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« Reply #9795 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:29 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA

Pussy Riot's Tolokonnikova 'is being punished with move to Siberian prison'

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's husband says move to prison 2,000 miles from Moscow follows hunger strike over poor conditions

Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 15.23 GMT      

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the jailed members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, is on her way to a prison colony in the heart of Siberia, according to relatives and lawyers.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Petya Verzilov, said he had received "100% reliable" information that she was being moved to a prison in the Krasnoyarsk region, four time zones and 2,000 miles from Moscow. The specific prison is not yet known, said Verzilov, but early indications suggest that it will be Prison No 50 in Nizhny Ingash, a further 200 miles from the regional centre of Krasnoyarsk.

Verzilov said he believed the move was punishment for Tolokonnikova's public statements, and decision had been taken to remove her from the media spotlight as much as possible.

"They do not have the ability to put on the usual psychological or physical pressure they can use with inmates because of the high profile of the case," he said. "So they have chosen this as the punishment instead."

Tolokonnikova was moved after going on hunger strike over conditions in her women's prison camp, located in the region of Mordovia. In an open letter, she described a slave-like forced-labour routine, with 17-hour working days and an array of sadistic punishments. The conditions she described were reminiscent of Soviet-era Gulag literature, and sparked a huge debate both inside Russia and internationally.

Tolokonnikova, 23, complained that after writing about the conditions, prison officials put her in an "information blockade". On 21 October the prison service said she was being moved from the Mordovia prison, but gave no other information, and neither Verzilov nor Tolokonnikova's lawyers have had contact with her since.

Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said on Tuesday that he had been told by Russian prison officials that Tolokonnikova was in a "satisfactory" state of health and was being transferred to her new prison.

According to Russian law, relatives and lawyers are not provided with any access or information during prison transfers, which can take days or weeks to complete by train, and are only informed after the prisoner has reached their final destination.

Tolokonnikova and another member of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, are serving two-year sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, for their impromptu punk performance in Moscow's main cathedral in February last year. A third member of the group who stood trial, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal.

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

Russian police detain and harass Norwegian journalists in Sochi

Roy Greenslade   
Tuesday 5 November 2013 14.08 GMT theguardian.com
   
Russian police detained, harassed, and threatened to imprison two journalists from a Norwegian television station who were on a reporting trip to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Over the course of three days Oystein Bogen and Aage Aunes, reporter and cameraman respectively of Norway's TV2, were stopped by police six times. They were arrested on three occasions.

They were questioned about their work plans in Sochi and other areas, their sources, and in some cases about their personal lives, educational backgrounds, and religious beliefs. One official threatened to jail Bogen.

Human Rights Watch has compiled a detailed report on every instance. HRW's associate director for Europe and central Asia, Jane Buchanan, said the International Olympic Committee should demand a full explanation from the Russian authorities about the "intimidation and harassment.”

She said: “Thousands of reporters will visit Sochi for the games and it is one of the central requirements of hosting the Olympics that they can report without interference and intimidation.”

Press freedom is expressly guaranteed and protected under the Olympic charter, said Buchanan. The Russian authorities’ treatment of the journalists contravened the Moscow government’s Olympic commitment to protect press freedom.

A television report by Bogen and Aunes about their experiences in Russia was shown on TV2 on Sunday (3 November).

NB: TV2 is the official broadcaster in Norway of the Sochi Olympics.


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« Reply #9796 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:31 AM »


Spain opens inquiry into claims it was a target for NSA surveillance

El Mundo hands prosecutor documents it says show the country was targeted by US surveillance programme

Associated Press
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 15.55 GMT

A Spanish newspaper has said it will hand over to a prosecutor documents it claims show Spain was a target for surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Spain's prosecutor's office opened a preliminary inquiry into the allegations a day after El Mundo published the first document last Monday. The inquiry will establish whether a crime was committed in Spain and if a formal investigation should be opened.

Earlier this month, French newspaper Le Monde also reported similar allegations of US spying in France and German magazine Der Spiegel said Washington had tapped the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The leaders of Brazil and Mexico also were reportedly spied on.

El Mundo said the prosecutor had sought the documents after the paper published photographs of them, saying they show the NSA tracked 60m Spanish phone calls in one month alone and that Spain and other countries had co-operated with the NSA in monitoring communications.

It said the alleged spying violated Spain's data protection law and that the newspaper had called on the prosecutor's office last week to open an investigation.

The newspaper's chief news editor, Vicente Lozano Garcia, said the company had no problem handing over the documents given that a judicial inquiry had been opened and that El Mundo had already published them.

El Mundo said the documents were among those leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the US but has been granted asylum in Russia.

El Mundo's stories last week were co-written by Glenn Greenwald, a former Guardian journalist who wrote a series of stories revealing the NSA surveillance programme based on leaks from Snowden. El Mundo said it had reached a deal with Greenwald to have the exclusive on the Snowden documents relating to Spain.

Allegations of NSA spying on allies have irked European countries. Spain insists it is unaware of any spying but is demanding an explanation from Washington. Spain's intelligence services chief will brief parliament behind closed doors on Wednesday.

The NSA acknowledges European phones were monitored as part of a Nato programme but insists it didn't act alone.


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« Reply #9797 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:38 AM »


Greek protesters rally against IMF and EU inspection

Anti-austerity demonstrators jeer, heckle and throw coins at auditors from bailout troika amid fears of more public sector cuts

Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 18.44 GMT   

Only hours before, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, had resolutely declared that Greece was not at war with the international bodies keeping the debt-stricken country afloat. But on Tuesday, inspectors representing those organisations may have been forgiven for thinking otherwise.

In scenes not witnessed since the beginning of Greece's economic crisis, auditors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund came face-to-face with the full force of anti-austerity anger as protesters in Athens jeered, heckled and stopped them from leaving the finance ministry.

Held back by riot police brought in to guard the department, furious demonstrators screamed "take your bailout and get out of here" as the officials left a first round of talks with the finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.

The IMF's mission chief to Greece, Poul Thomsen, was forced to duck as a man threw a barrage of coins at him. As the Dane was pushed into a waiting car, the protester was dispatched to Greece's central police headquarters.

Later in the day, the inspectors had to be whisked out of the building through an emergency exit when irate Greeks blocked the main entrance.

The protests come on the eve of a general strike and amid spiralling tensions between Athens and its triumvirate of foreign lenders, "the troika", which have propped up the Greek economy to the tune of €240bn (£200bn) since May 2010.

Mired in a sixth straight year of recession, with unemployment nudging 30%, Greece has been hit by record levels of poverty – the price of making the biggest fiscal adjustment of any OECD state since the second world war.

Many of the demonstrators who took to the streets told reporters they had been directly affected by public sector dismissals demanded by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank. The prospect of yet more austerity measures being meted out to plug a looming fiscal gap has sent passions rising further.

