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« Reply #8430 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Ukraine's president 'unable to let Yulia Tymoshenko' leave country

Viktor Yanukovych says he has no legal power to allow jailed former prime minister to travel to Germany for medical treatment

Reuters in Kiev, Friday 30 August 2013 14.13 BST   

The Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, has said he has no legal powers to allow his jailed rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, to travel abroad for medical treatment as some European governments have urged as a solution to ending their political impasse.

The EU wants Yanukovych to free Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who was jailed in 2011 for abuse of office after a trial that Brussels claims was politically motivated. It has warned that key association agreements due to be signed in November could be in jeopardy.

As a compromise, envoys from the European parliament have sought to persuade Yanukovych to pardon Tymoshenko and let her travel to Germany to receive treatment for chronic back trouble.

Interviewed on television, Yanukovych said: "Our laws do not allow for such circumstances … the law would have to be changed so that someone would be provided with the authority to do this.

"Unfortunately, in Ukraine nobody has such authority, including the president."

Yanukovych, whose country is facing trade pressure from Russia over its drive for European integration, said nonetheless that he was sure Ukraine would meet the EU's criteria for the signing of association and free trade agreements at a summit in Lithuania in November.

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« Last Edit: Aug 31, 2013, 06:24 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8431 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:23 AM »

August 30, 2013

Bosnia: Convicted War Criminal Welcomed as a Hero


Singing Serbian national songs and waving flags, more than 2,000 people on Friday welcomed home as a national hero a convicted war criminal, Momcilo Krajisnik. Mr. Krajisnik, 68, was arrested in 2000 and convicted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, of persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs during the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. A former speaker of the Bosnian Serb Parliament, he was granted early release from a British prison, where he had served two-thirds of a 20-year sentence. Mr. Krajisnik flew to the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka, and a government helicopter took him home to his wartime stronghold of Pale, near Sarajevo.



Profile: Momcilo Krajisnik: Momcilo Krajisnik is the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb politician so far tried with war crimes.

He was the right-hand man of Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and speaker of the separatist Bosnian Serb parliament.

He pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including plotting genocide by "cleansing" parts of Bosnia of Muslims and Croats to create an ethnically pure Greater Serbia.

He was accused of stirring up the Bosnian war, in which about 110,00 people were killed, and of masterminding some of its worst bloodshed, including attacks on villages and massacres in detention camps.

"Along with Karadzic, it was his hand that held the levers of power and authority" in Bosnia, prosecutor Mark Harmon said at the start of the trial.

He maintained his innocence throughout his trial, which began in February 2004, lasting more than two-and-a-half years and hearing from 124 witnesses.

Mr Krajisnik earned the nickname "Mr No" for his uncompromising stance in peace negotiations during the 1992-1995 war.

His power was sometimes said to equal that of Mr Karadzic.

During their leadership, Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo and purged Muslim and Croat populations from Serb-held territory.

They also overran two UN-designated "safe areas", executing thousands of unarmed men trying to flee the enclave of Srebrenica.

Like other leaders in the Bosnian conflict, Mr Krajisnik is rumoured to have enriched himself through illegal dealings during and after the war.


Mr Krajisnik, called Momo by his friends, was one of the first members of the nationalist Serb party, SDS, when it was formed in 1990.

He was speaker of the Bosnian parliament from 1990 to 1992, before the war began.

After the war, he served as the Serb representative on the three-member Bosnian presidency, along with a Croat and a Muslim.

But analysts say he largely used the position to thwart any reintegration between Bosnian-Serb and Muslim-Croat entities in Bosnia.

His early post-war strength was said to stem from his control of the hardline police and municipal authorities.

But he lost his bid for re-election in 1998 to a relatively moderate Serb leader, Zivko Radisic.

He was arrested in 2000 and sent to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His aides say he is a pious man, who considers separation based on ethnicity and religion to be natural.

But Amor Masovic, head of the Muslim commission for missing persons, described him as "one of the masterminds of the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia".


Mr Krajisnik, a widower and father of three, came from a well-off farming family just outside Sarajevo.

After studying economics he joined a state-owned firm, Energoinvest, where he rose to become finance director of a unit making parts for nuclear reactors.

In 1983, Mr Krajisnik was convicted of embezzling Energoinvest funds, but was exonerated by a higher court after serving eight months in jail.

Mr Krajisnik said he had been persecuted for championing the Serb national cause against Bosnian Muslims and Croats who wanted to preserve Bosnia as a multi-ethnic republic.

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« Reply #8432 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:26 AM »

August 30, 2013

International Judge Is Removed From Case Over Apparent Bias


THE HAGUE — An international judge who criticized the president of the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the court’s recent decisions has been removed from his current case on the grounds that his remarks make him appear to be biased.

The judge, Frederik Harhoff from Denmark, drew attention in June when he questioned recent acquittals of top Serb and Croat commanders who had been convicted of grave crimes during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

He expressed his views in a letter e-mailed to lawyers and friends in Denmark, saying the decisions had troubled him, professionally and morally. The letter, written in Danish, was leaked to the Danish press in June and later circulated in English.

In it he said that the tribunal had weakened the laws that held senior commanders and leaders accountable for crimes committed with their knowledge. He wrote that the tribunal president, Theodor Meron from the United States, not only was behind the changes, but had also pressed other judges to accept the new conservative jurisprudence.

Prosecutors and human rights activists have said the new legal standards aim to protect the interests of military commanders in international conflicts.

Grievances against Judge Meron held by other judges and lawyers at the court have been a public secret, but no judge had been known to air them in a letter to friends and associates.

Vojislav Seselj, a nationalist Serbian politician who has been on trial before a three-judge panel, one of them Judge Harhoff, immediately made use of the letter. Mr. Seselj has often upset the proceedings, harangued judges and tried to get judges disqualified. He has been charged with inciting Serbs to commit atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia by making incendiary speeches and by directing a paramilitary group against Bosnians. Mr. Seselj, who acts as his own lawyer, swiftly filed a motion saying that Judge Harhoff’s letter clearly demonstrated that he was biased in favor of a conviction.

On Thursday, a special three-judge panel appointed to review the case announced that it had decided in a 2-to-1 vote that Judge Harhoff in his letter had indeed expressed “his difficulty in applying the current jurisprudence” and that his letter had demonstrated “an unacceptable appearance of bias.”

Now Judge Harhoff cannot cast his vote in the Seselj case; a verdict was expected on Oct. 30 after more than five years of proceedings.

For Mr. Seselj it may seem to be a victory. But it may also lengthen his stay in court. The two remaining judges on the bench, who are known to disagree on many points, may find it difficult to reach a verdict. If a new third judge is appointed, it will take months for the new judge to plow through the vast trial proceedings.

The decision will not affect Judge Harhoff’s tenure at the tribunal since the Seselj trial was to be his last at the court. He could not be reached for comment.

Judge Meron, whose management style at the court has drawn both critics and supporters, has made a point of not commenting on the letter by Judge Harhoff or on his removal from the case.
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« Reply #8433 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Low-paid Germans mind rich-poor gap as elections approach

With no national minimum wage and a fifth of workers in insecure mini-jobs, critics say German prosperity is being built on exploitation of the downtrodden

Kate Connolly and Louise Osborne in Berlin, Friday 30 August 2013 15.03 BST   

Going to the cinema or her local outdoor pool are treats Christa Rein can rarely afford. "I can't ever buy things like salmon or a bottle of sparkling wine," says the 55-year-old. "The fridge can't break, as I wouldn't be able to afford to replace it."

It sounds like another story from Europe's desolate southern rim, squeezed by three years of austerity and recession. So it might come as a surprise to find that Rein's financial hardship comes from the centre of Europe's economic powerhouse – and she is by no means alone.

As Angela Merkel leads her centre-right party towards crucial elections on a promise of economic recovery, sound financial stewardship and near-record employment, there is mounting dissent from a group which complains it is not sharing in Germany's much-vaunted wealth. Radical reform of the jobs market launched a decade ago has left around a quarter of the workforce in low-paid, insecure and part-time employment, belying the impression of an economic miracle with a flawless jobs success story that has become the envy of the world.

Rein's take-home pay, for which she works eight-hour days for a cleaning contractor, is €1,079 (£922) a month. "I've been doing this for 30 years, and you're seeing all the time the way the workload has increased as the pay has decreased," she says. "Fewer of us are expected to clean more square metres in ever less time. We get 15 to 20 seconds to clean a toilet – that's not a toilet I'd like to sit on."

Meanwhile, the company employing her is earning more money, she says, "but it's not being passed on to us women".

Rein, who lives in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, argues the situation reflects that of the wider economy and will affect how she votes in the elections on 22 September, which Merkel is widely tipped to win. "It's high time ordinary German workers got to participate in the success of the economy."

A survey for the European Central Bank in April showed that Germany's median net household worth was much less than that of Greece. In terms of GDP per head, Germany is faring reasonably well. But, contrary perhaps to popular belief, it is only just above the eurozone average. According to the Institute for Employment Research, the research arm of the federal employment agency, 25% of all German workers earn less than €9.54 (£8.15) per hour. In Europe only Lithuania has a higher percentage of low earners – those earning less than two-thirds of the national average wage.

The situation has fuelled a growing poor-rich divide as well as increasing resentment among those who see German prosperity being built on the exploitation of the downtrodden.

Daniel Kerekes, a 26-year-old student of history and religion at Ruhr University Bochum, is among the one-fifth of Germans dependent on a so-called mini-job. "I work at a supermarket for around 16 hours a week for €7.50 an hour on a very restrictive contract. Shifts aren't guaranteed, and if I don't do everything my boss asks of me he can cut my shifts, or give me the worst ones."

With his earnings – in addition to a small amount working in digital journalism – he struggles to pay his bills, including the €280 monthly rent for his 36 sq m (387 sq) flat plus obligatory health and liability insurance payments.

Sometimes referred to as McJobs, mini-jobs are a form of marginal employment that allows workers to earn up to €450 a month tax-free. Introduced in 2003 by the then Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder as part of a wide-ranging labour market reform when Germany's economic doldrums earned it the title "sick man of Europe", they keep down labour costs and offer greater flexibility to employers.

But critics say they have helped to expand the disparity between rich and poor and undermined many of the values that have traditionally underpinned Germany's social-market economy. Not only do they give employers no reason to turn them into proper jobs, but mini-jobs offer workers little incentive to work more because then they would have to pay tax. As a result, many remain trapped in marginal work and detached from Germany's much-hailed jobwunder, or jobs miracle.

Bochum, a poor city in the Ruhr valley, Germany's former industrialised heartland, is teeming with mini-jobs, according to Kerekes. "The woman living below me works on a mini-job basis in a discount supermarket, my girlfriend mini-jobs as a waitress. Employers enjoy the fact that they can get you for just €450 a month."

Despite government claims that mini-jobs are on the wane – they fell by 0.6% last year – thanks to the success of Merkel's labour market policies, the opposition is quick to disagree. "These are questionable figures," said Anette Krame, labour market expert for the Social Democrats (SPD). "I don't think a 0.6% drop is reason to celebrate and neither do I recognise a trend in that direction." She cites the glaring omission in the statistics of recently introduced work contracts, which have been held responsible for wage-dumping in several sectors, particularly the food industry.

Kerekes would like to see a new government abolish mini-jobs and introduce a minimum wage instead. "Mini-jobs are destroying ordinary workplaces, and for most people they do not provide a living wage. It can't be that even in the US most states have a minimum wage, while Germany, one of the world's richest countries, has none."

