Peer Steinbrück accuses Angela Merkel of negligence over NSA revelations
Social Democrat candidate joins writers and intellectuals expressing concern over PM's failure to 'protect German citizens'
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 08.32 BST
The NSA affair became a German election issue on Thursday when Social Democrat candidate Peer Steinbrück accused Angela Merkel of "negligent" treatment of the issue. He said the revelations of US internet surveillance represented a "far-reaching interference with our basic democratic rights and personal self-determination", and that Merkel had failed to "protect German citizens' freedoms and interests".
His announcement followed a one-hour meeting with a group of writers and intellectuals who had signed an open letter to Merkel expressing their concern with her inaction over the NSA revelations. The letter, originally published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in July, had since gathered 67,407 signatures.
On Wednesday, the group of writers, which includes novelist Juli Zeh (Dark Matter, The Method) and short story writer Ingo Schulze (Simple Stories), had organised a protest outside the chancellory, but were snubbed by the German leader.
Asked why he had decided to get involved in the protest, the writer and essayist Ralf Bönt said that "writers and essayists have an acute sense of the distinction between the private and the public word, which the government seems to pretend doesn't exist. I would have liked to walk into Angela Merkel's office and got her to sign a document saying I've got nothing to hide."
Novelist Priya Basil, a British citizen based in Berlin, expressed her regret that a similar debate hadn't sprung up among writers in the UK. She said: "Britain as a society has to invite writers to speak up, and be ready to listen and respond to what they say even if it's tough and disturbing."
In Germany, the protest by the self-billed "writers' delegation" was a throwback to the 1950s and 60s, when writers such as Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll and Hans-Magnus Enzensberger frequently spoke out on political issues such as engagement with the country's National Socialist past, nuclear power or the 1968 student protests. Grass has recently complained about the political apathy of Germany's next generation of intellectuals.
09/19/2013 05:42 PM
Paranoia at the Top: Explaining Merkel's Final Days on the Stump
By Charles Hawley
Angela Merkel's struggling coalition partner, the Free Democrats, may need help to get into parliament. But the chancellor is not in a generous mood. The reason can be found in the country's newly crowded political landscape and in recent changes to the election law.
Chancellor Angela Merkel wants all the votes. As this Sunday's German election approaches, her Christian Democrats (CDU) are pulling out all the stops to get out the vote in a last ditch effort to avoid a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). On Friday, her party is sending out 5 million letters to people across the country.
The text of the letter says a lot about her party's strategy in the final days of the campaign. Ever since the state election in Bavaria last Sunday, her junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), have been openly pleading with center-right voters in Germany to loan them votes. The FDP, after all, needs all the help it can get to leap the five percent hurdle required for representation in parliament.
Merkel, however, is not in a generous mood. "If you would like me to continue serving as your chancellor, then cast your ballots on Sunday and give the CDU both of your votes," her letter implores, according to a copy obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The sentence says a lot about Germany's election system -- which grants voters two votes -- and the bind in which Merkel currently finds herself. While there may be little doubt that her party will emerge on Sunday with the most votes, surveys show that her current coalition with the FDP is imperilled. A poll released on Thursday morning by the tabloid Bild suggests that fully six political parties could end up with seats in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. For Merkel to build a stable repeat of her current coalition, her conservatives together with the FDP would have to win more seats than all of the other parties combined.
Polls show that isn't likely. Thursday morning's survey indicated 38 percent support for Merkel's CDU in combination with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The FDP is currently polling at 6 percent, though previous polls this week and last pegged them at below the five percent hurdle.
Merkel, in short, needs all the votes she can get, if only to gain as much leverage as possible for potential coalition negotiations with the Social Democrats.
It is this math which also explains the highly public CDU hand-wringing over an appearance by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl -- Merkel's predecessor at the helm off the Christian Democrats -- together with FDP leaders Philipp Rösler and Rainer Brüderle earlier this month. Many interpreted it as an implicit call for conservative voters to lend their votes to the FDP.
Kohl, whose health has markedly deteriorated in recent years, cleared up the confusion this week, making a clear call for voters to give both of their votes to the CDU. But the party's paranoia is real.
In addition to the unprecedented number of parties that have an excellent chance of entering parliament, the CDU's paranoia can also be traced back to a change made recently to Germany's voting law. Previously, the calculus used to count votes meant that a party could actually end up with more representatives in parliament than its percentage of the vote would dictate. Meaning it had votes to spare, or loan out. The FDP's strategy seems to be predicated on the hope that most voters don't realize that the law has changed. But it has.
Germany's Constitutional Court threw out the old system in 2009 -- precisely because of the possibility that parliament would not reflect the actual vote count. Voters still have two votes, the first one for their favorite district candidate and a second for their favorite party.
That means that every one of the country's 299 districts will send a candidate to Berlin. The rest of the Bundestag's 598 seats are divvied up according to the percentages of the party votes -- the second votes -- cast. These percentages are the ones announced on election night and the ones that determine the ultimate make-up of parliament.
The trick is that voters occasionally split their two votes between two parties, making it theoretically possible for a party to win, for example, eight districts in the state of Saxony even as its percentage of the entire vote is only enough to grant it six seats. Following the last election, Merkel's conservatives had a total of 24 such "Überhangmandate," or "overhang mandates."
This time around, though, Merkel has no votes to give away. Should a party end up with more seats than its share of the vote dictates, all other parties will be granted compensatory seats to guarantee that the final make-up of parliament exactly reflects the percentages announced on election night.
That would, of course, inflate the size of the Bundestag beyond its base size of 598. But it also eliminates the benefit of parties calling for voters to split their ballot. And makes the FDP's current pleas for help from conservatives dangerous for Angela Merkel.
09/19/2013 02:35 PM
German Chemicals for Syria: Merkel Denies Military Use
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that according to preliminary information, German chemicals sent to Syria were not used to produce sarin. The Left Party wants a closer look.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that according to preliminary information available to her, chemicals sent from Germany to Syria from 2002 to 2006 were used for civilian purposes, and not for the production of the nerve agent sarin.
Merkel's comments came after a document released Wednesday by the Economics Ministry confirmed that Germany had sent 137 tons of chemicals to Syria.
The chemicals included hydrogen flouride, sodium fluoride and ammonium hydrogen fluoride, which require special export permits (so-called "dual-use" permits) because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, including the production of deadly sarin.
Speaking on the German network ARD, Merkel said that her predecessors in a center-left coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens had looked carefully at what the chemicals would be used for in Syria. The exports were sent to Syria during that coalition in 2002 to 2003, and two years later, after a grand coalition government made up of Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats had taken power in Berlin.
Intelligence Agency Consulted
The document was released after a parliamentary request for information from Germany's far-left Left Party. Jan van Aken, an expert on biological and chemical weapons for the Left Party and a former United Nations weapons inspector, is calling for a close examination of the chemicals sent from Germany to Syria.
"If there is one country to which no one should have sent them, it is Syria," van Aken told German broadcaster ZDF Thursday morning. "It was well known that sarin is being produced in large quantities there."
Merkel told ARD Wednesday that since May 2011, when stricter sanctions against Syria went into effect, there have been no similar exports to the country, and added that the government was looking into the earlier exports.
The non-military uses for the chemicals include the surface treatment of metals, water fluoridation and the production of toothpaste. According to government sources in Berlin, the country's foreign intelligence service, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), was consulted before approval was given for exporting the chemicals.
UN chemical investigators earlier this week confirmed that sarin was used in an attack on civilians outside the Syrian capital of Damascus on Aug. 21. Despite criticism by the Russian government this week that the report was "one-sided," the UN has maintained that the findings are "indisputable."
2013 German Elections: ‘Final spurt, olééé’
Die Tageszeitung, 2
20 September 2013
With two days left before general elections, Tageszeitung sums up the main issues at stake in the vote with a single cartoon.
Sitting on a cloud, Angela Merkel remains threatened by revelations on NSA espionage, which was conducted in close collaboration with German authorities. Her social democratic rival, Peer Steinbrück, is still holding up the finger which has boosted his position in the polls.
The yellow plane representing the FDP liberals is heading for a crash landing, like the one the party encountered in recent Bavarian elections, in which the FDP scored just 3 per cent of the vote and lost the right to take seats in the region’s parliament. The party is now asking Christian-democratic voters for their support.
In the forefront of the cartoon, Jürgen Trittin, one of the two Green candidates, is whipping himself now that he has been called to account for remarks made 32 years ago to the effect that pedophilia should largely be legalised. His party, which was on track for the best ever score in its history, has slid down the polls in the wake of this controversy. Finally, emerging from the manhole, the left-wing Die Linke candidate, Gregor Gysi, remains on the margins of the campaign.
09/19/2013 05:54 PM
Sinking Ship: Germany's Struggling Pirate Party
By Annett Meiritz and Fabian Reinbold
The Pirate Party is very unlikely to win the vote share required to enter the German parliament. It faces a future of returning to its humble beginnings -- as a splinter party with little influence.
The Pirate Party's headquarters resemble a cross between a warehouse and a tool shed. Empty bottles are gathering dust on the floor; scruffy arm chairs and abandoned flip charts are scattered around the room. There is evidence of organization, too: campaign posters have been divided into piles according to the districts they are set to be distributed in.
As a part of their election campaign, the Pirates have been inviting journalists to their headquarters, situated in Lichtenberg, a low-income area in eastern Berlin. At press conferences, the Pirates have been lecturing them about data protection, surveillance drones, football fan rights, basic income and copyright law. But the number of those willing to listen is shrinking.
Despite the party's waning credibility, party leader Bernd Schlömer believes that the party will achieve the five percent vote share required to take seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag. Earlier this week, Schlömer stated that the official goal was to receive 6 percent of votes at Sunday's general election. He even promised to buy a round of beer for guests at the subsequent election party.
It seems unlikely that Schlömer will have to loosen the purse strings, though: the majority of election polls are placing his Pirates at 2.5 percent. Even the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD), another new arrival on Germany's political landscape, is in a better position.
Though the party had set out to revolutionize the country's political system -- an effort it referred to as "Politik 2.0" -- it looks unlikely that it will even receive over 2.0 percent of the vote. In the Bavaria and Lower Saxony state elections, which are considered an indication of things to come on a national level, the Pirates received 2 percent respectively.
Sometimes Clever, Sometimes Bland
The party's waning popularity is surprising, considering the NSA revelations during this year's campaign season could have dealt them the perfect hand. For months, the Pirates' core topics -- data protection first and foremost -- featured heavily on the country's political agenda. Other conditions, such as the public's growing disaffection with the mainstream parties, could also have worked in its favor. But the Pirates failed to capitalize on their status as an alternative to the increasingly homogenous mainstream players.
The Pirate Party did try to make the best of these conditions -- for months, volunteers worked hard to campaign on a tight budget. Sometimes clever, sometimes bland, the Pirates' campaign posters seem to be everywhere. Daily press releases received hardly a mention in the German media. Party leader Schlömer made an appearance on a cooking show -- his policy coordinator Katharina Nocum even appeared on television alongside popular German talk show host Stefan Raab.
The fact that the Pirates are not resonating with voters, then, is not for a lack of trying. So what are the reasons for the party's waning appeal?
Even though the party hasn't suffered any embarrassing gaffes of late, earlier infighting between party leaders have made their mark. No matter how unsatisfied voters are with the established parties, the majority is no longer taking the Pirates seriously. At this point, the party is only appealing to core voters, and this is unlikely to amount to more than 2 or 3 percent of vote share on election night.
The party's topics are losing traction. In the Bavarian state elections last Sunday, the Pirates focused mainly on a bribery scandal the Christian Democrats were involved in the 1990s. The party is taking a similarly narrow approach on a federal level. Though the party has ranted, protested and preached on the topic of government surveillance, they have not provided solutions that appeal to voters.
Reaching voters has proven difficult, particularly in rural areas, primarily because most of its members live in urban centers. But even there support is waning. The Pirates didn't even manage to win 3 percent in the Bavarian capital, Munich. The party lacks members that are able to appeal to people outside of its core voter base.
