09/13/2013 01:45 PM
Righting Concordia: Colossal Shipwreck Ready for Salvage
By Christian Wüst
The most spectacular salvage operation in shipping history is set to begin next week. Though all the pieces are now in place, the question remains whether the doomed Costa Concordia can be righted, or whether she will break apart in the process.
Franco Porcellacchia says the Costa Concordia was a challenge to build. The chief construction engineer still enthuses about the cruise liner's opulent features, including the "macro dome," a 50-meter (165-foot) sliding roof over the upper deck. "The ship was considered extremely innovative at the time," he says.
But the Costa Concordia didn't sail for long. On the night of January 13, 2012, barely six-and-a-half years after she was launched, Captain Francesco Schettino drove her into a rock off the Italian island of Giglio, then abandoned the sinking ship, cementing his legacy as the worst captain in cruise-line history.
Schettino is currently in custody in Naples awaiting the resumption of his case. Meanwhile the ship is still lying on its side on the seabed off Giglio, jutting high out of the water, waiting to be removed.
Today, the Costa Concordia is a challenging wreck, Porcellacchia confirms. The 60-year-old engineer is in charge of the ship for the second time. He's been tasked with coordinating the shipping company's side of the recovery. Disposing of the liner will be more expensive than building her. The original construction cost €450 million ($570 million). Righting, towing and scrapping her will undoubtedly cost far more.
If she can be set upright again, that is.
A Monument of Shame
Franco Porcellacchia is a slim, well-groomed gentleman. He explains the situation while sitting calmly on the terrace of the harbor-side hotel on Giglio that has served as the operational headquarters of the various salvage firms for more than a year.
The situation is resoundingly embarrassing, but not because of the cost. After all, the tab will be picked up by a consortium of English insurance companies. It's down to utter shame: 32 people are dead because an Italian captain just wanted to show off a little. Schettino's bungling has besmirched an entire industry. Today the wreck juts out of the water off the picturesque vacation island like a memorial to a leisure industry gone out of control. So it has to go -- the quicker the better.
Unfortunately, things aren't moving as quickly as some had hoped. Porcellacchio bristles when someone uses the word "delay." Still, the official word last summer was that everything would be finished by this summer. Now summer is drawing to a close, yet the wreck still hasn't even been righted. Publishing the timetables in the first place was a mistake, Porcellacchia admits.
A dark blue, four-story stack of portacabins on stilts stands between the coast and the Costa Concordia. These are the living quarters of more than 500 salvage workers, divers and technicians from 20 countries, the largest collection of experts ever assembled around a capsized ship. At night the site is brightly lit up like a town on the water. Porcellacchia insists everything is going according to plan -- just not to the initial timetable.
The Best Laid Plan
The plan is to stage a maneuver of unprecedented complexity, a first in maritime history. The Costa Concordia is to be removed in one piece without leaving any trace behind. To achieve this, the engineers must right the ship and strap 10-story-high air-filled metal containers to her slashed hull. These will provide buoyancy during the wreck's final journey, when it is towed to an industrial port for dismantling.
Where exactly this will be is not yet clear, but that's a less pressing concern. At the moment all attention is focused on whether they can indeed flip the crippled liner upright from her current position, a procedure known as "parbuckling." The maneuver may begin as soon as next Monday, Civil Protection Commissioner Franco Gabrielli told reporters on Wednesday. It will undoubtedly be a painfully slow process -- possibly lasting up to 10 hours -- during which experts, onlookers, government representatives, hobby videographers and professional camera teams will be hard-pressed to look away from the spectacle unfolding before their very eyes: For the first time in more than 18 months, the Costa Concordia will be moving again.
Nine hydraulic pumps with a combined strength that can lift 14,200 metric tons will attempt to rotate the hull. Each will be connected to the port side of the ship by four arm-thick steel cables. Cables on the starboard side will exert 11,000 tons of tractive force in the other direction. According to his calculations, Porcellacchia, the wreck would probably start moving with about 7,000 tons of tractive power.
Everyone hopes the ship will remain in one piece. Phenomenal forces will be exerted on the immensely heavy, water-filled hull, and nobody knows for sure how bad the damage is on the starboard side, on which the wreck has been lying for a year-and-a-half. To do so, Porcellacchia explains, he would have to send divers into the bowels of the ship. But that's too dangerous.
The engineers have based their calculations on the assumption that the superstructure is badly damaged. Even so, they believe the ship will hold together. Porcellacchia keeps repeating one phrase over and over almost devoutly, like a liturgical refrain, his own personal "Lord, have mercy": "Our verifications comfort us."
A String of Mishaps
But how sure can the engineers really be, given that they already badly underestimated the duration of the operation? Were the ship's hull to tear apart during parbuckling, it would be immensely embarrassing and shatter the dreams of an environmentally friendly withdrawal from this place of shame.
Technical responsibility for the tricky maneuver rests with two companies with very different backgrounds. Titan Salvage from Florida specializes in recovering sunken ships, while the Italian firm Micoperi from Ravenna supplies experts for underwater construction, for instance on oil platforms.
Over the last 12 months Micoperi has been building an underwater steel platform one-and-a-half times the size of a soccer field. The coast off Giglio falls away steeply, and without this platform the wreck could slip deeper into the water during the attempt to right her.
The construction of the platform was partly to blame for the overall delay. Holes had to be bored nine meters into the seabed to anchor the foundation. But the rugged rock is full of cavities. As a result, many of the attempts to drill the holes had to be abandoned because they offered no firm hold. Nevertheless the platform is now in place.
Another delay was caused by what Porcellacchia calls "by far the most complicated matter." Last December it looked increasingly likely that the bow would rip off unless buoyed up by floatation boxes attached to the side of the ship to support the immense weight of the water-filled front of the Costa Concordia. The engineers therefore had to design another two floatation boxes, known as "blisters," which could be wrapped around the tip of the wreck like a neck brace. These too have since been fitted.
Enter the Salvage Master
So will the ship hold together? Even the afterdeck? Not to mention the entire hull.
Porcellacchia falls back on his well-known magic formula: "According to our verification, all the important matters have been completed." In the meantime, a state-appointed panel of experts has checked and approved all the calculations. The plans have been reviewed by engineers and navigators, including an admiral who is also an engineer. Porcellacchia is at great pains to explain all this very carefully and in great detail, leaving no room for suspicion that anything will be left to chance.
The parbuckling procedure will be the trickiest phase of the entire operation. The man who will be in charge of this delicate maneuver is neither Italian nor an admiral. Captain Nicholas Sloane works for Titan as a "salvage master." Sloane is a sturdy 52-year-old South African. Although he was trained to sail ships, he has spent his entire working life clearing, blasting and towing ships away -- by sawing them to pieces if necessary. He doesn't look like the kind of person who ever worries whether he'll succeed. Indeed he says he has never failed to accomplish his mission.
Sloane is a quick-fix guy who usually spends just a few months in one place. Once, he recalls, he had to spend 14 months looking after a broken Caspian gas pipeline. Now he will have to live on Giglio for at least two years. But he doesn't mind. "Beautiful island, nice people, great food," he says. The salvage master is popular with the locals. The waiters call him "Nick."
According to the plan, Sloane will leave Giglio on the top deck of the wreck, where a container ship is to be attached to act as a "control unit." That's where Sloane will reside, as the captain of a floating garbage truck. For now the hotel serves as his bridge. But he isn't giving orders. Sloane sits on the terrace, affably explaining the situation. A PR manager from the shipping company flatters him in the most Italian manner possible, describing him as "our mythical Nick." Sloane mumbles something about "sexual harassment," and everyone laughs.
A Risky Endeavor
Despite the levity, the situation is grave. Sloane says the operation is the toughest job he has ever taken on. But parbuckling is not a new procedure, and Sloane knows of four cases in which it was employed -- all of them successful. In the summer of 2007, for example, an Italian freighter was righted without incident in the port of Antwerp. However that ship was about 80 meters shorter than the Costa Concordia, and wasn't perched on a steep slope in open water, but rather lying on flat ground right by the quayside.
And there's another difference: Sloane says the Costa Concordia is "the most wounded ship ever prepared for parbuckling."
It isn't so unusual that Sloane refers to the ship as a "she." But it sounds like bitter tenderness when he says, for example, that she absolutely has to be righted before winter sets in, because she's suffering, lying there like that, sinking further and further down the slope.
Since she ran aground, the ship has moved about three meters, partly due to slippage, partly from sinking deeper into the rock. The vessel's starboard wall is becoming more and more deformed, developing a negative imprint of the reef, thereby weakening the superstructure further.
'We Only Have One Shot'
Laser measurement devices from Florence University are monitoring the ship around the clock, recording her every movement. Although she can no longer slip away because of the chains anchored to her hull, Sloane says the ship is already extremely weak. He speaks less and less about verification and statistical calculations. He simply says, "We only have one shot." In other words, the parbuckling maneuver has to work the first time. "She wouldn't support these forces twice," he explains.
"When she's upright, she will be fine," Sloane says in all seriousness, as if she will feel better. After all, the greatest technical hurdle of the entire maneuver will have been overcome.
The next steps are supposedly easier to calculate. Flotation tanks would be fixed to the starboard side. These would not be welded to the ship, but would rather lift her up via chains slung underneath the hull.
