Ukraine riot police break up protest over alleged rape cover-up
Unrest spreads amid claims of police brutality and corruption under Viktor Yanukovych's government
Reuters in Kiev
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 01.50 BST
Riot police dispersed a protest in central Kiev early on Friday over last month's rape of a woman who accused police officers of the crime, local media reported.
The city government had allowed the protest on Kiev's main square to be held on Thursday. But after some protesters set up tents to spend the night on the square, the authorities ordered them to leave and police arrived shortly afterwards, the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper reported.
It said police in riot gear then started snatching people out of a crowd of about 150 and taking them away while protesters sang the national anthem and chanted "Glory to Ukraine, death to enemies".
Police detained about 10 people, according to Interfax news agency.
Earlier this month, several hundred people took to the streets in Vradiyevka, 250 miles south of Kiev, after reports circulated of the attack on a 29-year-old shop assistant, who said she was beaten and raped by two policemen.
Angered by a suspected cover-up, locals tried to storm a police station and then attacked it with petrol bombs. The government has since sacked the regional prosecutor as well as the heads of the regional and town police. The two alleged rapists have been arrested.
More protests against police brutality and corruption have since taken place in different Ukrainian cities, although they were not violent.
Kiev's central square was the site of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests that derailed President Viktor Yanukovych's first campaign for the post.
Since winning the 2010 election, Yanukovych has been criticised by opponents and human rights groups for failing to address corruption and prevent abuse by law enforcers.
Former CIA Milan chief held in Panama over abduction of Egyptian cleric
Robert Seldon Lady was convicted in absentia by Italian court for 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan
Associated Press in RomeLobby of the CIA headquarters building in McLean, Virginia
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 19.31 BST
A former CIA base chief in Italy who was convicted in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a street in Milan has been detained in Panama, the Italian justice ministry said Thursday.
An Italian official familiar with Italy's investigation and prosecution of Robert Seldon Lady said the former CIA official entered Panama, traveled to Costa Rica, and that officials there then sent him back to Panama where he was detained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because only Italy's justice ministry was publicly discussing the case.
In Panama City, Panamanian security minister Jose Raul Molino told The Associated Press that he was unaware of Lady's detention, and the press office of the national police — which works with Interpol, the international police agency — said it had no information about the case.
The CIA said it had no immediate comment about its former employee.
Lady was sentenced by an Italian appeals court in Milan earlier this year in the extraordinary rendition case to nine years in prison after being tried in absentia in Italy for the kidnapping of the Muslim cleric. The trials of Lady, 59, now retired from the CIA, and two other Americans in the case brought the first convictions anywhere in the world against agents involved in the agency's extraordinary rendition program, a practice alleged to have led to torture.
The justice ministry said it didn't immediately have details on when or where in Panama the detention of Lady, who was born in Honduras, took place. Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, who reportedly signed the request for Lady's detention, was away on a visit to Lithuania.
Interpol had issued a request for Lady's arrest, reflecting Italy's determination to get him back.
Italy and Panama have no extradition treaty, Italian diplomats said, so being detained in Panama wouldn't necessarily result in Lady's return to Italy, which he left a few years after the abduction, early into the Italian investigation. However, Panama would still be free to send Lady to Italy if it wanted to, even without an extradition treaty.
The terror suspect, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was abducted in February 2003, transferred to U.S. military bases, first in Italy, then in Germany, before being flown to Egypt.
The cleric alleged he was tortured in Egypt. He was later released.
The previous Italian government had said that extradition could only be sought for Lady, since it can only be requested for people who have been sentenced to more than four years in prison.
A 2006 amnesty in Italy shaves three years off all sentences meted out by Italian courts, meaning if Lady is brought back to Italy, he would face six years in prison.
Rome mayor launches bid to wrest back control of Ostia beaches from mafia
Seaside suburb's council raided by police on suspicion of rigging bids for beach contracts in favour of the Spada clan
Reuters in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 18.23 BST
Rome's newly elected mayor has launched a campaign to wrest the capital's seaside suburb of Ostia out of the hands of mafia gangs thought to control its coveted beaches, where thousands of Romans flock each summer to escape the city heat.
Mayor Ignazio Marino announced that permits to charge for access to the sea in return for a sun lounger – a system that controls much of Italy's coastline – would no longer be awarded by the Ostia local council after it was raided by police on suspicion that it was under the influence of organised crime.
"In recent years, the Roman coast has become fertile ground for criminal activities, the scene of bloody clashes between clans and criminal gangs who seek to control important parts of the city's economy," Marino said in a press release.
"Our administration has decided from the outset to react very firmly … to fight the underworld infiltration," said the centre-left mayor, who was elected last month.
On Monday, police raided the town hall's permit office, seizing documents and placing a worker and local contractors under investigation on suspicion of rigging bids for beach contracts in favour of the Spada mafia clan.
Marino said the director and manager of the permit office would be dismissed, and announced that permits to manage Ostia's coastline would be allocated directly from his office in Rome.
The investigation into mob activities on Rome's coast intensified after the murder, in broad daylight, of Francesco "Little Moustache" Antonini and Giovanni "Black Rat" Galleoni, who were gunned down in front of bars and restaurants on a busy street metres from the sandy beach in 2011.
As part of the crackdown, police last week swooped on suspected members of the Spada clan, arresting one man for the murder of Antonini and Galleoni, who were former affiliates of the Rome-based criminal organisation Banda della Magliana, according to daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
07/18/2013 05:30 PM
Schäuble Visits Greece: Aid but No Haircut for Athens
By David Böcking and Georgios Christidis in Athens
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble pledged €100 million to help small and medium-sized business in Greece during his visit to Athens on Thursday. But he didn't bring what the country really wants: a new debt haircut.
It's a good day for pedestrians in Athens. Several streets in the Greek capital have been blocked off, leading to heavy traffic away from the center. Everyone knows the cause of the chaos. His name adorns the front pages of newspapers and escapes from the radio of a passing motor scooter: Schäuble.
When the German finance minister arrived in Athens on Thursday morning, security was tight. As a precaution, the police banned "all outdoor meetings and demonstrations" for the entire day. Schäuble, after all, is unpopular in Greece, with many in the country seeing him as the author of their austerity suffering. He is, in short, an unwelcome guest.
Yet only shortly after his arrival, Schäuble sought to improve the atmosphere, praising Greece's progress in combating the debt and economic crisis that has plagued the country for the last six years. Athens has made "great strides in consolidating its economy," he said at a press conference at the German-Greek Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Athens. The Greeks are facing hard times, said Schäuble, but there is no other way.
Schäuble called on Athens to continue the process of privatizating government-owned companies and expressed confidence that the economy will soon begin to grow again. "We are working side by side" toward that goal, he said, though added a warning that the euro crisis has still not been overcome.
And, as any good guest, Schäuble also brought presents for his hosts, announcing that Germany would be participating in the formation of an investment fund in Greece. Berlin has signalled it would contribute €100 million to the half-billion euro fund aimed at providing affordable loans to small and medium-sized businesses in Greece -- a sector that is currently having trouble obtaining funding from Greek banks.
Still, Schäuble didn't bring along what Athens most wants -- a new debt haircut. Even before he boarded his plane for the Greek capital, Schäuble sought to lower hopes that he might reconsider his opposition to such a course of action. In a brief interview with German radio, the finance minister said that "nobody who understands the situation is talking about a further debt cut for private creditors."
As is often the case with Schäuble, the statement was not entirely straightforward. The discussion recently has been one focussing on debt reduction with the involvement of Greece's public creditors -- central banks holding Greek sovereign bonds, for examble -- not private creditors. Still, his comment was consistent with past statements in which he has excluded the possibility of a further debt cut.
Greece, however, has chosen to largely ignore such rhetoric. Earlier this month, Greek Economy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis told a German paper that he expects such a debt haircut in the near future. And on Thursday, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras appeared to echo that demand. "Once we have a balanced budget, a new approach will be open to us," Stournaras told SPIEGEL ONLINE on the sidelines of his meeting with Schäuble.
'We Who Are About to Die Salute You'
The Greek press varied in its reactions to the Schäuble visit. On the cover of left-wing newspaper Eleftherotypia on Thursday, an illustration shows the collapse of the Greek economy, triggered by the harsh austerity programs. "Mr. Schäuble, this is your doing: gross domestic product minus 20.5 percent; retail minus 18 percent; construction industry minus 67 percent," reads the headline. And unemployment has now exceeded 27 percent. The newspaper Avgi wrote: "Hail Schäuble, we who are about to die salute you." In contrast, the conservative press reported on Schäuble's visit more objectively. The business-friendly Kathimerini wrote, "Schäuble Brings an Investment Fund."
