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« Reply #8970 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Nairobi mall siege: police used teargas to repel terrorists, says rescuer

Abdul Yusuf Haji, son of a former Kenyan minister, saved dozens of women and children as Westgate mall came under siege

Shiv Malik, Friday 27 September 2013 08.57 BST   

The son of a former Kenyan security minister who helped rescue scores of people from a Nairobi shopping mall as it was being besieged by terrorists has said police deployed teargas to drive back attackers.

Speaking on Kenyan television, Abdul Yusuf Haji told the remarkable story of how he came to form a group of armed civilians who tried to give cover to each other and Red Cross officials as they brought dozens of women and children from the Westgate mall to safety on Saturday.

Haji revealed that two uniformed police used teargas as they approached the Nakumatt supermarket, the terror gang's stronghold inside the complex. His account may explain statements from the al-Shabaab terror group, which said the Kenyan government used "chemical gasses" to end the attack that left at least 72 people dead.

Haji's face and his black and white checked shirt became known around the world after a picture of him rescuing a young child running towards him, taken by Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic, became one of the defining images of the four-day siege.

He was identified on Twitter in the days following the attack but gave his first interview on Kenyan television on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the child's mother, Katherine Walton, said her family, including four-year-old Portia, had been pinned down by a hail of crossfire before Haji arrived.
Westgate mall, Nairobi Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle flee from the Westgate mall in Nairobi. Photograph: Jonathan Kalan/AP

"We were just going to meet my two older boys in the supermarket when we heard an explosion," said the 38-year-old IT worker from North Carolina.

"I grabbed the girls and started running. A woman pulled us behind a promotional table opposite. I could see the bullets hitting above the shops and hear the screaming all around us."

Haji told NTV that as he went store to store looking for survivors with other armed men, he noticed Walton hiding behind a table.

"We asked her if she can come towards us. That's when she told us, I have three kids with me here … there's no way we can run with the kids … So we told them is one of the kids reasonably older? She nodded to us and we told her, can you please tell the kid to run towards us."

Portia then ran towards Haji, which he said gave everyone more courage. "This little girl is a very brave girl," he said. "Amid all this chaos around her, she remained calm, she wasn't crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were holding guns … I was really touched by this and I thought if such a girl can be so brave … it gave us all courage."

Her husband, who was also caught up in the attack, said there was no question that they would leave Kenya on account of the horrific events at the Westgate mall. "There will always be bad people in the world but it's the comfort of knowing that there are good people that matters," he said.

"The way this community drew together and responded was just incredible. It's an honour and a privilege to be able to live among such good people."

Haji, a Muslim of ethnic Somali origin, said friends and co-religionists encouraged him to speak out and reveal his story to counter al-Shabaab's message. "These people are not representing Muslims, they are not representing Islam," Haji said during the 30-minute interview.

Haji, whose father was the country's former security minister Mohamed Yusuf Haji, denied being a hero. "I don't think I'm a hero. I think I did what any Kenyan in my situation would have done to save lives, to save other humans regardless of the nationality, religion or creed … We're definitely not heroes," Haji told NTV.

He added that more bodies could be found in and around the Nakumatt supermarket after the end of the attack: "We saw a lot of dead people. Very young people, children, old ladies, you cannot imagine."


Kenya's Somalis fear violent backlash in the wake of Westgate terror attack

Muslim minority in Eastleigh area of Nairobi dispute al-Shabaab link and say their success in trade makes them scapegoats

Afua Hirsch in Nairobi, Thursday 26 September 2013 21.41 BST   

At a barbershop in Eastleigh, a densely populated neighbourhood just east of central Nairobi, a man with a neat goatee, fair skin and unblinking hazel eyes leans his head back into a sink as brown dye is rinsed out of his hair.

Like most people in the area often known as Little Mogadishu, Abdul, 29, is Somali-Kenyan. And like many locals, he has grown increasingly angry at the events at the Westgate shopping centre, and the potential impact the four-day siege will have on his community.

"What happened in Westgate is terrible. The community in Eastleigh want to help – we have given food and supplies. But I think it is the police, not terrorists, who killed people," says Abdul.

"Al-Shabaab exist, but they are in Somalia, not here. This is a cover-up motivated by politics. I don't trust the authorities – I think they exploded everything in Westgate to destroy the evidence."

From the other side of the salon, where he is shaving a client's head, Bashir chimes in: "The worst al-Shabaab can do is a suicide bombing – not something like this that goes on for days.

"Now they are blaming Somalis, when we are still not sure who these people are. People are mixing up Muslims with terrorists. You have to differentiate."

There is widespread distrust of the authorities in Eastleigh. Locals say the police have failed to investigate a string of bombings in the neighbourhood, which have killed and injured dozens.

Many believe the bombings were carried out by Somali militants – but Eastleigh residents have also suffered bloody reprisals from other Kenyans who blame the Somali community for the terrorist attacks.

At a medical centre in the neighbourhood, the young receptionist dressed in a black hijab becomes agitated as she describes seeing police round up Somalis. She believes the arrests were linked to Westgate.

"When people saw the police coming, they were running away," says Naima. "How can they be going around arresting Somalis when we are not even sure if it was Somalis who attacked the place?"

Sitting next to her, Ilham, 25, who wears a green hijab, says she believes the gunmen who stormed Westgate were not members of al-Shabaab, and that the description of it as a terrorist attack is part of a state cover-up.

"The threat from al–Shabaab is being exaggerated," said Ilham. "There is nothing like al-Shabaab in Kenya. Al-Shabaab are taking responsibility to look bigger than they are."

"Business is booming in Eastleigh, and people don't like it," says Naima. "They want to target us and affect our business. This has to do with politics, not terrorism."

Despite its reputation as a slum, the tightly knit and entrepreneurial Somali community has become a trade hub. Eastleigh's wide avenues are overcrowded and dirty, with rubbish piled high at the roadside and filling puddles of stagnant water. But the area is also dotted with new, high-rise buildings.

Ahmed Mohamed returned to Kenya after obtaining a degree in London, and now runs a security firm and an association representing 2,000 Somali-Kenyan business owners.

"People are coming from Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan to do business here," he says. "Somalis are natural entrepreneurs. It's in our DNA."

Many feel that resentment at Somali-Kenyans' success in business has led outsiders to scapegoat the community for Islamist violence.

Somali-Kenyans say they are routinely victimised by the Christian majority. Naima says that when she travelled to Kenya's Rift Valley she was subject to harassment and called names.

"When I went to Rongai wearing [a hijab] they were pointing at me and calling me 'al-Shabaab'. When I go to a bus station, they will check me two or three times, but a Christian won't be checked at all. I am a Kenyan. Why would you do that? It is radicalising people."

Eastleigh has been the focus of repeated attacks. Last year six people were killed in a grenade attack on a minibus, which was followed by violence and looting. Somali-Kenyans were blamed for the blast, even though it happened within their own community.

"We are naturally worried about retaliatory attacks," says Mohamed. "Every time something like this happens, we experience the backlash. This time we have donated food to the Kenyan Defence Force, to the fire brigade and the police, to show we are not part of the problem."

Local MP Yusuf Hassan, who was confined to a wheelchair after a bomb attack during general elections in March, says not enough has been done to strengthen relations with the Somali community.

"We have been assured by the leadership that ethnic profiling and collective punishment of Somalis is no longer acceptable, but the government should deal with this issue in a more systematic way," he says.

"The majority of Kenyan people, they do not subscribe to that kind of mentality. But for a minority, whenever the terrorists are mentioned, the word 'Somali', the word 'Muslim', appears.

"In the past two years, there have been 11 bomb attacks in my constituency. Yet there have been no arrests, and not one single person brought to court. What does that tell you about the state of the investigations?

"The government told us it was al-Shabaab and that that was the end of the story. It's not good enough."

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« Reply #8971 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:25 AM »

September 26, 2013

U.N. Deal on Syrian Arms Is Milestone After Years of Inertia


UNITED NATIONS — The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed on a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons, but there will be no automatic penalties if the Syrians fail to comply, officials said Thursday.

The agreement, hammered out after days of back-room negotiations, is a compromise among the United States, its allies and Russia about how to enforce the resolution, which would eliminate Syria’s chemical arms program.

But the deal, when approved by the 15 members of the Security Council, would amount to the most significant international diplomatic initiative of the Syrian civil war. It would also be a remarkable turn for President Obama, who had been pushing for a military strike on Syria just a few weeks ago before accepting a Russian proposal to have Syria give up its chemical arsenal.

Western diplomats said the resolution would be legally binding and would stipulate that if Syria failed to abide by the terms, the Security Council would take measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the strongest form of a Council resolution. Such measures could include economic sanctions or even military action. But before any action could be taken, the issue would have to go back for further deliberations by the Security Council, on which Russia, like the other permanent members, holds a veto.

“This resolution makes clear there will be consequences for noncompliance,” Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday night.

In an earlier Twitter message, Ms. Power said the resolution established a “new norm” against the use of chemical weapons. Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in another post that the resolution agreed to by the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France would be “binding and enforceable.”

The diplomatic breakthrough on Syria came as Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said progress had been made toward a resolution of the nuclear dispute between his country and the West, suggesting it could happen in a year.

Mr. Zarif spoke optimistically after emerging from what he called a “very substantive, businesslike” meeting at the United Nations with representatives of the big powers. He also met face to face with Secretary of State John Kerry in one of the highest-level discussions between the estranged countries in years.

