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« Reply #9480 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:36 AM »


Serbia's forgotten veterans fight new battle for hearts, minds and welfare

While Croatia's Balkan war veterans rights are enshrined in law Serbian fighters battle Belgrade for even basic benefits

Mirko Rudic in Belgrade, Zagreb and Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 19.14 BST

A wounded leg brought Zeljko Vukelic home from the war. Back in Serbia, injured pride placed him on another warpath. Like a scar, the frontline has followed him.

"It's just like the Krajina," he says, comparing the battlefield where he faced Croatian forces 20 years ago to his present-day standoff against the government in Belgrade. "You sit there and wait for something to happen, but then you lose your patience and say: 'Let's just kill each other.'"

The men who once took up arms for the Serbian cause are now up in arms against the Serbian state. They accuse Belgrade of betraying them by withholding wages and welfare benefits. "In two hours, I can gather 20 men who would be ready to be killed if I said so," Vukelic says, underscoring his comrades' desperation. Vukelic is the secretary of the SVS, Serbia's largest veterans' organisation, which has been campaigning for more rights.

Across the border, Croatian veterans' leader Mirko Ljubicic listens straight-faced to the news of the campaign, occasionally clicking his tongue in sympathy at his wartime enemies' woes. The head of the Zagreb chapter of HVIDRA, a powerful association of former servicemen, Ljubicic is proud of his organisation's clout.

"Only veterans can gather more than 50,000 people at a public square," he says, referring to a recent protest in Croatia over plans to introduce signposts in the Serbian Cyrillic script.

In stark contrast with Vukelic, Ljubicic praises his government's policy towards its former soldiers and says the next step for them, as "proven patriots", is to enter the upper echelons of business and politics. He even suggests his former foes could learn lessons from his organisation. "Please feel free to recommend our actions to the veterans in Serbia," he says.

Short supply

Sympathy is in short supply for the hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fought in the Balkan wars. Their image abroad is linked indelibly to thuggery and atrocity. And even the Serbian veterans' compatriots can seem ambivalent towards them.

Ljubicic and his comrades are hailed in Croatia as branitelji, or "defenders" – a term with positive connotations. Serbs, who speak the same language, describe their former soldiers in more neutral terms – as veterani, derived from the English word, or as borci, meaning "fighters".

In the wars that destroyed Yugoslavia, the territories that secured greater autonomy or nationhood – such as Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia and the Republika Srpska segment of Bosnia – would ultimately claim victory.

The veterans who fought for these territories now enjoy generous pensions, benefits, social approval and a measure of political influence. Their welfare exacts a heavy toll on weak economies. Nevertheless, the politicians have usually chosen to pay up, however grudgingly, rather than irk men whom the electorate sees as freedom fighters.

Serbia's moribund economy is certainly ill-equipped to meet its veterans' demands. But successive governments have also failed to push through any laws that recognise the veterans as a distinct category – a prerequisite to awarding them benefits.

Serbia emerged as one of the biggest losers from the 1990s. Over the course of the decade, the leadership in Belgrade and its allies fought against Croats, Bosniaks, Kosovo Albanians and, ultimately, the Nato alliance. The area under Belgrade's control – once all of Yugoslavia – was reduced and renamed through war and partition, leaving behind the modern state of Serbia.

By the end of the 1990s, Croatia and Kosovo had taken over large tracts of territory where ethnic Serbs had lived for centuries. The people who fled those defeats – including many former combatants – have clustered within Serbia, giving it the largest population of refugees in the Balkans. The displaced number around 300,000, or roughly 4% of the total 7.1 million-strong population. Yet of all the conflicts in that decade, Belgrade has only officially recognised one as a war: the brief confrontation with Nato forces in 1999.

'Military exercises'

State records refer to the other engagements as insurrections, clashes or military exercises, in keeping with Belgrade's argument that it was fighting only to preserve the union of Yugoslavia. "It seems they tried to make a mess out of the veterans' issue from the very beginning of the war," says Milan Zivic, a former soldier who says he was called to the front while the stamp on his army report card stated that he was taking part in "military exercises".

For Zivic and others who fought, this has left behind a problem: they cannot easily claim war veterans' benefits for wars that never officially happened, and from a state that did not exist in its present form at the time. Moreover, there is no universal definition of a Serbian veteran, as the combatants were recruited in a variety of capacities.

The international image of the archetypal Serbian fighter may be dominated by warlords such as Arkan – but militias of the type he led were a minority, comprising criminals, football hooligans and hardcore nationalists.

Much of the fighting was carried out by irregular forces and paramilitary groups recruited from Serbian communities inside Croatia and Bosnia. They were backed at times by a Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, comprising conscripts and some professional soldiers.

However, Serbia – unlike Croatia, for instance – does not have a single, over-arching law that applies to the vast majority of these men. The veterans have no special status or rights, except as citizens.

Nor is there any reliable estimate for their number. Veterans' groups put it at 800,000. Olivera Markovic, a sociologist and expert on the former fighters, says it may be anywhere between 800,000 and half that figure.

According to Markovic, Serbian society still associates the veterans with their country's wartime leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Neither his supporters nor his critics have much affection for the former soldiers. "For those who were against Milosevic's policies, the veterans are his [hired] killers," she says. "For those who loved Milosevic, the veterans lost the war."

Ljudevit Kolar, a former army medic who helps treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, says most of his old comrades are at odds with society: "They have gone through terrible things that still haunt them," he says. "No one understands them."

Kolar was tasked with identifying corpses. He too was traumatised, he says, spending "more time drunk than awake" when he returned from the front.

Dragan Milakara, a former soldier who lives in Novi Sad, says he does not talk of the war. "What should I say? That I saw a bullet shatter a wooden beam near my head? People would look at me as if it had shattered my head," he says.

Milakara does not expect any support from the authorities. "There is no state," he says. "The veterans are going to face the same fate as madmen in a psychiatric institution. You pretend you're treating them, but in fact you're just waiting for them to kick the bucket."

Overdue wages

The SVS is fighting the Serbian government for overdue wages. The dispute arises from the 1999 conflict over Kosovo, which ended with Nato intervention.

The claim is being heard at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg – an irony for Mile Milosevic, who has been following the proceedings.

"I saw 17 judges from 17 European countries, almost every one of them a member of the Nato pact. They bombarded us and now we have to ask for their protection from our own country," he says, thumping the table with his fist. "Man, that's insane!"

According to a lawyer who has defended Serbian leaders on war crimes charges and who spoke on condition of anonymity, Belgrade's desire to join the European Union may also influence its policy towards the veterans.

A settlement with the former soldiers might play badly in western capitals, where it could be taken as a sop to nationalists and as a tacit acceptance of involvement in the Balkan wars. The state arguably finds it easier to ignore its veterans than to explain why it is paying them off.

"The Serbian government is probably less concerned about the legal issue than it is about the perception," the lawyer says.

Legal limbo

While Serbia's former soldiers are in legal limbo, their Croatian counterparts have been assured a place in their country's history. "Their names will live on for eternity. We want to honour these people in a special way," says Predrag Matic, Croatia's minister for veterans.

Matic stresses the importance of having a broad law – of the kind that Serbia lacks – which regulates the veterans' relationship to the state. "The statutory definition of who can be a war veteran is important in that it protects people who participated in the war, their wives and children," he says. "Ultimately, it means resolving the health, social and economic problems which these people face after war."