The Greek opposition has repeatedly attacked Schäuble in recent months. It's the German finance minister's first visit to Athens since the beginning of Greece's ongoing crisis. His short trip also included a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaris on Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday night the Greek parliament approved by a narrow majority a controversial austerity program. It includes the elimination of thousands of public-sector jobs by the end of 2014. There have been violent protests throughout the country against the newly approved program.
Correction: Through an earlier translation error of a quotation in this story, we erroneously suggested that Greece has a balanced budget. The mistake has been corrected.
07/19/2013 10:35 AM
Unlikely Nostalgia: Auschwitz Through the Eyes of a Child
By Susanne Beyer
He was sent to Auschwitz as a boy, and never forgot the images and dreams that defined this period of his life. Now Jerusalem academic Otto Dov Kulka has written an unusual book about his life in a Nazi concentration camp.
His office window looks out over Jerusalem, where the light-colored stone buildings contrast with the fading late afternoon light. But Otto Dov Kulka's thoughts are far away. "Let's take a virtual journey," he says. On his computer, he opens black-and-white photos that depict the ruins of the crematoriums at Auschwitz -- a forest of crumbling chimneys amid tall grass.
Kulka moves the cursor across the chimneys and through the grass. "That's the landscape of my childhood," he says quietly. He was in Auschwitz between the ages of 10 and 11. There is a strange tone in his voice -- not sadness, not rage, but something that sounds like longing. It seems almost strange to ask the question: Is he homesick for Auschwitz?
"Well, yes!" he exclaims. "Auschwitz was my childhood! I learned to become a humanist at Auschwitz."
Kulka doesn't just say these kinds of things. He also writes them, and in doing so has managed to compose one of the most astonishing books ever written about Auschwitz: "Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination."
It's a cumbersome title in a genre that already has many books and eyewitness accounts. Despite a few glowing reviews, Kulka's book has not attracted the attention it deserves. First published in English in January, it was released two months later in Germany, where the first edition hasn't sold out yet.
An Act of 'Extreme Sarcasm'
In his book, Kulka doesn't empathize with the pain of the victims or the motivation of the perpetrators. Like someone looking in from the outside, he considers his childhood days in Auschwitz from the observer's perspective. He completes a self-psychoanalysis of sorts, invoking images and scenes, wondering about their significance, though he knows the questions will have to remain unanswered.
In one such passage, he describes the scene in which he watched his mother walk away for the last time. She was pregnant and being taken to another concentration camp, where she had hoped that she and the baby, conceived in Auschwitz, would survive. But they wouldn't make it; both died shortly before liberation.
"In my mind's eye I see images: one image. These are actually seconds, only seconds, seconds of a hasty farewell after which my mother turned around and started to walk into the distance toward those grey structures of the camp. She wore a thin dress that rippled in the light breeze and I watched as she walked and receded into the distance. I expected her to turn her head, expected a sign of some kind. She did not turn her head … I could not understand. … I thought about it afterwards, and think about it to this day: why did she not turn her head, at least once?"
In another scene, this time at the children's camp at Auschwitz, a Jewish man named Imre teaches the children the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. "What was his intention in choosing to perform that particular text, a text that is considered a universal manifesto of everyone who believes in human dignity, in humanistic values, in the future -- facing those crematoria, in the place where the future was perhaps the only definite thing that did not exist? Was it a kind of protest demonstration, absurd perhaps, perhaps without any purpose, but an attempt not to forsake and not to lose … those values which ultimately only the flames could put an end to …?"
"That is one possibility, a very fine one, but there is a second possibility, which is apparently fare more likely," he goes on, suggesting that it was an act of "extreme sarcasm."
Publicly Silent for Decades
In this way, Kulka strings together images and questions, mixing poems into his collage of text, along with photos he took in 1978, during his last visit to Auschwitz. The book is a frenzy of scenes and thoughts, and in that sense a reflection of the searching, associative and erratic way in which people actually experience memory.
The book is all the more astonishing when coupled with the knowledge of who the author is and what he has done until now. As a professor emeritus of Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Kulka has spent his entire professional life searching for explanations for the Nazis' crimes.
He has split himself into two individuals: the wide-eyed child from his book, who sees but doesn't understand Auschwitz, and the academic who tries to understand and says: "We must not stop finding explanations for the course of history, because something like the extermination of the Jews can happen again."
Kulka says that he is both the child and the academic, always. "But the two dimensions of thought belong together: That we have images, primal experiences that we can't explain to ourselves, but that we supplement these images with exploration, so that we can come as close as possible to the truth."
He hardly ever showed his second self, the wide-eyed child, in public before "Landscapes," which was published on his 80th birthday. Very few of his colleagues knew that this professor was an Auschwitz survivor, and that he had testified as a witness at the first Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt in 1964. He kept his child self hidden, only letting it come out at night, when he would sit in his office at the university and make recordings about Auschwitz. The book is based on those tape recordings and his diaries.
It's hard to believe that Kulka managed to remain publicly silent about Auschwitz for so long. Now, sitting in his office, he sees the questioning look on my face as I stare at the tattoo on his forearm, where the concentration camp number 148975 is clearly recognizable. He says: "I used to have thicker, blacker hair, and it wasn't as easy to see the number. You know, it was like this: I didn't say anything, and hardly anyone asked."
The Law of the 'Great Death'
It has grown dark outside, and Kulka invites me to dinner at a restaurant with a view of Jerusalem's old city. During the drive, he listens to classical music on the radio. He says that he vacations every year at a chamber music festival in Tiberias in Galilee.
In the restaurant, Palestinians are sitting at one table and Jews at another. Both groups are celebrating. Kulka is pleased by the sight, by this moment of peace. He orders and starts telling stories, doing something he doesn't do in "Landscapes." He talks about his life, from its beginnings to today, as a cohesive narrative.
He was born on April 16 in what he calls the "fateful year" of 1933, in the small Czech town of Nový Hrozenkov. The Nazis had assumed power there in January of that year, and before long they had passed the first anti-Semitic laws.
His parents, Elly and Erich, spoke Czech and German with him, and he had a German nanny. Otto completed the first grade in a Czech school. It was "a happy year," he says, but then he was expelled. Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend school.
He was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942. "It was a salvation," he says today, in yet another of his idiosyncratic sentences. "As a child, I was happy to finally be with other children again."
His mother voluntarily signed herself and Otto up for a transport to Auschwitz, not wanting to be separated from other family members. When they left, Otto promised his friends that he would write to them if Auschwitz were better than Theresienstadt.
When they arrived in Auschwitz, on Sept. 7, 1943, it was clear that it would be the end. Only one law applied there, "the law of the Great Death," as Kulka calls it.
A New Life
Sometimes he and other children did something as a dare, which they called "trying out a little death." They grabbed the electric fence, which was almost never live during the day. Once, when he handed his uncle some food through the fence, the barbed wire was electrified, and he still has the scars from the power surge today.
He expected death to come any day. He escaped once, when the murderers left him in the infirmary because he had diphtheria. It saved his life. In January 1945, he and his father were sent on a death march toward the center of Nazi Germany.
On Jan. 24, 1945, Otto Kulka and his father managed to escape during the march. They returned to Czechoslovakia. His father remained in Prague, and in 1949 Otto boarded a ship bound for Israel.
During the voyage, he added the Hebrew name "Dov" ("Bear") to his German name Otto. He didn't know what it meant, but he liked the way it sounded. Today he finds his name choice amusing. "I look nothing like a bear," he says. Kulka is short and has a slight build.
Israel was the utopia of a new beginning. "They tried to destroy Jerusalem in Auschwitz, which is why we wanted to build it up again," he says. He went to a kibbutz at first, where he worked in agriculture. Eventually he began his studies: first early, then medieval and finally contemporary Jewish history.
His professor of early Jewish history, Menachem Stern of the Hebrew University, was murdered by a Palestinian on his way to work, which happened to be the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. The killer later testified that he had wanted to kill a Jew, any Jew.
From then on, Kulka's life was shaped by the conflicts between Palestinians and Jews, like the Six-Day War and the opening and closing of various zones of the city.
It troubles him, because, as he says, he is "open-minded" toward the Palestinians. "After all, they are our neighbors."
Returning to the Ruins
Kulka married a Slovak Jew who had been persecuted by the Nazis and had fled from Europe, and the couple had a daughter. They didn't discuss Auschwitz very much at home. His daughter is a clinical psychologist today. When she became a member of the Israel Psychoanalytical Society, she asked her father for the tapes in which he had talked to himself about Auschwitz. Today his three grandchildren question him about Auschwitz.
In 1978, Kulka attended a conference of religious scholars in Poland. On a free day, the other attendees went on various outings, but he told them that he wasn't going with them because he wanted to go to Auschwitz instead. It made sense to them, the idea of a Jew visiting Auschwitz, so they didn't ask any questions.
Auschwitz was still a ruin at the time. The tracks were overgrown with grass. Kulka took the photos that now appear in his book, and he asked the taxi driver to take a picture of him, standing in front of the Auschwitz gate. The driver took the photo, but when it was developed, it turned out that half of Kulka's body was cut off in the image. "A divided Kulka, sliced once in half; it certainly fits," he says.