If recent polls are to be believed, the Pirates may soon be demoted to their former status as a splinter party. How will the party deal with its failure? Many members are already thinking about their future beyond the September 22 election. The three percent threshold required to enter the European parliament may allow the Pirates to win seats at next year's European election. The Pirates' regional chapters are likely to push ahead with campaign efforts.
An exodus of party members is unlikely -- those keen to leave already did so months ago, when the Pirates were suffering the height of their public humiliation. Several members of the party's leadership may announce their resignation at a party conference taking place this winter. One or two might even realize their secret ambitions of joining other parties.
Before party members can start making plans for their future, there is the Sunday election to think about. The party will continue waging its election campaign, however bleak its prospects.
This week, a long-haired representative of Germany's Hemp Magazine turned up at the Pirates' headquarters -- he had narrowly missed a press conference on the topic of drugs and addiction. After a mumbled apology, the journalist asked the press officer to recap everything that had happened.
While others may have dismissed the late-comer, the Pirates' press officer hurried to help, digging around for a folder containing the relevant information. Starting all over again is, after all, something that the party will have to get used to after Sunday's election.
2013 German elections: The problem is not Germany. It’s Europe.
19 September 2013
El País Madrid
Europeans are placing more hope in the September 22 German general elections than in May 2014 European elections. But German politicians are right to care about their country's own problems first.
José Ignacio Torreblanca
The political chart for Europe for 2013-2014 will begin to be drawn with the German general elections on September 22 and will close off with the elections to the European Parliament on May 25, 2014. In theory, the first should be of secondary importance and the latter should be crucial. But, in a paradox of European political life, the situation is rather the opposite: the first are crucial for the future of Europe, while the European elections will have only marginal importance.
Predictably, a large number of Europeans, who since 1979 have had the right to elect a parliament – and quite a powerful one, incidentally – will not bother going to the polling booths in May 2014; in the last European elections, in June 2009, the turnout was 43 per cent. However, aware of how important Germany has become for their own future, it is quite likely that, given the chance, many Europeans would indeed be interested in voting in the German elections.
All this speaks to us of a gigantic dissociation in the very organisation of the European Union: while goods and services, capital and people circulate freely throughout an enormous territory structured around a common currency, policy continues to be organised on the basis of a series of highly fragmented national units of very unequal size and capacity. This inconsistency between the boundaries of politics and economics is what led Emperor Marco Aurelio Antonino to extend citizenship to all inhabitants of the Roman Empire.
The edict of Caracalla, promulgated in the year 212, deployed an argument that would be rather topical today
The edict of Caracalla, promulgated in the year 212, deployed an argument that would be rather topical today: “For it is proper that the populace not only should be subject to all the burdens, but also should share in my victory”. This linking between taxation and the legitimacy of a political system is thus a constant in history and has survived down to this day in the form of a very simple rule: one should vote where one pays taxes, and finance with one’s taxes only those things that one can vote on.
No path to federations
The problem is that, in the EU as it is today, things are exactly the reverse – or, at least from Germany’s point of view, they look very different. As surveys are bringing to light, a majority of Germans rejects any type of mechanism that involves taking on or pooling debts incurred by other countries. Hence, while a large propertion of Europeans would like the German elections to unleash a dynamic of changes that would lead to completing the monetary union by adding elements the Union currently lacks — Eurobonds, its own budget, a mechanism for shared management of banking crises, etc — the Germans appear to want at all costs that the elections not introduce any significant changes in their government’s current policy towards Europe. As the survey recently conducted by the Open Europe Institute points out, the Germans have zero appetite for policies that deepen European integration. On the contrary, the phrase “More Europe” is taken rather to mean “more control” over the rest of Europe.
As a result, the Germany that many would like to see emerge from the elections is simply not going to happen. With the polls in hand, it is quite probable that any possible future coalition government will have in it Angela Merkel, whose vision of Europe, Germany and the euro is crystal clear. With four more years in front of her, Merkel could loosen up on some policies, especially if her government will include the Social Democrats or the Greens, but it is hard to expect that this new government will take the lead in any initiative to reform the treaties that would set the EU onto a path towards a federation.
No policy 180
The recent clash between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the candidate of the SPD, Peer Steinbrück, which led Merkel to tag the Social Democrats as “unpredictable” in their policy towards Europe, has made it very clear, as the SPD has reminded us, that Merkel has not only enjoyed the legislative support of the members of the SPD throughout the legislature in pushing ahead with the most controversial measures (such as the successive bailouts to Greece and implementing the so-called European Stability Mechanism) but that this support has sometimes made up for the lack of enthusiasm for these policies from within her own ranks. In any case, from the point of view of the Chancellor, of her party and a vast majority of members of Parliament and citizens, the austerity policies that Germany has insisted on are the right policies, and ones that are having positive and visible results in improving competitiveness and exports from the Eurozone members.
If Europe has problems, let them be resolved in the European elections
Consequently, very little or nothing of what Germany sees around it these days encourages it to think it ought to make a 180-degree turnaround in its policies. The issues that matter to the Germans (infrastructure, public services, pensions, etc) are domestic issues and have no clear connection with Europe. And so, while Europeans are getting worked up about Germany and its elections, the Germans are continuing on their way and, time and again, rejecting the requests of those who are asking them for fearlessness and leadership. All things considered, they are not wrong. If Europe has problems, let them be resolved in the European elections – not in the German elections.
09/19/2013 08:35 PM
Neo-Nazi Murder: Greeks Protest Rise of the Far-Right
By Georgios Christidis in Thessaloniki
The alleged murder of a leftist rapper by a neo-Nazi has shocked Greece, where thousands have taken to the streets to protest the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party. Athens says it is determined to take action.
As Pavlos Fyssas was laid to rest in Athens on Thursday morning, thousands of Greeks took to the streets to pay their respects to the anti-fascist rapper and demonstrate against the escalating violence engulfing the country.
When he was stabbed to death early on Wednesday, the 34-year-old became the most prominent victim of a wave of right-wing extremism that, if left unchecked, some fear may degenerate into generalized instability as social tensions rise on the back of the country's economic crisis.
A 45-year-old man, Giorgos Roupakias, has been arrested for the crime and, according to police, has confessed to both the murder and his ties to the far-right Golden Dawn, which has seen a meteoric rise in popularity and is now Greece's third most popular political party.
Buoyed by record unemployment, poverty and increasing crime in urban centers, Golden Dawn's anti-establishment rhetoric has attracted Greeks who blame the political status quo for the crisis. The once marginal neo-Nazi party gained parliamentary representation in the June 2012 elections for the first time.
Some observers say that the political success and parliamentary representation of the party has emboldened grassroots members, who feel increasingly invincible. The murder of Fyssas took place only a few days after an attack by Golden Dawn sympathizers against members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in Perama, which left eight people wounded. According to the online edition of weekly newspaper To Vima, there have been at least 300 cases of right-wing violence in Greece during the last three years.
The victim, also known as Killah P ("Killer of the Past"), was a rapper with well-known anti-fascist beliefs. According to police, he was watching a Champions League football game with friends and his partner in a cafeteria in the working-class area of Keratsini, Athens on the night of his murder.
A fight broke out with two or three other customers, presumably also Golden Dawn sympathizers, who used text messages and calls to ask for reinforcements, who included the alleged perpetrator. Out on the street shortly thereafter, the alleged perpetrator stabbed the victim to death. Daily Elefheros Typos reported on Thursday that, according to a friend of the victim at the scene who managed to escape, Fyssas' last words were: "So what are you going to do now? Kill us?"
The victim's father has asked authorities to identify the person who tipped off the killer. He also called for the death penalty, although Greece has a ban on capital punishment.
After the murder, thousands of Greeks took to the streets for anti-fascist protests in Athens and Thessaloniki, where there were repeated clashes between demonstrators and police. In Thessaloniki, protesters tried to reach the local branch of the Golden Dawn party.
Headlines reflected the shock many Greeks feel about the bloody crime. "No more!" wrote centrist daily Ta Nea. "The Golden Dawn has blood on its hands. The government, all constitutional parties and Greek society must not live trapped in a circle of fascist violence," it said in an editorial. "Resist -- The Monster of Nazism Kills," read a headline in centrist daily Ethnos on Thursday.
Government Calls for Action
The two-party coalition government of the conservative New Democracy and Socialists (PASOK), which had done little to address the rising influence and activities of the Golden Dawn, now say they are determined to take action.
"New measures will be passed urgently, to choke the actions of Golden Dawn," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told SPIEGEL ONLINE. But he added that outlawing the party would be ineffective and was not under consideration. "They would simply spring back again as the 'Silver Dawn' or something," he said.
In a televised address to the Greek people, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Thursday that "democracy is much stronger than its enemies imagine," adding that the government will not allow "the descendants of Nazis to poison social life, commit crimes, terrorize and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy."
Not everyone is convinced that the government means what it says, including the main opposition party, the leftist Syriza. "The Golden Dawn has thrived under the tolerance of the government, the police and the judicial system," Syriza MP and parliamentary spokesman Dimitris Papadimoulis told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding that this kind of tolerance can be found "even among people in the prime minister's own office."
Papadimoulis is hopeful that the shocking murder will rattle Greek society and become a wake-up call that will stop the rising popularity of the Golden Dawn.
Golden Dawn is growing – Europe must help curb the rise of the far right
The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to stand up to fascist groups is a call to action at European level
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 16.02 BST
The rise of the far right is a daily reality in austerity-striken Europe. Its effects are more prominent in countries like Greece and Cyprus, where the impact of the crisis has been most severe. Yesterday, in Greece, a self-confessed member of the far-right party Golden Dawn allegedly killed leftwing activist and singer Pavlos Fyssas. This is not the first time that members of Golden Dawn have been in the news for violence – they routinely attack immigrants, anarchists and communists, but they are rarely prosecuted for doing so.
Their rise has been spectacular. Contrary to popular belief, Golden Dawn has been around for a long time. It was created in the 1980s, became registered as a political party in 1993 and elected 18 MPs in 2012 with 6.9% of the vote.
Worryingly, the political establishment in Greece seems willing to tolerate Golden Dawn. The veteran New Democracy MP, Vyronas Polydoras, has said that the troika poses a greater threat to Greece than Golden Dawn. Now that the core members of Golden Dawn are elected MPs, they enjoy parliamentary immunities, which their fellow MPs, like those of the ruling New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement, seem reluctant to remove. This reluctance has meant that the leaders of Golden Dawn can freely go about slapping female MPs on TV without facing any consequences for their actions.
What explains the rise of Golden Dawn? The short answer is chronic corruption, economic austerity and the perpetuation of populist lies about immigration. Golden Dawn has managed to channel the ensuing public anger to its favour. It capitalises on the fact that its members were not in previous governments, which contributed to Greece being considered one of the most corrupt countries in the EU.
The clientelism that rules political conduct in Greece has largely been one of the reasons behind the discontent of the Greek voters – it was fun while the urban middle classes could get some pieces of the pie, but when the pie became smaller in the age of austerity, those left out inevitably reacted.
At the same time Golden Dawn exploited the fear of immigration that has been masterfully constructed in Greek society. The party leaders have depicted themselves as the problem-solvers: honest people who have never taken a bribe, whose main interest is the welfare of Greek people. They portray themselves as "men of action", that don't make promises that they cannot keep. These actions consist of attacks on immigrants, anarchists and communists, all in the light of helping the Greek people, some of who, to their shame, ask for their help – "to clean the area". A horrible euphemism for "please come here, beat the immigrants and make them leave our neighbourhood".
Where will this end? How far will a rising Golden Dawn with ties with the police and military go before Greece becomes a totalitarian military state? There is no easy answer to this – I don't think this downward spiral can be stopped without an external intervention. The current state of the Greek political scene is such that it requires coalitions. Since leftist Syriza and communist KKE refuse to form a government with either of the two ruling parties whose power has been significantly reduced, the only solution for the two mainstream parties is to look to the extreme right. As the two governing parties continue implementing the troika-prescribed austerity policies, they will keep getting increasingly unpopular. Eventually, they will have no option than to form a coalition that involves Golden Dawn, which has scored highly in opinion polls, rising from 6.9% to 11.5% after it entered parliament.
