Egyptian activists fear crackdown on Islamists will widen to other dissidents
Fears grow of expanding campaign against government opponents as leading activist from 2011 revolution is arrested
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Sunday 8 September 2013 14.59 BST
Egyptian activists fear the country's new army-backed regime will follow a crackdown on Islamist allies of the former president, Mohamed Morsi, with a wider campaign against those opposed to both Morsi and the military.
It follows the arrest of one of the leading activists from the 2011 revolution on charges of attempting to bring down the government, and the news – published in Egypt's flagship state newspaper, and then later denied – that 35 other prominent secular activists are also under investigation.
Haitham Mohamedein, a high-profile lawyer and key figure in Egypt's labour and revolutionary movements, was released without charge after being arrested and taken to a police court on Friday. The state prosecution office also denied to the Guardian on Sunday that any of the 35 other activists were at risk of legal proceedings.
But activists feared both instances indicated an attempt by the state to intimidate anyone likely to question the idea that the army's heavy-handed governance is the only alternative to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's new army-backed government currently has widespread public support for its crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood – a status quo those in power are keen to maintain.
"There is a crackdown on all those who oppose military rule," said Wael Abbas, a well-known journalist and rights activist initially listed on Saturday as one of the 35 activists under investigation. While officials categorically denied on Sunday that he and others were currently at risk, Abbas argued it was likely they had leaked information about a potential investigation to gauge public support for a widening of a crackdown on dissidents that has previously centred mainly on Islamists.
"It's a technique they've been using since the revolution," said Abbas. "We call it a test balloon."
Mohamedein's arrest and court hearing also suggested that the government was keen to frighten those involved in Egypt's influential workers' movement, Mohamedein's allies argued. Thousands of Egyptians – some of them represented by Mohamedein – have been on strike in recent weeks in the industrial cities of Suez and Mahalla in protest at poor conditions, and the government is concerned that the strikes might spread. Strikes played a key role in the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and were a destabilising force during the final months of Morsi's tenure.
"It's really scary for the state and they do not want this to happen," said Tarek Shalaby, a colleague of Mohamedein's in Egypt's Revolutionary Socialist party. In an apparent attempt to smear all opposition to the state with the same brush, Mohamedein was asked in court if he was a Brotherhood member, despite having opposed Morsi's rule.
Comparing Egypt's current climate to the McCarthyist witch-hunts of 1950s America, Shalaby added: "They're scared of people thinking that this is not a binary situation. They want to make sure that people who are opposed to both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military are not a threat."
Mohamedein's was not the only arrest to concern campaigners this weekend. The Sinai-based journalist Ahmed Abu Draa – critical of the army's recent behaviour in the restive peninsula – was also detained, and both detentions are seen as just the latest symptoms of the new government's increasing authoritarianism.
They follow the public rehabilitation of secret police units nominally disbanded after the fall of Hosni Mubarak; heavy-handed policing that has seen hundreds killed in state-led massacres; the use of unregulated military trials to fast-track the sentencing of Muslim Brotherhood members; and moves to alter Egypt's constitution to allow senior Mubarak-era officials to return to politics.
Morsi's own year in office was no better. His presidency was also characterised by police brutality, persecution of political activists and journalists, and a failure to curtail either army influence or condemn police abuse.
• Additional reporting by Marwa Awad
Israel deploys ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system near Jerusalem
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 9, 2013 0:17 EDT
Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defence system near Jerusalem Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, as the United States lobbied for domestic and international support for military strikes against Syria.
The correspondent said the battery was set up west of the city.
A military spokeswoman would not comment on the deployment, saying only that “defence systems are deployed in accordance with situation assessments.”
Late last month a battery of the mobile system was set up in the greater Tel Aviv area, pointing northwards towards Syria. Israeli media have reported that six or seven such batteries are currently in use.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Israel “an island of tranquillity, quiet and security” amidst “the storm raging around us”, without explicitly mentioning Syria or its ally Iran.
In previous weeks Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel was not involved in the war in Syria, but would “respond with force” if anyone attacked it.
The Israeli line on Syria was reiterated in remarks by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon later Sunday.
“We are not involved in the civil war in Syria unless our interests are compromised,” he said at a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
“We are preparing for the ramification of action — or inaction — in Syria,” he continued.
“To our understanding, our neighbours, especially the Syrian regime, understands that whoever challenges us will encounter the power of the IDF (Israeli military), and we are preparing for that.”
Yaalon noted that “we held a security assessment today”, and the bottom line was that Israel was not reverting to a heightened level of alert in the wake of the developments in and regarding Syria.
There are fears that if the United States and its allies attack Syria, forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or its Lebanese Hezbollah proxies could retaliate against neighbouring Israel, Washington’s key ally in the region.
Late last month, Iran’s army chief of staff General Hassan Firouzabadi warned: “Any military action against Syria will drive the Zionists to the edge of fire.”
US President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking to shore up support both at home and abroad for limited military strikes against Syria in retaliation for what it says is the regime’s use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb.
In Washington, Congress is due to begin full debate this week on whether to approve Obama’s plans when it returns from its summer break on Monday.
Norway's anti-immigration party likely to enter government this week
Survivors of the Utøya island massacre in 2011, perpetrated by an anti-immigration extremist, are concerned this will lead to a rise in social hostility
theguardian.com, Sunday 8 September 2013 14.12 BST
Norway's anti-immigration Progress party is likely to come to power for the first time as junior partner in a centre-right coalition, according to opinion polls about Monday's parliamentary election.
Despite a backlash against the party following the massacre of 69 people by Anders Breivik in 2011, Progress has recovered in the polls, appealing to one in seven voters. Breivik, 34, was a member of the Progress party in his youth before he lost faith in it and in democracy, and adopted the radical anti-Muslim views that underpinned his attacks.
Under the leadership of Siv Jensen, it is poised to enter government as a junior partner in a coalition led by Erna Solberg, a Conservative who is potentially Norway's next prime minister.
Polls have hardly moved since the beginning of August, with Labour and the Conservatives forecast to attract slightly less than 30% of the vote. A daily survey by Infact for Norway's VG newspaper showed support for Progress at around 14%. None of the other parties likely to form a post-election coalition is polling more than 7%.
"It scares me that the Progress party could be in power," said 29-year-old Vegard Grøslie Wennesland, a survivor of the Utøya killings running on a Labour ticket. "Some of their prominent figures still use very strongly anti-immigrant rhetoric. And that sort of rhetoric will create a more hostile environment."
Progress has softened its image in recent years, dumping some of its more firebrand spokesmen and positioning itself as a mainstream party of the right. All parties have refrained from explicit mentions of Breivik's attacks to avoid being seen as using the tragedy for political gain. But it has emerged in coded language during discussions about national security and investment decisions.
Morten Høglund, Progress's foreign affairs spokesman, confronted the issue after saying that his party would seek to invest the country's oil revenues in "roads, rail and police helicopters".
"If you look at the tragedy on July 22, the lack of police helicopters was one of the factors for not getting police to Utøya as quickly as we would like," he said. "But we are also talking about hospitals and other kinds of investment."
Fredric Holen Bjørdal, a 23-year-old Utøya survivor who is placed high on the Labour party's election list and is likely to become Norway's youngest legislator, said he was running for office not because of the horror he had experienced, but despite it.
"Many of my friends gave up politics afterward," said Bjørdal, who led a group of panicked teenagers from one hiding place to another as they fled Breivik's killing spree. "But for me, I became even more interested. I have this feeling that I have to continue the struggle for those who are not around to do it."
The massacre on Utøya island, and a bombing that killed eight people in Oslo's government district hours earlier deeply shocked Norway and the world. At his trial, Breivik said he wanted to punish the Labour party for its liberal immigration policies and to start a "conservative" revolution.
Norway seemingly unanimously agreed that the best way to confront his attacks and his extremism was to not let them change anything in Norwegian society, including its politics.
Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister, was admired for his calm sensitivity in the aftermath and support for his Labour party earned a short-lived boost. But last year, a report about the police pointed to institutional failures before and during the attacks, denting the prestige of Stoltenberg's government.
"The Labour party has always been the party of governance. But the ineptitude of the police has been pinned on the Labour party," said Frank Aarebrot, professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...Pig Putin's nose bloodied by Russia's rival mayoral candidates
Opposition's Alexei Navalny officially achieves 27.3% of Moscow vote, with Yekaterinburg's Yevgeny Roizman in even closer race
Alec Luhn in Moscow, and agencies
The Guardian, Monday 9 September 2013
Link to video: Moscow mayoral election: opposition candidate cries foulhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/09/moscow-mayoral-election-opposition-video
Russia's opposition movement recorded its most telling electoral result in 13 years of Pig Putin's rule on Sunday when candidates for mayor in two of the country's largest cities pulled off impressive results against incumbents.
Opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny won 27.24% of the vote for the Moscow mayoralty, but he immediately disputed the result, saying it was marred by "many serious violations".
He said in a statement: "We consider the official election results to be deliberately falsified."
Official results on Monday morning gave Kremlin ally Sergei Sobyanin, the acting mayor, 51.37%, enough to clear the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second-round runoff.
The Alliance of Observers, however, counted 49.7% for Sobyanin and 28.3% for Navalny.
Navalny's result – achieved with none of the financial, administrative and media advantages that incumbents enjoy – was interpreted as a clear sign of disaffection with the ruling elite.
In Russia's "third capital" of Yekaterinburg, anti-drug activist Yevgeny Roizman appeared to have beaten his opponent from the ruling United Russia party in the mayoral race.
The head of the Yekaterinburg electoral commission said on Monday morning Roizman had won by a margin of more than 3%, but that this result was still being finalised. Several exit polls on Sunday showed Roizman had won by a slim margin. Such a result would also be an embarrassment for the Kremlin.
In the lead-up to the Moscow election, many experts had said 20% would be an impressive result for Navalny, whose rating was in single figures when the early mayoral vote was called in June.
The opposition leader's unexpectedly high result, which he attained after tenacious street campaigning, appeared to mark an important turning point in Russian politics. For the most part, previous elections have been dominated by candidates from parties loyal to the Kremlin.
"The old political system is dead," said liberal political figure Leonid Gozman on the opposition-leaning TV channel Dozhd. "What happened in Moscow and Yekaterinburg … is related to people who are not associated with any party" in the Kremlin-controlled political system.
As the vote counting dragged on, both cities appeared poised for a tense couple of days. One picture circulating on Twitter showed riot police deployed outside the seat of the Yekaterinburg government.
The Moscow Electoral Commission had promised a final result by midnight thanks to newly installed electronic voting machines, but late on Sunday night delayed the announcement of the final result until 10am on Monday.
Speaking to journalists, Navalny said the delays in announcing official results were an indication of the "clear falsification" of votes. He said Sobyanin's results remained above 50% only due to ballot-stuffing outside polling stations, such as when counting votes cast from home. "We demand a second round. We ask Muscovites to come out to the streets if Sobyanin violates their right to vote," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, the Navalny campaign was already planning a protest rally for Monday night.
In July, Navalny was given a five-year prison sentence for extortion in a highly politicised trial. If his appeal against the verdict is unsuccessful, he will be ineligible to hold office in Russia.
Opposition candidate and former MP Gennady Gudkov fared less well in the Moscow region gubernatorial race, where the United Russia candidate Andrei Vorobyov reportedly won with over 70% of the vote.
Election observers in Moscow reported numerous minor violations. In the runup to the election, analysts predicted that falsifying votes cast from home (citizens can request electoral workers to make home visits) would be the most likely method of cheating, but the percentage of such votes was reportedly small.
Yelena Maliyeva, an electoral observer who said she supported Navalny, said she had discovered no irregularities at her polling station in south-central Moscow. However, she said she was prepared to stay all night to prevent violations, as she did during last year's presidential vote.
"In the presidential election, all the dishonest stuff happened after the polling place was closed. Then there were attempts to falsify votes," she said.
Voter turnout was, as expected, low across the country (besides the Moscow mayoral election, seven gubernatorial elections and 16 regional legislative elections were held on Sunday). In Moscow, it was reportedly under 30%.
Many saw the Moscow vote as a referendum on competitive elections. Alexander Lebedev, the Russian banker who owns the Independent and the Evening Standard, tweeted that he would vote for the first time in years: "I'm headed to the polling station. I have to, there's an actual choice."
Even Maria, an election observer and Sobyanin supporter who declined to give her last name, admitted that Navalny had made the election interesting. "That's his one plus," she said.
Sobyanin had ordered ruling party municipal deputies to give Navalny the signatures necessary to enter the race in what many saw as an attempt to lend his victory legitimacy and improve his political status. But the strong result for the opposition candidate calls into question Sobyanin's political rise, which some had speculated could go as far as the prime minister's chair.
Several officials, including Sobyanin's campaign manager, praised the fairness and competitiveness of the elections in an apparent shift in rhetoric. "Do I understand correctly that the official statement about the 'most fair elections' is an admission that the rest were 'not the most fair'?" tweeted socialite and television host Ksenia Sobchak.
Speaking at a United Russia meeting, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said United Russia's victory in the majority of regional elections showed it "is able to work under in conditions of competitive elections."
09/09/2013 12:51 PMNavalny's Strong Showing: The Pig Is the Real Loser of Moscow Vote
A Commentary by Matthias Schepp
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's strong showing in the Moscow mayoral elections this weekend shows that the Kremlin's efforts to thwart his popularity have failed. Indeed, the rebellious blogger is stronger than ever.
The most important election in Russia this year was that of mayor for Moscow. Had things gone by the book over the weekend, the Kremlin would have seen Russia's opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny put in his place, humiliated once and for all.
For years, the Kremlin has kept political rivals at bay ahead of elections. But this time, President Pig Putin himself gave the green light to Alexei Navalny's participation in the race, allowing the high-profile lawyer turned blogger and anti-corruption activist to run for office.
But at the same time, the Kremlin did its utmost to smear him -- maintaining that Navalny's election campaign had foreign financing, ordering police to seize his campaign material and accusing Leonid Volkov, his campaign manager, of frequenting strip clubs. Most importantly, it had him put on trial for allegedly embezzling the Kirovles state timber company. In July, he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail, only to be granted a provisional release days later. Nonetheless, the sentence handed down by the Lenin district court was not repealed. Although his lawyers plan to appeal, Navalny will have to begin serving his time as soon as the decision is final.
Pig Putin's strategy has proved an unmitigated disaster. Predicted to attract 10 or 12 percent of the vote on Sunday, Navalny ended up securing 27 percent. Quite an achievement -- and one that makes the 37-year-old the undisputed leader of the anti-Pig opposition. Not only did the Kremlin fail to humiliate Navalny, it actually strengthened him.
At last, an Alternative to Pig Putin's System
The clear loser of the Moscow mayoral election is Pig Putin. By giving their support to Navalny, voters were taking a stand first and foremost against the president and his system of "managed democracy." Keen to have its voice heard, Moscow's affluent, fast-growing middle class participated in the mass protests against election fraud in the parliamentary elections in December 2011 and the presidential elections in March 2012, carrying banners that proclaimed they would not be duped.
The Pig has no absolute majority in the Russian capital. His ally, the insipid but efficient Sergei Sobyanin, won the mayoral election and secured 51 percent of the vote, just above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a second-round ballot. In the presidential elections, Putin himself only drew 47 percent of the vote in Moscow, his lowest showing in all of Russia's districts.
"Pig Putin occupies the Kremlin the way Napoleon did, having occupied a city that didn't belong to him," author Victor Erofeyev writes in an essay for this week's SPIEGEL.
Thanks to Navalny and Sobyanin, Russian democracy has taken a step forward. Russian politics have become exciting again. Finally, there is an alternative -- in the shape of Navalny -- to the Pig's system. He has won over many Russians by blogging about corruption scandals and using the majority's xenophobia to his own advantage, calling for compulsory visas for immigrant workers from former Soviet states. He also has support from within the ranks of the oligarchs and businessmen fed up with Pig Putin.
Fair and Square
With his army of youthful followers, Navalny ran an election campaign that was a breath of fresh air in Pig Putin's Russia. He proved he had the common touch, a gift for public speaking and with his slogan "Change Russia, Start With Moscow," a knack for a punchy soundbite. It was all he needed to mobilize a huge number of people, and helped him perform as well as he did in an election in which only 33 percent of the population took part.
His rival Sergei Sobyanin appears to have steered clear of the usual widescale election manipulation and insisted that Navalny be allowed to run for mayor. He wanted to win the election fair and square.
"Moscow and Russia are ready for greater public participation and democracy," said Sergei Kapkov, the Moscow government's golden boy and head of the department of culture, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE ahead of the vote.
Navalny, meanwhile, is contesting the official result and has called for a demonstration in central Moscow on Monday evening.
Behind the scenes, Navalny's future continues to hang in the balance. Pig Putin's hawks now see their position as vindicated -- they would have rather been safe than sorry and put him behind bars. But given how defiant the Moscow electorate is looking these days, can the Pig really risk locking up a man who secured over 25 percent of the mayoral vote?
Gibraltar row: British MPs and peers visit the Rock
Politicians to visit Gibraltar on overseas territory's National Day as tensions with Spain refuse to face away
The Guardian, Sunday 8 September 2013 19.35 BST
A cross-party delegation of British MPs will visit Gibraltar this week as it celebrates its National Day amid increased tensions with Spain.
