430 bodies exhumed from mass grave in Bosnia
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 7, 2013 16:15 EST
Forensic experts have exhumed 430 bodies so far from a mass grave left over from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, possibly the largest gravesite found in Bosnia-Herzogivina, officials said Thursday.
“Remains of 430 victims have been exhumed so far and among them 275 complete bodies,” Lejla Cengic of the Bosnian Institute for Missing People told AFP.
The bodies are believed to be those of Muslims and Croats tortured and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in northwestern Bosnia at the beginning of the war.
The grave was discovered in a disused mine in the village of Tomasica in the region of Prijedor. Exhumation started in September with around a dozen bodies being recovered each day.
Bosnian Serbs took control of the Prijedor region in April 1992, forcing non-Serbs to leave their homes. Thousands of people were thrown into detention camps, where they were held in squalid living conditions, many tortured, and many executed.
The Bosnian Serb mayor of Prijedor, Marko Pavic, on Wednesday visited the gravesite and “expressed his deep remorse for all that had happened and expressed his condolences to families of victims exhumed from the grave,” his office said in a statement.
Associations of victims’ families welcomed the mayor’s visit but expressed doubts as to its sincerity.
“I am not ready to believe in his words of remorse. That is somebody who has insulted victims in the past,” Edin Ramulic of one of Prijedor victims’ associations told AFP.
Pavic had opposed construction of a memorial at the site of a former Bosnian Serb detention camp at Omarska.
The Institute is still searching for 1,200 people from the 3,000 who went missing in the area during the three-year war, which left 100,000 dead.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
November 7, 2013
Outsider’s Victory in Portugal Reflects Continent’s Discontent
By RAPHAEL MINDER
PORTO, Portugal — Rui Moreira seems an unlikely answer to the populist discontent stalking Europe’s mainstream political parties. Scion of one of this city’s richest families, he studied abroad, ran the family shipping business for a while, and then invested in everything from a popular nightclub here to wine distribution in Brazil and real estate in Chile. Until recently, politics was of little interest, he said.
Yet in Portugal’s municipal elections in September, this son of privilege ran as a man of the people, and won. More than that, Mr. Moreira, 57, managed to do something virtually without precedent here or almost anywhere else in Western Europe, being elected mayor of a major city without having been affiliated with an established political party.
His victory, Mr. Moreira said in an interview as he was sworn in last month, amounted to more than a protest vote by citizens fed up with the parties — conservative and Socialist — that have mismanaged Portugal’s economy. It was proof, he said, that “voters now reject a system that has allowed apparatchiks to control traditional parties, in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe.”
Indeed, long-established parties on the left and right are taking a beating across Europe as voters associate them with corruption, joblessness and stultifying bureaucracy — both within parties and governments — feeding a perception that Europe’s crisis is not just one of economics but also of leadership and ideas.
Their record-low popularity has collapsed the political center in austerity-squeezed countries, providing openings for populist parties to make inroads from the fringe, such as the U.K. Independence Party in Britain, Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Front in France, and the Five Star Movement in Italy.
“The risk for Europe is that difficult times help spread populism, which in the worst-case scenario can then turn into totalitarianism,” said Mr. Moreira, who also wrote a book last year, “Ultimatum,” focusing on the slump of mainstream parties and Portugal’s general troubles.
The Portuguese voiced their disaffection mostly by shunning the polls in September, raising the abstention rate to a record 47 percent. Those who did vote punished the governing Social Democrats of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who has overseen unpopular austerity measures to comply with the terms for Portugal’s €78 billion bailout, negotiated by the previous Socialist administration with international creditors.
Mr. Coelho’s party won just 17 percent of the vote; the Socialists 36 percent.
Mr. Moreira said he decided to run for mayor after being urged by a loose association of leading Porto personalities, including businessmen and some former politicians. He ran as an outsider. Unable to leverage any party apparatus, he covered by his own estimation about 600 miles in six months by foot, crisscrossing the city in an unorthodox campaign that included posting hundreds of videos on social media websites.
It helped that even before the campaign, Mr. Moreira had become something of a local celebrity by channeling his lifelong passion for F.C. Porto, the local soccer club, into writing a regular newspaper column and appearances on a leading television talk show.
“The people in the poorer neighborhoods mainly knew and saw me as a real defender of our club,” Mr. Moreira said. “I have one of the cheapest seats in the stadium and that is where I plan to remain,” he said, pulling out a season membership card as if to prove his bona fides.
Twice divorced and a father of two, he attended the German school of Porto, and spent his youth in various countries, including England, Norway, Denmark and Germany. He received a diagnosis of terminal kidney failure at 27, leading to a life-saving transplant from one of his seven siblings.
Before this year, Mr. Moreira said he had no real desire to enter in politics, because he had so many other business activities to keep himself busy. But as the economic crisis deepened, he said he was increasingly frustrated at how politicians had failed to explain Portugal’s austerity policies to the public.
Mr. Moreira said his country needed an austerity program to clean up public finances, “but what has happened in Portugal has been an overdose.” Recent spending cuts and tax increases, he said, “were made blindly rather than properly targeted,” for instance lowering salaries of all civil servants rather than only of those working in particularly inefficient sectors.
Having no party affiliation, he said, has given him more latitude to speak his own mind, to focus on the needs of his city and greater independence from orders from Lisbon, the capital, where the main parties have their base.
In general, he said he backed a stronger European Union. But he deplored the fact that Portugal had suffered from overcentralization since joining the bloc in 1986, with Lisbon party leaders making sure that a disproportionate amount of European subsidies stayed around the capital rather than being spread to other cities.
A former president of Porto’s chamber of commerce, Mr. Moreira ran on a decidedly local reform agenda, focused on issues like renovating derelict areas of Porto and making sure that money that arrived in Porto stayed in Porto.
“The real competition,” he said, “is between cities and not countries.”
But his surprise victory also carried a broader message for Portugal, and perhaps all of Europe, where he says closed party systems induce a general lack of accountability — in the party and the political leadership. He is fond of referring to party members as apparatchiks.
In many European mainstream parties, the leadership selection process takes place behind closed doors, with the appointment then rubber-stamped at a national party congress. Some parties, however, have recently started to switch to a more transparent approach, like the French Socialists, who in 2011 allowed all left-leaning voters to select François Hollande among six Socialist candidates for the French presidency.
“We don’t have primaries like in the United States,” Mr. Moreira said, “but people certainly no longer accept the idea that a candidate simply gets chosen by an inner party circle.”
Still, some commentators suggest that Mr. Moreira overstates his independence. In fact, they argue, he owed much of his recent success to feuding within the Social Democrats who controlled Porto’s City Hall for the past 12 years and had trouble agreeing on a replacement candidate for their departing mayor, Rui Rio.
The Porto establishment’s endorsement of Mr. Moreira shows “the cynicism and the capacity of an old political oligarchy to adapt to circumstances and to manipulate public perceptions,” said Rui Ramos, a political analyst and history professor at Lisbon University.
For his part, Mr. Moreira insisted that “I’m not the result of power play.”
When asked whether he was instead Portugal’s answer to Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire media tycoon who became New York’s mayor, Mr. Moreira laughed and said that “I just wish that I was that rich.” His property and other assets amount to less than 10 million euros, Mr. Moreira said.
Before delivering a speech at his swearing-in last month, shopkeepers came out to embrace him. José Miguel Folhadela, the manager of a men’s clothing shop, said he had voted for Mr. Moreira because “he doesn’t need to make more money but can still relate to ordinary people.”
“I really hope his independence is an asset,” Mr. Folhadela added, “because other politicians have no integrity.”
Mr. Moreira also got a hug from a local soccer legend, Domingos Paciência.
“I’m obviously in a state of grace,” Mr. Moreira said, “but let see how long it can last.”
11/07/2013 06:36 PM
Shelter in Europe: Court Orders Asylum for Persecuted Gays
An EU court ruled Thursday that gays and lesbians persecuted in other countries have the right to asylum in Europe, as long as they fulfill certain conditions. The decision came in a case involving three African men seeking safe haven in the Netherlands.
The European Union's high court in Luxembourg ruled Thursday that refugees who face prosecution in their home countries because of homosexual acts have the right to asylum in the EU.
The case heard by the European Court of Justice centered around three gay men from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who had unsuccessfully fought to be given refugee status in the Netherlands. Homosexuality is a prosecutable crime in each of those countries, the court noted, with serious punishments that can include heavy fines or even life imprisonment in some cases.
The court overturned the Dutch decision.
Justices in Luxembourg have now ruled that gays and lesbians represent "social groups" in accordance with the Geneva Convention on refugees' rights. The court also found "it is a common ground that a person's sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it." The court also said that "the existence of criminal laws specifically targeting homosexuals supports a finding that those persons form a separate group which is perceived by the surrounding society as being different."
Threat of Prosecution Alone Not Grounds for Asylum
The court also held that national asylum authorities cannot expect that a refugee "should conceal his homosexuality in his country of origin or exercise restraint in expressing it" in order to avoid persecution. It argued this was "incompatible" with the "recognition of a characteristic so fundamental to a person's identity that the persons concerned cannot be required to renounce it."
The Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service had argued one could expect foreigners to exercise greater restraint in public about their homosexuality in their country of origin.
Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston had argued in court in July that the EU must provide protection for gays and lesbians facing persecution, but that the threat of prosecution for homosexual acts in their country of origin alone was not grounds for granting asylum. Instead, she argued, national authorities must review whether it is probable that an asylum-seeker would actually be persecuted as a result of his or her sexual orientation or whether the sum of "diverse measures" would violate that person's human rights.
The judges in Luxembourg concurred with Sharpston's arguments in their ruling. In order for a violation of fundamental rights to constitute persecution within the meaning of the Geneva Convention, the court stated, "it must be sufficiently serious." The court said it was up to the national authorities in member states in which the asylum application is submitted to make that determination.
According to the ruling, the existence of legislating criminalizing homosexual acts alone is not a sufficient violation of the rights of gays and lesbians to require the granting of asylum. It ruled that EU member states would only be required to provide asylum if imprisonment in each of the countries of origin "is actually applied."
Human rights organizations say that gays and lesbians are persecuted in many African countries. Homosexuality is explicitly banned in the laws of 38 countries, according to Amnesty International.
11/07/2013 03:19 PMMafiaLeaks: Italian Portal Takes Aim at Organized Crime
By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Rome
A new group in Italy is seeking to break the mafia's code of silence by providing informants the means to safely reveal information to the media or authorities via an anonymous Internet portal. The site's founders are hoping for tip-offs from abroad too
The mafia's power rests on unwavering loyalty and discretion or "omertà," which means silence as far as the grave. Brutal force and intimidation ensure that members of Mafia clans such as Calabria's 'Ndrangheta toe the line.
Now insiders who want to reveal information have a new way of doing so: MafiaLeaks is a new platform that allows whistleblowers to tip off the authorities or the media anonymously.
The site is aimed at mafia insiders as well as victims of crime and normal citizens who have seen or witnessed something suspicious. MafiaLeaks aims to serve as a bridge between government authorities or media outlets and informants who choose not to contact them directly because of safety concerns.
'Some Have Families'
The founders of MafiaLeaks prefer to remain anonymous -- an understandable choice given that they would otherwise likely have to fear for their lives. SPIEGEL ONLINE was able to talk to them via an intermediary about the project and their motives. They claim that they are a group of "more than five, but less than 10" like-minded people and that, "some have families."
Bobby, whose name has been changed by the editors to protect his identity, says what was missing in the past was a safe way to report information about the mafia to the media or the authorities. The traditional means of doing so by phone, e-mail or mail were all too dangerous and informants risked being exposed.
MafiaLeaks relies on Tor, a system that routes data through a cascade of servers designed to mask a user's IP address, to protect the identity of potential informants. And MafiaLeaks' cryptic URL (http://pliqhphjyny4yglg.onion
) is only accessible using the Tor browser.
