09/24/2013 05:26 PM
No German, No Benefits: Turkish Family Fights Language Requirement
By Bruno Schrep
Imhan K., a Turkish woman living in Germany, had her welfare benefits slashed after her husband refused to let her take German courses. Now a court must decide whether immigrants can be forced to learn the language and adopt Western mores.
After three-and-a-half years of legal wrangling, there's still no end in sight. At least officially, the case centers on €290.70 ($392). The K. family, thus identified to safeguard its privacy, is made up of ethnic Turks living in Germany. They claim that the state owes them the money. But, in reality, it's a matter of principle.
The questions at the heart of the dispute are: Can immigrants be forced to learn German? Can people who decline such an offer be denied welfare benefits? Or, viewed from the other perspective, can immigrants who live off state benefits refuse to integrate into society, or can they live as a group as if on an island and free of societal obligations?
The case of the K. family is typical of the problems German authorities face in dealing with immigrants from countries such as Turkey who don't want to integrate.
Ismail K. had just turned 19 when he came to Germany. It was 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. He left behind the hardship, rigid moral values and ironclad hierarchical structures of a world whose rules have remained an internal part of him to this day. His extended family lived in a tiny village in eastern Turkey. As the head of the family, his father decided which of his sons went to school, for how long, when it was time to marry and what jobs they would have. His mother looked after the children, managed the household and generally saw to her husband's needs.
On his arrival in Germany, Ismail K. sought political asylum, claiming that Turkish authorities had falsely accused him of belonging to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). His application was initially turned down, and for a while he faced deportation. But the case dragged on and on.
K. moved to a small town near Limburg an der Lahn in the western state of Hesse, where he married a woman from his village who had followed him to Germany. By the time he was finally granted political asylum, in 1996, the couple already had four children. Since asylum seekers aren't officially allowed to work, the family had been forced to live off welfare for many years. This hurt K.'s pride. After all, in his traditional mindset, the head of the household is responsible for providing for his family. He was therefore keen to live up to expectations.
In 1999, the naturalized immigrant started a pizza service. Business was good at first, and K. was in his element, just as he had always imagined. Now he was the one giving the orders, while relatives and acquaintances manned the pizza ovens and delivery vans.
Buoyed by his success, K. took out bigger and bigger loans, and eventually opened a large pizza restaurant, convinced that his customers would now come to him. But the plan failed, and people stayed away. Even his delivery service lost customers to competitors who undercut his prices.
In 2006, the dream of running a successful business was dead. The restaurant went bankrupt, and K. was left with a mountain of debt. The would-be entrepreneur was convinced he had failed in every way: As a businessman, as a family bread-winner and as a shining example for his children. Although still in his mid-30s, he was sometimes found staring into the distance. "Ever since he went bankrupt, he's been a broken man," a former employee says.
Blocked from Learning German
One Monday afternoon in August 2013, K. met with Florian Würz, a lawyer, in the dining room of his former pizza restaurant. The room has served as the K. family's living room ever since they were forced to leave their own home. The shiny wooden ceiling with built-in speakers and the tiled floors serve as a reminder of better days. Out on the terrace, a handful of chairs are slowly rotting away.
The head of the family, a powerful, stocky man with a five o'clock shadow, asked his lawyer in broken German about the next steps in the legal proceedings. He has never really learned German. But, unlike his wife, who sat silently at his side, he can at least make himself understood. Although she has spent the past 22 years in Germany, Imhan K. has only the most basic vocabulary, barely enough to buy bread or a soda. "But she understands a lot," her husband assures the lawyer. In Mr. K.'s eyes, that's all she needs.
But does she think so, too? Isn't it frustrating for her to live in a country in which she can't even speak with the locals? Sometimes it can be quite difficult, an acquaintance translates for her. But she manages to get by. After all, the family mainly speaks Turkish, and they have little contact with Germans. If anything needs explaining -- say, at the doctor's office or to the authorities -- the children jump in as interpreters.
Mrs. K.'s poor German language skills have been at the center of a bitter legal dispute for years.
Ever since the disastrous collapse of his pizza enterprise seven years ago, Ismail K. hasn't worked -- at least not officially -- and the family has been forced to live off welfare. Whenever his local employment office in Weilberg encourages him to find a job, he counters that he has several debilitating ailments that prevent him from working: backaches, a damaged shoulder caused by a car accident, knee problems, diabetes and the depression triggered by his bankruptcy. The now 43-year-old often gets doctors' note freeing him from having to look for work.
Since he has rejected so many job offers, the employment office has cut his unemployment benefits -- first by 30 percent and then by 60. They eventually cut it off completely for three months. And that's when the authorities started taking a closer look at K.'s wife, Imhan, then 41 years old. But she had her hands full already. Four of the couple's six children were still living at home, and her husband wanted to be taken care of as well. On weekday evenings, she also worked as a cleaner for a temp agency.
If her German were better, she would be able to find more qualified work and earn more money, a case worker at the labor office explained. So she offered Imhan K. a free German language course, with lessons three mornings a week from 8 a.m. until noon.
Mr. K., who had accompanied his wife to the employment office, objected immediately and vociferously. "Impossible!" he shouted. "No way. That's out of the question!" He said his wife was far too old to learn German, and in any case, she didn't have time to attend lessons. Who, he demanded, would take their youngest daughter to kindergarten in the morning?
Though she sat silently through her husband's outburst, and only understood a fraction of what was being said, Imhan K. at least got the gist of the conversation: Her husband didn't want her to learn German. Intimidated, she turned the offer down. Her husband grabbed her by the shoulder and hurried her out of the room.
Mrs. K.'s involuntary refusal to learn German runs counter to the efforts by towns and cities across Germany, which offer free language courses to female Muslim immigrants in particular as a way to help them escape the isolation often imposed by their own families. The city of Frankfurt alone runs hundreds of these courses as part of its "Mommy's Learning German" program. These lessons are primarily aimed at women from Turkey.
According to a study by Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, about 70 percent of Turkish women living in Germany have never learned a profession. Many work from morning till night in the home, and some rarely step outside their own four walls. Some, like Imhan K., can barely manage a handful of German words after decades spent living in Germany. As a result, they are completely dependent on the help of others in their daily lives.
Since Mrs. K. rejected their offer, the employment office in Weilburg decided to cut the mother-of-six's welfare by 30 percent for three months, that is, by €96.90 a month. They stressed that, rather than being meant as a punishment, it was meant -- as they put it in their bureaucratic jargon -- "as an economic sanction to enforce a change of behavior of a predominantly educational nature."
Mr. K. was outraged by the decision and refused to back down. "The employment office is spying on us," he insists to this day. So he asked his lawyer to sue the authorities on his wife's behalf -- thus adding yet another case to the statistics: Germany's social welfare courts are currently plowing through some 200,000 appeals against welfare cuts.
Almost half of them are eventually successful, but the K. family's case was turned down. In the words of the ruling by the court in Wiesbaden, an ability to speak and write German is an absolute prerequisite for permanent integration into the labor market. Mrs. K. should therefore have learned German. In other words: If you want welfare, you have to learn German.
The court rejected the argument that Mrs. K. had no time to attend lessons due to her dual role managing her household and cleaning in the evening. It said her husband would simply have to help out. After all, since he was unemployed, he would have "no problem" taking over responsibility for some of her chores.
Ismail K. didn't understand the ruling's rationale. Clearly it was a cultural misunderstanding of shocking proportions. Although he had lived in Germany for 24 years, K. had always clung to the patriarchal privileges of the country in which he was born. Was he -- the head of the family -- expected to look after children? Was he now supposed to do the shopping, or maybe even cook? Owing to his diabetes, K. has to eat several small meals a day. Did they now want him to prepare this food by himself?
That's a woman's role, Mr. K. insisted. And, in any case, he was too ill to do so even if he wanted to. When K. submitted a terse doctor's certificate claiming that he couldn't look after his children due to "emotional problems," the court dismissed it, describing the letter as a "mere certificate of convenience."
Even though the case centered on a relatively small sum -- a bit less than €300 -- Würz, the lawyer, filed an appeal citing a similar case from a few years earlier. In 2007, an appeals court had overturned a ruling by a lower court that had rejected a claim by a welfare recipient. "We therefore have a good chance of winning," Würz says.
Whatever the regional social welfare court for the state of Hesse decides, K.'s children are now old enough to ask themselves whether they want to stay in Germany. Three of them are now adults and have opted to take Turkish citizenship. They have married people from within their circle of Turkish friends, and they have little contact with German families.
That is less unusual than one might think. A survey conducted by a Berlin-based polling firm found that some 62 percent of Turkish migrants prefer to be among their fellow countrymen, a far higher proportion than earlier polls had found. Only 15 percent consider Germany to be their only home, while 45 percent yearn to return to Turkey at some point.
That's not an option for Merve, the second-youngest of K.'s daughters. The 13-year-old rejects such paternalistic ideas. Unlike her mother, she refuses to wear a headscarf, and she occasionally even talks back to her strict father. At school, she learned to speak perfect German, and she dreams of a future in her adopted home.
"I want to graduate from middle school and high school, and then I want to go to university," she says. And what does she want to be when she grows up? Without hesitation she replies: "A dentist."
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt
09/24/2013 06:15 PM
Lab Equality: Sciences Struggle to Attract Young Women
By Guido Kleinhubbert
Despite its best efforts, the science and technology sector is failing to attract girls, potentially undermining Germany's strength as a global export power. Now some are getting creative, launching preschool initiatives and even a new soap opera.
"What is an atom made of?" asks engineer Stefan Wilke. "Does anyone know?" 52-year-old Wilke, with gray curls and rimless glasses, kneads his hands together and gives the group gathered around him an encouraging smile.
But the 17 girls Wilke is taking on a tour of the German Electron Synchrotron -- commonly known by its acronym DESY -- in Hamburg, remain shyly quiet. "Come on, give it a go!" the engineer urges, then offers a little hint: "One of the parts that make up atoms are ele…"
"Electrons!" calls out one of the students.
"Yes!" Wilke cheers. "That's right! Electrons! Excellent work! Great!"
The whole morning at DESY has gone more or less in this vein, with the approximately 200 female school students who have come here to attend an "Action Day for Girls" showered with encouragement and attention.
First there were the tote bags full of informational material and gifts. Then business director Christian Scherf, 49, addressed the Action Day's attendees, telling them he was "incredibly glad that so many girls are interested in DESY." Next, the students were given the opportunity to talk to role models, in the form of female network administrators, the facility's radiation safety officer and other female DESY employees, who met with the girls to discuss career opportunities and ways to balance family and professional life.
Once the girls' questions were answered, they were divided into small groups. One of these went with Wilke, who explained that he would be giving them a tour that would include getting an up-close look at the particle accelerator and other research equipment. "That's something you don't get to see often," he enthused. "It'll be great."
DESY employees are making every effort on this Action Day to get female students excited about jobs in math, computer science, natural sciences and technology. One issue at stake here is gender equality. Another is Germany's strength as a seat of industry and trade.
"We Need You"
The country is growing increasingly concerned about shortages of scientists and skilled workers, and immigration alone won't be enough to successfully combat the problem in the long term. Sparking interest among more girls and women in technology-related jobs -- often referred to as the STEM fields -- will also be essential. Germany currently has a shortage of 36,000 engineers, warns the Association of German Engineers.
"We need you," DESY director Scherf appealed to the teenage girls during his welcome speech in the auditorium. "We won't manage with just the men. This is your chance!"
Such entreaties from managers, job placement officers and equal opportunity commissioners have generally seemed to fall on deaf ears. For years, Germany has conducted well over 1,000 initiatives and events aimed at wooing young women into science and technology jobs. Yet too many of them still wind up in office jobs, educational positions or working within the service industry.
The proportion of women in science and technology fields has risen considerably since the 1970s, but in the last 10 to 15 years that trend has started to stall. Only one in 10 first-year electrical engineering students since 2000 has been a woman. The proportion of women in engineering as a whole has stagnated at around 20 percent.
Things look no better in the automotive industry and other companies that provide professional training in science and technology fields. Often it's only men running the technical side of things, while women can be found in office jobs or in sales. The only woman Wilke's young visitors encounter in the first 30 minutes of their tour is a cleaning woman with a mop and bucket.
Yet government and businesses alike have tried everything they can. There have been multi-day technology camps, competitions for hobby inventors and initiatives that go by names such as "Let's MINT," "Miss MINT" or "MINTeinander" -- "MINT" being the German acronym for "math, computer science, natural sciences and technology." There have been glossy brochures with pictures of attractive female computer scientists and mechanical engineers, to counteract the stereotype that only mousy women work in technology professions. There have been "Women MINT Slams" -- modeled on poetry slams -- at which female scientists give cool presentations on the mechanics of hybrid cars and other ultra-modern technology.
Yet none of it seems to have stuck. "Events like Girls' Days especially have not proven effective," says Oliver Koppel from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.
Wilke's group has arrived at a room the size of a gymnasium, where men with mugs of coffee sit in front of computer screens, making sure everything runs smoothly with the particle accelerator. The computers bear women's names, such as Doris and Petra. A scarf bearing the slogan of Hamburg soccer team HSV hangs in the back of the room. Flyers from pizza delivery services lie on a shelf.
"Are there actually any women here?" one of the girls wants to know. A bearded employee answers with a smile. "Of course! And they absolutely have equal rights!" he assures her. In fact, a female technician does walk through the room shortly afterward.
The proportion of women in technical professions at DESY is comparatively low, at 15.4 percent, while the proportion in scientific positions is somewhat better, at 20.6 percent, according to a report by the center's equal opportunity commissioners. Still, far more women can be found in the synchrotron's administration, where the proportion of female employees is 45.7 percent.
Annika, one of the students in Wilke's group, says she can't quite imagine working with so many men. This morning, a DESY IT trainee Annika described being the only girl in her vocational school class -- with 27 boys. "Pretty crazy," says 17-year-old Annika, who plans to "look into everything" when it comes to career options.