Croatian veterans are entitled to preferential treatment if they apply for public housing or for education and employment. Those who were disabled in the wars can expect to receive a monthly allowance worth €800 (£677).

The state also gives its former fighters a minimum monthly pension of €260 on retirement. The sum is close to the average for Croatian citizens – but its greatest value lies in the guarantee.

Serbia does not offer any such guaranteed minimum pension to most of its veterans, except those who were injured or who served as professional soldiers.

"I wish I had been wounded, I would at least have some income now," says "Vanja", who volunteered for the war at 19. He fought in Serbian paramilitary units in Bosnia and Croatia and now begs for alms in the town of Backa Palanka. Destitute, afflicted by trembling hands, he asked not to be quoted by name.

• Mirko Rudic is a Belgrade-based journalist. This article was edited by Neil Arun. It was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, an initiative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, in co-operation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).


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« Reply #9481 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:42 AM »


Neo-Nazi tattoos fall out of fashion in Greece after Golden Dawn crackdown

Swastika tattoos were increasingly popular during rise of rightwing party, but some people are now having them removed

Aris Chatzistefanou in Athens
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 12.58 BST   

Doctors and tattooists in Greece have reported a surge in requests for the removal or camouflaging of neo-Nazi tattoos after the recent crackdown on the far-right Golden Dawn party.

Swastikas and other fascist symbols became increasingly popular in recent years as the party grew to become Greece's third biggest political force. But the murder last month of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has led to an unprecedented crackdown on Golden Dawn and prompted many to rethink overt support for the group.

"I now have customers who want me to cover up their old tattoos with new ones," said Yannis Barouxis, a tattoo artist.

Christoforos Tzermias, a dermatologist, uses laser surgery to remove neo-Nazi symbols from Golden Dawn supporters. "They are usually young people aged 20 to 25 and their tattoos were made in the last two or three years," he said.

Barouxis and Tzermias said they had customers from the police force and the military who now feared they might be singled out for supporting Golden Dawn. "It's a sign of nationalism, but I wouldn't say that they are neo-Nazis," said Tzermias.

Many prominent Golden Dawn MPs, such as the party spokesman, Ilias Kassidiaris, have argued that the swastikas on their arms are ancient Greek meanders or other symbols.

Panayiotis Iliopoulos, another Golden Dawn MP, said he "didn't know anything about Hitler" and that he chose to have the words "Sieg Heil" tattooed on his right arm because he liked the fonts.

But a string of police raids have turned up evidence that some Golden Dawn activists are active supporters of the Nazis. A small museum of Nazi paraphernalia and weaponry was found at the house of Anastasios Pallis, a fugitive ship owner who is believed to be a party donor. Pallis was also a major shareholder in Proto Thema, a newspaper often condemned for its uncritical reporting on neo-Nazis.

Michalis Spourdalakis, professor of political science at the University of Athens, said confronting neo-nazism in Greece would be much harder than simply erasing a few tattoos.

"You have to deal with fear, insecurity, authoritarianism, the extremism of the political centre ground and the subversion of democracy by the austerity policies," he said.

Recent polls show that after the arrest of its leaders, Golden Dawn has managed to increase its support in comparison with the last general elections of 2012.

But Tzermias, the dermatologist, said: "[Customers] are asking me to remove the neo-Nazi tattoos immediately, but this is impossible. This procedure takes time."


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« Reply #9482 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:44 AM »


Should the National Gallery seize a Klimt portrait stolen by the Nazis?

Criminally low prices and museum politics … the restitution of looted art isn't as clearcut as it seems

Jonathan Jones   
Monday 21 October 2013 15.03 BST theguardian.com   

A lawyer who has been involved in the restitution of art stolen by the Nazis to its former owners has called on the National Gallery not to return a painting in its exhibition Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 to the Austrian gallery that loaned it.

Gustav Klimt's unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl was illegally seized from Jewish collector Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, says lawyer E Randol Schoenberg. It must not go back to Austria. Although the painting is now owned by the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, Britain's National Gallery should seize it and help initiate the restitution process.

This is clearly a daft request. If the National did any such thing it could never put on an exhibition again, because shows rely on loans. Museums have to indemnify foreign lenders and provide all manner of reassurance that works can be lent safely.

Still, the National Gallery has itself benefited from restitution. In 2002, it bought a beautiful Renaissance painting by Gentile Bellini that previously hung in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. The National bought it from its rightful owners, the heirs of Erich Lederer, after they won a restitution case.

Lederer's heirs have now filed a claim for one of the most famous works of art in Vienna – no less a glory than Klimt's Beethoven Frieze. I am shocked that this dreamlike mural has such a troubling history. It is one of Vienna's greatest treasures, a monument to the city's fin de siècle golden age. But although it was returned to its rightful owner Erich Lederer after the war, he was apparently only granted an export licence for other works on the condition that he sold the Beethoven Frieze to the Austrian government at a knockdown price.

It's sad to see Vienna stripped of the art that tells its story – a story that is profoundly Jewish. Where does the Beethoven Frieze belong but in the city it was made? I think restitution is a less clearcut case than it seems. It is hard to see how selling the Frieze at an eye-popping price on today's mad art market would serve history or understanding. But then I think about the horrorible history behind these art transactions.

I recently watched Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia, about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the opening ceremony, the entire Austrian team gives a Nazi salute to Hitler – this was two years before the unification of Germany and Austria. The ambiguities of Hitler's Anschluss with Austria – was it conquest or consensual union? – allowed Austria to kid itself and others about its role in the war. (You might call it The Sound of Music delusion.)

The shocking story of how Erich Lederer seems to have been forced by the state to sell Klimt's masterpiece for a bargain price sounds like residual antisemitism in action. It really does look like the Beethoven Frieze should be restituted – and if it ends up in Los Angeles or New York, then Austria only has its own past to blame. As for the painting lent to the National Gallery, it has to go back to Vienna – for now.


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« Reply #9483 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:48 AM »


PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...

Volgograd bus bombing kills six

Suicide blast likely to raise fears of further attacks by Islamist militants as Russia prepares to host Winter Olympics

Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 16.29 BST   

A female suicide bomber attacked a bus in southern Russia on Monday, killing at least six people, authorities said, in the deadliest such blast outside the volatile North Caucasus region in nearly three years.

The bombing in Volgograd is likely to raise fears of further attacks by Islamist militants as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, not far from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

The attack, which investigators blamed on a 30-year-old woman from Dagestan, the North Caucasus province at the centre of an insurgency, wounded 32 people, of whom eight were in critical condition, the federal investigative committee said.

State television broadcast footage taken from a camera mounted on a driver's dashboard, showing an explosion ripping through the bus as it travelled along a tree-lined road, sending shards of metal and glass flying. Passengers scrambled out of doors and windows after the bus had stopped.

"There was a blast, a bang, all the glass flew out of the windows," a witness named Ivan, who had been driving behind the bus, told the state-run Rossiya-24 channel. "The cloud of smoke quickly dissipated and then I saw people start to fall out and run out to escape the bus. It was a horrible sight."

Citing a regional investigative source, the Interfax news agency said identity documents suspected to belong to the bomber were found near the site, and that she was believed to have been the wife of an Islamist militant. The investigative committee named the suspect as Naida Asiyalova, 30, of Dagestan.

"This woman got on the bus at one of the stops and the explosion occurred almost immediately afterwards. This was confirmed by the surviving passengers," said Vladimir Markin, an investigative committee spokesman.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Volgograd, a city of around one million people, lies 560 miles south-east of Moscow and a few hundred miles north of the North Caucasus and Sochi, at the western end of the Caucasus range.

