Over 1,000 flee homes in south Mexico over violence
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 16:27 EDT
Some 1,000 people have fled their homes in southwestern Mexico after gunfights erupted in their villages and criminal groups threatened them, officials said Thursday.
Residents of three villages in the state of Guerrero abandoned their homes Wednesday after an unspecified number of people were wounded and houses were set ablaze, said Bolivar Ochoa, secretary general of the San Miguel Totolapa municipality that oversees the communities.
“There were shootouts for three days that could be heard here in the municipal center. A group burned down houses and attacked people, who are in tears over this situation,” Ochoa told AFP.
The residents of El Terrero, El Cubo and El Remanse took refuge in the main church of San Miguel Totolapan. Authorities began to relocate them to other towns on Thursday, a Guerrero state government official said.
On May 14, three people died in a gunfight in the municipality after two women were kidnapped. The women have yet to be found. The deputy public security chief had been shot dead a day earlier.
The municipality lies in the Tierra Caliente (Hot Land) region, which straddles the states of Guerrero, Michoacan and Mexico and is known as a hotbed of drug cartel activity.
The gang violence has led several communities in another region of Guerrero, the mountainous and rural Costa Chica area, to form vigilante groups in order to conduct their own policing.
Brazil develops 'superfoods' to combat hidden hunger
Eight biofortified foods are being developed to combat nutrient deficiencies that can cause blindness and anaemia
Fabiola Ortiz for IPS, part of the Guardian development network
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 14.51 BST
In less than 10 years, consumers throughout Brazil will have access to eight biofortified "superfoods" being developed by the country's scientists. A pilot scheme is under way in 15 municipalities.
Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.
The goal is to combat micronutrient deficiencies, which can cause severe health problems such as anaemia, blindness, impaired immune response and development delays. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, micronutrient malnutrition affects 2 billion people globally.
These efforts in Brazil began a decade ago, when the government agricultural research agency, Embrapa, initiated the biofort project as part of an international alliance for the development of crop varieties with higher concentrations of essential micronutrients. Embrapa chose eight foods that are staples of the Brazilian diet: rice, beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), cassava, sweet potatoes, corn, squash and wheat.
"We are working on increasing the iron, zinc and provitamin A content. These are the nutrients most lacking not only in Brazil, but in the rest of Latin America and the world as well, the cause of what we call hidden hunger," food engineer and a biofort co-ordinator, Marília Nutti, told Tierramérica*. Iron is key. Half of Brazil's children suffer from some degree of iron deficiency, said Nutti.
The scientists are working on breeding plants of the same species, choosing seeds that exhibit the best traits in terms of micronutrient content.
"This is not transgenics. We want a varied diet. Biofortification attacks the root of the problem and is aimed at the poorest sectors of the population. It is scientifically viable and economically viable as well," she said.
The project is supported by HarvestPlus and AgroSalud, research programmes that are operating in Latin America, Africa and Asia with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and development agencies.
How much more nutritious are these new foods? The iron content of the beans, for example, has been raised from 50 to 90 milligrams of iron per kilogramme. The cassava, which normally contains almost no beta-carotene, now has nine micrograms of this vitamin A source per gram.
The beta-carotene content of sweet potatoes has been boosted from 10 micrograms per gram to a whopping 115. And the zinc content of rice has been enhanced from 12 to 18 milligrams per kilo.
In Itaguaí, an industrial municipality 44 milessouth of Rio de Janeiro, about 8,000 pre-school children are benefiting from these extra-nutritious foods.
With an estimated population of 110,000, Itaguaí has an annual gross domestic product of $14,000, with most salaried workers earning the minimum wage of about $600 a month. These conditions made it an ideal location for Embrapa to kick off the project, distributing the food grown to the municipality's public schools, where it is used to prepare school lunches.
For now, the municipality is growing sweet potatoes, squash, beans and cassava on a 1 hectare (2.47 acres) plot that is also used to train the family farmers who supply the schools.
The municipal secretary of environment, agriculture and fisheries, Ivana Neves Couto, said: "Itaguaí is a model municipality. This is the third year in a row that we have won the award for the best school lunch management. We have very ambitious plans to quickly reach the entire municipal education system in partnership with all of the family farmers."
The system encompasses 62 schools and 17,000 students. In 2010, the local authorities incorporated the nutrient-enriched foods in school lunches at 13 pre-school centres, with a total enrolment of about 8,000 children.
The goal is to include all of the municipality's family farmers in the project, and within two years to offer biofortified foods in all of its schools, as well as stores and public markets in the city.
One factor that works in favour of the new foods is the natural curiosity of children. "When we tell them that these foods have more vitamins, and they see the deeper colours [of the biofortified crops], they are eager to try them out," Couto told Tierramérica.
Brazil is the only country working with eight biofortified crops. Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda are conducting research on one crop each.
The challenge, said Nutti, is for biofortification to be adopted as a matter of national policy for the promotion of food security, after the example of Panama, which has incorporated it on the government agenda.
The Brazilian initiative is in the pilot stage of cultivation, with crops grown in 11 states. A total of 15 municipalities are using the food for school snacks and lunches.
Although the project was initiated in Itaguaí, the focus for the future is on states in the north-east, such as Maranhão, Piauí and Sergipe, Brazil's poorest.
There are 67 farming units and 1,860 family farmers directly involved in the production of biofortified crops. This is a rather small scale for a country with 5,570 municipalities and a population of about 200 million.
A diet lacking in iron and zinc can cause anaemia, reduced work capacity, immune system impairments, development delays, and even death. Anaemia is the leading nutrition-related problem in Brazil.
About $10m has been invested in the Embrapa project, which involves 15 universities, as well as research centres and municipal governments.
Next year, the agency plans to carry out an assessment of the project's nutritional impact on the population, by measuring the results achieved with its superfoods in comparison with conventional food crops.
* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network
July 18, 2013
Cuban Jews Find an Israeli Olympics With a Higher Purpose
By ALYZA SEBENIUS and HILLEL KUTTLER
RISHON LeZION, Israel — Roxana González, 25, and her brother Rafael, 24, had barely picked up a bow and arrow since their days as champion high school archers in Cuba. So when they arrived here two weeks ago, they began practicing five hours a day at a dusty archery range, preparing to compete in the Maccabiah Games, a quadrennial international sporting event known as the Jewish Olympics.
The Israelis provided the coaching and the gear. “It was the best equipment we have ever used,” Mr. González said.
“They have been a bit rusty at the beginning because they haven’t been behind the bow for a long time,” said Hillel Kleiner, an Israeli archer and architect who has doubled as a chauffeur for the Cuban siblings. “It amazes me that they came here without their bows. I cannot part with my bow for more than two days.”
In many ways, it is amazing that the Gonzálezes are here at all. They were among 56 Jewish Cuban athletes and coaches who marched Thursday night in the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony in Jerusalem as the small island nation’s first official delegation to these games. Even though Cuba has no diplomatic relations with Israel, they were able to come because of recently relaxed travel restrictions for large groups leaving Havana. Jewish-American philanthropists donated about $200,000 to cover their costs.
Cuba is one of 21 countries participating for the first time in this 19th Maccabiah. Other newcomers include Mongolia, Curaçao and Ecuador. About 9,000 athletes from 78 countries are taking part over the next two weeks in 39 events, including new ones like equestrian competition, seven-man rugby and open-water swimming. All Israelis, including Muslim and Christian Arabs, are eligible to compete, but all international athletes at the games must be Jewish.
Organizers estimate that 20,000 visitors will come to Israel for the games, pumping about $50 million into hotels, restaurants and other tourism industries.
Started in 1932, the Maccabiah Games are where Mark Spitz made his international swimming debut (1965), Ernie Grunfeld led the United States to the basketball finals (1973), and a rower from New Jersey named Michael Bornstein earned two gold medals (1977). Mr. Bornstein later moved to Israel and changed his last name to Oren: he is now its ambassador to the United States.
The Games have been the setting for tragedy as well as triumph: four Australian athletes died in a bridge collapse in 1997. In 2001, during the violence of the second intifada, or uprising, the number of athletes decreased to 2,000.
Participants say the games blend sweat and spiritual self-discovery, in something of a tribal reunion where who wins can seem beside the point. This year’s 1,200-member American delegation includes two rabbis. Aly Raisman, last year’s gold-winning Olympic gymnast who became the darling of the Israeli news media because she is Jewish (and because Israel failed to win a single medal) is not competing, but she is performing an exhibition Saturday night in Jerusalem.
“I think the Maccabiah is the ultimate form of Jewish unity,” said Andrew Szabo, a lawn bowler and head of the 10-member delegation representing Guinea-Bissau. “It’s not a cutthroat competition, but about getting together, the camaraderie.”
Tal Brody, an all-American college basketball star who won the gold in the 1965 Maccabiah, ended up immigrating to Israel, where he became one of the nation’s best-known athletes. “Of course it’s important to win the gold, silver and bronze,” said Mr. Brody, 69, “but the championship is really gathering here, speaking to a Jew who speaks Italian or Spanish or Portuguese.”