The entire 15-member Security Council began to discuss the Syria resolution agreed to by the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — the permanent members of the Security Council — on Thursday evening.

A vote on the resolution could come as early as Friday, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told reporters here Thursday night, as long as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, votes on its own Syria measure early Friday. A formal vote on the measure will not take place until the international organization that monitors compliance with the international treaty banning chemical weapons drafts procedures for inspecting and eliminating Syria’s vast arsenal of poison gas.

The Syria resolution was a major milestone for the United Nations after years of largely unproductive discussions in the Security Council over the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000.

Just three weeks ago, the Obama administration grew openly frustrated at the inability to win Russian support for military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad after a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed more than 1,400 people. Ms. Power complained then that “there is no viable path forward in this Security Council.”

Now, the Council has agreed to a provision in the resolution stating that “the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”

Syria, the resolution states, “shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other states or nonstate actors.”

The measure notes that “in the event of noncompliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Security Council can decide to “impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.”

While Western diplomats were praising the new resolution, much will depend on how it is ultimately put into effect in a nation that is caught in a bloody civil war.

According to the resolution, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog organization that polices the international treaty banning chemical weapons, or the secretary general of the United Nations would report any violations to the Security Council.

The Council would then discuss what measures to impose for Syria’s noncompliance.

American officials have said they were pleasantly surprised by the completeness of the Syrian government’s declaration of its chemical weapons program, which was presented on Friday.

But far more formidable challenges lie ahead.

By November, international monitors are to inspect all of Syria’s declared sites, and equipment to produce and mix chemical weapons is to be destroyed, according to a so-called framework agreement that was negotiated by the United States and Russia this month and that is to be enforced by the new Security Council resolution.

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

Skeptics worry that the process may become drawn out as it was during the 1990s when the United Nations sought to inspect Saddam Hussein’s arsenal in Iraq. Syrian compliance, they fear, may be only partial, and the Russians, they worry, may use their veto power in the Security Council to buy the Assad government more time.

Proponents of the measure say Russia may be cooperative because it shares the West’s concern about maintaining zero tolerance for chemical weapons use.

The diplomatic maneuvering over Syria came amid another drama at the United Nations

Mr. Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, emerged smiling from a meeting with six world powers late Thursday afternoon as American and European officials announced that negotiations on “details” would be worked out in Geneva next month.

The meeting, led by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, took place with the five permanent members of the Security Council, along with Germany. Mr. Kerry’s separate meeting with Mr. Zarif lasted 30 minutes.

Ms. Ashton said she envisioned an “ambitious timetable” of next steps that would be discussed when the group meets in Geneva next month. The details, she said, would address what Iran needs to do, how soon, and how the international community can verify whether Iran is keeping its word. “Twelve months is a good time frame to think about implementation on the ground,” she said.

“It was a substantial meeting,” she told reporters here, “a good atmosphere, energetic.”

Her attempts in the past to negotiate a settlement with Iran, including a European proposal for a nuclear deal, had not been fruitful. She said Thursday that Iran could choose to respond to her last proposal or submit a new one.

“The purpose of today was to set the tone and the framework,” she said.

Mr. Zarif said Iran hoped to reach a détente “in a timely fashion” that would preserve its right to enrich uranium and persuade the world community that it is for civilian use. “Now we see if we can match our positive words with serious deeds,” he said.

He said the “endgame” would be the lifting of all sanctions “within a short period of time.”

Somini Sengupta and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.


Russia offers to guard sites holding Syria's chemical weapons stockpile

US-Russia brokered deal and Hague disarmament plan close as Moscow confirms dismantling of arms to be in Syria

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Thursday 26 September 2013 20.27 BST   

Russia has offered to send troops to Syria to guard sites where chemical weapons are to be destroyed, under a disarmament plan expected to be announced in the next few days.

Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister, said that other former Soviet republics which were part of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation would also deploy soldiers to provide security for an international team of weapons inspectors who would oversee the task of destroying Syria's stockpile of poison gases and nerve agents.

The alliance includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Ryabkov said that Moscow would not allow the Syrian arsenal to be transferred to Russia for dismantling.

"We believe that it should be dismantled on Syrian territory," Ryabkov was quoted as saying while attending an arms show in Nizhny Tagil. "We undoubtedly won't deal with it. We believe that the process of its destruction could be efficiently organised on the territory of Syria."

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in the Hague, is expected to agree to a provisional verification and disarmament plan on Sunday, following Syria's formal declaration of its chemical weapons, delivery systems and production facilities.

The OPCW plan would then require a UN resolution to put it into effect. Diplomats at the UN in New York confirmed that the resolution was nearly ready after Russia and western powers came to a compromise over whether the deal should include a threat of punitive measures in the event of Syrian non-compliance.

The compromise hammered out in New York means the enforcement measures will not be included in the initial resolution, but there will be text warning Syria that failure to comply will lead to a second resolution under chapter seven of the UN charter, which does envisage punitive measures including military action.

Another Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, told the Associated Press that agreement on the draft was just two days away, and western diplomats in New York agreed that the main dispute had been resolved and that only technical issues remained to be settled. The resolution will not go to a vote, however, until after the OPCW announcement.

Syria this month applied to join the Chemical Weapons Convention after France and the US threatened air strikes in response to the chemical weapons attack on rebel-held suburbs in eastern Damascus on 21 August.

A subsequent UN investigation confirmed that sarin had been used in that attack, and gave estimates of the trajectories of the rockets used, which western powers and Human Rights Watch said demonstrated that blame lay with the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Damascus rejected the findings and Russia claimed that there had been a "rush to judgment".

UN weapons inspectors are now in Damascus investigating three other alleged chemical weapons attacks: one at the village of Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, on 19 March, and at Saraqeb and Sheik Mahsood.

The inspection team will also be seeking further information on three more incidents in late August claimed by the Syrian regime to be linked to rebel forces. The government claims it has passed evidence to Moscow showing rebel involvement in chemical attacks, but that evidence has not been published.

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« Reply #8972 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Qatar under pressure over migrant labour abuse

International Trade Union Confederation says death toll could reach 600 a year unless government makes urgent reforms

Robert Booth, Owen Gibson and Pete Pattisson in Kathmandu
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 20.33 BST      

Qatar is facing growing international pressure to act against the growing death toll of migrant workers preparing for the 2022 World Cup as unions warned another 4,000 people could die in the Gulf emirate before a ball is kicked.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said at least half a million extra workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka were expected to flood in to Qatar to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure. Unless the Doha government made urgent reforms to working conditions the death toll among migrant builders could reach 600 a year, or almost a dozen a week, the ITUC said.

The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from 4 June to 8 August this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents. Workers described being forced to work in 50C heat without a supply of drinking water by employers who withhold salaries for several months and retain their passports to prevent them leaving the country. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions, and hunger has been reported.

A representative on the board of Fifa, which controversially awarded the world's biggest sporting event to Qatar in 2010, called for an urgent inquiry by the world governing body. Fifa announced it will discuss the issue at a meeting of its executive committee in Zurich next week and a spokesman said it was "very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights' abuses and the conditions for construction workers".

A spokesman for Qatar's World Cup organisers said they were "appalled" by the Guardian revelations and said there was "no excuse" for the maltreatment of workers. In London, Tory MP Damian Collins said England and other major footballing nations should consider boycotting the World Cup if Fifa does not show it is taking concerns surrounding the Qatar 2022 tournament seriously.

The problem of workers' deaths is not confined to Nepalese migrants who make up 16% of Qatar's 1.2 million migrant labour force. The Indian ambassador in Qatar said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year and 1,460 complained to the embassy about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.

"Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue," said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based ITUC. It has met the Qatari labour minister in Geneva and officials at the Qatar 2022 supreme committee. "The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concominant increase in deaths."

The ITUC has based the estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form a large part of Qatar's migrant workforce, the majority of whom are builders. While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased – with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure – it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.

"We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life," said Burrow. "Everything the Guardian has found out accords with the information we have gathered from visits to Qatar and Nepal … The 2022 World Cup is a very high-profile event and should be implemented with the very highest standards and that is clearly not the case."

The Nepalese government on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Qatar after she caused a series of diplomatic incidents, which drew complaints from both the Nepali and Qatari authorities.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this year, ambassador Maya Kumari Sharma said Qatar was an "open jail" for Nepalese migrants. Her post had been under threat for some time. According to local media reports, earlier this week a senior Nepali politician called for her dismissal, following a request from the Qatari ambassador to Nepal.

There were wider calls in Kathmandu for Nepal's government to do more to defend its people working in the Gulf.

"What we now want to see is an increase in human capacity at Nepal's embassy in Qatar to deal with the huge numbers of workers seeking help, and an increase in resources so that the embassy can provide shelter, food and, if necessary, air tickets back to Nepal," said Rameshwar Nepal, director of Amnesty International Nepal.

Last month 30 migrant workers took refuge in the embassy.


Qatar World Cup construction 'will leave 4,000 migrant workers dead'

Exclusive: International Trade Union Confederation claims about 12 labourers will die each week unless action is taken

Robert Booth, Thursday 26 September 2013 13.08 BST   
Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

Qatar's construction frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup is on course to cost the lives of at least 4,000 migrant workers before a ball is kicked, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has claimed.

The group has been scrutinising builders' deaths in the Gulf emirate for the past two years and said that at least half a million extra workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka are expected to flood in to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure in time for the World Cup kickoff.

The annual death toll among those working on building sites could rise to 600 a year – almost a dozen a week – unless the Doha government makes urgent reforms, it says.