Relentless spending cuts and tax rises have resulted in Greeks losing 40% of their disposable income since the crisis began, according to Samaras, who took to the airwaves ahead of the troika's latest inspection tour.

"Both Greek society and the economy cannot afford any more measures," the leader said in his first televised interview since assuming office 15 months ago. "Everyone has to understand that."

Tuesday's meetings follow weeks of angry exchanges between Greek officials and creditors over the extent of the funding gap. While Athens contends it is around €500m, and can be easily filled with the application of "targeted measures" and structural reforms, lenders say it is at least four times bigger and will require extra budget cuts to be resolved. The meetings kept well clear of the issue, insiders said.

There was much speculation before the visit that the troika might not come at all because of the standoff. On Monday, Samaras felt fit to intervene, reminding Greeks that the country was in negotiation with its lenders, not at war with them.

After Tuesday's protests, however, officials were refusing to divulge what the inspectors' next moves would be.


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« Reply #9798 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:45 AM »

November 5, 2013

Iranian Minister Says Nuclear Deal Is Possible This Week

By ALISSA J. RUBIN
IHT

PARIS — Two days before negotiations resume in Geneva between Iran and the United States and other Western powers aimed at ending a fight over the disputed Iranian nuclear program, the country’s foreign minister sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday, saying a deal was possible as soon as this week.

“I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with France 24, a major television network here, before meeting with the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.

“But I can only talk for our side,” Mr. Zarif added. “I cannot talk for the other side.”

Iran has been on an outreach mission since the June election of Hassan Rouhani, who appears to have made getting rid of painful economic sanctions a centerpiece of his policy. The country now appears willing both to discuss the enforcement of more comprehensive controls on its nuclear program and to answer outstanding questions from the United Nations’ atomic energy arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency, about its program.

At the last Geneva meeting in mid-October, Iran announced that it had offered a framework for talks, and the approach was well received by American officials. However, the parties are still far from a deal, which would have multiple elements and would have to satisfy even countries that are not directly involved in the negotiations, like Israel, which has long feared that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon secretly, regardless of what it says publicly.

Iran has always insisted that its program is peaceful and will be used only to generate electricity and for medical purposes. However, Iran has achieved the ability to enrich uranium up to 20 percent purity, and it is then relatively easy to increase enrichment to 90 percent, at which point it can be used to make a nuclear weapon, according to atomic experts.

Those involved in the Geneva talks include the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, China, Russia, France and England — as well as Germany.

For the United States, the opening offered by Mr. Rouhani is a rare chance to change the tone of relations between the West and Iran. If Iran is truly willing to give verifiable guarantees that it will not pursue a nuclear weapon, then the United States might be willing to lead an effort to lift the sanctions. It would also allow the United States to engage more deeply with Iran over the violent situation in Syria, in which Iran has backed President Bashar al-Assad against the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

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

October 16, 2013

Examining the Status of Iran’s Nuclear Program and Talks

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Negotiators in Iran’s protracted nuclear dispute reported “substantive and forward looking negotiations” last month and said they would reconvene Nov. 7 to 8 for further talks. The following covers some questions about Iran’s nuclear program.

Q. What is the current status of Iran’s nuclear program?

A. Iran’s ability to refine uranium, the fuel for peaceful nuclear energy and weapons, has grown significantly, according to the most recent inspection reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations. Since last February, Iran has roughly quintupled, to more than 1,000, the advanced centrifuges at its main nuclear facility in the central city of Natanz. Iran also appears to have equipped a formerly secret subterranean facility known as Fordo, near the holy city of Qum, with 3,000 older-model centrifuges.

According to the most recent I.A.E.A. report, Iran has accumulated 185.8 kilograms, or about 410 pounds, of uranium enriched to about 20 percent purity, which is considered a short technical step away from refinement to bomb-grade material. Experts differ on the amount of 20 percent uranium Iran would need to make a bomb. But Israel, which has said it would regard a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, has dropped numerous warnings that Iran should not exceed 240 kilograms, or 529 pounds.

Nonproliferation experts have also expressed concern over Iran’s construction of a thermal heavy-water research reactor in Arak, about 200 miles southwest of Tehran, because it could be a source of plutonium, another fuel for a weapon.

While Iran has promised more transparency in its nuclear program and repeatedly asserted its peaceful nature, the I.A.E.A. has expressed concern about unanswered questions over some aspects. The most prominent is Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to visit Parchin, a highly restricted military site just south of Tehran suspected of having been the site of experiments, years ago, in testing triggers for nuclear weapons.

Two days of discussions between Iran and six world powers ended on Wednesday. They were the first talks on Iran’s nuclear program since Hassan Rouhani’s election as president.

Q. What was accomplished in the latest round of talks?

A. No breakthroughs were reported, but for the first time, Iran and the group of six major powers seeking to curtail the Iranian program — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — described the discussions as frank and detailed. The Iranians proposed what they called a compromise that would put unspecified limits on the program in exchange for an acknowledgment that the country has a legal right to enrich its own uranium. In addition, the Iranians want an early end to the economic sanctions imposed by Western nations, most notably constraints on Iran’s banking and oil industries. The major powers described Iran’s proposal as “an important contribution,” suggesting that they would respond with a counterproposal.

Aides to Hassan Rouhani, the country’s new president, have said Iran wants an agreement in six months.

Q. Why is Iran so insistent on an easing of the economic sanctions, which it used to routinely belittle as meaningless and ineffective?

A. Aides and supporters of Mr. Rouhani, who took office in August, have publicly expressed concern at what they called the economic disaster created by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose eight-year tenure was punctuated by the defiance of Western pressure. Under Mr. Ahmadinejad, the sanctions grew increasingly onerous, most notably Iran’s expulsion from a global electronic banking system, a European oil embargo, and American threats to punish Iran’s oil customers. Taken together, those halved the country’s oil exports, severely weakened its currency and caused soaring inflation and unemployment. By some assessments, Iran’s government has access to only about $20 billion, a fraction of what Mr. Ahmadinejad had claimed. Iran has lost virtually all ability to transfer and borrow money internationally.

The pressure on Mr. Rouhani to take immediate steps to fix the economy is enormous and explains his wish to reach a deal before Iran runs out of money. At the same time, supporters of the sanctions argue that their success is precisely what has made Mr. Rouhani appear more accommodating, so the sanctions should not be eased before a final agreement is reached.

Q. Why are critics of Iran — Israel in particular — so suspicious of Iran’s motives?

A. A main underlying reason is what they call Iran’s past deceptions, its reluctance to show I.A.E.A. inspectors everything they want to see and its successful ability to engage in prolonged negotiations with no end result — all the while increasing the number of centrifuges spinning uranium. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has been the most vocal critic and has accused Mr. Rouhani of essentially being no different in substance on the nuclear issue than his predecessor.