He is encouraged that the SPD has pledged to introduce a minimum wage – of €8.50 – but believes it is not going far enough – anyway, they introduced the mini-jobs in the first place.

Statistics from Germany's employment agency show that at the top end German workers' wages rose by 25% between 1999 and 2010 while salaries in the lowest fifth rose by a mere 7.5%, when inflation was 18%. That has led to what economists refer to as internal devaluation, significantly reducing their purchasing power and doing damage to the German economy.

Kerekes says his vote next month will go to the party he believes is doing most to tackle the McJob phenomenon. "I will vote for the Left party," he says, referring to the grouping of former East German communists and SPD rebels. "They're the only ones pushing for a €10 minimum wage, the least you should be expected to be able to live on."


Angela Merkel v Peer Steinbrück: the German election goes prime-time

Germany's chancellor goes head-to-head with her political rival in a 90-minute TV debate broadcast live on four channels

Kate Connolly, Friday 30 August 2013 16.19 BST   

Electioneering for next month's German polls will begin in earnest on Sunday, when Chancellor Angela Merkel goes head to head with her main rival Peer Steinbrück in a televised debate.

The prime-time duel – a relatively new event of the German election campaign – will see the Christian Democrat and the Social Democrat facing questions from four presenters, in a showdown broadcast simultaneously on four channels. At the end a poll of television viewers will choose the best candidate.

In 90 minutes the two politicians will face an array of questions on issues including the economy, family policy and foreign affairs. Steinbrück will answer the first question while Merkel will have the last word.

Each candidate has been invited to deliver a concluding statement to last between 60 and 90 seconds. No candidate may speak more than 60 seconds longer than their rival.

The euro crisis and the NSA spying scandal are likely to be prominent topics while it's also expected that the Syrian conflict will loom large over the debate, particularly after Steinbrück this week backed calls within his party for Merkel to urgently travel to Moscow to discuss the crisis with Vladimir Putin and press him to intervene. Merkel has stressed that the Syrian government's actions could not remain unpunished.

In a poll before the debate, 48% predicted that Merkel, who will become Europe's longest serving leader if re-elected on 22 September, would emerge as the winner of the US-style debate, while 26% favoured Steinbruck, a former finance minister who is known for his quick-wit and rhetorical skills, but sometimes comes across as arrogant. Kate Connolly


08/30/2013 04:44 PM

Rage and Refuge: German Asylum System Hits Breaking Point

By Charles Hawley and Charly Wilder

Germany has recently seen a significant rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country. Its shelters are overwhelmed and opposition to new ones has recently turned ugly. Refugees themselves argue that the system is broken.

"Their villages are bombed, then they come here and they are called criminals," says Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist and former political prisoner who came to Germany about two years ago as an asylum seeker. He's sitting on a tattered sofa in a makeshift protest camp in the middle of Oranienplatz, a central square in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. Ulu and some 200 fellow refugees have been occupying the square since October of last year.

"Look around! These people are from Afghanistan, Libya, Mali," says Ulu, gesturing in turn at a group of men playing foosball under a blue-and-white-striped big top and two others helping a toddler blow soap bubbles in the middle of the square. "We are refugees, not criminals!"

The ongoing protest is meant to call attention to the significant procedural shortcomings of Germany's asylum policy. Recently, it has been joined by demonstrations of an entirely different sort. Earlier this month, a newly opened shelter in the eastern Berlin neighborhood of Hellersdorf became the scene of heated clashes between far-right protesters and hundreds of anti-fascist demonstrators. Dozens of political refugees -- mostly from war-torn Afghanistan and Syria, as well as Serbia -- arrived at the shelter, established in an unused school building, only to see chaos unfolding outside their windows for several days running. Some reportedly left out of fear.

The protests in Hellersdorf have been orchestrated predominantly by the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) as it strives for relevance in the upcoming election. But they are symptomatic of a second significant refugee-related challenge currently facing Germany: The number of asylum seekers arriving in the country is rising rapidly and has far outpaced the ability to properly house them.

According to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), more asylum seekers arrived in the country in the first half of this year than in any six-month period since 1999, with the total for 2013 expected to top 100,000. Thus far, 52,000 refugees have arrived in Germany, an increase of 90 percent over the same period one year ago. The newcomers are primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya.

A Slow Process

Cities are struggling to keep up with the influx, but the problem has been particularly acute in Berlin. Many asylum seekers come here first and, even if they will ultimately be relocated elsewhere in the country in accordance with Germany's geographical allocation system, they have to be housed initially. But all the city's shelters are now full, and the reserve capacity established for spikes in arrival numbers has proved insufficient. Officials are currently rushing to establish new housing.

But it's a slow process. "If I want to create a shelter for refugees, it takes a half year, a year, or more, just like with any construction project," says Franz Allert, head of the Berlin city-state authority responsible for asylum seekers. "It doesn't go faster … just because they are asylum seeker shelters."

The protests in eastern Berlin can, in part, be seen as a side effect of the rush. Allert notes that his office generally seeks to open a dialogue with residents in neighborhoods where a new shelter is to open. This in fact happened in Hellersdorf, when officials invited residents to a public informational meeting led by district mayor Stefan Komoss, on Juy 9, less than a month before the shelter's scheduled opening.

The meeting, however, was hastily organized and poorly planned -- and was quickly taken over by right-wing voices. Organizers expected 400 to attend, a far cry from the over 900 who showed up. Chants of "Nein zum Heim!" (No to the shelter) echoed from the surrounding concrete block apartment buildings and the NPD made it clear that it would fight the refugee home, a pledge met with cheers. Local residents voiced concerns over rising criminality and worries that newcomers would receive greater benefits than locals. Since then, the NPD has organized marches, leading to the clashes earlier this month.

"There is sometimes no time to talk with people in the neighborhood," admits Allert. "That creates dissatisfaction among the residents, and I can understand that. But at the moment, we unfortunately have no alternative."

'Unacceptable Delay'

Limited capacity for new arrivals, and the protests in Berlin, are not the only serious problems that authorities now have to contend with. As Germany's infrastructure for taking in refugees buckles under the influx, its asylum policy is also coming under criticism. According to Germany's Basic Law, or constitution, the right to asylum is extended to all those who are "politically persecuted" in their country of origin. If asylum is granted, the applicant receives a temporary residence permit for three years, which can then be converted into permanent residency.

The problem is that the vast majority of asylum seekers in Germany get caught up in a kind of limbo. They initially arrive at one of 19 reception centers throughout the country, where they submit their applications. According to BAMF, it takes an average of about eight months for a decision to come down on an asylum application. But stories are plentiful of applicants waiting for much longer. Some say they have heard nothing for years.

"The long delay is unacceptable," says Bernd Ladwig, an expert on human rights and migration at the Berlin-based Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science. "Very often these people remain in an intermediate position regarding their status for an extended period of time, and in the interim they do not have any kind of clearly defined, respected status. If it is going to take so long, then they absolutely should have more rights extended to them."

While applicants await word, they are required to adhere to the so-called Residenzpflicht, or compulsory residence, which bars all asylum seekers or those who have been given a temporary stay of deportation from leaving the city or county where they filed their application. They are usually required to live in state-run shelters -- often in extremely cramped quarters in cordoned-off facilities resembling detention camps. In the past year, several asylum seekers living in a facility in Eisenhüttenstadt, the main communal housing center for the state of Brandenburg, went on a hunger strike to protest conditions there.

"As far as I know, compulsory residence is unique among European countries," says Ladwig. "This is something that needs to change. You can't conclusively show that this is a necessary restriction to fulfill the right to asylum. I've not seen any effort to justify this restriction."

'Stop Locking Us Away'

Another problem is that, while asylum seekers are given a moderate monthly allowance for "personal daily necessities" and are technically allowed to work, they are forbidden from earning more than €1 ($1.32) per hour. Furthermore, special permission must be granted for access to legal counsel and, if an asylum seeker leaves his shelter or area of compulsory residence, he faces potential deportation.

The result, Ladwig says, is that asylum seekers wind up isolated and often -- as with the new housing facility in Hellersdorf -- antagonized. "These people are already here," he says. "The work restrictions should be relaxed and they should be given freedom of movement. I see no compelling reason to concentrate the refugees into these compulsory residence camps."

"The solution is normalization," agrees refugee activist Turgay Ulu. "Stop detaining us, locking us away, isolating us."

Last October, Ulu and some 200 other asylum seekers broke their compulsory residence requirement and marched 600 kilometers (373 miles) from the Bavarian town of Würzburg to Berlin. In addition to the protest camp on Oranienplatz and their occupation of a nearby school, they have set up protest camps in Hamburg, Munich, Eisenhüttenstadt and Duisburg and have organized numerous marches and demonstrations calling for an end to compulsory residence, deportations, forced communal housing and the employment ban. It has been one of the largest, most visible protests by asylum seekers in Europe to date.

The protest camp at Oranienplatz includes a makeshift school, an information tent, a theater, a kitchen tent and a large round circus tent that serves as the main hangout. Banners bearing slogans like "No Person Is Illegal," "Repeal Compulsory Residence" and "Lampedusa Village" -- a reference to the Italian island in the Mediterranean where many African refugees land -- hang throughout the camp. With financial support from local charities and leftist groups, they organize German lessons, computer courses and legal assistance. But it's an uphill battle.

Far-right groups have staged counter-protests. The stabbing in June of a Sudanese camp resident by a young man yelling racist insults escalated into a confrontation involving more than 200 police officers.

Unsavory Memories
It has been enough to awaken unsavory memories of the years immediately following German reunification. The early 1990s saw several right-wing attacks on refugee homes in the former East, including the infamous arson attack on the asylum shelter in Rostock in August of 1992. Nobody died in the days of rock throwing and fire-bomb lobbing that plagued Rostock that summer, but later that year, the home of a Turkish family in Mölln was lit on fire by neo-Nazi attackers, killing three. Another five people lost their lives in a similar attack in Solingen in 1993.

Allert is quick to note that public sentiment in 2013 is generally more welcoming. The protests in Hellersdorf this summer have taken him and many others by surprise. "We recently opened a facility in (the Berlin neighborhood of) Stieglitz and we didn't have sufficient time to notify the neighbors there either," he says. "Not a single one of them complained."

But the German general election, scheduled for Sept. 22, is rapidly approaching. And the NPD has struggled to attract votes in recent years. The asylum home in Hellersdorf has provided the extremist party with the perfect opportunity to mobilize -- and foment -- concerns, fears and latent xenophobia.

The man responsible for running the NPD campaign in Berlin is Sebastian Schmidtke, a 28-year-old who is classified as an active neo-Nazi by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. But he is also an experienced political operative by virtue of his role as head of the Berlin city-state NPD chapter. At a recent meeting with a journalist at a café in the center of Berlin, Schmidtke was on his best behavior, polite and neatly clad in black jeans and a black button-down shirt.

Even his message of intolerance was nicely wrapped in gentle, even tones, carefully calibrated so that the neighboring table wouldn't hear. "The people think, here come the foreigners and they get the same benefits as we do. Our children have no youth facilities and have to more or less play in the concrete jungle. ... Other people are given money even though they don't belong here," he says. "We have almost €2 trillion in national debt, eventually we have to think about our national interests." He makes sure to place the campaign brochures he brought along -- "Live Safely: Stop the Asylum Flood" -- face down so as not to attract unwanted attention.