That is just what the González siblings have been doing since they arrived July 3. They spent the Sabbath at the home of an Israeli archer who knows Spanish from traveling in South America. They went clubbing with another archer in Tel Aviv. They have enjoyed Israel’s abundant falafel.
Walking around Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, they ran into many athletes from around the world. “Everyone is surprised that there are Jews in Cuba,” Mr. González said.
There are about 1,500 Jews among Cuba’s 11 million people, down from 15,000 before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Mr. Castro and his brother, Raúl, have attended Hanukkah parties at the Jewish Community House of Cuba, one of three synagogues in Havana, and allowed hundreds of Jews to emigrate to Israel in the past few years.
Individual Cuban athletes have participated in previous Maccabiahs — Hella Eskenazi, the leader of this year’s team, traveled alone to compete in karate in 1997 — but never an official delegation.
It happened this year largely because of Jeffrey Sudikoff, a Los Angeles venture capitalist who in 2011 started a project called Small and Lost Communities to bring new countries to the Maccabiah. Eyal Tiberger, executive director of Maccabi World Union, which runs the games, said Mr. Sudikoff contributed $500,000 of the $1.5 million it cost to bring 300 athletes from countries participating for the first time this year.
The Cubans’ blue-and-white uniforms, with red stripes, were provided by Steve Tisch, the film and television producer who is a co-owner of the New York Giants, and he learned of the athletes’ aspirations to go to the games while visiting the Jewish Community House in Havana this April. Not wanting to flout the United States’ restrictions on doing business with Cuba, Mr. Tisch said he had them manufactured in Argentina. Sewn onto the right arms are the initials P.R.T., a homage to Mr. Tisch’s father, Preston Robert Tisch, who was passionate about Judaism.
“It’s not like picking up the phone and calling Nike and asking for a favor, but I wanted to keep it as simple as possible,” Mr. Tisch said. “It was a unique moment where Judaism and sports and competition could all meet.”
The Gonzálezes live in the coastal city of Cienfuegos, whose population of 150,000 includes 25 Jews. Roxana teaches industrial engineering at the university, from which Rafael just graduated.
“Can you imagine?” Mr. González said. “The only Jewish girl in Cienfuegos is my sister.”
Alyza Sebenius reported from Rishon LeZion, and Hillel Kuttler from Jerusalem. Sam Borden contributed reporting from New York.
NASA hopes to capture ‘first interplanetary photobomb’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 17:17 EDT
Two NASA spacecraft are about to take pictures of the Earth for planetary science research, and the US space agency is encouraging people worldwide to jump into the shot.
“Consider it the first interplanetary photobomb,” NASA said.
The first chance is on Friday, July 19, from 21:27 to 21:47 GMT, when the Cassini spacecraft takes a picture of Saturn as it is backlit by the sun.
The Cassini Earth portrait is part of a wider effort to see patterns in Saturn’s dusty rings.
But no need to fix your hair or makeup too much.
Cassini will be nearly 900 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away when it takes the pictures. And only North America will be in daylight for the shoot.
“While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini’s vantage point…the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“We hope you’ll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity.”
The second photo op will include all of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia as another spacecraft captures glimpses of Earth in its mission to search for natural satellites around Mercury.
Images will be taken by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft on July 19 and 20 at 11:49, 12:38 and 13:41 GMT both days.
NASA said it will release pictures the two spacecraft take next week, possibly as early as Monday.
In the meantime, space enthusiasts are invited to share their shots on Facebook or on Twitter using the hashtag #waveatsaturn.
Watch: Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is killing a ginormous gas cloud
By Stuart Clark The Guardian
Friday, July 19, 2013 8:57 EDT
Supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy has a gas cloud in its gravitational clutches – but the gas cloud isn’t giving up without a fight
If gas clouds could think, this one would class itself as the luckiest bunch of atoms in the universe. The front portion of a giant gas cloud called G2 has survived a close encounter with the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.
The huge gravitational forces that have been acting on the cloud have thrown it back into space with a velocity of 10m kilometres per hour. That’s about one percent of the speed of light, the fastest speed through space achievable.
The gas cloud was discovered in 2011 and shown to be on a nearly suicidal orbit that would carry it to within 25bn kilometres of the black hole, which is itself estimated to be about 7bn kilometres across, and contains more than 4m times the mass of the sun.
It is impossible to know what comprised that mass before it was swallowed by the black hole because it has been crushed out of existence and only its combined gravitational impression remains. Common sense would suggest that some of it was once gas clouds, stars and planets.
These new observations, taken by an international team of astronomers using the ESO Very Large Telescope, show that the latest victim has arrived earlier than calculated and that some of it has survived. Not all of it is expected to be that lucky.
G2 has arrived early because the gravity of the black hole has stretched the cloud into a giant string of ‘spaghetti’ that will now take more than 12 months to complete its dangerous passage.
During that time, some of it is bound to stray too close and find its way into the black hole. This will spark a flare of radiation that should tell astronomers something about enigmatic objects known as active galaxies.
One in ten galaxies are active. This means that the core of each is shining brighter than thousands of stars put together. The brightness indicative that the central black hole is feeding. Although the black hole cannot emit light, the gas spiralling in towards it accelerates and heats up, producing light and other radiation.
Watching this happen to parts of the G2 gas cloud offers astronomers an unprecedented glimpse of the way matter is destroyed by a black hole.
The cosmic drama will play out over the coming year. There is bound to be more news from this cosmic life and death struggle.
Stuart Clark is the author of Big Questions: Universe (Quercus). Find him on Twitter as @DrStuClark.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Click to watch: http://www.space.com/21983-black-hole-rips-and-whips-galactic-gas-cloud-video.html
In the USA...
Coalition seeks release of surveillance data
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 13:16 EDT
A coalition of Internet firms and activist organizations asked the US government Thursday to issue “transparency reports” on its online and phone data collection programs which have sparked an outcry.
“Democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency,” said Kevin Bankston at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital rights group leading the effort.
“Yet the American people lack basic information about the scope of the government’s surveillance of the Internet, information that many companies would eagerly share with their users if only they weren’t gagged by the government.”
Revelations last month about the so-called PRISM programs, which scoop up massive amounts of Internet and phone records to help thwart terrorist attacks, sparked a spate of protests and lawsuits claiming a violation of privacy and constitutional rights.
The groups released an open letter Thursday backed by major companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and dozens of other companies and organizations. It was sent to President Barack Obama, his head of national intelligence and key members of Congress.
Also endorsing the effort were venture capital firms investing in the tech sector, including Union Square Ventures and Y Combinator; non-profits like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of The Press and the Wikimedia Foundation; and trade groups including the Computer & Communications Industry Association.
The letter asked the US government to “ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users’ data are allowed to regularly report statistics” on the number of government requests under these programs.
It also called on the administration to issue its own regular “transparency report” providing the same information.
“This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use, and to international users of US-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications,” the letter said.
Earlier this week, 19 US organizations filed suit against the National Security Agency claiming their constitutional rights were violated by its secret data collection programs.
The suit filed in California federal court alleges that the mass collection of phone records under the so-called PRISM program violates Americans’ constitutional rights.
Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and other top Internet and technology companies have come under heightened scrutiny since word leaked of the vast, covert Internet surveillance program US authorities insist targets only foreign terror suspects and has helped thwart attacks.
Judge won’t drop ‘aiding the enemy’ charge in Bradley Manning trial
By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Thursday, July 18, 2013 22:50 EDT
The judge presiding over the court martial of the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has declined to throw out the main charge against him – that he knowingly “aided the enemy” by leaking state secrets that were posted on the internet.
The decision by Colonel Denise Lind, who is sitting as judge and jury over the army private in a courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland, means that Manning continues to face the possibility of life in military custody with no chance of parole. The “aiding the enemy” charge is one of the most severe offences available to military prosecutors, and has lead to the accusation that the Obama administration is attempting to put a chill on whistleblowers that could have far-reaching consequences for investigative journalism.
Colonel Morris Davis, one of the key witnesses called by Manning’s defence team in an attempt to have the “aiding the enemy” charge dropped, said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” by the ruling. Davis was director of the US air force’s judicial system from 2007 to 2008 and said he was normally a defender of military justice.
But he said the fact that military prosecutors were pursuing Manning with such a heavy hand had forced him to think again. He pointed to the contrast between the full-blooded prosecution of the US soldier and the outcome of the court martial that flowed from the 2005 Haditha killings in Iraq.
In that incident, 24 unarmed Iraqis including women and children were killed by US marines. In the ensuing prosecutions, six of the marines involved had their cases dropped, a seventh was found not guilty and the only one to be convicted of a single count avoided any time in jail.
“When you think about these different responses, it suggests to me that the military justice system is not working,” Davis said.
The defence team, led by a civilian lawyer, David Coombs, had moved for the “aiding the enemy” charge to be dismissed on grounds of lack of evidence. The motion argued that the US government had failed to produce any substantial evidence that Manning had “actual knowledge” that by passing documents to WikiLeaks he was giving information to an enemy of the US.
