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« Reply #9135 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:10 AM »

October 4, 2013

Impasse With Afghanistan Raises Prospect of Total U.S. Withdrawal in 2014

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States and Afghanistan have reached an impasse in their talks over the role that American forces will play here beyond next year, officials from both countries say, raising the distinct possibility of a total withdrawal — an outcome that the Pentagon’s top military commanders dismissed just months ago.

American officials say they are preparing to suspend negotiations absent a breakthrough in the coming weeks, and a senior administration official said talk of resuming them with President Hamid Karzai’s successor, who will be chosen in elections set for next April, is, “frankly, not very likely.”

“The time to conclude for us is now,” the administration official said on Friday. In the absence of a deal, “this fall, we are going to have to make plans for the future accordingly.”

The impasse, after a year of talks, has increased the prospect of what the Americans call the zero option — complete withdrawal — when the NATO combat mission concludes at the end of 2014. That is precisely the outcome they hoped to avoid in Afghanistan, after having engaged in a similarly problematic withdrawal from Iraq two years ago.

Moreover, a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan could be far costlier than it was in Iraq. It would force European powers to pull their forces as well, risking a dangerous collapse in confidence among Afghans and giving a boost to the Taliban, which remain a potent threat.

It could also jeopardize vital aid commitments. Afghanistan is decades away from self-sufficiency — it currently covers only about 20 percent of its own bills, with the rest paid by the United States and its allies.

“It is a practical truth,” the administration official said, that without a deal, “our Congress would not likely follow through on the assistance promises we’ve made, nor would other partners.”

Many contentious matters in the talks have already been settled, like legal immunity for American troops, which is what scuttled the Iraq deal, Afghan and American officials said. Yet officials on both sides say two seemingly intractable issues remain.

The first is Afghanistan’s insistence that the United States guarantee its security, much like any NATO ally, and the second is Mr. Karzai’s refusal to allow American forces to keep searching in Afghanistan for operatives of Al Qaeda. Instead, he has proposed that the United States give its intelligence information to Afghan forces and let them do the searching, said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president.

American officials have rejected both Afghan proposals. The security pact is especially problematic, they say, because it could legally compel American forces to cross the border into Pakistan, resulting in an armed confrontation with an ally — and a nuclear-armed power.

“The deal is like 95 percent done,” said another American official in Washington, “and both sides are holding out.”

Mr. Faizi said Mr. Karzai was now taking a lead role in the talks. But, he cautioned, the Afghan leader could not agree to a deal that allowed American forces to raid Afghan villages and not at the same time go after militant havens in Pakistan.

“Killing people in homes and killing people in villages is bringing the war on terror to Afghans,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview. “This is not focusing on the root and support systems behind the terror.”

Only months ago, top American generals, including Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the possibility that negotiations could falter. The Obama administration has been far more ambiguous. Over the summer White House officials began to seriously weigh the zero option.

The officials say they, too, would prefer that American troops stay in Afghanistan. But “at the right price,” said a senior European diplomat familiar with the American position. “The price that Mr. Karzai is asking is too high for Obama.”

The administration has instructed the lead American negotiator, Ambassador James B. Cunningham, to make one more push this month to bring Mr. Karzai around, officials said. It may consider letting the talks go into November, if necessary. But officials are loath to see the talks become an issue in the Afghan presidential campaign.

This week, the administration also considered sending Secretary of State John Kerry, who has a good relationship with Mr. Karzai, to personally intervene in the talks, American and Afghan officials said. But in a reflection of the administration’s deepening pessimism — and its preoccupation with other priorities — officials decided Mr. Kerry’s time was better spent on an Asian trip that Mr. Obama canceled because of the government shutdown, according to another American official, although that could change if there was movement in the talks in Kabul.

So for now, it is up to Mr. Cunningham, who has told his Afghan counterparts that talks would be suspended until after Afghanistan’s presidential election if no progress was made soon, according to Mr. Faizi and other Afghan and American officials.

Assuming the election takes place on time, it would still push talks to the middle of next year, and many Western officials in Kabul say the election could be delayed until the summer. In the estimation of many Western officials in Kabul and Washington, that is perilously close to the drop-dead date of Dec. 31, 2014. Mr. Karzai, who has served two terms, cannot run for a third.

Adm. James G. Stavridis, who retired in May as NATO’s military commander, said the logistics of organizing a post-2014 force could prove daunting if a deal was not struck soon. Each of the allies has separate logistics, training, supply and transportation requirements, and  “we are getting close to the red line for people to be able to put those forces together,” Admiral Stavridis said Friday at a forum in Washington sponsored by the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he is now dean.

The impasse in the talks has been apparent to negotiators since late summer, according to Afghan and Western officials. But both sides had kept the divisions quiet until this week, when the presidential palace issued a statement saying Mr. Karzai had told a gathering of tribal elders that he would not allow American military raids to continue after next year.

American officials have not issued any formal response to the palace’s statement. Officials said they did not want Afghans to see the deadline as a ploy. They discussed the talks only under the condition of anonymity.

Afghan officials, however, said they believed the deadline and the leaks were solely about pressuring them into signing a deal.

Mr. Faizi said the Afghan government had no deadline, and Mr. Karzai would rather wait to get “the right deal.”

The differences between the two sides are as much about perspectives as they are about the legalities of raids and bases and security arrangements. Afghanistan believes the threat posed by the Taliban is largely driven from Pakistan. In the American view, the Pakistani havens are but one facet of a conflict that is mainly internal.

It is a subtle difference, but one that informs diverging approaches to combating the Afghan insurgency, which remains a threat despite the American-led efforts to quash it that began with the invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

American officials have said they have no intention of fighting the Taliban after 2014. The bulk of the forces left in Afghanistan — administration officials have said they would total 9,000 or less — would train Afghan forces, which are already doing most of the fighting here.

But the United States wants to keep using Special Operations forces to target the roughly 75 operatives that American commanders estimate remain in Afghanistan.

“President Karzai says that has been happening for 12 years, and how come we cannot find them?” Mr. Faizi said. “How much longer will it continue? One year? Five years? Ten years?”

Ultimately, though, the issue is one of sovereignty, Mr. Faizi said. American-led forces have killed civilians in dozens of attacks, he said, and Afghanistan has concluded that foreigners cannot be trusted with the lives of innocent Afghans.

“After 2014, will any foreign military be free to go where it pleases and operate the way it pleases in Afghanistan?” Mr. Faizi said. “The answer is no.”

Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker and Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington.


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« Reply #9136 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:13 AM »


Vietnamese general behind victories over French and US dies aged 102

Vo Nguyen Giap masterminded battle of Dien Bien Phu, which led to France leaving Indo-China, and commanded North's forces in Vietnam war

Peter Beaumont   
theguardian.com, Friday 4 October 2013 16.22 BST   

Vo Nguyen Giap, the celebrated general who masterminded the defeat of the French military at Dien Bien Phu and led North Vietnam's forces against the US, has died aged 102 at a military hospital in Hanoi.

Giap, whose victory at Dien Bien Phu triggered France's departure from Indo-China, was a self-taught leader regarded as one of the great military geniuses of the post-second world war era.

He remained as the commander of the North's forces supporting the Viet Cong throughout the subsequent Vietnam war, being credited with the 1968 Tet offensive.

Giap, known as the Red Napoleon, was a national hero whose reputation was second only to that of Ho Chi Minh.

While some, such as the American journalist Stanley Karnow, regarded him as a strategist in the mould of Wellington, others, including the US general William Westmorland, believed his success was down to his ruthlessness.

Indeed, Westmorland complained to Karnow: "Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight."

Giap was born in the village of An Xa on 25 August 1911 and attended the University of Hanoi, gaining degrees in politics and law, before working as a journalist.

It was his command of Viet Minh forces during the eight-week battle of Dien Bien Phu, which raged from March to May in 1954, that made his reputation.

Vietnamese forces, who wore sandals made of car tyres and lugged their artillery piece by piece over mountains, managed to encircle and crush the French troops in a bloody engagement immortalised in Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place.

Although he was at first a renowned exponent of guerilla tactics, Giap commanded a devastating conventional assault at Dien Bien Phu, in which his forces used Chinese-supplied artillery to prevent effective resupply by air of the base deep in the hills of north-western Vietnam.

During the bitter fighting that would follow, the garrison, comprising a series of outposts in a deep valley, gradually succumbed.

On the brink of being overrun by Giap's forces, the French commander, Christian de Castries, was forbidden to surrender in an infamous order from his superior, General René Cogny in Hanoi, who told him: "You will fight to the end. It is out of the question to run up the white flag after your heroic resistance."

The unlikely victory, which is still studied at military schools, led not only to Vietnam's independence but hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina and beyond.

Giap went on to defeat the US-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into communist and non-communist states. He regularly accepted heavy combat losses to achieve his goals.

"No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war," Giap told the Associated Press in 2005 in one of his last-known interviews with foreign media on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the former South Vietnamese capital.

"But we still fought because for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom," he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.

In later life Giap served as deputy premier and minister of defence.


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« Reply #9137 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:15 AM »

October 4, 2013

Index of Happiness? Bhutan’s New Leader Prefers More Concrete Goals

By GARDINER HARRIS
IHT

THIMPHU, Bhutan — “I think I can take President Obama one on one in basketball,” Bhutan’s newly elected prime minister said recently in an interview. “I’ve got some special moves.”

The prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, is four inches shorter than Mr. Obama, so beating the American president in hoops might be a stretch. But after his surprise election this summer, almost no one in South Asia doubts that he has special moves. And he is renowned for his grit.

Four years ago while competing in the first Tour of the Dragon, billed as the most difficult one-day mountain bike race in the world, he fell and broke his jaw after riding 42 miles. In searing pain, he got up and rode the rest of the race — 124 more miles.

Mr. Tobgay, 48, was one of just two opposition members chosen by voters in Bhutan’s first parliamentary elections, in 2008, and few gave him better than even odds at toppling the governing Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party in the country’s second set of national elections in July.

Several factors went his way, including a currency crisis last year and threats from India just before the vote to withdraw vital financial support. But many analysts credit Mr. Tobgay with running an unusually disciplined campaign that included a long manifesto of specific promises. His People’s Democratic Party won 32 of 47 seats, a resounding victory.

