09/17/2013 04:38 PM
Rough Start: EU Plans Sanctions Against Newest Member Croatia
Just days before its summer entry into the European Union, Croatia shocked EU leaders by amending its extradition laws to protect its citizens from prosecution abroad. Brussels plans to respond with the unusual step of suspending aid to the country.
The European Union is planning punitive sanctions against its newest member, Croatia, in response to the country's rogue change to extradition laws. The European Commission, the 28-member bloc's executive branch, is reportedly preparing to freeze some €80 million (€106.8 million) in subsidies earmarked for enhancing Croatia's border controls.
The measures would be an embarassment for the government in Zagreb, which enacted a law that greatly limited extradition of Croatian citizens just days before its July 1 entry into the EU. A spokeswoman for EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Brussels has put sustained pressure on Croatia to change the law, which goes against EU standards, but that "we have not seen a response" that satisfies the Commission's demands.
Croatia has offered revisions to the extradition law, but they would not take effect until mid-2014.
On Tuesday, the country's prime minister said his government wouldn't take steps to speed up changes to the law. "I will not allow anyone to wipe the floor with us," Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told reporters.
Sanctions within the EU are incredibly rare, and require the approval of all EU member states. Governments in question have 10 days to respond once the European Commission has presented its planned measures.
The speaker of the Croatian parliament, Josip Leko, dismissed the threat of sanctions, saying he was "confident the government will know how to react and protect Croatia's interests."
Is Law Aimed at Protecting Former Intelligence Head?
Officially, the Croatian government passed the law to protect veterans of its independence war in the 1990s from prosecution in other countries. However, critics say the law is actually meant to cover the case of Josip Perkovic, the former head of Croatian intelligence.
For years, Germany has sought the extradition of Perkovic to face murder charges. Prosecutors believe he was instrumental in the 1983 assassination of a Croatian dissident then living in Munich.
Perkovic at the time worked for the Yugoslav state security service, which routinely pursued and killed defectors. German authorities believe at least 22 Croatian exiles were murdered on German soil between 1970 and 1989.
Portugal: ‘Portugal is the EU’s most pessimistic country’
Diário de Notícias,
13 September 2013
Portuguese people have lost faith in their political parties, are less satisfied with the EU and are among the most pessimistic in Europe, according to a four-month study carried out by Diário de Notícias and local research group the Foundation Francisco Manuel dos Santos.
According to the study, Portuguese people’s faith in their political parties has tumbled from 18 per cent in November last year to 9 per cent in May 2013 – compared to a European average of 19.6 per cent. Maltese citizens have the most faith in their politicians, with 46 per cent saying they they still trusted their elected representatives.
Hospital doctors join thousands protesting Greece’s austerity layoffs
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 17:21 EDT
Greek doctors on Tuesday joined the latest wave of strikes to hit the debt-stricken country, with thousands of public sector workers protesting against government plans for lay-offs and redeployments.
In Brussels, however, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said during a visit by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that the unpopular policy of austerity was showing results in Greece and must be pursued to the end.
Teachers from schools and universities, civil servants and lawyers are also on strike, in protest at reforms that Samaras’ centre-left coalition government is undertaking in return for international bailout funds.
Doctors in public hospitals are protesting at government plans to merge various hospitals in an effort to cut down on public spending, while lawyers oppose changes in their sector that will result in pay reductions.
On Tuesday, some 200 angry workers from the Greek ministry of development gathered in central Athens to protest at cuts.
Union leader Dimitra Chioni told AFP: “We have just received a list with 100 ministry employees who have been placed on the redeployment scheme. We are sure that this will lead to their lay-off.”
A disillusioned member of the ministry’s staff, Yiannis Manolatos, said: “There are no selection criteria for the redeployment of public sector workers, this is a myth.
“The government makes its choice based on quantity, to meet the numbers demanded by the troika (EU-IMF creditors).”
Many secondary schools remained shut around the country, with the main secondary school teachers union opposing a reduction of teaching staff and the abolition of so-called secondary subjects that include foreign languages, art and music.
Universities remained shut as well, refusing to provide the government with a list of names of staff that could be placed on the redeployment scheme.
The lawyers are expected to be on strike for two days, the doctors for three, while the teachers are due to continue their action for the rest of the week.
The latest wave of public sector strikes began on Monday, ahead of Samaras’ talks with EU officials in Brussels and the start of a new audit by European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund creditors.
Barroso said that after huge sacrifices there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, with twice-bailed out Greece set to return to growth next year.
“This is no time to take our hands off the wheel, full implementation is essential,” Barroso added speaking alongside Samaras.
After six years in a deep and damaging recession, Greece is finally turning the corner, with public finances set to show a primary surplus if debt and interest payments are excluded, said Samaras.
“Today there is no more talk about the infamous ‘Grexit,’” he added, referring to the possibility the country would leave the eurozone as it failed to meet its bailout targets.
First rescued in 2010 by the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, Athens soon needed a second, bigger bailout which included a controversial write-down of some 100 billion euros in private creditor debt.
Asked about widespread speculation Athens will need a third rescue, Barroso said “it is no secret we have to look again at Greece’s financial needs”, estimated by the IMF at another 11 billion euros in 2014 and 2015.
He said he recognised the pain caused by the austerity policy which had to be “front-loaded” in bailed-out countries because they “were very close to insolvency.”
Now the emphasis should be on “growth-friendly” structural reforms”, he said, arguing that reducing a bloated public sector or ensuring an equitable tax system were justified in the cause of “social fairness.”
Neither Samaras nor Barroso directly referred to the strikes in Greece.
All of Greece’s other public sector unions will embark on a two-day strike Wednesday and Thursday, called by the main union, ADEDY.
They will also be joined by unions representing workers in the private sector.
Under pressure from its creditors, Greece announced in July that it would place 12,500 civil servants on a redeployment scheme by the end of September.
Overall, Greece has pledged to axe 4,000 state jobs and redeploy 25,000 public sector workers by the end of the year, in return for its much-needed rescue loans.
Greece's birthrate falls as austerity measures hit healthcare
Hospitals report 10% reduction in births in past four years as ministers say families cannot afford to have children
Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 10.02 BST
Greece has suffered a huge drop in its birthrate because of austerity and unemployment, according to a senior government official.
The decline of more than 10% in the past four years is unparalleled in Europe and highlights the savage impact costcutting measures are having on the nation at the heart of the eurozone's financial woes.
"The falling fertility rate is a natural consequence of harsh austerity and record levels of unemployment, especially among the young," said Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary at the health ministry. "It is the mirror image of the 25% drop in our GDP since the start of the crisis," she said.
If further evidence was ever needed of the human cost of austerity, it is the effect budget-reducing policies are clearly having on childbirth in Greece. Figures released by the state-run Institute of Child Health show that the birthrate dropped from 118,302 in 2008 to 100,980 in 2012.
The health minister, Adonis Georgiadis, has attributed the decline squarely to the effect of the economic crisis on Greeks. "The problem of low fertility among the Greek population has grown continuously over the past two decades and worsened significantly, recently, as a result of the profound economic crisis the country is facing," he said, acknowledging that the number of stillbirths had also risen.
Mired in its sixth straight year of recession – the longest on record for an advanced western economy – Greece is in the midst of a public health disaster that according to doctors is worsening by the day.
Stringent cuts imposed on Athens in return for €240bn (£201bn) in rescue funds from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, have resulted in the country's health budget being slashed by close to 40%. State funds for medication have been axed by almost half, from €5bn euro to just over €2bn, since the turmoil began.
Soaring joblessness – at nearly 28%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone – has also meant that growing numbers are no longer covered by free healthcare. The migration of thousands of private insurance holders to state-sponsored schemes has added to the strain.
