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« Reply #8865 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Anglicans appoint first female bishop in UK and Ireland

Rev Pat Storey makes history in being elected bishop of Meath and Kildare by Church of Ireland

Staff and agencies
The Guardian, Friday 20 September 2013 15.57 BST   

Anglicans have appointed the UK and Ireland's first female bishop. The Rev Pat Storey, rector of St Augustine's in Derry, has been elected by the Church of Ireland as the new bishop of Meath and Kildare.

Storey, a married mother of two, who grew up in Belfast, said she was excited and daunted by the historic appointment.

The Anglican churches in Ireland, Wales and Scotland have the power to appoint female bishops, but Ireland is the first to do so. The church in England has been embroiled in a long-standing row over the issue. The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said he wants to consecrate the first female bishop as soon as possible.

Storey said: "I have had an extraordinarily happy experience in St Augustine's and in this wonderful city, which I will be sad to leave. However, I count it an enormous privilege to begin a new phase of my ministry with the people of Meath and Kildare, and I look forward to working with the team of clergy who are already there."

The archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, said the appointment would bring delight to many across the Church of Ireland and throughout the Anglican communion.

"Pat herself brings to this work of God a warm personality and a breadth of spiritual gifts to share generously in the church and in the community," he said.

Storey, 53, studied French and English at Trinity College Dublin before training at the Church of Ireland Theological College.

She was ordained a deacon in 1997 and a priest the following year. The bishop-elect has been rector of St Augustine's in Derry since 2004.

She is married to the Rev Earl Storey and has two adult children, Carolyn, 25, and Luke, 22.

She will take over as the new bishop from Dr Richard Clarke, who was appointed archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland last December. The appointment was passed by the House of Bishops after the Episcopal Electoral College failed to elect a successor in May.

Clarke, the Church of Ireland's most senior leader, has known Storey since she was at Trinity College Dublin, where he was chaplain.

"She is a person of great warmth, intelligence and spiritual depth and I am certain that her ministry in the dioceses of Meath and Kildare and the wider church will be a blessing to many," he said.


Female bishops voted in by Church in Wales

Supporters and women's rights groups call decision long overdue, as Church of England comes under pressure to allow ordination of women

Steven Morris   
The Guardian, Thursday 12 September 2013 19.11 BST   

The Church of England will come under increasing pressure to appoint female bishops after Anglicans in Wales on Thursday voted to allow women to be ordained in the most senior posts there.

There were cheers after the governing body of the Church in Wales ruled that from around this time next year women will be able to become bishops. Supporters and women's rights groups called the decision long overdue, arguing the exclusion of women from the top roles made the church less relevant in modern society.

The decision adds to the pressure on the Church of England to follow suit – given that Scotland and Northern Ireland already allow female bishops. In England the issue is due to be discussed again in November; the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said there are "good signs" that the ordination of female bishops will be approved.

Before the debate the archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said it made "no theological sense" not to ordain women as bishops when the church already allowed them to become deacons and priests.

During a passionate debate among the 144 members of the Church in Wales's governing body in Lampeter, south-west Wales, Canon Jenny Wigley, from Radyr in Cardiff, asserted that the Bible says there should be no differences between people.

"It's Christ-like people that the church chooses as bishops, and I hope and pray that the Church in Wales gives an unqualified and unreserved yes to the Christ-like qualities of our women priests alongside our men," she said.

Canon Patrick Thomas of Christ Church, Carmarthen, said: "I'm happy with Bishop Wyn [referring to the bishop of St David's, Wyn Evans] but would be just as happy with Bishop Wynona."

However, some critics claimed that Christ had chosen only men as apostles. Father Ben Andrews, from Barry, said it could be difficult for some people to stay in the church if female bishops were allowed. "The bishop's role is to hold the diocese together, and for those of us who in good conscience cannot accept the sacramental ministry of a woman bishop means we cannot be in communion with that bishop," he said.

"We are told we have an honoured place within the church but that place is going to be difficult if not impossible for us to remain. There may come a time when it is impossible for me to function as a priest in the Church in Wales."

A two-thirds majority was needed in each of the governing body's three houses – laity, clergy and bishops. In the end it was fairly comfortable for those in favour of change. Laity voted 57 for and 14 against, with clergy backing the move 37 to 10. The bishops voted unanimously in favour.

One possible way forward for those against the reform had been for a change in the church's constitution to be brought in to cater for priests who did not want to be led by a woman. This would have required a further vote. Instead, the governing body decided that it would be sufficient for bishops to draw up a code of practice.

This result is bound to lead to supporters of female bishops in England to call for a similar scheme to be introduced. In England the General Synod narrowly voted against legislation last year to allow women to become bishops.

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« Reply #8866 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Venice residents to stage canal-bank protest over cruise ship invasion

St Mark's Basin will be turned into a motorway when 13 cruise ships travel through in one day, say protesters

Lizzy Davies, Rome correspondent, Friday 20 September 2013 17.06 BST   

Residents of the beautiful, fragile city of Venice are preparing to stage a canal-bank protest on Saturday over an invasion of up to 13 cruise ships in the space of 24 hours, which they say will turn St Mark's Basin into a motorway.

The particularly busy weekend, apparently caused by a quirk in the cruise ship calendar, has reignited growing fears over the impact the vessels are having on the city and the alleged risk they pose to its infrastructure and inhabitants.

The groundswell of popular consternation has swept up Adriano Celentano, one of Italy's most famous singers, who took out a page in the country's biggest-selling daily newspaper to voice his anger.

"Tomorrow will not be a nice day for our city, even if the sun is out," declared the 75-year-old in an advert in Corriere della Sera, half of which was taken up with a black and white photograph of himself.

"With the ignoble procession of 13 ships in the Venice lagoon comes the Eternal Funeral of the world's beauties," he added.

Celentano is far from alone in his concern.

Silvio Testa, spokesman for the No Big Ships (No Grandi Navi) committee, which has been fighting against the rising traffic of cruise ships in Venice, has called on residents to attend a vigorous protest on the narrow Giudecca canal – a strip that cruise ships sail down daily, usually in far smaller numbers.

"We want to say 'enough' to this situation," Testa told La Nuova Venezia newspaper. "St Mark's Basin is like a motorway. Soon we'll have to put traffic lights up."

An estimated 40,000 tourists will be brought into Venice on board the cruise ships on Saturday and Sunday. Some view the influx of visitors as a much-needed economic boost, with tourists spending and thousands of locals employed in jobs related to the industry. But others fear the shiploads of tourists encourage a "Disney-fication" of their city – already one of the most visited in Europe. The number of tourists arriving in Venice on board cruise ships rose from below 100,000 passengers in 1999 to 1.7 million in 2012.

In a year that has seen the wrecked Costa Concordia languish off the coast of Giglio and a container ship crash into a tower in the port of Genoa, meanwhile, there are also concerns about the safety of the huge so-called floating palaces.

Earlier this summer, a large ship was alleged to have come within 20 metres of the shore and almost squashed a vaporetto, or water bus. Owner Carnival denied the incident, saying the report was mistaken and photographs had distorted the distances involved.

But Italy's environment minister, Andrea Orlando, has said that in general the issue is cause for concern. "As much as there may be a high level of professionalism in the controls and in the management of the traffic, there is always a margin of risk," he told La Stampa newspaper last week. Convinced that something needs to change, he has invited the various parties to present their suggested solutions to the government.