Coombs said that in the course of five weeks of prosecution evidence during the trial, the government had not proffered any evidence that the soldier was trained to be wary of WikiLeaks as a possible conduit to enemy groups. On the contrary, the court had heard from one of Manning’s superiors who had trained him as an intelligence analyst who testified that he had never even heard of WikiLeaks prior to the soldier’s arrest in this case.
To find Manning guilty of “aiding the enemy” would set an “extremely bad precedent” that would have an impact on all whistleblowers seeking to sound the alarm about government misconduct through established news outlets, Coombs later argued in court.
The prosecution countered that Manning had been thoroughly trained to recognise that posting any intelligence on the internet would make it accessible to enemy groups, particularly al-Qaida and its affiliated networks. “PFC Manning is distinct from an infantryman or a truck driver, because he had all the training. And this was his job. He knew exactly the consequences of his actions,” one of the prosecutors, Captain Angel Overgaard, told the court.
On more than one occasion, the US government made clear that it would have treated Manning with an equally stern hand had he chosen to leak the information to the New York Times rather than WikiLeaks. The issue was not purely legalistic – in the course of pre-trial hearings Manning indicated that his first attempt at linking to a news organisation was to the New York Times, Washington Post and Politico but he had failed to make contact and as a result had turned instead to WikiLeaks.
Amnesty International said that Lind’s decision to keep “aiding the enemy” on the charge sheet was a travesty of justice. “It’s abundantly clear that the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ has no basis and the charge should be withdrawn,” said the human rights group’s senior director for international law, Widney Brown.
Steven Aftergood, who heads a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, called Lind’s ruling “sobering”. He added: “It’s disturbing though not altogether surprising.”
Aftergood said that Manning was suffering the consequences of what he called an “indiscriminate release of records. I can’t believe that if he had simply released the Apache helicopter video or some of the other specific documents he transmitted that he would be facing the same set of charges.”
Manning has admitted to 10 lesser included offences relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of US state secrets that included war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, detainee files from Guantánamo, a video of the Apache helicopter attack on civilians in Baghdad and a huge trove of US diplomatic cables. The offences to which the soldier has pleaded guilty carry an upper sentence of 20 years, though the US government is seeking a more serious punishment that would see him languish in jail for up to 154 years in addition to the maximum life sentence for “aiding the enemy”.
The judge is expected to deliver her verdict on all 21 counts pursued by the government, as well as the 10 lesser offences admitted by Manning, possibly as early as next week.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Pelosi: ‘Our success as a nation really depends on our success of women’
By Kay Steiger
Thursday, July 18, 2013 15:12 EDT
In a meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) rolled out on Thursday what they called a campaign to economic issues important to women.
“Our success as a nation really depends on our success of women,” Pelosi said to reporters. “And this is something that has to be unleashed in a more important way than it has.”
The agenda, named “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families” hones in on three key principles the four congresswomen — Pelosi, DeLauro, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Rep. Doris Matsu (D-CA) — view as essential to women’s economic success: Equal pay for equal work, emphasis on the work-family balance, including paid sick leave, and adequate funding for child care.
DeLauro emphasized that this isn’t “tied to specific legislation” and they said that that they hadn’t been working directly with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who had proposed a similar agenda of legislative issues in recent months, but they plan to hold events almost weekly through the rest of the calendar year.
When reporters asked if they’d reached out to female colleagues on the Republican side, DeLauro said, “There are only so many ‘Dear Colleagues’ letters to send” and referenced Republican Rep. Martha Blackburn’s recent remarks alleging that women didn’t need equal pay legislation because they just wanted to be “recognized.”
Pelosi added that “My key phrase was always, don’t agonize, organize. We have a problem with equal pay, we have a problem about child care, we have a problem about not being able to take sick leave. Let’s organize around this. And believe me when I tell you this: We would rather they join us in this rather than having to use it as a political weapon.”
Notably missing from the agenda — which includes bolstering the Paycheck Fairness Act, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, Obama’s push for near-universal preschool and child care subsidies and tax credits — are the “hot button” issues like the anti-abortion “war on women” and any attempts to redress the Supreme Court’s decision to narrow the definition of a supervisor when bringing forward a harassment case against a supervisor.
Rather, it seems to be an attempt to raise middle-of-the-road economic issues for women as Congress gears up for 2014 midterms.
“We want to have many more women in Congress,” Pelosi said. “I keep saying, if you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility, you’d have more women in Congress, and that would be a very wholesome thing for our society, in terms of successes we can have for women.”
Pelosi likened the organizing around these family-friendly policies to the organizing around the Violence Against Women Act, which finally came to a vote in the House after political outcry over letting the legislation expire became “too hot to handle.”
Matsu joined the meeting and said, “We have these issues that transcend being women. … There’s more that we can do, more that we have to do.”
“These women sit around tables, I’m talking about high-tech women. I’ve met with business owners. I’ve met with teachers. I’ve met women who work two jobs. We always come back to the same issues, of balancing — ‘I need money. I need child care.’”
Pelosi agreed, “This is about how to pay the bills. That isn’t to say it’s inclusive of every women’s issue that is out there. It’s about one focus: How do we value the worth of women? How do we enable them to participate without getting fired if someone in their family gets sick? And how do we enable them to meet their family responsibilities?”
When Raw Story asked about the absence of protections against sexual harassment on the agenda, in light of the Surpreme Court’s recent decision to narrow the definition of “supervisor” and recent allegations against former congressman and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner as a perpetrator of sexual harassment, Pelosi pushed back. “You can tie almost any issue to this, and people will, as they go out there, but I don’t want — and I don’t mean to say that you’re doing this — I don’t want to trivialize this core disrespect for women in the workplace in terms of how their work is rewarded, how their time is respected, and the role that they play at home is respected by getting involved in pinning every other issue on. We have a long list of issues that we fight for women here,” she said. “Everything is connected to women, but what we’re talking about here, is how you get paid, how you can take a day off if you’re sick and how your kids are cared for while you’re working. That is what this thrust is.”
Edwards added, “The fact is, it’s an attempt to speak to what women are telling us their concerns are. Their concerns are about how they take care of themselves and their families. … The family is basically losing a quarter to a third of its income because of the pay disparity.”
“This is an agenda that speaks to what women have been telling us for a very long time,” Edwards concluded.
Family Values @ Work Executive Director Ellen Bravo, in a press release sent shortly after the announcement, said, “Family Values @ Work applauds the efforts of Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro, Donna Edwards and Doris Matsui in spearheading the Women’s Economic Agenda. Our coalitions in the cities and states know earned sick days and affordable family leave are key to the economic security of families and to our nation’s overall economic stability, as well as key to women’s equality.”
“At heart, policies that value families at work strengthen the economy. These policies help keep people employed and with enough money in their pockets to cover their basic expenses and support local businesses. We are proud to be part of this initiative.”
[Correction: This story originally identified DeLauro as from California. We regret the error.]
Democrat slams inspector general over IRS scandal: Your audit was a ‘smear’
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, July 18, 2013 19:34 EDT
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) ripped into Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George on Thursday for releasing an audit on the IRS that focused narrowly on tea party groups.
Holding up documents at a House Oversight Committee hearing, Maloney said a training manual clearly stated IRS screeners should be on the lookout for both liberal and conservative groups.
“So they were training, according to their own training manual, that they were to look for ‘progressive’ when they were looking for this quote political activity,” she continued. “I think it is very clear that in their training manual they were saying look for political activity — Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, and tea party and progressive. Did you have this training manual? Did you ever see this training manual?”
George said he only received the document last week. He said he was concerned the IRS had not provided his investigators with other important documents. George refused to say whether the IRS had treated progressive groups the same way they tax agency treated tea party groups, but it was under investigation.
“I cannot believe you called for an audit that only looked at ‘tea party’ when you know that there is a whole array of political activity,” Maloney said. “That’s called targeting, that’s called going after people. Some Republicans in their public statements, and I have a list of them, have tried to smear the president and said he did this and he did that. I would say that your audit tried to smear, I don’t know who, but someone or blame someone by excluding a whole swath of the political establishment.”
The congresswoman told George that eighth graders could have conducted a better audit. She said it was common sense to investigate how groups on both the right and left were treated by the IRS.
George replied that the audit focused on tea party groups because they were the ones complaining about mistreatment. Congress had also requested that his agency investigate the treatment of tea party groups. He suggested if given another year, he would have exposed how the IRS treated progressive groups. However, George said it was important to release the information on tea party groups to correct IRS mismanagement.
“I would say your audit was mismanaged,” Maloney shot back.
New Texas ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill would outlaw nearly all abortions
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, July 18, 2013 20:01 EDT
Just hours after Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a controversial anti-abortion bill into law, Republicans in the state legislature introduced yet another bill intended to prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion.
The new legislation would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
“A person may not knowingly perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn child if it has been determined, in accordance with Section 171.103, that the unborn child has a detectable heartbeat,” the bill states.
The bill was introduced to the Texas House by state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford). King was a co-author of the bill signed into law on Thursday, which could close down all but five abortion clinics in the state.
“Our founding fathers realized that ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’ were among the most essential of the unalienable rights bestowed upon us by our Creator,” King wrote last week. “Over the past several weeks a debate has been raging in Austin over the first and greatest of these enumerated rights: life.”