The milestone on 10 September, which commemorates the day in 1967 that the British Overseas Territory held its first referendum on British citizenship, comes as the diplomatic row with Spain over an artificial reef continues to drag on.
European Commission inspectors are due to visit the border area later this month to assess the legality of stringent traffic checks introduced by Madrid, which have led to queues lasting several hours for traffic crossing to and from the rocky outcrop at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
The group of MPs including Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes will visit along with peers and MEPs and hold a series of meetings, the Gibraltar Government said.
Other MPs the Gibraltar government said were attending are Jim Dobbin, Jack Lopresti, Angus MacNeil, David Morris, Bob Neill, Andrew Rosindell, Alec Shelbrooke, Col Bob Stewart and Dame Angela Watkinson.
Representatives of eight other overseas territories, including the Falkland Islands, will also be in Gibraltar for the event.
Commonwealth MPs have become the latest group to back Gibraltar and criticise Spain's manoeuvring in the row over fishing rights.
A motion presented to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Johannesburg by Gibraltarian minister Samantha Sacramento was passed by MPs from across the world.
The resolution adopted read: "This Assembly notes with concern the reports of continuing harassment of Gibraltar by Spain, including the creation of lengthy delays at the land frontier between the two countries, the threat of imposing air restrictions and numerous maritime incursions into Gibraltar's waters by the naval and para-military agencies of the Spanish state and considers that this political pressure on Gibraltar is totally unacceptable and that it must cease immediately."
Spain imposed strict checks on traffic at the border with Gibraltar in protest at the creation of an artificial reef.
The Spanish claim the 74 concrete blocks on the seabed disrupt an area used by its fishing boats, while the Gibraltarians say it was a necessary environmental measure.
The row, which started at the start of August, has gone to the European Commission, which will send a team to assess the legality of the border checks later this month.
There have been reports of increasing violence at the border over the last fortnight as angry commuters face long queues to get to homes in Andalusia.
As well as reports of missiles being thrown at Guardia Civil officers, two unions organised a protest after reports an officer was injured by a Gibraltar-registered car that failed to stop.
The Royal Gibraltar Police said earlier this week that its "investigations thus far suggest that there is no evidence of the level of disorder at the frontier that has been reported in certain quarters" but that it would make changes in the way that vehicles must queue.
Newly discovered Van Gogh painting kept in attic for years
Sunset at Montmajour has been authenticated by Van Gogh Museum and is first full-size Van Gogh discovered since 1928
Associated Press in Amsterdam
theguardian.com, Monday 9 September 2013 10.49 BST
The Van Gogh Museum says it has identified a long-lost Vincent van Gogh painting that spent years in a Norwegian attic amd was believed to be by another painter. It is the first full-size canvas by the Dutch master discovered since 1928.
Sunset at Montmajour depicts trees, bushes and sky, painted with Van Gogh's familiar thick brush strokes. It can be dated to the exact day it was painted because the artist described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, and said he painted it the previous day – 4 July, 1888.
He said the painting was done "on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow".
Museum experts said the painting was authenticated by letters, style and the physical materials used, and they had traced its history.
The museum's director, Axel Rueger, described the discovery as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" at an unveiling ceremony.
The museum said the painting belonged to an unidentified private collector and would be on display at the museum from 24 September.
It did not disclose full details of how the painting had been recovered, but said that it had been owned by a Norwegian man who had been told it was not by Van Gogh, so he put it in the attic.
Rueger said the museum had itself rejected the painting's authenticity in the 1990s, in part because it was not signed. But new research techniques and a two-year investigation had convinced them.
Researcher Teio Meedendorp said he and other researchers "have found answers to all the key questions, which is remarkable for a painting that has been lost for more than 100 years".
The painting was listed among Theo van Gogh's collection as number 180, and that number can still be seen on the back of the canvas. The work was sold in 1901.
Vincent van Gogh struggled with bouts of mental distress throughout his life, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. He sold only one painting while he was alive, though his work was just beginning to win acclaim. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which houses 140 of the Dutch master's works, receives more than a million visitors annually, and Van Gogh paintings are among the most valuable in the world.
Rueger described Sunset as ambitious, because the canvas is relatively large, at 93.3cm x 73.3cm (36.7in x 28.9in).
"In this case, size does matter," he said.
Van Gogh referred to the work in two other letters in the same summer it was painted, but he said he considered it a failure in several respects.
The location it depicts can be identified: it shows the ruins of an abbey near Montmajour hill near Arles, France, where Van Gogh was living at the time. The ruins can be seen in the background of the work, on the left-hand side.
Meedendorp said it belongs "to a special group of experimental works that Van Gogh at times esteemed of lesser value than we tend to nowadays".
09/09/2013 01:03 PM
Threat to Reforms: EU Criticizes Cyprus for Lack of Consultation
The European Commission has criticized Cyprus for announcing policies that will boost public spending. The country needs to consult its creditors in the future to minimize the impact of its measures on reform progress, the Commission said in a draft report.
The European Commission has criticized the government of Cyprus for increasing public spending without consulting its international creditors first.
In a draft report seen by SPIEGEL, the Commission said Cyprus had announced a number of steps that will boost outlays, such as a plan to grant tax advantages to customers of Cypriot banks to encourage them to shift their capital back to the island.
The troika -- made up of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank -- recently scrutinized the progress Cyprus is making in implementing reforms imposed as a condition for the international bailout of €10 billion ($13.17 billion) given to the small Mediterranean island nation in April.
Under the terms of the bailout, Cyprus shrank its oversized banking sector, the mainstay of its economy, by closing the second biggest bank, Laiki, and restructuring Bank of Cyprus. It also agreed to raise taxes, cut spending and implement structural reforms to improve its public finances and to be able to eventually repay its debt.
The tax measure for bank customers is likely to lead to higher costs for the government budget, the Commission report says.
In the future, the government must inform the troika "to minimize the risk of initiatives that could have a significant impact on the achievement of program targets," the report says.
But it also says that Cyprus is making progress on its reforms.
"The fulfilment of program pledges has begun in all major areas," the report says, but it adds "in the field of budgetary measures and structural reforms the progress has been mixed.
Merkel sides with unlikely allies over Syria
German support for Obama's G20 declaration was lukewarm and late, but the chancellor is unlikely to lose votes for it at home
Ian Traynor, Europe editor
Monday 9 September 2013 12.41 BST
Gassing in wartime is, of course, a touchy subject in Germany. There's Zyklon B and Auschwitz, to be sure, and there's an older story, the slaughter of Europe's youth in the trenches west of Brussels almost 100 years ago.
Then, too, the Germans were the first if not the only ones to resort to industrial warfare, using poison gas to annihilate the enemy in the first world war, horrors that led directly to the international chemical weapons ban agreed in the 1920s and now being cited as one reason for international intervention in Syria.
But if the use of chemicals to kill children in their sleep resonates particularly grimly in Germany, the government of Angela Merkel appears at a loss over how to respond. She is far from isolated in resisting American pressure for a military campaign. She is, two weeks before her election, nonetheless in a tricky position trying to manoeuvre to keep on side with her natural allies while actually agreeing in substance with the opponents of those allies.
We have been here before. It was a diplomatic disaster that entailed a lot of damage limitation. Two years ago as the French and the British, with discreet US support, geared up to topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Berlin abstained in the UN security council on the resolution establishing a no-fly zone and authorising air strikes to protect civilians.
Merkel joined the Russians and the Chinese on the abstention side, against her Nato allies, the Americans, British and French.
It was a bit of a watershed. Copious efforts were made to blame the mess on last-minute diplomatic bungling in New York and crossed lines of communication. But the damage was done.
Merkel has also been consistent in her opposition to any kind of military intervention in the Middle East, opposing Anglo-French moves all this year to change the EU sanctions regime on Syria to facilitate the flow of weapons to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The crisis over how to respond to the 21 August Ghouta attack exposed new fissures at the weekend at the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg and at the meeting of EU foreign ministers with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Vilnius in Lithuania.
On Friday, when the Obama team got 10 other countries to sign a declaration blaming Assad for the gas attack and demanding a strong response, Germany was the only one of five EU countries that did not sign, unlike the UK, France, Italy, and Spain.
By Sunday, Merkel had changed her mind and decided to join the signatories after all. But it was the others who were to blame.
"I decided that Germany would only sign once we managed to find a common European position," she told an election rally in Düsseldorf on Sunday, announcing the abrupt U-turn.
The German prevarication was already causing international ripples.
"Can someone please explain why Germany was the only major western country not to sign onto statement on Syria at the G20," tweeted Ivo Daalder, until recently the US ambassador to Nato in Brussels.