"This is by far our biggest problem, the long-term unemployed no longer having access to health services because they are uninsured," said Papanikolaou, a physician herself. "We have had to make cuts in a very short period of time and some have been unfair. Pregnant women, for instance, no longer receive any kind of help or benefits."
With more than a fifth of the country's 11.4 million-strong population living under the poverty line, prenatal screening and other tests have been abandoned by prospective mothers who can no longer afford them. The decline in crucial medical examinations has fuelled fears that unemployed mothers are increasingly at risk of losing babies.
Earlier this year, the National School of Public Health said stillbirths had increased 21.5% from 3.31 per 1,000 in 2008 to 4.01 per 1,000 in 2011, attributing the rise to the growing rate of unemployment among women and the inability to access healthcare.
In a four-page analysis submitted to parliament, Adonis Georgiadis, the health minister, conceded that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the uninsured and financially vulnerable could be covered by insurance funds in prenatal screening.
The collapse of medical services has also affected Greece's large migrant community. At hospitals in Athens, which have been worst hit by the crisis, social workers say growing numbers of uninsured migrant mothers are failing to register children at birth for fear of being forced to pay delivery rates that at €600 (€1,200 for caesarians) few can afford.
"There is a growing population of undeclared children in Greece," said one social worker, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "We have had cases of mothers fleeing hospitals with babes in arms in the middle of the night."
Dutch King tells citizens ‘to take responsibility’ as PM implements austerity
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 18:15 EDT
The Dutch government heralded the end of the welfare state on Tuesday as the fifth-largest eurozone economy presented an austerity-driven budget for 2014.
“The classic welfare state is slowly but surely turning into a society of participation,” King Willem-Alexander told parliament, laying out the Liberal-led government’s plans for the year.
“It is asked of all those who can to take responsibility for their own life and that of those around them,” the king said in the speech written by Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The king, who travelled through the streets of The Hague to address MPs and senators in an ornate horse-drawn golden carriage, said the transformation would be particularly noticeable in social security and long-term healthcare policies.
“The classic welfare state of the second half of the 20th century has ended up with practices in these domains that have become untenable in their current form,” said the king, whose country for decades symbolised the western European ideal of the welfare state.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem later unveiled his budget in parliament, with the Netherlands economy still struggling to return to growth.
“Balance has not yet returned to our economy, and that can be seen from the figures,” Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, told parliament.
The trade-dependent Dutch economy is in the fourth quarter of a recession and is struggling even as other European countries return to growth.
A growth prediction of 0.5 percent for 2014 is less than previous forecasts and unemployment, on the rise since June 2011, is expected to climb beyond 9 percent.
“A quick and painless solution does not exist,” Dijsselbloem said, referring to six billion euros in additional budget cuts for 2014.
Those savings come on top of austerity measures agreed by previous governments since the financial crisis started in 2008.
The government hopes that all of the cuts agreed since then will result in overall savings of 30 billion euros in 2014, rising to 50 billion euros in 2017.
Most of the additional measures announced Tuesday had already been leaked in the Dutch press, including lowering healthcare refunds and reducing ministries’ budgets.
A reported public sector wage freeze was however not announced.
The austerity measures will reduce Dutch households’ purchasing power by 0.25 percent in 2014, but at the same time bring the public deficit down to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The Netherlands’ Central Planning Bureau (CPB), whose predictions the government uses to draw up its budget, said in June that without the additional measures the deficit would rise to 3.9 percent of GDP next year.
European Union rules mean that the Dutch deficit cannot be over 3 percent of GDP. It was 4.1 percent in 2012.
The budget announcement came with the government in free-fall in opinion polls.
A poll published Sunday said that the ruling Liberal-Labour coalition, in power for a year, would lose around half its seats in parliament were elections held now.
Eurozone growth in the second quarter of 2013 was 0.3 percent overall, while the Dutch economy shrank by 0.2 percent during the same period.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Spain: ‘Brussels warns that Catalonia could be excluded from the EU’
La Vanguardia, 1
7 September 2013
Speaking in Barcelona on September 16, the European Commissioner for Competition and Vice-President of the Commission, Joaquín Almunia warned that "a secessionist state is not part of the European Union." Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde later confirmed that "an independent state would be a third party in relation to the EU."
Although the issue of independence for Catalonia is once again under debate in Spain, La Vanguardia reports that —
The European Commission wants to avoid politics and confine itself to a strictly legal approach in its evaluation of the consequences of a potentially independent Catalonia, an issue it insists on qualifying as "an internal question of constitutional organisation" within a member state.
Spanish saddle up and ride the bike boom that's sweeping the country
Bicycles appear to be outselling cars for the first time in Spain, with 780,000 people opting for two wheels over four
Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 22.37 BST
Rafael Quereda, 58, opened his bike shop in the heart of Madrid 18 months ago, when he lost his job at a graphic design company after 25 years. "After I was sacked I was trying to find something to do and because I'm old, there wasn't much work about. But I saw that people had really started to use bicycles and that there was a market."
Quereda is not the only one enjoying Spain's bike boom. For the first time, bicycles appear to be outselling cars. Across Spain, the latest cycle industry figures show 780,000 people opting for two wheels, making up about 4% of Europe's total, while 700,000 cars were sold.
For many it is yet another indicator of the ongoing recession that has hit Spain, leaving it with more than 25% of its workforce unemployed, rising to 56% among young people. It is a shocking turnaround for a country whose economy was once hailed as one of Europe's great success stories. In the five years up to 2007, Spain created almost half the new jobs in the entire eurozone. It is a very different story now.
Amid the rising cost of car use and public transport, "we're getting more customers each day", said Quereda.
"All types of people come in, young and old, some want a new bike, some bring in the bicycles they've had stored in the garage for 30 years to be repaired." A few of the bicycles brought into his shop next to Retiro Park resemble medieval contraptions, adds Quereda, "but that's not a problem".
Across town at the Seat car showroom on the Paseo de la Castellana, one of Madrid's busiest avenues, it is a different story. Its shiny, glass-walled showroom is full of polished new and secondhand cars, but there's little business being done. A sleepy silence prevails, with more staff than customers.
"We need to be selling a million cars a year in Spain," said Federico Suárez Leco, commercial director of Castellana Motor, meaning the country is 30% below its target. "In 2007, we sold 390 individual cars [excluding company cars] a year, but in 2012 it was down to around 300." And this is one of Seat's biggest showrooms in Madrid. The story is much worse across the capital and the country, said Suárez. "Lots of showrooms are closing all the time."
Suárez says that during the boom years Spaniards lived "beyond their means … buying cars they couldn't afford, with finance plans they should never have got involved with".
The fall to earth has thus been even more painful than it might have been, "and even though they talk about there being light at the end of the tunnel, I don't see it."
He pointed out that the most popular brand in Spain last month was the Dacia, a Romanian-made vehicle launched in 1966, and now a subsidiary of Renault, which is aimed right at the budget end of the market.
Its strong sales, said Suarez, "show how bad the economy is".
The government has brought in numerous policies to encourage sales over the years, including a scrappage scheme for cars older than 12 years, without which the situation would be even more dire. Given the importance of car manufacturingto the domestic economy, more needs to be done, said Mario Armero, vice-president of Anfac, the National Association of Car Manufacturers.
"We have to be more forward in areas such as logistics, taxation, research and development," said Armero.
"Spain and its car industry are moving steadily towards exiting the crisis. In recent years we have been allocated 20 new models and by 2014 will produce about 45 models. This recognition of the quality of manufacturing in Spain is reflected in the fact that Spain exported taxis to New York , to London or Abu Dhabi," he argued. But there will be plenty more pain yet.
One of the attractions of the bicycle is, of course, the value for money, but there's more to it than that. Cycling has definitely become cool. In the Bicicleta cafe in Malasaña, Madrid's hippest district, they mix coffee and an obsession with cycling.
