with the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU) tried to buy an infrared telescopic sight in Germany around New Year's. The device, made by the American company Raytheon, is subject to an export ban. When they established contact with an arms dealer, the two Russians, who were accredited as diplomats in Berlin, behaved so clumsily that they were found out. The German authorities complained to the Russians, and a scandal threatened to erupt that would have ended the two agents' spying career in Germany with a bang. Instead, the matter was hushed up and they were expelled.

Evidence of cooling German-Russian relations recently became clear at a reception to mark the anniversary of the Russian Revolution at Moscow's embassy in Berlin. As members of the diplomatic team noted, Moscow's intelligence representative, Sergei Rachmanin, didn't even look at his German counterpart. Mother Russia doesn't fool around when it comes to its agents, especially when they are so-called illegal agents, brought into a country under elaborately constructed pretexts to engage in espionage there. It is the supreme discipline in espionage, and hardly any other intelligence agency is as experienced with it as the SWR. The Russians refer to their illegal agents as "whiz kids." Their covers are developed over the years and become almost perfect, as the case of the Anschlags shows.

According to German prosecutors, Andreas Anschlag's path to the assignment led through the Austrian town of Wildalpen. A lawyer showed up there in October 1984 to register Anschlag, allegedly born in Argentina in 1959, as a new resident in the village of 500 people. The application was approved, even though all the documents were forged. The KGB paid the local official a bribe of 3,000 Austrian shillings, or about €200 ($260), for approving the application. Anschlag's wife Heidrun had the attorney submit a birth certificate indicating that she had been born to an Austrian woman in Lima, Peru in 1965. There is much to suggest that the two were already married when they said their wedding vows a second time at a registry office in Austria.

Shortly after applying for their Austrian passports, the Anschlags moved to Aachen in western Germany. Andreas studied mechanical engineering, and in 1991 the couple's daughter was born. Officially, Heidrun tended to the household and their daughter, while her husband worked in an ordinary job. In truth, the two had already been spying for Moscow for some time, as a radio message from 1988 shows. The couple moved several times until they ended up in Michelbach, an idyllic suburb of the university city of Marburg in 2010. For appearances, Andreas Anschlag took a job with an automotive supplier 350 kilometers (217 miles) away and rented an apartment there. This enabled him to explain his long absences to curious neighbors. "Pit is going to his cover job on Monday," Heidrun once wrote bluntly to headquarters.

In their dispatches, which the couple received with a shortwave radio, the agent controllers in Directorate S of the SWR referred to the Anschlags as "Pit" and "Tina." They were given the state-of-the-art satellite equipment during a trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow. They also attended a course on the use of a decoding program called "Sepal" and an encoding program called "Parabola."

This enabled "Pit" and "Tina" to establish a secure connection to Moscow. All they had to do was pay attention to the times when one of the six to eight satellites sent into space by Russian intelligence for spying activities came into range. A red light on their radio device signaled to the Anschlags that the satellite was approaching, while a blue light indicated the transmission of encoded messages.

Sometimes, when the equipment failed, the Anschlags placed the transmitter below one of their attic windows, among the fruit trees in the garden or on a nearby hill. The hills directly behind the house proved to be unsuitable, because nearby wind turbines apparently interrupted communication with the satellite.

Admitting the Obvious

According to the indictment, what the Anschlags sent over the air or deposited in dead drops was primarily information and documents stemming from a Dutch government official. His rank at the foreign ministry was not particularly high, so that the Russians had little to fear from the Dutch counterterrorism agency. However, the official, Raymon Valentino Poeteray, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Dutch court in April, provided them with plenty of material about the European Union and NATO. From the standpoint of German federal prosecutors, he offered the Russians "access to a fantastic bandwidth."

Poeteray had a mountain of debt and his wife was sick. After deducting his fixed costs, he kept €650 of his monthly take-home pay of €2,500 to cover his living expenses. His situation made him the perfect target for recruitment by an intelligence service.

Starting in 2009, the Dutch official became a top source for the agent couple. Andreas Anschlag drove from Michelbach to The Hague about once a month, always on Saturdays. Over the years, Poeteray collected at least €72,000 from Russian intelligence. In return, he was required to deliver hundreds of documents, as well as "written homework" he did to report on coworkers and as his opinion on key issues.