The son of a soldier, Mr. Tobgay was sent to boarding school near Darjeeling, India, when he was 5. After graduating from high school, he won a government scholarship to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1991, he became a civil servant in Bhutan’s education department, but left government service in 2007 to dive into politics. He is married and has two children.

Now, he is overseeing a country of 725,000 people in the midst of one of the most thorough transformations in the world. Bhutan’s feudal system continued until 1953, and its first road was built in 1962.

“In the last few years, we have transformed beyond recognition — politically, economically and socially,” Mr. Tobgay said.

HE has largely abandoned the country’s signature gross national happiness measure, its alternative to gross national product. Introduced in 1972 by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, gross national happiness was seen as a way to balance the country’s gradual embrace of modernity with an effort to preserve its traditions.

Mr. Tobgay’s predecessor, Jigme Thinley, had traveled the world promoting the happiness measure, making him a popular figure among Western academics and literati but less so among his constituents.

Mr. Tobgay’s catalog of modest promises during the election campaign included a motorized rototiller for every village and a utility vehicle for each district. Happiness was not on his list.

“Rather than talking about happiness, we want to work on reducing the obstacles to happiness,” he said.

Those obstacles remain substantial, including a growing national debt and high unemployment. Bhutan’s infrastructure, still woefully inadequate, has been built almost entirely by Indian companies and laborers. At first, Bhutan relied on Indians because few Bhutanese possessed the necessary skills. Now, a more educated and urbanized younger generation is refusing construction work as beneath it.

“The bottom line is that we have to work harder,” Mr. Tobgay said. “We need to grow our own food, build our own homes.”

He lamented that so many of Bhutan’s youths are voluntarily unemployed, saying, “If we can restructure the construction sector to make it more attractive, that should provide a lot of jobs.”

The country’s major industries are hydroelectric power, which it exports to India, and tourism. While most of the population is still involved in subsistence farming, a growing number of people are abandoning their traditional single-family mud-and-wood homes in isolated villages and moving to the country’s towns and cities.

“Who wants to do subsistence farming and get up at 4 in the morning and carry water if you don’t have to?” asked Paljor Dorji, a member of the royal family and a longtime close adviser to the former king. “Once you educate the people, nobody is going to live the same miserable life their parents did.”

Between 2005 and 2012, more than 1,300 apartment buildings were built in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, and they now house nearly two-thirds of the city’s 116,000 residents.

Unlike most cities in South Asia, Thimphu is being developed within strict guidelines, which include adequate roads, sewers and schools. The city requires every building to incorporate elements from traditional Bhutanese architecture like pitched roofs, distinctive windows and upper-story projections, making the town feel like a downscale Vail, Colo.

Thimphu is a pleasant walking city, with none of the chaotic warrens present in many Indian cities. Its people are cheerful, its merchants show none of the pushiness common in South Asia, and even its stray dogs seem benign. There are no slums.

Mr. Tobgay has eliminated some of the restrictive customs enforced by the previous government, including occasional bans on vehicular traffic and a dress code requiring men to wear ghos, a dresslike traditional garment. He acknowledged that preserving the country’s traditional culture would be challenging in an era of rapid urbanization.

Bhutan’s royal family is revered, and criticism of royalty remains unthinkable. But the national news media are lively, and the country’s many and growing democratic and educational institutions have made Bhutan the darling of development and nongovernmental funding organizations.

“Bhutan is an exceptional success story,” said Sekhar Bonu of the Asian Development Bank. “It’s a ray of hope in South Asia, and it sets a new benchmark when we talk to other countries.”

MR. TOBGAY said one of his top priorities was to crack down on growing political corruption. The previous government was considering measures that would have weakened the country’s anticorruption agency, but Mr. Tobgay, who has shunned his predecessor’s limousine and luxury accommodations, said that he planned to strengthen it.

“If corruption creeps in and takes root, we have had it,” Mr. Tobgay said. “We need to ensure that rule of law prevails.”

He plans to host a weekly call-in radio program, hold monthly news conferences and have public office hours when anyone can come and complain. He has a blog and a Twitter account and is active on Facebook.

“Friend me,” he said with a mischievous smile.

Mr. Thinley, the previous prime minister, lobbied for a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, opened new embassies and held discussions with China, efforts that alarmed India. Mr. Tobgay has promised to end much of that international outreach.

“Opening embassies is expensive,” he said. “We have to understand how poor we are.”

He expressed a clear preference for India, which gives Bhutan considerable financial assistance, over China.

“The friendship between India and Bhutan transcends party politics and personalities,” he said with some warmth. When asked about the country’s eastern neighbor, his face fell. “We engage with China. That is a reality.”

And while he intends to spend little time on international affairs, he said, he would make an exception to play basketball with Mr. Obama.

“I need to practice my 3-pointers, sharpen my elbows and strengthen my shoulders,” he said with a clear understanding of foreign diplomacy. “You’re a superpower, so my only chance is going one on one.”


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« Reply #9138 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:24 AM »

October 4, 2013

Cancellation of Trip by Obama Plays to Doubts of Asia Allies

By JANE PERLEZ
IHT

BEIJING — As President Obama made apologetic calls to Asia to cancel his planned trip to the region, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, was taking a star turn in some of the same countries Mr. Obama would have visited.

Mr. Xi this week became the first foreigner to address the Indonesian Parliament, offering billions of dollars in trade to the country that was Mr. Obama’s childhood home. The Chinese leader then moved on to Malaysia, before preparing to attend two Asian summit meetings that Mr. Obama had to abandon because of the government shutdown at home.

With the cancellation of the visits, the much-promoted but already anemic American “pivot” to Asia was further undercut, leaving regional allies increasingly doubtful the United States will be a viable counterbalance to a rising China.

Coming after Mr. Obama’s U-turn on intervention in Syria amid signs of a new American insularity, the revolt in the House of Representatives over health care left many Asians puzzling over America’s messy democracy and wondering if the United States would be able — or willing — to stand up to China in a confrontation.

That wariness, Asian officials and analysts say, is giving China a new edge in the tug of war with the United States over influence in Asia, with the gravitational pull of China’s economy increasingly difficult to resist.

“How can the United States be a reliable partner when President Obama can’t get his own house in order?” asked Richard Heydarian, a foreign policy adviser to the Philippine Congress and a lecturer in international affairs at Ateneo de Manila University in Manila. “It makes people wonder: Is the United States really in the position to come to our aid in the event of a military conflict?”

And in rare public criticism of the United States by a senior Singaporean official, Bilahari Kausikan, the recently retired permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said Thursday in a speech in Hanoi, Vietnam, that in the face of China’s challenge, Washington — and its ally Japan — was “not exerting sufficient countervailing economic influence.”

China’s mounting investments in Southeast Asia, including the establishment of a $50 billion Chinese infrastructure bank to rival development banks influenced by the United States, are no longer “just a matter of business” but “a core Chinese interest,” Mr. Kausikan warned.

“Where economics goes,” he said, “strategy inevitably follows.”

That is not to say the United States will lose its standing in the region it has long dominated anytime soon. Many Asian countries remain wary of China’s territorial ambitions and had welcomed the “pivot” as protection against extensive Chinese claims in the South China and East China Seas. The presence of tens of thousands of American troops in Japan and South Korea and the United States naval fleet roaming the Pacific add to that projection of power.

As if to bolster that point, the American secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, visited South Korea and Japan this week for talks to beef up the alliances with those two countries. He was joined in Japan by Secretary of State John Kerry for the signing of a security agreement that allows the deployment of American surveillance drones there for the first time and gives implicit backing to Japan’s slow but steady moves to strengthen its once-powerful military.

But even in Japan, one of America’s closest allies, doubts were expressed about the United States’ willingness to offer backing in the event of a conflict with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan. The conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already increased the military budget, partly from fear that the United States would not come to Japan’s aid despite its treaty obligations, analysts said.

“The analogy is when Obama initially tried to use military strikes against Syria, but then they didn’t happen,” said Ken Jimbo, an associate professor of international security at Keio University in Tokyo. “What if North Korea is aggressive towards South Korea, how would the Obama administration react? What about the Senkaku: if China is assertive with its maritime forces, would Washington provide any physical commitment?”

In Seoul, Mr. Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, sat with President Park Geun-hye this week at a dinner to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the American-South Korean alliance, even as the popular press hammered the United States for a “new isolationism.”

In the mass-circulation newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, a columnist, Kim Young-hie, wrote, “Washington’s primary concerns have veered away from Asia, the Korean Peninsula and North Korea.” He labeled the Obama administration’s policy toward North Korea “strategic neglect.”

In Indonesia, where China has long been viewed with suspicion, attitudes toward the Chinese have warmed, said Rizal Sukma, executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

“I would call Indonesia’s attitude towards China now as a display of growing comfort amid persistent ambiguity,” Mr. Sukma said. “On the one hand, it values economic opportunities offered by China. On the other hand, Indonesia is still anxious about China’s long-term intentions in East Asia.”

He added, “Like many other East Asian countries, Indonesia has been in doubt regarding America’s ability to sustain the pivot strategy, with the huge cuts in the defense budget over the next five years.”

In his speech in Jakarta, Mr. Xi said China expected to reach one trillion dollars of trade with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by 2020.

All countries in East Asia, except the Philippines, now count China as their chief trading partner, according to Peter Drysdale, an economist who heads the East Asia Forum at the Australian National University in Canberra.

China’s trade with those nations has grown so quickly in the last 10 years, overtaking the United States as many countries’ prime trading partner, that China would have to increase its trade only fourfold to reach that trillion-dollar goal, he said.

“United States trade would have to increase a tad more than fivefold to match that — a bit more of a stretch,” Dr. Drysdale said.

By failing to show up at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, which opens on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday, and by not attending the East Asia Summit in Brunei two days later, Mr. Obama could be ceding Mr. Xi plenty of ground.

One of Mr. Obama’s goals in Bali would have been to nudge those Asian countries that Washington had invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact into finishing negotiations by the end of the year. The administration has not invited China to join the 12-member group, and China views the trade agreement as a tool to contain it.

The pact — a major platform of Mr. Obama’s Asian pivot because it suggests that the new strategy is not only military but also economic — is running into problems in some countries, particularly Malaysia, where Mr. Obama was supposed to go next week.

With Mr. Obama embroiled in battle with House Republicans, Asian leaders will be asking whether the president possesses the political capital to get the trade pact through Congress, Asian officials said.