'Sometimes We Have No Choice'

Yet Schmidtke is anything but passive when it comes to pursuing his vision of nationalism. Since last fall, he has organized several anti-asylum rallies in front of refugee shelters around the city. Recently, he and his followers have been hanging xenophobic campaign posters up in front of the Hellersdorf facility. In January, he attacked a counter-demonstrator with an umbrella, though he claims it was in self-defense.

He also promises that more anti-asylum rallies are to come. "We will definitely be going back to the asylum homes to establish contact with the neighboring residents," Schmidtke says.

Allert, meanwhile, is taking a closer look at what went wrong in Hellersdorf. One thing he pinpoints is that the meeting on July 9 was open to all comers, practically an invitation to the NPD to hijack it. He says that from now on, informational gatherings in neighborhoods will only be open to those who live in the immediate vicinity. He also notes that asylum facilities in Berlin often host events with locals where people bring toys for the children or warm clothes in the winter.

"This is done not because we as a state don't make enough resources available," he says. "It is done to create contact -- to reduce fear and barriers."

Human rights expert Bernd Ladwig, on the other hand, thinks the housing system itself is largely at fault. "When they concentrate refugees in these collective facilities, often without properly consulting the people who live there, it makes it easier for right-wing activists to mobilize against them. People get the impression that there are these huge numbers of foreign people with their foreign habits and appearances moving into their neighborhood. And of course some of the resentments articulated are shared by mainstream people who are not right-wing extremists but do share some xenophobic tendencies."

But with the pressure on to rapidly expand the numbers of asylum homes in Berlin, Allert also noted that his first priority is to house the newcomers. "We don't carry out a survey and if the residents say yes, we do it, and if they say no, we don't," he says. "Sometimes we have no other choice than to simply take a building and say: 'Okay, we are going to do this here now.'"


08/30/2013 10:59 AM

Flats over Shelters: Asylum Seekers Embrace Alternative Housing

By Maximilian Popp and Sven Röbel

New shelters for asylum seekers in Germany often face protests from local residents or from right-wing groups. But an alternative housing model that gives families their own flats has proven effective in Leverkusen.

The Asif family lives in a 60-square-meter (645-square-foot), three-room "palace" with a fitted kitchen and laminate flooring. It's more or less empty, because the Asifs are asylum seekers from Pakistan and haven't bought much furniture yet. Nevertheless, they say, their home is currently the "nicest place on earth."

Nadeem Asif, a computer scientist, fled from Lahore to Germany one-and-a-half years ago to escape the chaos and terror inflicted by the Taliban. The 36-year-old, his wife Asma, and their two young sons Abdullah and Sami lived in a refugee shelter in the western city of Leverkusen until the family was able to move into an apartment in the city's Opladen neighborhood five months ago. Now the children are no longer awakened by other people's noise and they have their own room and a clean bathroom. The Asifs call their new home a palace. "Our lives have been radically improved," says Asma.

The family is benefiting from a model project sponsored by the city of Leverkusen. As a rule, asylum seekers in Germany are housed on the outskirts of cities or in "group accommodations" in rural areas, as provided by law. The authorities believe that they can monitor refugees more effectively this way, as well as expedite deportations. In Leverkusen, however, asylum seekers or people with a suspension of deportation can move into their own apartment after only a few months.

Problematic Policy

But could the Leverkusen model be effective for housing asylum seekers nationwide? It's a pertinent question at the moment, when public attention is focused on a school in Berlin's Hellersdorf neighborhood that was converted into a refugee shelter. The first refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and the Balkans had hardly moved into the new facility last week when protests flared up in the neighborhood. Agitators with the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and Pro Germany Citizens' Movement soon appeared on the scene to capitalize on local residents' resentments. The police had to protect the shelter at times, and some of the asylum seekers fled the building within hours.

Since then, Hellersdorf has become emblematic of a broader problem in German asylum policy, which almost always calls for herding refugees together in empty buildings or, more recently, in repurposed shipping containers, thereby creating ghettoes. Protests almost inevitably erupt at these sites.

In Wolgast in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, racists scrawled right-wing extremist slogans on a refugee shelter, the NPD announced a torchlight procession and children were taunted with racist songs. In Butzbach, a town in the western state of Hesse, a citizens' initiative was established to protest the housing of refugees in a local gymnasium. In nearby Mainz, the right-wing populist "Pro" movement collected signatures against a new shelter for asylum seekers.

Experts believe that while the individual housing of asylum seekers won't prevent racism, it could avert the worst excesses. After the recent incidents in Berlin, the German Charities Association recommended that apartments be made available to refugees in the future. The Greens, the Left Party and the Pirate Party hold similar views. "For years, we have been saying that refugees should be housed in decentralized, urban apartments. They have a right to live in decent conditions," says Hakan Tas, the spokesman on refugee policy for the Left Party's parliamentary group in Berlin.

Feeling Welcome

Leverkusen has been trying out the model of decentralized housing for 11 years. When the program began, the existing shelters were dilapidated, and plans for a new shelter had to be shelved, partly because of local protests. This led the city to decide to place at least individual families in private apartments. Today, 200 refugees live in apartments in Leverkusen. The city pays the rents, which cannot exceed €256 per person, not including expenses. The Catholic charity association Caritas and the refugee council help them find apartments.

According to calculations by Frank Stein, the head of the city's social services department who spearheaded the project, the model is also easier on the city budget. Over the years, says Stein, Leverkusen has saved more than €1 million, because it no longer has to pay the costs of personnel and renovating the shelters.

Berlin too has shown a recent interest in housing more refugees in apartments instead of shelter. Franz Allert, head of the Berlin city-state authority responsible for asylum seekers, says that increasing the share of refugees housed in flats is "a stated goal" of his organization. Some 800 asylum seekers are currently housed in apartments in Berlin.

Most refugees in Leverkusen feel positive about the project, although some initially find it difficult to cope with suddenly having to fend for themselves. In addition, says Stein, it is difficult to find low-rent apartments in cities with housing shortages. Nevertheless, not a single refugee has returned to a shelter in the last 11 years.

Nadeem Asif doesn't waste much thought on the issue, as he proudly shows off his apartment. His sons, six and nine years old, are playing in the hallway. Since they moved out of the shelter, they have been able to interact with the neighbors' children -- and their German has improved considerably.

A neighbor recently invited the family over for dinner. Asif says that he now feels welcome in Germany.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


08/30/2013 03:45 PM

Goodbye Ossi: The Demise of Eastern German Identity

An Essay by Stefan Berg

For years following reunification, those from the communist east saw themselves as "eastern Germans." Now, more than two decades after the Berlin Wall fell, that identity is rapidly disappearing. East Germany is almost completely gone.

When Wolfgang Thierse, a parliamentarian who grew up in the former East Germany, spoke in the Bundestag for the first time, he asked his fellow lawmakers to be patient with eastern Germans: "We need time and support to acquire independence and personal responsibility, and to overcome the paralysis caused by total control."

Today, more than 22 years later, a request for patience in the parliament would seem curious. The cameras would pan to the chancellor, who is from the eastern state of Brandenburg and pushed aside a number of rivals from West Germany on her way to the top. Commentators could point to the German president, who is from the eastern region of Mecklenburg, and who is helping Germans forget his two failed predecessors, both from the west.

The sentence Thierse uttered in 1990 has lost its subject. There is no longer a "we" for whom anyone has to ask for sympathy and understanding.

The end of a country is on the horizon, a country that never formally existed: East Germany. A demographic group that also never formally existed is coming to an end, as well: the East Germans. It's time for an obituary.

Goodbyes are in the offing. Thierse, who once referred to himself as the "East Germans' big mouth," was long the president and then the vice-president of the Bundestag. Matthias Platzeck, who was an interpreter of sorts in domestic German debates and, according to polls, the most popular eastern politician, stepped down this week as governor of Brandenburg. The solidarity pact, which steered money eastwards for the costly project of developing former East Germany, is expiring. The only disputed issue remains whether the so-called solidarity tax should be abolished or whether the money should be used in the future for development programs throughout Germany.

The Concept of Eastern Germany

Years ago, the demise of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) -- as East Germany was formally known -- and German reunification prompted Germans to reflect on how much or how little an impact the communist state had made on Germany. Jens Reich, a former Green Party candidate for the office of president, once said that there was more of an East German identity after the end of the GDR than during its actual existence. Many East German citizens yearned for the big, wide world of the West, and yet they were afraid of losing the small, manageable country in which they had learned to live.

Many Germans did not see their everyday experiences reflected in the heated debates over the "second German dictatorship" and the "rogue regime." Eastern Germany as a concept, and as a new identity, developed in that tense environment. A sense of cohesiveness emerged in the east that defiantly defended the achievements of East Germans, even though it was consistently interpreted in political discourse as a defense of the system. In contrast, the geographic term "eastern German" enabled people to acknowledge their origins while simultaneously disassociating themselves with political and ideological categories or preconceptions. Eastern Germany was no longer the GDR, but it wasn't the Federal Republic yet, either. The term reflected an unfulfilled desire for autonomy on the path to reunification. Those who no longer saw themselves as GDR citizens but not yet as citizens of the Federal Republic were simply eastern German. Eastern German meant autonomy without separatism. It was a transitional identity of sorts, and on the political stage it was articulated by Thierse and Regine Hildebrandt, who died in 2001 (both members of the center-left Social Democratic Party), as well as by Left Party politician Gregor Gysi. When his Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS, the forerunner of the Left Party), simply printed the word "We" on posters in an election campaign, there was no need to explain what "We" meant.

Not everyone wanted to see eastern Germany as a transitional phenomenon. In the resentful cultural scene of the GDR, which was deprived of its special status, "Eastern German" became a label without an expiration date. "The eastern German" was declared the better person, and "the eastern German" became a permanent label that would undoubtedly be passed on for generations to come. This interpretation was the mirror image of views of eastern Germany that prevailed in the west, where negative phenomena such as xenophobia and high expectations of a strong state were seen as typically eastern German. Germans in the west feared an "easternification" of the country as a whole. Polls and election campaigns reinforced views on the differences and special phenomena.

Already Long Gone

Richard Schröder's contribution was to search for a standard to evaluate "inner unity." The philosopher, who lives in Brandenburg, made a case for comparing Germany to other parts of Europe, such as Belgium, with its problems with separatist tendencies, or Italy and its separatist Northern League. Compared to those two countries, Schröder argued, Germany was a very strong entity. But those Germans who were nostalgic for the GDR were more media-savvy than those who had found their place in a united Germany. Nevertheless, the latter group grew and continues to grow. The term eastern Germany still suggested an eastern homogeneity and eastern conformity of interests when they were already long gone.

Today there is no question that the challenges Germany faces rarely or never have anything to do with the labels East and West. In terms of fiscal policy, Saxony has more in common with Bavaria than with the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. And the industrial Ruhr region needs a solidarity pact as badly today as eastern Germany did in 1990. Parts of Lower Saxony and the region of Ostvorpommern in the far northeast have similar problems with rural flight.

The conference of eastern governors -- a political assembly that has existed since reunification -- has become irrelevant. When the heads of Germany's eastern states met this April, one of the main topics of discussion was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, an "event with international standing," as was officially noted. In the first years after reunification, governors like Brandenburg's Manfred Stolpe and Saxony's Kurt Biedenkopf doubled as representatives of the east, and Platzeck also saw himself in a similar role. The others are simply governors, who no longer feel it is necessary to continue demanding billions in aid, solely for the development of their states, which have now been part of united Germany for well over two decades.