Pig Putin has staked his reputation on the Games and ordered authorities to boost security in the North Caucasus, where the Islamist insurgency is rooted in two post-Soviet wars pitting Chechen separatists against the Kremlin.

Insurgents who say they are fighting to create an Islamic state have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 37 people at a Moscow airport in 2011 and twin suicide bombings that killed 40 people on the Moscow subway in 2010.

The latter attack was carried out female suicide bombers, dubbed "black widows" in Russia because often their male relatives have been killed by security forces.

In 2002, Chechen women wearing black chadors and suicide belts took part in a three-day Moscow theatre hostage siege in which around 130 people were killed.


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« Reply #9484 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:50 AM »


EU to restart Turkey membership talks in move to encourage reforms

Exclusive: The European Union will resume stalled talks, hoping to encourage progress on human rights

Ian Traynor in Brussels and Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 16.35 BST   
   
The European Union is to reopen membership talks with Turkey, more than three years after freezing negotiations, in an attempt to boost the prospects for democratic reforms amid fears that the country is taking an authoritarian lurch under its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

EU foreign ministers will formally decide on Tuesday to resume negotiations in two weeks' time, senior diplomats said, following a U-turn by Germany, which, until last month's election, favoured shelving the talks.

Germany is generally opposed to Turkey joining the EU, along with France and several others. The last obstacle to re-engaging with Turkey was overcome on Monday at the meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg when the Dutch shifted position.

Frans Timmermann, the Dutch foreign minister, announced the Dutch would not veto reopening talks.

Relations between the EU and Turkey have sunk to new lows in recent months, with aides to Erdogan arguing that Europe was in terminal decline and falling apart, while Turkey was on the rise as a key regional and economic power.

Ankara's negotiators have taken to declaring that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. The membership bid has been paralysed for more than three years because of vetoes from Cyprus over the refusal of Ankara to open its ports to Greek Cypriot imports.

But there is also broader and more fundamental resistance in Europe. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy blocked talks over Turkey's EU membership, while the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, argues that Turkey should settle for a special deal with the EU falling short of membership.

Erdogan's brutal crackdown in May and June on a wave of national street protests brought widespread international condemnation and Merkel successfully argued that Turkey should not be rewarded with a resumption of negotiations.

Others contend that the EU should exploit the negotiating leverage to encourage policy shifts in Turkey, calling for talks about judicial reform to boost the prospects for better human rights and media freedom.

The European commission supported a broader mandate for negotiations last week, but the ministers decided only to open talks on regional development and local democracy, areas designed to strengthen the fragile "peace process" in Turkey aimed at ending the 30-year-old Kurdish insurgency. A key demand of the Kurds is for more decentralised government and greater local autonomy.

By delaying talks in June, said Cengiz Aktar, professor for EU relations at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, "the EU and Germany wanted to give Turkey a message because of the the Gezi Park riots" in May and June.

But Turkish and EU experts agreed that the ministers should have taken a bolder step.

The talks on fundamental rights and the judiciary had to be opened "as soon as possible to make it clear that if Turkey is moving towards Europe, it has to undertake reforms in these areas so that human rights are observed", said Michael Spindelegger, the Austrian foreign minister.

Erdogan unveiled what was billed as a major package of reforms last month. This is said to have helped to persuade Merkel to unfreeze the negotiations.

"The bigger step would be opening of negotiations on the other chapters [dealing with the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security]. This step by Germany might have a positive impact on these issues, but it will depend on Turkey, and the changes in the judiciary system, if anything is to actually happen," said Aktar.


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« Reply #9485 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:56 AM »


Norway issues global alert for Syria-bound teenage sisters

Search under way for pair, aged 16 and 19, who left message saying they were going to help Syrian Muslims 'any way we can'

Peter Walker   
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 17.34 BST

Police and security officials in Norway have issued an international alert for two teenage sisters who disappeared from their home near Oslo and are believed to have travelled to Syria to assist Islamist forces.

The pair, aged 16 and 19, disappeared late last week, leaving a message for their family saying Muslims in Syria were being "attacked from all directions" and they must do something. Norwegian police say they were last spotted near Turkey's border with Syria.

The family of the teenagers, who have not been identified by officials, say they had no idea of the plan. At the time they are thought to have begun the journey their parents believed the younger sister was at school and the elder with a boyfriend.

Officials say they do not know if the pair hope to assist with humanitarian efforts or actively join in the fighting. "There are a number of possible theories about why they might have gone, but we don't have a specific one at the moment," Nina Karstensen Bjørlo from the Asker and Bærum police district told the Guardian.

"We have talked to the family every day, and they have given us a lot of information, but we don't want to repeat any of it publicly."

Norwegian officials, who said last week that up to 40 Norwegian nationals were believed to be fighting in Syria, are not identifying the girls, from a family of Somali origin who moved to Norway in 2000. According to the Verdens Gang newspaper, which talked to relatives, the family was not particularly religious but the elder sister appeared to have been radicalised by outsiders and had rows with her mother over wanting to wear the niqab.

The paper reported that the mother first became worried last Thursday afternoon when the sisters failed to return home as planned. Later that evening the family received a text message from the daughters saying they should check an email account. The message said they had decided to help Syria's Muslim population "the only way we really can, by being with them in their sufferings and joys". They added: "It is no longer enough to sit at home and send money. With this in mind we have decided to travel to Syria and help any way we can."

The Norwegian police issued an alert and have informed Interpol. Karstensen Bjørlo said detectives knew how the teenagers had travelled but did not want to reveal details. "We believe they are trying to get from Turkey into Syria. They have been seen near the border with Syria."

A spokesman at Norway's ministry of foreign affairs said the government was trying to find the sisters: "We've received a request from the family of the two girls. The family is concerned that they're trying to make their way to Syria and we are assisting the family in their effort to contact the girls, to get hold of them."

According to Verdens Gang, the family live in a small town in Askershus county near Oslo, which it did not name. The teenagers' brother told the paper that the family did not know if they had received help to travel, and believed they may have saved up the money to travel. The sisters have not been in contact with the family since Thursday night. Their father has gone to Turkey to look for them.

A relatively large number of foreign nationals are believed to have gone to Syria to fight. Norway's security agency, the PST, said last week it estimated that 30-40 people had left the country for Syria.

A security expert who works in the region and asked not to be named said it was possible the sisters had been helped by increasingly organised Islamist networks bringing foreigners to assist militants in Syria, with many having been raised in the west. "There is an active recruitment effort under way that is financing and bringing people from all over the world to Syria," he said.

Last week, reports identified one of the attackers who killed at least 67 people at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi as a 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin. Slightly more than 2% of Norway's 5 million-strong population comes from Muslim backgrounds, the largest number with origins in Pakistan.


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« Reply #9486 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Norway issues global alert for Syria-bound teenage sisters

Search under way for pair, aged 16 and 19, who left message saying they were going to help Syrian Muslims 'any way we can'

Peter Walker   
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 17.34 BST

Police and security officials in Norway have issued an international alert for two teenage sisters who disappeared from their home near Oslo and are believed to have travelled to Syria to assist Islamist forces.

The pair, aged 16 and 19, disappeared late last week, leaving a message for their family saying Muslims in Syria were being "attacked from all directions" and they must do something. Norwegian police say they were last spotted near Turkey's border with Syria.