Tamy Marques, 30, opened the cafe with her partner last December, having picked up on the fashion for cycle cafes in London, where art, discussion groups, workshops come together with only the very best cafes con leche. She agrees that Madrid is not as cycle-friendly as some other cities, but believes it is changing.
"You can't just create a cycle path, you also have to teach people how to use them," she said, as customers buzz in and out. "There's a bike for everyone … foldaways, electric ones, fixed gear, urban bikes … whatever works with your lifestyle." And, of course, they are environmentally sound: "When I cycle behind a car, I take in all their pollution, but the person behind me gets nothing bad at all."
And there are those who have always cycled in Madrid. One of Spain's most famous names, singer-songwriter Christina Rosenvinge, says she has been cycling for more than 10 years in the capital. "Originally there weren't many of us but in the last few years, I've noticed a real change.
"Back then, if you went out with a child on the back of your bike, drivers used to lean out of their window and shout 'Murderer!," she said, "but people are now more tolerant."
There still are not many good cycle paths, but small activist groups are pressuring town halls across the country. It seems they are finally being heard.
Pig Putin can preen himself over Syria but the pressure on him is intense
The Russian leader has cunningly upstaged Obama. But now he's the dominant player, his own reputation is on the line
The Guardian, Wednesday 18 September 2013
The dark curtain draws back and over the bloodstained stage flutters a small white dove. Some twist of war has sent it aloft. Some missile roar may soon bring it crashing to Earth. But while its wings still flap we gaze at it, mesmerised by hope.
Syria is now the war game of choice among the armchair strategists of Washington and London. Cynics battle with optimists, belligerents with pacifists. Has Barack Obama been painted into a corner? What if Bashar al-Assad pulls back and Russia vetoes a military response? Has America's bluff been called? Will Pig Putin call it again?
What if America bombs and Assad resumes chemical attacks? What if Assad burns some weapons but renews his savagery on the rebels? If the US seeks to topple the regime, what if Russia supports it? What of Congress? What of Iran, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf? What of … What if …
These are the questions that periodically crowd the interventionist agenda. Those asking them rarely have a dog in the fight and rarely bear the cost of their prescriptions. Their allegiance is to their chosen tribe, be it meek or macho, dove or hawk, left or right. Few know or really care about Syria, rather about what others will think of them on the op-ed page or round the thinktank table.
Military intervention has a tidy arsenal of cases where "it worked". The job lot includes Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya and Mali, which are assumed to outpunch such failures as Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the west had few interests in any of them, the interventions tended only to tilt the geometry of internal strife, toppling a regime here, hastening a partition there. Seldom is there any audit of intervention, let alone much by way of aftercare. Failure is always declared "not an option".
As Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus remark in their book Can Intervention Work?, the greatest fallacy of all is the belief that "the power, the knowledge and the legitimacy of the international community" are unlimited and enshrined in some Anglo-American suzerainty.
Most of the cases, certainly Iraq and Afghanistan, made a mockery of the fall-back justification for these interventions; the 2005 UN doctrine of a "responsibility to protect" oppressed peoples everywhere. A concept so noble in the drawing rooms of Manhattan has degenerated into a sickening prelude to more bloodshed. It has become a diplomatic Babel of grandstanding, war-mongering, neo-imperialism and general half-heartedness, its signatures the missile strike and the punitive sanction.
Syria's civil war is as horrible as any. It is rooted in a religious feud that baffles most outsiders and seems as vicious as anything inflicted on Europe by the Thirty Years war. "You may find some of these images distressing," the BBC announcer intones each night, before another orgy of gory propaganda to "do something" and not "stand idly by".
It stands to the credit of legislators on both sides of the Atlantic that they have resisted this propaganda. They have challenged their leaders to say what purpose is served by merely bombing dictators. To them, war with Syria should be explained not just asserted. It has nothing to with America "reverting to isolation" or Britain as suddenly "an offshore island". It has to do with common sense, with not doing more harm than good.
The uncertain outcome of Syria's civil conflict is not Britain's concern. What remains of "responsibility to protect" should be properly humanitarian. The ideology set out by the great interventionist, Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross in the 19th century, still applies. The job of humanity is to relieve the agony of the victims of war, on and off the battlefield. It lies not in helping one side to win but in coming to the aid of all. There is ample scope for this in and around Syria.
If it is not my business who wins, then strictly speaking nor is brokering peace between the sides. What should I care for this particular dove? But that would be a counsel of true despair. Decades of western ineptitude towards the Muslim world have driven Syria into the arms of Russia and Iran. Both have vexed relations with the west, yet both seem, for the moment, to be ready to lean on their client state.
Obama may have fallen victim to his "red-line" bravado, but he has drawn Russia into closer involvement. In May, Moscow sponsored an abortive peace conference on Syria and has now sponsored a chemical weapons deal. Iran has elected a pragmatic new president, Hassan Rouhani, with a clear interest in trading nuclear disarmament for rapprochement with the west. Obama may meet him in New York next week.
A deal with Russia on chemical weapons in Syria could yet morph into what must be the most plausible short-term route to peace, a ceasefire and some de facto partition. This could be a prelude to some return of refugees and relief to the region generally. Were it to lead on to a deal on nuclear weapons with Iran, it would be an added bonus.
The odds on this succeeding must be slight. The Pig may be preening himself on his cunning opportunism in upstaging Obama, and on his eulogistic coverage in the west. But the pressure on him is intense. He and Iran have become the power brokers of this war. He let himself be drawn into the game as dominant player. His prestige is now on the line.
We have been here before, in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. America had won the express sympathy of almost every country on Earth (including Russia and Syria). Yasser Arafat gave blood for the people of New York. Tony Blair, in one of his more creditable escapades, travelled the region pleading for help in suppressing al-Qaida.
The pressure on the Afghans to hand over Osama bin Laden was then intense and was, in the view of many observers, on target to succeed given time (see Lucy Morgan Edwards's The Afghan Solution). But America's wounds were so raw it could not wait. It shot down that dove of peace and has spent an agonising decade paying the price.
Most civil wars are best left to fight to a standstill. They find resolution in exhaustion, whether they lead to regime change or to partition. The original UN charter implicitly acknowledged this, in stipulating global respect for nonintervention in states' internal sovereignty.
But Russia has made Syria its business. Pig Putin owns this particular dove. If it falls from the sky, his will have been the shot that brought it down.
France bans beauty contests for girls
'Mini-Miss' pageant organisers face fines and prison sentences as parliament addresses 'hypersexualisation' of under-16s
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 11.21 BST
France's upper house of parliament has voted to outlaw beauty contests for girls under 16 years old under threat of prison sentences and fines in an attempt to halt the "hypersexualisation" of youngsters.
The Sénat voted for the proposal on Wednesday after Chantal Jouanno, a former sports minister under right-of-centre president Nicolas Sarkozy, introduced the ban as part of a bill on gender equality.
"Don't let us allow our girls to believe from an early age that their only value is their looks," Joanno told senators. "Don't let us allow commercial interests to outweigh social interests.
"Lawmakers are not moralisers, but we have a duty to defend the superior interest of the child."
The ban on what the French call "Mini-Miss" pageants was opposed by Socialist senator Virginie Klès, who presented the gender equality bill, as well as the government's spokesperson and women's rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, both of whom judged the penalties too harsh.
Under the proposed law, pageant organisers who flout the minimum age limit would face up to two years in prison and a €30,000 (£25,000) fine.
Vallaud-Belkacem tabled an amendment that would force pageant organisers to apply for official permission to stage them, but this was defeated.
In a parliamentary report presented in March 2012, two months before Sarkozy was defeated by Socialist François Hollande, Jouanno voiced concern about the "hypersexualisation" of young girls, including "the sexualisation of their expressions, postures or clothes that are too precocious".