He never returned. SPIEGEL asked him whether he would be willing to go there again and point out all the sites he remembered. In his lengthy reply, he wrote: "I have very seriously considered your proposal. It was and remains clear to me that I want to forever preserve for myself the desolate images of the landscape of the metropolis of death, in just the way they had been imprinted on my mind when I returned in 1978. For me, the changes to those images would signify an estrangement from that landscape."
Now, over dinner in Jerusalem, he mentions the letter and says that there was also another reason he had wanted to meet in Jerusalem. There is a place here, he says, where, at a certain moment, he was overcome by those images from Auschwitz. It must have been in 1967, he says, when he was 34. He wants to show me the place. "It's near the Dome of the Rock in the old city." The area is off-limits to Jews and visitors during most hours of the day. The best opportunity to go there is in the morning.
There are delays in front of the Wailing Wall. Our bags are searched and scanned. At the Wailing Wall, Kulka watches the men and women swaying back and forth as they pray. He says that he goes there to pray with his grandchildren on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement," the holiest day of the year for Jews. "I'm not very religious, but for a Jew, religion is a part of the self."
A Place of Inspiration
When he arrives at the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim beggar wearing a black veil is sitting on the steps. Kulka gives her money and shakes her extended hand. The beggar must have seen that his hands are scarred, and the tattoo on his forearm is also readily visible.
Kulka hurries on until he reaches an olive grove, where no one is in sight. "This is how it was in 1967, deserted and empty," he says. The air is fragrant with the scent of cypress trees. Kulka walks more slowly, then stops in front of a bricked-up gate.
The gate, part of the old city wall, is officially called the "Golden Gate," or "Gate of Mercy." According to Christian tradition, Jesus rode a donkey through the gate when he entered Jerusalem as the Messiah.
The Ottomans walled up the gate in the 16th century. The place is uniquely symbolic for Kulka, who calls it the "Auschwitz Gate." "It's part of my private mythology," he says. "A walled-up gate, a gate that goes nowhere and is impenetrable -- I was here in 1967, and Auschwitz arose before my eyes."
His visit to the gate, he says, inspired him to start making his tape recordings, which in turn inspired him to write his book. That, he explains, is why he included a photo of the gate and his 1967 experience in the book, and even devoted a chapter to it.
Weeds are growing out of the walls of the gate, where pieces of plastic garbage and an aluminum can with the label "XXL Energy Drink" litter the ground in front of it. Suddenly two girls wearing veils, both about 11, appear and break the silence with an imperious "Hello!" They wave their hands as if to indicate that the old man and his companions should leave. "They're afraid that we have come to destroy something," Kulka says. "Everyone in this city is constantly afraid of attacks and destruction."
He behaves as though he hasn't interpreted the girls' gestures as unfriendly, but rather as a greeting. He waves to them and calls out: "Hello!"
"They're children," he says. "They think this place belongs to them."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Mahmoud Abbas convenes late-night meeting on Israel-Palestinian talks
Palestinian president set to meet political leaders after iftar following failure of earlier meeting to reach decision on return to peace talks
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 18.51 BST
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was set to consult political leaders late into Thursday night on whether to return to talks on a potential peace agreement to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, amid signs of reluctance among his colleagues.
A meeting of the Palestinian leadership, convened earlier in the day, appeared not to reach a decision, and another meeting was scheduled to take place after iftar, the post-sunset meal which breaks the Ramadan fast.
According to reports, Palestinian officials expressed distrust of the Israeli government's intentions regarding fresh negotiations. The Palestinians are deeply sceptical after long years of fruitless talks on the establishment of an independent viable state.
The meetings follow intensive efforts by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, over recent months to bring the two sides back to the table. Israel's president Shimon Peres earlier raised expectations in a statement: "From the latest information at my disposal, Secretary Kerry has succeeded in progressing the chance for opening peace talks … The coming days are crucial and we are within touching distance."
Both parties, he added, were "making an effort to overcome the final obstacles".
The meetings in Ramallah followed a statement issued by Arab League diplomats in Amman on Wednesday endorsing new negotiations, and an assessment by Kerry that the gaps between the two sides had significantly narrowed.
"Through hard and deliberate work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly," Kerry told a press conference. "We continue to get closer and I continue to be hopeful that the two sides will come to sit at the same table."
However, he added: "There is still some language that needs to be worked out".
An Arab League statement said: "The Arab delegates believe Kerry's ideas ... constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations." It added that "any future deal must be based on a two-state solution and through establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 borders with a limited exchange of lands in the same value and size."
The Palestinians' insistence on the 1967 border as the basis for any territorial agreement has been one of the key sticking points during Kerry's six visits to the region since March. Israel says it is unwilling to concede territory before negotiations begin.
The Palestinians also want the release of around 100 long-term prisoners and a freeze on settlement construction. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is believed to have agreed to a limited prisoner release, and an informal moratorium on building in settlements outside the major blocks close to the 1967 line.
The Israeli defence minister on Wednesday postponed the approval of around 300 new homes in settlements deep inside the West Bank. But the construction of more than 700 homes in the settlement of Modi'in Ilit, close to the 1967 line, was given initial approval by the Civil Administration, the Israeli body which governs much of the West Bank.
Kerry has so far met only with Palestinian negotiators during this week's visit to the region, suggesting – according to some analysts – that heavy diplomacy had already accomplished results on the Israeli side. However, some Israeli officials said that a directive to be issued by the European Union, which bars funding and co-operation to Israeli settlements, could adversely affect any progress.
Fears that Netanyahu may drag his feet once negotiations start were fuelled this week by an unidentified Israeli government minister saying the prime minister's primary objective was merely to show willingness to negotiate and that he did not intend to engage in a far-reaching peace process.
According to one western diplomat, the Palestinians were likely to insist on a tight timeframe and impartial refereeing by the Americans to prevent such a scenario.
Kerry has persisted in his mission to breathe new life into the moribund peace process in the face of deep scepticism on both sides. Netanyahu and Abbas have not met face to face for almost three years. Kerry, along with many others, has warned that time is running out for a peace deal which allows the Palestinians to establish a state of their own.
Kerry in final push to get Mideast peace bid on track
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 19, 2013 7:15 EDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry Friday met with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat in a final push to get a peace bid back on track before heading home.
The meeting comes after the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah rejected Kerry’s proposals for a framework to guide the relaunch of peace talks stalled for nearly three years.
The two men met in Amman for talks which lasted barely 45 minutes, after Kerry and his team spent a long night waiting to see what the Palestinians would do.
The setback for the US plan came from the governing Revolutionary Council of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s own Fatah movement, which demanded changes.
The broader Palestine Liberation Organisation, which also includes leftwing factions less sympathetic towards a compromise, said it was also drawing up a formal response to Kerry’s proposals.
Palestinian member of parliament Mustafa Barghuti said “most factions” within the PLO had rejected Kerry’s proposal.
“It is appropriate and encouraging that there is such a serious debate about these issues,” a senior State Department official had said in a statement in the early hours of Friday morning.
While Washington understood that “there are many strongly held views and appreciate efforts to find a basis to move forward,” the top US diplomat would go ahead with plans to leave on Friday, the official added.
“During the leadership meeting… most of the Palestinian factions… rejected restarting peace talks based on Kerry’s proposals,” Barghuti said.
PLO executive committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said the Palestinian leadership had “decided to form a committee to respond to Kerry’s proposals.”
“Kerry did not present guarantees to stop settlement building, nor base (peace talks) on 1967 borders,” he said.
Kerry’s plan would have seen Israel, now ruled by a coalition that has tilted sharply to the right after elections early this year, make only a tacit commitment to slow settlement construction in the occupied territories, not the publicly announced freeze long demanded by Abbas.
On Wednesday, the US envoy had expressed cautious optimism that he was making progress towards a deal to restart talks after his proposals were endorsed by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and senior Gulf Arab diplomats.
But even he had acknowledged that there were still differences over “the language” governing any resumption of talks.
A senior Fatah official said the party wanted changes to what Abbas had agreed.
“Fatah wants to make some alterations to Kerry’s plan… because the proposed ideas are not encouraging for a return to negotiations,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The announcement came after two rounds of intensive talks in Amman between Kerry and Abbas, who is also Fatah leader.
It was the top US diplomat’s sixth visit to the region since he took office in February, to try to broker a compromise to resume direct negotiations.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume negotiations with the Palestinians “as soon as possible,” the White House said.
“The president encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement, after the two leaders spoke by telephone.
Kerry on Wednesday had been hopeful of progress.
“Through hard and deliberate, patient work, and most importantly through quiet work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly,” he told reporters.
“We continue to get closer and I continue to be hopeful that the two sides will come to sit at the same table.”