The family of the teenagers, who have not been identified by officials, say they had no idea of the plan. At the time they are thought to have begun the journey their parents believed the younger sister was at school and the elder with a boyfriend.

Officials say they do not know if the pair hope to assist with humanitarian efforts or actively join in the fighting. "There are a number of possible theories about why they might have gone, but we don't have a specific one at the moment," Nina Karstensen Bjørlo from the Asker and Bærum police district told the Guardian.

"We have talked to the family every day, and they have given us a lot of information, but we don't want to repeat any of it publicly."

Norwegian officials, who said last week that up to 40 Norwegian nationals were believed to be fighting in Syria, are not identifying the girls, from a family of Somali origin who moved to Norway in 2000. According to the Verdens Gang newspaper, which talked to relatives, the family was not particularly religious but the elder sister appeared to have been radicalised by outsiders and had rows with her mother over wanting to wear the niqab.

The paper reported that the mother first became worried last Thursday afternoon when the sisters failed to return home as planned. Later that evening the family received a text message from the daughters saying they should check an email account. The message said they had decided to help Syria's Muslim population "the only way we really can, by being with them in their sufferings and joys". They added: "It is no longer enough to sit at home and send money. With this in mind we have decided to travel to Syria and help any way we can."

The Norwegian police issued an alert and have informed Interpol. Karstensen Bjørlo said detectives knew how the teenagers had travelled but did not want to reveal details. "We believe they are trying to get from Turkey into Syria. They have been seen near the border with Syria."

A spokesman at Norway's ministry of foreign affairs said the government was trying to find the sisters: "We've received a request from the family of the two girls. The family is concerned that they're trying to make their way to Syria and we are assisting the family in their effort to contact the girls, to get hold of them."

According to Verdens Gang, the family live in a small town in Askershus county near Oslo, which it did not name. The teenagers' brother told the paper that the family did not know if they had received help to travel, and believed they may have saved up the money to travel. The sisters have not been in contact with the family since Thursday night. Their father has gone to Turkey to look for them.

A relatively large number of foreign nationals are believed to have gone to Syria to fight. Norway's security agency, the PST, said last week it estimated that 30-40 people had left the country for Syria.

A security expert who works in the region and asked not to be named said it was possible the sisters had been helped by increasingly organised Islamist networks bringing foreigners to assist militants in Syria, with many having been raised in the west. "There is an active recruitment effort under way that is financing and bringing people from all over the world to Syria," he said.

Last week, reports identified one of the attackers who killed at least 67 people at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi as a 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin. Slightly more than 2% of Norway's 5 million-strong population comes from Muslim backgrounds, the largest number with origins in Pakistan.
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« Reply #9487 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:07 AM »

October 21, 2013

Angry at Prague, Artist Ensures He’s Understood

By DAN BILEFSKY
IHT

PARIS — “The finger,” said the Czech sculptor David Cerny, “speaks for itself.” On that point, at least, everyone could agree.

Mr. Cerny is not known for understatement or diplomacy, from depicting Germany as a network of motorways resembling a swastika to displaying a caricature of a former Czech president inside an enormous fiberglass rear end.

But on Monday, Mr. Cerny, 45, took his political satire to new heights — or depths, depending on your perspective — when, on the eve of Czech general elections this weekend, he installed on the Vltava River a 30-foot-high, plastic, purple hand with a raised middle finger. It is a symbol, he said, that points directly at the Prague Castle, the seat of the current Czech president, Milos Zeman.

Mr. Cerny said the monumental hand with its 16-foot-long outstretched middle finger, placed on a float facing the castle, was a “scream of alarm” against the state of politics in the Czech Republic, endemic corruption and Mr. Zeman, a former leftist prime minister, whom he accused of becoming intoxicated with power.

He said the sculpture, which he gave an unprintable title, was also aimed at the country’s Communist Party, which could gain a share of power in the coming elections for the first time since the revolution that overthrew communism more than two decades ago.

“This finger is aimed straight at the castle politics,” Mr. Cerny said by phone from Prague, the Czech capital. “After 23 years, I am horrified at the prospect of the Communists returning to power and of Mr. Zeman helping them to do so.”

Mr. Zeman, who was visiting Ukraine on Monday, declined to comment through a spokeswoman, who told the Czech news media that he had not yet seen the sculpture.

The sculpture is part of a Czech tradition of cultural rebellion dating to communist times, when artists, writers and musicians like the Plastic People of the Universe used subversive lyrics or gestures to revolt against authority.

But while challenging the government could land you in a prison cell during the communist era, Mr. Cerny’s floating installation was authorized by the local nautical authority. Even so, he came under criticism, with some accusing him of turning the country and its famously pristine capital into an international laughingstock.

“First we are made to look like thieves before the world,” said a reader in the discussion forum on the online version of Hospodarske Noviny, a leading newspaper. “And now we look like idiots at the center of Europe. It is not funny at all.”

But analysts said the subversive hand gesture accurately reflected the intensifying frustration of many Czechs and a growing feeling that the 1989 revolution has failed to deliver on its promises.

In August, the Czech Parliament voted to dissolve itself, setting off early elections after an anticorruption investigation uncovered safes stuffed with millions of dollars in cash and stashes of gold that prosecutors suspect may have been used in an elaborate influence-peddling scheme.

A former prime minister, Petr Necas, was forced to resign amid accusations that his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, who was also his girlfriend at the time, had used the country’s security services to spy on the prime minister’s wife, whom Mr. Zeman subsequently divorced. Mr. Necas and Ms. Nagyova have since married in a secret ceremony.

Mr. Cerny first came to prominence in May 1991 when, at the age of 23, he was arrested after painting a giant Soviet tank pink, turning a work meant to commemorate the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army in 1945 into something that looked like a giant child’s toy.

Mr. Cerny said Monday that he feared the finger risked being defaced or even removed by vandals. He said he had been barraged by criticism on Facebook by communist and Zeman supporters calling him “a capitalist pig.”

Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.


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« Reply #9488 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:17 AM »

October 21, 2013

Ruling on Katyn Killings Highlights Russia-Poland Rift

By ALAN COWELL and ANDREW ROTH
IHT

LONDON — In the long-simmering and emotional debate over a notorious mass killing during World War II, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Monday that Russia had failed to comply with its obligations to adequately investigate the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police in 1940.

But the court said it had no jurisdiction over the massacre itself or the subsequent treatment of the relatives of the dead, prompting an outcry in Poland and expressions of satisfaction among officials in Moscow, underscoring the deep and lingering divisions inspired by the mass killing in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.

“We are rather disappointed by this verdict,” said Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Artur Nowak-Far, according to Agence France-Presse. “The ruling does not take into account all the arguments of the Polish side that have here a great moral and historic right.”

Andrzej Melak, president of the Association of the Families of Katyn Victims, called the judgment “scandalous,” adding that it was “inadmissible and incomprehensible.”

“The failure to condemn this genocide and the impunity of its perpetrators led to it being repeated in Rwanda, the Balkans, and it will be repeated again,” he said. “Poles will not accept a ruling like this.”

But in Moscow, Georgy Matyushkin, the deputy minister of justice and Russia’s envoy to the European Court of Human Rights, told the Interfax news agency that the ruling showed that “the court does not have the conventional duty to investigate the events at Katyn” and that it would thus be “illogical” for it to address allegations of improper treatment of the victims’ relatives.