Users can use the leaks portal to pass tips on to the site's creators, who have no information about the identity of the informants. They stress that they wouldn't want to have that information, either. MafiaLeaks then passes the information on to what they describe as "trustworthy individuals" in the police force, anti-mafia organizations and the media.
The idea is to provide as much protection as possible to informants. Of course, the very nature of the site is bound to attract fake informants, and it remains the reponsibility of the authorities and media to review information and determine whether the lead should be pursued or if it is a fake tip-off.
'Nobody Says or Does Anything'
A visit by one of the founders to his hometown after an absence of some years inspired him to launch the MafiaLeaks project. He was appalled to find the town transformed -- long established local firms had been shut and the entrance to the town's bar was pockmarked with shot holes. The town of 5,000 people had been "taken over" by a mafia family, which now ruthlessly enforced payment of "pizzo" or protection money.
"Everybody knew that the family was terrorizing the town, but nobody said or did anything," Bobby says. What made things even more troubling for him was that this wasn't happening in the south of the country, a stronghold of mafia activity, but up in the north. "The clans are extending their influence and we wanted to do something about it," he says.
Bobby is proud of the fact that the website received information within the first 24 hours of going live. He said he also hopes information and tips will be submitted from outside Italy.
Mafia organizations such as 'Ndrangheta have long operated internationally -- also in Germany. Six people died in a shooting in front of an Italian restaurant in Duisburg in August 2007, the product of a turf war between two "families" from Calabria in southern Italy. More often, though, they operate quietly. Bobby claims the mafia is buying up entire tracts of real estate north of the Alps, sometimes even entire neighborhoods.
People from many walks of life could help to shed light on such deals, including lawyers, notaries, bank employees and civil servants. Naturally, "their information would be most welcome in Italy" and "MafiaLeaks" would provide "a safe way for them to submit their information at no risk to themselves" says Bobby.
****************Head of Italian religious order held in corruption inquiry
Father Renato Salvatore, head of the Camillians, accused of scheme to prevent to rival priests voting against his re-election
Tom Kington in Rome
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 17.54 GMT
The holy reputation of an Italian religious order that has nursed the sick since 1582 has taken a body blow after its leader was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and corruption.
Father Renato Salvatore, head of the Camillians, which offers medical care in 30 countries, is accused of hiring corrupt policemen to take two rival priests into custody on trumped-up accusations to stop them voting against his re-election.
Bearing red crosses on their cassocks, Camillians have tended to victims of plagues and wars through the centuries, inspired by their founder, Saint Camillus, an Italian soldier turned priest who described a hospital as "a house of God, a garden where the voices of the sick were music from heaven".
The order also manages hospitals, and investigators believe Salvatore's desire to control lucrative construction contracts, including at one hospital in Casoria, near Naples, pushed him to try to fix his re-election in May.
Working with an accountant, Paolo Oliviero, it is alleged, Salvatore convinced two tax police officers to haul in two priests, Rosario Messina and Antonio Puca, for questioning about property deals on the day of ballot, seizing their mobile phones to prevent them from alerting the order.
"On Monday from three onwards we vote, and at that point both of them disappear," Salvatore told Oliviero in a phone call wiretapped by police.
The two tax police officers, Alessandro Di Marco and Mario Norgini, who are also suspected of helping channel hospital construction contracts to friendly firms, were found in possession of tens of thousands of euros in cash and luxury wristwatches when investigators raided their homes. They have also been arrested.
"It is with great surprise and profound pain that we learn that our superior general has been arrested by the tax police to respond to the acts attributed to him," said Father Paolo Guarise, the vicar general of the order. "We are living through this moment in prayer and with faith that light can be shone on this matter."
11/07/2013 06:08 PM
Search for Justice: Argentina Helps Shed Light on Franco Regime
By Helene Zuber
Victims of Spain's Franco regime are hoping that recent legal moves made in Argentina will help bring justice in the crimes committed during the dictatorship.
José María Galante, an engineering and economics student, was arrested four times, starting in 1968. Each time he was taken in, police officers interrogated him in the basement of the so-called General Security Directorate at Puerta del Sol in downtown Madrid. Galante was repeatedly tortured in the same location where the Madrid regional government has its offices today. Tens of thousands who fought the dictatorship suffered similar fates in the last years of the regime of dictator Francisco Franco.
Manuel Blanco Chivite, a young business journalist, was arrested in July 1975 as he was handing out flyers. The officers at Puerta del Sol beat him on the back with clubs, put him in an ice-cold cement cell while he was wearing wet overalls and tortured him with electric shocks. Without any evidence, a military court sentenced Chivite and five others to death. One of Chivite's companions was executed only three months before the dictator's death on Nov. 20, while Chivite's sentence was reduced to 35 years in prison.
"I'm still considered a criminal," says Galante, now an independent business consultant, during a conversation in the office of the Association of Former Political Prisoners and Anti-Francoist Fighters. Like Chivite, he was only released in 1977, under a general amnesty for all political prisoners. The white-haired man slams his fist on the table and says: "But ironically our fascist torturers were decorated with awards and promoted by the very democratic governments for which we had fought."
But now immunity for Franco's helpers may be about to end. In Argentina, Judge María Servini de Cubría of the first chamber of the Federal Criminal Court in Buenos Aires issued international arrest warrants for four former Spanish police officers in mid-September. They include some of the tormentors of Galante and Chivite. At least two of them are still alive: Jesús Muñecas and Juan Antonio González Pacheco. There is "tremendous symbolic value" to Argentina's decision to demand the extradition of Franco's officers, 38 years after his death, says Chivite.
The Spanish attorney general's office refuses to have them arrested, and for Spanish citizens there is no threat of extradition. Nevertheless, a judge on the Spanish National Court wants to summon both former police officers to determine whether they are willing to testify voluntarily before Servini.
To this day, the Spaniards have not legally come to terms with the crimes committed by the Franco regime against the leftists on the losing side of the civil war. The cases now being looked into in Argentina occurred during the time period from the coup against the elected government of the Spanish Republic on July 17, 1936, to the first free parliamentary elections on June 15, 1977. The parties of the left, which had been brutally persecuted for four decades, agreed to an amnesty law at that time to help facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy.
But now a wave of lawsuits is heading toward Spain. In Buenos Aires, Judge Servini has begun to investigate cases such as the 1940 murder of the president of the autonomous government of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, and the killings of 47 other politicians. She intends to hear the testimony of another delegation from Spain in early December.
Hoping for 'Mega' Results
Meanwhile, the Argentine Foreign Ministry has ordered its embassies and consulates around the world to collect additional complaints by Franco victims and to facilitate video hearings through conference calls. Ana Messuti and Carlos Slepoy, two Argentine attorneys living in Madrid, have already drafted nearly 200 complaints. They believe that former ministers from the Franco regime will also be forced to stand trial soon, including the father-in-law of the current justice minister.
Messuti hopes that the "mega complaint," for forced disappearance, torture, child abduction and forced labor, will produce a "mega result."
"In this way, we will prove that these are crimes against humanity," she says. Messuti, who is well-published in legal philosophy, says the victims "want justice, not revenge." Most of the victims are over the age of 80, and material compensation is not their priority.
Since Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish investigative judge on the National Court, had former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet arrested in London in 1998, Spanish courts have repeatedly engaged in universal jurisdiction. Garzón also investigated the Argentine military juntas, until then-President Nestor Kirchner lifted the so-called full-stop laws.
But when Garzón finally began conducting research into the whereabouts of the 114,000 Franco opponents who had disappeared and the at least 30,000 abducted children of political adversaries, he was charged with perversion of justice.
Returning the Favor
Because the path to legal recourse was blocked in Spain, two relatives of victims living in Argentina filed the first complaint there in 2010. Argentine courts had already successfully prosecuted human rights violations by their own dictatorship.
Garzón had accused the Franco regime of pursuing a "systematic plan to intimidate those Spaniards" who were loyal to the elected government of the Spanish Republic "by eliminating their representatives." In other words, these were crimes against humanity, which do not fall under the statute of limitations, nor are they covered by the amnesty law. However, this legal opinion is controversial, both in Spain and among international criminal law experts.
"It is absurd for countries like Argentina, with an extremely politicized judiciary, to now engage in universal jurisdiction," says Kai Ambos, a professor in the central German city of Göttingen. He believes "that constitutional states like Spain should come to terms with their own past."
Servini is taking over the argument for Garzón, who was dismissed in 2012. In May, she heard his testimony. Garzón is very pleased the Argentines have returned the favor.
Garzón is currently reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the Spanish government's handling of the disappeared. In his own country, the prominent judge is campaigning for the creation of a truth commission. Using Argentina, Chile and South Africa as models, it would officially determine what happened during the Franco era. A UN delegation that was in Spain recently urged the Spanish government to create such a truth commission and to help the surviving relatives search for the disappeared.
Galante, Chivite, and the attorney Messuti, are all convinced that one day even Spanish politicians will be forced to yield to international pressure and come to terms with the Franco past. They are not alone. According to recent polls, 69 percent of Spaniards ages 18 to 34 agree.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
11/08/2013 12:29 PM
Fear of Deflation: ECB Rate Drop Shows Draghi's Resolve
By Nicolai Kwasniewski
Amid worringly low inflation, the European Central Bank has made the surprise decision to drop its key interest rate to the lowest level ever. Economists say it shows a strong will for action by the ECB's president, but they doubt the move will have a real impact.
The biggest worry harbored by Germans is that their savings will be devoured by inflation. The painful lessons of hyperinflation during the post-WWI Weimar Republic are deeply embedded in the collective consciousness, the standard explanation goes. In recent years, the European Central Bank (ECB) responded to Europe's debt crisis by flooding banks with cheap money. And German worries about inflation turned into all-out fear. Prices for what are believed to be safe investments -- gold and real estate -- have risen continually. And now ECB President Mario Draghi has reduced the main interest rate to its lowest level in history, taking it from 0.5 to 0.25 percent.
He also has every reason to take this step, because the greatest danger to the euro zone at the moment is that of deflation. Indeed, it is sinking rather than rising prices that are threatening Europe's economy. Last week the EU's Eurostat statistical office released its inflation figures for October -- with prices rising by just 0.7 percent, markedly below the approximately 2-percent increase the ECB aspires to in order to ensure price stability. "The zero came as a big surprise, also for the ECB," said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Germany's Berenberg Bank.
Germany Fears Inflation, World Worries about Deflation
Inflation hasn't been this low since 2009. In crisis-plagued countries in Southern Europe like Cyprus, Portugal and Spain, the rate came in below 0.5 percent. In Greece, prices have been falling since March. Germany may fear inflation, but the rest of the world is biting its nails over the possibility of the kind of deflation seen in Japan, where the economy has failed to take off for decades now. Deflation is when prices drop in the most important sectors of an economy over extended periods of time. Consumers delay purchases because they wait for lower prices, and companies earn less -- even as they are forced to keep paying their workers high wages.
Within the euro zone, the economy isn't recovering and unemployment is higher than ever before. Still, the ECB's interest rate cute has surprised many economists. Schmieding, the Berenberg economist, said he had been especially caught off guard by the speed of the decision, coming as it did just one week after the release of the new inflation data. "Draghi has shown that he can act quickly when he sees problems and that he can convince his governing council of the need for lowering the interest rate with record speed," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Still, Schmieding is doubtful the move will have a major impact. "The effect will remain very limited," he said. "Interest rates for German households and companies are already very low and not much will change there." In short, he summarized: "It won't hurt anything, but it also won't do much either."
But Draghi has once again sent a strong message to the markets -- that the ECB is taking the threat of deflation seriously. He is also showing that the euro as a currency cannot be allowed to get so strong that it threatens economic recovery. Already today, export-focused companies, especially those based in Germany, are suffering under unfavorable currency exchange rates. On Thursday, the euro also registered a brief response. After the interest rate announcement, the euro's value against the dollar declined from $1.3514 to $1.3365. At the same time, Germany's blue chip stock index, the DAX, rose by more than 100 points.
The Fundamental Problems Will not Be Solved
But the euro zone's biggest problems are of a different nature and are likely to persist, said Schmieding. "Do German companies have the trust they need to invest?" he asked. "Will small- and medium-size companies in Italy have access to credit?"