The SWR was apparently satisfied with the Anschlags. It praised them repeatedly for their "successful and productive operational work," and in 2010 Andreas Anschlag was promoted to department manager and his wife Heidrun to deputy department manager. Even though it was just a symbolic promotion -- Anschlag was in charge of nothing and no one -- he was proud of the title. In the past, he had referred to himself as a "certified engineer," in the guest book of a hotel in Weissensee, for example. But from then on he always signed documents as "Dept. Director." Agents can be vain when it comes to titles and status, even when not even their first names are real.

While the Dutch foreign ministry was apparently unaware that one of its officials had a side job, the German authorities, acting on a tip from Austria, tracked down the Anschlags. But the Russians realized that the agents' cover was in jeopardy and ordered the couple to return home. First they had to dismantle the satellite system and throw the pieces into a deep body of water, though. The agents began preparing for their escape, but the Germans intervened on the night of Oct. 16, capturing Anschlag in his second apartment and confiscating the keys to his home in Michelbach. A unit with the GSG 9 special force then used the key to open the front door early the next morning and crept up the stairway. When they reached the top floor, they caught Heidrun Anschlag radioing with Moscow. She was so startled that she fell off her chair. She claimed that she was "only responsible for technical matters."

After initial denials, the couple fell silent. That is, until last Tuesday, when the two, speaking through their attorneys, admitted the obvious: that they were spies working for Moscow. The Russians themselves have already conceded as much, and Rachmanin, the intelligence liaison to the embassy, even sought to visit the agent couple in prison.

Other Spies Likely

During the trial, the defense attorneys were no longer interested in the question of whether their clients are guilty, but how long they would have to remain in prison. Andreas Anschlag's attorney, Horst-Dieter Pötschke, contradicted a claim by the prosecutors that his client billed both the SWR and his official employer the €84 cost of a hotel stay for a meeting with source Poeteray. "This portrays him as tricky and greedy," which he isn't, said Pötschke. He added that his client perceived such remarks to be "discriminating."

Following the couple's sentencing, the German government wants to exchange Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag for Valery Mikhailov, a former colonel with the Russian domestic intelligence agency FSB who spied for the CIA. After the Anschlags were arrested, a US delegation informed the Chancellery that it was interested in a deal. The German government would like to do the Americans the favor, but it also wants to secure the release of an interpreter who occasionally supplied information to the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence service. The Federal Public Prosecutor's Office indicated that it would have no problem agreeing to an exchange after sentencing. Now it's up to Putin to decide whether to sacrifice his spies or bring them home.

For Moscow, the arrest of the two extensively trained agents isn't the only bitter disappointment in recent years. Since SWR agent Sergei Tretyakov, a.k.a. "Comrade J," defected to the United States in 2000, the counterterrorism authorities in the West have captured a number of Russian agents and their informants. They include Herman Simm, former head of the Estonian National Security Authority, whose cover was blown in 2008. A classified NATO report describes Simm as the "most damaging spy in the history of the alliance." Another case that made headlines worldwide was the discovery of an 11-member group led by Anna Chapman in June 2010.

These successes are often attributable to defectors from the Russian ranks. The man who betrayed Chapman and her group also told the authorities about the use of Latin American covers, as in the case of the Anschlags from Michelbach. In court last week, when their defense attorney painted a picture of two family-oriented individuals who, loyally serving their fatherland, lived in constant fear of discovery, Heidrun Anschlag struggled to hold back tears. She repeatedly reached for a tissue and blew her nose several times. She had nothing to add to her attorney's statement. "Everything has been said," she whispered.

But that statement only applies to this trial. "Pit" and "Tina" probably aren't the last agents Moscow has operating in Germany. The investigations in Austria indicated that there are other spies, although they could have disappeared by now. And the radio messages to agents, directed at Western Europe, continue. This is one reason that security officials assume that a number of Russian spies, probably in the double digits, are still operating undetected on German soil.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7274 on: Jul 03, 2013, 06:32 AM »

July 3, 2013

Prime Minister Tells Portuguese He Won’t Resign


MADRID — Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho of Portugal on Tuesday defied calls for his resignation, even after his coalition government was torn by divisions over austerity policies that prompted the resignation of a second minister in two days.

In a televised address, Mr. Passos Coelho said that instead he would work toward “a rapid return to stability,” hours after his foreign minister, Paulo Portas, resigned and suggested that the government needed to revise its economic policy.

In announcing his resignation, Mr. Portas did not call for an early election, but his decision, which he called irrevocable, could result in one. Mr. Portas leads the conservative Popular Party, which is the junior partner in the center-right government that was formed with Mr. Passos Coelho’s Social Democratic Party after elections in June 2011.