When told Merkel had changed her mind, he added: "Good. Better late than never. I understand Iraq war trauma. My worry was Libya repeat."
But the wobbles in Berlin were on full view a couple of weeks earlier. In the wake of the Ghouta attack, the German foreign ministry issued a statement announcing that if the Syrian regime was found to be responsible "Germany will be among those calling for action to be taken".
Within a hour that statement had been binned and a new one drafted. Instead, Germany would "consider that some consequences will have to be drawn".
Merkel claimed improbably she did not know the other Europeans were backing Obama in the G20 declaration. If true, she has a problem with her staff and her advisers. And she argued she had to wait for the EU statement in Vilnius.
But the two statements are quite different. The G20 formula marks the maximum that the White House could get, blaming Assad and threatening a military response. The Vilnius declaration bears Berlin's imprint, with the emphasis on waiting for the UN inspectors to report on the gas attack and stressing that Assad should possibly be indicted internationally for war crimes and brought before the international criminal court.
That will take a while. Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, for example, was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal during the Kosovo campaign in May 1999. It was more than two years before he was extradited, only after losing the war and then being deposed at home.
That Kosovo campaign, of course, marked Germany's return to the use of military force internationally, with the Luftwaffe taking to the skies over Europe for the first time since 1945.
It was a Greens foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who accomplished that, declaring forcefully that Germany had to act in concert with its allies because of the Auschwitz argument – "never again".
It is difficult to conceive of a similar willingness to project military force coming from Merkel and her Christian Democrats.
Der Spiegel says that the international doubts raised about Merkel in Russia will overshadow the final crucial fortnight of campaigning. Perhaps. But none of the main parties want to get dragged into a war in Syria, nor is there public support for intervention.
Merkel will not lose votes for being less than gung-ho over Syria. But she is also not endearing herself to her peers among the main western powers, again preferring Putin to Obama but trying not to say so too loudly.
The chancellor might change her tune once she is re-elected, of course. But her record on these issues suggests this is unlikely.
September 8, 2013
Has Berlusconi Finally Run Out of Political Lives?
By JIM YARDLEY
ROME — Behind the high gates of his lavish 16th-century villa in Italy’s wealthy Po Valley, Silvio Berlusconi is plotting. His People of Freedom party is currently the most popular in Italy. He just won a victory by getting rid of a disliked property tax. And yet he could be facing his political end.
Mr. Berlusconi, 76, the polarizing former prime minister and billionaire media mogul, has dominated Italian politics for two decades, even as he maneuvered past sex scandals and corruption trials. Then, in July, he ran out of maneuvering room: Italy’s highest court upheld a prison term against him for tax fraud. On Monday, a parliamentary commission will debate whether to strip him of his Senate seat.
And that has thrown Italian politics into a state of turmoil that threatens the survival of the country’s fragile coalition government while also posing risks to the tentative economic recovery under way in Europe. Analysts warn that political instability in Italy, the Continent’s third-biggest economy, could unsettle financial markets, further sour investor confidence and possibly stoke the angry brand of anti-austerity populism that has periodically erupted across southern Europe.
Italy’s postwar politics have always had an operatic flourish, with governments regularly falling, even as the rest of a bemused Europe watched from a distance. But the travails of the euro and the fitful project of European integration have changed that: just as a banking crisis in tiny Cyprus can threaten the stability of the 17-nation euro zone, so now must Brussels and Berlin be wary of any outward ripples from Italy’s political machinations.
“It could potentially be very significant,” said Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London. “Political instability in Italy is more of a concern than in Spain, Portugal or Greece.”
With much at stake, the question reverberating through Italy’s news media is, “What will Berlusconi do?” He has remained mostly secluded at his villa outside Milan since making an emotional appearance in Rome on Aug. 4, a few days after his conviction. Near tears and surrounded by supporters, Mr. Berlusconi said his party would continue to support the coalition government even as he furiously denounced his conviction.
But that pledge is now on the table, as the parliamentary commission prepares to consider his expulsion from the Senate. Under a 2012 law, anyone convicted of a crime carrying at least a two-year sentence must be barred from public office for several years. Mr. Berlusconi would also lose certain legal protections afforded to lawmakers — a significant blow, given his regular brushes with corruption accusations and contentious history with the country’s magistrates.
“Once he is not a member of Parliament, any prosecutor can arrest him for any reason,” said Lucio Malan, a senator with Mr. Berlusconi’s party, who said he believed that many magistrates were colluding with left-leaning political parties against the former prime minister.
Mr. Malan and other supporters say the 2012 law should not be applied, given that the tax case originated several years earlier. And other Berlusconi loyalists have bluntly warned that stripping him of his Senate seat could amount to political war: he might withdraw his party’s support for the coalition and bring down the government.
The coalition, led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, is already an awkward marriage between Mr. Berlusconi’s center-right party and its archrival, the center-left Democratic Party, as well as smaller parties. After inconclusive national elections this year, President Giorgio Napolitano, the 88-year-old senior statesman of Italian politics, midwifed the government into existence in the name of stability and reviving the moribund economy.
Under Italy’s Constitution, only the president can call new elections, and Mr. Napolitano has said that snap elections now would be economically and politically destructive. If Mr. Berlusconi pulls out, Mr. Napolitano would most likely try to form a different coalition government.
“For him, stability has become the most important aspect of Italian politics, more than reform,” said Sergio Fabbrini, a political scientist and the director of the Luiss School of Government in Rome. “Instability means an economic loss of huge proportions.”
Mr. Napolitano also does not want to jeopardize efforts in Parliament to approve sweeping electoral changes. Italy’s current electoral law, including aspects instituted during Mr. Berlusconi’s era as prime minister, is widely criticized for being unrepresentative. Later this year, an Italian court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the system, creating a potential crisis: What would happen if Mr. Berlusconi manages to force new elections but, in the interim, the court rules that the electoral system is unconstitutional?
Italian voters have already signaled their anger and disillusionment with the political class. In parliamentary elections in February, the upstart Five Star Movement, led by the former comedian Beppe Grillo, won a startling 25 percent of the ballots in what was widely perceived as a protest vote. Italy’s youth are especially alienated, having endured rampant unemployment and stagnant wages.
Indeed, many analysts say Italian politics are nearing a generational inflection point that coincides with troubles facing the aging Mr. Berlusconi. Recent polls show the People of Freedom party leading other parties, yet Mr. Berlusconi’s prospects of winning a new round of elections are considered challenging. Many analysts say much will depend on whether Matteo Renzi, 38, the charismatic mayor of Florence, can overcome internal antagonisms within the Democratic Party to become the center-left’s next candidate for prime minister.
“Renzi has many defects,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist and specialist on Italy’s electoral system. “But he can put an end to the Berlusconi era.”
Some analysts say Mr. Berlusconi’s threats to bring down the government would be likely to dissolve if an accommodation could be reached. Some of his supporters have suggested a presidential pardon, but Mr. Napolitano has not indicated he would offer one.
That has left Mr. Berlusconi roughly five weeks away from having to start serving his sentence. His conviction carries a four-year prison term, which was reduced to a single year under a law aimed at reducing prison overcrowding. He also has the right to decide by Oct. 15 whether he will serve his time in jail, under house arrest or through community service. He does not want to serve his sentence in any manner, regarding it as unjustified, yet his opponents insist that his political power cannot exempt him from the law.
“For us, this is a matter of rule of law,” said Felice Casson, a senator from Venice with the Democratic Party, who nonetheless smiled at the thought of his party’s nemesis doing court-ordered manual labor. “He could clean up the Venice canals. There are convicts on lesser crimes in Venice who do that.”
Now, though, the question is what Mr. Berlusconi’s next step will be and whether he will make trouble beyond Italy. Last Friday, during the Group of 20 meeting in Russia, Prime Minister Letta told reporters that the world was looking to Rome with concern.
“There’s lots of interest in Italy, that Italy plays a role and there is stability,” Mr. Letta said, according to the Italian news agency ASNA. “There’s a need for a stable Italy in political, financial and economic terms.”
One Berlusconi loyalist, who has worked closely with him for years, described the former prime minister’s mood as one of “bitter outrage.” Some in his party are lobbying for a full-out political fight, while others warn that doing so could inflict damage on his businesses and his party.
“What worries him the most is his legacy,” said the loyalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, saying that Mr. Berlusconi was furious over the verdict. “He’s like a Navy Seal. He will never give up. Even though everybody says, ‘That’s it, we got him.’ But he’ll never give up.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.
September 8, 2013
Making History in Pakistan Simply by Serving a Full Term
By DECLAN WALSH
Smoking an electronic cigarette and casually stooping to feed his cat, President Asif Ali Zardari cut a relaxed figure in a television interview broadcast on Sunday. Later, he strolled from the presidential palace while flanked by soldiers in gleaming uniforms, in a mark of honor for his last day at work.