Within the foreseeable future, the largest special agency devoted to the east that features the GDR in its name could also be shut down. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Files of the State Security Service of the Former GDR is to be eliminated and its files transferred to the federal archive. More than 20 years after the demise of the GDR, the screenings of public servants for possible past connections to the former East German security service, or Stasi, have essentially come to an end. The acts of looking back and making reference to the GDR are losing their relevance.

A Nice GDR Childhood

In her unexcitable way, Chancellor Angela Merkel has helped remove the hysteria factor from the subject of the GDR. She has reacted drily to supposed revelations about her East German past. Oh yes, she says, she probably was a member of the Society German-Soviet Friendship. She also had a nice a childhood in the GDR, she adds. There is even something East German about the recurring accusation that she stifles contentious debates with her GDR-influenced yearning for consensus, as if the government were in charge of debates in a democratic country.

In early election campaigns, candidates prominently announced additional gifts for the east (as former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder once said: "Developing the east will be a priority"). After the eastern states suffered flood damage in 2002, Schröder captured the support of those who had been adversely affected and, as a result, won the election. This year, however, the floods -- a quirk of nature -- affected cities in both eastern and western Germany, which then jointly called for federal support.

The 2013 campaign platforms refer to the east with token statements. Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) wants to "achieve stable and positive economic development in the new states" -- the term "new states" being a reference to the states of former East Germany. The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), for its part, claims that it will "not shy away from pressing issues in the eastern German states." SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück's attempt to tie together Merkel's East German past and her supposedly unemotional European policy seemed somewhat flat, particularly in light of the passion shown by President Joachim Gauck, himself a product of East Germany, for Europe. How could someone who, like Steinbrück, has lived in the west for so long know so little about public relations?

The old eastern German issues have been dealt with. The adjustment of pensions to western German levels is almost complete, and hopefully a uniform minimum wage will clear away some of the absurd differentiation into east and west. Eastern Germany no longer means very much to high-school and university students today. When younger people are asked where they are from, they usually mention the name of a city, a region or a state.

Not Significant Anymore

Eastern Germans? Ossis? Nowadays, what sense of cohesiveness is supposed to connect a man from an upscale neighborhood of Potsdam, near Berlin, with someone from Vorpommern, a second-generation recipient of welfare? What up-and-coming writer will want to be called an "eastern German writer" in the future? The east-west logic also contradicts the fact that Gauck is more popular in the west than in the east.

The harmonization of standards of living proclaimed in Germany's constitution remains an ongoing goal. But how that goal is achieved will no longer be subject to east-west criteria. The Left Party also cannot divest itself of this development. Its "eastern wing" no longer functions as a society to defend eastern German roots. Young Left Party politicians haven't been influenced by the GDR in a long time, and they don't try to attract support by highlighting competence on "eastern issues." Sahra Wagenknecht, a former supporter of former East German Communist politician Walter Ulbricht, has completed the step out of the eastern niche more clearly than most. Today she simply behaves as a German, both privately and politically.

When the PDS failed to garner enough votes to enter the Bundestag in 2002, Thierse interpreted it as evidence of progress in internal unity. Perhaps it was a little premature. Protests were the consequence.

However, Thierse's own -- voluntary -- withdrawal in 2013 can be interpreted in that way. At the end of his political career, the powerfully eloquent man addressed the ongoing debate in Berlin over the influence western German Swabians now have over the former East Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. Specifically, the argument centered on which German dialect should be used when referring to a bread roll.

That too is a sign that the other problems between eastern and western Germany can't be that significant anymore.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


08/30/2013 10:29 AM

Popular with Populists: Euroskeptic Party Attracts Right Wing

By Friederike Heine

Since its launch in April, euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany has been accused of peddling right-wing sentiments. A new study establishes the party's centrist status, but shows that it still attracts right-wing populist attention.

As founder of the country's euroskeptic party, Bernd Lucke is among the most controversial figures in Germany. His political agenda -- which includes an "orderly dissolution" of the euro, a decentralized European Union and a move towards Swiss-style, direct democracy -- is often met with doubt, and sometimes outright hostility.

Last week, left-wing agitators stormed the stage at an Alternative for Germany (AfD) campaign event, pushing Lucke to the ground and using pepper spray on several campaigners. The attack came as little surprise, though, after a confrontation with Green Youth activists earlier this month prompted the AfD to apply for police protection on its campaign trail.

In its own mind, the AfD is classically liberal in philosophy and otherwise pro-European -- it intentionally avoids labelling itself as left- or right-wing. But the German media, ever vigilant against creeping populism and right-wing extremism, has taken to portraying it as one of several right-wing populist parties eating into Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union's voter base.

This spring, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper ran a piece on the hidden ties between the AfD and members of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). The AfD's stance on Europe, a Berlin NPD official told the paper, was closer to NPD policies "than any other established party in Germany." Other German newspapers have taken a similar line.

No Overlap

Suspicions that the AfD may be moving into right-wing extremist territory were put into question last week, however. An Internet study published by linkfluence -- a Franco-German social media monitoring company -- shows that there is little or no overlap between the AfD's politics and those of the right-wing extremist NPD.

The study, which was overseen by the company's German chief executive Oliver Tabino, consists of two parts: an analysis of AfD and NPD supporters' Facebook "likes," and an evaluation of hyperlinks to and from the AfD's various regional party websites.

The Facebook analysis shows that supporters of the AfD and those of the NPD have little in common. While the former exhibit euroskepticism and a preference for direct democratic principles, their right-wing counterparts prefer pages relating to anti-Islamification, right-wing rock bands and the German military.

The second part of the study yielded similar results. "The AfD supporter base and the right-wing extremist scene are digitally very far removed from one another," says Tabino.

'Right-Wing Populist Interest'

The findings were well-received among AfD sympathizers, with many taking to the Internet to express their relief that the party's centrist status had been established once and for all. According to Tabino, however, the findings are not that straightforward.

"People are interpreting the report according to what they want to hear," he says. "Though the study on the one hand indicates that there is no overlap between the AfD and the NPD, it also shows that the party is attracting right-wing populist, reactionary and neo-Conservative interest."

Indeed, the hyperlink analysis conducted by Tabino shows that right-wing populist websites such as "Politically Incorrect" and "Christliche Mitte" -- which advocate anti-Islamification and tighter controls on immigration from Eastern Europe -- often link to AfD content. According to Tambino, the AfD is viewed in some circles as a legitimate mouthpiece for the right-wing populist cause.

A European Phenomenon

Indeed, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper recently asserted that the AfD was awakening "age-old nationalistic tendencies" in an editorial. "People are badmouthing Europe, neighbors and institutions," it said. "The arrogance, insecurity, resentment and political egotism that originated in 19th century Germany are once again coming to the fore."

A closer look at the AfD websites -- particularly those of its regional chapters -- reveals a certain degree of right-wing populist rhetoric, too. By advocating a break from consensus-oriented politics and decrying political correctness as a burden on free speech, the party is aligning itself with other right-wing populist movements across Europe. The party's Bavarian website, for instance, refers to "the destructive potential of political correctness."

Though Oliver Tabino is cautious in his assertions, he maintains that there could be a link between the AfD and similar movements in other European countries. "We've thought about conducting such a study," he says. "An inquiry into the AfD's affiliations with neo-populist movements in France, Holland and Belgium would yield interesting results.

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« Reply #8434 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Elite winemaker shunned for calling Italy’s Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge a ‘dirty black monkey’

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 30, 2013 15:32 EDT

An award-winning Italian winemaker is being shunned by the sector after a bizarre racist tirade on Facebook against Italy’s first black government minister.

Fulvio Bressan took to the Internet to rant against Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, an Italian citizen born in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bressan called the minister a “dirty black monkey” and other racist epithets, later defending his comments by saying he was angry the government was planning to use taxpayer money to house illegal immigrants in hotels.

The organic winemaker, based in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, has been praised for the traditional techniques used at his family farm.

But Monica Larner, the Italian reviewer for the prestigious industry publication the Wine Advocate, said: “In light of the unacceptable comments recently made by Fulvio Bressan, I will not taste his wine.”

Commenters on social media have called for a boycott and the global gourmet network Slow Food on Friday also said it was dropping him from its Slow Wine list.

Bressan’s comments “are so harsh that they cross every line in sight,” Slow Food said in a statement.

“Their haunting echo resounded nationally here in Italy as well in many countries abroad where his wines are sold,” it said.

Bressan’s rant was the latest in a slew of insults against Kyenge from anti-immigration advocates, including the deputy speaker of the Italian Senate Roberto Calderoli who compared her to an orangutan.

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« Reply #8435 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:42 AM »

August 30, 2013

U.S. Soldiers Find Surprise on Returning to Afghan Valley: Peace


NANGALAM, Afghanistan — The Americans arrived under cover of night, the static electricity from their helicopter blades casting halos of blue in the pitch black.

It was their first return to the Pech Valley — a rugged swath of eastern Afghanistan so violent they nicknamed it the Valley of Death — since the American military abruptly ended an offensive against the Taliban here in 2011 after taking heavy casualties.

But the Americans, from the First Battalion of the 327th Infantry, had not come back to fight. Instead, their visit this summer was a chance to witness something unthinkable two years ago: the Afghan forces they had left in charge of the valley then, and who nobody believed could hold the ground even for weeks, have not just stood — they have had an effect.

The main road leading in the Pech is now drivable, to a point, and rockets no longer rain down constantly on the base the Americans had left the Afghans. Local residents said they felt safer than they had in years.

“Man, you couldn’t walk this road without getting lit up,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Griffiths, amazed as he and about a dozen soldiers surveyed one area the day after their arrival.

No one is exactly sure how the Afghan forces have managed to make some gains that eluded the Americans for so many years in the Pech Valley. But it presents a sketch portrait of what Afghan-led security might look like in some places after the international military coalition is gone next year.

Interviews with American and Afghan officials and local residents paint the progress as an amalgam of many things: the absence of foreign troops as an irritant, the weakening of the Taliban and an improved Afghan Army. Officials also noted the beginning of de facto agreements in some areas between Afghan soldiers and militants about what is and is not off-limits — not a particularly positive sign, but still an indication of how the battle might change when it is Afghan fighting Afghan.

The insurgents long promised that if Americans left, the violence would subside — a narrative American commanders seized on at the time. The thinking went like this: Foreign fighters drawn to Afghanistan would lose interest, or go elsewhere, like Syria, and locals who were not so much pro-Taliban as anti-outsider would ease their militancy.

That seems to mostly be the case in the Pech now; locals say the insurgents have been more reluctant to attack fellow Muslims, though they are still far from docile.

“When Americans were here and were driving around or patrolling the area, nobody looked at them as friends or liberators,” said Hajji Yar Mohammed, a tribal elder in nearby Manogai District. “Everyone in the villages was trying to fight them for the sake of jihad.”

The combination of Taliban determination, local hostility and dauntingly rugged terrain made the valley particularly deadly for Americans, who over all lost more than 100 dead during the last offensive here.

When it started in 2009, the Pech offensive was billed as a critical chance to bloody the Taliban in a place they had kept in their grip for years. But by the time the mission was called off, in early 2011, there were open assertions that the valley was not worth the losses being inflicted. Some American soldiers quietly expressed the view that their Afghan successors were being given a suicide mission.

So the Americans left, and the Afghan forces moved into the outposts the troops left behind. No one gave them much chance.