The ITUC has based the estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form the bulk of Qatar's 1.2 million-strong migrant workforce, the large majority of whom are builders.

While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased – with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure – it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.

The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from 4 June-8 August this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents.

Workers described forced labour in 50C heat, employers who retain salaries for several months and passports making it impossible for them to leave and being denied free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and hunger has been reported. Thirty Nepalese construction workers took refuge in the their country's embassy and subsequently left the country, after they claimed they received no pay.

The Indian ambassador in Qatar said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year and 1,460 complained to the embassy about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.

Without changes to working practices, more workers will die building the infrastructure in the runup to the World Cup than players will take to the field, the ITUC has warned. "Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue," said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based organisation that has met the Qatari labour minister in Geneva and officials at the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, which is preparing the country for the World Cup.

"The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concominant increase in deaths.

"We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life. Everything the Guardian has found out accords with the information we have gathered from visits to Qatar and Nepal. There are harrowing testimonies from the workers in the system there. The 2022 World Cup is a very high profile event and should be implemented with the very highest standards and that is clearly not the case."

It is estimated that Qatar, the world's richest country by income per capita, is spending the equivalent of £62bn from its gas and oil wealth on building transport infrastructure, hotels, stadiums and other facilities ahead of the World Cup.

The ITUC has estimated the number of migrant workers already in Qatar at over 1.2 million and says possibly as many as 1 million more will be needed to get the country ready for the world's biggest sporting event. "Fifa needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today," said Burrow.

The ITUC's own analysis of deaths this summer appears to tally with the Guardian's investigation. It found that 32 Nepalese workers died in July, many of them young men in their 20s. "Nepal accounts for less than half the migrant workers in Qatar, and reports from other countries-of-origin indicate that similar numbers of workers from these countries are losing their lives in Qatar," Burrow said.

Asked to comment on the prediction of thousands of deaths, a spokesman for the Qatar 2022 supreme committee said on Thursday that organisers were "appalled" by the the Guardian's revelations about the deaths of Nepalese workers who travelled to the Gulf state to work.

"Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in the Guardian's report," the spokesman said. "There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar."

A leading expert in labour migration to the Gulf from south Asia warned Qatar that ill-treatment of workers would backfire because the labour forces they rely on to build their economies will start resisting.

Prof S Irudaya Rajan, chairman of the research unit on international migration at the centre for development studies in Kerala, India, said: "They need people from India and Nepal to give their hard work and they need better treatment because they are the ones building their whole economy.

"The Qataris have made them invisible in their economy but they have to make them visible. In the 21st century, labour should be treated equally to capital."

Rajan said he believed Indian workers were better treated than some others because the relatively long history of the country sending workers to the Gulf means support networks are already in place for them.

• This article was amended on 26 September 2013. The name of the International Trade Union Confederation was given wrongly as the International Trade Union Congress. This has been corrected.


Qatar World Cup 'slaves': Fifa's UK representative 'appalled and disturbed'

Vice-president Jim Boyce calls for immediate investigation into deaths of Nepalese construction workers revealed by Guardian

Owen Gibson, chief sports correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 15.01 BST   

A representative on Fifa's ruling executive committee has said he is appalled and disturbed by the findings of a Guardian investigation into the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar before the 2022 World Cup and vowed to push for immediate action by football's governing body.

Northern Ireland's Jim Boyce, a Fifa vice-president, called for an immediate investigation into the deaths of dozens of Nepalese workers and the ill-treatment of thousands of others working in Qatar in an £85bn construction frenzy as the country prepares to host the tournament.

"I was appalled and very disturbed after reading the allegations in the newspaper this morning. Fifa must investigate this information immediately and report the full findings at the earliest opportunity to the Fifa executive committee," he said.

Boyce, who reiterated that he was "absolutely appalled", took over from the former Football Association chairman Geoff Thompson as the representative of the home nations on the 24-strong Fifa executive committee immediately after the vote that controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in December 2010.

The executive committee is convening in Zurich next Thursday for a two-day meeting that will include a debate about the timing of the 2022 tournament. There is growing demand to move it from summer to winter in order to avoid the 50C heat, but this has outraged defeated rival bidders, such as the US and Australia, and European leagues that play in winter.

It is understood that discussion of the findings of the Guardian investigation, which included evidence of forced labour on the huge Lusail City project that will have the World Cup final stadium as its centrepiece, could be added to the agenda.

The Qatar 2022 supreme committee, responsible for the ambitious project to host the world's biggest sporting event in a country smaller than the Falkland Islands and in scorching summer temperatures, said it too was appalled by the details contained in the report and an accompanying film.

"Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in the Guardian's report. There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner," said a spokesman.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar."

The World Cup organisers have promised to hold all contractors due to work on the construction of the actual stadiums to a new code of conduct.

But critics of a system that has been likened to modern-day slavery point out that Qatar already has more robust labour laws than many other countries in the region, but they are often not adhered to by the web of contractors and subcontractors in a huge construction boom with tens of thousands of migrant labourers who are tied to their employer by law.

Meanwhile, the British government has offered to assist Qatar and other hosts of large sporting events to share the lessons of ensuring the "safety and security" of the construction of the venues and infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics.

"London 2012 had an outstanding record on safety and security both during the construction phase and when the Games were on," said the sports minister, Hugh Robertson.

"We stand ready to help with lessons learned and share best practice with future host cities and countries of major international sporting events. It's also vital that international sports organisations remain vigilant and ensure that their selected hosts' safety and security plans are completely robust."

The International Trade Union Confederation this week wrote to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, to revisit the bid conditions for the 2022 World Cup to protect migrant workers.

It pointed out that in 2011 the Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, issued a statement in which he said: "Fifa upholds the respect for human rights and the application of international norms of behaviour as a principle and part of all our activities."

Tory MP Damian Collins, who has long campaigned for reform of Fifa, has said England and other nations should consider boycotting the World Cup if Fifa does not show it is taking concerns surrounding the Qatar tournament seriously.

He said Fifa should take a "very active interest" in preparations in Qatar, including "any construction work linked to the infrastructure and stadia".

In light of grave concerns about the treatment of migrant workers, and the debate about when the tournament should be played given the summer heat, he said football authorities should consider withdrawing from Fifa tournaments.

"I do wonder whether the FA should seriously consider whether the questions over it being moved, over human rights and over the huge disruption to the sporting calendar are so great that we should consider not playing," said Collins, who sought to form an international coalition of politicians to campaign for the reform of Fifa in the wake of corruption allegations that engulfed the organisation in 2011.

"Fifa only understands and respects money, so the only power the FAs have is to withhold from Fifa tournaments. If there are outstanding concerns over the calendar and human rights there should be a very serious debate about whether to play in the World Cup."

Collins said he was also concerned that the voice of Uefa, the European football governing body, was "not as strong as it should be" on the issue. Its president, Michel Platini, was one of those who voted for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

"These are serious issues. The Qataris have said they take this very seriously and so should we. Fifa should look like it is busting a gut to make sure it is protecting the rights of the workers who are providing the stage for its tournament," he said.

The English FA and Uefa declined to comment.

Fifa said it would contact the organisers in Qatar before addressing the issue at its next executive committee meeting in Zurich on Thursday and Friday next week.

"Fifa is very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights abuses and the conditions for construction workers in projects at Lusail City, Qatar," it said in a statement.
A day in the life of a construction worker

The room KK sleeps in every night, which measures about three metres by four, would be small enough if he slept in it alone. In fact he shares it with 11 other men, and because of Qatar's searing temperatures, whenever they are not at work, the room is packed with bodies.

"The air conditioner doesn't even work properly," said KK, pointing to the rattling machine in the corner.

His room is part of a rundown compound filled with migrant workers from across the region. Next door is a room full of Sri Lankans on one side and on another a group of Egyptians. It is not what KK imagined when he left his home in Nepal to earn enough to feed his extended family.

He had been promised a job as a carpenter earning 1200 rials a month with 300 rials for food, but instead he was being paid just 900 rials and had been put to work as a plumber.

Every day KK gets up before dawn to go to work, but even at this hour the humidity is draining.

In order to pay the recruitment brokers to get this job in Qatar, KK had taken out a loan but that loan which gave him the freedom to leave Nepal, was now binding him to Qatar.

"I'm upset, but what can I do? I have so many expenses, I have a wife and a whole family to look after," he said. "I've got no choice, I have to stay here to pay off my debt."

At the end of an eight-hour shift, KK returns to his room dripping in sweat, but there are no bathrooms to wash in, just a bucket of water over an open latrine. And with the searing heat there is nothing to do but return to his cramped room.

"Those in Nepal who want to come here need to confirm everything in their contract before they leave," warned KK. "I confirmed everything but when I arrived here I found it hadn't been confirmed here. That recruitment broker had lied to me. This is the reality."

Pete Pattisson

Qatar in numbers

In 1980, Qatar was a country of 200,000 people, making it one of the smallest in the world, but it has changed rapidly, largely because of immigration.

In terms of rights, migrants might not be powerful – but they are great in number. Figures show the number of Qataris in work is 71,076, and there are 1,199,107 non-Qatari workers, so immigrants make up 94% of Qatar's workforce, and 70% of its total population.

The website Peoplemovin, which pulls together data from the World Bank, estimates that in 2011, 22% of migrants came from India, 22% from Pakistan, 16% from Nepal and 13% from Iran. Only a handful of those migrants make it into skilled jobs, the Qatari census data shows. The vast majority have moved into urban areas, reducing the percentage of the population in rural areas from 10.6% in 1980 to 4.2% now.

