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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1083666 times)
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« Reply #8490 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:29 AM »

September 2, 2013

Brazil Angered Over Report N.S.A. Spied on President


RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s government summoned the United States ambassador on Monday to respond to new revelations of American surveillance of President Dilma Rousseff and her top aides, complicating relations between the countries ahead of Ms. Rousseff’s state visit to Washington next month.

While senior Brazilian officials expressed indignation over the revelations of spying by the National Security Agency on both Ms. Rousseff and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto — reported Sunday on the Globo television network — they stopped short of saying whether Ms. Rousseff’s visit was at risk of being called off.

“This would be an unacceptable violation to our sovereignty, involving our head of state,” José Eduardo Cardozo, Brazil’s justice minister, said in an interview. Mr. Cardozo said that Brazil had requested an explanation from Washington regarding the revelations, emphasizing that he had already proposed in meetings with American officials a legal accord regulating United States intelligence activities in Brazil.

“Something like this would clearly not fit” within such an agreement, Mr. Cardozo said.

The report, based on documents provided by the fugitive N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden to Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist living in Brazil, described how the N.S.A. used different computer programs to filter through communications and gain access to specific e-mails, telephone calls and text messages of Ms. Rousseff’s top aides.

In the case of Mexico’s leader, the Globo report described how the N.S.A. obtained a text message from Mr. Peña Nieto himself in 2012, while he was a candidate for the presidency, that referred to an appointment he planned to make to his staff if elected.

Mexico’s response to the revelations was muted compared with Brazil’s. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was asking the United States in a diplomatic note for an “exhaustive investigation” into the matter, while also summoning the American ambassador to emphasize the government’s position.

Washington has been seeking to enhance its ties with Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, by reaching out to Ms. Rousseff. Her government was already angered by previous revelations that Brazil ranked among the N.S.A.’s most spied-upon countries.

While Brazil maintains generally warm ties with the United States, resentment lingers over the repressive eavesdropping by the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and the support of the United States for the coup that brought the military to power.

American officials here were put on the defensive just weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry briefly visited Brazil in August in an effort to ease tension over earlier reports describing how the N.S.A. had established a data collection center in Brasília, among the strategies the N.S.A. is said to have used to delve into Brazil’s large telecommunications hubs. 

The American Embassy in Brasília said Monday that it would not comment on the matter.

Beyond condemning American spying practices, Brazil is taking other steps. For instance, Gen. Sinclair Mayer, who runs the Brazilian Army’s science and technology department, recently told lawmakers of a plan to establish underwater Internet cables linking Brazil to Europe and Africa, reflecting an effort to reroute Internet traffic now going through the United States.

Brazil also said in August that it had chosen a French-Italian venture to build a satellite for military and civilian use, part of a bid to ensure sovereignty of important communications.

The Brazilian authorities have also ordered Brazil’s Postal Service to develop a national e-mail system allowing users to exchange encrypted messages that would presumably be harder for intelligence agencies to monitor. The new system, scheduled to begin in 2014, is intended as an alternative to American services like Gmail and Hotmail.

Cybersecurity experts have expressed skepticism, pointing to how even hackers have found ways to penetrate seemingly secure satellites and porous parts of the Internet, but Brazil is still moving ahead with the programs.

For Mexico, the report comes at an awkward time, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. scheduled to visit Mexico soon to promote economic talks and with American law enforcement officials continuing to chafe over the unexpected release of one of the most notorious drug lords from a Mexico prison.

The security relationship under Mr. Peña Nieto has been strained at times, with his government seeking to control American law enforcement activity in Mexico more tightly, but both countries have promised to collaborate closely and have worked on arrests.

Simon Romero reported from Rio de Janeiro, and Randal C. Archibold from Mexico City.
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« Reply #8491 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Nicaragua warns Costa Rica it may try to ‘reclaim’ province in court

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 3, 2013 3:44 EDT

President Daniel Ortega warned Costa Rica that Nicaragua may ask the International Court of Justice to restore to Managua a province he said it lost to “occupation” in 1824.

Ortega was referring to Guanacaste province, which is about 20 percent of neighboring Costa Rica’s territory and a popular tourism hub.

“Costa Rica did not win that territory in an international court, but rather by force, with arms,” Ortega said at a military ceremony on Monday.

He said he would like to negotiate with San Jose over the issue, an idea that has been rejected by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla.

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« Reply #8492 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:36 AM »

09/03/2013 11:20 AM

Path of a Tyrant: Uncovering Genghis Khan's Lost Legacy

By Frank Thadeusz

As competing researchers race to locate Genghis Khan's tomb, discoveries by German and Mongolian archaeologists are shedding light on his son Ögödei's equally impressive accomplishments.

His end didn't begin heroically. The Mongolian ruler simply fell off his horse. His hands and legs must have lost their strength. It was an embarrassing incident from which Genghis Khan never recovered.

Shortly thereafter, a procession of slaves and warriors escorted the ruler's body, wrapped in a white felt blanket, to its final resting place. Slivers of fragrant sandalwood were placed in the grave to prevent insects from gnawing at the body of the Great Khan.

But where exactly did the subjects bury the body of this tyrant, who is still revered by Mongolians today? Over the past century, scores of adventurers and archaeologists have searched in vain for Genghis Khan's grave.

Today, expeditions with high-tech equipment are racing to make the find. Not surprisingly, Mongolians claim their national hero's grave is located within the borders of their own country. A Russian historian, though, claims to have discerned from old sources that the nomadic leader was buried near the Mongolian border -- but on the Russian side, in the Republic of Tuva.

Meanwhile, Chinese researchers have sent an expedition to the foothills of the Altai Mountains, with the assumption this is where Genghis Khan was buried after he died during his last military campaign against the Tangut, in modern-day northern China.

Can Technology Find Genghis Khan?

The surly old Mongolian would have probably found pleasure in knowing that, nearly 800 years after his death, hordes of archaeologists are still wandering the steppes and deserts in search of his final remains. And it's certainly no coincidence that the search has proven so difficult.

According to one legend, Genghis Khan's underlings were given strict orders to eliminate all evidence that could lead to the spot where the ruler was rather humbly laid to rest. His loyal followers allegedly planted a grove of trees over his tomb, then Mongolian soldiers slaughtered the slaves who had dug the grave. After they returned home, these warriors were subsequently massacred by their own military comrades so no one could divulge even the slightest clue.

The most recent attempt to track down the Mongolian's tomb has been launched by 30-year-old Albert Lin from the University of California in San Diego. Pictures show the young, American scholar galloping on horseback across the magnificent Mongolian grasslands and posing in his adventure garb.

But despite what these images suggest, Lin isn't planning on using a pickax and a spade to dig up the earthly remains of the fabled Mongolian. The researcher is using radar and high-resolution satellite imagery to comb through the area around the holy mountain of Burkhan Khaldun, in the Khentii range in northern Mongolia -- where he believes Genghis Khan's grave is located.

The use of such high-tech equipment in the field is a novelty for technophile researchers, but, in this case, veteran archaeologists doubt modern gadgetry will lead to the desired results.

"I can't imagine how this could produce convincing proof. Simply finding a large burial complex in the Khentii region doesn't mean this is actually Genghis Khan's grave," says Hans-Georg Hüttel, who has been directing one of the most prominent excavation projects in Mongolia for many years.

Christina Franken, who is currently doing excavations in the medieval city of Karabalgasun, built by the nomadic Uighur people, sees the search for the grave as a "sensational treasure hunt."

The Other Khan

This opinion may also be fueled by a dash of frustration. Indeed, virtually unbeknownst to the general public, German and Mongolian archaeologists have made a sensational discovery 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of the capital Ulan Bator, where they have apparently found the remnants of the palace that Ögödei Khan built in the middle of the steppes.

Tragically for the researchers, hardly anyone has ever heard of Ögödei Khan.

This relatively unknown ruler wasn't even designated to ascend to the throne -- and his rise to power sheds light on the tangled circumstances of one of the most fascinating imperial dynasties of the Middle Ages.

As Genghis Khan's third son, Ögödei was not a prime candidate to succeed his father. This privilege was reserved for the firstborn son, Jochi. But while Genghis was exceedingly brutal and unscrupulous with his opponents, he was something of a pushover as a father.

Jochi and Chagatai clashed so violently over the planned succession that they tussled on the carpet of the Great Kahn's felt yurt, pummeling each other with their fists, while their father, the great warlord, pleaded with them to stop.

This episode ultimately led a man who, by the today's medical standards, could easily be described as a hardcore alcoholic, to become the ruler of the Mongolian Empire. Compared to his father's fiery temperament, though, Ögödei was a rather gentle soul.

'An Ingenious Reformer'

Historians see the youngest son as an ingenious reformer. He introduced paper currency and even established a postal system. But Ögödei's greatest accomplishment was building a city on the steppes that could be used to administrate his ostensibly ungovernable kingdom of nomads.

The idea dates back to his father, Genghis -- but who, opulent marauder that he was, preferred to continue spending his nights in the familiar shelter of traditional Mongolian tents. In the steppes of the fertile Orkhon Valley, archaeologists have found the stony remains of the famed settlement of Karakorum, which Marco Polo mentioned in his travel accounts.

By all appearances, Ögödei envisioned the satellite town as a multicultural city right from the start. "There was a Muslim and Chinese quarter here, Buddhist temples and mosques, and even a Christian church," says Hüttel, the archaeologist.

Thanks to geomagnetic surveys, researchers have discovered that the northwestern part of the city had no permanent buildings. This was presumably an early sort of camping ground, where the Mongolian city-dwellers pitched their tents. The tent residents weren't driven to pursue a trade or work in the fields -- two activities that help develop a fledgling community. Instead, the nomads-turned-city-dwellers into a leadership clique that surrounded the ruler of the city, Ögödei.

Two Very Different Legacies

The plan to build a city in the middle of nowhere was, of course, almost absurdly ambitious. Archaeologists have found the remains of large cottage industry workshops on the banks of the Orkhon River, all built by order of the ruling Khan. Agriculture and animal husbandry were also energetically pursued on the fertile pastures surrounding Karakorum. But these initiatives were far from enough to feed the city. The Mongolian ruling elite had to bring 500 ox carts filled with food from China every day in order to keep the project from rapidly turning into a fiasco.

Experts now agree that Ögödei was at least as important as his father. With his marauding campaigns of conquest, Gengis Khan had created the vast Mongolian Empire, which extended all the way to Europe, yet it was Ögödei who first succeeded in stabilizing this complex political entity by establishing a central administration. Hüttel says: "Without Ögödei, today's Mongolia would not exist."

His father may have risked his health by riding recklessly on his conquests, but Ögödei cultivated an entirely different vulnerability: He lived the high life and manically squandered his wealth. A few years before his death in 1241, the Mongolian ruler was bankrupt.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #8493 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:38 AM »

350-million-year-old Gondwana supercontinent land creature discovered

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 3, 2013 5:40 EDT

A 350-million-year-old fossilised scorpion discovered in South Africa is the oldest known land animal to have lived on Gondwana, part of Earth’s former supercontinent, a university said Monday.

The new species, named Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, provides tantalising clues about the development of life before Earth’s continents broke apart to form the globe that is familiar to us today, scientists said.

It is the earliest evidence yet of terrestrial animals on Gondwana, a land mass that included present-day Africa, South America and Australia and formed the southern part of a supercontinent called Pangaea.

So far evidence of such early land life had only been found on the northern part of Pangaea — “Laurasia,” which is today North America and Asia.

“There has been no evidence that Gondwana was inhabited by land living invertebrate animals at that time,” said Robert Gess who is based at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

Gess uncovered the scorpion fragments — with a pincer and a sting clearly showing in the rock — near Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

By the end of the Silurian period, some 416 million years ago, predatory invertebrates such as scorpions and spiders were feeding on invertebrates such as primitive insects who were the early land colonisers.

Laurasia was known to have invertebrates by the Late Silurian and during the Devonian period, when it was separated from Gondwana by the sea.

“For the first time we know for certain that not just scorpions, but whatever they were preying on were already present in the Devonian,” added Gess.

“We now know that by the end the Devonian period Gondwana also, like Laurasia, had a complex terrestrial ecosystem, comprising invertebrates and plants which had all the elements to sustain terrestrial vertebrate life that emerged around this time or slightly later,” said Gess.

The first vertebrates, from which humans eventually evolved, appeared some 350 million years ago.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal African Invertebrate.

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« Reply #8494 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:47 AM »

In the USA...

September 2, 2013

Vote on Syria Sets Up Foreign Policy Clash Between 2 Wings of G.O.P.


WASHINGTON — The Congressional vote on whether to strike Syria will offer the best insight yet on which wing of the Republican Party — the traditional hawks, or a growing bloc of noninterventionists — has the advantage in the fierce internal debates over foreign policy that have been taking place all year.

Republican divisions on national security have flared over the use of drones, aid to Egypt and the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency, and the tensions have played out publicly in battles between Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian-leaning freshman. Mr. McCain memorably called Mr. Paul and his compatriots “wacko birds,” and Mr. Paul suggested that hawks like Mr. McCain were “moss covered.”

But those intermittent spats could pale in comparison with the fight over whether to attack Syria, an issue on which Mr. McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, and Mr. Paul, a possible contender in 2016, will almost certainly be the leading spokesmen for their party’s two wings.

Mr. McCain has long advocated intervention in Syria’s civil war. After meeting with President Obama at the White House on Monday, he said that it would be “catastrophic” if Congress did not approve the president’s proposal and that such a rejection would result in the United States’s credibility being “shredded.”

Mr. Paul on Sunday made clear his opposition to Mr. Obama’s proposal, taking to Twitter and the talk shows to taunt Secretary of State John Kerry.

“John Kerry is, you know, he’s famous for saying, you know, how can you ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake?” Mr. Paul said. “I would ask John Kerry, how can you ask a man to be the first one to die for a mistake?”

A top aide to Mr. Paul said Sunday that the senator would mount a lobbying campaign in the House, where senior leaders like Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, who is the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, will face off against a new vanguard of members like Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, who are opposed to what they see as risky foreign entanglements.

But even Republicans who are not active supporters of Mr. Paul recognize that the country and their party are susceptible to a come-home-America message at a moment of war weariness and, among conservatives, profound distrust toward Mr. Obama.

“Americans have become increasingly inured to events thousands of miles away, within a distant and disconnected culture,” said a longtime Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos, citing a nation “exhausted by crises.” “They know our country is already overextended and doubt leaders who tell them there are ‘no good options’ but demand we choose one anyway.”