Two years later, the commander of the American battalion’s overall brigade combat team decided to orchestrate the trip to Pech to show that, instead, the Afghans had made good on American sacrifices.

Whatever amount of success the Afghans have had, however, has not been without at least some American help.

An aggressive campaign of American drone strikes in the Pech over the past year and a half has been instrumental, Afghans and American officials say. They assert that the strikes have devastated the insurgent networks, focusing on Qaeda leaders and their facilitators. The recent targeted killing of the Nuristan shadow governor, Dost Muhammad Khan, considered one of the top Taliban leaders in the country and a crucial asset for Al Qaeda, was a high point of the campaign.

More than American air power, with its looming expiration date next year, is in effect here, though. Analysts and officials also say that the Afghan approach to policing the area has been a strong point. While the Americans consolidated on one main base and a few outposts, the Afghans have set up more than a dozen new outposts and checkpoints farther into the valley. Their aim is focused: securing the main road that runs through the Pech through Nangalam and keeping it open for the first time in nearly 10 years.

The Afghan National Army has also notably improved in the intervening two years, the visiting Americans noted.

“The A.N.A. we left in this valley are not the A.N.A. here right now,” said Sgt. Merle Powell, who, like others, believed the Afghans would be overrun in a matter of weeks after the American departure.

What is less clear is how big a role deals worked out with the insurgents might play in pacifying the area.

While most Afghan officers were reluctant to talk about any such compromises in the Pech Valley, one general — Gen. Nasim Sangin, the executive officer of the Second Brigade of the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps — briefly discussed a larger example of restrained military ambition, in the nearby Korangal Valley. General Sangin said the army had decided not to mount operations there because it lacked the resources and the loss of life would hardly be worth it.

“The Korangal, it is a good place for the insurgents,” he said. “It is not a good place for us.”

The Americans say they have no evidence of arrangements between the security forces and the insurgents, but recognize that the Afghans may not have the capacity to go after particularly remote areas.

“Some of these places inflict too much pain for too little gain,” said Col. J. P. McGee, the commander of the First Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.

As the visiting Americans continued their foray around their old base in the Pech Valley, they snapped pictures and talked about how much had changed. Sometimes, they stumbled on mementos they had left behind. One soldier plucked a picture of two women in bikinis that American troops had long ago taped to the wall. “I bet this picture has made many an Afghan soldier happy,” he told his colleagues.

Capt. Ramone Leon-Guerrero pointed out sites of rocket attacks, noting the damage and offering a few words of context like some grim tour guide. “I had to do crater analysis on every single one,” he explained.

Reminders of loss lurked everywhere, but the tone was more nostalgic than sad. Some men even acknowledged they missed it — the action, the camaraderie, the shared struggle.

“I told myself if I got a chance to come back I would,” Captain Leon-Guerrero said. “It’s one of those things you always want to look back on. Like going back to your old neighborhood and driving past your old house.”

Sangar Rahimi and Khalid Alokozai contributed reporting.

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« Reply #8436 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:47 AM »

Delhi gang-rape and murder trial: juvenile guilty

First conviction in case that outraged nation, of woman who was gang-raped and killed on a bus in Indian capital

Jason Burke in Delhi, Saturday 31 August 2013 11.27 BST   

Link to video: Mother of Delhi gang rape victim unhappy with sentence of convicted teenager

An 18-year-old man has been sentenced to three years in a secure reform home for his role in the gang-rape and murder of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi last year.

The man, a juvenile at the time of the crime, was given the maximum possible sentence.

Five other men, aged between 19 and 34, were also charged with the attack on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student. The oldest, the alleged ringleader, hanged himself in prison earlier this year.

The trial of the others is expected to conclude later this month. As adults, all face the death sentence if convicted.

The attack provoked outrage and grief in India with protests across the country. It also led to an unprecedented national discussion about sexual violence and calls for widespread changes in cultural attitudes and policing, and legal reform.

There have also been calls for individual citizens to act if the state fails to protect them. A film to be released later this year shows graphic and violent scenes of what happens when a rape victim "turns the tables" on her attacker.

India's punishment of under-18s has been debated in the media, with protests outside the juvenile court in Delhi where the trial was held.

The Indian supreme court considered but rejected an appeal for a fresh interpretation of who can be considered juvenile during the trial.

A cover story in India Today magazine called the suspect "India's most hated". Describing his poverty-stricken upbringing in the chaotic and lawless state of Uttar Pradesh, the magazine said he was "as tragic as he is terrifying".

The family of the victim, who suffered severe internal injuries when repeatedly violated with an iron bar, has called for all those guilty to be hanged, whatever their age.

"It has to be the death penalty. He should be in jail with the others," the victim's mother told reporters outside the courtroom.

Badri Singh, the victim's father, told the Guardian earlier this year that the family would push for a harsher sentence by any means possible in India and internationally.

The 18-year-old, who cannot be named under Indian law, has denied all charges against him.

The prosecution claimed that the man, who left home when he was 11 to take up a series of menial jobs in Delhi, was the most violent of the attackers of the girl last December.

Activists have suggested the nature of the crime should be considered when judging juveniles.

In July, the juvenile was found guilty of robbery. All those accused of raping the woman are also charged with robbing another man earlier in the evening of the incident.

There has also been also widespread criticism of the fast-track court set up specifically to ensure rapid justice in the case, which is one of the most-high profile in India for many years.

The trial of the adult defendants started in January. The victim's father has said the idea of a fast-track court was a farce.

"This case should've wound up within a month after it started … We've waited so long. We don't want it to be for nothing," he said.


Kill the Rapist? Provocative Bollywood thriller aims to deter Indian attacks

Controversially titled new feature film shows 'very violent and brutal' demonstration of how a victim decides fate of her attacker

Jason Burke in Delhi, Friday 30 August 2013 15.58 BST   

A controversial new Bollywood thriller, to be released in India within months, aims to deter potential rapists through a "very violent and brutal" representation of how a victim who manages to capture her attacker decides his fate.

Titled Kill the Rapist?, the film, dedicated to "women across the world" according to pre-release publicity material, has already provoked debate. A website publicising the "empowering" film says its aim is to make "every rapist shiver with fear before even thinking of rape".

On Saturday a court in Delhi is likely to pass the first sentence in the case of a 23-year-old woman who was raped by six men on a moving bus in Delhi last December. She later died of injuries sustained in the assault. The incident prompted outrage and calls for wholesale reform of the law, court processes, policing as well as a broader cultural shift.

Six men were rapidly arrested for the attack and a special "fast-track court" set up to try them. One, the alleged ringleader, hanged himself in prison earlier this year. The sentence will be passed on an 18-year-old who was a juvenile at the time of the crime. Indian law limits his punishment to a maximum of three years in prison. The other defendants, who face the death penalty, will be sentenced at a later date.

The family of the victim have repeatedly called for the juvenile, if found guilty, to be hanged.

"It has to be the death penalty … The fight will go on. Right up to the supreme court and internationally after that," Badri Singh, father of the victim, told the Guardian last month.

Siddhartha Jain, 39, the Mumbai-based producer of the new film, said that the Delhi attack last year had inspired him.

"Most people had their eyes opened by last year's incident. [The film] has a very aggressive title because subtlety in India does nothing. The aim is to put pressure on law enforcers, lawmakers, the media, to get real change," Jain said.

The first half of the film shows an "independent, career-driven, single" woman living and working in Delhi who is being stalked. Police prove unable to help, even after a rape attempt. When the would-be rapist makes a second attempt, she manages to capture him. The rest of the film explores the question of what the woman – and her two female housemates – should now do with the man.

"Ideally she would go to the police and the law would take its course. But that doesn't happen here. So how can she stop him coming after her again if she frees him? So she does something really fantastic that is legal for her. I think at some point, if the law can't protect you, you have to protect yourself," Jain said.

Sanjay Chhel, who directed the film, said its climax would send a strong signal and generate fear in the minds of potential attackers.

"It is the job of law and Indian society but the law and society has failed," Chhel said.

There is increasing dissatisfaction among India's middle classes over the state's inability to provide basic services, from clean drinking water to security on the streets.

Though the Delhi attack last year led to some reforms, campaigners say there has been limited change.

Last week a new gang rape was reported on a journalist in Mumbai. Her attackers took a picture of her on a mobile phone after the attack and threatened to "shame her in public" if she went to the police. They had previously assaulted several other women and used the tactic to ensure their silence, police said. Rape victims in India are often considered "dishonoured" and are ostracised. The new film explores such attitudes and their effect on individuals.

The Indian supreme court recently expressed concern at the low numbers of convictions in prosecutions for sex crimes.

Menaka Guruswamy, a supreme court lawyer, said that such failures of the criminal justice system reflected much broader problems.

"The first contact of most people with the state is not the constitution, it is getting a gas connection or going to the police station for something trivial. If you can't get that done then what hope does a rape victim have? There is a broader crisis," Guruswamy said.

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« Reply #8437 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Manmohan Singh tries to quell fears over Indian economy

PM makes rare speech in parliament after slide in value of rupee, saying India is not facing repeat of 1991 crisis

Jason Burke in Delhi, Friday 30 August 2013 13.05 BST   

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has made a rare speech in parliament in an attempt to restore investors' confidence in the Indian economy and halt the slide of the rupee.

Singh, an economist credited with leading a crucial wave of reforms in the early 1990s but recently widely criticised for inactivity, said India was not facing a repeat of a balance of payments crisis that shook the country in 1991 and said fears that economic growth could slip to as low as 3% were unfounded.

"There is no reason for anybody to believe that we are going down the hill and that 1991 is on the horizon," he told parliament.

Indian officials have repeatedly blamed international factors for the rupee's sharp decline over the last three months, though many local commentators say the main reason is the government's failure to push through reforms. Some analysts have raised the prospect of India seeking help from the International Monetary Fund.

On Friday the rupee was trading for around 102 to the pound sterling and 66 to the US dollar, a decrease of around 20% in two months.

Populist measures such as a massive new expansion of the country's inefficient $14bn (£9bn) food subsidy programme, enshrined in law this week, have also worried international markets. Few analysts believe the government will take tough and potentially vote-losing financial decisions before an election due next spring.

Long-awaited legislation giving greater protection to communities whose land is bought by the state or private enterprises was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday night. It raises compensation for landowners and was opposed by the business community.

"We believe that the land bill strikes a fair balance," said the finance minister, P Chidambaram. "Land has to be made available, but while land is being either purchased or acquired to make land available for industry, we must also keep in mind that those who are deprived of land are in most cases deprived of the only asset they have."

However, Rajeev Kumar, an economist at the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi thinktank, said the law would be counter-productive. "No one is saying the farmers shouldn't get a fair price for their land but this just makes [the process of acquisition and compensation] much more complicated and will cut down investment," he said.

In his speech, Singh referred briefly to India's large current account deficit and "some other domestic factors" that had contributed to the rupee's fall. However, the prime minister told parliamentarians the slide was also down to an expected tapering of the US Federal Reserve's liquidity measures, which would limit cheap capital available for investment in emerging economies like India's, and accused "foreign exchange markets" of overreacting.

The 80-year-old, who has been prime minister since 2004, said rich countries should pay more attention to the impact of their policy steps on developing economies. "In a more equitable world order, it is only appropriate that the developed countries – in pursuing their fiscal and monetary policies – should take into account the repercussions on the economy of emerging countries," he said.