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« Reply #8867 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:27 AM »

Pakistan releases top Afghan Taliban prisoner in effort to boost peace process

Afghanistan's government says it hopes former Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar can play important role in talks

Agencies, Saturday 21 September 2013 12.02 BST   

Pakistan has released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner in an effort to jump-start Afghanistan's struggling peace process.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

Pakistani intelligence and security officials confirmed that he was freed on Saturday but did not provide any details, including where he had been held. Pakistan's foreign ministry had announced earlier that Baradar would be released "to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process".

Muhammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the Afghan government's council for negotiating with the Taliban, praised Baradar's release, saying: "We are very much hopeful that Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process."

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who served as foreign minister for the Taliban when the group ruled Afghanistan, also welcomed Bardar's release and cautioned Pakistan not to try to control his movements now that he is free.

"They also have to allow him contact with Taliban leaders and for him to be useful for peace in Afghanistan," Muttawakil said.

Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government's request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.

But there is no sign that the previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government. The US was reluctant to see Baradar released, believing he would also return to the battlefield.

Afghanistan has in the past called on Pakistan to release Taliban prisoners into its custody but they have instead been set free in Pakistan.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's foreign ministry, Janan Mosazai, has said Baradar must be "accessible, secure and with a known address" if he remains in Pakistan.

Afghan officials said Baradar had been arrested while he was holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government, and accused Pakistan of arresting him to sabotage or gain control of the process. Others said the US was the driving force behind his arrest.

Pakistan is a key player in Afghan peace talks because of its historical ties to the Taliban. Islamabad helped the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan in 1996 and is widely believed to have maintained ties with the group, despite official denials.

But there is also significant distrust between the two, and Pakistan has arrested dozens of Taliban members in the years following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The most recent attempt to push forward peace negotiations foundered in June in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Afghan president cancelled the talks in protest at the opening of its Doha political office with the flag, anthem and symbols of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan the group's name when they ruled the country.

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« Reply #8868 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Afghan insurgents want peace deal, says ex-Taliban minister

Agha Jan Motasim says hardliners distort leader's views and drone threat 'is silencing message of moderation'

Julian Borger, Friday 20 September 2013 18.44 BST      

A veteran Taliban leader claims that a majority of Afghan insurgents want to negotiate a peace deal but says their views have been suppressed by hardliners controlling the movement's propaganda machine.

In a rare interview, Agha Jan Motasim, who was finance minister in the Taliban regime, said statements issued in recent years in the name of the insurgent leader Mullah Omar have not reflected the fugitive cleric's true views.

"Unfortunately there are hardliners and extremists in the movement who use his name. If his messages were by video or audio, we would know it was him. But there are warmongers who have taken over his name and are putting out their own message with it," Motasim told the Guardian. Since he was wounded in an assassination attempt in Karachi two years ago, Motasim has lived in exile in Ankara.

There have been no verified recordings or sightings of Omar since his government fell and he fled to Pakistan in 2001, allowing various factions to claim to be acting in his name. There has also been speculation that the one-eyed former village cleric had died.

According to Motasim, Omar is alive but has lost control of the Taliban's public statements and communications with the outside world because his life on the run from the threat of drone attacks has ruled out regular contact with his followers.

"You have to appreciate that Mullah Omar lives in a difficult predicament. He is living in different places. He is not able to broadcast his ideas. He is on a blacklist with a bounty on his head," said Motasim. "The international community bears responsibility for this. Anyone who offers information on his whereabouts gets a reward."

Last month, the latest of the traditional Eid messages issued in Mullah Omar's name raised the possibility of a power-sharing government but ruled out a ceasefire, insisting the Taliban's enemies were being "thrashed" and would soon collapse.

Motasim said rank-and-file insurgents are less gung-ho. "A majority of the Taliban believe there is no military solution. They accept that the way out is a dialogue leading to peace. The Taliban realise that if they succeed on the battlefield it will be no success.

"It can't run a government on its own. If we get to Kabul, the first thing we'll need is doctors and others who are not with us. After all the bloodletting, we would have to work with people we are fighting."

Motasim is a former head of the political committee of the Taliban's ruling council, the Quetta Shura. He was accused by the leadership of embezzlement in 2009, but he denies any wrongdoing and insists he was never found guilty of any charge. Western diplomats believe he was ousted principally because of unauthorised efforts to set up peace talks.

He was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt on a Karachi street in August 2011, after which he fled to Turkey. He says it is unclear who tried to kill him. Western diplomats believe it was either al-Qaida or an extreme Taliban faction.

Jostling within the Taliban leadership is likely to be fuelled by the expected release on Saturday of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar after three years in Pakistani detention. Baradar is a former rival of Motasim who was widely considered to be in day-to-day control of Taliban operations and leaning towards peace talks at the time of his arrest, leading to accusations that the Pakistani security apparatus was trying to sabotage a political settlement in Afghanistan.

Motasim said he still considers himself a Taliban leader and claims to have retained considerable influence in the movement.

"I have support among all our Taliban, including the fighters and those in the media. I give advice and they come to me for advice," he said. "Not only am I a Taliban leader but I am a very active Taliban leader. I am best able to project Mullah Omar's ideas. I will lead a moderate Taliban movement towards a peace resolution."

He argued he was in a better position to lead in Ankara than in Pakistan. "Here I have better security and I am more able to keep in contact with the movement. I am directly in touch with area commanders in the south, east and west," he said.

A western source in regular contact with the Taliban confirmed recently witnessing a group of insurgent commanders consulting Motasim by Skype, and said such consultations were common.

"His significance has been largely untapped so far," said Alex Strick van Linschoten, the author of several books on the Taliban. "The longer he sits in Turkey, the less clout he will have, but he could play an extremely useful role if engaged in the right way. All of this is dependent on whether Karzai will allow this to happen."

Previous rounds of Afghan peace talks split the Taliban rank and file and the latest effort in Qatar collapsed in June when the government of President Hamid Karzai objected to the display of a Taliban flag outside its office in Doha and a plaque on the building inscribed: "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", the country's official name under the Taliban regime.

Motasim said both sides were at fault in allowing such issues of protocol to obstruct the peace process. He said there was broad support for a peace settlement and argued that there is room for substantial compromise on key issues such as girls' education.

"The Taliban of today is not the same as the Taliban of 12 years ago. We were scattered across the world and have seen a lot of the world," Motasim said. "I am an example. My family is both boys and girls and all are educated. My daughter has a master's degree and I hope she goes on to get a PhD. It is equally important for girls to be educated as boys."

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« Reply #8869 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Indian landowner tells court he was right to kill daughter and her fiance

Woman was beaten to death and her fiance beheaded in village 50 miles from Delhi

Jason Burke, south Asia correspondent, Friday 20 September 2013 16.35 BST   

An Indian landowner has told a court he was right to beat his 18-year-old daughter to death and behead her fiance.

"I have no regrets … not even a little … This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen," Narendar Barak told a local judge a day after the double killing in the Rohtak district of the relatively prosperous Haryana state in India's north-west.

His daughter, Nidhi, an arts student, and her 22-year-old friend Dharmander, an information technology student, had fled to Delhi, only 50 miles away, to get married earlier in the week. Both come from the same "ghotra", or clan-based community, and were forbidden by custom from marrying. Tradition also dictates that matches are arranged by parents rather than children.

The couple returned to their village after receiving assurances from their family that they would be allowed to marry and live peacefully, local press reports said, but were attacked by relatives shortly after arriving home. A small crowd of neighbours gathered but did not intervene, police said.