This is where external factors may come in. European partners will not be able to ignore the social impact of their economic policies for long. The fascists are winning seats, or masquerading their extremism and joining the mainstream parties, where they have even bigger platforms to spread their racist views. The next step is Golden Dawn's expansion beyond Greece. Its officials often visit Cyprus and give talks to its sister party, the far-right Elam, which, thankfully, is nowhere near as popular as Golden Dawn. Like Greece, racist violence is tolerated both by the authorities and by the mainstream political parties.
The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to curtail the racially motivated violent actions of these groups, as well as the inability of the mainstream political parties to stand up to them, is a call to action for our European partners, who can no longer afford to sit back in their economically recovering countries as if nothing is happening elsewhere. What is naively considered a Greek problem is much more than that – it is no accident that Marie Le Pen's Front National and Nigel Farage's Ukip have increased in popularity recently. The far right is on the rise and collective action at a European level is needed. When parties like the Greek Laos or the French FN become part of the mainstream right, what is considered extreme becomes even more so. The result is what you see happening in Greece – violence, vigilantism and murder.
This article was commissioned after a suggestion from Kizbot.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...Pig Putin expresses doubts over Syria's disposal of chemical weapons
Russia president repeated suspicions that August's chemical attack was carried out by rebels and not pro-Assad forces
Shaun Walker in Valdai
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 17.39 BST
Pig Putin has said he could not be sure that Bashar al-Assad would fulfil the US-Russian plan to identify and destroy his chemical weapons stocks, but that "all the signs" suggest the Syrian regime is serious.
"Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100% sure about it," he said at a discussion forum with western politicians and Russia experts in the north-west of the country. "But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen … I hope so."
The Russian president also reiterated suspicions that the 21 August chemical attack near Damascus was carried out by rebels and not by forces loyal to Assad.
"We talk all the time about the responsibility of Assad regime if it turns out that they did it, but nobody is asking about the responsibility of the rebels if they did it," said the Pig. "We have all the reasons to believe it was a clever provocation."
While France, Britain and the US have all said they have few doubts that Assad's forces perpetrated the crime, Russia has long claimed rebels were involved, and Pig Putin claimed that investigations show the weapons used were too crude and outdated to belong to the regular Syrian army.
Moscow claims the Syrian authorities have handed over a dossier that points to rebel involvement in the 21 August attack to Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, who was in Damascus on an official visit earlier this week.
Ryabkov met Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, and Assad, who thanked Russia for its support and said Syria would comply with the chemical weapons plan.
The Pig denied that Assad's government had been forced to acquiesce to the plan only because of the real threat of force from Washington.
"A threat of force is far from a panacea for solving international issues," Pig Putin said. "We are talking about threats to use force outside international law. Congress is discussing whether to launch a war, but that is not where the discussions should be taking place. They should be taking place at the UN security council."
The Russian president made a sustained and emotional criticism of previous western interventions in the Middle East and said it was naive to think that countries in the region could live by western rules.
He said he had made the point simply, when he spoke with Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St Petersburg this month: "I looked him in the eye and said, 'Why? Why do you need this?'"
Pig Putin said Russia's apprehension was based on seeing what had happened in Egypt and Libya, as well as Iraq.
"At the time we tried to talk to the UK prime minister about our doubts on Iraq, but they didn't listen, and look at the result," said the Pig. "Every day dozens of people die. Do you understand? Every day. What's the result?"
***************Pig Putin: Former Italian PM only convicted for sex with a minor ‘because he lives with women’
By Arturo Garcia
Thursday, September 19, 2013 19:30 EDT
Russian President Pig Putin took a swipe at critics of his country’s widely-criticized law against LGBT “propaganda” while defending friend and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday, saying Berlusconi was only convicted of sex with a minor because he is heterosexual.
“Berlusconi is on trial now because he lives with women,” the Wall Street Journal quoted the Pig as saying. “If he were a homosexual, they wouldn’t have laid a finger on him.”
Berlusconi was convicted in June 2013 of paying to having sex with an underage girl and then ordering officials to cover it up. He is currently appealing the verdict. According to Reuters, he and Putin are good friends, with Putin praising his political ability despite allegedly being criticized at home for “his special attitude to the beautiful sex.”
The Associated Press also quoted Pig Putin as saying his country’s anti-LGBT law was only aimed at “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” while blaming marriage equality for a declining population across Europe.
“The Europeans are dying out, and gay marriages don’t produce children,” the Pig was quoted as saying.
************Russian literature is best sex education for young people, says ombudsman
Pavel Astakhov opposes introduction of sex education in schools and suggests reading the classics as an alternative
Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 13.12 BST
1997, ANNA KARENINA
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina tells the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who begins a passionate affair. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Warner Bros.
Forget condoms, contraceptive pills and chlamydia, and turn instead to Chekhov, Tolstoy and Gogol. That is the message from Russia's children's ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, who has opposed the introduction of sex education to schools and says young Russians can learn everything they need to know about love and sex from Russian literature.
"I am against any kind of sex education among children," said Astakhov in a television interview. "It is unacceptable to allow things that could corrupt children."
Despite having one of the world's fastest-growing HIV epidemics, Russia has no sex education in schools, owing to the influence of the Russian Orthodox church and conservative social forces.
Astakhov, a powerful official who reports directly to the president, Vladimir Putin, now wants legislation to ensure sex education does not sneak on to the curriculum. Instead, he suggests reading the classics.
"The best sex education that exists is Russian literature," said Astakhov. "In fact, literature in general. Everything is there, about love and about relationships between sexes. Schools should raise children chastely and with an understanding of family values."
This is not the first time government officials have moved to protect the "innocence" of Russian children.
Over the summer, parliament passed a law to ensure children are not subjected to "gay propaganda", which is defined as any information suggesting homosexuality is normal.
Astakhov was also a vocal advocate of the ban this year on the adoption of Russian children by US citizens.
Rights groups said that rather than banning sex education, the exact opposite is needed, and called on the government to allow children to be educated about sex and sexuality.
"All our surveys show that 90% of Russians are sexually experienced by the age of 17, and the government wants to deny them the right to be properly informed about their choices," said Tanya Evlampieva, of the Russian campaign group Focus-Media.
"Sex education isn't just about the act of sex," she said.
"Children should be able to discuss things like how to choose the right partner, and how to say no. By denying young people access to accurate information, we put them at increased risk of unplanned pregnancies and contracting HIV."
Russia has more than 1 million people living with HIV, and half of new cases are now sexually transmitted.
Astakhov admitted that in the modern world children might find out about sex from outside school, and suggested that parents should watch over their offspring carefully and be ready to answer questions.
Rather than introduce sex education to schools, he suggested it might be worthwhile to reintroduce the Soviet era subject of "ethics and the psychology of family life" for older teenagers.
Sex education from the Russian classics
Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin, 1833
Onegin, a Petersburg dandy, travels to the countryside with his friend Lensky to meet Lensky's fiancee Olga and her sister Tatyana, who declares her love for him in a passionate letter. Onegin rejects Tatyana callously and flirts with Olga from boredom, which leads to a duel with Lensky, whom he kills. Years later, he meets the married Tatyana and professes his love for her. Although it is requited, she refuses to leave her husband, and Onegin is plunged into despair.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, 1877
Anna is trapped in a loveless marriage to the stiff government official Karenin, and begins an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky. Her marriage collapses, and she becomes increasingly depressed and paranoid about her relationship with Vronsky. Angry and upset, Anna commits suicide by throwing herself under a train.
The Abyss, Leonid Andreyev, 1901
A short story that caused huge controversy on its publication, and was part of a decadent, fin-de-siècle school of literature in Russia obsessed with death and sex. A young couple in love go for a romantic walk in the forest at dusk, but get lost and are accosted by a gang of youths. They beat up the man, drag off the woman and rape her. When the man comes to, he finds his wife naked and unconscious but alive. He begins kissing her body passionately, and then "is swallowed by the dark abyss". The story ends.
Novel With Cocaine, M Ageyev, 1934
Set in 1917, the novel deals with the sexual coming of age of a young man in Moscow. "Sporting a face powdered like a clown and eyes lined with vaseline, I would stroll up and down the boulevard and try to catch the eye of every passing woman," writes the protagonist. If they smiled at him, he knew they were a "prostitute or a virgin"; if they looked terrified, he began his seduction routine.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
Written in English by the Russian emigré writer Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita charts the all-consuming obsession and subsequent sexual relationship between a middle-aged professor, Humbert Humbert, and Dolores Haze, a 12-year-old girl.
************Pig Putin: a tyrant at home, a friend of tyrants abroad
What does Russia have to show for Pig Putin's rule? A corrupt and brutal oligarchy – and shameful support for Syria's bloody regime
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 15.01 BST
When Pravda.ru editor, Dmitry Sudakov, offered to publish my commentary, he referred to me as "an active anti-Russian politician for many years". I'm sure that isn't the first time Russians have heard me characterized as their antagonist. Since my purpose here is to dispel falsehoods used by Russia's rulers to perpetuate their power and excuse their corruption, let me begin with that untruth. I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.
I make that claim because I respect your dignity and your right to self-determination. I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government. I believe you deserve the opportunity to improve your lives in an economy that is built to last and benefits the many, not just the powerful few. You should be governed by a rule of law that is clear, consistently and impartially enforced and just. I make that claim because I believe the Russian people, no less than Americans, are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered. Pig Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don't respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power, they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy, and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.
They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar, and for having the audacity to protest the Pig's rule.
Sergei Magnitsky wasn't a human rights activist. He was an accountant at a Moscow law firm. He was an ordinary Russian who did an extraordinary thing. He exposed one of the largest state thefts of private assets in Russian history. He cared about the rule of law and believed no one should be above it.
For his beliefs and his courage, he was held in Butyrka prison without trial, where he was beaten, became ill and died. After his death, he was given a show trial reminiscent of the Stalin-era and was, of course, found guilty. That wasn't only a crime against Sergei Magnitsky. It was a crime against the Russian people and your right to an honest government – a government worthy of Sergei Magnitsky and of you.
Pig Putin claims his purpose is to restore Russia to greatness at home and among the nations of the world. But by what measure has he restored your greatness? He has given you an economy that is based almost entirely on a few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities. Its riches will not last. And, while they do, they will be mostly in the possession of the corrupt and powerful few. Capital is fleeing Russia, which – lacking rule of law and a broad-based economy – is considered too risky for investment and entrepreneurism. He has given you a political system that is sustained by corruption and repression and isn't strong enough to tolerate dissent.
How has he strengthened Russia's international stature? By allying Russia with some of the world's most offensive and threatening tyrannies. By supporting a Syrian regime that is murdering tens of thousands of its own people to remain in power, and by blocking the United Nations from even condemning its atrocities. By refusing to consider the massacre of innocents, the plight of millions of refugees, the growing prospect of a conflagration that engulfs other countries in its flames an appropriate subject for the world's attention.
He is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world. Pig Putin doesn't believe in these values because he doesn't believe in you. He doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or at least, he doesn't believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you.
I do believe in you. I believe in your capacity for self-government and your desire for justice and opportunity. I believe in the greatness of the Russian people, who suffered enormously and fought bravely against terrible adversity to save your nation. I believe in your right to make a civilization worthy of your dreams and sacrifices. When I criticize your government, it is not because I am anti-Russian. It is because I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you. And I long for the day when you have it.
• This article was originally published by Pravda.ru and is crossposted by kind permission of the editor
**************Russian military storm Greenpeace Arctic oil protest ship
Russians drop armed guards on to the deck and round up the crew of the Arctic Sunrise, which is protesting against Gazprom drilling
The Guardian, Thursday 19 September 2013 19.26 BST
Link to video: Greenpeace activists attempt to scale Russian oil righttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/20/greenpeace-activists-russian-oil-rig-video
Armed Russian military have stormed a Greenpeace ship protesting against oil exploitation in remote Arctic waters.
According to the last communications from the Arctic Sunrise before all contact was cut at around 4.30pm BST, the Russians dropped guards on to the deck of the vessel by rope from a helicopter, rounded up the Greenpeace crew and broke into the wheel house and communications rooms.