Local commentators have been harsh in their criticism of the tendency of the government – a coalition led by the Congress party – to avoid taking responsibility for India's economic problems.

"To be sure, external factors have contributed and all emerging markets, including India, have been hit, but Singh's government hasn't exactly earned plaudits for its governance of the economy," said an editorial in Mint, a local financial newspaper.

The newspaper blamed "rash spending, misplaced policies, unstable tax laws, and the absence of efforts to build infrastructure and capacity and also make Indian exports competitive". These, it said, "have all played a part in bringing the India story to a premature end".

After years of growth of 8-10%, the Indian economy began to slow in 2010. It is believed to have expanded by around 5% in the 2012-13 fiscal year. A good monsoon has helped in recent months.

Kumar said the government needed to "admit its mistakes and give up politicking" to restore international credibility. "Any inaction now will have a major impact in the future. They can't just try and tide things over for six months until after an election," he said.

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« Reply #8438 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:53 AM »

North Korea withdraws US envoy's invitation to visit Pyongyang

Bob King had been due to travel to Pyongyang to request pardon and amnesty for detained American Kenneth Bae

Associated Press in Washington, Friday 30 August 2013 16.43 BST   

North Korea has rescinded its invitation for a senior US envoy to travel to Pyongyang to seek the release of a detained American, the state department has said.

Bob King, the US special envoy for North Korean human rights, was due to travel from Tokyo to Pyongyang on Friday to request a pardon and amnesty for Kenneth Bae, and return the next day.

Bae was sentenced in April to 15 years of hard labour by the authoritarian state, accused of subversion.

The state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US was "surprised and disappointed by North Korea's decision" and remained gravely concerned about Bae's health. King intends to return to Washington from Tokyo on Saturday.

It is a further setback to US-North-Korean relations, already severely strained by concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

"We have sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King's trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date," Harf said in a statement, referring to the country's formal title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"We remain gravely concerned about Mr Bae's health and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds."

Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested last November and accused of committing "hostile acts" against North Korea. He suffers multiple health problems and was recently hospitalised.

On Wednesday in Tokyo, King had cautioned that Washington had received no guarantees from Pyongyang that Bae would be freed.

The visit by King would have been the first public trip to North Korea by an administration official in more than two years and could have provided an opening for an improvement in relations.

North Korea has previously used detained Americans as bargaining chips in its standoff with the US over its nuclear and missile programmes. Multination aid-for-disarmament talks have been on hold since 2009, and efforts by Washington to negotiate a freeze in the North's nuclear programme in exchange for food aid collapsed 18 months ago.

Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The last to be freed was Eddie Jun, a Korean-American from California, who was arrested for alleged unauthorised missionary work during several business trips to the country. He was brought back to the US when King last visited Pyongyang in May 2011.

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« Reply #8439 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:55 AM »

Chinese police hunt woman who gouged out boy's eyes

Reward offered for capture of woman who grabbed six-year-old off street before brutal attack

Associated Press in Beijing, Wednesday 28 August 2013 08.00 BST

Police in northern China have launched a massive search for a woman accused of gouging out the eyes of a six-year-old boy.

Authorities in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province have offered a 100,000 yuan (£11,000) reward for the woman's capture. The boy said only that the woman spoke with an accent from outside the area.

The Beijing Times quoted the parents of the boy as saying their son was walking along a path when he was grabbed by a woman, who then used an unspecified tool to gouge out his eyes.

State media said the boy was recovering in a hospital, but had lost his sight permanently following the brutal ordeal on Saturday.

A news report on a provincial TV channel showed the boy writhing in pain on a hospital trolley with bandages around his head, his parents, both farmers, crying.

A police officer, who gave only his surname, Liu, said he could not speculate on a motive because the investigation was continuing.

"We are sparing no efforts trying to solve this case," he said.

State media previously had raised the possibility that the boy's corneas were taken for sale because of a donor shortage in China. However, Liu said the boy's eyeballs were found at the scene and the corneas had not been removed.

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« Reply #8440 on: Aug 31, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Troops patrol Colombian capital after rioting

President orders military on to streets after two are killed in protests in support of growing national strike

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá
The Guardian, Saturday 31 August 2013   

Colombia's president has ordered troops to patrol the capital following rioting in which at least two people died.

Violence broke out on Thursday afternoon after 30,000 university students and others marched peacefully in support of a 10-day protest by small farmers.

Masked youths began hurling rocks and bricks and fought riot police, shattering store windows.

"We are not going to permit the excesses of a bunch of misfits to affect the tranquility of citizens," President Juan Manuel Santos said. "To assure normality … I have ordered the militarisation of Bogotá."

Thursday's marches were in support of a growing nationwide strike by miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers and potato farmers protesting against everything from high fuel prices to free trade agreements, which, farmers say, have brought them to the brink of bankruptcy.

Farmers complain that agricultural imports allowed under free trade agreements with the US, the EU, Canada and others are undercutting their livelihoods.

While there is wide support from some sectors, others say the protests are making daily life more difficult. With access to the cities from the countryside disrupted by the protests, the price of some staple foods has nearly doubled.

Gloria Galindo, a mother of three who lives in Bosa, a working-class district of Bogotá, said she sympathised with the protesters but that the roadblocks were hurting her family's wallet. "Vegetable prices have shot through the roof," she said.

The protests began on 19 August. Since then at least one protester and one policeman have died in the demonstrations as well as the two killed on Thursday. Dozens have been injured and more than 150 arrested.

The two men killed by gunfire on Thursday night in two towns just west of Bogotá, Suba and Engativa, were aged 18 and 24. The circumstances were not yet clear, said Alfonso Jaramillo, security chief for the capital, a city of eight million people.

In the city of Soacha, bordering Bogotá to the south, vandals attempted to loot supermarkets, clothing and hardware stores, according to the mayor, Juan Carlos Nemocon.

Officials have accused leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which is in talks with the government to end nearly 50 years of war, of infiltrating the strikes. Strike leaders have denied the claims.

Rural development was the first point of agreement between Farc and the government in the peace process.

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« Reply #8441 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:27 AM »

US attack on Syria delayed after surprise U-turn from Obama

President insists the US should take military action against Assad but says he will seek the authorisation of Congress first

Paul Lewis in Washington
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013      

A US military attack against Syria was unexpectedly put on hold on Saturday, after president Barack Obama said that while he backed the use of force after what he called "the worst chemical weapons attack of 21st century", he would first seek the approval of Congress.

Obama said he had decided the US should take military action against Syria and had been told by his advisers that while assets were in place to launch strikes immediately, the operation was not "time sensitive". He said Congressional leaders had agreed to hold a vote when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

It was a dramatic turnaround by the White House, which had earlier in the week indicated it was on the verge of launching strikes against Syria without the approval of Congress. Only on Friday, secretary of state John Kerry had delivered a passionate case for taking action against Assad.

In an address to the nation from the Rose Garden at the White House, Obama said he had decided that the US should take military action that would be "limited in duration and scope", designed to "hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behaviour and degrade their capacity to carry it out".

The surprise came when Obama said that he had made a second decision: to seek the approval of Congress before launching any strikes. The president said he had listened to members of Congress who had expressed a desire for their voices to be heard, and that he agreed.

Obama insisted the delay did not have any tactical consequences. His most senior military advisor had told him an attack would be "effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now," he said.

The White House sent draft legislative wording to the House and Senate leaders on Saturday evening, which authorised actions designed only to neuter the threat of chemical weapons or to prevent their proliferation. The narrow wording was intended to make it clear that the administration had no intention of being drawn into to the wider Syrian civil war.

The move was a huge political gamble for Obama. There is no guarantee that Congress will approve military action and Obama did not say whether he would order air strikes if Congress failed to give its backing. A failure to secure approval would be a significant blow to Obama's authority, and some presidential observers suggested it could undermine the executive's traditional authority to make independent decisions on military actions.

Congress is not due to return from the August recess until 9 September. A statement from Republican leaders including John Boehner, the House speaker, said there would be no early recall. The statement said: "In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people."

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, welcomed Obama's decision, saying in a statement that the president's role as commander-in-chief was strengthened when he has the support of lawmakers.

The president's decision to seek the formal backing of Congress took Washington by surprise. Obama was widely believed to be on the cusp of military action against Syria over the chemical weapons attack last week, which the administration has said killed almost 1,500 people.

Obama said that while he still believed that as president he has the authority to launch strikes, he was mindful of the need for democratic backing and would "seek authorisation for the use force from the American people's representatives in Congress".

Senior administration officials told reporters on Saturday that the president had come to his decision to seek congressional approval at about 6pm on Friday evening. He discussed it during a 45-minute walk with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and then called a meeting of his top national security aides at 7pm.

The officials said there was a "robust debate" in the two-hour meeting. Some aides were concerned about the risk of seeking the approval of Congress, but officials did not say which advisers had argued against the decision. All now approved of it, the officials said.

Obama's decision was a sign that the White House feels exposed over Syria, amid waning international support, minimal public backing and a chorus of concern on Capitol Hill. In 2011, Obama was strongly criticised for not consulting Congress before launching strikes against Libya.

The president's critics in Congress were emboldened by the vote against military action in the British parliament on Thursday, and there was growing pressure on Obama to show he had the backing of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Obama directly referred to the vote in Britain, saying that some advisers had advised against a congressional vote after "what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week, when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action."

But he insisted that taking limited military action against Syria was the right choice, even without the support of the United Nations security council, which he said was "completely paralysed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable". Russia and China have used their veto to block authorisation for the use of force against Syria.

"I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of our war that I was elected to end," Obama said. He added that the US should not turn a "blind eye" to the use of chemical weapons.

"Young boys and girls gassed to death by their own government," he said. "This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security."

He added: "What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?"

Immediately after Obama made his televised remarks from the White House Rose Garden, he joined top aides to begin briefing US senators for the start of what will be an intense lobbying campaign.

The UN inspectors who have spent almost two weeks investigating the alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus had earlier left Syria for Lebanon, from where they were due to travel back to their headquarters at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, at the Hague. The UN team departed Syria earlier than expected, in what some interpreted as a sign that military strikes were due to take place over the weekend.

Earlier on Saturday, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who has supported Bashar al-Assad since the start of the Syrian civil war, challenged the US to present its case for military intervention to the UN security council and urged further talks at the G20 summit in St Petersburg next week. Putin rejected US intelligence claims that Assad's regime used chemical weapons in Syria, saying it would be "utter nonsense" for government troops to use such tactics in a war it was already winning.


September 1, 2013

Overseas Concern Follows Obama’s New Approach to Syria


President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval on military action in Syria raised questions overseas about whether the United States had diminished its leadership role in foreign affairs, with commentators in Israel fearing a weakening of American resolve in confronting hostile powers.

The Israel newspaper Haaretz carried an analysis on Sunday by Amos Harel, a military analyst, saying that President Obama’s postponement of a military strike against Syria suggests that he would be less likely to confront Iran on its nuclear program going forward, and that in the Arab world he would now be “seen as weak, hesitant and vacillating.”

“The Obama administration’s conduct gives us insight into the strategic challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” the analysis said. “From an Israeli point of view, the conclusion is far from encouraging. The theory that the U.S. will come to Israel’s aid at the last minute, and attack Iran to lift the nuclear threat, seems less and less likely.

“It’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent,” it said.