“The Russian authorities from the very beginning said that these events are located outside of the frame of the jurisdiction of the European court from the point of view of the time frame,” Mr. Matyushkin said. “And this point of view was accepted by the European court.”

The Polish prisoners, including nearly 5,000 senior Polish Army officers, disappeared in late 1939 and early 1940 during a period of German-Soviet cooperation, when Soviet forces occupied eastern Poland. In April and May 1940, they were taken to the Katyn woods, near Smolensk, west of Moscow, where they were executed and then buried in mass graves there and in two other villages.

After decades of denial, Russia admitted responsibility for the massacre in 1990 and opened a criminal investigation. The investigation was closed 14 years later, but much of its findings were classified and no one was publicly held responsible.

Relatives of the victims complained to the court in 2007 that the Russian inquiry had been ineffective and that the Russian authorities had displayed a dismissive attitude to requests for information about the event. The case was brought by 15 Polish citizens who are relatives of 12 victims of the massacre — police and army officers, an army doctor and a primary school headmaster — according to court filings.

The court’s highest panel, the Grand Chamber, ruled unanimously that “Russia had failed to comply with its obligation” under the European Convention on Human Rights to “furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case,” according to a statement from the court in Strasbourg, France.

But the ruling said the court had no jurisdiction to examine complaints over the killings themselves because the massacre took place a decade before the rights convention became international law and 58 years before Russia acceded to it, in 1998.

That period was too long for a “genuine connection” to be established between the killings and Russia’s accession to the convention, the ruling said. The court rejected an application for awarding damages.

The court also ruled that there had been no violation of the convention’s provision prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment as it relates to the suffering of families of “disappeared” people. That part of the ruling overturned a lower court’s ruling in 2012, which found that that provision had been violated in the cases of 10 of the 15 Polish family members.

In its ruling, the Grand Chamber said Russia had not offered a “substantive analysis” for keeping the decision to close its investigation classified. “The court was unable to accept that the submission of a copy of the September 2004 decision could have affected Russia’s national security,” the ruling said.

Nikita V. Petrov, a historian for the Memorial human rights group, which has sought to declassify the decision, called the ruling a “light reprimand” that would do nothing to further the investigation.

“It’s like telling a criminal, ‘You haven’t behaved yourself very well,’ ” he said. “But it does not say that a crime is still taking place, because the government is hiding information about past criminal activities like the Katyn case.”

The massacre has continued to haunt Russian-Polish relations.

In April 2010, a plane carrying the Polish president and 95 other members of Poland’s political and military elite to a commemoration of the massacre crashed over Smolensk, killing everyone on board. The crash led to mutual recriminations over an event intended to help heal the wound.

In November 2010, the Russian Parliament approved a statement holding Stalin and other Soviet leaders responsible for the Katyn killings.

Despite protests from Communist Parliament members, the State Duma acknowledged that archival material “not only unveils the scale of his horrific tragedy but also provides evidence that the Katyn crime was committed on direct orders from Stalin and other Soviet leaders.”

Alan Cowell reported from London, and Andrew Roth from Moscow.
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« Reply #9489 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:21 AM »

Iran gives Russia copy of US ScanEagle drone as proof of mass production

US spy drone given to prove Iran's forces have mass produced the drone they claim to have captured a year ago

Saeed Kamali Dehghan   
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 18.53 BST      

Iran has given Russia a copy of a US spy drone as proof that its elite forces have reverse-engineered and mass produced the American unmanned aerial vehicle they claim to have captured a year ago.

Iranian media reported yesterday that the copy of the ScanEagle drone was provided to Russia on the sidelines of a meeting in Tehran between Farzad Esmayeeli, the air defence commander of Khatam al-Anbia, the Revolutionary Guards' military and industrial base, and Viktor Bondarev, head of the Russian air force.

In December 2012, a guards' commander said his forces had got their hands on a ScanEagle, promising Tehran would mass produce it. The US authorities denied those claims at the time, saying all its drones were fully accounted for.

"The drone built by the Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guards is a symbol of the technical capabilities of the Islamic Iran and today we presented a real model of it as a gift to Russian air force … and the Russian people," Esmayeeli said after meeting with Bondarev, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Iran's state English-language newspaper, Tehran Times, said the two met on Sunday and spoke on a range of air defence issues but it did not give further details.

Iran first claimed to have captured a US drone two years ago when the Guards displayed a drone, believed to be an RQ-170 Sentinel. They claimed to have brought it down electronically but the US said the aircraft had merely malfunctioned.

Since then, Iranian officials have claimed advances in drone technology and have put on show a number of US and Israeli drones their elite forces alleged to have shot down. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said last October that a drone shot down by Israel was assembled in Lebanon but designed in Iran.

It is unclear how reliable the Iranian claims about its drone capabilities are. In September 2012, the Guards unveiled Shahed-129, an "indigenous" reconnaissance drone, alleged to have a range of up to 1,200 miles – capable of reaching Israel – and with 24 hours' fly time.

In February, Iranian television broadcast a programme showing video footage and still images the authorities claimed were extracted from the RQ-170 drone captured in 2011. The programme also showed pictures of what was described as a ScanEagle drone production line in Iran. Fars described ScanEagle as a small, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.

"As standard payload ScanEagle carries either an inertially stabilised electro-optical or an infrared camera," Fars said. "The gimbaled camera allows the operator to easily track both stationary and moving targets, providing real-time intelligence."

Russia has infuriated the Iranian military in recent years for its failure to deliver Tehran with S-300 air defence systems it had agreed in a 2007 contract to supply but abandoned in 2010 owing to international sanctions against the Islamic republic. In response, Iran filed a lawsuit against Russia with the International Chamber of Commerce's court of arbitration but said in June that will drop the case if Russia changed its decision.

This month, Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said talks were underway between Tehran and Moscow with regards to the S-300 systems. In September, a spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, denied the Kremlin had ordered the delivery of the air defence systems.

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

Iranian convict in a coma after surviving hanging

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 21, 2013 17:45 EDT

A convicted Iranian drug trafficker who survived a botched hanging has fallen into a coma, the IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

“His level of consciousness is around six percent and the possibility of brain death will increase if the situation does not improve,” IRNA quoted what it called an informed source as saying.

“The doctors cannot perform any surgery or other treatment while he is in a coma,” said the source.

The prisoner, identified only as Alireza M., 37, was pronounced dead earlier this month by the attending doctor after hanging for 12 minutes from a noose suspended from a crane at a jail in northeastern Iran.

But the next day, staff at the mortuary in the city of Bojnourd where his shrouded body was taken discovered he was still breathing.

The incident led to a heated debate between jurists, with some saying he should be hanged again and others arguing he had faced his punishment and should be spared.

Some jurists and attorneys even signed and sent a petition to judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, appealing for a stay in the exceptional case.

Two Grand Ayatollahs published a fawta, or religious decree, saying the convict should not be hanged again.

Amnesty International called for an immediate stay of execution Alireza M. and for all other death row prisoners in Iran, which carried out more executions last year than any other country except China.

The London-based human rights watchdog said 508 people have already been executed in the country so far this year.

Tehran says the death penalty is essential to maintain law and order, and that it is applied only after exhaustive judicial proceedings.

Murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery are among the crimes punishable by death in Iran.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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

Iran will re-examine its list of banned books

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 21, 2013 20:55 EDT

Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Janati said Monday his department will review a ban imposed on certain books which censors have barred from publication, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Those books subjected to censorship or denied permission to be published in the past will be reviewed again and new decisions will be made,” IRNA quoted Janati as saying.