Perry has vowed to work towards enacting anti-abortion laws “until the day abortion is nothing more than a tragic footnote in our nation’s history.”
Alexei Navalny pledges to win Moscow mayoral election
Russian opposition leader arrives in capital after being released from custody while appeal is heard against jail sentence
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 July 2013 12.29 BST
The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has arrived in Moscow after being released from custody, declaring that he is going to win the capital's mayoral election.
Speaking through a bullhorn to hundreds of supporters at Moscow's Yaroslavsky station on Saturday, Navalny thanked them for their help in winning his release while an appeal is heard against his five-year sentence for embezzlement.
"I realise that if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be standing here for the next five years. You have destroyed a key privilege that the Kremlin has been trying to keep that it is their alleged right to say to any person: 'Arrest him on the spot,'" said Navalny, who claims that the case against him was concocted for political reasons.
Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement on Thursday in Kirov, but prosecutors unexpectedly asked for his release the next morning. They said that keeping him behind bars during the appeals process of his conviction would deprive him of his right to run for office.
A day before the conviction, Navalny, 37, was registered as a candidate for the 8 September Moscow mayoral election, running against the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of President Pig Putin. Navalny's support is mostly limited to the urban middle class and youth.
An opinion survey in early July by the independent Levada polling centre showed Navalny attracting only about 8% support among voters in the mayoral election.
Hundreds of police blocked Navalny supporters from the platform of the Moscow railway station where his overnight train from Kirov arrived, but Navalny shouted over the police lines: "We are going to run in this election and we will win". His supporters replied: "We are the power."
Navalny, a lawyer and blogger, is one of the most visible and charismatic leaders of the opposition to Putin and the governing United Russia party. His description of United Russia as the "party of crooks and thieves" has become a signature phrase of the opposition.
The Kremlin denies clamping down on critics or using the courts to persecute them. Pig Putin remains Russia's most popular politician despite the largest wave of street protests against his 13-year rule that were led by Navalny in 2011-12.
07/19/2013 05:30 PM
Sentence Suspended: Navalny Release Baffles Friends and Foes
By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow
On Thursday, Russian opposition blogger Alexei Navalny was handcuffed and hurried to prison after being convicted of embezzlement. On Friday, his sentence was suddenly suspended. Was it a minor courtroom error or a major Kremlin screwup?
Alexei Navalny responded to his accusers' sudden change of heart with sarcasm. He wanted to know whether it was really the state prosecutor who was now calling for his immediate release or merely a doppelgänger. After all, it was at the instigation of this same man that Navalny had been handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom just the day before. But then the court reversed gears, setting free both the 37-year-old opposition blogger and the man convicted along with him, Peter Ofitserov, on provisional release.
Navalny embraced his wife Yulia and thanked his supporters, thousands of whom had protested the verdict on Thursday night in front of the Kremlin in Moscow and other cities. Several hundred people were arrested for participating in the demonstrations, which had not been sanctioned by the authorities. "So we didn't take to the streets for nothing," tweeted one of Navalny's supporters.
But the sentence handed down by the Lenin district court -- five years for embezzlement on an "especially large scale" -- was not repealed. Although his lawyers plan to appeal, Navalny will have to begin serving his time as soon as the decision is final.
His subsequent release, however, is a highly unusual turn of events -- even for the notoriously unpredictable Russian justice system. "When a judge imposes a sentence with no parole, the offender is arrested in court," says Oksana Michalkina, a prominent Moscow lawyer.
For Navalny, his family and his supporters, the move is a pleasant surprise. But observers of the trial are baffled, and conspiracy theories are making the rounds.
One rumor holds that Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin stepped into the fray. The odd thing about this is that Sobyanin is known as a loyal member in President Pig Putin's camp. In early September, Sobyanin called for new elections in the Russian capital, and Navalny had been planning to run in the election. Could it be that Sobyanin needs Navalny as a rival candidate to lend legitimacy to his election victory?
Nevertheless, Alexey Mukhin, the director of the Moscow-based think tank, the Center for Political Information, who enjoys good ties with government circles, called Thursday a "black day." In his view, Navalny's release is "an attempt to salvage the situation." Just moments after the verdict was read out, Mukhin tweeted that presiding judge Sergei Blinov had simply overlooked the phrase "suspended" while pronouncing the sentence.
Such rumors also fell upon fertile ground in a newsflash by Itar-Tass. On Thursday, the Russian wire service reported that the judge had pronounced a suspended sentence.
However, in his speech, Judge Blinov made absolutely no mention of circumstances that might mitigate the sentence. The severity of the sentence outraged opposition supporters on Thursday, and they weren't alone in their dissent. Although for mostly other reasons, even some pro-government groups were stunned.
Vladimir Solovyov, a television moderator and Pig Putin biographer, also voiced frustration that Navalny must serve five years in prison while most officials convicted of corruption get suspended sentences. In fact, 60 percent of all embezzlement cases in Russia result in suspended sentences. Solovyov was also livid that former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was dismissed in November for suspected corruption, will most likely receive a milder sentence.
Hardly any of Pig Putin's friends can be happy about seeing Navalny behind bars. "I never saw any potential in Navalny, but now he has some," confessed Tina Kandelaki, a journalist and television host close to the Putin government. Behind such comments are the misgiving that, by trying to defeat their sharpest critic, those in power might really only be strengthening him.
Navalny could gain stature in prison if many Russians believe that he was only prosecuted for his political beliefs. The arguments that prosecutors used during the trial failed to convince trial observers that Navalny committed the crimes of which he was accused. Radio journalist Sergey Dorenko summed it up by saying that Navalny had gone from being "the blogger to the uncontested leader" of the opposition.
Even Vitali Tretyakov, a prominent political scientist and commentator who is one of the opinion leaders among Moscow's hard-liners, has savaged the verdict. In his view, it was "schizophrenic" to allow Navalny to stand as a mayoral candidate in Moscow, and then allow him to be convicted with everyone watching. The government wanted to "outsmart" the opposition, Tretyahov says. "But it outfoxed itself."
07/19/2013 03:50 PM
World from Berlin: Navalny Verdict an 'Alarming Sign of Insecurity'
He may have been released for now, but anti-Putin blogger Alexei Navalny's conviction is a sign of further deterioration in the Russian political system, German editorialists argue on Friday.
Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and leading figure of the Russian opposition, was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement on Thursday, in what many critics called a politically motivated trial.
But after widespread protest following the verdict, the court released him on bail on Friday. The decision came in response to a request by prosecutors that Navalny, who is a Moscow mayoral candidate, be allowed to take part in the campaign. It's a move that many see as means of placating opposition outrage at his conviction.
After his release, the 37-year-old, one of the country's most prominent critics of Pig Putin, said that his sentence "had been vetted by the presidential administration." But thanks to the thousands of protesters who came out in his support in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, "they rushed to go back on that decision," he added.
On Thursday night, there were reports of clashes between protesters and police, who made hundreds of arrests. Navalny has also received support from leaders in the United States and European Union.
Criticism from the West
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that she has doubts about "whether criminal justice had been in the foreground of the trial," calling the sentence "disproportionately tough."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that United States President Barack Obama is "deeply disappointed and concerned" by the verdict, which he called a "disturbing trend of government action" against Russian civil society.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, also weighed in, saying: "This outcome, given the procedural shortcomings, raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia."
German editorialists express similar concerns on Friday, but have little hope that the situation will improve under Pig Putin's leadership:
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The West should not turn away from this tragic development. Pig Putin can expect no sympathy from politicians in Germany and Europe. What we are witnessing is not a birth defect in a fledgling democracy. This is deliberate abuse of democratic institutions with a goal that differs little from the Soviet leaders of the Communist Party -- to stay in power for life."
Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The verdict against Alexei Navalny is a further step toward turning the Pig Putin regime into a dictatorship. … Russia is not a democracy, but a police state under political justice. … The Russian opposition is not only losing a potential leader … but this also serves as a warning to all those who were in a position to take on a leadership role. The chances are thus diminished that democratic forces will emerge that can potentially take over after Putin's era. … This is grim news for both Russia and its European neighbors."
Left-leaning daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"What options remain if one doesn't want to accept this injustice with a shrug? Alexei Navalny, who was convicted on Thursday, has led the way. His career and his actions are fundamentally different from those of the old school Russian opposition. … The lawyer understands the mechanisms of corruption. … Where the old opposition politicians made abstract demands and got worked up about the regime, Navalny revealed facts and showed the citizens ways in which they can defend themselves. … Corruption is the most vulnerable spot in Putin's system."
Leftist daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"What looks like strength is an alarming sign of insecurity. The system is overwhelmed and wasting energy only for the preservation of power, without even staging a makeshift attempt to conceal its wrongs. … This exhibits a turbid mixture of arrogance, delusion and lack of socio-political perspective, and even a certain indifference by Putin regarding his own country."
Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The verdict comes as no surprise to those who see the thoughtless logic of a state apparatus at work in Russia, and not the calculations of a chess player. Those who place themselves in opposition to this apparatus will be swept aside. ... Anyone who yells 'stop the thief!' in Russia as Navalny has … will be condemned as a thief himself to keep the real thieves in office. The laws of the state are bent to this purpose, as is rationality itself. … That's how easy it is, and how predictable."
Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Pig Putin wants a compliant nation that does not challenge his power. He wants business owners who bend to his will. He has long since abandoned reforms for the vast empire -- he is all about preserving pure power and his fiefdom. The country, which has problems almost as big as the vast territory itself, doesn't matter to him."
-- Kristen Allen
07/19/2013 02:51 PM
Anger in Israel: EU Issues Disputed Settlement Guidelines
Israel has been protesting all week, but to no avail. On Friday, the EU issued new guidelines prohibiting bloc money from going to Israeli institutions operating in the settlements. President Peres warned the measure could "cause a crisis."
Israel is furious. New European Union guidelines preventing bloc funds from being distributed to Israeli institutions operating in settlements outside the country's 1967 borders have triggered protest from the highest levels. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres have criticized the ban and asked Brussels to reconsider.
On Friday, the day on which the EU officially published the new guidelines, it seemed as though the German Foreign Ministry may have been listening. Speaking with mass-circulation daily Bild, a spokeswoman from the ministry said that the European Commission "developed the guidelines on their own prerogative."
That, of course, is only partially true. EU foreign ministers approved the guidelines unanimously. But it may indicate that the vociferous protests from Israel, including several calls from Netanyahu to European leaders, are having an effect. While Netanyahu's office has refused to divulge the contents of those calls, Israeli media have reported that he asked his European counterparts to delay the implementation of the guidelines, which are currently scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2014.
EU Isn't Budging
The complaints, though, have fallen on deaf ears in Brussels. On Friday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton released a statement saying the guidelines "reiterate the long-held position that bilateral agreements with Israel do not cover the territory that came under Israel's administration in June 1967." It also states: "It has been the EU's long-held position that it will recognize changes made to the borders once agreed by both parties."
In other words, the EU isn't budging.
The guidelines themselves are not likely to result in massive changes to the EU's presence in Israel. They merely stipulate that institutions based in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem are not eligible to receive grants, prizes or other financial instruments funded by the common European Union budget as of Jan. 1, 2014. The document published on Friday clearly states that "the EU does not recognize Israel's sovereignty over any of the (occupied) territories."
The spat between the EU and Israel comes as the US is making a major push to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. US Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East on Thursday in an attempt to facilitate talks, and he was backed by a strong statement from the White House urging Netanyahu to work with Kerry "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible."
With the Palestinians demanding preconditions that are unpalatable to the Israelis, it seems unlikely that negotiations will begin anytime soon. But Israeli President Peres suggested that the EU ban could also have a negative effect on the push. On Thursday, he said that the EU should "give priority to peace" and added that the regulations "could cause another crisis."
Despite the doomsday tone, however, Peres' comments were a far cry from the sharp words chosen by members of the Netanyahu government earlier in the week. "This is a decision marked with racism and discrimination against the Jewish people that is reminiscent of boycotts against the Jews from over 66 years ago," said Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, according to a report earlier this week in the Jerusalem Post. A deputy minister and close ally of Netanyahu's, Ofir Akunis, said that "steps like this, before the Palestinians even said they are ready to return to negotiations, push talks away and do not bring them closer." He added, referring to the West Bank, that "Judea and Samaria are not occupied, they are the cradle of the homeland of the Jewish people."
According to an Israeli government official, Israel called in ambassadors from Britain, France and Germany on Friday to discuss the EU guidelines and to warn that they could trigger a serious crisis between the EU and Israel. "We have asked the ambassadors to inform their capitals that no Israeli government can accept the aforementioned guidelines," an unnamed Israeli diplomat told the news agency AFP on Friday.
Still, the frustration in Israel was not unanimous this week. Several center-left parliamentarians said the EU move was a wakeup call for the Netanyahu government to move forward with peace negotiations. "Prime Minister Netanyahu must immediately start negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and work toward a final agreement," Shelly Yacimovich, a leading parliamentarian with the Labor party, said according to the Jerusalem Post.
EU foreign policy chief Ashton was eager on Friday to emphasize that Europe remains dedicated to peace talks in the Middle East. "The EU is deeply committed to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and fully supports Secretary Kerry's intense efforts to restart negotiations at a particularly delicate stage," she said in her statement. "In this way, the EU hopes to further contribute to an atmosphere conducive to a meaningful and sustainable negotiation leading to a peace agreement between the parties."
Verdict expected in Berlusconi friends’ pimping trial
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 19, 2013 7:33 EDT
The verdict in a trial against three of Silvio Berlusconi’s associates for allegedly procuring prostitutes for the former Italian premier — including the then underage Ruby — is expected later Friday.
A judge in Milan told the court that the verdict would be announced no earlier than 1430 GMT in the trial of failed showbusiness agent Lele Mora, showgirl-turned-politician Nicole Minetti and television host Emilio Fede.
Prosecutors in May requested seven-year prison sentences for the three as well as a life ban on holding political office. They also called for each defendant to pay a 35,000 euro ($45,859) fine and be banned from working with minors.
Among the girls allegedly recruited by the trio for parties at billionaire Berlusconi’s villas was Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer nicknamed “Ruby the Heart Stealer”.
Berlusconi was sentenced in June to seven years in jail after a court found him guilty of paying for sex with her and abusing his power to hide the liaison — though the punishment is suspended on appeal.
Mora, the only one of the accused in court on Friday, said he had “confidence in the justice system” although he confessed he had “not slept a wink.”
According to media reports, Minetti is on holiday in Spain.
In his summing up speech, prosecutor Pietro Forno said the three had arranged “orgies” at Berlusconi’s mansion and cited the tycoon’s ex-wife Veronica Lario, who accused her then husband of consorting with “young virgins”.
His colleague Antonio Sangermano said the three were like “tasters of fine wine” and had obtained financial advantages from Berlusconi because “they know all the secrets” of those nights.
“They carried out a sort of exam of the capacities of the young women and then injected them into the circuit of soirees,” Sangermano said. Minetti was also an active participant and “performed sexual acts for money,” he said.
All three deny the charges, insisting that while they may have invited girls to the premier’s Milan villas, it was to attend nothing more than elegant dinner parties.
German finance minister: criticism over eurozone role is unfair
Wolfgang Schäuble hits back at suggestions that Berlin wants to create a 'German Europe'
The Guardian, Friday 19 July 2013 19.00 BST
He has been accused of foisting German-style parsimony on the rest of Europe and deepening the economic crisis along the Mediterranean rim by his dogged insistence on austerity for all.
But in a rare intervention, Germany's eminence grise, the finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has hit back at suggestions that Berlin is trying to create a "German Europe" by demanding that other countries behave in a more Teutonic fashion in their economic and fiscal policies.
In a sharply worded opinion piece published in the Guardian and five other European newspapers, Schäuble says Germany has been unfairly criticised both for showing too much and not enough leadership. And he warned that stereotyping Europe in market-driven north and feckless south was senseless.
"Germany has been simultaneously accused of wanting to reshape Europe in its own image and of refusing to show any leadership," Schäuble writes.
"We do not want a 'German Europe'. We are not asking others to 'be like us'. This accusation makes no more sense than the national stereotypes that lurk behind such statements. The Germans are joyless capitalists infused with the Protestant work ethic? In fact, some economically successful German regions are traditionally Catholic. The Italians are all about the dolce far niente [delicious idleness]? The industrial regions in northern Italy would not be the only ones to bristle at that. All of northern Europe is market-driven? The Nordic welfare states, with their emphasis on social solidarity and income redistribution, certainly do not fit this caricature."
07/19/2013 03:31 PM
'I Would Rather Wait': Merkel Remains Mum on NSA Spying
Despite intense political pressure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered no new details on the extent of NSA surveillance activities in Germany during a Friday press conference. She told reporters that her government is applying "appropriate pressure" on the Obama administration.
Often, Angela Merkel's final press conference before summer vacation is a pretty boring affair. But not this year. Around 250 journalists turned out Friday to pose questions to the German chancellor. And most had only one thing on their minds: spying on Germany by America's NSA intelligence agency and its possible cooperation with its German counterparts as part of the Prism program.
The press conference provided Merkel with a perfect opportunity to shed more light on the data scandal and to burnish a government image that has been tarnished since SPIEGEL reported earlier this month that the NSA has been spying on the European Union and monitoring up to a half-billion German communications connections each month.
But she didn't take advantage of it. Merkel told reporters it was "entirely impossible" to deliver an analysis of Prism, adding that those hoping for more on Friday would be disappointed. The only thing she offered was: "The work is not complete. It is ongoing."
Merkel likewise shied away from providing a concrete timeline for when results of the ongoing inquiry into Prism would be provided. Merkel said that a list of questions had been submitted to the United States and that they were waiting for answers. "We are applying the appropriate pressure," she said. "We have made clear that answering the catalogue of questions is important to us."
The chancellor repeated her message from US President Barack Obama's visit to Berlin last month, in which she emphasized that surveillance measures in Germany could not be allowed to grow out of proportion with what is actually needed. "The end does not justify the means," she said, and not everything that is technologically possible should be used. "Germany is not a surveillance state," she said.