Tweets from three people who locked themselves into a secure area on the ship said: "This is pretty terrifying. Loud banging. Screaming in Russian. They're still trying to kick in the door". Another said: "Crew are sitting on their knees on the helipad with guns pointed at them."
Frank Hewetson, British action coordinator on the vessel, later said that 29 of the crew were being held under armed guard in the canteen.
"About 10 commandoes boarded by a soviet era helicopter. They pushed us aside and ordered us to lie flat out on the deck. They then smashed their way onto the bridge.
"Our engines have been turned off and they have isolated the captain Pete Wilcox. We have no idea what is happening."
The crew includes six British people as well as 10 other nationalities. No one has been reported injured.
The dramatic moves 60km north of the Russian coast near the island of Nova Zemlya, was described by Greenpeace executives in London as "an illegal act in international waters".
"We have a right to be there. This was an entirely peaceful protest," said Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe.
But Russian diplomats accused the environmental group of "aggressive and provocative" actions this week after shots were fired by Russian coastguard and two activists from the Arctic Sunrise were arrested on Wednesday after scaling the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya platform which is drilling for oil in the area. The activists have been detained on the Russian coastguard ship Ladoga.
"The intruders' actions … had the outward signs of extremist activity that can lead to people's death and other grave consequences," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
According to Reuters, Russia summoned the Dutch ambassador asking him to ensure it was not repeated. The Arctic Sunrise is registered in Holland.
Gazprom plans to start production from the Prirazlomnaya platform next year 2014, according to Greenpeace, raising the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said: "This illegal boarding of a peaceful protest ship highlights the extreme lengths that the Russian government will go to keep Gazprom's dangerous Arctic drilling away from public scrutiny. We ask President Putin to restrain the Coast Guard and order them to holster their guns and withdraw. We are a peaceful organisation and our protest has done nothing to warrant this level of aggression."
Figures released this week suggest that the extent of Arctic sea ice has shrunk to its sixth lowest level on record, prompting scientists to warn that manmade climate change was bringing the days of an ice-free Arctic closer.
French billionaire Serge Dassault fights corruption scandal
Police look into allegations of vote-buying, attempted murder and mafia behaviour surrounding influential press baron
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 10.05 BST
He's one of France's richest men and juggles an array of powerful roles: a billionaire manufacturer of military fighter jets, an influential press baron who owns the country's main conservative newspaper, Le Figaro, and a rightwing senator for Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party.
But Serge Dassault, 88, has become embroiled in a series of legal investigations centred on his former fiefdom east of Paris, where allegations of vote-buying, attempted murder, disputed secret recordings and complaints of mafia behaviour have led to comparisons between the once quiet little town of Corbeil-Essonnes and the TV soap opera Dallas.
The town of 40,000 people, which had been Communist until Dassault won it for the right when he was elected mayor in 1995, was the scene of a mysterious gun attack on a 32-year-old amateur boxer in broad daylight in February this year, leaving him seriously injured. Weeks before, another man said he had been targeted by a gunman and went on to tell the daily Le Parisien that Corbeil had become "a mafia system".
Both men told investigators the attacks were aimed at hushing up corrupt election tactics, saying they had been targeted for speaking out against a system in which cash was exchanged for votes.
Police are trying to establish whether the attempted murders were linked to alleged vote-buying, while a separate inquiry looks into claims that Dassault dished out payments to locals, including those on a deprived housing estate, to secure their backing at the ballot box. Dassault has always denied any involvement in vote-buying or electoral corruption.
In the latest twist in the saga, the investigative website Mediapart this week published part of a recording in which it said Dassault appears to admit handing out payments to secure his successor's mayoral election in 2010. The website said those who made the secret recording in 2012 in Dassault's office were later targeted by gunmen.
In the recording, which Mediapart said it had verified, a voice allegedly belonging to Dassault, says: "I can't give any more. I can't get any more out, it's banned. I'm under police surveillance." He adds: "I've given money, I can't give another penny to anyone." Dassault's lawyers dismissed the recordings as "pirated" and extortion attempts.
While Paris judges are looking at allegations of vote-buying and electoral corruption, investigators in Evry are separately looking at the attempted murder cases. Investigators have not yet officially linked the two.
Dassault was stripped of his mayorship of Corbeil-Essonne in 2009 after France's highest administrative court found that he had made cash gifts to voters that could have affected the outcome of the mayoral election.
Dassault denied making any payments for electoral purposes. He disputed the civil court decision, which did not amount to a criminal conviction. After Dassault left his mayoral seat, his former right-hand man, Jean-Pierre Bechter, was elected mayor.
The French senate has refused to lift Dassault's immunity from prosecution as a serving senator, which means he cannot be taken into police custody for questioning. His lawyers said this week he would be interviewed next month over the allegations of attempted murder, under the simple legal status of a witness. After police searches at the town hall, Bechter was interviewed in police custody earlier this year but released without charge. He denied any form of vote-buying.
In a statement, Dassault's lawyers this week said for several years he had been the target "of pressing demands for money from various individuals who knew about his generosity and philanthropic actions" and that he had made complaints about such demands. The lawyers said he had "given financial support but always outside any electoral action".
Dassault inherited the family firm from his father, Marcel Dassault, a Jewish-born French aircraft designer and major industrialist who survived imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and later became a rightwing politician.
White House hints Obama may meet with Iranian president over sanctions
Obama administration praises 'welcome rhetoric' over nuclear weapons and says meeting is possible next week in New York
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 21.36 BST
The White House has hinted at the possibility of a historic meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during his visit to the United Nations next week, praising what it called "welcome rhetoric" from Iran on nuclear weapons.
In the latest sign of a thaw in relations between the two countries, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged "dramatic" shifts in Tehran's language but stressed the need to see it matched by actions.
On Wednesday Rouhani gave an interview to NBC insisting the country had no intention of putting its civilian nuclear programme to military ends and suggested he had political authority inside Iran to negotiate a solution to a standoff with the west over the programme.
Earlier, the reform-minded president also agreed to release a series of political prisoners, raising hopes in Washington that he was gaining traction over more hardline elements in Tehran.
The two developments produced a positive response from the White House on Thursday, but administration officials remain cautious about the extent to which he can act independently of Iran's surpreme leader Ali Khamenei.
"We obviously notice a significant change in language and tone, it's rather dramatic, but it's important we don't just take Iran's word for it," said Carney.
"The release of political prisoners is a welcome action. The welcome rhetoric over nuclear weapons is just that. Words are not a substitute for action and we need to see follow-through."
Both Obama and Rouhani will be in New York at the same time next week for the United Nations general assembly and hopes are rising that the two may meet to discuss what progress on nuclear weapons would be required for the US to lift its crippling sanctions regime against Iran.
Carney again hinted this was possible, but insisted the US had always been willing to talk to Iran about ending the alleged nuclear weapons programme. Asked if the two leaders would meet in New York, he replied: "We will see. It has always been possible."
He added: "The president has said all along that he would be willing to have that meeting providing that Iran demonstrates its seriousness in dealing with its nuclear weapons programme."
Next week's UN meeting is shaping up to be a crucial test of American foreign policy in the region, with the security council also due to discuss action over Syria's chemical weapons programme.
On Thursday, secretary of state John Kerry made an impassioned plea for the UN to stop debating whether Syria had used chemical weapons and move on to what to do about it.
In a sign that last week's deal in Geneva for Syria to hand over its weapons may not have been enough to overcome diplomatic opposition from Moscow, Kerry gave an unexpected press conference to press home the significance of the UN report on chemical weapons use in Damascus. "This fight about Syria's chemical weapons is not a game. It's real. It's important," said Kerry.
"Please. This isn't complicated. The security council must be prepared to act next week. Time is short. Let's not spend time debating what we already know," he added.
"We need to make the Geneva agreement meaningful."
Hassan Rouhani to take Iran's only Jewish member of parliament to UN
Siamak Moreh Sedgh will try to help president revamp country's image on world stage
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 23.02 BST
The sole Jewish member of the Iranian parliament will accompany President Hassan Rouhani when he travels to New York next week for the UN general assembly.
Siamak Moreh Sedgh, who represents Iran's Jewish community in the majlis, the country's parliament, will try to help Rouhani revamp the Islamic republic's image on the world stage after eight acrimonious years under previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who issued controversial statements about the Holocaust.
The move comes after Rouhani pledged to work to improve civil rights for Iranian minorities and provide a bigger role for them in government when he was sworn in to office in August.
Sedgh and Ahmad-Reza Dastgheyb, a Muslim, are the only MPs travelling with Rouhani to the UN, local agencies reported. After the constitutional revolution, which took place between 1905 to 1907, Iranian Jews were given a reserved seat in the parliament which they have retained after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
After Ahmadinejad's departure from power, Rouhani appears to have started an initiative to tell the world that Iran, whose official religion is Islam, is not against Jews. Rouhani's Twitter account, believed to be run through his office, surprised many recently by posting a Rosh Hashanah blessing for the Jewish new year. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, followed in Rouhani's footsteps by tweeting a similar blessing.
"Our Jewish countrymen are a recognised minority in Iran and have an active representative in the parliament," Zarif told the semi-official Tasnim news agency after his tweet in early September, according to Tehran Times.
"We were never against Jews. We oppose Zionists who are a small group," he said. "We do not allow the Zionists to represent Iran as an anti-Semitic country in their propaganda so they can cover up their crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese people."
Iran is believed to have the largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. The country's Jewish population declined after the Islamic revolution as many of its members emigrated to Israel or other countries around the world.
Only officially-recognised religious minorities are represented in the Iranian parliament. Like Jews, Zoroastrians also have a reserved seat but Christians have three, mainly because of their bigger population. The Baha'i faith, which was founded in Iran, is banned and its members are the most persecuted religious minorities in the country, with no access to higher education.
Sedgh succeeded a famous Jewish Iranian MP, Mauric Motamed, in 2008 and has since been able to retain his seat. Sedgh's visa for the US has not yet been issued.
Zarif's tweet attracted a great deal of attention. He also responded to a tweet by Christine Pelosi, the daughter of the US politician Nancy Pelosi, who had told the Iranian minister that the Jewish new year "would have been sweeter" if Iran ended its Holocaust denial.
Zarif posted to her: "Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year." The Iranian foreign minister was referring to Ahmadinejad.
Hassan Rouhani sets out his vision for a new and free Iran
Outline of nuclear deal begins to emerge before UN debut as president says people should 'be completely free in private life'
Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 19.59 BST
President Hassan Rouhani has signalled his intention to lead a new Iran on to the international stage at the United Nations next week, laying out a manifesto for personal freedom at home and compromise abroad.
"We want the people in their private life to be completely free," the newly elected president told NBC News, after a string of prisoner releases. He also pledged to create a citizens' rights commission "in the near future".
"In today's world, having access to information and the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely is the right of all people, including the people of Iran," Rouhani said.
Rouhani also vowed that Iran would never seek nuclear weapons and insisted his government had "complete authority" to resolve the 11-year international impasse over Iran's nuclear aspirations.
The bold rhetoric, backed up by a series of concrete steps taken with the apparent backing of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has raised hopes of major diplomatic breakthroughs in the coming months, affecting the long-stalled nuclear negotiations and perhaps the Syrian conflict too.
Optimism before Rouhani's debut on the world stage at the UN general assembly on Tuesday is tempered among western diplomats by uncertainty over the readiness of Khamenei to accept significant limits on the nuclear programme, long cherished by the regime as central to national prestige and dignity.
Observers of the long deadlock between Iran and international community over Iran's uranium enrichment voiced concern over the west's ability to respond to Rouhani's overtures quickly enough to bolster his still-fragile control over the machinery of government
"I think he has significant leeway to reach a deal, but that this window of opportunity is limited. The approach must be step-by-step, but we need to see tangible progress in the months to come, otherwise hardliners will undercut Rouhani," said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a Tehran-based analyst.
Rouhani, a Glasgow-educated pragmatist and former nuclear negotiator who decisively won presidential elections in June, has orchestrated a charm offensive before the general assembly, which his government clearly views as a critical moment for escaping the isolation exacerbated by his mercurial predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is due to meet the British foreign secretary, William Hague, and the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, on Monday, to lay the groundwork for Rouhani's general assembly speech the next day.