As a result, Mr. Castellanos said, “Rand Paul is actually in sync with a crisis-weary America and a fatigued G.O.P.”

Mr. Paul is very much aware that the vote offers just that chance to reorient, at least for now, the Republican center on foreign affairs. And the debate gives him the chance to re-establish himself as the leading voice of the libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement after months in which Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has won significant attention.

To Republicans concerned about next year’s midterm elections, such a divisive public battle amounts to a distraction. They would prefer to focus on issues that voters say they are most interested in: taxes, spending, Mr. Obama’s health care law.

But the Syria measure also has important implications for the 2016 Republican presidential contest. White House hopefuls in Congress will be forced to choose between the wishes of Tea Party activists opposed to a strike and the wishes of more traditional Republicans, whose ranks include some major donors and Israel supporters with whom presidential candidates typically align themselves.

And as the hawks are aware, a “yea” vote on taking action in Syria would put potential opponents of Mr. Paul, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Mr. Cruz, on the same side as Mr. Obama.

Dan Senor, a Republican strategist and foreign policy hand in President George W. Bush’s administration, lamented the trend of what he called “neo-isolationism” in either the Democratic or Republican Party when it does not hold the White House. But he acknowledged that the current mood of Republicans left Mr. Paul in a better position.

“He is a skilled enough politician to tap into these sentiments and take advantage of them,” Mr. Senor said.

Senior House Republican aides said there was little appetite in conservative districts for a strike on Syria, and, as one put it, “the administration doesn’t have one red cent of credibility in the bank” with members of Congress.

This is precisely what worries Republicans who support a more hawkish foreign policy.

“We cannot make this about the president versus Congress or him shuffling off responsibility,” Mr. Rogers, the Michigan Republican, said Sunday on “State of the Union” on CNN. “We can have all of those debates at another time. This is really about the credibility of the United States of America standing up for an antiproliferation and use of chemical and biological weapons.”

The hope among these interventionists is that they can make the vote less about enabling a despised Democratic president and more about sending a message not just to Syria but also to a potentially more dangerous nation: Iran.

“Right now, the easy Republican vote looks like the vote against Obama,” said Michael Goldfarb, a neoconservative lobbyist and writer. “Ten days from now, a vote against Obama could look like a vote for Assad, especially if Republicans succeed in blocking U.S. action, and Assad goes on to prevail, having used chemical weapons, with Iran at his side.”

Mr. Goldfarb’s message to Congressional Republicans is this: “Voting to let an Iranian proxy keep killing his own people with weapons of mass destruction may be as risky as it sounds.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also raised the danger from Iran on Monday afternoon after he and Mr. McCain met with Mr. Obama. “The connection between Syria and Iran is clear as a bell,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham, a longtime friend and ally of Mr. McCain, also had a message for those he called the libertarians: “Fortress America I just don’t think will work.”

Two potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, both expressed concern at a governors’ forum in July about the rising strength of national security libertarianism among Republicans, but they have so far kept quiet about Syria.

There will be many more votes and debates between the Syria resolution and the 2016 primaries. And the hawks note that although Mr. Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 in part because of her support for the Iraq war resolution, another Democratic presidential nominee, Mr. Kerry in 2004, fended off a liberal threat in a more dovish party even though he backed the same measure.

“Isolationist tendencies don’t do well in American politics over the long run,” Mr. Senor said.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 2, 2013

 An earlier version of this article misstated the Sunday morning program from which Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, was quoted. It was “State of the Union” on CNN, not “Face the Nation” on CBS.


September 02, 2013 12:30 PM

Reliable Sources Tackles Corporate Media's War Bias

By CrooksAndLiars

After the President announced his intentions to seek approval from Congress for action against the Syrian government, cable news reacted with extreme disappointment. Evidently they had hoped for some juicy war images to keep viewers riveted to the television on this Labor Day weekend.

On MSNBC Saturday, Col. Jack Jacobs was absolutely shameful. It was painful to listen to him rant about what a mistake it was for the President to follow the Constitution and take this to Congress. A sign of weakness, he said. A gift to the Assad regime, propaganda fodder. He even went so far as to suggest that John Kerry and Chuck Hagel would resign because the President had somehow undermined them. His unspoken message to viewers was that a debate on action in Syria was a sign of weakness rather than strength.

The Sunday shows, with the one exception of Reliable Sources, were beating the war drums hard this morning in a punitive effort to undermine what should be viewed as a principled decision. ThinkProgress:

    Though Kerry, who appeared on all five political programs, insisted that Obama’s decision would allow for the proper constitutional process and permit the administration “time to reach out to allies, friends around the world, build support on an international basis,” the hosts appeared to dismiss any need for Congressional deliberations or public debate about the administration’s evidence or the potential consequences of a military attack. NBC’s David Gregory, Fox’s Chris Wallace, CBS’s Major Garrett, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, and CNN’s Gloria Borger went beyond inquiring about the political timing of Obama’s decision to consult with Congress on Saturday. They repeatedly claimed that Obama’s decision to hold off on immediate military action emboldened America’s adversaries and undermined the nation’s “credibility”:

Over and over again. The transcript of This Week reads like a rant against a President for not unleashing death and destruction on Syria. Terry Moran laid the guilt on heavily and thick:

    MORAN: Devastating, George. On Twitter and in public statements, leaders of that fractured opposition in Syria are expressing disappointment and disillusion with American leadership.

    One of the leaders of one of those factions said the people of Syria are all alone now. They believe that the chemical weapons attack that they argue was carried out by Assad's regime has been carried out with impunity, and that the world is not ready to do anything.

    Obama's leadership image in the Syrian opposition is probably at an all-time low right now, George.

Unsaid: The Syrian opposition is a loose coalition of various interests who are not necessarily allies of the United States. Also unspoken was any mention of the various players in the region using Syria's civil war as a proxy war for their own interests, including Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are in it purely to consolidate power in the region, but that goes unmentioned.

Anyone who paid even a little bit of attention to the media frenzy ahead of Iraq saw it again this past week. Granted, some of it was sparked by the White House and Department of State, but the media did not really approach it critically at all.

Less than six months ago, there was a collective reckoning of sorts by media over how they had mishandled the Iraq War. They confessed to a lack of skepticism and being caught up in the emotion of the moment, which is of course what the Bush administration hoped for. David Corn wrote an entire book about it, and cautioned that it could easily happen again. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of that spectacular media failure, Corn said this:

    “Nowadays when we look at small interventions, either through the drone war or Libya or possible attack on Iran or something in Syria, it doesn’t have as widespread a national debate attached to it and thus it might be easier for some sort of repeat to happen,” Corn said

    “A re-run, in a different way, remains possible,” Corn added. “When you look at drones, we can’t have a strong public debate about it because a lot of it is classified. The government and people supporting the policy will say, ‘we know.’ In essence, you have to trust us.”

Yet. Now we have a situation where the President has clearly said we absolutely should have a robust public debate about Syria rather than rushing in like fools, and our media response is to parade the generals across the screen telling us how Assad is rejoicing and how our credibility is in the toilet.

This is not responsible press coverage, and Reliable Sources addressed it well. The transcript (courtesy of CNN) is below the fold, and represents possibly the only instance of anyone actually having a look at the nonsense spewed by those 'trusted names in news' with the benefit of history in the picture. I give CNN props. Since Howie Kurtz made his exit, Reliable Sources is actually looking like a legitimate media criticism show. I hope they keep up the good work.

    STELTER: We keep hearing it on TV, and it's true. Syria is not Iraq. But it's understandable why the anticipated U.S. military action against Syria has reminded a lot of people of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago.

    Back then, in that fear-stricken period right after 9/11, newspapers and television networks were criticized for all sorts of things, for going right along with the Bush administration, for failing to raise questions like what happens after the bombs fall, and for ignoring anti-war voices.

    This time are we seeing more caution from the press? Joining me here around the table to discuss that is Michael Calderone, the senior media reporter for "The Huffington Post", Matt Lewis, a senior contributor to "The Daily Caller", and Laura Rozen, a foreign policy reporter for "Al-Monitor".

    Thank you all for joining us. I appreciate it.

    And, Michael, you've been writing and tweeting all week about the media coverage. Do you sense the shadow of Iraq looming overall of this?

    MICHAEL CALDERONE, HUFFINGTON POST: Definitely. I think you see some lessons learned from Iraq and maybe some forgotten. You know, there has been some cover over the past week where it seemed very similar to pre-Iraq coverage in that you had the government basically disclosing bits of information. This is before the government's assessment on Friday.

    And reporters running with these anonymous sources basically suggesting that the government is certain, without necessarily explaining why the government is certain. I think that's where coverage has been problematic.

    At the same time, I've talked with several editors who say we're pushing our reporters to think about Iraq. Not that the two conflicts are the same. They're very different. But to think about when you're looking at the government's case, are you being skeptical enough? Are you getting a chance to personally scrutinize the information or have sources that scrutinize the information versus just what you're hearing in a background briefing?

    STELTER: Right, right.

    Matt, I thought you wrote a really interesting essay this week about how the media beats the drums any time there's a conflict. You suggested there's really a bias in favor of war among the media. Why is that? And what do you think that is?

    MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: What is deja vu in a perverse excitement. It reminds me living here in D.C. when a snowstorm is imminent and the meteorologists get giddy about it. And it's really bizarre and disturbing.

    But look, Michael made a good point, I think, about print reporters getting it right and vetting and do a good job. But I think to me the story now is 24-hour cable, which I think as a medium is predisposed to beat the drums of war, even more than print. Because, you know, print is more about logic and I love TV, so I don't want to attack TV, but TV is about emotion, it's about graphics and imagery and theme music. And I think cable TV is where I've noticed more this time where it's really just like Iraq until what happened yesterday, of course.

    STELTER: There was a change in the tone both in the media and in the administration.

    Laura, do you agree there's that bias toward war in the press?

    LAURA ROZEN, AL-MONITOR: I think it was stunning yesterday that you had, you know, all the media kind of going live to the White House Rose Garden, waiting for Obama's statement.


    ROZEN: Breaking into sports coverage -- right, and the White House had to, when they saw that expectation building, the White House had to, you know, indicate that he wasn't going to be imminent action. You had Syrian state TV covering the speech live with translation because they're wondering when the missiles were going to strike.

    So, the gap between expectations was stunning.

    STELTER: And it still sort of is. We're seeing now the stories online and on television about what has changed. It seemed to me early in the week the media was expecting imminent action. And maybe that's because the administration was as well.

    ROZEN: You're talking about the bias towards war. I think the administration has been building momentum for their case. Secretary of State Kerry made a very powerful speech Friday. You know, the world will judge us extraordinarily harshly if Assad gets away with it. So, they were making the case, they were selling it. Kerry is again on TV this morning selling the necessity for Congress to authorize this.

    STELTER: Right, right. Michael, you pointed out you're hearing terms from an administration that we did hear before Iraq.

    CALDERONE: Right. Is it a slam dunk going right back to the Bush administration and George Tenet giving his assurance to George Bush, is this a smoking gun. This came up in a "New York Times" story just this week. We're hearing the same metaphors and I think that's what be evoking this pre-Iraq sense of what's happening, even if the conflicts are quite different.

    And I think the media needs to be careful in overusing these sort of terms. Even on today on "Meet the Press", I think John Kerry said he wants to take slam dunk out of the national security conversation. So, he's making his push. We'll see what the press does.

    STELTER: We've seen a lot of anonymous sources and I wonder if there's any way around that. Because when readers and viewers hear anonymous sources, they're very skeptical. They wonder if they should trust the information. You'd been talking to some of these sources. Should we trust these anonymous sources we're hearing? Can they come on the record and talk?

    ROZEN: You know, it's very interesting. Before the administration released this four-page declassified assessment of their intelligence, which is pretty detailed, the associated press had a story last week where they used slam dunk where they had anonymous intelligence officials telling them that Assad's inner circle having ordered the alleged chemical weapons attack was not a slam dunk.

    So, "The A.P.'s" skepticism was quite clear but they were arguing against the case the administration wasn't making, which was that Syrian forces did it. It doesn't matter if Assad ordered it or not.

    LEWIS: But, you know, the enabling that I think happens with especially cable TV, media, and the run-up, the skepticism sort of goes out the window. Everybody is sleep deprived. They're hungry for sources. They want to break news.

    There's a conflict of interest. We like to -- you know, we like excitement. We like to imagery, and I think also the emotion.

    Remember with the sarin gas attack or gas attack, use of chemical weapons. When you show imagery of people foaming at the mouth and suffering, Americans are compassionate. They will wants to get involved.

    Now, the logic goes out the window, who did it, is there anything we can do about it almost doesn't matter. TV is an emotional medium. So I think with cable TV, there will be a push to war.

    STELTER: Let me put up a tweet on the screen that I thought was really interesting a couple of days ago. The person wrote are progressive war critics, the folks who were right about Iraq, are they right about the war again? I've seen a lot of anti-war voices on television. Do you feel like both progressive and conservative libertarian anti-war voices are getting a fair shake?

    LEWIS: Absolutely. You have Alan Grayson on one side and you have Rand Paul on the other. And I think that a big difference between this time and a decade go is you have more prominent anti-war voices. Like Rand Paul is now in the U.S. Senate. It didn't happen a decade ago.

    But I almost -- I hate to beat a dead horse about beating drums, but it almost doesn't matter.

    The talking heads can be saying that war is bad, but you've got the graphics. Crisis in Syria. You've got the theme music and you've got the B-roll footage of people suffering. The words that are said almost go out the window.

    CALDERONE: I think that Twitter is playing a big role here.

    STELTER: In amplifying these voices.

    CALDERONE: Right. I mean, a lot of people speculated in 2003 if some of the critical skeptical reporting had gotten amplified, you know, how would that affected the rush to war? Articles in "Knight Ridder" and "McClatchy" who were critical article its before Iraq just don't get the play that "The New York Times" does or "The Washington Post" does.

    So I think you're seeing a lot of different voices. Whether from members of Congress who are skeptical, whether from progressive activists, libertarian activists or, you know, reporting that is quite critical getting a little bit more play.

    STELTER: You've been prolific on Twitter, Laura, I like how you've been responding to critics and responding to people and explaining what the administration is thinking on a one-to-one basis. It's pretty powerful.