"I could also imagine doing something with animals," she says. "Veterinary medicine would be great, for example." It's a subject that ranks among the favorites with young women, along with social education and Romance languages.
But others are less ambitious. Anja Huth, spokeswoman for Germany's Federal Employment Agency, believes one problem is that too many young women take an interest in what she calls "dead-end fields of study and professions." Often, she says, the jobs in question offer below average pay, hold little opportunity for advancement or are in decreasing demand due to demographic and technological shifts. These, too, are reasons why it is important to attract more women into science and technology professions, Huth says.
In theory, at least, the odds of achieving that goal don't look so bad. Researchers have found the same results again and again -- from the time they're born, girls are in principle just as interested in technology as boys are. Girls are also just as good as boys at math and physics. They're just a little more hesitant in these fields -- and are conditioned from the time they're young, by the people around them and by the media, to see cars, robots and hard drives as things that are more for boys than for them.
"Even with the best of initiatives, you're going to have a hard time getting these gender clichés out of people's heads," says Jutta Dalhoff, director of the Center of Excellence Women and Science (CEWS). It would likely be just as futile to bring testosterone-driven teenaged boys to a beauty salon for an afternoon in the hope of inspiring them to become manicurists.
The way to increase the proportion of women in science and technology fields, Dalhoff suggests, is by starting earlier. A study titled "Women in MINT Professions," which CEWS prepared for Germany's Joint Science Conference (GWK), agrees that it's important to reach girls "before gender stereotypes about attributes and expected abilities become ingrained."
Initiatives such as the "House of Little Researchers" or "The Sandbox Engineers" have taken the study's advice to heart, giving three-year-old girls metal construction sets or electronics experiment kits to play with instead of dolls and toy kitchens.
Changing Media Stereotypes
Another initiative takes a creative approach to getting girls interested in jobs as lathe operators or other technical positions. A project called MINTiFF, run by Berlin's Technical University with funding from the German government and the European Union, is fighting the gender clichés widespread in the media.
The project takes issue with the way the female protagonists of TV movies, series and soap operas most often work in the media or as teachers or florists. According to MINTiFF, the time is ripe for TV heroines who are "charismatic female characters" working in scientific professions. This, the project suggests, could trigger "a run on the corresponding fields of study."
One aspect of the project involves collaborating with screenwriters, and it will soon be possible to check out an example of how a soap opera in line with MINTiFF's suggestions might look. Starting in November, a show called "Sturm des Wissens" ("Storm of Knowledge") will air online. Its title is based on that of series "Sturm der Liebe" ("Storm of Love"), which airs on German broadcaster ARD.
"Sturm des Wissens" revolves around female students, and they, too, are sometimes unlucky in love. The primary difference between them and other TV heroines is that these women can also repair broken computers and toasters.
Ban on late-night working shifts divides France
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 22:11 EDT
French cosmetics maker Sephora said Tuesday it would appeal a court order to close its flagship Paris store by 9 pm after it became the latest casualty of a much-contested law banning late-night work.
In a case that has reignited debate over French attitudes to work, employees of the store have attacked the unions that brought the case for preventing them from opting to work longer hours for extra pay at a time of record unemployment.
Monday’s ruling against Sephora follows a string of similar union-initiated moves against Apple, Japanese casual wear designer Uniqlo, supermarket chain Monoprix and the famed Paris department store Galeries Lafayette.
Under French law, companies can ask employees to work between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am but such shifts have to be “exceptional” rather than the rule and justified by a tightly defined set of criteria.
Sephora, whose main Paris store makes 20 percent of its total earnings in post-9 pm sales, said it will comply with the ruling pending the outcome of the appeal.
It had been keeping its Champs-Elysees store open until midnight on weekdays and up to 1:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays to capitalise on demand for late-night shopping opportunities from tourists visiting the French capital.
The ruling gave the company little option but to comply. Had it not, it would have had to pay a fine of 80,000 euros ($108,000) for every day it opened after 9:00 pm and for every employee working after that time.
The move to get the store to close was initiated by the Clic-P umbrella grouping of five unions.
Prior to Monday’s ruling, 58 of the store’s 200 employees would regularly volunteer for late-night work, and several of them were left fuming over the unions’ initiative.
Sephora saleswoman Ines Sampiecro told AFP: “We have been stabbed by the unions.”
A 29-year-old employee who identified himself as Emmanuel said the decision was a “disaster”.
He told Le Parisien newspaper Tuesday that the double pay for working nights and holidays covered nearly all his rent.
But Eric Sherrer from the Clip-P union grouping said Sephora employees were “blackmailed” into working night shifts and had been forced to sign a petition that they wanted to carry on doing them.
Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris, backed the court ruling, despite intense pressure from many retailers in the capital to allow more Sunday opening.
“Work outside of normal hours cannot become a regular thing, it has to remain the exception,” Delanoe said.
But Rachida Dati, a former government minister for the opposition UMP party, attacked the decision as an over-strict interpretation of the law.
“It is against the interests of the employees and the interests of Paris as a major tourist destination,” Dati said.
After the string of high-profile successes, the Clic-P grouping is now training its guns on US casual wear retailer Abercrombie & Fitch and French parfumier Marionnaud.
Those opposed to late-night work argue it can lead to ill health, notably by increasing the risk of cancer, and that it is bad for family life.
According to France’s labour ministry, about 15 percent of the country’s workers — or some 3.5 million people — worked night shifts in 2009, either on a part-time basis or full-time.
In the USA..United Surveillance America...John Kerry to sign UN Arms Trade Treaty this week
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:54 EDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry will this week sign the first global treaty to regulate the $80 billion annual trade in conventional arms, seeking to stem the flow of weapons used in war crimes and genocide.
A source familiar with the diplomatic maneuvers confirmed to AFP that Kerry would sign the treaty on Wednesday after it was adopted earlier this year by the United Nations to regulate trade in tanks, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles as well as small arms.
The treaty, which has been years in the making, was only adopted after tough negotiations at the United Nations. The talks had deadlocked last year after the United States asked for more time to pour over the draft text.
Kerry praised the adoption of the treaty in saying it was “strong, effective and implementable” and insisted it would not infringe on the US Constitution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The pact “can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade,” he added in his statement in April.
It is the first major arms accord since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and covers all conventional weapons.
It has no automatic enforcement. However, it seeks to force the weapons industry within accepted boundaries.
Though the United States — which is the world’s biggest arms producer — has endorsed the treaty, the US Congress must still ratify it.
The powerful arms lobby in the United States has already voiced objections, fearful that it could infringe on individual gun rights within US borders.
But Kerry stressed in April that the pact only referred to “international trade, and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory.”
The pact would create “a common international standard for the national regulation of the international trade in conventional arms and require all states to develop and implement the kind of systems that the United States already has in place,” Kerry said.
It would also “help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.”
The United States is meanwhile embroiled in a heated domestic gun control debate, following a series of high-profile shootings.
************Obama Enrages Republican Warmongers by Pursuing Nuclear Weapons Deal With Iran
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 24th, 2013
President Obama has dealt a blow to Republicans dreaming of war with Iran by announcing that he has directed Sec. of State Kerry to pursue a deal with Iran on their nuclear weapons program.
Video Obama at the UN discussing Syria: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ud39bZh5m4
The president provided deep insight into his foreign policy views. Obama told the UN that the United States is ready to act to prevent atrocities, but we can not and should not bear that burden alone. The president said that he was moving the United States away from a perpetual war footing, trying to close GITMO, cutting down on the use of drones, and trying terrorists in courts of law, and transferring detainees to other countries. Obama also said that the nation is reviewing the way they gather intelligence so that security and privacy concerns can be balanced.
President Obama told the UN that they must enforce the ban on chemical weapons when it comes to Syria. Obama laid out the agreement on the Syria’s chemicals weapons as a test of the UN’s ability to enforce basic international laws.
The big news is that Obama announced that he has directed Sec. of State Kerry to work with Russia and China on getting a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The president said, “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful…The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”
While Democrats strongly support diplomatic solutions to international issues, there are two distinct feuding camps within the Republican Party on foreign policy. The war with Iran faction is being led by John McCain and the Bush administration neo-cons. From the moment that Bush invaded Iraq, there has been a lust for war with Iran within a segment of the GOP. On the other side are the Rand Paul isolationists who have taken their distaste for any international involvement diplomatic or otherwise to the extreme. The Bush era pro-war conditioning is still dominant within the Republican Party, which is why there likely will be mass criticism of Obama’s diplomatic efforts towards Iran’s nuclear program.
For what feels like millionth time, President Obama demonstrated that his foreign policy ideology is almost the opposite of George W. Bush. His address to the UN today was comprehensive and insightful. Obama laid out the damned if you do, damned if you don’t position that the United States faces on many foreign policy issues. He expressed no reluctance to act when necessary, but made it clear to the UN that after a decade plus of war, the American people are tired of military conflict, so we expect the rest of the world to step up and do more.
It is a bad day to be a Republican warmonger. If Obama is successful, the entire Republican rationale for war with Iran will evaporate. After living through more than a decade of Bush instigated war, President Obama is attempting to lay the path for lasting peace.
September 25, 2013Officials Detail Premium Costs of Health Plan
By ROBERT PEAR and REED ABELSON
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday provided the first detailed look at premiums to be charged to consumers for health insurance in 36 states where the federal government will run new insurance markets starting next week, highlighting costs it said were generally lower than previous estimates.
Administration officials released the information, central to their campaign to persuade millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage, even as Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, waged a fierce fight on the Senate floor, risking a government shutdown if necessary to eliminate financing for the expansion of coverage under President Obama’s health care law.
The White House sought to focus attention on what it portrayed as the financial advantages of the health insurance program, which is set to start accepting customers on Oct. 1.
“I can tell you right now that in many states across the country, if you’re, say, a 27-year-old young woman, don’t have health insurance, you get on that exchange, you’re going to be able to purchase high-quality health insurance for less than the cost of your cellphone bill,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday, speaking at a health care forum in New York City with former President Bill Clinton.
For a benchmark plan — the second-lowest-cost “silver plan,” covering 70 percent of projected medical costs for a typical consumer — the average premium nationally will be $328 a month for individuals, the administration said in a new report.
For a family of four with an annual income of $50,000, the administration said, monthly premiums for the second-cheapest plan will vary widely, averaging $600 in Arizona, $800 in Georgia, $961 in Indiana, $1,069 in Mississippi, $859 in New Hampshire, $943 in New Jersey and $656 in Utah.
However, the data provided only a partial picture of the reality that consumers will face. The government did not identify the insurance companies offering policies in the federal marketplaces, also known as exchanges. Nor did it provide any information about the many policies that will cost more than the amounts cited in its report. Such information will not be available until the exchanges open, federal health officials said. Republicans and other critics of the health program were likely to take issue with the financial picture painted by the administration as the new premium information became more widely known.
The figures, almost by definition, provide a favorable view of costs, highlighting the least expensive coverage in each state.
Consumer advocates said that people shopping for health insurance should consider not only price, but also other factors like the list of covered drugs and the doctors and hospitals available in a health plan.
Under the 2010 health law, most people buying insurance in the exchanges will be eligible for federal subsidies in the form of tax credits. Taking account of these subsidies, the administration said, a family of four with income of $50,000 will generally be able to buy a silver-level plan for $282 a month, while a 27-year-old with income of $25,000 will be able to get such coverage for $145 a month.
“We are excited to see that rates in the marketplace are even lower than originally projected,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. Insurance, she said, will be affordable even to low- and moderate-income people.
Gary M. Cohen, the director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said that premiums were generally lower in states with vigorous competition in their insurance markets and robust programs to review rates.
In the 36 states where the federal government has primary responsibility for the exchanges, Mr. Cohen said, consumers will be able to choose from an average of 53 health plans. In most states, health plans will be offered by two or more insurance companies — a high of 13 companies in Wisconsin, but just one apiece in New Hampshire and West Virginia.
“About one in four of these insurance companies is offering health plans in the individual market for the first time in 2014, a sign of healthy competition,” Mr. Cohen said.
Insurance experts said the prices reported on Tuesday should be viewed with caution for several reasons. In many cases, the statewide figures are averages. The rates may be available only in parts of a state, and premiums can vary as much within a state as among states.
Peter V. Lee, executive director of the state-run exchange in California, said that his state had 19 rating regions and that the variation in prices among regions was “quite significant.” For example, he said, a 40-year-old buying the least expensive silver plan would pay $240 a month in Los Angeles, but $330 in Sacramento, about 38 percent more.
In New York, a premium charged in New York City might be more than 80 percent higher than the charge in Rochester — $611 a month against $337, for the same level of coverage offered by the same insurer. Even within Rochester, prices for the same level of coverage might range from $218 to $366 a month.
Consumers will be able to sign up in the six months starting Oct. 1. For those who enroll by mid-December, coverage will begin Jan. 1. New policies are not directly comparable to those now covering individuals and families who buy insurance on their own.
In many states, insurers now can turn down people with illnesses and disabilities, or charge them higher premiums, based on their medical history or pre-existing conditions. That will generally not be allowed next year.
Under the 2010 law, health benefits are supposed to be similar to those currently provided under a typical employer-sponsored plan. But the new policies will be more comprehensive than many now sold in the individual insurance market. They will, for example, have to cover certain services like maternity care that may now be sold separately, for an extra premium, under a rider to a basic or standard policy.
The figures released by the administration include some curiosities, related to the way premiums and subsidies are calculated. For example, the administration said, in West Palm Beach, Fla., the least generous, least expensive plan available to a family of four with income of $50,000 will cost less than the comparable plan available to a 27-year-old with income of $25,000, after taking account of subsidies in both cases.
And in some places, the administration said, the subsidies will completely offset the cost of the least expensive plan, so consumers will not have to pay any premiums.
September 24, 2013Senator Persists Battling Health Law, Irking Even Many in His Own Party
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — Facing an increasingly likely defeat in his tangled procedural fight over funding the government, Senator Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and declared he would speak “until I cannot stand” to rally voters against the health care law.