Sloane mentions a new timetable, one he is sure is definite: By next March, at the very latest, all the floatation tanks should be in place. All the water will have been pumped out of the containers by the end of May, slowly lifting a grotesque combination of wreck and steel lifejacket like a floating dock. The Costa Concordia will then be 18 meters off the seabed, more than double her original draught, enabling her to be safely towed away from Giglio for good at a pedestrian pace of no more than 2 knots. "If she survives the parbuckling, she'll be gone next summer," Sloane predicts.
And if not? If she breaks apart? Is there a plan B?
Sloane glances meditatively across the hotel terrace toward the offshore construction site. Eventually he says, "No, no, she … She'll survive."
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt
09/13/2013 07:20 PM
No Foreigners: Nightclubs Accused of Racist Door Policies
By Dietmar Hipp and Anna Kistner
Nightclubs in Germany are under scrutiny, amid a host of lawsuits alleging racist door policies. Nightclub owners counter their policies are exclusive, not racist -- but that proving so in court is impossible.
The party was over for 29-year-old Murat F. before it even began. "Not tonight," he heard the bouncer of Agostea, a large-scale nightclub in Hanover, say one evening in January 2012. Murat's shirt was white, his leather shoes a shiny black. He had no smell of booze, no drugs and absolutely no idea why he wasn't allowed to go inside and party.
It wasn't the first time Murat was turned away from the door at a club. Sometimes the rejection was blamed on his tennis shoes, he says, and sometimes it was because club was supposedly too full. This time the bouncer gave him a surprisingly blatant explanation. "The boss doesn't want foreigners to come in," he allegedly said.
Murat is German, with Kurdish parents. He resonded to the confrontation at Agostea, which touts its "neo-Baroque, Harry Potter style" on its website, with a lawsuit.
Four weeks ago, the Hanover District Court awarded the student €1,000 ($1,325) in compensation. Judge Birgit Passoke found that the club's rejection of Murat at the door violated the General Equal Treatment Law of 2006, which prohibits discrimination based on a number of factors including ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation. She wrote in her decision that the evidence proved that "while the plaintiff was refused entry to the nightclub, guests without a recognizable immigrant background were able to enter."
A Wave of Pending Lawsuits
What's noteworthy about the decision in Hanover is the relatively high amount of the compensation money. If bouncers at Agostea were to turn Murat away in the future, the clubs owners could face a fine of up to €250,000. Anti-discrimination organizations hope the decision, and others like it, will act as a deterrent. The club owners, for their part, say such cases threaten their valuable business principle: A tough door policy promises the guests exclusivity. The right mixture of clientele is seen as the key to a nighclub's success.
Lawsuits like that of Murat F. could open up doors in cities across Germany to the point that the dance clubs really do fill up. Court proceedings dealing with potentially racist door policies are currently pending in Leipzig, Hamburg, Heilbronn and Bamberg. In Munich, one man from Burkina Faso is seeking to sue 10 nightclubs at once. Over two nights in April, the man went with friends from the Munich Foreigners' Advisory Council to 25 different nightclubs to test their door policies. Only five of the clubs granted access to the group members with dark skin, while the white-looking members were let in much more often.
Even back in late 2011, the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart awarded €900 to a plaintiff because the evidence showed "males were at least occasionally denied access to the nightclub because of their dark skin color." The case didn't even include indications that the bouncers had mentioned skin color as part of their door policy.
Nightclub owners are quick to give the public appearance of tolerance. "We particularly welcome all guests over 25," the Agostea website says. Yet as soon as there's an accusation of racist discrimination, the club owners have the burden of prooving skin color was not a factor in their door policies. Matthias Doehring, lawyer for Agostea, says that is nearly impossible. He said footage from video cameras could prove that guests of all ethnic backgrounds are treated equally, but that such footage is not always admissable in court because of data protection laws.
Doehring wants to appeal the case. He recommends that club owners have their staff copy the IDs of guests, in order to prove in "black and white" that darker-skinned visitors are also allowed inside. But club owners often dismiss the idea as too expensive.
"The door policy is a balancing act between marketing tactics, the selection of guests, and the boundaries that the law limits this selection to," says Sandra Warden, chief executive of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. Lawsuits are "isolated cases," she says.
And discrimination lawsuits are not limited to those based on foreign descent. A lawyer sued a Munich nighclub in 2010 for denying him entry because, as the bouncer told him, there were already enough men inside. The case was settled out of court.
In the United States or the United Kingdom, plaintiffs in discrimination cases have been awarded upwards of five figures in compensation. In Germany they're often labelled troublemakers. Murat F. has since become more of a homebody. After repeatedly being rejected at the doors of nightclubs, he says he just doesn't feel like going out at all anymore. The feeling "of being the other, and forever staying the other" is painful, he says.
The city of Hanover has since taken up the issue of discriminatory door policies, holding arbitration meetings, round-table discussions with the mayor, calls for self-policing by club owners and a public service campaign called "Hanover Open."
There has been at least one effect on nightclub owners and bouncers, according to Hanover's city anti-discrimination commissioner Günter Max Behrendt: No one dares say something like, "No foreigners tonight."
Translated from the German by Andrew Bowen
Ten years on, what Britain can learn from the Swedish euro referendum
Sweden's people were proved right in saying no to the euro. A slimmed-down EU may be the rational outcome of Cameron's in/out referendum
theguardian.com, Saturday 14 September 2013 18.41 BST
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter," Winston Churchill famously said. He could have added that the best argument against elite rule is a five-minute conversation with your average politician.
I used to be sceptical of referendums. They are populist instruments, I thought. Voters never vote on the actual issue. And what do voters know anyway? Then the euro happened.
Saturday is the 10-year anniversary of the Swedish public voting no to joining the euro in a high-profile referendum, 56% to 42%. The Swedish elite was in shock. All the major parties, the national newspapers, the business organisations, including the Swedish CBI, and most of Stockholm's chattering classes favoured ditching the krona. According to some estimates, the yes campaign outspent the no campaign 10 to one. There were a lot of clever and genuine people on the yes side, making valid arguments such as eliminating exchange risk for business and replacing the flaky devaluation policies of the past.
However, it was obvious that something wasn't quite right. Yes, perhaps Sweden could benefit from sharing a currency with Germany, the destination of many of its exports. But the euro wasn't about liberal economics: stretching from the Arctic circle to Sicily, it locked vastly different countries, cultures and economic structures, into one monetary system, under a single interest rate – forever binding together the problems of all its members, large or small. It was a system based on the hopelessly flawed assumption that politicians and central bankers would make the right decisions all the time.
As with all referendums, there were various reasons why the Swedish public voted no, including an inherent bias in favour of the status quo. Fundamentally, though, most Swedes' gut instinct – bondförnuft as the Swedes say (literally "farmer's common sense") – told them that a serial defaulter with dubious finances, Greece, and a heavily industrialised exporter with an obsession with sound money, Germany, simply couldn't share the same currency. Swedes treated the exam question with the same kind of book-keepers' approach by which many of them run their own household economies. Whatever the experts told them, the arguments – and the numbers – simply didn't add up.
Ten years on, Europe is shrouded in uncertainty, but one thing is clear: the Swedish public got it right, the elite got it wrong. Though there may have been some politicians in Sweden and elsewhere who saw the single currency as the ultimate way to set the snowball rolling towards an EU superstate, the euro was far more a case of cock-up than conspiracy. Today, 80-90% of Swedes oppose the euro, and the political and business elites are wary too – save the odd isolated politician doing an impression of the Japanese soldiers found in the 1960s refusing to believe the second world war had ended.
However, referendums are by no means a magical potion. It's clear that there are cases where they're hijacked or misused – and where they lead to outcomes that no one intended or that settle nothing. Sweden itself has some less successful experiences with public votes. In 1980, a three-way referendum on whether to ditch nuclear power – arguably a populist kneejerk response to the Harrisburg disaster – generated a vote in favour of a vague plan to incrementally dismantle all nuclear plants. The result was totally inconclusive, leaving half the country embittered on the issue (Sweden still has nuclear power today).
Incidentally, there's a lesson for David Cameron here. He has promised to negotiate a new settlement in the EU and put that to an in/out referendum by 2017. If that indeed happens, the worst possible outcome is a 49-51% type result, too close to call in either direction. As in Sweden in 1980, much of the population would feel disenfranchised and the EU debate will continue just as before. This isn't in either the UK's or Europe's interest.
To avoid this scenario, there needs to be substantial and systemic changes, ideally rooted in EU-wide solutions so that they last (unilateral opt-outs tend to be eroded). That would allow a decisive vote in favour of the UK staying in a heavily reformed, slimmed-down EU.
One can have different views on Cameron's strategy, but given public and political discontent about the EU status quo, sooner or later there will probably have to be a referendum to settle the Europe question in this country. And as the Swedish euro vote shows – warts and all, the public can opt for perfectly rational and responsible outcomes that would not occur if politicians were left to their own devices.
Pig Putin: arch manipulator with a mission to check US will
The Russian president has been vilified for his stance on Syria, but his manoeuvres over American foreign policy indicate his astuteness – and cunning – as a statesman
The Observer, Sunday 15 September 2013
In novelist Victor Pelevin's pungent satire on contemporary Russia, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, its narrator, a 2,000-year-old shape-shifter, kisses Alexander, a brutish but alluring officer with the FSB, the Russian security service – who is a werewolf, like all his colleagues. In doing so, she unwittingly transforms his inner animal from that of a sleek grey wolf into a black dog that is at first rejected by, and then finally returns to, his former FSB employers.