'German Laws Must Be Abided By'
Still, Merkel was reluctant to directly criticize the US, though she once again called on the Obama administration to respect German laws with any activities it undertakes in the country. "German laws must be abided by on German territory," she told the gathered journalists.
Merkel also noted that a number of working groups are currently addressing the scandal and that preventative measures should be implemented. The chancellor said there is an eight-point plan for improving data privacy, but offered few details.
She then asked for people to remain patient. Before the review of the disputed NSA surveillance program has been completed, little can be done, she said. "Our American partners still need time to review things, and I would rather wait," Merkel said.
Regarding missteps earlier this week by her Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, whom critics accuse of being uncritical in his dealings with the United States, Merkel said she has no plans to make any personnel changes. Friedrich, she said, has her "full trust." She said the same applied to Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla, who is the official coordinator of Germany's intelligence services.
Prior to her press conference, the opposition again increased pressure on the chancellor over the affair. Parliamentary floor leader for the center-left Social Democrats, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, asked in the mass-circulation Bild, "What does the government know? What programs are still in operation? What is Merkel doing to protect German interests? We need answers now," he said.
Meanwhile, Volker Beck, a senior Green Party member of parliament, described Merkel's appearance Friday as disappointing, saying it was an insult to listeners who were expecting answers from the chancellor.
The latest poll taken by public broadcaster ARD on the issue shows that the spy scandal hasn't had a massive impact on Merkel's standing. Only 33 percent of those polled said the scandal might have a minor impact on their voting decisions, while 37 percent said it would play no role whatsoever. Only 5 percent said it would be a significant issue when it came to casting a vote in September's national election.
Still, more than two-thirds of Germans said they are dissatisfied with the German government's efforts so far to look into spying by US intelligence agencies.
07/19/2013 01:30 PM
Here to Stay: City Embraces Eastern European Immigrants
By Andreas Ulrich
In the past, Germany's guest workers were left to fend for themselves. Determined not to repeat this mistake, the city of Dortmund has beefed up integration assistance for immigrants, particularly those from Bulgaria and Romania.
The front door of the apartment building in the western German city of Dortmund is open, as are the doors to some of the apartments. Nameplates are missing from the mailboxes, and the paint is peeling from the walls in the stairwell. Stefan Burcea steps out into the third-floor hallway outside his apartment. The 49-year-old quickly buttons up his dark shirt and straightens his hair before inviting us into his sparsely furnished living room.
Two sofas are arranged at right angles to each other, and a pewter plate with the crests of the German states and the words "Unity, Justice, Freedom" is hanging on the wall. "We came here to work and to live," Burcea says.
Burcea emigrated from Transylvania to Germany two-and-a-half years ago. When German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich talks about immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, he is usually referring to those who are working illegally or allegedly trying to exploit the country's generous system of social benefits. They are the so-called "poverty immigrants" that Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), wants to deport, and also wants to bar from entering the country, so that "they can be thrown out again without further ado," as Friedrich said at a meeting of European Union interior ministers in June.
About 3,500 immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are registered with the authorities in Dortmund. This is six times as many as when the two countries were accepted into the European Union in 2007. In the city's Nordstadt district, where Burcea lives, the numbers have jumped by a factor of 20. The deeply traditional blue-collar neighborhood behind the city's main train station is viewed as a social hot spot with a high percentage of immigrant residents -- and with unemployment at 26 percent.
Many of the Romanian and Bulgarian new arrivals -- most of whom are Roma -- present the city with additional problems. "Almost none of the immigrants has any professional qualifications, and the illiteracy rate is very high," says Birgit Zoerner, head of the city's social services department. They have few prospects on the job market. Likewise, Zoerner says, only 13 percent of these immigrants in Dortmund have jobs that provide social security benefits.
City officials already see it as a success when immigrant parents send their children to school. "People who are dealing with questions of survival all day long don't give much thought to the future," Zoerner says.
Rescuing a Neigborhood
There are an estimated 6 million Roma living in the European Union. In 2011, the European Commission called upon EU member states to improve the living conditions of their Roma residents. But since the latter still face substantial problems in their native countries, Zoerner says that there is "no alternative to integration." The city of Dortmund doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, when hundreds of thousands of guest workers flocked to the country and were left to their own devices.
Stefan Burcea is from Targu Mures, a town in the heart of Transylvania, in north-central Romania. He applied for asylum in Germany in 1993 and was rejected. But after Romania joined the EU, there were no longer any obstacles to his dream of living in Germany. He returned to the country, where he collected scrap metal to support his family.
Jürgen Walter's job has brought him into contact with Burcea. The head of Dortmund's department of safety and regulatory affairs is sitting in a very tidy corner office on the fourth floor of the city's main administration building. He can see Nordstadt in the distance.
The situation escalated three years ago, says Walther, when the fragile social structure in Nordstadt began to unravel. Scrap dealers were taking apart refrigerators on street corners, and hundreds of prostitutes were crowded along Ravensberger Strasse. "Some had signs around their necks that read: 'Fucking: 5 euros'," Walther says.
Burglaries were on the rise, illegal gambling dens were popping up, and bars stayed open around the clock. Several apartment buildings were hopelessly overcrowded. Some immigrants were relieving themselves in basement areas and burning doorframes for heat, while garbage was piling up in the courtyards.
When residents originally from various countries protested and some even moved away, the city stepped in. In May 2011, the city administration outlawed street prostitution in Nordstadt and set up a task force to monitor the area.
Since then, employees with the office of public order have been going on patrol with police officers to check the condition of buildings. "Only recently," says Walther, "we had to tell a building owner to bring in an exterminator because of the cockroaches and to reconnect the electricity and water, which had been shut off."
Walther had buildings closed or required the owners to renovate. The youth welfare office took charge of children when it was found that their health was in serious danger. The city began helping the immigrants in various ways, such as by setting up counseling centers. The Dortmund public health office now offers walk-in clinics for children and women without health insurance.
"It's alarming to see how little people know when they come here," says Annette Düsterhaus, the head of the city's public health office. It's difficult, she says, to explain to the immigrants that birth control pills have to be taken daily and that some medications still have to be taken after symptoms have subsided. "It's like talking to a wall," she says. She has had to threaten some tuberculosis patients with compulsory hospitalization unless they submitted to regular checkups.
Neighborhood managers also help Nordstadt residents. David Grade offers weekly educational sessions for Roma children at a playground on Düppelstrasse. He recently built a garden with the children on the playground. For Grade, the children are often his only hope of connecting with the parents. When he tried to move his activities into the community center in the winter, no one came. Grade learned that the people he wants to help are leery of formal structures.
'Give Our Children a Chance'
Confronting such poverty is sometimes hard to take, says Grade, but it feels even worse when you are powerless to help. With funding tight, Dortmund can't really afford social work, preparatory classes and walk-in clinics.
"The federal government was involved in approving Romania and Bulgaria's accession to the EU, but we have to pay for the consequences," says Zoerner, the social services manager, who also runs a task force on the issue in the German Association of Cities. She has written a letter to the federal government, asking for support, but she has yet to receive a response that moves things forward.
"The first year was difficult," says Stefan Burcea. It took him that long to gather all the documents he needed: a freedom of movement certificate, a business registration, a tax ID number and official proof of residence. Now he is a freelance construction worker, working together with his son. Burcea has no health insurance. "I would have had to pay several months of premiums retroactively, which I can't do," he says.
"We're good gypsies," Burcea stresses, noting that he doesn't drink alcohol, smoke, steal or beat anyone. "But we are always blamed for everything."
Burcea lives with his wife, three children and five grandchildren in the multifamily building with the open doors. Relatives live in all six apartments. His oldest granddaughter is eight and is about to start school. Before that, she spent a year in a preparatory class offered by the city.
"Give our children a chance," Burcea says. "What can a young man do when he is responsible for his family but has no work?"
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
07/19/2013 11:04 AM
German Subs: Sunken WWI U-Boats a Bonanza for Historians
By Frank Thadeusz
British archaeologists recently discovered more than 40 German U-boats sunk during World War I off the coast of England. Now they are in a race against time to learn the secrets hidden in their watery graves.
On the old game show "What's My Line?" Briton Mark Dunkley might have been described with the following words: "He does what many adventurers around the world can only dream of doing."
Dunkley is an underwater archeologist who dives for lost treasures. His most recent discoveries were anything if not eerie.
On the seafloor along the southern and eastern coasts of the UK, Dunkley and three other divers have found one of the largest graveyards in the world's oceans, with 41 German and three English submarines from World War I. Most of the submarines sank with their crews still on board, causing many sailors to die in horrific ways, either by drowning or suffocating in the cramped and airtight submarines.
Several U-boats with the German Imperial Navy are still considered missing today. Lists provide precise details on which of the U-boats the German naval forces had lost by the time the war ended in November 1918.
But it was completely unclear what had happened, for example, to UB 17, under the command of naval Lieutenant Albert Branscheid, with its crew of 21 men, or where the 27-member crew of UC 21, used as a minelayer and commanded by naval Lieutenant Werner von Zerboni di Sposetti, had perished.