Iranian officials point out that their country is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which Israel is not, and that Israel has its own undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons. The Arms Control Association, a nonproliferation advocacy group based in Washington, has estimated that Israel has 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

Q. How much time would Iran need to achieve “breakout capacity,” the ability to quickly construct a nuclear weapon if it chose?

A. Nonproliferation experts differ on the amount of time, but many agree that Iran’s major challenge would be to purify enough uranium to bomb-grade level — above 90 percent — undetected by I.A.E.A. inspectors, to make a dash for a bomb before its adversaries could take pre-emptive action. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonproliferation monitoring group based in Washington that has been highly skeptical of Iran’s peaceful claims, has said the country’s centrifuges theoretically could produce enough bomb-grade uranium to achieve so-called breakout capacity by the middle of 2014.

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

November 6, 2013

FACT CHECK: Israeli Claims on Iran Nuclear Program

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Israel's prime minister and other officials are at the forefront of claims about the extent and aims of Iran's nuclear capabilities. Benjamin Netanyahu has said his nation is ready, if necessary, to stand alone to stop any moves by Tehran toward possible nuclear weapons.

Iran has described the Israeli statements as scare-mongering that seeks to undermine nuclear talks between Tehran and six world powers, including the United States. The next round of the talks is to begin in Geneva on Thursday. Iran insists it rejects nuclear arms and only seeks reactors for energy and medical applications.

Israel has led the speculation that Iran could be moving closer to having all the pieces ready for a nuclear weapon. Israel also fears the negotiations could leave intact the mainstays of Iran's nuclear network: The ability to enrich uranium and produce atomic fuel.

Some of Israel's claims are based on clear evidence — number of Iran's enrichment centrifuges, for example — but context and elaboration is often needed for a more complete picture.

___

CLAIM: At an Oct. 27 meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, Netanyahu said "improvements" in Iran's nuclear program over the past year would allow it push past the "barrier" of 20 percent enriched uranium — the highest level acknowledged by Iran — to reach 90 percent enrichment within "weeks at most." Uranium at 90 percent enrichment is close to weapons grade.

DETAILS: Netanyahu may be talking about the amount of 20 percent material now on hand. This is close to 200 kilograms (440 pounds). Experts say 250 kilograms (550 pounds) would be needed to produce a single bomb by enriching that amount to above 90 percent. There is significant debate over a possible timetable, but many experts say it could be several months or longer, based on the hypothetical scenario that Iran would move ahead with higher enrichment.

Netanyahu also could be referring to the number of centrifuges installed over the past year or upgrades that allow faster production of enriched uranium. Except for a test station, however, none of the new generation machines are running.

___

CLAIM: At the same Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Iran's planned heavy water reactor in the city of Arak has "no connection with energy for peace, but only for nuclear weapons."

DETAILS: The heavy water reactor — currently under construction in central Iran — uses a molecular variant of water as a coolant and can use natural, non-enriched uranium as a fuel. Such reactors produce a higher amount of plutonium as a byproduct. The plutonium can be reused in nuclear weapons production, but needs a special extraction and enrichment process that Iran currently does not possess. Iran has not released details on its plans for plutonium, but said the reactor's main purpose is to produce isotopes for cancer treatment and other medical uses. Iran has said it will allow 24-hour video surveillance at the reactor by the U.N.'s nuclear agency. Similar round-the-clock monitoring is in place at other enrichment and nuclear sites.

___

CLAIM: Israel's Security Cabinet said on Oct. 15 that Iran has "systematically defied" U.N. Security Council resolutions to halt uranium enrichment.

DETAILS: The U.N. Security Council in July 2006 passed the first in a series of resolutions demanding Iran halt its uranium enrichment program. Iran dismissed the resolution and moved ahead with advances in enrichment, as well as the then-secret construction of a new and fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain south of Tehran.

The U.N. measure was taken after concluding that the U.N.'s nuclear agency — the International Atomic Energy Agency — did not have enough information from Tehran on whether its nuclear program was solely for peaceful purposes. The vote opened the way for much tighter sanctions on Iran. Although the provisions of the Security Council resolution remain in place, nuclear negotiators from the U.S. and allies appear to have backed off demands that Iran halt its enrichment efforts. Discussion at the talks has shifted to possibly allowing enrichment — with strict U.N. monitoring — at lower levels need for peaceful reactors.

Iran insists it has the "right" to uranium enrichment because it has signed the U.N.'s Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which oversees the spread of nuclear technology. Israel, which is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal, has not signed the NPT.

___

CLAIM: The Israeli Security Cabinet statement said Iran has increased the number of centrifuges used in enrichment from 164 in 2006 to more than 18,000.

DETAILS: This is correct but not all are active. Of those 18,000 installed, Iran currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges, which convert uranium feed stock into nuclear fuel.

___

CLAIM: The Israeli statement notes that Iran's advances in the technology needed to create nuclear fuel mean that Tehran is also "able to produce nuclear weapons."

DETAILS: While technically true, this would apply to at least five countries that enrich uranium but do not have their own nuclear arsenal. The list includes Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

___

CLAIM: In remarks at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Oct. 6, Netanyahu said that "16 countries produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without even one centrifuge," suggesting those countries obtain nuclear fuel abroad.

DETAILS: The number is correct. The list spans the globe including Canada, Belgium and South Africa.

___

CLAIM: In an Oct. 3 interview with Univision, Netanyahu said Iran has "missiles that can reach Israel" and was "building these long-range intercontinental missiles to reach the United States."

DETAILS: Iran has claimed its Shahab-3 missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), which covers much of the Middle East, including Israel. Iran's aerospace program has reported the launch of satellites and animals to outside earth's atmosphere. This has raised concerns in the West that the same technology could be used to develop an intercontinental arsenal.

___

Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.


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« Reply #9799 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:47 AM »

U.N. officials vow: We have not forgotten 840,000 Afghan refugees

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 17:05 EST

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has “not forgotten” the 840,000 Afghan refugees in Iran, an official from the body said on a visit to Tehran on Tuesday.

“The whole world is at the moment very much focused on the Syria crisis, it is also important that UNHCR show we have not forgotten the Afghan refugees,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Janet Lim said.

Lim was ending a three-day visit to the Islamic republic, home to the world’s largest community of Afghan refugees, some of whom first fled fighting in their homeland in the 1980s.

With a budget of $60 million (45 million euros) for 2013, Lim said the UNHCR must “maximise the use of the minimum resources” that it has.

She said Tehran had “contributed a lot in hosting this large number of refugees for more than 30 years”, but warned that Afghans are still deeply vulnerable, particularly when faced with costly medical care or when seeking work.