Kerry’s latest peace bid came against the backdrop of Israeli anger at new European Union guidelines for its 28 member states that will block all funding of, or dealings with, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu on Wednesday called Kerry and warned the EU was “damaging efforts to restart the talks”.
The EU office in Israel said on Thursday it was ready to negotiate with Israel regarding their planned entry into force from January 1 next year.
July 18, 2013
Weeks After an Ouster, Egypt’s Military and Islamists Are Far From a Deal
By KAREEM FAHIM and MAYY EL SHEIKH
CAIRO — More than two weeks after the military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, intense efforts to bring the generals and the ex-president’s Islamist supporters to an agreement have so far come up empty, deepening Egypt’s political crisis.
The efforts, according to intermediaries, have been stymied by the military’s refusal so far to release Mr. Morsi and several aides, who are held incommunicado and have not been charged with crimes. In Mr. Morsi’s absence, members of his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, have continued to demand that the military’s intervention be reversed as a precondition for any settlement.
“It’s bleak,” said one mediator, adding that the Brotherhood so far does not seem to grasp that Mr. Morsi will not be reinstated. “The military is only willing to talk about the future, not about yesterday or the day before,” he said. “They turned the page on Morsi.”
The impasse comes amid fears by the Islamists that the authorities are preparing to break up their sit-in at a Cairo square, which has lasted three weeks. Concerns are also growing that prosecutors who are investigating various allegations against Mr. Morsi could decide to formally file criminal charges against him, a move that is all but certain to lead to another wave of unrest.
Such charges would probably “signal the end of a potential political deal,” said Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch. “The decision will have been made to exclude them from the political system. I think it will lead to protests that are likely to turn violent and mass arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Despite persistent rumors of direct talks, Brotherhood leaders strongly deny they are negotiating face to face with the military, absent any discussions between their imprisoned leader and his military captors. The lack of contact with Mr. Morsi has complicated matters for his colleagues on the outside.
In the months before his ouster, some of the movement’s leaders encouraged Mr. Morsi to reach a compromise with the military but said that he resisted. For now, Egyptian political figures and diplomats say they are passing messages between the two camps, and trying to warn Egypt’s new leaders that any effort to suppress the Brotherhood would be doomed to failure.
“We did the unimaginable to them: we hanged them, tortured them, rounded them up in prisons, shipped them to detention centers,” said the mediator, who requested anonymity because efforts at dialogue were continuing. “Did they die? Are they extinct? Have they disappeared? No.”
Egypt’s military-backed leaders have moved quickly to assert their legitimacy, naming a 34-member government and announcing plans to start amending the Constitution passed by Egyptians just seven months ago. Neighboring countries that cheered the Brotherhood’s demise have rushed to provide Egypt with financial help. On Thursday, the Central Bank announced that it had received $3 billion in aid from the United Arab Emirates.
The mediator, who is close to senior military officials, said he believed the only concessions the generals were willing to offer were the release of senior leaders, the reopening of Islamist television stations and the possibility that the Brotherhood would not be banned. A military spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on its position.
“This is not a negotiation,” said Amr Darrag, a senior leader of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. “This is putting a gun to your head.”
Mr. Darrag and other Brotherhood leaders expressed a growing sense of isolation, and a bottomless mistrust of the military and its motives. They say diplomats privately express sympathy and even call Mr. Morsi’s ouster a military coup, but have repeatedly pressed the Islamists to move on.
“The Italian ambassador was talking to me the other night,” said Mohammed Ali Beshr, a senior Brotherhood leader who has been meeting with diplomats. “He told me that quick elections were the solution, and that we can be part of that.”
“I’m telling you, there will be no elections soon,” Mr. Beshr said. “He doesn’t understand. Nobody does.”
The mistrust stems from a feeling of being betrayed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who deposed Mr. Morsi after millions of people marched against the president’s rule.
“Sisi said to Morsi two days before the coup, ‘My neck before yours, Mr. President,’ ” said one senior Brotherhood leader, who requested anonymity. “He sent us messages that were like tranquilizers and fooled us.”
Now, the official said, “even if he promises us everything face to face and directly swore to us in person that he will do this and that, we still won’t believe him.”
Looming over the crisis is the absence of Mr. Morsi, whom the military is holding in an undisclosed location, with no hint of when he might be released. Egypt’s new leaders assert his detention is for his own safety.
At the protests for Mr. Morsi’s supporters, the ousted president’s stature has only grown. Once the Brotherhood’s second choice for president — and to many Egyptians, an incompetent leader — his portrait is everywhere, as a symbol of the movement’s resistance.
His son, Osama Morsi, said the family had had no contact whatsoever.
“The last time we saw him was the morning of the bloody coup,” the younger Mr. Morsi said. “I am his personal lawyer. I cannot reach out for any kind of legal procedure. No charges have been filed.”
“There’s no way of knowing where he’s being held,” the son went on. “No one has tried to contact us.”
There are signs that a few Brotherhood leaders are softening their positions, but no sign of retreat on the core demand of restoring Mr. Morsi, even if only for a moment before he steps down. Too many of its members have been killed, the leaders said, and their supporters have stuck with them in the streets.
“We will lose all credibility in front of a lot of the people,” Mr. Darrag said. “Now it’s a deadlock.”
David D. Kirkpatrick and Robert F. Worth contributed reporting.
Guinea's anti-corruption activists raise doubts over mining crackdown
Government efforts to lure foreign investors by reforming Guinea's mining code lack teeth, campaigners warn
Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, in Conakry
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 07.00 BST
There is a saying in Guinea that is popular among those who work in development: "Everything is a priority". It is a wry observation that, in a country in which almost nothing works, it is difficult to work out what to tackle first.
The facts are stark. A recent survey showed that 62% of Guineans have no access to running water, 62% have no access to electricity, 65% say they have inadequate access to roads, and 72% think the justice system is broken. The country's human development indicators are well below those of other sub-Saharan African countries – the UN ranks the country's development 178th of 185 in the world.
As a result, Guinea's first democratically elected government since independence – led by Alpha Condé, a former doctor of law and professor at the Paris-Sorbonne University in France – is trying to reform and rebrand the country after decades of chronic mismanagement.
Former World Bank economist and minister of finance in Guinea, Kerfalla Yansané, says: "We want to attract not only donor money but to interact with the private sector, and we are working hard at this." "We are trying to reach out to all partners, to ensure that we can be in a position to send our message across."
Condé, Yansané and other government figures convened investors at a hotel in London last month to promote the merits of doing business in the west African country.
At the heart of efforts to attract investors are reforms to the mining code, and the creation of a committee to re-evaluate all 18 mining contracts and make recommendations for some to be renegotiated. "We are making an in-depth assessment of the contracts. If there are some imbalances, our mandate is to negotiate with the mining companies in order to regulate them," says Nava Touré, president of the committee.
But the review has come under criticism from all sides. Mining companies – many of which are watching the criminal investigation of BSG Resources (BSGR), which is accused of using bribery to obtain concessions – are nervous about the prospect of scrutiny and dubious about being asked to renegotiate legally binding contracts.
Anti-corruption activists say the process lacks teeth and depends on the goodwill of companies to renegotiate the terms of mining deals, something the government admits.
"It's true that it will be through persuasion we are going to work, and through evidence," says Yansané. "We expect these companies to be concerned about the image, their credibility. They should sit down around the table and discuss with us."
Olivier Manlan, principal economist for Guinea at the African Development Bank, which is supporting the review process, says: "The process is more symbolic than anything else. It is really about setting the tone for the future governance of Guinea. But it is important that these messages are sent now, so that any future government can build on them."
Guinea is not short of anti-corruption bodies. In addition to the mining review committee, the country has an anti-corruption agency (ANLC), audit committee, and an inspectorate division of the finance ministry, applauded this year for uncovering corrupt practices among its staff.
But corruption remains a formidable problem. A recent survey found that 98% of businesses in Guinea, and 93% of citizens, experienced corruption, with 86% of businesses and 79% of citizens saying the issue had got worse. "Our analysis of corruption over the past three years is that it is present in all sectors in Guinea," the report says.
Some question whether anti-corruption bodies have the power to make a difference. Abdoul Rahamane Diallo, Guinea programme co-ordinator for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, says: "The problem with all these bodies is that they do investigations, they get reports, but they cannot prosecute.
"They refer their files to the government, who sit on them. Some of the people in the current government were also in the past government, and if they are implicated, then they are not going to act. These bodies have no real authority, their funding is a problem. If you visit their offices, you can see that they are yet to function properly in terms of mobility, office supplies, salaries."
At the anti-corruption watchdog, perhaps fittingly located at Guinea's "kilometre zero" – the point from which all distances are measured – the director, François Falcone, admits a struggle to balance attracting foreign investment and protecting national interests. "The rules are very weak for multinationals. If you try to bring them to account, they can hire 50 lawyers to defend themselves. It's difficult for a country like ours to compete with that," he says.