And without Mr. Obama in Bali, Mr. Xi will be able to push an alternate trade grouping, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which embraces a broader set of Asian countries than the Pacific Partnership. The United States is not included.

If showing up is more than half the game, some Asians say, Mr. Xi’s presence will highlight Mr. Obama’s absence.

“He is winning hearts and minds in the right places,” said Endy Bayuni, senior editor of The Jakarta Post, a national daily newspaper, speaking of the Chinese leader. And, he said, even if Mr. Obama had turned up at the Bali meeting, he would have most likely been afforded a “less warm reception.”

Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-hun in Seoul, Joe Cochrane in Jakarta, Martin Fackler in Tokyo and Floyd Whaley in the Philippines.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized China’s standing as a trading partner. Other than the Philippines, all countries in East Asia, not Asia, count China as their chief trading partner.

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October 4, 2013

Hagel’s Week in Asia, Complete With Talk of Drones and Fiscal Standoff

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
IHT

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY JET — Within the same hour that the White House announced that President Obama was scuttling the remainder of his long-planned trip to Asia because of the government shutdown, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was ending a weeklong trip to South Korea and Japan, as part of the administration’s continuing — and vexed — attempt to refocus defense, economic and diplomatic interests in the region.

As in all such ventures, meetings were had — including one with Secretary of State John Kerry and their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo — a wreath was laid at a cemetery for the war dead and troops were visited.

Both within and outside the trip’s central message — the reaffirmation of America’s commitment to Asian allies in light of North Korea’s threat and China’s growing dominance — there were several notable contours.

Shutdown

While diplomacy and complex military agreements dominated Mr. Hagel’s time, aides scrambled to assess and manage the impact of the United States government shutdown, which started two days into his trip.

From the plane ride last Saturday to Seoul, during which he railed against Congress, to the hour before he took off from Tokyo on Friday morning, when he spoke with American troops on the deck of a destroyer docked at the Yokosuka Naval Base, Mr. Hagel spoke continually, often at length with great animation, about the fiscal follies.

Often, he was cranky: “This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern!” Other times, philosophical: “We have seemed to have lost our way in the objective of governing.” Once in a while, he was reassuring. When asked by a sailor if operations at Yokosuka were in jeopardy, Mr. Hagel said simply, “No.”

Between meetings and other events, Mr. Hagel held daily update calls with the Pentagon, and one with the White House during the flight home, and his staff pressed the Justice Department for an interpretation of the language of the bill signed by Mr. Obama that exempted active-duty military from furloughs.

Roughly 400,000 civilians who work for the department were hit, and the Pentagon wants to tweak legal language to permit it to bring back as many as possible. “It’s, in fact, the priority in our general counsel’s office,” Mr. Hagel said.

Drones

As part of a new agreement hatched this week here between the United States and Japan to broaden their security alliance, the Air Force will begin flying a handful of Global Hawk surveillance drones from an undetermined base in Japan next spring, a senior administration official said, the first time such drones will be based in East Asia.

The unmanned drones are deeply coveted in northeast Asia because they allow for high-altitude visibility far and wide: all the better to peek into adversaries’ yards.

The placement of these drones, which can fly for more than 28 hours at a time, shows both America’s continued security interest in Asia at a time of tight purse strings and Japan’s growing willingness to accept new military hardware in the country for use against looming neighbors.

Iran

Since Mr. Hagel’s bruising confirmation hearings, when members of his own Republican Party worked him over for his support of diplomatic engagement during his 12-year Senate career, he has been notably careful with his locution.

But Mr. Hagel joined Mr. Kerry this week in strongly backing engagement with Iran, and he knocked back criticisms from the Israeli government over the recent conversation between Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and Mr. Obama.

“I have never believed that foreign policy is a zero-sum game,” said Mr. Hagel, who supported diplomatic engagement when he served in the Senate. “Engagement is not appeasement, it’s not surrender, it’s not negotiation. Aren’t we wiser if we can find ways to resolve disputes, recognizing the danger, being very cleareyed and keeping the strongest military in the world?”

Mr. Hagel reiterated his comments when speaking with the sailors. “Democracies engage,” he told them.

Fashion

Mr. Hagel is known for his decidedly casual style — neon green pants, suede chukka boots and eye-popping shirts in the White House Situation Room during major events. But in Asia he toned down his sartorial style, with only hints of le fashion de Hagel. There were the corduroy pants, of course, and the red socks.

There were also the military emblems.

While visiting the Army’s Second Infantry Division north of Seoul, Mr. Hagel thanked troops “for allowing me to wear the Second ID jacket. I know I’m not worthy, but nonetheless, I am the secretary of defense, so you don’t have any damn choice.”

His trip ended on his 67th birthday on Friday. He was presented a birthday cake on Thursday night by Mr. Kerry, his old pal from the Senate.


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« Reply #9139 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:26 AM »

tober 4, 2013

Riots in Kenya After Killing of Muslim Cleric

By JOSH KRON
IHT

NAIROBI, Kenya — Deadly riots broke out in the coastal city of Mombasa on Friday morning after a popular but controversial Muslim cleric was fatally shot in what his followers said they believed was an attack by the security services.

Four people were confirmed dead and seven injured in the unrest, according to the Kenya Red Cross, and a church was set ablaze. The violence unleashed bubbling religious tensions in the wake of the terrorist attack last month on a shopping mall in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, which left more than 60 people dead and investigators grasping for answers.

The cleric, Sheik Ibrahim Ismail, also known as Ibrahim Omar, was killed Thursday night along with three others when their car was sprayed with bullets as they drove along Mombasa’s palm-fringed coastal highway. Sheik Ismail’s predecessor, Sheik Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a radical cleric, was killed last year in similar circumstances. He had been linked to the Shabab, the Somali Islamist militant group that has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi.

Sheik Ismail was widely recognized in Mombasa as advocating controversial Islamist policies in Somalia, as his predecessor did, and was said to have spoken positively of the Westgate mall attack.

By late Friday morning, after prayer services, Muslim youths were pouring out of the mosque where Sheik Ismail had preached, throwing together makeshift furniture barricades in the streets, according to witnesses reached by telephone and local news reports. Security personnel in helmets and protective vests tried to contain the rioting.

But demonstrators smashed windows, left tires burning in the street and hurled stones at police officers in running street battles, television footage showed. Black smoke rose from the white Salvation Army church. Footage showed several officers huddled behind an auto rickshaw, seeking cover from rioters, some with red-and-white scarves wrapped around their faces.

The situation in the country since the mall attack remains tense. Witnesses have said that one or more of the attackers may have escaped, and fears of a follow-up assault are running high. Muslims, both Somalis from the country’s large diaspora and native Kenyans, have been bracing for reprisal attacks.

On Friday, the police said no one had been arrested in the killings of the sheik and the others in the car. “Right now, the area is calm,” said a Kenyan police spokeswoman in Nairobi, Zipporah Mboroki. “We are investigating the cause of the shooting.”

The Kenyan authorities this week urged calm in the wake of the Nairobi attack, and called particularly for Kenyan Muslims and non-Muslims to stay united. Muslims were among the dead in the attack on the mall, as well as among the rescuers hailed here as heroes. But the attackers allowed some Muslims to leave unharmed, in what may have been in part an attempt to sow dissent.

The murders and strife in Mombasa have stoked fears that Kenya could slide into further bloodshed. The widespread violence after the disputed election in 2007, which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people, laid bare Kenya’s fragile stability.

Followers of Sheik Ismail said they believed that the killings were political, and that his death was the beginning of the feared retribution against Muslims after the mall siege.

“The police are killing people while saying it is a war against terrorism; this is a war against Islam,” said another radical cleric, Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, according to Agence France-Presse.

Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting.


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« Reply #9140 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:30 AM »


Foreign military raid al-Shabaab headquarters in Somalia, reports say

Speculation that assault was targeting militant leader Ahmed Godane, who claimed responsibility for Nairobi mall attack

Peter Beaumont and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 October 2013 12.17 BST   

Foreign military forces appear to have carried out a pre-dawn raid on a southern Somalian coastal town, apparently in pursuit of "a high-profile target" linked to the militant al-Shabaab group that was behind last month's Kenyan mall shootings.

The pre-dawn raid – which initial but unconfirmed reports suggested may have involved US troops – took place in Barawe, in the lower Shabelle region 240km south of Mogadishu. It is the same town where US navy commandos killed a senior al-Qaida member four years ago.

The raid comes as Kenya's military confirmed the names of four al-Shabaab fighters implicated in the Westgate attack. Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the men were Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr – names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyan television station.

"I confirm those are the names of the terrorist," he said, in a tweet sent to the Associated Press.

The publication of the identities supports CCTV footage from the Nairobi mall published by a private TV station that shows no more than four attackers, contradicting earlier government statements that between 10 to 15 attackers were involved.

They are seen calmly walking through a storeroom inside the complex, holding machine guns. One of the men's legs appears to be stained with blood, though he is not limping, and it is unclear if the blood is his.

The focus of Saturday's raid in Somalia appears to have been a two-storey beachside house that residents say was used as a headquarters by al-Shabaab. with some troops reportedly landing by helicopter.

Radio Shabelle, in Mogadishu, reported that one al-Shabaab fighter had been killed and others were injured. Although the details were sketchy, agencies reported residents describing being awoken before early morning prayers by heavy gunfire. Other Mogadishu news sources appeared to confirm the details of the raid.

An al-Shabaab source, who spoke to Reuters, said a group of westerners had landed on a beach near Barawe and been repelled.

A Somali intelligence official said the targets of the raid were high-profile foreigners in the house and that the strike was carried out by foreign military forces. Somalia's nascent army does not have the ability to carry out a stealth night-time strike. A second intelligence official confirmed the attack. Both insisted on anonymity.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabaab's military operations, told Reuters: "Westerners in boats attacked our base at Barawe beach and one was martyred from our side. No planes or helicopters took part in the fight. The attackers left weapons, medicine and stains of blood. We chased them."

There was immediate speculation that the target was the leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, who claimed responsibility for the four-day assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi two weeks ago. He said the attack, which left at least 67 people dead, was in retaliation for Kenya's military deployment inside Somalia.

"We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought an al-Shabaab base at the beach was captured," Sumira Nur told Reuters from Barawe. "We also heard sounds of shells but we do not know where they landed."

An al-Shabaab member, who gave his name as Abu Mohamed, said fighters rushed to the scene to try to capture a foreign soldier but they were not successful.