All publications in Iran must be approved by the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance to ensure they comply with the Islamic republic’s strict code of morality.

Tehran also blocks access to numerous websites, including Facebook and Twitter, to stop Iranians browsing content it considers immoral, or as undermining the regime.

Publishers complained of tighter censorship during the 2005-2013 mandate of hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Janati’s remarks seem to reflect pledges made by Ahmadinejad’s moderate successor, Hassan Rouhani, who promised more social freedoms during his election campaign.

“Our approach towards freedom of the press and books as well as relaxing the atmosphere for writers and thinkers is different from the past and its results will gradually become apparent,” said Janati.

Iran?s civil rights record and censorship is regularly criticised by international watchdogs and Western governments.

Earlier this month Janati criticised the strict censorship of books under Ahmadinejad’s rule.

“I sadly learned that some books were denied permission to be published only on the grounds of personal opinions,” the reformist daily Arman quoted Janati as saying.

“I think if the Koran was not a divine revelation, when it was handed to the book supervisory board, they would say some words did not comply with public chastity and would deny it permission for publication,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #9490 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:24 AM »


India school meal deaths: headteacher and husband charged with murder

Meena Devi and her husband will go on trial over deaths of 23 children who ate pesticide-contaminated lunches

Associated Press in Patna
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 October 2013 08.59 BST   

A school headteacher and her husband have been charged with murder after 23 children died from eating pesticide-contaminated lunches in July at the school in eastern India, police said on Tuesday.

The trial of Meena Devi and her husband was expected to begin soon, said police officer Varun Kumar Sinha. They were arrested and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigating police officer Raj Kaushal said the headteacher's husband, politician Arjun Rai, stored pesticide at the school that was for use at his farm. The charge sheet filed in a court in Bihar state on Sunday said the chef cooked with it by mistake.

Both denied the charges and told police there was no deliberate act on their part.

The school's cooks have told authorities that the headteacher controlled the food for the government-provided free daily lunch. One of the cooks told police investigators that the cooking oil appeared different, but that the principal told her to use it anyway.

The children who died were aged between five and 12.

India's midday meal plan is one of the world's biggest school nutrition programmes. State governments have the freedom to decide on menus and timings of the meals, depending on local conditions and availability of food rations. It was first introduced in the 1960s in southern India, where it was seen as an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school.

Although there have been complaints about the quality of the food served and the lack of hygiene, the incident in Bihar appeared to be unprecedented.

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

Indian illegal mining investigation ends without explanation

Abrupt halt to investigations sparks concern over extent of corruption uncovered in India's mining sector

Matthew Newsome   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 October 2013 10.51 BST

A major investigation into India's illegal mining practices that led to the arrests of public officials for corruption was wound up last week without explanation, sparking concern about the extent of government complicity in illegal activities.

The investigation was set up by the government in November 2010 in response to public pressure to address India's escalating illegal mining practices.

Vijay Pratap, convener of the thinktank South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy, is convinced it was closed due to the extent of corruption uncovered in the country's mining sector.

Pratap said: "The commission was exposing too much corruption at government level and risked undermining tightly woven corporate collusion with the political class, which has sadly become endemic in the mining industry. This is why the government aborted the investigation."

The commission was headed by Justice M B Shah, with a mandate to investigate financial transactions between exporters, traders and mining lease owners, as well as illegal practices, such as mining without a licence, mining outside lease areas, transporting minerals illegally and mining-related ecological destruction.

The government's ministry of mines terminated the commission on 16 October without offering an explanation.

"The government has not stated any reason for instructing us to end our investigations," said U V Singh, the commission's primary investigator.

The commission should have conducted investigations in seven resource-rich states where illegal mining has become widespread. But inquiries in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where mining abuses have been reported, were not completed.

"A full inquiry was not possible," said Singh.

The commission has submitted two reports, one on illegal manganese and iron ore mining across the country and the other on illegal mining in Goa, the largest exporter of iron ore in the country. Following the report, the supreme court slapped a temporary ban on all mining activity in the state. The commission submitted its final report earlier this month, which was expected to reveal the extent of losses from financial irregularities across India's mining sector between 2006 and 2011, but is now expected to just focus on Goa.

The commission's reports on mining in Goa accused both the state and the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) of allowing illegal mining in the state and putting the region's environment and ecology at risk. It reported that all 90 mines were functioning without the mandatory permission from the National Board for Wildlife, and 33 of them were located within 1.5km of wildlife sanctuaries.

Investigations into illegal mining have exposed high levels of corruption in the industry. Two former Congress chief ministers of Goa, Digambar Kamat and Pratapsingh Rane, have been indicted for involvement in illegal mining and failure to safeguard the environment from mining-related devastation.

The state's former director of mines and geology, Arvind Lolienkar, was also charged. Goa's state financial losses have been estimated at Rs 35,000 crore (US$5bn) as a result of large-scale mining scams.

M E Shivalinga Murthy, former director of Karnataka's mines and geology department, has been charged with issuing fake permits to Associated Mining Company (AMC), owned by jailed former minister Gali Janardhan Reddy.

After further investigation, the mines and geology department discovered six of its top officials were complicit in AMC's illegal iron ore mining. Karnataka incurred a revenue loss of Rs 2,976.26 crore between 2005 and 2011 due to illegal extraction and transportation of minerals.

In response to the commission's findings, the supreme court banned mining in Karnataka between July 2011 and April 2013, while in Odisha, the state government placed a temporary ban on iron ore exports in October 2012 until investigations had concluded. According to the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), iron ore exports dropped 70% during the ban on iron ore mining in Karnataka and Goa.

India lost an estimated $10bn in iron ore exports in the last financial year and is expected to become a net importer of the commodity.

The government's decision to end the investigation displays a failure to protect vulnerable tribal communities, said Madhu Sarin, honorary fellow of Rights and Resources Initiative.

"The commission's termination will have a direct impact on the rights of all those illegally displaced already and under threat of displacement in the future due to non-recognition of their forest rights and being denied the right to decide whether mining in their ecologically fragile homelands should be permitted or not," she said.


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« Reply #9491 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:31 AM »


Maldives: new presidential election date set

Vote to take place on 9 November after earlier results were annulled and police prevented a ballot last weekend

Associated Press in Male
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 October 2013 08.16 BST   

Maldives officials have rescheduled the country's presidential election for 9 November after police prevented a planned vote last weekend due to a conflict with a supreme court ruling.

While the new schedule may break through a political stalemate and reassure voters, it may not produce a new president before the incumbent's term ends, creating a constitutional vacuum in the young fledgling democracy.

If no candidate wins 50% of the 9 November vote, a runoff would be held on 16 November, according to the schedule Ahmed Fayaz, the vice elections commissioner, announced to reporters on Monday.

The constitution requires a president to be elected by 11 November, when the term of the current president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, ends.

The supreme court had annulled the results of a 7 September election, finding that the voters' registry had made-up names and those of dead people. A fresh vote had been set for Saturday, but police stopped it because the elections commission failed to obtain approval for the voting registry from all the candidates as required by the high court.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who led the annulled election with more than 45% of the vote, has accused Hassan of scheming to delay the election in order to hold on to power. Nasheed has demanded that Hassan resign and hand over power to the speaker of parliament to oversee a new election.