"Sometimes it feels as if the state is disappearing beneath these private enterprises," adds Falcone, whose organisation has 44 staff and a budget of only £75,000 a year. "These companies have the means to influence our politicians and political parties. But fortunately we are beginning to form stronger institutions to take them on."
Guinea's government says it has demonstrated its commitment to tackling corruption, by taking on BSGR and by investigating its own staff. Last year, several central bank employees were convicted of embezzling state funds using fake documents.
"This is evidence that we can't sit down and ignore corruption within," says Yansané. But in response to allegations that only the most junior civil servants involved had been prosecuted, the minister admitted that until the judiciary was strengthened, accountability would remain imperfect.
Guineans say they were the only neighbouring country whose supreme court judges were not invited to Dakar to meet Barack Obama on his Senegal tour last month, which has been interpreted as a damning but not unfair indictment on the state of the judiciary.
"We have to keep addressing the weaknesses of all our institutions, particularly in the judiciary," says Yansané. "If there is no judiciary, there is no security for contracts, and if there is no security, there will be no investment."
One western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed: "We are starting from an extremely low base. It will take decades for Guinea to transform itself the way that some other countries in the region have. But it has made a start."
Libya's women's football team banned from major tournament
Sporting authorities cite Ramadan as reason for withdrawal after team forced to train in secret following threats from radicals
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 08.45 BST
Libya's international woman's football team, already under threat from religious extremists, has been banned from taking part in a major tournament next week by the country's sporting authorities.
In a move likely to raise questions about its commitment to equal rights, Libya's football association told the team it cannot fly to Germany on Saturday, citing concerns that it takes place within the holy month of Ramadan.
"The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting," said midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed. "We want to go but they say you cannot go."
Libya had been due to play teams from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Germany in Discover Football, a tournament funded by the German government. It is billed as the biggest gathering of Middle-Eastern women's footballers since the 2011 Arab spring.
El-Alabed, at 37 the oldest player in the squad and who played in Liverpool while earning a Phd in sports science, said the ban had shattered hopes that the fall of Gaddafi would bring social change. "Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying."
After initially giving permission for the tournament, Libya's FA changed its mind. "It is Ramadan," said the FA general secretary, Nasser Ahmed. "We are not against women playing football."
It is understood German diplomats are working behind the scenes to provide guarantees that the 18-strong squad would be secure in Berlin.
Threats from Islamist radicals have already forced the team to train in secret, constantly switching venues and deploying armed guards.
In June Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last September, issued a statement saying it "severely condemned" women's football
"This is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law," it said. "It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate."
Salim Jabar, one of Libya's most popular television preachers, has demanded the women's team disband, saying it was against the strictures of Islam.
"This team consists of tall, good-looking young girls, and that's the last thing this country needs," he said in a sermon broadcast from his Benghazi mosque. "For the first day that she [a Libyan woman] signed up for this team, she has sold herself and brought shame on her family."
Women's football was allowed during the Gaddafi regime, but only in reduced format with teams playing in gyms to be out of the public eye in this conservative Muslim country. Since the revolution the international team has been allowed to play 11-a-side, but its higher profile has made it a lightning rod for extremists.
"They [radicals] say to us you are no good, they intimidate us," says team captain Fadwa el-Bahi, 25.
At one training session, the location of which the Guardian was asked to keep secret, the team coach, Emmad el-Fadeih, said the women had already met strict FA guidelines. All play in head-to-foot blue tracksuits rather than shorts and T-shirts, and most wore the hijab.
El-Fadeih said the team had complied with FA rules that only unmarried women could travel to Germany, and then only if their father or guardian gave written permission.
"There are groups like Ansar al-Sharia don't want them, some people say football is not suitable for women," said el-Fadeih.
Fears of a backlash also saw team members refuse to be photographed for the tournament website. "They don't want their faces displayed," said Naziha Arebi, a British-Libyan filmmaker. "These women just want to play football."
El-Bahi, a geophysics graduate, insists nothing in the Qur'an bans women from sport. "The prophet (Muhammad and his wife used to run together and compete with each other."
She said the authorities should be highlighting the role women's football plays in fostering togetherness in a country wracked with militia violence. "This team is an example of reconciliation," she said. "We have former Gaddafi girls and former rebels, side-by-side."
Rights groups say the problems facing Libya's women footballers are part of a larger struggle by women who have struggled to win their rights. This month Libya's congress, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, gave just six seats to women in a 60-strong commission formed to write a new constitution.
Tournament organisers say Libya's place will remain open. "We have heard that the football association decided that they are not allowed to go," said Discover Football spokeswoman Johanna Kosters "We will wait and see if they get on the plane."
Rudd announces deal to send all asylum boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea
No asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will be allowed to settle in the country, PM says
Lenore Taylor, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 09.37 BST
All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement and none will be allowed to stay in the country, the prime minister has announced, as he sent out a draconian pre-election message that Australia’s borders are closed to refugees.
In what he said was “a clear and undiluted message to every people smuggler in the world that your business model is basically undermined”, Kevin Rudd said the new rules would apply initially for one year and there was no limit on the numbers of asylum seekers PNG would take.
In return, the government announced new aid to PNG for hospitals and universities and said it would pay unspecified “resettlement costs” for the refugees as well as bearing the costs of the expansion and upgrade of the Manus Island processing centre. Rudd said only that the package would “not be inexpensive” but no cost details were immediately available.
Refugee advocates said the substandard conditions in PNG’s Manus Island detention centre, the very high crime rates in the country and “daily pervasive human rights abuses” were evidence the new arrangements contravened Australia’s basic obligations to help refugees who come here.
The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said it was a “day of shame for Australia” and accused Rudd of “lurching so far to the right that he has leapfrogged Tony Abbott in terms of cruelty”.
Milne said it was “appalling” that Australia would “pay our most impoverished neighbour” so it could “dump” people there without any chance of safety or work or a decent life.
The Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, said the crackdown was “a promising development in offshore processing” which he welcomed, but said Australians should not trust Labor to stop the boats or implement the crackdown.
Under the new agreement between Australia and PNG, asylum seekers who arrive from Friday will have health checks and immunisations on Christmas Island and then, within weeks, will be transferred to Manus Island and “other centres” in PNG as yet unspecified.
The immigration minister, Tony Burke, who recently moved women and children off Manus Island because of substandard conditions, said families would not be sent to the centre until it was upgraded. PNG politicians suggested Friday its capacity would increase from 600 to 3,000.
Human rights lawyers are foreshadowing a legal challenge against the dramatic move, but the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said he was certain it was entirely in accordance with Australia’s domestic and international law obligations. He said PNG had now “withdrawn” the reservations it had lodged with the UN to the refugee convention.
Rudd said there was no cap or limit on the number of asylum seekers PNG had agreed to take, but he expected over time as people smugglers “got the message” the rate of arrivals would slow.
Rudd also announced a new international conference of immigration transit countries and said, as boat arrivals slowed, Labor would consider increasing the humanitarian intake from 20,000 to 27,000.
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, Peter O'Neill, was with Rudd at the Brisbane announcement and was later briefing Abbott and the Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop.
There are now just 200 asylum seekers in the detention centre on swampy, tropical Manus Island in northern PNG, which was established in 2001 as part of former prime minister John Howard’s “Pacific Solution”. It was closed in 2004 when there were no more detainees and reopened in 2012 when the Gillard government resumed offshore processing.
Conditions on the remote island have been controversial, with the UN high commissioner for refugees recently finding that, while improving, they were still below required international standards.
"Cramped living quarters were observed, while asylum seekers reported issues with the heat, privacy, hygiene and access to medical services,” the UNHCR found.
Guardian Australia recently reported that the joint Australia-Papua New Guinea committee set up to oversee processing on the island had never met.
Also contributing to hopes that the flow of asylum seekers will slow is news that the Indonesian government has agreed to Rudd’s request to make it harder for Iranians to enter the country, in a move that could slow the passage of asylum seekers planning to board boats bound for Australia.
The new directive from the Indonesian justice minister, Amir Syamsuddin, to deny Iranians the right to buy temporary visas upon arrival, addresses an issue raised by Rudd in recent talks with the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The asylum crackdown is the third and final piece of policy repositioning Rudd wanted to complete before calling an election and comes after he brought forward the end of the fixed carbon price and dubbed himself the carbon tax “terminator”.
Rudd has also proposed sweeping changes to the rules governing the election of Labor leaders, in order to rebut Coalition claims that the “faceless” men could again dump him if Labor was voted back in. Those rules are expected to be endorsed at a special caucus meeting in the Sydney suburb of Balmain on Monday. Balmain and the central Queensland town of Barcaldine are claimed as the “birthplaces” of the ALP.