While the Senate appeared ready to override him in a preliminary vote scheduled for Wednesday, Mr. Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas, pressed ahead hour after hour with his opposition, comparing his fight to efforts by leaders who stood against the Nazis, ended the cold war or started the American Revolution.
“Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy,” said Mr. Cruz, who began speaking at 2:41 p.m. and was still at it after 5 a.m.. “Where is the urgency?”
Yet outside the chamber, his colleagues worked against his efforts to block a vote to take up the House-passed bill that does precisely what he wants: financing the government through mid-December while cutting off money for the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Cruz called on his colleagues to stonewall the measure they technically supported, arguing that Senate Democrats would be successful in stripping the health care provision from the funding bill once the way was cleared to a Senate vote on the issue. His basic demand was an agreement that a final vote require 60 supporters, a demand Democrats rejected.
Other Republicans said they saw no reason to oppose debating a measure they actually backed.
“We’d be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we’re in favor of,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
Others warned of political repercussions if Republicans, who hope to regain control of the Senate in next year’s elections, were seen as contributing to a shuttering of the government. “Getting the majority in the Senate in 2014 is possible, and we don’t want to go down roads that make it harder,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is up for re-election next year. “Repealing Obamacare is a goal all Republicans share,” he added, “but the tactics of achieving that goal can have a backlash.”
Mr. Cruz’s lonely stand was not technically a filibuster. The first vote in a long process to get to a final showdown is set for Wednesday, and Mr. Cruz cannot head off that vote. And only a handful of Republicans are expected to join him in voting against taking up the House bill.
“There will be no filibuster today,” said Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader.
Senior Senate Republicans pushed Mr. Cruz on Tuesday to give up his stalling tactics and let the Senate take its final votes as soon as possible to strip out the health care language and other policy prescriptions, then approve new language to keep the government operating until mid-November. An early vote would give Speaker John A. Boehner more time to plan his next move: Whether to put the Senate-passed bill up for a vote and ensure no government shutdown or to add new Republican-favored language and send it back to the Senate.
If Mr. Cruz persists and forces the Senate to exhaust the time allowed for the necessary votes, the final vote cannot happen until Sunday.
“I don’t know who else in the conference may feel differently, but I do know if the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot,” Mr. McConnell said.
Some Senate Republicans suggested a quick vote on a stopgap spending measure could allow the House to attach a measure related to the Affordable Care Act but one that could split Democrats and possibly become law. The obvious target would be a tax on medical devices that helps finance the law, but which has strong opponents in both parties. House Republicans are also considering adding a one-year delay in the individual mandate.
Such procedural niceties carried little weight with the conservative activists backing Mr. Cruz, and the conservative advocacy groups egging them on. Phone lines were jammed by Cruz supporters. E-mails flew, encouraged by organizations like the Tea Party Patriots and the Heritage Foundation. The Senate Conservative Fund, a group that has been running advertisements attacking Republicans who are not supporting the “defund Obamacare” effort, called Mr. McConnell and the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, “turncoats.”
But most Republicans showed little fear of a backlash for voting to take up the House bill. “If this is what you wanted, consideration of this bill, I don’t know how you can be against taking it up,” said Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina.
Mr. Reid moved Tuesday to change the House-passed bill, shortening the stopgap spending measure so it would finance the government only through mid-November instead of mid-December. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who leads the Appropriations Committee, requested the change to raise pressure on the House to address the automatic spending cuts that are squeezing federal programs and are reflected in the spending plan passed by the House.
But such narrow issues took a back seat to Mr. Cruz’s crusade, with bit parts granted to his Senate Republican supporters. They included Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, David Vitter of Louisiana, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose own filibuster this year over the government’s use of lethal drone strikes lasted 12 hours and 52 minutes.
Topics Mr. Cruz addressed included his affection for the little hamburgers at White Castle, the fast-food chain that says its growth is slowing because of the health care law, and a tough-love speech by Ashton Kutcher. He doled out insults to the Washington establishment, blasting politicians in “cheap suits” and “bad haircuts,” and branding journalistic fact-checking as a “particularly pernicious bit of yellow journalism.” At one point, he read some of his daughters’ favorite stories, including “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss.
Under the current timetable, the Senate will vote Wednesday to cut off debate on a motion to take up the House bill and vote Thursday to actually take up the House bill. Mr. Reid will then introduce his version of the stopgap spending bill, stripped of the health care language and other policy measures.
The real showdown vote will probably come on Saturday, when the Senate votes to cut off debate on Mr. Reid’s version of the bill. If that receives 60 votes, a final vote would come on Sunday, leaving the House one day to act before much of the government closes its doors.
That would give Mr. Boehner a stark choice: pass a short-term spending bill with Democratic votes and risk the wrath of conservative activists or try again to take a bit out of the health care law with no time left on the clock and ensure a shutdown.
“I don’t know what all the scenes are, but I’ve seen how this movie ends,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “We will end up not shutting the government down, and we will not defund Obamacare.”
*************Ted Cruz Completely Screws John Boehner With His Publicity Stunt Faux Filibuster
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 25th, 2013
Ted Cruz’s all night faux filibuster has created a big problem for House Republicans. Sen. Cruz has chewed up so much time that Boehner will only have a few hours to respond to the Senate passed bill funding the ACA.
According to The Washington Post, “Speaking with little assistance from his Republican colleagues, Cruz assured that debate on the spending measure will stretch well into the weekend. With Senate passage all but certain on a bill that will include funding for the health-care law, Cruz’s strategy will give House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his colleagues only a few hours to respond with a different version of the legislation.”
Sen. Cruz (R-TX) has responded to the House Republican criticism that he is ball less by making sure that Boehner and the House will have very little time to craft a reply to whatever passes the Senate. Cruz’s behavior is more evidence that his behavior is not about doing what’s best for the Republican Party. He isn’t interested in the welfare of the Republican Party. Since he opposes health insurance for 30 million Americans, Cruz isn’t interested in the welfare of the American people. This is all a selfish, grandstanding effort to both raise money and fuel speculation about his potential 2016 campaign.
Thanks to Ted Cruz, Speaker Boehner faces all the pressure. Republicans aren’t going to blame Cruz for forcing the House to pass a continuing resolution that doesn’t defund Obamacare. They’re going to blame John Boehner for passing the bill. Ted Cruz will look like a hero to the right, but every word he speaks is another nail in the Republican coffin.
Cruz’s dramatics illustrate why Republicans have no interest in getting rid of Obamacare. Much like abortion, the ACA has become a publicity and fundraising tool. If Republicans were successful in repealing the ACA, they would lose their favorite new tool for scaring and motivating their base.
Republicans can laud Ted Cruz as a great American, but he has completely screwed the Republican Party and exposed the fraud behind their Obamacare opposition.
**************Ted Cruz Ignorantly Compares Obamacare Foes to Nazi Appeasers
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 25th, 2013
Obama as ChamberlainOn Thursday, when he wasn’t reading Green Eggs and Ham, Ted Cruz (R-TX) was comparing Obamacare defunding critics to Nazi appeasers, and like Green Eggs and Ham, getting it all wrong.
Because, apparently, if we want healthcare, we want Germany to win?
Or Russia? Or whom, exactly?
If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany, look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’
The problem is, it was not the 1940s. By the 1940s, Europe was already embroiled in war.
You want appeasement? Look to the 1930s.
Note to Ted Cruz: Put down David Barton. The Second World War started in 1939.
Nor does Cruz get the whole idea behind appeasement. Chamberlain wasn’t trying to give Hitler domination of Europe. He was trying to prevent war, to soothe the beast, so to speak, by giving him a couple of snippets he hoped would satisfy him. He completely underestimated Hitler, but then, so did many other people both within Germany and without.
Chamberlain, by caving in to Hitler between 1937 and 1939, did not give Germany dominance of Europe. What Chamberlain “gave” Hitler were bloodless victories in Austria (the Anschluss, or union) and Czechoslovakia (the Munich Pact).
Hitler achieved dominance in Europe the hard way when he conquered Poland in 1939, and then went on and defeated France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands militarily in 1940, when Chamberlain was no longer Prime Minister.
Cruz then indulged in a further bit of fantasy regarding anti-war sentiment in the U.S.:
And in America there were voices that listened to that. I suspect those same pundits who say it can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on TV and they would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans.’
So in Cruz’s deluded mind, he is the hero standing up to aggression, the only man with the guts to stand up to Hitler in the guise of Obama. Almost nobody wants Cruz to “stand up to” Obamacare. Even his fellow Republicans aren’t buying what he’s selling.
Cruz has shown himself to be an object of contempt. Remember how he promised how he would filibuster till he was “no longer able to stand”? Well, not only did he take a break an hour into his “historic” filibuster, but his filibuster is technically not even a filibuster because of the rules of the Senate which limit how long anyone can speak before the vote to invoke cloture today.
He got Green Eggs and Ham all wrong – or another way of looking at it is to say he didn’t get it at all – and he proved to everyone listening that he has no grasp of history. It’s not just a matter of dates, or the actual events, but a matter of understanding the historical context of appeasement.
If Cruz thinks he is showing us all how he should be the next president, he is getting that all wrong too, because what he has shown us is that he is nothing more than a charlatan, a political grandstander preening himself before a rabid minority and providing final evidence to establishment Republicans why they need somebody like Chris Christie to give them even a chance, however remote, in 2016.
***************Ted Cruz Sabotages His Own Faux Filibuster With Green Eggs and Ham
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 24th, 2013
Ted Cruz doesn’t get it. The Texas Senator missed the entire message of Green Eggs and Ham and in the process made the case for Obamacare during his faux filibuster.
The problem for Ted Cruz and the rest of the Republican Party is that they have managed to convince the American people not to like their political Green Eggs and Ham (Obamacare) with lies. Sen. Cruz spoke on the Senate floor about how much he liked this book, but as usual, I don’t think he thought this the whole way through.
Republicans have convinced the American people not to like Green Eggs and Ham. No matter how much President Sam-I-Am does to persuade them that they will like green eggs and ham, a percentage of the American people still believe the lies they were told about it several years ago. What Republicans like Cruz fear most is what will happen after the American people try their green eggs and ham.
Sen. Cruz is trying desperately to stop Obamacare because he and his fellow Republicans know that once the American people try it, they are going to like it. They are going to forget all of the lies that Republicans have told them about the ACA, and they will raise holy heck when Republicans try to take it away from them in the future. In fact, green eggs and ham might become a new favorite food once many Americans get over their fear and give it a try.
By choosing to read Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor, Ted Cruz may have thought that he was rallying the just say no troops of the Republican Party. What he was really doing was telling the story of the Republican opposition to Obamacare and why it is destined to fail.
Ted Cruz is still talking. He isn’t saying anything that the American people haven’t heard before, but he may have unintentionally given himself a look into the path of failure that the Republican Party has set itself on. He did all of this just by reading Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor.
***************Wendy Davis is Ten Times Tougher As Ted Cruz Takes a Break One Hour Into His Filibuster
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 24th, 2013
Wendy Davis is at least ten times tougher than Ted Cruz, as the Texas US Senator could only speak for an hour before he needed Sen. Mike Lee to give him a break.
Ted Cruz came on to the Senate floor and promised to speak until he could no longer stand. Apparently, Cruz has very weak legs. About one hour into his don’t call it a filibuster, filibuster, Cruz had to take a break as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) stepped in to give Cruz a rest.
This means that Cruz lasted 1/10th of the amount of time that Wendy Davis did in her historic filibuster.
Cruz has been on the Senate floor for a little more than two hours, but he is already reading statistics on unemployment. Cruz ran out of talking points after about 20 minutes, and has now been reduced to quoting John Edwards’ two Americas.
Republicans love to talk tough, but Ted Cruz is showing how soft and weak he truly is.
Wendy Davis pulled off a successful filibuster through guts and determination. On the other hand, Ted Cruz can’t last an hour without help from his allies in the Axis of Anti-Obamacare Stupid. Davis rose to national recognition with her filibuster. Ted Cruz is slowly sinking like the Titanic with his. The difference between the two is night and day, and I’ll take the tough courage of Wendy Davis who stood alone to fight for what is right, over the Jell-o kneed and spineless ambition of Ted Cruz.
If you want to see a real person of principle, watch Wendy Davis during her filibuster. What is happening currently on the Senate floor is a soft man with no plan is trying launch his 2016 presidential campaign.
***************Fox News Sabotages Ted Cruz’s Defund Obamacare Filibuster by Cutting His Audio
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 24th, 2013
This afternoon Ted Cruz launched a filibuster against funding Obamacare, which Fox News did their part to sabotage, by showing the video, but substituting their own discussion of how Cruz will fail.
Because he can’t stop anything, Sen. Ted Cruz is not calling this a filibuster. Instead, Cruz has promised to speak until he can no longer stand. This means that Ted Cruz is filibustering.
Fox News is doing everything they can to make sure that their viewers know as little as possible about Cruz’s efforts. Their strategy is to cut to a breaking news update, and show Cruz talking on the Senate floor. What they don’t provide is audio of what Cruz is saying. Instead, Fox News has guests talk about how Cruz’s efforts are going to fail, and what will happen in the House after the Senate sent them a clean continuing resolution.
In short, Fox News put a gag on Ted Cruz. Fox has banished Cruz to a live video stream on their website. Fox News’ strategy is to take live looks at Cruz while providing no sound. Fox News described what Cruz is doing in their 3:30 PM ET update as, “He’s talking, and he’s talking. He’s probably going to talk for several hours.” Fox News then helpfully added that Cruz doesn’t have the votes to stop the vote.
It is interesting to see the Fox News tactics usually used on Democrats being turned on Ted Cruz. As the Republican heavily hitters have taken action, we have seen the life sucked out of the defund Obamcare or shutdown the government movement. Now Fox News is doing their part to keep their viewed informed with only the information that they want them to have.
Fox News hasn’t put a syllable of what Ted Cruz is saying on the air. They keeping the Texas senator almost out of sight, and definitely out of mind.
Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif to meet John Kerry at UN
Meeting between foreign ministers of US, UK, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran may pave way for more talks
Associated Press in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 08.35 BST
Foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the United Nations security council and Germany will meet Iran's top diplomat on Thursday, to discuss the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.
The meeting on the sidelines of the annual UN general assembly is aimed at paving the way for the first round of substantive negotiations on the nuclear issue since April, probably next month. It will also mark the highest-level, direct contact between the US and Iran in six years as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, comes face-to-face with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif.
The US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany will participate, with the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, serving as host of the meeting.
Encouraged by signs that the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, will adopt a more moderate stance than his hardline predecessor, but sceptical that the country's supreme leader will allow a change in course, Barack Obama directed Kerry to explore possibilities for resolving the long-standing dispute. However, Obama and other US officials have said Iran must prove its commitment with actions, not just words.
Rouhani is in New York this week, making his debut on the world stage with an address to the general assembly and a series of other speeches, news conferences and bilateral meetings.
During his visit, Iran has shown new urgency in reviving the stalled negotiations, seeking to ease crippling international sanctions as quickly as possible.
Rouhani said on Wednesday that Tehran had nothing to hide, and Zarif said he hoped his counterparts "have the same political will as we do to start serious negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement within the shortest span of time".
The west suspects Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and has imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran that have slashed its vital oil exports and severely restricted its international bank transfers. Inflation has surged and the value of the local currency has plunged.
Tehran has repeatedly denied that its nuclear programme is for anything other than peaceful purposes. But since his June election, Rouhani has made clear he is seeking relief from the sanctions and has welcomed a new start in nuclear negotiations in the hope that this could ease the economic pressure.
He has said he has the full support of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all important matters of state, including the nuclear question.
"If there is political will on the other side, which we think there is, we are ready to talk," Rouhani said on Wednesday. "We believe the nuclear issue will be solved by negotiation."
In his speech to world leaders at the UN on Tuesday, Rouhani repeated Iran's long-standing demand that any nuclear agreement must recognise its right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium. The US and its allies have long demanded a halt to enrichment, fearing Tehran could secretly build nuclear warheads
Here are the same story from two different papers in different countries. Simply examine how this story is reported so differently. Then ask yourself why ?Iranian president Hassan Rouhani recognises 'reprehensible' Holocaust
Comments in marked contrast to predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 16.35 BST
Link to video: Iran's Rouhani condemns Holocaust as reprehensible crimehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/26/iran-rouhani-condemns-holocaust-reprehensible-crime-video
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has put an end to eight years of Holocaust denial under his firebrand predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by condemning the "crime" of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis.
In an interview after his largely conciliatory speech at the UN general assembly on Tuesday, Rouhani accepted that the Holocaust had taken place and called it reprehensible.
"I've said before that I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect," Rouhani told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"But, in general, I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn."
Rouhani's comments were in marked contrast to those made by Ahmadinejad, who grabbed headlines for making inflammatory statements about the Holocaust during his time in office.
Ahmadinejad repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth and a lie perpetrated by the west.
"They launched the myth of the Holocaust," Ahmadinejad said in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran in September 2009.
"They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews … The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie … a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust."
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, interpreted Rouhani's remarks as the limit he could go within the political and cultural constraints placed upon him.
"We could say he is disputing the numbers, which is a valid argument," Javedanfar said. "But he is not saying that six million were not killed. He is saying whatever the numbers, which could be six million or less, was a crime."
Rouhani pushed the envelope as far as it could go, Javedanfar said, without infuriating the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other conservatives back home.
In the CNN interview, Rouhani said that acceptance of the Holocaust did not require the acceptance of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. "This does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too, is an act that should be condemned," he said.
During his visit to the UN in New York, Rouhani attempted to revamp the image of Iran so badly hurt under Ahmadinejad. He was accompanied by Iran's only Jewish MP, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, and made no direct mention of Israel in his speech to the general assembly on Tuesday.
Despite the charm offensive, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered his delegation to boycott Rouhani's speech at the general assembly on Tuesday.
September 25, 2013Iran’s Leader, Denouncing Holocaust, Stirs Dispute
By MARK LANDLER and THOMAS ERDBRINK
WASHINGTON — As he conducts a high-profile good-will visit to New York this week, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, says he is bringing a simple message of peace and friendship. But on Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani set off a political storm here and in Iran, with an acknowledgment and condemnation of the Holocaust that landed him in precisely the kind of tangled dispute he had hoped to avoid.
Mr. Rouhani, in an interview on Tuesday with CNN, described the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.” It was a groundbreaking statement, given that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II. Mr. Rouhani largely repeated his comments in a meeting with news media executives on Wednesday.
But a semiofficial Iranian news agency accused CNN of fabricating portions of Mr. Rouhani’s interview, saying he had not used the word Holocaust or characterized the Nazi mass murder as “reprehensible.” Mr. Rouhani spoke in Persian; officials at CNN said they used an interpreter provided by the Iranian government for the interview, which was conducted by Christiane Amanpour.
The dispute over his comments reflects the extreme delicacy of the Holocaust as an issue in Iranian-American relations. More broadly, it speaks to the political tightrope Mr. Rouhani is walking, trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States that will ease sanctions to please everyday Iranians, without provoking a backlash by hard-liners.
Such careful calculations prompted Mr. Rouhani to eschew a handshake with President Obama at the United Nations General Assembly. After weeks of conciliatory moves, including Iran’s freeing of political prisoners, Iranian and American officials said they believed Mr. Rouhani needed to placate hard-liners in Tehran, who would have bridled at images of an Iranian leader greeting an American president.
“Shaking hands with Obama would have won Rouhani huge points with the Iranian public, but it would have caused Iran’s hard-liners a conniption,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Rouhani avoided other land mines at the United Nations. His comments to the General Assembly, though less inflammatory than those of Mr. Ahmadinejad, touched on similar themes and grievances: the lack of respect for Iran, the West’s refusal to recognize its right to enrich uranium, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
But when Mr. Rouhani sat down later with Ms. Amanpour, he moved into fraught territory. Asked whether he shared his predecessor’s belief that the Holocaust was a myth, Mr. Rouhani replied, according to CNN’s translation, that he would leave it to historians to judge the “dimensions of the Holocaust.”
But he added, “In general, I can tell you that any crime or — that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people — is reprehensible and condemnable, as far as we are concerned.”
The Iranian news agency Fars, which has ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, posted its own translation of Mr. Rouhani’s answer, and claimed that he did not use the word “reprehensible” and that he said historians should be left to judge “historical events,” not “the Holocaust.”
That translation resembles more closely the way Mr. Ahmadinejad used to discuss the issue. In an interview with CNN in 2012, he said: “Whatever event has taken place throughout history, or hasn’t taken place, I cannot judge that. Why should I judge that?”
In what appeared to be an effort to head off criticism of Mr. Rouhani, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday that the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, said the president had presented Iran’s clear and revolutionary stands in his United Nations speech.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal to recognize the Holocaust became a symbol of Tehran’s implacable hostility. For Israel, it is evidence that Iran is bent on its elimination, and this is why Israel is so determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
While American Jewish leaders characterized Mr. Rouhani’s remarks as a modest step forward, they remained deeply skeptical of Iran’s intentions and its readiness to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“Assuming the accuracy of the translation, for me his comments are duly noted,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “But he’s only acknowledging, and rather belatedly, the universally acknowledged truth of the last 70 years. That does not warrant a standing ovation.”
Israeli officials reject Mr. Rouhani’s claim that the factual details of the Holocaust are a matter best left to historians. In fact, some analysts say, even raising doubts about the scope of the genocide is itself a form of Holocaust revisionism.
A statement issued last week by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “It does not take a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust — it just requires being a human being.”
Mr. Netanyahu, rattled by Mr. Obama’s desire to engage Iran, has warned that Mr. Rouhani, with his professorial demeanor and moderate tone, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yet Iran’s hard-liners, Mr. Sadjadpour said, “probably view him as sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
The complex political crosscurrents were on display in the Iranian news media’s coverage of Mr. Rouhani’s day at the United Nations. A reformist newspaper, Shargh, published pictures of Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama during their speeches, with the headline “Perhaps Another Time” — a reflection of the letdown among average Iranians about the missed opportunity for a handshake.
But another paper, Kayhan, which is close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed horror over the possibility that “the clean hand of our president would for moments be in the bloody clench” of Mr. Obama.
Advisers and analysts close to the government in Tehran said that after weeks of conciliatory statements and gestures by Mr. Rouhani, the excitement had gotten out of hand.
“We need to gain something from the Americans, before we pose and smile with them,” said Hamid-Reza Taraghi, an official who is one of the few trusted to interpret the speeches of Ayatollah Khamenei. “Of course, Mr. Rouhani also needed to convince some at home that he is not making any wild moves.”
Mr. Rouhani himself suggested that a meeting would have been premature and might actually have jeopardized the longer-term goal of striking an agreement on the nuclear program. Speaking to editors and columnists in New York on Wednesday, he said, “I believe we did not have enough time to make it happen.”
“If we do not take our first steps carefully,” he said, “we may not at the very least be able to obtain mutual goals that are in our minds.”
White House officials, though deflated, said Mr. Rouhani’s decision showed he is an astute political player who knows how to calm hard-liners at home while charming audiences abroad. Those are skills they say he will need to navigate the treacherous waters of Iranian politics.
“The issue of the relationship between the United States and Iran is incredibly controversial within Iran,” said a senior administration official. “For them it was just too difficult to move forward with that type of encounter at the presidential level, at this juncture.”
Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
************Rouhani and Obama manoeuvres leave Iranians cautiously optimistic
Observers in Tehran express confidence in possibility of future dialogue but conservatives remain sceptical of US intentions
Wednesday 25 September 2013 14.31 BST
The speeches of the US and Iranian presidents, Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, at the UN general assembly have tempered Iranians' hopes of an overnight detente, but the need for a thaw in relations between the two countries still dominates local political discourse.
Though the 24 September session failed to produce a much-anticipated unofficial meeting between the two leaders, observers expressed confidence in the possibility of future dialogue, even as conservatives remained sceptical of America's intentions toward the Islamic republic.
"Perhaps another time," read the front-page headline of the reformist newspaper Shargh, which printed a second edition on the morning of 25 September due to high sales.
The newspaper noted that Rouhani chose to skip a UN lunch where a chance meeting with Obama would have been possible, adding that Obama was absent from the hall during Rouhani's speech. However, it added that "both sides were weighing the pros and cons" and inching towards an appropriate structure for bilateral talks.
Ali, a 29-year-old teacher from north Tehran, said he saw this as an appropriate strategy given the existence of conservative groups in both countries.
"[Rouhani and Obama] won't go that fast because the reaction would be radical, both here and there. The existence of these groups is based on the animosity. Now we have two intelligent people who know that if they move too fast, the reaction from these two groups is going to be destructive. Their strategy is to take things slow, moderate the tone so as not to anger these elements too much."
Ali also noted that Rouhani's speech lacked the cryptic allusions that typify the UN addresses of Iranian leaders.
"The first segment was in keeping with the framework all Iranian presidents must work with, but the second part was amazing," he said. "When he said that peace was reachable, it was a very direct message to America: if you want to have peace, now is the time."
The impression of a historic opportunity for a thaw in Iran-US relations was further bolstered by the statements of Obama, whose speech included an unprecedented recognition of Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear programme, local media noted.
"Individuals play a large role in the course of international relations," said a Tehran University academic specialising in foreign affairs. "There is a big difference between the pessimistic views of George W Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the approaches of Mr Rouhani and Mr Obama."
The contrast between the past strategies of Ahmadinejad and the new administration was also evident in Rouhani's comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which he focused on human rights.
"You can be the same as Ahmadinejad and deny the Holocaust, creating more enemies, or you can be Rouhani and mention the suffering of Palestinians," said Astareh, a 31-year-old Green Movement activist. "You are still accusing a certain nation, but in a more constructive way."
Though commending Rouhani for his strong, straightforward approach, Iranians here also noted his tacit willingness to backpedal on key tenets of Iranian foreign policy.
Hamid, 40, who runs a juice stand in Tehran, said he stayed up until the early hours of the morning to watch Rouhani's speech live on TV.
"It's obvious he's backed off. His speech seemed to say: 'Why don't you take a step back and we'll also take a step back,'" he said. "There's no choice but for the United States and Iran to go at it directly face-to-face."
This moderated approach does not sit well with Iran's hardline factions, who remain sceptical of the United States's willingness to negotiate with Iran on an equal footing. Kayhan, the conservative daily newspaper associated with the supreme leader, ran a front-page article outlining "Obama's empty threats against Iran".
"Some people, for all their ignorance, believe that problems can be solved by writing letters to the nation's enemies," Hojattol-eslam Mohammad Zaar Foumani, head of the rightwing political grouping Jebhe Mardomi-e-Eslaahat told the state-run news agency Fars, as quoted by Kayhan.
Calling the current strategy a delusion, Foumani claimed that the west's animosity towards Islam and Islamic democracy were deep-rooted, concluding that "asking too much of the enemy will not help [Iran]".
But observers also noted that, 34 years after the Iranian revolution, the hardliners' idea of America's inherent hostility towards the Islamic republic was becoming outdated in the eyes of many Iranians.
"Instead of worrying about dialogue with America and Rouhani's chance of success, conservatives should be concerned that society no longer believes in the idea of American animosity," the leading Tehran intellectual Sadegh Zibakalam wrote in a Shargh editorial. "These are the values of a new generation of Iranians."
Pakistani teen activist Malala pleads to UN: Send books, not guns
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 23:30 EDT
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ education has stood by world leaders at the United Nations and called for books not guns.
“Instead of sending weapons, instead of sending tanks to Afghanistan and all these countries which are suffering from terrorism, send books,” she pleaded.
“Instead of sending tanks send pens,” she urged, her hair modestly covered by a scarf as she took part in the first anniversary of the Global Education First initiative at the United Nations in New York.