Meanwhile, Kenya's military has confirmed the names of four al-Shabaab fighters implicated in the Westgate attack.

Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the attackers were Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr – names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyan television station. "I confirm those are the names of the terrorist," he said, in a tweet sent to the Associated Press.

The identities of the men come as a private television station in Nairobi obtained and broadcast the CCTV footage from the Nairobi mall. The footage shows no more than four attackers. They are seen calmly walking through a storeroom inside the complex, holding machine guns. One of the men's legs appears to be stained with blood, though he is not limping, and it is unclear if the blood is his.

The footage contradicts earlier government statements, which indicated that between 10 to 15 attackers were involved.


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« Reply #9141 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:32 AM »


US blocks military aid to Rwanda over alleged backing of M23 child soldiers

Rwandan government condemns sanctions, which also apply to Burma, Central African Republic, Sudan and Syria

David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 4 October 2013 17.46 BST   

The US has sanctioned Rwanda over of its alleged support for a Congolese rebel group that sends child soldiers into battle.

The decision to block US military aid was condemned by Rwandan officials but endorsed by the country's political opposition for "bringing the Kigali regime to account".

The Rwandan government has been accused by the UN of backing the M23 rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a charge it denies.

The sanctions also apply to the Burma, Central African Republic, Sudan and Syria. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said: "Under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, we have just announced those countries that are being sanctioned under that act, and Rwanda is one of those countries.

"Our goal is to work with countries that have been listed to ensure that any involvement in child soldiers, any involvement in the recruitment of child soldiers, must stop. In this case, it was related to M23, and we will continue to have discussions with the Rwandan government on that issue."

Marie Harf, a state department spokesperson, added that Rwanda was sanctioned because of its "support for the M23, a rebel group which continues to actively recruit and abduct children" and to threaten the stability of DRC.

Rwanda will not receive US international military education and training funds, which help train foreign militaries, nor US foreign military financing, which funds the sale of American military material and services, Harf explained.

The US has had close military ties with Rwanda since president Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power after the 1994 genocide. The country's army is regarded as one the most disciplined and efficient in the region.

The M23, which accuses the Congolese government of failing to honour a 2009 peace deal, is fighting the Congolese army and a UN intervention brigade near the Rwandan border. In July, Human Rights Watch said it had documented dozens of cases of forced recruitment by M23 forces since March, including of children.

The UN's group of experts has reported that the M23 is receiving "direct support" from the Rwandan military, including when it briefly captured the major city of Goma last year. Rwanda claims no conclusive evidence has been produced.

The issue has created a headache for western donors who previously heaped praise on Kagame for transforming the shattered country into a development success story. Some have partially frozen aid.

On Friday, the Rwandan military criticised the US decision to withhold aid. "It is surprising that Rwanda would be liable for matters that are neither on its territory nor in its practices," said the army's spokesman, brigadier general Joseph Nzabamwita. "As a long-term partner of the Rwanda defence forces, the United States has ample evidence that our forces have never tolerated the use of children in combat.

"Rwanda's commitment to a sustainable solution that seeks to bring an end to the DRC conflict and its consequences, including the use of child soldiers, remains unchanged. The collaboration between the government of Rwanda and the United States remains strong, particularly in the field of peacekeeping, and Rwanda will continue to hold its forces to the highest standards of professionalism and discipline."

He added that the "decision to include Rwanda among states that use child soldiers is not based on evidence or facts".

But the move was applauded by Kagame's Rwandan critics. Three groups – FDU-Inkingi, the Amahoro Peoples Congress and the Rwanda National Congress – said in a joint statement: "We commend the efforts of the United States government to have taken the lead in bringing the Kigali regime to account for the horrendous human rights abuses committed in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"We call upon the United States government and other members of the international community to impose comprehensive and targeted sanctions against the Kigali regime."

The groups also called on the UN security council to impose sanctions against the Rwandan government for supporting the M23 "as well as for other human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity".

The UN fighting force has made gains against the M23 and reduced the threat to Goma as peace talks continue, but deadly violence continues to flare. This week Human Rights Watch urged the UN security council to adopt a resolution requiring Rwanda to end all support to the M23 and impose sanctions on senior Rwandan officials involved.

The watchdog quoted a woman from Rutshuru in eastern DRC as saying she was raped by an M23 rebel fighter who said to her: "We also had wives, but they stayed in Rwanda. So that's why we rape you." After the woman was raped, the fighter shot her in both thighs, Human Rights Watch reported.

Kagame recently expressed frustration at constantly being blamed for the instability in eastern Congo. "It's like, you know, the world has decided, for Congo, you ask Rwanda. Why? I don't understand," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York.

"My question always is, why doesn't the country, the state of Congo, deal with the issues themselves? They should be the ones telling the world nothing is working, or what they think can work for them. I cannot be the one to keep being asked to answer what should work for Congo. This is a serious problem."


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« Reply #9142 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:35 AM »


World Cup 2022: football cannot ignore Qatar worker deaths, says Sepp Blatter

Fifa boss promises to meet emir of Qatar, but sparks anger by saying there is 'plenty of time' to deal with issue

Owen Gibson in Zurich and Robert Booth
The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 17.27 BST   
   
The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has admitted world football cannot "turn a blind eye" to the deaths of hundreds of construction workers in Qatar as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Under mounting pressure to act over the Guardian's revelations that dozens of Nepalese workers had died this summer in conditions described as "modern-day slavery", Blatter said he would meet the new emir of Qatar to discuss the issue.

But the Fifa president's claim that it had no direct influence over the situation and that there was plenty of time to resolve the issue angered those campaigning for change on the ground.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said: "Fifa's offer of only a 'courtesy visit' to the emir of Qatar is totally inadequate and fails to put in place any plan to stop more workers dying."

The ITUC has warned that 4,000 construction workers could die before a ball is kicked if conditions do not improve for the labourers working on infrastructure projects worth an estimated £137bn before the 2022 tournament.

In a letter to Fifa released to the media, the 2022 organising committee chief executive, Hassan al-Thawadi, said it considered the "findings presented by the Guardian newspaper to be of the utmost seriousness".

It said: "Our prime minister has personally stated to us his firm and resolute commitment towards ensuring that genuine progress is made in the sphere of workers' welfare.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee – and the state of Qatar – and we are steadfastly committed to ensuring that the event acts as a true catalyst towards creating sustainable improvement for every worker in our country."

Blatter refused to threaten the Qataris with the loss of the tournament if the death toll was not reduced in the runup to the World Cup. Instead, he reassured organisers that the tournament would take place come what may.

"You are looking to the future and I can't look to the future. I am going to Qatar now and we will put the situation of Qatar with the situation we are facing with their responsibility," he said. "We have plenty of time concerning Qatar but it is 2022, it is in nine years."

Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, which has reported on labour abuses in Doha, said Fifa appeared to be saying the rights of workers building Qatar's 2022 World Cup were somebody else's problem.

"Blatter's assertion that there is 'plenty of time' to resolve the issues suggest he is either ignorant of or indifferent to the appalling abuses happening right now in Qatar," he said.

But a senior international diplomatic source working on the crisis said Fifa's decision to place the onus on Qatar's leadership was correct, as in practical terms only Doha could solve the problem.

They said Fifa's decision not to threaten Qatar helped provide "a safe space" in which it could respond to the widely exposed problems and engage with the UN's International Labour Organisation and other groups over the next six months.Over the last week international scrutiny of the problem through diplomatic channels has swelled, pressurising the Qatari leadership into action, the source said.

On Wednesday Qatar's ministry of labour said it had hired the international law firm DLA Piper to undertake an independent review of allegations it had failed to enforce international conventions on forced labour.

Blatter said Fifa could not control safety on building sites but admitted that growing international pressure had forced world football's governing body to acknowledge the problem. "What has happened now, we are not indifferent to that. We can't turn a blind eye and say this does not concern us," said the 77-year-old.

"That is why a trip to Qatar is planned. You can plainly see what Qatar has already done. We have 209 associations, in 209 associations you have different social and cultural associations. we can only do something when we see, when we hear and when we know ourselves – it has been confirmed by the Qataris themselves that something is amiss." Blatter, who also announced the creation of a working party to consult on the controversial decision to move the 2022 tournament from summer to winter, said European construction companies must also take their share of responsibility.

"The workers' rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies – many of them European companies – who work there. It is not Fifa's primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye. Yet it is not a direct intervention from Fifa that can change things," he said.

"The executive committee requested the president of Fifa to go to Qatar. I will meet with the new emir for a courtesy visit to confirm the World Cup 2022. We will also touch on this concern, the working conditions, but we are not the ones that can actually change it."

Ramesh Badel, a lawyer in Kathmandu who represents Nepalese workers in Qatar, including those who have lost hands and legs in construction accidents, said Blatter was dodging Fifa's duties. At least 70 Nepalese workers have died on Qatar's building sites since the start of 2012.

"Fifa should take responsibility to restore the rights of the workers themselves," he said. "All this construction is happening because of their World Cup. If there is slavery, how can they just keep quiet?"

Mahendra Pandey, chairman of the Parvasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee in Kathmandu, which this week received reports of 13 more injured workers in Qatar, said Blatter's failure to set demands for basic labour standards it expected from World Cup hosts showed Fifa was not treating the problem seriously.

"Blatter would be better off visiting a migrant labourer camp when he goes to Qatar than going to see the emir," he said.


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« Reply #9143 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:37 AM »

Brazilian police accused of torturing bricklayer to death and hiding his body

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 4, 2013 7:16 EDT

Ten Brazilian policemen may face trial after being accused of torturing a bricklayer to death and then hiding the body, a police official said Thursday.

The 10 were arrested this week following the July disappearance and presumed death of Amarildo de Souza in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela with 70,000 inhabitants.

Rio’s O Dia newspaper gave front page headline treatment to the story in their Thursday edition, alleging that Amarildo had been tortured by military police before he died.

His body has not been found, but following his disappearance on July 14 there have been several large scale public protests by Rio residents demanding an explanation.

In the weeks after he disappeared, hundreds of locals marched towards the residence of state governor Sergio Cabral in central Rio demanding news of the victim’s fate.

A local police commissioner has accused Amarildo of being involved in drugs trafficking and he was captured by CCTV cameras getting into a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) vehicle.

The 42-year-old father of six is assumed to have been taken away for questioning. He has not been seen since.