As an invocation of post-Soviet Russia under the heirs of Mikhail Gorbachev, Pig Putin in particular, it is a necessary text in understanding both the Pig and Russia today. The world Pelevin describes is one where there are no absolutes of truth or even reality – only what people say is true. The country's new wealth is summoned as if by magic out of the soil by the howling servants of the state. Historic continuity with the Soviet past is visible in the expressions of Alexander and his colleagues: "Faces that used to be around a lot in the old days."
It speaks to – and of – a deep uncertainty. For while Russia may not be the military power it once was at the height of the cold war – the once sharp-toothed grey wolf – it still harbours a lingering nostalgia for that time. The black dog still hankers to be lupine. All of which has underpinned Pig Putin's slick manoeuvres over the last week that have left Barack Obama's foreign policy looking leaden and wrong-footed.
Also, perhaps the White House and State Department in their clumsy and literal interpretation of the Pig's motives have fallen for the conjuror's old trick of misdirection. They have taken the Kremlin's interest in Damascus at face value, rather than understanding it for what it is – an expression of Putin's notion of Russia's place in the world.
And so, over the last six months and more, Pig Putin, the former KGB officer, has been a step ahead of Obama, the former constitutional lawyer with his penchant for thinking out loud. First, Pig Putin tweaked Obama's nose with the granting of "temporary asylum" to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Now, with the offer to deliver the disarmament of Syria's chemical weapons in response to an apparently off-the-cuff suggestion by secretary of state, John Kerry, he appears to have wrongfooted the White House again.
The fact that Pig Putin appears to enjoy a more astute understanding than Obama of what the US public wants to hear right now is a reminder of the credo of another of Pelevin's cynical creations, the Russian adman from the novel Homo Zapiens. He declares: "First you try to understand what people will like and then you hand it to them in the form of a lie."
And that, by and large, is what Pig Putin pulled off last week in his op-ed for the New York Times, brokered by his US PR firm Ketchum, with an appeal made directly to the American people's desire to avoid another Middle East military entanglement.
Its cleverness was that it dressed up a self-interested and sometimes credibility-stretching argument, not least over the continuing claims that Syrian rebels were behind the gas attack in Ghouta on 21 August, with enough legitimate criticism of US policy to provide a veneer of credibility. What is surprising in all this is not only the enthusiasm for the Putin initiative from some quarters, but also that it's not very hard to divine what the Pig really wants on the world stage.
In February this year, he made the Pig Putin doctrine explicit, presenting the Russian Federation's new foreign policy framework to his security council. Rejecting the efforts seen during Dmitry Medvedev's presidency for greater integration with the west, Pig Putin's emphasis is both more local, eyeing his immediate backyard, and more assertive internationally.
If there is a striking difference between Pig Putin and Obama, it is that the former appears to understand both the limits of post-Russian power and the tools available to him, while the Obama administration, and the US more widely, has failed to internalise its relative decline in power and influence over the last decade.
Pig Putin's assessment of the "polycentric" nature of the global landscape, for now at least, seems the more astute, not least in his bet that the west will no longer be able to "dominate in the world economy and politics".
The Pig's op-ed for the New York Times was scathing about the notion of US "exceptionalism" as the indispensable nation. However, to a Russian audience, he is happy to claim the same mantle of "uniqueness" when it comes to seeing Moscow's role – not least on the UN Security Council – as a counterweight to US ambitions.
For Pig Putin, the front line in this struggle is not the fate of Syria or even the risk of instability in wider Middle East, but resisting "implementation of policies aimed at overthrowing lawful governments", not least through the auspices of the UN and through US-democracy promotion.
As the author and analyst David Rohde argued in an opinion piece for Reuters: "There is nothing complicated or altruistic about Putin's strategy in Syria. He is defending Assad in order to preserve his key ally in the Middle East and his own rule in Russia." Rohde added that Putin sees Syria as the sort of American intervention that has unseated rulers. "Dismissing protests against himself and other autocrats as CIA plots, he probably fears he may be next."
While Pig Putin has been mocked for some of his pretensions, not least his penchant for being photographed in the midst of "manly" pursuits, that is seriously to underestimate his nous. This is particularly true when he is speaking to his constituency, an alliance of nationalists, conservatives and a vast, sprawling middle ground. According to Clifford Gaddy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Pig interposed himself as a key political fixer under the patronage of Yeltsin-era figure Anatoly Chubais in the mid-1990s. Putin, he says, "understood the principles of the British intelligence chief John Masterman's double-cross system: don't destroy your enemies. Manipulate them and use them for your own goals".
Pig Putin did, and continues to do, precisely that. He has targeted the oligarchs whose secrets he captured in his rise to power, first as the prime minister, under whose auspices the brutal second Chechen war was prosecuted. He has broken those who have stepped out of line.
The manipulation is done, as David Remnick, the New Yorker editor, remarked two years ago, with a disarming cynicism. Remnick described an encounter with Pig Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, as indicative of the house style. "When [Peskov] lies, he knows that you know, and you know that he knows that you know. The smile is also meant to convey another message to foreign visitors: so, we're cynical. And you're not?"
And while the Pig's popularity has certainly declined, not least in large parts of the country's better educated middle class, he has been clever enough to cement his position.
Last week, amid the thumb-sucking in large parts of the US commentariat over whether Pig Putin had thrown a hapless Obama a "lifeline" over the Syrian crisis, it took Human Rights Watch's Anna Neistat to point out the Russian president's multiple evasions, including the transfer of arms to Assad.
She noted: "From the very start of this conflict, Russia has vetoed or blocked any Security Council action that may bring relief to Syria's civilians or bring perpetrators of abuses in Syria to account."
She also underlined how difficult it is to take seriously talk about "democratic values and international law" when his government at home "continues to throw activists in jail, threatens to close NGOs, and rubber-stamps draconian and discriminatory laws".
The reality is that the Pig has won this latest round. He has narrowed the terms of the present debate on the war he is arming – which has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced 6.5 million – to the narrow question of disarmament of Syria's chemical weapons, a task that would be difficult enough to accomplish in peacetime. Already, it is clear, not least from the comments of Assad on Russian television, that the negotiation over the details of that disarmament will be spun out.
In the meantime, the horror of the war in Syria will drag on and on. On the question of red lines, Obama's has been crossed to no effect, while Putin's red line on western intervention has been defended at the cost of yet more Syrian lives on both sides of the war and no real prospect of a negotiated peace.
Somewhere, a black dog is smiling a wolfish grin.
THE PIG PUTIN FILE
Born Leningrad, in October 1952, six months before the death of Stalin. Mother Maria Ivanovna Putina was a factory worker and father Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin was conscripted into the Soviet navy before also working in a factory. Divorced from Lyudmila whom he married in 1983. Two daughters.
Best of times Becoming Russian president in 2000 after being hand-picked by former president Boris Yeltsin as his successor.
Worst of times In terms of popularity at home, very few. Being booed after he stepped into the ring at the end of a martial arts fight between Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko and his American opponent, Jeff Monson, in 2011. It marked the first time that public discontent with his rule broke out into the open.
What he says "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
What others say "He ain't exceptional. He's just one more in a long tradition of dictators and thugs." Newt Gingrich
Istanbul Biennial under fire for tactical withdrawal from contested sites
A crackdown on anti-government protests forced the art show to abandon its more edgy ideas. But the spirit of Taksim Square is not entirely absent
The Observer, Saturday 14 September 2013 16.04 BST
For the time being, the days of "art for art's sake" are over in Turkey. A police crackdown on a fresh protest in Taksim Square threatened to overshadow the opening of the Istanbul Biennial, the country's most important contemporary art event, last week. Unaccustomed to street combat, the international art crowd found themselves inelegantly dodging clouds of tear gas as they milled from parties to private views.
Calm had returned by the time of the press preview. But the incident highlighted how this year's biennial, which brings together 88 Turkish and international artists, has struggled to avoid being sidelined by political events and has itself become a source of controversy.
This year's event, entitled Mom, Am I Barbarian? addresses much of the dissatisfaction with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian regime. Turkish artist Halil Altindere's film Wonderland captures the anger and frustration of Roma youths from Istanbul's Sulukule district, whose community was forced out of its historic settlement by a redevelopment that raised house prices tenfold. The darkly humorous hip-hop video shows boys in mock fights with mechanical diggers and setting fire to a security guard. Aggressive lyrics ram the point home: "We pissed on the foundations of the newly built blocks ... My town will be torn down. Soon Sulukule will be home to the bourgeoisie."
A display of photographs by Dutch duo Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis shows how they made a replacement peace monument with the help of residents of Kars, on the Armenian border. The original, by a Turkish artist, was demolished before it was finished after Erdogan described it as a "freak".
It's all very different from what the biennial's curator, Fulya Erdemci, originally proposed back in January. The plan then was for artists to work in some of the city's most contested areas. But everything changed in May when thousands gathered in Taksim Square, including artists, actors, writers and musicians, who staged performances and led demonstrations against plans to develop adjacent Gezi Park. Following the brutal clearance of the square in June, the biennial decided on a tactical withdrawal. Now the exhibition is being held in some of Istanbul's most established galleries, including Arter and Salt on bustling Istiklal Street. Erdemci is determined to ensure that the exhibition speaks to the recent political turmoil. "I want you to hear what's happening on the streets," she said.
She claimed the biennial was also a victim of the city's gentrification because its main venue, Antrepo 3, which has a prime view of the Bosphorus, is set to "become a five-star hotel or a shopping centre". The first artwork to greet visitors is a replica wrecking ball swinging from a crane on to the side of the building. Erdemci described the piece, by Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen and entitled "bangbangbang", as a ticking bomb, reflecting the fact that "this is the last time we can use this space".