Most of those migrants are men, which goes some way to explain why three out of every four residents in Qatar are male. This has had a big effect on the age and gender of Qatar's population, as these classic population pyramids demonstrate. Qatar's demography was quite gender-balanced back in the 1950s. By 2010, there was a bulge in the number of 25- to 35-year-olds and far more men than women. Mona Chalabi

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« Reply #8973 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Tunisian rapper jailed for insulting police

Ahmed Ben Ahmed, who performed an anti-police song in August, jailed for six months, while co-singer remains in hiding

Associated Press in Tunis, Thursday 26 September 2013 22.22 BST   

A Tunisian court has sentenced a rapper to six months in prison for singing excerpts of an anti-police song at a concert, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Ghazi Mrabet said he would appeal against the conviction of Ahmed Ben Ahmed, known as Klay BBJ. When Ahmed was led out of court and into a police van to be taken to prison, supporters chanted: "Free Klay BBJ."

At a concert in August in the coastal town of Hammamet, Ahmed and fellow rapper Alaa Yacoub, known as Weld El 15, sang excerpts of Weld El's anti-police song Boulicia Kleb (The Police Are Dogs).

Ahmed and Yacoub were convicted in absentia last month and sentenced to 21 months in prison. Ahmed sought a retrial, while Yacoub remains in hiding.

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« Reply #8974 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:40 AM »

September 26, 2013

Sudan Erupts in Deadly Protests as Gas Prices Rise


KHARTOUM, Sudan — This time, it was not the organizing by activists on Facebook and Twitter that made people take to the streets in such numbers. They did not need it. The anger was already widespread enough.

“The people want to bring down the regime!” and “No, no, to high prices!” young protesters shouted this week as they marched in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile.

Deadly protests have rocked several Sudanese cities since Sunday, when the government lifted subsidies on gasoline, nearly doubling the price in an increase that is bound to create a domino effect on other goods.

“The economic situation is just painful,” said one protester, Moyasser, 25, who did not want his full name used out of fear of government reprisals.

The demonstrations broke out across greater Khartoum, with some leading to the destruction of public property like buses and gas stations. One witness saw at least six burned cars on Africa Road in Khartoum; another saw protesters throw rocks at cars and block a road with burning tires and bricks.

The government has responded forcefully. A statement by the authorities promised to act “with an iron fist” to “destructive actions.” Sudan’s police forces said 29 people, including members of the police, had died in the violence, blaming “trained elements” and “rioters.”

But activists say that at least 100 are believed to have been killed, mostly by the government, with hospitals flooded. Security and police forces have used live ammunition as well as tear gas and batons to break up the protests.

“I know two who were killed,” Moyasser said. “One was shot, and the other beaten to death.”

As the protests escalated, Internet services were shut down on Wednesday and early Thursday. The authorities said that rioters had attacked and destroyed equipment belonging to a local online provider, but activists say it was a deliberate act by the government to create a blackout on events in Sudan.

The lifting of gasoline subsidies was the latest step in the difficult economic adjustments Sudan has experienced since South Sudan became independent two years ago, taking with it nearly 75 percent of the oil revenue the two countries once shared. Inflation has reached nearly 40 percent, and the value of the Sudanese pound has spiraled downward.

“The removal of subsidies must be accompanied with widening the social safety net,” said Abla el-Mahdi, an economist. “But the government has failed to compensate the poor through direct transfers and increasing the minimum wage.”

Despite promises for assistance to the poor and an increase in the minimum wage, “there is little confidence in the government,” she added.

The Sudanese government, however, said it would continue with its economic overhaul policies.

“A government that backs down from taking the right decision for the benefit of society is not a government worthy of the trust and support of the people,” Vice President Ali Osman Taha told a group of graduates on Wednesday.

Sudan’s political opposition has been quick to criticize the government.

“We are against the increase in fuel prices,” said Kamal Omer of the Popular Congress Party. “This shows the failure of the ruling party.”

Thirty-five activists belonging to various political parties have been arrested since the beginning of the protests, Mr. Omer said. He said the current wave of protests represented “a revolution of the hungry.”

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Omer added.

Amjad Farid, 29, an activist with the Coalition of Sudanese Revolutionary Youth, warned that the protests would continue.

“After what happened, we cannot back down,” he said. “The blood of Sudanese is not cheap.”

Attempts by Sudanese dissidents in 2011 and last year to organize and set off an Arab Spring-like revolution in Sudan failed. But popular uprisings in 1964 and 1985 succeeded in bringing down military governments.

Abdel-Latif el-Bouni, a columnist, was cautious to not describe the current events as a revolution.

“This was all expected, but thus far, it’s been a reaction,” he said. “Anger is not enough for change.”

But, he added, “if geared into political momentum, it has the potential to become a revolution.”

Five days of protests have taken an economic toll on the city of Omdurman as well. In the usually crowded Al Shuhada Square, an intersection for buses, shops were closed or only partly open.

Salih Ibrahim, 47, a conductor, said that while 250 drivers of minivans used for public transportation usually showed up for work, “only 30 showed up.”

Many of the drivers, Mr. Ibrahim said, feared that protesters would attack their vans. Others simply could not find gasoline, as a number of gas stations in Omdurman had been burned down.

“The guys who came bought gasoline from the black market, not for 21 pounds, but 30 pounds,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “So they’re charging passengers up to three pounds,” or about 68 cents, double the normal price.

“I have no choice; I need to get home,” said Abdel-Munim Ismail, 37, who got on a van.

Some grocery store owners also felt the brunt of higher gasoline prices and their expected trickle-down effect.

“The price of transporting goods to my store went from 20 pounds to 40 pounds,” or about $9.11, said Abdel-Aziz Ahmad, 40.

“The prices of flour, cooking oil, tomato sauce and onions are starting to go up,” Mr. Ahmad said. “I know people who don’t buy from me anymore.”

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« Reply #8975 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:41 AM »

September 26, 2013

Rebels in Mali Suspend Peace Deal With Government


BAMAKO, Mali — Separatist Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said late Thursday that they were suspending their participation in a peace accord with the government, marking a major setback for the newly elected president who is trying to reunite the country after a 2012 rebellion led to large-scale upheaval.

The accord signed in June in neighboring Burkina Faso had paved the way for the Malian military to return to the northern provincial capital, Kidal, some 18 months after Malian soldiers fled in the wake of a renewed rebellion.

Already, though, there had been signs of strain. This month, Malian soldiers clashed with Tuareg rebels near the Mauritanian border in the first fighting to erupt since the two sides signed the peace accord.

Under the June agreement, peace talks were set to begin by late November between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s new government and rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, the name they give to their northern homeland. Two other groups that were to take part also said they would be dropping out.

In a statement late Thursday, a founding N.M.L.A. member, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, accused the Malian government of failing to live up to its end of the bargain after the military was able to return to the areas not under its control.

“Everything that they promised us in the accord has not been respected,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Malian government or from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali.

Tuareg separatists have said that the government has failed to begin the process of releasing prisoners as called for under the deal. The rebels also had agreed to garrison their fighters, but the insurgents were frequently spotted outside their assigned bases in Kidal.

Ethnic Tuareg rebels have sought sovereignty since Mali’s independence from France in 1960. Anger over the Malian military’s handling of the Tuareg separatist rebellion, which led to heavy casualties, prompted the March 2012 coup in the distant capital.

The Tuaregs, though, were later sidelined by radical jihadists linked to Al Qaeda. Since a French-led military intervention forced the extremists from power, the N.M.L.A. has again regained its prominence in Kidal. Even after the Malian military seized back the northern towns of Timbuktu and Gao, it took the June 18 agreement for the soldiers to be allowed back into Kidal.

Even now, the separatist flag still flies there, and the Malian military’s presence remains highly controversial.
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« Reply #8976 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Venezuela food shortages: 'No one can explain why a rich country has no food'

Toilet paper, rice and coffee have long been missing from stores, as Venezuelan president blames CIA plot for chronic shortages

Virginia Lopez in Caracas
Thursday 26 September 2013 15.20 BST

It's the rainy season in Venezuela and Pedro Rodríguez has had to battle upturned manhole lids, flooded avenues and infernal traffic jams in his quest for sugar, oil and milk in Caracas.

His daily battle to find food is not new, but it's getting worse. "There is something about finally having enough to make ends meet and being unable to buy what I need because it's gone missing. It leaves me feeling indignant," says Rodríguez, a 55-year-old removal man who makes an average of £500 a month. "I haven't lost hope that things will get better, but sometimes the end seems nowhere in sight."

Venezuelans have faced shortages before, so rehashing old strategies such as substituting rice for manioc or going to informal street vendors who re-sell oil, milk or flour at a higher price, comes easy. For many here, finding food is not the problem – it is the lengths one has to go to that are hard to reconcile.

In Avenida Victoria, a low-income sector of Caracas, Zeneida Caballero complains about waiting in endless queues for a sack of low-quality rice. "It fills me with rage to have to spend the one free day I have wasting my time for a bag of rice," she says. "I end up paying more at the re-sellers. In the end, all these price controls proved useless."

In 2008, when there was another serious wave of food scarcity, most people blamed shop owners for hoarding food as a mechanism to exert pressure on the government's price controls, a measure that former president Hugo Chávez adopted as part of his self-styled socialist revolution.