Hassan has said he does not intend staying in office beyond his term, but rejected calls to resign before that.

He withdrew from the new vote after losing badly in the 7 September election.

Nasheed's election rivals will be Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, brother of Maldives' longtime autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim.

Maldives, known as a luxurious vacation destination, has seen much upheaval in the five years it has been a democracy.

Nasheed, who was elected president in the country's first multiparty election in 2008 and defeated Gayoom's 30-year autocratic rule, resigned last year after weeks of public protest over his order to arrest a senior judge he perceived to be corrupt and partial.

A local commission has dismissed his claim that he was ousted by a coup, but the country has since been politically polarised.


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« Reply #9492 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:32 AM »


ACT becomes first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise same-sex marriage

Fate of the anti-discrimination reform uncertain, with federal government intent on launching high court challenge

Katharine Murphy deputy political editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 October 2013 07.28 BST      

The Australian Capital Territory has become the first jurisdiction in the country to legalise same-sex marriage but the fate of the landmark anti-discrimination reform remains uncertain, with the federal government intent on launching a high court challenge.

On Tuesday morning the ACT legislative assembly passed a law allowing marriages between two adults of the same sex, with Labor and the Greens voting in favour and the Canberra Liberals against.

Amendments were brought forward at the last minute in an effort to buttress the territory legislation against the looming constitutional challenge. The ACT attorney general, Simon Corbell, said the amendments were intended to make it clear that the two legal regimes, the territory law and the commonwealth’s Marriage Act, were envisaged to work concurrently.

Corbell said the territory’s move posed no threat to the commonwealth – and it had been established that the regulation of relationships was a shared power.

The Abbott government is yet to say whether it will seek an injunction to prevent the new law from taking effect before the high court considers whether it breaches the constitution.

If there is no injunction, same-sex marriages can proceed in the ACT from early December.

The ACT’s opposition leader, Jeremy Hanson, said during Tuesday’s debate that the uncertainty surrounding the new same-sex marriage regime created significant problems for couples, and he suggested the territory could be liable to compensation if it pushed ahead of the tolerance of the commonwealth, rather than waiting for the legalities to be settled.

Hanson criticised Corbell for producing amendments at the last minute, saying they prevented proper scrutiny by the assembly. “It is a leap of faith now to accept Simon Corbell’s assurances that the amendments will make this bill lawful when he’s spent the last few weeks arguing against the need for any such amendments,” Hanson said during the debate.

He also objected to Labor and the Greens using “the ACT assembly as a vehicle to drive national agendas or social agendas”.

The Liberal leader said a “a majority of one person in the ACT” should not be able to “change the definition of marriage for a country of over 23 million people”.

The ACT chief minister shrugged off the criticism, and the threat of a court challenge. Katy Gallagher said a legal challenge “should not deter us, it doesn’t rattle us and it doesn’t change our path”.

Gallagher said it was important as a point of principle to remove discrimination and, with the support of the Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, the territory government had the numbers on the floor to change the law.

She acknowledged opponents of same-sex marriage, including some religious leaders, and said there was nothing in the law that would compel people with objections to perform marriage ceremonies.

The chief minister also referenced the large crowd who watched the proceedings in Canberra, saying public support for same-sex marriage had increased faster than the capacity of politics to respond.

There were emotional scenes during the debate and after the vote.

The ACT deputy chief minister, Andrew Barr, who is gay, cried while talking about the discrimination faced by some families. “Today the sacrifice, the suffering, the struggle and the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of gay and lesbian Canberrans, their parents and their families, finds a voice and finds a champion in this assembly,” he said.

A spokesperson for the federal attorney general, George Brandis, confirmed the Abbott government would proceed with the challenge and ask the high court to “give the case an expedited hearing”.


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« Reply #9493 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:38 AM »


US strikes in Yemen have killed dozens of civilians, says report

Human Rights Watch says 57 civilians have been killed in six drone and plane attacks that 'clearly or possibly' violated international law

Reuters in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 October 2013 08.16 BST   

US missile strikes, including armed drone attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen as Washington tries to crack down on al-Qaida in the country, a prominent human rights organisation said on Tuesday.

In a 96-page report, Human Rights Watch detailed what it called six "unacknowledged" US military attacks on targets in Yemen, which either clearly, or possibly, violated international law.

Eighty-two people, 57 of whom were civilians, were killed during the six attacks studied. One of the incidents occurred in 2009. The other five happened in 2012-2013.

The Human Rights Watch report came as Amnesty International issued a report on US drone strikes in Pakistan.

Two strikes in Yemen - one in September 2012 and the other in December 2009 - caused what Human Rights Watch called the largest numbers of civilian casualties.

On 2 September 2012, as two US drones flew above the target area, either two additional drones or two warplanes attacked a vehicle travelling north from the central Yemeni city of Radaa.

That attack killed 12 passengers in the vehicle, including three children and a pregnant woman, in violation of a law of war prohibiting attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, Human Rights Watch said.

The group said the apparent target of the raid was a tribal leader named Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab. He was not in the vehicle when it was attacked and that it was not clear that he was a member of al-Qaida's Yemeni affiliate, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Of the six cases it studied, Human Rights Watch said at least four of the strikes were carried out by missile-firing drones. A fifth was carried out either by drones or planes, with the sixth by cruise missiles that the group said released cluster bombs.

On 17 December 2009, an attack by as many as five US navy cruise missiles struck a Yemeni hamlet, killing what the Yemeni government initially described as 34 terrorists at a training camp.

However, Human Rights Watch said a Yemeni government inquiry later established that although 14 fighters for al-Qaida's Yemeni affiliate were killed in the attack, so were at least 41 civilians, including nine women and 21 children.

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

US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes, says Amnesty International

Joint report with Human Rights Watch judges US attacks in Yemen and Pakistan to have broken international human rights law

Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Tuesday 22 October 2013   

US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan may have committed war crimes and should stand trial, a report by a leading human rights group warns. Amnesty International has highlighted the case of a grandmother who was killed while she was picking vegetables and other incidents which could have broken international laws designed to protect civilians.

The report is issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch detailing missile attacks in Yemen which the group believes could contravene the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama's own guidelines on drones.

The reports are being published while Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, is in Washington. Sharif has promised to tell Obama that the drone strikes – which have caused outrage in Pakistan – must end.

Getting to the bottom of individual strikes is exceptionally difficult in the restive areas bordering Afghanistan, where thousands of militants have settled. People are often terrified of speaking out, fearing retribution from both militants and the state, which is widely suspected of colluding with the CIA-led campaign.

There is also a risk of militants attempting to skew outside research by forcing interviewees into "providing false or inaccurate information", the report said.

But Amnesty mounted a major effort to investigate nine of the many attacks to have struck the region over the last 18 months, including one that killed 18 labourers in North Waziristan as they waited to eat dinner in an area of heavy Taliban influence in July 2012. All those interviewed by Amnesty strongly denied any of the men had been involved in militancy. Even if they were members of a banned group, that would not be enough to justify killing them, the report said.

"Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions," the report said. It called for those responsible to stand trial.

The US has repeatedly claimed very few civilians have been killed by drones. It argues its campaign is conducted "consistent with all applicable domestic and international law".

The Amnesty report supports media accounts from October last year that a 68-year-old woman called Mamana Bibi was killed by a missile fired from a drone while she was picking okra outside her home in North Waziristan with her grandchildren nearby. A second strike minutes later injured family members tending her.