In October last year, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she was on her way to school in her usual bus in an attack that drew worldwide condemnation.
Gravely wounded and close to death, the Pakistani schoolgirl was flown to Britain for surgery. She returned to school in England last March, after recovering from her injuries.
Now she has become a global advocate for the right of all children, and in particular girls, to have a proper education.
“Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers,” Malala argued at an event attended by Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Croatian premier Ivo Josipovic.
According to the United Nations, some 57 million children around the world of elementary school age are denied an education — and 52 percent of them are girls.
“This is my dream to see every child to be educated,” Malala told the gathering, building on themes of one of her heroes, Martin Luther King. “This is my dream to see equality for every human being.”
“This is my dream to see peace everywhere in the world, in Nigeria, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan.”
It was not Malala’s first trip to the United Nations building in New York. Earlier this year in July, she received a standing ovation for an address to the general assembly at which she vowed she would never be silenced.
“We want women to be independent … and to have equal rights as men have,” Malala said on Wednesday.
“We believe in equality and to give equality to women is justice,” she added, receiving resounding applause. “We are here to find a solution for all these problems that we are facing.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailed the teenager for “your courage and triumph” which he said “have inspired millions of people across the world.”
Malala’s courage has already won her numerous awards including the highest honor from Amnesty International, which announced she would be named an Ambassador of Conscience.
Time magazine also listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and she has just been nominated for the prestigious European Parliament Sakharov Prize.
Next month her book “I am Malala” is due to be published and she has also launched an organization called the “Malala Fund.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Edward Snowden reveals new information about NSA spying on India
By Jason Burke, The Guardian
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 14:17 EDT
The US National Security Agency may have accessed computers within the Indian embassy in Washington and mission at the United Nations in New York as part of a huge clandestine effort to mine electronic data held by its south Asian ally.
Documents released by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden also reveal the extent and aggressive nature of other NSA datamining exercises targeting India as recently as March of this year.
The latest revelations – published in the Hindu newspaper – came as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, flew to Europe on his way to the US, where he will meet President Barack Obama.
The NSA operation targeting India used two datamining tools, Boundless Informant and Prism, a system allowing the agency easy access to the personal information of non-US nationals from the databases of some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
In June, the Guardian acquired and published top-secret documents about Boundless Informant describing how in March 2013 the NSA, alongside its effort to capture data within the US, also collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
The largest amount of intelligence was gathered from Iran, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.
Though relations between India and the US were strained for many decades, they have improved considerably in recent years. President George Bush saw India as a potential counterweight to China and backed a controversial civil nuclear agreement with Delhi. Obama received a rapturous welcome when he visited in 2010, though concrete results of the warmer relationship have been less obvious.
According to one document obtained by the Hindu, the US agency used the Prism programme to gather information on India’s domestic politics and the country’s strategic and commercial interests, specifically categories designated as nuclear, space and politics.
A further NSA document obtained by the Hindu suggests the agency selected the office of India’s mission at the UN in New York and the country’s Washington embassy as “location targets” where records of Internet traffic, emails, telephone and office conversations – and even official documents stored digitally – could potentially be accessed after programs had been clandestinely inserted into computers.
In March 2013, the NSA collected 6.3bn pieces of information from internet networks in India and 6.2bn pieces of information from the country’s telephone networks during the same period, the Hindu said.
After the Guardian reported in June that Pm program allowed the NSA “to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders”, both US and Indian officials claimed no content was being taken from the country’s networks and that the programs were intended to aid “counter-terrorism”.
Syed Akbaruddin, an external affairs ministry spokesperson, said on Wednesday there was no further comment following the latest revelations.
Siddharth Varadajaran, editor of the Hindu, said the Indian government’s “remarkably tepid and even apologetic response to the initial set of disclosures” made the story a “priority for Indians”.
A home ministry official told the newspaper the government had been “rattled” to discover the extent of the the programme’s interest in India. “It’s not just violation of our sovereignty, it’s a complete intrusion into our decision-making process,” the official said.
Professor Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, a former senior diplomat, said no one should be surprised by the Hindu’s story. “Everybody spies on everyone else. Some just have better gadgets. If we had their facilities, I’m sure we would do it too. The US-Indian relationship is good and stable and if they feel India merits so much attention then good for us,” he told the Guardian.
Others have been less phlegmatic. Gurudas Dasgupta, a leader of the Indian Communist party, asked the government to raise the issue with Obama.
Anja Kovacs of the Delhi-based Internet Democracy Project said the articles showed that such datamining was not about any broader “struggle to protect society as a whole through something like fighting terrorism, but about control”.
The Hindu argued that “the targeting of India’s politics and space programme by the NSA busts the myth of close strategic partnership between India and US”, pointing out that the other countries targeted in the same way as India “are generally seen as adversarial” by Washington.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Kashmir police station attacked by militants disguised as Indian army
Eight die in attacks, sparking calls to cancel talks between prime ministers of India and Pakistan to discuss violence in Kashmir
Reuters in Samba
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 10.16 BST
Militants dressed in Indian army uniforms have killed eight people in attacks on an Indian police station and army base near the Pakistan border, sparking calls to cancel talks between the nations' leaders at the weekend.
The group of about three militants killed six people in the attack on the police station in the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, then hijacked a truck and drove to the army camp, where they hid in a building, security forces said. They killed at least two soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, a senior army office said.
"They abandoned the truck on the national highway and perhaps took another vehicle and carried out an attack on the army camp in Samba. The gunfight inside the camp is going on," said Rajesh Kumar, an inspector general of police.
A day before the attack, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had said he would meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the UN general assembly at the weekend. They were expected to discuss rising violence in the Kashmir region.
Politicians from India's nationalist opposition party immediately called for the cancellation of the talks, the first between the two leaders since Sharif returned to office in May.
While Singh strongly condemned what he called a "heinous terrorist attack", he suggested the meeting, expected on Sunday, would go ahead.
"This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace," Singh said in a statement. "Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue."
India has faced an insurgency in its part of Muslim-majority Kashmir since 1989 and has long accused Pakistan of supporting the militants fighting Indian rule. The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, told reporters he believed the group had entered from Pakistan within the past 24 hours.
Pakistan's army and government were not immediately available for comment.
Chinese general's son jailed for gang-rape of woman in Beijing hotel
Li Tianyi gets 10 years after refusing to repent or compensate victim in case that turned spotlight on China's wealthy elite
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 11.41 BST
The 17-year-old son of a prominent Chinese general and military singer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for gang-rape, bringing to an end a six-month affair that provoked widespread outrage about entitlement among the country's wealthy elite.
The Haidian district people's court in Beijing sentenced Li Tianyi and four other juveniles for getting a woman drunk, beating her, and gang-raping her in a Beijing hotel in February. Three others received sentences of three to four years. The only legal adult in the group, a man with the surname Wang, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars.
"The behaviour of the five defendants counts as gang-rape. It has caused harm to the victim's mind and body, as well as harm to society, was of a vile nature, and should be punished accordingly," said the verdict, which the court released via Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog.
Li's family argued that the victim was a prostitute and that the sex was consensual. Li received a harsher sentence than his peers because he refused to repent for the crime or compensate the victim, state media reported. The other defendants have each given her 150,000 yuan (£15,244). Li's defence lawyer, Lan He, told state media he would appeal.
Li's parents are both famous singers – his father Li Shuangjiang is the dean of the music department at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Arts and holds the rank of general; his mother, Meng Ge, is also a renowned military singer.
Lan Rongjie, a law professor at Zhejiang University, said 10 years was the harshest sentence an adolescent can receive for gang-rape. "If this was not Li Tianyi, and his case had not drawn the attention of so many people, I think the sentence would be lighter," he said. "The court's image is at stake – they want to display to the world that this is still a just system."
The case was a trending topic on Sina Weibo on Thursday afternoon. While many users applauded the harsh verdict, some expressed doubt that Li would serve his full sentence. "They say it's 10 years, but who knows how long he'll actually be locked up for," wrote one user.
Another user wrote: "I hope with all my heart that this case is the beginning of true justice [in China's courts], and strikes against those real tigers, the products of entitlement."
Li has been in the public spotlight since he was young, when he danced on television specials alongside his parents.
In 2011, he was arrested after driving a BMW without a licence, crashing into another car and attacking a couple that tried to keep him from fleeing the scene. Li spent a year in juvenile detention and his father apologised publicly for the incident.
September 25, 2013
Singapore Looks Below for More Room
By CALVIN YANG
SINGAPORE — Singapore, with a little less land mass than New York City, is running out of room for its 5.4 million people.
The city-state has built upward — with apartment buildings reaching as high as 70 stories — reclaimed underused properties for housing and pushed out coastlines for more usable land.
But as one of the world’s most crowded cities, and with projections for 1.5 million more people in the next 15 years, Singapore’s options are as limited as its space.
So Singapore is considering a novel solution: building underground to create an extensive, interconnected city, with shopping malls, transportation hubs, public spaces, pedestrian links and even cycling lanes.
“Singapore is small, and whether we have 6.9 million or not, there is always a need to find new land space,” said Zhao Zhiye, the interim director of the Nanyang Center for Underground Space at Nanyang Technological University. “The utilization of underground space is one option for Singapore.”
Height restrictions imposed on areas around air bases and airports have prevented developers from building taller projects. And there is a limit to how much land can be reclaimed from the ocean — so far it accounts for a fifth of Singapore’s space but it is vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.
The squeeze has led to the closing of several old estates and military camps to make way for residential and industrial developments.
Building underground is not new in Singapore. About 12 kilometers, or eight miles, of expressways and about 80 kilometers of transit lines are below ground. Drainage systems and utility tunnels are common features beneath the urban landscape.
Now Singapore is going further, beginning work on a huge underground oil bunker called Jurong Rock Caverns. When this is completed, it will free about 150 acres of land, an area equivalent to six petrochemical plants.
Another project on the drawing board is the Underground Science City, with 40 interconnected caverns for data centers and research and development labs that would support the biomedical and life sciences industries. The science center, with an estimated 50 acres to be 30 stories below a science park in western Singapore, would house as many as 4,200 scientists and researchers.
“A lot of facilities can go underground if you fully utilize the underground space,” Dr. Zhao said. “In the beginning there might be a psychological issue, but as long as we have proper lighting and proper ventilation, gradually people can overcome the idea of working and living underground.”
Subterranean projects can be three to four times as costly as surface projects because of higher construction costs and the need for extensive soil investigations.
In a recent blog post, Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s minister for national development, pointed to extensive pedestrian passageways and shopping malls in Japan and Canada.
He cited the possibilities in Singapore “of creating underground transport hubs, pedestrian links, cycling lanes, utility plants, storage and research facilities, industrial uses, shopping areas and other public spaces here.”
“The earlier we begin this process, the faster we will learn and the easier it would be for us to realize these plans,” he said.
But the idea of working and living underground has met with some skepticism from the public.
“Over the years, many of us have relocated from kampongs to high-rise living in government flats,” said Joseph Tan, 69, a retired accountant, referring to traditional Malay villages. “Just when we have finally adjusted to living in these residential buildings, there are plans for us to live below ground. At my age, I just hope to live comfortably.”
David Ong, a former teacher, said the older generation might not feel at ease with the concept of subterranean living, partly out of superstition.
“Why are the living going underground?” he asked. “Only the dead return to the ground.”
The trend toward burying infrastructure has led city planners to think grandly, as they consider whether more activities could occur below ground. Some projects, like the excavation of underground tunnels and Jurong Rock Caverns, are already in full swing.
At the city’s two oldest universities, Nanyang and the National University of Singapore, studies have identified suitable areas to build sports facilities, libraries and lecture theaters below ground. According to researchers from both institutions, students may one day swim in an underground pool or watch a film in a subterranean theater.
But even with the current projects, subterranean development in Singapore is still in its early stages.
Dr. Zhao, one of the researchers behind Nanyang’s study on underground development, said extensive studies were needed.
“It is a big investment if we really want to go underground, and it requires comprehensive studies and careful planning,” he added. “At the moment we manage fine, but if there is a need for space in future, we know that there is the option of going underground.”
September 25, 2013
In Indonesia, a Governor at Home on the Streets
By JOE COCHRANE
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Each day, Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, does something practically unheard-of among Indonesia’s political elite: he ventures into the streets to speak with the people who elected him.
Most times, he is mobbed as he wanders through slums, traditional markets and other neighborhoods. Women, and men, try to touch him. Younger people grab his hands and lay them on their foreheads — a sign of respect. Many share their concerns over how their city is working (or not), a practice he encourages.
The people, he jokes, are not so much excited to see him; they are merely “shocked to see an Indonesian leader out of their office.”
“The people say it’s ‘street democracy’ because I go out to them,” said Mr. Joko, 52, whose supporters affectionately call him by his nickname, Jokowi. “I explain my programs. They can also give me ideas about programs.” He also drops in on local government and tax offices to let the city’s notoriously inefficient bureaucrats know he is watching.
That daily routine is one of the main reasons Mr. Joko, a reed-thin former furniture dealer, has almost overnight shot to the top of the polls about possible candidates for next year’s presidential election. In late August, the country’s most influential daily newspaper, Kompas, displayed his photo on its front page three days in a row along with poll results showing him with nearly double the support of the closest challenger, a retired Army general. The poll also found he had swept past the leader of his own party: former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, a famously imperious leader who sometimes referred to her supporters as “little people.”
“He’s the opposite of the leaders we have now. He doesn’t fit the mold at all,” said Bhimanto Suwastoyo, chief editor of the online Jakarta Globe. “The mold is: an Indonesian official does what he wants, has no connection with the people and doesn’t consult — he rules. Jokowi is doing the exact opposite. He’s hands on, he asks the public what they want, he approaches them and he’s seen as actually doing something.”
What Mr. Joko has accomplished in his first year leading the capital is not high-profile. In fact, people give him at least as much credit for what he appears not to have done. In a country rife with corruption, Mr. Joko is widely considered a clean politician who has not used his office to enrich himself, and who is working hard to cut down on corruption within the government.