One of the 10 police arrested is the commander of the Rocinha UPP unit.

The UPP are tasked with ridding the slums of drug traffickers and militias. They work on site in units assigned to specific favelas, and have made inroads in reducing Rio’s crime rate.

But regular reports of police corruption and violence have forced recent widespread changes in senior UPP personnel.


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« Reply #9144 on: Oct 05, 2013, 08:52 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America


Republicans to stage piecemeal budget votes as shutdown accusations fly

Democrats likely to reject GOP's stopgap measures as Boehner says 'all we are asking for is to sit down and have a discussion'

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 4 October 2013 18.11 BST    

Republicans will stage piecemeal budget votes over the weekend offering symbolic funding to additional public services, as Republicans and Democrats accused the other of deliberately dragging out the wider government shutdown into a second week.

The GOP-dominated House of Representatives will attempt to re-open the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and child nutrition and development programmes, as well as pledging to provide back pay for other furloughed federal workers.

Democrats are likely to reject the stopgap measures, however, which they regard as gimmicks aimed at shifting blame for the shutdown away from Republicans holding the president to ransom over his healthcare reforms.

Similar piecemeal votes affecting national parks and monuments, veterans services and the District of Columbia have already been blocked in the Senate, which is calling for a "clean" vote to continue all government funding.

As the two sides looked further apart than ever at the end of the first shutdown week, the debate shifted instead to allegations that both sides are seeking to prolong the stalemate for political advantage.

Republicans seized on off-the-record quotes in the Wall Street Journal which appear to show the White House settling in for a long fight.

It claimed a senior administration official had said: "We are winning … It doesn't really matter to us [how long the shutdown lasts] because what matters is the end result."

Though unclear whether such a remark really reflects the view of the Obama administration, the quote was jumped on by House speaker John Boehner in a press conference setting out Republican tactics.

"This morning I get out the Wall Street Journal out and it says: 'We don't care how long it lasts because we [the Democrats] are winning'," said Boehner. "This isn't some damn game. All we are asking for is to sit down and have a discussion."

White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the allegation that it wanted a shutdown as "absurd" on Friday, repeating calls from Obama for the Republicans to allow a "clean" budget vote in the House that would probably see a majority voting to end the shutdown.

Instead, Democrats seized on a candid conversation between Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who were recorded discussing their tactics to keep blaming the shutdown on the president.

"I don't think they poll-tested 'we won't negotiate'," Paul told McConnell. "I think it's awful for them to say that over and over. I know we don't want to be here but we are going to win this."

The continued war of words between both sides dashed overnight hopes that Republican leaders might be preparing a partial climbdown.

Boehner, in particular, rejected any notion that he had ruled out voting against an increase in the debt limit.

"I don't believe we should default on our debt, but after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed," he said. "I think the American people expect that if we are going to raise the amount that we borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem."

Optimism had previously grown that Republicans were tiring of the fight when Boehner was reported on Thursday to have told moderates in his own party that he would work with Democrats if necessary to avoid a debt limit breach and possibly even pass continuing spending resolution.

Unofficial Washington estimates suggest around 25 moderate Republicans would back a vote on a "clean" funding resolution, which would be enough to pass if supported by Democrats, but this group still appears smaller and less determined than the hardline Tea Party supporters driving Boehner toward confrontation.

An eventual solution to the crisis is still likely to come in the form of a deal with Republican moderates, but all the time the party leadership believes it is at least persuading the American public to blame both sides for the shutdown they are likely to be encouraged to keep seeking concessions from Obama.

There are also signs that some Democrats are wavering in their support for the tough line adopted by Obama and Senate leader Harry Reid, as 57 House Democrats joined Republicans to vote for the piecemeal funding measures debated earlier this week.

****************

Republican Terrorists Have Exposed Themselves as The Traitors They Are

By: Rmuse
Oct. 5th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Most Americans have experienced the sensation of being excited and celebratory at achieving a long sought-after goal, but have to temper their glee with disappointment that although successful, they failed to meet all of their expectations. Republicans have had a lot to rejoice over in the past week because they finally achieved their goal of shutting down the government to inflict harm on the people and economy, and convinced Senate Democrats to pass a GOP austerity budget with sequestration cuts in place allegedly to stave off the shutdown. From a conservative terrorist’s world view, there is much to celebrate and be excited about, but as pleased Republicans are, they are disappointed and angry they failed to prevent millions of Americans who likely have never had healthcare insurance from purchasing affordable plans when the Affordable Care Act exchanges went live on Tuesday.

Ideally, Republicans had hoped to inflict more damage on the people with their shutdown, and it is really true congressional Republicans are upset they failed at the national level to prevent Americans from receiving healthcare, but their compatriots in the states are picking up the slack and having a field day in the movement’s crusade to keep Americans sick and in poverty. Despite the national effort to extend healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, two-thirds of poor African Americans and single mothers and over half the low-wage workers who do not have insurance have been left out because Republican-controlled states rejected Medicaid expansion and prevented 8 million impoverished Americans from getting healthcare. In all, the 26 states that rejected Medicaid expansion contain about half the country’s population and about 68% of poor uninsured African Americans and single mothers, and 60% of the country’s uninsured working poor.

To demonstrate the Republicans’ depth of depravity, the states that rejected Medicaid expansion, many in the southern United States, are the “places where the concentration of poverty and lack of health insurance are the most acute. It is their populations that have the highest burden of illness and costs to the entire health care system” according to Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a founder of the community health center model. It is tragic, but every Deep South red state except Arkansas rejected Medicaid expansion that implies racial animus informed the decision to reject providing healthcare for the poor, particularly when the cost to states is zero for three years and no more than 10% thereafter. For state-level Republicans, rejecting Medicaid expansion is a beautiful thing because they are allowed to keep their residents sick and still benefit from the shutdown that brings its own damage to poverty level Americans. It is a feat congressional Republicans lusted after and doubtless they will “stand their ground” and keep the government closed to take advantage of the inherent damage permanently shuttering important agencies in a credit default scenario will bring the people.

Although many Republicans claim Americans will not notice the effects of the shutdown and intend keeping it in place until the 2014 midterms to prove government is unnecessary, real Americans are already feeling the shutdown’s consequences. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) halted its flu program just as flu season gets underway, over 2 million federal employees will have paychecks delayed and 800,000 may never be repaid, and food safety operations will grind to a halt. For disabled Americans their benefits could be interrupted, the Women’s, Infants, and Children (WIC) program serving 9 million poor women and children is suspended, and Head Start programs start closing soon. Millions of Veterans may miss the benefits if the shutdown lasts more than two weeks because the Department of Veterans Affairs said it may not have money to pay disability claims and pension payments. The shutdown could affect 3.6 million Veterans, so they had better start making poverty plans today because Republicans plan to keep government closed at least until the deadline to raise the debt ceiling in two weeks. The shutdown may last until the 2014 midterm elections when they hope to make it permanent because they claim the people will realize they do not need, or want, a federal government; even for national security.

Republicans exposed themselves as the traitors they are because about 70% of the 86,000 civilians employed at 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have been furloughed prompting the spokesman for the director of national intelligence to warn that “the intelligence community’s ability to identify threats and provide information for a broad set of national security decisions will be diminished for the duration.” It seems reasonable that the intelligence community would identify the Republican shutdown as a threat to national security, but without 70% of its workforce, it is likely many threats, including those posed by teabaggers and Republicans, will go unidentified “for the duration.”

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that the shutdown’s duration, according to many Republicans, is going to be at least through the Republican debt ceiling crisis at which time the solvency, or lack thereof, of the government may inform that Republicans succeeded in their goal of a permanent government shutdown. Americans need to comprehend that this shutdown tactic was not just about preventing 30-million uninsured citizens gaining access to affordable healthcare insurance; it was also about Republicans gaining leverage in the impending crisis over the debt ceiling and beyond. According to the National Review, “Boehner called groups of members to his Capitol office, and it became clear, members say, that Boehner’s chief goal is conference unity as the debt limit nears.” The Republican message has shifted away from defunding the Affordable Care Act to items Boehner talked about slashing last month including discretionary spending cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and concentrating on tax reform (cuts) for the rich and corporations.

If Americans cannot see what Republicans have in store for them, and this country, with their government shutdown and plans to rape the economic life out of the people in the looming debt ceiling crisis, they are blind.  The simple fact that they planned months ago to shut down the government to prevent 30 million Americans from having healthcare insurance, or succeeded in keeping 8 million poor Americans sick by rejecting free Medicaid expansion, means they have no qualms deliberately crashing the  economy and defaulting on the nation’s debt. The price the people will have to pay to save the nation’s economy from a catastrophic collapse is ceding their Social Security, Medicare, Affordable Care Act, and myriad domestic programs to give the rich and corporations more tax cuts, deregulation, and control of the government through privatization. It is clear that Republicans will inflict the maximum damage they can on the people either by defaulting on the nation’s debt or extorting truly draconian cuts and “limited government” from the people that means no government services or protections.

The shutdown will not end soon, and when it does the resulting America will not be pretty if Republicans have their way. Republicans have dispensed with “defunding Obamacare” talk and boast that with the shutdown they are “strengthening their hand in the debt limit talks.” With the full faith and credit of the United States hanging in the balance, they will crash the economy if they do not get their way because their goal is eliminating the federal government and what better way than bankrupting the nation so there is no Social Security, no Medicare, no Obamacare, no domestic programs, and no chance of any American ever escaping poverty let alone have healthcare. Whether they crash the economy, or decimate government social programs for the people, Republicans intend on having the celebration they have lusted after for 80 years when killing New Deal provisions began the long journey to where America is today; being held hostage by a group of home-grown conservative terrorists.

*************

Boehner the Lost Clown

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Oct. 5th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

john boehnerYou might laugh to know that The New York Times reports that “Speaker John A. Boehner began a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Friday morning with a recitation of letters from local schoolchildren on how they deal with stress. A shower helps, one child counseled. So does a nap.”

A child’s help and advice is apropos for our embattled but intrepid Speaker, as his behavior has, to date, been absolutely childish.

Having steered the Republican clown car into a chasm as deep as the six-miles-to-the-bottom-drop of the Valles Marineris on Mars, lost clown John Boehner sees no way out but forward against a White House whose back he has put against a wall.