But some local art critics and artists said the biennial should have seized the opportunity to learn from the Taksim protesters how to organise more effectively to subvert public spaces.
istanbul biennial Ayse Erkman wrecking ball bangbangbang bangbangbang, 2013, by Ayse Erkman: a wrecking ball greets visitors to main biennial venue Antrepo 3 – rumoured to be making way for a future hotel. Photograph: Servet Dilber
Artist Ahmet Ögüt, who runs the Silent University, an alternative art school for refugees supported by the Tate, said: "You lose time when you send things by email and try to get permission. It was the opposite during Gezi. People were improvising; they were very fast and very efficient at organising collectively. The biennial could learn from that."
Marcus Graf, associate professor of contemporary art theory at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, said: "Just pulling out of the city and organising the exhibition in white cubes does not seem right to me. There, everything is approved and accepted anyway by the followers of art and culture. I believe that this is a great failure, a missed chance."
Arie Amaya-Akkermans, an Istanbul-based writer on contemporary Middle Eastern art, agreed: "This is not engaging with the public. They should have occupied abandoned buildings and turned them into art spaces."
Given the difficult politics surrounding the biennial, some of the most effective work addresses the darker side of the art world. Berlin artist Hito Steyerl is showing a video lecture about how she traced the origins of ammunition from a battlefield in southern Turkey where a friend of hers who joined the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was executed by government troops. Steyerl then uncovered links between the art world and defence companies including Koç Holding. Koç is one of Turkey's major corporations, whose subsidiaries supply the army and the police; it is also a biennial sponsor.
Another German artist, Christoph Schäfer, offers a more positive example of how artists might work to create social change. Since the mid-1990s he has helped run Park Fiction in Hamburg, through which local residents banded together to redevelop an open space themselves, thereby preventing it from being sold off to private developers. For the biennial, Schäfer has made a series of large-scale conceptual drawings of the Istanbul parks where citizens gathered after the suppression of the Gezi occupation. Two drawings, based on photos posted on Twitter on the night of 15 June as riot police moved into Taksim Square, show how the Hamburg collective declared solidarity with the Istanbul protesters by renaming themselves Gezi Park Fiction.
Schäfer said localised urban struggles across the world had emerged as key ways of developing new forms of resistance. He said: "We have the same situation of 'Gezification' in London, Hamburg, Istanbul. These urban protesters, and their use of social media, show how emancipatory movements can work in the future and how public spaces can become sites for forming new coalitions to effect political change.
"For me, it's quite clear art cannot assume a position of critical distance any more. If a space like the biennial is polluted – there's no clean money in the art world – you have to figure out your role in that. As artists we're inside the system, and it gives us a certain power."
Andrea Phillips, co-curator of the biennial's cancelled public programme, said the exhibition's problematic gestation had made her re-evaluate how art institutions should address politics. Phillips, a reader in fine art at London's Goldsmiths university, said: "We need to decide whether we're going to carry on playing at politics or understand the need to position ourselves differently. If you simply recognise your position in this rarefied world of art, you're not going to make change. We need to think about programming work that might create real long-term change for local people."
More buses, street lights: how to make India safer for women
Report calls for wide-ranging changes to country's culture and infrastructure following death sentences in Delhi gang-rape trial
The Observer, Sunday 15 September 2013
Campaigners are calling for a new deal for India's women in the wake of the death sentences handed down by a Delhi judge to four men who tricked a woman and her male friend on to an out-of-service bus before gang-raping her so brutally that she died later from her injuries.
The case brought women's rights protesters across India on to the streets in angry demonstrations against the country's culture of violence against women, from female foeticide to rape. But activists fear the intense focus on the court case will do nothing to improve the safety of women on city streets. A new report by three Indian academics supports those concerns and says it is India's infrastructure that needs to change, from bus services to public toilets.
Pending an appeal expected to be lodged this week, four of the six guilty men – one died in jail and another was sent to a young offenders' prison – will be hanged under changes made to Indian law as a direct response to the case, making aggravated rape punishable by death and fast-tracking sexual offence cases through the courts.
Issuing his decision, Judge Yogesh Khanna said the attack "shocked the collective conscience" of India. "In these times, when crime against women is on the rise, the courts cannot turn a blind eye toward such gruesome crimes."
There were nearly 25,000 reported cases of rape in 2012 in India. In Delhi, with a population of 15 million, more than 1,000 cases were reported in the year to mid-August 2013, against 433 reported in the same period last year. In Jharkhand state, to the south-east, more than 800 cases have been reported in the past seven months, including a gang rape of a schoolgirl. There were 460 reported cases in all of 2012. The rise may be in part due to increased reporting, but India's National Crime Records Bureau says registered rape cases in India have increased by almost 900% over 40 years, to 24,206 incidents in 2011. Some activists say one in 10 rapes is reported; others one in 100. In a 2011 poll nearly one in four Indian men admitted to having committed some act of sexual violence.
But the report Invisible Women, by academics Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan – due to appear in the next issue of Index on Censorship magazine – reflects a real fear that at the end of the Delhi trial the media spotlight will move on from mistreatment of women.
The report argues that India's infrastructure needs to be transformed to give women an equal and safer place in cities. They write that the Delhi rape "was facilitated in part by the lack of adequate public transport, which meant that she was travelling in a private bus". The women point out that transport, lighting, toilets and other public facilities are designed with an "invariably male" user in mind. As a result, women's toilets "are dark and unfriendly" and often close at 9pm, "sending the clear message that women are not expected to – and not supposed to – be out in public at night". This means women "have to learn extreme bladder control and to negotiate dark streets and unfriendly parks".
The link between access to toilets and rape is an issue in rural areas as well. In May it was reported that most rapes in the state of Bihar occurred when women went outside to the toilet at night. The authors claimed shopping malls were the only places in India's cities where women felt safe. Streets need to be well-lit, public transport needs to be regulated and to run day and night, and safe toilets need to be available.
"We need to move beyond the struggle against violence and articulate women's right to the city in terms of the quest for pleasure," the report says. The victim in the bus rape had been to the cinema. "Changing attitudes may take time but the provision of infrastructure can be a simple one-time policy decision, which reinforces the point that women belong in public space."
In Mumbai, a scheme for women-only train carriages was seen as a great success because it "enshrined their right to be there", the authors write.
The report illustrates the determination of activists to keep the issue from fading. "It is the beginning of our movement," said Anuradha Kapoor of civil rights group Maitree, who was arrested in June at a women's rights protest. "We won't give up so easily."
Writer Nilanjana Roy agreed: "The rapes might not stop, but this conversation isn't stopping either."
Meet Shirin Gerami, Iran's first female triathlete
Woman makes history by becoming country's first female to take part in sport's world championship
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Sunday 15 September 2013 12.36 BST
Shirin Gerami, a 24-year-old woman from Iran, has made history by becoming the country's first female triathlete to have taken part in the sport's world championship.
By racing in the London event, she paved the way and set a precedent for thousands of Iranian women who have previously been denied permission to race in triathlons abroad or swim in international events.
Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, greeted her achievement by tweeting:
Shirin Gerami,1st female triathlete to have participated in world championship wearing Iran's colours #GenderEquality pic.twitter.com/A5Xzqx52xd
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 15, 2013
Gerami raced in full Islamic dress after Iran's sports ministry issued required paperwork in the last hours before the final began.
The Islamic republic's state news agency, Irna, quoted Mohammad-Ali Sabour, the head of Iran's national triathlon federation, saying that Gerami had secured an official blessing and was nominated after the International Triathlon Union (ITU) agreed to set up a tent where she could change into her cycling and running clothes after swimming.
In her first interview before the grand final, Gerami on Thursday told the Guardian she received the go-ahead after spending four months trying to persuade the Iranian authorities that she wanted to respect their Islamic requirements.
"Triathlon … is still not very established in Iran; to date women do not participate in triathlons," she said.
"I wanted to share triathlon, and all the empowerment it has given me, with others and encourage others to experience and benefit from something that is dear to me."
She insisted she wanted to tell "the other story of Iran", that positive stories about her home country do exist.
"I wanted to show that what people dismiss as impossible is actually possible, and this universal rule applies to all countries, to all people.
Cambodian election protesters march through Phnom Penh
Thousands of demonstrators defy road blocks and a jail threat to march in protest over election results
Reuters in Phnom Penh
theguardian.com, Sunday 15 September 2013 07.07 BST
Thousands of demonstrators defied road blocks and a jail threat to hold a march in Cambodia's capital on Sunday in a last-gasp push for an independent probe into a July election they say was fixed to favour the ruling party.
Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) ignored a government order to stay off the streets and denounced the victory by allies of the prime minister, Hun Sen, who now faces one of his biggest tests of three decades in power.
His Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won the election with 68 seats to CNRP's 55, a greatly reduced majority that signals dissatisfaction with his rule despite rapid economic growth in a country that for decades was seen as a failed state.
The protest in Phnom Penh comes despite the start of talks between the two sides aimed at ending a dispute over July elections, which the opposition says were marred by serious irregularities.
Cambodia's king brought Hun Sen face to face with opposition leader Sam Rainsy for the first time in years on Saturday, and urged the two rivals to resolve their conflict peacefully for the sake of national stability. No agreement was reached, but the two are expected to meet again Monday.