"They were killed in the house. The village is peaceful now. The father has shown no remorse, none at all," Anil Kumar, deputy superintendent of police in Rohtak told the Guardian. Five people have been taken into custody and police are searching for the murder weapons. Local media reports describe both families involved in the murder as wealthy landowners.

Indian television has screened images of the man's corpse lying in an open street. The woman was cremated in a nearby field.

In 2011 the Indian supreme court ordered that murders committed in the name of "honour" should face the death penalty.

While there are no reliable figures, studies have estimated the number of so-called honour killings in India at around 1,000 a year.

Haryana is known for its culture of patriarchal authority and violent retribution for transgression of traditions, enforced by local councils called Khap Panchayats. The foeticide of girls has led to a ratio of around 800 women to every 1,000 men in some parts of the state.

After a spate of gang-rapes of young women last year, council leaders blamed chemicals in fast food for the problem and "alluring" clothes worn by victims.

India's problems with sexual violence towards women have been highlighted by the recently concluded trial of the men who raped and murdered a 23-year-old woman in Delhi last December. But ongoing problems with "honour killings" have received less attention, though experts say the phenomena are related.

Reicha Talwar, director of the women's studies research centre at the University of Kurukshetra in Haryana, told the Guardian that a culture of impunity in the state contributed to the violence.

Kumar, the investigating officer in Rohtak, said the case was among the "rarest of the rare" and "hardly seen in Haryana".
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« Reply #8870 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:35 AM »

September 20, 2013

Amid Violence, Returning to Elections in Sri Lanka After a Void


JAFFNA, Sri Lanka — The thugs first appeared around 11:20 on Thursday night, a dozen or so men lurking outside her house. Two wore army uniforms.

Ananthi Sasitharan — a Tamil candidate in the first provincial elections to be held in 25 years in the former insurgent stronghold here — said she had woken up her three daughters and prepared for the worst. She called a few friends, who soon appeared and persuaded her and her daughters to sneak out the back. It was a good thing they left.

Ten of her supporters stayed behind to watch the house. A few started playing a Sri Lankan card game called Monkeys and Donkeys, but before they could finish even a few hands, four trucks pulled up outside and disgorged more than 100 men. Most of them were wearing army uniforms and carrying guns and wooden clubs, according to the accounts of several witnesses.

“Where’s Ananthi?” the thugs started shouting. “Where’s Ananthi?”

And then they attacked.

Four years after Sri Lanka’s long civil war came to a bloody end, the first provincial council elections since 1988 are being held Saturday in the country’s Tamil-dominated north amid sporadic reports of violence and intimidation. There are many Tamil parties vying for seats under the flag of the Tamil National Alliance, competing with candidates from the governing coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, which controls more than two-thirds of the national Parliament.

The council is fairly toothless, because President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has centralized much of the government’s powers in his and his family’s hands. But the election has become an important symbol to the Tamil people as well as to international monitors about whether the Rajapaksas are willing to countenance even cosmetic steps toward reconciliation with the Tamils.

“The military has been visiting houses all over the area and telling people not to vote for the Tamil National Alliance,” Mavai S. Senathirajah, deputy leader of the Tamil alliance, said in an interview. “We will not be intimidated.”

The war’s end has been beneficial to Sri Lanka, an island of about 20 million people split between the dominant Singhalese and the minority Tamil. Roads have been rebuilt, tourists have returned to its crystalline beaches and tea estates, and the pervading sense of unease that gripped the country for decades has largely evaporated. New train tracks have nearly reached Jaffna, at the northern tip of the island.

Yet, signs of the violent past remain. Destroyed houses, burned-out churches and the broken carcass of a water tower still litter the landscape in once war-torn areas. There is growing evidence that in the course of war the Sri Lankan government may have killed as many as 40,000 people — many of them innocent civilians — particularly at the close of the war. The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted repeatedly to condemn the government’s failure to investigate potential war crimes even as a string of shocking videos that appear to show the murders of innocents leaks out of the country.

The Rajapaksa government, meanwhile, has undermined the independence of both the judiciary and the news media. Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, accused the government last month of “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.” On Friday, Ms. Pillay accused the Sri Lankan government of waging a disinformation campaign against her.

For the Rajapaksa government, the international criticism is worrisome. The Sri Lankan economy depends on tourism and foreign investment, and in November the country will host a summit meeting of Commonwealth leaders, a diplomatic coup. Many of the top hotels in the capital, Colombo, are undergoing renovations to ready themselves for the delegations.

An election in the northern province that is judged as free and fair could help improve the country’s international reputation. But it is far from clear that election monitors will bless the effort.

On Friday, Rohana Hettiarachchie, the executive director of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, a domestic independent monitoring group, confirmed in a telephone interview that those who had attacked Ms. Sasitharan’s house had been wearing uniforms “similar to those worn by the army.”

But Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya, a military spokesman, said by telephone that “there was no involvement on the part of the army.” He said the army was cooperating in an investigation of the matter.

Ms. Sasitharan is contesting the elections in part to pressure the government to release her husband, a political officer for the Tamil Tigers who she believes has been in government custody for four years, a charge the government has denied.

“Earlier this month, there were several others who were released, and they told me that they have seen my husband in custody and that I needed to keep pressing for his release,” she said in an interview.

But she keeps being attacked, Ms. Sasitharan said, in an intimidation campaign aimed at getting her to drop out. Two weeks ago, army officers stoned her car while she was still in it, and she barely escaped injury, she said.

And then there was the attack Thursday.

Pakeerathan Sriskantharajah, 22, was among those who stayed behind to watch Ms. Sasitharan’s house. When the mob struck, he raced upstairs and hid in a passageway between the roof and ceiling. But he put his foot through the ceiling just as the intruders entered the house, and they beat him badly.

“They kept asking where Ananthi was,” he said in an interview, his hands and head bandaged. “We didn’t tell them, so they beat me on my legs, back, head and hands. They broke my fingers.”

The Tamil National Alliance is expected to win control of the northern provincial council, but the margin of victory could prove crucial to the alliance’s efforts to push for greater autonomy over police and land decisions.

President Rajapaksa remains popular in much of the country, where he is still given credit for ending the war successfully. Two other provinces are also holding elections Saturday, and in those the governing coalition is expected to win.

At the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the holiest place in Sri Lanka, Nanda, 80, who has one name, said Thursday that she would give her vote to the governing alliance.

“I feel the president has brought stability to the country, and that’s what we need,” Nanda said.

In 1998, the Tamil Tigers attacked the temple, which is said to hold one of Lord Buddha’s teeth, and killed 16 people. The attack shocked the nation, and Nanda said she could still remember being horrified by it.

But just outside the temple, W. J. Wijeratne, owner of P & A Jewelers, said he planned to vote for the United National Party, the principal opposition, even though he suspected that the government would steal the results.

“Everything in this country is being given to the president’s family,” he said.

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« Reply #8871 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Bangladesh garment workers demand $100 a month minimum wage

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, September 21, 2013 7:06 EDT

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers blocked roads and attacked factories outside the capital Dhaka on Saturday demanding a $100 minimum monthly wage.

The workers, many carrying sticks, walked off the job in dozens of garment factories, which make apparel for the world’s top retailers such as Walmart, and protested for hours on highways in the major industrial areas of Gazipur, Mouchak and Ashulia.

“There were at least 20,000 workers who joined the protest. They blocked roads, demanding a big salary hike,” Mustafizur Rahman, deputy police chief of the industrial district of Gazipur, told AFP.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter with apparel shipments from its 4,500 garment factories accounting for 80 percent of its $27-billion annual exports.