The UNHCR is trying to “target the most vulnerable” with its aid, Lim said, particularly with a new system of health insurance launched in late 2012, which has already provided care to 200,000 seriously ill refugees.

Since the beginning of 2013, 6,400 Afghan refugees living in Iran have opted to return home, according to the UN body’s figures.

Lim said every refugee who chooses voluntary repatriation will receive $150 from the UN, and will be able to take part in assistance programmes for health, education and employment.

The UN agency’s representative in Iran, Bernard Doyle, said such initiatives were vital in helping Afghans return home.

“When the conditions reach a certain level whereby people can return with some kind of insurance of having education, health, and most of all having an income, that’s when the tide turns,” Doyle said.

Even 12 years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains the world’s leading country of origin for refugees.

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« Reply #9800 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:52 AM »

November 5, 2013

Indian Craft Is Lofted Toward Mars, Trailed by Pride and Questions

By HARTOSH SINGH BAL
IHT

NEW DELHI — India lofted a Mars-bound spacecraft into Earth’s orbit on Tuesday, a major step in its hopes to become the first country in Asia to reach Mars.

The launch is only the first step, however, in a perilous 300-day journey that has ended in failure for about a third of all previous efforts. Only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have reached Mars, and none of them managed it on the first try.

Because India’s attempts to develop a more powerful launcher had failed, the spacecraft could not be sent directly on its way. Instead, it will have to orbit Earth for nearly a month as a series of small bursts by its thrusters slowly nudges it into space. If all goes well, it will reach Mars on Sept. 24.

At a cost of $72 million, the Mars project is relatively inexpensive, but that has not stopped critics from raising questions about why the government is pouring money into space programs when India has so many pressing social, educational and infrastructure needs.

A prominent scholar and activist, Jean Drèze, told India Today that the Mars mission “seems to be part of the Indian elite’s delusional quest for superpower status.”

But those concerns were not widely shared by India’s leaders. In the heat of an election campaign, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, the candidate for prime minister from the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, were quick to congratulate the scientists on their initial success. “India has once again established itself in the world,” Mr. Modi said. “I congratulate the scientists and technicians behind the mission.”

Indian officials also defended the program as yielding technological advances that are hard to predict, claims that critics were quick to dismiss.

G. Madhavan Nair, a former head of the Indian Space Research Organization, told The Indian Express this year that “instead of concentrating on practical missions, we are spending money to prove nothing.”

“Someone has made some statement that the Mars mission will prove new technologies,” he said, but added that “as a person familiar with these technologies, I believe that there is no new technology involved.”

The space program is not only a source of nationalist pride but also a weapon in India’s competition with China. Shortly after the failure of a Chinese mission to Mars in 2011, Mr. Singh, addressing the nation on India’s Independence Day, announced the plans for an Indian attempt. “This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology,” he said.

India’s Mars venture was preceded by a similar mission that placed a spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, in orbit around the moon in 2008. The moon mission followed a similar effort by China, and officials were blunt about their intentions.

“China has gone earlier, but today we are trying to catch them, catch that gap, bridge the gap,” Bhaskar Narayan, a director at the Indian space agency, was quoted by Reuters as saying at the time.

Once the spacecraft nears Mars, it will be maneuvered into a low orbit to assay the Martian atmosphere, looking in particular for the presence of methane, a possible indicator of the existence of life processes at some point in the planet’s history.

The modest size of the payload, at 33 pounds, is an indicator of the limitations of the mission. But repeated failures in the development of a rocket capable of carrying payloads of more than two tons had led to delays.

S. K. Das, a former member of the Space Commission, which sets Indian space policy, said Tuesday that “we should see this as a technical exercise,” though he conceded that a more powerful rocket could have made for a more direct and less complex journey to Mars.

“It is a long journey, and we can only understand the challenges and the problems by attempting it,” he added. “The first stage has been flawless.”


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« Reply #9801 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:54 AM »


Thailand will drop controversial amnesty bill if senate rejects it, PM says

Opponents of political amnesty bill say it leaves door open for exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to retun

Associated Press in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 16.39 GMT   

Thailand's prime minister has defended a political amnesty bill that has sparked large protests in Bangkok, but suggested her party will drop the legislation if it is rejected by the senate.

Opponents of the bill say it is designed to bring the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back from a self-imposed exile. After being overthrown in a 2006 military coup, Thaksin fled to avoid serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

His sister, the current prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said in a televised address that the amnesty could solve the country's longstanding political divisions.

"The principles of amnesty are an option that's worth considering because if all sides agree to forgive each other, I believe the conflict would dissolve and the country can move forward," she said.

More than 90 people were killed in 2010 during a crackdown on rallies in the heart of Bangkok by pro-Thaksin "redshirts" who demanded the Democrat-led government resign.

The draft bill, approved in principle by the House of Representatives in August, did not extend the amnesty to leaders of the pro- and anti-Thaksin groups, but a committee in mid-October changed the bill to include them.

The new version was passed by the house on Friday, prompting tens of thousands of protesters to take to Bangkok's streets. The senate is expected to debate the bill next Monday. If it rejects the legislation, the lower house can wait 180 days to pass it again and forward it to the king for formal approval.

Yingluck urged the senators to consider the bill "on the basis of reconciliation and compassion". She said she believed the lower house would accept the Senate's decision, suggesting that her Pheu Thai party would not push the legislation further if the senate rejects it.

She did not address accusations that the bill would pave the way for her brother's return.

Yingluck's speech prompted Pheu Thai to announce it would back down if the Senate rejects the legislation. "What we want is, clearly, peace for the people. If we thought we were creating reconciliation but instead were making the conflict spiral, we are willing to respect the senate's decision," Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said.

A group of senators said on Tuesday that they would reject the amended legislation, which has been criticised by international rights groups, critics of Thaksin, and even redshirts who oppose immunity for those involved in the 2010 crackdown.

"We have to take everyone's opinions into consideration. Even though it was passed by the house but other parts of the society, academics, students, people, did not want it, we would listen," senate speaker Nikom Wairatpanij said. "We don't want any more chaos in the country."


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« Reply #9802 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:56 AM »


Maldives activists urge tourism industry to boycott country's resorts

Activists hijack Twitter hashtag for World Travel Market, posting pictures of alleged Maldives police brutality

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 15.02 GMT   

Human rights activists in the Maldives have urged delegates at one of the world's largest tourism fairs to boycott the country's resorts after the Guardian disclosed a $100,000 (£62,000) shipment of riot control gear from a UK-owned company to Maldives police.

The activists hijacked the Twitter hashtag for the World Travel Market, #WTM13, being held this week at the Excel conference centre in east London, posting pictures of alleged Maldives police brutality and criticising one of the country's most powerful hoteliers.