Boehner says he wants to negotiate but by negotiate he means unconditional surrender. And surrender for President Barack Obama means not only a personal defeat for his signature healthcare law, a law the American people say they want, but a diminution of Executive powers, not only for his own presidency but for all future presidencies.

Surrender would make the Executive Branch a permanent hostage of any House majority.

Needless to say, that isn’t what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they laid out their plan for the separation and balance of powers. Given Congress’ historically low approval ratings, it is not what American voters want now. Boehner insists he is acting on behalf of the American people, but the American people want the Affordable Healthcare Act and the American people do not want a government shutdown.

Boehner has ignored them on both counts.

It is what Republicans, who lost the last two national elections, and who seem bound and determined to lose a third, insist upon.

All the while, from 2010 till now, the House Republicans could have backed off, but impelled forward by unyielding ideology, fear of a fanaticism they themselves fueled, and a pornographic addiction to corporate money, they continued full-speed ahead, careless of the consequences, to which, in truth, they seem to have given little thought.

It is easy to blame Ted Cruz (and he certainly deserves blame), but John Boehner is supposedly the Speaker of the House and it falls upon him to guide and direct his wayward flock, something he has never been able to do. Bad as Republican driving skills have been since 2000, Cruz surpasses them all, yet it is Boehner who controlled the brakes, and he refused to apply them. He abrogated his authority, making Ted Cruz de facto speaker of the House and has become nothing but a cipher who blames everyone but himself for his present sorry state.

Unable to lead himself, he demands unconditional surrender of the one man in the country willing and able to lead: President Barack Obama. The man, coincidentally, elected by the majority of the American people – twice.

And what advice does Boehner have? What inspiring words for his troops? According to the Times,

“We are locked in an epic battle,” the speaker told his rank and file, those who attended the meeting said, urging them to “hang tough.”

Hang tough. The clown car is at the bottom of a six-mile deep canyon. Hang tough.

About 2,000 British soldiers troops and auxiliaries tried the hang tough thing at Isandlwana in 1879. But there were 20,000 very angry Zulus who had their backs against the wall. The calculus of such contests is easy.

As iPad’s Siri says in a recent Microsoft Surface commercial, “Oh snap!…This is not going to end well for me, is it? No, definitely not ending well.”

Her final, forlorn question is a meaningless appeal to vanity: “Do you still think I’m pretty?”

Boehner finds himself in a similar position and there is no hope of anyone, even fellow Republicans, outside of tea party fanatics, finding any of this pretty. His self-righteous attitudes, his blame-shifting – none of these fool Democrats and at this point, probably few independents given what polls say about who is responsible for the shut-down.

It is no secret any longer that Republicans have been planning this coup since 2010. As Harry Reid told Boehner with a laugh, it is all a show for Boehner’s benefit. So when the Speaker says “This isn’t some damn game. The American people don’t want their government shut down, and neither do I,” we should all be laughing. Because Boehner does want the government shut down. That has been the plan from the very beginning.

The Republican clown car and its orange-faced clown driver is lost and there is no way out. Boehner might want to consider the children’s advice: a hot shower, maybe a nap.

And then, whether it is today or tomorrow, or some day between now and 2014, he will be sent to his room without dinner, privileges lost, his keys taken away, there to wait for the ignominy he has been stumbling toward since the day he became Speaker of the House.

But he won’t be lonely. The tea party will be along to join him shortly.

*************

The White House Obliterates John Boehner’s Fake Government Shutdown Outrage

By: Jason Easley
Oct. 4th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

John Boehner’s latest attempt to muster public outrage at Obama over the government shutdown was destroyed by the White House with a single tweet.

Boehner claimed at his press conference today that he just wants a simple discussion about Obamacare, “The American people don’t want their government shut down and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness – reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under ObamaCare. It’s as simple as that. But it all has to begin with a simple discussion.”

However, House Republicans are saying that Boehner refuses to roll over and is still demanding major changes to Obamacare. According to Roll Call, “I think the important takeaway is this stuff that’s floating around in the media about, you know, he’s not willing to challenge, is not true,” said Rep. John Fleming. The Louisiana Republican quoted Boehner as saying he wouldn’t ‘roll over.’…Boehner indicated that House Republicans will still insist that the president agree to change 2010 health care law in exchange for an agreement to reopen the government.”

Speaker Boehner is trying to win the PR battle when he and his party have already lost the war. Even the latest Fox News poll shows disapproval of the Republican Party skyrocketing since they shutdown the government. The easiest way for Boehner and the House Republicans to prove that they don’t want a government shutdown is to allow a vote on the Senate passed CR.

Boehner says that this isn’t a game, while he continues to keep the government closed unless his party gets major changes to the healthcare law.

The White House response to Boehner came via a Tweet from Press Sec. Jay Carney:

    .@SpeakerBoehner It's no game, Mr. Speaker. So why deny the House a vote on clean CR? Many R's will vote yes & govt will open. #JustVote.

    — Jay Carney (EOP) (@PressSec) October 4, 2013

The White House also disavowed an anonymous quote in the Wall Street Journal that claimed that Obama doesn’t care when the shutdown ends:

    .@morningmoneyben So am I, Ben. We utterly disavow idea WH doesn't care when it ends. House should act now, no strings attached. #JustVote

    — Jay Carney (EOP) (@PressSec) October 4, 2013

Boehner and the Republicans see their only way out as getting public opinion on their side, but their years of saying no and obstructing Obama are coming back to haunt them. Boehner’s promise not to roll over was designed to appease the base. Even as the Republican Party is in the midst of a fiery downward spiral, Speaker Boehner remains incapable of doing what is right for the country.

Obama isn’t going to give them anything on the ACA, so House Republicans have been reduced to tough talk in public as they frantically search for a way out in private.

Speaker Boehner has no power, but his comments were revealing in one respect. Like any professional political prostitute, John Boehner won’t roll over unless he gets paid. Boehner’s attacks are so weak that they aren’t even worthy of a White House statement.

The Obama administration is destroying Boehner via Twitter, because that is truly the level of attention that his delusional PR campaign deserves.

***************

Democrats Plan to Use the GOP’s Own Bill Against Them to End Government Shutdown

By: Sarah Jones
Oct. 4th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Democrats are finally catching on regarding how to fight the nihilistic, anarchistic fringe minority that’s running the Republican Party.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post revealed that Democrats have found a possible way out of the Tea Party shutdown:

    Dems have hit on a way to use a “discharge petition,” which forces a House vote if a majority of Representatives signs it, to try to force the issue. Previously, it was thought this could not work, because a discharge petition takes 30 legislative days to ripen, so if this were tried with the clean CR that passed the Senate, this couldn’t bear fruit until some time in November.

    But now House Democrats say they have found a previously filed bill to use as a discharge petition — one that would fund the government at sequester levels.

That bill Representatives Chris Van Hollen and George Miller will reportedly use (The Government Shutdown Prevention Act) happens to be a Republican bill, so that’s rather fitting. Jennifer Bendery, who covers the White House for The Huffington Post, ‏tweeted, “Dem Rep. George Miller on rounding up 218 votes for discharge petition: ‘We expect we can get them all in one day.’”

    Dem Rep. George Miller on rounding up 218 votes for discharge petition: "We expect we can get them all in one day."

    — jennifer bendery (@jbendery) October 4, 2013

But this is the House of Representatives, so naturally, predictions based on reason are worthless. On cue, Sabrina Siddiqui, a Politics Reporter at the Huffington Post, tweeted, “GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, of “tea party lemmings” fame, says there’s “not a chance” he’d sign Democrats’ discharge petition.”

    GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, of "tea party lemmings" fame, says there's "not a chance" he'd sign Democrats' discharge petition.

    — Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) October 4, 2013

Of course, Republicans want to appear as if they got something for holding a gun to America’s head — apparently a super bad reputation isn’t enough to take home to their tea districts. They have to post the heads of their enemies in the town square or they’re losers tea party style.

Sargent says Dems can force a vote by October 14th and if they get the 218 signatures on the discharge petition, they can replace the Lankford bill with a clean CR. (Let us not forget that we would not even be here discussing a short term CR if Republicans hadn’t been deliberately avoiding budget conference with Democrats for the last five months, waiting until they could get their hands on quivering victims like the international economy.)

Speaker Boehner (R-OH) won’t put up the Senate passed CR up for a vote because it would pass, and this would be very bad for his future career. The Senate passed CR is funded at sequester levels, so essentially Republicans are once again refusing to vote yes on their own ideas because it might help Obama if the country didn’t tank.

That means that the country is paying for John Boehner to keep his job. Boehner keeps saying he wants to “talk” but he refuses to take the gun away from the country’s head first. That’s a stick up, not an offer to talk, but whatev.

Dave Weigel of Slate tweeted that the Democratic strategy is to wait until Republicans wake up, which is hardly comforting since that will never happen: “Rep. Jim McDermott on Dem strategy against GOP: ‘We sit here until they figure out they f**kin’ lost.’”

    Rep. Jim McDermott on Dem strategy against GOP: "We sit here until they figure out they f**kin’ lost."

    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 4, 2013

Before anyone lets the alleged moderate Republicans off the hook, as I’ve pointed out numerous times, they have refused to stand up to the corporate tea party. They have had ample opportunity to end this shutdown standoff. In but one example, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) gave them a chance to use procedural votes to end it, but instead they bowed down to the tea money. Their words mean nothing. Their votes mean everything.

Every Republican who did not jump on King’s coup is responsible for the shutdown, because in the grown up world, beating up the vulnerable kid because your friends were doing it isn’t a valid excuse.

**************

Bernie Sanders Explains How The Koch Brothers Are Keeping The Government Shut Down

By: Jason Easley
Oct. 4th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) explained on The Ed Show how the Koch brothers are using threats and their money to keep the government shut down.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awvP2MtHWNc

Ed Schultz asked the Vermont Senator if the Citizens United was the root cause of the government shutdown standstill.

Sanders answered:

    In many respects it is. What’s going on right now. We have seen some moderate, moderate conservative Republicans having the guts to stand up to Boehner and say,ok, we don’t like Obamacare, but you know what? We don’t think you should shut down the government. We are prepared to vote for a clean CR, Continuing Resolution.

    What’s happening now, as I understand it, is when moderate Republicans are saying that, or thinking about standing up to Boehner, the extreme right wing is coming around saying you do that, let me tell you what’s going to happen. We have the Koch brothers behind us. We have hundreds of millions of dollars behind us, and if you dare to support a Continuing Resolution, a clean CR. We’re gonna primary you. We have unbelievable sums of money to defeat you.