But Zarif arrived in New York five days early to network with diplomatic contacts largely made when he was ambassador to the UN a decade ago, under Iran's last moderate government. At a banquet on Wednesday, the deputy UN secretary general, Jan Eliason, reportedly hailed his quarter-century friendship with Zarif and welcomed Iranian willingness to cooperate.
Over the past few weeks, Iranian officials have sent signals that they would be open to significant compromises on the nuclear programme that could pave the way to a deal.
The head of the Iranian atomic organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, suggested recently the country could accept the "additional protocol" of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allows inspectors to visit sites other than those declared by the government as nuclear-related. That step is seen as essential by the IAEA in strengthened international confidence that there is no covert weapons programme running in parallel with the civil nuclear project.
Diplomats and observers said the contours of a potential breakthrough nuclear deal were increasingly clear. Iran would agree to limit enrichment of uranium to 5% purity (good enough for nuclear power stations, but far short of weapons grade), get rid of its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium, and agree to the additional protocol.
In return, the west would lift a significant part of its sanctions regime and recognise Iran's right to enrich uranium as part of a complete nuclear fuel cycle.
Shabani said he thought such a package would be acceptable to Tehran. However, it could still be extremely difficult to reach a deal given a long history of mutual distrust. The sequencing of mutual concessions would be subject of delicate negotiations as would be their irreversibility.
In such talks, the White House would be hamstrung by the fact that most US sanctions are in the gift of Congress over which President Obama has limited sway.
"In Washington there is a question of who is in charge of Iran policy," said Jim Walsh, an expert on the Iranian nuclear programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Obama could use presidential waivers to suspend sanctions, but those waivers could subsequently be overridden by Congress, and would be consequently be of limited value to Tehran.
"This is going to question worth watching. If we go down this path and we can't deliver we are going to confirm all of Iran's worst suspicions about double-dealing," Walsh said.For the time being, Rouhani appears to have the supreme leader's backing. Earlier this week, Khamenei, talked about the virtues of "heroic leniency" in diplomacy in a speech to the revolutionary guard that was widely seen as providing Rouhani the political space to make a nuclear deal.
Rouhani stressed the point in his NBC interview, saying: "In its nuclear programme, this government enters with full power and has complete authority. We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem."Observers fear that backing could evaporate if Rouhani is unable to deliver swift economic improvements in the form of loosening the sanctions which straitjacket on Iran. There are clear signs on the domestic stage at least that the supreme leader has delegated real power to the new president which Rouhani is rapidly putting into effect.
Iranians have seen an almost daily series of changes that add up to a steady transformation of society since Rouhani's inauguration last month. A new pro-reform and pragmatic cabinet has restructured the senior management levels of major ministries, especially in the oil ministry, an important lever of power in a hydrocarbon-dependent economy.
Last week, the ministry for culture and Islamic guidance ordered the re-opening of House of Cinema, home of the country's independent film industry, which was shut down under Ahmadinejad.
Web users in Iran report a significant improvement in the internet speeds and availability as several new ministers like Zarif have embraced Facebook and Twitter, triggering speculation that the authorities will lift the filtering of social media.
The release this week of a number of prominent activists – including the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – has followed Rouhani's appointment of Seyed Mahmoud Alavi as intelligence minister. He has pledged to stay out Iranians private lives, and invited Iranians who left the country after the 2009 disputed elections to return provided they had not committed a criminal offence.
Restrictions on local news agencies and newspapers seem to have eased recently with a few going as far as breaking the taboo on reporting the plight of political prisoners or the house arrests of opposition leaders.
Thursday's headline in Tehran reflected the current feel-good atmosphere in Tehran. Etemaad, a reformist newspaper, carried a headline saying: "Dismissal, freedom and championship," referring accordingly to the dismissal of the hardline head of Iran's Azad University, the release of prisoners and a victory of Iran's national freestyle wrestlers in world championship.
Jafar Tofighi, the new acting minister of science, research and technology, has also replaced hardliners at the top of Iran's major universities and signalled that students previously ejected from universities as a result of political activism can now re-register.
Ali Alizadeh, an Iranian political analyst based in London, said the governments reform were rooted in a new spirit of pragmatism forged by sanctions, deep social and political discontent and the weakening of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
"The supreme leader … has implicitly restrained the Iranian hardliners and has given theological licence to retreat from what previously held the ideological edifice of the regime together: nuclear programme and lack of relations with the US," Alizadeh said.
"Unlike the last three governments, for the first time, the supreme leader, the government, major political factions of the regime and significant parts of the Iranian people are in temporary unison over a few important issues."
Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, son of the opposition leader under house arrest, Mehdi Karroubi, said the prisoner releases would strengthen Rouhani's position at the UN and give him more credibility. He did not think his father or fellow opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would be released immediately but thought the steps taken by the government so far paved the way for their freedom.
He heralds improved diplomatic relations with the west by an exchange of letters with Barack Obama and David Cameron in early August. Both Iran's supreme leader and Rouhani subsequently strike a newly conciliatory tone, seeming to signal Iran's readiness for a fresh chapter in diplomacy.
Rouhani appoints a new cabinet consisting of pro-reform moderates and pragmatists, naming the veteran US-educated Iranian diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister. Several key officials belonging to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's era are dismissed from posts in major ministries.
On 12 September Iran's independent House of Cinema – the main film guild, shut down under Ahmadinejad – is reopened. Students previously banned from universities because of political activity are allowed to continue their education. Formerly tight restrictions on the media are eased, with some journalists reporting on the situation of political prisoners.
Women's rights advanced
Following the appointment of Marzieh Afkham as Iran's first female foreign ministry spokesperson and two women as deputies to the prime minister, 24-year-old Shirin Gerami this week became the first Iranian woman to race in triathlon under the Islamic republic's flag.
Political prisoners released
On Wednesday leading human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is released from jail, along with a number of other prominent political activists. This follows the easing of the terms of the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, allowing them more frequent family visits.
09/20/2013 11:49 AM
Daughters for Sale: India's Child Slavery Scourge
By Anne Backhaus
Millions of Indian children work as slaves in factories, brothels or in the homes of families. Out of poverty and desperation, parents sell their daughters, and human traffickers wait at train stations for runaways and scour for orphans in monsoon-ravaged villages.
On the day that Durga Mala was rescued, she lay crying on the stone floor, where she was attempting to cool her back. She was 11 years old and her skin was covered with blisters, from her shoulder blades to her buttocks. A few days earlier, her owners had poured hot oil over her because they thought she was working too slowly.
Suddenly Durga heard screams and huddled on the floor. Acting on a tip, police stormed the apartment in the heart of Bangalore. When they broke the door down, Durga crossed her arms in front of her chest and closed her eyes. She was only wearing a pair of panties -- that's all the clothing that her owners had allowed her to have. Durga says: "I was ashamed."
One of the men wrapped the small girl in a sheet and brought her to a hospital. Doctors treated her for a number of days. In addition to her burns, she was malnourished, infected wounds covered her fingers and her lips were scarred. "I dropped a glass once," says Durga, "and the woman got angry and pulled my fingernails out, one by one." Sometimes they poked her in the mouth with a needle. Durga was supposed to work, not speak.
It's estimated that millions of children in India live as modern-day slaves. They work in the fields, in factories, brothels and private households -- often without pay and usually with no realistic chance of escaping. The majority of them are sold or hired out by their own families.
According to an Indian government census from 2001, this country of over 1 billion people has 12.6 million minors between the ages of 5 and 14 who are working. The real number is undoubtedly significantly higher because many children are not officially registered at birth -- and the owners of course do their best to keep the existence of child slaves a secret. Aid organizations estimate that three-quarters of all domestic servants in India are children, and 90 percent of those are girls. Although both child labor and child trafficking is illegal, police rarely intervene -- and the courts seldom convict child traffickers and slaveholders.
'She Told Me I Would Be Well Treated'
Durga grew up in Calcutta. When she was seven, her father died, followed two years later by the death of her mother. Her grandmother took in Durga and her three elder sisters, but she couldn't manage to feed all four of them. One girl had to go, so she sold off the youngest. Via an intermediary, a family of total strangers paid 80 rupees for Durga -- roughly the equivalent of €1 ($1.33).
Durga traveled alone by train the nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) to Bangalore. She can't remember the journey, but she recalls her arrival. "The woman picked me up at the train station," she says. "I was afraid but she told me that I would be well treated."
From that day onwards, she cleaned the couple's apartment every day, cooked, did the laundry and the dishes. Durga was never paid, was never given time off and was never allowed to leave the building. The woman beat her often; the man hit her less often. Durga didn't try to defend herself. "Grandma told me I should always be nice," says Durga.
Today, Durga is 12 years old. Her weight has returned to normal, and she has large eyes and full lips. She wears her black hair tied in a knot behind her head. Her white teeth shine as she speaks, lighting up her soft face. Durga lives in Rainbow Home, a children's shelter run by the Catholic organization Bosco. Fifty-six girls live here in two empty rooms, with no chairs or tables. The children play, sleep and do their homework on the floor. They eat together in the hallway.
The home takes up one floor of a school building. The walls in the old building are painted blue and pink, and the caretakers teach the children to wash themselves on a regular basis, and not to immediately hit someone whenever there is a conflict. "It's hard work," says a nun named Anees. "For many children this is the first home that they have ever had," she points out, adding: "They all come from very disadvantaged families and have already experienced too much."
'I'd Like to Be a Lawyer'
Anees lives with the children at the home. Her day begins at 5 in the morning and ends at 11 at night. She sleeps with two other women in a small room.
The children are allowed to watch TV in the room next door. A Bollywood film is showing tonight. Durga sits with the others on the floor. Three friends snuggle up to her, and the smallest one sits on her lap. They are all staring spellbound at the TV. A man is singing and the girls watch enrapt.
Durga also wants to meet a man like that who would like to marry her and wouldn't beat her. She reflects for a moment and runs her fingers across her scarred lips. "And I'd like to be a lawyer," she says.
Nearly every child in the room has spent a large portion of her life working. The eldest is 16 years old. Even with an education, life will be hard for them. With over 8 million inhabitants, Bangalore is India's third-largest city, after Mumbai and Delhi. It's a boom town, glittering yet brutal -- a jungle that many still see as a ray of hope. Every day, over 80 trains arrive at Bangalore City Railway station from nearly every region of the country, jam-packed with abundant cheap labor and destitute individuals who are looking for a brighter future. "This is the trading center for children in southern India," says Father George.
The Salesian priest is nearly 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall, slightly heavyset and wears jeans. He strides through the bustling crowd of thousands, undeterred by the noise and the odors. Every day, George walks through the train station and heads straight to a hut in the middle of one of the railway platforms. This is where his staff members bring the children they have found wandering alone through the train station. "They are highly at risk," says George. "We try to help them before they fall into the wrong hands."
India 's Vulnerable Runaways
Two girls and a boy sit in a small waiting area. Aside from a half-full plastic bag, they have no luggage. They are sitting on a bench at the window and dangling their bare feet over the edge. In front of them is a narrow table, behind which there is just enough room for a female coworker and George, the head of the Bosco aid organization.
The cleric, who was born in southern India, speaks English and five of India's national tongues. The children relax somewhat as he starts to ask them questions in their native language, Kannada. George makes jokes and tells them short stories until they begin to respond. Bhavani, Salthya and Ramesh come from northern Karnataka, one of the poorest regions of southern India. George says: "They are runaways."
There are many runaways in India. The children flee from poverty in the countryside and the brutality of their families, and hope for a better life in the big city. Bangalore primarily attracts children from the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, which together make up an area much larger than all of Germany.
They are easy prey for the traffickers who await them at the train station. The men promise them a place to stay and a well-paid job, and when they hand the youngsters over to an employer, the traffickers earn a commission of up to 1,000 rupees, or nearly €12 per child.