This time, however, food shortages have gone on for almost a year and certain items long gone from the shelves are hitting a particular nerve with Venezuelans. Toilet paper, rice, coffee, and cornflour, used to make arepas, Venezuela's national dish, have become emblematic of more than just an economic crisis.

"We used to produce rice and we had excellent coffee; now we produce nothing. With the situation here people abandoned the fields," says Jesús López, in reference to government-seized land that sits idle. "Empty shelves and no one to explain why a rich country has no food. It's unacceptable," adds the 90-year-old farmer from San Cristóbal, on the western state of Táchira, bordering Colombia.

For Asdrubal Oliveros, an economist at Ecoanalítica, one of the country's leading consulting firms, this recent bout of food shortages is the result of a series of elements coming to a head. From an over-reliance on imports to price controls and, quite simply, a lack of funds, food shortages in Venezuela have not only peaked but they have lasted longer than ever.

"Other than oil, we produce close to nothing, and even oil production has decreased. There is a lack of hard currency, and, in a country that imports everything, this becomes more evident with food scarcity," says Oliveros.

For Oliveros, an additional cause for the shortage of basic food staples is the decrease in agricultural production resulting from seized companies and land expropriations. "More than 3m hectares were expropriated during 2004-2010. That and overvalued exchange rate destroyed agriculture. It's cheaper to import than it is to produce. That's a perverse model that kills off any productivity," he says.

Venezuela's central bank, which has been publishing a scarcity index since 2009, puts this year's figure at an average of 20%, which, according to economists in the country, is similar to countries undergoing civil strife or war-like conditions.

But despite the severe scarcity Venezuelans are not going hungry. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that the Latin American nation more than halved malnutrition indices to less than 5% since Chávez came to power. It gives partial credit to the government-run network of food distribution chains known as Mercal, which delivers subsidised food in shops across the country. And yet food has gone missing, and queues outside food shops often wrap around the block.

According to President Nicolás Maduro, the food shortages are being artificially induced by the opposition. He claims they form part of wider plan concocted by the CIA to destabilise his government, sabotage the oil industry and trigger power cuts.

In response, Maduro announced the creation of a state council that would inspect private companies to ensure they were not deliberately slowing distribution or decreasing production. The oil-rich country will also import almost £600m-worth of food from neighbouring Colombia to ensure stores are well-stocked.

Back in Catia, a low-income area in eastern Caracas, Rodríguez leaves the store almost empty-handed. He has found sugar but not a brand he recognises. He will buy oil from an informal seller for three times the regular price and forgo milk – again. "Part of me leaves the shop gleaming like I've hit the jackpot," he says. "As if finding food was a matter of luck."

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« Reply #8977 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Brazil to test new vaccine against dengue fever

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 26, 2013 18:00 EDT

Brazilian scientists will next month begin clinical tests on humans of a new vaccine against dengue fever, a leading Sao Paulo-based biomedical research institute said Thursday.

The vaccine is being developed to combat the four closely related strains of dengue viruses that have been identified around the world, the Butantan institute said in a statement.

Brazil is frequently afflicted with the disease, which is spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti.

Work on the vaccine began in 2005 in partnership with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Butantan said.

In a first phase, the vaccine was tested on animals and humans in the United States and produced a good immunological response, it noted.

The second phase is to begin in October with clinical tests on 300 Brazilian volunteers, all healthy adults aged between 18 and 59 of both sexes, over a five-year period.

The institute said the vaccine is expected to be ready by 2018.

“This new phase is very important because it will be adapted to the particular characteristics of the Brazilian population,” said Butantan Director Jorge Kalil.

“The production of a Brazilian vaccine for dengue fever is a major advance for public health,” said Sao Paulo state health secretary Giovanni Guido Cerri.

“We are making major strides toward producing a safe, effective and low-cost vaccine which can be incorporated into the National Immunization Program and meet the entire Brazilian demand.”

Dengue fever affects between 50 and 100 million people in the tropics and subtropics each year, causing fever, muscle and joint ache as well as potentially fatal dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.

Researchers estimate that around three billion people in the world live in regions susceptible to dengue contagion and another 20 million tourists pass through them.

Butantan, which has a long tradition of research on snakes and poisonous animals, is the leading domestic producer of anti-venom sera and vaccines.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #8978 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Greece's democracy in danger, warns Demos, as Greek reservists call for coup

Greece 'backsliding in democracy' in face of joblessness, social unrest, corruption and disillusion with politicians, says thinktank

Helena Smith in Athens, Thursday 26 September 2013 20.27 BST   

No country has displayed more of a "backslide in democracy" than Greece, the British thinktank Demos has said in a study highlighting the crisis-plagued country's slide into economic, social and political disarray.

Released on the same day that judicial authorities ordered an investigation into a blog posting by a group of reservists in the elite special forces calling for a coup d'etat, the study singled out Greece and Hungary for being "the most significant democratic backsliders" in the EU.

"Researchers found Greece overwhelmed by high unemployment, social unrest, endemic corruption and a severe disillusionment with the political establishment," it said. The report, commissioned by the European parliament, noted that Greece was the most corrupt state in the 28-nation bloc and voiced fears over the rise of far-right extremism in the country.

The report was released as the fragile two-party coalition of the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, admitted it was worried by a call for a military coup posted overnight on Wednesday on the website of the Special Forces Reserve Union. "It must worry us," said a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou. "The overwhelming majority in the armed forces are devoted to our democracy," he said. "The few who are not will face the consequences."

With tension running high after a crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, a supreme court public prosecutor demanded an immediate inquiry into who may have written the post, which called for an interim government under "the guarantee of the armed forces".

The special forces reservist unit whose members appeared in uniform to protest against a visit to Athens by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel said Greece should renege on the conditions attached to an international bailout and set up special courts to prosecute those responsible for its worst financial crisis in modern times. Assets belonging to German companies, individuals or the state should be seized to pay off war reparations amassed during the Nazi occupation.

Underscoring the social upheaval that has followed economic meltdown, the blog post argued that the government had violated the constitution by failing to provide adequate health, education, justice and security.

Insiders said the mysterious post once again highlighted the infiltration of the armed forces by the extreme right. This week revelations emerged of Golden Dawn hit squads being trained by special forces commandos.

Fears are growing that instead of reining in the extremist organisation, the crackdown on the group may ultimately create a backlash. The party, whose leaders publicly admire Adolf Hitler and have adopted an emblem resembling the swastika, have held their ground in opinion polls despite a wave of public outrage. Golden Dawn, which won nearly 7% of the vote in elections last year and has 18 MPs in Athens' 300-member parliament, has capitalised more than any other political force on Greece's economic crisis. "Much will depend on how well it will withstand the pressure and they are tough guys who seem to be withstanding it well," said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a political commentator.


Golden Dawn threatens to withdraw MPs from Greek parliament

Far-right party says the move is a weapon that could cause a 'political earthquake' by further destabilising shaky ruling coalition

Reuters in Athens, Friday 27 September 2013 02.45 BST   

Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has threatened to pull out of parliament, a move that would trigger a wave of by-elections that could destabilise the country.

Its leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos warned late on Thursday night it might pull its MPs from parliament if a crackdown on the party in the wake of the death of an anti-fascist rapper did not stop.

"We have not reached a final decision yet. All options are open," Mihaloliakos said on Vergina TV.

A self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter has been accused of killing Pavlos Fyssas in Athens last week, prompting a court investigation into whether the country's third most popular party is a criminal organisation.

The stabbing sparked outrage and violent protests in the crisis-struck country. Police have been searching Golden Dawn party offices and several of its members were arrested or received suspended jail sentences for illegally carrying or owning weapons.

Golden Dawn has denied any links to the rapper's killing.

Golden Dawn has 18 out of parliament's 300 MPs. If they quit, they would have to be replaced through special elections in every electoral district they represent, which includes most of the country's biggest. If such by-elections were won by the opposition, as some polls indicate, the country's fragile two-party ruling coalition would become politically untenable, Mihaloliakos argued.

"Golden Dawn holds a weapon in its hands to cause a political earthquake. Those in charge should bear that well in mind," he said.

With political stability a key condition for the smooth implementation of Greece's EU/IMF bailout, senior officials have dismissed any notion that the government was under threat.

By-elections would not lead to a general vote that could destabilise the country, interior minister Yannis Mihelakis said on Thursday. "The whole affair has already damaged the country enough. A general election would just make things worse," he told Skai TV.

"It's not a threat. It's a great opportunity," deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos told Reuters on Wednesday after then unconfirmed reports that Golden Dawn was considering withdrawing its MPs.

Golden Dawn has surged in popularity over the past year and has been accused by human rights groups of attacking immigrants and political opponents without the police intervening.

Greek prosecutors investigating Golden Dawn have found evidence that could help them establish that it is a criminal organisation, a senior court official told reporters on Wednesday.

That labelling is expected to be the first step for the government to begin reining in the party – an outright ban is difficult to push through under current Greek law.

The government has said it was instead planning to cut the party's funding and target members who may have masterminded attacks on immigrants and opponents as part of a criminal organisation.


Golden Dawn's rise signals breakdown of the Greek state's authority

The far-right party's emergence – supported by far too many in positions of power – has created a toxic situation

Richard Seymour, Tuesday 24 September 2013 11.38 BST   

Today, it is reported that elements in the Greek armed forces have been training Golden Dawn hit squads. There are allegations that there is a secret, 3,000-strong paramilitary structure within Golden Dawn that is being combat-trained by sympathisers in the military. It is appalling how credible this report is.