These problems won't be solved with the cut in the interest rate, Schmieding said, and the ECB has few possibilities for strengthening the euro zone's depressed lending market. Schmieding argues that banks have been holding back because they want to have enough capital on hand for the upcoming banking stress tests and have consequently maintained limited lending.
The banks also have reason to hope that the ECB will maintain its current policies for some time to come. While announcing the interest rate decision, Draghi said the ECB expects a "prolonged period of low inflation," but that the euro zone is not at risk of outright deflation.
The primary culprit for low inflation at the moment is sinking energy prices, but that could soon change. This spring, price increases are anticipated for coal, oil and gas, which could allow for a corresponding rise in the inflation rate. Draghi also sought to assuage concerns that the rate of inflation might drop again in November.
"We still have plenty of artillery," he said Thursday. But when it comes to lowering interest rates, Draghi has only one shot left to fire before his gun is empty and the main interest rate is at zero.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
Greenpeace Arctic activists face further Russian charges
Investigator says several activists will face charges of resisting law officers, in addition to hooliganism charges
Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 19.45 GMT
Russia will bring more charges against several Greenpeace activists who were arrested for a protest at an Arctic oil rig, investigators have said.
Russia has drawn international criticism over the arrest and subsequent treatment of the 30 people on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise when activists tried to scale the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya oil platform.
All 30 were initially charged with piracy, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence, but last month the charges were changed to hooliganism, which carries seven years.
But Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the investigative team, said some of the activists would also face charges of resisting law officers, which carries a maximum five-year term.
"A few boats approached the platform, and with the aid of special equipment, they tried to climb up the platform. They completely ignored the authorities' orders. Furthermore, if you recall, they rammed the coastguard ship," Markin said in an interview on the news site gazeta.ru.
Greenpeace has always said its protest was entirely peaceful.
Markin's comments came after David Cameron gave an interview on Thursday urging Russia's president, Pig Putin, to help free the activists, saying the action taken against them was excessive.
Cameron said he welcomed the decision to reduce the charges to hooliganism, but still felt the action went too far.
"They are not hooligans, they are protesters," Cameron told BBC local radio.
Bolshoi director faces lifelong eye treatment after acid attack, court hears
Sergei Filin has had 23 eye operations since January attack and will need many more, his father-in-law tells dancer trial
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 16.03 GMT
Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, will need surgical intervention on his eyes "for the rest of his life" after being splashed in the face with acid, the Moscow court investigating the attack heard on Thursday.
A day after Filin gave testimony at the trial of Pavel Dmitrichenko, the Bolshoi soloist accused of ordering the attack, his wife and father-in-law took the stand.
Filin's father-in-law, Alexander Prorvich, said life had been changed forever for the family after an assailant threw acid in Filin's face outside his apartment block in January.
"Our world has been completely turned upside down," said Prorvich. "We used to live a completely different life, caring for our children and grandchildren and with great hope for the future. Now our life is full of endless pain and endless journeys."
The ballet director has had 23 operations on his eyes since the attack, mainly in Germany. He plans to fly back from Moscow in the coming days for another operation.
"I asked the doctors how long the operations would need to go on for, whether it would be another year, or two years," said Prorvich. "But they said to me that they will probably have to go on for the rest of his life." He added that Filin's sister planned to donate cornea tissue. It is not known whether Filin will ever fully regain his sight.
Dmitrichenko is on trial alongside Yuri Zarutsky, who is said to have made and thrown the acid, and Andrei Lipatov, the getaway driver. All three face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.
On Wednesday, Filin told the court that Dmitrichenko frequently threatened him due to the conviction that he and his partner Anzhelina Vorontsova, also a dancer at the theatre, were unfairly neglected for major roles and promotions. Filin broke down in tears after being questioned directly by Dmitrichenko, who insinuated that the artistic director was in conflict with many at the theatre and that he handed out roles to ballerinas who slept with him.
Filin said that allegations he had "intimate relations" with the Bolshoi's newest star ballerina, Olga Smirnova, were completely false, and that he had been such a strong advocate of her rise to the top only because of her talent.
"My wife has had intimate relations with me for the past 10 years, but she never became such a star," said Filin.
Filin's wife Maria Prorvich, who is a dancer in the corps de ballet, also took the stand on Thursday. She said Filin did not always discuss work conflicts with her, but that she had been aware of the bad blood between her husband and Dmitrichenko.
"Sergei told me that Pavel spoke to him in a not very polite tone, and accused him of things that were untrue," she said. She was not asked about the allegations of affairs.
A number of ballet stars and Bolshoi managers have been called as witnesses by both the prosecution and defence, in a case that looks likely to pull back the curtain further on the intrigue and vicious infighting that have afflicted Russia's most famous theatre.
The trial continues next Tuesday.
Valery Gergiev concert picketed by gay rights supporters
London Symphony Orchestra principal conductor targeted over his backing for Putin, who has introduced anti-gay laws in Russia
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 7 November 2013 19.43 GMT
Around 60 people gathered outside the Barbican in London on Thursday night, chanting "Human rights for Russia" and "Stop supporting tyranny" before a concert conducted by Valery Gergiev, the target of a number of recent gay rights protests.
They included retired teacher David Sylph and his civil partner Malcolm Wren, who had travelled from York for the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of The Damnation of Faust.
"We love the music," said Sylph, a retired teacher. "But we're very unhappy that Valery Gergiev is a friend and supporter of the Pig, who has introduced these anti-gay laws in Russia as a result of which gay people are being attacked all over the country. We want him to denounce those laws."
Sylph and Wren, an examiner, said they would not applaud Gergiev but would applaud the orchestra, chorus and singers. "We're going to the concert because we love Berlioz, but we need to protest."
In New York there were interruptions by members of Queer Nation at the Met and Carnegie Hall, while in London Peter Tatchell last week marched on stage in full evening dress to denounce the conductor.
Gergiev tried to head off the protest with a statement in which he said he did not discriminate against people, gay or otherwise: "It is wrong to suggest that I have ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all my work I have upheld equal rights for all people. I am an artist and have for over three decades worked with tens of thousands of people and many of them are indeed my friends."
The statement did not go far enough for some. The novelist Philip Hensher tweeted: "Gergiev summarised: 'Some of my best friends are gay. I don't support institutional homophobia. I leave that up to my friend Pig Putin.' "
Gergiev's case was not helped by comments he made to the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant on 10 September: "In Russia we do everything we can to protect children from paedophiles. This law is not about homosexuality, it targets paedophilia. But I have too busy a schedule to explore this matter in detail."
Last night's protest was loud – because of megaphones – but civilised.
Clare Summerskill, a writer and performer, said she was there in solidarity with all LGBT people in Russia. "Some of our support does get through, from what I can see on the internet. They need to know that people are doing things on their behalf."
There was a strong African contingent among the protesters. Julius Kakaire said he was there as a gay Ugandan "in solidarity with our friends in Russia". "By keeping the issue alive, people who are passing through here will talk to their politicians."
Paul Penny, who works for London Underground, said he was frustrated that Gergiev "continues to support Pig Putin with his homophobic policies. If he could only speak out against these policies – we just want him to be supportive of human rights and LGBT rights."
The demonstration drew activists and one-off protesters alike. One well-dressed man apologised for leaving early because he had to get to The Magic Flute across town at the Coliseum.
Tatchell, who plans to keep up his anti-Putin protests – although Gergiev may get a respite – said he was pleased at the turnout. "I am glad that we have managed to picket Gergiev's concert. We are sending a message to him and all the celebrity backers of Putin. Endorsing a tyrannical regime is unacceptable."
Standard & Poor's cuts France's credit rating from AA+ to AA
S&P gives thumbs-down to François Hollande's efforts to put eurozone's second largest economy back on track
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 09.41 GMT
Standard & Poor's cut France's sovereign credit rating on Friday by one notch to AA from AA+, giving a thumbs-down to President François Hollande's efforts to put the eurozone's second largest economy back on track.
All three major rating agencies had already stripped France of its top-grade triple-A status. S&P is the first to downgrade it for a second time, warning that the economic reforms of the past year were not sufficient to lift growth.
"We believe the French government's reforms to taxation, as well as to product, services, and labour markets, will not substantially raise France's medium-term growth prospects," S&P said in a statement.
"Ongoing high unemployment is weakening support for further significant fiscal and structural policy measures," it added.
The ratings agency adjusted its outlook for French debt to stable from negative, citing Hollande's commitment to containing net general debt, which it expects to peak at 86% of output in 2015.
Finance minister Pierre Moscovici insisted his country's debt remained among the safest and most liquid in the world and challenged what he said were "inaccurate criticisms" of the French economy.
"They are underestimating France's ability to reform, to pull itself up," he told France Info radio.
"During the last 18 months the government has implemented major reforms aimed at improving the French economic situation, restoring its public finances and its competitiveness."
Shares in French banks fell at the market opening.
Ratings agency Fitch last week upgraded the outlook on Spain's credit rating, pointing to a convergence between France – typically considered a core eurozone member – and Spain, usually described as a peripheral state.
Hollande's Socialist-led government has enacted a modest reform of France's rigid labour market and a review of its generous pension system aimed at narrowing funding shortfalls.
But the latter reform in particular was less than expected by the European commission, which this year urged Paris to make structural reforms in return for giving it an extra two years to bring its public deficit within EU targets.
The downgrade applies to France's long-term foreign and local currency debt ratings. S&P said the probability of a further rating action on France over the next two years was less than one in three.
Philippe Waechter, head of economic research at Natixis Asset Management, said the downgraded reflected views that the French government was not implementing reforms needed to repair its economy.
But, he said: "I don't think there will be a dramatic impact on French debt in the short term, because S&P is not expressing alarm and the outlook is stable."
November 7, 2013
Under Strain, France Examines Its Safety Net
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
ST.-ÉTIENNE, France — Patrick Jouve, the owner of a game store on the Rue Louis Braille here, assails the government regulations that limit the size of the bright chess set and bouncing balls he has painted on his storefront. If the painting covers more than 36 feet, it constitutes advertising and he has to pay a fee of $1,350.
At 57, Mr. Jouve, is, however, looking forward to the generous government pension that will help pay for his planned retirement in the countryside at 62.
Down the street, Virginie Chargros, a baker’s wife, depends on the $404 monthly “family subsidy” she gets from the government to help raise the couple’s three children. She and her husband work six days a week and bring in about $2,200 a month, but without the subsidy, they would have trouble providing the family with “small pleasures,” she said.
The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.
The spiraling costs of cradle-to-grave social welfare programs have all but exhausted the French government’s ability to raise the taxes necessary to pay for it all, creating growing political problems for President François Hollande, a Socialist. The nation’s capability to innovate and compete globally is being called into question, and investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.
But on the streets of this midsize city 325 miles southeast of Paris, the discussion is not abstract or even overtly political. Conversations here bring to life how many people, almost unconsciously, tailor their education, work habits and aspirations to benefits they see as intrinsic elements of their lives.
“You cannot take away guns from Americans, and in the same way you cannot take away social benefits from French people,” said Louis Paris, the 25-year-old son of a couple who live on the Rue Louis Braille, a typical neighborhood in St.-Étienne, which has deep working-class roots and historically has leaned Socialist.
“They won’t stand for it,” said Mr. Paris, who is unemployed and has been searching since leaving college for a full-time job that offers benefits.
This reality on the Rue Louis Braille, named for the Frenchman who invented the system of raised lettering for the blind, helps explain why successive French leaders have made only modest changes in social benefits.
One of the largest buildings on the relatively prosperous-looking first block of the street is the local office for state-financed health benefits. The second block has eight empty storefronts, testimony to the last four years of economic downturn.
The median household income in the city is $25,000, about half the national figure for the United States and slightly lower than the average for France. But that figure does not capture how many things the government pays for here.
In France, most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care, three of the most costly elements in the budgets of most American families.
The cost of health care in France is embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.