While some opposition leaders urged Mr. Passos Coelho to quit, the prime minister said he would “not abandon my country” and would try to heal the rift within his coalition rather than accept Mr. Portas’s resignation.

The political turmoil within Portugal’s coalition government underscored the increasing tensions in much of Europe over whether spending cuts and other austerity measures are to blame for serial recessions and record unemployment in Greece, Spain, Portugal and other countries on the front line of the euro zone’s debt crisis. International lenders and bureaucrats once regarded Portugal as an example of the approach’s success.

“The back-to-back resignations throw the political opposition to reform in Portugal into sharp relief and pose serious questions about the country’s ability to push ahead, let alone exit, its troubled bailout program,” wrote Nicholas Spiro, the founder of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a London consultancy that specializes in sovereign debt risk, in a note to investors. “The rug is being pulled out from under the Passos Coelho government, and Portugal is now staring at the prospect of early elections.”

Mr. Portas announced his decision just before the current secretary of state for the treasury, Maria Luís Albuquerque, was to become finance minister, replacing Vítor Gaspar, who resigned Monday. Ms. Albuquerque was expected to support the austerity program advocated by Portugal’s creditors and put in place by Mr. Gaspar, but Mr. Portas said Tuesday that he disagreed with her appointment.

Mr. Portas’s surprise resignation “opens a period of considerable uncertainty, as parties are going to try tagging each other with the blame for the political crisis,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst who has been covering the euro debt crisis for Teneo Intelligence, a consulting company in New York. Like other analysts, he suggested that Portugal was likely to end up holding a general election in late September, when local elections are scheduled.

Mr. Passos Coelho came to power in the spring of 2011 after the governing Socialists were forced to call early elections and negotiate an international bailout worth 78 billion euros, or $114 billion at the time, with the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Since then, the center-right government has won plaudits from creditors for sticking to the terms of the bailout, but its fiscal policies and economic changes have provoked widespread protests and strikes. With Portugal in a third year of recession, Mr. Portas increasingly sought to distance himself and his party from the unpopular spending cuts and tax increases enforced by his government.

In his resignation statement, Mr. Portas said that his differences with Mr. Gaspar were known and that he had hoped that Mr. Gaspar’s departure would permit “opening a different political and economic cycle.”

Portugal’s borrowing costs have eased in recent months, as have those of other troubled euro zone economies. Mr. Passos Coelho and its creditors say they hope the country will be able to leave its bailout program in June, as scheduled. However, Mr. Spiro said, Mr. Portas’s resignation suggests that “politically speaking, Portugal’s adjustment program is collapsing.”

In the general election two years ago, the Social Democrats won almost 39 percent of the vote, ousting the Socialists, who secured 28 percent. Short of a majority, the Social Democrats formed an alliance with the Popular Party, which placed third in the election with almost 12 percent of the vote. The coalition held 129 of the 226 seats in Parliament.

Since then, tensions in the coalition have grown as Portugal’s debt has continued to rise while its unemployment rate has soared to almost 18 percent, compared with 12 percent when Mr. Passos Coelho took office.

The government has also faced court setbacks to its austerity efforts, notably in April when Portugal’s constitutional court struck down as discriminatory part of the government’s plan to cut benefits for civil servants and pensioners.


Portugal suffers from a plummeting birthrate on top of economic woes

Already hit by Europe's downturn, the country has seen closures of maternity wards, children's stores and schools

Anthony Faiola for the Washington Post
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 2 July 2013 14.05 BST   

For an enterprise in the business of welcoming life, the birthing ward in Portugal's largest maternity hospital is eerily quiet. On a recent morning, not a single expectant father nervously paced the floors. Unhurried nurses shuffled by rooms with empty beds, busying themselves with paperwork and a mere three women in labour.

Elsewhere in the hospital, signs of Europe's crisis within a crisis are everywhere. Serving a country that was battling a low birthrate even before the economy fell off a cliff, Alfredo da Costa maternity hospital still delivered about 7,000 babies a year until recently. But with economic uncertainty causing young couples to rethink family plans or leave for other countries, the number of births crashed to 4,500 last year, leading the facility to mothball an entire wing and slash 20% of the staff.