The issue of official corruption is expected to be a major factor in the election, the third direct presidential election since the country threw off autocratic rule 15 years ago.
The economy has been doing well — it survived the world’s 2008 financial crisis virtually untouched, multinationals have been flocking here and its gross domestic product has expanded at a steady rate of more than 6 percent for the last three years. Still, analysts consistently say Indonesia is being held back from reaching its full potential because of corruption and collusion among government officials, lawmakers and powerful business interests.
The current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, swept into power in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009 on an anticorruption platform, but his governing Democratic Party has been mired in corruption scandals the past two years.
With months to go before the election, anything can happen to derail Mr. Joko’s chances. The retired general who ran second in the Kompas poll, Prabowo Subianto, has a strong following among the poor and has been considered a top contender for the presidency, despite widespread allegations of human rights abuses in East Timor. (Mr. Prabowo and Mr. Joko are members of opposition parties; Mr. Yudhoyono cannot run again because of term limits.)
Since becoming governor last October, Mr. Joko has followed through on his campaign promises, including issuing welfare payments on the equivalent of electronic gift cards that allow people to pay for health care and education supplies directly and ensure government officials do not take a cut off the top. He also instituted an online tax payment system to prevent graft and jump-started long-delayed plans for a mass rapid transit system for the capital.
He has invested the most effort and political capital on two projects in particular. The first was to move street vendors off the roads surrounding Tanah Abang, the largest textiles market in Southeast Asia, who were causing traffic jams throughout Central Jakarta, and give them space inside a nearby building. The second is the relocation of 7,000 poor families squatting around the Pluit Reservoir in North Jakarta into lost-cost public housing so the reservoir can be dredged for the first time in 30 years to help alleviate annual flooding.
These projects might seem obscure given the many pressing problems of a city of 10 million people, but they address the two most important ones for average people: traffic and flooding. To win community support, Mr. Joko visits both areas at least once daily to make sure that city officials are following through on the projects and to assure local residents that he is not really planning to turn the land over to shopping mall developers.
Mr. Joko’s “man of the people” tag is not concocted, analysts say. He is a former carpenter and ran a small furniture export business near Surakarta, a city of 520,000 people also known as Solo, before running for city mayor in 2005.
In 2012 he ran for governor in Jakarta, and his landslide win against the incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, who was backed by most of Mr. Yudhoyono’s governing coalition, was viewed as an emphatic rejection of the political establishment.
Mr. Joko ultimately will not decide whether he will run in the presidential election. Mrs. Megawati firmly controls the party, which decided at a recent congress that she alone would name its presidential nominee. She had been expected to run herself, but analysts say it is increasingly likely she will step aside for Mr. Joko to help her party try to regain the presidency after 10 years.
Party officials say Mrs. Megawati has hinted in recent weeks as much in recent weeks, calling herself at 66 “old” and “a grandmother.” Mrs. Megawati and Mr. Joko have also appeared side by side at party events in recent weeks, prompting even more speculation about his candidacy.
Revealed: Qatar's World Cup 'slaves'
Exclusive: Abuse and exploitation of migrant workers preparing emirate for 2022
The Nepalese workers in Qatar who don't make it home alive
Analysis: Qatar 2022 puts Fifa's reputation on the line
Pete Pattisson in Kathmandu and Doha
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013 17.46 BST
Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host countryhttp://www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2013/sep/25/qatar-migrant-workers-world-cup-host-video
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar's preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The investigation also reveals:
• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world's most popular sporting tournament.
"We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us," said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. "I'm angry about how this company is treating us, but we're helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we've had no luck."
The body tasked with organising the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was "deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City's construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness". It added: "We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations."
The Guardian's investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.
"We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours' work and then no food all night," said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. "When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers."
Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the emirate as an "open jail".
"The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. "In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening."
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90% of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40% of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.
The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.
According to some estimates, Qatar will spend $100bn on infrastructure projects to support the World Cup. As well as nine state-of-the-art stadiums, the country has committed to $20bn worth of new roads, $4bn for a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, $24bn for a high-speed rail network, and 55,000 hotel rooms to accommodate visiting fans and has almost completed a new airport.
The World Cup is part of an even bigger programme of construction in Qatar designed to remake the tiny desert kingdom over the next two decades. Qatar has yet to start building stadiums for 2022, but has embarked on the big infrastructure projects likesuch as Lusail City that, according to the US project managers, Parsons, "will play a major role during the 2022 Fifa World Cup". The British engineering company Halcrow, part of the CH2M Hill group, is a lead consultant on the Lusail project responsible for "infrastructure design and construction supervision". CH2M Hill was recently appointed the official programme management consultant to the supreme committee. It says it has a "zero tolerance policy for the use of forced labour and other human trafficking practices".
Halcrow said: "Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment. The terms of employment of a contractor's labour force is not under our direct purview."
Some Nepalese working at Lusail City tell desperate stories. They are saddled with huge debts they are paying back at interest rates of up to 36%, yet say they are forced to work without pay.
"The company has kept two months' salary from each of us to stop us running away," said one man who gave his name as SBD and who works at the Lusail City marina. SBD said he was employed by a subcontractor that supplies labourers for the project. Some workers say their subcontrator has confiscated their passports and refused to issue the ID cards they are entitled to under Qatari law. "Our manager always promises he'll issue [our cards] 'next week'," added a scaffolder who said he had worked in Qatar for two years without being given an ID card.
Without official documentation, migrant workers are in effect reduced to the status of illegal aliens, often unable to leave their place of work without fear of arrest and not entitled to any legal protection. Under the state-run kafala sponsorship system, workers are also unable to change jobs or leave the country without their sponsor company's permission.
A third worker, who was equally reluctant to give his name for fear of reprisal, added: "We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us. If we run away, we become illegal and that makes it hard to find another job. The police could catch us at any time and send us back home. We can't get a resident permit if we leave."
Other workers said they were forced to work long hours in temperatures of up to 50C (122F) without access to drinking water.
The Qatari labour ministry said it had strict rules governing working in the heat, the provision of labour and the prompt payment of salaries.
"The ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties and refers the case to the judicial authorities."
Lusail Real Estate Company said: "Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees. The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us."
The workers' plight makes a mockery of concerns for the 2022 footballers.
"Everyone is talking about the effect of Qatar's extreme heat on a few hundred footballers," said Umesh Upadhyaya, general secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. "But they are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match."
**************At 16, Ganesh got a job in Qatar. Two months later he was dead
Nepalese workers go to Qatar to find a way out of poverty. Instead, many are trapped into 12-hour days and nights in overcrowded, filthy camps. Some never make it home alive
Pete Pattisson in Kathmandu and Doha
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013 18.25 BST
Amid the urgent bustle of Kathmandu airport, you can see one of globalisation's most bitter sights. At the departure gate, hopeful parents bid tearful farewells to their garlanded sons as they join the hundreds of thousands of Nepalese heading overseas for work. At the other end of the terminal, among the stream of passengers emerging through arrivals, the coffins of migrant workers are wheeled out on luggage trolleys to be collected by families. Some relatives are stoic, others wail and writhe on the floor. On average, three or four bodies arrive home every day.
These are the big losers of scandalous abuse and exploitation of some of the poorest, most disenfranchised people on the planet: the workers who leave Nepal for the Middle East every year.
Ganesh Bishwakarma was one such worker. For Ganesh, Qatar was an oasis in the desert, a promised land where he could work his way out of the acute poverty that had trapped his family in Nepal's rural Dang district for generations. Like many others in his village he had met the recruitment agents who promised well paid work and the opportunity to provide for his family. He left pledging to come back and build his mother a beautiful house.
He did return – after only two months and in a coffin. He was 16.
"We didn't think he would die like this," said his grandmother, Motikala. "We didn't think we would be crying like this."
It was late at night when the ambulance carrying Ganesh's body pulled up outside his family's small mud house. The wailing of his friends and neighbours started long before his coffin was unloaded and carried back home by his shocked and grieving family. All night his family crouched around the child's coffin. As dawn broke, they said their final farewells and lit his funeral pyre.
At 16, Ganesh was too young to have legally migrated for work, but that did not stop a local recruitment broker arranging a fake passport stating he was 20. The broker charged an extortionate fee for a cleaning job in Qatar – far in excess of the legal limit set by the Nepalese government – leaving the boy and his family with a 150,000-rupee (£940) recruitment debt that he promised to pay back at an interest rate of 36%.
Every year, almost 400,000 Nepalese men and women leave their towns and villages for jobs overseas. More than 100,000 head to Qatar, where a booming construction industry and insatiable appetite for cheap labour has been fuelled by its successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, celebrated by the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his wife, pictured below. Yet instead of the salaries and prospects they have been promised, many of these workers are led into a web of exploitation, corruption and deceit and, increasingly, slavery and death.
For many of these migrants, their fate is sealed before they have left Nepal. "[Nepalese migrant workers] go without asking questions," said Nilambar Badal, director of the Migrants' Centre in Nepal, which advises migrants of the risks of working overseas. "And so every penny is extracted from them."
While construction of the stadiums is yet to start, Qatar is already a giant building site as it prepares for the World Cup. Construction sites can range from vast chasms crawling with thousands of workers, to a handful of men building a villa. What doesn't change is the relentless heat and humidity. Workers on most sites toil away in pale blue boilersuits stained dark by their sweat. They wrap themselves up, even draping their faces in cloth to shield them from the sun. Often only their eyes are visible.
Ten miles from the centre of Doha, workers are toiling under a searing sun on the Lusail City development. By 2022, this huge building site will be Qatar's gleaming new metropolis and a centrepiece of Qatar's World Cup tournament. Yet there is mounting evidence to suggest it is being built in part on the forced labour of men who find themselves powerless to leave – their wages retained to stop them running away, their passports confiscated and deprived of the ID cards they need to move around freely without fear of arrest.
Some workers at Lusail City say they have not been paid for months and can only watch as the interest mounts on their debts in Nepal. One group finally took strike action to demand their wages, a drastic step given that the authorities can simply expel them to penury and shame back at home for the most minor infraction.
"The situation has become so bad that we have had to go on strike three or four times to demand our salary," said SBD, a Nepalese migrant who works on Lusail's marina. "Once we stole the keys from the buses which take us to work so they could not force us to go. We've gone to the police, but they refused to help us."
An hour's drive away, a vast dusty industrial zone west of Doha is home to tens of thousands of migrant workers. Temperatures can reach up to 50C, with labourers working up to 12 hours a day, yet the men who have been put to work for a sub-contractor claim they are not supplied with drinking water.
At night they return to filthy and overcrowded accommodation in the Sanaya industrial centre, where the stench of raw sewage is overpowering and workers allege 600 men share two kitchens. "The kitchens are infested with mosquitoes, cockroaches and bugs," said KBB, one of the camp's residents. "Flies are sitting on the food. People are getting sick."
The appalling toll on migrant labourers building the infrastructure for the World Cup is reflected right across Qatar's construction sector.
In a tiny room behind the Nepalese embassy, the Guardian found dozens of migrant workers seeking rescue and redress from their employers. "When my two-year contract finished, I asked my employer to let me go home. He kept promising to issue me with an exit permit and send me home, but he never did," said Bir Bahadur Lama, 25, who has been trying to return to Nepal for a year. "Last year my employer sold me to another man, but when he realised I was an undocumented worker, he fired me. My only option now is to turn myself in to the police, and hope that they'll deport me."
One large group sought refuge after their employer had allegedly paid no wages for months at a time. They said he was now refusing to issue the exit permits they needed to return home.
"We do not want to leave our money behind, but we are risking our lives by staying here. It is not worth it," said Ramesh Kumar Bishwakarma, 32, who has not been paid for 10 months. "Just give us a ticket and our passports. We want to leave as fast as possible."
For an increasing number of migrants, their only way out of Qatar is in a coffin. Mortality rates among Nepalese workers have risen over the past few years. Nepal's foreign employment promotion board (FEPB) estimates that 726 migrants died overseas in 2012, an 11% increase on the previous year.
Migrant rights group Pravasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee (PNCC) said the real number of deaths was likely to be double this as the FEPB's figures include only those where a relative claimed compensation or insurance money. It put the death toll closer to 1,300. "The number of deaths among Nepalese migrants is much higher than other south Asian countries," said Mahendra Pandey, the chair of PNCC. "Most Nepalese work in construction, but they are not experienced at this type of work, which is much more risky than other jobs. They also often find they are not being paid a good salary which led some to commit suicide."
The most common cause of death given on forms is some form of heart failure. There is confusion over why so many apparently healthy young men are dying of cardiac arrest – so much so that these deaths are now commonly referred to as "sudden death syndrome".
"These workers who are dying are young, but heart attacks are not a common cause of death among young people," said Dr Prakash Raj Regmi, president of the Nepal Heart Foundation, who points to the appalling working and living conditions these workers endure as a possible cause, saying: "These men have poor eating habits, high levels of mental stress and work long hours in extreme conditions."
Ganesh's family was told the boy died of a cardiac arrest weeks after he arrived in Qatar. It is something the family finds hard to accept. "This son of mine was strong. He didn't even have a cough," said his father, Tilak Bahadur. "He went abroad and died unexpectedly. Was it the climate or something else?"
ganesh-bishwakarma Tilak Bahadur Bishwakarma holds a photo of his son, Ganesh, 16, who died in Qatar from a cardiac arrest, six weeks after leaving Nepal. Photograph: Peter Pattisson/guardian.co.uk
The Nepalese government seems unwilling to act against mounting evidence of the labour abuses faced by thousands of its citizens. It blames the recruitment agencies, which it accuses of conning vulnerable workers into bogus contracts and inflated recruitment fees.
"We know about these problems, and we have taken certain measures against the responsible agencies," said Divas Acharya, director of the department of foreign employment in Nepal. "We are trying to do more, but we are short of staff and resources."