'We Are Outnumbered'
In a bid to intercept the children in time, three Bosco staff members are posted at the train station every day, and two work at night. When a train arrives, they keep an eye out for children. There are 10 railway platforms, each nearly 1 kilometer long. If a number of trains roll into the station at the same time, the Bosco aid workers have no chance against the human traffickers. "We are outnumbered," says Father George: "Of the 50 to 60 children arriving each day, we're lucky if we can bring 15 to safety." The others are usually passed on to employers on the very same day.
If the children leave the train station, it's almost impossible to find them. "They are locked inside and have to work up to 12 hours a day," says George. They are very rarely actually paid for their work, he says, noting that many of them are held as Durga was, as slaves.
On the other side of the street is the bus station, which is the second largest transit center for children in Bangalore. Hundreds of buses squeeze by each other every hour. A bridge leads to the market district -- a vast maze of streets and alleyways that is filled with dealers, some of whom sell children.
A man who calls himself Krishna is crouching in the shade of a green building. The heat bores down on the city and the stench of trash hangs heavily in the alley. The man has a narrow face and a very slim body. He spits into a rivulet at his feet. Krishna is a child trafficker. He says: "I help the children."
Confessions of a Child Trafficker
Krishna lights a cigarette and explains that the work has become difficult because there are too many competitors. Most of them don't do their job as well as he does, he claims. "I know exactly which child matches which employer," Krishna says with pride. "They come here and want work and I find them the right employment," he boasts.
A number of passersby nod to Krishna. He returns the gesture with a barely noticeable movement of the head. "I'm a good man," says Krishna, adding: "People like me." He has been in the business for five years and he immediately notices if a child is strong enough, Krishna claims. The boys are brought to hotels and repair shops, he says, and most of the girls go to tailors or to a colleague who caters to private buyers. Krishna wears a gold watch.
People like Krishna see themselves as placement agencies. They are child traffickers, says George: "They don't care about the children -- they're only concerned about their own income." The priest is riding in one of the three vehicles that Bosco uses every day. His people use the minibuses to bring the children from the train station to the aid organization's headquarters. "Most of them are afraid and don't want to be rescued at first," says George. "Without the minibuses, they would run away from us."
George normally travels around the city on a scooter. But now he has to quickly return to the office, primarily to make some phone calls. His mobile phone is almost constantly ringing.
George remains friendly with every caller. "Everything's fine," that's how he ends each phone call, regardless of whether there's a power failure in one of the homes or not enough money to pay the bills. The 38-year-old priest manages over 100 staff members -- with love, as he says. After all, he can't pay much money.
The priest's office is located in the same building as the reception center. The children here are washed and given a medical checkup -- and they receive shoes and clothing. "As soon as they feel at home, we start with the counseling," explains George. His workplace is on the second floor, and his bedroom is on the third floor. Next to George's computer lies a porcelain figurine of the baby Jesus.
Most of the runaways that Bosco picks up are eventually collected by their relatives and brought back home. The rest are given a place to live in one of the organization's seven homes, and granted a place in the school. Nine out of 10 children are boys; girls have fewer opportunities to run away. "They are sold off at an early age," says George, usually by their own families.
India Sells its Daughters
India is a rising economic power. However, Indian society has not entirely managed to keep pace and, in some ways, is lagging behind by decades, if not centuries. In this society, girls don't have much status -- and they cost their parents money. When a young woman marries, the marriage has to be financed, and she leaves the parental home to live with her husband's family. Boys, however, remain with their families. When they become men, they are expected to look after the older generations and support them financially. Hence, it makes economic sense to sell off girls at a young age.
Aid organizations estimate that 20 to 65 million Indians have already passed through the hands of human traffickers at one point in their lives. Ninety percent of them remain within India's national borders, and the majority are female and under the age of 18.
"Human trafficking works because the victims are afraid and cannot communicate," says Palavi, who works as a social worker. "India is so large that is not necessary to sell women and girls abroad," she says. "If they are Bengalis from the northeastern part of the country, they don't understand a word when they arrive in Mumbai."
Palavi has been working for a number of years in Mumbai's red light district of Khetwadi and, for security reasons, she requested that her last name not be divulged. Working for the aid organization Prerana, she provides counseling to girls who can take shelter in three emergency centers that are open 24 hours a day. "In India young women are bought and sold like slaves. Many of them have children who live in constant danger of also being sold or sexually abused," says Palavi. "They grow up under the beds where their mothers were robbed of their dignity."
Prerana runs a number of homes where the children of prostitutes live. Palavi sighs. Now that the monsoon rains have reached Mumbai, the streets are filling with water and the notebooks in her office are starting to curl from the moisture.
According to one estimate by a state investigative agency, 3 million prostitutes work in Indian brothels -- and some 40 percent of them are minors. As soon as they reach the age of 10, girls are sold to men who pose as marriage matchmakers or promise jobs in the city. When the monsoon washes away rural communities, traffickers drive to what remains of the villages and collect the orphans or purchase the children of farmers who have lost everything and have nothing to give their families to eat anyway.
"When the girls reach Mumbai, they are first locked away in dungeons for a number of weeks," explains Palavi. "They are given hardly anything to eat and raped every day. This breaks their will so that they don't make any trouble in the brothels."
Sold to a Brothel
Sanjana was 11 when her father sold her to a trafficker who claimed that the girl could work in a silk factory near Calcutta. In reality, though, the trafficker sold her to the owner of a brothel. "I just wanted to die," she says.
Sanjana had to work to pay back her purchasing price and pay for accommodation -- at least that's what the brothel owner told her. And she supposedly never managed to pay back her debts. "It was at least 10 men a day, 30 on holidays," she says. Sanjana was locked in a room and her owner negotiated the prices.
"I was always afraid," says Sanjana, adding: "I wasn't allowed to turn down any man." There were practically never any condoms. Palavi says: "Many of the prostitutes in Mumbai have AIDS."
Sanjana was lucky. She escaped after three years of forced prostitution when the police stormed the brothel where she lived. The Bengali couldn't return to her home village, though. "My family hadn't heard from me for a number of years and I wasn't an honorable woman anymore," explains Sanjana: "They never would have taken me in again."
Sanjana is now 22 and earns her living as a seamstress in Mumbai. The brothel owner was never sentenced, nor were the child traffickers.
'I'm Happy Now'
By contrast, Durga Mala has to appear in court roughly once every two months. The trial against her former owner, who is being sued by an aid organization, has been dragging on for the past three years. Durga doesn't like the court. She would actually rather not think back to the time when she was held in that horrible household. "I'm living now," says Durga.
She never heard from her grandmother again. Her grandfather once called from a phone booth and told her that her oldest sister was now married and another was working as a housekeeper. Durga reflects for a long time, but she can no longer remember the names of her sisters. She says: "I'm happy now."
"There's no point in worrying about things," believes George. The big priest is leaning forward on a plastic chair in front of the children's home, and his mobile phone looks tiny in the palm of his hand. The Rainbow Home is celebrating its second-year anniversary. Inside the building, the nuns are brewing tea and the children have been told to wash their hands. On the second floor, girls are starting to sing. George smiles and heads upstairs.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
Former herder reveals perils of being a shaman in atheist China
Erdemt, a Mongolian shaman, tells of his life and work in the mining boom-town of Xi Wuqi
Jonathan Kaiman in Xi Wuqi
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 12.10 BST
Link to video: A Mongolian shaman in atheist China
The shaman of Xi Wuqi city wakes before sunrise on a Wednesday morning in June, piles his family into his silver Peugeot, and drives out beyond the city's boxy mid-rises, past miles of strip-mines and coal refineries, and to the foot of a broad kelly-green hillside on the grasslands. He hikes to the top, removes his trainers and button-down shirt, and dons a black robe and a feather headdress. Then he gets to work.
The hill is on the shaman's ancestral land, and he climbs it once a year to summon his ancestors; to express his desires, and to hear their demands. For the two hours he delivers a thunderous performance, rife with drum-beating, horn-blowing, the jingle of bells and the clanging of cymbals. His wife and son scatter sheep's milk and rice liquor beneath variegated prayer flags. They throw handfuls of confetti to the wind.
"I saw a spirit riding a white horse with a flowing mane, and he told me right now, your ability as a shaman, your energy, your magic, they've improved very quickly," the shaman said that afternoon, sitting in his two-bedroom apartment chain-smoking cigarettes, a Chinese news broadcast running mute on his flatscreen TV. "He said right now, you've already arrived – you can commune with the spirit of any river, or any mountain."
Erdemt is a 54-year-old former herder (who, like many Mongolians, only goes by one name), and as a shaman, he is considered an intermediary between the human and spiritual worlds. Although he is new to the role – he became a shaman in 2009 – thousands of people, all of them ethnically Mongolian, have visited so that he could decipher nightmares, proffer moral guidance and cure mysterious ills. His patients pay him as much as they wish.
Despite his success, Erdemt's status as a shaman in China is uniquely precarious. He's an emerging religious figure in an officially atheist state, an expression of ethnic pride amid roiling ethnic tensions, and an embodiment of the distant past in a rapidly changing present. His China is one of resource extraction, mass migration and cultural upheaval. It is a constant exercise in compromise and restraint.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the sprawling northern borderland that Erdemt calls home, is one of the country's most rapidly developing areas – its GDP grew an average of 17% annually between 2001 and 2011, faster than any Chinese province. Its greatest asset is its natural resources – copper, rare earths, and especially coal. State-owned mining companies have arrived en masse, and they have changed the region indelibly.
The region's native Mongolians, many of them nomadic herders, have largely paid the price. Strip mining has devastated large swaths of pasture land, forcing them to move into newly built cities with few economic prospects. Mongolians now account for less than 20% of the region's 24 million people, and they own only a fraction of its wealth. Ethnic tensions simmer and occasionally explode.
Protests rippled across the area in May 2011, when Han drivers killed two Mongolian herders as they tried to block a caravan of coal trucks. Inner Mongolian authorities deployed riot police and barricaded university campuses. The drivers were hauled before a judge; they confessed, and one was promptly executed. The protests ended as quickly as they began.
Erdemt's hometown Xi Wuqi, a city of 70,000 flush against the grasslands, was built to help sustain the mining boom. The tiny Han-owned boutiques that line its broad, well-paved thoroughfares are so new that their interiors smell like fresh paint. Five years ago, its residents say, it was little more than a cluster of one-storey red-brick homes.
Shamanism is among the world's oldest religions, dating back as far as the paleolithic era, and many of Erdemt's clients see him as an embodiment of a timeless order that was devastated by the boom. "In the past, living a pastoral life was the purest way to be in touch with nature – to absorb its energy," said Nisu Yila, a professional Mongolian wrestler in Xi Wuqi, as he sat on the shaman's living room couch wearing a traditional deel robe and a cowboy hat. "But bit by bit, that kind of life began to disappear. And we began to panic." The shaman, he said, reminds him of what China's Mongolians have lost. "He's like a short cut," he said.
Experts say that this sentiment – the desire to reconnect with a forgotten past – is nearly ubiquitous in China, a natural byproduct of rapid change. "Because of modernisation, and now urbanisation, traditional culture is vanishing and being replaced by western culture, and under such conditions, people realise that these things are worth protecting," said Tian Qing, the head of the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Centre and a prominent adviser to the government on cultural affairs.
"Right now, Chinese society is like a pot of soup, and it's boiling over the top. Have you ever cooked? You think that's not going to hurt you? People here get psychological problems. There's pressure. There's difficulty. And so they look towards religion for comfort."
Tian quoted a Tang dynasty poem to underscore his point: "Even a prairie fire can't destroy the grass; it just grows again when the spring breeze blows."
While Erdemt's social role may be timeless, his professional duties – the therapy-like sessions and ebullient rituals – are inexorably modern. He provides solace to white-collar job seekers and helps local officials assess the spiritual implications of approving new mines. He understands that there are lines he cannot cross.
"The government, they don't formally acknowledge me the way they acknowledge other religions," he says. "But as long as I don't do anything illegal – or at least, what they'd consider illegal – they won't limit me." Pamphlets and broadcasts are strictly out of bounds. Although he's careful to couch his ethnic sentiments in benign terms, he refuses to see Han clients. Most of them see his services as an investment, he says. They're angered by weak returns.