    So what you are looking at now is what Citizens United is all about. And that is giving a handful of billionaires, the Koch brothers and others, incredible power to tell members of Congress what they can and can not do, very dangerous.

Citizens United is the Supreme Court decision that opened the door for billionaires like the Koch brothers to control the Republican members of Congress.

The Koch millions didn’t disappear from our political system after Obama was reelected in 2012. The government shutdown demonstrates that the Kochs and their fellow right wing billionaires are still fighting in defiance of the results of last year’s election. Moderate Republicans may say that they are willing to defy Boehner and vote for a clean CR, but many of these same Republicans aren’t willing to defy the Kochs. Until the Koch brothers are the other right wing billionaires are going to feel any pain, expect Republicans to refuse to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.

Democrats have to dig in and fight, because this battle isn’t about really spending, budgets, or even Obamacare. The confict isn’t even about who controls the government. What is at stake is the kind of government that the United States will have. Will democracy’s brightest star be a government for the many, or will it be a government dicatated by the wealthy few?

The government will eventually reopen, but what is to be determined is what kind of government it will be.


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« Reply #9145 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:01 AM »


A scene worthy of Caravaggio as Silvio Berlusconi finally falls from grace

The pointing figure of his accusers was straight out of a baroque masterpiece as Italy's political playmaker slumped in defeat

Ed Vulliamy   
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013          

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man): the citation from Pontius Pilate that accompanies hundreds of paintings across Italy featuring a finger pointing at Christ. In Caravaggio's masterpiece in the French church of St Louis a few hundred metres from the Senate in Rome, it is Christ who does the pointing, at Saint Matthew.

In the Senate last week, it was a former party ally pointing at the leader who delivered himself, not without messianic delusions, to the mercy of the state – Silvio Berlusconi, in a scene worthy of a baroque painting. In this picture, Berlusconi is seen surrounded by his People of Freedom (PdL) party after he was forced to withdraw the threat to bring down the government of Enrico Letta following a revolt by ex-party allies, signalling the humiliating collapse of his authority and the end of his political power.

Could this be the end? And was it really 20 years ago that Il Cavaliere stepped into the political ring? I covered Berlusconi's first successful election, in 1994, after four tumultuous years as Rome correspondent, during which an entire political class had come under investigation and much of it under arrest – even the pillar of Italy's opaque establishment, the prime minister and Christian Democrat leader, Giulio Andreotti.

With their usual yearning for apocalypse, papers and pundits foresaw a collapse of power-as-we-knew-it, the creation of a vacuum into which a new democracy would be born.

The shamed partitocrazia – party-ocracy, as the Italians called it – had existed thanks to an alliance in government between, simply put, the new economic powerhouse around Milan, under the sway of Bettino Craxi's Socialist party, and what could be called "permanent Italy" in the south, where the interests of church, mafia and other traditions cemented into the formidable Christian Democrat party.

The contenders to fill the vacuum were the new Left Democrat party, which had shed its communist hammer-and-sickle in 1991 to form a Blairite prototype. Then, suddenly, enter the construction magnate who had turned himself into a media mogul, largely thanks to Craxi's corruption: Berlusconi. Few believed that a purveyor of topless quiz shows and TV spazzatura – rubbish TV, denounced by Pope John Paul II as a curse – could become the figurehead of conservative Catholic Italy.

Most of Berlusconi's advisers at the apex of his Fininvest commercial empire counselled against a move into politics – but for a dark genius called Marcello Dell'Utri, who backed the idea. Dell'Utri was a Sicilian Berlusconi had befriended on the football field in student days; he has spent much of the past two decades fighting off judicial investigations into alleged mafia connections.

Dell'Utri managed the 1994 campaign – a dazzling phantasmagoria of dancing girls under the lights, while he saw to the shadows.

Italy had fought bloodily for decades to keep the communists in opposition and its occult power machine would resist even the sanitised, pink version of the old party, even if it meant embracing a soft-porn merchant and probable criminal to do so.

In that fateful election of 1994 Italy, eyes wide open, inaugurated the era of Il Cavaliere, in order to change almost nothing more than the showcase. Last week that era drew to a close, with the humiliation of its central figure plain to see as he slumped, defeated and isolated.


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« Reply #9146 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:04 AM »

Irish prime minister suffers blow as he loses vote on senate axe

Almost 52% of public vote to keep Seanad in apparent protest against Enda Kenny's Fine Gael-Labour coalition

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
theguardian.com, Sunday 6 October 2013 00.03 BST   

The Irish premier, Enda Kenny, has suffered a major blow to his authority as taoiseach after his plans to abolish the country's upper house of parliament were rejected in a referendum.

Almost 52% of the public voted to keep the Seanad, or senate. It was clear a majority had used the referendum as a protest vote against Kenny's Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Kenny conceded defeat but admitted he was disappointed by the outcome. "Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process," he said. The taoiseach said his government would now focus on reforming the upper house so it could contribute to politics in "a meaningful way".

"The Seanad question was one element of a process of change and reform to politics that government has been pursuing," he added.

The ruling parties face further problems over the next few weeks as they prepare for another unpopular, cost-cutting austerity budget this month. Fine Gael and Labour, alongside Sinn Féin, had called for a yes vote, while an alliance of independent Dail deputies and senators from left and right urged voters to oppose abolition. The main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, also campaigned for a no vote and described the drive to abolish the upper house as a "power grab" by the coalition.


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« Reply #9147 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:12 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ..

Worldwide vigils for Greenpeace activists held by Russian authorities

Russian authorities shrug off controversy, saying group's protest at Arctic oil platform was 'pure provocation'

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013

Protests were held in cities across Britain and around the world on Saturday to show support for the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists currently being held by the Russian authorities on charges of piracy. Even as the vigils were taking place, the Russian authorities shrugged off the controversy, saying that the group's protest at an Arctic oil platform owned by state-controlled firm Gazprom had been "pure provocation".

Six Britons are among the group, drawn from 18 countries, being detained in jail in the northern Russian city of Murmansk after being seized at gunpoint last month along with their ship, the icebreaker Arctic Sunrise. Greenpeace says the activists had been protesting peacefully in international waters to highlight the environmental cost of drilling in Arctic waters.

The global day of solidarity included a gathering of an estimated 800 people at the Russian embassy in London. Among the protesters were actor Jude Law and musicians Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon, who are all friends of Frank Hewetson, one of those being held; and the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

Other protests took place in Spain, France, New Zealand, Russia and in Hong Kong, where a human banner was formed reading: "Free the Arctic 30." The government of the Netherlands announced on Friday that it would launch legal action to free the 30, two of whom are Dutch, and the vessel which is Dutch-flagged.

The Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, said the Netherlands had applied to the UN's Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and that his country, the first nation to take legal action in the case, viewed the ship's detention as unlawful. "I don't understand why this could be thought to have anything to do with piracy, I don't see how you could think of any legal grounds for that," said Timmermans.

Under the rules of the tribunal, the Netherlands can ask for the immediate release of the ship and its passengers, which include a British film-maker, Keiron Bryan, and a Russian photographer.

The ship's captain is Peter Willcox – the veteran American environmentalist who commanded the Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk by French secret service agents in New Zealand in 1985.

But the Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexei Meshkov, said Russia had repeatedly asked the Netherlands to halt "illegal activity" by the ship. "Unfortunately, this was not done. Therefore, we have far more questions for the Dutch side than they can have for us. Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise was pure provocation." Piracy carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Greenpeace International's executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said: "The activists were taking a brave stand to protect all of us from climate change and the dangers of reckless oil drilling in the Arctic. Now it's imperative that millions of us stand up with them to defend the Arctic and demand their immediate release."

*****************

Jude Law and Damon Albarn call on Russia to release Greenpeace activists

Actor and musician join 800 people at Russian embassy in London to support protesters arrested for scaling Arctic oil rig

Press Association
The Observer, Saturday 5 October 2013 15.59 BST

Jude Law and Damon Albarn have joined a demonstration in central London against Russia's detention of 30 Greenpeace activists following a protest at an Arctic oil rig.

About 800 people gathered outside the Russian embassy to put pressure on Russia to release the group, which includes six Britons.

The Russian coastguard seized the ship Arctic Sunrise and everyone on board following the 18 September protest at the offshore platform owned by Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom in the Pechora Sea. The activists are now in custody in the northern city of Murmansk.

Law said he was "exercising my right to peacefully protest" at the demonstration, where he was also joined by Paul Simonon from the Clash.

Law and Albarn, who are friends with one of the detainees Frank Hewetson, said the arrests were an international disgrace.

"I am just adding my face and body to the mass of support," actor Law said. "The fact that there is a threat of conviction did not put them off. What is ludicrous is that they have been charged with piracy, which has a threat of 15 years in prison.

"Of course I am worried about Frank because I care about his family and I care about him but I know that he is incredibly durable.

"I think that it is very interesting that the people over there probably knew there would be an arrest involved and the threat of a conviction is probably part and parcel of the act of drawing attention to the drilling in the Arctic, which we all know is an international problem which needs confronting."

Protesters at the event stood quietly behind banners declaring "Free the Climate Defenders", "Journalist and Not Pirate" and "Free The Arctic 30".

British freelance videographer Kieron Bryan and UK activists Hewetson, Philip Ball, Alexandra Harris, Anthony Perrett and Iain Rogers have been charged over the protest.

"It does seem to be a slightly different idea in Russia's collective head about what activism actually represents,"musician Albarn said.

"Nine times out of 10 people who protest peacefully, whether it is through music or through trying to scale oil rigs, are doing it because they believe they are saying something that will ultimately benefit society as a whole.

"You have to remember that when the Russian government talks with this kind of rhetoric, it is actually being anti-humanitarian. And that is a shame because we put people in power to look after us presumably, but unfortunately rarely do they.

"I want to express my support for Frank, his family and all the other families because at the end of the day this is a very human thing. There are people who are terribly worried about their loved ones.

"Everyone is concerned because it is Russia and they have a very bad record of bowing to international pressure.

"They need to understand that these people are not a threat. This is something that is very human. It is not a political issue."