Jouanno said at the time: "The phenomenon is more and more present."
The amended law will return to the lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, for approval.
Italy: ‘Berlusconi, a 500m conviction’
18 September 2013
Italy’s high court has issued a final ruling on the long running dispute between Silvio Berlusconi and the owner of La Repubblica, Carlo De Benedetti over the purchase of publishing house Mondadori in 1989. The Roman daily reports that the former premier will have to pay almost €500 million to De Benedetti’s CIR Group.
The court confirmed that Berlusconi’s lawyers had bribed a judge to have him declare invalid a preliminary agreement that would have assigned control of Mondadori to De Benedetti. Berlusconi’s daughter Marina, who is the current head of the Fininvest group controlled by the Berlusconi family, is considering an appeal to the European court of justice.
Yet more legal trouble is looming for Berlusconi: the committee, which will decide on his expulsion from the Senate in the wake of his conviction for tax fraud, has rejected a request to delay its decision and is expected to vote this afternoon.
Croatia: ‘Croats, forget about Schengen for now’
17 September 2013
The European Commission will apply sanctions on Croatia if it does not rapidly amend its constitution to conform to European regulations regarding arrest warrants.
Under Article 39 of the Accession Treaty, sanctions against Croatia could include being denied European aid of €80m to help prepare the country's entry into the Schengen Area, explains Croatian daily Večernji list.
At the end of August, Zagreb bowed to pressure from Brussels, and the government plans to propose an emergency bill to Parliament this week. However, if it is approved, the change to the law will not go into effect until July 15, 2014: a delay that the Commission has deemed to be too long.
German election goes to the wire with no clear winner in sight
Polls point to grand coalition between Angela Merkel's CDU, Bavarian sister party the CSU and the Social Democrats
Kate Connolly in Berlin
Wednesday 18 September 2013 12.21 BST
The final stretch of the German general election is turning into a nail-biting race between the main parties, with latest polls showing that neither Angela Merkel's conservatives together with her liberal coalition partner, the FDP, nor a leftwing-Green party alliance is set to obtain an overall majority.
The opinion polls indicate that one of Europe's most important elections in years will go to the wire, with the most likely outcome to be a so-called grand coalition between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, together with the Social Democrats (SPD).
The poll by the Forsa Institute put the CDU on 39%, the SPD on 25%, and the liberal Free Democrats on 5%, the threshold needed for it to get into parliament.
The Left (Linke) is on 10%, and the Green party on 9%.
Arithmetically the possibilities would be a grand coalition or a conservative-Green union, though the latter is unlikely, having more or less been ruled out by those involved.
As the closeness of the contest became clear, all parties were scrambling on Wednesday to try to garner the support of the large number of undecideds, estimated to be up to a third of voters.
The CDU was keen to warn its voters that splitting their two votes – a "local" vote for a constituency MP, and a second for the party list – would risk huge losses for the CDU.
The party had its fingers burned at a regional poll in Lower Saxony in January when so many second votes were given to the FDP that the CDU was narrowly defeated.
The FDP, meanwhile, whose survival in parliament is in grave doubt after it failed by a considerable margin to enter the Bavarian assembly in last Sunday's election, was canvassing CDU voters to "lend" their second vote to the FDP to ensure a continuation of the conservative-FDP alliance. It was also trying to rally its core supporters by wheeling out its former star and foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
The SPD, buoyed by a solid if not spectacular result in Bavaria, was also trying desperately to motivate its core voters, particularly as experience shows the higher the voter turnout is, the better its prospects have been. The SPD's leadership has been gathering in recent days to discuss its position in a grand coalition, as its chances of re-entering government loomed ever larger.
An unknown quantity remains the Alternative für Deutschland, a new Eurosceptic party. Although polls show it is expected to get just 3%, analysts say the party should not be underestimated, not least because of the 1 million clicks its YouTube campaign video has received, and the €430,000 of donations it collected just last weekend. The party could yet benefit from the high number of undecided voters, and the growing number of "closet" anti-Europeans.
09/18/2013 12:46 PM
'More Boldness': Merkel in Pre-Vote Dispute over Arms Exports
By Matthias Gebauer
An internal paper indicates Chancellor Merkel's conservatives want Germany to increase arms exports, a move strictly opposed by her coalition partners. Foreign Minister Westerwelle struck back this week, highlighting a government spat just days before the election.
Just days before the general election, a dispute has broken out within Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition over German weapons exports. Earlier this week, SPIEGEL reported on a paper circulating among conservatives in parliament calling for "more boldness" when it comes to selling German-made arms abroad. Now, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a leading member of Merkel's coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), has given voice to his displeasure.
In a meeting this week with a small number of staffers, Westerwelle said, according to one of those present in the meeting, that, "a restrictive control on arms exports is good for our country." The ministry source says that Westerwelle told confidants within the Foreign Ministry that, were the FDP to be part of Merkel's next governing coalition, it would not support any weakening of the restrictive policies governing German weapons exports.
Westerwelle's reaction places the issue in the center of the election campaign just days before voters head to the polls. "As long as I am foreign minister, the export regulations will remain as they are: restrictive and closely negotiated with our partners," he said. The foreign minister added that he stands for a "culture of military restraint," particularly when it comes to weapons deals. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was "astonished" by the paper circulated among parliamentary conservatives.
'Regardless of Resistance'
In the paper which touched off the debate, leading defense experts within Chancellor Merkel's conservative faction demanded that regulations governing arms exports be "re-evaluated in the future and that the political support for exports be strengthened." They said this should be done "regardless of resistance by the media" or concerns among the populace.
The paper noted that "those who are proud of Germany's leadership in exports should also be proud of its defense technology." Though the paper is not part of the conservatives' campaign platform, it certainly reflects the party's policy leanings. Thus far, the issue of weapons exports has not played a significant role in the campaign, with elections scheduled for this Sunday.
Still, the paper touches one an issue that has triggered several controversies in recent years. Last year, for example, Merkel's government was heavily criticized for approving the delivery of tanks and armored vehicles to autocratic regimes in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Because the deals were rubber-stamped by the Federal Security Council, which meets in secret, the Merkel administration has refused to comment on the deals, which were first revealed by SPIEGEL.
The 'Merkel Doctrine'
The exports were indirectly defended with the argument that the recipients of the weapons were strategic partners to Germany even if they weren't democratic. The apparent shift in policy has come to be called the "Merkel Doctrine." By arming half-way reliable countries in crisis regions, Berlin hopes to be able to avoid participation in dangerous international military interventions abroad.
Westerwelle's comments are an apparent attempt to re-focus attention on the issue as his party battles for survival. Public opinion polls currently indicate that the FDP may fail to clear the five percent hurdle for representation in German parliament, the Bundestag. The message is clear: Those interested in preventing the expansion of weapons exports should vote for the FDP rather than for the conservatives. Westerwelle's comments likewise clearly highlight one of the many fissures in Merkel's coalition with the FDP.
Westerwelle's comments this week aren't the first time the defense minister has argued for more transparency when it comes to arms exports. In a SPIEGEL interview in May, he said: "We have to become more transparent. This means that reports on arms exports should be released more quickly in the future, once the respective decisions have been made."
He repeated the sentiments this week. According to the Foreign Ministry source, Westerwelle said that if any changes are made to Germany's arms export policy, it should be towards "a strengthening of the Bundestag's" voice on the issue.
09/17/2013 06:35 PM
The Anti-Pippi: Green Party's Top Candidate Lacks Punch
By Christiane Hoffmann
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, one of the Green Party's two top candidates in the upcoming federal election, is failing to pull in voters. Her soft-spoken style and lack of edginess -- a quality that was once the party's stock-in-trade -- might have something to do with it.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt bends down to take a closer look at the miniature landscape. She's a tad perplexed. "What's a goose doing on a balcony?" she asks. She points at the tiny figurine. "Why a goose?"