One travel website, 101holidays.co.uk, said the official hashtag was "bombarded by tweets" using the trade fair's hashtag on Monday, amid mounting tensions surrounding the country's abortive presidential elections.

It reported: "Throughout Monday, Twitter users posted photographs of alleged police brutality connected with last year's coup in the Maldives which led to the exit of President Mohamed Nasheed.

"For much of the day about half the Tweets using the official hashtag were from Maldives protesters."

Maldivian protesters are risking arrest and imprisonment for demanding a worldwide boycott of the country's economically crucial resorts: the Maldives parliament passed a new law last week making it a criminal offence to press for a tourism boycott or to support one.

Some tweets protested about significant disparities in wealth. Some said the Maldives tourism industry earns $3bn a year, but 40% of the 320,000 population live on less than $1 a day, while poorly-paid migrant workers are widely used as resort staff.

Dr Farah Faizal, the former Maldives high commissioner to the UK and a supporter of the ousted former president, said: "I don't believe this is an organised call for a tourism boycott. This is a simple plea for democracy by mainly young people using social media.

"Why shouldn't they campaign to let the world's travel industry know just how fragile democracy is in the country?"

Their protests came after the Guardian revealed on Sunday that Maldives police had bought nearly $100,000 worth of teargas grenades and projectiles, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades late in September, from a UK-owned company in Singapore.

The shipment came just as the islands faced a fresh political crisis over alleged attempts to thwart the re-election of Nasheed.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it would have banned the shipment if it had originated from the UK, indicating it feared there were clear risks the weapons could fuel greater political instability and violence.

Nasheed, who was forcibly ousted from power in January 2012 by Maldives police amid allegations of a coup, took 45% of the votes in the first round of the elections on 7 September.

But the Maldives supreme court declared the result invalid after Nasheed's two opponents, including the wealthy hotelier and former finance minister Qasim Ibrahim, alleged there had been voting irregularities.

On 7 October Maldives police prevented the islands' election commission from rerunning the first round of the elections, provoking angry criticism from the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, and other civil rights agencies.

Pillay said the original voting on 7 September had been declared fair and free by international observers. The elections are due to be restaged this Saturday, only 48 hours before a deadline on electing a new president imposed by the Maldives constitution.

The crisis is causing significant anxieties in the runup to the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which starts next week.

The Commonwealth secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, has sent his predecessor, Sir Donald McKinnon, to the Maldives this week as an official envoy to monitor the elections process.

Following the Guardian investigation the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the UK government was deeply concerned about the crisis and said the UK's high commissioner to the Maldives was already in the capital, Male, to press for stable and fair elections.

"We are concerned that further delays will serve to create greater uncertainty, further instability and damage the Maldives economy and international reputation," a spokesman said.

"As the foreign secretary and [foreign minister] Hugo Swire have stated, we will continue to urge all parties to respect democratic values and to ensure free, fair, inclusive and peaceful elections are able to go ahead at an early date."


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« Reply #9803 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:59 AM »

‘Aussie Taliban’ David Hicks vows to fight Guantanamo terror conviction

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 3:42 EST

David Hicks, once dubbed the “Aussie Taliban” after being captured in Afghanistan and spending more than five years at Guantanamo Bay, vowed to clear his name Wednesday after filing an appeal against his conviction.

Hicks agreed to a plea deal in 2007 which saw him return to Australia to serve out a nine-month sentence for providing material support for terrorism, but says it was made under duress after five-and-a-half years in the US military-run prison.

On Tuesday his lawyers filed an appeal in the United States seeking to overturn the conviction following a court ruling last year in a separate terror-related case which held that the charge Hicks was convicted of was not a war crime.

Hicks, now 38 and living in Sydney where he works as a panel-beater, said the move was “all about recognising my conviction should be null and void”.

“The purpose of this action is to obtain formal recognition of my innocence so that the wrongs of the past committed against me can be righted, to put it all behind me and move on with my life,” he told reporters.

“It is important to myself and to my family and those who were supporting me and had faith in me over the years. It will help with closure and moving forward for sure.”

Hicks, who was captured in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, said he still suffered physically and psychologically from the effects of his time at Guantanamo which he has described in his book as “six years of hell”.

“Australian media tend to still refer to me as a convicted terrorist. Obviously that has some type of psychological impact on me,” he said.

Asked what he felt would be justice done, he said “to show that no crime was committed and to have you guys on board to say what was done was wrong so it won’t happen to someone else again”.

“For example, we’ve still got Julian Assange out there that may end up in US hands,” Hicks said, referring to the WikiLeaks founder who has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London, where he has sought asylum, for more than a year.

“And I would expect him not to go to Guantanamo but to receive some type of harsh treatment, probably in the form of torture if he winds up in their hands and I don’t expect the Australian government to do absolutely anything about it.

“As long as we allow the Australian government to do this to citizens like myself and others, not to do anything about, it will just happen to another Australian citizen again.”

Hicks’s father Terry fought a long and public battle in Australia to have his son released from Guantanamo, and David Hicks eventually returned home as the matter threatened to become a political issue ahead of the 2007 election.

Hicks has admitted to taking part in paramilitary training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as conflicts in Kosovo and Kashmir, as a young man but maintains he never had extremist intentions.

His lawyer Stephen Kenny said he was optimistic of success for his client, who said he was tortured while in Guantanamo.

“David, I know, has never committed a crime and what he was charged with and pleaded guilty to was not a crime,” Kenny said.

“If the crime did not exist, then everything else falls away. If there is no crime then there can be no conviction.”

Hicks said despite his normal “9 to 5″ job and family life in Australia, the matter was “not behind me at all”.

“I’ve just got to do something to put an end to it, I suppose, put it behind me,” he said.

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« Reply #9804 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:04 AM »


Series of deadly explosions outside Communist party office in China

At least one person killed and more injured amid several blasts outside building in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province

Jonathan Kaiman in Baotou
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 November 2013 13.45 GMT   

At least one person was killed and eight injured in a series of explosions outside a provincial Communist party office in central China on Wednesday morning.

The blasts occurred at 7.40am outside of the Shanxi Communist party committee offices in Taiyuan city, the provincial capital of Shanxi, according to China's official newswire Xinhua.

"Judging by steel ball bearings scattered throughout the scene, [police] suspect an improvised explosive device," Xinhua reported. "Right now the police have blocked off the scene and the incident is under investigation."

The state broadcaster CCTV attributed the blasts to seven bombs hidden in roadside flower displays. More than 20 vehicles were damaged, CCTV reported. The motive for the attack was unclear.