But the vast majority of the impoverished nation’s three million workers earn a basic monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38) — among the lowest in the in the world — following a tripartite deal between unions, the government and manufacturers in August 2010.

Dozens of factories were forced to shut Saturday as workers left their machines. Angry demonstrators hurled bricks and stones at the outsides of some 20 factories after they refused to allow some employees to join the protests, Rahman said.

“The situation is now calm as the workers have since marched to Dhaka to join a rally. Road transport on the highways has also resumed,” he said, adding that the march in the capital was peaceful.

In June this year, the government set up a panel to review salaries and unions have demanded an 8,114 taka ($100) minumum monthly wage.

Factory owners have rejected the demand, saying they can raise wages by only 20 percent to 3,600 taka due to gloomy global economic conditions.

Saturday’s protest was the first large-scale demonstration for pay hikes since the union put forward the $100 demand to the government panel late last month.

Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions have shaken Bangladesh’s garment sector, the country’s economic mainstay, since April when a factory complex collapsed, killing over 1,100 people.

The disaster highlighted appalling working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment factories, where workers toil for 10-12 hours a day for low wages.

Widespread protests for wage hikes in 2006 and 2010 led to deadly clashes, leaving dozens of workers dead and hundreds of factories vandalised.

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« Reply #8872 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:47 AM »

China will negotiate on nationalized islands if Japan admits they’re in dispute

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 20, 2013 22:52 EDT

China said Friday that it was ready to talk to Japan over an increasingly heated maritime row, but only if Tokyo declares the islands to be disputed.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi faced questions about ties with the U.S. ally during a visit to Washington, where he called for mutual respect in relations between the United States and a growing China.

Wang laid blame for tensions on Japan, which in September 2012 nationalised the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japanese and as the Diaoyus in Chinese.

“In spite of this, we are still ready to sit down and have a dialogue with the Japanese to work out jointly a way to manage the current situation,” Wang said at the Brookings Institution.

“But first, Japan needs to recognize that there is such a dispute. The whole world knows that there is a dispute,” he added.

“I believe there will be a day when the Japanese come back to the table of dialogue.”

Japan contends that China has no historical basis to claim the islands and charges that Beijing is trying to stake a claim through military intimidation.

Japan’s coast guard reported Thursday that two Chinese ships entered waters near the islands in the latest such incursion in the potentially energy-rich area.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meeting briefly this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Russia, called for an improvement in relations between Asia’s two largest economies.

But the conservative prime minister has also pledged a firm line on defending sovereignty and has moved to step up officially pacifist Japan’s defense spending and cooperation with the United States.

A previous Japanese government said it bought the islands from private owners to ward off a more provocative plan by outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara, who then headed Tokyo’s metropolitan government.

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« Reply #8873 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:51 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Moroccan rights groups move to challenge repressive police

The violent dispersal of protests last month, and rights groups' demands for a judicial inquiry, suggests politics in Morocco may be shifting into uncharted territory.

By Ilhem Rachidi, Correspondent / September 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm EDT
Rabat, Morocco

Human right s groups have demanded a judicial investigation into why Moroccan police violently broke up a protest last month, in a unusually defiant move against the country’s increasingly repressive security forces.

A total of 22 rights groups and other NGOs have joined together in the request against Interior Minister Mohand Laenser and other police officials Few expect it to go anywhere, but activists say merely filing the complaint is an important step against impunity in the northwest African nation.

“We are not in a democratic country where all citizens are equal before the law. There are people for whom the laws are applied and other people who are never prosecuted,” says Khadija Ryadi, the coordinator of the coalition and former president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

But, she says, “If things don’t move forward, we will exert pressure for justice to do its work and denounce the instrumentalization of justice by the state.

The protest in Aug. 2 in the country’s political capital Rabat was sparked by outrage over a pardon granted by King Mohammed VI to Daniel Galvan, a Spanish man who had been sentenced 30 years in a Moroccan prison for the rape of 11 children.

Dozens of people, including several journalists, were injured when police violently broke up the demonstration. Similar protests in other cities were also violently broken up.

It was a rare public display of opposition to King Mohammed who remains popular for most Moroccans.

Galvan had been convicted of the rapes in September 2011. The royal pardon, issued in July after a visit to the country by Spain’s king, was one of 48 granted to Spanish citizens convicted in Moroccan courts.  After the royal pardon, Galvan left Morocco for Spain. King Mohammed later rescinded his pardon, with the royal palace saying the king had been unaware of the nature of Galvan's crimes and had ordered a probe into his release. A Spanish judge later ordered him jailed based on an international arrest warrant.

Rights groups want to know who ordered police to violently break up the protests. Six weeks after the demand was submitted, however, judicial authorities have yet to respond, though the Interior Ministry has insisted it didn’t issue any order for the dispersal. Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid has said his department would launch also an investigation. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has said it launched a separate investigation into the police crackdown..

Officials at the Interior Ministry refused requests for comment from the Monitor.

Morocco’s government has grown more repressive and human rights groups have grown bolder in their political demands, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. In 2007, a top-ranking security official was sued by the Association of Human Rights for breaking up another protest, but the court declined to hear the case.

Authorities have said that police intervention is justified because the protests are unauthorized, though according to Moroccan law no previous authorization is required for a sit-in and the new constitution, adopted in 2011, guarantees the right to protest peacefully.

Younes Bensaid, an activist of the pro-democracy February 20 Movement, said he was slapped and insulted by a police officer at the Aug. 2 demonstration. He says the authorities didn’t only want to disperse the protest.

“The goal was to intimidate those who wanted to protest in other cities, to scare those protestors who are not activists who went out that day,” he says. “It was clear from the way they were beaten up.”

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« Reply #8874 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:52 AM »

September 20, 2013

Syria Meets First Test of Accord on Weapons


WASHINGTON — A senior Obama administration official said Friday that the United States was encouraged by the initial inventory that the Syrian government had submitted of its chemical weapons arsenal.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the completeness of their declaration,” said the official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

“It was better than expected,” he added.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group known as the O.P.C.W. that oversees the international agreement banning poison gas, said on Friday that Syria had provided “an initial declaration” of its chemical weapons program.

The submission met the first deadline for Syrian compliance that was set down by the framework agreement that the United States and Russia concluded in Geneva last weekend.

American, British, Chinese, French and Russian diplomats are debating the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would enforce the agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that it was essential for the Council to adopt the resolution next week.

“It started coming in yesterday,” Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the O.P.C.W., said of the Syrian declaration. Mr. Luhan, who spoke in a telephone interview from The Hague, said that the organization’s technical experts were studying the declaration but would not give additional details.

The declaration’s completeness is an early test of President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to relinquish Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The United States and Russia agreed in Geneva that Syria has about 1,000 tons of precursor chemicals and chemical agents, including sulfur mustard and sarin gas.

The fact that Russia, which has been one of the principal supporters of the Assad government, reached a consensus with the United States on the size of the arsenal after receiving an intelligence briefing by American experts suggested that the Syrian government would eventually declare a similar figure.

Still, American officials had been waiting to see if the Syrian declaration would be submitted within a week of the framework agreement, as the accord requires, and whether it would be comprehensive.

Under the framework agreement, the declaration is to detail types and quantities of all its chemical agents, munitions and precursor chemicals as well as all laboratories for developing the agents and facilities for producing weapons.