In the conservative Telegraph newspaper in Britain, one columnist, Tim Stanley, said Mr. Obama gave a “remarkable performance” in his Saturday speech detailing his new approach on Syria. But he said that Britain deserved credit for serving as a model for Mr. Obama’s approach, citing how Parliament’s vote against military action led the prime minister, David Cameron, to rule out military participation in any strike on Syria.

“So we basically taught Obama to respect his own constitution,” Mr. Stanley, a historian, wrote. “No need to thank us, America.”

Mr. Obama’s announcement that he would seek Congressional approval came after thousands of people held demonstrations in several cities against an American military strike, with an estimated 1,000 people rallying in Trafalgar Square in London and 700 people turning out to protest in Frankfurt.

Official reaction from other nations to Mr. Obama’s new approach was scarce on Sunday. On Tuesday, the president heads to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a gathering of world leaders at the G-20 summit. There, he is expected to try to lobby his counterparts for military action against Syria.

But one leader he will probably not be lobbying is President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the host of the event, who has been a strong opponent of any outside military action. Mr. Putin said it would have been “utter nonsense” for Syria to use chemical weapons, and he challenged the United States to provide evidence of such behavior by Russia’s longtime ally.

Mr. Obama’s original plans to meet with Mr. Putin at the summit were shelved last month because of American anger over Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret American surveillance programs.

Without support from Russia for a military strike, the United States was unable to secure backing in the United Nations Security Council for a British-proposed resolution to authorize the use of military force against Syria. On Saturday, United Nations inspectors left Syria after a four-day visit to investigate the reports of the chemical attack, and the team is now analyzing what it found on the ground.

China, another Security Council member, was similarly wary of any military strike on Syria, with the state news media warning Thursday that any armed intervention “would have dire consequences for regional security and violate the norms governing international relations.” Beijing supported the deployment of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors and has said that the United States should await the results of their work before acting.

A Chinese expert on the Middle East, Yin Gang, said Sunday that Mr. Obama’s decision to seek approval from Congress for military action made the president appear weak.

“He doesn’t want to fight, he doesn’t know the outcome,” said Mr. Yin of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “He’s afraid, very afraid.”

All along, China has counseled a political solution, and Mr. Yin said the meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg this week could lead to momentum for talks about how to handle Syrian behavior.

“All the leaders will talk on this topic at the summit, and maybe it can lead to a new direction, to a political solution,” he said.

And one Chinese specialist on Syria, Guo Xian’gang, said President Obama would face opposition from Russia, China and other non-Western countries at the G-20 summit for any military action.

“They will suggest to President Obama that if he wants to take action there should be clear evidence that Syria used chemical weapons,” said Mr. Guo of the Chinese Institute of International Relations. “They will also say that Obama must get the permission of the United Nations.”

Jane Perlez contributed reporting from Beijing.


Battle looms in Congress as Obama makes Syria a vast political gamble

US president could face toughest fight in House of Representatives, which has opposed him on a range of issues

Paul Lewis in Washington
The Observer, Saturday 31 August 2013 23.06 BST   

Barack Obama has taken a potentially huge political gamble by putting the decision over whether to attack Syria in the hands of Congress.

Republican and Democratic leaders may be expected to back the president's call for military action, but support among lawmakers, who have become increasingly restive in recent months, is by no means guaranteed.

With a vote not scheduled to take place until the week beginning 9 September, when members return from recess, Obama faces days of intense political debate over the evidence of a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian government and the rationale for military strikes with limited international support.

In a sign of the looming battle, the Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both hawks who have urged strikes on Syria, said they would use the vote to push for a more significant intervention than that proposed by Obama, who said that it should be "limited in duration and scope".

"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," they said in a statement.

Democrats control the Senate, but Obama could face the toughest battle in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which is opposing the president on a range of issues from healthcare to immigration reform.

The House speaker, John Boehner, welcomed the president's announcement in a joint statement with other Republican leaders. "Under the constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress," the statement said. "We are glad the president is seeking authorisation for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised."

There were also calls for an early recall of Congress, similar to the emergency session of parliament in Britain on Thursday. Obama acknowledged the British vote against military force in his speech, saying after David Cameron's defeat "many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress". The British vote galvanised members of Congress who felt they should have a say over military action – more than 200 signed a statement calling for a vote.

Senior Democrats can be expected to support Obama. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was reported on Friday to have been pushing Obama to take action against Syria.

However, most observers were predicting that a vote would see rebels on both Republican and Democratic sides.

The top Republican in the Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Corker, said Obama could have difficulty securing the necessary votes on Capitol Hill. He told CNN the president would need to use "every ounce of political capital that he has to sell this".

For Obama, political capital is scarce in Congress. Even before his announcement on Saturday, political observers were anticipating a major showdown when members of Congress return in September over government budgets and the debt ceiling.

He appeared to acknowledge some potential pitfalls when he called on members of Congress to "consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment".

The president did not say whether he would launch a military attack without congressional approval.

The question of whether a US president can launch military action without congressional backing is subject to dispute. While it is argued a commander-in-chief cannot constitutionally declare war without Congress, in recent decades presidents have used executive powers to sanction military action. When running for president in 2007, Obama said the president "does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation". He added that "in instances of self-defence, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent".

Obama later came under criticism in 2011 for launching strikes against Libya after minimal consultation with Congress. Throughout the week White House officials have said the use of chemical weapons posed a threat to the core national security interests of the US, and indicated Obama was ready to act without Congress. Senior administration officials gave the impression that strikes were imminent and some observers were expecting them to begin on Saturday night.

Obama's decision on Saturday to seek approval from Congress delayed action for days or possibly weeks.

The calculation may have had less to do with his commitment to constitutional principles than his realisation that he was becoming isolated.

Unable now to secure the backing of the United Nations security council or even Britain – who Obama conceded was America's "closest ally" – he appears to have sought the cover of congressional backing.

However, the decision carries with it major political risks. Polls show limited support among citizens for military action against Syria, although the public is more open to limited strikes that might only last a few days.

Political analysts said Obama would not have sought congressional backing unless he was confident he could win the vote.

However he could face tough opposition in the House of Representatives, where an unusual alliance between libertarian Republicans and leftwing Democrats last month almost passed a motion against the National Security Agency.

The motion, which sought to effectively halt the mass collection of US phone records in the aftermath of whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures, lost by just 12 votes.

It constituted a major rebellion – a majority of Democrats voted against the White House – and showed how congressional leaders sometimes have only limited sway over representatives.


Syria: Assad officials defiant as Damascus residents brace for US missile attack

Assad regime officials insist imminent air assault will not prove decisive in civil war

Martin Chulov in Beirut
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013   

Damascus residents, already accustomed to incessant warfare within the Syrian capital, were making final preparations this weekend for an attack from outside, attempting to anticipate where American missiles might strike.

Military officers and senior officials, who have mostly stayed in the city as momentum has built towards an imminent air assault, said that whatever was coming their way was unlikely to prove decisive in the 30-month-old civil war.

Opposition groups inside Syria reported heightened activity at the Nasiriyah missile base 50 miles north-east of Damascus, where ballistic missiles including Scuds that have been fired at Aleppo and surrounding area since January are known to be stored.

Turkey believes that the Syrian military had 700 ballistic missiles at the start of the war, some of which could be used to deliver chemical weapons.

Officials who spoke to the Observer say the indecision over the US and European response to a chemical attack in eastern Damascus has exposed the limitations of Syria's foes.

US secretary of state John Kerry's case for attacking was derided by several senior figures who also said the House of Commons vote against David Cameron's attempt to join in had ensured that Bashar al-Assad would emerge stronger from the ruins of his military bases.

Brigadier Turki al-Hassan, a retired air force officer, said the British vote had resonated widely in Damascus. "We have welcomed the British decision and we salute the parliament which stopped this aggressive act against Syria," he said. "We consider it to be a rational decision, which takes into consideration Britain's benefit, because if they wanted to go for war then maybe they would ignite something that they couldn't stop. They can easily start a war. But they can't control what happens next."

In Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, both supporters and foes of the Assad regime seem to be taking at face value the US claim that anything it does do will be short and targeted, and will not aim to seriously weaken Assad or his military, which is battle-weary after being fully deployed for much of the last two years.

"When the Americans stop bombing, we will have every right to declare victory against international terrorism," said Hassan. "Prepare yourselves that people will go back to Britain and the US to fight you."

A delegation of Iranian officials was due to arrive in Damascus on Saturday to meet the Syrian leader, who seemed keen to project an air of normality before a rare test of his regime's resolve by a foreign power.

Russian warships in the eastern Mediterranean are believed to be in place ready to provide advance warning of any attack from the five US missile destroyers also in position nearby. Cruise missiles fired from the five ships, which will soon be joined by a sixth, are expected to form the main thrust of any attack. French warships have also deployed to the area and may also join in.

Both countries are seen as unlikely to send their fighter jets over Syrian skies – a reluctance that may change if the regime's air defence system is neutralised during early strikes.

Though Syria's air defences are regarded as formidable, the Israeli air force has been able to penetrate Syrian air space three times in the last nine months and attack sites in and around Damascus and Latakia. It is understood that the Israeli strike in May on the bases of the 4th Division and Republican Guards, led by Assad's younger brother, Maher al-Assad, was launched from the air space of neighbouring Lebanon, which has no air defence system.

It is not clear how Israel launched the other two attacks, one in January which destroyed anti-aircraft launchers near Damascus, and another in July which damaged a warehouse where anti-ship missiles were stored.


William Hague: UK will offer only diplomatic support on Syria

Foreign secretary says parliament has spoken and Labour would need to be 'less partisan' to reverse Commons vote

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, Sunday 1 September 2013 11.57 BST

Britain has definitively ruled out any involvement in military strikes against Syria even if further, more serious chemical weapons attacks take place, William Hague and George Osborne have said.

In his first major interview since the government's defeat in the Commons on Thursday night, Hague, the foreign secretary, said parliament had spoken and Britain would only offer diplomatic support to its allies.

He said he could only envisage a change if Labour became "less partisan". His remarks were echoed by Osborne, the chancellor, who told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that Ed Miliband looked less like a future prime minister after helping to defeat the government.

In an interview with the Murnaghan Show on Sky News, Hague said: "Parliament has spoken. I don't think it is realistic to think that we can go back to parliament every week with the same question having received no for an answer.

"Anybody looking objectively at this would see that, in order for parliament in any circumstances to come to a different conclusion, people would have to be more persuaded by the evidence. There is a great deal of evidence there but I'm not sure that the extra evidence that the United States presented would have made a difference to those doubting the evidence in the House of Commons.

"The Labour leadership would have to play a less partisan and less opportunistic role and be prepared to take yes for an answer in terms of the motions that we present to the House of Commons. We had taken on board all the points that they had made before the debate on Thursday. All those things would have to happen to get a different result in the House of Commons and I can't see any immediate possibility of that."

Osborne made similar remarks 90 minutes earlier on the Andrew Marr Show. He said: "Parliament has spoken. The Labour party has played this opportunistically. The Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats who could not support us – they have a deep scepticism about military involvement. I don't think another UN report, or whatever, would make the difference. Of course I wanted us to be part of a potential military response. Now that is just not going to be open to us."

Osborne, a strong Atlanticist who has backed military intervention over the past decade, said he would make the case for Britain to remain a key player.

He said: "I hope it isn't a great historical moment. I hope that people like myself and many others who want Britain to be an outward-looking, open nation that is confident about shaping the world around it are going to go out there and win this argument."