For the departing president, whose many critics had anticipated other endings, those seemingly banal images represented a quiet victory.
Over his five years in power, Mr. Zardari fended off threat after threat. Senior judges sought to unseat him through corruption prosecutions. Generals murmured to diplomats about the possibility of a coup. The Taliban vowed to kill him. And large portions of the Pakistani news media and public seemed to revel in ridiculing or condemning him.
He leaves with the Pakistani economy a shambles, and with the once-mighty political machine he still leads, the Pakistan People’s Party, in disarray after a crushing election defeat.
Yet for all that, Mr. Zardari, 58, has also confounded expectations. He bolstered Pakistan’s democracy by draining his own office of power. He became the country’s first elected president to complete his term of office. He shifted the tone of politics, eschewing bare-knuckles confrontation for a more accommodating approach.
And, perhaps thanks to the instincts that were honed during his 11 years in prison before becoming president, he displayed political wiles that enabled him to outmaneuver the steeliest rivals, and simply survive.
“Love him or hate him, one can never underestimate President Zardari,” wrote Kamal Siddiqi, editor of the daily newspaper The Express Tribune.
Mr. Zardari’s departure from office comes at the midpoint of a broader changing of the guard this year in the top echelons of Pakistan’s turbulent power structures. In June, his longtime political rival, Nawaz Sharif, became prime minister after a sweeping election victory. In November, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is due to step down; weeks later, the formidable chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is to be replaced.
“This is an era of great change,” said Adil Najam, a professor of international relations at Boston University. “Zardari’s achievement is to walk away from high power with a smile on his face — not going out in a coffin, or in handcuffs, or in disgrace.”
For long, though, he struggled to achieve political legitimacy.
Catapulted into office in 2008 by the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Zardari arrived already burdened by a reputation for graft. Not only did the military dislike him, but he was also viewed with suspicion by many supporters of his own party as the accidental inheritor of a storied political dynasty.
After early efforts to assert his authority in the face of the military abjectly failed, he largely receded from public view. Much of that was due to security concerns, as a fierce Taliban bombing offensive struck major cities, killing thousands. He often remained cloistered in Islamabad, worried about his security, occasionally darting to the airport for state trips abroad, or to his second home in Dubai.
He displayed a leaden sensibility toward public opinion — for instance, continuing a vacation at his parents’ estate in France in August 2010 as huge floods inundated the country and drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
Those mistakes were seized upon by the increasingly influential electronic media, which treated Mr. Zardari with hostility and, for a time, regularly predicted his downfall. He was openly mocked, and his personal life attacked with insinuations. Some Pakistanis still believe that Mr. Zardari engineered his own wife’s death as part of a macabre power grab.
Yet Mr. Zardari often turned the other cheek, keeping up a Cheshire cat grin while he pursued a calculated and patient approach as his opponents overstepped themselves.
In 2012, he slogged through a protracted court battle with Justice Chaudhry, who pushed to reopen a corruption case against Mr. Zardari that dated to the 1990s. Mr. Zardari and his lawyers fought back adroitly, eventually sidestepping the charges. But in the process, he had to sacrifice his chosen prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was forced to resign by court order in June 2012.
Often as not, brinkmanship and back-room deals were Mr. Zardari’s style. Yet along the way, he also introduced key constitutional changes that anchored the country’s fragile democratic foundations. He surrendered the main power of his own office — the ability to dismiss Parliament — and turned it into a ceremonial position.
That he got so far could be seen as a minor miracle. During a political crisis in 2009, General Kayani discussed the possibility of a military takeover, according to American diplomatic cables later published by WikiLeaks. Around the same time, Mr. Zardari told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. he worried that General Kayani and the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate were plotting to “take me out,” according to another leaked cable.
In private meetings, according to a confidant who met with him regularly, Mr. Zardari indicated that he believed his conversations were being monitored, and would tap two fingers on his shoulder to indicate he was talking about the military.
The confidant spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
But the Pakistan military’s prestige has also suffered blows in recent years, particularly after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. A charged political scandal blew up months later when Mr. Zardari faced accusations of secretly siding with the United States amid fears of a military coup.
But the drama later fizzled, suggesting new limits to military meddling in politics.
If his constant maneuvering succeeded in yielding Mr. Zardari political and judicial victories, however, it failed to address some of Pakistan’s most profound troubles.
The economy has nose-dived and foreign exchange reserves have shrunk in recent years, leading the International Monetary Fund to approve a $6.6 billion emergency loan on Wednesday — on top of $5 billion that Pakistan already owes the international body.
Further harming the economy, systemic power shortages reached crisis proportions this summer, with even major cities experiencing long hours of electricity rationing. Only 1 percent of Pakistanis pay income tax.
Mr. Zardari habitually chose ministers on the basis of loyalty rather than ability. And although he frequently railed against the menace posed by Islamist militants, his government failed to stem the tide of Taliban violence.
Indeed, his party kowtowed to the religious right, particularly in the poisonous debate over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. And attempts to broker peace in western Baluchistan Province, where a bitter nationalist insurgency has been raging, failed badly.
In recent months, however, as it became clear he would see out the end of his term, some of the public venom toward Mr. Zardari appeared to have dissipated.
“There is a sense that political normalcy is starting to set in,” said Professor Najam, while cautioning that it was too early to say if civilian supremacy would last. “We’ve been here before, in the 1990s,” he said. “And then things bounce back.”
On Monday, the new president, Mamnoon Hussain of Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is due to be sworn in.
Mr. Zardari, meanwhile, may still have to fend off threats from his old rival, Justice Chaudhry.
Some speculate that the courts could renew their judicial offensives against Mr. Zardari once he loses the shield of presidential immunity. Already his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, is under house arrest, facing criminal charges in five cases.
Mr. Zardari says his priority is to rebuild the Pakistan People’s Party, which suffered a painful drubbing in the May elections. He must unite disgruntled factions and, eventually, settle the matter of succession — whether the Bhutto mantle will fall to his son, Bilawal, or to his daughter Aseefa, whom some analysts see as emerging in a more prominent role.
Of the failures attributed to Mr. Zardari, perhaps the most striking concerns the event that propelled him to power.
Six years after his wife was killed in a gun and bomb attack, the identity of the forces behind the assassination remains a mystery. Some Bhutto supporters believe the military played a role; the matter is still in court.
But the fact that Mr. Zardari failed to unearth the truth offers another telling indicator of the limits of civilian authority in Pakistan’s fluctuating power equation.
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Religious clashes spread across Indian district of Muzaffarnagar
Further areas gripped by Hindu-Muslim riots that have left 28 dead in Muzaffarnagar and many more missing, say police
Associated Press in Muzaffarnagar
theguardian.com, Monday 9 September 2013 12.31 BST
Sectarian violence is spreading across northern India, despite an army-enforced curfew put in place after deadly weekend clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
Gunfire and street battles that erupted on Saturday in villages around Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh state have killed at least 28 people and left many more missing, police said. Soldiers in the region have been given orders to shoot rioters on sight, state government official Kamal Saxena said.
By Monday morning, police had arrested 90 people after violence spread to the neighbouring districts of Shamli and Meerut overnight.
Dozens of rioters attacked soldiers who were evacuating people on Sunday night from the riot-torn village of Wazidpur, Saxena said. Troops responded by opening fire on the rioters but no one was hit, he added.
The violence began on Saturday night after a meeting of thousands of Hindu farmers called for justice over the killing of three young men from Kawal village who had objected when a woman was being verbally harassed. Officials said some of the farmers had given hate-filled speeches against Muslims at the meeting.
Clashes with Muslims broke out after the meeting, with many people carrying guns, swords and knives, senior police officer Arun Kumar said.
Rumours spread by mobile phones and social media were fuelling the violence and making it difficult for soldiers to restore calm, state police inspector Ashish Gupta said.
Shops and schools were closed on Monday in Muzaffarnagar, about 78 miles (125km) north of New Delhi. Soldiers were searching homes for weapons.
A state of alert has been declared for Uttar Pradesh, a state of 200 million people where the 1992 razing of a 16th-century mosque by a Hindu mob in Ayodhya sparked India's worst sectarian clashes.
The central government warned that 451 incidents had been reported this year, compared with 410 for all of 2012. Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said tensions were expected to escalate further in the runup to next year's national elections, and urged India's 28 states to remain on high alert.