Marie Harf, the deputy State Department spokeswoman, would not characterize the Syrian declaration, saying only that the United States will make “a careful and thorough review of the initial document.”

The O.P.C.W. does not publicly disclose the contents of declarations. But its assessment of the accuracy and thoroughness of Syria’s statement will be crucial in determining how inspectors can best proceed with the agreement’s next stage, which includes far more formidable tests of the Assad government’s cooperation.

By November, international monitors are to inspect all of Syria’s declared sites, and equipment to produce and mix chemical weapons is to be destroyed.

Syria’s entire arsenal is to be eliminated by the middle of 2014, although Mr. Assad has said that process could take a year.

Under the framework agreement, the United States and Russia are to outline procedures for quickly eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program and verifying that the country is not hiding any weapons or stocks.

An American and Russian draft outlining those procedures is subject to endorsement by the O.P.C.W. executive council, followed by codification in the Security Council resolution mandating elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

The executive council was to have met this weekend, but instead will likely convene toward the middle or end of next week, said Mr. Luhan, who gave no reason for the delay.

The United States has identified at least 45 sites associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program and has suggested that half of them had “exploitable” quantities of chemical warfare materials, though American officials said Syrian forces had been moving stocks, so the locations could have changed.

American officials said the sites where Syria’s chemical weapons and stocks are held are controlled by Mr. Assad’s government. While Russia has agreed with the estimate of the size of Syria’s arsenal, it has not endorsed the American list of the sites linked to the Syrian program.

Michael R. Gordon reported from Washington, and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.


Syria rebels fracturing as the Free Syrian Army condemns jihadists

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 20, 2013 12:18 EDT

A new front is emerging in Syria’s war, as mainstream rebels come to blows with jihadists, endangering their common goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Ever since Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) appeared on the battlefield, tensions between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and jihadists have soared, sparking firefights, kidnappings and assassinations.

On Friday, after ISIS seized the northern border town of Azaz, the opposition National Coalition for the first time publicly condemned attacks by jihadists.

“The Coalition condemns the aggressions against the forces of the Syrian revolution and the repeated disregard for the lives of Syrians, and considers that this behaviour runs contrary to the Syrian revolution and the principles it is striving to achieve,” it said.

The statement came after ISIS seized Azaz on the border with Turkey from FSA hands.

Problems between the FSA and ISIS are not only over control, but also about vision.

While the FSA is fighting to establish a democratic state in Syria, the aim of ISIS is to create and rule over an Islamic state.

On some front lines, they have fought side by side against Assad’s forces but in other areas they have earned a fearsome reputation.

Although ISIS has some local support, its opponents blame its influence on Western countries that support the revolt, but which have stopped short of providing them with military aid.

ISIS, in turn, also fears that some rebel groups have been paid off by the West to confront them.

The West has repeatedly expressed fears that the rebel ranks are too divided, and that any weapons supplied to the FSA may end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda.

While tensions between fighters have been mostly localised, the Azaz fighting was the latest in a string of armed confrontations since ISIS surfaced earlier this year.

“There has been a gradual suggestion in recent weeks that some core moderates are beginning to feel aggrieved by (ISIS’s) increasing influence, and recent clashes underline this,” according to Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

“A series of clashes in several northern and eastern provinces between jihadists and moderates in recent days suggests that these tensions are coming out into the open,” he added.

While Al-Qaeda supporters accuse the FSA of “heresy” and subordination to its Western backers, locals call the jihadists “collaborators” who play into Assad’s hands.

Activists say that public executions and kidnappings of civil activists by ISIS have raised resentment among the very same people whose support it needs most.

“ISIS is infiltrated by Assad’s secret services, which have a history of dealing with Al-Qaeda,” said Ibrahim al-Idelbi, spokesman for the Ahfad al-Rasul rebel brigade.

Activists have frequently accused the regime of setting free detainees held on terrorism charges at the start of the anti-Assad revolt, in order to sow chaos.

“ISIS has a blacklist of high-ranking (rebel) officials and revolutionary leaders they want to assassinate,” Idelbi told AFP via Skype.

Last month, Ahfad al-Rasul openly clashed with ISIS in the northern city of Raqa, Syria’s only provincial capital to have been lost by the regime.

Earlier in the summer, clashes between local rebels and ISIS fighters erupted in the northwestern province of Idlib.

And in coastal Latakia, ISIS was accused of murdering Abu Baseer, a popular rebel leader.

Speaking to AFP in the northern city of Aleppo, a local cleric said ISIS was getting stronger only because the West has failed to adequately help the rebels.

“We didn’t invite them to come to Syria… But if the United States and the West don’t help us against Bashar, we will have to accept help from anyone who shares our goal,” said Abu Mohammed.

“Al-Qaeda don’t help the Syrians, they also kill us,” he added, echoing the fear of many Syrians in rebel-held territory of the dangers posed by ISIS.

Fear of ISIS, coupled with the FSA’s poor funding, has led some rebels to take even more radical steps to protect themselves against ISIS advances.

“There’s no more FSA (here). We are all Al-Qaeda now,” said one rebel leader in Raqa whose men have joined Al-Nusra Front.

Although Al-Nusra shares a jihadist philosophy and ties to Al-Qaeda, it split from ISIS in spring.

“Al-Nusra is fighting to bring down the regime, while ISIS fights to bring down the FSA,” one Al-Nusra new recruit told AFP via the Internet.

ISIS “are not coming to fight the regime. They are here to kill anything that moves”.

A high-ranking security source meanwhile said the in-fighting was “positive” for Assad’s regime.

“The fighting will increase in the coming days,” he predicted.

“Conflict among the Syrian people’s enemies means terrorism will end sooner,” he added, using the standard regime term for the anti-Assad rebellion.

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« Reply #8875 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:56 AM »

September 20, 2013

As It Makes Overtures to Iran, U.S. Strives to Reassure Israel


WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration embarks on a highly visible diplomatic overture to Iran, White House officials are engaged in a quieter, behind-the-scenes effort to reassure Israel that they will not fall for the charms of Iran’s new president by prematurely easing pressure on his government to curb its nuclear program.

In private conversations with Israeli officials and a few public statements, administration officials have emphasized that they remain skeptical of Iran’s intentions on the nuclear program, and that they will judge Iran by its actions, not by the conciliatory words of its newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani. In advance of his arrival in New York next week for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Rouhani has signaled a willingness to negotiate an agreement over the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

But the White House’s reassurances did not prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel from issuing a harsh condemnation of Mr. Rouhani this week, presaging a potential showdown with President Obama over how to deal with Iran, after a period in which the two leaders appeared finally to be in sync.

Amid news of an exchange of letters between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani, and fresh discussion in Washington of negotiations that could lift sanctions against Iran, Mr. Netanyahu’s office dismissed as “media spin” a raft of statements by Mr. Rouhani about the peaceful goals of Iran’s nuclear program and his willingness to engage in diplomacy.

“There is no need to be fooled by the words,” said a lengthy Israeli statement issued late Thursday in response to Mr. Rouhani’s NBC News interview. “The test is not in what Rouhani says, but in the deeds of the Iranian regime, which continues to advance its nuclear program with vigor while Rouhani is being interviewed.”

Mr. Netanyahu, who has described Mr. Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” has stepped up his longstanding campaign against Iranian nuclear development in recent days, and plans to make it the focus of a meeting with Mr. Obama in Washington on Sept. 30 and a speech to the General Assembly the next day.