It's late August, and the Green Party's top candidate in the upcoming general election is visiting the miniature railway museum in Hamburg. The museum has given the country's six largest political parties a small plot of "land" to show off their visions of a future Germany. The Greens' pint-sized paradise features workers converting tanks into tractors, children playing in brightly colored kindergartens and happy chickens making good their escape from a battery farm.
Göring-Eckardt takes it all in, nodding attentively as she's shown around -- until she spies the goose, on the fourth floor of an apartment block overlooking a busy street. For a party that takes the human treatment of animals as seriously as the Greens do, this is a total no-no. Discussion ensues. Eventually, Göring-Eckardt and the model-builders agree the goose is a symbol of a "self-determined life." But she's not really placated. A goose on a balcony? It's positively anarchic.
The woman often referred to as "KGE" was nominated by her party in a direct vote last November as the female half of the party's dual male-female candiate for chancellor in the federal election. At the time, she seemed to perfectly complement Jürgen Trittin, the left-leaning party veteran sharing her ticket. Flamboyant party head Claudia Roth tailed behind in fourth place, in what was seen as a rejection of the alternative and confrontational agenda of the Greens' founding generation and a move towards a more mainstream version of the party. While Trittin was nominated to appeal to the Greens' core voters, the idea was that Göring-Eckardt would speak to the postmodern middle class.
If that was the plan, it appears to have failed spectacularly. When they were nominated, the Green Party was polling around 14 percent. Now, it's down to 11 percent. According to the Forsa Institute, its support has plummeted to below 10 percent, behind the Left Party.
Revelations on Monday about Trittin's involvement in the Green Party's historical pedophilia scandal have further muddied the party's prospects. In an essay for the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung newspaper, Franz Walter, a political scientist hired by the Greens in May to investigate the party's affiliations with pedophiles in the 1980s, wrote that Trittin was jointly responsible for an election platform that included a call for the decriminalization of sex between minors and adults. It is important to note that Trittin himself has never been accused of such a crime, but having his name on the paper is a political scandal nonetheless.
Trittin on Monday confirmed the findings to Die Tageszeitung. "It was simply taken for granted that we adopted one-to-one the demands of various fringe initiatives, such as those of the 'Homosexual Action Göttingen,'" said Trittin, who was a student running for city council at the time. "The responsibility was mine and it's a mistake I regret."
Since the findings were published, several conservative politicians have called for the Green Party forerunner to withdraw his candidacy. "Trittin needs to consider whether he really is the right man to be fronting the Greens," said Philipp Missfelder of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). His actions are "a mockery to all victims of sexual abuse," said Family Minister Kristina Schröder of the CDU on Tuesday.
'A Terrible Mistake 30 Years Ago'
Göring-Eckardt came to Trittin's defense in a letter to a prominent female official with Merkel's conservatives made available to SPIEGEL ONLINE on Tuesday. "As one mother being addressed by another, but also as the party's leading candidate, I can tell you that the Greens made a terrible mistake 30 years ago. But I also want to state just as clearly, stop trying to make an election issue out of this for once and for all!"
"Addressing the Green Party's history is an issue that is close to the heart of the party and me personally," she added. "And Jürgen Tritten himself was one of the people who pushed for investigating this chapter of the founding phase of the Green Party through independent researchers. He has also accepted responsibility for his own errors."
Until now, the Green Party has largely kept its cool about its recent precipitous decline, with no public discussion of mistakes and no one as yet pointing any finger of blame. Once the election is over, the party will have time enough to explore the reasons for its poor showing, from the pedophilia scandal to its controversial plans to raise taxes on the rich and ill-advised calls for a 'veggie day' -- and, indeed, its two top candidates.
When the party conducted a survey ahead of the election campaign to find out what their supporters expected from the party leadership, it established that voters wanted Green politicians to be competent and resolute. And defiant.
But that's where Trittin and Göring-Eckardt both fall short. The edginess and antagonism that was once as much a part of the Greens' identity as environmental protection and nuclear disarmament has fallen by the wayside. Along with their outsider, anarchic character.
A one-time street fighter, Trittin made friends on the executive floors of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, learning from their expertise and reading the most important literature in an effort to make himself a viable future candidate for finance minister. He also learned how to play the role of the statesmen when he needed to. Göring-Eckardt became the friendly face by his side. The election campaign image of her, shot by Merkel's photographer of choice, Laurence Chaperon, makes her look as nice and naïve as Annika, Pippi Longstocking's goody two-shoes friend.
But ever since her nomination triumph, she seems to have felt that this is how the party likes her: gentle, quiet, conciliatory. Her role is to show that voting Green doesn't have to hurt; that Greens don't need to suffer and rebel; that they can also drive SUVs -- in short, that it's possible to reconcile voting for the Greens with being conventional.
Change of Heart
When Angela Merkel's East German past hit the headlines in the spring, Göring-Eckardt took the opportunity to come clean about her own former position as propaganda secretary in the FDJ, something of Boy and Girl Scouts for the Communist Party. She did so almost casually -- in the conversational tone she so often adopts. As if to say, it's all fine, there's nothing to worry about, it won't hurt. She made no mention of the pressure to conform that defines life in a dictatorship; how it feels to wear the uniform of an organization you don't feel you belong to, or what it's like to live a lie and grow up in the knowledge that you can't say what you really think.
Given that her career took a nosedive once the coalition government of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens came to end, her nomination as lead candidate is Göring-Eckardt's big chance. Ten years ago, her enthusiasm as parliamentary leader of the Greens in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, for the coalition's Agenda 2010 series of painful social reforms (that, among other things, massively cut welfare payments to the long-term unemployed) didn't go down too well within her party. Describing the Greens as an "engine of reform" and gushing about "a revolutionary transitional period," her apparent zeal raised a few eyebrows.
These days, she brings the same zeal to promoting left-leaning social policies, painting her change of heart as a learning curve. Learning is always good, after all. Coming to a realization might be painful, but learning doesn't hurt. She acts as though this transformation is merely a matter of detail -- a few measures that might have been a bit over-the-top or which didn't quite work out. But in fact, what was at stake was deeply significant, raising questions about whether the neo-liberal reforms were justified or inhuman, and whether or not social security should be tied to the state of the economy.
An Impossible Challenge
When her career was at a low ebb, Göring-Eckardt held representative positions that didn't require debate. She served as vice president in the Bundestag, the head of Germany's Lutheran synod and president of the Kirchentag Protestant festival. Then came her change of heart. She morphed into some kind of Mother Teresa. She doesn't much care for this label, but now and then she uses it herself because it boosts her credibility. Her involvement with the church explains both her transformation and the fact that her arguments these days are not just practical but also ethical.
Her nomination as lead candidate was predicated on this change of heart. As a supporter of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Agenda 2010 reforms, she wasn't allowed to climb the party ranks. As a leftist champion of social policies, she may. But this confronts her with an almost impossible challenge -- she has to plug those policies while continuing to appeal to middle-class voters. This she attempts to pull off by resorting to the preachy terminology of the church.
She remains calm, never aggressive, sugarcoating her message to make it as painless as possible. When it comes to tax hikes, this is easier said than done. But Göring-Eckardt manages it. The way she sees it, those who will be hardest-hit financially will be compensated with ethical brownie points.
When she talks of redistribution, it sounds compassionate. She takes her cues from the Church, referring not to the rich but to "those who have so much that they can afford to help others." Those strong enough to shoulder a burden. "I assume you are not among them," she tells her audience, just to be on the safe side. "But is it really too much to ask that this 10 percent contributes to the common good?"