For Ganesh's family, the hope they felt two months ago as their boy left for Qatar has turned into uncertainty and despair. As the flames from the funeral pyre started to die down, his father's thoughts turned to the debt that Ganesh had left behind. Despite his son's hopes of returning home a rich man, the family never received a rupee from Qatar.
"I don't know how I am going to pay back the loan we took out to pay for my son's job. It is on my mind the whole time. I know the lender won't spare me," he said. "I don't ever want to hear the name of Qatar again."
From safety to serfdom
For most of the thousands of migrant workers who flock to the Middle East, their problems originate at home, with unscrupulous recruitment agents who often impose high fees for finding them a job and make false promises about salaries and contract terms.
The more ruthless will fake documents, including health certificates, to make their "clients" seem fitter for work than they really are. The poorer migrants will usually have to borrow money – often at steep rates – from moneylenders or other people in their village to pay their way.
Once in Qatar, the kafala system binds the worker to a single employer. Workers have little scope to complain about malpractice, such as confiscation of passport, late payment of wages and failure to issue ID cards, because the employer knows his labourers depend on him. Kafala requires employers to report workers who quit without permission for "absconding", an offence leading to their detention and deportation. It also requires workers to secure exit permits from their employer before they can go abroad.
"We can't run away and we can't change company," said an electrician working at the new international airport. "If we run away the police may catch us – we are afraid of them. We will become illegal."
According to the International Labour Organisation, forced labour is "all work which is exacted from someone under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily".
The ILO's checklist specifies a range of conditions that are the hallmarks of forced labour. The Nepalese allegations tick many of these boxes, including physical violence, exclusion from community, removal of rights and privileges, worsening of working conditions, the withholding of wages, retention of identity documents, and induced indebtedness.
Human Rights Watch said: "The sponsorship law prohibits migrant workers from changing jobs without their employer's consent; even when employers fail to pay competitive wages, provide decent conditions, or meet the conditions of the employment contract, workers cannot simply change jobs."
**************Qatar World Cup 'slaves': the official response
The company behind the Lusail City development, Qatar's 2022 World Cup organising committee and the labour ministry respond to allegations of worker exploitation
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 17.00 BST
Lusail Real Estate Development Company:
Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees.
We are extremely concerned at the allegations highlighted to us. Lusail employs, directly and via subcontractors, over 20,000 people. We value each employee.
All of our subcontractors are legally obliged to meet, as a minimum, Qatar labour law. In addition, Lusail expects our subcontractors to go beyond the law in the protection of individual employees both in health & safety and labour law.
The vast majority of contractors exceed these requirements and are delivering global best practice.
The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.
A company spokesperson
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) is deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City's construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness. We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.
While construction on work relating directly to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar has not yet commenced, we have always believed that hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar could be the catalyst for positive change, particularly for accelerating human and social development in Qatar. We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
The Qatar 2022 Workers' Charter is available to the public and is provided to all of our potential contractors. Q22's Workers' Charter is just the first step in our overall strategy for improving workers' welfare in Qatar.
Clauses protecting the rights of workers on Q22 projects will be enshrined in our contracts and will supplement all relevant Qatari laws by taking additional steps that Q22 has identified in order to enhance the welfare of our workers. We are driven by transparency in setting up our standards, which will include a robust enforcement and monitoring mechanism.
We are working with international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We also maintain an open channel of dialogue with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on these issues, via close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and other relevant government agencies.
Q22 is also working with Qatar's Human Rights Co-ordination Committee (QHRCC) which consists of representatives from Q22, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Qatar Foundation for Human Trafficking, Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Follow up and Search Unit of the Ministry of Interior, and the National Human Rights Committee. We are committed with the government to address these issues.
Answers to the Guardian's questions to the Qatar labour ministry
Are the authorities aware of the numbers of Nepalese dying on their construction sites?
According to article 48 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: "The employer shall record injuries incurred by any of its employees."
According to article 108 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: "If the worker dies while on duty or because of the work or sustains a work injury the employer or his representative shall immediately notify the police and the department of the incident.
"The notification shall include the name, age, profession, address and nationality of the worker and a brief description of the incident, the circumstance where it took place and the actions taken for aiding or curing the worker.
"The police shall upon receipt of the information undertake the necessary enquiries and the record shall contain the statements of the witnesses and the employer or his representative and the statements of the injured if his condition so permits and the record shall explain the relationship of the incident to the work.
"The police shall upon completion of the inquiry send a copy of the record to the department and a copy to the employer. The Department may require completion of the enquiry if it deems necessary."
According to article 115 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: "The employer shall every six months provide the department with a statistics of the work injuries and occupational diseases in accordance with the forms prepared for this purpose and the procedures to be prescribed by a decision of the minister.
According to article 105 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: "The periodical medical check-ups shall be carried out on the workers exposed to the dangers of inflication with the vocational diseases in all activities of the work at intervals appropriate to the hazards involved in the work in accordance with the measures to be specified by the competent authorities specifying the types of such check-ups and the intervals in which they shall be carried out.
"The employer shall keep the results of these check-ups in the files concerning the workers. If the results of the check-up shows the infliction of the worker with one of the occupational diseases the employer shall notify the department thereof within three days from the date of his knowing the result of the check-up."
Why do so many young Nepalese die of heart attacks?
This question would be better suited for the relevant health authorities or the government of Nepal.
Why do some building sites refuse to offer free water to workers?
All building sites in Qatar are required by Law to provide free water to workers.
This is a requirement under Qatari Labour Law.
According to article 103 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: "The employer shall take the measures capable of securing the hygiene and good ventilation in the places of work and shall provide it with the suitable lighting and potable water, hygiene and drainage, in accordance with the regulations and decisions to be issued by the competent authorities in this respect."
According to article 106 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: "The employers employing workers in locations distant from the cities and to which the usual means of transportation are not available shall provide them with the following services:
1. Suitable means of transportation or suitable accommodation or both.
2. Potable water
3. Suitable foodstuff or the means of obtaining thereof.
The said locations shall be specified by a decision of the minister."
Does Qatar allow workers to stop working if temperature rises above 45C?
Under the ministerial decree No. 16 of 2007, the working hours were limited in the open places under the sun during the summer period and the Department of Labour prevented the employment of the workers for more than five hours in the morning and it must not exceed 11.30 am as well as the evening working hours must not start before 3pm.
The resolution was made applicable from 15 June to 31 August of each year. The ministerial resolution warned that the offenders shall be treated in accordance with the law. This distinctive resolution also demands the need to intensify the regulatory campaigns and take the deterrent measures against the violating employers.
The resolution obligated the employers to place a timetable for daily working hours at the work place in accordance with this resolution. The time table must be put in an open place, so that all workers can know the same and labour inspectors can easily note it during their inspection visits. The resolution decided to close the workplace which does not take these provisions into the account for a period not exceeding one month and the closure shall be effective by a decision of the minister.
The Department of Labour in the Ministry of Labour shall pay the inspectors on visits to monitor the commitment of the owners of enterprises and institutions under the labour law to the ministerial resolution.
Why do some employers remove passports from Nepalese, hold back wages, and refuse to issue them with ID cards?
According to article 66 of Qatar Labour Law No.14 of 2004: "The wages of workers employed on an annual or monthly basis are to be paid once every month. All other workers are to be paid every two weeks.'
Furthermore, the ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties against the company in question and refers the case to the judicial authorities. The ministry provides the opportunity for workers to submit their grievances to the Department of Labour Relations through a dedicated "hotline" and email. The ministry has also established a dedicated office to assist workers with following-up on any cases that have been submitted to the judicial authorities.
According to Article 9 of Qatar's Sponsorship Law No. 4 of 2009, the employer is required to return a worker's passport upon completion of immigration procedures, which result in the issuance of an identification card. Any employer that violates this law is penalised through a fine of no more than QR 10,000.
Does Qatar treat its foreign workers fairly?
The Ministry of Labour is committed to ensuring that all workers are treated in a fair and just manner.
Halcrow (Consulting Engineers & Architects Ltd)
Halcrow (Consulting Engineers & Architects Ltd) is contracted as one of the infrastructure design and construction supervision consultants. Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment.
The terms of employment of a contractor's labour force is not under our direct purview.
We, at Halcrow, ensure that our staff are compensated fairly according to industry standards and are provided with training on skills necessary to conduct their work efficiently, including training on health, safety and sustainability.
Charles Taylor's 50-year sentence for Sierra Leone war crimes upheld
Former Liberian president to be jailed in UK for supporting rebel leaders who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone for 'blood diamonds'
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 12.18 BST
The former Liberian president Charles Taylor has had his 50-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting war crimes in west Africa upheld at a UN-backed tribunal.
The decision by the court means that the 65-year-old is likely to be sent to the UK to serve out the rest of his life in a British jail.
There had been speculation that the tribunal could overturn Taylor's convictions, following stricter precedents set in the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about what constitutes "aiding and abetting". A series of recent judgments in that court required proof that senior military commanders had "specifically directed" atrocities.
But the judges in the Sierra Leone tribunal dismissed the Balkans precedents as irrelevant and said Taylor had known at the time that atrocities were going to be committed by rebel forces attacking the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown.
They found that the former warlord and political leader had not demonstrated "real and sincere remorse" for his actions.
The judgment was delivered by the appeal chamber of the special court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Taylor had challenged the 50-year sentence imposed on him for supporting rebels who carried out atrocities in Sierra Leone in return for "blood diamonds".
He had been found guilty on 11 counts that included participating in the planning of murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations.
Taylor's lawyers argued that the original trial chamber made systematic errors in the evaluation of evidence and in the application of the law governing what constitutes "aiding and abetting" sufficiently serious to "reverse all findings of guilt entered against him".
The prosecution, however, also appealed against the original decision, saying that Taylor should have been found individually criminally responsible for ordering and instigating crimes committed by rebels in Sierra Leone. It maintained a 50-year sentence was not "reflective of the inherent gravity of the totality of his criminal conduct and overall culpability" and should be increased to 80 years.
Last year the three-judge panel unanimously found that Taylor had been criminally responsible for "aiding and abetting" the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other factions carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.
The court heard that the Liberian leader knew from August 1997 about the campaign of terror being waged against the civilian population in Sierra Leone.
Among the atrocities detailed was the beheading of civilians. Victims' heads were often displayed at checkpoints. On one occasion a man was killed, publicly disembowelled and his intestines stretched across a road to form another checkpoint. "The purpose," Judge Richard Lussick said, "was to instil terror."
Taylor was the first former head of state to face judgment in an international court on war crimes charges since judges in Nuremberg convicted Karl Dönitz, an admiral who led Nazi Germany for a brief period following Adolf Hitler's suicide.
His conviction was widely welcomed in Sierra Leone but the response in Liberia, where Taylor was once seen as a freedom fighter, was more critical.
The prison authorities in England and Wales have made preparations for Taylor's arrival. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have agreed to enforce any sentence handed down to Charles Taylor." A special act of parliament, the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act 2007, had to be passed – a demonstration of what the government said at the time was its "commitment to international justice".
Kenya mall attack: dozens more bodies believed buried under rubble
Intelligence source tells Guardian that one attacker remains engaged in conflict with security forces
Afua Hirsch in Nairobi
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013
Link to video: Nairobi's Westgate shopping centre left collapsed and smokinghttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/25/westgate-shopping-centre-collapsed-smoking-video
Scores more bodies are believed to be buried under rubble in Kenya's Westgate shopping mall as gruesome details continued to emerge on Wednesday from the aftermath of the four-day terrorist siege.
As one morgue in Nairobi said it was preparing for up to 160 new corpses, an intelligence source told the Guardian there was evidence that the number of bodies buried under rubble could be in the hundreds, adding that at least one attacker was still engaged in conflict with security forces inside the mall, five days after the shopping centre was stormed on a busy Saturday morning.
"One attacker is still alive," said the source, who is involved in the rescue operation inside Westgate, and who asked not to be named, adding: "There were 200 workers in Nakumatt [supermarket] and 800 people shopping. The walls of Nakumatt collapsed. There are a lot of bodies inside."
Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based, al-Qaida-linked group behind the attack, claimed the government had carried out a "demolition" of the building, burying 137 hostages.
The Kenyan government rejected claims that any militants remained alive, or that they had demolished part of the building, but said the mall's upper–level car park had collapsed, bringing the second level down on to the ground floor on top of at least eight civilians and one or more attackers.
Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu said the number of dead – which stood at 67 – already included the bodies of those buried beneath the rubble, and denied the figure would rise further.
Kenya's interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, said the process of determining the number of dead and gathering evidence from the mall could take a further week. He said the US, Israel, Britain, Germany, Canada and Interpol were helping with the investigation.
"This morning, forensic experts began sifting through the rubble at the Westgate mall," Lenku said at a press conference close to the centre.
"This process involves finger-printing, DNA and ballistics examination. We do not expect the numbers of the dead to increase in any significant way. Yes, there could still be bodies trapped in the rubble. We can only confirm that after we have gone through the rubble."
The US ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, said US experts were providing technical support and equipment to Kenyan security forces and paramedics.
Six British nationals are among the dead. The British government said that a number had also been injured and were still in Kenya receiving treatment, but declined to provide any further information. A spokesman also said he could not rule out the possibility that one or two British nationals, or dual nationals, were still missing.
As questions remained about whether any of the attackers was from the UK, the British high commissioner in Kenya, Christian Turner, confirmed that a Briton had been arrested but said: "We do not believe that the individual was of central interest to this operation."
The statement came after intense speculation as to the role of foreign al-Shabaab recruits in carrying out the attack, following reports that a British woman and two or three Americans may have been involved. Neither country has ruled out the claims, but the US attorney general, Eric Holder, said there had been no verification that Americans were involved.
"Most of the jihadis are diaspora Somalis who have been living in the west," said a Kenyan intelligence source, who did not want to be named. "We know this was an operation by a faction of al-Shabaab, with Somalis, probably working with al-Qaida."
More details were beginning to emerge about the attack itself. One military expert told the Guardian he had information that al-Shabaab had set up inside the mall, where they had stockpiled weapons and ammunition in preparation for the siege.