There was much idle chatter about a possible coup d'etat when prime minister George Papandreou was promising Greek voters a referendum on his austerity package. There was, allegedly, a state of alert order being circulated within the military, about the possible need to intervene in the case of social disorder. The fact that the defence minister felt the need to sack a lot of top army officers also fuelled the speculation.

A year after this, though, the centre-left newspaper To Vima was still writing about a "coup d'etat that didn't happen", alleging that the defence minister's actions stymied a coup – even though it seems the sackings were prompted by the army officers taking direct action against pension cuts.

So far, so much speculation. But the presence of a large and growing neo-Nazi organisation such as the Golden Dawn, which gained just under 7% of votes in the 2012 elections, could be a real challenge to parliamentary democracy. In those same elections, half the police force are said to have voted for the Golden Dawn. Sections of the Greek state have always been attracted to this far-right organisation. And I stress: sections of the Greek state. Subsequent revelations suggest that there was a close relationship between Golden Dawn and Greek police, while antifascists have been subject to torture in police hands. There has also been a general state tolerance for Golden Dawn's violent and racist public behaviour – the big surprise in May was that the Athens mayor finally decided that his police, rather than colluding with Golden Dawn, had to shut down one of their Greek-only food handouts.

Last week's murder of the leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has galvanised a furious response by the Greek left. Activists point to CCTV footage that indicates police were present and did nothing to try to stop the murder. Remarkably, a large number of chiefs of police and special forces were removed from their posts yesterday. The strong public reaction has coincided with a threat by the government to ban Golden Dawn .

Golden Dawn has appeared in some polls as the third party in Greece, although its stable base of support appears to still be in the single figures – and has fallen since the murder of Fyssas. Nonetheless, the resilience of the party's vote, despite its previous violent provocations, and its sustained links with sections of the state, suggest that, even were it to be banned, it would still exist in some form and be a threat.

Golden Dawn's classic, 1920s-style fascist paramilitarism is no surprise. The question is this: why do those elements of the state most involved with repression have such an affinity with Golden Dawn?

In the context of Greece's so-called sovereign debt crisis, the vicious austerity package imposed upon it by EU leaders and its own ruling class and the ensuing social breakdown have caused a crisis. The dominant parties' relationship to their political base – the traditional mode of legitimacy of the state – has been disintegrating. Ministries have repeatedly been in deadlock. Implementing austerity keeps prising open new antagonisms within the governing elite, as evidenced in attempts by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state broadcaster, ERT. Cuts have sapped state capacity.

For a period, Greece's experience of general strikes, occupations and social movement protests came close to insurrection. This is as near to what Gramsci called a crisis of authority as one can get. The political control of the state has been breaking down. It is this breakdown of authority – which reactionaries blame on immigration, foreign control and communist agitation – that fuels Golden Dawn's support.

The situation is toxic. Austerity has not run its course, any more than the recession, or the social misery engendered by it. The only recourse of the left is to render Golden Dawn useless by incapacitating it, obstructing its activities and shutting it down as an effective street-fighting fascist organisation.

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« Reply #8979 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:57 AM »


Russian court orders Greenpeace activists to be held without charge

More than 20 people detained for up to two months over the protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic

Reuters in Moscow, Friday 27 September 2013 06.36 BST   

A Russian court has ordered 20 Greenpeace activists from around the world to be held in custody for two months pending further investigation over a protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, drawing condemnation and a vow to appeal.

In proceedings that Greenpeace said evoked Soviet-era scare tactics, activists from a ship used in the protest at an oil rig were led to court in the port of Murmansk in handcuffs and held in cages for a series of hearings that ended early on Friday.

Twenty activists, a freelance photographer and a freelance videographer were ordered to be held for two months, while eight activists were ordered to be held for three days pending a further hearing, the environmental advocacy group said.

All 30 were detained last week aboard the icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, which was seized by Russian coastguards in the Barents Sea after two activists tried to scale state-controlled Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform.

Russia's federal investigative committee has termed the protest an attack and opened a criminal case on suspicion of piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. The activists have not yet been charged.

Several were crew of the Arctic Sunrise, from deck hands and cooks to its American captain Pete Willcox, a veteran of Greenpeace protests at sea, Netherlands-based Greenpeace International said.

"These detentions are like the Russian oil industry itself, a relic from an earlier era. Our peaceful activists are in prison tonight for shining a light on Gazprom's recklessness," Greenpeace international executive director Kumi Naidoo said.

In a statement, Naidoo said Greenpeace would appeal the rulings.

The 30 people included six Britons and four Russians as well as nationals of Argentina, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the US.

Russian president Pig Putin said at an Arctic forum on Thursday that the activists were clearly not pirates but had broken international law, suggesting they might end up facing less severe charges.

The spokesman for the investigative committee, Vladimir Markin, said on Thursday that activists ordered to be held for two months might be released on bail before that period ends if their role is found to have been minor.

Greenpeace has said it was the Russian law enforcement authorities who broke the law by boarding the Arctic Sunrise. It denied the piracy allegations, saying its activists had conducted a peaceful protest.

"The Russian authorities are trying to scare people who stand up to the oil industry in the Arctic, but this blatant intimidation will not succeed," Naidoo said in a separate statement on Thursday.

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, told Reuters the denial of bail "clearly raises human rights concerns", saying pre-trial detention should be used only in exceptional circumstances when there is no alternative.

He urged Russia, a council member, to abide by standards for protecting the right to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Greenpeace says scientific evidence shows any oil spill from Prirazlomnaya, Russia's first offshore oil platform in the Arctic, would affect more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of coastline.


Pussy Riot inmate claims Russian prison took away water

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 27, 2013 8:54 EDT

Jailed Pussy Riot punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova on Friday accused Russian prison officers of cutting off her drinking water on the fifth day of a hunger strike — a move the prison service denies.

Tolokonnikova began a hunger strike at her penal colony in central Russia’s Mordovia region in protest at prisoners being forced to work excessive hours and being treated like “slaves.”

In a message sent to AFP by her husband, activist Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova said that a prison guard told her he was ordered to take away all her drinking water, and then a prisoner who fulfils the functions of an attendant removed the bottles.

“He grabbed my arms and painfully squeezed my shoulders, stopping me from moving,” she said.

“At that moment, prisoner Nevecherya removed all my drinking water standing in the punishment cell in bottles.”

“Without water a person dies in a few days during a hunger strike,” she said.

The 23-year-old mother of a young daughter is serving a two-year sentence for a punk protest in a Moscow cathedral last year.

The prison service denied her claim, saying on its website that it had replaced her cold drinking water with warm boiled water on medical advice.

In a growing standoff, Tolokonnikova said that video camera footage would prove the first use of force against her in the penal colony.

The prison service in Mordovia region responded by posting a YouTube video titled “Tolokonnikova’s provocation”, which shows what it says is Tolokonnikova’s cell.

The prison service said the footage was filmed by a video camera fixed to a prison officer’s uniform. It said it had handed the video to law enforcement authorities.

The video shows women prisoners in headscarves taking food into a cell. One is shown bringing out an empty water container after apparently pouring out its contents inside the cell.

A dark-haired woman can briefly be seen lying in bed.

Tolokonnikova in a letter released Monday accused her penal colony of forcing women prisoners to work up to 17-hour days in a sewing workshop.

She also said the colony’s deputy chief had hinted she could be killed by other prisoners in revenge if they were given shorter working hours and so failed to meet targets.

The prison service said in a statement that Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike after threatening to go public on prison conditions unless she was transferred to different work.

She said in another letter published Tuesday that she had been moved to a bitterly cold isolation cell, while the prison service called it adequately comfortable.


Elton John will perform in Russia despite homophobic protests

Russian demonstrators condemn forthcoming concert as 'amoral sabbath' – but singer says, as gay man, he cannot stay at home

Sean Michaels, Thursday 26 September 2013 14.54 BST   

Elton John won't cancel his forthcoming Moscow show, despite protests from homophobic activists in Russia about his visit later this year. The singer will go ahead with his concert on 6 December and hopes to be able to "talk to some people" at the Kremlin.

Earlier this week, the Ural Parents Committee wrote a letter to Russian president Pig Putin, asking him to ban Sir Elton's forthcoming gig. "The singer intends to come out in support of local sodomites and break the current Russian law," they said, referring to the country's bill prohibiting so-called "gay propaganda".

This request echoes a petition from the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, which referred to the scheduled concert as an "amoral sabbath".

"The statement by this gay guy – Elton John – about his support for gays and other perverts during the upcoming concert … is an insult to all Russian citizens," Union leader Yuri Ageshchev told the Novy Region news agency. "It also makes a mockery of our recently enacted law against the public propaganda of gay ideas."

Earlier this month, Sir Elton told the Guardian he feels an obligation to perform in Russia. "As a gay man, I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them," he said.

On Monday, Sir Elton elaborated on that idea during an interview with NPR's Terry Gross. "On one hand, I am tempted to say, 'I'm not going and you can go to hell, you guys.' But that's not helping anyone who's gay or transgendered over there," he said. "There are a lot of great Russian people out there who are outraged by what's going on … as a gay man and a gay musician, I cannot stay at home and not support these people who have been to lots of my concerts in the past."

In terms of expressing his support for Russia's LGBT population, the singer plans to be "diplomatic".

"I'm not going to go into Russia and tell [Putin] to go to hell and things like that," he explained. "You don't just go in there with guns blazing and say: 'Well, to hell with you.' Because they're going to say: 'To hell with you, and get out of the country.' That's not going to solve anything … You chip away at something, and you hope there will be dialogue and that the situation can get better."