Opposition leaders were hoping 20,000 people would turn out for the demonstration on Sunday, which political analysts say is mostly aimed at appeasing angry supporters and strengthening the opposition's hand in negotiations with the ruling party.
The rally is supposed to last three days, with thousands camping out overnight. But the plan defies the government's request that it be limited to 10,000 people and end by nightfall.
Fears of violence have risen amid a visible increase of military forces in the capital since the election and the discovery on Friday of explosives planted by unknown persons near the public park where the demonstration is to take place.
Riot police stood by as politicians, activists, factory workers and Buddhist monks broke off from the march chanting "change, change" as they cut through side streets to avoid a route blocked off by fire trucks and razor-wire fences.
The march comes amid a deepening political standoff and tension heightened by Friday's discovery of a home-made bomb near parliament and hand grenades close to Freedom Park, the site of Sunday's mass rally, the CNRP's second in eight days. About 20,000 demonstrators attended.
"Our vote is our life," CNRP's deputy president, Kem Sokha, told supporters. "They stole our votes, it's like stealing our lives."
King Norodom Sihamoni invited Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy to his palace on Saturday to try to end the deadlock, but the meeting ended after 30 minutes with no breakthrough.
CNRP says it will try to paralyse the legislature by boycotting parliament when it holds its first session on September 23, arguing that it was cheated of 2.3 million votes to keep CPP in office for another five years.
It is refusing to give up until the government agrees to let outsiders conduct an investigation, but the opposition is fast running out of options.
The government and the National Election Commission, which Rainsy accuses of collusion, are both standing by the official result and the Constitutional Council ruled on Friday that all allegations of foul play had been investigated already and no new probe was needed.
Thousands of riot police armed with batons and shields have been running crowd control drills in recent weeks.
Many Cambodians fear the protest could prompt a tough response by security forces with a reputation for cracking down hard on disgruntled factory workers and victims of land evictions.
Hun Sen, 61, has taken credit for steering Cambodia away from its chaotic past towards economic growth and development, but many urban youth born after Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" rein of terror from 1975-1979 see little appeal in his iron-fisted approach.
Hun Sen and CPP are not known for compromising on either domestic or international disputes and few people expect the government to bow to pressure this time either.
"The CPP won't agree to anything we demand," said CNRP supporter Ngor Lay from southern Kandal province. "They just love power and they have the courts in their hands."
September 14, 2013
Philippine Leaders Descend on Strife-Torn City as Hopes of Cease-Fire Fade
By FLOYD WHALEY
MANILA — Fighting intensified in the embattled southern Philippine city of Zamboanga on Saturday as hopes for a quick cease-fire with Muslim rebels evaporated amid some of the most serious violence to strike the troubled region in years.
The six-day standoff with the rebels in Zamboanga, one of the most vibrant trading cities in the southern Philippines, was believed to have left at least 55 people dead. It has also raised fears of a setback in the government’s efforts, backed by the United States, to calm insurgencies and fight terrorism.
The government said most of the dead were rebels holed up in several seaside neighborhoods. Government forces were firing mortar rounds into the area and battling street by street to take areas back from the militants.
The situation was serious enough that the country’s top civilian and military leaders traveled to the city, despite the mayhem, to plan their strategy. President Benigno S. Aquino III arrived Friday, with one of his escort helicopters taking small-arms fire as he landed. The crisis has crippled the once peaceful city, a mostly Christian enclave on the island of Mindanao, displacing more than 62,000 people.
There were conflicting reports about how the standoff began Monday morning. The police said several hundred armed men from the Moro National Liberation Front landed by boat in Zamboanga and tried to raise their flag over City Hall and declare independence from the national government. When police officers and the military tried to stop them, the police said, the insurgents took hostages and retreated to the city’s Muslim slums.
Rebel leaders have said that their march to City Hall was peaceful, and that the military attacked them.
Since then, government officials said, they have worked hard to evacuate civilians in the affected area, but it remained unclear how many hostages were still being held.
Hopes for a cease-fire briefly emerged Saturday when the vice president — a political rival of Mr. Aquino’s — announced an informal truce with the rebels. But the fighting never let up, and the president’s aides have since said Mr. Aquino would be the one to coordinate military actions as well as any efforts to engage the rebels in talks. At a televised news conference on Saturday afternoon, the government did not answer questions about whether it was trying to negotiate with the militants.
Less than a year ago, Mr. Aquino achieved relative peace in the region by winning a deal with a much larger rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The various insurgencies in the region are driven in good part by Muslims’ beliefs that the Christian-dominated national government has left them out of economic development.
On Saturday, Zamboanga’s mayor, Beng Climaco, said in an emotional statement that she had turned over management of the crisis to national officials.
“The spate of events that unfolded and continue to unfold are very heartbreaking and upsetting,” she said.
In addition to Mr. Aquino, attendees at Saturday’s strategy planning session included Vice President Jejomar Binay; the secretary of national defense, Voltaire Gazmin; and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Mr. Roxas told reporters after the meeting that the military’s plan had been to prevent the violence from spreading to other parts of the city. That was accomplished, he said, and though he declined to offer details, he said the military was now trying to clear the rebels out of the neighborhoods they were holding.
As of Saturday afternoon, 3 civilians had been killed in the fighting and 28 had been wounded, officials said. In addition, three police officers and two members of the military had been killed.
Mr. Roxas said that the bodies of 21 rebels had been recovered, and that 26 others had also been reported killed. Some of the bodies, he said, had been burned in fires that the government said the rebels had set. Military officials estimated that 100 rebels remained in the area.
More than 400 homes in the rebel-held areas had been burned, and major sections of the city were impassable. The airport has been closed for five days, and commercial ships were asked to move away from the port area for security reasons.
“The entire city is virtually isolated from the world,” said Ms. Climaco, the mayor. “Innocent lives have been lost, properties have been damaged and our economy paralyzed.”
The Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace deal with the Philippine government in 1996, but many of its members retained their weapons. Leaders of the group have said the government’s peace deal last year with the larger rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had undercut their own peace agreement.
Mexican riot police end striking teachers' occupation of city square
Teargas and water cannon used to disperse crowds but expected full-scale confrontation does not materialise
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
The Guardian, Saturday 14 September 2013
Thousands of riot police retook Mexico City's central Zócalo plaza and the surrounding area from striking teachers on Friday.
There were violent clashes but not the full-scale confrontation that had appeared likely at first.
Police moved into the area minutes after the elapse of a 4pm deadline the government had set for the teachers to leave the square they had occupied for weeks in protest against an education reform.
With helicopters circling low overhead, some police contingents fired teargas as they advanced.
Officers had to duck to avoid being hit by missiles thrown by protesters who had earlier prepared for the operation – by building barricades and amassing makeshift weapons including metal rods, planks and broken paving stones.
But other lines of police faced little resistance as they entered the huge expanse of the square itself from a different side.
They employed water cannon to put out bonfires made from rubbish and the remnants of the huge tent city where thousands of teachers had been based during the protests.
Most had already left by the time the police arrived. Two hours after officers moved in, the police appeared to have near total control of the area.
The government was determined to remove the teachers ahead of Mexican independence day celebrations on Sunday and Monday.
These traditionally include the president ringing a bell and shouting "Viva Mexico" from a balcony in the national palace that overlooks the square, alongside the cathedral, the country's most important Aztec ruins and the seat of the city government.
The teachers' protests have been conflict-ridden from the start, involving regular marches and blockades that have caused near continuous traffic chaos in the capital and which twice blocked access to the international airport for hours.
Initially the protests were aimed at pressuring the legislature into modifying a wide-ranging education reform that threatens teachers with dismissal if they fail evaluations aimed at improving the dismal standard of the country's state schools.
With the reform approved earlier this month, they began demanding that it be scrapped. They also demanded face-to-face negotiations with the nation's president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
Most of the striking teachers come from Mexico's poverty-ridden southern states, and argue that the country's educational deficiencies are more closely tied to social inequity than their performance in the classroom.
They belong to the smaller of the country's two teachers' unions – the National Education Workers Co-ordinating Committee.
The larger union, much weakened after the arrest of its legendarily powerful leader Elba Esther Gordillo in February, has supported the reforms.
Having lost control of the Zócalo, the protesters began regrouping at the nearby Monument to the Revolution.
Organisers said teachers were not responsible for the earlier violence, blaming radical supporters of the movement who had joined the protest just before the police moved in.
September 14, 2013
Reshaping Brazil’s Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt
By SIMON ROMERO
BRUSQUE, Brazil — As Brazil’s leaders consider whether consumption should be an antidote for a sluggish economy, a department store tycoon is racing ahead with his answer, taking unfettered American-style consumerism to a gaudy new level.
Proclaiming the gambling mecca Las Vegas as his ideal city, the tycoon, Luciano Hang, has been opening department stores this year at a pace of one every 15 days, from southern Brazil to the Amazon in the northwest. Each cavernous new structure is an homage to American capitalism, with columns intended to evoke the White House and giant replicas of the Statue of Liberty, some more than 100 feet high, stationed at its entrance.
“My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States,” said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. “I tell people that we’re about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop,” he added. “I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between.”
Indeed, consumers seem to agree, lured by the low prices and wide selection, if not the theme-park novelty. Inside his flagship store in Brusque, for instance, in the southern state of Santa Catarina, shoppers stop to take pictures of themselves alongside replicas of a red Ferrari and a pink Corvette.