While American officials have repeatedly told their Israeli counterparts that they would be cautious in their dealings with the Iranian president, the White House has also made clear that it has an obligation to test whether Mr. Rouhani’s expressions of interest in diplomacy are genuine.

“We certainly recognize and appreciate Israel’s significant concerns about Iran, given the threats that have been made against Israel and the outrageous comments that have come out of Iran for many years about Israel,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Friday, previewing the message that Mr. Obama will deliver to the United Nations next Tuesday, a week earlier than Mr. Netanyahu.

“There’s not an open-ended window for diplomacy,” Mr. Rhodes said. “But we do believe there is time and space for diplomacy.”

Washington and Jerusalem both want to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but have often disagreed on the timetable and strategy for doing so. Israel, which sees a nuclear Iran as a dire threat to its existence, has pressed for a more forceful military threat. The United States, while stressing that all options are on the table, has urged Israel to give diplomacy and sanctions more time.

Mr. Rouhani’s election has clearly intrigued the White House. Senior officials said that unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he seemed to have the authority from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to negotiate on the nuclear issue. He also has a broad political mandate in Iran, officials said.

“It’s certainly different perspectives looking at the same picture,” said Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former Netanyahu aide. “Israel is clearly focused on Iranian action, and the messages in Washington seem more hopeful about Iranian intentions.”

Since Mr. Netanyahu’s United Nations speech last year laying out his red lines on Iran, and especially since Mr. Obama’s visit to Israel in March, the two countries have seemed in alignment. But many Israeli leaders and analysts saw Mr. Obama’s zigzag response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons as a bad omen for his resolve in stopping Iran.

“Netanyahu’s words were most likely meant for the ears of the members of Congress, so they will not let Obama get carried away by Rouhani’s overtures,” Ron Ben-Yishai, a journalist, wrote in an analysis published on Ynet, an Israeli news site. “The Israelis are also telling their American counterparts that just like in the case of the Syrian crisis, a credible military threat is needed in order to get results on the diplomatic track.”

Mr. Netanyahu said last week that “the message in Syria will also be heard very well in Iran,” and that “the world needs to make sure that anyone who uses weapons of mass destruction will pay a heavy price for it.”

On Thursday, he said again that “the international community must increase the pressure on Iran” until it halts uranium enrichment, removes enriched uranium from the country, dismantles the Fordo nuclear plant and stops “the plutonium track.”

In Washington, a leading pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, issued a memo on Friday, echoing much of Mr. Netanyahu’s plan. It added that Iran must allow inspectors into a military plant at Parchin where, it said, Iran tests explosives. “Pleasant rhetoric will not suffice,” the group said. “If Iran fails to act, sanctions must be increased.”

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said in an interview published Friday that the Iranians were six months away from developing a bomb, and that “there is no more time to hold negotiations.” He told the right-leaning newspaper Yisrael Hayom that Washington’s promise of “all options on the table” had not been enough.

Israeli officials and experts differed on what to make of Mr. Rouhani’s recent statements and actions in advance of his American trip. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said there was a contradiction in many of his statements.

“He’s saying, ‘We’ve never wanted a nuclear weapon, we’ll never produce a nuclear weapon,' ” Mr. Oren said. “But then he says, ‘Time is running out for a negotiated solution.’ ”

Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University said she saw “no indication of any willingness to reverse course on the nuclear front,” citing 1,000 new-generation centrifuges that enrich uranium faster and are more durable, as well as Mr. Rouhani’s refusal to consider suspending uranium enrichment.

But Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said Friday that there was a chance Mr. Rouhani was promising real change and that a meeting between him and Mr. Obama would be positive for Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu did not limit his criticism of Mr. Rouhani to the nuclear issue. He also addressed Mr. Rouhani’s ducking of a question about whether he, like his predecessor, believes the Holocaust was a myth. Mr. Rouhani answered, “I’m not a historian; I’m a politician.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s statement declared, “It does not take a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust — it just requires being a human being.”

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem. Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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« Reply #8876 on: Sep 21, 2013, 07:00 AM »

September 20, 2013

In Mexico, Critics Say Political Corruption Worsened Impact of Dual Storms


MEXICO CITY — The twin storms that tore through the country this week, unleashing rains that sent mud crashing down hillsides, buckling roads and flooding coastal cities, have renewed criticism that corruption and political shortsightedness made the damage even worse.

The death toll rose to 101 late Friday, but was expected to climb higher as rescue workers reached by air isolated mountain villages that had been cut off by landslides along the Pacific Coast. Soldiers continued their search Friday for 68 missing people in La Pintada, a coffee-growing village in Guerrero State where a hillside had given way and a river of mud poured over the town’s center.

“Anywhere you fly over you will see a number of landslides that are truly shocking,” Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Friday.

The storms battered both the Pacific and Gulf Coasts starting last weekend, a rare double hit from tropical systems at the same time. But experts said officials had not learned from earlier hurricanes and had failed to prepare for disaster, which magnified the losses this time.

“If we had the right development plan, the country wouldn’t fall into chaos,” said Angel Macías Garza, the vice president for infrastructure at the Mexican Construction Industry Chamber.

Corrupt officials give permits to developers to build along riverbeds and in canyons, Mr. Macías said. State governors build roads without containing walls in flood-prone regions because they prefer to spend the money they save on handouts. The federal disaster fund allocates only 5 percent of its budget on prevention and the other 95 percent on reconstruction.

“Politically, prevention doesn’t pay,” Mr. Macías said. “There is a lack of vision and a lack of resources.”

In an editorial posted on its Web site, Cidac, a research group, echoed the criticism. “Taking preventive measures, like relocating settlements from the most vulnerable areas or investing in infrastructure,” the authors said, “doesn’t appear to sell ad space or generate grateful constituencies.”

The worst natural disaster to affect Mexico in years began last weekend when Manuel, a tropical storm, battered Acapulco and the surrounding Pacific Coast at the same time as Hurricane Ingrid, a Category 1 storm, bore down on the Gulf Coast. Mexico had not seen paired storms on both coasts since 1958, officials said. Manuel then spun out to sea and gathered force before buffeting Sinaloa State in the north again on Thursday.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in a brief visit to Mexico City on Friday that had been scheduled to encourage closer economic ties between the countries, announced that the United States government had donated $250,000 to the Red Cross for emergency relief and offered more direct American assistance. “It’s your decision,” he said, careful not to make the offer seem a criticism of the handling of the storm by Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Mr. Peña Nieto, whose performance in the crisis is being closely scored, spent most of the week flying between coasts to monitor rescue efforts, and canceled a visit to New York next week to address the United Nations General Assembly.

He has been pushing Mexico’s Congress to approve an ambitious agenda of laws that would raise taxes, open up the energy sector and confront powerful monopolies.

Mexico’s economy has stagnated, and growth may not reach the government’s tepid forecast of 1.8 percent. Mr. Peña Nieto’s plans for new investments in infrastructure to help jump-start the economy could be derailed by cleanup costs after the storms. Mexico’s construction trade association estimated that fixing the roads alone could cost more than $3 billion.

Still, the president said on Wednesday, these storms “will not paralyze the development that Mexico should have.”

The government reopened the main highway between Acapulco and Mexico City on Friday under blue skies, while officials farther north were just beginning to tally the damage from Manuel.

Tiny La Pintada mourned its missing Friday as soldiers continued to search the river of mud for victims. A police helicopter vanished in the region late Thursday, a sign of how perilous the mountain rescue effort was.