    ROZEN: It is extraordinary. You had, you know, people in Lebanon, people in Syria really bracing in the past day for imminent action, U.N. inspector --

    STELTER: Right, their posts from Damascus --

    ROZEN: Right. And you have pro and con. You were hoping for people who were afraid of it. Very few people knew what to expect. A lot of people don't understand that this is what Obama has been talking about is a limited action not to reverse Syria's civil war all by itself.

    But two days of missile strikes, to punish and deter the use of chemical weapons. So, this is not about redoing Iraq, going in for ten years, but there's an extraordinary amount of debate really worldwide.

    STELTER: Right. And it may end up going on for a month before anything happens.

    Well, Laura, Matt, Michael, thank you all for joining us.

    CALDERONE: Thanks.

    LEWIS: Thanks.

    ROZEN: Thanks.


Republicans Union Busting Backfires As Support For Unions Rises 10 Points

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 2nd, 2013

The latest Pew Research Survey has found that as Republican governors has been busting unions over the last two years, union favorability has risen from 41% to 51%.

According to Pew, support for unions has risen most among liberal Democrats (67% to 80%), moderate to conservative Democrats (56%-70%), moderate to liberal Republicans (34%-44%), and Independents (36%-44%). Union support has fallen slightly with conservative Republicans (24%-23%).

With income inequality reaching historic levels, it’s no surprise that many Americans who were swayed away from unions by decades of Republican union bashing are beginning to appreciate the benefits of collective bargaining. It is not a coincidence that rising support for unions comes at the same time that Republicans have been waging a full assault on collective bargaining.

The message is that once again, the conservative Republicans who are guiding the Republican Party are massively out of step with the rest of the country.

It turns out that the rest of America doesn’t hate unions as much as the Republican Party does. (This doesn’t bode well for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s dreams of being elected president in 2016.) Union busting may play well within the Republican Party, but the Koch fueled anti-union agenda is turning more Americans against the GOP, and back towards supporting unions.

The landscape in the private sector is still difficult for unions. Union membership continues to decline. Federal enforcement of labor laws is so weak that corporate giants such as Walmart flaunt the law with impunity. But if things are ever going to change, unions are going to need popular support. When Americans support unions, it becomes more difficult for political leaders to look the other way.

Public support is the first step needed on the path to rebuilding the labor movement in this country. The conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans that Ronald Reagan wooed with the language of union busting are starting to swing back into the pro-labor column. As Americans rethink their opinions on unions, Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to dismantle the public sector backbone of organized labor.

The bills are coming due, and the Republican Party may pay a heavy price for their inequality creating/union busting ways.

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US draft resolution allows Obama 90 days for military action against Syria

Senate foreign relations committee agrees on attacks while ruling out ground troops as president's push for action against Assad regime gathers momentum in Congress    

Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Wednesday 4 September 2013 08.28 BST   

US senators will begin a series of votes on Wednesday to authorise a 90-day window for US military action against Syria, as the Obama administration's campaign to win over sceptics in Congress gained momentum.

A new draft resolution was agreed by leaders of the Senate foreign relations committee after secretary of state John Kerry pressed a forceful case for striking against the Assad regime. Earlier, Barack Obama secured the backing of the Republican leadership at a key White House meeting.

The president headed for Europe on Tuesday night for what promised to be a testy meeting of the G20 group of industrialised nations. After a short visit to Sweden, Obama will travel to St Petersburg in Russia where the host of the G20, Pig Putin, is likely to give the US a rough ride over its plans for air strikes against Syria.

In Washington, key members of Congress swung behind the administration on Tuesday. At the senate foreign relations committee, Kerry and the defence secretary Chuck Hagel were pressed hard to clarify the role of ground forces, but got an otherwise sympathetic reception.

In the evening, details emerged of the committee's revisions to a the White House's proposals for a military authorisation. They set a window limited to 60 days for military action – during which Obama could order the limited, tailored strikes he has foreshadowed – while allowing for a single 30-day extension subject to conditions. Democrat committee chairman Bob Menendez and his Republican counterpart Bob Corker also added a provision banning any use of US armed forces on the ground in Syria.

Committee members are now expected to begin "marking up" the resolution – voting on specific amendments – following a further classified briefing on Wednesday morning. The House of Representatives, where Obama is likely to get a rougher ride, begins its deliberations with a public hearing on Wednesday. Full votes before the Senate and House are expected on Monday.

Sceptical Republicans appeared to have been won over by tougher rhetoric from the White House. For the first time, Obama portrayed his plans for US military action in Syria as part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad. While stressing that Washington's primary goal remained "limited and proportional" attacks to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, the president hinted at a long-term mission that may ultimately bring about a change of regime.
Link to video: Obama: Syria military strikes will be 'limited, proportional'

"It also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region," Obama told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting earlier on Tuesday.

The president has long spoken of the US desire to see Assad step down, but this was the first time he has linked that policy objective to his threatened military strikes against Syria. It follows pressure on Monday, from senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to make such a goal more explicit.

The apparent change of emphasis appeared to resolve some of the political deadlock on Capitol Hill, as House speaker John Boehner and a series of other Republican leaders announced they would back the president's call for military authorisation from Congress.

The endorsement of GOP leaders could be important in winning over the Republican-controlled House, where Obama has failed to win any support since his re-election in November. But even the Republican leadership has struggled to control Tea Party radicals in the House, and an anti-interventionist wing in the Senate led by Rand Paul remains a substantial challenge for the White House.

"I'm going to support the president's call for action, and I believe my colleagues should support the president's call for action," Boehner said after meeting the president at the White House. "The use of these weapons has to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behaviour is not to be tolerated."

So far, the tougher US rhetoric does not seem to have deterred Democrats who back the president's call for military action on humanitarian grounds. Emerging from the White House meeting shortly after Boehner, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said Syria's alleged used of chemical weapons was "outside the circle of acceptable human behaviour", but said she would not whip Democrats into voting yes.

"I don't think congressional authorisation is necessary, but I do think it is a good thing, and I think we can achieve it," she added.

For nearly three hours of the subsequent Senate committee hearing the only voices speaking against intervention were those of anti-war campaigners repeatedly ejected by security staff. When senators Rand Paul and Tom Udall eventually began more hostile questioning of Kerry, he brushed it off by asking them to consider what Syria's response might be to a US decision not to strike. "I guarantee you there would be further chemical attacks," Kerry told Paul.

The administration received crucial backing from chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, who had recently been openly sceptical of the merits of US military intervention. Dempsey said the evidence of alleged Syrian chemical weapons use had changed his mind.

But Kerry was forced to backtrack after appearing to acknowledge that US ground troops could become involved under certain scenarios. "In the event that Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else, and it was clearly in the interests of our allies, all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction [falling into their hands]," Kerry said, "I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president."

Five times in subsequent exchanges the secretary insisted he had not meant to imply that "boots on the ground" was something actively planned by the administration. He faced hostile questioning from Republican hawk John McCain who asked why the administration was not going further in helping Syrian rebels overthrow Assad. But McCain made it clear he would vote in favour of a resolution to authorise military action.

With the chances of successful votes in Congress next week looking a little stronger, Obama will now head to Europe in the hope of persuading more world leaders to back his strategy.

President François Hollande of France called on Europe's leaders to unite over Syria, but hopes in Washington that Britain might hold a fresh parliamentary vote over joining military action were dashed on Monday, when prime minister David Cameron ruled out such a move.

The White House first announced that it would provide limited military support to Syrian rebel groups in June, but it has been criticised for dragging its heels over fears that arms might fall into the wrong hands.

The alleged chemical attacks by Assad forces now seem to have strengthened the hands of those in Washington who favour more direct assistance. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that CIA-trained rebels were now operating inside Syria.


September 3, 2013

House Leaders Express Their Support for Syria Strike


WASHINGTON — President Obama won the support on Tuesday of Republican and Democratic leaders in the House for an attack on Syria, giving him a foundation to win broader approval for military action from a Congress that still harbors deep reservations.

Speaker John A. Boehner, who with other Congressional leaders met Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, said afterward that he would “support the president’s call to action,” an endorsement quickly echoed by the House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia.

On Tuesday evening, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on the wording of a resolution that would give Mr. Obama the authority to carry out a strike against Syria, for a period of 60 days, with one 30-day extension. A committee vote on the measure could come as early as Wednesday.

Uncertainties abound, particularly in the House, where the imprimatur of the Republican leadership does not guarantee approval by rebellious rank and file, and where vocal factions in both parties are opposed to anything that could entangle the nation in another messy conflict in the Middle East.

Still, the expressions of support from top Republicans who rarely agree with Mr. Obama on anything suggest the White House may be on firmer footing than seemed the case on Saturday, when the president abruptly halted his plans for action in the face of growing protests from Congress.

Mr. Obama is now headed to Sweden and Russia, where he will try to shore up an international coalition to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack and will probably encounter some of the same debates that are cleaving the Capitol.

Before his departure, the White House intensified what has become the most extraordinary lobbying campaign of Mr. Obama’s presidency as it deployed members of his war council and enlisted political alumni of his 2008 campaign to press the argument with the public.

“This is not the time for armchair isolationism,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, who answered sharp questions and defended the administration’s strategy for Syria in nearly four hours of sometimes sharp exchanges before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Kerry stirred some confusion about the potential scope of American military involvement when he tried to carve out an exception to a proposed Congressional prohibition on the use of ground troops in Syria — something Mr. Obama and other officials have long ruled out as a general principle.

If Syria were to fall into complete chaos and if the chemical weapons of President Bashar al-Assad’s government there were at risk of falling into the hands of a militant group like Al Nusra, Mr. Kerry said, “I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”

Later, under questioning by Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican, Mr. Kerry walked back his comment, insisting that he had only been speaking about a hypothetical case. “Let’s shut that door now as tight as we can,” Mr. Kerry said, without quite doing so. “There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”

The Senate resolution — released on Tuesday night by Mr. Corker and the committee’s chairman, Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey — would limit the president’s options and prohibit the use of ground forces. Any strike, it says, should be “tailored” to only deter Syria from using chemical weapons again and to cripple its capacity to do so.

The resolution would prohibit “boots on the ground” and require “the Obama administration to submit their broader plan for Syria,” Mr. Corker said in a statement.

Mr. Menendez added, “We have an obligation to act.”

In one of the most heated moments of the hearing earlier, Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, said that Mr. Obama might go through with an attack if Congress failed to authorize it. Mr. Kerry said that he did not know what Mr. Obama would decide but that the president had the authority to do so under the Constitution.

It was a vivid tableau: Mr. Kerry — the former senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2003, then turned against it — imploring his ex-colleagues to authorize an act of war.

Although he appeared alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — another former senator — and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Mr. Kerry dominated the hearing. He seemed keenly aware of the echoes of Iraq.

“We were here for that vote,” Mr. Kerry said. “We voted. So we are especially sensitive — Chuck and I — to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence. And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and rescrubbed the evidence.”

Mr. Kerry said the intelligence proved that the “Assad regime prepared for this attack, issued instructions to prepare for this attack, warned its own forces to use gas masks,” and the intelligence included “physical evidence of where the rockets came from and when.”

Mr. Hagel, who, like Mr. Kerry, is a veteran of the Vietnam War, used another argument used by previous administrations: a warning that authoritarian governments with arsenals of unconventional weapons could transfer them to terrorist groups.

Casting the issue as one of self-defense, the defense secretary also underscored the threat to American military personnel across the region. He said other dictators around the world and militant groups like Hezbollah might be emboldened if the United States did not punish the Assad government. “The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only an assault on humanity,” Mr. Hagel said. “It is a serious threat to America’s national security interests and those of our closest allies.”

Before the hearing began, and again after Mr. Kerry spoke, protesters from the antiwar group Code Pink jumped up and shouted against military action. “Kerry, no more war in Syria!” one demonstrator exclaimed, adding that America needed health care and education more than military action.

Although the declared goal of a strike on Syria would be to degrade its ability to launch a chemical weapons attack and deter any future use, General Dempsey was asked whether such an attack would also diminish to a broader extent the Assad military’s abilities.

“Yes,” he replied.

General Dempsey was a subdued presence in the hearing. Although he, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel sought to present a unified front, they have had differences over how to respond to the conflict in Syria in recent months. Mr. Kerry has pushed to provide military support to the rebels and consider deeper military involvement, and General Dempsey has repeatedly highlighted the risks of intervention.

Similar differences were on display among lawmakers who spoke during the Senate hearing or after the meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, said she supported the president and sent a letter to fellow Democrats urging that they fall into line. But she conceded, “In my district, I don’t think people are convinced that military action is necessary.”

Ms. Pelosi’s comments reflected her dilemma as a leader of the president’s party, which still has a strong liberal antiwar wing. “The American people need to hear more about the intelligence,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said that despite his support for Mr. Obama, the Republican leadership would not lean on other Republicans to vote for military action and would leave that lobbying to the White House. Mr. Boehner’s stance will ease the pressure on him from members of his party, who believe the United States has no business in Syria. It will increase the pressure on Ms. Pelosi.

The calendar is Mr. Obama’s enemy: Many members from both parties are still back in their districts hearing from constituents, and the feedback, based on numerous interviews, is overwhelmingly negative.

On Tuesday, however, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, threw its support behind military action in Syria, citing the need to send a strong message to Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, both of which support Mr. Assad.

“Iran is watching us very carefully,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and a staunch defender of Israel.

Jennifer Steinhauer, Ashley Parker and Jeremy Peters contributed reporting.


09/03/2013 01:39 PM

Gas Attack: Germany Offers Clue in Search for Truth in Syria

By Matthias Gebauer

German intelligence agrees with other Western agencies that the Assad regime was behind the Aug. 21 poison gas attack in Syria. One important clue was provided by a telephone conversation intercepted by German agents.

Germany has said in no uncertain terms that it will not participate in a strike on Syria without the backing of the United Nations Security Council. But the country's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), agrees with the US position which holds Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for the poison gas attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21. In a secret briefing to select lawmakers on Monday, BND head Gerhard Schindler said that while there is still no incontestable proof, analysis of the evidence at hand has led his intelligence service to believe that Assad's regime is to blame.

In the briefing, Schindler said that only the Assad regime is in possession of binary chemical weapons such as sarin. The BND believes that regime experts would be the only ones capable of manufacturing such weapons and deploying them with small missiles. The BND believes that such weapons had been used several times prior to the attack on Aug. 21, which is believed to have killed more than 1,400 people. Schindler said in the earlier attacks, however, the poison gas mixture was diluted, explaining the much lower death tolls in those assaults.