But some economists question whether Brazil should rely on consumption to revive the economy, a pattern fueled by a surge in credit from government banks, at a time when household debt levels have already hit a record high. One giant state-controlled financial institution, Caixa Econômica Federal, even allows heavily indebted customers a “breather” in meeting obligations, so they can amass more debt.
Instead, those economists say, the authorities should do more to support investment by businesses in areas like factories and infrastructure, by streamlining a devilishly complex bureaucracy and tax system. Measured as a percentage of the economy, Brazil’s investment rate ranks lower than Argentina’s and Mexico’s.
Inspired by the shop-till-you-drop culture he witnessed on dozens of trips to the United States, Mr. Hang, a lanky 50-year-old who dresses casually in jeans off the shelves of his own stores, thinks that such consumption suits Brazil just fine. “I’ll have 100 stores by 2015, and double that amount a few years later,” he said.
Not everyone agrees that mimicking American consumerism, or planting Statues of Liberty in dozens of cities across the country, is the best path.
“It’s a type of colonialism,” said Henrique Perazzi de Aquino, 53, a history teacher in Bauru, São Paulo State, where he and other residents recently formed a movement to oppose a statue in front of a new Havan store. “We are still dependent on this North American culture. We could like ourselves more.”
As an alternative, he proposed a monument to Eny’s Bar, a renowned local brothel once frequented by politicians and writers. But in the end, Mr. Hang got his way, emphasizing that Havan’s arrival in Bauru would create 200 jobs. Another Statue of Liberty went up.
Mr. Hang said he was well aware that his embrace of American-style consumerism stands in contrast to the current mood in parts of Brazil, where leaders are fuming over revelations that the National Security Agency spied on President Dilma Rousseff.
Outside of elite political and intellectual circles, Mr. Hang insists, pro-American sentiment still runs deep. The American Consulate in São Paulo, where 3,000 people a day come to apply for travel visas to the United States, seems to prove his point. It is among the busiest United States visa-issuing posts in the world.
America is woven deeply into Mr. Hang’s identity as well as his brand. His smartphone screen saver shows a photograph of his wife with the actress Sharon Stone, taken at a beachfront real estate promotion in Brazil. He drives only imported Chryslers.
He calls his stores the “Brazilian White House,” and he has hired Brazilian actors to speak in English-accented Portuguese in television commercials, depicting them as cowboys, rappers or motorcycle gang members.
Just as some American companies use creative terms to describe their employees (at Starbucks, for instance, they are “partners”), the 10,000 people who work for Mr. Hang are called “collaborators.” He is the sole owner of Havan, which does not break out detailed financial results but says sales revenue exceeds $1 billion a year. At each new store opening, collaborators are encouraged to compose their own “war chant,” a frenzied song that they roar at Mr. Hang’s urging, his fist and theirs pumping in unison in the air. “We like to teach our collaborators that work cannot be boring, but fun and invigorating,” he said.
The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, “The Men Who Built America,” about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“I couldn’t sleep after I saw that program,” he said.
His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.
Some of Mr. Hang’s critics do not see it that way. Ademir Brunetto, a legislator in Mato Grosso State, sharply criticized tax breaks sought this year by Havan, which Mr. Brunetto viewed as a strategy by Havan to crush smaller competitors.
“I could live with their Statue of Liberty, which I think is nice to look at,” said Mr. Brunetto, a member of the governing Workers Party. “I just couldn’t stand the idea of Havan arriving in some places and putting stores with decades of history in the community out of business.”
Mr. Hang said he was scrapping a plan to open a store in Alta Floresta, Mr. Brunetto’s home city. “If they don’t want our injection of vitality into the economy, that’s their decision,” he said.
Where Havan does put down stakes, it makes an impression. At Barra Velha, in southern Brazil, the Statue of Liberty replica stands 187 feet high, almost twice as tall as the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. An elevator takes shoppers to the top, where they can look out over a highway.
“The store, the statue, the parking lot — they are all so clean, so beautiful, so big,” said Adilson Rezende, a truck driver from the southeastern city of Conselheiro Lafaiete who stopped in front of the store to take pictures. “Stopping here, I almost feel like I’m not in Brazil.”
Nadia Sussman contributed reporting from Brusque, and Taylor Barnes from Rio de Janeiro.
Argentina nabs 19-year-old ‘super hacker’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 13, 2013 18:45 EDT
A 19-year-old Argentine has been arrested on charges of hacking into online gambling pages and international money transfer sites, authorities said Friday.
The Buenos Aires man is said to have been making $50,000 a month as leader of a hacking gang that included seven other people, who remain under investigation, the security ministry said.
It called the detainee a ‘super hacker.’
He is the son of a computer systems engineer and worked from home in a “technological cave” with several high power computers and lots of other high-tech equipment, the ministry said in a statement.
The arrest in so-called “Operation Zombie” stems from a probe that began in 2012.
Wife of round-the-world runner Tom Denniss faced own endurance test
For every kilometre her husband ran during their trip Carmel Denniss was just ahead, stocking up on food, arranging a place to sleep, waiting for him to appear on the horizon
Bridie Jabour in Sydney
theguardian.com, Saturday 14 September 2013 01.31 BST
Tom Denniss arrives a Sydney Opera House to complete his journey on Friday. Video: Bridie Jabourhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH_wgQLQ1zQ
Standing on the steps of Sydney Opera House as Tom Denniss completed his 26,000km run around the world on Friday was a woman who had just completed an endurance test of her own.
Carmel Denniss had just finished 622 days of driving 50km a day, pulling over by the side of the road to make her husband a sandwich in the boot, booking hotels at the last minute, and waiting for him to suddenly come running down the road.
For every kilometre Denniss ran during their trip Carmel was just ahead, stocking up on the food, arranging a place to sleep and waiting for hours for Denniss to appear on the horizon.
“It’s been an amazing trip for me,” she said. “If I didn’t have my photography as a very big hobby I think I would have gone around the twist though. The day is long but not when you have your photography.”
Denniss plotted his route the night before each run – he did a marathon a day – and Carmel would put it into her GPS, drive ahead, then wait with a car stocked full of food - fruit, nuts, Mars bars - sometimes making Tom a sandwich in the back of the car and waiting for hours for him to arrive.
While she was waiting she would usually go for a walk around the area, always with her camera.
“Somedays I would think: ‘I’m never going to find him,’ then I would see this little tiny dot in the distance and think: ‘Phew, he’s there,’” she said.
“Sometimes we didn’t have contact for various reasons; we had phones but there wouldn’t be service, things like that.”
She describes the average day in the extraordinary trip as “driving, carting luggage, organising food and drinks and organising accommodation, which was always difficult at the end”.
Carmel would arrive at their destination and spend the afternoon turning up at hotels to see if they had a room. Sometimes she would visit as many as seven hotels in one afternoon trying to find somewhere with a room free.
When asked to name the toughest day during the round-the-world trip Carmel says: “Probably 7th of November 2012 when he slipped in the Andes on a snowcap. That was pretty horrible. I had to leave him because my car was bogged so I had to leave him and turn around and drive back down, so we made plans to meet in a couple of hours but we weren’t expecting there to be snow at the top. We were very unprepared for it.”
Tom did not have shoes suitable for ice and as he tried to navigate the snow he almost slipped down a 1,000ft ice cliff covered in snow.
“I didn’t know any of this until hours later; I just saw a tiny spot in the distance and thought: ‘Thank god he’s alive,’” she said.
Carmel said she did not find any of the trip mentally tough; in fact she enjoyed it so much she is trying to convince her husband to run around the world again - a “victory lap” she calls it.
Tom Denniss with his wife Carmel and daughters Hannah and Grace after he completed his run around the world. Tom Denniss with his wife Carmel and daughters Hannah and Grace after he completed his run around the world. Photograph: Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images
After seeing Asia, Europe, south and north America 50km at a time her favourite place ended up being in her home country.
“Nullarbor was a huge highlight,” she said. “It was surprisingly beautiful and most people drive through it with caravans and fly through it but we did it really slowly because Tom was only running 50km a day, luckily friends met us with a camper van so we were able to free camp and every 50km we’d stop so it took a month to cross the Nullarbor,” Carmel said.
“There’s no shops and we didn’t realise that there was no grocery store for 800 or 900km so we had friends do two massive food drops for us otherwise I don’t know what he would have done.”
Denniss is now a world record holder after was welcomed at the end of his run by about 100 friends and family as well a throng of media at the Opera House.
“It was just a fantastic experience but now I’ll have to get back to reality,” he said.
“I always thought I would make it but there were definitely tough times; in the heat it was really hard waking up every day hoping there had been a cool change and going out the door and being hit by this heat again and knowing I was in for a punishing, painful day.”
He paid tribute to his wife, saying at time she was the only person he spoke to for long periods of time.
He raised more than $50,000 for Oxfam Australia and wore out 17 pairs of shoes while running across five continents.
Carmel said the seed of the idea was planted in 2009 when her husband ran from Melbourne to Sydney and then starting thinking about the next big challenge.
“I thought he might run around Australia but no, he wanted to run around the world,” she said.
“He put the idea to me and said: ‘Would you come with me?’ and I said: ‘Absolutely.’ People think I’m a bit crazy and he’s a bit crazy but it was a wonderful experience.”
In the USA...United Surveillance America....
September 15, 2013 07:00 AMStudy: Trade Deal Would Mean a Pay Cut for 90% of U.S. Workers
By Susie Madrak
I think most of us realize by now what a bad deal these trade agreements are. This study proves that our suspicions are correct. More important, the agreement gives multinational corporations the ability to override a country's environmental laws. What could possibly go wrong?