Two Indias: ‘An Uncertain Glory,’
by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen
Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
By JYOTI THOTTAM
Published: September 6, 2013
In late June, a television reporter named Narayan Pargaien spent three days in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand to cover the region’s devastating monsoon floods, which have killed more than 5,700 people. Like most journalists covering the disaster, Pargaien dutifully described families who had lost everything, including their modest thatch-roofed homes. Unlike most journalists, Pargaien reported from the scene while perched on the shoulders of a flood victim in the middle of a swollen river. As the outrage poured in, Pargaien tried to explain himself. In an interview with the Indian Web site Newslaundry, he said the man who carried him had insisted upon it. “He was grateful to us and wanted to show me some respect,” Pargaien said, “as it was the first time someone of my level had visited his house.”
AN UNCERTAIN GLORY: India and Its Contradictions
By Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen
434 pp. Princeton University Press. $29.95.
The India captured in that image — a preening consumer economy built on the backs of the destitute — is the subject of “An Uncertain Glory,” a new book by the economists Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen that aims to bring the poor to the center of public discussion about the country’s future. It’s an urgent, passionate, political work that makes the case that India cannot move forward without investing significantly — as every other major industrialized country has already done — in public services: “The lack of health care, tolerably good schools and other basic facilities important for human well-being and elementary freedoms, keeps a majority of Indians shackled to their deprived lives in a way quite rarely seen in other self-respecting countries that are trying to move ahead in the world.”
Sen, who won the Nobel in economic science in 1998, and Drèze, his longtime collaborator, begin by retelling the story of India’s recent economic boom. They show that, leaving aside per capita income, which has grown impressively, India is actually falling behind its neighbors in South Asia — never mind America, Europe and China — in every social indicator that matters, from literacy to child malnutrition to access to toilets. The chapter on the country’s woeful schools is a welcome corrective to the idea of India as a nation of brilliant, job-stealing engineers. In fact, large numbers of Indian primary-school students are unable to write a simple sentence or do basic arithmetic. In an alarming chapter on health, Drèze and Sen point out that while the Taliban’s opposition to polio vaccines in Pakistan has rightly created an international furor, there is scant attention paid to India’s dismal rates of child immunization, which are among the lowest in the world, “even without a Taliban.”
These comparisons are rhetorical tools; the authors use them to show that India’s problems can’t be attributed to culture or democracy or a lack of tax revenue. Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are all messy, multiparty democracies with deeply conservative religious traditions and legacies of colonial oppression. And yet, with fewer resources, they have made solid progress in improving health and education while India stagnates.
So what’s the problem? According to Drèze and Sen, even though the poor constitute a vast majority of Indian voters, they have been shut out of public discourse. “What a democratic system achieves depends largely on what issues are brought into political engagement,” they write. That’s why “An Uncertain Glory” directs so much of its criticism toward the “celebratory media,” the proliferation of satellite channels and newspapers dominated by breathless gossip about cricketers, billionaires and Bollywood stars and point-scoring among the political elite. The Indian media are not unique in their love of froth and scandal, but the stakes are higher when these news outlets set the agenda for a country with “the largest population of seriously undernourished people in the world.”
As if to prove their point, coverage of the book in India, where it was published in July, has been dominated by the “feud” between Drèze and Sen, champions of the poor, and the economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, co-authors of “Why Growth Matters” and champions of market deregulation, who argue that too much spending on social welfare programs might derail economic growth. But it would be a mistake to read “An Uncertain Glory” as a screed against liberalization. This book is something bigger, a heartfelt plea to rethink what progress in a poor country ought to look like. What difference does it make, the authors ask, to lift millions above some notional poverty line if they still lack the basics of a decent life? That is the paradox at the heart of Katherine Boo’s best seller “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum” — it isn’t simply want of money that makes the slum dwellers of Annawadi miserable; it’s being trapped in a system that’s rigged against them.
While Drèze and Sen have called for investing in social welfare before, this book comes at a crucial time. Ineffectiveness and corruption plague India’s public sector, but recent data show that when it comes to health and education, outcomes in the private sector are no better. “There is a real need for pragmatism here,” they write, “and to avoid both the crushing inefficiency of market denial . . . and the pathology of ideological marketization.”
In the interest of pragmatism, Drèze and Sen might have devoted more thought to how to make India’s existing social-welfare initiatives work better. They describe successes in a few forward-thinking states, but it is not clear how to replicate those results on a national scale. The section on discrimination against girls — an issue on which Sen is an unquestioned expert — also cries out for a more prescriptive analysis. When even girls’ education seems to have no effect on gender inequality, what’s left?
Still, the value of “An Uncertain Glory” is its wide-angle view. In a sense, Drèze and Sen are playing a role similar to that of Narayan Pargaien’s cameraman. The shot intended for broadcast was supposed to show only the reporter with flood as background — viewers were never meant to see the man beneath him. But the anonymous cameraman pulled back to reveal the big, unflattering picture. Such small acts of conscience can enrich public reasoning enormously; India, as this important book argues, needs many more of them.
Jyoti Thottam is a former South Asia bureau chief for Time magazine.
September 8, 2013
Picking Death Over Eviction
By IAN JOHNSON
As she drove down a busy four-lane road near her old home, Tang Huiqing pointed to the property where her dead sister’s workshop once stood. The lot was desolate, but for Ms. Tang it lives.
Four years ago, government officials told her sister that Chengdu was expanding into the countryside and that her village had to make way. A farmer who had made the transition to manufacturer, she had built the small workspace with her husband. Now, officials said, it would be torn down.
“So my sister went up to the roof and said, ‘If you want to, tear it down,’ ” Ms. Tang said.
Her voice trailed off as she recalled how her sister poured diesel fuel on herself and after pleading with the demolition crew to leave, set herself alight. She died 16 days later.
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
Besides the self-immolations, farmers have killed themselves by other means to protest land expropriation. One Chinese nongovernmental organization, the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, reported that in addition to 6 self-immolations last year, 15 other farmers killed themselves. Others die when they refuse to leave their property: last year, a farmer in the southern city of Changsha who would not yield was run over by a steamroller, and last month, a 4-year-old girl in Fujian Province was struck and killed by a bulldozer while her family tried to stop an attempt to take their land.
Amid the turmoil, the government is debating new policies to promote urbanization. A plan to speed up urbanization was supposed to have been unveiled earlier this year, but it has been delayed over concerns that the move to cities is already stoking social tensions. New measures are also being contemplated to increase rural residents’ property rights.
In the past, many farmers chose to leave their land for better-paying jobs in the city. Many still do, but farmers are increasingly thrown off their land by officials eager to find new sources of economic growth. The tensions are especially acute on the edge of big Chinese cities. After having torn down the historic centers of most Chinese cities and sold the land to developers, officials now target the rural areas on the outskirts of cities like Chengdu.
But such plans are opposed by local farmers. Many do not want to leave the land, believing they can earn more in agriculture than in factory work. Farmers on the outskirts of Chengdu, near the workshop where Tang Fuzhen committed suicide, say they can easily earn several hundred dollars a month, pay that dwarfs government compensation offers. Others, like Ms. Tang, have already made the leap from agriculture to industry.
A Village vs. Demolition Crews
A mile north of Ms. Tang’s demolished workshop is the village of Zhuguosi, whose residents have been involved in tense standoffs with the police since 2010. The village is to be torn down for Chengdu’s New Financial City. The district abuts the city’s extravagant new government complex, which has buildings modeled on Hong Kong’s waterfront exhibition center and the Beijing Olympic stadium known as the Bird’s Nest.
Every night now for the past eight months, residents have formed a ring around their village to prevent demolition crews from destroying it. Some of the houses have been torn down, but others remain, and cows still graze the fertile land — a surreal sight with the new city government buildings in the background.
“If we don’t oppose this, then we don’t have anything,” said Han Liang, a 31-year-old who is one of 80 to 90 villagers who keep watch each night. “We have lost our land.”
As in other land expropriation cases around Chengdu, government officials declined to comment. But according to deeds and correspondence provided by the villagers, most were offered compensation of roughly $1,500 per mu (one-sixth of an acre) — inadequate, in their view, because the payments amount to only what they earn in a couple of years.
While none of the residents of Zhuguosi have committed suicide, they have faced off with the authorities. The police have encircled villagers and carried them off, and photographs indicate that some have been beaten.
According to the Tianwang Web site, which monitors grass-roots protests, Chengdu routinely has several violent confrontations on its outskirts each day. Nationally, China has tens of thousands of similar conflicts a year, according to government estimates.
An Ancient Form of Dissent
The suicides, while not numerous relative to the overall population, represent the outrage that many farmers feel when their land is taken away. Suicide has been used as a form of political protest in China since at least the third century B.C., when the poet and statesman Qu Yuan drowned himself. Self-immolations have historically been practiced more by Buddhist and Daoist clergy members, and imitated by other people as a form of protest.
“It fits in with the historical pattern,” said Dr. Michael R. Phillips, director of the Shanghai Suicide Research and Prevention Center and professor of psychiatry at Emory University. “It’s a lever to change the behavior of powerful people who you don’t have influence over.”