Then there was Veggie Day. In early August, two days after the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that the Greens wanted to stop Germans from eating meat once a week, Göring-Eckardt was campaigning on the North Sea island of Nordeney. She alluded to the issue, talking about the monstrousness of factory farming and pigs whose tails are cut off. But she avoided explicit mention of Veggie Day. The audience was left wondering if she supports the introduction of a meat-free day in canteens across the country or not. But such indecisiveness is deliberate. She doesn't want to offend anyone and so avoids terms that might be alienating. In this particular context, they include "ban" and "compulsory."
Weeks later, she discussed the same issue in Berlin and gave a lengthy speech about the relationship between freedom and rules, the general gist of which was that the point of freedom is being able to set rules. And, as she pointed out, a meat-free day once a week is a time-honored Christian tradition.
In August, the campaign trail took Göring-Eckardt to Aurich in Lower Saxony, where she shared the stage with some fake trees and a local bard performing a German version of "Imagine." In a Q&A session, she was asked what would happen if neither an SPD-Green coalition nor a CDU-FDP coalition were options. "Would the Greens consider an alliance between the Left Party and the SPD?" asked a member of the audience.
Soft-spoken as ever, Göring-Eckardt talked about the gap between the party programs and of the Left Party's lack of reliability. Once she finished, she looked at the man expectantly, waiting him for to sit down. But he didn't, aware he'd been fobbed off. He repeated his question -- and she gave him more or less the same response. "I'm not satisfied with your answer," he said. "Fair enough," she replied. And took the next question.
Obama on Iran’s new president: ‘There is an opportunity here for diplomacy’
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 20:58 EDT
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to test the sincerity of signs that new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani may be ready for a newly productive nuclear dialogue with the West.
Days after revealing he and Rowhani had swapped letters, Obama however said that Iran would have to demonstrate its own seriousness by agreeing not to “weaponize nuclear power.”
“There is an opportunity here for diplomacy,” Obama said in an interview with the Spanish language television network Telemundo.
“I hope the Iranians take advantage of it. There are indications that Rowhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States — in a way that we haven’t seen in the past.
“And so we should test it,” Obama said.
Hopes for a new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers expected to resume soon were boosted earlier Tuesday by cryptic remarks by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei, who bears ultimate responsibility for the nuclear issue, said that sometimes flexibility was necessary in diplomacy.
On September 11, Rowhani said he had the tacit support of Khamenei for “flexibility” in nuclear talks.
Rowhani has said he wants to allay Western concerns but that he will not renounce Iran’s goal of an independent civil nuclear program.
Washington and its allies say Iran’s nuclear program is designed to produce weapons and is unacceptable. Obama has refused to rule out US military action against Iran if diplomacy fails.
Iran insists that its nuclear ambitions are directed towards civilian energy generation.
There is renewed speculation that Obama and Rowhani could have some kind of informal meeting in New York next week at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The White House said for the second day running Tuesday that it has no current plans for such an encounter — but did not dismiss the possibility out of hand.
September 17, 2013
Iran Moves to Mend Ties With West
By THOMAS ERDBRINK and ALAN COWELL
TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader seemed to put his authority behind Iran’s moderate new president on Tuesday, calling for “heroic leniency” in navigating the country’s diplomatic dispute with the West.
The president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in June on a moderate platform of ending the nuclear standoff with the West and increasing personal freedoms. In a speech to the Revolutionary Guards, considered stalwarts of the conservative wing of the government, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he was “not opposed to proper moves in diplomacy.”
Enlarging on that theme, he said, “I agree with what I called ‘heroic leniency’ years ago, because such an approach is very good and necessary in certain situations, as long as we stick to our main principles.”
In what may be a further signal that Mr. Rouhani’s victory in the June election has created a chance for intensified diplomacy, the country’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that he had exchanged letters with President Obama.
But asked about the tone of Mr. Obama’s letter — something the Iranians are extremely sensitive about — Marzieh Afkham, the ministry spokeswoman, said Iran expected improvement in the way Washington talked to Iran.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. administration is still adopting the language of threat while dealing with Iran,” Ms. Afkham said at a weekly news conference. “We have announced that this needs to change into the language of respect.”
The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since Washington ended ties after the seizure of 52 diplomatic personnel in 1979 after the Islamic revolution. Since his election, Mr. Rouhani has said he is interested in improving relations with the rest of the world, including the United States.
Ms. Afkham said Mr. Obama had initiated the exchange of letters by congratulating Mr. Rouhani on his election victory. Mr. Rouhani “expressed thanks for the congratulations” and wrote about various issues, she said, without elaborating on what they were.
Iran and the United States are at loggerheads over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, and they are on opposing sides in Syria’s civil war. Iran is the most important regional ally of President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States supports the rebels seeking his ouster.
Ms. Afkham said the letters had been sent through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has a section looking after American interests. In a television interview on Sunday, Mr. Obama also confirmed the exchange of letters.
Word of the correspondence emerged as both leaders prepared to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. Ms. Afkham said no meetings were scheduled between Iranian and United States officials. Mr. Rouhani will also not meet with the British foreign secretary, William Hague, she said, dismissing a message on a Twitter account affiliated with Mr. Rouhani asking for such a meeting.
The exchange of letters also coincided with a decision by the Obama administration last week to ease longstanding restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities between Iran and the United States, including athletic exchanges. It was at least the second relaxation of Iranian sanctions this year by the American government.
On another diplomatic front, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Tuesday that he would focus on halting Iran’s nuclear program in a meeting with Mr. Obama in Washington at the end of the month and in his annual speech before the United Nations General Assembly, using the Syria situation to increase pressure for a “credible military threat.”
Repeating a four-step formula he has been urging for months, Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”
“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.
Negotiations intended to resolve the nuclear dispute have been deadlocked since before Mr. Rouhani’s election, which has been depicted as a potential opportunity to break the stalemate.
Iran, arguing that its program is for peaceful purposes, insists on its right to enrich uranium. But Western powers fear that Tehran’s scientists are seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, a prospect that alarms both the United States and Israel.
Mr. Rouhani has not indicated whether Iran will shift positions, but he has replaced the most senior officials in the program. Last month, in their first report since Mr. Rouhani took office, nuclear inspectors from the United Nations said Iran had slowed its accumulation of uranium that could be quickly converted to bomb fuel.
Thomas Erdbrink reported from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from London.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 17, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of a report on Iran’s nuclear program by United Nations inspectors. It was released last month, not last week.
September 17, 2013
Campaign for Prime Minister in India Gets Off to Violent Start
By GARDINER HARRIS
AHMEDABAD, India — India’s most important election in a generation began in earnest this month the same way consequential elections nearly always start here — with a proclamation and a deadly riot.
In New Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party announced last week that it had chosen Narendra Modi, one of the most divisive politicians in India’s history, as its candidate for prime minister in next spring’s national elections. Mr. Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, is an unapologetic Hindu chauvinist who has been accused of mass murder.
Mr. Modi has tempered his anti-Muslim tirades and replaced them with a message of development based on a record in Gujarat that even critics acknowledge is impressive. But critics also say he and his Hindu nationalist party have benefited from past violence between Hindus and Muslims, using it to paper over Hindus’ historic differences over caste and get them to vote as a bloc along religious lines.
Not coincidentally, mass rioting broke out last week in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically important state, after a legislator from Mr. Modi’s party circulated a fake video of two Hindus being lynched by a Muslim mob. Forty-four people were killed and 42,000 were displaced as villages were sacked.
Riyazat Ali of Bawari said he watched from a hidden room as a Hindu mob stormed his house, hacked his brother to death and fatally shot his 18-year-old niece.
“I saw everything,” said Mr. Ali, who has been living in a refugee camp in Kandhla for the past week with his 11 children. “It was raining bullets inside the house.”
India may be the world’s most populous democracy, but election campaigns here are often fueled by hate and soaked in blood. By choosing Mr. Modi, a fiery orator who once peppered his speeches with anti-Muslim slurs, the Bharatiya Janata Party has raised the prospect that this election could be the deadliest in decades.