The verdict is in: most U.S. workers would see wage losses as a result of theTrans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping U.S. "free trade" deal under negotiation with 11 Pacific Rim countries. That's the conclusion of a reportjust released by the non-partisan Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
TPP's corporate proponents have tried to sell the NAFTA-style deal to the U.S. public and policymakers by claiming that it will result in gains for the U.S. economy. They often cite a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics that used sweeping assumptions to project a tiny benefit from the TPP. We brought that study down to size back in January, showing that, even if one accepts the pro-TPP authors' litany of optimistic assumptions, the much-touted "benefit" from the TPP would amount to an extra quarter per person per day.
As this week's CEPR report points out, the pro-TPP study projected a meager 0.13 percent increase to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025 if thecontroversial TPP would be signed, passed, and implemented.
By comparison, economists have estimated that Apple's iPhone 5 contributed a 0.25 - 0.5 percent increase to U.S. GDP. That is, the TPP's total contribution to the U.S. economy is expected, by TPP proponents, to be about one half to one fourth of the contribution of the latest iPhone version.
Well, you might say, a nearly invisible blip in GDP is better than no blip in GDP. (You might say this if you ignore the host of dubious assumptions used to project said blip, and ignore the TPP's expected threats to medicines affordability, environmental protections, food safety, Internet freedom, andfinancial stability.) But what would such a paltry GDP rise mean for your pocket?
Answering that requires taking into account the increase in income inequality that typically results from such "free trade" deals. The author of the CEPR report, economist David Rosnick, explains, "There are winners and losers from trade, and research has shown that trade contributes to inequality. In fact, it would take only a very small contribution to inequality due to trade to wipe out all of the gains that most workers would get from this agreement."
Rosnick then uses the empirical evidence on the trade-inequality relationship and shows that even taking the most conservative estimate of trade's contribution to inequality (that trade is responsible for just 10% of the rise in inequality), the losses from projected TPP-produced inequality indeed would "wipe out" the tiny projected gains for the median U.S. worker.
That is, as a result of the TPP, the median U.S. income would fall. It would not just fall in comparison to the incomes of the wealthy (which would rise). It would fall in absolute terms, forcing middle-class U.S. workers to take home less in 2025 than they earn today.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l7merFlGdM
UK, US and France call for 'strong' UN resolution on Syria
Countries want wording that sets precise and binding deadlines on removing President Assad's chemical weapons
Reuters in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 16 September 2013 11.07 BST
France, Britain and the US have agreed to seek a "strong and robust" UN resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines on the removal of Syria's chemical weapons, the office of the French president, François Hollande, said, emerging from talks with John Kerry and William Hague in Paris.
The statement followed talks on Monday involving Hollande and the foreign ministers of the three countries in the French capital, two days after Russia and the US hammered out a deal on chemical weapons that could avert American military action over Syria.
"The idea is to stick to a firm line," said an official at Hollande's office after the talks with Kerry, Hague and their French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
"They've agreed to seek a strong and robust resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines with a calendar," said the official, who declined to be named.
Overcoming bitter differences, Kerry and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, struck a deal in Geneva on Saturday on removing President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arsenal.
After months in which Moscow and Washington failed to agree a line on Syria, Kerry and Lavrov demanded that Assad account for his secret stockpile within a week and let international inspectors eliminate all the weapons by the middle of next year.
Under the terms of the US-Russian agreement, the UN security council – on which Russia has a veto – will oversee the process.
The agreement states that a security council resolution should allow for regular assessments of Syria's behaviour and "in the event of non-compliance … the UN security council should impose measures under chapter 7 of the UN charter".
Chapter 7 can include force but can be limited to other kinds of sanction. When Kerry said the council "must" impose measures under chapter 7, Lavrov interrupted to point out that the agreed text says only it "should" impose penalties.
The French official said the goal was to get quick agreement on a resolution at UN headquarters.
"We must make progress in New York," said the official, adding that the hope was to come up with something that could be put to a vote before the end of this week.
Kerry insists Syria strikes still an option as Obama defends deal with Russia
Secretary of state speaks in Jerusalem and president appears on ABC to defend White House handling of chemical weapons talks
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 15 September 2013 16.36 BST
The White House scrambled to regain the political initiative over Syria on Sunday, insisting that US military strikes remained an option despite its deal with Russia to secure chemical weapon stockpiles through a United Nations resolution.
Under pressure from hawks in Washington and Israel, secretary of state John Kerry maintained that "the threat of force is real" if Syria does not comply with the plan to hand over its weapons, which was announced in Geneva on Saturday. "We cannot have hollow words," he said, during a stop-over in Jerusalem on Sunday to help sell the deal to Middle East allies.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama urged critics in Washington to focus on what had been achieved through the talks with Russia rather than the twisting and sometimes contradictory foreign policy path that led him there.
The US strategy was working, though it may not always have been "smooth and disciplined and linear", Obama conceded in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that was broadcast on ABC's This Week on Sunday morning. Obama added: "I'm less concerned about style points. I'm much more concerned with getting the policy right."
US reaction to Saturday's deal, which was struck by Kerry and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has been split squarely along party lines – a stark contrast to the swirling alliances that characterised earlier efforts to seek Congressional authorisation for military action.
Republicans have been overwhelmingly hostile, accusing Obama and Kerry of "selling out" to the Russians and allowing the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to stay in power without any firm guarantee that he will fulfil the promise to hand over weapons.
"This is a Russian plan for Russian interests," Mike Rogers, the chair of the House intelligence committee, told CNN on Sunday morning. "They got exactly what they wanted: Assad here for a year at least and not one ounce of chemical weapons came off the battlefield but we have given up a lot of leverage."
He added: "Pig Putin is playing chess and we're playing tic-tac-toe."
A Syrian minister played into Republican fears on Sunday by welcoming the US-Russian deal as a "victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends". In the first comments from the Assad government since Saturday's agreements in Geneva Ali Haidar, the minister of national reconciliation, said they had been achieved by "Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership".
"On the one hand, they will help Syrians come out of the crisis, and on the other hand, they prevented the war against Syria by having removed a pretext for those who wanted to unleash it," he told the Russian news agency, RIA-Novosti.
Pro-government Syrian newspapers also hailed the deal, headlining the fact that the text does not mention the use of force or sanctions.
Democrats were generally more sympathetic to the White House, amid relief that many would no longer have to vote against the president on the vexed issue of military action.
"I don't know if I trust the Russians but this agreement is a very positive step," said representative Adam Schiff, a member of the intelligence committee. "It's been ugly getting here. If you're goal is to use military force, it's a bad deal, but if your goal is to stop the use of chemical weapons this is about as good a deal as you are going to get."
Obama insisted that dealing with Russia over Syria's chemical weapons did not mean the US had given up wider hopes of seeing Assad removed from power.
"I don't think that Pig Putin has the same values that we do," he said in the ABC interview, which was recorded on Friday, before the deal with Russia was announced. "And I think – obviously – by protecting Mr Assad he has a different attitude about the Assad regime.
"But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable – as long as Mr Assad's in power, there is gonna be some sort of conflict there – and … we should work together to try to find a way in which the interests of all the parties inside of Syria, the Alawites, the Sunnis, the Christians, that everybody is represented and that there is a way of bringing the temperature down."
The United Nations is due on Monday to release its report into the use of chemical weapons in an attack in Damascus on 21 August. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has described it as "an overwhelming report".
September 15, 2013
Deal Represents Turn for Syria; Rebels Deflated
By ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Both sides in Syria’s civil war see the deal to dismantle President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles as a major turning point. It left rebels deflated and government supporters jubilant. And both sides say it means the United States knows Mr. Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The agreement between the United States and Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful backer, ended weeks of tension over the possibility of an imminent American military strike. Plans for such a strike have been put aside while the diplomatic process surrounding the agreement plays out, engaging Mr. Assad’s government and infusing it with new confidence that could have immediate impact.
Rebels who had hoped to capitalize on a military strike to regain momentum in the fighting are now bracing for the opposite, expecting Mr. Assad to press the battle more aggressively with conventional weapons, which they bitterly note have killed scores of times as many civilians as chemical weapons have.
Rebels and analysts critical of Mr. Assad’s government say he has a well-established pattern of agreeing to diplomatic initiatives to buy time, only to go on escalating the fighting.
For example, when Mr. Assad accepted Arab League monitors in the country in late 2011 and early 2012, he also intensified his crackdown on opponents, and shortly afterward he began the large-scale bombardments of rebel-held areas, like the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, that have since become daily occurrences.
Kamel Wazne, a Lebanese analyst who has close contacts with senior members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that has sent fighters to aid Mr. Assad’s forces, said Sunday that the deal allowed the side of the Syrian government to exhale.
“Whether the Americans like it or not,” he said, “when you negotiate the deal with the Russians as representatives of Bashar al-Assad, you acknowledged his existence and his continuation in power.”
Though American officials keep saying that their threat of military force remains, Mr. Wazne added, the Syrian government is now reassured that there will be no strikes anytime soon, and that “at least for today, life is normal in Damascus.”
In Washington, President Obama portrayed the agreement with Russia as a victory on an issue more important to American interests than the outcome of the war in Syria: curbing the use and proliferation of chemical weapons around the world. He suggested that the process of carrying out the deal could lay the groundwork for an eventual political settlement between backers and opponents of Mr. Assad.