The payroll tax for employers can amount to as much as 48 percent, meaning that for an employee paid $1,000 a month, the cost to the employer would be $1,480, according to French government figures.
For that, the employee gets up to two years of government-paid unemployment insurance. Parents get a monthly payment for each child after the first, starting at $176 for their second child, and most salaried workers are required to take five weeks of vacation, although professionals and those who own businesses, as do many on the Rue Louis Braille, take far less.
The political opposition to even modest cuts in social programs has been intense. Mr. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative, reduced some social security payments, narrowed the criteria for obtaining unemployment and minimum income benefits and made other proposals he was unable to implement in the face of protests that sometimes drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.
Mr. Hollande is facing stiff opposition for a proposal that would require people to work 18 months longer before qualifying for retirement benefits.
The tension between the pressure for budget cuts and the deeply embedded nature of government programs is playing out in individual lives.
Sarah Revet, 31, who lives on Rue Louis Braille, was able to go back to work in a local government office after having children because of a public program that allowed her get a degree that she could use to work in local government. She also had government-subsidized preschool for her 3-year-old and received the government’s family payments, which helped her to afford a babysitter for her 1-year-old.
But when she was laid off because of budget cuts, she did not qualify for unemployment benefits because her job had been part time and temporary.
Yet, she still believes in a government system that ensures that the poor, especially, have an ample safety net.
“I would absolutely make the choice to continue this,” Ms. Revet said.
Just down the street, Mr. Jouve, the owner of the game store Tapis Vert, or Green Carpet, believes that the reason the government is in such dire straits is that there are too many civil servants. Government spending accounts for about 56 percent of France’s gross domestic product, in contrast to 44 percent in Germany and 40 percent in the United States, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics arm.
“There are too many government functionaries,” Mr. Jouve said as he demonstrated magic tricks to a customer. Referring to the city officials who come to measure the dimensions of his storefront painting, he said, “They make up jobs for themselves.”
The mayor, Maurice Vincent, said that there were only 3,500 city employees, but acknowledged that the number did not include the police, the hospital staff, the university’s professors and staff members, and the civil servants who work for the greater metropolitan area. Add those, and the government-paid workers top 25,000.
Mr. Vincent’s office also has several thousand workers on “temporary” contracts of less than three years; the positions were created when unemployment in St.-Étienne reached 17 percent, he said.
Yet small business owners here, along with many employers large and small across the country, say they cannot afford to hire more workers because of the mandatory 48 percent in payroll taxes on top of wages.
Mireille Rogers, who lives on the Rue Louis Braille, runs the Babet Center, a nonprofit social service organization supported by the government that serves one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Since most of the center’s clients live in an area where at least one in four young people are jobless, they see government aid as a necessity.
“I would be glad to pay more in payroll taxes so that there would be more for others,” Ms. Rogers said.
Some people at the center receive an income supplement from the government to ensure that they have a minimum amount to live on. In September, that was $1,664 for a single person and about $3,100 for a family of four with children over the age of 3. Some people also qualify for a housing subsidy and other benefits.
“The state has put in place a system,” said Salvatore Garaffa-Botta, a butcher and the deputy secretary of the largest union in St.-Étienne, the C.G.T. “But we are also slaves to this system.”
Maïa de la Baume contributed reporting.
UN climate talks: Poland gives coal a voice
Polish government to preside over coal industry event on sidelines of COP19 climate conference starting in Warsaw
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 10.27 GMT
With coal-reliant Poland hosting UN climate talks, the fossil fuel industry will get a rare chance to play a more visible role in the global warming debate.
But in a move that has infuriated climate activists, the Polish government will also preside over a high-level coal industry event on the sidelines of the two-week climate conference, which starts Monday.
"It's been seen as a real provocation and a statement from the Polish government that they have no intention to move away from coal," said Wendel Trio, director of the Climate Action Network in Europe.
Coal, oil and gas companies normally keep a low profile during the annual UN climate talks, which are aimed at reining in carbon emissions driving global warming.
But Polish officials say that coal, which accounts for more than 80% of Poland's electricity generation, won't go away anytime soon and needs to be a key part of the climate debate.
So on 18-19 November, as the UN conference enters its final week in Warsaw, the World Coal Association and Poland's Economy Ministry are organising a conference billed as "the coal industry's most important event of the year."
Organisers say the International Coal and Climate Summit will bring together coal industry executives, policy-makers and others to "discuss the role of coal in the global economy, in the context of the climate change agenda."
In a statement to the Associated Press, the World Coal Association said the coal summit is meant as a contribution, not an alternative, to the UN talks. It noted that UN climate chief Christiana Figueres will be a keynote speaker at the event.
Given the irritation the coal summit has stirred in the climate community, attending it may have been an awkward decision for Figueres, who regularly promotes efforts to boost renewable energy and cut funding for fossil fuels.
"She could either completely ignore that it's happening or go there and make a point, and I think she's chosen the latter one," said Liz Gallagher, of European environmental think tank E3G.
The UN climate change secretariat declined to comment and Figueres did not respond to a Twitter query about the issue.
Gallagher said she believes the coal event is more about domestic Polish politics than increasing the coal industry's presence in the international climate discussions.
"They want to show domestic audiences that they haven't forgotten that Poland is heavily reliant on coal," she said.
Though Poland has started restructuring its energy mix to boost renewables, officials say coal will remain the staple source of energy. The coal industry and affiliated sectors provide almost 600,000 jobs in Poland and traditionally enjoy government protection, especially now, when the jobless rate hovers around 13%.
That is reflected in Poland's position in climate policy discussions within the European Union, where the government has opposed deepening the bloc's emissions cuts from the current target of 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Poland joined the EU in 2004.
On Sunday, Polish labor unions and nationalists are planning a panel discussion against climate actions they say could harm Poland's economy. The nationalists will also march the next day, the conference's opening day, which coincides with Poland's independence day. Their marches sometimes turn violent.
"Rich European nations are imposing short-term goals on us which they took some 50 years to achieve," said Krzysztof Bosak, a prominent member of the right-wing National Movement.
Turkey's new border wall angers Kurds on both sides of Syrian divide
Locals shocked at building of 'unnecessary and divisive' new border wall, which they claims risks Kurdish peace talks
Constanze Letsch in Nusaybin, on the Turkey-Syria border
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 12.13 GMT
The Turkish authorities have started erecting a wall on the frontier with Syria in what is being seen as an attempt to divide the Kurdish majority populations on both sides of the border, prompting protests and hunger strikes, and jeopardising peace talks.
Without informing the local government in the town of Nusaybin in south-eastern Turkey, the authorities sent in construction crews recently to start erecting a two-metre-high wall on the border with Qamishli in north-eastern Syria. The sudden building project is stoking fears that more walls are planned.
The Nusaybin mayor, Ayse Gökkan, has spent several days on a "death fast" at the site this week in protest at what she calls the "wall of shame". About 50 others joined the hunger strike, according to local reports, and a big protest march is planned against alleged anti-Kurdish provocation.
According to Turkish newspaper reports on Friday morning, the wall construction has been stopped temporarily and mayor has stopped her hunger strike.
The Turkish interior ministry said last month the wall was being built "for security reasons", and to curb smuggling and illegal crossings, allegations that Kurdish community leaders on both sides of the frontier dispute strongly.
"There have never been fire fights across this border," Gökkan said. "The terrain is completely flat and can be easily monitored. There are landmines. This is probably the safest bit of our border with Syria."
Gökkan is from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP), while Qamishli and its surroundings are currently controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the biggest Kurdish political group in Syria.
"Why do they not build walls further west, where rebel fighters and al-Qaida are allowed to cross the border freely?" Gökkan asked.
She was also angry at a lack of consultation. "One morning we were told that construction machines had damaged a water pipe close to the municipality building. There was a construction crew, digging without authorisation, and without our knowledge."
All Gökkan's inquiries to ministries and government offices went unanswered. "I learned about the wall from the newspapers," she said. Most locals strongly oppose what they see as an attempt to divide their community. "We don't call it Nusaybin and Qamishli, or Turkey and Syria," said one woman who wished to remain anonymous. "It has always been 'this side of the fence' and 'the other side of the fence'. We are all inter-married, we all have family on the other side. Many have dual citizenship. This wall is an effort to separate Kurds in the region, and nothing else."
The mayor warned that the anti-Kurdish move could sabotage ongoing peace talks between Ankara and the Kurdish militants of the PKK aimed at ending the 30-year-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
"The wall is a declaration of war against Kurds by the Turkish government," she said. "What kind of peace are they trying to achieve by driving a wall between us?"
Many on both sides of the frontier see the wall as the latest evidence of perceived Turkish government support for Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have been attacking Kurdish villages in Syria, killing and displacing thousands, while also fighting the Assad regime.
Many Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey are angry too.
"We don't want this," a 56-year-old woman explained. "It is reassuring to know that the rest of your family is right there in Qamishli. The wall would cut us off completely from our relatives. Three of my daughters are still in Syria."
"If a wall now goes up between me and them, I would constantly worry at every gunshot, every explosion that I hear without being able to see Qamishli."
Ismail Boubi, head of a local Syrian-Turkish aid organisation who fled Syria for Nusaybin 14 years ago, demanded that the wall be halted, the minefields cleared and the barbed wire dismantled.
"Refugees scramble through dangerous territory to get here. It is extremely hard to get aid into the north-eastern part of Syria. If the border was open, people would not have to resort to smuggling, and they would also go back to their own towns much faster.
"The construction of the wall demolishes democracy. This is not what we need. We need more trust, more freedom, and more co-operation."
November 7, 2013
After a Break, Turkey’s Prime Minister Again Courts Controversy
By TIM ARANGO
ISTANBUL — In his time in power, more than a decade now, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has alienated large portions of the population for his seeming intrusions into private lives. He has told women how many children they should have, has sought to outlaw abortion and adultery and to limit alcohol consumption and once, oddly, went on a public tirade against white bread.
Many Turks who had once supported Mr. Erdogan’s democratic overhauls, like securing civilian control over the military, came to see such pronouncements as grating and abrasive, even evidence of a rising authoritarian style. That contributed to the sweeping antigovernment protests over the summer that presented the gravest crisis to the leadership of Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials, A.K.P.
Now Mr. Erdogan, who had largely tempered his divisive language in the months after the unrest, has raised a storm of protest, saying this week that he wants to outlaw coed dormitories at state universities, and even extend the crackdown to off-campus housing shared by male and female students. Once again, Mr. Erdogan, with his words, has pushed Turkey’s culture wars to the fore, underscoring deep divisions between the secular and the religious, and prompting the sort of controversy many even within his own party had hoped to avoid in the aftermath of the protests and just before Turkey enters an election cycle.
Invoking his credentials as a conservative, and saying that the government receives “intelligence” about what goes on inside coed housing facilities, Mr. Erdogan was quoted in the Turkish news media as saying to a weekly meeting of his party’s lawmakers: “Anything can happen. Then parents cry out, saying, ‘Where is the state?’ These steps are being taken in order to show that the state is there. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene.”
On Tuesday, political talk shows that normally take on a number of issues devoted much of their broadcasts to the dispute set off by Mr. Erdogan’s comments. Some newspaper columnists seemed to relish the topic and the return, after the withering of the protest movement, of Mr. Erdogan’s words whipping up the cultural currents.
“We are face to face with a prime minister who thinks it is his right to impose his moral sentiment into our homes, and control our personal space with his governors and his police,” wrote Ezgi Basaran, a columnist in the left-leaning Radikal.
In setting off another cultural controversy, Mr. Erdogan risks re-energizing the emotions of his critics that drove the summer’s protests. But, given how divided Turkish society is, he could also galvanize his conservative supporters ahead of elections.
“I live in an all-girl dorm; it’s my choice and I’m happy about it,” said Ezgi Kurtal, a history student at Bosporus University here. “But I do not support Erdogan’s comments. What business does a prime minister have in dictating what sex an adult can live with?”
“We thought he got the message not to interfere with people’s lives at Gezi,” she added, a reference to the park that was at the center of the summer’s protests. “I guess we were wrong.”