"This is a terrorist cell that has been operating in Kenya for a while," said Colonel Benjamin Muema, security expert in Nairobi. "It is a cell that knows the mall, had a blueprint of the building, and was a step ahead of the security forces.
"I believe that this group has had premises within the mall, and that explains how they were able to continue for four days without running out of bombs, grenades and explosive devices."
The government did not rule out that a female attacker was involved. "Regarding the identity of the terrorists, we want to request the public and the international community to allow our experts to undertake the forensics," said Lenku.
Al-Shabaab also made claims about the way the attack was carried out, stating in an email exchange with Associated Press that foreigners were a "legitimate target" and that Muslims had been spared.
Late on Wednesday night, al Shabaab's leader for the first time confirmed claims by his group's members that it was behind the attack on the mall, Reuters reported.
In an audio posted on the al-Shabaab-linked website, Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the insurgents.
"Take your troops out or prepare for a long-lasting war, blood, destruction and evacuation," Godane said in the message delivered in the Somali language and apparently directed at the Kenyan government. Kenyan troops are fighting alongside African peacekeepers against the militants in Somalia.
Al Shabaab had threatened revenge since Kenyan troops joined the conflict.
"You are part of the massacre Kenya carried out in Kismayu and in other towns because you had elected your politicians. The tax you pay is used to arm Uhuru [Kenyatta] forces that massacre Muslims. You had supported the fight against us," Godane said.
As conflicting claims continued surrounding the details of the attack, coroners dressed head-to-toe in protective clothing were busy clearing inside the city's main morgue – a single storey building surrounded by neat hedges and leafy gardens that did little to mask the strong odour of decaying corpses.
"We are preparing to receive up to 160 bodies here", said Marion Githinnaji, member of the Nairobi city assembly in charge of the Nairobi city council mortuary. "This morgue acts as a clearing house. People come here to identify the bodies, and we do the fingerprints and processes, then the bodies and police files are moved to private facilities because there is not enough space."
"We have coroners there at the mall but because the military are handling it, we haven't been able to remove any of the bodies yet. They haven't told us exactly how many to expect."
An elderly lady, clutching a bottle of water and wearing a lime green jacket and matching headband, who did not want to be named, had identified a body as her nephew. She spoke through tears as she criticised the authorities for their handling of her nephew's case.
"We came here yesterday to identify the body, and we came again at 8am today for the postmortem," she said. "The police say that the doctor refuses to do the postmortem, and the doctor says it's the police. What is this?"
There is mounting criticism of the Kenyan authorities' handling of the victims and of the attack itself.
Muema said it represented a serious failure of intelligence. "There was no intelligence, nobody knew that this attack was going to happen, and everyone was caught by surprise.
"Then the initial response was to deal with it as a robbery, not as a terrorist attack, which only served to aggravate the situation.
"And then when the magnitude of the attack was revealed, the agencies were not unified under a single command structure. No one knew who anyone else was and there may well have been friendly fire."
September 25, 2013
Key Syrian Rebel Groups Abandon Exile Leaders
By BEN HUBBARD and MICHAEL R. GORDON
BEIRUT, Lebanon — As diplomats at the United Nations push for a peace conference to end Syria’s civil war, a collection of some of the country’s most powerful rebel groups publicly abandoned the opposition’s political leaders, casting their lot with an affiliate of Al Qaeda.
As support for the Western-backed leadership has dwindled, a second, more extreme Al Qaeda group has carved out footholds across parts of Syria, frequently clashing with mainline rebels who accuse it of making the establishment of an Islamic state a priority over the fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The fractured nature of the opposition, the rising radical Islamist character of some rebel fighters, and the increasing complexity of Syria’s battle lines have left the exile leadership with diminished clout inside the country and have raised the question of whether it could hold up its end of any agreement reached to end the war.
The deep differences between many of those fighting in Syria and the political leaders who have represented the opposition abroad spilled into the open late Tuesday, when 11 rebel groups declared that the opposition could be represented only by people who have “lived their troubles and shared in what they have sacrificed.”
Distancing themselves from the exile opposition’s call for a democratic, civil government to replace Mr. Assad, they called on all military and civilian groups in Syria to “unify in a clear Islamic frame.” Those who signed included three groups aligned with the Western-backed opposition’s Supreme Military Council.
Mohannad al-Najjar, an activist close to the leadership of one of the statement’s most powerful signers, Al Tawhid Brigade, said the group intended to send a message of disapproval to an exile leadership it believes has accomplished little.
“We found it was time to announce publicly and clearly what we are after, which is Shariah law for the country and to convey a message to the opposition coalition that it has been three years and they have never done any good for the Syrian uprising and the people suffering inside,” he said.
The statement was issued just as Western nations are striving to raise the profile of the “moderate” Syrian political opposition, which is led by Ahmad al-Jarba. The United States and its allies have been reluctant to fully align with and arm the rebels because their ranks are heavily populated by Islamists.
France has scheduled an event on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at which Mr. Jarba is to speak along with foreign ministers who have backed him, including Secretary of State John Kerry.
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Jarba, whose coalition is formally known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Mr. Jarba canceled a news conference that had also been scheduled for Thursday.
A senior State Department official who accompanied Mr. Kerry to the United Nations meetings this week said that the United States was still trying to strengthen Mr. Jarba’s coalition and suggested that some of the factions that had broken with him might include extremists.
“We, of course, have seen the reports of an announcement by some Islamist opposition groups of their formation of a new political alliance,” the State Department official said.
“As we’ve already said clearly before, we’ve been long working toward unity among the opposition,” the official added. “But we also have had extreme concerns about extremists.”
Another American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations, said that the coalition had recently made “real progress” in broadening its base by including an array of Kurdish parties as well as members of local councils in “liberated” areas of northern and eastern Syria.
But the official acknowledged that the coalition had more to do to build up its credibility inside the country since its headquarters are in Turkey and not Syria.
The latest split in the opposition emerged as the United States, Russia and other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council were making progress on another front: drafting a Council resolution that would enforce an agreement on eliminating Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal.
A Western diplomat said that about 80 percent of the resolution had been agreed to and that he was “cautiously optimistic” it would be settled this week.
The rifts between the exile opposition and those fighting Mr. Assad’s forces inside Syria have raised questions about whether the opposition’s political leadership has sufficient influence in the country to hold up its end if an agreement was ever reached to end the civil war.
“At this stage, the political opposition does not have the credibility with or the leverage over the armed groups on the ground to enforce an agreement that the armed groups reject,” said Noah Bonsey, who studies the Syrian opposition for the International Crisis Group.
“You need two parties for an agreement, and there is no viable political alternative to the coalition,” he said, defining a disconnect between the diplomatic efforts taking shaping in New York and the reality across Syria.
Inside Syria, rebel groups that originally formed to respond to crackdowns by Mr. Assad’s forces on political protests have gradually merged into larger groupings, some commanded and staffed by Islamists. But differences in ideology and competition for scarce foreign support have made it hard for them to unite under an effective, single command.
Seeking to build a moderate front against Mr. Assad, Western nations encouraged the formation of the opposition political coalition. Even though some of its leading members like Mr. Jarba have been imprisoned by the Assad government, the coalition has loose links to many of the rebel fighters on the ground.
The rebel groups that assailed the political opposition are themselves diverse and include a number that are linked to the coalition’s supreme military council. More troubling to the West they also include Al Nusra Front, a group linked to Al Qaeda. At the same time they include groups that remain opposed to another group linked to Al Qaeda: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“The brigades that signed have political differences with Nusra, but we agree with them militarily since they want to topple the regime,” said a rebel, who gave his name as Abu Bashir.
A coalition member and aide to Mr. Jarba said the opposition was still studying the development but was surprised at some of the groups that had signed on with Al Nusra Front.
“The Islamic project is clear and it is not our project,” said the coalition member, Monzer Akbik. “We don’t have a religious project; we have a civil democratic project, and that needs to be clear.”
Further complicating the picture is the rise of the new Qaeda franchise, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — or ISIS, which has established footholds across northern and eastern Syria with the intention to lay the foundations of an Islamic state.
In recent months, it has supplanted Al Nusra Front as the primary destination for foreign jihadis streaming into Syria, according to rebels and activists who have had contact with the group.
Its fighters, who hail from across the Arab world, Chechnya, Europe and elsewhere, have a reputation for being well armed and strong in battle. Its suicide bombers are often sent to strike the first blow against government bases.
But its application of strict Islamic law has isolated rebels and civilians. Its members have executed and beheaded captives in town squares and imposed strict codes, forcing residents to wear modest dress and banning smoking in entire villages.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Michael R. Gordon from the United Nations. Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Istanbul.
UN chemical arms experts arrive in Syrian capital
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 6:47 EDT
A team of UN chemical weapons experts arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent said, ahead of new investigations into the use of the banned arms.
The team, led by chief expert Ake Sellstrom, flew into the Lebanese capital Beirut on Wednesday morning, before continuing by road to Damascus.
The group is expected to examine the alleged use of chemical weapons some 14 times in Syria’s 30-month conflict.
It went to Syria last month and concluded in a report presented on September 16 that banned chemical weapons had been used on a wide scale.
There was clear evidence that sarin gas was used in an attack in the Eastern Ghouta neighbourhood near Damascus on August 21, the report said.
Sellstrom pointed out that the report was only an interim document, and that other allegations needed to be looked into.
“There have been other accusations presented to the UN secretary general, dating back to March, against both sides” in the conflict, he told AFP earlier this month.
There were “13, 14 accusations” that “have to be investigated”.
He said the team hoped to be able to present a final report addressing all of the accusations “possibly by the end of October”.
The August 21 attack, which the Syrian opposition and some parts of the international community blame on the regime, prompted Washington to threaten military action against Damascus.
The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons against its people, and has agreed to a US-Russian plan that will see it hand over its chemical arsenal for destruction.
The deal headed off US military action, but regime ally Russia is still wrangling with Britain, France and the United States over the wording of a UN resolution enshrining the accord.
09/25/2013 05:09 PM
Nairobi Attack: Threat of Somali Militants Spreads Beyond Borders
By Bartholomäus Grill
The Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab has been weakened at home. But the devastating terrorist attack on a shopping center in Nairobi shows that the group poses a growing risk to neighboring countries.
Dutch journalist Arjen Westra, 43, was sitting in a café, thinking about his next article, when all hell broke loose. At 11:45 p.m. last Saturday, he suddenly heard a massive explosion and the abrupt retort of assault weapons. It was very near. The café was part of the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The patrons on the terrace panicked and ran inside screaming.
"I felt like I was in a war film," Westra says. "But I sensed right away that this wasn't fiction, but that it was real horror."
Westra somehow managed to flee in the midst of the chaos, just as the killing began inside the mall. Dozens of people were ripped apart by hand grenades or shot to death. For many, the tragedy went on for hours and hours. The attackers had taken hostages, and when Kenyan soldiers arrived at the scene, a bloody battle ensued between the shelves and freezers.
The assault on the shopping center is the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the bombing of the United States Embassy 15 years ago. And even as the drama unfolded, the Somali Islamist organization al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kenyan troops had invaded war-torn Somalia, which borders Kenya, in 2011 to drive back the Islamists, and now they were exacting revenge. While al-Shabaab isn't nearly as powerful in Somalia as it once was, terrorism experts fear that the organization can now be expected to stage attacks abroad.
Freedom Fighters Against 'Foreign Invaders'
Al-Shabaab means "The Youth" in Arabic. The terrorist group was founded in 2006 as a militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, a radical group of Sharia courts that had assumed power in southern Somalia and had also gained control of the capital Mogadishu. The young militants saw themselves as freedom fighters against "foreign invaders" from Ethiopia who, with American military assistance, where trying to drive out the fundamentalists.
After a coup in 1991, Somalia had ceased to exist as a nation. The leaderless country, torn apart by conflicts among rival clans, developed into an ideal haven for militant Islamists from around the world -- and al-Shabaab became a melting pot for international Muslim terrorists.
According to US intelligence agencies, mujahedeen from Afghanistan and Pakistan joined al-Shabaab after the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. In February 2012 the organization's leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, swore allegiance to al-Qaida. Apparently, Somali expatriates from the United States and other Western countries have also joined the group since then.
Al-Shabaab, with an estimated 5,000 militants, also staged attacks abroad from the very beginning. In July 2010, suicide bombers killed 74 people who were watching a television broadcast of the soccer World Cup final in the Ugandan capital Kampala. It was an act of revenge against the Ugandan army, which has been in action in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force since early 2007.
Kenya Declared a Target for Attacks
When Kenyan troops marched into Somalia and helped drive the extremists out of various areas, including Mogadishu and the port city of Kismayo, the neighboring country was declared a target for attacks. Al-Shabaab still has enough funding to launch operations at home and abroad, partly through donations it receives from Somali expatriates. Most of all, however, the Islamists mercilessly extort money from residents of the areas of Somalia they still control.
Al-Shabaab is absolutely capable of destabilizing the region surrounding the Horn of Africa, warn United Nations security experts. They say that the group's command structures are intact, and that it is hoarding weapons to prepare for the period after the peace mission ends. According to a report prepared for the UN Security Council, al-Shabaab is responsible for hundreds of murders and bombings in recent years.
Annette Weber, an Africa expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, doubts that orders for the latest bloody attack came from Somalia. "The terrorist group's international wing has become stronger," says Weber.
It is clear that the jihadists are increasingly selecting unprotected targets like the Westgate Mall, which can be attacked with relatively little risk. "We will not negotiate with the Kenyan government as long as its forces are invading our country, so reap the bitter fruits of your harvest," an al-Shabaab representative tweeted as the attack was unfolding.
The Islamists' main goal is to inflict as much damage as possible on countries like Kenya and Uganda, which support Somalia's government, says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, adding that they achieved their objective in Nairobi. "With only a few militants, they caused a standoff for several days and left behind enormous devastation."
"There will be attempts to repeat attacks like the one in Nairobi in Western countries," warns the American counterterrorism expert.