"About 7.40 in the morning I heard some explosions," said a witness surnamed Gao, who lives in a dormitory close to the party offices. "At first I'd thought they were only firecrackers or something until I heard a police whistle. I realised something was wrong and immediately went downstairs to the scene.

"I saw blood stains on the ground, and an old lady whose head was injured by flying debris – she was being rescued and sent to the hospital. I also saw that the car windows in a nearby parking lot were shattered."

An elderly man described the scene in a video posted online. "I saw an iron ball flying from 300 to 400 metres away and hit an old lady on the head," he said. "Look, look at the blood stain on the ground. I saw seven blasts and three of them were continuous. The iron ball was as big as a walnut. The old lady was accompanying her grandson to school and got hit. Luckily the kid was fine."

Pictures posted online showed a column of smoke rising in front of the building near a congested thoroughfare; others showed one person sprawled in the middle of the road, which was lined with fire engines.

China has been on high alert for violent attacks since last week, when a sports utility vehicle ploughed through pedestrians in Tiananmen Square, crashed into a marble bridge and exploded, killing five people and injuring 40. Authorities labelled that incident a terrorist attack and blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a shadowy group based in Xinjiang, a north-western region of China.

In a handful of recent incidents, disgruntled Chinese citizens have taken violent measures to avenge perceived mistreatment by authorities. In July a wheelchair-bound man set off an explosive device at the Beijing Capital international airport to protest against official treatment of a decade-old case of police brutality.

In 2011 an unemployed farmer in Fuzhou, a city in eastern Jiangxi province, blew himself up near government buildings to protest at the confiscation of his land to build a highway. Three people were killed including the farmer, and seven more were injured.


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« Reply #9805 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:06 AM »

November 5, 2013

After Outside Pressure, Rebels in Congo Lay Down Their Arms

By NICHOLAS KULISH
IHT

KIGALI, Rwanda — Col. Mamadou Moustafa stood at the front lines of the battle for eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, surveying his soldiers fighting to dislodge rebels from the surrounding hills.

“We are fighting because we want to overcome the humiliation of both the Congolese Army and the international community,” he said recently in a Congolese town. “We are ready to die.”

A little more than a week later, the army got its victory. On Tuesday, the rebels announced that they were laying down their arms for good, a major turnaround brought about by a rare combination of pressures from around the world, including a more aggressive approach to peacekeeping by the United Nations.

The rebel surrender offered new hope for a region where conflict — and the failed international attempts to stop it — has gone on for so many years that it has often come to seem unresolvable, even inevitable.

“In a region that has suffered so much, this is obviously a significant positive step in the right direction,” Russ Feingold, the United States special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, said at a news briefing.

Only a year ago, the rebels seized the provincial capital of Goma while the much-derided United Nations peacekeeping force, for years the largest and most expensive in the world, stood by and watched as the city was sacked.

But the stinging defeat helped bring about a change in strategy. On the battlefield, the United Nations Security Council tried something new, giving its peacekeepers orders to go on the offensive and hunt down the rebels, not just wait for civilians to come under threat, for the first time.

“If there is no peace, there is nothing to keep,” said the United Nations representative to Congo, Martin Kobler, expressing the philosophy behind the new United Nations intervention brigade.

On the diplomatic front, the United States, the European Union, Britain and other nations had already begun cutting aid to Rwanda — which has been accused of helping arm, coordinate and recruit fighters for the insurrection — in a move that appears to have shorn the rebels of badly needed support.

And within Congo itself, the embarrassing loss of a major city spurred the military to reorganize its ranks. It removed ineffective officers, raised morale with better equipment and more consistent pay, and quickly became a more effective fighting force that swept over the rebels.

“This is historic,” said Jason Stearns, an author, blogger and Congo expert. “This would be the first time since 1996 that the Congolese Army defeats a major armed group and that Rwanda has no armed ally in the eastern Congo.”

On Tuesday, the rebels, known as M23, announced that they were ending the 20-month rebellion that had brought renewed instability, uncertainty and conflict to the eastern part of Congo. After suffering a string of recent defeats, the group’s chairman, Bertrand Bisimwa, said that M23 had decided “to pursue by purely political means the search for solutions to the root causes which led to its creation.”

In a statement headlined “Declaration of the End of Rebellion,” Mr. Bisimwa said, “Commanders are requested to prepare the troops for the process of disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.”

Barely a year ago, M23 occupied Goma, a city of roughly one million people and a major commercial center in the eastern part of the country. The occupation was M23’s high-water mark as a force in the area, but the seizure of the city may have also sown the seeds of its undoing.

The United Nations, which had a significant number of peacekeeping troops in the city, soon authorized a new intervention brigade of 3,000 troops, with an aggressive new mandate. Likewise, Congo recalled dozens of officers to the capital, Kinshasa, streamlining an army often best known for corruption and human rights abuses.

The question is whether the Congolese military, supported by United Nations peacekeepers, can and will take on the dozens of other armed groups in the area, restoring order throughout the region.

The broad diplomatic pressure on Rwanda appears to have robbed the rebels of backing at a crucial moment. Last year, United Nations experts accused Rwanda and Uganda of being so central to the group’s operations that its de facto chain of command “culminates with the minister of defense of Rwanda.” The report came under intense criticism from Rwanda, but many nations, as well as the European Union, Rwanda’s largest donor, froze aid in response.

“The international pressure on Rwanda seems to have made a difference,” said Ida Sawyer, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They will hopefully think twice before backing yet another abusive rebellion.”

M23 was weakened even before the most recent battles. The group — which formed when more than 1,000 former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese Army mutinied, breaking away and naming themselves M23 after the date of a failed peace deal between the two sides, March 23, 2009 — was plagued by infighting and a rising tide of defections. In March, Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel general accused of massacring civilians and building an army of child soldiers, turned himself in to the American Embassy in Rwanda, asking to be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Mr. Ntaganda, whose nom de guerre is the Terminator, commanded troops accused of killing more than 100 civilians in the Congolese town of Kiwanja five years ago, while United Nations troops hunkered down, unaware, in their nearby base.

The circumstances in Kiwanja could not have been more different when the Congolese military and United Nations peacekeepers fought M23 rebels there last week. A reinforced company of South African infantry backed up by Tanzanian Special Forces, about 250 men in all, fanned out from their base and engaged in a two-hour firefight with the rebels.

Even when they were not fighting, their white armored vehicles stood in a line behind the Congolese forces, a very visible backup. The United Nations presence in population centers like Goma allowed the Congolese Army to move up more aggressively with little concern for a rear-guard counterattack.

It was a surprisingly successful first outing for the United Nation’s new offensive peacekeeping force, in a country where the mission has had numerous failures that raised questions about the effectiveness of the huge, expensive undertaking.