The latest controversy comes as Turkey renews long-stalled negotiations to join the European Union. Its foreign policy effort to influence the Middle East also seems in disarray, given its previous support to the ousted Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and its policy of supporting the rebel opposition in Syria as the international community seeks a diplomatic solution.
Mr. Erdogan emerged from the protests seemingly as powerful as ever domestically — his religiously conservative base, which makes up nearly half of the electorate, stuck with him — even as Turkey’s image abroad was tarnished. But the protests also set off debate within the upper reaches of the A.K.P. about the party’s direction and the future of Turkish democracy, just as the country heads into an election cycle that begins next year with a vote for municipal governments that is seen as a test of Mr. Erdogan’s grass-roots support.
Recent interviews with party officials, Western diplomats and outside experts with close ties to the government, all of whom spoke anonymously to discuss internal party deliberations, suggest sharp divides within the party. There is a decided split between those who support Mr. Erdogan unconditionally and those who are more moderate, who line up behind the more conciliatory president, Abdullah Gul, and share some of the concerns voiced by the protesters.
Those concerns have been highlighted by the furor over the prime minister’s comments on coed dormitories and his style. Another A.K.P. constituency, followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, is said to be deeply ambivalent about backing Mr. Erdogan in future elections.
The protests last summer were set off by plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, for a mall. They grew into a broader rebuke of the government, one consequence of which is that an effort pushed by Mr. Erdogan to broaden the powers of the presidency seems impossible, at least for now.
But Mr. Erdogan is still likely to run for president next year, even without the expanded powers. That would raise the question of who would secure the more powerful post of prime minister. One possibility being discussed within and outside the party is a swap between Mr. Gul and Mr. Erdogan similar to the one that took place in Russia between Vladimir V. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev. But Mr. Erdogan hopes to avoid that, according to interviews, as some polls show that Mr. Gul is a more popular figure than Mr. Erdogan among the public.
The municipal elections, especially a much-anticipated mayoral contest in Istanbul, are shaping up as a test for Mr. Erdogan and his long-held ambition to stay in power another decade, until 2023, the 100th anniversary of the modern Turkish republic. A strong showing by the A.K.P. could lay the path for an Erdogan presidency and, eventually, a renewed effort to institute a presidential system, analysts say.
Polarizing the electorate with controversies such as the one about dorms is a well-worn electoral strategy of Mr. Erdogan, experts say. One analyst described the tactic as ripped from the playbook of Karl Rove, an adviser to former President George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
Like many of the controversies Mr. Erdogan generates, this one seemed to be a cultural non sequitur, not linked to any current public debate.
“To be honest, despite the outspokenness on this matter, I really did not understand anything,” wrote Eyup Can, the editor in chief of Radikal. “Where did this come from? If anyone cares to explain, please do.”
Sebnem Arsu and Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting.
November 8, 2013
Jews in Europe Report a Surge in Anti-Semitism
By ANDREW HIGGINS
BRUSSELS — Fear of rising anti-Semitism in Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to a detailed survey of Jewish perceptions by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination and other violations of basic rights.
The survey, carried out by the bloc’s Fundamental Rights Agency, focused on eight countries that account for more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population and found that “while member states have made sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the problem is still widespread.”
The Vienna-based agency, in a lengthy report on its findings, did not reach any conclusions about the cause of a perception among European Jews of rising bias. But the results of its survey suggest that prejudices traditionally associated with far-right nationalist political groups like those that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II have now spread to other segments of society and are increasingly driven by conflict in the Middle East rather than homegrown bigotry.
One-third of respondents said they considered statements critical of Israel as anti-Semitic.
“It paints a clear picture of an issue in Europe today that we need to address more firmly and take seriously,” said Morten Kjaerum, the Danish director of the Fundamental Rights Agency, an independent organization funded by the European Union. He said he was particularly struck that 29 percent of those surveyed said they had considered emigrating because of security considerations. “That is a clear indication of an issue we need to address,” he said in a telephone interview.
The survey gathered information from nearly 6,000 Jews living in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Britain and Latvia. The data was collected online by self-selecting respondents, but Mr. Kjaerum said the process nonetheless provided a “fairly representative” sampling of views.
Jewish groups in countries like France have long warned that Europe’s economic crisis, lingering prejudice and a surge of Muslim immigrants often hostile to Israel have stoked a revival of hostility toward Jews. But the new survey, due to be released Friday on the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht violence against Jews in Nazi Germany, gives the first detailed snapshot of Jewish perceptions of the problem across Europe.
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they considered anti-Semitism to be a major problem in their countries, while 76 percent said the situation had become more acute over the past five years.
The Internet has become a particular cause for concern among European Jews, with 75 percent of those surveyed stating that they considered anti-Semitism a problem online. Nearly the same proportion said they believed it had grown more serious over the past five years. A quarter said they had experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment.
Physical violence, however, is comparatively rare, with 4 percent responding that they had experienced violence or threats of violence because they were Jewish in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Most previous efforts to assess the level of anti-Semitism have relied on the number of officially reported incidents of harassment or physical violence in individual countries. Such figures, however, appear to understate the extent of the problem, as most incidents do not get reported and only 13 of 28 countries in the European Union collect data on anti-Semitic incidents.
More than three-quarters of Jews with experience of anti-Semitic harassment who took part in the survey said they had not reported the incidents to the police.
Asked who they thought was responsible for such harassment, 27 percent of respondents said the perpetrators had “Muslim extremist views,” 22 percent said they had “left-wing political views” and 19 percent blamed people with “right-wing views.”
Anti-Semitism in Europe has historically been connected to extreme right-wing nationalist groups, often those with links to conservative elements of the Catholic Church. These include groups like Action Française, an organization founded in the late 19th century that rallied to the collaborationist regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II and continued in various forms until the late 20th century.
This strand continues in places like Hungary, where the virulently anti-Semitic Jobbik party has surged on the back of support from extreme Hungarian nationalists. Ninety percent of Jews surveyed in Hungary ranked anti-Semitism as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem, the highest level in Europe.
In other countries, however, hostility to Jews is now rooted more on the left and in Muslim immigrant communities, the survey’s findings indicate. More than three-quarters of respondents in France and Belgium, both of which have large populations of Muslim immigrants, identified anti-Semitism as a problem. Eighty percent of respondents in these same two countries described immigration as a problem, too, suggesting tense relations between Jewish communities and recently arrived immigrants.
About 90 percent of respondents in Belgium and France reported that the Arab-Israeli conflict had had a “notable impact” on the safety of Jews. Only 40 percent reported the same in Hungary, which has few Muslim immigrants, while a majority of respondents in most other countries surveyed said tensions in the Middle East had affected their feelings of safety either a “great deal” or a “fair amount.”
November 7, 2013West and Iran Seen as Nearing a Nuclear Deal
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
GENEVA — After years of fruitless negotiations, Western and Iranian diplomats are on the verge of an agreement that would freeze Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of some economic sanctions.
Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel here on Friday at the invitation of Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, in an effort “to help narrow differences,” a senior State Department official said. If that goes well, the pact could be announced later in the day, Iranian officials said.
But even as the two sides tried to finalize the agreement on Thursday, fissures have widened between the United States and some of its principal allies over the potential pact, which has been hailed by the Obama administration as a possible breakthrough in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear aspirations but dismissed by critics as a temporizing measure that would leave the core of Tehran’s atomic program intact.
Mr. Kerry and senior American officials here have promoted the idea of a multistage agreement as a hardheaded response to the new Iranian leadership of President Hassan Rouhani. The first phase of the accord would suspend Iran’s nuclear effort for as long as six months in return for limited sanctions relief, which could include access to frozen assets.
“We are asking them to step up and provide a complete freeze over where they are today,” Mr. Kerry said Thursday during a trip to the Middle East. “Iran knows that if they don’t meet the standards of the international community, the sanctions could be increased and even worse.”
Vigorously defending their approach, Obama administration officials cast the negotiations as a last, best chance to pull Iran back from the nuclear threshold, giving negotiators time to pursue a more sweeping accord.
Proponents say the deal has the potential not just to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon but also to open the way to a historic warming of relations between the nations, though American officials say there is no indication so far that Iran is willing to alienate traditional allies like the Shiite militant group Hezbollah or President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Critics, however, are not waiting for an agreement to be announced before denouncing it as a failure of will. On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned of a “grievous historic error” that he said would enable Iran to keep enriching uranium and preserve the option of developing nuclear arms while undermining support in the international community for economic sanctions.
“If the news that I am receiving of the impending proposal by the P5-plus-1 is true, this is the deal of the century, for Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu told a visiting delegation of American lawmakers, using the phrase for the world powers involved in the talks, and taking a stance that echoes similar worries in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Netanyahu and other critics, in effect, fear that what the administration paints as a “first step” toward a more sweeping agreement may actually turn out to be the last. They have urged that the West retain and even toughen sanctions, until Iran is prepared to completely abandon its uranium enrichment ability and dismantle its nuclear program.
The outburst of controversy even before an agreement has been reached illustrates the tremendous difficulties the Obama administration faces in keeping a coalition together, especially one including Congress, throughout what promises to be a long and difficult diplomatic path to pursuing broader constraints on Iran’s nuclear operations.
Far from cooling passions over Iran, each step in the process seems to inflame them.
Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official who supports the administration’s negotiating strategy, dismissed as “not achievable” the maximalist approach advocated by Mr. Netanyahu.
“I don’t think any Iranian government could sell that deal at home,” Mr. Einhorn said during a conference call hosted by the Israel Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes Israel’s security. “I think we would pay a price in terms of the unraveling of sanctions if it looked like we, and not the Iranians, were the cause of the impasse.”
But Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said an interim agreement would go over badly with the allies and in Congress.
“Even if we get this de minimis interim deal from Iran, we could be in serious trouble,” he said. “The Israelis and Saudis are already freaking out about the dangers of any interim deal. This would demonstrate to them and Congress that the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally outnegotiated.”
Much of debate will turn on the technical details of the agreement, which is still being formalized. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has repeatedly made clear that Tehran will not give up its “right” to enrich uranium, a point he reaffirmed in a CNN interview on Thursday night.
So the rigor of the initial understanding will turn on an array of thorny questions. How many and what type of centrifuges would Iran be able to retain to enrich uranium? Would Iran be barred from making additional centrifuges even if it did not immediately use them?
What would happen to the stockpile of uranium Iran has already enriched to 20 percent, which can be rapidly enriched to weapons grade? What sort of verification would be provided for?
Would Tehran be willing to suspend construction of a heavy-water plant that would produce plutonium? Such a step is important, experts say, because a military strike against the plant, should it come to that, could result in the dispersal of highly radioactive material if the plant was functioning.
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, provided a graphic illustration of what some measures could do to slow the advance of the Iranian program, but also how much of a risk might remain even if a “first step” accord is reached.
If an agreement did away with Iran’s inventory of uranium that was enriched to 20 percent, he said, it could add a month or somewhat longer to the time that Iran would need to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear device, assuming Tehran opted to make a dash for a bomb.
The total “breakout time” to produce the needed weapons-grade uranium, he said, would be increased to about three months.
“I think it’s not a huge increase in the breakout timeline,” he told the conference call organized by the Israel Project. “But I think it is an important one to try to get.”
Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
*****************John Kerry to join Iran nuclear talks to 'narrow differences'
US secretary of state's presence in Geneva fuels anticipation that breakthrough deal is close
Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 10.20 GMT
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and other western foreign ministers are converging on Geneva in a bid to "narrow the differences" between Iran and the west and help clinch a deal aimed at pausing both the Iranian nuclear programme and western sanctions.
The arrival of Kerry, Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, and his French and German counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle, has further boosted anticipation that a deal is within reach. On Thursday, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announced that drafting of a joint statement would start on Friday morning and could be completed by the end of the day.
"I have come personally to Geneva because these are negotiations that are difficult but important for the regional and international security," Fabius said on arrival in Switzerland. "It is a question of reaching an agreement which represents a first solid step in addresses the international concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme. There has been a lot of progress but so far nothing has been finalised."