During his 30-minute presentation, Schindler offered up scenarios to explain why the Assad regime resorted to chemical weapons use, including, he said, the possibility that Assad sees himself involved in a crucial battle for Damascus. The city is besieged by rebel groups, with particular pressure coming from the east. Schindler believes it is possible that the regime ordered the use of poison gas as a way of intimidating the rebels. It could also be the case that errors were made in mixing the gas and it was much more potent than anticipated, he said.

The analysis presented by the BND is similar to that produced by the US. The American report holds that the poisonous gas was delivered via several small missiles that can be fired from mobile launch units. Casings found at the scenes of the gas attacks indicate that they were 107 mm rockets, which the regime possesses in large numbers. Schindler emphasized that the rebels are unable to carry out such a concerted attack.

An Additional Clue

Although the samples collected on site last week by United Nations weapons inspectors are still being analyzed, the BND is relatively certain that the chemical agent in question is sarin. Schindler noted that the BND intercepted a telephone call in which a doctor precisely described several of the symptoms patients suffered from -- and they were all consistent with exposure to sarin. The UN samples will likely offer the final proof, but analysis could take several more weeks.

Schindler also presented an additional clue, one that has not thus far been made public. He said that the BND listened in on a conversation between a high-ranking member of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which supports Assad and provides his regime with military assistance, and the Iranian Embassy. The Hezbollah functionary, Schindler reported, seems to have admitted that poison gas was used. He said that Assad lost his nerves and made a big mistake by ordering the chemical weapons attack.

The new information from the BND could become important in the coming days. Thus far the US has only noted that after the attack, intelligence agencies had intercepted internal government communications indicating concern about a possible UN inspection of the site. The telephone conversation intercepted by the BND could be an important piece in the puzzle currently being assembled by Western intelligence experts.

Schindler on Monday gave no indication as to the weight being given to the intercepted telephone call and said that his agency only shares intelligence directly with France. But it seems likely that the BND has also informed the US, where President Barack Obama is currently lobbying for Congressional support for a Syria strike. French President François Hollande is likewise under pressure from the opposition to get parliamentary approval prior to taking action in Syria.

German Surveillance in the Med

Despite its refusal to take part in a strike on Syria, Germany's military is nevertheless preparing for a possible escalation should the US and France take action. The German warship Sachsen is currently in the Mediterranean and is prepared to evacuate Germans and other foreigners from Lebanon should the need arise. An internal check is likewise underway to determine what assistance might be available to Jordan in the event of a chemical weapons attack from Syria.

Furthermore, a German ship outfitted with highly sensitive surveillance equipment is currently stationed off the coast of Syria. It is able to intercept telephone and other radio communications deep inside the war-torn country. The German military indicated on Monday that it would likely remain there even in the case of a US attack. Sources say, however, that the ship was unable to deliver useful intelligence related to the chemical weapons attacks due to the mountains between Damascus and the coastline.


09/04/2013 12:36 PM

Chemical Evidence: German Lab to Analyze Samples from Syria

Samples collected by UN chemical weapons experts in Syria have been brought to Germany for analysis, according to a German newspaper. The information comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not rule out military action against Syria.

A German military laboratory is reportedly analyzing evidence collected by UN inspectors in Syria to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in the civil war there, a German newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The Scientific Institute for Defense Technologies (WIS) in the small town of Münster, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Hamburg, is the only large-scale German institute that researches defense against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the institute had received samples of concrete and textiles collected in Syria to search for traces of poison gas.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report because the locations of the analyses were meant to be kept secret. However the WIS is one of several labs across the globe associated with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, one of the main collaborators in the UN investigation.

Germany is one country that has avoided holding the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the civil war. Analyzing samples taken from Syria at a German laboratory could thus provide a greater perception of objectivity in the investigation, which the UN has promised would be independent and accurate.

The investigation's mandate is limited to determining whether chemical weapons were used at all in Syria -- not which side in the war used them.

Pig Putin Does Not Rule Out Military Action

The 20 UN inspectors arrived in Syria on Aug. 18, tasked with investigating three sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks. On Aug. 21, rebels reported a massive chemical attack east of Damascus that is believed to have killed some 1,400 people. The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attack, but initially refused to allow the UN team to visit the site. Permission was finally granted five days later -- after the area had been massively shelled. Western nations accused the government of trying to destroy evidence of the chemical attack.

The full analysis of samples from Syria was initially expected to last up to three weeks. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked the team to speed up its work.

The United States has led international calls for an attack on Syria in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack. The greatest hindrance to those calls has been Russia, which has blocked any action against Syria in the UN Security Council.

Russian President Pig Putin said Wednesday that he would not rule out agreeing to military intervention in Syria if there were proof that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons. However the limited mandate to the UN investigation means such proof could remain elusive. The United States and Great Britain have both partially released intelligence reports they say prove the Syrian government's guilt, but that evidence has been dismissed by Syria and its allies.

"We have no data that those chemical substances -- it is not yet clear whether it was chemical weapons or simply some harmful chemical substances -- were used precisely by the official government army," Pig Putin said in an interview with AP and Russia's First Channel.



'We have our plans': Pig Putin warns US against Syria military action

Russian president says it is too early to say what Russia will do but does not exclude supporting a UN resolution

Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Haroon Siddique and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Wednesday 4 September 2013 11.55 BST   

Pig Putin has warned the US against launching military action in Syria, stating that Russia has "plans" on how it would react if such a scenario unfolded.

The Russian president's comments came as Barack Obama for the first time portrayed his plans for US military action as part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad, as the White House's campaign to win over sceptics in Congress gained momentum.

In an interview with Associated Press and Russia's state Channel 1 television, the Pig said it was too early to talk about what Russia would do if the US attacked Syria but added: "We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise. We have our plans."

At the same time he said Russia did not exclude supporting a UN resolution on punitive military strikes if it were proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. But he described the idea that Syrian government forces would use chemical weapons at a time when he said they were in the ascendancy and knowing the potential repercussions as absurd. Given his comments, and the fact that Russia has protected Syria from punitive action at the UN security council before, his suggestion that Russia might support a resolution on strikes is unlikely to be given much credence in the US.

Senators will begin a series of votes on Wednesday to authorise a 90-day window for US military action against Syria.

A new draft resolution was agreed by leaders of the Senate foreign relations committee after the secretary of state, John Kerry, pressed a forceful case for striking against the Assad regime. Earlier, Obama secured the backing of the Republican leadership at a key White House meeting.

The president headed for Europe on Tuesday night for what promised to be a testy meeting of the G20 group of industrialised nations. After a short visit to Sweden, Obama will travel to Saint Petersburg in Russia.

On Wednesday afternoon, the French parliament will debate the question of intervention in Syria, but without a vote. After addresses to the parliament and senate from the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, MPs and senators will thrash out their views on whether and how – as the president, François Hollande, has stated – the Syrian regime should be "punished" for chemical weapons use. Opposition MPs have warned France must not merely "tag along" behind Washington but the government insists it is determined to act.

Hollande, who is granted vast presidential powers by the French constitution, is not obliged to seek a parliament vote before ordering military action. But the possibility of a vote at a later stage, once intervention plans are clearer, has not been ruled out. Hollande has said that once he has all the elements in place, he will address the French people on the Syria issue – most likely in a televised speech.

Pig Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow had provided some components of the S-300 air defence missile system to Syria but has frozen further shipments. He warned: "If we see that steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world."

The statement could be a veiled threat to revive a contract for the delivery of the S-300s to Iran, which Russia cancelled a few years ago under strong US and Israeli pressure.

In Washington, key members of Congress swung behind the administration on Tuesday. At the senate foreign relations committee, Kerry and the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, were pressed hard to clarify the role of ground forces, but got an otherwise sympathetic reception.

In the evening, details emerged of the committee's revisions to a the White House's proposals for a military authorisation. They set a window limited to 60 days for military action – during which Obama could order the limited, tailored strikes he has foreshadowed – while allowing for a single 30-day extension subject to conditions. The Democrat committee chairman, Bob Menendez, and his Republican counterpart, Bob Corker, also added a provision banning any use of US armed forces on the ground in Syria.

Committee members are now expected to begin "marking up" the resolution – voting on specific amendments – following a further classified briefing on Wednesday morning. The House of Representatives, where Obama is likely to get a rougher ride, begins its deliberations with a public hearing on Wednesday. Full votes before the Senate and House are expected on Monday.

Sceptical Republicans appeared to have been won over by tougher rhetoric from the White House. While stressing that Washington's primary goal remained "limited and proportional" attacks to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, the president hinted at a long-term mission that may ultimately bring about a change of regime.

"It also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region," Obama told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting earlier on Tuesday.

The president has long spoken of the US desire to see Assad step down, but this was the first time he has linked that policy objective to his threatened military strikes against Syria. It follows pressure on Monday, from senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to make such a goal more explicit.

The apparent change of emphasis appeared to resolve some of the political deadlock on Capitol Hill, as House speaker John Boehner and a series of other Republican leaders announced they would back the president's call for military authorisation from Congress.

The endorsement of GOP leaders could be important in winning over the Republican-controlled House, where Obama has failed to win any support since his re-election in November. But even the Republican leadership has struggled to control Tea Party radicals in the House, and an anti-interventionist wing in the Senate led by Rand Paul remains a substantial challenge for the White House.

"I'm going to support the president's call for action, and I believe my colleagues should support the president's call for action," Boehner said, after meeting the president at the White House. "The use of these weapons has to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behaviour is not to be tolerated."

So far, the tougher US rhetoric does not seem to have deterred Democrats who back the president's call for military action on humanitarian grounds. Emerging from the White House meeting shortly after Boehner, The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, said Syria's alleged used of chemical weapons was "outside the circle of acceptable human behaviour", but said she would not whip Democrats into voting yes.

"I don't think congressional authorisation is necessary, but I do think it is a good thing, and I think we can achieve it," she added.

For nearly three hours of the subsequent Senate committee hearing the only voices speaking against intervention were those of anti-war campaigners repeatedly ejected by security staff. When senators Rand Paul and Tom Udall eventually began more hostile questioning of Kerry, he brushed it off by asking them to consider what Syria's response might be to a US decision not to strike. "I guarantee you there would be further chemical attacks," Kerry told Paul.

The administration received crucial backing from chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, who had recently been openly sceptical of the merits of US military intervention. Dempsey said the evidence of alleged Syrian chemical weapons use had changed his mind.

But Kerry was forced to backtrack after appearing to acknowledge that US ground troops could become involved under certain scenarios. "In the event that Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else, and it was clearly in the interests of our allies, all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction [falling into their hands]," Kerry said, "I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president."

Five times in subsequent exchanges the secretary insisted he had not meant to imply that "boots on the ground" was something actively planned by the administration. He faced hostile questioning from Republican hawk John McCain, who asked why the administration was not going further in helping Syrian rebels overthrow Assad. But McCain made it clear he would vote in favour of a resolution to authorise military action.

With the chances of successful votes in Congress next week looking a little stronger, Obama will now head to Europe in the hope of persuading more world leaders to back his strategy.

Hopes in Washington that Britain might hold a fresh parliamentary vote over joining military action were dashed on Monday, when prime minister David Cameron ruled out such a move.

The White House first announced that it would provide limited military support to Syrian rebel groups in June, but it has been criticised for dragging its heels over fears that arms might fall into the wrong hands.

The alleged chemical attacks by Assad forces now seem to have strengthened the hands of those in Washington who favour more direct assistance. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that CIA-trained rebels were now operating inside Syria.


William Hague to meet Syria rebel leaders for talks on further aid

Foreign secretary insists that practical help given to opposition will not extend to arming their forces

Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, Tuesday 3 September 2013 22.20 BST   

The foreign secretary is to hold talks with Syrian opposition leaders on Wednesday in London on how to provide further practical non-military help for the rebel groups in the country.

William Hague also wants to discuss how to construct a more unified opposition capable of convincing sceptical Western public opinion that Syrian civil war is not a battle between two equally distasteful ideologies.

The foreign secretary is due to meet the newly elected Syrian National Coalition president Ahmed Asi Al Jarba. He is on a tour of European capitals, and also due to meet senior MPs including the chair of the foreign affairs select committee Richard Ottaway. Hague, speaking in the Commons, insisted practical help to the rebels will not extend to arming their forces, but a No 10 spokesman said it expected to continue to provide advice and training to rebels on how to secure areas no longer controlled by the Assad regime.

It is still possible Hague will travel to the G20 in St Petersburg to join David Cameron and talks on Syria being convened on the margins of the G20 summit including the French foreign minister Lauren Fabius as well as his counterparts from the United States, China, and Turkey.

Hague, unexpectedly thrown closer to the margins of the Syrian crisis by the Commons no vote last week, said the issue of Syria will dominate bilateral meetings at the summit.

In a Commons debate, the foreign secretary also rejected Labour calls for Iran to be included in Syrian peace talks, saying the Iranian regime was "actively engaged in assisting widespread murder by the Assad regime", and had not yet expressed support for a transitional government in Syria.

The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, had called for a Syrian contact group to be formed involving key countries in the region, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, designed to kickstart a second round of peace talks in Geneva.

Iranian involvement was also supported by the former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw and some Tory parliamentarians, including Lord Lamont, the former Tory chancellor.

Hague said he was willing to meet the new Iranian foreign minister at a UN special assembly in New York this month, but questioned the over-optimistic view of Iranian diplomacy among some MPs. He also rejected the idea of a wider regional contact group proposed by Alexander and seen by Labour as successful in Lebanon.

The foreign secretary was wary of Iranian involvement, pointing out that Tehran had not been prepared to endorse the outcome of the first Geneva conference calling for a transitional government in Syria.

Hague added it was not a lack of forums that was a stumbling block to a settlement on Syria, but the lack of political agreement. He explained: "Our problem is not being unable to discuss these things in the international community – it is being unable to agree how we bring about a transitional government in Syria, formed from government and opposition by mutual consent.

"There is no shortage of venues for discussing those things, platforms for discussing those things – we have had two and a half years of discussion on this. It is agreement that is elusive, not a forum for discussion."

The minister also again assured Conservative MPs that there would not be a second vote on UK involvement in any attack on the Syrian regime. He stressed that any vote would not be on the same terms, suggesting that the government was keeping its options open in case circumstances changed radically.