The deaths come even as suicides in China are declining. After being among the highest in the world, rates have dropped 50 percent over the past 20 years, according to epidemiological studies.
Most of these rural self-immolations take place outside the public eye. Ms. Tang’s suicide was initially covered in the local news media and on the Web, but reporters were later barred from talking to the Tang family, journalists and family members say. Other families say that even local Chinese news media were often blocked by plainclothes police officers from entering their homes to conduct interviews.
That contrasts sharply with the government’s efforts to publicize self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Chinese rule of their region and to prosecute people accused of helping the protesters.
“It is striking how differently the two are treated,” said Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China researcher for Amnesty International. “They are trying to cover up the issue in the countryside.”
That may be because the government cannot claim, as it does with the Tibetans, that foreign forces are behind the suicides. Instead, government policies seem to be the cause of the tens of thousands of episodes of unrest recorded by the government each year. Exact statistics are not available, but Chinese researchers estimated that in 2010 the country had 180,000 protests, with the majority related to land disputes.
An analysis of the suicides shows that many of those who took their lives, like Ms. Tang, tasted prosperity and were incensed that it was being taken from them. According to relatives and neighbors, the Chengdu city government had offered Ms. Tang 800,000 renminbi, or about $131,000 at current exchange rates, for her workshop. Given that commercial property in the same district sells for 20 to 30 times that amount, Ms. Tang was unwilling to sell.
The exact financial details of her garment business are unclear. Ms. Tang and her husband ran the business together, and after her death he left Chengdu. But her sister estimates that Ms. Tang spent more than the government’s offer on fixed assets alone, like equipment and lighting.
“The government said it needed the land to widen the road, but we didn’t think they’d tear down the building,” said Ms. Tang’s sister, Tang Huiqing.
A Workshop Under Siege
After months of negotiations, Tang Huiqing said she was feeding her 8-month-old grandchild at 5 a.m. on Nov. 13, 2009, when men dressed in camouflage and carrying metal rods surrounded her sister’s workshop. Family members quickly arrived to defend it. The men and the family members began quarreling, and one of Ms. Tang’s brothers was beaten and suffered a broken rib, according to family members and a report on the compensation that he later received from the city.
Ms. Tang retreated to the roof and shouted down at the men, according to her sister, who watched the events unfold.
“When she was on the roof she heard us being beaten,” Tang Huiqing said. “She called out, ‘Brother, sister, are you being beaten to death?’ She didn’t get an answer. She said for everyone to stop, for everyone to sit down and consult and negotiate. But no one listened to her.”
Then she doused herself and set herself on fire, an event captured by onlookers’ cellphones. A few days later the workshop was torn down and family members received compensation for injuries.
The impact of these suicides is impossible to measure, and there is scant evidence that the officials responsible for the land expropriations in these cases have been punished.
One of China’s leading newspapers, Southern Weekend, analyzed eight cases from 2008 to 2010 and found that in all instances the officials responsible were still in their posts. Certainly, the deaths continue today. The most recent self-immolation was of Hu Tengping of Zhoukeng, a village in Jiangxi Province.
Mr. Hu, who worked as a migrant laborer in Changsha, returned home for the Chinese New Year this year to find that his home had been torn down for an undisclosed development. Later that same day he went to the Communist Party offices and set himself on fire. According to relatives, the family was never able to recover Mr. Hu’s corpse.
“There is no one helping us,” said Mr. Hu’s sister, who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation. “There’s no justice in the world. There’s no law.”
After Suicides, Some Changes
A national activist who tracks unrest, Huang Qi, said cases like Mr. Hu’s and Ms. Tang’s have spurred the government’s recent crackdown on corruption and forced it to rethink the idea that fast urbanization is the best way to stimulate economic growth. In Chengdu, at least, the party secretary behind the city’s ambitious urbanization drive, Li Chuncheng, was toppled last year, a move that Mr. Huang said was partly caused by unease over the methods used to take land.
Political analysts in Beijing also say that economic reforms that could be unveiled in November would increase compensation for expropriated rural land, while other measures could give farmers more rights to determine how their land is used. Currently, all land is owned by the government, and farmers have only usage rights.
“Li Chuncheng’s problem is mainly due to the efforts of the Chengdu people,” Mr. Huang said. “There have been more protests against land expropriation in this one city than in many provinces. The cases were terrible, but I think they had an effect.”
Tang Huiqing thinks so, too.
“My sister’s sacrifice brought a change,” she said. “Right now they don’t dare tear down so many homes. There’s more consultation. At least here, they don’t tear down as much. Maybe in this village it’s better.”
The effect on her family, however, was grim. The sisters’ mother joined the Communist Party shortly after it took power in 1949, elated at its promise to take land from landlords and redistribute it to poor peasants like the Tang family. Her daughter’s death broke her will to live, and she died a few months later.
“She was heartbroken,” Ms. Tang said. “She couldn’t understand how they could act like this to unarmed, ordinary people.”
Mia Li and Amy Qin contributed research from Beijing. Sim Chi Yin contributed reporting from Chengdu.
Chinese Internet users face up to three years in prison for posting ‘online rumors’
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 9, 2013 7:19 EDT
Chinese Internet users could face three years in prison for writing defamatory messages that are then re-posted 500 times under regulations announced Monday amid a broader crackdown on “online rumours”.
Web users could also be jailed if offending posts are viewed more than 5,000 times under the new rules, which appear to be part of a controversial campaign against online chatter, which has seen companies, bloggers and journalists targeted.
China has the world’s largest population of Internet users and authorities seek to keep close control on the country’s hugely popular weibo microblog sites, where a number of officials have been exposed for corruption.
The new guidelines announced by the country’s most senior court and its top prosecuting body stipulate that netizens may be charged with defamation if “defamatory information” they post reaches the quotas on viewings or re-posts.
Posts will also be deemed defamatory if the information causes “suicide or self-mutilation… of the parties involved”, the new law adds.
The maximum sentence for defamation in China is three years in prison, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The new regulations also contain rules against extortion, blackmail and provoking online arguments.
In recent months a wide-ranging clampdown on “online rumours” has been launched by Beijing, with hundreds of people questioned or detained as a result.
Last month officials told Internet celebrities with millions of online followers to “promote virtues” and “uphold law” online.
Among those rounded up in the clampdown are 27 people from the central city of Wuhan who were detained after police broke up an “online rumour speculation company”.
Chinese-American billionaire blogger Charles Xue was also arrested this month for suspected involvement in prostitution and “group licentiousness”.
Xue has attracted 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, regularly posting reform-minded comments on a variety of sensitive issues.
Last week Chinese official Yang Dacai was jailed after netizens posted pictures of him online with expensive watches, triggering a corruption inquiry.
But analysts questioned whether such widely-circulated revelations could be repeated as authorities rein in Internet chatter.
September 9, 2013
Australia’s New Leader May Find Governing Harder Than Criticizing
By MATT SIEGEL
SYDNEY, Australia — When Australia’s incoming prime minister, Tony Abbott, declared victory in the national elections held over the weekend, he pledged to swiftly enact the ambitious legislative agenda he had outlined on the campaign trail.
His conservative Liberal-National coalition would get to work scrapping the country’s unpopular emissions trading plan, crack down on the record number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia in dangerous boats and dump a tax on mining company profits on the first day of his administration, he told a crowd of triumphant supporters Saturday. Australia, he said, was once again “open for business.”
But Mr. Abbott, who during four years as opposition leader made his name as a ferocious opponent of the governing Labor Party’s agenda, now finds himself in unfamiliar territory, analysts say. The lawmaker known as “Dr. No” must learn to enact legislation, rather than simply criticizing it.
“He was probably the most negative, straight-for-the-jugular opposition leader we’ve ever had. And he was very effective at it,” Rod Tiffen, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Sydney, said in an interview. “So it is going to be a challenge for him to put out this more positive image.”
What is more, despite Mr. Abbott’s having secured a strong victory in the House of Representatives — the lower house of Parliament where governments are formed — a quirk of the Australian electoral system means he will need to steer his agenda through a rowdy and unpredictable Senate, in which the balance of power is likely to be held by a motley assortment of single-issue candidates and minor parties.
At the close of counting on Saturday night, Mr. Abbott’s coalition was leading by 86 seats to Labor’s 57 seats in the 150-member lower house. Coalition leaders have said that they expect to capture as many as 91 seats once the remaining handful of close races are called, although either scenario would give them a sizable mandate.
The Senate, however, is another matter. With 66 percent of the Senate vote counted, eight independent senators and single-issue parties seemed poised to take the balance of power in that chamber, a role held by the Greens in the current Parliament.