Kerry flew to Geneva from Israel, where he discussed the outline of the deal with Binyamin Netanyahu at a meeting at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. The Israeli prime minister is reported to have restated his opposition to any partial agreement that lifts any sanctions without a complete halt to Iranian uranium enrichment. According to the Haaretz website, he told Kerry Israel would not be bound by any agreement struck in Geneva.
On Friday morning over breakfast, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is co-ordinating the Geneva talks, met senior diplomats from the six nations involved in the long-running negotiations with Iran – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – to discuss positions before beginning the work of drafting an agreement.
The US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, issued a statement as Kerry took off from Israel saying: "In an effort to help narrow the differences in negotiations, Secretary Kerry will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, today at the invitation of EU high representative Ashton to hold a trilateral meeting with high representative Ashton and foreign minister Zarif on the margins of the … negotiations."
Speaking to the Guardian on Thursday, Zarif said the agreement could be finished by the end of Friday, but that much would rely on the contribution of western diplomats.
"Depending on what they put on paper with us, we can decide whether it's a major deal or a small step in the right direction. I hope it's more than a small step in the right direction, but I'll be happy if we move in the right direction," Zarif said in his only interview with a British newspaper.
He said the process of drafting would begin at a meeting with Ashton, which Kerry is expected to join.
"I believe the ingredients are there. I believe there is a general understanding of everyone involved, but it is important at the same time to start doing things in black and white and try to move forward with the text," Zarif said.
To coincide with the climactic point in the talks, Iran launched a sophisticated new website to put the case for its nuclear programme, rebutting allegations that it is a front for eventually making weapons and laying out the energy, environmental, health and agricultural reasons for its development.
Western officials agreed that drafting work could begin on Friday, but cautioned that there were still many difficult issues to resolve. Any agreement would represent a historic breakthrough after a decade of diplomatic sparring marked by paralysis and distrust.
Zarif said the six other nations represented in Geneva had agreed with an Iranian plan to move the negotiations forward – a statement of intent encompassing an initial confidence-building measure and an outline of the end goal of a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and a normalisation of relations between Tehran and the west.
The foreign minister said the negotiations had gone further in the first day than merely agreeing a framework.
"We have gone beyond that and we have agreed on the elements that have to be incorporated in each one of these [steps]. The manner in which we incorporate them and the balance we strike between these elements – that's the sort of questions we have to answer tomorrow," he had said.
It is widely expected that both an interim deal and a longer-term settlement would involve western acceptance of Iran's enrichment programme in return for Iranian acceptance of limits on its scope, particularly a cap on the level to which it could enrich uranium of about 5%, sufficient for fuel for nuclear power stations. There would also have to be an agreement on how far Iran could go in developing a heavy-water reactor at Arak which would produce plutonium, as well as on Iranian acceptance of extensive and intrusive inspections by the international watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
As the negotiations got under way in Geneva, Netanyahu had referred to the emerging deal as "a mistake of historic proportions".
Asked about the Israeli prime minister's comments, Zarif said: "I don't think he's an authority on mistakes because he's been making mistakes for his entire life. He's been calling the Iranian programme six months away from a nuclear weapon since 1991, so I don't consider him a credible authority."
As to the reception a nuclear bargain is likely to receive back in Iran, the foreign minister said: "It depends on the type of deal that we get."
"The Iranian public is very sceptical about the process and I believe rightly so because we haven't had a very positive experience in the past," Zarif said. "What is important is to prepare a solid agreement that all sides can be happy with and all sides can sell to their populations. For Iran because it's our right. It's our programme, it is important that it is respectful and it is based on equal footing and I believe we can sell it to the public. If we can't I don't think we should agree to it."
In Tehran, Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani used his address at Friday prayers to warn that any deal struck in Geneva between Iran and the west would be detrimental for the Islamic republic.
"It's harmful to underestimate the enemy because they do nothing other than playing tricks. Our enemy would not rest even for a moment. If we underestimate the enemy we will definitely get hurt," he told crowds in Tehran.
"The US secretary of state has pledged Netanyahu that he will not do a bad deal with Iran. It means that they will not agree to an agreement which is harmful for them which means they will not make a good deal with Iran."
"I don't think the talks will bear fruit. They are not going to stop their enmity with us," he said.-
Zarif is not the only participant in the Geneva talks likely to face resistance back home. In Washington on Thursday, the US Senate said it would move ahead with a debate on tough new sanctions on Iran after the Geneva meeting was over. Some senators have said they would consider loosening the sanctions regime, but only in return for significant concessions from Tehran.
In another sign of progress on Thursday, Zarif said the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, would visit Tehran on Monday, raising expectations of a breakthrough in long-running talks between the Iranian government and the agency aimed at clearing up uncertainty over Iran's past development work on nuclear weapons.
Zarif said: "Mr Amano's visit is going to be an important indication that we are in process in moving forward."
His optimistic remarks followed a full meeting of all the delegates and separate discussions between Iranian officials and diplomats from the US, Russia and China, and talks with the three European states represented – the UK, France and Germany. British and Iranian diplomats discussed the eventual appointment of non-resident charges d'affaires in each other's countries.
Zarif had cancelled a trip to Rome so that he could hold a face-to-face meeting with Ashton as it became clear that substantial progress was being made.
November 8, 20133 European Officials Join Kerry at Iran Talks
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK LANDLER
GENEVA — Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from France, Britain and Germany planned to join the push here on Friday for an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Kerry was scheduled to have a three-way meeting Friday afternoon with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who oversees the multiparty negotiations.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that Mr. Kerry would go to Geneva “in an effort to help narrow the differences in the negotiations.”
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told reporters soon after arriving here on Friday that progress had been made during the latest round of talks with Iranian diplomats, which began on Thursday, but added that “nothing is hard and fast yet.”
“We are working to reach an accord which completes the first step to respond to Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
American officials have cast the accord as a “first step,” which would halt the progress in Iran’s nuclear program for perhaps six months to give negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive agreement. In return, the United States would relax some financial sanctions.
Expectations that the world powers were about to conclude a preliminary account with Iran have widened the gap with Israel and some Arab states.
Mr. Kerry met in Israel on Friday for more than two hours with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before flying to Geneva to join the talks.
Afterward, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a blistering statement that accused the United States of rushing into a deal that would do little to reduce Iran’s nuclear efforts while alleviating the economic pressure on Tehran.
“The deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge. But the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years.”
“I urge Secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal,” Mr. Netanyahu added.
Mr. Kerry was adamant during his visit to Israel this week that the West would not rush into a deal with Iran. In a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian journalists on Thursday, he said, “I have said many times we will not make a deal that’s a bad deal, that leaves any of our friends or ourselves exposed to a nuclear weapons program.”
The United States, Mr. Kerry said, also would not dismantle its sanctions regime until it had “absolute clarity about what is happening.” Administration officials said a more likely option would be for the West to free up some Iranian assets that are frozen in overseas banks.
But Iranian officials have made clear that Tehran intends to preserve the “right” to enrich uranium as part of an interim understanding and also a final deal. Israel has argued that Iran’s ability to enrich uranium needs to be eliminated to ensure it does not maintain the option to develop nuclear weapons.
State Department officials tried to play down expectations of a breakthrough, noting that Mr. Kerry had previously agreed to take part in the talks if he could help bridge gaps. They added that the issues on the table remained complex.
But the reports that Mr. Fabius, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, were to join the talks on Friday heightened expectations that an interim accord was at hand.
There was no indication that foreign ministers from Russia or China, the other members of the so-called P-5-plus-1 nations — the world powers involved in the talks — were planning to attend.
While Iran was a major topic of discussion between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Netanyahu, the secretary of state also went to Israel to press the prime minister on negotiations with the Palestinians, which he tried to reinvigorate in several days of shuttle diplomacy.
Mr. Kerry met with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Amman, Jordan on Thursday evening. Mr. Abbas has complained that Israel is continuing to approve settlement construction in the West Bank, poisoning the atmosphere for direct negotiations.
But Mr. Netanyahu said Wednesday that the Palestinians were inciting discord and manufacturing crises in order to avoid making difficult decisions in the negotiations.
On Friday, he appeared to harden his stance further, telling reporters “I will never compromise on Israel’s security and our vital interests, not in the face of any international pressure. I think the pressure has to be put where it belongs. That is, on the Palestinians who refuse to budge.”
At times this week, Mr. Kerry has appeared frustrated with the Israelis. On Wednesday, he appealed to the Israeli authorities to keep a lid on new settlement construction during the negotiations.
In his interview with Israeli and Palestinian journalists, Mr. Kerry used unusually pointed language in prodding the Israelis. “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” he said. “I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?”
Michael R. Gordon reported from Geneva, and Mark Landler from Tel Aviv. Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
*****************Israel warns John Kerry over Iranian nuclear deal
Binyamin Netanyahu says Iran is getting 'deal of the century' and Israel would not be bound by any agreement
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 10.59 GMT
Link to video: Binyamin Netanyahu expresses dismay over Iran's 'very bad deal' in Genevahttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/08/binyamin-netanyahu-iran-nuclear-deal-geneva-
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has launched a furious tirade against a possible deal struck between the international community and Iran over its nuclear programme, warning that it was "the deal of the century" for the Islamic republic, and that Israel would not be bound by it.
At a meeting with John Kerry at Ben Gurion airport shortly before the US secretary of state took off for talks in Geneva, Netanyahu said: "I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva, as well they should be, because they got everything, and paid nothing, they wanted. They wanted relief from sanctions after years of a gruelling sanctions regime. They got that. They are paying nothing because they are not reducing in any way their nuclear enrichment capability.
"So Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal. This is a very bad deal. Israel utterly rejects it and what I am saying is shared by many, many in the region whether or not they express it publicly."
In an indication that Israel has not ruled out a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Netanyahu added: "Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to defend itself, to defend the security of its people."
Kerry, who had been expected to make a statement before boarding his plane, said nothing in response, perhaps in an effort to avoid a diplomatic confrontation.
Israel has been alarmed at the prospect of a diplomatic compromise on the Iranian nuclear issue, warning that the regime could not be trusted, that sanctions must be maintained and that the threat of military action should remain in force.
Under the deal being discussed in Geneva, Iran would limit uranium enrichment in return for an easing of international sanctions.
Relations between Israel and the US have been strained over how to tackle the Iranian nuclear programme. Kerry has met Netanyahu three times this week to discuss Iran and the lack of progress in US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry spoke out firmly against Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying all settlements were "illegitimate" and further construction was unhelpful to the peace process.
In his airport statement, Netanyahu insisted Israel's security was paramount in the negotiations. "I will never compromise on Israel's security and our vital interests, not in the face of any international pressure. I think the pressure has to be put where it belongs, that is on the Palestinians who refuse to budge. But I think in any case, no amount of pressure will make me or the government of Israel compromise on the basic security and national interests of the state of Israel. The people of Israel know this and they support it, as they should," he said.
Pakistani Taliban selects hardliner Mullah Fazlullah as new leader
Appointment of extremist who ordered assassination of Malala Yousafzai is likely to quash any hopes of peace deal
Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013
A militant commander who ordered the assassination of the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has been chosen as the new head of the Pakistani Taliban.
The appointment of Mullah Fazlullah, a notorious hardliner committed to overthrowing the Pakistani state, will be greeted with dread by the government in Islamabad as it battles a deadly domestic insurgency.
Fazlullah's ascendancy also quashes any hopes of the negotiated peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) the government has been pushing for in recent months.
"There will be no more talks as Mullah Fazlullah is already against negotiations with the Pakistan government," Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
The decision to select Fazlullah as leader of the TTP followed days of internal politicking within the movement following the death in a drone strike last Friday of its previous leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.
Fazlullah, who is believed to be in his late 30s, is regarded as extreme even by the standards of the movement he now leads. He led efforts to seize control his native Swat, a picturesque region a few hours' drive north of Islamabad, and ran a shadow government from 2007 until the Pakistani military reasserted control in 2009.