With pre-selections in all but a few very safe Liberal seats completed by Sunday and the opinion polls showing Labor’s electoral resurgence is holding, the way is now clear for Rudd to call an election as early as next week.
The changes announced on Friday were the latest in a series of asylum policy switches by the ALP.
When he was dumped as Labor leader in June 2010, Rudd appealed to his party not to “lurch to the right” on asylum policy.
Two weeks later, in the lead-up to the last federal election in 2010, Julia Gillard tore up Rudd’s policy and proposed the “Timor Solution”, proposing Timor Leste as the site for an offshore processing centre. That idea was rejected by the Timorese government.
After the election, Gillard proposed an exchange of asylum seekers for processed refugees from Malaysia, but that plan was struck down by the high court and Labor was unable to get parliament to support the legislation necessary to validate it. Gillard then convened an expert panel and, on its recommendation, shifted policy again to resume offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru – as had long been advocated by the Coalition.
None of the policy lurches succeeded in stemming the flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat. More than 15,600 have arrived so far this year, filling detention facilities and leaving almost 17,000 people living in the community, in poverty, with no work rights and no idea when their claims are going to be heard.
A dramatic shift in asylum policy in 2001 helped Howard turn around poor polling and win the November federal election, after he refused permission for the MV Tampa to enter Australian waters with its cargo of rescued asylum seekers.
July 18, 2013
China’s Feud With West on Solar Leads to Tax
By DIANE CARDWELL
Escalating a long-simmering trade dispute with the West over solar panels, China plans to impose tariffs that could exceed 50 percent on a material it imports from the United States and South Korea to make the panels, its Ministry of Commerce announced on Thursday.
The decision, which goes into effect next week, is a blow to the American industry, which analysts say counts China as its largest customer for solar-grade polysilicon, the main ingredient in solar panels.
The Obama administration and the European Union have been trying to negotiate settlements with China in the world’s largest antidumping and anti-subsidy trade cases.
Last fall, the United States put in place tariffs of roughly 24 to 36 percent on the Chinese imports after finding that Chinese companies were benefiting from unfair government subsidies and selling their products below the cost of production, a practice known as dumping.
In June, the European Union imposed modest tariffs of 11.8 percent on solar panels from China, but those are set to rise to 47.6 percent in August if Beijing does not stop what the Europeans say is dumping. Soon after, Beijing said it would investigate whether European wines had been sold at below cost in China.
United States trade officials declined to say how China’s move might affect those negotiations but expressed disappointment. A spokeswoman for Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, said they were in discussions with China related to global issues in solar technology, including panels and polysilicon, and this step did not move the ball forward, “but we will continue to engage.”
China dominates the world market in solar panel production, exporting about $30 billion a year in panel shipments to the West, but it imports a majority of polysilicon from the United States, Europe and Korea. Its decision to tax United States companies heavily but levy lower rates on some Korean producers and leave Europe out is being widely seen as retaliation for the American trade case, originally brought in 2011.
“China is slapping tariffs on polysilicon because it is unhappy that the United States exercised its legal rights and stood up for our remaining solar manufacturers,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, whose home state is a center of solar panel production. “I am confident that these retaliatory tariffs will be shown to be without merit.”
The tariffs are preliminary and could be changed or even eliminated if the United States were to successfully challenge them with the World Trade Organization, said Timothy C. Brightbill, a lawyer representing the companies that brought the United States trade case, adding that the process could take a year or two.
But that could prove too late for the domestic polysilicon business, industry officials say. “It’s a big setback for U.S. poly because the duties are going to start being collected next week and the rates are prohibitive,” said John Smirnow, vice president of trade and competitiveness at the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main industry trade group. “It could effectively act as a bar to U.S. polysilicon exports to China in the short run. They’re losing their largest export market.”
Whether that will help or hinder Chinese companies is unclear. Globally, panel manufacturers have been squeezed, some to the point of bankruptcy, by China’s rapid expansion of its production capacity over the last four years. That has drastically reduced prices and fed a boom in solar development, but now companies worry that an increase in the cost of raw materials could make it more difficult to compete.
At the same time, the United States tariffs might not raise the cost of panel production by much, at least not in the long term, said Shayle Kann, the head of GTM Research, a unit of Greentech Media. United States exports of polysilicon have been declining — to about $700 million in 2012 from worth roughly $1 billion in 2011, according to a commerce department official — as China develops its own production.
And it can still buy from Europe and the Korean companies with lower tariffs, rather than companies like the American company Hemlock Semiconductor, whose tariff was set at 53.3 percent.
“We will continue to collaborate with government leaders as this situation progresses and support any efforts to find a mutually acceptable resolution,” said Jarrod Erpelding, a spokesman for Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor.
Earlier this year, Hemlock announced it was laying off 400 employees because of the economic impact of panel oversupply and the trade dispute. “No country or industry wins when trade disputes escalate,” Mr. Erpelding said.
Scandal in China over the museum with 40,000 fake artefacts
Jibaozhai Museum in Hebei closes amid internet ridicule because nearly all its artefacts alleged to be forgeries
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 July 2013 16.49 BST
A museum in China has a problem. It seems to have a few fakes in its vast collection. Well, as many as 40,000. Everything it owns may be nothing more than a mass of crude forgeries.
Wei Yingjun, a consultant to the Jibaozhai Museum in Jizhou, about 150 miles south of Beijing, insists the situation is not that bad. He is "quite positive" that 80 or even more pieces out of tens of thousands in the museum are authentic.
In spite of this sterling defence, regional authorities in Hebei province have closed the museum amid a national scandal driven by some very free speech on China's internet. One online satirist suggested it should reopen as a museum of fakes – "If you can't be the best, why not be the worst?"
Maybe that's a good idea. All museums have a couple of fakes in their collections. Sometimes they own up to them, sometimes they put any dubious artefacts in a dark storeroom – and sometimes they don't know. But a collection that its accusers claim is entirely inauthentic is in its way a masterpiece of museology.
It's not like Jibaozhai is a small museum – it has 12 vast halls and cost 60 million yuan (about £6m) to build, opening its doors in 2010 during a culture boom that is seeing about 100 museums open every year across China. Unfortunately, it's hard to fill that many museums, and China also has a prolific faking industry. Art factories export low-cost fake Rembrandt and Van Goghs, while antique shops are full of eye-fooling replicas of classical Chinese art.
In one of his provocative works, Ai Weiwei smashes what appears to be a priceless historic vase. He is drawing attention to modern China's uneasy relationship to its long cultural past. This is a land with a continuous art tradition going back to prehistoric times – yet this creative past was severed from the present by the revolution of the 20th century. Surely the demand for museums across China reflects a desire to reconnect with a great heritage. The museum of fakes may be an absurd side-effect. But the angry and precise criticism that exposed it is a triumph of citizenship.
Huawei has spied for Chinese government, ex-CIA boss says
Michael Hayden, also former head of NSA, says he is aware of hard evidence of spying activity by world's No 2 telecoms firm
Reuters in Sydney
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 11.33 BST
The former head of the CIA and the National Security Agency in the US has said he is aware of hard evidence that Huawei Technologies has spied for the Chinese government, the Australian Financial Review newspaper reports.
Michael Hayden said in an interview with the paper that Huawei had "shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with".
"I think that goes without saying," he said.
According to the newspaper, Hayden said intelligence agencies have hard evidence of spying activity by the world's No 2 telecoms equipment maker. It did not detail that evidence.
Huawei, founded in 1987 by the former People's Liberation Army officer Ren Zhengfei, has repeatedly denied being linked to the Chinese government or military, or receiving financial support from either.
Hayden is a director of Motorola Solutions, which provides radios, smart tags, barcode scanners and safety products. Huawei and Motorola Solutions had previously been engaged in intellectual property disputes for a number of years.
Huawei's global cybersecurity 0fficer, John Suffolk, described the comments made by Hayden as "tired, unsubstantiated, defamatory remarks" and challenged him and other critics to present any evidence publicly.
"Huawei meets the communication needs of more than a third of the planet and our customers have the right to know what these unsubstantiated concerns are," Suffolk said in a statement emailed to Reuters. "It's time to put up or shut up."
The report came a day after Britain announced it would review security at a cyber centre in southern England run by Huawei to ensure that the British telecommunications network was protected.
In October 2012, the US House of Representatives' intelligence committee urged American firms to stop doing business with Huawei and ZTE Corporation, warning that China could use equipment made by the companies to spy on certain communications and threaten vital systems.
The Australian government has barred Huawei from involvement in the building of its A$37.4bn ($34.25bn) national broadband network.
July 18, 2013
Rifts Over Fees and Taliban Sour Afghanistan Exit
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
KABUL, Afghanistan — If the ease of the American exit from Afghanistan is based on the supply of Afghan good will, it has been a troubling and potentially very costly week for the United States.