Securing British and German Heritage
But now things have changed.
Dunkley and his team of divers found UB 17 off England's east coast, near the county of Suffolk. UC 21 sank nearby. The fate of many other submarines, especially those that had suddenly disappeared in the last two years of the war, can now be considered known.
All of the sunken U-boats are relatively close to the coast, at depths of no more than 15 meters (about 50 feet). The diving archeologists will undoubtedly find the remains of sailors with the German Imperial Navy inside the wrecks. In the language of archeology, such finds are referred to as "disaster samples." In any case, the divers will be searching for signs of the crewmembers that died inside the U-boats.
"We owe it to these people to tell their story," says Dunkley. He works for English Heritage, a public body that is part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its primary mission is to secure Britain's cultural heritage.
The British could see it as a peculiar irony of history that these measures are now benefiting the heritage of their former enemy. Since the Germans attacked civilian targets in World War I, British propaganda derisively referred to the submarines as "baby killers."
"Many have forgotten how successful the German U-boat fleet was for a time," says Dunkley -- an assessment that is by no means intended to glorify the German attacks. In fact, one of the goals of the most recent English Heritage project is to remind people that, although they might be more familiar with submarine warfare from World War II, the ships also caused considerable devastation in the previous world war.
A Slowly Embraced Weapon
Indeed, it had practically vanished from popular memory that the Germans caused great losses to their main enemy, Great Britain, in World War I through targeted torpedo strikes against the royal merchant navy. At the beginning of the war, there were only 28 U-boats under the supreme command of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a tiny number compared to the Allied fleet.
At first, many political decision-makers in Berlin were unclear about exactly how the military devices, which were still novel at the time, could be used. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had such a low opinion of the importance of the steel diving vessels that he even referred to them as a "secondary weapon."
An operations order signed by Kaiser Wilhelm on July 30, 1914 also assigned a secondary role to the U-boats at first. Under the order, they were to be used primarily to engage hostile ships in naval battles with the Imperial High Seas Fleet, which had been upgraded at considerable cost.
But after a German U-boat sank three English armored cruisers, an unbridled enthusiasm erupted in the German Empire for this still relatively untested form of naval warfare. A large number of volunteers signed up for submarine duty, even though serving in the cramped cabins was practically a suicide mission at the time, especially in comparison with the types of underwater vessels used in World War II and, even more so, today's submarines.
The conditions inside the boats were claustrophobic and extremely hot. There were cases in which entire crews were wiped out when a torpedo misfired. Likewise, since aiming torpedoes was still such an imprecise science, the submarines had to come dangerously close to enemy warships. And if spotted, they became easy prey: Early submarines moved through the water so slowly that enemy warships could easily take up pursuit and sink the attackers, either with depth charges or by ramming. In fact, some 187, or almost half, of the 380 U-boats used by the German navy in World War I were lost.
A Race Against Time
Dunkley and his colleagues examine the wrecks with ultrasound sonar devices they wear on their wrists like watches. The devices allow them to measure wall thickness and determine the extent to which corrosion has already eaten away at a ship's hull.
Measures to secure the vessels are urgently needed, says Dunkley. Since the U-boat graveyard at sea is gradually disintegrating, time is of the essence for the archeologists. Under the strict guidelines of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the World War I wrecks sitting on the seafloor are currently not even considered archeological artifacts deserving special protection.
The disintegrating war machines are currently just shy of the 100 years required to attain this status. For this reason, Dunkley's team is trying to wrest as many secrets as possible from the wrecks in the coming months.
In cases where mines or torpedoes have torn large holes into the vessels, the archeologists can even peer inside. When this is not the case, robotic vehicles will cut open the hatches of the steel coffins and go inside.
"We divers only approach the boats with great caution. Venturing inside would definitely be extremely dangerous," Dunkley says.
It is hard to determine how almost a century of lying in place, as well as sedimentary deposits, have changed the structural integrity of the wrecks. If a U-boat turns over as a result of the divers' movements, its narrow corridors could become deathtraps.
The treatment of the crews' remains is also complicated. By law, the sites are considered inviolable gravesites. Nevertheless, the archeologists don't want to miss the opportunity to try to recover other signs of the erstwhile sailors in the underwater crypts. "Perhaps we'll find a cup or a sign with a name on it," Dunkley says.
Attacking and Sinking in Groups
The marine archeologists were struck by the fact that sometimes two or three German U-boats were found lying in close proximity to one another. For historians, this serves as evidence of a certain German combat strategy in an especially drastic phase of the U-boat war.
In February 1917, the Imperial Navy had altered its strategy and was now torpedoing and firing guns at British commercial ships on a large scale. The Royal Navy reacted by providing the freighters with warship escorts, as well as using airships and aircraft to spot enemy submarines from above.
German military strategists devised a plan to break up these massive convoys: attacking the naval convoys with several U-boats at the same time. But the strategy was difficult to implement because it was very difficult to coordinate such complex maneuvers at the time.
Historians are divided over whether the convoy system ultimately saved the United Kingdom from defeat or whether it was the United States' entry into the war on April 6, 1917.
Before then, the British had relied on creativity to fend off U-boats and other enemy ships. The hulls of their own ships were painted with confusing patterns designed by artists at the Royal Academy in London. But there is no historical evidence to prove that this measure saved even a single ship from the German torpedoes.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
July 19, 2013
Kerry Achieves Deal to Revive Mideast Talks
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and JODI RUDOREN
AMMAN, Jordan — Israeli and Palestinian leaders have “established a basis” to resume direct peace negotiations for the first time in three years, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday, after an intense round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the dormant Middle East peace process.
The preliminary agreement is the Obama administration’s first incremental success in efforts to convene talks since the president’s attempt to broker a deal early in his first term ended in acrimony. If negotiations develop beyond what Mr. Kerry described as an “initial” phase by chief negotiators, it would be the first face-to-face meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israeli and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority since the Arab Spring upended politics across the Middle East.
After multiple, marathon sessions with each man in recent weeks, Mr. Kerry said here Friday that both had shown “courageous leadership” that made him “hopeful” about the prospects for resolving the intractable conflict. He said that if “everything goes as expected,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator; Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister in charge of the peace process; and Isaac Molho, Mr. Netanyahu’s special envoy, would join him for talks in Washington “within the next week or so.”
“The representatives of two proud peoples today have decided that the difficult road ahead is worth traveling and that the daunting challenges that we face are worth tackling,” Mr. Kerry said in Amman, the Jordanian capital, on Friday night before flying back to Washington. “They have courageously recognized that in order for Israelis and Palestinians to live together side by side in peace and security, they must begin by sitting at the table together in direct talks.”
There was no indication that either the Israelis or the Palestinians had compromised on core issues — such as ending Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank or conceding the right of return of Palestinian refugees — that have sunk previous negotiations. Rather, this round of diplomacy was focused on getting distrusting adversaries to sit in the same room.
But after years of stalemate in which the prospects of creating side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states seemed to fade, even as a goal of American and regional diplomacy, the resumption of a process of talks counts as progress, some analysts said.
“He’s gotten them into the pool,” said David Makovsky, director of a project on the peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, referring to Mr. Kerry. “Right now they’re in the very shallow end, and they’re going to have to swim in deeper waters — and they can be treacherous. It’s still an achievement that he got them into the pool.”
On Saturday, a senior minister confirmed that Israel had agreed to release some long-serving Palestinian prisoners, one of three key issues that had been major sticking points in the American-led effort to resume negotiations. The others were Palestinian demands to base the negotiations on the borders before the 1967 war, and to freeze Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
“There will be some release of prisoners,” the minister of strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, said on Israel Radio, according to Reuters, adding that the release would be carried out in phases. “I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years.”
A senior official involved in the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Saturday that one of the reasons for Mr. Kerry’s tentative language about the resumption of negotiations was that Israel still needed to take some official action on prisoner release, which has been a contentious and divisive political issue in Jerusalem.
Friday’s announcement came after Mr. Kerry repeatedly extended his visit, the sixth to the region since March in what has been his main focus as secretary of state. On Wednesday, he won an endorsement from the Arab League of a “formula” involving economic incentives for Palestinians and security assurances for Israel along with a new political framework for the talks, but the Palestinian leadership balked at the proposal Thursday night.
On Friday, Mr. Kerry met twice here in Amman with Mr. Erekat and then traveled by helicopter to the West Bank to see Mr. Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters. He apparently won concessions on the new framework, which American, Israeli and Palestinian officials said would allow Washington to declare the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for the talks — along with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — but allow Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to distance themselves from those terms.
Some actions on confidence-building measures — the prisoner release, and perhaps a Palestinian agreement to postpone participation in international organizations based on the observer-state status it won at the United Nations General Assembly last fall — must yet be taken, which is why a date has not been set for the Washington meeting.
Mr. Kerry said the sides had agreed not to disclose details of the deal. It remained unclear whether the negotiators had more work to do around the terms of the talks or would be tackling more substantive matters.