Many of La Pintada’s residents had been inside making lunch, which may have saved them, when the hillside collapsed Monday, Mr. Osorio Chong said. But the number of victims may rise, he added, as residents of nearby farms often waited in the town center to use the telephone there.

Karla Zabludovsky and Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting.


Biden emphasizes trade in trip to Mexico

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 20, 2013 20:20 EDT

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden touted immigration reform and trade with Mexico during talks with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City on Friday, skirting a thorny spying scandal.

Visiting the southern neighbor four months after U.S. President Barack Obama, Biden sought to put the focus again on economic ties between the neighboring nations rather than security and the battle against drug cartels.

“Mr President, you and I have continued our conversation on security,” Biden said at a press conference alongside Pena Nieto.

“But we also agree that no part of our relationship is more important than expanding economic opportunity to improve the lives of our citizens.”

Biden met with the Mexican leader after chairing the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue, a forum aimed at deepening two-way trade that already amounts to $500 billion a year.

Later, Biden stressed that the U.S. administration backs legislation stalling in Congress to bring 11 million undocumented migrants out of the shadows, most of them from Mexico.

Giving them a path to citizenship is “a matter of justice, respect and dignity,” the US vice president said.

“It’s also in the overwhelming economic interest of both our countries that we do this.”

For his part, Pena Nieto called for a “more flexible, fluid and secure” border to facilitate commerce between the two neighbors.

With Mexico battered by storms that killed around 100 people, Biden offered U.S. assistance for the recovery efforts.

But the two officials made no mention of recent allegations that the U.S. government snooped on Pena Nieto’s emails when he was running for office last year.

Pena Nieto discussed the issue with Obama at a G20 summit in Russia this month and the U.S. leader promised an investigation into the report, which was based on leaks by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was also reportedly spied on by the United States, postponed a long-planned visit to the White House that had been planned for next month.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #8877 on: Sep 21, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Brazilian rancher jailed for murder of American nun Dorothy Stang

Prosecutors claimed Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura and another rancher hired gunmen to kill veteran rainforest campaigner

Associated Press in Sao Paulo, Friday 20 September 2013 18.02 BST

A Brazilian rancher charged with ordering the murder in 2005 of American nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for homicide.

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura had been tried three times before but his lawyers appealed and the supreme court annulled Moura's latest conviction. The high court said he was not given enough time to prepare his defence during the trial in 2010.

Prosecutors contend that Moura and another rancher hired gunmen to kill Stang. The defence said there was insufficient enough evidence linking Moura to the crime and planned to appeal.

Stang, born in Dayton, Ohio, spent three decades trying to preserve the rainforest and defend the rights of poor settlers who confronted powerful ranchers seeking their lands in the Amazon's wild frontier. She was gunned down in February 2005 with six shots fired at close range from a revolver.

The trial began and ended on Thursday night in a state court in Belem, the capital of the Amazonian state of Para. State prosecutors said the trial moved quickly because it was Moura's fourth and most of the legal processes had been dealt with in previous trials.

The court also convicted another rancher, Regivaldo Galvao, of ordering Stang's murder. Last year, the supreme court ordered his release, saying he had the right to remain free pending the outcome of his appeal. He was sentenced to a 30-year jail term in 2010.

Earlier this year, Stang's confessed killer was released from jail after serving less than nine of his 27-year sentence. A Para state judge said Rayfran das Neves Sales was entitled to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

Another man charged with taking part in Stang's killing is in prison, and a fifth suspect is at large.

The northern Brazilian state of Para is notorious for land-related violence, contract killings, slave-like labour conditions and environmental destruction.

More than 1,200 people, including activists, small farmers, judges and priests, have been killed over attempts to preserve the rainforest in the past two decades, according to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a watchdog group that tracks rural violence in Latin America's largest nation.

The killings are mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests over illegal logging and land rights. Yet killings over land are seldom punished.

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« Reply #8878 on: Sep 21, 2013, 07:04 AM »

09/20/2013 05:53 PM

The 'Columbian Exchange': How Discovering the Americas Transformed the World

By Johann Grolle

Columbus' arrival in the Americas sparked the globalization of animals, plants and microbes. A recent book takes a closer look at how items from the New World, such as potatoes, guano and rubber, quickly and radically transformed the rest of the planet.

Tobacco, potatoes and turkeys came to Europe from America. In exchange, Europeans brought wheat, measles and horses. But who ever thinks about earthworms? Yet they, too, were brought to America by Europeans, and hardly with fewer consequences than those of other, more famous immigrants.

Extinct in large parts of North America since the Ice Age, earthworms began spreading there once again following Christopher Columbus' voyage. Wherever this species appeared in American forests, it changed the landscape, aerating the soil, breaking down fallen foliage and accelerating erosion and nutrient exchange. Earthworms make it easier for some plants to grow, while robbing others of habitat. They take away living space from other bugs, while providing a new source of food for some birds.

In short, a forest with worms is a different one from a forest without them. As a result, the earthworm started transforming America.

This surprising anecdote is just one of many compiled by journalist Charles Mann in his latest book, "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," now available in German translation. Where Mann's previous best-seller, "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," focused on the history of the pre-Columbian Americas, he now turns his attention to the changes brought about by Europeans' discovery of this continent.

No other person, Mann suggests, changed the face of the Earth as radically as Columbus did. Columbus' crossing of the Atlantic, Mann says, marked the start of a new age, not only for the Americas but also for Europe, Asia and Africa.

It was the dawn of the era of global trade. Oceans no longer represented barriers to people, goods, animals, plants and microbes. It was as though Pangaea, the supercontinent that broke apart some 150 million years ago, had been reunited in a geological blink of the eye.

Before the ships Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail in 1492, not only was the existence of the Americas unknown to the rest of the world, but China and Europe also knew little about one another. A century later, the world looked very different. Spanish galleons sailed into Chinese harbors bearing silver mined by Africans in South America. Spanish cloth merchants received Chinese silk in exchange, delivered by middlemen in Mexico. And wealthy people looking for relaxation -- whether in Madrid, Mecca or Manila -- lit up tobacco leaves imported from the Americas.

Rousingly told and with a great deal of joy in the narrative details, Mann tells the story of the creation of the globalized world, offering up plenty of surprises along the way. Who among us knew the role the sweet potato played in China's population explosion? Who knew that improving agricultural yield with bird droppings as fertilizer began in Peru? Certainly few know what a decisive role malaria-carrying mosquitoes played in the fate of the United States.

The 'Columbian Exchange'

The author takes his readers on a journey of discovery around the post-Columbian globe. The story begins in Jamestown, a British colony in what is now the US state of Virginia, where a Dutch pirate ship turned up in August 1619 with nearly two dozen black slaves onboard, captured when the pirates attacked a Portuguese slave ship. As it was harvest time, the Jamestown colonists seized the opportunity to buy the slaves.

That purchase set the seal on slavery in America. But what the Virginia tobacco farmers didn't realize was that by buying the labor of slaves from Africa, they also acquired the disease these Africans carried in their blood. Plasmodium falciparum, a parasite that causes malaria, now gained a foothold in North America. Attacks of this fever were a high price the colonial farmers paid for their exploitation of African slaves.

Mann argues that this had far-reaching consequences. In the north, where the cold climate made it hard for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to survive, he says, European immigrants made for an inexpensive alternative to African slaves. In the American South, however, Caucasians fared much more poorly in the mosquito-infested cotton and tobacco fields. Only the slaves from Africa brought with them a certain degree of resistance.