Even as a top aide to President Hamid Karzai unleashed a new round of hostile talk on television this week, accusing the United States of using the Taliban to divide Afghanistan, another disagreement — over customs fees and missing paperwork for American cargo shipments out of Afghanistan — leapt into the open and threatened to steeply raise the price tag for the United States military withdrawal.
The common thread between them is a growing willingness by Afghan officials, from the president’s office down through the ministries, to publicly counter what they see as American arrogance. Just a few years after the setting of an American withdrawal deadline for 2014 evoked alarm and worry among Afghans, the tone now has perceptibly hardened: even the officials who openly want the Americans to stay are now saying that staying must be strictly on Afghan terms.
The latest is Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, once a favorite of the Western contingent in Afghanistan, whose anger at the American attitude about customs fees led him to institute steep fines and briefly led Afghan officials to close the border crossings to Western military shipments.
“At the heart of all this is not just a revenue collection issue,” Mr. Zakhilwal said in an e-mail on Thursday. It is about “respect of Afghan laws and procedures.”
Under a deal signed nearly a decade ago, goods shipped into Afghanistan by the American-led coalition are not subject to taxes or customs duties. But, Afghan officials said, each container brought in must be accompanied by paperwork to claim the exemption, and most of the forms were never filed.
The customs issues “have been lingering for many years now with no serious intention or effort” by the coalition to resolve them, Mr. Zakhilwal said.
Now that the coalition is trying to take out its equipment, the Afghan government is demanding each container either come with its paperwork — or a $1,000 fine. Najeebullah Manali, a Finance Ministry official, put the number of trucks at roughly 70,000. That would mean a fine of $70 million.
If anything, Mr. Zakhilwal said, the Afghan government was giving the coalition a break. “The duties owed to us run into hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “The truth is that quite a bit of these goods (mostly fuel) have been smuggled into the market with consequences not only for our revenue but also distorting our market and damaging competition.”
To force the issue, Afghanistan closed its border crossings with Pakistan to coalition shipments moving both ways on July 11. The crossings, through which most supplies move, were reopened on Wednesday after the Finance Ministry gave the coalition another month to settle the matter.
American officials have balked at paying the fines, portraying the Afghan border closing as a shakedown by a government that is short of cash and unwilling to tax its own business class, which has grown wealthy off American supply contracts.
Instead, the coalition has turned to air shipments. It has flown out more than two-thirds of the material it moved in the past month, American officials said. In previous months, more than two-thirds had been shipped by land.
Air shipments are a far more expensive solution than simply paying the fines demanded by the Afghan government. If continued, the air shipments could result in the withdrawal of forces reaching or exceeding $7 billion, the upper end of its estimated cost.
An administration official in Washington sought to play down the effects on the withdrawal. “We’ll work it out with the Afghans,” the official said. “No one is overly worried.”
The American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing efforts under way to reach a settlement.
Those who could speak publicly about the dispute, which was first reported by The Washington Post, were circumspect. “We are experiencing challenges with our equipment retrograde at Afghan border-crossing points,” said Cmdr. William Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, in an e-mail. “We are confident that the situation will be resolved soon.”
While American officials were willing to stay quiet in hopes of working out a deal with Mr. Zakhilwal, their sense of discretion did not extend to the claims by Abdul Karim Khurram, the chief of staff to Mr. Karzai, that the United States was working with the Taliban.
Mr. Khurram has irked American officials for years. One Westerner said that at coalition headquarters, he was viewed “as Satan himself.”
Mr. Khurram reinforced that view in an interview this week with the Afghan channel 1TV. He openly accused Washington of colluding with the Taliban and Pakistan, where the insurgents shelter, and, in the Afghan telling, they are given orders of whom to attack and when by the Pakistani military.
“In the past decade, America used the Taliban as tools in this war,” Mr. Khurram said. In this, he was being only slightly more strident than his boss, Mr. Karzai, who has also accused the United States and the Taliban of working to destabilize Afghanistan.
Mr. Khurram then claimed the United States was sending Taliban fighters to aid the Syrian rebels, while, in Afghanistan, the insurgents “kill children in cooperation with Americans.”
“Cooperating with America was a failure,” he concluded.
Mr. Khurram framed his commentary as a discussion of a long-term security deal that would keep American forces in Afghanistan past 2014, when the NATO combat mission here ends. Negotiations on the pact were suspended by Mr. Karzai last month after an American-orchestrated attempt to start peace talks with the Taliban went sour. This week, although American officials had publicly shied away from criticizing Mr. Karzai for airing similar themes, American officials issued a rare rebuttal.
“The allegation that the United States seeks to divide Afghanistan by giving a share to the Taliban is nonsense,” said Ambassador James B. Cunningham in a statement issued Thursday. “We have not spent blood and resources, alongside our Afghan comrades, in pursuit of any other purpose than a stable Afghanistan that can provide for the security of its people, strengthen its institutions, and pursue the future which its people deserve.”
As for the long-term security agreement, “we are ready to resume these negotiations at any time,” he added.
Mr. Khurram, in the television interview, acknowledged that Afghanistan needed the aid of American forces and financing beyond 2014. But given the experience of the past 12 years, Afghans had to carefully evaluate the terms under which the foreigners would remain “so the next generations do not curse us,” he cautioned.
Among the issues he mentioned: taxes.
Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul, and Thom Shanker from Washington.
Supporters mob Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy on return from exile
Cambodia National Rescue party leader returns after royal pardon but faces huge electoral odds in challenging Hun Sen
Associated Press in Phnom Penh
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 05.05 BST
Thousands of cheering supporters greeted Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy as he returned from self-imposed exile on Friday to spearhead his party's election campaign against the prime minister, Hun Sen.
"I have come home to rescue the country," Rainsy told the crowd gathered at Phnom Penh airport, after kneeling to kiss the ground.
"I am happy to be here!" Rainsy told the crowd speaking through a microphone as the supporters chanted, "We want change!"
The French-educated leader of the Cambodia National Rescue party has been in exile since 2009 to avoid serving 11 years in prison on charges many consider politically motivated.
Rainsy, 64, received a royal pardon last week at the request of Hun Sen, his bitter rival, whose ruling party is almost certain to maintain its grip on power in the general election on 28 July.
Hun Sen has held power for 28 years, and his party holds 90 of the 123 seats in the national assembly. The prime minister recently said he intended to wield power until he was 74, having earlier promised to stay in control until he was 90.
Rainsy is a charismatic and fiery speaker, qualities that have landed him in trouble before. He is expected to draw large crowds as he embarks on a whirlwind campaign tour that his party says will take him to over a dozen provinces in a week.
He is likely to push hard on issues of corruption and land grabbing, with tens of thousands of Cambodians displaced from their homes and farms under what are often shady circumstances.
Critics of the government claim the election will be neither free nor fair, arguing that Hun Sen's regime manipulates the levers of government and influences the judiciary to weaken the opposition.
Last month, 28 opposition MPs were expelled from parliament when a committee run by Hun Sen's party ruled they had broken the law because they had originally won their seats in the name of the Sam Rainsy party, but were campaigning under the recently established Cambodia National Rescue party, into which it was merged.
They can still run in the upcoming election, but without parliamentary immunity. Immunity from arrest is a great benefit in Cambodia's elections, and those without it are at risk of being charged with defamation for remarks seen critical of Hun Sen and his government.
"My return is no more than a step on a long journey towards achieving self-determination for Cambodia," Rainsy wrote after he was pardoned. He criticised the official election body as unsupportive of democracy.
"The mere fact of my return does not create a free and fair election for Cambodia," he said.
The Indian school lunch deaths are tragic but we must not lose perspective
The free midday meals scheme has improved the lives of many schoolchildren, boosting attendance and nutrition
Jason Burke, South Asia correspondent, and Manoj Chaurasia in Patna
The Guardian, Thursday 18 July 2013 16.29 BST
Twenty-two children died after eating poisoned school meals this week in Bihar state, India. Postmortems indicate the cause may have been adulterated cooking oil. This is a terrible tragedy – awful, avoidable, unconscionable. It should, and has, provoked much outrage and some soul-searching about the neglect of basic services in India. And for once, the political establishment seems to be taking note.
But what does this mean for the midday meals scheme? If your knowledge of the scheme comes from Kishwar Desai's article in the Guardian, you probably believe it is a giant hogwash, a policy meant to improve nutrition and school attendance gone badly wrong with "little evidence to suggest that schoolchildren are actually getting any nutritional value from it at all".
As the headline in another Guardian article pithily captured it: "Free school meals kill Indian children". No sign whether it does anything good at all anywhere.
This impression is wrong and by now a lot of evidence exists to back it up. Farzana Afridi at the Indian Statistical Institute, has found large benefits to the scheme: in a paper (pdf) in the Journal of Development Economics, she says: "At a cost of between 1.44 cents to 3.04 cents per child per school day the scheme improved nutritional intakes by reducing the daily protein deficiency of a primary school student by 100%, the calorie deficiency by almost 30% and the daily iron deficiency by nearly 10%."