He imposed strict Islamic law on the residents and tasked his men to burn down music shops and prevent barbers from cutting beards. He became known as "Mullah Radio" for his daily broadcasts when he would announce the name of men ordered to be beheaded for breaking the Taliban's strict rules.
It was during this time that the schoolgirl education activist Malala Yousafzai rose to prominence by writing an anonymous blog describing the terror of life under the Taliban. In October 2012, Fazlullah sent a gunman to try to kill Malala as she was travelling in a school van. She was shot in the head but survived and now lives in the UK.
Perhaps most alarming for Pakistan is Fazlullah's success in setting up a base of operations in Kunar and Nuristan, provinces in eastern Afghanistan where the Kabul government has minimal control. If he stays in Afghanistan he will remain even further out of the reach of the Pakistani military than Mehsud, who ran the TTP from North Waziristan.
The lawless tribal region is effectively controlled by militant groups including the TTP, al-Qaida and Afghan insurgents, with US drones providing the only opposition to them.
The decision to appoint Fazlullah surprised some analysts who assumed the leadership would remain in the hands of a member of the Mehsud tribe, which has controlled the loose alliance of militant groups since it was created in 2007.
Umar Daraz Wazir, a journalist, said 46 out of 60 senior TTP figures who met on Saturday voted for Khan Said Sajna, a member of the Mehsud tribe widely regarded as the favourite to take control. "But Fazlullah ultimately won because other commanders oppose Sajna's soft corner for the [Pakistani] government," said Wazir.
But Asmatullah Shaheen Bhitani, who served as interim leader since the killing of Mehsud, claimed Fazlullah had been given the job after unanimous agreement by TTP leaders. The decision was celebrated with sustained firing of machine guns in Miran Shah, a border town controlled by the TTP.
Sajna was considered more inclined to consider peace talks with the government and to focus the TTP's efforts on attacking the western-supported government in Kabul.
Mohammad Amir Rana, a militancy expert in Islamabad, said: "If you look at the history of new heads of the TTP, each time they elect a more hardliner leader."
Fazlullah's appointment may also help to quell internal criticism within the movement that it is dominated by the Mehsud clan, Amir said.
Pakistan is already braced for TTP reprisal attacks following Mehsud's killing.
November 2, 2013
That Other Big Afghan Crisis, the Growing Army of Addicts
By AZAM AHMED
ISLAM QALA, Afghanistan — The addicts stalk the streets of this border post like hollowed-out skeletons, hair matted by filth and eyes glassy. The villages that hug the roads are veritable zombie towns, where families of men, women and children hide their addiction within barren mud compounds.
“Sometimes I feel it is better to die than live like this,” said Haidar, 30, seated on the floor of his living room beside a small tin of sugarlike powder.
His family, a wife and young children, bore the gaunt faces of addiction as well.
In western Herat Province, held up as an island of stability and progress in Afghanistan, this forlorn border town is instead a showcase for an intensifying crisis: Long the global leader in opium production, Afghanistan has now also become one of the world’s most addicted societies.
The number of drug users in Afghanistan is estimated to be as high as 1.6 million, or about 5.3 percent of the population, among the highest rates in the world. Nationwide, one in 10 urban households has at least one drug user, according to a recent report from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. In the city of Herat, it is one in five.
From 2005 to 2009, the use of opiates doubled, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, putting Afghanistan on par with Russia and Iran, and the number of heroin users jumped more than 140 percent. Most drug experts think the rate of drug use has only increased since then.
In a country troubled by adversity, from its long-running war to rampant corruption, drug addiction ranks low among national priorities. Government funding for treatment and outreach is less than $4 million a year. There are just under 28,000 formal treatment slots available nationwide, officials say, and such programs rely heavily on roughly $12 million a year in extra international funding for treatment.
The focus of the international community and the Afghan government has instead been on reducing opium production. Since the beginning of the war in 2001, the Americans have spent more than $6 billion to curb Afghanistan’s opium industry, including eradication and alternative crop subsidies. The effort has struggled, and in many areas eradication efforts have been unofficially abandoned as too costly in terms of lost public support for government.
In the last two years, opium cultivation has increased to the highest level since 2008, as global demand and prices remain robust.
The sheer volume of supply has fueled domestic demand, a phenomenon the United Nations drug czar in Afghanistan refers to as “the Coca-Cola effect,” after the company’s market-saturation tactics.
Cementing the status quo is a lack of treatment options, like methadone substitution, or a holistic plan to address the crisis.
“This is a tsunami for our country,” said Dr. Ahmad Fawad Osmani, the director of drug demand reduction for the Ministry of Public Health. “The only thing our drug production has brought us is one million drug users.”
While it has grown far worse in the past few years, the drug crisis in Afghanistan is not new. International health officials caught on early to the problem, which in some measure stemmed from the traditional use of opium for medication.
In fact, one of the earliest challenges Afghan security forces had to surmount was a public image as a band of opium-addled thieves.
The problem, while more controlled, still exists: Just last month, the nation’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, fired 65 employees after discovering they were addicted to opium.
In rural areas, the problem is expected to be worse. In some villages, the rate of drug use is as high as 30 percent of the population, based on hair, urine and saliva samples taken by the authors of the urban study. And drugs not traditionally in wide use here, including crystal methamphetamine, are now figuring in the problem as well.
Perhaps nowhere in Afghanistan presents a bleaker picture of addiction than Herat Province. Widely held up as a success story, the province enjoys a booming economy, a relatively progressive society and a vibrant capital free of the trash-strewn streets and waterways that choke most large Afghan cities.
But beneath the surface, Herat is contending with the country’s most serious drug addiction problem.
The head of the counternarcotics ministry in Herat says there are 60,000 to 70,000 addicts in the province, though some health officials figure the number is closer to 100,000. In the capital, roughly 8 percent of the population uses drugs, the new international report found.
The addiction crisis brings with it all manner of problems, including crime and public health concerns. A 2010 report by Johns Hopkins University found that about 18 percent of intravenous drug users in the provincial capital were infected with H.I.V., compared with just 3 percent in Kabul.
Long a staging area for men who work as day laborers in Iran, Islam Qala is now also a frequent waypoint for addicts returning to Herat. Most of the men say they picked up their habits while in Iran. The authorities there, struggling to deal with a widespread drug crisis of their own, are quick to banish Afghan addicts back across the border by the thousands, and the deported people stream back into Islam Qala six days a week.
In Herat’s capital, addicts fill the streets and parks, begging from pedestrians and motorists with relentless persistence. Pockets of the city have been transformed into junkie ghettos, like Kamar Kulagh, a roadside slum of sandbags, rocks and rags.
On a recent day, the faint outline of figures crawled through the bleached landscape, situated to the side of a highway on the northern edge of the city. Broken glass covered the hillside leading down to the encampment.
A makeshift lounge constructed of a discarded truck grill and broken toilet seats offered respite from the sun. The smell of feces wafted through the air.
Azim Niazi, 30, shuffled through the village clutching two bags bulging with empty bottles, recycling them to pay for a drug habit that he said he had picked up as a laborer in Iran.
Wahid Ahmad, 27, who said he had been living there since he was deported from Iran two years ago, joined him.
The two began discussing the death that morning of one of the camp residents, a man they knew only as Reza.
“This is the third day someone has died here,” Mr. Ahmad said, listing the illnesses that plague residents of the camp. He paused, reflecting for a moment as the whir of traffic raced by above. Bloodshot eyes crouched within his gaunt face.
The pair walked deeper into the camp to check on Reza’s body, stretched out in a stone den with a yellowed plastic roof. Reza lay on his back, the bottom of his gray shalwar pulled over his emaciated face. Flies buzzed in and out of the hovel. A heavy perfume masked the decay.
“His friend will die tomorrow,” said Mr. Niazi, pointing to a man, a skeleton cloaked in skin, lying in a sliver of shade nearby.
A man strolled past, carting his 2-year-old daughter in his arms.
Though many of the addicts in Herat came by way of Iran and Islam Qala, others decided to stay nearer the border — or are simply unable to make their own way anymore.
Substance abuse has taken root in the local community too, infecting entire villages around Islam Qala, including young children hooked by secondhand opium smoke.
“The entire region is addicted, whole villages,” said Arbah Shahabuddin, an elder in Islam Qala. “If you take off your shoes, the addicts will steal them.”
To demonstrate the devastation, Mr. Shahabuddin, a homeopathic doctor, offered a tour of the drug villages.
A maze of dirt roads divides the homes, which sit behind high mud walls. Mr. Shahabuddin pointed to the new construction peeking over the walls of select compounds: smugglers’ homes.
“Anyone here that looks clean is a smuggler,” he explained.
House to house, Mr. Shahabuddin went, dragging families from their compounds into the blinding daylight to tell their stories. They stood startled, somewhat incoherent and mostly debilitated by addiction.
At one home, a woman answered the door and ran to collect her husband, Dad Mohammad, who was getting high. Mr. Mohammad, 35, said he had been using heroin for the past seven years. “It’s very easy to find heroin here,” he said.
His wife, Bibi Gul, standing in the doorway of their home, complained that her husband beat her every day and took money from their children to feed his addiction.
Mr. Mohammad, wearing a woolen hat in the midday heat, stared into the distance, smiling.
11/07/2013 11:23 AM
Where Allah Rocks: Indonesia's Tolerant Take on Islam
By Erich Follath
The Southeast Asian island nation of Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, which practices an open-minded, gentle version of Islam in urban areas. But elsewhere Islamists are beginning to encroach.
Joko Widodo is a strange character, a superstar in his country and a figure of growing importance in Asian politics. He is also a mixture of many things that don't ordinarily mix.
Sometimes he behaves like the legendary Kalif Harun al-Rashid, who used to sneak out of his palace in Baghdad at night to mingle, in disguise, with ordinary people and learn what they were thinking. Sometimes he emulates Nelson Mandela, who has charmed people with his optimism and eloquence throughout his life. And sometimes he comes across as a Mick Jagger type, charismatic and assertive, but perhaps a little too self-absorbed.
For his fellow Indonesians, this is apparently an irresistible blend of character traits. Widodo, 52, widely known as "Jokowi," is a pop star and an inspirational tribune of the people. He is the governor of the regional district of Jakarta, a megalopolis of about 23 million people on a strip of land along the coast, which is constantly threatened by flooding. In fact, scientists believe that most of Jakarta will be underwater by 2050.
Greater Jakarta is one of the most chaotic collections of people in the world, a seemingly ungovernable Moloch. But according to opinion polls, Governor Jokowi is doing such a good job in Jakarta that Indonesians say they would elect him president in next year's national elections. This would also make him one of the leaders of the G-20 group of 20 major economies.
Indonesia, an enormous nation consisting of more than 17,500 islands, stretches from Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra to Borneo, Java, Bali, the Maluku Islands and New Guinea. It encompasses more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) from west to east, or about the distance from Lisbon to well past Moscow. It is a country with vast, virtually uninhabited regions and some of the world's most crowded places. It also holds volcanoes and tropical rainforests, the home of giant, 60-meter (200-foot) trees, along with mangroves and coral reefs, orangutans and Komodo dragons.
Indonesia's manmade wonders are as impressive as its natural features. Magnificent Buddhist temples like Borobudur and impressive Hindu sites like Tanah Lot are UNESCO World Heritage sites. And Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan boast some of the world's largest and most beautiful mosques.
World's Largest Muslim Population
Despite the current economic setbacks, including last week's strikes, Indonesia is still considered one of the up-and-coming Tiger Cub economies. It has sufficient oil and natural gas reserves, is the world's largest exporter of palm oil and has good relations with Washington, Beijing and Berlin. Germany's Federal Security Council has approved the export of Leopard 2 tanks to Jakarta, notwithstanding the Indonesian military's brutal treatment of Papuan rebels. After her visit this summer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel enthusiastically referred to Indonesia as a dynamic and future-oriented economy, with the world's fourth-largest population after China, India and the United States.