In this way, Mann argues, malaria cemented the system of slavery in the American South. White plantation owners withdrew to their mansions in breezy locations that offered partial protection from the disease, leaving black slaves to toil in the fields.

When he first saw a map of malaria's range, Mann says it was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. That range extends almost precisely to the Mason-Dixon Line, along which the American Civil War broke out in 1861, between the slave-holding states of the South and the Union soldiers of the North.

The "Columbian Exchange" -- as historians call this transcontinental exchange of humans, animals, germs and plants -- affected more than just the Americas. In China, for example, the new era began when sailors reported the sudden appearance of Europeans in the Philippines in 1570. The astonishing thing about this was that they had come across the ocean from the east.

Until this point, China had shown little interest in Europe, in the belief that its inhabitants had little to offer China's blooming civilization. This time, though, the new arrivals brought something from America that electrified China -- silver.

This precious metal was the most important form of currency, in which all business was transacted, during the Ming Dynasty. Thus, in the eyes of the Chinese, the galleons from South America arrived loaded with nothing less than pure money.

No wonder, then, that a brisk trans-Pacific trade quickly developed. To the chagrin of the Spanish crown, much of the silver mined in the Andes was delivered not to Spain but to far-away China. In exchange, silk, porcelain and other Chinese luxury goods made their way eastward toward Mexico.

The Silver Rush

Mann uses the example of two 17th-century boomtowns to illustrate the change that gripped the globe during this period. Showy, aggressive and teeming with energy, these cities represented the spirit of a new era.

One of them, perhaps the wildest city in the history of the world, was established high in the Andes Mountains. The silver-mining city of Potosí, surrounded by nothing but snow and bare rock, ballooned to the size of London in the space of just a few decades. While fortune-seekers from Europe indulged themselves at the city's high-end brothels, thousands of indigenous people toiled and fought for their lives in the darkness of the world's largest silver mines.

Parián, the world's first Chinatown, hardly comes across as less bizarre. Located just outside Manila, Parián quickly grew more populous than the Spanish colonial city itself, as a labyrinth of shops, teahouses and restaurants grew up around a couple of large warehouses. Spanish agents came here to make their deals, and good silver from Potosí could buy almost anything, from leather boots to ivory chests to tea sets. Even skillfully carved marble figures of Jesus as a baby were on offer.

For China's rulers, though, this flood of silver proved a curse. The more of the precious metal Spanish galleons shipped to Manila, the more its value dropped. The result: inflation, tax deficits, bloody unrest and, ultimately, the collapse of the regime. The last Ming emperor was succeeded by the Qing Dynasty.

American Crops in China

But even more than the silver itself, what played a key role in China's fate were three crops that arrived in the wake of the silver -- potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. These hardy and unusually high-yield non-indigenous plants were able to grow even in soil that would not have supported rice cultivation.

These three American crops would transform entire swaths of land in the south and west of the Chinese empire, where the mountainous terrain had seemed unsuited to agriculture because the soil was either already depleted or too infertile to be farmed. The new plants from the Americas, though, transformed once barren land into arable land. With the Chinese government aggressively pushing agriculture, millions established a new livelihood as potato or corn farmers in the mountains.

Today, these imported crops from the Andes form a considerable part of the diet of China's billion-plus population. China is the world's second-largest producer of corn, after the US, and by far the largest producer of potatoes.

But this agricultural revolution had its downsides, as many mountain forests fell victim to the new cropland. These slopes, now cleared of trees, had no protection against the rain, and mudslides began to occur in many places. The areas around the Yangtze and Yellow rivers were now plagued nearly every year by massive flooding.

At China's central meteorological office in Beijing, Mann was able to examine maps that documented how the number and scale of floods changed over the course of the centuries. "Flipping thought the maps … was like watching an animated movie of environmental collapse," he recalls.

Changing Winners and Losers

Increasing contact between the continents certainly led to progress, but it brought suffering and exploitation, as well. There is almost nothing that people haven't had to sweat and die for, Mann writes, adding that his research taught him one thing above all: If we were forced to give up everything that was tainted with blood, we wouldn't have much left.

The emergence of modern agriculture demonstrates this dramatically. It all began with discoveries by two Germans. World traveler Alexander von Humboldt was the first to take an interest in the indigenous people who broke stinking chunks off the rocky cliffs where birds perched along the Peruvian coast. Chemist Justus von Liebig then recognized that the resulting powder, thanks to its high nitrogen and phosphorus content, made an excellent fertilizer.

Guano, as the local people called this substance made of hardened bird droppings, soon became one of the most significant imported products in the up-and-coming continent of Europe. Mann calculates that the total value of natural fertilizer exports from Peru would equal $15 billion (€11 billion) in today's terms.

This time, the Chinese were among the ones who suffered, forced to labor amid the ammonia stench of the guano. A total of around 100,000 Chinese people were enticed to far-away South America under the lure of false promises.

Just as Europe's agriculture became dependent on a natural product from South America, so did its industry, as rubber -- whether in the form of car tires, cable insulation or sealing rings for pipes -- became an indispensable part of modern technology.

Tapped from the bark of the rubber tree, natural rubber was shipped across the Atlantic in ever greater quantities. No matter how rapidly Brazil's rubber exports increased, demand grew even more quickly and prices continued to climb.

But a sudden end to the boom came when South American leaf blight, a fungus, decimated nearly all of South America's rubber plantations. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia now became rubber-producing superpowers, replacing Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. This was possible because of a British man named Henry Wickham, who became something of a hero of the "Columbian Exchange" when he smuggled Brazilian rubber tree seeds out of the country in 1876.

Just how easily a second Wickham could come along -- this time spreading not the rubber tree, but its leaf blight, around the world -- became clear to Mann during a research trip, when he found himself standing in the middle of an Asian rubber plantation, wearing the same boots he had worn just months before on a tromp through the Brazilian rainforest. What if a few spores of the fungus were still stuck to his boots?

At some point the Columbian Exchange will come full circle, Mann writes, and then the world will have another problem.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #8879 on: Sep 21, 2013, 07:06 AM »

US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document

Exclusive: Journalist uses Freedom of Information Act to disclose 1961 accident in which one switch averted catastrophe

Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Friday 20 September 2013 17.03 BST   

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

Though there has been persistent speculation about how narrow the Goldsboro escape was, the US government has repeatedly publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans' lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe".

Writing eight years after the accident, Parker F Jones found that the bombs that dropped over North Carolina, just three days after John F Kennedy made his inaugural address as president, were inadequate in their safety controls and that the final switch that prevented disaster could easily have been shorted by an electrical jolt, leading to a nuclear burst. "It would have been bad news – in spades," he wrote.

Jones dryly entitled his secret report "Goldsboro Revisited or: How I learned to Mistrust the H-Bomb" – a quip on Stanley Kubrick's 1964 satirical film about nuclear holocaust, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The accident happened when a B-52 bomber got into trouble, having embarked from Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro for a routine flight along the East Coast. As it went into a tailspin, the hydrogen bombs it was carrying became separated. One fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, its parachute draped in the branches of a tree; the other plummeted into a meadow off Big Daddy's Road.

Jones found that of the four safety mechanisms in the Faro bomb, designed to prevent unintended detonation, three failed to operate properly. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only that final, highly vulnerable switch that averted calamity. "The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52," Jones concludes.

The document was uncovered by Schlosser as part of his research into his new book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control. Using freedom of information, he discovered that at least 700 "significant" accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.

"The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy," he said. "We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here's one that very nearly did."

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