The United Nations force consists of nearly 19,000 military personnel. The annual cost has risen to close to $1.5 billion. But it was the arrival of the new, offensive-minded intervention brigade and its tough new Brazilian commander that changed the tenor of the mission.

Analysts said the victory would prove fleeting unless the government addressed the root causes that have led groups to take up arms. What had spurred on the M23 rebellion was the sense that the government was not living up to the promises made in the 2009 accord, particularly its treatment of rebels who had joined the military.

Ms. Sawyer of Human Rights Watch called the end of the rebellion a “significant development” for the people of the region and in particular those who lived under M23 occupation. “Yet huge challenges remain,” she said, “including to address the threats posed by numerous other armed groups in eastern Congo who have also committed horrific attacks on civilians, and to bring to justice those responsible for serious human rights abuses.”

Human rights groups say the ill-disciplined Congolese Army also had taken part in past violence, and in many instances perpetrators still need to be held accountable. But greater restraint by the military has been in evidence, an encouraging trend.

“Kinshasa should not become complacent,” Mr. Stearns said. “One victory does not mean peace, especially with dozens of armed groups left and with a national army that is still in disrepair.”


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« Reply #9806 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:08 AM »

November 5, 2013

After Outside Pressure, Rebels in Congo Lay Down Their Arms

By NICHOLAS KULISH
IHT

KIGALI, Rwanda — Col. Mamadou Moustafa stood at the front lines of the battle for eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, surveying his soldiers fighting to dislodge rebels from the surrounding hills.

“We are fighting because we want to overcome the humiliation of both the Congolese Army and the international community,” he said recently in a Congolese town. “We are ready to die.”

A little more than a week later, the army got its victory. On Tuesday, the rebels announced that they were laying down their arms for good, a major turnaround brought about by a rare combination of pressures from around the world, including a more aggressive approach to peacekeeping by the United Nations.

The rebel surrender offered new hope for a region where conflict — and the failed international attempts to stop it — has gone on for so many years that it has often come to seem unresolvable, even inevitable.

“In a region that has suffered so much, this is obviously a significant positive step in the right direction,” Russ Feingold, the United States special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, said at a news briefing.

Only a year ago, the rebels seized the provincial capital of Goma while the much-derided United Nations peacekeeping force, for years the largest and most expensive in the world, stood by and watched as the city was sacked.

But the stinging defeat helped bring about a change in strategy. On the battlefield, the United Nations Security Council tried something new, giving its peacekeepers orders to go on the offensive and hunt down the rebels, not just wait for civilians to come under threat, for the first time.

“If there is no peace, there is nothing to keep,” said the United Nations representative to Congo, Martin Kobler, expressing the philosophy behind the new United Nations intervention brigade.

On the diplomatic front, the United States, the European Union, Britain and other nations had already begun cutting aid to Rwanda — which has been accused of helping arm, coordinate and recruit fighters for the insurrection — in a move that appears to have shorn the rebels of badly needed support.

And within Congo itself, the embarrassing loss of a major city spurred the military to reorganize its ranks. It removed ineffective officers, raised morale with better equipment and more consistent pay, and quickly became a more effective fighting force that swept over the rebels.

“This is historic,” said Jason Stearns, an author, blogger and Congo expert. “This would be the first time since 1996 that the Congolese Army defeats a major armed group and that Rwanda has no armed ally in the eastern Congo.”

On Tuesday, the rebels, known as M23, announced that they were ending the 20-month rebellion that had brought renewed instability, uncertainty and conflict to the eastern part of Congo. After suffering a string of recent defeats, the group’s chairman, Bertrand Bisimwa, said that M23 had decided “to pursue by purely political means the search for solutions to the root causes which led to its creation.”

In a statement headlined “Declaration of the End of Rebellion,” Mr. Bisimwa said, “Commanders are requested to prepare the troops for the process of disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.”

Barely a year ago, M23 occupied Goma, a city of roughly one million people and a major commercial center in the eastern part of the country. The occupation was M23’s high-water mark as a force in the area, but the seizure of the city may have also sown the seeds of its undoing.

The United Nations, which had a significant number of peacekeeping troops in the city, soon authorized a new intervention brigade of 3,000 troops, with an aggressive new mandate. Likewise, Congo recalled dozens of officers to the capital, Kinshasa, streamlining an army often best known for corruption and human rights abuses.

The question is whether the Congolese military, supported by United Nations peacekeepers, can and will take on the dozens of other armed groups in the area, restoring order throughout the region.

The broad diplomatic pressure on Rwanda appears to have robbed the rebels of backing at a crucial moment. Last year, United Nations experts accused Rwanda and Uganda of being so central to the group’s operations that its de facto chain of command “culminates with the minister of defense of Rwanda.” The report came under intense criticism from Rwanda, but many nations, as well as the European Union, Rwanda’s largest donor, froze aid in response.

“The international pressure on Rwanda seems to have made a difference,” said Ida Sawyer, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They will hopefully think twice before backing yet another abusive rebellion.”

M23 was weakened even before the most recent battles. The group — which formed when more than 1,000 former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese Army mutinied, breaking away and naming themselves M23 after the date of a failed peace deal between the two sides, March 23, 2009 — was plagued by infighting and a rising tide of defections. In March, Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel general accused of massacring civilians and building an army of child soldiers, turned himself in to the American Embassy in Rwanda, asking to be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Mr. Ntaganda, whose nom de guerre is the Terminator, commanded troops accused of killing more than 100 civilians in the Congolese town of Kiwanja five years ago, while United Nations troops hunkered down, unaware, in their nearby base.

The circumstances in Kiwanja could not have been more different when the Congolese military and United Nations peacekeepers fought M23 rebels there last week. A reinforced company of South African infantry backed up by Tanzanian Special Forces, about 250 men in all, fanned out from their base and engaged in a two-hour firefight with the rebels.

Even when they were not fighting, their white armored vehicles stood in a line behind the Congolese forces, a very visible backup. The United Nations presence in population centers like Goma allowed the Congolese Army to move up more aggressively with little concern for a rear-guard counterattack.

It was a surprisingly successful first outing for the United Nation’s new offensive peacekeeping force, in a country where the mission has had numerous failures that raised questions about the effectiveness of the huge, expensive undertaking.

The United Nations force consists of nearly 19,000 military personnel. The annual cost has risen to close to $1.5 billion. But it was the arrival of the new, offensive-minded intervention brigade and its tough new Brazilian commander that changed the tenor of the mission.

Analysts said the victory would prove fleeting unless the government addressed the root causes that have led groups to take up arms. What had spurred on the M23 rebellion was the sense that the government was not living up to the promises made in the 2009 accord, particularly its treatment of rebels who had joined the military.