The recent fall in births across Portugal – to 89,841 babies in 2012, a 14% drop since 2008 – has been so acute that the government is moving to close a number of maternity wards nationwide. In an increasingly childless country, 239 schools are closing this year and sales of everything from nappies to children's shampoos are plummeting. At the same time, in the fast-greying interior, petrol stations and motels are being converted into nursing homes even as stores selling toys and baby clothes shutter their doors. In Lisbon, Alfredo da Costa – founded in 1932 when this once great maritime nation still commanded a global empire – is on the chopping block to close this year. "We used to hear the best kind of cries in these halls, of babies," Teresa Tomé, Alfredo da Costa's head paediatrician, said as she strode down the quiet birthing ward. She later added: "The recent decrease in births has been dramatic. This is because of the economic crisis, all the unemployment, all the uncertainty about the future. It is making a bad problem for the country worse."

Portugal is at the forefront of Europe's latest baby bust, one that is shorting the fuse on a time bomb of social costs in some of the world's most rapidly aging societies.

As in many corners of the industrialised world, Europe has faced a gradual decline in birthrates since the 1960s. But in a number of the hardest-hit countries, a modest rebound during the 2000s – when European governments welcomed immigrants and rolled out cash benefits for young couples starting families – has now gone into reverse. Birthrates are falling again in nations including Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Cyprus, which are confronting massive unemployment. The baby shortage, economists say, is set to pile on the woe for a swath of the continent that may already be facing a decade or more of economic fallout from the debt crisis that started in 2009.

By 2030 the retired population in Portugal is set to surge by 27.4%, with those older than 65 then predicted to make up nearly one in every four residents. With fewer and fewer future workers and taxpayers being born, the Portuguese are confronting what could be an accelerated fiscal reckoning to provide for their aging population. Portugal is ahead of other nations in Europe in planning for the explosive costs of an ageing population. But some government officials concede that far deeper cuts – as well as a push toward a united social security system within the European Union – may be needed to cope with what is turning out to be a worse than expected demographic crisis.

At the same time, a diminishing pool of young Portuguese risks creating a vacuum of dynamism and innovation in the years ahead, signalling what could be a long-term decline in the fortunes of nations in a region harbouring some of the largest US trading partners and closest political allies. With deaths regularly outpacing births and both native-born Portuguese and immigrants from former colonies such as Brazil and Angola departing in large numbers, the population is already falling. Some hold out hope the birthrate will bounce back if and when the economy improves and young Portuguese feel more secure about their future. But experts predict that the population loss ahead could be beyond even the worst-case predictions of nearly 1 million fewer inhabitants – or almost 10% of the current population of 10.56 million – by 2030. It has many here bemoaning the "disappearance" of a nation, leaving them to ask: Who will be left to support a dying country of old men and women?

"This is one of the biggest problems we face as a nation," said Jose Tavares, political economics professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon. "If we don't find a way to fix this, we will be facing a disaster."

Along the narrow, hilly streets of the inland municipality of Vila Velha de Rodão, the arrival last September of Mafalda Diogo Sabino was heralded in the local newspaper with a half-page spread and a basket of oils and lotions delivered to her door. Every day since, seemingly everyone has wanted a piece of the fickle little celebrity, with her adoring fans shadowing her in the hopes of pinching an unsuspecting cheek or catching a glimpse of her now-fabled smile.

In this greying corner of the Iberian peninsula, the 9-month-old's claim to fame was merely being born.

Communities like this one, a conglomeration of villages with a population of 3,600 – nearly half what it was in the 1970s – have become the ghost of Portugal's future. Her mother, Susana Diogo, 27, had to travel two hours by car in the summer heat to give birth at the nearest hospital able to handle an expecting mother with diabetes. Diogo and her husband, Mario Sabino, 32, worry about their daughter's future in a town with only three other newborns and just one school. "I wonder what Portugal will look like for both her and us by the time she gets older," said Diogo, who lost her job when a nearby call centre closed after she became pregnant.

The burdens ahead are also clear in this community, where elder care is the largest single public expenditure. Recent national cuts have meant a reduction in the number of seniors the town is able to aid in its main adult daycare facility.

To breathe new life into the area, officials have sought to lure young people back, offering cash subsidies for new homebuyers in an attempt to stem years of losses of working-age residents to inland cities and more prosperous countries. The town is providing preschool for next to nothing, with children currently being minded in one corner of a nursing home.

Seniors living in that nursing home, such as Maria Jesus Rodrigues, 87, relish the contact with children during occasional mingling sessions.

"We used to have children everywhere when I was young. We never thought about the economic side; we just had them," Rodrigues said. "But there are not so many now. Young people today are thinking more about how they will pay for children with so few jobs. I guess I understand."

A few minutes later, Rodrigues, who moved to the home from her nearby village where the youngest resident is now 57, burst into a local folk song. "I have to sing now," she crooned, "because when I die, there will be no one left to sing for me."

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post

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