Erdemt's son Bao Lidao, a bespectacled 26-year-old with ruddy cheeks and an explosive laugh, is experiencing a quarter-life crisis. After graduating from university in the region's capital city, Hohhot, Bao took a government job mediating between land-hungry railway ministry officials and the nomads they sought to displace.
The position overwhelmed him. The nomads were fickle – they'd be seduced by sizable compensation packages one day and reticent the next, aware that the cash was, unlike their land, ephemeral. Last year, he took a secretarial job with the Xi Wuqi government, and he finds the position stultifying. "These people, although they drive good cars, they eat well, they live well, they wear nice things – I feel their hearts are empty," he said.
Bao wants to be a shaman – for weeks in a row he'll dream of flying, which he takes as a cosmic sign. Yet his father, like so many in China, is a pragmatist. "He thinks it'd be best if I find my own career," said Bao. "Even if I don't become a shaman, I'll still be a shaman's son, and I'll dedicate myself to researching shamanism, developing the field. I think this is my life's mission."
Erdemt himself knew nothing of shamanism as a child. He spent his formative years in a felt-lined tent on the grasslands, frequently skipping school to help his parents herd. During Mao's Cultural Revolution, the religion was dubbed "feudal superstition" and banned. One of his neighbours was beaten for practising it openly, and decades of silence followed suit.
The shaman grew to middle age. He married and had two children, both of whom learned to rear sheep before they were packed off to university. The coal boom came suddenly, and in 2007, his pastures began to wilt; a summer hailstorm decimated his livestock. Newly destitute, he considered his options and moved to Xi Wuqi, where he found a part-time job unloading trucks.
His wife bought buckets of sheep's milk and processed it into dried yogurt, a traditional Mongolian snack, which she sold to local markets. They were desperate to return to the grasslands.
Around that time, Erdemt began to have strange dreams, he says. Some involved tigers; in one, snakes writhed around his body. He discovered within himself an extraordinary aptitude for prediction, allowing him to foretell chance encounters with old friends.
One day in 2009, he quit his job and took a bus to Ordos, a gleaming new city in the area's arid west which, like Xi Wuqi, was built to accommodate the coal boom. There, amid empty skyscrapers and vast, dusty boulevards, he met a friend whose brother owned a brick factory in Mongolia; the brother knew a master shaman in the country's capital, Ulan Bator.
Erdemt applied for a passport, hopped on a cross-border train, and showed up at the shaman's house carrying his suitcases. For 27 days, he memorised ancient texts and fine-tuned elaborate rituals; he returned to Xi Wuqi carrying a sheepskin drum, confident about his future.
The decision has served him well, he says. Moving back to the grasslands is no longer a priority.
China detains teenager over web post amid social media crackdown
Purge of 'internet rumours' and 'fabricated facts' continues after 16-year-old blamed 'corrupt police' for man's death on Weibo
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 12.08 BST
Chinese authorities have detained a 16-year-old schoolboy for posting "fabricated facts" on the internet amid an extensive crackdown on the country's relatively free-wheeling online communities.
The boy from Zhangjiachuan county in north-west Gansu province, identified only by his surname, Yang, was detained after rebuking local police on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging service. Local authorities have accused Yang of "picking quarrels and provoking disputes", Chinese media reported.
This summer, Beijing launched a draconian campaign against what it calls "internet rumours", a thinly veiled move to tighten its grip over the censored, yet often surprisingly critical, online communities. On 9 September, China's top court and prosecutor issued a new "judicial interpretation" stipulating that an internet user could be sentenced to three years in jail for posting a "defamatory" message that receives more than 5,000 views or is forwarded more than 500 times.
Yang questioned the local police force's conduct after a corpse was found outside a karaoke parlour earlier this month, according to the Jinghua Times, a Beijing newspaper which first reported the case. The police claimed the man died of a head injury after falling from a high place. On 14 September, Yang wrote on his Weibo page that the man had been murdered.
Yang suggested a coverup: "The karaoke parlour boss is an employee of the court, and there's been a conflict between the police and the masses – they beat up the dead man's family members," said the post, which briefly went viral and was subsequently deleted. The county court said on its own Weibo page that Yang had "fabricated facts", and that the parlour boss was actually a court employee's spouse.
The anti-rumour crackdown has brought down other, more high-profile figures in recent weeks. In late August, authorities arrested Charles Xue, an outspoken Chinese-American venture capitalist with 12m Weibo followers, for soliciting a prostitute. Soon afterwards, Xue appeared handcuffed on state television to apologise for "irresponsibly" posting uncorroborated content to his Weibo page. "Freedom of speech cannot override the law," he said.
Many Weibo users reacted to news of the teenager's detention with outrage. On Friday, user Li Wenbo wrote: "Who is to judge if something is a rumour or not? What kind of institution dares to say its judgment is correct? What if it's wrong?"
The post has since been deleted.
Argentina calls for extradition of Francoists over human rights abuses
Judge issues warrants under international law after Spain refuses to investigate cases because of 1977 amnesty laws
Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 19.38 BST
Argentina has called for the extradition of four Spanish former officials accused of torturing victims of the Franco regime in a decision described as historic by the lawyers and human rights activists who brought the case.
As in the case of Augusto Pinochet – the former Chilean dictator whose arrest was ordered by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón in 1998 – an Argentinian judge issued warrants for the four men under an international law allowing human rights abuses to be investigated and tried elsewhere if the country in which they occurred does not do so.
"It is an historic moment for thousands of victims of the Franco regime. The impunity which has covered up these crimes for so many years has finally been breached. We have a long way to go, but we are now on track," said Maria Arcenegui Siemens, spokeswoman for Ceaqua, a support group for the victims.
The alleged abuses took place between 1936 and 1977, and include crimes allegedly committed by José Antonio González Pacheco, known as "Billy the Kid", said to have been one of the most sadistic of the dictator's henchmen. He and his fellow accused, Jesús Aguilar, Celso Galván Abascal and José Ignacio Giralte, are in their 60s and 70s and live in Spain.
Garzón previously employed the same legal principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the Argentinian navy captain Adolfo Scilingo in Madrid in 2005. Scilingo, who threw prisoners to their death from planes, was convicted of crimes against humanity and jailed for a total of 640 years. Garzón has led the push to have Franco's crimes investigated in Spain, but so far without success.
Spanish amnesty laws, brought in in 1977 as the country made the transition from dictatorship to democracy, prevent its courts from investigating crimes committed by the authorities before 1976. General Franco died in 1975. After the victims of Franco failed to get redress in the Spanish courts, they took their cases to Argentina in 2010. Argentinian judge María Servini de Cubría Servini petitioned Spain to look into the alleged torture, but has now taken matters into her own hands, declaring her court competent to try the cases.
Emilio Silva, president of the Commission for the Recovery of the Historic Memory, described himself as "very happy" about her decision, but said that it was "a shame that it hadn't already happened in Spain. But whatever way we can find to investigate the crimes of Franco is a good thing".
But, he added, "Nothing is going to change, because the [Spanish] government is not going to collaborate with the Argentinian justice system. I will be very interested to know know what explanations they will give for protecting these four criminals. Spain is a country with a culture of impunity, as much in cases of corruption as these examples of torture under Franco."
The cases involve several people killed or "disappeared" by death squads in the early days of the Spanish civil war in 1936, when Franco helped lead a rightwing uprising against the democratically elected government. But some cases extend deep into the fourth decade of his dictatorship, including that of Silvia Carretero, arrested and allegedly tortured in 1975, and her husband, José Luis Sánchez Bravo, who was shot by firing squad after he was found guilty of killing a police officer.
Venezuela complains U.S. denied airspace for Maduro’s trip to China
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 19, 2013 21:27 EDT
The United States has refused permission for President Nicolas Maduro’s plane to fly through its airspace when the Venezuelan leader travels to China this weekend, Caracas said Thursday.
Maduro’s government received word from US authorities that the plane was denied rights to American airspace over the Atlantic, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters in decrying the decision as an “insult.”
“We denounce this as another insult of North American imperialism against the government,” Jaua said.
“No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit. There is no valid argument to refuse airspace.”
The foreign minister, who is set to travel with Maduro to Beijing, said he hopes US authorities will “rectify the error,” which he blamed on lower-level officials.
Jaua said Maduro will not delay his trip, so the government is exploring alternative flight plans.
Venezuela and the United States were often at odds during the 14-year rule of the recently deceased Hugo Chavez and the two countries have not had ambassadors in each others’ capitals since 2010.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
September 19, 2013
At Every Corner, From Deaf Man to Danger, Hints of a Colorful Past
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
CARACAS, Venezuela — In Caracas, you can live between Danger and Keep Your Eyes Peeled. Or between Hope and Faith, just a short walk from Eternity. At Restaurante Gallegos, one of several restaurants with similar names, prospective diners often call to ask, “Are you the one on Dead Man’s Corner?”
The city today is a traffic-choked, graffiti-smeared, hyperbolically violent capital where spasmodic bouts of modernization over the years have left little of the colonial charm of some other South American cities. Yet Caracas is also an urban palimpsest, where its past character can still be read amid the concrete.
Here buildings have names instead of numbers. Yet street names are unknown to many people, including, at times, the name of the street they live on. As a result, asking directions can lead to a long recitation of landmarks, like a Hemingway short story: “Go past the pharmacy to the top of the hill till you see the big tree and turn right. ...”
And in one of this city’s most endearing quirks, the street corners themselves have names, often ones that point to a colorful history.
“In all of Venezuela there’s only one Dead Man’s Corner,” said José Goncalves, 77, the owner of a butcher shop there. On a map, Mr. Goncalves’s shop is at the intersection of East 14 and South 5 Avenues. But no one, he said, uses those names. If he needs to tell someone where his shop is, he simply says to look for him on Dead Man’s Corner.
“That never fails me,” he said. Even his telephone bill comes addressed that way.
As with many of the intersections in this part of Caracas, there are multiple stories, or legends, to explain how Dead Man’s Corner got its name. A customer in Mr. Goncalves’s store one recent morning declared that many years ago a dying man asked to have his wake held at that intersection.
Not so, said Mr. Goncalves, who has owned the shop for 38 years.
There used to be a brass plaque on the outside of his building, he said, put up by the city to tell the story — although, this being Caracas, it was stolen long ago. The plaque, he recalled, said that there had been a deadly epidemic in the city. Soldiers were sent out to collect the dead, and as they were passing this spot with a cart piled with bodies, one of the supposed cadavers sat up and cried out to let people know he was not as dead as he seemed.
Another version, told in a book called “The Corners of Caracas,” published in the 1950s, says that the name is derived from one of the civil wars that ravaged Venezuela in the 19th century. A battle between rival bands left the dead rotting in the streets. As some soldiers were carrying what they thought was a corpse to the cemetery, the man sat up in the stretcher and said, “Don’t take me to be buried, because I’m alive.” The panicked soldiers, the book says, dropped their load and dashed off.
The names, which apply to all the corners at an intersection, are found only in the center of the city, in an area radiating from the old colonial main square. A popular pocket-size book of maps says there are 305 of them.
Some corners fit their names.
Misery Corner is down at heel. A building painted bright green and yellow stands at Parrot Corner. The main office of the national prosecutor is halfway between Mercy and Keep Your Eyes Peeled.
Others corners do not.
On a recent morning two drunks fought, flailing at each other ineffectually, at the corner known as Eternity. The Corner of the Upside-Down Christ is wholly nondescript (the legend goes that a shoemaker whose shop was once there was short on work, so, following local tradition, he turned a small statue of Christ in his workshop upside down to “punish” it for not sending him more clients).
Some corners come in groups.
A person walking along South 15 Avenue (almost certainly unaware of the street name) will go past a series of corners in this order: Checkpoint Corner, Danger Corner and Keep Your Eyes Peeled. In past years the walker could have gone one block farther to reach Off With Your Underpants Corner, which was eliminated when a school was built on the spot.
Alex Reyes, 31, an assistant in a pharmacy two doors from Keep Your Eyes Peeled Corner, said the names reflected the area’s edgy reputation at the time they were coined. He speculated that there was once a police checkpoint at the corner of that name and that the farther away one got from the checkpoint the more perilous things became, until the spot where the thieves were so ruthless they stripped people bare.
Asked if Keep Your Eyes Peeled was still a dangerous spot, he laughed and gave a typically fatalistic response, characteristic of a city with one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, “These days, any part of Caracas is dangerous.”
The corner names reflect the city’s preoccupations. There are more than two dozen named after saints, and there are corners named for the Rosary, Charity, Faith and Eternity.
Some reflect the urban landscape, past or present: Hospital, New Bridge, the Old Barracks, the Brewery, the Steps.
Some are named after animals: there is a Lion, a Vulture and the Corner of the Little Birds (one that might take on new resonance now that President Nicolás Maduro has famously said that his dead predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, visited him in the form of a little bird).
Some names conjure stories. The Corner of the Lonely Soul is rather far from the Corner of God’s Grace and uncomfortably close to the Corner of the Lion.
Others are simply intriguing: Trick Corner, Fat Lady, Deaf Man, the Duck’s Tail, Joy.
Caracas is a Caribbean city with vivacious people and often glorious weather. But 14 years of self-proclaimed revolution have produced a city that, like the country beyond, is deeply divided between government supporters and opponents.
Corruption and bad management have left large parts of the city in poor repair, and unremitting violence — murders, muggings and kidnappings are epidemic — has severed the ties of many people, especially in the middle class, to their city.
“Caracas was something you saw through your car window, through the window of your house,” Stefany Da Costa, 29, said. “People stopped walking in the city.”
Last year, Ms. Da Costa and a friend, Adriana Arias, 29, started a company called Urbanimia, giving walking tours of Caracas landmarks and becoming part of a movement to retake and reassess Caracas. Their most popular route covers the street corners and the stories behind them.
Mr. Reyes, who works in the pharmacy at Keep Your Eyes Peeled, said that the corner names were a welcome holdover from the days when Caracas was a small city known for its colorful tile roofs.
“It’s a reminder of another era, of the Caracas of red roofs, when everyone treated each other properly and with respect, when people greeted each other with ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon,’ ” he said. “It was a simpler time.”
Syrian government says war has reached stalemate
Exclusive: Deputy PM says neither side is strong enough to win and government may call for ceasefire at Geneva talks
Jonathan Steele in Damascus
The Guardian, Thursday 19 September 2013 19.07 BST
The Syrian conflict has reached a stalemate and President Bashar al-Assad's government will call for a ceasefire at a long-delayed conference in Geneva on the state's future, the country's deputy prime minister has said in an interview with the Guardian.
Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country's finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses.
"Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," he said. "This zero balance of forces will not change for a while."
Meanwhile, he said, the Syrian economy had lost about $100bn (£62bn), equivalent to two years of normal production, during the war.
If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept "under international observation", which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said.
Leaders of Syria's armed opposition have repeatedly refused to go to what is called Geneva Two unless Assad first resigns. An earlier conference on Syria at Geneva lasted for just one day in June last year and no Syrians attended.
Jamil's comments are the first indication of the proposals that Syria will bring to the table at the summit, which Russia and the US have been trying to convene for months.
Asked what proposals his government would make at Geneva, he said: "An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way."
Although both Moscow and the Obama administration seem committed to convening Geneva Two, a major split has emerged between Russia and the US over who should take part. The US has been urging the Syrian National Coalition, the western-backed rebel group, to drop its boycott but wants the SNC to be the only opposition delegation.
"The paradox now is that the US is trying to give the SNC the leading role. We're fed up with this monopolistic view," Jamil said.
Jamil is one of two cabinet ministers from small secular parties who were appointed last year to end the monopoly of the Ba'ath party.
By joining the government, he said, "we wanted to give a lesson to both sides to prepare for a government of national unity and break the unilateral aspect of the regime – and break the fear in opposition circles about sitting in front of the regime".
Jamil's comments on why he joined the cabinet were those of his party, but his other comments in the hour-long interview represented the government's position, he said.
He repeatedly stressed Syria was changing but it needed support rather than pressure. "Let nobody have any fear that the regime in its present form will continue. For all practical purposes the regime in its previous form has ended. In order to realise our progressive reforms we need the west and all those who are involved in Syria to get off our shoulders," he said.
Jamil said that last week's UN report on the 21 August chemical weapons attack which killed more than 1,000 people was "not thoroughly objective".
He said Russia had produced evidence showing the rockets that were identified by the UN inspectors as carrying sarin were indeed Soviet-made. But he said they had been exported from Russia to Libya in the 1970s.
"They were loaded with chemicals by Gaddafi and exported to fundamentalists in Syria after Gaddafi fell," he said.
On Friday Vladimir Putin said he could not be sure that Assad would fulfil the US-Russian plan to identify and destroy his chemical weapons stocks, but "all the signs" suggested the Syrian regime was serious.
"Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100% sure about it," said Putin, speaking at a discussion forum with western politicians and Russia experts in the north-west of the country. "But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen … I hope so."
Details of Russia's position on who should represent the opposition at Geneva Two have also emerged. Members of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, an umbrella group for several internal parties, met Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, in Damascus on Thursday evening.
Safwan Akkash, an NCB leader, told the Guardian afterwards that Ryabkov told them Russia was proposing there should be three opposition teams at Geneva. These should be the NCB, the Syrian National Coalition, and a combined delegation of Kurds.
The SNC, while cautiously accepting Geneva Two as a means of breaking an entrenched stalemate, insists that Assad's resignation remains non-negotiable.
It is also sticking to a position that a transitional government must follow the ousting of Assad.
It has remained insistent that those who carried out the chemical attack must be held to account – a point it has hammered home ever since the Russian-US deal to force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpiles.
• This article was amended overnight on 19-20 September 2013. It originally attributed the use of the term 'civil war' to Qadri Jamil. He did not use this term during the interview. This has been corrected.
Syria's war more complex than ever as both sides face internal divisions
Fighting at a stalemate with jihadists taking over from moderate opposition while Hezbollah and foreign Shia fighters join Assad
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 20.01 BST
The battlefields of Syria are now more complex than they have been at any point during the civil war. With plans for a second Geneva peace conference again percolating, it remains unclear who the anti-Assad opposition might send, or who they might claim to represent.
Ground into what even Syria's deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil admits is a stalemate, and lured towards an increasingly violent standoff with jihadist groups, Syria's moderate or mainstream armed opposition have had few wins lately. Two and a half years into the war, the common ground staked out at the start is now a bitterly contested field of competing interests that seriously imperil the opposition's reason for taking up arms in the first place.
More than 1,000 units now make up the anti-Assad forces, and while many can still unite behind the stated common cause of ousting the president, many others show no such discipline or even a will to work towards a pluralistic, democratic society if, or when, the Syrian leader falls.
Things are no less complex on the regime side. The standing Syrian military has been supplemented by a home defence force, the clout of Hezbollah and a large number of Shia fighters from outside Syria who have increasingly taken positions at the vanguard of the fighting.
This year, northern Syria has seen a steady and significant shift in the groups lining up against the regime and in the influence that they bring to the battle. Every month since the beginning of Ramadan in July 2012, jihadist groups have increased in numbers and prominence. The regime has lost significant ground here which it is unable to retake.
Jabhat al-Nusra was the standard bearer of the early days of the jihadist insurgency and by November 2012 it was either jointly leading operations with mainstream groups or taking the outright lead on many of the battles fought for the north.
By early this year, its ranks had been swelled by foreign jihadists who had flocked to Syria – many of them through Turkey. The foreigners called themselves al-Muhajirin, and by March had started to form their own units in the Aleppo and Idlib countryside, as well as in the Jebel al-Krud plateau north of Latakia and in eastern Syria, where the oilfields proved attractive, as did the corridor to Anbar in Iraq, where a rejuvenated al-Qaida insurgency is again wreaking havoc.
In May, the potency of Iraq's born-again jihad made its way to Syria, with a group loyal to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, breaking away from al-Nusra and later subsuming the group in much of the north. The new group, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria, has taken a more hardline stance than even al-Nusra, clashing with units aligned to the Free Syrian Army and attempting to impose its will on the societies that now reluctantly host its members.
All the while, mainstream units in the north have repeated the refrain that they cannot fight al-Qaida at the same time as they are struggling to defeat the regime.
In central Syria, jihadist groups do not have the same presence. The war around the cities of Homs and Hama is by and large a standoff between Free Syrian Army units, who are armed by a military council that reports to the Turkey-based Syrian civil opposition, and a regime that is slowly gaining ground with the help of its powerful backers.
Syria's Alawite minority communities are nearly all in the centre of the country. So too are Shia and Christian villages, which have remained loyal to Assad. The battle here matters greatly to the regime and to its key patron, Iran, with both determined to make sure that the heartland retains a contiguous link to the north-west coast and to the capital, Damascus, no matter what happens in the rest of the country.
In Damascus the regime retains control of the area that matters most to it – the central city that houses most government institutions, the presidential palace and the core of the security establishment.
Opposition attempts to make inroads into the power base have been unsuccessful. But rebels have remained firmly entrenched in the east of the city, despite repeated bombardments over many months and – according to the UN, Nato, much of Europe, the US and the Arab League – a chemical weapons attack carried out by the regime that killed more than 1,000 people.
While the regime is not losing the capital, it is not winning it either. Its gains in the centre have been offset by losses in the north that have put Aleppo and the oilfields out of its reach. Despite Assad's claims of sweeping battlefield gains, his deputy prime minister has a more realistic take on things; the civil war seems unwinnable for either side.
Tunisian women ‘waging sex jihad in Syria’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 20, 2013 7:32 EDT
Tunisian women have travelled to Syria to wage “sex jihad” by comforting Islamist fighters battling the regime there, Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou has told MPs.
“They have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100″ militants, the minister told members of the National Constituent Assembly on Thursday.
“After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of ‘jihad al-nikah’ — (sexual holy war, in Arabic) — they come home pregnant,” Ben Jeddou told the MPs.
He did not elaborate on how many Tunisian women had returned to the country pregnant with the children of jihadist fighters.
Jihad al-nikah, permitting extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners, is considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.
The minister also did not say how many Tunisian women were thought to have gone to Syria for such a purpose, although media reports have said hundreds have done so.
Hundreds of Tunisian men have also gone to join the ranks of the jihadists fighting to bring down the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, Ben Jeddou also said that since he assumed office in March, “six thousand of our young people have been prevented from going there” to Syria.
He has said in the past that border controls have been boosted to intercept young Tunisians seeking to travel to Syria.
Media reports say thousands of Tunisians have, over the past 15 years, joined jihadists across the world in Afghanistan Iraq and Syria, mainly travelling via Turkey or Libya.
Abu Iyadh, who leads the country’s main Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia, is the suspected organiser of a deadly attack last year on the US embassy in Tunis and an Afghanistan veteran.
He was joint leader of a group responsible for the September 9, 2001 assassination in Afghanistan of anti-Taliban Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud by suicide bombers.
That attack came just two days before the deadly Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and Pentagon in Washington.
Yemen violence: 30 killed in twin attack on military
Officials believe members of al-Qaida behind bomb attacks on military camp in Shabwa province
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 10.00 BST
About 30 people have been killed in two attacks on military targets in southern Yemen, a local security source said.
Approximately 20 people were killed early on Friday when two car bombs exploded at a military camp in al-Nashama in Shabwa province, the source said. Gunmen also killed about 10 members of a military patrol in the town of Mayfaa.
Officials believe members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) were behind the bomb attack, the source said.
A concealed bomb in one car exploded among a group of soldiers at the gate as the driver sought to enter the camp. The other was already inside the camp when it detonated, he added.
Shabwa province, a lawless and rugged part of Yemen, has been the scene of fighting in recent years between Islamist militants and the security forces.
Maintaining stability in impoverished Yemen is a priority for Washington and Gulf states because of its location next to major oil shipping routes and Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.
Aqap is seen by western countries as one of the most dangerous branches of al-Qaida because it has attempted to carry out bombings on international airlines.
The group and allied local Islamist militants took advantage of political chaos in Yemen during the Arab spring in 2011 to seize control of some towns and surrounding areas in the south of the country.
They were beaten back by Yemeni forces with assistance from the US last year but have continued to stage attacks against government and military targets.