But the chancellor was highly critical of the Labour leader. He said: "The Labour party would have voted against regardless because they played this in quite an opportunistic way. I think Ed Miliband looks a bit less like a prime minister even than he did a few weeks ago."

Ministers who feared that Britain risked isolation after MPs ruled out any British involvement in military strikes against Syria are noticeably more relaxed after Barack Obama cited the vote as he announced he would consult Congress before taking any action.

Hague said: "We were saying in our parliament that there would be a second vote at a later stage if we wanted to go ahead with military action. So that, of course, would have been rather similar to President Obama setting out this timetable in Congress now. The United States of course must make its own decision so we entirely respect and support what the president announced."

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, agreed that Britain would not join any military action. He told the Andrew Marr Show: "The conditions we set down on Thursday apply on Sunday morning. But since then, of course, the prime minister has given his word to the British people that the UK will not participate in military action in Syria."



Pig Putin demands U.S. prove Syria chemical weapons use

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 31, 2013 9:23 EDT

Russian President Pig Putin demanded on Saturday that the United States shows proof that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, arguing that failure to do so would mean that none exists.

“Regarding the position of our American colleagues, who affirm that government troops used… chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council,” he told journalists. “If they don’t show it, that means there is none.”


Obama, Congress and Syria

The president is celebrated for seeking a vote on his latest war even as his aides make clear it has no binding effect

Glenn Greenwald, Sunday 1 September 2013 12.01 BST   

It's a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century. George Bush, of course, sought Congressional approval for the war in Iraq (though he did so only once it was clear that Congress would grant it: I vividly remember watching then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden practically begging the Bush White House to "allow" Congress to vote on the attack while promising in advance that they would approve for it).

But what makes the celebratory reaction to yesterday's announcement particularly odd is that the Congressional vote which Obama said he would seek appears, in his mind, to have no binding force at all. There is no reason to believe that a Congressional rejection of the war's authorization would constrain Obama in any way, other than perhaps politically. To the contrary, there is substantial evidence for the proposition that the White House sees the vote as purely advisory, i.e., meaningless.

Recall how - in one of most overlooked bad acts of the Obama administration - the House of Representatives actually voted, overwhelmingly, against authorizing the US war in Libya, and yet Obama simply ignored the vote and proceeded to prosecute the war anyway (just as Clinton did when the House rejected the authorization he wanted to bomb Kosovo, though, at least there, Congress later voted to allocate funds for the bombing campaign). Why would the White House view the President's power to wage war in Libya as unconstrainable by Congress, yet view his power to wage war in Syria as dependent upon Congressional authorization?

More to the point, his aides are making clear that Obama does not view the vote as binding, as Time reports:

    To make matters more complicated, Obama's aides made clear that the President's search for affirmation from Congress would not be binding. He might still attack Syria even if Congress issues a rejection."

It's certainly preferable to have the president seek Congressional approval than not seek it before involving the US in yet another Middle East war of choice, but that's only true if the vote is deemed to be something more than an empty, symbolic ritual. To declare ahead of time that the debate the President has invited and the Congressional vote he sought are nothing more than non-binding gestures - they will matter only if the outcome is what the President wants it to be - is to display a fairly strong contempt for both democracy and the Constitution.

There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the "credibility" of those doing the bombing. Relatedly, it's hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one's national "credibility" depend upon periodically bombing other countries.

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« Reply #8442 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Jordan fears the worst as Syria conflict threatens to destabilise wider region

Lebanon and Iraq see more violence and other Middle East countries raise level of military readiness

Peter Beaumont   
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013   

In the northern Jordan villages – some almost split by the border with Syria – people who have watched the flow of refugees into their country are "holding their breath".

The sentiment is the same as in the other neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Iraq: a fear that the Syrian conflict, which has already claimed more than 100,000 lives could spill over and destabilise the wider region.

The fear is not unfounded. Already the consequences of the Syrian war are being felt beyond its borders.

Worst affected so far have been Lebanon and Iraq, which – because of their own political fragility and sectarian competitions – have already seen violence and increasing instability.

Britain has advised against all but essential travel to Lebanon, where bomb attacks in the northern city of Tripoli killed 42 people last week, and as regional tensions grow over a possible US military strike on Syria.

On Friday, Lebanon charged five men, including a Sunni Muslim cleric close to the Syrian government, over the bomb attacks on two mosques in Tripoli.

Two other men, including a Syrian military officer, were charged in absentia with placing the bombs.

In Iraq concern has been mounting for months as the violence in its neighbour – in which Sunni jihadi groups linked to those in Iraq have been participating – has escalated.

And amid fear that a US strike could have wider repercussions, Jordan, Turkey and Israel have raised their level of military readiness.

The Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad underlined the sense of fear, quoting people in the country's northern areas speaking of their concern that their country might be hit in a revenge attack and discussing whether to move to the south.

Turkey has also seen similar rising fears, not least because of its government's strong opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, which has already seen cross-border fire and the planting of bombs. Last week the country began distributing gas masks and deployed a large team of chemical warfare experts close to the border.

According to sources, Saudi Arabia's defence readiness has been raised and leave for the armed forces cancelled. In Kuwait, lawmakers have asked their government to inform them about plans for readiness to deal with repercussions of a strike on Syria, Kuwaiti newspapers have reported.

And in Israel, which some fear might be the target of any retaliatory attack, the government has moved extra anti-missile batteries to the country's north, bordering Syria, issued gas masks to citizens and called up a limited number of reservists, including cyber warfare specialists.

Other countries advising citizens to quit Lebanon included Bahrain, Kuwait and France, while Austria told its people to contact its embassy in Lebanon before travelling there.

Bahrain and Kuwait also urged its nationals in the country to leave immediately, their state news agencies reported.

A senior security source in Lebanon said that around 14,000 people had left the country on Thursday alone, mostly Europeans.

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« Reply #8443 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Yemen's PM escapes unharmed after apparent assassination attempt

The PM's adviser said no one was hurt in an attack that occurred while the premier was returning home from his office

Reuters, Sunday 1 September 2013 01.47 BST   

Unidentified assailants opened fire on the motorcade of Yemen's prime minister on Saturday, an aide said, in an apparent assassination attempt that underscored the volatility of the US-allied Arab country.

Ali al-Sarari, an adviser to Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa, said no one was hurt in the attack that occurred in the evening in Sana'a while the premier was returning home from his office.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Yemen is home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered one of the most aggressive branches of the global militant organisation, which has previously targeted top officials.

"We strongly condemn this brazen assassination attempt and remain committed to supporting Yemen as it pursues meaningful and peaceful reform through its ongoing transition process," a US State Department official said.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said last week that the AQAP's leader had vowed in an intercepted phone call to carry out an attack that would "change the face of history", which led to the temporary closure of many US and other Western embassies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia earlier in August.

Sarari said Basindwa's guards identified the license plates of the car used in the attack and security forces were trying to track it down after the assailants fled the scene.

Basindwa was chosen to head a government of national unity in 2011 after long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh quit under a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal that propelled his deputy Hadi to power.

The US government supports Yemeni forces with funds and logistical support, and has regularly used drones to hunt down al-Qaida militants.

A local Yemeni source said on Friday that four suspected militants were killed in a US drone strike in the central al-Bayda province.

But the Interior Ministry said on Saturday that five local al-Qaida leaders, all from the same extended family, died in an air strike in the al-Bayda province.

It identified them as Qa'ed al-Dahab, Ali Jalloud al-Dahab, al-Hamdani al-Arbaji al-Dahab, Deifallah Ahmed Deifallah al-Dahab and Mohammed al-Doukhi al-Dahab.

Local sources identified Qa'ed al-Dahab as the commander of an al-Qaida-linked group in al-Bayda and said he had previously escaped at least two drone strikes.

Apart from the al-Qaida threat, Yemen is grappling with a host of challenges as it tries to restore state control over the country after months of turmoil in 2011 that saw Saleh step down.

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« Reply #8444 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:37 AM »

From luxury spas to street pedicures: two sides to Nigeria's beauty boom

Lagos is awash with grooming and health services, with Nigerians often choosing roadside therapists over hospitals

Monica Mark in Lagos, Thursday 29 August 2013 17.35 BST   

Every Friday, Oladapo Akindele drops off his boss at the glass-fronted entrance of a luxury spa in Lagos. Then, while he waits for her, the driver has his nails polished and scrubbed in a cheaper but equally popular pedicure stand on the roadside next to open sewers.

Itinerant barbers who throw in manicures and pedicures are an enduring fixture in the choked streets of Africa's largest metropolis. It can prove a profitable trade in a highly fashion-conscious city. "I use these people all the time because I don't have time to visit salons when I'm driving from morning until evening," Akindele says as Indian oil is massaged on to his feet following a 150 naira (60p) mani-pedi.

The love of grooming across all social spheres tells a tale of two sides of the bustling city. Although natural beauty therapies such as honey waxes have long been popular in Nigeria, spas that elevate the pursuit of beauty to an extreme sport are a new phenomenon. At the top end, western-style establishments are booming in Lagos, promising glowing health and beauty with pure oxygen facials or 24-carat gold leaf wraps for those who can afford it.

"Ten years ago it would have been impossible to find a place like this in Nigeria," says one worker in the perfumed interior of an upmarket beauty parlour. After arriving from India six years ago, the spas' founders discovered there was enough demand for Ayurveda facials – using a blend of Indian herbs – to open another branch.

"It's nice that you no longer have to go abroad to get this kind of thing," says Yemisi Williams, a customer at another health club, as a Thai beautician smothers her body in a chocolate and marshmallow wrap and a concoction with crushed diamonds is plastered on to her face. "It's not just about looking good, because people are more aware of the health benefits too."

At the other end of society, the trade is dominated by Muslim men from the impoverished north of the country. Beneath a busy flyover in central Lagos, traders' voices pierce through the roar of traffic. A jingle of flattened bottle-tops announces men pushing wheelbarrows full of plastic barrels of water, the main supply in many areas of the city. The click-clack of scissors leads to the outdoor beauticians, who sit on benches, their equipment laid out on newspapers.

"Once I went to a conventional salon. It wasn't a nice experience at all. These people do a much better job for cheaper," says Bashir, a lawyer who has been visiting for nine years, as a barber rubs his newly shaved head with a local crystal pebble to prevent razor bumps.

"We do home visits too because big men don't like to come here," says Mohammed, a barber, as he gestures towards open gutters and ramshackle buildings. His clients include a local politician who sends his driver once a week to pick him up, paying 10,000 naira – a 200% increase on the usual price – to have his hair cut at home.

Treatments promise medical miracles. Customers gingerly step over trash-filled puddles to inspect bottles of honey from forests in the north, and bits of bark used as painkillers laid out on the kerb.

"The pharmacist actually directed me here," says Sesan Gbadebo, a policeman who was having his corns sliced off with a scalpel and a grey powder made of ground leaves rubbed on to his swollen feet. "If it's a small thing I'll go to the hospital, but for real problems I prefer here."

Not everyone is a fan. The men are periodically chased away by officials, who say their unorthodox methods sometimes worsen serious illnesses and risk passing on diseases including HIV. The barbers say they are careful to change razors with each client, although a frequent lack of running water makes it all but impossible to sterilise equipment.

Still, their steady stream of clients shows no sign of abating. "They know how to use local medicines to the best effect," says Aliyu Raibu, as a barber who doubled as a therapist prepares to treat his aching back using an ancient blood-suction technique, in which a dried-out bull's horn draws painful clotted blood from a tiny incision in the skin.

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