Russian anti-gay lawmaker: Actor Stephen Fry ‘a bringer of evil’

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 27, 2013 7:25 EDT

Vitaly Milonov believes that British actor Stephen Fry is a “bringer of evil,” thinks homosexuality is a perversion and thanks God for giving Russia Vladimir Putin to defend its values.

Milonov, a lawmaker in the local parliament of Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg, has become a hate figure for gay rights activists and not just for his inflammatory rhetoric.

He has also had a concrete effect on modern Russian society by introducing a hugely controversial law into the local parliament outlawing “gay propaganda.”

Once passed by the former imperial capital, the law was picked up by deputies in the federal lower house of parliament the State Duma and passed nationwide and was signed into law by President Pig Putin in June.

But activists say the law can be used for a broad crackdown against gays in Russia and the controversy has created a huge headache for the Kremlin which has faced calls for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

But Milonov remains defiant in the face of the furore and makes no secret of his views about Fry who has called for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Games and led an increasingly visible Internet campaign.

“For me Stephen Fry is a bringer of evil, as he expresses ideas which are evil,” Milonov told AFP in an interview in Saint Petersburg.

Milonov and Fry became arch enemies after the two men held a face-to-face meeting in Saint Petersburg in March and have traded insults through the media ever since.

Fry is an implacable critic of Russian President Pig Putin, who he once memorably said looked like the Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books.

‘We don’t have to apologise’

Despite the outcry sparked by the adoption of the law both in Saint Petersburg and nationwide, Milonov sees no harm in what he describes as “preventative” legislation.

“It’s a declaration of our values, our response to the challenges of the present time.”

“Thank God that we have Pig Putin, who defends the basic interests of Russia, for defending its values,” said Milonov, saying that Russia “needs to resist the wave of degradation that has seized the Western world.”

“I do not know why we have to apologise in front of Westerners. The preaching tone that they adopted in this area does not suit us.”

The law orders fines for individuals and organisations deemed to have violated the law, and, unusually, also singles out foreigners who risk fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,106), detention for 15 days and deportation.

Many commenters believe Russia underestimated the international reaction to the law, which now risks overshadowing the Sochi Winter Games, the biggest event in its post-Soviet history.

But Milonov, who describes himself as a “man of European culture” defends the law as part of a promotion of family values in Russia and the protection of children.

“We have to defend the future of our children,” said Milonov, who has children aged 4 and 1.

He railed against the legalisation of gay marriage in some European countries, describing it as a “symptom of an illness in society, a spiritual degradation.”

“Ninety-five percent of Russians are against gay marriage. Gays do not have any support in Russian society.”

“We could say that paedophilia is a sexual choice we could say that murder is one way to survive. But truth is truth and we cannot change the way things are. Homosexuality is not normal, I’m sorry.”

Milonov’s rants against homosexuals would see him outcast as an extremist in European societies but in Russia they fall in line with an increasingly conservative political trend.

President Pig Putin this month put the gay propaganda law firmly in the context of Russia’s shrinking population, implying that Russia wanted to avoid encouraging homosexuality in order to bolster the birth rate.

“Russia and European countries have a big problem, the birth rate is low, Europeans are dying out. Same-sex marriages do not produce children,” the Pig said at a meeting of the Valdai discussion club.

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« Last Edit: Sep 27, 2013, 07:21 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8980 on: Sep 27, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Former Auschwitz guard on accessory to murder charge

Hans Lipschis, 93, to be tried as part of drive to round up last surviving members of Nazi regime that killed 6 million

Reuters in Berlin, Thursday 26 September 2013 23.39 BST   

German prosecutors on Thursday charged a 93-year-old alleged former guard at the Auschwitz death camp as an accessory to murder, part of a renewed drive to bring lower-level Nazi collaborators to justice before they die.

The prosecution service in the city of Stuttgart said the accused worked as a guard at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1941 to 1943. During that time they say he was on duty when 12 prisoner convoys arrived at the death camp. More than 10,000 of those prisoners were determined unfit for work and sent to the gas chamber immediately on arrival.

Prosecutors did not name the man, but German media identified him as Hans Lipschis, who was arrested by German police in May and ranks fourth on the Nazi-hunting group Simon Wiesenthal's list of most wanted Nazi criminals.

Lipschis's arrest was made possible by the 2011 conviction in Munich of Ivan Demjanjuk, who was found to have been an accessory to the murder of almost 28,000 Jews in Sobibor by virtue of having served as a guard at a death camp. He was the first ex-Nazi convicted in Germany without evidence of a specific crime or a specific victim.

Lipschis told the German newspaper Die Welt this year that he had been a cook at Auschwitz and had later left the camp to fight on the eastern front, although he could not remember which unit he had been in.

The head of the German agency that probes Nazi war crimes, Kurt Schrimm, said the accused was on a list of 30 former Auschwitz guards it wants to prosecute for their role in facilitating mass murder.

"The investigation was short but intensive. We looked for documents that showed that [the accused] was on duty on particular days when the transports came in," said Claudia Krauth, state prosecutor for the Stuttgart court. "If we have proof that someone has committed a crime, we are required to prosecute that person."

The Stuttgart prosecutors said the accused had lived in the United States for 26 years after the second world war but had his US citizenship revoked after his involvement with the Nazis came to light. He moved back to Germany in 1982.

German officials are trying to track down other low-level collaborators in a "last chance" hunt for ageing perpetrators of the Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews were murdered.

Around 1.5 million people perished at Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Roma, Poles and others, between 1940 and 1945.

• This article was amended on 27 September 2013 to clarify that the case against the accused relates to the arrival of 12 particular convoys.

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« Reply #8981 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Ireland must not ease austerity, warns IMF

Advice comes after Irish finance minister had suggested there might be flexibility in tax rises and spending cuts

Reuters in Dublin
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 22.31 BST

The International Monetary Fund has kept up pressure on Ireland not to ease off on austerity just days after finance minister Michael Noonan said next month's budget may not need to be as tough as planned. Ministers have been campaigning for months to use the slack afforded by a bank debt deal struck with the European Central Bank to bring in a less stringent budget than the €3.1bn package originally pencilled in.

While the IMF, Ireland's central bank and, most recently, ECB board member Joerg Asmussen have said the money should be held to cushion the weak economy against any shocks, Noonan said this week there was some flexibility on the severity of tax hikes and cuts. After disbursing Ireland's latest aid tranche, the IMF, which monitors Ireland's bailout along with the ECB and European commission, said Dublin should keep up its steady fiscal consolidation to protect its regained access to bond markets. "Narrow buffers make continued careful implementation essential," said IMF executive board deputy managing director David Lipton.

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« Reply #8982 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Italian president rebukes Berlusconi party members for threat to coalition

Giorgio Napolitano issues stern statement to People of Freedom party members who say they would resign if Berlusconi is removed from the senate

Associated Press in Rome, Thursday 26 September 2013 21.44 BST   

Italy's political instability deepened on Thursday as its president harshly rebuked politicians in Silvio Berlusconi's party for purportedly threatening to resign en masse if the former prime minister is ousted from parliament. Such a move would spark a government crisis.

The senate is due to vote next week on whether to strip Berlusconi of his seat following his conviction for tax fraud and four-year prison sentence. A 2012 law bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

With tensions high going into the vote, members of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party indicated they would resign if Berlusconi were removed from the senate.

In an unusually stern statement, President Giorgio Napolitano accused Berlusconi's party members of undermining Italy's parliamentary system.

He said their "worrisome" threat would have the effect of pressuring him into dissolving parliament, a move that would spark a crisis in the five-month-old, left-right hybrid government led by Enrico Letta.

Milan's stock index was down 1.4% at 17,831 while the government's borrowing rates on the bond markets rose, both signs that investors are worried about the impact on the country's financial stability. Though Italy hasn't needed a financial bailout like other countries that use the euro, such as Greece and Portugal, it has high debts that have compelled successive governments to instigate wide-ranging economic reforms.

Berlusconi was convicted over a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast US movies on his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies that involved the false declaration of payments to avoid taxes. His defence argued that he was busy in politics at the time and no longer involved in managing the day-to-day activities of his business empire.

Italy's high court upheld the conviction on 1 August.

Napolitano said it was "absurd" for Berlusconi's allies to claim that the media mogul was being overthrown in a "coup" by magistrates. Berlusconi has claimed the Italian judiciary is bent on eliminating him from political life, and has taken his case to the European court for human rights claiming his personal and political rights have been violated.

The president insisted that definitive court rulings must be respected and applied, saying that principle was as sacrosanct throughout Europe as the independence of the judiciary itself.

"There is still time, and I hope it is used, for People of Freedom politicians to find a way to express their political and human support for their party president – if indeed that is their aim – without threatening the work of two branches of parliament," he said.

The threat to essentially bring down the government over the legal woes of a single man was seen as particularly grave and downright irresponsible given it came at the precise time that Letta was in New York promoting recession-mired Italy as a safe place for foreign investment.

Gianluca Susta, who heads the Civic Choice party of ex-premier Mario Monti in the senate, said any such resignation by Berlusconi's lawmakers would make them appear more like the "court of an absolute monarchy" than elected representatives in a democracy.