Hindus make up roughly 80 percent of India’s population and Muslims 13 percent, a share about equal to that of blacks in the United States. Sushil Kumar Shinde, India’s minister of Home Affairs, said that there had already been 451 cases of sectarian violence this year, surpassing last year’s total of 410. He warned that violence was likely to intensify as elections approached.
Among the country’s vast urban youth, Mr. Modi has rock-star appeal. Half of India’s population is under 25, and most have seen little more from their leaders than the soporific near-whispers of octogenarians like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. By contrast, Mr. Modi is a charismatic preacher of a resurgent India, a vision that millions mired in a sputtering economy find intoxicating. To many Hindus, he is a revelation.
To many Muslims, though, he is an abomination. In 2002, less than a year after he was appointed the state’s chief minister, riots swept Gujarat and killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Mothers were skewered, children set afire and fathers hacked to pieces.
Some witnesses claimed that Mr. Modi encouraged the violence, which he has denied. He has never been charged, but close associates of his were convicted of inciting a riot.
“They want to create a Hindu voting bloc that transcends caste, and they’ll use hate to do it,” said Sumant Banerjee, a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla.
The riots only bolstered Mr. Modi’s political standing. Months later, having consolidated the Hindu vote, he led his party to a resounding victory in state elections. Since then he has dominated Gujarat’s politics, the state’s largest city, Ahmedabad, remains deeply segregated and most of India’s Muslims hate him.
Mr. Modi, 63, refused requests over months for an interview (he rarely speaks to Western news organizations). Jay Narayan Vyas, a leader of Mr. Modi’s opposition party, said that Mr. Modi was not to blame for the 2002 riots and that his party did not demonize Muslims.
“The B.J.P. philosophy is justice to all but appeasement to none,” he said.
Mr. Vyas said that as prime minister, Mr. Modi would bring wealth to India and tame its political chaos. He said India needed a strong leader who “doesn’t allow democracy to be a passport to misbehave.”
Mr. Modi will face off against the Indian Congress Party, which has yet to name its candidate for prime minister. Mr. Singh is widely thought to be too old, while Sonia Gandhi, the party’s president, is said to be ill. It is still not clear whether Rahul Gandhi, Mrs. Gandhi’s son, is interested in seeking the job.
As a child, Mr. Modi worked in his father’s tea shop, and as a young man chose politics over a life of religious devotion. He rose through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization associated with the B.J.P. that espouses a muscular religious nationalism. Indeed, a former member of the R.S.S. assassinated Mohandas K. Gandhi, the nation’s founding father, in 1948.
In a country where family ties are paramount, Mr. Modi has remained single and is rarely seen, even with close relatives. But his loner status has endeared him to many, as it suggests that he has few reasons to solicit bribes, routine in Indian politics.
While never apologizing for the 2002 riots, Mr. Modi has shifted his focus recently to development, and he is now the darling of India’s business elite, who hail him for his ability to cut through the country’s infamous bureaucracy and create jobs.
“The reason why Modi needs a chance to lead is that he is the first politician since Nehru who has articulated a clear economic vision,” said Tavleen Singh, an author and commentator who was referring to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and who argued that hate crimes were so routinely incited by Indian leaders that no major party or politician was innocent.
Car plants now crowd the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Top industrialists say they have located plants in Gujarat because Mr. Modi got them land, steady electricity and a pliant work force, a rare combination in much of India. Although Gujarat has just 5 percent of India’s population, it accounts for 16 percent of its industrial production and 22 percent of its exports.
A drive through Mr. Modi’s constituency of Maninagar in this western city demonstrates both the hopes and fears swirling around him. The neighborhood is a mostly middle-class enclave of tidy homes and handsome apartment buildings with well-paved streets, a functional sewer system and constant electricity.
In almost any advanced country, Maninagar would be unremarkable. But in a country where roads are often atrocious, more than half of the population has no access to toilets and electricity is fitful at best, Maninagar is almost an idyll. Even the richest neighborhoods in New Delhi and Mumbai lack such services.
Drive past M.S. Car Repair Shop, however, and this scene turns decidedly darker. Here, the roads are potholed and crumbling, the houses are tin-roofed shacks, trash is everywhere and the stink of sewage is pervasive. The reason for the difference in this small part of Maninagar? Religion, say its residents.
“Only Muslims live here, and you can see for yourself that it’s not nearly as nice,” said Mohammad Yusuf while repairing a punctured inner-tube on an ancient bicycle. “It should be a lot better, but it’s not.”
A similar partition is now taking place in the villages around Muzaffarnagar, where riots erupted last week. Zareen Khatun, whose son found his father’s mutilated corpse at a hospital, said she would never speak the town’s name again.
“We’ll never go back there,” she said firmly.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Ahmedabad, and Nida Najar from Muzaffarnagar, India.
Bangladesh protests against Islamist leader's death sentence turn violent
Police clash with opposition supporters demonstrating against decision to execute Abdul Quader Mollah for war crimes
Associated Press in Dhaka
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 08.50 BST
Supporters of Bangladesh's largest Islamist party have clashed with police amid a nationwide strike called to protest against a court's ruling that one of the opposition party's leaders should be executed for war crimes.
One man was killed when he was hit by a stone thrown by opposition supporters outside the capital, police said.
Bangladesh's supreme court on Tuesday sentenced to death Abdul Quader Mollah, a senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, for committing crimes against humanity during the nation's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
A five-member panel headed by the chief justice, M Muzammel Hossain, found him guilty of ordering the killing of a family of four during a Pakistani army crackdown in the capital, Dhaka, in March 1971. Mollah and his supporters say the case against him is politically motivated.
Hours after the verdict, Mollah's party said it was calling a 48-hour general strike across the country beginning on Wednesday to denounce the ruling.
TV stations showed clashes on Tuesday between Jamaat-e-Islami activists and police in Dhaka and in several other towns, leaving scores of people injured.
In Dhaka, police detained at least five activists from the party when they clashed with security officials, Bangla Vision TV station said.
On Wednesday, schools and businesses were closed as the strike was enforced. Police fired teargas to disperse opposition supporters who exploded homemade bombs, barricaded roads and threw stones at security officials.
TV footage showed stick-wielding supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami attacking buses and cars that defied the strike.
The man who was killed was having a driving lesson when his vehicle came under attack in Noakhali district, 75 miles (120km) east of Dhaka, said local police chief Anisur Rahman.
Mollah was previously convicted by a special war crimes tribunal in February and sentenced to life in prison. Both the defence and prosecution appealed against the sentence to the supreme court.
The attorney-general, Mahbubey Alam, said Tuesday's verdict was final, with no option for a further appeal through the courts. He said Mollah's family could seek presidential clemency.
The defence counsel, Abdur Razzaq, said they were "stunned" by the court's decision to increase the sentence to death.
The ruling Awami League and its allies welcomed the verdict.
Mollah's party is an ally of the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party headed by the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, a rival of the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina formed the special tribunal in 2010 to try war crimes suspects. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war.
Zia has accused the government of using trials to weaken the opposition. The government denies the allegation and says it won power in 2008 with an election pledge to prosecute war crimes suspects.
Several other senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami have been convicted of similar charges.
The government has defended the legitimacy of the trials, but New York-based Human Rights Watch has raised questions about the impartiality of the tribunal.
The earlier sentence against Mollah also led to protests across the country, both by his supporters and those who said the sentence was too lenient.
Dalai Lama urges Myanmar monks to stop attacking Muslims
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 11:25 EDT
The Dalai Lama on Tuesday urged Myanmar monks to act according to their Buddhist principles, in a plea to end the deadly violence against the country’s Muslim minority.
“Those Burmese monks, please, when they develop some kind of anger towards Muslim brothers and sisters, please, remember the Buddhist faith,” the Buddhist leader told reporters at an annual human rights conference in the Czech capital Prague.
“I am sure (…) that would protect those Muslim brothers and sisters who are becoming victims,” Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader said.
Sectarian clashes in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine last year left around 200 people dead — mostly Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship — and 140,000 others homeless.
Having earned scorn for her failure to clearly condemn the violence, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s pro-democracy icon turned opposition leader, said last week she alone could not stop it.
Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest under military rule in Myanmar before she was freed after controversial elections in 2010, said the solution was to install the rule of law.
“It’s not something that I could learn to do, but I think what this whole society has to strive to do,” she told reporters in Warsaw before heading to the Prague conference via Budapest.
“We need rule of law in order that our people may feel secure and only secure people can talk to one another and try to establish the kind of relationship that will assure harmony for the future of our nation.”
The Dalai Lama, 78, who fled his homeland for India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, also said there was “too much emphasis on ‘we’ and ‘they’” in the world, and that “this century should be a century of dialogue, not wars”.
He and the 68-year-old Suu Kyi, both Nobel Peace laureates, met privately on the fringes of the Prague conference on Sunday.
Tony Abbott cabinet sworn in with promise of instant action
New Australian prime minister will convene cabinet meeting as he conveys 'straight down to business' message
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 02.20 BST
Tony Abbott will convene the first meetings of his cabinet and his full front bench on Wednesday after he and his team were formally sworn in by the governor general, Quentin Bryce.
The Coalition’s desired message is that it is “getting straight down to business”, but almost every priority business item faces hurdles in its implementation.
Tony Abbott will formally instruct his department to prepare the carbon tax repeal legislation, but any repeal appears unlikely to pass the parliament until late next year.
Both Labor leadership contenders insist Labor will vote against the repeal, as will the Greens, meaning it will not pass the current Senate that sits until next July.
The Coalition has insisted it would go to a double-dissolution election if necessary to get rid of the carbon tax as soon as possible, but given that it is not recalling parliament until late October or early November, the preconditions for a double dissolution are unlikely to be met until shortly before the new Senate sits, which gives the Coalition government a much better chance of passing the law if it was prepared to wait a few weeks.
South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon said it would be “perplexing and there would probably be a big voter backlash if the government pulled a double dissolution trigger before the new Senate sits and considers the repeal”.
Xenophon has said he wants to see amendments to the Coalition’s alternative Direct Action plan, to ensure its workability, before he votes to repeal the existing arrangements – possibly the introduction of real penalties for companies that exceed their emissions baseline. The Coalition government is likely to need six out of the eight minor party and independent votes on the Senate crossbench to get legislation through.
The newly sworn in Ministry of the Abbott government The newly sworn in ministry of the Abbott government. Photograph: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE
The new treasurer, Joe Hockey, has also written to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) instructing it to suspend its operations and cease making payments. The CEFC had agreed to stop making new investment decisions during the caretaker period, but has argued that it is legally obliged to continue with its investment brief until it is repealed – which may also take some time if Labor and the Greens in the Senate decline to pass the repeal legislation. It is unclear how the CEFC will respond to the new treasurer’s instructions.
The new immigration minister, Scott Morrison, will begin the process of reintroducing temporary protection visas, which will apply retrospectively to the 30,000 asylum seekers already in Australia on bridging visas under the former Labor government’s “no advantage” policy.
Hockey leaves on Wednesday night for an APEC finance ministers’ meeting in Bali and Indonesia will also be Abbott’s first overseas destination. He is likely to hold bilateral talks at the end of next week ahead of the APEC leaders’ meeting.
Army deputy chief Angus Campbell to lead Operation Sovereign Borders
Abbott government to confirm that former SAS commander will take charge of its plan to stop asylum seekers' boats
Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 02.34 BST
The Abbott government is about to confirm that deputy chief of army Angus Campbell will head its plan to stop asylum seekers' boats.
As Tony Abbott's new government prepared to be sworn in at Government House in Canberra on Wednesday, it was revealed that Operation Sovereign Borders would be launched afterwards.
It is understood Major-General Campbell will take charge of the operation and be promoted to the three-star rank of lieutenant-general.
The former SAS commander and Howard government deputy national security adviser will steer a multi-agency task force to deal with people-smuggling and reduce the number of boats.
Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said Campbell was ideally suited to the new role because of his senior public service, military experience and special forces background.
James said the association had no objection to much of the Coalition plan. But there were concerns about whether the three-star officer would be seconded to a civil function or command an Australian Defence Force order.
"If it is to be a command, there are some interesting legal problems that would need solving first," James said.
The ADA has raised concern that having a military officer answer directly as a commander to the immigration minister could breach the Defence Act and the Westminster convention of separating military command from civil control of the military.
Campbell joined the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in late 2005 as a first assistant secretary to head the Office of National Security and later became deputy national security adviser.
Returning to the ADF in early 2010, he was appointed to the rank of major-general and assumed command of all Australian forces in the Middle East. He became deputy chief of army in February 2012.
A total of 493 people have arrived on seven boats since the election on 7 September.
Incoming immigration minister Scott Morrison said any decision to release information about the number of asylum-seeker boats bound for Australia would be a matter for Defence.
The ABC has reported it understands that special operations commander Major-General Gus Gilmore will be the second in command.
Portfolio details spell out Tony Abbott's role as women's minister
Abbott takes primary responsibility for women's issues, along with Indigenous affairs, deregulation and national security
Lenore Taylor political editor
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 September 2013 07.54 BST
The Coalition government has published the fine print of its ministerial arrangements, revealing what has actually happened to the portfolios that went missing in Tony Abbott's pared back ministerial titles.
The new prime minister himself has taken primary responsibility for women's issues, which under Labor were handled by the families minister, Jenny Macklin.
"Women's policies and programs" as well as Indigenous affairs, deregulation, national security and relations with state governments are all specified responsibilities of Tony Abbott, who has appointed West Australian senator Michaelia Cash as minister assisting the prime minister for women.
"This will ensure that these key whole-of-government priorities are at the centre of government," Abbott said in a statement.
The science portfolio - not mentioned in a ministerial title for the first time since the 1930s - seems to sit mainly with industry minister Ian Macfarlane.
The arrangements clarify that "science policy, science engagement and awareness, promotion of collaborative research in science and technology, co-ordination of research policy, creation and development of research infrastructure, commercialisation and utilisation of public sector research relating to portfolio programmes and agencies and research grants and fellowships" are all part of Macfarlane's brief.
Resources and energy are also part of the industry portfolio.
On Monday Abbott said some parts of the science portfolio, relating to universities, would be education minister Christopher Pyne's responsibility.
Splitting the science portfolio is a "schizophrenic arrangement", according to Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen, and the chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb said the delivery of science had already been too fragmented even before the latest changes.
Many of the missing portfolios turned up in the very wide brief of new social services minister Kevin Andrews, who has responsibility for all aged care, disability programmes, housing, all income-support payments and pensions, all settlement services for migrants and refugees and also multicultural affairs. The social inclusion board - which advised the former government on the causes and effects of entrenched disadvantage - is being disbanded.
Mental health is overseen by health minister Peter Dutton and financial services by treasurer Joe Hockey.
And new small business minister Bruce Bilson seems to straddle two departments, with small business policy the responsibility of the Treasury but the delivery of government programmes to small business remaining with the Industry Department.
The new integrated "border protection" approach sees customs move from the attorney‑general's portfolio to the new Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
AusAID is being merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Regional development is being combined with infrastructure, and employment and education are being split into separate departments.
Abbott said "the changes to departmental structure … will simplify the management of government business, create clear lines of accountability and ensure that departments deliver on the government's key priorities"