In a paper (pdf) in the Journal of Development Studies, she found that the attendance rate of girls in grade 1 rose by 12 percentage points because of the meals. Rajshri Jayaraman and Dora Simroth at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin said enrolment went up substantially as a result of the introduction of school meals, similar to evidence reported in other studies (such as these papers (pdf) by Jean Dreze).
In a recent paper (pdf), co-authored with Stefan Dercon and Albert Park, forthcoming in Economic Development and Cultural Change, I used panel data on 2,000 children collected by the Young Lives study at Oxford University to investigate the impact of the scheme on nutritional outcomes. Specifically, we were interested in whether school meals might serve as a safety net for children who were malnourished as a result of droughts in early childhood.
We found that children whose households experienced droughts when they were very young (under two years) had higher levels of malnourishment, but if they had since been enrolled in a government school, the meals compensated for the early nutritional deficits – put simply, there was no physical evidence of worse nutrition by the time they were aged five to six years compared with children who had not experienced drought. In a country with high child malnutrition, and with agriculture often at the mercy of the monsoon rains, these are encouraging results.
There are other effects possible that are less easily quantified: on every school day, millions of schoolchildren, from different castes and religions, eat meals from the same pot together – in a socially stratified society, this cannot be seen as being anything but good for social equity. These are not trivial results. Taken together, they mean that the midday meals, which reach about 120 million children on every school day, are probably the most successful of all interventions in education that the Indian state has delivered in the past decade. On any school day, a quarter of teachers are absent from government schools (pdf), only 45% of those in school are teaching, but in 87% of schools, a hot meal is served (pdf).
The death of 22 children is not a trivial matter. And it is not enough to point out that, for the vast majority of 120 million children who are fed every school day, the meals are a good thing. But it is possible to report about this feelingly, without undermining the scale of the tragedy, with some perspective on what this case means for the scheme as a whole (see here and here). Do we need better storage to make sure food does not get mixed with insecticides? Of course! Beyond school meals, we also need to deal with adulteration in Indian food (including adulteration in cooking oil, which has caused dropsy and death). Let's not, however, use the death of these children as an excuse to declare open season on the one thing that does seem to get delivered to kids in India's government schools.
• Abhijeet Singh is a research officer at Oxford University's Department of International Development and a doctoral student in economics. More on his research can be found on his website
Indian state orders headteachers to taste all school lunches
Order comes after 23 children died earlier this week from eating a school lunch contaminated with pesticide
Jason Burke, South Asia correspondent, and Manoj Chaurasia in Patna
The Guardian, Thursday 18 July 2013 16.29 BST
Authorities in the eastern Indian state of Bihar have ordered headteachers to taste all school lunches before they are served after 23 schoolchildren died eating a lunch contaminated with pesticide.
Amarjeet Sinha, the top official in the local education department, told reporters that cooking oil used at the school in Chapra District, 40 miles from the Bihar state capital of Patna, had been stored in or near a container previous filled with pesticide.
Sinha said notices published on Thursday morning in local newspapers ordering headteachers to taste food and to ensure safe storage of ingredients would "dispel any fear in [children's] minds that the foods are unsafe."
Children across Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, have been refusing to eat free school lunches since the incident on Tuesday.
However the move has done little to allay concerns. Critics pointed out the directive only restated existing orders which were rarely followed and impossible to enforce.
Angry bereaved parents have defied local administrators to bury victims, all aged between 5 and 12, in the grounds of the school.
Police are searching for the headteacher, accused of forcing the children to eat even after they complained of a strange taste, and her husband, owner of the grocery store where the ingredients were sourced. Both appear to have fled as the extent of the tragedy became clear.
However medical staff said the other children currently being treated in Patna, the state capital 40 miles from the school, would all survive.
Dr Amarkant Jha Amar, superintendent of the Patna medical college hospital, told the Guardian that "the children were recovering fast".
Manju Devi, one of the two cooks at the school, described how she and her three children, ages 5, 8 and 13, had fallen ill after eating some of the contaminated food.
"Thank God, my children and I are now safe," Devi, 30, said.
However two of the three children of a second cook, Pano Devi, died. A third, a 4-year-old daughter, was hospitalised.
"I will stop cooking at the school," said Devi, who did not eat the tainted food. "I am so horrified that I wouldn't grieve more if my only surviving child died."
The two cooks said they warned the headteacher there was a problem with the food.
The incident has exposed both the deep problems with India's vast free school meals programme and its healthcare system.
The local clinic near the school lacked even basic medication and equipment, ambulances were not available and none of the monitors in the intensive care unit in the state's main hospital, where another 26 children are currently under treatment, were in working order when casualties arrived. Specialist medication to counter the effects of poisoning was not immediately available.
Lal Deo Mahato told the Indian broadcaster NDTV that he was working in rice fields when he heard that his daughters had fallen ill at their school.
One daughter, aged four, survived, but his eight-year-old died in his arms on the way to Patna, Mahato said.
The Midday Meals programme is one of the biggest such schemes anywhere in the world, covering more than 120 million children. Prices of meat, fruit or fresh vegetables have soared in recent years, leaving parents in poorer families reliant on school lunches to ensure adequate levels of nutrition. However, the scheme is plagued by waste and corruption. Incidents of poisoning are common, though rarely this serious.
School meals in India are usually provided by contractors. Many use substandard ingredients and pay officials to turn a blind eye. Grain purchased by the government for distribution is often poorly stored.
According to the World Bank, 43% of Indian children are underweight – the highest level in the world and a figure that has remained constant for at least 20 years. In China the figure is only 7%; in sub-Saharan Africa it averages 28%. Poor nutrition among lactating and pregnant mothers means the effects of post-natal malnutrition for children are exacerbated.
The government, led by the Congress party, is pushing for a massive £14bn expansion of the country's food subsidy programme. Congress, which controls only half of India's 28 states, won the last two general elections after introducing populist policies such as a rural jobs scheme and a £8.3bn waiver programme for farmers' loans.
July 19, 2013
Kurd Militants Give Turkey 'Final Warning' on Peace Deal
ISTANBUL — Kurdish militants issued what they said was a final warning to Turkey on Friday to take concrete steps to advance a peace process aimed at ending a three-decade insurgency, or be responsible for it grinding to a halt.
Jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Ankara government began peace talks last October to halt a conflict which has killed 40,000 people and blighted Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.
Kurdish leaders have called on the AK Party (AKP) government to launch reforms set out under the talks, but Ankara has said the Kurds need to keep their side of the bargain by speeding up the withdrawal of their fighters to northern Iraq.
"As a movement we are warning the AKP government for the last time... If concrete steps are not taken in the shortest time on the subjects set out by our people and the public, the process will not advance and the AKP government will be responsible," the PKK said on one of its websites.
The reforms include steps to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority, including abolishing an anti-terrorism law under which thousands have been imprisoned for links to the PKK, granting full Kurdish-language education and lowering the threshold of votes which parties need to enter parliament.
As the process has faltered, there has been an increase in militant activity in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, which commentators say will complicate the government's task of enacting reforms without inflaming nationalist sentiment.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has invested considerable political capital in the process ahead of elections next year and is facing the biggest test of his decade in power after weeks of often violent anti-government protests.
The PKK said there had been repeated calls for Ankara to allow an independent team of doctors to visit Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali, south of Istanbul, but the government had failed to respond. Ocalan, known by his followers as Apo, is known to suffer from an eye ailment.
"The sincerity in the settlement process of a government which approaches the Leader Apo's health in this way is now seriously being questioned and doubted by our movement, our people and democratic public opinion," it said.
In response to the calls, the Justice Ministry issued a statement on Friday saying the latest tests by doctors on July 16 had found no problems with Ocalan's general health.
"The speculation on the subject of his health could result in the settlement process being affected negatively," the ministry said.
The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, also accused the government of supporting Islamist groups involved in clashes with Kurds in northern Syria. Ankara rejects those accusations.
"We call on the AKP to abandon rapidly this hostile approach shown to the national democratic rights of the Rojava (Syrian) Kurds and to cut its links with al Qaeda groups," it said.
A Syrian Kurdish party with links to the PKK seized control this week of a Syrian town on Turkey's border after days of clashes with Islamist fighters, prompting Ankara to repeat its opposition to an autonomous Kurdish region emerging there.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara that Turkey had always opposed the emergence from the conflict of autonomous regions along sectarian or ethnic lines, warning they would "result in greater crises".
Friday's statement from the PKK's umbrella political group came just over a week after a veteran militant viewed as a hawk was appointed as co-head of the group, stoking speculation it will take a harder line.
The PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, but subsequently moderated its goal to regional autonomy. Kurds represent around a fifth of Turkey's population of 76 million people.
(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Nick Tattersall and Tom Pfeiffer)