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« Reply #8983 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Costa Concordia: human remains found at cruise ship wreck site

Divers find possible remains of Russel Rebello and Maria Grazia Trecarichi, and bring them back to shore for DNA tests

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Thursday 26 September 2013 15.15 BST   

Divers searching for the bodies of the two people who are missing, presumed dead, after the Costa Concordia disaster have discovered human remains at the site of the wreck.

Speaking on the third day of the search for Russel Rebello and Maria Grazia Trecarichi, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, said DNA testing would be carried out on the remains as soon as they were recovered and brought to land.

"The position is that first impressions lead us to believe that these could be the remains of the people we have been looking for," he told Italian news channel SkyTG24, adding that the discovery had been made in a part of the ship that had been deemed most likely to yield results.

Gabrielli stressed, however, there would be no definite identification before testing had been carried out. If the remains did prove to be those being sought, he added, it would be "a near miracle" due to the passage of time since the disaster in January 2012, in which 32 people died.

Kevin Rebello, the brother of the Indian man who was working on the Concordia as a waiter, wrote on Facebook that Thursday was a very important day. "Keeping fingers crossed," he added.

Last week, as he returned from a visit to the wreck site with Trecarichi's daughter and husband, Rebello said he would wait for as long as it took for the search to get under way.

"I am in no hurry at all. I've waited 20 months; I can wait a while longer," he told the Guardian. The authorities, he said, had allowed him and the other grieving relatives to take back with them a piece of rope from the site. "They did not hesitate … They were very helpful in giving us something that could be of memory for us," he said.

Trecarichi, a Sicilian who had been celebrating her 50th birthday on the cruise, was on board with her daughter, who managed to get into a lifeboat.

Before the eyes of the world, the 300m-long, 114,000-tonne ship was pulled upright last week in a complex parbuckling operation that took 19 hours.

The exercise was not only a crucial step towards the ship's eventual salvage but also a development that allowed the search for the disaster's two missing victims to be restarted on Tuesday morning.

The captain of the Concordia, Francesco Schettino, was in court in Grosseto this week on trial on charges of multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck. He denies the charges.

On Monday, the 52-year-old blamed the disaster on his helmsman for botching a last-minute manoeuvre at the tiller.

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« Reply #8984 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:24 AM »

09/27/2013 12:02 PM

Austria Votes: Small Parties Could Unsettle Vienna

By Walter Mayr

A grand coalition has ruled Austria for almost seven years and most of the postwar period. But rising support for upstart and populist parties could disrupt that trend after Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The best person to ask whether Werner Faymann is the right man for Austria is Faymann himself. Otherwise, you'd have to listen to what members of his cabinet are saying about him.

The interior minister has publicly berated Faymann as a "chancellor of lies," and the foreign minister has sharply accused Faymann's Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) of being especially adept "at spending money." Moreover, a state secretary related to his hooting supporters a quip reportedly made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "When he comes to my office, he usually has no opinion; when he leaves, he usually has my opinion."

The interesting thing common to all these disparaging remarks about Faymann in the run-up to the country's parliamentary election is that they aren't being voiced by the opposition, but by politicians within the center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), which has ruled as part of a coalition government with Faymann's SPÖ since 2007. In fact, this has been the case for much of the time since 1945. For many Austrians, the grand coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats is the almost natural manifestation of Austrian postwar democracy.

But, in the meantime, the competition has intensified. In the 1970s, the two main parties were still able to capture a combined 93 percent of the vote, but now they have lost almost half of their voters. This has created growing pressure for the parties to stake out their positions and make clear where they differ -- especially now, shortly before the September 29 election of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Austrian parliament.

According to the polls (see graphic), the SPÖ, under incumbent Chancellor Faymann, is the frontrunner, with 28 percent of the vote. But the situation has become muddled. At least six parties are hoping to gain seats in parliament and, at times, have engaged in a bizarre competition for voter support. ORF, Austria's public broadcaster, has aired 15 debates among top candidates in what can best be described as a "dog eat dog" format.

The Neophyte and the 'Austrian Obama'

One of the candidates is Austrian-Canadian billionaire and political neophyte Frank Stronach, who has posed shirtless in the campaign and encourages supporters to touch his body when he's on stage just to prove how fit he is at 81. Stronach is also calling for the death penalty for contract killers and, despite everything, has managed to bring well-known allies into his "Team Stronach," which has now mounted a nationwide campaign for the first time.

Stronach has placed Monika Lindner, the conservative former ORF director, in the third slot on his ticket. It's as if a new German protest party had convinced Fritz Pleitgen, the former head of the German public broadcaster ARD, to run as one of its top candidates. Lindner, who now regrets her decision but can no longer reverse it, has become a reluctant candidate.

Another candidate running with Team Stronach is former SPÖ member and leading criminal law expert Maximilian Edelbacher, who talks about the international fight against the mafia in his campaign speeches, impressing his audiences with a dose of cosmopolitanism. He is also propagating Stronach's message of the threat posed by "organized crime from abroad."

Team Stronach is already part of the government in three of Austria's nine states. Even the chancellor is taken aback by the fact that what Edelbacher calls a "disparate group of people" -- in other words, a motley alliance of politicians with widely differing views and agendas -- can be so successful. In a rare moment of self-awareness, Faymann said that it saddened him "that someone like Mr. Stronach can appeal to a 7 percent protest potential," adding that: "It is a poor report card for our administration."

The dapper and consistently smiling chancellor, who is campaigning as the candidate with a "steady hand," is especially popular among Austrians who are keen to have harmony. One of Faymann's slogans is: "You have to be able to walk through a swarm of bees without being stung." He tends to explain his policy goals in the tabloid Österreich, which dubbed him "Austria's Obama" early on and has consistently portrayed him in a positive light in 35 interviews over 14 months.

While young people are defecting to the right-wing populists, Faymann's SPÖ enjoys a stronger lead among voters over 50. In that sense, it almost seems logical that Faymann's new party program bears the handwriting of 80-year-old former Interior Minister Karl Blecha. Although he was convicted of suppressing evidence and falsifying documents in 1993 and sentenced to nine months of probation, he apparently remains indispensable and continues to teach students at the Social Democratic Party school about how campaigns work in the 21st century.

Jockeying for Power

It might have been a job for Frank Stauss. But, ironically, the advertising executive with the Düsseldorf-based agency Butter, who successfully advised former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and other German Social Democrats, has been hired by the ÖVP. Since then, he has been coaching Austria's conservatives, under party chairman and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, as part of their effort to secure an election victory. It isn't exactly an easy task.

Fortunately, Faymann's SPÖ, which is essentially the "only force on the left that can be taken seriously," is not taking advantage of the fragmentation of the party landscape, says Stauss. Austria, he explains, is still a "very successful country with a high standard of living." But, he adds, a more hands-on chancellor -- meaning Spindelegger -- is needed if things are to stay that way.

The unintentionally ambiguous slogan "Chancellor for Optimists" is printed on the signs that party supporters are holding up at a major ÖVP campaign rally on the grounds of the Vienna convention center, ringing in the final phase of the quest to unseat Faymann. Spindelegger's advisers have made sure that spontaneous enthusiasm will be as little a part of this evening as it is during the perfectly staged national conventions of the two major parties in the United States.

The question of questions is whether Spindelegger should play the junior partner to Faymann for several more years. Spindelegger coyly admits that the chancellor is looking around for another coalition partner and has already set his sights on Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig. The Greens are the only established party to have emerged unscathed from the countless corruption scandals of recent years. They admittedly haven't forgiven Faymann for failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption or for consistently applying the emergency brake, together with the conservatives, whenever there are calls for more transparency. But if it isn't with the SPÖ, it is almost inconceivable that the Greens would have a chance to be part of a ruling coalition.

The Greens expect to garner 15 percent of the vote, thanks to, or perhaps in spite of, their top candidate. Glawischnig appeared on a campaign poster next to a lamb, along with the slogan: "Not as sheepish as the rest." In a TV debate with the chancellor, Glawischnig didn't hestitate to emphasize the Greens' pioneering role in the fight against bee mortality. But who knows? Perhaps this will ultimately score points with voters in a country where even the speaker of the parliament chaired a special session dressed in a sort of bee costume to express her solidarity for the pesticide-threatened insect.

Discontent among the Content

One thing is clear: This campaign isn't about the war in Syria or the euro crisis. That the "representatives of the angry petit bourgeois" will likely capture at least a quarter of all votes in the EU's second-richest country, as an equally irate columnist in the daily Der Standard complained, is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the number of populists now running for office in a country that used to have only a single prominent populist: Heinz-Christian Strache.

Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), is predicted to capture up to 20 percent of the vote. He and his party even made themselves at home in the courtyard of Vienna's traditionally left-wing city hall, where Social Democrats are currently in power. During a campaign rally on an evening in September, SPÖ officials in their surrounding offices must have felt their ears burning while FPÖ supporters were treating themselves to free beer, sausages and campaign rhetoric down below.

If the Social Democrats are so fond of Turkish immigrants, the FPÖ politicians quipped, they might as well get their orders "in Ankara" in the future. Calling for tougher policies against immigrants, they proclaimed that the "free ride for welfare scroungers" is about to come to an end. And thanks to Strache, they added, Austria is about to experience its own "blue miracle," referring to the party's official color.

As the event drew to a close, Strache told his supporters that the "SPÖ and the ÖVP will experience the worst results in their parties' history" in the upcoming National Assembly election. And, indeed, the polls suggest he could be right. But, then again, there are the amazing results of the recently published United Nations World Happiness Report. According to them, under the grand coalition, Austria has climbed five slots, to eighth place, among the world's happiest countries.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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