If true, the case is striking failure of a technology much vaunted for its accuracy. It is claimed the remote-controlled planes are able to observe their targets for hours or even days to verify them, and that the explosive force of the missiles is designed to limit collateral damage. As with other controversial drone strikes, the US has refused to acknowledge or explain what happened.

Amnesty said it accepts some US drone strikes may not violate the law, "but it is impossible to reach any firm assessment without a full disclosure of the facts surrounding individual attacks and their legal basis. The USA appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the region to evade accountability for its violations," it said.

In Yemen, another country where US drones are active, Human Rights Watch highlighted six incidents, two of which were a "clear violation of international humanitarian law". The remaining four may have broken the laws of armed conflict because the targets were illegitimate or because not enough was done to minimise civilian harm, the report said.

It also argued that some of the Yemen attacks breach the guidelines announced by Obama earlier this year in his first major speech on a programme that is officially top secret. For example, the pledge to kill suspects only when it is impossible to capture them appears to have been ignored on 17 April this year when an al-Qaida leader was blown up in a township in Dhamar province in central Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.

An attack on a truck driving 12 miles south of the capital Sana'a reportedly killed two al-Qaida suspects but also two civilians who had been hired by the other men. That means the attack could have been illegal because it "may have caused disproportionate harm to civilians".

The legal arguments over drones are extremely complex, with much controversy focusing on whether or not the places where they are used amount to war zones.

Amnesty said some of the strikes in Pakistan might be covered by that claim, but rejected a "global war doctrine" that allows the US to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world.

"To accept such a policy would be to endorse state practices that fundamentally undermine crucial human rights protections that have been painstakingly developed over more than a century of international law-making," the report said.

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

Questions over US drone attacks that President Obama needs to resolve

The US cannot brush off charges of unlawful killings, claiming it is merely protecting US interests, without risking revenge attacks

Simon Tisdall   
The Guardian, Tuesday 22 October 2013   

Detailed investigations into possible war crimes arising from US drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen published jointly on Tuesday by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, pose difficult questions for the Obama administration and for close allies such as Britain which implicitly condone or acquiesce in such attacks.

Answers to these questions are urgently required, given that unmanned aerial vehicle missile strikes have become Barack Obama's weapon of choice in prosecuting the "global war on terror" – a term he has publicly disavowed while simultaneously presiding over its rapid, largely covert escalation.

1. The legal question
The US stands accused of unlawful killing in several documented incidents, on the basis of first-hand witness evidence and official statements. The number of such incidents, in both countries, suggests they are are not "one-offs" but part of a systematic policy that appears inherently illegal.

If the US were to state that it is a party to an armed conflict in Yemen or Pakistan between the governments of those countries and terrorists, principally al-Qaida or al-Qaida-affiliated groups, its actions would be subject to international humanitarian law – the laws of war. But as Human Rights Watch points out, the US, denying the obvious, has not said it is a party to a war in either place, but is instead carrying out ad hoc operations to protect US interests.

Even if it did make such a declaration, the laws of war permit attacks only on enemy combatants and other military objectives, but not those who play a purely non-military role. Civilians are protected from attack.

Reporting on six unacknowledged US strikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch states: "Two of these attacks were in clear violation of international humanitarian law – the laws of war – because they struck only civilians or used indiscriminate weapons. The other four cases may have violated the laws of war because the individual attacked was not a lawful military target or the attack caused disproportionate civilian harm, determinations that require further investigation. In several of these cases, the US also did not take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians, as the laws of war require."

Amnesty reaches similar conclusions in Pakistan. If the US is not in a war-fighting situation in either country, then international human rights law applies, meaning that lethal force may only be used if there is an "imminent risk" to human life. This law was also disregarded in several US attacks, Amnesty said.

The US is accused of acting in contravention of Obama's own guidelines, set out in May, which emulated (but did not officially endorse) international human rights law. Obama said that to be legitimate, a target must pose an imminent risk to the US, cannot reasonably be captured, and can be attacked without putting civilians at risk. As the various cases investigated clearly indicate, these "rules" have been repeatedly and deliberately broken.

2. The strategic question
US drone strikes have reportedly been effective in eliminating individuals plotting attacks against the US and its allies. But the negative impact on local and international opinion of the Sarar attacks (2012) and al-Majalah (2009) attacks in Yemen, for example, when dozens of civilians died, and of numerous similar attacks in Waziristan, was significant and may actually have served to strengthen support for extremists.

Human Rights Watch said: "Should the US continue targeted killings in Yemen without addressing the consequences of killing civilians and taking responsibility for unlawful deaths, it risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In response to these killings, AQAP has issued statements accusing the US of fighting a war not just against al-Qaida but against all Muslims."

Amnesty said: "The US has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan in its drone attacks, some of which could amount to war crimes." Its behaviour should be condemned by its allies, or else they might be deemed complicit, it said. "The UK government [should] refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes that violate international law, including by the sharing of intelligence or facilities, or the transfer of specialist components."

3. The moral question
Last but not least, the strikes raise a moral question: by what right do the US president and his subordinates take it upon themselves to end the lives of those who oppose American policy and values?

Most of these people are not American citizens and do not reside in the US. They lack a vote or other normal means of challenging American policy. It must be assumed that Obama would not order the killing on American soil of Americans who do have democratic rights of opposition. So, morally speaking, how can it be acceptable to kill disenfranchised non-Americans on foreign soil?

Drone technology is proliferating. Many countries, including some hostile to the US, have or could soon acquire unmanned aerial vehicle strike capability. Obama might ask himself a question: is he creating the circumstances in which they might one day follow his example and declare themselves morally justified in launching drone strikes against American targets in the US?


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« Reply #9494 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:49 AM »

John Kerry: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators putting ‘all the core issues are on the table’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 21, 2013 20:35 EDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that talks between Israel and the Palestinians were intensifying and that all issues were on the table.

He also announced that Qatar had agreed to provide $150 million (110 million euros) in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking after talks with Arab League officials in Paris, Kerry said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had so far held 13 meetings, including three meetings in the last four days alone.

“The pace has intensified, all the core issues are on the table and they have been meeting with increased intensity,” Kerry told journalists at a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah.

Since becoming secretary of state in February, Kerry has dedicated much of his energy to restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which were frozen in September 2010.

Under intense U.S. pressure, the two sides resumed direct talks for the first time in nearly three years in Washington at the end of July.

“It is no secret to anybody that this is and remains a difficult process, there is no shortage of passionate sceptics,” Kerry said.

“The Israeli and Palestinian people both have leaders who absolutely understand what is at stake and they have taken risks to bring both parties to the table.”

Kerry praised the Arab League’s “remarkable commitment” to pushing the peace process, saying it is “critical to creating the momentum and the seriousness of purpose that is essential in order to be successful in these talks.”

He praised the Qatari move to provide “urgently needed” debt relief to the Palestinians and said he was “confident” that other Arab countries would follow suit.

Attiyah meanwhile said the Arab League was “concerned about the environment” surrounding the peace talks, singling out the expansion of Israeli settlements and the continued isolation of the Gaza strip.

“We talked about the issue of Gaza and the futility of isolating Gaza,” he said, in comments translated into English.

“There are millions of people living in Gaza and they are in need of food supplies and medicine,” Attiyah said.

“There must be a way to open the crossing points to all parties to enable the people in Gaza to live.”

Kerry is to meet later this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome to discuss the peace talks.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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