Ms. Sawyer of Human Rights Watch called the end of the rebellion a “significant development” for the people of the region and in particular those who lived under M23 occupation. “Yet huge challenges remain,” she said, “including to address the threats posed by numerous other armed groups in eastern Congo who have also committed horrific attacks on civilians, and to bring to justice those responsible for serious human rights abuses.”

Human rights groups say the ill-disciplined Congolese Army also had taken part in past violence, and in many instances perpetrators still need to be held accountable. But greater restraint by the military has been in evidence, an encouraging trend.

“Kinshasa should not become complacent,” Mr. Stearns said. “One victory does not mean peace, especially with dozens of armed groups left and with a national army that is still in disrepair.”


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« Reply #9807 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:09 AM »

Russia set to meet with Syrian opposition

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 18:45 EST

Russian representatives and members of the Syrian opposition are set to meet in Geneva Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Russian media.

“We will hold a whole series of contacts with the Syrian opposition,” he was quoted as saying late Tuesday by the Interfax news agency.

“A large number of its representatives came here specifically to meet a delegation of Russians,” he said, adding that the discussions would circle around preparations for a hoped-for peace conference for war-ravaged Syria.

Gatilov, whose country has long been one of the Syrian regime’s starkest allies, did not say who the Russian diplomats would meet nor which opposition groups they represented.

His comments came after UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and a wide range of senior diplomats, including Gatilov, met for intense discussions Tuesday but failed to set a date for the long-delayed conference, dubbed Geneva II.

A major stumbling block are the divisions within Syria’s increasingly splintered opposition, who are due to hold internal meetings this month to determine if and how they should be represented at the conference.

On Wednesday, the Russian diplomats and Syrian opposition members will discuss “participation in the conference, the prospects for unification among opposition groups on the basis of one delegation”, among other things, Gatilov said.

Speaking from Moscow in an interview published Tuesday in French daily Le Figaro, former Syrian deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil, who was sacked by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week, said he would have “meetings this week in Geneva” before going back to Damascus.

Jamil was officially fired for an unauthorised meeting with a top US official in Geneva in the run-up to Tuesday’s discussions.

Referring to another major sticking point in the preparations for the conference — Assad’s fate — he insisted that the Syrian president “must be part of the transition that will be worked out in Geneva”.

“That is where we will decide if at the end of this process he will have to leave or if he can take part in the presidential elections next year,” he added.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9808 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:11 AM »


Avigdor Lieberman to return to Israeli cabinet after corruption acquittal

Binyamin Netanyahu, who has held open foreign minister post, congratulates far-right politician on being cleared of all charges

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 November 2013 08.42 GMT   

Avigdor Lieberman, one of the dominant forces in Israeli politics and a man who has raised diplomatic hackles in countless western capitals, is set to be re-appointed as Israel's foreign minister after being acquitted of all charges against him a long-running criminal trial.

The dramatic comeback of the ultra-rightwing politician is likely to shape Israel's political landscape for years to come. Lieberman, 55, is thought to harbour ambitions for the premiership of the country following an alliance with the party of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in the general election earlier this year.

Netanyahu has kept the post of foreign minister, which Lieberman held for three years, open for the past 10 months while awaiting the outcome of his ally's trial. "I congratulate you on the unanimous acquittal and am happy about your return to the Israeli government so we can continue working together for the good of the people of Israel," Netanyahu told Lieberman in a statement.

It is unclear what impact Lieberman's reinstatement to the foreign ministry will have on current peace negotiations brokered by his US counterpart, the secretary of state John Kerry. He is openly sceptical about the process and has said he believes a permanent peace deal is impossible.

Lieberman was cleared on all charges of fraud and breach of trust in a unanimous ruling by three judges. He had been accused of promoting a former diplomat who had passed him information about a criminal investigation into Lieberman's business dealings by the authorities in Belarus.

"This chapter is now behind me. I am now focusing on the challenges ahead," he told reporters outside the Jerusalem courthouse. He added that he had been persecuted by overzealous prosecutors for 17 years. The prosecution said it would study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

Lieberman stepped down as foreign minister after being indicted last December, but retained the chairmanship of the powerful foreign affairs and defence committee in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

His acquittal will disappoint a handful of senior politicians who were jockeying for the post of foreign minister in the event of Lieberman's conviction and withdrawal from the political scene.

The hardline nationalist politician is likely to return to frontline politics with renewed vigour. The policies of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party he founded in 1999, include drawing Israel's future borders to incorporate areas populated by Arab citizens of Israel into a new Palestinian state. It views Israel's Arab population – 20% of the total – as the "enemy within".

His party has called for the "execution" of Arab MPs who met leaders of Hamas, and proposed an oath of loyalty from Israeli citizens without which they would not receive the right to vote or access social services. A year ago he said that "when push comes to shove, many key leaders would be willing to sacrifice Israel without batting an eyelid in order to appease the radical Islamist militants and ensure quiet for themselves".

His outspoken views and abrasive personality failed to find a warm welcome with many western diplomats. Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, reportedly avoided face-to-face meetings with Lieberman.

A former nightclub bouncer from Moldova who arrived in Israel at the age of 20, Lieberman initially built a popular political constituency among Russian immigrants, although his support has since broadened. His party won 11 places in the 120-seat Knesset in January's election.


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« Reply #9809 on: Nov 06, 2013, 08:14 AM »

Brazil cancels lavish soccer convention as unrest in Rio continues

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 17:25 EST

Organisers on Tuesday called off the Soccerex global football convention in Rio de Janeiro after the state government withdrew support amid ongoing civil unrest, scuppering a meeting of some 4,000 of the sport’s top decision makers.

“It is with great disappointment that we must confirm that the final Soccerex Global Convention in Brazil will now not be taking place.

“With the ongoing civil unrest, the Rio de Janeiro State Secretary of Sport took the political decision to withdraw their support from the Soccerex Global Convention,” organisers announced in a statement adding they bitterly regretted the cancellation of the November 30-December 5 event and would seek compensation.

“To be summarily cancelled in such a cavalier fashion, having hosted 33 events over 5 continents is extremely frustrating but nevertheless it has happened and is in contravention of all of the contractual obligations of the Rio State Government, who have been notified of our intention to instigate legal proceedings for substantial compensation,” the statement added.

Soccerex CEO Duncan Revie said: ?On behalf of all at Soccerex, I would like to apologize to every business, football club, league, federation and media organisation affected by this news. This unique and cruel conclusion to our time in Rio was completely out of our hands and everyone who has attended a Soccerex event over the last 18 years will know this is not how we do business.”

Rio’s Maracana Stadium was due to host the event just ahead of the draw for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, the final of which will be played at the stadium.

Manchester will host the event for the coming four years from next September.

In parallel, Durban, South Africa, will host the Soccerex African Forum in November with further events planned for Russia and one in the Americas.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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