“They may be talking about process at first,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the diplomacy. “They may be talking about an agenda. I don’t think they are going to sit down and draw lines on a map.”
Late Friday night, Ms. Livni posted a message on her Facebook page declaring that “four years of political stagnation are coming to an end.”
“I know that, despite this being an opportunity, once the negotiations begin they will be complex,” she wrote. “In that room we will maintain the national and the security interests of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — to that I vouch.”
Ahmad Abbas, director of the Palestinian Authority planning ministry, said in an interview that “all the big issues — Jerusalem, settlements, refugees — have been postponed until further notice,” but that the “Americans agreed to provide guarantees which would not turn our faces red” regarding the future borders.
“Financially, we are going to solve our problems,” he said. “We have to choose the best option among the evil ones.”
The obstacles to any substantive peace agreement remain formidable on both sides, and it is unclear whether either party is contemplating real concessions, or is even fully focused on resuming the intractable peace process.
The 78-year-old Mr. Abbas presides over a fiercely divided people, with the militant Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip and his more moderate Fatah faction dominating the West Bank. His political weakness was apparent this week at stormy leadership meetings. Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, heads a fragile, conservative governing coalition and political party in which many key figures virulently oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, in a nation more focused than ever on domestic concerns.
Dennis B. Ross, a former American peace envoy to the Middle East, said that given those internal political challenges, having the talks start at the negotiator-level and remaining mum about the terms were smart steps by Mr. Kerry.
“You don’t need another situation where you bring the leaders together and build the expectations that you’re going to have a dramatic breakthrough,” Mr. Ross said. “There probably isn’t a complete meeting of the minds, but there’s enough convergence there and enough confidence in him that they each feel they can proceed. Better not to say certain things that might require one or the other to respond or qualify.”
The last round between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, in 2010, broke down after 16 hours of talks over three weeks. This time, according to Israeli news reports, both sides have agreed to negotiate for at least six months.
But those involved in the process and expert analysts agree that the hard part is yet to come.
“If the negotiations will start, then the problem begins,” one senior Israeli official said, also on the condition of anonymity. “This is just the foreplay.”
Michael R. Gordon reported from Amman, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.
Israel to release Palestinian prisoners as talks are revived
Significant numbers to be freed as US secretary of state, John Kerry, announces 'significant step forward'
Harriet Sherwood, Conal Urquhart and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 July 2013 10.59 BST
Israel has agreed to the release of some Palestinian prisoners following the announcement of US-hosted talks to revive the moribund Middle East peace process.
Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli strategic affairs minister, said significant prisoners would be released in phases. "There will be some release of prisoners. I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years," he told Israel Radio on Saturday. The release of prisoners has been a long-standing Palestinian condition for the resumption of peace talks.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, called the resumption of talks a "significant step forward".
The agreement on negotiations, announced on Friday evening after four months of intensive diplomacy, fell short of a hoped for face-to-face meeting between leaders of the two sides.
Nevertheless, it is the first step in negotiations that could lead to a settlement of the 65-year conflict.
Kerry said the parties had "reached an agreement that establishes a basis for direct final status negotiations". But he added that it was "still in the process of being formalised".
Both sides, wearied by decades of fruitless diplomacy, cautioned that an initial meeting – scheduled for the "next week or so" in Washington, according to Kerry – will not automatically lead to productive negotiations.
"There is a very, very long road ahead, and we may not get far down it," said one insider.
The key figures in the talks – Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians and Tzipi Livni for the Israelis – are veterans of the Middle East peace process, so will be familiar with the positions held by their counterpart.
But dynamic engagement by the US administration, plus warnings that time is running out for a peace deal based on two states, could galvanise the long-term adversaries.
Details of the parameters for the talks were not disclosed by Kerry. At a press conference in Amman, Jordan that followed a helicopter trip to Ramallah for a last-minute meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry warned against "conjecture" and said both sides had agreed that only he would make further comment on the process.
"The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said.
"We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."
It is believed Kerry will press for the pre-1967 border, with agreed land swaps, to be the basis for negotiations over territory.
This has been a fundamental sticking point for the Palestinians, and is backed by most of the international community.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, may also agree to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many who have served sentences of more than 20 years, over the coming months as part of the return-to-talks deal.
Kerry's announcement, made shortly before his plane departed Amman for Washington, followed a rollercoaster 24 hours in which hopes were raised, dashed, and raised again.
Statements by Kerry, Israeli president Shimon Peres and Arab League representatives on Wednesday and Thursday indicated that significant progress had been made.
But a meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive on Thursday – described by insiders as stormy – initially rejected a return to talks amid serious concerns about the parameters for any negotiations and doubts about the commitment of the Israeli side.
Fears that Netanyahu could drag out any negotiations were fuelled 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.
Intensive US diplomacy included a phone call from Barack Obama to Netanyahu on Thursday evening.
According to a White House statement, "the president encouraged prime minister Netanyahu to continue to work with secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible".
William Hague, the British foreign secretary welcomed the announcement of "direct final status negotiations". He said: "This is of course a beginning, not an end. Britain stands ready to do all we can over the coming weeks and months to support the parties and the US in their efforts to achieve a lasting peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people."
Netanyahu is facing pressure from rightwing coalition partners. Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has threatened to walk out of the government if it agrees to talks on the basis on the 1967 border.
The party "will not be a partner, even for a second, in a government that agrees to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines", he wrote on Facebook.
This week's diplomacy was conducted against the backdrop of new EU guidelines, formally published on Friday, forbidding funding and grants to Israeli bodies with links to Jewish settlements across the 1967 line.
Amid furious Israeli reaction, Netanyahu launched a vigorous, but unsuccessful, bid to get the guidelines delayed or cancelled.
UK halts export of arms components to Egypt due to fears over state force
Five export licenses for equipment bound for interior ministry revoked as country braces for another round of mass protests
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 16.17 BST
The British government has revoked five export licences for equipment destined for Egypt in response to reports that security forces have used excessive force in dealing with protests since the fall of ex-president Mohamed Morsi.
The business secretary, Vince Cable, said on Friday the licences concerned the sale of arms components from UK companies to Egypt's military and police forces.
A Foreign Office official told the Guardian the revocation was linked to reports of military and police malpractice during recent protests. A Guardian investigation published on Thursday reported that the deaths of 51 pro-Morsi supporters on Monday 8 July was the result of a co-ordinated assault by both police and army officials on largely unarmed protesters.
The official said the UK government felt there was now an "increased likelihood" that the weapons parts could be used in the excessive repression of protesters in the near future.
"We judge that there is now a clear risk that the equipment covered by these licences might contribute to the excessive use of force during crowd control," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It is unclear which British companies – and how many of them – have been banned from making the sales. But the official confirmed that the bans concerned the supply of armoured personnel carrier components to Egypt's interior ministry, which controls the police force. They also revoked the delivery to Egypt's military of radios, vehicle aerials, machine-gun components, tracked armoured fighting infantry vehicle components, and tank communication equipment.
The news came as Egypt braced itself for another round of mass demonstrations on Friday with the weeks-long impasse between the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's military-backed interim government – which swept the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi from power earlier this month – showing no signs of abating.
Both the Brotherhood and its secular-minded opponents have announced large afternoon protests, with the Brotherhood refusing to leave the streets unless Morsi is restored to the presidency – a demand that will never be agreed to.
For their part, the military and its proxies are equally stubborn – refusing to end a crackdown on the Brotherhood's leadership, with several senior brothers under arrest and their assets frozen. Morsi himself has been imprisoned incommunicado in an unknown location since his removal on 3 July.
There are fears that the impasse could lead to more state killings – such as last week's massacre of Morsi supporters in east Cairo – or a heightening of violence in extremist hotspots such as the Sinai desert.
On Thursday night the new interim president Adly Mansour – a senior judge installed by the army the day after Morsi's departure – issued a veiled warning to the Brotherhood. In a televised speech to the nation, Mansour said the state would not give in to those they see as trying to destabilise the country.
"We are going through a critical stage and some want us to move towards chaos and we want to move towards stability. Some want a bloody path," he said. "We will fight a battle for security until the end."
Almost every state and private media outlet has swung behind the new order, with the government clamping down on those who dare to express alternative narratives. A cameraman for al-Jazeera, the only Arabic-language channel to cover in any detail the sizeable pro-Morsi protests, was arrested as he filmed clashes between Morsi supporters and police earlier this week.
Prosecutors detained al-Jazeera's Mohamed Badr for 15 days after his arrest at the clashes in central Cairo on Monday night. Badr's colleague, producer Mohamed Gomaa, later asked officers what Badr had been detained for. "They said it's enough to accuse him of working with al-Jazeera, because they are traitors, and people working for al-Jazeera want to set the country on fire," Gomaa claimed.
Al-Jazeera is funded by Qatar, also a major financial backer of Mohamed Morsi's administration, and the channel is accused of Brotherhood sympathies. Al-Jazeera's bureau chief was thrown out of an army press conference last week – to applause from other local journalists – while al-Jazeera journalists said they were ejected from another press conference at the presidency on Wednesday.
• This article was amended on 19 July 2013. The original referred to eight export licences being revoked. This has been corrected