The widespread perception in the region, though, was that every player had gained something in the past few weeks except the rebels — and, in large part, Syrian civilians, who human rights groups say have been systematically attacked by the government, and who have suffered abuses from both sides.
Mr. Wazne listed the winners: Mr. Obama avoided a potentially embarrassing defeat in Congress over the use of force in Syria; the Russian and Syrian governments bought time for Mr. Assad; Israel can look forward to the removal of a chemical arsenal on its border; and Iran, which had threatened to retaliate for a military strike on its ally Syria, avoided an escalating confrontation with the West.
Opponents of Mr. Assad expressed worry that the effort to eliminate the chemical weapons might stall or be evaded, and that even if the weapons were successfully eliminated, Mr. Assad would gain strength from the deal if it was not accompanied by significantly increased military aid to the rebels.
Samir Nashar, a member of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main opposition group in exile, said that the subtext of the agreement appeared to be that Mr. Assad would remain in power until at least through mid-2014, when the deal calls for the clearing of his chemical weapons stockpiles to be complete. Meanwhile, he said, the rebel fighters who are under the Western-backed coalition’s umbrella will continue to lose ground, not only to Mr. Assad’s forces but also to extremist rivals among the rebels.
“This chaos will be extended,” Mr. Nashar said in an interview in Istanbul.
Mr. Assad appeared to have bought time for another goal as well: his current term as president ends in 2014, and his supporters have long said that he would hang on to complete his term and seek another, and that the West, fearing radical Islamists among the rebels, would acquiesce.
Rebels and their supporters reacted angrily on Sunday to an assertion by Mr. Obama that the deal could ensure that “the worst weapons, the indiscriminate weapons that don’t distinguish between a soldier and an infant, are not used.” The Syrian government’s air and artillery strikes on civilian neighborhoods also fail to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, they said, and the Assad forces have shown few qualms about inflicting suffering on civilians.
For their part, Syrian officials insisted that while the deal entailed acknowledging that the country possessed chemical weapons, they did not see it as an admission that they had used them.
“It helps avoid the war against Syria, depriving those who wanted to launch it of arguments to do so,” the country’s reconciliation minister, Ali Haidar, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “It’s a victory for Syria.”
Seeing the diplomacy advancing quickly without it, the opposition coalition — notorious for feuding and indecision — moved to reassert its relevance. The coalition selected an interim prime minister on Saturday, and it said that a cabinet that would administer areas nominally under rebel control would be chosen within two weeks. It announced that a Kurdish political coalition had joined it, possibly broadening its appeal.
Several opposition members said that shipments of arms and ammunition to the rebels had increased, though they refused to discuss the source. But the shipments were of light weapons and were distributed only to selected groups, and they were not seen as likely to make much difference on the ground. The persistent lament of the rebels — that arms are only dribbled out to them, to prevent either side in the civil war from winning — grew more pronounced.
“We won’t get advanced weapons,” said Lt. Amr Firzat, a spokesman for a rebel brigade fighting in Aleppo Province. “Because that would mean we would achieve victories.”
Bashir Hajji, a field commander with Liwaa al-Tawheed, a rebel group affiliated with the loose-knit, Western-backed Free Syrian Army, said the agreement had strengthened the growing suspicion among rebels and “civilians who want salvation” that the United States, which has not substantially delivered on promises to strengthen their forces, actually aims to prolong Mr. Assad’s rule.
“The international community is providing a new chance for Assad’s gangs to continue the criminal play in Syria,” he said.
In Damascus, Sunday was the first day of school after the summer break, and state news media showed orderly rows of students at their desks.
Alaa, 40, a pro-Assad government employee, said in a Damascus coffee shop that Mr. Assad was wise to bargain away the chemical weapons. He said his father, a military officer, had told him the weapons were not very useful in fighting wars. “It is good to lose something, and not everything,” he said.
But Abu Yamman, 65, a retired teacher who was displaced from his home by fighting, said Syrians gained nothing from the deal.
“The Syrian government spent millions of dollars to improve its chemical weapons program,” he said. He used obscene language to express his view that Mr. Assad was humiliating himself, and giving up national assets, to stay in power, and he noted the fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, who agreed to give up his weapons but later was deposed and killed in an American-backed uprising.
“I think Bashar’s regime will face the same scenario,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Karam Shoumali and Kareem Fahim from Istanbul, Michael D. Shear from Washington, Hwaida Saad from Beirut, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.
Syria hails U.S.-Russia chemical weapons deal as a ‘victory’ that averts war
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 15, 2013 11:43 EDT
A US-Russian plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons is a “victory” that averts a war, a Syrian minister said Sunday, as Washington’s top diplomat briefed Israel about the landmark deal.
“On one hand, it helps the Syrians emerge from the crisis and on the other it has allowed for averting war against Syria…,” Minister of State for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar told Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“It’s a victory for Syria that was achieved thanks to our Russian friends.”
His remarks came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to brief him on the plan to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons.
Washington is seeking to bolster international support for the agreement inked in Geneva on Saturday, which demands action from Damascus within days.
The ambitious plan to dismantle and destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile — one of the largest in the world — by mid-2014 was thrashed out during three days of talks in Geneva between Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
It gives Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a week to hand over details of his regime’s arsenal of the internationally banned arms in order to avert unspecified sanctions and the threat of US-led military strikes.
It also specifies there must be immediate access for arms control experts and that inspections of what the US says is some 45 sites linked to the Syrian chemical weapons programme must be completed by November.
The deal won the backing of China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, which like Russia has vetoed several UN resolutions on Syria.
“This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius who will meet Lavrov on Tuesday in Moscow.
It was also welcomed by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who said: “It is important, however, that it be put into practice.”
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called the deal “a step closer to a political solution” to the conflict.
Ahead of Sunday’s Kerry meeting, Netanyahu said he hoped the accord would see the complete destruction of the Damascus regime’s chemical weapons.
“We hope that the Russian-US agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons will bear fruit but the real test will be in its implementation: the full dismantling of the regime’s chemical weapons stockpile,” he said at a ceremony marking 40 years since the Yom Kippur War.
Israel has voiced alarm at the use of chemical weapons inside Syria because of the potential fallout for Israelis across the border.
Some Israeli commentators raised the question of whether Washington would lean on Israel to ratify the international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons.
Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 but never ratified it, despite demands to do so from Washington and Moscow.
The Syrian rebels, fighting to oust Assad since March 2011, have rejected the deal, warning it would not halt the conflict that has killed more than 110,000 people and displaced millions.
“Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept (the deal) just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?” asked Free Syrian Army chief General Selim Idriss.
But in Damascus there was a flicker of hope the end of the devastating 30-month conflict may be in sight.
“We have more hope now, after this agreement. We might be able to see an end to terrorism and the troubles that we’ve had no part in creating,” beauty salon owner Muna Ibo said.
After meeting Netanyahu for a few hours, Kerry flies to Paris for talks with Fabius, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Monday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will also meet Kerry in Paris on Monday, a US official said.
France has so far been Washington’s closest ally as it has sought to build support to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.
The Paris leg of Kerry’s diplomacy will come the same day as the United Nations is due to release its investigation of an August 21 attack near Damascus.
Washington says Assad’s forces unleashed sarin gas on the suburb, killing some 1,400 people.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has accused Assad of multiple crimes against humanity and said the UN inspectors’ report would provide “overwhelming” confirmation chemical weapons were used.
President Barack Obama welcomed the US-Russian deal, but said the pressure was now on Assad to deliver.
And he warned that Washington, which has threatened military strikes against Syria in response to last month’s chemical attacks, “remains prepared to act”.
Kerry said the joint plan would be encapsulated in a Security Council resolution drawn up under Chapter Seven of the UN charter, which provides for enforcement through sanctions, including the possible use of military force.
But with Russia strongly opposed to the use of military threats against its long-term ally Syria, and also wielding a veto on the Council, Kerry acknowledged it would be up to debate in the Security Council over what sanctions to impose.
Obama pleased Pig Putin takes responsibility for ‘client’ Assad
by Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 16, 2013 1:33 EDT
US President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he was pleased that Russian President Pig Putin had taken responsibility for his “client,” — Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama also denied in an interview on ABC News that he had been outfoxed by Putin in accepting a deal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, after stepping back from the use of US military force.
“I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, ‘I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime– to deal with these chemical weapons,’ Obama told the ABC News program “This Week.”
Obama deflected criticisms that he had been outflanked by Pig Putin, with whom he has sharp disagreements on many issues, using former president Ronald Reagan’s old dictum for dealing with the Soviet Union: “trust but verify.”
“Pig Putin and I have strong disagreements on a whole range of issues,” Obama said.
“But I can talk to him. We have worked together on important issues.”
“I know that sometimes this gets framed … through the lens of the US versus Russia.
“But that’s not what this is about.
“What this is about is how do we make sure that we don’t have the worst weapons in the hands, either of a murderous regime, or in the alternative, some elements of the opposition — that are as opposed to the United States as they are to Assad.”
The interview was recorded before the full details of a deal between the United States and Russia reached in Geneva became clear.
The ambitious plan to dismantle and destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile by mid-2014 was thrashed out during three days of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The accord announced Saturday gives Assad a week to hand over details of his regime’s arsenal of the internationally banned arms in order to avert unspecified sanctions and the threat of US-led military strikes.
It also specifies there must be immediate access for arms control experts and that inspections of what the US says are 45 sites linked to the Syrian chemical weapons programme must be completed by November.