***************

Julie Bishop raises case of detained Greenpeace activist with Russians

Foreign minister expresses concern about piracy charge levelled at Australian Colin Russell on sidelines of Apec meeting

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 October 2013 06.01 BST   

The Abbott government has told Russia it's concerned about the piracy charge levelled against Australian Greenpeace activist Colin Russell and it wants him treated fairly.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has met with Russia's deputy foreign minister, Igor Morgulov, on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Bali.

"I registered our concern about the charges and also our desire to ensure that he's afforded full due legal process and consular assistance," Mr Bishop told reporters in Nusa Dua.

Russell, from Tasmania, could face up to 15 years in prison if Russian authorities persist with the piracy charge.

He was among 30 Greenpeace activists charged with the offence for their roles in a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic Circle last month.

Worldwide protests are being held on Saturday for the so-called "Arctic 30", who were detained in the port city of Murmansk after their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, was boarded at gunpoint by Russian authorities.

A British-born Australian resident and a New Zealand man who lives in South Australia have also been charged.

Ms Bishop says she is taking a keen interest in the case, which is shaping up as her first big consular challenge since taking over as foreign minister.

She says Australian officials have visited Russell in recent days and plan to do so again soon.

"I understand he is well, his conditions of detention are adequate," she said.

Asked if she believed the piracy charge was too extreme, Ms Bishop said: "We're seeking advice as to whether this charge is appropriate.

"I do note that Pig Putin said in one press conference that they were clearly not pirates.

"It's a very serious charge."


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« Reply #9148 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:17 AM »

October 5, 2013

As Germans Push Austerity, Greeks Press Nazi-Era Claims

By SUZANNE DALEY
IHT

AMIRAS, Greece — As they moved through the isolated villages in this region in 1943, systematically killing men in a reprisal for an attack on a small outpost, German soldiers dragged Giannis Syngelakis’s father from his home here and shot him in the head. Within two days, more than 400 men were dead and the women left behind struggled with the monstrous task of burying so many corpses.

Mr. Syngelakis, who was 7 then, still wants payback. And in pursuing a demand for reparations from Germany, he reflects a growing movement here, fueled not just by historical grievances but also by deep resentment among his countrymen over Germany’s current power to dictate budget austerity to the fiscally crippled Greek government.

Germany may be Greece’s stern banker now, say those who are seeking reparations, but before it goes too far down that road, it should pay off its own debts to Greece.

“Maybe some of us have not paid our taxes,” Mr. Syngelakis said, standing beside the olive tree where his father died 70 years ago. “But that is nothing compared to what they did.”

It is not just aging victims of the Nazi occupation who are demanding a full accounting. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government has compiled an 80-page report on reparations and a huge, never-repaid loan the nation was forced to make under Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1945.

Mr. Samaras has sent the report to Greece’s Legal Council of State, the agency that would build a legal case or handle settlement negotiations. But whether the government will press the issue with Germany remains unclear.

Some political analysts are doubtful that Athens will be willing to take on the Germans, who have provided more to the country’s bailout package than any other European nation.

Others, however, believe that the claims — particularly over the forced loan — could be an important bargaining chip in the months ahead as Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to ease its enormous debt burden. Few here think it was an accident that details of the report were leaked to the Greek newspaper Real News on Sept. 22, the day that Germans went to the polls to hand a victory to Germany’s tough-talking chancellor, Angela Merkel.

“I can see a situation where it is politically difficult for the Germans to ease the terms for us,” said one high-ranking Greek official, who did not want his name used because he was not authorized to speak on the issue. “So instead, they agree to pay back the occupation loan. Maybe it is easier to sell that to the German public.”

So far, the Germans have given little indication that they are so inclined. During his latest visit to Athens in July, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said, “We must examine exactly what happened in Greece.” But he insisted that Greece had waived its rights on the issue long ago.

The call for reparations has elicited an emotional outpouring in Greece, where six years of brutal recession and harsh austerity measures have left many Greeks hostile toward Germany. Rarely does a week go by without another report in the news about, as one newspaper put it in a headline, “What Germany Owes Us.”

The main opposition party, Syriza, has seized on the issue as well, with its leader, Alexis Tsipras, barnstorming across the country promising action to enthusiastic applause.

Estimates of how much money is at stake vary wildly. The government report does not cite a total. The figure most often discussed is $220 billion, an estimate for infrastructure damage alone put forward by Manolis Glezos, a member of Parliament and a former resistance fighter who is pressing for reparations. That amount equals about half the country’s debt.

Some members of the National Council on Reparations, an advocacy group, are calling for more than $677 billion to cover stolen artifacts, damage to the economy and to the infrastructure, as well as the bank loan and individual claims.

Even the figure for the bank loan is in dispute. The loan was made in Greek drachmas at a time of hyperinflation 70 years ago. Translating that into today’s currency is difficult, and the question of how much interest should be assessed is subject to debate. One conservative estimate by a former finance minister puts the debt from the loan at only $24 billion.

It is not hard to see why the issue is so attractive to many Greeks. It offers, if nothing else, a chance to take Germany down a peg. The last six years have hit Greek pride hard. Some here feel that the country’s officials are merely puppets these days, imposing whatever solutions the country’s creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank — come up with.

Experts say that the German occupation of Greece was brutal. Germany requisitioned food from Greece even as Greeks went hungry. By the end of the war, about 300,000 had starved to death. Greece also had an active resistance movement, which prompted frequent and horrific reprisals like the one that occurred here in Amiras, a small village in Crete. Some historians believe that 1,500 villages were singled out for such reprisals.

After the war, experts say, Greece got little in reparations. But few countries did. The Allies concentrated on rebuilding Germany, not wanting to once again impose crushing reparations bills as they did after World War I, an important factor, they believed, in bringing about World War II. Some German property was divvied up, but many claims were simply put off until East and West Germany might be reunited.

When that moment arrived, the world’s landscape had changed significantly. By then, the European Union was in place, Germany was contributing more to the bloc’s budget than it was getting back, and, some experts say, the books were closed. (Germany has paid huge reparations to Israel in the name of the Jewish people at large, and the German government, German companies and a number of other institutions established a multibillion-dollar fund to compensate those forced to perform labor during Nazi internment.)

Yet some groups in Greece have long felt that Germany still owes victims like Mr. Syngelakis. And others, now looking back, believe that Germany was let off the hook back then and should be more generous now in Greece’s hour of need.

A few individual cases have made their way through the Greek courts, including one representing the victims of a massacre in Distomo in 1944. Germans rampaged through the village gutting pregnant women, bayoneting babies and setting homes on fire, witnesses have said. Lawyers for Distomo won a judgment of $38 million in Greece. But the Greek government has never given permission to lay claim to German property in Greece as a way of collecting on the debt.

Christina Stamoulis, whose father was a lawyer on that case, said that many older people in Greece had only recently started talking about what happened in the war, in some cases because older Germans had arrived in their villages with their grandchildren wanting forgiveness.

“O.K., apologize,” Ms. Stamoulis said. “But we are expecting actions, too.”

Experts say that Germany is highly unlikely to want to revisit issues of reparations with Greece, since other countries would be likely to make similar claims. But some believe that Greece might have a shot at getting repayment on the bank loan.

“What is unusual about that loan is that there is a written agreement,” said Katerina Kralova, the author of “In the Shadow of Occupation: The Greek-German Relations During the Period 1940-2010.” “In other countries, the Germans just took the money.”

Asked about the 80-page report, officials of the Greek Foreign Ministry said that Greece had no intention of mingling war claims with the current financial situation. But, they said, its reparations claims are still valid. “The issue has been brought forward repeatedly, as per the international laws, both on a political and on a diplomatic level, on a bilateral basis, in a direct and utterly documented way, among partners, friends and allies,” said one official, who declined to be named as is common practice here.

For those who survived the Amiras massacre, a crushing poverty set in. Mr. Syngelakis said his mother sometimes scrounged for edible weeds to feed her children. He did not have shoes until he was a teenager.

“Back then, they destroyed us with guns,” Mr. Syngelakis said, the anger still clear. “Today, they do it financially.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.


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« Reply #9149 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:28 AM »


Iraq: at least 60 people killed in Baghdad suicide bombings

Shia Muslims targeted in blasts at checkpoint and in nearby town of Balad, while two TV journalists are shot dead in Mosul

Reuters
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 October 2013 23.43 BST   

Two suicide bombers targeted Shia Muslims in Iraq on Saturday, killing 60 people on the eve of the anniversary of an imam's death, police and medics said.

In the northern city of Mosul, unidentified gunmen shot two Iraqi television journalists dead as they were filming, according to security sources.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for either of the bombings, but such attacks are the hallmark of Sunni al-Qaida, which views Shias as non-believers and has been regaining momentum this year.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint, killing 48 Shia pilgrims on their way to visit a shrine in the Kadhimiya district, police and medical sources said.

Earlier on Saturday, another suicide bomber blew himself up in a cafe in the mainly Shia town of Balad, 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, killing 12 people. The cafe was targeted in an almost identical bombing 40 days ago.

"I received the corpse of my cousin. It was completely charred and difficult to identify," said Abdullah al-Baldawi, whose relative was killed in the cafe bombing.

Relations between Islam's two main denominations have come under acute strain from the conflict in Syria, which has drawn fighters from Iraq and the wider Middle East into a sectarian proxy war.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in violence across the country this year, according to monitoring group Iraq Body Count, reversing a decline in sectarian bloodshed that reached a peak in 2006-07.

It was not clear who was behind the killing of the journalists, who worked for Iraqi television channel Al-Sharqiya News, which is often critical of the Sha-led government and is popular among the country's Sunni minority.

"They shot them in the chest and head, killing them instantly," said a security source who declined to be named.

Iraq is considered to be one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. According to the Baghdad-based Journalism Freedoms Observatory, 261 journalists have been killed and 46 kidnapped since 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Mosul, capital of the predominantly Sunni province of Nineveh, is a stronghold for Islamists and other insurgents.

A journalist from Mosul said insurgents in the city changed their tactics and targets from time to time, and may now have set their sights on journalists, after previous spates of attacks against traffic police and mayors.

"I will leave the city of Mosul and live in the outskirts until things calm down," said the journalist on condition of anonymity.

The Journalists' Syndicate denounced the killings as a "criminal act", demanding that the authorities track down the perpetrators and do more to protect the media.

Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi condemned the killings: "It aims to muzzle the voice of people, the voice of righteousness".

The United Nations Mission in Iraq said nearly 900 civilians were killed across Iraq in September, raising the death toll so far this year to well above the total for 2013.
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