It was notable that Hague held back from attacking Labour's stance on Syria, possibly due to the possibility of needing to construct a cross party alliance later. But it is unlikely that Cameron will be as constrained in the heated atmosphere of prime minister's questions on Wednesday.

In a sign of the tensions between the parties the education secretary, Michael Gove, said: "Ed Miliband made a cynical calculation to put his political interests ahead of national security and humanitarian intervention.

"He and his party are going to have to live with it ... the consequences rest with the Labour party and those who voted for them. It rests on their conscience."

David Miliband, brother of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband rebuked the West's approach to Syria.

He used an article in the Financial Times to warn: "While international engagement is decreasingly popular in the advanced democracies, a multipolar world makes it increasingly necessary".

He called for a fundamental step change in the humanitarian effort warning: "None of the military options being canvassed – or, in the UK, rejected – promises a decisive shift in the course of the conflict. We are not yet anywhere near the nadir of the humanitarian crisis already consuming five countries at the heart of the Middle East".


Israeli test of anti-missile defence system causes jitters across region

Launch of target missile to test ballistic shield seen as warning to Syria despite US and Israel playing down exercise as 'routine'

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Tuesday 3 September 2013 20.27 BST   

Israel fired a target missile to test a new missile defence system on Tuesday, triggering alerts across a region braced nervously for impending international military strikes against Syria.

Although Israeli officials said the test launch was a routine exercise, it caused jitters in global financial markets amid the military and diplomatic uncertainty since chemical weapons were unleashed on Syrian civilians last month.

Some observers saw the test's timing as a conspicuous display of Israel's military power ahead of an expected escalation of the Syrian crisis in the coming weeks, and possible retaliatory attacks by the Damascus regime against Israel.

The Israeli defence ministry confirmed it had launched a Sparrow target missile at 9.15am local time on Tuesday. It said the test of the Arrow anti-missile system was successful.

Israel said the exercise had been conducted jointly with the US. An American official in Washington said: "Israel routinely fires missiles or drones off its shores to test its own ballistic defence capabilities."

A Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said the missile test was long-planned and unrelated to Syria. : "This test had nothing to do with the United States' consideration of military action to respond to Syria's chemical weapons attack," he said.

Russia initially sounded the alert, saying its radars at Armavir, near the Black Sea, had detected the launch of two ballistic "objects" in the area, fired from the central Mediterranean towards the east.

A Syrian source told Lebanese television that nothing had been detected by its early warning system.

Israel's defence ministry said in a statement: "The experiment tested enhanced capabilities of a new type of target missile from the Sparrow series. Arrow anti-missile defence systems, including radars and a command and control system, were also tested."

It added: "The Sparrow missile successfully launched and performed its planned trajectory, in according with the test plan." It was detected and tracked by the Arrow III missile defence system. "All the elements of the system performed according to their operational configuration."

The Sparrow simulates the long-range missiles of Syria and Iran and is used for target practice by Israel's ballistic shield, Arrow.

Uzi Rubin, former head of the Arrow system, told the Associated Press that the test was "completely technical. Nothing connected to Syria." He said its "only message" would be that Israel has "good missile defence systems".

Israel has redeployed most of its anti-missile systems to the north of the country over the past week amid fears that the Syrian regime could launch attacks on its neighbour – with whom it is still technically at war – following US strikes.

The US-funded missile defence systems are effective at intercepting incoming missiles but Israel acknowledges that it has insufficient capacity to protect the country in the face of a sustained onslaught from Syria or Lebanon.

On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, repeated previous warnings against attacks on Israel. "The reality around us is changing. I want to say to anyone who wants to harm us: it is not advisable," he said. Israel has promised to respond with force to any attack. Israel's anti-missile systems were a national "wall of iron", he added.

The Israeli defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, said Israel needed to carry out field trials of its defence systems. "A successful trial was conducted to test our systems. And we will continue to develop and to research and to equip the Israeli Defence Forces with the best systems in the world," he said.

Last week, Netanyahu authorised the call-up of a limited number of army reservists in the expectation that the US could launch strikes over the weekend. Thousands of Israelis flocked to distribution depots to collect gas masks.

However, since Barack Obama's announcement on Saturday that he would seek authorisation from Congress before an attack, the mood in Israel has calmed. Most military analysts say retaliatory action by the Syrian regime is unlikely, though possible.

An Israeli government official said US military action was now not expected for about two weeks. The democratic process in Washington, due to start on Monday, was likely to take the best part of a week, he said, and Israel did not anticipate the US launching a strike around the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, which this year will be the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war between Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbours.

The US is expected to take action against Syria after it said the regime crossed a "red line" drawn by Obama over the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Damascus denies responsibility for the incident. The alleged chemical attack by the regime in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August is estimated to have killed between several hundred and 1,300 civilians.

The Syrian opposition claimed that a Syrian forensic expert who had defected to Turkey would soon present evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, killing more than two dozen people, near Aleppo in March.

Abdeltawwab Shahrour, head of the forensic medicine committee in Aleppo, failed to appear at a news conference on Tuesday. A coalition spokesman, Khaled Saleh, said security concerns had kept him away and that he would appear in the coming dayssoon.

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« Reply #8496 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:00 AM »

South African gold miners strike over 'slave wages in white man's economy'

80,000 miners walk out in industrial action that will cost country £22m a day as government admits it can only plead for solution

David Smith in Pretoria
The Guardian, Tuesday 3 September 2013 20.16 BST   

About 80,000 gold miners in South Africa walked out on strike on Tuesday night, raising fears of renewed violence in the crisis-hit industry and underlining the government's dwindling authority.

President Jacob Zuma admitted that he could only plead with companies and unions to find a peaceful solution and avoid seriously damaging the economy, already hit by sluggish growth and a contagion of strikes in other sectors.

But the parties remain poles apart. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) accused captains of industry of "arrogance" forcing it to embark on nationwide industrial action "that will change the gold mining landscape forever".

The dispute over pay comes a year after 46 people died during unrest in the platinum belt and amid signs that the century-old mining industry model is broken. For years South Africa was the world's top gold producer, accounting for more than two-thirds of output in 1970, but it has slipped to fifth place with just 6% of global production.

The NUM is demanding rises of up to 60% after talks broke down. The union, which represents about 64% of South Africa's 120,000 gold miners, said it rejected "with contempt slave wages as represented by an increase of a meagre 6.5% or R300 (£18.68) per month". It claims bosses have continuously awarded themselves huge bonuses.

"The NUM has noted government's wishes that industrial action be avoided and dares the state to explain which side it is on," spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka added. "The union is aware of the devastating impact industrial action would have on the economy, which is largely a white man's economy with no benefits for poor black mineworkers."

A wave of strikes across South Africa, including in the auto industry and construction sectors, has sent the rand to four-year lows. A shutdown in gold production will cost the country more than £22m a day, according to estimates, and the NUM has suggested it could go on until Christmas.

Zuma urged mining houses and unions to reach a wage agreement soon, conceding: "Government can only appeal to parties to find a solution. I don't think we can tell the management of the mine 'accept what the workers are saying', nor can we tell the workers [that].

"We just appeal that the two parties must find one another because a protracted strike is not helpful to the country nor to the industry itself. The strike hurts both sides. Both sides must be ready to give and to take as well."

But the troubles afflicting mining over the past two years, including the police massacre of striking workers in Marikana and its aftermath, have exposed the limitations of the African National Congress.

Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said: "The sense I get is the government is becoming increasingly helpless. What might save the mining sector is the relationship between employer and union: you need courage on both sides to be very honest about their needs and willingness to sacrifice. The worst thing they can do is to marry themselves to short-term gains."

All is not yet lost for the industry, Matshiqi insisted. "It's a crisis but I don't think it's inevitable that it will deepen. A deepening is avoidable depending on how the protagonists conduct themselves."

Even the NUM's demands are eclipsed by the more radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which is pushing for 150% pay rises, claiming that the industry is still locked into apartheid-era pay structures despite 19 years of democracy. The gold mining companies are the London-listed AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Rand Uranium, Harmony Gold, Evander Gold, Sibanye Gold and Village Main Reef. They say the demands are unrealistic, given rising costs and falling bullion prices.

Matshiqi warned: "Listening to the unions this morning, I heard a hardening of attitudes which may facilitate violence. If one union accepts the offer and the other doesn't, violence may be the way one union thinks it can keep the strike going. This calls for a high level of maturity on both sides." rest.

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« Reply #8497 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:04 AM »

White South Africans' move to black township draws praise and accusations

Hewitt family say move to Mamelodi highlighted problem that tourists see more of black South Africa than white locals

David Smith in Pretoria, Tuesday 3 September 2013 10.28 BST        

Julian and Ena Hewitt spent August living with their two young daughters in a 3 x 3 metre shack in Mamelodi, a township outside Pretoria, South Africa Link to video: Mamelodi for a month: a middle class white family's experience of life in a South African township

April Matlala, who lost most of his home to a fire three years ago, got a big surprise when he saw who was moving into the shack next door. The new residents of Mamelodi, an impoverished township near Pretoria in South Africa, were young, middle-class and white.

"They wanted to experience a different culture from where they're living," reasoned Matlala, 44, pressing the neck of a beer bottle to his lips. "In South Africa we have about 11 cultures. If you don't experience all of them, you're not a real South African."

Julian and Ena Hewitt, both 34, and their daughters Julia, four, and Jessica, two, left their four-bedroom house, livestock and swimming pool in a gated community to move just seven miles (12km) down the road into a 3m x 3m (10ft x 10ft) shack with no electricity, a communal water tap and a pit toilet. They stayed there a month, living on 3,000 rand (£189), the average income of a black family, and blogged the experience.

Their August sojourn in a "new country", as they put it, has been lauded as a brave attempt to cross racial divides and draw attention to the savage juxtaposition of rich and poor in South Africa. But it has also led to accusations of self-serving "poverty tourism" that could offer only superficial insights into black township life.

The Hewitts, who are well-travelled and used to roughing it, got the idea from India where two young professionals spent a month living in poverty on the premise that "empathy is crucial to democracy". Ena, an estate agent, said: "If you can't have empathy and understanding of how your fellow man lives then it's impossible for this country to move forward. We want our girls to grow up here, not in the UK, so we want them to know and understand the realities of this country."

Nearly two decades after racial apartheid bit the dust, its legacy persists in spatial segregation between affluent suburbs and neglected townships, with millions of black people still commuting from the latter at great expense of time and money.

"It's just so easy to live in a bubble in South Africa and especially for the middle- to upper-class to build higher walls rather than building bridges," Ena continued. "This is a way to create empathy, a way to build bridges and a way to see how the majority of this country lives. It really is very easy to be oblivious of it.

"What's caught us off-guard is the media attention this thing has generated. It shows the serious disconnect that's still there. There are probably more tourists who've been in townships than white South Africans. Hopefully this is something that other people can look at and say, 'Well, if they stayed there for a month, we can at least go visit and see where our domestic worker lives.'"

The Hewitts chose Mamelodi to be close to their own domestic worker, 50-year-old Leah Nkambule. One afternoon a small group gathered on plastic chairs outside her home tending a cooking pot above a wood fire. Nearby was another shack structure containing the Hewitts, two other tenants and their landlord, who rises at 4am each day and walks more than two miles to catch a train to work. Beyond them was Matlala's single-room shack, then one taken over by drug dealers.

The Hewitts' spartan home (rental of 170 rand (£10.70) a month) was made of a corrugated roof with metal sheets on the sides. Among the contents were mattresses on the floor, a plastic basket of clothes, children's shoes, a roll of toilet paper, a kettle on a paraffin stove and an iPhone devoid of battery life. Outside was a small lawn fenced from a dirt track by barbed wire held up by posts fashioned from branches. Children played merrily with Julia and Jessica then helped Julian hoist a piece of wire on which he hung up washing to dry.

The family moved in during the dog days of the South African winter and came down with flu after a week. Julian and Ena effectively went on a vegan diet and each lost 5kg. They had to get used to a "smelly" long-drop toilet, the attention of rats and the absence of mod cons. "I really miss a shower," she said. "Bucket baths just don't do it for me: one kettle of water and having to wash your head upside down in a bucket is not much fun, then use the same bucket for your dishes and laundry. It takes about an hour and a half to heat it with paraffin."

But the Hewitts, who do not own a TV anyway, enjoyed extra family time, catching up on sleep and sitting around a fire each evening talking to their neighbours. Family and close friends had warned that they were being "reckless and irresponsible" by exposing their daughters to a township but the community proved caring and protective.

Ena continued: "We go for a walk every afternoon and can't go 50 metres without getting stopped, greeted, chatted to. They can't believe it when we say we're living here but they're very friendly.

"I have to wonder if it was the other way around, and in an exclusively white suburb a bunch of black people walked in, whether people would be as welcoming."

While most of the feedback on the Hewitts' blog and Facebook page was positive, there were dissenting voices who called the exercise exploitative and voyeuristic. One Twitter user wrote: "Mamelodi people must burn them in that shack."

Julian, a social entrepreneur who commuted from Mamelodi to his office in Johannesburg once a week, reflected: "There is a very interesting undercurrent that we've been exposed to. There are your young, black professionals who still feel angry about that fact the status quo hasn't really changed. There is the sense that we're mocking poverty and all these things and that's OK, because they don't know us.

"But what's very interesting with those people we've found is that they're a lot more comfortable with the notion of a British tourist coming and living here for a month, because in that case it's an 'adventure' and this person's just trying to get to understand African culture better. But as white South Africans we basically are part of the problem and it opens up a whole lot of questions that might have been covered up otherwise and brings out a lot of tensions that would not be there if we are foreign tourists."

The couple were not trying to build schools or set up an NGO, he added, but simply being here was the point. "What's great is that people get what we're trying to do. The fact that we're able to interact with them as people, rather than as white people, breaks down massive boundaries reinforced in people's minds for three and a half centuries here.

"We popped into a shebeen the other day on one of our afternoon walks. A big football match was on TV and there was almost dead silence when they turned and saw two blonde girls and us and a friend. Two guys came up to us and one said, 'Wow, you make me believe God is alive today.' The other guy started quoting Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial speech where he said: 'This is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.' He said that ideal that Mandela is prepared to die for is bringing you into a place like this."

Residents of Mamelodi appeared intrigued and impressed by the guests. They praised the family for helping their children with homework and making an effort to learn their languages. Many also expressed hope that the media coverage would move politicians to action. Nkambule's niece, Velly, 27, said: "I was very glad they came to see how we are suffering here and how much we spend on taxis and paraffin. The community is very happy and we wish they could stay forever."

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« Reply #8498 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:06 AM »

September 3, 2013

Egypt Speeds Use of Trials for Jailing of Islamists


CAIRO — The two-month-old Egyptian government on Tuesday stepped up its use of swift military trials to lock up Islamist supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, while an administrative court banned four satellite networks considered sympathetic to them, including an Egyptian affiliate of Al Jazeera.

Although the government has promised a prompt return to inclusive democracy and the rule of law, the military trials and network closings extended its use of authoritarian tactics as it widens its crackdown on Morsi supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Tuesday, a military court in Suez sentenced a man described as a Brotherhood member to life in prison for violence directed at the Army. Forty-eight others were given sentences of 5 to 15 years in prison for similar charges, and 12 were acquitted, state news media reported.

All the charges concerned events on Aug. 14, the day that security forces stormed two pro-Morsi sit-ins and killed at least 800 people.

The convictions, after a two-week trial, were among the first handed down since the arrests of thousands of Brotherhood members after Mr. Morsi’s ouster. Scores if not hundreds of Brotherhood leaders, including Mr. Morsi, have been charged with inciting violence or murder.

Because military trials allow expedited convictions, they were a favorite tool of former President Hosni Mubarak, although he never jailed or killed as many Islamists in a two-month period as this new government has.

Mona Seif, a liberal political activist who worked with the defense lawyers on the cases, said she did not believe that all those detained were Brotherhood members. “The military and the police just round up whoever is around, and they get charged,” she said.

She said that last week eight detainees from a pro-Morsi protest near Suez were sentenced to two years in prison after a one-week military trial. The families of the defendants have not spoken out, she said, for fear of drawing harsher penalties. And the Egyptian news media, she said, now controlled almost entirely by supporters of the new government, have refused to cover the cases.

Three satellite networks ordered closed on Tuesday were linked to the Islamists, and the fourth was the channel known as Al Jazeera Egypt Live. The Al Jazeera networks, owned by Qatar, are more sympathetic to the Brotherhood than the rest of the media still allowed to broadcast, and Al Jazeera Egypt Live has often covered the pro-Morsi protests when other channels ignored them.

The court found the Al Jazeera network “a rebellious demon” and “a partner in an international conspiracy that aims at splitting the homeland,” the flagship state newspaper Al Ahram reported. The newspaper’s Web site said the network sought to turn the public against the military and the police, “to enable a popularly rejected group to control the lives of the Egyptian people.”

The court found that all four channels “broadcast lies after the people’s revolution against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the massive street protests that preceded Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the newspaper reported.

At least two Al Jazeera journalists remain in prison. Three journalists for its English language affiliate were deported this week after days in detention. On Sunday, an administrator was briefly detained after a police raid on the English network’s office.

The network has also said it found evidence that the government had been trying to jam its satellite signals from Egypt.

“There has been a process of intimidation for weeks,” said an Al Jazeera official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution.

Mayy El Sheikh and Kareem Fahim contributed reporting

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« Reply #8499 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:12 AM »

09/04/2013 10:20 AM

Lessons from Bosnia: Why the West Must Intervene in Syria

A Commentary by Wolfgang Ischinger

Opponents of an intervention in Syria like to point to the sobering experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq. But the Bosnian wars of the 1990s provide a more accurate model. By changing the balance of power, the West could quickly force Assad to the negotiating table.

Tens of thousands of deaths in a country that lies not too far southeast of us. An extremely complicated military conflict in which the most varied lines of interest converge. A United States president who is particularly reluctant to undertake new military engagements on the heels of an electoral campaign centered around domestic issues and a failed engagement in the Arab world. A despot who does not recognize the need to negotiate promptly and seriously.

European diplomacy and crisis management are disappointingly far from meeting their self-imposed goals. Political initiatives are failing before they have even been put in place. Long debates about the merits and dangers of an arms embargo. The US Secretary of State speaks of a "problem from hell" -- the hatred, he says, is almost unbelievable, but the US, faced with a very difficult situation, is "doing all we can to try to deal with that problem."

What sounds like a description of the Syrian conflict in the summer of 2013 is a fairly precise summary of the view of the war in Bosnia up until the summer of 1995. Yet most observers see the current Syrian conflict through a lens colored only by the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. These conflicts stand for Western hubris, for the insolubility of some religious and ethnic conflicts, for the danger of a "slippery slope," in which even a minor, short-term military engagement may end up lasting for years.

In other words, the great legacy of the past decade is that Afghanistan and Iraq are the dominant lessons for those advocating in favor of interventions. Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates even went so far as to recommend that anyone who was considering sending American troops into that wider region should have his head examined.

Wrong Filter

But is that really the right lesson to draw from recent years -- to fundamentally rule out military action? Or is it rather that, due to a lack of political success in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have forgotten the lessons we had learned from the 1990s, particularly from the Balkan Wars? That conflict taught us that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to consider the limited use of military means in order to force a diplomatic solution -- and thus peace.

Apparently, the old saying that politicians and the military tend to fight the "last war" a second time, applies here as well. Impressions from most recent experiences are, after all, the freshest. However, it can also mean that we end up viewing the current crisis through the wrong filter. The situation and the development of the conflict in Syria are in many respects more reminiscent of Bosnia than Iraq or Afghanistan. And Bosnia continues to offer lessons that are more relevant today than ever.

All officials and policymakers involved are surely aware that the current policy being pursued by the West and the international community with regards to the Syrian conflict is completely insufficient and unacceptable. Appeals, sanctions, embargos, certain forms of support for the opposition, diplomatic offensives, and mediation attempts: In the end all that has been -- rather half-heartedly -- undertaken by external parties has failed in Syria, as it did in Bosnia prior to 1995.

A first key similarity between the two conflicts can be found in the (initial) inability to get the fighting parties together around a table in order to achieve a viable diplomatic solution. Just like Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, Syria's president Bashar al-Assad sees no obligation at present to negotiate seriously. In Bosnia, too, peace plans and blueprints ("Vance-Owen") were laid out in the early stages, but led to nothing because of the West's lack of willingness to implement them.

Threat of Force

The conclusion of the Dayton agreement, which finally ended the Bosnian war in 1995, was ultimately only possible because Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs, in the face of new realities, suddenly developed an interest in a negotiated solution after all; the Croatian side had made territorial gains and the NATO operation "Deliberate Force" had shown that the West was taking the matter seriously. In other words, the result negotiated in Dayton, which despite all its weaknesses was able to pave Bosnia-Herzegovina's way toward a future free of war, was only made possible by the threat (and limited use) of force.

This is also the decisive issue for Syria: Assad has apparently returned to a position of strength, and it is one from which his regime will never be ready to make the necessary concessions. As long as Assad is convinced that his situation could continue to improve over the course of the conflict, or that he could even resolve the war in his favor, he will continue the fight. The international community needs to change this calculation if it wants to reach a political solution.

Secondly, the debate about arms supplies in both cases revealed (reveals) the regime's structural advantage over the opposition. In the Balkans, Sarajevo long decried the arms embargo, which clearly played into Belgrade's and the Bosnian Serbs' hands. Similarly, the Syrian opposition is now trying to counteract the material supremacy of the Assad regime, which is being supplied by Moscow and Tehran and massively supported by Hezbollah. It is only a slight exaggeration to observe that the only ones who have hardly received any support at all are the moderates within the Syrian opposition. That these forces would wither is to be expected -- and herein lies the real tragedy of Western failure.

Thirdly, even in Bosnia, a solution was only possible on the basis of a common understanding between the US and Russia. Although the two countries were at odds where their respective Balkan policies were concerned, they had to find common ground on the way toward the Dayton agreement. The United States' and Russia's somewhat revived Syria initiative is thus appropriate and important. Only an American-Russian entente can lead to successful diplomacy as part of a necessary contact group.

Not Another Srebrenica

Can we agree on parameters for post-war order, a balance between the various religious groups, the composition of a transitional government and on a possible international presence after the end of the war? Hideous compromises may be necessary here, but it will not work without Russia. In the Balkans, deliberations within the contact group were not easy either, but it was successful because all key players, including Moscow, sat at the table.

Today, we have a group which calls itself "Friends of Syria." While this is important for the international legitimization of the opposition, it can do little to end the conflict. It would make more sense to have a conventional contact group under the umbrella of the UN, consisting of Turkey, Iran, Russia, the US, and the EU at its core, and perhaps supplemented by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the participation of the Arab League.

Fourthly, for a long time the situation in Bosnia was -- as it still is today in Syria -- assessed as if the costs of inaction were lower than the potential costs of an intervention. This calculation did not change in Bosnia until after the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. In Syria, however, we have unfortunately probably passed the point at which an intervention may have been justified, useful, and possible with reasonable means. And, as sad as it is, the general public in the West almost seems to have become accustomed to reports of massacres in Syria.

Bosnia taught us another thing: The longer an ethnic or religious conflict lasts, the more difficult it is, at the end of the war, to get the groups involved to commit to a common post-war order and reasonable reconciliation steps. In this respect, arguments that the war in Syria should simply bleed itself dry are not only morally irresponsible, but also fundamentally incorrect politically.

'Problems from Hell'

Whether a limited intervention, in the form of a no-fly zone or limited bombings, as in the Bosnian war in 1995, could significantly contribute to a negotiated solution in Syria is certainly one of the most difficult issues currently facing international security policy. But those who simply brush this question aside, without any serious examination of the chances of success, has learned absolutely nothing from Bosnia and will keep on repeating these mistakes. It is politically irresponsible to exclude certain options from the outset. It was also without a doubt wrong to imagine Assad to be running on empty so soon and to assume that the problem would solve itself.

Besides, even without military intervention a related question could also arise: What are we prepared to contribute to a post-war order in Syria? It is likely that a politically negotiated solution could call for an international protection force, just like in the Balkans. Would we quickly abdicate any responsibility? Or are the EU and NATO strategically prepared?

The term quoted at the outset of this piece, "problems from hell," which the former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher used to describe the Bosnian war, was popularized in particular by the new US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power in her study about genocide prevention ("A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, 2002"). One of the key points made by Power, who was a driving force behind the Libya intervention, was this: Accepting that there are "problems from hell" deflects responsibility from onesself. Inaction is also very much a decision and does not protect against being responsible for catastrophic developments.

This basic observation applies to Syria in particular, since even more is at stake there than in the Balkans in the 1990s: The risk of a regional "conflagration," of which German opponents of intervention have frequently warned, has long since become reality -- without a doubt also because of our inaction. We are looking at a disintegrating country with chemical weapons in the heart of the world's most unstable region. Syria has become a rallying place for jihadists from around the world.

Moral Bankruptcy

The importance of the regional proxy war with its religious and political power components extends far beyond Syria and could potentially lead to very serious consequences -- for the future of all neighboring countries, the resolution of the Iranian nuclear conflict, and the struggle for supremacy in the Middle East. And the number of victims continues to climb steeply month by month.

One of the great achievements of international politics and international law after the genocides of the 20th century was precisely the idea that the international community could not just ignore its responsibility, and should even take military action in extreme cases of mass atrocities. A number of years ago, the UN General Assembly endorsed this new principle, which limits national sovereignty as traditionally understood, as the "responsibility to protect" (R2P). Without a doubt, this signified progress in terms of the modern Western understanding of human rights and international law.

Unfortunately, today there is not much left of the initial R2P euphoria. The West appears to look at Syria, as it did Bosnia 20 years ago, as a problem from hell that we should stay far away from. Should this be our final lesson from the Syrian crisis, it would be a step backward for the capacity of the international community to secure peace though the United Nations. For the West, it would be more than that. It would be a declaration of bankruptcy, both moral and political.

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« Reply #8500 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:13 AM »

09/03/2013 03:34 PM

Scion of Austerity: A Tall Order for New Greek Reform Minister

By Julia Amalia Heyer

Kyriakos Mitsotakis has only been minister for administrative reform for a few weeks. But he is already under heavy pressure from the troika to reduce Greek spending. To show he means business, the ambitious son of an old political family will soon cut thousands of jobs.

When Kyriakos Mitsotakis steps onto the balcony of his office, he can see the gray outline of the Hymattos Mountains to the left and, even in August, the vibrant green colors of the National Garden park to the right. From this vantage point, he can also see the presidential guard marching in formation, as well as the demonstrators who have once more gathered in front of his office. They include teachers, nurses and police officers.

Mitsotakis doesn't spend much time on his balcony. He has only been Greece's minister of administrative reform and e-governance for a few weeks, but he is already short on time. The so-called troika -- the trio of lenders made up of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union -- is returning to Athens in the next few days, and the advance guard has already arrived. Greece's creditors are no longer satisfied with mere numbers. They want to see results.

The massive holes that regularly appear in the Greek national budget are not exactly encouraging. A budget shortfall of up to €5 billion ($6.6 billion) is expected for next year, an amount Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras was quick to dismiss as a "small sum," noting that Greece has what it needs for now. For now.

But the creditors want to see numbers from Mitsotakis. They want the country, with a population of 11 million, to substantially reduce the size of its civil service from the current level of 769,000 public servants and other employees. This isn't a new request, but what is new is that the troika is no longer willing to grant Athens a respite.

As a result, Mitsotakis had to cancel his summer vacation with his family. In fact, he is now so busy that his spokesman had to reschedule our meeting with him in Athens four times.

When we finally sit down with him in his office, a room as big as a mid-sized ballroom, it feels as if a white rabbit were present in the room, a rabbit with a pocket watch. Is he familiar with the frantic rabbit from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," we ask? Of course, says Mitsotakis with a smile. But it's only a brief smile.

The Hardest Job in Greek Politics

The office furnishings and décor are those of his predecessor. But there are a few exceptions: Four narrow, blue ties hang in the closet, ties his predecessor probably wouldn't have worn. Blue is the color of the Greek conservatives, the color of Mitsotakis' party, New Democracy.

The tall, slim 45-year-old with a boyish face has what is perhaps the most challenging position in Greek politics, which long ceased to be a comfort zone for the powerful. Mitsotakis had only been in office for three days when he had to start negotiating with troika representatives over how to slash 15,000 government jobs by the end of next year.

Although close to a million Greeks have lost their jobs since 2009, that number hasn't included a significant number of civil servants. His predecessors were playing for time, says Mitsotakis.

One of those predecessors, Dimitris Reppas, was once caught whispering to a fellow minister on a stage: "When the troika is here, always say yes, yes. They'll leave again." Reppas didn't know that his microphone was still on.

Mitsotakis has the authority to put an end to the absurdities that pervade the Greek administration. He also has the power to shut down departments that notoriously have a boss but no clear function. He can also withhold funding from the more than 1,000 small organizations that the government still keeps afloat.

There are some highly qualified officials in his ministry who would be very pleased if he did that. They have already numbered and listed these organizations, whose purpose is vague at best. For example, number 1040, the "Organization for Water Management in Certain Areas," has exactly one employee. No one knows exactly what he does, and yet his name appears on the salary rolls of the Greek republic.

Troika Taskmaster

Mitsotakis wants to do a lot of things differently, and he is determined to "finally satisfy" the troika's requirements. To do so, he will have to transfer 12,500 civil servants into a so-called mobility reserve by the end of September, and another 12,500 in December. He signs each transfer order himself. Once the transfers are complete, a team will spend eight months reviewing the pool to determine which employees are suitable for other positions. The rest will be let go.

It is also up to Mitsotakis to prove that the Greek government, in the sixth year of the crisis, can not only announce changes, but actually implement them. His credibility is also at stake. Contrary to what the European politicians paying lip service to Greece's willingness to institute reforms would suggest, not much has happened. From the tax system to the administration, very little real progress has been made.

In a recent study, Athens social scientist George Tzogopoulos accused the political elite of being "absolutely incapable of implementing structural reforms." The reasons, he says, lie in "their populist rhetoric, their credibility deficit and the constant emphasis on personal and political interests." Anyone interested in Greek politics must realize that Tzogopoulos' list of deficits is anything but malicious gossip.

Political Lineage

It's true, says the minister, that 80 percent of structural reforms should have been implemented 10 years ago, before the troika even existed. A sculpture by his nine-year-old daughter, a gift for her father when he took office, stands on the bureau next to his desk. It's a shelf made of popsicle sticks, a little skewed and filled with colorful bits of newspapers and magazines. It could very well be called "Chaos on Wood." Mitsotakis had it framed in glass. When he asked Dafni, his daughter, what the sculpture represented, she replied: "Papa, it's politics."

Although Dafni Mitsotakis is only nine, she already seems to have a pretty good idea of what politics is all about. In addition to her father being a cabinet minister, her grandfather was prime minister, and her aunt, Kyriakos' sister Dora Bakoyannis, was once Greece's culture minister, then mayor of Athens and later the country's foreign minister.

Konstantin Mitsotakis, the father of Dora and Kyriakos, was the Greek prime minister from 1990 to 1993, and Kyriakos' great uncle was the revolutionary and subsequent statesman Eleftherios Venizelos. There is at least one square or street named after him in every Greek city, and both the Athens airport and a Mediterranean ferry also bear his name.

"I know that I come from a political family," says Mitsotakis. He understands that this is why people treat him with a certain amount of skepticism.

'I Can't Make Any Mistakes'

For some of these people, he is simply a kleptocrat like every other politician before him. His sister was once pelted with yogurt and has since withdrawn from politics. "I'm aware that with my name, I have to do more than others. I can't make any mistakes," says Mitsotakis.

After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard, he worked as an analyst for a bank in London and later as a consultant for McKinsey, a major American management consulting firm. Mitsotakis, who had a German nanny for many years, speaks English, French and German fluently. In 2003, at 34, he was voted the "global leader of tomorrow" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

For a long time, he says, he was fundamentally opposed to going into politics, which he associated with too many bad experiences. His brother-in-law, Dora Bakoyannis' husband, was assassinated. His father Konstantin was ousted from his position as prime minister in a power grab led by Antonis Samaras, who had previously been his political protégé. Now Samaras is prime minister, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis is a member of his cabinet. It's the Greek version of elective affinities.

Entering the Game

At some point, however, says Mitsotakis, he became annoyed over his tendency to spout his own opinions about what should be done about Greece. Instead, he decided to try his hand at shaping policy and went into politics.

It was easy at first, he says. It helped that he was from a well-known political family. But then things became more difficult. Mitsotakis quickly became unpopular among other members of parliament when he proposed getting rid of official cars, as well as the generous fee of €300 lawmakers were paid to attend each committee meeting. "Committees are part of a lawmaker's job. That's what we're paid for."

His rivals were quick to criticize Mitsotakis, saying that as the upper-class scion of a wealthy family, he could certainly afford to do without certain benefits. In the end, Mitsotakis was the only one to relinquish his official car, although he did manage to have the fee for committee meetings cut in half.

Today Mitsotakis has plenty of opportunities to implement some of the things he was demanding in 2007. For instance, the government still pays for sports associations created for the 2004 Summer Olympics. "Money is being paid for sports that no one is familiar with," says an official with Mitsotakis' ministry. And why, he asks, does the hockey association receive €3 million a year? "No one plays hockey here," says the official.

Perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea for a former McKinsey consultant to take a stab at reforming the Greek administration. And maybe, for once, his family background really doesn't make any difference.

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« Reply #8501 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:16 AM »

09/03/2013 06:02 PM

The Undecided: How Merkel Could Lose

By Melanie Amann, Peter Müller and Gordon Repinski

German voters are deciding later than ever whom to vote for this election cycle. That is not good news for Chancellor Angela Merkel. With party loyalty on the wane, many of her core supporters could defect for tactical reasons at the last minute.

The Ozeaneum aquarium in the Baltic Sea port of Stralsund is a futuristic structure. Its claim to fame is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel became a godmother of sorts there. The chancellor's godchild, a female penguin named Alexandra, is set to receive another visit from Merkel on Sept. 21.

On that Saturday afternoon, one day before the German general election, the chancellor will give a speech outside the Ozeaneum. By that time, her party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), will have brought its campaign to an end, with a final rally scheduled for that morning in Berlin's Tempodrom concert hall. After the rally, it will be time for voters to cast their ballots.

But the chancellor has good reasons to make a bonus appearance. For her, the days and hours just before the election have become an incalculable risk. That's when up to one third of all voters, almost twice as many as in the 2002 election, will decide what party to vote for. In the worst case, it could cost the chancellor the majority she needs to form her preferred coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP).

All German parties have taken note. They will spend more money in the final week of the campaign than in any other week, with the majority of expensive TV spots airing in the final seven days.

The number of undecided voters highlights a fundamental shift in voter behavior in Germany. For decades, voters were as loyal to their political party as to their football club, church or trade union. In the old Germany, the parties knew that they could count on their core supporters, and that all they had to worry about in the final days of a campaign were a few swing voters.

Particularly Aggravating for Merkel

But now German voters have become emancipated and are as unpredictable as the weather in April. Until just recently, many Germans weren't even aware that a parliamentary election was scheduled for this fall. Now the campaigns are slowly gaining momentum, and yet voters refuse to be pressured. Some won't even decide which box to check until they're on their way to the polling place.

This is particularly aggravating for the chancellor. Although her challenger, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück, may seem to be down on his luck and trailing far behind at the moment, there is one piece of good news for him: Undecided voters are voters who can still be convinced. Indeed, the SPD is focusing heavily on the final three days with door-to-door campaigning set to continue right through election day. The SPD clearly remembers 2005, when Gerhard Schröder almost managed to defeat Merkel despite what seemed to be a hopeless deficit in the polls immediately prior to the vote.

On the other hand, Merkel's poll numbers are so high that the only possible direction for her would seem to be down.

But it's a delicate situation. For the first time in postwar German history, Bavaria will hold its state elections one week before the national election. Merkel is worried that the FDP might not clear the five-percent hurdle needed to enter the state parliament there. That, in turn, could motivate several conservative voters to cast their ballots for the FDP out of tactical reasons -- to make sure the FDP managed to jump the five-percent hurdle in the national election. Surveys currently indicate that election night will be a nail-biter for the FDP; the party has been hovering around the 5 percent mark for months.

A Debacle

There is a recent precedent. In January, the FDP looked so weak ahead of the Lower Saxony state election that many CDU voters decided at the last minute to switch their vote. The result was a surprisingly strong 10 percent result for the FDP, a much lower than expected total for the CDU -- and an election loss to a Social Democrats/Green Party coalition.

In Bavaria, the FDP is currently polling at about 4 percent. It will be a debacle for both the FDP and the Christian Social Union -- the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats -- if the liberals don't improve on that number on election day. "If the FDP loses its seats in the Bavarian state parliament, we can expect an excessive rescue campaign at the national level," say top CDU officials. CDU warhorse Wolfgang Bosbach adds that, in such a scenario, "the FDP's results will be in the double digits."

Merkel's position is made more difficult by Germany's complicated election system, whereby each voter actually has two votes -- a circumstance which could lead many to split their pair of votes between the CDU and the FDP. Merkel is hell-bent on preventing this from happening. Unlike in 2005 and 2009, the CDU TV ad that will air primarily in the last week of the campaign doesn't end with a nebulous message, but with a clear statement: "Both votes for the CDU." In the last days of the campaign, the party's state organizations will place a sticker on CDU posters that reads: "Your second vote is a vote for Merkel."

Will it do any good? Merkel's problem is that she has reversed course on many of the CDU's core issues in recent years. She has eliminated compulsory military service and jettisoned her party's support for nuclear energy, and now the party even favors gender quotas. If content has so little meaning, party loyalty also begins to fade. Why shouldn't a middle-class voter cast a tactical ballot for the FDP?

The CDU hopes that poll results will prevent such a scenario. For the first time in postwar German history, a poll will be released on the Thursday before the election. The poll, to be conducted by the ZDF television network, is likely to reflect the effects of the Bavarian election: Should the FDP manage to capture 6 or 7 percent in Bavaria, voters in the national election will be less concerned about the party failing to clear the five percent threshold nationally.

Still, Wolfgang Bosbach, perhaps the most industrious campaigner of them all, is taking no chances. The lawmaker from the western city of Bergisch-Gladbach has been running in Bundestag campaigns since 1972 and knows that his supporters value a very practical service on election Sunday. He'll be getting up in the middle of the night to walk the streets of his district and deliver little paper bags to voters. The bags will be filled with freshly baked rolls.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #8502 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:26 AM »


Pig Putin: gay people are not discriminated against in Russia

Russian president seeks to allay fears ahead of 2014 Winter Olympics but officials say new anti-gay law will still be enforced

Associated Press in Novo-Ogaryovo, Wednesday 4 September 2013 07.25 BST   

Pig Putin has sought to ease concerns that Russia's new anti-gay law will be used to punish athletes who display rainbow flags during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The president insisted that gay people were not discriminated against in his country.

"I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields," Pig Putin said in an interview with Associated Press and Russia's state Channel 1 television.

"We have absolutely normal relations and I don't see anything out of the ordinary here."

He added that Russians loved Tchaikovsky even though the composer was said to have been homosexual. "Truth be told, we don't love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music," the Pig said.

Pig Putin offered to meet members of the gay and lesbian community if they asked to see him.

The law on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," which Pig Putin signed in July, makes it illegal to expose minors to information that portrays homosexual relationships as normal or attractive. The law imposes hefty fines, while also subjecting foreign citizens to up to 15 days in prison.

While Russian officials have reassured the International Olympic Committee that Russia will not discriminate against homosexual people during the Games in Sochi, which take place from 7-23 February next year, they have also said the law will be enforced. This has left open the question of what would happen to athletes or fans if they made statements or gestures that could be considered propaganda.

In the interview at his country residence outside Moscow, Pig Putin said they would not be punished. But he clearly has no intention of allowing a gay pride parade during the Olympics. Last month, he signed a decree banning all demonstrations and rallies in Sochi throughout the Winter Games.

The Pig said he had full confidence in Russia's special services and law enforcement agencies to provide security during the Games. Sochi lies close to Russia's North Caucasus, where an Islamic insurgency is simmering.

"Terrorists are always a threat to someone," he said. "If we'll be scared of them it means they have won. But that doesn't mean we can have a devil-may-care attitude toward this threat. We must do everything to stop these threats and not give the terrorists a single chance to demonstrate their brutality and hatred of mankind."


September 3, 2013

Russian Youth Group With a Mission: Sniffing Out Illegal Migrants


MOSCOW — As dusk fell, nine young men gathered on a leafy street in Chertanova, a bedroom community on the outskirts of Moscow. Their hair cropped short, some put on surgical masks and thick work gloves. Aleksei Khudyakov, their leader, issued final instructions like a platoon leader briefing his soldiers for a raid.

“The dorms where they live are on the other side of the building,” Mr. Khudyakov, 25, explained as his cadre shuffled with anticipation.

“They” are the latest target of political and popular outrage here: unregistered immigrant workers, especially those from former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. And Mr. Khudyakov’s team intended to catch them where they slept.

“We’re going to go in,” he told the group, half warning and half pleading with them to refrain from violence or even foul language, “but we’re not going to be rude. I don’t want to see aggression.”

They call themselves Moscow Shield, a self-described “rights” organization that, like dozens of others here, is attracting young men and women, some out of zeal and others out of boredom, a search for purpose or a sense of belonging.

The group breaks into cramped basements and other crowded living spaces identified through anonymous tips from residents, and then tries to hold immigrants there until the police arrive. In an online tally, Moscow Shield claims to have “discovered” more than 600 illegal migrants, seven of whom have been deported, since its creation in March.

Even as Russia has cracked down on many nongovernmental organizations, especially those perceived to challenge the authority of President Pig Putin, loosely organized groups like these appear to be thriving, particularly those adhering to an increasingly conservative public agenda.

Like Cossack patrols in southern Russia or improvised neighborhood watch programs fighting drug dealers, Moscow Shield has been given unusual latitude by the police — and at times tacit assistance — as its members sometimes have pursued aggressive, even illegal, tactics.

The group, like other nationalist and patriotic youth organizations, is giving auxiliary support to Russia’s on-again, off-again crackdown on immigrant workers, which intensified last month when the police interned about 1,500 migrants in an outdoor detention camp.

“They’ve found themselves a safe niche,” Alexander Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, which monitors extremism in Russia, said of the anti-immigrant groups. Disenchanted with big politics, younger groups have opted for more direct action in the past two years, he added.

“In the end, it is just fun for them,” he said. “To go in, push people around. They’re young, after all.”

Moscow Shield, the creation of Mr. Khudyakov, a six-year veteran of a pro-Kremlin youth group called Young Russia, has held more than 50 “raids” — surprise inspections of the basements and street-level workers’ quarters that house some of Moscow’s estimated two million illegal migrants.

“They think that we are Nazis,” said Anton Zharkov, 20, a buzz-cut, blue-eyed university student who takes part in the group’s raids with his girlfriend. “But we’re not there to beat them or punish them. We are there to achieve justice.”

Mr. Khudyakov, a graduate of the elite Bauman Moscow State Technical University, began providing tips on illegal migrant communes to Russia’s Federal Migration Service as part of Young Russia in 2009.

In 2011, he joined the Youth Anti-Narcotics Spetsnaz, a group that violently ambushed sellers of a synthetic drug called “spice.” Its members often came armed with sledgehammers, to smash through front doors and disable getaway cars, and with crimson spray paint, to color the hair of their targets as others held them down.

Now, Mr. Khudyakov says he has parted ways with his past groups to work on social causes.

“Yes, we break a few locks because otherwise it is not possible to do what we do,” Mr. Khudyakov said in an interview. “But we’re ready to pay the fine for that.”

Critics, like Mr. Verkhovsky, say they are vigilantes.

“They are acting as they believe that Russia’s police should, and that more or less means that they are taking the law onto themselves,” he said.

Some other movements have drawn news media attention and investigations by the police in recent weeks. Occupy Pedophilia, a movement championed by a prominent nationalist, Maksim Martsinkevich, has violently harassed and ambushed gay teenagers by luring them into meetings through VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook.

The group, which claims it focuses on pedophiles, has spread to cities across Russia, where local affiliates carry out their own attacks, and then upload the videos to the Internet.

Mr. Martsinkevich, who goes by the nickname Hatchet, spent three years in prison for inciting ethnic hatred after he staged a mock execution of a Tajik drug trafficker and uploaded the film to YouTube.

Last month, the police announced that they had raided the homes of members of Occupy Pedophilia. As a result, Mr. Martsinkevich asked his followers to keep the violence off-camera.

By contrast, groups like Moscow Shield seem to have found common cause with the police. In certain districts, members say they have even been used as support in some large operations.

In one raid last month, five organizations — including Moscow Shield and two others known as Light Russia and Attack — claimed to have caught more than a hundred illegal migrants while the police supervised the operation. Video of the raid showed muscle-bound young people wrestling migrant workers in the stalls of a market.

A spokesman for the district police said its officers do not hold joint raids with activists. But organizers for several of the groups said that about 40 members of law enforcement, including local police and immigration officers, attended the raid. Photo and video reports uploaded to social networking sites showed officers and group members making arrests side by side, and the police marching detainees to buses.

“We create a perimeter; the police check documents,” said Igor Mangushev, the head of Light Russia, which has been holding raids for two years and asserts that it has had more than 1,000 migrant workers deported.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Mangushev said that his group had cooperated with the police in joint raids in three city districts. Last month’s operation also served as a training exercise for newer organizations, he added.

“Moscow Shield came along as sort of master class,” Mr. Mangushev said. “They have a lot of young people, and they don’t always work properly.”

At the apartment building in Chertanova, the young men of Moscow Shield did not need to break in; the door was unlocked. The group entered an apartment with five men inside and beds for 12. A dozen pairs of slippers lay on the floor. The smell of a plov, a Central Asian rice dish, wafted through the house.

A resident who gave only his first name, Numon, and his age, 23, said that the others had locked themselves in a back room when they saw the intruders.

Mr. Khudyakov’s team called the police. As two officers checked the men’s documents, Yunus Z. Daminov, 24, one of a dozen men from Uzbekistan who live in the apartment and carry trash for buildings in the neighborhood, said it was not the first time that strangers had broken in. There had been other intrusions, and attacks on the street outside of the apartment.

“There were two of them, twice my size,” said Mr. Daminov, a broad-chested man who sat hunched over on a bunk bed as he recalled a previous episode. “They didn’t say anything. They pointed at me, and that was that. They started kicking and punching me. I lost consciousness.”

He did not file a police report, and the attackers were never found, he said.

In the apartment hallway, a police officer approached Mr. Khudyakov and said that everyone living in the house, Mr. Daminov included, was registered.

“We understand what you’re doing,” the police officer said to Mr. Khudyakov. “Have you had any other complaints in the neighborhood?”

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« Reply #8503 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:29 AM »

Spain raises age of consent from 13 to 16

Changes agreed in principle in 2009 and expected to come into force this month also raise marriageable age from 14 to 16

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona, Wednesday 4 September 2013 12.33 BST   

Spain is to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 and marriageable age from 14 to 16.

The change was agreed unanimously in principle by parliament in 2009 under the previous government and is expected to come into force this month. Adults who have sex with underage children now face from two to six years in prison and up to 12 years if they have performed oral or penetrative sex.

An exception is made in the case of consensual sex with someone under 16 "when the other party is of a similar age or stage of development and maturity", a loose concept that judges will have to define on a case-by-case basis.

Raising the age to 16 brings Spain into line with the Netherlands, Norway, the UK, Russia and Belgium. It is 14 in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and Portugal and 18 in Turkey and Malta. In most European states the law does not specify whether the acts are heterosexual or homosexual.

Teenage marriage is rare in Spain – only four boys and 64 girls under 17 married in 2010 – but in a national survey published two years ago 74% of women born since 1971 said they had had sex before they were 20, nearly twice as many as their mothers' generation.

However, the rate of teenage pregnancy is low, less than a third of that in the United States. All Spanish children receive sex education classes in the last year of primary school, when they are 11. However, under the new education law proposed by Spain's rightwing government, sex education will be removed from the curriculum.

"Spain has advanced a lot in a short period of time," said Ezequiel Pérez Campos, president of the Spanish Contraception Society. "We have overcome many fears and taboos and women now play a much more central and active role." On the other hand, a report on sexual health in Spain published on Wednesday shows that all forms of sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise.

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« Reply #8504 on: Sep 04, 2013, 06:33 AM »

Syrian conflict brings sectarian tensions to Turkey's tolerant Hatay province

Erdogan's Islamist government accused of exploiting religious divisions in Antakya, long renowned for its ethnic diversity

Constanze Letsch in Antakya, Tuesday 3 September 2013 21.52 BST   

Nearly a quarter of the 2 million people who have fled the crisis in Syria – some 460,000 – have made their way into Turkey, the UN high commission for refugees announcedon Tuesday.

While many find themselves at the Yayladagi refugee camp near the border in Hatay, the wider knock-on effect in the province, famous for being Turkey's most tolerant, has been palpable.

Many of the Alawite and Sunni families living there are directly related to Syrian families, pulling the conflict closer to home. More than a third of the population is of Arab Alawite descent and many Alawites rally behind Bashar al-Assad, while Sunni villages often support the predominantly Sunni opposition.

Sited on one of the main squares in Antakya, the provincial capital of Hatay, "the Statue of Tolerance" may not have been the most subtle work of art – two massive hands raised towards the sky, one holding a globe, the other a cross, a crescent and a Star of David – but it was meant to celebrate religious diversity and harmony among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Now it has turned into a symbol of the rising sectarian tension.

Six weeks after the sculpture was unveiled, vandals repeatedly defaced the Star of David. The religious symbols were then promptly – and somewhat ironically – exchanged for an olive branch by the municipality. It may though, be just papering over the cracks.

"Ankara increasingly displays a Sunni stance, in line with other Sunni axis powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar," said Tamer Yazar, a local journalist. "People in Hatay perceive this as taking sides in this sectarian conflict. Their open support of opposition fighters only made matters worse."

The sense that the government of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is opting to play the sectarian card and deepen ethnic and religious divisions is reinforced by a law that will reorganise provincial boundaries next year and split Antakya along sectarian lines. All Alawite districts are to be gathered under a new name, Defne, while the majority Sunni quarters, including industrial zones and the airport, will become Antakya. A similar partition is to be applied in nearby Iskenderun, the biggest town in Hatay province.

While the authorities underline that the measure is aimed at simplifying administration and granting more autonomy to the local municipality, many see it as yet another step towards sectarian polarisation. In Antakya residents are calling the new demarcation line "the Berlin Wall".

"The decision to split Antakya in two is the most shameful in the city's history," said Mehmet Ali Edipoglu, an MP for the main opposition Republican People's party (CHP). "We told the AKP [the ruling Justice and Development party] this was dangerous, that this would pit people against each other along sectarian lines, but they did not listen. Despite all our efforts, we weren't able to stop this proposition."

A recent report published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) urged Turkey to "adopt a profile of a more balanced regional power rather than a Sunni Muslim one" in order to avoid possible spillover effects of the war in Syria.Officially 99.9% Muslim, Turkey has long failed to grant full freedoms to its religious minorities, and a sectarian tone increasingly taints the country's foreign policy. Erdogan repeatedly accused the leader of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an Alevi, of being a supporter of Assad solely based on his religion, overlooking the fact that the estimated 20 million Turkish Alevis are not identical to Syria's Alawites.

After twin car bombs exploded in the Hatay town of Reyhanli in May, Erdogan lamented "53 Sunni citizens" killed in the attack. The contentious comment did not go unnoticed in Antakya.

"There's always been a Sunni undertone in Erdogan's rhetoric and speeches on Syria, and his last remarks about Reyhanli angered people here a lot," said Yazar.

"We are actually not sure if all those who died were Sunni, because until he said this nobody asked if they were Sunni or Alevi, Kurds or Turks. If Turkey has come to the point where the dead are identified in such a way, the situation has become very bad. It's very dangerous."

Local people in Reyhanli, a Sunni-majority border town, agreed. "There has never really been any sectarian talk here, we all lived as brothers. But since the problems with Syria this has changed," said Mehmet Sanverdi, an unemployed lorry driver. "Some of the Syrian opposition fighters our government welcomes here try to cause chaos. They try to stir up trouble. Sectarianism is on the rise. Since the bomb attack, we are all afraid that something might happen again."

Many emphasised that there was little to no animosity between Alawites and Sunnis in Hatay, blaming the Turkish government for mounting tension.

"The government uses polarisation along Sunni lines as a political tool to rally their base," said Mahir Mansuroglu, head of the People's House Association in Antakya. "They antagonise those that didn't vote for them and use religion to stir things up. That's always dangerous."

He added that the government's support for Islamist Syrian opposition groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra had angered many Antakya residents, especially Alawites. "These groups do not hide their enmity towards Alevis, and these same groups were walking around the streets in Antakya," he said. "People felt threatened and suddenly like strangers in their own city. It did a lot of damage to daily life."

So far, nobody believes that the current unease could turn violent, but many feel that the general climate of tolerance Hatay residents are so proud of is changing. "What would have been a small neighbourly dispute only a couple of years ago can suddenly reach a whole new level if the two parties happen to belong to different sects," a fruit seller said. "Before, nobody used to care about religious affiliations but now people do. Unfortunately, much of this is fuelled by the government."

"Hatay is famous for its tolerance, and we will bring this tolerance back," Mansuroglu said. "There are no clashes between sects, and the tension has not reached a tipping point by any means. But we are not together any more either. Something has been lost."


Uneasy truce holds as Kurdish guerrilla forces withdraw from Turkey

Peace process stalls between PKK fighters led by Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Guillaume Perrier   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 3 September 2013 14.02 BST      

Since May the air strikes by Turkish fighter jets and low-flying helicopters have stopped on the mountain ridges between Turkey and Iraq. In the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) camps, scattered all the way along the border, the rebels are enjoying the truce. In their shelter, hidden by trees on the slopes of Mount Metina, young combatants are playing backgammon and watching the news from Syria on a television powered by a generator. From time to time they reach for another piece of watermelon. Only the occasional buzz of a drone reminds us this is a war zone.

On 21 March the longstanding PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan announced a ceasefire from his prison cell, with an end to fighting and the withdrawal of troops. The news raised hopes of a peaceful end to the bloody conflict between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish guerrillas. But the peace process has become bogged down and neither party is prepared to risk an initiative. "We're ready to go back to war," says Argesh, 26, who studied at Izmir University before taking up arms in 2009.

Once or twice a week a small group of 15 or 20 people crosses the border and returns to one of the rear bases on the Iraqi side. "The Metina valley, which runs along here, is the route taken by all the combatants pulling out of Turkish territory," Argesh explains.

The journey from sometimes remote regions can take several weeks. They must use narrow tracks, go round developed areas, and avoid army checkpoints and patrols by "village guards", Kurdish militia loyal to the Turkish state. Once they are safe in Iraq, PKK rebels disperse to various camps along the border.

We reached one of these camps, after an hour's drive up a ravine in a pickup. About 50 combatants have been living here for the past few weeks. The day Le Monde visited they were celebrating. Men and women in uniform were dancing and playing music. But the rest of the time they attend "ideological training" sessions, according to Nupelda, 25. "It took us five weeks to reach here from north of Diyarbakir, with 17 other people. The drones followed us all the way," says Khalil, 28, who has come home after 10 years in the field.

This week a larger group is due to go up to Metina. It is a gesture of defiance, in response to criticism voiced by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish prime minister accused the PKK of "not keeping its promises". He asserted that only 20% of Kurdish combatants had moved back over the border and most of them were children, invalids and old people. "He's just saying that to delay the peace process," says Khalil.

The guerrillas have not issued figures, but one of their number spoke of "about 500" people who have reached northern Iraq since the withdrawal started on 15 May. This is close to the 20% cited by Erdogan. The process is expected to take until mid-October. "Operations will only stop once withdrawal is complete," he stressed.

"The question is how many will go back to resume fighting in Turkey," says Cemil Bayik, the new PKK leader, dug in further east in the Qandil mountains. Khaled Habur, a Kurd from Iran who joined the guerrillas after Ocalan's arrest in 1999, is already prepared to go back. "I've been at war for 14 years," he says grimly. Late last year he took part in attacks on barracks at Lice, in south-east Turkey. "Our aim is not fighting, but we are ready to carry on."

The Kurds are wary, after previous setbacks, and think it is time for the Turkish government to initiate long-awaited reforms. In particular, this means redrafting the constitution and allowing their candidates to take part in the next general election.

In any case, the PKK has no intention of disarming. If it stops fighting in Turkey, combatants may move elsewhere. To Syria, to combat the jihadi organisations? "Yes," they all answer enthusiastically. "If a political solution is reached in the north, that won't mean we'll sit here doing nothing," says Khalil. "We must defend the Kurdish people."

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

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