Australia, like Britain, has a ranked voting system in which candidates are chosen in order of preference and those who fail to garner enough votes to win outright can transfer their votes to another candidate. Unlike in the lower house, Senate races are statewide contests, which means single-issue candidates can often slide into office with a small fraction of the vote.
Take, for example, Wayne Dropulich, who is on course to become Western Australia’s newest senator. His Australian Sports Party has no stated policies beyond encouraging sports, and it won just 0.22 percent of the vote. But with preferences from other small parties, he is likely to defeat a Labor candidate who brought in 12.69 percent statewide.
Because so little is known about the policies of newcomers like the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, which seems to have captured a seat in Victoria State, or the Palmer United Party — a vehicle for the mining mogul Clive Palmer (himself a candidate for a lower house seat, in a race that was still too close to call Monday) — Mr. Abbott’s signature pieces of legislation face an uncertain future.
Mr. Abbott does still have options, though. The new Senate will not be sworn in until July because of parliamentary rules. If the current Senate blocks major parts of Mr. Abbott’s agenda before then, he could take the rare step of dissolving Parliament and calling a double-dissolution election, in which all members of both houses must run in an election intended to break the deadlock. That would effectively nullify the outcome of this election in the upper house.
“They’d all be wiped out and have to compete for election again,” John Wanna, a professor of political science at Australian National University in Canberra, said in an interview.
One thing Mr. Abbott is unlikely to have to worry about wrangling through Parliament, at least in the short term, is foreign policy. Australia, which hosts 2,500 U.S. marines at a base near Darwin, is an important player in President Obama’s strategy of shifting the American military’s long-term focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, where China has been ascendant, and few here expect a radical shift on that front.
Strengthened ties with Australia, one of Washington’s foremost allies, is seen as key to restoring a substantial American footprint near the South China Sea, which increasingly has been the focus of territorial disputes between China and other countries.
But China is also the chief consumer of Australian coal and iron exports, which have helped drive Australia’s remarkable economic performance over the past decade. With the economy here showing signs of slowing on sagging commodity prices, Mr. Abbott will have to tread carefully.
The coalition is likely to play it safe and focus on domestic rather than international affairs for the time being, Michael Fullilove, director of the Global Issues Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, said in an interview.
“Foreign policy will not be his most important focus in his first year at all,” he said. “The last thing he wants is to get a major power offside.”
In the long run, however, he will want to craft a China policy with which he feels personally comfortable, said Mr. Fullilove. And that means Mr. Abbott, whose roots as a Roman Catholic seminarian eschew moral relativism, could struggle to justify the ethics of doing business with China’s authoritarian government.
“I just think over time, any leader dealing with the Chinese has to deal with this question of values and interests,” he said. “The big question is whether Tony Abbott will go with his heart or his head on China, and I think he’s going to go with his head.”
Uruguayan found alive after four months lost in the Andes
Raúl Fernando Gómez Circunegui reported to have eaten rats and raisins to survive after trying to cross mountains on foot
Reuters in Buenos Aires
theguardian.com, Monday 9 September 2013 00.46 BST
A 58-year-old Uruguayan man who disappeared four months ago in the remote Andes mountains was found alive on Sunday, after he spent a brutal winter eating rats and raisins to survive, local media reported.
Raúl Fernando Gómez Circunegui reportedly got lost in May. He was trying to cross the mountains from Chile to Argentina on foot because his motorcycle broke down.
Argentinian officials from the north-western province of San Juan stumbled upon Gómez in a shelter 2,840 metres (9,318 feet) above sea level when they travelled there to record snow levels.
"The truth is that this is a miracle. We still can't believe it," San Juan governor Jose Luis Gioja told the local Diario de Cuyo newspaper. "We let him talk to his wife, his mother and his daughter … I asked him: 'Are you a believer?' He told me, 'no, but now I am.'"
Sugar, raisins, rats and the shelter's leftover supplies kept Gómez alive through the southern hemisphere's winter. He lost 20kgs (44 pounds) during the ordeal and is dehydrated. He is receiving medical attention, according to media reports.
Photos of an emaciated, bearded Gómez resting on a bed were splashed on the websites of Argentinian newspapers Clarín and La Nación.
A doctor who examined Gómez was surprised by the man's resilience, according to Uruguayan newspaper El País.
"He's a patient with high blood pressure, a history of smoking and signs of undernourishment," the doctor was quoted as saying. "He's going to be fine and in a few days we're going to discharge him."
In 1972, a plane carrying an Uruguayan rugby team to Chile crashed in the Andes. Some of the survivors sustained themselves by eating dead bodies.
September 8, 2013
Chile Recalls Coup With Flurry of Events and New Openness
By PASCALE BONNEFOY
SANTIAGO, Chile — Sunday dawned with the dark shadow of a Hawker Hunter jet painted on a Santiago street, pointing toward the presidential palace. Hours later, tens of thousands of Chileans marched through the capital to commemorate when 40 years ago Chilean Air Force jets bombed the palace, helping to overthrow an elected socialist government and obliterate what had been one of South America’s healthiest democracies.
The resulting military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who ruled for 17 years, suspended political and civil rights; censored the press; and imprisoned, tortured, exiled, abducted or killed tens of thousands of its opponents. Though there have been official reports about the human rights abuses since then, and some military officers have been prosecuted, many Chileans say the country has not yet fully come to grips with what happened.
“It’s been 40 years, but we still don’t have real justice,” said Valeria García, a 56-year-old psychologist who joined the crowd marching to Santiago’s general cemetery on Sunday carrying signs bearing the faces of victims. “The officers who have been imprisoned are living wonderfully in a resort; they have parties and watch soccer on cable TV — it’s a joke,” Ms. García said. “Only when there is real justice and the last murderer is behind bars will we be able to put the past behind us.”
The date of the coup, Sept. 11, 1973, is commemorated annually, but the weeks leading up to the anniversary this year were marked with an avalanche of related events that some Chileans found emotionally exhausting.
There have been conferences, book launches, plays, photo exhibits, documentaries and performances. Over the weekend, human rights activists hung banners on several of the capital’s bridges over the Mapocho River, where dozens of victims’ bodies were dumped in the first few months after the coup, and have painted murals along the river bank. One of the banners reads, “Where are the disappeared?” The police took the banners down Sunday morning.
Perhaps most striking is the vastly increased attention the mainstream news media have given the subject this year, with few exceptions. Television channels have dug up and broadcast previously unseen film footage from the years of the ousted socialist president, Salvador Allende; the coup; and the repression that followed. Special programs about dictatorship, dramatic series based on real events and extensive interviews have broken through previous self-imposed limits on what television channels would show or say.
“The wall of disinformation and lies in the media, especially on TV, has been knocked down,” said Alicia Lira, whose husband, Felipe Rivera, was one of four men killed by a secret intelligence agency in reprisal for an ambush against General Pinochet in 1986. “No one can be silenced anymore.”
In late August, a televised confrontation between a man who was orphaned at 2 when his parents were killed in northern Chile shortly after the coup and the military officer, now retired, who delivered him to a convent afterward led to the resignation of the officer from his current post as director of the country’s Electoral Service. The story had been told before, but the politically charged atmosphere and the fact that it was televised prompted his resignation.
Political figures from different parts of the spectrum have expressed regrets for their actions in 1973. Some Socialist politicians have apologized for contributing to Chile’s political polarization before the coup; Senator Hernán Larraín, who was one of General Pinochet’s most loyal supporters, apologized “for what I may have done or failed to do.”
Even so, the conservative parties now governing Chile, whose leaders flourished during the Pinochet years, remain reluctant to call his rule a dictatorship, and objected when the new municipal council of the Providencia district of Santiago voted that a street the Pinochet government had renamed 11 de Septiembre should be restored to its original name, Nueva Providencia.
Most notably, the National Association of Judges apologized for the failure by the courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, to protect victims of abuse. Of the thousands of petitions filed with the courts asking that the government be ordered to release or account for abducted opponents of the Pinochet government, all but one were rejected.
President Sebastián Piñera, a right-wing billionaire who says he voted against General Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite on his continued rule, weighed in as well, saying that the courts should have “done much more” and that the news media “could have investigated the human rights situation more rigorously, more in-depth, instead of sticking to the military government’s official version.”
Mr. Piñera called on anyone with information on what happened to the disappeared to come forward. But the army insists it has no more information to provide, and judges who investigate human rights violations from the Pinochet era usually run into a wall when they try to obtain information from the military.
“Many people thought that time would quiet things down, but it’s been the other way around,” said Pamela Pereira, a human rights lawyer. “As more time goes by, the truth of what happened and the full dimension of the violence becomes even clearer, and the country’s institutions are forced to assume their responsibility.” Ms. Pereira’s father disappeared in 1973, when she was 20; his remains were identified in 2010.