Another notable feature that has attracted the world's attention is the fact that close to 90 percent of Indonesia's 250 million people are Muslim, making it by far the world's largest Muslim population -- greater than Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries combined.
There have been periodic attacks by Islamist fanatics, with the worst claiming 202 lives on the island of Bali in 2002. But terrorism is seen as the exception in Indonesia, while religious tolerance is the norm. For many people, Southeast Asian Islam serves as proof that an open-minded, gentler version of the religion exists. The country is a possible role model for others, which could learn a lot from Indonesia's "spirit of tolerance," as US President Barack Obama, who spent a portion of his childhood in Jakarta, put it during his 2010 visit.
Is Indonesia truly an exemplary country, a role model for the radically changing societies of the Arab Spring? Can this country truly claim to be proof that the Koran, with its strict rules, is compatible with parliamentary democracy and its freedoms?
Those who believe that Islam and pluralism do not have to be contradictions are pinning their hopes on Governor Jokowi. He describes himself as a devout Muslim, and yet his religious affiliation does not figure prominently in his rhetoric or his actions. He has also chosen a lieutenant governor, 47-year-old Basuki "Ahok" Purnama, who belongs to two minorities. He is neither Javanese nor a member of other local ethnic groups, but Chinese. He is also a Christian.
"Why should that bother me?" Jokowi asks.
It is shortly after 7 a.m., and the governor is making one of his frequent, unannounced visits to one of southern Jakarta's many slums, which are characterized by derelict huts, filthy canals and poor air quality. Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap, he is accompanied only by an assistant, instead of arriving with an entourage and a police escort.
Jokowi has targeted several of his city administration's district offices. The officials there are supposed to be available, starting at 9 a.m., to issue birth certificates, passports and drivers' licenses. But inefficiency has become the norm over the years, and hardly any of the offices he visits opens its doors on time. The governor pulls out his ballpoint pen and takes notes. In one office, an employee came to work 35 minutes late, while another arrived 90 minutes after the office was supposed to open. This will not be without consequences. Jokowi will later send out warning letters, and the worst of the offenders will be threatened with dismissal.
He listens to citizens as they vocally complain about the capriciousness of government officials and the bribes they are constantly expected to pay. He makes casual but sympathetic remarks here and there, which tend to reinforce the residents' anger instead of channeling it. But most of all he listens, and before long he is one of them. Or at least he makes the impression that he is just another ordinary person, everyone's neighbor.
Then Jokowi departs just as quietly as he arrived, leaving behind astonished slum residents who will likely repeat the story of his spontaneous visit frequently in the future. They are not accustomed to seeing such an important politician turn up. On this morning, they experience the governor's fairy tale-like qualities, his Harun al-Rashid side.
Commitment to Transparency
On another occasion, the governor attends a town meeting in eastern Jakarta, this time arriving in an official car and with an entourage. The traffic is horrendous. Just past the urban canyons of downtown Jakarta, everything converges to form one of the city's frequent mega-traffic jams that are sometimes 25 kilometers long. Local residents refer to them as "Big Durian," a reference to the large, foul-smelling tropical fruit that few find appealing. People have settled in the area for more than 2,000 years. The country's former Dutch colonial rulers are responsible for the growth of an administrative center, Batavia, on a flood-prone bay, a city that became Indonesia's capital after independence in 1949.
Jokowi grew up in a middle-class family. His father, a carpenter, had to save every cent to send his children to school. Jokowi studied forestry and later became a furniture maker. Friends suggested that he run for mayor of his hometown of Surakarta, a city of about half a million people. "They were apparently impressed with my commitment to transparency and against cronyism," he says proudly. He won the election with more than 90 percent of the vote. Jokowi also attracted international attention when he was named the world's third most effective mayor by an international think tank.
Then, in October 2012, he took office in the capital, where a handful of prominent families and high-ranking military officers have traditionally been in charge, like almost everywhere else in Indonesia. Jokowi scored a surprise coup with his anti-establishment campaign, and he has been riding a wave of public approval ever since.
Few people in Jakarta point out that the popular governor has yet to make good on many of his campaign promises, from a planned expansion of public transportation to flood mitigation measures. With each appearance, Jokowi manages to convey the hope that something could change. "Someone has to come to grips with the problems," he tells citizens as they crowd against the barriers and desperately try to touch their idol. "I will not disappoint you!" By this point, Jokowi has switched to Messiah mode, shaking hands, kissing babies and sitting down on the grass for several minutes to listen to a group of people out of work. He unites instead of polarizing. He stands for a reform program, but most of all he stands for himself and the integrity of a new policy. This is Jokowi as Nelson Mandela.
A Tolerant Islam
His third appointment of the day is an event to celebrate Children's Day. During the drive to the Dufan amusement park, he listens to his favorite music by bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The governor is an avid heavy metal fan and is also an amateur musician. When his favorite band Metallica played a concert in Jakarta, the bass player gave Jokowi an instrument with the inscription: "Keep playing that cool, funky bass."
More than 2,000 cheering children await Jokowi. His staff has written him a speech, but he quickly sets it aside to improvise a quiz with the children ("What is the name of your governor?") and spontaneously promises the winners a bicycle. At the end of the event, he invites one of the students to join him on the stage to sing a duet of the popular patriotic song "My Country" with him. There are standing ovations. This is Jokowi as Mick Jagger.
Many are unaware that he is a member of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party -- Struggle. He is still playing hard-to-get as the party tries to convince him to run for president. In polls, he receives twice as many votes as the second-most popular potential candidate, a former general. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ("SBY"), a retired army general and widely respected but unassertive politician, is ineligible to run for the presidency again in 2014, after having served two terms.
The popular governor is far more liberal than other representatives of power, more enlightened than a majority of his voters and will soon find himself being opposed by arch-conservatives. So far, there have been no dramatic setbacks in and around Jakarta for "tolerant Islam," but there have been a few pinpricks.
In September, the finale of the Miss World pageant had to be moved to the majority Hindu resort island of Bali. And in a Jakarta district, more than 2,000 residents signed a petition against a local politician appointed by Jokowi, not as a result of incompetence, but because she, as a Christian, was supposedly "unsuitable for a primarily Muslim city district." In a coup for the liberal faction, Jokowi kept the woman in office.
However, open-mindedness decreases in proportion to the distance one travels outside of major cities. And in one part of the country, Islamists are practicing the opposite of the cosmopolitan beliefs of big city residents. They live in a city whose name is synonymous with one of the worst natural disasters of the last 100 years.
The Strictly Islamic Province of Aceh
The flight on a Boeing 737 from Jakarta to the northwestern tip of Sumatra lasts almost three hours, and the scenery of an enormous green carpet of dense jungle below is breathtaking. Upon closer inspection, cleared areas become noticeable: giant palm oil plantations. Occasionally there is a plume of smoke rising from the jungle, apparently the result of slash-and-burn agriculture.
In June, the smoke clouds coming from Sumatra were so bad that Indonesia's neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore, lodged bitter complaints. The Indonesian president had to apologize and promised to crack down on the practice in the future. But palm oil is a big business in which many people profit, apparently including some of the country's top political figures. Indonesia occupies a disgraceful 118th place in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, well below China and India.
But Banda Aceh must be one of the cleanest and most orderly cities in Indonesia. This is partly a result of the disaster that struck on Dec. 26, 2004. At first, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 struck the region, and then monster waves buried large areas near the coast. Tens of thousands died in Banda Aceh alone, and parts of the city were completely destroyed. It was rebuilt with international funds and donations, resulting in spacious streets with roundabouts and minibuses known as labi-labi, which actually operate on time in Banda Aceh.
The autonomous province of Aceh, with a population of about 5 million, including 250,000 in the capital, is now tightly managed -- very tightly, in fact. The province is ruled by religious fanatics, and a strict version of Islamic Sharia law is rigorously applied.
A young woman was flogged near the provincial capital because she was caught kissing her boyfriend in a park. The morality police conduct regular inspections. Anyone with long hair is considered "punk" and can expect to be locked up. It is considered indecent for schoolgirls to wear trousers.
Sulaiman Abda, deputy chairman of the regional parliament, feels that the current punishments are too lenient. He is one of the supporters of a bill to expand public flogging, which would call for 40 lashes for delinquents caught with alcohol, 60 for gamblers and 100 for people engaging in homosexual activities. The bill stands a real chance of being approved. "It reflects the norms in our society," says Abda.
Westerners Stay Away
Aceh was once a melting pot of many cultures. Legend has it that the name consists of the first letters of the names of the different nationalities that left their mark on the region: Arabs, Chinese, Europeans and Hindus. Aceh was an independent sultanate for decades. It became a trouble spot after Indonesian independence, with separatists still waging a bloody war just before the tsunami struck.
European mediators used the confusion of the natural disaster to convince the opposing sides to sign a peace agreement in 2005, but it came at a high price. The new Islamist leadership was recruited from the guerilla movement, and the high degree of autonomy granted by the central government led to Aceh becoming a state within a state.
City leaders insist that Banda Aceh's future lies in tourism, and they point to the region's spectacular beaches and coral reefs as evidence. But the majority of visitors are from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Westerners, accustomed to bars and clubs, find the restrictions associated with religious prohibitions hard to accept.
While German experts are still manning a tsunami early warning station, otherwise almost all international aid workers have left the region. A museum commemorates the horrors of that day some nine years ago. A giant ship, which was seemingly lifted by an invisible hand and slammed onto the top of a building, testifies to the disaster and serves as a monument to an apocalyptic day.
A Painful Sacrifice
Still, the people in Surabaya, Bandung and Denpasar see the Islamist province as an insignificant, embarrassing aberration in their island world. Jokowi is an idol to young people in the lively big cities of Java and Bali. And many, especially men, also name Julia Perez, 33, as a role model.
The controversial pop singer, with her revealing outfits, has already flirted with politics and even ran for office in a local election in Pacitan, in eastern Java. But her other, more spectacular projects have attracted more attention. One of her CDs comes with a condom sealed into the packaging, she performed a pole dance on a traffic light post at a Jakarta intersection and, as evidence of her religious belief, handed out Korans in public while dressed in a miniskirt. Religious scholars were not pleased.
Yenny Wahid, 39, the daughter of former Indonesian President Abdurraham Wahid and the head of a foundation named after him, studies faith and its effects on society far more seriously. The country is suffering from economic problems which include rising inflation, a weakening currency, and the likely failure to reach its minimum goal of 6 percent economic growth in 2013. Could this aggravate religious tensions, or will Indonesia's gentle form of Islam be solidified and its tolerance of minority religions be strengthened even further?
Wahid wears a headscarf, tied loosely around her neck. There is no dress code in her office in an old Jakarta villa, and petitioners in short skirts are not turned away. The foundation awards grants and only supports projects involving members of different religions. Wahid knows exactly when her ideals are violated. For example, when officials in Bogor in western Java blocked the construction of a Catholic church some time ago. Or, says Wahid, when members of the Ahmadiyya religious community are repeatedly harassed. Because of their belief that Mohammed was not the last prophet of Allah, the Indonesian Ulema Council views them as heretics. According to its fatwa, they can only protect themselves from persecution by renouncing their "false doctrine."
"I think it's a scandal that even the minister of religion calls up on the Ahmadiyya to do this," says Wahid. However, she adds, Islamist parties are not on the rise. They captured less than 30 percent in recent elections, with polls showing that their popularity is now in decline.
A few months ago, President SBY offered Wahid the deputy chairmanship of the governing party, but she declined. There is talk that Wahid could imagine cooperating with the opposition party, which would then make Jokowi its candidate, with Wahid then becoming minister of religion. "I have a high opinion of Jokowi," says Wahid, but adds that she is currently unwilling to confirm or rule out any options.
Meanwhile, the governor of Jakarta is trying to clear away all obstacles to his further political career. This includes a particularly painful sacrifice. When Jokowi heard the rumor that he may have issued a permit for the performance of his favorite band in Jakarta in return for the gift of a Metallica instrument, he turned over the instrument to the anti-corruption office. The commemorative item was declared government property and will probably be sold at a charity auction.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan